‘Importance of this Election’ by A Christian Democrat (27 March, 1880)

The following is an editorial that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ under the name ‘A Christian Democrat’. The newspaper endorsed the Gladstone’s Liberals in the 1880 general election.

Sir,—Never in the history of Scotland was there so important an election as this. The question to be decided is not whether this or that candidate is a better speaker, a more popular man, or personally to be preferred to some other candidate. Electors should dismiss such considerations from their minds. Important and far-reaching principles are before the country.

I ask electors to say whether we are to pursue a domineering, overbearing policy towards Ireland. Are we to send more gunpowder, more police, more penal laws, or are we to send to our sister isle a message of peace and “goodwill?” A great country like ours can afford to be magnanimous. We can forget the veiled rebellion, we can overlook the unreasoning and unwise cry for separation, and for Home Rule in its foolish sense. I ask Scotchmen to remember the crimes, the insults, the centuries of cruelty under which poor Ireland has suffered, and to be large-hearted enough to forgive her impatience, Even when the cruel barb is torn out of the festering wound, time, the great healer, has to do its work. It requires slow gliding years to cover with grassy green the red scars of war, and long summer days to cover with flowers the graves of ancient feuds. Ireland will yet do justice to Mr Gladstone. Her heart is generous, although it still trembles with sad and cruel memories. Scottish men, it is for you to say whether you will follow Mr Gladstone in dispensing to Ireland kindly justice, in extending to her the hand of a loving sister, asking her on equal terms to share alike our glory and our cares, or to mock her with continued insults, and, instead of kindness, sympathy, and righteousness, to confront her with reproaches and continued indignities.

Again, I ask what good cause abroad has this Government ever sympathised with? Where has she spoken out for freedom, as Lord Russell did for Italy, as Lord Granville did for Belgium? How shall our missionaries go to Zululand with the Christian watchwords of “Peace on earth and goodwill to men?” Alexander Duff and Norman M’Leod spent their lives for India. How shall their followers tell the people in Afghanistan of the mercy and justice, of the truth and love of the religion of Britain? Men of Scotland, if you go to the poll and vote for Tory candidates, however excellent in private life you may know them to be, you become not only directly responsible for the cruel and unrighteous policy of the past six years, but you bid Lord Beaconsfield God speed. You bid him persevere in fighting all the little nations who can be destroyed without immediate danger, and go on alienating the sympathy of the great Powers, who, depend upon it, will one day rejoice when disaster overtakes us.

I accept the letter of the Prime Minister. I peril the election upon the issues he himself has raised. Whoever is for Tory rule in Ireland, whoever is for Tory foreign policy, vote for the men who in years by-gone have supported the Government. But whoever approves of Mr Gladstone’s policy towards Ireland, whoever approves of his foreign policy, let them vote for Gladstonian Liberals. Sir, I am as zealous for the honour of my country as any Tory that breathes. They impose with brazen-faced audacity upon electors when they claim a monopoly of patriotism. I desire to see my country great and glorious; loved at home for order, liberty, justice; revered abroad for respect to public law, for regard to the rights of the weak; showing sympathy with freedom, fearless of the scowl of the masters of millions of bayonets. It is because these are my aspirations, my ardent desires, that I so love the greatest statesman England ever saw—a man who in his living eye, in his uplifted hand, in his tongue of fire, is the impersonation of expression of all that is true and noble in English history; the exponent of a policy wise, conservative, and worthy of the genius of Edmund Burke, of the sagacity of Sir Robert Peel; a man whose monument the children of those who now vilify and reproach him shall build in purest marble, and crown with wreaths of laurel.

A Christian Democrat.

‘The Liverpool and Southwark Elections’ by A Christian Democrat (21 February, 1880)

The following is an editorial that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ under the name ‘A Christian Democrat’. The discussion here is a further reaction to the Liberal loss in the Liverpool by-election. In the lead up to the 1880 general election, this editorial urges the Liberals to put forward a strong message and provide an alternative to the failed and costly foreign policy of the incumbent Conservatives. As is often the case, the use of the words ‘England’ and ‘Britain’ are revealing of the mindset of Scottish Liberals in this time before the growth of the Scottish home rule movement.

Sir,—I venture to say that the time has now come when our Liberal leaders ought not to rest contented with fault-finding. They should lay before the county a bold and sagacious—a Christian foreign policy. I do not think that when Sir Stafford Northcote tells us that he is about twenty millions behind, the country will be greatly surprised. The Government will say that one month of European war would have cost far more. They will plead that they have preserved peace to England, and that in passing through a crisis so unexampled they have done well to increase the efficiency of our forces. They will urge that Russia, by stirring up mischief in the East, had to be met; that the Afghan war, vexing and costly as it is, was needful to show Asiatic Princes how vain a thing it is to oppose the power of England, and how dangerous to coquet with our enemies. In the interests of 200,000,000 of Indian peoples it was needful, at all costs, to show our power when it was defied. Future peace, civilisation, and prosperity to a fourth of the human race depend on the unquestioned stability of the British power in India. So the Government will reason. The men in Liverpool and in Southwark are undoubtedly influenced by these considerations. Admitting the mistakes of the Government, they see no alternative policy offered by the Opposition. They hear only that England is wrong—always in the wrong; but this they hear from men who never yet had a good word to say for any war except the cruel and bloody civil war of America.

Mr Gladstone alone, of all our leaders, took a great and statesmanlike view of the duty of Britain. He did not rest with fault-finding. He proposed a great, wise, and glorious policy. He advised Parliament to fulfil its duties. By the Treaty of Paris, which cost our country so dear, Turkey was bound to set justly to the races subject to her sway. Notoriously she had violated that Treaty by unheard of misrule and villainous injustice. Mr Gladstone called upon the British Power to assert itself, to do its duty. He proposed to sail the fleet to Constantinople to demand the enforcement to the Treaty of Paris. He asked Europe to vindicate the European Treaty, and to call the Pachas [Pashas] to justice on pain of dismissing them out of Europe bag and baggage. The Tories nobody expected to support a policy like this; it was in favour of freedom and liberty. But, sir, I say the responsibility of refusing to adopt this policy rests on the Liberal party itself. Lord Derby, of course, would neither take the responsibility of signing the Berlin Memorandum nor of proposing any other basis of European concert. The Manchester men, as usual, declared we were islanders, and that our business was to spin our cotton and keep our shops. Mr Gladstone, great heroic statesman as he is, stood alone! We see now that if his advice had been followed Russian anxiety for the liberty of the Slav would have been relieved; the nationalities in the east of Europe would have, under the magic touch of British influence, sprung into vigorous life; Russian schemes would have been utterly thwarted; and Turkish Pachas for ever rendered powerless. Not a drop of blood would have been shed, and England would have earned the gratitude of the world. Mr Gladstone’s advice was not followed. The Tories saw their chance. They appealed to the bastard patriotism of the county, they paraded Imperialism, and pandered to Jingoism. Again and again has this section of the Liberal party flung the affairs of the county into the hands of the Tories. Sir, I want a Liberal foreign policy worthy of Oliver Cromwell. I wish Mr Gladstone, with his just pride in the moral and material greatness of England, to sway its power. He inherits from Sir Robert Peel the great tradition that the first consideration for a British statesman is not what are the rights of England—this is the cry of the Tory party; no, nor what are the rights of England—this is the cry of the Tory party; no, nor what are the interests of England—this is the constant cry of the Manchester school. Mr Gladstone’s policy is grander than all this. His first question is not what are the rights nor what are the interests. He asks, first of all, chief of all, what are the duties of England? Continue reading “‘The Liverpool and Southwark Elections’ by A Christian Democrat (21 February, 1880)”

‘The Treatment of the Poor.’ by A Christian Democrat (7 February, 1880)

The following is an editorial that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ under the name ‘A Christian Democrat’. Here the topic tackled is the impact of Gladstone’s Education Act, their positive impact and how it can be improved upon. This was prompted by the publication of a book on vagrancy in Scotland by a former Sheriff of Aberdeen William Watson. Vagrancy was an issue which preoccupied contemporary liberal commentators, perhaps disproportionately. Vagrancy symbolised everything which the ‘People’s Journal’ sought to eradicate from the working class of Scotland through their doctrine of self-improvement.

Sir,—The Education Act of Mr Gladstone’s Government has already done much good, but it does not yet reach that class fully for whose benefit it was chiefly designed. The way in which the Poor Law is being administered in many parishes is rapidly increasing vagrancy, and thousands of uneducated children are growing up a curse to themselves and a burden to society. I argued at the time that the land of the country ought to have borne a far larger proportion of the school rate. The ratepayers were taxed at the expense of the landowners. They ought to have been forced to provide far better schools. The great expense of the recent Act is the best proof that they were neglecting their duty. Now, not content with taking the school teind as a bribe to let the Education Bill pass, they are in Parochial Boards forcing the poor literally upon the parish. Sheriff Watson, of Aberdeen, in a recent ale pamphlet* tells us that vagrancy is rapidly increasing in Scotland. In 1873 the number of vagrants in Scotland was 40,678. In 1878 they had increased to 54,236. The indignant Sheriff traces this largely to the selfishness of Parochial Boards, who are encouraged by the Board of Supervision to refuse all outdoor relief, and to apply the Poorhouse test rigidly. I do not deny that in certain eases the Poorhouse test is valuable, but it is often applied so as to decrease pauperism only to increase vagrancy. The Education Act is fitted to deal with the evil. Children move from place to place; they cannot be got at, not kept at school. Sheriff Watson argues that while children of working people are well provided for, the very poor are, in some respects, worse off than before the passing of the Education. Subscriptions can hardly now be got for ragged schools. People are so assessed that they refuse to give to voluntary schools for the neglected. Even criminal children, the Sheriff tells us, are better cared for than are the children of the very poor. Reformatories are supported by Government aid, stylish schools are built for the children of the ratepayers, but the “mitherless bairn,” the forgotten poor, are flouted at the doors of the Parochial Board, and flung out to wander over the country as vagrants and beggars.

Besides losing their education, the Sheriff goes on to show that they are never trained to work. The skilful workman, be his labour ever so hard, has a pleasure in it, but boys who have never learned any handicraft hate work. The only work they have ever got to do has been in Poorhouses or the like, and work has never been to them anything but repulsive. In this way a large class grow up injuring the moral tone of the working population and increasing the dangerous classes. I think that in rural parishes especially far more attention ought to be paid by the people to the administration of the Poor Law. If a Chairman does happen to be a man of sense and humanity the poor will be cared for, but if he is a selfish man, bent only on lessening the rates and decreasing pauperism, he will refuse all outdoor relief and flout the poor. Pauperism will of course diminish, but vagrancy—a far worse evil—will rapidly increase. I do hope that the new County Reform Bill will not much longer be delayed, and that the whole administration of the Poor Law will be placed upon a more popular basis.

In not a few parishes houses are allowed to go to decay, and labourers forced to walk miles to their work, lest their families gain a settlement. Cruel wrong is being done in this way, and it is very difficult to get the evil stopped. Electors in cities do not know the sufferings of the poor in rural districts, and the county franchise is so high that a whole suffering class are dumb and helpless. Sheriff Watson shows clearly how a great commercial disaster, when not properly met, depresses the moral tone of a whole district. He instances Aberdeen, and shows that when the workman and his family get out of work and lose hope they go rapidly down. Continue reading “‘The Treatment of the Poor.’ by A Christian Democrat (7 February, 1880)”

‘Political Oppression in the Counties’ by A Christian Democrat (17 January, 1880)

The following is an editorial that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ under the name ‘A Christian Democrat’. This powerful attack on the undemocratic actions of Conservative parliamentary candidates and the established church’s failure to mobilise voters appeared in the buildup to the 1880 general election. Readers were urged to go to the polls, high turnout was the way to defeat the Conservative government of Disraeli. Perhaps the most interesting passage is the attack on the government’s wars in Southern Africa and Afghanistan (the infamous battle of Isandlwana would still have been in the minds of many).

“How will our missionaries look the people of India in the face as messengers of peace on earth and goodwill to men now? How will they go to Zululand with the Gospel? We have ravaged the homes of the people, sent fire and sword into peaceful valleys, and trampled every principle of righteousness under foot, and then we send missionaries to convert the countries we have made desolate with most cruel and unjust war. The voters of Scotland must take this responsibility. If they wish an end put to this kind of policy they must come as Christian men to the poll, and send men to Parliament who will demand with authority that all this shall be changed.”

The 1880 election saw victory for Gladstone’s Liberals, and a reduction in the Tory vote in Scotland (winning just 6 of 58 seats, down from 18 in 1874).

To the Editor of the People’s Journal.

Sir,—I appeal to the people. No abuse, however powerfully defended, can resist the will of the people. A great crime is being done, a cruel wrong, under the protection of the law, is being inflicted, and there is no helper. I invoke the indignation of a people who love justice and hate oppression. In all our counties some proprietors of the soil are forcing the very best men and women to leave their homes or to violate their conscience. In Perthshire, for example, the Earl of Mansfield is inflicting most cruel wrong on a population whose only fault is their liberal opinions. Here are two facts:—In 1843 on the Logie-Almond estate there were 87 cottagers belonging to the Established Church. In 1878 only 23 remained. Of the twenty-one men who voted for Mr Parker in 1868 only four now remain on the estate. Sir, I accuse the noble Earl of a deliberate attempt to violate the Constitution. I denounce him as a setter of class against class, as a destroyer of that happy and cordial relationship which should exist between laird and tenant. I ask for Parliamentary inquiry. The House of Commons is insulted and its privileges and rights violated y this Earl, who uses the rights of property in this unrighteous way. Noble Christian men are banished from the homes of their fathers; families are torn up and flung houseless upon the world; men are forced to abandon their lawful calling—all for purely political honesty. They have committed no crimes; they have only exercised the rights put into their hands by Parliament. Sir, I call on Parliament to defend these honest men, who are punished for doing honestly the work Parliament gave them to do. Nor is the Earl of Mansfield the sole offender. All over our counties, and in Perthshire particularly, is this cruel and unconstitutional policy being pursued. I warn such violators of the spirit of the law that they shall not escape public censure. But, sir, they care for nothing. Public opinion they defy. They know they are abhorred, and that all honourable men despise their conduct. Parliament must instantly assert its power, and punish these violators of the equitable spirit of our law.

A host of little factors and small country bankers infest our counties. They know every man and his circumstances. If there is a bill to be renewed, if in consequence of bad seasons there is an arrear of rent, if there is any little difficulty perplexing a voter, then is the opportunity of these official oppressors. They have no shame, no delicacy. They come to the voter and simply say—“Now, are you to vote for our candidate? Give me your hand and your word that you will!” In vain the poor man tries to evade a direct reply. His wife, his daughters, his sons see his humiliation and burn with shame and rage. They all know the situation; they belong to the Free Church or the United Presbyterian; they are humbled and distressed. The shameless coward presses his advantage and the vote is promised. In hundreds of homes in Scotland this plan is pursued. And when stalwart noble men, like those at Logie-Almond, declare themselves staunch, out of twenty-one in a few years only four are left—the rest driven helpless from their homes. Sir, you as the editor of the People’s Journal have great influence. I call on you to wield it now. Especially I ask the voters in the villages who have feus to vote to a man against a system like this. I ask the Liberal candidates for burghs to raise this question. I call on the House of Commons to defend its privileges. I ask every honest man to stamp the cruel, cowardly conduct of these petty factors and pompous little bankers with their contempt. I ask Boards of Directors of our great banks to see that their influence and wealth are not used in this degrading oppression.

But, sir, I appeal chiefly to Christian men, who hold aloof from politics. I claim their help. Is Christianity only an affair of prayer meetings and religious observances on Sabbath days? No verily. The other side are organised. The licensed spirit trade to a man vote, and try to influence other voters. Their money interest is at stake, and they unite and make a mighty power, not in towns only but in counties. A languid and fitful opposition will not avail against an organisation like this. I wish to press on Christian men their duty as citizens. In municipal elections and in parliamentary voting I ask them to come to the poll. Men of high character are returned indeed by small majorities against men who are a shame to constituencies, but the majorities are too small—they should be overwhelming. The reason is that good, easy-going men do not trouble themselves to vote. A Scottish man with stuff in him should despise even being sent for or conveyed to the poll. To vote is his duty, his principle, he ought to vote frankly and openly too, giving all the influence he possesses to the side his conscience approves. The real weight of the Christian sentiment of the country is never felt in Parliament. A great statesman like Mr Gladstone requires to be insulted and driven from office before the good men of Britain are roused to take an interest in politics. Sir John Lawrence, and Lord Northbrook, and the Duke of Argyle have all entered their solemn protest against this unrighteous war in India. They have protested in vain. Why in vain? Because Christian men stayed away from the poll at the last election, and said that Whig and Tory had nothing to do with their religion. Sir, these men are responsible for this war. They did not support the right men at the right time, and the affairs of the county have fallen into the hands of men who “go in for gunpowder and glory.” Continue reading “‘Political Oppression in the Counties’ by A Christian Democrat (17 January, 1880)”