After the great war which was concluded at Waterloo the population of the United Kingdom largely increased. In 1816 it amounted to 19,000,000, in 1831 it had reached 24,000,000, and, with the population, the wealth of the country increased also. In 1815 the income on which income tax was levied was estimated at £150,000,000; in 1832 it cannot have been less than £225,000,000; so that the wealth of the nation must have grown by £75,000,000 since the termination of the war. Population had grown by 25 per cent., wealth by 50 per cent., so that the accumulation of wealth had been twice as rapid as the multiplication of the people.
Moreover, a great revolution had taken place in industries. The use of machinery had lessened the cost of production, and the cost of distribution had undergone similar diminution. Brindley and his followers had intersected the country with canals; Telford and Macadam had furnished it with roads. Facilities for travelling had increased, and the railway was at hand. The railway consists of two essential parts—a carriage propelled by steam and rails on which it may run. The second had been invented and used before the first, and the earlier steam-coaches were made to run on roads; the union of the two was effected by George Stephenson. The Stockton and Darlington Railway, the work of Stephenson and Pease, was opened on September 27th, 1825, a momentous date in British history. In 1830 a more important railway was constructed between Liverpool and Manchester. The opening day was marked by the death of Huskisson, who was knocked down by the ‘Rocket’ steam engine as he was moving forward to shake hands with the Duke of Wellington, with whom he had quarreled two years before. The engine which conveyed the injured statesman after this accident achieved a speed of thirty-six miles an hour.
About the same time domestic comfort was enlarged by the invention of lucifer matches, which took the place of the old tinder-box. It is difficult to imagine the fundamental differences which existed between the England of 1815 and the England of 1832. Up to 1810 legislation had generally been directed to provide special advantages for a class; in 1832 it began to aim at securing the greatest happiness of the greatest number. The sinecures which existed for the benefit of the upper classes had been abolished; learning and capacity became the avenue to the bishop’s mitre and the judge's ermine; public officials were compelled to discharge their duties themselves, instead of leaving them to deputies; religious disabilities had been swept away; Roman Catholics were admitted to Parliament; all offices were free to Dissenters; the political power of the State was no longer monopolised by a handful of privileged individuals. The franchise had been extended to shopkeepers in the boroughs and to occupiers in the counties, and rotten boroughs had disappeared. Members of Parliament had lost some of their oppressive rights. Landowners could not now defraud their creditors or exercise exclusively the privilege of killing game. The principles of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham had soaked into the hearts of the rising generation.
But the condition both of the laboring and manufacturing poor remained very unsatisfactory. Pauperism was terrible. In the middle of the eighteenth century the poor rate and the county rate had not amounted together to more than £750,000; in 1832 the relief of the poor cost £7,000,000 in England and Wales alone. The maintenance of the poor threw an annual charge of ten shillings on every man, woman, and child of the population. One person in seven in England and Wales was a pauper. Emigration began to be used as a remedy for these evils, but it did not attain anything like its present proportions. In 1815 only 2,081 emigrants left the country; in 1832 the number amounted to 102,313. The condition of the laboring poor in Ireland was far worse than it was in England, and in 1830 Daniel O'Connell began to agitate for the repeal of the Union.
The General Election of 1832 passed in comparative quiet. By a new law the poll was closed in two days, instead of being kept open for a fortnight, a custom which had occasioned much disorder. The composition of the House of Commons did not differ very much from that of previous Parliaments. Parties were slightly changed : Tories became Conservatives and Whigs Liberals, and the Radicals began to assume the character of a responsible political combination. Ireland occupied the first attention of the reformed House. The state of that country was deplorable, assassination and robbery were the order of the day. In Queen's County, in a single year, there were 60 murders and 115 malicious injuries to property, 626 burglaries, and 209 serious assaults on individuals. Peaceable people were afraid to give evidence or serve on juries to try the offenders. By the introduction of an Irish Church Bill something was done to remedy the grievances which caused these evils. The members of the Irish Church mustered only 800,000 out of a population of 8,000,000, but the maintenance of the Church cost more than £1 a head a year for each of its members. It possessed 1,400 benefices and twenty-two bishops. Lord Althorp imposed a tax on all benefices of over £200 a year, varying as their value. The £60,000 which this would yield was to be expended in the repair of churches and the building of parsonages, so that the Church Tax might be abolished. The number of bishops was reduced from twenty-two to twelve. But, unfortunately, a Coercion Act was still thought necessary. The provisions were extremely severe. The Lord Lieutenant had power to suppress all meetings; he might declare any county to be in a state of disturbance, and in districts so disordered it was perilous to be out between sunset and sunrise. Offenders in disturbed districts were to be tried by court-martial. The Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on February 15th, 1833, and passed through its stages in five days. In the Commons it met with violent opposition, but, owing to the fiery eloquence of Stanley, the Chief Secretary, it became law on April 1st, with certain modifications. The Church Bill passed the Commons, but was nearly defeated in the House of Lords. It did not become law till July 30th.
After this the Government was reconstructed. Lord Durham, the principal author of the Reform Bill, left the Ministry and a received an Earldom. Lord Goderich, now made Earl of Ripon, was given the Privy Seal, and Lord Stanley was entrusted with the Colonies. Here he was confronted with a difficult and laborious task, the abolition of slavery in British dominions. Slavery was marked by two evils—the existence of slavery itself and the horrors of the slave trade, by which slaves were brought from Africa to labor in other countries. Long regarded with indifference, men such as Clarkson, Granville Sharp, and Wilberforce had succeeded, after years of philanthropic efforts, in rousing the conscience of Englishmen upon the subject. In 1806, in the middle of the Napoleonic war, Grenville and Fox, the leaders of the Ministry which received the name of "All the Talents", carried resolutions in favors of the abolition of the slave trade, and an Act for its abolition was passed on March 25th, 1807. But slavery remained and Wilberforce was anxious to complete his work.
It was, however, far more difficult to convert 750,000 slaves into free laborers than to cut off the supply. Besides, to do this interfered with the rights of property and might ruin the Colonies, where cultivators depended on slave labor. The work was made easier by the fact that trade between Great Britain and the West Indies had seriously diminished since the Peace. In 1814 the West Indian trade formed one-sixth of British commerce; in 1833 it was only one-fifteenth. The abolition of slavery was a natural result of the advent of democratic government due to the Reform Bill of 1832. But, to the surprise of the abolitionists, no mention of the abolition of slavery was made in the Speech from the Throne in 1833. Thomas Fowell Buxton, who had taken charge of the subject in succession to Wilberforce, asked the Government whether they intended to do anything, and they were obliged to answer in the affirmative. Nothing, however, would have been done had not Stanley been Secretary for the Colonies. He devoted himself to the study of a subject of which he was before entirely ignorant, and rose to make his momentous speech on May 14th. The line he took was bold and statesmanlike. He was opposed to gradual abolition, as he held that slave and free labor could not exist side by side. The proposal was that, for a period, slaves should become apprentices, that they should give three-quarters of their time to their masters and have the rest for themselves. The period of apprenticeship, first fixed by Stanley at twelve years, was afterwards reduced to seven, and £20,000,000 was voted as a compensation for the slave-owners. The apprenticeship system proved to be a failure, as the apprentices were treated by their masters really as badly as the slaves had been. In 1838 it was abolished by Act of Parliament.
But there was slavery at home, and to this attention was now directed. The effect of the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century was to create labor in factories, and it was found that child labor was cheaper than adult labor. This led to a kind of slave-trade. Wagon loads of children were sent from London into Lancashire to act as apprentices in factories. But as time went on the manufacturing towns supplied their own children, most of whom did not begin work till they were nine years of age, though it was not uncommon to begin at six, and there were instances of beginning at five. The work was extremely hard. The child was dragged out of bed, winter and summer, at five o'clock in the morning, to begin work in the factory at six. There were no holidays. The work continued, with two intervals of half an hour (often spent in cleaning machinery), for thirteen hours a day. The atmosphere breathed by the operatives was physically unwholesome and morally degrading. The question had been taken up in Parliament, and in 1831 Thomas Sadler had introduced a Bill to limit the labor of factory children to ten hours. He was, however, not elected to the Reformed Parliament, and the work passed into other hands.
In 1833 the question was taken up by Lord Ashley, to a later generation known as the great philanthropist, Lord Shaftesbury. The Factory Bill introduced by him forbade the employment of children under nine years of age, and restricted the work of persons under eighteen to ten hours a day. Inspectors were to be appointed to see that the law was enforced and to provide for the education of the children. Eventually a modified measure was passed, which did not go as far as Lord Ashley wished, but greatly alleviated the sufferings of the factory children.
Thus the Reformed Parliament, in its first session, had remodeled the Irish Church, had abolished slavery, and had regulated factory labor. It had renewed the Charter of the Bank of England and terminated the monopoly of the East India Company. It also took up the question of elementary education, and a sum of £20,000 was voted for its improvement. The Ministry employed this money, through the agency of the National Society and the British and Foreign School Society, to give grants for school-houses, supplemented by large local subscriptions. The Catholics, however, were entirely omitted. But the feeble ray of enlightenment, which seemed at first merely to irradiate the gloom, brightened in after years into a glorious day, so that elementary education has become the most important and the most successful part of the teaching of the British Isles.
A Commission—of which Blomfield, Bishop of London, was chairman, and other members were Sumner, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, Sturges Bourne, and Nassau Senior—had been appointed to inquire into the working of the Poor Law. Great pains were taken to ascertain the existing condition of the question. It was found that the whole nation was pauperized by the system of outdoor relief established in 1796. In most parishes doles were given to the inhabitants in addition to any other means they might possess. This had the effect of inducing farmers to employ at a reduced wage laborers so subsidized, and to force everyone to become a pauper. Men received a dole for their wives and an extra sum for every child. This led to an enormous increase of pauper families. Relief in kind tempted the masters of poor-houses to make a profit by securing for themselves the orders for food and clothes. It was held by some that even able-bodied men were entitled to sixpence a day. Children did not support their parents, because they were supported by the parish. The poor man was bribed to marry, and as every girl who had gone wrong received two shillings a week, either from the father or from the parish, a woman with a family of bastards brought her husband a considerable dowry. The amount of the poor rate became intolerable. Hundreds of farms were without tenants because no reduction of rent could induce tenants to bear the weight of the poor rate.
The Commission recommended that after a certain date no outdoor relief, except medical aid in sickness, should be given to any able-bodied man; it proposed that women should be compelled to support their illegitimate children, and that the law of settlement should be abolished, except settlement by birth or marriage. A Central Board was to be established to carry out the law, with powers to make parishes or unions, to effect uniformity in assessment, to dismiss incompetent officers, and to revise the whole system. On April 17th, 1832, Lord Althorp introduced a Bill for carrying out these recommendations, and, in spite of violent opposition, it became law by July 3rd. The measure was a decided success. Poor law relief, which cost the country £7,000,000 in 1832, cost only a little over £4,000,000 in 1837.
But the Ministry which had done such great things was now approaching its end. The blow came from Ireland. O'Connell proposed to inquire into the means by which the Union had been brought about, thus raising the question of Repeal. After a debate which lasted six nights the motion was rejected by 529 votes to 38, but it left a sting behind. Another dispute arose about the tithes in Ireland, which the Roman Catholics naturally objected to pay. In 1833 the tithes in arrears amounted to £1,200,000, and Littleton, the Secretary for Ireland, carried a proposal for spending a million of money on the security of these tithes, which the Irish Government was to collect. This made matters worse. There was no justification for the tithe, and it ought not to have been collected. The whole question of the existence of the Irish Church was raised in the Cabinet, and there were grave differences of opinion on the subject. After a number of discussions, which it is needless to recount, Althorp resigned, and Grey determined to resign with him (1834). And so the Reform Ministry, which had done so much for the United Kingdom, came to an end.
Grey was succeeded by Melbourne, but he only held office for a short time. William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne, had been a follower of Canning, and had held office with the Wellington Ministry, but retired with the other Canningites in 1828. As Home Secretary in the Ministry of Lord Grey he helped to pass the Reform Bill, although he had little sympathy with its provisions. He was a man of great ability, but singularly indolent. His chief claim to distinction, however, is that he was Prime Minister when Queen Victoria came to the throne, and that he gave her a sound training in constitutional government. One of the disputes which had broken up the Grey Ministry was a Coercion Bill for Ireland. Melbourne determined to proceed with it, and it was passed in a modified form. Disputes about the tithes still continued. The power of O'Connell in the House increased, and the Ministry found it necessary to treat him with respect.
Althorp, the leader of the Commons, enjoyed an authority based partly on his abilities and partly on his character. He was, after Grey's departure, the strongest bulwark of the Whigs, but on the death of his father he became Lord Spencer and a member of the House of Lords. His likeliest successor was Lord John Russell, but the King refused to accept him, and determined to dismiss Melbourne and send for Wellington. This was the last instance in British history in which a Ministry was dismissed by the action of the Sovereign. Wellington accepted office, but thought that the Prime Minister should be in the House of Commons, and that the post should be given to Peel. But Peel was in Italy, and it would take some time to communicate with him. Wellington, therefore, became sole Minister. The King made him First Lord of the Treasury, and gave him also the seals Of the Home Office, the Colonies, and the Foreign Office.
James Hudson, the Queen's Secretary, afterwards celebrated as the champion of renovated Italy, was sent to look for Peel. He found him at a ball at Prince Torlonia’s, on the evening of November 25th, 1834. Peel set off immediately and reached London on December 9th, becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer on the following day. Stanley refused to take office, Lyndhurst was made Lord Chancellor, and Wellington Foreign Secretary. Peel, however, was the real master of the Government. Born in the same year as Byron, who had died ten years before, he had been Chief Secretary for Ireland under Lord Liverpool at the age of twenty-five, had succeeded Lord Sidmouth as Home Secretary in 1822, but had declined to serve under Canning. Although only a short period of his life had been spent in office, and he was generally in Opposition, his large-minded patriotism and preference of national to party considerations earned for him a worthy place in the first rank of British statesmen. He now issued a manifesto, addressed to the electors of Tavistock, in which he expressed his political principles. He said that he regarded the Reform Bill as a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question, and that he would never oppose the correction of proved abuses or the redress of real grievances. His chief objects were peace abroad and the reform of Church and State at home. By the enunciation of these principles he became the founder of the party known as Conservative, in distinction to the former Tories.
Peel thought it necessary to dissolve Parliament, which was probably a mistake. The election proved adverse to him. The nation was obviously incensed at the King's arbitrary dismissal of Melbourne. London and the boroughs elected Liberals, the counties Conservatives. Before the new members assembled, the old Houses of Parliament were burned down on October 17th; but, happily, Westminster Hall was saved. The new Parliament met on February 19th, 1835, Peel was defeated on the election of Speaker and the Address to the Throne. He was afterwards beaten on the question of the Irish Church. He did not resign, however, until April 7th, having held power for four months. Strangely enough, his failures increased his reputation. Guizot said of him that he was the most Liberal of Conservatives, the most Conservative of Liberals, and the most capable man of all in both parties. Bulwer, who voted against him, declared that never a statesman entered office more triumphantly than Peel left it. The King had no alternative but to recall Melbourne, when Spring Rice became Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord John Russell Home Secretary and leader of the House of Commons, while Lord Palmerston received the seals of the Foreign Office.
Parliament had now leisure to turn its attention to the reform 0f municipal government. Most of the new boroughs, constituted under the Reform Act, had no municipal government at all, and the municipalities under which the old boroughs were governed were generally corrupt. Many towns were ruled by small, irresponsible, and dishonest oligarchies. A Commission was appointed to inquire into the state of municipal corporations in England, Wales and Ireland. The inquiry began in the autumn of 1833 and was not concluded till the spring of 1835. The report then issued was very long and elaborate. The Commission had speedily ascertained that an unreformed House of Commons and unreformed corporations went together: that both were founded on monopoly and supported by corruption. The reform of Parliament naturally carried with it the reform of the corporations, and the Ministers who had introduced the Bill for reforming the one were charged with a second task in the reformation of the other.
Lord John Russell proposed that the Bill which he introduced should apply to 183 boroughs, not including the metropolis. The general provisions were that the parliamentary boundary was to be the boundary of the municipality; that the borough was to be governed by a mayor and council; that the councillors were to be elected by residents who had been ratepayers for three consecutive years. The twenty largest boroughs were to be divided into wards, with a certain number of councillors attached to each. The Tories naturally opposed the measure, but it passed the Commons, owing to the statesmanlike moderation of Peel, who supported the principles of the Bill. In the Upper House, however, Lord Lyndhurst made amendments which entirely altered its character, transforming it into a Conservative measure, and, so changed, the Bill passed the Lords in August, 1838. The Commons accepted some of the amendments, but rejected those which essentially altered the character of the measure. Wellington advised the Lords to submit, and even Lyndhurst was convinced that further resistance was useless. The Bill—in all essential particulars the same measure as that which Lord John Russell had introduced—thus became law. The Lords by their action lost greatly in the opinion of the country.
Ireland still continued in a state of disturbance. During the preceding fifty years a number of political societies, called “Orange Lodges”, in memory of the Protestant liberator, William of Orange, had sprung up in Ulster. Their object was to support the cause of Protestantism against the members of Catholic associations, who were called “Ribbon men”. The attempt to diminish the revenues of the Irish Church favored the extension of these lodges, which spread throughout England, Ireland, and the Colonies. The number of their members amounted to 300,000, and the Duke of Cumberland, the King's brother, was placed at their head, with almost despotic power. It was felt that the existence of these lodges was a serious political menace, and Parliament declared against them, while the King asserted his firm intention of discouraging all such societies in his dominions. The result was that the lodges were broken up, and the organization which threatened the peace of the Empire ceased to exist.
Other social reforms followed. A uniform registration of births, deaths, and marriages was ordered throughout the kingdom. The revenues of bishops and canons of the Established Church were remodeled, while the tax on newspapers was reduced to one penny, in spite of the Tories, who preferred cheap soap to a cheap Press. The debates of the Commons also began to be published, for the first time, by the House itself. But the passage of these reforms exhausted the force of the Ministry, and, distracted by internal dissensions, they failed to carry further measures of improvement. Discredited by repeated defeats, they would have resigned but for the illness and death of the King, who expired on June 20th. William IV was honest and conscientious. His reign witnessed the passage of the Reform Bill and the other beneficent measures which accompanied and followed it, and a strong impulse was given to commerce by the extension of railways and the use of steamships. Whether, as a Sovereign, he had much to do with the advance or not, there can be no doubt but that in the reign of William IV the progress of the nation was unusually rapid.
On Tuesday morning, June 20th, 1837, shortly after two o'clock, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chamberlain left Windsor for Kensington Palace, where the Princess Victoria was residing with her mother, to inform the girl, who was now Queen, of the King's death. They reached the Palace about five, and rang and stamped for a considerable time before they roused the porter to open the gate. They were again kept waiting in the courtyard, and were then shown into one of the lower rooms, where they seemed to be forgotten by everybody. They rang the bell and desired that the attendant of the Princess Victoria might be sent to inform Her Royal Highness that they requested an audience on business of importance. When the attendant came she said that the Princess was in bed and sound asleep, and that she could not venture to disturb her. They replied, “We have come to the Queen on business of State, and even her sleep must give place to that”. To prove that she did not wish to keep them waiting, the girl-Queen came into the room in a loose white dressing-gown, and shawl, her night-cap thrown off, her hair falling over her shoulders, her feet in slippers, tears in her eyes, but perfectly collected and dignified.
Queen Victoria has left an account of this event in her own words, so simple and graphic that it should not be omitted in any mention of this momentous occasion. “I was awoke at six o'clock by Marie, who told me that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here, and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing-gown) and saw them, and Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor uncle, the King, was no more and had expired at twelve minutes past two, in the morning, and consequently that I am Queen. Lord Conyngham then knelt down and kissed my hand”. After she had received an account of the King's last moments she went to her room and dressed. She then notes, “Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfill my duty towards my country. I am very young, and perhaps in many, though not in all, things, inexperienced; but I am sure that few have more real goodwill and real desire to do what is fit and right than I have”.
The Queen’s diary continues: “At nine came Lord Melbourne, whom I saw in my room and, of course, quite alone, as I shall always do with all my Ministers. He kissed my hand, and I then acquainted him that it had long been my intention to retain him and the rest of the present Ministry at the head of affairs, that it could not be in better hands than his. He then again kissed my hand. He then sent to me the declaration which I was to send to the Council, which he wrote himself, and which is a very fine one. I then talked with him some little time longer, after which he left me. He was in full dress. I like him very much, and feel confidence in him. He is a very straightforward, honest, clever, and good man. At about eleven Lord Melbourne came again to me and spoke to me about various subjects. At about half-past eleven I went downstairs and held a Council in the red saloon. I went in, of course, quite alone and remained seated the whole time. My two uncles, the Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex, and Lord Melbourne conducted me. I was not at all nervous, and had the satisfaction of hearing that the people were satisfied with what I had done and how I had done it”.
The first disturbance to the quiet of Victoria’s reign came from Canada. The condition of that country was perilous. Lower in Canada, or Eastern Canada was inhabited, for the most part, by men of French descent, whereas Upper Canada was almost exclusively British. The French of Lower Canada were disinclined to forge ahead, whereas the inhabitants of the Upper Province were supporters of energetic progress. The most important statesman in Lower Canada was Papineau. He had been Speaker of the House, and had planned a Convention to discuss the grievances of the Colony, the chief of which was the need of self-government, although it was said that he desired to make Canada into an independent State. A rebellion broke out in the lower province; it was not very important at first, but was clumsily dealt with and much blood was shed. The disturbance spread to Upper Canada, but here it took slight hold. The Earl of Durham was selected by Lord John Russell to settle these disturbances. He was an extremely able man, full of energy and passion, who has never received that meed of praise to which his public services entitled him.
Durham arrived at Quebec at the end of May, 1838, taking secretary, Charles Buller, the most brilliant of the younger generation of public men. He soon found himself considerably hampered by the action of Parliament, which passed a Bill abridging his powers. Desperate diseases require desperate remedies, and there can be little doubt but that, if Durham had been left to himself, he would have carried to a triumphant issue the accommodation which he was charged to effect. He secured a generous amnesty, but excluded from its operation Papineau and others, whom he exiled to Bermuda, threatening them with death if they returned. As they had not been tried, the action of the Governor was illegal. He also dismissed his regular Council and appointed another. Nothing could be more heroic than his performance of duty while wasting with an incurable disease and threatened by factious opposition. His chief antagonist in England was Brougham, with whom he had a personal quarrel. As the Home Ministry disallowed the ordinances, Durham had no alternative but to resign. Before he left Canada he issued a proclamation in self-defense, which, to say the least of it, was extremely indiscreet, and its terms were condemned by Ministers. He set out for England shortly after the issue of the proclamation, but before he could reach home he was recalled. He came back a disgraced man and was accorded a triumphant reception. He spent his leisure in drawing up, with the assistance of Charles Buller, a report which marked a new era in the government of colonies. His principles of administration, which in two or three years were in full operation in Canada, were afterwards extended to all colonies of European race which have any claim to the character of important communities.
On May 8th, 1838, the so-called People’s Charter, the manifesto of the Chartists, was published to the world. Chartism sprang from the conviction that the Liberals in Parliament did not intend to push Reform any farther. Regarded in the light of modern ideas, the Charter is not very formidable. It consisted of six points. Universal suffrage came first, which really meant manhood suffrage, as the promoters had no idea of extending the suffrage to women. This was followed by vote by ballot and annual parliaments. Then came the abolition of the property qualification for members, the payment of members, and the division of the country into equal electoral districts.
The Ministry, in the meantime, became gradually weaker, and were only allowed to exist on sufferance. They had no power to carry measures or to support those who served them. In May, 1839, they were defeated on the Jamaica Bill, which proposed to suspend the Constitution of Jamaica for five years, in consequence of the difficulties made by the Assembly in connection with the emancipation of the slaves. The Bill was opposed by the Radicals, led by Joseph Hume and by Sir Robert Peel, and only carried by five votes. The Ministry resigned, but Sir Robert Peel would not take office unless permitted to make changes in the Queen's personal household. He felt he could not retain his authority if the Queen were surrounded by ladies deeply devoted to the opposite party. The Queen vehemently objected to any change being made, an attitude which she afterwards admitted to have been mistaken, and Lord Melbourne returned to office.
The same year witnessed the introduction of the penny post, though the reform did not come into full operation until January 10th, 1840. The plan of conveying letters for a uniform low charge was invented by Rowland Hill, but the adhesive stamp was of another origin. At this time the postage of no letter was less than two pence. Letters from the country to London cost from sixpence to a shilling; letters from Scotland or Ireland from a shilling to eighteen pence. Rowland Hill showed that the cost of carrying each letter was extremely small, and that, if a stimulus were given to correspondence by lower rates, the profits would increase enormously. Experience has amply confirmed the truth of his reasoning, and cheap postage has been adopted by all civilized countries. Of course, the introduction of postage stamps greatly facilitated the new arrangements. In consequence of this change the privilege of franking letters was abolished.
Chartist riots continued during the whole of the year. The worst of them took place at Newport, in Monmouthshire, on November 4th. The rioters, after sacking the villages through which they passed, and compelling the whole adult population to join them, reached Newport at four o'clock in the morning, 50,000 strong, and were joined there by another division. The soldiers received the order to load, but the mob fired first. Then, under the fire of the soldiers, the mob dispersed.
The question of the Queen’s marriage now began to assume prominence. The Coronation had taken place on June 28th, 1838. The Queen has given an interesting sketch of it in her Journal : “I was awoke at four o'clock in the morning by the guns in the Park, and could not get much sleep afterwards, on account of the noise of the people and the bands. Got up at seven, feeling strong and well. At half-past nine I went into the next room and dressed exactly in my House of Lords costume. At ten I got into the State coach, with the Duke of Sutherland and Lord Albemarle, and began our progress. It was a fine day, and the crowds of people exceeded what I have ever seen. Many as there were the day I went to the City, it was nothing to the multitudes, the millions, of my loyal subjects who were assembled in every spot to witness the procession. Their good humour and excessive loyalty were beyond everything, and I cannot say how proud I feel to be Queen of such a nation. I was alarmed at times, for fear that the people would be crushed and squeezed on account of the tremendous rush and pressure.
“I reached the Abbey, amid deafening cheers, at a little after half-past eleven. I first went into the robing-room, quite close to the entrance, where I found my eight train-bearers. After putting on my mantle, and the young ladies having properly got hold of it, and Lord Conyngham holding the end of it, I left the robing-room and the procession began. The sight was splendid; the rank of Peeresses, quite beautiful, all in their robes, and the Peers on the other side. My young train-bearers were always near me, and helped me when I wanted anything. The Bishop of Durham stood on the side near me, but he was very maladroit, and never could tell me what was to take place.
“At the beginning of the anthem I retired to St. Edward’s Chapel, a dark, small place, immediately behind the altar; took off my crimson robe and kirtle, and put on the supertunica of cloth of gold, took off also my circlet of diamonds, and then proceeded bareheaded into the Abbey. I was then seated upon St. Edward's Chair. Then followed all the various things, and last the crown being placed on my head, which was, I must own, a most beautiful, impressive moment. All the Peers and Peeresses put on their coronets at the same instant. My excellent Lord Melbourne, who stood very close to me during the whole ceremony, was completely overcome at this moment and very much affected. He gave me such a kind and, I may say, such a fatherly look. The Enthronization and the Homage of, first, all the Bishops, then my uncles, and lastly of all the Peers, in their respective order, was very fine. Poor old Lord Rolle, who is eighty-two, and dreadfully infirm, in attempting to ascend the steps, fell and rolled quite down, but was not the least hurt. When he attempted to re-ascend them I got up and advanced to the end of the steps to prevent another fall.
“I then again descended from the Throne, and repaired, with all the Peers bearing the Regalia, to St. Edward’s Chapel, as it is called; but, as Lord Melbourne says, was more unlike a chapel than anything he had ever seen, for what was called an altar was covered with sandwiches, bottles of wine, etc. There we waited some minutes. The Archbishop came in, and ought to have delivered the orb to me; but I had already got it, and he was so confused and puzzled and knew nothing and went away. The procession being formed, I replaced my crown, which I had taken off for a few minutes, took the orb in my left hand, and the scepter in my right, and, thus loaded, proceeded through the Abbey, which resounded with cheers, to the first robing-room, and here we waited for at least an hour, with all my ladies and trainbearers.
“The Archbishop had, most awkwardly, put the ring on the wrong finger, and the consequence was that I had the greatest difficulty to take it off again, which I at last did with much pain. At half-past four I re-entered my carriage, the crown on my head and the scepter and orb in my hands, and we proceeded the same way as we came, the crowds, if possible, having increased. The enthusiasm, affection, and loyalty were really touching, and I shall ever remember the day as the proudest of my life. I came home a little after six, really not feeling tired”.
The choice of the King of the Belgians, in selecting a husband for the Queen, had fallen on a member of his own house, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, brother of the reigning Duke, and he took great pains with the Prince’s education to fit him for his responsibilities. The Queen wrote to her uncle Leopold, on October 12th, 1839, that the cousins had arrived at half-past seven on Thursday, both looking very well and much improved. “Ernest is grown quite handsome, and Albert’s beauty is most striking, and he is amiable and unaffected—in short, very fascinating. He is exceedingly admired here”. Two days afterwards she told Prince Albert that she wished to marry him. “The warm affection he showed me on learning this gave me great pleasure. He seems perfection, and I think I have the prospect of great happiness before me. I love him more than I can say, and I shall do everything in my power to render the sacrifice he has made (for a sacrifice, in my opinion, it is) as small as I can. These last few days have passed like a dream to me, and I am so much bewildered by it all that I know hardly how to write; but I do feel very, very happy”.
The marriage took place on February 10th, 1840, at the Chapel Royal, St. James's, and the married couple went to Windsor in the afternoon. The marriage, although arranged by statesmen, was a marriage of love. The Prince's personal virtues contributed largely to the prosperity of the reign, and his many-sided culture and intellectual activity left their mark on the community. He contributed to making German thought, in its various branches, current coin in his adopted country, and in this regard achieved a result which the union with Hanover failed to accomplish.
The year 1840 was marked by British intervention in Syria. In 1832 Mehemet Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, had made war upon his suzerain, the Sultan of Turkey, had captured Acre, occupied Damascus, and, in 1833, secured for himself the whole of Syria and the Province of Adana. In 1839, the Sultan, feeling himself stronger, had renewed the war, but Mehemet Ali had gained a decided victory over the Turks, and the Turkish fleet deserted to his cause. A Quadruple Alliance was formed between Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia to force the Turks and Egyptians to make peace. From this alliance France held aloof; having great influence in Egypt, she naturally supported the Egyptians against the Turks. In fact, the Egyptians governed Syria better than the Turks did. For a short time it seemed possible that war might break out between France and Great Britain, but France eventually became convinced that she could not stand against the rest of Europe. Beirut was attacked and Acre captured by Admiral Sir Charles Napier, and Mehemet Ali was turned out of Syria. In compensation he was recognised as Pasha of Egypt, with virtual independence.
Melbourne’s administration had now lost credit, and a vote of no confidence, taken in April, was rejected by only twenty-one. In August, however, the Government was able to pass a Municipal Act for Ireland, the measure abolishing fifty-eight municipalities and reconstituting ten. But Ministers failed to carry other measures of importance, and a Sugar Duty Bill was rejected by a majority of thirty-six. After this Sir Robert Peel brought forward a motion of want of confidence, which was carried by a single vote.
Lord Melbourne had the alternative of resigning or dissolving Parliament, and chose the latter; but the country decided against him. In the new Parliament, which met in August, 1841, the Conservatives numbered 367 and the Liberals 286. The Ministers were defeated on the Address by a large majority and, to the distress of the Queen, Lord Melbourne resigned.