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VICTORIA I., our present most gracious and beloved queen, was proclaimed on June 21, 1837, by her two names of Alexandrina Victoria, but she immediately dropped the former. She was born, May 24, 1819. The death of her father (Jan. 23, 1820) left her to the sole care of her mother, Victoria, duchess of Kent and princess of Saxe Coburg-Gotha, the sister of prince Leopold ; and the charge was fulfilled with a care and wisdom, of which the fruit has been shown in every step of her Majesty's life.
She soon displayed a character totally opposite to the selfish indolence of George IV., and the weak good nature of William IV. She devoted herself to public and private duty with diligence, activity, punctuality, and economy. Having given up the domains of the crown for a very moderate civil list, she speedily paid her father's debts and those contracted by her mother for her education. Her accession was hailed with cheerful hope, based on the knowledge of the training she had received, and with chivalrous devotion to a second virgin queen, who had the advantage over Elizabeth in youth and gentleness. She was wisely guided into the strict path
of the constitution by lord Melbourne, and after him by succeeding ministers, by her lamented consort, and by the duke of Wellington, whose advice was always sought in great emergencies.
The queen was welcomed with enthusiasm on her first public appearance in the city, Nov. 9, 1837. Lord Melbourne's tottering ministry revived in the sunshine of her favour and in the strength of her liberal principles; but there were clouds around and breakers ahead. They were suspected by the Radicals of receding from liberal principles under shelter of court favour, especially when lord John Russell announced the “ finality” of the Reform Act (Nov. 1837). Offence was given by their resistance to the shortening of the term of “apprenticeship ” which preceded the final emancipation of the negroes. Their Irish policy offended the Tories without satisfying the Repealers; and in Canada they had to meet a formidable rebellion with measures of coercion. This rebellion led to the settlement of the affairs of Canada by lord Durham in the following year, and the union of the two provinces under a new and popular constitution. There was a marked coolness in the queen's reception on her way to open parliament at the beginning of 1838. The Conservatives under sir Robert Peel gained strength in the commons, and the government were in a minority in the lords, where they were assailed by the tactics of Lyndhurst and the invectives of Brougham. The Radicals raised a cry for“ Peerage Reform," which ministers lost popularity by opposing. The bad harvests of 1837 and 1838 inflamed popular discontent, and a formidable agitation was raised by the Chartists, who propounded a new “People's Charter" of five points, namely, universal suffrage, vote by ballot, triennial parliaments, equal electoral districts, and salaries for members of parliament. Lastly, the repeal of the corn-laws was demanded by the Anti-Corn-Law League, which was formed at Manchester by Mr. RICHARD COBDEN, in September, 1838. At the same time the finances of the country were falling into confusion. In 1839 the ministry were defeated, and resigned; but, sir Robert Peel having been prevented from forming a government by a matter relating to the court, they returned to office. In the autumn there were serious Chartist disturbances in Wales, and blood was shed in an attack on Newport.
On February 10, 1840, her Majesty was married to her cousin, Francis ALBERT Augustus Charles Emanuel, second son of the duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who was born Aug. 19, 1819. Parliament voted him an annuity of 30,0001., and the queen afterwards conferred on him the dignity of PRINCE CONSORT. In this year was formed the Quadruple Treaty between England, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, for the protection of the sultan of Turkey against his rebelliovar
vassal, Mehemet Ali, viceroy of Egypt, whose army, under his son Ibrahim Pacha, had overrun Syria. Our fleet, under sir Robert Stopford and sir Charles Napier, in concert with Austria and Turkey, bombarded Beyrout, Sidon, and Acre; and Ibrahim Pacha was driven out of Syria. Mehemet Ali was afterwards secured in the possession of Egypt as hereditary viceroy ; but France, which had favoured his designs, for her own ulterior objects in the Levant, resented the conduct of the other four powers, and threatened war. The danger was averted by the removal of M, THIERS from office, and the accession of M. Guizot, who established with England the “ entente cordiale” (Oct. 29, 1840). Our government permitted the removal of the remains of Napoleon from St. Helena ; they were deposited in the church of the Invalides (Dec. 15, 1840), under the dome of which they now rest in a magnificent sepulchre.
In 1841 the ministry of lord Melbourne fell through its own weakness and the growing confidence of the nation in sir Robert Peel, who came into power with a decided majority in the commons, after the Whigs had tried an appeal to the people and offered to the Corn-Law Reformers the bait of a fixed duty of eight shillings a quarter. Sir Robert grappled at once with the whole question of commercial policy, and with the accumulated deficit of several years. He adopted the principle, which has been since universally accepted, of lightening the weight of taxation on articles of necessary consumption and on the raw materials of our manufactures, and trusting to the impulse thus given to trade for supplying the revenue under other heads. In old times, particular branches of industry were encouraged by “bounties ; " they were afterwards “protected" against foreign competition by import duties; but the free-traders had condemned such protection as an injustice to the consumer, and, in the long run, an injury to the producer; and Peel now proclaimed that the true commercial policy was" to buy in the cheapest market, and sell in the dearest." But he proceeded cautiously at first. He abolished many petty and unproductive duties, and reduced others which were so high as to check consumption or encourage smuggling. For corn he retained the “sliding scale," but lowered the "pivot price” at which the duty became small enough to admit foreign grain freely in seasons of scarcity. To meet the existing deficit, and the temporary loss involved by his reforms, he imposed a property and income tax of sevenpence in the pound on all incomes above 1501. The tax was limited to three years, in the hope (though no pledge was given) that it might then be dispensed with. Those three years bore triumphant witness to the Peel policy. A large annual surplus enabled him to go on reducing taxes, and especially to attack the excise duties, which not only raised the
price of articles of necessity, but most vexatiously hampered manufacture and invention, such as those on soap and glass. The latter duty alone would have prevented the erection of the “Crystal Palaces” at Hyde Park and Sydenham. The success of Peel's policy was, in fact, too great for its author. It convinced men, except some farmers and landlords, that “protection " for the growers of corn was no longer tenable. The Anti-Corn-Law League was declared to be “a great fact," and the end was hastened by the cold wet summer of 1845, and the “potato disease," which plunged Ireland into a famine. The league was joined by lord MORPETH (now the earl of Carlisle). Lord John Russell, who had become the leader of that party, declared for free-trade in corn, taunting sir Robert Peel for adhering to protection. But sir Robert had already made his decision and carried with him the majority of his cabinet.
To avoid, however, the apparent inconsistency for which he had once suffered so severely on the Catholic question, he resigned (Dec. 11, 1845), promising his support to any ministry who would repeal the corn-laws. The queen sent for lord John Russell, who failed to form a government, and sir Robert returned to office, though with the loss of some of his colleagues, especially lord Stanley, who became the head of the new "protectionist party.” The repeal of the corn-laws (leaving only a duty of one shilling per quarter for the purpose of registering statistics) was accompanied by another sweeping reform of the tariff, to effect which the income-tax.was renewed for three years more, and it has since been continued at various rates (1846). This great change involved personal consequences, of which Peel had counted the cost. He was deserted by a large section of the party which he had spent fifteen years in rallying. amidst much bitter resentment, such as was expressed in the invectives of Mr. BENJAMIN DISRAELI (b. 1805). An Irish question was again seized as the occasion for his overthrow. That unhappy country was still the prey of agitation. O'Connell had quarrelled with the Whigs before their fall, and roused the nation for repeal by a system of " monster meetings.” In 1843 the government had prosecuted him and obtained a verdict, on which he was imprisoned; but the House of Lords reversed the judgment. His influence was, however, declining and his health failing ; * but he was succeeded by a more violent party, who, under the name of “Young Ireland,” appealed to the memories of 1798 and of the United Irishmen. The scarcity of 1845-6 came to their aid, and a new coercion bill was required. On its proposal, the Whigs united with the Protectionists to defeat sir Robert Peel, who finally retired from office in 1846,
* He died at Genoa (May, 1847), on his way to Rome, to ask the blessing of the pope.
leaving, as he truly boasted, a name which will ever be held in honour by the industrious producer,—the class from which his own father rose,—though exposed to the charge of vacillation and inconsistency.
Like sir Robert Walpole, whom he resembled in many points, he was a peace minister ; but he was more than once in danger of war. A long-standing dispute with the United States about their boundaries on the north-east and north-west was settled by the mission of lord Ashburton (Alexander Baring) on terms by which our strict rights were sacrificed to the desire for peace. The “entente cordiale" with France was endangered in 1843 by her seizure of Tahiti and imprisonment of our consul, Mr. Pritchard, and still more in 1846 by the affair of the Spanish marriages, which needs a brief explanation. In 1833 Ferdinand VII. died, having made a will in favour of his daughter, who succeeded him as Isabella II., and revived the constitution ; but don Carlos, the late king's brother, claimed the crown as the male heir. As in Portugal, the queen's cause was espoused by England and France, and a “ British legion" of volunteers went to Spain under a Peninsular veteran, sir DE LACY Evans. After a long Carlist war and many internal revolutions, queen Isabella was established on her throne. Louis Philippe now revived the old Bourbon policy of the “family compact;" and, in spite of the successive opposition of lords Aberdeen and Palmerston, the king of the French arranged the marriage of the queen of Spain with her cousin, don Francisco of Assisi, while her sister, the infanta Louisa, was united to Louis Philippe's youngest son, the duke of Montpensier (Oct. 10, 1846). The result was a coolness between France and England till the revolution of 1848; and at one time there was even an alarm of a French invasion.
Meanwhile the government of lord John Russell pursued sir Robert Peel's commercial policy in their settlement of the sugar duties (1847) and of the navigation laws (1849); but the course of prosperity soon received a severe check. In 1847 a bad season and a failure of the potato-crop produced a famine in Ireland and great distress in England. A loan of 10,000,0001. was voted for the relief of the Irish ; but they found a more effectual refuge in emigration ; and, while they began to prosper in America and the colonies, their removal, together with the sale of encumbered estates by a court established by parliament, opened the way for a new race of owners and cultivators and for the influx of capital. A new era of prosperity began with the famine of 1847; but it is already overclouded by the renewal of those agrarian murders which have been a greater curse to Ireland than Celtic indolence, Saxon tyranny, priestly domination or even professional agitators (1862).