CHAPTER XVIII. THE KEY-NOTE OF BRITISH ATTITUDE
So assured were all parties in England that the great Civil War in America was closing in Northern victory that the final event was discounted in advance and the lines were rapidly being formed for an English political struggle on the great issue heralded as involved in the American conflict. Again, on the introduction of a motion in Parliament for expansion of the franchise the ultra-Conservatives attempted to read a "lesson" from America. The Quarterly for April, 1865, asserted that even yet "the mass of educated men in England retain the sympathy for the South which they have nourished ever since the conflict assumed a decided shape." America was plainly headed in the direction of a military despotism. Her example should warn England from a move in the same direction. "The classes which govern this country are in a minority," and should beware of majority rule. But events discredited the prophecy of a military despotism. The assassination of Lincoln gave opportunity not merely for a general outpouring of expressions of sympathy but also to the Radicals a chance to exalt Lincoln's leadership in democracy.
In July Great Britain was holding elections for a new Parliament. Not a single member who had supported the cause of the North failed of re-election, several additional Northern "friends" were chosen, and some outspoken members for the South were defeated. Adams thought this a matter deserving special notice in America, and prophesied a new era approaching in England:
"As it is, I cannot resist the belief that this period marks
an era in the political movement of Great Britain. Pure
old-fashioned conservatism has so far lost its hold on the
confidence of the country that it will not appear in that
guise any more. Unless some new and foreign element should
interpose, I look for decided progress in enlarging the
popular features of the constitution, and diminishing the
influence of the aristocracy.... It is impossible not to
perceive traces of the influence of our institutions upon all
these changes.... The progress of the liberal cause, not in
England alone, but all over the world, is, in a measure, in
The "Liberal progress" was more rapid, even, than Adams anticipated. Palmerston, ill for some months past, died on October 18, 1865. Russell succeeded him as head of the Ministry, and almost immediately declared himself in favour of Parliamentary reform even though a majority in both Houses was still opposed to such a measure. Russell's desertion of his earlier attitude of "finality" on franchise expansion correctly represented the acceptance, though unwillingly, by both political parties of the necessity of reform. The battle, long waged, but reaching its decisive moment during the American Civil War, had finally gone against Conservatism when Lee surrendered at Appomatox. Russell's Reform Bill of 1866 was defeated by Tory opposition in combination with a small Whig faction which refused to desert the "principle" of aristocratic government - the "government by the wise," but the Tories who came into power under Derby were forced by the popular demand voiced even to the point of rioting, themselves to present a Reform Bill. Disraeli's measure, introduced with a number of "fancy franchises," which, in effect, sought to counteract the giving of the vote to British working-men, was quickly subjected to such caustic criticism that all the planned advantages to Conservatism were soon thrown overboard, and a Bill presented so Radical as to permit a transfer of political power to the working classes. The Reform Bill of 1867 changed Great Britain from a government by aristocracy to one by democracy. A new nation came into being. The friends of the North had triumphed.