TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE POLITICAL ISSUES.
IT is the greatest of mistakes to imagine or believe that the main issue before the country in this election is the fate of the Anglican Establishment in Ireland. The removal of that injustice is only the first of a series of measures intended to bind Ireland to the Empire, to end for ever the civil war which, under more or less patent disguises, has raged between the two islands for six hundred years, to weld the Three King- doms for the first time into one united, contented, and, therefore, powerful realm, presenting to the world, to America no less than to Europe, one unbroken front. That object is one which might well excite equally the statesman, who knows well that such a victory would add more strength to the Commonwealth than France has gained from Savoy and Nice, Prussia from Sadowa, or the Union from the conquest of the South ; and the philanthropist, who sees how for centuries the energy, and the courage, and the brain of an entire people have been wasted in the hopeless struggle against the power of a race whose strange want of sympathy for all beneath them perpe- tually risks the mastery which their still stranger coherence, —coherence as of a steel bar,—perpetually enables them to achieve. And even that object, for which the greatest ruler, or soldier, or thinker whom Britain ever produced might be content to lay down his life, or to live unrecognized and dishon- oured, is not the only or the greatest issue in the contest which, before we again address our readers, will have been decided. If the Tories triumph, if the Liberal majority is even decreased, if the majority is not great enough to cow all opposing forces and pulverize all opposing interests, the last hope of reconciliation will have passed away; for Great Britain, solemnly summoned to do justice to Ireland, will as solemnly have refused. It is no caste which rules us now. It is no side question that is to be decided. The entire nation formally placed in the judgment-seat is as formally required to decide between oppressor and oppressed, between the regime of ascen- dancy and the policy of freedom. There is no possible excuse of mistake, or error, or momentary aberration in the Court, no tribu- nal beyond the judge to which an appeal can lie,—save, indeed, Him whose "mills grind slowly,"—no advancing democracy to which Ireland can look with hope ; for the Demos wears the ermine, the most brilliant of counsel has set out the pleas, and the adversary has formally and honestly admitted the jurisdiction. The suit is but for a cottage, but it involves the whole estate. To refuse to sweep away the Irish Church is to dismiss the Irish suit, to declare once for all, in the presence of the whole world, that Irishmen are not equal members of the family, not partners in the concern, not even allies ; but dependents, who may be kindly treated but must wear the livery of their masters, go to church as they are bid, live on all essential points a life regulated by wills other than their own. It is to bid five millions of men, possessed of every natural, moral, and legal right that we possess, men who have died for us in heaps, who at this moment, in every quarter of the world, uphold not only our rights, but more than our rights, our claims, sometimes far in excess of right, whom we trust everywhere with power, and who in the long history of the Empire have never yet betrayed the trust, whom we should send to-morrow against any foe on earth never doubting of their fidelity,—it is to bid them, we say, see once for all that their solitary hope is in re- bellion, that while they maintain their fidelity their will can never be respected, their consciences never honoured, their idea of social order never allowed free play, that they will not be even welcome guests in the house they have helped to build.
No such political issue was ever submitted to such a multi- tude for final decision ; and even this is not the greatest to be placed before the people. The new Parliament is not a mere continuance of the old. A revolution has passed over us, a revolution as complete as a nation ever went through, a new dynasty has ascended the throne, and has now to decide what its policy shall be—that of the future or of the present, of the eighteenth or the nineteenth century, of movement or stagna- tion. We are not about to repeat the party cries of the hour. The Tories of Great Britain are neither villains nor fools, neither traitors to their country nor irreconcilable enemies to
English freedom. They are, as a permanent party in the State, when unconfused by momentary delusions, when led by men
like themselves, and battling out questions they understand, simply content men, men who think that the old response,
"As it was, is now, and ever shall be, world without end," contains all political truth ; who regret oppression, but only as they regret hail ; who pity misery, but only as they pity human nature ; who see abuses, but fear that change will only breed greater ; who think that the existing social order, so pleasant for them, is at least semi-divine ; who see in incessant advance only an endless march to a. perpetually receding goal, and do not see that even if that were true, continual marching trains men as continual dozing never will. If they win we shall have no reaction, no new oppression, no attack on freedom as it is, no effort to make the privileges of the rich higher or the burdens of the poor heavier than they are. All will simply remain ; they who enjoy will enjoy, they who suffer will suffer, the overladen Titan will stagger on with his burden as of old, under no whip wielded by them to torture him, but also with no wine offered by them to strengthen him. This election will determine the drift of British policy for years, and if the Tories win, for years Great Britain will remain unaltered, a land ruled by a tolerant feudalism, in which all are happy except the multitude, all claims are acknowledged save those of manhood, all rights are respected save those of free thought, all aspirations are welcomed save those which tend towards equality. A "great estate" will be pronounced "a good thing," and so will cheap labour; education will be doled out in morsels, the highest means of culture will be limited to a creed, combination, the new machine of the poor, will be jealously restricted, the soldier will be debarred from epaulettes, the sailor from the chance of a ship, all but the wealthy from political power, all but squires from local administrative authority, all alike from experiments in social organization. The Peer who has disgraced his order will be still suffered to legislate, the cleric who has changed his convictions will still be compelled to preach, the Churchman will still be ordered to swear that he loves the barnacles equally with the ship. The old regime of privilege and compression, the old government by a kindly, contented, but quiescent caste will still continue ; and the new world, with its free instruction, free careers, and free thought, its more diffused prosperity and ease, its aggressive faith in humanity, its active sympathy with poverty, its overweening pity for monotonous toil, cannot be so much as born. It is not a measure or an Act, however great, or however important, which the country is called on to accept ; it is not even a kingdom, however splendid, which it has to regain ; it is a new regime for the Empire it has to inaugurate, a regime which, if it wants every other virtue, shall at least be illuminated by hope. If the Tories suc- ceed, the present will stand ; if the Radicals, the future ill come ; let every man still doubtful about his vote admit that conviction to his brain, and act as it makes him decide. Let no man be deluded by talk of Mr. Disraeli. Behind him, above him, is the real party of resistance, the party which will voluntarily change nothing because no change can be certainly a better change for them. For the squire and the wealthy trader, for the rector and the successful professional, for all who have made fortunes, or established positions, or in any way whatever risen into the sunshine, this is the happiest land the ages have yet seen. Only for its people it is not happy, only they have reason to wish for change, only to the " dingy common populations " can the future bring more light, more warmth, more air, higher education, laws less permeated with the awe of property, freer liberty of careers ; and it is in their hands alone, in the hands of those who at the last election shouted unregarded outside the polling-booths, that the deci- sion rests. Will they, besides a reconciled Ireland, have an en- franchised Britain ?—or are they content with their franchises, with the liberty to toil, the freedom to serve, the right to, obey, the privilege to demand State alms ?
If they are not, they will on Tuesday vote as one man together for the Liberal side. The issues are too great to allow of individual preferences, or of, what is sometimes the true course, abstinence from the polls. Grant that the Tory is personally in many a borough the better man, grant that- the only possible candidate revolts every sense a cultivated man can feel, grant that the local strife is between a states- man and an alderman, and still the duty of all who look to the future, who desire better, swifter, more sympathetic government, who trust that we also "through the shadow of the world " shall "sweep into the younger day," is to suppress all disgusts, to put down all individual crotchets, to forget all doubts, to despise all interests, and help to swell, if it be only by one recruit, the Army which, consciously or unconsciously, must, if it obeys its chiefs, do battle for the Right.