Page:Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, volume 2.djvu/70

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Fowler
Fowler
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his third wife, Elizabeth McNeill, daughter of Alexander Laing of Glasgow, and step-daughter of John Hartley of Smethwick and Hunslet.

Educated at Woodhouse Grove school, a school for Methodist ministers' sons near Bradford, and at St. Saviour's grammar school, Southwark, he was intended for the university and the bar; but the premature death of his father made other plans necessary. Articled to Messrs. Hussey of London, he was admitted a solicitor in 1852. Meanwhile his mother on his father's death had settled in Wolverhampton, where her step-brother, John Hartley, was then living. There in 1855 Fowler joined her, and his long association with that city began. Next year he was taken into partnership there by Charles Corser, and remained a member of the firm until 1908. In 1876 he also entered into partnership with Sir Robert William Perks, becoming senior partner of the firm of Fowler, Perks & Co., London.

Fowler first showed his capacity for public life in municipal affairs. Owing to his vigour and grasp of business, he quickly made his mark in local administration, becoming mayor of Wolverhampton in 1863, and chairman of the first school board in 1870. Several important municipal schemes were carried largely owing to his zealous advocacy; he was also successful in opposing the introduction of politics into the municipal elections of the town. In 1892 his services to Wolverhampton were acknowledged by his being enrolled as the first freeman of the borough.

In addition to his municipal work Fowler took an active part in politics. A non-conformist liberal, he soon came to be recognised as a powerful representative of the party. At the great meeting which Gladstone addressed on the Eastern question at Birmingham on 31 May 1877 he was chosen to move one of the resolutions. His speech on that occasion deeply impressed Gladstone. It was not till 1880, however, that he entered parliament, when he was returned for Wolverhampton in the liberal interest as colleague of Charles Pelham Villiers [q. v.]. In 1885, when the borough was divided into three divisions, Fowler was re-elected for the eastern division, for which he sat until he was raised to the upper house in 1908.

In addition to his business capacity and masculine commonsense, he had a ready command of well-chosen language and the gift of lucidly presenting a complicated case. These qualities, combined with his straightforwardness and his moderation, gained for him with exceptional rapidity the ear of the house. It soon became clear that he was marked out for office. A strong party man, yet moderate and cautious in the expression of his views, a good Wesleyan, yet one who, after the custom of the early methodists, always remained in communion with the Church of England, he was respected and trusted by both sides of the house. On 25 July 1881 he seconded the liberal amendment to Sir Michael Hicks-Beach's vote of censure on the government's conduct after Majuba. In 1884 he became under-secretary for home affairs in Gladstone's second administration, and two years later financial secretary to the treasury. On assuming the latter office he was sworn a member of the privy council.

When, in 1886, Gladstone took up the cause of home rule, it was thought that Fowler would follow Lord Hartington and Mr. Chamberlain in their opposition to the measure. In the event, however, possibly with some searchings of heart, he remained faithful to his chief; and in the debates on the second reading (29 May 1886) he made 'an admirably warm and convinced defence of the policy of the bill.' Lord Morley described him at the time as 'one of the best speakers in the house' (Life of Gladstone, iii. 336).

During the six years of opposition which followed the rejection of the home rule bill (1886-92), Fowler, by his keen criticism of the financial policy of the unionist government, strengthened his position not only as an authority on finance but as an excellent debater.

When Gladstone returned to office in Aug. 1892, Fowler became president of the local government board with a seat in the cabinet for the first time. To him fell the duty of piloting the parish councils bill through the house. This was his greatest legislative achievement. From the first he determined to secure as far as possible the co-operation of both sides of the house in improving the bill. He knew his subject thoroughly, and was at the same time fair, courteous, and conciliatory; and in the end he carried a most complicated measure without once himself moving the closure.

On the reconstruction of the ministry in 1894 by Lord Rosebery, Fowler received promotion, becoming secretary of state for India. The appointment excited some cavil, but no previous secretary of state was in greater sympathy with her interests and the imperial questions involved. The chief