Page:Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, volume 3.djvu/381

This page needs to be proofread.
Spencer
Spencer
371


defeated in the Commons on a different issue in regard to the budget, and Spencer with his colleagues resigned (8 June).

The new conservative administration, which enjoyed nationalist favour, not only declared against an immediate renewal of the Crimes Act but disclaimed ’responsibility for its practice in the past' (Morley, Life of Gladstone, iii. 213). When Parnell and his friends imputed to Spencer a wilf id miscarriage of justice in the trial and conviction of persons charged with murder at Maamtrasna, the conservative leader of the house. Sir Michael Hicks-Beach (afterwards Lord St. Aldwyn), spoke with hesitating approval of Spencer's past action and promised inquiry (17 July). Spencer's friends held that the conservatives who had denounced him as being too lenient now threw him overboard as having been too severe. The debate brought home to many on both sides of the house the varied perils and temptations springing from a coercive policy. On 23 July 1885 Spencer was entertained at dinner at the Westminster Palace Hotel by 200 liberal members of parliament under the chairmanship of Lord Hartington, and he defended with spirit his administration of the Crimes Act.

When at the end of 1885 Gladstone adopted the policy of home rule, Spencer supported him. The change of view was partly due to Gladstone's commanding personal influence over him and to his sense of party loyalty. But another cause doubtless lay in Ms conviction that coercion was impracticable in view on the one hand of the impatience with it manifested by an important section of his own party, and on the other hand of the cynical readiness with which the tones had rejected the principle to gain a party advantage. In Spencer's belief the only alternative to effective repression was effective concession.

On 1 Feb. 1886 Gladstone resumed office, having committed himself to a measure of home rule as yet undefined. Spencer joined him as lord president of the council, and took an active part in the framing of the first home rule bill. The measure was rejected on the second reading by a majority of thirty owing to the opposition of the liberal unionists, who combined with the tories (7 June). Gladstone dissolved parliament at once, and was heavily defeated at the polls. During the six years of opposition which followed Spencer took from time to time a conspicuous share in the agitation for home rule. He met on the same platform many Irish members of parliament who had previously been prominent in scurrilous denunciation of him. At the general election of 1892 Gladstone secured a small majority, and in his fourth and last administration Spencer accepted the office of first lord of the admiralty. His grandfather had held the post from 1794 to 1800.

Spencer administered the navy with great energy and efficiency and with a single-minded regard to the national security on the seas. He was the first to set the precedent, which has since been consistently followed, of retaining in office the professional members of the board who had been appointed by his predecessor (Sir William White in The Times, 20 Aug. 1910). The large ship-building programme embodied in the Naval Defence Act of 1889 was in course of prosecution, and continuity of administration was therefore of primary importance. Spencer handled firmly and judiciously the critical questions, personal, administrative, and constructive, which were raised in 1893, when the Victoria was rammed and sunk by the Camperdown with great loss of life. The ship-building policy included the introduction of the 'torpedo-boat destroyer,' a new and valuable type of warship. Above all he made with his professional colleagues an historic stand against the indifference of some members of the cabinet to the requirements of national security. In this regard he came into conflict with both Sir William Harcourt [q. v. Suppl. II] and Gladstone. At the end of 1893, when Lord George Hamilton, Spencer's predecessor at the admiralty, moved a resolution declaring the necessity for an immediate and considerable increase in the navy and called on the government to make a statement of their intentions. Sir William Harcourt, then chancellor of the exchequer, professing to represent the opinion of the sea lords, asserted that in their opinion as well as his own the existing condition of things in respect to the navy was satisfactory. Spencer at once privately protested that Harcourt's statement was unjustified, and Spencer's colleagues at the admiralty threatened resignation if it were not corrected. The correction was made. Then followed the 'Spencer programme' of shipbuilding, extending over several years. Gladstone's final resignation in March 1894 was determined by the increased expenditure which Spencer's navy estimates involved (see Morley, Life of Gladstone, iii. 507-8). There is excellent authority for recording that when these estimates were presented to the cabinet, Gladstone exclaimed