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CHURCHILL, LORD RANDOLPH

see Genuine Memoirs of Charles Churchill, with an account of and observations on his writings; together with some Original letters . . . between him and the author (1765); A. Kippis, in Biographia Britannica (1780); also John Forster in the Edinburgh Review (January 1845).


CHURCHILL, LORD RANDOLPH HENRY SPENCER (1840–1895), English statesman, third son of John, seventh duke of Marlborough, by Frances, daughter of the third marquess of Londonderry, was born at Blenheim Palace, on the 13th of February 1849. His early education was conducted at home, and at Mr Tabor’s preparatory school at Cheam. In January 1863 he went to Eton, where he remained till July 1865. He was not specially distinguished either in school work or games while at Eton; his contemporaries describe him as a vivacious and rather unruly lad. In October 1867 he matriculated at Merton College, Oxford. He was fond of amusement, and had carried to Oxford an early taste for sport which he retained throughout life. But he read with some industry, and obtained a second class in jurisprudence and modern history in 1870. In 1874 he was elected to parliament in the Conservative interest for Woodstock, defeating Mr George Brodrick, a fellow, and afterwards warden, of Merton College. His maiden speech, delivered in his first session, made no impression on the House.

It was not till 1878 that he forced himself into public notice as the exponent of a species of independent Conservatism. He directed a series of furious attacks against some of the occupants of the front ministerial bench, and especially that “old gang” who were distinguished rather for the respectability of their private characters, and the unblemished purity of their Toryism, than for striking talent. Mr Sclater-Booth (afterwards 1st Lord Basing), president of the Local Government Board, was the especial object of his ire, and that minister’s County Government Bill was fiercely denounced as the “crowning dishonour to Tory principles,” and the “supreme violation of political honesty.” The audacity of Lord Randolph’s attitude, and the vituperative fluency of his invective, made him a parliamentary figure of some importance before the dissolution of the 1874 parliament, though he was not as yet taken quite seriously. In the new parliament of 1880 he speedily began to play a more notable rôle. With the assistance of his devoted adherents, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, Sir John Gorst and occasionally of Mr Arthur Balfour, and one or two others, he constituted himself at once the audacious opponent of the Liberal administration and the unsparing critic of the Conservative front bench. The “fourth party,” as it was nicknamed, was effective at first not so much in damaging the government as in awakening the opposition from the apathy which had fallen upon it after its defeat at the polls. Churchill roused the Conservatives and gave them a fighting issue, by putting himself at the head of the resistance to Mr Bradlaugh, the member for Northampton, who, though an avowed atheist or agnostic, was prepared to take the parliamentary oath. Sir Stafford Northcote, the Conservative leader in the Lower House, was forced to take a strong line on this difficult question by the energy of the fourth party, who in this case clearly expressed the views of the bulk of the opposition. The long and acrimonious controversy over Mr Bradlaugh’s seat, if it added little to the reputation of the English legislature, at least showed that Lord Randolph Churchill was a parliamentary champion who added to his audacity much tactical skill and shrewdness. He continued to play a conspicuous part throughout the parliament of 1880–1885, dealing his blows with almost equal vigour at Mr Gladstone and at the Conservative front bench, some of whose members, and particularly Sir Richard Cross and Mr W. H. Smith, he assailed with extreme virulence. From the beginning of the Egyptian imbroglio Lord Randolph was emphatically opposed to almost every step taken by the government. He declared that the suppression of Arabi Pasha’s rebellion was an error, and the restoration of the khedive’s authority a crime. He called Mr Gladstone the “Moloch of Midlothian,” for whom torrents of blood had been shed in Africa. He was equally severe on the domestic policy of the administration, and was particularly bitter in his criticism of the Kilmainham treaty and the rapprochement between the Gladstonians and the Parnellites. It is true that for some time before the fall of the Liberals in 1885 he had considerably modified his attitude towards the Irish question, and was himself cultivating friendly relations with the Home Rule members, and even obtained from them the assistance of the Irish vote in the English constituencies in the general election. By this time he had definitely formulated the policy of progressive Conservatism which was known as “Tory democracy.” He declared that the Conservatives ought to adopt, rather than oppose, reforms of a popular character, and to challenge the claims of the Liberals to pose as the champions of the masses. His views were to a large extent accepted by the official Conservative leaders in the treatment of the Gladstonian Franchise Bill of 1884. Lord Randolph insisted that the principle of the bill should be accepted by the opposition, and that resistance should be focused upon the refusal of the government to combine with it a scheme of redistribution. The prominent, and on the whole judicious and successful, part he played in the debates on these questions, still further increased his influence with the rank and file of the Conservatives in the constituencies. At the same time he was actively spreading the gospel of democratic Toryism in a series of platform campaigns. In 1883 and 1884 he invaded the Radical stronghold of Birmingham itself, and in the latter year took part in a Conservative garden party at Aston Manor, at which his opponents paid him the compliment of raising a serious riot. He gave constant attention to the party organization, which had fallen into considerable disorder after 1880, and was an active promoter of the Primrose League, which owed its origin to the happy inspiration of one of his own “fourth party” colleagues.

In 1884 the struggle between stationary and progressive Toryism came to a head, and terminated in favour of the latter. At the conference of the Central Union of Conservative Associations, Lord Randolph was nominated chairman, notwithstanding the strenuous opposition of the parliamentary leaders of the party. The split was averted by Lord Randolph’s voluntary resignation; but the episode had confirmed his title to a leading place in the Tory ranks. It was further strengthened by the prominent part he played in the events immediately preceding the fall of the Liberal government in 1885; and when Mr Childers’s budget resolutions were defeated by the Conservatives, aided by about half the Parnellites, Lord Randolph Churchill’s admirers were justified in proclaiming him to have been the “organizer of victory.” His services were, at any rate, far too important to be refused recognition; and in Lord Salisbury’s cabinet of 1885 he was appointed to no less an office than that of secretary of state for India. During the few months of his tenure of this great post the young free-lance of Tory democracy surprised the permanent officials and his own friends by the assiduity with which he attended to his departmental duties and the rapidity with which he mastered the complicated questions of Indian administration. In the autumn election of 1885 he contested Central Birmingham against Mr Bright, and though defeated here, was at the same time returned by a very large majority for South Paddington. In the contest which arose over Mr Gladstone’s Home Rule scheme, both in and out of parliament, Lord Randolph again bore a conspicuous part, and in the electioneering campaign his activity was only second to that of some of the Liberal Unionists, the marquess of Hartington, Mr Goschen and Mr Chamberlain. He was now the recognized Conservative champion in the Lower Chamber, and when the second Salisbury administration was formed after the general election of 1886 he became chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the House of Commons. His management of the House was on the whole successful, and was marked by tact, discretion and temper. But he had never really reconciled himself with some of his colleagues, and there was a good deal of friction in his relations with them, which ended with his sudden resignation on the 20th of December 1886. Various motives influenced him in taking this surprising step; but the only ostensible cause was that put forward in his letter to Lord Salisbury, which was read in the House of Commons on 27th January. In this document he stated that his resignation was due to his inability, as chancellor of the exchequer, to concur