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128

DISRAELI

and original ideas, not even without convictions, but too ready to sacrifice them to the exigencies of his parliamentary career.

The crisis over the corn-laws was reached in 1846. The AntiCorn-Law League had made a great impression in the country and on its leading statesmen as well. The Whigs (led by Lord John Russell) were converted. Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister and leader of the Tory party, feit his faith in protection shaken. When towards the end of 1845 a famine threatened zin Ireland, where the potato erop had failed, Peel feit that it would be monstrous to keep out food with tariffs, and announced the repeal of the Corn Laws. His action angered a large section of his own party very greatly. The fox-hunting and port-drinking squires expected their leader to fight for protection to the bitter end, but however much they fumed at his betrayal of his trust, they were helpless. They had no leader of sufficiënt ability to stand up to Peel and his friends. They were "the stupid party" par excellence.

And here was Disraeli's opportunity. Peel had never done justice to the merits and the claims of this brilliant member of his party. Disraeli saw that the moment had come when he could at one blow avenge the slights which he had suffered and raise himself to a prominent parliamentary position. So, when the ministerial proposals were discussed in the House of Commons, he, to the delight of the protectionists, came out with a violent attack on them and particularly on the inconsistency of the Minister who, leader of the Tory party though he was, invited the House to abandon one of the chief points of the Tory creed.

Our third and fourth quotations (b) are from Disraeli's speeches during this session. They give an idea of his style, of his mordant wit. To the rousing cheers of hundreds of Peel's nominal followers Disraeli lashed him with sarcasms and it was he, more than anyone else, who, although he could not prevent the abolition of the Corn Laws, made it impossible for Peel to remain in office and even to remain in the Tóry party. Before the year was out Peel and a number of friends had formed an independent group. With the "Peelites" went the ablest members of the party, and Disraeli was left behind with the sure prospect of leading it in due time.

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