- William Edward Forster
Born to William and Ann Forster,
Quakerparents at Bradpolein Dorset, he was educated at the Quaker school at Tottenham, where his father's family had long been settled, and on leaving school he was put into business. He declined to enter a brewery and became involved in woollen manufacture in a large way in Bradford, Yorkshire.
In 1850 he married Jane Martha, eldest daughter of Dr Thomas Arnold. She was not a Quaker, and her husband was formally excommunicated for marrying her, but the Friends who were commissioned to announce the sentence "shook hands and stayed to luncheon". Forster thereafter ranked himself as a member of the
Church of England.
The Forsters had no natural children, but when Mrs Forster's brother, William Arnold, died in 1859, leaving four orphans, the Forsters adopted them as their own. One of these children was
Hugh Oakeley Arnold-Forster, a Liberal Unionist member of parliament, who eventually became a member of Balfour's cabinet.
Forster became known as a practical
philanthropistearly. In 1846-47 he accompanied his father to Irelandas distributor of the Friends' relief fund for the famine in Connemara, and the state of the country made a deep impression on him. He gradually began to take an active part in public affairs by speaking and lecturing.
In 1859 he stood as Liberal candidate for Leeds, but was beaten. But he was highly esteemed in the West Riding, and in 1861 was returned unopposed for Bradford. He was returned again in 1865 (unopposed) and in 1868 (at the head of the poll).
He took a prominent part in parliament in the debates on the
American Civil War, and in 1868 was made Under-Secretary of State for the Coloniesin Lord John Russell's ministry. It was then that he first became a prominent advocate of imperial federation. In 1866 his attitude on parliamentary reform attracted a good deal of attention.
Directly after the
Reform Billhad passed, Forster and Edward Cardwell brought in Education Bills in 1867 and 1868. In 1868, when the Liberal party returned to office, Forster was appointed Vice-president of the Council, with the duty of preparing a government measure for national education. The Elementary Education Bill was introduced on February 17, 1870and school boards were set up with elected representatives (for example, Charles Reedin London) the same year where possible. The religious difficulty at once came to the front. The Manchester Education Unionand the National Education League/Birmingham Education League had already formulated in the provinces the two opposing theories, the former standing for the preservation of denominational interests, the latter advocating secular rate-aided education as the only means of protecting Nonconformity against the Church.
Dissenterswere by no means satisfied with Forster's "conscience clause" as contained in the bill, and they regarded him, the ex-Quaker, as a deserter from their own side. They resented the "25th clause", permitting school boards to pay the fees of needy children at denominational schools out of the rates, as an insidious attack upon themselves. By March 14, when the second reading came on, the controversy had assumed threatening proportions; and George Dixon, the Liberal member for Birmingham and chairman of the National Education League, moved an amendment, the effect of which was to prohibit all religious education in board schools. The government made its rejection a question of confidence, and the amendment was withdrawn; but the result was the insertion of the Cowper-Temple clauseas a compromise before the bill passed. The bill of 1870, imperfect as it was, established at last some approach to a system of national education in England.
Forster's next important work was in passing the
Ballot Act 1872. In 1874 he was again returned for Bradford. In 1875, when Gladstone "retired," Forster was strongly supported for the leadership of the Liberal party, but declined to be nominated. In the same year he was elected to the Royal Society, and made Lord Rector of Aberdeen University.
In 1876, when the Eastern question was looming large, he visited
Serbiaand Turkey, and his subsequent speeches on the subject were marked by moderation. On Gladstone's return to office in 1880 he was made Chief Secretary for Ireland. He carried the Compensation for Disturbance Bill through the Commons, only to see it thrown out in the Lords. On January 24, 1881he introduced a new Coercion Bill in the House of Commons, to deal with the growth of the Land League, and in the course of his speech declared it to be "the most painful duty" he had ever had to perform. The bill passed, among its provisions being one enabling the Irish government to arrest without trial persons "reasonably suspected" of crime and conspiracy.
The Irish party used every opportunity to oppose this act, and Forster was kept constantly on the move between Dublin and London, conducting his campaign and defending it in the House of Commons. He was nicknamed "Buckshot" by the Nationalist press, on the supposition that he had ordered its use by the police when firing on a crowd. On
October 13, Charles Stewart Parnellwas arrested, and soon after the Land League was proclaimed. From that time Forster's life was in danger, and he had to be escorted by mounted police in Dublin. Several plans to murder him were frustrated by the merest accidents.
May 2 1882, Gladstone announced that the government intended to release Parnell and his fellow-prisoners in Kilmainham, and that both Lord Cowper and Forster had in consequence resigned; on the following Saturday, Forster's successor, Lord Frederick Cavendish, was murdered in Phoenix Park, Dublin.
During the remaining years of his life, Forster's political record covered various interesting subjects, but his efforts in Ireland threw them all into shadow. He died on the eve of the introduction of the First Home Rule Bill, to which he was completely opposed.
*" [http://search.live.com/results.aspx?q=&scope=books#q=William%20Edward%20Forster&filter=all&start=1&t=NU0zf4FHg4HfhvilIKhWjA&sq=William%20Edward%20Forster Life of the Right Honourable William Edward Forster] ", by
Thomas Wemyss Reid, published by Chapman & Hall, 1889, and available from Microsoft Books Live Search
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