Cardwell, Edward, Viscount 1813-1886, statesman, born 24 July 1813, was the son of John Cardwell, a Liverpool merchant. He was educated at Winchester and at Balliol College, Oxford, of which he became scholar and fellow. At Oxford he took a first class, both in classics and mathematics, in 1835, and was made an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws in 1863. Among his contemporaries, or those who were nearly his contemporaries, at the university were several members of the special group of statesmen to which he afterwards belonged—Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Robert Lowe, Mr. Sidney Herbert, Mr. Roundell Palmer, and the Duke of Newcastle. He was called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1838; but he soon turned to public life, and entered the House of Commons on petition as member for Clitheroe in 1842. He attached himself, personally as well as politically, to Sir Robert Peel, whom he somewhat resembled in character as well as in conscientious industry, in devotion to the public service, and in the mastery which he acquired of commercial and financial questions. By Peel he was treated with marked esteem and confidence. He was one of the trustees to whom Peel afterwards left his papers. In 1845 he was made secretary to the treasury. In the next year came the repeal of the corn laws and the rupture between Peel and the protectionists. Cardwell remained true to his chief, and thenceforth formed one of the small party, or rather group, of Peelites, still conservative in general politics, but liberal with regard to commercial questions. Of free trade he became a staunch and prominent champion; but with most of his political friends he voted against the ballot in 1853. In 1847 he was elected for Liverpool, but lost his seat in 1852, in consequence of having voted for the repeal of the navigation laws. He also contested Ayrshire unsuccessfully. He was afterwards elected for the city of Oxford. The Peelites having gradually gravitated towards the whigs, in 1852 the coalition government of Lord Aberdeen was formed, and Cardwell became president of the board of trade. He did not enter the cabinet, because the whig leaders objected to an undue proportion of Peelites. The chief fruit of his presidency of the board of trade was the Merchant Shipping Act, 1854, which, collecting all the laws relating to shipping, with important amendments and additions, has from that time formed, in essential respects, the code of the British mercantile marine. The act, consisting of 548 sections, passed through committee at a single sitting. What great public interest have you been abandoning, Cardwell, that your bill passed so easily? was Lord John Russell's sarcastic question. No interest had been abandoned, and those of the common seaman and the ballast-heaver had been as well provided for as those of the shipowner; but the bill had been prepared with the carefulness characteristic of its framer's work. Further improvements were made by Cardwell in the laws relating to the shipping interest, which owes to him, among other things, its relief from the impost of town dues. By his hand form was given to the department of the board of trade which deals with the mercantile marine, the foundation was laid of a meteorological department, and much was done for the department of science and art. To railway legislation also Cardwell's contribution was important. In the opinion of those most competent to judge, the work of many years was accomplished in two. From the ministry of Lord Aberdeen Cardwell passed, after the reconstruction, into that of Lord Palmerston; and when the other leading Peelites resigned, he was pressed in vain by the premier to accept the chancellorship of the exchequer. Two years later, with the dislike of violence and injustice which was strong in him, he voted against Lord Palmerston's government on the question of the Chinese war, and, upon the appeal to the country which followed, lost his seat for Oxford, but the successful candidate, Charles Neate, was unseated on petition, and Cardwell was returned at the new election, defeating his opponent, W. M. Thackeray, by 53 votes. In 1858 he was the most active member of a commission appointed to inquire into the manning of the navy. Here his knowledge of the mercantile marine stood him in good stead. The report was adopted, and the system, principal features of which are the training of boys and the maintenance of a strong navy reserve, remains in force, and continues to be successful to this day. When, upon the defeat of the Derby ministry in 1859, Palmerston again became minister, Cardwell become secretary for Ireland with a seat in the cabinet. In that office he showed his usual industry, equity, patience, and courtesy; but the sphere was uncongenial, and in 1861 he exchanged it for the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster. An Irish land act, framed by him, and the object of which was to base the relation of landlord and tenant solely on contract, has had no practical effect. In 1864 he was transferred to the secretaryship for the colonies. In that office he inaugurated the new policy of withdrawing from the colonies in time of peace all imperial troops for which the colonies would not undertake to pay, thereby promoting colonial self-defence and self-government, as well as economising the forces of the empire and relieving the British taxpayer of an expense which in the case of the wars with the Maori had amounted to a million a year. Canadian confederation was set on foot, and its outline was determined during his secretaryship, though the act was the work of his successor. To him fell the difficult duty of dealing, amidst a storm of public excitement, with the case of the disturbances in Jamaica and of Governor Eyre, which he did by promptly sending out a commission of inquiry, and, when the legislative assembly of Jamaica had been abolished with its own consent, appointing Sir Peter Grant as governor to arbitrate between the conflicting races. He also put an end to transportation. Under Mr. Gladstone, in 1868, Cardwell became secretary for war, and in that capacity was called upon to undertake the reorganisation of the British army, to the necessity for which the nation had been awakened by the great European wars, at the same time redeeming the pledge given for largely reduced estimates. For this, which was his most important and difficult work, the foundation had been laid by the concentration of the troops which as colonial secretary he had effected. The principal feature of his reorganisation was the abolition of purchase, for which were substituted admission by tests of fitness and promotion by selection. This reform, together with the provision made for the retirement of officers, rendered the British army professional and scientific, relieved it of incapacity and decrepitude, animated it with a hope of advancement by merit, and made it fit to cope with the highly trained armies of the continent. Other parts of the new system were the introduction of a short term of service, the formation of the veteran reserve, and the localisation of the regiments, which was adopted with a double purpose of taking advantage of local attachment in recruiting and of linking the militia and volunteers to the regular forces. The department of the commander-in-chief was brought under the more effective control of the war office. Provision was also made for the improvement of the military education of officers and soldiers. In carrying these changes into effect the secretary for war had to encounter the most obstinate resistance on the part of military men of the old school, and his coadjutors have borne their testimony to the unfailing patience, command of temper, and courtesy, by which, combined with firmness, their resistance was overcome, as well as to the thoroughness with which a civilian mastered all the details of the department of war. The labour and anxiety, however, undermined Cardwell's health. On the resignation of the Gladstone ministry in 1874 he was called to the House of Lords as Viscount Cardwell of Ellerbeck. After this he continued for some time to take part in public affairs; he presided ably over the commission on vivisection, and on one important occasion stood forth as the friend of the slave; but he never again became a minister of state. He died, after a very lingering illness, at Villa Como, Torquay, on 15 Feb. 1886, and was buried in the cemetery of Highgate. He married, in 1838, Annie, youngest daughter of Charles Stuart Parker of Fairlie, Ayrshire, but he left no children and his peerage became extinct. Cardwell was not a political leader or a director of popular movements, though in council he was firm and powerful. The measures of constitutional change brought forward by the governments of which he was a member in later years did not originate with him; nor was he a popular orator. He was a clear, good, terse, and fluent speaker; to be more he did not pretend or desire, and he never made an unnecessary speech. But it was as an administrator and public servant that, though less noted than others by the crowd, he really stood high among the statesmen of the time. Thoroughly patriotic and public-spirited, utterly free from jobbery of any sort, laborious, discreet, courteous, kind, and considerate to subordinates, conciliatory, yet tenacious of his opinion when he had satisfied himself that he was right—such he appeared to the partners of his work. They also testify to his possession of a singularly quick and keen intelligence, though in his public utterances his mind seemed to move with excessive circumspection. The country was served more brilliantly by other men of his generation, but by none more faithfully, more zealously, more strenuously, or with more lasting fruit.

     Personal knowledge
     private memoranda
     speeches (some reprinted) from Hansard
     Merchant Shipping Act
     Report of Commission on Manning the Navy
     Royal Warrant abolishing purchase (1871), and consequent regulations
     Sir Robert Biddulph's Lord Cardwell at the War Office 1868-74, London, 1904. A short life is understood to be in preparation.

Contributor: G. S. [Goldwin Smith]

Published: 1886