James McCulloch’s historical legacy has been successively deplored, begrudgingly acknowledged, ignored, execrated, and pooh poohed. There is limitless agreement about James McCulloch.
There are powerful reasons for this disagreement.
Contemporaries compelled to deal with his ruthlessness.
Later generations forced to live with the crises associated with financial collapse and deep depression for which the recently dead McCulloch was burdened with the deepest blame.
Generations of protectionists, the official public policy of Australia for most of the twentieth century, regarded him as a hero and pioneer.
Modern historians have been interested in narrow aspects of public life wherein a rounded view of the man and his work, its integrity, was sacrificed to broader streams of interest.
Geoffrey Bartlett – politics as a process rather than as a set of outcomes. Howeve it must be acknowledged that the process of politics in all its ruthlessness is a fascinating story in itself.
Earl Grey’s regrets about Victoria’s democracy
In 1880 elderly Earl Grey wrote an extraordinary letter to the magazine The Victorian Review. In this letter Earl Grey professed himself to be horrified by the state of the faraway colony of Victoria. This conclusion was as startling as it was newsworthy because thirty years before this revelation Earl Grey had served as Secretary for the Colonies in the British cabinet.
During his tenure of this office, Earl Grey piloted several Australian colonies toward the path to responsible government.
In 1880 he at last acknowledged publicly the sad realisation that he may have harboured privately for some time: he had created a monster.
Earl Grey finally acknowledged in the years between 1851 and 1880 Victoria had strayed further than any other polity in the world from the prudent, distinctly British dictums of free trade and small government. No other government on earth had so thoroughly repudiated the public policy of Britain than this upstart colony named after the Queen Empress of the British Empire. Victoria’s rash impudence was sobering.
In his letter to the magazine Victorian Review, the ageing aristocrat indulged in a public exercise of regretful second guessing. How might this disaster be averted? Grey’s answer was simple and stark. The primary cause of Victoria’s heresy was democracy.
The constitution of the colony of Victoria granted every white man the right to vote. The constitution ceded these men to vote into power in the Legislative Assembly representatives who might transform their opinions and prejudices into legislation and legislation into an economic and social program.
When this constitution was being forged in the colonial office in the early 1850s British administrators, after some desultory debate came to a casual consensus that the men of Victoria were similar enough in outlook to these Whig gentlemen for them to conclude that Victoria would develop along their lines of desire. How wrong they were!
Looking back over thirty years of disappointed hopes, figuratively, Earl Grey slapped his forehead. “If only he and his fellow administrators had left well enough alone and continued the old policy of dampening democratic zealotry with a cohort of not elected, but rather appointed, legislators who could be depended upon to curb the grotesque enthusiasms of the ignorant. But by 1880 it’s was too late to reset the colony. The was nothing for it but to hope that Victorian voters would see the fatal error of their ways but expect that Victorians would remain unregenerate until their ignorance caused catastrophe.
What did Earl Grey regret?
What did he wish he had done?
Did Earl Grey have any support in Australian colonies?
Did Earl Grey have supporters in Victoria?
What caused Earl Grey to make his error? (Here we review Searle’s argument in The Rush to be Rich).
Who in Victoria disagreed with Earl Grey? In Victoria supporters of Earl Grey’s liberalism were in a small minority. Earl Grey’s constitutional and electoral mechanisms for Victoria had given Victorian protectionists a unique opportunity to promote policies inimical to Earl Grey’s.
During the 1860s the political energies of Victorians were directed towards forging a community whose rules of conduct and climate of opinion became progressively more foreign and incomprehensible to contemporary Britons, wherever they resided on the globe.
These contemporaries could console themselves that the strange creature that so rapidly evolved in Victoria was sufficiently bizarre to preclude the possibility of longevity and reproduction.
Yet, as I shall argue, Victoria and its methods and mores proved to be remarkably resilient. Far from lumbering into early extinction Victorian public policy served as a model and forerunner for state control and dirigisme that became the norm in much of the developed world until the Thatcher/Reagan revolutions of the 1980s.
This influence is a remarkable and unlikely legacy of a small community tucked into its small corner of a distant and sparsely populated continent. It is the aim of this book to show how, against powerful opponents and enemies, a loose coterie of energetic and ruthless men sculpted Victoria into a model and example for the 20th century.
This was the view from distant Britain. In Victoria, the dominant political figures insisted on another narrative.
Patsy Adam Smith authored this interesting article.
Henry Gyles Turner and James McCulloch lived parallel lives.
Both arrived in Melbourne 1854??
Both involved in banking.
McCulloch at a much higher level.
Turner involved himself in the intellectual life of this remarkable brand new community.
It’s unlikely that McCulloch either knew or paid much attention to the life and opinions of Henry Gyles Turner. There was no reason for him to.
However, Henry Gyles Turner had every reason to scrutinize and perhaps even obsess about the life, opinions, and actions, of James McCulloch. For Turner believed, James McCulloch, during his multiple terms as Premier of the Colony of Victoria, caused that brand new, prosperous and phenomenally endowed polity to veer from the path of sound policy into disastrous adventures of state socialism, to the detriment of all, save the pensioners, place men and clients of the state.
Late in life, long after the end of McCulloch’s meteoric career, and a decade after his death in the grand house of a Kent estate in the South of England, Turner got his revenge on McCulloch. Turner authored a two volume history of the Colony of Victoria in which he pinpointed what he believed to be McCulloch’s primary culpability in misgoverning and immiserating two generations of Victorians. By this means, Turner hoped to warn Victoria, Australia, and the wider world, against straying down the path so recklessly carved by McCulloch and his confederates.
Turner’s history demonstrates at least two things. The first is startling evidence of the heat and passions kindled by the contentions over the transition of Victoria away from a pastoral and mining settlement towards a society whose population were mostly urban dwellers. Today, the debates and struggles these contentious issues inflamed make virtually no imprint on Australians’ sense of their past and identity. Yet Australians, among the most urbanized nations on earth, daily work and play amidst the physical consequences of these struggles.
Secondly, looking forward form the perspective of 1904 when his History was published, the aged Henry Gyles Turner could congratulate himself that he had done what was in his power to warn the world against repeating the Victorian experiment. Yet within six years Australia chose to replicate not free market New South Wales but interventionist, dirigiste Victoria. And worse, worldwide, the traumas of rapid industrialization and urbanization and the voracious demands of total war induced nation after nation to venture down the Victorian path. Until the 1980s, it seemed, the future belonged to James McCulloch, not Henry Gyles Turner.
This story is another reason to scrutinize thee long neglect archives of the Colony of Victoria as a confederacy of audacious men sought new answers to pressing questions.