Sir Francis Burdett
rose and spoke as follows:
Sir; I rise to offer to the attention of the house a Plan of Reform, not for its immediate adoption, but for its future consideration—to state my opinion to the house, and the public, upon this subject, and to propose to the house to come to a Resolution (according to a frequent custom at the close of a session), the object of which is, to hold out an assurance to the country, that the house will, at an early period in the next session, take into its consideration the necessity of a Reform in the State of the Representation.
This course I am urged, amongst other reasons, to adopt, in order to get rid of the misrepresentation (unintentional I am willing to believe) which has been so long, and so actively propagated, with regard to my views and opinions on this momentous point: the mischievous tendency of which misrepresentations, as affecting myself personally, would alone have very little influence upon my mind; but it has much, combined with the public interest. As involved in this most essential question, I therefore feel it a duty to myself and the public to relieve this subject from all misrepresentation, ambiguity, and misconception: and in now proposing for discussion, but not for immediate adoption, the outline of a specific Plan, I am answering those repeated calls which have been made upon me in this house, to state to this house, and to the public, definitely and precisely, what my views are upon the subject (perpetually agitated) of Parliamentary Reform, that henceforward it may be fully and clearly understood, how far I do really mean to go, and at what point I mean to stop.
This is a subject which has long engaged my most anxious attention; and though I very early stated my opinion respecting it, that opinion was not thoughtlessly formed, or rashly hazarded; but after the most diligent inquiry, and minute investigation. If I did not then offer it to the public attention without due reflection, still less did it originate in those views and mischievous motives, to which it has been falsely ascribed—a desire to excite discontent, and to agitate the public mind by exaggerated statements of undefined grievances, beyond the reach of practical constitutional redress. I am ready to admit, if such were the case, that my conduct would be as culpable as those 1042 who most misrepresent it, would wish it to be considered; and I am willing to confess, that to excite discontent in the public mind by fixing its eye upon necessary and unavoidable evils, beyond the power of remedy, would be as exceptionable and dishonest a proceeding, as to mislead them from their true remedy, and obstinately to withhold that easy redress which the Constitution so clearly points out, and so amply affords.
In this case, I shall cautiously abstain from any exaggeration of public grievance, or any expression calculated to excite in any gentlemen, or set of gentlemen, the slightest irritation, or asperity of feeling; it being my wish, that the question should stand on its own merits, that it should be coolly and candidly considered, and that it should be the subject, not of angry contention, but of fair discussion. At the same time, there are some doctrines and opinions which have been recently promulgated in this house, of so misleading and mischievous a tendency, that I cannot allow myself to pass them over altogether without some animadversion.
The course I have prescribed for myself is to state the Evils arising out of the defective state of the Representation, and then to point out the Remedy, which is simple, and perfectly practicable, not only consistent with the habits and interests of the people, and in unison with the laws and constitution of the country, but is (as I think I can shew) the Constitution itself:—Let others deal in whimsical speculations, in undefined mysterious notions of a Constitution, which eludes the grasp, and soars above the conception of ordinary minds, let them amuse themselves with intricate theories and fine-spun metaphysics, whilst I shall hold fast by that plain and substantial Constitution, adapted to the contemplation of common understandings, to be found in the Statute Book, and recognized by the Common Lam of the Land.—If it can be shown that the principles on which I proceed are erroneous, unconstitutional, and inconsistent with the ancient, fundamental laws of England, I shall stand corrected, and willingly abandon my proposition; but if, on the contrary, I shall be able to demonstrate, that the present system is the creature of innovation, and a departure from the old, established, unrepealed laws of the country, and that a recurrence to the practice of these laws, is an easy and adequate remedy for the evil, though I may not indulge a hope of the 1043 concurrence of this house, yet I may hope for the approbation of the public, and, at all events, I shall enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that I have performed an essential duty, both to the people and myself, in bringing forward the present inquiry.
Before I proceed to the consideration of the subject more immediately before the house, I think proper to make some remarks upon those very extraordinary doctrines to which I have before alluded.—It has been asserted, that Corruption is not only a part of our Constitution—that it was not only necessary and to be tolerated, but (as it should seem) that the Constitution was to be tolerated for the sake of the Corruption. We have heard it seriously alledged, that without the auxiliary of Corruption in this house the Constitution would be insecure, that the Government could not be carried on. It has been described as "growing with our growth, and "strengthening with our strength:" it had been more consolatory to have been informed, that it decayed with our decay and diminished with our decrease. One can hardly conceive a more unhappy quotation for the purposes of those who have made the allusion. What is it the poet speaks of, when he says itGrows with our growth, and strengthens with our strength?It is a state of disease necessarily terminating in final dissolution.The young disease, which must subdue at lengthGrows with our growth, and strengthens with our strength.It applies strongly, indeed, in favour of those who call for some Remedy to arrest the progress of destruction, for some stimulus to re-invigorate the Constitution and save it from decay, by extirpating the vile and loathsome canker of Corruption, which preying upon the vitals, palsies the energies, and consumes the substance, of the country.—The various and contradictory arguments by which this Corruption has been attempted to be defended challenge particular observation: at one lima it has been alledged to be so trifling as to be unworthy of our notice, it is represented then as "mere cheese-parings and candle "ends." It may, however, be worth remarking (by the bye) an old English proverb to be found in Ray's Collection, which says "all the King's cheese goes in parings," and if a cheese is cut straight through the middle it is all parings; whilst at other time these cheese-parings assume a shape so formidable as to render 1044 any attempt to diminish them fruitless and unavailing; so that, inconsistent in argument, consistent in principle, the defenders of Corruption, as it suits their purpose, either represent it as a pigmy beneath notice, or a giant not to be contended with: from which alternate modes of defence we are forced to infer, that in the minds of some gentlemen, Corruption, be it small or be it great, is not only not to be checked or controuled, but to be fostered and encouraged. We are to hug our disease, and doat on dissolution: But so very opposite is my idea upon this subject, that I say, be Corruption small or great, let it assume what form or shape it may, it is an intolerable evil; in the first stage of it I would have said, "Principles obsta:" at our high tide of it I will exclaim, "Ne plus ultra," that delay is death. The question now is, How the career of this Destroyer is to be arrested? In my opinion there is no way of doing this with effect, but a Reform of this House.
Another doctrine equally mischievous as the former, which it was triumphantly said no human creature could contradict, was that of all men acting from Mixed Motives. This may be a convenient doctrine for public men, but, I trust, will appear as unfounded and indefensible as the arguments just alluded to in support of Corruption, either on account of its supposed insignificance or real magnitude: its object and bearing is, in fact, to cut up all morality by the very roots; there could be no rational ground for confidence or esteem, were such a doctrine once admitted; if all men are supposed to act from Mixed Motives, how can any man's character be known? How ascertain the proportion (upon which all depends) of good and bad in the mixture? How discover from what motive any action springs, or whether to be attributed to it praise or censure?—From the confidence and boldness with which this extraordinary doctrine has been advanced, it may seem hazardous to risk a refutation of it; I shall nevertheless attempt to shew that the reverse is the fact, and that, so far from men acting generally from mixed motives, they never act so at all; and however metaphysical may be the notions of some gentlemen, I defy them, with all their refinement and subtlety, to produce a mixture of motives in their own minds. Motives are as impossible to mix as parallel lines to meet. Many motives, it is true, may concur to impel a man to one act, as many roads 1045 may lead to one town; many rivers direct their courses to one sea, but they are not on that account mixed. Avarice, ambition, love of country, may conduce to one end; though one of these passions may predominate, the motives remain unmixed; but when put in opposition one to the other, the impossibility of mixing them becomes apparent, the strongest motive overcomes the rest.—The position is quite unphilosophical, and the idea of mixed motives altogether absurd. Surely, no one will call in question the doctrine of a ruling passion, strong even in death, to which we see and daily hear of men offering themselves up willing victims. As our senses, though they may be affected all together, are still distinct; in like manner our minds, though they may be affected at one and the same time by more motives than one, yet do they remain unmixed. But there may be a great convenience in adopting this doctrine of Mixed Motives, similar to that experienced some time since in keeping mixed accounts; such mixture serving to create confusion and avert detection. I defy any man, however, to shew that such a doctrine is reconcileable either with morality or logic.
There is one other doctrine, which cannot be passed over without animadversion, equally dangerous, in my mind, with the foregoing ones. It has been held, that whilst the forms of the Constitution remained there was something so excellent in the mere forms, that not only was the possession of them of the highest value, but a hope was thereby justified of an amelioration of the state of the country. My opinion is directly the reverse of this, in which I am supported by the authority of the greatest historians and writers upon political subject; who have uniformly laid it down, that of all tyrannies a legislative tyranny exercised under the forms of a free government, is the most tremendous and fatal; because without hope of remedy.
Tacitus, whose penetration and ability will not be disputed, depicting the melancholy condition of the Roman Empire, under that relentless tyrant Tiberius, describes it as most deplorable, not only on account of flagitious acts proceeding from hypocrisy and despotism united, but still more so on account of its hopeless condition, whilst under the mask of freedom, uncontroulable power was exercised, because that cruel tyranny was carried on under the forms of the ancient constitution. There was still a Senate debating, Con- 1046 suls appointed, and tribunes of the people, and all the Forms of the ancient republic studiously preserved; and by how much the more those forms served as a cloke to hide the odious features of despotic power, by so much the more was it terrible, irresistible and severe: "Quantoque majore," says Tacitus, "libertatis imaginœ tegebantur, tanto "irruptura ad infentius servitium"; therefore, I am not all disposed to be satisfied with the forms, when the spirit and essence of the Constitution have fled.—We have been reminded of the old fable of the Stag and the Horse, introduced with the view, as it should seem, of warning the people against throwing themselves into the arms of one power, in order to avoid falling into those of another. The application of this fable could not be mistaken; it meant, that the People should not seek to ally themselves with the Crown, in order to rid themselves of the grievance of a corrupt House of Commons. To that warning I cannot lend an ear, having no dread of the Prerogative of the Crown; which I know forms part of the law of the land, and is material and necessary to maintain the Constitution. My only apprehension is, from the usurpation of the legitimate Prerogative, by the Borough Monger Faction, and the consequent abuse of it by the agents of that Faction; untruly stiling themselves Ministers of the King, Servants of the Crown, through the medium of this House falsely denominating itself the Representative of the People.—My desire, therefore, is to erect a barrier against such usurpation and abuse, by a restoration of the fair balance of the Constitution, by giving to each branch its lawful right: thus providing at once for the defence of the Prerogative of the Crown and the protection of the undoubted unalienable Rights of the People: and I think there is no difficulty in showing that they go well together, that one is in trust for the protection of the other, and that in consequence of their having been separated, contrary to the principles and in violation of the ancient usage of our Constitution, those abuses of which the people now complain first crept in, and being once admitted have made such rapid and tremendous strides towards our destruction; in the midst of which, all the specious forms of our Constitution have been studiously observed.—Thus, as in Rome, the observance of forms, instead of being valuable, as securing any benefit, or justifying any hope, serves only to aggravate the mischief, by adding hypocrisy to despotism, and to embitter the sufferings by deluding and 1047 mocking the people.—I must not be misunderstood—no person is more anxious than myself, for the retention and maintenance of those forms; my wish is, to have the substance also, that the people may not be any longer duped by appearances which serve only to perpetuate the cheat.
A charge has been made by the abettors of Corruption against those who wish for Reform, as innovators and subverters of the Constitution of the country, whereas, the sole object of us Reformers is, to rescue the country from the effects of the innovation that has been introduced. Those who speak so much of innovation seem to forget what the great Lord Bacon has said, that "of "all innovators time is the greatest." Will you, then, while all things are changing around you, determine to stand still? Will you still cling to a Rotten-borough System, the creature of innovation, nursed by usurpation, and matured by corruption? for such shall I shew it to be. Is it reasonable that sovereignty should be attached to particular spots and places, and to convert into Private Property, that which the Constitution has declared to be a Public Trust—to permit an usurped local sovereignty, independent of the King, independent of the People, and destructive to both.—The Prerogative of the Crown, had it been maintained free from encroachments, would never have suffered this anomaly, this ill-shaped monster, this Rotten-borough System, at once formidable and contemptible, to have undermined the Constitution. During the whole course of our history, from the time of William the Conqueror to that of William the Third, down to which the legitimate prerogative of the crown was exercised by the King, no such absurdity was conceived as a Rotten-borough Parliament.—That part of the Prerogative to issue Writs to such places as were judged from time to time, according to their importance, most fit to send proper and discreet persons to the Common Council of the nation, was a most wise and salutary provision in the code of the Constitution, and well calculated to prevent the occurrence of those evils of which, so loudly and with so great reason, we at this day complain.—Can we suppose that any King in the possession of his just Prerogative, would have thought of addressing a Writ, when he was exercising that great function of his prerogative, the assembling the Great Council of the nation, to Rotten-boroughs? or that it would have been endured if he had? The King's writs run, 1048 "ad Proceres et Dominos et Communes Regni," under which description no Rottenborough could be included. Can it be imagined that St. Mawes, the posts of Gatton, or the stones of Midhurst, would have been required to send wise and discreet burgesses to assist with their advice in the Great Council of the Nation? James the First, on his accession to the throne, upon summoning the parliament, wisely exercised this prerogative by issuing a Proclamation, forbidding the sending writs to decayed boroughs*; nor was it till the prerogatives of the Crown were encroached upon at the era of the Revolution, when the seeds of this Rotten-borough System, which have since grown so luxuriantly and have produced such poisonous effects, the baneful influence of which we now so sensibly feel, were with woeful prodigality first scattered over the land, that the Country was deprived of that corrective wisely lodged in the hands of the Crown by the Constitution, for its preservation against the unavoidable innovations of time, whilst the people, artfully led to ascribe all the evils of the two former reigns to Prerogative alone, willingly acquiesced in its retrenchment; in which they made a fatal mistake, a mistake originating in the idea that they extended their own Liberties in proportion as they curtailed the Prerogative of the Crown; an ingredient in the Constitution as essential to its existence, as is an uncorrupt, full and fair Representation of the People in this House.
Had the constitutional power of the Crown remained undiminished, this House would not now be in its present contaminated state, the just and great prerogative of the Crown would have been exercised beneficially, and given the King his proper weight in the administration of national affairs, whilst the People would have a shield—and a shield and not a sword is all the people expect, in an uncorrupted and fairly elected House of Commons.—This I take to be the Constitution of England; but out of this usurpation upon the crown,*"Next, that all the Sheriffs be charged that they do not direct any Precept for electing and returning of any Burgesses to or for any ancient Borough within their Counties, being so utterly ruined and decayed, that there are not sufficient resyantes to make such choice, and of whom lawful election may be made." See Cobbett's Parliamentary History, vol, i. p. 969.1049 conspiring with the innovations of time, a third power has arisen, that of the Borough-mongers—the creature of innovation, the worm of corruption, always unknown to our laws, now become greater than the laws, equally hostile to King and People, misrepresenting one to the other, filling the mind of one with jealousy, the ears of the other with alarm, which, by perpetuating discord, reigns sole arbiter of the strife, and establishes its ignominious dominion over both.—My first object, therefore, is, to reunite the King and the People by the constitutional bond of Allegiance on the one-hand, and Protection on the other.
"The wisdom of our laws," says Lord Coke, "is most apparent in this, that any departure from their established principles, although at the time wearing the specious appearance of advantage, never fails to bring along with it, such a train of unforeseen inconveniences, as to demonstrate their excellence and the necessity of again having recurrence to them." And how strikingly that observation is exemplified in the consequences which have followed the departure from the principles of the Constitution, which has led to the establishment of this grievous Borough-monger System: the inconsistency of which with the principles of our laws and institutions, so glaring in the terms of the Writs of Elections, as in every other point of view, no one can dispute. The simple principle upon which, as upon a pivot, the whole of this subject of Representation turns, is this; that the free subjects of this kingdom have a Right of Property in their own goods; in other words, that the people of England cannot be legally and constitutionally taxed without their own consent.—I suppose this will not be denied; and yet it is equally indisputable, that this principle is absolutely annihilated by the present frame of the Representation of this House, to which a Petition on your table offers to prove, that one hundred and fifty-seven individuals have the power of returning a majority; so that the whole property of the free subjects of this kingdom is, in violation of this first and plain principle, at the disposal of 157 Borough-mongers, or in other words, 157 Borough-mongers have usurped, and hold as private property, the sovereignty of England; and can we be satisfied with this miserable, pitiful substitution for the King and Constitution?—Can the People remain contented with the legislation of such a power?—Impossible. Believe me, 1050 Sir, the discontent that exists in this country, arises principally from the certain knowledge the People now have of the corrupt state of this House, and their exclusion from that share in the Constitution to which they are by law intitled, that they are not fairly, nor indeed at all represented,—in fact, that the interests of this House are not identified with, but opposite to theirs—remove this defect, repair this great injury, and the advantages will be immediate and important; the People will then believe, that all that is practicable for their benefit will be done, and from that conviction they will naturally be reconciled to those evils, which they would see a disposition to alleviate, and a mutual interest to redress.
Every part of the Empire will feel the benefit of the Reform; but no where wilt the great advantages of the measure be likely to prove more salutary than in that most interesting part of the empire—IRELAND. From the deep interest I take in the concerns of that country, from my idea of its mighty importance, have I reserved the mention of it till last; though the consideration of the manner in which I could devote ray best service to it has never been out of my mind, never till now did it mature any practicable plan, calculated to give universal satisfaction to that generous, that insulted people, with perfect security to the state. If Reform is necessary here, it applies much more forcibly there; indeed, the peculiar situation of that country makes it a measure of imperious necessity.—On the subject of Ireland I can hardly speak, from the fear of trespassing on the rule I had laid down for my conduct upon this occasion. I dare not venture to trust myself with the grievances of Ireland. It is a subject I cannot discuss without a more considerable degree of warmth, than is consistent with that dispassionate line of conduct I am upon this occasion particularly anxious to maintain. My desire is to have Ireland united with this country upon terms, however, very different from those which at present exist. I should wish to see there a perfect equality of advantage, and no exclusions. Of the present Union, so called, I shall speak but little at this time: suffice it to say, that it was a measure contrary to the wishes, repugnant to the interest, revolting to the feelings of that nation; and effected by means the most flagitious, if the most unblushing corruption on the part of the agents, and the breach 1051 of every solemn assurance to the great body of that people, not only implied but expressed by the government of that country, deserve the appellation. Instead of that parchment Union, I shall propose a real Union of heart and affection, founded on the broad basis of the Constitution, of equal rights, and reciprocal interests.—Away with that crooked policy, that narrow-minded bigotry of legislation, that intolerable intolerance, which keeps alive perpetual heart-burnings, hatred and revenge. I wish not to dwell upon this system; it is high time to put an end to it.—Is it to be any longer endured, that four millions of Irishmen should be aliens and outlaws in their native land? Is it safe to have four millions of the people thrust out of the pale of the Constitution? Is it consistent with reason, with common sense, putting justice out of the question, any longer to tolerate such a system? By the adoption of Reform, the government will have the fairest opportunity of removing the principal grounds of dissatisfaction in Ireland; now will be the time to do every thing without yielding any thing, to legislate upon enlarged principles, knowing nothing of particular parties, sects, or factions: keeping alive no distinctions of Catholic, Protestant, and Presbyterian, Tory, Whig, or Jacobin; alarming no prejudice, insulting no party, they may now include the whole within one bond of union of the Constitution, embracing and ensuring the safety and tranquillity of the empire at large.—We shall then, and not till then, have an United Kingdom—one King—one People.—We shall by this recurrence to the Constitution, not only seat the Chief Magistrate upon his throne, and fix the Crown upon his head, but we shall place within his hand the sceptre and legitimate power of the King, in despite of those 157 Borough-mongers, who have TRAITEROUSLY usurped all but the pageantry and outward shew and forms of Royalty.
What is the condition of the King under this Faction? Instead of taking advantage of the elevation of his situation, where the Constitution had placed him, as the eye of the nation, for the purpose of taking extensive views for the advantage of the national interests, beyond the contracted horizon of ordinary men, his whole time is employed, his whole skill directed, not towards the duties of his high office, but in trying to keep his balance, in endeavouring to conciliate the support of such and such a Borough-monger, in order to 1052 obtain his permission to allow the Government to go on.—In truth, the Borough Faction have such power, that he is more like a Rope Dancer, than a King; as they make it necessary for him to be perpetually upon the alert to balance himself on his slippery elevation, whilst the utmost he can do is to keep his place. Such is the state to which he is reduced under the influence of this ignominious system, instead of having his throne fixed on the rock of the Constitution, and bound to the hearts of a whole people. This is not the situation in which the Laws and Constitution have placed the King, nor that which his dignity requires, and the best interests of the people demand.
The System, of which I have now given but a short sketch, which was introduced at the Revolution, and grew out of the encroachments on the Prerogative of the King, aided by the innovations of time, has already cost this nation nearly Eight Hundred Millions of Debt; for though it has been wittily said, that one half of this enormous Debt has been incurred in resisting the perfidy and restless ambition of the house of Bourbon, the other half in striving to replace it on the throne of France, this is not true: the fact is, the whole has been incurred in the prosecution of the scheme of corrupting this House.
This question is so completely decided by Magna Charta, "which," as Lord Coke says, "is such a fellow that he will "bear no equal," so strongly fortified by all our constitutional laws, that no inferior authority can be required; but, were I so disposed, I could cite a host of legal and constitutional Writers; and all those members of this house, who have from time to time expressed their sentiments in support of this measure, whose arguments were never confuted, and whose talents, though successful on all other occasions, were unavailing when exerted in support of Reform. This problem, however, is easily solved, when we consider that the appeal is made to the Borough-mongers themselves, whose, interest is opposite to the measure. Their interest is different from that of the people.
Having taken the Laws and the Constitution for my guide, in preparing the measure I shall have to propose, I at the same time examined attentively all those Plans for carrying the same principle into execution, which have at different times been proposed; and having avoided all those 1053 intricacies which I considered as so many impediments in the way, have reduced it to that plain and simple form, the express image of the Constitution itself.—My Plan consists in a very few, and very simple, regulations; and as the Disease we now labour under has been caused by the disunion of Property and Political Right, which reason, and the Constitution, say should never be separated, the Remedy I shall propose will consist in re-uniting them again.
For this purpose I shall propose:—
That Freeholders, Householders, and others, subject to direct Taxation in support of the Poor, the Church, and the State, be required to elect Members to serve in Parliament.
That each County be subdivided according to its taxed male Population, and each subdivision required to elect one Representative.
That the Votes be taken in each Parish by the Parish Officers; and all the Elections finished in one and the same day.
That the Parish Officers make the Returns to the Sheriff's Court to be held for that purpose at stated periods.
And, That Parliaments be brought back to a Constitutional Duration.
The simplicity of this Plan appears from its being the true Constitution of England, which has already prepared all the means ready to our hands of carrying it into immediate effect; and I make no hesitation in delivering it as my well-digested opinion, that under the operation of this Reform, it would be attended with much less difficulty to return a whole Parliament, than to settle a dispute at a vestry about a parish pauper. By the adoption of this Plan of Reform, those disgraceful practices, which now attend even County Elections, would be put a stop to. No bribery, perjury, drunkenness, nor riot; no "Wealthy Brewer," as was humourously described, who, disappointed of a job, takes, in consequence, "the independent line, and bawls out against Corruption:" no opportunity would remain, for such mock Patriotism:—no leading Attornies galloping about the country, lying, cheating, and stirring up the worst passions amongst the worst people:—no ill blood engendered between friends and relations—setting families at variance, and making each county a perpetual depository of election feads and 1054 quarrels:—No Demagogueing.—If I am a Demagogue, I am as complete a felo de se as can well be imagined—this puts an end to the occupation:—There would be an end to all odious and fanciful distinctions of persons and property—all would be simple and uniform; their weight and influence proportioned to their intrinsic value—no qualifications nor disqualifications—no invidious exclusions by reason of any office, from the highest to the lowest, either in the Elector or the Elected—no variable, fantastical, litigious rights of voting—no possibility of false votes—no treating—no carrying out voters—no charges of any kind—no expense, legal or illegal—no contested elections.—The people would have a choice without a contest, instead of a contest without a choice;—no sham remedies worse than the disease pretended to be cured—No Grenville Act; here I speak feelingly; I have undergone this remedy.—It is the remedy of a toad under a harrow—"Hand ignara malis, "miseris succurere disco." That Act, which has been so highly extolled, was itself called a reform;—as all the acts aggravating the mischief, which have been substituted for the Constitution, are called in this House.
Under the operation of that Act, I have suffered a greater pecuniary penalty, than any which the law would have inflicted for any crime I could have committed; this remedy is a luxury, a man must be very rich, indeed, to indulge himself in. I could not afford it a second time, and preferred abandoning my seat after having been returned, to undergoing another operation of the Grenville Act. One great object I have in view is to relieve other Gentlemen from the like benefits, by preventing the necessity of having recourse to such remedies in future—by getting rid of all disputes, and contested elections: this good consequence will result from the adoption of this Plan, besides preventing endless litigation, ruinous expense, perjury, ill blood, and periodical uproar and confusion, this house will be saved one-third of its time in Election Committees; and the Statute Book will be relieved from the shameful burden of one hundred and thirteen confused and intricate laws, all pitiful substitutes for the Constitution.
There may be some Gentlemen who think we should not get a better assembly within this house by this or any other Plan of Reform.—Even supposing, but by no means admitting, such should unaccount- 1055 ably be the case, the positive evils we should get rid of are sufficient recommendations to its adoption. It must also give rise to other important results—those who complain of popular clamour—of persons allying themselves with the people against the sentiments and decisions of this House, would cease to have any room for complaint. In the event of such a Reform no such clamour could exist, no such alliance could be formed; for then the sense of the people would be truly and fairly collected within these walls.
The benefits that would immediately follow the adoption of this Reform are incalculable. Though I am not one of those who would apply a sponge to the Debt of the Nation, yet am I firmly persuaded, that a Reformed House of Commons would introduce such a system of economy, both in the collection and expenditure of the Public Revenue, as would give instant ease to the subject, and finally, and that at no very distant period, by a due application of national resources to national objects, and to them alone, free the people from that enormous load of debt and consequent taxation, under which the nation is weighed down.
Three descriptions of persons, I will admit, would have great cause to complain of this Reform: The Borough-mongers—the Lawyers—and the King's Printer. The whole of the question then is, Which is to be preferred, The interest of the whole Empire, or the interest of the Borough-mongers—the Lawyers—and the King's Printer?
At all events, I hope this consequence will follow, that after this night it will not be asserted nor insinuated, that I have any concealed purpose, that I shrink from speaking my sentiments frankly, that I decline to act an open part, or that I have any designs beyond those I avow: notwithstanding what I have urged, I beg leave to repeat, that I am open to conviction; that I am still ready to listen to all fair reasoning on the subject; that I have nothing to bias my mind; nor any other view than the public good. It will, at the same time, be naturally understood, that having devoted so much of my time and reflection to this subject of vital importance, my opinions cannot easily be shaken, nor affected by slight and common-place arguments.
I have stated fully and dispassionately, and I hope clearly and satisfactorily, to this house and to the public, the Remedy 1056 for all our Grievances, which I have been so often called upon to produce. I have obeyed that call: in that at least I hope I have given satisfaction.—The Remedy I have proposed is simple, constitutional, practicable, and safe, calculated to give satisfaction to the People, to preserve the Rights of the Crown, and to restore the balance of the Constitution. These have been the objects of my pursuit—to these have I always directed my attention—higher I do not aspire, lower I cannot descend. I conjure this house to consider the necessity of doing something to satisfy the rational expectations of the public, that, we should not go back to our respective parts of the country in our present acknowledged contaminated condition, without holding out some reasonable hope to the country for its peace and tranquillity, that a Reform adequate to the removal of the enormous and multiplied Abuses and Corruption now known to exist, and which I contend can only be effected by a House of Commons fairly chosen by the people, will early in the next session be entertained with good faith, and taken into our most serious consideration—I would have the timid bear in mind, who stand so much in dread of Innovation, that the simple Remedy now proposed is but a recurrence to those Laws and that Constitution, the departure from which has been the sole cause of that accumulation of evils which we now endure—that in many cases timidity is no less fatal than rashness—and "That the omission to do what is necessary, seals a commission to a blank of danger."—I shall now conclude with moving, "That this house will, early in the next session of parliament, take into consideration the necessity of a Reform in the Representation."
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
thought it incumbent upon him to trouble the house with a few observations, after what had fallen from the hon. baronet; and they would be but a few. The object of the hon. baronet appeared to be, that the house should give a pledge that it would, early in the next session, go into a Committee on the State of the Representation. He saw no reason whatever for entering upon the question of reform at all, and therefore could not agree to vote for any such pledge. In many of the propositions stated by the hon. baronet, he was unable to follow him. Among other things, he assumed it as a fact, that the 1057 people were in general desirous of a reform. This he absolutely denied; and affirmed, that on the contrary, they were more united against reform than almost upon any other question—because they thought reform unnecessary. He admitted that the hon. baronet was accustomed to associate with a certain description of persons who were desirous of reform, and who would willingly pass such resolutions on the subject as he proposed to them. But it did not at all follow from that circumstance, that the generality of the people were favourable to reform. He really was at a loss exactly to know what the hon. baronet proposed himself. The hon. baronet said, that all he wanted was to be found upon the statute law of the land. What could he find there that could destroy the ordinary practice of the constitution? The statutes indeed were explicit on the subject of the representation; but something more than this was to be found in the practice of the constitution with regard to that house. What did the hon. baronet propose to do with respect to the privileges of that house? The right of originating taxation belonged to that house at present, by the practice of the constitution, although not confirmed by an express statute. Was the hon. baronet content to get rid of this too among other things? The lords, certainly, had never given any express assent to this privilege, and would the hon. baronet rank it amongst those abuses which had grown up in opposition to the prerogative? But this was not all. The hon. baronet maintained, that 113 statutes would be got rid of; that if his plan should be adopted, it would overthrow bribery, corruption, tumult, &c. Now how was this to be effected? Would no contest take place for the representation of the hon. baronet's districts? If contests should take place, then there must be canvassing; and all those temptations to bribery, corruption, and perjury would prevail in spite of the hon. baronet's regulations, to the full as much as they prevailed in the actual state of things. Yet these were the hopes which he held out to those who were disposed to listen to his propositions; but how these hopes were to be realized from his plan, he was at a loss to conceive. But the hon. baronet would further annihilate the regulation with respect to the 40 shilling freeholds, and all that the law had done on the subject to 1058 this day; and would divide the country into districts, in which all should have a vote who paid direct taxes to the state, or the church, or the poor. [Sir F. Burdett—"No; those who pay to them all."] Well, taking it so, there might still be doubts as to what should be considered as direct taxes. The property tax, the taxes for the poor, and the assessed taxes, were direct; but to settle this point completely, there must at least be one pretty large statute instead of the 113 of which we were to get rid. Was this the way in which the hon. baronet proposed to do away the necessity of employing so many lawyers? (Hear, hear!) The hon. baronet talked of the advantage of getting rid of the Grenville act, and of all the statutes against bribery, corruption, &c. But why should perjury be mere difficult under his plan than it was at present? In his districts, a man who had already voted, might come under another court and swear that he had not voted before, just as easily as the thing could now be done in a county. (Hear, hear!) He saw no reason whatever to suppose that any good could arise from the plan in this respect. The truth was, that such a plan could never produce the expected effects, unless the hon. baronet could alter not only the constitution but the frame of the human mind—unless he could at once get rid of human prejudices and human passions. This much he thought it necessary to say; and he did not think that there was any occasion for his going further. As to the hon. baronet's proposition, that the house had admitted that some reform was necessary, he never understood that any such admission had been made. He did not believe that the house would allow that it had ever made any such admission; and the manner in which the hon. baronet's proposition had been received, convinced him that he was correct in his opinion. It would be really raising the plan of the hon. baronet into an importance which it did not deserve, to dwell upon it at any great length. The house, he observed, was ready to come to a decision; and all that he could say, in addition to the remarks he had already made, would only serve to create embarrassment and delay, in a matter which was already sufficiently clear.
§ Mr. Madocks
could not listen without feelings of indignation at the levity with which the right hon. gent. chose to treat the motion of his hon. friend. The real 1059 question now before the house, was one of grave importance; no less, than whether the country was to be amused with the pretence of a representation, or possess what was its undoubted right, the reality of one. After all that had lately passed in that house on this subject, after the novel and alarming situation in which the house had stood since the 12th of May last, after the just, the able, and the solemn comment from the Chair, on the unprecedented proceedings of that day, was it to be endured, that the motion of his hon. friend was to be treated as a matter of light and trivial importance, to be evaded by the trick of debate, or stifled without discussion by the mandate of ministerial authority. The right hon. gent. had through the course of his speech assumed, that the plan which the hon. baronet stated to be the one he should be inclined to prefer, was that, which would be ultimately insisted upon, and adopted in every particular. No such pledge was demanded or expected of the house. All that was required, all that the house was called upon to do, was to engage to entertain the subject seriously and sincerely in the ensuing session: called upon to do so, not only by the general merits of the question, resting as it did upon argument, reason, and authority, but called upon also in the most imperious manner by recent events, disclosures, and declarations in that house, which appalled all those, who unfeignedly valued the existence of the constitution, the prosperity of the country, and the character of parliament. This was what was required of the house, and if the voice of the people, so generally expressed of late throughout the kingdom, was attended to, this was what the people did expect, and had a right to demand. Mr. Madocks proceeded to state that his hon. friend, the worthy baronet, had been so often wilfully misrepresented, that nothing could be more decorous to this house, and serviceable to the interests of truth, than to explain in this stage of the consideration, the first principles on which he should be induced to wish a Reform in parliament to be framed and adopted. And in the consideration of this plan, where were the leading points, which were jointly subject to the levity, and attempt at sarcastic ridicule, in which the right hon. gent. was so disposed to indulge. Had he condescended to argue those points, he would indeed have found it the tough and difficult matter which no doubt his acuteness had ap- 1060 prised him of, and his shrewdness recommended him to avoid. Confining his open hostility to a few of the minor and subordinate points, which related chiefly to matters of regulation, he indulged in an excellent sham fight, and attempted to retreat, amidst the confusion he created, from the great objects, with which he feared to grapple. Let the right hon. gent. answer these few plain questions. What was the basis of the plans proposed by lord Chatham, Mr. Pitt, Mr. Grey, and all the former authorities on this subject? Did not they propose to extinguish the rotten Boroughs and to reinforce the counties, and the landed representation? Did they not propose to extend the franchise to all great towns, who from a change of circumstances had risen into commercial opulence, and to admit copyholders and certain leaseholders to a share in the representation? and did they not in imparting the franchise to new voters, resort to that truly constitutional, wholesome, and safe principle, so ably maintained by his hon. friend, namely, to vest the right of voting in the resident householder? The simplicity and safety of this qualification solves all the difficulties which can offer themselves to fair and unprejudiced minds, and while it admits to their due share in legislation, those classes, which bear the principal burthens of the state, it gives every requisite efficiency to the great dictum of the constitution, that "No man shall be taxed without his own consent." Mr. Madocks said, he would take the liberty of here reading an admirable passage from a work on this subject, particularly applicable to the point in question.
"The species of property which constitutes this qualification has the advantage of being open, ostensible, and incapable of being disputed. It indicates a real residence, and implies a stationary interest in the place for which the vote is given and the representative chosen. But besides the possession of a competent property, of which the occupation of a house paying taxes is a sufficient presumption, a householder has other qualities which ought to recommend him to a favourable distinction, and particularly to the trust in question. He is necessarily the master, and probably the father of a family. In the first character he has a personal credit and respect to maintain: in the second he has given hostages to society. He is the natural guardian and virtual representative, not only of his family and servants, but of all those 1061 who depend upon him for support, protection, or employment. Such a station deserves confidence, and should be made respectable, that all men may be prompted and encouraged to rise to it. The relations and duties that belong to it are antecedent to positive institutions, and constitute at once the basis and security of civil society!"
Upon this important point of the plan, as indeed upon most other topics of any weight, the right honourable gentleman had cautiously avoided any attempt at an answer. With respect to property, which a right hon. gent. below, and many others on former occasions, had so strongly insisted on as the true basis of representation, undoubtedly he (Mr. Madocks) admitted, or rather was as anxious as any man to assert, that property was the only true and legitimate basis of representation, and it was because that property was not the basis of representation at present, that he wished the present system to be altered. What right had Old Sarum, Midhurst, Gatton, &c. to send representatives to parliament upon that principle? And how monstrous that the few private fortunes that possessed them, can send three times as many voles to tax the people, as all the landed property of Yorkshire (Hear! hear!). He wished distinctly to state, that nothing in his opinion was so absurd, as the notion of universal suffrage; an idea he believed universally exploded, unless indeed be found it in full practice at Old Sarum, and some other places, where the right of voting resided in an old wall, or 25 stones in a field.—That indeed appeared to him to be universal suffrage with a vengeance! (Hear! hear!) What can be so ridiculous, in what a curious predicament do those persons stand, who would deny a copy holder or a leaseholder of 1,000l. a year, a vote for a representative in parliament, when they allow a similar privilege to a stock or a stone (Hear! hear!). The bill which had lately passed in that house (Mr. Curwen's) had only made matters worse, by throwing a monopoly of the market for seats into the hands of the Treasury. These partial remedies could be of no use where the system was fundamentally wrong. The resolution of 1779 had often been appealed to in vain; and where then was the use of new enactments, the intended effect of which the system necessarily prevented? There was another point to which he was desirous of calling the at- 1062 tention of the house, as he had been mispresented respecting it, or, at least, as inferences had been drawn from it which were not warranted by the facts. He alluded to the representation which he had made respecting the bargain with the Treasury for the borough of Cashel. That part of the charge which stated, that lord Castlcreagh suggested to Mr. Dick the propriety of resigning his seat if he could not vote in favour of the duke of York, had been denied. But it ought to be observed, that the denial was confined to these words alone, that lord Castlereagh did not suggest to Mr. Dick. The fair inference then is, that all the rest of the charges, which was not in any degree denied, and which was by far the most important, was positively true (Hear! hear!). If the right hon. gent. opposite was disposed to dispute this point, all he had to do was to grant a committee to investigate the facts; and he, Mr. Madocks, was ready to prove that 5,000l. had been paid to the Treasury, for the Seat, with the privity and concurrence of the right honourable gentleman and the noble lord opposite, and that Mr. Dick had been induced to vacate, upon a difference arising between him and the ministry as to his vote on the question respecting the Conduct of the Duke of York. This was the important part of the charge, which no one had attempted to deny. Under all these circumstances there was the strongest ground for giving a pledge to the nation, that the house would take the subject into consideration. The plan now offered corresponded in its great and leading features with those of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Grey, who were sometimes supported by great divisions, and once the question was lost only by a majority of 20 or 25. In the year 1784 the king had in his Speech recommended the subject to the consideration of the house. Under all these circumstances, and recollecting it had been the invariable practice in every reign from the time of Edward I. to that of Charles II., to alter the state of the representation with respect to boroughs, he gave his most hearty concurrence to the motion of his hon. friend, and thought that to give the pledge required, was necessary, after what had recently passed, to the character of parliament, and the salvation of the state. The gentlemen on the other side, had lately signalized themselves by observing the anniversary of the birth of their immortal leader, the late 1063 Mr. Pitt. He would not enter into any recapitulation of the losses, which liberty sustained during his lifetime, but he would earnestly entreat the house to remember, that the day on which he was addressing them, was the anniversary of the birth of our liberties, Magna Charta, and he hoped that the house, in justice to the memory of our ancestors, would commemorate the occasion, by pledging themselves to restore the independence of parliament.
Sir R. Williams
was averse from the imputing of bad motives to any one, and certainly he imputed none to the hon. baronet. But he doubted whether he might not be influenced by those whose views might be less pure. One of the greatest objections which he had to the proceedings of the hon. baronet was, that he did not propose to carry on his plan of reform in that house, but endeavoured to effect his object by means from without. The hon. baronet was reported in Cobbett's Register to have said, that the house of commons was the only spot where the opinions of Englishmen were treated with contempt. He would have a much higher opinion of the bon. baronet, if we saw in him a disposition to effect his object through that house, instead of a desire to lower it in the opinion of the public.
§ Sir James Hall
observed, that the hon. baronet, though often accused of obscurity, was now plain and explicit. He had stated in pretty strong terms that the house did not deserve the confidence of the country; and yet he came forward in that very house with his Plan of Reform. The motives of the hon. baronet might be good, but his conduct, he thought, extremely dangerous. The plan which he had stated amounted to complete and radical revolution. The first savage in the world would certainly have thought an attempt to cut down the tree which afforded him protection from the weather a great insult. It would be the ruin of a ship if you took away her ballast. The ballast of the British state vessel might sometimes be too heavy, but upon the whole, she proceeded very well in her course: and even the rotten boroughs might ultimately do a great deal of good. These inappreciable cases produced what was called chance. But as men of wit alone were often lucky in their bon mots, so the British constitution clearly appeared to have been the work of sensible men. That constitution ought to be defended without a very narrow or minute 1064 examination; for many things which appeared ridiculous at first might be good in their ultimate effect. Since he became a member of that house, he had studied the motives of men a good deal, not only in their public speeches, but in their private conversation, and the result was, a conviction that he had got into better company than he at one time imagined. He affirmed, that its votes were almost always satisfactory to the nation. He adverted, as a proof, to the late vote respecting an improper military appointment, and affirmed that the conduct of the house on the business of the Duke of York would have been equally satisfactory, had not undue means been taken to produce a contrary impression. He himself, however, was one of the minority of 125, though his name had not appeared in the published lists. He could not assent to the motion of the hon. baronet; but he highly complimented col. Wardle, who had so well conducted himself in adversity. He hoped he would be enabled to bear prosperity with equal magnanimity, and not suffer his brain to be turned by the intoxicating influence of three times three.
would not suffer the question to go to a division, without replying to some of the observations and objections which had been made to it. From what he had heard of the hon. baronet's speech, one more constitutional, more calculated to entitle him to the respectful attention of the house and to the confidence of the public, or containing stronger professions of a wish to conciliate, he had never heard in parliament. It was directed to the judgment, not to the passions, and certainly did not, in the smallest degree, justify the tone of scoff and ridicule, in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had replied to it. Its object was to insure the attention of parliament to the great question of reform at an early period of the next sessions. Called upon as the hon. baronet had been, taunted as it were, and provoked to speak out—misconceived by some—misrepresented by others—he had on that night put the house in full possession of his thoughts, and although not likely on slight grounds to change his opinion, he had nevertheless declared, that being disposed to yield to reason and sound argument, he was anxious to learn the sentiments which others entertained. The subject of reform was not a new one, nor now for the first time introduced; 1065 some of the ablest statesmen had considered it worthy of parliamentary inquiry. But it had been objected that the hon. baronet was not a fit person to bring it forward. Would it be seriously contended that with the stake which he possessed in the country, with a property such as had fallen to the lot of few, greater than than that of almost any other member of the house? Would it be urged that a man of his rank, of a highly cultivated mind, and of reflective habits, was not qualified to bring forward such a subject? Was this objection taken in downright earnestness? If it were, Mr. Hutchinson would be glad to be informed who was qualified for such a task? The hon. baronet appeared to have considered the subject with great solicitude, and he had presented it as one, which, if acted upon as he suggested, he flattered himself would strengthen the sovereign in the affections of his subjects, promote the welfare and happiness of the people, compose jarring interests, and eventually uphold the state. Such at least were the result which the hon. baronet expected from the measure. Another most extraordinary objection had been made, that he sought to change the constitution of parliament, not by the assistance of the house of commons, but by the interference of the people. The gentleman who had urged this last objection seemed to have been strangely inattentive to the question before the house, and to the concluding motion of the hon. baronet, namely "that the house would, early in the next session, take into consideration the state of the representation in parliament." Yet the hon. baronet, who has thus directly appealed to the parliament and to the parliament alone, is unaccountably accused of having made that appeal to the people. This objection was no more understood, since the hon. baronet had expressly declared that he sought not to innovate, but to restore. Mr. Hutchinson ought perhaps to apologize for noticing an imputation which doubtless the hon. baronet had listened to with becoming indifference, but feeling that the character of every member was as it were the property of the house, Mr. Hutchinson could not refrain from saving that the treatment experienced by the hon. baronet was not that which at least on the present occasion he was entitled to. Mr. Hutchinson in supporting the motion did not pledge himself to the plan submitted, nor to any specific plan, but merely to the principle. 1066 He was not ignorant of the objections to which any such measure was liable, and he knew that he hazarded much when he professed himself a friend to reform. However concerned as he should be, that the motives which influenced his vote should be generally misconceived, he was prepared for incurring the suspicions, perhaps the direct censure, of many. In a state which secures to the subject so many privileges and blessings, there is a national jealousy, there is an inherent hostility to any measure that by possibility may injure establishments not more venerable from their antiquity than valuable by reason of their intrinsic worth; but this sentiment, laudable as in itself it may be, frequently is carried too far; particularly where it renders us incapable of discriminating between the individuals who are guided by the light of reason, by the sole desire of altering in order to preserve, and those who are influenced by the most treasonable and base designs. The fate of other nations, which have fallen victims either to the treachery or ignorance of their political leaders, or have been overwhelmed by their blind, unbridled passions, adds not a little to the prevailing disinclination and distrust. The honest zeal of the reformer is set at nought; the very excrescences are too sacred to be touched; even the rust of time is to be respected, lest we should injure or deface. But in contemplating the fall of other states, we ought not to forget, that they refused to reform, while reformation was yet possible and safe; neither should we confound with the leveller and revolutionist, those who are only desirous of doing away the abuses and imperfections arising from the operation of time, to which every government and all human institutions are more or less liable. The revolutionist would destroy, the reformer would preserve. It is only the ignorant and superstitious who fancy that that which was originally good, perhaps approaching to perfection, is not subject to corruption and decay—"corruptio optime pessimo." He had no doubt that the foundation and main pillars of the constitution were sound; and while he admitted the theory of the composition of parliament to be admirable, it was impossible not to observe that the people were imperfectly represented, at the present period, in the house of commons. It was his duty to speak respectfully of the decisions of the house, although he had differed from many of those of the 1067 present sessions; but he could not doubt, that had the house been otherwise constituted, the result of their deliberations would have been far different. Had the voice and wishes of the people possessed more influence, the appeals of the members for Oakhampton, Morpeth, Lanerkshire, Boston, Waterford, and Queen's county, could not have been made in vain; nor in the few instances in which ministers were defeated, had there been a different representation, would there have been found a set of men, hardy enough to have defended the measures which were arraigned, and by the vote of the house condemned. For instance, the motion of the member for Hull could not have met with opposition; nor could a moment's resistance have been offered to that of the worthy member for Waterford, who objected to a clause indemnifying from the operation of the law an entire class of his majesty's subjects, which clause was defended by ministers on the extraordinary and disgusting plea of general and incorrigible corruptness; a plea which contained a libel against the people of Ireland, and under the influence of which, an indecent attempt had been made to prevail on the house of commons to screen from punishment those who had corruptly violated the law. When the member for Carlisle, prompted by the purest zeal for the public interest, introduced a bill for "securing the independence and purity of parliament," had the house been differently constituted, no minister would have ventured so to trifle with the feelings and interests of the people as to have converted that bill into one of a directly opposite tendency, a bill which he was one of those who thought ought rather to have been entitled "a bill for more effectually preventing the sale of seats in parliament for money, and for promoting a monopoly thereof to the Treasury by the means of patronage." It originally had his support, but that support he was reluctantly obliged to withdraw, being of opinion that under the all-blything hand of ministers, it soon lost its primitive purity and value; for, by the enactments as they came out of the Committee, it had become a bill calculated to increase the very evil it professed to remedy, and very alarmingly to add to the already too preponderating influence of the crown in the house of commons. There surely must be something radically wrong at this moment, when members in their places have unblushingly 1068 declared, that seats in that house were procured by money. The avowal in other times of this practice would not have been tolerated! At the present day it has been made, not only without compunction, but with such effrontery, as to have rendered this great and crying public scandal in itself sufficient to justify a unanimous call for reform. The right hon. gent. (the Speaker), by his impressive and constitutional speech, had exerted himself to assert the dignity, and maintain the honour of the house. That speech should be entered on the journals, that, at a future period, when these debates shall be alluded to, the exposition of the statute law, and of the law of parliament, under the high authority of the Speaker of the house of commons, may appear on record as the fullest condemnation of this fraud on the constitution of parliament. Above all, it was impossible for him to consider the house of commons otherwise than most defectively composed, when he recollected that the seventh session since the Union had nearly closed, and no attempt made to render that measure beneficial to the Irish people, all inquiry into their condition having been obstinately, not to say systematically, repelled, and pledges the most solemn violated with a levity unexampled between nations! never tolerated by man from man! even the letter of the Union not respected! What else was the "Prohibition Bill" than a direct infringement of one of the most positive and explicit provisions of that act! Was Ireland thus treated because she happened to be the weaker party? Had she not sufficiently suffered by the surrender of her national rights? Was this embargo on the export of her spirits to England (perhaps the only benefit, commercial or other, which she has derived from the Union) intended as a foretaste of what she may yet expect? On the whole, judging of the house by their late measures, by that which they have done, and by what they have failed in doing; looking to the formidably preponderating influence of the crown in the house of commons, and in the country, he had no hesitation in repeating his opinion, that a reform of the house of commons had become a measure of absolute necessity, and one which he was convinced would not too soon be effected.
said he should give his assent to the motion of the hon. baronet. But he wished to be understood by no means to pledge himself to support the 1069 particular plan suggested by the hon. mover in the course of his speech. He had been a constant friend to Parliamentary Reform. He voted for the motion which was brought forward in the year 1793 upon tile subject, and again in 1797, and he certainly was of opinion that a reform in the representation was not less necessary at the present moment than it was at that period; and he was satisfied the times were more favourable to the consideration of such a measure than at the periods alluded to. He thought it essentially necessary to give an assurance to the public, that the house would take the question into consideration early in the ensuing session.
§ Mr. Barham
was averse from the pledge, because he was not convinced that the generality of the people were anxious for a reform. But at the same time he agreed that the hon. baronet had been unkindly treated. No speech was ever more distinguished for its candour and moderation, or less calculated lo irritate the passions, than that of the hon. baronet. He wished gentlemen would explain a little what they meant by the restoration of the constitution to its original purity. He could not find, in the course of his reading, any time when the people had greater weight in the constitution, than at present.
§ Sir Thomas Turton
asked, whether the constitution in ancient times depended so much upon the borough system? In this respect it might be purified. In ancient times the representation was a representation of property. These boroughs were once places of great wealth and property, and upon that ground sent members to parliament. But circumstances being altered, the representation ought to be varied accordingly. In former times, none were free except freeholders; but now copyholders were equally free and secure, and might therefore partake of the freeholders' privileges. As to the personal reflections thrown out against the hon. baronet, any one conscious of the purity of his motives might easily despise these, and in truth, it was always a proof of a bad cause on the side of those who resorted to such means of defence. As to the particular plan of the hon. baronet, he saw very great objections to it in many points of view. But he understood the hon. baronet to require no more than a pledge from the house, that it would consider the subject. He was not over fond of pledges, but concurring in the principle, he would 1070 vote for it if pushed to a division. The gentlemen opposite were averse to any consideration of the subject; they would have nothing reformed, and resembled squire Western in Tom Jones, who in one of his disputes with his sister, exclaimed. "that he would be d—d if he went to church if the liturgy was amended."
Mr. H. Tracey
declared himself friendly to the question of reform, and would vote for entertaining it without pledging himself to the particular plan. The right hon. gent. opposite said, that the generality of the people were not disposed for reform, How did the right hon. gent. ascertain this? The people in their public meetings had, from one end of the kingdom to the other, expressed themselves in favour of reform; and how could their sentiments be collected, except in their public meetings? It had also been said, that the people scarcely ever complained of the decisions of that house. How could that be known? There might be many decisions with which the nation was highly displeased, though its sentiments were not openly expressed. The decision in the case of the Duke of York might have been passed over in this manner, had it not been for some peculiar circumstances in that case which roused the people to a loud and almost universal declaration of their disapprobation. The people had only to become familiar with Reform to see its propriety, and even necessity. It was only by connecting it with the French Revolution, with "no popery," &c. that it had for a time been rendered unpopular. All this, however, was now over. The people would judge coolly and temperately, without allowing themselves to be distracted by such artifices as these. He did not at all pledge himself to the support of the plan now proposed; but as nothing more was required by this Resolution than that the house should take the subject into consideration early in the next session, he would certainly give his voice in its favour.
§ On a division, the numbers were
|For sir Francis Burdett's motion||15|
|Majority against the motion||59|
|List of the Minority.|
|Adams, Charles||Hutchinson, G.|
|Burdett, sir Francis||Knapp, G.|
|Campbell, general||Lefevre, C. S.|
|Combe, Harvey||Madocks, W. A.|
|Cuthbert, J. R.||Maxwell, W.|
|Moore. Peter||Wardle, G. L.|
|Thornton, Henry||Western, C. C.|
|Tracey, Hanbury||Wharton, John|
|Turton, sir Thomas|
§ Lord Cochrane was, accidentally, out of the house at the time of the division, and the hon. Mr. Lyttleton paired off.