§ Mr. Curwen
moved the order of the day, for resuming the adjourned debate, on the bill for the prevention of the sale of Seats in parliament.—The Speaker explained, that the question was, that he do now leave the chair.
§ Sir John Newport
rose and spoke as follows:—Sir, I have always thought the subject now under consideration to be at any time of the greatest importance to this country. I think it to be particularly so at a period such as the present. I have always been anxious that Reform should originate in this house; considering, that within these walls it could best be effected, and with the best and most happy consequences. I have ever been anxious, that we should afford no pretext for complaint against us, to those without doors; and for this purpose I have supported measures which seemed likely to produce so desirable an object, by giving full effect to the spirit of the Grenville Act. To make regulations for the direction of its conduct, or the reform of its defects, is a privilege which this house constitutionally possesses, and which it has often beneficially exercised. I need only refer to the recent case of Aylesbury, in which this house asserted its own dignity, in which the members of this house shewed themselves worthy of being the protectors and representatives of a great people, by proving that this house is ever eager to apply a remedy to the abuses that appear before it. I conceive the present measure to be of the same nature, or nearly so with that, only this is intended as a means of preventing the recurrence of those evils in future, rather than of punishing or remedying the past. In that case, such was the corruption proved by the evidence before our committee to have existed, that the votes of the electors were openly bought and 718 sold, as in a market; and therefore this house applied the remedy, by disfranchising all those voters so convicted, and calling others, their neighbours from the adjacent districts, to supply their places as electors. Sir, upon the present occasion, I must differ entirely from my right hon. friend (Mr. Windham), when he says he objects to the measure, under the apprehension that we may be led to go too far. I am sure a call will never be made on this house to take any step that may endanger the constitution. I am sure if such a call were to be made, it would and ought to be resisted. I am sure if a cry was attempted to be raised among the people, for the purpose of overawing the parliament, they would soon recover from their delusion, and the effect would only recoil on the heads of those who were instrumental in creating it. I firmly believe, that the best and only means of preventing the delusion of this house being unwilling to correct abuses, consist in its shewing itself ready and willing to amend itself, particularly by a measure which is prospective, and therefore most salutary, as well as best calculated to prevent the recurrence of the evil it professes to correct. The benefits likely to arise from this measure are peculiarly applicable to that species of representation, known by the description of Burgage Tenures.—It has been said, that the purchase of seats for such places, is essential for the introduction into this house of young men of superior talents, who otherwise might never find their way into it; on the contrary, Sir, I contend that it is more likely, that talents shall come among us when seats are to be acquired by character rather than for money; for then the people will naturally look out for such as shall appear worthy of their confidence. I find a splendid and striking example of this position in a neighbouring kingdom, to which it is my pride and my boast to belong. I allude to the conduct and practise of that revered character, the late earl of Charlemont. That nobleman it was who recommended to the borough in which he was supposed to have influence, the man I am proud to call friend, the friend of his country, the friend to human nature, Henry Grattan. He it was, that introduced this gentleman into parliament, not for his money, but for his worth, and shewing by such a selection, that in the exercise of his influence in the borough, he considered himself us holding a trust estate for the 719 public. This I heard him declare, at a public meeting, and thus had he conducted himself through the whole tenor of his life. Thus much I feel bound to say of a nobleman who is no more, but whose memory will live respected in the hearts of his countrymen. In the case before us, can we say it is not the wish of the people that some remedy should be applied? or, in admitting that it is, is it any disgrace to give way to that wish? To do so is not servility; it is to treat with proper respect the fair opinion of the public, duly and regularly expressed. We are not bound to surrender up our judgment to theirs; but we may surely doubt, when we find our opinions contrary to theirs. By looking at the matter in this point of view, we shall find our best support in the arduous circumstances of the present day; nor would Buonaparté wish for better support in his designs against this country, than that we should say, we would not attend to the voice of the people. It has been ever the pride and glorv of our constitution, that it contains within itself the principle of its own renovation, and we should weigh well, whenever we find ourselves running counter to popular opinion, because, if ever there was a time when it was incumbent upon parliament to consult popular opinion, and to endeavour to acquire confidence by fair and legitimate means, it is the present. It is for this reason, therefore, that I take the liberty of suggesting, that we may attend to that opinion, in order that, if we find it in error, we may at least take pains to correct it. Sir, I will fairly own, that I think the people have reason to complain, that they are not sufficiently attended so. I do not mean to say, that we should adopt every speculation that maybe promulgated; but we should at least shew that pains are taken to reform and correct those errors we condemn. We are called on to abolish what is called the trade of parliament! If a man comes into this house for money, he may be said to come as to a parliamentary lottery; the holder speculates, and the public pays the prize, whatever it is. Of these speculators, some are commercial, some professional persons; but the object of both is the same. Those who do not affect to apprehend danger from what they choose to term, a speculation, I would ask, has not the experiment been already tried, in the instance of the union with the sister country? By that measure, whether justifiable or not, the 720 representation of that country became popular by the annihilation of its close boroughs,—Here, then, we find a practical experiment on the very subject; and who is there will say that any evil has been the result of it? It is the pride and boast of the British constitution, that it contains within itself the power of repair, rather than the principle of degenerating into anarchy and confusion—differing in this from all the other states of civilized Europe. It is upon these grounds, without detaining the house longer, that I pay my tribute of respect to the hon. gent. who has brought forward this measure, convinced as I am, that it is as necessary as it is useful. I have no objection to the word Reform, as applied to this mode of remedying abuses, satisfied as I am, that it is a safe and certain mode of preventing what is called anarchical reform. I shall therefore give my vote for your leaving the chair.
§ Mr. William Smith
said he concurred with the right hon. bart. who had just spoken, in regard to what he had said, relative to anarchical reform differing from parliamentary Reform, for the latter was a reform that took place in parliament, itself, and carried into execution by the collective wisdom of the nation. He should not, however, scruple in saying, that, unless he believed that the measure under consideration would lead to something further, as he hoped it would, he should not even vote for its going into a committee. He was of opinion that, amongst the electors of this country, even amongst those best constituted, there was infinitely more corruption than any man wishing well to the country could desire to contemplate; and if that corruption were corrected, much would be done with regard to reform in parliament. It was a mere mockery, a gross and insulting mockery to say, that they shall not sell their votes one by one, when one individual was allowed to sell them all in the gross. He had no doubt that the hon. gent, who brought this measure forward, was actuated by the best intentions, as he thought it would be no inconsiderable step towards rectifying that degree of corruption to which parliament had sunk. But his own objection to the measure was, that it did not cut up that corruption by the roots but only lopped off a few branches from the worst parts of the constitution of parliament. The bill provided that every man 721 taking a seat in parliament shall take an oath that he has not promised to give, nor given any pecuniary consideration for it; but this could not be effectual, while it did not impose any oath upon the nominator to those Boroughs. Under these circumstances, the house of commons would still be under the same influence it was before. He thought the original plan of reform, proposed by Mr. Pitt, was infinitely better, as it went to cut up the very sources of corruption, by providing that the power of nomination to boroughs should be taken from those persons who enjoyed it. The only objection he had to that former measure, was that compensation was offered to persons who had enjoyed a right they had no title to possess, but for the good of the public. No pecuniary recompense was due to a man who possessed the trust of sending members to parliament. The present bill did not propose to do away this source or foundation of corruption. There were three sources of temptation to a corrupt exercise of the elective franchise, dignity, influence, and money; but only the last of these was alluded to in the present measure, while the two former were still allowed to exist, and might be employed by the distribution of offices of the state, which were only' to be obtained through the treasury of the country. The government of the country had it in their power still to treat with any man for dignity, and any country gentleman, whatever his circumstances might be, if he considered that he could ennoble his family, had only to go to the minister and say, "I can no longer receive money for my seat, in the open market, I therefore come to you to make the best bargain I can; and I have no objection to dispose of my seat for any office yon can give, or for any dignity, either a baronetage or a peerage, which you can bestow." This was actually, therefore, inflicting an additional evil on the representation, and conferring additional benefit upon certain individuals, inclined to continue the traffic complained of. This narrowing of the market would be actually found to be an inconvenience in more ways than one. If Boroughs were to be purchased for money, government would find many competitors; but when dignities or influence alone could be received in exchange, they would have the market wholly to themselves. Unless the house knew the man who sent the member amongst them, the corruption that might take place was 722 more to be dreaded than that which could arise from the ostensible individual: because he stands forth before the public, and can be arraigned, if he errs in his vote, while the other lurks secretly behind the curtain, and pulls the wires by which the puppets are to be set in motion. As matters stood at present, he had no doubt that many men came into parliament, who had paid money for their seats, yet were still actuated by the best of motives. Some came in, merely for the purpose of obtaining that distinction which it gave them in society; and there were others, who, having no influence in elections, nor in public life, were inclined to come into parliament, even by such, means, in order to render public service, and were actuated by the purest motives. If he could secure seats to such persons as these, even by the means now practised, he should not be one that would call for Parliamentary Reform. But what rendered some alteration necessary was, that there were some who made these purchases of seats, who might be inclined to make an ill use of them.—It was with great satisfaction and pride he saw many upon that side of the house, which formed the democratical part of it, who represented boroughs; and who although they might some day form a part of the other house, maintained boldly the right side of thousands of questions that were agitated. There were many commercial men, too, whose pursuits prevented them from forming connections with popular boroughs, and who had therefore, no other opportunity of coming into that house to signalize themselves in supporting the real interests and liberties of the country. If Parliamentary Reform were to lessen the number of such individuals, he should dread that loss as much as any man; but he was inclined to think that the agitation of this question would always be productive of good; and if at any time he was again called upon to give an opinion upon that subject, he should do it at greater length. He believed, that unless an oath were introduced into the present bill, to exclude promises of dignities and influence, as well as money, it would have no beneficial effect; but with that amendment, it might, lead to considerable advantage, by operating as a silent check upon ministers. At all events he was persuaded, that the bill coming, as it did, upon the backs of the transactions, which they had witnessed of late, must be pro- 723 ductive of great benefit; and therefore he should vote for going into the Committee.
Mr. Spencer Stanhope
said, he should not follow the example set him, by going into the question of Parliamentary Reform, but should merely touch upon the motives which induced him to think this bill should be allowed to go into a committee. A more imperfect bill he had never before read, and more objectionable clauses were never before put upon paper, and therefore as he had no objection to the discussion of the principle adopted by his hon. colleague, he should wish it to be committed, in order that it might be more fully discussed and amended. He was sure that if this were a question for the third reading of such a bill, he should give it a hearty negative.
§ Mr. Davies Giddy
differed in sentiments from those, who had spoken before him; he thought that property and power should invariably be connected together, for without that connection, no peace could be maintained in society. Corruption, influence, and property, were as closely connected as usury and money. Formerly, the taking of interest for money was invariably denominated usury, and it was not till after the lapse of many years, that the proper line was drawn in regard to that most important article, the loan of money and the recognition of a legal rate of interest, in a commercial country. Now the same mistake seemed to have taken place in regard to influence and money, as formerly in regard to interest and usury. Property must necessarily give a person influence, and the latter would naturally tend to procure returns of members to parliament. The landed interest was no doubt the great leading interest; but there were other interests which should have the opportunity of obtaining seats, to a certain extent, in that house, as they could render essential service to the country, by expressing their opinions there, even as connected with their own interest. Some individuals objected to the state of representation, because some small places sent an equal number of members to parliament as larger ones; but it would, upon examination, be found, that great advantage arose to the country by, this being the case. Most of the small boroughs sent to parliament merchants, and gentlemen of the army and navy, who otherwise could not get seats in that house. Those who adverted to the great advantages of commerce to the country, and the dangers 724 arising from too large a standing army, must be convinced of the propriety of such individuals as these having seats in parliament If these small boroughs were to be done away, he could not see why members should not be sent to that house to represent our possessions in America, and also our East and West India possessions. Persons even possessed of large properties in the funds of the country, should be represented in that house. For such persons to obtain seats in that house, there was at present no other mode than through these small boroughs, and he should rather wish to see them increased than diminished. It had been said that parliament ought to consult popular opinion, but he thought that this could only be carried to a very limited extent, because in his mind there was no term more ambiguous than was usually denominated popular opinion. He should certainly approve of members listening to the opinions of those who were really competent to form just ones, but to say that they should attend to the sentiments of individuals, who had no knowledge of the real interests of society, nor acquaintance with the history of this or of other countries, was carrying that concession too far, as they could thereby form no correct opinion upon difficult topics, which required great attention and the most mature reflection. Parliamentary Alteration would be a better term to apply to any change that was necessary, than Parliamentary Reformation. It seemed to be the intention of some gentlemen, that the executive power should be wholly independent of the legislative. Were this the case, it would be found that the latter would soon overawe the former power, and Would tend to convert the government into a democracy, under which no large and populous country could long exist, for after a few years of tumultuary proceeding, such a form of government could not fail to end in an absolute despotism. Being convinced that the motives of the hon. gent, who introduced this bill were good motives, he should not object to its going into a committee, but he was sure it could not reconcile it to what he thought would be consistent with propriety. It went to prevent corruption, by imposing penalties; but he should be glad to know how that would have the effect of preventing the sale of votes in large towns, where it was well known the vilest passions were flattered by various representatives, such as the holding out to 725 the people the release from all burdens imposed by what was denominated a corrupt government; although it was well known that such hopes could not be encouraged without injury to the peace of the country? When persons of large possessions used their property to get into parliament, by menus the most honourable, or when the nominator selected individuals eminent for their knowledge in the laws of the country, or persons connected with the army and navy, or connected with the East or West Indies, or with interests in the funds, as proper to sit in parliament, he could not see any injury likely to arise fom the nominator being indemnified for his influence so applied. He should not say, however, that there might not be corrupt practices as to the mode of exercising that influence; but even that could not be an argument against its existence, any more than the publication of a libel should be made an argument against the liberty of the press. It had been said, that no person could come into that house through money, without having bad motives. In this he could not agree; for if any man who acquired great popularity in a large town, by being a bountiful landlord, or by any other means procured a seat in parliament, he did not see what security there was, that that gentleman was more likely to give his votes with greater purity or more disinterestedly there than a person who, having funds, was willing to barter some of his money for a seat by applying to the individual whom he found possessed of influence sufficient to secure it. Having already an excellent constitution, he thought it would be exceedingly dangerous indeed to attempt any alteration in the system of representation, without having the fullest prospect of great advantage being likely to arise from it. We had in the course of events been engaged in a long and expensive war, and yet this country had flourished, every mouth had been supplied, and every symptom of prosperity had been manifest. We saw cur coasts and our harbours abounding with redundancy of capital. He should take upon himself to assert, that if the effects of this contest for Parliamentary Reform were to throw the country into confusion for one single week, more imminent danger and disadvantage would arise, than what had been occasioned by all the effects of corruption, existing from the time of king William, to the present period. He therefore should call 726 upon the country to pause before they incurred the risk of our all, for the small benefit likely to arise, from any change proposed.
Sir Francis Burdett
declared, that doctrines so novel and extraordinary had lately been introduced into that house; doctrines so subversive of every sound principle of the constitution of parliament that he was altogether at a loss how to discuss them. He stood in a situation unprecedented in the history of the country, for he had not to address the Representatives of the Commons in parliament assembled; that title they had disclaimed by the avowal and defence of their corruption; but he was about to speak to an assembly composed of some representing the Treasury; some the Admiralty; some their patrons; some their own money; and a few representing populous places; an assembly constituted under a system resembling the fortuitous concourse of the atoms of Epicurus. Under these circumstances, he felt himself somewhat at a loss what to say; but in justice to the large body whom he represented, he thought it his duty to raise his voice and reprobate doctrines the most abominable that had ever been avowed since England was England. Much had been said of the dignity of that house; but if they were not Representatives of the people, where was its dignity?—The present debate had been opened, on a former night, by an hon. gentleman opposite, (Mr. George Johnstone) whom he did not then see in his place, in the most extraordinary manner, and upon the most extravagant ground, that had ever been avowed by any member of parliament. That hon. member had attempted to justify the present mode of sending members to that house, by comparing it with the abuses and corruptions of former periods: he had, for the purpose of covering the disgrace incurred by the late transactions in that house, even gone the length of avowing, that the British parliament had been formerly in the pay of a French monarch. To what particular period the hon. gentleman alluded, he knew not; nor upon what, information he grounded his statement. He might perhaps have had in view that period of the reign of Charles 2nd, when a British sovereign was not proof against the temptation of French gold, and the important fortress of Dunkirk had been sold for a sum of money. But he would ask that hon. gentleman, whether, in his charges against 727 the parliament of that day, he had his information from the romances of Dalrymple, or the libellous list of Barrillon, the French ambassador? a list in which the names of Russel and Sydney appeared! Did the hon. gentleman believe such statements as these? If he did, he libelled our ancestors. The hon. gentleman had next compared the present House of Commons, or rather this Assembly, for it was not now the Commons of England in parliament assembled with—
§ Lord Archibald Hamilton
submitted, whether, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, the hon. baronet might not deny that this was properly the House of Commons, since, by the openly avowed and defended corruptions, the house itself appeared to have disclaimed that title,
§ The Speaker
said, that it was his duty to call any Member to order who affirmed that this was not the House of Commons; and he would do so as long the house supported him (Hear, hear!).
Sir Francis Burdett
then observed, that he was perfectly aware of the impartiality of the Speaker's conduct on this as well as on other occasions; but he would recollect, that until the 12th of this month of May, the claim of the house to be called the House of Commons was founded on its assumed purity. He admitted, however, the necessity of some rules to guide the proceedings; and the Speaker, no doubt, spoke from the remembrance of former periods. But, then, he must allow that he (sir F. Burdett,) spoke in a situation and under circumstances entirely new.—The hon. baronet then resumed his argument, and said, that the hon. gentleman (Mr. G. Johnstone) had boasted of the purity of the present Assembly, by comparing it with what the House of Commons was during the existence of the South Sea scheme. But the hon. gentleman had forgotten to state, that the members who had been detected in that instance were expelled the house, and punished in various ways; and that the commons then had purged off the baser matter. (Hear! hear!) Now, however, they seemed to want the instinct of brutes. Wolves would not allow certain animals to herd with them, and yet they could sit there and associate with ministers and others who had practised corruption, and had even the effrontery to acknowledge it. In order to prove the purity and dignity of the house 728 in the present times, the hon. gentleman had alluded to the casts of lord Melville and the Duke of York. In the former case, it was only by the casting vote of the Speaker that the dignity of the house was at all supported; but the hon gent. would recollect that those who endeavoured to save lord Melville, even from censure, voted for his Impeachment, in order to rescue him from the equal justice of a jury. (Hear! hear!) As to the case of the Duke of York, he was at a loss to conceive how that could be turned into a proof of the purity of the house, which had cleared his royal highness, while even the ministers, in deference to the opinion of the people, whom an hon. gentleman near him (Mr. D. Giddy) had declared to be incapable of judging of these matters, had advised the resignation of the Duke of York. This they had done out of respect to that opinion, which the house had disregarded. But suppose, as that hon. gent, had said, that the house had been corrupt from the time of the Revolution, were we to justify crime by crime? Many persons in that house had said, that the system would lead to arbitrary power; but he believed it could scarcely have been in the contemplation of any one that a. minister would ever have dared to avow what was now openly defended. The hon. gent. who had just sat down, had made such contradictory statements, that it was difficult to follow him. He said that political power ought not to be separated from property. Why, that was thy very ground on which they stood. Their object was, that they who had no property should not have political power; that this borough-mongering Jacobinism should be destroyed. But after having made this declaration, the hon. gent, turned round and extolled the advantages derived from the rotten boroughs (Hear, hear!). These boroughs, he said, brought in a heap of adventurers of different descriptions into the house, men of talents. But they wanted no adventurers. What was required was a sober check on the government; and for this purpose a house of commons properly constituted might very well answer, without lawyers and other adventurers, and without being made a kind of theatre for the exercise of debating powers, and political talents. Their object was the security of the country. They had no desire for ornaments; they wanted bolts and bars to confine the executive within its proper sphere. The commons 729 of England composed these bolts and bars of the constitution. If this were not the case, the constitution of England was a mere farce, a mere masquerade. If it was the design of the hon. gent to continue a system which rendered the house subservient to the minister, in other words, to have an arbitrary government, why did he not propose this at once without the present incumbrance? If we must have a despotism, why not have it without all this machinery and expensive appendages?—Adverting to the observations of the hon. gent, upon the case of usury, the hon. baronet observed, that the laws against usury were ineffectual, because the system was wrong. They only confined the trade to the worst description of people, and prevented a fair competition. So this bill would only aggravate the evil, inasmuch as the system was radically bad. As the laws against usury gave the monopoly to the worst description of people, so this bill would give the monopoly of the Seat trade to the Treasury, Unless you stopped the market altogether, you only did mischief by preventing a free traffic. If the bill could be efficient, which it could not, the Treasury would monopolize the whole, and therefore while the system continued, it was better to have a free market. If the house was not to be composed of representatives of the people, it would be infinitely better to have an auction of seats; to have a public mart where all might go, and conduct matters openly. Where all was conducted in this open way, the barter might be turned to some advantage. In the first place, the money might be turned to public purposes. We might then get rid of the delicacy which still remained on these subjects, and speak openly what everyone knew; although he saw no reason why the ears of gentlemen should be more delicate than their consciences (Hear, hear!). Another advantage would be, that the man who purchased with his money would, in all probability, be more independent than placemen, and those who represented their patrons. For, according to the modern morality, these last were bound by private honour to vote as they should be directed, while a man might purchase, and prove an honourable and independent servant of the public. But this bill, like all sham measures, would be inefficient, or if it was not, it would, as he had stated, give the monopoly of the market to the Treasury. While he said this, he was desirous of 730 doing justice to an independent member of parliament He was fully convinced that the hon. gent. who brought in the bill, expected that great public advantage would result from it. The effect of that honourable gentleman's zeal had induced him to apply an inadequate remedy to an evil which had disgusted and alarmed him. So little did he expect from the operation of the measure, that he thought it ought rather to be called a Bill for the better Prevention of the Detection of Corruption, than for the more effectual Prevention of Corruption.—But there was another view, in which he felt considerable objection to the measure. He was an enemy to the Oath it would impose. This land was already disgracefully oathed. Oaths were at present too common in the legislation of this country, and the extension of them would be a-great evil. The misfortune besides was, that they would not be effectual for their purpose. How much were they abused in the excise and in other revenue cases? Was the oath of qualification sufficient for its object? He saw no reason why this oath should have more virtue than others, except on account of its length, for it was the longest he had ever seen. He was averse besides to oaths as a check on moral conduct. But still his great objection to this bill was, that it would, under the present system, rather aggravate than remedy the evil of which the nation had so much reason to complain.—Another singular circumstance to which he could not help adverting, was, that old notions seemed to be so completely obliterated, that amongst the other extraordinary things which had occurred within the walls of that house, they were reproached for that which formerly would have been reckoned an honour—namely, that they were of no party. The gentlemen of the present day seemed to be astonished at them. "You don't want place or pension, you say: Why, what are you at? What object can you possibly have in view? You must surely be traitors." They had been reproached for not desiring a change of ministers. But why should they desire any change? They did not see that the ministers conducted matters at all in a worse way than their predecessors, who taunted him for being of no party. He would not join any faction: but he would be glad to support any minister who acted properly. The only return he could make to that numerous body which had sent him to that 731 house, so undeservedly perhaps on his part, but so honourably to themselves, was to refrain from tormenting the ministers, and to stand up there only on great constitutional points, as a guardian of the rights and the privileges of the people. The gentlemen of the opposition were like someone in the play of The Rehearsal: their old master turned them off, and no one else would receive them. They said that their delinquency consisted in having been in office. No—none had reproached them with that circumstance. Their delinquency consisted in not having performed what they had promised to the nation. He had heard of a bankrupt fortune having been mended in that house,; but he had never heard of a bankrupt character having been retrieved. It had often been said, that one proof was worth a thousand conjectures, but here they had a thousand proofs for one conjecture. They could not by law alter the direction which a machine or steam engine was constructed to take. A great many bills had been brought in to remedy the evils of the system; but it was in vain to attempt to alter the nature of the thing by these expedients. The hon. baronet adverted, as an instance, to a bill brought in by Mr. Burke to correct the mischiefs of the system, and to effect an economical reform. It had been introduced with all that parade and pomp of eloquence with which that gentleman could decorate the most trivial subjects. It was a sort of substitute for Parliamentary Reform, and was to be eternal in its operations, like the great principles on which it was founded. But Mr. Burke himself had outlived its operation. In opposition to the economical part of that bill, too, lord Melville had flatly refused to give an account of the mode in which he had expended a large sum, and yet those who talked so much about the dignity of the house, did not move that lord Melville be sent to the Tower.—But this bill would be mischievous in another point of view, it would act as an indemnity to all past delinquencies. By the admission of this bill the house seemed to think that something was necessary to be done. The only question was whether this was a remedy for the evil? Their neglecting to detect and punish the conspirators would be an excuse for future, and, perhaps, greater abuses. It was now upwards of 120 years since the Revolution, and yet they saw that there had been carrying on during all that period, 732 a most scandalous intercourse between the Treasury and that house—that foul adulterous intercourse, which had been hitherto most strenuously denied, but still supported and justitied. The detected minister still kept his place unmolested. If any man knew that a conspiracy existed against the king's life, would it not be treason to conceal it. Such was the law of the land, that the concealment of that would be deemed treason, and merit a forfeiture of life; and yet, was not the concealment of these corrupt practices deemed a treason against the laws and constitution of the country? This bill must tend still farther to conceal those practices, instead of producing the remedy wanted. Suppose that a century hence some minister, such as one, who lately acted in the sister kingdom, old in the practice of corruption though young in years, should be detected at last through a carelessness arising from constant habit and long impunity, how much stronger would the argument of defence from the frequency of the practice be in such a case than in that of the noble lord to whom he alluded? The tie of honour, as it was called, would then be stronger, and it would be urged, from the very circumstance of the little notice taken of the noble lord's case, that their ancestors never intended that the present bill should be carried into effect. Those who asked, where they would look for the constitution, he would refer to Magna Charta, to the Act of Settlement, and the Bill of Rights. It had been said of him, that he had held out the Bill of Rights as an existing law. He had only referred to that among documents, as proofs of the principles of the constitution—of "the unalienable and imprescriptible rights of the people," to use the language of the Bill itself. That subsequent acts had violated those principles, was one of his grounds of complaint. As to the time of reform, there were some who thought there were two seasons improper for reform—a time of peace and a time of war. In peace it was a pity to disturb the general tranquillity; in war the nation had a great deal of other business on its hands. There were many also who denied that reform would have any effect in diminishing the burdens of the people. This was as much as to say, that there was no connection between representation and taxation. But unless- the gentlemen expected some practical good of this kind from reform, why did they support it? For his 733 part, he saw no use in it, except from the effect it would produce with respect to the controul of the expenditure. In the year 1785, Mr. Pitt was a friend to reform, as was Mr. Dundas. But a minister might wish for reform, and yet be utterly unable to effect it. From the length to which these corrupt practices had proceeded, it was apparent that the great object of reform could only be attained by a firm but temperate action of the people out of doors upon the house. If some of the friends of reform had injured the cause, the friends of corruption had certainly injured their cause. The priests had torn aside the veil of the temple, and exposed their idol. That idol, he hoped, would fall before the united voice of the nation, as Dagon, the idol of Palestine, had fallen before the Ark, and put to shame his worshippers.—The hon. bart. concluded by stating, that the measure under consideration should not have his concurrence or support, as it would not effectuate any good or beneticial purpose.
§ Mr. Fuller
was astonished that a gentleman should depreciate the liberty of his country, at a time when he was making one of the freeest speeches that had ever past the lips of man. With respect to being a real representative of the people, he certainly had as much right to call himself so as the hon. baronet; for he had never bribed the county of Middlesex, and thrown away 70,000l. upon an election; nor had he ever produced 3 or 400 voters, who were afterwards found not to be voters, and many of whom had since been sent to Botany Bay. As to the people who made fine speeches, and clapped their hands upon their hearts—they might as well have clapped them any where else (A laugh). After they had gained their object, they might, perhaps, exclaim like Jack Wilkes, "What fools these fellows are to be so deluded!" With respect to the bill, he did not think it could be effectual; for there were many things besides money which a man might give to procure votes, such as a puncheon of rum to one, a horse to another, and a pipe of wine to a third. He had no objection to allow the bill to go to a committee; although he did not like the administration of oaths proposed in it, by which the duke of Norfolk, or the duke of any body else, might be sent to Botany Bay for giving a pint of Wine, and then inadvertently swearing that he had not been guilty of bribery. Instead of such a penalty, he would pro- 734 pose to the committee to substitute a heavy fine, and exclusion from the existing parliament. He concluded with observing, that no man deserved to be a representative of the people, who would not defray the travelling expences of those who came to support him.
§ Mr. Wilberforce
could not consent that the admirable constitution of this country should be founded on open and avowed corruption, and was unable to understand the distinction between corruption in the gross and in detail. Why should a man be punished for selling a single vote, when he who sold the whole escaped? He should not say, that he observed no utility to result from the present system. It was often pleasing to the great Author of all, to produce good from evil; but though we saw that the effect of the evil had been mitigated, it could furnish no argument, upon the ground of political expediency, to justify and to defend it. He must also disapprove of the conduct of the hon. baronet, upon whom he called to acknowledge, whether it was fair in him, while he contended for the doing away of abuses upon the one hand, to enter into an abuse of the constitution upon the other? If such things were acknowledged to exist, as had been acknowledged lately, and if they still suffered and tolerated them, after they had been published to the world, could they not see what an effect must be produced upon the morals of the people at large? Sure he was, that in the times, and under the circumstances in which they lived, they should consider well before they gave their sanction to such abuses. It constituted one of the multitude of blessings enjoyed in this most happy country, and under this constitution, so speculatively and practically beneficial, that free discussion was permitted, the liberty of the press established, and the means of political information generally diffused. But this blessing, at the same time that it was such a source of pride, should also be a source of caution; it should make them careful to correct those faults, which, though they might not be injurious in other countries, must be peculiarly so in this, from the rapidity with which they were circulated, and the freedom with which they were discussed. As Gulliver saw blemishes in the most beautiful females of Brobdignag, so public affairs were here regarded with a microscopic eye, and the slightest defects perceived. These abuses could not with 735 safety be allowed to continue. It was the opinion of a great man, now no more, that a moderate reform was particularly desirable, in order to separate the more temperate of its advocates from the more violent. This was very expedient at present. With regard to the Oath, the hon. baronet had not observed that the transgression here was to be punished as perjury, while there was no punishment for the violation of the qualification oath. He thought his hon. friend (Mr. Giddy) was too refined in his reasoning. He did not deny that some influence might be properly exercised; but the nearer you approached to that state in which all would vote for him, whom in their consciences they thought the best representative, so much the better.—The hon. baronet had spoken of the inefficacy of oaths in general, and lamented the multiplication of them. That inefficacy, and that multiplication, he lamented as much as any man; but at the same time they should not deny that oaths were in some cases necessary, and that this was a proper case in which to introduce an oath. The hon. baronet had spoken of the qualification oath; but when he compared it with the present, he should consider that there was no penalty attached to the breach of the qualification oath, while there was to this. The evil of which the hon. baronet complained, occurred, when the occasion was thought grave enough to have an oath attached, but not grave enough to justify a penalty.—He could wish that there was any other mode of securing the object they had in view, beside an oath; as there was not, however reluctantly, they must resort to it. He approved of it in the present instance, provided the penalty was attached, and the breach of such an obligation punished as it ought. He allowed the merit and ability of the speech of his hon. friend, which he must again repeat, appeared to him to be a little too refined. That a good landlord should, and must, have some influence over his tenant, independent of political merits, was a position he could not but admit; but the nearer we approached to selection, upon distinct and independent principles, the nearer we approach to perfection. When his hon. friend endeavoured to justify such practices as had been acknowledged, he proceeded upon a ground as dangerous as it was difficult. Sure he was that no country was ever the worse for adhering to moral principles; and if they were to 736 state to the people that what they called corruptions were not corruptions, they would contribute largely to the dissolution of those moral principles throughout the whole nation. They should consider, that they were placed in a high sphere to set an example to the rest of the world, to stamp that character which was to pervade the community, and to give society its complexion; they should consider this, and this should render them cautious of recognising any principle or setting any example injurious to the cause of virtue. He was always a friend to a moderate and temperate reform; in his younger days he espoused it: though older now, and consequently more cautious, he could see no reason to doubt the propriety of that former opinion, or why reform should not now take place. He hoped that there would be no violent proceedings adopted upon either side. That axiom appeared to be right which said, that "moderate counsels were always the best." Let the gentlemen opposite beware, how, in their avidity to resist reform, they entrenched themselves within a circle of abuses; and let those upon his side take heed, how, in their eagerness to effect it, they disparaged the constitution under which they enjoyed such blessings.—It was the peculiar nature of a free government to adapt itself to the circumstances of the times; circumstances had been changed by late occurrences, and there should be a correspondent alteration in the Government, to meet that of the circumstances of the times. Let us advance, but let us advance with caution; let us not be called upon to stand still, nor let us libel the constitution so far as to say that it is necessary to its preservation, that we should cherish its radical defects.
§ Mr. Windham
rose and said:—Sir; I am well satisfied to have heard, before I address you, the speeches of the two hon. gentlemen who have last sat down, as those speeches will have helped to recall our attention to the question more immediately before us, from which the speech of the hon. baronet (sir F. Burdett) had in some measure led us away, though not to any topics, which I mean to describe, or which I wish the house to consider, as unconnected with the subject. Those topics are indeed most closely connected with it, as they are in themselves also of a nature and character, to which I must not fail hereafter to advert, and with which the house will I hope be duly impressed.
737 In the mean while, I must fairly profess, that upon the subject of the question immediately submitted to us, I have found no reason from any thing that I have heard to night, or upon other occasions, or that my own reflections or inquiries have furnished, to alter the opinions with which I took the liberty of troubling the house on the night on which it was first brought forward. I equally think it a measure, ill-timed, injudicious, founded upon false views, false facts, and false assumptions, calculated to produce no good in the first instance, and liable and likely to lead to the most serious mischiefs in future. The whole measure rests first upon an assumption, which, in the sense in which it is used, and the extent to which it is carried, I utterly deny, namely, that the transactions in question are corrupt; and secondly, upon a position, which is true indeed, but of no effect or operation without the other, namely, that acts criminal and abusive in themselves, cannot be protected by the length of time that they have been suffered to prevail, or by the number or authority of the persons, who have been found to practise them.—Nobody pretends to say, that fraud, falsehood, theft, robbery, the whole list of crimes by which society is disfigured and injured, though coeval and co-extensive with society itself, are for that reason less crimes, or less call for reprobation and punishment, than they did at their first appearance in the world. There are innumerable offences and depravities, which no authority can sanction, or support, but which will to the end of time pull down the character and reputation of all those, be they who they may, who shall be found to have been guilty of them. What we are to inquire is, whether the acts now meant to be proceeded against, are of that sort? whether they are like many others, acts which those who commit them know at the time to be wrong, though under the impulse of strong temptation they may not have the virtue to abstain from them; which degrade the person in his own opinion, and would, if known, degrade him in that of others; which he is compelled to condemn in the very moment he yields to them; which are attended in the first instance with injury to others; or, at least, tend to weaken the authority and observance of some rule, which the interests of society require to be upheld?—Let us consider how the matter stands in respect to the nature and description of the fact. 738 Let us open the pleadings by stating the case. A minister in the time of Geo. I. or queen Anne, or king William, has a friend come to him, at the moment of a general election, who says, 'I have a great interest in the Borough of such a place. I have a large property, I have laid out a great deal of money, there; I have obliged in various ways, numbers of the voters and their connections; many are dependent on me, many look up to me for favours that they have received, or favours they expect. In short, I may venture to say, that I can bring in both members. One of the seats I must reserve for my son; but for the other I shall be very happy to take by the hand any one whom you will recommend. I have been always, as you know, warmly attached to you and your friends; and anxious to give every support in my power to a set of men, whom I have always acted with in and out of office, and whom I rejoice to see in their present situations, because I think them in my conscience the fittest men to whom the interests of the country can be entrusted: I want nothing for myself, and should be very glad to offer this seat to your friend free of all expence; but the sums which I have been obliged to lay out in cultivating this interest; the property which I have been obliged to purchase, on terms yielding but a very inadequate return in point of income; the heavy charges incurred in supporting the rights of the freemen in the two last contests, joined to the probable expence of the present election, will oblige me, towards replacing in part what these will have cost me, to require a sum to such and such an amount, from the friend, whoever he is, whom you shall recommend.' The minister says, 'I am exceedingly obliged to you: nothing could come more opportunely: I have at this moment, a young man, the son of our friend lord such a one, for whom I am most anxious to procure the means of his getting into Parliament, not only on account of our friend his father, but because he is a young man of most extraordinary promise, with his whole mind turned to public business, and likely to become in time one of the greatest ornaments and supports of the country. His father will, I am sure, have no objection to advance the sum which you require, and which is very moderate and you will, I am persuaded, be happy in introducing a young man likely to do so much credit to your recommendation.' 739 All this I am taught to understand is grossly corrupt, much in the same way as any act of peculation or embezzlement. I can only say in the first instance that I am sorry for it: because some such things have I am afraid been done in the best times, and by those commonly accounted the best men. I am sorry to be obliged to part with so much of the admiration which I have been accustomed to feel for supposed virtue and character, and to confess that those eminent men, early and recent, whom we have hitherto looked up to as patterns of virtue and the pride and ornament of the country, were little better than corrupt knaves. It is painful, I say, to part with these convictions, and to be compelled to confess the world less virtuous than we had supposed it. It may be forgiven to us, therefore, if we make some struggle in defence of our former opinions, and if I venture to ask, as an humble inquirer, and for the sake of information, what is the precise nature and character of this corruption, and in what part of the transaction, that is to say, with which of the parties, it is supposed principally to reside.
As to the minister, who is the party first seized upon, and against whom the charge is most pressed, his guilt can be only derivative and dependent on that of others. He is only the go-between, the broker, the procuress, if you please, who brings the parties together: but unless the parties meet for some ill purpose, his office is innocent. Of the two parties then, which is the most criminal, the giver or the receiver? the buyer or the seller? or is their guilt equal? Let us know a little more distinctly, what is the rule and principles which we mean to lay down.
Is it meant to be stated generally, that no place of trust and confidence, no place to which important duties are annexed, shall be disposed of for a valuable consideration? that the sale of a place of trust is, in all circumstances and in every instance, a corrupt and criminal transaction? If it is, then does both the law and the practice of various countries, and of this country among others, sanction and authorise most corrupt and criminal transactions. I would quote, in the first instance, the whole of the parliaments under the old monarchy of France; which, though not parliaments in our sense of the word, were of a nature to make the disposal of seats in them for money, a proceeding, if it were wrong at all, infinitely more wrong 740 than the same proceeding would be here; for the parliaments in France were judicial tribunals, courts of judicature, in which the whole civil and criminal justice of that renowned and enlightened kingdom, was administered; and where, in spite of those vulgar national prejudices, under which we have some times been supposed to labour, and which lead us to believe that nothing can be right or good, but what is conformable to our peculiar notions and institutions, justice was, for the most part, I believe, most ably and uprightly administered, and where certainly as great and eminent lawyers and jurists have been produced, and men of as pure and unspotted character, as are to be found in the legal history of any country whatever. Yet were all the seats in these assemblies, regularly, publicly, and avowedly bought and sold. So little do the effects of civil and political institutions, or the laws relating to them, answer in fact and practice to what the theories even of the wisest and best informed men, would previously pronounce of them! That these tribunals, whether such or not as I have described them, could not be such as our coarse and narrow prejudices, or our hasty and inconsiderate theories, would lead us to suppose, is demonstrable from the fact. For no country, much less such a one as I am adverting to, would consent for ages together, that the whole source of its justice should be polluted and corrupt. But to avoid all reference to instances liable to dispute, let us only ask whether we have not among ourselves, appointments, which if not absolutely judicial, are very closely connected either with judicial functions, or with others not less repugnant to the admission of any thing corrupt or impure, of which the sale is not only practised, but publicly tolerated and authorised. In what department, too, of the state, are these offices found? In the law, and in the church. Is it not notorious, that part of the salary or emoluments of our judges, the well-earned, necessary, inadequate emoluments of our judges, arises from the sale of places, having duties belonging to them connected with the business of their courts? Yet does any man, on this account, impeach the integrity or purity of our judges; which is on the contrary (and deservedly) the constant subject of our boast? or find ground for insinuating that the functions of these offices are not as well performed, and the persons 741 filling them, as respectable and proper persons, as they could be, if they were appointed in any other manner? The church furnishes examples likewise, which, if not directly in point, equally contradict the position above supposed, if laid down to its full extent and in such a manner, as not to avail itself of the distinction between an actual and a virtual sale. For what does any man do, who purchases and who sells the advowson of a living? or who purchases or sells the next presentation? does not he, both in effect and intentionally, purchase or sell the nomination to an office of the highest trust and confidence? And if this be morally wrong, can it cease to be so, because the act of appointment is not to take place immediately, but is in some degree contingent and remote? Can that which is corrupt and criminal if carried into effect immediately, become perfectly innocent, because the execution of it is made to depend on an event, which, though certain, may not happen for several months? It is impossible, therefore, to maintain, that the sale of seats in parliament is corrupt, simply upon the principle, that it is corrupt to take a valuable consideration for a nomination to a place of trust and confidence. The known, recognised, authorised, avowed practice of our own country, in departments the most exempt from any suspicion of impurity, and where the admission of any thing incorrect would be most anxiously guarded against, is in direct contradiction to such a position. We have still therefore, to look for the ground on which either the buyer or the seller, in such a transaction as that above stated, is to be represented as being a man morally corrupt. In fact, if their proceeding is corrupt, it will be difficult, or, I should say, utterly impossible, to stop there, and not to go on and declare corrupt the very influence itself, by which they are enabled to carry into effect this corrupt bargain. If the buying and selling be corrupt, it can only be so for reasons, which will make it corrupt to have the commodity which is capable of being so bought and sold. This is the true seat of the grievance, as, it must be confessed to be, the true place in which to apply the remedy. So long as there are persons in a situation to say, I can make an offer of a seat in parliament, so long will there be persons to treat with them for that object, and so long will means be found, for commuting in some way or other, the influence so pos- 742 sessed, for considerations valuable to the possessor. The only effectual way will be to get rid of the influence altogether. To make it penal for any one to have such goods in his possession. This the hon. mover may be assured is the use that will be made of his measure (nay it is the just and legitimate use) by those, who do not scruple now to oppose it, because they like to argue the question both ways, to be ready for either event; and may think possibly, that more is to be gained by the rejection of it, and by the ground thereby laid for raising a clamour against parliament, than they can hope for from the argument and the authority which it will furnish, towards subverting the greater part of the influence, which property is now allowed to retain.
I know how prompt the answer to this will be, and how triumphantly I shall be told, that no two things can be more remote from each other, than the influence of property, the just, wholesome, legitimate influence of property, and the sale of seats.—But let us recollect, that in the present business, we are arguing throughout upon principle, and that it is of the nature of principle, to unite things the most various and opposite in their individual forms and circumstances. It is not a question, how far things may be distinguished; but how far those, which are naturally distinguished, may be assimilated and made one. Those who can make no distinction between an offence against the bribery laws, by giving money to a particular voter, and the sale of a seat, can hardly be expected to distinguish between the sale of a seat, and such a use of influence as would give them the seat to sell.
I am as well aware as another that there is much influence, which, though ultimately to be traced to property, is so remote from its primary source, has been so changed in the gradations which it has passed through, has been so improved by successive graftings, as to retain little or nothing of its original character,—of the harshness and acerbity of the parent stock. The case is the same as with that passion in our nature, which, though too gross to be named, is often the source of every thing most delicate and sentimental; which, as the poet describes,
——through some certain strainers well refin'd,
Is gentle love, and charms all woman-kind.
All, in these instances, that property may 743 have done, is to have given to virtue the means of acting, and the opportunity of displaying itself; to have furnished the instrument without which its energies must have been useless, and to have erected the stage, without which it would have remained unknown. I am under no apprehensions for the fate of influence of this sort. My hon. friend and others, notwithstanding the operation of this bill, will be at full liberty, I have no doubt, to lay out their thousands in acts of beneficence and bounty, in building bridges, or endowing hospitals, in relieving the wants or advancing the fortunes of the indigent and meritorious. They may still enjoy, together with all the heart-felt satisfaction, all the influence which will naturally arise from property so employed;
Him portioned maids, apprentic'd orphans blest,
The young who labour, and the old who rest.
But is this the only way in which property exerts its powers? Is it always taken in this finer form of the extract or essence? is it never exhibited in the substance? It is here that the comparison will begin, and that the question will be asked; which the advocates of this bill, I hope, who do not mean it to extend to the abolition of the influence of property, will do well to be prepared to answer; How, if the sale of a seat or any commutation of services connected with such an object be gross corruption, can we tolerate the influence which property gives, in biassing the minds of those who are to give their votes? How a landlord, for instance, should have any more influence over his own tenants, than over those of another man? How a large manufacturer should be able to bring to the poll more of his own workmen, than of those employed in the service of his neighbour? How an opulent man of any description spending his fortune in a borough town, should be able to talk of his influence among the smaller tradesmen; or be at liberty to hint to his baker or his butcher, that, laying out every week such a sum with them, as he does, he expects that they should oblige him by giving a vote to his friend, Mr. Such-a-one, at the next election? If all this is not corrupt, upon the principles on which we are now arguing, I know not what is. What has money spent with tradesmen, or work given to manufacturers, or farms let to tenants, to do with the independent exercise of their right, and the conscientious discharge of their duty, in the election of a member to serve 744 them in parliament? A fine idea truly, that their decision in the choice of a representative is to be influenced by the consideration of what is good for their interest! or that persons, the advocates of purity, and who will hear of nothing but strict principle, should attempt to distinguish between the influence which engages a man's vote by the offer of a sum of money, and that which forbids the refusal of it, under the penalty of loss of custom, or loss of work, or of the possession of that on which his wife and family must depend for their bread? I shall be curious to hear in what manner, not the advocates of this bill, but the advocates for the principles on which this bill is enforced, will defend themselves against these questions; and be able to show, that while it is gross corruption, gross moral depravity, in any one who possesses such influence, to connect his own interest with the use of it, even though he should not use it improperly, it is perfectly innocent to create that influence by the means just described? Or on the other hand, if such means are not lawful, how the influence of property is to continue, such as has hitherto been practised and allowed of? It is indifferent to me which side of the alternative they take; but let them be well aware that such is the alternative to which they will be reduced: and that if they contend generally, as is now done, that such and such things are corrupt, because they admit the consideration of interest in matters which ought to be exclusively decided on principles of duty, it is in vain for them hereafter to contend that any man has a right to influence his tenants, or tradesmen, or workmen, by any other means at least than those by which he may equally influence the tenants, tradesmen, or workmen of any other person; that is to say, by his talents or by his virtues, by the services which he may have done, and the gratitude he may have inspired. When I look therefore to the moral qualities of these acts, as independent of and antecedent to positive law, I am at a loss to find what it is, either on the score of principle or of authority, that determines them to be corrupt, or that enables us, if they are corrupt, to exempt from the same sentence of corruption nine tenths of the influence, which has hitherto been supposed to be attached, and legitimately attached, to property, and which, for aught that at present appears, there is no intention of taking away. 745 But though such may be the result of an inquiry into the moral constitution of these acts, there can be no doubt, that the law may render corrupt any act which it pleases, that is to say, the law may make any act which it pleases illegal: and to do, or procure to be done, an illegal act, from an interested motive, is, I apprehend, corruption. We are to inquire therefore, in what manner and to what degree, those acts, which generally speaking are not corrupt, have been rendered so by positive law. And first, without affirming or denying the fact, let us examine the conclusiveness and validity of the arguments, by which it has hitherto been attempted to be proved. It has been said by those from whom I should have expected better reasoning, that the corruption follows of necessity from the laws respecting bribery in the case of individual voters; for that it is impossible that the law should be guilty of such monstrous inconsistency, as well as of such a flagrant injustice, as to punish the poor for bribery in retail, while they suffer it to be practised with impunity by the rich in wholesale. There is something so wildly inconclusive in this argument, as to make it difficult to set about formally to confute it. I cannot better illustrate its fallacy than by an argument something of the same sort, quite as good in respect to conclusiveness, and much better in respect to point and archness, which I remember when I was a boy, at a contested election for the county of Norfolk; where one of the candidates, a most respectable man, had rendered himself obnoxious by the inclosure of a common, (a proceeding less familiar at that time than it has become since, and better calculated therefore to be made a subject of popular clamour); upon which the wit of the day was to ask, in way of dialogue, what that man deserved who should steal a goose from a common? and when the answer was given, to follow up the question by another, what then shall be done to him who steals the common from the goose? This was very good election wit, but certainly very bad argument; (though just as good as that to which I have been adverting,) for what is the affinity between the two offences, so as to justify the considering the one, as differing from the other only by being upon a larger scale? A man by procuring the inclosure of a common, where such inclosure ought not to take place, may do a much worse moral act, with Jess temptation probably, and 746 with far more injury to others' interests, than by the theft of many geese: yet who would ever dream of describing these as kindred acts, or propose that the incloser of commons, if convicted of having done so improperly, should be punished by imprisonment and whipping? Other instances may be cited more directly in point. There are, or have been, I believe, laws to restrain the retail sale of spirits. Should we think that a man argued very wisely or conclusively, with much fairness of representation or much knowledge of the principles of legislation, who should harangue at the door of an alehouse (the only place however fit for such a discourse) against the justice of laws, which could punish a publican for selling a dram to a poor wretch, who wanted it perhaps to solace him under the effects of cold and hunger, to whom it must stand in the place of food and raiment; while the same law did not scruple to permit the sale of these spirits by wholesale on the part of the rich merchant or still more opulent planter: and should take occasion from thence to ask (exactly in the stile of my hon. friend) if such was the punishment for selling a dram or gill, what did they deserve who sold these spirits by whole puncheons and shiploads? The answer is, that these acts do not stand to each other in the relation of more or less, but are perfectly disparate and dissimilar; are productive of different consequences; are to be regulated by different provisions; are so widely separated in character, as that the one may be an object of national encouragement, a source of public wealth and benefit, while the other can produce nothing but mischief, and is a practice requiring to be restrained by penal statute. Nothing therefore can be more false than the inference by which it is concluded that the sale of a seat in cases where it can be effected, must be deemed corrupt, because there are laws which prohibit the gift of money to individual voters. Both may be corrupt, and both may require to be prohibited: but not the one on account of the other.
Supposing however the fact to be, that by fair construction of the law of parliament, such bargains as are here in question, must be considered as illegal, and may in consequence be denominated corrupt: it is so far from following that the present bill is therefore necessary, that the presumption would rather he the other way, and the conclusion be that a new bill was not 747 wanted; inasmuch as it could only prohibit that which was already prohibited. In general, the precedent of any law tells as much for what it does not, as for what it does. If we have the authority of our ancestors for doing so much, we have their authority also for doing no more. If they tell us, that such things ought to be prevented, they tell us likewise, so far as we chuse to be guided by them, that the attempts at prevention ought not to be pushed beyond a certain extent. It is undoubtedly true, that laws, right in their object, may be deficient in their means, or that change of times and circumstances may require new penalties and provisions to effect that to which the old were formerly adequate. But then this change and this necessity should be shown: and after all it is no just, conclusion, that because our ancestors wished to prevent certain things by certain means, they would therefore be willing to accomplish their object at any price, or to have recourse to any means, be they what they would, which the attainment of that object might hereafter require.
Our business therefore is to ascertain, what it is right for us to do, with respect to an object, on which neither morals nor law, as antecedently established, prescribe to us any certain mode of action, nor even impose upon us the necessity of acting at all.—The acts in question are not in themselves corrupt or immoral. The law has either prescribed nothing about them, or, having prescribed what it has thought fit, has left, to say the least, the necessity of any further provisions, to the judgment of the legislature of the time.—It may be, that what it is proposed to be suppressed, is a political evil, tending to render parliament a less fit instrument for promoting the general welfare. If it is so, let us, in God's name, set about in earnest to devise the means of suppressing it: taking care always as in other instances, that in eradicating what, is bad, we do not injure what is good, that in removing one evil we do not introduce others of far greater amount. But above all things let us be sure, that in attempting change, with all the dangers to which change is liable; particularly in a machine so delicate, so complicated, whose movements can be so little defined, and are so imperfectly understood, as those of the British constitution; we are not proceeding upon assumptions, which we our selves at the moment suspect to be false, 748 and which we adopt rather in compliance with the clamour of persons out of doors, than in conformity to our own sober, deliberate, and unbiassed judgment.
It is in fact in deference to the former of these motives, that is to say, to the voice of what is called the public, that the adoption of the measure now proposed is principally urged, And this being the case, it is in a more especial manner incumbent upon us, to consider what is the nature of this call, by what causes it has been excited, with what circumstances it is combined, and from what classes and descriptions of persons it chiefly proceeds. It would be the height of weakness and folly in any case to adopt a great political measure, without considering something more than the mere measure itself, without looking to the light and to the left, and inquiring what consequences it was likely, or liable, to produce beyond those immediately in view.
We have been told that this measure has nothing to do with the great question of Parliamentary Reform. If this be so, we have all been under a strange misconception, for, with one exception only, not a gentleman has spoken upon the measure on either side, or in any stage of its progress, who has treated the subject upon any other footing. It would in fact be the grossest perverseness or folly to consider this measure, otherwise than as arising out of the temper and fashion of the times, and out of that wild rage, which has suddenly seized us; nobody knows why or wherefore; for pulling to pieces the government and constitution. It is one of the small, leading steps, which it is hoped, may in time be made introductory of that purpose: one of the early symptoms, the first eruptive pustule that indicates the presence of the disease. The disease itself is however denied; and we are required to believe, that the whole of the present cry originates in nothing, but in the abuses recently discovered in the business of the Duke of York.
The amount of these discoveries is, that the mistress of a man in power had received money for the use of the influence, which she had, or pretended to have, in procuring places and appointments. This, if it stood alone, would be an odd reason for arraigning the government, or even for arraigning the person himself: and as for participation or connivance, though there are persons who accuse the Duke of both of these, their numbers are few, (speaking always 749 of those whose qualifications for judging are such as to make their judgment of any value,) and even of those few, fewer still think that their suspicions, whether true or false, admit of any sufficient proof. Yet with all this, such is the surprize excited in this country by any suspicion even, of corruption in persons of high rank and station, and such the commotion which it never fails to create, that the Duke of York, a member of the royal family, the king's own son, in full possession of his father's favour, and of the respect and good will of the greater part of the nation, is fain to quit the situation of commander in chief, which he has held with credit for fourteen years and more, and to withdraw into retirement, sooner than run the risk of the steps, which parliament, it is feared, would otherwise be induced to take.
Can any man in his senses suppose, that an instance like this was calculated to inspire the country with a distrust of its government, or to excite a desire of new-modelling its parliament, as being too submissive to the wishes of the court? We must look to other motives and purposes; to which the present bill is meant to serve as an instrument, and for which the business of the Duke of York is made to serve as a pretext, being after all, it must be confessed, a very flimsy and sorry one.
Upon what principle is it that we are told, that it is to libel the people of England to say, that there are among them thousands and thousands who wish the destruction of the present orders of things, and who are labouring night and day to carry into effect that laudable purpose? And with what decency, it may be added, is this libel charged upon us by those, who are every day libelling this house, and all the higher orders of the state, in the grossest and most unmeasured terms? Why is it more a libel than to say, that there are among the people of England robbers, murderers, and housebreakers, and offenders of all descriptions, and who, numerous as they are, would show themselves in much greater numbers, if the fear of the law did not keep them down? Are there not as powerful motives, passions as fierce and strong, and interests as tempting and urgent, to arm men for the overthrow of all government, as there are to incite them to any other act of violence? There is no government, bad or good, that can boast of owing its stability (or quiet at least) to any other cause, than to the difficulty and danger which is opposed to every attempt to sub- 750 vert it. Let but the project be easy, let but hopes be entertained of its success, and thousands will be found, who from motives of different sorts,—some from folly, and some from wickedness; some because they know not what they are about, some because they do know; some as knaves and more as dupes; many from motives of interest, and more from motives of passion; some because they hate one part of the establishment, and others because they hate another; some as mere fanatics, and because they have entangled their (commonly) moderate understandings in speculations to which they are wholly unequal; others from mere restlessness and love of something to do; but far the greater part, from some species of bad passion or other, (not excluding of course those most powerful and general ones, vanity and love of distinction,) are desirous of seeing some great change in the order of things as they find it established: not all of them by any means desiring a change of the same sort or to the same extent: Oh, no! but all of them a change suited to their several views, and proportioned to their several interests and situations. My hon. friend, the author of the measure, and a great landed proprietor, thinks that there would be signal advantage in a change which would throw more weight into the scale of the landed interest. Another hon. friend of mine, likewise a great landed proprietor, is of opinion, that those, who can only purchase their seats, are intent upon nothing but getting back their money. To these are opposed many gentlemen of the monied interest, who see no reason, (nor do I, I confess, see any) why they who may have paid a sum for their seats once for all, should be more desirous of getting back their money, than he who has spent that sum, or three times as much, in a contested popular election. I am far, too, from being convinced from any observations that I have made of the conduct of men in parliament, that such in point of fact is the case. To my apprehension many of those who may be suspected to have come into parliament through these condemned and reprobated ways, have been among the most upright, honourable, and independent member's, that parliament has had to boast, fair exceeding others that could be named, who from the money they have spent, and the interests they have staked, in elections pretending to be of higher account, have only brought themselves to be the mere 751 slaves of popular opinion, that is to say, of their own future hopes, in the places which they represent. Many of the former description, from the class to which for the most part they belong, will be of opinion, probably, that the best improvement would be that which conspires best with the general change in the circumstances of the country, and by taking something from the old and obsolete privileges of the landed aristocracy, the barbarous remains of feudal times, gives a free scope to men who owe their wealth, not to dull hereditary descent, but to their own enterprize and industry, and have grown rich by means that have at the same time enriched, or otherwise benefited the country. But there is a third and more numerous class, who looking with no very friendly eye to advantages which they do not share, and knowing that they have not either land or money, yet fully persuaded that they have talents, will be for levelling to the ground all those barriers, which have hitherto, as they are firmly convinced, been the sole obstacles to their advancement, and have alone hindered them from figuring in the first situations of the state. The general rule will, I believe, be, that each man's opinions will be found to lean to that state of things, which he conceives to be the most favourable to his own consequence. Political consequence is probably a far more powerful, as it is a far more extensive motive, than prospects of private advantage. The numbers may be few, who can hope to better themselves by any change, in a pecuniary view: and these will of course be found in general among persons of no great authority from their present wealth or station. But many will have in their minds; and the highest in rank and fortune not less than others; some scheme of things, in which they may hope to become more considerable in point of general consequence. And if such men should be, as they are the most likely to be, men of ardent and daring minds, jealous of their importance, eager for distinction, impatient of controul, less awed by the fear of loss than sanguine in their hopes of gain, materials will not be wanting for furnishing out a revolution even from among the higher orders; in opposition to that childish notion, so false even in theory, and so contrary to all experience, that men will not engage in such enterprises who have much to lose, or as it is often expressed, have a great stake in the country. Here- 752 tofore, in fact, disturbances in the state were confined entirely to the class that had much to lose, namely, to persons in the highest rank of society; and though, since the example of the French revolution, this limitation is done away, and the lottery of revolution thrown open even to adventurers of the lowest denomination, yet the rich are not excluded, and we see every day that they are not at all disposed to exclude themselves. For though the French revolution exhibits the most striking example of failure, that the lovers of right could ever have wished to the authors of wrong; yet this failure relates only to the professed objects, the peace and happiness and liberty of mankind. In other respects, and with relation to the views and interests of individual reformers, who, in truth and fact, trouble themselves but little with the peace and happiness and liberty of mankind, the example is most encouraging; and particularly with respect to those, who are not likely to be deterred by personal risk; for nothing can show so strikingly the facility with which the object can be accomplished, and with which men from the lowest stations may be lifted suddenly to the highest. This is all that is wanted; for give but the chance of success, even a very indifferent chance, and thousands will not be wanting; high and low, to engage in the undertaking, and to labour with all the restless activity and increasing industry, with which we see the work carrying on at this instant.
Still the means must be supplied. They cannot make bricks without straw. Even these reformers or revolutionists, numerous as they are, and strenuous as their exertions are, cannot make a revolution of themselves, nor by their utmost efforts throw the country off that happy basis, on which it has rested for so many centuries, an object of admiration and envy, and never more so than at the present moment. The great mass of the community is, no doubt, against them: but industry and perseverance may do much. Those who would never listen to such a proposal in its full extent, may yet be drawn in by degrees.
Formerly, that is to say, some five and twenty years ago, the attempt was made through the medium of mere abstract reasoning. Incredible as it may seem, the idea was entertained, as I should say of overturning the government, but as even the authors of the attempt must say, of 753 totally changing the constitution of parliament, not by pointing out any practical grievance under which men laboured, but by convincing them that, the whole of the British constitution, such as it then existed, and such as it had existed for ages, was an infraction upon the rights of man. The notion was new of attempting to make a great change in the practical concerns of mankind, by the mere force of metaphysical reasoning. But wild and extravagant as such an attempt may be, and little, happily, as was its final success at the period alluded to, we must not speak too slightingly of it, when we recollect what share such notions had in bringing about the French revolution, of which they ostensibly made the basis. At the end of 12 or 14 centuries, the French monarchy, at the moment of its greatest mildness, and when all that was harsh and odious in it was daily wearing away, was overthrown, with all the circumstances which we have witnessed, ostensibly by the mere force of metaphysical reasoning, and what is more humiliating, if not more extraordinary, by metaphysical reasoning of the most contemptible sort! This mode however has now lost much of its efficacy, and has got to be rather out of fashion. In seeking to imbody the natural and unavoidable discontents of mankind for the purpose of overturning governments, which is the general description of what I should understand by Jacobinism, it has become necessary to have recourse to something more solid and substantial than mere grievances of theory, and to take the discontents arising from real causes, whether the discontents themselves be reasonable or not, and then to connect these with something either in the frame or practice of the government. The discontents you are sure of. They can never be wanting, as long as men are men. Since the days of qui fit Mecœnas, down to the present moment, few have ever been found, who were so contented with their lot, whether chosen by themselves, or cast upon them by Providence, ut illâ contend vivant: and if they cannot be said, laudare diversa sequentes, they at least think that their own situation is not so good as it ought to be, or as a little change would make it. In a country like this, where a great portion of our immense riches is paid in contribution to the public service, no man will ever think himself as rich as he ought to be: for though the wealth of the country has increased in full proportion, I believe, to its burthens, that is to say, to its expenses; and though there 754 never was a time when that wealth was more evenly diffused through all ranks and classes of people, yet as luxury has increased in at least an equal proportion, every man may in some sense continue to feel himself poor, inasmuch as the interval will not be increased between, his income, and his expenditure. Because, let his wealth he what it will, if his expences increase in such a way as to continue to press equally upon the bounds of his income, he will never be a bit richer, with respect to any disposable surplus, but will be equally under the necessity of parting with some article of pride or enjoyment which he wishes to keep, whenever he is called upon for any contribution to the service of the state. It is therefore the singular and melancholy characteristic of the state of poverty here described, that it is one which riches cannot cure. In common cases if a man be poor, give him money enough, and he is poor no longer. But here we may almost say, that the richer the nation is, the poorer it is. It is in vain that wealth is pouring in from every quarter, and through an endless variety of channels; that it is not confined, as national wealth in truth never can be, to particular persons or classes, but is diffused throughout with wonderful exactness; or rather in larger measure, in fact, to the lower and middling orders; that foreigners, resorting hither, cannot behold without astonishment a display of wealth and enjoyment, unknown at any former time, or in any other country; that we are reproached every day from the continent with our opulence and prosperity as contrasted with the penury and misery of other countries; and are regarded with greedy eyes by the master of all the rest of Europe, as a mine of wealth, which he is longing only to get possession of; all this while we, who know these things better, are representing ourselves, as a distressed, oppressed, burthened, and above all, impoverished nation.
In the midst of this, there is nevertheless one remedy, which, if men could resolve to take it, would do away, as by a charm, all this dreadful state of poverty, and restore them in an instant to a condition of ease and affluence.—It seems like quackery to suppose the existence of such a nostrum, but it is explained in two words—Let every man resolve to live with no greater measure of enjoyments than his father did before him, than people of the same rank and class did forty years ago. I do not 755 ask that they should lay out only the same money: The same money would not now procure the same enjoyments: but that they should only require the same enjoyments. Let those who formerly walked on foot, be content to walk on foot now, and forego the use of a horse, when the price too of a horse and the expence of keeping one are so much greater. Let those whose means extended no further than to the keeping a horse, be willing to go back to that indulgence, and dispose of their gigs and whiskeys and tandems, now, too, that every article of that sort has risen to such an enormous amount. Let the former riders in gigs and whiskeys and one-horsed carriages, continue to ride in them, and not aspire to be rolling about in post-chaises or barouches, or often both in the one and the other. By this simple expedient, pursued, mutatis mutandis, through every class of the community, one may venture to say; speaking always of persons whose misfortunes or imprudences have not reduced them already to actual distress; that, nine tenths of those who fill the country with lamentations of their distress, all but the holders of fixed incomes of an early date, or persons in the lowest class of labourers, will find themselves instantly in a state of ease and affluence, fully able to satisfy all the demands of the state, and to lay by something as a future provision for their families.
But as the expedient, we are sure, whatever its merits may be, will never be adopted, there will for ever remain, in the feeling excited by the payment of faxes, an inexhaustible fund of discontent of force sufficient to produce any effect desired, provided means can be found to give it a proper direction. This is the great work on which the artificers of revolution are at present employed. They say to the people, you are all sensible of the burthens under which you labour: you all dislike the payment of taxes. Now what is it that carries the taxes to this immense amount? A common man would say, the immense amount of the civil and military establishments of a great empire extending over half the world; the numbers of civil officers necessary to carry on its business in time of peace, and the armies and navies, with all their attendant train of expenses, to provide for its security in case of war. But, No, say the band of patriots here alluded to, the objects here stated are, to be sure, such as cannot be provided for but at considerable expense. Wars 756 cannot be carried on, armies and navies cannot be maintained, without money. But these expenses alone might well be borne: what sinks the country is the waste ful expenditure of the public money in jobs and corruption, in sinecure places and pensions. It is the abuses that undo us: the abuses that we must correct: and as it is parliament that sanctions, if it is not itself the great seat of, the abuses, it is parliament that we must correct and reform.
The argument is perfectly regular, and the conclusion inevitable, if you admit the several antecedent positions on which it is made to rest. The statement contains in it too all that is necessary to give it effect. A willing audience will never be wanting to statements which hold out a hope of exempting men from the necessity of paying.—Once persuade them that all their payments and burdens are the consequence of abuse or mismanagement in some part of the government, and you produce a state of feeling adequate to almost any purpose for which it can be wanted. Taxes and abuses, joined, generate a kind of expansive force, that will burst asunder even the best compacted governments. The abuses, too, serve to give a direction to the discontent and angry feeling, produced in the first instance by the taxes. They stand in the place of the abstract rights of a few years ago, and are the last improvement made in the machine for overturning states, from which it is conceived to derive a much greater heft and purchase, than in its old form of' taxes and the rights of man.'
A number of persons are accordingly in a constant state of active search, prying about among the establishments, and winding round like a wood-pecker round a tree, in the hopes of finding some unsound part into which they may strike their beaks and begin to work: but not like the honest woodpecker, who is only in search of the grubs and worms on which to make a meal, and is at least indifferent as to the fate of the tree. They on the contrary only take the grubs and worms for their pretext, and hare for their ultimate object, to open a hole. into, which the wet and the rot may enter, and by which the tree, the British oak, (a beautiful shaft of I know not how many load, and the growth of ages) may decay and perish. Did their labour really terminate in their professed purpose, did they really mean only to pick off the vermin that prey upon the state, they might be as useful as crows and jack- 757 daws to a flock of sheep: or should share the higher honours, which are paid, in countries infested by locusts, to the bird that rids them of that destructive insect. But to merit these honours, their endeavours must be directed to far different objects, be carried on in a very different manner, and be dictated by far different motives.
Let us consider what it is that is comprehended under this general head of abuses, which forms the great instrument whereby the discontents of a country are made subservient to the destruction of its government; which collects and compounds the separate elements of dissatisfaction, to be found floating in society, so as to prepare them for those grand explosions by which states are overthrown.
By abuses is meant, I suppose, either the abuse of patronage, the granting to favour, affection, or interest, what ought to be granted only to merits and services; or secondly, the purloining, embezzling or corruptly applying the public money. Let us endeavour to ascertain how much of either of these species of abuse exists: how much of them is to be charged to government: and how much, in any event, is likely to be corrected by what is called a Reform of Parliament.
As to the last of these heads of abuse, the purloining or embezzling of the public money; by which must be understood the transferring, by false accounts or otherwise, into the pocket of the individual, what was intended for the public service; I suppose it is hardly necessary to say, that the idea of such an offence as existing among those who constitute what can with any propriety be called the government, could be generated only in the gross imaginations of persons totally ignorant of the principles and motives by which men in such situations must of necessity be actuated. It is not a question of their virtue or probity; but of their feelings, habits, manners, and prudence. They may be, as they often are, mercenary, selfish, rapacious, unprincipled. But it is not in acts like those alluded to, that these dispositions will show themselves, even in the persons who feel them most. It might as well be supposed, that they could seek to enrich themselves by conveying away a diamond snuff-box, or pilfering guineas out of a drawer. Nothing can prove more clearly the degree to which this is true, than the commotion excited and the effects produced by any 758 appearance of irregularity even of a minor sort, among persons in higher stations, in transactions connected with the administration of money.
With respect to the abuse of patronage, one of those by which the interests of countries will in reality most suffer, I perfectly agree, that it is likewise one, of which the government properly so called, that is to say, persons in the highest offices, are as likely to be guilty, and from their opportunities, more likely to be guilty than any others. Nothing can exceed the greediness, the selfishness, the insatiable voracity, the profligate disregard of all claims from merit or services, that we often sec in persons in high official stations, when providing for themselves, their relations or dependants. I am as little disposed as any one to defend them in this conduct. Let it be reprobated in terms as harsh as any one pleases, and much more than it commonly is. But the evil from them is necessarily limited, not possibly by their desires, but by the extent to which those desires are capable of being carried. They can eat no more than their stomachs can contain. The list is small of those immediately connected with them, nor is the number unlimited of those whom they may wish to serve from motives of vanity or interest. When the leech is full it will drop off of itself.
But what shall set bounds to those streams of abuse that take their rise among the people themselves? Let us trace the genealogy; the birth, parentage, and education, of nine tenths of the jobs that are done in the army and navy, or in the other departments of the state, and see from what they originate, and in what manner they are brought forward. A gentleman at the eve of a general election, or on some vacancy in a borough or county, is addressed by some one who is, or, who, he hopes, will be his constituent, some full-grown manufacturer, or opulent brewer, or attorney in great practice, who says, 'You know my son Tom, who is in the navy. He has been for some time a lieutenant, I should be very glad, if you would get him made Master and Commander.' The candidate or member bows assent, (Mr. Such-a-one is not a man to be disobliged,) he speaks to his friend the minister; the minister speaks to the first Lord of the Admiralty, and, without further inquiry the thing is done; nobody being able to divine, of those who are not in the secret, and only know our son Tom professionally, for which of his good qua- 759 lities or meritorious actions he has been made, so much out of his turn, and over the heads of so many old and deserving officers, a master and commander.—Here then is a complete job, passing through several successive stages, and disgraceful enough in its progress to all the parties concerned in it, including the member, the minister, and the first Lord of the Admiralty, but certainly not ex-eluding the constituent, the corrupt constituent, who is no member of the government high or low, but one of the people, and the prime author and mover of the whole. When this constituent shall hereafter reproach his member, as one of a body that is all corrupt, composed of persons who think of nothing but their own interests, without any regard to the interest of the country, the member may possibly be able to reply: "The most corrupt act I ever was guilty of was that scandalous job by which I bought your vote and interest, when, contrary to all right and justice, I procured your son to be made a master and commander."
We have here the history of a job, which though springing from a root, that lies totally among the people, is supposed not to confine itself to the place of its original growth, but to extend into the parliament, and into the executive government. With a view, however, of shewing the temper of some of these declaimers against abuses, let us take another case, (not more difficult, I hope, to be met with), when, after inquiry made, either the member, or the minister, or the first Lord of the Admiralty has virtue enough to say, that the pretensions and merits of the person in question are so small, and the injustice of promoting him would be so great, that in spite of all the wish that one of them necessarily has to promote his own success, and the others may have to promote the success of an important parliamentary friend and adherent, and much as it may even be their duty to promote by all honest means the success of one, whose conduct in parliament is likely to be what they think right, they feel it impossible to comply with the application that has been made. Is it quite certain, is it quite a matter of course that the author of the. application, this inveigher against the corruptions of the times, is satisfied with this answer; that he does not turn away with a sulky look from his late friend, and without disputing at all the truth of the reasons on which the refusal is founded, of which he perhaps was more fully aware than any 760 other person, or which he does not consider as being any thing to the purpose, that he does not signify in plain terms, that his rule is to 'serve those who serve him;' and from that moment does not transfer himself and all those whose votes he commands, to the other side, taking what is called the independent line, and exhibiting himself among the first bawlers against the corruptions of the great, 'who think of nothing but their own private interests?'
Here at least is an instance of abuse, which while it begins with one of the people, ends there likewise, and does not touch the government or the parliament at all. And such, we may venture to say, is the case of nine-tenths, or rather ninety-nine hundredths of the abuses complained of. The whole country, it is said, is full of abuses, from top to bottom. I believe so: with this correction, that the description would be more just if we were to say from bottom so top; it being here as in other media, the parts of which are left to move freely, that the lower strata are the denser and grosser, and that they become rarer and purer, the higher you ascend.
We have already seen to what source may be traced the greater part of the abuse of patronage, an abuse, which with the others is to be cured, I suppose, by the favourite remedy, an extension of the representation, that is, by multiplying a hundred fold the chief causes to which it is to be at present ascribed. But if of this the far greater part is found to he in the people themselves, who cannot otherwise be brought to support the very government which they thus reproach for yielding to their venality, what shall we say of those abuses, more properly so called, and upon which the people are much more intent, though they are really perhaps less important, viz. the various instances of fraud, embezzlement, peculation, and imposition, by which the expenditure of the country is swelled far beyond its natural size, and a million or two possibly taken from the pockets of the people, over and above what the real exigencies of the country require? This is the part that we chiefly hear of; and very proper it is that we should hear of it; but let us take care that we impute the blame to the right quarter, that we put the saddle on the right horse. With what approach to truth or propriety do we speak of these abuses, as abuses in the government? Who are the persons whom we mean to designate under the name of 761 Government? What are the abuses complained of? and by what description of persons are they committed? Is it an abuse in the government, that is, in the members of the cabinet, and the persons holding high offices, including; if you please the Parliament, that a store-keeper, or commissary in the West Indies, or in Ceylon, embezzles the public stores, or sends in false accounts, by which the public is defrauded? Is it corruption in the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or in the ministry or parliament collectively, that gross frauds are daily and hourly practised on the revenue; that the taxes are eluded; that false returns are made; that excise and custom-house officers are perpetually bribed to betray their trust; that the tribes of officers, high and low, at home and abroad, of more denominations than can be enumerated, which an empire like this is obliged to employ in its service, are often more intent upon advancing their own fortunes, than upon discharging their duty or guarding the interests of the public; and that all those, not being persons in office, with whom the government must occasionally have dealings, have no consideration, but how to make the most they can, and to cheat the public by every means in their power? I should be glad to know, how many of these arraigners of the profusion of the government, if they had a piece of land to sell in the neighbourhood of a barrack or military hospital, would limit the price they asked by any other consideration, than what they thought the necessity of the case would compel government to give, or would scruple, if they saw any prospect of success, to bribe the barrack master, or other officer, to betray his trust, and contribute to give effect to their exactions. It is, in the first place, perfect folly to talk as if the parliament and the government, the parliament (being a body that neither in fact nor theory can know any thing of the matter, and the government consisting of some ten or twenty persons, the members of the cabinet, and a few of the heads of great departments) can be responsible for the individual conduct of the thousands and thousands of subordinate officers and agents, who must be employed in the public service, and who are distributed, far and near, through all parts of a widely extended empire: to say nothing of the fact, that the greater part of these are obtruded or palmed upon the government, by persons not being 762 themselves in any office, but in the strictest sense a part of the people, and who are thinking of nothing but to serve, by whatever means, their own friends and relations. In the next place, these frauds committed by persons within the pale of the government are for the most part of a sort, that imply a confederate without. Like other acts which are sometimes blameable, but which, in the nature of things, cannot be dispensed with, they require of necessity two parties. If the exciseman connives at the frauds of the brewer or the distiller, it is the distiller and brewer by whom he is bribed to do so. If the custom-house officer permits false entries, and allows goods to be imported or exported without the proper duties, and thereby affords an example of an abuse committed, (if any one chuse so to describe it,) by one of the government, meaning a customhouse officer, what are we to say of the merchant or trader, by whose bribe he has been induced to do this? who, it cannot be disputed, is one of the people and one of the people merely, and very possibly, with the distiller, brewer, or tea-dealer, one of those who think that the country can never thrive, till a radical reform shall have put an end to abuses. The fact is, that when the matter comes to be searched to the bottom, it is the people throughout, who are cheating the people; the people individually cheating the people collectively, and then finding in their own frauds and knaveries a reason for tearing to pieces the government. How is government a party to these frauds? Even in respect to patronage, the part in which the government, properly so called, will be found most to offend, it is not ascribing much to persons, at the head of departments, to suppose, that when their own immediate connections and dependents are satisfied, they would be willing to promote good men rather than bad, if they were not controlled and compelled by the insatiable demands of those, whom they cannot disoblige without renouncing the means of carrying on the public service, and who never think for a moment of merit or demerit, or of any thing-else, but of providing for those, whom, for some reason or other, they wish to serve. So, in respect to pecuniary abuse or waste, it is no great compliment to a Chancellor of the Exchequer to suppose that he is desirous of making the taxes as productive as possible. We need not look to his virtue or sense of duty as a security for this endeavour. His own interest will be a 763 sufficient pledge, and particularly that interest which it is most the fashion to throw in the teeth of public men, namely, the desire of keeping his office. The crime of government, therefore, in almost all these instances, is that of not being able, with all its efforts, animated even with the strongest sense of self interest, to prevent the crimes of others. The people in all quarters and by all opportunities are preying upon the public, and then make it the reproach of the government that it has not the power to prevent them. Such a reproach might, it is confessed, be well founded, if a failure in the performance of this task on the part of government, proceeded from neglect, remissness, or want of proper zeal. But besides that interest, as was before observed, concurs here with duty, let us see how the matter stands, on a consideration of what would be in the power of government, supposing exertion to be pushed to the utmost. What is the sense of supposing that government must be able to do with respect to the public, what no man is able to do in his own affairs and family? Who is there that can boast to have established a system of superintendance so complete, or to be blessed with a set of servants of such rare honesty and so attached to his interest, as not to leave him a prey to innumerable abuses, greater or less, in his stables, his still-room, his kitchen, his butler's pantry, in every department in short of his household? If this is the case of men acting in the management of their own private affairs, and may be predicated, with truth probably, of every domestic establishment in the kingdom, down even to the most limited, what shall we say of the reasonableness of the expectation, that any zeal or strictness in thirty or forty persons, (or in ten times that number,) who can be described with any propriety as forming the executive government, shall be able to exclude abuses from the innumerable subordinate departments, over which they are to preside? The amount of abuse, be it observed, incident to establishments, does not increase merely with the size of the establishment, so as for the abuse in larger establishments to bear the same proportion only to the establishment itself, as in smaller ones; but rises at a much greater rate; first, because the superintending power, the number of persons having a direct interest in the well-being of the whole, cannot be multiplied in the proportion of the establishment: secondly, because the 764 parts are further removed from observation; thirdly, on account of the complication and mixture of interests which increases beyond the increase of the number of objects; and lastly, from the greater laxity apt to prevail in respect to frauds upon large funds, compared with what may be hoped towards funds more limited. We see every day what a total want of feeling there is about the expenditure of money, which, being money of the public, seems to belong to nobody. This indifference about expending will be attended with a correspondent laxity in appropriating. As the scale of expenditure becomes larger, the injury sustained by the state from the loss or mis-application of any particular sum becomes less perceptible; and men yield with more facility to the argument, that what is a great deal to them the country will never miss. This is the morality, I fear, of a large portion of the nation, and I am sure is not least found in those who emphatically stile themselves "the people." Yet with a system of public probity thus relaxed, in the midst of a public thus disposed to prey upon itself, and upon a scale of expenditure like that which must of necessity prevail in an empire like this, it is thought a reason for breaking up the government, that it cannot exclude abuses from our establishments, to a degree which few persons find attainable, in the management even of their own little domestic concerns. It is our business, no doubt, to keep those abuses as low as possible; and the more corrupt the public is, the more are such exertions necessary: but, let us not complain that we do not attain what is not attainable, and above all let us understand the fact truly, that the corruptions charged are, except in a few inconsiderable instances, not the corruptions of the government, but the corruptions of the people, which the government is unable to prevent.—Having thus far examined the nature of the charges, let us inquire a little whether there is any thing which we are bound to yield to the authority of those, by whom they are brought forward. I do not know why the members of this house, or of any other body, are to stand quietly by, and hear themselves stigmatized collectively with all sorts of opprobrious epithets, which they do not feel individually to deserve, without so far retaliating upon their revilers, as to ask with submission, who they are, who by thus dealing out their invectives to the right and left, seem to arrogate to themselves the character of 765 being the only honest men in the world. We want to know a little upon what they found their pretensions. After defending ourselves as well as we can, we may be allowed to exert a portion of the freedom, which they so largely take with us, and desire to be informed, what are the pledges which they have given, what the sacrifices which they have made, as vouchers for this integrity and public spirit, which they seem to consider as found no where but with themselves? A reputation for patriotism seems to require for the attainment of it less than is necessary for the acquisition of any other object, however trivial. Nothing seems to be requisite, but the assurance which gets up and says, I am the only honest man, all others are rogues. Indeed, the former part of the declaration seems hardly to be called for: if the abuse of others is sufficiently loud and general, the honesty of the person himself is assumed as matter of course. No trial or examination is necessary, no previous stock of reputation, no evidence from former conduct; the trade of a patriot, like that of an attorney or apothecary, is of the class of those which may be set up without capital. I should be glad to know, for instance, what are the sacrifices which have ever been made by the hon. bart. (sir Francis Burdett) as the foundation of that high tone which he assumes with respect to all unfortunate public men who have ever been in office. I am far from meaning to insinuate, let it be remarked, that the hon. bart. would not be ready, at any time, to make all the sacrifices to his principles that could be called for; but I mean to say, that none such having been called for, none have in point of fact been made. On the contrary it has so happened that the hon. bart. has got by his patriotism, by the natural, spontaneous, (unlooked-for if you please,) effects of his patriotism, all that many men have been willing to obtain, or have pursued without obtaining, at the expence of half their fortunes. By this no credit may have been lost to the honourable baronet, but none can be gained. Virtue can only be proved by trials and sacrifices. A man cannot shew his disinterestedness by what he gets, however honestly he may come by it. No one surely will pay so ill a compliment to the hon. baronet as to give for a proof of rare and distinguished virtue, that he has never asked a favour of any minister either for himself or friend. How many might make 766 the same boast; who yet never thought of inveighing against all the rest of the world as corrupt and dishonest. And after all what does the boast amount to? With, respect to friends, the praise is rather equivocal. A man may happen to have no one, who is at once capable of being served by place or appointment, and for whom he is particularly anxious. And as to office for himself, is it known that the offer was ever made to the hon. baronet? or that he himself ever wished it? With a large fortune, and all the comforts and pleasures of life before him, he may never have thought the pride or power of office a compensation for its cares and constraints, or even for the privilege which he now enjoys of railing at those whose feelings upon that point have been different. The merit of sacrificing office can alone be found among those, for whom office has charms; and upon that principle the hon. bart. must not be surprized, though in other respects he will no doubt, if I look for proofs of political virtue, to be contrasted to any on his part in quarters from which he would turn with scorn, as the very hot-beds of all corruption. What will the friends of the hon. bart. say, when they hear me quote for my instance, the conduct of Mr. Pitt? The general career of Mr. Pitt's political life, and his administration of the affairs of this country, during the great crisis in which he latterly acted, I perhaps as little approve as the hon. bart. can do; though for reasons altogether different: but one of the very charges which many might bring against Mr. Pitt, is the pledge of his merit in the instance to which I am alluding, I mean the instance of his resignation of power in the year I SOI. It is no reproach to Mr. Pitt to say that he was an ambitious man. It may be something of a reproach, though I am afraid the fact is true, that his ambition showed itself too much in love of power and office. The habits, in fact, of official life had begun so early with him and continued so long, that they must have become a second nature; place and power were almost among the necessaries of life; yet with all those feelings upon him, original and acquired; with a possession of power, longer enjoyed and more firmly established than can be found possibly in any other instance, not excepting that of sir Robert Walpole, with a perception as quick, as man ever had, of what was likely to be useful or prejudicial to him in any political step, Mr. 767 Pitt did not hesitate in withdrawing from office, at the period alluded to, the moment he found it could be no longer held, but upon terms inconsistent, as he thought, with his duty, and derogatory from his character. It is in vain to say, that this might not be an act of pure virtue, but be mixed up with feelings of shame or policy, or others of that sort. There is no end of such objections; which after all, can make no difference here, where we are upon a question of comparison; since, if admitted at all, they must appear equally on both sides of the account. It is just as easy to say, that the hon. bart. in the course which he has pursued, has acted with a view to what he has got, as that Mr. Pitt on the occasion alluded to, acted with a view to what he did not get. The exact measure of virtue that enters into any act, can be known only to the searcher of all hearts: We must be content to take for virtue what contains all the usual indications of it, and produces all the effects. There is no reason to suspect the sacrifice thus made by Mr. Pitt to be less genuine than it purports to be. He did not sacrifice what he did not highly value: and no man was more likely to foresee what the event proved, that ministerial power, which owes so much to the length of its continuance, could hardly, after an interruption, be ever completely restored to what it was before. The hon. bart., I have no doubt, had the occasion been offered, would equally have shewn that personal considerations had no weight with him, when placed in competition with the calls of duty, or even with those of honest fame. But the opportunity, as far as I am aware, has never been afforded him; and no one can be allowed to claim the same credit for what he has only intended and believed himself capable of doing, as others for what they have actually done.
Upon the whole of this subject of the Corruptions of the great, we may venture to say, that, be their virtue what it may, it is at least equal to that of the persons f>y whom it is arraigned. There are very few men in public life, who could not, if they thought it worth while, if they could bring themselves to be proud of merit so little rare, quote instances of sacrifices which they had made—to duty, to point of honour, to estimation of friends, to party spirit, if you please, but to something Far superior to the mere sordid desire of profit or emolument,—which the 768 greater part of these patriotic declaimers could not only shew nothing parallel to in their own conduct, but would not, as far as related to themselves, dream even to be possible.
So much for this great topic of Abuses, which is now made, the foundation stone of the system, and gives to the authors of the system all that was wished by the philosopher of old, a place on which to stand, on which to erect their machine, which when once fixed and applied, will be of force, they hope, to effect the grand and ultimate object, the overthrow of the state. By far the greater portion of abuses, even of those which do finally reach the government, proceed from the people themselves. They are the bribes which government pays to the people, directly or indirectly, to prevent them from pulling the government to pieces. This is more especially exemplified in that worst and most pernicious species of abuses, though by far the least complained of, the abuse of patronage. But the great mass of abuse, that which forms nine-tenths, at least, or, more probably, ninety-nine hundredths of the whole, and which alone directly affects the pockets of the people, both begins and ends with the people themselves, and consists of the frauds, impositions, embezzlements, and peculations, committed by the tribes of officers, high and low; (with the exception only of the highest); who, though employed in the public service, must still, in every rational view, be considered as part of the people, as well as by all those, who, not being in any, even the most subordinate office, have still occasional dealings with the public, or opportunities in some way or other of turning its interests to their account.
The mode proposed for putting a stop to these abuses, is to reform the parliament; that is to say, to have a scheme of representation, which while it arises equally out of the people, shall be the result of a greater ferment on the parts nearest the bottom. Could it be believed, without proof from the fact, that men could be found seriously to indulge speculations so destitute of every foundation in reason or common sense? The reform wanted, is either a reform of the whole people, which it is childish to hope, or a reform in the government, by arming it with such new powers, as would be wholly incompatible with the nature of our free constitution. There are but three ways in which mankind can be governed; by 769 their virtues, their interests, or their fears. To be able to govern men by their sense and their virtues is unquestionably the best of all. If men will be ready always to support gratuitously what they think right, and to oppose nothing but what they conscientiously believe to be wrong, the task of government would comparatively be easy, and corruption without excuse. The minister would have nothing to do but to choose right measures; and the merit of the measure might be expected to ensure its success. But if the fact should be, that there are numbers who cannot be brought to support even what they themselves approve without being paid for it, and who, if they have not been so paid, or think they can get better payment elsewhere (whether that payment consist in place, or money, or popular applause, or the gratification of some malignant or selfish passion,) will combine and cabal, and create every sort of obstruction and impediment, there is then no other way, in a free government, for the purpose of carrying on the public service, but to gain over such persons by their interests, which, in the language of the time, is to be guilty of corruption, but a corruption surely of which the guilt cannot fairly be charged on the government. In governments indeed of another sort, such as that which makes so conspicuous a figure in the present times, I mean the government of Buonaparté, the case is altogether different: and no more necessity exists for corruption than in a nation of men perfectly wise and virtuous. He (Buonaparté) is under no necessity to bribe men's concurrence to measures that are for the interest of the country, and has, moreover, methods far more effectual than any which free countries possess, to prevent the abuses arising from fraud, or peculations. A man who could hang without ceremony a custom-house officer who should be found conniving at any fraud on the revenue, and hang or send to the gallies the merchant who should bribe him to such connivance, may be pretty sure of confining within reasonable bounds all abuses of that description. The same will be the case with any other species of abuse. But how, in countries where conduct is free, men can be prevented from selling that, which they will not consent to give, or how, where law is formal and scrupulous, and beset on all sides with guards and defences for the protection of innocence, it can be made to retain, in all cases, sufficient celerity for the overtaking 770 of guilt, are problems, with which the authors of these complaints never seem to trouble themselves. They call boldly and loudly for the suppression of abuses; and if the suppressing abuses was the only object to be attended to, the task would be easy. There is a government in the neighbourhood, that tells us how that work is to be done. I will pay this homage to Buonaparté's government as to say, that it either is, or may be, one of the most free from abuses of any that ever existed. But will the clamourers for this salutary reformation be content to have it upon the same terms? We have seen already, what the nature of the greater part of these abuses is, and from what source they spring. And do not let us take this upon trust. Let those who doubt, go into the inquiry, and examine one by one, the instances in which they complain that the public money has been transferred wrongfully into the pockets of individuals, or the public patronage perverted, and see what the utmost extent is of that portion, which has been appropriated to the interests of ministers or of those for whom they were personally anxious.
Upon this issue we may suffer the question to rest, considered as part of a general system, which aims at a great change in-the constitution (a subversion of it as I should say) under the name of reform, and grounds the necessity of such reform upon the extent and number of the subsisting abuses. It remains only that we say a few words upon the more narrow view of the subject as introduced by the hon. mover. The direct end and object of the motion, as we collect from some passages in his speech, the specific effect which he means to produce, is that of erecting a barrier to the too great influx into this house of the monied interest. The means proposed are such as cannot but be approved, if the description of them be true, viz. that they consist entirely in the collection of a practice in the highest degree corrupt. The consequences, as usual in such cases, are to extend for beyond the removal of the immediate complaint, and to benefit the constitution in a thousand ways. It happens whimsically that the primary object of the mover, (a pretty important one, and requiring, one should think, a good deal of nice consideration, namely the altering the balance between the landed and the monied interest,) stems to be no object, at all with those to whom the motion is principally addressed, and not much indeed to the 771 hon. mover, if we may judge by the small portion which, it has occupied of his speech. It slips in almost by parenthesis. It is lost and hid, in the splendour of the incidental consequences which the motion is to produce, in the confidence it is to restore, the unanimity it is to inspire, the heats it is to allay, the effect it is to have in silencing gainsayers, the foundation it is to lay of a new and glorious era, from the commencement of which nothing will be known but a determination to live and die by the constitution. What a pity that prospects so bright, and which my hon. friend contemplates with such unspeakable satisfaction, should be so soon obscured! Never was hope so sanguine, so suddenly blasted! It is nipped in its first bud. It does not live to the second reading. It is consigned to the tomb almost at the moment of its birth.Oh just beloved and lost, admired and mourned!This medicine, which was to produce such wonderful effects, which was to operate like a charm, so pleasant to the taste, so comfortable in the stomach, has totally falsified the first prediction respecting it, namely, that it would be taken with great avidity. What it may be in the stomach, we cannot well say; for those for whose special use it was intended, who were to seize it so greedily, will not suffer it to remain within their lips; they spit it out upon the hands of my hon. friend, while he is in the act of administering it.
Much useful instruction and information may be derived from hence as well to my hon. friend as to ourselves. My hon. friend, I hope, will learn a lesson, of great utility to all reformers, to distrust a little the more remote consequences of their measures, when they see how liable they are to error, even in those which they expect to take place immediately. The house, it is hoped, will learn this distrust with respect to the measure now proposed. It is no great recommendation of any medicine that its effects are totally mistaken by the person who advises it. All our confidence in the physician is already lost. The only certain knowledge which we have as yet of the measure, is that it will not do what the hon. mover predicted of it. It will not satisfy those, who at present inveigh against the abuses of the system, and contend that it ought to be reformed. On the contrary, they say that this measure, unless accompanied with others far more extensive, will only make things worse. I have already endeavoured to show that 772 the practice meant to be corrected, has no crime in it abstractedly considered; is not malum in se. It is culpable only as it may be made so by law, or as it may practically be found to produce effects injurious to the public interest. When opinion out of doors is urged as a reason for adopting it, the answer is, that opinion out of doors is a very bad reason for adopting any measure, inasmuch as there can hardly be a worse criterion of what is really for the public benefit; and that, after all, the public opinion does not call for this measure separately and unaccompanied with others, which the hon. mover would declare, that he does not wish to see take place. The inducements, therefore, to a compliance with the present motion he in a very small compass indeed. They are simply its own merits; for, as to the splendid incidental consequences dwelt upon with such rapture by the hon. mover, they are all at an end. There will be no satisfaction produced. What is called "the public" will not thank you for the measure, otherwise than as it may be made a subject of triumph, and a stepping-tsone to other objects, The objections to it on the other hand, are the dangers of this triumph, and of those other objects to which it is meant to lead. Upon the result of these opposite considerations, first examined separately, and then compared together, I have no hesitation in earnestly conjuring the house not to adopt the motion. The practice complained of has subsisted at all times, without any ground to suspect, or any suspicion being in fact entertained, that, according to the discovery now made, it has been sapping and undermining the constitution. The reasons in support of the measure now proposed for the abolition of it are perfectly unsatisfactory and inconclusive. We knew the mischievous use intended to be made of it; and there can hardly indeed be any thing more mischievous in the first instance than the yielding to public clamour, what we do not feel that we are yielding to truth and reason.
said, of two dangers he would prefer that which was most open and avowed. When Mr. Horne Tooke presented his petition to that house, the statements it contained were not credited, though now they were admitted to be true. He thought the house ought to take notice of practices, which, to whatever degree they might have existed, had never been till lately avowed. The right hon. 773 gent. (Mr.Windham), thought corruption, unless it was such as rendered a man odious in society, ought not to be noticed; he thought the law of the land ought to be equalized so as to meet such abuses, seeing those abuses could nut be considered as a part of the constitution. He thought it the duty of parliament to avail themselves of some of the provisions of that bill to satisfy the people, and put a stop to such abuses.
said, the bill had been opposed because it did not sufficiently further a parliamentary reform on the one hand, and for a contrary reason on the other. If he gave 5,000l. among 10 voters, he would not be considered as qualified to sit in that house, but if he went to a broker and gave him the 5,000l. at once, he would procure him the necessary voles, and he would be considered as a good member. He did not see the propriety of such a distinction. The bill, he thought, if suffered to go into a committee, might be rendered efficacious in no inconsiderable a degree. He then spoke of the superiority of our Constitution as it was at present over every other ceuntry. This was strikingly exemplified in the tranquillity and security of England, at a period when Europe was groaning beneath the most tyrannous hand that ever swayed her destinies. The constitution had never approached so near to perfection as at the present day. The independence of the house had been strongly marked by their conduct with respect to the duke of York (whatever might have been said to the contrary), as well as in the case of lord Melville. If they did not then deserve the name of the House of Commons, they never had merited that appellation. He censured severely the conduct of sir F. Burdett, in representing the late decision of the house of commons in the case of the duke of York, as he had done, and contended that the house had not virtually acquitted the duke.
§ Mr. Tierney
said, if the design of die noble lord who had just sat down was to prove himself an honest man, he might just as well have remained silent, for certain persons would never think either him or any one else so, who did not acquiesce in all the chimeras of the hon. baronet (Hear! hear!). It was the design of him and his friends to excite such an opinion among the people; and he believed, in his soul, it was also their wish not to have many supporters in that house, lest their 774 designs should fail, and the public would begin to think too favourably of the house. It was their desire to raise a popular ferment, by talking of abuses which often had no existence, and by vaunting of remedies which they never meant to put in execution! Far was it from their thoughts to come manfully and constitutionally down to that house and state their complaints, if any such they really had. No, it suited them better to make harangues at taverns, to mount the tables, at the Crown and Anchor, to tell the people to meet as the people, and look not for redress to their representatives, who were no longer fit to be called an House of Commons. It was their plan to raise a cry by which the infatuated multitude, might be hurried to their ruin, by hinting at corruptions which never had existence, and rousing expectations which never could be gratified. Now that the hon. baronet, whom he did not mean to designate as the leader of the party, (a distinction in his mind due to others who did not choose to appear so openly as himself) had favoured that corrupt house with his pure presence, he wished to put a few questions to him as to one of his reputed harangues at the Crown and Anchor, which pointed pretty plainly at his (Mr. Tierney's) character. Broad and indelicate were the freedoms which had been used with his name and political life in the course of the speech to which he alluded; and in one part of it the worthy baronet was actually represented as having the audacity to say that on his (Mr. Tierney's) retiring from office, his pockets were filled with the public money. Was this charge true? He now-demanded of the worthy baronet, would he dare to repeat his assertion? If not, he would recommend it to him not again to vilify the name and character of an absent man; or if he did not so vilify it, to take care that a correct report of his real sentiments should go forth to the public. How did he know what effect such insinuations might have in the course of the summer? How could he hope not to be attacked by some seditious mob, roused against him by such unfounded calumnies? (Hear!) Such an assertion was directly false, and he called on the worthy baronet either to deny or to own it. He did not know how the worthy baronet could bring himself to make such an assertion; for his amiable manners in private life, and his conciliatory conduct, were proverbial. No man could be more mild than ha was 775 until he mourned the rostrum at the Crown and Anchor; then all was changed, all was abuse, and as far as related to him, calumny. In this instance, not only his design, but his ignorance, was exposed; and to prove it, he would offer the worthy baronet, if he wished to turn a penny honestly, (loud cheers) some thousand pounds, provided he would take on him the profit and loss of his political speculations. But what were the worthy baronet's qualifications for this general censorship? What had he ever done? What feats had he performed? Why, indeed, he had harangued the mob and mounted the tables most eloquently at the public taverns. (Hear, hear!) He had never warded off any real danger, but had fluttered about during his public life, apolitical sea-gull, screaming, and screeching and sputtering about foul weather which never arrived. It was true the worthy baronet had never been troubled with office; the reasons for that might be various; perhaps the cause might have been his own disinclination; perhaps his immense fortune might have exempted him from its cares; or perhaps he had never been importuned upon the subject. Certainly he (Mr. Tierney) had been in office, for he had not such a fortune as could support him as independently out of it, as the hon. baronet, and he might perhaps, be compelled to live upon bread and onions, when the worthy baronet was faring sumptuously. (A laugh.) As to his tavern harangues, they might go on for him as long as the worthy baronet chose; and he was welcome to attack whatever political changes or tergiversations he chose in his conduct—let him spout away—if the people believed it, well and good—if not, why then the worthy baronet would enjoy the applauses of his speech, and he (Mr. T.) would have the satisfaction to think no one believed a syllable of it. (Hear, hear!) Let him mount the table, and cry, "They are all rogues and rascals, I am the man for you, the honestman! We must lay the axe to the root. We must have a radical reform"—and then there would be a general huzza, and the worthy baronet might retire, covered with glory and highly delighted at his popularity! (Hear, hear!) One hon. gent. of the worthy baronet's friends (Mr. Wardle) had made a great discovery, it appeared; he was to demolish the Income Tax! (a laugh.) Now, he liked this well; indeed he never was so pleased in his life as when he first heard of the 776 discovery. It was the pleasantest way of laying the axe to the root he had ever imagined. (Hear, hear!) He was sure it would gratify the Chancellor of the Exchequer wonderfully to be able to strike off eleven million and a half of taxes. Now, he had at last found out the reason why the hon. gent, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were perpetually complimenting each other. No doubt they were pulling together all this time. Indeed, if the plan was, realized, it would be exceedingly diverting; but if it was only a fallacious assertion, held out for the wicked purpose of exciting discontent, it was one of the vilest and most execrable insinuations. He now called upon that hon. gent. to produce his plan, or stand convicted in the face of the world. As to the worthy baronet, he also called upon him solemnly to state the truth or falsity of the expressions with which he charged him. He might be superior to him in point of talent or ability; but superior he could not be in political integrity; and he boldly challenged him to a comparison of their lives, that their deeds might speak their deserts, and vile calumniators become silent.
Sir F. Burdett
said, that he had not used the particular expression to which Mr. Tierney had alluded; that he could not answer for the correctness of the reporter, and that, for any expression which he really did use, he would be personally responsible.
§ Mr. Wardle
denied having ever said that he had a plan to liquidate the Income Tax; he had said that he had plans of economy by which many millions of the public money might, be saved; and these he was ready and willing to produce.
Sir R. Milbank
also supported the motion, and pledged himself to join the advocates for a parliamentary reform, whenever it should be brought forward.
§ Mr. William Adam
was disposed to allow the bill to go into the committee, because the many objections that applied to it in its present shape; might be removed in the committee.
observed, that from the tone which the debate had assumed, he should look upon himself a traitor to his opinion, and a coward with respect to his duty, if he omitted to state the impressions upon his mind. He was certainly not prepared to go the length of the hon. baronet (sir F. 777 Burdett), but at the same time he could not agree with his noble friend, that the decision upon the case of the Duke of York had not shewn that there was some deficiency in the composition of that house. He could not admit that the manner in which that illustrious person had resigned his office, had not prevented that house from passing, in some shape or other, a Vote of Censure upon his conduct, which must have led to his removal from office. It was his opinion that there had been in that house a bias towards that personage, which justified his hon. friends in imputing it to a degree of real corruption. But if even that were not the case, he was sure, that certain admissions which had been made in the house that night would fully warrant the imputation of corruption. For his own part, he was not prepared to say, that he expected any very important beneficial effect from the measure before the house. But the rejection of it at the present moment would amount to a proof in the mind of the public, that the house of commons was determined to cast a veil over the corrupt practices which had been brought to light.
§ Mr. Barham
rose, merely to put a question to an hon. gent. (Mr. Wardle). That hon. gent. had asserted without doors, and had repeated the assertion in the house that night, that a sum of eleven millions had been added to the taxes, in consequence of the corruptions and abuses of that house. His object in rising, was to ask whether the hon. gent, had given notice of any motion upon the subject; and, if he had not, to press upon him the necessity of giving such a notice, which might lead to a decision upon that point, before the close of the present session.
§ Mr. Wardle
said, that before the end of the session he should state the grounds upon which he had formed the opinion contained in the assertion alluded to by the hon. gent. In order to prove that assertion, it would be necessary for him to move for voluminous papers, which he could not expect to be produced before the close of the present session.
§ Mr. Curwen
rose and said:—Mr. Speaker; in rising after the house has been so exhausted, and after the able discussion which has taken place, it would be presumptuous in me to think of detaining them long if my strength would permit of it. In justice to myself and the important measure which a sense of duty could alone have induced me to bring forward, I have 778 to entreat a farther continuance of the indulgence I have already received, which I neither can, or will abuse.—I cannot but regret, from the difficulties I have met with, that the conducting of this bill had not been placed in more able hands; on the purity of my intentions must rest my present defence and apology. I shall as shortly as possible, after a few observations on the arguments which have been advanced in opposition to the principle of my bill, endeavour to explain more fully my own views on the subject.—I am undoubtedly placed in a very novel and singular situation: I have to defend the measure against opponents who are at complete variance, and whose arguments refute and answer each other; agreeing in nothing but the vote they shall give against your leaving the chair. Those whom I should distinguish as the legitimate and natural opposers of the principle of the bill, are such as contend for the perfect purity of this house as it is; as well as others who consider the system as practically perfect, and that all change is therefore unnecessary.
Sir, those who argue that corruption is requisite, and that as such, it forms a part of the constitution, and contend further, that we cannot have the blessing of one without the other—I have but one observation to make in reply to them: I am aware that time has established a prescription in favour of poets and lovers, and sanctioned their representing as perfection that, which, to indifferent eyes, appears a defect and blemish; but I know of no authority that can justify the extension of this principle of enthusiasm to the sober and experienced statesman. If I am compelled to subscribe to the sincerity of such arguments, it must be at the expence of the judgment of those who profess them. However specious, however ingenious such arguments may be, the generality of mankind can view them in no other light than a satire and libel upon the constitution.—The speeches of a right hon. gent., and an hon. baronet, afford the strongest arguments of the necessity of some such measure as I propose.—Is there any man within these walls, that is at a loss to distinguish betwixt the fair and inseparable influence of property, and the corrupt influence of money given for the purchase of the election franchise? Has it ever occurred within this house for the last 240 years, to have a defence set up to justify the purchase of seals 779 in parliament? Do not our statutes and journals concur in declaring the purity of parliament to be essential to its existence? To the hon. baronet I am more obliged and benefitted by his opposition, than I could have been by his support; he speaks out, and tells us, such practices render us no longer a house of parliament, that we no longer deserve the name of representatives of the people—whatever may have been the practice of former periods, it is now, for the first time, that all decency is lost. I think I am justified in drawing this conclusion, that the traffic in seats is become so common and usual, that all feelings of shame and impropriety are destroyed.
The sentiments of the hon. baronet, however harsh and discordant to our ears, have too much truth to be overlooked; the sophistry and ingenuity of the hon. gent, can neither hide them from the house nor palliate them to the public; nor have we a right to expect the respect of the people, when we cannot respect ourselves. Most singular is that species of defence, that justifies the corruptions of one age by a comparison with those of another The hon. member who was so successful in pointing out the flagitious conduct of former periods, has fully proved the benefit that would have accrued from a more early reform of this house. To have proved our title to superior purity, he should have compared the present means of corruption with those of former times, and shewn us there were fewer placemen in parliament; that loans and contracts were less numerous, that the pension list was reduced, and that the harvest of honours was less abundant.—The taste of the times in this, as other respects, is changed; the temptation to adventure in lotteries in former times, was the number of small prizes; at present, it is the capital prizes alone that form the allurement. I believe the same principle is applicable to corruption.—The grounds upon which the house is called upon to put a stop to the traffic in seats is, the open and unblushing disclosure of the practice. It is become, as has been truly said, as open and indisputable as the sun at noon day.—What is the sensation this has produced in the public mind? Let me ask, gentlemen, has there been a public meeting in any part of the kingdom that has not expressed their sentiments upon the necessity of the reform of parliament? Do those gentlemen who con- 780 tend against putting a stop to the sale of seats in this house, flatter themselves their arguments will convince those out of doors, whatever they do those within, that such things are right and ought to be tolerated? If they account us of any authority, the unvaried opinion of all former times, are they not in direct opposition to them? The honour, the dignity, and security of this branch of the legislature, is recognized to depend on its purity.
The best and most esteemed writers upon the constitution are agreed, that the esteem and veneration of the people is the foundation of the democratic part of our government.—Can those who are best willing to contemplate the present crisis, overlook the peculiarities of the present moment? In all other times, the people have addressed their complaints to us, and looked to this house for redress. Is that the case now? What has produced this conduct, so different from former times? Does it proceed from the people having more or less confidence in us? In answer to those who say, how has the nation thriven, and could this have been the case if the system had been so ruinous and bad as is now represented? Sir, there are who will equally contend, that hitherto the exertions of the people have been a counterpoise to those growing evils. As proofs, they point to the* accumulation of our enormous national debt; the oppressive burdens under which the nation labours. They charge the facility with which, for the last hundred years, we have entered into wars, and the pertinacity with which they have too frequently been persevered in; the pliability of parliament they attribute to the defects of its construction, as well as all the other evils under which they suffer. The people loudly express their disbelief that any one would sacrifice every six years five thousand guineas to procure a seat in this house, without having views that it would be unbecoming in me to state. Sir, with such sentiments entertained of us by the public, is there any rational hope we can regain our lost consequence, or re-establish ourselves in the public opinion, whilst we suffer the continuance of a practice so degrading. Our nakedness is so apparent, that unless we are determined to renounce all sense of modesty, some measures must be taken: our neglecting will be considered as equal to refusing to act, and must disgust all the sound and virtuous part of the community. All those who wish our destruction, (if 781 any number of such there be) will rejoice if we omit to put an end to such practices. It will be in vain to condemn the practice hereafter, if, after its present notoriety, we do not put an effectual stop to it.—Those who argue the present feelings of the people will soon subside, and that in a short time their demands for Parliamentary Reform will be forgotten, appear to me to have taken a very superficial view of the state of the country. I cannot believe the people of England to be so besotted as to look with indifference upon the most important of their privileges.—The pride, the boast of this nation, has been in its right of chusing the persons, into whose hands they should confide their lives and property. This is the source from whence has sprung that spirit which has made us able to distinguish ourselves beyond all other people, in comparison to our physical force; withdraw this prop, and what must be the consequences? What, Sir, must be the feelings of all the virtuous and uncorrupt electors in the kingdom, to have forced upon them the certainty that the elective franchise, which they prize as the foundation of their liberty and security, is a saleable commodity? That those laws which have been made at different periods to maintain the purity and freedom of election, are violated with impunity, by members of this house? That the law is only against the retail dealer, but that the wholesale merchant traffics with impunity? In every breast that retains a spark of patriotism or public virtue, we must be viewed with the strongest feelings of reprobation; how shall we be considered by those who imitate our example, and make a marketable commodity of their suffrages? They will accuse us of injustice, and demand reform conformable to our practice; that is, that we should remove every barrier against their openly setting up their suffrages to sale; that the stigmas attached to this practice should be done away, and the selling what, by our practice, we contend we have a right to purchase, should no longer be mistakenly considered as disgraceful; can yon refuse what appears but common justice?—Under all these circumstances, I should be glad that any gent, would point out to me the class of the community from whom we have a right to look for respect or approbation.
Sir, I am ready to admit, that it is unfortunate these disclosures should have taken place at this moment, when unani- 782 mity is so necessary to carry us through the arduous struggle in which we are engaged. The experience of past times has proved the pertinacity with which government and individuals cling to abuses. These practices, however they debase all who have any share in them, and degrade parliament, will not be corrected without a great and arduous struggle. The only safe and honourable conduct for the house to pursue is, to follow the precedent of all former times, and to redress and provide suitable remedies for the abuse.—The attempt to bring the reasoning of Dr. Paley, to support such practices, is unjust to the memory of that great and good man; he decidedly condemns bribery, as laying the seeds of general corruption, and weakening the affections of the people for parliament. His conclusion is most striking of our present situation: he says, "No order or assembly of men whatever, can long maintain their place and authothority in a mixed government, of which the members do not individually possess a respectable share of personal importance." Is not this a just description, and sufficient to carry home conviction to every gentleman's mind, of the absolute necessity for the measure proposed.
An hon. member, with some degree of triumph, boasts of the decrease of cases of bribery, and the rapid reform which has and is taking place in many of those places which were formerly under the influence of local interests. If it fell within the knowledge of the hon. member, I wish he had proceeded to point out the causes of this change; let me ask him, has it arisen from those who have thus succeeded in obtaining the favour of the people, discharging with more assiduity those offices, from which the public derives such advantage? Is it from their example? From their hospitality? From their virtuous example in private life? No, sir, not a word of this has been said, and I suppose the gentleman is ignorant, that their ancient attachments are broken by the grossest practices of corruption and bribery. The old and clumsy modes in which bribery was heretofore practiced, are exploded; a new system and vocabulary has been introduced; no one now asks for a bribe; but if the candidate proposes a breakfast after the election, the reply in the affirmative assures the voter from 20 to 30 guineas, as the price may have been settled at former elections; the intention of this system bids fair to destroy all principle 783 and public virtue. From the improvements in this nefarious practice, the remedies provided at former periods are now rendered nugatory. Those who can make their minds up to come into the house by such methods, must excuse me if I think, their being kept out of it would, so far from being a loss, be a great public gain.
Sir, the first instance we have upon record of an attempt to attain a seat in this house by bribery, is in the 13th of Elizabeth; the description of that person is curious, he is stated to have been a weak and foolish man; what would have been said, if he had attempted to defend himself with the arguments we have heard this night? Their ability might have exempted him from the imputation of folly, but would not have saved him from the resentment of the house; on the contrary, I believe it would have enhanced the measure of punishment. The next head of argument is for those who profess to feel reform as necessary as I do; but who will be content with nothing short of a complete and radical reform. However I may regret the want of the support of any set of gentlemen, I have no right to complain of it, when their objections are made, when I and others have an opportunity to meet and censure them; but I do complain when it is represented, the bill I have brought into this house is the most dangerous and unconstitutional that was ever introduced. How does this accord with the imputation now attached to it, that it purposes to do something, and does nothing? Such if the hon. baronet knew me, he would not believe to be the habits of my life. Sir, I do believe, those who are most hostile to it, consider it as likely to do a great deal, and if adopted in the spirit with which it has been introduced, would in a very great and considerable degree, go to satisfy the people, and to do away much of the existing discontents. Sir, my intention is not only to stop the corruption of individuals, but that of the treasury likewise. It is curious to hear those who so vehemently argue against the corruption of parliament, contend for the sale of seats; they say, take money oat of the market, and you will throw the whole power into the hands of the treasury: Sir, I aim to make it so difficult, that it shall be impossible for government to carry on any extensive traffic with patronage.
The imputation of corruption attaching upon ministers, would throw great 784 power into the scale of their opponents; but should the crown gain power by the measure, may not future parliaments provide a remedy for such a grievance, as well as I hope we are about to provide for this. It appears to me evident, this abuse cannot continue, without endangering the existence of this house. The danger apprehended from the measure is trivial, compared with what must result from the evil being suffered to continue. Those who contend against the measure, admit the ruin it must bring upon us, and yet are satisfied with leaving it where it is, and deferring their plan of Reform to a future opportunity. The house cannot be ignorant of the advantage which is taken of our situation, by those who have in contemplation Reforms, which would find few friends amongst us; it becomes us therefore well to consider, whether we will adopt salutary regulations, or by refusing them, expose ourselves to be reformed by means, that every friend to his country would deprecate. Sir, I lament when I find public men lending themselves to encourage hopes which cannot be realized; does any man believe a Reform in Parliament would exempt us from the Income Tax? such things aggravate the evils we suffer, without the possibility of providing a remedy.
Such, Sir, are my opinions, and in conformity to them, I have felt myself compelled to bring forward this measure, too weak for the strong, and too strong for the weak. It has been powerfully exemplified this night, that we have no longer the means of defending ourselves; what, Sir, must have been your feelings on hearing a language that was never presumed to be uttered before any of your predecessors! and yet the house will bear testimony, the chair was never more ably filled, nor was there ever a Speaker who contributed to uphold in a more distinguished manner, the honour and dignity of the station. May we speedily adopt such measures, as will enable you, Sir, to restore respect within the walls, and to command it from the nation at large, and may we persevere in the adoption of such measures, as may secure to us the blessings of a free constitution, and enable us to hand it down to the latest posterity.
§ The motion was agreed to without a division.