§ After petitions in favour of a Reform of Parliament had been presented from Northampton, Tavistock, Devon, Huntingdon, Cambridge, Suffolk, Cumberland, Southwark, Nottingham, and sundry other places,
§ Mr. Lambton
* rose, and addressed the House as follows:
Mr. Speaker; in pursuance of the notice which I gave, I rise to bring under the consideration of the House, the state of the representation of the people in parliament. If at all times, and upon all subjects, I must be most unwilling to trespass on the attention of this House, on no occasion can 1 be more reluctant than on the present; and I can assure you, that nothing but a deep sense of public duty, and an anxious desire to put end to that spirit of discontent now so generally prevailing, could have induced me to take up a question, the great and important interests of which I feel that I am not competent adequately to protect. In the first place, I know that I have to contend against that disinclination which has invariably been shewn by this House towards its discussion; a disinclination founded possibly on that dislike which is inherent in all men, and bodies of men to hear accusations against themselves, and statements of faults and corruptions openly laid to their charge. If I wanted any evidence in support of this assertion, this well-known truth, I should undoubtedly find it in the present state of the benches opposite to me. Perhaps indeed I should be justified in taking advantage of it, and at once submitting* From the original edition, printed for Ridgway, Piccadilly.360 my motion to the vote; as the result of that division clearly would be its adoption: for it requires no great discernment to perceive that at this moment the majority is greatly on the side of the friends to reform.
But, Sir, I shall not be tempted into this irregularity, as it would prevent that ample discussion, that calm and deliberate consideration, to which this important subject is justly entitled, and without which it would be a mere mockery to propose it. If this scantiness of attendance is meant as an insult to myself, I treat it with contempt: if it is pointed at the question, I then repel it with feelings of deep indignation, and can only hope that it will not be lost on the people of England, who will not, cannot be insensible to the manner in which a subject so interesting to them, has been treated by his majesty's ministers. Indeed of all the placemen who usually crowd the opposite benches, at this moment I only perceive those right honourable twins, so lovingly united in affection, in principle, and in the representation of the oyster-dredgers of Harwich.*
In addition to this studied neglect, I have also to lament the disadvantage of following those eminent and illustrious characters, who have at different times advocated this question, and who by their virtues and their abilities have conferred as much lustre on the cause, as they received from the sacred and patriotic nature of the trust confided to them. I know, likewise, that I shall have to contend against the weight of the overwhelming eloquence of a right hon. gentleman opposite, (Mr. Canning) who has ever placed himself first and foremost in the ranks of those who oppose any alteration in the state of the representation, and whose hostility is never directed with more zeal, energy, or ability, than against that extended principle of amelioration, which it is my duty this night to press on the consideration of this House. Under these great and manifold disadvantages, therefore, and a deep sense of my own inadequacy to overcome them, I can only hope that the House will extend to me that indulgence, which at no time was more necessary, and that they will* The Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Bathurst, who were then seated side by side, and were the only members on the Treasury bench.361 believe me when I assert, that my motives for undertaking this arduous office are founded solely on an ardent desire to serve my country, and to conciliate large classes of the community, loudly, but steadily complaining of their deprivation of the greatest privilege of our constitution,—and attributing, and justly in my opinion, the distress under which they are at present labouring, to a long system of misrule and mismanagement, which never could have existed, much less continued, if it had not been caused and protected by a gross and notorious system of corruption in the representation of the people.
Sir, I have heard much said lately of the dangerous state of the times—and I think with justice, for they are awful and portentous; sad from the recollection of past, and gloomy from the prospect of future events, before the fulfilment of which, the importance of both past and present difficulties fades into nothing. There is, I am aware, a spirit of discontent daily increasing, which cannot now be lulled or removed by those excuses which formerly passed current—by those promises which a long succession of years has seen as readily and un-blushingly broken, as they were cheaply made in compliance with each temporary cry from the people for reformation and amendment. The increase of national education, and the consequent expansion of the intellects of the middle and lower orders of society, renders it now quite impossible to conceal any longer the causes of our national misfortunes—and this doctrine I find unexpectedly supported by an authority, and in a quarter, from whence I least expected any assistance. Since I came into the House this night, an extract has been placed in my hands from an address to the grand jury of Lancaster, by Mr. Justice Best, which fully confirms the assertion I have just made. The learned judge there says,—" The general diffusion of reading among the lower classes of society, requires the adoption of other measures than were necessary during the prevalence of ignorance; it would be as absurd to adhere to the old custom of acting, under the new circumstances, as it would be, to treat animated beings in the same manner as things inanimate."
I lately, Sir, had an opportunity of ascertaining the habits and opinions of a large portion of those classes in the north 362 of England: and I must confess, that I was astonished at their improved intelligence—at their vigilant attention to political subjects. There was hardly a village, however secluded from the world however remote from large cities, however seemingly cut off" by difficulties of access from communication with society, in which I did not observe the most vigilant attention to all the great points of our national policy, and the most scrutinizing observation, not only of measures but of men. Were these symptoms to be discovered even twenty years ago? I think no man will assert that they were, or will deny, that the lower and middle orders were then more remarkable for apathy, and a subserviency to the will of their superiors in rank, than for that independent and intelligent spirit which now animates them, and which only requires the occurrence of a fit opportunity to prove its existence in all parts of the empire.
In further proof of this feeling, I may also instance the numerous petitions that have been presented this night, and at former periods, all containing complaints against the present system, and insisting on the necessity of reform. It is not therefore, a matter of absolute necessity that we, who call ourselves the representatives of the people, should at length undertake that just and salutary work of amelioration and concession, without which we cannot hope they ever will be satisfied? I say without it they never can be satisfied; because we cannot, when we consider the state of the country, deny that their complaints are just. In what a situation are we now! We have a national debt of more than 850,000,000l.—an annual expenditure of 53,000,000l.—a taxation the most burthensome and oppressive in the known world, and yearly decreasing in productiveness, in the same proportion that it increases in severity—a Sinking Fund, which is the veriest delusion that ever was attempted to be practised on a country —our commerce in a state of the greatest depression—an agricultural interest petitioning from all quarters, and declaring its inability to exist without a protection which, if afforded, would irritate, perhaps greatly injure, a manufacturing interest already exposed to the greatest difficulties in its higher quarters, and whose working classes are nearly reduced to starvation.
363 We have, besides, a standing army of more than 80,000 men, an object Elways of the most constitutional jealousy to our ancestors, although it seems of none to us; the existence of which was even assigned as one of the reasons for deposing James 2nd.—We have a system of corruption in the greatest activity, by which seats in this assembly are publicly advertised for sale, and as publicly and notoriously bought and sold—and, to complete our domestic picture, we are repeatedly alarmed by accounts of treasons and conspiracies; nay, it was but last night that we were told by a noble lord, the secretary at war, that we were only in the first year of domestic peace! Our gaols are overflowing; and our eyes are shocked, and the better sympathies of our nature disgusted, by the mast barbarous aud unnecessary executions—the effect of the impolitic severity of our criminal laws.
If we turn our eyes outwards, we find no accession of national honour or character to make up for our bankrupt and miserable state at home. Repeated violations of public faith and solemn pledges, recorded to our eternal disgrace, in the transfer of Norway,—the base abandonment of Genoa,—the partition of Saxony, —the surrender of Parga—A steady and undeviating support of all those feudal abuses and despotisms, which it is the object of the holy alliance to bolster up if possible; evinced, I say, most unequivocally, by our repeated adoption of an act the most repugnant to the free principles, although not to the present practice, of the British constitution, I mean the Alien Bill—An utter indifference to the struggles of a people contending for constitutional liberty; when a firm remonstrance, breathing the genuine spirit of English freedom, might have arrested the invading arms of Austrian barbarism, and prevented a war which has too unhappily succeeded, for the moment, in its sacrilegious aim, the repression of freedom, and the riveting again of chains which an effort of just and noble resistance had peacefully broken—All these, and many other characteristics of our foreign policy, which I need not now mention, have degraded us in the eyes of the people of the continent, and rendered us with them objects of distrust, suspicion, and hatred.
Under these circumstances, is it not natural that every mind capable of re- 364 fleeting should be earnestly employed in endeavouring to ascertain the causes of this consummate degradation of national character? Nor have the people of England, unfortunately, far to look —the origin of all their misfortunes is to be found in the abuses prevailing in that branch of the legislature which was originally designed for their protection—Hoc fonte derivata clades,In patriam, populumque fluxit.Sir, for a long period of time the people of this country had to contend against the tyrannical encroachments of their kings, and the undue exercise of the prerogative; nor did they succeed in establishing their rights for a time, until after the see rest struggles, and the effusion of the jest and noblest blood in the nation. At length, the system of attack was altered: it was discovered to be far more easy to govern by means of a majority in the House of Commons: and infinitely more effectual to employ the arms of corruption, than those of oppression, or of violence. Since that fatal discovery was made, our liberties have been at the mercy of all ministers, to whatever party they may belong; and if we now possess any, we owe it to their forbearance, and not to their being destitute of the power to destroy them entirely.
Let us only look at the means placed at the disposal of the minister of the day:— The management of our enormous revenue and expenditure; in all its minute and innumerable branches—the possession of the force and influence of the Crown, exhibited in legions of tax-gatherers, clerks and officers of all descriptions in the different boards of customs, stamps, and excise—the distribution of 4,000,000l. and upwards amongst those civil troops, amounting as they do to 10,000; the nomination of which is always vested in the ministerial member, in the town or county which he represents in parliament— the patronage of the army,—the navy,— the church—and the India board.—All these weapons, steadily and invariably directed towards one object, the strengthening the influence of government in this House, form a weight of power which the people, as at present represented, cannot resist. The consequences have been fatal to our happiness and prosperity. That check which the people are constitutionally supposed to have on the power of the Crown, by holding the reins of tax- 365 ation in their own hands, and having the power of withholding the supplies, has been rendered null and void, in consequence of the great majority of their representatives being returned by improper influence—by the Crown in some instances, by peers in others,—in many cases the member returning himself—but all possessing interests distinct from those of the people.
Ought it therefore to be a matter of surprise, that the national debt was increased one thousand millions during the late reign? or can we expect the people to be satisfied with a system, through? which they have been plundered of these millions, to provide for the most wild and extravagant wars—the termination of which has always left them in a worse situation, than they were in at the the commencement? I contend, therefore, that it is the paramount duty of every true lover of his country to endeavour to restrain and diminish the influence of the Crown, and prevent it from destroying those constitutional defences of the rights of the people, which are to be found in a state of representation directly and purely emanating from themselves. The theory of the constitution, according to the best authorities, is, that all the parts of it form mutual checks on each other. I think it is Blackstone who has said, that in the legislature the people are a check on the nobility, the nobility upon the Crown, and the Crown upon both. But the practice, according to modern innovations and corruptions, is widely different from this theory. In the enumeration of those checks, we must entirely omit that of the people: for they are not represented in the legislature. When I say this, I mean, that although there may be some few members returned according to the purest spirit of the constitution, yet that the great majority are returned by the most improper means, without even the remotest shadow of popular delegation. In proof of this, I am now ready to adduce in evidence at the bar of this House, that 180 individuals return, by nomination or otherwise 350 members.
Now, Sir, does any man who hears me imagine that those members do not, in the first instance, consult the wishes and political attachments of those to whom they are indebted for their seats? How often do we hear it said, "Why has Mr. A. taken the chiltern hundreds?" The an- 366 swer constantly is—? "Because he cannot conscientiously vote with lord B. or Mr. C. who returns him, and therefore he deems it a point of honour to resign his seat"—a point of honour, by the way, which I never hear of, as being acted upon towards the people, however it may towards the patron. But all these facts are too well known, for me even to trouble the House by the mention of them—individually they know them to be true—collectively they know it—for they have often been brought under the consideration of parliament; and one noble lord (Castle-reagh) in particular, accused of having bartered a place for a seat, has no reason, I think, to be delighted by any accession which thereby has accrued to his constitutional fame. The result however, shortly, is this: By direct nomination—by the existence of boroughs, where some 20, 50, or 100 voters are septennially bought and sold like cattle in a fair—by the influence of government, which, owing to the small number of electors, as compared with the population of the empire, can but rarely and partially, and then most expensively, be resisted—a majority is always to be procured for the administration of the day—a majority, forming a body, the most convenient, the most pliable, the most manageable, that the wit of man could invent; sanctioning measures solely on the principle of ministerial recommendation, without any reference to the expressed wishes of the people. Instances of this I need not enumerate, for they are now matters of history, and their records are accessible to all; as a sample of the commodity, I may however mention, that a majority of a House of Commons sanctioned and approved the infamous expedition to Walcheren—as for its pliability, I myself have seen the same members voting for that very question, which they had negatived only one hour before. But I will not weary the House by the detail of the long and black catalogue of offences committed by its predecessors, for of the present House I am prevented from speaking, as I should wish, by the existence of forms which I do not intend to violate.
Now, Sir, to prevent the further continuance of this state of things, the recurrence of such proceedings as I have thus generally described, is the object of my motion. In order that the people may be fairly and adequately represented in the legislature, and the balance of the con- 367 stitution thus restored, it is necessary, in my opinion, that there should be an extension of the elective franchise to the unrepresented classes contributing directly to taxation—copyholders, leaseholders, and householders; that all venal, corrupt, and decayed boroughs should be disfranchised; and that there should be a recurrence to Triennial parliaments, accompanied by such restrictions on the expenses of elections, as could easily be accomplished under a reformed system, but which now it is quite impossible to effect, and useless to attempt.
It would indeed be presumptuous in me to attempt to enter into a detailed history of the origin and constitution of the House of Commons. It has been so often and so ably discussed within these walls, that nothing new, in fact, can be adduced on the subject: a short allusion however to its composition, will, perhaps, be permitted me; and I trust the House will not be wearied by a short review of the statutes which have been passed at various times, affecting either its duration or constitution. In the reign of Edward 3rd an act was passed by which parliaments were to be held annually, in consequence of a disinclination both on the part of the sovereign to summon them, and of the representative to attend: arising on the one hand from a too great tendency to arbitrary power, and on the other from a lamentable deficiency in spirit and zeal in the people—the most fatal and ruinous symptom which can exist in a national character: nay, to such a height was this feeling carried, that it was found necessary to pass a law fining members for non-attendance, and fixing the rate of their wages, as a greater inducement. Still, however, parliaments were not held or called either according to the letter or spirit of this enactment, the ill effects of which are apparent in every page of our history. At length, in the 16th of Charles 2nd, c. 1, it was ordained that parliaments should be assembled every three years: and in the 6th of William and Mary, c. 2, the Triennial act was passed, which recites, that by the ancient laws and statutes of the kingdom, frequent parliaments ought to be held, and that frequent and new parliaments tended very much to the happy union and good agreement of the king and people, and enacts that a new parliament should be called once in three years at the least."
The last act relating to this subject, 368 and under which the present duration of parliaments exists, is the stat. 1 Geo. 1st, s. 2, c. 38. It recites, that "it had been found by experience that the clause in the act of William and Mary, limiting the duration of parliaments to three years, had been found grievous and burthensome, by occasioning greater expenses at elections, and more violent and lastingheats and animosities, than ever were before known; and there being a restless and popish faction in the kingdom, designing and endeavouring to renew rebellion and an invasion from abroad, and that if continued it might prove destructive to the peace and security of the government; and therefore it ordains, "that all future parliaments shall continue seven years, unless sooner dissolved by the sovereign authority."
This act, commonly called the Septennial act, was not passed without earnest discussion and resistance, as every one conversant in the history of the country well knows; and I find in a protest in the House of Lords, on that occasion, arguments so cogent, and so applicable to the view I entertain of this question that I hope the House will excuse me if I read a short extract from it. After claiming frequent parliaments, as agreeable to the constitution, and the practice of ages, and denying the right of a House of Commons elected for three years, to extend its duration to seven, the protesting lords go on in these words: "We conceive that this bill is so far from preventing expenses and corruptions, that it will rather increase them; for the longer a parliament is to last, the more valuable to be purchased is a station in it, and the greater also is the danger of corrupting the members of it; for if ever there should be a ministry who shall want a parliament to screen them from the just resentment of the people, or from a discovery of their ill practices to the king, who cannot otherwise, or so truly be informed of them, as by a free parliament, it is so much the interest of such a ministry to influence the elections, (which by their authority, and the disposal of the public money, they, of all others, have the best means of doing) that it is to be feared they will be tempted, and not fail to make use of them; and even when the members are chosen, they have a greater opportunity of inducing very many to comply with them, than they could have, if not only the sessions of parliament, but parliament 369 the subject, for it was necessary that she should be heard upon the matter. He really begged pardon for detaining the House so long; but there was one more point to be noticed, and he should then have done. It had been stated, that a baron of the exchequer had been absent from the discharge of his duties for three years together. Now he (the lord advocate) would declare, that that baron was never in all his life absent from his duty for more than one year at any time. It had been also said, that he resided the greater part of every year at Hath. True—but he regularly came back to attend his duties as a baron of the exchequer for the term. He presumed that the noble lord had been misinformed upon the case; it was perfectly true that this individual was in a very ill state of health, but that did not prevent him from discharging his duty.
§ Lord A. Hamilton
, in explanation, said, that, the learned lord seemed to have understood him as using the fact of the absence of the baron of the exchequer, as an "argumentum ad hominem:" but it was with quite a contrary intention. All that he meant to say was, that, judging from the absence of this gentleman for two or three years (a term which the leaarned lord had corrected, by substituting one year in its place), it appeared that four barons were sufficient for the business of the court.
The Lord Advocate
remarked, that individuals were always liable to indisposition. He had felt it necessary to make the observations which he had made in justice to the character of a distinguished individual now no more.
§ Sir John Newport
contended, that the House were justified in entertaining a distrust of his majesty's ministers upon this subject. Three cabinet ministers had voted in the first instance against the institution of a commission; but such a distrust, was further reasonable, because his majesty's ministers had done every thing in their power, first to delay, and afterwards to frustrate the objects of that commission. After the address which was voted had been carried to the foot of the throne, seven months elapsed before any thing was done in the business. At last the commission was appointed; but the learned lord had said that commission had travelled out of its jurisdiction in meddling at all with the constitution of the court, as regarded the judges. Now 370 it so happened that all the commissioners concurred in the opinion of the propriety of such a proceeding, and he believed the learned lord himself was the only person who thought differently. In Ireland similar commissioners had called the judges before them, and even examined them upon oath as to their fees. But there was nothing extraordinary in the circumstance of this commission's having con ducted itself in a manner and with views just the reverse of those recommended and entertained by the learned lord himself. Upon the learned lord's statement, those who composed it must have been more than incompetent, for they must have misconceived and misunderstood the first sentence of their instructions. But, was this a position to be argued at this time of day? Many hon. members who sat in the former parliament might remember the opinion on the subject of the abuses existing in the court of Chancery entertained by that great man whose name could never be mentioned without a feeling of respect, and who could never be recollected but with emotions of sorrow for his premature death;—he meant sir Samuel Romilly. A question was put to him by an hon. and learned gentleman, then a master in chancery, who was arguing against the commission proposed by sir S. Romilly to inquire into those abuses but who said, that if only a shadow of abuse existed, he would vote for that commission. Sir Samuel Romilly, in reply, said that great abuses did exist; and upon that statement the hon. and learned gentleman, acting with that can dour which he (sir J. Newport) expected from him, did vote for the commission. And what was the conduct of the first law-officer—the first minister of the Crown-—? in consequence? Why, the House would hardly believe it. The question of inquiry having been carried;—of inquiry into the abuses existing in the chancery court too, two masters in chancery were appointed out of a body of five commissioners. The House had this fact before it; that those commissioners drew up a report upon the chancery courts of England, and in no one instance did they enter into an examination of the subject of fees. As to that great abuse, the expedition-fees in the court of chancery, it was declared that though it might be an abuse, yet that the commission saw no means of remedying ft. So again, among the receipts of the secretary to the lord chancellor, there were two 371 small substance and no value, whereof every of them pretended a voice equivalent with the most worthy knights, whereby riots, batteries, and so on, among the gentlemen and other people"—(The House will naturally suppose the sentence concluded with "unhappily have occurred:" on the contrary, all we find is— shall very likely rise and be—and therefore provides that knights of the shire shall be chosen by people dwelling and residing in the same counties, whereof every one of them shall have free land or tenement to the value of 40s. by the year at least above all charges, and that they which shall be so chosen shall be dwelling and resident within the same counties."— From this period is to be dated the transfer of the elective franchise from all freeholders and all freemen, to freeholders of the amount of 40s. a year: a period marked also by another most glaring invasion of the liberties of the people.—the adoption of an act compelling labourers and artificers to work for low wages, under severe fines and penalties. As, therefore, all persons denominated liberi-tenentes, and all freemen possessing property, however small its value, from which they contributed to taxation, enjoyed the right of voting until they were most treacherously and tyrannically disqualified by this act of Hen. 6th—so, I say, now, all Englishmen, possessing the same qualifications, ought to resume those rights which were shamefully wrested from their ancestors under the most false pretences; for the preamble of the bill which I have just read, fully exposes the weakness and absurdity of the reasons alleged; and effected also under circumstances, and accompanied by other measures, bearing no other stamp than that of the most arbitrary power.
The stat. 23, Hen. 6, c. 14, recognizes in its recital an act passed in the 1st Hen. 5th, respecting what sort of persons shall be choosers, and who shall be chosen knights and burgesses; and declares that knights of the shire shall not be chosen unless they are resident within the shire, and the choosers also resident, and the same with regard to cities and boroughs. These laws, as to residence, were not repealed until the 14 Geo. 3, c. 58; and the reasons assigned in the preamble to that act are most ludicrous —that the provisions in them had been found by long usage to be unnecessary, and had become obsolete. The fact was, 372 that the qualifications there insisted upon as to residence, had long been purposely evaded, or manifestly disregarded, from the most corrupt motives, although the statutes were positive and unrepealed. In these enactments, the principle of a fair and just representation is to be recognized; namely, that no county, city, or borough, should be represented but by persons resident in, or free of them, and consequently acquainted with their various interests and necessities. But is this principle, just as it is, at all applicable to the present state of the borough system? Many of these boroughs, formerly populous and flourishing, and therefore represented, are now decayed and depopulated; consisting, in many instances, only of posts or stones, denoting merely the site of former dwellings. Is it according to the spirit of the constitution? Is it according to the tenor of the statutes I have just cited, that these substances should return members to parliament? And how are they represented? By burgesses "resident in or free of" these boroughs? By no means. I think, if I were to appeal for confirmation to this House, and I were honoured with an answer (which is certainly not very likely), I should be surrounded by members, starting up on all sides, declaring that they had never been blessed with the sight of their inanimate, and, fortunately, insensible constituents; or, if they had seen them, it was when, after travelling post-haste to the Land'send, to undergo the forms and insulting mockery of an election, they had carefully taken them out of their trunks, into which they had recently been transferred from the dignified retirement and security of their, solicitor's office.
I say, therefore, that the right of sending members to parliament, which is now vested in these rotten boroughs, ought to be abolished; because those places need no separate and distinct representation for themselves; and may be, nay notoriously are, the means of introducing a corrupt influence into this House. As to whether the owners of this borough-property ought to receive any compensation or not, as suggested by Mr. Pitt, and I believe lately by a noble lord near me (lord John Russell), I should say, decidedly not, and for this reason—if this right, this white-slave-trading right, was taken away from them, they still would remain in possession of their legal and 373 constitutional property, their lands and their houses, the only property the existence of which they dare openly avow to the world. It would not be depriving them of any thing they ought to have, it would be depriving them only of the corrupt and unconstitutional practicability of selling seats in parliament, or bartering them for places, pensions, sinecures, and other appointments in the gift of the minister.
Here, Sir, I may observe, that down to the reign of Henry 8th, possibly later, members of parliament received wages from their constituents, as I have stated before, which were assessed and levied by a public rate. The practice is undoubtedly in one sense discontinued; for the constituents in many places are now paid themselves for performing their functions, and the members in return claim and receive their wages in other quarters. This payment, when effected by constituents, operated as a bond of union, and attached their representatives to them as their employers. The principle of payment still, I believe, prevails: but the employers are changed; and, I fear, the people of England do not consider the change as having operated beneficially for their interests.
But, setting aside the delicate question of payment, both as regards the member and his constituents, surely it cannot be, as Locke has well observed, upon a fair principle of representation, that the members for boroughs possessing no population, or at most only a few burgage-houses, should have an equal right with the representatives of the largest counties in England, to vote away the money of the inhabitants of those counties, with whom they have not the remotest connexion; a right forming the most important privilege of the constitution, and which was vested in it solely for the benefit and protection of the people. I am aware that it is difficult to obtain an exact equality of representation, both as to numbers and property; but I consider it an object which ought to be attended to as much as possible. Property of some degree, no matter how low the value, must be the best basis on which to found the elective franchise. It is that, from which those resources are drawn, which support the state, and whose application its possessor has a right to regulate and control through his representative. It affords the best pledge for his conduct, and readers him independent of that 374 commanding and overbearing Influence or temptation, which, if exerted against a poor and dependent man, would prevent the possibility of his bestowing a free and unbiassed suffrage.
I contend also, that owing to various circumstances, the lapse of time, the increase of population in some places, the decrease in others, and the enormous extension of the influence of the Crown, our system of representation has fallen into a degree of decay and imperfection, which imperiously calls for reformation and amendment. The nature and extent of that alteration, I own it to be difficult to determine. I am not presumptuous enough to imagine, that the course I recommend is the only one befitting us to adopt; but I think it fair in introducing this question, for which I contend on the ground both of justice and expediency, to state at once and openly, how far I think a change beneficial, and likely to be effectual in removing those evils of which we complain.
The principle of a change in our representative system is not new, and has been acted upon at different times, as may be seen by a reference to various acts of Parliament. The 27th of Henry 8th, c. 26. regulates the representation of Wales. The 35th of Henry 8th, c. 11. settles the wages of knights and burgesses in Wales, and declares who shall be the choosers of burgesses. The 34th of Henry 8th, c. 13. recites, that "the County Palatine of Chester had hitherto been excluded from sending members to parliament, by reason whereof the inhabitants had sustained many losses and damages as well in their lands and goods and bodies, as in the civil and politick maintenance and governance of the commonwealth of the county; and as a remedy to restore quietness, rest and peace—It is enacted, that the county shall send two knights of the shire, and the city of Chester two burgesses, to parliament. "The next and last statute to which I shall refer, is one in which, I confess, I am peculiarly interested, as without its adoption, I should not have had the honour of now addressing this House. In the 25th of Charles 2nd, c. 9.1 find it asserted, "that the inhabitants of the county or Durham are liable to all payments, rates, and subsidies, granted by parliament, equally with the inhabitants of other counties, and are therefore equally concerned with them to have their knights and 375 burgesses to represent the condition of their county, and they are accordingly authorized to send two knights for the county, and two burgesses for the city.'' After citing this last act, I above all others, may be permitted, in the language adopted in reference to the county I represent, to say on behalf of the unrepresented classes of England, that they are "liable to taxation equally" with other subjects, and therefore ought to be represented in parliament. Those unrepresented classes, thus contributing to taxation, are copyholders, leaseholders, and householders. Upon these principles, therefore, and in the words of the Chester act, as a remedy to restore quietness, rest, and peace," I should propose that they should be admitted to the en-joyment of that privilege.
In order to affect this, I have prepared a Bill,* with the assistance of a learned friend of mine, whose valuable and efficient co-operation I beg leave now gratefully to acknowledge; and if the House will allow me, I shall, as shortly as possible, detail its provisions and objects. It is divided into three parts. The 1st part relating to householders, and the division of the county into districts, each returning one representative. The 2nd, adding copyholders and leaseholders to the county representation. And the 3rd, repealing the Septennial Act, and limiting the duration of parliament to three years.
As to the first part—The necessity of dividing the county into districts must be apparent, in order to give effect to the proposition for enabling all householders to vote, as without such an arrangement no householder could vote, unless he resided in a town to which the right of representation was annexed. The effect of a division into districts, would be, to give a representative to every 25,000 inhabitants,—of whom, reckoning one in ten to be a householder, paying rates and taxes, 2,500 would be electors. This calculation is made on the assumption that the population of England and Wales amounts to ten millions and a-half, to be represented by 417 members; the number remaining, after deducting the county members, and those for the two universities, whose representation I do not propose to alter. In 1817 it was calculated that the population of London amounted* A copy of Mr. Lambton's intended Bill will be found in the Appendix.376 to 1,140,000, the number of houses to 161,882. It would thus appear that one in seven and a-half was a householder: and if this scale were to be applied generally, it would give 3,750 constituents to each member: but considering that great allowance must be made for the number of householders who are not rated, and do not pay taxes, as owners of small cottages, and persons receiving parochial relief, I think the fairest and truest estimate will be, that which reduces the calculation to one in ten.—The right of voting I propose should be given in these districts, to all inhabitant householders, bona fide rated to church or poor, or assessed to or paying direct taxes for six months previous to the first day of election, not having received parochial relief; every such person, except persons now disqualified otherwise than as Catholics, to be entitled to vote.
The next provision I was anxious to make, was for the fitness and impartiality of the returning officer for those districts, on the correct and fair discharge of whose duty so much necessarily depends. I propose, that he should be an acting magistrate within the district, and be chosen annually by the overseers and churchwardens; no magistrate to be eligible two years running, or to be bound to act within three years. His being elected by those who derive their appointment chiefly from the electors of the district, will inspire greater confidence than if the office were held either permanently, or independently of the inhabitants. I propose also to authorize him, to appoint a deputy to attend to the minor details of the duty, which can frequently be better performed by a professional person, whose residence on the spot is always fixed and certain; but that the principal should be bound always to attend at the election. For the purpose of still farther providing for the impartiality of the returning officer, I have inserted a clause, rendering him liable to imprisonment, if he acts corruptly, as is provided in Ireland by the stat. 57 Geo. 3. c. 131. The magistrate, however, may decline acting as returning officer, on payment of a fine of 200/. to the poor of the district. This provision I have thought necessary, as it is possible that a magistrate might be elected, who had intentions of offering himself as a candidate for the representation of the district.
The election I should propose to take 377 place in the chief town in the district, to commence before twelve o'clock on the first day. If a poll is demanded, to be opened on the same day, or the next at farthest; and to be kept open on all days, except the day of demanding it, for eight hours at least; not to last longer than six days, including the first day of election; to be closed at three o'clock on the last day, and the return to be made immediately, unless a scrutiny be demanded. The returning officer will be obliged to provide a sufficient number of polling booths, separate, and with good access; the votes to be taken in them alphabetically; the letters, for which each booth is designed, to be affixed on the outside. In districts consisting of more than one parish, where the voters reside more than five miles from the chief place of election, votes may be tendered to the overseers of the parish where those voters reside. The poll there taken to last three days; to be kept open five hours each day: only three days are given, exclusive of the first day, in order that the parish-poll may be received the evening before the sixth and final day of the district poll, and thus enable the gross poll to be declared immediately on its close. The object of this arrangement is, to prevent the great expense of the conveyance of voters, by enabling all those who cannot, or will not, proceed at their own expense to the chief town, to tender their votes at a moderate distance from their places of abode; whilst at the same time it leaves unaltered and untouched that spirit, energy, and interest, which always characterize the proceedings of an election held in a populous town, where the candidate appears personally before large bodies of his countrymen, to answer openly for his past conduct, and give such pledges for his future actions as may publicly be required of him.
I wish also to provide for ample public notices of the election being generally circulated throughout the district: at present, such notices are generally given either by proclamation, or by that much calumniated individual, the bellman, whose announcement of the Suffolk reform petition has been so much objected to in the early part of this evening, by the hon. member for that county (Mr. Gooch.) I propose that the sheriff should issue his precept within three days of the receipt of the writ, to the re- 378 turning officer of each district within his jurisdiction; the returning officer to give, public notice within 36 hours of the time and place of election, and to proceed to the election on the Monday next, after two days from the time of giving that notice. Now, by the stat. 7 & 8. Will. 3. the sheriff is to deliver the precept within three days, and the election must be held within eight days; four days notice at least being given. This new arrangement would make little difference in the time of holding the election, after the returning officer received the precept, but would secure the election not breaking into two weeks. Every returning officer on the receipt of the precept, to affix notices on the doors of the churches, and on the market places, of the time and place of election. The overseers to be obliged to make and send alphabetical lists of all persons rated, to the returning officer, within a fortnight after the publication of the rate, as also the collectors of the taxes, after the receipt of their warrants of collection. By this means, the returning officer will be always sure to have the proper rate ready in case of vacancies; as, if it was to be delivered only yearly, it might never be a correct guide. The confusion which arises in taking a poll, would be thereby much diminished, and the opportunities for taking objections lessened.
I propose that all persons now entitled to vote for any borough, or town, or place, now represented in parliament, should be empowered to vote for life (or as long as the right, in respect of which they claim, remains,) at all elections in that district within which the place is situated.
All the expenses of these district elections, that are authorised by the bill, namely, those relating to polling-places, clerks, messengers, and other necessary charges, will be paid out of the poor-rates of the several parishes in each district, by warrant from the returning officer and one other magistrate. This power of issuing a warrant is sanctioned by other instances, somewhat similar. The stat. 27 Eliz. c. 13, s. 5. making the hundred liable for a moiety of the damages received, enacts, that two justices shall rate the different parishes to an equal contribution. The stat. 1 Geo. I. c. 5, s. 6, adopts the same course for recovery of the sums, referring to the 27 Eliz. These statutes are amendedby the 8 Geo. 2nd, c. 26, and the the 22 Geo. 2nd, c. 46, all of which authorize the assessment to be made by two 379 justices; and, lastty, the 57 Geo.8rd,c. 19, adopts the same course, taking as a precedent the 1 Geo. 1st, c. 5.
And now, as to county elections—I do not propose to alter the mode in which they now exist, further than by adding, as electors, copyholders, and leaseholders, and making the same regulations as to the prevention of expense in the conveyance of voters from distant parts, as I have detailed before in that part of the bill which relates to districts. I conceive copyhold property, whatever it might have been in feudal times, to be now as good as freehold, because the possessor of it cannot be deprived of it, as formerly, at the will of the lord. I propose also, to grant the elective franchise to leaseholders for terms of years renewable at the will of the lessee, and for terms of which 21 years are unexpired. (I should here observe, that even now a lease for life is a freehold, and gives a right to vote.) This will enable proprietors under college or other ecclesiastical leases, or under long leases for small and nominal rents, such as building leases, to vote at county elections; in which privilege I would also join freeholders of 40s. in towns which are counties within themselves, in order to avoid the anomaly which now exists, of there being freeholders in some places who have no right to vote either for the county or town in which their property is situated.
The polling for counties I propose to be on the same principle as in district elections, for the reasons I have before stated, the votes to be tendered in hundreds or wards to the high constable; but the election to take place in the county town, as now; the duration of the county poll to be 10 days, that of the hundred poll 5 days; the high constable, his deputies and messengers, to receive a certain remuneration. There is no provision of this kind intended for the overseers in districts, because they are numerous, and will not have to go out of their parish. But the office of high constable is generally executed by an individual, who will have some distance to go from home. The sheriff to have the power of appointing as many booths as may be deemed necessary to facilitate the taking the poll. Under the present Jaw, 18 Geo. 2nd, c. 18. s. 7, he can only appoint as many booths as there are hundreds, from which much inconvenience frequently lesults. There is no one who has witnessed a contested county election, but must be aware, that it often happens 380 that one booth, for the most populous hundred, is crowded from the first to the last day of the election, to the great hindrance and inconvenience of the voters, whilst others are constantly empty, and the clerks unoccupied.
I propose that the same oaths should be taken by the electors, under this bill, as at present, with the exception of the Catholic oaths and declarations (provided by the 30 Chas. 2nd, and 1 Geo. 1st.) Those acts which are now mere instruments of illiberal and impolitic intolerance, of course I shall not embody in a measure of enfranchisement. In addition, however, to the present oaths, are added some to be taken by copyholders, leaseholders, and householders; as also an oath to be taken by every candidate before his return, and on his taking his seat, that he has not, and will not give or offer any bribe of any description to any voter, or any person in trust for him. This oath to be administered by the returning officer, under a penalty of 500lfor omission; and all laws now in force against bribery are to be applied to those convicted, on the evidence of two witnesses, of having offered any inducement to an elector to give his vote.
Finally, all ambassadors, and persons accepting offices under his majesty, the duties of which are to be executed abroad will be deemed ineligible; and if previously elected, their seats will be vacated on such acceptance; as, under those circumstances, it would be morally impossible for them properly to discharge their duties to the constituents. I have not made any provision disabling other placemen or pensioners from sitting in parliament; because, however much such a measure may be desirable and necessary in an unreformed, I do not think it required in a reformed House of Commons. An individual accepting a place or pension, will be immediately amenable to the judgment of his constituents; who, if they disapprove of his conduct, will have the opportunity of expressing that opinion in the most efficacious mode, by ceasing to return him as their representative. On the other hand, if, after mature deliberation, they do not consider his acceptance of such situations or appointments incompatible with the due performance of his duties to them, it would be hard to deprive them of the benefit of those services which they desire and are willing to accept, with the full knowledge of the circumstances under 381 which he again presents himself to their notice. I know that this principle is supposed to be acted upon, even now—but the effect produced is materially and essentially different. Under the present system, the placemen or pensioner who vacates, appeals, in nine cases out of ten, to the judgment of nominal or mock constituents. Under the operation of this bill, the elective body will be so numerous, and so independent, that their decision will always be formed on a consideration of what is most conducive to the general interests of the country; without any reference to those selfish and corrupt views, which now unhappily influence the proceedings of those select bodies, in whose hands the borough representation is vested.—I have not extended the provisions of this act beyond England and Wales, because a noble friend of mine (lord A. Hamilton) has already given notice of a motion on the subject of the representation of Scotland, which he wished should be kept separate; and it would be easy, if the bill was carried, to include in it both that country and Ireland.
I have now gone through the principal and most important details of this bill. It is not my intention now to move for leave to bring it in. I shall pursue the course adopted by the learned member for the University of Dublin, with regard to the Catholic claims, and shall conclude this day, by moving that this House will resolve itself into a committee of the whole House, to consider of the state of the representation. If that committee is granted me, I shall move in it resolutions embodying the principle on which this bill is founded, recommending its introduction, and asserting the expediency of thus far extending the elective franchise, as founded on a recurrence to the first principles of the constitution, which declare, according to lord Chatham, that to be taxed without being represented, is contrary to the maxims of law and reason, and strengthened by the evident tendency of many acts of the legislature, which prove that defects in our representative system have been amended when the exigencies of the state required.—It will be but fair here to state, that I consider no one who votes for going into the committee, as at all pledged to the principle of the bill: I consider such a vote as merely sanctioning the assertion that the state of the representative system is such as to require consideration in this House, with a view to its amendment.
382 I well know, that in advocating the propriety of an extended change, I shall be opposed by the misrepresentations of some the sophistries of others, and the fears of many—fears which it has been the object of a certain class of politicians to excite upon all occasions, and through them to carry on the government of this country—a system which has never been considered as auspicious to the existence of liberty in any country, or at any period-It was first commenced at the French revolution, by Mr. Pitt, to cover his abandonment of his early principles, and his adoption of that very system under which he had declared no minister could act honestly. This mode has been carried on to the present day, and our minds, it seems, are still to be alarmed by visions of anarchy and confusion, to be realized whenever the people are put in possession of those elective privileges which their ancestors once peaceably enjoyed. I should have thought that a participation in acknowledged rights and benefits, was not the surest incentive to treason and disaffection—but rather a security for submission and tranquillity-It was on the latter principle, I imagine, that our ancestors acted, when they granted the solicitations of the inhabitants of Wales, Chester, and Durham, and recorded in the most solemn manner on the Statute book, their conviction that affording large classes of the community an interest in the constitution, was the best, and wisest, and safest mode of providing for its well-being and permanency.
The system pursued by the gentlemen opposite is widely different. They obstinately exclude the petitioners of the present day; heap on them every term of reproach which the ingenuity of wit, or the bitterness of sarcasm, as administered by the right hon. member for Liverpool (Mr. Canning) can supply, and then express astonishment and alarm at the feelings which they hear repeated and reechoed on all sides. To repress these, innumerable acts of restraint and coercion have been proposed by them, and of course adopted by parliament. The right of publicly meeting to discuss public affairs has been fatally abridged, and the result of this is an awful—sullen silence; still they are not satisfied: nor can it be a matter of surprise—the debate of last night* sufficiently shews that they do not* On yeomanry corps, in the Army Estimates, see p. 275.383 forget the insecurity of power founded on force, and force alone. Hence is to be traced the course of all their proceedings, tending manifestly to one object—the repression of that voice of public complaint; which, I will tell them, may yield to conciliation, but never will to severity.
Yet, in the midst of all their alterations of the laws in order to smother these complaints, they at the same time talk loudly of the dangers of innovation! Who, I should be glad to ask, are the greatest innovators? They who seek to restore the purity of the constitution? or they who suspend the Habeas Corpus Act—pass Indemnity Bills—suspend the right of publicly meeting—who attack the liberty of the press by taxation and banishment?—These, and many other atrocities have been perpetrated by the ministers opposite, and yet they have the effrontery to charge others with that very crime, of which they, above all men, are most guilty. On my part, I deny the charge of innovation: I ask no privileges which have not already been enjoyed by our ancestors, and to which I do not consider their posterity as entitled on every ground both of justice and expediency.
Before I conclude, I must notice two arguments which have greatly been insisted upon as fatal to reform. The one is, that the present system, however faulty in theory, works well in practice; the other, that were it not for rotten boroughs, men of talent, without property, would be excluded from seats in this House. That this system works well in practice for the hon. gentlemen opposite, their friends, their relations, and their families, I cannot deny: the fact is unquestionably proved by a reference to the place lists and pension lists; but that it works ill for the country, is as surely demonstrated by a view of its present state and condition. If any man will prove to me that the country is rich, flourishing, and contented —happy at home, and respected abroad— I will then own to him that the system works as well for the people, as it evidently does for the gentlemen opposite. As for the other assertion,—I deny that the effect of a reform would be, to exclude men of talent, without property from the House of Commons. History has always proved, that characters of such a description have much sooner found their level under a free and constitutionally representative government, than under a corrupt or a despotic one. But even if that 384 were the case, I hold it to be no argument against reform. For, was this House originally intended as a theatre for the display of talents and abilities? Or was it provided as an institution, forming a check on the power of the Crown? in which honesty and independence would be infinitely more valuable, especially in the exercise of its most important function, the management of the public revenue, than all the rhetorical exhibitions which could be held up to popular admiration. If this latter be the correct view of the question, then I submit that I am entitled to make the talents of the members secondary to the purity of the House. To take the case into private life, I must confess, that in my own establishment, I would much rather be served by a man of plain, downright, even stupid honesty, than by the most eminently-gifted rascal that ever wore a livery.
I fear that I have detained the House too long; but the question is so extensive and complicated, that even now I feel conscious that I must have omitted many arguments and statements which bear strongly on the case. All I beg is, that its merits may not be affected by my demerits; and that the House will consider its real and serious claims on their attention, without any reference to its advocate. This is not a time at which public opinion can be trifled with; it is making rapid and mighty progress throughout the world. Wherever it is resisted, as in Italy, the results are deplorable, and all tend to some great convulsion. Where its power and justice are acknowledged, as in Spain, the prospect is most cheering. We see disaffection instantaneously quelled—venerable and rotten abuses reformed—superstition eradicated—and the monarch and the people united under a constitution, which alike secures the privileges of the one, and the liberties of the other. May I not then consistently hail the rising of this star, in what was once the most gloomy portion of the European horizon, as a light to shew us the way through all our dangers and difficulties—as a splendid memorial of the all-conquering power of public opinion? If there be any, who deny the existence of that feeling in this country, steadily directed towards a reformation of all public abuses, I am not one of those. If there be any who shrink from advocating this great and vital question in this House, and ! thus attempting to stem the torrent of cor- 385 ruption, on account of the obloquy or calumny by which they may be assailed, again I say, I am not one of those.——Though perils didAbound as thick as thought could make them, andAppear in forms more horrid—yet my duty,As doth a rock against the chiding flood,Should the approach of this wild river break,And stand unshaken.Sir, I move you, "That this House do resolve itself into a committee of the whole House, to consider the State of the Representation of the people in Parliament."
§ Mr. S. Whitbread
began by saying, that he was perfectly convinced that a reform in the Commons House of Parliament was essential to the existence of the rights and even the property of the people of these kingdoms. He had given this important subject his most full and earnest consideration; and he hoped that the House would give him credit, in rising as he did to second a motion which had been so ably stated and illustrated by the eloquence of his hon. friend for a desire only to perform that which he Conceived to be an imperative duty to his constituents. He spoke the opinion of his constituents when he said, that, as the House was at present constituted, it was nearly the reverse of what it was intended to be by the theory of the constitution. It was too notorious a fact to be denied, that a great number obtained their seats in violation of the principle of election, and in contempt of the standing orders of that House. The hon. gentleman then remarked, that without the least disposition, on a topic of such vital interest to the country, to manifest any thing like unbecoming levity, he hoped he might be permitted to make one remark which forcibly suggested itself to him. With respect to the tenacious regard for its forms and its character which that House always manifested whenever its character was called in question. The existence of rotten boroughs was notorious; the existence of corruption in the returns made of members to serve in parliament was acknowledged; the charge of selling seats in that House had been gravely laid against, and openly admitted by noble and hon. members, and yet it was not orderly to speak of these practices in plain terms, as they deserved. Really, it appeared to him, after this, that the House was much in the situation of a woman of bad charac- 386 ter, with whom you might take any liberty, but that of telling her of her frailty. The condition to which the country was reduced afforded the strongest argument in favour of reform, for although petitions poured in from all parts of the country, they were treated with indifference, and produced neither a correction of abuses nor any substantial inquiry. This could not be the case if the House of Commons really represented the people. The nation was oppressed with taxes, while its representatives were only thinking of enjoying the pleasures and profits of patronage. The hon. member then expressed his approbation of the plan of reform proposed by his hon. friend, particularly that part which went to shorten the duration of parliaments; and concluded by entreating members not to be wanting in their duty as trustees of the people, and guardians of their liberties,
§ Mr. Wilmot
spoke as follows:—If, Sir, the hon. mover has thought it necessary to offer apologies to the House for the execution of the task which he has undertaken to perform, how much more incumbent is it upon me to press such apologies, and even to throw myself upon the mercy of those from whom I am compelled to differ upon this important question; for I perceive that the benches around me are nearly deserted, while the hon. gentleman is surrounded by a great proportion of his political friends; however, I cannot allow that this thin attendance is owing to any feelings of disrespect towards the hon. member, But to the interest excited by another more vital question in another place, the success of which I trust is far less problematical than that of the measure which we have just heard proposed. I will not stop to compliment the hon. gentleman upon the talents which he has just evinced; he will receive such compliments from others whose praise he will be more disposed to value. He says, that he shall be opposed by the misrepresentations of some, the sophistry of others, and the fears of many. He will not receive any misrepresentation intentional, at least from me; he has nothing to dread from any sophistries of mine, and as for fears, I cannot allow myself to feel the slightest, that this House will consent to a measure so dangerous, so unavailing, and so subversive of the real and tried constitution of this great country.
The hon. gentleman proposes to refer 387 the resolutions on which his bill is founded to a committee, in adoption of the method lately pursued by the eloquent member for the university of Dublin; but, however convenient such a plan may be, I must protest against any sort of analogy. The measures proposed in the bill of the right hon. and learned gentleman, were in perfect unison with the general opinions of those who supported the motion for a committee; but the proposed measures of reform, contained in the bill which the hon. gentleman has had the can dour in this first stage to produce, are directly at variance with the known and recorded opinions of many of those who sit around him, and who will not be more justified in giving their vote for this committee, than they would have been in voting for a committee on the Catholic question with a determination to oppose all the principal points of concession for the express accomplishment of which the right hon. gentleman had introduced the measure.
The hon. member commented at length, in the commencement of his speech, upon the state of the times, and upon the general cry for reformation and amendment; but that cry is mainly founded upon the pecuniary difficulties under which the country now labours, and which have been the necessary and unavoidable result of the arduous contest in which we have been engaged—a contest, be it remembered where the feelings of the people went entirely with the government, and consequently which would not have been prevented by any form of representation of those feelings presumed to be more complete than the existing one. And, Sir, it must not be forgotten, that but for those unparalleled exertions—exertions which I am prepared to admit were greater than the country could sustain in a pecuniary point of view—we should long before now have fallen victims to a despotism the most oppressive and unrelenting in the annals of Europe. There may be those who argue, that we ought to have husbanded our resources; but if the ministers of the Crown who directed the national strength at that awful crisis, instead of stimulating the energies of the country, had deemed it expedient to "husband its resources," they would only have served as a fund to decorate the grave of the liberties of the people of England.
388 The hon. gentleman has urged, that our standing army is too great, and that in a reformed state so expensive an establishment would not be necessary. Now, Sir, I contend that from the moment the principle of Jacobinism was fully developed, it has been necessary to support standing armies as an auxiliary to the police of the country—that principle which Mr. Windham (the friend of the hon. gentleman opposite) desired to be the embodying the inevitable discontents and misfortunes of mankind, and of attributing them to the errors of civil government for the purpose of overthrowing it. The hon. member has asked,—Will it be possible much longer to resist the general cry for reform which is heard in every part of the country, coupled as it is with the general diffusion of education? For my part, I confidently hope that the spreading education will teach the people to attend less to the suggestions of those who flatter but to betray them, and whose sole object is to> delude them with visionary and pernicious theories. I do not mean to charge such conduct upon the hon. member, or upon any members of this House, but it is matter of undisputed notoriety that such tempters to mischief both exist and prosper. They work upon the natural and justifiable passions of the people. They assure them that they have been despoiled of their inalienable privileges, and invite them to regain them; and among these they have the audacity to record "Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage." Such assertions are capable of mathematical confutation, and have not a shade of plausibility, and they have been too often destroyed to require any comment from me, especially as the hon. member has not made them any part of his case. But I shall merely advert to the monstrous imposture of inviting the regrets of the lower classes to the glorious days of the liberty of their ancestors, when a great proportion of those very classes were in a state of positive slavery, and when the very phrase in Magna Charta of "Nullus liber homo" records for ever the degradation of the unprivileged classes, who were not then deemed worthy to be admitted to an equality of law or to a capacity of privilege. But these are two points which appear to me to be the very key-stones of the argument of the hon. member, on which I will beg permission of the House to say a few words. I mean the universality of the 389 suffrage of freeholders, and the right of the people to triennial parliaments.
He has called our attention to a reply which Edward the 3rd made to a petition from the House of Commons for the annual holding (not election) of parliaments, and on other points, from which he infers the extent of popular rights at that period: but when I quote an address from the House of Commons to the Crown in the same reign, I will leave the House to conjecture the degree of importance to which that branch of the three estates had arrived at that period: "Most dreaded lord" (they say) "as to your war and the equipment necessary for it, we are so ignorant and simple, that we know not how, nor have the power to advise. Therefore we pray your grace to excuse us in this matter, and that it please you with the advice of the great and wise persons of your counsel to ordain what seems best to you and your lords and we shall readily assent to and hold it firmly established."
The hon. gentleman asserts, that until the reign of Henry 6th all English freemen were entitled to vote, and he refers to the 7th Henry 4th, which enacted, that 'all they who be present at the county court, as well suitors duly summoned for the same cause as others, shall proceed to elect." It appears to me unquestionable that the words "all they" referred to suitors only as explained in the succeeding paragraph. Of these there were two sorts, those who were duly summoned, and others who though qualified had not been summoned, and who, from the imperfect degree of communication belonging to that early stage of society, might not have received the summons to which they were entitled. But when the hon. gentleman argues that the statute of the 8th Henry 6th which raised the qualification of the freeholder to 405.—"in consequence of elections having been made by outrageous and excessive numbers of people" did in fact deprive the freeholders of their undoubted rights, I would invite his attention to the consideration how far the state of foreign and domestic politics at that period may appear to favour such an unconstitutional invasion of the rights of the people. He will remember that that was a period of foreign discomfiture and intestine disturbance. Mr. Hallam, in his admirable chapter upon the English constitution, an authority which I am persuaded no member of this House will impeach, has this 390 remarkable passage, which appears to me to bear most strikingly upon this important point. He is alluding to the consultation of parliament upon public affairs and he adds. "Those precedents conspired with the weakness of the executive government in the minority of Henry 6th to fling an increase of influence into the scale of the Commons; they made their concurrence necessary to all important business both of a foreign and domestic nature And yet this is the precise period when the hon. gentleman contends, that a gross violation was effected of the rights of the people.
And now, Sir, with respect to the right of the people to triennial parliaments; and I think this point too clear to involve the possibility of mistake. At the period of the Revolution of 1688, a committee was appointed seven days after the meeting of the convention to bring in general heads of such things as were absolutely necessary for the better securing our religion, liberties, and laws, and for remedying several defects and inconveniences in the constitution. This committee suggested, among other points, the propriety of providing by new laws against the too long continuance of the same parliament. But if the old laws had provided against this danger, why have enacted new ones? Why not have passed a declaratory law? But, above all, why was not this recognition of what the hon. gentleman, I think most erroneously, implies to have been the ancient law. Why was it not inserted in the Declaration of Rights, which was presented to, and accepted by the prince and princess of Orange together with the Crown of England, In the preamble of the triennial act itself, the frequent holding of parliament is declared to be conformable to the ancient laws j but the frequent election of parliament is, on the contrary, described as a measure highly expedient. The triennial bill was passed in 1694s it failed in 1693, and in 1692, king William, who had accepted the Declaration of Rights, refused the royal assent to it. I assert, then, that the question of the duration of parliaments, whether for seven or three years, or any intermediate or longer period, must be decided upon the grounds of "high expediency," to employ the phrase in the preamble which I have just quoted, and not upon the basis of rights which notoriously have never existed. In fact, in a very powerful article in the last Edinburgh Re- 391 view declaratory of pure Whig doctrines, upon the subject of reform, the writer says,—" Till the passing of the Triennial bill, parliament, unless dissolved by the king, might legally have continued till the demise of the Crown—its only natural and necessary termination. "The honourable gentleman has referred to the extension of the Elective franchise to Wales and Chester and Durham, but that reference if it establishes the fact of additions having been made to the system, it also proves, that the extension of the elective franchise to individuals never could have been a part of the constitution. The right of suffrage for which the inhabitants petitioned was not a right to be given to all the inhabitants, or to all the taxable inhabitants; but to the recognised bodies of electors, the freeholders of counties, and freemen of cities—a right securing to those classes a direct, and to others a virtual representation.
But then we are again told, that in the lapse of ages certain boroughs have fallen into decay, and that consequently a reform is necessary, but the antagonist results, if I may use the expression, are wholly overlooked—on the one hand, the great increase of freehold voters, from the progressive diminution of real qualification, arising from the extreme depreciation of money, and on the other, the extended right of voting in boroughs that have risen into prosperity; both of which effects have increased the relative proportion of the electors to the population in a very great degree, and have given the representation in general a much more popular character. I must not forget to add, the very creation of public opinion by means of the press in its present improved state, and the necessity of the ministers of the Crown, consulting and assaying that opinion, previous to their adoption of any measures of importance. The hon. gentleman has enlarged upon the flagrant injustice of withholding the elective fran-chise from the copyholder and leaseholder. I can by no means enter into his feelings; and I am reminded of what occurred in this House on a former occasion, when a right hon. gentleman argued how unfair it was to make the possession of 240l. in notes the lowest qualification for obtaining gold from the Bank of England, and it was asked why is it not permitted to a comparatively poor man with only 10l. to exchange his notes for gold at the Bank? The hon. member for Portarlington, an- 392 swered "Let him take his notes to a goldsmith and purchase 10 pounds' worth of gold—he may make the purchase upon equally good terms with his more opulent neighbour who goes directly to the Bank." So I say, Sir, with respect to the injured copyholder and leaseholder;—let them purchase a 40s. freehold; and let us hear no more of these mock complaints of pretended injustice. The hon. gentleman implies that one effect of his plan of reform would be, to lessen the weight of taxation; but I challenge him to point out any practicable degree of retrenchment which would alleviate the burthens of the people in any material degree; unless you are disposed to break faith with the public creditor; and in that case it does not require a reformed parliament to effect the object. Upon the specific plan proposed I shall say very little. The motion is for a committee, though the hon. gentleman has candidly produced his plan with all its cumbrous accessories of unconstitutional machinery, and all the multiplied inconvenieneies of a perpetual canvass. But allow me to inquire, would any set of men be found in this House to undertake the administration of government with such a plan of Reform in operation as that suggested by the hon. member? and I beg again to quote my former Whig authority upon this point:—" No reform can ever be peaceably carried, otherwise than by a friendly administration; all plans which will not bear the test of this condition are either delusions or instruments of revolution." I will leave the hon. gentleman to reconcile his own opinion with that of his friends. He has alluded to the disposition shown by some of the great European powers to violate the rights of nations—a disposition which as it has not been countenanced by any members of this House, I do not quite understand how it can be connected with the state of the representation; but if any additional lesson were wanting to show how impossible it is that liberty can thrive where the soil is utterly unprepared to receive it, and how vain and impotent are the boastings of a nation professing itself desirous of emerging from slavery to freedom, but unwilling to face the difficulties of the change, let the fate of Naples point this additional moral. I use the words of one of the most celebrated of modern poets,—In vain may Liberty invoke,The spirit to its bondage broke,And ease the neck that courts the yoke.393 We have also heard, Sir, a great deal on the present as on former occasions of the advantages of the restoration of that pure system of our ancestors, which they are presumed to have established; but let me inquire where are the seven years at any period of our history, more especially since the Revolution, when the complaints of the increasing influence of the Crown, and of the corruption of parliament and of public men have not been uttered even to nausea? Nor even were these complaints wanting soon after the period of the Revolution itself. If the House will permit me, I will read an extract from a pamphlet published in 1698, which I happened to meet with this morning in an Appendix to a volume of the Parliamentary History. It is entitled, "Considerations on the nature of parliament and on our present Elections." The writer states, u that corruption is come to such a height, that a wise prince must consent to doing it away." He then talks "of our low and corrupted state, when patriots must be hired to serve their country, when whigs go resty without pension or place, and begin with untimely barking against the government in war, to conclude with prostitute bawling for it in time of peace."At last, in common with the hon. gentleman comes his grand panacea, though of a different nature. "Choose Rich Men; let no character of party recommend or prejudice: poor Whigs, poor tories, want equally places, and will act alike to get and keep them. Avoid the younger sons of lords, who full of pride, with empty pockets, will endeavour, at the nation's cost, to become rich commoners." He then sums up— "such a parliament would secure us from religious lewdness, protestant arbitrariness and parliamentary slavery."
I have merely quoted this passage to shew that there were those who considered the very period of the Revolution, as one of marked degeneracy. I am not disposed, taking human nature as it is, to attach much value to such complaints, or to suppose that the reformation of public morals can precede that of private ones. I think with the late sir Philip Francis, at one period, at least, of his life, that the representation is good enough, and fully answers its purpose, that the milk throws up the cream, "and that it is impossible to build up a Grecian temple with brickbats and rubbish." I am deliberately convinced that a comparison of sound and practical liberty, with former periods of 394 our own history is decidedly in our present favour; and it is especially so with respect to other countries, whether we look to the past or the present. In America, to whose institutions some gentlemen look with such parental fondness, there exists slavery, in the proportion of 19 per cent upon the whole population; in particular provinces the ratio is higher; in Georgia, for example, it is estimated at 71; in Louisiana at 80 per cent: I have found this estimate in the valuable and accurate work of Mr. Sibert. I do not state this in dispraise of America, in whose prosperity I am not ashamed to say I feel the warmest interest. This state of things has been unavoidable in that country, and I trust that she has the disposition to remove this stain; but I do state it to shew that no country enjoys that extension of freedom which it is our singular lot to experience and yet to vilify. I will only offer one observation more, that if the plan of the hon. member was to pass into a law, it would place each representative so directly and immediately under the influence of his constituents, that in attending to their voice he would often be at variance with the interests of the nation, considered as a whole. I might quote the opinion of Algernon Sidney as illustrative of this point, but I shall prefer reading one additional extract from the last Edinburgh Review, so often referred to by me, and which as an acknowledged code of Whig reform, tallying with the plans proposed by my noble friend (lord John Russell) I consider as an important document to be cited on this occasion. The writer says, The members of a legislative assembly ought not to consider themselves as delegates from districts" (the very plan of the hon. member for Durham) "bound by the instructions of their own constituents;" then in a subsequent passage he speaks of "the convenience of so framing the election of a certain portion of the members, as to render them less susceptible of local influence, more impartial, more in fact, what all are in law, the representatives of the whole people." To such doctrines I must fully and unequivocally assent; and I cannot forget, that one of the most eloquent authors of modern times, has stated the opinion, that a deliberative assembly, however elected, where freedom of discussion and debate was completely permitted would be more likely to preserve and to transmit to posterity the sacred 395 flame of freedom, than an assembly elected upon the purest principles of representation, where such a degree of freedom of debate was not practically enjoyed. I have endeavoured to explain my conscientious opinion, that the plan of the hon. member is neither constitutional nor expedient; at the same time I do not mean to impeach in the slightest degree the sacred feelings of public duty which induced him to bring it forward. I have to apologize for having so long trespassed on the time of the House, and whatever may be the issue of this debate, I will conclude, Sir, in the words of one of your most distinguished predecessors in that chair—" My daily prayer will be for the continuance of the constitution in general; and that the freedom, the dignity, and the authority of this House may be perpetual."
said — Mr. Speaker; If, Sir, my friend, the hon. mover, thought it necessary to make an excuse to this House for the details into which he judged it necessary for him to enter, how much the more must I feel an apology requisite for a person who has not his experience in parliament, and who has besides, on this occasion, the disadvantage of following his very able exposition of the great question now before us. I trust, however, that the House will have the goodness to recollect, that there are some members amongst them whose constituents sent them here principally to advocate the cause of parliamentary reform; and who, however unwilling or incompetent they may be, must therefore, upon these occasions, trespass on the attention of the House. Standing as I do in this predicament, I shall venture to enter somewhat at detail into the examination of the momentous subject now under discussion.
In the first place, I would remark upon what has fallen from the hon. gentleman who has just sat down. He has warned us against any decisive experiments with parliament, and has held out to us the example of those unfortunate states, who have lately made an attempt to "emerge from slavery to freedom." Those were his words, and I own I heard them with surprise, as coming from one of those who are in the habit of eulogizing things as they are. For, supposing that the Italians have found how difficult it is to "emerge from slavery to freedom," what lesson does their example teach us? Does the hon. gentleman mean to say that 396 we are endeavouring "to emerge from slavery?"—Does he mean that we are in slavery, and therefore should not attempt to be free?—I think not. Sir, we are not in slavery as yet, nor is it from slavery that it is the project of reformers to attempt to emerge, but we know not how soon we may be in slavery if our present system continues; and it is to present such a consummation that we strive to reform this House—it is to retain what freedom we have, as well as to recover what we have lost, that my hon. friend, the member for the county of Durham, has made his proposition on this night.
I would also remark upon another observation of the hon. member for New-castle-under-Lyne. He tells us that public opinion is a sufficient corrective for the abuses of government, and would therefore apply no other remedy to these abuses'—this is a favourite argument with the enemies of Reform. But in the first place, with all my respect for popular opinion, I do not think public opinion is inevitably right, or always does discover the errors or vices of government. Supposing, however, that it was always right, and always applied a future remedy to a past evil, I would ask, whether the scheme upon which a great nation is to be ruled, should be only so contrived as to find a remedy for a disease when and where it may occur? Surely the wiser plan would be, to manage so as to give a tendency towards what is good, rather than to provide for the correction of evil. Surely to allow of that evil when the causes of it may be removed, merely because we think we have a method of counteracting the effects of that evil, is a strange mode of providing for the happiness and well-being of mankind. It is a scheme by which we must encourage a perpetual struggle between the governors and the governed, instead of uniting the whole community in one bond of interest by a system which secures, upon incontrovertible principles, a general tendency towards good government. Public opinion, when it does come, comes often too late—indeed it is often charged by the hon. gentleman opposite with being too late; and we hear of the people having supported wars at the beginning, and calling out against them only when the clamour was of no use. Sir, I own I am surprised at hearing the hon. member on this occasion, as I have been at others on other occasions, assert that we have no right to this or that change in 397 our representative svstem.—As if our system, as it now stands, were the fabric of ages, unchanged, and unchangeable; as if it had always been such as we now see it; and as if immutability were the most certain principle of our constitution. Let us look at this assertion.—Mr. Hume tells us, that the history of our country is a history of perpetual change; and Mr. Fox, in a speech made in this House on the 30th of April 1792, made use of this expression:—that "the greatest innovation that could be introduced into the constitution would be, to come to a vote that there should be no innovation at all."* If this be true of the history of the country, it is more peculiarly true of the history of parliament.
We do not know much of the origin of the House of Commons. Probably sir Robert Cotton and others, who assign the date of the 49th of Henry 3rd to the first formation of the House of Commons, have no good grounds for their conjectures; for there seems always to have been some way of collecting the opinions and wishes of the commonalty in the earliest periods of our history. This, however, we may safely say, that the House of Commons, since it has been known, has been perpetually varying. This is true, of the number of representatives—of the elective franchise—and of the duration of parliaments. In the first parliament of Henry 8th, the number of representatives was only 298. In that reign 31 members were added to the representation; numerous additions were made in the successive reigns of Edward 6th, Mary, Elizabeth, James 1st, and Charles 1st. At the Restoration 36 boroughs, and towns, and cities, were restored to their privilege of sending members; and in the same reign of Charles 2nd, occurred the enfranchisement of Newark by charter, and of Durham, town and county, by act of parliament, a circumstance to which the member for Durham has so forcibly alluded. Yet there are, I believe, still sixty-nine towns, boroughs, and cities, that formerly sent members to parliament, and that now send none.—As far then as the number of members are concerned, and the places; sending members, we shall, I trust, conclude that nothing can have been more variable than the constitution of this I House.* See New Parliamentary History, vol.; 29, p. 1315.398 The elective franchise has been so changeable, that, to say nothing of the many sorts of franchise, there are several places in England where the right of voting has varied according to the decision of election committees; and where, indeed, that right is not decisively known at this day.—Such is the case of the great city of Westminster: an election committee, after the examination of many months declared that it had come to no determination on that right, and that parliament would probably end before it could come to any resolution. As to the duration of parliaments, every novice knows that they were at first sessional by practice, then annual, at the very least, by act of parliament, then triennial, and lastly, septennial.
The general character of parliament has been much subject to change. Who will say that it was the same in the days of the Plantagenets as in those of the Tudors—or that the House of Commons, in the reigns of the Stuarts resembled that of the Plantagenets or Tudors—or that the House since the Revolution has been at all like the parliaments previously to that great event. The change since the latter period is remarkably striking; notwithstanding the hon. member (Mr. Wilmot) would persuade us there has been none at all. It appears that, in the same proportion as the public revenue has increased, so the corruption of parliament has augmented. This may be deduced, as I find it from a table drawn out by the society of the friends of the people. At the Revolution the public revenue amounted to 2,100,000l. The statutes against bribery and corruption amounted to 14. In 1792 the revenue was 16,000,000l., and the statutes to protect free elections were 65. The deduction is incontestable, namely, that as the means of corruption increase, the body to be corrupted must necessarily lose some of its original character and constitution. But the great change, I think, must have taken place during the last forty or fifty years. Since 1792, the gross produce of public revenue has increased from 16 to 64,500,000l., and the collection of the taxes at the present day is greater than the annual interest of the national debt, and other charges payable for the same, at the beginning of the reign of George 3rd. The collecting of the taxes costs the United Kingdoms more than four millions annually. Now, though the Crown 399 has the appointment to these collector-ships, I need not say, that, in fact, the patronage is applied to parliament. We heard the other night, an hon. member (Mr. S. Wortley) complain of the eagerness with which some of those collector-ships are solicited, as being notoriously attached to county representation. But add to this the enormous India patronage, which since 1784, has been turned into the same channel—add the new board of control, since 1794—add the droits of Admiralty—add the Bank of England interest—add 156,000l. divided annually between seventy-six parliamentary pensioners—add the Leeward island duties fund—add other streams of wealth pouring into the lap of parliament, professedly for the purposes of influence, and for the support of the minister of the day; and we shall be obliged to confess that the nature of an assembly subject to such new modes of attack, and to such new influences, must of necessity have taken a new character. It cannot be the same as before it was subject to such perpetual temptations against the purity of its members. In fact, we may safely declare, that this House, instead of being that venerable plant which has required the lapse of ages to mature, is nothing but a mere mushroom, the growth almost of a single night of corruption.—I know that since the Revolution, as well as a little before that period, complaints were made, and with justice, against the venality of some members in this House. But was that venality so diffused? Can it be at all compared to the notorious profligacy of the present day? We often hear of the purity of the public men of the present It is true a man does not now sell his vote for 1,000l. in the lobby, as in Walpole's days. —No—no—things are better managed now: we are not such bunglers—we want something less showy and more stable:—50l. per annum would tempt no one now. Let us see how many members were commanded by the court in the pensioned parliament. I mentioned the other night how comparatively few they were. In 1679, a rigorous inquiry was made of their number, which was found to amount only to thirty two; so, at least, we are told by Mr. Echard.
The speeches against the septennial bill, particularly Mr. Hutcheson's, put down ministerial influence at thirty or forty. By Mr. Henry Fox's accounts, it appeared that only thirty or forty were in the 400 habit of being on the regular parliamentary place, pension, and gift-list. What the number of those members is, who in our present House of Commons receive fee or reward, either in esse or posse, for their votes, need not be stated. Array them against the thirty and forty of former days, and the corruption of our ancestors will appear like virtue. It is enough to assert the undeniable fact, that the most saleable of all articles—the most profitable of all commodities is a parliamentary vote. To that recommendation the navy, the army, the church, the treasury, in short, the temple of promotion itself, opens all its doors. The consequence has been that which was foretold by Mr. Hutcheson at the passing of the septennial act. This House has "set up a third estate entirely independent of the people." I defy any man, here or out of doors, to deny this fact. We are still called the House of Commons; but all our countrymen, all Europe, sees, that what Mr. Fox said is too true:—we have a House of Commons, in which the power of the people is nothing." It would, indeed, be strange to deny this, seeing that for the most part this House conducts itself, as it were, systematically against public opinion. It makes a boast of so doing;—and some of our most flourishing young orators found their fame upon despising the great body of their fellow countrymen. The more moderate are contented with saying, that they would bow to public opinion did they but find it. How to find it, I confess I do not know.—If a million of people petition for any object, we are told that a million and a half ought to have petitioned —or that there are two millions the other way of thinking:—some how or the other, the "sound part of the public," as they are called, are always somewhere beyond the petitioners against any alleged grievance. Advance, far as we please, this public opinion still recedes before us, like the imaginary pole: —Ask where's the north—at York, 'tis on the Tweed;In Scotland, at the Orcades—and thereAt Greenland, Zembla, or the Lord knows where.We always admit its existence, but never admit its presence; and this, by the way, is an unanswerable argument in favour of agreeing to some system by which we may be certain of collecting the wants and wishes of the people, by which we may be sure we are acting in conformity to their 401 sentiments and interests, without waiting for that expression of opinion which is either not recognised, or is interpreted according to the humours and inclinations of the prevailing party in the state.
We say that a reform in parliament would secure such a system. A parliament emanating from the body of the people must necessarily do so. This seems to me as inevitable as that a parliament emanating from a few proprietors must necessarily speak the wishes and provide for the wants only of those proprietors; at least, its first and chief object must be to do this; and if public interest be consulted, it is consulted only accidentally or incidentally.
My honorable friend, the member for Durham, has told us what the petition of the friends of the people offered to prove at the bar of the House—that 154 patrons return a majority of the members of this House.—The anti-reformers are bold men, but they will not venture to affirm that 154 individuals are the people of England. Or that for any of the purposes of government or legislation, they can possibly be identified with the people of England. The admirers of that virtual representation, which sir William Jones called "actual folly," must, at least, allow that the commons of England do not return the House of Commons of England. They must, I think, also allow that the government, whether good or bad, is in the hands of an oligarchy; and (when compared with the wealth, the numbers, and the intelligence of the remainder of this great nation)—of a very insignificant oligarchy. The object of the reformers is confessedly to give to the commons their share in legislation—that share which the very name of this House shows they were meant to possess. The reformers, in pursuing this great object, are taunted with the differences existing amongst themselves—so were the religious reformers of other days; they were ridiculed, with an appearance of justice, on account of their feuds. With their feuds and differences were triumphantly contrasted the uniformity and simplicity of the Roman Catholic faith; and the English heretics were asked, to which of the fifteen or sixteen confessions which distracted the reformed church, even in one town, Stras-burgh, they finally intended to conform? But did those feuds, unfortunate as they were, prevent the triumph of the new faith? Did they prevent the overthrow 402 of the ancient superstition in this and other countries? By no means; they rather sharpened the wits and invigorated the zeal of the proselytes, and, perhaps, contributed to the glorious issue which crowned their labours.
Such, I trust,—I believe will be the case with the reformers now, who, whatever shades of difference may exist between them,—whatever may be their various plans,—have, let it be recollected, only one subject, namely, that which was stated by Mr. Pitt, in 1785, as being his end and aim "to make the popular branch of the legislature an assembly freely elected, between whom and the mass of the people there should be the closest union and the most perfect sympathy."* This is the sole object of all the reformers—we wish for nothing more—we ought to be content with nothing less. This is the object of my hon. friend, the member for Durham; and I may truly say, differing from him, as I venture to do, on some parts of his plan, this alone is my object, namely, to procure an effectual representation of the people, in place of that representation of certain proprietors, which now composes the majority of this House, and can at any time carry any measure.
Of the three forms government:—by one—by the few—and by the many, almost all politicians have given up that of the few as being the most prejudicial to general happiness. A monarch governing despotically, often has been and may be, the delight and the happiness of his subjects; and he may be also their virtual representative, as Mr. Burke has observed, to the full as much as this House is virtual representative of the people of England. The advantages resulting from a democratic form of government, have also been acknowledged on all hands, but the oligarchy has been left without defenders. Yet I would remark, that an oligarchy, composed of individuals of great estates, and of illustrious names, may find their interest in good government, and may therefore act conformably to that conviction. But our oligarchy is not an oligarchy of the legitimate sort. Their power and character are not founded on great estates, nor on great names, but on the possession of certain commodities for which, having either bought them, or being obliged to preserve them at great* Parl. Hist. Vol. 25, p. 435.403 expense, they are obliged to reimburse themselves. These commodities are the boroughs, and also the properties influencing elections for members of parliament. The reimbursement which they seek is from the minister of the day; the fund from which they are indemnified is the public purse. It is, therefore, impossible, that the oligarchy should not, as borough-holders, have an interest directly opposite to that of the nation.
The English oligarchy are, in fact, holders of a monopoly, which as it is constructed, enables them to get more by taxation than by good government. Human nature operates with them as she does with others. The plan is systematically vicious and ruinous. The private interest of the few is incompatible with the public interest of the many. I need not enter at large into the detail, but merely repeat what I have before said, of the notorious value of a vote in parliament. Those who have bought that vote think they have a right to sell it. I know there are exceptions; I know that some few gentlemen purchase their seats, with a view to forward the public interest, or with the hope of indulging an honourable ambition: but this is not the way that the system works generally, and it is only of the general working of the System that we now have to inquire. Those who lay out large sums in coming into parliament, whether for boroughs, or in order to preserve interests, as they are called, for the most part, do so in order either now, or one day or the other, to be partners in the monopoly—to share in the government and the good things of government. Many of them are not without their attachment to the people, and to the soil and to the glory of their country; but this attachment is so far from their ruling passion, that their first duty directs them to themselves, to their family, and to their friends. If any feeling is left for their country, after these cravings are satisfied, so much the better; but this feeling is not a necessary consequence of their having a place in this assembly; no one will dare to say that it is—no one will dare to say that it ought not to be.
We have, then, nothing to do but to follow the example of the illustrious author of modern science, and going at once to the basis of the vicious system, resolve to reconstruct the fabric upon principles conformable to the recognised experience 404 of mankind, rejecting as spurious all those systems which suppose men will act otherwise than as their interests guide them.* Let us own, at last, that we can only be saved by a House of Commons so chosen as to give each of its members the least possible interest in misgovernment. This can only be done by connecting the legislative body wholly and fully with the people at large. Nor can this object be attained but by the frequent recurrence of the representative to his constituent; by the diffusion of the elective franchise amongst so large a body as shall be a fair sample of the community; and by securing the complete independence of the vote given at elections.
I must say, I think the honourable mover has been very reasonable in his demands. He is more than borne out by ancient usage, when he asks for triennial parliaments. If ancient practice can give a right, he might undoubtedly have asked for annual parliaments. Although this is notorious, it may be repeated on this occasion. Our ancient parliaments assembled usually at the three great feasts. They then met twice a year. And Andrew Home, editing that very ancient book, I "The Mirror of Justices," in the reign of Edward 1st or, Edward 2nd, calls the omission in that respect "an abuse of the law, and a main one too." Then came the enactment of the 4th and 36th of Edward 3rd, securing annual parliaments, and the positive right to annual parliaments was claimed in the famous Remonstrance of the Commons in the 10th year of Richard 2nd. I am aware that there has been at I all times a dispute, whether annual parliaments meant annual new parliaments; but Mr. Prynne, in his Brief Register, Part I. p. 334, seems to prove, that parliaments were newly chosen every time they were held, a fact deducible from the list of Speakers, the county histories, and the names of the members of the Commons' House, notwithstanding the celebrated Whitelocke thought otherwise. There were adjournments and prorogations, but I believe that the first parliament that lasted longer than a year was* See this and other important points elucidated in a reform pamphlet, published by Messrs. Baldwin, Cradock, & Joy, Paternoster Row, intituled, "Statement of the question of parliamentary Reform, with a reply to the objections of the Edinburgh Review, No. LXI.405 the 23rd of Henry 6th. The civil wars of the Roses entirely destroyed the old English constitution, and the parliaments of Henry 8th, were quite deranged from the ancient model.
I scarcely know to what to attribute the strange mistake made by sir William Blackstone on this subject, unless, perhaps, it may be ascribed to some hardy assertions made by the supporters of the Septennial bill; for there is no point more clearly proved from records, than the frequent recurrence of new parliaments in the early periods of our history. I repeat, we had no parliaments longer than a year before Henry 6th. Henry 8th, kept his parliaments together beyond the constitutional period, and for the best of reasons—he was afraid to trust his people with choosing their deputies immediately subsequent to his violent acts, and having once got a House of Commons to his mind, resolved to keep it as long as he could. This shows the elective body were not under the control of the Crown; for, had it been so, an annual parliament would have served the turn of this tyrant as well as a longer parliament. In the days of the Stuarts, the patriots were not so solicitous about new parliaments as they were about having a House of Commons in session. The fear was, that the king would contrive to govern and tax without parliaments. This will account for the provisions of the bill, the 16th of Charles 1st, which turns upon frequent parliaments being holden. The same consideration applies to the Triennial bill of the 16th of Charles 2nd. which commands a parliament to be called at the least within three years. I must be permitted to repeat the remark before applied to the reign of Henry 8th, namely, that the anxiety only for frequent parliaments, shows, that in those days the people thought themselves secure if they had a parliament sitting, a certain proof, that a majority of the elective body was not then as now, the mere tool of the minister—an oligarchy separate from and independent of the people at large.
About the period of the Revolution, however, the friends of freedom had begun to discover that frequent new parliaments were essential to the interests of the country. The duke of Monmouth, who may be supposed to have known what-was popular, in his declaration promised to give the people "parliaments annually chosen, and held, not prorogued, dissolved, or discontinued." The Triennial 406 bill of king William 3rd provided frequent new parliaments; but even this did not satisfy the best and wisest lovers of their country: for we have it decisively asserted, that "at the Revolution assurances were given which led the nation to think that the ancient course of annually chosen parliaments would have been restored." My lord Bolingbroke in the 19th letter of his dissertation on parties, quotes this as a well-known fact, and cites a pamphlet of Mr. Hampden, written in 1692. We know the difficulty with which king William was brought to consent even to the Triennial bill. We know that at last he yielded only to the intercessions of sir William Temple, and to the reasoning of Swift. Of the last-mentioned great man no one can mistake the opinions on this subject. He has left them on record. It is in a letter to Pope that he writes thus of parliaments: "I adored the wisdom of that Gothic institution which made her annual. I was confident our liberty could never be placed upon a firm foundation till that ancient law was restored among us."
The same fact may be collected from another distinguished person who wrote and suffered for the cause of freedom, and who was able to make the glorious boast that he had laid the bridge, over which the prince of Orange came to England. I mean Samuel Johnson, who wrote the famous address to the army on Hounslow Heath, for which address he was sentenced to be whipped from Tyburn to Newgate b' the judges of king James, and afterwards pensioned by king William, at the request of his parliament. We have a right to listen to and to believe such a man. His "Parliaments at a Certainty," shows what he and his brother patriots thought of the right to annual elections.
It is certain that the patriots and stales-men of those days perfectly well understood the true value of frequent elections. The supporters of prerogative did not hesitate to declare for long parliaments as useful to royal power. Mr. Lyddal, who moved the Septennial act in the Commons, openly confessed, that "it would restore the prerogative to that part of its power which had been cramped by the Triennial act." On the other hand, some of the greatest authorities of the day declared as openly not for triennial, but annual parliaments. Lord Raymond said, that we had never departed from annual parliaments without detriment to the con- 407 stitution. Mr. Hutcheson took the same line of argument; and not only on that occasion, but for many years afterwards the recurrence to annual parliaments was the favourite project of the Reformers. Mr. Bromley moved to shorten the duration of parliaments in 1734. Mr. Carew moved for annual parliaments in 1745; and here I would beg to call the attention of lion, gentlemen who are so terrified at the very sound of annual parliaments— to the time chosen for Mr. Carew's motions—to the persons opposing it, and to the numbers who voted for it. There was then a pretender to the throne— almost in arms, and menacing an immediate descent. The two great parties of the state had just been reconciled, and the friends of Walpole and Pulteney composed a formidable phalanx on the Treasury-bench; yet, in the face of the danger, and the inopportunity of the time—in spite of the coalition of the most powerful statesmen of the day, Mr. Carew proposed his restoration of annual parliaments, calling it "a test of patriotism;" and lost his motion not by the overwhelming numbers, which will, I fear, defeat my hon. friend's motion to-night:—No—hon. gentlemen will be surprised to hear, that in 1745, in this House—against party— against prejudice, 113 members voted for annual parliaments, and were beaten only by 32 voices. Sir I. Glynn moved for shorter parliaments in 1757 and 1758. Mr. Alderman Sawbridge made a similar motion on several occasions; and in 1772, he had 82 supporters, although he had explicitly declared for annual parliaments. The blind fear of annual parliaments is quite new. I need scarcely say, that the duke of Richmond declared for them. Many who now hear me, well know that the great body of the aristocracy and "Whig gentry in 1793, solemnly recommended, that parliaments might be "triennial, biennial, or annual, as they had been in former times."
I hope, that what I have said, has made out my position, that the hon. mover is completely justified, as far as precedent and authority go, in laying claim to triennial parliaments. I am aware that the question of the extension of the suffrage is more difficult. I think, however, that enough has been and even on this point, to show that the House, as it now stands, is entitled to no veneration on the score of antiquity. I think enough has been said, to show that the elective 408 body must have been very different from what it now is, when all the Reformers whom I have alluded to, thought a frequent recurrence to that elective body was, together with place bills, a sufficient security for the independence of parliaments. I am aware, that the expedient of altering the frame of parliament was tried by Cromwell, who, though he fixed the elective franchise at so high a standard, secured such a fair body of electors, that he found his House of Commons too faithful a representative of the people for his purposes. I am aware, that lord Shaftsbury prepared a scheme which was addressed afterwards to the Convention parliament; and which went the length of house-keeper suffrage, and secret suffrage, and prepared, to use his own words, "to raze the old building." There was a pamphlet written in 1702, which exposed the inequality of representation allotted to the metropolis; and proposed, that London and Westminster might send eighteen members to parliament. But, generally speaking, the earlier reformers contented themselves with the frequent recurrence of elections as the best cure for corruption.
The hon. mover, however, is perfectly justified in demanding the elective franchise for the great body of the people, or for such a portion of that body as shall be a fair representative of the whole—for without presuming exactly to define who were the voters in very ancient days, there can be little boldness in asserting, that by the spirit of the old English constitution, the commonalty were the basis of one branch of the legislature. What was the early coronation oath twice taken by Richard 2nd? that the sovereign would maintain the laws, "quas vulgus elegerit," a phrase, which, in spite of all the disputes about tenses which occurred in the reign of Charles 1st, must still show, that the Commons had the great share in making the laws. The best writers, both ancient and modern, point to the same conclusion. Bracton, who lived in the reign of Henry 3rd, in the 1st chapter of his 1st book, on the laws of England, has these words: that which is justly defined and approved by the counsel and consent of the lords, and the common agreement of the commonwealth, under the authority of the king or prince, hath the force of law Fortescue, in hid 9th chapter, on the laws of England, says, "the statutes are not made at the 409 will of the prince, but by the consent of the whole realm. "St. German, a writer of Henry the 8th's time, tells, that the "statutes are made by the king and his predecessors, the lords spiritual and temporal, and the commonalty of the whole realm." The learned sir Thomas Smith, writing in the early part of Elizabeth's reign on the commonwealth of England (for our government was then called a commonwealth,) in his 2nd book, 2nd chapter, has these remarkable words:" The parliament of England representeth, and hath the power of the whole realm, both the body and the head. For every Englishman is intended to there be present either in person or by procuration and attorney; of what pre-eminence, state, dignity, or quality soever he be, from the prince to the least person of England."
The great names of Coke, Hardwicke, and Camden, may be enlisted on the same side. The principle is acknowledged by almost every great writer. Dr. Robertson says, "It is fundamental in the feudal constitution, that no man can be taxed or governed except by his own consent." To the same end Blackstone declares, "that in a free state, every man who is a free agent, ought to be supposed in some measure his own governor; and therefore, a branch at least of the legislature should reside in the whole body of the people." Sir William Jones, in his speech to the three counties, declares "the spirit of our constitution requires a representation nearly equal and nearly universal."
The hon. mover has told us what the statutes say to the same purport. He has quoted the preamble to the parliamentary writ issued in the 23rd year of Edward 1st, which says, "what concerns all, should be approved by all." He might have added, "that this writ was directed to the prelates and clergy, telling them to meet at Westminster, to consult with the lords and other inhabitants of the realm," upon the common danger. The great charters of John and Henry 3rd; the 25th of Ed. 1st, chap. 1, 5, 6; the 34th of Ed. 1st, stat. 4, chap. 1,4; the 14th Ed. 3rd, stat. 2: all these statutes show, that right of taxation was founded upon the common consent of the nation. The hon. mover has recited the answer of the Commons in the 10th of Richard 2nd. What can be more decisive? "The Commons would keep their old customs, 410 which will that the knights be appointed by the Commons." The rolls of the first of Henry 4th inform us, that the 18th charge against Richard 2nd was his packing of parliaments, "whereas, his people ought to be free to choose and depute knights." "His people" must have meant the people at large, not the great men—against whom the statute of Westminster the 1st was made: a statute on which lord Coke's comment in his fourth Inst. speaks volumes. He says, "of old this was the answer of the Commons when any new device is moved on the king's behalf, that they dare not agree without conference with their counties."
I am not ignorant of the debated question respecting the real "liber homo" of early times; but after the best attention I can give to the subject, I think I may assert with Mr. Flood in 1790, that" in ancient times the liberi tenentes, including in effect the whole property of the country, and extending to the mass of the people, were the electors." What else can be deduced from the statute 7 Henry 4th, c. 15, quoted by the member for Durham, which defines voters to be "all they that be there present [at the county court] as well suitors duly summoned for the same cause, as others?" What else can be deduced from the other statute quoted by the hon. mover, the 8th of Henry 6th (an. 1429), which confined the franchise to forty-shilling freeholders? an act called by sir W. Jones "basely aristocratical and highly unconstitutional."
These acts allude, I know, to county representation, and I also know that the question relative to the boroughs, towns, and cities, is somewhat more involved and liable to dispute. The boroughs and cities were enfranchised, I believe, by our kings, first, in order to form an equipoise to the influence which the great lords might illegally exercise in county elections; and, secondly, that the sovereigns might actually knew the wishes of the great communities, and be enabled to raise taxes from them by their own consent; and there seems reason to believe that every free man, who was not entitled to a vote by his residence being neither in a city nor in a borough, might vote in the county court J until the Disfranchising act, the 8th Henry 6th. For ages the representatives were faithful representatives in this respect at least; and those who ignorantly declaim against the servility of ancient parliaments, should recollect that 411 Henry 8th, with all his mad tyranny, was unable to threaten his parliaments into taxation. It was not until the 27th of his reign that he prevailed upon them to pass the Statute of Uses, by which he recovered what was really belonging to the Crown. Queen Mary could not persuade her parliament to restore the conventual property, then in the hands of laymen.
In fact, the kings of England thought the borough and city representation a great protection and a great resource, because it was a bona fide representation of large bodies of their subjects. That the boroughs fell into decay or into private hands, is true enough, but that such was their original condition seems to me absurd, when we recollect the purpose for which they were first enfranchised. I do not mean to say but that in a very few instances the case might have been otherwise—for instance, Saltash is said to have been enfranchised by a private individual. James the 1st shows what he thought of the matter, in his famous recommendation to the sheriffs not to return members for decayed places. He thought his parliament ought to be a place "where all the whole body of the realm, and. ever particular member thereof, either in person or by representation, upon their own free elections, are, by the laws of this realm, deemed to be personally present." The parliaments also held a similar doctrine. By Glanville's Reports of Election Cases, in the 21st and 22nd of James 1st, we find a committee on the Cirencester case, resolving, that "there being no certain custom or prescription who should be electors and who not, we must have recourse to common right, which to this purpose was held to be, that more than the freeholders only ought to have voices in the election, namely, all men inhabitant householders, resiant within the borough." In the Pontefract case it was determined by a committee of the same House of Commons, "that of common right all the inhabitant householders and residents within the borough, ought to have a voice in the election, and not the freeholders there only, as was pretended." So we see what the notion of the common right of Englishmen was in the reign of James 1st. I may remark that there is a word in the Pontefract case which looks something like a recognition of the right of universal suffrage—at any rate, the member for Durham is perfectly upheld by precedent in asking far an. extension of the suffrage to ail taxed householders.
412 The hon. member who preceded me has dwelt upon the fact of a reform of parliament not having formed part of the changes at the Revolution. This is a very common objection. I think I have shown that a change as to the duration of parliaments was thought of at the Revolution, and that even certain schemes for altering the frame of this House were laid before the public. I forgot to mention that Henry lord Clarendon told Mr. Pollexfen, the great lawyer, when king James 2nd. ran away, that king William' had nothing to do but to call a parliament on Cromwell's model, and declare himself king. Surely, however, hon. members cannot forget that the 16th, 19th, and 20th, articles of the prince of Orange's declaration, all have reference to a free parliament. They do not forget that the eighth article of the Bill of Rights declares that elections shall be free. They do not forget that the parliament which elected king William was a popular parliament, upon quite a new model, in which fifty common councilmen, in fact fifty representatives, sat for the metropolis.
It is indeed but too true, that the great men of the Revolution contented themselves with mere declarations instead of enactments. It is too true that, as Blackstone says, the providing against arbitrary power, not by prerogative but influence, was most unaccountably overlooked at the Revolution. This made Samuel Johnson say, that he wished all the Bill of Rights had been reduced to one line— The right to have a parliament "every kalends of May.'' This made Mr. Hampden, in 1692, say, that "it was a jest to talk of a settlement until the time and manner of calling parliaments were determined." This made lord Bolingroke afterwards declare, that "by the neglect of securing the frequency, integrity, and independency of parliaments, the essentials of British liberty were almost wholly overlooked at the Revolution, so that the nation soon discovered, that without the necessary provisions in favour of free parliaments, the foundations were laid of establishing universal corruption."
It is quite idle to quote the Revolution of 1688 as an example from which nothing is to persuade us to depart. Though much was done, much was left undone. This was soon discovered by the greatest statesmen of subsequent 413 times—although, as I before stated, the usual palliative, which they proposed to apply to the corruption of parliament, was "frequent elections and place-"bills," because, probably, neither was the elective body ever so thoroughly corrupt nor the power of the corrupter so great as to make an alteration of the frame of parliament visibly indispensable.
This alteration had, I say, before been a matter of private speculation; but the first practical statesman who seems to have been inclined to reform the mode of election in latter times was lord Chatham. From the first proposition of that great man to infuse a new spirit into the constitution, it has been thought no crime to project a mode of remodelling the frame and constitution of this House. It has been the darling scheme even of ministers. Mr. Fox was minister when he supported Reform in 1782. The duke of Richmond carried with him his annual parliaments and universal suffrage into the cabinet. Lord Shelburne, so we are told by Dr. Watson, made parliamentary reform a part of the condition of his accepting office. Of Mr. Pitt's three propositions in 1782, 1783, and 1785, one was lost only by 20 votes, and the last was supported by 174 votes. Mr. Pitt is now called a moderate reformer; but, as I before said, his principle was the same as that of all reformers. He said, in 1782, that he wished to cure a radical error. His last scheme was a sweeping disfranchisement of thirty-six boroughs, and the transfer of their members to copyholders in counties. Had he been true to his promises and his principles, how great would have been his fame—how great the benefit to his country! Then, instead of living to become a splendid exemplification of his own saying, that in the present system no honest man can be a minister. Then would his talents have added lustre to his own name, rather than have hung like a garland on the bier of the liberties of England. Then should we have beheld the monuments of his genius and virtue in the glory, the happiness, the freedom of his country; instead of finding his memory embalmed only in a ballad, and the great name of Pitt good for nothing but the chorus of a club.
I scarcely need do more than allude to the great men who, in our times, have advocated this cause upon the broadest principle. The friends of the people de- 414 clared "the right of voting to be common and personal;" and Mr. Fox, who did not begin as a radical reformer, certainly' ended as one. Were I not too prudent' to attempt to draw the bow of Ulysses, I might follow the example of the right hon. gentleman, who the other day arrayed the great men of past times, who have struggled for the enfranchisement of their Catholic fellow-countrymen. Sir, you know that the reformers may boast of names not less illustrious—nay, they may boast of many of the same name as adorn the pages which record the efforts made for religious liberty. We also may show our Pitt, and our Fox, and our Grattan, and even our Burke, such as he was in his earlier and better days. A Swift and a Bolingbroke belong to us—the great Chatham is all our own—a Savile and a Jones, he who was hailed the most enlightened of the sons of men, he fights with us; and whatever may be the event of this day's contest, we may perhaps do well to follow the example of the Romans at Regillum, who animated their countrymen to the fight by pointing where the shades of their departed heroes mingled in the combat, and led them on to victory.
Sir, it is not very difficult to anticipate the objections which will be made to this measure. Indeed, we have already heard those of the hon. gentleman opposite, who, as was said by the present member for Bramber (Mr. Wilberforce), in 1785, seems "so afraid of innovation, that he will not try even a new argument." What has been before urged against all attempts at amelioration in this respect, we must make up our minds to hear again. The watchword of the corruptionists have ever been, and ever will be, the "constitution." When the Lords threw out the Bribery bill, in 1722, they said, they would not touch the constitution. When Walpole opposed the Place bill, in 1734, he said he would not innovate on the constitution. Sir W. Yonge, opposing Mr. Carew's motion, in 1745, said, he would not lay a finger on the constitution. Lord North and Mr. Burke, on each of Mr. Pitt's three motions, said, they declared for the constitution. When Mr. Pitt opposed Mr. Grey's reform, he called himself the defender of the constitution; and we have lately heard a right hon. gentleman declare, that he will stand by the constitution. The word is a good word; but whether or not it is misapplied to the decayed 415 boroughs and to the perpetual dominion of 154 proprietors of old houses and of rotten parchment bonds, is a question which must, I think, by this time, be hardly matter of inquiry.
The passion chiefly applied to by our antagonists is fear, base fear. Our ancestors were frightened into the Septennial bill, as appears by the very preamble of that act of monstrous usurpation. They have been repeatedly frightened into not repealing it; sometimes on-pretext of foreign war, sometimes on pretext of domestic discontents. When Mr. Pitt brought forward his plan, in 1783, Mr. Powys, for lack of other arguments, proclaimed, that though Mr. Pitt might be moderate, other reformers were dangerous; and, to prove his assertion, read the duke of Richmond's letter to the York committee. Mr. Pitt, in his turn, frightened the House with the phantoms of French daggers; and his humble imitators have terrified their audiences with the Agrarian laws of the Spenceans. In looking over the debates of former periods, I find exactly the same modes of refutation applied to the parliamentary reformers—all ridiculous, many of them incompatible with each other. The character of the people is bad, therefore they shall not have free parliaments. This was said in 1716, in 1745, and at many other times. The character of the people is good; therefore they do not want reform. This was said by lord North, who told Mr. Pitt, that there were only 20,000 signatures to the petitions for the measure. When the number of petitioners increased in after-times, Mr. Burke told the House, that the people were in themselves indifferent, but were excited to the complaint. Exactly the same thing was said in 1817, when more than a million of people petitioned for reform.
But the great objection is, the danger which would inevitably accrue to all men of property, if the mass of the people should be allowed to vote at elections. This, though the most common, seems to me the most ill-founded, and it may be said the roost absurd, of all the objections urged against reform of parliament. What proof have we that the people, properly so called, are enemies to proprietary rights? We are in the habit of talking as if the great mass of our population were the natural enemies of the few above them; as if they were roaming about without any thing they could call their own, greedy for plunder, and waiting for the first mo- 416 ment which should deliver the goods of their privileged fellow-citizens into their hands. But, supposing this to be the case, would the giving of votes to this unarmed populace be equivalent to giving them clubs I Would it furnish them with arms against their fellow-citizens I Would it not much more probably reconcile them to the happier part of the nation, by giving them common rights, and affording them a consciousness of possessing that equal protection from the government, of which no man can be sure, unless he has some share in making those laws by which his conduct is to be regulated.
The poor are to the full as much interested in the preservation of the laws of property as the rich. They are more so: a wealthy man may protect himself either in anarchy, or under a despotism, by the power of his purse and of his previous influence; a poor man has no friend but the laws. The position of Mr. Burke is incontrovertible" The people have no interest in disorder; "and yet the anti-reformers actually profess to believe, that the first orders given to the real and bona fide representatives of the people of England, would be, to vote away the property of those who have great wealth into the pockets of those who have little wealth. Now we have places where the election is in the hands of the poorer classes, and yet did we ever hear of these instructions being given to the members for those places, or being proposed as a test to the can ditates for those places? Indeed, I may ask, whether in places where the most popular species of elections prevails, there has ever appeared a preference to the sort of man who might be expected to be a fit tool for the accomplishment of such spoliatory projects?
The enemies of reform always attempt to answer every claim, by pointing to the French revolution. I trust we shall live to see the times when that argument will be as obsolete as it is senseless. But, let me ask, did the French national assemblies vote away private property? I say, they did not. They did vote away the property of the church, as Henry the 8th's parliament voted away the property of the church; they did vote away the property of the nobles who were in arms with foreigners against the nation, or chose to take part against the new order of things by emigration. But, I say, they did not violate private property in the sense of the 417 phrase as applied by the enemies of reform. Had they, however, been guilty of this enormity, as they were of other and greater horrors; it would not be to a free system of representation that such evils would be justly attributable; but to the monsters who forced them at the dagger's point to be the accomplices of all their villanies. Nor was a thirst for private plunder one of the vices even of those monsters themselves.
Let us turn to our own revolt against Charles. I have never heard that private property was invaded, or that any sytematic spoliation of the rich formed part of the sins of the Long Parliament. But our opponents tell us, that if property would not be invaded, the other branches of the legislature would inevitably be destroyed; and they point to the parliament of Charles. The exceeding ignorance displayed in making such an allusion must surprise even those who are used to the hardy assertion of the anti-reformers. We are contending for a full, fair, and equal representation of the people; and they say, see what such a representation did with the king and lords in the time of Charles. Strange!!—it was not such a representation. Fifty members of the Long Parliament were excluded by the ordinance of the 22nd January, 1643. Two hundred more by the ordinance of 21st June, 1644, and one hundred and forty-three by colonel Pride's purge in 1648. The House of Commons, which in 1649, voted the king and lords unnecessary, was composed of sixteen county members, six members for cities, and sixty-seven members for boroughs—in all eighty-nine persons. So that, in fact, if the House of Commons of that day be a warning against any one sort of senate more than another; it is against a borough parliament. When Cromwell called together his uniformly-chosen House of Commons, it was soon seen what stuff a truly representative assembly would be made of. The first thing they did—very injudiciously I think, was to pull to pieces the," instrument of government. The next step would have been to dethrone the usurper.
The lovers of hereditary monarchy have nothing to fear from the people of England. Certainly the friends of the present family on the throne have nothing to fear from the exercise of popular rights, and from giving full scope to the wishes of the people. I am not sure that so much can be said for the aristocracy. At least one 418 thing we know for certain, that when the Pretender came to England in 1745, he was induced to do so by the expectations held out to him by very many of the nobles and higher gentry of the land. This fact is ascertained beyond all doubt from authentic documents. It is true the same worthy personages behaved as basely to prince Charles as they had done to king George; but that they actually encouraged the treason is equally true. What did the people do? Why, in the whole march from Carlisle to Derby, the prince, flushed as he was with victory, and apparently marching to mount a scarcely-disputed throne, the prince was joined only by three hundred of the people—of that portion of the king's subjects, whom, under the name of rabble, we are accustomed to revile, and whom we are now willing to exclude for ever from the privileges inseparable from freemen.
I can assure the House, Sir, that I have omitted no pains, and lost no opportunity of examining the objections urged against the reformers; and for this purpose, I have naturally gone to the strong hold of our opponents, rather than to the position occupied only by our weaker antagonists. Indeed, I have brought down to the House, and now hold in my hand, a pamphlet containing a speech which has been pronounced here by the member for Bodmin, to be unanswered and unanswerable. It is the speech of a right hon. gentleman now opposite (Mr. Canning), upon his re-election for Liverpool. As it is considered, then, as a sort of ministerial manual, as a kind of vade mecum of corruption, I have looked into it, with the hope of seeing something new against those doctrines which I advocate, or at least something old presented in a new light. I own, I have been disappointed. The principal position occupied by the right hon. orator, is, that all is well, and that we should let well alone. If this be so, I can only say to our political Pang loss, that notwithstanding this may be the best possible of all possible parliaments, there is something unfortunate in the condition of those who smart and groan under the diseases of the state; and who are obliged, like poor Candide, "passer par les baguettes des Bulgares."
The right hon. gentleman must not, however, take to himself the credit of this fine discovery. If it be true, it is no ben trovato of his. His great prototype is 419 Mr. Arthur Young, who, in his "Example of France, a Warning to Britain," has laid, down this law-—"an unequal representation—rotten boroughs—extravagant cpurts—selfish ministers, and corrupt majorities, are so intimately interwoven with our political freedom, that it would require better political anatomists than our modern reformers, to show that we did not in fact owe our liberty to the identical evils which they want to expunge." Sir, this is the whole sum, and the best sample of all that is advanced by the right hon. and, of these speech; but, as it looks more like a good joke, than a serious assertion, I will to take up the time of the House, by a reply to that, which if it be said in sad earnest, has, I trust, been answered before. It is curious, at the same time, to observe how naturally these anti-reformers fell into phrases which can become none but real representatives of the people, and which suppose the existence of the Very representative system against which they so loudly declaim. For example, the right hon. gentleman here tells his. Liverpool constituents, as an excuse for coming amongst them, that he held it. to be of the very essence of our free and popular constitution, that an unreserved interchange of sentiment should take place between the representative and his constituents." Now, Sir, I ask you— I ask the House—does the wildest reformer ask for more than this? Does his "very essence of the constitution" differ from what the right hon. gentleman holds to be "the very essence of the constitution?" But, what sort of "unreserved interchange of sentiment" can take place between some representatives in this House and their constituents? What sort of intercourse can these gentlemen hold with the summer-house of Gatton, the stones of Midhurst, and the mounds of Old Sarum? Perhaps we may send our honourable brother members to the woods and wilds to consult the nymph Egeria; they may be silently inspired by the goddess of legislation, but they will interchange no sentiment with a single constituent.
Before I close "the unanswered, unanswerable speech," I would direct the attention of the House to that part of it which expresses surprise that the reformers should complain of the little influence possessed by the House of Commons, whereas "the House, like Aaron's rod, has almost swallowed up the other 420 branches of the legislature." Sir, the reformers make no such complaint. Their complaint is the very complaint of the right hon. gentleman, namely, that this House has swallowed up the prerogatives of the Crown and the privileges of the people. That it has absorbed into itself all the power which ought to belong to the executive, and has rendered the other assembly little more than a chamber, in which those who exercise all their real power in this House meet for formal rather than for real purposes. It is surprising that the right hon. author should not have known something more of the doctrines and complaints of those whom he professes to oppose. If he complains of the exorbitant power of the House, so do we; and there is an end of our principal difference.
I have before noticed an argument, which is also adduced in this pamphlet, from the conduct of the parliament in 1649. I repeat that argument is no argument against those who contend for a free parliament and a true representation of the people of England. The parliament of 1649 was no more a free parliament than we are a free parliament. The parliament of 1649 no more represented the people of England than we represent the people of England. The great question, the triumphant question put by the unanswerable pamphlet, to the reformers is this: "when was the composition of the House different? When had wealth not as direct an influence, and the recommendation of candidates was not equally efficient?" If this posing, this puzzling question has not been answered before in the course of what I have addressed to the House, I would venture to say as a sufficient reply to it, that as at no previous time were the means of corrupting this body so great, so at no previous time was this body so corrupt as at present. And When I say this body, I mean not only the elected, but the electors, amongst whom corruption is poured through all her thousand channels, and who, in fact, are the only people that are able to withstand, in some degree, the pressure of enormous taxation; because the fruits of that taxation are, in, some degree, divided amongst themselves. Show roe a single parliament before the Revolution that consented to tax, the people without remonstrance, almost without inquiry, and I will give up the point. But I contend such parliament 421 cannot be shown, and I come to the inevitable conclusion, that the object for which members seek a seat in this House is totally different from that for which they were formerly deputed to this assembly.
Not that I am ignorant that bad practices have prevailed, perhaps at all times, and that undue efforts have been made in procuring returns to the House of Commons. These instances must have, of necessity, been very rare in times when the sending members hither was a burthen to the constituents, and sometimes a service of danger to the representative. But still they did occur. We learn that one Thomas Long gave the mayor of Westbury four pounds (a good bargain one might think) to be elected burgess for Westbury, lord Coke in his 4th institute (§ 23.) mentions this, but in what terms? He says, "this matter was examined and adjudged in the House of Commons, secundum consuetudinem parliamenti, and the mayor fined and imprisoned, and Long removed. For this corrupt dealing was to poison the very fountain itself. It is worth remark that Mr. Locke in his Essay on Civil Government has used the same metaphor in speaking of parliamentary corruption. So thought these great men, but our sages have discovered that it is this poison which makes the fountain salubrious, and that without it the streams of the constitution would yield neither health, nor strength, nor life.
I am told that we have made near a hundred statutes against bribery and corruption, and undue influence in elections. But it seems these statutes were made not to be kept but broken; not to be the law of the land, but merely a sort of pretext to be employed by all, and to deceive none—a mere gross delusion— a ridiculous contradiction of every-day practice. The very great majority of this House are notoriously returned to parliament in defiance of all these statutes; so that to become makers of the law it appears the first qualification is to be breakers of the law. To what vices, to what lies, to what perjuries, to what frauds, to what debaucheries, to what brutalities of every kind does the present system give rise! What insults, alas too well merited, has this assembly to bear without retort, without refutation I Did not sir Charles Turner tell this House that they were a set of thieves Who had stolen an estate, 422 and refused to let anyone look into the title deeds?" Did not bishop Horsley say in the House of Lords, that the reason why clergymen should not have a seat in this House was, because "the means of procuring one were notoriously immoral?" Did not Mr. Speaker Abbot tell us we were in the daily practice of conduct at which our ancestors would have blushed with indignation? (It seems be disagreed with the "unanswerable pamphlet" as to the history of this House.) And lastly, did not the noble secretary at war tell us the other evening, that gentlemen in this House were "obliged to bear language which no man of honour would tolerate in private society?" And why obliged to bear it? Because it is true. Because to attempt a refutation would be absurd. And yet all this monstrous immorality, this law-breaking, this delusion, this infamy, this disgrace is to be borne! and why? Our great statesmen give the answer; because it has existed lortg—because it does exist. To this I say, with the member for Bramber in 1785, "that to desire to continue a known and an acknowledged evil, merely because some good may result, is an argument such as no human being should urge."
We hear daily praises of this assembly—from ourselves it must be owned — which might deceive an inexperienced man, or one totally ignorant of the real construction of this House and the deplorable condition of the country. It seems we are a good specimen of the gentry of the country. So would a deputation from the clubs of St. James' s-street be, but no representation of the people—no real representation of those who are obliged to pay taxes and to obey laws, solely because we are said to be their real representatives —Then we represent the various interests in the country. Another opportunity may be found of exposing this fallacy—or rather this folly, of dividing a nation into interests, and leaving a great mass of neglected population apart, under the name of the multitude—or the people—or some other indefinite term. At present it will be sufficient to ask whether we do represent these interests.—Do not these interests petition us daily, and tell us we neglect them? And when something was said the other day, of the affection of parliament or of the minister, which is the something, for the landed interest, Was not the declaration received with a horse-laugh? 423 —Afrtfflrer eulogy bestowed upon parliament is, that it introduces clever men to public notice The hon. mover has very properly Exposed that most absurd of all pretences to merit. As if the object of a representative assembly were the same as that of a school or college—to provide a perpetual crop of theme writers and de-claimers; instead of forming a true and faithful mirror, in which the sovereign may see the character and condition, the wants and wishes of his people.
Sir; it is extreme folly to be pleased with and to encourage the talents of those who are enabled by those very talents to play a more distinguished part against ourselves. We should examine which side these clever men take before we put them into a situation to foster and improve those abilities which are likely to be directed against the public interest. In the words of a well-written pamphlet just published on this great question, which I have before quoted. "To inspect the lock and trigger of your fowling-piece, and to measure out the proportion of powder and shot with a proper adjustment of capacity, is doubtless of importance: but it is incomparably more important to ascertain the direction in which the muzzle is pointed—for all your other precautions will merely terminate in a dreadful aggravation of your own danger and misery if it be turned against yourself It appears to me that the muzzle is turned against ourselves, and, for my part, I would rather the lock should be rusty and the charge wet, than see them both so accurately prepared as to be sure never to miss fire or fail of their aim.
I would, at the same time, observe, that there is a gross fallacy in stating that men of-abilities would not be returned to parliament; if the elections were in the hands of the people; such a supposition arises only from the complete ignorance of our modern statesmen as to the real character of the people, who are, in fact, not so degraded and blind as they think, or as they wish. The instinct which makes every man do the most for his own interest prevents any great mistake in this matter; and the same good sense which gives the most practice to the best physician or the ablest lawyer, would, I think, secure the requisite share of abilities for legislation in those chosen in a fair competition by a popular body of electors. I have yet to learn that the members of this House, who are sent hither by large 424 communities, according to that system of election which the hon. mover could wish to make universal throughout the country, are peculiarly distinguished for their stupidity, or ignorance, or incapacity for the purposes for which they were chosen.
But, amongst the many other excellent qualifications attributed to the House of Commons as now constituted, should not be forgotten that which has been lately assigned to it,* namely, that "the demagogue finds his level and shrinks, to his proper dimensions in six months when once admitted to this assembly:" to this was added, that in case parliament should be reformed, it would be expedient to retain a nest of close boroughs, for insuring the introduction of the said demagogue into the senate at all times. Now, as to the latter recommendation, it arose, I imagine, from the confusion of ideas to which the eagerness to say a smart thing at all hazards will expose even the most experienced debater; for it is the great complaint of the anti-reformers, that in a reformed parliament there would be an inundation, as it were, of mere popular orators, and that none but such characters would compose this House under the new form of construction. However, let us not, as I before said, suppose that this hint as to the nest of boroughs arose from any thing more than the wantonness of the moment. But to turn to the eulogy passed on this House.—If it be true that it is framed so happily as to afford a touchstone to the pretensions of public men; to strip the tinsel off a coxcomb who would otherwise remain undetected, then indeed it performs a service to the community. If it shows the value of sounding words, and big promises, and displays the treachery of pretended patriotism, it is also of much use. I suspect, however, that all that can be fairly collected from this eulogy is, that the demagogue has but one vote in this House, and that he is not gifted with the extraordinary quality of inducing men to decide against their own interest, and make a voluntary resignation of their own power. If, however, the demagogue is but six months in finding his level, in shrinking to his proper dimensions, there is a description of per-sons that do not in six months, no, nor in thirty years, find their level, and shrink* By Mr. Canning, on the second reading of the Roman Catholic Disabilities Removal bill.425 to their proper dimensions here. These are the regular adventurers, the downright trading politicians: The House will easily suggest to itself the sort of being to which I allude; but to prevent mistakes, I would presume to attempt a portrait, hot finished, but not exaggerated. A smart sixth-form boy, the little hero of a little world, matures his precocious parts at college, and sends before him his fame to the metropolis: a minister or some borough, holder of the day thinks him worth saving from his democratic associates, and from the unprofitable principles which the thoughtless enthusiasm of youth may have inclined him hitherto to adopt. The hopeful youth yields at once; and, placed in the true line of promotion, he takes his beat with the more veteran prostitutes of parliament. There he rounds his periods; there he balances his antitheses; there he adjusts his alliterations; and plastering up the interstices of his piebald patchwork rhetoric with froth and foam—this master of pompous nothings becomes first favourite of the great council of the nation. His very want of sincerity and virtue qualifies him for a corrupted audience, who look upon his parts as an excuse for their degeneracy, and regard him, not only as the partner, but as the apologist of their common degradation. Such a man may have notoriously spurned at every principle of public morality and public honor; he may have by turns insulted, derided, betrayed, and crouched to every party, or at least every politician, in the state. Sometimes he may have shown all the arrogance of success—at other times have displayed the true tame-ness of an underling, and have submitted to serve under those in public whom he has conspired in private to ruin and destroy. Yet this man—withBeauty that shocks you, parts that none can trust,Wit that can creep, and pride that licks the dust"—this man, I say, shall be courted and caressed in parliament; and be shall never be so much admired, never so much applauded, as when playing of his buffoonery at the expense of public virtue—as when depreciating the understandings or mocking the sufferings of the people. Such a man does not find his level, he does not shrink to his proper dimensions in the un-reformed House; on the contrary, he is the true House of Commons hero. Despised and detected as he may be without 426 doors, he finds a shelter in the bosom of the senate. Sunk as he may be in public opinion, he there attains to an eminence which raises him, for the time, above, the scorn of his fellow-countrymen. True, his fame is not lasting, but for the moment lie is the glory and the shame of parliament: no one equals him en that stage—Him, thus exalted, for a wit we own,And court him as top-fiddle of the town.Such a man, I say, Sir, would have no place in a reformed parliament; and if he be either useful or ornamental in a deliberative assembly, it is for him that should he reserved that nest of boroughs which it has been proposed to keep solely for the demagogues. Talents without character would be banished from such an assembly, and the honest discharge of a sacred trust would be the first instead of the last requisite of a public man.
§ Mr. Horace Twiss
said, it was not desirable that this House should be a representation of the people in the sense required by the hon. member who had spoken last; The opinions of the people, though trustworthy guides from age to age, were not to be safely followed from month to month; and it was better, in most cases, for the House to be a little behind public opinion, than a little before it. It was a mistake, however, to suppose, as some appeared to do on the authority of the petition presented by lord Grey in 1793, that 157 individuals returned a majority of the House. Among those 157 were reckoned rather unfairly, not only the proprietors of close boroughs, but all men whose property or whose character gave them a leading power in popular elections: beside which error, it was also to be remembered, that 100 Irish members had, since that petition, been introduced by the Union, of whom at least 80 were returned upon popular principles. Nor was the body returned by individual patrons, a united body, pulling together against the people; but a body split into parties; parties, which, in spite of the objection to the principle of party, must always exist, while mankind should continue to differ upon great political measures. The lateness of the hour would withhold him from entering at large into the details of the subject; but he could not help observing upon the misapprehension which seemed to exist as to the probable effect of triennial parliaments. For reasons of caution, not less beneficial to the people than to the Crown, parliament 427 was usually dissolved a twelvemonth before the period of its natural death. He was not aware that this caution would be less necessary in a triennial than in a septennial parliament. This would reduce the Regular duration to two years. If to this consideration were added that of the probability of casualties, such as the demises of the Crown, the changes of administration, and so forth, the two years would become little more than one; and thus, under the name of triennial ejections, annual elections would be our actual constitution. The inconveniences of our present system—for some there were—we willingly bore as the price of our freedom; but to multiply those inconveniences would be to add nothing to our freedom at home, but to detract materially from our strength and safety abroad: for the result of these perpetual appeals to the people would throw the executive as well as all other power into their hands, and leave the nation in time of war but an unequal match for the vigorous, single-minded despotisms of the continental states.—These were a few among the many considerations which would induce him to oppose the present motion.
§ Sir Robert Wilson
said, he rose to support the motion of his hon. friend from his conviction of its necessity and propriety and in compliance with the wishes of 2,000 of his constituents. Before he proceeded to state his reasons for voting for the motion, he begged, in the name of the friends of reform, to offer his acknowledgments to his hon. friend who had brought it forward, not for the talent he had displayed in support of the motion—for that was the natural fruit of his genius and application—but for the industry he had bestowed on the subject. The opinions and views of the great body of the reformers were now embodied. It would now be seen whether the reformers could show, not poison, but balm, for a sickening state. Even the enemies of reform admitted that the reformers were theoretically right in demanding a free, full, and fair representation. He could say, from his intercourse with the people this country, that if reform were a mere theory, it would not have interested them. Many might contend for the victory of truth over fallacy; because fallacy must prove remotely pernicious; but the people would not take a deep interest in abstract theory. In other countries 428 tumults, violence, and massacres had been seen in consequence of the attachment of the people to abstract principles It was not so in England. The questions of reform had taken such deep root, because the people were persuaded that it was necessary for the general happiness and prosperity of the country—because they; were persuaded that it was the regulating principle of power and life; of liberty, person, and property. He agreed with the hon. member for Newcastle that it derived great energy from taxations. There were two causes why it did so; first, the people felt themselves oppressed by intolerable taxes upon their industry, to such an extent that 240 days in the year were occupied in earning what they paid in taxes. In the next place they felt this burden more galling because the greatest part of it was for paying the interest of the public debt. The member for Newcastle had argued that the people had considered the war just, necessary, and proper. But a great many had, from the first, been persuaded that the war had been founded in injustice.—that it had not been waged for the liberties but against the independence of the people. Great part of the money had been spent to induce persons to become supporters of the war, and to engage the independence of others on the same side. Certainly, a great proportion had been expended to animate industry in order to dispose the people to approve of the war. The very interest had been paid by loans during the war; and the people were content to enjoy the temporary prosperity in the hope of not seeing the evil day; like Louis 14th., who had said that he cared not if a deluge should take place after he was gone. Any people could have been so corrupted, but it was the duty of their representatives to have foreseen the calamities, and to have prevented them. The people now saw that no remedy could be applied by the House without reform. If the House had the will to apply a remedy, they had not the power; because they were without the confidence of the people. The people asked not spoliation; but a remedy that would give them their due proportion of the fruits of their own labour. It was true that they had the liberty of expressing their opinions, and that there was still—thanks to the exertions of hon. gentlemen in and out of parliament—some practical liberty left to the country. The 429 right hon. member for Liverpool had indeed compared the liberty enjoyed in England with that enjoyed in America; and, after saying that nine tenths of the inhabitants of the United States were in a state of actual slavery, had inferred, that the degree of practical liberty existing in America was less than that which existed in England. He (sir R. Wilson) had never stood forward as the eulogist of the form of government adopted in the United States. He allowed that a large proportion of the population of those states consisted of slaves; but those who urged that circumstance as a matter of charge against America, ought not to forget, that slavery was made a part of its constitution whilst it was under English domination, and that it had recently refused to admit into the union a state which had refused to abolish slavery. But was slavery unknown in every part of the British empire? Or were not slaves a kind of property acknowledged by the law in Jamaica, Guadaloupe, and other of the West-India Islands? Before the right hon. member for Liverpool took credit to England upon that score, he ought to bring in a bill for the abolition of slavery in the West-India colonies. The question of reform did not depend upon mere precedents. The people of England had a right to every improvement in their government which the increased intelligence of the age, the growing knowledge of society, the change in the position of property and the altered temper of the population, rendered desirable; if that improvement was compatible with the safety of the country. Reform was a question which whether it was or was not connected with principles and precedents recognised in the reigns of the Edwards and the Henries, must, at no distant period, be fully recognised by the House of Commons. He should indeed despair of its success were it to depend upon nothing else than its justice: it depended, however, upon other causes—upon the knowledge, the temper, and the courage of the community; and he was convinced that if the reformers persevered with the same quiet and determined spirit which they had recently exhibited, many of the gentlemen whom he saw around him would not sink into their graves without beholding the House of Commons a full, fair, and equal representation of the people.
§ Mr. Abercromby
said, that as he had 430 voted in favour of reform in the year 1807, he should have been sorry hot to have voted in favour of it on the present;' occasion—if from no other reason, at least from a desire of avoiding the charge of inconsistency. It was unnecessary for; him to refer to the arguments which had been already used regarding what the constitution had been in ancient times;, for he was sure that, at present, the existing constitution was thoroughly understood. Changes had been formerly made in the duration of parliament, in the qualifications of its members, and also in the modes of election. This circumstance proved, that the power of making changes in the representative system was not unknown to the constitution; and that such changes might therefore be made in it without any violation of principle, provided that they were at once safe and expedient. Now, there were two modes of reform for the country to adopt—one of them calculated to introduce into the government so many important alterations, that he could never consider it in any other light than that of a revolution; the other, of such a nature as would repair and improve, without demolishing the fabric of the constitution. Of this latter reform he professed himself a warm and steady advocate; at the same time, he felt it necessary to state, that he never could, under any circumstances, give his assent to the plan of reform proposed by his hon. friend the member for Durham. If carried into effect, he could view it in no other light than as tending to a complete revolution. It appeared to him to go too far; whilst that which had been proposed by his noble friend, the member for Huntingdonshire, and pursued in the case of Grampound, appeared to him, on the other hand, not to go far enough. With regard to what; had been said in the course of the evening respecting the influence of the Crown he could not help observing that, hot withstanding the force with which public, opinion operated upon the House of Commons, that influence had increased within it to a degree perfectly inconsistent with its integrity and independence. Nobody could entertain a doubt upon that subject who looked to the great increase of the army, the navy, and the establishments for the collection of the revenue which had taken place during the last reign. He should, therefore, defend a considerable modification in the preterit system; indeed he thought that such a 431 modification was absolutely necessary to prolong ltd existence. Referring to the duration of parliaments, he said that he conceived septennial parliaments, to be the longest, and triennial the shortest parliaments, which any rational man would wish to adopt. Though he thought septennial parliaments too long, he could not agree to a bill for limiting their duration to three years, unless some measure wag introduced at the same time to restrict the expenses consequent upon elections: for without such a measure, he was Convinced that triennial parliaments would throw additional weight, influence, and importance, not into the hands of the people, but into the hands of the Crown, With respect to a place-bill, he felt the same difficulty as he felt regarding the limitation of the duration of parliaments. There could be no doubt that stabillity could not be given to any administration in a country full of active, intelligent, and enterprising spirits like England, without the existence of some solid and permanent body to support it; and, therefore, Considerable deliberation ought to be employed before a resolution was adopted to exclude from parliament every individual who held a place under the Crown. Besides, he had himself sat many years in parliament; and his experience did not lead him to think that wisdom had always been on the side of the people, and never on the side of parliament. If, on some occasions, the people had instructed their representative, on others the representatives had instructed the people. The measure which had recently passed through that House, and which was then under discussion in another place, was an instance in which parliament had instructed the people, and in which the people had not turned a deaf ear to the advice of parliament. If an opinion were to gain ground among the people, that the majority of that House was determined to oppose every species of reform, he should prophesy—and expect his prophesy to meet with a speedy fulfilment—that a conflict would soon take place between the House and the people, which would not terminate without inflicting injury upon both. He had thought it necessary to say thus much to the House, lest he should be supposed to have joined those who received every proposition for reform with the most determined and unrelenting hostility. In giving his vote on this occasion, he wished to be distinctly 432 understood as giving no sanction to the plan which had been introduced by his hon. friend.
Mr. Fyshe Palmer
intreated the House to enter into a dispassionate investigation of the state of the representation, and assured them that, if they did so, conciliation would take place between themselves and the people; but that, if they did not, a tremendous convulsion would ensue, of which no man could anticipate the consequences.
§ Mr. Stuart Wortley
said, he gave the highest credit to the lion, member for the county of Durham for the motives which had led him to bring this question before parliament. That hon. member had introduced it with a gentlemanly temper and feeling, to which even those who could not give him their votes were compelled to give their admiration. Though he agreed with that hon. member in thinking that many gentlemen were returned to that House by the power and under the influence of other persons; and though he believed that there was a strong and general feeling in the country that some reform was necessary in the Constitution of it, he would still contend that the House, even as constituted at present, was the only assembly for successfully carrying on the business of the nation. In arguing that point, he must beg leave to inform hon. members, that when they called upon him to look back to distant times for the constitution, he should not look back to the reigns of the Henries, but to those periods in our history in which the great struggles for liberty took place between the sovereign and the people. At those periods he would contend that the rotten boroughs were exactly in the same state of decay as they were at present. He would take Corfe-castle and Old Sarum as his instances, and would challenge the hon. members to point out any time at which they were not under the same species of domination as now existed. They knew both when and how the right of representation had been bestowed on those boroughs, and that knowledge was sufficient to prove the correctness of his assertion. He likewise agreed with the hon. member for Calne, that if the mode of election for members to serve in that House were to be made too popular, the effect of it would be to do away with the House of Lords; and that argument might be considered as of some weight in showing that the influence exercised by peers 433 in that House was of essential use to the constitution. Honourable gentlemen, on, the other side of the House, had said, in addressing themselves to those who sat on his side, "You talk of our making innovations in the constitution by our propositions for reform—and yet the constitution is full of innovations of your making—what, therefore, prevents us from pro-£osing some innovations on our side himself said, that there was nothing to prevent them: if their innovations were safe and expedient, no person could blame them for proposing them; but they, in return, ought not to inveigh against those who thought that the constitution did not stand in need of them. He was glad that the hon. member for the county of Durham had brought forward the discussion of parliamentary reform in that House, because it was a subject that could not be fairly discussed out of it, in such meetings as his hon. friend, the member for Sussex, had been blamed for not attending. He was sure that if the people out of doors should be correctly informed of what was then passing within, the question of parliamentary reform would be viewed by them in a very different light than that in which, for some time past, they had been accustomed to contemplate it: for whenever an important question had agitated the public mind, he had always found that the decision to which the House came upon it tended to soothe and tranquillize that agitation. This had been made more evident than ever by the events of the last three months; for what man amongst them could have divined that the subject which at that time so powerfully distracted the country, and the House itself, should have descended in so short a period into such comparative insignificance? The hon. member concluded by stating, that if the wild visions of reform entertained by some individuals should ever be realized, the limited monarchy of England would be converted into a republic, and an end would be made of our glorious constitution.
stated, that the importance of the present question demanded the serious attention of every member of the House, and he trusted that would be his apology for offering his sentiments in support of the present motion. It had been for some time broadly stated, that the representation of the people required reform, and it would be but an idle waste of the time of the House to enumerate 434 those instances in which this statement had been corroborated by facts—by such glaring facts as the boldest supporter of the present system would not venture, to explain. But they had been so-long and so unblushingly practised, and they were now so interwoven with the administration of affairs, that it would seen an interference on the part of the people to correct the causes which had produced these melancholy facts, was considered an innovation, and those who seek reform were branded as being disaffected, and as seeking to overturn that, which, in the language of the ministry, "works well for the country." This was the important point; and it would not be amiss to inquire in what respect the present system did "work well for the country." He would ask, did the country present an appearance of universal content—of general thriving industry? Was there any one part of this empire where such would be a true statement? Had not the petitions oh the table of the House told a melancholy and heart-breaking story of universal discontent—of ruined trade—of one wide scene of desolation and distress? Had the petitions which contained these distressing facts been answered? No; they had been worse than disregarded. When the people complained—when they petitioned for relief-bills for the restriction of their liberties had been passed. It could hardly have been thought possible that such things could have been accomplished in the Commons of England. But the power of corruption had prevailed, and the voice of the people had been unheeded. A faction had possessed itself of the powers of the House, into which it had also dragged the powers of the Crown. It had perverted these combined influences to preserve its own political influence, and to destroy the constitutional interference of the people. This faction had so long and so banefully exercised these unwarrantable powers, that the sovereign himself had been continually mixed up with party questions, and identified as a partisan in the measures of administration. This faction, arrogating to itself an exclusive connexion with the throne, connecting itself with the powers of foreign despots, had dared to tell this country, that meetings of the people were farces, and that limits ought to be put to the troublesome applications of those who sought to alter the present well-working order of things. That parliaments were 435 called for the purpose, not of maintaining the political pre-eminence of England on the Sound principles of civil and religious liberty—not to attend to the prayers and petitions of the people—not to preserve the liberties of tins country—not to reduce enormous establishments—not to relieve the burthen which five and twenty years of war had inflicted upon a generous people r but were convened to ratify treaties with foreign powers leagued in one common principle of despotism—to suspend those statutes which stand in the way of arbitrary power—to enact laws which shut our ports against the unhappy fugitive from foreign persecution—to increase enormous establishments—to impose takes. Such were the purposes for which parliament met; and, unhappily for the greatness and prosperity of this country, such affairs were transacted and carried by majorities of the House. The people in vain required that parliament should represent them, their feelings, their wants, their necessities. To such petitions of the people, ministers, by virtue of the present "well-working system,'' were enabled to turn a deaf ear; but he trusted that a remedy was at hand, in an amended state of the representation; and that the time was fast approaching when the people's Voice would be heard, and this faction be taught, that thirty years of impunity and bad government would have a dreadful retribution. It was under such a system of misrule, that all constituted authority was brought into hatred and contempt. When ministers complained of the increasing prevalence of sedition—when they branded others with disaffection, they should have recollected, that it Was their misrule which had excited it; they had made the times—they had created discontent, and they must answer it. It was the notorious corruption which had long existed, and had been so successfully exercised as to produce these majorities, and which had made this faction triumphant over the Crown and the independence of the people. It was this baneful influence which had left the people discontented, degraded, and at present helpless. The root of this destructive evil flourished in the present state of the representation of that House of Parliament. It was there where the remedy must be applied—it was there where the unbribed representatives of the people must honestly, steadily, and manfully repair the mischief. Until a reform took 436 place there, all that might otherwise be said or done was an idle mockery and insult upon the understanding of the country, which might be inflicted, but could not be long endured. Reform must Come, and would come, to teach parliaments for what purpose they were delegated.
, of Galway, complimented the hon. mover on the moderation he had shown; at the same time, he could not support his proposition. The class of resident householders proposed by the hon. member was objectionable as voters. Reform might be carried to an extent that would be not only dangerous, but criminal. During the French revolution, one of the members of the convention told the assembly that they had destroyed the aristocracy of the nobles, the aristocracy of tradesmen and shop-keepers, but still they had another class more dangerous to destroy, namely the aristocracy of talent and genius.—Danton was the monster who made such a proposition. It was an instance, proving that the spirit of reform might lead, if followed, to the most extravagant actions. Besides, scarcely any two persons were agreed as to the precise plan that should be adopted. He would pledge himself that if all the gentlemen on the government side of the House would make their obeisance to the Chair and withdraw, and leave the question to be decided by the gentlemen opposite, the motion would be negatived by the hon. members opposite by an immense majority.
§ Lord Milton
confessed that he had always approached this subject with considerable alarm; not that he thought it to be of itself attended with danger, but that he conceived the theories of some of those who pretended to discuss it likely to produce a complete and radical change in the country. Indeed, it had appeared to him, upon all former occasions, that the House of Commons did virtually represent the people; and, entertaining that Opinion, he could not conceive how those who called for reform could maintain the attack, which in so doing they made upon the ancient constitution of parliament. On those occasions he had looked with the warmest enthusiasm upon the constitution, and had imagined that upon every point it worked well for the community. A better acquaintance with the practices of parliament—a closer investigation of some of its leading peculiarities, and perhaps a 437 greater maturity of judgment, had induced him to alter the opinions which he had entertained at his outset in public life. He had seen the House of Commons acting in complete and avowed opposition to the sense and wishes of the people; and, having seen them acting in such a manner, he should have been guilty of the greatest inconsistency had he applied his old opinion to it. The only way in which he could preserve his consistency was, as the House appeared changed to him, to change his opinion, and to avow his change of opinion regarding it. Referring to what had fallen from an hon. member in the course of the debate, the noble lord remarked, hat he had not yet gained such an acquaintance with the constitution as to discover that the House ought to stamp the impression of its mind on the people, and not to take its own impressions from the people. Much had also been said with regard to the need that the House had of clever men being admitted into it through close boroughs as legislators. This need he totally denied. The House might be more pure than the Areopagus of Athens or the senate of Rome; but if it did not represent the wishes and feelings of the people, it was not a House of Commons in any constitutional meaning of the word. That the people were fully capable of judging whether the House of Commons did, or did not, do its duty upon sound and constitutional principles, was a tenet backed by the opinion of Mr. Burke; and higher authority the House would scarcely desire. Speaking of the general constitutional conduct of parliament, Mr. Burke said of all these things, they (the people) are perfect judges, and judges without appeal; but as to the detail of a particular measure or scheme of policy, they have not sufficient of speculation in the closet, nor of experience in business, to decide upon it. They can very well see, however, whether we (the House of Commons) are tools of the court, or their true and honest servants; of all that they can well judge, and I could well wish that upon such points they should always exercise their judgment." The noble lord said, that from all the inquiries he had been able to make, he could state, that the great mass of the middle classes of society were in favour of reform. Referring to a late county meeting, he could assert, that the great majority of the yeomanry thought that reform was necessary. It was one of the alarming signs of the 438 times that persons of the most peaceable habits expressed their opinions, that there was nothing to be hoped for from that House. In recapitulating the different interests which were represented in that House, he feared he must say that there, was a court interest greater than all the others; and this, he contended, was a state of things which they must remedy, or it would be remedied for them. He believed that the opinion of the great mass of the people was, that there ought not only to be a change of men, but of measures also. He nevertheless could not agree to the motion, which however beautiful in theory, would be productive of as many difficulties as it would tend to remedy. The House ought to be the representation and not the delegation of the people. In support of the necessity for reform, the noble lord stated, that on a division in that House, upon a popular question of the county members, 86 had voted on one side, and 84 on the other, while, of borough members, there had voted 173 on one side, and 75 on the, other; thus clearly evincing that influence could be exerted over the latter class. The noble lord then reviewed the state of representation in Scotland, which, he contended, was neither a representation of the people, nor of property. Although he was far from approving the plan which his hon. friend had developed, and deemed it pregnant with danger to the constitution, he still thought the House, ought to go into a committee on the state of the representation, with a view of infusing; into that representation a more popular spirit than it at present possessed.
§ Mr. W. Williams
said, that from his, earliest days he had given his support to parliamentary reform, convinced as he was that nothing but reform could secure the constitution from ruin. He was desirous of tearing from the British constitution all its imperfections. He was ready to admit that parliament did much good. Indeed, the proceedings of 600 gentlemen of talent and education when reported, must do much good when circulated over the country; but the question wag, did they do enough? He was persuaded that parliament would continue under a stigma, until some regulation was adopted with respect to small boroughs, which had been found a powerful and dangerous instrument in the hands of ministers. He held in his hand an account of various divisions that had taken 439 place in that House, but at that late hour would only quote two, to prove the necessity of reform, and both occurred within this present session. The first was on the motion of the marquis of Tavistock, when the numbers were 179 against 324; of the former, 99 were returned for counties or populous places; while of the 324, only 78 were of the latter description. The malt tax would have been repealed if the county members had alone possessed votes on the late divisions. The majority of the county members on a late division on the army estimates, were 32 to 22 against that wasteful expenditure of the public money. The House of Commons ought to have a control over his majesty's ministers. With the same sincerity as the right hon. member for Liverpool had declared, that he would always oppose reform, he also would declare, that he would always support reform, for he thought that it alone could save the country.
§ Mr. Honywood
said, that although he was convinced of the necessity of a reform in parliament, yet he was not prepared to go the length of his hon. friend's proposition.
The debate was then, on the motion of the chancellor of the exchequer, adjourned till to-morrow.