§ Lord John Russell
rose and addressed the House as follows*:
Mr. Speaker; I rise for the purpose of moving a resolution, "that the present state of the representation of the people in parliament requires the most serious consideration of this House." Should I be so fortunate as to succeed in this motion, I shall then move for leave to bring in a bill for the more effectual representation of the people in parliament. In bringing this subject before the notice of parliament, I naturally feel considerable*From the original edition printed for Ridgway.52 anxiety: not anxiety lest I should fail to impress upon the House the importance of a question affecting the formation of the governing body of this mighty empire—a question which, if carried, involves, as some think, the ruin, but as others, and, according to me, a majority of the people believe, the salvation of the country—but anxiety and apprehension lest the weakness of the person, who presumes to bring forward the motion, should be thought unequal to a discussion of such magnitude. It will be an additional weight upon me, in urging arguments which I think are in their nature irresistible, to consider how often those arguments have been enforced by men of the highest talents; men entitled to the veneration of the House and of the country.
On the other hand, if I may venture to speak of myself, I feel some encouragement to proceed, in the recollection, that I have served an apprenticeship, so to term it, in the cause of reform; that I have thus had occasion to consider the subject in its various forms and bearings; and that, in bringing forward a part of the question of reform more than two years ago, although I never for one instant allowed it to be imagined, that the small alteration I then proposed contained my utmost wishes, I yet professed myself inclined rather to support the reforms of others than to originate any general proposition myself. I therefore claim some credit for deliberation when I say, that a careful investigation of the subject induces me to lay before the House the reasons and the principles upon which, in my mind, a more extensive reform may be safely founded.—I am likewise encouraged by the propitious fitness of the present time for entertaining such a motion. The question has been so often met am; turned aside by fears of jacobinism in foreign nations, or of tumults at home, that I feel it a great advantage to be able to say, that our present state of external peace and internal tranquillity affords opportunity for ample and undisturbed discussion.
There is another circumstance which ought to weigh in favour of the motion I am about to make; I mean the number of petitions for reform of parliament, which have been pouring into this House since the beginning of the session. This fact shows the value which the people at large attach to this question, and the eagerness with which they look forward to its success. Petitions have this year 53 been presented to the House from the counties of Middlesex, Devon, Norfolk, Suffolk, Bedford, Cambridge, Surrey, and Cornwall, all praying for reform in parliament. In the county of Huntingdon a petition to the same effect has been voted. Petitions have also been presented in great numbers from separate towns for the same object; and the petitions, which have been presented for the liberation of Mr. Hunt, nearly all contain a petition for reform: thus showing, that the vast number of persons, who embraced opinions in favour of this measure some years ago, maintain their wishes unchanged, and their judgment unshaken.
Whilst this anxiety in the country for reform in general encourages me in the task I have undertaken, I feel it to be a circumstance no less propitious, that the petitioners do not ask exclusively for any one plan of reformation. It may be remembered, that a few years ago all the petitions prayed for universal suffrage; but at a meeting, in the present year, of the county of Middlesex, a meeting which might be supposed to bring together all classes of reformers, when a venerable advocate of the cause of reform proposed a petition for universal suffrage, he could find no one to second him. That single circumstance shows the disposition of the people to ask for reform as a cure for abuses existing, and not as a fanciful, untried measure, of which in their own minds they have some vague conception: it shows their inclination to accept from this House any reasonable system of amendment, subject to such an interval of deliberation as the importance of the subject may appear to demand.
Under these impressions, I come to consider what it is that the petitioners ask. I think I am borne out in saying, that what they ask is nothing new; no innovation upon the constitution; no change in the existing laws; they simply pray, that the functions of granting supplies of money, of appealing for the redress of grievances, of giving advice to the Crown, in short, all the legal functions of a House of Commons, should be exercised by the true representatives of the people. This is the language of the petitions, and it is the undoubted language of the constitution. The question to be tried, therefore, is, not whether in law the House ought to be the representatives of the people, but whether in truth they now are so. It is a simple question of fact, which the House 54 is called upon to decide. Considering, therefore, that as to the constitutional right of the people to representation no doubt or question can exist, I shall not consume the time of the House in discussing all the wild theories which have been framed upon that subject. Among others, I shall entirely neglect the theory, that the House of Commons ought to represent, not the people alone, but the Crown and the House of Lords, as well as the people. Surely nothing can be more dangerous than the admission of such a theory. Nothing can be more absurd than to think, that the balance of the Constitution, instead of existing in King, Lords, and Commons, should be found in the House of Commons alone: for how, if such a system could be allowed to prevail, would the country ever be sure that the balance was adjusted? How could the people have any security, that the Crown and the House of Lords had not a majority, and that the true representatives of the people were not, by comparison, few in the assembly which professes to be sent by them alone? Where then would be their guarantee, that their wishes and their interests might not be entirely neglected in a house called the House of Commons, instituted; for the purpose of gathering their wishes and protecting their privileges? Throwing this theory aside, therefore, I shall consider this House as the House of Commons only, and its members, not as delegates of the various branches of the Constitution, but as forming one branch only.—In rejecting theories, I shall likewise lay out of consideration all those plans which require an entire re-construction of the House of Commons: not that I do not think such plans extremely proper to be discussed, but that I imagine the benefits I seek may be obtained by a smaller change; and I think every reformer must agree with me, that if it could be proved we should obtain the advantages we desire by a lesser change it would be unwise to attempt a greater.
Throwing aside, then, such theories entirely, I come to the question of fact which I have suggested to the House; and it becomes necessary, in order to our right decision, to take into consideration on the one hand, the state of the House, and, on the other, the condition of the people. If I can show, that the condition of, the people has materially changed, and that the change in the state 55 of the House has not been agreeable to that change in the state of the people, but of a very different and opposite tendency, I trust it will be allowed, that the House and the people have no longer that accordance which they ought to have, and that some remedy is required but if I farther show, that this discrepancy has made itself evident by acts which the House has done, and which the representatives of the people never could have sanctioned; then it must be admitted, not only that there are abuses to be reformed, but that duty, and love of their country command the House immediately to begin the work.
Without entering into detail farther than is absolutely necessary, it cannot be denied, that the people of England have undergone a considerable change during the last forty years. The wealth of the country during that period has very considerably increased. The fact, which was mentioned early in the session by my hon. friend, the member for Winchelsea, that our expenditure during the last two years of war was 270,000,000l.—while it showed the immense expenditure of government, showed also the very great wealth and resources of the people. That wealth and those resources, widely diffused, have had a tendency to increase the importance of the middle classes of society; classes that stand in a peculiarly fortunate situation, equally removed from poverty, which is too often the parent of crime, and from idleness, which is proverbially the mother of vice. Free alike from the temptations created by want, and from those suggested by indolence, they find, in decent competency and useful occupation, the guardians of their morality. Politically speaking, they are intimately connected with the classes above and below them; and are, therefore, not liable to partake either of that disregard of the poor, which sometimes disgraces the rich, or that hostility to the rich, which unfortunately is apt to find its way among the poor. Thus forming themselves the best class of the community, and at the same time zealous for the welfare of the others, they constitute one of the most solid pillars of the state; and I know not that I could select a better sign of the future prosperity of a country, than the wealth, comfort, and intelligence of its middle orders.
Another cause of the improvement of the country is the great increase which 56 has occurred of late years in our manufactures. From the year 1785 to 1792, the average amount of our exports of British manufactures was about 13,000,000l. a year. From 1792 to 1799 it was. 17,000,000l.; but the exports of the year 1821, are stated to amount to 40,000,000l. When to this is added the still larger consumption of our manufactures at home, and when it is considered, that out of these 40,000,000l. our export of cotton goods amounted to 23,000,000l., our woollens and linens to 7,000,000l., it must be inferred, that a very large proportion of the inhabitants of the country subsist by those manufactures. I will not now dwell upon this new phenomenon in the state of the country, but for the present confine myself to a statement of the fact.
With this immense increase in manufactures and commerce, the dissemination of instruction, and the improvement knowledge, have advanced even in morel than equal proportion. Indeed, this is a circumstance which must strike the most careless observer, from the vast increase of books, and the very high prices which are paid for the exercise of literary talents. From the immense distribution of works of every description throughout the country, one would infer, that, as their opportunities of information are thus increased, the education of the lower classes must he enlarged in the same proportion. Being curious to gain some information on this subject, I some time ago applied to an eminent bookseller's house in the city, from which I learned a number of interesting facts. I will state to the House one, which will of itself be sufficient to prove the astonishing extent to which books are circulated throughout the country. From the firm to which I applied, I learned, that their own sale amounted to five millions of volumes in the year; that they employed sixty clerks, paid a sum of 5,500l. in advertisements, and gave constant employment to not fewer than 250 printers and bookbinders Another great source of information to the country is the increase of circulating, libraries. In the year 1770, there were only four circulating libraries in the metropolis; there are at present one hundred, and about nine hundred more scattered throughout the country. Besides these, there are from 1,500 to 2,000 book-clubs, distributing throughout the kingdom large masses of information on 57 history, voyages, and every species of science by which the sum of human knowledge can be increased, or the human mind improved. Here I may also remark on the increase of periodical works. Of these there are two (the Edinburgh and the Quarterly Reviews), many articles in which are written with an ability equal to some of the best original writings of former times, and having a greater circulation than all the periodical works of thirty years ago put together. Besides these there are five periodical works of science only, all in great demand. And here, to show that the demand for such works is not confined to the vicinity of the universities alone, I will mention, that a friend of mine, travelling through Inverness, was enabled to procure, at a small shop, a journal of science and a number of the Encyclopedia, but afterwards, when in passsing through Oxford he applied for the same books, he was told that they were not to be had unless previously ordered.
While so many and such fruitful sources of information are thus opened to the higher orders, the means of improving the minds of the poorer class have advanced at a pace not less rapid or less steady. First came the establishment about twenty-five years ago of the Lancasterian schools, which have distributed so widely the blessings of early instruction; and after these followed the no less beneficial system of national schools, which afford to the poor of every class education suitable to their state and condition in life. In addition to those means of improvement, another has been opened, not less advantageous to the poor—I allude to the great facilities which at present exist, of getting the most valuable works at a rate so very cheap as to bring them within the compass of all. Some time ago an establishment was commenced by a number of individuals, with a capital of not less than 1,000,000l., for the purpose of printing standard works at a cheap rate. By that establishment the history of Hume, the works of Buffon, the Encyclopedia, and other valuable productions, were sold in small numbers at sixpence each, and by this means sources of the highest and most useful instruction were placed within the poor-man's reach. I regret much to add, that this valuable establishment was very much checked in its operation; by the effect of one of those acts for the Suppression of 58 knowledge Which were passed in the year, 1819. I regret this the more, as one of the rules of that establishment has been, not to allow the venders of their works to sell any book on the political controversies of the day.
In noticing the means which have contributed so much to the mental improvement of the great body of the people, I ought not to omit noticing the very good effects which have resulted from the exertions of the Bible Society, the Religious Tract Society, the Society for the dissemination of Christian Knowledge, and other valuable associations of similar character. Since the commencement of the Bible Society, it has applied the immense sum of 900,000l. to the laudable purpose of disseminating the knowledge of the scriptures. From the Religious Tract Society not fewer than five millions of tracts are distributed annually, and the Society for Christian Knowledge distributes one million. These facts will show the rapid strides which have been made by the public in the improvement of general knowledge.
I will now come to the state of political knowledge in the country. This hat been greatly augmented by the extraordinary increase in the circulation of newspapers. Some time ago I moved for a return of the number and circulation of the several newspapers printed in London and in the country. That return has not been made in the manner in which I had intended; but from the account I was enabled to procure, it appears, that there were not less than 23,600,000 newspapers sold in the country in the last year. Of these the daily London papers sold above 11,000,000, the country papers above 7,000,000, and the weekly papers above 2,000,000. From another source I have been enabled to procure more particular information as to the increase in the number of papers within the last thirty or forty years, the substance of which I will read to the House.
making in the whole the increase in the 59 number since 1790, from 146 to 284, which is very nearly double in the space of thirty years.
In the year 1782. In the year 1790. In the year 1821. In England 50 60 135 In Scotland 8 27 31 In Ireland 3 27 56 London daily 9 14 16 Twice a week 9 7 8 Weekly 0 11 32 British Islands 0 0 6 79 146 284
Having made these statements, from which the House will judge of the vast increase of the wealth and importance of the country, and of the rapid strides it has made in moral and political knowledge, I will now come to the other part of the inquiry; namely, whether the state of parliament is also changed, so as to represent this increased importance of the middling, the manufacturing, and the commercial classes. In proposing this inquiry, I will state broadly, that not only is the House bound to consider whether parliament represents this increased importance, but also whether the government generally keeps up with the increase in strength and knowledge of the people; for I will assert, that no government can be stable, which does not keep pace with the increasing improvement of the people over whom it presides; and that any government, which fails to make such advances, must soon come to final ruin. I take these to be positions so trite, and even so self-evident, that I should not have thought it worth while to recal them to the attention of the House, had not another and a very different theory recently found its way within their walls. I allude to what has fallen from the most liberal member of his majesty's cabinet, one who I believe really takes an interest in the progress of liberty. That right honourable member has urged the increased information of the people as a defence of the existence of certain offices, which could be defended on no other ground. Now to assert, that in proportion as the people asked for more economy there should be more waste—in proportion as they became more honest there should be more corruption—in proportion as they became more enlightened they should have a government less able to bear investigation, are propositions so monstrous and absurd, as must in their very nature tend to the destruction of any government they are meant to support. And yet such is in fact the meaning of the defence which has been set op in this House, that an useless office should be continued because the intelligence of the people had increased. If such propositions are followed up, they will have the certain effect of rendering the government odious in the eyes of the people—of making them doubt the value of a monarchy, 60 and even Indifferent to the destruction of our constitutional form altogether.
But to come to the question—the present state of the parliament of the country, and the relation it bears to the improved condition of the people. In looking at this part of the question I was struck with the remark made by Mr. Justice Blackstone, who, in referring to the defects of the representation, says, that yet there was hardly a free agent in the country who had not a vote for a member of parliament in some place or another. Now, it is not to be supposed, that that able commentator on our laws would have gravely made a statement which was at variance with the fact, and, therefore, his assertion must have had some foundation at the time at which he wrote: but let the present state of the representation be compared with the statement, and what a difference will be seen? We have now not only one free agent, but there are in the country at least one million of free agents—men perfectly free and independent, who have no vote for a member of parliament, though anxious to acquire the right, and in every way qualified to exercise the functions of electors. On a former occasion, when this subject was before the House, it was stated, and not denied, that a majority of the members of this House are returned by a body of electors not fully 8,000 in number—a fact utterly at variance with the increase which has taken place in the numbers, the wealth, knowledge, and consequent importance of the people of the country. But if we look a little farther, and go a little more into detail on the subject, we shall find, that while the people go on rapidly improving, the basis of this House is gradually becoming more narrow; and instead of embracing the whole of the community as the source of their representative character, is dwindling into a sort of self-elected corporation, depending on a very small portion of that community. In making this remark, I do not mean to say it is applicable generally to the members of this House, but it is applicable to a majority, able to influence the decision of every vote of the whole.
First, with respect to the county members. I have already observed, that a great increase has taken place in the middling orders—in the commercial and manufacturing classes; but there is no commensurate increase in the number of 61 county members. Out of 513 members (for England), there are only 92 who represent counties; and, even with resspect to that number, the full and free expression of the opinions of those who have a right to vote is impeded by a variety of circumstances. Among these I will notice the enormous expenses attendant upon contested elections for counties. I will instance the county of Devon, where some freeholders have to come forty miles at each side of Exeter to give their votes. The consequence of this is, that, as few fortunes can bear the immense charges of a warmly-contested struggle, there is usually a compromise, and one member is returned by each party, though the numbers of one party may be five or six to one compared with the other. Another circumstance, injurious to the state of the representation, is caused by the great number of landed proprietors, whom Mr. Pitt so improvidently raised to the dignity of the peerage. The result was, that those of the landed gentry who remained in the representation of the Commons did not form a body sufficiently strong in name and property to resist the votes of those who were swayed by private interests. For my own part, I am of opinion, that if only the great landed proprietors were members of this House, even if they held their situation as such for life, they would, provided their proceedings were constantly exposed to the criticism of public opinion, be found a more valuable safeguard for the liberties of the people than the House as it is at present constituted. I will even venture to assert, that if the House of Commons were abolished altogether, and the public business transacted by the House of Lords, it would soon become more popular, and obtain more of the reverence of the people, than ever will be given to the House of Commons in its present state. My opinions on this subject are founded on the principle, that those who hold a great stake of property in the country will never consent to any measure of importance against the declared sense of the public, or which can irritate the people to resistance. I am convinced of the truth of this remark, when I recollect what occurred in the case of the Queen, when the Lords showed a deference to the well known feelings of the people more evident than any instance I can recollect in the House of Commons.
62 I next would call the attention of the House to the representation of the large towns. In some of these there is a full and free exercise of the opinions of the electors; and in those instances they return men of independence to parliament: but in very many others the elections are so managed, and the rights of the voters so abridged, either by votes of this house, or by usurpation of small corporate juntas, that by degrees the number of voters is diminished, while the influence of many of those who remain is absorbed by the intrigue of corporate bodies. I will mention as an instance. Plymouth, which in the reign of Charles 2nd, had 7,000 inhabitants, of whom 300 had votes for its members. The population has since increased to 60,000, while the number of electors is reduced to 200. I might instance other places, such as Bath and Cambridge, where the elections are managed by a small number of persons, sometimes not even resident in the towns, but who still contrive to direct the elections as they please.
I now come to notice the small towns or boroughs which return members to parliament. Of these there are 140, containing less than 5000 inhabitants each. (In all my calculations I only include England.) By these 140 boroughs, 280 members are returned to parliament, making a clear majority of the House in the sense to which I have just alluded. Of those small towns there are 40 which contain from 3 to 5000 inhabitants, and 100 less than 3000 each. I believe that the system which prevails in most of these places, and particularly in the Cornish boroughs, is pretty notorious. I could, if I did not fear to fatigue the attention of the House, and if the thing were not so well known, read a number of letters clearly showing many instances in which the return of members to this House, was procured by money only; by bribery the most direct: but the thing is so commonly acknowledged, so universally allowed to be the case, that it would be taking up the time of the House unnecessarily. In the last year it was admitted, that out of 44 members returned for the several boroughs of Cornwall, there were only five who were natives of that county. In another place it was urged by a minister of the Crown as an argument against granting the forfeited franchise of Gram-pound to Cornwall, that the boroughs of that county represented the commercial 63 interests; and it has even been quoted as a proof of the elasticity of the constitution, that it can thus take in and represent the new interests and the new property of the country. Good God! and is this the way in which the representation of the new interests, and the new property of the country, is to commence? I beg the attention of the House to this practice, to its origin, and to some of its consequences: and then I will ask any man, who respects the Constitution, to say, whether the new interests, the increased wealth and importance of the country, ought to be so represented? This new representation is commenced by an open violation of one of the most sacred laws of parliament. To this is added wilful and corrupt perjury; and in the train of these there follow drunkenness and almost every species of immorality. But with all these disadvantages, with this contempt of law, this gross immorality, does the system produce any thing like representation? It does no such thing. There is no community of interests between the elector and the elected: the elector is utterly indifferent to the character, conduct, or sentiments of the man for whom he votes; and when once the price of that vote is paid, it is to him a matter of no earthly consequence, whether his purchaser is a Tory or a Whig, whether he has sworn allegiance to the House of Stuart or the House of Brunswick, or even the Nabob of Arcot—whether he is a supporter of despotism or a friend to liberty.
One of the worst consequences of this system is the possession of power without responsibility. In fact, the individual thus buying himself in, represents only the commercial House to which he belongs. I remember on one occasion, a member who had got into the House by dint of money, and who was afraid lest I should criticise the means by which he had obtained his seat, came to me, and assured me, that he had no wish whatever to enter parliament, but that he did so to oblige his partners in trade. Now, that is exactly the kind of representative which I do not wish to see in this House. I do not wish to see men returned here for commercial houses, representing only their partners, and naturally anxious to oblige government and support its measures, in order to procure patronage and favour for their establishments. I do not mean to say, that this was the case with the gentleman to whose case I have 64 alluded; but I know that there are members who procure seats in this House for no other purpose but that of assisting the commercial houses with which they are connected. It is well known that in the war there were many good things to be given away, which it was of course a great object with commercial men to procure. There was a license for trade to the West Indies given to one house, which I am informed was worth at least 15,000l. Is it not natural to suppose, that such a grant must give no small bias in favour of government to the political sentiments of the parties?
Another circumstance arising out of the representation of the small boroughs is, that it is generally procured by the supporters of government. There are few who would wish to expend such a large sum of money as will buy a seat in parliament, for the pleasure of constantly voting in minorities. Many of those who are returned for these places may have a conscientious disposition to support the measures of government, and therefore come into parliament, in order, by such support, to forward the interests of their country. Others come in with the view that, by assisting the minister, they may obtain a share of his patronage. But whatever may be the views of those who procure a scat in this House, in order to support the government, whether conscientious or corrupt, it is interest, and interest alone which induces the greater number of the immediate patrons of these boroughs, to apply to ministers for a candidate. The attorney who has obtained an influence in a corrupt borough—the middle man—who performs the disgraceful office of handing over the bribe—keeping half as a fee for himself—from the elected to the elector, has no better way of preserving his hold on the borough, than by obtaining the disposal of government patronage in the place and its neighbourhood. He goes to the minister to offer the seat: the minister recommends his friend—his friend, sometimes assisted by the minister, pays his money for the seat. Thus a permanent connection is established between time minister and the borough patron; the one secures a member to support him in parliament, the other confirms his own possession in the lucrative property which produces members of parliament.
Besides this general connection, it is notorious, that some of the small boroughs 65 are so overrun with ministerial patronage, as to be completely in the hands of government. That for which the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer sits, is of this description. So many situations in the post-office, the packet-office, and other public departments, are held by persons connected with it, that government may be said to have the entire command of the seat; and it is impossible that any independent inhabitant can ever hope to possess the smallest influence there.
But allowing the existence of the abuses I have exposed, there arises another question, whether these abuses have made themselves practically felt in the government of the country. In reference to this question, and in answer to an exposition of abuses somewhat similar to that I have just made, when the subject was brought forward, on a former occasion, Mr. Windham, who was opposed to all reform, observed, that no practical evil resulted from the system of representation, and, with his usual liveliness of expression, likened the petitioners for reform to the man mentioned in the "Spectator," who had every symptom of the gout except the pain. This, however amusing, is a very unphilosophical view of the question, and is directly in the teeth of the remark of Bacon, who says, with equal truth and sagacity, "this is true, that the wisdom of all these latter times in princes' affairs is rather fine deliveries and shiftings of dangers when they are near, than solid and grounded courses to keep them aloof. But this is but to try masteries with fortune: and let men beware bow they neglect and suffer matter of trouble to be prepared; for no man can forbid the spark, or tell whence it may come." Notwithstanding the evident existence of these abuses, however, I should be hopeless of carrying conviction to the minds of the House, if many of those abuses had not become visible in their effects. We have now the pain, along with other symptoms, and are suffering severely from the inadequacy of this House to represent the people. By these sufferings it is, that the minds of men are thoroughly convinced of the necessity of reform; and though the opinion of most is, that it could not immediately remedy many of the disorders which its delay has produced, yet it would at least have this effect, of affording a security for good government in future.
66 In looking at the evils arising frog am inadequate system of representation, it must strike every one, that a parliament might go on for a long time without representing the people, and yet without appearing to have very distinct interests. The consequence would be, that the evil would not be so immediately felt. For instance, the people might be eager for a war, and it might be the interest of a corrupt parliament to encourage them to carry their wish into execution. The country might be governed by a good and enlightened minister, and it might be the interest of a corrupt as well as of an honest parliament to support that minister. The people might wish for a reformation in the laws, and there might be nothing in the interests of the most corrupt House of Commons that should induce them to oppose that reformation. There might thus be some cases in which no injury would result to the public from such a system as I have described; but there are other cases, which cannot fail to convince even the most incredulous on the subject, that what they have long been accustomed to consider a complete system of representation, is really incomplete and imperfect.
To exemplify what I have just said, I will take the liberty of reviewing, as shortly as I can, what has occurred since the motion for reform, which Mr. Pitt made in the year 1785. For some time after Mr. Pitt became minister, he escaped all odium, as well by the merit of his own measures, as by the unpopularity of the coalition. Indeed, I consider the measures of Mr. Pitt, after his first accession to office, to have been eminently wise, economical, and just. They were followed by great popularity, which enabled him to conduct the affairs of government, for some years, without the people feeling any necessity of a change, being made in the system of representation. Mr. Pitt gave currency to the idea, that the evils of a defective representation might not be felt upon all occasions, when, upon Mr. Flood's motion for reform in 1790, he said, that he was as firm and zealous a friend of the question as he had ever been, that he should be ready to propose his motion for it again, whenever a proper opportunity should arise—that it was true, that, for some time, the inconveniences of a want of reform might not be felt; but they would be felt in certain contingencies.
67 Passing over some years of peace, Mr. Pitt entered upon the war in 1793, having on his side, as he believed, the greater part of the property of the country. I am ready to admit, that the monied men of the country, alarmed by the terrors of Jacobinism—whether justly or no I will not now stop to determine—did enter willingly at first into the war. At a later period, however, it appeared from general testimony that the disposition of the country tended towards peace. Their disposition was gratified two or three years afterwards, by the peace of Amiens. That peace, as all of us know, was only of short duration. We entered upon a fresh war, and continued it for a few years, without any discrepancy appearing between the conduct of the parliament and the wishes of the people, or at least without the people's expressing any earnest desire for a reform in their representation. Yet let it not be supposed, because the people did not cry out for reform, it follows, that the government was conducted in exact accordance to their sober and just opinions. For it is of the nature of the people to push obedience almost to a fault. Nothing can be more false than the opinions of those, who maintain that agitators can easily, and without cause, excite the people to tumultuous and seditious practices. So far is this from being the case, that the disposition of every people is naturally hostile to agitators; indeed, it is so strongly in favour of government, that the general mass of a country never can be induced to see abuse until it becomes intolerable, or be persuaded to take measures of precaution against a contingent loss of property and liberty: nay, more, they will frequently even submit to the greatest evils of misgovernment, before they venture to utter one word in their own behalf.
In the course of the war, however, some instances occurred, which could not fail to excite in the minds of a sensible nation, a lively attention to the acts of its representatives. The strongest instance that I now recollect is, the resolution of this House, on the expedition to Walcheren, in 1809. That expedition was an instance of as singular misconduct and incapacity on the part of the government, as was ever displayed in any expedition sent out from this country. There was nothing alleged in this House, either in support of the original plan, or of the mode of its execution. No untoward ac- 68 cident had happened to prevent its success; the enemy scarcely offered any resistance; every thing went on as well as the planner of the expedition could wish; and yet the result of it has been nothing but disgrace and calamity to the country. It was so fatal as to realize the cries of the children of Israel to Moses in the wilderness—"Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?" And yet, upon that expedition, failing as it did in all its objects, attended as it was by the utmost disgrace and calamity, the House of Commons of that day was not contented with conferring a vote of silent approbation, but absolutely resolved upon a formal eulogium, and entered that eulogium upon its Journals, in order to prevent the removal of the ministers who had devised and supported so absurd a project! This fact was so strong and so striking, that it convinced many who had before held different opinions, and made them feel that there was no community of interest between the parliament that could sanction such an expedition, and a people which were execrating the planners of it, and calling for their condign punishment as an atonement to the thousands of their countrymen who had been unnecessarily and wantonly sacrificed. The result of that resolution of the House of Commons is, that the projector of that most calamitous expedition is now the leader of this House, and the general who conducted its execution is in possession of one of the most splendid rewards that it is in the power of the Crown to bestow.
The general popularity, however, of the Spanish war—a war in which I confess that I took a very strong interest—and the hopes which the people had of overcoming that sovereign who appeared to aspire to the domination of the whole earth, enabled ministers to cast a veil over the errors they had committed, and to conceal the faults of which they had been found guilty. The people again bestowed their confidence on the House of Commons, and certainly that confidence was taken advantage of in the fullest manner. Every abuse was promoted, every job was advanced, every opportunity was seized to turn the facility of the people to their own disadvantage, and to increase the heavy burthens under which they were labouring.
It was when the war was brought to an end that the question of parliamentary re- 69 form again attracted the attention and excited the feelings of the country. It then became a question between the two parties in this House, whether we should have a large, expensive military government, or a cheap, economical, civil government. It was evident on which side the interest of the people was on such a question: it was also evident, that if the House of Commons fairly represented the people, it would speak in unison with the wishes of the people: but it was likewise manifest, that if it did not fairly represent the people, it would provide for the private interests of its members, which, on that occasion were directly opposed to the interest of the community. Here, then, we should have the House and the people at issue. The question was one from which the constitution of the House of Commons could be fairly ascertained: it was an experiment on the subject which might very fairly be called experimentum crucis: it was then to be decided what were the nature of its claims to public regard and to public confidence. That question was decided, and was decided against the reputation of this House; for it voted a standing army of 99,000 men, and other establishments of corresponding magnitude.
On a former occasion I have shown, that those establishments, though they were sanctioned by a majority of the votes of this House, were not sanctioned by the majority of the members for counties. And here I may be permitted to observe, that the members for counties may be fairly considered as the real representatives of the people, though from the expense incident to county elections, they are not now so completely popular as they would become were that expense to be diminished. Now it ought never to be forgotten, that the county members had opposed this immense military establishment by a majority of 3 to 2, whilst the House of Commons had sanctioned it by a majority in the very same proportion, and had imposed on the community those heavy burthens to which a great part of their present sufferings might be fairly attributed.
In looking in a general view at the votes which have been given within the last four or five years, relative to questions of economy and retrenchment, a noble friend of mine, the member for Yorkshire, whom I do not now see in the House, has made a calculation of the manner in which votes 70 have been given for ministers or against them by the representatives of the larger and the smaller towns. I have myself made a similar calculation from data, which I found in a pamphlet called the Elector's Remembrancer, stating the distinct votes of each particular member. My noble friend has formed his calculation chiefly from memory. I have taken my calculations from the book I have mentioned, without at all inquiring whether the parties were deemed ministerial or not. I have considered all those as ministerial voters who have never voted at all in favour of reduction, and have put down those as opposition members who have voted three times in favour of popular measures, even though they voted in general in behalf of ministers. I think that such a calculation is a fair test of virtual representation, and a fair test, also, of the value of an opinion which has been sometimes advanced in this House, that the members returned by the small towns are as much the representatives of the feelings of the people as those returned by the large towns.
In speaking of popular questions, I chiefly allude to those which refer either to the Queen or to retrenchment. These two subjects have certainly interested the country more than any others which have come before parliament. I will now mention what were the results of the different calculations made by myself and my noble friend. I will give my noble friend's calculation, first, premising, at the same time, that my noble friend considered as neutral those members who cannot fairly be said to support or oppose ministers constantly. In my calculation I have left out entirely those who appear never to have voted.
According to my noble friend, there are 33 boroughs, in each of which there are less than 1,000 inhabitants; out of the members for those boroughs 12 have voted against ministers, 44 for them, and 10 neutral. There are 35 boroughs, containing less than 2,000 inhabitants each; of their members, 15 vote against ministers, 45 for them, and 8 neutral. There were 76 boroughs, containing less than 5,000 inhabitants; out of the members for them, 48 vote against ministers, 93 for them, and 10 neutral. There were 25 boroughs, containing from 5,000 to 10,000 inhabitants each; out of the members for them, 22 vote against ministers, 27 for them, and I neutral. And in 31 71 boroughs, containing 10,000 inhabitants each and upwards, there were 38 members against ministers, only 21 for them, and 5 neutral.
Now, my own statement is not very different from that which I have just read to the House; and as the House has heard the one with patience, I will trespass on its attention with the other. From the members of the boroughs under 500 inhabitants, there was one member in favour of reduction, and 19 against it. From the members of the boroughs containing from 500 to 1,000 inhabitants, there were 12 for, and 33 against reduction. From the members of the boroughs containing more than 1,000 and less than 2,000 inhabitants, 17 were for, and 44 against reduction. From the members of the boroughs containing more than 2,000, and less than 3,000 inhabitants, 19 were for, and 46 against reduction. From the members for the boroughs containing 5,000 inhabitants, there were 25 for, and 44 against reduction; and from those from the boroughs containing more than 5,000 inhabitants, there were 66 for, and only 47 against reduction.
Now, the general result of this calculation goes to show, that the proportion in favour of ministers diminishes as the size of the places increases; for, combining the two calculations I have just read to the House, the proportion is in the first instance as 19 to 1 in their favour; in the second, as 3 to 1; in the third, as 2 to 1; in the fourth, as 4 to 3; in the fifth as 3 to 5; so that in the last case it is 5 to 3 against administration, and for retrenchment.
Now these are facts which ought to convince the most incredulous, that the small towns do not represent the interests of the people as well as the large towns. They speak for themselves, and need no further illustration from me. But besides these facts, others have occurred during this session of parliament, which afford results equally striking. I shall take two questions which have been discussed in it, and which undoubtedly are of great public interest and importance: the one relates to the salt-tax, the other to the office of post-master-general. Upon the salt-tax the numbers were 169 in favour of its continuance, and 165 in support of its abolition. Out of these 165 members, there were 42 for English and Welsh counties, and 55 for the large towns; of which towns there are altogether 72 not more than 56; so that in this small number of 165, less than a third of the English members, we have nearly a majority of the whole number of English members for counties and large towns. Now out of the 169 members, who formed the majority on that occasion, I cannot make out more than 14 county members, though I can make out 61 placemen, of whom only 10 can be in any respect considered as nominees of counties or of large towns. I trust, that after such a statement I shall not hear it averred again, that, while the ministerial side of the House contains the representatives of large and populous towns, the Opposition benches are filled with nothing but nominees sitting for rotten boroughs.
The division on the office of postmaster-general was still more decisively in favour of the proposition which I wish to establish. There were 159 members for the abolition, and 184 for the continuance of that useless office; so that there was a majority of 25 in favour of the office and of ministers. Of the 159, 29 were the representatives of English and Welsh counties, and 40 the representatives of large towns, making together a total of 69. On the other side, I cannot make out more than 11 county members, and 23 members for large towns, making a total of 34: that is to say, that out of those members who were really elected by the people, there were 69 for abolishing, and only 34 for continuing the office. If there be any fact that can make an impression upon the House, it is that which I have just mentioned. Upon that question we have an illustration of the admirable theory I before alluded to, and of which we have lately heard so much—I mean the theory that the House represents not only the people, but also the Crown and the House of Lords. Upon that question we had an instance of the representatives of the Crown and of the House of Lords overbalancing the representatives of the people, until they were completely merged in a minority; and be it observed, that the question upon which the representatives of the Crown and of the House of Lords so overbalanced the representatives of the people, was a question whether we should maintain an office that was in the patronage of the Crown, and had been conferred upon a member of the House of Lords. Let it be also recollected, that upon that memorable night the doctrine was first advanced, that useless offices 73 ought to be maintained as a counterpoise to the increasing intelligence of the people—a doctrine which my hon. and learned friend the member for Knares-borough (sir J. Mackintosh), with his knowledge of Constitutional history, has declared to be altogether new; and at which even the hon. member for Corfe Castle (Mr. Bankes) has expressed himself to be alarmed; and let it also not be forgotten, that that doctrine, new and alarming as it was, has been sanctioned by those who were not the representatives of the people, but who personated, on this occasion, the House of Commons, and declared and avowed this theory as their principle of action.—I will ask any man who looked at this question—who saw the confusion of different branches of the constitution which was thus created—who beheld the public money unsparingly granted by those who were afterwards to reap benefit from the disposal of it—who perceived control assumed over the public expenditure for the purpose of more effectually sanctioning abuse, screening delinquency, and opposing the wishes and petitions of the people for reduction—I will ask any man, who took all the points to which I have just referred into consideration, whether it is any exaggeration to say, that every lover of liberty ought to feel alarmed at the danger to which the British constitution now stands exposed?
Having stated thus much of the practical evils resulting from the present system of representation, I must be permitted to observe, that there are other evils to which it has given rise, much more grievous to a friend of freedom than any which I have yet mentioned. The natural balance of the constitution is this—that the Crown should appoint its ministers, that those ministers should have the confidence of the House of Commons, and that the House of Commons should represent the sense and wishes of the people. Such was the machinery of our government; and if any wheel of it went wrong, it deranged the whole system. Thus, when the Stuarts were on the throne, and their ministers did not enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons, the consequence was tumult, insurrection, and civil war throughout the country. At the present period, the ministers of the Crown possess the confidence of the House of Commons, but the House of Commons does not possess the esteem 74 and reverence of the people. The consequences to the country are equally fatal. We have seen discontent breaking into outrage in various quarters—we have seen every excess of popular frenzy committed and defended—we have seen alarm universally prevailing among the upper classes, and disaffection among the lower—we have seen the ministers of the Crown seek a remedy for these evils in a system of severe coercion—in restrictive laws—in large standing armies—in enormous barracks, and in every other resource that belongs to a government which is not founded on the hearts of its subjects. I may be told, that in the divisions which took place on the enacting of those restrictive laws, the names of many friends of freedom are to be found. If I am obliged to admit this, and even that there are some personal friends of my own, for whom I bear the greatest respect as sincere partisans of liberty, who, nevertheless, have assisted in imposing those restrictions upon the people, which sweep away many of the provisions of Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights, and materially diminish the ancient privileges of Englishmen, I shall at the same time say, that I observe the occurrence with regret, and deplore the more the fatal mistake which has been committed. It is my persuasion, that the liberties of Englishmen, being founded upon the general consent of all, must remain upon that basis, or must altogether cease to have any existence. We cannot confine liberty in this country to one class of men: we cannot erect here a senate of Venice, by which a small part of the community is enabled to lord it over the majority; we cannot in this land, and at this time make liberty the inheritance of a caste. It is the nature of English liberty, that her nightingale notes should never be heard from within the bars and gratings of a cage; to preserve any thing of the grace and the sweetness, they must have something of the wildness of freedom. I speak according to the spirit of our constitution when I say, that the liberty of England abhors the unnatural protection of a standing army; she abjures the countenance of fortresses and barracks; nor can those institutions ever be maintained by force and terror that were founded upon mildness and affection.
If we ask the causes, why a system of government, so contrary to the spirit of our laws, so obnoxious to the feelings of 75 our people, so ominous to the future prospects of the country, has been adopted, we shall find the root of the evil to lie in the defective state of our representation. The votes of the House of Commons no longer imply the general assent of the realm; they no longer carry with them the sympathies and understandings of the nation. The ministers of the Crown, after obtaining triumphant majorities in this House, are obliged to have recourse to other means than those of persuasion, reverence for authority, and voluntary respect, to procure the adherence of the country. They are obliged to enforce, by arms, obedience to acts of this House—which, according to every just theory, are supposed to emanate from the people themselves.
Nor is it one of the least evils of this system, that the ministers themselves are often compelled to retract their measures and alter their policy. If the House of Commons represented the people, the ministers would have no other difficulty than that of making their measures palatable to that assembly. Once sanctioned there, they would naturally obtain the cordial and affectionate concurrence of the country. But, in the present state of things, ministers are obliged to follow a winding and uncertain course; they are to be seen supplicating in one quarter, bribing in another, menacing in a third; they employ the whole session in courting the approbation of the great proprietors of the boroughs, and then, after the prorogation of parliament, they frequently find their whole web of policy undone by the sense of the country: and why? Because, in spite of the approbation of the House of Commons, a free press and a public opinion dare to condemn their conduct, and have power enough to prevent their measures being carried into effect.—Thus, to quote one instance among a thousand, after the House of Commons of 1816 gave their sanction to a standing army of 99,000 men, the remonstrances of the people have compelled the government, by repeated clamours to reduce it to 68,000, only two-thirds of the original establishment.
Now, in proposing reform, I propose a measure which must be for the advantage of a wise and good administration; nay, it ought to be wished for even by the present ministers. For my own part, I will confess that I have never seen in them any dark or dangerous designs of destroy- 76 ing the liberty of their country: all that I have been able to observe in them is little inclination to do any thing, either good or evil, so long as they were permitted to retain unmolested the advantages they derive from power, place, and profit. I believe, that in most cases it is perfectly indifferent to them whether the measures they carry are those which they themselves originally proposed or those which have been altered, framed, and dictated by the indignant sense of the country. I wish them, therefore, to find at once in parliament an echo of the public voice; to have it in their power to avoid the odium and disgrace of carrying in this assembly measures which they afterwards abandon; to be able, without the delusive support of a majority not acknowledged by the country, to feel at once in this House the pulse of the people of England. Such a reform, I am convinced, would be at once an advantage to the Crown, a blessing to the people, and the safety of the balance of the constitution.
In these conclusions I am happy to think that I am supported by great weight of authority. Lord Clarendon, it is well known, speaking of Cromwell's parliament, in which the number of members for counties was greatly increased, and the smaller boroughs totally omitted, says, it was generally thought "a warrantable alteration, and fit to be made in better times." Mr. Locke complains of the representation of decayed boroughs, and particularly of Old Sarum. Without entering more into detail, I may say, that Mr. Justice Blackstone, lord Chatham, Mr. Fox, and Mr. Pitt, all concur in recommending a temperate and rational reform.
Thus you have the sanction of lord Clarendon, the most venerable of Tory statesmen; of Locke, the most liberal of Whig philosophers; of Blackstone, the most cautious of constitutional writers; of Chatham, the boldest of practical ministers; of Mr. Pitt, the theme of eulogy to one great party in this country; of Mr. Fox, the object of affectionate admiration to another. Such an union of the great authorities of men, however different in temper, however opposed in politics, of men forming their judgment upon the most different grounds, living in different times, and agreeing in their conclusions upon hardly any other topic, strikes me as presenting a moral combination in fa- 77 vour of my proposition, that is in itself almost irresistible. The opinions of the men whom I have named are blended in our minds with all that is venerable in our constitution and our laws; their united suffrage in favour of any new measure gives to the mind much of that confidence, which in general is only obtained by following the lessons of experience; it takes away from reform all the ruggedness of innovation, and constitutes, as it were, a species of precedent in favour of the course which I am urging you to pursue.—Against these authorities I know of no equal names which can be adduced on the other side. There are, it is true, Mr. Burke and Mr. Windham, but they were both, perhaps, men who displayed more fancy than deep reflection in the view which they took of this question, and who have certainly left on record no confutation of the powerful arguments of the great statesmen, who thought differently from them on the subject.
Having now had the honour of stating to the House the unprecedented advance of the country of late times in wealth and knowledge; having stated the great increase of corruption which has crept into the elections, and how much confined the popular force has become in influencing the various modes by which members obtain seats in this House; having also stated the practical injury which has ensued in the wide distinctions prevailing on some great public questions, between the opinions of the people of England and of the members of this House, I now come to the consideration of a plan which I think calculated to remedy a great part of the existing evil. In considering what that, plan should be, I have naturally directed my attention to the remedial measures which have been heretofore suggested by persons of weight and authority on this subject. The proposition of lord Chatham was to add 100 to the number of knights of the shire sitting in this House. Mr. Pitt, likewise following the footsteps of his father, at first proposed an addition of 100 to the number of county members. Mr. Flood, in the year 1790, proposed the same numerical accession of strength to the representation, to be elected by householders throughout the country; and Mr. Fox at the time remarked, that the plan of Mr. Flood was the best he had ever seen submitted to the consideration of parliament. Feeling, therefore, the weight and influence of such great autho- 78 rities, I shall adopt their number in my present proposition.
My plan will then be, that a hundred new members shall be admitted into this House; and, as far as I have formed any settled opinion about the distribution of that number, the leaning of my mind is, that 60 members should be added for the counties, and the remaining 40 of the 100 should be for the great towns and commercial interests of the country. However, as to the manner of distribution and the mode of election, that is a branch of the subject which ought to be reserved for the gravest and most deliberate consideration, after the present motion shall have been carried.
It may, however, be said, that since the time when Chatham, Pitt, Fox, and Flood called for an addition to the number of members in this House, their proposed number of 100 has, in point of fact, been added by the Irish Union, which it is known has given that numerical addition to our body. Nor is there any reform more generally unpalatable than that which proposes to add to the numbers of this House, already rather too large than otherwise. In order to get out of this difficulty, I should say, that a number to the same amount as that given for the representation of Ireland might be struck out of the present list, with great benefit to the country; for instance, let the hundred be taken away from the hundred smallest boroughs, which return each two members to sit in parliament. Let these boroughs return but one member each, and then the present number of the House will be retained.
In proposing this plan, I cannot but recal to the recollection of the House, that it was not long ago since I hoped, that much of the real advantages of reform might have been obtained by the detection of prevailing corruption at the borough elections, and the filling up of vacancies so detected by a more popular form. By these means it was possible that a great popular representation might have been introduced, to the exclusion of a wide spreading corruption. In the hope of accomplishing such a change, I moved for a committee last year, to consider of the means of legally convicting boroughs of notorious corruption; and I am not sure that, if the matter had been then taken up in a spirit of sincerity, it would not have effected, in a silent and gradual manner, an adequate reform in parliament. 79 But to be efficacious, it requires the whole co-operation of this House, and such an aid, I am sorry to declare, I have not been so fortunate as to obtain. I am sorry that the House did not, on the occasion to which I allude, evince the sincere wish I had hoped for, to put down corruption. They agreed, it is true, to punish any specific act of corruption, whenever the particular case was brought under the consideration of parliament; but they would not agree to enact the only measures which were calculated practically to put down the evil they professed so anxious a desire to correct. In that respect their conduct resembled that of a police magistrate, who should declare his readiness to convict any notorious thief who might be brought before him, but who at the same time should proclaim, that though he knew there were bands of thieves nightly prowling through the streets, he would not send out a single officer of police to apprehend and detect them.
The indifference of the House to the measures I then proposed has compelled me to look for others more calculated to insure the co-operation of the country at large, and to obtain from the House, in the gross, that reform which they were unwilling to effect by gradual and unpretending means. I therefore press for your consideration the plan which I have now opened; I think it the best and safest proposition which can be suggested for the remedy of a notorious and growing evil.
There are, obviously, many minor details, into which it is unnecessary for me now to enter, and which can only be conveniently considered in a future stage of this proceeding: such, for instance, is the discussion whether copyholders ought to be permitted to vote in the counties; but these matters, repeat, had better remain over until after the introduction of a bill, defining the outline of my plan. The first step must be to ascertain whether the House will consider at all the question of parliamentary reform. If they once admit the necessity of the principle for which I contend, then I have no doubt they may hereafter, with little difficulty, become reconciled to the measures for its practical application. I think, under such circumstances, the modification of details might easily be accomplished. Leaving, therefore, all these details for future consideration, I will shortly state the answers 80 that strike me as applicable to some of the objections, which I have heard from time to time made to the expediency, if not to the principle, of parliamentary reform.
The first and most plausible objection against any alteration in the present constitution of the small boroughs is, that they constantly furnish the means of bringing into parliament men of great talents. This is an advantage which I am not in any way disposed to undervalue; but it is one which I submit would remain after my plan is adopted. I have no objection that a number of these boroughs should remain as they now stand; but what I object to respecting them is, that the small boroughs are so numerous, according to the present system, as not only to have their proper weight in the scale of the representation, but to have, in addition, the means of commanding a preponderating majority in parliament. They thus give the sanction of a general parliamentary assent to measures, which have in the main received only the concurrence of a number of individual borough-proprietors. We are thus, for the sake of obtaining a few men of talents, sacrificing the great end of parliamentary representation, the expression of the feelings and interests of the people. In order to preserve the show, we are giving up the substance of a legitimate House of Commons:Thus, if you dine with my lord May'r.Roast beef and venison are your fare;But tulip leaves and lemon peelServe only to adorn the meal;And he would be an idle dreamer,Who left the pie and gnaw'd the streamer.The next objection to which I shall advert, is founded on that inveterate adherence to ancient forms, however unsuitable, to old practices, however abusive, which influences so greatly the decisions of the English parliament. As this objection has its strength more in the feelings and affections, than in any logical argument upon which it is grounded; as it rests on superstition rather than on reason, I know not how to meet it better than by referring to an example in ancient story. The instance I allude to occurs in the history of Rome; and here I must entreat the attention of the hon. member for Corfe-castle, who may be styled the tory commentator, as Machiavel may be styled the whig commentator, on Roman history. About 370 years after the foundation of 81 Rome, there arose a contest, not very unlike the question we are now debating, whether the two consuls should continue to be chosen from the patricians, or whether one should be chosen invariably from the plebeians. Appius Claudius, who was the prime advocate of aristocracy and existing institutions in that day, argued, that the greatest evils would follow if any change was made in the ancient forms. He contended, particularly, that none but a patrician could take the auguries—that if any alteration were made the chickens would not eat—that in vain they would be required to leave their coops. The language given to him by Livy is, "Quid enim est, si pulli non pascentur? Si ex caveâ tardius exierint? Si occinuerit avis? Parva sunt hæc: sed parva ista non contemnendo majores nostri maximam honc rem fecerunt." Such was the reasoning of the Roman senator: reasoning, be it observed, not very different from that which is used to show, that our whole constitution will be subverted if any invasion is made upon the privileges of Old Sarum. But what was the result? After a successful war against a foreign enemy, Camillus, the dictator, had to encounter the most dangerous seditious at Rome, raised on this subject of the consulship. What did he and the senate do? It will be imagined that they passed restrictive laws; that they prohibited public meetings of more than fifty persons in the open air; that they punished the seditious orators, and restrained the liberty of speech for the future. No such thing. They assented to the petitions of the people. "Vix dum perfunctum eum bello atrocior domi seditio excepit: et per ingentia certamina dictator senatusque victus, ut rogationes tribuniciæ acciperentur; et comitia consulum adversâ nobilitate habita quibus L. Sextius de plebe primus consul factus." And what was the consequence? Discord and calamity? Quite the reverse. After some further contest, the whole dispute terminated in favour of the people; and the senate, to celebrate the return of concord between the two orders, commanded that the great games, the ludi maximi, should he solemnized, and that an additional holiday should be observed. Rome increased in power and glory; she defeated the Samnites; she resisted Pyrrhus; she conquered Carthage; nor in the whole of her famous history is any complaint to be found on record, 82 that the chickens declined to eat, or that they refused to leave their coops on account of the plebeian consul. The hon. member for Corte-castle, in relating this circumstance, attributes the concession of Camillus to two reasons: first, that he thought it prudent to grant what could not long be refused; and secondly, that he was weary of bearing popular odium. Now, I beseech the hon. member to follow the example of Camillus: let him grant what we cannot much longer refuse, without danger to ourselves and ruin to our country. Let him rest satisfied with the odium we have already acquired, and consent to change a course which has made us so obnoxious to the people of England.
Another objection, which I have heard made to reform is, that the people, if not numerically, are at least virtually represented; and as the clearest proof of their agreement in the judgment of parliament, it is stated, that when that judgment is once pronounced, they acquiesce in it without resistance, and the agitations upon that subject immediately cease throughout the country. This is to my mind any thing but a test of popular confidence in the wisdom of parliament. The acquiescence, thus spoken of, is what in fact has constantly appeared in the conduct of the people under every government throughout the world. For it is one thing for the people to complain, pending the agitation of any question, and another and very different matter to incur the risk of criminality, by declaring any violent dissent from the final adjudication of the constitutional authorities under which they live. The practice of the people is, to express their opinions while a great question is undecided; but when the decision of the supreme magistrate once takes place, they have only to choose between bowing to his authority, or acting in rebellion to his power. The people of England, who are distinguished above all other nations for their respect to law, whose characteristic is a submission to what has been adjudged to be legal, know very well that a decision of the king and his ministers may be altered, but that, once confirmed by parliament, the act is complete and final: therefore, while a measure is ministerial, they complain; when it becomes parliamentary, they are silent. But nothing is more irrational than under such circumstances to infer the approbation of the people from that 83 silence. When the parliament decided upon the propriety of omitting her late majesty's name from the Liturgy, did the people, because they then petitioned no more, acquiesce in the justice of that decision? Were they, when they abstained from remonstrating against the continuance of two post-masters-general, to be supposed as adopting the decision of this House, that two were necessary. All that ought to be inferred from the people's silence, when so situated, is, that a sufficient case for actual resistance had not yet occurred, and that it was useless for them to protest against the decision of parliament. I think the people judge wisely, because, in the times in which we live, the abuses they endure, though flagrant, do not amount to a justifiable ground for actual resistance. But let not any thing be inferred from their obedience, even if pushed still farther. The people, under the very worst species of tyranny, are often found sullen and silent victims. Does the House not know the perfect obedience which was paid to the acts of James 2nd? Was that tyrant not surrounded in his worst hour of misgovernment by adulatory lawyers, by subservient addressers, by servile surrenderers of corporate rights—in short, by every being who was ready to prostrate the liberties of his country? Did not James enjoy the full measure of this sort of obedience until the evils of his misrule at length compelled him to abandon his throne? Was not the Russian Emperor Paul, notoriously tyrannical as he was, obeyed by the vast population of his empire during years of empire during years of oppression, and up to the moment when the bowstring put an end to this despotic career? Was not Ferdinand of Spain obeyed when he signed with his own hand the death-warrants of his best subjects, until at last the flame of popular discontent, which remained so long smothered, burst forth in the blaze of rebellion, and consumed all the bulwarks of his arbitrary rule? No doubt that, in the day of these tyrannic acts, the inflictors of them thought, as some men are disposed to think here, that the people were in willing and satisfied obedience because they abstained from open resistance; and there were bad advisers to press for the continuance of fatal and desperate measures, until at length they became intolerable, and recoiled upon the heads of the abettors of them with ruin and destruction. 84 The same fate will befall England, if similar measures are pursued to a desperate extremity. Suppose a war arose, not of the people's own seeking, though the minister were to secure for it the approbation of parliament—suppose it led to bankruptcy and general confusion, in that melancholy hour, what answer would the uniform opposers of reform have for those whose advice, if timely attended to, would have saved the institutions of their country? What security would you have then, that the reform which has not been made from within, may not come with a vengeance from without?
And now, lastly, I come to an objection, which, in the failure of all other argument, after the defeat of every specific and tangible objection, is always brought forward as a complete bar to every proposition of reform. This consideration, which addresses itself rather to the nerves than to the understanding of those on whom it is meant to operate, is the example of the civil wars of England and the French Revolution. I likewise beseech your attention to the civil wars of England and the French Revolution; but I beg of you that it may be a sober attention, worthy of men and Englishmen. And first let me ask, will any man say that it would have been right to permit Charles 1st to abolish parliamentary government, to levy money by his own authority, and supersede the ancient liberties of England by the doctrine of divine right?—that it was not lawful and praiseworthy to resist a system of despotism, not intended, not projected, but actually established in England in the early years of that reign? Or will any man say, that the mean debauchery of Louis 15th was a fit employment for the resources of a great nation like the French? That the abuses of the French government did not require reform? If there be any man who will say this, let him enjoy his opinion if he will, but let him not presume to think himself worthy to enjoy the benefits of the British constitution; and, above all, let him not venture to think his counsels can be listened to in a British parliament.
I assume, then, and let us now confine our attention to one of the two countries—I assume, that lord Clarendon, and lord Strafford, and lord Falkland were right in their early opposition to the misgovernment of Charles 1st. But why not stop, it will be said, like lord Clarendon 85 and lord Falkland? Alas! Sir, who shall say that the policy of lord Clarendon and lord Falkland would have procured for us a system of liberty? Who will venture to lay his finger upon that point in the history of Charles 1st; when it would have been possible to save the monarchy without losing the constitution? Who shall presume himself to possess more learning than Selden, more sagacity than Pym, more patriotism than Hampden?
The question, in fact, was involved in inextricable difficulty. From all I have read, and all I have thought upon this subject, I take the cause of that difficulty to be this: The aristocracy were divided; they were divided between a larger party, who were satisfied to bear arbitrary power for the sake of property and tranquillity; and a smaller party, who were ready to sacrifice property and even life for the sake of destroying arbitrary power. But this last party, being the minority, were obliged to call to their aid the assistance of the people. Now the history of the world shows, that to accomplish great changes in government by the active agency of the people, is a task of great hazard and uncertainty. The people, in a state of agitation, are, in times like those I speak of, naturally suspicious; they awake from a dream of confidence, and find that their facility has been abused by those rulers in whom they had implicitly trusted. In this wreck of all their established reliances, in this anxious desire for the benefits of freedom, in this tremorous apprehension of falling back into slavery, what wonder is it that their fears should be continually roused, that they should listen to accusations even against their best friends, and that, with a mixture of zeal and timidity, they should destroy the beautiful temple at the same time that they tear down the foul idol that it contains? What matter of surprise is it, that, unable to know exactly the truth, they should rase the very foundations of a society under which they have greatly suffered?
But how are these evils to be avoided? How are these natural and usual calamities, attendant on popular revolutions, to be averted? By a united aristocracy. History here, too, tells us, that if great changes accomplished by the people are dangerous, although sometimes salutary, great changes accomplished by an aristocracy, at the desire of the people, are at once salutary and sale. When such re- 86 volutions are made, the people are always ready to leave in the hands of the aristocracy that guidance which tends to preserve the balance of the government and the tranquillity of the state. Such a change was the expulsion of the Tarquins from Rome; of James 2nd from England, These were revolutions accomplished without bloodshed and confusion, by the influence of an united aristocracy. I call upon the aristocracy of England, therefore, now to unite to make that change safe, which, if they do not unite, may be dangerous, but which will not be the less inevitable. I call upon the Tories to stay the progress of abuses, which must end in the convulsion of the state. I appeal still more confidently to the Whigs to unite for a similar object. If I know any thing of Whiggism, the spirit of Whiggism is, to require for the people as much liberty as their hands can safely grasp at the time when it is required and I am so far from agreeing to the flimsy accusations sometimes made against the Whigs, that I think, looking at their conduct from the beginning, their chief fault has been a fault of policy, in asking for more freedom and more securities for freedom than the people wished or could retain. The exclusion bill and the whole life of Mr. Fox are instances of this observation. When at the revolution, however, the government of this country was settled, the Whigs retained in their own hands the boroughs which they were able to influence. I really believe that to this measure the settlement of the house of Hanover is mainly owing. During the reigns of the two first kings of the house of Brunswick, the county members consisted almost entirely of the most determined Tories; and had they prevailed, we should probably have seen upon the throne the descendants of James 2nd, granting, perhaps, more securities for our religion, but not more guarantees for our liberty than James himself. I think, therefore, the Whigs were fully justified in retaining a certain quantity of borough influence, which they could not otherwise have justly held. But now, when the people are enlightened, and fully capable of understanding their own interests, the Whigs will act wisely if they yield to the increased intelligence of the country a due share in the return of their representatives. As they formerly retained the boroughs to secure liberty, let them now for the same noble object consent to part 87 with them. Let them show to the country, that if reform is impeded, the Whig aristocracy stands free from the charge of hindering its progress from any personal and selfish interest of their own. In so doing, they will give energy and effect their opposition in parliament; for I do not wish to conceal it, the possession of these boroughs has lessened the energy of their efforts in support of the liberties of the country. They have been able to state, with less firmness and frankness than they might otherwise have done, the causes of the misgovernment of the country; and the people, on the other hand, seem to feel that the Whig aristocracy retain something which properly belongs to themselves. Hence the union between the party of the people within and without the walls of parliament has been less cordial than it would be if the Whigs were content to yield something to the popular desire for reform: I beseech them to do so; but not them only; all the aristocracy of the land. Sir William Temple, a wise and amiable man, but whom no one will accuse of being too great an enthusiast for liberty, has said, that this great nation never can be ruined but by itself; and that, even in the greatest changes, if the weight and number rolled one way, yet England would be safe. I beseech you that the weight and number may roll one way; I beseech the possessors of great property to consider how nearly it concerns them to retain the affections of the great mass of the people. I beseech you, that, throwing aside all feminine fears, all pedantic prejudices, and all private advantages, you will consider only your duty as men, the wants of the age in which we live, and that permanent and pervading interest which we all have in the maintenance of the English constitution. May you remember, that the liberty which was acquired for you by your ancestors will be required of you by your descendants: then will you agree to a temperate and timely reform, reconcile the different classes of society, and prevent a convulsion which may involve all in one common ruin. Then may that proud constitution, which has now subsisted in maturity little more than one hundred years, continue to maintain the spirit of its freedom, and extend the sphere of its salutary influence, until its existence vies with that of the most durable institutions that were ever reared for the happiness of mankind in 88 any age or in any country.—I now move, "That the present state of the representation of the People in Parliament requires the most serious consideration of this House."
§ Mr. Horace Twiss
said, the House would not expect him to go through a tithe of the various matter adverted to, and the enormous theories by which it had been attempted to support this question. As to the objections urged by the noble lord against the influence of the Crown in that House, it appeared to him, that such influence could only be objectionable when the functions of government were completely exercised out of doors; but when the whole executive was, as it were, carried on in that House, the objection he thought did not stand upon such good ground. The same might be said of the interference of the Lords in that House. But, in advocating innovations upon the existing system of things, the advocates were not entitled to any benefit from the antiquity of any practice. They who opposed them had a right to follow such a course of argument; but surely not they who urged as the foundation of their argument the modern changes of time. But upon those silent changes he was willing to rest the issue of the question between them. And in reply to the augmentation of power in the house of Peers, he would urge the popular party, which in the lapse of time had insensibly grown up in that House, unknown to our ancestors. If bribery and corruption were found to exist in some of the details, it was not fair to charge the system with it. If the outrages of the Westminster mob had been attended with loss of life in the case of sir M. Maxwell, or if the attempt at drowning a candidate on a late occasion at Chester had succeeded, it would have been deemed murder by the law; but would it have been fair to charge these as evils upon the popular system? The noble lord, in his inducements for reform included the expense of boroughs. But, allowing the expense of a borough election to amount to 4,000l., he asked if for treble that sum any one would guarantee the cost of a contested election for Manchester or Leeds? The expense then being equal, or greater in the popular mode, he asked any one who had witnessed the scene of a contested election, the state of the public-houses, and the state of the electors, stimulated to outrage and disorder by every idle watch-word, which 89 was the preferable system? The expression of public opinion was much about the same in both cases. There was one very difficult point of difference between the noble mover, and himself as to the meaning of the word "representative." He (Mr. T.) understood by it a guardian of the interests of the people in parliament, to the best of his abilities. Let the noble lord look at the operation of public opinion in bringing about the abolition of the slave trade, the emancipation of religious sects, and the mitigation of punishment, before be declared that the people were not ably and amply represented in parliament. But, although it ought duly to represent public opinion, that House ought to oppose a steady, constitutional barrier, against the overrunning stream of popular innovation. The innovation contended for by the noble lord, was by some unaccountable means, styled moderate reform. This moderate reform was, to disfranchise a hundred boroughs at once. This was the amputation of an entire limb [Hear!]. It would be well for the House, in disposing of this question, to consider what would come next, if they satisfied the cravings of the reformers in this respect. They would next be told they had not gone far enough; and they would be driven on, from one point to another, until they arrived at complete radical reform. These attempts of the radicals had been, by some of their own number, compared to the operation of wedges! But, unhappily, those wedges would be found each succeeding one of larger dimensions than the last, and formed so as to fit the enlarged gap, till the solid fabric of the constitution was rent asunder, and riven to the very heart. Those who formerly only claimed to be governed equitably, now demanded to direct the government themselves. The House would consider how far, if they assented to the first of a series of premeditated changes in the constitution, they might not be instrumental in a total subversion of the monarchy. If a second time the monarchy was to fall before the democracy, the House of Commons, he trusted, would not a second time assist in achieving the downfall.
said, that as this was the first time upon which he had risen to deliver his opinions in that House upon the great question which was involved in the motion of the noble lord, he claimed the indulgence of the House while he 90 stated to them the grounds of the vote which he should give. He had, after much doubt and hesitation on this momentous subject, at length made up his mind to vote for a reform in parliament, and to support a measure calculated properly to produce that end. Still, however, entertaining great deference for the opinions of very many honourable persons which he knew differed on this point from his own opinions, he must declare that every feeling of his heart was engaged in the cause; and that the result of his inquiries and deliberations only tended to convince him, that it had now become absolutely necessary, for the salvation of the country, that a reform—and a very decided one—should be adopted. The reform he should advocate was not framed so as to establish a democracy—it was not meant to destroy the throne, but to support it. It was with a view rather of rescuing the throne from the dangerous situation in which the present system, as be conceived, was calculated to place it—it was in the hope of more firmly establishing it, that be meant to support the present motion. To him it did appear, that it must be almost impossible for any hon. member, whatever his sentiments on political questions might be, to take upon himself to assert, that the representation of the people in that House was in such a state, at present, as he would declare that he thought fit and proper. To prove the necessity of some reform, cases were by no means wanting; for they were to be found in many of the votes of the House. But, of all the various votes to which it had of late years come, none in his judgment was more apposite by way of example, than one which had been agreed to in an early period of the present session. It did strike him as that particular vote which of all others, in his parliamentary experience, was most likely to reflect discredit and disrepute upon parliament. A few weeks ago that House had manifested its willingness to vote the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act in Ireland, without any ground whatever being laid for such a suspension, excepting what was furnished by the speech of the minister, and the mere representation of the noble lord who was at the head of the government of Ireland, to that effect. Yet a measure of this momentous nature had been voted, and passed in one night. Now, it had turned out, that so slight was the necessity for such an act, that since this 91 hasty vote, it had not been in one single instance brought into operation; nor had there been one single person arrested under it. After this, would any person feeling a real regard, a genuine love for his country and the constitution—would any one be found to say, that House was constituted as a British House of Commons ought to be? For his own part, he really and truly believed, that there was no gentleman on the other side even, who would get up and say that, either in principle, or theory, or fact, the House at present was so constituted. He did not believe that any of those hon. gentlemen really wished to retain the present constitution of parliament, except from a fear of ulterior consequences—from en apprehension of future convulsions and revolutions. And, with respect to convulsions, he would beg leave to ask the House, looking at the state of affairs which at that moment actually existed in the country, whether, if the House continued to be constituted as it now was, and went on pursuing the same measures which it had long been pursuing, they could suppose that such convulsions could be averted?
On referring to the various arguments which had been at different times adduced against parliamentary reform, he found some that were singularly contradictory and inconsistent with each other. In some cases the argument had been drawn from the paucity of petitions presented for reform, in others, from the multiplicity of such petitions: in others, again, the objection or argument was founded on the supposed danger of the principle of adding 100 members to the body of parliament. Another principle, upon which parliamentary reform had been several years ago resisted in that House by one of the most honest opponents of the question, (the late Mr. John Pitt, afterwards lord Camelford) was this—that the House of Lords was no effective counter balance to the power of the Crown, and therefore it was necessary to keep up the borough system. This argument was not less extraordinary than the others he had mentioned. But, there had been some two years since, a speech published, purporting to have been delivered by a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning), whom he saw in his place, to his constituents at Liverpool, which was supposed to contain the newest and most approved arguments against reform. It had been cried up in that House as containing all that could be 92 advanced on the subject; and from the price at which it was published, (and by which, to judge from the size of the pamphlet, the booksellers must have been losers), it would appear to have been widely dispersed over the country. If he had not known that the right hon. gentleman was a strong opponent of reform in parliament—that the right hon. gentleman's object in making that speech was to instruct his constituents as to the dangers of reform, he should have said, upon perusing it, that it was a speech in favour of parliamentary reform. [Hear.] The right hon. gentleman, in his address at Liverpool, had spoken of the account which he owed to his constituents as their member, and as a minister of the Crown. This was a very democratical notion. Responsible as a representative to his constituents he certainly was, but how as a minister of the Crown the right hon. gentleman was more accountable to the people of Liverpool than to the people of Manchester or any other town, he did not perceive. The argument upon which the right hon. gentleman had chiefly relied was, the vast happiness the people of England enjoyed under the system as it existed. In the first place, this happiness might not be produced by the system; but if it were, he should be glad to know where that happiness was now to be found? Had it not entirely disappeared, and were not the people at this moment in a state of suffering not surpassed in the history of the world? In talking of the present constitution of the House, it was not a little curious to remark the present constitution of the government. Not long since, the noble marquis (Londonderry), had come down with a detailed statement of disturbances in Ireland: and he had concluded by frightening the House by assuring it, that "rebellion was stalking abroad in the land." Yet, what had another member of the government only a few nights ago asserted on the same subject? Not only that rebellion did not stalk the land, but that the disturbances were only not contemptible, because if not checked they might lead to dangerous consequences. Such were the trifling contradictions of the different members of government in the present constitution of the House! But, if it was to be contended, that all the happiness of the country was to be attributed to the House of Commons, he with much better reason, might attribute all its distress to the 93 House of Commons; because it was the special business of the House of Commons to see that the people were not damnified.
To return to the speech of the right hon. gentleman at Liverpool. He had proceeded to illustrate what he called the happiness oldie country under the powers that were, by reference to the six acts—those melancholy attacks upon British liberty, which had passed shortly before his election. At least this was unfortunate, especially as within two months after the address was delivered, rumours were heard of drillings in the north, and disorders prevailed, just as much as if the House had never passed the six acts. In addition, ministers had then thought it necessary, in spite of the happiness of the whole country, to build new barracks at Carlisle and Glasgow, and for the ground on which they were erected they had been compelled to pay 200l. and 250l. per acre. Such were the beneficent effects of the six acts. If they looked at the right hon. gentleman's account of the effect of the House of Commons on the other branches of the constitution, it was the more extraordinary that he approved of it. This, the right hon. gentleman observed, was admitted on all hands, that, from the first establishment of the House of Commons, it had been gradually growing in power, until, like Aaron's rod, it had well nigh swallowed up the other two branches, its fellows. The right hon. gentleman had said, that the constitution was good, because it was continually shifting and varying. Now, if it had been good at that time—if it had then been so nicely balanced at that time—it could hardly happen that it was exactly balanced now. If the system were good at the moment the speech was delivered—if at that precise period the balance were so nicely and delicately adjusted, it could not be so at present; because it was always altering. And did the right hon. gentleman mean that it had reached its perfection just at the date of his defence? He (lord F.) was convinced that the system—the constitution of the House—was hourly becoming more obnoxious; and though, perhaps, it might not yet have absorbed its fellows, it had taken a great stride to absorb one of the prerogatives of the Crown, and a prerogative of the highest value and importance. After the hill of pains and penalties against her majesty had been withdrawn, it became 94 highly desirable that parliament should be dismissed without any interview with the sovereign: it was felt that for the king to address both Houses, under such circumstances, would be attended with great difficulty; although it was most indecent that the Commons should not be thanked for granting to the king the largest stipend ever given to a monarch. Parliament had not been prorogued by proclamation; as, after consultation, it was finally determined that it could not be done: accordingly, as the king could not come down, and as the prorogation by proclamation could not take place, both Houses had taken upon themselves to dispense with one of the most ancient and undoubted prerogatives of the Crown—a prerogative which he, though a determined reformer, and a reformer to a great extent, would not have consented to abolish. The right hon. gentleman had once very candidly confessed in that House, that when he composed a speech, he sat down to consider the arguments which might be used against him, and to answer them before hand. But in this sort of anticipation the right hon. gentleman was apt to exaggerate the arguments of his adversaries. In this way, the right hon. gentleman had supposed the reformers to have contended, that the House of Commons was not sufficiently powerful. This no reformer could ever say. No: the complaint was, that the people were not sufficiently powerful. The six acts, the proceedings on the Manchester business, sheaved the power of the House of Commons; but what was wanted was, that in the exercise of that power they should be influenced by the will and the interests of the people. The right hon. gentleman, while he had described the power to which the House of Commons had grown up, had made it matter of praise that its constitution had not been changed. In ordinary cases of trust examination of character was required, and as that trust was increased, the necessity of scrutiny as to the persons trusted was greater. No doubt the House ought to be watched, and watched narrowly: so said the reformers, and so said the right hon. gentleman; for here he was himself a reformer. Strange and inconsistent as it might seem, the conclusion the right hon. gentleman had drawn from these premises was, that the people were to be well satisfied, because there was no material difference between the House of Commons now and formerly. It had been dis- 95 puted by some, whether if a man could lift a calf, and continue to lift it every day, he would grow stronger as the calf grew heavier, so as to be able to lift it still, when it was increased to the size of an ox. What might be the right hon. gentleman's present opinion, it might not be easy to say; but, applying the moot point to the House of Commons, he must contend, that the man would not be stronger, yet nevertheless he would be able to lift the ox. The fact, however, was mistaken. The House of Commons had materially altered. The right hon. gentleman had himself asserted, that it was subject to perpetual change; and he (lord F.) begged to assign one or two reasons why, in the nature of things, it must be very much altered from its original constitution. He had been long enough in parliament to recollect, that many years ago, a member would have been called to order for talking even of a peer being concerned in an election; much more if he had said, that peers and the Crown had their representatives in that House. In this respect there had been a change. As money made wealth so power increased power; and those who once were powerful daily became more so. He had formerly seen a little book, containing the names of members, and the places they represented a century ago; and it there appeared, that boroughs were usually represented by gentlemen residing in their neighbourhood. Now, however, the members were merely the nominees of individuals, without the slightest connexion with the places they affected to represent. In this respect, also, there was a change; and certainly not for the better. He found also, that in the time of George I. there were only 178 peers, but now there were 310: and, adding the bishops and the Irish peers, 382. The progress had been in the following degrees: In 1719, there were 178 peers. In 1780 there were 183. In 1821 there were 310. From the year 1760 to 1821, there had been no less than 209 creations. Was this no change in the constitution? He begged the House to consider how this increase applied to the question of reform. In the first place, there were taken from the choice of the people, 209 persons who might have been their champions; and those who might have been their champions, by the favour of the Crown were converted into their enemies. The enemies of the people were also increased by this operation in another way; for these 96 peers, who before, perhaps, had represented boroughs, on retiring to the upper house of course put their nominees into their seats; and thus, besides the 209 enemies in the new peers, the people met with 209 additional opponents in their representatives in the House of Commons.
The only plea on which those who resisted reform could defend the influence of the Crown was this—that the House of Commons, in fact, governed the country—that the three estates no longer existed to any practical purpose: but that the king, the peers, and the people had their representatives here, If this were true, then it was not true, that the representatives were chosen by the people; or, if it were true, then the right hon. gentleman was even a greater democrat than the reformers, and was for nothing short of a republic. If the House of Commons were elected by the people, and it absorbed all the power of the three estates, and if the right hon. gentleman were content with that state of affairs, he was satisfied, to all intents and purposes, with nothing less than a republic. [Some symptoms of impatience were here exhibited on the ministerial benches.] He could assure the House, that he was not anxious to occupy more of its time than was necessary. What he had said might be very absurd, but it did not appear to him to be so; and until he was of that opinion, he should persevere. [Hear, hear.] The inconvenience of frequent changes was dwelt on; but it was not for frequent changes that the advocates of reform looked: at least, the most zealous and able advocate of radical reform, Mr. Jeremy Bentham, conceived, that by what he called "annuality of election," a greater permanence would be given to the composition of the House than was now known. Those who contended, that the Commons included the three estates, and in fact governed the nation, were the real enemies of the Crown and of the peers, and they only seemed to wish to destroy the monarchy. The king had his representatives, and the peers had theirs; and, among the former were the lords of the Admiralty and the post-masters, who were sent to counteract the few real representatives of the people. He would contend that this doctrine of the three estates being equally balanced in that House was not the fact. But, even if they were balanced here, there was a power in another place which rendered that balance useless. As an instance of this, he would 97 refer to the Catholic question. That question had once been carried through the House of Commons. Neither the representatives of the Crown nor the representatives of the lords in that House were able to defeat it; but, in the House of Lords, the measure was rejected. Therefore, he had a right to argue, that the people had not fair play; because it appeared, that when a popular measure was carried in the Commons House of parliament, in spite of the representatives of the other two bodies, those bodies revived, exerted all their influence, and gave a death-blow to the question in another place. Besides, it appeared that the decisions of that House were considered by his majesty's ministers as of no importance. No later than last night, the right honourable member for the University of Oxford had declared, that if an address to the Crown were carried by the unanimous voice of that House, he would not advise his majesty to act. [Hear, hear.]
With respect to this new doctrine—this doctrine of an equal balance of the constitution—this doctrine of the strength of king, lords, and commons being equally poised in that House—it was not to be found in any of the books which treated of the law and constitution of the country. It was a new dictum, and, he conceived, a very dangerous one. How could they tell whether that balance, supposing it to exist was or was not correctly struck? But, if it were struck accurately, it was quite evident that a very trivial matter would unsettle that balance. The creation of the slightest additional debt—the appointment of an office—the sending forth a commission—these, and a thousand other circumstances, equally trifling, would at once overthrow this vaunted balance, and overthrow it, too, without any person being aware of the fact. The right hon. gentleman, speaking of the present state of the constitution, observed, that the country was accustomed to certain inconveniences which were connected with it, and had grown out of the lapse of time and the change of circumstances. The right hon. gentleman then went on to ask, "Would you reform the constitution on new principles, or bring it back to what it was at some former period?" In his opinion, the first question was not fairly put. The question ought to be "Do you wish to establish the constitution on old principles?" Supposing the question to be put fairly, he was inclined to think that 98 the principles contended for by most radical reformers did obtain in other days—not perhaps in form, but certainly in principle. He had very good authority for asserting this. Mr. Prynne, speaking on this subject, observed, that before the 28th of Henry VIII., when a 40s. freehold was declared to be the lowest qualification for a county elector, every inhabitant and commoner in a county had a right to vote at each election, whether he had 1d. 6d., or 1s. a year, in the same manner as the 40s. freeholder had at present. So that universal suffrage, which some gentlemen were pleased to denominate "universal confusion," though he did not join in the propriety of the designation, was, it appeared, formerly allowed. Previous to the time of Henry VIII., universal suffrage did exist in the counties. The right hon. gentleman asked with respect to cities whether the election of members to represent them was ever materially different from what it was at present? Now, there were grave authorities to show, that the right of voting in cities and boroughs was formerly intrusted to a much larger body than it now was. In favour of this doctrine they had a resolution of that House, in 1626, in which it was declared, "that the elective franchise did of common right belong to all commoners, and nothing could take it from them but prescription or ancient usuage." The celebrated antiquary, Mr. Cotton, Mr. Selwyn, and chief justice Coke, agree to the interpretation put by parliament on the documents to which this resolution referred; Dr. Brady, objected to it. He denied that those learned men translated the words communitas civitatum et burgorum correctly; alleging, that they did not understand the meaning of the word communitas, which they took in too extensive a sense. This was the way Dr. Brady got out of the dispute.
The right hon. gentleman had further observed, that there could not be a pure democracy in a limited monarchy like ours, because, if there were, it would overthrow the other estates. On this point he reasoned, and he endeavoured to produce instances to prove his proposition. Now, it would be a misnomer to denominate that a democracy which was not a pure democracy. It must be either a pure democracy or no democracy at all; if not a pure democracy, it degenerated into an aristocracy or an oligarchy; and he should like to know, where the book was to be found in which it was laid down, that there 99 were not three estates forming the English constitution—a king, an hereditary aristocracy, and an elective democracy. The right hon. gentleman then adverted to the state of things which, in his opinion, the reformers wished to introduce; and he asked, triumphantly, was this a mere idle theory of his? To show that it was not, he referred to the difficulties into which the parliament of 1648 had plunged the country, and observed, that the proceedings of that day showed what a radical parliament would do. Let the House consider what that parliament really did. They, undoubtedly, perpetrated some atrocious acts. The attainder of the earl of Stafford and the murder of the king were amongst the number; but they also perfected many good measures. In their first session they passed an act abolishing the high court of star-chamber. [Much interruption by coughing and cries of "hear."] Gentlemen could not suppose that he would cease in the middle of his observations. Many of the acts which this parliament passed in its first years were declared to be of such a nature that "uncorrupted posterity would reverence those by whom they were matured." If their early measures were good—so good that the people thanked the king, in the beginning, for assenting to them—the people of the present day had a right to thank that parliament for some of the measures which it adopted at its close, particularly for the navigation act. As the conduct of that parliament had been of a mixed character—as it had done some good and some bad acts—it was not fair in the right hon. gentleman to hold it up as an object for undivided blame The right hon. gentleman had stigmatised it with a title of a radical parliament;" but it remained to be seen how far that epithet could fairly be applied to it. With respect to the election of that parliament, he had not had an opportunity of searching the records to discover whether it was more popular than elections had usually been at that time. He had, however, no reason to suppose that it was more popular; but that, on the contrary the court party exerted themselves to procure favourable returns in different places. In one point it was most irradical; for it was the only parliament that ever affected perpetuity. They had heard of parliaments which sat for twelve, or thirteen, and even for twenty years; but this was the only one that aimed at perpetuity. They passed an act declaring that "they could not be 100 dissolved, except by their own consent."—The noble lord then proceeded to expatiate on the mischiefs which arose from the want of a proper check on the conduct of parliament. Where such a check did not exist, parliament soon became irresponsible; and all power, without responsibility, was tyranny. This was a strong argument in favour of short parliaments. He would ask the right hon. gentleman how he could reconcile it to himself, professing as he did, that he was a friend to the whole constitution, to the privileges of the peerage, and to the rights of the people—how he could reconcile it to himself to support the present state of things, as he described them, when the House of Commons had swallowed up the power both of the King and the House of Lords? In opposing the sentiments of the right hon. gentleman, he was also opposing prejudices in which he had himself been reared, and opinions which he had formerly entertained. He conjured the House to consider the motion seriously; convinced, as he was, that the people would not long put up with those sufferings and privations to which they had been exposed for a protracted period, unless parliament turned a favourable car to their complaints.
said, that the plan of Mr. Pitt went to reduce the rotten boroughs, but that great statesman had strongly deprecated annual parliaments and universal suffrage. He could never consent to hazard the fate of the country upon wild theoretic plans, and would therefore oppose the present motion.
rose amidst cries of "question." He said, that he should not trespass on the House at any length; but as, after a debate of five hours, not one half hour had been consumed by those who were desirous to oppose the motion, he thought it but fair that some opportunity should be allowed for the statement of their objections. He had also reasons of a more personal nature for wishing to occupy their attention, after the attack which the noble mover had thought proper to make upon him. The noble lord had said, that whether he went among Whigs or Tories, ministers or radicals, the Grenvilles were equally the abhorrence of the country. He was not disposed to shrink from a comparison with the noble lord—he was not ashamed to stand upon his own character, but would fearlessly oppose that character to the character of 101 the noble lord. The noble lord could urge no pretence to the opinion and confidence of the country which he (Mr. Wynn) could not advance with equal claims. This might be called vanity; but something was due to the injured feelings of an individual who had always pursued a direct and straight-forward course. The noble lord had stated, that he (Mr. W.) and his friends, when they accepted of office, and had vacated their seats, had no constituents by whom they could be called upon to explain and justify their conduct as a condition of their re-election. To this he would reply, that he was returned by as large and respectable a body of constituents as the noble lord. After he had accepted of office, he went down to that body, and having informed them of his appointment, and explained his reasons for again demanding their suffrages, he received their unqualified approbation, and was elected without opposition. He was sorry to be obliged to obtrude any account of his personal concerns or personal conduct on the House; but every man's character was dear to himself, and the attack which had been made upon him justified him in attempting to repel insinuations which he scorned, by appealing to his parliamentary life for evidence of his political consistency. When he first obtained a scat in parliament in 1797, he was directly opposed to these who occupied the opposition benches, many of whom were the same gentlemen who now sat there. And, why was he opposed to them? Because he was convinced that, under the name of liberty, they advocated licentiousness—because he thought that, under the idea of supporting the friends of freedom, they were encouraging and strengthening the enemies of the constitution. After the party whom he then opposed agreed in the necessity of prosecuting the war against the enemies of real freedom, the differences between him and them ceased; and without changing his principles, he voted generally with them. In 1817, he found nearly the same state of things as when he first entered the House. He found the same system of combining against the constitution, the same system of secret meetings for illegal purposes, the same disposition to tumult, and the same feelings of disaffection. The gentlemen opposite maintained the same conduct on the latter as on the former occasion. He did not complain of them 102 for supporting their own consistency; but if they were consistent in adhering to their side, he could not be called inconsistent for reverting to his former opinions. In these circumstances he found the difference between himself and the gentlemen who sat on the benches opposite growing greater and greater every day. This was particularly manifested in the different views which they entertained on the question of reform, and the necessity of the six acts of 1819, which, in his opinion, were indispensable for the salvation of the country. The noble lord had supposed the case of his (Mr. W.'s) being called to Answer questions on the hustings, relative to his reasons for joining an administration which he had formerly opposed; and he thought he could satisfactorily reconcile this apparent inconsistency. He had been opposed to ministers on the question of the currency. That question had been set at rest by a measure in which ministers and the House cordially concurred. All obstacles to an union on this topic had therefore been removed. After the peace, he had been opposed to ministers on the subject of the standing army. He resisted their original estimates in 1816, because he thought they manifested the adoption of a military system—objectionable, on account of its expense, but more objectionable from the dangers with which it threatened the constitution. Such was the military establishment which he opposed in 1816; but he had since seen that military establishment reduced below any estimate which he could previously have formed. The noble lord had adverted to his votes on the proposed repeal of the salt-tax at different periods, as evidence of his inconsistency; but these likewise admitted of a satisfactory explanation. He was opposed to that tax before he accepted of office: he was so still. He thought it highly objectionable; and was of opinion that it ought to be repealed as soon as possible, consistently with the public welfare. The gentlemen opposite had many of them opposed the income tax before their friends accepted of office, and when in office they had continued and increased it. In this they were not inconsistent; neither was he in voting against the immediate repeal of the salt-tax, of which he as highly as ever disapproved. When the question came lately before the House, he was of opinion that, in the face of the pledges of parliament 103 to maintain n sinking fund of a certain amount, and during the progress of a great financial operation, the success of which depended on the fidelity with which parliament observed those pledges, he could not consent to the immediate surrender of so great a portion of the public revenue as this tax supplied. On the question of Catholic disabilities, he stilt maintained every opinion which he had ever expressed. The question was so important, the interests which it involved were so momentous, that he was willing to incur every sacrifice td accomplish the measure; and if he had been of opinion that by refusing office he could have promoted its success more than by accepting it, he would not have hesitated for a moment to adopt the former course. With these views, it was pleasing to him to reflect, that a noble marquis, whose views on this subject were similar to his own, had been placed at the Irish government, and that a right hon. friend of his (Mr. Plunkett) had likewise come into office. These appointments he regarded as a pledge, that, though that great measure itself might not be immediately carried, it was only postponed; and in the mean time afforded the country a security, that the laws would be administered with impartiality, and that the privileges which the Catholics of Ireland had already obtained, would not remain a dead letter, but would be executed in their true spirit, and to their full extent. The noble lord had laid too much stress on the circumstance of some of his (Mr. W.'s) friends not having constituents, when he brought it forward as a disqualification for office. Suppose there should be a change of ministry tomorrow, and the two hon. members for Knaresborough (sir J. Mackintosh and Mr. Tierney) were promoted to office, would it be any reason against their appointment that they could not be examined by their constituents? Having said thus much in answer to the noble lord's observations respecting him and his family, he would now say a few words on the subject of the motion before the House. But he would first revert to a part of the charge against him which he had nearly forgotten. He was accused of not only accepting office himself, but of bringing in two of his friends to the board of control along with him. He could assure the House, that nothing would have given him greater pleasure than that his right hon. friend (Mr. S. Bourne) should have remained at the 104 board; but when he had long previously resolved to resign, it surely could not be justly made the subject of charge against him (Mr. W.) that he advised the appointment of two of his friends, with whose talents and assiduity he was best acquainted.—With respect to the motion itself, he saw no advantage that could arise from it. If a hundred members for boroughs were to be taken off, the effect would be to deprive the House of some of the most useful men in it. He could not agree with those who thought that the business of that House might be done well enough by experience alone, without any assistance from knowledge. He should be very unwilling to try such experiments. It always appeared to him a great advantage that professional gentlemen, who had no parliamentary influence of their own, should have opportunities afforded them of displaying their talents in that House. He could not; admit, with the noble lord, that the basis, of representation was narrowed, at the same time that the population increased. The system of representation was become lately more popular. As a proof of this he might refer to the boroughs of Aylesbury, Shoreham, Cricklade, and Grampound. It always appeared to him unwise to remove existing institutions, without first providing a substitute. If this motion were agreed to, was it to be supposed that it, would content the advocates for reform? No. The noble lord who spoke last had manfully declared himself the friend of annual parliaments and universal suffrage. Now, the effect of such changes would be, to alter completely the constitution of the House of Commons. He objected to the motion, on account of its general and indefinite nature. When any practical proposition was submitted to the House, he should give it his best attention but a general motion of this kind, he would always oppose.
presented himself to the House, and continued on his legs, amidst loud cries for Mr. Canning. He could assure the House, that he would not have interposed between its natural impatience to hear his right hon. friend, and his right hon. friend's speech, had it not been for a personal explanation. The noble lord had adverted to some expressions of his in a former debate, and had adduced them as a motive for adopting the important change which he recommended in the 105 system of our representation. The use thus made of his expressions made him anxious to explain them; for what he had anticipated at the time that he uttered them had actually taken place. His words had been made to bear a meaning which he never intended. He was described as an advocate for parliamenatry corruption, though no one who considered the argument in which he used the perverted words could justly impute such sentiments to him. He was accused of saying, that the general diffusion of knowledge made it necessary to maintain useless places as a counterbalance to the influence which knowledge created. Now, he had said no such thing. In speaking of the influence of the Crown, he had said, that before measures were taken to reduce it, it was necessary to consider what that influence was; because offices which at one time and under certain circumstances gave an undue influence, might at another time, if destroyed, endanger the just influence of the Crown. His argument was, that in the diffusion of knowledge, an infinitely greater check on the influence of the Crown existed in our days, than in former periods of our history; and that if the House proceeded to abolish an office to decrease that influence, they were taking a false estimate of its extent. But, did he argue against the diffusion of knowledge? Good God! could he be so preposterous! No. He said, the diffusion of knowledge was a blessing; and among other reasons, because it was a check on power. He would not argue the merits of the question; but he would say to the noble lord (Folkestone), that, if he had taken time to consider of the alteration which his opinions had undergone, he (Mr. R.) knew not why he should not be allowed time to consider why he should change his opinions. The noble lord had given, as a strong reason for the measure which he had proposed, the great change which had taken place in the public mind; and be (Mr. R.) would refer to that change, as a reason why the House should pause ere it adopted any such propositions. He would allow that on this question of reform a very great change had taken place in the public mind. There was a time when many thought that there was no salvation but in annual parliaments and universal suffrage. Now, the hundreds, or thousands, or millions, who held these opinions had come down to the more temperate reform proposed by the noble 106 lord. He thought this change on the part of the public, a conclusive reason why the House ought not to be in a hurry. A very great portion of the people had already changed their minds upon the subject; and it would be but fair to wait, in order to see whether they would not change their minds still further.
§ Several members then rose at the same time; but the cry for Mr. Canning was so loud and prevalent, that they gave way. Upon which,
§ Mr. Canning
rose and said*:—In obeying the call which the House has done me the honour to make upon me, I should be unwilling to occupy their attention for any length of time, upon a subject with respect to which my opinions are sufficiently notorious, were it not for the pointed manner in which I have been alluded to by the noble lord Folkestone who has lately addressed them. That noble lord has challenged me either to support my old opinions by new arguments, or to abandon them. He describes himself as having been converted by my former arguments against parliamentary reform, to an opinion in favour of it: and in his own conversion to a creed which be had before rejected, he fancies himself entitled to carry me with him, and to make me a proselyte against myself. Those arguments of mine which have produced this unfortunate and unforeseen effect upon the noble lord's understanding have been long before the public; and I have no disposition to complain that the noble lord has referred to them as pointedly and particularly as if they had been uttered in the debate of this night. It was natural too, perhaps, that the noble lord, with the ardour of a convert, should flatter himself that his new-born zeal would extend to all around him: but I must beg leave to say, that the noble lord has carried his expectations a little too far, when he desires me to read my own speeches backwards; and to avow myself, if not a confirmed democrat, at least a friend to moderate reform. With the permission of the House, I will state in as few words as possible, the grounds on which I continue to hold the same opinions which I have here to fore professed; and to draw from them the same conclusion.
Never, Sir, could those opinions be ad-*From the original edition printed for Hatchard and Son.107 vanced under more favourable auspices—never could a conviction of their truth and justness be expressed with better assurance of a favourable reception than on the present occasion; when we have just been informed by the noble marquis of Tavistock in presenting a petition for parliamentary reform, that the whole body of the nobility, of the gentry, of the clergy; of the magistracy, of the leading and opulent commercial classes—in short that the great mass of the property and intelligence of the country, is arrayed against that question. To this singular and valuable admission of the noble marquis (singular as to the opportunity chosen for declaring it, and the more valuable for that singularity) have been added others not less striking, on the part of the noble proposer of the motion. That noble lord, while contending for a change which he declares to be necessary for the salvation of the state, but which he admits to be a change serious and, extensive in its nature, has acknowledged, that under the existing system the country has grown in power, in wealth, in knowledge, and in general prosperity. He has detailed accurately and laboriously the particulars of this gradual and sensible improvement; and he has further acknowledged, that in proportion to the progress of that improvement a silent moral change has been operated upon the conduct of this House—which is now, he allows, greatly more susceptible of the influence of popular feeling and of the impressions of public opinion, than it was a century ago. Nay, he has gone farther still. He has, in anticipation of an argument which I perhaps might have used, if the noble lord had not suggested it, but which I am glad to take at his hands, expressed a doubt, or at least has shewn it to be very doubtful, whether a more implicit obsequiousness to popular opinion on the part of the House of Commons, would produce unqualified good;—avowing his own belief that if the composition of the House had been altered at the Revolution, the purposes of the Revolution would not have been accomplished, the House of Hanover would never have been seated upon the Throne. The composition of the House of Commons is now precisely what it was at the time of the Revolution. Whatevever change there may be in its temper, is, by the noble lords acknowledgment, towards a more ready obedience to the public opinion. But if the 108 House of Commons had at the time of the Revolution, been implicitly obedient to the people—in other words, if the House had been then entirely composed of members popularly elected—that great event, to which I am as willing as the noble lord to attribute the establishment of our liberties, would, according to the noble lord's declared belief; have been in all probability defeated.
Surely these admissions of the noble lord are in no small degree at variance with his motion. Surely such admissions if not ample enough of themselves to overbalance the direct arguments which the noble lord has, in the subsequent part of his speech, brought forward in the support of that motion, do at least relieve me from much of the difficulty and odium which might otherwise have belonged to an opposition to Parliamentary deform. If I contend in behalf of the constitution of the House of Commons such as it is, I contend at least for no untried, no discredited, no confessedly pernicious establishment. I contend for a House of Commons, the spirit of which, whatever be its frame, has, without any forcible alteration, gradually, but faithfully, accommodated itself to the progressive spirit of the country; and in the frame of which, if an alteration, such as the noble lord now proposes, had been made a hundred and thirty years ago, the House of Commons of that day would, by his own confession, have been disabled from accomplishing the glorious Revolution and securing the fruits of it to their posterity.
Thus fortified, I have the less difficulty in meeting the noble lord's motion in front; in giving, at once, a plain and direct negative to the general resolution, which is the basis of his whole plan. I do not acknowledge the existence of the necessity, which by that resolution is declared to exist, for taking into consideration, with a view to alteration and amendment, the present state of the representation of the people in the House of Commons—knowing as I do, that what is in the contemplation of many persons who are calling for Reform, could not be adopted; and not knowing what may be the ideas and designs of others; feeling an equal repugnance, both from what I know and what I do not know upon this subject, to a doubtful and equivocal proposition, which would have the effect of binding this House to enter into the consideration of an endless suc- 109 cession of schemes for purposes altogether indefinite; I object in the very outset to the noble lord's general resolution, independently of any objection which I may feel to his particular plan.
Not, however, that the plan itself is not abundantly fertile of objections. So far as I understand it, that plan is little more than to make an addition of 100 members to this House, to be returned by the counties and larger towns; and to open the way for this augmentation, by depriving each of the smaller boroughs of one half of the elective franchise which they now enjoy. This plan the noble lord has introduced and recommended with an enumeration of names whose authority he assumes to be in favour of it. Amongst those names is that of Mr. Pitt. But the House must surely be aware that the plan brought forward by Mr. Pitt differed widely, not only in detail, but in principle, from that propounded on this occasion by the noble lord. True it is, that the object of Mr. Pitt's plan was, like that of the noble lords, to add 100 members to this House: but this object was to be attained without the forcible abolition of any existing right of election. Mr. Pitt proposed to establish a fund of 1,000,000l. to be applied to the purchase of franchises from such decayed boroughs as should be willing to sell them. This fund was to accumulate at compound interest, till an adequate inducement was provided for the voluntary surrender, by the proprietors, of such elective franchises as it might be thought expedient to abolish. There was throughout the whole of Mr. Pitt's plan a studious avoidance of coercion; a careful preservation of vested interests; and a fixed determination not to violate existing rights in accomplishing its object. It was hoped, that by these means every sense of injury or danger would be excluded, and that the change in view would be brought about by a gradual process, resembling the silent and insensible operation of time. Here then, I repeat it, is a difference of the most essential kind between the two propositions of Mr. Pitt and of the noble lord; a difference, not superficial, but fundamental; as complete, indeed, as the difference between concession and force, or between respect for property and spoliation. I am not, however, bound, nor at all prepared to contend for the intrinsic or absolute excellence of Mr. Pitt's plan; and still less to engage my own support to such a plan, 110 if it were to be brought forward at the present time. But placing it in fair comparison with the noble lord's, I must entreat the House to hear in mind that Mr. Pitt never lost sight of the obligation to preserve as well as to amend; that he proposed not to enforce any reluctant surrender; nor to sacrifice any other than voluntary victims on the altar of practical improvement.
The noble lord has cited other grave authorities in favour of his projected reform. Now, I hold in my hand an extract from a work which probably will be recognised, as I read it, but the title of which I will not disclose in the first instance. Hear the opinion of an eminent writer on the right of parliament to interfere with the elective franchise.—"As to cutting away the rotten boroughs, I am as much offended as any man, at seeing so many of them under the direct influence of the Crown, or at the disposal of private persons. Yet I own I have both doubts and apprehensions in regard to the remedy you propose. I shall be charged, perhaps, with an unusual want of political intrepidity, when I honestly confess to you, that I am startled at the idea of so extensive an amputation. In the first place, I question the power de jure of the legislature, to disfranchise a number of boroughs, upon the general ground of improving the constitution."—"I consider it as equivalent to robbing the parties concerned of their freehold, of their birth-right. I say, that although this birth-right may be forfeited, or the exercise of it suspended in particular cases, it cannot be taken away by a general law, for any real or pretended purpose of improving the constitution."—Is it from sir Robert Filmer—is it from the works of some blind, servile, bigotted, Tory writer, that I quote the passage which I have now read? No; it is from an author whose name, indeed, I am not enabled to declare, but the shadow of whose name is inseparably connected, in our minds, with an ardent if not intemperate zeal in the cause of political freedom. It is Junius, who thus expresses his fears on the subject of interfering with the existing franchises of election, even for the purpose of effecting what he deems, with the noble lord, a beneficial change in the construction of the House of Commons.
The plan devised by Mr. Pitt, and the sentiments of this celebrated writer, equally furnish a contrast to the proposi- 111 tion of the noble lord; which is in effect forcibly to take away the elective franchise from one body of the people for the purpose of giving it to another: and to inflict forfeiture without guilt and without compensation.
But, even if I, and others who think like me, could be won over to this plan, by its vaunted moderation—by the circumstance of its going only half the length of the more sweeping reform deprecated by Junius—it does much surprise me that the noble lord should imagine that such half-measures would appear satisfactory to reformers. Surely, surely, that class of persons upon whom the noble lord reckons for support, and whom he considers as having of late so greatly increased in numbers look for a very different measure of alteration, from that which seems to bound the noble lord's present intentions. How happens it, for instance, that the noble lord, notwithstanding the accuracy of research with which he has apparently studied the subject in all its parts, has omitted any mention of Burgage tenures? He cannot but know that it is against that species of election that the popular clamour has been most loudly directed. Yet, amidst all the noble lord's enumeration of rights and modes of election, of freehold and copyhold, of large towns, and small towns, and counties, and villages, the words "Burgage Tenure," have never once escaped his lips! Does the noble lord mean to take away Burgage tenure, or does he not? If he does not, I will so far most cordially join with him; but let not the noble lord, in that case, expect the support of those reformers with whom he has recently allied himself. If he intends to pursue a double or a doubtful course; if he proposes to mitigate his violation of franchise in the hands of the present holders by taking only half away, and hopes by giving only half, to propitiate the new acquirers—it may be very presumptuous in me to pronounce an opinion upon a scheme which the noble lord must no doubt have turned and viewed in every light before he made up his mind to adopt it—but I do venture to opine, that in thus endeavouring to keep terms with both parties, he will in the end satisfy neither. The one will be as little contented with what is granted to them, as the other will be reconciled to what they lose. Needs there any further argument to show that whatever may be the 112 feasibility of other plans of reform, this of the noble lord is one which cannot possibly be useful to any purpose, because it cannot be palatable to any party?
It being plain then to demonstration that the noble lord's plan cannot succeed, the House must prepare itself, if his first resolution should be carried, to enter immediately upon the discussion of a variety of schemes; upon a concurrence of opinions in favour of any one of which, it would be vain to speculate. Plan will follow plan; all unlike each other in every respect, except in their tendency to destroy the present frame of the constitution. It is affirmed, indeed, that a great change has lately taken place in the public mind; that the sentiment in favour of reform is diffused more widely, while the violence and exaggeration of that sentiment in particular minds is much abated; that more people wish for a reform; but that there is a greater disposition to be satisfied with a moderate one:—that in proportion as a practical alteration has become more generally desired, the wild and visionary theories heretofore prevailing, have been relinquished and discountenanced. This may possibly be so; but on what ground am I to rest my belief of it? I have seen nothing in the course of the last two years, during which the noble lord on the floor (Folkstone) has been meditating on my speech at Liverpool, to lead me to think that those who two years ago entertained wild and visionary notions of reform have since relinquished them. If my speech was, as the noble lord declares, calculated only to make proselytes to the persuasion that the present House of Commons is inadequate to the discharge of its functions, and if such be in consequence the views which that noble lord has adopted, how can he entertain the notion that the small alterations proposed by the noble mover will satisfy genuine reformers? Let him be assured that he must go far deeper into democracy before he can hope to satisfy the cravings of reform; nay, without the hope of satisfying them—though the constitution may be sacrificed in the experiment.
Sir, if the House looks only to the various plans of reform which have at different times been laid upon its table, not by visionary speculatists, but by able and enlightened men, some of the ornaments of this and the other House of Parliament, how faint and flat is the noble 113 mover's present plan in comparison with them? Let us take for example that one of the plans which had the greatest concurrence of opinions, and the greatest weight of authority in its favour. A petition was presented to this House in 1793, which may perhaps be considered as the most advised and authentic exposition of the principles of parliamentary reform, that ever has been submitted to the consideration of this House or of the public. Those principles are developed by the petitioners, with singular clearness and force, and expressed in admirable language. It was presented in 1793, by a noble person, now one of the chief lights of the other House of Parliament, as the petition of the "Friends of the People, associated for the purpose of obtaining a Reform in Parliament." In that petition, certain distinct propositions are laid down as the basis of a reform, which, to my recollection, have never yet been disclaimed, either on the part of the petitioners, or of those who have succeeded them in the same pursuit. The petitioners complain, in the first place, that there is not an uniform right of voting;—secondly, that the right of voting is in too small bodies;—thirdly, that many great bodies are excluded from voting;—and, fourthly, they complain of the protracted duration of parliaments.! Does the noble lord believe that all these notions are forgotten? that no persons still cherish them as the only means of effecting the salvation of the country?—or, does he subscribe to, them all, although he may not think this the time for pressing them upon the House?
For my part, Sir, I value the system of parliamentary representation, for that very want of uniformity which is complained of in this petition; for the variety of rights of election. I conceive, that to establish one uniform right would inevitably, be, to exclude some important interests from the advantage of being represented in this House. At all events the noble lord's plan does not cure this objection. The rights of voting would remain as various after the adoption of his plan, as before; and a new variety would be added to them. Even of burgage tenures, the most obnoxious right of all, and the most indignantly reprobated by the petition of 1793, the noble lord would carefully preserve the principle—only curtailing, by one-half, its operation.*See Parl. Hist. v. 30, p. 789.114 It must be admitted that this alleged defect of variety in rights of voting, was much more directly dealt with by the hon. member for Durham (Mr. Lambton), in the last session; when he brought forward, with great ability, and with the utmost temper and moderation, his specific plan of reform.* That hon. gentleman proposed to treat the constitution of the House of Commons as a rasa tabula, and to reconstruct the system of representation altogether upon an uniform plan—abating without scruple every right and interest that stood in his way. His plan differed as materially from that of the noble lord, as the noble lord's differs from that of Mr. Pitt, and from the project of 1793. I do not mean to say—(I shall not be so misunderstood, I trust) that I approved therefore, of the hon. member for Durham's plan; or thought it either practicable or tolerable. Certainly, no conqueror of an invaded country ever part celled out with a more unsparing hand, the franchises and properties of individuals and communities. But that plan had at least one merit which the noble lord's has not; it cured the alleged evil of diversified rights, and tended to produce the desired uniformity of representation.
Then, Sir, as to the duration of parliament. Triennial parliaments, it is averred by the petitioners of 1793, would be greatly preferable to septennial. The House would become a more express image of its constituents, by being more frequently sent back to them for election; deriving like the giant of old, fresh vigour from every fresh contact with its parent earth. But the noble lord, if I understand him rightly, admits that this particular reform would be rather an aggravation of inconveniences—other defects in the constitution remaining unchanged. Nothing indeed can be more clear than this proposition. One of the main objections to close representation, at present, is, the advantage which the member for a close borough has over one chosen by a popular election. The dissolution of parliament sends the popular representative back to a real and formidable trial at the bar of his constituents. For the representative of a close borough there is no trial at all; he sits still, and is returned without any struggle or inquiry. It is obvi-*For a copy of Mr. Lambton's proposed Bill, see Vol. 5, App. p. ciii.115 ous that the proportion of this comparative disadvantage must be aggravated by every repetition of a general election.
But further. What is the original sin of septennial parliaments? Why, that the Septennial bill was a violent measure. Granted: it was so. But this allegation, however just, applies only to one enactment of the act, not to its general policy. The violence of the Septennial act did not consist in the prolongation of the duration of parliaments in time to come: for to do that, the supreme authority of the state was undoubtedly as competent, as it was to shorten the duration of parliaments by the Triennial act, some twenty years before. The violence consisted in prolonging the duration of the then existing parliament—in extending to seven years, a trust confided but for three. This, and this alone, is the questionable part of that act—questionable, I mean, as to right. I will not now enquire how far the political necessities of the time justified so strong an act of power. It is quite enough, for any practical purpose, that the evil, whatever it was, is irremediable; that its effect is gone by; that the repeal of the Septennial act now cannot undo it; and that, therefore, how grave soever the charge against the framers of the act might, be for the arbitrary injustice of its immediate operation (a question, into the discussion of which I have said I will not enter), the repeal of it would have no tendency to cure the vice of that enactment which has given the Septennial act its ill name; but would only get rid of that part of it which is blameless at least, if not (as I confess I think it) beneficial in its operation. But however much the duration of parliaments may be entitled to a separate discussion, it is not to that point that the noble lord has called our attention to night. A change in the constitution of the House of Commons, is the object of the noble lord's motion.
That such change is necessary, the noble lord asserts—and I deny. I deny altogether the existence of any such practical defect in the present constitution of this House, as requires the adoption of so fearful an experiment. The noble lord has attempted to show the necessity of such a change by enumerating certain questions on which this House has, on sundry occasions, decided against the noble mover's opinion, and against the politics and interests of that party in the state, of which the noble mover is so con- 116 spicuous an ornament. But if such considerations be sufficient to unsettle an ancient and established form of political constitution, how could any constitution—any free constitution—exist for six months? While human nature continues the same—the like divisions will arise in every free state; the like conflict of interests and opinions; the like rivalry for office; the like contention for power. A popular assembly always has been and always will be exposed to the operation of a party-feeling, arraying its elements and influencing its decisions;—in modern as in ancient times; in Great Britain, in this our day, as heretofore in Athens or in Rome. No imaginable alteration in the mode of election can eradicate this vice—if it be a vice;—or can extinguish that feeling, be it good or bad, which mixes itself largely in every debate upon the public affairs of a nation—the feeling of affection or disfavour towards the person in whose hands is the conduct of those affairs. I am not saying that this is a proper and laudable feeling: I am not contending that partiality ought to influence judgment; still less that when judgment and partiality are at variance, the latter ought, in strict duty, to preponderate. I am not affirming that in the discussion of the question—"What has been done?"—the question—Who did it?"—ought silently to dictate or even to modify, the answer;—that the case should be nothing, and the men every thing. I say no such thing. But I do say, that while men are men, popular assemblies, get them together how you will, will be liable to such influence. I say that in discussing in a popular assembly the particular acts of a government, the consideration of the general character of that government, and the conflicting partialities which lead some men to favour it, and others to aim at its subversion, will, sometimes openly and avowedly, at other times insensibly even to the disputants themselves, control opinions and votes, and correct, or pervert (as it may be) the specific decision. I say that, for instance, in the discussion upon the Walcheren expedition, which has been more than once selected as an example of undue influence and partiality, there was notoriously another point at issue beside the specific merits of the case; and that point was—whether the then administration should or should not be dismissed from the service of their country? Never, perhaps, was the struggle pushed farther 117 than on that occasion; and that vote substantially decided the question "in what hands should be placed the administration of affairs." I am not saying that this was right in the particular instance—I am not saying that it is right in principle. But right or wrong, such a mode of thinking and acting, is, I am afraid, essentially in the very nature of all popular governments; and most particularly so in that of the most free.
The noble lord has himself stated that in the instance of the Revolution the parliament did wisely in setting at nought the immediate feelings of its constituents. There cannot indeed be the slightest doubt that had the nation been polled in 1688, the majority would have been found adverse to the change that was then effected in the government; but parliament, acting in its higher and larger capacity, decided for the people's interests against their prejudices. It is not true, therefore, that the House of Commons is necessarily defective, because it may not instantly respond to every impression of the people.
In the year 1811, I myself divided in a minority of about forty against an over whelming majority, on the question relating to the depreciation of the currency. It would be idle to deny that the majority, which sturdily denied the fact of that depreciation, then spoke the sentiments of the country at large; they certainly did so; but who will now affirm that it would have been a misfortune if the then prevailing sense of the country had been less faithfully represented in the votes of this House? What a world of error and inconvenience should we have avoided, by a salutary discrepancy, at that time, between the constituent and the representative! Eight years afterwards, but unluckily after eight years' additional growth of embarrassment—in 1819, the principles which had found but about forty supporters in 1811, were adopted unanimously, first by a committee of this House, and then by this House itself. But the country was much slower in coming back from the erroneous opinions which the decision of this House in 1811 had adopted and confirmed. In 1819, as in 1811, if London and the other principal towns of the kingdom had been canvassed for an opinion, the prevailing opinion would still have been found nearly what it was in 1811. Yet is it necessary to argue that the decision of 118 the House in 1819 against the opinion of the country, was a sounder and wiser decision than that of 1811 in conformity to it? Never then can I consider it as a true proposition that the state of the representation is deficient, because it does not immediately speak the apparent sense of the people—because it sometimes contradicts, and sometimes goes before it. The House, as well as the people, are liable to err; but that the House may happen to differ in opinion from the people, is no infallible mark of error. And it would, in my opinion be a base and cowardly House of Commons, unworthy of the large and liberal confidence without which it must be incompetent to the discharge of its high functions, which having, after due deliberation, adopted a great public measure, should be frightened back into an acquiescence with the temporary excitement which might exist upon that measure out of doors.
Upon another great question which I have much at heart, I mean the Roman Catholic question, I have not the slightest doubt that the House has run before the sense of the country; which is now, however, gradually coming up to us. I have no doubt that in all our early votes on this most important question, we had not the country with us; but I am equally confident that the period is rapidly advancing, when the country will be convinced that the House of Commons has acted as they ought to have done. If on such questions as these—questions before which almost all others sink into insignificance—the House of Commons have been either against, or before, the opinions of the country, the proposition that the representative system is necessarily imperfect because it does not give an immediate echo to the sentiments of the people, is surely not to be received without abundant qualification. On this ground, therefore, there is no foundation for the noble lord's motion; unless the free expression of an honest and conscientious opinion, when it may happen to differ from that of its constituents, be inconsistent with the duty and derogatory to the character of a representative assembly.
To return to the other noble lord (Folkestone), who has no sooner renounced his former faith and adopted a new one, than he seats himself in the confessional chair, and calls upon me for my recantation:—that noble lord has de- 119 sired me to explain and defend the proposition which I have heretofore laid down, that those who wish to reform the House of Commons must intend to reform it upon one of two principles:—either to construct it anew, or to bring it back to the state at which it existed at some former period. Before I consent to be thus catechised by the noble lord, I might reasonably ask him in what third sense the word reform can be understood—except that in which it is sometimes applied to a military corps; which means to disband and cashier it altogether? Short of that mode of disposing of the House of Commons (for which I presume the noble lord is not yet altogether prepared) there is, so far as I know, or can conceive (until the noble lord shall further enlighten me), no other way in which a reform can take place, than those which I have specified. Between those two modes then, I must still desire the noble lord to make his choice. If his choice be another construction—a totally new scheme of House of Commons—is it unreasonable in me that, before I pin my faith upon that of the noble convert, I desire to behold that beau idéal—that imaged perfection of political good by which his reason is fascinated, and which his inventive fancy has pictured to him as the standard of parliamentary purity? If the second of my proposed alternatives, be that which the noble lord prefers, the inquiry that I have then to make of him is merely historical; and surely he can be at no loss for an immediate answer to it—what is the golden era at which the House of Commons was precisely what you would have it?
Simple, however, as this latter question is, I have never yet met with the reformer, who did not endeavour to evade it. I must endeavour, therefore, to collect the best answers that I can, from such partial indications of opinion as are scattered up and down among the general arguments for reform. Some theorists are fond of tracing back the constitution to the twilight times of history, where all that can be clearly discovered is, that when a parliament met, it usually set about a fortnight, granted a subsidy or two, and was forthwith dissolved. It is not to this infancy of our institutions that any one will soberly refer, for the likeness of such a House of Commons as would be competent, in the present age, to transact the business of the country and to main- 120 tain its due importance in the constitution. But, the House gradually attained a more matured existence; it has grown into a co-ordinate, and is now the preponderant element of the constitution. If the House has thus increased in power, is it, therefore, necessary that it should also become more popular in its formation? I should say—just the reverse. If it were to add to its real active governing influence, such an exclusively popular character and tone of action as would arise from the consciousness that it was the immediately deputed agent for the whole people, and the exclusive organ of their will—the House of Commons, instead of enjoying one-third part of the power of the state, would, in a little time, absorb the whole. How could the House of Lords, a mere assembly of individuals however privileged, and representing only themselves, presume to counteract the decisions of the delegates of the people? How could the Crown itself, holding its power as I should say, for the people, but deriving it altogether as others would contend, from the people—presume to counteract, or hesitate implicitly to obey, the supreme authority of the nation assembled within these walls?—I fear the noble lord (Folkestone) is not prepared to answer these questions. I do not presume to say, that they are unanswerable; but I affirm that, since they were propounded in my obnoxious speech at Liverpool, they have yet received no answer here or elsewhere. In truth, they admit of no other answer than one which I happen to have fallen upon within these few days, in the report of a debate on parliamentary reform which took place about thirty years ago; and for which, in the absence of any answer of his own, the noble lord will undoubtedly be very thankful. It is in these words:—"It has been said, that a House of Commons, so chosen as to be a complete representative of the people, would be too powerful for the House of Lords, and even for the king: they would abolish the one, and dismiss the other. If the king and the House of Lords are unnecessary and useless branches of the constitution, let them be dismissed and abolished: for the people were not made for them, but they for the people. If, on the contrary, the king and the House of Lords are felt and believed by the people to be not only useful but essential parts of the constitution, a House of Commons freely chosen 121 by and speaking the sentiments of the people, would cherish and protect both, within the bounds which the constitution had assigned to them*." These are reported to have been the words of a man, the lustre of whose reputation will survive through distant ages, and of whom I can never intend to speak but with feelings of respect and admiration: they are the words of Mr. Fox. That the report is accurate to a letter, I am not entitled to contend; but the substance of an argument so strikingly important, cannot have been essentially misapprehended. I quote these words with the freedom of history; not with the design of imputing blame to the speaker of them, but because they contain a frank solution (according with the frankness of his character) of the difficulty with which, in these days, I have not found any one hardy enough to grapple. So then—a House of Commons freely chosen by the people, would, it seems, "cherish and protect" the House of Lords and the Crown, so long as they respectively kept within the bounds allotted to them by the constitution. Indeed! cherish and protect!—but cherish and protect, if so and so:—and how, if not so and so?—How, if the House of Commons in its reformed character, should happen to entertain a different opinion with respect to the "bounds" to be allotted to the Crown and to the Lords, under the new constitution? What would then be substituted for cherishment and protection?—A fearful question! but a question which must be answered, and much more satisfactorily than I can anticipate, before I can consent to exchange that equality and coordination of powers among the three branches of our present constitution, in which its beauty, its strengh, its stability, and the happiness of those who live under it, consist—for a constitution in which two of those powers should confessedly depend for their separate existence on the disposition of the third to "cherish and protect?" them. This new constitution might be very admirable: but it is not the constitution under which I live; it is not the constitution to which I owe allegiance; it is not the constitution which I would wish to introduce; and in order not to introduce a constitution of this nature, I must not consent to the reform of the House of Commons.*Parliamentary History, vol. 30, p. 921.122 If this House is adequate to the functions which really belong to it—which functions are, not to exercise an undivided, supreme dominion, in the name of the people, over the Crown and the other branch of the legislature—but, checking the one and balancing the other, to watch over the people's rights, and to provide especially for the people's interests: if, I say, the House is adequate to the performance of these its legitimate functions, the mode of its composition appears to me a consideration of secondary importance. I am aware that, by stating this opinion so plainly, I run the risk of exciting a cry against myself; but it is my deliberate opinion, and I am not afraid to declare it. Persons may look with a critical and microscopic eye into bodies physical or moral, until doubts arise whether it is possible for them to perform their assigned functions. Man himself is said by inspired authority to be "fearfully" as well as "wonderfully made." The study of anatomy, while it leads to the most beneficial discoveries fur the detection and cure of physical disease, has yet a tendency, in some minds, rather to degrade than to exalt the opinion of human nature. It appears surprising to the contemplator of a skeleton of the human form, that the eyeless skull, the sapless bones, the assemblage of sinews and cartilages, in which intellect and volition have ceased to reside—that this piece of mechanism should constitute a creature so noble in reason, so infinite in faculties, in apprehension so like a God; a creature formed after the image of the Divinity—to whom ProvidenceOs—sublime dedit: cœlumque tueriJussit, et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus:So, in considering too curiously the composition of this House, and the different processes through which it is composed—not those processes alone which are emphatically considered as pollution and corruption, but those also which rank among the noblest exercises of personal freedom—the canvasses, the conflicts, the controversies, and (what is inseparable from these) the vituperations, and excesses of popular election—a dissector of political constitutions might well be surprised to behold the product of such elements in an assembly—of which, whatever may be its other characteristics, no man will seriously deny that it comprehends as much of intellectual ability and of 123 moral integrity as was ever brought together in the civilized world. Nay, to an unlearned spectator, undertaking for the first time an anatomical examination of the House of Commons, those parts of it which, according to theory, are its beauties, must appear most particularly its stains. For while the members returned for burgage-tenure seats, or through other obscure and noiseless modes of election, pass into the House of Commons unnoticed and uncriticised, their talents unquestioned, and their reputations unassailed;—the successful candidate of a popular election often comes there loaded with the imputation of every vice and crime that could unfit a man, not only for representing any class of persons, but for mixing with them as a member of society. The first effect of a reform which should convert all elections into popular ones, would probably be, to ensure a congregation of individuals, against every one of whom a respectable minority of his constituents would have pronounced sentence of condemnation. And if it he se very hard that there are now a great number of persons who do not directly exercise the elective franchise, and who are therefore represented by persons whom others have chosen for them;—would this matter be much mended when two-fifths of the people of England should be represented not only without their choice, but against their will; not only by individuals whom they had not selected, but by those whom they had declared utterly unworthy of their confidence?
Again;—should we have no cause to lament the disfranchisement of those boroughs which are not open to popular influence? How many of the gentlemen who sit opposite to me, the rarest talents of their party, owe their seats to the existence of such boroughs? When I consider the eminent qualities which distinguish, for instance, the representatives of Knaresborough, Winchelsea, Wareham, Higham-Ferrers, I never can consent to join in the reprobation cast upon a system which fructifies in produce of so admirable a kind. No, Sir, if this House is not all that theory could wish it, I would rather rest satisfied with its present state, than by endeavouring to remedy some small defects, run the hazard of losing so much that is excellent. Old Sarum, and other boroughs, at which the finger of scorn is pointed, are not more under private 124 patronage now than at the periods the most glorious in our history. Some of them are still in the possession of the descendants of the same patrons who held them at the period of the Revolution. Yet in spite of Old Sarum, the Revolution was accomplished, and the house of Hanover seated on the throne. In spite of Old Sarum did I say? No: rather by the aid of Old Sarum and similar boroughs; for the House has heard it admitted by the noble mover himself, that if the House of Commons of that day had been a reformed House of Commons, the benefits of the Revolution would never have been obtained.
The noble lord, in his opening speech, made some allusion to the constitutional history of ancient Rome, and called upon my hon. friend opposite (Mr. Bankes) as the most recent historian of that republic, to vouch for his facts, and for the application of them. Let me follow the noble lord into his Roman history, to ask him a single question. How was the senate of Rome composed?—I doubt whether even my hon. friend opposite can inform us. All that is certainly known on the subject is, that one and by far the most usual way of gaining admission to the senate—(this has not a very reforming sound)—was through office. Yet that senate dictated to the world, and adequately represented the majesty of the Roman people. History blazons its deeds; while antiquarianism is poring into its pedigree.
But have the defects imputed to the composition and constitution of the House of Commons increased with time? are they grown more numerous or more unsightly? I believe the contrary. I believe, Sir, that in whatever period of our history the composition and constitution of the House of Commons are examined, not only will the same alleged abuses as are now complained of be found to have prevailed; but I will venture to say, prevailed in a degree which could not be now avowed in debate without a violation of our orders. There is great difficulty in speaking on this delicate part of the subject. It has been made an article of reproach by the reformers, that the enemies of reform treat these matters with shameless indifference; that we now speak with levity of transactions the bare mention of which, according to the dictum of once the highest authority in this House, was calculated to make our ancestors perform certain evolutions in their graves.
125 Now it is very hard that the want of shame should be imputed to those who are upon the defensive side of the argument. They who attack, scruple not to advance charges of gross corruption in the grossest terms; and they who defend are reduced to the alternative either of affecting to be ignorant of the nature of those charges, or of admitting notorious facts, and accounting for or extenuating them; and if they take the latter course, they are accused of shamelessness. Be that as it may, however, it may be curious, and perhaps consolatory, to show to the moralists who are so sensitive upon these subjects, that corruption—as they call it—that (in plain words) influence in the return of members to parliament, if it be a sin, is not one for which their own generation is exclusively responsible. The taint, if it be one, is not newly acquired, but inherited through a long line of ancestors. The purge, or the cautery, may be applied to the present generation; but I can show that the original malady is at least as old as the reign of Henry 6th—a period beyond which the most retrospective antiquary will not require of us to go back in search of purity of election.
Sir, in the reign of Henry 6th the duchess of Norfolk thus instructed her agent as to the election of members for the county of Norfolk:—"Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you heartily well; and forasmuch as it is thought right necessary for diverse causes, that my lord have at this time in the parliament such persons as belong unto him, and be of his menial servants—we heartily desire and pray you, that at the contemplation of these our letters, ye will give and apply your voice unto our right well beloved cousin and servants John Howard, and sir Roger Chamberlayn to be knights of the shire. Framlingham Castle, this 8th day of June, 1155."
What follows probably related to the same election; it is addressed (by lord Oxenford) to the same individual as the preceding extract. "My lord of Norfolk met with my lord of York at Bury on Thursday, and there [they] were together till Friday, nine of the clock, and then they departed; and there a gentleman of my lord of York took unto a yeoman of mine, John Deye, a token and a sedell (schedule) of my lord's intent, whom he would have knights of the shire, and I send you a sedell inclosed of their names in this letter; wherefore methinketh 126 it [were] well done to perform my lord's intent.*
The next extract which I shall read to the House is of seventeen years later date than the preceding ones. It is from a letter addressed by one of the duchess of Norfolk's household, to the bailiff of the borough of Maldon; and is dated in the year 1472, the 11th of Edward 4th: "It were necessary for my lady and you all (her servants and tenants) to have in this parliament as for one of the burgesses of the town of Maldon, such a man of worship and of wit as were towards my said lady; and also such one as is in favour of the king and of the lords of his council nigh about his person; certifying you, that my lady for her part, and such as be of her council, be most agreeable that all such as be her farmers and tenants and well-willers, should give your voice to a worshipful knight and one of my lady's council, sir John Paston, which stands greatly in favour with my lord Chamberlain; and what my said lord chamberlain may do with the king, and with all the lords of England, I trow it be not unknown to you."†
It appears from the following letter that the said member-elect for the borough of Maldon, sir John Paston, (to whom it is addressed) had expected to be nominated a knight of the shire; but that his patrons had ordered it otherwise;—"My lord of Norfolk and my lord of Suffolk were agreed, more than a fortnight ago, to have sir Robert Wyngfield, and sir Richard Harcourt; and that knew I not till Friday last past. I had sent, ere I went to Framlingham, to warn as many of your friends to be at Norwich as this Monday, to serve your interest, as I could; but when I came to Framlingham, and knew the appointment that was taken for time two knights, I sent warning again to as many as I might, to tarry at home; and yet there came to Norwich this day as many as their costs drew to 9s. 1½d. paid and reckoned by Peacock and Capron, and yet they did but break their fasts and departed."—"If ye miss to be burgess of Maldon, and my lord Chamberlain will, ye may be in another place; there be a dozen towns in England, that choose no Burgess, which ought to do it,"—(this will surely propitiate the reformers):—"ye may be set in for one of these towns,*Paston Letters, v. I. pp. 97, 99.†Paston Letters, Vol. 2. p. 99.127 an if ye be befriended."*—Such was reform in those days!
In the reign of queen Elizabeth, the era to which, habitually and almost instinctively, the mind of Englishmen recurs for every thing that is glorious, I could spew the House, that the earl of Essex, her mighty favourite, dictated without scruple or reserve the returns to parliament, not only for the county of Stafford, but for every borough in the county. Unluckily I have not the documents at hand; but I can aver it on the most unquestionable authority.†*Ibid v. 2. p. 135.†Among the documents alluded to in this passage are the following letters from Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, to Richard Bagot, esq. high sheriff of the county of Stafford; of which the originals are in the possession of lord Bagot.1. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, to Richard Bagot, Esq.—"After my verie hartie comendacions; I cannot write severall letters to all those that have interests in the choyse of the knights of the shere, to be apoynted for the parliament intended to be held verie shortlie. To which place I do exceedingly desire that my verie good friend, sir Christofer Blount may be elected.—I do therefore comend the matter to your friendlie sollicitacons; praying you to move the gentlemen, my good friends, and yours in that countie; particularly in my name, that they will give their voice with him for my sake; assuring them, that as they shall do it for one whome I hold deare, and whose sufficiencie for the place is well known to them; so, I will most thankfullie deserve towards them and yourselves any travel, favour, or kindeness, that shall be showed therein. Thus I commit you to God's good protection. From Hampton Court, the 2nd of January, 1592." "ESSEX.I persuade myself that my creditt is so good with my countrymen, as the using my name, in so small a matter, will be enough to effect it: But I pray you use me so kindlie in that as I have no repulse.2. From the same to the same.—"After my verie hartie comendacions. As I have by my late letters comended unto you sir Christofer Blount to be elected one of the knights of that shire for the parliament to be holden verie shortlie, by your friendlie mediacion; so I do with no less earnestness intreate your like favoure towards my very good frend sir Thomas Sherrard, for the otter place; praying you that you will employe your creditte, and use my name to all my good frends and yours, there, that they will stand faste to me in this requeste, and that my desire may be effected for them. They cannot give me better testimonie of their love and affection, because they are both such as I hold deare, and you may assure all such as shall128 Passing over the reign of James 1st and his unfortunate successor,—and not dwelling upon the cavalier treatment which Cromwell bestowed upon his own purified and reformed House of Commons, I come to the reign of Charles 2nd; where I find, not amid scarce manuscripts and treasures of ancient lore, but published, in a hundred popular books, in sketches of biography and lessons for youth, the famous letter of that most famous woman Ann countess of Pembroke; who, amongst her other great titles and possessions, was undoubted patroness of the then, I presume, free and independent borough of Appleby. This great lady writes thus to sir Joseph Williamson, secretary of state to Charles 2nd, in answer to his suggestion of a member for the borough of Appleby. "I have been bullied by an usurper; I have been ill treated by a court; but I won't be dictated to by a subject; your man sha'nt stand.—Anne Countess of Dorset, Pembroke, and Montgomery."
Now, Sir, I should be curious to know, which generation of our ancestors it is, that the exercise of political influence in thejoin with you in election that I will most thankfullie requite their readines, and furtherance them by any good office I can. So I comitte you to God's best protection; from Hampton Court, the 9th of January, 1592." "Your assured Friend, "Essex.I should think my credite little in my owne countrie, if it should not afford so small a matter as this. Esspessalie the men being so fitt. Therefore I commend you all (as I have interest in your labours) effectuallie in it.3. From the same to the same.—"After my verie hartie comendacions. I have written severall letters to Lichfield, Stafford, Tamworth, and Newcastle, for the nomination and election of certain burgesses of the parliament to be held verie shortlie. I have named unto them, for Lichfield, sir John Wyngfield and Mr. Boughton. For Stafford, my kinsman Henrie Bourgher and my servant Edward Reynolds. For Tamworth my servant Thomas Smith. For Newcastle Dr. James. Whome because I do greatlie desire to be preferred to the said places, I do earnestlie pray your furtherance, by the creditt which you have in those towns. Assuring them of my thankfulness if they shall, for my sake, gratifie those whom I have comended; and yourself that I will not be unmyndful of your curtesie therein. So I commit you to God's good protection. From Hampton-Court, the last of December, 1592. Your assured friend," "Essex.I send unto you the severall letters, which I praye you cause to be delivered according to their directions.129 elections of the present day, so lamentably disquiets in their graves. Is it the cotemporaries of the duchess of Norfolk, and of the worthy electors of Maldon, who were to be careful to choose members so properly "towards" my lady?—or those who tasted the sweets of uninfluenced election under queen Elizabeth?—or those who contemplated with equal admiration the countess of Pembroke's defence of her castles against the forces of the usurper, and of her good borough of Appleby against secretary Williamson's nominee? Pity it is that the noble lord (Folkstone), the convert to reform, did not live in the days of one or other of these heroines Their example could hardly have failed to reconvert him to his original native sentiments upon the subject of influence in elections and the fit constitution of a House of Commons.
But I have not yet done with my list of patronesses: nor has interference in elections, and female interference too, been coupled with no great name in the unquestioned good times of the constitution. The noble lord who made this motion will pardon me for referring him to the published letters of his great ancestress, the lady Russell; in which he will find the lord steward (the duke of Shrewsbury), and lord keeper Somers—tendering to her, for her son lord Tavistock, then a minor, the representation of the county of Middlesex, upon the single condition that lord Tavistock would consent but to show himself to the electors for one day under the name of lord Russell.* The offer was not accepted on account, so far as appears, of lord Tavistock's minority; though instances are adduced by the makers of the proposition to convince her ladyship that that need not be an objection. But what would be said now-a-days—and what would be the agitation of our buried ancestors—if a lord chancellor and a lord steward were to concur in offering a seat in parliament for a county to some young nobleman yet under age?†*"At the general election which took place in October, 1695, it was proposed to her in the most flattering manner, by order of the duke of Shrewsbury, then lord steward, and the lord keeper Somers, to bring her son into parliament as member for the county of Middlesex."—"Life of Lady Russell," 8vo. p.120.†"It is to be remarked that in those early days of our renovated constitution, the objecttion of lord Tavistock's age was considered merely in relation to himself, and as no ob-130 Now here let me guard myself against misrepresentation. It must not be imputed to me that I am saying that all this was right: I am only saying that all this was so. I have been dealing (be it observed) with the second of my two questions:—not with the question, whether the House of Commons should be reconstructed?—but with the question whether it should be recalled to some state in which it formerly stood? I have been endeavouring to dispel the idle superstition that there once existed in this country a House of Commons, in the construction of which the faults that are attributed to the present House of Commons, and attributed to it as a motive for inflicting upon itself its own destruction, did not equally exist; and not only exist equally, but exist in wider extent and more undisguised enormity. I have been showing that if the present House of Commons is to be destroyed for these faults, it has earned that fate not by degeneracy, but by imitation; that it would in such case expiate the misdeeds of its predecessors, instead of suffering for any that are peculiarly its own. I have been endeavouring to prove, that of the two options—"do you mean to restore?—or to construct anew?"—no reformer who has carefully examined the subject, can in sincerity answer otherwise than "to construct anew:"—for that to restore the times of purity of election—that is, of election free from the influence, and a preponderating influence too, of property, rank, station, and power, natural or acquired—would be, to restore a state of things of which we can find no prototype, and to revert to times which in truth have never been.
That the proposition "to construct anew" is the much more formidable proposition of the two, is tacitly admitted by the very unwillingness which is shewn on all occasions to acknowledge it as the object of any motion for reform. Yet to that must the reformers come. To that, I venture to tell the noble lord—he, withstacle to the success of his election. Mr. Montague, in his letter to the duke of Bedford, to obviate any scruple in the duke's mind, mentions that lord Godolphin's son was to be chosen in Cornwall, and lord Leicester's in Kent, who were neither of them older than lord Tavistock: and Mr. Owen, in a letter to lady Russell, tells her the duke of Albemarle's son had been allowed to sit in parliament under age." Ibid, p. 123.131 all his caution and all his desire to avoid extravagance and exaggeration, must come; if he consents to reform on principle. By reforming "on principle," I mean, reforming with a view not simply to the redress of any partial, practical grievance, but generally to theoretical improvement. I may add that even "on principle" his endeavours to reform will be utterly vain, if he insists upon the exclusion of influence, as an indispensable quality of his reformed constitution. Not in this country only, but in every country in which a popular elective assembly has formed part of the government, to exclude such influence from the elections, has been a task either not attempted, or attempted to no purpose. While we dam up one source of influence a dozen others will open; in proportion as the progress of civilization, the extension of commerce, and a hundred other circumstances better understood than defined, contribute to shift and change, in their relative proportions, the prevailing interests of society. Whether the House of Commons in its present shape does not practically, though silently, accommodate itself to such changes, with a pliancy almost as faithful as the nicest artifice could contrive, is, in my opinion, I confess, a much more important consideration, than whether the component parts of the House might be arranged with neater symmetry, or distributed in more scientific proportions.
But am I, therefore, hostile to the reformation of any proved cases of abuse, or to the punishment of mal-practices by which the existing rights of election are occasionally violated? No such thing. When any such cases are pointed out and proved, far be it from me to wish that they should be passed over with impunity. When the noble mover himself brought forward, two years ago, a bill for transferring to other constituents, the right of election of a borough in which gross corruption had been practised, he began, as I thought and think, in the right course. When he proposed the disfranchisement of Grampound, I gave him my support; and if other cases of the same description occurred, I should be ready to do so again. That, Sir, is the true way of reforming the House of Commons: by adding strength to the representation where we can do so certainly and definitely, and without incurring a risk of evils greater than those we cure.
132 In the principle of that proposition of the noble lord I concurred: and if I concurred with those who suggested the substitution of the county of York for the town of Leeds, as the recipient of the franchise to be detached from Grampound.—I did so, not because I was apprehensive that Leeds would abuse the privilege; but because for the last forty years the want of a greater number of members for the county of York had been the standing grievance complained of in every petition for reform. "Shall the great county of York have no more members than the little county of Rutland?"—is the language of the petition of 1793. "Shall so great, and populous, and manufacturing a county, be no more numerously represented in the House of Commons than the borough of Shoreham, or Cricklade, or Midhurst, or finally than Old Sarum?"—are the apostrophes which have added zest to every debate, and a sting to every petition, from the year 1780 to the present day. Well! Here was an opportunity of meeting this master-argument, and quieting for ever the perturbed solicitude for Yorkshire representation. I thought, therefore, that it would be a pity to lose such an opportunity;—the House fortunately was of the same opinion;—and lo! The grievance of grievances, the subject of forty years' clamour, is redressed. But to be quite ingenuous, I will own that I was not without expectation that when the reformers had gained this point, they would find out that they had not gotten exactly what they wanted. So indeed it has happened. Since the bill passed, I have heard of no congratulations of the event; but I have heard of much regret, and of many fears lest great inconvenience should result from the measure to the county of York itself. This, to be sure, would be exceedingly to be deplored; and to remedy so unlucky a result of the first effort at reform, I understand that it is now in contemplation to bring in a bill for the purpose of dividing the county into two parts; assigning to one the old and to the other the new representation.—We shall see how this expedient will be relished. For my own part, I apprehend that every true Yorkshireman will object to it as a sort of converse of the judgment of Solomon; and that the two old members especially, will rush forward and implore that their ancient parent may be permitted to survive whole and unmutilated. In that case, I shall unquestionably 133 oin them in the vote for keeping Yorkshire in undivided magnitude, with its augmented representation; affording, as it will do in that state, a conclusive reply to near half a century of remonstrances and lamentations.
I do not recollect in the speech of the noble mover any other topic on which I feel it necessary to remark; having already I think touched upon all the main principles, if not upon all the details and illustrations of his motion; and having, I am well aware, trespassed largely upon the indulgence of the House. A few words more upon the more general topics, which belong to this debate; and I have done. It is asked over and over again whether the House of Commons ought not to sympathize with the people? I answer, undoubtedly yes; and so the House of Commons at present does, finally and in the result. But I also maintain that this House does not betray its trust, if on points of gravity and difficulty, of deep and of lasting importance, it exercises a wary and independent discretion;—even though a momentary misunderstanding between the people and the House, should be created by such difference in opinion with the people. I do not believe that the change proposed by the noble lord would infuse into the House of Commons a more wholesome spirit. I do not believe that, to increase the power of the people, or rather to bring that power into more direct, immediate, and incessant operation upon the House,—(whether such effect should be produced by rendering elections more popular, or by shortening the duration of parliaments, or by both,)—I do not believe, I say, that this change would enable the House to discharge its functions more usefully than it discharges them at present. With respect to the plan of universal suffrage and annual parliaments, it seems to be pretty generally agreed, that it would deprive the government of all consistence anti stability. Most of the advocates for reform disclaim these doctrines and resent the imputation of them. I am glad of it. But I confess myself at a loss to understand how any extension of suffrage on principle, how any shortening of parliaments on principle, can be adopted without opening the whole scope of that plan: and I confess myself not provided with any argument satisfactory to my own mind, by which, after conceding these alterations in principle 134 I could hope to control then in degree. I am still more at a loss to conceive in what way such partial concession could tend either to reconcile to the frame of the House of Commons those who are discontented with it as it at present stands, or to enable parliament to watch more effectually over the freedom, the happiness, and the political importance of the country.
Dreading therefore, the danger of total, and seeing the difficulties as well as the unprofitable ness of partial alteration, I object to this first step towards a change in the constitution of the House of Commons. There are wild theories abroad. I am not disposed to impute an ill motive to any man who entertains them. I will believe such a man to be as sincere in his conviction of the possibility of realizing his notions of change without risking the tranquillity of the country, as I am sincere in my belief of their impracticability, and of the tremendous danger of attempting to carry them into effect. But for the sake of the world as well as for our own safety, let us be cautious and firm. Other nations, excited by the example of the liberty which this country has long possessed, have attempted to copy our constitution; and some of them have shot beyond it in the fierceness of their pursuit. I grudge not to other nations, that share of liberty which they may acquire: in the name of God, let them enjoy it! But let us warn them that they lose not the object of their desire by the very eagerness with which they attempt to grasp it. Inheritors and conservators of rational freedom, let us, while others are seeking it in restlessness and trouble, be a steady and shining light to guide their course, not a wandering meteor to bewilder and mislead them.
Let it not be thought that this is an unfriendly or disheartening counsel to those who are either struggling under the pressure of harsh government, or exulting in the novelty of sudden emancipation. It is addressed much rather to those who, though cradled and educated amidst the sober blessings of the British constitution, pant for other schemes of liberty than those which that constitution sanctions, other than are compatible with a just equality of civil rights, or with the necessary restraints of social obligation;—of some of whom it may be said, in the language which Dryden puts into the mouth of one of the most extravagant of his 135 heroes, that,They would be free as nature first made man,Ere the base laws of servitude began,When wild in woods the noble savage ran.Noble and swelling sentiments! but such as cannot be reduced into practice. Grand ideas! But which insist be qualified and adjusted by a compromise between the aspirings of individuals, and a due concern for the general tranquility; must be subdued and chastened by reason and experience, before they can be directed to any useful end! A search after abstract perfection in government, may produce, in generous minds, an enterprise and enthusiasm to be recorded by the historian and to be celebrated by the poet: but such perfection is not an object of reasonable pursuit, because it is not one of possible attainment: And never yet did a passionate struggle after an absolutely unattainable object fail to be productive of misery to an individual, of madness and confusion to a people. As the inhabitants of those burning climates, which lie beneath a tropical sun, sigh for the coolness of the mountain and the grove; so (all history instructs us,) do nations which have basked for a time in the torrent blaze of an unmitigated liberty, too often call upon the shades of despotism, even of military despotism, to cover them,—"O Quis me gelidis in vallibus HæmiSistat, et ingenti ramorum protegat umbrâ!a protection which blights while it shelters; which dwarfs the intellect, and stunts the energies of man, but to which a wearied nation willingly resorts from intolerable heats and from perpetual danger of convulsion.
Our lot is happily cast in the temperate zone of freedom: the clime best suited to the developement of the moral qualities of the human race; to the cultivation of their faculties, and to the security as well as the improvement of their virtues: a clime not exempt indeed from variations of the elements, but variations which purify while they agitate the atmosphere that we breathe. Let us be sensible of the advantages which it is our happiness to enjoy. Let us guard with pious gratitude the flame of genuine liberty, that fire from heaven, of which our constitution is the holy depository;—and let us not, for the chance of rendering it more intense and more radiant, impair its purity or hazard its extinction!
The noble lord, is entitled to the ac- 136 knowledgments of the House, for the can did, able, and ingenuous manner in which; he has brought forward his motion. If, in; the remarks which I have made upon it, there has been any thing which has borne the appearance of disrespect to him, I hope he will acquit me of having so intended it. That the noble lord will carry his motion this evening, I have no fear; but with the talents which he has shewn; himself to possess, and with (I sincerely, hope) a long and brilliant career of parliamentary distinction before him, he will, no doubt, renew his efforts hereafter. Although I presume not to expect that he will give any weight to observations or warnings of mine, yet on this, probably the last, opportunity which I shall have, of raising my voice on the, question of parliamentary reform, while I. conjure the House to pause before it consents to adopt the proposition of the noble lord—I cannot help conjuring the noble himself, to pause before he again presses it upon the country. If, however, he shall persevere—and if his perseverance shall be successful—and if the results of that success shall be such as I cannot help apprehending—his be the triumph to have precipitated those results—be mine the consolation that to the utmost, and the latest of my power, I have opposed; them. [Loud cheers.]
§ Mr. Denman
observed, that the whole of the right hon. gentleman's argument was founded in fallacy. He, assumed that a quotation from a speech of Mr. Fox was correct, although, it was most likely the reverse; and, upon that, be founded an argument against the expediency of a reformed House of Commons. After quoting several papers of rather ancient date, he at last brought some bombastic lines of Dryden to bear against the reformers. The hon. and learned gentleman then commented upon the observations which the right hon. gentleman had made upon the subject of the sympathy which existed between the House of Commons and the people, and contended, that the general conduct of the House was opposed to the wishes of the people. The right hon. gentleman had himself furnished some proofs of this; and he could produce another in the case of the late queen. He did not think that the House should blindly obey the wishes of the people, whether they were proper or not; but, in such a case as that to which he had last referred, when not only 137 the whole mass of the people in this country, but the whole of Europe, were unanimous in condemning the proceedings which were instituted against her majesty, not to pay some deference to the wishes of their constituents, betrayed, on the part of the House, a contempt for public opinion which never ought to be exhibited in a free state. Dear as the emancipation of the Catholics was to every one who valued civil and religious liberty, he would not have it carried without the concurrence of the people. He believed the people approved of it. They ought not to dictate changes to that House; but the House ought to regard their disposition and temper. The judgment formed by posterity of the conduct of the House ought to be considered, and not the bias manifested by contemporaries. Let them now reflect what decision was irrevocably passed upon the measures of the House of Commons in former periods—upon the measures of thoseQuorum Flaminia tegitur cinis, atque Latina.what was now the settled judgment formed upon that most important question the American war? The House had then addressed the Crown by a large majority; and from some strange change, on which it would be now vain to speculate, they went up soon afterwards with an address of quite a contrary description. The present time confirmed the judgment of the opposition, and condemned the base acquiescence of the majority in every instance. But, the moral evil of the present system, independently of its effects, was itself quite dreadful. Could any thing be more disgusting than the shuffling answers, and the suspicious silence, of persons brought to their bar charged with corruption at elections? He knew not if human nature ever appeared baser than when persons stood at their bar with a knowledge of facts which it was their whole study to conceal by prevarication. Another view of human nature was indeed still lower—it was that presented by the members of that House who had been the means of all this corruption and perjury, and who sat wishing success to the most loathsome falsehoods. Was it not a dreadful evil to see persons sent to gaol for what they were compelled, and properly compelled, to declare before the committees? This foul and disgusting disease was no anatomical nicety. If the examinations before their committees 138 were generally distributed and understood; the country would be still louder in demanding reform. If the evil were latent, it might be imprudent to reveal it; but that question was no longer open to doubt or cavil. The right hon. gentleman but ingeniously put it to the advocates of reform, to refer to the period when the representation had been such as they would now have it. Suppose there had been no such period, were they therefore precluded from reforming a flagrant and, intolerable abuse? This question was not asked when a bill was brought in to reform any other abuse. The people of England had a right to be fairly, fully, and freely represented. Was it not a grievance to be remedied, that, in a season of distress, when hunger stimulated to sedition, the people should be left a prey, to any demagogue who could point to the state of the representation, and the character of that House? It was, too, a most pernicious evil, both in a moral and political point of view, to see a species of consecration given to sacrifice of principle, dereliction of character, and venal barter of opinions. Corruption thusMounts the tribunal, lifts her scarlet head,And sees pale Virtue carted in her stead.What was that influence, which they heard openly avowed and defended, but, in plain, homely, intelligible language, that members of that House should be bribed by the possession of places to vote contrary to justice and public policy? The Cash Resumption bill of 1819 had been referred to. Let them refer to the imposition of new taxes in 1819, and say whether that was an act of wisdom for the interests of the people. But, the great evil was the preservation of useless places to enable gentlemen to vote against the people. It might be said that they approved of the measures which they supported; but if they did, it was an insult to say that they must be paid for supporting what they approved of. There was a degree of absurdity in gentlemen passing from one side to the other, and talking of purity of motives, as the right hon. gentleman who had spoken for himself had done. The disfranchisement of boroughs, as recommended by the right hon. gentleman, would never apply to the representatives of peers. The corruption of the House did, in fact, dispense with the exercise of the other two branches of the legislature, on the very ground of the 139 right hon. gentleman. That House was become the influenced organ of every act of government, without the confidence of the public, and even without the respect of government; for a right hon. gentleman had told them last night, that he would set at naught the unanimous vote of that body. He was ashamed to have occupied so much of their time; but he could not refrain from offering a few observations in support of a motion which had his most hearty concurrence.
§ Mr. Peel
merely rose to take some notice of an allusion which had been twice made, to an observation which had fallen from him last night. He did not rise to explain away or retract, but to repeat and uphold what he said with reference to the case of Mr. Hunt. He informed the House last night, that he had advised the Crown not to exercise what he considered the peculiar, exclusive, and almost sacred prerogative of mercy, in the case of Mr. Hunt. He had declared, at the same time, that if the House should determine unanimously to address the Crown in behalf of Mr. Hunt, he would not be the instrument for carrying such a recommendation into effect. This sentiment he now repeated. He did not use it as a menace. He felt himself called upon to make that declaration, from a conscientious conviction as to the merits of the case; and he should consider himself unworthy of the place he held, if any circumstances could induce him to become the instrument of carrying into effect a purpose which he felt to be inconsistent with his conscientious sense of duty.
§ After a short reply, the House divided: Ayes, 164; Noes, 269.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Buxton, T. F.|
|Althorp, visct.||Boughton, sir W. E. R.|
|Anson, sir G.||Bentinck, lord W.|
|Anson, hon. G.||Calvert, C.|
|Beaumont, J. W.||Chaloner, R.|
|Barnard, visct.||Calcraft, John|
|Barrett, S. M.||Campbell, W. F.|
|Becher, W. W.||Chamberlayne, W.|
|Bennet, hon. H. G.||Carew, R. S.|
|Benyon, B.||Carter, John|
|Bernal, R.||Cavendish, H.|
|Birch, J.||Cavendish, C.|
|Brougham, H.||Clifton, viscount|
|Burdett, sir F.||Coffin, sir I.|
|Bury, visct.||Coke, T. W.|
|Byng, G.||Colborne, N. R.|
|Boughey, sir J. F.||Concannon, L.|
|Benett, J.||Crespigny, sir W. De|
|Belgrave, visct.||Crompton, S.|
|Curwen, J. C.||Nugent, lord|
|Creevey, T.||O'Callaghan, J.|
|Calthorpe, hon. F.||Ord, W.|
|Calvert, N.||Osborne, lord F.|
|Davies, T. H.||Ossulston, lord|
|Denison, W. J.||Palmer, col.|
|Denman, Thos.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Duncannon, visct.||Pares, Thos.|
|Dundas, hon. T.||Pierce, H.|
|Dundas, C.||Pelham, hon. C. A.|
|Dickinson, W.||Philips, G.|
|Ebrington, visct.||Philips, G. R.|
|Ellice, E.||Power, R.|
|Evans, W.||Powlett, hon. W.|
|Ellis, hon. G. Agar||Prittie, hon. F. A.|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Pryse, P.|
|Foley, J. H. H.||Pym, F.|
|Erankland, R.||Ramsay, sir A.|
|Grattan, J.||Ramsden, J. C.|
|Graham, S.||Ricardo, D.|
|Grant, J. P.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Griffith, J. W.||Robarts, Geo.|
|Guise, sir W.||Robarts, A. W.|
|Gurney, R. H.||Robinson, sir G.|
|Gaskell, B.||Rowley, sir W.|
|Haldimand, W.||Rumbold, C.|
|Hamilton, lord A.||Russell, R. G.|
|Heathcote, sir G.||Rice, T. S.|
|Heathcote, G. J.||Rickford, W.|
|Heron, sir Robt.||Ramsbottom, J.|
|Hill, lord A.||Smith, W.|
|Hobhouse, J. C.||Smith, hon. R.|
|Hornby, E.||Smith, J.|
|Hughes, W. L.||Scarlett, J.|
|Hume, J.||Scudamore, R.|
|Hurst, R.||Sefton, earl of|
|James, W.||Scott, J.|
|Johnson, col.||Stanley, lord|
|Jervoise, G. P.||Stewart, W. (Tyrone)|
|Kennedy, T. F.||Stuart, lord W.|
|Lamb, hon. G.||Sykes, D.|
|Lambton, J. G.||Sebright, sir J.|
|Latouche, R.||Tavistock, marquis of|
|Lemon, sir W.||Talbot, R. W.|
|Lennard, T. B.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Lloyd, sir E.||Tennyson, C.|
|Leycester, R.||Titchfield, marq.|
|Lawley, F.||Townshend, lord C.|
|Langston, J. H.||Taylor, C.|
|Lester, B. L.||Warre, J. A.|
|Lushington, S.||Webbe, E.|
|Marryat, Joseph||White, Luke|
|Maberly, J.||Whitbread, S. C.|
|Maberly, W. L.||Williams, sir R.|
|Macdonald, J.||Wilson, sir R.|
|Mackintosh, sir J.||Wood, alderman|
|Martin, J.||Wyvil, M.|
|Maule, hon. W.||Wilberforce, W.|
|Maxwell, J. W.||Whitmore, W. W.|
|Milbank, M.||Williams, W.|
|Monck, J. B.||Russell, lord John|
|Moore, P.||Folkestone, visct.|
|Marjoribanks, S.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Normanby, visct.||Baring, sir T.|
|Newman, R. W.||Cavendish, lord G.|
|Newport, R. hon. sir J.||Hutchinson, C. H.|
|Markham, J.||Wilkins, W.|
|Mostyn, sir T.||Western, C. C.|
|Taylor, M. A.|