§ Mr. Littleton
moved the order of the day for going into a committee on this bill. On the question being proposed, "That the Speaker do now leave the Chair,"
§ Mr. Grattan
rose to enter his solemn protest against entertaining the measure. He contended that it was impossible for the House to agree to a bill of such importantance without thoroughly understanding it. 454 The Irish members were divided in opinion upon it. The English members could not possibly be better acquainted with it; and therefore he held it to be unfair for them to come to a decision upon a measure on the bearings and consequences of which those who had the best means of information had not yet agreed. The Catholic question might have been lows since carried if a bill similar to that before the House had not been proposed as a companion to it; and he believed, in his heart, that the revered individual whose name he bore would have opposed emancipation upon such a condition as that of disfranchising the people. If the Catholics were unworthy of the elective franchise they were unworthy of emancipation. He had no wish to treat the solemnity of oaths with levity, but he believed most firmly that the poor had as much respect for their obligations as the rich, and that the 10l. freeholders would be more likely to perjure than the 40s. freeholders, because if the latter were disqualified, the value of the vote of the former would be increased, and the inclination to tempt him would be increased in a tenfold proportion. The people of Ireland valued the rights which this measure went to destroy; and if they did not value those rights they would be unworthy of emancipation. The measure was, in his opinion, detestable in principle; and he implored the House not to embark in a system of legislation, which might prove fatal to the best interests of the empire.
Mr. V. Fitzgerald
supported the motion for going into a committee, as he was satisfied the proposed measure would cause an important improvement in the state of Ireland. He contended that this bill, so far from endangering existing franchises, would confirm them, inasmuch as no more franchises could in future be created. He wished to make this a measure of general reform of the system of voting in Ireland. He objected to the bill, therefore, for containing an exception in favour of the fee-simple 40s. freeholders. It was, he understood, in the contemplation of his hon. friend the member for Louth, to propose, as an amendment, the subjecting of all 40s. freeholders to the operation a this bill. This should have his hearty support. The measure, in its present form, would be wholly imperfect; as the same amount of perjury and the same manufacturing of freeholds, would be carried on under colour of fee-simple 455 franchise; Which now prevailed with leasehold freeholders.
§ Mr. Littleton
observed, that it was inconvenient to enter into a discussion of particular clauses at present; as that would be more properly the business of the committee. As to the proposed extension of disfranchisement to holders in fee, he should oppose it with all his might, and he expected every gentleman of England would join him in that opposition. He wished to disfranchise 40s. freeholders, merely because they exercised the elective franchise by a fraud on the constitution, against the spirit of the law. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. member for Louth would be induced from the sense which the House showed on the question, to abandon the idea of extending the disfranchisement beyond the 40s. freeholders. As to the period, when the bill should commence its operation, he was himself of opinion, that the right of suffrage should cease at the expiration of the term of registration. Other gentlemen were inclined to fix it at the expiration of the lease; but that was a question which might be arranged in the committee.
§ Mr. L. Foster
said, he had voted for the second reading of the bill, from a hope that in the committee it might be so framed, as to become a remedy for some of the evils which afflicted Ireland. He, however, could not avoid expressing his apprehension, that it would generate evils which it professed to suppress, and, that it would afford temptations to the commission of perjury by the peasantry, when changing the old tenures into the new. All he was anxious for was, the repeal of the act brought in by the member for the Queen's county. But, in reference to the holders of land in fee, it was worthy of being remembered, that the very measure which reduced the number of fraudulent 40s. lease-holders, gave an additional importance to the fraudulent holders in fee, who would be left untouched. The present bill would not suppress the fraudulent connexion existing between the dependant cotter and his commanding landlord; for, the moment it was passed, the landlords would give the cots as free gifts to the peasantry, While they would let the lands to them only from year to year: so that the cotter being dependant on his landlord for the possession of the land from which he derived:his subsistence, would be as much his slive, and the passive tool of his 456 political jobs, as if this bill tad never passed. What guard did the bill give against that evil? None. The words that limited the disfranchisement to 40s. freeholders ought to be struck out, and the bill be made to operate against fraudulent holders in fee, as well as against fraudulent leaseholders. The proposed disfranchisement of holders in fee in Ireland was opposed, as affording a precedent for the disfranchisement of the same class of English voters; but, the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders was a strong precedent; for, if the Irish 40s. freeholders were transplanted to England, they Would possess their elective rights as clearly as the holders in fee. His reasoning in that House was said to differ from his evidence before the lords' committee; but that he denied. He was examined mainly as to facts, but was not asked what plan he would devise to remedy the evils which he described. Their lordships did not go deeply enough into the question with him. However, he would vote for committing the bill; from a hope that it would be so shaped in the committee, as to do more good for Ireland than he expected from it.
§ Sir John Newport
rose or the purpose of deprecating discussion on this question at present; as all the grounds must be gone over again in the committee, in which alone a satisfactory result could be come to.
§ Sir John Wrottesley
contended, from the principles of' human nature, which evinced a desire to obtain political power, that the Irish Catholics must it be dissatisfied with the present measure. He thought Catholic emancipation necessary to the solid union of the kingdoms; but must object to the disfranchisement of 200,000 freeholders, as a great measure of parliamentary reform proposed on the slightest evidence.
§ Mr. Dawson
objected to going into a committee too precipitately. He said, that the hon. member for Staffordshire could blame nobody but himself for this delay, as he had himself deprecated any discussion on the second reading of the bill, by announcing his intention of offering a clause altering the whole nature of the bill. He had therefore passed the bill through a stage" when it was usual discuss the principle, and having now changed the principle by the introduction of new matter, he could not be surprised that those, among whom he was one, should 457 object to any proposition which tended to check discussion upon this most important measure. He considered the question asscarcely less important than the Catholic question, but it came in under inauspicious circumstances, chained to a great question, Catholic emancipation, with which it had no natural connexion, and doomed to suffer all the penalties of this unnatural union. The object of his hon. friend in bringing it forward, was to Serve the Catholic question; it was the same with the payment of the Catholic clergy; all three questions, separate and distinct in themselves, and all worthy of the serious consideration of parliament, were blended into one great whole, and were to stand or fall together. He, and many others, were involved in a dilemma by this mode of proceeding. He must either vote for the bill as it stood, and thereby give an indirect support to the Catholic question, which he had always opposed, or he must oppose the Elective Franchise bill, and thereby lose the great advantages which the bill was calculated to confer upon Ireland. Under such conflicting circumstances, he could not bring himself to impose Catholic supremacy upon the people of Ireland, even though he was advancing one step towards the overthrow of that frightful system of perjury and demoralization, arising out of the election laws. He repeated that he would have no objection to support the measures separate from, but not conjointly with, Catholic emancipation; for he thought the evils arising from the latter would by no means be compensated by the good resulting from the reformation of the elective franchise. A great deal has been said of the injustice of this measure, and of its unpopularity in Ireland. But how does the question stand? There are two parties interested, try, landlords and the tenantry; the landlords of Ireland were almost to a man in favour of reform in the Elective Franchise; they Were obliged, by the baneful practice of the country, to follow the system of subdividing their lands, and of creating thereby a political interest; they were obliged by the inveteracy of the custom to follow the old and noxious plan of making, a pauper tenantry, at the expense of their lands, their property, and even their character, in order to maintain their relative superiority in political power over the small jobbers of the country, who converted the few acres which they might possess into a manufactory of freeholders, 458 by which they were to secure their advancement in life; no landlord, however pure his views, could sacrifice himself without a hope of good arising from his devotion. He was warranted in saying, that the landlords of Ireland saw the evil, and wished to correct it; but until the legislature laid the foundation for this reform, by defining clearly the amount Which ought, in the altered state of things; to constitute the freehold right of voting in Ireland, it would be chimerical to suppose that the landed proprietary would abandon the first influence arising from the possession of land, though managed in its present injurious manner, in order to leave the power of returning their representatives to parliament, to men generally known as middle men, who would willingly sacrifice every object of public good for the temporary advantage arising to themselves from selling their political influence, or rather, their perjured free holders, to the best bidder.—But it was asked, would the tenantry consent to part with this valuable franchise? Valuable! it was of no value to them; they do not consider it of value; they look upon it rather as an incumbrance; it is in fact but a trust, exercised by them at the dictation of their landlords, and often to their own peril. He was convinced that they oftentimes considered themselves as much degraded by the ceremony of being pompously led up to the poll, as their landlords were annoyed at the responsibility imposed upon them. But if the tenantry considered this franchise so valuable, why were there no petitions against the present bill? Time enough had been given to have this measure discussed and re-discussed in every county in Ireland; public meetings might have been called, parishes might have been summoned to meet, and, if there had been any public feeling upon the subject, it might have been represented in petitions to this House from the remotest corner in Ireland. But, where were they? Not one, nay, not a single solitary petition had been presented to the House. He had himself some doubts whether the measure might not be disagreeable to the constituent body in Ireland, and he had endeavoured to ascertain the feelings of the tenantry in the North, where it was allowed there wag more political independence than else-where; he had endeavoured to make Many with whom he was connected sensible of the loss which was about to be 459 inflicted upon them; he had recommended the propriety of petitioning, but he found no sensitiveness upon the subject; he had even gone so far, knowing the total absence of public opinion upon any great question in Ireland, as to appeal to their fears and their prejudices; he had even caused it to be hinted to them, that their quiet acquiescence in the disfranchisement would confer power upon the Catholics; but in vain he applied this touchstone; even in the Orange North, he could not discover any sensibility upon the subject, and he was convinced that the people of Ireland would view a reformation in the elective franchise with the greatest apathy, if left to their own unbiassed judgments; nor will there be any adverse expression of the public opinion upon the subject, unless it shall suit the purpose of some of the political agitators of the day to make this a subject of declamation, and to instil their own perverted notions upon the subject into the minds of the peasantry, who would, if left to themselves, view the change with the most perfect indifference. Such, he was convinced, is the feeling of the public mind in Ireland; but if events, particularly with respect to the Catholic question, happen adverse to the wishes of the supporters of that measure, he had no doubt, that in the approaching recess every endeavour would be used to inflame the Catholic freeholders against what would be termed this new invasion of their natural rights.—With respect to the present bill, he did not think that its provisions were calculated to meet the evil in the proper manner; he objected most strongly to the change which his hon. friend, the member for Staffordshire, proposed to introduce into the bill, by allowing the present holders of freehold leases to vote during their natural lives. He most earnestly requested him to adhere to his original proposition of abolishing all 40s. freeholders at the end of the present registration of their votes; for his own part, he would be pleased if the right of voting was raised from forty shillings to twenty pounds a year; and though he did not expect to be supported in such a proposition, yet he felt himself bound to express his opinion candidly, and he felt convinced, that a freehold of 20l. per annum was a better qualification, and more consistent with the purity of election, than the present qualification, because it was a surer safeguard against 460 fraud and perjury; but his principal reason for proposing a qualification of 20l. was, a sanguine expectation, that it would be the means of raising up and supporting a yeomanry in Ireland, a body of men at present unknown, and the want of which was one of the greatest disadvantages under which the country laboured. If such a body were once formed, why might we not anticipate the same benefits to Ireland as had been conferred upon England by their independence, intelligence, and industry? If honourable members thought the qualification too high, and likely to lessen the Catholic interest in Ireland, in the event of the bill for the relief of the Catholics being passed, he would not press it; he was open to conviction upon that point; in proposing the amount of 20l. he had no design to lessen the power of the Catholics. As he said before, his support of this measure should be unconnected with the Catholic question; and if he thought that the passing of this measure would in any degree defeat the object of the Catholic bill, he would not upon any account have recourse to such a subterfuge. He opposed the admission of the Catholics into parliament upon principle, because he thought the spirit and effect of the laws was, to exclude them; but if the laws were altered, and the principle abandoned, he, for one, would not vote for any indirect means of excluding them. When once the law declared their eligibility, he would be among the first to receive them without suspicion. Under such circumstances, he hoped his honourable friend, the member for Staffordshire, would attend to the suggestions of those persons more particularly connected by family and property with Ireland, and whose sole object must be, to render the bill palatable to the people of Ireland, and a safe experiment in the eyes of all well-informed people on the state of that country; he begged him, therefore, to adhere to his original bill, of allowing the franchise to expire at the end of the registration of the vote, and not with the life of the holder of the lease. He would support also the modification of the right, of voting in right of a fee, of 40s; he would wish to raise the standard of that right arising either from a fee or from leases in perpetuity, to a higher rate, reserving to the present holders their right, but guarding against the abuses of creating fictitious tenures in fee; under such limitations, the measure should have his support.
said, that though he was warmly a tacked to the cause of parliamentary reform, he would vote for the present bill because it would confer a valuable boon on the people of Ireland, and would conciliate to the cause of emancipation many persons who would otherwise remain hostile to it.
said, he was convinced of the inexpediency of granting Catholic emancipation, but felt that the evil of such a measure would be much mitigated by the passing of the present act.
§ Mr. Carus Wilson
condemned this measure, because it took from the lowest classes of the community a privilege of inestimable value. In allusion to what had fallen from an hon. and learned gentleman the other night, about the practice of a certain powerful individual in a northern county, he could only say, that he understood it to have been that person's practice, long before an election for the county in question was supposed to be a probable matter of contest, to let his property from year to year. And he ( Mr. W.), who had property in the same county, had adopted the same plan. It was due to the individual thus alluded to to state, that he had never heard of a single instance of even the poorest peasant on that person's estates having been in any way molested or disturbed, on account of the vote he might have chosen to give on the occasion in question. Under all the circumstances, he did think that the present measure for disfranchising so many freeholders was founded only on a certain contingency, which it was not clear had happened. Considered as a measure good in itself or otherwise, he should be extremely reluctant to support it. If the hon. mover could satisfy him that it would improve the independence of those whose state of dependence it considered as an evil, he would vote for it; but if not, he must decline to do so.
§ Mr. Hume
observed, that he rose to take a course on this question different from that adopted by every other member. [a laugh]. He meant to say, that nobody had as yet concluded his speech by putting any specific motion into the hands of the Speaker. Now, that was what he meant to do before he sat down. This measure he considered to be, perhaps, the most important of any which had ever been brought forward, since he had had the honour of a seat in that House; and yet, a number. of hon. gentlemen had 462 hitherto had but little opportunity of expressing their opinions on its principle. In objecting to this bill, as he did most strenuously object to it, in toto, he begged at the same time explicitly to state, that it did not in the slightest extent alter the principles of that support which he had ever felt disposed and determined to afford to the great measure of Catholic emancipation. He would declare, however, that if the substance of this measure had been introduced as a clause into the bill for the emancipation of the Catholics, he would rather have voted against that great measure itself, while it possessed any such clause, than support for one moment such an enormous invasion of the rights and privileges of so large a class of people as this bill for the abolition of the 40s. freeholders' franchise went to commit. In the first place, he would observe, that there was nothing before the House —no evidence of a nature to be relied on —that could at all justify, or bear out the recital in the preamble of the abuses and causes which were said to render this bill necessary. He would refer the House particularly to what they had heard that night; and then he would ask them, what was the effect of the testimony upon which they were legislating, in the face of such information as had been communicated to them in the course of these discussions? He would refer them to the evidence on this most important subject, that was contained in the speeches of the hon. members for Louth, Clare, and Derry. If its amount were carefully considered, it would be found to tell strongly in disproof of the asserted necessity for the present bill. Even the evidence that had been given before the House by Dr. Doyle, upon whose testimony many hon. gentlemen so strongly relied, disproved it; or, at any rate, did not justify it. And here he could not help protesting against the insufficiency of the evidence given before the committee, as to any grounds for legislating on the subject now before this House. The fact was, that every question which was addressed to every witness then and there examined, was put in this manner—" Would you have any objection to such a measure, provided we give you such another?" making emancipation, as it were, the alternative. Surely this was altogether unfair, as a mode of questioning, to elicit answers that could be safely proceeded on as evidence in a case of this moment and extent. Before he sat down, 463 he should move for the adoption of that preliminary measure, without which he thought it would be in the last degree unsafe and inexpedient to proceed further with the proposition before the House; namely, the appointment of a committee to inquire into the real state of the elective franchise in Ireland. The hon. gentleman then proceeded to entreat the House to bear in mind the cases of corrupt boroughs brought before it but a very few years ago; and to contrast the ill-advised expedition with which they seemed about to proceed on the present occasion, with the cautious deliberation which they had manifested in those instances. In the case of Grampound, for example, where it was a question to disfranchise only between fifty and sixty electors—where the offences of bribery and corruption were proved beyond all doubt against them, and where the abuse proceeded against had been so often repeated—it should be remembered ,how much reluctance the House had testified to begin any measure of this kind, even under those strong circumstances. And why? Because the natural but the fearful question was, when they had once begun such a course of visitation for these offences, where were they to stop? Yes, even in that very case, what was the remedy provided by parliament? Was it a remedy to restrain or limit the elective franchise generally, of the people of this country, on account of its abuse by the electors of Grampound? No; but to extend that franchise to thousands who had not enjoyed it before. To be consistent, the framers of the present bill must bring in another; and parliament, if it sanctioned the present one, should Sanction another, for adopting the same proceeding in England with respect to freeholders to the same amount. Was it fair, after all the debates on the right of Ireland to participate, in all respects, in the privileges and constitution of England which had occupied that House—after that well-known act which was passed with the express object of establishing the immunities of both countries on a footing of perfect equality—was it fair to visit the 40s. freeholders of Ireland with a measure of this kind, and not to extend the same limitation to the 40s. freeholders of England? If there was one principle which more than another ought to be kept in view,by those who were friendly to a reform of parliament, it was the further 464 extension of the elective franchise; and upon that same principle he now called on all the advocates of parliamentary reform to oppose this obnoxious bill. He needed no information relative to the abuses of the elective franchise in Ireland: it was enough for him to know, that this bill would affect the franchises of about half a million of people ["hear" and an expression of dissent]. If the returns for which he had moved had been laid upon the table, they would have shown, that not less than half a million of people were virtually to be disfranchised by this measure. Want of good faith, he took leave to say, was by no means peculiar to the poor and needy. On the contrary, it was among the great and rich rather that they were to be found, who were most ready to barter away their privileges. Was parliament, then, to deprive, upon charges by no means satisfactorily or to a sufficient extent established, the many of this elective right, in order to vest it in the few? He, for one, could never vote on any such a principle. He was sorry that a division had not been taken upon the very introduction of the bill. No modification whatever could reconcile him to such a measure. If the bill were carried in its present shape, he should consider it a violation as great as the House could possibly practise. He was convinced that if the two wings, as they were called, were taken off, the main question of Catholic emancipation would be carried much better without them.—The evils which had been stated to exist, in order to justify this bill, ought certainly to be corrected; but not according to the principles of this measure. There was not one tittle of evidence before the House; and yet they were about to pas a bill, involving principles and consequences so important.—He considered that be was acting as the best friend to emancipation by opposing the bill; at least until the House should be in possession of evidence to guide their proceedings. Let the House remedy the abuses of the franchise, but not by narrowing that franchise:let them, on the contrary, raise the character of the Irish, improve their situation, and make them sensible of the advantages they might enjoy, by a better use of their elective privileges. Gentlemen ought not to blame the people of Ireland for being under the influence of their landlords, when they perfectly well knew that the same evil existed in this, country They 465 ought to punish the landlords for placing temptation in the way of their tenants, and not the unfortunate tenants, for not resisting that temptation which it would require more than ordinary virtue to resist. The spirit of justice required that punishment should fall upon the heads of those who induced others to commit crime. He did most earnestly hope, that the House would at least pause before they took a step so important in every point of view. He asked, in the name of consistency, how those gentlemen who supported the cause of reform, could consent to lend their support to a measure like the present? [hear.] If those cheers meant that the reformers could consent to lessen the number of voters, he was not a reformer of that class, and would not sail with them in the same vessel: if, on the contrary, they meant only to lessen the influence of the richer classes, he defied them to show how the present bill could effect any such object. He thought that the hon. member for Louth had satisfactorily shown that the bill would aggravate the evil. He would be glad to hear from those who cheered, which of the two propositions they meant to support. For his part, he had ,always been of opinion, that the best reformers were those who acted upon principles of moral and political rectitude, and not those who were ready to betray their trust, and to compromise one great principle, in order to obtain another. If this measure should be carried, the advocates for emancipation would find, to their surprise, that they would lose by it more votes than they would gain. They would detach many enlightened men from their cause; and they would make no proselytes. It was a miserble, short-sighted expedient; ill-timed, and calculated only to create divisions amongst the friends of emancipation. He would rather see the poorer electors of Ireland, improved in in their notions and sentiments, than deprived entirely of the elective franchise. But, without inquiry, without evidence, that House was about to disfranchise an immensely numerous body of people. If only ten amongst them were possessed of a proper sense of representation, and had exercised. their elective rights with integrity, what a manifest injustice it was to deprive them of their rights! There were, in all assemblies, great numbers who never could guide their conduct by principles; they voted always upon the grounds of expediency. To such persons he 466 would say, that the present measure, so far from being expedient, would carry with it all the seeds of dissatisfaction, and defeat the very objects which many of it supporters had zealously at heart. Upon these grounds he should submit to the House, by way of amendment—"That a select committee be appointed, to inquire what frauds and abuses exist in the exercise of the Elective Franchise, in Ireland: and to ascertain whether any, and what measures can be adopted to correct the same."
§ Colonel Johnson
protested against the House legislating so decidedly, and upon so important a subject, without even the form of an inquiry into the abuses which they pretended to correct. He had been stationed in Ireland, and had seen many elections; but he had never witnessed anything, which would justify the depriving the people of their elective franchise. He deprecated the measure as an ,expedient by which it was sought to deprive a certain class of people of their rights, merely to enhance the privileges of others. The measure was a wanton destruction a popular rights; for all the evils which it pretended to remedy, might be obviated, by adopting the principle of taking the votes by ballot.
of Galway, said he was opposed to the measure, if considered abstractedly from the general one of emancipation; but being deemed essential to the success of that great question, he would give it his reluctant assent. In adverting to the cases of the corrupt boroughs, which had been alluded to it the course of this discussion, the hon. gentleman said, that parliament did not disfranchise in those cases until it had the clearest and fullest evidence before it, that every one of the electors was absolutely corrupt. Could any man, upon no better case than had been made out in the present instance, consent to vote, in the lump, for the disfranchisement of all the 40s. freeholders of Ireland? It was said that, on the present occasion, Irish members particularly were to be listened to; but he contended that they were the very last men in the world who ought to be listened to. He himself was the last man who ought to be listened to on this subject. He said that all Irish members were here incredible witnesses. He could easily understand that at a recent meeting of thirty or forty Irish members of parliament, the bill should be a 467 favourite bill; for as it went to disfranchise so many freeholders, the effect would be that gentlemen, instead of having to canvass a whole county, containing some thousands of electors, would have to canvass ten or twenty freeholders. But, as the member for Louth had said, the right of the Irish 40s. freeholder stood on as good ground, if not on better, as that of the 40s. freeholder in England. Now, would it not be infinitely more reasonable to raise the elective franchise in England, the most wealthy flourishing country in the world, than to raise it in a country like Ireland? He compared the bill to a nostrum of a French quack, who professed to cure the tooth-ache. His patient took the medicine until every tooth dropped out of his head, the sound as well as the decayed. There followed a process in the Tribunal de Cassation, and the matter was gravely pleaded. The judge was of opinion that the patient had been robbed and deluded. The quack defended himself by the terms of his contract. He had undertaken, he said, to cure the tooth-ache; and that he had done. The preservation of the teeth was no part of the bargain. This was the policy of the bill. Investigation was due at least to the interests of the people of Ireland. He contended that there was as much independence, to be found among the freeholders of Ireland, those of Galway more especially, as any where upon the face of the globe. In defence of the Irish freeholder (continued the hon. member), I will adduce an instance of independence which I defy the world to match. Previous to the last election for the county of Galway, at which my hon. colleague (Mr. J. Daly), his uncle, the late Mr. Dennis Bowes Daly, and myself, were candidates; my hon. colleague declared he would remain strictly neutral throughout the contest, and pledged himself to Mr. Bowes Daly and me, that in case any of his tenantry should vote for either of us, he would give to the other two men for one. Every Irish gentleman knows that at Irish county elections a separate booth to receive votes is opened for each barony and that whenever it happens in any booth at four o'clock of any day during the election, that 40 votes have not, in the course of that day been received, the electors of the barony represented by such booth are deemed to be exhausted, and the booth is closed during the remainder of the contest. Now, on a cer- 468 tain day five of my hon. colleague's men, his tenants, broke loose from him, came in and voted for me. Mind, those five miscreants so voted in opposition to my hon. colleague's declared intention. What was the consequence? The opposite pally claimed the penalty; and my hon. colleague accordingly brought up ten more of those scoundrels those miscreants alluded to by the supporters of this bill. What did those ten fellows do? They were produced by my hon. colleague to vote for his uncle, my opponent, as a set-off for the five already mentioned; but they to a man voted for me. What more striking proof of independence could be given? But, this triumph of principle was very unfortunate for me. The booth to which they were brought to vote was on the point of being closed for want of the requisite number of votes, and it would have been closed but for this circumstance. In the barony represented by this booth lay my opponent's great strength; and the consequence of these ten fellows breaking loose from my hon. colleague was, that it cost me 600 votes. The hon. gentleman concluded, with saying, that he would support the bill, though with reluctance, for the sake of obtaining emancipation. He had persuaded himself of the propriety of doing a little wrong, for the purpose of obtaining a great right.
§ Mr. Daly
complained of the attack which had been made upon him by his hon. colleague, who had assured him, not fifteen minutes ago, that he had no intention of making any allusion to him. Still he preferred this open attack in his presence, to that reference which his hon. colleague had made to him on a former evening, when he was absent. He wished to trouble the House with a few remarks upon the contested election alluded to by his hon. colleague. He was advised upon that occasion by both parties, to preserve a strict neutrality, and he was promised the support of both. He accordingly dismissed his agents. He gave directions that no freeholder should be solicited for him; and he agreed that if any tenant upon his estate came forward to vote for him he would give his hon. colleague two votes for one in every such case; in order to prove that the neutrality was not broken with his consent. Five of his own tenants came forward to vote for him, and he felt bound in honour to give ten votes to his hon. colleague. And 469 this conduct on his part had led his hon. colleague to make that declaration which, under an appearance of candour, conveyed every thing which was unfair. The evils of the 40s.freeholders were excessive. There could be no morality, no regard to oaths, as long as the present system existed; but he apprehended that the bill on the table of the House, would not correct the evil. There ought to be a committee of inquiry upon a question of such vital importance.
explained, that he did not attribute to his hon. colleague any guilty fore-knowledge of what occurred. He was sure he had not.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
observed, that it seemed the two hon. gentlemen who had just addressed the House had lost sight of the main question, and had entered into a long dialogue respecting local transactions; but he congratulated the House at having heard their conversation, as it was the very best illustration of the necessity of the bill which had been introduced by the hon. member for Staffordshire. If we were without evidence before, we had sufficient evidence now to proceed upon. Those two hon. members, "Arcades ambo," had favoured the House with an Amaboean dialogue, which he doubted not would be sufficient to satisfy the most distrustful mind of the necessity of passing the bill. When the House heard the phrases of "freeholders breaking loose,"and of" exchanging two votes for one," it was perfectly clear that much freedom of choice could not be exercised by the parties themselves. Before he applied himself to the amendment before the House, he wished to make a few observations on an expression which had fallen from his hon. friend, the member for Aberdeen. That hon. gentleman had said, that the leaders of the Catholics of Ireland— that the men whom the Catholics had respected, whose talents they admired, and in whose virtues, and probity, and public spirit, the country had confided —that these men had betrayed their trust, and had compromised the interests of their countrymen. He would say that this statement was not correct, and that the Catholics of Ireland would not believe this statement, Although it came from the hon. member for Aberdeen. The conduct of Mr. O'Connell and his friends, he was sure, was such as would at least place them 470 above the possibility of suspicion on the part of their friends in this House or in the country. He could not conceive any event more fatal than the propagation of these base misrepresentations, by which the Catholics might be made not only to despair of friends within the walls of parliament, but becoming dupes to wicked and incendiary writers, propagating these insinuations, might learn to distrust those leaders in whom they had hitherto firmly confided [hear, hear]. These wicked calumniators had done more to estrange parliament from the Catholic cause, than could possibly have been contemplated at the beginning of the session. He was surprised that the hon. member for Aberdeen had given countenance to those insinuations which had been so basely and wickedly circulated—not basely by him, for his opinion was honestly and freely declared, but by those secret enemies whose attacks were so much the more to be dreaded because secret. Reverting to the amendment proposed by his hon. friend, he did not think the grounds on which it was recommended were satisfactory or conclusive. His hon. friend had said we had no evidence on which to proceed. Now, he would first of all refer the hon. member to what had just been given in the conversation between the two hon. members for Galway, and he would also refer him to the evidence which had been taken before a committee of that House, and which had been hitherto most strangely overlooked. The part to which he should, in the first instance, allude, was in the minutes of last year, and was found in the evidence of Judge Day. That learned judge stated, that he had known the 40s. freeholders driven into the hustings in droves; that they were so illiterate and so ignorant of what their privilege consisted, that they knew not for what reason they were assembled, or for whom they should vote. The judge said, he remembered that one man being asked for whom he would vote, answered, that he should vote for lady Kingston, he having been, it was supposed, a tenant of that lady. The witness was asked, whether the effect of this system was not almost enough to reduce the Irish counties to an oligarchy? He replied, "Yes," and that he had known an instance of one county being thrown into the hands of one individual. "Here" observed Judge Day "there was but the opinion of "one man, and all the other constituents were 471 out of the question." This brought him to another argument of his hon friend. He said that, as a friend of reform, he could not support this measure; now, he (Mr. S. Rice) supported it because he was a reformer. Again, his hon. friend said, he could not support it, because it would reduce the elective franchise; he supported it because it would extend the franchise. He begged to assure his hon. friend, that his objections to the 40s. freeholders in counties, neither arose from their number nor yet from their poverty. He approved of a numerous constituency; but it ought to be formed of persons acting and judging for themselves. It was not to the amount of qualification, but to the quality of estate that he objected. His alarm was at the landlord of the leaseholder, at the driver and the distress warrant. This was a fair constitutional ground of objection, acknowledged and acted upon even by the Irish House of Commons in the reign of Geo. 1st. With a view of illustrating his argument he begged to move, that an extract should be read from the 45th vol. of the Irish Journals: p. 853, March 7, 1725 "Resolved, that the obliging any tenant, by covenant or under a penalty in his lease, to vote at the elections of members to serve in parliament for such persons as the landlord shall direct, is an high infringement of the privileges of this House, and destructive of the rights and liberties of the Commons of Ireland."—Now, he put it to those who had read the evidence whether this illegitimate and oppressive influence was not as powerfully exercised by the landlord over the leaseholders at the present day, as if it were enforced under a covenant in a lease. Indeed, he would prefer of the two evils the covenant as being the most open and least dangerous. It was the dealer in votes whom he wished the House to discountenance—the man who, according to Judge Day, "multiplies a mob of freeholders on a waste or moss, and thus becomes a very considerable person in the country." The effect of the present bill would be to take the power out of the hands of these corrupt adventurers, and place it in those of a respectable yeomanry, who he hoped would be above corruption. Honourable gentlemen were quite wrong when they talked of the 40s. freeholders in Ireland as bearing the least analogy to those in England. He cared not for the law being the same, when he found the 472 practice so radically different. The following is the description given of the 40s. freeholders of Ireland:— Mr. Leslie Foster calls them, "a herd of people brought into vote without any option on their own part. Even the Protestant freeholders of Ulster do not exercise their own judgments; they are too much in the power of their landlords:" Dr. Cook states, that "the 40s. freeholders in many parts of Ireland are persons whose cattle are driven once or twice a year for rent." Mr. O'Connell admits, "that the landlords have so much dominion over the freeholders, that they are in many instances considered part of the live stock of the estate." "The freeholders," observes Mr. O'Connell, "are driven up like sheep to vote;" and Mr. Wallace, an intelligent resident in the county of Down, adds, "that he does not conceive these persons to exercise any freedom of choice whatsoever." This evidence is confirmed by still stronger testimony from two of the prelates, Dr. Kelly and Dr. Magaurin. By the examination of the former it appears, that "the freeholders are obliged to register by threats of being expelled from their holdings;" and by the latter, the titular bishop of Ardagh, "has no doubt that the freeholders are driven in to vote—they go along with their landlords."—He apologized for referring to these details, assuring the House that he would not have detained it by referring to those gentlemen's testimony, had he not heard it so frequently said, that there was no evidence to support the bill. He trusted what they had heard would be deemed sufficient by a British House of Commons to put an end to this system of misery and fraud; of baseness and of oppression. For he was prepared to prove, by the evidence already before the House, that the present system wets wholly contrary to every principle of free and popular representation. Mr. Blake states, "that the power of the great proprietors would be diminished in proportion as is taken from them the power of creating, through the means of their Extended property, small freeholds, and consequently that in the same proportion the power of proprietors of moderate property is increased." Colonel Curry "considers the existence of the 40s. franchise tends to strengthen the aristocratic influence," General Bourke conceives that "raising the qualification to 10l. would add to the influence of the smaller proprietors, 473 would increase the resident and diminish the absentee interest and in both effects would conduce to the interests of the country." They had the evidence of Judge Dayalso, stating, in his Opinion, the passing of such a measure would, amongst many other advantages, increase the influence of the resident proprietors, and diminish that of the absentees. Would not that be a desirable object, and fully worth the sacrifice of minor considerations? Some hon. gentlemen had argued, that the hon. member for Staffordshire meant to disfranchise the whole 40s. freeholders. Nothing could be more incorrect; he disfranchises none, but leaves them in possession of the full extent of their franchise, that he may preserve the principle of vested rights untouched. But, even supposing that his hon. friend would disfranchise the present 40s. freeholders at once, where would be the loss? Why, they had the evidence of Mr. O'Connell, that very few of the really independent freeholders would be disfranchised by fixing a ten pound qualification, and this they had from a man who went so far as even to advocate universal suffrage. The words of Mr. O'Connell are important: he observes "I think few voters really independent would be disfranchised by raising the qualification to 10l. In talking of derivative rights very few who vote according to their own wishes would be disfranchised." He would ask, therefore, whether they would continue to support any but the real 40s. freeholders? But they might think Mr. O'Connell not an impartial witness. Would they not trust the evidence of colonel Curry? He says, that in every respect, in his opinion, the real 40s. freeholder will remain the same as before; so that, by these accounts, even if the hon. member for Staffordshire was to make his bill operative now, none of those evil effects would follow, which hon. gentlemen anticipate. If, therefore, the House wished to see a fair and honest constituency in Ireland, they would give their consent to go into the committee; and that it was the method to produce that fair and honest constituency, he would maintain: but if it should affect the fee simple freeholds—if it should be brought in any way to injure them, he begged now to be understood, that he would object to it altogether, either with Catholic emancipation, or without it; for he would rather lose Catholic emancipation altoge- 474 ther, than see the old fee simple freeholds destroyed. But it was said, that great proprietors would maintain some influence even over the fee simple votes. True, but it would be influence, not authority; and even as influence it would only be of that indirect kind which no legislature can prevent. Indirect influence the rich had and would have; it was impossible to be altogether free from it, as long as human nature continued to be what it was; but when it appeared openly, and became dangerous, he knew how to deal with it, independent of the remedy of a total destruction of the fair and honest fee-simple freehold. He rejoiced that this bill was accompanied by other measures; but, great as he thought the good to be obtained from Catholic emancipation, still he was of opinion that this bill was a great good in itself, independent of any other good with which it might be mixed up; and he begged unhesitatingly to declare, that even if the Catholic bill had not been introduced, he was so thoroughly convinced of the benefit to be derived from this measure, that he would have supported it alone; for he wished to see a pure constitutional body of electors supporting their rights against the oligarchies which sought to rule over them. The hon. member then alluding to the unanimity now prevailing in Ireland, and declaring that unanimity to be the surest mode of carrying the question, and a power against which no cabinet, united or disunited, could contend, concluded, after passing some encomiums upon the conduct of Mr. Brownlow, by imploring the hon. member for Staffordshire not to allow the fee simple freeholds to be touched; for if he did, the English members were bound to step forward and defend those tenures, as the only means by which they could hope to protect their own. To extinguish the fraudulently manufactured votes was, he trusted, the object of the hon. gentleman's bill, and he therefore gave it his unqualified assent.
declared himself to be altogether opposed to the bill. It was one of disfranchisement; but, who were, to be disfranchised? Not the delinquents; not they, whose acts justified the proceeding; but the liberties of those who were unborn were to be strangled. It was an unconstitutional, an absurd, and an unjust measure. It was to cut off both hands of a man, in order that he might the better be able to defend his person. 475 He could not believe that the voters would suffer themselves to be driven as had been described. He felt assured that the effort to drive them would be resisted, and that they would turn round upon their drivers. If there was complaint of the abuse of the franchise, there ought to be a committee of inquiry, before any alterations were proposed.
§ Sir F. Blake
supported the bill on the principle that it tended to produce a very salutary reform. The 40s. freeholders, though nominally they had votes, yet actually had no votes at all. They would lose nothing, therefore, by disqualification; but they would gain greatly by participating in those blessings of freedom which the main measure now in progress through the Houses would yield them.
§ Captain O'Grady
said, he had heard with as much astonishment as any English member, the description which had been given of the conduct, appearance, and character of the 40s. freeholders in Ireland. He had been a witness of contested elections in that country, but he had never seen the electors driven or led up to the hustings like hordes of cattle, as it was said, to give their votes at the command of some master. He, however, gave his entire concurrence to the bill, as he believed it would have the effect of setting aside the unsubstantial voter, and confirm the bona fide freeholder in the possession of his proper share of weight and influence.
§ Mr. Dominick Browne
said, he would support the bill upon its own merits. He believed that the 40s. freehold system was one of the leading causes which entailed beggary and misery upon Ireland. A greater incentive to perjury in any country could hardly, by possibility, be devised.
§ Colonel Trench
supported the bill on its own merits, and totally apart from its connexion with any other measure. He considered it to be an honest, useful, and effective bill; and one, that, if passed into a law, would confer a great blessing on Ireland.
§ Lord Milton
said, he would support the bill, not so much on its own merits, which he thought had been exceedingly exaggerated, but because its success would conduce to the success of the main measure of emancipation. The 40s. freeholders in Ireland had been described by an hon. member on the second bench opposite, as perfectly independent; but, he 476 must say, that the opposition which that hon. member gave to the bill under consideration, was, with him, an additional reason for agreeing to it. He would state to the House a few facts. The hon. member to whom he alluded, and who was now member for a borough on the east coast of England, some years ago represented a county in the north of Ireland. It happened, however, that a member of a noble and powerful family came of age; and immediately that young nobleman entered the House as member for the county of Antrim, the hon. member took his seat for the borough of Orford [hear!]. Such was the independence of Irish freeholders! That was the kind of system that he wished to destroy; and although he confessed the present bill was not exactly the measure he would have chosen for the purpose (for he disliked the sound of the word "disfranchisement"), yet as it was calculated in some degree to diminish the evil it should have his support. In his opinion, considerable benefit would be derived from allowing a longer time to elapse between the acquisition of the right of voting, and its exercise. He also thought the registering system an exceedingly bad one, and that it ought to be at least regulated, if not entirely destroyed. In the next session of parliament, he might perhaps submit these propositions to the consideration of the House. In the mean time, he would vote for the present bill.
in explanation, declared that the noble lord was quite wrong in what he had stated respecting him; for that it was not the fact that he ceased to be a member for the county of Antrim when the heir of a noble family came of age. He ceased to be member for the county of Antrim on grounds best known to himself, and which had been approved of by all his friends.
supported the bill, upon the ground, that whatever objection there might be to it in theory, it would be found, in its practical results, to favour purity of election. But he principally, supported it, because it facilitated the great measure of Catholic emancipation. The principle of the present bill was called for by Protestants; it was agreed to by Catholics; and opposed only by those who were without any practical knowledge on the subject. 477 The main question being put, "That the speaker do now leave the chair,
§ the House divided Ayes 168. Noes, 52. Majority 116.
§ Mr. Lambton
declared that if the bill before the House, and the bill in favour of the Catholics were to be considered as necessarily connected, his mind was made up to vote against the latter.
entreated his hon. friend, to reconsider what he had just said. He thought that, as his hon. friend had made his opinions known on the disfranchisement bill, he might with greater safety still continue his support to the great measure of Catholic emancipation. If there was any error in combining the two bills, the error was not his hon. friend's; and it would be only playing into the hands of the antagonist of the Roman Catholic question to vote against that measure, because it was coupled, in appearance, with one not so agreeable to his feelings.
§ Mr. Hume
saw no reason why his hon. friend should not maintain his consistency as a friend to parliamentary reform, by voting against the bill. For his own part, if the two measures of Catholic emancipation and disfranchisement were identified, he would rather vote against the Catholic emancipation, than against the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders.
§ Mr. W. Smith
said, that ever since he had been a member of that House, he had always voted both for parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. It would hardly be supposed that, at the present moment, he could feel any inducement to resign his claim to consistency; but as he could see no inconsistency in voting for the present measure, he would do so with all his heart, as the means of obtaining great and permanent advantages for the Catholics.
§ Mr. Brougham
said, he would, on every principle of public duty to which he had been attached during his political life, support the Catholic Relief bill. On the principle of right, as well as of political expediency, it should receive his best assistance; and if he had any weight with his esteemed friend, the hon. member for Durham, and with the hon. member for Aberdeen, he would entreat of them to receive what he was now about to say with that kindly consideration, which he hoped it would be found to deserve. He had not, it should be observed, given, by his vote, any sanction to this measure. He had, on the contrary, with great pain 478 to himself, argued at length, boldly and frankly, against this bill—a bill which he was exceedingly sorry had ever been coupled with the Catholic question. He could not see how that bill had ever come in conjunction with the bill for the relief of the Roman Catholics. Nothing, in his opinion, but an hallucination of intellect, the evil effects of which were shown by the proceedings of that night, could have connected those two measures together. If any gentleman was in favour of the freeholders' bill (to which certainly he would not give is support), let him advocate it on its own intrinsic merits. Why should it be mixed up with the Catholic question, with which it had no natural connexion? His hon. friend, the member for Durham did not feel more deeply than he did the objections which applied to the measure now before the House. But if he had been prevented from defeating it—if a large majority had voted in favour of it, and he had been defeated in an attempt to check the progress of it, that was no reason whatever for his altering one iota, or swerving one hair's breadth from his opinion, which was founded, not on the freeholders' question, but upon the merits of the case, upon principles of right and justice, and motives of the highest political expediency. He would not give up the consistency of his whole life. He would not give up his honest and conscientious conviction, that the Catholic question in its pure unsophisticated shape, was absolutely necessary for the salvation of Ireland. He conjured his hon. friends to listen to the voice of that country, in whose welfare they had a deep stake. He himself was willing to sacrifice all for its interests. He conjured them, by those public and private motives of attachment to their duty, and he conjured them, not hopeless of being listened to by them, still to do their duty; and he would tell them the reasons which should make them do their duty. If they did not vote for the Catholic question, this consequence followed, that they did not choose their own opinion for themselves; that they were not free agents; that they could no longer say they would vote for the Catholic question or against it, because they would vote for it one day and against it another, according as a majority of the House on another question, not necessarily connected with it, might or might not choose to adopt an opinion in which they did not concur. 479 No man should make him vote against his own opinion, by taking a line of conduct on another question to which he was adverse. If he were now, because the House differed from him on the Irish Elective Franchise bill, to alter his vote on the Catholic Relief bill, he should be giving himself up, tied hand and foot, into the power of the House, and voting against his own conviction, upon one question, for no better reason than because on another question the House differed from him. This he declared to be his feeling; and he earnestly put it to his two hon. friends to review their opinions ; not to retract what they had said, but to reconsider what they had said, and before to-morrow night should come, to consult their pillows, and in that better judgment he had the most confident hopes of success.
§ Mr. Lambton
observed, that the hon. and learned gentleman who had just spoken, and the hon. member for Westminster, had seemed anxious to take the opportunity of attacking him and his motives in consequence of what he had stated. The hon. member who had just sat down was quite mistaken as to the reasons on which he (Mr. L.) grounded his proceeding. It was not in consequence of being in a minority on this Elective Franchise bill, that he had determined to vote against the other bill. He had announced his opinion some time since, that he never could vote for the Catholic question when disfigured by this bill. He considered it so intimately connected with the Catholic question, that they were one and the same thing. He had heard nothing to induce him to alter his opinion. He never gave a vote from interested motives; but from a sincere conviction, that by so doing he best served the principles which he supported, and it would not be the misfortune of differing from any hon. friend, which would induce him to alter that course. If the House were to carry emancipation, accompanied by the Elective Franchise bill, he thought it would be doing greater evil than leaving the thing as it was at present. In thus expressing his sentiments, he had not expected to have been called upon to retract. What he had done was what he conceived the best course for the good of the country. He was not to be browbeaten into another course; and so help him God! he would pursue the same course, even though with the loss of the dearest friendships he enjoyed in the world.
§ Mr. Brougham
wished to put it to any hon. member—it was a large challenge, as he believed there were nearly three hundred present —whether he would get up and say, that there had been any thing in the tone of what he had ventured to submit which could be considered as an attempt to browbeat? If any hon. member would say, there was any thing beyond affectionate and respectful remonstrance, then he would admit that he had been guilty of a great offence against good feeling, and good manners.
§ Colonel Johnson
repeated, that he did not think Catholic emancipation was worth the price of this bill.
§ Mr. Littleton
said, that it so late a period of the night, he did not think it advisable to propose any amendments to the bill. He would merely suggest, that the blanks should be filled up, and that it should be recommitted for Thursday.