§ Lord John Russell
said, that he rose in pursuance of the notice he had given, to bring before the House the all-important question of a Reform in Parliament. On two occasions formerly it had been his lot to bring this subject under the consideration of the House; but, on no occasion could he have found any period which, in one most material point of view, could have proved more favourable to the measure which it was his object to recommend for their adoption—he alluded to the tranquillity which prevailed at home, and to the pacific state of our foreign relations. In bringing forward the present motion, he had almost determined to let it rest upon the reasons which he had, upon the two former occasions, felt it his duty to urge upon the attention of the House. He had been almost resolved to leave honourable members to the effect of those considerations which, as well within the walls of that House as out of doors, had been operating on the minds of men, and, he was persuaded, preparing the way for sounder views and juster principles on this great national question. But more mature reflection led him to the conviction, that it would be much more expedient to lay before the House those principles and facts on which he founded his judgment—principles which, so far from consisting, as had been repeatedly said on the opposite side, of mere empty declamation, would appear when calmly stated to the House, to be nothing more than the simplest and plainest reasonings, intelligible to every mind, not perverted by prejudice, and to every heart not corrupted by interest. One of the chief grounds on which, when he last addressed the House on the question of Parliamentary Reform, he had rested the opinions and recommendations then urged, was, that it was a matter of paramount importance to adapt every government to the wants and wishes, the prejudices and existing state of the country, for whose use it was intended. This, so far from being a piece of empty declamation, was an axiom which no rational or impartial man could deny. Even the Turkish government was not unsuited to the people. The Sultan might, in the unlimited indulgence of his caprice, cut off the heads of fourteen men per day, without even the appearance or show of judicial proceeding; but he dared not so far depart from the established usages of the people, as neglect to appear before 652 them at the stated intervals which custom had prescribed. He might, without control or responsibility, commit whatever atrocities he thought proper, but to outrage the principles on which his authority rested would never be borne even by his submissive subjects. If it were true of Turkey, that its government was compelled to conform to the condition of the people, with how much more truth and reason did that principle apply to the government of England. Now, he trusted that the House would concur with him in thinking, that the people of this country had arrived at that pitch of knowledge, intelligence, and wealth, which entitled them to a greater share in the election of their representatives than they had hitherto enjoyed; that there did, at the present moment, exist in this country, a class of individuals capable of judging of political questions much more numerous than at any former period, and much more numerous than ever existed in any other nation. When he had last submitted his views on this subject to the consideration of the House, he had gone into several calculations from which he deduced the great increase in the diffusion of knowledge, which had taken place within the last thirty years. These calculations he did not now deem it necessary to repeat; for he could not entertain the slightest doubt that he had then fully proved his position. He would therefore take it for granted, that there never had existed, in any age or country, a people more capable of exercising, or more worthy to be intrusted with, the privilege of electing parliamentary representatives.
Having already thoroughly established, as he conceived, this truth, he would next proceed to examine the state of that House, with the view of determining how far its condition called for change, when he had every expectation of being able to make it appear, that the House of Commons, as at present constituted, so far from being elected by a more numerous, or, relatively considered, a more wealthy class than in past times, it absolutely represented those who were less numerous, less intelligent, and less wealthy—that, in fact, the elective franchise in this country was vested in a very small body of the people. At the same time, he did not go the length of affirming, that the popular principle had no existence or influence in that House: on the contrary, he was perfectly willing to admit, that 653 some few were to be found in that House: who had been sent thither by a popular mode of election, and who might be truly said to speak the sense, and sympathise with the feelings, of the people of England; but they were more than overpowered by the number of those, who, if sent in virtually by individuals, were elected by very small bodies. If this were so, and he did not see how any thing like a successful contradiction of it could be offered, and if the people had arrived at a degree of wealth and intelligence such as no people had ever attained before, and if at the same time it appeared that the state of our representation was so vitiated and corrupt, that, instead of existing on its original principles, it had every day become less and less popular—that, instead of the elective franchise being vested in the hands of the many it had fallen into the possession of the few—that with such a discrepancy between the condition of the people and the constitution of the government, as unhappily now existed, he could not conceal his apprehensions, that one day or other such calamities would ensue as neither the constitution nor the country should ever recover from. It was from such considerations as these that he inferred the necessity of an alteration in the constitution of that House, and they were such as least of all deserved to be thought to partake of declamation. Nothing less admitted of being contradicted in point of principle, or denied in point of fact.
Having now arrived at this point, he would proceed to inquire, what were the grounds on which the people of England were entitled to claim, as a matter of right, a reform in that House; and, in proceeding with this inquiry, he felt much strengthened in contemplating the history of our constitution, and in looking into its origin. Edward 1st was the earliest amongst our kings by whom a parliament was called. By him there were, first, the knights summoned to represent the counties; and, secondly, the burgesses, to represent the community of the boroughs. With respect to the knights, it was incontestible that they were elected by all the freeholders of the county. It had, at one time, been supposed, that none were entitled to vote for knights of the shire except those who held land in chief from the Crown, but recent researches had shown that this opinion was erroneous. By an act of Henry 6th, this 654 unlimited privilege of voting at county elections was circumscribed, as it was then stated, for the purpose of avoiding the inconvenience resulting from the outrageous numbers assembled on those occasions. As regarded boroughs, it was equally true that their representatives were elected by the whole body of the inhabitants; for, in point of fact, all the inhabitants were burgesses. By reference to the ancient writs, it would appear, that all the boroughs which were able to defray the expense of a member of parliament in his attendance were directed to send a representative. These ancient writs would also show, that so far from the representatives having been elected by a select corporation, such as he mentioned yesterday, of perhaps twenty-six, where four or five were sufficiently influential to govern the rest, it was the original practice to have all the inhabitants included in the class called burgesses, and equally entitled to vote at the election of a member of parliament. There was an authority, which he would now quote from—an authority which honourable members opposite would be little disposed to question, and which, in no quarter, would be disputed as to its legal value—he meant that of the lord chancellor. That noble and learned lord, at a hearing before the Privy Council, had stopped an advocate, for the purpose of giving his opinion, which was to the effect, that anciently all the inhabitants of boroughs, both in Scotland and in England, were entitled to vote. He would, therefore, take it for granted, that, in point of law, this right was fully established, and that the original principle of our constitution was—first, that the knights of the shire were elected to serve in parliament by all the freeholders of each county; secondly, that the citizens were sent from the cities by the inhabitants at large; and, thirdly, that the boroughs possessed the same privileges. He repeated, however, that the right of sending members to parliament was confined to those boroughs which possessed sufficient wealth to defray the charge of attendance. In case any borough happened to be too poor to defray those expenses, a precept was always issued to the sheriff of the county in which it was situated, with the intention of meeting such an inconvenience. It had been suggested, that some statute might now be framed to relieve those boroughs which had gone 655 to decay, and in which the population had greatly decreased, from the burthen of returning members; but, probably it would be considered as throwing a discredit on such boroughs to state, that they were too poor; besides, as the money transactions which took place between; the electors and the elected were very different now from what they were formerly, when the representatives were paid wages by their electors, it was not very likely that the boroughs themselves would be willing to have this burthen taken off their shoulders.
He thought the statement which he had made clearly showed what was the condition of the House of Commons at its original institution. Our ancestors never dreamt that representatives would be returned from poor boroughs which bad scarcely any inhabitants; or that a place like Old Sarum would send members to parliament who would have the power of voting away the money of a town like Leeds. And what had been the result of this species of government which had prevailed in the times of our ancestors? He felt no hesitation in saying, that it was to this that we owed the establishment of those principles on which our liberties were founded. A right hon. gentleman, on a former occasion, had said, that he knew nothing of these early parliaments, but that they met for a fortnight, voted subsidies, and then departed to their respective homes; but he begged leave to remind that right hon. gentleman, that it was the constant practice of those parliaments, before they voted subsidies, to see that grievances were redressed, and that the rights of the people were not infringed upon. It was under such Houses of Commons that the great principles of public liberty were asserted and confirmed. It was in the reign of Edward 3rd that the power of the Commons to grant money was fully established—that fair trial in cases of treason was secured, and the sacredness of person and property declared. It was under such Houses of Commons, so elected, that the foundations of our liberty were laid, and the best principles of our constitution cherished. It had been said, by an author of some note, that our liberties had been purchased, not so much with the blood of our ancestors, as with their money. In this it was certainly impossible not to concur. The effects of this had been, through all stages of our history, mani- 656 fested upon the character of the people, as had been testified by men of such distinguished sagacity as Fortescue and Bacon, in their comparisons between the English and the French. In their days, those writers spoke of England as abounding with a substantial yeomanry, free, high-spirited, and independent, and forming admirable soldiers when the defence of their country ever happened to call for their exertion in the field, while France was possessed of scarcely any.
Viewing the subject, then, in these lights, he came to this conclusion, that in asking for a reform in parliament, they asked for no more than was their undoubted right—that which the people, from their intelligence, their wealth, and their moral character, were perfectly competent advantageously to use.
Having gone thus far with his argument upon the subject, he would now proceed to consider the objections which had been urged to the reform which he contemplated. The first objection which he should notice was one sometimes used by the right hon. gentleman opposite—an objection which was founded upon the great prosperity which the country enjoys under the present constitution of the House of Commons. That right hon. gentleman comes down to the House, makes a most flourishing statement as to the revenue of the country, and then triumphantly asks "did that calumniated House of Commons, which had placed the country in such a prosperous and elevated condition, need reform?" This, he thought, was anything rather than the just mode of arguing such a question. He, for his part, always took the discussion on general principles. But, were he to follow the example of that right hon. gentleman, how easy would it be for him to look back to any season of public distress, and attribute the whole of the evils attendant upon it to the vicious and corrupt constitution of the House of Commons, and tell a suffering people, that all they endured was to be attributed to the defective state of their representation in parliament. It happened, oddly enough, that in the present year, when the House met for the purpose of giving relief to the existing distress, no sooner had parliament adjourned for the Easter recess, than the newspapers were filled with accounts of restored confidence, and the improved condition of the commercial interest. If the argument of the right 657 hon. gentleman was legitimately applicable in the way in which he used it, it could, with equal facility and truth, be made use of for an opposite purpose; and, whenever difficulty and distress arose, they might be attributed to the want of a reform in parliament. His opinion decidedly was, that the prosperity of the country, or its occasional sufferings, were, in a commercial point of view, not materially affected by the state of the representation in that House. He thought that our greatness, as a trading and commercial nation, was much more to be ascribed to the security of property, and the laws connected with it. The solid prosperity of the country did not depend upon the constitution of the House: that he was not only free to admit, but would maintain. There were many of its acts, however, which certainly had the effect of checking the prosperity, much more than of advancing the interests of the country. He would refer to the act passed in 1822, to which much evil was now most justly attributed; but this he certainly was far from thinking arose from defective representation. It had been said, and perhaps justly, that in questions to be decided by the strict principles of political economy, a reform in parliament would yield no peculiar advantage; but that argument, carried further, would go the length of submitting such questions to a still smaller and more select body of men—a privy council rather than to the great assemblage of the representatives of the people.
Another objection against any interference with the present state of the representation of the people was, that it would amount to an infringement upon private property, and an interference with vested and chartered rights. He conceived that the elective franchise was not a property which was to be used for the sole advantage and enjoyment of the person possessing it. It was not only a privilege, but a trust—a sacred trust—to be exercised for the good of the country. What injustice could there be, he would ask, in depriving those of that trust, who were incapable of any thing but its abuse? He was still perfectly ready to acknowledge, that it was a privilege which could fairly be considered as a matter of advantage and enjoyment to the person in possession of it, and he would therefore not oppose the grant of reasonable compensation to those who might suffer in an 658 arrangement found necessary for the public good. It could never be maintained that the rights of private property could not, in such a case, be interfered with, while so many bills affecting it were every day passing through that House for railroads, canals, and other public works. A striking instance was afforded by the case of the Liverpool and Manchester railroad. This was to go over grounds which the proprietors highly valued; but, as it was for the public good—as it was for the general benefit of the country—no objection of that nature could be entertained. The bill then passing through that House for making improvements in the metropolis evinced the same disregard to private possessions, when they interfered with general interests. This bill secured compensation whenever the property of any person was appropriated for public purposes. If the owner refused to accept the compensation offered by the commissioners he could go before a jury, who were entitled to assess the damages. If he still refused to surrender his property, the bill gave a right of entry. Houses might be knocked down, and rased to their foundations. Here were clearly the rights of private property infringed upon for public convenience and benefit. Why, then, should they treat with any greater tenderness the privilege of sending members to parliament? What claim had the electors at certain boroughs to be treated with more tenderness than the poor shopkeeper in the Strand, who might, under the new bill, be compelled to relinquish his property?
In addition to these, it was urged as an objection to reform, that by its adoption the country would lose the advantages of a government operating by mutual control. Then was brought before their eyes all the evils of a democratic form of government, and all the horrors of the French revolution. The whole of this was perfectly inapplicable, and really formed an instance of that species of declamation, of which the right hon. gentleman accused the reformers. He would suppose that there had been some measure under consideration trenching upon the privileges of the House of Lords, and he would suppose that he had declaimed against the dreadful effects of aristocracy. It surely might well be replied to him, that in this county no dangers were to be apprehended from aristocracy, seeing that the House of Lords could never act 659 separately. The same principle applied to the House of Commons: they could never act alone; therefore the increase of the popular principle in that body could never lead to the evils of democracy. He asked for nothing more than was a matter of strict right; nothing more than a fair representation.
But the right hon. gentleman opposite, and those who agree with him, allege that, however defective the representation may be in theory, it works well in practice. If it were possible to suppose that such were the fact, he confessed that he for one would be most lukewarm in the cause of reform. But, so far from working well, he lamented to be obliged to declare his conviction that it would so work as one day or other to endanger the constitution. Into the proof of this he had gone when he addressed the House on this subject on a former occasion, and he therefore deemed it the less necessary to trouble them with the details of it at present. As he had before stated, on such discussions as the currency question and others, involving the application of political science, there might, perhaps, be no great advantage felt from more popular modes of election than those prevailing at present; yet, in questions where the Crown and the people had conflicting interests, the ill effects of the present system would be deeply felt; and this he conceived to be the real test by which the expediency of the measure should be tried. On a former occasion he had gone into details, and pointed out of what description of members the majorities in favour of the measures of the ministers of the day had been usually made up, and he had clearly shown that when a proposal had been made for restraining any profligate expenditure, or curtailing absolute power, it had generally met with the support of a large majority of the real representatives of the people. He had only examined into the votes which had been given within his own time; but he was not founding his argument merely on what had taken place within his own experience, for it had been asserted by Mr. Fox, when he was so often defeated by the majorities of lord North during the American war, that notwithstanding such repeated defeats, five-sixths of the real representatives of the people voted with him on each occasion. It was the conviction that there did exist this real discrepancy between the votes of the House 660 and the wishes of the people, which made him feel it his duty even at this late period of the session to bring the measure forward.
In going into this question on a former occasion, he had detailed numerous instances in which this House had acted contrary to the wishes of the people, and that in consequence of their having done so, great discontent and disaffection had been created in the minds of the people, for the restraining and keeping down of which the enactment of severe laws had become necessary; and if the House had gone on acting in this manner, in order to have suppressed the popular murmurs and indignation which would necessarily have been stirred up by such measures, it would at last have been requisite to have controlled and coerced the people. Of late a new plan of policy had been adopted by his majesty's ministers, much more coinciding with the wishes of the people; though, at the same time that he gave ministers credit for carrying these measures into execution, he must say that the credit of suggesting many of them was due to honourable gentlemen who sat near him. As a confirmation of this, he would refer the House to a speech of his hon. and learned friend, the member for Winchelsea, made in March, 1817; who, after a speech of great ability on the then existing commercial distress, moved four resolutions. The first was, "That the trade and manufactures of the country are reduced to a state of such unexampled difficulty as demands the most serious attention of the House." The second, "That those difficulties are materially increased by the policy pursued with respect to our foreign commerce, and that a revision of this system ought forthwith to be undertaken by the House." The third, "That the continuance of these difficulties is in a great degree owing to the severe pressure of taxation under which the country labours, and which ought, by every practicable means, to be lightened." The fourth, "That the system of foreign policy pursued by his majesty's ministers has not been such as to obtain for the people of this country, those commercial advantages, which the influence of great Britain in foreign courts fairly entitled them to expect." These resolutions, at that time, were little attended to, and were negatived by a large majority; though, strange to say, since that period, a great portion of the 661 time of the House had been taken up in acknowledging the truth of those very resolutions, and devising the best means of carrying the suggestions contained in them into execution. Though ministers had done much of late years to entitle themselves to the praise of the country, it appeared to him that they would have done still more had they dared to act fully and freely upon their own views of public policy. He owned that it did appear to him, that though the majority of their measures were extremely useful, their usefulness was not such as would reconcile them to the taste of those high and mighty personages who nominated the majority of members in that House. It was a saying of Fontenelle, that if he had his hand full of reasons he would only let one of them out of it at a time. The course adopted by ministers appeared to be founded upon a similar principle; for, after opening their hands so as to let out first one and then another beneficial measure to the country, they had suddenly closed them, and stopped short in their career, as if they had some difficulty in going further. He suspected that if the new parliament should be chosen in the same manner as the present, those members who were returned to it, not by the people, but by those who regularly opposed themselves on all occasions to the people, would protest in very strong terms against the liberal system of policy which ministers had latterly pursued. He should like to know what the right hon. gentlemen opposite would do under such circumstances? Would they continue in their present course of liberal and enlightened policy, at the danger of being driven out of office by the influence of the great borough proprietors, or would they stop short in it, and retrace the steps which they had already taken It appeared to him that the right hon. gentlemen were placed in a situation of great difficulty; and that the best mode of extricating themselves from it, would be by creating a certainty, that they would meet none but the real representatives of the people in the next parliament. If they met none but the real representatives of the people in that parliament, and if they pursued the same liberal and enlightened policy which they had recently done, adopting firmly, but cautiously such improvements as they thought our institutions required, from such a parliament they might reckon upon meeting a certain and overpowering sup- 662 port. But he was not certain that they would meet such support from parliament, if they now refused it the means of making itself the real representative of the people, and continued to repeat their hackneyed arguments in behalf of those who disliked every measure which they had recently carried, and who, though not open enemies, still were enemies to what had been done, and more particularly enemies to what was to follow.
He had now stated the reasons why he wished for a reform in parliament. He would next proceed to state briefly the mode in which he should propose to have it effected, in the event of his motion being carried. The plan which he should now propose would not be different from that which he had proposed upon two former occasions. It would be to take a certain number—for instance a hundred—of the small and decayed boroughs, and to allow them to return only one member instead of the two which they returned at present. The vacancy which would thus be created in the representation, he would fill up by adding to the number of representatives for counties, and also by giving the right of representation to the large towns which had grown up in different parts of the country. Whether such a plan was the best that could be devised, he would not take upon him to say; but he thought that it would be of use in promoting discussion among the friends of reform. All he contended for at present was, that inquiry should be instituted. He was no friend to sweeping measures: he was an advocate to partial reform. As far as he was able to recollect, there had been only two plans of reform proposed in that House. Of these, one went to reconstruct the House of Commons upon new principles, and the other to reform it partially by infusing what lord Chatham had called new blood into the constitution. The latter plan he considered to be the wisest and the most salutary. It was that of which lord Chatham had been the author. It was that which had been adopted by Mr. Pitt, whilst Mr. Pitt was a reformer, in all the plans which he had presented to the House for its reformation. It was that which had been sanctioned by Mr. Fox, in the various speeches which he had made upon this important subject. During the French revolution, Mr. Fox appeared to have gone further than he himself was now prepared to go; 663 but before that revolution commenced, and even at its commencement, Mr. Fox declared himself to be nothing more than a partial reformer. In the speech which that great man had made in 1793, on Mr. Grey's motion for a reform, he made use of the illustration, which had since been so frequently quoted, of building a House. His illustration was, that the most skilfular-chitect could not build, in the first instance, and at once, so commodious a habitation as one that had been built piecemeal, and gradually improved by successive alterations, suggested by its various inhabitants. It was on the principles which had been recognized by three such men as lord Chatham, Mr. Pitt, and Mr. Fox, that he would build the reform which he had to propose. It was in the words which Mr. Fox had used, in defending Mr. Grey's motion for a reform, that he should conclude the observations which he had to offer to the House. "This was what the present motion recommended to the House—not to pull down, but to work upon, our constitution; to examine it with care and reverence; to repair it where decayed; to amend it where defective; to prop it where it wanted support; to adapt it to the purposes of the present times, as our ancestors had done from generation to generation, always transmitting it, not only unimpaired but improved, to their posterity." The noble lord concluded by moving, "That the present state of the representation of the people in parliament requires the serious consideration of the House."
§ Lord Althorp
seconded the motion, and in so doing declared, that he should almost abstain from observation, as he had no wish either to waste the time of the House unnecessarily, or to weaken the effect which must have been produced upon it by the argumentative speech of his noble friend. After that speech, which was full of historical research, and entirely devoid of empty declamation, he should not trouble them further than to say that, in his opinion, the present state of the representation was such, that the people had not that preponderance in it which was necessary to secure to them the certainty of being well governed. He did not mean to say that under the present system, they were not well governed at present—for able ministers could, if they pleased govern a country well, no matter whether it had or had not a representative government. The grand 664 characteristic, however, of a representative government was, to have in its hands the means of good government at all events. In a House of Commons, where the minority consisted of the representatives of the people, and the majority of the nominees of the borough-holders, such a power could not rest. With a view of restoring to the people that power which they had, somehow or other, been deprived of, he should cordially support the present motion.
§ Mr. J. E. Denison
rose and said:—
Sir;—I must request the fullest measure of indulgence that the House is willing to grant to those who are under the embarrassment of first addressing it: an embarrassment which, in my case, I feel greatly increased by the nature of the subject now before the House, which, from its vast importance, has been so often and so ably discussed, as to be the most exhausted of any that come under the consideration of parliament.
Though this adds materially to the difficulties under which I labour, it may afford me, perhaps, some apology for offering myself to the House in this early stage of the debate, as I at least come to the consideration of this question for the first time.
Not that I can hope to produce any thing entirely original on such a subject; scarcely can I hope to diversify the surface of this oft-trodden path. But neither does the noble lord appear to have placed the subject in any new point of view, or to have occupied any position from which he has not been already triumphantly driven. I hope that weapons, which have before been found availing, though wielded certainly by much more skilful hands than mine, may not now be proved to have entirely lost their point.
The noble lord has proposed to discuss this question on its general merits, and on the broadest principles: on its general merits alone I shall attempt to shape my reply. But, before I enter on the main question, I should wish to call the attention of the House to some arguments of a more occasional nature, that have fallen from the noble lord.
He calls on his majesty's ministers, and pointedly on the right hon. the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, because they have of their own accord proposed many changes in the policy and administration of government. Now, for consistency's sake, to follow him in the change he proposes, 665 a less logical or less reasonable argument I can hardly conceive: it concerns the House who have confirmed, as much as the government who have proposed, the alterations alluded to.
Because his majesty's ministers, each in his respective department, have ventured to institute inquiries, to examine into abuses, and to apply corrections, therefore they must be ready to adopt every suggestion for every reform, from every quarter; and so enamoured have they shown themselves of change, that the larger the matter to which a reform is intended to be applied, the more delighted must they naturally be with the proposal. Surely, Sir, the fair view of this argument would be, that as the government have proposed many changes; as they have shown themselves sensitive to abuses; as they have rejected the senseless clamour against all innovation; as they have risked present popularity in carrying through some of their measures—(I say present popularity, for I never will believe that policy so deep laid in wisdom and injustice, so pursued in temperance and discretion, can fail eventually to secure to them a rich harvest of the approbation of all the enlightened part of mankind)—having done all this, if now they oppose alterations, they have a right to the confidence of this House; they have a right to be believed that they oppose them on principle.
Next, Sir, as to the time at which this measure is proposed. As the House has already agreed, by common consent, to defer the consideration of many important questions, on account of the approach of its own dissolution, I can conceive none where postponement could be better justified than in a question not only intimately blending itself with popular feeling, but relating to those very suffrages which so large a portion of the community are on the very tiptoe of expectation to exercise.
Then, Sir, if the time is not opportune for this consideration, is there any thing in the condition and circumstances of the House which makes alteration at this moment imperative? Is this House more corrupt than its predecessors have wont to be? Sir I can speak with less authority on this head, because with less experience, than almost any hon. gentleman who hears me. But I have the word of the hon. baronet, the member for Westminster, the great champion of reform, that he never recollects to have sat in so 666 pure and honourable an opposition, as that which now surrounds him. I believe the character that the hon. baronet has assumed for his side of the House may, with justice, be extended to this side also.
Is the House grown dead and insensible to the encroaching influence of the Crown? Are its advances unheeded and unopposed in the present stagnation of party within these walls? Sir, I would refer, as a contradiction to this to a vote of this House the other evening, when a measure, which appeared to me certainly by no means worthy of the suspicion which it excited, was rejected on those very grounds by this House. Is the House insensible to the expression of public opinion, or blind to its own practical imperfections? Sir, the constitution of private committees became a subject of complaint to the country, and was little satisfactory to the members who composed them. The hon. member for Staffordshire proposed a revision of the system, and the House, at his suggestion, has consented to adopt a plan, in no slight degree onerous to individual members, for the satisfaction of the public, and the more certain administration of impartial justice. I think, Sir, then, I may safely assume, that arguments, which have before prevailed against reform, can have lost none of their weight from any increase of corruption and impurity in this House.
But Sir, to approach the main body of the question. The noble lord has laboured no part of his speech more than that in which he disclaims all connexion with violent reformers, and assumes for himself and his friends the name and character of moderate reformers. The noble lord will excuse me, if, while I give him full credit for his intentions, I cannot with confidence rely on the practical distinction he attempts to set up. Sir, I believe that no reform would satisfy the party in this country that desires change, but a reform on principle. A reform on principle must, it seems to me, be an approach to a uniformity of representation. And such a uniformity can only be attained by one of two courses either it must be founded on an extension of the popular or democratic principle, at on the grounds of property. Now, as experience is no unfaithful or uncertain guide, and there exists at present in the world living examples of both these systems of representation, with the permission of the House I would attempt 667 very shortly to contrast them with our own.
In France the elective franchise is founded entirely on property, and in the establishment of this, and as necessary to its conservation, a high average rate of property is taken. Thus the expression of opinion of the lower and lowest classes, so valuably felt in this House, is excluded from all representation there.
The first step towards the adoption of such a system must be, to disfranchise a large portion of the community. But, hon. gentlemen are too well acquainted with the practical effects of the French Chamber; they know too well how feeble and imperfect an instrument in government it has proved itself, to wish to remodel after its construction.
The second plan by which uniformity may be attained, is an extension of the popular principle, a nearer approach to the forms of a representative democracy. Sir, for the operations of this system we have the example and experience of a country bearing a strong affinity to our own, the United States of America.
In whatever I may say of that country, I wish to speak of it with the greatest respect, as I sincerely entertain the greatest respect for its free and enlightened institutions. Nor is it to be understood, that any thing which might be bad in its operation here, is therefore necessarily and of consequence bad there. Quite the contrary. The greatest allowances must be made in attempting to establish any thing like a just and practical comparison between countries so essentially different. Here we have a limited monarchy. There exists a republic on a democratic basis. Whatever we have of liberty here, has been slowly and gradually won from a more arbitrary rule. Whatever they have of control there, has been built up as a check to level democracy; but, in an observation of the results, sufficient analogy may exist for our purpose.
Sir, in America are to be found annual parliaments, under some slight modifications, universal suffrage, and election by ballot. The consequence of placing representation on numbers alone, is not only to deprive property of its due and legitimate influence, but to make the observance of it less scrupulously delicate, than where itself forms a principle in the representation.
And next—and on this I would lay the greatest stress—where the representation 668 is uniform, where it depends immediately on the popular voice, without any extraneous control, in times of public disturbance or high political excitement, elections turn on one single consideration—one all-devouring, uncompromising pledge is administered as a touchstone to the merits of every candidate. Talents, character, reputation, cannot for a moment uphold their possessor. Not only individuals bend before the storm, but whole parties are swept off the stage. Not one set of principles prevails, but no expression of opposite sentiment is allowed. It is not the temporary subjection, but the present annihilation of the opposing party; and the opposing party under these circumstances is not unfrequently the most right-minded and respectable class of the community.
How would such consequences operate here, where the very essence of our constitution is its principle of balances and counterpoises; where, from the combination and opposition of conflicting elements, the harmony of the whole is extracted?
But I may be asked, does not this system in its operation work well? And when I answer, that, undoubtedly, in my opinion it has worked well in America, I must add an explanation, not so much in the nature of a qualification, as of a reason, why no deduction can therefore be made from that country to this. The central congress at Washington alone presides over the nice and delicate conduct of external government, and over many of the most complicated and important functions of internal administration. In its constitution some props to its stability have been provided, as the extension of the political existence of its members from one year to two.
But the real and available check is to be found in the territorial distinctions, in the great geographical demarkations, which divide the politics, as they divide the surface, of the country. The deputies assemble at Washington, rather as the agents for local interests than as councillors for general policy. The interests of the north, south, and west; of the commercial and agricultural; of the slave-holding, and non-slave-holding states, are, by their nature, in some points so opposite, and in their administration so frequently conflict, that deliberation becomes a matter of necessity, and not of choice. Every change partakes of the nature of a compromise, and compromise necessarily begets moderation.
669 With us these distinctions are not, fortunately, to be found; and, in their absence, we have provided ourselves with other machinery, which, through a different process, produces the same results.
Indeed, the picture of a single state would form a juster object of comparison with this country, than the whole body of the United States could do; and, whatever by speculative minds may be advanced, as to the efficiency of a government, constituted as the State governments are, to conduct the intricate and difficult operation of external affairs, upon this, as a matter of opinion, I shall not enter; but, as matter of fact, I may safely say, that the experiment has not yet been tried.
I fear, Sir, I have fatigued the House in the pursuit of this inquiry—but it seemed to me that, on one of these principles, uniformity in representation must be attempted. For neither of these (though each be fair and specious in promise) will any man, I believe, be prepared to change this incongruous if you please, this impure, if you please, but this most efficient system, under which we are this day assembled here.
Sir, we have here, by a fortunate combination, the French principle of property acting with its natural unrestricted influence, corrected by a strong infusion of the American principle of democracy; that, in turn, controlled by the useful weight of the aristocracy, and by the deference paid to ancient families, and hereditary distinctions.
We have all parties, all classes, all opinions represented here. The House conforms itself to every change, slowly and reservedly it is true, but not on that account the less surely or the less safely. It is certain, ultimately, and, in good time, to receive the impression of every prevailing impulse.
To this admirable and well-adjusted balance we owe, I believe, much of our safety and our honour—much of all that we value as a nation—much of all for which we are admired by the world. To this must be attributed the even tenor that British politics have so long sustained in the history of Europe—to this ever-varying, but ever consistent, principle, through all trials and struggles, this House owes its character and its fame. Hence it is, that no House of Commons violently departs from the track of its predecessors: though the term of each parliament be short, the spirit that animates them is immortal; 670 though the existence of each be uncertain,—Neque enim plus septima ducitur ætas; At genus immortale manet, multosque per annos Stat Fortuna domûs, et avi numerantur avorum.It is this perpetuity of principle, this consistency of conduct, this moderation in the exercise of its power, that I wish to preserve inviolate to this House.
I am not blind to the inconsistencies, I am not insensible to the incongruities of the existing order of things; but in the complicated machinery of government, where the operation of the whole is good, I fear, lest in attempting to remove an apparent impediment I may really destroy a valuable and necessary power. I mark the inconsistencies with the noble lord; but I am not prepared to say with him, that they must be inconsistencies for evil, and cannot be for good. I agree with the noble lord, that the fabric of the English constitution was not built in a day; neither was it ever constructed on the chaste and simple rule of Grecian uniformity. It partakes rather of the irregularities of its native and more proper Gothic. But I dare not therefore meddle with its structure. I stand with awe and admiration at its threshold. I dare not approach it with the hand of specious reform.
§ Mr. Ross
begged to assure the House, that it was not his intention to detain them at any length, but he was anxious to take that opportunity of stating how strongly he objected to any general system of Parliamentary Reform—a question which had been as often rejected as it had been brought forward, and which, he felt convinced, notwithstanding the exertions of a most zealous party, had gained no ground within the walls of parliament, and little, if any, in the country at large.
The noble lord, both on that and on other occasions, had, with much ability, and in the clearest manner, stated his wishes on the subject, and suggested a plan which might at first appear likely to obtain the support of all reformers. But so various were their views, and so different were their principles, some desiring a very moderate change, while others would be satisfied with nothing short of revolution, that he was confident that, were the principle to be granted, and the details of the measure left to be discussed by those only who advocate some alteration, not one session, nor twenty 671 sessions, would suffice to decide upon a system that could obtain their general approbation. The opponents of reform had a much straiter course to pursue, and sought a conclusion much more easy to attain, by opposing the very principle on which the noble lord would act. However ready he (Mr. Ross) would be to join in correcting any particular error which might be pointed out, he could not consent to that sweeping plan of alteration which to him seemed calculated, not to renovate, but to overthrow the constitution; neither could he consent to that indiscriminate abuse or ridicule cast upon the institutions of their forefathers, merely because they originated in ancient times. For he would not allow that attachment which he felt for their principles to arise from a blind admiration of the past, but to be founded on a wish to preserve untouched what had for so long been reckoned part of the constitution, and which he never would agree to destroy, till some irresistible reason were adduced to prove that, from that change, greater benefits would arise than the maintenance of the present system bad hitherto produced.
He felt assured that the House would agree with him in thinking that, before the noble lord could expect his plans to be adopted, he was bound to show that some material grievance existed, and that the alteration proposed would remedy that grievance. The complaints of the reformers were generally three; namely, that the influence of the Crown has gradually become too great; that the influence of the aristocracy was overwhelming; and that the body of the people was not duly represented. He owned be found it impossible to assent to any one of those three assertions. With regard to the first point, he was not aware at what epoch the noble lord and his adherents conceived that the power of the Crown was duly balanced by the power of the people, nor at what period they imagined parliaments to have been better constituted than in the present times, unless they wished to recur to those days in which the House of Commons first voted itself perpetual—next assumed the whole executive power—and lastly, after overthrowing monarchy, paved the way for the murder of its sovereign. Into particulars, indeed, reformers seldom condescended to enter, but in general terms they had often asserted, that the influence 672 of the Crown had become too great for the liberties of the people. How far that influence should extend, he conceived to be a fair and legitimate subject of debate. But that was not the question then to be discussed. Reform was imperiously demanded, because that influence was said to have increased—an assertion which the anti-reformists declared to be unsupported by fact, and on which point, therefore, the two parties were at issue.
To historic records, then, it seemed to him, that recourse must be had to support either position, and he felt confident that those records would prove, not the increase, but the great diminution of that influence. Did they refer to the days of queen Elizabeth? Of her own authority she sent several members of the House of Commons to the Tower, merely for intimating a doubt as to the extent of her prerogative, or for launching a sarcasm against the abuse of a very questionable power. Did they consult the annals of the Stuarts? They would find them claiming and exercising the privilege of dispensing with the laws of the land by their mere proclamation. Did they study the reigns of the two first Georges? they would see them substituting corruption for intimidation—direct bribery for positive force. That corruption and that bribery, indeed, might be proved, not only by valuable contemporaneous evidence, but much light was thrown upon the system then pursued, by a paper laid, in the previous session, upon the table of the House, by which it would appear that, in 1714, the first parliament of George 1st., about two hundred and fifty members of the House held among them about four hundred places; and in 1727, the first parliament of George 2nd., about two hundred members held among them near three hundred and fifty places. And he begged leave to remark, that, in those days, the whole House consisted but of five hundred and fifty-eight members. Such, or nearly such, was the state of affairs till 1780, the year in which Mr. Dunning moved his celebrated resolutions. From that hour the work of retrenchment had been unsparingly prosecuted. Mr. Burke began by prevailing upon the then ministry, to adopt many of the provisions of his well-known bill for economical reform. Since that time, all revenue officers and contractors had been excluded from the House—since that 673 time the king's household had been materially diminished; the power of granting places in reversion taken away; the holders of colonial offices compelled to execute their duties in person; besides an infinity of minor reforms, to which he felt it unnecessary to call the attention of the House. The more so, indeed, when he recollected, that by a majority of more than two to one, they had negatived a motion made by the hon. and learned gentleman, the member for Winchelsea, very similar in form and substance to the resolution of Mr. Dunning; and in the very session, too, in which the offices of two lords of the admiralty, and that of one of the postmasters-general, were reduced, notwithstanding the most strenuous exertions of ministers.
This brought him down about to the year 1822, when a committee sat to inquire into what offices were held by members of the House: from whose report it would appear, that there were then but 89 placemen out of 658 members—one hundred more than in the reigns of George 1st or George 2nd. But even that number of 89, small as it was, in comparison with the 250 of 1714, or even the 200 of 1727, ought to be materially diminished; for, besides that, some offices then existing had since been abolished; he must take the liberty of saying, that never was there a report presented to the House more calculated to deceive both parliament and the country. The insinuation which it was intended to convey, and which reformers had repeatedly since used as the ground work for their declamations was, the ministry could, from the influence of place, command 89 votes in the House of Commons. But what would be said of the fairness or justice of that report, when it was remarked that one member was reckoned twice—that six held only military commissions (which were professedly excluded), that five held offices for life in the gift of the Chancellor for the time being, and that to three of these places no salary was attached; that among these 89 pensioners, on whose votes, if reformers were to be believed, the Crown could always implicitly depend, were to be found the hon. and gallant members for the county of Kilkenny and the city of Bath, the hon. member for Calne, and the hon. and learned gentleman the member for Peterborough, whose talents, indeed, it would be impossible not to admire, but whose votes were but seldom given 674 either against reform or retrenchment, or in favour of administration. He (Mr. R.) hoped that it would appear that the advocates of reform were little able to prove that the influence of the Crown had increased in the House, since their arguments were principally founded on that report, the injustice of which would be so manifest to those who would but take the trouble to analyze it in detail.
The next point to which he begged to draw the attention of the House was, the influence supposed to arise from the patronage belonging to the collection of the revenue, the church, the army, and the navy. It was impossible to deny that the increase of the revenue had not augmented the number of offices in the gift of the Crown, but he thought that various circumstances diminished the influence which, at first view, might seem to arise from thence: the population of the country had increased in a still greater ratio, and, what was much more important, revenue officers were disqualified from voting at elections. With regard to the church, the army, or the navy, he declined entering into much detail, for the quantity of church patronage could not be said to have increased, since, for ages, it had been stationary; and, as to the army and navy, he felt that the vague assertions of parliamentary influence derived from them had been so often contradicted in the House, even by friends of reform, that he would not waste their time by attempting to refute, what, in his view, had never been proved. But, even were he disposed in some degree to assent to this supposed increase of influence on the part of the Crown, he would wish to ask whether some countervailing power had not, in the mean time, been acquired by the people. He could not imagine a firmer barrier to the direct assaults of despotism, or the insidious attacks of corruption, than the intelligence of the peasantry, or the knowledge so generally diffused among the manufacturing classes. Nor could he forget what, perhaps, was of still greater importance, the publicity so speedily given to all that passed within the walls of parliament.
The second cause of complaint was, the supposed increase of the influence of the aristocracy, and he owned he could not allow that that influence had augmented. He denied that more boroughs had become close of late years, or that the weight of powerful families in large 675 towns had not been much diminished by the increase of the population. He confessed, however, that, in one point of view, he rejoiced to see the influence of the aristocracy: by that, meaning the influence of wealth, the influence of property, and the influence of talent. He conceived it perfectly consonant with the spirit of the constitution, that the wealth which honest industry and a laborious life had accumulated should be represented in the House, and that the owner of an extensive property, handed down to him from his ancestors, should be returned to parliament by the influence of those possessions. Still more advantageous did he consider it, that some means should exist by which an opportunity of distinction should be given to talent which wanted but that opportunity to make itself known and admired; and he would cherish the system by which these objects were attained, as productive of the most essential benefits, both privately to individuals, and publicly to the country at large.
He came lastly to the third supposed grievance—the non-representation of the people; and, on that part of the question, no point was more warmly pressed than the small number of voters in some boroughs. He was ready to admit, and the noble lord was welcome to all the benefit he could derive from it, that Gatton and Old Sarum had about two voters each, and Knaresborough and Tavistock not many more. He should much regret if the country were to be deprived of the services of the members returned by some of those rotten boroughs; and he could not avoid remarking, that the opposite benches would present a most meagre appearance, were the noble lord's plan of disfranchisement to be carried into effect. For, objectionable as that system seemed to reformers, it was indeed not a little curious, that to boroughs thus constituted, most of them were obliged to have recourse, and many, after repeated defeats in more populous places. He was well aware that it was generally stated, that, although some partizans of reform were to be found among the representatives of close boroughs, yet the majority of them were the supporters of government, and lists had been industriously prepared, from which it would appear, that the more numerous bodies of constituents generally chose members who voted with the opposition. In the principle, how- 676 ever, of these lists, there did seem to him to be so vital an error, that he would not enter in detail into the objections he thought could be brought against them. For the noble lord reckoned as among the opponents of ministers, all those members who, in the course of the parliament, had given three votes against them—a calculation which would give a most ill-founded view of the real sentiments of the House, as it would include in the ranks of the Opposition some of the most steady and valuable supporters of government. The real fact was, not whether upon some one or two questions, particular members did or did not support administration, but whether on the whole, the House and the people agreed. Sometimes, indeed, they did disagree, and it would be most extraordinary if that did not occasionally take place. They did disagree when, by the assistance of the members of those very rotten boroughs, in modern times so stigmatized, the principles of liberty were established at the Revolution. They again disagreed when the Septennial act, so necessary for the exclusion of the Stuarts, was passed, against the wishes of the people, and the votes of most of the country members. Were these measures hostile to freedom, or deserving the reprobation of any real lover of his country? No; to representatives of boroughs was due, first, the Bill of Rights, that palladium of liberty, and next, that decisive step by which it was preserved. The country members, too, of that day, most clearly proved, that the members for populous places were not always the staunchest friends of freedom, and that the dictates of a prejudiced mob, or the wishes of an ignorant people, ought not, at all times, implicitly to be obeyed.
There were also many other instances which might be adduced in favour of that assertion. He might mention 1784, and ask the noble lord whether the Whigs of those days thought the House of Commons or the country ought to have yielded in that struggle. He might allude to the debates on the Currency in 1811, or to others still more recent, on the Roman Catholic question. On that point, he believed, few members would deny that a large majority of the people of England was decidedly adverse to any further concessions, but he doubted whether, on that account, the noble lord would advocate the propriety of resisting the claims of the Catholics. In attempting to 677 prove that, unless the House on all occasions agreed with the people, it was no longer worthy of their confidence, the noble lord must, of course, admit the justice of direct instructions from constituents. On this point he would beg leave to quote Mr. Burke: "Authoritative instructions," said he, in 1774, "mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience, these are things utterly unknown to the laws of the land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order or tenor of our constitution. Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors, each desirous of sustaining his own interests at the expense of the others, but a deliberative assembly, united for one common purpose, and actuated by one common feeling, a desire to promote, to the best of their judgment, the welfare of their country." The more, indeed, the question of instructions from constituents was viewed, the more absurd, he thought, it would appear. He was sure that the noble lord would agree with him in saying, that it was impossible, on all occasions, to refer to them for advice. And yet, if members did not request their opinion as to every vote they gave, the principle must fall to the ground. Either then, at the risk of every danger which must follow, and the ridicule which must attend strict obedience, the member, after listening to a discussion, must abide by the instructions he had received from those who had not heard a single word of the debate, or else he should be left, as he ought to be, free and unshackled, to follow the dictates of his own conscience; nor should he then be blamed as an opponent of the rights of the people, if, in the discharge of his duty, his opinion should happen to differ from that of his constituents. But, setting aside the consideration of how far members ought, on all occasions, to refer to them, he wished to consider what would be the result, if, on the question of reform, the opinion of the country at large were to be taken. If electors only were to be consulted, he owned he did not believe they would agree to admit any large additional numbers to participate in their rights, acquired either by purchase or inheritance. If the advice of non-electors were to be taken, it was very possible that they might think it highly expedient to obtain, without expense or diffi- 678 culty, a privilege, to which neither from birth, intellect, or property, could they lay the slightest claim. For, of whom did the vast majority of the non-electors consist? Of persons in the lowest classes of society, who might gain, but who could not lose by any inroad on the constitution, and whose utter want of education ought to exclude them from taking any share in the task of selecting legislators; while, on the other hand, the actual electors comprised nearly all those who possessed any landed property, and whose birth, intelligence, and means of information enabled them to judge of men and measures, and to select those as their representatives whose talents were best calculated to do honour to their choice, and confer lasting benefits on their country. And, in affirming that this latter class was generally opposed to parliamentary reform, he was stating not only his own firm conviction, but the recorded opinion of reformers themselves; "Non meus hic sermo" he said, it was the sentiment uttered in that House, of a near relative of the noble lord, who voluntarily confessed, that an immense majority of the gentry, the clergy, and the nobility, of England, were decidedly hostile to parliamentary reform. And yet it was by persons like those anti-reformists, that he was sure the noble lord would wish his conduct to be approved. The applause of a mob, or the plaudits of the ignorant and un-educated populace, would be but little satisfactory, unless accompanied by the approbation of that higher class, the gentry of England, whose talents and arguments gave real value to their praise, and shed a lustre round the country which claimed them as her own.
He apologized to the House for having detained them so long in stating some of the objections he felt to parliamentary reform, and the weakness, as it appeared to him, of the arguments by which that plan was supported. He confessed that he was afraid, that if the noble lord's proposition were to be carried in the affirmative, they should soon have to encounter most serious dangers—dangers which he was sure the majority of the advocates for reform did not for a moment anticipate. He had, he owned, been glad to view the British constitution as a fane hallowed by ages, yet unimpaired by time: with such feelings he must consider any material and uncalled-for alteration in that edifice as little short of sacrilege. He trembled, lest, 679 the contagious example once set, they should not know where to arrest their progress, and with the vague idea of possible and future advantage, should occasion positive and immediate injury. He felt convinced, that were the noble lord to prevail in carrying his plan into effect, they would be the less able to withstand any further inroad upon the constitution. But, by taking their stand where they did, they, at all events, if successful in their resistance, would prevent reformers from afterwards pleading a precedent for their assaults. If unsuccessful, he could only hope that the event might prove their fears to have been vain, their predictions to have been false. Impressed with such sentiments, he could not consent to compromise what he considered the interests of the people, or to act in opposition to what he conceived their real wishes, but would most strenuously oppose a plan which he conscientiously believed to be fraught with fallacy, and replete with danger.
said, that if the proposition of his noble friend and those who voted with him, had been, to change the present system for a democracy, the objections of the hon. member who spoke last might have applied; but not only no such intention had ever been expressed, but the very contrary was their object; and instead of attempting to destroy the constitution, they only sought to preserve it, and to remove all that was prejudicial to it. He approached this question with a considerable degree of distrust and apprehension; for he felt that it was one of large and general importance. Indeed, he would not have trespassed on the attention of the House but for what had lately passed as to the state of the representation in Scotland, from which he inferred, that the particular grievances of that country would not be redressed unless a general reform of parliament was adopted. He had expected that the case of Scotland would have been considered on its own merits, as there were difficulties and peculiarities connected with it of such a nature as to induce the hope that even those who were hostile to the general measure would see the necessity of remedying the particular evils of the Scotch representation. But he was astonished to hear a right hon. gentleman declare, when the petition from Edinburgh was under consideration, that no sufficient motive could be proved to him 680 to exist, unless it were shown, that owing to the existing system the people suffered, or that there was criminality on the part of the electors. The case, however, appeared to him, to deserve the interference of the House; and, although the representation of that city was not defended, the petitioners were left to their fate. They were told, indeed, that Scotland benefitted by the diffusion of the popular spirit which prevailed in England, and the whole argument of those who opposed the inquiry on that occasion was, that the sound part here made up for the bad elsewhere. No hope being left of obtaining redress in any case of detail, he was glad to see the present question brought before the House on general principles. It appeared to him in the highest degree weak and absurd to refuse to provide a remedy against an evil which might be likely to exist, because it had not yet been felt. To argue that, because the present system worked well, and no bad results were experienced from it, we should therefore allow it to remain unaltered, was just as weak and absurd a course as to say that, though a man was surrounded by thieves and pickpockets, he need be under no apprehension, as their hands had not been found in his pockets. He deprecated any angry discussion on such a question as the present: it never tended to the elucidation of truth, and merely showed that the persons who had recourse to violent expressions were on the weaker side, and possessed no better means of defending the continuance of abuse and corruption. He need not remind the House of the great unrepresented towns of Leeds, Manchester, and Birmingham; nor of the miserably defective state of the representation of Scotland, where it might be said, that three thousand persons constituted the whole of the elective body. He thought that great difficulties and dangers would arise from the House not meeting this question fairly and fully; for which no time could be more suitable than the present.
§ Mr. Speaker
; Since it appears to be the course of this evening's discussion, that the supporters, as well as the op-posers of the noble lord's proposal, should follow each other, not singly, but in pairs,* From the original edition, printed for J. Ridgway, Piccadilly.681 I shall venture to take this opportunity of addressing myself to the House immediately after my noble friend; and, before I say a word on what has fallen from the opponents of the motion, I shall beg leave to remark, that my noble friend has furnished a decisive proof of the moderation with which he looks at this great question:—he has very properly deprecated the forbearance of that man who should persist in keeping company with thieves and villains, merely because he did not as yet find their hands in his pockets. But, with submission to him, I must beg to say, that, as far as the thieves and villains to whom he alludes are concerned, that is, as far as the borough-holders are concerned, we have not even that pretext for forbearance; for we do find—we have found, the hands of those light-fingered gentry in our pockets—in other words, in the pockets of the people; and this fact it is, that makes us anxious for a change of system.
The hon. member for Newcastle (Mr. Denison) claimed the indulgence of the House, on the score of the infrequency of his interference in the debates of parliament. I must apply for the same favour upon exactly the contrary grounds; namely, the fact of my having often spoken before on the same subject; for I feel it a duty attached to all those who are returned by the popular portion of the constituency of England, to take every occasion of expressing their sentiments on this great question.
It is true, we can do little more than that which the old Scotch reformers called "testifying;" but, in default of more efficient efforts, we should be unpardonable, if we omitted that harmless mode of enforcing, or at least of expressing our opinions; and, impressed with this persuasion, I shall now attempt to reply to what has been urged by the hon. gentleman opposite.
As for what has fallen from the hon. member for Orford (Mr. Ross), he has certainly gone to his work with considerable boldness; he scorns a compromise,—with him I can have no community of sentiment—difference with him does not lie in the shades of opinion—he does not argue much, but he asserts roundly—with him, reform never was, nor now is, nor ever can be expedient, or even sufferable. He despises all the phenomena of the times, or he draws from the contemplation of them an inference quite dif- 682 ferent from the rest of the world. He feels it, no doubt, not a little magnanimous to run counter to the general march and progress of opinion; and, whilst all the other luminaries of the firmament are moving in one direction, the member for Orford ambitiously pursues the contrary career, and, like the Apollo of Ovid, proudly boasts—Nitor in adversum, nee me, qui cætera, vincit Impetus; et rapido contrarius evehor orbi:for, Sir, I assert, that the course and current of events lead to exactly the opposite conclusion from that to which the hon. member has arrived. I may also add, without disrespect, that, by that course and current, wiser men than the hon. member have been borne away; end that I do not despair even of seeing him, at last, sagely yielding to the influence of the resistless stream.
The other opponent of the measure (Mr. Denison) is of another complexion. He is more temperate; he can bring himself to believe that a popular and purely democratic assembly may work well; nay, he has confessed that, in America, it does work well. That hon. member's speech has made me regret he should be found in the ranks of our opponents: his talents, his liberality, would make me augur better things of him: as it is, I can only say of him, "Utinam noster esset." Sir, I attribute no small portion of that gentleman's liberal disposition to the part of his political education which he has lately received in America. That fortunate journey will be of use to him during his life,—it will be of use to this House—it will be of use to the country—it cannot but have imparted to him that spirit which is imbibed by the contemplation of free institutions, and which an impartial and enlightened mind like his must have caught amongst the free citizens of that great republic. But the hon. member must forgive me if I tell him, that I think he has not carefully investigated the history either of America or England, if he attributes the free principles of government which prevail in the former country to any discovery made by the founders or the successors of the American revolution, or to any circumstances which render that vast country the peculiar and favourite abode of a pure democracy: no, Sir, the Americans are our brothers; we may speak of them without the asperity of rivalship; but, it is but justice to the memory of those who were 683 their and our common forefathers, to say, that the democratic principles which pervade and animate the whole American union are of English origin; are derived from the principles which, however they may now flourish beyond the Atlantic, first started into life upon this our native soil. The great battle of American independence was fought to prove, that taxation without representation is a tyranny that Englishmen ought not to bear,—it was but the same battle, and the victory that was gained was but the same victory, that had rendered for ever memorable the glorious Revolution of 1688. The struggle was in no respect different from that earlier resistance to arbitrary power which slavish historians have branded with the name of rebellion; and the real instructors, the real political sages, whose lessons inspired the Americans of the first Congress with their resolution to die in defence of freedom and of a pure representative system, were the Cokes and the Seldens, the Pyms and the Hampdens, who gloriously contended for that liberty at home, which their contemporaries, the first exiles, thought they could find only in the deserts of the western world. It is, therefore, a mistake, to suppose that the institutions of the Americans are so entirely the offspring of the peculiar origin, and manners, and position of that powerful nation, as to render them inapplicable to the system of English government; on the contrary, whatever is free, whatever is popular, whatever is essentially representative in their government, is English; and if we desire to know what were the parliamentary principles of our forefathers, we have but to look at the practice of our American contemporaries.
I think that the hon. member for Newcastle has also made a mistake when he supposes the representative system in France to be formed on the basis of property, as in contradiction to the American basis of population. I own it appears to be so; but those who have visited France with the eyes of a reformer, know full well that, by a species of management which it is not necessary now to explain, the Crown has contrived to get the elections, for the most part, into the convenient channel; so much so that, except in Paris, and one or two places where the electors can act in concert, the ministerial candidate is almost sure of success. In fact, the Bourbons have been wise enough to take a leaf out of our book; the go- 684 vernment by mere brute force has been found too dangerous—they now try the surer mode of corruption, and, under pretence of giving to their subjects a representative system, make them consent to infringements upon their rights, and to exactions upon their purses, which could not be obtained by the old method of undisguised despotism. The restored dynasty have made a surprising progress in this their holy work; and they have been enabled so to do, not because they have been aided by the aristocracy, but because they have no aristocracy to oppose them. There is not in France any body of men round which the people can rally themselves; and stem the torrent of power; and, as the landed estates in that country are cut, as it were, into shreds and patches, and are undergoing a perpetual subdivision, there are no individuals of sufficient importance to make head against the dispensers of the favours of the Crown. Where there is the least show of opposition, every engine is set to work; and where corruption fails, open injustice is not unfrequently brought into play, in the mode adopted of selecting the returning officers, and securing the election of the court candidate. Nay, even violence has been tried; and the removal of ferry boats, and the breaking down of bridges, have been the last resource, not of popular fury, but of ministerial manœuvre. So that, although France does not enjoy our well-working borough system, she has arrived at the result of that happy arrangement; and, so far from returning a representation from the property of the country, may, in fact, be rather said to send to her chamber the representatives of the property and the influence of the Crown.
Indeed, the opposition to the measures of ministers in France is extremely insignificant, when compared with that which sits on these benches. And here I must beg leave to correct a misapprehension of the hon. member for Newcastle. He objects to my hon. colleague (sir F. Burdett), he having praised the House of Commons for its improving purity, whilst at the same time he calls for a reform. But my hon. colleague did not praise the House of Commons; he praised the opposition; he said he had never sat down with so many honourable men, notoriously acting solely upon public principle, and swayed by no base motive nor selfish influence. This is very 685 different from passing an eulogy on the House of Commons itself. Of that House, indeed, we may say, that (without embarrassing ourselves with the questions put by hon. members, as to whether it be more or less corrupt than at former periods) it is quite as corrupt as any ministers can wish; we may say with Mr. Burke, who has been quoted on the other side, and who may be quoted for any side of almost any question, that "for any purposes of popular control, it is not a House of Commons."
These were the words of that politician. What was true then is true now. I can hardly understand how any one should venture to deny the assertion; yet it is denied; and to my infinite surprise, the hon. member for Newcastle has this night adduced the discussion and decision of the question relative to the increased salary of the president of the Board of Trade, as a proof that the people exercise a salutary control over the deliberations of parliament.
This appears to me the most unfortunate instance that could be selected for such a purpose; nor do I imagine it would be easy to find a more complete illustration of the corruption of parliament, and of the necessity of reform:—for, in the first place, I contend, that, except to such an assembly, no minister would have dared to make such a proposition:—secondly, I must remind the hon. member, that the proposal, the ultimate abandonment of which he quotes as so creditable to parliament, was carried by a majority of parliament, of which majority, by the way, he was one. In the third place, it must be remarked, that the said majority, being eighty-seven in all, was composed of thirty-eight members in receipt of emolument from office, and of ten others nearly connected with such placemen; whilst only one English county member voted for the proposal. I ask, is it possible to give a more unfavourable picture of the present composition of parliament, than that which this very majority presents to us? I ask, is it possible to form to oneself the idea of a representation more corrupt and contemptible than this commended vote affords?
Even in another point of view, this very note shows the necessity of reform; for the smallness of the majority is a sufficient evidence of the natural consequence which would result from a frequent recurrence to the people for the choice of 686 their representatives. Would not that majority have been much greater had not this been the last session of the parliament? It is notorious, that those members, who are in the habit of supporting government, and are partly chosen by the popular part of the constituency, just at the close of their career, are apt to tremble at their approaching dissolution. After four or five years of submission to ministers, they no sooner see the immediate approach of their latter end, than they give some sign of grace, and bethink them of the account which they shall have to render at the day of popular judgment. They resolve to signalise their last moments by some virtuous deed; and, like the repentant death-bed sinners, satirised by Dean Swift, are eager to "make a sacrifice to God of the devil's leavings." Hence we had only one English county member bold enough to vote for what the member for Taunton called the Board of Trade job; and that fact alone speaks volumes in favour of one part of our reformation—I mean shorter parliaments.
With respect, Sir, to the peculiar mode by which the reformers would wish to carry their wishes into effect, I beg to assure the hon. member for Newcastle, that, when he says we can choose only from two schemes—the American basis of population, or the French basis of property, as he calls it (very improperly, I think), he little knows the variety of plans proposed by us for the accomplishment of our great object:—as for the French plan, as now managed, we certainly would have nothing to do with it. There are, however, many, many ways by which we think we can modify and mingle the two principles of property and population, so as to arrive at the result we desire-namely, a fair control of the people over the measures of the Executive.
My noble friend, the mover, has his plan; I shall vote for that. My friend the member for the county of Durham, whose absence we so much deplore on this occasion, has his scheme; for this also I should vote: other reformers, and myself, amongst them, have their peculiar notions on the subject; but I fancy, that the great mass of us in the country would consent to almost any change, from the conviction that the present state of the representation is the worst and most pernicious that can be imagined. The first step we want is that which the noble mover has proposed; namely, an acknowledgment by this 687 House that some change is necessary, and will be made. This will, of itself, be a most important reform; and the inevitable consequence of this first step would, I confidently believe, be the attainment, at some time, of all we can desire. Let us but introduce the fine end of the wedge, and trust to us for getting in the larger end afterwards. I perfectly well understand the meaning of those cheers from the opposite benches, but I am unconscious of having made any admission unfavourable to the cause which I attempt to advocate. Sir, it would be dishonourable; it would deceive nobody, if I pretended to say that I should rest satisfied with the scheme of my noble friend: all I mean to say is, that if the House should once be persuaded to entertain the principles of reform, I will answer for attempting, at least, to drive the measure home,—I will answer for the great body of the reformers doing their utmost to make the project effectual. Indeed why should they not? Why should they be satisfied with obtaining any thing short of their object, when that object is in itself unobjectionable? But if there be any men here, or in the country, who presume to insinuate that our end and aim are not such as we pretend—if they would insinuate that anarchy, and revolution, and spoliation of property be the real object of our endeavours, in that case I repel the charge with the scorn and utter contempt that it deserves. What! have the reformers more to gain by a subversion of the order of things than their opponents? What! have not the reformers as much to lose, by lawless violence, as those who uphold the present system? Indeed they have, and, I believe I may say, more too:—amongst the reformers are to be found the wealthiest proprietors—the greatest names—the most important citizens of this powerful community. Their high characters, their large possessions, the thousand ties that bind them to society, are pledges for the purity of their motives, and the sincerity of their professions, when they declare that they entertain no projects inconsistent with the good of their country, and the virtue and happiness of their fellow-subjects. The reformers can have no other wish than that which they profess; namely, to recover for the people that control which is, by right, theirs; and to give them, by restoring the House of Commons to its original purity, the only real security for 688 their persons and for their property they ask for nothing new. The hon. member for Newcastle has quoted some agreeable Latin verses, by which he would hint to us that the present system can boast the charm of antiquity; but it would be a waste of words to recapitulate the evidence so often given here and elsewhere to show that the parliament, as now constituted, is a wretched and, comparatively, a recent innovation, which has been in-grafted, and has grown on the ancient institutions of England, together with those two other much-petted and unnatural children, the standing debt and the standing army. Efforts to garble elections, and bribe or intimidate members, may, of course, be discovered in early times; but I repeat, that the House of Commons, as at present framed, and as at present working, whether for good or evil, is of comparatively a recent date; and that the people have by degrees, and those (considering the lapse of ages) not very slow degrees, been cheated out of their ancient privilege to return a parliament upon the old popular basis of representation—the communities of counties, and the communities of towns.*
And here I must be permitted to notice a most extraordinary position taken up by the hon. member for Orford. He contended, that a reform of parliament would throw the elections out of the hands of the real proprietors of England into those possessed of no respectable means of subsistence. Strange, indeed, to be said by any one—and stranger still to be said by a member for Orford, in the face of so many county and city representatives, who have constituents. Did the hon. member never happen to hear, that the complaint of the reformers points exactly to the fact which he has perverted, and enlisted into his singular argument? The great complaint of the reformers is, that the body of electors—that is, the body that votes for the majority of this House, are persons of no property—are persons whose abode is, or ought to be, the workhouse,—who have no will, no power, no voice of their own,—who, when they solemnly declare that they give their vote, that is,* A popular and easy, but, at the same time, a most convincing reference to historical facts on this subject may be found in Mr. Creevey's Letters to lord John Russell, published in the beginning of this year.689 their wish, for the candidate whom they choose, are guilty of the basest and most pernicious perjury,—who are the mere organs of others, and depending upon their masters for the rags they wear, and the scanty food they eat, and the wretched cabin that shelters them; have no opportunity, and scarcely, perhaps, feel an inclination to perform the sacred duty imposed upon the real independent elector. The complaint of the reformers is, that, whilst such an unhappy, miserable part of the population hold the elective franchise, and use it not for themselves, but under the control, and for the benefit of others, the real respectable citizens—the contributors to the exigencies of the state—the most valuable members of the community, who have given pledges of fidelity to the government and to the country, are not partakers of the privilege which alone can give them the means of protecting their property; namely, a share in the choice of the representation. We claim, for the opulence, the industry, the importance of such towns as Birmingham and Manchester, the rights now thrown away, upon, and shamefully bartered by, the pennyless, idle, insignificant vote-sellers of such boroughs as Orford.
The truth, as it seems to me, is, that the arguments of our opponents furnish a decisive evidence of the character of the strange, anomalous system which they attempt to defend;—all the forms of parliament, suppose it to be free, and fair, and independent—all the facts pronounce it to be exactly the reverse in every respect. Our forms tell us that peers shall not interfere in elections—our facts inform us that peers return something very like a majority of the House. Our forms require that when a member accepts office, his constituents shall have the chance of deciding whether they like him as well in his character of a placeman, as when he was not a holder of office:—What do the facts prove to us?—That there is no real reference made to the constituency of the country; but that, by the easy machinery of rotten boroughs, or close corporations, the vacating the seat, and the subsequent re-election, are matters of form.
Let me select an instance:—The Foreign Secretary represented Liverpool before he was in office: when his majesty gave him the seals, he was obliged to vacate his seat. Did he appeal to his Liverpool friends for their opinion as to the step he had taken, and did he give 690 them an opportunity of showing how the act of parliament was meant to operate? No such thing! he retired from the representation of Liverpool, and nestled in a borough—in a borough which not Only has no objection to a placeman, but prefers one; and which not having been cruel to such suitors as Mr. Vansittart and Mr. Bragge Bathurst, could scarcely fail of being kind to the right hon. gentleman. I may be told, the right hon. gentleman might have been returned for Liverpool, if he had so pleased:—perhaps he might. Why did he not so please?—I will tell the House; and my explanation will give another proof how well the system works:—A cabinet minister, especially a leader in parliament, usually declines to represent a great city or a county, because it is understood that he would have to attend too closely to the interest of his constituents—that is to say, that he would be called upon to dispense the favours of the Crown amongst those who returned him to parliament, and this would be in the usual way of business. I request the House to remark what a picture this gives of the state of the representation;—the constituent thinks he does his representative a favour because he sends him to that place where he may turn his talents to account; the representative thinks that if he does get any thing by his parliamentary proficiency, he is bound in duty to shed a portion of the golden shower upon the worthy electors on whose shoulders he has ascended to promotion; and so by this mutual goodwill and reciprocity of benefits both parties are pleased, both parties are rewarded;—the individual interests of the electors are well looked after—the interests of the individual representative are by no means neglected; only one party is forgotten and put out of view—the people.
Need I mention another glaring contrast between the forms and the facts connected with parliament. We have, Heaven knows how many, statutes against bribery; and all our election-law is founded on the pretence, that there ought to be, and is, no undue influence in the practice of elections. What is more notorious than the disgraceful, wicked traffic by which all these statutes and laws are evaded? They have been, indeed, long evaded; and it is not now for the first time, that good men have thought it far preferable that, if parliament is not to be 691 reformed, there should be a repeal of all these election statutes. An illustrious member of this House, if virtue can make a man illustrious—I mean sir John Barnard, made a motion to this effect in 1754. He proposed that the bribery law should be done away with, as it only opened a door to perjury, I say the same as he did; and I add, that, besides the perjury which disgraces the individual elector, there is a widely-spread evil which afflicts the country, arising out of these violated laws; namely, the delusion which is thus spread over the whole system, and which would make an unreflecting, inexperienced roan believe, that the true old principles of the constitution were carried into effect, and that the representation now returned to parliament was fairly, freely, and purely chosen. Let us, at least, get rid of this mockery; let us cease to pretend to be honest, if we cannot make up our minds to be really virtuous; let us not add to our other sins that basest and meanest of all vices, hypocrisy; and if we resolve that seats shall be continued to be bought and sold, like cattle stands at a fair, Jet us confess the fact, and have done with the mean, dishonest, unprofitable fiction, that arrays us in the borrowed robes of purity and independence. It is my own opinion that the truth should be known, and fully known on this subject; and I exceedingly object to any proceedings, however serviceable in other respects, which tend to give to this House a character it does not deserve.
And this brings me to a topic that is called to my mind by what fell the other night from an hon. friend of mine, the member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), who, by some strange accident is not now in his place. That gentleman, to my great surprise, said, that if the opposition would but do their duty, some great results might be expected. Now, I class this sort of assertion amongst the delusions which ought to be dispelled, in order to enable the country to understand the real state of the parliament. I would ask my hon. friend, What he means by "the Opposition doing their duty?"—I suppose he means coming down in force, night after night, and voting upon every disputed question. I beg to ask what would be the consequence of the Opposition adopting this course of conduct? Cannot any one, who knows the working of the system, answer the question? certainly—if the Opposition came down in numbers 692 every night, the ministers would come down in numbers every night, if our notes were daily issued and attended to, so would, theirs, if our benches were full, theirs would overflow—if we were always here, they would never be absent; and, what would be the result—as long as the contest lasted, the majorities and the minorities would be increased, but the proportion would be the same, the decision would be the same; and, as long as seven shall be more than three, or ten more than five, the ministerial ayes would inevitably vanquish the Opposition noes. Then, too, let me ask, Who is tired first, the patriot or the placeman? Which spirit is likely to burn out first—that which is supplied by principle, and, if you will, a love of contention, or that with which the Secretary of the Treasury knows full well how to inspire the well-organized, obedient adherents of administration? The experiment has been fully tried before—it was tried by Mr. Fox and the extraordinary men who were his constant associates; night after night, session after session, they came, and fought, and were beaten. It has been tried most completely by those who are around me, in behalf of the hon. member for Montrose himself; he cannot have forgotten the session of 1821 and 1822—I am sure I have not, nor can any of us; it almost destroyed us; we divided on every item of every estimate; we were glued to these seats. The evening sun went down upon us in this hostile array; and when he arose in the morning, he shone upon our undiminished ranks. If ever Opposition despised hunger and thirst, and watchfulness for conscience sake, it was the Opposition that was led by my hon. friend during those never-ending sessions. But were not the ministerialists equally on the alert? We had, indeed, the satisfaction of fatiguing them, as much as ourselves; but that was all; and if we had our seventy, they had their hundred and seventy; and that very period was signalized by perhaps as pernicious and absurd decisions as ever disgraced a parliamentary session—some little improvement in our financial statement—some few farthing reductions, long since repented of and repaired, we did indeed procure; but any thing like a real national or constitutional object, we did not, because we could not obtain. The machine worked as usual; the majority was greater than the minority; and if any serious effect was produced, I 693 rather should be inclined to say, the effect was not beneficial; for foolish, unreflecting debate-readers, seeing a great deal said, thought a great deal done, by the Opposition; and tins House began to acquire a character which it did not, and never can, as now constituted, fairly deserve; so that I must really entreat my hon. friend never more to use the phrase of "the Opposition doing their duty;" it tends to augment the great delusion, and nothing else. Better far to tell the truth at once—no attendance, no efforts of ours, in this place, can make us a match for ministers. I am not talking of the men, but their offices; let them become the Opposition, and we shall know how to deal with them easily enough.
Sir, it is this deep-felt conviction of the omnipotence of ministers for the time being, and of the managers of this House, that makes me so exceedingly grateful for whatever good they condescend to do in their various departments. Hence the incense which I humbly venture, with over-flowing gratitude, occasionally to pour at their feet. It is not from wantonness, it is not from attaching undue importance to my praise, but from a sincere sense of obligation, that I commend their proceeding, knowing what mischief they might do if they would. I tremble and laud them whenever, instead of speaking to us in storms and whirlwinds, they shed their light, and heat, and kindly influence upon us. I look at the power of ministers in this House, in exactly the same point of view as it was regarded by Mr. Home Tooke. When a law was made purposely to exclude that illustrious man from a seat in this House, a person who knew less of the world than Mr. Tooke did, would perhaps have been loud in his complaints and remonstrances, but he expressed himself much indebted to the minister of the day for being contented with so slight an infliction; "For," said he, "if he had pleased so to do, I am sure he might have ordered me to be hung up in the lobby." This persuasion it is that makes me also satisfied with the smallest donations; not forgetting, however, one important fact, that it is for the advantage of ministers occasionally to make some trifling sacrifice of their personal interests, in order to give respectability and a character of independence to the parliamentary system, by which alone they live, and move, and have their being; occasional concessions on their parts 694 serve, as it were, to accelerate the wheels of the great machine with which they themselves revolve, and which unfortunately bears along with it the fate and fortunes of this mighty country.
Hence, it is not at all to be wondered at, that ministers take every opportunity of praising this House, and the manner in which it works. We must all recollect the eloquent eulogies by which the chancellor of the Exchequer claimed for the "calumniated" parliament a due share of the commendations deserved, for having contributed to, or rather brought about that enviable prosperity which had scarcely been hoped for, and which was surely to know no end. With what pleasure "we sat attentive to our own applause!" The reformers might well be afraid that they would never again be able to "calumniate," and that all their feeble remonstrances would be drowned in the general acclamations of joy and gratitude. But, such is the mutability of human affairs, their apprehensions were groundless; and, if the chancellor of the Exchequer's calumniated parliament was fairly permitted to take credit for the prosperity of the country two years ago, so it must be fairly chargeable with the reverses of the present day. It would be extremely unjust to ascribe to the workings of the parliamentary system all the successes of a prosperous period, and to acquit that system of all participation in the causes of distress. The reformers have a right to select for the confirmation of their opinions, those seasons of disaster, which prove, that if the system does work well at one time, it does work exceedingly ill at others. The reformers are not men to rejoice in the distresses of the country merely because they tend to corroborate their doctrines, but they feel they ought to employ those distresses as useful lessons for the instruction of their fellow-countrymen; they feel they ought to let slip no such opportunity of pointing out the real workings and the, true effects of the bepraised parliamentary government.
If, however, instead of appealing to a general fact, and to the acknowledged condition of the country, we should be asked to select individual measures, I would undertake to mention a succession of follies and inconsistencies recommended by triumphant majorities at the time, but now so utterly decried and disavowed, that no one seems willing to confess he 695 had any share in placing them in our Statute-book. If there is any one department of legislation more than another which might be thought to be the peculiar province of this House, it is, doubtless, the financial; we are, constitutionally, the guardians of the public purse, and the habits of many of us ought to befit us for that duty. Now, I would ask, What have been our deeds? What our workings, in that department? Let me mention an instance or two of the wisdom of parliament in this respect:—first: is there any paradox so ridiculous, any false reasoning now so entirely rejected of all persons, as what was consecrated year after year, by majority after majority, relative to the old sinking fund?—Mr. Pitt's compound interest, which would really swallow up the debt faster than was convenient for a commercial state;—Dr. Price's magical penny, which the revolution of not many ages would swell into a globe of gold larger than this earth; these monstrous absurdities formed the basis of financial lawmaking for more than the quarter of a century; and it was not until long after they had become the contempt of the nation, that their true character was discovered by this House:—it was not until the year 1819, that Mr. Vansittart, by asking for three millions of additional taxes, "to create," as he said, "a real sinking fund," proclaimed to the awakened parliament, that their old sinking fund bad been a delusion, and the most pernicious delusion that ever distracted the finances of a state.
I come next to the famous "one-pound note and shilling" resolution. This resolution was a solemnly-proclaimed truth of the House of Commons of 1811. What is it now?—the standing jest of every speaker who is at a loss for an example of glorious absurdity; so much so, indeed, that the other night, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in a moment of kindness to the memory of a dear, departed, and translated chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that Mr. Vansittart, the propounder of that measure, was not the father of it, and that his reputation ought not to bear the load of that enormous folly.
But, to come to our own more immediate days, I beg hon. gentlemen to recollect the circumstances connected with the adoption of the Dead-Weight scheme, in 1822. When first propounded to this House, on April 29th and May 1st of that 696 year, it actually met with no opposition; on the contrary, it was hailed with considerable joy, and, amongst others, by the hon. member for London (Mr. T. Wilson);—more wonderful still, it was the subject of much panegyric from the lips of the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Huskisson). In the succeeding stages, some gentlemen (Mr. Brougham, Mr. A. Baring, Mr. Hume, and Mr. Ricardo) did point out the futility of the; project, but the ministerial phalanx still kept firm to the folly. The first division showed only thirty-five in the minority, against one hundred and fifteen approvers of the scheme; the second minority amounted only to fifty-four members;—no more divisions took place; and we, at this moment, suffer under that which is an universally acknowledged disgrace to our Statute-book, and still give our sanction to a pernicious, perplexing juggle, of which the prime minister of the House of Commons (Mr. Canning) made, the other night, this ingenuous confession, that, "for his part, he did hot understand it."
So much for the financial sapience of this House. If necessary, I could adduce many other instances of equal prudence in other departments, all tending to one melancholy fact, that the folly of the minister of the day is the wisdom of parliament. Let the man be ever so weak, and his project ever so unreasonable, he is still the dull divinity of the time, and his worshippers are no less numerous and devout than those of idols composed of more precious materials.Of whatsoe'er descent their Godhead be,Stock—stone—or other homely pedigree;In his defence, his servants are as boldAs if he had been born of beaten gold.Indeed, I have sometimes thought, that the less respectable the object of worship, the more zealous the enthusiasm of the worshippers. Perhaps there is fancied to be a sort of magnanimity and generosity in the attachment to an imbecile master; but let that be as it will, the vote is as certain for the dullest, as for the most enlightened minister; and I have, myself, seen the largest majorities give sanction to proposals, recommended by speeches, received with the universal titter of the inmost rows of the Treasury benches themselves. And how can it be otherwise? During the session of 1822, a return was made of eighty-nine members who sit in this House, receiving salaries, profits, and emoluments, to the amount of 183,372l. 697 and a return was also made of fifty-nine members holding commissions in the army and navy, of whom the pay was not stated. It is the fashion to say, that the impartiality of his royal highness, the present commander-in-chief, makes it indifferent to an officer which way he votes; I do not believe it; we have officers on our side the House, it is true, but where is the great majority of these holding commissions in the army and navy? Certainly ranged with ministers, and certainly amongst their most faithful adherents. Nay, I will add, that even those with whom I have the honour to be associated, do not feel themselves perfectly free agents when questions touching their profession come before the House; they cannot help recognizing the influence to which they are to look up for promotion; and they are, besides, bound together by that "esprit de corps," which prevents them from merging the officer in the member of parliament: exceptions to this rule there may be, but the usual fact is what I have stated.
If, however, there should be any doubt as to the dependence of military and naval senators, there can be none as to the eighty-nine placemen and pensioners
|From||Members who vote.||For Ministers.||Against.||Both.||Not at all.||Total.|
|12||Counties, and 12 town, in Wales||13||9||1||1||24|
|89||Cities and Boroughs where election is open||57||107||5||11||180|
|114||Cities and Boroughs where election is close||151||41||5||28||225|
|33||Counties, and 66 Royal Burghs, in Scotland||25||11||0||9||45|
|32||Counties of Ireland||24||14||2||24||64|
|33||Cities and Boroughs of Ireland||21||7||0||8||36|
§ The simple inference from which statement is, that, as far as the people (properly so called) return members to this House, they do attempt a control on the measures of government, but that the government is enabled to counteract all their efforts by the members who sit for those places where the election is in the hands either of one individual or a small portion of the community; and the conclusion from both of these examinations is, that rotten boroughs out of the House, returning placemen to the House, are the real basis of parliamentary power. I wonder that any one should have the har-698
§ mentioned in the return The right hon. the Foreign Secretary complained the other night of the great scarcity of that description of gentlemen in this House. Allow me to ask him, how many would he have?—Are not the eighty-nine enough? Add to these, that every actual heavy-armed placeman has one or two light-armed relations, on debates of emergency, usefully skirmishing by his side. That the eighty-nine are enough, we have the best possible proof. An analysis was made of the majorities and minorities on fourteen great questions discussed in the years 1821 and 1822; and from that analysis (which I hold in my hand) it appears, that the said eighty-nine, the salaried officers of the Crown, were the real combatants who gained the day in all those fourteen questions against the popular part of the representation. If this service was performed by the placemen now in parliament, an addition to their number would be a superfluous encumbrance.
§ There is another most instructive deduction to be drawn from a similar analysis of the voters on thirty-six questions, in the same two years; the result is given in the following table. *
§ dihood to deny the fact: it would be far more manly, far more sensible, to admit the fact, and to defend it.
The defence, indeed, of the government by corruption, requires more courage than ingenuity; for I know not how any man, far less an Englishman, can reconcile himself to those practices by which alone, under the present system, a minister can hope to rule the parlia-
* This Table is extracted from a pamphlet by Mr. Marshall, called "Alphabetical List of the Members of the House of Commons," &c.
ment, and, through the parliament, the country. A virtuous mind scarcely dares to contemplate the baseness of those arts, a thorough knowledge and a skilful management of which, constitute the chief business of a parliamentary leader;—of those arts, which, to use the words of William Pitt, in his uncorrupted youth, make it almost impossible that any minister should be an honest man;—of those arts with which the more illustrious father of that statesman scorned to be familiar, and a contempt of which provoked him to declare, that he would look at the Treasury only at a distance. A poet, who has been accused of indulging in a view of human nature much too melancholy, if not misanthropical, has told us,
God hides from all of beings but himself
That hideous sight—a naked human heart.
But I am afraid, that the man whose fate it is to manage the majorities of parliament is condemned to behold in disgusting, undisguised nakedness, the most secret infirmities of his species, and to become acquainted and to deal with those vices which are cautiously concealed from common view. What minister was it, who said that it was fortunate so few men could rise to the higher offices of state, because it was fortunate so few men could be aware of the real baseness and corruption of mankind? I believe it was Walpole; and well I recollect, in my younger days, hearing that sentiment repeated and commented upon by a gentleman who was, at that time, prime minister of England. It is not necessary to give an opinion of that gentleman's political career, but it is due to him to mention that which I heard at the time, and which subsequent inquiry makes me believe to be true—that one of the principal causes of his fall from power was a refusal to garble the elections, and to secure a parliament exclusively his own, independent of the influence of his powerful predecessor. It may also be recollected, that the same minister made himself sacred to ridicule by protesting, a little too ostentatiously, perhaps, against an attack made on his purity, and by punishing a heedless suitor who endeavoured to contaminate him with a bribe.
§ In fact, in this parliamentary government there is no other mode of maintaining or directing power than that which was practised by the Walpoles and the Pelhams of other times; and what was done then grossly and openly, must be done 700 now delicately and covertly. The vote is as venal, although the traffic is not quite so barefaced and undisguised. I call upon the past and the present secretaries of the Treasury to speak fairly: they need: not be ashamed; the sin is not theirs, it belongs to the system. I call upon them to confess, whether the compact phalanx which forms, or round which are formed, the majorities of parliament, is not kept; together by favours either paid or promised—either enjoyed or expected. I ask them, can any man presume to require the slightest participation in the good things which government has to bestow, without giving a receipt in full at the table of this House, either in his own person, or in that of some near relation? The fact is too notorious to be denied; and I repeat, that those whose duty it is to manage these transactions, must have before them a most humiliating spectacle, when they become intimately acquainted with the petty wants, and the low desires, and the base compliances of those who ought to be the high-minded, independent gentry of a free and fairly-governed country.
§ It is all in vain for the Foreign Secretary to tell us, as he did the other night, that he would scorn to govern by placemen—that he would scorn to govern, except through the just confidence of the country, expressed by an independent parliament. That right hon. gentleman may, when he acts as he ought, obtain the just confidence of his country; but he knows full well the truth of what I have been saying—he knows that if he would wield at will what has been called the "fierce," but which I would call the tame, democracy of England, he must condescend to secure the usual support of parliament by the usual means—he must follow the example of his predecessors—he must do what was done before him, and what will be done after him, as long as the present system shall endure. In vain all his genius, in vain all his experience, in vain all his patient labour, in vain even that eloquence with which he delights his enraptured audience; they would be as but a feather in the balance, were the weight of ministerial patronage thrown into the opposite scale. What was his fate once, would be his fate again, were he stripped of the robes of power, and reduced to charm us only by the naked graces of truth and wisdom.
§ The right hon. gentleman has furnished, 701 indeed, several of the most striking instances by which we can form a judgment of the true quality of that influence which, and which alone, can be said to govern this assembly. Let me select one: on June the 3rd, 1822, the right hon. gentleman being, at that time, in the simple capacity of one of the most brilliant and persuasive orators that ever addressed an audience, moved for a clause in the Corn Importation bill, commonly called the Grinding Clause. The landed interest, by its loudest and most sonorous organ (sir T. Lethbridge), complained that they had been "ground" enough already; but the marquis of Londonderry, then manager of majorities, supported the clause, and the House divided—ayes for grinding the country gentlemen, 149—noes for not putting them between the millstones, only 41. On the 10th of June, the question came on again: nothing had intervened; but when the right hon. gentleman moved the bringing up of his clause, the marquis, the manager, declared against the proceeding, and without deigning to argue the question, recommended his right hon. friend to suspend his operations: but, in an evil hour, the right hon. gentleman forgot how those things are brought about here, he would accept of no compromise, he resolved to try his strength, he made a most ingenious speech! When, lo! the unhappy result!—under the wand of the manager, mute though he had been as harlequin, the majority passed over to the other side—there they sat deaf as adders, they would not listen to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely—the forty-nine were swollen to one hundred and sixteen; and, under the process of the same enchantment, the hundred and forty-nine were reduced to a poor twenty-one—I myself being amongst them; so that I had the honour of finding myself in a sort of hackney coach minority, cheek by jowl with the right hon. gentleman:—and such would be his fate to-morrow, were he to drop down from the eminence where he now stands, to the position which he occupied on that luckless occasion; or, more hapless still, if his thunders, instead of rolling in the clear, the heaven of power, were to be heard only from this ill-omened left—the blighted regions of disaster and perpetual defeat.
I have, however, no difficulty in accounting for the feeling which induces ministers and their partisans to keep out of sight the machinery which moves their system;
and to conceal if they can, even from themselves, for a moment, the real character of their parliamentary power. I wonder not to hear them break out, not unfrequently, into the language of virtuous ambition, and boast of that fair influence over the minds of their fellow-countrymen which enables them to promote the prosperity of the nation, and the welfare of the world. They would, doubtless, be glad to escape from the trammels of corruption; they would prefer to reign
——Uncumbered with the venal tribe,
Smile without art, and win without a bribe.
Hence the declaration of the right hon. Foreign Secretary which I have before noticed—hence the virtuous scorn with which, the other day, the chancellor of the Exchequer repelled the hint, that he clung to the paltry patronage of his office.
§ Indeed, Sir, in proportion as the present condition of an English minister must be crossed with many cares and vexations, and obnoxious to the disgusts inseparable from the vile traffic in which, he deals, and the hard bargains he has to drive, so I cannot picture to myself any employment more noble—any employment more dignified, than that of a patriot minister in a reformed parliament.—Conscious of the purity of his motives—possessed of power sufficient to satisfy-any honest ambition—presiding over the destinies of a nation superior to any that ever yet challenged the admiration of mankind—with what honest pride, with what unmingled satisfaction, would such a minister expound to an unbought and unbiassed parliament the objects and the resources of his generous policy? How confidently would he appeal to the real representatives of the people for an approval, or, certainly, for a candid judgment, of those measures by which he had laboured for the happiness and prosperity of their common country. Their cheers would then not only play round his head, but they would reach his heart—they would be, at once, the proof and the reward of his virtue—they would give to him, living and present, those honours which are usually decreed only to the absent or to the dead—they would enable him to anticipate the judgment of posterity, and would, as it were, unfold to him that page of history in which his own name would be found recorded amidst the fairest triumphs of liberty and civilization.
§ These, however, may be thought the 703 reveries of a student, rather than the sober views of a practical politician; and perhaps I shall be told, that the reformers have made little or no progress in the attainment of their object. It is true we are not so sanguine as to promise ourselves a speedy fulfilment of our wishes—we do not fix the day, or point out the precise period, which shall be illustrated by the great event which we, nevertheless, confidently anticipate; but we have still a rational, a well-grounded hope, that our object will finally be accomplished; and that, by perseverance, courage, and a well-regulated zeal, we shall at last triumph over the patrons and promoters of corruption.
§ Sir, I have lived to see many surprising reforms, which had I dared to foretel, I should have been ridiculed as the wildest and most enthusiastic of dreamers; I have lived to see our jury system and our criminal code revised by a Secretary of State; I have lived to see the wretched fabric of commercial prejudice and antiquated policy overthrown by another minister of the Crown; and, lastly, I have lived to see the important department of our foreign administration filled by a statesman who has burst asunder the bonds that chained us for so long to the despots of the continent, and made this great country a partaker in the conspiracy against the liberties of mankind.
§ Having witnessed this extraordinary revolution—having seen such unhoped-for changes, what is there to make us despair of bringing about that greater reform, which the best and the wisest of our countrymen have declared to be essential to our happiness and our permanent glory?
§ I am sure that the wish for reform is daily gaining ground. It is not to be expected that the same eagerness for any great change should be evinced at all periods; and, as in times of tranquillity, the evils of misrepresentation cannot be felt so severely as in less prosperous days, so the call for a reform cannot be equally urgent, under all circumstances and conditions of the country. It is only when the disease displays its most malignant symptoms that the demand for the remedy is most frequent and decisive. But, if I can show you, as I can, that, on all fitting occasions, the great mass of the people express an opinion favourable to the change in question—if I can show you that, when any large class of the community are distressed, they, and the nation 704 with them, resort almost instinctively, at once, to the only cure for the grievance—a parliamentary reform; then, I say, I have a right to declare that the cause is silently, but surely, working its way, and that the feeling now so prevalent, will soon become general, and, at last, universal. Yet, such has been the fact, when the manufacturers in the north were distressed, some years ago, what thousands of converts from all classes were added to the ranks of reform; not merely those who were themselves sufferers, then adopted this salutary principle, but those of exalted station, who had been before blind to the inevitable evils of the present system, took the lead in the demand for a popular representation. When, subsequently, the agriculturists were depressed, reform again gained disciples, and the most ardent admirers of things as they are, began to discover that, by some means or the other, the people were not duly represented in this House. Amongst these late, but sincere and efficient converts I may mention one—the member for Somersetshire (sir T. Lethbridge). Thus, the reformers may boast that, in all emergencies, they receive an accession of numbers, both within and without the walls of parliament; and thus they may fairly hope to bring about their all-important change, by the usual operation of events carrying with them conviction to the minds of their fellow-countrymen. I repeat, we would accomplish this peaceably, and from within, in order that it may not come turbulently, and from without. I know, at the same time, that this abdication of their own throne, is hardly to be expected from any body of men. How seldom has a single individual resigned the ensigns of authority. The Dioclesians and the Charleses were rather wearied with governing than satiated with power—"lassati, non satiati." History furnishes only one Washington. It may seem therefore, too much to hope that those who now are in possession of the Borough representation, and who, in fact, are the masters of the country, should be willing to diffuse amongst their fellow-citizens privileges which are now exclusively their own; and yet, such a self-denying ordinance would not only redound to the future advantage of these individuals themselves, but would be generous, and noble, and glorious beyond all the examples of patriotism.
§ Nor need we despair. Already have 705 we seen some of that powerful body willing to consent to the honourable sacrifice. The Russells, the Cavendishes, the Grosvenors, and the Vanes, have only to be joined by the other monopolists of the elective franchise, and the great object would be immediately attained. The same age would then witness the reformation of our jurisprudence—the adoption of a sound commercial policy—the recovery of that character which England so long maintained in the eyes of foreign nations; and, lastly, the establishment of that real popular control over the measures of government, which alone can secure the continuance of all other advantages, and save us from a relapse into the miseries inseparable from a corrupt and delusive system of representation.
§ Lord Francis Leveson Gower
rose and said:—Entertaining as I do the intention of voting against the motion of the noble lord, I am anxious to explain some of the reasons which induced me to take that course. It is not without some regret that I place my feeble opposition in the path which the noble lord imagines to conduce to the amelioration of the government of the country. I believe that there are persons here—I know that there are those elsewhere—who, instead of watching what they cannot, and aiding what they ought not to resist, are always placing themselves in the way of those irresistible changes which the course of events is producing. I wish to explain why I deny that a concurrence with the motion of the noble lord is a test of a separation from that party, and exemption from its feelings—why, while I disclaim a voluntary blindness, I yet avert my gaze from what the noble lord thinks light—why I oppose his moderate views with more calmness, but not less decision, than I should those of a more sweeping and radical reformer.
Debates upon this question have naturally taken their character from the periods at which the discussion of it has taken place. I cannot conceal from myself, that the difficulty of opposing it increases in proportion with the moderation of its mover, and the tranquillity and good order of its supporters without these walls. I cannot now, as Mr. Pitt did in 1793, point to the vortex which had then swallowed the last wrecks of social order in France, and was then murmuring for its neighbouring prey. The evil of radical reform, which, in 1817, afforded to the 706 opposers of an honourable baronet much of argument or pretext, is now silent, if not suppressed. In this quiet state of things the noble lord invites me to join him in an expedition in pursuit of the improvement of our system of government. Can that noble lord insure me from unbidden associates on our path? I think, after the speech of the hon. member for Westminster, he will hardly venture to do so. Can he insure me against accelerated motion, change of original destination, and other inconveniences which lawful travellers, by sea or land, would gladly avoid? If he cannot, then, indeed, the invitation which I might otherwise have accepted, from mere gaiety of spirit, or want of better occupation, becomes a matter of serious reflection, and I am thrown back on the consideration, whether it is necessary or expedient to accept it at all. The question assumes to me a dry calculation of probabilities, the first element of which I take to be the consideration of that which we at present possess; and, in my mind, that consideration precludes me from examining the other division of the subject which we might hope to substitute.
With respect to the practical operation of the present system, difference of opinion I know exists. My estimate may be wrong; but, in spite of that list of errors which the hon. member for Westminster has drawn up, in spite of the sinking fund and the dead weight, I must avow, that I look up to the constitution as it is, with something beyond mere resignation to its agency or submission to its power. In estimating its results, I am not content merely to observe its positive merits. I must also take into account those which I call negative. When I look round on other governments, past and existing, and observe how the talents of the ministers have been applied to the task of paralyzing the energies of their subjects, of pressing down those nutritive juices whose natural course mounts upwards to spreading and exuberant prosperity, I revert, with some complacency, to England; and, I ask with confidence, is this the result of her constitution? I take into my comparative view of her government, not only the good which it does, but that which it does not present; not only the evil which it averts, but that which it does not encourage. I am no blind believer in the abstract perfection of its details. I cannot trace any myste- 707 rious connection between the prosperity which exists under its shadow, and the less perfect parts of its composition. I do not profess to discover any hidden link uniting the cotton mills of Manchester, or the navies which ride in the ports of London and Liverpool, with the boroughs of Galton or old Sarum; but I say, that, at least, the existence of the latter has proved no obstacle to the prosperity of which I have chosen the former as the symbol and representative. A party I know there is, whose argument for reform is founded on contempt and scorn for this House—who hold, that a mass of unrepresented talent is wandering about, excluded from its walls. I admit so much of their argument, that the proceedings here have been as imperfect as the beings who compose it, and those who send them here. I admit that on some occasions it may have represented too faithfully the imperfect state of information which existed on subjects from which all obscurity is not yet removed—subjects, for instance, of political economy or commercial regulation. But, to those sweeping declarations of scorn I can only answer, that I, without a shadow of claim to a share in the councils or measures of this House, bearing arms which exhibit neither the scars of conflict nor the tokens of success—"parmaque inglorious alba"—am ready to take my portion of its infamy, and to suffer the scorn and reprobation to light wherever the impartial finger of posterity shall direct it. On the tried and practical excellence of one government I ground my opposition to the motion of the noble lord, and resist the insertion by him of that wedge which the hon. member for Westminster has fairly and openly avowed his intention to drive, with all his strength and spirit, into the constitution of the country.
There is another party, Sir, which, with the noble lord, holds a language more moderate, and demands reform on grounds extremely plausible. They allege the vast improvement of the country, the progress of education, and say that this general extension demands some kind of co-extension, of parallel progression, in the forms of our constitution. I by no means intend to enter upon the whole of this argument, but shall confine myself to a topic connected with it. I allude to the political agency of the press. I know it may be said, "you are exposed, and therefore you should be 708 perfect, you are unclothed and bare, and therefore every lineament of your constitution should be able to stand the test of the theorist's magnifying glass. I think, on the contrary, that publicity, by securing great practical good, diminishes the necessity for that scrupulous nicety as to forms which are, after all, nothing but means to an end." That engine, Sir, the press, works with a power which nothing but its own vices can impair. The moment a man sets forth in public life, that moment he is within its grasp; and the extent of its dominion, like that of the Roman empire described by Gibbon, leaves no place of refuge to him who provokes its resentment, or incurs its animosity. Like all the best gifts of heaven given for noble purposes, it has been degraded to the worst; but I for one am not so sickened by its pollutions, so blinded by its profligacy, as not to know that one great object, the conservation of the purity of government, it almost completely attacks. In the contemplation of this mighty engine for good government, I confess that mere forms assume to me a character of comparative insignificance. If this country were destitute, as once all nations were, of this mart for public opinion—if a minister is desirous of obtaining information as to the wishes and opinions of those who were interested in his measures, were obliged to procure scanty drippings, faint indications from salaried agents, from praetors or proconsuls down to low informers—if, in such a state of things, resistance were more easy than complaint, and rebellion more ready than remonstrance; if, to use the words of a northern author, claymores still had edges, and the pen described a more limited circle than the sword—in such a state of things, some reason might be found for many of the proposed improvements in our constitution. It might then be fair to insist, that the representative should assume more nearly the character of local agent for the district which sent him here. Why, we, Sir, should become the mere shadow of our constituents—With them advance, retire, arise, or fall—Nothing ourselves, and yet expressing all.Some excuse might be found why this House should then lose, as lose it surely would, much of its deliberate character—why it should reflect more correctly and instantaneously all the violent progressions, the sudden re-actions and tremulous fluctuations, to which great masses of men are always subject.
709 These, Sir, are some of the principal reasons why I object to the motion before the House; but while I so oppose it, I know that change which I cannot oppose, and improvement which I would encourage, are alike at work on our constitution. We heard last year, in one of the greatest efforts of oratory this House ever listened to—I mean the speech of the Attorney-general for Ireland on the Catholic question, that time was a great reformer. The operation of this reformer is described better than I can do it, by Dryden, in his lines to his friend Sir Godfrey Kneller:What mortal art can do is here express'd,But venerable age shall add the rest.For Time shall with his ready pencil stand,Retouch your figures with his ripening hand,Mellow your colours, and embrown each tintAnd every grace that Time alone can grant,To future ages shall your fame convey,And add more beauties than he takes away.This the poet describes to be the operation of time. He does not represent it as changing the expression of the circumstances, or the arrangement of the figures. Such I believe to be his operation on the constitution of this country. I own that, though I can discover in its composition some antique peculiarities and grotesqueness of detail, I yet shudder to approach, with the intention of repair a composition which, with all its faults I must look at with reliance and admiration, which I wish to transmit to my posterity unchanged and unimpaired.
of Galway, said, he could not let the opportunity pass, of making an observation upon one circumstance which I had been urged by the hon. gentleman opposite, as evidence of the defective system of representation; he meant the assertion, that, among the majority which had voted for separating the offices of Treasurer of the Navy and the President of the Board of Trade, there could be found the name of only one county member. Now he (Mr. M.) happened to be that county member [Cries of there was another]. He stood corrected. He believed there was the name of another county member in that majority, and he believed he could say, that that county member gave his vote as independently as he (Mr. Martin), or any other hon. member of that House. It had been also said, that the hon. members who formed the majority on that occasion were placemen. Now, he could say for himself, that he did not hold any 710 office under the Crown. He once held an office under the Crown, but that office he gave up when the union between Ireland and this country was effected, and he told the ministers of that day that he (Mr. M.) should be as ready to support the government as he was when he held a valuable office. That pledge he had redeemed [question, question]. He trusted the House would allow him to make a few observations upon that subject. It was said, by those who advocated reform, that we were upon the eve of a general election. That was true and, if he should become the victim of an organized system of opposition which existed in the county which he had the honour to represent, he could assure his majesty's ministers that he would never attribute what he might suffer to the vote which he had given upon that occasion. He attributed the defeat of that motion to a question put by the hon. member for Surrey to the chancellor of the Exchequer; namely, whether that right hon. gentleman had ever paid the amount of the defalcation of one of his clerks? He would say, that the right hon. gentleman was indebted to the clemency of the Treasury for not having to pay that money, but he did not consider the clemency of the Treasury had any thing to do with the liability of the right hon. gentleman. He would put one question to the hon. gentleman opposite upon this subject. If the gentlemen on the other side happened to oust his majesty's government, and to get into power, would they not exact, to the last shilling, any balance which might appear against the right hon. gentleman? Again, he begged to ask, whether any gentleman opposite, possessed of capital, would accept the salary of treasurer of the navy, and guarantee to make good the defalcations of all the clerks under him? No man of capital would accept the salary upon such conditions [question, question]. Patience, patience, gentlemen. He, with another, had been dragged as a criminal to their bar, and he trusted that they would grant him that privilege which was not denied to any other criminal, namely, to hear his answer to the charge. He thought the time of the president of the Board of Trade was sufficiently occupied by the duties of one office, and he therefore voted for separating the two offices. They were upon the eve of a general election; and upon the eve of such an 711 event, no hon. member in that House could prophecy that he would again have a seat there; and, therefore, every man who was reproached with having done any thing wrong, ought, upon such an occasion, to vindicate himself. The proposition of the noble lord who introduced this motion was, to disfranchise one hundred rotten boroughs, and to transfer the franchise to one hundred other places. When the noble lord had, upon a former occasion, introduced a similar measure, he (Mr. M.) made a proposition, which he now repeated, namely, that the noble lord and his friends about him should submit their own boroughs to that degree of castigation to which that noble lord proposed to submit the boroughs of other persons. He was glad to find, that that proposal met with the approbation of the hon. member for Westminster, who held up those noble and honourable persons as willing to sacrifice their own property to effect a great public good. Now, he begged to ask, when those hon. gentlemen proposed to make this sacrifice? Not until this question should have been carried; and they well knew that it never would be carried. Now, he would propose, that those noble persons should, in the first place, transfer the franchise from their own boroughs to other places, and if, after two or three years, he should find that the system worked well, he would support the noble lord in any motion which he might bring forward for applying the principle to other boroughs. He could not then cite observations which had been made by the right hon. Secretary for Foreign Affairs upon this subject; but he well remembered an observation which he had heard made by an eloquent leader of the opposition, he meant the late Mr. George Ponsonby, who said, that the man who wished to meddle with the representative system in England, was a mischievous politician; that reform was necessary in Ireland, but that in England reform was not necessary. He would not have risen except for the purpose of justifying the vote which he had given upon a question to which he had already alluded, and he would repeat, that whether or not he should be the victim of a corrupt combination in the county which he had the honour to represent—a combination supported by one who was indebted to him for his seat in that House—he should never attribute defeat or triumph to the vote which he had given upon the occasion alluded to.
said, he had no intention of troubling the House with a speech upon the question; but considering the notice which had been taken of him by the hon. member for Orford, and other observations lately made upon the representation of the city of Bath, he was desirous of saying a few words on the part of his constituents and himself. As a friend to reform, although the representative of a close borough, he had stood in the same predicament as the hon. member for Calne, in his late attempt to amend the representation of the city of Edinburgh: but, whatever might be thought of his conduct, he had voted with a sincere desire to carry the question, and as he had done by Edinburgh, he would have done by Bath, had her case been brought forward. How far in this he bad consulted the feelings of his constituents, would be soon for them to determine; but considering the personal attack lately made upon them, he would take the liberty of observing, that the corporation of Bath had given the only example of a close borough, alike independent of the Crown, the administration, and the aristocracy of the country; and of which, as one of its members, he could declare, he had not a single vote at his command, but was indebted for his seat solely to the free will of the electors. It might be true, that the greater part belonged to the medical profession; but if honourable members would "throw physic to the dogs," he hoped, at least, they would give his constituents credit for their conduct, in not availing themselves of their unconstitutional power, to promote their private interest.
The Hon. William Lamb
said, that after considering the arguments advanced in support of the measure proposed by the noble lord, he was obliged, from conviction to vote against it. The great objection, which he had to the measure altogether, and the great ground on which he rested his opposition to it was, that he could not see, nor had any person pointed out clearly to him, what real benefit could be derived from it. But while he said this, he felt it due to the noble lord who introduced the question, to state, that he had brought it forward on better grounds, with more extensive information, and on sounder principles, than any individual had done who had previously brought it under the consideration of the House. Still, however, giving to the 713 noble lord every praise for the ability he had displayed, he could not pay him the compliment to take him as his guide in a course so doubtful, so experimental, and, he would add, so utterly unlikely to lead to the object which the noble lord had in view. He knew very well the advantage of coming forward at the present moment, with so much discipline and so much information, and supporting the cause of parliamentary reform. And if he could, conformably with the dictates of his conscience, take that side of the question, he could assure the House that he would do so with very good will. But his view of the subject was entirely different from that of the noble lord, and therefore he must oppose his motion. The noble mover had stated, that he was not favourable to democracy; the noble seconder had echoed the same opinion; and the hon. member for Westminster had declared that he wished for nothing that could tend to revolution. Now, he would only say, in answer to this, that individuals did not always want what they got, nor get what they wanted. The question here was, not what gentlemen were seeking; but supposing they got that which they sought, what an effect such an event would have on the constitution? And his opinion was, that the alteration which was proposed would trench extremely on the monarchical portion of the constitution. He would not stop to argue, whether the influence of the democracy was too great or too little in the balance of the constitution. This, however, he would distinctly and decisively declare; that, while he would do nothing to diminish it, he certainly would do nothing that could have the tendency to increase it. In his opinion, all the advantages appeared to be on the part of the people. The press was generally in their favour, and most of the speeches which had been delivered that evening were, perhaps, intended to produce a strong effect on the hustings. It was said, that all those who appeared on the side of government were influenced by corruption. Every pecuniary motive, every worldly interest, was attributed to them, as directing their conduct. The hon. member for Westminster had alluded to motives of this description, as influencing the votes of those who generally supported the measures of government. That hon. gentleman, however, could only judge from his own feelings. He could not know 714 what were the motives by which the actions of members in the House were governed; and he had no right to impute to them improper motives. He argued, from the uniformity of the votes of some gentlemen, coupled with the offices and salaries which they enjoyed, that they frequently voted contrary to their real feelings. If, however, the hon. gentleman formed his judgment, on that principle, he (Mr. Lamb) had an equal right to form his judgment, with respect to popular votes, on what he had actually witnessed; and he would say, that in the course of his parliamentary experience, he had seen many votes given, in conformity with the wishes of the people, which he believed in his heart, soul, and conscience, were contrary to the feelings of those who gave them. Such votes were not unfrequently given, to prevent contests, to avoid a hostile feeling amongst electors, and thus to save expense. Viewing them in that light, he considered such votes to be just as corrupt as any that ever were given in support of the prerogative of the Crown, or in opposition to measures which were introduced by those who called themselves the especial friends of the people. Let it not be supposed, however, that he preferred a despotic form of government to a democratic one. Far, very far from it. But this he would say, that, in his view of the subject, the Sultan of Constantinople, the Shah of Persia, or the Dey of Algiers, were subject to a more efficient responsibility than the leaders of a democratic assembly. On the grounds which he had stated, he would seriously urge the House not to agree to this proposition. It was impossible for them to see their way completely through it; and so far as he could see his way in it, the effects, were the motion carried, would, he was convinced, be most pernicious.
§ After a short reply from lord John Russell, the House divided: For the motion 123; Against it 247; Majority against the motion 124.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Bentinck, lord W.|
|Allen, J. H.||Bernal, R.|
|Althorp, visc.||Birch, J.|
|Anson, hon. G.||Brougham, H.|
|Anson, sir G.||Burdett, sir F.|
|Baring, H.||Butterworth, J.|
|Baring, sir T.||Byng, G.|
|Barrett, S. M.||Calcraft, J.|
|Benett, J.||Calvert, C.|
|Calvert, N.||Maberly, W. L.|
|Carter, J.||Macdonald, J.|
|Cavendish, C.||Marjoribanks, S.|
|Cavendish, H.||Martin, J.|
|Clifton, visc.||Milton, visc.|
|Coffin, sir I.||Moore, P.|
|Colborne, N. R.||Monck, J. B.|
|Creevey, T.||Newport, sir J.|
|Crompton, S.||Nugent, lord,|
|Davies, T.||Ord, W.|
|Denison, W. J.||Osborne, lord F. G.|
|Denman, T.||Palmer, C.|
|Dundas, C.||Pares, T.|
|Dundas, hon. T.||Philips, G. sen.|
|Dickenson, W.||Philips, G. jun.|
|Ebrington, visc.||Power, R.|
|Ellice, E.||Pryse, P.|
|Ellis, hon. G. A.||Ramsden, T. C.|
|Evans, W.||Rice, T. S.|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Rickford, W.|
|Fitzgerald, M.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Foley, J. H. H.||Robarts, A.|
|Folkestone, visc.||Robinson, sir G.|
|Gaskell, B.||Rowley, sir W.|
|Glenorchy, visc.||Rumbold, C. E.|
|Gordon, R.||Russell, lord W.|
|Grant, J. P.||Scarlett, J.|
|Grattan, J.||Scott, J.|
|Grosvenor, hon. R.||Sebright, sir J.|
|Guise, sir W.||Smith, hon. R.|
|Gurney, R. H.||Smith, W.|
|Heathcote, G. J.||Stanley, lord|
|Heron, sir R.||Sykes, D.|
|Hobhouse, J. C.||Tavistock, marquis.|
|Honywood, W. P.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Hornby, E.||Tennyson, C.|
|Howard, H.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Hughes, W. L.||Tomes, J.|
|Hume, J.||Townshend, lord C.|
|James, W.||Warre, J. A.|
|Jervoise, G. P.||Webb, E.|
|Johnson, W. A.||Wharton, J.|
|Ingilby, sir W.||Whitbread, S. C.|
|Kemp, T.||Whitbread, W. H.|
|Knight, R.||Whitmore, W. W.|
|Labouchere, H.||Williams, J.|
|Lamb, hon. G.||Williams, J. P.|
|Langston, J. H.||Wilson, sir R.|
|Leader, W.||Wood, M.|
|Lester, B. L.||Wrottesley, sir J.|
|Leycester, R.||Wyvill, M.|
|Lloyd, sir E.||TELLERS.|
|Lushington, S.||Duncannon, visc.|
|Maberly, J.||Russell, lord J.|