§ Mr. O'Connell
said, that in conformity with a notice of long standing, he rose to apply for leave to bring in a Bill, for securing an effectual and Radical Reform of the Commons House of Parliament. Although he did not anticipate any very great degree of success to a motion of that kind, in a place where he feared there were but a very few Radical Reformers; and although he felt he did not possess such a degree of weight in that House as would enable him to enforce those great principles of constitutional right, of which he was about to attempt to be the humble advocate, yet he possessed the gratifying conviction, that those principles were widely spreading, and exclusively adopted by the most numerous and influential classes of society—that every day increased the advocates of those principles, and brought home conviction to every mind of their overwhelming necessity; and he was not more sure that to-morrow's sun would 1205 rise over the darkness of this night, than he was sure that the time was not far distant, when a full and effectual Reform would be forced upon the Members of that House, who, he hoped, would not be found unwilling to perform the duty then imposed on them. It was not a pleasant task for him to be compelled to arraign the conduct of men whose principles on other subjects he embraced, and with whom he was in the habit of holding social intercourse. It was not an agreeable task to arraign the conduct of an oligarchy, which boasted of some of the highest names of the country, bearing hereditary titles to the respect of their countrymen; but he was compelled to yield to a sense of duty which the task imposed upon him, however he might regret its necessity; and he would perform that task fearlessly and honestly, and with no unnecessary severity, beyond that which was required from a distinct exposition of the facts. The great question of Reform divided itself into two topics. The first of these resolved itself into the question—did abuses exist in the system of representation? That was the first point; and he thought he should be easily able to prove the existence of those abuses. But if he failed to make out a case of those abuses, of course there was an end to the question. If he succeeded, as he hoped, then the next question was, the remedy for these abuses. The subjection, therefore, was very simple; the topics embraced in it few; and although there might, in the bill. Which he proposed to introduce, be found some things offensive to the general reformers of the House, yet he calculated with confidence on the vote of even genuine reformer, for leave to bring in that bill, because, if any one thought he went too far, they might cut him short when the bill came to be considered, and endeavour to make its provisions adequate to their views of the subject. In order to make himself thoroughly understood in his views respecting Reform, it was necessary that he should explain what he understood by the meaning of the word Constitution. Before he entered that House he had hoped that it was under stood to be a mixture of King, Lords and Commons; but from something which fell from the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Robert Peel) in a debate s few evenings ago, he found that the Constitution was not to be considered as com- 1206 posed of King, Lords, and Commons, but of a King, Lords, and certain persons—a kind of Magnates, who represented by their influence all the authority of the people. He reverenced kingly authority. He was attached to hereditary succession. He thought it calculated, beyond every other Constitution, to protect individual property, and to confer a certainty on individual right. He also reverenced the certainly of hereditary succession, because it was calculated to check the hopes of inordinate ambition, and to restrain those desires which proved prejudicial to the general welfare. He preferred it either to despotic power on the one hand, or the oligarchy of a peerage on the other. Both had been tried, and both had failed to contribute to the permanency of human happiness;—the oligarchy being, perhaps, the more objectionable, because it sinks more numerous fangs into the privileges and possessions of the great body of the people, and spreads its oppressive powers over a more extended surface. It was the right, however, of the people, to balance both the' Crown and the oligarchy—to control the tendency to despotic power in the one, and ambition in the other. In this country the people always possessed this democratic principle in its full extent, by their representatives returned to the Commons House of Parliament. This principle was established by the unanimous testimony of all popular authors who had written on the subject. It was the full extension of this principle that he contended for, and the only question was, what were the limits to be assigned to it? It belonged not to the Crown. It was not the privilege of the aristocracy. It was the third estate; there was no fourth recognised by the Constitution which could lay claim to it. If it were denied that such a power existed; it belonged to those who denied it to shew where else it was to be deposited. They must shew where this power resides before they can raise upon it the superstructure for which they contend. Blackstone states distinctly, that the Sovereignty resides in the people of this country. This was the language of that great expounder of the principles of the Constitution. In other countries, whenever the people received a Constitution at the hands of a despotic master, they were only half advanced towards freedom; they were slaves, receiving a certain portion of freedom from the hands of a 1207 master. In England the Sovereignty was in the people, and the only question was, in what manner that power was to be exercised? This established qualifications. And what was the explanation given of those qualifications by the author he had just quoted? Why that every man possessed a share in the Sovereignty, except that person who could be said to have no will of his own. These were his words:—"The true reason of requiring any qualification with regard to property in voters, is to exclude such persons as are in so mean a situation, that they are esteemed to have no will of their own. If these persons had votes, they would be tempted to dispose of them under some undue influence or other. This would give a great, an artful, or a wealthy man, a larger share in the elections than is consistent with general liberty. If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and general principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote in electing those delegates to whose charge is committed the disposal of his property and his life. But since that can hardly be expected in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications; whereby some, who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting, in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other." This was the case when the voters were divided into classes of slaves and villains; and when Henry 6th came to add a qualification, and to limit the right, by making exceptions, that very act itself proved the previous existence of the right. The two Statutes of Henry went purely to secure the independence of the voters. It was his business to attempt to give this same security to the same extent. He wanted nothing but the carrying into execution the true principles of the Constitution. Having shown, then, what were those real principles, he would ask what was the real state of the representation? Did the people really and truly return their representatives to Parliament? He believed that no man out of that House would dare to assert that they did; and it was by no means unusual to hear, even within the 1208 House, of the notoriety of the influence by which Members took their seats, and of the number of persons who sat and voted for this peer, or that borough holder. As long back as the year 1792, an hon. Member of that House, now a noble Lord (Earl Grey), presented a petition, in which he offered to prove, that out of the whole of the Members of that House, 240 persons were returned under the influence of Peers. That 159 others took their seats by the interference of commoners, many of whom he perceived had since become peers. That twenty-three others were returned by Treasury boroughs, and only 134 came into the House as the representatives of the people. This was offered to be proved at the bar, and investigation was challenged as to the truth of the fact, that less than 2,000 persons returned a great majority of the Members of that House. If any man out of that House were to say, that the Marquis of Hertford, or of Cleveland, or of Stafford, did not return by their influence a number of the Members of that House, he would be assailed by ridicule and reproach. Was the fact denied? He was ready to prove it. Was it admitted? Could, then, the inference be refused? He would pass to the Standing Orders, which were voted before the commencement of any public business, and which that House had declared to be the rule of action for full 300 times. What were the words of one of those Standing Orders? "That it was a high infringement of the rights and liberties of Parliament, for a Peer or any other Lord to concern himself with the election of Members to serve in that House." Was that true? Was the act an infringement of the liberties of the House? He would ask the gentlemen of England if they asserted that which was untrue? Who would be so audacious as to say that they asserted that which was false? And if Members were elected in that manner, he would ask, was it not an abuse which required to be remedied? It was offered to be proved, in 1782, that seats in that House were bought and sold like stalls in Smithfield market. It was an uncourtly—it was a harsh expression—but it was true. He had heard it over and over again asserted in that House. He had hoard the sums mentioned which were paid for those seats. A patriotic Member (Sir F. Burdett) had even lately mentioned the sum he paid during the 1209 minority of a certain noble Duke, for a seat in that House. The prices were managed somewhat like the prices of the public stocks. They were low or high, according to the supposed duration of Parliament. They were less when the maladies of certain persons in exalted stations excited alarm for their safety; and they were more or less valuable, according to the ideas of the stability of a ministry, or to the circumstances which might require it to seek for support. He insisted, however, on the constitutional privileges of the people; and although he might be told the system worked well, of which he would say more by-and-by, he should be content with nothing but the full, fair, and free representation of every class of the people. It had been said, that the Union with Ireland had improved the constitution of the House. But how many of the Members for Ireland were nominated by individuals? Nineteen or twenty of them: and those nineteen or twenty of course pursued the line of politics prescribed to them by their patrons. That was, however, far from being the only instance in which the Act of Union had sanctioned a base infringement on public principle. It was said, however, that notwithstanding ail this, the system worked well. Let them consider how it worked. It appeared by recent returns, that seventy-eight Members of that House received salaries to the amount of 180,000l. on account of offices held by them, but from which they were removable at the pleasure of the Crown. It was well known that the power of removal had not been altogether unexercised. General King, the hon. member for Sligo, held an office from which he was removable at the pleasure of the Crown; and because he consulted his conscience, and voted against the Minister, from that office he was removed. This could not be denied. The fact was notorious. If it were said that it was a single instance, his answer might be, that a single instance was sufficient to prove his case. The hon. Gentleman who had succeeded General King was, no doubt, a conscientious man; but the example of his predecessor was enough to show him that woe would be to him if he consulted his conscience, in opposition to the wishes of persons in power. There could be no doubt that, of the seventy-eight placemen who were Members of that House, many must, like Paley, be too poor 1210 "to keep a conscience." Let no man, who was not very rich, accept a place of that description. Cut even riches were not a sufficient assurance for independence of conduct. If the poor man had natural wants, the rich man had artificial wants—wants which became the more painfully pressing and craving under apparent repletion. Who could look at the opulent classes of society, and not see how frequently such was the case? Who was not frequently disgusted by the miserable spectacle of "pride that licks the dust?" Who had not frequently been compelled to regard with scorn the creatures who doated on stars, and garters, and ribands, and feathers, and other frippery;—and who for such things sacrificed the noblest possession of a human being—independence. He made no complaint against individuals. He did not assail individuals, he assailed the system. So far was he from assailing individuals, that he gave credit to many individuals for a disposition to carry into effect a more extensive Reform than the circumstances in which they were placed would allow them to gratify. But did the House forget what appeared in consequence of the motion so powerfully urged by an eloquent Baronet near him? Did it not appear that 113 members of his Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council annually shared among them more than half a million of the public money? It was true that most of those persons belonged to the other House of Parliament; but it was also true that most of them had gone through the ordeal of ministerial attentions in the House of Commons. Such was the power possessed by the oligarchy of influencing both Houses, and of procuring majorities on any question in which they were interested. It might be said that, in former times, more persons actually received public money for corrupt purposes than the present. That might be, but it did not lessen the force of his argument. If the amount of money actually paid had diminished, the amount of patronage used for the same object had greatly increased. First there was the army—We had a tremendous standing army; a thing the very name of which our ancestors regarded with abhorrence. Our army consisted of upwards of 150,000 men; and the entire patronage of it was in the hands of those whose object it was to obtain, majorities in Parliament. Then 1211 there was the Navy; the Church, both in England and in Ireland; the collection of the Revenue; and above all, the Colonies, that fruitful source of influence to the Government and ruin to the people. All this frightful accumulation of patronage was in the possession of those who, by the use of it, commanded majorities in that House, and voted away that public money over the disposal of which the people had a right to exercise a control. The expenditure of that money the people had a right to control, for it was their own. It was wrung from their hard necessities; and they had a right to determine by their representatives in what way it should be disposed of. It might be said, that notwithstanding all this—that although it was a violation of the principles of the Constitution for Peers to interfere with the election of Members of that House—that although it was contrary to all the principles of common sense that the people should have no control over their own property—yet that the system worked well. But did it work well?—Why there was not a part of the system which every friend of liberty would not wish to be changed. In the first place it gave complete impunity to every man in power; it gave complete impunity to every man engaged in the collection of the Revenue. If any person was injured or oppressed by the exactions of a tax-gatherer, he found himself surrounded with intricate forms and almost insuperable difficulties before he could even bring his action for redress. If that House were really returned by the people, an effectual check would soon be given to excessive exercise of the power vested in persons in authority and office. Then let the House look at the magisterial bench. It was a delicate subject; but did not the unpaid Magistrates of this country do almost what they pleased with complete impunity? Were not all the poorer classes of the people of England in the power of an irresponsible Magistracy? It was well known that the Court of King's Bench never interfered with the conduct of a Magistrate, unless corruption could be proved; and what Magistrate was such a fool as to afford the means of proof? He first arraigned the system for the irresponsibility which it secured. He then arraigned it for the state of the law generally. But for the condition of that House the state of the law would be reformed. Did it not require reform? That it did, 1212 was distinctly and clearly stated in his Majesty's Speech from the Throne—that it did was distinctly proclaimed in the several commissions which had been appointed on the subject.—The efforts which the right hon. Baronet had made to reform the law, and one of them especially, did him great credit, but they were insufficient. Legal nuisances of the most injurious description still existed in full vigour. There was the nuisance of the delay and expense of proceedings in Courts of Equity: there was the nuisance of five or six different modes of proceeding existing in the same country; there was the nuisance of a different code of laws in England, in Scotland, and in Ireland. Yet it was said that the system of law worked well, and that was said at the very moment when the whole nation was crying out that it had worked badly. But he would turn to other points. Did the system of representation in that House work well for the prosperity and happiness of the people of England? Had it not produced long and sanguinary wars? Had it not been the cause of all the bloodshed in America at the Revolution? Was not the country above eight hundred millions in debt? and was not that the result of this well-working system? He would defy any one to point out in history a more industrious people than the people of England; a more ingenious people than the people of England; a more prudent people than the people of England; yet, notwithstanding all their industry, all their ingenuity, all their perseverance, and alt their prudence, they were loaded with a public debt of above eight hundred millions, and were staggering under the pressure of private distress. From every part of the country representations of that distress were every day pouring in; and could it be said that the system worked well? Having thus, as he conceived, amply made out his case of abuse, he now came to consider the remedy. That remedy should be strictly founded on constitutional principles. In the first place, he thought that Parliaments were of too long duration, and that they ought to be shortened. He was of opinion that they ought not to be beyond triennial. That was the period at which they were fixed at the Revolution, of which triennial Parliaments was one of the concomitant conditions. At the Revolution, the people of England cashiered a mon- 1213 arch, who was a bigot and a tyrant; and in so doing they did well. They determined also that Parliament should last but three years. He knew that there were two Statutes, the 4th and 36th of Edward 3rd, which declared that Parliaments should be annual; and he knew also that there had been much controversy as to the precise meaning of those Statutes, and whether it was intended to declare that there should be a new Parliament every year, or only a Session. On that subject Prynne had treated in the fourth part of his celebrated work. He did not, however, wish to go so far back into antiquity: he rested on the Revolution. He rested on the Statute of William, which enacted that Parliament should thenceforth be triennial. The next measure which he should propose as a remedy for the existing abuse was an extension of suffrage. Nothing could be more anomalous or more obvious to ridicule, than the present state of the elective franchise. In the English counties it was vested in freeholders of 40s. a-year; in the Irish counties in freeholders of 10l. a-year; in Scotland in certain feudal qualifications. The same absurd and fantastic variety existed in the boroughs. In some the right of voting was acquired by purchases, in others it was hereditary, in others it was the reward of servitude. The abuse was glaring; it was indefensible. A man who had never been in Colchester, or in some similar place, had, nevertheless, a right to vote for the representation of it. A merchant of London, with 50,000l. a-year, had no right to vote at an election for the City; but that privilege was possessed by a liveryman without a shilling. The remedy which he proposed was a constitutions one. It was, that every man of proper age and proper capacity should have the right of voting. In other words, it was universal suffrage. He would give every man the right which the Constitution in tended he should have. What was the principle on which that House we founded?—That the life, liberty, and property, of every man in the country should be protected. That House had n right to take a penny out of the pockets of the people without the consent of the people. All who paid taxes, directly or indirectly, ought to have some influence in imposing them The personal liberty of 'the subject was affected, among other things, by the ballot for the militia. If 1214 man's person and purse were at the mercy of the House, he had a right to have a share in forming it. He had already read a passage from Blackstone, in which it was stated, that the reason for requiring a certain qualification of property in a voter was because he might otherwise be dependent. But was there no way of making every man, however poor, independent in his vote? Would not the vote by ballot effect that desirable object? A poor man who voted by public suffrage might certainly vote in conformity with his own opinion. But he might also be liable to the objection which Blackstone had stated. Only throw the shield of the ballot over him, and he would vote in perfect safety. It had been said that a representative ought to meet his constituents boldly and openly in public. To that there could be no objection whatever. Let the Member be nominated in an open court. Let his conduct be discussed in an open court. Let time be given for considering his merits. But, if not elected at once by a show of hands, if subjected to the decision of a poll, then let the vote by ballot secure the independence of the voter. That was the mode of election resorted to by many gallant men and others associating in this Metropolis in Clubs, for the purpose of avoiding the inconveniences which might in many cases attend an open vote; and that was the system which, in his opinion, ought to be adopted in electing the Members of that House. The poor voter would then have equal power with the rich. It had been said that the sun burnt the colour of slavery on the negro. No such brand distinguished the Englishman. As the rights of all Englishmen were equal, so also ought to be their votes, and ballot would render them so. He felt much obliged to the House for the attention with which it had heard such an insignificant individual as he was address it on this topic. He had established the existence of the abuse, and he had pointed out what he conceived would be the remedy. In his opinion any little differences of opinion that existed among the friends of reform generally ought not to be allowed to separate them, and thereby to strengthen the enemies of Reform. There was a large debt of liberty due to the people of England. He should be happy to see it paid, even by instalments. He would take 10s. or 5s. in the pound if he 1215 could not get 20s. He called upon those who thought Reform necessary, to vote with him, although they might not agree in all his principles. The details of the measure might be a matter of subsequent arrangement. It might be said, by those who thought no time proper for Reform, that the present was an improper time. In his opinion no time could be more suitable. We had been at peace for fifteen years. We were not threatened with any war. The country was in a state of perfect tranquillity. The factions of religion no longer existed. All the members of the community enjoyed equal rights. The Protestant Dissenter stood by the side of the Protestant churchman, and the Roman Catholic by both: and he trusted they were equally ready to maintain civil liberty. There was abundant leisure. There were no great landmarks of the Constitution to repair. There was no animosity of parties. Ministers were not opposed to improvement. On the contrary, they appeared disposed to yield an unreluctant assent to it—and he sincerely believed that many of them would go the whole length of perfect reform if they dared to oppose the oligarchy. If the House looked at the state of the whole of Europe, it would see the necessity of establishing the principles of liberty more firmly in this country. The autocrat of Russia, having shouldered his brother from the throne, had a powerful military array which he was ready at a moment to pour forth. The despot of Austria had 350,000 men in arms. The despot of Prussia was equally prepared. In the south of Europe the bigot of Spain was earnest in his efforts to impose shackles upon the public, mind. The vile Don Miguel persevered in treading down all constitutional freedom. In France, lately so volcanic, the earth began again to tremble. The monarch of that country, with a foolish attachment to ancient prejudices, feared to do justice, lest it should be attributed to weakness, forgetting the authority by which it was commanded to "Be just, and fear not;" and the crater, the mouth of which had been so recently stopped, threatened to re-open. This was a time, therefore, at which the friends of freedom in this country ought to rally. This was a time at which the principles of genuine English liberty, as exemplified in the English House of Commons, ought to be asserted and confirmed. In the poli- 1216 tical storms which history described, where was the standard of liberty ever found to be securely planted but on the English soil? The period was, perhaps fast arriving, when she must again stand forth an example to the world. Let her, therefore, re-establish the Constitution of her ancestors, and in doing so preserve the prerogative of the Crown, the rights of the Peerage and the liberties of the People. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded his speech, by moving for "leave to bring in a Bill for the effectual and radical reform of abuses in the Representation of the people in the Commons House of Parliament."
§ Mr. Robert Dundas
said, if in rising to oppose the Motion of the hon. member for Clare, he offered no apology for trespassing on the attention of the House, he hoped that he should not on that account be considered deficient in that feeling of respect which would always influence his conduct whenever he ventured to take part in public debates. Had the House been called upon to deliberate on a subject of ordinary importance, he should have felt it more becoming, as on other occasions, to have remained silent. But, there were times and questions, like the present one, which involved the first principles of the Constitution—when it was the duty of every representative of the people, openly to declare his sentiments; and that was the more necessary on the present occasion, because this question of Parliamentary Reform was a second time brought before the House during the present Session, and because there was a disposition throughout some parts of the country to make it appear that the House was every day becoming less popular in its construction, and less careful of the rights of the people. As an advocate for popular rights, as a representative of the people, not chosen by that kind of influence which the hon. member for Clare so decidedly condemned,—he thought it was his duty to oppose the Motion. In the first place he did not think that the measures proposed would remedy the inconveniences of which the hon. Member complained. In the second place, so great a change as those measures would effect, with regard to what may be considered the most important branch of the Legislature, might injure the stability of the whole system of the Constitution. He would readily admit that the right of 1217 voting was neither the most uniform nor popular system that human ingenuity could devise, that it was not a system to serve as a model for a representative Government,—yet with every valued principle of our Constitution, it had borne the test of experience, had adapted itself admirably to the exigencies of the people in every period of our history, and however inconsistent it might appear with the regulations of a democratic government in a theoretical point of view, it had commanded the admiration of surrounding nations. It had been truly said by a great political writer that the liberties which we as a nation enjoy, were not the grants of Princes; "they are original rights and contracts, coeval with government, and coequal with prerogative: as such they were formerly claimed, as such asserted by force of arms, and as such maintained by that pertinacious spirit, which no difficulties nor dangers could discourage, nor any authority abate." If, then, we perceived that an early spirit of liberty existed in this country, and if it were admitted that this spirit had continued to influence the public mind in proportion to the progress of knowledge and general improvement; and if it were found that this spirit was not diminished; in short, if it could be proved that the popular part of the community exercised more influence in the councils of the nation than formerly, it might be a question for consideration whether, by the nature of our Constitution itself, and by the progress of events, that work was not proceeding which the hon. Gentleman wished the House, by an unprecedented enactment, hastily to accomplish? Were he not convinced that such was the case, he should say with the hon. Gentleman reform the Parliament. Not, however, in the manner proposed by him; by annihilating prescriptive rights, for which he must express some respect, but rather by remodelling the system of our representation on the ancient principles of the Constitution. When we looked into the early history of our Constitution, we found no system of representation similar to the one recommended by the hon. member for Clare. He would not enter into a lengthened statement of historical facts which must be familiar to all whom he had the honour of addressing, and which would satisfy them of the extent to which the democratic influence of the community had increased. He did not complain of 1218 this accidental effect, but he did not wish to extend it unnecessarily. Were the House to re-construct the representative system on the ancient footing required by the Constitution, it would be compelled to curtail, rather than extend, the right of voting. Let the House only consider for example, the qualification of voting in counties, and observe what was the original intention of the Constitution with regard to that qualification. It was enacted by a statute of Henry 6th, that a freehold of 40s. annual value should constitute a right to vote for a county representative; and how accurate was the remark of Mr. Justice Blackstone on this peculiar qualification. He stated, "that this freehold must be of 40s. annual value, because that sum would, in the reign of Henry 6th, with proper industry, furnish all the necessaries of life, and render the freeholder, if he pleased, an independent man; for Bishop Fleetwood, in his Chronicum Preciosum, written at the beginning of the present century, has fully proved 40s. in the reign of Henry 6th to have been equal to 12l. in the reign of Queen Anne; and as the value of money is very considerably lowered since the Bishop wrote, I think that we may fairly conclude from this and other circumstances, that what was equivalent to 12l. in his days, is equal to 20l. at present." Thus, by accident, the popular rights of the community had been extended, contrary, perhaps, to the original spirit of the Constitution, but in a manner which no admirer of a free constitution could condemn. The operation had been silent, but effective; and although the value of money had diminished, yet that claim to which the increasing intelligence of the people naturally entitled them, he meant a greater share in the election of their representatives, had been actually acquired. But the advocates for Reform here raised a formidable objection; and stated that the popular influence in counties received a vital check from the increasing power of the aristocracy, which had the means of returning Members to that House without popular interference. He could not discover that this influence, against which the eloquence of the hon. member for Clare so forcibly declaimed, had increased, or had even a tendency to increase. At no very early period of our history, this influence, which now extended to boroughs only, was predominant in the principal counties throughout 1219 the kingdom; and it was notorious, that in those days elections, both in counties and cities, were regulated by the Sheriffs and the resident nobility. He could adduce instances, in which Sheriffs neglected to return those members whose views were opposed to the Court-party. Even in the days of Queen Elizabeth, a period at which the most zealous writers in favour of popular rights must admit that some consideration was given to the voice of the people—persons were returned to Parliament in a manner which would not now be tolerated, even in places acknowledged to be the most corrupt, and most subjected to the control of individual influence. For example he would quote one case, which would astonish those who inveighed against the corruption of the present time. In the 14th and 18th of Queen Elizabeth, Dame Mary Packington, widow of Sir John Packington, made a return of Burgesses in these words—"Know ye that I, Alary Packington, have chosen, named, and appointed my trusty and well beloved Thomas Lichfield and George Burden, Esqrs. to be my Burgesses for my borough of Aylesbury." In the same reign peers openly interfered in elections, and practices were avowed, which in these days would subject the offender to very severe penalties. In former times, owing to the unwillingness of individuals to assert in Parliament the rights of the people, a defect which had been since removed, and owing to the persecution to which the opponents of arbitrary power were then exposed—liberty of speech, and liberty of conscience were suppressed; and if instances of bribery and corruption, to obtain seals in Parliament, were then less frequent than now, it was not that the privileges of the electors were more respected, or the penalties against individuals exerting undue influence, more severely exacted, but from very different circumstances. In those days, a seat in the House of Commons was a burthen, not a benefit, and it was not till the reign of Charles the 1st that individuals began to perceive that, it conferred influence and power; and consequently as contests were unknown, there were few instances of corrupt influence exercised by the candidates. That corruption now existed could not be denied—that it prevailed in the most populous places, and the smallest burghs, must be admitted; but the main question for consideration was, would the measure of the 1220 hon. Member remedy the evil? In his humble opinion it would not. On the contrary, the extension of the elective franchise, if carried too far, might tend rather to aggravate it. In a country constituted like this, the wealth of the aristocracy affording the means, must give them the power of influencing the returns to Parliament, to a certain extent, whatever the right of voting might be, and although their influence might not then be exercised in a direct manner, as at present, yet it might in an indirect way, not less demoralising to the habits of the people. As a measure of Reform, the one proposed by the hon. Gentleman, subversive as it was of prescriptive rights, was incomplete in itself, and at variance with our laws. To render the measure complete, the hon. Gentleman must extend his principle to the other House of Parliament. If it were his wish to prevent the wealth of the country from exercising influence at elections, he must legislate against the accumulation of wealth. He should propose to alter the law of inheritance, and if his memory did not deceive him, the hon. Gentleman suggested such an alteration on a former evening. If the wealth of the country were more equally divided, there could be no doubt that the influence exercised by single individuals in returning members to Parliament would be lessened, and the voice of the people at large would have more effect. But such a system of legislation, however convenient to a republic, could not be advantageous to a monarchy; and he did not believe that there were twenty individuals in the House desirous of seeing such a system established in this country. No system could be more arbitrary than the law of succession in France. As long as an aristocracy was essential to the Constitution, and requisite to support the dignity of the Crown; as long as that class of individuals held a large portion of 'the land and wealth of the country, property would have its due weight in returning members to Parliament, whether the right of voting were placed on the most popular and uniform basis, or were varied and restricted as at present. He believed that were the most extensive right of voting admitted, the corruption would be greater, for the more indigent the voter, the more inclined would he be to sell his vote: and for a confirmation of this he would refer to the same passage of Black-stone which the hon. and learned Gentle- 1221 man had quoted in support of his argument. The proposition to establish a ballot he rejected because that was a system injurious to the morals, and contrary to the feelings of a free people. In considering this most important subject in a practical point of view, it appeared to him that the power of the people had a tendency to increase, and that their liberties were more asserted in that House at present than at any former time. If a few individuals of wealth returned members to Parliament, it must be evident to the most superficial observer, that the House of Commons was not influenced in great popular questions by another Assembly, to which he could not more directly allude. Were the opinions of the people shackled by the control of the aristocracy to a dangerous extent, measures proposed to that House, with a view to extend popular rights, would not, he was sure, meet with general success. He referred to the bill passed last year, in support of his argument; he meant the Roman Catholic Relief Bill. That was a measure long considered as expedient by the House of Commons. It was defended by those who supported it, as a liberal and a popular measure, giving liberties and privileges to a large portion of his Majesty's subjects. On these grounds it was frequently recommended to the other branch of the Legislature, and at last forced on its consideration by a vote of that House. That went a great way to show that whatever influence existed among a certain class of individuals., in no way connected with that portion of the community supposed to be represented by the House, yet that influence was not carried to such a dangerous extent as to check public opinion, or control the sentiments of the great mass of the people. Under these circumstances he must give his decided opposition to the motion of the hon. member for Clare, and he should, on every occasion resist a motion for Reform of that House, in whatever shape it might be proposed, until it should appear by some more convincing arguments, or by his own experience, that that House, hitherto renowned as the first Legislative Assembly in the world, was no longer fitted to speak the sentiments of the intelligent part of the community, and to protect the liberties of this powerful monarchy.
Lord John Russell
spoke as follows:—I cannot but feel, Sir, considerable em- 1222 barrassment in arising to address the House on this occasion, because it is impossible to avoid observing that the motion of the hon. and learned member for Clare has placed me in a difficult and very delicate situation. Since the time when I brought forward a motion for general Reform, and when, in my opinion, all the arguments in favour of that proposition had been exhausted—and exhausted unsuccessfully—the subject had been permitted to rest in silence, until a noble Lord, in the early part of this Session, introduced a motion for Radical Reform. The hon. and learned member for Clare has now moved a resolution containing three main features. The first is that of triennial parliaments; the second, universal suffrage; and the third, vote by ballot—from all of which, I beg leave to say, that I most decidedly dissent. In consequence of this, I am placed in a very difficult situation; for either I must vote for what I do not like in the hon. Member's plan of reform, or I must join with those who oppose all reform whatever. Under all these circumstances, I must be allowed to return to the plan and the propositions which in former times I have myself brought forward. I must be permitted to recur to the principles I then advanced, and by proceeding thus I shall be enabled to give a negative to the motion of the hon. and learned Member, and afterwards propose a measure which I think to be founded on better and more constitutional principles. I agree with the hon. Member that it is very disagreeable for reformers to came into collision, and if he had confined himself to the first part of his proposition, though I do not approve entirely of triennial parliaments, and believe that parliaments elected for five years would be preferable to them under our present system, yet I do not think that I should be led to oppose him on that point alone. But universal suffrage and vote by ballot are measures that, in my opinion, are incompatible with the constitution of this country. I do not deny that there has been and may be a free and well-regulated government founded on such a plan of representation. I do not deny that the commonwealth of America is a well-constituted government, but considering our system—considering our Monarchy and our House of Lords, and remembering the state of property in this country, I do not think that the exercise 1223 of universal suffrage could end otherwise than in a collision that would produce either a democracy or commonwealth on the one hand, or an absolute monarchy on the other. Mr. Fox, Sir, however he might be violent in opposition to, or in pursuit of a particular measure, yet preserved a high degree of moderation in the most violent and strongest times. When Mr. Fox was speaking of the doctrines of equality, so much in fashion at the time of the French Revolution, he said I too, Sir, am for equality. I think that men are entitled to equal rights, but they are equal rights to unequal things." To that observation, Sir, I adhere. I think that if universal suffrage were introduced, equal rights to unequal things could not, in the long run, be maintained. The hon. and learned member for Clare has truly said that this is a time of tranquillity, and that it is, therefore, the best time for introducing the discussion of this subject. I agree with him as to the fact, and I submit to him whether that tranquillity is not in a great measure owing to the circumstance that this doctrine of universal suffrage has been kept for several years out of the sight of the people—that latterly there have been found no popular leaders to recommend it, and that, consequently, safe and practical reform has been for years preferred by the mass of the people to more violent and sweeping measures. The first thing on which I found my plan for Parliamentary Reform is, that there has been of late a vast increase of property, for which we cannot find in the constitution of this House any adequate representation. This principle I have stated on former occasions, and I have gone so fully into the proof of the increasing wealth and intelligence—the means of information—and the capacity to form a right judgment—that I shall not go further into any of these topics now. I shall, therefore, at once proceed to read the resolution I mean to propose if the hon. Member's motion should be negatived. It is one which I have before submitted to a committee of this House. The resolution declares, "That it is expedient to extend the basis of the representation of the people in this House." The next resolution is relative to the manner in which that basis is to be extended. I say, in the first place, that there are many large manufacturing and commercial towns which have no representatives in the House. That is 1224 the first and most grave defect in the present system of representation. We feel it every day in the business of this House. We are really in want of representatives of the extensive interests connected with our woollen, iron, cloth, and silk trades, and with our shipping business. I will read a list of the towns which in the former bill I proposed should be entitled to send members to this House. I do not say that all the towns the names of which I am about to read should now at once be entitled to send members, but I think that within some limited period that privilege should be conferred on them. The towns are Macclesfield, Stockport, Whitehaven, Sunderland, Cheltenham, Brighton, Bury, Bolton, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Dudley, Leeds, Wakefield, Sheffield, and North and South Shields. Five of these towns are the seats of the woollen and silk trade—three are engaged most extensively in the woollen-trade—four in the iron-trade, two of them, Cheltenham and Brighton, are towns with a large population; and, in my opinion, ought to send representatives to Parliament. I will add, that when giving representatives to the large towns, we should not omit giving two representatives also to Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Belfast. Many of our larger counties are insufficiently represented; and to them also I would give additional members. In those counties that have already two representatives, it would be inconvenient to add to the number. The present system, so far as it concerns them, works well, and I would not disturb their arrangement; but where the counties are very large, I should propose to divide them into two districts, of north and south, and to allow two members for each. The second resolution I should propose to the House, in pursuance of the principles I have stated, declares, "That it is expedient that members should be sent to Parliament by the large manufacturing towns, and that additional members should be given to counties of great extent, wealth, and population." I will now proceed to stale the manner in which I propose to execute the purpose of that resolution:—The additional members I have proposed would make a large addition to the numbers in this House. In order to get rid of the objection to that addition, I should propose that many of the Cornwall Boroughs should only send one representative, instead of two, to Par- 1225 liament; and that every borough with less than 2,500 inhabitants, should send only one member. I trust that will not be considered a grievance, particularly after the resolution I shall propose relative to this subject. The third resolution states, "That, in order to attain the object of the foregoing resolution, without inconvenience, it is expedient that the number of the smaller boroughs returning members shall not exceed sixty; and that boroughs with a population of only 2,500 shall not send more than one member to Parliament." This brings me to my last proposition. It would, no doubt, be matter of consideration with this House, whether, having deprived these boroughs of one member, it would be fit to give them compensation. I think it would not be a hardship to deprive them of this right, when it is considered that it is a trust for the benefit of the people; but it ought to be remembered, that it is at the same time a privilege conferred upon the electors. In the act giving the borough of Wenlock the right of electing members, it is called a privilege—in the act giving it to the county of Durham, it is called so likewise. As long, therefore, as they are not convicted of any offence which ought to deprive them of their franchise, it would be a better and more convenient way, to grant them compensation. That was the measure adopted towards Ireland, and that measure forms a precedent for this mode of conduct. The fourth resolution is, "That it is expedient to grant compensation to boroughs which lose their right of returning two members, the said compensation to be afforded by means of a fixed sum to be applied to that purpose by annual grants for several years." I have now done with the statement of what I mean to propose; but I cannot avoid taking notice of a general argument, which on these occasions is always introduced—that this House, as now constituted, practically serves the purposes of its constitution—that it balances the power of the House of Lords—that it controls the Crown—and that we ought not, therefore, to ask for any further improvement in it. Every year that I sit in this House convinces me more and more that that argument is not founded in truth. I think I have before proved, in a manner that cannot be answered, that in all the great divisions in this House, on questions when we are voting 1226 away the public money, of those members who are most entitled to be ranked among the number of the true representatives of the people—I mean the members for the counties and large towns—the numbers are two to one in favour of reduction of the public burthens; while the large majority of those who always vote in favour of the estimates is formed of members for boroughs. We are told this year, as a sort of consolation for the present state of things, that we are better than our ancestors of the times of George 1st and George 2nd. In the parliaments of the former it is stated that there were 270 placemen; and in the first parliament of George 2nd, it is stated that 257 placemen had seats in this House. Sir, I have had the curiosity to look at their proceedings, to see if their votes bore out what might be expected from such a return as to the formation of the House; whether I could find that constant majority of 250 voting in favour of every item of expenditure, and in opposition to every proposition for reform. The result is not at all what I might have expected. In 1717 the proposition of the Minister for the number of land forces was 16,000 men. That proposition, so far from being treated as a moderate establishment, was opposed by a very large party in this House; and on the motion to reduce the number, the reduction was supported by 125 votes, the original estimate by only 175. The ministerial majority was not therefore very considerable. Two other resolutions were then recommended as a consequence of the former. A sum of 681,000l. was proposed for the army. The opposition moved to reduce it to 620,000l., and on the original question being put, the Ayes were only 172, while the Noes were as high as 158. I do not say that such a proposition was either just or generous; but such was in fact the conduct of that corrupt and place-holding parliament. Our conduct is so different from that, in the present days of purity, that we never think of making such a proposition; and yet we thank God that we are not extortioners. Indeed, so far are we from imitating such conduct, that when an hon. Member proposed that General military officers should not at the same time receive their military pay and hold civil offices, the hon. member for Westminster, whom none will accuse of favouring corruption, said, that not only the General officers 1227 ought not thus to be reduced, but that inferior officers ought also to be allowed to receive pay for civil services. At the period to which I am now alluding, 130,000l. was proposed as the vote for the half-pay; the proposition was opposed, and the Minister offered to reduce it to 115,000l., but his offer was not accepted, and it was moved to reduce it to 94,000l.. In this year, when we are so much improved, the vote for the full pay of retired officers was 104,000l., and for the half pay of retired officers 720,000l. There is, I must say, considerable difference in the burthens of the people, and, it is true, there is also a considerable difference in their ability to bear them; but it certainly was better for the people to live under a corrupt Parliament with small burthens, than under this pure Parliament, which breaks their backs with its weight of taxation. At that period, too, the House passed a resolution, that all the vacancies in the establishments should be filled up by officers taken from the half-pay list; but a similar motion made a short time since by the hon. member for Aberdeen was unsuccessful. I do not know how to vote for the Motion of the hon. and learned Member; and yet I must say, that I wish success to its object, for the Parliament of this day is not so steady a guardian of the public purse as it is the fashion to represent it. It may be said, perhaps, that the times to which I have referred were times of great opposition; but I can support my argument by going into the corrupt times of Sir R. Walpole. In the first Parliament of George 2nd, every thing is said to have been most corrupt. In the year 1730 we shall see the course that Parliament adopted. The army then cost 651,000l., and the forces for our colonies and plantations 160,000l.; and let it not be supposed, Sir, that at the time we had no colonies, New York, Carolina, Bermuda, and Jamaica, were then in our possession, and required vigilant guardianship to preserve them. So far from that sum being now sufficient to defend our colonial possessions, it is little more than sufficient to keep the Ionian Islands, which can hardly be connected with any agreeable recollections in the minds of the people of this country. The army now costs us 7,300,000l. a-year. In 1729, the whole supply for the defensive establishment, voted when we had subsidies to pay to foreign Powers, was 1228 3,600,000l.; in 1829, when we were under less disadvantages, the supply voted for the same purpose was 17,620,000l. I think, Sir, I have shown pretty well, that much as we boast of the times in which we live, yet, as faithful guardians of the public purse, we are not entitled to all the praise we so abundantly claim for ourselves. It has been contended that, in those days, the influence of Government was far greater than it is at present; but this was so much the reverse, that on a favourite measure of the then Opposition,—a measure to disable those from sitting in Parliament who had any pensions or offices held in trust for them,—the Minister was defeated by a majority of seventy-four to sixty-four; and even the most reasonable propositions then brought forward by Ministers were defeated. I ask, then, what became of the 270 placemen who supported the Government? I will not go further with the votes of the House for the last few years. I have done it on former occasions; it is now unnecessary—for I will not rest my cause on anything but the declarations of the noble Duke at the head of affairs, and the right hon. Secretary. They have told us that the estimates have been reduced by two millions. Why is it that this sum of two millions has not been saved to the country until it pleased the Duke of Wellington and the right hon. Secretary to reduce it? Sir, I say, that if the House of Commons had done its duty, it would not have waited until his Grace came into office, but would, of its own authority, have revised the Estimates, and compelled the Ministers, by refusing the supplies, to reduce the sum more than two millions. And now, Sir, on what do I rest my hopes of reduction and reform?—on this House? No; but on his Majesty's Ministers, and on the effect of public opinion out of doors, which, somehow or other, has greater influence on them than even majorities in this House. Sir, I have now nearly finished what is to me an extremely disagreeable task. My present position I consider an unfortunate one. I think I am pledged to do what I am now doing, from the part I formerly took on this measure. I know my propositions make me liable to be accused on the one hand, of rashness and desire of innovation; and of hesitation and change of opinion on the other. I know I stand in the situation of a butt for attack upon both sides—attacks 1229 from those who wish to push Reform further than I wish, and from those who do not wish for Reform at all. But, Sir, the object of my proposition is, to improve the representation without doing injury to the Constitution. I wish to preserve the fundamentals of the Constitution, while I give to every individual his just rights. I consider my propositions are calculated to produce this effect, and whatever imputations may be cast upon me by the anti-reformers in this House, or by the violent reformers out of this House, I shall submit them as soon as the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman has been disposed of—a Motion which, I am bound to say, he brought forward with great temper and ability. But as I believe his views to be erroneous, and as I think his propositions injurious, I cannot adopt them, and know no course I could pursue except that upon which I have decided.
Mr. Stuart Wortley
was understood to say, that he would, on all occasions, give a decided and unqualified vote against Reform. He complained that the hon. member for Clare's speech was of the same temper and character with those which he had made in other places, and the tendency of which was, that all property should be excluded from any influence in the House of Commons. It was, in his opinion, a fundamental principle of the Constitution, that property should be represented, and he was convinced it had a most beneficial influence on the House. The experiment of representing numbers and not property had been tried elsewhere without success, and in 1780 an American of high character and talents, who had been since elected to the Presidency (Mr. Madison) inquired if the principle adopted by the States, of representing persons only, was a wise one, and he demanded if it were not a more just idea that property should be represented. The hon. Gentleman argued at length against the introduction of universal suffrage, and of voting by ballot. He contended that the popular voice alone would have prevented every improvement which had taken place in the legislation of the country; that if universal suffrage had been in existence at the time of the Revolution of 1688, we should still have had the Stuarts on the Throne,—that if it had been in existence in 1715, the Protestant succession would have been set aside,—and that if it had been in existence last year, the Catholic Relief 1230 Bill would not have passed, nor should they have had the pleasure of hearing the hon. member for Clare that evening. That gentleman owed his place in the House to the resistance made in Parliament to the wide-spreading doctrines of Reform.
§ Lord Althorp.
—Sir, with respect to the Motion before the House, although I agree in part with the hon. and learned member for Clare as to the abuses, yet with respect to the remedy for them, and more especially with respect to the mode in which that remedy is to be applied, I confess I have for some time laboured, under very considerable difficulty. Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman has moved for leave to bring in a bill, and in doing so he has stated his objects, and the principles of his intended bill. The first principle he proposes to introduce is that of triennial Parliaments; the second is that of universal suffrage; and the third is the election by ballot. So far as respects triennial Parliaments, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I should be most glad to see a return to that practice. During the time, Sir, that this practice did prevail, the country flourished; no objection was raised against it, and the change to septennial Parliaments was merely the consequence of temporary causes which are no longer in existence. Every one who looks to the conduct of every Parliament at its beginning and towards its end must see at once that triennial Parliaments would give the people a powerful influence, and an influence that, would be manifested in the most proper way. Actual experience of the system has proved, that triennial Parliaments were not attended with any danger; and that plan is not therefore a new experiment, but has been tried with success; and believing that if we restore it now it will increase the influence of the people, I am prepared to support a motion for the purpose, as I have heretofore done when a proposition for returning to triennial Parliaments came before the House. With respect to another point, that of election by ballot, I have already, in the course of the Session, expressed my opinion. I am still, after every consideration I could give the subject, of the same opinion—namely, that election by ballot would greatly diminish the expense of elections; that it would do away with improper influence upon the electors; and that it would allow them to give their votes as they pleased, subject, of course, 1231 to the action of popularity, and of the ties of feeling and affection. I now come to the main point of the hon. and learned Gentleman's Motion, which he has not put into his bill, but which he states in words to be Radical Reform; that is to say, Universal Suffrage. By what the hon. Gentleman has stated throughout his explanation, he makes this the main point of his proposed measure. I am a friend to Parliamentary Reform, not because I entertain theoretical views on the subject, but because I look upon it as a great practical question. I consider it a great evil in this House that there should be persons who are proprietors of a great number of boroughs—that there may be a combination amongst these borough-proprietors, and that great mischief may in consequence result to the country. The expense of elections produces one of the greatest mischiefs—namely, that the people are thus frequently deprived of the choice of those whom they would wish to send, and, therefore, anything that would destroy the practice now prevailing with respect to boroughs, and would take away the expense of elections, must, in my mind, be most beneficial to the country. I now come to the degree in which we should endeavour to effect a change in a practical point of view. Change is in itself an evil, and therefore, the less the change the more inclined shall I be to adopt it. I have never been inclined to entertain minute differences of opinion. If there be any proposition brought forward which will give the people greater influence than the borough-proprietors, and secure them that influence which they might properly, practically, and constitutionally employ, this is a proposition which I will support. But the principle of the Constitution is not that one class, but that every class, of the community shall be represented. This, however, will not be the case, if universal suffrage is permitted, for then but one class will be represented. In the Constitution, as it at present exists, although I admit not to a sufficient extent, every class is represented—not, I allow, in their proper proportions—and I should therefore like to see a greater number of Members sent by the people to represent their feelings and interests. With these views it is, that I support Parliamentary Reform. It may, I know, be said, that at the beginning of the Session I supported a motion, brought forward by my noble relative, from which 1232 I dissented in most of its parts. This I admit; but no other choice was left for me; if I did not support that I must have opposed the question of Reform altogether. But even that inconsistency was done away by my noble friend having given me leave to move for a committee, in which I should have been at liberty to support such a plan of reform, as I might deem not to be injurious. Entertaining these views, my decision is different from that of the hon. and learned member for Clare, because, although agreeing with him in two propositions out of three, yet the one which I differ from is so large and so comprehensive, that I cannot give my support to his motion.
Lord Viscount Valletort
did not approve of the manner in which the hon. And learned Gentleman had brought forward this Motion. He did not wish to argue more than one question at a time, but, for all that, he must make a few remarks on the Motion of his hon. friend. When the comparison was instituted between a House of Commons with 257 placemen in it, and the present House of Commons, and the House was told that Parliament was subservient to the Ministers, they must suppose, as the subserviency had become greater as the number of placemen had been diminished, that if there were no placemen whatever in the House, things would be still worse. This argument reminded him of the old verse,—My wound is great because it is so small;Had it been greater there were none at all.He entered the House with a strong feeling against the present Motion, and he wished to make a few observations in reference to the principles that had been advanced. He was of opinion, that at the present period, and in the present state of society, the House was, at least, as well able to judge of what species of Government was most beneficial, as those who lived in the primeval condition of society. We had experimental knowledge, and were, at least, as able to form an opinion upon such subjects as our ancestors. The assertion might appear bold, but he must say, though the Constitution secured to every man equal protection for his person, and equal enjoyment for his property, that it did not secure equal rights for all. There were constitutional rights, such as those then under discussion, which were defined by the law, and the House could not infringe them without violating the law. 1233 He admitted that the Members ought to represent the interests of the people; he admitted also that they were the constitutional guardians of the public purse; he conceded too, that the House ought to consist of persons connected with all the interests in the State, and that the public interests should have a connexion with their private interests, in order to excite Members to a sufficient degree of care and attention: he further admitted, that the Members should consist of persons having such an interest in the country, that they should think it vain to attempt the promotion of their own interests, without at the same time promoting those of the country; but in making all these admissions, he though the had not given his opponents any ground whereon to rest the Motion. The hon. Member for Westminster, as well as the hon. member for Clare, had stated, that the House, in point of fact, contains as much honour, and as much talent and ability, as ever had been congregated in any assembly. On this admission, he grounded his objections to the Motion. It might, however, be argued, that some influence prevented the Members from exercising their power and talents. He, however, had not even heard of any such influence, save the allegation of corruption; and if corruption were done away with, on the hon. Gentleman's showing, the House as it then was, would be one mass of perfection. The question therefore was one of degree; and if, as was admitted, a great number of those hon. Gentlemen whom he saw around him were not tools and puppets, to be moved at the will of some hidden mover, then what was to be thought of the degree of corruption? There might, however, be the influence of a party contemptible in every respect, consisting of factious demagogues; and would any one contend that such influence ought to be desired in this country? Would any one contend, that some popular declaimer against the Government, and who, perhaps, though declaiming loudest against corruption, would be the first to yield to it; would any one say that such was the influence that this country ought to be subjected to? He did not pretend to say that those who sat on the Ministerial side of the House were better than those who sat with the hon. and learned member for Clare; but there was no reason to believe, that those at that side were, to a certainty, better and purer than the Ministerialists. He did not mean to say that 1234 popular views ought, on the whole, to be disregarded; they were, no doubt, very beautiful in theory; but let it be remembered that the end might be a scene of difficulty and danger. He had heard the question of reform often argued, and perhaps it was not a subject on which he might be expected to stand forward. But he thought that his duty required him to do so, and he would never shrink from declaring before the world the sentiments he entertained. He wished it to be known, that the men who were opposed to what were called popular measures, were, at the same time, attached to rational liberty, and they would resist any inroads that might be made upon it. For his own part, he was as ready to make sacrifices on its behalf as any of those who were loudest in their demands for radical reform. Believing the measure proposed by the hon. Member to be injurious and unconstitutional, he should oppose his Motion.
§ Mr. William O'Brien
also opposed the Motion. He did not think any advantage would arise to the community from the change proposed. The cases of republics were cited as affording proofs of the advantages of popular representation; but when we looked abroad and saw the greatest amongst them, he could not, he confessed, see much to envy in all that she enjoyed. He wished to say a few words in favour of the borough-system, against which so many and such violent attacks had been made, and by means of which it was alleged that so many branches of noble families found their way into that House. If it were true that so many did find their way into that House in the manner stated, as belonging to that class, he must be allowed to say that the other House of Parliament had constant accessions from that House, of men who had distinguished themselves in many instances as advocates of popular rights—and thus a practical compensation was established. It was indisputable, that no Administration could bear up against a system which would oppose to them a constant scene of factious riots and democratic violence and combination, where the best test of integrity would be held to be opposition to the Minister for the time being. The hon. Member then adverted to the influence of public opinion in that House, and concluded by expressing his deep sense of the unworthiness of the advocate, who endeavoured to support so great 1235 and so just a cause. But he believed that the love of the Constitution was engraved in the hearts of all, and he relied on that to do justice to his wishes, rather than to the weak defence he had pronounced of our ancient system.
assured the House, he should trespass upon its attention for a very short time, and say as little as his duty would allow. He should feel little embarrassment in stating the vote that he should give on the present occasion. In giving that vote he should be governed by a precedent derived from the conduct of a great man, a very great man, Mr. Fox, when voting upon a question of Reform introduced by another great man, Mr. Pitt, in the year 1785, when he brought forward a motion like the present, that the House should resolve itself into a committee of the whole House for the purpose of considering a bill, the object of which would be to effect a reform in the representation of the Commons House of Parliament. So completely, however, did Mr. Fox dislike the plan of Mr. Pitt, that were it any other case, excepting that of Parliamentary Reform, nothing would have induced him to support it; but rather than give a handle to the enemies of that cause, he did vote for it; so completely was he the friend of reform. Even if he, therefore, differed from the hon. and learned member for Clare, which he did not, he should still support his Motion for the reason given by Mr. Fox. In the speeches of the hon. Gentleman and noble Lords who spoke on the other side, the Members had heard their own praise sounded—a task that must have been pleasing to the individuals by whom it was performed, and which could not have proved unacceptable to the House itself—for who was there who did not desire to hear his own praises sounded? The hon. Gentleman who had spoken last described himself as unworthy to be the advocate of such a cause. Now, there he differed altogether from the hon. Gentleman; for he thought the advocate and the cause extremely well matched. He had done for the cause exactly what it deserved, which was just nothing at all, but he had all the merit of good wishes. Nothing could have been more remarkable and peculiar than the nature of that hon. Gentleman's advocacy; he pitched upon the case of the much calumniated boroughs; would he permit his recollection to be refreshed respecting those boroughs? He must have dipped into history sufficiently 1236 to know that those same boroughs were denounced by Pitt, Fox, Chatham, Grattan, Flood, and even by Mr. Burke, who of all men was the least of a Reformer. Burke spoke of them as the shameful and unseemly portion of the Constitution; and yet the hon. Gentleman thought proper to fix upon those boroughs as that part of the Constitution which most deserved his commendation and support. No doubt they owed to the borough-system the honour and advantage of seeing him in that House, and others who resembled him. He did not object to hon. Members like him to whom he was then replying, taking the bull by the horns, if he might so speak, and calling the attention of the House to the good which, in their own persons arose from the borough representation—showing, by their own illustrious example, that Parliament ought not to cut down the borough-representation. Personal, he would admit, that observation was; unfriendly it certainly was not; unpolite he hoped no one would call it. An illustrious and now departed man, who had spoken of boroughs on all occasions with the tenderness and consideration which was most grateful to their patrons, thought there was one exception to the rule, and that boroughs ought to be punished whenever they were detected in flagranti delicto. His motto was deprendi miserum est. His principle was to have them punished, not so much for the crime itself as for the greater offence of being caught—for being such clumsey reprobates as to allow themselves to be detected. They were punished, not so much for the purpose of deterring others from their evil practices, as with a view of reading them a lesson of caution. For himself he thought those were not the cases to be taken. He was an enemy to that imperfect and botching mode of amending the Constitution, and therefore he uniformly voted against those measures. It was alleged that if a different sort of reform were had recourse to, such as he always recommended, it would upset the monarchy, destroy the aristocracy, and throw the whole country into confusion. Now, he would quote upon that point the authority of one whom he should esteem a very great man, and one of the very highest authorities—he meant the great and immortal Fox—one whose whole life had been a continued up-hill struggle for the great cause of Reform and for the rights of the people; and it was at least satis- 1237 factory, that however great the difficulties which he had to contend against during his illustrious life, at least posterity had done him justice, which, though tardy, was ample. On all sides he was quoted as one of the greatest lights which had ever illumined the most enlightened country in the world—yet that was the man who, in a playful work of the late Mr. Canning, was described as the champion of democracy, as intent upon raising in this country the tri-coloured standard; and who, night after night, was described in that House as the enemy of his King, and respecting whom it was debated in Council whether or not he should be made the subject of a prosecution, He had reason to know that it was debated in Council whether or not Mr. Fox should be arrested, or whether or not some proceedings should not be instituted against him; and yet, now, was he not quoted on all sides as the authority from which there was no appeal? It was worth while, then, on a question like the present, to see what Mr. Fox had said. He described the whole system as a "gross outrage on all justice, as pernicious to all just Government, and as a scandalous stain upon the character of the people of England; it was calculated (he said) to corrupt and debase their principles, that men should enjoy impunity who gave 4,000l. or 5,000l. for a close borough, and that the very man who so paid that sum should make a speech in that House, and give a vote condemning a poor man, and sending him to prison from that bar, for the offence of accepting a single guinea to save his family perhaps, from starving, in consequence of the distress brought on by the votes of those Members in support of a war, unjust and ruinous." Those "thoughts that breathe and words that burn" ought to have paralysed to the heart the advocates of a system that vitiated the whole frame of society, that degraded the national character, and sapped the foundation of all legitimate patriotism. There was another part of what fell from the hon. Gentleman, in all the simplicity of his maiden innocence, to which he deemed it scarcely necessary that he should offer any reply: he meant where the hon. Gentleman spoke of the talent and the integrity of that House. It was rather too much that at this time of day, hon. Gentlemen should enlarge upon the talent and integrity of that House as a ground for resisting legitimate representation. It was too ridiculous to 1238 deny that corruption did exist; and if it did, it ought to be amended. Again, it was too ridiculous to raise the old and worn-out tale of Dorothy Lady Packington. Was the Legislature to be stopped in an act of justice, wisdom, and expediency, by an old story about Dorothy Lady Packington, which, from the time when it was first told by Mr. Canning had been annually renewed by the young Gentlemen who came forward for the first time upon the Reform question? Declining to dwell any further upon those points, he should proceed to call their attention, in addition to the authority of Mr. Fox, to some other authorities; for example, to a Proclamation issued in the year 1620 by King James 1st—a Proclamation composed by Lord Bacon, with the assistance of Lord Coke, aided by another eminent lawyer of that period, Mr. Crew. Many of the evils of that period they acknowledged were the same as those existing now. The difference between that period and the present consisted in this—that the Ministers acknowledged the evil, and prayed for a remedy; whereas, in these days, the evil was denied, and all propositions of remedy scouted; then the evil was admitted, and the Government begged the correction of it. The Proclamation of which he spoke was dated in 1620, and was addressed to the Freeholders, Burgesses, and others engaged in the elections of Members of Parliament, enjoining them not to elect bankrupts or other necessitous persons, mean lawyers, or young men not ripe for council. Here, then, they had pretty high authority for there having been improper men in Parliament in those days. He looked upon it too as authority for effecting a Reform in Parliament, and the fullest proof that the evils complained of at the present day were by the greatest men of that period, and even by James himself, pronounced to be evils demanding remedy; and when he saw the right hon. Gentleman issuing such a Proclamation as that, he should not quarrel with him as to the statement of the fact, for upon that point they should entirely agree. He agreed with the noble Lord near him, and with the hon. member for Clare, that the duration of Parliaments ought to he short; there could be no doubt of that, for it was from the shortness of Parliaments chiefly that people could hope to derive benefit. It seldom happened, that of the little done for the people, any of it ever was done at any 1239 time but towards the close of a Parliament—it was a species of death-bed repentance: as Swift described it, it was "giving to God the Devil's leavings," He begged to remind the House of the opinion of Sir William Jones upon the Septennial Act. He pronounced it to be one of the grossest acts of usurpation that had ever been committed by men in authority. It had been said in former times,Vidi lecta diu, et multo spectata labore,Degenerare tamen; nî vis humana quotannisMaxima quæque manu legeret. Sic omnia fatisIn pejus ruere, ac retro sublapsa referri.He was willing to allow a larger time than one year, but could not go the length of seven. With respect to Universal Suffrage, he would agree to it, though he believed that many friends, and sincere friends to reform, would not; and he must say, that he thought the best plan of reform was that to which the largest number acceded. Still, however, if he were called upon he would vote for Universal Suffrage. Upon this point the hon. member for Ipswich had quoted an Act of Henry 6th, but he begged to remind the hon. Member that the Act he had quoted was a departure from the Constitution. It was said, that the people were careless on the subject. The fact was, that the people were tired of petitioning. Let the House remember the excitement of 1817. Between that year and 1819, petitions were presented with one million and a half of signatures. Mr. Fox's objection to universal suffrage was, that the majority of voters would then be those under powerful influence, and all independence would be lost. He (Mr. H.) did not apprehend any such thing, but even that evil might be cured by voting by ballot. It was very well to talk of independence and magnanimity, sed hic non est locus. The object of elections was, that the people should make known whom they selected, and that was not done by the present method of choosing Members of Parliament. During 1795, and two or three subsequent years, no less than 100 acts had passed to secure purity of election. But had that object been attained? It was notorious that it had not. If the noble Lord would apply his mind to the subject of the ballot, he would find it was not so absurd as he supposed. He (Mr. H.) was formerly most decidedly against ballot, but after thinking on the subject, he was quite convinced that without the ballot there could be no real reform in the repre- 1240 sentation, and with it almost any plan would be successful. He thought these opinions were gaining ground out of doors. Let hon. Gentlemen not be led away by the notion that it was the wish of the reformers to destroy the just influence of property in the country. It was the wish of the reformers that the aristocracy should have its just influence. The right hon. Secretary had asked him (Mr. H.) the other night, whether if a tenant of his, an inn-keeper, should vote against him, he would not turn him out of his tenement? He would do no such thing. He knew a case exactly in point. A noble Lord, who was efficiently represented in this House, actually had one of his tenants, an inn-keeper, vote against him, and entertain the voters of the opposite party. What did the noble Lord do? On the next election his candidate went to the House, and the tenant heard no more of the matter. It was said that, by the system of the reformers, the worst part of the community would return the Representatives. Such was not the case. It was the meanest and lowest of the community who, under the present state of things, did return the Representatives, and who excluded the influence of talents and merit. It was to give property its due weight, that the reformers came forward, and wished to destroy the mock system altogether. He should certainly vote for the Motion of the hon. member for Clare.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, the question was already so much exhausted, that he would not trouble the House with any general observations upon the matter at issue, but confine himself to the motions which had been made. There were two specific propositions before the House. The one was the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and the other the Amendment of the noble Lord. The Motion of the learned Gentleman embraced three topics—Triennial Parliaments, Vote by Ballot, and Universal Suffrage. The Act which altered Triennial Parliaments into Septennial, had been designated by the learned Gentleman a gross usurpation, and he had, on that ground, claimed the going back to triennial Parliaments; but he begged to observe, that the usurpation extended only as far as that one Parliament was concerned, which was elected for three years. With respect to future Parliaments, it had just as much right to make them septennial, as the present 1241 Parliament had to make future ones triennial. But he was opposed to triennial Parliaments on other grounds; neither did he see how it could help the interests of which its friends declared themselves the advocates. The expenses of elections had been talked of; but surely the oftener they occurred, the more frequent must be the expense. It had been stated, that in clubs the vote by ballot prevailed, but he thought that there was a great difference between the cases; besides which, he altogether doubted the policy of exercising the elective franchise in secret; to him it appeared that it would afford ample cover for hypocrisy and deceit, if it did not altogether prevent that free canvass and discussion of the merits of the different candidates.—[Some hon. Member observed "they may have that too"], No: if they did discuss those merits, unless hypocrisy was afterwards made use of, the landlord would have just as much power of discovering what the vote of his tenant was, whether the discussion took place in the public-house or on the hustings; neither did he believe that any assurance could be given that the ballot would be fairly taken. To whomsoever the task might be trusted, he would be placed in a situation of great responsibility. With respect to universal suffrage, he had only this observation to make:—If the learned Member had said, "I prefer a Republic to a Monarchy," he should have understood why that learned Gentleman wanted to have Universal Suffrage. But if he said that he intended to improve the Constitution according to constitutional principles, he ought to shew that there was a precedent in the Constitution for universal suffrage. There was no such precedent. Once grant universal suffrage, and that Monarchy which the learned Gentleman professed to admire—that House of Lords, for the existence of which, he said, he saw so many excellent reasons, would not long survive. If that House were to be the immediate organ of the people's will, it would not long be content with possessing only one-third of the legislative power—and the first moment in which there was an opposition on the part of the House of Lords to the expressed opinion of the Representatives elected on the principle of universal suffrage, that moment would endanger either the existence of the House of Lords, or change the state of the country, so as to 1242 prevent the action of Government. And let him tell the learned Gentleman, who had been so fond of referring to the times of the Revolution, that if universal suffrage had existed then, they never would have had that Revolution; for the voice of the people was decidedly for another form of Government. But the learned Gentleman had contended, that as the people paid for the public appointments, they ought to have a control over those appointments. Why did not that very argument show that as soon as they got possession of the elective power, they would also want the executive power? The only tangible instance that had been cited by the other side, was that of an hon. and gallant General, who had been dismissed from his office for voting against the Government; but did any one suppose that a State could ever be so constituted as that those who were opposed to the Government in opinion should form part of the Government? But even supposing that this circumstance gave a proof of a corrupt state of things, he could tell the learned Gentleman that universal suffrage would give no security from such dismissals from office: and in this ancient limited Monarchy there was infinitely less exercise of this power than in that republic where universal suffrage prevailed. In this country, when there was a change of Government, the removals were generally confined to those who held confidential situations, and all the subordinate officers were usually retained; and, on the contrary, he could assure the learned Gentleman from good authority, that when General Jackson succeeded to the Presidential Chair, his first act was to remove every individual from office—from the highest down to the lowest—even the very post-masters, who had been opposed to his interest. In his mind, that was a conclusive proof, that even if there were universal suffrage, there still would be no security against the removal of individuals from office. On these grounds, he was decidedly opposed to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. With respect to the Amendment of the noble Lord, he must say that he was also opposed to that. The noble Lord, referring to something that he (Sir R. Peel) had said on a former night, observed, that he had contrasted the present House of Commons with the Houses of Commons in the reigns of George 1st and 2nd; but that he (Lord 1243 J. Russell) was ready to prove that there was more attention paid to the public interest in those times than at present. If this proved anything, it proved that there was no necessity for reform, for, as the noble Lord had observed, there were more Members of Parliament holding office formerly than now, so that the present defect, according to that argument, would be, that there were too few Members holding offices. The proposal of the noble Lord was such as to afford no satisfaction to those who sided with the hon. and learned Gentleman; and, if it were carried into execution, the consequence would be, that it would involve the whole country in great confusion. In particular the part of the proposition which, referred to the compulsory disfranchisement of boroughs, appeared to him to be quite incomprehensible; he could not understand in what manner the pecuniary compensation was to be afforded, or to whom it was to be paid. But on still more general grounds he was opposed to the proposed Parliamentary Reform. The House was bound to decide this question on the most comprehensive views. They had to consider whether there was not on the whole a general representation of the people in that House; and whether the popular voice was not sufficiently heard. For himself he thought that it was; and that that House was not unduly influenced by the members of the other branch of the Legislature. The hon. and learned Gentleman had contended that the want of reform was the cause of the expensive and lengthened wars in which this country had been engaged. He begged leave to deny that assertion: for he did not believe that a House representing the wishes of the people would be a security against the recurrence of expensive wars. It never had been found in the experience of English history, that peace was very popular, or that war was very adverse to the sentiments of the people. He would admit that the people sometimes became tired of war; but war having been entered upon, it was then matter for the consideration of Government whether there were not circumstances to preclude an immediate treaty of peace. On these grounds, and not seeing that there were any grievances made out which called for Parliamentary Reform, he should certainly give his most decided opposition to both the measures before the House.
said, that the question of Reform had been so often discussed, that it was in vain to hope to be able to throw any new light on the subject, and he should therefore, as the right hon. Secretary had done, confine himself strictly to the two propositions before the House. With respect to the proposition of the hon. and learned Gentleman, to the greater part of it he could not agree; and as he did not find that there was any intention of dividing it into parts, he should be reluctantly compelled to vote against it. With two parts out of the three he could not at all concur, and therefore he was reluctantly compelled—he said reluctantly, because he was always sorry, reformer as he was, to vote against any measure of Reform—he was reluctantly compelled to oppose the Motion of the hon. and learned Member. In the proposition, however, of his noble friend, he entirely concurred, as he also did in the bulk of his Resolutions, which he apprehended to be both moderate and safe. He did not materially differ from what had fallen from the right hon. Secretary on the point of pecuniary compensation to disfranchised boroughs, for he saw great difficulty as to the way in which that principle was to be applied. He could not at all comprehend how the money was to be paid, or to whom it was to be given: perhaps the noble Lord might have some propositions on that subject which he had not yet brought forward; but as he (Mr. Brougham) was at present advised, he should be reluctantly compelled to differ from that part of the Motion. With respect to the other portions, however, they appeared to him to be moderate, reasonable, and eminently practicable; and he totally differed from the right hon. Secretary in the objections which he had taken to them. The first objection brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman was, the supposed difficulty that there would be in their application. Now he could not at all see that difficulty; and if there were points left unexplained in detail in his noble friend's proposition, it was no doubt with the view of explaining them in a committee, where alone those details could be fully entered into. But that there was any confusion as to what towns were to have the franchise, or which of their inhabitants were to vote, he could not believe, and he must say, that he had never heard a more chimerical ob- 1245 jection advanced in the way of argument. Whether the population of a town consisted of 20,000, 30,000, or 60,000 inhabitants, surely the principle was just the same; and supposing, for the sake of argument, that the right of voting was to be invested in every inhabitant householder that had been rated for six months at a rent of 20l., or of 10l., that qualification would be equally applicable whether the town was situated in Devonshire or in Yorkshire—or whether its manufacturers consisted of cottons or of iron. It had been objected to his noble friend's plan, that it would require the counties to be divided into parts. His noble friend's measure would not require that. There was the case of Yorkshire, which now sent four Members to Parliament, each of whom prided himself on representing the whole of that county; and let Yorkshire remain as at present. He spoke in the presence of one of the potentates of that kingdom, and he knew that there was nothing which a true Yorkshireman prided himself on so much as keeping that kingdom entire, and doing everything that would prevent its being dislocated. One Member would not represent the North Riding, and another the South Riding, but each and all of them must represent the whole county or kingdom of York, causing, in his opinion, a great deal of mischief—a mischief that was nothing more or less than this, that at the next, or some general election, a contest would take place; some man would shake a heavy purse at his opponent and after shaking a little of the gold out of it, he who could not shake so heavy a one, after shaking a little of the gold out of his purse too, would go to the wall, and the people of Yorkshire would be represented, not by the man of their choice—not by the Representative for whom they could conscientiously vote—but by a man who was forced on them, crammed down their throats, not even by his merits, but by his money. With great submission to those who differed from him, he thought this was not the true way to have good Representatives for a county. The proposition of his noble friend would remedy the evil. He said, if Lancashire, or Devonshire, or Lincolnshire—he would take the three largest counties, each with its two Representatives—if either of these counties, from its size, its increase in wealth and people, became so important as to make it advisable to give it 1246 an additional representative, why then his noble friend would give it such an additional representative, and he would make him the representative of North or South Devon, or East or West Lancashire, as the case might be; and he would cause him to represent that part of the county, leaving the two Members for the other parts of the county. That was the proposition of his noble friend, to meet the evil which, in his estimation, was, perhaps, not the least urgent nor the least important. That he approved of. Then came the means of representing unrepresented towns. This was made necessary by the progress of times and circumstances, and he would justify it by saying, that if Birmingham, and Sheffield, and Manchester had existed 200 years ago as they are now, they would have had Representatives. He would try to supply the defects in our Constitution which would have been supplied by those who framed our Parliament and Constitution, if they could have foreseen that the hamlet of Brumage was to become the largo and opulent town of Birmingham; or the manor of Manchester, the great seat of one of our principal manufactures, and, he believed, the second city of this empire—he would supply that deficiency, which would have been supplied two hundred years ago, if it could then have been foreseen that either of those towns would attain to the tenth part of its present importance. In doing this, he should only follow the example of one of the wisest men who had ever lived—one of the most cautious men, and at the same time one of the greatest reformers—he meant Lord Bacon—who had told us to imitate Time in our reformations, for Time was a great reformer, and ought to be our example; and, when we did not go willingly, compelled us to follow in his track. He would imitate Time, in giving that which Time demanded—not innovating, not overthrowing, not subverting the Constitution—but re-adjusting, bringing things back to their original, reasonable position, and supplying the deficiency, or rather carrying on the Constitution to the excess created by Time. To call such a renovation a change or a revolution, which was the way such propositions was generally met, was only a gross abuse of terms. He heard from the hon. Gentleman, and herein he differed from him, that this plan of reform would not satisfy either of the 1247 parties who desired reform. If he thought those reformers, who were called radicals, and who went the whole length with his hon. and learned friend the member for Clare, or his hon. friend the member for Westminster, if he thought that they were so beguiled by their own peculiar views—so jealous of every other reformer but themselves—so intolerant to all those who differed in opinion from them—so narrow-minded as to be unalterably wedded to their own exclusive notions, despising all others who did not go the whole length with them, he must own it would lessen his reliance on their judgment, and weaken his disposition to confide in them, if they rejected his noble friend's plan, because it did not meet their more extended views. He was sure, however, that was not the case, and that there was not one of them, whatever length he might carry his own views, who would not conceive that the practical views of his noble friend were deserving of support. Why did he say so? Why, his hon. friend, the member for Westminster, in one of the ablest and most intelligent speeches he had heard for a long time in that House, and who had shown himself diligently read in our Constitutional Law—a speech which the right hon. Gentleman had followed, but not answered—his hon. friend had in that speech represented himself as ready to take any reform, though it did not go all the length he wished, that embraced a great practical benefit. He had stated the grounds on which he could agree with his noble friend; and at the same time he had stated the points on which they were not likely to agree. As to triennial Parliaments, the only difference between them was, that he thought that to shorten the duration of Parliament without accompanying that by some other measure, would not reform the Parliament, but would make it a great deal worse. It would increase the expense, promote corruption, and defeat the elective system. Whether Parliament were elected every three months, or every six years, there was one party which, in all changes, under every variety of councils, in different hands, following different courses, was always the same—the Government—the Government which decayed not, which existed at all times, a corporate corporation which never died, which was always in possession of the same wealth, 1248 and the same patronage, derived from our overgrown establishments—the Government would not lose any of its influence or power by making the Parliament triennial. If the duration of Parliament were to be limited without that more essential measure which went to reform the Parliament and diminish the expense of elections, without that measure he entertained an opinion that it would not be advisable to shorten the duration of Parliament. If they shortened the duration of Parliament, without some measure, for limiting the expense, they would only strengthen the power of the Government; and though all parties were now agreed, on whatever side of the Table they sat, that the Government was only a trust for the benefit of the people, and was established to secure their rights and privileges, yet who could doubt, when the power of the Government was increased—when the increase of expense, by more frequent elections, strengthened the difficulty of opposing it—who could doubt that mischief might be the consequence, and that the liberties of the country might be lost by the ruinous expense of too frequent elections? Between the beginning and the end of a Parliament there was a great difference, and nobody who had seen a Parliament expire but must be aware of the striking difference there was between Members about to return to their constituents and those who were secure of their seats; and being aware of that, he could not fail to be sensible of the influence of a prospect of expense on the conduct of the Members. Who that recollected to have seen the expiring part of a Parliament, but must have observed the marked contrast between it and its commencement. Its latter days were remarkable for prudence, discretion, and a faithful looking to after-times. In its expiring moments it only thought of the fate that awaited it, and the tribunal before which it was so shortly to render up its account; but when, after a new election, it came back with renovated youth, and with a six years' life, it had no longer the same desire to deserve the good opinion of those to whom it owed its renewed existence; it no longer showed the same desire to save the public money or consult the public welfare. This was indeed a reason why he wished to see the duration of Parliaments abridged, if the expense of contested elections could be diminished; but he must 1249 repeat, that without a diminution of expense, it would only strengthen the government. As to Universal Suffrage, without pronouncing any positive opinion upon such a scheme, he must say, that at present he concurred with the right hon. Secretary in objecting to it; and his objections were still stronger to election by ballot. He might be allowed to lay claim to some knowledge of contested elections, having himself gone through them on four several occasions. He was well aware that some of the wisest men had come to an opinion favourable to universal suffrage and election by ballot, and this made him in some respect distrust his own judgment in differing from them; but he still did so, and was anxious to state the reasons why he thought their views were not well founded. He felt persuaded that election by ballot would not give the necessary security for the concealment of the vote, unless by incurring much greater evils than those which this measure professed to remedy. So long as a seat in Parliament was an object of general ambition, candidates and their partizans would be active in canvassing the country in all quarters and directions. Agents would traverse the country from one end to the other, would see the voters day after day, and eventually live among them. He spoke now on the supposition of there being a contest, and of landlords and tenants being enlisted in it. The agents of the respective candidates would importune each individual voter, till at last some one of them thought he had made sure of him. In all probability his landlord, on applying to him, would obtain a promise from him in these convincing terms: "I'll vote for you, and for you alone; you are my landlord, my benefactor; I fairly and honestly tell you, that no power on earth shall ever make me vote against you;" still meaning, according to those who defended the ballot, all the while to vote for his landlord's opponent. It would seem, however, that this evil was to be remedied by ballot. Well, the House would suppose this system adopted, and all due precautions for secrecy being observed, the voter walking to the poll, and presenting himself at a sort of sentry-box made for the purpose. So far as mechanical arrangement would go, there was little difficulty in devising means to keep the matter secret; but various other points were to be taken into consideration. It was to be presumed that the ballotting instrument 1250 would be a sort of small pellat, with a certain stamp upon it, the forgery of which would be a grave offence. The voter might very easily put this pellat into the box, without the result of his vote being known at the time; but afterwards came the bustle and mob, and the consequent scenes attendant upon them; after having voted for the opposite candidate, he would, in all likelihood, go to congratulate his landlord on having won the day. Thus far for his ingenuousness. In all cases where there was a contest there would, of course, be conversation respecting it—the individuals who had voted would talk on the subject in their private walks, at church, after church, and above all, at the alehouse. Who then could tell him that such a person as he now described could be so much on his guard, as not to excite the slightest suspicion as to the manner in which he had given his vote? To observe such profound secresy he must say nothing whatever to his wife; nothing whatever to his children; nothing to his dearest friend, nothing to his pot-companion; no, he must be as dumb as the tankard which they had just emptied between them. That was the situation in which election by ballot was to place this worthy and independent freeholder for three long years, till the next opportunity presented itself for him to exhibit his rare qualities. After the election was over, the landlord, of course, would look to the books, in his eagerness to ascertain how they stood; seeing that he had perhaps only 50 votes after the 500 solemn promises he had received on consulting the book, and finding how the numbers stood, he might probably be told that the votes were wrong. This however, could not be, for they were all given by means of an unforgeable pellat. Every agent, on being applied to, would at once say, in order to vindicate himself, "I am quite sure they can't be any of my five votes, for I went to so and so—to Mr. this, and Mr. that—to Sir Robert this, and Sir Robert that; and all the Misters and all the Sir Roberts, gave me positive promises." This unexpected result would naturally set all the people on the watch to discover how the individual in question voted. If he should be bold enough to say to his landlord, "I voted against you," then he lost his farm; if he should be asked by him how he voted, and should answer "I won't tell you," then also must he lose his farm. If he should say "I 1251 voted for you," and his landlord should reply, "how can that be, from the state of the books?" all his asseverations in proof of the fact would be useless, both parties would separate with much suspicion on one side, and no good feeling on the other. Election by ballot would give rise to a continual system of vexatious watching and annoyance—[hear, hear, from Mr. O'Connell]. His hon. and learned friend seemed to doubt that it would have that effect, but he (Mr. Brougham), must now suppose that there would be bad landlords, crafty agents, and hardhearted stewards; or if such characters did not exist, why have recourse to the ballot at all? Well, on the first discovery which took place, the landlord would make an example of one or two of his tenants, and the consequence would be, that the remainder would abstain altogether from the ballot, and not vote on either side.
proceeded—What his noble friend said was very true; but all that he wanted particularly to urge was, that the secret was sure to be betrayed, and must, at some time or other, come to the cars of the landlord. All these facts showed very clearly, how groundless was the expectation that election by ballot would accomplish the purpose in view. But here he might be permitted to ask, with much deference to his hon. and learned friend, and those who agreed with him on the subject, whether, though it must fail in this respect, it might not, at the same time, fully accomplish one of the blackest and foulest purposes of any that could debase and destroy the character of man? Whether it would not make a hypocrite of a man throughout the whole period of his existence? Whether it would not, as was forcibly described by an eminent writer, make him exist as a person whoseWhole life was one continued lie?Such a person must be perpetually on the watch against his warmest friends and closest connections; always tremblingly afraid to betray a secret, the discovery of which would be equally fatal to his interests and character. This was nothing more nor less than to lead a life of deception and fraud to the last moment of human existence. The character of an individual thus circumstanced was true only in its hypocrisy. The man who could for months 1252 conceal the manner in which he had voted—who could hold his tongue on that subject which was the universal topic of conversation—who could keep his secret from his friend and his wife, who would never mention it even at the ale-house, would be false to his country and his friend, and could neither be true nor faithful in any of the relations of life; nor would men believe him true, unless human thought were subverted. The result would be, either that the ballot should be altogether ineffectual, or it would be a little effectual—for it could never be very effectual, and that little efficacy would be purchased by the fearful sacrifices which he had endeavoured to depict. On this point, therefore, he differed from his hon. and learned friend. He agreed fully in the principle advocated by his hon. and learned friend, and his noble friend, but in the present condition of this country, and desirous as he was that it should continue to enjoy the benefit of a limited monarchy, which was the blessing of the nation—a blessing, no doubt, for which we paid a high price, and which was accompanied by some difficulties and embarrassments from which the form to which he had adverted was exempt, but which, on the balance, and looking at the dispositions and habits of the men amongst whom our lot was cast, was the wisest and the happiest form of government that could be adopted, he was anxious to perpetuate these advantages, and to preserve them from the jeopardy, he would not say of subversion, but even of encountering a shock. It was, therefore, his earnest desire to see the blemishes pointed out by his noble friend removed. The great wealth of these realms, the peaceable, industrious, and generally temperate habits of the loyal population, afforded ground for hope that this would soon be the case; and the circumstance upon which he most relied was the increased diffusion of knowledge, and the great general improvement in the situations and capacities of the people; and it seemed to him to follow as a necessary conclusion, from their improved state, that they should have a somewhat greater, he did not expect a much greater, but a somewhat greater share in the management of affairs than in former times the Constitution had allotted them. This was the deliberate conviction of his mind; not the random speculation of a reckless and wholesale reformer, who looked to no consequences, and disregarded the hazards of an experi- 1253 ment, but the impression of one who looked for a reformation, not a change of our Constitution, such a reformation as should make it the means of imparting the greatest practical benefit to the people of this nation.
§ Mr. O'Connell
rose amid cries of "Question." He said, that on both sides of the House an excellent debate had been carried on, not upon his motion, but upon one which was to be made at three o'clock in the morning, if the House should have the patience to sit so long. He complained of this as unfair treatment of the great subject which he had brought under the notice of the House, and he thought it right that the public should know that the question of reform had not been met by a manly negative on the other side—not by an acquiescence on that side with those who differed from him; but by a bye-battle, in which subjects were discussed which were altogether foreign to his motion. He could only say, notwithstanding, that the noble Lord should never bring forward any proposition tending to gain the least possible point in favour of reform in which he should not have his earnest though humble vote, however that noble Lord might disturb a debate upon a subject which fell into hands so humble as his. The grounds upon which he sustained his motion had not been touched. The right hon. Baronet had not denied the existence of the parliamentary corruption and abuse of which he (Mr. O'Connell) complained; nor had any of the hon. members on his own side of the House attempted to rebut the charge, or to question, or qualify in any manner, the facts of trafficking in boroughs, and of seats in that House being bought and sold like stalls in Smithfield. It was well, therefore, that the people should know that anxious as men might be to preserve the fruits of corruption, none were hardy enough to deny its existence. The right hon. Baronet objected to give the people of England their rights, arguing that the monarchy would be in danger if the influence of Peers were not maintained, and the corruption and barter of seats in that House perpetuated. Gracious God! was this a doctrine to be advanced in that House? He denied that the monarchy of England was based upon such principles as these. The monarchy would be undermined by the corruption against which he protested. The hon. and learned member 1254 for Knaresborough said, that the ballot could not be taken fairly, and he referred to the ballot in America in support of his argument. But why did the hon. and learned Member go so far? Why did he pass by a country much nearer home? Why did he not look to France, where there were 80,000 voters, and where, although there were 60,000 places which would be fit for the persons exercising this privilege, yet the people returned a majority—and how but by means of the ballot? The hon. and learned Member would protect the people from hypocrisy by making them slaves. As to triennial Parliaments, he should himself have been desirous to extend the principle further, but he took the example from a period of our history to which all men must look back with interest. In conclusion, he would say, that all who wished for reform ought to support him, and even those who differed from him as to details ought to agree with him as to the propriety of bringing in the Bill.
said, in explanation, that his observations, upon which the hon. and learned member for Clare founded the argument, that he would make the people slaves, proceeded on the supposition that the tenant had a harsh landlord, who would be disposed to enforce his power against him; not that he believed the people would suffer such power to influence them against their conscience and their rights. He admitted that slavery was worse than hypocrisy, except that the worst proofs of slavery were falsehood and hypocrisy.
§ The House then divided, and the numbers were—For the Motion 13; Against it 319—Majority 306.
|List of the Minority.|
|Blandford, Marq. of||Rancliffe, Lord|
|Dawson, Alex.||Waithman, Alderman|
|Euston, Lord||Wood, Alderman|
|Grattan, Henry||Wood, John|
|Hobhouse, J. C.||Wyvill, M.|
|Marshall, William||Joseph Hume|
|Pallmer, C. N. (Surrey)||Daniel O'Connell|
Lord John Russell
then moved as a Resolution, "That it is expedient to extend the basis of the Representation of the People in this House."
§ For the Motion 117; Against it 213—Majority 96.
|List of the Minority.|
|Althorp, Lord||Macdonald, Sir J.|
|Baring, Francis||Milton, Lord|
|Beaumont, Thos. W.||Monck, J. B.|
|Belgrave, Lord||Morpeth, Viscount|
|Benett, T.||Normanby, Lord|
|Bernal, Ralph||Nugent, Lord|
|Blandford, Marquis||O'Connell, Daniel|
|Brougham, Henry||Ord, William|
|Brougham, James||Pallmer, N.|
|Brownlow, Charles||Palmer, Charles F.|
|Byng, George||Pendarvis, E. W. W.|
|Calvert, N.||Philips, George R.|
|Carter, B.||Ponsonby, Hon. W. F.|
|Cavendish, William||Ponsonby, Hon. F.|
|Cholmeley, M. J.||Ponsonby, Hon. Geo.|
|Clifton, Lord||Poulett, Lord Wm.|
|Clive, Edward B.||Poyntz, William S.|
|Coke, Thos.||Prettie, Hon. F. H.|
|Craddock, Col.||Price, Sir Robert|
|Crompton, Samuel||Protheroe, Edward|
|Davies, Col.||Power, R.|
|Dawson, Alexander||Ramsbottom, John|
|Duncombe, Thos.||Rancliffe, Lord|
|Dundas, Hon. Thos.||Rickford, Wm.|
|Dundas, Sir Robert||Rice, Thomas Spring|
|Easthope, John||Robinson, Sir George|
|Ebrington, Lord||Robinson, George R.|
|Ellis, Hon. Agar||Rumbold, C. E.|
|Evans, Col.||Russell, Lord John|
|Euston, Earl||Russell, Lord Wm.|
|Fazakerly, John N.||Sebright, Sir John|
|Fergusson, Sir R. C.||Slaney, R. W.|
|Fitzgibbon, Hon. R.||Smith, Wm.|
|Fortescue, Hon. G. M.||Smith, John|
|Fyler, Thos.||Stanley, Edward|
|Gordon, R.||Tavistock, Marquis|
|Graham, Sir James||Talbot, R. W.|
|Grattan, James||Tennyson, Charles|
|Grattan, Henry||Thomson, C. P.|
|Guise, Sir William||Thompson, P. B.|
|Harvey, D. W.||Townsend, Lord Chas.|
|Heron, Sir Robert||Tufton, Hon. H.|
|Honywood, W. P.||Waithman, Alderman|
|Howick, Lord||Ward, John|
|Hume, Joseph||Webb, Colonel|
|Hutchinson, J. H.||Westenra, Hon. H. R.|
|Jephson, O. D.||Whitbread, William|
|Kemp, Thos. R.||White, Henry|
|Kennedy, T. F.||Wilbraham, George|
|Killeen, Lord||Wood, Alderman|
|Labouchere, Henry||Wood, Charles|
|Lambe, Hon. George||Wood, John|
|Lambert, J. S.||Wyvil, M.|
|Langston, James H.||TELLERS.|
|Latouche, Robert||Hobhouse, J. C.|
|Lennard, Thos. B.||Russell, Lord John PAIRED OFF.|
|Lloyd, Sir E.|
|Lock, John||Anson, Hon. Colonel|
|Lushington, Dr.||Birch, John|
|Macauley, J. S.||Calvert, Charles|
|Martin, John||Davenport, E. D.|
|Marjoribanks, Stewart||Denison, W. J.|
|Marshall, John||Dundas, Captain Geo.|
|Marshall, William||Guest, J. J.|
|Marryatt, Josh.||Lester, Benjamin|
|Maxwell, Harry||Leycester, R.|
|Mackintosh, Sir James||Robarts, A. W.|
|Newport, Sir J.||Sykes, Daniel|
|Phillips, Sir George||Taylor, M. A.|
|Ramsden, J. C.||Wilson, Sir Robert|
|Rowley, Sir William||Wrottesley, Sir John|