wished to say a word or two at this moment, with the view of obtaining from the noble Lord opposite an explanation respecting a matter of some importance. The matter was one to which he was perfectly aware the attention of Government had been drawn. He should abstain from any comment upon the subject, but he was sure that when he mentioned it the noble Lord would be ready to give him an answer, and thus do justice to the character of a highly hon. individual. There had been various rumours circulated in and out of that House, which the noble Lord must know were most grating to the feelings of a respectable individual; he meant Mr. Gregson, and if he called the attention of the noble Lord to it now, it was in the belief that he would readily do justice to the injured feelings of that individual. He asked whether the noble Lord had not heard a statement, that the clause of the new Bill, relating to the payment of the 10l. rent in smaller portions than by quarterly payments bad been introduced by an enemy of the Bill, and without the authority of the Government; and whether that statement was true; or whether the Gentleman alluded to was not free from all blame whatever on the subject?
§ Lord Althorp
answered, that the circumstance to which the hon. Member alluded, was a statement made in some of the public papers, that Mr. Gregson had, without the authority of the Government, made an alteration in the Bill, with the intention to injure the measure and its proposers in the eyes of the public. Mr. Gregson had come to him to state the cir- 655 cumstance alluded to, and said to him, that he was aware there was no foundation for the rumour; which, therefore, he (Mr. Gregson) wished him (Lord Althorp) to contradict. The fact was, that the alteration in question had been made by order of the Government, and that Mr. Gregson had nothing to do with the order but to execute it. He (Lord Althorp) told that gentleman, that on the first opportunity he would state, that he had had no further connection with the alteration than to put it into execution. He expected he should have had that opportunity on Wednesday or Thursday night; but no such opportunity was offered, and he did not feel it right for him, of his own accord, to bring forward a matter that had no relation to the subject under discussion. When the alteration was made, it was done without any other intention than that of securing a class of voters of the amount of renting mentioned in the Bill—its intention was merely that the renting should be bona fide. He admitted, that they were mistaken. When they made the alteration, they were not at all aware that they should disfranchise so many persons as it was now proved they would if that clause had continued in the Bill; but having discovered what would be the effect of the clause, they at once determined to abandon it. When it was first proposed, Mr. Gregson started some difficulties, but he (Lord Althorp) did not then understand, that there was any further objection than that of the difficulty of wording the clause.
said, the answer of the noble Lord met in some manner, but not altogether, the object he had in view. The noble Lord said, that, when the error was discovered, Mr. Gregson had called their attention to some difficulties, but, notwithstanding that, the Government had directed the alteration to be made, and that Mr. Gregson did not state what the objection was, or, at least, the noble Lord did not understand it. On the contrary, he (Mr. Estcourt) understood, that Mr. Gregson had stated what the objection was, and that he was, notwithstanding, directed to prepare the Bill with that clause in it. As it was now stated, it would appear that Mr. Gregson had not put the Government into possession of the real objection to the clause. He (Mr. Estcourt) apprehended that, in fact, Mr. Gregson had done so, but that he was, notwithstanding, directed, to prepare the 656 Bill according to the instructions of the Government. If that was the fact, he took it for granted that the noble Lord would be willing to state that no blame whatever attached to Mr. Gregson.
§ Lord Althorp
certainly could not say, that Mr. Gregson had done what the hon. Member supposed. On the contrary, he believed that Mr. Gregson did not state that it was a general custom in leases to insert a clause that the rent should be paid quarterly, and that, as that was the case, many bona fide 10l. householders would be disfranchised. He believed, that Mr. Gregson had told him this clause would disfranchise many persons, but he was not aware that he had said more. At any rate he (Lord Althorp) would say, that nothing Mr. Gregson stated, had given him to understand what would be the extent of the disfranchisement of those, to whom the original Bill gave the right of suffrage, consequent on the clause. He believed that his noble friend near him would confirm this statement.
Lord J. Russell
said, that his impression was the same as that of his noble friend—that when the alteration was agreed on by the Government, Mr. Gregson stated, that there would be difficulties and objections, for that there were persons paying sufficient rent, who, however, paid it quarterly; but that it went to any extent, or anything like the extent to which they now found it would go, Mr. Gregson had not given them the least idea. He would add, that in the course of preparing a Bill comprehending provisions of such an important nature, and every clause of which required to be considered and to be reconsidered, there often did pass between the Government and persons in the situation of Mr. Gregson a great variety of discussions; in the course of which objections might be stated, and many of them, of course, would leave little or no impression on the mind. He believed, that Mr. Gregson had not fully called their attention to the objections to this clause, from the circumstance that what passed upon the subject had not left much impression upon his mind—not more than any of the others. He must be permitted to say further, that although he was sorry any persons should thus have thrown blame upon Mr. Gregson, under circumstances in which he was not to be blamed at all yet he must add, that the publication of any communication of so confidential a nature as those that passed be- 657 tween Ministers and the persons employed to draw up the Bill, must be extremely prejudicial to the public service; and it would be impossible for him, after this explanation, to enter further into communication on the subject, without insisting that all which passed must be strictly confidential and secret. Mr. Gregson must have had that feeling when he saw the paragraphs now referred to, and must have fell that, if they were contradicted, they should be contradicted in that House, and ought not to meet the public eye in any other way, particularly through statements totally groundless or discreditable, and displaying a total contempt for truth.
said, after the imputations thrown out, and the charge made, that this clause had emanated from the enemy's camp, he thought some further explanation necessary. When he introduced the circumstances, he hoped to obtain a plain and direct answer, and if he did not receive it, he should be compelled to go fully into all the circumstances. He therefore must again require the noble Lord to declare, that no blame whatever attached to Mr. Gregson, and that he was not the cause of the introduction of this clause into the Bill.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the statement he made was, that Mr. Gregson had no concern whatever with this clause, except to draw it up according to the orders he received. He had done what he could to exempt Mr. Gregson, and was free to declare, that neither professionally nor otherwise was any blame attributable to him. He believed him to be a truly honourable man.
Sir R. Peel
did not wish to mix up with this discussion any thing relating to the important clause now referred to. All he meant was, to confine himself to the subject of the reports reflecting on the character and honour of Mr. Gregson. So far from blaming Mr. Gregson for introducing the clause, the noble Lord (Althorp) had entirely acquitted Mr. Gregson on that point. He (Sir Robert Peel) should have been satisfied with that statement, had it not been for an observation made by another noble Lord (Lord John Russell)—an observation which did seem to cast an imputation on the integrity of Mr. Gregson. He knew from his personal experience, that Mr. Gregson valued his personal honour and integrity more than his life, 658 and there were some expressions in the speech of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), that did seem to impute something improper to that gentleman. He (Sir R. Peel) had some years ago selected Mr. Gregson for his present office. He had intrusted that gentleman to draw up other bills, and always found him most scrupulously exact and trustworthy. That gentleman had been continued in office by the present Government, and so scrupulously had he acted since his connection with them commenced, that although that Gentleman had long been on terms of friendly private intercourse with him, he had interdicted all communication between them, fearing, perhaps, that on the friendly terms on which they stood with relation to each other, the question ' of Reform might come to be discussed between them, and he might state in the course of conversation some private details of office. The consequence of this was, that neither directly nor indirectly had any subject of communication passed between them for some time past. He called on the noble Lord to say, whether in the observation he had made he referred to Mr. Gregson?
Lord J. Russell
had no hesitation in declaring, that in what he had said, he made no reference whatever to the character or honour of Mr. Gregson with respect to his conduct in this proceeding. If the light hon. Baronet recollected rightly, he would remember, that he (Lord J. Russell) had said, that Mr. Gregson was himself of opinion, that if unfounded statements made their way into the public papers, the only way to contradict them was to come to the Government to do so. He said this with respect to Mr. Gregson; but he added, that the practice itself, of giving pretended accounts of what passed between the Government and confidential persons, was most prejudicial, and ought not to be repeated. He would now state most freely, that in all his intercourse with Mr. Gregson he had reason to be satisfied with the ability and experience of that gentleman, on whose integrity he placed the fullest reliance.
Sir R. Peel
expressed himself satisfied with the explanation, as he understood the noble Lord to say, that these pretended accounts in the newspapers were not imputable to Mr. Gregson?
Sir John B. Walsh
rose and said, that on a former occasion, in the last Parliament, a Bill, differing from the present in some particulars, but similar to it in its principles and general provisions, had been introduced by his Majesty's Ministers, and the House would, perhaps, bear in mind, that to that Bill be had expressed his open hostility. He had stated to his constituents upon the hustings, that if any subsequent considerations of the subject should lead him to alter his first impressions, that no feelings of pride, that no fear of appearing inconsistent, would, on a subject of such incalculable importance, deter him from coming forward and boldly declaring that he had taken erroneous views of the measure. He was now bound to state to the House, that a calm and dispassionate view of the subject had led him to no such result. The more he considered the bearings and tendencies of the measure, the more deeply was he impressed with the danger that it would work to the British Constitution, and to the whole system of social order. Hon. Members opposite had properly deprecated all warmth of expression, all exasperation of feeling, all out breakings of ill temper, and he cordially concurred with them in saying, that the consideration of the measure required the utmost possible calmness. But among many unfortunate effects of a measure of this kind, one was, that it would let loose in society a spirit of the bitterest kind. The first consequence of this measure was, that the spirit to which he had alluded had already been communicated throughout the country. He might appeal upon this subject to the public Press, and to the personal experience of every Member of that House, whether, in the space of the four months since the measure had been first brought forward, divisions, and a spirit of bitterness and animosity had not prevailed, beyond all parallel in the recollection of the younger Members of Parliament, and he doubted whether they had been paralleled in those party divisions which had existed at an earlier period. He was afraid that it was impossible to foresee how far this spirit of dissension might go. It had already destroyed all the established and salutary connexions between landlord and tenant, between tradesman and customer, and this alone was a very bad prelude to the future 660 consequences of the measure. He had witnessed these feelings, and the consequences of them, with much alarm; nor did he think that it was possible for any person, who seriously considered the established order of society as something worth preserving, to regard passing events, and the present feelings of society, without entertaining dire forebodings of the future consequences. It had been publicly declared, that a great many Gentlemen in that House had been returned solely because they were pledged to vote for this measure. They were pledged to vote for it without consulting their own judgment. They had pledged themselves to vote for it before they had had any opportunity of understanding its nature. If this were the case, the Government ceased to be a Representative Government. There was an end to Representative Government such as it had long been established in this country. He could cite the authority of Mr. Burke upon the subject, at a period when Mr. Burke was one of the leading members of the Whig party. He alluded to his speech to the electors of the city of Bristol, at a period long before the French Revolution, and of course before the changes of Mr. Burke's political principles, which were consequent upon that event. Mr. Burke then said, in defending the principle that a Representative "was not a member for Bristol, but a Member of Parliament," "Your Representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment, and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion." His own opinion entirely accorded with that of Mr. Burke. The excitements of this question of Parliamentary Reform by his Majesty's Ministers, had already led the country into riots, disturbances, and breaches of the peace, of a most serious nature. This was a symptom of the very great danger of too much increasing the democratic influences in the country—influences which had already begun to show themselves in so alarming a manner. He alluded particularly to what had taken place in Banbury, at Rye, at Wigan, and throughout the southern parts of Scotland. He certainly could not accuse the King's Speech, nor his Majesty's Government of occasioning these scenes of riot and disturbances of all social order, but the agitation of this question of Reform had not only occasioned riots, but riots which had been attended with, the loss of life. He 661 would lake the liberty of reading to the House an extract from a newspaper upon the subject. He held in his hand The Cambrian, a Swansea paper, which contained the evidence upon oath of a Mr. Petherick, of Merthyr Tydvil. This Mr. Petherick deposed before the Coroner, that "In consequence of hearing there was to be a meeting of the workmen and miners on the Waine Hill, near Dowlais, on Monday, the 30th of May last, I went there in order to ascertain what they had in hand. It was also a fair clay. The meeting was held about one hundred yards distant from the fair. There were about two thousand at the meeting; they had a white flag. There was a ' Crown' on it, and ' God save William the Fourth,' and ' Reform in Parliament.' I heard some of the mob say, they were disappointed at not having met a more numerous body from the Monmouth shire works. They appeared very quiet, but had no chairman, nor did I see any one taking notes of their proceedings. The assembly appeared to be composed of the working class—or miners chiefly. I heard several of them speak—one of them from notes—in which he described the revenues of the Bishops and the Church of England. Most of them spoke in favour of what they called Reform in Parliament, by which, they said the men would obtain their rights, and that they would be properly Represented in Parliament; and one of them said, that the object of the meeting was, to draw up an address, or petition, as some of them called it, to thank the King for the great Reform which he had brought for them. And further on—the speeches are generally very incoherent and rambling —one of the speaker's said, they must and would have the Court, of Requests down; he also said—' You have been petitioning Parliament several times, and for years, and there is no notice taken of you. My plan is to bring the matter to a short conclusion, and I advise every one of you to refrain from working any longer.'" These persons were impatient for Reform. Three days after this, many of these people had again met in greater number, for the purpose of disarming- his Majesty's troops. The state of politics on the Continent had made him consider the subject with additional alarm, for he believed that the excitement throughout England on the subject of Reform had been produced, in a great measure, by the events that had 662 taken place in July last in Paris. He did not believe, that the French people would be able to proceed long in a manner consistent, with their conduct in July; but, abstractedly considered, he thought the achievements of that people were glorious, and that they were worthy of the sympathy of every nation. But he feared that the French were incapable of acting with moderation, and that the throne of that country was now held by the most insecure tenure possible. The Monarch of France might suddenly, and at no distant period, be precipitated from his throne; and if this took place, the next step would be, the establishment of a military republic, warring with all its neighbours. What appeared to him the strongest possible reason for caution and prudence—for now, at least, not attempting to touch our own institutions he meant the spirit of change that was making such rapid progress on the continent—seemed to the Ministers a reason for beginning their essays on our Constitution. The mere progress of change in France, where the people had yet many political evils to throw off, was certainly with him no reason for undertaking alteration at home. With the prospect of an alarming spirit of democracy rising up in a neighbouring country, his Majesty's Ministers were about to give a large accession of democratic influence to the people of England. He must allude to the speech of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) delivered on a former occasion, which, though it might not be quite regular to remark upon it now, yet he trusted the House would tolerate his making a few remarks, as the noble Lord had charged him with having betrayed gross ignorance of the History of England, in a trifling publication which he had put forth. The noble Lord made this charge because he had argued, that this Bill would drive from the House all the respectable Representatives, and sweep away those distinctions and gradations in society which had tended to advance the prosperity of the country. He still adhered to this opinion; it did not rest upon history; he did not search for it in musty records, or in black-letter reading; he did not recur to the times of the Tudors for it. In coming to that conclusion he confined himself to modern times, and to what came under his own observation. He saw in these boroughs which it was now proposed to disfranchise, the places from which gentlemen of moderate fortune, and be- 663 longing to the middle ranks, were able to obtain access to this House. These boroughs also afforded the means to gentlemen to obtain seats whose presence might be most desirable, and whose advice was of great importance to the country, and who might, from some particular circumstances, not be able to obtain a seat in this House for any populous place; this was his view of the case; the landed aristocracy might be returned, but the monied classes would be excluded. For these reasons he would oppose the Bill firmly, openly, and determinedly, in all its stages, confident that in doing so he should be contributing his aid towards averting danger— imminent danger, perhaps ruin—from his country. If, however, his efforts, and those on his side of the House, should be unsuccessful, and that the Bill should pass into a law, they would only have to appeal firmly, but humbly, to another tribunal, in the full conviction that they should receive their final award from posterity. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ Mr. Fynes Clinton
rose to second the amendment. The supporters of the measure appealed with vaunting confidence to the large majority which, according to them, had been returned pledged to vote for the Bill; but he had very much misread both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, if such pledges were not most unconstitutional and repugnant to the character of a deliberative Assembly. If such were the constitution of the present House of Commons, what might they not expect from a House of Commons chosen under the Reform Bill?, Would not such a House lose all pretensions to the name of a deliberative assembly? In fact, if Members were only the puppets of the popular will, was there not an end to all freedom of discussion, and to that public conduct, of which calm inquiry and unbiassed judgment were the guides?— in a word, there was an end to that House, as a deliberative branch of the Legislature, and thence to the stability of the Government. They had been told, that to identify that House more than it had of late years been with public opinion, would be only to carry it back to its character under our ancestors, for that they more faithfully represented the feelings and interests of the people than the House of Commons at present. He denied the assertion, and would contend, 664 that the character of that House had been growing more and more popular—it had, in fact, kept pace with the influence of the Press, and the diffusion of knowledge, in yielding to the control of public opinion. He did not regret this control of public opinion; far from it; but he maintained, that while they respected as they ought to do the popular voice, they should preserve their deliberative character. If, instead of calmly and dispassionately discussing questions involving the public interests, they veered round with every breath of the popular voice, without the choice of an opinion of their own, they would cease to be an English House of Commons in the spirit of the British Constitution. They owed it no less to the public than to themselves to preserve their deliberative character—subject, of course, to the vigilant control of calmly exercised public opinion, so that the argument founded on the pledges given on the hustings to vote for the Bill, was, in the eye of calm dispassionate judgment, only a strong reason for voting against it. The House had ever, till the present occasion, regulated its conduct by a regard for the general weal, without a too ready yielding to the mere demand for the moment. "But," say the supporters of the Bill, "consider the loudness and unanimity of the demand for Reform." Yes; but where was this loudness and unanimity previous to the promulgation of the present measure? If the number of petitions were a criterion, how came it that they had not long since passed a law for the "immediate abolition of negro slavery," the prayer of so many petitions to that House? If the popular voice, as expressed by numerous petitions, were a reason for hon. Members pledging themselves, will I—nill I, to vote for a particular measure, how came it that they had not pledged themselves promptly to put an end to negro slavery? With respect to it they had at least twenty petitions to one in November and December last, as compared with the petitions in favour of Reform? But the House very properly were not driven to act without due deliberation by these numerous petitions with respect to a question beset with difficulties, and should not, therefore, be driven, so to act with respect to Reform. Look at the dilemma in which these pledges placed the supporters of the Bill. They pledged themselves to support a specific measure to the very letter—"the Bill, the whole 665 Bill, and nothing but the Bill,"—and yet, if perchance—and the thing was not impossible, nay, it had actually happened—that the original framers of this specific measure did make some alterations in it, they were bound by their pledge to vote against it. Supposing that the noble Lord who brought forward the Bill had happened to have hit upon some one of his other plans which he, from time to time, had introduced to the consideration of the House, instead of the present, from which it differed as much as they did from each other, how would the pledged majority act? But, alter all, and he felt he was dwelling longer on this "pledged" argument than it merited, the question for their consideration was, whether it was possible to have a House of Commons capable of more efficiently exercising its legislative functions, and being more faithful guardians of the interests of the empire at large, than the present? He denied the possibility. He knew there were some theoretical irregularities in the constitution of the House, but he maintained that the Bill would not remove them. And what was the main feature of this Bill? Was it aristocratical or democratical, as had been alleged with equal emphasis by opposite parties? Why, it was a Bill that went, at one blow, to destroy every corporation in the country, and by so doing to destroy all public confidence in chartered rights; and all under the pretext of enlarging the Representation, which was six times more extensive than the Representation in the far more populous kingdom of France. And who were the prime supporters of this excellent measure? Why, the Radicals; and that, too, on the avowed ground that it would be a step—a means to/an end, towards those more sweeping measures—the destruction of Church property for example—which they so ardently cherished. He was quite content to take the character of the Bill from these allies of the Ministry; they were a quick-sighted, vigilant class, and they, as it appeared to him, saw the Bill in a much more just point of view than those who would describe it as an aristocratically measure, or, as the noble Lord said, "strengthening of the influence of property, by placing the Representation entirely upon the basis of property." One word, in reference to the effect which the Bill would have upon the other House of Parliament. On this point they were not left to conjecture; they had the evidence 666 of history—their own history—to guide their decisions. The doctrine of the Sovereignty of the people, "that the people were the sole source of all civil power," had been, as they were all aware, not only asserted, but acted on, by the Republicans who led Charles 1st to the scaffold. And what was the consequence? He begged the modern advocates of the doctrine, the pledged supporters of the democratically Reform Bill, to consider it. The King was beheaded; and the House of Lords having been voted "useless and mischievous," was abolished for ever. But, without immediately anticipating such extreme results from the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people, let them consider the consequences of a collision between the two Houses of Parliament. In the event of such a collision, it required little sagacity to foresee which of the two would go to the wall, for the House of Lords must inevitably give way. Well, he would not dwell on this point, but proceed to remark on the internal elements of endless discussion, agitation, and confusion, which the Bill would embody. Ministers said, that their measure was to be final—that, in fact, it was so perfect, that all classes of reformers must be satisfied with it; but a bird's-eye glance showed it to be fruitful in practical no less than theoretical anomalies. For example, its promulgators told them that its principle was based on population; and yet most inconsistently it gave to large and thriving towns, containing from 40,000 to 60,000 inhabitants, but one Representative, while they permitted small places, not containing a tithe of that population, to return two Members. Now this glaring anomaly was not a mere speculative source of complaint and agitation. He had examined a petition from Brighton, in which the petitioners complain, that whilst that town, with its 40,000 respectable inhabitants, is to have but one Member, the adjoining towns of Lewes and Chichester, were to return four, and several comparatively small places in the neighbour hood were to continue to have two Representatives. He had also examined a petition from Gainsborough, in Lincolnshire, in which the petitioners justly complain, that while the least populous and wealthy division of that county would have eight Members under the Bill, their division would have but one. And the same anomalies would be found in every county in England. There was 667 Stockport, for example—and it was, he thought, a striking illustration of the defects of the Bill, even when judged by the alleged principles of its framers—with its population of 60,000, for which the Bill provided one Member, while the borough of Malton, with its population of 4,005, was to retain two. Now he put it to the House, how, in common fairness, could the advocates of the Bill pretend to reconcile these great practical and theoretical anomalies with its population principle? They were told, to be sure, that their ancestors had acted on this population principle, and that they were merely returning to this wise policy in extending the franchise to the large unrepresented towns; but he would confidently ask them, to what large towns since the time of Simon de Mont fort was the right of Representation extended on the sole principle of population? It was true, that most of the large towns in the reign of Henry 3rd returned Members to Parliament; but, it was equally true, that population was not the ground on which they enjoyed the right. He knew this point had been much Controverted; but he spoke in the presence of one who, more than any man in that House was competent to offer an opinion on the subject, whose work, The History of England (as published in the Cabinet Cyclopedia) he had read with great profit and pleasure, and of which it was enough to say, that it was worthy of its author. It was hardly necessary to add, that he alluded to the right hon. member for Knaresborough (Sir J. Mackintosh). He appealed to that right hon. Gentleman's admirable work as an authority, when he stated, that many of those places which at' present enjoyed the right of Representation were not more populous, nor relatively more considerable when first endowed with the franchise, than at present; showing, therefore, that the population principle was not the principle acted upon by our ancestors. Nay more, not only was population not the basis of our ancient system of Representation, but there were many places which had enjoyed the right when they were more populous and thriving, and therefore relatively more considerable than they were at present, or when they received the franchise. Such was the case with Boston, in Lincolnshire, for instance, which was distinguished in the early ages of our history for its wealth, numbers, and importance. From the time of Edward 1st, two 668 centuries downward it appeared, by the Returns in the Exchequer, that the Customs of that port were greater than any except those of London, exceeding those of Bristol, and yet it was only invested with the power of returning Members in the reign of Edward 6th. The truth was, accident and peculiar circumstances had a chief hand in determining what places should receive Representatives, and what should cease to exercise the right; and when hon. Members talked of acting on the principles of Representation which prevailed among our ancestors, they talked of principles which our ancestors never dreamed of, or, at most, had of them but shadowy glimpses. Many of the places which, under the Plantagenet's, returned Members, ceased to exercise that right under the Tudors, and prayed to be exempt from the "burthen," on the score of poverty. Of this fact Liverpool was a curious illustration; for that town, which was now so prosperous, even as late as the time -of Elizabeth petitioned her Majesty not to insist on Members being returned from her "poor and decayed borough of Liverpool." It was only, as they were all aware, in the time of her successor James, that it became a law, that a place to which a writ had originally been sent should ever after continue to exercise the right of returning Members. He alluded to the decision of the Committee on the boroughs of Wend over and Amersham, of which Sir Edward Coke, and Noy, and other celebrated men of that time were Members—adecision which had been acted upon ever since, the only difficulty being that of obtaining valid proof of a writ having been sent to any borough claiming the right of Representation. It was a curious fact with respect to the Bill before the House, that the very boroughs Wend over and Amersham, should be included in the schedules A and B, so that having been restored to their privileges in the reign of James 1st, by the Committee of great constitutional lawyers to which he had referred, they were now placed among those to be wholly abolished under the provisions of this Bill, and this, too, without the remotest imputation of blame or abuse, but in conformity with mere theory. Yet, with these facts before them, it was seriously said, that the change was made in conformity with the ancient practice of the Constitution. But it was absurd to talk of reforming the House upon the system of our ancestors, for it was assumed, which 669 was not the case, that the House was established and formed upon some previously conceived system, whereas on the contrary the Constitution had grown up gradually, and the House of Commons like other parts of it, had been adapted by time and circumstances, to the wants and wishes of the people. The great problem was, in all free governments to secure the greatest degree of liberty consistent with good order, and the perfect security of property. Now, it appeared to him, that in this country for the last century and a half, we had happily solved that problem and he must conclude by saying, that as under the present system of Representation, the country had advanced in power, wealth, and intelligence, he would not consent to have it rashly tampered with, but would resist, as far as in him lay, a Bill which placed all our institutions in imminent hazard for the mere purpose of theoretical experiments.
§ The amendment was then put.
Sir James Mackintosh
spoke to the following effect:* Mr. Speaker,—I feel no surprise, and, certainly, no regret, at the applause which followed the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, whose speeches never leave any unpleasant impression, but the reflection, that he speaks so seldom. Much of that excellent speech so immediately bears on the whole question of Parliamentary Reform, that it will naturally lead me to the consideration of the general principle of the Bill before us. I must, however, premise a very few remarks on the speech of the hon. Baronet; though I shall not follow him through his account of the squabble between the labourers and their employers at Merthyr Tydvil, which I leave to the justice of the law, or, what is better, to the prudence and principle of both parties. Neither can I seriously handle his objection to the Bill, that it has produced a strong interest, and divided opinions throughout the kingdom. Such objections prove too much. They would exclude the most important questions, and, certainly, all reformatory measures. It is one of the chief advantages of free governments, that they excite, sometimes to an inconvenient degree, but, upon the whole, with the utmost benefit, all the generous feelings, all the efforts for a public cause, of which human* Printed, by authority, from the corrected report published by Ridgway.670 nature is capable. But there is one point in the ingenious speech of the hon. Baronet, which, as it touches the great doctrines of the Constitution, and involves a reflection on the conduct of many Members of this House, cannot be passed over, without an exposition of the fallacy which shuts his eyes to very plain truths. Mr. Burke, indeed, in the famous speech at Bristol, told his constituents, that as soon as he was elected, however he might respect their opinions, his votes must be governed by his own conscience. This doctrine was indisputably true; but does he not, by his elaborate justification of his public conduct, admit their jurisdiction over it, and acknowledge, that if he failed in converting them, they had an undoubted right to reject him. But if they could justly reject him, for differing from what they thought right, it follows, most evidently, that they might, with equal justice, refuse their suffrages to him, if they thought his future votes likely to differ from what they deemed indispensable to the public weal. If they doubted what that future conduct might be, they were entitled, and bound to require a satisfactory explanation, either in public or in private; and in case of unsatisfactory, or of no explanation, to refuse their support to the candidate. This duty the people may exercise in whatever form they deem most effectual. They impose no restriction on the conscience of the candidate; they only satisfy their own conscience, by rejecting a candidate, of whose conduct, on the most momentous question, they have reason to doubt. Far less could constituents be absolved, on the present occasion, from the absolute duty of ascertaining the determination of candidates on the subject of Parliamentary Reform. His Majesty, in his Speech from the Throne, on the 22nd of April, was pleased to declare, "I have come to meet you, for the purpose of proroguing Parliament, with a view to its immediate dissolution. I have been induced to resort to this measure, for the purpose of ascertaining the sense of my people, in the way in which it can be most constitutionally and authentically expressed, on the expediency of making such changes in the Representation as circumstances may appear to require; and which, founded upon the acknowledged principles of the Constitution, may tend at once to uphold the just rights and prerogatives of the Crown, and 671 to give security to the liberties of the subject." What answer could the people have made to the appeal thus generously made to them, without taking all necessary means to be assured that the votes of those whom they chose, would sufficiently manifest to him the sense of his people, on the changes necessary to be made in the Representation. On subjects of foreign policy, a long silence has been observed on this side of the House; and undisturbed, I am bound to add, by the opposite side, for reasons which are very obvious. We are silent, and we are allowed to be silent; because a word spoken awry might occasion fatal explosions. The affairs of the Continent are so entangled with each other, and the mutual relations of all nations are so embroiled, that we have forborne to express those feelings, which must agitate the breast of every human being, at the sight of that admirable and afflicting struggle on which the eyes of Europe are constantly, however silently, fixed. As it is admitted by the hon. Baronet, that the resistance of the French to usurpation last year was glorious to all who were concerned in it; it follows, that being just, it has no need of being sanctioned by the approbation of fortune. Whatever the event may be, the people of Paris were justified by the necessity of defending their legal liberties, and constitutional rights, against lawless violence. Who, then, are morally answerable for the unfortunate confusions which followed; for the farther commotion, which Heaven avert, which may convulse France and Europe? Who opened the floodgates of discord on mankind? Not the friends of liberty; not the _advocates of popular principles. Their/hands are clean. They took up arms only to defend themselves against wrong. I hold sacred every retreat of misfortune, and desire not to disturb fallen greatness. But justice compels me to say, that the hands of the late King of France were made to unlock these gates by his usurping ordinances. "To open, but to shut surpassed his power." The dangers of Europe do not originate in democratical principles, or democratical power. They arose from those who conspired the subversion of all popular rights, however sanctioned by oaths, by constitution, and by laws. I shall now directly proceed to the latter part of the speech of the hon. and learned member for Borough bridge, which regards the general principle 672 and character of this Bill. In doing so, I shall endeavour, as far as may be, not to displease the fastidious ears of the hon. Baronet, by frequently repeating the barbarous names of the Tudors and Plantagenet's. I must, however, follow the hon. and learned Member to the fountains of our Government and laws, whither, indeed, he calls upon me with no unfriendly voice to accompany him. That no example can be found from the time of Simon de Mont fort to the present year, either in the practice of ancient legislation or in the improvements proposed by modern Reformers, which sanctions the general principle of this Bill, is an assertion, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will discover to be unadvisedly hazarded. I shall begin with one of the latest examples of a Reformer of great weight and authority—that which is afforded by the speech and the plan of Mr. Pitt, in 1785, because it does not only itself exhibit the principle of the schedules of this Bill, but because it proves, beyond all possibility of dispute, his thorough conviction that this principle is conformable to the ancient laws and practice of the Constitution. The principle of schedules A and B is the abolition, partial or total, of the elective rights of petty and dependent boroughs. The principle of schedules C, D and E is the transfer of that resumed right to great towns, and to other bodies of constituents deemed likely to use it better. Let me now state Mr. Pitt's opinion, in his own words, on the expediency of acting on both these principles, and on the agreement of both with the ancient course and order of the Constitution. His plan, it is well known, was to take away seventy-two Members from thirty-six small Boroughs, and to add them to the County Representation, with a permanent provision for such other transfers of similar rights to great towns, as should, from time to time, seem necessary. His object, in this disfranchisement and enfranchisement, was, according to his own words, to make the House of Commons an assembly which should have the closest union, and the most perfect sympathy with the mass of the people. To effect this object, he proposed to buy up these boroughs by the establishment of a fund, [cheers from, the Opposition] of which the first effect was expected to be considerable, and the accumulation would prove an irresistible temptation. Gentlemen would do well to hear 673 the whole words of Mr. Pitt, before they so loudly exult. "It is an indisputable doctrine of antiquity, that the state of the Representation is to be changed with the change of circumstances. Change in the borough Representation was frequent. A great number of the boroughs, originally parliamentary, had been disfranchised—that is, the Crown had ceased to summon them to send Burgesses. Some of these had been restored on their petitions; the rest had not recovered their lost franchise. Considering the restoration of the former, and the deprivation of the latter, the Constitution had been grossly violated, if it was true (which he denied), that the extension of the elective franchise to one set of boroughs, and the resumption of it from others, was a violation of the Constitution. The alterations were not made from principle, but they were founded on the general notion which gave the discretionary power to the Crown, viz. that the principal places, and not the decayed boroughs, should exercise the right of election."* I know full well that these Boroughs were to be bought. I also know, that the late member for Dorset, (Mr. Bankes), the college friend, the zealous but independent supporter, of Mr. Pitt, exclaimed against the purchase, though he applauded the Reform. How did Mr. Pitt answer? Did he say, I cannot deprive men of inviolable privileges without compensation; I cannot promote Reform by injustice? Must he not have so answered, if he had considered the resumption as "Corporation Robbery?" No. He excuses himself to his friend, He declares the purchase to be "the tender part of the subject," and apologizes for it, as "having become a necessary evil, if any Reform was to take place." Would this great master of language, who so thoroughly understood and practised precision and propriety of words, have called that a necessary evil which he thought an obligation of justice, the payment of a sacred debt? It is clear from the very words that follow, "If any Reform were to take place," that he regarded the price of the boroughs merely as a been to so many borough-holders to become proselytes to Reform. It is material also to observe, that as compensation was no part of his plans or suggestions in 1782 and 1783, he could not have con-*Parl. Hist. vol. xxv. p. 435.674 sistently represented it as of right due. Another decisive reason renders it impossible to annex any other meaning to his language. He justifies his system of transfer, by analogy to the ancient practice of ceasing to summon some boroughs, and to the prerogative in former times acknowledged, which summoned new boroughs? at pleasure. But the analogy would have failed, if he thought compensation due, for it is certain that no compensation was dreamt of, till his own plan. Why did he so strenuously maintain the constitutional authority to disfranchise and enfranchise, if he had entertained the least suspicion that it could not be exercised without an act of rapine? Another circumstance is conclusive. His plan, as may be seen in his speech, was to make the compensation to the borough-holders; not to the poor freemen, the scot and lot voters, the pot walloppers, whose spoliation has been so much deprecated on this occasion, and who alone could have any pretence of justice or colour of law. They at least have legal privileges. The compensation to the borough-holders was to be for the loss of their profits by breaches of law. It could only be meant to satisfy and silence them; and it is impossible that it should be granted as an indemnity for the forfeiture of just rights. One word only in Mr. Pitt's speech, may be thought favourable to another sense: "To a Reform by violence he had an insurmountable objection." Now these words might mean only an objection to effect his resumption by an act of the supreme power, when he could introduce the same good by milder means. The reports of that period were far less accurate than they now are. The general tenor of Mr. Pitt's speech must determine the meaning of a single word; and it seems to me impossible to believe, that he could have intended more than that he preferred a pacific accommodation of almost any sort to formidable resistance, and the chance of lasting discontent. His objection could only be founded on personal feelings, or on supposed expedience, in either of which cases it is nothing to my present purpose. What an imputation would be thrown on his memory, by supposing, that he who answered the objection of Reform being unconstitutional, could pass over the more serious objection that it was believed by himself, or by any others who deserved the least consideration, to be unjust. I, therefore, 675 most conscientiously declare my conviction, that Mr. Pitt's Reform was founded on the principle of the schedules, that of withdrawing the suffrage from some places, and conferring it on others; that both his plan and the present were founded on the law and practice of our ancient Government; and that his purchase of the influence over boroughs, was merely used as oil to smooth the movements of the machine, but by no means as a condition of the morality and justice of Reform. That I may not be obliged to return to this case, I shall add one other observation, which more strictly belongs to another part of the argument. Mr. Pitt never. once hints, that the dependent boroughs were thought necessary to the security of, property. It never occurred to him that any one could think them intrinsically good. It was impossible, that he could propose to employ a million sterling in demolishing the safeguards of the British Constitution. Be it observed, that this remark must be considered by all who respect the authority of Mr. Pitt as of great weight, even if they believe compensation and voluntary surrender to be essential to the justice of transferring the elective franchise. It will, I think, be acknowledged by the hon. and learned member for Aldborough himself, that there was a Reformer of great name before my noble friend, who maintained the transfer of the elective franchise, by disfranchisement and enfranchisement, to be conformable to ancient rights or usages, and for that reason, among others, fit to be employed as parts of a plan of Parliamentary Reform. The two sorts of Reforms proposed during the last seventy years, have been simultaneous Reéform, and progressive Reform. Of the first it is manifest, that the two expedients of resuming the franchise from those who cannot use it for the public good, and bestowing it where it will probably be better employed, are indispensable parts, or rather constitute the very essence.* I shall presently shew, that it is impossible to execute the most slowly progressive scheme of reformation, without some application, however limited, of these now altogether proscribed principles. I do not wish to displease the hon. Baronet by frequent or extensive ex-*The Reforms proposed by Mr. Flood in 1790, and by Lord Grey in 1797, might have been added to those of Mr. Pitt in 1782, 1783, and 1785.676 cursions into the middle age. But the hon. and learned Gentleman will admit that the right of the Crown to summon new boroughs, was never disputed until its last exercise by Charles 2nd in the well known instance of Newark. In the Tudor reigns, this prerogative had added 150 Members to this House. In the forty-five years of Elizabeth, more than sixty were received into it. From the accession of Henry 7th, to the disuse of the prerogative, the Representation received an accession of about 200, if we include the cases where representation was established by Parliament, and those where it was restored, after a disuse of centuries. Let me add, without enlarging on it, that forty-four boroughs, and a city which anciently sent Burgesses to this House, are unrestored at this day. I know no parliamentary mode of restoring them, but by a statute, which would be in effect a new grant; and I believe, that if such matters were cognizable by courts of law, the Judges would presume, or, for greater security, advise the Jury to presume, after a disuse of so many centuries, that it had originated either in a surrender, or in some other legal mode of terminating the privilege. According to the common maxim, that there is no right without a remedy, we may infer the absence of right from the absence of remedy. In that case, the disuse of summonses by the King, or his officers, must be taken to be legal, in spite of the authority of Serjeant Glanville, and his Committee, who, in the reign of James 1st held the contrary doctrine. But I waive this question, because the answer to it is needless to the purpose of my argument. It is enough for me, that the disuse had been practically maintained without being questioned, till the end of James It's reign, and that it still shuts our doors on ninety persons who might otherwise be chosen to sit in this House. The practice of resuming the franchise, therefore, prevailed as certainly in ancient times, as the legal prerogative of conferring it. The effect of prerogative and practice combined was, to take from the Representation the character of immutability, and to bestow on it that flexibility which, if it had been then properly applied, might have easily fitted it for every change of circumstances. These powers were never exercised on any fixed principle; the prerogative was often grievously abused; but the abuse chiefly con- 677 sisted in granting the privilege to beggarly villages, or to the manor or demesne of a favoured Lord. There are few examples of withholding the franchise from considerable towns. On a rapid review of the class of towns next of importance to London, such as York, Bristol, Exeter, Norwich, Lincoln, &c, it appears to me, that they all sent Members to the House of Commons of Edward 1st. Boston did not occur to me; but, admitting the statement respecting that place to be accurate, the hon. and learned Gentleman must allow this instance to be at variance with the general spirit and tendency of the ancient Constitution, in the distribution of elective privileges. I do not call it an exception to a rule, for there were no rules; it was no departure from principle, for no general principle was professed, or, perhaps, thought of; but it was at variance with that disposition not to leave great towns unrepresented, which, though not reduced to system, yet practically influenced the coarse good sense of our ancestors, and, what is remarkable, is most discernible in the earliest part of their legislation. It was not the Union with Scotland that stopped the exercise of the prerogative. The enfranchisement of Newark occurred thirty years before the Union; and Newark itself was a single instance of its Exertion for near seventy years before the Union. We know that the Stuart Kings dreaded an increase of Members in this House, as likely to bestow a more democratical character on its proceedings; but the true cause of the extinction of this prerogative was, the jealousy of a people become more enlightened, and vigilant of a royal power which had been abused, and which might be made the means of enslaving the kingdom. The adverse discussions in this House respecting the admission of the members for Newark, though they ended favourably to the Crown in that instance, afforded such a specimen of the general sentiments and temper respecting the prerogative, that no man was bold enough to advise its subsequent exercise. The course of true wisdom would have been, to regulate the employment of the royal power by a law, which, acting quietly, calmly, but constantly, without a shock, and without interruption, would have removed or prevented all inconvenient or gross inequality in the Representation. Had such a law been substituted for the prerogative, the 678 dangers of so irregular an agent would have been averted, and the excellent principle contained in it, would have for ever saved the Constitution from the necessity of a simultaneous reformation. It would have then been necessary only to enact that every town, which rose to a certain number of houses, should be summoned to send Members to Parliament, and that every town which fell below a certain number, should cease to be so summoned; the good principle of the ancient system would thus have become a regulator of the Representation, and it would have been entirely purified from the evil which had tainted its practice. The unfortunate neglect of substituting a good law for a perilous prerogative, occurred at the period when some remedial power was most wanted. The regulator of the Representation which had been abusively active in stationary times, was suffered to drop out of the machine at a moment when it was so much needed to fit the elective system to the rapid and prodigious changes which afterwards followed in the state of society; when vast cities sprung up in every province, and, in the latter part of this period, the manufacturing world may be said to have been created. There was no longer any renovating principle in the frame of the Constitution. All the marvellous works of industry and science were unnoticed in our Representation. The changes of a century and a half since the case of Newark, the social revolution of the last sixty years, altered the whole condition of men more than the three centuries which passed before; the Representation alone stood still. It is to this interruption of the Vis medicatrix et conservatrix of the commonwealth that we owe the necessity of now recurring to an extensive and simultaneous Reform, of which I do not dispute the inconveniences. We are now called on to pay the arrears of 160 years of an unreformed Representation. The immediate settlement of this constitutional balance is now difficult; it may not be without danger; but it is become necessary to avoid ruin, and it may soon be impossible to save us by that or by any other means. But we are here met by a serious question, which being founded on a principle generally true, acquires a great effect by specious application. We are reminded by the hon. and learned Gentleman, that Governments are to be valued for their 679 beneficial effects, not for their beauty as ingenious pieces of machinery. We are asked, what is the practical evil which we propose to remove, or even to lessen by Reform? We are told, that the Representative system works well, and that the excellence of the English Constitution is attested by its admirable fruits, for at least a century and a half. I dare not take the high ground of denying the truth of the facts thus alleged. God forbid, that I should ever derogate from the transcendent merits of the English Constitution, which it has been the chief occupation of my life to study, and which I now seek to reform, because I love it. I verily believe, that repair is now the most likely means of preserving our fundamental institutions. Much as I love and revere the Constitution, I must say, that during the last century, the Representation has not worked well. I do not mean to undervalue its general results; but it did not work well for one grand purpose, without which no other benefit can be safe. The means employed in elections, worked all respect for the Constitution out of the hearts of the people. The foulness, and shamefulness, or the fraud and mockery of borough elections, slowly weaned the people from their ancient attachments; they were less competent, perhaps, than some others, to draw up the general comparison of good and evil; but they were shocked by the barefaced corruption which the increasing frequency of contests brought home to them. These disgusting scenes could not but uproot attachment to the Government to which they seemed to pertain. They could see nothing venerable in venality—in bribery —in the sale of seats—in the gift of other seats—in nominal elections carried on by individuals, under a pretext and disguise of popular form. It is true, that the vile machinery of openly marketable votes, was the most powerful cause which alienated them. But half the nomination boroughs were marketable. I know one nomination borough where no seat was ever sold; where no Member ever heard a whisper of the wishes of a patron; where a Member was under no restraint beyond the ties of political opinion and friendship, which he voluntarily imposed upon himself. It does not become me to say how the member to whom I advert would have acted in other circumstances; but I am so firmly convinced of the generous nature of one of the 680 parties, as to be convinced, that he would as much recoil from imposing dependency, as any other man could recoil from submitting to it. I do not pretend to say that this is a solitary case; but I believe it to be too favourable an instance to be a fair sample of general practice. Even in the best cases, the pretended election was an eye-sore to the inhabitants of boroughs. A he was solemnly acted before their eyes. The popular principles of the Constitution had taught them, that popular elections belonged to the people. The letter of the law declared, that election should be free. The laws for successive ages had expressly forbidden all those acts at elections, which were now become the ordinary means of obtaining a parliamentary seat. These odious and loathsome means became more general as the country increased in wealth, and as the people grew better informed, more jealous of encroachment, and more impatient-of exclusion. In the times of the Stuarts and Tudors, the Burgesses, we see from the lists, were very generally the sons of neighbouring Gentlemen, chosen with little contest and noise, and so little affected by bribery, that when it occurred, we find it mentioned as a singular event. It was after the Revolution that monied candidates came from the capital to invade a tranquillity, very closely allied to blind submission. These unhappy practices began in the best times of the community and of the Constitution; they became more gross as the people grew more keen-sighted, and they reached their utmost rankness, when the nation, by the agitations of the world, were most prepared to loathe them. At length, the worst of all practical effects was produced. The Constitution sunk in popular estimation. The bulk of the inhabitants were estranged from the objects of their hereditary reverence. Elections were the portion of our Constitution which came into most frequent contact with the majority of men. Seeing in many of them nothing but debauchery, riot, the sale of a right to concur in making law, the purchase in open market of a share in the choice of lawgivers, absolute nomination under the forms of election, they saw that many immoral, many illegal practices became habitual, and were even justified. Was it not natural for the majority of honest men to judge, rather by their moral feelings, than by refined arguments, founded on a calm comparison of these evils, 681 with the counteraction of the free principles of the Constitution Such, at least, was the effect of this most mischievous practice, that when any misfortune of the country, any error of the Government, any commotion abroad, any disorder at home arose, they were all ascribed with exaggeration, but naturally, to the corruption, which the humblest of the people saw had tainted the vital organs of the commonwealth. The scandal of elections spread over the Government. My hon. and excellent friend, the member for the University of Oxford, indeed, told the last Parliament, that the clamours of the Representation were only momentary cries, which, however magnified at the moment always quickly yielded to a vigorous and politic Government. He might have looked back somewhat farther. What were the Place Bills, and Triennial Bills of Sir Robert Walpole's time? Were they not, in truth, demands of Parliamentary Reform? The cry is therefore one of the symptoms of a distemper which has lasted for a century. But to come to his more recent examples. In 1770, Lord Chatham was the agitator; Mr. Burke was the incendiary pamphleteer, who exaggerates the importance of a momentary delusion, which subsided as quickly as it had risen. Unfortunately for this reasoning, every instance confutes the inference drawn from the preceding. It subsided after 1770, but it revived in 1780, under Sir George Saville; under Mr. Pitt in 1782,1783, 1784; it was felt at the time of Mr. Flood's motion in 1790; Lord Grey's motion in 1797 was supported by respectable Tories, such as Sir W. Dolben, Sir R. Hill, and by conscientious men, more friendly to Mr. Pitt than to his opponents, of whom it is enough to name Mr. H. Thornton, then member for Surrey; so that instead of being the flashes and eruptions of transient delusion, these constantly recurring complaints of an evil Representation are the symptoms of a deep-rooted distemper, sometimes breaking out, sometimes dying away, sometimes repelled, but always sure to return, now actually reappearing with resistless force in the election of 1830, and still more decisively in the election of 1831. The cries are not the evil; they are proofs of the existence of a malady, liable to be called into convulsive action, by causes which, in the course of human affairs, must constantly occur. The evil is not the occasional disturbance, but 682 the disordered state which exposes the community to its recurrence. But if we seek for an occasional provocation, which roused the people to a louder declaration of their opinions, where shall we find a more unexceptionable witness, than one of the ablest and most unsparing opponents of the Ministers and of their Bill. Mr. Henry Drummond, in his very able address to the freeholders of Surrey, explicitly ascribes the irritation which now prevails to the unwise language of the late Ministers. The declaration of the late Ministers against Reform, says he, "proved their gross ignorance of the national feeling, and drove the people of England to despair." Many allege, that the people have gained so much strength and influence through the Press, that they need no formal privileges or legal franchises to reinforce it. If it be so, I consider it to be a decisive reason for reformation. A country in which the great body of men are become powerful by their intelligence and by their wealth, while they are exasperated and alienated from the laws by exclusion from political rights, where their anger is roused and their pride is insulted, never can be in a safe condition. I hold it to be one of the most invariable maxims of legislation to bind to the Constitution, by the participation of legal privilege, all persons who have risen in wealth, in intelligence, in any of the legitimate sources of ascendency over others. I would do what our forefathers, though rudely, aimed at doing, by calling into the national councils every rising portion of the community. The grand objection to this Bill is what ought to be fatal to any Bill, if the objection had any foundation but loud and bold assertion—that it is unjust. This argument was never, indeed, urged by the right hon. Baronet, and it seems to be on the eve of being abandoned. But the walls of the House still seem to resound with the vociferations of my hon. and learned friend the member for Borough bridge, against what he called "Corporation robbery;" though many of the boroughs were not Corporations, though none who were would be deprived of their corporate rights; and most of all, if they had been all corporations to be divested of their character, divested of rights which had been, or were likely to be abused, the term "Robbery" would have been ridiculously inapplicable. My learned friend repeated that phrase so often, so audibly, so sonorously, that it 683 must still ring in the cars of those who were Members of the last Parliament. Examples are more striking than general reasonings. Was the disuse of Summons, which still excludes near a hundred Members from this House, an "act of robbery?" Was the Union with Scotland, which reduced the borough Representation from sixty-five to fifteen, an act of robbery? Yes, surely, it was, if the term can be properly applied to this Bill. The Scotch boroughs were thrown into clusters of four and five, of which each cluster sent a Burgess. But if it be robbery to take away the whole of a franchise, it is in principle as violent an invasion of property to take away four-fifths or three-fourths of it. The two acts, as far as regards justice, muststand or fall together. What will be said of the Union with Ireland? Was it "robbery" to reduce the Representation from 300 to 100 Members? Was it robbery to disfranchise 100 boroughs on the very principle of the present Bill, that these suppressed boroughs were decayed, dependent unfit for the franchise? The Irish Union was a reformatory measure; it was founded on the resumption of the elective rights from electors who could not use them independently. Was it robbery to deprive the Peers of Scotland of their birthright, and compel them to be contented with a possibility of being occasionally elected? Was it robbery to mutilate the legislative rights of the Irish Peerage? No; because, in all these cases, the powers taken away or limited were trusts resumable by Parliament for the general well being. Farther, I contend that if this be robbery, every borough disfranchised for corruption has been robbed of its rights. Talk not to me of the guilt of these boroughs; individuals are innocent or guilty —bodies politic can be neither. If the disfranchisement of corrupt towns be considered as a punishment for an offence, it is a hideous mass of iniquities. Where is the trial—where are the witnesses on oath —where are the precautions against partiality—where are the responsible judges? Who, indeed, are the judges? Men who have practised, and who now avow, as the best part of the Constitution, the very offence for which they are bold enough to punish boroughs. Why, in such cases, are the unborn punished for the offences of the present generation? Why should the innocent minority suffer for the sins of a venal majority? If the rights of unoffend- 684 ing parties are reserved, of what importance is the preservation, if they are drowned in hundreds or thousands of fellow voters? Would not the opening of the suffrage in the city of Bath be as destructive to the close corporation as if they were by name disfranchised? Viewed in that light, every bill for the Disfranchisement of a borough is a bill of pains and penalties, and in the nature of a bill of attainder. How are these absurdities avoided? Only by the principle of this Bill, that political trust may be justly resumed by the supreme power, whenever it is deemed injurious to the commonwealth. The test which distinguishes property from trust, is simple, and easily applied. Property exists for the benefit of the proprietor; political power exists only for the service' of the State. Property is, indeed, the most useful of all human institutions. It is so, because the power of every man to do what he will with his own, is beneficial and essential to human society. A trustee is legally answerable for the abuse of his power: a proprietor is not amenable to law for any Mis-use of his property, unless it should involve a direct violation of the rights of other men. It is for this violation only, not at all the mis-use of his proprietory right, considered merely as such, that he can be justly answerable to human laws. It is true, that every man is answerable to God, and his own conscience, for a bad use of property. It may be immoral, in the highest degree. But the existence of property would be destroyed, if any human authority could control the master in his disposal of that which the law has subjected to his exclusive power. It is said, that property is trust; and so it may in figurative language, be called. It is a moral trust, but not a legal trust. In the present argument, we hare to deal only with legal trusts. The confusion of trust with property misled the Stuarts so far, that they thought the kingdom their property. They were undeceived by the Revolution, which taught us, that no man can have a property in other men. It has, therefore, decided the question before us. Every voter has, by the force of the term, a share in the nomination of lawgivers. He has, thus far, a part in the Government; and all Government is a trust. Otherwise, if the voter, as such, were a proprietor, he must have a property in his fellow citizens, who are governed by laws of which he has a share in naming the makers. I 685 have only to add, on this subject, that if the doctrine of property be admitted, all Reform is for ever precluded. Even the enfranchisement of new boroughs or districts must be renounced, for every addition diminishes the value of the previous suffrage; and it is no more lawful to lessen the value of property, than to take property from the proprietor. Unless I am grossly deceived, there never was a more groundless cry than that of corporation robbery. Of all doctrines which threaten the principle of property, none more dangerous was ever promulgated, than that which confounds it with political privilege. None of the disciples of St. Simon, or of the followers of the ingenious and benevolent Owen, have struck so deadly a blow at property, as those who would reduce it to the level of the elective rights of Gatton and Old Sarum. Property, the nourisher of mankind, the incentive of industry, the cement of human society, will be in a perilous condition, if the people be taught to identify it with political abuses, and to deal with it as being involved in their impending fate. Let us not teach the spoilers of future times to represent the resumption of a right of suffrage as a precedent for the seizure of lands and possessions. The two acts have nothing in common. It is as full of danger as it is of absurdity, to confound such distinct, and, in many respects, contrary notions. They cannot be likened to each other with any show of reason, and without the utmost derogation from the sanctity of property. Much is said in praise of nomination, which is now called "the most unexceptionable part of our Representation." To nomination, it seems, we owe the talents of our young Members; the prudence and experience of the more aged. It supplies the Colonies and Dependencies of this great empire with virtual Representation in this House. By it, commercial and funded property finds skilful advocates, and intrepid defenders. The whole of these happy consequences is ascribed to that gross and flagrant system of breaches of law, which are now called the practice of the English Constitution. I never had, and have not now any objection to the admission of Representatives for the Colonies into this House, on fair and just conditions. I cannot conceive, that a Bill which is objectionable, as raising the commercial interest at the expense of the 686 landed, will also lessen the safeguards of their property. Considering the well known and most remarkable subdivision of funded income, (the most minutely divided of any mass of property,) I do not believe that any Representatives, or even any constituents, could be ultimately disposed to do themselves so great an injury as to invade it. The chain which connects together all classes of the community, is sufficient to lead men at once respectable and opulent into this House. Men of genius, and men of experience, have found their way into this House through nomination, or through worse means, through any channel that was open: the same classes of candidates will direct their ambition and their efforts to the channels opened by the present Bill: they will soon attain their end by varying their means. A list has been read to us of illustrious men who found an introduction to Parliament, or a refuge from unmerited loss of popularity, in decayed boroughs. What docs such a catalogue prove, but that England, for the last sixty years, has been a country full of ability, of knowledge, of intellectual activity, of honourable ambition, and that a large portion of these qualities has flowed into the House of Commons? Might not the same dazzling common-places have been opposed to the abolition of the Court of Star Chamber? "What," it might have said, "will you, in your frantic rage of innovation, demolish the tribunal in which Sir Thomas More, the best of men, and Lord Bacon, the greatest of philosophers, presided; where Sir Edward Coke, the oracle of law; where Burleigh, and Walsingham, the most revered of English statesmen, sat as Judges; which Bacon, enlightened by philosophy and experience, called the peculiar glory of our legislation, which alone had established ' a Court of Criminal Equity?' Will you, in your paroxysms of audacious phrenzy, abolish this Prætorian Tribunal, this sole instrument for bridling popular incendiaries? Will you dare to persevere in your wild purpose, at a moment when Scotland is agitated by a rebellious league and convenant; when Ireland is threatened with insurrection and massacre? Will you surrender the shield of the Crown, the only formidable arm of prerogative, at a time when his Majesty's authority is openly defied in the capital where we are assembled?" I cannot, 687 indeed, recollect a single instance in that long course of Reformation, which constitutes the history of the English Constitution, where the same plausible arguments, and 'he same exciting topics, might not have been employed against the Reform, which are now pointed against the present measure. The hon. and learned Gentleman has alluded to Simon de Mont fort, the first and most extensive Parliamentary Reformer, who raised the class of Burgesses, allowing them to sit in Parliament. The haughty and unlettered Barons disdained argument; but their cries were doubtless loud and vehement: even they could exclaim that "the new Constitution was an untried scheme, that it was a daring experiment, that it would level all the distinctions of society, that it would throw the power of the State into the hands of traffickers and Burgesses. Men, yesterday slaves, but now to be seated by the side of Plantage-nets in the arduous duty of making laws, and who, in their mutinies and revolts during their slavery, had shewn what might be expected from them when intoxicated by new power." Are these not the topics which are substantially used against Parliamentary Reform? They are now belied, by an experience which has taught us that the adoption of the lower classes into the Constitution, the concessions made to them, and the widening of the foundation of the Legislature, have been the source of peace, of order, of harmony, of all that is excellent in our Government, and of all that secures the frame of our society. The Habeas Corpus Act, in the reign of Charles 2nd, was obtained by the repeated, persevering, unwearied exertions of the Earl of Shaftesbury, after a meritorious struggle of many years. I mention the facts with pleasure in the presence of his descendant. It is now well known, from the confidential correspondence of Charles and his brother James, that they both believed sincerely that a government without the power of arbitrary imprisonment could not exist; and that Shaftesbury had forced this Act of Habeas Corpus upon them, in order, either to expose them unarmed to the populace, or to drive them to the odious and precarious instrument of an army. The belief of the royal brothers was the more incorrigible, because it was sincere. It is the fatal effect of absolute power to corrupt the judgment of the possessors, 688 and to insinuate into their minds the false and pernicious opinion, that power is always weakened by limitation, and that the admission of new men to privilege, at all times strengthens rivals, and never converts them into friends. Shall I be told, that the sale of seats is not in itself an evil? The same most ingenious person who hazarded this paradox, quoted the example of the sale of the judicial office in Old France, with a near approach to approbation. That practice had been vindicated by French writers of great note, and had, in fact, many guards and limitations not to be found in marketable boroughs: but it has been swept away by the Revolution; and there is now no man disposed to palliate its shameless enormity. The grossest abuses, as long as they prevail, never want advocates who find specious mitigations of them: their downfall discovers their deformity to every eye. For my part, I do not see why the sale of a power to make laws, should not be as immoral as the sale of a power to administer laws. An elective system which degrades the Constitution, and blinds men to its benefits and blessings, is the greatest of all the practical evils which can exist in such a Government as ours, consistently with the preservation of its ancient forms. ' Half the nomination boroughs are marketable; and by their notoriously mercenary nature, undermine all attachment to the frame of the Government. Even the best of them are an eyesore to the people, and have brought a lasting scandal on the Constitution, which, unless the ground of it be removed, will prove fatal to all our institutions. Open venality has most contributed to the alienation of the people. But the disguise of nomination under elective forms has most powerfully aided. It is so flimsy an imposture, it is a fraud so universally seen through, it is a delusion which so certainly deludes nobody, that the trespass on the privileges of the people is aggravated by an insult to their understandings. It is said, that the peerage, and even the monarchy, cannot survive the loss of these boroughs; and we are referred to the period since the Revolution, during which this influence has been their main guard against popular assault and dictation. I respectfully lay aside the Crown in this debate; and in the few words that I am now about to utter, I am desirous to express myself in cautious and constitutional language, 689 Since the Revolution, since the defeat of the attempts to establish absolute monarchy, the English Government has undoubtedly become parliamentary. But since that time, also, the hereditary parts of the Constitution have been uniformly respected as wholesome temperaments of the rashness of popular assemblies. I can discover nothing in this change which will disable the Peers from usefully continuing to perform this duty. If some inconvenient diminution of the influence of great property should follow, we must encounter the risk; for nothing can, in my judgment, be more certain, than that the Constitution can no longer bear the weight of obloquy and scandal thrown upon it by the elections. The community cannot afford to purchase any advantage at such an expense of character and safety: but so great is the natural influence of property, especially in a country where the various ranks of society were so long bound together by friendly ties, that I can scarcely conceive any laws or institutions which would much diminish the influence of well-spent wealth, whether honorably inherited, or honestly earned. The benefits of reformation might indeed be hazarded, if the great proprietors were to set themselves in battle array against the permanent desires of the people, for the restoration of their privileges. If they treat their countrymen as adversaries, they may excite a hostile spirit against themselves, if they deal with every proposal to enlarge the rights of the laborious classes, as a wrong done to the higher ranks, they must be prepared for reaping the fruits of the lessons which they teach. Distrust will beget distrust: jealousy will awaken an adverse jealousy. The superior classes may, by their behaviour at this critical moment, sow the seeds of lasting, and, perhaps, fatal discord, in a Reformation which is intended to be a treaty of peace. I trust that these evil consequences may not arise. The nobility of England, in former times, have led their countrymen' in the battles of liberty. Those among them who are most distinguished by ample possessions, by historical names, by hereditary fame, interwoven with the glory of their country, have, on this Occasion, been the foremost to shew their confidence in the people, their unsuspecting liberality in the enlargement of popular privilege, their reliance on the sense and honesty of their fellow 690 citizens, as the best safeguard of property and of order, as well as of all other interests of society. Already, this measure has exhibited a disinterestedness which has united all classes, from the highest borough-holder to the humblest non-resident freeman, in the sacrifice of their own advantages to what they think a great public good. There must be something good in what produces so noble a sacrifice. This is not solely a reformatory measure; it is also conciliatory. If it were exclusively proposed for the amendment of institutions, I might join in the prevalent cry that it goes too far, or at least travels too fast, farther and faster than the maxims of wise reformation would warrant. But, as it is a means of regaining national confidence, it must be guided by other maxims. In that important view of the subject, I consider the terms of this plan as of less consequence than the temper which it breathes, and the spirit by which it is animated. A conciliatory measure deserves the name only, when it is seen and felt by the simplest of men, to flow from the desire and determination to conciliate. At this moment, when, amidst many causes of discord, there is a general sympathy in favour of Reformation, the superior classes of society, by opening their arms to receive the people—by giving to the people a signal and conspicuous proof of confidence—by putting trust in the people, may reasonably expect to be trusted by the majority of their countrymen. But to reach this end, they must not only be, but appear to be, liberally just and equitably generous. Confidence can be purchased by confidence alone. If the leading classes follow the example of many of their own number; if they show, by gracious and cheerful concessions, by striking acts, not merely by specious language or cold formalities of law, that they are willing to rest on the fidelity and conscience of the people, I do not believe, that they will lean on a broken reed. As for those wise laws which teach us that there is always danger in trust, and that policy and generosity are at perpetual variance, I hold them in little respect. Every unbending maxim of policy is hollow and unsafe; base principles are often not the more prudent because they are pusillanimous. I rather agree with the beautiful peroration of Mr. Burke's second speech on North America: "Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the 691 truest wisdom: a great empire and little minds go ill together. If we are conscious of our situation, and glow with zeal to fill our place, as becomes our station and ourselves, we ought to auspicate our proceedings respecting America, with the old warning of the Church ' Sursum Cortœ. Wrought to elevate our minds to the dignity of that trust, to which the order of Providence has called us." "Whether we consider this measure, either as a scheme of Reformation, or an attempt to form an alliance with the people, it must be always remembered, that it is a question of the comparative safety or danger of the only systems now before us for our option—that of undistinguishing adherence to present institutions—that of ample redress and bold Reformation—and that of niggardly, evasive, and unwilling Reform. I say comparative safety or danger; for not one of those who have argued this question seem to have remembered that it has two sides. They have thrown all the danger of the times upon the Reform. They load it with as much odium as if the age were otherwise altogether exempt from turbulence and agitation, and first provoked from its serene quiet by this wanton attempt. They make it answerable for mischief's which it may not have the power to prevent, and which might have occurred if no such measure had ever been attempted. They, at least, tacitly assume that it must aggravate every evil arising from other sources. In short, they beg the whole question in dispute. They ask us whether there be not danger in Reform. I answer by asking them, "Is there no danger in not reforming?" A question which they have never yet attempted to answer, and to which I expect no answer now, because the negative answer seems to me impossible, and an affirmative answer reduces the whole discussion to a cool computation and calm comparison of the different degrees of safety and danger in the various systems open for our choice. Niggardly Reform seems to me the most unsafe of all systems. It cannot conciliate, for it is founded in distrust. It practically admits an evil, of which dissatisfaction is a large part; and yet it has been already proved by experience that it satisfied nobody. It is already spurned by the nation. We know that this plan, instead of being a final adjustment, will not bring over to the Government a single individual. Other systems may be unsatis- 692 factory. This scheme is so already, and must so continue to be. (a the present temper of the people, and circumstances of the world, I cannot see one good purpose to be answered by evasive and delusive Reforms. How could the people trust the determined enemies of the smallest step towards Reformation, who had refused so much less than was now extorted from them; who, to avoid the grant of franchise to Birmingham, had broken up an Administration, whose reasonings were still as really inconsistent with the least as well as with the greatest Reform; and who, if they be sincere, must try every expedient to render impotent a measure which they could no longer venture avowedly to oppose. They who submit to partial Reform only as the least evil, must struggle to reduce the evil to the smallest possible amount. On the other hand, the effect of the Bill before us has hitherto confirmed the opinion of those who thought that a measure of conciliatory temper, and of large and liberal concession, would satisfy the people. Experience has, so far, countenanced their hopes. The tone and demand of petitions, which were at first extravagant, became moderate and pacific, as soon as the Bill was known; it appeared to compose instead of irritating them. They saw a substantial Reformation proceeding from sincere Reformers, and they sacrificed their vague projects to what went beyond their hopes, at least as much as it fell short of the creed which had been breathed into them. Nothing can be more ludicrously absurd, than the supposition, that several millions of men are such deep dissemblers, such dark conspirators, as to withdraw from view all their farther projects, till the Bill arms them with the means of carrying such projects into execution. The body of the people cannot fail to be sincere. I do not expect any measure of legislation to work miracles. Discontent may and will continue; but it is suspended, and I believe that it will be permanently abated. I do not see why the present Reformation may not, in due time, satisfy the more considerate, whose opinion is naturally calculated to spread among their equals and associates, who partake in their feelings and habits of thinking, who touch them at every point, and whose interests are visibly and glaringly the same with their own. Others, there doubtless are, who foretell far other effects. It seems to 693 me, that the favourers of the Bill rest their predictions on more probable foundations. Among the numerous assumptions of our opponents, there is none which appears to me more remarkable, than their taking for granted that concession is always, or even generally, more dangerous to the stability of governments, than resistance. As the right hon. Baronet introduced several happy quotations from Cicero on this subject, which he seemed to address more particularly to me, I hope I shall not be charged with pedantry, if I begin my proofs of the contrary from history, with the testimony of that great writer. In the third book of his book De Legibus, after having put an excellent aristocratical speech, against the tribunitian power, into the mouth of his brother Quintus, he proceeds to answer the attack in his own person in a discourse, which contains the following sentence—" Concessâ Plebi a Paribas istâ Potestate, arma ceciderunt, restincta seditio est, inventum est temperamentum quo tenuiores cum principibus æequari se putarint; in quo uno fuit civitatis Salus." It will not be said, that Cicero was a radical or a demagogue, or that he had any personal cause to be favourable to the tribunitian power. It will not be said, that to grant to a few, a right to stop the progress of every public measure, was a slender, or likely to be a safe concession. The ancients had more experience of democracy, and a better knowledge of the character of demagogues, than the frame of modern society allows us the means of attaining. This great man, in spite of his natural prejudices, and just resentments, ascribes to this apparently monstrous power not merely the spirit and energy which may be expected even from the excess of popular institutions, but whatever safety and tranquillity the Commonwealth enjoyed through a series of ages. He would not, therefore, have argued, as has been argued on this occasion, that if the multitude appeal to violence, before legal privileges are conferred on them, they will be guilty of tenfold excesses when they become sharers in legitimate authority. On the contrary, he lays it down in the context of the passage quoted, that their violence is abated, by allowing a legal vent to their feelings. But it appears to be taken for granted, that concession to a people is always more dangerous to public quiet than, resistance. Is there any pretence for 694 such a doctrine? Does it receive any support from the testimony of history? I appeal to history, as a vast magazine of facts, leading to the very opposite conclusion, of facts, which teach that this fatal principle has overthrown thrones and dismembered empires; proving that late Reformation, dilatory Reformation, Reformation refused at the critical moment, which may pass for ever, in the twinkling of an eye, have been the most frequent cause of the convulsions which have shaken States, and for a time burst asunder the bonds of society; sometimes laying "open a ground on which liberty may be built, but sometimes, also, preparing a community for taking refuge in a sterner despotism than that from which they escaped. Allow me very briefly to advert to the earliest revolution of modern times. Was it by concession that Phillip 2nd lost the Netherlands? Had he granted timely and equitable concessions; had he not plotted the destruction of the ancient privileges of these flourishing provinces, under pretence that all popular privilege was repugnant to just authority; would he not have continued the master of that fair and affluent portion of Europe; Did Charles 1st lose his throne and his life by concession? Is it not notorious, that if, before losing the confidence of the Parliament and people (after that loss all his expedients of policy were vain, as in such a case all policy is unavailing), he had adhered to the Petition of Right, to which he gave his royal assent; if he had forborne from the persecution of the Puritans; if he had refrained from levying money without a grant from Parliament; he would, in all human probability, have reigned prosperously to the last day of his life. If there be any man who doubts it, his doubts will be easily removed without pursuing his studies farther than the first volume of Lord Clarendon's History. Did the British Parliament lose North America by concession? Is not the loss of that great empire solely to be ascribed to the obstinate resistance of this House to every conciliatory proposition, then supported by their own greatest men, and humbly tendered in the loyal petitions of the Colonies, until America was driven into the arms of France, and the door was for ever closed against all hopes of reunion? Had we yielded to the latest prayers of the Americans, it is hard to say how long the two British nations might 695 have been held together; the separation, if absolutely necessary, might have been effected on quiet and friendly terms. Whatever may be thought of recent events, of which it is yet too early to form a final judgment, the history of their origin and progress would of itself be enough to shew the wisdom of those early Reformations, which, as Mr. Burke says, "are accommodations with a friend in power," and corroborates the general testimony of experience, that nations have more frequently owed their fall to obstinacy, than to a facility of yielding. I feel some curiosity to know how many of the principled, consistent, inflexible, and hitherto unyielding opponents of the Bill, will continue to refuse to make a declaration in favour of any Reform, till the last moment of this discussion. Although I differ from them very widely in opinion, I know how to estimate their fidelity towards each other, their general fairness to others, their steadiness and firmness under circumstances of a discouraging and disheartening nature, calculated to sow distrust and disunion in a political party. What I dread and deprecate in their system, is, that they offer no option but Reform or coercion. Let any man seriously consider what is the full import of this last tremendous word; restrictions will be first laid on the people, which will be assuredly productive of new discontents, provoking an incensed Government to measures still more rigorous. Discontent will rankle into disaffection, disaffection will break out into revolt, which supposing the most favourable termination, will not be quelled without spilling the blood of our countrymen; and at last leaving them full of hatred for their rulers, and watching for the favourable opportunity of renewing their attack. It is needless to consider the consequences of a still more disastrous and irreparable termination of the contest. It is enough for me to say, that the long continuance of such wretched scuffles between the Government and the people is absolutely incompatible with the English Constitution. The Constitution may perish in spite of Reform; but it cannot stand under a succession of such cruel conflicts. Those who offer me this option would reduce me to the necessity of embracing Reform, even if I thought worse of its probable effects, than I think it reasonable to do; I wish Gentlemen to consider 696 that there is nothing certain in such contests, but their course of blood. Darkness hangs over the event. Is there nothing in the temper, in the opinions, in the circumstances of all European nations, which renders the success of popular principles probable? Inaction may be at such a crisis the most dangerous policy; and surely a bold measure is peculiarly warrantable, where the policy of leaving events to them, seems to be fraught with peril. The mode in which this matter has been argued, will excuse me for once more reminding the House that the question is one of comparative danger. I vote for the present Bill, not only because I approve of it as a measure of Reform, but because I consider it as affording the greatest probability of preserving the fundamental laws. Those who shut their eyes on the tempests which arc abroad, on the mighty and terrible agents which threaten all European countries, on the gloomy silence with which the extreme parties look at each other, or the noise and fury with which they contend for dominion, may obstinately persist in ascribing the agitation of minds in Great Britain to a new Cabinet in November, or to a Reform Bill in March. To them I can make no apology for language so moderate and diffident. To those who survey all the circumstances of the world, I must again observe, that a plan of conciliation may spare the horrors of a plan of coercion, which may end in utter and hopeless defeat. Our opponents deal much in prophecy. They foretell all the evils which will spring from Reform. They do right. Such anticipations are not only legitimate arguments, but they form the hinge on which the whole case turns. But they have two weights and two measures. They use the probability of future evil from Reform as their main stay. But when we employ the probability of future evil from Non Reform, in support of our opinion, they call it menace, and they charge us with intimidation. They do not allow to us the same fair mode of reasoning on which they exclusively rely; and they do not seem to perceive, that the proofs of evil likely to issue from the measure are of no avail if they are not attended by the proof that they are probably greater than those likely to flow from its rejection. In this, and indeed in every other branch of the case, the arguments of our opponents have so 697 singular a resemblance to those employed by the same Gentlemen in the Catholic Question, that we might quote as the answers to them the language then used by their present allies. Then, as now, the Ministers were charged with yielding to clamour and menace, and with attempting to frighten other men out of their independence. As a brief, but conclusive answer, I have to say, that all policy consists in a consideration whether a measure be safe and beneficial; that every statesman or lawgiver ought to fear what he considers as dangerous to the public; and that I avow myself a coward at the prospect of the civil disorders which I think impending over my country. What would be thought of a man so indifferent to his country, as not to recoil from such apprehended mischief? It is said that this measure is not final. We are told, as we were told in the case of the Catholics, that the measure is not final, and that it is sought only as a vantage ground from which it will be more easy to effect other innovations. I denied the disposition to encroach, with which the Catholics were charged; and however afflicting the condition of Ireland may now be, I appeal to every dispassionate man, whether the relief granted the Catholics, has not, on the whole, bettered the situation, and strengthened the security of the country. I was then taught by the right hon. Baronet, that concession would divide loyal from disaffected opponents, and unite all friends of their country against men whose demands were manifestly insatiable. Is it not reasonable to expect some degree of the same benefits on the present occasion? Nothing human is, in one sense of the word, final. Of a distant futurity I know nothing; and I am, therefore, altogether unfitted to make laws for it. Posterity may rightly measure their own wants, and their capacity—we cannot; the utmost that we can aspire to, is to remove elements of discord from their path. But within the very limited horizon to which the view of politicians can reach, I have already offered some reasons why I expect that a measure of concession, made in a spirit of unsuspecting confidence, may inspire the like sentiments; and believe, that the majority of the people may acquiesce in a grant of privileges so extensive, that every man may hope to earn it, given to a constituent body, who must always agree with the obvious and pal- 698 pable interest, the decisive judgment, and the warm desire of the whole. After all, is it not obvious that the people already possess that power from their numbers, of which the exercise is dreaded? It is ours, indeed, to decide, whether they are to exert their force in the market-place, in the street, in the field, or in discussion, and debate in this House. If we somewhat increase their legal privileges, we must, also, in some measure, abate their supposed disposition to use it ill. Their exasperation out of doors appears to me more dangerous than their influence within. Here they may examine questions with a calm eye; and many of them will, surely, not be unwilling to listen to reason. To predict such danger from the admission within the pale of the Constitution now proposed, is, in truth, an avowal that the situation of this country is desperate. On the great proprietors, much of the grace, of the generous character, of the conciliatory effect of this measure, must certainly depend. But it cannot ultimately depend upon a single class, whether such a Bill shall pass. If they be deluded and inflamed by tales of intimidation and of riot; if they are so much misled, as to doubt whether, if the fullest allowance were made for all that can be ascribed to these causes, it would amount to a visible deduction from the national unanimity; if they do not perceive, that there is no more dissent from the national doctrine, than is necessary to shew the liberty of publishing opinion— whenever or wherever they act on these great errors, they may abate the healing efficacy of a great share of conciliation and improvement; but they cannot prevent its final adoption. Above all other considerations, I should dare to advise these great proprietors to cast from them those reasonings which would involve property in the approaching downfall of political abuse. If they assent to the doctrine that political privilege is property, they must be prepared for the inevitable consequence, that it is no more unlawful to violate property, than to resume a delegated trust. The suppression of dependent boroughs is at hand. It will be the truest wisdom of the great proprietors, the natural guardians of the principle of property, to maintain, to inculcate, to enforce the essential distinction between it and political trust, if they be desirous not to arm the spoilers whom they dread, with 699 arguments which they can never consistently answer.
Mr. Cumming Bruce, in rising to address the House, requested their indulgence to a new Member. It was by no means his intention to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman through the whole of his eloquent address. On the contrary, he was desirous to recall the attention of the House to the. real question before it; namely, not whether or not there should be any Reform in Parliament, but whether or not, the Bill which had been introduced by his Majesty's Government should be adopted. To that Bill he gave his uncompromising; opposition. He protested, however, against the various misrepresentations which had been industriously circulated of the motives and sentiments of those who disapproved of this particular measure. He was as anxious as any man to correct abuses where the act of correction was not calculated to produce greater evils than those which it was desired to get rid of. The tactics of Government appeared to be, to divide all parties into two classes, Reformers and anti-Reformers, and to represent, or rather misrepresent, those who disapproved of the Bill as being supporters of corruption, and enemies to all improvement. This was extremely unjust. For his own part, although firmly opposed to the Reform Bill, he was not adverse to reasonable and constitutional Reform. To allow the system of Representation to advance with the advance of society—to extend the elective franchise to all those new and important interests which were growing up in the country, were objects to which he was decidedly friendly; but he was as decidedly hostile to so rash and so irrevocable a measure as the present; a measure which threatened the destruction of the soundest principles of the Constitution, and the most valuable institutions in the country. He must now be allowed to allude to the noble Lord who introduced this measure to the House, and he must complain of the somewhat harsh treatment the moderate Reformers received from the noble Lord. They had become the objects of the indignation of Government, while it had opened its arms to embrace those who were opposed to any change. The noble Lord had thought fit, in the heat of his fanciful imagination to condemn them to solitary confinement in certain little air-built fabricks, pigeon holes he
called them, but he must advise the noble Lord, when he fancied he was reposing in the arms of victory, under the heights of Dunbar, and holding converse with Oliver Cromwell, rather an ominous trance, to take care his repose was not broken by such a shout as broke the slumbers of Sir John Cope when he fled before the shouts and broadswords of the Highlanders. He was happy, however, to observe the incipient spirit of conciliation which had manifested itself on the part of the authors of the Bill, in the important alterations which they had introduced into it. This satisfied him that they had no longer to do with the Bill the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill, in all its absurdity and injustice. The war cry, so madly raised, had in many places been responded to in such a spirit, that those who first shouted were now hushed in the silence of apprehension. He rejoiced at their conversion, that they no longer looked upon the fancies of their prolific brains as the fullness of wisdom. The goddess they worshipped instead of a Minerva was the legitimate offspring of revolutionary absurdity, a goddess after the French fashion armed with a battering train of ten-pounders to prostrate all that was venerable and useful. Notwithstanding the alterations introduced, he maintained that the Bill was entirely unworthy the sanction of the House. Its tendency was, to extend the elective franchise to large classes of the people, who were more than any other classes obnoxious to that corrupt influence which it was the professed purpose of the Bill to diminish or destroy. The great excellence of the present system of Representation was, the variety of the suffrage—the combination of riches and numbers. The tendency of the Bill was to put an end to that variety and combination. It was calculated to bring those who had property and those who had none into violent collision. It was calculated to substitute a uniform qualification. To that he was most strongly opposed. He objected to it on two grounds; first in times of excitement when it would be most necessary to manage the people, all anticipations would be baffled; but secondly and chiefly, because in ordinary circumstances the electors would be too easily managed to furnish an efficient and constitutional control on the executive. He did not consider the middle classes as qualified or entitled to an overwhelming preponderance in the national Representation, such as this Bill
would give them. If it were necessary to confine the franchise to one class, it could not be better vested than in the middle class, in which most of the real strength and intellect of the nation resided; but he considered them, on the whole, most liable to the influence of Government, from the desire to rise above their station in society. In vesting this class with the whole power prospectively, the true use and end of Representation had been overlooked; that end it had been well said, was, by a combination of property with members to secure the protection of liberty and the security of property. It was far from being necessary that the whole of the inhabitants of a country should immediately participate in the elective franchise. The enjoyment of it by a portion of the community elevated the whole. It was that, which gave to the peasant of England so marked a superiority over the peasant of Italy; and it was impossible, by any exterior circumstances, to distinguish in this country those who did possess the elective franchise from those who did not possess it. The hon. member for Preston, who supported the Reform Bill, acted in perfect consistency with his principles in doing so; the hon. Member was for Universal Suffrage, and supported this measure as being conducive to the ultimate accomplishment of that object; but he (Mr. Bruce) did not desire Universal Suffrage, and was opposed to the present Bill. He believed that Universal Suffrage would replace our aristocracy of rank, wealth, and talent, by an aristocracy of demagogues and base hireling writers. For this reason he was opposed to the Reform Bill, and to Universal Suffrage, to which it would lead., 'He had many more objections against a uniform qualification, but he was unwilling to trespass upon the House by stating them all at present. But his greatest objection to the Bill was its flagrant injustice; and the sweeping manner in which it disfranchised a number of the smaller corporations. While the principles of justice were immutable; while there remained any difference between right and wrong, he should object to such a proceeding. It might be thought by some to be expedient. He could not so consider it; but even if he did, he could never consent to sacrifice the legal vested rights of bodies or of individuals to any considerations of mere political expediency. If such a principle were once admitted,
who could tell where it would stop? If Corporation rights, and the rights of property, all held under long legislative sanction were thus to be swept away in a mass, who could tell where the work of destruction would end? It was argued, however, by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that such rights were distinct from the rights of property. Nothing was more easy than to show the fallacy of this proposition in the sweeping sense attempted to be given to it. He would ask, were not Corporate rights bought and sold under the sanction and security of the law of the land? All the arguments which had been so ably urged, in that House and elsewhere, to show that a mixed form of the elective franchise was indispensable to the very existence of our Constitution remained unanswered, and were, in fact, unanswerable. The efficiency of the present system, in the introduction into that House of men of talent and information, had been abundantly manifested. It was true, that popular elections might frequently be the means of admission to such persons; but where would be the advantage of excluding those men of talent and information who might be averse to popular election? Under what other principles than the present would the great aristocracy of the country be able efficiently to protect their legitimate interests? And with respect to abuses, there were some preserved by the proposed measures which might be very advantageously got rid of. If the Scotch Reform Bill went into a committee, he would state some curious facts, to shew that by some singular elective attraction, all the franchises would go to the Whig party. As to the presumed influence of the Peers, he was of opinion, that the just authority of the Peers required to be aided rather than assailed. That authority had been established and consolidated by the wisdom of past ages, and ought not to be rudely and inconsiderately sacrificed. Attachment to the people was, in his opinion, perfectly compatible with attachment to the aristocracy. To that aristocracy the people of England were indebted for many great and glorious services to the cause of freedom; and if ever, goaded by a violent and disaffected Press, an attempt should be made by Ministers or others to invade the privileges of the Peers, he trusted that many a loyal hand would be raised in that House —aye, even unto the death, for their sup-
port; and he was convinced that the great majority of the country would stand by them. He was aware, that some high and honourable minds were shocked at the violation of the orders of the House, or, as it had been said, of the law of the land, by the interference of members of the aristocracy in elections. Now he must say that, looking at the increasing power of that House, he thought it better that the laws referred to should be modified. Others objected to the bribery that occasionally took place in the smaller boroughs. He abhorred bribery as much as any man, in whatever shape, whether it appeared in the shape of a money bribe, or in the shape of an unconstitutional pledge; but every one must admit that there were laws which it would not be expedient either to enforce at all times, or to repeal, and it might admit of some doubt how far the regulations in question did not belong to this class. Many new interests had grown up among us which could not be readily represented, if some latitude were not allowed. It had been wisely said, that our Constitution, excellent as it was, was not the result of any settled plan or system; on the contrary, it had grown to its present excellence by degrees, and being favoured by fortunate accidents. As a nation, we had the greatest cause for gratitude to that Providence which had conducted us with safety though so many imminent perils—
From seeming evil still educing good.
According to an Italian proverb, "Man planned, and God brought about the result:" the same might be said of the British Constitution. Let us not tamper with it rashly. We alone had succeeded in solving the difficult problem of a good practical Constitution;—we had reared, and safely guarded, the temple of permanent freedom, uninjured by despotism on the one hand or by popular anarchy on the other. Such being the case, let us not sacrifice our advantages: let us avoid tampering with the blessings which we enjoyed. Of all the people on the face of the earth, the people of this country were most bound to guard the Temple of Freedom from being disturbed and polluted, either by despotism on the one hand, or by anarchy on the other. They had been told by the Press and by Government, that the proposed measure was so unanimously approved by the country that Parliament had no choice but to pass it. He con-
fessed that, judging from what he knew, he very much doubted the existence of that unanimity. For instance, he had read in many of the newspapers, that every village and town in Scotland was favourable to the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill. Now, that he knew to be grossly and notoriously untrue. The great farmers were opposed to the provision giving the franchise to leaseholds of 50l. a year, the tendency of which they considered to be, to cut down large farms. The small farmers—from 5l. to 30l. a year—were averse from the Bill, as calculated to introduce the baneful system of middle-men. The proprietors (with the exception, perhaps, of the great aristocracy) were apprehensive that their interests would be prostrated between the 10l. voters on the one hand, and the 50l.on the other. The smaller boroughs, although they liked the Bill in the first instance, began to feel that it would operate upon them as a disfranchisement; for that, voting in cumulo, they would, in most cases, be in a hopeless minority. As to the counties which the Lord Advocate proposed to marry, they had forbid the banns. Scotland was desirous of a well-considered Reform, although not of the present measure. Even that desire was not of ancient standing. But a year or two ago, Scotland cared little for Reform. Now, however, there was an unanimous desire on the subject, and he was glad of it. He must say, however, in justice to the upright and intelligent individual, no longer in that House, who was lately a member for Edinburgh, that that hon. Gentleman's statements of the indisposition of the people of Scotland towards Reform were well grounded; as at that period the change had not occurred [much coughing.] He begged to assure hon. Gentlemen that he was not to be put down in that manner. He had addressed as numerous and respectable assemblies, and had always been heard with courtesy. With respect to the measure under consideration, what had there been in the conduct of his Majesty's present Government to inspire the House with confidence in any proposition which proceeded from them? Let them be judged by their acts. Their unanimity was extraordinary. Before they came into office, they were unanimous in calling for the reduction of the Civil List. As soon as they came into office, they were unanimous in rejecting
the recommendation of the Committee. Before they came into office, they were unanimous in calling" on his Majesty's late Government to economise. As soon as they came into office they were (very wisely) unanimous in refusing to act on the principles of economy which they had previously advocated. Before they came into office they were unanimous in condemning the course of foreign policy which had been pursued by his Majesty's late Government. As soon as they came into office, they were unanimous in the adoption of the same course. They were at first unanimous in the maintenance of every point of that monument of financial wisdom, their Budget. Soon after, they were unanimous in withdrawing every point of it from public observation. They were unanimous in reprobating the appointment of a pluralist Bishop of Exeter. Scarcely, however, had the sound of their virtuous indignation ceased, before they appointed a pluralist Dean of Hereford. In short, their whole system had been one of unanimous contradiction. And was the House to listen to the suggestions and recommendations of men like these? Although they might be backed by the whole revolutionary press of the country—although they might be cheered on by Cobbett—by infidel Taylor—by the whole congregation of the Rotunda, and hoc genus omne, he trusted the Legislature would pause before it was influenced by their advice. The general eagerness to begin the work of spoliation, was probably founded on the Horatian maxim—
Dimidium facti, qui cæsepit habet.
He trusted, however, that the disconnected and worthless particles of which that pillar of sand, the present administration, was composed, would not be permitted to have any weight in influencing the decisions of the House. It would occupy much more of the time of the House than he had a right to claim, to state one tenth of his objections to this absurd Bill; but in what he had said he had discharged his duty to his country, his constituents, and himself.
§ Mr. Cutlar Ferguson
said, it was not his intention to trouble the House at any length. The hon. Member who preceded him had said, that he was unknown to the House; but after his speech of that night he would no longer be unknown. The opinions which he had put forth would even send his name abroad. The 706 hon. Member had said, that the Bill introduced by the Lord Advocate should not now be discussed; yet he went into the whole Bill and its details, as they were, in his opinion, likely to affect the people of Scotland, whom he described as decidedly hostile to the measure. Now upon this he had only one remark to make, and that was, to give it a most flat contradiction, at least as far as related to those with whom he was connected in Scotland. That some difference existed as to the details of the Bill, he admitted; yet he would assert, that the people of Scotland were favourable to the general principle of the measure. The hon. Baronet (Sir John Walsh) had complained that most of the new Members returned, had been returned on pledges to support the Bill. For his own part he was not a friend to pledges from Representatives to constituents; but he must say, that if ever there was a time when pledges might be admitted, it was the present. The subject of Reform had now been so fully discussed, that the greater number of the constituents were as well able to judge of its merits as most of those who were returned to Parliament. It could not be denied, that the public had had the opportunity of reading all the debates upon the subject; and he thought it had already been so fully discussed, that the public generally were as well acquainted with its details as any Member of that House. Pledges might, therefore, be fairly required from candidates as to the support of a measure so well understood. At the same time, he would repeat, that he was not a friend to pledges, thinking them generally unconstitutional, and that it was only in extreme cases that they could be required; but the present he looked upon as one of those cases. For his own part, he had given no pledge; though in this case he thought that such a pledge might be fairly required and given. One of the great objections against the measure was, that it was a measure of disfranchisement. Those who objected to that principle, would of course vote against the Bill; but those who admitted that such places as Gatton—which with the most extensive principle of franchise, that of burgage tenure, had only five voters—should have two Members, could not contend that Manchester and Birmingham should have only the same number of Members. If hon. Members would attend to what was said in the Speech from the Throne, in 707 which his Majesty recommended that we should "carefully adhere to the acknowledged principles of the Constitution, by which the prerogatives of the Crown, the authority of both Houses of Parliament, and the rights and liberties of the people, are equally secured," they would find that none of those principles were impaired by this Bill—that none of them would be taken away; but that, on the contrary, they would all be strengthened. But how stood the prerogatives of the Crown in the system as it now operated? It was well known that the Crown could not cope with the borough mongers, and that no Ministry could stand but such as pleased the borough owners, as long as the boroughs, on their present system, were allowed to remain. Could that be called a system of Representation in which the people had no voice in the choice of those who were supposed to represent them? Yet this was the case with about one-third of the Representation of England. Could that be called Representation in which sixty four Members of the Commons were returned by nine Peers? Yet this was what hon. Gentlemen who opposed the Bill called a Representation of the people in Parliament—a Representation which consisted partly of the nominees of Peers, and partly of those sent by the people; and the people were now to be told that, they were not the judges of the opinions and the character of those who were called their Representatives, but the Peers and others, who had the nomination, were the. proper and only judges. It was also contended, that the sale of seats, as well as the nomination by the aristocracy, should be upheld, because they worked well, and that we should not inquire into the subject. The advantage of having places which might be at the command of monied men, was another part of the system which it was said worked well. He would not suppose that any of the higher order of borough proprietors were so base as to traffick their boroughs for money, yet it was well known that, there were instances in which scats in the House of Commons were sold for the life of the purchaser—or by the year—or by the Parliament—as the case might be. These were cases of every day occurrence; so were those of the interference of Peers, though both were in contravention of most positive laws; and yet they were told by the opponents of the Bill, that these abuses ought to be continued because they work- 708 ed well; that was, that the people should not have any influence in the return of those who were to represent them, though the principle on which Representation was established, was directly the reverse. The objections made to the Bill were as anomalous and inconsistent as the abuses which it went to correct. Some objected to the popular nature of the elections— others to the measure of Reform as not being final—others again to its being gradual, and so on; so that, in fact, there was no system of Reform against which objection was not made. Some would negative all kinds of Reform, from the system of Universal Suffrage, up to the granting the franchise to the three great towns. All and each of these had been negatived by large majorities. Even the transfer of the franchise from a corrupt borough had been negatived, and it was considered a great stretch to give it to the neighbouring hundred in one instance. To such a length had this negative of all Reform been carried, that it excited the disgust of the people, who lost all confidence in the Commons House; yet no Government could go on without the public confidence. He had always been a friend to Reform from his earliest years, and though he was free and unpledged, and might vote against it if his conscience told him so, yet he supported it because it was, in his opinion, the only way of rescuing the country from danger. It was true, he had not courage to propose such an extensive plan of Reform as that brought forward by Ministers. Yet he did not consider that he should discharge his duty to his country if he did not support it; and he felt gratitude to Ministers for having brought it forward. The hon. Member who spoke second in the debate, said, that great danger was to be apprehended from the House if it spoke the sense of the people. Now he would ask, what were they to speak, if they did not speak the sense of the people? The opinion of Mr. Pitt was, that a House of Commons should speak the real sentiments of the people, as if they were there to speak for themselves. This, however, was contrary to the modern doctrine, which said, that Peers should send those who were to speak for the people, without any reference to their sentiments or opinions. Such a system was not only a violation of the rights of the people, but it was likewise an inroad upon those of the Peers; for men now found their way to the House 709 of Peers by their influence over a certain number of votes in the Commons, and were placed amongst the highest men in the land, on no other account than because they possessed that corrupting influence. With respect to the question of disfranchisement, he contended that a precedent was set for it in the reign of Henry 6th, when all the freeholders of England under 40s. were disfranchised. The Act said, that no freeholders should be allowed to vote except those of 40s. of old extent, which old extent carried it back to the close of the thirteenth century; and this was one of the evils of the Scotch Representation, that by an adherence to that principle, the present votes were, in effect, in some cases, limited, by the increased value of property, to those who had 200l. a-year. As to what were termed Corporation robberies, he had only to remark, that nothing whatever was taken from Corporations: he admitted that they were deprived, in some cases, of the right of voting, but none of their municipal rights were touched by this Bill. He would now proceed to that part of the Bill which extends the elective franchise; and here he might observe, in the first place, that the fitness of communicating the power of sending Members to large, populous, and flourishing towns, was not disputed on any side. The hon. and learned member for Borough bridge had said, that nothing could be more honourable than the connection between Member and nominee. In the case of the hon. and learned Member, no doubt, it was so; but he did not think that even the hon. and learned Gentleman could be an independent Member of Parliament. It was a matter of honour, that he should not vote against his patron; and it was impossible for individuals so circumstanced to tell whether they were or were not biased. When reference was made to the Parliament which condemned Charles 1st, it ought to be recollected, that it was a House chosen under a military despotism, and under the auspices of Cromwell; and the people of England could not be responsible for that stain on our history. Others had talked of the three glorious days of July in Paris; but what resemblance was there between a King who had broken his oath and betrayed his people, and a noble, constitutional Monarch, who was anxious to restore to his subjects their lost rights? What resemblance, also, was there between the miserable As- 710 sembly of the House of Peers in France, and the House of Lords in England—so essential a part of the Constitution, and so important a barrier between the Crown and the people? Much had been said on the extension of the franchise to the 10l. householders, and it was asked upon what principle it was founded? His answer was, that it was founded upon the common law of England. The common-law right of voting in this country was in the resident householders paying scot and lot. What, then, were the inhabitant householders rated at 10l. a-year? Did it not include persons of every class and occupation? It was urged, that it did not include pot-walloppers; but the fact, was, that clean or unclean, washed or unwashed, they were embraced by the measure, and nonresident freemen were the only persons absolutely disfranchised, a great portion of whom were in favour of the Bill. If hon. Members were so fond of pot-walloppers as to wish to retain some boroughs where voting was by that right, why did they not extend the franchise to labourers? [" Hear, hear" from Mr. Hunt.] He expected that cheer from the hon. member for Preston; but he did say, that if the franchise were extended to that class, they would return such men as Cooper, who had suffered the extreme penalty of the law. The franchise, he contended, was sufficiently extended by this Bill, as it would be given to those who were most likely to give an independent vote. To such parties it was now the general feeling that the franchise should be given. At present, the yeomanry, farmers, and tenants in general, were unrepresented; whereas, by this Bill, the right was communicated to them. In future, the number of county Members would form two-fifths of the Representation; and how could such a measure be fairly termed revolutionary? It was high time to concede to the reasonable wishes of the people, and it was true wisdom not to delay concession too long; all the greatest misfortunes that had befallen nations had arisen from postponing concession too long; and Mr. Burke had said, "If there be one criterion which more than all the rest distinguishes a wise and prudent Government from an Administration weak and improvident, it is this—well to know, and in what manner to leave, what it is impossible to keep. Late reformations were terms imposed on conquered enemies." It would have been 711 well if this advice had been listened to on the Roman Catholic claims. If it had been followed, Parliament would not at last have been driven to grant to expediency, if not to fear, what was due to justice. Had Emancipation been earlier granted, the penal statutes, even now in progress, would probably have been unnecessary.
§ Lord Porchester, whilst he felt it difficult to express the degree of surprise which he experienced at the tone and vehemence with which the hon. and learned Member who spoke last had advocated the Bill before the House, confessed his readiness to acknowledge that the noble Lord with whom the Bill had originated (Lord John Russell), had, both by his writings on the subject, by his speeches on the introduction of the question, and on various occasions, raised to himself a memorial of his ability, knowledge, and attainments, which would last as long as the fame and literature of his native country. Those writings, however, had led him to a conclusion widely different from that now adopted by his noble friend. All his early prejudices and personal partialities had been in favour of Reform, but to that measure, which the Ministers showed themselves determined to carry at all events, without respect to the circumstances by which they were surrounded, and without modifications; a measure which, if passed, he believed would leave us little of our ancient Constitution; to that measure he must offer his most unflinching opposition. He had no parliamentary interest to support, he brought to the consideration of this question no party animosity, he had no feeling of hostility to the Administration, for he was born and bred a Whig, but he was a decided and determined opponent of the Bill. He did not deny the authority of Parliament to make this great change, but still he thought that such a measure as the present could only be justified by the most urgent necessity. He did not believe, that the people were dissatisfied, and would remain dissatisfied, without a measure of this most extensive kind; he was sure that the people were not bent upon having- this specific measure. The measure, in the first place, was one of a most extensive disfranchisement. In support of that, the case of the 40s. freeholders in Ireland was appealed to; but that example did not satisfy him of the wisdom or justice of the present measure. It was true that the 712 Irish freeholders were called on to forego an invaluable right; but, in compensation, they were granted a been beyond all price. It was true that by that Act they were depressed in the scale of Representation; but, then, at the same time, they obtained an Act that replaced their country in the scale of nations. The Members on his side of the House had a right to complain of the partial effects of this measure—for while the interests of voters in large towns were respected, in the small boroughs no friendly arm was raised to protect the humble voters, or mitigate the hardship of their doom. Having spent a great portion of his life abroad, he should, perhaps, be pardoned if he made some few observations upon foreign countries; and he could not avoid remarking, that while all the representative governments which at different times it had been attempted to establish in them, had been shaken to pieces, that of Great Britain flourished as proudly as ever. In Corsica, in Portugal, and in Belgium, Constitutions had been framed upon the British model, and how had they succeeded? Where were they now? All had failed, and their failure was to be attributed, according to some, to the difference of national feelings, to the different distribution of property, and to other merely local causes connected with the habits and prejudices of the people. He, however, was of a different opinion. He had no doubt that there were peculiar circumstances in each particular State which exercised a certain degree of influence, and contributed partially to the failure of these Constitutions; but the failure was to be attributed to other causes. The framers of these foreign Charters had adopted the forms of free States; they thought they had a good capacity for representative government, and they took our Constitution, not because it was fittest for them, but because they found it upon paper; they adopted it, not as it was in reality, but as it would be if this Bill were to pass. He would call the attention of the House in particular to the Constitution of France. It was framed by a Monarch who was no stranger to our Constitution; and in imitation of it he had framed a Charter for France, composed of King, Lords, and Commons. Did it work well? In theory it appeared to do so—it appeared even better than ours—but in practice it was much worse. It did not calmly reflect the opinion of the French community, but 713 was blown aside by every gust of feeling, and fluctuated with every fluctuating passion of the multitude, and sometimes of a single man. Who did not remember the almost marvelous changes worked in the conduct of the Chamber of Deputies at different periods? At one time their most popular orator was driven from their threshold, and a crusade against the rising liberty of Spain was determined upon. In a few years more, further fluctuations took place, arising from parliamentary violence and regal encroachment, and the sway of the Bourbons was for ever at an end. He did not mean to justify those criminal Ordinances which had produced their downfall; but he must say, that any man who had watched the progress of the French Constitution, must have felt satisfied that far better policy on the part of the Government could not long have avoided a collision between the Crown and the people. These fluctuating changes were attributable to the uniformity of the franchise. That uniformity often had the effect of throwing the election into the hands of a single man. There was no peculiar influence, such as was connected with our borough system, that could regulate their effects; an influence which those who now supported this measure were ready at once to disregard. He repeated, that the changes in the opinions of the Representatives in the French Chamber of Deputies occurred with every change of the prejudices of the people. In one Parliament the popular voice threatened the very existence of the Monarchy, while in another it was barely represented by seven Deputies. The government of that country, some years, ago, felt it necessary to erect a sort of breakwater against the effects of the waves of popular feeling, and that too in a country in which the qualification for a voter was much higher than in England. It endeavoured, as the means of safety, to limit the number of electors though they amounted only to 90,000, while our Government, by a dash of the pen, proposed to add half a million of voters to the constituency. The French government endeavoured in that manner to approximate to our system of close Representation. That was, in fact, the principle of stability in our Government; yet that principle we were called' on to throw away, as it was opposed to the passing-spirit of the moment. That principle the French government endeavoured 714 to obtain; but they could not preserve it for it had not "grown with their growth, and strengthened with their strength;" but had been introduced as a novelty, and could not be amalgamated with their preexisting institutions. He admitted that nomination boroughs were objectionable in theory; and, therefore, though he believed they were very salutary in practice, yet he should gladly see them removed, if, in the Bill for removing them, he saw the elements of stability. He must, however, declare, that he saw no such thing. On the contrary, he believed, that if a man wished to draw a bill—removing some anomalies to create others, and to sow the seeds of perpetual change —he could not better have succeeded than by drawing this Bill. They were told, that the people were only asking for their natural indefeasible rights. What were the natural indefeasible rights of the 10l. a-year householder, or in what respect were his natural rights better than those of the nine-pounder? How was it again, that the 40s. freeholders in England were qualified, while in Scotland the 10l. freeholders were only just entitled? Surely, for the honour of Scotland, the Scotch Members ought to look after this. How could the proposers of this Bill reconcile the fact of the leaseholder of 50l. being entitled to a vote, while the substantial farmer, who paid an annual rent of 1,000l. was entitled to no such privilege. It might be said, that the latter was a tenant at will; but was not the 10l. house holder in the town also a tenant at will? Certainly he was, and then the Ministers proposed to admit the poor tenant at will to the privilege of a vote, and denied it to the rich one. Surely the Ministers could not hesitate to remove these objections and anomalies from a system introduced for the purpose of amending the Representation. They would have the less difficulty in doing this, for their scheme was not endeared by the recollections of past ages, nor had it taken deep root in the habits of the people. Another difficulty was this—How would they now provide for the Colonial Representation? The Colonies were now virtually represented. At some things they were dissatisfied, and their dissatisfaction would be increased when they saw the men who now represented their interests removed from that House. On the principle laid down by the Ministers, on the 715 principle of this Bill itself, they must meet this dissatisfaction by resorting to direct Colonial Representation. Had they weighed well the evils of such a system? That system had been tried in the Peninsula—it was tried by men of a most estimable character, and what was the result? They promoted local interests at the expense of the general welfare. It was said by the right hon. Baronet, the member for Knaresborough (Sir James Mackintosh), that this Bill could not have an injurious tendency, as it had the support of men of weight in the kingdom. That argument would be found of no value when it was remembered that that had been the case in all revolutions. "I like renouncing my rights and privileges," said an English Earl, at the breaking out of the Revolution which ended in the usurpation of Cromwell, and yet that did not prevent the man from suffering in common with the Peerage. The same thing occurred in France at the time of the Revolution; and the men who made the sacrifice did not escape the common ruin. The same thing happened in 1820 in the Spanish Revolution. He spoke this from positive knowledge. All the talent among the aristocracy—all the rank and fashion of the country, went with that Revolution, which, in the end, deprived them of their home and their country. Let him not, therefore, be told in order to reconcile him to the measure, that men of wealth and rank gave it their support. In the present constitution of that House, strong talent would always find its way thither. Men of talent, of whatever rank or station, would make their talent known, and would find their way into that House; but under the system proposed' by that Bill, no man, but one possessed of great landed interest, or powerful family connection, could hope to enter there, unless he would consent to pander to popular prejudices, and would advance as his own the most exaggerated popular opinions. This would infallibly be the result of the Ministerial Bill; this would be the course invariably pursued by the baffled but aspiring talent of the country. The danger arising from a false direction given to talent, might be less formidable in calm, and quiet, and prosperous times; but, looking to the severe distress which had at intervals afflicted the country, and which would he feared, again occur,—looking to the heavy Debt and burthen some taxation which weighed 716 her down, and which his Majesty's Ministers honestly confessed they could not remove,—looking at the threatening aspect of Europe, especially France—to the possibility, aye, even to the probability of war —to the vast expenditure that must attend the progress of war, if war should unfortunately arise—and to the national exhaustion and individual misery that must follow its termination,—looking to these, to all these circumstances, let not that House, let not his Majesty's Ministers buoy themselves up with the idle hope that theoretical improvement would produce national satisfaction, or that the trade of sedition would not yield an ample harvest for many years to come. He knew they were told that there was no party which desired to overthrow the Constitution— or, if there was, that there was too much wealth and property arrayed in its support to render such a project feasible. He begged to answer, that property, which was the main-spring of power in well ordered times, became the source of weakness in times of alarm and danger. To those who doubted of the existence of men entertaining such dangerous schemes, he recommended a visit that would amply satisfy their minds on that subject—a visit to some of the haunts of sedition, in this great metropolis. Let them go to these places, and there they would hear, sometimes from talented men, the most violent expressions of sedition, received by a crowded, and not always an uneducated audience, with savage cheers of approbation. If he could be convinced that the measure of the noble Lord would secure the real liberties of the people, and promote their happiness, so highly did he value their good opinion, and so anxious was he to promote their welfare, that he would unhesitatingly vote for him, notwithstanding the peril into which the Bill must bring the Aristocracy and the Monarchy; but feeling that it was fraught with a thousand dangers, and held out only a precarious hope of possible advantage, he felt himself bound in duty to oppose it. He opposed it, because it opened an interminable vista of political change—because it launched us on an ocean of great and doubtful experiment, and when once launched he saw no friendly beacon in the distance, no blessed haven, where the shattered ark of the Constitution might at length repose in peace.
Mr. Gally Knight
would give the 717 House a curious instance of the different manner in which the times operated on different minds. The noble Lord who had just sat down, had stated that, within the last few months, he had been metamorphosed from a Whig into an anti-Reformer, exactly the contrary had taken place with him, he had been changed from an opponent of Reform into a friend, and he must explain the motives which induced him to give his unqualified support to the Bill. He had long known, that commerce and manufactures had gradually raised up large masses of wealth and intelligence, and a population which might reasonably claim the been of Representation. He was also aware, that the Gattons, and Old Sarums, were blots that could not be defended, being much more pernicious as sources of corruption, than useful as inlets of talent. So long as there were hopes that room would be made for these classes, and towns which deserved and desired to be represented, so long was he content to wait the gradual accomplishment of that act of justice. But, when the franchise of East Retford was refused to Birmingham, when the petitions of the four great towns the seats of our principal manufactures, were uniformly disregarded —when he saw the safety-valve advisedly nailed down— when the imbecility of Charles the 10th had spread agitation through Europe—and when the gratuitous declaration of a noble Duke then at the head of affairs, had awakened in this country that excitement, which had unjustly been attributed to the present Government, he then came to the conviction, that a much larger concession to the people than he had originally contemplated, must be made, and that it ought to be made, at once. It was from no disregard to the institutions under which we lived, that he was ready to support the Bill; he yielded to no man in his admiration of those institutions, or in resolution to support them; and he should consider the man who attempted to subvert them, when he saw what tin country had become, under those institutions, as the worst enemy of the people, He did not admit the validity of the precedent borrowed from other countries, because they afforded no parallel; and he would do his best to conduce to the permanence of our own institutions, because he considered them as the most glorious fabric ever raised by human skill, and if it was the will of Providence that they must fall, he 718 prayed that he might be crushed and extinguished beneath their ruins. But, if there were one thing more than another he admired, it was the elastic nature of those institutions. Always the same in general outline and fundamental principles, they never long remained the same in their details and minute parts. They lent themselves to the progress of intellect, to the temper of the times, and to all the changes in wealth and manners, and were not weakened by repeated alterations. Our forefathers were not afraid of innovation, for they introduced great changes. What was Magna Charta but a great innovation? To whom were we indebted for that great foundation of our liberties, but to the Barons of England, a fact, which, he hoped, would not be forgotten by their successors. The Bill of Rights, and the Act of Succession, were great innovations. Had our forefathers been guided by the much-extolled maxim of "let things alone," where would have been our boasted Constitution? It had been the result of sweeping measures and successive improvements, and the progress of time and knowledge would require similar measures at certain intervals. Our forefathers no more intended to close the door to future improvements than they thought it their own duty to leave things exactly as they found them. If we duly appreciated their wisdom, we should neither turn from innovation with horror, nor shrink from new measures because they were extensive. The object of the present innovation (however dangerous it might appear to its opponents), was, in fact, to keep danger at a distance, not to shake or destroy, but to strengthen and preserve. But, the time at which it was proposed, was objected to. It was said, "while revolution is in progress in France, and Europe in a state of agitation, will you attempt to introduce such a measure as the present." These appeared to: him reasons which required the change, because that agitation would extend, or rather had extended to this country, it was the duty of the Parliament to guard against, its effects. Against the fears that danger would come from abroad, the House must provide antidotes, by leaving no just ground of complaint to the people at home; and, by giving them the fullest confidence in the institutions by which they were governed. It is added, however, that although reasonable men might be satisfied, the mass would remain discontented, He 719 had a better opinion of the people, they had always been remarkable for good sense and moderation, their character had not changed, they would not, therefore, remain dissatisfied if their demand was granted. The want of being properly represented, was the grievance they complained of, which must be removed; and, when the people of Great Britain were represented fully and fairly, they would see and know, that the measures adopted by men of their own choice, would be the best the situation of the country admitted of. He was convinced it would be the wisest plan to grant the full concessions proposed and demanded. He would not lend himself to a piecemeal improvement, for he was persuaded, if the Sybil were sent back, and her terms not complied with, she would return with increased demands. Such were the motives and views which influenced him, not that he should see the triumph of the Bill (for triumph it would) with unmixed satifaction, for he contemplated all great changes with anxiety, but he felt no more than ought to be felt, on occasions of equal magnitude. He was convinced the Bill would be productive of great and substantial advantages to the whole community, and that the country would exhibit to the world the example of a great nation casting oft' by one strong and peaceful effort, the defects which had crept into her system, returning from a state of excitement to contented tranquillity, putting itself into a condition to contend with every difficulty, and procuring for itself the best chance of permanent prosperity.
Mr. A. Dundas
said, in consideration of the late hour, and the impossibility of finishing the discussion that night, he begged to move that the Debate be adjourned until to-morrow.