§ On the Motion of Lord John Russell, the Order of the Day for continuing this Adjourned Debate was read.
§ Mr. R. A. Dundas
said, that having on a former occasion received the indulgence of the House while he expressed his opinion on this important subject, he was induced again to trouble them, but he assured them it should be but briefly. As the Motion now under their consideration was not new, so no new reasons suggested themselves in opposition to it. He could not help differing from the opinion stated last night by the hon. member for Kircudbright, that this was an improper occasion to call the attention of the House to the Bill for Reform in the Scotch Representation. On the contrary, he thought this a fit opportunity for the discussion of that subject. By the three Bills having been put before the House within a short period of each other, the Opposition were not prevented from showing the inconsistencies that existed among them. He should do so on this occasion. He had last night listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the member for Knaresborough, and on a former night to that of the noble Lord who introduced the Bill, but he did not think that either of them contained facts sufficient to justify the measure. Those speeches went to show, that from the earliest period to the present moment, there had been gradual changes in the form of the Representation. But then those changes always were intended to improve the general condition of the people. He did not think that this change would have that effect. Besides, he would fearlessly assert, that from the earliest time to the present moment, among all the changes which had taken place, there had been no change so general in its provisions, and so sweeping in its nature, as the change now proposed. The only fact established by the speeches to which he had referred was, that the Representation had been varied and not uniform, and yet the endeavour of the present Bill was to establish an uniformity in the mode of election. But, since the House of Commons became an essential part of our Constitution, there was no period at which any 729 uniform right of election prevailed throughout the country,—there might, perhaps, have been such in the Saxon Monarchy, or in the early feudal periods at which the contest was carried on between the Crown and the Barons, and at which time the mass of the people always went with the stronger party; there might have been, he admitted, a time at those early periods,— although there was no positive proof of the fact,—at which the people, under their superior lords, exercised their right of voting without any particular definite qualification; but as internal prosperity and good Government were the best proofs of the blessings of any Constitution, he would waive the consideration of those early periods, and ask the House to consider the constitution of Parliament from the days of Queen Elizabeth to the present time. As long as the Crown had large hereditary revenues—as long as the feudal system enabled the King to extort money and services from his vassals—the power of Parliament, and the consequence of electors in counties and towns, was, comparatively speaking, small. The noble Lord had referred to the reign of the Tudors with some degree of exultation, and because he found out that the Constitution was not then settled, he claimed for himself the privilege of now making a considerable change. But though he agreed with the noble Lord that the Constitution was not settled in the reign of the Tudors, yet he must assert, that the Constitution possessed at that time, before that time, and ever since that time, all the peculiarities that now distinguished it, as far as regards a varied right of election throughout the cities and boroughs of England. That same system continued in the reign of the Stuarts, and during that period secured to the Commons of England that ascendancy which they had since preserved amidst the despotism that had fallen on other nations. It was said, the other night, that the changes made by Cromwell were approved by Clarendon, and thus an attempt was made to obtain for the present change the authority both of Cromwell and Clarendon. He did not think that that could justly be done; for even if Lord Clarendon approved of the changes proposed by Cromwell, still it was evident, that Cromwell was much more moderate than his Majesty's present Ministers. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill had said, that he meant to main- 730 tain "the prerogatives of the Crown, the privileges of both Houses of Parliament, and the just rights of the people." He had no doubt that the noble Lord was sincere in his wish, but if he was so, did he think this Bill would effect those objects? What Hume said upon the subject of Cromwell's changes was this? He said, "Cromwell, in the Parliament of 1647, deprived of the right of election all the small boroughs, all the places the most exposed to influence and corruption: that of the 400 Members who represented England, 270 sat for counties, and the rest were elected by London and the more considerable Corporations. The low people, who might be so easily guided or deceived, were excluded from the right of election, and an estate of 200l. value (that was most material) was necessary to entitle any one to vote." This was Hume's description of Cromwell's changes. Now he (Mr. Dundas), on comparing the value of money then with its value now, believed that 200l. of that time were equal to 600l. or 700l. at this time. So that the changes of this Republican were much more likely to maintain a Monarchical system than were those now proposed by his Majesty's Ministers. He regretted that they had not adopted that part of the principle of Cromwell, which would have entitled this Bill to the name of a conservative measure, by confining the right of election to persons of property—a mode that would prevent those corrupt practices which were said to exist in boroughs, more especially those which were somewhat popularly represented. It would be better to introduce a measure of a more restrictive nature, for then, if it were required to be extended, that could easily be done; but when once an extensive measure of this kind was passed, it would be most dangerous to attempt to introduce any future restrictions. To say the least of the measure of Government, it was a measure of experiment; and if that experiment should fail, how was the failure to be remedied? We were asked to put aside a system for a few defects which it happened to have on its surface, and for which it was to be erased from the page of history; but if the substitute for this system was to fail, what would be the consequences? He asked whether, if it should fail, the people of this country would subside into acquiescence in the system under which we now lived? He 731 thought not, although he believed that that system was more calculated to be beneficial to the country than the one introduced by the Ministers. There was no person ready to suggest a remedy for this evil. When Scotchmen were so prudent in their private concerns, he could not but feel surprised at the mania they had exhibited on the subject of politics. That excitement boded no good to the future condition of the people, and he knew no worse sign of the times than the ebullitions of temper and of violence which had lately manifested themselves, among the quiet, orderly people of Scotland. The excitement which so universally prevailed, he believed had been in a great measure caused by those who were now in office. They had held up what they called the grievances of the present system to the observation of the people. That the people had commenced the clamour for Reform was a fallacious statement which had previously been disproved by his right hon. friend (Mr. Croker). The clamour arose in that House and was echoed out of doors. The people were contented till the King's name was enlisted against what the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite called the boroughmongering system. He disapproved of those exceptions which were to be made in favour of certain boroughs—such as Tavistock and Calne, which the noble Lord was disposed to preserve, because they contained a few hundred persons more than the boroughs he was disposed to disfranchise. It was said, too, because Cambridge, Portsmouth, and Plymouth had now a more numerous population than formerly, though the number of voters was diminished, that this shewed the necessity of a Reform. But admitting the population principle to be the just one for regulating the elective franchise, they would be changing from a variable system of Representation under which every interest in the country had flourished, a fixed principle which of necessity must work injustice to many of the most important interests in the State. It was stated by a right hon. and learned Member(Sir J. Mackintosh)last night, that such an alteration had been made in the right of franchise by the two Unions, with Scotland and Ireland; that the innovation now proposed was on those precedents justifiable. In the first place it should be considered that times and circumstances then and now were very different; and 732 above all, it should be considered that although the number of Scotch Representatives was diminished, that the mode of exercising the right of suffrage remained the same. The Commissioners there, both English and Scotch, used their best efforts to render the Union beneficial to both countries. Again, as to the disfranchisement which took place upon the Union with Ireland, it bore no analogy whatsoever to that which was now proposed. The Irish Corporations and borough-holders obtained compensation, and besides, even if they had not, the state of the two countries required whatever sacrifice had been called for on the one side, and submitted to by the other. The only thing at all bearing upon this subject which he had heard was the case of the disfranchisement of the Irish 40s. freeholders. In that debate he had taken no part, and he would not then undertake to say whether that measure was or was not of benefit to both countries. But still he could not help regretting the absence of the Foreign Secretary (Lord Palmerston), who, upon the discussion of that measure, had characterized it as an act of gross injustice; and how that noble Lord could now turn round and defend a measure exactly similar in principle, he was at a loss to understand. The noble Lord had stated, in so many words, upon the occasion he alluded to, that it could be "neither moral nor just to begin a speculative good by the commission of a positive act of injustice." But if that class of the Irish freeholders had been disfranchised, the country generally received a fair compensation; while the present Bill of Reform would not only destroy the rights of Corporations, but those of thousands of individuals. But, if the principle adopted were just as regarded England, why was not the same principle applied to Scotland? His Majesty's Ministers agreed that a considerable addition should be made to the number of Representatives for counties, but to Scotland a different principle had been applied; and he was at a loss to see why in England the principle should be to disfranchise the boroughs, and confer additional franchises on counties, while in Scotland it was directly the reverse. Several Scotch counties were to be disfranchised to a certain extent, and, though some of them were more populous than counties in England which returned two Members, no county in Scotland was to return more than one 733 Member, and eight of them only one Member for every two counties. This was, in fact, like some of the distinctions in Schedules A and B, which appeared to be founded only on caprice. The excitement which now prevailed had no doubt been partly raised by the disturbances in France, and the state of the Continent had last night been referred to as a justification for Reform at home. He believed, that what he had stated nine months ago on that subject was now confirmed by passing events; and that most persons of property in France agreed with him in thinking, that their Revolution bad but exchanged what he might call the mild despotism of the Bourbons for the anticipation of evils under a new Government. When such violent and ruinous changes were taking place abroad this was not the time for our Ministers to trample upon the blessings that this country enjoyed under the present form of Government, nor on the advantages of a Constitution that had enabled us to attain the highest station among the people of the civilized world. When he thus spoke in defence of that Constitution, he was raising his voice perhaps for the last time in its behalf. He thought it might be compared in some degree to the works of the creation, respecting which a poet and a philosopher had said, that if parts of them appeared inconsistent with each other yet that the whole was perfect;—And if each system in gradation roll,Alike essential to the amazing whole,The least contusion but in one, not allThat system only, but the whole must fall."'
wished to make a few observations upon this subject. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had talked of men who represented large towns being sent shackled into that House. Now he had the honour to represent a large town, in a manufacturing county, and he did not feel that he was either fettered or shackled in his opinions, because those opinions happened to coincide with thousands, any more than any hon. Gentleman was fettered whose opinions happened to coincide only with the patron of the borough for which he sat. Much blame had been thrown on the Ministers for the use of the sacred name of Majesty on this occasion. Were the people then to be reminded of that sacred name only when coercive measures were to be passed, and measures unpalatable to popular feeling? When a measure was highly popular, why was 734 not the head of the Government to reap the benefit of that popularity? That blame came with a bad grace from the High Tory party, who for so long a time made every use of his Majesty's name to prevent the passing of the Bill for the relief of their Catholic brethen. It was said, that the people of England would make use of this measure as a disguise for other proceedings. That was a libel on them—they had no such idea. When this Bill was passed into a law, he trusted we should drop all animosities, all excitement; and if the cuckoo cry, "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill," offended hon. Gentlemen opposite, it would then be buried in the same grave with the raven croak of "No change—no innovation— and least of all, such a change as this."
§ Sir John Malcolm
was sure that his Majesty's Ministers would give him credit for being actuated by no hostility towards them, and for having no other object in view than to treat this as a great public question. His remarks, however, would principally dictated by what he had himself experienced in the course of his professional labours. During the debates, much reference had been made to what was the state of the Representation under the Plantagenets, the Tudors, and the Stuarts, but little had been said about the interests of those vast colonies which we possessed, if one of them could be called a colony—that vast empire established in the East, over eighty millions of men, with thirty additional millions, governed, indeed, by native princes, but partly dependent on our Government, and partly under our control. He belonged to Schedule B, and was, consequently, among the nomination boroughs. It was said, that persons representing these boroughs were dependent on those who nominated them. The answer to that was given by the right hon. member for Knaresborough, who, in painting his own condition, had described that of other borough Members. He was equally as independent as that right hon. Member. The hon. member for Kircudbright had talked of persons being dependent for their vote on others under the operation of the present system. Why he knew of no condition of civilised society in which men were not dependent on each other. There was not one of the objections which he had to the present Bill that he did not state in the last Parliament; and now, after calm- 735 ly and deliberately reconsidering those objections, he only found his persuasions upon the subject more and more confirmed. Much, indeed, had been said about the necessity of yielding to public opinion. If that opinion were arrived at on deliberate investigation and information on the part of the public, he would recommend that it should be attended to; but to popular clamour he never would yield. If there were any one thing more than another established by the experience which history afforded, it was this—that to yield to popular clamour was one of the grossest errors which those in possession of political power could possibly commit. There was little to be apprehended from popular clamour at any time, or almost under any circumstances, in this country. From an early period of life he had always held it to be an indisputable truth, that of all the people upon earth, the English were the most difficult to be led into any offence against the laws; and though great pains had been taken, at different times for the purpose of exciting apprehensions in the event of the present Bill being rejected, yet most advisedly he undertook to say, that its not passing that House would never produce the slightest degree of violence out of doors; for the English, above all mankind, submitted the most patiently to the dominion of the law. So much did he rely upon this characteristic of the English that he was persuaded that they would stop upon the brink rather than press forward in their career, if the laws were against them. Having thus disposed of the argument founded upon the assumption that violence would ensue upon the rejection of the Bill, and disposed of it in a manner that could not but be satisfactory to the mind of every man acquainted with the character of Englishmen, he should come to the consideration of a part of the subject upon which he must be allowed to say that he held very strong opinions. When so much had been said about the period of the Tudors, and the necessity of restoring the House of Commons to what it was at that time, did hon. Gentlemen forget that the Tudors had, comparatively speaking, no armies, no navies, no colonies? There were not such possessions abroad as now belonged to England. The circumstances of England to which our system had already adapted itself, go different now from which they then were, taught him that no great alteration 736 such as the Bill would effect could be made in that system without causing serious mischief. In the earlier periods of our history as had been shown by the right hon. the member for Knaresborough, for whose political researches he had the highest respect, the boroughs which were to be disfranchised under the present Bill had been represented by the sons of noblemen or by gentlemen resident within them or in their immediate vicinity; but that was at a time long before our domestic trade, our commerce with the other nations of the world, or our colonial relations, had attained to anything like the height or importance which belonged to them, during the last and present centuries. By degrees, strangers who had acquired wealth abroad and were acquainted with our colonies, came to those boroughs; and at length they almost ceased to have any Representatives excepting men, who, when in the pursuit of fortune, they were extending the fame of their native land into the remotest quarters of the world, never ceased to cherish an attachment to her institutions, and an admiration of the principles of justice and rational freedom upon which they were founded; and who, coming home to enjoy the rewards of their long and laborious efforts, desired to take a part in the government and councils of the country, from which they had been so long separated, but from which their affections had never been estranged. They were the men who supplied the places of those who had previously represented all the boroughs in the kingdom, and by the Reform Bill all persons of that stamp would in future be excluded from there-presentation of the interests to which they belonged, and from any share in the councils of their country. The change he had described had been wrought by the vast increase of our population, wealth, and colonies, and as they had increased they had gradually forced the Representation to adapt itself to their wants. As matters stood under the system by which the country had risen to its present pitch of wealth and greatness, not only were the people represented in that House, but all the interests of the country were fully represented; but how would those interests now stand? Should the Bill pass, how, he wanted to know, would the colonies have an influence in the proceedings of Parliament? It was an easy thing to seize hold of a popular prejudice or excitement, and dilate and declaim upon 737 it. He had seen much of life, and had visited distant countries, and rather looked at the fruits which sprung forth than the soil upon which they grew. In this manner did he speculate upon the present measure; and sorry was he to declare his opinion to be so inimical to it. He calculated upon it as being not beneficial to the best interests of the country as its warm friends and supporters prognosticated, but highly injurious. The boroughs which now represented all the interests of the empire would become only the means of sending men to that House to advocate their local interests, and the general interests of the empire must be lost sight of. He would leave to other hon. Members to plead the causes of the Canadas, of the West-Indies, of our possessions in New South Wales and in Africa; and he would strictly limit himself to the East Indies. He must assert, then, without fear of being contradicted, that when this Bill passed, the 80,000,000 of people of that empire would not find one Representative in the British Parliament, not one man acquainted with their wants and interests, and so free from local prejudices and local connections that he would be able to attend to the welfare of that great territory. He had mentioned one peculiarity of Englishmen, he should now advert to another; it was, that wherever they went, they invariably entertained a strong predilection for what was called the British Constitution. Now, really, he was unable to comprehend the policy which went to destroy that feeling: he thought, on the contrary, that the great aim of legislation should be, to uphold that feeling, and cherish it in the breasts of those who were exiled from their native land. In the distant climes of India, how frequently among the natives of Britain settled there did political discussions take place, and possibly that very Bill might be under discussion in India at the present moment. It was a great mistake, then, not to encourage the sentiment of which he spoke; for, of all others, it tended to maintain in our fellow-countrymen, both at home and abroad, a patriotism upon which wise legislators would rely with the utmost confidence for the maintenance of that spirit by which national independence and public liberty were upheld. If, then, the Constitution was to be broken up, adieu to that patriotism which had carried England through so many difficulties, and which had raised her to a pitch of pros- 738 perity and greatness, far surpassing the warmest hopes of those who had witnessed the commencement of her distinguished career. As respected India, it was of the highest importance that Parliament should legislate upon sound principles. It was equally a matter of certainty, that no man possessed useful information, unless he happened to enjoy the advantages of local and practical experience; and without that it would be impossible to legislate successfully for our Colonies. The House might not be aware, perhaps, of the extraordinary changes that had formerly and recently taken place in India. He would only mention, that within thirty-five years since he, as a subaltern, joined a corps in garrison, at a distance of eighty miles from Madras, under the protection of a military escort, he had exercised military, civil, and political power over the central provinces of India—the occupation of which completed our recognised sovereignty and supremacy over the whole of that immense country. It was impossible not to contemplate with awe so vast a power so rapidly acquired; and impossible not to perceive that every measure adopted to promote its good administration, required the most serious deliberation. He would not discuss the manner in which our power had been attained in India. In his opinion, the acquisition was unavoidable; but whether that were the case or not, having acquired it, we were bound to look to its preservation. We could not recede from our present position. Financial considerations, and a desire to prevent India from being a burthen to England, had led to great reductions. The distinguished nobleman now at the head of British India, had laboured to promote economical reform; which, in some instances, had led to considerable changes in the structure of the administration. He had lately presided over the government of seven millions of human beings, and knew, that reductions had been recently made in its expenses amounting to nearly thirty per cent. This could not be effected without great changes in the administration. The employment of Europeans had been diminished, and that of the natives extended. The effect, in some instances, and the tendency of all these changes, would be, to render our rule in India one of control, under high officers, in whom great local power would be concentrated, with little opposition from subordinate European agents. This change 739 which he deemed useful and salutary, would give increased power to those selected to fill high stations—men who formerly had charge of districts, would be intrusted with provinces almost as large as kingdoms; and it was upon the enlarged knowledge and talent of these local administrators, that we must depend for the future preservation of our empire, and for the amelioration and improvement of the condition of its inhabitants. The highest qualifications would be required in those who had to perform such duties, and the highest motives that could elevate the mind would be indispensable. Their ambition must be stimulated; and if the service no longer enabled them "to look to those fortunes which were formerly acquired in India, their attention should be directed to England as well as to India, as a quarter in which they might acquire fame and advancement. The present Bill would shut the last gate through which those who spent the better part of their lives in India, had hitherto been able to enter this House. He did not say, that persons, after being eight or ten years at home, settled on estates, or in towns, might not, under the new system, be able to enter this House; but their information with regard to India would, from the rapid succession of events in that country, have become obsolete on many important points, and they would no longer have the freshness of mind and information on the subject, of men recently returned from that quarter of the globe. He had expected, that this subject would have received some attention from Ministers, but it had been quite overlooked. If the Bill passed into a law, it would be indispensable to provide some means, by which persons who had gained distinction abroad, should enter this House; for by putting an end to the nomination boroughs, there would, at the same time, be an end to means for the introduction of Members into that House possessed of the requisite knowledge for treating subjects connected with our empire in the East. With regard to the boroughs, then, which had met with so much abuse in that House, this good had followed, that here, by their means, the great Indian interests were represented; but let the present Bill pass, and then he begged to inquire, how India could be represented? If the Bill were carried, which he hoped it would not be, he trusted that something would be done towards estab- 740 lishing for the Colonies something like a Representation, and so affording them the means of making themselves heard in that House. He was not so unreasonable as to contend that a constituency could be formed out of the native inhabitants of countries which we had conquered; neither did he suppose that a good constituency could be formed out of the British residents in those places; but he thought that a constituency advantageous to the best interests of the mother country might be formed out of the men who had large stakes in those Colonies. Having made these low remarks upon what appeared to him a matter of the very highest importance, he would next advert to a subject of less magnitude, but of which no trifling use had been made, and was likely to be made, in the course of the debates upon the Reform Bill; he alluded to the measures which had been resorted to for the purpose of effecting the adoption of the Bill. The oratory resorted to upon the present occasion—he meant with reference to the menaces—reminded him of the. first piece of oratory he had ever heard in his life, the conclusion of which was certainly the most effective conclusion he had ever listened to. He was on board an Indiaman that returned from a long voyage; the First Lieutenant of a man-of-war came on board, and being a person of very small stature, he found it necessary, in order to make himself seen, to use the capstan as his rostrum. He addressed the sailors—he enlarged upon the vast advantages presented to those who entered into his Majesty's service—he expressed his full conviction that the persons he was then addressing came the entire length of their long voyage for the express purpose of entering into that glorious service; "and now" said he, "presuming that every one of you will be delighted with so early an opportunity of gratifying your wishes, give three cheers for the King; and any man who does not, I will have him tied neck and heels, and thrown into that boat." That certainly was the most effective piece of oratory he had ever heard; but he deprecated the application of such oratory to the business of that House. He confessed that he bad not come his long voyage for the, purpose of cheering for Reform; but he hoped that neither he nor any other hon. Member who voted against the Bill incurred any risk of being tied neck and heels, and thrown wherever those 741 who indulged in the menaces to which he referred, might think proper to cast them.
Sir Francis Vincent
was one of those who had pledged himself to his constituents to support the Bill—a pledge which had been demanded and given under a correct understanding, after a full discussion in that House, and in the public Press, into its merits, had made both candidates and electors thoroughly conversant with its provisions. It was erroneous, however, to assert, that the pledge was meant to apply to a sort of verbal superstition to the mere letter of the Bill; what was sought was, a promise to support its principles. Those who, like himself, had given such a promise, had been taunted with being the mere delegates of the people in that House. Well, if that were a disgrace, he should like to know whether it was more honourable, or more constitutional, to be. a delegate of the people, than a delegate of an individual, even though he were a Peer? Rut such promises, though just now, for a purpose, railed at by those who dared not show their face wherever the electors could exercise a choice, was as common and frequent as elections themselves. All candidates made professions of political faith, and nothing but party zeal could distinguish such professions from promises or pledges. The people very rightly demanded those pledges at the late elections, and with equal wisdom insisted on their being specific. The point of honour on which hon. Members opposite had laid such stress, would have only opened the door to endless recriminations and misrepresentations, and therefore was not blindly reposed on by the people. Supposing a candidate had given a "point-of-honour "promise to support a moderate Reform, were not the electors, in justice to themselves, bound to ascertain what his "moderate" Reform was? whether it was the same as the moderate Reform of Ministers? He said it was a moderate plan, for it only went to satisfy the expectations of the public. It was framed in obedience to circumstances, from which every legislative measure derived its peculiar fitness. It was to its principle, and not to its letter, he repeated, a majority of that House was pledged; and that principle was, the destruction of the unconstitutional system of individual nomination—the giving the large towns and populous districts a share in the Representation—and the extending the franchise to those whose intelligence 742 and respectability were the guarantee of its being wisely exercised. This was what he pledged himself to advocate, and would not abandon. The Bill was based, not only on common sense, and the usages of the Parliament, but on the principles of constitutional law, as expounded by Black-stone; and to contend that this was opposed to the "wisdom of our ancestors" was only to express ignorance of what that wisdom consisted in—namely, in suiting those changes in our institutions, which time, the great innovator, had rendered necessary from his changes in our habits, condition and opinions. But for this wholesome accommodation of our institutions to our wants and circumstances, we should now be behind the world in the progress of civilization; and, like our ancestors, exposed to all the evils of feudal barbarism. These important facts were, thanks to the schoolmaster, familiar to the people. They knew, or professed they knew, that the present system of Representation, however it might work well for the few, by no means worked other than ill for the many. They fancied, that if that House had years ago been what it. ought to be, and what the Reform Bill would make it—the real Representatives of the people—they would not now be labouring under the present monstrous Pension-lists, and the present monstrous amount of National Debt and taxation. They felt that hon. Members were human beings, and as such, if not controlled, would not be uninfluenced in their public conduct by regard to their own interest; and they fancied that such had hitherto been the conduct of a large majority in that House. They acted on these convictions, and returned a large majority in favour of the Reform Bill. They were guided by reason, not by the influence of tumultuous excitement. It was an actual misrepresentation of facts, to say, that they expected that the Bill would remove all the ills incident to humanity, or that it would materially cheapen the necessaries of life; but they knew that all attempts to relieve their burthens—to make the rich, for example, bear their fair share of the taxes, which now so oppressed the poor— or to place the consumer, no less than the producer of the taxes, on something like a political equality—would be useless till they were virtually Represented in that House. He entirely agreed with them; and, holding with Mr. Pitt, that no honest 743 man could be Minister without a Reform of Parliament, would vote for the second reading, reserving to himself the right of suggesting; such Amendments in the details of the Bill in Committee, as might strike him to be expedient.
§ Colonel Trench
said, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had only quoted, the preceding night, a portion of the address of Mr. Drummond. The remaining portion was quite opposite, or rather gave a different view of the matter from what the right hon. and learned Gentleman had represented. He would beg leave to read the remaining passages, which he did with great pleasure, because Mr. Drummond was both a Whig and an honest man. "It is obvious, therefore, that I entertained a strong predisposition to receive favourably the plan which has been propounded by the Ministers, the greater part of which is unexceptionable; and that I had no wish to cavil at trifling faults. But since they have resolved to compel us to take 'the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill,' without any modification, it becomes us to pause before we submit to this dictation: for to seize upon the charters of unoffending towns, as they propose, is a violation of all law and equity, which, like any other act of tyranny, may indeed be effected by brute force, but which leaves no deed, nor privilege, nor property, in the kingdom, secured on any durable basis; and, henceforth, all we possess is held on the precarious tenure of popular sufferance, ready to be sacrificed whenever a Ministry, sufficiently profligate, shall be willing, to retain power by pandering to the passions of the mob, and, to perpetrate an act of spoliation under the ever-ready guise of public expediency. Nor does the integrity of some, and the experience of others, of the present Ministers, afford a rational hope of even a transient respite from a speedy repetition of such acts, since they have suffered themselves to be hurried by colleagues, famed no less for the un-soundness of their judgment and the recklessness of their principles, than the brilliancy of their talents, into a desperate plunge, by a false representation to their Sovereign that the Commons had refused the Supplies, on a complicated proposition, novel even to themselves, which least of all required haste, if it did not peremptorily demand the most cautious deliberation; and who, instead of calming the violence 744 of a suffering and irritated people, the only conduct of wise rulers, have rather fomented it, for the sake of taking advantage of their delirium, in order to delude their ignorance into the acceptance of a new Constitution. According to ' the whole Bill,' the House of Commons will no longer consist of Representatives of interests, but of delegates from mobs. Nature and law both admitting inequality of property, the Bill will confer equality of power. According to ' the whole Bill,' whose issues are unforeseen, it is impossible to retrace our steps, if any error should be subsequently discovered in its working; so that the folly of taking an irretrievable step into an unknown region, can only be denied by the assumption of infallibility. Every hope of relief to the productive classes, except from a liquidation of the Debt, is fallacious; and although this burthen may be got rid of by wise measures with perfect justice, there is as little probability of such wisdom appearing under the new Constitution as under the old; while the chance of justice being observed is much diminished, since the pretext of expediency, which shall have sanctioned the plunder of the corporations, will apply with aggravated power to the robbery of the public creditor; and the advantage of so doing, will be far more apparent to vulgar apprehension. The harvest is richer, and the morality the same. When I avowed myself an advocate for Reform, I was no hypocrite, and did not, under the mask of renovation, secretly intend revolution: I did not, under the pretext of repairing the popular branch of the Constitution, mean to give it a new power incompatible with the existence of the other branches: I did not, under the mockery of loyal attachment to the monarchy, intend to set up a republic. If, however, this Bill passes without modification, all the power of the State is transferred from the higher to the lower classes, and an ignominious abdication of his rights is the only peaceable alternative for the King." He entirely agreed in these sentiments, and believed that to pass the Bill would cause the invasion of public property, and, at no distant time, the ruin of the public creditor. It was rash, improvident, and revolutionary. What had transpired with respect to one of the clauses of the Bill ought to make the House cautious. He alluded to the clause giving votes to 10l. householders. He was 745 not present when the conversation on that subject took place, but he understood, that the Counsel who drew up the Bill, stated the tendency of the clause in question. Government, however, persisted in it, notwithstanding that explanation of its effect, and finally abandoned it, on its being mentioned in the House. It had been insisted that the case with regard to the boroughs of Tavistock and Cambridge were parallel. This was not, however, the fact, as the voters for Cambridge had increased, and not diminished, in the period alluded to, when the subject was mentioned. From the returns, he found that in the year 1716 the borough of Tavistock had 110 voters, and now there were only twenty-five, and the influence over these had fallen entirely into the hands of the Duke of Bedford; whilst at Cambridge, in 1716, there were 200 voters, and a very few years ago there were thirty additional voters, members added to the Corporation. These were not nominees of the noble person who was called the patron of that borough, but persons of opulence and independence. If he had not succeeded in conciliating their good opinion, the influence of that noble person would have availed him nothing. The noble Lord had certainly forgotten, when he compared Tavistock to Cambridge, that Oliver Cromwell had once represented Cambridge. Certainly the inhabitants of that town were not favourable to any great changes. The noble Lord, indeed, who was called the patron of that town and the townspeople, were distinguished for their sympathy against all revolutionary measures, which was the bond of the connection between him and them. He was about to have traced a comparison, with respect to which he had taken much pains, between the proceedings of the French Revolution and the present Reform Bill—but after the speech of a noble Lord near him, that was unnecessary. At present the House was in a situation that grieved him; but if the fatal day should arrive when the Members of that House were under the control of a mob, he looked to the House of Lords as a body which would withstand the measures forced on the Commons by violence from without, and overwhelming eloquence, with passion, from within. He hoped and trusted that the spirit of the gentlemen of the empire would resist such democratic violence, and that the older 746 aristocracy in the other House, and the younger scions of that body in the Commons, would, when the time arrived, act like Englishmen.
Sir James Mackintosh
begged pardon of the House for intruding an explanation, which was occasioned only by one circumstance. The hon. and gallant Member had brought a charge against him for having given one passage from the address of Mr. Henry Drummond, without having read the whole of it—a defect which was, however, supplied by the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself. Now he thought that the hon. Gentleman might as well have brought a charge against him for not having read the whole of the third Book of Cicero de Legibus, because he had quoted a small passage of it. This reminded him of a friend who, in a speech in that House, had made an unconscionably long quotation from the Æneid, and Mr. Canning having met him a few days after, asked him, "When does your friend mean to give us the rest of the Æneid?" He had, he believed, said, that Mr. Drummond was one of the most able and acrimonious opponents of the Reform Bill; and this statement would, he thought, lead others, as he believed it had led the hon. and gallant Gentleman, to supply their acrimony from that address. Now that he was up he would, if consistent with order, beg to correct another mistake which had been made respecting him. He had been represented, by a newspaper of powerful influence, great circulation, and generally remarkable for accuracy, as having said, that political privileges were property, whereas he had said directly the contrary, and he appealed to the House whether the whole tenor of his argument had not been directly the other way.
§ Mr. G. H. Vernon
said, that great stress had been laid by the anti-Reformers on what had taken place at the late elections, for the purpose of showing, that the people had been misled into giving their support to those who professed their readiness to support the Government in the present measure which had so entirely attracted the attention of the country; and in particular a great deal of taunting had been thrown out about the cry that had been raised of "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." Now he was ready to acknowledge that he himself had assisted in teaching that phrase to the people [cheers], and he had done this in 747 order to endeavour, as much as possible, to prevent the country from mistaking pretended friends for real friends of the measure; and for the purpose of showing that the adoption of that, or some similar phrase, was of great service, he might just mention that the word "Reformer" was, in large letters, applied to his anti-Reforming predecessor, from which the necessity of having some test to assure the people of the intentions of the candidates was made evident. But though he had taught the people that phrase, he did not mean to teach them that they were to cavil about petty details in considering the claims of the candidates that presented themselves, for he well knew, if that was attempted, they never would be able to arrive at any satisfactory result. It was their general adoption of this phrase that was the reason of the phenomenon which the hon. member for Aldborough had not been able to solve. The hon. Gentleman had stated, that such a feeling was never known to have existed before. And why? Because never before had there been presented a practical measure to which the people could give their hearty support, and by which they could find it worth their while to stand. He, for one, was ready to admit, that moderate Reform would not have satisfied him. When the genius of Reform should appear before him, he would not crouch to it with dismay or dread—he would not be content with merely sacrificing to it a hecatomb of venal boroughs—he would not grudge it those offerings which were necessary for its establishment upon a sure and permanent foundation: on the contrary, instead of attempting to appease it, as the Hindoo Pagans did their Idol Gods, he would be prepared to hail its approach as the approach of an era of good. He would tender to it all that savoured of nomination, as a reasonable homage and a dutiful expiation—he would glory in those very effects which its appearance promised, and which had so deeply excited the anger of the anti-Reformers, though they also offered their little modicum of incense, and trembled as they offered it. The right hon. member for Tamworth (Sir R. Peel) had taken an opportunity to deprecate the introduction of all party feeling, and to express a hope that this absorbing subject would be discussed with that coolness and deliberation which the great interests which it involved so fairly de- 748 manded at the hands of the Legislature. If by party feeling the right hon. Baronet meant the acrimony of party feeling, no one would more cordially join in the furtherance of that sentiment than himself; at the same time, bearing testimony that from no one could it have come with a better grace than from the right hon. Baronet, who was ever most careful to avoid anything like an approach to such an exhibition on his part. But he thought that, in addition to this abstinence from party feeling, it was still more necessary that Gentlemen should make a covenant with themselves, to abandon all the prejudices to which they had formerly submitted their minds. There were two kinds of prejudices—the one an adherence to old established feelings, which by long habit had become, as it were, a portion of our nature; and the other a too great readiness to snatch at speculative theories, in the expectation that they would lead to those results which a sanguineness of disposition had depicted as desirable. There was another feeling against which hon. Gentlemen would also do well to guard themselves, and that was, the working of self-interest. He knew that it was easy to gloss this over with the idea that for the Representatives of close boroughs to vote for their extinction, was tantamount to the committal of a sort of suicide, or perhaps parricide would be a still better term; in addition to which a favourite argument with the anti-Reformers was, that everything in the Constitution of the country was so sacred, that it could not by any means admit of a change. In his opinion, however, the Gentlemen who took this view of the subject, took a narrow view of it. The Constitution of a country was a practical thing, instituted for the good government of that country, and, therefore, it would always be wise to call in aid of it the lights that experience might be able to afford. One of the reasons why political economy had fallen so much into disrepute was, because it attempted to lay down a theory for the government of certain matters, without paying sufficient attention, or having sufficient regard to the facts that were in existence. But if this was objectionable in political economy, how much more so would it be in legislation. Government ought to be always progressive; it was a tree watered by human tears and blood, and it ought constantly to store up the fruits of experience, and be tried 749 by the test of history, in order to its forming a correct judgment of the meteors that occasionally spread terror through our atmosphere. The reason why ordinary phenomena caused apprehension, was only ignorance.The son's eclipse disastrous twilight sheds,O'er half the nations, and with fear of change perplexes Monarchs.But they were only perplexed by their ignorance. Ignorance and inexperience were the causes of bud government, while, by looking on the past as ephemera, Governments might view any phenomena, however portentous, and gaze upon them without any alarm. The present plan, however, was not open to the objection of being founded on theory; it was one built upon practical experience, and taking their stand on the ground of a free Press, he thought that they might look without dismay at the alarm that had been raised of violence on the part of the many on the one hand, or on the other of tyranny on the part of the few. In his opinion they ought not to admit into this Reform Bill anything that had not been already tried, and by adopting this course, they would have the advantage of having experience for their guide in all that they did. In saying this, he did not intend to intimate that he was pinning his faith upon what took place in the time of the Plantagenets and the Tudors; but his desire was, that if possible every improvement should at once be adopted, so as to render the measure, as far as practicable, a complete measure, and not to leave it open to any subsequent alteration. A great deal of reference had been made to the feeling which had returned the present Parliament, and it had been said, that the' majority which now existed in favour of the Bill, bad been produced by making the minds of the people feverish, which in its turn had been produced by the Government for party purposes; but the Gentlemen who made use of this argument might as well suppose that lightning was produced by those philosophers who constructed and directed conductors to disarm it of its danger. The only desire of Government was, to avert the peril that on coming into office, they had already found to exist; the Government did not claim this as their thunder. On the contrary, it might be attributed to that first great cause, who "rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm," for it was he who had inspired his creatures 750 with the spirit of liberty, and had given hem free will wherewith to execute it. Another argnment made use of by the opponents of this measure was, to refer to the victories and prosperity and power of the country as it had existed under the representative system which it was the object of the present Bill to demolish; but it should be remembered, that while our annals were full of victories, they were full also of reverses; that while they told of our grandeur they told also of our losses; and that while the Gazettes contained an account of our triumphs, they contained also a list of the bankruptcies which had followed upon those triumphs. Another reason which justified the proposed change was to be found in the writings of every publicist of foreign countries that had over written upon the British Constitution. They had never conceived the Constitution to consist of the boroughs, but had always treated of them as its disgrace. The last evidence to which he would allude was, that of our own consciences; for let them look to the attention that was always paid to Members for counties; it was invariably greater than that paid to borough Representatives. It might be true, that in some cases there had been talents which had overborne these difficulties; but even inferior talents, if accompanied with this advantage, and set forth with three asterisks—the value of which was known by all readers of newspapers, was highly prized, and the tone and strength of a Ministry was well judged of by the number of county Members whose support they could claim. But the grand mistake was, to suppose, that the principle of the Bill was disfranchisement. Its principle was not disfranchisement, but enfranchisement; for the great object that it purported to effect was, the association of a larger body of the people with the Government, and by that means to improve their patriotism, and identify their feelings with the legislature. The excitement that the agitation of this measure had produced among the people he looked upon as a good instead of an evil: and even if the Government were mistaken in the advantages that were expected to accrue from the Bill, he should say, that its having been brought forward would be a benefit (unless it contained things absolutely prejudicial), in as much as it would have taught the people to look forward to a change from that system which had subjected them to so many 751 grievances. The gallant General (Sir J. Malcolm) had complained, that under the proposed alterations the colonies would not be represented: but he begged to observe, that they were sent there to govern the colonies, and not to be governed by them. With respect to the gallant General himself, every Member must feel obliged and benefitted by the perusal of the elaborate works which that hon. Gentleman had written upon India, and which he would venture to say would give more information to the House than five Members sent from that country could; and, therefore, with such sources of information at their command, he did not see why it should be expected that gentlemen coming from those distant parts should have the priviledge of stepping into the House through the medium of a cheque on their bankers. But another class of persons who, according to the gallant General's view, would be excluded by this change in the Representation of the country, were officers who had spent the early part of their lives in the service of the country: on this point, however, he begged to remind the gallant General, that Sir Samuel Hood, Sir Alan Gardner, and Lord Cochrane, all of whom came within the description given by the hon. Gentleman, had been sent to that House as the Representatives of places much more populous than many that were about to receive their enfranchisement through the medium of this Bill. The real question, however, after all, came to this—whether it was advisable that the system of nomination which now existed should be still allowed to exist? If it were thought that such a system was wise, he, certainly was of opinion that it would be much better to adopt a direct theory on that subject, rather than to allow the thing to take place in the dark, without knowing how far it might extend, or what might be its absolute results. To what purpose was the solemn mockery of an election, with its writs, and returning officers, and hustings, and candidates, if a little inconvenience, a little expense, a little of the wisdom of our ancestors, in the shape of drunken brawls, and tipsy fights, were the sole flowers that were to be gathered from that decayed field of bribery and corruption? It was said, indeed, that the system of nomination tended to the advance and encouragement of rising talent; but, in his opinion, an extended franchise, where success de- 752 pended on the display of ability and the soundness of character, was much better calculated to produce emulation, and to elicit the genius of the country. The next point for their consideration was the extension of the suffrage, as proposed by the new Bill, and on this head much cavilling had arisen as to the anomalies to which this extension gave rise. But it was remarkable how suddenly sensitive the feelings of the anti-Reformers had become upon this topic. In the system that at present existed, they had never been able to discover any of these anomalies; and yet there were some who had the hardihood to assert, that the anomalies of the present system were much more numerous and much more glaring than those contained in the new system according to the Reform Bill. The arithmetic of the opponents of the Bill was very nice, but until they could find out that two was less than nothing, he could not agree in it; at all events, it was better that Blackburn should have one Member, and Malton two, than that Gatton should have two, and Blackburn none at all. With respect to the expense of elections, he could assure the House, that an alteration in that respect was not proposed from any selfish feeling on the part of the members of the Government, but because they felt, that the Reform Bill would accomplish no Reform without that accompaniment; and that to leave the expense as it now was, would virtually be to put the returns in the hands of the rich, and not in the hands of the people. The word "revolution" had been used again and again, to scare the timid from their purpose; but he would tell Gentlemen, that though they ought to fear their own prejudices, they need not fear the people whom they would enlighten by this measure, for the result would be, the conciliation of the people, whom they would identify with their interests as soon as they had associated them with their power. At the Reformation they had left their civil liberty at the mercy of the Sovereign, for the sake of their spiritual freedom; at the Restoration they left their liberty for the sake of their loyalty at the Revolution, they left their loyalty; for the sake of their liberty; but now, at the present juncture, they were fortunately in a situation to be able to preserve their loyalty and ensure their liberty. Allusion in the course of the debates on the Bill last Session had 753 been made to Burke's "Day-star of the British Constitution," and be would be content to see that star set—he would be content to see its lustre diminished and its splendor fall away, though it was;Fairest of stars, last in the train of night,If better it belong not to the dawn,Sure pledge of day,''because he felt that it could only be extinguished by the superior light of that day of which it was the harbinger—of that sun which was now commencing to dawn upon them in token of its future glory, and which would bring the diffusion of light and the equality of liberty with healing in its wings: even now that long-expected luminary was rising out of the deeps of moral night—even now it was replenishing itself from its original sources of existence with fresh energy and renovated life; and never would it set on those who regarded it with reasonable and reverential homage—on those who were prepared to walk in the paths of liberty, cheered by its lustre and guided by its light.
§ Sir E. Dering
rose, to opppose the Bill. With respect to what had been said about the anomalies existing in our Constitution, he thought that it could be shown that they were the cause of benefit rather than of disadvantage. Men of influence in other countries had tried to assimilate the constitution of their own country to that of Great Britain, but by neglecting to borrow our anomalies, the utility of which they did not understand, they had in general failed, and had always fallen short of that practical utility which we found in our Constitution. With reference to this Bill, he must say, that the noble Lord who introduced it had not established the existence of any great practical grievance, and accordingly, he could find no practical benefit which would result from the Bill. If he had not misunderstood the noble Lord, he had stated that no immediate benefit would result from it to the people. The noble Lord, too, had, in the course of his observations, drawn a favourable picture of the prosperity of England, and of the morality of Englishmen, and had contrasted them with the prosperity and morality of Spain, and before the noble Lord attempted to alter the Constitution, he ought to show, as the co-existence of this superiority on the part of our people and our country could not be denied that the Constitution was not the cause of all our advantages. He thought cer- 754 tainly that it was; and the House of Commons would not act with its usual deliberation if it committed the happiness of the whole people to the result of a doubtful experiment. He could never believe the House of Commons would consent to trust the welfare and future tranquility of the whole people of Great Britain to a measure such as the Bill now under the consideration of the House—a measure which did not promise one single advantage in return for the sweeping changes which it would effect in the condition of all classes of the community. The principal object which the Members were all bound to take into consideration, ere they gave their consent to the Bill, was, the remedy which it provided for the evil, now so generally acknowledged, in the existence of the nomination boroughs; and whether the remedy which it provided was such as was fittest for that alleged evil. He was not, at that moment, going to occupy the time of the House by raising up any argument as to the power of applying this remedy which was possessed by the Parliament; but he would refer to the authority of Mr. Pitt, who, in the years 1782 and 1785, declared it to be his opinion, that, in effecting a Reform of that House, they ought not to proceed by disfranchising the nomination boroughs. The disfranchisement of the Scotch boroughs, at the Union, was not anomalous to the opinion maintained by that statesman; for those boroughs were disfranchised, or not, according as the Commissioners appointed for that purpose saw fit; whereas the disfranchisement now proposed was of a sweeping character, and was effected moreover, by the Parliament itself. The next objection which he had to urge against the Bill was, its unequal operation upon that class which it was intended to enfranchise. It would be found to give an undue advantage to the 10l. householders over the cultivators of the soil; it would tend to create a sort of Universal Suffrage in towns and cities, whilst it would deprive great numbers of agriculturists, and residents in the country, whose rent was not so high, owing to the great cheapness of their dwellings, of their votes, to which they were as well entitled, in point of station, as their more fortunate fellow-subjects. None of these could possess a vote, under the provisions of the Bill, who did not occupy a tenement rated at 50l. a-year, and whose lease was less than of seven years' dura- 755 tion; and this clause exhibited, on the part of the noble Lord, a great reluctance to give the landed interest that weight in the legislative body which was their due, and which, heretofore, they had invariably possessed. The mode, too, in which the noble Lord had distributed the Members amongst the various and contending interests of the country, the colonial, the mercantile, the shipping, and the manufacturing, all of which would possess their adherents under the operation of the Bill, would leave the agricultural and landed interest, actually short of its present friends by no less than thirty Members. It might, therefore, be asked, with the greatest reason, and with every regard to a fair and upright opposition, was this a measure such as could be proposed consistently with his Majesty's recommendation in his Speech to the House? Was it calculated to preserve inviolate his kingly prerogative, and to secure also to the other branches of the Legislature that fair share of influence which, by being combined with the representation of the people, had hitherto formed so perfect a body? So far from this being the case, he would venture to predict, that it would, at some future day, be found difficult to limit the effects of the measure, which he feared was, but the forerunner of still greater changes. The noble Lord had limited the disfranchisement of certain boroughs to one Member; but would not a reformed House of Commons take away from those boroughs the remaining Member? He had endeavoured to point out some of the anomalies which were to be found in the Bill. He was persuaded, that if it passed into a law, it would lay the ground of differences, and open the door to discussions, which would be endless. It would, moreover, open the door to Reform to an extent which it was frightful to look at. How, he asked, was the noble Lord to ensure them against the first motion in a Reformed Parliament, being for the removal of those anomalies still left in the Constitution to offend the taste of theoretical and speculative minds? How was it to be supposed, that with the power in their hands they would consent to see the offensive disproportions of Tavistock with 4,000 inhabitants sending two Members to Parliament, while another place with ten times that amount of population sent only one. He was very well satisfied, that the noble Lord himself had 756 no ulterior objects beyond the measure itself; but could the noble Lord answer for his allies? He confessed, that he could not help looking with apprehension for the fate of all the best institutions of the country, when he saw the noble Lord proposing a measure of this sweeping violence, supported and cheered on by all the turbulent and seditious spirits of the times, men who had ever shewn themselves ready and eager to abuse and decry everything venerable and ancient in the laws and institutions of the land. It was because he desired to preserve these for the benefit of the people that he would resist the wishes of the people, declared under the excitement of a temporary passion. It was for what he believed in his conscience to be the true interests of the people, that he resisted the measure, and he hoped the House would do him the justice to believe, that he was influenced by no less worthy motives. If those who thought with him, that the Constitution had been the cause and was still the bulwark of the happiness, the freedom, and the glory of the country, he hoped they would rally round it, and it was not yet too late. Let its resources be confidently relied upon, and by the force of their own native vigour and energy they would again restore us to our supremacy above the other nations of the world, and secure us alike against the designs of foreign foes without, and the machinations of secret enemies within.
Mr. E. L. Bulwer
said, that so far as the people were concerned, it was not denied, that the Bill was already carried; and the late election alone had rendered it idle and superfluous to insist on those more popular measures, which, though founded at first on just reasoning, might now assume the appearance of unnecessary declamation. But he was glad to perceive, that it was chiefly on the supposition that it was the tendency of the proposed Bill to affect not only the illegitimate influence, but the due and wholesome power of the aristocracy, that the more enlightened and independent of the anti-Reformers were disposed to consider the question. It was on this ground that he desired to meet them. He, would not challenge their premises, he would only combat their conclusion; and since, notwithstanding some remarks that had fallen from the noble Lord, the member for Wootton Basset, he was not yet so imbued 757 with that spirit which must more or less pervade all political parties, as to feel any regard for principles at once strengthened and embittered by an habitual conflict with persons, he trusted that he should not lose the attention of the hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House, if he refrained from exciting it by the harsh vituperatives that had been so lavishly bestowed on their opponents. On the other hand, he trusted that he should be judged by the hon. Members opposite by the general tenor of the few observations he was about to make, and not by the verbal inaccuracy, or the unguarded heat of expression, which were necessarily incident to a want of practice in public speaking in general, and to a want of knowledge of this House in particular. He should proceed, without further preamble, to what had long seemed to him the strongest, and was now the most ostensible, ground on which the anti-Reformers rested—namely, the probable manner in which the proposed Bill would affect the power of the aristocracy. And when they spoke of the power of any political body distinct from the people, they must remember, that that power was at this day solely the creature of public opinion; and that it was only in proportion as it lost or gained in public opinion; that that power could really be said to be lessened or increased. Admitting this fact, which was so indisputable as to have passed into a truism, and glancing over the aspect of affairs, would any man say that the power of the aristocracy was now so safe, so secure in public opinion, that it ought, at once, to resist the idea of change? On the contrary, could any man note the commonest signs of the limes, attend any political meeting, read any political writing, have the most shallow acquaintance with the organs of political opinion, and not confess, that so deep was the demarcation between the aristocracy and the people, that it had become sufficient alone to obtain popular suffrage, to declaim, however ignorantly, against aristocratic privilege? The anti-Reformers complained of this more loudly than the Reformers, and yet they referred us to causes much more terrible and irremediable than those which really existed. Again and again—usqve ad nauseam— they had referred us to the first French Revolution, and libelled the English aristocracy by comparing its situation with 758 that of the French. But at that moment, when the English aristocracy were not popular, it would be well to remember that there was no analogy in the cases. The people of this country had not, as the people of France had in that, a long and black sum of offences against their superiors, to be scored off on the great reckoning day of revenge. The English aristocracy might occasionally be charged with a haughty neglect of the people, and with too obstinate a stand upon harsh laws and ungracious prerogatives. But they could not be charged with the same terrible misuse of power that absolutely characterized the French; not with the same grasping oppression, not with the same unblushing venality, not with the same degrading sycophancy to royal vices, or the same ruthless indifference to national distress. The great wealth of the English aristocracy, and their consequent independence of the Court, had preserved them as a body, from the double necessity of meanness and extortion, and enabled them, as individuals, to purchase popularity at the cheap cost of pecuniary expense. And if the cause of any odium they might have incurred, had no analogy to those causes which directed the vengeance of the French people against their noblesse, neither, on the other hand, could it be vaguely referred, as some hon. Gentlemen had attempted to do, merely to the general growth of liberal opinion; for it would be an assertion altogether without proof to say, that there had ever existed a period in this country, at least, since the time of Jack Cade, when the doctrine of equalization of rank or property had obtained so extensively, that the people had formed a hatred to their superiors, merely from their superiority, or that they had cherished a hatred for power solely from a love for experiment. Whatever arguments might be alleged in favour of the Lostwithiels and the Old Sarums, it was not attempted to be denied, that they had made not only the Parliament, but the aristocracy thus influencing the Parliament, unpopular to so great an excess, that not only the ills of all the State, the wars, the expenditure, the debt, but even the very calamities inflicted by Providence, the scarcity, and the drought, had been laid to the charge of this noxious influence; and the very extravagance of these attacks, if matter of ridicule to the defenders of the system, 759 was a proof at least of the extraordinary odium which the system had incurred. Here, then, at once was the cause of that great and growing division between the classes which was so deeply to be feared: it was obvious, for the sake of the aristocracy alone (for if he was right in saying, their power was the creature of public opinion, it was the aristocracy alone who could lose by a violent collision with public opinion), for the sake of the aristocracy alone, they ought to heal the division: and it was equally obvious, that in order to heal the division they must remove the cause. And thus, even were it possible that while the people had suffered under the disease, they had not clamoured for the remedy, were it possible that while they had felt an irritation under the present system, they had not agitated any definite question of Reform—it would, nevertheless, be the great and main principle of this Reform, that every true ad- vocate—not for the people only, but the aristocracy, ought to endeavour, as soon as possible, to carry it into effect. It had} been said, that if you remove the nomination boroughs, you bring the House of Lords into direct collision with the House of Commons; and that the influence of the House of Lords, felt on the floor of that House, often preserved the former from the odium of rejecting popular measures before their own immediate tribunal. But was there ever anything so glaringly inconsistent as the application of this argument? Hon. Gentlemen were willing that the House of Lords should now be brought into direct and violent collision with the House of Commons, lest it should be brought into collision with it hereafter. Hon. Gentlemen were willing that the House of Lords should now incur the certain and collected odium of the country, for fear it should incur its possible and partial odium hereafter, in some imaginary epoch in futurity. But, passing over the notable inconsistency of the application of the argument, and granting the argument itself its full force—granting that there were times and occasions in which it was well that the influence of the House of Lords should be felt in that House, and that it did serve to prevent any collision between the Assemblies—was it not evident, that that influence would still remain, only exercised in a constitutional, not an invidious channel? Did hon. Gentlemen imagine that, after 760 the passing of the Reform Bill, the aristocracy would suddenly be left alone in the world, without a single tenant possessed of a vote, or a single friend to whom that vote could be given? To hear the hon. Gentlemen one would suppose, that they, the hard-hearted and ruthless reformers, were not meditating the petty victory of parliamentary Reform, but, the much grander stroke of shipping off' the whole of the aristocracy to Van Dieman's Land; or, at least, that by schedule A they should not leave them an acre, and that by schedule B they should cut them off with a 1s.; and yet, was it not perfectly clear that these miserable victims of radical atrocity would still have sons and brothers, and cousins, and friends in that House? that they would still exercise a great and paramount influence in the towns near which they resided, and the counties which were now about, in receiving additional Members, to give the certainty of additional seats to the aristocracy. If hon. Members insist that the moment that House mirrors in some degree the opinions of the majority of the people, the House of Lords must succumb and perish, they do not prophesy its future, they utter its present condemnation. If this was true, the House of Lords was gone already; while they debated on its defence, the seal was put upon its abolition. A celebrated philosopher had felicitously observed, "that the greatest discoverer in science cannot do more than accelerate the progress of discovery." So in the career of nations as of knowledge, you may advance, but you cannot contradict the genius of a people; the most democratic law cannot do more than hasten a democracy, which, before that law would be received, must have already become inevitable. At a time when authority can no longer support itself by the solemn plausibilities and the ceremonial hypocrisies of old, it was well that a government should be placed upon a solid and sure foundation. In no age of the world, but, least of all, in the present, could any system of government long exist which was menaced both by the moral intelligence and the physical force of a country. In the present instance, we saw a system thus menaced, and therefore thus feeble, modified into one, placed not only on the affections of the populace, though at this juncture he should scarcely consider him wise who held even the affections of the populace in contempt; but also on the opinions 761 of that class which, in this country, filled up the vast space between the highest and the lowest, and whose Members were opposed to every more turbulent revulsion by all the habits of commerce, and all the interests of wealth. But so entirely did he agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite on one principle—namely, that it was the practical stability, and not the theoretical improvement of the commonwealth, that ought to be our first object—that he would become a willing and a cheerful convert to the rest of their sentiments on this great measure, the moment they could show him, amidst the tumults of neighbouring nations, and the crash of surrounding Thrones, a better security for the institutions of power than the love and confidence of an united and intelligent people.
§ Mr. W. Miles
said, he felt it to be his duty not to give a silent vote upon so important a question as that under consideration, and that, although he was a Member for one of those boroughs which were to be politically annihilated if the Bill passed, he trusted he should nevertheless be favoured with the indulgence of the House. He was in duty bound to express his sentiments, and he must at once declare, that he should be unworthy of the trust reposed in him, if he could consent to surrender all those blessings which the country enjoyed under the existing Constitution for the hope of the advantages which might arise from a piece of speculative legislation. So extravagant was the measure proposed, that he hardly knew to what point he should first direct his attention. Of this he was most thoroughly convinced, that its effects, even if it did pass, would never realize the expectations of the great majority of those among the people who had called for its enactment. The expectations of the people had been greatly excited, and the country had been taught to look upon this measure of Reform as a panacea for all its wants and grievances. Let not hon. Members of that House deceive themselves as to the nature and extent of the expectations which had been indulged in with respect to this Bill. One party supported the Bill because they were taught to believe that it would lead to the abolition of tithes—another party supported it because they believed it would lead to the abolition of the Assessed Taxes—while others advocated Reform because they thought by Reform, was meant a relief from that weight of taxation which 762 cramped the productive industry of the country, and produced great misery and want. The country required relief from the heavy and grinding taxation which depressed its energies, and its desire should have been answered, not by a paltry attempt at reduction of expenditure, and this most dangerous Bill, but by a previous offer on the part of the wealthier classes to take upon themselves a larger portion of the public burthens than had hitherto fallen to their share. If such a measure had been adopted, with what different feelings would this Reform Bill have been regarded by the great majority of the people! The country would then have come to the consideration of the question of Reform in a fit and proper temper. It would have been in vain to attempt to delude it into a belief, that it was only by destroying the old and excellent institutions of the country that relief was to be afforded to the suffering portion of the community. If such a course had been pursued, the question of Reform might have been calmly entertained, and there would have been no necessity for thrusting on this Bill with such indecent haste—nor would there have been any necessity, real or presumed, for the annihilation of property contemplated by the measure. The advocates or authors of the Bill spoke of constitutional privileges, and feelings, and! affections, but in this measure he found no: regard paid to such things. Where, he would ask, was that perfect affection which was professed for the Constitution— upon what spot of ground did the noble Lord who introduced the Bill take his stand i —in accordance and conformity with the spirit of what ancient charter did the noble Lord act when he proposed the confiscating clauses of this measure? He denied that any adequate reasons had been given for the changes proposed, or that those changes had been, or could be, shown to be consistent with the existing Constitution of the country. He contended, therefore, that the measure was not one of Reform, but of change. This was the fact, and therefore he was not called upon to remedy any deficiencies or errors in the present Constitution, but simply to change it for another. Whatever he might think of the declaration of Ministers, that they would stand or fall by this measure, one thing he found decisive from that declaration, which was this, that it left him no choice but either to adopt this 763 new Constitution, the production of the united talents of the present Government, or at once boldly to take his stand by that Constitution under which England had known more of prosperity, liberty, and happiness than any other country in the world. Although he should be classed among the ignorant worshippers of faded feudal institutions, he would not desert that temple which had been reared by the wisdom of their forefathers for the shrine of the new and gorgeous, but ephemeral, edifice of the present Government. The name of Pitt had been used by some of the advocates of the present Bill as an authority in its favour, but he contended that Mr. Pitt had never, either in argument or act, done that which would justify any such conclusion. Mr. Pitt was, it was true, a Reformer; but if hon. Members referred to the propositions and arguments of that great Statesman, they would find that in his plans of Reform he never contemplated confiscation and a compulsory surrender of rights without trial or inquiry. [The hon. Member quoted Mr. Pitt's speech upon Parliamentary Reform in 1785, in which Mr. Pitt proposed the disfranchisement of such small boroughs as would voluntarily surrender the right, or should be convicted of bribery or corruption.] Such was the proposition of Mr. Pitt, and he was perfectly ready to adopt that proposition as his guide, and, doing so to oppose most strenuously this violent destruction of property and the extinction of civil rights, the existence and exercise of which he sincerely believed had materially tended to raise and to produce that nicely-adjusted balance of power which made the British Constitution a protection and a defence to all the classes of the community. The Reform advocated by Mr. Pitt was consonant with justice and good faith; it was voluntary; but the Reform now proposed was compulsory, and he looked upon that as the chief principle of the Bill, and the most to be commented upon and opposed, although there might be and were other principles in the measure which were equally objectionable. The Reform proposed by Government would give to Ireland five additional Representatives; and what, he would ask, had Ireland done to call for such a boon? Was Ireland so obedient to the laws as to justify any such concession? Had the Roman Catholic population of that country so decreased, and the Protestant population so multi- 764 plied, as to justify any such concession? Or was the state of things in Ireland such as to render it wise to remove the few safeguards for Protestantism still remaining, and to destroy the privileges of the Protestant Corporations, for the purpose of giving them to the Roman Catholie 10l. householders? By this Bill additional strength would be given to the opponents of Protestantism, and the tried friends and supporters of the British Constitution would be weakened. He did not ask for any alteration of what had already been adopted, but he objected to any further change in opposition to the acknowledged Constitution of the country. The measure would be most injurious in England. As in Ireland it destroyed the privileges of those who had ever proved themselves to be the firm friends of the institutions of the country, so in England it gave an extravagant and unprecedented and exclusive power to the 10l. householders living in a town. The agriculturist—he who laid the foundation of the happiness and glory of the country, and maintained its supremacy—was to have no such privilege as that to be conferred upon the 10/. householders who lived in a town. What had the cultivator of the soil done to be thus excluded from those privileges which were to be given to far less constant and less tried friends of their country? Upon all occasions of difficulty and of danger the agriculturist had been found to be the friend and zealous supporter of the institutions of the country. Even recently, when disorder was fast spreading abroad, what body had been had recourse to in order to cheek and to allay it? Why, the Yeomanry. They had been embodied, and, as on all previous occasions, they had manfully and faithfully discharged their duty. Then why, he asked, was that great and important body of the community now to be rejected? Why was the cultivator of the soil to be excluded from those privileges which were to be conferred upon the inhabitants of towns? He saw no just or rational ground for such a proceeding; and for that reason, among others, he opposed the measure. The present House of Commons was placed in a more critical situation than any former House of Commons had been. A dangerous agitation had been excited, which he felt would not permit much change in the proposed measure, without the risk of internal commotion. To discord no man could be more 765 averse than he was; but, even entertaining that feeling, and seeing well the danger of the course, still, as he was no party to the excitement which had been raised, he could not consent to abandon the Constitution under which the country had flourished for the sake of securing a momentary rejoicing. The Bill, therefore, should have his most decided opposition; but he must add, that if the measure should be carried, and he enjoyed no seat in that House in a reformed Parliament, still, if his fears proved unfounded, and the new Constitution worked well for the good of the country, he should return into private life conscious that he had done his duty, and gratified to find that his apprehensions were unfounded.
§ Mr. Godson
said, he was one of those Members who had pledged themselves to support the Bill, and the whole Bill; and that, next to the honour of having a seat in that House, he estimated the honour of having given that pledge to his constituents. And what was the pledge? He had been asked by his constituents that question which the King had called upon the people to put to the candidates for their suffrages. That was, indeed, the fact. And why was the pledge cast upon those who had given it, and by whom was it cast? It was cast by persons who had given a pledge of a different description, and for the purpose of exciting apprehension and alarm. Those who had pledged themselves openly to their constituents wore honourably bound, and if they had given their pledge to the Bill, and the whole Bill, the fault lay with those who had opposed the measure, and rendered such a course necessary. If any amendment of the Bill was attempted, a cry was immediately raised, that the principle of the Bill was departed from, and, therefore, although many might think some of the details were by no means perfect, still in order to secure the substantive part of this measure, they were compelled to adopt its errors. The next accusation against those who were situated like himself was, that they not only pledged themselves on the hustings, but that they did not know to what they had pledged themselves. For his own part, he would reply to that accusation, by stating the reasons upon which he had come to a conclusion that the Bill ought to be passed into a law. He would not go into any elaborate reasoning upon the details of the measure, but 766 broadly state the considerations which had induced him to pledge himself to its support. The first question which he had asked himself was this, had Parliament the power to make the alterations required by the people? For an answer he referred to history, and being fully satisfied, upon investigation, that the power did exist, he proceeded to the next question he had to put to himself, which was, was any Reform necessary? The hon. Members opposed to the Bill had answered that question by admitting that some Reform was required. That admission being made, reduced the question to one of degree. What Reform, was required? To answer this satisfactorily, it was necessary to refer to public opinion, to see what desires, expectations, and wants, were abroad. Looking at the progress of the question of Reform, he found that it had been supported by the greatest talents of the country, and that it had gone on gradually progressing, as it were in spite of wind and tide, against all the influence of all the proprietors of boroughs in England, even when that influence was supported by the brightest eloquence. Finding this to be the case, he naturally asked himself, what was the extraordinary power, what was the steam-engine which had brought about this difficult change? It was the -public voice which had produced so great a result, and that voice demanded, and must receive attention. These questions being decided, the next thing he had to consider was the time. Was it a fitting time for the agitation of such a question? Unquestionably it was. The country was in a state of peace, and a more favourable opportunity for the consideration and settlement of the question could not be desired. If, then, the time was fitting, and the question was one of necessity, the only remaining point to be decided was this— was the particular measure proposed, the one which ought to be adopted? According to his reading of the Bill, it was decidedly good. He alluded not to all the details, but to its leading principles. This, then, being the Reform proposed, he had asked himself what conduct would any patriotic King have pursued at the present period if he had been called upon to summon a Parliament without reference to anything but the spirit in which Parliaments had been devised for the protection of the rights of the people? When he thought upon that question, he felt con- 767 vinced that a patriotic King would have acted upon the outlines of the present Bill. Would, for instance, any King, so called upon, exclude such a town as Birmingham, and give such a borough as Old Sarum the power of returning Members to that House? Certainly not. If, then, Birmingham was to return Members, what class of its inhabitants should be authorised to exercise the elective franchise? It could not be the freemen, nor the burgesses, nor the corporation, for there were none; and therefore, by the common law of this country, the Members would be returned by the inhabitants who paid scot and lot. And what did the Reform Bill propose? Not that the lowest class of inhabitants should exercise the privilege, but that the 10l. householders, those who were acknowledged by great constitutional writers as fit for the duty, were to be entitled to vote. The Reform Bill, then, was in conformity with the spirit of the Constitution. It was, in fact, no more than a leaving out of those places which would have been left out by a patriotic King if called upon to devise a Parliament, and an insertion of those places, which, upon such an occasion, would have been inserted. He might add, that a great bonus was given to the aristocracy of the country in the additional number of county Members which the Bill proposed, because proposing them was in conformity to the Constitution of the country. The next question to be considered was, what would be its effects? One party had enumerated its bad, and another its good effects. Among its bad effects were these—that it would do away with nomination boroughs; to which he said so much the better—that it would prevent the purchasing of seats in that House; again he said so much the better— and that it would deprive the Colonies of Representatives; that position he denied. Gentlemen who had been in the Colonies, and had returned to this country with the fruits of their industry and enterprise, and settled in a county, would have sufficient influence in the districts in which they resided to be returned its Representatives, and thus they would be able to protect the interests of the Colonies much better than they were under the present system. But if these were the effects of the Bill which were supposed to be bad, let the House look to the good effects. Let the two pictures be contrasted, and he contended, 768 that when they were, it would be impossible to doubt that great benefit would be derived from the Bill. The hon. Member concluded by expressing his determination to redeem the pledge he had given to his constituents.
§ Mr. Edmund Peel
said, it must be under feelings of the greatest diffidence that I venture to address you, inexperienced as I am in parliamentary debate, and distrustful as I ought to be of my feeble efforts to arrest the attention of the House on a subject of such importance as that under our present discussion. I might well content myself to give a conscientious and silent vote, but impressed with the overwhelming importance of this measure of his Majesty's Government, and urged by the declared opinions of a large body of my constituents, the inhabitants of a populous and commercial town, and relying on the candour and indulgence of this House, I trust I may be permitted briefly but openly, to avow my opposition to the motion of the noble Lord, and to avail myself of the present moment for declaring, that neither on this, or any other future subject of parliamentary discussion, shall I be influenced by the slightest desire to offer a trifling or vexatious opposition to the present members of his Majesty's Government. I rise, Sir, not without consideration, and a due respect, for the opinions of those who support this Bill, to express my conviction that in its present shape it cannot be carried without the greatest injustice to those who have long enjoyed the elective franchise, and without some danger of disturbing too suddenly, the existing and well-tried institutions of the country. Unknown as I am in this House, and fully sensible of my inability to do justice to this great question, yet my observations and experience have led me into considerable acquaintance with the feelings and opinions of the manufacturing classes of society. I cannot conceal my fears, that the ardent expectations of the people have been so much excited by the imaginary blessings of this Bill, that eventually they will end in disappointment and discontent. Sir, I see the country in the greatest state of agitation, and I regret to say, I see some men taking advantage of the present time to make the people believe, that this measure of Reform will open all the blessings of extended and constitutional freedom, and include all that their individual interests and private feelings require. But, 769 Sir, in my opinion, those persons are not the real friends of the people who lead them to expect more than the circumstances of the country require, and the best efforts of the Parliament can with safety concede. I oppose not a due consideration of the feelings of the people, but a too hasty change in our Representation, in the forms and constitution of this House, if not in its just power and influence over those whose permanent and real interests must be our care, and whose future confidence and prosperity will be our reward. These, I repeat, are the general grounds on which I object to this Bill; and I hope I shall not be trespassing too much on the indulgence of the House if I am a little more explicit as to the foundation of my objections. In the first place, I find that the operation of this Bill will be to disfranchise fifty-seven boroughs entirely, and to take one Member from forty boroughs, unconvicted of any wrong, unheard, and undefended; and I cannot but consider that such a sweeping step will prove hazardous, bold, and too full of absolute change in our Constitution, and eventually disturb those mutual feelings, and that natural union, which has hitherto existed amongst all orders of society. As the Representative of a constituency who enjoy their elective right by servitude, and from being free-born, I should not be doing my duty if I did not endeavour to expose one radical defect in this Bill, in the future disfranchisement of those who are entitled to vote as freemen, for these reasons:—First, all those who have the right at present are to retain it for their life. Then it is admitted that there is no danger in the exercise of this right. If there was danger, surely those who have disfranchised one hundred boroughs would destroy this privilege of freemen; but, if there is no danger in the existence of this privilege for the next fifty years, why should there be any danger in its permanent continuance? Secondly, the framers of this Bill have no right to object that freemen are often non-residents. The owners of warehouses in towns are constantly non-resident, and yet they are to have a right given them which they never had before. It is true, they are often rich, and the freeman is often poor; but why is the rich man, who is non-resident, to get a new right, and the poor man, who is non-resident, to forfeit that very same right of which he is actually in possession? 770 Thirdly, it is unwise to disfranchise the freemen; they are, speaking generally, in the working classes of society. This is one of the few civil privileges they can exercise—it is one of the few opportunities they have of obliging the wealthy and powerful man, and reminding him, that they are his equals. Is it not absurd in times like these, when there is so much excitement about popular rights and privileges, to destroy a privilege that has existed for ages, and that establishes a perfectly safe connection between the lower classes and the House of Commons? Fourthly, the class of freemen is essentially an independent class. The freemen are open to bribery, it may be said, but so is the 10l. householder; and the freeman is free from an influence to which the 10l. householder is subject. The freeman has no landlord to please. His right is a personal one, and an inalienable one. The Corporation cannot refuse it to him, nor can they take it away from him. Fifthly, the distinction made in this Bill is an absurd one. A child born before the passing of the Bill is to have the right—a right which he cannot begin to exercise for one-and-twenty years. The child born the day after the passing of the Bill is not to have the right; so that a great privilege is to depend upon the speed with which the Bill passes. As I shall have future opportunities of entering more into detail on this most important subject, and having fulfilled a duty which I owed to my constituents, I will not detain the House longer than by acknowledging with gratitude the indulgence which has been extended to me, and of expressing a sincere hope, that whatever may be the result of this Bill, and whatever may be the concessions which it may be expedient to grant to the people, they will be found the solid gifts of legislative wisdom and experience, and not the too hasty concessions of weak timidity or thoughtless popularity.
§ Colonel Torrens
had heard the speech of the noble Lord, the member for Wootton Basset, which was delivered last night, with great admiration, but not with conviction. The noble Lord said, the disfranchisement of the 40s. free holders was accompanied by a boon; and so was this measure of disfranchisement; not a boon to the borough-owners certainly, but a great and inestimable boon to the whole people. He considered all the objections urged against disfranchisement and anomalies, by those 771 who were the advocates for continuing the disfranchisement of the whole people, and for continuing the greater part of the present anomalies, as unworthy of refutation. He observed, that the great principle of Representation consisted in having," a constituency so numerous and so circumstanced as to be identified in interest with: the community at large. This was the object that ought always to be kept in view in any attempt to found a Representative system upon a sound basis. The hon. Member adverted to the growing de- sire for an extension of popular rights, which had prevailed for the last half century in this and other countries, and argued in favour of the necessity of complying with that feeling as far as might be practicable. A temporary excitement might with safety be resisted, but the present demand for Reform sprung from the principles of human nature, and could not be successfully opposed. Public opinion was a constantly accumulating power, and the apparent stillness which sometimes preceded its roar, was onlyThe torrent's smoothness ere it dash below.It had been said, that if the present Bill passed into a law, it would prove the commencement of extensive changes that must terminate in anarchy; but he contended that this apprehension was altogether idle and unfounded, and instanced the increase of wealth and diffusion of knowledge, as circumstances which, at the same time that they contributed to excite a desire for Reform, and afford additional power for its attainment, constituted the best security against any violation of order. From an educated people nothing was to be feared; if danger there were, it was to be apprehended from those who, knowing not what they did, were disposed to set themselves in opposition to the spirit of the age. The danger proceeded from those who, at a moment when the machine of society was working at high pressure, rashly interfered with the engine, or closed upon the expanding and resistless vapour, the safety-valve of Reform.
§ Mr. Trevor
could not give his assent to a measure which, let others call it what they would—a restoration of the Constitution if they pleased—he must consider as being a total destruction of our existing system. He asked Gentleman opposite where they discovered the dreadful disease which demanded such a hazardous remedy? It had been said, that the public voice 772 was in favour of the Bill. He knew not that; but, assuming the mass of the population to be favourable to it, he was satisfied that a majority of the educated part of the community was opposed to the Ministerial plan of Reform. Why were poor and industrious freemen to be deprived of their rights? Why were the ties that had previously united the upper, and lower classes to be severed? Why were bodies and individuals to be punished without being convicted of any offence? It was said, that the voice of the people of England had been raised in favour of Reform from one end of it to the other. When this assertion was made, let it be recollected what expedients had been resorted to with a view to excite the passions of the people—how the name of his Majesty had been most unconstitutionally put forward. He repented, his Majesty's name had been most unconstitutionally used; every town in England was placarded, during the elections, with "The King, the People, and Reform." Such unconstitutional proceedings might well answer the end of the friends of the Bill for the moment, and tend to delude the people [laughter.] He hoped Gentlemen opposite would be equally ready to smile when the people should awake from their lethargy, and discover, that all their golden dreams had been fallacious. What would be the feelings of a large portion of the people, when they found, that instead of deriving benefit from the Reform Bill, they and their children after them would be deprived of their dearest privileges by means of it? He felt satisfied that many individuals who had tendered their votes, during the late elections, in favour of Reform candidates, were totally ignorant of the effect of the Bill. They had seen a set of resolutions signed by the non-resident freemen of Durham, in favour; of the Bill, but there was no doubt that these resolutions were agreed to in utter ignorance of the effect which the Bill would have upon them. These were stubborn facts, and ought to weigh with the House; and after what fell from the noble Lord (the member for Wootton Basset) who had so well described those fluctuations of public opinion which took place on the Continent, with respect to changes in forms of Government, he thought the house should pause before it cast its bark on the ocean of uncertainty, and of the return of which it could know nothing. He was well aware of what was said by an 773 hon. Member, of the attempts made to keep the people in ignorance of the intentions of Government, but he hoped the people knew enough in this country of the blessings of the Constitution to make them rally round its temple, and to endeavour to uphold its ancient institutions. He was anxious to join the ranks of that body, because he felt that, in joining them, he attached himself to those who, to an advocacy of sound constitutional objects, to be brought about by constitutional means, united great talent and great political honesty. He was unwilling to trespass further on the patient, indulgence of the House. He would say, in conclusion, in answer to those who came into the House determined to vote for the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill, that he would vote for any thing but the Bill; yet he was as responsible to his constituents as any of the advocates of the measure. Much stress had been laid upon the statement, that the King had made an appeal to his people to know their sentiments on the question of Reform. He had no wish to limit the just prerogative of the Crown, but when he considered the use that had been made of the name of the King on the hustings during the late election, he must say, that if it was a constitutional mode of bringing about a Reform, it was one to which he was heretofore a stranger. He had been brought up in this country, and admitted and prized the greatest possible freedom of discussion, and he hoped every Member would exercise that freedom unbiassed by party feelings or party considerations. For his own part, though he admitted the necessity of some changes in our representative system, he was not prepared, and God forbid that he ever should be prepared, to give his assent to a measure which, in his heart, he believed to be one of a direct revolutionary tendency. He repeated, that he thought, some change in our system necessary; but the admission of the necessity of that change should not induce him to enter upon a wild and speculative Reform, or to exchange that with which we were well acquainted in theory and practice, for what was untried and unknown.
Before I proceed to examine what may be termed the political arguments applicable to the question, I wish to notice one position, which, if it were a sound one, I admit would be decisive against Reform. That position is— 774 that the elective franchise is property—as much property as the dividends of the fundholder, or the rents of the landowner. It must either be property or not property; and if it be property, to seize what belongs to the rich man, in order to give it to the poor man, would be to break up the very foundation of social order. I support this measure because I am convinced that the elective franchise is not property, and that the Bill ought not, therefore, to give compensation. Looking back to the earliest times, we shall find, that if the elective franchise be property, the present system is founded upon the most monstrous system of injustice and robbery. The great disfranchisement of the reign of Henry 6th, was an act of unheard-of plunder, and the same remark will apply to the Reform introduced by Oliver Cromwell. I will not argue on the merit or demerit of his system, but this I will say, that the best and wisest men of that, and subsequent times, never treated the elective franchise as property. I speak of all the debates in which Maynard and Hale partook under the vigorous Oliver, and his feeble successor. Sir Henry Vane said, that it was a Reform which the Long Parliament would have made had it lasted; and Lord Clarendon declared, that it was a Reform which the King ought to have made had he then come to the Crown. Lord Clarendon, the most distinguished of royalists, who had leaned too much to legal refinements on political questions, describes it as a Reform which was fit to be made by a more warrantable method, and in better times. This, then, I say, is that more warrantable method; this that better time. What Cromwell attempted in a country lately convulsed by civil war, and still agitated by religious factions, we are now called upon to accomplish in a state of perfect peace, and under a Prince whoso, title is as undisputed, as his person is beloved. The only circumstances which, in the opinion of Lord Clarendon, were wanting in die Reform of Cromwell, we find in the Reform of William the Fourth. If the elective franchise were property, these, I contend, were most extensive and sweeping confiscations; but, for the sake of the great institution of property, for which all other institutions exist, which is the source of all knowledge and of all industry, I do most deeply lament to hear the sanctity that belongs to property claimed by that which is not property. If you mix 775 political abuses with the institution of property, you must expect, that property will contract the odium of political abuses; and people will imagine that there is no more immorality in taking away a man's estate, than in disfranchising Old Sarum If you bind them up that they may stand together, take care that they do not fall together. Many have before used the, argument which we heard repeated last night, and which, if I mistake not, was originally employed by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel). It is true, say they, that the Act of 1829 was a confiscation of the property of the 40s. freeholders of Ireland, and shew us a case of necessity equally urgent, and we will vote for Reform. Let them, however, beware how they set a precedent for the invasion of property on the ground of political convenience. Considering the elective franchise as not property, we have only to discuss and decide this question—whether it is expedient at the present, moment to touch it. The only argument I have heard on this subject was that used by a noble Lord (Porchester) who spoke for the first time last night, and whom it gave me great pleasure to hear. The noble Lord referred to the history of France, and particularly to recent events in that country; but I must question the noble Lord's arguments, as well as his facts. I must deny, that there was a fluctuation from a desire for a violent change from monarchical to a republican form of government, or that it was the fluctuation of the same party. Different opinions did, no doubt, prevail under different administrations—under de Cazes, Villele, and other administrations; but then these different opinions were expressed by Chambers differently constituted. The Chamber of Deputies of 1815 was differently constituted from that of 1819, and that of 1824 differed from both. The Chamber of 1827, indeed, though chosen in the same manner as the Chamber of 1824, took a very different course. But this difference of political feeling in the Representative body, chosen under different circumstances, was an every-day case. When Queen Anne discharged her Whig Ministry, she succeeded also in getting a House of Commons, the majority of which were Tories. On the accession of George 1st, another change took place, and a House of Commons, chiefly Whigs, were returned. In the same way a total 776 change took place in the political character of the Commons in the election of 1784. I protest against the analogy drawn by the noble Lord, and I deny that the cases of England and France are alike. I deny, that we have had any parties here even remotely resembling the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary parties of France. I deny, that there is any analogy between the two Houses of Peers. I regard the Chamber of Peers of France as an unfortunate experiment—as a kind of forced production—an exotic: there was nothing in the property or in the state of society in France, which required such an institution; it had no root in the soil, and its decline and fall need not give the aristocracy of England the slightest alarm. The principal, and most plausible argument against the Reform Bill is this— mark how rich, how great, how happy, this country is, and has been; the admired of all men, and the envied of foreign nations; will you, then, change a system which has produced so many, and such lasting benefits? I am far from denying that England is a great and prosperous country. I am as far from denying, that she owes much of her greatness and prosperity to the form of her government; but government and society are cause and effect—they re-act on each other. No doubt the government of the Czar Peter did much for Russia; but would it be an argument against giving her free institutions, that despotism had procured her civilization? The whole of history shews, that all great revolutions have been produced by a disproportion between society and its institutions; for while society has grown, its institutions have not kept pace and accommodated themselves to its improvements. When we are told of the admiration of distinguished foreigners of all ages for the Constitution of England, it seems to be thought, that their applause has been bestowed upon the same institutions which, in the lapse of centuries, have undergone no change. Philip de Comines said, that the English were the best-governed people in the world, and when Montesquieu gave them the same praise, were both writers speaking of the same institutions? Certainly not. The history of England is the history of a succession of Reforms; and the very reason that the people of England are great and happy is, that their history is the history of Reform. The great Charter, 777 the first assembling of Parliament, the Petition of Right, the Revolution, and lastly, this great measure—are all proofs of my position—are all progressive stages in the progress of society—and I am fully convinced that every argument urged against the step we are now called upon to take might have been advanced with equal justice against any of the other changes I have enumerated. It is the principle of "Hume's History," as every body knows, that the Stuarts governed better than the Tudors; but, suppose any man had risen in the Convention Parliament, and said, "how great and happy we are—we have ten times as many inhabitants, and merchants ten times as wealthy as under the Tudors; we have been most admirably governed—we are not slaves under the Dey of Tripoli, but free subjects of a generous Monarch, and why should we change? "The answer is plain. If we had been the slaves of the Dey of Tripoli, we should not have known better, but the change in our situations has educated us for improvements in our institutions. At the present moment we everywhere see society outgrowing our institutions. Where-ever we turn our eyes, we behold a nation great and civilized—with a soil cultivated to a degree of fertility unknown to other countries—with the perfection of all discoveries in physical science, to promote the conveniences of life—standing pre-eminent among the civilized world in everything that depends upon the skill and intelligence of individuals, or combinations of individuals—and yet, with laws and institutions that little command the respect and admiration of mankind. Our roads, our bridges, our steam-engines, our manufactures, our modes of conveyance, our demand for labour, and our rewards of ingenuity, surpass those of any nation in the ancient or modern world, and extort the admiration of rival States; but, let me ask, are foreigners equally struck with the excellence of our legislative enactments — with the modes of conveying land, or of conducting actions—and with a Penal Code that seems purposely contrived to puzzle and ensnare? These are matters in which the Legislature has shown its skill, as our manufacturers have shown theirs, but with a far different result. Let us contrast our commerce, wealth, and perfect civilization, with our Penal Laws—at once barbarous and inefficient—the preposterous fictions of pleading—the mummery of fines and reco- 778 veries—the chaos of precedents, and the bottomless pit of Chancery. Here we see the barbarism of the thirteenth century coupled with the civilization of the nineteenth, and we see too, that the barbarism belongs to the Government, and the civilization to the people. Then I say, that this incongruous state of things cannot continue; and if we do not terminate it with wisdom, ere long we shall find it ended by violence. Because I think we have arrived at the point, when a change is both wise and necessary, I support this Bill with heart and soul; and I shall' be proud to the last hour of my life, of the part I have been able to take in this great act of reconciliation between the state of society and the condition of its institutions. We were told in the last Parliament, that this is not the Reform for which the people petioned; and if it be not, looking at the manner in which it has been received, nothing can prove more decisively the blessed effect of seasonable concession. Never was there so signal an example of that wise policy which conducts the great revolutions of public opinion to a happy and peaceful conclusion, and renders the very act of extending liberty the security for social order. It is not strange, that the people, denied their reasonable claims, should become unreasonable; and, when repulsed by those who ought to hear them, should fly to demagogues. We have seen how excitement was created, and we have seen, too, how it may be allayed. The true secret of the power of agitators is, the obstinacy of rulers; and liberal governments make a moderate people. Did we not hear in the beginning of the last Session the Prime Minister declare, that there should be no Reform, and what was the consequence? The people were excited to such a state, that it seemed as if a dissolution of social order was at hand. So near at hand was it thought, that the Minister of the Crown did not dare to show his Sovereign in his capital. I will venture to say, that now there is not a nation in the world more sincerely or more justly attached to the person and government of their King than the English, or more disposed to strengthen the hands of the public authorities in the enforcement of the law. I do not, however, wonder that a measure which removes discontent should excite the hatred of two classes—the friends of corruption, and the agents of sedition, 779 All who love abuses because they profit by them, and all who take advantage of disaffection which abuses occasion, are naturally leagued against a Bill, which, by making the Government pure, renders the people attached. Those who stand at the two extremities of political opinions play into each other's hands on an occasion like the present; the friends of despotism, on the one hand, are furnished by Jacobin agitators with pretexts for oppression; and Jacobin agitators, on the other hand, are provided by the friends of despotism with arguments against Government. I am rejoiced to see, that the people of England know how to appreciate the monstrous coalition between the enemies of all order and the opponents of all liberty. England has spoken, and spoken out, from every part of the kingdom where the voice of the people was allowed to be heard; it has been heard from our mightiest sea-ports— from our manufacturing towns—from the capital—from our populous counties. As far as my calculations have gone on the late returns, from almost all those situations a suitable answer has been returned to that truly royal voice which demands the opinion of the nation. Here we are now, nearly all Reformers— all Reformers in some sense or other—in some degree or other—for not one Member has declared himself opposed to the principle of Reform; at least some hint has been thrown out that he is not adverse to all change—and I most thoroughly and cordially agree with the noble Paymaster of the Forces, that, like the Scotch army at Dun-bar, the enemies of Reform have placed themselves at the mercy of their adversaries. Their arguments and their abuse might be equally -directed against all Reforms, for all might be asserted to be revolutionary, anarchical, and demoralizing. It has been said, that the Reform Bill introduced for England is not the Reform for which the people petitioned. Will that Reform Bill which is to be proposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, be that Reform for which the people have petitioned? If this Bill, now brought forward by the ancient friends and advocates of the people, be not the Reform which is consonant with popular feeling, what will it be if brought forward by those who have been always opposed to popular feeling, and who can adduce no reason for presenting it except intimidation? The hon. member for Aldborough, and other hon. 780 Members, have complained of certain anomalies in the Bill. They object to the measure, that it gives one county twelve Members, while a larger has got only ten — that such a town as Brighton is to have only one Member, while another less considerable is to have two. This may be an excellent argument against the details of the measure; but it cannot in the slightest degree affect the principle. Will they bring forward an Amendment to remove these anomalies? Or do they mean to assert that a new Rule of Three sum must be worked upon the occasion of every census? If not, why do they censure the Bill because it contains anomalies? But, after all, it contains fewer anomalies than exist in the present system [cries of "No, no."] I speak with arithmetical precision. In the proposed system there is no disproportion so great—none which can make up the difference between Old Sarum and Manchester. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would, in my mind, do better to answer arguments than to interrupt speeches. If there be anomalies, it is you, and not we, who are bound to propose the remedy— so that—Each fair burgh, numerically free,Shall choose its Members by the Rule of Three.It is asked by the hon. Gentlemen on the other side, will this Reform be final? In return, I ask you, will your Reform be final? The same, and stronger reasons against a Reform being' final, apply themselves to any you would make. Last year, when there was a question of giving Representatives to the greatest manufacturing towns in the world, the same argument was brought forward. It was said, it would only be the prelude to greater changes. Such a Reform could not be final; how, then, could you pretend to say, that any Reform you propose would be final? Now, Sir, if I am asked my opinion, I do declare that this Reform of ours is final; but that any which fell short of it would not be. When I say final, I mean that it will be final for that space of time to which we can look forward, and for which alone we can attempt to legislate. In the course of one hundred years, we may chance to have docks as extensive as those of Liverpool in the Hebrides; and a manufacturing town as large as Manchester, in the county of Galway. The same causes are still in action, which, in many places, have converted hamlets into great towns, and 781 barren heaths into corn-fields and meadows. For a country so altered and improved in its condition, we cannot pretend to legislate; all that we can do is to set those who shall then exist the signal example of the mode and spirit in which such a reform as their circumstances re- quire should take place. In the only way, therefore, in which a public man ought to use the word final I use it; and: thus I declare this Reform Bill will be final. But as to the other Bill, if the hon. Gentlemen opposite should succeed in any branch of the Legislature in throwing out this measure of ours—if they should succeed in displacing the present Administration—and if they should succeed in obtaining a House of Commons which would support a new Ministry—I ask them what they would do? Sir, there can be no difficulty in foreseeing and describing; the progress downwards. First, there would be a mock Reform—a Bassetlaw Reform, worthy of those who, when a delinquent borough was to be punished, refused to transfer the franchise to a populous manufacturing town, but threw it into neighbouring hundreds— worthy of those who refused to give Representatives to the three greatest manufacturing towns in the world—a Reform fraught with all the evils of change, and not a single benefit—a Reform depriving the Government of the foundation of prescription, without substituting the foundation of reason and the public good— a Reform which would unsettle establishments, without appeasing discontent—a Reform by which the people would be at once encouraged and exasperated— encouraged by the sense of their own importance, and the evident effect of their power, and exasperated because what they obtained was not what they had demanded. Then would come agitation— libels would abound—the Press would be excited—and demagogues would harangue in every street. Coercion would only aggravate the evil. This is no age, this is no country for the war of power against the war of opinions. Those enemies to the public quiet—agitators and demagogues, who would be driven back by this Reform Bill to their proper insignificance—would become truly powerful, till, at the last, the law would be evaded and opposed till it became a mockery, and England would be reduced to the same condition in which Ireland was 782 placed at the end of the year 1828. Then amidst the cheers of the Whigs, who would be occupying their old places on that side of the House, and the grief and dismay of the Tories, who are now again trusting, to be again betrayed, some right hon. Gentleman would rise from these benches —as did, on the 1st of March, the Paymaster of the Forces, to propose that Bill on which the hearts of the people are fixed. Then should we flatter ourselves that all had been done; but not so. The gratitude and delight with which the measure would be now received, could no longer exist when the materials of agitation were ready. They would find themselves in the condition of those in the old stories, who evoked the fiends. When once the evil spirit is called up, you must find him work, or he will tear you in pieces. The noble Lord opposite spoke of the Day of Sacrifices. Let him remember it was afterwards named the Day of Dupes, not because it was a Day of Sacrifices, but of sacrifices delayed too long. It was because the French aristocracy refused Reform in 1783, that there was Revolution in 1789. But we need not go far to see the danger of delaying inevitable concessions. Let us look to Ireland. Is not one such instance, when made practically, enough to convince one generation? I feel, that some apology is due for the tone I have assumed; I fear, that it may be deemed unbecoming in me to make any application to the fears of Members of this House. But surely I may, without reproach, address myself to their honest fears. It is well to talk of opposing a firm front to sedition, and of using vigorous means to put down agitation. Those phrases are used very properly, when they refer to some temporary excitement—to some partial disturbances, as in 1780—to stifle which, the show of force and determination on the part of a Government is alone needed—then it is well to show a bold front; but woe to the Government that cannot distinguish between a nation and a mob—woe to the Government that thinks a great and steady movement of mind is to be put down like a riot. This error has been twice fatal to the Bourbons—it may be fatal to the Legislature of this country if they should venture to foster it. I do believe, that the irrevocable moment has arrived. Nothing-can prevent the passing of this noble law —this second Bill of Rights. I do call it 783 the second Bill of Rights; and so will the country call it; and so will our children. I call it a greater Charter of the liberties of England. Eighteen hundred and thirty-one is destined to exhibit the first example of an established, of a deep-rooted system removed without bloodshed, or violence, or rapine—all points being debated— every punctilio observed—the peaceful industry of the country never for a moment checked or compromised—and the authority of the law not for one instant suspended. These are things of which we may well be proud. These are things which make us look with confidence and good hope to the future destinies of the human race. These are things that enable us to look forward to a long series of tranquil and happy years, in which we shall have a popular Government and a loyal people; and in which war, if war be inevitable, shall find us a united nation —of years pre-eminently distinguished by the progress of arts and science, and of knowledge generally; by the diminution of the public burthens, and by all those victories of peace in which, more than in the most splendid military successes, consist the true prosperity of States and the glory of Statesmen. Sir, it is with these feelings, and with these hopes, that I give my most cordial assent to the measure, considering it desirable in itself, and at the present moment, and in the present temper of the people, indispensably necessary to the repose of the empire and the stability of the Throne.
§ Mr. W. Bankes
rose with some diffidence after the eloquent speech of the hon. Gentleman who had preceded him. The hon. Member, like the noble author of the Bill, had commenced his speech by misstating the opinions of that great man Lord Clarendon. If the hon. Member had gone to the period of 1688, he would have found the opinion of Lord Clarendon differed much from that the hon. Member had stated. Lord Clarendon gave an opinion worth more than the opinions of thousands who lived in his day; but he was not surprised to find the noble Mover of the Bill mistaking the opinion of Lord Clarendon, because the benefit to be derived from experience seemed of no value. "What Lord Clarendon really said was, that the alteration proposed by Cromwell "was then generally looked upon as an alteration fit to be more warrantably made and in better times," Those words did not 784 imply the sanction of that celebrated man, any more than if it should be said of a certain speech, delivered on the day of the] last Parliament, that it was generally de- scribed as expressing, what was not the fact, that this included the opinion of the present Lord Chancellor. It was said by ' the Ministers themselves that a less extensive Reform would not satisfy the people; that he must deny. Ministers might have proposed a less extensive measure. If they had looked to the conduct of the Reformers of 1688, they would not have thought it a merit, to say that they could not have done less. This extensive measure was necessary for themselves, but not for the country; and their object seemed to be, to gain the support of the radical party. The noble Lord and the hon. Gentleman who spoke last had not proceeded with that caution to prevent ill blood arising in the debate which they had themselves recommended. The hon. Gentleman had, in the words of Cromwell, observed, "The Lord hath delivered them into our hands;" and he (Mr. Bankes) exclaimed, "The Lord deliver us out of their hands!" He opposed and ridiculed the line which Government had drawn respecting the Representation throughout the country, and commented upon it as partial. He confessed, that he felt great difficulty in speaking on the provisions of the Bill; for he was at a loss to know what provisions were to be left in, and what to be left out of the Bill. If he were to remark upon any provision, he might be told, that it had crept into the Bill by inadvertence. There was one observation which he was desirous of making: he found that the county with which he was particularly connected was to have three Members. Now he wished to know whether the three Members were to be given to the whole county, or whether the county was to be divided into three parts, and one Member given to each division? It was the duty of the House to consider, not only what sort of persons would enjoy the elective franchise under the new Bill, but also what class of men would be returned to Parliament. He believed, that if the Bill passed into a law, persons of affluence and rank would no longer regard as an honour the possession of a seat in that House. He desired the House to consider the evils which would result from such a state of things. The House of Commons would not then possess that influence in the country which it 785 now enjoyed; and warning should be taken from the fate of the Cortes of Spain, which might have been enabled to act with advantage to the country, had the nobles been willing to join them. He felt no personal bitterness towards the Ministers, and had rather not indulge in any feelings, than share that bitterness of sorrow which must hereafter affect the proposers of the measure if it should prove successful. And, alluding to the state of the country, the tranquillity and prosperity which prevailed, and the effect which he considered inevitable from the Bill, he compared the Constitution to a vessel, sinking like the Royal George, in the most afflicting manner, not the victim of the storm in a sunless ocean, where no aid was near—but on a bright and beauteous day, and in the presence of thousands of spectators.
§ Lord Althorp
said; In rising to follow the hon. speaker who has just entertained the House with his wit, and to follow the speech of my hon. and learned friend who has electrified the House with his eloquence —I feel that I do so under circumstances of considerable disadvantage to myself; but I feel, at the same time, that my duty calls on me to address some observations to the House, on the topics which have been introduced into these two nights' Debates. Before I go further I should wish to make some observations upon the criticisms of the hon. Gentleman on the opinions of Lord Clarendon. He denies that Lord Clarendon can be taken as an authority in favour of the present measure. His statement, however, is not very different in substance and effect from that made by my hon. and learned friend; for when Clarendon says, that many persons thought that such and such change would be good, and does not deny their opinions, I think it may fairly be supposed that he admits those opinions to be true—and his conduct as a Minister to such a King as Charles 2nd cannot be brought as an answer to that supposition. The hon. Gentleman also says, that if we look back to the Reform of 1688, we must cease to claim any merit for moderation, by saying that we could not do less; and he asserts that, in fact, we were not pledged to go so far as we have done. We do not expect, of course, Sir, that hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House will attend much to our authority in such a matter; but still I think I can show, that we have done no more than we were bound to do. We say 786 we could not do less; not because we were pledged by our previous conduct to do as much as we have now done, but because we felt we could not do less for the satisfaction of the country. We were pledged to a measure of Reform, and when we did bring it forward, we felt, that we should be trifling with the feelings of the country if the measure was not such a one as we had good reason to believe would satisfy the wishes of the country. We have, therefore, brought forward such a measure, and we have the gratification to find that it has satisfied the country. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, has said, that the only reason we brought in a Bill on a plan so extensive was, that we wanted the support of the Radicals. Sir, we wanted the support of the people of England— and if we had not proposed a measure likely to satisfy them—if it had not been a full and complete measure—we should but have continued in the country those tumults, and that division, which it was our object and our earnest wish to remove. In the course of Debate, I have had the pleasure of hearing the speech of the noble Lord, the member for Wootton Basset. To those who know him, that speech was of course but the accomplishment of previous expectations. I, who did not know him, must call it a speech of great promise. In the course of that speech he took occasion to remark on the state of foreign countries, and especially of those in which the attempt had been made to follow the example of this country. He said, that those attempts had failed, and heattributed these failures to one cause. I do not think that the cause the noble Lord assigned was the true one. The noble Lord said, it was owing to the attempt to set up three distinct branches of a Legislature, and to maintain an actual and complete separation between them, so that one should exercise no control whatever over another: whereas, I should think, that from his knowledge of foreign countries he must be aware, that the failures he alludes to must have proceeded from the state of society in those countries being unfit for, the immediate and successful establishment of a system like our own—he must be aware that the estimation in which the nobility have been held, and the degradation into which the people have been thrown, were grounds enough to induce any one to expect, that the first attempt to found liberal institutions would be attended with 787 frequent changes, and would not at once appear likely to be successful. I should say, then, that the failure of these attempts is attributable to the endeavour to apply the institutions of this country to those places to which they are not suited, but not to the theory of keeping the three branches of the Legislature perfectly free from the control of each other. However, supposing that to be the case, is that an objection to this measure? Will this mea- sure preserve a complete distinction between the three branches of our Legislature? The hon. Member behind me has stated truly, that the influence of the Aristocracy could not by possibility be destroyed. We may observe how impossible it is to destroy that influence, by the elections which we now see take place in county Representations, or in elections in the neighbourhood of smaller boroughs, How is it possible to suppose, without a complete change in the feelings of the people, that that influence should not continue? Sir, it will continue, but in a legitimate way. If I were to describe the effect of this Bill, I should say, that the legitimate influence of the Aristocracy would be increased by it. There are some individuals among the Aristocracy who have now a greater degree of power than they will have under this Bill, but that does not apply to the whole mass of the Aristocracy. They will have their due weight, and in a much more regular, more constitutional, and better manner than at present. The hon. member for Newcastle (Mr. E. Peel), has made a curious statement with regard to our disfranchisement of the small boroughs. He says, that we are about to disfranchise them unconvicted (that I admit with respect to some), but not only unconvicted, but undefended. The last position I must deny, for if ever I heard a defence gallantly and obstinately made with respect to any one thing, it is the defence made for these boroughs. He supposes, that the reason why we disfranchise the non-residents is, that they might be dangerous to us. That is not the reason. In the first place, the influence possessed in some boroughs by certain individuals who can create freemen, thereby overpowering the choice of the real inhabitants of the town, is one of the reasons for this disfranchisement. That is an influence which ought not to continue. The hon. Gentleman says, that when we disfranchise non-resident voters, 788 we still allow any class of them to remain, by giving votes to warehousemen in cities. He is mistaken there, in the reason for the disfranchisement, and for the exception. The great expense incurred in conveying non-resident freemen to the place of polling is one of the reasons for our disfranchising them; and it is because the owners of these warehouses are men who are likely not to require that expense to be incurred, that we do not object to continue to them the right of voting. An hon. and gallant friend of mine has addressed the House in a speech which I admit contains one of the most plausible objections to the measure, namely, that it will have the effect of diminishing in this House the influence of our colonial possessions, and of our possessions in the East Indies. With respect to the colonies, and their influence generally, I do not see, from the experience I have of the places for which those Gentlemen most devoted to colonial affairs hold their seats, that there is any danger whatever that the colonial interests will not be fully represented. And with respect to the East Indies, although there may be something in what my gallant Friend stated, I think that he carried the matter a great deal too far. Great distinctions have often been gained by serving this country in her East-India possessions, and when a man comes home with a reputation of having well served his country in India (I may appeal to my gallant friend himself as an example), his name becomes too well known, for him to find much difficulty in obtaining a body of constituents to choose him for their Representative. At the same time, my gallant friend must be aware, that, even under the present system, scarcely any man obtains a seat immediately on his return. But even if this were not the case, we should still have the power to gain the necessary information. As it is the interest of this country to maintain her possessions in the colonies, it is her interest that they should be governed well, and it will be the wish of this House to see that they are so governed. Not only will a Reformed Parliament wish to see them governed well, but it will have a positive interest in their good Government, in seeing that the people are happy, and that everything is done to promote their prosperity, and increase their attachment to the mother country. When this country has the right of freely electing its Representatives, I do not think so ill of my fellow 789 countrymen as to believe that they will not wish to see that privilege extended to the utmost degree in their power. I do not, therefore, think that the colonies are in danger from this measure. On the contrary, I think that their interests, and the interests of every class of the community, will be promoted by it; for all classes will then have their full share in the decisions of this House. There is only one thing more, on which I wish to say a few words. Having stated, that we look not only to what constituency is to be formed, but to what Representatives are likely to be chosen, and what will be the consequences, in the latter respect, of the Reform Bill, the hon. Gentleman who spoke last supposes that no person of rank and station will be elected. I do not know on what ground he founds that opinion, or how he rinds it justified by elections for counties or populous places. He says, that the Spanish Cortes would have done more good if the nobles of Spain had consented to be members of the legislature. If it was the want of the consent of the nobility themselves, which prevented the deputies from having the advantage of their presence, I do not think that such an evil would be likely to exist here—and if he looks to the elections of some of the largest counties, where the middle classes have the greatest influence, particularly during the last election, he will see that they are chiefly represented by members of the Aristocracy. From my experience I should say, that the people have, happily for us, an attachment to the members of the Aristocracy, unless the members of the Aristocracy act in such a manner as to destroy their confidence. To such members of the Aristocracy I should not wish to see the doors of this House thrown open. If they do not use their advantages for the benefit of their fellow-countrymen—if they will not set an example of good, hut of evil—the loss to the country in not admitting them here will not be heavy. As the question has already been so ably discussed, I do not wish to trouble this House further by my observations.
§ The Speaker
stated, that the right hon. and gallant Member was upon his legs, and in possession of the House, before the gallant Colonel moved the Adjournment.
§ Sir George Murray, after some noisy discussion about adjournment had subsided, stated, that he thought this was a matter which ought to be treated with temper and moderation, for it was a question of too much importance for party spirit to be mixed up with it. His objection was to the unnecessary extent of this Bill, ft was said, that the people were dissatisfied with the House—but the fact was, that hon. Gentlemen opposite first cast obloquy on the House, and then asserted that the people were dissatisfied with it. Those who said, that this House was unworthy the confidence of the people, afforded in their own persons a full contradiction to that statement. The country had prospered under the present constitution of the House of Commons. The noble Lord who had just addressed the House, was asked on a former occasion, whether the Bill before the House would produce any present benefit by lightening the burthens of the people, to which he answered that the question was irrelevant. He thought, however, that there could not be a more pertinent question, than to ask whether any measure proposed by Government would produce any benefit to the people. The noble Lord, however, added, that the Bill would produce a more perfect theoretical system; but he did not rate that benefit so highly as the noble Lord. The defects of the House had been often enough pointed out, and the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke so eloquently a short time before, (Mr. Macauley) had stated as the proof of those defects that the institutions of the country were behind the spirit of the age but even that learned Gentleman did not prove, that the House was incompetent to improve those institutions. The noble Lord, in his address, was somewhat in that respect like the hon. and learned member for Kerry, who, after drawing a frightful picture of the misery of Ireland, finished by saying he should support the Repeal of the Union. No practical evils were shown to exist, nor any indisposition of the House to remedy them if they did. As he was opposed to the Repeal of the Union, because it would lead to the dismemberment- 791 of the empire, so he was opposed to this measure, as he believed it would destroy the Constitution. He should oppose the first, even if the hon. and learned member for Kerry could dissolve the Parliament, and bring over the whole of the Irish Members pledged to vote for the Repeal; he should pursue the same course on the Reform Question. It was said, that this measure would secure the stability of the Throne. He believed it would shake the Monarchy to its foundation. It was said, that it would strengthen the authority of Parliament; he believed it would be an effectual instrument in the hands of the democracy, and would only embarrass the Government. Ministers might say, they did not apprehend this. True; their system was one of concession, and so they obtained popular favour; but by conceding this, they would only increase the demands on them. His Majesty's Ministers might say, that they were not afraid of being thwarted or embarrassed by a Reformed Parliament. He was persuaded, indeed, that they had at present no such apprehensions, but he could not, like them, be blind and deaf to the danger. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Macauley) who spoke lately oh the other side of the House,—when alluding to the argument which had been used against the measure, that this country had increased in riches, prosperity, and power—said, that it had also improved its Constitution by successive changes. In that statement he entirely concurred, and it was upon that ground that he had formed the opinion, that we ought to continue to improve our Constitution, by prudent and cautious ameliorations; by introducing such moderate changes as would not be attended with danger, and by progressively carrying on that gradual improvement of our political system, which ought to accompany the alterations of the circumstances and condition of the country. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that the same arguments now used against the proposed change, might have been advanced at all times, and he said, in allusion to our appealing to the prosperity of the country as a proof of the excellence of our practical system, that the same argument might have been advanced in the days of King James 2nd, because, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, there were then more coaches in London than there had been in the days of Queen Elizabeth. 792 Had the hon. and learned Gentleman then forgotten, that the measure which led to the Revolution was an attempt, on the part of King James, not only to alter our practical institutions, but also to change the religion of the country? Could the hon. and learned Gentleman say, that there was any cause at present requiring another Revolution, or would he assume, as a right hon. and learned Gentleman did last night, that there was a great arrear of change, because no change had been made in the Representation of England for 160 years? Did he, then, mean to maintain, that another Revolution was necessary, because it was above 100 years since the last Revolution took place. All those changes which hon. Members spoke of, were gradual, and not sweeping, and therefore he should oppose this, as he thought these changes ought only to be gradual. The Speech from the Throne had recommended them to legislate upon the acknowledged principles of the Constitution. He wished them to be defined. That was a vague phrase, and it became necessary to know what was understood by the acknowledged principles of the British Constitution. He had always been of opinion, that the Constitution consisted of three Powers nicely balanced. The question was, were those Powers distinct and separate, or mingled and blended one with the other? He thought that the Monarchical principle was not confined to the Throne alone, nor the Aristocratical principle included only within the walls of the House of Peers. To the blending of the three Powers we owed our present happy condition, under which we had the power of making-gradual improvements without the risk of great and dangerous changes. It was to this blending that we owed the blessings we enjoyed, and he believed these blessings might be continued without risking this great and dangerous innovation. When, by the operation of this Bill, the Monarchy should be left alone and unsupported, and the House of Lords would have to struggle for the maintenance of its privileges, with no influence beyond its own decisions—if, under such circumstances, the House of Commons should be employed in extending the principles of democracy, he was of opinion that both in theory and practice, the Constitution of England would be effectually destroyed. He could see nothing in the more ex- 793 tended constituency of 10l. householders, to be enfranchised by the Bill, which was in any way calculated to give the House a greater power or disposition to legislate for the benefit of the whole community than the present Mouse of Commons possessed. In answer to his hon. and gallant friend, the noble Lord opposite had implied, that under the Bill, introduced by the noble Lord, the Colonies would be as effectually represented as if they sent to the House Representatives directly chosen by themselves. Would the noble Lord deny that, in that argument, he was supporting the principle of virtual Representation? In support of that argument of the noble Lord, it had been said, that the Colonies would derive no advantage from choosing such a Representative as Sir John Malcolm, acquainted with their circumstances, their interests, and wants, because all the knowledge of that person respecting them, was contained in his books. It had been said, that when his Majesty's Ministers had resolved that a Reform of the Representation was necessary, they were bound to go the- whole extent of this Bill, in order that the question might be set at rest, that there might remain nothing more to be demanded. But, he asked, would the Bill bring us to that ultimate point? For his part he thought that it would not, but that the House would still be called on to concede still further demands. He must observe, that, in one of the observations of the noble Lord who introduced the Bill, and he made the remark with regret, he thought he saw something like arrogance. Something, at least, which did not show good sense or sound judgment. He alluded to the reference made by the noble Lord to the former times of trouble and danger; and he would confess, that he, for one, felt far from gratified at the noble Lord's allusion to the disasters of his country. He was sure, however, that the noble Lord would not be the Cromwell of that Revolution, which his measure of Reform was preparing for his countrymen. He thought, indeed, that the Cromwell of that coming period, be he who he may, was, at this moment, exulting in the progress of the noble Lord's Reform plans. Whoever that individual might be, he was, perhaps at that moment, saying, in the words of Cromwell and of the noble Lord, "The Lord hath delivered them into my hands." Whoever he might be that should per- 794 sonate that character—he would not appear upon the stage until the fifth Act of the Drama. When the fabric of the Constitution should have been pulled down, and its materials scattered and broken, that person would probably attempt to form a new House of Commons, and he would do so, with this condition, that no Member should enter it who was not prepared to act upon the dictation of the Usurper. For they might depend upon this, that despotism had always the same character, whether it was exercised by an individual, or by an agitated populace. If that individual would allow a House of Lords to exist, he would take care at least that a person should preside there who could find an opportunity to administer to the Members of that House "A Friendly Advice." What might be the character of such a House of Lords, he (Sir G. Murray) would not undertake to say, but of this he was confident, that in the present House of Lords there was too much magnanimity to allow its determinations to be governed by an influence so mean. Honouring that House —not merely from respect to the individuals of whom it was composed, but on higher grounds—for its utility to the country—for its support of the liberties of the people—he was confident that it could not be influenced to abandon its duty by the mean advice which had been given to it. He would not forget that, at the commencement of his address, he had pledged himself to the House that he would not long occupy its time; and he should therefore abstain from other observations which he should have thought it his duty to offer were he addressing them at an earlier hour. He concluded by assuring them that he opposed the Bill, not through prejudice or party feeling, nor through dislike to moderate Reform, but because it prepared the way to those dangerous revolutionary measures by which he saw other nations so much shaken.
§ Lord Althorp
had no objection that the Debate should be then adjourned to next day,. on account of the lateness of the hour, and he thought that the discussion might be gone through at the next meet- 795 ing of the House. But he thought a longer postponement, under all the circumstances, indecorous.
[amid loud cries of "Question"] said, that the interval of a day was necessary for the consideration of the arguments which had been adduced; but, as the House seemed adverse to the postponement, he would withdraw his Motion.
§ Debate adjourned.