§ Mr. Speaker
—I rise, Sir, with feelings of deep anxiety and interest, to bring forward a question, which, unparalleled as it is in importance, is likewise unparalleled in difficulty, without my apprehension in the least degree being removed by the reflection that I have, on former occasions, brought this question before the consideration of the House; for if, on the other occasions, I have called the attention of the House of Commons to this subject, it has been upon my own responsibility—unaided by any one—involving- no one in the failure of the attempt—though often completely gratified by partial success. But, Sir, the measure I have now to bring-forward, is a measure, not of mine, but of the Government, in whose name I appear—the deliberate measure of a whole Cabinet, unanimous upon this subject, and resolved to place their measure before this House, in redemption of their pledge to their Sovereign, the Parliament, and to their country. It is, therefore, with great anxiety that I venture to explain their intentions to the House upon a subject, the interest of which is shewn by the crowded audience assembled here, but still more by the deep interest that is felt by millions out of this House, who look with anxiety—who look with hope—who look with expectation, to the result of this day's deliberations. Sir, I am sure it is not necessary that I should say any more, to do away a notion which an hon. and learned Member opposite endeavoured to spread—that this question, not being brought forward by a member of the Cabinet, is not a measure of the King's Ministers. I am sure that even he must be convinced that what I am going to propose emanates from the Government. But although I cannot pretend to be the author of this measure, neither can I say that I have been kept in ignorance of its nature. The measure itself—after the noble Lord who is at the head of his Majesty's Government had formed it in his own mind, and communicated it to his colleagues—was communicated to me; and I have ever since been consulting, either individually or collectively, with the members of the Cabinet on the subject. Sir, I regret that the noble Lord at the head of his Majesty's Government cannot, by the law and usage 1062 of Parliament, be permitted to explain his measure to this House, in his own clear and intelligible language; but as that is impossible, I trust that the House will favour me with its indulgence, while I endeavour to lay before it the details of this measure—I am afraid very inadequately—hut with sincere and earnest wishes for its ultimate success. Sir, much cavil has been raised upon expressions of the noble Lord whom I have mentioned, that he would endeavour to frame such a measure as might satisfy the public mind, without, at the same time endangering the settled institutions of the country. "Do you moan," it has been asked on one hand, "by the settled institutions of the country the close and rotten boroughs?" I think we shall shew in the course of the explanation we are about to make, that it is not the close and rotten boroughs that were intended by the settled institutions of the country. On the other hand, it is said by another party, "can you pretend to satisfy the public mind without, endangering the settled institutions of the country? If you attempt to satisfy the public mind, you must shake the public institutions." Sir, we are of opinion, that the very reverse of this will take place; to attempt to satisfy the public mind will not endanger the settled institutions of the country; but not to satisfy that, will endanger them. We are of opinion, that these institutions, resting as they ever have done on the confidence and love of Englishmen, must continue to rest on the same foundation: and while we discard the notion of complying with violent and extravagant remarks, we at the same time wish to place such a measure before the House, that every reasonable man, both in this House and in the country, may be satisfied with it. We wish to place ourselves between the two hostile parties. Neither agreeing with the bigotry of the one, that no Reform is necessary, nor agreeing with the fanaticism of the other, that only some particular kind of Reform can by any means be satisfactory to the people; we place ourselves between the two, and fix ourselves on what is, I hope, firm and steadfast ground, between the abuses we wish to amend, and the convulsions we hope to avert. It will not be necessary, on this occasion, that I should go over the arguments which have been so often urged in favour of Parliamentary Reform: but it is due to the question, that I should state 1063 shortly the chief points of the general argument on which the reformers rest their claim. Looking at the question, then, as a question of right, the ancient Statutes of Edward 1st contain the germ and vital principle of our political constitution. The 25th of Edward 1st, ch. 6, declares, in the name of the King, that "for no business from henceforth we should take such manner of aids, tasks, nor prizes, but by the common assent of the realm, and for the common profit thereof, saving the ancient aids and prizes due and accustomed." The 34th Edward 1st, commonly called the Statute de Tallagio Concedendo, provides, "that no tallage or aid shall be taken or levied, by us or our heirs, in our realm, without the good will and assent of archbishops, bishops, earls, barons, knights, burgesses, and other freemen of the land." Although some historical doubts have been thrown upon the authenticity of this statute, its validity in point of law is asserted in the Petition of Rights, was allowed by the Judges in the case of Hampden, and is, in fact, the foundation of the Constitution, as it has existed since the days of the Stuarts. To revertagain, for a moment, to ancient times; the consent of the commonalty of the land, thus declared necessary for the grant of any aid or tax, was collected from their Representatives consisting of two knights from each county, from each city two citizens, and from every borough two burgesses. For 250 years, the constant number of boroughs so sending their Representatives was about 120 Some thirty or forty others occasionally exercised or discontinued that practice or privilege, as they rose or fell in wealth and importance. How this construction of the House of Commons underwent various changes, till the principle on which it was founded was lost sight of, I will not now detain the House by explaining. There can be no doubt, however, that at the beginning of the period I have alluded to, the House of Commons did represent the people of England. No man of common sense pretends that this Assembly now represents the commonalty or people of England. If it be a question of right, therefore, right is in favour of Reform. Let us now look at the question as one of reason. Allow me to imagine, for a moment, a stranger from some distant country, who should arrive in England to examine our institutions. All the information he had collected would have told 1064 him that this country was singular for the degree which it had attained in wealth, in science, and in civilization. He would have learned, that in no country have the arts of life been carried further, no where the inventions of mechanical skill been rendered more conducive to the comfort and prosperity of mankind. He would have made himself acquainted with its fame in history, and above all, he would have been told, that the proudest boast of this celebrated country was its political freedom. If, in addition to this, he had heard that once in six years this country, so wise, so renowned, so free, chose its Representatives to sit in the great Council, where all the ministerial affairs were discussed and determined; he would not be a little curious to see the process by which so important and solemn an operation was effected. What then would be his surprise, if he were taken by his guide, whom he had asked to conduct him to one of the places of election, to a green mound and told, that this green mound sent two Members to Parliament—or, to be taken to a stone wall, with three niches in it, and told that these three niches sent two Members to Parliament—or, if he were shown a green park, with many signs of flourishing vegetable life, but none of human habitation, and told that this green park sent two Members to Parliament? But his surprise would increase to astonishment if he were carried into the North of England, where he would see large flourishing towns, full of trade and activity, containing vast magazines of wealth and manufactures, and were told that these places had no Representatives in the Assembly which was said to represent the people. Suppose him, after all, for I will not disguise any part of the case, suppose him to ask for a specimen of popular election, and to be carried, for that purpose, to Liverpool; his surprise would be turned into disgust at the gross venality and corruption which he would find to pervade the electors. After seeing all this, would he not wonder that a nation which had made such progress in every kind of knowledge, and which valued itself for its freedom, should permit so absurd and defective a system of representation any longer to prevail? But whenever arguments of this kind have been urged, it has been replied, and Mr. Canning placed his opposition to Reform on this ground, "We agree, that the House of Commons is not, 1065 in fact, sent here by the people—we agree that, in point of reason, the system by which it is sent is full of anomaly and absurdity—but Government is a matter of experience, and so long as the people are satisfied with the actual working of the House of Commons, it would be unwise to embark in theoretical change." Of this argument, I confess, I always felt the weight, and so long as the people did not answer the appeals of the friends of Reform, it was indeed an argument not to be resisted. But what is the case at this moment? The whole people call loudly for Reform. That confidence, whatever it was, which formerly existed in the constitution of this House, exists no longer—it is completely at an end. Whatever may be thought of the particular acts of the House of Commons, I repeat that the confidence of the country in the construction and constitution of the House of Commons is gone—and gone for ever. I would say more—I affirm that it would be easier to transfer the flourishing manufactories of Leeds and Manchester to Gatton and Old Sarum, than to re-establish the confidence and sympathy between this House and those whom it calls its constituents. I end this argument, therefore, by saying, that if the question be one of right, right is in favour of Reform—if it be a question of reason, reason is in favour of Reform—if it be a question of policy and expediency, policy and expediency speak loudly for Reform. I come now to the most difficult part of this subject—the explanation of the measure, which, representing the King's Ministers, I am about to propose to the House. Those Ministers have thought, and, in my opinion, justly, that it would not be sufficient, to bring forward a measure which should merely lop off some digusting excrescences, or cure some notorious defects; but would still leave the battle to be fought again wish renewed and strengthened discontent. They have thought that no half measures would be sufficient—that no trifling, no paltering, with so great a question could give stability to the Throne—authority to the Parliament—or satisfaction to the Country. Let us look, then, at what have been the chief grievances in the representation, of which the people have complained. And here let me observe, that there is great difference between the complaint of a grievance, and the suggestion of a remedy. On matter of grievance we ought to regard 1066 with deference the expressed opinions of the people; but in suggesting remedies, those who are called to the business of legislation should follow the deliberate result of their own judgment. But not to digress any further. The chief grievances of which the people complain are these;—First, the nomination of Members by individuals? Second, the Elections by close Corporations; third, the Expense of Elections. With regard to the first—the nomination by individuals—it may be exercised in one of two ways; either over a place containing scarcely any inhabitants, and with a very extensive right of election, or over a place of wide extent and numerous population, but where the franchise is confined to very few residents. Gatton is an example of the first, and Bath of the second. At Gatton, the right is popular, but there is nobody to exercise it: at Bath, the inhabitants are numerous, but very few of them have any concern in the result of an election. We have addressed ourselves to both those evils, because we have thought it essential to apply a remedy to both; but they must, of course, be dealt with in different ways. With regard to Boroughs where there are scarcely any inhabitants, and where the elective franchise is such as to enable many individuals to give their voices in the choice of Members for this House, it would be evidently a mere farce to take away the right from the person exercising it, and to give it to the borough; and the only Reform that can be justly recommended is, to deprive the borough of its franchise altogether. I am perfectly aware, that in making this proposition we are proposing a bold and decisive measure. I am perfectly aware, and I should myself vote upon that persuasion, that on all ordinary occasions, rights of this kind ought to be respected, and it would be no small interest, no trifling consideration, which would justify the invasion of them. I well recollect, however, the language which a right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Peel) held on the occasion of his proposing a great change with regard to the elective franchise in another part of the empire—language which, in my humble opinion, well expressed the nature of the right in question, and the character of the circumstances which would justify the Legislature in touching it. It is now, Sir, two years since the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Robert Peel) standing here as a Minister of 1067 the Crown, proposed the measure known by the name of Catholic Emancipation, accompanied by another measure for the disfranchisement of 200,000 freeholders, unoffending men, who had broken no law, who had violated no right, who had exercised their privilege, perhaps ignorantly, certainly independently and impatiently, in a manner which they in their consciences believed to be best. Now, Sir, if I quote the right hon. Gentleman's words, it is not because I think he is bound to be consistent, for on questions of this kind every man ought to act according to his judgment, for the benefit of his country. But I beg the House to recollect, that the right hon. Baronet then stood here as the servant of the Crown, representing the Ministers who have gone out of office, and did then, in their name, state the circumstances that influenced them upon that great and important measure. Upon that great occasion, he reminded the House, that it was bound to step, on some occasions, beyond its ordinary rules: and he instanced the cases of the Union and Septennial Acts, and other measures, when this House, in order to provide for the exigencies of the country, had departed from the common rules and modes that usually regulated its proceedings. The right hon. Baronet, after shewing that the House had frequently adopted extraordinary methods to avoid pressing dangers, proposed the measure, and at once met the objections to it in these words. He said, "I admit at once the full force of the objection which will be urged against that part of the measure I propose, by which the existing right of voting is taken away from the freeholder. No doubt it is a vested right, but it is a right that differs in its character from the rights of property, and other strictly private rights. It is a public trust, given for public purposes, to be touched, no doubt, with great caution and reluctance; but still which we are competent to touch if the public interest manifestly demands the sacrifice.*" Sir, such were the sentiments of the right hon. Baronet, sentiments with which the House agreed; for I never knew any measure carried through this House with greater support than that measure of disfranchisement. But, Sir, shall we say, that we are bound to have* Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, New Series, Vol. xx, p. 771.1068 one principle when the peasantry of Ireland are concerned, and another when the rich and noble are interested, and that we must consider the latter as sacred, and not venture to touch their privileges, when the public interest requires it? Shall we say, that the freeholders of Ireland, merely exercising a right which the Constitution gives, may be deprived of that right, and that we must not venture to touch the privilege of the noble Lord who returns two Representatives to this House for Gatton, though the Constitution says such a privilege ought not to exist? Shall we say, that that which is justly, constitutionally, and legally, a right, shall be done away—that it may be swept away when the convenience of the country demands it—and that a privilege which is a mere usurpation, which has no sanction from the law, and which is only supported by long usage, shall be held sacred, when the public interests require, and the public voice demands its abolition. Are we to make this glaring distinction between the rich and the poor—between the Peer and the peasant? are we to disfranchise the forty-shilling freeholder and must we not touch the borough which is claimed as the property of some noble Lord? The plan we propose is, therefore, to meet the difficulty in front—as the Duke of Wellington and his colleagues met it in the year 1829; and our measure will have the effect of disfranchising a number of boroughs, as that measure disfranchised a number of voters. It would be a task of extreme difficulty to ascertain the exact proportion of the wealth, trade, extent, and population, of a given number of places, and we have, therefore, been governed by what is manifestly a public record—I mean the population returns of 1821, and we propose that every borough which in that year had less than 2,000 inhabitants, shall altogether lose the right of sending Members to Parliament. The effect will be, utterly to disfranchise sixty boroughs. But we do not stop here. As the hon. member for Borough bridge (Sir C. Wetherell) would say, we go plus ultra. We find that there are forty-seven boroughs, of only 4,000 inhabitants, and these we shall deprive of the right of sending more than one Member to Parliament. We likewise intend that Weymouth, which at present sends four Members, shall, in future, only elect two. The abolition of sixty boroughs will occasion 119 vacant- 1069 cies, to which are to be added forty-seven for the boroughs allowed to send only one Member, and two of which Weymouth will be deprived, making in the whole 168 vacancies. Such is the extent to which Ministers propose to go in the way of disfranchisement. But, as I have already said, we do not mean to allow that the remaining boroughs should be in the hands of select Corporations—that is to say, in the possession of a small number of persons, to the exclusion of the great body of the inhabitants, who have property and interest in the place represented. It has been a point of great difficulty to decide to whom the franchise should be extended. Although it is a much disputed question, yet I believe it will be found, that in ancient times every freeman, being an inhabitant householder resident in a borough, was competent to vote for Members of Parliament. As, however, this arrangement excluded villains and strangers, the franchise always belonged to a particular body in every town—a body undoubtedly possessed of property, for they bore the charges of their Members, and on them were assessed the subsidies and taxes voted by Parliament. But when villanage ceased, various and opposite courses seem to have been pursued in different boroughs. In some, extending the liberal principle that all freemen were to be admitted, householders of all kinds, down to the lowest degree, and even sometimes beyond, were admitted. In others, adopting the exclusive principle that strangers and villains were no part of the burgesses, no new Corporations were erected, and the elective franchise was more or less confined to a select body. These differences, the House will be aware, have led to those complicated questions of right which we are every week called upon to decide; and I think no one will deny, that our Election Committees often have brought before them, and are obliged to settle, questions that are at once, the most vexatious, the most difficult, and the most useless. Originally these points were decided in this House by the prevalence of one party or of another: they are now determined more fairly, but still the determinations are all founded upon the original iniquity of some party conflict. I contend, that it is important to get rid of these complicated rights—of these vexatious questions, and to give to the real property and to the real respectability of 1070 the different cities and towns the right of voting for Members of Parliament. The first distinction that naturally occurred to us as forming a proper class of voters, was that pointed out by the bill of the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel), of persons qualified to serve on Juries. But, upon looking into this qualification, we found that in Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, and other important places, although it certainly would give an extended constituency, it would still be too limited for the number of the inhabitants; while, in small boroughs, it would have the evil of confining the elective franchise to a very few persons indeed. According to the Returns from the Tax Office, which I admit are not entirely to be depended upon, ten, seven, three, and even one, would be the number of persons in some towns rated for a house of 201. a year. Therefore we saw, if we took this qualification, we should be creating new close boroughs, and confining the elective franchise, instead of enlarging it; we therefore propose that the right of voting shall be given to householders paying rates for, or occupying a house of, the yearly value of 10l. and upwards. Whether he be the proprietor, or whether he only rent the house, the person rated will have the franchise upon certain conditions hereafter to be named. At the same time, it is not intended to deprive the present electors of their privilege to vote, provided they be resident. With regard to non-residence, we arc. of opinion that it produces much expense, that it is the cause of a great deal of bribery, and that it occasions such manifold and manifest evils, that electors who do not live in a place ought not to be permitted to retain their votes. At the same time, I do not believe that we are inflicting even upon this class any injury, for nearly all, either in one place or in another, will possess a franchise as belonging to the great mass of householders. With regard to resident voters, we propose that they shall retain their right during life, but that no vote shall be allowed hereafter, excepting on the condition I have before stated, that the person claiming the right must occupy a house of the value of 10l. a year. I shall now proceed to the manner in which we propose to extend the franchise in counties. The Bill I wish to introduce will give all copyholders to the value of 10l. a year, qualified under the right hon. Gentleman's 1071 bill to serve on Juries, and all leaseholders for not less than twenty one years, whose leases have not been renewed within two years, a right to vote for the return of Knights of the Shire. [Sir R. Peel asked, across the Table, the amount of rent which was necessary?] The right will depend upon a lease for twenty-one years, where the annual rent is not less than fifty pounds. It will be recollected that, when speaking of the numbers disfranchised, I said, that 168 vacancies would be created. We are of opinion that it would not be wise or expedient to fill up the whole number of those vacancies. After mature deliberation, we have arrived at the conclusion, that the number of Members at present in the House is inconveniently large. I believe there is no hon. Gentleman who was a Member of the House before the Union with Ireland, who will not agree that the facility of getting through business has since been greatly diminished. Besides, it is to be considered that when this Parliament is reformed, as it will be, I trust, before long, there will not be so many Members, who enter Parliament merely for the sake of the name, and as a matter of style and fashion. It is not to be disputed that some Members spend their time in foreign countries, and never attend this House at all, to a certain degree, to the inconvenience of those who do attend to their duties. Several, for two or three years together, have never attended in their places; and, at the end of a Parliament, I believe there is generally found an instance or two of individuals, who, having been elected, have never appeared at the Table, even to take the oaths. But it is obvious, that, whenever a Member has a certain number of constituents watching his actions, and looking to his votes, in order that the people's money be not given for purposes inconsistent with the people's interests, his attendance will be much more regular. Therefore, when we propose a great change, by cutting off a number of Members, the effect will be, to facilitate public business, to the manifest advantage of the country. We propose, however, to fill up a certain number of the vacancies, but not the whole of them. We intend that seven large towns shall send two Members each, and that twenty other towns shall send one Member each
Seven towns which are to send two Members each, are the following:—
|Manchester and Salford||Wolverhampton, Bilston, and Sedgeley|
|Birmingham & Aston||Sheffield|
|Leeds||Sunderland and the|
|Greenwich, Deptford, & Woolwich||Wearmouths.|
§ The following are the names of the towns, each of which, it is proposed, shall send one Member to Parliament:—
|South Shields and||Dudley|
|Westoe||Tynemouth & North|
|Whitehaven, Workington, Harrington||Wakefield|
§ It is well known, that a great portion of the Metropolis and its neighbourhood, amounting in population to 800,000 or 900,000, is not represented, and we propose to give eight Members to the unrepresented, by dividing them into the following districts each of which is to have two:—Tower Hamlets, 233,000 population; Holborn, 218,000; Finsbury, 162,000; Lambeth, 128,000. The two large, populous parishes of Marylebone and St. Pancras which, no doubt, are entitled to be represented, at least as much entitled to it as Borough bridge, are included in one of the districts I have named. Next we propose an addition to the Members for the larger counties—a species of Reform always recommended, and which, I believe, Lord Chatham was almost the first to advocate. Those counties contain a variety of interests, and form an admirable constituency; in some, as in Staffordshire, there is a large manufacturing population, better represented in this way than perhaps in any other; and as County Members have unquestionably the most excellent class of constituents, they form of themselves a most valuable class of Representatives. The Bill I shall beg leave to introduce will give two additional Members to each of twenty-seven counties, where the inhabitants exceed 150,000. Everybody will expect that Yorkshire, divided into three Ridings—the East, West, and North—should have two Members for each Riding; and the other 1073 counties to which this additional privilege will be given are the following:—
§ Besides this, it is proposed that the Isle of Wight shall return one Member. I will now proceed to another part of the subject. I spoke at first of the evils connected in the minds of the people with the power of nomination by individuals, and with the power of election by a few persons in very small and close Corporations. The remedies I have already detailed are pointed against these defects. I now beg leave to direct the attention of the House to that part of the plan which relates to the expense of long-protracted polls, and which, while it removes that evil, also greatly facilitates the collection of the sense of the elective body. The names of electors are to be enrolled, by which means we hope that the disputes regarding qualification will be in a great measure avoided. We propose that all electors in counties, cities, towns, or boroughs, shall be registered, and for this purpose, machinery will be put in motion very similar to that of the Jury Act: that is to say, at a certain period of the year (I now speak of boroughs), the parish officers and churchwardens are to make a list of the persons who occupy houses of the yearly value of 10l. This list of names will be placed on the church doors, we will suppose in September, and in the following month, October, the Returning Officer will hold a sort of trial of rotes, where claims made and objections stated, will be considered and decided. When this process has been gone through, the Returning Officer will declare the list complete, and on the 1st of December in every year, the list will be published; every person who chooses, may obtain a copy of it, and that list will be the rule to govern electors and elections for the ensuing year. We intend, 1074 that during that ensuing year, every person shall be entitled to vote whose name is in the list, and that no question shall be asked, but as to his identity, and whether he has polled before at the same election. These regulations are extremely simple, and will prevent all those vexatious and noisy scenes now so often witnessed, regarding disputed votes. The means of ascertaining who are the electors being made thus easy, there will be no reason why the poll should be kept open for eight days, or for a longer period; and it is proposed that, nearly according to the present law, booths shall be erected for the voters of the different parishes, so that the whole poll may be taken in two days. For my own part, I hope that the time may come when the machinery will be found so simple that every vote may be given in a single day; but in introducing a new measure, it is necessary to allow for possible defects in the working of the machinery; attempts may be made to obstruct the polling, and we therefore recommend two days, in order that no voter may be deprived of the opportunity of offering his suffrage. As to counties, the matter may be somewhat more difficult; we propose, however, in the same manner, that the churchwardens shall make out a list of all persons claiming the right to vote in the several parishes, and that these lists shall be affixed to the church doors: a person to be appointed (say a Barrister of a certain standing) by the Judge of Assize, shall go an annual circuit within a certain time after the lists have been published, and he shall hear all claims to vote, and decide all objections to voters. Having decided who are entitled to exercise the privilege, he will sign his name at the bottom of the list, and will transmit it to the Clerk of the Peace. The list will then be enrolled as the names of the freeholders of the county for the ensuing year. With respect to the manner of proceeding at Elections, we have it in view to introduce a measure which can hardly fail to be an improvement of the present system. Every body knows, and must have lamented the enormous expense to which candidates are put in bringing voters to the poll. An election in Yorkshire has been known to cost nearly 150,000l.; and in Devonshire some of the electors are obliged to travel forty miles over rough cross-roads, which occupies one day; the next is consumed in polling, and the third in returning 1075 home; the whole scheme being a manifest source of vast expense, and most inconvenient delay. We propose, therefore, that the poll shall be taken in separate districts, into which the counties are to be divided, those districts to be arranged according to circumstances by the Magistrates at Quarter Sessions. Subject however, to the condition that they shall not be changed for two years. The formation of those districts will give an opportunity of more readily taking the votes when an election occurs. The sheriffs shall hold the election on a certain day, and if it should happen that a poll be demanded, they shall adjourn the election to the day next but one. The poll shall then be kept open for two days, so as to enable all the persons qualified under the several Acts of Parliament to give their votes. On the third day the poll shall be closed, and on the sixth day an account shall be published of the number of votes. It will be so arranged, that no voter shall have to travel more than fifteen miles to give his vote. At the same time it is not proposed that the number of polling places in one county shall exceed fifteen, as the multiplication of places for receiving the votes would give rise to great inconvenience, and leave an opening to new abuses. We propose that each large county which is to return four Members, shall be divided into two districts, returning each two Members to Parliament. In adjusting that division of the counties, there will, I have no doubt, be some difficulty. But we propose that his Majesty shall nominate a Committee of the Privy Council, to determine the direction and extent of the districts into which each county shall be divided.—Those Privy Councillors, I need not say, will be persons known to the House and to the country.—They will be persons of known responsibility in the discharge of that duty.—In some of the boroughs, to which the right of representation is to be continued, the number of electors is exceedingly small. We shall, therefore, insert in the Bill which we propose to submit to Parliament, a clause, giving to Commissioners, nominated under that bill, authority to enable the inhabitants of the adjoining parishes, and chapelries, to take part in the elections, when the number of electors in such Boroughs shall be less than 300.—That these are extensive powers I shall not attempt to deny; but, as the difficulty exists, it is our duty to 1076 consider how it may be overcome. How it is to be met, his Majesty's Ministers do not know, otherwise than by committing the powers to persons known and responsible to Parliament, and to the nation, and appointed by the Royal Proclamation. If any hon. Gentleman should stand up in his place, and say that the powers which we propose to give to the Committee of the Privy Council are too great, I will only ask him, if it be granted that the business is to be done, and that the objects for which we propose the Committee are proper and useful, can he suggest any better and more effectual mode of doing it?—If any gentleman in the House will suggest a mode more safe, more constitutional, his Majesty's Ministers will have no difficulty in adopting that mode and waiving their own, their only object being to advance the interest of the people, to which every other consideration ought to yield. I have now only one thing more to say with regard to the Representation of England. In all those new towns to which we propose to give the right of sending Members to Parliament, all persons who are in them entitled by their property to vote, are to be excluded from the right to vote for the Representatives of the county, by virtue of the same property. At the same time that the towns will have themselves a proper share in the representation, we do not intend that they shall interfere with the representation of the counties. It is not intended to interfere with the franchise of those freeholders who are at present entitled to vote. I believe I have now concluded the statement of all the alterations which are intended to be made in the representation of England. With respect to the right of the forty-shilling freeholders in the counties, I do not think that there should be any alteration; for I consider that they are a class of persons eminently qualified to have the trust of electing committed to them. By the smallness of the property which constitutes their qualification, they are especially calculated to give the Representation that extended basis which it is most desirable that it should have.—[An hon. Member, here called on Lord John Russell to name the disfranchised boroughs]—It is proposed to take away the right of electing Members to serve in Parliament from all towns and boroughs which do not contain 2,000 inhabitants. With respect to some of these, it was at first a 1077 question whether we should not still allow them to send each one Member; but, on consideration, we thought it better o avoid all chance of an imputation of partiality. We, therefore, determined to fix upon the number of 2,000 inhabitants, and thereby leave no doubt, that in their disfranchisement we were not influenced by partiality, by prejudice, or by a wish to favour some in preference to others. I will now read the list of the boroughs to be disfranchised on this principle. [The noble Lord accordingly read the following list, in the course of which he was frequently interruped by shouts of laughter, cries of "hear, hear,!" from Members for these boroughs, and various interlocutions across the Table.]
|Aldborough, Suffolk||Milborne Port|
|Bed win||Newport, Cornwall|
|Bishop's Castle||Newton, I. of Wight|
|Castle Rising||St. Michaels, Corn-|
|Ludgershall||Yarmouth, Isle of|
§ In all there are sixty boroughs, to be totally disfranchised, and I will now read the list of the boroughs which will be allowed to return one Member of Parliament each:—
|East Grinstead||St. Ives|
§ In all forty seven boroughs. With regard to Wales, the only alteration I propose to make besides introducing the same right of franchise into all the boroughs there which we propose for England, consists in adding to the towns in Wales, which already send Members, the neighbouring unrepresented towns, so as to give them a share in the representation. It is proposed, for instance, to add Holyhead to Beaumaris; Bangor to Carnarvon; Wrexham to Denbigh; Holywell and Mold to Flint; Llandaff and Merthyr Tydvil to Cardiff; Welch-Pool, Llanvilling, and three other places which returned Members of Parliament formerly, but which were disfranchised by a decision of the House of Commons, I believe, in the time of Sir Robert Walpole, to Montgomery; St. David's, Fishguard, and Newport, to Haverford west; Milford to Pembroke; Presteign to Radnor; and we further propose that a new district of boroughs should be erected, consisting of Swansea, Cowbridge, Laugharn, and three other places, which are to have the privilege of returning one Member to Parliament. These are the only additional Members which it is proposed to add to the representation of Wales. I now come to the representation of Scotland; and if the representation of England wants Reform, certainly the same thing may be said, with additional reason, as regards the representation of Scotland. If we have close boroughs in England, we have also popular elections, and popular representation in many of those boroughs; but in Scotland there is not a vestige of popular representation. Indeed, there is 1079 no such thing known in that country as a popular election; consequently, the wealth, the respectability, and the intelligence, for which the inhabitants of that country arc so distinguished, are virtually unrepresented. In the counties of Scotland, there are 3,253 persons, who appear on the lists as qualified to vote, but, from various causes, a number of those electors cannot vote; so that the whole number of electors, by which the county Members of Scotland are returned, does not exceed 2,340 persons. I shall not enter into the details of the manner in which the right of voting is obtained in the counties of Scotland. I shall only mention that the right is, in many instances, obtained by an authority distinct from that derived from the possession of land. Persons, in selling land, have been in the practice of retaining the Superiority which gives them the right of voting, in their own hands. Latterly, the proprietors of land have sold the Superiority, which has been purchased for corrupt purposes, by persons who were altogether unconnected with the counties in which they have votes. Knowing this to be the case, I thought it necessary to procure a return, showing the proportion of the number of persons holding landed property and possessing votes in the counties in Scotland, a few extracts from which I will read to the House. I find that in Ayrshire there are 308 electors; and that 105 of those do not possess any landed property in the county. In Banff there are nineteen electors, and only two have any landed property. In Ross and Cromarty there are twenty-nine electors, and only eight of those possess landed property. And in the county of Lanark there are 224 electors; of which number ninety-eight only are landed proprietors. This is the state of the constituency in the counties of Scotland; which, I conceive, is not fair, as regards the real landed proprietors. If I hear any one object to this measure, on the ground that it tends to deprive the land-owner in Scotland of his fair and legitimate influence, or of any right which he now possesses, I shall refer to this return, for it presents a complete answer to any such objection; and affords decisive evidence that the franchise is not in the landowner. What I propose in the counties of Scotland is, that every one possessing what is there called the dominum utile, or what we should call a beneficial interest, in lands or houses, to the amount of 10?., in the nature of a freehold or copy- 1080 hold, shall be entitled to a vote. We propose, likewise, that leaseholders in possession, and having a written lease for a term of nineteen years, or any longer period, to the value of 50l., shall be entitled to vote; provided, as the Bill provides for England, that the lease has not been renewed for two years before the election. We have fixed on nineteen years, because leases are generally granted for that term in Scotland. All the details of the measure for England, as already described, will be applicable, with some trifling alteration, to the elections for Scotland. We propose, also, one or two arrangements respecting the representation of the counties in Scotland. For instance, it is intended that Selkirk shall be joined with Peebles; and that those two counties, both being very small, should only return one Member. Dumbarton and Bute, Elgin and Nairne, Ross and Cromarty, Orkney and Shetland, and Clackmannan and Kinross, with certain additions, to do the same. The remaining twenty-two counties each singly to return one Member. We also propose that Edinburgh shall have two Members, Glasgow two, and that Aberdeen Paisley, Dundee, Greenock, and Leith (with the addition of Portobello, Musselburgh, and Fisherrow), shall each singly return one Member. We propose that the East Fife district of burghs shall no longer return any Member, but it shall be thrown into the county. The remaining thirteen districts of burghs, we propose shall each return one Member, with these variations—that Kilmarnock shall take the place of Glasgow in the district of burghs to which Glasgow formerly belonged; that Peter-head shall take the place of Aberdeen; and that Falkirk shall be added to the districts of Lanark, and Linlithgow, to Selkirk and Peebles. As to the right of voting in the boroughs and towns of Scotland, it will be founded on the principle of property, arising from the occupation of houses rented or rated to taxes at not less than 10l. per year. The manner in which we propose that the eligibility of electors shall be ascertained in Scotland is very similar to the manner proposed for England—namely, by a registry of the names. In Scotland, however, there will be advantages and facilities afforded, because there are already proper officers in that country, perfectly competent to fulfil the duties which that system will require. With these several alterations, 1081 Scotland will have fifty Members instead of forty-five. The elections for the burghs are not to continue in the same state as at present. It is proposed that the election shall no longer remain in delegates appointed by self-elected Corporations; but all those who have a right to vote founded, as I have stated, on the possession of a house rated at 10l., are to vote in their own persons, and the number voting in the whole district will be summed up by the returning officer, who, according to the sum of the whole number of votes, will return the Members. I now proceed to Ireland, where a reform in the Representation, though necessary, will be more simple than that proposed with respect to the representation of England and Scotland. At the time of the Union, little more than thirty years ago, the representation of Ireland was entirely remodelled, and, therefore, in that country, we do not find those small and decayed boroughs sending Representatives to Parliament as is the case in England. In many, however, of the boroughs in Ireland, the franchise is held by only a small number of persons, who are not entitled, either by property or situation to return the Representatives. I propose that the inhabitants of those boroughs generally shall have the right of electing their Representatives in the same manner as in England, although that right is to be ascertained differently. I propose that property or occupancy, to the value of 10l. per annum, should give every man a vote who resides in one of these boroughs. I am convinced that this arrangement will be attended with the greatest benefit to Ireland. I know that the people of that country have fered the greatest inconvenience and injury from the political rights being in the hands of a few. Not long since, f brought before the House a case arising in the borough of Wexford. The merchants of that town, it then appeared, are entirely excluded from all political rights, and the dues they pay on goods shipped by them for the English coast amounting to 2,000l. per annum, they would not have to pay, if they were free of the Corporation. I am convinced, therefore, that this enlargement of the franchise in Ireland will tend to promote industry and encourage trade, and I hope the country will make such a progress before many years, that we shall hear of no other agitation in it but that caused by the bustle 1082 of increasing business and wealth. There arc three towns in Ireland which have grown into great importance, and to which we propose to give an additional Representative, viz. Belfast, Limerick, and Waterford, all of which at present send one Member. Ireland, therefore, will send three Members in addition to the number of 100 Representatives which she now sends. Ireland as well as Scotland, therefore, obtains some advantage from the number of Members cut off, and not to be supplied from the English representation; and as regards the number of Representatives, the relative importance of Ireland and Scotland is increased by this measure. In those countries, therefore, I apprehend this measure will afford great satisfaction. I now proceed to state the result of all these changes on the numbers in this House. [Mr. Leader asked, what was proposed as the qualification for voters in counties in Ireland?] The qualification of voters in counties in Ireland is not to be altered, except, that beneficed Clergymen are to be entitled to vote as freeholders. The arrangement as to elections is to be the same as in England. The county elections must be concluded within six days from the time of their commencement, as in England, and all persons at present entitled to vote will continue to have that right. I think there is no other alteration of any importance as regards Ireland. Having gone through the several alterations proposed in England and Wales, in Scotland and Ireland, I now come to the result.
|The number of Members now belonging to this House is||658|
|The number to be disfranchised||168|
|Additional Members for Scotland||5|
|Additional Members for Ireland||3|
|Additional Member for Wales||1|
|Additional Members for the metropolis||8|
|New Members for large towns in England||34|
|Additional Members for counties in England||55|
|Total additional Members||106|
|Members of the House not to be disfranchised||490|
|The number in towns and boroughs in England already sending Members, will be increased by||110,000|
|The electors of towns (in England) sending Members for the first time I estimate at||50,000|
|Electors in London, who will obtain the right of voting||95,000|
|Increase of electors in Scotland||60,000|
|In Ireland, perhaps||40,000|
|Increase in the counties of England probably||100,000|
Sir J. Sebright
seconded the Motion. The hon. Baronet observed, that the statement which had been made by his noble friend was so distinct, and so clear, that he felt himself highly honoured in having the opportunity of seconding it. Reform was, in his opinion, a measure so necessary to give tranquillity to the country, and to uphold its real interests, that his only sorrow was, that it had not been brought forward sooner. He had come down to the House without knowing what the plan of Reform was to be; but conceiving it more than probable that he should vote for any plan of Reform, because he saw how much Reform was needed. He believed it to be absolutely necessary; for that House, which professed to be the Representatives of the people of England, had entirely lost their confidence. Upon that conviction he would have voted for almost any species of Reform; but since he had heard the plan of the noble Lord, he had formed a determination to give that his cordial support. As far as he had been able to follow his noble friend's statements, the plan he had proposed appeared to be good in every particular, and he would not trespass further on the time of the House, than to express how happy he was to second such a proposition. He, for one, would fully, heartily, and thoroughly, give his support to this measure, which appeared to him to be the most desirable that had ever been brought forward.
§ The question having been put,1090
§ Mr. Speaker
;—Few men, I believe, can rise to address the House, excited as it has been by the speech of the noble Lord, without some feeling of self-distrust. Of the cause itself which I advocate—the cause of the existing and ancient institutions of the country—I have no distrust. Yet I own that I approach the discussion of this question with a sensation of awe at the contemplation of the abyss, on the brink of which we stand, and into which the motion of the noble Lord will, if successful, hurl us. With a deep sense, therefore, of the danger of our position, I rise to endeavour to recall to the attention of the House (for on such a subject there can be little novelty on either side) facts and arguments, which, urged in happier times, and by abler men, have been successful in persuading the House to resist measures similar to the present. The noble Lord has stated, that there is one peculiarity in his motion which claims the special attention of the House. I admit, it. This is the first time, for nearly fifty years, that any person, invested even with the reflected light of the Government, has come down to the House formally to require the House to declare that it is incompetent to the just discharge of its legislative functions. It is the first time, for nearly fifty years, that the advisers of his Majesty have thought fit to pledge themselves, and to endeavour to pledge their Sovereign, before his people, to the doctrine, "that the House of Commons is unworthy of the confidence of the people;" is unworthy to stand between their fellow subjects and the throne. The doctrine itself is not new; but it is now brought forward under circumstances so new, as to invest, it with a character not more distinct than ill-omened. The noble Lord has also stated, at the beginning and at the end of his speech, that the object of his motion is demanded by the great majority of the people. The noble Lord has talked, not only of the myriads of petitions, but of. the millions of those who now come forward, I admit that he added at one time, "for their just requests," but at another, he said, "to demand their rights;" and when I am told that the people "demand" any thing, I am reminded of Home Tooke's expression, that*From the Speech published by Hatchard and Son, Piccadilly, 8vo.—With additional Notes.1091 "the people have hands." Sir, I will not say that this language of the noble Lord is absolutely unparliamentary; but I will say, that it approaches as nearly to a threat, as the forms of the House can allow; and, if suffered, will entirely annihilate our deliberative character, and will reduce us to the mere function of speaking the will of others from day to day. But I will, first, examine the fact, and then die inference. I deny the fact; but, if I admitted the fact, I would disclaim the inference. First, then, as to the fact, that the people of England do demand the Reform of this House. I know well that this argument has been often used before, when similar measures were brought forward; but I notice it now more anxiously, because it is the first time that any man connected in any way with the King's councils has come down to this House to influence our deliberations on any measure of the King's Ministers, by proclaiming to us, on their authority, that the people demand its adoption. [Lord John Russell denied having used the phrase in the sense described.] If the noble Lord intended that "the demand of the people" was not, in its beginning and its end, a species of intimidation, I submit to the correction; but I understood, (and, possibly, the majority of those who heard the noble Lord understood) that the alternative proposed to us by this reference to the demands of the people was either submission to those demands, or convulsion if they should be rejected. But to revert to the fact; are the people of England now more clamorous for Reform than they have been on former occasions? Every man always regards his own times as the best or as the worst; he sees what is before him; he forgets, or he never knew what is past. The consequence is, that for a succession of generations we have a succession of declamations about "misgovernment, unexampled decay of trade, profligate expenditure, corruption, &c." so like each other, that it would be really worth while to reprint in 1831 some of the earlier elegies of the ruin of England, changing the date only from 1731 to the present year. So again with respect to Reform,—I will not trouble the House by a detail of the different suras when this cry has been loud, so loud that, if not equal to that now existing, it was at least sufficient to disturb the kingdom, inflamed as it was by statements, that "no 1092 country was ever so ill-governed, no people ever so oppressed, denied the last melancholy privilege of complaining," though, in fact, they were then, as they are now, allowed to make, and were making fearlessly, complaints amounting almost to sedition. Without going back to the time of Bolingbroke and Walpole, I will produce one passage from Burke, which might almost be transferred totidem verbis to the present day. "Nobody, I believe, will consider it merely as the language of spleen or disappointment, if I say, that there is something particularly alarming in the present conjuncture. There is hardly a man, in or out of power, who holds any other language." * * * * "That we know neither how to yield, nor how to enforce; that hardly any thing above or below, abroad or at home, is sound and entire; but that disconnection and confusion, in offices, in parties, in families, in Parliament, in the nation, prevail beyond the disorders of any former times: these are facts universally admitted and lamented. This state of things is the more extraordinary, because the great parties which formerly divided and agitated the kingdom, are known to be in a manner entirety dissolved. No great external calamity has visited the nation, no pestilence, or famine. We do not labour, at present, under any scheme of taxation, new or oppressive in the quantity or in the mode. Nor are we engaged in unsuccessful war, in which our misfortunes might easily pervert our judgment; and our minds, sore from the loss of national glory, might feel every blow of fortune as a crime in government."* One should think on reading such a passage from such a man, that the end of the world, or at least of this kingdom, had arrived. Yet, by God's blessing, we survived the crisis, and look back with surprise on the exaggeration which had so described it. Again, read the Yorkshire address, at the close of the American war; look at the addresses from half the counties of England, and at the men who at that day were the leaders of the people,† Look at the declaration of a Lord-*Thoughts on the cause of the present Discontents. 1770. Burke, 8vo. ii. 219.†The Duke of Rutland in Cambridgeshire; the Earl of Surrey, afterwards Duke of Norfolk, in Cumberland; Sir Thomas Acland in Devonshire; Sir George O. Paul in Gloucestershire; the Duke of Richmond in Sussex.1093 Lieutenant that the houses of counter-addressers should be marked; the exhortation to householders to provide themselves with arms; the advice that "each man should keep a fire-lock in the corner of his bed-room, and should learn to fire and charge with bayonet firmly and regularly'' against those who in his any resisted this cry of Reform.* Again, more specifically when a bill of Reform was in this House in 1782, we were told, that unless we passed it, we were ruined; we were reminded of the Briareus hands of the multitude; we were told, that we had one hour to deliberate before we surrendered. These were almost the words of Home Tooke. He is writing to Dunning: "The people must be satisfied in their just expectations, and most surely will be so. Ministers will surely grant with a good grace what cannot be much longer withheld. They will at least, (if not infatuated) catch the present fortunate opportunity," &c. &c. "They will not wait to be received with scorn and hootings for their offer to us of that which we should now receive with gratitude. I will venture to assert that they have no time to lose. If they are timely wise, they will yet give to the people their sober, moderate, fair and honest rights."† We resisted the cry, and by God's blessing, we are safe. Again, in 1793 what was the cry? how was it raised, how urged on, how subdued? Look at the words of Condorcet; he was writing on the 23rd Nov. 1792: "Since the explosion of liberty in France a hollow fermentation has shown itself in England, and has more than once disconcerted all the ministerial operations. Popular societies have been established in the three kingdoms, and a Parliamentary Reform has been talked of, (just in the same manner as at the end of the year 1788 we in France talked of the necessity of calling together the States General). It is well known what a number of persons there are who think rightly, and daily enlighten the people of England, and whose opinions furnish subjects for useful disputation. This people, who at once fear and desire such a revolution as ours, will necessarilySee the entire list of forty-one counties in the Memoirs of Granville Sharp, 4to. 1820. p. 195.*The advice of no less a man than Sir W. Jones. Jones's Works, iv. 576.*†Home's Letter to Dunning, 1782, p. 32–33. 36.1094 be drawn along by those courageous and enlightened persons, who always determine the first steps; the opening of the Session of Parliament which approaches, will infallibly become the occasion of the Reforms which are the most urgent; such as those which regard the national representation:—-from thence to the entire establishment of a Republic the transition will be the less tedious, because the foundations of liberty have long existed in England."* That cry for Reform was then raised by sympathy with revolutionary France; it was said triumphantly in France to lead here to a republic; it was urged on here by men of at least as much talent as the present: it was subdued, under a good Providence, by the firmness and virtue of the Government. Again, in 1819, the Manchester meeting was preceded, attended, followed, by almost insurrectionary movements throughout the manufacturing-districts. Look at the periodical press of London at that time: is it more formidable now? Yet the danger was met, averted, and beaten down. Look again at 1823, when a foreign excitement was superadded to domestic distress; and the cry for Reform, as "the great remedy," was then also represented to be universal. These are instances sufficient to prove that this is not the first time, when the people have been represented as clamorous for Reform; they prove also that those clamours have been silenced without concession: and I can see no reason why they might not now, whatever be their present violence, be silenced with equal success by equal spirit. "Faction," as Burke has told us, † "will make its cries resound through the nation, as if the whole were in an uproar, when by far the majority, and much the better part, will seem for awhile annihilated, by the quiet in which their virtue and moderation incline them to enjoy the blessings of Government." I do not deny that there does exist at this time, considerable agitation on this subject through the country; a state of diseased and feverish excitement: but I do deny that it is general, in the sense of the noble Lord; and I see clearly the temporary causes in which it has arisen. All are to be found in the three days of Paris; and in the revolution,*Collection of Addresses, 4to. 1793, p. 10.†Thoughts on the Cause of the present Discontents. 1770. Works, ii. 267.1095 which, in Belgium also, was the consequence of those days. This effect is not new in our later history; whenever, indeed, there has been any insurrection in any other country—as ten or twelve years ago in Naples and in Piedmont, it has been found to be epidemic, conveyed with more or less virulence and rapidity to other parts, and, as such, brought to this kingdom, by what means, I know not; but this, at least, is clear, that popular movements are found here and in the one half of Europe in rapid succession, whenever they have arisen any where in the other half. I am, therefore, not prepared to admit the statement, that the great mass of the people are eager for Reform. Of this I am quite sure, that the number of public meetings on the Roman Catholic Question, the number of their petitions, the number of names subscribed to them, exceeded all that we have yet seen in respect to Reform. But if I were to admit the fact, that the great mass of the people were now eager for Reform, I should deny the conclusion. This House would not be bound by the cries of a majority of the people to decide in favour of any change. The distinction which I always took as to the value of petitions was this, that where the parties sought for no more than the conservation of blessings which they actually enjoyed, they were entitled to great weight; but, where they sought for change, (change, the nature of which, and the necessity of which, could be ascertained only by deliberation) the petitions of large bodies of men are not necessarily entitled to the same weight as are petitions praying that there may be no change. I never will admit, that any man has such good means of judging in respect to what he has not, as in respect to what he has: and, the more multiplication of numbers, asking for what they have not, can never, without reference to the reasons which they urge, be an argument to which a deliberative body can be justified in yielding. The allusion is almost too trite 10 be used; but I might remind the noble Lord, that there may be a tyranny of many as well as of one; and that it is as much the part and the duty of a brave and wise man, to resist the civium ardor prava jubentium, as the vultus instantis tyranni. This House is not a collection of Deputies, as the States General of Holland, and as the assemblies in some other continental coun- 1096 tries. We are not sent here day by day to represent the opinions of our constituents. Their local rights, their municipal privileges, we are bound to protect; their general interests we are bound to consult at all times; but not their will, unless it shall coincide with our own deliberate sense of right. We are sent here with a large and liberal confidence; and when elected, we represent not the particular place only for which we are returned, but the interests of the whole empire. We are sent here to legislate, not for the wishes of any set of men, but for the wants and the rights of all. When usage and legal decisions, superseding an express statute,* now formally repealed, first severed the connection between the borough and the candidate, and left the borough at liberty to choose any man from any other spot, there ceased to be any pretence for regarding the party elected, as elected for a small or for a great place; he became, and now becomes, when he enters this House, the Representative of all the people of England. The words of the King's Writ† to the Returning Officer of us all, are, that he should duly cause election to be made of persons to treat;—not about Newton in Lancashire, or Newton in Hampshire; Newport in Cornwall, or Newport in the Isle of Wight; but about "certain arduous and urgent affairs concerning us, the state, and defence of our Kingdom, and the Church." If in our conduct there be error, our constituents have their remedy at a dissolution. At that time we surrender our stewardship to those by whom it was committed to us; and receive it again, or not, according to their will, and their estimate of our conduct. The fact is, that no mistakes are more common, or, at the same time, more real, than those connected with the state of the Commons House of Parliament. Men create theories and adore them; they make beautiful statues, and fall in love with them; they raise a golden image, and call on us to worship it. Our system is unwritten—it is to be extracted from our history. The King's Writs, the King's Charters, the Statutes of the Realm, these, and the practice of*1 Hen. 5, c. 1. [see 8 Hen. 6. c. 7.§. i.] confirmed 23 Hen. 6, c. 14.; repealed by 14 Geo. 3, c. 53; but Lord Coke holds that a Member sits for the whole Country, 4 Inst. p. 14.† Roe on Elections, ii. App. v.1097 centuries, form our Constitution. We have no one formal document, to which we refer as embodying it: we have no authorative exposition of it. Montesquieu and Delolme are not our authorities; not even Blackstone. Our Constitution is not the work of a code-maker; it is the growth of time and events beyond the design or the calculation of man: it is not a building, but a tree; the constitutions of the other free States in the old and in the new world are the works of art, and have hitherto acted imperfectly, even in the countries to which they are applied; but that is not the question here. We are to consider our own condition, and the application of our government to it; and I state distinctly, that, whatever may be the doctrine of others, and however high their names, there is, so far as I know, no evidence that our House was ever selected upon any principle of a Representation of population, or upon any fixed principle of Representation whatever. The noble Lord has said, that he grounds his plan on the practice of our ancestors; and that, on the very system upon which they called on Old Sarum and Gatton to return Members, he calls on Manchester and on Leeds. I can only reply, that I know no record, and can see no probability, to shew that in either of these cases, or in any case, population was an element in the calculation of those by whom this House was first assembled. I know, indeed, that it has been held by no less an authority than Mr. Hallam, "if, on running our eyes along the map, we find any sea-port, as Sunderland or Falmouth, or any inland town, as Leeds or Birmingham, which has never enjoyed the Elective Franchise, we may conclude at once that it has emerged from obscurity since the reign of Henry 8th;"* but I venture to doubt the accuracy of the assertion; and I think I can shew that small towns were preferred, and great towns, towns great at the time, were neglected, a century and a half before the House of Commons of England was full. When the enormous wealth of the Crown†* Hallam's Constit. Hist. 4to. vol. ii. p. 330.† The fixed annual revenue of the Conqueror, independently of casual profits, is stated to have amounted to 1,061l.. 10s. 1d.½ every day.—Ordericus Vitalis, p. 523. Hume thinks this "wholly incredible;" but, as he admits that the Conqueror "kept no less than 1422 manors in different parts of England," [Hume i. 186, 4to.] the exaggeration is1098 was in part dissipated, kings, wanting money and men, called together those who were either to supply them, or to bind and influence others to supply them. First, they called the free barons the tenants in capite; then the liberi homines. My right hon. and learned friend, the member for Knaresborough, opposite, (Sir James Mackintosh,) knows better than most men, as indeed he knows most things better than most men, how small a proportion of the people were these liberi homines; they would scarcely make a Scotch constituency. Then "Communities" were called by their Representatives; but arbitrarily, and without reference to numbers; and there is some reason to believe that each community had collectively but one vote; so that where two Members were returned, one voice only was given.* Towns of all classes were confusedly mixed together; and Liskeard, London, and Lostwithiel, are arranged in this order in the earliest Parliamentary Writs which have been published. The most conclusive proof, however, that population did not constitute the basis of our Representation, is to be found in the fact, that almost in the very first day of our Parliamentary History, every county alike sent two Members, and not more than two.†not likely to be very great. According to the principles of his computation the above sum stated by Ordericus Vitalis, was equal in 1762 to 11,621,910l., see other Estimates collected from Henry, Carte, Lyttelton, and Brady, in Jopp's Historical Reflections, p.33. According to Sir George Shuckburgh's system for calculating the depreciation of money, the revenue of the Conqueror, as stated by Ordericus Vitalis, was equal to 18,000,000l. in the year 1800.* Thus when four Members were summoned from London to attend the Parliament at York, any two of them had sufficient power to do what is contained in the writ, and accordingly two only went. 8 Ed. 2, A. D. 1314. See the most elaborate edition of the Parliamentary Writs, by Francis Palgrave, Esq. who, of rare talent and of rarer acquirements in other pursuits, has in this work produced a proof of almost unrivalled antiquarian labour.†I am aware that, in 18 Edw. 1. Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, and Cumberland, sent each of them, three Knights; and every other county two Knights; but the writ went indifferently to them all, to return two or three; a sufficient proof how little attention was paid to the principle of population. Whatever was the cause of this difference in the counties quoted, it is clear that from the 23 Edw. 1. every Parliament called by a1099 York and Rutland had from the first (as to the last five or six years they continued to have,) the same number of Representatives: and when the anomalies of our Representative system, as they arc called, were corrected in the model Parliament of Cromwell, this inequality was only partially rectified; Lancashire receiving from him four Members, while Bedfordshire had five; Staffordshire only three; while Cornwall had eight; it being certain in some cases, and probable in most of the others, that he, with his Council of State (for he, too, like the noble Lord, had his Committee of Privy Council for election purposes) appropriated the quantum of the elective franchise in any place to the prospect of finding "well-affected" candidates to solicit and receive it.* I am not arguingKing of England, has contained two knights, and two only, from each county, great or small.* The tyranny of the many as of the one, the usurpations under the name of "Rights and Liberties," and the last worst despotism, despotism under the forms and pretence of freedom, may be found in our own history during the great Rebellion: and an exact parallelism with the instances quoted from the times of the Tudors, existed in the Commonwealth. "Their new Major-generals," says Prynne, "in their last elections, prescribed to all counties, and to most cities and boroughs, by letters and lists of names sent to them, what persons they must elect, secluding those they elected which were not in their lists, and caused Sheriffs to return many they nominated, though never elected, but protested against by those who were to choose them."—Prynne's Plea for the Lords, p. 415.There is reason, indeed, to believe, that all the members of Cromwell's first Parliament were nominated by his Council, and personally summoned by himself. In Peck's Desiderata Curiosa there is a 'Writ, signed by him, requiring Gervas Piggott, Esq. to appear and serve for the county of Nottingham, 1033—Sec also Whitelock's Memorials, 1652–3. Jopp's Historical Reflections on the Constitution, p. 373. And in a late History of Weymouth (Ellis's History and Antiquities of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, 8vo. 1829, p. 44–5,) the following passage appears:—"Oliver Cromwell sent the following prescript to Dennis Bond, whom he had appointed Member for both towns: Forasmuch as upon the dissolution of the late Parliament it became necessary that the peace, safety, and good Government of this Commonwealth should be provided for, and in order thereunto, divers persons fearing GOD, and of approved fidelitie and honestie, are by myself, with the advice of my council of officers, nominated, to whom the great charge and truste of soe weightie affaire is to be committed,1100 whether the principle of a Representation, dependent upon numbers or upon property, or upon both, be right or be wrong: but, as the noble person (now the Lordand having good assurance of your love to' and courage for GOD, and the interest of His cause, and of the good people of this Commonwealth, I OLIVER CROMWELL, Captain-general, and Commander-in-chief of all the armies and forces raised, and to be raised, within this Commonwealth; do hereby summon and require you, Dennis Bond, Esq. (being one of the persons nominated), personally to be, and appear at the Council Chamber, commonly known or called by the name of the Council Chamber at Whitehall, within the city of Westminster, upon the 6th day of July, next ensuing the date hereof, then and there to take upon you the said truste, unto which you are hereby called and appointed to serve as a member for the borough and town of Weymouth and Mclcombe Regis, and hereof you are not to faile.Given under our hand and seale the 29th day of June, 1653, O. CROMWELL.There is a broad margin to the Prescript, and Cromwell's seal, with his own arms fixed on the top of it.The superscription to the cover is in these words,—For DENNIS BOND, Esq.These.O. CROMWELL.Haste Poste Haste for the special service of the Commonwealth.When, in 1654, Cromwell took one Member from Liverpool, and gave one to Manchester, and called one from Halifax, and one from Leeds, (in 1656 he called two from Leeds) he was pleased, nevertheless, to permit Penryn, Totnes, Lyme, and East Grinstead, to retain as much of the elective franchise, (i. e. that for one seat), as the "United Cabinet" concedes to the same boroughs in 1831; and he further spared sundry boroughs, which those who in other matters, imitate his model, think it would be "paltering with Reform "to spare: thus Reigate and Dunwich, which had enjoyed the privilege from the first regular formation of the House, 23 Edw. 1. were, notwithstanding that prescriptive right,—an aggravated wrong in the judgment of a modern reformer—allowed to return one Member; and Buckingham and Queen borough, to which the same privilege had been more recently given or restored, were indulged in the same manner: Buckingham, perhaps, because Ingoldsby was to be its member. See what Oldfield calls "Equal Representation of THE PEOPLE in the time of the Commonwealth, 1654, in which all the rotten boroughs were omitted."—Oldfield, vi. 316–333. See also, the "List of the Parliament of 1656."—Hatsell, ii. 400–408.1101 Chancellor) talked in this House of his object being restoration, not revolution; as I heard him state in another place, that he was an "enemy to vain and unsubstantial speculations, to rash and untried theories," I call upon his colleagues now to defend this measure, to which he is a party, against the charge which I bring against it, of being a rash and untried theory, of being a vain and unsubstantial speculation, of being founded upon no precedent which ever existed in this country, (that model Parliament of Cromwell, perhaps alone, or in part exempted) of being utterly unlike any thing in any other period of the history of England. I have sufficiently adverted to the slender proof which the Representation of the counties, or of the communities of England, affords to the truth of the doctrine, that their population was the basis of their elective franchise. But, as the noble Lord and Mr. Hallam have said, that, at any rate, great towns were not left unrepresented at any time; and that, in fact, the boroughs, now decayed, and which his Bill is accordingly to sweep away, were once large and flourishing towns, it will not be useless to prove that both propositions are equally incorrect. I will prove first, Sir, that many of these boroughs were small from the beginning. It is not necessary to trouble the House with details as to any, or even to go through the mere names of all: I will take one test, and will apply it to some specimens. Will the House, then, admit that boroughs, which are not market-towns, boroughs which are not even parishes, could ever have been considerable? Now Heytesbury has no market; Haslemere, Newport (Cornwall), St. Michael's, St. Mawes, West Looe, have never been parishes. At no time, therefore, could their importance have required Representation, if Representation were ever dependent upon population: and as their insignificance did not in the first instance exclude them from the rank of parliamentary boroughs, their insignificance now cannot—to those who profess not to be innovating, but to be restoring the Constitution to its former state,—be any argument for their destruction. A still more remarkable case remains. The noble Lord has pointed, with the confidence of triumph, to the green mound of Old Sarum, as if the shame and ridicule of it ought to silence us. It is, indeed, the stumbling-block which reformers cast 1102 continually before us: but, whatever Old Sarum is now, there is great reason to think, that such, or nearly such, (at any rate, so far as popular Representation is concerned,) was Old Sarum in the very first day of its parliamentary privilege. Whatever it had been in any era preceding that day, it was probably reduced to a mere fortress in the hands of the King, or of the Earl of Salisbury, at the hour when the first precept was issued to it. This at least is certain, that in one and the same year, the 23rd Edw. 1st, precepts were issued to Old and to New Saturn. The inference is irresistible: those who know any thing of the history of the times, know that as one rose, the other declined; both were not great together, if Old Sarum were then a large city, Salisbury was a village or a hamlet: if Salisbury were considerable, Old Sarum, which was deserted in order to people Salisbury, was already in a state of decay as a town. In fact, nothing but the castle remained; and it was probably invested with the elective franchise, in order that the holder of that castle, the Earl of Salisbury of that day, might place his Representatives in this House. This principle of nomination is mentioned in no very modern description of England, as exercised so openly and so regularly in that very place, that with the permission of the House, I will read the passage to which I refer, from the Magna Britannia.
"OLD SARUM.—It has been lately purchased by Mr. Pitt, commonly known by the name of Governor Pitt, who had the famous large diamond. His posterity now have an hereditary right to sit in the House of Commons, as owners of it, as the Earls of Arundel have to sit in the House of Peers, as Lords of Arundel Castle."* At what time the purchase in question took place, I know not; but the first Pitt sat for Old Sarum, 1688:† nearly a century and a half ago. How, then, can it be said, that the framers and founders of our Constitution, or, more strictly, those who in every age have guarded, or administered its functions, and especially those who, at the Revolution, restored and established it, ever contemplated a mere unmixed numerical representation of the people as the essential and exclusive character of this*Magna Britannia, Vol. vi. p. 139.†Whit worth's Successions of Parliaments 1764, p.206.1103 House? The history of the elevation of many places to the rank of parliamentary boroughs is uncertain; the principle of selection is lost: while the franchise was a burthen, they were often summoned, or omitted, at the mere discretion of the Sheriff: and when the franchise became a privilege, nothing is more certain than that boroughs were created by the mere will of the King, sometimes at the requisition of a favourite; and, if so, certainly for the purpose of giving to that favourite some interest in the share which this House began to assume in the government of this country: sometimes (more frequently, indeed), to enable the Crown to guard its interests, or advance its opinions in this House, and to prevent its authority from being brought into direct collision with us. Of the first kind, I will mention two or three instances; two boroughs, Corfe Castle, and Bishop's Castle, are said to have been created by Queen Elizabeth at the suit of her favourite, Sir Christopher Hatton, when he received the estates connected with those places. This encouraged other courtiers to endeavour to effect, the same; and, in the town-books of Newport, in the Isle of Wight, it is said, that at the procurement of Sir George Carew, the Queen's Marshal, Queen Elizabeth granted to the borough of Newport the privilege of sending two Burgesses.* I am not defending this, though I am perfectly willing to defend it. I say only, that those who talk of restoring the Constitution, are bound to shew at what period in our history our Constitution has been purer, or other than at present: except, indeed, that every alleged abuse on the part of the Crown, and of the aristocracy, is now daily diminishing, and every power of the King, and of the Lords, is daily gravitating to this House. Then, as to the other kind—boroughs created by the mere will of the Crown, without any suggestion of favouring the aristocracy,—look at the Cornish boroughs. It has been said by grave and intelligent writers, that the immense disproportion of Cornish Members to those of the rest of England, was owing to the tin-trade of their county, its then great importance compared with the commerce of the rest of England, and the necessity of watching its interests. My answer is, that many of the Cornish places which were erected into boroughs* Magn. Brit. i. 592.1104 were fishing villages, without mine, or ship, or work near them. The fact is, that, as the House of Commons rose into importance, the Crown felt it necessary to have its own prerogative guarded here:* and therefore, in its own Duchy of Cornwall, selected certain towns to receive the franchise. These boroughs were, many of them, held immediately of the Crown, others of the Duchy, which was united with it: and if they had not been alienated by grants to favourites, would have given to the Crown a more direct influence in this House than it has ever possessed; the direct influence of property, as now held and exercised by individuals. Am I not then entitled again to ask the noble Lord, at what period of our history was this House constituted otherwise than it is now? or still more, at what period was it constituted with a greater proportion of purely popular influence, and a less infusion of the influence of the Crown and of the aristocracy than I now admit it to possess, and defend it as possessing? If he shall tell me, that he cannot find such a period, I will tell him that the object of his Bill, whatever his intentions may be, cannot, then be restoration; cannot then, be Reform; but, in one single word, is, and must be, Revolution: Revolution, overturning at once the existing influences of property and of rank, leading, ultimately, to the destruction of the other orders of the State, At any rate, and in the first instance, as the noble Lord will himself admit, his measure completely overturns that system of representation, under which, whatever may be its faults in the eye of theory, this country has practically enjoyed blessings above those of any other nation; that system, under which these walls have received, for successive generations, bodies of men, who, whether elected with more or less of the influence of the Crown, of the aristocracy, or of the people, have here displayed more integrity, more talent, more capacity to serve their country, and more zeal to serve it, than have ever been combined in any other assembly, in any other country, in any period of history. But the noble Lord says, that he is applying to the present age the principles by which in the past ages all the great* The Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports claimed and exercised the right of naming a Baron for each of those ports, till the Statute 2 Will. and Mar. Sess. 1., c. 7. 1690.1105 communities of England were represented in this House. He says, (as Mr. Hallam, to whom I have already referred, said before him), that, at any rate, however small may have been some of the places to which the elective franchise was given, no great town was neglected; and that, therefore, in a certain sense he may quote authority for taking population as an element in the calculations upon which he forms his new system. The noble Lord asks us not to supply what was formerly omitted; but, acting on former precedent and principles, to grant to great towns successively rising into importance, the franchise, which, if they had been great three centuries ago, they would, as a matter of course, at that time have received. I do not now enter into the merits of the question, whether it be or be not an advantage to Liverpool to have had the scenes of the last election, or to Manchester to have been without the privilege of displaying such scenes every five or six years (this is a question not of fact but of opinion); I do not ask which of the two, Liverpool or Manchester, be the more prosperous; both, at any rate, enjoy great prosperity,—the one, with two Representatives; the other, without any; nor has Manchester ever suffered, so far as I have heard, from the want of having advocates in this House to represent her peculiar wants and interests. I desire only to state, upon the general principle of the noble Lord, that if population and commercial importance confer a constitutional claim to the elective franchise, the great towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire and Lancashire (to some of which he now proposes upon this very ground to extend the elective franchise), possessed the claim three centuries ago, to a degree which few of the Southern boroughs at any period of their history presented. I will take two or three of the towns now favoured by the noble Lord, and will compare them with two or three of those which he proposes to disfranchise.* Halifax had 8,500 in-* HALIFAX. "AS to the progression of population, it is said in the certificate of the Archbishop of York and others, 2 Edw. 4. (1548,) that in the parish of Halifax the number of houselyng people is 8,500; and Camden, when he travelled in these parts, about 1580, was informed, that the number of inhabitants of this parish was about 12,000."—Aikin's Manchester, p. 561.WAKEFIELD. From Leland's description,1106 habitants in 1548. Wakefield seems, in Henry 8th's time, to have been the principal town in those parts: Sheffield, Leeds, and Bradford were considerable places; and Manchester, in 1580, contained 5,400 inhabitants, and, by tradition, had contained that number for two centuries before that period. Is it said, that the roll of the Representative franchise of England was then full? that it was not possible to do justice to these places without deranging the whole system? Sir, after the date to which I have referred in the case of Halifax, not less than fifty-one boroughs, including fifteen in Cornwall, received the elective franchise; and, after the date to which I have referred in the case of Manchester, though Manchester was not added to the list, Beeralstonit seems in his time (Temp. Hen. 8.) to have been the principal town in these parts. It is called by him "a very quicke market town, and meately large.MANCHESTER. I might have taken a much higher estimate of the population of Manchester. In 1580, the births were 206; the burials 158; the marriages 50:—now, in 1780, the baptisms were 1 in 30; the burials 1 in 40; the marriages 1 in 120; the application of this proportion would give from 6,000 to 6,320, for the population of 1580. Now to contrast these great towns, from which the franchise was withheld in the sixteenth century, with some of those, to which it was granted in that century.WEST Loo. Port Pigham, alias West Low cannot boast of any antiquity, because it has no parish church, which, says Leland, is a certain sign that it is a new town sprung from a small hamlet. It is in the parish of Talland, a small town a mile distant, where the inhabitants go to church, and bury their dead, for in this village there is not so much as a chapel remaining. We find that there was one in the time of King Henry 8th: but being desecrated at the dissolution of Chanteries, was probably turned into the Guildhall of the borough, as tradition reports. It was incorporated by Queen Elizabeth, February 14, 1571, having nearly twenty years before been invested with the elective franchise, by Edward 6th.—Magn. Brit. i. 342.ST. GERMAIN'S, "but a poore fischar towne. The glory of it stoode by the priory;" this is Leland's account (Temp. Hen. 8) Itin. iii. 20. It was made a Parliamentary Borough a few years afterwards by Edw. 6th.ST. MAWES is a small hamlet,—has neither church nor chapel,—Magn. Brit. i. 348.I may here remark, that Leland takes no notice of the towns in Cornwall being Parliamentary Boroughs: indeed, I think, he never mentions Parliamentary Representation any where, as giving importance to any place.1107 Haslemere, Newton in Hampshire, and Whitchurch, (all of which are small towns now, and were small towns then), and ten other boroughs, were created by successive Sovereigns. Is it said that no man ought to be taxed, except by laws, to which, either by himself or by his Representatives, he has assented, (the doctrine of Taxation, Tyranny without Representation, which the noble Lord has revived)? I ask a question, to which I have never heard an answer: what, then, becomes of the minority in a contested election? If the principle be stated thus broadly, the minority are not only excluded from the practical benefit of voting, but are taxed by laws made by a man whom they specifically have rejected, and are governed not only without their choice, but against their choice. In the county with which I am most connected, one contest terminated in the return of one Gentleman by a majority of one; in a borough which I need not name, the same thing happened eight months ago; if the 490 electors who voted for one person (491 voting for the other) are unrepresented, and ought not therefore to be taxed, how can you ever secure, except to a bare majority of the people, that right, the exercise of which is said to be so indispensable, as the condition precedent to any obedience on their part? In Scotland the case is, if possible, stronger: in the last year, in one county, the election was decided, as by Scotch law, it may be decided, by the casting vote of the Chairman, the numbers being equal; are not those who voted for the unsuccessful candidate as much unrepresented, as if they never had enjoyed the franchise; are they not, if the noble Lord's doctrine be correct, as little bound to obey the laws or to pay the taxes, as if they had not been mocked by a nominal right to choose a Member on their part to make those laws and to impose those taxes? The truth is, that the doctrines of an elder and better age might be revived here with great advantage to all parties; and men might learn not only the practical impossibilities, but even the theoretic absurdities of the thesis, that no man is bound, except by his own act, or by that of his agent, to obey any law. I deeply lament that such a doctrine should have been promulgated in such a place, by such a man as the noble Lord; because I am satisfied that it has, at all times, and more particularly now, a tendency to make the 1108 people not only discontented with their state, but, in overt act, disobedient to the laws. The real fact is, that population never was the basis of our representation; property never was the basis of our representation; our Constitution was not the work of any single person, or Assembly, or Committee; our Alfreds, our Edwards, our Henrys, divided the country, or gave franchises, or withheld them, after their own will and fashion; or, at least, by no calculable rule: but the freedom of their people, was secured not by lines and squares, and rules of arithmetic, but by that people retaining the power of the purse, and thus making it impossible for the liberties of England to be overthrown by a sovereign dependent mainly upon his subjects for his revenue. The Constitution of England was fixed at the Revolution, and at the Revolution only.* Since that time the Crown has not claimed the right of creating boroughs; and probably would not be advised to confer that right by its mere charter. It may therefore be held, that the House of Commons, as it now exists, is the same, practically, as has existed since the Revolution; only, that it is more popular. It has adapted itself, almost like another work of nature, to our growth. How different is the county representation of England now from what it once was; how little are the country gentlemen now in this House like those a century ago; how have they grown with the growth of the country; how completely do they now reflect, in their own intelligence, the mind of their constituents, as well as advocate their local wants! Such, generally speaking, as the House of Commons is now, such it has been for a long succession of years: it is the most complete representation of the interests of the people, which was ever assembled in any age or country. It is the only constituent body that ever existed, which comprehends within itself, those who can urge the wants and defend* The doctrine, that the House of Commons, constituted now exactly as at the Revolution, or, if otherwise, more popularly,—does not represent the people, comes ill from the descendants and followers of the Whigs who framed the Bill of Rights, in the preamble of which it is stated, that the Lords spiritual and temporal, and Commons then assembled at Westminster, did lawfully, fully, and freely represent all the estates of the people of this realm.—Preamble to the Bill of Rights.1109 the claims of the landed, the commercial, the professional classes of the country; those who are bound to uphold the prerogatives of the Crown, the privileges of the nobility, the interests of the lower classes, the rights and liberties of the whole people. It is the very absence of symmetry in our elective franchises which admits of the introduction to this House of classes so various.* This concordia discors opens the door to the admission here of all talents, and of all classes, and of all interests. How far, under any other than the present circumstances, the rights of the distant dependencies, of the East Indies, of the West Indies, of the Colonies, of the great Corporations, of the commercial interests generally, of that vast species of property created within the last 150 years, I mean the funded debt of England, could find their just support in this House, I know not. I am certain, that if all the Members of this House represented the. landed interest exclusively, the trade and manufactures of the country would be pressed down by restrictive laws alike intolerable and impolitic; if, on the other hand, mere population were the basis of the representation, the Members sent here would vie with each other in a clamour for cheapness, to the destruction of the only permanent interest, the agriculture of England. All interests, said Burke, must be let in. His* In one place, we have burgage tenure; in another, a close corporation; in another, an open corporation; in another, scot and lot; in another, universal suffrage; something; to please every body, and to catch every body. This was the case from the beginning. I have looked into the rights of voting in different places which received the elective franchise in one and the same year. I took, alphabetically, the nine first boroughs created in one and the same year of one prince, namely, in the 23rd Edward 1; and I found that, at this day at least, no one of them appears to be invested with the same particular kind of franchise: they were as follows:—
1110 words are, "a great official, a great professional, a great military and naval interest, all necessarily comprehending many men of the first weight, ability, wealth, and spirit, has been gradually formed in the kingdom. These new interests must be let into a share of representation." The present system, I have already said, admits all classes, lets in all interests, and invites all talents. Under that system men of abilities are introduced to the House, without the necessity of mob patronage, or the profession of mob oratory. It is only under a system like the present, that men, unconnected by birth or by residence with counties or large towns, can ever hope to enter this House, unless, indeed, they should be possessed with that spirit of mob oratory, which is continually exerted, even now, for the purpose of inflaming the multitude, and which will hereafter, by the proposed Bill, have a double object and a direct reward, in the attainment of a seat within these walls. Under the existing system, young men of talent try their force here, by entering the House in these less popular modes; and, as has been said by Mr. Escott,* in his admirable pamphlet on Reform, they are not among the least respectable or the least useful Members of the House. It connects, too, those of high birth with the Commons of England, and prepares them by habits of business here for their hereditary functions hereafter. Let any man compute the wealth of those who thus enter this House, and he will be prepared to state the interest which such men possess in the well-being of the State, and the pledge which they give for the discharge of their public duty. In this way many of those who, (sitting for close, or for rotten boroughs, as they have been this night designated for the first time by the representative of the King's Government) have constituted the chief ornaments of this House in the past and present age, have entered Parliament; many of whom, if this way had been closed, would never have entered these walls. There is no one man, I think, of all now sitting here, who has taken any prominent part in the proceedings of this House, my hon. friend the member for Kent, and my hon. friends the members for Devonshire, and Staffordshire, and Cornwall, and the hon. and learned member for Water-
Number of Voters in A. D. 1795. Andover Bailiff and select Burgesses 24 Appleby Burgage tenure 120 Arundel Scot and Lot 200 Barnstaple Corporation and Burgesses 385 Bath Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council 30 Bedford Burgesses, Freemen, and In habitant Householders, not receiving alms 1000 Bedwin Freeholders and Inhabitants of ancient Burgage messuages. 80 Beverley Burgage-holders 1000 Bletchingley Borough-holders 90* See also Windham, iii. 261.1111 ford, excepted, (I scarcely recollect any other) who has not entered this House, as the Representative of a small borough. The hon. member for Middlesex is certainly not an exception. I will ask the noble Lord by what other means the great Lord Chatham came into Parliament? By the bye, his earliest seat was, I think, for Old Sarum itself. Mr. Pitt sat for Apple-by; Mr. Fox came in for a close borough, and when rejected by a populous place, took refuge again in a close borough. Mr. Burke sat for Wendover, from which, having distinguished himself in this House, he was transferred in his glory to the representation of Bristol. Mr. Canning, who had once sat for the same Wendover, was transferred in the same way to Liverpool. Would these large places ever have thought of selecting Mr. Canning, Mr. Burke, or Lord Chatham, if these great men had not previously had an opportunity of shewing their talents in this House? In later times, Mr. Windham, Mr. Brougham, Sir Samuel Romilly, (I speak not of existing ornaments of this House, whom we owe to this system,) all came into Parliament by the introduction of great men; some, indeed, it is understood, by another influence. Waving the consideration of the value of these distinguished men in giving credit and character to the House, and in extending thereby, throughout all ranks, a confidence in its proceedings, let us advert for a moment to a different, but still very important class. The noble Lord has stated, that the professional class to which I allude, the class of lawyers, of merchants, and of bankers, will certainly get into this House: but he has not been pleased to explain, or even to suggest by a hint, the mode in which this object is to be obtained. That the object in question is not only desirable but most important, those who join in our debates, and who know that law, commerce, and finance, are subjects often long and deeply discussed in this House, will fully feel; and they will admit that it is justly important to secure, if it be possible, the assistance of parties connected with these professions. I have already referred to the importance of centering in this House, together with the representatives of every other interest, those who may be in a certain sense the representatives of the distant dependencies of the Crown. How can such men expect, except by the present system, to 1112 obtain an entrance into this House? Let it not be said that, in arguing thus, I am arguing in favour of a system of corruption. I never will admit that it is corrupt: if any man will satisfy me that it is corrupt, necessarily and in practice, that it necessarily involves any breach of personal duty, I will be one of the first to say, that it never can possess such practical advantages as to justify its continuance. But I mean to contend, that the influences which now exist, have existed from the time when the Constitution received its present character, namely, at the Revolution; I mean to contend, that under this system the House of Commons has attracted all those varied and combined talents, and that mass of intelligence, which are so essential to the discharge of our duties; and which, under any other system, would too probably be excluded from our deliberations. I know that I may be told, that such ought not to be the constitution of the House. Sir, let us understand the question put to us: are we restoring, or are we constructing a House of Commons? The noble Lord says, that we are restoring the constitution. I am, then, entitled to ask, to what period does he go back? When was the constitution of this House other than it now is, when, at least, was it better and more popular? To that year, and to that day, I am at once content that we shall return. But unless I shall be told in something more than vain declamation, until, indeed, I shall be convinced, by regular evidence, that there ever was a time when this House was independent alike of the Crown and of the Aristocracy, and represented purely and solely the will of the people, I, for one, will be content with that "old almanack"—history, and will continue to contend that such a state of things never did exist. I might, indeed, easily point to periods when, in many respects, this House was very differently circumstanced from what it is now, in fact, and from what it ought to have been according to the noble Lord's theory. Sir, if no man can shew me a better Parliament than the present, I can easily shew any man Parliaments far worse, more dependent on the Crown, more dependent on the Aristocracy, more corrupt by money, by places, by party. Will any man tell me seriously, that the influence of the Crown is more now than it was in the last century, in the packed 1113 Parliament of James 2nd? What should we say of a House of Commons ("we, your poor Commons," as they call themselves in another place*) approaching" the King on the knees of their heart, as in the time of James lst?† Is the golden age of the House of Commons, the model of our free and independent existence, to be found in the ago of Elizabeth? In that age, the Commons were, by her order, restrained from even treating on some points: "If any Bill relating to matters of state, or reformation in causes ecclesiastical be exhibited," says the Speaker, "I am commanded, upon my allegiance, not to read it." Again, as I am reminded by a friend near me, she directed the House "not to interfere in matters connected with her prerogative royal." And again, on another occasion, when this House had exceeded its powers, "Mr. Vice-chamberlain, by the Queen's command, shewed to them her great admiration," not in the eulogistic sense of the word, "of the rashness of the House." The House agreed that Mr. Vice-chamberlain should carry their submission to her Majesty.‡ What would be said in this House now to such speeches as were then made in it, or to such conduct as that of the Lord Treasurer Burleigh, who directed the Sheriff of Surrey to amend his return for Gatton, by substituting the name of Edward Brown, for the name of FRANCIS BACON.¬ Again, was this House more independent of the Crown in the time of Mary, when she sent circular letters to the sheriffs desiring them to return persons well affected to the old religion?║ Yet this was not without a precedent: in the time of Ed-* Hatsell, I. 234.† There is one proclamation of James 1, 1604, directing the sheriffs to what burghs they should omit sending precepts, under pain of his heavy displeasure; [Atterbury on Convoc. p. 423, in Ellys's Tracts, part 2. p. 129] and there is another proclamation, 6 Nov. 20. James 1, in which the voters for Members of Parliament are directed not to choose "curious and wrangling lawyers, who may seek reputation by stirring needless questions."—Barring-ton on the Statutes, p. 373.‡ Bp. Ellys, Part ii. p. 94. from D'Ewes' Journal. p. 470.§ Harleian MSS. DCCIII. 16. in Hallam's Constitutional History, 4to. i. 285. The proprietor of Gatton was then a minor.║ Strype's Memorials, III. Part ii. p. 244–246. Bp. Burnett's Reformation, Part ii. p. 251. in respect to the effect of that letter.1114 ward 6th, the King not only sent circular letters to the sheriffs, desiring them to return proper men; (intimating, indeed, his pleasure, that "when our Privy Council, or any of them, within their jurisdictions, in our behalf shall recommend men of learning and wisdom, in such case their directions be regarded and followed;") but, in the case of eight contiguous counties, beginning with Surrey, actually named the Members to be chosen: "being such as belonged to the Court, or were in places of trust about the King."* In the same reign, this House asked leave to treat on some particular points. This evidently appears by our own Journals, the words of which arc as follows:—"18 Nov. 3 Edw. 6th. It is ordered, that Mr. Speaker, with such members of the King's Privy Council of the House, and twelve other of the House, shall be suitors to know the King's Majesty's pleasure, if, upon their humble suit, they may treat of the last relief for clothes and sheep, at four of the clock afternoon:" and Nov. 20, "it is reported by Mr. Speaker, the King's pleasure to be by his Council, that the House may treat for the act of relief, having in respect the cause of the granting thereof." These things are of no consequence, of course, if you tell us at once that you are making a new constitution: but, if you tell us that you are restoring the old constitution, and replacing this House in its original independence and purity, we are well entitled to ask, in respect to successive periods, is this, or is this, the sera of your perfection, to which we are to return? Is, then, our beau ideal of the House of Commons, that state to which we are to bring it back, to be found in the time of Henry 8th? The instances connected with his reign are too well known to be quoted.† Do those who talk of the good old times of the constitution, refer to the time of Henry 4th, when he directed the sheriffs to take care and return no lawyers to Parliament: or are we to find the glorious independence of this House in the reign of Richard 2nd, when an unfortunate Member, ‡ (I refer to the case of Haxey), a* Strype's Memorials, Vol. II. Part ii. p. 64–66.† When the Commons hesitated about passing his Bill for the suppression of the monasteries, he sent for them into his gallery, and said, that if they would not pass his Bill, he would have their heads.—Spelman on Sacrilege.‡ It has been held by some that Haxey was1115 clergyman by the bye, for inquiring into the Civil List,, was, by the King's orders, expelled, and committed to the Tower, and would have been executed, but for his priesthood? I do no not think that either the First Lord of the Admiralty, or the hon. member for Middlesex, would prefer that period of our history, when a Member was imprisoned for a Motion on the Civil List. Or shall we go back still further, to that reign, when we excused ourselves to the King, as too weak to discuss such a weighty matter as the treaty with France? The fact is, that every year we have been becoming more independent of the Crown; the power of the Crown has been diminishing day by day; the prerogative has almost ceased to exist, and the influence is curtailed on every side; and this House is almost assuming all the functions of Government. I could go on, multiplying almost without limit, instances of our early dependence and insignificance, and contrasting them with our present power, and could thus strengthen the proof, that, if we are to bring back the constitution to its state in any past age, we shall bring back our own subjection; but they must be fresh in the memory of those who are competent to form a judgment upon the subject. Indeed, I should not have referred to them at all, if the noble Lord, not content with confining himself to the abstract merit of his proposition, had not gone back to statutes and to history in defence of it. The noblenot a Member of the House of Commons, but a proxy of the Karl Marshal (Earl of Nottingham) in the House of Lords [Christian's note to Blackstone, i. 175, Ed. 1809.] The Committee of the House of Commons, in Home Tooke's case, reported, that, though the returns of 20 Rich. 2. were perfect, the name of Thomas Haxey was not to be found therein; [see Reports, Vol. xiv, 150-162] but nothing can be clearer than the fact, that, in the same way, he acted as a Member of the House of Commons, the only point, which, in the above reference to his case, I am concerned to prove. The King required the Commons to give up the name of the party who had brought in the Bill, qui avoit bailié la dite bille, and they return the name of Thomas Haxey, Clerk. [see Rot. Parl. III. p. 339-341, 20 Rich. 2.] The document, to which Christian refers in Rymer VII. 844, as being a proxy to enable Haxey to vote for the Earl Marshal in the House of Lords, is only a general power of attorney to enable another person, (Sir W. Bagot) in conjunction with the said Thomas Haxey, Clerk, to act on behalf of the said Earl.1116 Lord having, then, brought forward his references, I have felt bound to adduce others, so conclusive, as to justify me in asserting, that, at no period of our history, was this House more independent of the Crown than at this moment. But perhaps it may be said, this was at any rate a dignified submission; it was not to a mere oligarchy of their fellow-subjects that the people of England were subjected. Sir, was the influence of the aristocracy less in the day when Essex, in the time of Elizabeth, desired that his kinsman might be returned for Stafford, and his servant for Tamworth? was it less, when a Duchess of Norfolk, a Duke of Norfolk, and a Duke of Suffolk, had regularly settled who should sit for the county of Norfolk, and condescended to add, also, who should sit for the borough of Maiden? I say nothing of the celebrated letter of "Anne Dorset, Pembroke and Montgomery," which, while it proves that she would not nominate the candidate favoured by the Crown, proves also that she would appoint her own. I need almost as little mention the fact, that for thirty-six years, the attorneys of certain great proprietors in Yorkshire, by quietly interchanging their powers in London, kept the representation of that county in their own hands.* Is not this fact, when contrasted with the present state of Yorkshire, sufficient to show how much we have gained in the present time, in our independence both of the Crown and of the nobles? At no period, I repeat, was the influence of the Crown and of the aristocracy less than it is at the very moment when the noble Lord comes down on the part of the Government, and proclaims to us that the existing system is unfit to stand; that we are unworthy of the confidence of the people, even if we have not directly betrayed our duty. Every other influence in this House, except the popular influence, is diminishing day by day. One great fault which I find with the present Ministers, a fault which I found, too, with their predecessors, is, that by a continual reduction of places in the gift of the Sovereign, they are diminishing the little influence which had been left to that Estate. Unless we are prepared to restore to the Crown, in respect to the measures of the two Houses, the exercise of its negative, (which, by the way, the Crown has never formally renounced, though* Henry's History, x. 59.1117 it may have waved the right to a certain extent, by forbearing to exercise it, since the reign of William 3rd), we must allow the influence of the Sovereign in this House. Unless, again, we are prepared to admit the collision of the two Houses, we must allow the influence of the aristocracy also here, which breaks the force, or rather lessens the chance, of that collision. But the present Ministry are sacrificing both considerations. They are yielding to a clamour for retrenchment to an extent which must either impair the public credit, or destroy the efficiency of the public service, and for Reform, which must hazard the just rights of the Crown, and the interests of the whole State:—and this, at a time when, I repeat it, in my conscience I believe, the power of the Crown, and the power of the peerage are less than, with one memorable exception, they have ever been in the history of England. But it may be said that this House, though less controlled by the direct violence of the Crown, than under the Tudors and the Stuarts, and less openly, or in a less proportion nominated by Peers than at any former period, is internally more corrupt, and, therefore, more unfit to be trusted with the rights and interests of the people. Now, Sir, corruption must be of three kinds, by money, by places, or by party: first, as to money, is there any man in or out of this House, who can point to any Member and say, that he believes that on any one question of public polity for the last fifty years any thing in the shape of money has ever been tendered to him? The thing is impossible; the thing was not impossible two generations back. It is well known, that till the time of Mr. Pitt the loans were taken by private contract; it is not less known, that Members of this House, in the habit of supporting the Administration of the day, received their respective shares: and it has been said, that memoranda of the slices, as they were called, were distributed by a particular person on a well-known spot near this House. The Administration of Walpole may, or may not, have been venal; but, as to the time of James 2nd, no one, who knows the extent of his secret service-money, 90,000l. of that day, one-twentieth of the whole revenue, can doubt of the purposes to which it was often applied. The secret service-money of the present day, the utmost which any Minister or any King can now employ, is not the tenth 1118 part of the value of that sum:—is not the seven hundredth part of the revenue.—"But the House is corrupted by places." Sir, there never was a time when so few placemen sat in this House as now. There might have been, at one time, some pretence for the charge that the House of Commons was filled with the creatures of the King; that time has long since passed. Let any man look into the old editions of Chamberlain's Great Britain, let any man look into Burke's speech on Economical Reform: and he will see the places under the Crown which then were occupied by Members of this House.* At that time, I think, the King's Letter-carrier was a Member of Parliament. And we all remember Mr. Burke's complaint, that the affairs of the King's kitchen were greatly deranged, in consequence of the King's turnspit being a Member of Parliament. Are such places in the disposal of the Crown now? Are not these means of influence, corruption if you please, diminished daily, either by extirpation, or by reduction of emoluments; and is the system advancing? A few nights ago, I heard an hon. Member say, in the debate on the Civil List, that it was idle in the present day to talk of Ambassadors as the servants of the King. "They belong to the nation." Where, Sir, I reply, are we to stop?—To what are we to reduce the Sovereign? If the King have the sole power, by virtue of his prerogative in every age of the Constitution, to make peace or war, it is not only fit and proper, but necessary, that he should also have the exclusive power of appointing and of paying those who are to represent him in negotiations which are to terminate in peace or in war. I advert to this point, only as an evidence of the spirit now abroad, hostile to every ancient institution, and every established power.—Now, as to the corrupting influence of party: it is one of the misfortunes of the times that there are now no leading men, on either side, under whose banners others will range themselves with confidence; and* In the first Parliament of George 1. there were 271 Members of Parliament holding places under the Crown. In the first Parliament of George 2. the number was 257. [See Parl. Paper, No. 569, ordered to be printed 16th July, 1823.] In the first Parliament of George 4. the utmost number was 109, including every officer in the army and navy. [See No. 542, ordered to be printed 9th July, 1822.]1119 will thus give character and steadiness to the Government, or consistency to the Opposition. We are, in fact, as independent of parties as of places. Formerly, we know that very few Members, perhaps forty, were wont to address the House; now the speaking Members are probably not less than 400; of the Representatives of the sister country, not four, perhaps, out of the hundred, are silent. As to particular acts of party, it is better to see how far the feeling operated formerly even in judicial matters, and thence to collect how far it would act in mere politics, livery one knows that election cases were decided by the single influence of party; that they were mere trials of strength in this House; and that the measure which overturned the Ministry of Walpole, the Chippenham case, was one upon which, in this day, no man, whatever his politics might be, in respect to the sitting Member or the petitioner, would suffer himself for one moment to consider any thing but the law and the facts.* The Reformers will, perhaps, admit, that "the House is less under the influence of the Crown, and of the aristocracy; is less corrupted by money, by places, or by party; but it is, after all,* The corruptions of party spirit within the House, in matters of elections, began early, and continued to the time of the Grenville Act. "The Commons "says Prynne," began to seclude one another upon pretence of undue elections and returns, in Queen Elizabeth's reign, but not before; which they have since continued, and that rather to strengthen or weaken a party in the House, than to rectify undue elections and returns, which a good act would easily do."—[Prynne's Plea for the Lords, p. 413.] Johnson's account brings the history down to the Grenville Act: "With what imperious contempt of ancient rights, and what audaciousness of arbitrary authority, former Parliaments have judged the disputes about elections, it is not necessary to relate. The claim of a candidate, and the rights of electors, are said scarcely to have been, even in appearance, referred to conscience; but to have been decided by party, by passion, by prejudice, or by frolic. To have friends in the borough was of little use to him who wanted friends in the House; a pretence was easily found to evade a majority; and the scat was at last his that was chosen, not by his electors, but by his fellow-senators."—[The Patriot Johnson's Works, viii. 153.J Sir George Meggot, indeed, was committed, in 1695, to the custody of the Sergeant, for having scandalized the House by declaring, that without being duly chosen, he had friends enough in the House, to bring him into the House. Journals, xi. 371. Hatsell, i. 300.1120 independent of the people; it does not represent their will or their wants; it is an oligarchy tyrannizing alike over the King and the people." In answer, I will state two facts, each conclusive. 1. As to the influence of petitions upon this House. Here I know I am on difficult ground; but, at any rate, I may state, that the people generally suppose that their petitions will have some weight; whether such weight may, or may not, turn the scale: and the noble Lord is not the man, who, on this occasion at least, will undervalue the general effect of petitions upon this House. This effect did not exist a century ago. Whole volumes of the Journals may be turned over without discovering a petition upon any public measure: and by the discussion which took place on the famous Kentish Petition, in 1701, it is clear that a county petition (it was, I think, from the grand jury,) was a ' very rare occurrence. The first instance in which the people approached this House with frequent petitions, was on the discussion of the great question of the abolition of the Slave Trade; how continued have been their petitions on every subject since, our proceedings will, at a glance, prove. 2. But there is an influence immeasurably greater upon this House than that of direct petition: it is the influence of the Press. This is the real control, to which we all look, more or less; and when the noble Lord, a few years ago, enumerated the vast increase of the power of reading, by education, and of the means of reading, by newspapers, circulating libraries, and cheap editions, and argued from this that the people were more fit to receive an increase of their power, it was quite evident that if he had proved any thing, he had proved that they already possessed that power. The Press governs us, not in this House only, but in half the actions of public men. The man who can read, and the man who can print, exercise a powerful influence over every thing in or out of this House. For good or for evil the fact is so; and, therefore, I contend, that the people, by means of the Press, do at this moment exert an all but overwhelming influence over this House. Whatever is said or done by any public man, is conveyed, by the Press, to the world, with the rapidity of lightning, and is subjected to the strictures of the people. Nor are those strictures confined to this country. They are circulated in the most 1121 remote and distant regions of the earth, wherever the British name is known, or its language spoken. This fact, particularly in reference to our own country, has caused us to be feelingly alive to all the wishes and wants of the people. It is not. to the myriads of their petitions, or to the millions of their hands, that we yield. This House yields, when it yields at all, to the: reason and the argument by which those wishes and those wants arc enforced. So much for the general Press: now, as to the periodical Press. Sir, there is a very convenient fiction, with which every hon. Gentleman who hears me is acquainted, namely, that the proceedings of this House are hermetically sealed; but by the same convenient fiction, the seal is broken by unknown hands, and every thing which passes at night in this House, appears on our tables the next morning; and is thence carried over the whole world. Formerly, within two generations (some Members possibly remember the time), the debates in Parliament were published, as the debates of a certain political club; and the speakers appeared under Roman names, Cicero, Cato, Hortensius, Atticus, &c. This was in the London Magazine. How completely lost in such concealment was the responsibility of a Member to his constituents! In another work, our proceedings were described as the proceedings of the Hurglibs and Colnabs, (I forget the exact names). In both cases, the concealment was sufficient to shelter a speaker here from the observation, the personal recognition at least, of his constituents, and of the public. Is the notoriety of the present day no control which the people exercise over us? I may add, as some proof, how little the public formerly took an interest in the proceedings of the House of Commons, that, I think, even Johnson, whose "Debates" are well known, never himself was present at any one debate. I think, indeed, that, as in the case of the merchants, to which Glover refers, those only, who had some local or personal interests depending, cared to attend. The House has already indulged me so long, that I am very unwilling to trespass farther on their kindness; but there is one point in the change now proposed, which, in my view, is so deeply and vitally important, that I must beg permission to state it:—I mean the possibility or impossibility of the co-existence of a monarchy with a free Press, and a purely 1122 popular Representation. Sir, I am fully persuaded that a representative system, so exclusively popular as that which the noble Lord wishes to introduce, has never yet been found in juxtaposition with a free press on the one hand, and with a monarchy on the other. We have one memorable example in our own history. When the House of Commons of 1648 declared, that being chosen by the people, they had the supreme authority of this nation; when they had resolved, that whatsoever is enacted and declared law by the Commons of England, assembled in Parliament, hath the force of law, and all the people of this nation are included thereby, although the consent and concurrence of the King and House of Peers be not had thereunto, on that very day they murdered their King, and voted the Lords to be useless and dangerous, and therefore to be abolished.* I say, Sir, that in proportion as you add to the power of this House, and in proportion as you add to the power of the people upon this House, you risk the existence of the other branches of the Constitution. "I cannot," said Mr. Canning, "conceive a constitution, of which one third part shall be an assembly delegated by the people, not to consult for the good of the nation, but to speak, day by day, the people's will, which must not, in a few days' sittings, sweep away every other branch of the constitution, that might attempt to oppose or control it." The thing may not happen to-day or to-morrow, but I am firmly convinced, that, if the measure of the noble Lord be carried, the shock will be found, in ten years, to have been decisive. I am bound to add, that personally, I do not entertain this apprehension; because I have a perfect conviction (and, if I may say it without offence, the noble Lord feels it equally), that the* Rapin, ii. 574; "An independent House of Commons is no part of the English constitution, the excellence of which consists in being composed of three powers, mutually dependent on each other; of these, if any one was to become independent of the other two, it must engross the whole power to itself, and the form of our Government would be immediately changed. This an independent House of Commons actually performed in the last century, murdered the King, annihilated the Peers, and established the worst kind of democracy that ever existed; and the same confusion would infallibly be repeated, should we ever be so unfortunate as to see another."—See also Soame Jenyns's Works, ii. 245–6.1123 measure cannot be carried; but I feel sure that, if it were carried, the consequences which I predict would follow, as certainly as any effect follows any cause. The example of the Cortes of Spain; the example of Sicily, as I am just reminded by an honourable friend; the example of the National Assembly of France; the example still more recently of the Chamber of Deputies, though their work is as yet only half done, will prove how utterly impossible it is, to find a purely popular legislature in co-existence with a monarchy,—with any tiling more than the president-ship of a republic. In France, the attempt to have an uninfluenced and unmodified representation of the people by the side of has advanced far enough: it has already a King, has terminated (I ought not to say "terminated," for the end is not yet arrived), interrupted the progress of greater prosperity in every branch of commerce and of industry than France had ever enjoyed at any former period: and an approximation to the same transfer of power in this country will too certainly lead us to the same unhappy consequences. For what is this measure? Is it a slight change in our internal condition? is it not a vital and fundamental change? Forty years ago, the noble Lord now at the head of his Majesty's councils declared, that the measure, which at that time he proposed, involved (the words are remarkable, and were noticed at the time). "a fundamental change of the government" of the country† What less can be said of a measure, which at once strikes off a third of those who now sit in this House; which by two processes transfers the seats of 168 Members and permanently vacates the seats of 62, others? which leave's scarcely three constituencies in the empire the same as it found them? I remember an expression, the other day, of the hon. member for Middlesex, on presenting a petition, complaining of the interference of a peer in the election of a Member of this House, "Sir, we don't want peers here: let them* "From the period when the new and alarming æra of the French Revolution broke in upon the world, and the doctrines which it ushered into light laid held of the minds of men, I found that the grounds, upon which the question" (of Reform) "rested, were essentially and fundamentally altered."—Pitt's Speeches, iii. p. 131. On Mr. Grey's Motion, 26th May, 1797.† Hansard's Pail. Hist. Vol. xxx. (1793,) p. 800.1124 go back to their own House." Let me tell the hon. Member, with all courtesy, but with all plainness, that either he means more than he says, or he understands not what he does say. If he, and "the movement" men, whose language he speaks, shall succeed in sending the peers back to their own House, let me assure him, that those who act with him will soon take that House from them. Whatever the intentions of the framers, or of the supporters of this measure may be, I am quite sure, that, if carried, it will sweep clean the House of Peers in ten years. It is possible that hereditary titles may hot be abolished; it is possible that, as was seen on a former occasion, when the House of Lords had been declared useless, some Earl of Manchester, or Lord Saye and Sele, or Earl of Pembroke, may take their seats as Members of this House; it is possible even, that the House of Lords may have a nominal existence; but its real conservative power, its distinct and independent legislative character, is gone. I call upon those who are supposed to represent the mind, and to advocate the opinions of Mr. Canning, to answer his words on this subject: "They look far short of the ultimate effect of the doctrines of the present day, who do not see that their tendency is, not to make a House of Commons, such as in theory it has always been defined, a third branch of the Legislature; but to absorb the legislative and executive powers into one; to create an immediate delegation of the whole authority of the people; to which, practically, nothing could, and, in reasoning, nothing ought, to stand in opposition."* I have less* Canning's Speeches, vi. 361–4. ["Speech at Liverpool, 29th June, 1818.]" The Reformers arc wise in their generation. They know well enough, and have read plainly enough, in our own history, that the prerogatives of the Crown, and the privileges of the peerage, would be but as dust in the balance against a preponderating democracy. They mean democracy, and nothing else. And, give them but a House of Commons, constructed on their own principles, the peerage and the throne may exist for a day, but may be swept from the face of the earth, by the first angry vote of such a House of Commons. It is therefore utterly unnecessary for the Reformers to declare hostility to the Crown; it is, therefore, utterly superfluous for them to make war against the peerage. They know that, let but their principles have full play, the Crown and the peerage would be, to the Constitution which1125 scruple in quoting this wisdom and this eloquence, because the speech winch contained them was not addressed to this House. Again, on another occasion, Mr. Canning asked, "If the House of Commons is to be reformed, because it approved and supported those wars; if it is to be reformed, because it passed laws for the suppression of internal disturbance; is the House of Lords to go free, which consented to those wars, and of those acts consented to all, while some of them, and those not the least severe, it originated? If no such reform is to be applied to the House of Lords, what is the supposed effect upon that House, of a reform of the House of Commons? Let us fairly speak out: Is the unreformed House of Lords to continue in full vigour to counteract the will of the reformed House of Commons?"* I ask, with Mr. Canning, will a reformed House of Commons allow that body to remain, which had sanctioned all the obnoxious measures of a corrupt House of Commons? Will an unreformed House of Lords be suffered to exist in full vigour to resist our proceedings, when we sit here in that sense which the hon. member for Middlesex says, can alone entitle us to be called the Representatives of the people? Sir, I will never admit that we are not at this moment the Representatives of the people; but, for the sake of argument, I will take the word in his sense. Suppose, then, that the reformed House of Commons shall choose to go to war, or to make peace, or to cut down the Civil List, or to abolish tithes, or to interfere with the Church, or to do any other of those things which the friends of Reform consider to be the great desiderata of the country; would they allow the House of Lords, would they allow the Crown, to interpose, and defeat their projects? And then would come the ques-they assail, but as the baggage to the army, and the destruction of them but as the gleanings of the battle. They know that the battle is with the House of Commons, as at present constituted, and that, that once overthrown, and another popular assembly constructed on their principle, as the creature and depositary of the people's power, and the unreasoning instrument of the people's will, there would not only be no chance, but (I will go further for them in avowal, though not in intention, than they go for themselves) there would not be a pretence for the existence of any other branch of the Constitution.* Canning, vi. 400. [Speech at Liverpool, 30th Aug. 1832.]1126 tion of physical force, that physical force, of which the noble Lord gave some intimation, and the fear of which is the foundation of half the arguments for Reform in the present day. If such force were applied, in conjunction with the authority of such a House of Commons, it must be obeyed; and the consequence would be, that every institution in the country would crumble into dust, or would be crushed into powder, in ten years. I will only notice, and very briefly, two other points, to which the noble Lord has adverted; the one as an actual grievance, the other as a question which will remain to be separately discussed,—the duration of Parliaments, and the introduction of the Ballot. Upon the first point, much misapprehension prevails; for it will be found, that in the course of 300 years, from the accession of Henry 8th to the commencement of the present century, only twenty-one out of sixty-six Parliaments sat more than three years, and the average of all was only two years and nine months. So that the people have, in fact, a very frequently recurring check upon the conduct of this House. With respect to the second point, Ballot, as it is suggested to me that it does not form part of the noble Lord's own plan, I shall advert to it still more briefly, and will only state one objection, which I derive from a friend, and which, as I have not seen it elsewhere, in public or in private, I feel bound to notice: it is this,—that the Ballot necessarily implies a scrutiny of votes before every election; no benefit could be derived from it without a scrutiny; and that tedious and expensive measure, which may sometimes follow an election now, must, under the Ballot system, always precede one.* On every ground more directly connected with the noble Lord's plan, I oppose it. I oppose this change in the construction of this House (and consequent change in the Constitution of this country), because I do not believe that a majority of the people desire such change: and because, if I did believe it, I am sent here to legislate, not for their will, but for their interests. I oppose it, because the principle upon which this Reform is to be made, is unrecognised in any æra of the history of this House. I oppose it, because it diminishes those influences here, which* For the working of the system in the Ancient States, see "Reflections on the Ballot," 8vo. Hatchard, 1831.1127 have always existed, and which are at this day essential to the balance of the Constitution. I oppose it, because against the body so assembled, no charge is proved, or even made; because the influence of the Crown was never less than at this day; the influence of the aristocracy was never less; the influence of corruption by money, by places, or by party, was never less:—on every consideration of all which we enjoy, and of all which we are to hazard, I oppose the object of the noble Lord. With these feelings, with the deep conviction that this country has long practically enjoyed a Constitution, which even by the testimony of the noble Lord, has been the envy of other nations, and which I believe to be the glory and the happiness of our own, I will never consent to a plan which, in my judgment, subverts it.* Nor shall* "There is no period in the history of the country, in which the House of Commons will be found to have occupied so large a share of the functions of the Government as at present. Whatever else may be said of the House of Commons, this one point, at least, is indisputable, that from the earliest infancy of the Constitution, the power of the House of Commons has been growing, till it has almost, like the rod of Aaron, absorbed its fellows.At what period of our history was the composition of the House of Commons materially different from what it is at present? Is there any period in our history in which the rights of election were not as various, in which the influence of property was not as direct, in which recommendation of candidates was not as efficient, and some boroughs as close as they are now?"—Canning's Speeches,vi.382 [Speech at Liverpool, 18th of March, 1820.]Under the same mode of elections, and under Parliaments not less influenced than the present, this nation has not only subsisted for many years, but arrived at the summit of wealth, honour, power, and dominion.***"If we survey the condition of every country on the Globe, and compare it with our own, we shall find abundant reason to be contented: there are in it some evils, and much good, which is the utmost which any human institution will admit of. We have, indeed, too much oratory, too much liberty, too much debt, and too many taxes: but then we have plenty, and may have peace, if we please: we have security to our persons and properties, and excellent laws, justly, though not very cheaply, administered; we have a Parliament not worse, and a King a great deal better than we deserve; and therefore, I shall conclude with the words of Shakspeare:'Tis belter, sure, to bear the ills we know,Than fly to others that we know not of.'—Soame Jenyns's Works, 247–8.1128 I easily believe, that the people of England are prepared for the change, or are deliberately dissatisfied with their existing institutions. On the contrary, I perfectly concur in those sentiments, which, at the commencement of the Session, this House unanimously, on the part of themselves and of the nation, addressed to the Throne; when we expressed to his Majesty "our entire conviction that his people do justly appreciate the full advantage of that happy form of government, under which, through the favour of Divine Providence, this country has enjoyed for a succession of years a greater share of internal peace, of commercial prosperity, of true liberty, of all that constitutes social happiness, than has failen to the lot of any other country of the world."*
§ Sir C. E. Smith
was understood to say, that, being anxious to support the true interests of the country, he felt that he could not do less than offer a few observations on this important occasion. In his opinion, a necessity for Reform did exist, and he was perfectly free to confess the reasons which weighed with him in coming to that decision. In vindicating his own vote, he should, doubtless, be vindicating the votes of many others who viewed the subject as he did. Fifteen years ago, he should, perhaps, have arrived at a different conclusion; but the altered circumstances of the country fully justified a change of opinion. If that change were once admitted, the necessity of Reform must be admitted also. The power of the aristocracy was, he conceived, too great in that House; and he thought, in curtailing it to a certain extent, they did nothing unjust towards that body. He approved of the principle of the noble Lord's plan, though the whole of the details did not meet his wishes. The hon. Baronet near him had observed, that the proposed measure would be injurious to the colonial interests, since it would prevent the colonies from being represented in that House. But he would ask, for what purpose had the colonies local legislatures, if they were to be represented in that House? In his opinion, the representation was vitiated, not by the undue influence of the Crown, but by the undue dictation of the Aristocracy. He thought that the plan of the noble Lord proceeded, however, too much on the principle of population, and too little on that* Address, 2d Nov. 1830.1129 of property. The noble Lord had said, that one of the great reasons why the House ought to receive this measure was, because it embraced every point, and left nothing for future decision; but how could that be, when it was formally laid before Parliament for its serious consideration? One great evil of the present system was, the prevalence of bribery and corruption; and he would ask, why had not the noble Lord taken move care to prevent bribery and corruption in future? He thought that the oath relative to bribery and corruption which was tendered to the elector ought also to be administered to the representative. Reserving his right to state his opinion on the different parts of the measure at some future time, he thought it was proper, in this early stage, to declare that he was favourable to the principle of the plan.
§ Mr. H. Twiss
said, the House had listened with profound and painful attention to the noble Lord's analysis of the new Constitution which was now offered to the country, and he rose to state a few of the objections to the plan which crowded into his mind. He felt that he undertook a very difficult task, in rising so soon after the speech of the noble Lord; and he feared, moreover, that he had selected the worst period that could be fixed on, amidst the agitation and uneasiness that prevailed throughout the House. Opposed as he had been for many years to the noble Lord's views of Parliamentary Reform, it must appear evident, that the course he was about to take this night did not proceed from any new-born zeal to disparage a measure on which the Government had taken its stand, but rested solely on the foundation of principles which were once held by the greater part of his Majesty's Ministers themselves. A few months ago, the most radical speculator that, ever existed could not have believed that the day was so near when he should see the Ministers of the Crown proposing to remove all the proportions of the Legislature, all the land-marks of the Constitution,—calling on the House to sweep away, he would not say the charters of Corporations, but all the charters of the realm itself. He did not mean to say, that in thus acting they were quite without precedent. They certainly had a precedent in the worst of times—the times of Charles 2nd and James 2nd. The same thing was done then as was attempted to 1130 be done now, under the colour of law. But the course pursued at that period had been condemned with universal and lasting reprobation, as grossly unjust and unconstitutional. The object which the Ministers of that day had in view, was effected by the assistance of Judge Jefferies,—that object being, to give additional and unconstitutional power to the Crown, as it was now sought to confer it on the democracy. But what was done at the Revolution? Why those who effected it, placed the boroughs and corporations on. their proper footing; and the declaration sent out by King William, even before his landing in this country, after reprobating the unconstitutional acts of Charles and James, said, in one brief but most important sentence, that "all the boroughs of England shall return again to their ancient prescriptions and charters." The Convention Parliament of that day framed the Bill of Rights; and the preamble of that bill recited, "that the Lords spiritual and temporal, and Commons, then assembled at Westminster, did lawfully fully, and freely represent all the estates of the people of this realm." Under those charters, the people of this realm had all been represented during the long and prosperous period that had intervened, and unless the violation of those charters, which was deemed intolerable when it tended to augment the power of the Crown, were fit and proper when it went to strengthen the democracy, he hoped that the same sound sense which preserved the institutions of the country in the first Parliament of William 3rd., would continue to uphold them in the first Parliament of William 4th. The noble Lord stated, that, according to his view, the elections should be open to the commonalty, and belong to them. He would not then discuss the meaning of the word commonalty—he would not insist on the fact, that it formerly meant only the inhabitants of cities—he would only remind the House, that if the principle of the noble Lord were to be followed, his Bill must be made much more extensive before it could include the whole commonalty. The noble Lord did not propose to include the whole commonalty—he did not propose Universal Suffrage. The noble Lord's commonalty only embraced those householders who paid 10l. rent. The noble Lord only changed the rate of property, and admitted those who had less 1131 property and were less respectable. "What," said the noble Lord, "would a foreigner who should come to this country, full of admiration of its wisdom and its virtues, and of the glory it had achieved, think, when he asked for the source of that system which was the cause of all our national superiority, to find that it consisted in a green mound, or stone wall, or a thinly inhabited town—what," asked the noble Lord, "must be the astonishment of such a foreigner?" But what, he would ask, would such a foreigner think, if he were told that the exclusive sources of our glory were our system of representation, or what the noble Lord called our mockery of representation, and that it was proposed not to improve it, but that a change should be made in it, which would get rid of the thinly-inhabited city—level the green mound—an pull down the stone walls? The noble Lord seemed to think that he was bound to disfranchise the depositaries of all representation, however they might have disposed of it. He did not say for his part, that the great towns ought not to be included in the representation—he did not say that boroughs, when corrupt, ought not to be disfranchised; but the noble Lord did not proceed as was usual with the House in disfranchising boroughs. When the House upon any good grounds proposed to disfranchise a corrupt borough, it proceeded in the most careful manner, examining the evidence with the greatest caution, subjecting the charge of corruption to a judicial examination, and separating the sound from the unsound part of the constituency; but the measure of the noble Lord disregarded all considerations of justice, and swept away the whole of the boroughs by a Bill of Pains and Penalties, without any proof of corruption, without a tittle of evidence, and without any of the usual grounds on which the House justified a Bill of Pains and Penalties. Now, the boroughs were to be disfranchised for no guilt but because they were under the influence of the Crown and the Aristocracy, who it seemed, had no business to mix up their alloy with the pure democracy of that House. It could not now be said, that the Government was not under the influence of public opinion—it was too much under the power of the commonalty. According to the modern theory, the Government was not a mixed democracy—it was a pure democracy; and the whole tendency and direc- 1132 tion of the Bill of the noble Lord was, to make the House of Commons of a more popular character. But whatever Gentlemen might say in public, there was not one present who would not say in private that the will of the people was too often obeyed, and that it frequently overpowered the better judgment of those who were sent there to consult for the welfare of the nation. Gentlemen knew, that the Government was not always sufficiently strong to carry all measures of public utility, and that measures of justice, and almost of necessity, were frequently opposed by popular prejudice. It was the practice of modern times for the two Houses of Parliament to carry on the business of the Government, which was not agreeable to the Constitution of England; but when that practice was adopted—when the two Houses undertook to direct the management of all the revenues of the country—for any man to say that the House of Commons was not sometimes too much swayed by the opinions of the people, would only expose him to ridicule. If the two Houses of Parliament were to be continued—if we were to retain our mixed Government—it was necessary that the Crown should possess great influence in the House of Commons, and that the House of Peers should not be destitute of influence through individual Peers. The necessity of the influence was necessary to counteract the opposition, which might sometimes be factious, sometimes might arise from a desire of popularity, and, if the regal and Aristocratic powers were lessened, might sometimes be exercised with great danger to the country. The security that was most needed was a security against the blind passions of the people, who might otherwise pull down that Constitution which was the ark of the general safety. Independent of the balance of the Constitution, there must be an equipoise between the governed and governing, which perhaps might with safety be regulated by public opinion, but exclusive of that, there was another important balance which would be endangered by the destruction of the borough-system. That was, the balance between conflicting and rival interests. Many interests would be endangered, and many interests deranged by the abolition of the boroughs. There were many interests that were provided for by no other species of representation. There was the interest of all the professional classes, of all the labouring 1133 classes as such, there was the colonial interest, there was the interest of the fund holders and money capitalists, and the interests that he might call miscellaneous, which were all now adequately represented by the boroughs. All these interests would be deranged, and no longer represented, if the plans of the noble Lord were carried into effect. The two larger classes of the land and trade were already well represented and protected, the land by the Members for the counties—and the trade by the Representatives of towns; but other interests, combining a great portion of the moral and intellectual strength of the country, were not sufficiently represented, and by the plan of the noble Lord were no longer to come there. With the exception of the two Universities, which had special Representatives, none of the interests he had alluded to were represented, while land and trade were well represented, or had any means of getting into that House, except through the medium of the close boroughs. From those which he called the miscellaneous interests the most intelligent Members of that House—the gentlemen most conversant with law, finances, and colonial policy—had been selected; and for the boroughs, by which they came into the House, the noble Lord had provided no substitutes. Such gentlemen were put in by the Patrons of the boroughs, or by their own pecuniary means, which might not be just or necessary, but this mode had given adequate Representatives for the interests he had mentioned. The plan of the noble Lord was not intended to check any abuses in those close boroughs, but to do them away altogether. Which interest of the people would that benefit? It would increase the two great Aristocracies—the Aristocracy of the land and the Aristocracy of trade; two interests which were frequently opposed to the interests of the consumers. The whole people had little to fear from the encroachments of the Crown, but they had much to fear from the encroachments of particular interests if once they obtained a preponderancy. The noble Lord's plan, then, would disturb a balance which it was most important to maintain. It might still be possible for individuals to exercise an influence over particular places as at present, but they would henceforth be obliged to nominate some one of their family, or some one residing in the neighbourhood, and distinguished for his wealth, and they 1134 could no longer procure the return of gentlemen who had no other claims but their ability to serve their country in Parliament. Many of the most respectable and most intelligent of the people found, by means of these boroughs, a facility of getting into Parliament which could be supplied by no other means. The plan, then, of the noble Lord went to three points;—first, to destroy the Charters of Corporate Towns—secondly, through the breach which he would thus make, to pour into the Constitution a numerous constituency, which should destroy the chief sources of the influence of the Crown and of hereditary property—and, thirdly, by cutting off the close or nomination boroughs, to shut out all that large class of miscellaneous interests which compose a very large part of the property, the character, and the talents that did honour to the country. He did not think that extending the Representatives for the land and trade was precisely what was wanted at the present time. Ho did not think that it was the duty of Government, at this exciting period, at this awful crisis, to take measures for disfranchising some of the most respectable portion of the 658 Representatives. He had voted for the disfranchisement of East-Retford and Grampound, and for the transfer of their franchise to large towns, and he therefore was not indisposed to gradual improvement; but he was disposed to content himself with such an improvement, and not to adopt the mischievous change proposed by the noble Lord. On what ground, too, was it that this great change was made? It was not to strengthen the Government, it was not to give greater intelligence to the Legislature, but to correct the malversation introduced by some men of rank, and introduced by means of these existing boroughs, which was all that was alleged, all the inhabitants of houses paying 10l. a year rent were to be added to the constituency. It was proposed to enlarge that body by including in it men of limited information, of strong prejudices, of narrow and contracted views, such as shop-keepers and small attorneys. He begged, not to be misunderstood, he was not disparaging this class but, he did conceive that retired tradesmen inhabiting houses rated at 10l., members of small clubs, and persons of that description; persons, he repeated, of narrow minds and bigotted views, who were now to be called in to counsel the nation, were not the best 1135 fitted to execute that important trust. Gentlemen laughed—he would give them an authority for his assertion, and no less authority than the Book of Ecclesiasticus. If the citation were inapplicable, Gentlemen might visit him with ridicule, but if it were applicable, it did not seem to him of less weight, because it had a sacred as well as a moral sanction. The sacred volume taught them that potters, and men practising various trades were all men "who trust to their hands, and every one is wise in his work; without these cannot a city be inhabited but," it added; "they shall not be sought for in public council, nor sit high in the congregation. They shall not sit on the Judges' scat, nor understand the sentence of judgment." He knew that among these classes were many men of intelligence, but as a class they were shallow and dogmatical, the supporters of those political principles which, made light of public faith, and thought nothing of public credit—who regarded reduction of taxation as every thing, looked at rents, and tithes, and taxes, as mischievous burthens laid on them; and all whose other political principles were the necessary consequences of the narrow principles they had adopted as the ground work of civil and ecclesiastical government. A large part of the class admitted by the Bill was of this description; and to transfer to them political power, to those who were busy buying and selling, was the chief feature of the promised reformation. In this preposterous result had issued all the boastings of Reform made by his Majesty's Ministers; but the measure which they had brought forward to redeem their pledges would not satisfy the majority of the country. As a municipal regulation, it might give some satisfaction, it might give pleasure to certain busy intriguing people, but that the majority of the intellect and respectability of the country would be satisfied with it was what he could not believe. The noble Lord said, that the Bill would reduce the expense of elections. Of all fallacies which he had heard, that was the greatest. Increasing the number of electors would increase the expense of elections [no, no.] He said yes, yes. It would cause a greater expense in carrying the greater number to the poll, and it would cause a greater expense by having a greater number to bribe. It was the height of vanity to suppose, that the Bill would put an end 1136 to bribery. As long as the temptation existed, as long as many poor men had something to dispose of which some rich men were desirous to have, so long would corruption exist, whether the voters were few as at Evesham, or numerous as at Liverpool. It was well known, that what was much in demand would be obtained, in defiance of prohibitions; and he did not know why this principle should not be applied to elections as well as commodities. These were the prominent features and prominent failures of the noble Lord's plan, and these were the objections he had to urge at the moment, though no doubt, with more time he should discover more defects, and have more objections to state. He wished to know from those who brought forward the question, if they expected it would satisfy the country, or would satisfy the people who were most desirous of Reform? They indeed might say "Let us accept it. We will now take this, and after a time we will come back for the rest." But he understood by satisfying the country, settling the question, putting an end to the agitation concerning it; and it was not possible that this Bill should finally settle the question. With what face could the Government propose, on the present occasion, to recommend the House to sacrifice one-half of the Constitution, that it might have permission to sacrifice the other half by and by. Did he, then, blame the Government both for what it gave and what it did not give? No; on the contrary, he blamed it only for giving too much, and for having so little practical wisdom as to lend its name, by these propositions, to vulgar error and vulgar importunity. He believed, that the sober part of the people would find fault with the Ministers, not for having broken their promises, but for having made them. The measure would depend for its success entirely on the dispassionate opinion of the sober and influential classes. They would regard the Bill as impairing the Constitution of the country, while they would not be satisfied with any of its provisions. It was stated, that the measure of Reform was necessary to prevent revolution; but was it likely that the intense excitement which now existed, and had existed for a short time, would overcome the good sense of the people, and change their disposition? The people of this country were generally guided by reflection; and he wished to ask, if the present opi- 1137 nion of the multitude were founded on study and argument? and if it were not, was it likely to be permanent, or was it temporary, having only some temporary cause? The noble Lord had acknowledged, during last Session of Parliament, that the people were indifferent on the subject. Had his acknowledged indifference, then, undergone some sudden change? Had there been some violation of political rights? Had the people some great grievances to complain of? No. The House of Commons had since then reduced taxation so much, that the present Ministers, who were carried into office by the demand for retrenchment, found that further remission of taxation was impossible. The Government, too, had removed the last restrictions on religious liberty. The Test Act had been abolished, and the Catholics had been placed on a level with the rest of their countrymen. These were the accumulated outrages of which the people had to complain—these were the grievances which had made a Reform of the House of Commons, which two or three Sessions ago was regarded with indifference, now indispensable, and these were the acts which now made the present House of Commons too odious to be any longer endured. If the people had taken a new course, what he wished to know was, the cause of the change? He did not mean to impute the change of opinion to any persons as blame,—he should be sorry so to ascribe it; but it was said, that it was fear of physical force which gave this impulse to public opinion. This might be true as to individuals, but the great body of the people were not so poor in spirit as to live in fear of physical force. He admitted that the employment of physical force had been justified by circumstances in a neighbouring country. Then it was intended to counteract a great political evil, but he also believed that the consequences of that employment of force had been much exaggerated as a victory of the people. The results of that had been so fatal, that it was miscalled a popular victory. But if the use of force were justified in France, did that justify it here? When the most ardent admirers of revolution looked at its consequences, and saw Belgium and France devastated—trade suspended—property unsafe—security lost—they would find, that moderation was better than revolution; and that these countries held out no encouragement to 1138 us to imitate them. When the results were looked at, it was impossible not to see that more was lost than gained. It was impossible to suppose that Englishmen could be so senseless, and of so light a nature, that they would run the hazard of a revolution, to obtain some theoretical improvements in their Constitution. It could not be the case. But this change in the opinion of the people was not the offspring of distress; for it had been stated by the Gentlemen on the other side, that at present our trade was so prosperous, that for a long period there had not been so little distress in the country, great encouragement having been given to our industry, by that suspension of trade and manufactures in France and Belgium which had been caused by the revolutions in those countries. That taught a very important lesson to our community. It showed, that if sometimes distress produced a revolution, a revolution always caused distress. Another cause to which he attributed the excitement was agitation; which the Government of this country, in whosoever hands it might be, must put down, if it wished to preserve liberty and property. It was clear, that retrenchment could not be carried any further—that further relief from taxation was hopeless—that the debt could by no retrenchment be got rid of, and that, therefore, there could be no hopes of obtaining relief from these burthens by Parliamentary Reform. Neither was it to be supposed that the chance of war—the source of all our burthens—would be diminished by making the Parliament more popular. The speech of the noble Lord delivered in 1819, afforded a reply to that supposition. The noble Lord then stated, "that he did not pretend to say that Reform would make the country less inclined to war, which was the cause of our chief burthens. A fondness for war was not the fault of an oligarchical, but of a popular Government." The noble Lord proved this proposition by facts from history, and then concluded by saying, "that it is only by carrying the feelings of the people along with them, that a free government can lay on greater taxes than an arbitrary king." Another authority, and a more impressive one, was the French people themselves. They raised the tri-coloured standard of liberty in 1830, and were waving it as the banner of war in 1831. He did not agree, then, with* Hansard's Parl. Debates, vol. xli. pp. 1099, 1100.1139 those opinions which recommended such extensive Reforms, nor did he agree with the opinion of the noble Lord, that there would be great danger in refusing; Reform. The Radical Reformers might look to revolution, but the great mass of the people of this country, busily engaged in trade and industry, having property at stake—for even the deposited savings of the poor now formed part of the National Debt—the great mass of the people were sound, and would stand by the institutions of the country. Under the blessings of Providence our burthens were made a security to us, and the superincumbent weight of which we complained gave stability to our institutions. If the Government acted firmly, and relied on the calm and deliberate judgment of the people, and did not follow the current of revolution, he was persuaded that there was nothing to fear. If, however, surrounded by factions, the Parliament should legislate blindly—if it should be obliged to wait on the will of the people, instead of consulting for their welfare—if that was the present state of this country—if they went forward without experience to direct them, every day would only carry them further into danger; and the result must be, to teach the people that their will was higher than the Constitution, and deeper than the deep-laid foundation of the laws. To such doctrines he could not give countenance —there was no such danger, and he should withhold his assent to the noble Lord's measure.
§ Lord Althorp
admitted, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had placed in a strong light the dangers which had resulted from the French Revolution. The hon. and learned Gentleman had also called the present excitement temporary, and ascribed it to agitation. But in this the hon. and learned Gentleman was in error, for in England there was no agitation in that sense; and never, undoubtedly, on such an important question, had less pains been taken to get up public meetings than at present. The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated the evils which had resulted to Belgium and France from the revolutions in those countries; and was it not, then, the duty of those who looked after the welfare of the nation to take measures to prevent such a revolution here? He must say, that it was most desirable, and the duty of those who had it in their power, to take such steps; and it appeared, up to the present time, to 1140 be supposed right by the House, that such steps should be taken. But what steps ought to be taken? The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that the demand of the people for Reform was temporary, and would not last. But it was certain that complaints were made of the manner in which that House was elected, and had long been made. Was there no ground for those complaints? If there was a good ground for those complaints, they could not be temporary, having a permanent cause. If there were such grounds of discontent, and if they were permanent, was it not necessary that something should be done to remove them, and prevent complaints? The grounds of complaint were the existence of nomination boroughs, and the great expense of elections. Could the House argue the people of the country into the belief that they derived a benefit from these boroughs? The hon. and learned Gentleman, indeed, had argued in favour of those boroughs with great ability; and had stated, that by their means men of the greatest ability had obtained seats in Parliament. He admitted that; but had they no disadvantages to counterbalance that accidental benefit? Did they not enable persons of large property to dictate to the Minister of the day? And was not such dictation inconsistent, or even frequently incompatible with the good government of the country? That was, in his opinion, a disadvantage which more than counterbalanced these advantages. It was said, by the hon. and learned Gentleman, that for them had sat some of the greatest men who ever had been in Parliament. That was true, but it did not follow that those able men would not have been in Parliament if there had been no such boroughs. That was, indeed, the easiest mode by which they could get into Parliament, and that made them adopt it. It ought not to be supposed that such men would have been excluded from Parliament if there had been no such boroughs. One of the causes of expense at elections was the distance the candidates had to carry voters. Another source of expense was, that a great part of the voters were persons of little or no property, and were therefore liable to be corrupted. The Ministers avowed from the first, that it was their intention to make a full and effectual Reform in the representation of the Commons House of Parliament, and they had laboured to re- 1141 deem their pledge. The great evil they considered to be, the power of nomination placed in the hands of individuals, and they had taken away the danger they apprehended from the exercise of that power by placing the franchise as much as possible in the hands of the middle classes. The hon. Baronet had intimated, that the plan of Reform now proposed was Revolution. Did he mean to say, then, that Reform was not as popular with the whole of the middle classes as with the whole people of England? The people of England demanded a Government of Lords and Commons. [hear, hear! from the Opposition.] Yes, but Commons not coming into the House by purchase or by nomination. The whole of the people of England were, he was satisfied, desirous of a House of Commons the very reverse of this. And although they retained their regard for a mixed Monarchy, he was convinced they rejected and abhorred the present state of the representation in the House of Commons. Seeing this state of public opinion, and feeling, as the Government did, that the middle classes had not their fair share in the representation; knowing, too, that that class desired no change which could fairly, as the hon. Baronet called it, be denominated Revolutionary — no change which was likely to bring with it any destruction of property, or produce any of those frightful scenes which were witnessed in the first Revolution of France—believing, indeed, that the spirit of the people was the reverse of revolutionary, and that the improvement of the representation was one of the most effectual methods of keeping it so; it was, therefore, that his Majesty's Government thought they could with safety place, by a great extension, the elective franchise in the possession of the middle classes. He would go further, however, than placing that right in the hands of the middle classes, for he would say, that if in any state of representation, however extended, the middle classes were left hostile to the Government, that Government would never be safe. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Twiss) had ridiculed that class. He had, indeed, ridiculed the whole of the middle classes, but he would tell the hon. Member he did not know the amount of intelligence which was to be found in the middle classes when he talked of them as he had done. That they did possess a higher degree of cha- 1142 racter and intelligence than at any former period was abundantly proved, and he was satisfied they were as well qualified to select, and would select as wisely and as prudently as any other class, Representatives distinguished for their honesty, their integrity, and their ability. The hon. Baronet, the member for Oxford, had argued against their taking population as the test for the fitness for representation. It was true they had done so, but then they had taken property as the basis of franchise, and, therefore, he himself conceived that no good argument could be raised on the question of population. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Twiss) had spoken of the seizure of the Charters of boroughs by James the 2nd, and he had intimated, that it was one of those measures, which was to be considered, like the present, as intended for the improvement of the representation. The noble Lord who opened the debate (Lord John Russell) had, however, truly characterised this and some other proceedings of our ancestors as gross violations of the Constitution—gross because it was intended to destroy that popular branch of the Legislature which it was the express object of the present measure to increase and protect. The object of the present plan was, to support the popular branch of the Constitution—that of James was to destroy it; and no argument could be fairly deduced from it with reference to the tendency of the plan before the House. He confessed he was one of those theorists who thought that the House of Commons should represent the body of the people. He thought, too, that this was the real theory of the Constitution. They might, it was true, go back to barbarous times, and find occasions when the Crown invaded the privileges of that House, and usurped the power of the third branch of the Legislature; but still the Constitution supposed that the Members of the House of Commons were the real Representatives of the people. But then, said the hon. member for Oxford, let the House look back at the time when these real Representatives of the opinions of the people usurped the powers of the other two Estates, and destroyed the Throne and the Constitution. Did the hon. Member, however, forget that this was done with the support of a military power; and that so far was the House of Commons, as then constituted, from either" representing the people, or possessing 1143 Constitutional liberty, that all who attempted to exercise freedom of speech were expelled from it. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to think that this measure would give satisfaction to none but a very small class of people in this country. He thought the hon. and learned Gentleman was mistaken. Some there were, no doubt, who might desire more; but he was convinced that the great majority of the people of this country would be content, and hail with satisfaction the change they proposed. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Twiss) seemed to intimate, also, that this would not be the final settlement of the question. He differed from that hon. and learned Gentleman. He thought it would be a final settlement; and that as the plan would be found a full and effectual reformation of abuses, those who differed on minor points would now sacrifice them for the sake of unanimity, and for the advancement of the public good. He himself felt, in bringing forward a measure of Reform such as that now before the House, that he had the best chance of obtaining what had been the great end, and aim, and object, of his political life, and he was therefore prepared to sacrifice some opinions and prejudices of his own, to promote that object; and having so agreed to sacrifice them, he felt bound to support the plan to the utmost extent in his power, and at the same time equally bound not to go beyond it. He was one of those who had never looked much to theories. He wished to see a practical Reform of the abuses of the system of Representation and Government; and he was satisfied, that until that House was fairly placed under the power of the people, they never could hope to see an end of many great practical evils. He would ask, did not this measure promise to the people of England an overpowering influence in the choice of Representatives? ["hear, hear!" from Sir Robert Peel] The right hon. Baronet cheered that sentiment; but he would remind the right hon. Gentleman, that by the people he meant the great majority of the respectable middle classes of the country. That was what the Ministers wished to give—that was what they hoped they had accomplished. Their desire was to place the representation in the hands of the majority of the middle classes, and to give to the country a House of Com- 1144 mons not looking for the favour of the Crown, nor the patronage of the aristocracy, but for the approbation and gratitude of their constituents.
§ Mr. Twiss
said, that the noble Lord had accused him of ridiculing the middle classes, and he hoped, as that charge would go forth to the world, that his denial of the accusation would accompany it. It would be recollected that he was interrupted at the moment he was speaking of the middle classes, and that in order to guard himself against any misrepresentation, he had expressly repeated his assertion that he did not speak disparagingly of the middle classes, as a class, because he was aware that there were among them some of the most estimable members of society; but because there were among that class some of the most dangerous of the class of politicians of the present day—men whom he did not think fit to be intrusted with additional political power.
Lord F. L. Gower
rose to say a few words in defence of those existing institutions, which the plan of the one noble Lord went to overthrow, and the speech of the other noble Lord had so vehemently attacked. He knew that it was much easier in such cases to attack than to defend, and to vary the forms of censure, than to meet them with equally ingenious retorts; but this he also knew, that it was extremely difficult to measure the extent of benefits they had received from such institutions, although all who looked at other countries, and reflected on the state of their own, must feel and be grateful for them. He might, in his reverence for these institutions, be led into absurdities, but he believed he could not fall into any so great as to believe, with some persons, that the distresses they had suffered, were due to the state of the representation of that House. The man who attempted to teach the people that the House of Commons was the cause of their distresses, lent himself to a delusion which, like all the delusions of life, would end in disappointment and despair. His object in rising was, however, principally to call the attention of the House to that part of the speech of the noble Lord, which related to Scotland, a country with which he was closely connected. The noble Lord proposed to reform the representation of Scotland, and no doubt it much required some reformation; and he thought, that if some of those who 1145 recollected Scotland in other times, were to rise from their graves, and hear the noble Lord's declarations on the subject, they would give his plan their most cordial assent. He might take any distinguished person of the time he alluded to, for any one would suit his purpose; but supposing Fletcher of Saltoun, who was called the last of Scotchmen, was to hear the noble Lord on this subject; suppose the noble Lord to say to Fletcher," we arc going not only to reform the representation of England and Ireland, which want it much; but of Scotland, which requires it much more," what would Fletcher say? Why, he would answer, "I am glad to hear it. It was bad enough while I was alive, but it must now be much worse;" and he would, in detailing the abuses of the system with which he was accquainted, draw a frightful picture of oppression exercised towards the lower classes, and of corruption practised by the higher, and he would tell you of religious differences among the lowlanders, and political differences among the mountaineers, which were never forgotten by either party, except for the purpose of making war on each other; and he would add to this, the still more melancholy fact, of political priests entering into all the party dissensions of the day, and masking the selfishness of their partizanship, and the ardour of their zeal under the garb of piety and virtue. This would be the picture drawn by Fletcher. Was it a true one now? How could any change, however, take place? How could Scotland under such a system, free herself from the miseries of her political condition, assuage her party differences, heal her political and religious wounds, and sweeten the waters of bitterness which overflowed the land? Her state of representation was wretchedly defective; but of her condition on that point he would take leave to read a passage from a work of considerable reputation, which he had no hesitation in naming, The Edinburgh Review. In the last Number was an article on the Representation of Scotland; the reviewer, after speaking in terms of rapture of the free elections of England, has the following passage; "It is impossible to behold this animating and ennobling spectacle, without turning with sorrow and humiliation to Scotland. This part of the empire originally' formed a kingdom by itself; and it still retains its own laws, religion, 1146 interests, feelings, and language. It contains greatly above 2,000,000 of inhabitants, who are still rapidly increasing. It is full of generally diffused wealth. Education has for ages been habitual throughout the very lowest ranks. The people are extremely peaceable, and their character for steadiness and prudence is so remarkable, that these virtues have been imputed to them as vices. "Strange topics of sorrow and humiliation these. Education, prudence, rapidly increasing wealth. "Mourn hapless Caledonia, mourn." You stagnate in wealth and prosperity, your rapidly increasing population enjoy all the blessings of industry and peace, commerce and manufactures spread their blessings o'er your land, but you do not participate in the enjoyments of freedom—you do not enjoy the power of exhibiting the majesty of public opinion—your votes are unhought and unsolicited—your Candidates are unknown and unpolled. This is the view of the workings of popular distress from the state of the Representation, on a soil which, of all others, would justify the noble Lord in planting there his standard of speculative Reform. He trusted, however, that the noble Lord would pause, and ascertain with more accuracy the details of the system of Scotland, and the manner in which the state of the Representation was interwoven with the property of that country, before he proceeded further; and he was sure, if the noble Lord did so, he would become more cautious in the application of his plans to Scotland. He had said, by inference, that there was a time when the Priests engaged in political discussions in that country. He should be most unwilling to countenance any plan that would induce them to renew that interference. There was no country on the face of the earth, not excepting Ireland, where the ministers of religion exercised so much influence over the minds of the people, and he should be sorry to be compelled to say, in the language of the Poet, to those who were at present so exclusively and laudably engaged in the performance of pure spiritual duties—Content ye with monopolizing Heaven,And leave this little hanging ball alone.He looked upon the clergy of that country as a model to the clergy of all other countries. The excitement which now existed about Reform, he was afraid 1147 did not arise from the force of argument, but from a concurrence of circumstances, and from events which had taken place on the Continent. He believed that many had been drilled to cry out for Reform, and that a re-action in time would take place. He was not surprised that the subject should be discussed among the intelligent classes, and hero he could not help observing, that the noble Lord opposite (Althorp) had taken his hon. and learned friend's expression respecting the middle classes not in the correct light, and that the noble Lord had, in that instance, assumed a tone which he could not approve, and which, he must do the noble Lord the justice to say, was not customary to him. It had been considered by some as an indisputable mark and proof of imbecility in that individual who could not be now induced to rally round the glowing and generous standard of the great Mr. Pitt's example in the early part of his political career. Much as he respected that high authority, he recollected the more matured opinions of that great and illustrious man. The eloquent advocacy of that cause he now supported had been the task of those great men, Pitt at maturity, Windham, and Canning. They had advocated that cause in language which still rung like sweet music on his ear. They were now cold in their honoured graves. If they had either changed their opinion upon this topic, or continued to advocate consistently the same doctrines as he did, there was little ground to doubt they had adopted such a course of conduct through an anxious care and watchfulness over our Constitution—that Constitution which it was their good fortune to be the means of transmitting to us unimpaired. Few among the men of this day had been since able to seize their mantle. They had been wise in their time, and been content to take the Constitution as it was, and judge it by its fruits. They felt what their duty demanded, and, like the prophet of old, boldly placed themselves between the Constitution and that dreaded plague, Reform, which was but another word for revolution. They imagined, and, perhaps, imagined wisely, that they saw in the less popular forms of this branch of the Legislature a greater security for freedom as well as for property—a safer remedy for partial or extensive distress among the community. They might be excused for not holding that constitution 1148 of the Commons House of Parliament cheap when they perceived that those who were denied, to all appearance, the hope of admission to those benches, through the disadvantages of birth or fortune—the res angustœ domi—had an entrance afforded to their talents and patriotism through those very forms which some decried, when it was to be expected that interest or prejudice would have slammed to the door in their face. Their admirers in the present day, too, might recollect the fate of the great, the eloquent, the highly-gifted, prophetic Edmund Burke, who, in merely attempting to accomplish in the Senate an act of justice towards that country which gave his great talents birth, and to which he was so patriotically devoted, was thrown out through interest, and party and narrow feeling, from the popular representation of the great city of Bristol, and was obliged, in order to insure the continuance of his valuable services to this country, and his own, in the Senate, though ostracised at Bristol, to take refuge in a borough. With such recollections, and remembering that this was not the only, though the most marked instance of such a signal service rendered to the State by the borough system, he would not hesitate to assert, that an entrance thus secured to eloquence, genius, and usefulness, was not so low but that integrity might pass in through it without stooping—that, though strait was that gate, and narrow the way, still wisdom might enter thereat without losing sight of reason and philosophy, which served as its beacons by night, as they had proved land-marks throughout its bright and glorious pilgrimage by day. The noble Lord had argued to-night for the necessity of the changes he espoused on the ground that they were become the more necessary to secure the liberty and privileges of the subject, because of the dread he entertained of the effect of his own and his colleagues' patronage as Ministers. Short as had been those Ministers', and that noble Lord's probation on the Treasury benches, they might perhaps have already learned, there was somewhat more difficulty in the attempt to legislate when on those benches, and even somewhat more difficult to attempt to address the House from thence in a tolerable speech, than they expected, before putting the experiment to trial; and they, perhaps, in this instance might be destined to find that there were on the opposite benches to 1149 them, men as independent of the mob as of the Ministry; men who were returned for boroughs, and who would not hesitate to avow their conscientious opposition to any measures, whether coming from the Crown or the Ministers, which they felt to be averse to the best interests of the community. The noble Lord had replied to the argument, that by the abolition of close boroughs, men of talent, who were destitute of wealth or connection, would find no door open to them upon the passing of such an Act, that an equal facility would be afforded them hereafter through the medium of the popular boroughs. For his part, he confessed that he did not attempt to set himself up for a prophet, yet he would not hesitate to avow, that he looked upon that assurance, on which the noble Lord seemed to calculate so confidently, with very considerable doubt. The present Attorney General, it had been said, had originally found his way into that House upon a popular representation. This was a circumstance not to be wondered at, for that Gentleman was in possession at that time of a high character in his profession, and distinguished, also, by that honest integrity and those virtues which were sure to render him a favourite with the popular party everywhere; and had an increased popularity from the part which he so signally sustained in a celebrated trial, to which, though so eminently popular, he should not further allude. In most respects this was an analogous case to that of Mr. Burke, sharing a similar fate with that great man at a popular place, and coming in through a borough, to display in that House those talents in his place here which were justly attributable to him, beyond those which' were strictly professional. It had been said, that there was a disposition manifested by the opponents of the Ministers' project, to agitate and excite alarm throughout the country, to ensure its defeat. For his part he did not feel there, was any just cause to be apprehensive of the effect of any alarm, if it were occasioned abroad. He would be the last to sanction such a practice, or to spread alarm in order to procure thereby certain political consequences. If alarm were to be apprehended, he feared it was to be derived from other sources—from the speeches of some out of doors, at Reform meetings, and from some within, on the presenting of petitions there; nor could he avoid confessing that he could 1150 not but attribute danger to the reiterated display which had been allowed lately of the tri-coloured flag—the emblem and forerunner of revolution in other countries. He entertained great respect for the French people, and wished them all possible success in their endeavours rationally to reform their Constitution; but he was not favourable to any project of theirs which might render France an emblem of discord, or the focus of revolutions throughout Europe. Though not old, he was old enough to remember the period when 800,000 men rose in this country to avert the dire omen of that flag being ever displayed on the shores of England—he was old enough to witness the agitation which then pervaded this country, He hoped this subject would not be productive of similar agitation; but that all in that House, who debated the question, would, as far as possible, preserve that calmness and prudent tone of deliberation which would prove the best preventive to violence or excitation abroad. It was on considerations such as this that, he confessed, he saw now no reason to change his opinions on the abstract merits of reform. It gave him great pain to be obliged, by a sense of duty, to take the part he had espoused in that night's Debate. However lavishly the charge of imbecility had been bestowed on all the opponents of the propositions anticipated, as emanating from Ministers by their advocates in that House, by the agency of the Press out of doors, and by the anonymous castigation which he had himself received (and to which he must bow in enforced submission), for the part which he had taken, he hoped at least to be exonerated from all charge of disputing the propriety of the measure from any bad or factious motives of his own: indeed were he to have chosen the advocacy of that side of the question which would have been most convenient, or most to his interest—that which would have redounded to his own comfort and satisfaction, in one sense, and have saved him considerable pain—it would have been directly the opposite of that which he had espoused. The sentiments he advocated were the result of his own plain reasoning and firm conviction; and what made his situation more trying and painful was, that they were at variance, he regretted to say, with the sentiments of those whom he highly esteemed. There was but one topic more to which he should address himself—namely, the argu- 1151 ment drawn from the circumstance of this being a Ministerial measure, and the noble Lord's reasoning that thence it was deserving of the attention and support of the House, as coming from his Majesty's Government. He admitted, if it were to be proposed with any sanguine hopes of success, it should emanate from the Ministry. He would so far concede to the force of that argument, that he would permit the Bill to pass the first stage, that the question might be the more fully understood when the House came to a fuller debate on its merits generally; but further he would not bow to the influence of that argument last adduced by the noble Lord. It was not so long since he had approached those benches, whereon the noble Lord sat now, as not to be aware that Ministerial measures, so called, were often imperfect and illusive. If he did not succumb to that argument of the noble Lord, it was not for the reason which the noble Lord had assigned to him and others, but because, in asking him to succumb to that great authority, supposed to be inherent in a Minister, he was, he confessed, at a loss to perceive in the present Ministers those overpowering talents and vigour of conduct which should neutralize and take away all the counter-influence which the great names and former authorities, he had quoted, had created in his mind; although he was ready to pay to the ability, assiduity, and resources which,the noble Lord brought in aid of his proposition the need of the highest praise.
rose to move the adjournment; but Sir It. Peel begged to ask, before adjourning, whether the noble Lord intended to disfranchise the voters paying scot and lot in boroughs as soon as the present lives were out.
Lord J. Russell
replied in the affirmative. The measure was to take effect at the expiration of the lives of the voters now living.
§ The Debate was then adjourned till the following day.