Lord John Russel
moved the Order of the Day for renewing the adjourned Debate on the motion "that leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Representation of the people of England and Wales," which having been read,
begged to ask the noble Lord, if it was the intention of Ministers to concentrate all their views with respect to the Reform of Parliament in the measure which was before the House, or whether they intended to have separate bills for the reform of the Irish and Scotch representation, and also for the changes proposed to be effected in the elective franchise.
Lord John Russell
remarked, that if the hon. Member had attended to the Order which had just been read by the Speaker, he would have found, that the measure now before the House related only to England and Wales; if the consent of the House was obtained to the proposed alterations, he should successively move for the introduction of Bills to Reform the Scotch Representation, and afterwards that of Ireland. These three Bills would contain the whole of the measures which Ministers proposed to introduce.
then rose and observed, that when he moved the adjournment last night, he did so under an impression that a subject of such importance as that on which they were deliberating could not receive that attention which it deserved unless he did so; but he had by no means intended to obtrude himself on the notice of the House at so early a period in the Debate as the present. Being, however, by courtesy in possession of the House, he would take that opportunity to state his opinion on this important measure. In doing this he was bound to say that, Radical Reformer as he certainly was, the plan which the noble Lord had introduced exceeded by far all the expectations that he had formed of the intentions of Ministers under the existing circumstances. He must beg the House to hear him out before they cheered him so loudly. With all the disposition which he certainly had to place confidence in the Ministers, he must candidly declare, that he could scarcely have expected them to come forward in a manner so manly and straight-forward as they had done. He was bound to acknowledge this, because there was no question of such paramount importance as that of 1157 Reform, and he felt that the Ministers had fully redeemed their pledges on this subject. He gave them this credit the more readily, because they had not, in his opinion, fulfilled their pledges on the two other subjects of economy and retrenchment, winch, however, as compared to reform, were absolutely nothing. Any changes in the representation of the country must be attended with difficulty; — how much more, then, a change like this, which was so extensive that it was from the worst scheme of representation almost to the best? Whilst the plans of the noble Lord were yet undeveloped, it had struck him that they would prove defective; but when they contemplated such changes as must meet, he was happy to say, the public expectations, he must add, that the Ministers had done wisely in avoiding to encumber the great measure of reform which they recommended, with questions which in themselves involved separate and distinct considerations, and which might be brought forward at any future period. It was, therefore, his opinion, that the considerations respecting the adoption of the Ballot had been wisely deferred until the effect of the changes which were contemplated by the present measure was tried. There might be some objections taken to separate parts of that measure; but, on the whole, the alterations it proposed promised to be productive of so much good, not only to the people of England, but also to the Crown and to the Aristocracy of this country,— that he, for one, would not, for any subordinate considerations, stand in the way, or throw any impediments in the path of Ministers with regard to its adoption. Should, however, any suggestions be thrown out in the course of the Debate which was now about to ensue, which might be advantageously adopted, he thought that Ministers would act wisely in availing themselves of those suggestions, in order that they might bring the plan of Reform to as great a degree of perfection as was possible. He had the pleasure to state to the House, that all the persons with whom he had conversed that day on the subject of Reform, had expressed their entire satisfaction in the plan which the noble Lord had propounded to the House. In his opinion, and in theirs, the Ministers had acted with perfect wisdom in meeting, as they had done, the rising wishes of the country, avoiding the risks, by proposing to effect changes legally and properly, 1158 which had been incurred on former occasions, by refusing to listen to the expression of the public wish. On this ground he was disposed to give his most cordial support to the measure; and although many of the Reformers of England would probably feel disappointed, and would think that the qualifications for voting wore too high, and that some other principle ought to be adopted in that respect, still there was too much good sense in the British community not at once to see the vast portion of good which would be gained by the measure, and not to concur in its adoption, when such manifold advantages must necessarily accrue to the whole community from its effects. And he should like to know what classes in England were more likely to derive benefit from it than the two extremes, the high and the low, who were, as experience had amply shown, always the greatest sufferers in violent and abrupt changes. The bases upon which the Reform was to be effected were those of population and property; they might have been extended to the payers of taxes and the holders of civil offices, but it would be difficult to combine all these four qualifications, and in selecting those two of the four, he thought the Government had done that which was most likely to meet the general approbation of the country. He did not say that these principles were not open to objection, but they combined, in his opinion, more advantages than could be obtained by settling the qualifications in any other manner. The two speeches that he had heard last night, on the side of the House where he stood, appeared to him to be directed against any kind of Reform whatsoever; but he would put it to the House, as well as to the country, whether they were in a situation, even to preserve the Government of the country without any Reform. A noble Lord (F. L. Gower) below him had last night painted in glowing colours the prosperity of Scotland, and had said, that if one of the old Scotch Reformers could rise from his grave, and witness the prosperity of his country, he would be more than satisfied. The noble Lord who condemned the measure and opposed Reform, thus left the House to suppose, that the prosperity of Scotland had arisen from a limited and corrupt state of representation. He admitted, that since the period to which the noble Lord alluded, Scotland had risen to a greater pitch of prosperity than 1159 any other country in Europe; but then no one could mistake to what this was owing: it was owing to the Union of Scotland with England, and to its participation in the commerce of a more wealthy and farther advanced country. He would tell the noble Lord, however, that the improvement would have been greater, and that there would have been more content, and more satisfaction, as well as more prosperity, among the people of Scotland, if they had had a different system of representation. Less than 3,000 individuals had hitherto elected all the Members for Scotland; and the present proposal of the Government was, to increase those 3,000 to 60,000. Thus there would be a sympathy between the governors and the governed, and the people and their rulers would co-operate together in harmony to advance every measure for the public good. The noble Lord was the first person whom he had ever heard say, that the state of representation in Scotland ought to remain unchanged; and as to what the noble Lord had said about the system working well, if that were true, how had it happened that the people of Scotland had risen up in arms and crowded the Table of that House with petitions for a change in the system of representation? But to return to the plan of the Ministers generally. He would not detain the House by going into the details of that plan, but content himself with one or two observations. In the first place, he perfectly concurred in what had fallen from the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) opposite, as to the propriety of reducing the number of the Members of that House. He should have been glad to reduce the number by another 100, for he was sure that 500 were enough to constitute any deliberative assembly, and he hoped, therefore, that by some future Reform, the reduction might be carried further. Hon. Gentlemen did not seem to like to be told that that House, as at present constituted, did not possess the confidence of the people: but when he asked himself the question— "Does this House possess the confidence of the people?" —and when he looked to the petitions on the Table for an answer, he found but one answer from them all, and that was "No." Was it not wise, then, to meet the demands of the community, and prevent the mischiefs which must ultimately result from persisting in turning a deaf ear to the voice of the people? Allusions 1160 had been made to the changes which they had lately witnessed upon the Continent; but to what were those changes to be attributed but to not attending in time to the desires of the people? The demands of the people would force themselves upon the attention of their rulers. He did not allude to physical force, for that was not requisite, nor was he afraid of it, since he was sure, that the influence of public opinion must prevail, and effect all that was necessary, without appealing to the aid of physical force. He would call upon those who were anxious for a beneficial change in the representation of the people of this country to support the change proposed by the noble Lord, and he would caution all men, there and elsewhere, against setting themselves up against the salutary and timely Reform which the plan of the noble Lord was calculated to effect. Let them who were inclined to do so consider the consequences which must attend the putting off Reform, before they attempted to thwart or oppose the Government on this momentous occasion. He called upon every man who valued the peace of the country, and who was desirous to promote the interests of the people of this empire, to consider the absolute necessity which there was for supporting the Government in carrying through a measure which introduced the most important alterations ever made in the state of our representation, and which was calculated to effect the greatest possible good for the country at large. He entreated hon. Members to take these measures into their most serious consideration, and he was confident that they would arrive at the same conclusions to which he had come upon this subject. Having said so much, he should not trespass further upon the time of the House, but he could not sit down without repeating his determination to give his cordial assistance and hearty support to his Majesty's Government upon this occasion.
Mr. J. V. Shelley
and several other Members rose at the same moment. The hon. Member, having been called upon by the Speaker, proceeded to observe, that he did not rise to answer the speech of the hon. member for Middlesex. He confessed, however, that, although decidedly opposed to the measure of Reform proposed by his Majesty's Ministers, that speech gave him great satisfaction. The hon. member for Middlesex talked of 1161 future Reforms, and the House had his authority that the present measure, comprehensive as it was, would not set the question at rest. He rose, however, he repeated, not to reply to the hon. member for Middlesex, but because he felt that he should be doing injustice to himself if he gave a silent vote. The vital importance of the subject which had been introduced by the noble Lord —its importance, not only to the House, but to the country, who waited for the result of their decision with breathless anxiety —might, perhaps, be considered a sufficient reason for every Member desiring to express his sentiments on it. Those who considered the proposed measure as the prelude to future anarchy and misery, and those who considered it as the best means of averting all those misfortunes which it was desirable for a nation to avoid, however they differed in opinion, must agree that the decision of that House on this question was looked to by Great Britain —and he might say by all Europe —with the utmost anxiety. For his own part, he stood peculiarly situated with regard to this question. He represented one of those boroughs (Gatton) which had been particularly alluded to by the noble Lord. He assured the House, however, that his vote on this occasion should be given without any reference whatever to any such considerations. His feeling of decided opposition to the measure proposed was founded on the conviction that it would lead to the utter subversion of order and good government. He could assure the House, that such were his conscientious feelings, and that he should not suffer any other considerations to influence his vote. He should not have felt himself justified in taking up the time of the House on a subject connected in any degree with his personal interests. He had often heard it said in that House, that the Representatives of close, or, as the noble Lord was pleased to call them "rotten boroughs," could not by any possible means give their free and unbiassed votes on any question. Now, he contended, that the only truly and thoroughly independent Members in that House were the Representatives of the close boroughs. He had not any intention of offering the slightest disrespect to those who represented large manufacturing places or counties, but he asserted, that they were all, in a certain degree, fettered by local interests and prejudices, whilst the Mem- 1162 bers for close boroughs, not being under the necessity of deferring to the views of persons having local interests, considered themselves as the Representatives of the whole country, and were necessarily purer, more unfettered, and more independent, than the Representative of a manufacturing district or of a county. The Members for boroughs, he contended, therefore, were more likely to consider any public question according to its intrinsic merits, and to give free and unfettered votes. But, if there were no other argument in favour of close boroughs, one might be found in the fact, that many of the most able, enlightened, eloquent, and useful Members of that House, were found enrolled amongst the Members of close boroughs. Was it not notorious, that many of the most eminent men now in the House —men without whom the business of Government could not go on, were the Representatives of close boroughs? Recollecting this, he would not by his vote consent to the disfranchisement of any one of them. On this subject he might refer to the speech of an able and much lamented Statesman, whose opinions on this and other subjects were frequently alluded to, and had been often quoted before —he meant Mr. Canning. The ability, the eloquence, and the talent of that right hon. Gentleman ensured him the respect even of those who were opposed to his political principles. But the sentiments of Mr. Canning, he presumed, would be received with peculiar respect by some of the right hon. Gentlemen who now occupied the Ministerial benches, and who had always acted with that distinguished Statesman. In a speech delivered by Mr. Canning, at Liverpool, in 1820, he made the following observations:—"My lot is cast under the British monarchy. Under that I have lived, under that I have seen my country flourish, under that I have seen it enjoy as great a share of prosperity, of happiness, and of glory, as, I believe, any modification of human society to be capable of bestowing; and I am not prepared to sacrifice or to hazard the fruit of centuries of experience, of centuries of struggles, and of more than one century of liberty as perfect as ever blessed any country upon the earth, for visionary schemes of ideal perfectibility, or doubtful experiments even of possible improvement."— These were the words of Mr. Canning, and, when the right hon. Gentlemen were reminded of them, it would 1163 be for them to explain the problem, which was beyond his solving, how they, the disciples of Mr. Canning, brought up in the school of that Statesman, and looking up to him as to their idol, not only sanctioned by their votes, but were the very people to bring forward this measure, in direct opposition to all the sentiments of Mr. Canning, and all the principles of his political life. It was certainly a most sweeping scheme which the Ministers had brought forward; but yet he did not think they would be very much vexed and annoyed, as many supposed, if that scheme should be defeated. They must excuse him if he thought, that though they were willing to redeem the pledge they had given upon taking office, yet now that they had become sensible of the difficulties of office, were they free again, they would not be likely to renew such a pledge, although they had used it as a coup de grace to overthrow the then declining Administration. He was convinced also, that many hon. Gentlemen believed that Ministers, but for the pledge which had been given, would not be willing to give their support or sanction to such a supposition as that made by the noble Lord. He knew he should not be able to bring forward any new argument on this subject, but he was anxious that it should not be supposed that he merely opposed the measure, because he represented a close borough. It was not because he stood there, as the noble Lord had staled, as the Representative of a green mound,— or of three ditches —or of a beautiful green park, as the noble Lord was pleased to designate it,—that he opposed the measure. He felt that it was calculated to overturn all social order and good government, and it was in accordance with that feeling that he should give the proposition every opposition in his power. If it were not presuming too much, he would address himself to those hon. Members engaged in trade or business of any kind, and ask them how the measure would affect them? How would it affect those whose business and professions obliged them to reside constantly in the metropolis? He was satisfied that, if the proposed measure was passed into a law, no one but those having a local interest, none but persons having means, and opportunity, and time to cultivate an intimacy with the voters in some district of the country, could ever hope to obtain a 1164 seat in that House. The lawyer, and the banker, and the merchant, therefore, must bid farewell to those walls for ever. In his opinion, no Government could last for six months, with such a system of representation. The affairs of the country would be neglected, and in a short time they would arrive at that climax of confusion, the ne plus ultra of Radical Reform, Universal Suffrage, and no doubt, he might add, Vote by Ballot. For the benefit of those residing in the metropolis, however, and as some compensation for the loss of the boroughs, the noble Lord proposed to give a certain number of additional Representatives to the capital. He extended his beneficence to St. Giles's-in-the-Fields, St. Martin's-lane, and the parish of Mary-le-bone — parts of the town which were fixed upon by the noble Lord on the ground of the respectability of the inhabitants, and which were in future to have the power of sending- Representatives to that House. The noble Lord, however, did not mention the parish in which he (Mr. Shelley) lived. The noble Lord probably was not aware of it; but, as the borough which he represented was held up as the first that ought to be disfranchised, it would only have been fair that the parish in which he lived should have a Representative. If that parish had come within the sphere of the noble Lord's benevolence, and was to be entitled to return a Representative, he had no reason to think that he should be elected for it; but at all events he might have a chance. He had the honour to reside in the parish of St. George, and he did not know why that parish should not be represented as as well as the parish of Mary-le-bone. [Mr. Lamb said, that St. George was in Westminster.] St. George's might be in Westminster, but why should it not have a Representative of its own, as well as St Giles's, or St. Martin's, or Finsbury, or any of the other districts to which the noble Lord intended to give the franchise? He would not trespass further on the attention of the House. He merely rose to prevent the imputation which might fall upon him if he had given a silent vote. He was decidedly opposed to the proposition of the noble Lord; and he hoped, from the bottom of his heart, that so bad a measure, so revolutionary a measure, and, he might add, so Radical a measure, would meet with decided reprobation from that House.
§ Mr. C. B. Wall
assured the House, that he should not trespass long on its attention. He was glad to observe, that the speech just made by the hon. member for Gatton was received by a part of the House as he thought it deserved; but he was sorry to see it received in a very different manner by another part of the House. It was not because the hon. Member represented a borough that his speech should be received without that deference which ought to be paid to the sentiments of every individual upon such a subject. He (Mr. B. Wall) did not know how any observations would be received from him, as he was a Member for one of the boroughs (Guildford) which, if the measure before the House was adopted, would only be permitted to send one Member to Parliament. Though he represented one of the half-pure boroughs, therefore, which it was proposed should have some share in the representation, yet, as he was to be considered as only half a man, he was apprehensive that he was only entitled to a small portion of attention from that House. He felt emboldened, however, as an independent Member of Parliament, to state his sentiments on this absorbing question, because he felt its importance to be so great, that he could not give a vote of confidence on that, as he had often done on other occasions. On such a subject he could not make any man the keeper of his conscience —nor did he think that any man could with propriety on a subject of such vast importance pin his faith upon the judgment of any other man. He confessed he looked with distrust and suspicion on any measure proposed by his Majesty's Government, and he should state the reasons. He must beg leave to call attention to the fact, that although they were unanimous on this subject now, that unanimity had only occurred at the eleventh hour. If they had been told that the measure was brought forward with doubt and fear, and trembling and anxiety, as it must be regarded by every man who had property or intelligence in the kingdom, he should have been more disposed to receive it favourably. But he must be allowed to remind the noble Lord who brought forward the measure, and of whom, though he might differ with him on any subject, he must always speak with respect and regard, that he had made no such declarations. He might be allowed, also, to remind the House how the 1166 unanimity of his Majesty's Ministers had been brought about. Their unanimity had been gained by concession and conciliation, and not without some deviation from their principles as individuals. When the Cabinet met to discuss this question, he had no doubt that one noble Lord said, "I give up Vote by Ballot;" another noble Lord said, "Then I give up the close boroughs;" and a right hon. Gentleman, not to be outdone, said, "Well, I shall give up the Scotch counties." In this way the present measure was decided upon, and the unanimity of his Majesty's Ministers concerning it reminded him of what the man said in the play on the same subject. He believed it was Puff, in the Critic, who observed, "When they do agree on the stage their unanimity is wonderful." He admitted, that there never was a question brought forward with such advantages as the present; it was brought forward with advantages which were almost unconstitutional. To one of those advantages he should merely allude, as it would be fully understood, and he feared that the Speaker might interfere if he alluded to it more particularly. There was an advantage of that sort; and also an advantage arising from the threat which had been thrown out, that, if they did not behave properly, they would be sent back to their constituents. He did not fear to be sent back to his electors; he would be glad to be sent to meet them. He wished to God the Cabinet were as unanimous on the subject of dissolution as they were on the measure of Reform. He only wished that England was more tranquil, and Ireland as they all wished her to be, and then that his Majesty's Ministers dared to put their throat of a dissolution into execution. With respect to the measure itself, he must be allowed to say, that it seemed to be founded very little on a consideration of the contents of the petitions presented to that House. The Return moved for by the hon. member for Preston (Mr. Hunt), whom he wished to speak of with the greatest respect, had not yet been laid before the House, but he was anxious, before they came to a decision on this subject, that they should know the number of petitions which prayed for such a Reform as was proposed to be granted, as compared with those which prayed for Reform, coupled with the Ballot, and other measures, not included in the proposed scheme. He would take upon him 1167 to say, before that House, and before all England, that there never was so glaring a discrepancy as that which existed between the measure proposed, and the views of the petitioners, upon which it was pretended that measure was founded and justified. He thought, that in discussing this question too little stress had been laid upon the tone and temper of that House, as contrasted with what prevailed in it in former periods. He wished to ask whether this was the age of misrule? whether any man of common sense would say, that at this time they were too apt to defer to authority? Ought any man to say, that a political Reform in Parliament was necessary, because Parliament was too subservient to Ministers? Was it not notorious that Parliament was strong, and that the Government was weak? Was there ever a period when the omnipotence of the people was so universally acknowledged in Parliament? He referred, in corroborated of this statement, to the declarations of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), and of the noble Lord (Althorp), of whom he should always speak with respect; though the noble Lord, as he conceived, had deserted his principles, now leaving him sitting at the Opposition side of the House, instead of sitting behind the noble Lord. He put it to every man who heard him, whether that House was now so constituted, that any Government could come down and be certain of a majority? He asked, whether the Members were not honest and diligent; whether, upon looking to the legislative institutions of other countries, either at present, or at any period of history, it was found that they possessed more independence with freedom, and less venality and corruption, than were to be found in the Legislature of this country. He asked with diffidence, as regarded those countries, with which he was not particularly well acquainted, whether there was any country in which property and talent were better represented than in England? He believed it would be acknowledged by every man acquainted with the history of this country, that there was not so much venality in that House as there used to be; nor were there now so many placemen Members of the House as formerly. In 1783, when the first Earl of Liverpool wrote, he mentioned that there were fifty placemen holding seats in the House of Commons. Under the last Ministry there were thirty- 1168 five Members of that House holding offices under the Crown; and he believed the number of such persons was now smaller than it had ever been. In fact, he believed there was now a difficulty in getting up a grievance on this subject. It required the microscopic eye of the hon. member for Middlesex to descry any abuse existing at present. If this picture was considered to be exaggerated, he might refer to the declaration of the right hon. member for Tamworth, (Sir Robert Peel) to show in what estimation the Government and that House held public opinion. The right hon. Baronet said on a late occasion, "that he was quite sure no Government could go on in this country without popular opinion being with them." As the right hon. Baronet might be considered as an anti-Reform witness, however, he would refer to the emphatic declaration of the noble Lord, the member for Northamptonshire, (Lord Althorp,) that "he thanked God the time was passed when the Government of this country could be carried on by patronage." It was most extraordinary that, on this subject, no one seemed anxious to state the extent to which he was willing to go. But it was most important that men should state how far they did go with those reforming principles, as they were called. He was desirous of referring to some extracts from the Westminster Review and Examiner newspaper, for the purpose of shewing what were the opinions of Reformers. Of those publications he wished to speak with respect, as he derived much information from them. He did not wish to call the attention of the Attorney and Solicitor General to those publications, with a view to any prosecution, but he wished the House to be put in possession of the opinions of the country, for he presumed it would be conceded to him, that in deciding on this question, the House ought not only to know what the Government proposed, but what the country would be satisfied with. In speaking of the Ballot, there was the following passage in the Examiner "The Ballot is the instrument that will break our bonds asunder, and dash to the dust all the foul powers of the Oligarchy. We must not omit to mention, that we observed this significant circumstance at the Middlesex. Meeting, that fervent loyalty to the Throne was expressed, together with the choice of civil war in preference to submission to 1169 existing grievances." And again — "Efficient Reform will turn the privileges of the Peers to dust and rottenness." So much for the Examiner. The extract which he would read from the Westminster Review was sharp and short:—"Anarchy is fearful, but it is a passage sharp and short; while the misrule under which the nation has suffered every sort of injury, moral, political, and financial, is a chronic disease, a continuous affliction, spoiling the health, the temper, the spirit of the community; and should it come to the question of passing through the fiery ordeal of anarchy, or supporting the system that threatens us with it, we speak the sentiments of tens of thousands when we assert, that the crisis would be preferred to the maintenance of the Oligarchy in its accursed domination;" and again— "The Aristocracy have had their long and disastrous day; it is now the time of the Demos. The choice is momentous, Reform in Parliament, with the Ballot, and a National Guard, or the Aristocracy and Anarchy." He did not know whether these extracts would make the same impression on the House as they had made on him. It was fitting, however, that the House should be aware of the opinions which some persons out of doors entertained on the subject of Reform. There were various classes of Reformers. As to the moderate Reformers, one scarcely knew what to say of them. They dealt in generalities. If asked what they objected to, they did not quite know. If asked what they wanted, they could not quite tell, though they were most ingenious and respectable persons. Perhaps he ought not to speak of them with disrespect, for it happened that he was one of the moderate Reformers himself. A noble friend of his, now a Member of the other House (Earl Dudley), made a most effective and impressive speech in favour of moderate Reform, and though that speech was made in 1817, it had never been answered up to 1831. As a moderate Reformer, he would say, that the first object was, to get rid of the measure which had been proposed. It was impossible that it should be carried. If that measure were got rid of, however, he should not be indisposed to consider whether something, far short of that, however, might not be done. When one came to look into the present state of the Representation, it was impossible not to see that there was no system. It was made 1170 up of contradictory principles; and it might be said, as there was no system in the representation, so certainly there was no system in the proposed Reform. One of the principal objects of the proposed measure appeared to be, to get rid of the Corporations of England. Now, he objected to what was brought forward as an act of grace and favour being converted into a measure of harshness and disfranchisement. The Corporations had a right to have their interests as well supported, and as maturely considered, as the interests of any other class. He was brought up to entertain great respect for Mayors and Aldermen, and he conceived it equal to talking of an equitable adjustment to think of throwing them overboard. Not only, however, were the Mayors and Aldermen to be thrown over—to that he might have been reconciled in his old age —but, as he lived in a district purely agricultural, he had no certainty, that in a few years there would be any representation at all. Population was in future to be the standard of representation. Cornwall had forty-two Members; it was proposed that it should have only twelve Members. Hampshire, the county in which he resided, was to have three boroughs disfranchised — Petersfield, Stockbridge, and Whitchurch. The compensation which that county was to receive was two additional county Members. As something was taken, away, however, Portsmouth was to continue, which always returned two Whig Members, it happening to be a Whig Corporation. An hon. relation of his was one of the Members, but, under the proposed plan, two of the junior Lords of the Admiralty would always represent Portsmouth, whoever should happen to be Ministers. They had last night a description of the Privy Councillors going in great state to divide the counties. It was to be feared, however, that their journeys would be most frequently to the North. The stream of population, with the manufacturing skill and industry of the country, was flowing northwards, where there was abundance of coals, and where machinery could be advantageously brought into use. Hereafter, therefore, the representation of the country would be confined exclusively to the northern districts. Even now it was not proposed to give Dorsetshire an additional Member, and, in process of time, Hampshire and 1171 Wiltshire, and Dorsetshire, and Surrey, too, would be left without Representatives. As to the additional Members for London, that part of the plan had been so ably adverted to by the hon. member for Gatton, that he (Mr. Wall) had little to say on it. It was quite clear, however, that if two Members were given to Marylebone, in a short time Paddington would be clamorous and Hampstead factious for Representatives. Yet the noble Lord talked of this as the final settlement of the question. The noble Lord could not wait even for a new census; and founded his Bill on what appeared to be an unjust principle; for if the noble Lord had taken the census of 1800, where would Brighton and Cheltenham have been? Those towns had no existence in 1800; but in the census on which the noble Lord proceeded, Brighton appeared to have 25,000 inhabitants, and Cheltenham 15,000. The noble Lord, however, was so eager for the final settlement of this question, that he would not wait for the new census; which was certainly unjust to those towns which had increased much in population, since the last census. He did not wish to go into the question, whether the nomination boroughs had been the means of introducing into that House the great and eminent men, who, from time to time, had enlightened it with their advice; but he would ask the noble Lord, if he had digested any plan for the return of those who held places in the Government, or if he thought they would be returned under the operation of his measure? Neither did he think that a reformed House of Commons, on the plan of the noble Lord, would be the best qualified for the discussion of difficult question. He knew not whether such a House would be the most capable of dealing with all the difficulties of the West-India question, or with the niceties of free trade in corn, or with many others which were likely to come under discussion before long. Upon the whole, he thought that some of the cities of refuge should be preserved. He also doubted whether a reformed House of Commons would have passed the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, as the last Parliament had done, to its honour. It was not difficult to anticipate, too, that times might arise when it would be necessary for that House to resist a popular outcry in favour of war. But, in addition to all this, he would say that be did not wish o see that House a purely 1172 democratic assembly. He wished to see the Constitution with its three Estates of King, Lords, and Commons; but he also wished to see the connection between aristocracy and democracy still subsisting in that House. It was curious to observe the infusion of popular feeling which had made its way into the House of Lords since its numbers had been increased. It was obvious that, at the present day, it partook much of the character of a popular assembly. But, while the popular influence had increased, that of the Clergy had remained stationary; and no doubt it would be a satisfaction to the hon. member for Middlesex to know, that, from the change which had taken place in the constitution of the Mouse of Lords, a Bishop, at the present day, was only one-seventh part as dangerous as a Bishop at the commencement of the reign of George 3rd. In their reasonings upon this subject, they ought not to forget that Gatton and Old Sarum were not creations of yesterday, and that what the Examiner called the "foul oligarchy" existed in old times, when the language which had lately been used with regard to the transactions at Stamford and Newark, would not have been borne, though it was probable such consideration would produce but little effect upon those who considered the accident of birth a misfortune, and a hereditary Peerage a curse. His opinions might not be popular in that House; but nothing could have induced him to give them utterance if he did not conscientiously believe that they were well founded. He was not one of those who considered the machinery of Reform of so much importance as some appeared to do. He would remind the House, that the spirit of Reform was abroad, and that all they had to do was, so to guide and control that spirit, as to render it, as it ought to be, conducive to the dignity of the Crown, the safety of the national institutions, and the good of the people.
Lord Viscount Newark,
in replying to one or two observations of the Gentleman who last addressed the House, said, that he believed the official Members then in the House, would find no difficulty in retaining the seats which they at present held. With respect to Cornwall, which as the hon. Gentleman complained, was to have only twelve Members in future, instead of the present forty-two, he was sure that the people of that shire did not feel them- 1173 selves at all represented by the present Members, and that they were well satisfied with the effectual Representation which they would have under the Bill of his noble friend. They would look with more satisfaction to the change in the quality of the Representation than they would have looked to an increase of the number of their Representatives; and they by no means considered themselves aggrieved by the diminution of that number. He was far from participating in the satisfaction of the hon. member for Gatton, at the declaration of the hon. member for Middlesex. He was very sorry to hear that expression. Instead of hearing the hon. Member say that he considered the present measure only a stepping-stone to God knows what, in future, he had expected that he would be more than satisfied by the Bill. He had in his hand the speech of an hon. Member of that House, of considerable influence, to whom he would not more particularly allude than to say, that the speech was delivered in July last, at the close of the last Session, indeed, on the last occasion when the House met in a Committee of Supply. The hon. Member had then said, "that he would take that opportunity of making a few remarks, which, if proper attention were paid to them, would be productive of the greatest advantage to the country. The great subject of complaint, the hon. Member had said, was the excessively burthen-some nature of taxation, and he would venture to suggest to the country at large, that the means of reducing it, would be soon placed once more in its power. Upon analyzing the Constitution of that House, he had discovered that it was still in the power of the people of England, if they were true to themselves, to return a majority of Members independent not only of the borough-holders, but of Ministers themselves. The hon. Member then added, "that seventy-five out of the 100 Irish Members were really elected by the people, and which made a total of 369 Members who might be compelled, if electors only performed their duty, to support every proposition for the public good." The hon. Member had then observed, "that a great man (Mr. Pitt) had said, that it was utterly impossible for an honest man to sit in that House as a Minister, but that he hoped that the day was gone by, and that it was no longer necessary 1174 for a Minister to be a rogue."* He (Lord Newark) doubted not that that would be considered a high authority to justify him in saying, that the people had no right to complain of malversation on the part of Ministers, when they themselves had the corrective in their hands, did they possess the virtue to exercise it. Though he fully concurred in the assertion that the people had the means of correction in their own hands, even in the present state of the Representation, yet he was decidedly favourable to Reform; for the virtue of the people, however great, would not be at all the worse for the assistance which a regular and well-ordered Representation would supply. There could be very little doubt that the sympathy which formerly existed, and which at all times ought to exist, between the people and their Representatives, had of late, and especially within the last two years, been greatly diminished. Such being the fact, how could the Government and the Legislature look for that support which could alone be derived from the people, and which, in times so overcast as the present, became doubly important. Though, as he had stated, he was a warm and sincere friend to the measure of Reform, he was not so sanguine as to expect that it would all at once produce the effects which its more enthusiastic advocates anticipated. He did not suppose that at a moment's warning it would put an end to all the corruption which had formed so extensive and so just a subject of complaint; for as long as two parties were found ready and willing to play at the game of corruption, so long would it be continued; but it was the vainest of all possible expectations to imagine that a reformed Parliament would not do more than anything else to abate the evil. At all events, what he would say was this, that the time had arrived when the Parliament was bound to take the just complaints of the people into consideration; when they were bound to admit that the people were not fairly represented in that House, and redress the grievance which was involved in the admission. He confessed that, for his own part, when he first heard the scheme of his Majesty's Ministers, he was not prepared for a measure altogether so sweeping. He trusted* See Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, Vol. xxv, New Series, p. 1074.1175 that they might, in some respects, be induced to modify it; for the boroughs proposed to be disfranchised included many which were not in the nomination of individuals. Nevertheless, if the mutter came to the push, he would rather adopt the proposition of Ministers to disfranchise all those boroughs, on the one hand, than, on the other, to have no Reform at all. If he were reduced to that alternative, he should not hesitate to give the Bill of his noble friend all the advantage which could be derived from his humble support, even though not one letter of it should be altered.
§ Lord Darlington
said, that the details of the measure, as stated by the noble Lord opposite, were perfectly clear and intelligible, and that statement had been made and supported in a manner highly creditable to his talents and reputation. It was impossible for a bad cause to have had a better advocate. Nothing could possibly be added to the number, the force, or the value of the arguments which he had brought forward; but at the same time it was to be observed, that the noble Lord brought forward those arguments like an able counsel; he dwelt chiefly upon topics favourable to his own view of the subject, and only noticed those objections to his plan which, he confidently believed, admitted of being fairly and conclusively answered. Though the noble Lord had treated the question as one which admitted of little being said on the side of it opposed to himself, yet it was nevertheless true, that much might be said on both sides; and, as an unprejudiced and independent Member of Parliament, he felt it to be his duty to give the question then before the House, his most attentive consideration—carefully to weigh the arguments on both sides, and adopt that which was most recommended by reason. It might be said, that he was himself one of the aggrieved parties, by the measure under consideration that night. Perfectly true; but did it thence follow that he was incompetent to form a right judgment upon the matter at issue? He should deem himself utterly unworthy of a seat in that House, were he capable of being influenced by such considerations. He should despise himself, were he guilty of allowing anything like party-spirit to have the slightest weight with him, in any vote which he might give in that House. He entertained the highest personal and pri- 1176 vate respect for the noble Lord opposite, and for many of his political friends; he was, therefore, no party man; he never had evinced towards them a feeling of hostility at any period, neither should he on the present occasion. So far from thwarting any measure of the present Administration, he should adopt a totally opposite course; but he must be allowed to say, with reference to this Reform question, that at every step he encountered barriers insurmountable. He trusted that, in laying before the House the considerations suggested to his mind by the question which the noble Lord opposite had brought under their consideration he should obtain that candid hearing, and that fairness and just allowance, to which every hon. Member was entitled. He had considered the matter most deeply and attentively—he had given it all the consideration in his power—he had arrived at no rash conclusion; and in coming to the discussion of it, he was influenced by no motives, except those which arose from an earnest desire to promote the welfare and the interest of the great body of the people. The question of Reform had now been agitated for more than half a century, but within the last, two years, and more especially within the last six months, it had become an object of paramount importance. He, of course, could not conceal from himself—neither could any hon. Member of that House shut his eyes to the fact, that the late revolutions in France and Belgium had considerable influence in producing this change in the public mind. It was also to be observed, that the question of Reform partook somewhat of mystery, for it might be nothing, and it might be everything. The principal persons who desired Reform were, he believed, the middle classes, who had been gradually growing up into power and wealth, and the very lowest classes, who were the mere tools in the hands of ambitious and designing men. They had been taught that Reform was to annihilate taxation; and they expected, by a change in the representation, to be elevated to opulence and power, and to wrest from the hand which had long and successfully wielded it, the sceptre of dominion. After they had set aside the constitutional laws, the laws relative to property would follow, and a general scramble and general confusion would be the result. He was ready to admit, that the representative system was 1177 not quite perfect, but the country had, for a period of more than 150 years, enjoyed a degree of prosperity, under existing institutions, which was unparalleled at any antecedent period. He was still not so bigotted as those who thought that no concession ought to be made. On the contrary, he said, that new and respectable classes of men were rising in society, that commercial wealth was increasing, and he certainly was of opinion, that each and every respectable class should have the means of making their wants and wishes known to the Legislature, by Representatives of their own choosing. On this principle he admitted the necessity of giving Representatives to some of the large towns, though he felt some difficulty as to the best method of accomplishing that. The best plan seemed to be, that those which were called Rotten Boroughs should be carefully observed, and when they could be detected in any act of delinquency, they should be deprived of their charter; for that would be nothing more than their just deserts, and their franchise transferred to more thriving places. He certainly was one of those who thought, that as new interests arose, manufacturing and otherwise, they ought to be represented in that House; but he could not, therefore, consent all at once to disfranchise so many boroughs, which was, in effect, the confiscation of so much private property, without compensation to the owners of those boroughs. There were two points upon which he was prepared to insist—namely, the enfranchisement of the large towns, and the disfranchisement of certain boroughs, when their guilt deserved it, or if compensation were made to the owners of them; but so long as he had a sinew in his right arm, he would oppose the present sweeping measure of confiscation, as he would oppose every approach to Universal Suffrage, or Annual Parliaments. He confessed, that though so much opposed to the sentiments of the noble Lord, he rejoiced that that noble Lord had not advocated the Ballot. He hoped he should never see the day, when any Minister of the Crown would sanction such a motion. There was one topic which he could not conclude without adverting to—namely, the frequent use which had been made of the occasional distresses which afflicted the country, and which were inseparable from any state of society. Reform could relieve no distress, It was the most cruel delu- 1178 sion, to persuade people in distress that they could derive any advantage from Reform. For persons in distress, the best appeal would be, to the benevolent feelings of the upper classes. Finally, he could never agree with the supporters of the proposed Bill—he could never agree with those who sought to demolish the social structure, for the purpose of erecting their own temple in its stead.
§ Lord Ebrington
felt, that he should ill discharge the duty he owed to his constituents, representing as he did the large county of Devon, if he did not request the indulgence of the House—an indulgence to which no claims of his own entitled him—while, on behalf of his constituents and of himself, he returned thanks to the noble Lord opposite, and to his Majesty's Ministers—to that united Cabinet which had deputed the noble Lord to propose so important and so acceptable a measure; and to those thanks might he be permitted to acid an humble expression of gratitude to their gracious master, who had given his sanction to a proposal so calculated to benefit his people.
§ An hon. Member rose to order. He conceived, that any allusions to the opinion of the Sovereign, with the view of influencing the votes of hon. Members in that House, was clearly a breach of order. It was, there could not be a doubt on the subject, most unconstitutional to attempt to influence the opinions of Members of that House by any allusion to the sentiments of the Sovereign. In a word, he wished to know if it was orderly or constitutional for any hon. Member to attempt to influence the votes of that House by any introduction of the name of the Sovereign?
§ The Speaker.
The hon. Member has asked, whether it is constitutional in any Member to introduce the name of the Sovereign, with a view to bias the judgment of the House? In answer to the hon. Member, I have only to say, that, if he be fully persuaded that the data on which he proceeded is well-founded, in assuming that the name of the Sovereign was introduced for the purposes of bias or intimidation, then there can be no doubt that nothing could be more disorderly than the introduction of that name into any debate or discussion in which this House could be engaged; but, at the same time, if it should appear that the name of the Sovereign, was introduced merely for the pur- 1179 pose of stating to the House, or rather reminding the House of what was well known—namely, that by the Constitution, Ministers were responsible for the measures they proposed, and the Sovereign, possessing by his prerogative the power of changing his Ministers, the Constitution presumed that every act or measure of the Administration had, by the fact of their continuance in office, the sanction of the Sovereign. And it was not, therefore, disorderly to call the attention of the House to anything which, by the Constitution, the House, it was presumed, already knew. It was no communication respecting the sentiments of the Sovereign, for it communicated nothing, if the Ministers of the Crown were acting constitutionally, which the House did not know before hand.
§ Lord Ebrington
resumed. He hoped that the hon. Member was now satisfied; he trusted that the hon. Member was satisfied, that though what, had been a little inconsistent, with the strict theory of order in that House, yet that it was not inconsistent with what had been the practice of the House of late years. Not only was it the practice of that House, but he could, from the other House of Parliament, produce authority of the very highest order, for an allusion as direct, perhaps more direct, and stronger than that which he had made to the sentiments of the Sovereign—an allusion which had been made in the course of a debate not many years ago. To return to the subject with which he had set out. He felt it to be his duty, on behalf of his constituents, and in his Own name, to return thanks in the most emphatic manner to the noble Lord, and to his Majesty's Government, for the measure which had been proposed— they were thanks that would soon be reechoed from every part of the country, if there should be time to present the petitions that would be forwarded expressive of those thanks. The deepest gratitude was due to the Government for the safe measure—safe, because it was efficient and full. With one exception, the hon. members who opposed the Bill of his noble friend had urged arguments which made against the principle of the measure altogether—that exception was the hon. Member for Guildford—and he must be allowed to say, that the line that hon. Member took was worthy of the structure he defended; that speech was able and eloquent—full of ingenious and forcible rea- 1180 soning. The hon. Member amused himself with detailing supposed debates in the Cabinet on the subject which then occupied the attention of the House—debates which certainly never took place, and which, if they had taken place, never could have been known to him. He alluded to the violent temper in which those supposed debates were carried on; and when he asked the House to reject the Bill, he gave, in his own speech, an illustration of the tone and temper in which it might be supposed that he thought the debates of that House ought to be carried on—a tone which was marked by a degree of asperity certainly not called for by anything which fell from the supporters of the measure. Referring to the arguments which had been used by hon. Members on the other side, he observed, that every one of them was opposed to the general principle of Reform; but, even as such, they were of small weight or value. It was no reason for continuing the franchise to Old Sarum, to say that it had been a decayed village 500 years ago—the original grant was a gross abuse of power, for the purpose of enabling the Earl of Salisbury to send a hereditary Representative into that House. Its continuance now was an insult and an injury to the whole people, and little compensation it would be to the inhabitants of Birmingham, Manchester, or Halifax, to be told that Old Sarum had been decayed and rotten since the middle of the thirteenth century, yet it had returned Members to that House with as ample a privilege as could be enjoyed by the most wealthy and respectable portions of the middle classes —those classes upon whom the present Bill proposed to confer more extended suffrages as the most fit to elect Representatives to sit in that House. He was proud to say, that he owed his seat to shopkeepers, tradesmen, and other persons belonging to the middle classes; but he was nevertheless connected with the aristocracy, and he should be the last man in the world to desire to see that body overthrown. He, however, apprehended no such result from the present measure, and he hailed with great satisfaction a Bill, the object of which was, to increase the influence of the middle classes, and add to the respectability of the electors throughout the kingdom, particularly increasing in numbers that great class to whom he owed his seat. The noble Lord on the 1181 bench behind him was apprehensive that the measure went too far. He had no such fear; he had been, he confessed it, for many years a moderate Reformer; he was for paring off gradually a few at a time of the imperfections which had arisen upon the body of the Representation, getting rid at intervals of some of the decayed and rotten boroughs; but he since had reason to change his Opinions. Still he could admire the chivalry which had been displayed in the defence of Gatton and Old Sarum—a chivalry worthy of a better cause. As he had already said, he had been for many years a moderate Reformer; but, on the most mature reflection, he had now arrived at the full persuasion, that if the principle were once conceded, the removal of one portion of the abuses existing would leave the remaining parts without defence. He, therefore, hailed with satisfaction a measure which would give due weight to all the several portions of the constitutional body, and to every interest in the State; and he hoped, that when the Bill was passed, it would have the effect—as far as any human law could have such an effect, —of conciliating the people of the empire; and of reviving, in a great degree, that sympathy and confidence which had once subsisted, and ought always to subsist, between the constituency and their Representatives. The sympathy which, he contended, ought to subsist between the people out of doors, and the Members of that House, had of late years been gradually declining; and, in his opinion, nothing would do more to revive it than the measure of his noble friend. In saying thus much, he was desirous to be understood as not giving up those opinions which he before entertained respecting some of the details of the Bill, but he should consider himself as an enemy to Reform, and to those principles which he had always advocated, if he were to suffer any difference of opinion he might entertain as to details to interfere with his support of the measure itself. He, for one, was happy to give up his opinion as to the shortening of Parliaments, and as to Vote by Ballot, in order to secure the success of a measure fraught with such immense benefits to the country and to the people. He sincerely hoped, that no advocate for Reform would press forward measures which could have a tendency in any way to interfere with the Bill before the House. He was well 1182 convinced that the majority of his constituents were favourable to the Vote by Ballot, but still he could fearlessly go to them, and say, that he had given up his opinions in order to secure to his country the good which must inevitably result from this Bill, He did not wish to hold out any thing as a threat, but seeing, as he did, the feeling which pervaded the country, he thought he should not be doing his duty if he did not inform the House what he believed would be the consequences if they were to reject the present measure. Such a step on the part of that House could not fail to widen the breach between the people out of doors and their Representatives within, and this to such an extent that he dreaded even the contemplation of it. The confidence of the country would be entirely withdrawn from the House, —[Cries of "No, no!" from the Opposition benches]. Hon. Members opposite cried "No, no!" and such might be their opinion; but as an honest man he could assure the House, that he had not expressed one word beyond what, he in his heart believed. Believing as he did, he put it to the House whether he should have performed his duty to the House or to the country if he had concealed his opinions.
§ Lord Stormont
said, that though he could not give the smallest support to the measure of the noble Lord, he was most anxious that leave should be given to bring in the Bill, in order that the House and the country might be enabled to form an opinion upon its merits. Then would be the real time for expressing a correct opinion on the curious measure which had been brought forward on the previous night. The present system of representation had been in that House termed a farce; but he might in vain search every dictionary, lexicon, or book, to find a word calculated to describe the Motion of the noble Lord. The course of events, however, in the present Session, had fortunately furnished him with an epithet; and he would therefore denominate it the Budget of Reform. The noble Lord had divided his opponents into two parties, and the one he had described as fools, the other as bigots: those, according to the noble Lord, were the fools who were armed with the Mambrino helmet of Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage; and he (Lord Stormont) should certainly leave those hon. Gentlemen to fight their own battle. For himself, he presumed that he 1183 was to take credit for being one of the bigots; and last night he had certainly found himself in a curious position, for he had on each side of him a staunch Reformer, but he was much delighted on looking a little further to the right, where he saw the Achilles of Anti-Reform (Sir Charles Wetherell) to whom he should be proud to acknowledge himself the Patroclus. There were three points with respect to the Motion of the noble Lord, on which he wished to observe; first, as to the manner in which it had been brought forward; secondly, as to the time when it had been brought forward; and thirdly, as to the provisions of the measure itself. In the first place, as to the manner in which it had been brought forward. The noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had told them, shortly after the Recess, that though this was to be a Cabinet question, it was to be brought forward, by a member of the Government indeed, but not by any Cabinet Minister; which he supposed had been adopted that they might be able to say, when the measure was lost, that it had not been a Cabinet measure. But he was now coming to a matter of much greater importance—he meant that system of intimidation which had been used by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. A most unconstitutional threat had been held out, that if they refused to adopt the measure which the Ministers in their wisdom might think proper to bring forward, the Parliament should be dissolved. Were such expressions as those to be tolerated from any Government, or from any set of individuals? In the name of his Majesty they had been intimidated over and over again, though care had been taken, as the noble Lord (Ebrington) that night had done, just to keep within the bounds of order. No doubt, the name of his Majesty had great power over many individuals, but he trusted that that power did not extend to the House of Commons. But if any hon. Member had been so influenced, let him tell him, that he was unworthy of a seat in that House. He would admit that the noble Lord had most ingeniously brought forward his threats and intimidations, by telling the House of what he called the just demands of the people; and though the noble Lord had retracted what he had said on the speech of his hon. friend, the member for Oxford (Sir R. Inglis), and used the word "redress," he (Lord Stormont) would like to know the 1184 difference between those two words. The greatest caviller must own that the difference was only the splitting of a hair; and when the noble Lord had used them, they had recalled to his mind a passage in a great Poet, so adapted to the present case, that he could hardly help believing that the prescient mind of that bard had dived into the obscurity of future time, and perceived that the day must come— alas! a most dreadful day for England— in which the Ministers would propose that dreadful measure which had been brought forward last night. The passage was in Coriolanus, and was an address to the Senate on the influence which the commonalty of the country was supposed to have:——Let deeds expressWhat's like to be their words:—'We did request it;We are the greater poll, and in true fear,They gave us our demands.' Thus we debaseThe nature of our seats, and make the rabbleCall our cares, fears: which will in time break opeThe looks o' the Senate, and bring in the crowsTo peck the eagles.When the great bard wrote this, his prophetic mind must have whispered him that such a Motion as this would be one day made. And now with respect to the time when it had been brought forward. Was the present a period of peace or tranquillity, at home or abroad, that the Government had thought proper to bring forward a measure like this, which, according to their own confession, threatened to disturb the tranquillity of the country? When they saw the dreadful influence which threats abroad had had in this country—when they saw the flame of discord spreading from the Southern counties to the East and to the West—when they saw the minds of men excited almost beyond precedent, this, of all others, was the moment when Government had chosen to bring forward such a measure —this was the moment at which they called on the House for a cool and dispassionate decision—that they called on Members not to be influenced by any party consideration or feeling. He contended that the minds of many Members at that moment must be greatly agitated, for they had too many interests at stake not to be so. He wished to ask the noble Lord one question about this Bill, which he trusted would soon be before the House, that they might examine all its details, On what principle did the 1185 noble Lord assert that it was to restore the Constitution? The disfranchisement of an immense number of boroughs was to take place, and amongst others the borough which he had the honour to represent (Aldborough). He did not know that it was of any importance whether he represented 1000 or 100 persons, but he did know that Aldborough was now as large as ever it was. That borough, as it happened, was surrounded with walls; the walls, indeed, had crumbled away, but their site still remained; and as the place was as fully occupied now as it was formerly, it was evident that no alteration whatever in point of number could have taken place in the constituency of that place. It was the interests of that borough that he had been sent to support in Parliament, and almost the first vote that he was called upon to give, was one that would pronounce civil death to his constituents. But according to the noble Lord's statement, there were no less than 168 Gentlemen who were called upon to do the same thing. He, however, thought there were not 168 Gentlemen to be found anywhere who would be ready to vote their own damnation [loud laughter.] He knew that that was rather a strong phrase, but it was pretty near the truth for all that. They had, however, been told that they were to have a Reform in principle; and when, therefore, a popular Government—and, as some thought, a clever Government—had brought forward the measure, he should have thought that some principle would be proposed to extend to every part of the country. The question, therefore, which he wished to ask the noble Lord, if his measure was founded upon principle, was, why he had left two members for Tavistock? Why he had left two Members for Knaresborough? There were other places that might be mentioned, an hon. Member near him said Calne, but it was already admitted, that there was a deviation of principle, and that established the fact to which he wished to attract the attention of the House, namely, that, it was a measure to protect Whig boroughs,— not give to the people a full and fair representation. This Bill, it appeared, was the joint labour of the whole family that now formed the Government, every member of which family was pledged to some particular hobby. They all had hobbies, and they had all shown how skilfully they could ride them. They rode them, per- 1186 haps, in different ways, but at all events, with an equal share of briskness. The noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) for his hobby had the Budget. He (Lord Stormont) believed, however, that, that had been lent the noble Lord by a friend; and he, therefore, was not surprised that the noble Lord had met with a full. The noble Lord's hobby, however, was not killed when it threw his Lordship; and he should never forget, when it had been brought in, two days after, how the noble Lord had laid it at their feet, and called on the Vice-president of the Board of Trade to make its funeral oration. This, then, was the unanimous Cabinet! This was the Cabinet that had so sweetly shown its harmony and unanimity on the Sugar Duties, when the Gentlemen on the back bench had been so doubtful which way they should have to vote, that they had been glad to make the excuse of going to dinner, for jumping up from their seats and quilting the House When, therefore, he was called upon to vote blindfold, and to give up his opinion as a matter of course to the Ministers, he thought that he could not do better than look back at their previous conduct, to see if they deserved confidence. This measure, as it extended to Scotland, affected him most particularly; for though he possessed interests in England, he possessed still greater interests in Scotland. The great wish of the Government seemed to be, that the country should have a popular Representation. But when the Scotch Representation was added to that of England, it was in the same form in which it had originally existed. That form had never been intended to be a popular Representation [hear, hear!] Gentlemen might say, "hear, hear!" but his statement was correct. It had never been intended to be a popular Representation, but a Representation of the land and the owners of the land. The petitions that had come from Scotland had been, that a Member might be given to each county; but the noble Lord had contrived to jumble the counties together, and this was the way in which he pretended to listen to the petitions of the people. But many hon. Gentlemen must be aware of the manner in which those petitions had been got up; and many would support him when he averred, that he would engage to get up a greater number of petitions against no Parliament at all, than against? a reformed Parliament. The fact was, that 1187 the people of Scotland preferred peace to revolution; they wanted to have their ancient institutions preserved to them, and they wanted to be left alone. In short they preferred their own institutions, founded on practice, to any the noble Lord could offer them founded on theory. These were his sentiments; and it was with these sentiments that he called on all hon. Gentlemen to allow this Hill to go forth to the country. Let it be sent to them with its true bearings, and with the debates on this occasion. Let them have the arguments on that side of the House, and on the other side of the House; for what he wished was, that an impartial course should be taken. He was not one of those who were opposed to a measure of Reform, merely because it was a measure of Reform; but when he compared the noble Lord's present Motion with what had been brought forward year after year, he could not help thinking, that if he understood his plan lightly, Reform would be revolution, possession would be spoliation, and, sooner or later, religion would become atheism.
Sir John Walsh
wished to give the noble Lord his tribute of praise for the manner in which he had brought forward his measure. The manner in which he had stated the plan was such as to put the House clearly in possession of all its details, and at once to submit its principle in its fullest scope to their observation. The measure, however, appeared to him not so much a Reform of the existing Parliament, as an entirely new formation of the Government of the country. He was aware of the talent possessed by the present Ministry; and it would not be impeaching their talents, when he said, that not even they would be able to estimate all the consequences that would follow upon the carrying" of this measure—they could not estimate what would be the change to the whole government and state of the country in a very brief period. The first objection which struck him as to the measure was, that it contained an abortive attempt to set up two principles, both of which appeared to him to be erroneous. The first was that of reverting to the early period of our history—to a period when he could not think that, in fact, this country enjoyed any of those blessings which in the course, of time its industry and independence had obtained. When the noble Lord referred to the reign of Edward 1st, and in the year 1831 wished 1188 to copy the rules adopted by an arbitrary Monarch in a remote age, he could not conceive that those rules could be so modified as to suit the country as it at present existed. It was well known that in those periods the Commons were thought so little of in the State, as the interpreters of the will or the interests of the nation, that, in the first instance, it was supposed that that House was separate from the other, because the Peers disdained to hold communication with a body of men so inferior in station. The other principle, which he thought erroneous was that of rendering the Representation co-extensive with property; for property in itself was so vague a term, that, after all, they must resort to the question of expediency; and the only question was, whether the 10l. qualification which was proposed, was as likely to give honest and independent electors as the present qualification. The noble Lord had referred to three grievances under which the people suffered from the present system of Representation. But he (Sir J. Walsh) was surprised, that as the noble Lord had paid so much attention to the wants of the middle orders, he had not perceived that all their petitions had stated another grievance, viz. that they had associated Retrenchment with Reform. These two appeared to them like the Siamese twins, not exactly the same, yet so closely united, that in the minds of the public it was difficult to disunite them. He could understand, that in the present, situation of the Ministers they had not resorted so much to that argument as they might have done, for they probably felt, as Ministers, that the retrenchment which was supposed to be so practicable, would, if pushed to too great a length, be subversive of the interests of the country; and as the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had stated in his place, that after the fullest investigation they could not reduce taxation, but only patronage, he could conceive that the Government must have felt great difficulty in this part of the question when, it found the people praying for these two things united. If the retrenchment demanded was unadvisable, in his opinion the Reform was so likewise, for either retrenchment should be coexistent with Reform, or, getting Reform, that retrenchment would follow which would sacrifice the best interests of the country. When the noble Lord brought 1189 forward this Motion, he stated, that he was desirous of bringing forward a Motion so complete that it should satisfy the wants of the people. Now he (Sir J. Walsh) could not help thinking, that any Reform which did not produce the concomitant of retrenchment would not satisfy those expectations which the people had—or rather which they had been taught to indulge. For himself, he should have pursued a different mode of satisfying the people. He should have thought that he could best have satisfied the people, by satisfying, in the first place, themselves of the reason and justice of the measure proposed. He could not help thinking, that by giving way to the fluctuations of popular opinion, they were following something which they could never be able to overtake. There was in this country a great fund of good sterling sense—a great fund of good feeling and indulgence towards those who conscientiously performed their duties; and the people would not be displeased with any Member who conscientiously gave his vote on this occasion according to the dictates of his own feelings. Such was his opinion of the people, and of the best mode of satisfying them. Numbers had been talked of as influencing this question, but if that was to be taken into consideration, there was another body, most numerous, which, though unrepresented, had been committed to their charge—a body which had no voice, but the still small voice within Members' own breasts—he meant the descendants of the present people for whom they were bound to have the most careful consideration. This argument was of course, referrable to those hon. Gentlemen only who suffered themselves to be swayed by what, they conceived to be the opinions out of doors; while, to those who really thought that Reform was necessary, these observations would not apply. Let them take the instance of a Jury who was sitting on the life of a man, with the supposition that there was a popular clamour without for his acquittal or condemnation. In such a case, the Jury would not be justified in listening to that popular clamour. He valued human life as much as any one could do; but, at the same time, he could not put the life of one man in competition with the fate and destiny of a whole country; and he therefore said that they were bound to decide on the inherent merits of this measure, without 1190 listening to any clamour which was supposed to exist. As he had felt obliged thus far to make an attack upon the measure of the Government, he would take the liberty of defending them on one point. The noble Lord (Stormont) had accused the Ministry of holding out an intimidation of the dissolution of Parliament; and he certainly had heard the right hon. Baronet make use of that observation; but he did not think that it had been stated as a threat; for it appeared to him, that if the Ministers carried this measure, they would be bound to dissolve the Parliament in a very short time; so that, after all, this was only a sort of plus and minus; and cither it was not intended as an intimidation, or, at all events, it was a mistaken intimidation; for hon. Gentlemen must feel, that in both cases this sword of Damocles was suspended over their heads.
It is a circumstance, Sir, of happy augury for the measure before the House, that almost all those who have opposed it have declared themselves altogether hostile to the principle of Reform. Two Members, I think, have professed, that though they disapprove of the plan now submitted to us, they yet conceive some alteration of the Representative system to be advisable. Yet even those Gentlemen have used, as far as I have observed, no arguments which would not apply as strongly to the most moderate change, as to that which has been proposed by his Majesty's Government. I say, Sir, that I consider this as a circumstance of happy augury. For what I feared was, not the opposition of those who shrink from all Reform,—but the disunion of reformers. I knew, that during three months every reformer had been employed in conjecturing what the plan of the Government would be. I knew, that every reformer had imagined in his own mind a scheme differing doubtless in some points from that which my noble friend, the Paymaster of the Forces, has developed. I felt therefore great apprehension that one person would be dissatisfied with one part of the Bill, that another person would be dissatisfied with another part, and that thus our whole strength would be wasted in internal dissensions. That apprehension is now at an end. I have seen with delight the perfect concord which prevails among all who deserve the name of reformers in this House, and I trust that I may consider it as an omen of the concord which will pre- 1191 vail among reformers throughout the country. I will not, Sir, at present express any opinion as to the details of the Bill; but having during the last twenty-four hours, given the most diligent consideration to its general principles, I have no hesitation in pronouncing it a wise, noble, and comprehensive measure, skilfully framed for the healing of great distempers, for the securing at once of the public liberties and of the public repose, and for the reconciling and knitting together of all the orders of the State. The hon. Baronet (Sir John Walsh) who has just sat down has told us, that the Ministers have attempted to unite two inconsistent principles in one abortive measure. He thinks, if I understand him rightly, that they ought either to leave the representative system such as it is, or to make it symmetrical. I think, Sir, that they would have acted unwisely if they had taken either of these courses. Their principle is plain, rational, and consistent. It is this, —to admit the middle class to a large and direct share in the Representation, without any violent shock to the institutions of Our country [hear!] I understand those cheers—but surely the Gentlemen who utter them will allow, that the change made in our institutions by this measure is far less violent than that which, according to the hon. Baronet, ought to be made if we make any Reform at all. I praise the Ministers for not attempting, under existing circumstances, to make the Representation uniform—I praise them for not effacing the old distinction between the towns and the counties,—for not assigning Members to districts, according to the American practice, by the Rule of Three. They have done all that was necessary for the removing of a great practical evil, and no more than was necessary. I consider this, Sir, as a practical question. I rest my opinion on no general theory of government—I distrust all general theories of government. I will not positively say, that there is any form of polity which may not, under some conceivable circumstances, be the best possible. I believe that there are societies in which every man may safely be admitted to vote [hear!]. Gentlemen may cheer, but such is my opinion. I say, Sir, that there are countries in which the condition of the labouring classes is such that they may safely be intrusted with the right of electing Members of the Legislature. If the labourers of England were in 1192 that state in which I, from my soul, wish to see them,—if employment were always plentiful, wages always high, food always cheap,—if a large family were considered not as an encumbrance, but as a blessing— the principal objections to Universal Suffrage would, I think, be removed. Universal Suffrage exists in the United States without producing any very frightful consequences; and I do not believe, that the people of those States, or of any part of the world, are in any good quality naturally superior to our own countrymen. But, unhappily, the lower orders in England, and in all old countries, are occasionally in a state of great distress. Some of the causes of this distress are, I fear, beyond the control of the Government. We know what effect distress produces, even on people more intelligent than the great body of the labouring classes can possibly be. We know that it makes even wise men irritable, unreasonable, and credulous—eager for immediate relief—heedless of remote consequences. There is no quackery in medicine, religion, or politics, which may not impose even on a powerful mind, when that mind has been disordered by pain or fear. It is therefore no reflection on the lower orders of Englishmen, who are not, and who cannot in the nature of things be highly educated, to say that distress produces on them its natural effects, those effects which it would produce on the Americans, or on any other people,—that it blunts their judgment, that it inflames their passions, that it makes them prone to believe those who flatter them, and to distrust those who would serve them. For the sake, therefore, of the whole society, for the sake of the labouring classes themselves, I hold it to be clearly expedient, that in a country like this, the right of suffrage should depend on a pecuniary qualification. Every argument, Sir, which would induce me to oppose Universal Suffrage, induces me to support the measure which is now before us. I oppose Universal Suffrage, because I think that it would produce a destructive revolution. I support this measure, because I am sure that it is our best security against a revolution. The noble Paymaster of the Forces hinted, delicately indeed and remotely, at this subject. He spoke of the danger of disappointing the expectations of the nation; and for this he was charged with 1193 threatening the House. Sir, in the year 1817, the late Lord Londonderry proposed a suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. On that occasion he told the House, that, unless the measures which he recommended were adopted, the public peace could not be preserved. Was he accused of threatening the House? Again, in the year 1819, he brought in the bills known by the name of the Six Acts. He then told the House, that, unless the executive power were reinforced, all the institutions of the country would be overturned by popular violence. Was he then accused of threatening the House? Will any Gentleman say, that it is parliamentary and decorous to urge the danger arising from popular discontent as an argument for severity; but that it is unparliamentary and indecorous to urge that same danger as an argument for conciliatory measures? I, Sir, do entertain great apprehension for the fate of my country. I do in my conscience believe, that unless this measure, or some similar measure, be speedily adopted, great and terrible calamities will befal us. Entertaining this opinion, I think myself bound to state it, not as a threat, but as a reason. I support this measure as a measure of Reform: but I support it still more as a measure of conservation. That we may exclude those whom it is necessary to exclude, we must admit those whom it may be safe to admit. At present we oppose the schemes of revolutionists with only one half, with only one quarter of our proper force. We say, and we say justly, that it is not by mere numbers, but by property and intelligence, that the nation ought to be governed. Yet, saying this, we exclude from all share in the government vast masses of property and intelligence,—vast numbers of those who are most interested in preserving tranquillity, and who know best how to preserve it. We do more. We drive over to the side of revolution those whom we shut out from power. Is this a time when the cause of law and order can spare one of its natural allies? My noble friend, the Paymaster of the Forces, happily described the effect which some parts of our representative system would produce on the mind of a foreigner, who had heard much of our freedom and greatness. If, Sir, I wished to make such a foreigner clearly understand what I consider as the great defects of our system, I would conduct him through that great city which lies to 1194 the north of Great Russell-street and Oxford-street,—a city superior in size and in population to the capitals of many mighty kingdoms; and probably superior in opulence, intelligence, and general respectability, to any city in the world. I would conduct him through that interminable succession of streets and squares, all consisting of well-built and well-furnished houses. I would make him observe the brilliancy of the shops, and the crowd of well-appointed equipages. I would lead him round that magnificent circle of palaces which surrounds the Regent's-park. I would tell him, that the rental of this district was far greater than that of the whole kingdom of Scotland, at the time of the Union. And then I would tell him, that this was an unrepresented district! It is needless to give any more instances. It is needless to speak of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, with no representation; or of Edinburgh and Glasgow with a mock representation. If a property-tax were now imposed on the old principle, that no person who had less than 150l. a year should contribute, I should not be surprised to find, that one-half in number and value of the contributors had no votes at all; and it would, beyond all doubt, be found, that one-fiftieth part in number and value of the contributors had a larger share of the representation than the other forty-nine-fiftieths. This is not government by property. It is government by certain detached portions and fragments of property, selected from the rest, and preferred to the rest, on no rational principle whatever. To say that such a system is ancient is no defence. My hon. friend, the member for the University of Oxford (Sir R. Inglis) challenges us to show, that the Constitution was ever better than it is Sir, we are legislators, not antiquaries. The question for us is, not whether the Constitution was better formerly, but whether we can make it better now. In fact, however, the system was not in ancient times by any means so absurd as it is in our age. One noble Lord (Lord Stormont) has to-night told us, that the town of Aldborough, which he represents, was not larger in the time of Edward 1st than it is at present. The line of its walls, he assures us, may still be traced. It is now built up to that line. He argues, therefore, that, as the founders of our representative institutions gave Members to Aldborough when it was 1195 as small as it now is, those who would disfranchise it on account of its smallness have no right to say, that they are recurring to the original principle of our representative institutions. But does the noble Lord remember the change which has taken place in the country during the last five centuries? Docs he remember how much England has grown in population, while Aldborough has been standing still? Does he consider, that in the time of Edward 1st this part of the island did not contain two millions of inhabitants? It now contains nearly fourteen millions. A hamlet of the present day would have been a place of some importance in the time of our early Parliaments. Aldborough may be absolutely as considerable a place as ever. But compared with the kingdom, it is much less considerable, by the noble Lord's own showing, than when it first elected burgesses. My hon. friend, the member for the University of Oxford, has collected numerous instances of the tyranny which the kings and nobles anciently exercised, both over this Mouse, and over the electors. It is not strange, that, in times when nothing was held sacred, the rights of the people, and of the Representatives of the people, should not have been held sacred. The proceedings which my hon. friend has mentioned, no more prove, that, by the ancient constitution of the realm, this House ought to be a tool of the king and of the aristocracy, than the Benevolences and the Ship-money prove their own legality; or than these unjustifiable arrests, which took place long after the ratification of the great Charter, and even after the Petition of Right, prove that the subject was not anciently entitled to his personal liberty. We talk of the wisdom of our ancestors —and in one respect at least they were wiser than we. They legislated for their own times. They looked at the England which was before them. They did not think it necessary to give twice as many Members to York as they gave to London, because York had been the capital of Britain in the time of Constantius Chlorus; and they would have been amazed indeed if they had foreseen, that a city of more than a hundred thousand inhabitants would be left without Representatives in the nineteenth century, merely because it stood on ground which, in the thirteenth century, had been occupied by a few huts. They framed a representative system, which was 1196 not indeed without defects and irregularities, but which was well adapted to the state of England in their time. But a great revolution took place. The character of the old corporations changed. New forms of property came into existence. New portions of society rose into importance. There were in our rural districts rich cultivators, who were not freeholders. There were in our capital rich traders, who were not liverymen. Towns shrank into villages. Villages swelled into cities larger than the London of the Plant agents. Unhappily, while the natural growth of society went on, the artificial polity continued unchanged. The ancient form of the representation remained; and precisely because the form remained, the spirit departed. Then came that pressure almost to bursting—the new wine in the old bottles—the new people under the old institutions. It is now time for us to pay a decent, a rational, a manly reverence to our ancestors —not by superstitiously adhering to what they, under other circumstances, did, but by doing what they, in our circumstances, would have done. All history is full of revolutions, produced by causes similar to those which are now operating in England. A portion of the community which had been of no account, expands and becomes strong. It demands a place in the system, suited, not to its former weakness, but to its present power. If this is granted, all is well. If this is refused, then comes the struggle between the young energy of one class, and the ancient privileges of another. Such was the struggle between the Plebeians and the Patricians of Rome. Such was the struggle of the Italian allies for admission to the full rights of Roman citizens. Such was the struggle of our North American colonies against them other country. Such was the struggle which the Tiers Elat of France maintained against the aristocracy of birth. Such was the struggle which the Catholics of Ireland maintained against the aristocracy of creed. Such is the struggle which the free people of colour in Jamaica are now maintaining against the aristocracy of skin. Such, finally, is the struggle which, the middle classes in England are maintaining against an aristocracy of mere locality—against an aristocracy, the principle of which is to invest 100 drunken, pot-wallopers in one place, or the owner of a ruined hovel in another, with powers 1197 which are withheld from cities renowned to the furthest ends of the earth, for the marvels of their wealth and of their industry. But these great cities, says my hon. friend, the member for Oxford, are virtually, though not directly represented. Are not the wishes of Manchester, he asks, as much consulted as those of any town which sends Members to Parliament? Now, Sir, I do not understand how a power which is salutary when exercised virtually, can be noxious when exercised directly. If the wishes of Manchester have as much weight with us, as they would have under a system which should give Representatives to Manchester, how can there be any danger in giving Representatives to Manchester? A virtual Representative is, I presume, a man who acts as a direct Representative would act: for surely it would be absurd to say, that a man virtually represents the people of property in Manchester, who is in the habit of saying No, when a man directly representing the people of property in Manchester would say Aye. The utmost that can be expected from virtual Representation is, that it may be as good as direct Representation. If so, why not grant direct Representation to places which, as every body allows, ought, by some process or other, to be represented? If it be said, that there is an evil in change as change, I answer, that there is also an evil in discontent as discontent. This, indeed, is the strongest part of our case. It is said that the system works well. I deny it. I deny that a system works well, which the people regard with aversion. We may say here, that it is a good system and a perfect system. But if any man were to say so to any 658 respectable farmers or shopkeepers, chosen by lot in any part of England, he would be hooted down, and laughed to scorn. Are these the feelings with which any part of the Govern men t ought to be regarded? Above all, are these the feelings with which the popular branch of the Legislature ought to be regarded? It is almost as essential to the "Utility of a House of Commons, that it should possess the confidence of the people, as that it should deserve that confidence. Unfortunately, that which is in theory the popular part of our Government, is in practice the unpopular part. Who wishes to dethrone the King? Who wishes to turn the Lords out of their House? Here and there a crazy radical, 1198 whom the boys in the street point at as he walks along. Who wishes to alter the constitution of this House? The whole people. It is natural that it should be so. The House of Commons is, in the language of Mr. Burke, a check for the people— not on the people, but for the people. While that check is efficient, there is no reason to fear that the King or the nobles will oppress the people. But if that check requires checking, how is it to be checked? If the salt shall lose its savour, wherewith shall we season it? The distrust with which the nation regards this House may be unjust. But what then? Can you remove that distrust? That it exists cannot be denied. That it is an evil cannot be denied. That it is an increasing evil cannot be denied. One Gentleman tells us that it has been produced by the late events in France and Belgium; another, that it is the effect of seditious works which have lately been published. If this feeling be of origin so recent, I have read history to little purpose. Sir, this alarming discontent is not the growth of a day or of a year. If there be any symptoms by which it is possible to distinguish the chronic diseases of the body politic from its passing inflammations, all these symptoms exist in the present case. The taint has been gradually becoming more extensive and more malignant, through the whole life-time of two generations. We have tried anodynes. We have tried cruel operations. What are we to try now? Who flatters himself that he can turn this feeling back? Does there remain any argument which escaped the comprehensive intellect of Mr. Burke, or the subtlety of Mr. Wyndham? Docs there remain any species of coercion which was not tried by Mr. Pitt and by Lord Londonderry? We have had laws. We have had blood. New treasons have been created. The Press has been shackled. The Habeas Corpus Act has been suspended. Public meetings have been prohibited. The event has proved that these expedients were mere palliatives. You are at the end of your palliatives. The evil remains. It is more formidable than ever. What is to be done? Under such circumstances, a great measure of reconciliation, prepared by the Ministers of the Crown, has been brought before us in a manner which gives additional lustre to a noble name, inseparably associated during two centuries with the dearest 1199 liberties of the English people. I will not say, that the measure is in all its details precisely such as I might wish it to be; but it is founded on a great and a sound principle. It takes away a vast power from a few. It distributes that power through the great mass of the middle order. Every man, therefore, who thinks as I think, is bound to stand firmly by Ministers, who are resolved to stand or fall with this measure. Were I one of them, I would sooner—infinitely sooner—fall with such a measure than stand by any other means that ever supported a Cabinet. My hon. friend, the member for the University of Oxford tells us, that if we pass this law, England will soon be a republic. The reformed House of Commons will, according to him, before it has sat ten years, depose the King, and expel the Lords from their House. Sir, if my hon. friend could prove this, he would have succeeded in bringing an argument for democracy, infinitely stronger than any that is to be found in the works of Paine. His proposition is in fact this—that our monarchical and aristocratical institutions have no hold on the public mind of England; that those institutions are regarded with aversion by a decided majority of the middle class. This, Sir, I say, is plainly deducible from his proposition; for he tells us, that the Representatives of the middle class will inevitably abolish royalty and nobility within ten years: and there is surely no reason to think that the Representatives of the middle class will be more inclined to a democratic revolution than their constituents. Now, Sir, if I were convinced that the great body of the middle class in England look with aversion on monarchy and aristocracy, I should be forced, much against my will, to come to this conclusion, that monarchical and aristocratical institutions are unsuited to this country. Monarchy and aristocracy, valuable and useful as I think them, are still valuable and useful as means, and not as ends. The end of government is the happiness of the people: and I do not conceive that, in a country like this, the happiness of the people can be promoted by a form of government, in which the middle classes place no confidence, and which exists only because the middle classes have no organ by which to make their sentiments known. But, Sir, I am fully convinced that the middle classes sincerely wish to uphold the Royal prerogatives, and the constitu- 1200 tional rights of the Peers. What facts does my hon. friend produce in support of his opinion? One fact only—and that a fact which has absolutely nothing to do with the question. The effect of this Reform, he tells us, would be, to make the House of Commons all-powerful. It was all-powerful once before, in the beginning of 1649. Then it cut off the head of the King, and abolished the House of Peers. Therefore, if this Reform should take place, it will act in the same manner. Now, Sir, it was not the House of Commons that cut off the head of Charles the 1st; nor was the House of Commons then all-powerful). It had been greatly reduced in numbers by successive expulsions. It was under the absolute dominion of the army. A majority of the House was willing to take the terms offered by the King. The soldiers turned out the majority; and the minority—not a sixth part of the whole House—passed those votes of which my hon. friend speaks—votes of which the middle classes disapproved then, and of which they disapprove still. My hon. friend, and almost all the Gentlemen who have taken the same side with him in this Debate, have dwelt much on the utility of close and rotten boroughs. It is by means of such boroughs, they tell us, that the ablest men have been introduced into Parliament. It is true that many distinguished persons have represented places of this description. But, Sir, we must judge of a form of government by its general tendency, not by happy accidents. Every form of government has its happy accidents. Despotism has its happy accidents. Yet we are not disposed to abolish all constitutional checks, to place an absolute master over us, and to take our chance: whether he may be a Caligula or a Marcus Aurelius. In whatever way the House of Commons may be chosen, some able men will be chosen in that way who would not be chosen in any other way. If there were a law that the hundred tallest men in England should be Members in Parliament, there would probably be some able men among those who would come into the House by virtue of this law. If the hundred persons whose names stand first in the alphabetical list of the Court Guide were made Members of Parliament, there would probably be able men among them. We read in ancient history, that a very able king was elected by the neighing of his horse. But we shall 1201 scarcely, I think, adopt this mode of election. In one of the most celebrated republics of antiquity—Athens—the Senators and Magistrates were chosen by lot; and sometimes the lot fell fortunately. Once, for example, Socrates was in office. A cruel and unjust measure was brought forward. Socrates resisted it at the hazard of his own life. There is no event in Grecian history more interesting than that memorable resistance. Yet who would have offices assigned by lot, because the accident of the lot may have given to a great and good man a power which he would probably never have attained in any other way? We must judge, as I said, by the general tendency of a system. No person can doubt that a House of Commons chosen freely by the middle classes will contain many very able men. I do not say, that precisely the same able men who would find their way into the present House of Commons, will find their way into the reformed House—but that is not the question. No particular man is necessary to the State. We may depend on it, that if we provide the country with free institutions, those institutions will provide it with great men. There is another objection, which, I think, was first raised by the hon. and learned member for Newport (Mr. H. Twiss). He tells us that the elective franchise is property— that to take it away from a man who has not been judicially convicted of any malpractices is robbery—that no crime is proved against (he voters in the close boroughs—that no crime is even imputed to them in the preamble of the Bill—and that to disfranchise them without compensation, would therefore be an act of revolutionary tyranny. The hon. and learned Gentleman has compared the conduct of the present Ministers to that of those odious tools of power, who, towards the close of the reign of Charles the 2nd, seized the charters of the Whig Corporations. Now there was another precedent, which I wonder that he did not recollect, both because it was much more nearly in point than that to which he referred, and because my noble friend, the Paymaster of the Forces, had previously alluded to it. If the elective franchise is property—if to disfranchise voters without a crime proved, or a compensation given, be robbery— was there ever such an act of robbery as the disfranchising of the Irish forty-shilling freeholders? Was any pecuniary com- 1202 pensation given to them? Is it declared in the preamble of the bill which took away their votes, that they had been convicted of any offence? Was any judicial inquiry instituted into their conduct? Were they even accused of any crime? Or say, that it was a crime in the electors of Clare to vote for the hon. and learned Gentleman who now represents the county of Waterford—was a Protestant forty-shilling freeholder in Louth, to be punished for the crime of a Catholic forty-shilling freeholder in Clare? If the principle of the hon. and learned member for Newport be sound, the franchise of the Irish peasant was property. That franchise, the Ministry under which the hon. and learned Member held office, did not scruple to take away. Will he accuse the late Ministers of robbery? If not, how can he bring such on accusation against their successors? Every Gentleman, I think, who has spoken from the other side of the House has alluded to the opinions which some of his Majesty's Ministers formerly entertained on the subject of Reform. It would be officious in me, Sir, to undertake the defence of Gentlemen who are so well able to defend themselves. I will only say, that, in my opinion, the country will not think worse either of their talents or of their patriotism, because they have shown that they can profit by experience, because they have learned to see the folly of delaying inevitable changes. There are others who ought to have learned the same lesson. I say, Sir, that, there are those who, I should have thought, must have had enough to last them all their lives of that humiliation which follows obstinate and boastful resistance to measures rendered necessary by the progress of society, and by the development of the human mind. Is it possible that those persons can wish again to occupy a position, which can neither be defended, nor surrendered with honour. I well remember, Sir, a certain evening in the month of May, 1827. I had not then the honour of a seat in this House; but I was an attentive observer of its proceedings. The right hon. Baronet opposite, (Sir R. Peel) of whom personally I desire to speak with that high respect which I feel for his talents and his character, but of whose public conduct I must speak with the sincerity required by my public duty, was then, as he is now, out of office. He had just resigned the Seals of the Home De- 1203 partment, because he conceived that the Administration of Mr. Canning was favourable to the Catholic claims. He rose to ask whether it was the intention of the new Cabinet to repeal the Test and Corporation Acts, and to Reform the Parliament. He bound up, I well remember, those, two questions together; and he declared, that if the Ministers should either attempt to repeal the Test and Corporation Acts, or bring forward a measure of Parliamentary Reform, he should think it his duty to oppose them to the utmost. Since that declaration was made nearly four years have elapsed; and what is now the state of the three questions which then chiefly agitated the minds of men? What is become of the Test and Corporation Acts? They are repealed. By whom? By the late Administration. What has become of the Catholic disabilities? They are removed. By whom? By the late Administration. The question of Parliamentary Reform is still behind. But signs, of which it is impossible to misconceive the import, do most clearly indicate, that, unless that question also be speedily settled, property and order, and all the institutions of this great monarchy, will be exposed to fearful peril. Is it possible, that Gentlemen long versed in high political affairs cannot read these signs? Is it possible that they can really believe that the Representative system of England, such as it now is, will last till the year 1860? If not, for what would they have us wait? Would they have us wait merely that we may show to all the world how little we have profited by our own recent experience? Would they have us wait, that we may once again hit the exact point where we can neither refuse with authority, nor concede with grace? Would they have us wait, that the numbers of the discontented party may become larger, its demands higher, its feeling more acrimonious, its organization more complete? Would they have us wait till the whole tragi-comedy of 1827 has been acted over again; till they have been brought into office by a cry of "No Reform! "to be reformers, as they were once before brought into office by a cry of "No Popery! "to be emancipators? Have they obliterated from their minds—gladly perhaps would some among them obliterate from their minds — the transactions of that year? And have they forgotten all the transactions of the succeeding year? Have they 1204 forgotten how the spirit of liberty in Ireland, debarred from its natural outlet, found a vent by forbidden passages? Have they forgotten how we were forced to indulge the Catholics in all the license of rebels, merely because we chose to withhold from them the liberties of subjects? Do they wait for associations more formidable than that of the Corn Exchange,— for contributions larger than the Rent,— for agitators more violent than those who, three years ago, divided with the King and the Parliament, the sovereignty of Ireland? Do they wait for that last and most dreadful paroxysm of popular rage, —for that last and most cruel test of military fidelity? Let them wait, if their past experience shall induce them to think that any high honour or any exquisite pleasure is to be obtained by a policy like this. Let them wait, if this strange and fearful infatuation be indeed upon them,—that they should not see with their eyes, or hear with their ears, or understand with their heart. But let us know our interest and our duty better. Turn where we may, —within,—around,—the voice of great events is proclaiming to us, Reform, that you may preserve. Now, therefore, while every thing at home and abroad forebodes ruin to those who persist in a hopeless struggle against the spirit of the age,— now, while the crash of the proudest throne of the continent is still resounding in our ears,—now, while the roof of a British palace affords an ignominious shelter to the exiled heir of forty kings,—now, while we see on every side ancient institutions subverted, and great societies dissolved,—now, while the heart of England is still sound,—now, while the old feelings and the old associations retain a power and a charm which may too soon pass away,—now, in this your accepted time,— now in this your day of salvation,—take counsel, not of prejudice,—not of party spirit,—not of the ignominious pride of a fatal consistency,—but of history,—of reason,—of the ages which are past,— of the signs of this most portentous time. Pronounce in a manner worthy of the expectation with which this great Debate has been anticipated, and of the long remembrance which it will leave behind. Renew the youth of the State. Save property divided against itself. Save the multitude, endangered by their own ungovernable passions. Save the aristocracy, endangered by its own unpopular 1205 power. Save the greatest, and fairest, and most highly civilized community that ever existed, from calamities which may in a few days sweep away all the rich heritage of 60 many ages of wisdom and glory. The danger is terrible. The time is short. If this Bill should be rejected, I pray to God that none of those who concur in rejecting it may ever remember their votes! with unavailing regret, amidst the wreck of laws, the confusion of ranks, the spoliation of property, and the dissolution of social order.
said, that the hon. member for Calne had applied himself to so many branches of the subject, he had considered it in so many different lights and bearings, that he hardly knew to which of his observations he ought first to reply. He would first advert to some of the remarks with which he had concluded, particularly the charge of inconsistency brought by him, and by the noble Lord, (J. Russell) against his side of the House, for opposing the disfranchisement of boroughs, after conceding the disfranchisement of the forty-shilling freeholders in Ireland. He had heard that remark— or rather taunt—with astonishment, not only from its inapplicability and injustice, but also from the rashness which could induce that side of the House to charge any other persons with inconsistency. The House could not already have forgotten—that mass of blunders, the Budget, which left his Majesty's Ministers no other choice than immediate concession or certain defeat, which obliged them to discard those very measures they had so lately brought forward, and which made them come down to the House, after only two days, and, like Frankenstein, shrink back in horror from the monster of their own creation. But, without leaving the limits of the particular subject before the House, were there no inconsistencies connected with it, which should make the hon. Member a little cautious in imputing inconsistency to others? Have not a very great number of those who now advocate the cause of Parliamentary Reform, firmly and decidedly withstood it, during the whole of their previous lives? Did not the noble Mover himself, who made the proposal to diminish its numbers by sixty, only last year bring down another proposal for increasing them by six? The noble Lord would excuse his opposition, for it was founded on his own arguments. 1206 He approved of the plan for extending the elective franchise to Leeds, Birmingham, and Manchester—it was legal and constitutional, founded on expediency, and upheld by precedent; it bore no affinity whatever to the measure now before the House, which had been justly characterized as revolutionary, and destructive to all our ancient institutions. He was happy to bear his humble tribute of admiration to the eloquence and talent with which the hon. member for Calne had addressed the House; finding in him another proof of the utility find advantage of the reviled close boroughs. By what other means could young men of talent and promise, having (as perhaps might be his case, and he meant anything but offence or personal reflection on the hon. Gentleman) no very extensive landed possessions, no influence in any large commercial or manufacturing town, obtain seats in that House? and would it not be a great misfortune were the country to forego their services? By what other means could any Government whatever, be carried on? He could find an example of the injury which would attend the Government from the want of such a system, in the case of the right hon. member for Windsor (Mr. Stanley). For that right hon. Member he felt the highest respect, it would be a great loss were he not a Member of this House, and in what situation would his Majesty's Government be placed, if their confidential minister for Ireland, in the present crisis of that country, had no seat in the House of Commons, and had not when rejected by the potwallopers of Preston, been accepted by the royal burgesses of Windsor? To the measure of granting the elective franchise to some great commercial towns, he was warmly a friend; but of the present measure he was as warmly an opponent. If that imaginary traveller first conjured up by the noble Mover, and again brought upon the stage by the hon. member for Calne, were, as that hon. Member supposed, to come to London, he would bring him within the walls of the House, and shew him a great measure supported not only on different, but entirely on opposite grounds. He would make him observe, that while the hon. member for Calne asserted, that this measure was intended to benefit the middle classes, the hon. member for Middlesex said, that he supported it, because it would benefit the upper and the lower, 1207 that one man supported it because he hoped it might be final,—another because he hoped it might be only a first step to "some future Reform;" that one supported it because he considered our present laws and institutions good, and another because he thought them bad—the one to preserve, and the other to subvert them. He would make that stranger observe, above all, the intimidation and the threats with which the measure was sought to be forced forward. The words "revolution" and "massacre," for instance, were used by the hon. member for Calne, though he said, that he meant no threat. The House was told, that if it did not pass the Bill, there would be a dissolution — and this was no threat; it was told that there would be a massacre—and this, forsooth, was no threat. The House was told it must vote for this measure if it wished to avoid a revolution. Why the measure itself was a revolution. It would produce the downfall of all our ancient institutions. To what then did the argument ad terrorem really amount? In order to prevent a change, the House must make a change; and must rush into the danger to escape the apprehension; when he heard that it was necessary to adopt this measure in order to preserve our ancient Constitution, he was reminded of Sir Boyle Roach, who, in some debate in the Irish House of Commons, declared, that it was sometimes necessary to sacrifice a part of the Constitution, or even the whole of it, on purpose to preserve the remainder! So, the hon. member for Calne called upon the House to sacrifice the whole Constitution, on purpose to preserve it. He had not risen from any personal interest in the question—neither he nor his family had the slightest parliamentary influence to defend. Neither had he done, so from any party feeling—he entered the House without being pledged or connected with any party whatever. He had not done so either from personal vanity, for in a question so overwhelming as this, any new and untried Member must, of course, be eclipsed by the high talents and mature experience that would be brought into the discussion. But he had done so from a strong, an imperious, and a conscientious sense of duty, being convinced that our whole Constitution 'would speedily sink under such a rash course of empirical experiment. When he was told of public feeling, he was ready to admit, that it was very strong; 1208 but he was as firmly convinced that it was only temporary, founded on misrepresentation, falsehood, and delusion; and in opposition to the hon. member for Calne, who called it "deep-rooted," and "of ancient standing," or some such phrase,—he asserted, that with the greater part of the community it was of very recent growth. On this point he would quote the authority of the hon. member for Stockbridge, (Mr. Wilbraham) whom he did not see in his place, and whom he was the more disposed to name from the independence and integrity of his long parliamentary career. That hon. Member speaking on the East Retford case, in May, 1829, observed, that he had throughout life been an advocate of what he called "that ill-omened, and now almost forgotten cause of Parliamentary Reform." He could bring forward other proofs of the same kind, but he would leave them to the distinguished speakers whom the House was anxious to hear. He would only say, that unbiassed by personal interest or party attachment, and looking only to the good of the country, he felt himself bound to condemn this measure, and in every stage of its progress should give it his feeble, but earnest opposition.
§ Mr. Hunt
addressed the House at that early period because he was not very well, and did not anticipate that he should hear anything very instructive or new from the eloquent speeches of other hon. Members, on a subject to which he had devoted his life. He had listened attentively to everything which had fallen from both sides, and must say, that the plan of the noble Lord had gone far beyond his anticipations. He believed he had been personally alluded to, as having taken a prominent part in this subject, and hoped therefore that he should not be considered presumptuous in delivering his sentiments on that occasion. He meant to do so unequivocally, because his voice was the voice of millions. The noble Lord had described his measure as coming between those who resisted all Reform, and those who wanted too wide and sweeping a Reform; and he hoped the noble Lord would not, to use an old adage, between these two stools fall to the ground. The noble Lord who spoke from that side of the House (Lord Stormont) said, there ought to be no Reform; and as that noble Lord's sentiments were cheered by those on that side of the House, he should adopt 1209 the sentiments of the noble Lord as the sentiments of the opponents of the measure. In like manner he would assume, that the hon. member for Calne's speech expressed the sentiments of those who sat on the Ministerial side of the House. And he must say, that he was extremely sorry to hear that hon. and learned Member assert, in his eloquent speech, that we ought to give Representatives to the middle classes, to prevent the lower classes from having Representatives. He regretted to hear that sentiment, because it was by no means calculated to conciliate the lower classes, and reconcile them to the measure of the noble Lord. When the hon. and learned member for Calne (Mr. Macauley) talked of the rabble as opposed to what he was pleased to call the middle classes, did he mean to admit, that, in taking away from that rabble the right of choosing Representatives, he was also willing to exempt them from the payment of the taxes—from serving in the Militia, or from being called on to fight the battles of their country. Every man in the kingdom knew his opinions on these matters. He had always advocated, both outside of the walls of that House and within them, the principle of an equality of political rights. He had always contended, and would still continue to contend, that every man who paid taxes to the State was entitled to a vote in the choice of his Representatives, and that taxation and Representation should go hand in hand. Was he, then, to be told by the hon. member for Calne, that those who fought in the army and the navy of their country—who paid the greatest portion of the taxes—who were called on to contribute to the support of the Government, by taxes levied on almost every article of human subsistence—was he to be told by the hon. member for Calne, that those persons were unfit to choose their Representatives, and that the plan then before the House gave an extension of suffrage to the middle classes, in order to prevent the lower classes from obtaining their rights? This was the declaration of the hon. Member, this was the principle of the measure before the House; and he spoke the sentiments of millions, when he declared that it would give no satisfaction to those who were justly entitled to the exercise of their constitutional privileges. It had been said, that the plan now before the House was not Reform, but revolu- 1210 tion. He, too, would admit it to be revolution when it was proved to him that the rotten boroughs were a portion of the Constitution. Now, when the hon. member for Calne was talking so much of the rabble, he looked very hard at him [loud laughter.] He understood that laugh. He was sorry the hon. member for Calne had not remained in his place, that he (Mr. Hunt) might look now in the same way at him. [Mr. Macauley here resumed his seat.] Well, he saw the hon. Member now, and he asked him again if he was prepared to exempt all these from the payment of the taxes, and from public service, who did not possess a vote for a Representative? He asked the hon. Member if he was prepared to do this, and he asked, at the same time, if he knew from what class of men those votes were taken? Did he know, or did the noble Lord who brought forward this measure know, who were the voters of Ilchester, of Ludgershall and of some of the boroughs of Cornwall? He knew what class of men the voters for Ilchester were—a place where he had been confined two years and a half [great laughter.] That laugh he understood again, but he repeated, he knew the electors of Ilchester, and that they frequently ran up a score of from 30l. to 35l. between one election and another, depending solely on the candidates to defray the bill when they came to solicit their votes. Many of them, indeed almost the whole of them, could neither read nor write, and yet it was to them, not to those who really possessed property, that the noble Lord continued the right to vote. It had always been his opinion, that that House should really be what it pretended to be, the representation of the Commons of England—and far be it from him to say, because the people of llchester were poor, that they were unfit to possess the right of returning Representatives. He had always contended for the admission of the whole of the tax-payers to that right, and he would continue to do so, in spite of all the laughs which might be raised against the claims of the rabble. He had for years attended public meetings. Aye, public meetings, composed of men a great deal more intelligent and better educated than the inhabitants of that most degraded and rottenest of all rotten boroughs, the borough of Calne. How the noble Paymaster of the Forces could have passed 1211 over that rottenest, stinkingest, skulkingest of boroughs, he could not understand. He could not tell how the noble Lord had exempted it from that general destruction which he had so properly dealt out to the others. They had been told, that if the measure now before them was not carried, its rejection would lead to revolution and massacre. What sort of massacre? When he attended a meeting at Manchester, in the year 1819—when he attended that meeting—a meeting as peaceable and as orderly as that now assembled in the House of Commons, and met, too, for as peaceable and constitutional an object—the attainment of constitutional Reform; when that meeting took place, there was a real massacre. A drunken and infuriated yeomanry [loud cries of "no, no!" and "Question!"]—a drunken and infuriated yeomanry, with swords newly sharpened, [reiterated cries of "No!" and "Question!"]—with swords newly sharpened, slaughtered fourteen, and maimed and wounded 648 [shouts of "No" and "Question"!]. Where is the man who will step forward and say "No." I say again (said the hon. Member, in a tone of voice louder and louder still, which was almost drowned by still more vehement cries of "No!" and "Order!"), that on that day a drunken and infuriated yeomanry murdered fourteen, and badly cut and maimed 648 of as peaceable and well-disposed persons as any he saw around him. And what were these people thus treated, doing? Why they were doing that which the Government in that Mouse were doing now— advocating the propriety of Parliamentary Reform. He was astonished, indeed, to hear the noble Paymaster of the Forces contend that the House of Commons had not hitherto taken up the question of Reform as it did now, because the people had not come forward as they now did, so as to compel the House to listen to them. Now, how could this be? In the years, 1816, 1817, 1818 and 1819, the cause of Reform was pressed on the attention of Parliament with as much ardour as at the present moment; with this difference, that the petitions of the people were then much more respectfully worded than now. He did not accuse the noble Lord of a desire to effect anything through intimidation, any more than he believed that there was a desire to effect their measures by force on the part of the people; nor did he condemn the Ministers for not having 1212 gone the whole of the length he wished. As far as the present measure went it had his support; and even if the Government had determined to disfranchise but one of those boroughs, they should have had his support; but he confessed, he regretted much the tendency of some of the observations of the member for Calne, which went to create a division on the subject of the advantages of Reform of this kind out of doors, and to raise the belief that it was intended to collect the higher and the middle classes in array against the lower. The tendency of such arguments was, that because the working classes were poor, and because they were suffering, they were to be deprived of their rights; and, he feared, that when they heard the nature of the measure proposed, and the arguments by which some persons supported it, they would not view it with much gratification. He did not wish the rabble, as the hon. Member called them to have votes; but he did wish that those who paid a rent of from 3l. a year up to 10l., the men who were the sinews and nerves of the country, should not be excluded. The Ministers said, however, they must draw a line; and this was the consequence of a deviation from principle, that the moment they abandoned principle, they became involved in difficulties. He would illustrate the point by a legal case, and he appealed to the lawyers to correct him if he was in error. Supposing a man brought up to the bar, to be heard for an offence against the laws, and he replies, "I did not know the law, I was ignorant that I had violated any law." Would that be taken as a sufficient answer? No. They would say to him, "You are bound to know the law, because you are a party to the making of all laws, by yourself, or through your Representative, and we cannot admit your defence." And yet, with this fact before them, they denied to those who were bound by the laws a vote for the Representative who made them. He considered the question now before the House to be one of the greatest importance which had ever come under their discussion, and that it involved their fate, and the fate of the country, more intimately than any event since the days when Cromwell ordered the mace to be taken from their Table, and carried away the keys of the House in his pocket. He would tell the noble Lord, that for advo- 1213 cating the question now introduced by him, he had been confined for two years and a half in a loathsome dungeon. Hon. Members had, in the course of the debate, been permitted to go back to the period of Edward the 3rd, and he thought he might be permitted, for his argument, to refer to events which happened not more than ten years ago! He repeated, then, that he had been confined in a dungeon for advocating this very same Reform; and he certainly never expected then to see that House yield to the force of the saying of Lord Chatham, "that if Reform did not come from within doors, it would come from without with a vengeance." The hon. member for Calne had observed, with truth, that there was no desire to attack the rights of the Throne. A good deal had been said about the greasy radicals who went walking about the streets of London. He was as thorough a radical as any in existence; but where was the man who could say that he had ever said a word against the rights of the Throne? He had, as it was his duty to do, protested against the profligate extravagance of members of the Royal Family. He would not object to the passing of a Civil List, but he did object to the profligacy of that family which had brought the institutions of the country into disrepute, and which had encouraged the demoralization of that House. To the situation to which that House and the country was then brought, the Royal Family, he contended, had mainly contributed. He hoped, however, that the measure before the House would be carried, if it was only because it gave the country an increase of 500,000 electors; although he would tell the hon. member for Calne, that ten times the number of good and honest voters would still be excluded. He trusted that when the hon. Member had occasion to speak on the subject again, he would remember this, and deliver himself with a different temper and tone when he had occasion to mention the state of the people. He was told that 10l. was the proper qualification, but he thought that the best vote was that which came from the industrious artificer or manufacturer, who earned from 30s. to 3l. a week, and he was determined in the course of these discussions, to take an opportunity of submitting a proposition on that subject to the consideration of the House. He repeated, that all who paid 1214 taxes should have a vote, and he knew the feeling to be so strong in the Metropolis, that a number of persons who had no vote returned that circumstance as a ground of exemption on their militia paper. He repeated, they considered themselves exempted, and demanded exemption, because they had no share in the choice of Representatives. In the north, he could tell them, that many of the young men were determined to rot in gaol rather than serve in the militia, unless they obtained this privilege ["no, no."] He said yes; and he would go further. He would tell them, that were he in their situation he would do the same. If they deprived him of his right of speaking in that House, he would naturally take another course. The law says, that if a man drawn to serve in the militia refuses to do so, he is to be committed to prison; and he, for one, thought that they were right, under such circumstances, to take the consequences of a refusal. He knew what it was to be in gaol; he had been confined two years and a half, and he knew that persecution never made converts. Although he looked with respect on the right hon. Baronet near him (Sir R. Peel), and venerated his high talents, he remembered the time when he was in his custody; but, bating the high talent the right hon. Baronet possesses, he, as member for the borough of Preston, stood now quite as high as the right hon. Baronet did, and considered himself fully his equal. He knew no way in which his constituents were touched by this measure; but if they were, and a great constitutional object was about to be achieved, he should be willing to make the sacrifice. He begged it, however, to be remembered, that he considered the borough of Preston as good as any other in the kingdom. Was it because they possessed Universal Suffrage, or something like it, that it could be said they chose improper men to represent them? Certainly not. They had had for their Representatives, at different periods, members of some of the highest families in the kingdom; and the exercise of their privileges had never been found fault with. He, it was true, had not much property. The late Government had taken care that he should not become rich; for it had placed him in gaol. But did he seek the suffrages of the people of Preston? After the massacre of Manchester, he had been invited to stand for that borough, then under the in- 1215 fluence of the great manufacturers, and although the good will was as great as it had been since, he was defeated, and 400 families were afterwards, in the year 1820, expelled from their homes in consequence of voting for him [Loud cries of "Question"] The noble Lord, the member for Devonshire (Lord Ebrington), had been permitted to say how he got into Parliament for that county, and he hoped the same indulgence would be granted, without claiming any tiling on his own account, for the ancient borough of Preston. During the last election he was proposed, without any canvass or solicitation on his part, and in three days he polled 3020 votes. The people of Preston did this, not from any hostility to the right hon. Gentleman, the member for Windsor (Mr. Stanley)—not from any dislike to his family, but he would tell the House why they did it. They had read in the Act of Settlement, that no placeman or pensioner was entitled to hold a seat in that House, and so they refused to vote for Mr. Stanley, and chose him. He hoped that this measure would be carried, and that there would be no re-action, although he really might ask, how the great mass of the people could be called on to come forward and solicit that House to support a Reform, from the benefits of which they were to be excluded, and which was intended for those above them? He would say, that if this measure was to be protected by the Ballot it would do; but as it was a mere extension of the suffrage to the tenantry of the rich and powerful, if they were not protected by the Ballot the representation would become even more corrupt than before. For his part, he would never cease to advocate the necessity of the Ballot, because he was sure that the Reform the Ministers contemplated required the protection of the Ballot more than the system at present in existence. He believed that this subject would now be pressed on their attention by petitions. He had heard of numerous meetings about to take place; and although the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) thought that there would be no agitation, and assured the House that there would be none, he knew from good authority that there would be such agitation as they had never seen before. There used to be itinerant orators to support the spirit of these meetings; but now there were to be meetings at the Common-hall and the Common 1216 Council, and throughout the kingdom, on the subject of this Reform plan. While he had the power to address himself to that House, he would do very little out of doors. There he had the privilege of speaking that which he conceived likely to benefit the cause he espoused; and he therefore left to others the task of doing the work elsewhere. He assured them, there was no new light broken in on him with reference to this matter. He had always held the same opinions. At election dinners, and elsewhere, when a little knot of politicians condescended once a year to meet their constituents, and where he heard them utter language they would not have dared to make use of in that House, he had always recommended that these persons should be sent to say those things in the place where the whole world would hear them, and derive benefit from them; and that, rendering duty to their constituents, those constituents might also be left to play their own part when the occasion required it. He might occasionally have been led to use expressions respecting that House which were thought disrespectful, but he confessed he had been misled by others, and that, with the exception of some interruptions, of which he could scarcely complain more than others, he was bound to say, that he had been mistaken with respect to the character of its Members, and that it did not deserve the censure he had known to have been cast on it. He had little more to say; for he had already trespassed too long on their attention; but he must add, that those who said the Ballot would make men greater hypocrites, seemed to know little of human nature or of society. They did not seem to recollect that, at the Clubs of the highest classes in England the Ballot was constantly resorted to as a means of evading the odium of a vote; but if any man was to say in these Clubs that the Ballot made its members hypocrites, he would have his heart made a very cullender with bullets. The principle of the measure was founded in property, and intended for its protection; but he was prepared to contend, that without the Ballot the principle would be wholly defeated in its operation, He was sorry he had trespassed on the House so long. He did not often do so, and should not probably do it again; but the importance of the occasion must be his apology. He knew the anxiety with which the House wished to hear the opinions of the right hon. Ba- 1217 ronet (Sir R. Peel) and the member for Borough bridge (Sir C. Wetherell); and he confessed he shared that anxiety, for he had not heard as yet a single argument or observation on the subject of Reform with which he had not been familiar for the last twenty years. Me was sure they would not make use of any of his arguments to serve their purposes; and he should there- fore at once conclude, in the hope that, if opposition was to be offered to Reform, there might be some reason found in those who offered it.
§ Lord Morpeth
addressed the House. He said, he owed it to his constituents not to involve himself in the details of the measure, but to address himself to its general character as well as to the general character of the objections which had been preferred against it. If he considered the House on the present occasion to be an arena for intellectual combat, he would not have ventured to present himself to their notice after the able speech of the hon. member for Calne; but he believed the present moment to be the awful period of suspense before the momentous result in which the future destinies of the country would be seriously committed, and therefore every one who felt a deep regard for his country was called upon to lift up his voice in serious and anxious warning. It was clear, beyond all doubt, that the present was a critical conjuncture in the history of the question of Reform which had never before occurred. The question had been long and often agitated, but generally as a matter of theory, speculation, and constitutional antiquity, and without taking such deep root in the feelings of the people as on the present occasion. It now came recommended to the notice of the representative body by the unanimous voice of the whole country, and was submitted to the Parliament by the confidential and responsible advisers of his Majesty. After the best consideration which he had been able to give to the measure submitted to the House, he believed that it would satisfy every friend of rational freedom, and that it contained nothing which ought to alarm the friends of order and the existing establishments. He would characterise the measure as a safe, wise, honest, and glorious measure, although the noble member for Aldborough had described it as frightful and horrible. A more complete redemption of pledged faith had never been performed than by the Ministers who 1218 had brought forward the present measure. He would not deny that it presented points on which legal ingenuity might fasten,— at which petty criticism might cavil—or even conscientious caution pause; but it went to the root of the evil, and the remedy proposed was practical and easy. It placed the elective franchise within the reach not only of the man of property, but of the man of common industry; and it enabled a man to enter that House without possessing the smile of a patron, or the favour of a corporation. The hon. member for Preston had complained that the plan submitted by Ministers excluded all the lower classes from a share in the Representation; but its effect, he believed, would be, to inspire those classes with a wish, and to provide them with the means, of obtaining their share in the Representative system. There was, however, one thing in which the hon. member for Preston and the noble member for Aldborough both agreed,—namely, bringing a charge against Ministers for not disfranchising Calne, Tavistock, and Knaresborough. The statement which he was about to make would satisfactorily account for their not having done so. Calne contained 4,549 inhabitants; Tavistock, 5,483; and Knaresborough, 5,283. But, further than this, he begged leave to tell the member for the populous town of Preston, and the member for the walls of Aldborough, that though those boroughs were not disfranchised, they were opened. Of the other boroughs he could not speak with certainty, but he knew that after Knaresborough should be once opened, it would be impossible for the Duke of Devonshire to influence the voters. He heard much of the danger of advancing in the cause of Reform, but he would wish any one to point out the safety of remaining as we were. Was there no danger of a collision | between the present representatives and | the constituent body? The alienation of those two bodies had long been going on. If the House were not blind or mad, they would seize the blessed loan of the present, hour. It was said, that the measure under consideration was a concession to the determined and rancorous enemies of the constitution,—that it was their wishes; which were being fulfilled, their work which was being done. The case was far other wise. If such men did exist, as there were always to be found crazy radicals in every country who were the enemies of good 1219 Government and social order, the wish nearest to their hearts was, that the House would obstinately refuse the amelioration which was called for by the sound and discriminating sense of the country—Hoc Ithacus velit, et magno mercentur AtridæThe history of the Catholic question afforded a useful hint on the subject of Reform. It showed, that when the parliament did what was right, they removed disaffection, and rallied around them all the well-disposed. If the House were prepared to declare that the demand for Reform was not proper,—that the evil was not manifest,— that the corruption was not glaring,—they might with perfect consistency determine not to give up a stone of Gatton, and to die in the ditch of Old Sarum, where there was nothing but a ditch to die in. He believed, however, that the House would not so far outrage the sense of the community as to say that they would not so much as entertain the question. The question of Reform had been supported by the Constitutional authority of Lord Chatham, the talent and integrity of George Saville, the young energies of Mr. Pitt, and the consistent manhood of Mr. Fox. Those were high authorities. It was true there was one great name opposed to Reform—it was the only point upon which he differed with the late Mr. Canning in the latter part of his career. He recollected, with as much regret as he generally recollected every thing with pleasure connected with that great man, at whose feet he had so often sat, and listened with delight, that he had been obliged to vote against that highly-gifted and eloquent Minister on this question, He, however, had doubts whether, if that lamented statesman had now occupied the place he was so fitted to fill in his Majesty's Councils he would have resisted the concession of Reform to the generally expressed wish of the people. There was a course—and that a safe one—left for Ministers to steer in the difficulties of the present epoch. It was a middle one between the two extremes of dogged resistance to all improvement in the Representation on the one hand, and, on the other, that worst species of Reform which could hardly fail to end in the violation of all property, through the violence and cupidity of those who had nothing to lose, and therefore dreamed not of fear. He hoped Ministers would be induced to persevere in a measure which would be satisfactory to all right minds, 1220 who, it would not be too much to anticipate, would all be with them in their efforts to meet the general wish of the people, expressed in numerous petitions. It was their duty to go on fearless of consequences, whilst they resisted what was unwise, unjust, and unsafe, re-invigorating what was weak in our Constitution, and preparing to transmit that Constitution so improved, with the addition of fresh guarantees of its liberty and permanency, to futurity. It, perhaps, would be the fate of the country to bear her share in the threatening great convulsion which had been felt elsewhere in Europe; but of this they might be assured, that if she were to fall in such a crisis, her misfortunes would not be found to arise or originate in the annihilation of her rotten boroughs, or the disfranchisement of corrupt electors, in an extension of the elective franchise to property hitherto unrepresented, or to the acquiescence of a Ministry in the very generally expressed prayers of an united and intelligent public.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell rose,
and said, that it was the constant usage in that House, for Members the most distinguished for character, and the most eminent for ability, when they rose to address the House upon any important subject of discussion, to commence with some expression propitiatory of its attention. If men of twenty times the ability which he could lay claim to, and twenty times his superiors as to any means which he possessed for obtaining success in his endeavours to arrest the attention of the House, had found it necessary to bespeak in this way a favourable hearing, there existed on the present occasion one reason paramount to all others why he, at least, should throw himself on the most indulgent, he was going to add religious, consideration of the House, because the noble Lord opposite, the Paymaster of the Forces, had propounded a list by which he had made it known to him, that he was now for the last time to rise to address the House as the organ of any portion of the people, He was, therefore, literally and precisely placed in that most unhappy predicament of a Member of that House rising to make his last dying speech. If ever there was an occasion when that patient indulgence, that gentlemanly consideration, that inviolable habit of allowing a Member to solicit the attention of the House, while he trespassed upon its notice, should be suf- 1221 fered to operate, it was on the present occasion, because the trespasser was soliciting that indulgence for the last time. He could never again supplicate for that attention, and therefore well might he ask, and well might the House concede, the favour of receiving the last address of the dying member for Boroughbridge. The kindness with which the House received the allusions he had made, served as it were to reanimate his extinguished spirit, to re-invigorate his prostrate mind, and to resuscitate his fallen feelings, and induced him to think, notwithstanding the list of the noble Paymaster, by which Borough bridge was cashiered, that he might still, in defiance of that list, aspire to a seat in that House, if his constituents should think that he had acted well in his representation of that borough, which the noble Paymaster's list so presumptuously cashiered. If the noble Lord, for whose talents he entertained the most unfeigned respect, and for whose mode of introducing this Bill, as well as for the attention which he had so diligently bestowed upon the subject, the well-ordered arrangement of the matter, and all the merits which belonged to his exposition of the details—if the noble Lord would do him the favour of accepting the dying compliment of an expiring Member of Parliament, he would thank him very sincerely. That noble Lord had been but a short time in office, but there was a contamination—he did not know how it happened—but, when a man who had sat on the Opposition side of the House obtained a seat upon the other benches, there was an elective attraction, as the chemists called it— and the figure would serve as well for a political as for a chemical subject—there was an elective attraction between the office and peculiar qualities in those who sat in it; and as different bodies when combined acquired properties which were not discernible) in either before the union, so the noble Paymaster of the Forces, by being united to office had all at once acquired the qualities of a great leader. The noble Lord had not been six months in office, and he now issued his sentence against upwards of a hundred Corporations of this realm, proscribing them from exercising those rights and privileges which they had heretofore enjoyed, after a fashion that was much more like military proscription than Parliamentary Reform. Those who had addressed the 1222 House at an earlier period upon the subject had had the opportunity of discussing-it pretty much in detail. The House would indulge him while he endeavoured to enter into it, so far as he conceived necessary, premising that it was not his intention to go round the whole circle of the question, but to select two or three prominent points which had excited his attention in the discussion of this extremely important subject. An hon. Member who had spoken lately (Mr. Hunt) had said, in giving him (Sir Charles Wetherell) a compliment for what he had not said—although really so many things were appropriated to him that he did not well know which belonged to him —the hon. Gentleman had said, that he (Sir C. Wetherell) would not adopt any arguments urged by him. Now he would say, with that perfect sincerity which became a man who was called upon to speak nothing but truth, that nothing had occurred since that hon. Gentleman had been a Member of that House which would induce him, or as he thought, would justify any Member of that House, in not receiving from that hon. Gentleman any argument, or maxim, or remark, which he might address to the House. He would, for his own part, be quite ready to take out of any given speech of the hon. Gentleman any argument or maxim which might be useful for any purpose which he wished to enforce. Therefore the hon. Gentleman disparaged himself, and did an injustice to the House, when he supposed that what he offered to the House would not be adopted or approved. But, if the hon. Gentleman used arguments which were against himself, he could not expect that others would borrow those arguments from him:—and such arguments the hon. Gentleman had used: for, although he said that he would vote for the Bill, yet he had used an argument against the Bill, and the argument he used was this: he admitted that his Majesty's Government intended to form an altered constituency and a changed representation which should be acceptable to the people, and satisfy all their demands, there being a representative body, in which all would be represented; but the hon. Gentleman said, that instead of creating attachment to the Government, and appeasing and quieting the feelings of the public, the present proposition would create greater agitation than before. The hon. Gentleman deceived him- 1223 self, and did the House an injustice, in supposing that any topic or argument which he might put forward would not be fairly weighed in the balance, and dealt with in the same candour which would govern the House in considering the observations of any other hon. Member. His argument certainly formed a successful sequel, in point of practical effect, to the speech of the hon. member for Calne, whose great eloquence, whose weight of character, power of language, and force of fancy, ought, in his opinion, to carry amongst the hon. Members on the other side of the House some little clog or impediment to their proceedings in the disfranchisement of these boroughs. And here he meant to throw in an additional drawback, or impediment, suggested by the point to which he had just now referred. He saw no reason why the borough of Calne should be left not disfranchised, while so many others were comprised in the noble Paymaster's list. Why had this particular borough been selected, unless the selection were intended to secure talent and learning, and ability and eloquence? That was his ground of argument. He con- tended that his Majesty's Ministers did not consult the advantage of the people, because this fact proved, that as some boroughs were to retain those privileges from which others were to be excluded, the selection, or the rejection, was not a selection or rejection founded upon the principles of universal justice, but upon motives of partiality or expediency. If one borough were to be deprived of its rights and privileges, while another retained those rights and privileges for particular purposes, what other inference could be drawn? [Hear, hear]. That "hear'' he heard, and he repeated what he had stated, that no Gentleman on the other side of the House had given any reason why Calne should retain its privileges, while other boroughs were to lose theirs. Let some Cabinet Minister—all of whom, by the way, were very shy of coming into the field,—monstrous shy of the gap; let some of the Cabinet Ministers come forward to refute him if he was wrong. They had produced none of their own body to defend their Bill. They allowed their friends behind them to discharge their fire fore and aft, and to receive the fire of their opponents, but of the Cabinet. Ministers no one rose. He called upon any Member of the Government, then, to rise and 1224 rescue them from the charge of partiality which he advanced against them. And here again he had been diverted from the course which he had proposed to himself at rising by the observations of an hon. Gentleman who had lately sat down. He should now take the liberty of calling the attention of the House to the subject before it, and he hoped to obtain that attention, because eloquence some times ran away with accuracy, and long speeches made the House forget the subject under discussion [hear, hear]. Did hon. Members who never spoke a sentence in that House mean to abridge him of the five or ten minutes which he claimed from the indulgence of the House? Did hon. Members who chattered "hear, hear," giving no one an opportunity on any occasion to reciprocate that exclamation, wish to debar him of the privilege of which they never sought to avail themselves? Did an hon. Member standing behind the chair suppose that he was to be silenced by these cries? He repeated that it sometimes happened that long discussions prevented the House from collecting the precise subject which was before it. What was now before the House was, the question whether the Bill by which the noble Paymaster proposed to cashier sixty boroughs, thereby occasioning a loss of 120 Members, and forty-seven boroughs as to the half of their privileges, constituting in the whole a loss of 168 Members—whether a plan of that sort, which he would not call an offence, but a proceeding to which he must give name, and as Mr. Locke had said that the best way of describing a thing was to call it by its proper name, which he would therefore call Corporation robbery—whether that plan, by which sixty boroughs were to be robbed of their Representatives, and forty-seven to be curtailed of their privileges, should be acceded to by that House? When a military plan, was; under discussion, it was allowable to use military phrases; and he who was now addressing the House for the last time, had a right to complain of the wholesale cashiering of 168 Members, who were no longer to be admitted within those walls on any future election. The right hon. the First Lord of the Admiralty had told the Mouse on a former occasion—he would not say unconstitutionally—he would not say against the orders of the House—or in violation of any of the privileges of the House; but the right hon. Gentleman 1225 had told them that a dissolution of that House was to take place, so that the boroughs were to lose 168 Members; there was to be a total remodelling of the Mouse, and there were to be sixty-two Members less composing it than at present. From the robbery and the pillage of A, B, and C. new Members were to be given to D, E. and F; and, after the spoliation which was to take place, the House would consist of sixty-two Members less than it now contained. He must say, that this cutting off—this amputation of sixty-two Members, —was a very odd sort of thing. Up to this time—to the days of a Reforming Cabinet, —no Reformers in any rank or walk of life —neither the middle orders nor those whom the hon. member for Preston took under his immediate and special protection, the multitude, none of any class, in taking a view of the changes which they considered necessary in the representative system of the country—no Reformers, until it came to this Reforming Cabinet, ever produced a plan of Reform cutting off a proportion of the Members of that House. His Majesty's present Ministers had the credit of that proposition—they had the credit of it, as they claimed it—but the merit was not theirs originally. The present Cabinet of Althorpand Co.—["order"] He would say, then, the present Cabinet, consisting of the noble Lord and his associates,— had been preceded by that of Cromwell, Fairfax, Fleetwood, and Co. The noble Paymaster proposed to reduce the House of Commons; and in thus reducing it, the merit did not belong originally to the present Cabinet, but the precedent was borrowed, almost exactly in form, but certainly in substance and effect, from that Cabinet which, after the days of the Regicides, proceeded to form the Commonwealth of England.— Yet these hon. Gentlemen said, "We wish to preserve our ancient institutions." Yet these hon. Gentlemen said, "The conservative principle is the principle of our system." Yet these hon. Gentlemen said, "Our object is, to prevent the incursion of the multitude, and to establish such a Representation as shall be consistent with the prerogative of the Crown, compatible with the existence of the Church) and the constitutional privileges of the land, and preservative of the rank, dignity, and property of the country." This conservative plan, however, was the plan introduced after the monarchy was de- 1226 stroyed. Was this so, or was it not? Let any member of the Cabinet contradict him if it were not so; and if it were, let him state, that the principles of Representation were changed, and that what was radicalism in the year 1651 was not equally radical and equally subversive of constitutional rights—equally destructive of aristocratical privileges, and detrimental to property, in 1831. His wish was, to confine himself literally and strictly in his observations to the topics which appeared to him most important. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said, that all who opposed this motion presented themselves as the opponents of all possible Reform. He was not one of that number. He had never said, that no change, of any nature or kind, could be made in the electoral laws, or that great—nay, perhaps, he might say, the greatest—practicable improvement might not be infused into them by some means by which those places which now had no Representatives might, consistently with the principles of the Constitution, acquire the right which they did not at present possess. Those hon. Gentlemen had fallen into a logical fallacy; their argument amounted to this, that, unless others acceded to their particular plan, they would predicate of their opponents, that they meant to assert that no Reform was necessary. This might be good logic in Downing-street, for aught he knew, but it was not, in his estimation, sound reasoning to assert in the House of Commons, because a man objected to a particular plan of alteration, that he maintained that it was impossible to improve. The Gentlemen at the other side of the House had all been betrayed into this fallacy, and they endeavoured, most unfairly and most unjustly to assert, that the opposers of their plan were the opposers of every plan of Reform. Such logic would not hold good; and if any man were to tender in a baker's shop a shilling as false and counterfeit as that logic, the baker would call for a hammer, and nail it down as a spurious shilling on the counter. The House had heard a great deal on this subject, particularly from an hon. friend of his, who had been lately perambulating the broad streets of Marylebone. He could assure his hon. friend, that such logic would not go down there. But it seemed that delegates were to come from the Tower-hamlets, and Wapping, and Shadwell. The House would permit 1227 him to repeat, that in those districts also reasoning of that description would be exploded. If the House of Commons should be disposed to reject the noble Paymaster's plan, they only rejected one specific plan, which was considered on all sides of the House—at least by those who opposed it—an inexpedient one. He should now take the liberty of calling the attention of the House to the real state of the question before it, upon which an hon. Baronet near him (Sir John Walsh) had spoken so well, as indeed might have been expected from his written composition un the subject. The question was not one of Reform, but a new creation, and a substitution of a totally different Representation. Let the House look at the particulars of the plan. A practical change was to be made in the bringing together the Members of that House. The measure was not confined to a matter between the Constituent and the Representative, but it was to be considered whether it did not affect the form of government and the Constitution of the country. He did not mean to use the word in a sarcastic sense, but politically; and, indeed, he would also use it sarcastically. The House should consider whether this proposition was not radically hostile to the form of government now existing in this country. The House was bound to look at the question with reference to its relations to every class of society. He did not know if any Gentleman had laid before the House a list of the governments at present about to be made. It was said, "Oh, never mind; this is only an experiment." Did hon. Gentlemen recollect that there were too many experimental governments afloat at present? Were they aware that the smithy in which the political blacksmiths worked, where constitutions were forged upon the anvil—that that smithy was at work all over Europe. Was there not a question now pending as to the Constitution to be established in Greece? Was not the Charter of Portugal a subject of difficulty and dissension? In Belgium, was it not a matter of anxious inquiry what relations were to subsist between the community and their rulers? And what had taken place in France—a country to which he must incidentally allude, but to which his allusions should, for obvious reasons, be as brief as possible. After the monarchical sway had been put an end to in South America—since those 1228 who had been planning, and mapping, and allotting constitutions had commenced their labours—no constitution had been established in the separated colonies of South America. He said that, in the present aspect of political affairs. Great Britain ought not to add to the examples of experimental States the visionary projects of his Majesty's present Government. Those who rejected this experiment, even though they rejected it in extremis; and with their last breath, had a right to be supposed to speak from the dictates of conscience, if not from perfect accuracy of judgment. He therefore, appealed to the House, whether an experimental constitution, of the nature now proposed, would not add to the embarrassments of this country in her relations with all Europe, the most important States of which were in absolute insurrection. Yet this was the time at which his Majesty's Government thought fit to make experiments, and to sketch out a new Constitution, as if the Constitution of Great Britain had not had an existence before, and had not been handed down from age to age with continual improvements and annual emendations, in all its parts, where emendations or improvements could be safely applied. When all Europe was in a state of insurrection and distraction, was it for us to go to sea under the flag of the new Admiral of England, to try an experimental cruise in quest of a new Constitution? Why was this experiment to be made now? There were hon. Gentlemen at the other side of the House whose talents he highly admired, and with whom he had formerly acted. There were three members of the Cabinet—the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the President of the Board of Control, and the Secretary at War; and there was also an hon. and learned friend of his, whom, if he was now present, he had not the pleasure of seeing in his place. Oh, his hon. friend was there, and he hoped he would put in a word by and by for Bletchingley. The democratic cloak of Reform must hang loosely upon his shoulders, as well as on those of three of the Cabinet Ministers who resisted the Reform proposed last year by a noble Marquis (Bland-Ford) opposite, which, as compared with the present, was parsimony and moderation itself, He had been attacked for his pertinacity. Now a man might certainly be too close-fisted in retaining his opinion, 1229 But, on the other hand, a man might have two opinions. if he were too close-fisted in retaining his opinions, were not the hon. Gentlemen opposite too ready in changing theirs? Three members of the Cabinet last year negatived the smaller plan of Reform, and would not allow the measure even to be brought in. They said, "We cannot touch it or hear of it." The Admiral said, that the vessel must not even go out of port at all. He would not suffer the noble Marquis to rig his ship. He did not know how it was. He supposed the change was produced by the deleterious effects of office. Those who had opposed all Reform combined with extreme Reformers, and with the promoters of moderate Reform; their combination produced the present consolidated and united Cabinet, and their joint labours produced this consolidated Bill. Having shortly alluded to these circumstances, he would now shortly state the main proposition of his argument. He had said, that the noble Lord's measure was a corporation robbery. It was an extinction of 168 Members whose constituents were to be for ever, as long as the world should last, robbed and deprived of the franchise and privilege of returning 168 Members to Parliament. He should be glad to hear the opinion of his hon. and learned friend the Attorney General, who did not labour under the vice of appearing there on behalf of a small borough, but was the representative of a large constituency, an honour which he (Sir C. Wetherell) had once enjoyed himself. We had lately had a Special Commission for frame-breaking, and without meaning to use these observations in a literal sense, but rather in a figurative way and illustrative of his argument, he had been turning it over in his own mind whether there might not be a Special Commission to try the present Cabinet for Corporation-breaking. The Paymaster broke down sans ceremonie 168 Corporations, giving a very good specimen of political machine breaking. The peasantry broke machinery because they thought it abridged manual labour; and the present Cabinet broke the machinery of the Constitution because it abridged the labour of courting popularity. The Cabinet said, "We may thus new fashion the Constitution and the Representatives, and, with the same ceremony that the insurgent labourers broke frames, we will break, annul, and destroy a number of 1230 Corporations." His object in calling the attention of his Majesty's Government and of his hon. and learned friend, the Attorney General to these points was, that they might see what was the power of that House as regarded the Constitution. He did not mean to assert that the omni-potency of Parliament was not co-extensive and co-equal with any circumstances which should arise to call for its exercise. But it had always been considered, that if certain acts were done by Parliament, they would constitute infractions of existing privileges as much as if they were done by the Crown. The principle of preserving the charter of Corporations had been, up to this time, held as sacred in that House as it was in Courts of Law. He did not mean to say that all these boroughs had charters, but the prescription and usage by which they had enjoyed their rights and privileges were, in a constitutional point, of view, identical with a charier itself. He believed there was no instance on record of Parliament having sanctioned the civil sacrilege which was now contemplated by the King's consolidated Cabinet. There was no instance of a civil charter having been sacrificed by Parliament without any delinquency being proved. But not only was the noble military Paymaster prepared to strike a vast number of places out of the list of Corporations, without any delinquency being established against them —he also went the length of telling all those who were opposed to the measure, that they were bigots, and ought not to be heard. He believed,—nay, he was confident,—that it would be found that the Journals of that House did not contain a single precedent for this monstrous act of spoliation—this civil sacrilege: nor would it be found in any case that Parliament ever assumed to itself a power of abolishing any corporate right—that is, of abrogating any charter—without a clear act of delinquency having been previously established against it. No: it was not till the present military-law-principles, that Corporations were condemned without trial or hearing. He defied the whole Cabinet, and all its deputies, military and civil, to cite a case of any Corporation having its chartered rights abrogated at one fell swoop, without a case of delinquency having been even insinuated against it,—without any form of trial, without any pretext, palliative of such 1231 monstrous conduct; without any shadow of argument; unless, forsooth, the telling them they were blind adherents to the laws and usages of the Constitution were -received as an argument. The course which the present consolidated and unanimous Cabinet proposed to themselves to follow, was not only opposed to every recognized principle of law and justice, but was opposed to every precedent of Parliament. What did they propose to do? Why, no less than, without hearing, with- out trial, by the mere flat of their own tyrannical will, to deprive thousands of the rights which they enjoyed under the Constitution. He said they had no precedent; he corrected himself, there was one. On the Journals of the House it would be found, that in the time of Richard 2nd. an Act was passed for disfranchising the borough of Cambridge. The circumstances which gave rise to this anomalous proceeding at least could be quoted as a ground for the proceeding of this consolidated and unanimous Cabinet. It was the consequence of the very violent conduct of the townspeople against the University—of the town against the gown. The Vice-Chancellor was imprisoned, and the students who attempted his rescue dreadfully beaten. On a representation of the proceedings being made to that House, as an example, it was deemed expedient to deprive Cambridge of its corporate charter; but that parliamentary confiscation was at a subsequent period, as they all knew, reversed; so that even that solitary instance of parliamentary confiscation would fail the noble Paymaster as a precedent. Then, there being no precedent, he should be glad to hear from his hon. friend, the Attorney General, the constitutional legal adviser of the Cabinet upon what principle of law he would justify the present audacious attack upon the corporate rights of so many of those much ridiculed places called small boroughs, He should like to hear from his hon. and learned friend what argument he would substitute for the absence of precedent. Indeed, highly as he respected the acquirement and ability of his hon. friend, he doubted very much whether even he could bolster up this insuperable defect of the great measure of the unanimous and consolidated Cabinet, whom he was, in virtue of his office, bound to supply with a few grains of law,—and much they were wanted,—whether even he could lay his 1232 finger on a single page of the Journals of that House which could at all warrant such an act of wholesale confiscation, —aye, of civil sacrilege. When the Government should have told them the legal grounds on which his hon. friend had recommended, or rather, he should say, sanctioned—for from one so eminent as a lawyer, he could not think so illegal a measure could originate—he should be prepared to meet him. He would also take that opportunity of saying, that it would have been a great advantage to the Budget if it had been enlightened by a small modicum of law. His hon. friends had shewn that it had not much common sense to recommend it; and it was directly contrary to the law of the land. As it was, he would tell his hon. and learned friend, and the united Cabinet again and again, that their measure was one opposed to every principle of law and justice —was a measure which no Cabinet with which the history of this country had made us acquainted could have sanctioned. It was a measure, which only some Cromwellian band, ruthless of all law, and of all those usages which the Constitution had preserved for ages, could have ventured to propose, as a remedy for any complaint of the public mind. He again would ask this unanimous and consolidated Cabinet, or any of its deputies, to answer this simple question:—when was there ever committed—where was the instance —what constitutional precedent was there for so gross an act of injustice, as, by one compendious and confiscating measure of the noble military Paymaster, to deprive so many towns and individuals, without a single crime being alleged against them, —without warning, without any species of trial whatever,—of their most sacred rights as English freemen? The noble Paymaster might, perhaps, refer for precedents for this wholesale measure of spoliation, to the confiscating times of Henry 8th. That monarch, they all knew, had effected extensive spoliations of monastic property; but then he did it openly, as an act of rude, despotical spoliation, wholly opposed to every usage and then recognised principle, civil and religious. His were the acts of a violent despot; pray, would they be cited as a case in point, jutifying the noble Paymaster's equally wholesale intended spoliation? Would the machinery of Henry be adopted to attain the same and? That monarch had 1233 laid his hands on several large abbeys, the heads of which resisted his rude violence, as far as they were able. What did he do? He indicted them as traitors, as in the examples of the abbeys of Glastonbury, Winchester, and Reading, and thus compelled them into what was called a surrender of their charters. This was robbery secundem artem, not only independent of all law, but opposed to every principle. In the present case, however, this mockery of a surrender of chartered rights would not, it seemed, be had recourse to; and, by a plan still more iniquitous, if possible, than the unconstitutional spoliations of Henry 8th, the chartered rights of sixty boroughs, returning Members to that House, were, without trial, without offence, without any pretext whatsoever, to be taken away at the will or caprice of a Cabinet theorist. If he were wrong in his assertion, that Ministers had no precedent for the present measure, and were set right, which he believed he should not be, he would acknowledge his error. He asked for explanation on this point; he wished to know by what fiction of law, by what theoretical arrogance, by what train of sophistry, by what apparation of authorities, by what shadow of facts could this measure be justified, which was to invade time-honoured rights, and violate principles, long applauded and respected by that House. To be sure they were told that they were bigots, for that, it appears, must be the future name of that once honourable race of Tories. Well, then, as it would be supposed he was only quoting a bigot's opinion, were he to cite the authority of any distinguished advocate of Tory principles, he should like to hear what Mr. Fox, the great Whig leader, thought on the subject of parliamentary confiscation. The opinions of that eminent individual had already been referred to by the noble member for Yorkshire. Now, though he was far from being a blind adherent to the doctrines ably advocated by Mr. Fox on very many subjects of great public interest, he still thought the unbiassed, calm, and uninfluenced-by-party-motives opinion of so experienced a statesman, well worthy of attention, from his veriest political opponent. It might be remembered, that in consequence of some riotous proceeding which took place at an election at Nottingham, it was proposed to disfranchise such of the electors as had been the greatest delinquents on the occasion. To be sure 1234 the occurrence was rather droll after all— if droll it would be considered now-a-days. There was a procession, in which a dame, not over and above distinguished by the immaculate purity of her habits, nor, on that particular occasion very remarkable for the quantity of her muslin robes, which, indeed, more resembled those of an opera figurante than a Dutch housewife; this dame was paraded as the Goddess of Reason, there being the proper accompanying paraphernalia of tri-colours, then the fashionable colours of the day. Well, the goddess was paraded in great pomp, and with a great crowd of enlightened worshippers, till the procession was interrupted by the refusal of some gentlemen of the Tory interest—bigots, according to the new-fangled doctrine of the noble Paymaster-deputy of the unanimous and consolidated Cabinet—to pay divine homage to the strumpet goddess, for which bigotted refusal they were told they should have all their coats spencered. He could not describe things in the glowing language of the hon. member for Preston; he could not allude to all the acts that were done, but in consequence of what was done it was contended, that the borough ought to be cashiered. The matter came before that House, and after a long discussion, Mr. Fox gave it as his opinion, that it would be propert to oppose any measure of disfranchisement, on the ground that the "bill would be a bad precedent, because, if followed up, it would not leave an existing corporation in existence." Such was the opinion of Mr. Fox,—an opinion which he knew not how his hon. and learned friend, the present member for Nottingham, could get over. He had just been reminded, that Mr. Fox was also opposed to the disfranchisement of Shore- ham, because he thought, and that justly, that the conduct of the guilty electors in that borough, should not be visited upon the innocent; and on that occasion an individual, whose opinion but seldom chimed in with Mr. Fox's, divided with Mr. Fox— namely, the present Earl of Eldon. The hon. and learned Member repeated his objection to the measure, of its being opposed to the uniform laws and usages of Parliament, and he called upon the members of the unanimous and consolidated Cabinet, and all its deputies, civil and military, aided by his hon. friend, the Attorney General to boot, to quote a single instance, justifying such a monstrous act 1235 of spoliation of the chartered rights of corporations, as old as the Constitution itself. How did the noble Paymaster mean to justify his disfranchising, at one fell swoop, those who returned 168 Members to that House? Should such a measure,— such a daring violation of the principles of the Constitution,—such a flagrant breach of all constitutional rights —be sanctioned to suit the views of any mere arbitrary theory? Was a Cabinet, now by accident, and for this occasion only, unanimous and consolidated, to propose for the deliberate sanction of Parliament, that that House, which, up to the present moment from its institution, was essentially a conservative body, should so fling aside all its usual characteristic attributes, and become the greedy spoliator of so many long-established chartered corporations? Where, if once the principle of charter spoliation be admitted, were they to stop? Did the hon. Alderman (Waithman) behind him recollect anything of the circumstance, that the Corporation of the City of London had been deprived of its charter in the time of Charles 2nd? And did he know anything of the violent excitement that occasioned? If he did, then his vote was, to use a homely expression, as surely nailed down against the present scheme of the noble Paymaster, as he had already nailed down the spurious coinage which the military deputy of the Cabinet had given them by way of argument. And why did he thus count on the hon. Alderman's voting with him? simply on the old maxim hodie mihi cras tibi — what may succeed to day with respect to some obscure borough, may be tried with equal success to-morrow, with the Corporation of London itself. And this brought him to his own immediate case, so far as he might be affected by the disfranchisement of Boroughbridge. The hon. Alderman might recollect, that the attempt upon the rights of the Corporation of the City of London, in the time of Charles 2nd, was made by the then Attorney-general, Sir Robert Sawyer. For that daring violation of constitutional right, Sir Robert was expelled from that House by a subsequent Parliament, and he ended his days, as it was to be hoped none of his successors ever would, in ignominy. Now, it might happen that he (Sir C. Wetherell) should not again sit for Boroughbridge, but his case would be much better than Sir Robert Sawyer's, as it was one thing not to be 1236 elected for a place, and another to be turned out of the House by the Serjeant by the shoulder, and a number of officers, and to be pursued by the just execrations of the whole country. He must again repeat, that the measure would be a violation of all chartered rights, wholly unsupported by precedents, and one of the consequences of which, to all existing corporate rights, it would be impossible to foresee. Let the House pause before it agreed to such a mischievous, dangerous, and most unconstitutional measure. It should not be for a moment forgotten, that the Church, the established Church of this country, was a chartered body; that the Peerage held its privileges by instruments and patents, granted under the Great Seal; that the Bank of England and the East-India Company, and every other great establishment of the country, possessed all their rights and property, and utility and value, public and private, individual and aggregate, under a charter, which, like that of the about-to-be confiscated boroughs, might be hereafter violated, if the dangerous precedent were once supinely admitted. Disfranchise without a crime alleged, without a trial, without even the mockery of a form of justice, the least borough in the kingdom, and you open the door to the disfranchisement of the Corporation of the City of London itself. Where was the distinction? Would any lawyer in that House, however acute, point out any which even a legal fiction would sanction? would any statesman specify the limit beyond which the disfranchising principle of the Bill would not extend? would any man who heard him dare to say, that the principle which admitted that one Corporation, not guilty of gross misconduct, might be deprived of its chartered rights, solemnly guaranteed by the Legislature, in its deliberative capacity, would not equally apply to all the other corporate bodies? He would take his stand on this insuperable objection to the principles of the Bill, without entering into an examination of its provisions. He protested against the doctrine held by hon. Members, that it was idle to deal with a single case of corruption, even when proved, but that it was wiser and more statesmanlike to disfranchise a multitude of boroughs where no crime had been established. He remarked, that it was curious to observe the difference between the noble and military Paymaster, 1237 and the radicals behind him. The one described it as a pacific measure —one that was to heal all wounds, and allay all irritation—one that was to be of the most auspicious augury to the middle classes— holding forth to them good promise of comfort, and happiness, and prosperity; that was to satisfy, to all who could prove a clear possession of 10l. a year. But the radicals, on the contrary, exclaimed, that there was nothing done, and that the community would be split into two classes, which would be placed in hostile array each against the other; for the multitude under this system would have no vote at all, and therefore, it was argued, would be in no degree gainers by it. It was clear at least from this, that the people would be divided into two classes of different and opposing pretensions; and yet this was the pacification the noble Lord held out to the House of Commons. Aye, truly: was that the healing measure— was that the oil which was to be poured into the wounds, and at once destroy their virulency, and abate all irritated feelings? This, it was evident, was strange surgery. They proposed a course of practice, which could have only one effect—that was, of aggravating the inflammation—adding poignancy to every pang—and creating a fatal conclusion, when there had in truth been no threatening diagnostics. He could not understand the new-fangled doctrine of the electoral law; nor could he exactly comprehend the new electoral body—the additions made, or the disqualifications inflicted: it appeared, however, that some were not to be disfranchised until the end of their lives. For the purpose of amending the electoral law, they seemed to have gone upon the principle of a very fashionable practitioner of surgery —Mr. Saint John Long. To cure some fanciful disease, they rubbed the patient to a state of sores all over. To get rid of the trouble of a little temporary unpopularity they were fretting and irritating all the great interests of the country. The monied men were anxious for the safety of their property, now menaced by this monstrous charter-destroying scheme: the landed interest, naturally squeamish for their well-being, were alarmed for the laws that protected their property; and the Church was fearfully awake to the dangerous consequence to their rights of this most unconstitutional and right-destroying innovation, They all 1238 knew too well, that the men who coolly set at naught or destroyed the archives of a town-hall, would not much hesitate to cross the portals of a church-door, or break into the cathedral; and therefore they felt alarmed for themselves and the country. And who did Ministers expect to satisfy by their spoliation? Not the reforming public out of doors, for their cry was, "give us more Representatives, we have not enough;'' while, so far from adding to the number of that House, the noble military deputy's scheme went to lessen the numbers by sixty-two. So, where the reforming public asked for a plus remedy, this popular, consolidated, and unanimous Cabinet gave them a minus one. Then what, he asked, was the mode by which this amorphous body proposed to carry their iniquitous measure? Why, neither more nor less than by a most audacious threat to dissolve Parliament in the event of their failure. Now, he must say, with respect to this most unconstitutional and insolent menace, that the man who would be influenced by it in his vote on the present momentous occasion, would be nothing less than a rebel to his country. The man, he repeated, whom such a threat, uttered by any Government —particularly by one so vacillating and individually contending, and only united in this one monstrous measure of wholesale spoliation, would influence—was a man wholly unworthy of the name of British Senator—was a recreant in morals—and a man wholly deaf to the call of conscience, and of English liberty. Look at the ignoble situation, too, in which it would place the House even with respect to their common-sense consistency. The Bill proposed to disfranchise a large number of seats; on the ground that those seats were foul excrescences; it called upon the House to pronounce a stigma upon itself of the blackest die; it actually called upon the House of Commons to dissolve itself on the allegation, that it was not actually what it stated itself to be, the Representatives of the people. Then the dilemma the House would be placed in, should the Bill not pass into a law, would be almost as bad. Was, he asked, all faith in legislative charters to be thus destroyed for ever in this country, in obedience to an arbitrary theory? Somebody asked Nat Lee, in one of his frenzies, what was a charter? He answered, nothing but a bit of scribbled parchment, 1239 with a seal attached to it; and so it should seem with the present consolidated and unanimous Cabinet with respect to the corporate rights of boroughs. They had evinced a more becoming respect for public opinion in abandoning the proposed transfer-duty, so opposed to law and usage, and why violate both with respect to the right of returning Members to that House? And this, forsooth, was the great remedy for all the ills the country laboured under. He should like to hear how the right hon. the First Lord of the Admiralty would explain at Cockermouth to his constituents his conduct since he last addressed them. On that occasion retrenchment, unlimited retrenchment, was to be the order of the day,—all burthensome taxes to the middle and poorer classes were to be removed, and the Constitution was to be restored to its ancient splendor, by a full and satisfactory measure of Reform. Now, what answer could the right hon. Baronet make to one of his agricultural constituents, standing on the hustings at Cockermouth, if thus accosted by him, "Well, Sir James, have you taken off the malt-tax?"—"No," quoth the right hon. Baronet. "Have you," rejoins the farmer, "at least, taken off the assessed taxes?"—"No," again quoth the First Lord of the Admiralty," the House of Commons and a sense of duty prevented me." —"Then" again quoth the fanner, "since you have neither repealed the malt-tax, nor the assessed taxes, what the d—I have you done?"—"Why, we have not, to be sure, reduced much taxes, but to make amends we have taken off sixty-two Members. You asked for retrenchment, and there is retrenchment for you." And the merry conceit might pass on the hustings, as a redemption of all the pledges of retrenchment, and all the other pledges it had pleased each individual member of the consolidated Cabinet to give. They most certainly proposed a pretty considerable and somewhat novel species of retrenchment as a remedy for the ills of the country, and this they called Reform. The farmer to whom he alluded, on the hustings at Cockermouth, finding that the promises of reduction of the Civil List, of there peal of the Assessed and of Malt taxes, had all thus ended in lessening the number of Representatives in that House, would very naturally scrutinize the mode by which this last reduction was to be effected; and that the farmer might know, he hoped 1240 that some member of the Cabinet would rise and explain the system of Reform which was going to amputate more than a hundred Members of the great political body. He had now performed, and he trusted within seasonable limits, that duty which he owed to himself, to the British public, and to the House of Commons, in making the observations upon this Bill, which he had found himself compelled to make, and he had now but a few words more to utter. There took place in Cromwell's time a purge of the House of Commons. The purge was called Colonel Pride's Purge. The Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House were close imitators of the Cromwellian system, not only of his system of Parliamentary Reform, but also of his sanatory purgative system; for they were prepared to expel, by one strong dose, no less than 168 Members of that House. He did not know what name he ought to attach to this specific; for he had not conceived it possible that the country would sec a repetition of such a process a second time. Within the last three days, however, the House had been promised such a purge, to which, as no name had yet been attached, he would attach the name of Russell's Purge. Yes, he would call this Bill, Russell's Purge of Parliament. He said, that the principle of the Bill was republican in its basis. He said, that the principle of it was destructive of all property, of all right, of all privilege; and that the same arbitrary violence which expelled a majority of Members from that House, in the time of the Commonwealth, was now, after the lapse of a century and a half from the Revolution, during which the population had enjoyed greater happiness than was ever enjoyed by any population under Heaven, proceeding to expose the House of Commons again to the nauseous experiment of a repetition of Pride's Purge.
The Attorney General
rose amid cries of "adjourn," which continued for some minutes, and prevented him from obtaining a hearing.—Although he was unwilling, he said, to persevere in addressing the House after a wish had been expressed for an adjournment, he thought that the manner in which he had been personally called upon to come forward by his hon. and learned friend who spoke last, would obtain him a hearing in any assembly of English gentlemen which had heard the challenge. They had heard of a tyran- 1241 nical Attorney General, who had been handed to the door by the serjeant-at-arms, and had been driven ignominiously from the House of Commons. He must own that he was much surprised that his hon. and learned friend, when he anticipated his own dying speech in that House, should choose to pair off with so detestable an officer—[reiterated cries of "adjourn."] He begged leave to ask hon. Gentlemen, whether it was intended that they should on all future occasions adjourn at half-past twelve o'clock? If that were to be made a rule, he would not persist in addressing the House at present; but if it were, he wished to know how many nights they intended to sacrifice to the discussion of this question? Were hon. Members to be prevented from speaking because the clock was then pointing to half-past twelve? He assured the House, that he thought time would be saved by his proceeding at this stage of the discussion. He would beg leave, then, to tell his hon. and learned friend, that no two cases could be more unlike than those which he had endeavoured to assimilate together. He admired the humour with which his hon. and learned friend had compared the purification of the representative system, which this Bill attempted to accomplish, to the two purges of the House which took place in Cromwell's time, and to the proceedings on the quo warranto's which took place in the reigns of Charles 2nd and James 2nd.; but he must remind his hon. friend, that though they might prove a contrast, they never could bear any analogy to each other. It was with astonishment that he heard one so well versed in the history of his country and of its laws, make so singular an assertion; and he could not account for it, even when he took into his consideration all the excitement under which his hon. and learned friend evidently laboured. This plan of Reform was compared to "Cromwell's purge." What is "Cromwell's purge?" It is a new name, which seems to mean Cromwell's plan for elections. But did his hon. and learned friend recollect in what terms a great authority, much revered in the University of Oxford, eulogised that plan? Lord Clarendon expressly declared it worthy of imitation by other governments. Surely his hon. and learned friend could not confound what is vulgarly styled Pride's purge with Cromwell's plan for elections. The two transactions were 1242 divided by several years, and contrasted in all their circumstances; the one a violent military usurpation, the other a prudent and well-digested scheme of civil polity. At the former period, the soldiers stepped into the House, and carried the mace from the Table; at the latter, the protector devised a plan for the conservation of a government by three estates, which commanded the unwilling approval of Lord Clarendon. Now, as to the quo warranto's. The quo warranto's took away certain rights from corporate bodies; but what rights did this Bill deprive them of? The power of voting was not a municipal right. The power of selling a vote to a Duke or a Peer, or to a Duke's nominee or to a Peer's nominee, however palateable and delightful it might appear to hon. Gentlemen opposite, was not a reason why a corporate jurisdiction was established in any borough. That certainly was not the primary object for which borough corporations were formed; for his hon. and learned friend, the member for Calne, had proved, in a speech which was vet tingling in their ears, and which would dwell in their memories so long as their memories lasted, that the principle on which the right of representation was originally granted to the people of England was the very principle on which they were now going to extend it to that portion of the people which was at present without it. The corporations, then, are not to be extinguished, though some are to be deprived of the right to elect Members of Parliament. His hon. and learned friend spoke of himself, as if he was walking at his own legislative funeral. "Merrier tears the spirit of loud laughter never shed" than those which his hon. and learned friend, and his band of merry mourners had poured upon his bier. He was happy to see his hon. and learned friend disporting with such hilarity about his own grave. They seemed one and all like patriot philosophers overcome with joy in having an opportunity to make that sacrifice to the public which its welfare demanded. He would ask his hon. and learned friend, and those who were then acting with him, whether there was to be any Reform at all? Not one argument had they advanced that evening, which had not gone to the extent, that no reform ought to be made in the constitution of the Commons House of Parliament. He did not say, that such 1243 was the object of the Gentlemen who had used the arguments, but it was unquestionably the point to which all their arguments tended. His hon. and learned friend had said, that he was no enemy to representative improvement. When, where, how, in what shape, had his hon. and learned friend ever professed himself a friend to it? He (the Attorney-general) had never heard such a sentiment from his hon. and learned friend before—it was brought forward on the present occasion to break, with the public, the force of the plan of reform which Government had now brought forward: it certainly was not the practical view which his hon. and learned friend, and his usual political friends, were accustomed to take on the subject, and if it had recently become their view, it was because they had been driven to it by the force of public opinion. If they were advocates for it to any extent, would they inform him what their plan was, and how far it went? If his hon. and learned friend had ever brought forward any plan of reform, or had expressed a desire to promote it, before that night, it was a fact in his hon. and learned friend's history which he had by some strange fatality completely overlooked. Unless his hon. and learned friend and his political associates meant to say, that the miserable plan of disfranchising Evesham and East Retford was their plan of Reform, and was one with which the public ought to be satisfied, he knew of no plan of Reform which they had ever patronized. That because in Evesham money had been paid to the electors, and the payment of it had been discovered by a Committee formed of Members who had only not been found out in making such payments, that because they were ready in such cases to make the most vigilant inquiry into the number of poor wretches who had contaminated their lingers with the bribes held out to them by their wealthy tempters,— that because they were willing to do this, they were to represent themselves friendly to reform and to step in between this measure and the public, was a project against which he, as an honest man, felt bound to enter his protest. He looked upon a plan of reform so uncertain, difficult, and distant, as not only a needless expense of money and of time, and an insulting hypocrisy to the people at large. It was, however, something in the shape of Reform, and proved that some sacrifice to public 1244 opinion was found inevitable in the most hostile quarters. Even the noble Duke, who on the first day of this Session had declared himself opposed to all Reform, and had asserted, that nothing could be devised better than the present system of representation,—even he was anxious, in the last session of Parliament, to have the bill for the disfranchisement of East Retford pressed through both Houses, in the hope that it would be deemed a Reform which would satisfy the mind of the public. Since that time, the voice of the public had made itself heard in every part of the kingdom, and it now declared, in accents that could not be mistaken, that any such paltry, equivocating species of Reform would not give satisfaction. It appeared to him, that the argument which had been brought forward by the hon. member for Oxford on a former night, condemned the mode of proceeding which his hon. and learned friend wished to have applied to delinquent boroughs. His hon. and learned friend, as well as the hon. member for Oxford, had defended our present system of representation, on the ground that it worked well,—that its results were beneficial,—and that trade, and rank, and ability, obtained entrance into the House through the impure channel of corruption. If this were true, with what consistency could the advocates of such an argument disfranchise by an ex post facto law the places, where the door into Parliament was regularly opened to the highest bidder? It was as notorious as the sun at noonday, that scats in that House were as purchaseable as stalls in Smithfield? Why then should they disfranchise the poor man, who had some excuse at least in his poverty, for selling his individual vote, when they permitted the rich man, who had no excuse of poverty to plead, not only to sell his vote, but also to sell the votes of all persons over whom he could exercise the slightest influence? Mr. Canning had staved off for a time the question of reform. In the year 1822, by throwing into the back-ground the abuses of the present system, and by stating that the public mind was not alive to them, he delayed the application of a remedy, by raising doubts whether the evil existed. But could he have used the same language now? Certainly not—for the public mind was shocked at these things; it had taken a nausea at them—to use a term 1245 from the vocabulary of his hon. and learned friend—from which it could never again be freed by the administration of any quack nostrums. He would ask such hon. gentlemen as had not yet forgotten the preliminary steps to their late elections, and who recollected the applications which they had received from different electioneering agents, to fight the battle of corruption as the third men in the different boroughs, whether it was possible for men to witness any thing more demoralizing or more disgusting than the processes by which the poor electors of those boroughs were to be corrupted by their opulent seducers? The people of England had at length discovered that the evil to which such corruption gave birth was no longer to be tolerated. The House of Commons was called upon to redress it, and he was satisfied that the Members of that House, as English gentlemen, would not hesitate to pursue their inquiries into the practicability of redressing it by passing the present bill. If hon. Gentlemen were inclined to say, that no reform ought to be had, or only such Reform as could be effected by no general law, but by acts of Pains and Penalties, applicable to particular cases only, the country knew what it had to expect from them; but if they said that Reform was necessary, but that this plan of Reform was not satisfactory, then he would ask them to try their hands at producing a scheme which would give them less annoyance, and would prove more beneficial to the public. He was willing to take his share of responsibility —and in saying so he was taking upon himself a share of credit that did not rightly belong to him —for having assisted in carrying into effect, in his official capacity, the benevolent intentions of his Majesty's Government. A noble Lord, in an eloquent speech last night, had compared the close boroughs to some portal through which integrity and intelligence might enter without much stooping. He would tell the noble Lord, that integrity and intelligence did not wish to stoop at all; and were bent on finding their way into Parliament through the great highway of the constitution. When he was told that Burke, and Pitt, and Fox, and other illustrious characters, had owed their introduction into Parliament to the defects in the constitution, he would reply, that it was not for their happiness or glory; no, nor for the public benefit, that they had 1246 owed their entrance to the House to any thing but the free choice of the Commons of England. It happened strangely enough, that all the opinions of Mr. Fox, which some Gentlemen opposite were so fond of quoting, and which Mr. Fox's admirers would wish to forget, were delivered by him at a time when he did not represent the inhabitants of Westminster, but was sitting for a close borough,— when he was a Lord of Admiralty; and, strange recommendation, when he was even by law incapacitated by his youth from voting in that House. He would then, in a few words, reply to that part of Sir C. Wetherell's speech in which he had accused the present Government of having brought forward in their Budget a measure which was a violation of public faith. He must contend then, that the stamp which they had wished to place on the transfer of stock was not a violation of the Acts of Parliament sanctioning the contracts of the Government with the loan-contractors; but supposing, for the sake of argument, that it were, the charge of a violation of faith with the public creditor, came with a very bad grace from those who had reduced the five per cents to three per cents, and had left no option —for though there was a nominal, there was no real option to the trustees of widows and orphans, but to accede to that reduction. Reverting to the subject of the nomination boroughs, he observed, that as the noble Lord had, in language far too complimentary, referred to himself sitting in Parliament for a close borough, he would say a few words on that subject. In the year 1818, he was given to understand that there was a wish that he should be in Parliament. Having heard that there was at that time a vacancy in the town which he had now the honour to represent, he determined to offer himself to the electors. It happened that there was no vacancy. A seat, however, was offered him for the borough of Wareham; and though averse to the system, he confessed with some sense of shame, that he had not had virtue to resist it. He should have respected himself more had he acted on his opinion. On the dissolution in 1820 he was not re-elected for a close Borough, but sought and obtained the suffrages of one of the most enlightened towns of England. And when in 1826 private circumstances prevented him from seeking the same distinction, no close Borough was prepared as an 1247 asylum for him. There was something that an independent spirit could but ill bear; for though he was bound to feelings of gratitude for treatment the most kind and liberal, the sense of uncertainty and dependence on others was fraught with painful feelings. From the very nature of the case, when the point was to be determined, a secret council must sit canvassing your claims and merits, in comparison with others, and disposing of your hopes of public usefulness, without hearing or consulting you. He made no complaint against those who gave him his seat, or withdrew it from him; but when he contrasted his situation as Member for a close Borough, with his situation as member for Nottingham, which he owed to the confidence of thousands, he felt that there was no more comparison to be made between them than between the crumbling walls of Aldborough and the most flourishing town of England. His hon. and learned friend must have undergone the same feelings, when he compared his present seat for that Borough, with the station he formerly owed to his own exertions as representing the City of Oxford. As to the necessity for Reform, he would remind the House that it had the authority of Burke, and Pitt, and Fox, and Lord Chatham in his best and proudest day, that Reform in the House of Commons was absolutely necessary for the preservation of the internal quiet of the country. The remark of Mr. Pitt was equally well known. He had said in 1783, that "without Reform no honest man would be, or could be, a Minister;" and in 1797 Mr. Fox reminded him of that speech, and said, "that Mr. Pitt had lived to carry his own prediction into effect." "Such was his prophecy," said Mr. Fox, "and it has come upon us. What a whimsical fate is his! all his prophecies of success in the conduct of his war are still believed by the House, in spite of repeated failures; but on that point, which his own conduct is daily illustrating, the House obstinately refuses to see that he spoke the truth." Every person acquainted with the works of Mr. Burke —and what man of education was not?— must be aware, that in his celebrated speech for the conciliation of our differences with the American colonies, he had quoted the preamble of the Act of the 27th Henry 8th, by which the power of sending two Knights of the Shire as their Representatives to Parliament, was given to the free- 1248 holders of the county of Chester. Mr. Burke, at the close of his life, the decided enemy to all innovation however simple and necessary, referred to that preamble; still more singular, that Henry 8lh, the most arbitrary and despotic monarch that ever sat on the throne of England, should have recognised the value of the Representative system, and its importance in attaching the affections of the people of England to the throne. The preamble to that Act was as follows:—"Whereas, the said county palatine of Chester is and hath been always hitherto exempt, excluded, and separated out and from the High Court of Parliament, to have any Knights and Burgesses within the said Court; by reason whereof the said inhabitants have hitherto sustained manifold disherisons, losses, and damages, as well in their lands, goods, and bodies, as in the good, civil, and politic governance and maintenance of the commonwealth of their said country: and forasmuch as the said inhabitants have always hitherto been bound by the Acts and Statutes made and ordained by the King's Highness and his most noble progenitors, by authority of the said Court, as far forth as other counties, cities, and boroughs, have been, that have had their Knights and Burgesses within the said Court of Parliament, and yet have had neither knight nor burgess there for the said county palatine; the said inhabitants, for lack thereof, have been oftentimes touched and grieved with Acts and Statutes made within the said Court, as well derogatory unto the most ancient jurisdictions, liberties, and privileges of their said county palatine, as prejudicial unto the commonwealth, quietness, rest, and peace, of his Majesty's most bounden subjects inhabiting within the same." The Act provided, that the inhabitants of the county palatine of Chester should for the future return Members to Parliament. It was to that Act that Mr. Burke referred the often-quoted passage from Horace, in this application of which there is more poetical merit, than even in its original composition —Simul alba nautisStella refulsit.Which Mr. Burke translated in his own beautiful language — "The day-star of the British Constitution then rose in the hearts of the people, and all was harmony both within and without." It had been thought necessary, however, by some, that peers 1249 should have their interests represented in that House, by Members whom they deputed. If this were so,—why, let him ask, had not every peer and prince of the blood, according to his rank, his acknowledged Representatives there? They might have as many Representatives in that House as they had domestic chaplains in their own houses, if the law allowed them. But the law did not allow this, it was no privilege of peerage, but the mere accident of peers having purchased boroughs open to the money of all men, which gave them so unconstitutional an advantage. He contended that it was in strict accordance with the spirit of the Constitution to take the elective franchise from decayed and corrupted boroughs, and send them to more healthy places. By Mr. Pitt's plan of Parliamentary Reform, as many as forty boroughs would have been got rid of. This had not been forgotten by the Gentlemen on the other side the House, but in recollecting it they had alluded to the compensation which it was then proposed to make to the owners of those boroughs. There was, however, one other thing to be remembered,— namely, that that compensation was a compulsory compensation, and none of the parties concerned could have thought themselves very well treated by being forced to accept the proffered compensation. He contended, that such individuals had no right whatsoever to compensation; for the supposed right was in truth a wrong, a direct infringement of law, and the subject of great punishment. He know that there were some Gentlemen who thought that the Attorney General ought to be a kind of censor over the Press; but let him tell those hon. Gentlemen, that an Attorney-General might find occupation much more advantageous to the country than proceeding against those whose very violence prevented their doing mischief, and only disgusted the people whom it was their object to excite and to exasperate. There were other violators of the law which were much more dangerous to the public —there were other delinquencies which were more deserving of prosecution. Let them, therefore, hear no more about vested rights; for if a peer chose to interfere, by bargaining and influence, to return Members to the House of Commons, that peer was not only guilty of a gross breach 1250 of the privileges of the House, but subjected himself also to an indictment at law. They had been told, that the people would remonstrate against the measure now proposed by the Government, and it was hinted to the Corporation of the City of London, that the charter of the City might next be destroyed. Was it possible that the Gentlemen who told them this could be sincere?—that they could really believe what they said? If so, lot them wait but a little while,—let them see whether the Common-hall which was to meet to-morrow, or the Common Council summoned for Monday,—let them see whether the people who might assemble in various parts of the country, would re-echo the sentiments of the mourners at the funeral of the defunct member for Boroughbridge, and murmur and remonstrate that it was proposed to confer upon them a better system of Representation. A noble Lord had told them, that the proposed measure ought to be brought in, and that it ought to be widely circulated, in order that the people might deliberate and pronounce upon it. There could be no possible objection to this, only let him express his hope, that the noble Lord, and all those who had cheered this sentiment of the noble Lord's, would abide by the result of that experiment. Let him express his hope, that when the people had considered and pronounced upon the measure, those who desired that the people should have the opportunity of doing so, would submit to the decision of the people. Most willingly would he submit the proposed measure to the judgment of the people, most ready would he be to agree that the decision of the people upon it ought to be final. The character of the people of England was well known; and it was not their character to approve and to applaud acts of spoliation and robbery. But it was not by his hon. and learned friend repeating over and over again the words robbery and spoliation, sometimes with violent, and sometimes with humorous accompaniments, that the people of England would be led to reject the measure. His hon. and learned friend had talked about the Members to be pre-sumptuously cashiered, about the right hon. the Paymaster of the Forces exercising military law; had talked of purging the House by violent measures, and had rung the changes on every strong expression by which a reformation of Parliament could be described. But these strong expres- 1251 sions do not alter the nature of things. It was not consistent with the fact to say, that the people of this country had been a happy people for the last century, and that the existing system had worked well for them; the contrary was true; during that time, they had suffered much and severely from measures of that House, which could never have passed into laws if the people had been fairly represented in Parliament. The danger was as great as the mischief. For if peers by an outlay of money could send Members to the House of Commons, as did the Nabob of Arcot fifty years ago, so might any foreign despot hereafter. Then, as to the question which his hon. and learned friend had so chivalrously and triumphantly challenged him to answer,—namely, where any lawyer could find a precedent in support of the measure now proposed. He would say in a word, where he found a precedent; he found it in the measure which passed only two years ago, and which disfranchised half the voters in Ireland. That measure passed through this House with only a very small minority against it, and among that minority he had not been able to find the name of his hon. and learned friend. This answer had been given before the question was put, and his hon. and learned friend hoped to get over it, by applying to the brilliant arguments of the hon. member for Calne the description of nonsense and that he would nail them by his replies, as a baker nailed a bad shilling to his counter. Now, he must say, that this, though it might be a very lordly, and a very humorous mode of proceeding, was no more convincing or sensible than it was courteous. Much indeed, had been said by his hon. and learned friend, and by others, about producing a revolution, and about revolutionary measures; but if he thought that this measure was calculated to lead to a revolution, or to produce a convulsion, no man would struggle against it with more zeal and determination than he would. In his conscience, however, he did believe, that it was a measure in strict accordance with the spirit of the Constitution; and that it was almost the only mode of preventing a revolution. They had been told to look at the proceedings which had lately occurred in France, but here also a contrast was mistaken for a resemblance. Instead of looking at the proceedings of the French people with horror, he could consider what they had done only as an act of 1252 justice, and as an act committed in self-defence. He would at once admit, with as much sincerity as he lamented, the fact, that the French people appeared more competent to gain a victory than to improve one, and he was sorry that they had not imitated the example which had been set them by our own countrymen when they effected their permanent, and glorious, and bloodless Revolution of 1688. The revolution in Belgium, which had also been referred to, it was idle to compare with the proceedings of the French people. The revolution in Belgium, he believed to be a wanton and a useless revolution. He would now describe it, as he had done when sitting on the other side of the House, as one which appeared to him justified by no adequate necessity, and polluted from its outset by bloodshed and plunder. He would not detain the House with dwelling upon these topics, which he should not have touched upon had they not been brought forward by others. In taking leave of them, however, he must observe, that, in his opinion, nothing could be more senseless, nothing more irrational, nothing more absolutely absurd, than to compare the measure now submitted to the House on the subject of Reform, either to the revolution in France or to the revolution in Belgium. One observation which had fallen from his hon. and learned friend had, he must say, struck him as being singularly unfair,— but that had been answered by speakers who had preceded him, as, indeed, all his other arguments had been answered,— only the sentences of his hon. and learned friend seemed to have been prepared and moulded for the purpose of delivery, and so they were delivered without reference to the arguments which had answered them by anticipation. The observation to which he alluded, was that which! regarded the boroughs which it was not proposed to disfranchise. His hon. and learned friend had asked why Calne, and Tavistock, and other boroughs, were to be allowed to retain their franchise? The answer was plain and obvious, and had already been given —namely, that it was necessary to draw some line of distinction; that if Calne and Tavistock had been on one side that line, they would have been disfranchised; but that, being on the other side the line, they were allowed to retain their franchise. But to retain it how? Not as close corporations, but under a system of fair election. In 1253 their former state these boroughs had returned many great and eminent men to Parliament. Why should they not do so again? Their closeness had had the effect of excluding some, while it had admitted others, but admitted them only by the effect of chance. The noble Duke who had done himself such honour, by returning his right hon. friend (Sir J. Mackintosh) for Knaresborough, could not have been expected to give him the preference over near relations of his own, if such had been the state of his family. It was, then, to this fortuitous circumstance, that his right hon. friend owes a seat among us, in which the inhabitants of Knaresborough would have been proud, under any circumstances, to place him. He knew that he had risen under great disadvantage in coming to the debate after his hon. and learned friend, — whose speech, however, was indebted, for much of its popularity, to the sympathy of hon. Gentlemen, who felt themselves to be much in the same situation with the about-to-be-defunct member for Borough-bridge, as his hon. and learned friend called himself. According to the view of his hon. and learned friend, he would go out of the House a victim of injustice, while he (the Attorney General) was to be ejected like Sir Robert Sawyer, the tyrannical instrument of a profligate and shameful government. He thought it was only on the agitation of debating this important and interesting subject, that his hon. and learned friend had been betrayed into the use of such expressions towards him. For his own part he hoped to retain such a hold on the good opinion of the English people, as would keep him there; but when Boroughbidge had disappeared, he doubted not that the learning and talent of his hon. friend would prepare for him a more constitutional scat. There they would again meet in friendly contest, with different views, but with equal sincerity, maintaining what they believed to be the real interests of their common country.