§ On the Motion of Lord John Russell, the Order of the Day for the resumption of the Adjourned Debate on the Reform Bill was then read, and the question of the Second Reading, and the Amendment being put,
Lord Viscount Mahon
could not but think, that the remarks just made by the hon. member for Waterford were a fair sample of the misrepresentation with which the opponents of the present measure had been treated. When honestly expressing their fears and objections, they were told by that hon. Member, they were upholders of everything wicked and corrupt —enemies of England—despoilers of the people; and thus, when they brought forward arguments, they were answered by hard words. As little could he concur in the remark made by the Attorney General, that at present they ought only to discuss the principle of the Bill, and to reserve the discussion on the details for the Committee. That would be very convenient for Ministers, and he was not surprised at their expressing such an opinion, after the able and masterly manner in which the Bill had been taken to pieces and exposed last night by the hon. member for Weymouth (Sir Edward Sugden). In a measure so sweeping and general as that, the details were the principle. It was not a mere partial amendment, but a total new-modelling of the 720 Representative system, when, instead of the old-fashioned plan of constituents choosing their Representatives, the Representatives were called upon to chooe their constituents. He wished also to notice, in addition to these unfair accusations, another, which the member for Westminster brought forward last night against the opponents of this measure. The hon. Baronet said, that he was quite astonished at the "gross and shameless effrontery," of acknowledging the existence of corrupt influence in the elections to this House. He said, that when he first entered Parliament, this influence could only be alluded to in cautious and distant terms— it was resented as an imputation by those to whom it applied; but now, forsooth, it was openly defended! In this charge he was seconded by another Baronet, the right hon. member for Cumberland (Sir James Graham), who was shocked—perfectly shocked—at hearing parliamentary interests, the Fitzwilliam interest, or the Newcastle interest, openly mentioned in that House. But what would have been thought or said, if the opposite course had been pursued?—if the opponents of the Bill had said to his Majesty's Government,— "You charge us with corruption, but we deny that any such exists—it is unconstitutional to entertain any such idea—prove it if you can—prove it at that bar—but do not presume to bring forward the charge without full and decisive evidence." If they had said this, then, they would have stopped the Bill, or, at least, the arguments in favour of the Bill, in limine. But no, they adopted the more open and manly course of admitting that which was known by moral conviction, though not by any legal proof, and of bringing the question at once to the issue, whether such influence, within certain limits, and under certain circumstances, was, or was not, useful and advantageous to the people. Such was their fair and candid conduct, and such were the acknowledgments they had received for it! Extraordinary pains had been taken to press illustrious names into the service of this Bill. The hon. member for Milborne Port, who spoke last night (Mr. Shiel), gave the House a long and splendid muster-roll of the great Statesmen who had all supported the cause of Reform, and he added, that if we went to Westminster-Abbey, we should find that the Reformers had a majority of sepulchres. 721 But did not the hon. Member see, or would he not acknowledge, the fallacy that lurked in this word Reform—a word that comprehended every shade of sentiment, every colour of opinion,—every one of the thousand schemes of amendment, from Universal Suffrage and the Ballot, to the mere extension of suffrage to two or three large manufacturing towns?— When, therefore, the hon. Member told the House that all these great men were favourable to Reform, he ought to have added, that their plans were not only different, but opposite and conflicting, and that they differed as widely from each other as they all did from the last new plan proposed by his Majesty's Ministers. But it had been said, that to this last and admirable scheme, all opinions would have come round, and that even Mr. Pitt and Mr. Canning, had they been alive, would, in all probability, have supported it. This assertion had been made not once, but several times in the course of the Debate; but as a profound admirer of those two great men, professing, however humbly, the same political principles—and being closely connected in kindred with one of them, he would venture to rescue their memory from a disgraceful, and what was more an undeserved imputation. It was perfectly true that Mr. Pitt was, in early life, a friend to Parliamentary Reform, and even brought forward a motion for that object—though it altogether differed from the present plan. But what event altered all his views upon the subject of Reform, and made him for the rest of his life its steady and determined opponent? The revolution in France, the ascendency of the populace of Paris. And what was the present situation of the world? Another revolution had just broken out in France,— its populace was again supreme. And was the House then to be gravely told, that, on the same mind, the same event would have produced diametrically opposite effects; and, as the first French revolution made Mr. Pitt, from the friend, become the adversary of Reform, so would the second French revolution have re-converted him? Ought such unfair use to be made of the name and authority of that illustrious Statesman, whose life would fill one of the brightest pages in the history of this country—whose merit exceeded praise—a StatesmanWho broke no promise, served no private end,Who gained no title, and who lost no friend?722 A noble Lord opposite (Lord Palmerston) had pretended to discover the opinions of Mr. Canning to be favourable to Reform, from an expression which he found in a speech of his delivered on the Silk Trade; but he thought it was as reasonable to look for the opinions of Mr. Canning, with respect to Reform, in the Debate on the Silk Trade, as it would be to seek for the opinions of the noble Lord on the foreign policy of the country in his speech on the question of Reform. Mr. Canning's sentiments were very different from those the noble Lord imputed to him. In April, 1826, on a proposal by Mr. Abercrombie, to extend the elective franchise in one or more cities of Scotland, Mr. Canning said, and he knew, for he was present at the Debate, that the words had been accurately reported, "I have been accused, and justly, of pertinacity in my opposition to Parliamentary Reform. My opposition to that measure is settled and unalterable, it does not depend on any time, or any circumstances, or any transient considerations whatever."* Such were the sentiments of Mr. Canning. Deeply as the loss of that most eminent statesman was to be deplored, at this time it was more deeply to be deplored than ever. The Highlanders had once a famous general, Lord Dundee, killed at a battle near Dunkeld, and Sir Walter Scott said, that so great was their admiration of his military merit, that for above a century after his death they were apt to exclaim, in any doubtful engagement, "Oh for one hour of Dundee!" So, when he saw our ancient Constitution thus beset, and threatened, and endangered by the very men who ought to have cherished and upheld it, he was tempted to exclaim —"Oh for one hour of Canning!" How would his keen eye have detected, his eloquent tongue have exposed, the falsehoods and fallacies sought to be palmed upon the House in this discussion! How would his former friends and associates have once more felt and acknowledged the mastery of his genius, and shrunk back to their allegiance! He was convinced, notwithstanding all that had been said of the corruption and meanness of the House of Commons, that the Reform Bill, if carried, though it might increase the quantity of talent in that House, would diminish its stock of honesty. The right hon. Baronet, the member for Cumberland (Sir J. Graham),* Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, Vol. xv. New Series, P. 182.723 whom he saw on the opposite bench, had been frequently asked, in the course of the Debates, what his constituents would say to this Bill? He would suppose the Bill to be passed, and the right hon. Baronet returned to claim their suffrages. But they would reject him. The right hon. Baronet might then have recourse to some populous town. Acting under an opinion, sedulously fostered by the friends of the measure, that Reform was necessarily a diminution of taxation, and a reduction of the public burthens, the inhabitants of such a place would probably begin by asking him, if he had cut down the Navy Estimates?— No, he would probably answer, the public service required them to be kept up. Why, then, they would probably say, have you reduced the Army? Have you lowered Taxation? Have you diminished the Civil List?—The answer would be No; but what would be the result? Some cunning lawyer's clerk—some of those who are on the watch to take advantage of the projected changes—would probably instantly start up and say, "Oh, you see the First Lord of the Admiralty has no sympathy with your sufferings. He is not the man of the people. He is a Baronet, an aristocrat, and that is enough. Elect me, and you shall have no Taxes, no Civil List, no King, no Nobles, no Rent, no Tithes. You shall send me your orders to town by the morning's post, and they shall be executed in the evening in Parliament." This would be the language of the class, and the result would be, that the attorney's clerk would be chosen the Representative of such a place, and the right hon. Baronet, already ejected from Cumberland, would go to the wall. And then observe the conduct of the successful candidate. He would come to that House without any fixed principles of action—without any stake in the country —without any means of livelihood, perhaps, but his patient industry, and he would be debarred from the exercise of that industry by his attendance on his parliamentary duties. What, then, must he do? Why, he must either redeem his pledges by entering into a most unjust and most mischievous opposition, or else break them, and sell himself to any Ministry which thought it worth while to buy him,—either bluster forth a noisy agitator, or dwindle down into a venal voter. The hon. member for Callington, in an able speech, which every one recollected, had pointed out the effect which the Bill would be likely to have on 724 the electors. He would take leave to point out the effects he thought it was likely to have on the elected. The hon. member for Callington alluded to the useful power which Gatton and Sarum exercised in counterpoising the effect of the more popular Representation, and pointed out, very happily, the blending of the several interests in forming a perfect whole. Hon. Members, it was well known, got into that House in a great variety of ways—some for counties, some for cities, and some for close boroughs. The hon. Baronet who moved the Amendment last night, was the member for the county of Cornwall, and held, in that capacity, a high place in the House. He was Member for a borough, with a comparatively small number of voters. He could not pretend at any time to enter into competition with the hon. member for Cornwall, but it was the more necessary for him, as the Representative of a borough, to make unceasing exertions to retain his position in the eyes of the people, and to counteract by his industry the disadvantages of his station. This difference in the nature of the Representation formed, therefore, as it were, a continual stimulant to honourable exertion in that House, in the same manner as the differences of rank were said to operate in the House of Peers— but with this great difference, that in the one case the favours derived from honourable exertion were conferred by the King, on the other they were the gift of the people. These differences of the Representative system, as at present constituted, afforded, moreover, a useful equipoise in the management of separate interests. That, however, would not be the case when the Members became the direct Representatives of those interests. The County Members would be most interested in agricultural subjects, and in maintaining the Corn-laws. The member for Newcastle would have his petitions against the duty on coals, and would not give a very candid opinion on that subject; the member for Kidderminster would be zealous in his prayer to keep up the duty on the importation of Turkey carpets—and the Member connected with Brighton would probably support a petition against the extension of medicated vapour baths: all interests would be active, and every interest having its peculiar Representative, there would be much contention. How useful, then, was it to have a body of independent men, not connected with any populous town or any county, to interpose 725 between these rivals, and calm their disputes. That was, he contended, the great practical advantage of the Constitution. They were told, however, that the system of close boroughs was contrary to the theory of the Constitution. Why should they care for theory? It was not the theory, but the practical effect of the system that they ought to look at. They did not regard the symmetry of the building, but the comfort of those who were to live in it— not the form but the use. They wished for practical advantage, and not that restless searching after theoretical perfection, which in the neighbouring kingdom of France had preceded its first disastrous Revolution,— a restlessness which was but too evident in the works of those who wrote for the Encyclopædia. It was said, however, that the present state of the Representation was a monstrous anomaly in the Constitution, which could not be suffered longer to disgrace it. Why, were there no anomalies in the Constitution except the close boroughs? It was a part of the Constitution that the King, whatever might be the extent of his insanity, could never be pronounced a lunatic; that whatever were his years, he could never be a minor; and that although he might, like James 2nd endeavour to destroy the Constitution, and usurp the powers of the other branches of the Legislature, still he could do no wrong. But speaking of anomalies, what could be more absurd than hereditary legislators? While other men, probably possessed of the most transcendent talents, and who had laboured through half a life to make themselves acquainted with the laws of their country, were debarred from exhibiting their knowledge for the benefit of their fellow-creatures, he, from being born the son of a Peer, and writing the four letters L, O, R, D, before his name, was destined to attain the distinction of a Legislator, without labour or exertion. Then what could be more monstrous than the Law of Primogeniture, which gives to the eldest son, perhaps one of the most worthless brutes on earth, all the lands and properties of his parents, to the exclusion of his more deserving, but younger relatives. These were all monstrous anomalies, as monstrous as any said to be found in the Representative System; but yet they were leading principles of the Constitution. Referring to the arguments which had been adduced in favour of the present system, in consequence of the facilities it afforded for the 726 admission of men of talent to that House' he believed he had thirty or forty arguments of that kind at once within his glance. It had, however, been urged against them, and against all who sat in that House for close boroughs, that they were precluded from voting on the question of Reform, and that, when it was agitated they should get up and walk out of that House. If, however, all the hon. Members placed in that situation had complied with such a demand, they could not at that moment have been discussing the terms of a Bill introduced by the able exposé of the noble Lord, the member for Tavistock. He saw many persons closely connected with the Government who were placed in the same situation. There was, for instance, the right hon. Member, the Secretary for Ireland, whose speech on the question of Reform he liked least, because he feared it most, and was but too sensible of the effect it would produce. When, however, that right hon. Gentleman was defeated at Preston, what would have been his fate as a Minister if he had not found a refuge in. a close borough? and yet, having derived from it all the advantage which it would afford, he, like an ungrateful and undutiful child, turned round and denounced close boroughs as nuisances which were to be abated. One word with respect to intimidation, and he had done. It was a favourite expression of the supporters of the present system, although much ridiculed by their opponents, that it worked well whatever might be its defects. Now he must say, that the intimidation got up by the Government with respect to the question of Reform, whatever objections it might be liable to, had also worked well. He had conversed with a great number of persons on the subject, and he really must say, that he believed there was no greater number of persons inclined to Reform at that moment than there had been twelve months before; but, although he was satisfied that there were not many more persons convinced by the arguments of the Government and their supporters, he was sure that a great many had been terrified into advocating its necessity. Mr. Macauley had told them, they said, that there would be a massacre unless the Reform Bill passed; and Mr. Macauley wrote in the Edinburgh Review, and must be right. He believed that if the arguments brought forward by the supporters of the Bill were divested of the appeals to the determination of the people to have Reform, 727 of the assertions that they would and must have it, and that, if it was refused they were, prepared to cut the throats of their enemies to obtain it; if these arguments were taken away, he believed that not fifty Members of that House would be found to vote for it. He would ask, however, who it was made the people clamorous for Reform? The King's Ministers. Who was it that, by their agitation and their complaints, and their promises, and their representations, had brought the House to that melancholy condition, that it could neither pause with safety nor proceed without ruin? If his Majesty's Ministers had used but half the power and industry to tranquillize that they had exerted to bewilder and to mislead, they would not at that moment have been placed in such a painful and dangerous situation. He denied that there was on that side of the House a settled opposition to Reform. Every Member who addressed them had expressed himself in favour of a change which might repair, without destroying, the system of Representation; and it was as rational to denounce them as opposed to Reform, because they were adverse to the present Bill, as it would be to stigmatize the Ministers as determined to deny all retrenchment, because they rejected the extravagant propositions of the hon. member for Middlesex. It only remained for him to say, that the Members of that House were not sent there to follow the course which they might think best calculated to ensure their own return, nor to gratify the populace at the expense of the people. They were bound, on the contrary, to prefer the interests of their constituents to their prejudices; and if they did so, he had no fear for the result. If, unhappily, they should act otherwise, and the wishes of the Government prevailed, then he would say, he neither envied them their triumph, nor the means by which that triumph was won.
Sir J. Shelley
said, he had had the honour of a seat in that House for a great many years. He was not sent in by a close borough; but he was the representative of a very numerous population, his electors amounting from 800 to 1,000 voters, whom he had served in six Parliaments. He considered it unfortunate for himself that the majority of his constituents were in favour of the measure before the House. He thought it his duty honestly to state that fact, because, at a Reform meeting which took place last Friday, he was the only person present who raised his voice against 728 the measure. Having stated that, it now became him, in duty to his constituents and himself, to make a few remarks upon the Bill. He was friendly to Reform, and had always supported the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) in his propositions, until he made the present excessive jump. He was sorry that the propositions for transferring the elective franchise from East Retford and other boroughs to populous towns, had not been carried; because, in that case, we might not have heard of the present Bill. He looked upon the Bill as unjust, fallacious, and revolutionary. It was unjust, because it disfranchised 106 boroughs; sixty completely, and forty-six losing half of their Representation. It also disfranchised the lower order, the poor class of voters. He wondered that the hon. member for Preston, whom he was happy to see in that House, for he would rather have him there than using his influence out of doors, could support a Bill which disfranchised the poorer class of voters. He said, that he should be very brief in his observations, as so many days had already been consumed in discussing the question. He considered the Bill to be fallacious, because he had heard it said, that it was supposed to be a boon to the landed interest. His opinion was, that if it was a boon to any body, (which he denied) it was a boon to the manufacturing interest; because he maintained, that all towns, not having Representatives, would in reality return the Members for the counties; because the voters in the towns would outvote the agricultural voters. Therefore the Bill, in his mind, was fallacious. He also believed it to be revolutionary, and if it passed, the other two branches of the Legislature would lose their influence in the State; and the Members returned to this House would completely govern the country. No Administration, he believed, could, after the passing of that Bill, carry on the Government for six months. That was his opinion, and he believed that the Bill would ultimately tend to a revolution of the Constitution. Having represented his constituents for six Parliaments, he certainly felt regret in differing from them with respect to the Bill; yet feeling as he did, he could not give his sanction to the measure. He regretted that he should not have the honour of addressing them in a reformed Parliament, yet he was consoled by the reflection that he had acted an independent and honest part.
§ Mr. W. Cavendish
trusted the House would indulge him while he made a few brief observations on the important question under consideration. Although he knew that he differed in opinion respecting it from a very considerable portion of his constituents, he must most conscientiously declare, that the whole of the measure which had been introduced by his Majesty's Government had his unqualified support. As to the petition, however, from the University of Cambridge, which had that night been mentioned, although there were undoubtedly many members of the Senate who were adverse to the Bill, he also knew, from communications which he had with them, that there were many who, so far from being hostile to the whole measure, did not object to the disfranchising of the boroughs, although they thought that the proposed qualification of voters was too low. No one was more sensible than he was, that in many respects this country was fortunate beyond the ordinary lot of nations; but he was quite at a loss to see how that could depend on the existing borough system. That there were great evils arising from that system no one could doubt; or that it was the duty of the Legislature to endeavour to remedy them. There was one consideration of paramount importance. Without the confidence of the country, it was certain that no Government could go on. There could be no stability unless the great majority of the people supported the Government. Formerly, no one within or without those walls dared to say, that that House was not the genuine representative of the people. But was that the case at present? So long as the House of Commons was constituted as it was at that moment, so long would the dissatisfaction of the public with it continue to increase. That dissatisfaction might be smothered for a moment, but whenever any circumstance occurred to call it forth, it would burst out with redoubled violence. As for those who said that this measure was only a stepping-stone for further concession, he could not see any weight in their arguments; the tendency of which was, in fact, to throw obstacles in the way of all improvement. He was surprised at the clamour of revolution which had been raised against the Bill. It was his decided conviction, that if revolution was to be apprehended in this country, it was not from this Bill, but from the continuance of a system which was 730 completely at variance with the general interests. Nor could he indulge the melancholy foreboding, that the Bill was calculated to promote the downfall of the aristocracy. On the contrary, he believed that the aristocracy would be in no way endangered by it. It was true, that it would deprive the aristocracy of a portion of their immediate power; but it would induce them to rely, not on their boroughs, but on that which always ought to be the sources of their legitimate influence, their own talents, and their means of conferring happiness on the people
§ Mr. Ormsby Gore
said, that he felt it his duty to submit a few observations to the House upon this momentous question. The hon. and learned Member who addressed the House last night with so much eloquence, brought forward from the tombs of departed greatness a phalanx of men of talent, whom he described to be the advocates of Reform. In reply to the hon. Member who had just sat down, he would take the liberty of quoting some of the words of one of those individuals who had been mentioned as the staunch advocates of Reform. He would call from the vasty deep the spirit of the greatest constitutional writer which this country ever knew. He would call into St. Stephen's Chapel the spirit of Sir William Blackstone; the reforming Sir William Blackstone; but, as he could not speak for himself, he would quote his words; Sir William Blackstone said, "Were we now to frame a new polity with respect to the qualifications of voters, reasons might be perhaps suggested why copyholders, even holding at the nominal will of the Lord, and the owners of beneficial leases for a term of years, should be admitted to this privilege as well as freeholders, and why the value of freeholds themselves should be greatly advanced above what is now required by law to entitle the proprietor to give his vote in county elections." He thought that the proposal of giving the right of suffrage to copyholders was the least objectionable part of the plan submitted by the Government: but what did Blackstone say to that point? why, approving of the idea of giving the right of voting to copyholders, he added as an objection, "But this would be removing foundations, at least pulling down the superstructure, and erecting another in its stead." What, then, would Sir William Blackstone say if he could rise from his grave, and hear a 731 proposal gravely made for ousting sixty-three Members from this House? How would he be startled to hear that all the charters of corporations, which had been granted to our ancestors, were to be destroyed, and a new system established? Yet it is said this is not revolution, but only restoration. His hon. friend, the member for Cornwall, last night observed, that the admission of an inherent right to vote on the part of the people must lead to Universal Suffrage. He would make one observation on this point, not on his own part, but on that of an Act of Parliament. The preamble of the Statute of Henry 6th, by which the right of voting for Knights of the Shire was limited to 40s. freeholders was this. "Whereas the elections of Knights of the shire to come to the parliaments of our Lord the King, in many counties of the realm of England, have now of late been made, by very great, outrageous, and excessive number of people, dwelling within the same counties of the realm of England, of the which most part was of people of small substance and of no value, whereof every one of them pretended a voice equivalent as to such elections to be made with the most worthy Knights and Esquires dwelling within same counties; whereby manslaughter, riots, batteries and divisions among the gentlemen and other people of the same counties, shall very likely rise, and be, unless convenient and due remedy be provided in this behalf." That Statute was accordingly passed, to make a distinction between those who had a slake in the country, and were capable of forming a correct judgment respecting persons qualified to be Members of Parliament, and the mere villeins. Previous to the passing of this Statute, the suffrage was next to universal. The qualification fixed by this Statute was not an inconsiderable one. Forty shillings in the time of Henry 6th was equal to twelve pounds in the reign of Queen Anne, and to more than twenty pounds at the present moment. He would now advert, but very briefly, to the justice and impartiality with which the details of the Bill before the House had been brought up. He would not occupy much of the time of the House upon this subject, which had been ably handled by the hon. and learned Gentleman, whose splendid speech concluded the Debate of last night, as well as by the hon. member for Corfe Castle. One most curious circumstance, however, had not been adverted to. The House had 732 been told, that the framers of the Bill had been guided by the population returns of 1821. Was it to be taken as a proof of the impartiality with which Ministers had framed the details of the measure, that a district of country, containing a male population amounting to 340,000, was to send to Parliament the same number of Representatives as a county whose male population amounted to 104,000? By the Bill before the House, the county of Wilts was to have twenty-five Representatives, whilst the whole Principality of Wales, which contained 340,000 inhabitants, was to have no greater number. He would mention another instance of partiality: the county of Glamorgan, which contained 54,750 inhabitants, was to send one Member to Parliament, whilst Northumberland, with a population of 61,622, was to return four Members. Was that impartiality? Was it justice? Why was Wales thus treated? Was that country thrown into the back ground because she had always displayed the most conspicuous loyalty? Was it because she had never required the presence of vast bodies of troops to maintain tranquillity? Was it because she had never in any one instance called for any expenditure except what was absolutely necessary to carry the laws into effect? This was very nearly the first time that he had heard Wales spoken of in that House; yet Wales was a considerable part of his Majesty's dominions—loyal, opulent, and constitutional, in the strictest sense of the word. Yet in Wales alone had there been one place marked out for peculiar vengeance by the Bill before the House. He alluded to the town of Criccieth, which was a sort of tributary to the borough of Carnavon. That was the only town in England and Wales selected for disfranchisement; but for what reason he could not comprehend. Was it because it possessed the most ancient charter in his Majesty's dominions—granted by Edward the 1st and confirmed by three successive monarchs? Was it because it was remarkable for its strict loyalty at the time of the unfortunate Charles? He would not for a moment suppose anything half so derogatory from the character of the noble and chivalrous Marquis who was connected with the borough, as to suppose that he had approved of the selection of this single borough as a sacrifice to vengeance. The borough which it was proposed to disfranchise contained 120 733 houses and 121 families. The course which was proposed to be pursued with respect to this borough was another proof of the impartiality and justice of Ministers. He had not expressed his sentiments previously to the Bill being laid upon the Table, because he considered it of importance that every Member should have it as soon as possible before his eyes. He would not have it supposed that he was a decided enemy to Reform. No such tiling. No man would endeavour more strenuously to promote Reform than the humble individual who was then addressing the House. But he remembered the saying of Lord Burleigh—"England can never be ruined but by her Parliament." When he saw such a sweeping plan of Reform as that now proposed, he prayed to God that this prophecy might not be fulfilled in our days. He looked upon the present time as the very worst in which the question of Reform could have been brought forward. We saw the spirit of innovation stalking abroad through the whole of the continent of Europe. France was struggling from one revolution to another, never at peace, but always a prey to anarchy. Speaking of the state of France, previous to the first revolution, Burke said, that the government showed a greater disposition to attend to the suggestions of the people than at any former period of her history. It was the listening to projectors which caused the ruin of that government. He would now conclude with a quotation from Lord Bacon, a writer who had been frequently referred to in the course of the Debate, but never, he observed, from the other side of the House. Lord Bacon said, "Omnis subita-immutatio periculosaest; and though it be for the better, yet it is not without a fearful apprehension."
§ Captain Polhill
said, that he should give his vote for the second reading of the Bill, although he must at the same time admit, that it did not go far enough to satisfy his views. He wished the franchise to be 5l. instead of 10l.
§ Mr. W. Ward
said, it fell to his lot to be bound in duty to express himself most unfavourably to the Bill of Parliamentary Reform, while he had an opportunity of knowing that a large portion of his constituents entertained a very different feeling towards that measure. He should not be acting fairly towards his Majesty's Government if he withheld that fact from the House, but he should also be acting 734 most unfairly towards that portion of his constituents who were opposed to the Bill, if he did not take an opportunity of stating the grounds of their opposition. He had been intrusted with a petition to that House, which was signed by 600 merchants, bankers, and others of the City of London, against the Bill brought in by the noble Paymaster; and as he had in vain attempted to present that petition, he trusted he should then be allowed to advert to it. That petition bore the signatures of men who were independent, qualified to judge, and had much at stake in the country. It interested those petitioners much to know upon what tenure property was to be held, and in how far it was to be considered as secure. They wished to know what provision was to be made for the protection of property. They wished to have explained what were the elements of which the new House of Commons was to be formed, and to know why they were to be taken out of the hands of an experienced House of Commons for the purpose of making an experiment. They complained that they were entirely unacquainted with the merits of the new scheme. It had been his fortune that evening to hear a gallant Admiral, the member for Nottinghamshire, with the deepest feeling declare, that he was compelled by duty to vote in opposition to those with whom he had usually acted. It had pleased the House to receive the sentiments of that gallant officer with favour, and he trusted the same indulgence would be extended to him while he briefly gave some of his reasons for opposing the Bill. Whatever intimidation might be attempted or threatened, it should have no effect upon him. He had one duty to perform, and that was simply this; to exercise his own reason honestly and fully, and to endeavour to decide in his own mind whether the people of England were likely to enjoy a larger share of prosperity, of liberty, and of happiness, under the promised Constitution, than they had done— he thanked God, under that which still existed. He had in the first place to look at the Bill upon the score of improvement; and unless it could be shown that under the proposed Parliament greater facilities would be afforded for the forwarding of the interests of the country than at present existed, all arguments in favour of the measure must be useless. Would the proposed Bill effect any im- 735 provement in that point of view? He did not believe it would. He had passed the earlier years of his life principally in two close boroughs, and among the representatives of those boroughs, had been, during his remembrance, Mr. Fox, Mr. Pitt, Mr. Canning, Mr. Perceval, the noble Lord at present at the head of Foreign Affairs, and the Duke of Wellington. Such had been the representatives of those close boroughs, and he very much doubted if by a reformed system, more able Members would be given to that House: indeed, the country would be fortunate if as good were returned. Again, when he first entered that House he naturally looked on both sides to see who were the most influential Members. On the Ministerial side he saw Mr. Canning, the right hon. Baronet lately at the head of the Home Department, and Mr. Huskisson, all of whom had been Members for close boroughs. On the Opposition side of the House he found the most influential Members to be, the present Lord High Chancellor (then Mr. Brougham), Mr. Tierney, and the right hon. Baronet, the member for Knaresborough, all of whom were at that time Members for close boroughs. Such was the case, and fortunate would it be if large and populous places always found and returned men of such abilities. Such being the result of an investigation as to the Members who sat for close boroughs, he next turned his attention to those who sat for populous places. He was then going to speak of a transaction in which the hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster, was personally concerned, but he did not think it necessary to make any apology for so doing, as the hon. Baronet himself had made a similar statement, and he could not intend the slightest disrespect to the hon. Baronet. In his experience but three Members had been called to account by that House in consequence of their conduct. It mattered not whether that conduct had been right or wrong—into that question he did not go; he merely stated a fact; and those Members were, the hon. Baronet the member for Southwark, the hon. Baronet the member for Westminster, and Lord Cochrane, and all three Members were the representatives of populous places. Thus he had found upon examination, that during his time, on the one hand, the only Members who had been called to account for their conduct by the House were the 736 representatives of populous places; while on the other hand, the most influential Members on both sides of the House had sat for close boroughs. But it had been said that however worthy the Members for close boroughs might be, still they were not the representatives of the people. Allow him to ask what was meant by the term representative? Was the physical force of the country to be represented, or was the good sense of the country to be represented, or were the passions of the people to be represented? On the good sense of the country he had great reliance—on the passions none. And if there was a moment when the passions of the people were more liable to excitement than another, that moment was the period of an election. If upon such an occasion the passions were moved in behalf of a particular candidate, whatever might be the character of his pretensions, up he went to the top of the poll. A person so returned was not at liberty to exercise his own judgment. He was necessarily but the echo of the passions of those who had sent him there. But let it not be supposed that he wished to shut out the feeling of the country from that House. He had no such desire, but he contended that the present system did not exclude it. The difficulty was, to admit those feelings in their due proportion. Philosophers, aware of the different operation of heat and cold in expanding or contracting different metals, in the construction of nice machines calculated and availed themselves of the counteracting qualities of those metals. But no philosopher had yet told the world what infusion of the feelings of the people was calculated to have the most beneficial effect on the proceedings of that House. He must be permitted, therefore, to doubt the policy of the extensive measure introduced by his Majesty's Ministers, and introduced, too, at a period totally unsuited to such a proposition. If such a change were to be made at all, it ought to be made at a moment the most free from internal and external commotion. At the present period, although he had no apprehension from home feelings, he was not without fear of the re-action from abroad. Much had been said of the wishes and expectations of the country, but he feared and believed, that the present excitement was only a reaction of what had taken place abroad. He contended, therefore, that 737 the present was not a fitting time for the entertainment of such a measure. He objected to the Bill, therefore, upon these grounds, but the strongest reason he had for giving his decided negative to it, was the fact, that that which the people principally desired had in a great degree been already enforced. The people required relief from taxation, and retrenchment. Since the commencement of the peace, 31,000,000l. of taxes had been repealed. The country was often reminded of the remaining 50,000,000l. of taxes but it had never been sufficiently made acquainted with the fact that 31,000,000l. had been removed. As to patronage and retrenchment, it was right the people should attend to the expenditure of their money; but while so much was said about sinecures and pensions, it ought not to be forgotten that during the last nine years, 4,000 places or pensions had been abolished, fifty-eight of which had salaries attached to them of from 1,000l. to 3,000l. a-year. Of these facts the public had not been sufficiently told. He could not admit, then, that Parliament had not done its duty. On the contrary, he contended that it was impossible for it to have been more assiduous or more beneficially employed than it had been. Through the Parliament, returns had been made to that House which brought the whole of the affairs of the country under review. The accounts of the country were open to the people; in fact, there was a balance-sheet, and every one who chose could know how the least sum was disposed of. This the present Parliament had done, and what more a Reformed House would effect he did not know. They were told, that the House was most corrupt, that the seats in it were used for private gain and advantage, and yet, in the face of that declaration offers were made by individuals to give up their interests in some of the close boroughs solely for the public good. Could it be believed that any such offers would have been made if the gross corruption which was said to exist really did exist? If the seats for close boroughs were the objects of sale and gain to the individuals who possessed the power of nomination, was it to be credited that they would voluntarily sacrifice their property to give success to the Bill before the House? He denied that the close boroughs were what the supporters of the Bill represented them to be. They provided for 738 the representation of the talent and superior ability of the country. That this was the fact it was impossible to contradict. Let the House look at the Universities. If in Oxford or Cambridge a man distinguished himself, within five years of such distinction he was to be found seated in that House. Again, with respect to the Army and the Navy, the most distinguished officers in those services, if they became Members of that House, generally were returned for close boroughs; and he could never be brought to believe that a gallant and upright officer became a bad and selfish legislator merely because he sat for a close borough. Such being the view he took of the subject, it could not be expected that he should be enamoured of the proposed change; on the contrary, he looked at it with great distrust and aversion. In thus speaking, he had delivered his real and unbiassed sentiments. He had thought for himself, and he had endeavoured to think rightly. With the close boroughs, or any one of them, he had, directly or indirectly, no connection whatever. Nor did he know any one individual who could serve him at an election who drew one shilling from the public purse. There was not an individual in the Parliament who could promote his interests; he was beyond the sway of any corrupt influence. He expressed his sincere—his honest and conscientious opinion—and would give his vote for the unalloyed purpose, which must be uppermost in the heart of every honest Englishman— the maintenance of the Constitution and the welfare of the country.
§ Mr. Wyse
said, that notwithstanding the extreme difficulty in producing anything new at that late period of the discussion; yet, certainly, the hon. member for Carnarvon enjoyed the honour of being the first who had explained to the House what revolution really was; from others they had the shadow, but from him the reality. Like his fellow-countryman, Glendower, he had called up "spirits from the vasty deep;" but did they come when they were called? The hon. Member had quoted Blackstone in favour of his abhorrence of innovation; but if he had read Blackstone longer and more truly, he would have found in very many places, passages in favour of Reform. It had been said, too, that Locke was opposed to Reform; yet, in his work upon Government, he observes, in his chapter con- 739 cerning the subordination of the powers of the commonwealth:—"For it being the interest, as well as the intention, of the people to have a fair and equal Representation, whoever brings it nearest to that, is an undoubted friend to, and establisher of the government, and cannot miss the consent and approbation of the community."—What, then, did hon. Members mean by revolution? It was the goodness or badness of revolution which was to be regarded. The question was—whether it was useful or not. If they meant by revolution, a turbulent struggle for the alteration of all existing institutions; if they meant a struggle carried on by a faction against the will and feeling of the majority—a struggle to be consummated by brute force—a struggle promoted by selfish and sordid men, who were striving for their own individual advantage and happiness, and not for the comfort and benefit of the people at large—if this was what they meant by revolution, he repelled such a revolution; but if by revolution they meant a change which was incidental to all good Constitutions—the very susceptibility of alteration being provided for in a good Constitution, lest it alone should be stationary while time was moving all things around it; if by revolution they meant the removal of diseased parts, the lopping-off of excrescences which affected the soundness, and destroyed the fair proportions of the whole, and which might be cut away without the creation of deformity, or without affecting, in the least, the vital principle; he hailed that revolution, and welcomed it as the promise of a brighter day for us and our posterity. He contended that there was nothing dangerous or unusual in a change in the Constitution such as that proposed by his Majesty's Ministers. The principle that the laws of England should not be changed, was proclaimed, but had never been acted upon. Our whole history was nothing but the record of change.—of revolution corrected by revolution—of amendment requiring amendment, so that our Constitution was a series of Constitutions, one flowing into the other from the foundation of the monarchy to the present time. And fortunate that it had been so!—fortunate that it had that pliancy of construction which takes the pressure of existing interests, which imbibes the character of existing habits; had it been of that obdurate, iron temper, which the opponents of Reform 740 would imply, long since it would have been not bent, but broken, under the collision and shock of parties who could not compromise with it; a succession of anarchies and despotisms would have been our whole political history, until we at last had sunk into a despairing apathy to every change, and resigned ourselves to chance for our existence. It was a mistake to suppose that Constitutions made habits and notions; in fact, it was notions and habits, on the contrary, which made, and framed Constitutions to their own purposes and ends. Look a little at our own annals. The exorbitant power of the Crown roused the rude resistance of the vassal Barons, and they succeeded—the revolution of Magna Charta was founded—the Sovereign, in his turn, sought to oppose a barrier to the new power; he summoned, not the commonalty of the realm, but his own tenants in capite, not to legislate, but to tax themselves. Similar revolutions were established, by similar circumstances, at the same time, in Spain, Portugal, Sicily, &c. The domanial representatives sat down with the other two branches, the military and ecclesiastical, and were more than the representatives of the Crown. In England commerce assisted; the coast-towns were the first free. Alfred gave to merchants the honours of Thanes—the merchants of London, like those of Venice, were styled, in contemporary history, quasi optimates terrœ. Here was a great change of manners, and a new Constitution followed it. But the people were not much raised—they were an instrument only, during a long period, to resist and crush the Barons:—the Barons were at length crushed, and the Monarch reigned supreme. That was the age of prerogative; it grew under the Tudors, and attained its bad pre-eminence under the Stuarts. But the people had grown with it silently, but surely;—they bided their time, and it came. Then it was, that the partisans of prerogative in that hour, as the partisans of oligarchy in this—the Staffords of that day, as of this,—spoke of the ancient Constitution, the immutable Constitution; but that Constitution, ancient and immutable as it seemed to be, crumbled at the very first onset before the irresistible power of human passions and living man. Cromwell was said to have done this, and Pym and Hampden; but a stronger than Cromwell, or than many Cromwells, did it—it was England—the 741 English people—through him; the mind and spirit of Englishmen, meditating on their accumulated wrongs, measuring wisely their strength—resolving boldly, and fearlessly executing, when the season came for deeds. It was the working of a new character, of new passions in the nation, expanding beyond the limits of their actual institutions, and meeting resistance, bursting, and shattering them in their way. This was the revolution of the people, but they were too long resisted not to exceed discretion in the hour of victory. As usual they were punished with that worst of penalties, a Restoration. But the seeds of 1641 had not perished; no; they grew up and flourished into the flower and fruit of 1688. William 3rd pursued another policy: he saw men had changed,—he changed the Constitution imperceptibly with them. The reign of influence began, the Treasury was substituted for the Tower, men were not imprisoned, but bribed. Under the two first Georges this revolution, soporific and stealing, but not less sure, reached its climax. In the first Parliament of George 1st about 200 Members held among them 400 places; in the first Parliament of George 2nd, 200 had 350 places. This influence, first in the hands of the Crown, soon fell into the hands of the oligarchy—the last fatal revolution—under which the country still groaned. Let, then, the Gentlemen who taunted the Reformers with this word, blot an entire history, or admit what all beheld. Not a less degree of change had occurred between William and the present day, than between the Tudors and William. A revolution already existed in the national mind. Steam and the Press had revolutionized the nation. Immense riches, immense knowledge, the spirit of inquiry, the spirit of adventure,—immediate and close communication, almost annihilating time and space, commingling all classes and all countries, in one great family,—and almost realizing a community of moral and material goods,—had made us a generation very different indeed in every respect from that of our fathers. Constitutions, which were only the expression and instrument of these changes, must alter with them. The revolution was in the mind of the community. It did not depend upon Parliament any longer, whether it should have its way: all the Legislature could do was to guide it; cut the channel; conduct the electri- 742 city—leave neither to their irregular forces. This it might do, and produce blessings; delay might convert them into a curse. These were matters of stern, undeniable fact. The petitions on that Table, crowding in day after day—the unusual time se apart for their discussion—the unanimous excitation of the public mind stirred to its deepest depths, from one extremity of the land to another, bore evidence for them. What, then, did the opponents of the measure do?—explain them away by attributing them to base motives, and indirect intrigue. His Majesty's Ministers were set up as the stage-managers of this political drama. They were taxed with the troubling of these waters; but was the Reform Question new?—was it not as old as Wilkes and the great Earl of Chatham; as old, almost, as the grievances it proposed, to redress? It had been in the heart of the people for years and years,—did they wonder that it was on their lips now? It was not Ministers who had made this spirit, but it was this spirit which had made them Ministers. Did not the call find a response in the national heart, would they sit where they were. Another hon. Gentleman ascribed it to the Press, but the Press was only the organ of the bold heart which beats below. A third ascribed it to the Catholic Relief bill. He saw in the great question of 1829 the germs of the still greater question of 1831. It might be so— but not to the granting of that bill did he ascribe it, but rather to its delay. Yes, when the Legislature had taken every pains to gather together the elements of strife, when it had organized discontent—when it had made agitation a passion, a want, a necessity, a habit,—when it had made that habit, also, almost inveterate, by repeated rejection, and continued delay, it then wondered that the results of all this tardy wisdom, and reluctant justice should not be quite the same, on a susceptible people, as if it had granted relief with a large and fearless hand, at a season when it might have been thought to have consulted its generosity, and not its fears. If concessions had produced so little, what would have refusal produced? Not Reformers such as were now met in Ireland, but Revolutionists, in the worst sense. But what, after all, would this prove? Were it doubly true, did it negative or adjourn the necessity of considering this all-important question a single hour? Much of the long Debate had been consumed by 743 private contests between this and that proprietor, for the honour of this or that borough—but the pleading was not Tamworth versus Tavistock, but the Commons of England against that House. All they ought to ask was, "Is Reform necessary—is this Bill a proper and safe Reform—is this the time for its application?" Some said there were no abuses; others the abuses are excellencies—essentials to the use and beauty of the British Constitution. That is, the fungus on the British oak, is the sound heart and solid strength of the oak itself. But the debates, and votes of the House, decided otherwise. The House acknowledged the fact; and then came the question, "is this the Constitution?" Where were they to look for it? In the political mysticism of hon. Gentlemen, or in the old established unrepeated laws of the Constitution itself. What did they say? Again and again the House had heard them during this debate. He would not abuse its patience with the repetition; but this was the theoretic Constitution, the real working Constitution was not the same; the people required idols; for their worship, they had shadows, the substance the House reserved for itself. Now, was that fair, and what, after all, was gained by it? An infusion of aristocracy into the Commons—a better balance against democratic power. But was that the fact? It appeared to him, the true solicitude of the opponents of the measure was not for the aristocracy, but for a power which wielded aristocracy and democracy both— for that power which had found the point without the Constitution, by which it could heave the Constitution from its base,—for that power, the fourth estate of the realm, greater than the other three—for the borough mongering sovereigns of England, for the oligarchy alone, that all this solicitude and care were displayed. He liked the Bill because it struck at that power, by equalizing and diffusing the franchise, by taking in other classes, waiting till this hour silently, perhaps indignantly. without the Constitution, particularly the middle classes, the guardians on one side of popular, on the other the bulwark of aristocratic, rights.—But above all, it would be useful, essential, not only restorative, but conservative in these portentous times. Hon. Gentlemen seemed panic struck with the revolution, or rather revolutions of France; but there was no analogy between that country and England. The 744 elements of the French revolution did not exist amongst us—our nobles lived with the people—half their year was spent in the country—they were the chiefs of the nation, not the servants of a Court—we had something to look back to—France had nothing. She burst into revolution, with great grievances to redress, and no landmark to guide. It was not the National Convention (as the hon. member for Corfe Castle had observed) which brought those years of blood upon France: it was refusal, until refusal was no longer possible, vacillation in the king,—treachery in the court, blindness in the clergy,—and stupidity, arrogance, and ignorance, combined in the privileged orders. Secession and emigration ensued; war followed—England made it European by her subsidies—to sustain it France found fanaticism was necessary; the Constitution was sacrificed to the State—liberty, virtue, every thing to national existence. If Europe now stood in somewhat analogous circumstances, had not a combination of almost similar causes produced it? The fatal Vienna Congress of 1815 had bequeathed us the revolutions of 1831. It tried to square mind and men like provinces, and to set down the nineteenth century beside the sixteenth. But these were things altogether impossible, and common sense and human nature rebelled, and had re-asserted their rights. To us, also, would the visitation advance in time. No future war could ever more set up a wall between us and the other nations of Europe. We were no longer, physically or morally, insular. Let the House, then, be prepared in due season for its coming,—let it address itself at leisure, and whilst it yet exclusively might, to this first of all concerns, to a free, spirited, and enlightened community;—let it raise up a sound-hearted and satisfied people, in defence of our institutions, by sharing all with them,—by leaving no interest unrepresented,—by giving a personal and positive solicitude about our common liberties to every individual from the highest to the lowest in the land; let there be no grievance for just discontent to feed on—answer the appeals of profligate or selfish ambition with the solid happiness and equal rights of your people; and then, let that visitation come—when and how it might—we could abide its passing without fear or trembling. This was the approved hour for such a change. Let the House, then, lake counsel, while it could, 745 of wisdom, and it would not have to take it of necessity, when perhaps it might be too late.
Sir R. Bateson.
—On this momentous question I feel it absolutely necessary to say a few words, particularly as so few Members connected with Ireland have yet addressed the House upon it. It appears to me, from some observations I have just heard, that Ireland is not to be considered in this question at all; now I, as an Irishman, as having the whole of my property in that country, and representing an Irish county, feel bound to say, that on this great subject Ireland is of the greatest importance. I think that too much has been said respecting personal motives in the discussion of this question. Indeed, I am surprised that so much has been said upon it, but still as it has been said, although I like not to speak of myself, I feel bound to state, that no one can impute to my conduct on this occasion any other motive than a desire to promote the good of the country. I have no interest in boroughs, or connection with borough mongers, as they are called. It is perfectly immaterial to me, or my personal interest, whether there be any borough in existence or not; so that in defending them to any extent whatever, I can have no bias to lead my judgment astray. I know that my constituents are greatly divided upon this subject, and that, let me vote which way I will, I must offend many of them; but still I am determined to do my duty, fearlessly and conscientiously, without dread of appearing before my constituents, though I differ from many of them, to defend the conduct I feel bound to pursue. It is with great reluctance that I have determined to look at this question in the light I have, and it is with great pain that I shall give the vote it is my intention to give. I always have been, and always shall be, what is called a moderate, constitutional Reformer, desirous that those abuses which have crept into the Constitution should be destroyed or removed; but I think that this Bill goes further than a simple removal of abuses, for it is nothing less than a remodelling of the Constitution. Now, supposing that I admit, for the sake of argument—and it is only for the sake of argument—that this remodelling is necessary, still I would say, that it should not be upon such a crude, ill-digested, unsatisfactory plan as the present. If the Constitution, supposed so long to be the glory 746 of this country, has now become unworthy to govern this House and the public, then I say that a well-considered plan for its change should be adopted. From the manner in which this measure has been constructed—this new re-modelling of the Constitution—I do not think it would give satisfaction for twenty years to come. If we must have the Constitution remodelled, let it be in a way which will satisfy the people that nothing has been done but by the most deliberate consideration. The noble Lord, the Paymaster of the Forces, on the night he made his statement of this measure to the House, told us, I believe, that the basis on which he proposed to rest the franchise was property, and not population; and I agree with him in the goodness of that principle; and my objection to the Bill is, that it is population and not property that is made the basis of the elective franchise. With regard to Ireland, it has been principally alluded to as exemplifying the danger of giving the franchise according to population, and justly; for there, from extreme poverty, and from want of employment, the people are most apt to be led astray by demagogues and agitators. If the franchise be granted to a 10l. qualification, it is no wonder that the Bill should be popular in Ireland, at least in the towns; but there cannot be a doubt but it will produce the most injurious consequences. I think it but fair to the House, whilst upon the subject of the popularity of this measure in the towns of Ireland, to state, as I have had no other opportunity of doing so, that I have two petitions to present in favour of Reform, from Londonderry and Coleraine; the first signed by a great number of respectable inhabitants of the place, with whom I am most sorry to differ, but, as I do so upon principle, I hope to be able to convince them, when we again meet, that I was not wrong in the vote which it is my intention to give. One consequence of this measure would be, to reduce the number of the constituency of the country, and to throw a larger portion of power into the towns. It will add weight to the aristocracy, whilst it takes away all influence from the mercantile, manufacturing, and shipping interests. Now, according to my notions of Reform, it is to those very interests that direct representatives should be given. Belfast, for instance, should send two Members to represent its interests as a great commercial 747 town. Other towns are similarly circumstanced, and I say, that to these, the merchants, the shop-keepers, the men who have something to lose by a revolution, I should like to see the franchise given. To such men no candidate would dare to offer a bribe, or, if he did, it would not be accepted; but put the franchise in a lower scale, and bribery and immorality of every sort are sure to follow. I think the example we have had given us in some of the great and populous towns of this country of the effects of corruption, are enough to deter any man from wishing to see an extension of a system which would spread such consequences. With regard to Ireland, there are many subjects which occupy the attention of the people there— many subjects on which they desire a reform—which the people think of more consequence to the country than this very measure. The people of Ireland, Sir, look upon the reform of their Grand Jury laws and the other abuses—the effects of which they more immediately feel—as more likely to lead to practical benefit than any measure of this kind. Now, I must confess that I am a little disappointed that this is the only measure offered to Ireland, after such great expectations had been held out of what was to be done in her favour. I beg to say this without the slightest hostility to the Ministers on the other side of the House, but I cannot forget that on Friday night allusions were made, which implied that the Gentlemen who voted against that measure were actuated by factious motives; but no such motives can be imputed to me, for I resolved that there should not be a possibility of doing so, and did not vote against them, for fear I might have that taunt flung in my face, and accordingly walked out of it. Indeed, so far from being factiously opposed to Ministers, I came into this House prepared to support the plan of Reform, taking it for granted it would be moderate, rational, Reform they intended to bring in; but when I notice the extraordinary circumstance, that the Bill for Ireland is not yet upon the Table, notwithstanding the taunts I may experience, I must say, as an Irish Member, that I do not feel entirely qualified to enter into the subject. I have made many inquiries respecting the Bill, and have found total ignorance to prevail on the subject among those persons who ought to be most conversant with it; but I 748 have never yet been able to get a reasonable answer, nor do I believe that at this moment Ministers are at all acquainted with the different local circumstances of the different towns of Ireland. The local taxation, the local numbers, with every other particular that parties framing such a Bill as the present, ought to be acquainted with, I have found them most ignorant upon. My not knowing, therefore, what is to happen, with regard to Ireland, is an additional argument to give my vote against this measure. It was my intention originally to have given my vote for the second reading, and perhaps others may do so for the sake of gaining a popularity which I must call deceptive, for it is with a purpose of frittering away the Bill to nothing in a Committee; but I should have thought myself unworthy of holding a seat in this House if I could have acted in that manner. If I had considered that the Bill could have been so improved in the Committee as to make it a really useful, efficient, and safe plan of Reform, I should have voted for the second reading; trusting to the labours of the Committee, for putting the Bill into proper shape; but when I see so many gross mistakes and blunders—when I see that Ireland is not thought of—it is too much to expect, that the Bill can be made palatable in a Committee—for a Committee is not the place to make a new Bill, and such would be the effect of any efficient alterations in this. I think it better at once to vote against the second reading, trusting as I do that a measure of Reform which will satisfy the country, will, and must be brought forward, by whoever is Minister; for I will say that a Reform of some kind is necessary. I have another remark to make, which I expect will please neither side of the House. I most deeply lament the conduct of the late Government, in not conceding a calm, temperate, and necessary Reform; for if such a measure had been brought forward, the country would never have been in its present state of excitement; but, on the other hand, I would tell the right hon. Gentlemen opposite that I think they have incurred a tremendous responsibility in bringing forward such a measure, without knowing its effects. With regard to the disfranchisement of some of the rotten boroughs, I should have had no objection to it whatever, but I do object to disfranchising at once upwards of sixty boroughs, many of them nothing like rotten bo- 749 roughs, whose voters may be as honest as those of Yorkshire or Westminster, who have vested rights in their votes, but who are to be disfranchised because there happens to be 1,900 of them instead of 2,000, which the noble Lord assumes that there ought to be. This is an injustice I cannot agree to inflict upon them; but with regard to the nomination boroughs, I should not object to having them annihilated, and the franchise given to the great commercial towns in the three kingdoms. I am also a Reformer as regards the reduction of places and sinecure pensions, that is, unearned pensions, whether they be granted to our own, or to the fair sex; but to this Reform I cannot agree: I have resolved, therefore, to vote against the second reading of the Bill proposing it.
The Earl of Mountcharles
begged to take that opportunity of redeeming a pledge which he had given to his constituents to act in conformity to public opinion—a pledge not extorted by the fear of a contest, but voluntarily given, on the conscientious consideration that, when the current of public feeling ran so strongly in favour of Reform, it was wholly impossible to turn it aside. Was it not, therefore, better to grant that as a boon which, if they delayed, would be extorted from them? He must indeed be a miserable and contemptible politician who would not willingly and cheerfully sacrifice his private interests when he was conscientiously convinced that the necessities of the public required its surrender. It would ill, indeed, become those who had voted for the disfranchisement of a class of men, (the 40s. freeholders) the head and front of whose offending was, that they voted against their landlords, in obedience to what they felt to be the interests of their country—it would ill become those who had supported that measure, when expediency was its best defence, to hesitate at withdrawing the franchise from places where it was so ill bestowed. He was convinced of the necessity of Reform, but he was no friend to revolution. On the contrary, he should do all in his power to check that spirit. With respect to the expression of sentiment in that House, he had the highest respect for talent, but could not avoid looking to the principle on which hon. Members voted. It was with pain he differed in opinion from the right hon. Baronet, the late Secretary for the Home Department, and 750 nothing but a sense of duty could reconcile that difference. His Majesty's Government should have his support. But while he supported this measure, he should still reserve to himself the right to object to any parts of the Bill in the Committee. He voted for the second reading, because he believed that he should do better for the country by supporting than by opposing the measure.
—My noble friend who has just, addressed the House says, that as he has given a pledge to his constituents, he shall vote in favour of the measure, his pledge being in favour of some plan of Reform. Now, Sir, I gave no such pledge. I was asked for none, at the same time that I am bound to state to the House, that three petitions were intrusted to me in favour of Parliamentary Reform, from the county which I have the honour of representing, and that I was called upon by the petitioners to support the prayer of them in this House. One of these petitions moreover, emanated from a meeting of the county at large, and was signed by not less than 1,300 of the most respectable inhabitants. Another was from Bainbridge, and a third from Meagher. Now, Sir, I hope it will not appear invidious, if, contrary to these express wishes, I shall act in accordance with the dictates of my conscience, and vote against the measure. And why do I so, Sir? Because, had I no other grounds for dissenting from the request of the petitioners, I should feel myself compelled to do so by a perusal of the several additional demands, besides that for Parliamentary Reform. My hon. friend, the member for Downpatrick, pointedly called my attention to this subject a few days since, when he and I examined those petitions with the permission of the House. I will read the substance of the petitions from Bainbridge and Meagher. The first thing I find them asking for (I particularly refer now to the Bainbridge petition) is for Triennial Parliaments. They next ask for the Vote by Ballot. The next demand is for retrenchment and economy, in which prayer, Sir, allow me to express a wish that they will not be disappointed—the more so, when I recollect that the present Ministry obtained office, and the late were rejected from it, in consequence of their refusal to comply with the wishes of the people on this subject. I next find these Reform petitioners asking for a re- 751 duction of taxes; and in this request too, Sir, I trust also the petitioners will not be disappointed; and that his Majesty's Ministers will come forward with a better Budget than their last, unaffected by the failure of their vaunted boast of reduction. The next request of the petitioners is only the modest one, Sir, of a total abolition of Tithes; and, Sir, the next (to come to a conclusion) the abolition of sinecure offices and unmerited pensions. In addition to these modest demands, I find in the Bainbridge petition a supplement to the following effect;—" That we (the petitioners) beg your honourable House to take into your consideration the fact, that the Dean of Dromore is in the receipt of 1,400l. a-year for doing nothing." I will not take it upon me to justify any man's taking 1,400l. a-year (supposing the allegation to be true), but I must say that such a, prayer forms rather a strange appendage to a petition for Reform. I have stated, Sir, these facts in justice to myself, and that my constituents may see that my refusal to support their prayer had some grounds. With respect to the question more immediately before us, I beg it to be understood, that in opposing the plan of Ministers I am not therefore the opponent of a sound and constitutional Reform. I am, Sir, an advocate for a moderate Reform, but as such am the opponent of such a sweeping change as that proposed. Let any Member propose a sound and moderate measure of Reform, such a one as loyal and constitutional men can approve of, and he will find in me a willing supporter. But, Sir, I never can consent to a measure, the inevitable tendency of which would be the destruction, of the established institutions of the country. Though not a philosopher by profession, I am not blind to the signs of the times. I think, Sir, to use homely language, that the journey towards Reform has begun, but the question is, how far we should go? And, in answer to that question, I say again, let us have a fair, moderate Reform—one adapted to the exigencies of the case—one restorative of the Constitution,—but not, I repeat, such a sweeping, unconstitutional, and destructive scheme as that proposed by his Majesty's Ministers. In opposing that scheme, let it not be said that we are therefore the opponents of constitutional Reform. And here I must observe that, the taunt of the hon. member for Shrews- 752 bury, that the opponents of the present Bill are disguised enemies of every species of Reform whatever, is quite unfounded, and I for one, distinctly repudiate such an imputation. It was as the friend of moderate Reform that I approved of the motion of the noble Lord with respect to the borough of Evesham—a motion which, I must say, was strangely put forward as a parallel case to the application of the Bill for Ireland; as if, therefore, we Englishmen would not entertain it. Now, let us see how the Bill applies to Ireland. What is it to do? Why neither more nor less than add from twenty-five to thirty Roman Catholic Representatives to the Irish Representation. I have heard that the hon. and learned member for Waterford will by the Bill be enabled to nominate some twenty of these Members—a power more aristocratic, nay, more autocratic than any imputed to the workings of the present system. This preponderance of Catholic representation is fraught with alarm to the Protestant establishments of that country. I am no alarmist on this score. I voted for the Catholic Relief bill, not only because I thought it was expedient and just, so far as it applied to the Catholics themselves, but from a conscientious conviction that it would tend to the stability of our Protestant institutions. Others, I know, voted for it on the same ground, thinking as I did, and do, that the best security for the existence of any establishment is an equal participation of, and equal protection for, all classes without distinction. But neither they nor I ever meant that Catholic Emancipation should lead to Catholic preponderance. Judge then, Sir, of our apprehensions at the undue influence which this Bill will bestow upon the Catholics of Ireland. What do I see? I see that one man will be enabled under it to nominate from twenty-five to thirty Catholic Members in this House. [No, no.] Well, I may exaggerate that particular point, but, anxious as I am that religious distinctions of all kinds should be entirely done away with, I cannot but view the present Bill with alarm, so far as it affects the Protestant interests in Ireland. If the Bill excite dissatisfaction among the Protestants of Ireland, it will eventually create disappointment and discontent among the mass of the Catholics at large. The people of Ireland ask for Reform, not on the grounds which the eloquent advo- 753 cates of that measure would fain make the House believe, but because they persuade themselves they see in it the panacea for all the evils which afflict that country. They think it will procure them food and employment, and money and clothing, and they think it will compel the residence of the landed proprietors; in fact, Sir, as I have said, they regard it as the panacea for all their ills and sufferings. If I thought that it would confer such incalculable benefits upon Ireland, it should have my earnest support, though on other grounds it might appear objectionable; but it will not, and I therefore cannot support it. The more ignorant clamourers in Ireland for the present Bill will thus derive only disappointment—a disappointment aggravating all the ills under which they now labour, and for which they expected this measure would be the remedy. And, on the other hand, the more intelligent advocates of the measure regard it only as a means towards the attainment of their more extensive ulterior objects. ["No, no."] I say Yes, and I refer for a proof of my assertion, to the speeches of those advocates; for instance, in the town of Belfast, at a public dinner given there (I regret that my noble friend, the Member for that town, is not present to corroborate my statement), I find a gentleman named Emmerson, the son of a clergyman, in alluding to the measure of Reform, held out the democratic, the republican institutions of America, as a glorious example, to be imitated by the people of this country; and he also held out, among the advantages of the Bill, that it would put an end to the aristocratic institutions of the country, and that the——" RaceThe tenth transmitters of a foolish face,would be destroyed by it for ever. This shows, Sir, the ground on which the soi disant advocates of Reform hail the present measure. One word with respect to the threat of dissolution. I am one of those, perhaps I am singular, who attach very little importance one way or the other to this threat. The minds of those who have sent us here are made up as to the subject of Reform; and it matters little when it is that we meet them—whether it be a month or a year hence, meet them we must. Thus much I will say of myself, that I know not whether this will be the last vote which it will be in my power to deliver in this House, but if it be the 754 last, it shall be given, at all hazards, against the Bill. It may lead to the loss of my seat, but still I shall give it, from a conscientious sense of duty, against the Bill. I shall meet my constituents with clean hands. I am unconnected with any party within these walls, and I repeat, Sir, my vote shall be the result of my honest and conscientious conviction.
§ Mr. Shaw
said, that he could not, on the present occasion, give a mere silent vote. He owed it to those who sent him there, and to himself, to state the grounds on which he would give a firm vote against the Bill. He was ready to vote for a moderate plan of Reform, and was willing to support every measure that would tend to repair those defects in our Constitution which time might have introduced; but he could not consent to a measure which could only end in the destruction of the representative system of this country. The right hon. President of the Board of Control had spoken of the reverence with which they should approach the ark of the Constitution, and said, that it was in that spirit of reverence that Ministers proposed the present Bill, with a view to restore what was wanting in the economy and organization of that House; but the right hon. Gentleman seemed not to be aware, when making this declaration, that the present Bill had been designated as one essentially destructive to the Constitution of the country. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, though he concurred with the hon. member for Yorkshire, that, however desirable a pruning-knife might be to lop off the excrescences of time and circumstances, they should not therefore approve of a Bill which was neither more nor less than an axe at the root of the tree of the British Constitution—a Bill which had been rightly described as a flagrant violation of the chartered liberties of British freemen. He did not wonder at the reception which the Bill had received out of doors,—that its appearance should be hailed with open arms, as a step towards far other objects. It was so; but it was in the spirit in which those who besieged a town should hail the surrender of the citadel. They knew that when in possession of the citadel, they could, when it pleased them, command the city; and so with the Reformers out of doors—they hailed the measure as a citadel in the way to the surrender of Annual Parliaments, Vote by Ballot, and 755 Universal Suffrage, and they knew that: the principle of disfranchising a borough, without crime or offence, having been once acted upon, there would be little difficulty in future in the way of disfranchising inconvenient Representatives. He was not surprised that the measure should have been warmly advocated by the hon. and learned member for Waterford, nor did he wonder that the observations of that hon. Member were so warmly cheered by the other advocates of the measure. That hon. and learned Member could scarcely conceal his joy at the prospects of agitation which the measure held out to him. He would not then allude to the compromise which might have been entered into between the hon. and learned Member and the Government, nor would he dwell upon the enthusiasm with which that hon. and learned Gentleman usually persisted in enforcing his political opinions, nor would he speak of the pecuniary sacrifices which that enthusiasm had cost him, nor would he stop to express his regret that that hon. and learned Gentleman should have been led away into the devious paths of agitation from those walks which would have necessarily led him to the highest station in his profession; but he would say, that this Bill must afford that hon. and learned Gentleman consolation for months of anxiety, by the prospects which it held out of gratifying his darling passion for agitation, and by the prospects which it held out of conferring a preponderance of the elective power upon his Catholic brethren. That point had been alluded to by the hon. member for Drogheda, but it had not received that consideration to which it was entitled. He was one of those who wished to see Catholics and Protestants on terms of perfect amity, and to see all political distinctions, founded upon religious opinions, done away with; but still he must say, that the power which the present Bill would confer upon the Catholics in returning Members was fraught with alarm to the Protestant interest in Ireland. It was not in human nature that the Catholics, when in possession of this power, could stop till they had obtained all that their most zealous champions had held out as objects of their just ambition—that the 40s. freeholders, for instance, who had been disfranchised, could rest satisfied until they had obtained a restoration of their franchise. He was satisfied that in 756 a large majority of the counties and cities, the Protestant Members would be displaced by Catholics, and he was also satisfied, that the principal part of the Catholic Members would be nominated by the hon. member for Waterford. The Repeal of the Union would, as a matter of course, be a primary object. Lord Oriel had, before the Union, pointed out the effects of that measure, which disfranchised 100 boroughs, returning 200 Protestant Members, and the argument of that noble Lord applied à fortiori to the Catholics, who must naturally pant for a domestic Legislature, in which they would be omnipotent. Lord Oriel observed, "Suppose, then, for a moment, that they acquire a power of sitting in Parliament; would it be a strange conjecture that they would soon feel that the Union had accomplished the Reform they wished for, by the destruction of boroughs, and that two hundred seats, all belonging to Protestants (for Protestants only received the compensation), had been annihilated? Possessed, then, of this Reform, and of their power of sitting, it might be natural for them to look to a restoration of the Irish Legislature: their exertions would rise in proportion to their hopes of success, and would require only a revival of the Irish Parliaments to give them the consequence and superiority they long for. They would consider it (that is, the power of sitting in Parliament) a right existing, but withheld from them at the time the Union was discussed, and upon it they would endeavour at a dissolution of the measure—they would call for 300 Members to resume their functions in an Irish Parliament; and the 200 seats, added in the room of 100 Protestant boroughs which we have demolished, would all be filled by popular elections, where numbers, in which their strength consists, would decide. What would not a majority so constituted look to? They would see their own aggrandisement, the maintenance and dignity of their Clergy, and the consequent superiority of their Church, all within their view,—I will look no further into so tremendous a prospect,—the seeds of separation would be sown, and Ireland might be torn from her connexion with Britain, without which she is and must be incapable of enjoying wealth, tranquillity, happiness, or any of the blessings of human life." * These observations were made with reference*Hansard, Part. Deb. vol. iv, p. 1003–4.757 to Catholic Emancipation, and were unanswerable as long as the 40s. freeholders existed. Among them the strength of the Catholics resided, and the present measure, by destroying the Protestant Corporations, would go a great way towards giving the ascendancy to the Catholics. It was to be expected, then, that the Catholics would obtain a majority from Ireland, and he should like to know how Ministers would meet a proposition for a Repeal of the Union, backed by a majority of Irish Members so returned. The noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had, it was true, declared, that his opinion was, that he should prefer the hazard of a civil war to yielding to the mischievous demands for a Repeal of the Union; but that was a dreadful alternative, and his Majesty's Ministers would be answerable to their country, if they took on themselves the awful responsibility of passing a measure which strengthened the means that might ultimately bring the question of the Repeal to that point. The hon. and learned Gentleman, who had last night spoken in that House for the first time, had told them that the measure of Catholic Emancipation had been brought in upon grounds similar to this—that it was conceded to the loud demands of the Irish people, and that this was now to be conceded in like manner to the loud demands of the English people. That hon. and learned Gentleman, who himself added one to the list of those distinguished men who had come into that House through what were called Rotten Boroughs, had mistaken the analogy; for the Catholic Emancipation was a measure that stood on very different grounds from those on which Reform was introduced. He himself stood there as the Representative of a large body of freemen, and he would boldly assert, that the majority which had returned him was a majority of honest and unpurchased votes. By what right was it, he would ask, that these voters were to be disfranchised? Perhaps he might be told that they would not be disfranchised, for that those who resided in the city would still have the power of voting; but though not actually, he asserted that they were virtually disfranchised, for the power they now possessed must be merged in the superior power of the 25,000 voters who would be created by this Bill. He was satisfied with thus having raised his feeble voice in an ardent manner against this 758 measure; and having thus discharged his duty, he should not trespass further on the patience of the House.
The Attorney General
and several other Members rose at once; and, after some little confusion, the hon. and learned Member, having obtained a preference, said, that he was extremely anxious to make some few observations on the Bill in its present stage. He had been prevented from doing so in an early part of the evening by the absence of his hon. and learned friend who had made so able and ingenious a speech last evening, and to whom he wished to offer some few observations in reply. He regretted that his hon. and learned friend was still absent, but he felt that it was his duty to lose no more time in offering his opinions to the House. He was happy to be able to do so at this moment, for it might be great vanity, or it might be the extreme partiality he felt to the task he had undertaken, but he had some expectation of being able to convert an opponent into a friend. The hon. and gallant Admiral, the member for Nottinghamshire, whom he believed he might call his hon. friend, having heard this question debated for seven nights in the former stage of this Bill, and having then made up his mind as to the vote he should give, had been since entirely convinced of the impropriety of his first opinion, and had now withdrawn from the presence of the House, [no, no.] He begged pardon, and was happy to be set right; for, as the gallant Admiral had candidly expressed a doubt whether his earlier opinion was correct, there was room to hope, that, after a second re-consideration of the matter, he might discover that his new impression was erroneous. No Gentleman could do more justice to the sentiments of his Constituents than did the hon. and gallant Admiral; for he had truly represented, that a great Meeting had been held in the county of Nottingham, which almost every respectable gentleman had attended, and that the Resolutions then adopted were unanimously in favour of this measure. The hon. and gallant Admiral had not ascribed that unanimity to intimidation or violence; on the contrary, he had declared that every man freely uttered his sentiments, as freely as in that other county meeting in Berkshire, where an hon. Gentleman, standing alone in opposition to this measure, was kindly and cordially received by those who re- 759 spected his character upon all occasions, and especially the manly candour with which he avowed the difference of his opinion from their own. That single dissentient was listened to with regret, certainly, but with no expression of insult or distrust, rather with symptoms of increased confidence and regard. If such was the feeling of the enlightened persons who assembled at these county meetings, and if there, and in every assembly, except that which he had then the honour of addressing, there was an unanimous sentiment in favour of this measure; if, in every one of these instances, after a calm, a full, and a deliberate discussion, these respectable gentlemen found themselves forming the minority against the Bill, he begged the House to pause a moment, and consider which set of opinions had the best chance of being right. Was the whole people of England mistaken, when, without a shadow of personal interest, they pronounced their unanimous verdict on the permanent interests of the country? or would hon. Members admit the possibility that their judgment might not be quite infallible, and that the tumult of opposition raised against the measure within the House, far from being the offspring of reason, was made up of those interests, habits, connexions, and prejudices, which stifle its free exercise? The speech of his hon. and learned friend opposite delivered last night, had proceeded on the principle of imputation: he had found the key to the introduction of that measure in the interests of the Ministry; in proof of which discovery, he had nothing to do but to repeat the assertion, that there was a strange coincidence— a remarkable set of symptoms and appearances, conspiring to make out the selfishness of their motives in every stage of the business. The natural and simple cause of the introduction of the Bill for Reform—the necessity and the universal wish of the people—was too obvious to satisfy the ingenuity of his learned friend. "I have a shrewd suspicion," said his learned friend," that the plan has undergone great alterations, since it was adopted by the Cabinet;" but in answer to this suspicion, he was able to state positively, that for five weeks, at least, he had had the instructions to draw this Bill in his hands, and on his honour he could declare, that no alterations had been made, except in particulars not of the least consequence to the Bill, and not such, indeed, as to leave 760 him any recollection of their nature. The instructions he then received were precise, and those he put into the form of the Bill as it now stood. So much for suspicion the first. "But, (said his hon. and learned friend) conceive how irregular— how unprecedented—how improper—how inadmissible! The House has been advised that no alteration should be proposed, lest the safety of the Bill should be endangered." However inadmissible or irregular that advice might be deemed, it certainly was not unprecedented, because, only two years ago, the same advice had been given by the right hon. Baronet upon that great measure—second only in importance to the present—the Catholic Relief bill. The supporters of the bill produced by Government were entreated to abstain from alterations, as its fate would be risked if any were introduced. In spite of such an authority, this second charge was hailed as a more successful attack, and his hon. and learned friend had been encouraged to venture on one still bolder. He now asserted, that the cry for Reform was raised by Ministers, to keep themselves in power, and propagated by their means, for fear they should lose their places. Was it necessary to appeal to the most notorious facts in the history of the country, to remove this ground of charge? Did Ministers raise the storm? Were they the authors of the agitation? When did it commence? Last year? Certainly not. The cry for Reform was raised after the melancholy results of the American war; and could it be pretended that Lord Chatham, in his demand for it, was playing into the hands of the Government of 1331? That illustrious Peer, with his last breath, denounced the fatal influence that perverted the House of Commons, and the same conviction had been the very foundation of the fame of his son. His declared sentiments upon this subject had enabled him to step into power, supported by the confidence of the people, and that power he more than once exerted to destroy the influence which his father had denounced. At a later period, when he availed himself of the corrupt state of Parliament to perpetuate his power, and Mr. Fox pointed to his example as the fulfilment of his prophecy, the noble Lord, now at the head of the Government, had brought forward the question, and had divided with only about forty Members in its favour. He only mentioned these facts to show that the import- 761 ant principle had long been acknowledged, and generally felt, as every hon. Gentleman opposite would acknowledge at a time when his feelings were not excited, or his interests endangered. For many years a strong case, not for inquiry, but for redress, had existed. The corruption of the House of Commons was a matter of notoriety, and the people of England had taken it up, and called for Reform in a voice as far from entreaty on the one hand as it was from intimidation on the other. Any man who could view the subject calmly, with the temper and moderation that became so great a question, must at once acquit the Ministers, who had long excluded themselves from power by demonstrating the necessity for Reform, from every sordid motive in now proposing it. Sincerely believing the evil to be enormous, they proposed an efficient remedy; for, unless it were efficient, it could not be permanent and final. A trifling or partial measure might silence the public voice for the year 1831, but something more, in that case, would be necessary in 1832, and so on from year to year, keeping the country in a fever of suspense and speculation—a state of the public mind of all things to be avoided. An attempt had been made to throw discredit on the Bill, by asserting that it was the result of compromise; as if any great measure could be adopted, by the concurrent opinion of many individuals, without some sacrifice for the sake of unanimity. It had been conceded on the other side, last night, he believed for the first time, that some degree of Reform was necessary. No hint of the kind had been given during the former Debate of seven nights' duration; but now, forsooth, the Bill before the House was to be brought into disrepute because hon. Members had their measures of Reform, a secret to all but themselves, and even to themselves till within the last twenty-four hours, Reform, more moderate, more prudent, and discreet, and by which the interests of all would be duly guarded. But when these hon. Members talked of moderate Reform, he (the Attorney General) wished to know what was meant by the words? Had the scorner of compromise discovered some middle course, by which the nomination boroughs were to be preserved, and the principle of Representation carried into effect? On that scheme they had not yet agreed; the hon. Baronet (the member for London- 762 derry) professing his readiness to throw them over, while the noble member for the county of Down, while he declared himself a stringent Reformer, was hostile to the commencement of the change. Let the moderate Reformers state their practical views before they condemned the plan. Some of them would perhaps say, that half the number only should be disfranchised—that one Aldborough should be spared, while the other was taken;— others, that each of them, as well as Boroughbridge, Gatton, and Old Sarum, should send one Member, but only one, for the future. Either of these schemes involved the peril of change; but in a case of detected, notorious, and inveterate abuse, the danger of doing nothing ought not to be neglected. It thus became a practical question of degree, and the Bill should be allowed to go into the Committee, in order that the various views of enlightened men might be collected, and a measure concentrated from a combination and comparison of them all. His hon. and learned friend had observed upon the curious coincidence that sixty-two boroughs were to be disfranchised, and the Members of the House diminished to the same extent; and he bad followed it up with the suggestion, that Ministers meant, in the end, to give back sixty-two Members to the totally disfranchised boroughs. He (the Attorney General) hoped that the character of those who introduced the Bill would be a security against the suspicion of such trifling with an important question. If it were true, Ministers would hardly forego the support they might obtain by the avowal of such an intention, instead of estranging the borough proprietors, by announcing disfranchisement in the first place, and disgusting the people afterwards, by deserting their own promise. The hon. and learned Gentleman called the plan a selfish one; he (the Attorney General) called it a plan devised for the public good. His learned friend sustained the charge by referring to the provisions of the Bill; he made the same appeal. He inferred honesty of intention from the uncompromising hostility of the class to which he had just alluded, the inevitable consequence of the measure proposed. He inferred honesty of intention from its determined efforts to remove the temptation to bribery; that persons of education and talent might not be prevented from offering themselves as candidates by the fear of expense. Did 763 the Bill profess to do this, and to do it effectually? Why, in the first place, out-voters were not to be conveyed to the poll, and resident voters alone were entitled to vote, a provision little likely to conciliate the favour of the non-resident voters. Another feature of the plan to prevent expense was, shortening the duration of the poll. Was not that a bonâ fide attempt to avoid the expense of elections? There could be no doubt that would be the effect; instead of fifteen days, which afforded time for votes to rise in price, to an extent sometimes hardly capable of calculation, the time was reduced to two days in towns and counties. Then the right of voting was more defined and simplified. Whatever advantages some might ascribe to a variety of rights, a uniformity of franchise was well calculated to put an end to litigation and protracted contests. Registration had the same tendency. These were proofs of the bona fides, with which the Bill had been devised, for effecting a public good; and when his hon. and learned friend, from the omission of the word "bribery," insinuated that the authors of the Bill were indifferent to that great evil, the remark was extremely unfair. All the Acts as to bribery were left in operation; not one was to be repealed by this Bill, which laid the axe at the root of corruption, by weakening the motive and destroying the opportunity. No Bill could undergo more serious examination than this had done; and considering that no person was more capable of exposing real defects than his hon. and learned friend, he was surprised, when he looked at his successful speech, to see how little effect it amounted to. He was sorry not to see his hon. and learned friend in his place, when he remarked, that if his hon. and learned friend considered that the object of Ministers in introducing this measure was to keep their places, doubtless imputing to them (as he said) no sordid motive, he (the Attorney General) had an equal right to say—imputing no sordid motive to his hon. and learned friend— that he made that speech for the sake of getting into place again. These assumed motives might detract from the authority of reason on either side, but they did not affect the reasoning. He would endeavour, then, to meet the several arguments adduced. First, it was said, that though the Bill professed not to give double votes, leaseholders had a vote, and the landlords had a vote for the county, for the 764 same property. If this were really absurd, it could be easily altered in the Committee; an answer that would apply to many other criticisms, the only question at that time being, as to the principle of the measure. Another objection was, that the county of York was to be divided into three Ridings, each with two Members; and his hon. and learned friend exclaimed, "Oh, what have you done? Why, this is Cromwell's plan!" The Attorney General asked how long we were to be frightened by mere words, from doing what was right, contending, that if it were Cromwell's plan, it was the plan of one of the most sensible men that ever lived—a great reformer of gross abuses—the best reformer of Chancery from that time to the present; a man, whose opinion on a matter in which he had no personal interest was of the highest value. If it were true that one Riding had a population of 700,000,—more than the other two Ridings united—his answer to the objection was, that Ministers did not pretend by this Bill to equalise counties. But the least populous of the Ridings would produce a more numerous constituency, than the most populous county in Cromwell's time. The difficulty of drawing an Act of Parliament, to effect Reform of any kind, must be well known to his hon. and learned friend, and could certainly not be denied by another hon. and learned friend he saw opposite (Sir James Scarlett), who brought in a bill last year for the much lesser object of reforming the Welsh Judicature. He found on the Journals, that the best assistance was allotted to him for the performance of his task, his associates being the then Solicitor-general and Mr. Secretary Peel. Their joint labours produced a bill, which, after frequent revisions, had become the law: but a law so imperfect and faulty, that other laws had been since found necessary to cure its defects, and, at this moment, an ex post facto law was suggested as a less evil than that some of its provisions should still be in operation. Some little indulgence might, therefore, be claimed for the first draft of a Bill, which aspired at little other merit, than that of being brief and intelligible, and might easily be corrected in the Committee. The point to which he next alluded was that regarding the powers which it was proposed to give to the Committee of the Privy Council. Undoubtedly those powers were very large; but when they proposed to do what this Bill was in- 765 tended to carry into effect, and when one of the leading principles of the Bill—one of its great and most important features— was, that a parcel of corrupt boroughs were to be disfranchised, and that additional Members were to be given to a certain number of counties,—those counties to be divided into districts,—he would ask, could a better mode be devised for effecting the object than by appointing a Committee of the Privy Council, persons of weight, and station, and character in the State, upon whose decision the imputation of partiality could not be cast? The principle itself was not a new one, nor was an Act of Parliament required to enable his Majesty to put such a principle in operation. It was the ancient and well-understood right of the Crown, to cease sending writs to certain places or boroughs. This vested right is in the Crown: what would become of that Vested right in borough nomination, of which so much was said, if it were thwarted by the King's declining to exercise his prerogative of sending a writ to Old Sarum for the election of Members? The King could take away the right which he gave. He did not say that the King could take away charters from Corporations, but he could take away from decayed boroughs the right of sending Members to Parliament. ["No, no!" from, Mr. Sadler.] He would assert that such was the fact, notwithstanding the contradiction of the hon. member for Newark. The Act of Union certainly prescribed the number of Members for that House, but it did not prescribe the places from which they were to be sent. He was of opinion, that the interposition of the Privy Council, therefore, far from creating a new power, was only a new check for the more secure accomplishment of what was fit and just to be done. His hon. and learned friend no doubt also fancied that he had made a successful hit on the point of the rent of houses conferring the right to vote. Poor-rates formed an uncertain criterion, but they might come in aid; the hoped-for repeal of the Inhabited House Duty (with the rest of the Assessed Taxes) would deprive the proper officers of that means of judging; but the production of a receipt of the payment of rent, where there was no collusion between the landlord and tenant, would afford evidence to establish the value of the tenement. When the house was in the hands of the owner himself, there was no rent to furnish this cri- 766 terion of value; but the inquiry was to be made at a calm season, when the judgment was not perverted by the violence and corruption, which may influence every decision during the heat of an election. In another part of the plan, his learned friend had detected a boon given to the landlords,— that here was a bribe offered to the Gentlemen of the House of Commons, to induce them to consent to this measure. No great compliment to the Gentlemen whom he was addressing. It appeared to him (the Attorney General) that while a man's real bonâ fide substance was to give him his title to vote, the proof of the payment of rent and taxes was the simplest method of arriving at that fact. He plainly perceived that the House felt this common-sense explanation to be completely satisfactory; but no single point of the speech he was discussing had been more successful than his learned friend's banter on the boon to parish officers, and the bribe to landlords—proving only, that when the audience is well-disposed, a little wit sometimes goes a great Way. It was the same with argument addressed to those who came resolved to be convinced. The proposed mode of registration in the counties seemed to him (the Attorney General) a simple and an excellent one. The Register in counties was to be made by a Barrister duly qualified, and he rejoiced to add, that none of the 40s. freeholders would be disfranchised; thus the lower orders might still, by prudence and industry, become owners of the soil, and part of a numerous and most valuable constituency. To the freeholders, by the Bill, copyholders, and leaseholders were in future to be added; and here he could not but recur to the frightful word "revolutionary," introduced by various hon. Members into the discussion; they denounced the measure as revolutionary and destructive of all the ancient establishments of the country. It was some satisfaction to have obtained a legal definition of the meaning of the term "revolutionary," for an hon. and learned Member (Mr. Ormsby Gore), after having invoked the shade of Blackstone, drew from the mouth of that legal prophet, that though he approved of extending the franchise to freeholders and copyholders, their admission would shake the foundation, or at least remove the superstructure, of the Constitution. This argument showed the value of some of the big words imported into this debate, which could frighten those only 767 who were too prone to be alarmed. The fact was, that in the reign of William 3rd, the word "revolution" was used to signify a restoration of rights and liberties, and he knew no reason why the same meaning should not be assigned to it in the reign of William 4th. Cromwell might be employed as a bugbear, and Jacobinical and Revolutionary applied as nick-names to the present plan of Reform; but the country would not be deceived by such artifices, and the time was gone by when ignorance could be imposed upon by the jargon of party. He apprehended that he had now gone through, and answered, most of the points urged by his hon. and learned friend. [A Member across the Table observed, that the right hon. Gentleman had said nothing of the Preston voters.] If Preston were especially affected by the measure, he was ready to give a full consideration to its peculiar claims in the Committee. No wish existed for the disfranchisement of that, or any other well-peopled place. The principle of this Bill was not one of disfranchisement. ["No, no," from the Opposition benches.] He would repeat, that the principle of this Bill was not a principle of disfranchisement ["No! "no," from the Oppositio.] The object of the Bill was, to retain as much as possible all existing rights of voting ["No, no," from the Opposition], as far as was consistent with—[Here the learned Gentleman was interrupted by a loud cry of "No," from some Member on the Opposition benches]. The hon. Member, continued the learned Gentleman, might say "No," but he would assert, that the object of this Bill was not one of disfranchisement, but that its object was, to keep as much as possible the Existing right of voting, as far as that was consistent with the real and effectual Reform of the Representation of the people in that House. He was fully persuaded that nothing better could be brought forward for such an object,—namely, to establish a real, effectual, and pure representation of the people in Parliament, and he should be much surprised, indeed, to find anything better proposed for such a purpose. Before he sat down he could not avoid alluding to some observations which had fallen from a noble Lord opposite (Lord Valletort) last evening, in reference to what had been said by him (the Attorney General) in the discussion which occurred in the early part of that evening upon the question of 768 privilege;—namely, as to whether a certain paragraph had been a false and scandalous libel. He said on that occasion, that he did not think the paragraph in question was a false one; he was of the same opinion still; and he thought now, as he thought then, that there would be the greatest danger of a defeat in sending such a paragraph before a Jury. He at the same time said on that occasion, that he regretted and deprecated the strong and coarse language which had been resorted to; and yet the noble Lord had accused him of justifying and adopting the employment of the term "hired lacquies" towards Members of that House. That many acted under the most disturbing influences, the nature of their motives alone proved. He had, however, avowed his belief, that when hon. Members came into that House, they became public men, and were inspired with a wish to perform their duty faithfully. He was slow to suspect that they would deliberately sacrifice their conscientious conviction to any motive whatever; and he appealed to them, from that excited state of feeling which was now more striking in the House than out of doors, to the calm retirement of their closet. He did not despair of receiving their support, from a sense of what was due to their own character, and to their well-considered interests; gaining from the proposed measure more as members of the community, than they could lose as Members of Parliament. Such had been the persuasion of some of the most distinguished men the country had ever seen, the friends of Reform in the last century, and the consistent advocates of the present Bill. When he looked round, he saw them filling the same place in the same ranks, and fighting the battle of the Constitution. There was his venerable friend, the member for Norfolk: the noble Lord, who now, as then, represented the county of Derby, the hon. and long-trusted members for Middlesex, and Surrey and Berkshire: others he could name, the noble Lord who, from 1797 to the present time, sat in Parliament for Lancashire, his hon. friend, the member for Westminster, who then gave his first vote, and made his first speech, in favour of a cause which he had ever since so honourably and so steadily defended. If all these men must be acquitted of every selfish motive, in voting for Reform in 1797, the noble Lord who then proposed it, himself a county Member, and who now stakes 769 his existence, as first Minister of the Crown, on the fate of the self-same measure, may deserve credit for sincerity and patriotism, for this faithful adherence to his early opinions. Too much stress may sometimes be laid on the merit of consistency, which ought doubtless to give way to altered circumstances, or an honest change of opinion. Yet, surely, consistency is a merit, affording the strongest presumption of honest motives, and some proof of clear and enlightened views. He claimed the full benefit of these presumptions for the noble Lord who now enjoys the happiness, described by the poet, of him—— "who, when broughtAmong the tasks of real life, has wroughtUpon the plan that pleased his youthful thought,even if his own character, and that of the associates who surrounded him, did not divest his proposal of every thing unconstitutional or dangerous. He would not press too far the argument from their authority, since the hon. member for Marlborough had reminded the House, that it was men of character, rank, and station, who had begun the civil war in the time of Charles 1st. "Did not," said the hon. Member, "such men as Essex, and Warwick, and Northumberland, begin that civil war, ignorant, at the time, of the result to which their measures would lead, and blind to the consequences of their own conduct?" The question would prove too much: in condemning the patriots of 1640, it would involve in the same ruin, all the reformers of our own times, the hon. member for Cornwall, who undertakes to reform Parliament hereafter, as well as the authors of the Ministerial measure. Where was the use of referring them to the arbitrary times of Charles 1st, with his usurping Ministers, his tyrannical Courts, his Star Chamber, his Courts of Wards, by which his subjects had been plundered—to a time when the people were running counter to all his measures, when they suspected the King, hated the Ministry, and detested the whole policy of the Government. Was that a period to be taken as a parallel for the present time? Than which there never could be, he thought, a more propitious juncture. We were at peace, and prospering with a thriving trade, with the country improving, with the currency on a wholesome footing, with everything going on safely and securely throughout 770 society, with one exception [a laugh from the Opposition benches.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh if they pleased at the fact, but what did their constituents think of it? Their constituents unanimously said, that it was high time to put an end to that debasing, and degrading influence, which existed among the higher orders, and produced such demoralizing effects upon the lower; the natural and inevitable result of a system which was founded on corruption, and the natural cause of so much suffering and calamity to the nation. He was astonished to see moral and religious men strenuously contending against Parliamentary Reform, with such cases as Retford, and Grimsby, and Evesham, before their eyes. He was surprised to behold such men endeavouring under such circumstances, to prevent all species of Reform. He would maintain, that the tendency of their arguments excluded it altogether. What else was the burthen of the seven nights Debate on the part of the opponents of this measure? What other plan did they hint at? What hope did they hold out to the people? Did the right hon. Baronet admit more than a bare possibility, that he might, perhaps, be induced, as an individual, to give his reluctant assent to some measure of Reform? and what was known of his sentiments on the subject,' but his decided preference of Bassetlaw to Birmingham, when an extension of elective rights was in contemplation? Some persons required that the public voice ought to be consulted: well, the public voice had been consulted. Others cried out that it was a robbery of Corporations; but the Corporations had come forward and begged to be so robbed. Others then had said, that the Bill contained clauses contrary to the rights of the City of London; but the City had met the next day, and had voted, not only that the measure was good, but had declared itself ready to sacrifice some of its most valued privileges, for the general advantage expected from the Bill. There was scarcely an exception to the unanimity of the people, whose opinions had been so confidently challenged. The measure was brought forward to remedy the greatest evils, and never was there a time in which it could be brought forward with greater safety. There was perfect happiness in observing the present state of the public mind, compared to what it had been a few weeks before. The Gentle- 771 men opposite, who so often alluded to the measure of Catholic Emancipation carried, as they said, in opposition to the petitions of the people, did not seem to act consistently, when they now opposed a measure in favour of which the people had poured innumerable petitions' upon the Table of the House. For his part, he would abstain from using any argument which could be called intimidation. As he would not allow such an influence to be exercised upon himself, he would not attempt to exert it over others. But the language of some of his friends was misconstrued into menaces. When the opponents of the Bill were told that they would not dare to face their constituents, it could never have been supposed to be intimated that they ran any risk of personal ill-treatment; but only that the cause of Reform was making such way throughout the country, and that amongst the most intelligent part of the people; and he would observe, that that part extended very far in the lowest class—that the Gentlemen who opposed the Bill could not expect afterwards the support of their constituents. There was nothing now of violence or faction among the people: the long neglect of real grievances, the provoking disappointment that would arise from palliatives and half-measures, especially if times less prosperous than the present should supervene, would in the end produce those lamentable results, which the experience of mankind has always proved to arise from just and reasonable discontent. In his conscience he believed that the present Bill would allay those feelings of dissatisfaction, by removing their cause; that it was not too late to apply an efficient remedy to a growing and undeniable evil; and that by adapting our institutions to the spirit of the times we live in, by a purer mode of election, and truer state of Representation, we should give the best security that human wisdom ever devised for the permanence and stability of our institutions.
§ [Great cheering and loud calls of "question."] After the noise had subsided,
§ Sir James Scarlett
rose and spoke as follows;—* I am well aware of the disadvantage of rising to address you immediately after the speech of my hon. and learned friend (the Attorney General) and* Printed, by permission, from the authentic Copy published by Mr. Murray.772 how much that disadvantage is increased by the late hour of the night, and the exhausted state of the House, as well as of the subject. Nevertheless, considering it a duty I owe to the House as well as to myself, that my sentiments upon this most important question should not remain unknown, I rise, in the face of these difficulties, to request for a short time the indulgence of the House, which I shall endeavour not to abuse. I am most anxious that it should be fully understood that, long before and ever since I have been a Member of this House, I have been a friend to Reform. Upon various Occasions when the question has been brought forward since I have had the honour of a seat in this place, though I have not troubled you with any statement of those sentiments, I have sufficiently declared them by my vote. My opinions upon this subject have never undergone any change. I am still a friend to Reform. I am sensible of certain defects in the present state of the representation of the people; and I am most anxious to remove those defects by such amendments as appear to me useful and necessary to make that Representation more perfect. But it does not follow that I am bound by any vote I have before given, Or justified by the opinions I continue to entertain, to adopt the specific measure before the House, if it appears to me to go far beyond what any reasonable man would, upon due reflection, be willing to adopt, who was desirous of improving, but at the same time careful not to subvert the institutions of his country. I agree with my hon. and learned friend who has just sat down, that this great question ought to be debated free from all party feelings arid all personal allusions, and I regret that so much of both have been already introduced. I can say for myself, that no individual in this House is more free from personal arid party feeling than f am; and that I have bestowed an anxious consideration upon the subject, Without any other motive than that of forming a just opinion upon it. Whatever Gentlemen may be pleased to think of this declaration, I trust they will give me credit when I assure them, that I have nothing, to hope and nothing to fear from any opinion I may deliver in this House; and that, upon the present occasion, I neither expect to gain a seat nor to keep a seat by the vote I shall give, or by the honest avowal of my opinions. Admitting, then, that a Reform 773 is either necessary, or, at least, would be highly useful, irk the Representation of the people, I must still contend that no Reform can be either necessary or useful which is not consistent with the Constitution. There may be defects, and great defects, in the representation, and yet the institution itself is well worth preserving. The House of Commons, formed as it is, has done too much good, and too much good may yet be expected from it, to justify us in parting with it for an untried experiment which, under the name of a Reform, is an entire re-construction of the House, upon principles altogether new and unknown to the Constitution. I complain of no man for differing from me in opinion; but I claim the privilege of exercising my own judgment upon the measure; and I cannot bring myself to believe that the re-construction pf this House, upon the plan now proposed, will be advantageous to the country. Wishing, therefore, to retain all the good that we already possess, and thinking it in the highest degree impolitic and unwise to hazard the loss, if I feel serious doubts of the success of this measure, those doubts are with me a sufficient reason for not going the lengths it would carry me. My hon. and learned friend, the Attorney General, seems to think that there is no alternative but this Reform or no Reform; and that those who are favourble to any Reform must vote for the principle of this Bill. I can by no means accede to his view of the subject. It might as well be contended, that if a measure were proposed to reform this House by abridging it of half its Members, and introducing the remainder into one assembly with the House of Peers, it, would be incumbent on those who wished for any scheme of Reform to vote, at least, for the second reading of such a bill. The principle of the Bill lies not in the preamble, but in the specific measure; and that specific measure can only be found in the details of the Bill. Before entering upon the specific objections which I have to urge against this measure, I beg to be allowed shortly to advert to the grounds on which it has been generally supported, and upon one or more of which every measure of Reform must stand. The first ground is that of a constitutional right vested in the people to the specific Reform required. The second is a. right in the people founded upon some particular theory, with which the Constitution does not exactly square, the 774 inconsistencies between which theory and the fact are assumed to be grievances. The last ground is that of practical expediency. Now, if any constitutional right be possessed by the people to this specific plan of Reform, that right must be found in some written law, or in some known usage or practice. But in what law, or in what practice, at any period of our history is the plan of construction for this House contained in the Bill, to be found? The House will please to recollect that the Constitution of England is not to be found in any one written law or code, but in a collection of laws, usages, and practices. Upon these, such as they are, depend the authority of the King, of the Peers, and of this House. Of what does the House of Commons consist? How was it formed? And upon what do its rights and privileges now depend? It was formed originally of Members returned by the sole authority of the King's writs for certain counties, cities, and boroughs. To these have been added occasionally, by Act of Parliament, other Members, such for example, as those for the county and city of Chester, those for the county and City of Durham, those for the principality of Wales. They have also been increased by various Charters from the Crown, granting to certain corporations the privilege of sending Members, upon which Charters alone their right to return is now founded. The House of Commons, then, was founded upon, and consists of, a certain number of usages, Acts of Parliament, and Charters. Upon these rests its whole constitution and authority. In which of these, then, can be found any recognized right to this, or indeed to any other, specific mode of Reform? But if there be a constitutional right, it can only he found in some of these statutes, charters, and usages. My noble friend, who introduced this measure in a speech distinguished by that elegance and perspicuity which characterize all his performances in this House, was pleased to refer to the Statute of Edward 1st, commonly called the Statute of Westminster the first. My noble friend thought that he had found in that statute, though, passed before the existence of any House of Commons, or of any Representation of the people by election, a constitutional principle sufficient for his purpose, because he found a recital in the preamble of that Statute, that it was made in Parliament by the assent of the King's Council, the Arch- 775 bishops, Bishops, Abbots, Priors, Earls, Barons, and all the commonalty of the realm, thereto summoned. It must be owned, that this was a tempting passage for my noble friend to cite. But if he will take the trouble to examine the history of a period somewhat earlier than the date of that Statute, he will find that the words commonalty of the realm, as there used, have no such meaning as he ascribes to them, and can justify no such inference as he draws from them. It is well known that Henry 3rd, when he came a minor to the throne, confirmed the great Charter extorted by the Barons from King John. When he came of age, however, he declared that confirmation void by reason of his minority, and violated the Charter in many essential parts. This occasioned much discontent, and many wars between him and his Barons. In the year 1258, he summoned them to meet him at a Parliament at Oxford; they assembled in great numbers, with their vassals in arms, under colour of assisting the King against the incursions of the Welsh, but in reality to drive away certain foreigners who surrounded him, and to compel him to their terms. They accomplished their object; and at this Parliament the Barons elected twelve of their own body, who, together with twelve elected by the King, were to make provisions for the future government of the realm. These twenty-four delegates made a number of regulations, which went by the name of the Oxford Provisions. By one of these, the Barons were to elect twelve, who were to attend three Parliaments, which the King was bound to hold every year, at stated times, and also to attend him upon all other occasions, when there should be need to treat of the business of the realm. I have made an extract from the published copy of the record, which still exists. The original is in the Norman language of the times, and it will be seen what is meant by the commonalty. "Be it remembered, que le common elise duze prodes hommes que viendront as Parlemens, &c." and that le commun tiendra pur establis, what the twelve shall do. Now, here the word commun does not mean the people, but the Barons; and this will be more clear by looking at the next extract, which contains the names of the prodes homines elected. "Ces sunt les duze que sont eslu par les baruns, a treter a tres Parlemens par an avec le conseil de rei pur tout la commun de la terre de commun besoigne." 776 Here then the Barons elect; and if la commun de la terre means the commons, and not the Barons, they elect for the people. But that is not all; for the men elected consist of twelve Barons: their names are preserved, beginning with the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Winchester, the Earl of Hereford, and nine others of less note.* Now, it appears from the historian of the time, Matthew Paris, that Edward, the son of Henry 3rd, was present at this Parliament, and that he, as well as his father, took an oath to observe the Oxford Provisions. The document in which their oaths were promulgated by the authority of the King is still extant. In the course of two years, however, Henry 3rd appears to have repented of his concession. He obtained from the Pope absolution from his oath;† the war was renewed between him and his Barons; and he had shut himself up in the Tower of London, when Edward, his son, arrived from abroad; and, learning the treachery of his father, he not only disdained to accept of a Papal absolution, which was also offered to him, but renewed his oath to the Barons, and for a time took their part against the King, ‡ And although he afterwards joined his father in the civil war which followed, he yet renewed the same oath upon different occasions, and probably did so upon the final pacification, about two years before Henry's death. At that period, Edward was abroad; he returned in the third year of his reign, and held that first Parliament, at which the Statute in question was passed, and to which he probably had summoned, amongst others, the twelve elected Barons. I offer it, therefore, to my noble friend, as a probable conjecture, that if the commonalty of the land was summoned or represented in that Parliament, it was summoned in the persons of these twelve Barons, and represented by them, who were, by the oath of Edward, to be admitted to his council and* The other names are, Philip Bassett, John de Baliol, John de Verdun, John de Grey, Roger de Summery, Roger de Montalt, Hugh d'Espenser, Thomas de Gresty, Egidius de Argenten.† Eo tempore, Rex concepta securitate de-creverat a juramento palam resilire, tanquam absolutus a papa ab eo quod fecerat sacramento.‡ Quum autem venisset Edwardus et de vanis regis consiliis fuisset edoctus, iratus valde, a patris absentavit se conspectibus, adherens in hac parte baronibus, prout juraverat.777 Parliament pur tout la commun de la terre. There is another chapter in that Statute which has led to some misapprehension. It is declared, that elections shall be free from force or menaces; which my noble friend might, with equal plausibility, contend, afforded a proof that elections of Members of Parliament then had existence. But it appears by a subsequent Statute, of the ninth year of Edward 2nd, as well as by the history of the times, that the elections there referred to, were elections to ecclesiastical dignities. My noble friend also referred to the Statute which passed, I think, in the thirty-fourth year of the reign of Edward 1st, called the Statute de tallagio non concedendo, by which the King binds himself to take no tallage but by consent of the freemen of the realm. Nobody knows better than my noble friend, that shortly before that period, in the same King's reign, writs were issued for the return of knights of the shire and burgesses of certain boroughs. But those boroughs were either boroughs in demesne, the property of the King, who had granted them certain immunities, or the property of some great Baron, by whose desire, probably, the writs were addressed to them. Surely nothing can be discovered in the state of the House of Commons at that period, or in the practice of the Constitution, imperfect as it then was, to justify the notion, that by any law or usage, any particular and definite constitutional right existed, upon which the House of Commons ought to be constructed upon the plan now proposed, or, indeed, upon any other plan. With respect to the theoretical right for which some persons contend, it appears to me so perfectly void of all reason and principle, that I snail not waste a word upon it, being satisfied that all attempts to support a measure of Reform upon the fanciful theories of individuals, however ingenious, must be treated in this House with scorn and contempt. The only remaining, and, in my opinion, the only safe ground upon which any such measure can rest, is the ground of expediency. Upon that ground alone, therefore, I venture to propose the objections which, in my judgment, ought to prevail against this Bill. In doing so, I shall not detain the House, at this hour, by entering at large into arguments in support of these objections; but shall content myself with, stating my opinions, formed upon the most anxious and mature deliberation, and I am sure most 778 conscientiously formed, against the proposed measure. Then, Sir, what is proposed by this Bill? It proposes, in the first instance, to cut off sixty-two Members from the Representation. From what class of the Representatives are they to be cut off? From that class in which are to be found the representatives of the monied, the commercial, and the manufacturing interests: no county Member is taken away. Now I wish to state my opinion with all openness and candour, and I hope without offence to any class of Gentlemen in this House, when I say, that I verily believe the prosperity and greatness of England to be essentially connected with the manufacturing, the commercial, and the monied interest. It is of the last importance that these interests should be duly cultivated, and they cannot be duly cultivated or sustained unless they are adequately represented in this House. I by no means intend to say that the landed interest ought to be postponed to these. On the contrary, I am ready to admit that it ought in general to preponderate; but it does already preponderate in the Legislature. It has an exclusive Representation in the House of Peers, and it has a decided influence in this House. In my opinion, what this House, and what the people possess of liberty and power, not to be found in our ancient institutions, is to be traced to the cultivation of commerce, and the wealth which followed it. It was not till the discovery of America, and the discovery of the passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope, by which new sources, as well as new channels, were opened to commercial enterprise, that Europe in general began to make rapid advances in wealth and prosperity. This country, in particular, was indebted to the Reformation, and to the dissolution of monasteries, in the reign of Henry 8th, for the means of outstripping the nations of Europe in liberty and wealth. By the dissolution of monasteries, vast masses of real estate, till then locked up in the hands of the Church, began to enrich the Commons, and to be the reward of the wealth flowing from America and India. Accordingly, in the reign of Elizabeth, the House of Commons seems first to have begun to feel its power. Before that time its existence is noted rather as an historical fact than for its influence on public affairs. Since that period, its power and authority have made a progress commensurate with the progress of commerce, manufactures, 779 and wealth; and these, undoubtedly, are to be traced as the great sources of the prosperity and grandeur of this empire. I must, therefore, contend, that if the Bill had gone no further than to cut off sixty-two Members from this class of your Representatives, it would have been well worthy of consideration, whether it was expedient so far to reduce the influence of that important interest. That measure alone would destroy the present equilibrium, and give too decided a preponderancy to the land. But this Bill goes much further. Whilst it takes away sixty Members from the commercial classes, it adds fifty-five to the landed interest. For the future, if this Bill passes, we shall have, instead of ninety-two, no less than one hundred and forty-seven Members to represent the land, with sixty-two less for all other interests; and to make these county Members more exclusively agricultural, it is proposed to exclude from the right of voting for them, all those who have votes for represented towns. Now, supposing this part of the measure to accomplish its obvious intention, what security have we that a House of Commons so constituted will be disposed to maintain that public credit so essential to the safety of the commercial and monied interest? I am well aware, that it is the true interest, as well as the duty of every country, to preserve inviolate the public faith; but I well know that all governments have not been duly sensible of this interest. I cannot be quite satisfied that all the members of his Majesty's present Government are sufficiently alive to it. My right hon. friend, if I may presume to call him so without offence, the First Lord of the Admiralty, declared, in a late Debate, that he differed from his colleagues upon certain points which are discussed in an ingenious pamphlet called "Corn and Currency," which is ascribed to the right hon. Baronet. I was extremely glad to hear of this difference, and hope it may ever continue, whilst my right hon. friend retains an opinion expressed in that work, "that however sacred the faith of a nation, it may sometimes be the duty of him who is placed at the helm, to cut away the mast of public credit in order to save the ship." With a Parliament constructed by this Bill, it is by no means clear that a more open and undisguised attack upon the national creditor than that which was lately proposed, may not be very favour- 780 ably received. Nor will the Representation given to the large towns, upon so wide a basis as to embrace houses of 10l. a year in value, afford any security against this disposition. I much fear the qualification is too low to ensure the return of persons having much interest in the preservation of public credit. With the exception of the qualification, however, I entirely approve of that part of the measure which gives Representatives to great towns. Let me assure my noble friend, that it gives me much more pleasure to speak of those parts of the Bill which I approve than of those which I am forced to condemn. I I trust I shall receive credit for sincerity when I state that I looked forward to the introduction of this measure, with an anxious hope and expectation that I might be able to give it my unqualified approbation. Believe me, Sir, that nothing but a sense of imperious duty has induced me to oppose any part of it. I cordially approve, then, of giving Representatives to the great towns. I have always been of opinion that they ought to be represented specifically in Parliament. It seems to me to be within the regular march of the Constitution that they should have acquired this franchise; and I believe that it would long since have been conferred upon them but for the Act of Union with Scotland, which, by limitting the number of Members of this House, prevented the Crown from exercising that right which it undoubtedly possessed—I say, the right which the Crown undoubtedly possessed: for I agree with my hon. and learned friend, that the Crown did possess the right of conferring this franchise, though I must differ from him altogether, when he lays it down, that the Crown ever had a right to take the franchise away. So strange a proposition must have surely escaped from my learned friend through inadvertence. It is not only inconsistent with all sound principle, but it is directly contrary to the established doctrine and practice of this House upon the very subject in question. At the time when the House of Commons was nothing—when a seat in it was of no importance, and the right of Representation rather a burthen than an object of desire,—it was no uncommon thing for boroughs, to which writs had been addressed, to petition the King that they might be relieved from the burthen of sending and maintaining Members. Their petitions were, in many instances, complied with. In 781 other cases, the Sheriff, of his own authority and discretion, omitted to send precepts to particular boroughs. But as soon as the House of Commons began to assume a higher position in the control of public affairs, and had commenced that progress towards power which terminated in the Commonwealth, it became a common practice for boroughs which had formerly sent Members, but which had been omitted in the Sheriff's list of precepts, to present petitions to this House for the restoration of their franchise. The House referred the petitions to a Committee; and upon the Report of the Committee that the matter of the petition was true, the House, at first, addressed his Majesty to issue a writ to that borough, but afterwards directed the Speaker to issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown for that purpose. In this manner, from the later period of Henry 8th to the end of the reign of Charles 1st, there were restored no less, I think, than thirty-six places to the right of sending Members, after a suspension of that right for more or less time: and during the same period, exclusive of the Members for the principality of Wales and Chester, there were created by the charters of the Crown no less than fifty-five new franchises. In the reign of Charles 2nd were added, by Act of Parliament, the county and city of Durham, and, by charter, the town of Newark; which was the last example of such a charter: upon which occasion it was, for the first time, doubted in this House whether the Crown had any right to confer such a franchise. The question was debated in this House, and finally decided in favour of the Crown. It is clear, therefore, that the Crown once had the right of granting; and it is equally clear, that the Crown never had the right of taking away any such franchise. But my hon. and learned friend, labouring under the same mistake, has asked, "Why do you find fault with the Bill for conferring on the Privy Council powers which are already vested in the Crown?" But if any such powers are vested in the Crown; what occasion is there for this Bill? Is it seriously proposed that this House shall delegate to a Committee of the Privy Council, named by the Crown, the power of determining the basis and extent of its own constituency? I must say that, in my opinion, provisions more unparliamentary and more uncon- 782 stitutional were never laid upon the Table of this House. The House must, indeed, be fallen in its own contempt, and deserve all the reproaches that are cast upon it, if it can submit to such a degradation. I proceed now to the disfranchisement of the boroughs. I am so decidedly of opinion, that it would be desirable to give Representatives to the great towns, that, provided the measure is effected at all, I should consider the mode of effecting it, either by adding new Members to the House, or by disfranchising some of the smallest boroughs, a question of secondary importance. I am not one of those who contend that the Legislature, in a case of high expediency, has not a right to disfranchise a borough. Indeed, I hardly know what a Legislature, whose object should always be expediency, has not a right to do. At the same time I am certain that I shall have the concurrence of a right hon. and most learned friend of mine, whom I now see in his place (Sir James Mackintosh), when I say that, in considering the question of expediency, the question of justice and of right ought never to be disregarded. Confiscation and the abolition of long-vested interests, and long-enjoyed privileges, upon the ground of expediency, are dangerous lessons for a Legislature to teach. They are sure to operate, in the way of example, to a much greater extent than was first intended, and never end where they begin. But what does this Bill do in the way of disfranchisement? Why, it disfranchises by one blow sixty boroughs entirely, and mutilates forty-seven others, by taking away one Member from each. I own that the violence of the measure appals me. I must be firmly convinced, not only of the soundness of the theory upon which it is done, but of the certain beneficial consequences that are to result from it, before I can give my consent to it. But the Bill suggests no reason for the measure, nor any rule or principle, upon which the boroughs enumerated have been selected for condemnation. On the contrary, there appears upon the face of the Bill an obvious principle by which they might all, or nearly all, be rescued from their fate. That principle is this,—that for the future no place is to be allowed to send Representatives without a constituency of 300 voters. When the number is less, it is to be increased to that amount. Here then is a plain intelligible principle, upon which it 783 is manifest that there is no occasion to disfranchise entirely any borough. If the number of voters be too small in them, the obvious remedy is, to increase the number by the same rule as you propose to increase the numbers of those you allow to remain. No reason, however, is to be found in the Bill for disfranchising any one of these boroughs; and I will defy any man, who had not been informed by the speech of my noble friend at the opening of those Debates, to discover, from reading the Bill, any reason or rule that governs or prescribes the disfranchisement of any borough in the list. We must look, therefore, for the principle to the speech of my noble friend, and there we find that a certain rule has been adopted, by which boroughs, whose population in 1821 did not exceed 2,000 are to be wholly disfranchised; that those of which the population at the same period did not exceed 4,000, are to lose one Member; and, finally, that where-ever the population of any town now without Representatives did, in 1821, exceed 10,000, one Member is to be given to that town. Now, without meaning to quarrel with the principle of population as one that ought to have some influence, I beg leave to ask, first, why the rule is to be taken from the population ten years ago instead of the present population? Why are you to legislate for the time past instead of the time present? See to what inconsistency this may lead in the application of your rule. A borough that had 2,005 inhabitants in 1821 will not be disfranchised of both its Members, although at the present time it may not contain nearly so many as 2,000. Again, a borough that contained 1,999 inhabitants at that time will be disfranchised, though it may now contain double that number. The same inconsistency will arise in the application of the other number of 4,000 to boroughs that are to be partially disfranchised. Now, what can be more arbitrary and capricious than such an application of the rule you adopt? But what is the reason of the rule itself? What is there peculiar in the numbers of 2,000 and 4,000 that they should be selected as the guides in this new scheme? I have heard no reason suggested, except that by adopting smaller numbers, too few, and by adopting larger numbers, too many, boroughs would have been disfranchised.** What is the motive for fixing upon precisely sixty for suppression? Some of those appear784 But the question still returns;—too few for what purpose? and too many for what purpose? I see no purpose the line chosen is to answer, except to please its proposers. There is an equal inconsistency in the operation of the rule for giving Representatives to new places. For example, a place that has a population of 4,005 shall keep the two Members, but one that has a population exceeding 10,000, shall have but one, and another that has a population of 9,900 shall have none. It is said, the people are dissatisfied with the present system because it is full of anomalies, because it cannot be defended by reason, and does not stand upon any principle. I cannot tell how the newly-constructed House of Commons will work in practice,—experience alone can show how it will work,—but of this I am very certain, that it will not be constructed upon any one principle or theory which I have ever heard advanced as the ground of Reform, and that it will still be exposed to all the evil, the ridicule, and the reproach, that are charged upon the present, for the want of symmetry, of due proportion, and of a system that can be defended by reason. If these are your objections to the old fabric, surely you should at least avoid the same errors in the construction of the new one. The time will, doubtless, soon come when the people, disappointed in their hopes of advantage from a Reform of Parliament, will examine your new work with more attention than they do at present; they will then find that there has been something arbitrary, capricious, and unjust, in the whole plan of your building; they will say, "You have pulled down the old fabric because some of its apartments were not very convenient, because others were out of symmetry, and because the structure was partly formed of some dirty cement which bound it together, but which you disliked; use, however, had taught us to endure these defects, and the antiquity of the fabric at least led us to contemplate it with respect, but now you have erected a new building, to which custom has not reconciled us, which has no charm of age about it to command reverence,—which is quite as inconvenient as the one you have destroyed,—which defies all the principles of symmetry and proportion,—whose distorted dimensionsby the returns to contain many more householders at 10l. rent than some of those which are not suppressed.785 are not the result of time and accident, but the work of your own design, and which is rendered studiously unsightly by deformities which you have projected by line and rule." The task of the critic is never difficult, but the vulgarest of critics will be master of those rules by which your new work must be condemned. I contend, therefore, that if you make any change in the Representation, upon the ground of its irregularity, you ought at least to model it upon some plain rule, the reason of which may be apparent to mankind, and not upon any arbitrary and capricious fancy, which will render your new system more liable to objections than the old one. Another objection which I have to urge against this measure is, that it aims at placing the Representation of all the towns in England upon an uniform footing, as far as the qualification of the voter is concerned. Indeed, it may be considered that the leaseholder of 50l.. a year, and the copyholder of 10l. a year, will fall into the class of householders at 10l. a-year. The object of the Bill, then, is, to produce an uniformity in the qualification. In my opinion, the House of Commons, constituted as it now is, does in effect represent every class, every interest, and every opinion in the nation. Now, it is not certain that the same effect will be produced if you adopt an uniform qualification. I believe that it is to the anomalies that now exist in the qualifications of voters, that may be traced the cause of this Representation of all classes, opinions, and interests. An uniform class of voters must have a tendency to give you a representation of the opinion of the majority of that class, and to exclude that of the minority. Occasions will often arise where this result will be inevitable. I remember that during a considerable period of the war which followed the French Revolution the popularity of that war was so great, that the Members of this House could hardly go far or fast enough for the people in the prosecution of it. I know that this feeling was afterwards changed, but that it existed for a considerable time was notorious. It was equally so that Mr. Fox, and the noble Lord now at the head of his Majesty's Government, finding that the people were deaf to all their warnings, and blind to the fate that impended over them, actually seceded from Parliament for a time, till the eyes of the people should be opened. The eyes of the people, however, 786 were not opened. They continued in their obstinate blindness during the secession. The minority in which Mr. Fox and the noble Lord took so distinguished a lead, was undoubtedly very small. But I beg leave to put it to the House to consider whether that minority would have existed at all, if the right of election had at that time been placed upon an uniform footing, and the Representation confined to householders of 10l. a-year and upwards. I am persuaded that, if the elections had then been made by the majority of any one class in the kingdom, very few, if any of the distinguished persons who were the advocates of peace, would have found their way into this House. Now, though I must always respect the opinion of the majority, and am willing to admit that their opinion is generally right at last, yet I am far from thinking that it is generally right in the beginning. On the contrary, upon all subjects in which the passions are apt to interfere with the judgment, the opinion of the minority is most likely to be right in the first instance, and certainly never ought to be excluded from this House. But upon what ground does this Bill disqualify all persons who do not occupy houses of 10l. a year? In the next generation every other class of voters is to be extinguished. No other ground can be taken for their disfranchisement but that the communication of the right to householders of 10l. a year would, if combined with the other classes of voters, be dangerous to the Constitution. I can very well understand this argument, and acknowledge the force of it; but the Bill is exposed by it to an unanswerable objection;—for if it be true that the continuance of the franchise to pot-wallopers, to small freeholders, to freemen of corporations, and, in some instances, to the inhabitants at large, would be dangerous in combination with the extension of the franchise to so large a class as householders of 10l. a-year,—and if this be the reason for abolishing all classes but the last in the next generation, how are we to be secured from the dangers that may arise in the next twenty years? My hon. and learned friend, the Attorney General, has indeed asserted that the present is a season of profound tranquillity. I certainly did entertain great doubts upon this point, and I am, therefore, happy to learn from such good authority, that there is no ground to apprehend any disturbance of 787 peace from abroad. But we are all as good judges as my learned friend of what is passing at home. Every Gentleman must form his own judgment from the sources of of information which lie open to him; and, as far as I have been able to ascertain the fact, it appears to me that amongst the lowest class of voters to be introduced in the great towns, there will be found, not any want of intelligence, nor any want of information, but, combined with that intelligence and information which give activity and influence, a restless revolutionary principle, which aims not so much at the reformation of monarchical as at the establishment of republican institutions. Amongst this class are to be found the converts to the system which has of late been preached up in high places, of a cheap Government with a President at its head, a Government which disdains every principle that is not mercenary, and despises every object whose value cannot be calculated in pounds, shillings, and pence. I now proceed to the last point on which I propose to trouble the House,—the influence of public opinion. It is said, that whatever may be our judgment of the measure, the Bill must pass as it is, because it is the public will. Sir, that the public is anxious for Reform is true,—that the cause of Reform has made great and rapid progress within the last three months is equally true,— and I cannot doubt the influence of that feeling upon this House; but that the country has fixed its desire exclusively upon the specific plan of Reform propounded in this Bill I must be permitted to doubt. To understand the measure fully requires some time and great attention;—now I have not observed that, at the various meetings which have been held in favour of Reform in counties and smaller districts, any of the speakers have taken the trouble to explain to the audience the particulars of the measure they were called upon to approve. But those who think that the argument of public opinion must be of force to compel this House to adopt a measure against its deliberate judgment are surely not very consistent in their reasoning. You say, that this House ought to be Reformed, because it is so constituted as not to be sufficiently obedient to the will of the people; and yet you expect that this House will even surrender its own existence in obedience to that will; that will of the people is considered as conclusive upon our judg- 788 ment, and as paramount to all argument and reason. And I must say, that if to increase the influence of public opinion on the conduct of the House of Commons is the thing desired, there never was less occasion for Reform upon that ground than there is at present. There never was a time when public opinion had so great an influence in this House, or when the representatives were more sensitive to the voice of their constituents. There was a time when the debates in this House were kept secret from the people, or were only known at some distant period, when the notes, taken by some curious Member of Parliament, were communicated by himself, or through the agency of others to the press. Every body knows, that when the Debates first began to be published by Dr. Johnson, they were reported very briefly as the Debates of some ancient senate, with fictitious names given to the speakers. I am old enough to remember that, long after the names of the Members were communicated with their speeches in the daily journals, the Members were exempt from all invidious comment. Mr. Woodfall, who was most distinguished for the accuracy of his reports, took especial care to avoid all remarks upon the sentiments and character of the speakers. I am far from disapproving of the practice of publishing the Debates. I think it a practice highly useful to this House, and beneficial to the public. It adds much to the authority of Parliament with the country. But it cannot be denied that it renders individual Members much more sensitive to public opinion. At present no man can rise to deliver his sentiments in this House without exposing himself to the certainty of a comment upon those sentiments, by some public journal. It would not he parliamentary to suppose that hon. Members can be influenced in their votes by the fear of any attack or any criticism, but I merely state the fact, that comments are made on the speech, the conduct, the motives, and character of every Member of this House, whose opinions are not in accordance with those entertained by the writers in the newspapers; and I hope I do not violate the respect due to the House, when I add my conviction, that some Members are more guarded in the expression of their opinions by this rod which constantly impends over their heads; and that from this, as well as other causes, public opinion at this time operates with 789 more force upon the House of Commons than it ever did upon any other legislative assembly in the world: so much so, that when that opinion has been explicitly and deliberately expressed in favour of any measure, I admit that the House must follow it. But beware of adopting an important change in your constitution, upon the mere ground of public opinion, which, upon a measure so recently propounded, must be immature and undigested. Beware of shaking that foundation of usage, upon which all your own privileges and authorities rest, and of adopting, upon the rashness of public opinion, an untried theory in place of that institution which, bottomed in long usage, and gradually improved to suit new exigencies, has produced in practice the most splendid and beneficial results. Upon what rests the power of this House to originate all grants of money, to control the administration of the finances, to call the Ministers of the Crown to account, to exercise the important functions of the grand inquest of the nation? Are these privileges to be found in any Act of Legislature? Were they given by any Charter of the Crown to any House of Commons? Were they ever claimed or thought of at those periods to which you are referred for the constitutional rights of the people? No. Sir, they rest upon usage, and usage alone; a foundation which, while treated with reverence, may be solid and secure, because it rests upon the habits, the opinions, and the feelings of mankind; but when abandoned by you to the mockery and scorn of what is called public opinion, must perish with all the institutions which it supports. No reason has been assigned for abridging the Representation of England by seventy Members—no reason has been assigned for cutting off so many as 167 Members from the boroughs; and if all this must be yielded to the mere expression of public opinion by this House of Commons, at what concession will a reformed House of Commons, constructed to reflect the exact image of public opinion the mere delegates to express it,—at what concession will such a House stop, which is demanded by the will of the people? Can they refuse to abolish the law of primogeniture? Can they refuse to put an end to hereditary peerage, to gratify the wishes of the people? It is with some difficulty that you now refuse to entertain propositions of this character, that are oc- 790 casionally urged upon you. How then will a House of Commons, formed not to deliberate, but to follow the impulse of petitioners, be able to resist them? Allow me to state a circumstance which occurred last year. There is not, and there never was, any human institution, however sanctioned by age or the experience of its utility, that has not some weak side, some tender part, which, when skilfully exposed may cover it with ridicule. It so happened, that in the discharge of my official duty, I was destined to hear a noble friend of mine, then the ornament of this House, and now the delight of the House of Peers amuse a considerable number of their Lordships assembled in that House, in a speech of some hours, with the happiest ridicule of an hereditary peerage and hereditary Judges. He exposed, with singular felicity, the obvious imperfections of such an institution, and I fear, convinced several of their Lordships of the great superiority of a Peerage procured by purchase and sale at an auction. Nothing in Gulliver's account of the King of the Brobdignags was half so amusing or so successful. Now I entertain no doubt, that if that speech had been circulated through the country in a cheap form, with due aid from the Press, and more especially if backed with the | King's authority, many petitions would have found their way to this House from parishes and counties for the abolition of hereditary peerage? I have no doubt, that a few good speeches in this House, in favour of a cheap government, like that of America, accompanied by the proper means to inculate sound doctrines, and to excite the people, would, before long, produce, from different parishes in England, petitions for the destruction of constitutional monarchy, as the great obstacle to cheap government. Supposing you are bound to obey the impulse of the people, what must you do with such petitions? My noble friend (Lord J. Russell) on the other side has introduced to the House on several prior occasions motions for Reform, and I have on those occasions been proud to fight under the noble Lord's banner. But were any of the measures then suggested by him similar to the present? Directly the reverse. My noble friend has hitherto deprecated all measures of a similar character. I cannot, therefore, be reproached with inconsistency because I only adhere to those opinions which it appears that he has abandoned. I have, 791 indeed, witnessed many changes of opinion on the subject of Reform. I well remember that one of the great arguments in favour of it was the alleged influence of the Crown in this House. But Mr. Pitt, once its mighty champion, upon the introduction of some discussion upon this subject after the Union with Ireland, declared his opinion that the addition of 100 Members into the House by the Act of Union presented such an obstacle to the influence of the Crown as rendered any other Reform unnecessary. Now I will venture to ask if Mr. Pitt's opinion, so far as the influence of the Crown is concerned has been falsified by recent events? Does any Gentleman believe, that this influence can now sustain any Ministry against public opinion? For example, did the last administration find the House of Commons too servile and obedient to the will of the Crown? Is the House I have now the honour to address so obedient to the will of the Crown as to give its support to Ministers in opposition to public opinion? Sir, the existing Administration came into office supported by the force of public opinion. If they are not backed by that opinion to the same extent that they once were, their weakness will become manifest in this House. If, indeed, any degree of weakness has yet appeared, sure I am, that it has not arisen from any want of the exercise of such influence as is left to the Crown. Experience has already proved what I feel myself perfectly justified in asserting, that no influence of the Crown in this House can now prevail to counteract the ascertained opinions of the people; and I am satisfied that this House cannot long support any Ministry that does not possess the confidence of the people. Sir, I shall not detain the House longer, except to observe that if any reasonable hope could be afforded that the Bill might be so modified in a Committee as to remove the objectionable parts of it, I should be too happy to support it in the present stage. There are some parts to which I do not object, whilst others fill me with alarm. I cannot question the pure motives or the honest conviction of my noble and hon. friends, who have brought forward the measure, of its advantage to the public; and if I could bring myself to believe that it would be successful in attaining the patriotic object which they have in view, I would cheerfully and gladly support it. But I must own that my forebodings are 792 all the other way. After much and anxious consideration, I have not brought myself to doubt only, and even a doubt would be a sufficient reason for deciding against it, but almost to a conviction, that if this Bill pass, it will begin by destroying this House, and end in destroying the other branches of the Constitution. Let me implore the House to consider how worthy that Constitution is of being preserved. It has existed for many ages the admiration of the world—the foundation, the safety, and the glory of this vast empire. It has protected property and liberty to a degree in which property and liberty were never protected in any other country under Heaven since the history of mankind has been known. Under this Constitution the meanest man in the Kingdom if he possess but talents and industry, may acquire the greatest wealth or rise to the highest dignity. Under this Constitution the lowest man by birth may command your fleets or your armies, or aspire to and attain the honour of the highest place in your legislative councils. These advantages are the distinction and the exclusive fruits of our present Constitution. I cannot bring myself to put them in hazard by consenting to a House of Commons upon a new construction, and therefore I must oppose this measure. [On the hon. and learned Gentleman resuming his seat, the calls for "Question," "Divide," and "Adjourn," were loud and conflicting.]
§ Sir T. D. Acland
at length obtained a hearing, and said, that he would not detain the House for more than five minutes. He would not have preferred a request to be heard at that late period of the night, had he not already endeavoured, but in vain, to obtain the attention of the House at an earlier hour. He wished to express the opinions which he entertained on this subject, and he assured them that he would not take more than five minutes to do so. He knew that he had no claim to their attention even for five minutes, especially when nearly three hours had been occupied by two speakers who were well entitled to the most respectful consideration. But when hon. Members rose up one after another to express their opinions, and the opinions of their constituents, he felt that his right to address the House was the same, as theirs, and he should now claim the power to exercise it. It was a singular circumstance in this Debate, that not one Member had yet 793 taken a part in it, without expressing his readiness to make some Reform. Such was not the characteristic of the seven nights' Debate; but at present the tone of the House was so changed, that, with one or two exceptions, he could not refer to any Member who had stated that his opinion was still adverse to Reform. He was of opinion that hon. Gentlemen did not consider the effect of that admission. They ought to reflect that he who opened the door a few inches to a strenuous applicant, might as well open it to a larger extent, and they ought to apply that argument to this question, which was not now agitated for the first time, but which had been agitated for the last fifty years, and had been agitated in vain till the present hour, when the admission was at last made, that it was a question which ought to be entertained. It appeared to him to be trifling and absurd to consider this measure in its minor details: on the contrary, he thought that they ought to make up their minds to some large and substantial measure of Reform. The question on the second reading of this Bill was a question of Reform or no Reform. Yes, in plain terms, the second reading of this Bill involved the question whether they would have a large substantial measure of Reform, or whether they would be content with a mere vague expectation of a non-existing phantasy, to be brought forward hereafter by his hon. friend the member for Cornwall, and to be supported only by those who were either adverse to all consideration of the question, or who brought up the lagging rear of the Reformers, in the hope that their march would be speedily and effectually stopped. Those who professed themselves friendly to Reform, and yet stated that they could not support this Bill, because there were parts of it which would not admit, in the Committee, of any modification that they could approve of, must not be surprised if they were classed in future by the country among the decided opponents and stoppers of Reform. He would not trouble the House with the explanation of the feelings which he had formerly entertained on this question, or of that sense of duty which impressed him with the necessity of supporting the present attempt to remedy such defects in the constitution as no eloquence could now hope to maintain,—as the common sense of the country would no longer hear justified, and would scarcely tolerate, 794 such defects as gave to every enemy of the Constitution the means of inflicting an additional wound upon it, and to every friend the certainty of feeling an additional pang. He would not pretend to describe his feelings: he would only say, that he had never had a more painful task imposed upon him than the endeavour to find out the course of duty which he ought to pursue upon a subject which, of all the subjects that had been submitted to Parliament in the twenty years during which he had en-enjoyed the honour of a seat in it, was the most important, both in itself and in its probable effects. Indeed he might say, that it was one of the most important questions which had ever been submitted to any Legislature. He could assure Ministers it had been his most anxious wish to be able, on principle, to give his unqualified support to the measure. But he was bound to say, that although he saw in it very much to approve, and also observed the fairest intentions in its proposers, after every effort that he had made to bring himself up to the point of supporting the Bill without qualification, he did think it went too far. He regretted that he could not give an unqualified support to the plan, in the details of which Ministers had, according to his opinion, moved with too rapid a pace. He was not unwilling to consent to a very large and ample disfranchisement—he was not unwilling to stake for the basis of such disfranchisement the proposition contained in the Bill, with some abatement, but, at the same time, he was not willing to consent to the total disfranchisement of the boroughs as proposed. With respect to Scotland, he thought that the Government did right to propose that the Representation should be thrown open, and it was likewise, in his opinion, advisable that the large towns of the country should be represented. With respect also to the distribution of Members obtained by the proposed disfranchisement, he thought that it was, on the whole, wise and just, with some exceptions, such as the large addition of Members to the metropolis. Notwithstanding the objections he had taken, being a reformer on principle, he felt it indispensably necessary to vote for the second reading of the Bill, with a view to its modification in the Committee, and hoping that those who had done so much that was wise and good would consent to arrange the details of the measure so as to remove reasonable objections, and render 795 the plan generally satisfactory [renewed cries of "Question," and "Divide."]
Lord John Russell
asked the House to give him some of its attention while he gave such explanations as he could upon certain points that had been touched on during the course of the Debate of yesterday and that night; and at the same time attempted to answer parts of the arguments used by the opponents of the Bill. He was aware, however, that a great part of those arguments had been so completely and satisfactorily replied to by his hon. and learned friend the Attorney General, that it would be worse than heedless for him to trouble the House with any repetition of the points touched on in his hon. and learned friend's speech. He wished here to state, that he differed from his hon. and learned friend, the late Attorney-general (Sir James Scarlett) entirely, in thinking that his hon. and learned friend, as a reformer, could, with propriety, vote against the second reading of the Bill. Mr. Burke had spoken of certain persons as being prospective patriots, who, when the question came to the present day, were always found wanting. Looking at his past life, his hon. and learned friend might be called a retrospective patriot, and his prospective patriotism was also undoubted, so long as the Legislature dwelt in generalities, and the hon. and learned Member had only to make speeches in that House and to his Constituents, expressive of his wishes for some Reform; but now that the Ministers came forward with a distinct and tangible measure, his hon. friend used arguments which were not in favour of a more moderate Reform than the present, but which militated against any Reform whatsoever. He begged to observe, that although many concessions had been made in the general language of the opponents of the Bill since the seven nights' Debate, commencing on the 1st of March, in point of promise or pledge in favour of any specific measure of Reform there had been no concession— nothing distinct—on the part of those opponents. If the late Solicitor-general could point out parts of this Bill which were not quite intelligible to him, still it must be admitted that it was a little more plain and intelligible than the imaginary resolution which, in the event of this proposition being defeated, the hon. member for Cornwall was to propose at some future day, no one knew when 796 —to do no one knew what, and which was to afford satisfaction to no one knew whom— except, indeed, it were intended to satisfy those who opposed Reform, yet wished to persuade others and themselves into the belief that they were not opposed to it. His hon. and learned friend had alluded to the speech which he (Lord John Russell) made at the commencement of the Debate, and to the reference which he had then made to the commonalty; and his hon. and learned friend had given a strange interpretation to the word "commonalty," for he interpreted it to mean "the Barons." If this were correct, instead of Peers being intruders in their interference with that House, they were the true Representatives of the people, for after all the Barons, and the Barons alone, were the real commonalty, (according to his hon. and learned friend), and possessed the right of voting taxes. But he begged his hon. and learned friend to come down a little later when he referred to the constitution of the House. The statement he had made in his opening speech was, that this was a question of right,—that those who asked for Reform had the letter of the law in their favour, and, such being the case, possessed a fair claim that the House of Commons should truly represent the people. That was a proposition which it required no great degree of ingenuity to establish: it was supported by the very words used in Acts of Parliament, and by the well-known language of the Constitution. What did our ancestors do in 1688? First they declared that elections ought to be free and uninfluenced; and, in the next place, two or three years afterwards, when the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports had assumed the right of nominating Members to that House, they passed an Act very contrary to the theory of the right of persons of wealth and property to nominate Members of that House; for they specifically enacted, that all such nominations were contrary to the laws' and constitution of the realm, and that they were null and void. He alluded to the Nomination Act, which said, "Be it further enacted, that all such nominations are contrary to the laws of this realm, and are to be so construed, and are hereby declared null and void, any pretence to the contrary notwithstanding." Such was the manner in which our ancestors, at the period of the Revolution, read and understood the constitution of the realm. If 797 there were time, he could show that great part of the abuses now complained of in the Representation, those abuses which limited the return of Members to a small number of persons, had grown up since the accession of George 2nd. When Ministers determined on reforming the system, the first question which they had to ask themselves was this, and he put the same question to all who, affecting to approve of Reform, opposed the Bill—"Is it tit that the direct nomination of Members by individuals, and that the sale of seats for money, should continue to be part of the constitution of the House?" If the hon. member for Cornwall said such nomination arid purchase of seats ought to continue in a reformed House of Commons, he would tell that hon. Member, that such a Reform as he meant to propose would not be a final Reform. He would never deny the advantages that in particular cases might have arisen from nomination and purchase of seats for money, as in the case of Mr. Ricardo, who, by the disbursement of l,000l. a-year, was enabled to communicate to the House the results of his i very valuable labours and extraordinary intelligence on various subjects. But if the House were to form a plan of Reform on this ground, if it permitted the nomination and sale of seats to continue, in the very first year of a reformed Parliament, if the present House of Commons did not do it, another House of Commons would rise and say, such franchises were contrary to the laws and constitution, and they would have an argument which it would be impossible to resist. Having come to the conclusion that they ought not to permit the practices in question to continue any longed, this question of disfranchisement followed as a natural and necessary consequence of that conclusion. Gentlemen might talk of the hardship of disfranchising voters such as those of East and West Looe, but he denied the hardship, and contended, that the privilege which they at present enjoyed was not one which they were qualified to exercise. The real question was briefly this, was it for the public good that the owners of boroughs should continue to nominate Members of that House? and, having once decided that it was not, it would be only a mockery to say to 200 or 300 voters of inconsiderable boroughs, "you shall have the right of sending Members to Parliament." As to the' rule of selection with respect to bo- 798 roughs to be disfranchised, no doubt, as his hon. and learned friend observed, there was no positive law why places with 2,000 inhabitants should send one Representative to the House, and places of 1,900 inhabitants should not. But such an observation would apply to every species of limitation, and a similar objection might have been taken wherever Ministers had drawn the line. Drawing the line was a matter of prudence and expediency, and how many boroughs should be disfranchised was a subject of nice calculation; and, after due deliberation, Ministers thought it would be reasonable to say, that boroughs possessing fewer than 2,000 inhabitants should not be represented. His hon. and learned friend said, that in consequence of the preponderance given by the new plan to the landed interests, the due influence of the commercial and monied interests would be lost in the House. He did not agree in his hon. and learned friend's view, and he thought there would be no more difficulty than at present in persons of wealth making known their pretensions, and obtaining seats in Parliament. His hon. and learned friend also intimated, that the national credit might be destroyed by the Bill, but in arguing against it he had himself given reasons, which proved that this could not be the case: his learned friend said, "if you destroy the national credit, you not only ruin the upper classes, but a number of persons of small property" true, but the Bill did not and would not destroy the national credit, and by giving persons of small property an interest in elections, it tended to bring into the Legislature a larger number of those who wished to maintain the national credit. Then he was told by his hon. and learned friend, that it was unjust to take the census of 1821 as a standard, a census made ten years ago. He admitted that this was not so much the natural course of proceeding, as the line of convenience; and, if Ministers had attempted to obtain a new census, with a view to this measure, they would have opened the door to every kind of fraud. If they had sent down persons, or began by any other means to inquire into the population of different places, with a view to the disfranchisement, all sorts of trickery and deception would be resorted to in order to swell the returns of population, the instant it was known that the fate of boroughs was to depend oh the amount of their inhabitants. An hon. and 799 learned Gentleman said last night, that the petitions presented to the House were not merely petitions for Reform, but for the ballot, and a confiscation of tithes. Now it happened that a paper which had been just placed on the Table of the House, in consequence of a motion of the hon. member for Preston, entirely contradicted this assertion. It appeared that the number of petitions for Reform were 645; for the Ballot, 280; respecting tithes, comprehending petitions for commutation, a different arrangement of tithes, &c., seventy. With what sort of justice could it be said, then, that the petitions for Reform were in favour of the Ballot, and of a destruction of tithes and property? But the arguments against the Bill in many cases hardly deserved an answer from him, because they confuted one another. Thus it was said by more than one Gentleman in the same speech, that the effect of the Bill would be to give a preponderancy to the landed over the other interests, and in the next sentence it was added, that the measure would produce the triumph of democracy. Such conflicting statements destroyed each other, and when arguments were resorted to in this vague way, in the hope of catching up a vote or two from opposite sides, when commercial men were threatened with a preponderance of the landed interest, and the aristocracy were alarmed with apprehensions of the mob, it must be apparent that such opposite objections, proceeding from the same lips, were either not well considered or insincere. He requested the House to look at the conduct of Members of small boroughs; they were generally found voting against economy and retrenchment, in the teeth of the popular wish. He found by a reference to certain old tables that he had before brought under the notice of the House, that of the Representatives of boroughs with a population under 2,000 thirty had voted for economy and reduction, and ninety-six against it. On the other hand, in the case of boroughs having 5,000 inhabitants and upwards, although the election was generally close, sixty-six Members had voted for, and forty-seven against, retrenchment. When the people saw the Representatives, who were in fact sent to that House by popular influence, voting in direct contradiction to the Members for the small boroughs upon such a point, what conclusion could he come to, except that the borough Members were neither really nor virtually 800 the Representatives of the people, and that their interest would be better protected if all these boroughs were disfranchised. There was one other point to which he wished briefly to refer. He alluded to the appeal to the Privy Council. He felt, as well as the learned Gentleman, the difficulties which were connected with this part of the measure, and if any thing could be suggested to restrain the power placed in the hands of the Privy Council, without affecting the main objects of the Bill, he should be most happy to adopt it, and to assist in making that part of the Bill more perfect. He had now done with the provisions of the Bill; and he had only a few words to say with respect to the real question before the House. His Majesty's Ministers were anxious to frame such a plan of Reform as would bind firmly and kindly the different classes of society together, and which would secure a Representation on which that House and the country might safely rest. He did not mean to say that the plan proposed by them might not be altered, but he felt that if, in the Committee, it were materially altered, so as to deprive it of the character which he had just described, he should feel that neither he nor any other friend of Reform, would think himself precluded, at any future time, from bringing forward those parts of the measure which had been thrown aside, and which might be considered essential. If any alteration were proposed, which would not interfere with the great objects that Ministers had in view, he felt no hesitation in saying, that to such alteration no opposition would be given. But if alterations were called for that would not satisfy the country, such a course would only lead to a prolonged struggle, instead of conciliating the feelings and affections of the people, and such alterations the Ministers would resist. They lived certainly in extraordinary times. The hon. Baronet, the member for Cornwall (Sir R. Vyvyan), who had strenuously opposed this Motion, and who thought that he could, in some way or other, direct the mighty mass of public opinion which was now in action,—that hon. Baronet had given them warnings, both from circumstances which had occurred at home, and from events which had happened in foreign countries, with respect to the danger that was to be apprehended from making popular concessions. But he would ask, had the hon. Baronet never looked to the danger of resisting well-founded popular 801 claims? Had he never contemplated the danger which a Government encountered, when it placed itself in a position, and trusted its existence to a principle, that could not be sustained by reason,—and was not tenable against the Arguments of common sense? Day after day complaints were made of the state of the Representation,— day after day the people declared that the nominees of boroughs did not represent, them, while it was said, that the House of Commons was intended to represent the people: and were they to pay no attention to the constant, the fervent, the glowing appeals of this large, liberal, and enlightened nation? Had the hon. Baronet never, thought of the consequences which had resulted to Kings and Princes, in consequence of their resistance to the just demands of the people,—of the people, having found that their representations were fruitless and unavailing? The hon. Baronet had referred to revolutions. He had spoken of the French Revolution of 1789, and he had referred to the Revolution in this country, in the time of Charles 1st. But the latest Revolution that had happened was that which occurred in France, in the month of July last. How was that Revolution caused? Was it occasioned because Charles 10th and his Ministers were too ready to come forward with plans of Reform? Was it because they offered to make greater concessions to the people than ought to be granted? Certainly not. But was it not, on the contrary, because that Monarch and his Ministers opposed themselves to popular rights to the uttermost? Was it not because they were determined to transgress the laws, and to violate Charters? Not, be it observed, to violate Charters by preventing persons from sending Members to Parliament who were unfit to do so; but because they violated Charters connected with the constitution of the realm, and necessary to its safety—Charters which they had sworn to defend. Did they not attempt all this? Did they not make the effort, supported by the most powerful machinery, assisted by a gallant army, and sustained by a finely-appointed guard? Yet, with all these preparations, the determination of the people rendered the project abortive. Would the hon. Baronet call this a lesson that ought to induce them to stem the tide of improvement, and to close the door of concession? Would he say, that when they might conciliate the affections of the people, by 802 listening to their claims, they ought to reject those claims, and rather govern by force? There was a time in France (and he then was acquainted with the French Ministers) when moderate concession would have prevented the catastrophe which had since occurred,—when increasing the electors to 80,000 instead of 40,000, and allowing them to elect the municipal council, would have given the utmost satisfaction to France. He deeply regretted that the Government of that country had taken an opposite course; for sure he was, if it had acted differently, the dynasty of the Bourbons would have been preserved, and the liberty of the people would have been united with the power and the splendor of an ancient monarchy. If, as the hon. Baronet testified, there was danger in concession, it could not be denied that there was also danger in resisting. To include the people in the Government, and satisfy them, was the principle of the present measure. The objections that were made to it were, that it would lead to revolution and democracy, and the destruction of property. He doubted the assumption, and was prepared to confide in the good sense and discretion of the people of England. It was said, that if the people were allowed to send their own Representatives to that House, they would destroy the Monarchy and the House of Lords, and elect Representatives who would have no regard or respect for the institutions of the country. He confided, however, in the people; he believed that they had an interest in the Monarchy, and an interest in preserving the privileges of the House of Peers. He believed, moreover, that if there was that tendency to republicanism which was said to prevail in the country, there would be no use in refusing the wishes to the people; and to resist that tendency to republicanism and all its consequences would be, he believed, beyond the power of Parliament. He firmly believed, however, that if the people were properly represented, that they would not make that Revolution which hon. Gentlemen dreaded. He must continue to place his confidence in the good sense, in the habits, and in the interests, of the intelligent people of this country; and he would tell those who were opposed to that principle, that no power which they possessed could control or govern the people. For the institutions of the country to be stable they must be founded on the general regard. It was, therefore, 803 he said, that what he proposed to the House to do would not advance democracy, but it would make the Constitution harmonize with the present state of the people, conjoining these two together— and conjoining them was one of the most difficult of all political problems,—so as to make the mind of the people harmonize in one balanced Constitution of King, Lords, and Commons, with the representation of the people in the House of Commons; but which difficult thing he believed, if the present Bill were passed into a law, and the principles he had laid down were adopted, they would be in a fair way of accomplishing. He had but one observation more to make. The Members of the House had frequently reproached the Ministers in the course of the debate with having gone beyond expectations—that what the Ministers had done—a reproach which gave him some satisfaction—had surpassed the expectations even of those who looked upon Reform as not endangering the stability of the Constitution. Let him observe that that was a new complaint. He had heard Whig Ministers accused of being too ready to act like their predecessors, of falling into their system as soon as they had got into place, and of forgetting all the pledges and promises they had given when they were out of office. The present imputation he was content to accept. He was content to admit, that when he sat on the other side of the House he was somewhat fearful, when he had no responsibility and power, that what he proposed when he had no share of the Government, and which might then seem wise and expedient to him, might seem neither wise nor expedient to those who had power, and were responsible for its exercise, and might see the defects of what appeared perfect to him. Now that he was in place, and 804 called to take part in the Administration— when he and his friends were in power, and had responsibility, it gave him satisfaction to think that they had not hesitated to go to the full extent of their opinions when out of power; that they had not hesitated to risk that power, to risk their fame, to risk their places, and all that was dear to them as men and Ministers, to improve largely, liberally, and generously, and he hoped successfully, the Constitution of Great Britain.
§ Mr. Hunt
presented himself to the House amid much tumult. He declared that he would not detain them two minutes. He understood the hon. and learned member for Weymouth (Sir E. Sugden) to have said, that if this Bill were passed into a law, the electors of Preston would hereafter be prevented from voting. How, then, could he vote, without explanation, for a measure which, it was asserted, would disqualify his constituents? Supposing he voted for it, in the absence of explanation, it would go forth to the world that he had supported a Bill which disqualified those who sent him into Parliament. He had, in consequence of his feelings on this subject, made application to the noble Lord who had introduced the measure, who informed him that no life-interest would be injured by the Bill, but that if it appeared that it interfered with his constituents, that point should be altered. His hon. Colleague had waited on the head of the Government, and had received a similar assurance. Under these circumstances, having explained what had occurred, he felt himself justified in the eyes of his country, when he came forward to give his vote for this measure.
§ The House then divided. The question was put, that the word "now," stand part of the question: For the Motion, 302; Against it, 301—Majority for the Second Reading at that time, 1.