§ Mr. Strutt
proceeded to address the House, and said, he thought it was his duty to state shortly, some of the reasons why he supported the Bill. He should betray the high trust reposed in him if he did not give the measure his warmest support. It was not all that could be wished, but it contained in itself so many good things, as to make it most acceptable to the whole nation. Whatever difference there might be as to its details amongst the Reformers, there were none as to the principle of the Bill, which was only to give the Representation of the people into their own hands. The public could no longer be deluded by any phrases of virtual Representation, or the natural influence of property; and the House, to retain its power, must become responsible to the people. The people wanted security for the good conduct of their Representatives, and they could have no security as long as the Members of that House bought their seats, or received them from Peers, though such Members might be persons of the strictest integrity. Those Members who sat there as representing their money, or patrons, possessed all the irresponsibility of the other House without its independence. Two objections had been urged against the Bill, viz., that sufficient talents would not find their way into the House, and that property would not be sufficiently protected. He would refute the first assertion, by stating, that the same persons, who, on that ground, opposed the Bill, alleged in the Committee, that the Aristocracy would be overborne by the new talents which the Bill would introduce into Parliament. He believed that talents would find their way into the House, and he also believed, that under every system of Representation, the House would always possess a great and a sufficient number of men of talents. He knew not why the owners of boroughs arrogated 266 to themselves the exclusive ability to find out genius in the country, and the exclusive ability to govern the whole nation. The people desired, however, that the talents in that House should be employed in their service, and not in aggrandizing a class, or promoting the superiority of a few. As to the influence of property, if it were meant, that property, separate from character, was to have influence over the voters—if property exclusively was to persuade and govern them—he should object to the Bill, that mere property would receive under it too much influence. Whenever wealth was united to great talents and great virtue, it would, indeed, command great respect, and render its owner more useful, more happy, more powerful, and more influential. Such influence was not to be increased by giving the owners of property an influence over voters, but by allowing the voters to exercise their rights in a conscientious manner. It had been stated, that the present Constitution worked well, and that no objection could be made to its effects, which were described as most splendid; but he must assert, that the evils of misgovernment were glaringly apparent, in this country, and constituted those great practical grievances, which had given rise to the demand for Reform. He would not renew all the Debates of the last fifty years, on all sorts of subjects, to exemplify this view; but it was a fact, that frequent wars, great national burthens, and other evils, had made the people aware of the want of Reform; and the result had shown itself at the last election. One duty of Government was, to instruct the people, and to provide suitable establishments for their education. It was essential to the welfare of society that the people should acquire political knowledge, but that House—and he quoted this as a decisive proof against the system—had resolutely opposed the education of the people, and had even prevented them from getting knowledge, by stamps on newspapers, and other means devised for the purpose of keeping papers and books from the hands of the poor. And now, when the people demanded Reform, the opponents of the measure said, that the people were unfit for freedom, thus making the ignorance they had caused, if it existed, the excuse for continuing their own wrong. He denied, however, that the people were so ignorant 267 as was supposed; and the means of making them acquire political knowledge, was to give them political rights. They would then have motives to instruct themselves, and the Legislature, as well as the candidates for their suffrages, would have motives to enlighten and instruct them. While seats could be purchased, it was of no consequence to those who sat in Parliament what the people thought. But do away with such means of getting into Parliament, allow the Representatives to appeal only to the people, and the strongest motives would exist to teach the people sound knowledge. If Reform had been earlier carried, an earlier triumph would have been obtained for civil and religious liberty. It was also objected to the Bill, that if political power were given to the people, they would destroy the other two branches of the Legislature. That was a favourite topic with the member for Thetford, and, therefore, he was surprised, that the hon. Gentleman should, last night, have allowed that the English people were great King-lovers. The hon. Member, however, seemed to confound loyalty to the King with respect for rotten boroughs and borough mongers; and he argued, that if the latter were destroyed, disloyalty would be the consequence. Such an assumption was not new. This very argument had been used as an objection to the Bill for a Reform in Parliament, which Earl Grey had introduced forty years ago. It was said, that a House of Commons so chosen as to be a complete Representative of the people, would be too powerful for the House of Lords, and even for the King—that it would abolish the one, and dismiss the other. To this Mr. Fox very pointedly answered, "If the King and the House of Lords were unnecessary and useless branches of the Constitution, let them be dismissed and abolished, for the people were not made for them, but they for the people. If, on the contrary, the King and the House of Lords were felt and believed by the people, as he was confident they were, to be not only useful but essential parts of the Constitution, a House of Commons freely chosen by, and speaking the sentiments of, the people, would cherish and protect both within the bounds which the Constitution had assigned them."* Much had been said of the use of inflammatory language, but he* Hansard's Parl. Hist. Vol. XXX, p. 921.268 could conceive no language more inflammatory, than that which asserted, that for the middle classes to have power would necessarily lead to the subversion of the Throne and the Peerage, because they were completely odious to the public at large. The assumption, however, would not avail those who made it. All power depended on public opinion, and if these bodies were so odious, then were we on the brink of a Revolution, and the destruction of these bodies could not be averted. It would be, in that case, the business of that House to examine, if they ought to accelerate, or were able to retard, that looked-for event. It was especially worthy of their consideration, whether they should not hasten that consummation by rejecting the present Bill. But he had no apprehensions that this Bill would be rejected, or that the people would destroy the monarchy. He trusted in the people, and he believed that, with this measure, they would be satisfied, because it gave them an interest in the country, and assured them a responsible Government. All that they wanted was security for equal laws and good government, and he felt that if this Bill, which would give them that security, received the sanction of Parliament, it would be received by them with gratitude, and exercised with discretion.
§ Mr. Baring Wall
said, the awful crisis in which the country was placed, and the important bearings of the question, must plead his excuse for troubling the House. Before he proceeded to make any observations on the question, he wished to congratulate the Gentlemen who supported the Government on the embargo being at length taken off their tongues, that the system of reciprocity was introduced, and free discussion at length again restored. It was a curious circumstance, that in all the discussions the Bill had never been defended per se. "Take it with all its imperfections is the language of its supporters, for no other Bill is before you." The same argument was used with respect to the Government. "Support the Administration, for it will be so difficult to form another." The Bill and the Government were taken, because no other Bill and no other Government could be found. Neither, however, was supported because it was good in itself. The Ministers appeared now frightened by their own measure. They had laid down as a principle, that population and property should be represented, 269 and then denied Representatives to Chelsea, and gave them to Marylabone. If they were not frightened, why should they have refused to Bradford and Trowbridge in the county of Wilts, the franchise which they had given, for sundry wise and excellent reasons, to Workington and Whitehaven, in the county of Cumberland? He did not think the Bill would be a final settlement, and he could not believe, that anybody who looked at the returns on the Table, could for one moment suppose, that it would be a final settlement. The noble Lord said, he wanted it only to be final as long as the people were satisfied; but how long was that to be? At what period were they to re-judge this Bill? The blessings of stability, and the evils of change had not been sufficiently dwelt upon. The noble Lord must not only make a new Constitution, but a new moral world for it to work in. He must make new interests, new habits, and new influences. The law of primogeniture must be revised, and thoseLarge-acred men,Lords of fat Evesham or of Lincoln Fen,''must be got rid of. What was the duty of a Government? To allay irritation, to conciliate interests. What had been the conduct of this Government? To excite and agitate from one end of the country to the other. It was a great evil, that the measure should be carried against the feelings of the property of the country. The Government had separated itself from all the moderate Reformers, who were, in consequence, obliged to throw themselves into the arms of the Tories. After the Bill was passed, the Government would be embarrassed by its present friends. He did not wish to say anything personally offensive; but as the divisions of the House had been analysed every day, and as their names had been printed in red and black letters, to render one party the object of popular applause, and the other the object of popular obloquy, he thought that he might be permitted to say, without offence, that if the Ministerial majorities were analysed, many Gentlemen would be found in them, who had a direct interest in carrying the Bill. Among those Gentlemen were many Dissenters, and he might refer to them without any imputation of illiberality, for he had always voted for Catholic Emancipation and the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. The Dissenters had an interest in passing the 270 Bill, and so thought the inhabitants of the North of Ireland, for they had sent to that House a majority of Members to support the Bill. Among the Members opposite were also several Gentlemen holding office, whose interest was bound up with the continuance of the Ministers in power, and they had an interest in supporting them. He would balance the boroughmongers, as they were called, on the Opposition side of the House, against the Dissenters and the dependents on the Government on the other, and then he thought the majority would not tower so magnificently above the minority in independence as it, at present appeared to do. To be sure, there were no more parasites; according to the Gentlemen opposite, they all died out with the last Government. The cry out of doors was, that this Bill would put an end to the Aristocracy; but, in fact, it would create an oligarchy, and give a legal existence to the very body which it was said to be the wish to reduce. The present advantage of the Aristocracy was, that it was not confined to any class, nor limited to any description of persons; wealth, talents, abilities, all made individuals members of the Aristocracy. There was no law to compel them to enrol their patents. The Aristocracy of England pervaded all things. There were not 100, nor any other limited number of Lords; but by this Bill there would be seven or eight such Lords created, and that number would be limited. The hon. member for Tavistock (Mr. Hawkins) had last night spoken much of the anomalies of the present system, and then, much to his surprise, the hon. Member had defended the 10l. clause, and held it up to admiration, as being itself anomalous. He knew that there were anomalies in this clause—that there was a great difference between the 10l. householders of Cornwall and Yorkshire and those of London, and he wished he could bring a cargo of the former to London, to show them what the 10l. householders of the alleys of Billingsgate and Wapping were. He could have no hope of influencing the majority of that House, and he wished, therefore, to address himself to the people out of doors. When they talked of the influence and corruption of the Borough system, the people seemed to forget that they themselves were the chief supporters of it. Trading politicians were not numerous—there were few great men 271 and few great fortunes. They might, in the decline of life, get a Peerage or Garter; but it was the constituents, who lived upon the Customs and Excise—the middle orders—those pure uncompromising Reformers. Some Members of Parliament, and some of the Aristocracy might now and then make a fortune; but if they examined the list of the placemen and men who had risen to high office during the last century, they would find them all sprung from the middle classes, and not men of aristocratic blood. Let the House look at the three eminent individuals who in our time had been, or now were, Lord Chancellors. They had all sprung from the people. Again, look to the list of the Attorney-generals during the last fifty years, and it would be found that not above one of them had been a member of the Aristocracy. He found among them the names of Kenyon, Pepper Arden, Scott, Mitford, Law, Percival, Pigott, Gibbs, Garrow, Gifford, and all of whom made their way up to honours and distinction. The people were finding fault with their own triumph, and grumbling at their own success. They reached the highest honours of the State, and they were not contented. Let the House look again at the Church. The majority of the highest situations were filled by men sprung from the middle classes. Much had been said in the course of the debates about the number of great names which were to be found as the supporters of the Bill; and among others, it was observed, that had Mr. Canning lived, he too would have seen the necessity of giving way to the altered circumstances of the time. In his opinion, Mr. Canning would have seen additional reason to persevere in his original principles; and he must observe, it was much easier to say that Mr. Canning would have been a convert to the new light, than to believe it. How did the authorities in other respects stand in favour of the Bill? He would say, that the best writer in favour of the Bill was the Editor of The Times, and that the best speaker in support of it had been the member for Calne (Mr. Macaulay), who had applied his arguments solely to the effects which the measure was likely to produce in the event of its passing into a law. The only authority, strictly speaking, in favour of the change, among those who professed to be well versed in the history of the Constitution, was the right hon. and learned member for Knares-borough (Sir James Mackintosh), who, it 272 was well known to every one in that House, would have voted for either side if circumstances required it. Looking to others who were not Members of that House, he found that great constitutional writer, Mr. Hallam, the most eminent man in England in that peculiar branch of literature, decidedly opposed to the Bill, while Mr. Palgrave, the most distinguished antiquary, had expressed, in a manner strong but peculiar, his sense of the danger with which it threatened us. Looking, indeed, at the Bill itself, and the circumstances under which they were called on to consent to such a great constitutional change, he must say, that it was the boldest leap in the dark ever taken by the people of any country of which history bears record. The liberal and enlightened men of other countries viewed the Bill with as much apprehension as those of the same class in this country. He had conversed with many Americans, and they all, including that distinguished man, whose retirement from a diplomatic situation was so great a loss to his country (Mr. Washington Irving), agreed in considering that the measure now before the House would be injurious to the liberties of England. Under the same impression he was anxious to record his opinion of the Bill, and it was with pain he declared it as his conviction, though some might deem the prophecy rash, that the future historian must, from the day that it passed into a law, date the downfall of the British Constitution.
§ Mr. Frederick Villiers
said, it was not from taking less interest than others in the important measure now in agitation, that he had, up to the present moment, abstained from taking part in the debates. Independently of his being well aware that his Majesty's Ministers, and their friends and supporters, were most anxious that no unnecessary obstruction should be offered to the progress of the Bill, he felt that it would have been highly imprudent and improper for so inexperienced a Member as himself to occupy the time of the Committee while there were so many hon. Members, more experienced and far abler, anxious to explain their views—from whose discourse, and from the development of whose opinions, the Committee would not fail to derive far greater benefit than from any thing his humble abilities could offer. But since he found, that silence on this important measure was liable to be ascribed to indifference to the success of 273 this Bill, rather than to that diffidence which a new Member felt in offering himself to the House, he was compelled to overcome his scruples, and to beg the attention of the House for a very few moments. The observations which he was about to offer to the House on some of the clauses of this Bill had suggested themselves to him on his first perusal of it, but he thought it would be presumption to state them, until he had endeavoured, by a close and anxious attention to the debates of the Committee, to profit by the views and opinions of other hon. Members. He regretted to say, that while several of his objections had been removed by the explanations which were offered of them in the Committee, some few still remained. He was sorry to observe, in the preamble of the Bill, a most objectionable passage. By all those who were acquainted with the object and the importance of the preamble of statutes, it would be readily admitted that too great care and attention could not be bestowed, either upon the substance or upon the language employed, in this portion of a statute. It was to the preamble that recourse must be had in order to explain any discrepancy that might arise in the construction of apparently contradictory clauses contained in the statute. The intention of the legislator—the spirit in which the statute was to be construed, must be looked for in the preamble. He was surprised to find in the preamble of this Bill some expressions highly condemnatory of the composition of this and preceding Parliaments. It was there stated that "great and divers abuses have long prevailed in the choice of Members to serve in Parliament." The plain meaning of these words was, that there were hon. Members sitting in that House, and that there were hon. Members in preceding Parliaments, who had not been elected according to law. He deemed it highly improper, and highly derogatory from the dignity of that House, to place any resolutions upon its records at all calculated to diminish the respect due to its authority, or to weaken the sanction which ought to attach to its proceedings, by declaring that and preceding Parliaments to have been illegally constituted (for such was the import of the words). If this and preceding Parliaments were unconstitutional; if they contained, or this contained, within its precincts, hon. Members elected only in virtue of abuses, 274 they had no right to expect that their resolutions and the Acts made by them, should be regarded with that reverence, and with that veneration which were so essential to their operation. He foresaw that advantage might be taken of this declaration, to call in question the legality of many contracts founded on the decision of that House. The preamble of this Bill furnished the enemies of existing institutions and vested rights with a fresh weapon for attacking, with a new arm for destroying, the most solemn contracts. Already a general outcry was heard against every institution whose existence dated from beyond yesterday. Already was the expediency of preserving faith in the most solemn engagements, even in those with the public creditor, called in question:— and should they now, by admitting that they had Members among them whose presence was owing entirely to the existence of abuses, authorize the real enemies of the State to agitate the question of the original legality of the Acts which had hitherto been obeyed as laws of the land? It would be difficult for hon. Members, in future Parliaments, to demand a rigid adherence to laws and contracts enacted and entered into by Parliaments which stood self-condemned and stigmatized as illegally composed—on their own records. He could not but ascribe great blame to the Committee for having sanctioned the insertion of any such censure. It would have been easy for them to state —that in order to keep pace with the improved intellect of the people, alterations were to be made in the manner of electing Members to serve in future Parliaments— without placing anything on the records of that House which might be made use of to invalidate the authority that ought to attach to its proceedings. Nor had the discourses delivered in that House, or the opinions expressed by the friends and supporters of this measure, been at all calculated to diminish or soften down the evil consequences arising from the insertion of this ill-judged censure on themselves and their predecessors. Hon. Members had daily inveighed against the composition and legality of that assembly— they had strained every nerve to convince the people that there had been no Parliament chosen according to law; thus endeavouring, in the most imprudent manner, to unsettle all the foundations of political society. But if Parliament had 275 been elected, and existed only in violation of the laws, how could they demand that its enactments should be held inviolate? How could they give efficiency to their measures if they proclaimed themselves not to be the representatives of the people, while they arrogated to themselves the power of determining on a form of government for them, which they maintained was to be unalterable? They could require for their laws only the same degree of respect which attached to themselves as a body. Yet, day after day were those who called themselves friends—night after night were they themselves—dinning into the ears of the people the story of their unworthiness. The tide of popular feeling was running high in favour of political Reform, and needed not these inflammatory discourses to increase its violence. There did exist a steady increasing demand for a wholesome change in the Constitution—not factious, not ephemeral, not proceeding from the love of change, nor from a fleeting, feverish desire of political experiment—nor was this wish for the amelioration of existing institutions momentary. The inclinations of the people had been gradually led towards it: time had made them sensible of the inefficacy of the established laws for the purpose of which they had been originally framed; able writers and orators had publicly stated the errors and inconveniences of the old system—had enforced the necessity of adopting a more advantageous one; the public wishes had fortunately met with a Ministry anxious and able to overcome the obstacles which always attended political change, and they had the prospect of obtaining, quietly and securely, the result of their earnest and long cherished hopes. He trusted, that the objections he had taken to the preamble would not be regarded by the friends and supporters of this Bill as offering any opposition to the operative clauses contained in it. The Bill would be equally, effective, the provisions in favour of the people equally valid, were the objectionable passage to which he had alluded entirely omitted. And he must say, that it did appear to him to be very unwise, and extremely imprudent, that a measure of this importance—a measure destined to be the basis of their future political existence— should be accompanied by the recorded confession of those engaged in framing it, that they were not a Parliament assembled 276 together according to law—that the authority they were exercising was not due to them as a legitimately elected body, but was a mere usurpation of the rights of the people. It was not his intention to occupy the time of the House, by stating all the objections he had taken to different clauses of the Bill, most of which objections, he was happy to say, were removed by the discussions in the Committee. But there was one clause so important—a clause which appeared to him so pregnant with mischief—that he felt himself called upon to state, publicly, his disapprobation of it—he meant the clause relating to the division of counties. He did perfect justice to the motives which swayed his Majesty's Ministers in proposing this clause. It was distinctly stated by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that this clause was inserted in favour of the Aristocracy, as a counterpoise to the additional influence given by the Bill to the trading and manufacturing interests. This declaration of the noble Lord afforded him (Mr. Villiers) the greatest pleasure—it was a full and sufficient answer to the assertions made by hon. Members on the other side, that his Majesty's Ministers had wilfully and designedly neglected the landed interests in the Bill. He differed, however, totally from the noble Lord in the belief that this clause would have the effect he intended it should have. In his humble opinion, it would have a totally opposite effect to that which he ascribed to it. In the first place, there were very few counties which did not contain some large manufacturing or trading town: it was clear, that the election of the division of the county in which this town was situated would be determined chiefly by the votes— the freehold votes—of that town; nor was it to be expected that they, whose interests were opposed to the landed interests, would return any Member who was inclined to further the interests of the Aristocracy. The Member for that division of Yorkshire in which Leeds was situated, would not represent the landholders of that part of the county; he would owe his return to the freeholders of Leeds, Halifax, and other great towns; and, of course, would be in their interests. In Norfolk, in Lancaster, and in Warwickshire, the same occurrence would take place. Those divisions of the several counties in which Norwich, Manchester, and Birmingham were respectively 277 situated, would, of course, be represented by individuals owing their return entirely to the influence of those towns. In fact, great part of those county Members would be entirely in the interest, and under the control of great towns. In all divisions, on questions involving the conflicting interests of the democracy and aristocracy, they would assuredly be found voting on the democratic side; they would also acquire an influence beyond their mere votes. Passing under the appellation of county Members, their adhesion to the democratic side of a question would make it appear as if part of the Representatives of the landed interests approved of any measure they might advocate. Thus the apparent augmentation of the number of Representatives granted to the Aristocracy was undoubtedly fallacious. But there was a still greater evil resulting from that pernicious clause; hitherto, the power and influence of the aristocracy in that House had not been owing to the mere numerical advantage they possessed over the democracy. There had always been greater value and more importance attached to the opinions and vote of a Member representing an extensive and wealthy body of men, than to the vote of a Member returned by a few constituents only. Greater deference, greater respect was mutually and willingly paid to the vote of the Representative of so powerful a body as the united freeholders of a county. As a body, those freeholders were more numerous than the constituents of the Representatives of cities or boroughs; their property generally much greater, and of a more fixed and unchangeable nature; they were well and properly believed to have a greater stake in the welfare of the country. The county Representatives derived great consideration from these circumstances; they partook of the respect due to their constituents; and when, on a division, the trading interests had a majority, this was considered to be more than counterbalanced by the superior weight and importance of the votes of the county Members, though inferior in number. Each party was most anxious to enumerate on its side the greater number of county votes; as a proof of this, if indeed it needed a proof, he should not go back further than the speech of the hon. Member, who, on the meeting of Parliament, proposed the Address to the Throne. He dwelt with peculiar satisfaction on the 278 fact, that all the county Members but two were pledged to support the Bill; this was triumphantly repeated and re-echoed by the Press, and was assumed to be the greatest proof of the popularity of this measure, and of the propriety of enacting it into a law. This was put forward, and justly so, as the very strongest incentive to—as the most powerful argument for—passing this Bill. Any man would have been deemed insane who, in answer to this argument, had proposed to name an equal number of the Representatives of small boroughs opposed to the measure. He need offer no further proof of the additional influence which the Aristocracy derived from the importance attached to the individual vote of every county Member. He had no hesitation in declaring, that it was to the great and wholesome influence that body of Members exercised in that House, that the prosperity of the State was owing; they acted as a barrier against the tide of precipitancy, which never failed to carry on with it the Representative of dense and populous neighbourhoods. No doubt, by the division of counties, the return of Members connected with the great landholders was greatly facilitated; for those divisions of counties in which no great towns were situated, it would be in the power of the two or three great proprietors of a division to name and appoint any individual they approved of to represent that part of the county. In general, the return of those who would represent the landed interest would be insured by the enactment of this clause. Now it was this very facility afforded to any two or three great proprietors to return anybody they pleased—it was this very power granted to them by this clause, of forcing upon the small landholders any individual of their own naming—which he was prepared to prove was the great evil resulting from this clause. They knew, from the other parts of the Bill, that the Representatives of towns had the numerical advantage over those returned by the landed interest; and a little consideration would inform them, that all the additional influence and importance which the latter possessed under the old regime, and which now they ought to possess more than ever, on account of their numerical inferiority, was not only taken away from them by this clause, but was actually transferred from them to the Members on the democratic side. It was the county Members who 279 would now be stigmatized as the Representatives of individuals—it was they who would now be branded with the appellation of nominees. In addition to their incapacity to offer an equal number of votes to counteract any ill-directed measure brought forward by the more numerous body of city or borough Representatives, their little influence would be found diminished by the asseveration, that they, as nominees, were deserving of no consideration. The Press would treat them as it now treated the Members for close boroughs; any opposition they might hereafter offer to any measures, however reprehensible, of the majority, would be unavailing, not only on account of their inferior numbers, but of their inferior importance. They would be nominees, and all the disregard, all the disrespect attached to the opinions of individuals solely under the influence of another individual, would, and must attach to them. This clause, instead of being favourable to the Aristocracy, as intended by the framers of this Bill, aimed the most deadly blow at it. The great object of this measure was, to do away with that which had contributed, more than anything else, to render the people discontented with the actual Constitution—the presence in that House of Members nominated by particular individuals. It was admitted, on all hands, that should the provision in this case take place, it would be in the individual power of a very great many landholders to have other nominees present here; and thus would those Members who ought, for the welfare of the State, and the well balancing of interests, to enjoy the greatest consideration, be placed under the same ban as the members for Gatton or Boroughbridge. He was the more astonished that Ministers persisted in passing this clause, as means were held out to them, by the amendment of a gallant Colonel opposite, the member for Worcester, for avoiding this destructive consequence altogether. If the freeholders resident in towns possessing the right of returning Members, had been compelled to vote for the Members for the town, the object the noble Lord had in giving some compensation to the aristocracy, would have been effected without the division of counties. The freeholders, and—in consequence of the excellent amendment of a noble Marquis opposite, all the farmers of a county—would solely have possessed the right of voting for Members who were to 280 represent their interest; nor could the freeholders in cities have objected to this in any way; they would not have been deprived of the vote they derived from their freehold, their franchise would have survived in all its plenitude. Instead of thousands of freeholders, under 10l. yearly value, interfering with the Members for the county, they would have had the right of voting in the election of the Members for the city they inhabited; and it was more to their advantage that it should be so. Certainly their interests were more immediately represented by the Members for the town they dwelt in, than by those who, representing the county at large, had no immediate connexion with, or knowledge of, the interests of the particular boroughs. Both the freeholders of the town, and those engaged in agricultural pursuits, would have been benefitted by the measure proposed by the gallant Colonel; and, what was of more consequence, the aristocracy would have been protected. He would pass over all the objections that might be made to this clause, on the score of the difficulty Barristers were exposed to, in deciding, in respect of the proprietors of particular votes, whether they ought to be for towns or counties. These objections were sufficiently dwelt on in the Committee; they were the pure practical inconveniences. It was to the principle of the clause that he was opposed—it was to the mortal wound it would inflict on the Aristocracy of the country he objected. Independent of this clause he believed the provisions of the Bill to be more favourable to that body than was generally supposed. When he considered the number of boroughs left—of very small boroughs too—he felt convinced, that in the course of time, the landholders in the neighbourhood would, by degrees, acquire the influence they formerly possessed—partly because the small traders, being absolutely dependent on the protection of the surrounding gentry, would actually be under their control. Hon. Members on the other side of the House, in their violent opposition to those clauses of the Bill which conferred additional power and privileges on the democracy, had led their partisans to consider the whole Bill as one framed entirely for the purpose of diminishing the influence of the landed interest. On a close examination, they would find, that it was not so destructive of the power of that body as they had been led to imagine. It 281 was the fashion at the present moment for those who were not connected with that class to rail against, and to vituperate the Aristocracy. This was not the moment to consider which might be the best form of government for a body of men about, for the first time, to settle down together. Without having visionary ideas of the perfectability of mankind, he certainly was of opinion, that a community possessing a wise and well-regulated code of laws, a system of morality founded on philosophic principles, and a large extended knowledge of the principles which actuate men in their undertakings, might enjoy a form of government in which no one class should be endowed with privileges denied to another. But, if ever the authors of this Bill had entertained the project of framing a democratic Constitution for this country—a project which he was convinced was erroneously ascribed to them, it would have been wiser in them to have commenced their dangerous undertaking by modifying the laws of, this country, which gave to the notions and habits of its inhabitants an aristocratic tendency. A form of government framed on a very popular basis might suit a nation whose laws had been enacted in a spirit of justice and equality. For a country like this, where private institutions had grown up under the influence and protection of a highly aristocratic government—whose laws had been framed entirely in that sense—whose inhabitants, high and low, of all classes, were imbued with the most aristocratic notions and habits—among whom the love of aristocratic distinction was far greater than in any other civilized country—who supplied the absence of public distinction by the most aristrocratic private ordinances—in a country which differed from all others in this one remarkable fact, that, whereas, in other countries, all who did not belong to the privileged class were enemies of that class, and affected a contempt for it—here, in this free and independent England, it was they who were not privileged who were the great worshippers of those possessed of privileges, and who passed their time in courting and frequenting their society. The laws relating to land and property, which tended to encourage, but not to compel an accumulation of property in the hands of one member of a family, were readily adopted by those who had made fortunes in trade. Thus every individual, every class of people 282 in this country, from the important personages of the Stock Exchange down to the pampered menials of the steward's room, had strong aristocratical inclinations. It appeared to him, that no Representative Legislature could ever be permanent and secure, unless it contained within itself a large portion of those who formed the natural Aristocracy of the country, and who were able, as individuals, to influence the conduct and opinions of the inhabitants. Unless the power, and weight, and authority, of the assembly were made up of the power, weight, and authority of the individuals who composed it, the laws enacted by that body would never be considered with much respect or reverence. It had been industriously held out by some Reformers, that any Member offering any opposition to any clause of the Bill, ought to be considered as an enemy of Reform. To this ungenerous and ungracious sentiment he could not subscribe. It was not to be expected that a measure so extensive in its nature, so important in its operation, could obtain for all and every part of it, the united suffrages of every anxious Reformer; and he perfectly concurred with those who were willing to sacrifice any little opinion of their own, for the sake of securing the enactment of a great measure. The objections he had offered, were not to mere matters of detail, but to a clause of paramount importance. He was fortunate enough to agree entirely with Ministers as to the propriety and the necessity of inserting a clause favourable to the Aristocracy. They declared this one was devised for the purpose of serving the landed interest. He differed from them only as to the effect which was to follow from it, and he had stated the reasons he had for so doing, He had always believed they were desirous of keeping up ancient institutions. He regretted to say, that as far as the operation of this clause went, the means they had devised did not appear to him satisfactory: fortunately, this was not the only legislative body in this country. He took this opportunity of recording his total disapprobation of the course which had been pursued out of doors—he alluded to the endeavours which had been made to deprive one of the estates of this realm of the exercise of its proper jurisdiction. If, on an occasion so important as the present, they could dispense with the interference of 283 another legislative body, why not follow the example of our neighbours, and manfully bring forward the question of the necessity of its existence. As long as measures approved of in that House required the sanction of individuals in another place, in order to become the law of the land, he would not be a party to any proceedings which tended to prevent them from exercising their legitimate authority. It would be as proper and as natural for individuals in another place, intimately connected and concerned with the landed interest, to bestow strict attention on those clauses which affected their interests, as it was for this House, emanating from the people, to immediately express greater anxiety for, to expend greater care upon, those parts of the Bill which conferred additional franchise upon their constituents. It was one of the advantages resulting from our Constitution that interests neglected in one place were sure to find protectors in another. It was in the confidence that the intention expressed by his Majesty's Ministers to afford compensation to the Aristocracy, which would be realized in another place, it was in the hope that the illustrious individuals there assembled would perform their duty in protecting the particular interests intrusted to their care, that he would not withhold his sanction from this measure. He approved, in general, of the great principles of the Bill, but he disapproved of the means which had been resorted to, to ensure the adoption of them.
said, that although it was a thing generally to be avoided, to rise after one who spoke from the same benches, yet he felt no difficulty in doing so after the speech which had just been delivered by a Gentleman, who, although he had voted for the Bill, made as stout a speech against the Bill, and every part of the Bill, as its most violent opponents, and who, he would venture to say, had used as unsparing invectives against the language and motives of its supporters as any Gentleman who had spoken in the House. He would not fatigue the House by going at any length into this subject—he had no new argument to offer; but having supported Reform ever since he came into the House, and particularly the present measure, he could not forbear to express his hope that it would soon be the law of the land. A great fallacy had pervaded the speech of his hon. friend, the member for Weymouth, 284 as well as the speeches of other hon. Gentlemen—namely, that the Government had gratuitously, without being pressed forward, rushed on the experiment of this Bill. That was not the case; Reform had been long necessary, and though he was of the school that wished its gradual introduction, the time for that had passed by when the Duke of Wellington's Administration had refused to take up the question, although the organ of that Government in this House had, not long ago, admitted that that Administration had gone out because they could not resist that Reform which they refused to promote. The present Government, then, had only used a right and prudent boldness in bringing forward a measure of a broad and extensive character, which gave a hope of settling the question. Its two grand features were, the abolition of nomination boroughs, which had his cordial assent, and the admission of great masses of citizens into the constitution, which he need not eulogise, for no one, even of the opponents of the measure, attempted to deny its propriety. Another good feature, also, was the opening of the small corporation towns of England, and extending the power of voting to the respectable inhabitants. This was a great boon, for these boroughs had all the evils of nomination about them, although he admitted, in some instances, they had shown redeeming qualities. But on the other hand, look at Bath, which was as close as Gatton or Old Sarum, and the cases of that kind always brought with them local misgovernment; and all who knew what corporate domination was, would be aware of the great good which would be effected by this part of the Bill. Many Gentlemen there were who prophesied nothing but anarchy from this Bill, but he did not agree with them. He was not one who looked to halcyon days from its passing; for the spirit of discontent was abroad, and, perhaps, there would be a battle yet between those who would wish to preserve every right, and those who might wish to level and destroy. But that fight could not be fought on the ground the House now occupied. He wished for a Government of King, Lords, and Commons; and he was as ready as any one to fight in their behalf, wherefore he could not be sufficiently grateful to the Government for placing them in a situation to fight the battle, should it be needful, in which 285 they would be joined by all the virtue and all the worth of the country.
§ Mr. Fane rose to enter his protest against the whole of the measure, as one of the worst that had ever been proposed for the adoption of Parliament. It seemed that the hon. member for Saltash rose for the purpose of verifying the assertion of the hon. member for Weymouth, that when the Gentlemen opposite did give their reasons, they were generally found inconsistent with their votes. The Bill itself either went too far, or not far enough. It went to destroy an ancient system, and to substitute something else which rested on no solid foundation. The working of the English Constitution hitherto had been, to correct its own errors and amend its own defects, and in all the alterations and improvements that had taken place during a lapse of years, the fundamental principles of it had been steadily adhered to. If these principles were now to be advocated in detail, some general principles of Representation should be laid down, and applied universally. This Bill contained no such tangible principle. What claim could a population of 2,000 have to a Representative? If that was followed out, they would have 10,000 Representatives. The object of the Bill was, to do two things—to give and to take away. With regard to what it gave, he was ready to acknowledge that its supporters were disposed to give very liberally of that which did not belong to them; but for that which they took away, he must say that he could not admire either the principles or the honesty upon which they proceeded. A general condemnation had been passed upon the old principles of suffrage; the present electors were to retain their franchise, but their descendants were to be disinherited. He had always understood that the franchise to whom the law intrusted it, was the birth-right of Englishmen, but it seemed now they merely held these rights by sufferance and were tenants at will. The out-voters especially were unjustly dealt with. The voters of Westminster, and other large places, were many and united, and they were feared. The out-voters were also many, but they were disunited, and therefore their rights were trampled on. He had always been taught to look at those corporate rights about to be spoliated and destroyed by the Bill as the great securities of the liberty of the 286 subject. If hon. Gentlemen looked into history, they would see that these corporate bodies, now about to be deprived of the rights which they had so exercised for the salvation of their country, were the very parties who, in defending those rights, expelled the House of Stuart from the throne; that those select bodies maintained and defended their rights until the Revolution was completed, and that by those bodies the House of Hanover was placed upon the throne. He would never give his consent to a measure by which parties who had rendered such services to the country were to be condemned unaccused, unheard, unconvicted.
said, he begged to refer to some remarks made by the hon. and learned member for Cockermouth (Sir James Scarlett), who had objected to the erection of polling-places, as likely to put the Sheriff to great expense and inconvenience. But surely the hon. and learned Gentleman must have forgotten, that it was usual to have the nomination at least several days before an election, which would afford ample time for making the necessary arrangements, and by one clause in this Bill, the candidates were liable to all expenses. He would therefore pass on from the hon. and learned Gentleman, and he was prepared to contend, that the Bill, instead of being democratic and revolutionary, was quite aristocratic in principle, for it was framed with a view rather to property than to numbers. Under the present system of Representation there were but ninety-five county Members, whereas, under the operation of the Reform measure, out of 475 Members, there were to be 157 Representatives for counties, while the boroughs would partake of a more agricultural character than they could be supposed to exhibit as constituted hitherto. For these reasons he thought that the Constitution under this Bill would have by far a much more aristocratic tendency than it had at present. They were told, however, that they must not touch the rights chartered by prescription. But what were prescriptive rights? Those which extended beyond the memory of man. But the whole of the present system of the Constitution was within the memory of man. All it could claim was the sanctity of ancient usage; and he contended, they had as much right to alter ancient usage in regard to electing Members of Parliament, as the hon. and learned 287 member for Stafford had to propose an alteration in the ancient law of dower. Another objection was, that the present plan of Reform would not be permanent. He would observe, in reply, that nothing which the wisdom or cunning of man could devise could be so framed as that it should not be liable to change. The objection, therefore, on this ground might be urged against the wisest or most salutary regulation that human wit had ever devised; but he maintained, that the proposed plan would be permanent and final as long as it adapted itself to the habits, and manners, and feelings of the country, and that was as much as could be predicated of any legislative measure. He was glad to hear the allusion made to America by the hon. member for Thetford (Mr. Baring), for he thought the example of the states of North America furnished a practical answer to the objection, that if any change were made in the Constitution it would lead to as many changes as had distinguished the French Revolution. Now it so happened, that in those States of the North American Union, those which were most democratic, such as the states of Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and Virginia, preserved the same Constitution at the present day that they had at their first establishment; and he saw no reason why the present plan of Reform had not the same chance of being permanent, as long as it entwined itself round the hearts and affections of the people. An hon. Member opposite had objected to the Bill as a hazardous experiment, but would it not be a much more hazardous experiment to refuse to pass the Bill, called for as it was by the unanimous voice of the country? It was said that no reasons were stated by the supporters of the Bill as to its future operation. He thought the reasons for the measure had been stated usque ad nauseam. It was grounded on the fact, that the people had not confidence in the House of Commons as it was now constituted. The people asked for a Reform which was practical. They asked that seats in that House should not be sold—that there should be a full, fair, and free Representation of the Commons of England in that House. This was practical, and not violent or visionary Reform, and he hailed it as a measure which would promote the best interests of the country. It would, to use the language of Chatham, be infusing 288 new blood into the Constitution. On these grounds, he thought he gave his support to the best interests of the country when he voted for the passing of this Bill.
§ Mr. Trevor
could not suffer the Bill to pass without formally protesting against it, upon the grounds which he had taken other opportunities of explaining to the House. He had in vain called upon the authors and the supporters of the measure to shew the necessity of a change so extensive, and involving the risk of consequences so disastrous as those which he feared would be its result. As he understood it, the professed leading object of the measure was, to admit all classes and interests in the State to a just share in the Representation. He would ask, if that was the case under the Bill as it now stood? After such a profession he would ask, whether any more severe censure upon the Bill could be imagined than the motion of the hon. member for Middlesex, one of its supporters, for granting to the Colonies their just and necessary share in the Representation. He must confess his astonishment at hearing from the other side the names of Mr. Burke and Mr. Canning appealed to in behalf of such a measure. If that illustrious man, who had so often crushed the various monsters of Reform as they had been presented in succession to the consideration of Parliament, could now be amongst them, and see the proposition which had been made by the Government and adopted by the House, he could only imagine him expressing himself simply in these words—Quos deus vult perdere prius dementat.He could not pass over in silence upon this last great occasion, the means by which this measure had been carried, the most disgraceful of which was the attempt which had been made to intimidate the Legislature by the slanders and the threats of a licentious Press. He had discharged his duty by opposing the measure by every means in his power, not incited by party feeling, but by a stern and honest conviction of the injury it must bring upon the country. He prayed to God that he might be mistaken in his apprehensions, and that it might lead them to those halcyon days to which the people had been taught to look as the certain consequence of the passing of the Bill. But looking at it, as he did, as the forerunner of Revolution, as the dawn of the downfall of all the institutions 289 which had so long been the blessing of the country, whatever might be the fate or the consequences of the Bill, he should always look back with satisfaction to the course he had taken upon it; and if it did pass into a law, he should be the first man to rejoice were he compelled to make the acknowledgment that his fears had been unfounded.
§ Mr. W. L. Wellesley
said, in supporting a Bill which had been so much favoured by his constituents, he must beg to express his regret at being opposed in legal and constitutional questions to the hon. and learned Gentleman who had last night opposed the Bill with so much eloquence, and whose opinions he so greatly respected. That hon. and learned Gentleman had opposed the Bill, because he considered that it would destroy the best interests of the Constitution. If he had any notion that it would have that effect, he should be the last man to give it his support, however humble. So far from thinking, however, that it would destroy the Constitution, his firm conviction was, that the great principles of the Bill were perfectly in accordance with the recognized principles of the Constitution in its best and purest times. One fact seemed to be admitted on all hands, that public opinion ought to receive attention and due consideration in that House, and the only question was, how far the opinion of the public was in favour of this Bill. In his view of what had taken place, he thought that that opinion had been most decisively and unequivocally expressed on tins subject, and it was that wholesome expression of the general opinion of the country which the House ought to follow. After what he had heard from hon. Members opposite on the subject of pledges, he felt it necessary to say, that though he did not approve of the principle that a Member should ask the commands of his constituents as to his conduct in Parliament, for that would do away with that independence of Members in that House in which the public had its best security, yet he must add, that those were greatly mistaken who imagined that any candidate addressing his constituents could lead them against reason and justice. That a strong opinion existed amongst the people on the subject of Reform, could not be denied; and he would appeal to the right hon. member for Harwich, who was well acquainted with the county (Essex), with, which he 290 (Mr. Long Wellesley) was connected, whether the strongest feeling did not prevail there in favour of this Bill? The greatest irritation existed amongst the people at the procrastination of the measure in its progress through the House. He did not blame those who caused that delay, as he was willing to believe that their opposition was most conscientious. That a different feeling prevailed to a certain extent now from what there was at first in the country as to the Bill, he admitted, but it was attributable to natural causes. It was impossible for men to hear, day after day, the attacks that had been made on it, the imputations made against those who supported the measure, the allegations that it would tend to derange property—that it would cause a repeal of the Corn-laws; it was impossible that such allegations should have been made in that House, and echoed through the country so frequently, without producing effects injurious to the measure in public opinion; and, so far from being surprised at any change having been wrought in the public mind, his surprise was, considering all that had been done to oppose the Bill, that change should be so slight as he really believed it to be. That the Bill would be productive of results most beneficial to the country, he had no doubt, but at the same time there were parts of it to which he had strong objections. He particularly alluded to the division of counties, which he thought tended to give an unnecessary increase to aristocratic power. In some counties the divisions would be impracticable. In Essex, he would admit, and in counties where there was but one general interest, the division might not be so much a matter of importance, but in Wiltshire the case would be different. If the division had been made eighteen years ago, what would now be the result? In a short time after, there would have been one Member representing the agricultural, and three others representing no interest at all, for the manufacturing interest had been in a great degree removed from the county. He did not urge this as an objection to the passing of the Bill; for even with this defect, the Bill would be a most important boon to the country; but as he felt the objection, he thought it his duty fairly to state it. There was another part of the machinery of the Bill which he thought objectionable—he meant the power which it gave to Overseers. He owned that he looked 291 with jealousy to the granting of any powers under this Bill to that class of men. He must express the regret which he felt at the attempts which were made to depreciate the efforts and labours of public men, by hon. Members on the other side of the House. For himself, having lived long in the society of public men, he was convinced, that whether those public men were Whigs, or whether they were Tories, it was a base delusion to assert, that the public men of any other country discharged their duties at so great a sacrifice of private convenience, health, time, or personal interest, as was incurred by the public men of this country; and, be his opinions what they might, he would never lend himself to such an argument ad captandum. When he had made up his mind to give his support to the Reform Bill, he had taken great pains to satisfy himself that the principles upon which it was framed were in strict conformity to those of the Constitution, and having satisfied himself in that important particular, he should not swerve from giving that steady support to the Bill which, in his conscientious belief, it deserved.
§ Mr. Courtenay
said, the Opposition had been taunted the other night with the alleged non-conformity of the arguments by which their views were supported. After what had now passed—after the five speeches the House had heard—the charge of inconsistency could not be made exclusively against that side of the House. Hitherto, not one of his Majesty's Ministers had defined the principle of the Bill, or described its practical operation, or explained how the government of the country was in future to be conducted. The hon. member for Essex might have explained the principle of the Bill, for he did not hear the whole of his speech, but the part which he did hear, consisted chiefly of objections to the details. The hon. member for Saltash, though a Reformer, had objected to every part of the Bill. Three of the hon. Members who addressed the House this evening in support of the Bill, had each taken a different view of the principles on which it was founded. The member for Derby took it up on the high ground of a theoretical principle of Representation, and of its admitting the intelligent classes to a share of legislation; the member for Taunton considered it as only removing some abuses from our present Representation; and from the member for Northampton, 292 the House heard, that the system under this Bill would be infinitely more aristocratical than that which already existed. From his Majesty's Ministers, however, the House had heard nothing as to the future operation of the measure; but from something which fell from the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), he appeared to regard the principle of the Bill as founded upon that of general Representation, which was the principle of the British Constitution. It was, however, unnecessary for him to go into that subject, the noble Lord's view having been already answered by the speech of the hon. member for Rye; he might, however, observe, that the principle of numerical Representation was not, at any period of our history, adopted in the construction of that House. At the period of the Revolution, it was declared, that the House of Commons, constituted as it then was, did lawfully, fully and freely represent the people of England. In that House the same interests prevailed as now—there were Howards, and Stanleys, and Cavendishes representing the same close boroughs; but he would not enter into any antiquarian view of the subject, he would rather take it on practical grounds, and deny, that the Bill carried into effect the principle of general Representation, and he would assert, if it did, that it would be most injurious in its operation. It admitted the principle to a sufficient extent to be mischievous, but not to attach the people. It was said that, by the admission of the 10l. householders, they would include in the Representation all the intelligence of the country. But admitting, for the sake of argument, that they constituted the intelligent class, the Bill did not include more than one-half of them; and notwithstanding the Attorney General's assertion, that the franchise would no longer be left to accident, a large portion of the 10l. householders of England and Wales—of that very class whom it was said, it would be tyranny to exclude from the franchise—would be capriciously excluded under this Bill. In fact, many large districts in different parts of the country would derive no advantage whatever from the Bill. In the county of Devon, out of thirty-three Hundreds, only six Hundred would obtain any advantage. He was ready to admit that, by the division of counties, landed property would still possess a considerable influence, and that was the only redeeming part of the measure; 293 but the influence thus derived would not be sufficient to carry on (he Government, which was often much embarrassed in its measures by the influence of the county Representation. He objected to the operation of the Bill, not that it would altogether exclude men of property—for he admitted, that from many of the counties men of landed property would be returned, but, that the elections would be influenced by overwhelming property on the one hand, or, on the other by the lowest of the people, from the facility which the Bill would give to flattery and delusion. That bribery would be practised in some of the small boroughs, he had no doubt; but that the; effect of the whole system under the Bill would be to exclude a useful and practical body of men from the House, could not be denied. Men who will flatter and delude—who will excite the people by violent addresses and declamations—who will promise what they know they cannot perform, would take the place of sober, intelligent, and practical men, who, however useful they might make themselves to the public if returned, would never condescend to obtain a seat by those arts. If it were true that the people were always ultimately right, no man could say, that they were often right in their first impressions. But looking to measures and not to forms, he begged to ask his Majesty's Ministers, what was the practical operation they expected from this Bill? Were the measures hereafter to be adopted to be wiser or more honest than those of former times? would the new constituency enable the House satisfactorily to settle the question of the Currency—which required great knowledge, great temper, freedom from passion, and the power of resisting ordinary and familiar fallacies? Would it enable Parliament satisfactorily to dispose of the East-India question—or the West-India question—one of the most important, and requiring great, knowledge, one in which, as Mr. Canning said, caution must temper zeal—one in which calmness was as much required as great knowledge—would the new constituency enable Parliament to settle this important question? If they could not expect more wisdom than heretofore, what reason was there to expect more honesty, fewer wars, and a diminished expenditure? Ministers had been nearly a year in office, but had not brought forward any strikingly useful measures? 294 They had made no great change in the existing system; but, like former Ministers, had made small reductions, without altering in any material manner the finances of the country. There was a delusion abroad most criminal to countenance; the people expected by means of that Bill a reduction of taxation. If the Ministers had no plan for reducing taxes, the people were deluded; if they had such a plan, they ought, during the ten months they had been in office, to have brought it forward. Would Ministers relieve the country from any part of the National Debt? He was never more ashamed in his life than when he heard Ministers cheer a speaker who stated that the best effect of the Bill would be to bring the whole force of the people of England to bear upon the National Debt. It was the duty of the Ministers then to have got up, one after another, and have disclaimed that infamous suggestion. Yet were they willing to accept support in conjunction with such principles of dishonesty? He was afraid, that after passing that Bill, the House would be called upon to pass others approximating to the principles of those who made the suggestion. The hon. member for Derby, in enumerating the measures which would long since have been adopted if Parliament had been reformed, spoke of measures for promoting education. But what measures of education had been rejected by the House? He remembered perfectly well, that when the Lord Chancellor—who, by-the-by, might have introduced his measure into the House of Lords long before now—brought forward a measure with respect to education, he stated, that he received the greatest support from the body of the established clergy of England and Wales, but he was opposed by the Dissenters, and it was their opposition that induced him to withdraw the bill; and the Dissenters (which was to him an objection to the Bill) would derive from it very great power. With respect to the effect of a new Parliament in keeping down expenditure, it had been truly said, that most wars were popular, at least at their outset. After this Bill was passed, they would continue to be so; but what else would happen? The people would be in a hurry to get into a war, but when pinched by taxation, would be in a still greater hurry to get out of it; and as they had entered it precipitately, so would they conclude it dishonourably. With respect 295 to the management of foreign affairs, his noble friend opposite could hardly suppose, that the delegates of the 10l. householders would assist him in the arrangement of his protocols. Perhaps, however, their presence might have some redeeming virtue in this respect; for charged, as the noble Lord now was, with having broken public faith, as these persons would have some sort of honesty, he hoped they would be able to check any future attempts at violating treaties. The only evil of the present system, if it be an evil, which the Bill would remove, was that of direct nomination, for there was not the slightest reason to suppose that bribery would be diminished. On the contrary, the constituency proposed to be created would consist precisely of that class of persons amongst whom bribery had at all times prevailed. He did not deny, that talents would find their way into the House; but the complaint he made was, that Members must then have talents of a particular description, and they must be applied in a particular direction. A sober-minded man, however patriotic, however sincerely devoting his mind and time to the public service, could not find his way into the House, unless he had some hereditary connexion with a county, or was willing, on the hustings, to say things which, in the bottom of his heart, he knew to be false. If a man happened to think differently from the public upon any particular topic that may happen to be agitated at the time of election, he could not come into the House without bribery, or falsifying his own opinion. It had been said very generally by Gentlemen on the other side of the House, that all who opposed the Bill stated themselves to be moderate Reformers, and admitted the necessity of some Reform. The fallacy of that consisted in the use of the word necessity. He, for one—and he knew there were many others—had never admitted the per se necessity of any Reform whatever. He admitted that there was a great excitement in the public mind, and that some Reform must be conceded, and if some moderate Reform were proposed, he should, though reluctantly, assent to it. He did not deny that there was some danger in resisting the Bill altogether, but the danger of passing it was infinitely greater. How far the public sentiments might have undergone a change, he would not say; but he was sure that the extent of the desire 296 for Reform had been greatly exaggerated. He did not believe, that the majority of the gentry, and persons of small property, was in favour of the Bill. They were, in many parts of the country, criminally quiescent, and had given way to the more numerous and more noisy body immediately under them, but they were not, and never had been, urgent for the Bill. He put it to the candour of the noble Lord, the member for Devonshire, to say whether, if he had had to be returned by persons of a much higher qualification than those that sent him here, he would have been Member for that county? It was said, that the House ought not to object to change, because it was the essence of the Constitution to adapt itself to the varying circumstances of the country. If that were true, if the Constitution adapts itself, there was no necessity for violent changes. The Constitution was practically different now from what it was 200 years ago, yet no great change had taken place; for at the Revolution of 1688, excepting the law by which it was provided that neither a Catholic, nor the husband of a Catholic, should be King, no new laws were made—all that was done consisted in asserting the laws and liberty of the country. The great practical changes continually taking place in the workings of the Constitution, many of which had occurred within the memory of the present generation, without any alterations in its forms, were sufficient proofs that there was no necessity to incur the risk of such an extensive alteration as was proposed by that Bill. It was supposed that it was to libel the people of England, to impute to them a desire to destroy the House of Lords and the King. In his view of the subject, it appeared that the moment Representation became the exclusive basis of the House of Commons—and such, to a certain degree, was the principle of this Bill, though by no means its practice—from that moment it was acknowledged, that the power of the House of Lords and of the King ought not to exist. In fact, the continuance of those branches of the Constitution would become, to adopt the sentiment of Mr. Fox, as great absurdities as Gatton and Old Sarum. No argument, no theoretical principle for the people returning all the Members of this House could be urged, which did not reduce to an absurdity the practice of 300 men, not elected by the people, and still less one man, having 297 equal power in the Legislature with the body wholly elected by the people. He wished he might not be forced to see the silent operation of that theory. What was passing under their eyes gave some reason to believe, that the supporters of this Bill, those who were to benefit by its enactments, were already beginning to show impatience of one of the other branches of the Legislature—an impatience fostered by Ministers in a way he was almost afraid to characterize. He did not mean to say, that the Bill, at an early period, must produce anarchy, or that anarchy must necessarily flow from republican principles: but he for one would not lend his aid to forward a measure which would end, he believed, in a republic. We had lived hitherto under a monarchy, and he wanted to continue living under one. A Republic was not the Constitution of this country, and he wanted to retain the Constitution. He objected to the Bill, because it would not improve the Constitution; but would put principles into operation and bring dangers upon the country, greater than those which could result from the rejection of the measure. If the rejection of the Bill should be followed by a revolutionary movement, he would rather see that movement than be accessory to postponing it by a measure which he believed would hereafter increase the danger tenfold. It would always be his consolation to have opposed this Bill.
§ Mr. Macaulay
it is not without great diffidence, Sir, that I rise to address you on a subject which has been nearly exhausted. Indeed, I should not have risen had I not thought that though the arguments on this question are for the most part old, our situation at present is in a great measure new. At length the Reform Bill, having passed without vital injury through all the dangers which threatened it, during along and minute discussion, from the attacks of its enemies and from the dissensions of its friends, comes before us for our final ratification, altered, indeed, in some of its details for the better, and in some for the worse, but in its great principles still the same Bill which, on the 1st of March, was proposed to the late Parliament—the same Bill which was received with joy and gratitude by the whole nation—the same Bill which, in an instant, took away the power of interested agitators, and united in one firm body sects of sincere Reformers—the same Bill which, at the late 298 election, received the approbation of almost every great constituent body in the empire. With a confidence which discussion has only strengthened—with an assured hope of great public blessings if the wish of the nation shall be gratified—with a deep and solemn apprehension of great public calamities if that wish shall be disappointed—I for the last time give my most hearty assent to this noble law, destined, I trust, to be the parent of many good laws, and, through a long series of years, to secure the repose and promote the prosperity of my country. When I say that I expect this Bill to promote the prosperity of the country, I by no means intend to encourage those chimerical hopes which the hon. and learned member for Rye, who has so much distinguished himself in this debate, has imputed to the Reformers. The people, he says, are for the Bill, because they expect that it will immediately relieve all their distresses. Sir, I believe that very few of that large and respectable class which we are now about to admit to a share of political power, entertain any such absurd expectation. They expect relief, I doubt not, and I doubt not also that they will find it. But sudden relief they are far too wise to expect. The Bill, says the hon. and learned Gentleman, is good for nothing—it is merely theoretical—it removes no real and sensible evil—it will not give the people more work, or higher wages, or cheaper bread. Undoubtedly, Sir, the Bill will not immediately give all those things to the people. But will any institutions give them all those things? Do the present institutions of the country secure to them, these advantages? If we are to pronounce the Reform Bill good for nothing, because it will not at once raise the nation from distress to prosperity, what are we to say of that system under which the nation has been of late sinking from prosperity into distress? The defect is not in the Reform Bill, but in the very nature of government. On the physical condition of the great body of the people, government acts not as a specific, but as an alterative. Its operation is powerful, indeed, and certain, but gradual and indirect. The end of government is not directly to make the people rich, but to protect them in making themselves rich—and a Government which attempts more than this is precisely the Government which is 299 likely to perform less. Governments do not and cannot support the people. We have no miraculous powers—we have not the rod of the Hebrew lawgiver—we cannot rain down bread on the multitude from Heaven—we cannot smite the rock and give them to drink. We can give them only freedom to employ their industry to the best advantage, and security in the enjoyment of what their industry has acquired. These advantages it is our duty to give at the smallest possible cost. The diligence and forethought of individuals will thus have fair play; and it is only by the diligence and forethought of individuals that the community can become prosperous. I am not aware that his Majesty's Ministers, or any of the supporters of the Bill, have encouraged the people to hope, that Reform will remove their distresses, in any other way than by this indirect process. By this indirect process the Bill will, I feel assured, conduce to the national prosperity. If it had been passed fifteen years ago, it would have saved us from our present embarrassments. If we pass it now, it will gradually extricate us from them. It will secure to us a House of Commons, which, by preserving peace, by destroying monopolies, by taking away unnecessary public burthens, by judiciously distributing necessary public burthens, will, in the progress of time, greatly improve our condition. This it will do; and those who blame it for not doing more, blame it for not doing what no Constitution, no code of laws, ever did or ever will do; what no legislator, who was not an ignorant, and unprincipled quack, ever ventured to promise. But chimerical as are the hopes which the hon. and learned member for Rye imputes to the people, they are not, I think, more chimerical than the fears which he has himself avowed. Indeed, those very Gentlemen who are constantly telling us that we are taking a leap in the dark—that we pay no attention to the lessons of experience—that we are mere theorists—are themselves the despisers of experience—are themselves the mere theorists. They are terrified at the thought of admitting into Parliament Members elected by 10l. householders. They have formed in their own imaginations a most frightful idea of these Members. My hon. and learned friend, the member for Cockermouth, is certain that these Members will take every opportunity 300 of promoting the interests of the journeyman in opposition to those of the capitalist. The hon. and learned member for Rye is convinced that none but persons who have strong local connexions, will ever be returned for such constituent bodies. My hon. friend, the member for Thetford, tells us, that none but moborators, men who are willing to pay the basest court to the multitude, will have any chance. Other speakers have gone still further, and have described to us the future borough Members as so many Marats and Santerres—low, fierce desperate men—who will turn the House into a bear-garden, and who will try to turn the monarchy into a republic—mere agitators, without honour without sense, without education, without the feelings or the manners of gentlemen. Whenever, during the course of the fatiguing discussions by which we have been so long occupied, there has been a cry of "question," or a noise at the bar, the orator who has been interrupted has remarked, that such proceedings will be quite in place in the Reformed Parliament, but that we ought to remember that the House of Commons is still an assembly of Gentlemen. This, I say, is to set up mere theory, or rather mere prejudice, in opposition to long and ample experience. Are the Gentlemen who talk thus, ignorant that we have already the means of judging what kind of men the 10l. householders will send up to Parliament? Are they ignorant that there are even now large towns with very popular rights of election—with rights of election even more democratic than those which will be bestowed by the present Bill? Ought they not, on their own principles, to look at the results of the experiments which have already been made, instead of predicting frightful calamities at random? How do the facts which are before us agree with their theories? Nottingham is a city with a franchise even more democratic than that which this Bill establishes. Does Nottingham send hither men of local connexions? It returns two distinguished men—the one an advocate, the other a soldier—both unconnected with the town. Every man paying Scot-and-lot has a vote at Leicester. This is a lower franchise than the 10l. franchise. Do we find that the members for Leicester are the mere tools of the journeymen. I was at Leicester during the contest in 1826, and I recollect that the suffrages of the scot-and-lot 301 voters were pretty equally divided between two candidates—neither of them connected with the place—neither of them a slave of the mob—the one a Tory Baronet from Derbyshire—the other a most respectable and excellent friend of mine, connected with the manufacturing interest, and also an inhabitant of Derbyshire. Look at Norwich—Look at Northampton, with a franchise more democratic than even the scot and lot franchise. Northampton formerly returned Mr. Perceval, and now returns Gentlemen of high respectability—Gentlemen who have a great stake in the prosperity and tranquillity of the country. Look at the metropolitan districts. This is an à fortiori case. Nay it is—the expression, I fear is awkward—an à fortiori case at two removes. The 10l. householders of the metropolis are persons in a lower station of life than the 10l. householders of other towns. The scot and lot franchise in the metropolis is again lower than the 10l. franchise—yet have Westminster and Southwark been in the habit of sending us Members of whom we have had reason to be ashamed—of whom we have not had reason to be proud? I do not say that the inhabitants of Westminster and Southwark have always expressed their political sentiments with proper moderation. That is not the question—the question is this—what kind of men have they elected? The very principle of all Representative government is, that men who do not judge rightly of public affairs may be quite competent to choose others who will judge better. Whom, then, have Westminster and Southwark sent us during the last fifty years—years full of great events—years of intense popular excitement? Take any one of those nomination-boroughs, the patrons of which have conscientiously endeavoured to send fit men into this House. Compare the Members for that borough with the members for Westminster and Southwark, and you will have no doubt to which the preference is due. It is needless to mention Mr. Fox, Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Tierney, Sir Samuel Romilly. Yet I must pause at the name of Sir Samuel Romilly. Was he a mob-orator? Was he a servile flatterer of the multitude? Sir, if he had any fault—if there was any blemish on that most serene and spotless character—that character which every public man, and especially every professional man engaged in politics, ought to propose to himself 302 as a model—it was this, that he despised popularity too much and too visibly. The hon. Member for Thetford told us that the hon. and learned member for Rye, with all his talents, would have no chance of a seat in the Reformed Parliament, for want of the qualifications which succeed on the hustings. Did Sir Samuel Romilly ever appear on the hustings? He never solicited one vote—he never shewed himself to the electors till he had been returned at the head of the poll. Even then— as I have heard from one of his nearest relatives—it was with reluctance that he submitted to be chaired. He shrank from being made a shew. He loved the people and he served them; but Coriolanus himself was not less fit to canvass them. I will mention one other name—that of a man of whom I have only a childish recollection, but who must have been intimately known to many of those who hear me—Mr. Henry Thornton. He was a man eminently upright, honourable, and religious—a man of strong understanding—a man of great political science—but, in all respects, the very reverse of a moborator. He was a man who would not have yielded to what he considered as unreasonable clamour—I will not say to save his seat—but to save his life. Yet he continued to represent Southwark, Parliament after Parliament, for many years. Such has been the conduct of the scot-and-lot voters of the metropolis, and there is clearly less reason to expect democratic violence from 10l. householders than from scot-and-lot householders; and from 10l. householders in the country-towns than from 10l. householders in London. The experience, I say, therefore, is on our side; and on the side of our opponents nothing but mere conjecture, and mere assertion. Sir, when this Bill was first brought forward, I supported it not only on the ground of its intrinsic merits but, also, because I was convinced that to reject it would be a course full of danger. I believe that the danger of that course is in no respect, diminished. I believe, on the contrary, that it is increased. We are told that there is a reaction. The warmth of the public feeling, it seems, has abated. In this story both the sections of the party opposed to Reform are agreed—those who hate Reform, because it will remove abuses, and those who hate it, because it will avert anarchy—those who wish to see the electing body controlled 303 by ejectments, and those who wish to see it controlled by constitutional squeezes. They must now, I think, be undeceived. They must have already discovered that the surest way to prevent a reaction is, to talk about it, and that the enthusiasm of the people is at once rekindled by any indiscreet mention of their seeming coolness. This, Sir, is not the first reaction which the sagacity of the Opposition has discoverd since the Reform Bill was brought, in. Every Gentleman who sat in the late Parliament—every Gentleman who, during the sitting of the late Parliament, paid attention to political speeches and publications, must remember how, for some time before the debate on General Gascoyne's motion, and during the debate on that motion, and down to the very day of the dissolution, we were told that public feeling had cooled. The right hon. Baronet, the member for Tamworth, told us so. All the literary organs of the Opposition, from the Quarterly Review down to the Morning Post, told us so. All the members of the Opposition with whom we conversed in private told us so. I have in my eye a noble friend of mine, who assured me, on the very night which preceded the dissolution, that the people had ceased to be zealous for the Ministerial plan, and that we were more likely to lose than to gain by the elections. The appeal was made to the people; and what was the result? What sign of a reaction appeared among the Livery of London? What sign of a reaction did the hon. Baronet who now represents Okehampton find among the freeholders of Cornwall? How was it with the large represented towns? Had Liverpool cooled?—or Bristol? or Leicester? or Coventry? or Nottingham? or Norwich? How was it with the great seats of manufacturing industry—Yorkshire, and Lancashire, and Staffordshire, and Warwickshire, and Cheshire? How was it with the agricultural districts—Northumberland and Cumberland, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire, Kent and Essex, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Somersetshire Dorsetshire, Devonshire? How was it with the strong-holds of aristocratical influence, Newark, and Stamford, and Hertford, and St. Alban's? Never did any people display, within the limits prescribed by law, so generous a fervour, or so stedfast a determination, as that very people whose apparent languor had just before inspired the enemies 304 of Reform with a delusive hope. Such was the end of the reaction of April; and, if that lesson shall not profit those to whom it was given, such and yet more signal will be the end of the reaction of September. The two cases are strictly analogous. In both cases the people were eager when they believed the Bill to be in danger, and quiet when they believed it to be in security. During the three or four weeks which followed the promulgation of the Ministerial plan, all was joy, and gratitude, and vigorous exertion. Everywhere meetings were held—everywhere resolutions were passed—from every quarter were sent up petitions to this House, and addresses to the Throne—and then the nation, having given vent to its first feelings of delight—having clearly and strongly expressed its opinions—having seen the principle of the Bill adopted by the House of Commons on the second reading—became composed, and awaited the result with a tranquillity which the Opposition mistook for indifference. All at once the aspect of affairs changed. General Gascoyne's amendment was carried—the Bill was again in danger—exertions were again necessary. Then was it well seen whether the calmness of the public mind was any indication of slackness! The depth and sincerity of the prevailing sentiments were proved, not by mere talking, but by actions, by votes, by sacrifices. Intimidation was defied—expenses were rejected—old ties were broken—the people struggled manfully—they triumphed gloriously—they placed the Bill in perfect security, as far as this House was concerned, and they returned to their repose. They are now, as they were on the eve of General Gascoyne's motion, awaiting the issue of the deliberations of Parliament, without any indecent shew of violence, but with anxious interest and immovable resolution. And because they are not exhibiting that noisy and rapturous enthusiasm, which is in its own nature transient—because they are not as much excited as on the day when the plan of the Government was first made known to them, or on the day when the late Parliament was dissolved—because they do not go on week after week, hallooing, and holding meetings, and marching about with flags, and making bonfires, and illuminating their houses—we are again told hat there is a reaction. To such a degree can men be deceived by their wishes, 305 in spite of their own recent experience! Sir, there is no reaction; and there will be no reaction. All that has been said on this subject convinces me only that those who are now, for the second time, raising this cry, know nothing of the crisis in which they are called on to act, or of the nation which they aspire to govern—all their opinions respecting this Bill are founded on one great error. They imagine that the public feeling concerning Reform is a mere whim which sprang up suddenly out of nothing, and which will as suddenly vanish into nothing. They, therefore, confidently expect a reaction. They are always looking out for a reaction. Everything that they see, or that they hear, they construe into a sign of the approach of this reaction. They resemble the man in Horace, who lies on the bank of the river, expecting that it will every moment pass by and leave him a clear passage—not knowing the depth and abundance of the fountain which feeds it—not knowing that it flows, and will flow on for ever. They have found out a hundred ingenious devices by which they deceive themselves. Sometimes they tell us that the public feeling about Reform was caused by the events which took place at Paris about fourteen months ago; though every observant and impartial man knows, that the excitement which the late French revolution produced in England, was not the cause but the effect of that progress which liberal opinions had made amongst us. Sometimes they tell us, that we should not have been troubled with any complaints on the subject of the Representation, if the House of Commons had agreed to a certain motion, made in the Session of 1830, for inquiry into the causes of the public distress. I remember nothing about that motion, except that it gave rise to the dullest debate ever known; and the country, I am firmly convinced, cared not one straw about it. But is it not strange that men of real talents can deceive themselves so grossly, as to think that any change in the Government of a foreign nation, or the rejection of any single motion, however popular, could all at once raise up a great, rich, enlightened nation, against its representative institutions? Could such small drops have produced an overflowing, if the vessel had not already been filled to the very brim? These explanations are incredible, and if they were credible, would be anything but consolatory. 306 If it were really true that the English people had taken a sudden aversion to a representative system which they had always loved and admired, because a single division in Parliament had gone against their wishes, or because, in a foreign country, under circumstances bearing not the faintest analogy to those in which we are placed, a change of dynasty had happened, what hope could we have for such a nation of madmen? How could we expect that the present form of government, or any form of government, would be durable amongst them?—Sir, the public feeling concerning Reform is of no such recent origin, and springs from no such frivolous causes. Its first faint commencement may be traced far—very far—back in our history. During seventy years it has had a great influence on the public mind. Through the first thirty years of the reign of George 3rd, it was gradually increasing. The great leaders of the two parties in the State were favourable to Reform. It was supported by large and most respectable minorities in the House of Commons. The French Revolution, filling the higher and middle classes with an extreme dread of change, and the war calling away the public attention from internal to external politics, threw the question back; but the people never lost sight of it. Peace came, and they were at leisure to think of domestic improvements. Distress came, and they suspected, as was natural, that their distress was the effect of unfaithful stewardship and unskilful legislation. An opinion favourable to Parliamentary Reform grew up rapidly, and became strong among the middle classes. But one tie—one strong tie—still bound those classes to the Tory party, I mean the Catholic Question. It is impossible to deny, that on that subject a large proportion—a majority, I fear—of the middle class of Englishmen, conscientiously held opinions opposed to those which I have always entertained, and were disposed to sacrifice every other consideration to what they considered as a religious duty. Thus the Catholic Question hid, so to speak, the question of Parliamentary Reform: the feeling in favour of Parliamentary Reform grew, but it grew in the shade. Every man, I think, must have observed the progress of that feeling in his own social circle. But few Reform meetings were held, and few petitions in favour of Reform presented. At 307 length the Catholics were emancipated; the solitary link of sympathy which attached the people to the Tories was broken; the cry of "No Popery" could no longer be opposed to the cry of "Reform." That which, in the opinion of the two great parties in Parliament, and of a vast portion of the community, had been the first question, suddenly disappeared; and the question of Parliamentary Reform took the first place; then was put forth all the strength which that question had gathered in secret; then it appeared that Reform had on its side a coalition of interests and opinions unprecedented in our history—all the liberality and intelligence which had supported the Catholic claims, and all the clamour which had opposed them. This, I believe, is the true history of that public feeling on the subject of Reform, which has been ascribed to causes quite inadequate to the production of such an effect. If ever there was in the history of mankind a national sentiment which was the very opposite of a caprice—with which accident had nothing to do—which was produced by the slow, steady, certain, progress of the human mind, it is the feeling of the English people on the subject of Reform. Accidental circumstances may have brought that feeling to maturity in a particular year, or a particular month. That point I will not dispute, for it is not worth disputing; but those accidental circumstances have brought on Reform, only as the circumstance that, at a particular time, indulgences were offered to sale in a particular town in Saxony, brought on the great separation from the Church of Rome. In both cases the public mind was prepared to move on the slightest impulse. Thinking thus of the public opinion concerning Reform—being convinced that this opinion is the mature product of time and of discussion—I expect no reaction. I no more expect to see my countrymen again content with the mere semblance of a Representation, than to see them again drowning witches or burning heretics—trying causes by red-hot ploughshares, or offering up human sacrifices to wicker idols. I no more expect a reaction in favour of Gatton and Old Sarum, than a reaction in favour of Thor and Odin. I should think such a reaction almost as much a miracle, as that the shadow should go back upon the dial. Revolutions produced by violence are often followed by reactions: the victories of reason 308 once gained, are gained for eternity. In fact, if there be in the present aspect of public affairs, any sign peculiarly full of evil omen to the opponents of Reform, it is that very calmness of the public mind on which they found their expectations of success. They think that it is the calmness of indifference. It is the calmness of confident hope; and in proportion to the confidence of hope will be the bitterness of disappointment. Disappointment, indeed, I do not anticipate. That we are certain of success in this House is now acknowledged; and our opponents have, in consequence, during the whole of our Session, and particularly during the present debate, addressed their arguments and exhortations rather to the Lords than to the assembly of which they are themselves Members. Their principal argument has always been, that the Bill will destroy the peerage. The hon. and learned member for Rye has, in plain terms, called on the Barons of England to save their order from democratic encroachments, by rejecting this measure. All these arguments—all these appeals being interpreted, mean this: "Proclaim to your countrymen that you have no common interests with them, no common sympathies with them; that you can be powerful only by their weakness, and exalted only by their degradation; that the corruptions which disgust them, and the oppression against which their spirit rises up, are indispensable to your authority; that the freedom and purity of election are incompatible with the very existence of your House. Give them clearly to understand that your power rests, not as they have hitherto imagined, on their rational conviction, or their habitual veneration, or your own great property, but on a system fertile of political evils, fertile also of low iniquities of which ordinary justice takes cognizance. Bind up, in inseparable union, the privileges of your estate with the grievances of ours; resolve to stand or fall with abuses visibly marked out for destruction; tell the people that they are attacking you in attacking the three holes in the wall, and that they shall never get rid of the three holes in the wall till they have got rid of you—that a hereditary peerage, and a representative assembly, can coexist only in name—that, if they will have a House of Peers, they must be content with a mock House of Commons." This, I say, is the advice 309 bestowed on the Lords, by those who call themselves the friends of aristocracy. That advice so pernicious will not be followed, I am well assured; yet I cannot but listen to it with uneasiness. I cannot but wonder that it should proceed from the lips of men who are constantly lecturing us on the duty of consulting history and experience. Have they ever heard what effects counsels like their own, when too faithfully followed, have produced? Have they ever visited that neighbouring country, which still presents to the eye, even of a passing stranger, the signs of a great dissolution and renovation of society? Have they ever walked by those stately mansions, now sinking into decay, and portioned out into lodging-rooms, which line the silent streets of the Fauxbourg St. Germain? Have they ever seen the ruins of those castles whose terraces and gardens overhang the Loire? Have they ever heard that from those magnificent hotels, from those ancient castles, an aristocracy as splendid, as brave, as proud, as accomplished as ever Europe saw, was driven forth to exile and beggary—to implore the charity of hostile Governments and hostile creeds—to cut wood in the back settlements of America—or to teach French in the school-rooms of London? And why were those haughty nobles destroyed with that utter destruction? Why were they scattered over the face of the earth, their titles abolished, their escutcheons defaced, their parks wasted, their palaces dismantled, their heritage given to strangers? Because they had no sympathy with the people—no discernment of the signs of their time—because, in the pride and narrowness of their hearts, they called those whose warnings might have saved them, theorists and speculators, because they refused all concession till the time had arrived when no concession would avail. I have no apprehension that such a fate awaits the nobles of England. I draw no parallel between our aristocracy and that of France. Those who represent the Lords as a class whose power is incompatible with the just influence of the middle orders in the State, draw the parallel, and not I. They do all in their power to place the Lords and Commons of England in that position with respect to each other in which the French gentry stood with respect to the Tiers Etat. But I am convinced that these advisers will not succeed. We see, with pride and delight, among 310 the friends of the people, the Talbots, the Cavendishes, the princely house of Howard. Foremost among those who have entitled themselves, by their exertions in this House, to the lasting gratitude of their countrymen, we see the descendants of Marlborough, of Russell, and of Derby. I hope, and firmly believe, that the Lords will see what their interest and their honour require. I hope, and firmly believe, that they will act in such a manner as to entitle themselves to the esteem and affection of the people. But if not, let not the enemies of Reform imagine that their reign is straightway to recommence, or that they have, obtained anything more than a short and weary respite. We are bound to respect the constitutional rights of the Peers; but we are bound also not to forget our own. We, too, have our privileges—we, too, are an estate of the realm. A House of Commons, strong in the love and confidence of the people—a House of Commons which has nothing to fear from a dissolution, is something in the Government. Some persons, I well know, indulge a hope that the rejection of the Bill will at once restore the domination of that party which fled from power last November, leaving everything abroad and everything at home in confusion—leaving the European system, which it had built up at a vast cost of blood and treasure, failing to pieces in every direction—leaving the dynasties which it had restored, hastening into exile—leaving the nations which it had joined together, breaking away from each other—leaving the fundholders in dismay—leaving the peasantry in insurrection—leaving the most fertile counties lighted up with the fires of incendiaries—leaving the capital in such a state, that a royal procession could not safely pass through it. Dark and terrible, beyond any season within my remembrance of political affairs, was the day of their flight. Far darker and far more terrible will be the day of their return; they will return in opposition to the whole British nation, united as it was never before united on any internal question—united as firmly as when the Armada was sailing up the channel—united as when Bonaparté pitched his camp on the cliffs of Boulogne. They will return pledged to defend evils which the people are resolved to destroy; they will return to a situation in which they can stand only by crushing and trampling down public opinion, and 311 from which, if they fall, they may, in their fall, drag down with them the whole frame of society. Against such evils, should such evils appear to threaten the country, it will be our privilege and our duty to warn our gracious and beloved Sovereign. It will be our privilege and our duty to convey the wishes of a loyal people to the throne of a patriot king. At such a crisis the proper place for the House of Commons is in the front of the nation; and in that place this House will assuredly be found. Whatever prejudice or weakness may do elsewhere to ruin the empire, here, I trust, will not be wanting the wisdom, the virtue, and the energy that may save it.
§ Mr. Croker
* Sir; I am not surprised at the acclamations with which the speech of the learned Gentleman (Mr. Macaulay) has been received by Gentlemen opposite, not only on account of the extraordinary eloquence which that speech displayed, and which all must unite in admiring, but also on account of the satisfaction with which his own side of the House must have seen in it a promise, that the learned Gentleman is about to be called to the exercise of his abilities in some high station in the Ministry; for the House must have observed, not without surprise, that part of the speech of the learned Gentleman, in which, with so grave a tone of authority and confidence, he imparted to the House the first, and indeed the only information as to the measures his Majesty's Government has decided upon adopting in the event of the Bill being rejected elsewhere. He has been selected to open, through the channels of intelligence which convey our debates beyond these walls, to the House of Peers, the course which his Majesty's Government would dictate to them, and he is the organ to the country at large of what, in the last resort, are the intentions, and will be the determination, of his Majesty himself;—nay, he has favoured us with a prospective view of the very Address which this House may be hereafter invited to adopt, and, anticipating such adoption as certain, he has given us a sketch of what is to be the speech of the Sovereign in reply to the Address which we are to lay at the foot of the Throne.
It is somewhat extraordinary to see these high and delicate duties confided to a Gentleman who has never yet appeared* Printed by authority, from the corrected Speech, published by Mr. Murray.312 in political office, and who, notwithstanding his great talents, has hitherto had little other opportunity of displaying them, than in the humbler station of a practising barrister; but those higher authorities, who, passing over his Majesty's ostensible Ministers in this House, have thus chosen to make the learned Gentleman the organ of such high matters, have done wisely and justly; for he deserves this distinction—not merely by his own eminent qualities—but, if I may be permitted to say so, by the shade which his superior talents have cast over those who now appear in this House as the responsible advisers of the Crown. I, therefore, hail the learned Gentleman's approaching promotion;—his merits I fully admit;—his eloquence I gladly acknowledge;—I feel its effects too deeply to wish to deny it [hear, hear.]
If the hon. Gentleman who has uttered that sneer means that I feel it, as having ever been directed against me personally, the exclamation is nonsense. With the learned Gentleman I never had any personal contest nor even discussion; and I feel his eloquence as I hope I am capable of feeling what is excellent in its kind even in an adversary. I feel it as the hon. Member I now address cannot feel—as the hon. Gentleman, if he could feel, and were worthy of appreciating such talents, would not have doubted that another, though a political antagonist, might feel also.
I say, Sir, that I admit the learned Gentleman's eloquence, and feel it peculiarly, not only from the admiration it excites, but from the difficulty it imposes upon the humble individual whose fortune it is—haudpassibus œquis—to follow him. But I am relieved, in some degree, by the reflection that, as from the highest flights men are liable to the heaviest, falls, and in the swiftest courses to the most serious disasters, so, I will say, is the most brilliant eloquence sometimes interrupted by intervals of the greatest obscurity, and the most impassioned declamation defeated by the most fatal contradictions; and I must assert, that the speech of the learned Gentleman had points of weakness which no imprudence or want of judgment ever surpassed, and carried within itself its own refutation beyond any other speech I almost ever heard. The learned Gentleman seemed, sometimes, to forget that he was addressing the House of Commons; 313 or, aware that a voice so eloquent was not to be confined within these walls, he took the opportunity of the debate here of addressing himself also to another branch of the Legislature, in, as he no doubt thought, the words of wisdom taught by experience. Not satisfied with those vague generalities and that brilliant declamation which tickle the ear and amuse the imagination, without satisfying the reason, the learned Gentleman unluckily, I think, for the force of his appeal, thought proper to descend to argumentative illustration and historical precedents. But whence has he drawn his experience? Sir, he drew his weapon from the very armoury to which, if I had been aware of his attack, I should myself have resorted for the means of repelling it. He reverted to the early lessons of the French Revolution, and the echoes of the deserted palaces of the Fauxbourg St. Germain were reverberated in the learned Gentleman's eloquence, as ominous admonitions to the peerage of England. He thinks that frightful period—the dawn of that long and disastrous day of crime and calamity, bears some resemblance to our present circumstances, and he thinks justly; but different, widely different, is the inference which my mind draws from this awful comparison. It were too much for me to venture to charge the learned Gentleman with intentional misrepresentation of the transactions to which he thus solemnly refers, but I must say, that he seems to me to labour under strange forgetfulness, or still stranger ignorance. He tells us that he was but young when these events happened; but there are some of us not much older than he, who witnessed that period with a childish wonder, which ripened, as the tragedy proceeded, into astonishment and horror; and, after all, it requires no great depth of historical research to be acquainted with the prominent features of those interesting and instructive times. I am, therefore, I own, exceedingly surprised, not that the learned Gentleman should have thought the illustration both just and striking, but that he should not have felt that the facts of the case would lead any reasonable and impartial mind to conclusions absolutely the reverse of those which he has deduced from them. He warns the Peers of England to beware of resisting the popular will, and he draws from the fate of the French nobility at the Revolution, the example of the fact, and 314 the folly of a similar resistance. Good God! Sir, where has the learned Gentleman lived,—what works must he have read,—with what authorities must he have communed, when he attributes the downfall of the French nobility to an injudicious and obstinate resistance to popular opinion? The direct reverse is the notorious fact, so notorious, that it is one of the common-places of modern history.
Allow me, Sir, to inform the learned Gentleman, and to recall to the recollection of the House, in a few words, the true circumstances of that case. France, by her ancient constitution, in principle very analogous to our own, had a national representation called the States-general, divided, like ours, into estates or classes, who, in separate Chambers, exercised each its distinct judgment on the public interests, and constituted what, if the assembly had been annual, or even frequent, would have presented a close resemblance to our King, Lords, and Commons in Parliament assembled,—but, unfortunately for France, this fundamental frame of government had been suffered to fall into disuse,—the monarchs, dreading their popular composition, assembled the States-general only at long intervals, and never but in cases of the last emergency. Under such an emergency, Louis 16th called them together in 1789; and for the first time for 200 years, the Nobility and Commons or Tiers Etats of France were summoned to deliberate, as we annually do, de arduis regni. And here, Sir, commenced that struggle to which the learned Gentleman has ventured to appeal. After assembling in one body to hear the Speech from the Throne, the estates, according to the ancient and undoubted constitutional regulation, returned to their separate Chambers to proceed with their respective duties. But the Tiers Etat felt as some of the Members in this House appeared to feel with respect to our House of Peers, that it would be inconvenient to permit it to exercise independent functions,—and the first innovation proposed at Paris resembled that which is now the proposition in London, and was to the effect, that the House of Peers should succumb to the House of Commons, and, acting under the impulse of intimidation, consent to become the mere registrar of whatever edicts the Tiers Etat might think proper to dictate. The first project by which the revolutionists in France 315 thought that a virtual abolition of the aristocratic branch of their old Constitution would be the most practicably and effectively carried, was the abolition of separate Chambers, and the union of all the estates in one House, where the numerical majority of the Commons would reduce into the position of a weak and impotent minority the whole body of the nobility. To this monstrous proposition—which, however veiled in the sophistry of popular plausibility, was, in fact, the whole revolution,—will it be said that the nobility were not justified in offering a firm, constitutional, and unanimous opposition?—they must have seen, that by the union of the Chambers into one, not only was their proper influence destroyed, but that there was practically an end of their own order, of the ancient constitution of the States-general, and, finally, of the monarchy of France. In fact, the proposition of the Tiers Etat was a Reform Bill, calculated to increase the democratic, and lower the aristocratical influence;—and seeing that the nobles were reluctant to commit so suicidal an act, they determined to force them to the fatal step by every species of fraud and violence, deceit and intimidation; and much the same kind of arguments were then addressed by pretended friends and open enemies to the French Chamber of the nobility, which is now directed against our House of Lords. But did the nobles, on that vital occasion, show that blind and inflexible obstinacy which the learned Gentleman has attributed to them? Did they even display the decent dignity of a deliberative council? Did they indeed exhibit a cold and contemptuous apathy to the feelings of the people, or did they not rather evince a morbid and dishonourable sensibility to every turn of the popular passion? Was it, Sir, in fact, their high and haughty resistance, or was it, alas! their deplorable pusillanimity, that overthrew their unhappy country? No inconsiderable portion of the nobility joined the Tiers Etat at once, and with headlong and heedless alacrity;—the rest delayed for a short interval,—a few days only of doubt and dismay; and, after that short pause, those whom the learned Gentleman called proud and obstinate bigots to privilege and power, abandoned their most undoubted privilege and most effective power, and were seen to march in melancholy procession to the funeral of 316 the Constitution, with a fallacious appearance of freedom, but bound in reality by the invisible shackles of intimidation, goaded by the invectives of a treasonable and rancorous Press, and insulted, menaced, and all but driven by the bloody hands of an infuriated populace.
But was this all? did the sacrifice end here? When the Tiers Etat had achieved their first triumph, and when, at last, the three estates were collected in the National Assembly, was the nobility deaf to the calls of the people, or did they cling with indecent tenacity to even their most innocent privileges? The learned Gentleman has appealed to the decayed ceilings and tarnished walls of hotels and chateaux, where ancient ancestry had depicted its insignia, but which now exhibit the faded and tattered remnants of fallen greatness. Does the learned Gentleman not know that it was the rash hands of the nobility itself which struck the first blow against these aristocratical decorations?
The learned Gentleman attributes to the obstinacy and bigotry of the French clergy the ruin of the Church; but who in truth gave, in those early days of confiscation and usurpation, the first flagrant example of the plunder of the property, and the invasion of the power, of the Church?—A Cardinal Archbishop! Who first proposed the abolition of tithes?—A noble and a prelate!—and on principles, too, let me observe en passant, so extravagantly popular, that even the patriot Abbé Gregoire, of jacobin notoriety, could not countenance them. And in that celebrated night, which has been called the "night of sacrifices," but which is better known by the more appropriate title of the "night of insanity," when the whole frame and order of civilized society was overthrown in the delirium of popular compliance, who led the way in the giddy orgies of destruction?—Alas! the nobility!—Who was it that, in that portentous night, offered, as he said, on the altar of his country the sacrifice of the privileges of the nobility? A Montmorency! Who proposed the abolition of all feudal and seignorial rights?—A Noailles! And what followed?—We turn over a page or two of this eventful history, and we find the Montmorencies in exile and the Noailles on the scaffold?
I trust, Sir, that the innate spirit and honour of the Peers of England require no admonition from the learned Gentleman, 317 and no lessons from foreign examples; but if such examples were becoming or necessary, I, too, should venture to implore the House of Lords to contemplate with awful attention the conduct and the calamities, the mistakes and misfortunes, of the nobility of France.
But such considerations are, in my opinion, superfluous. The conduct of the House of Lords for six centuries—from the era when the Barons founded the Constitution at Runnymede, to the days when they restored it at the Revolution of 1688, and confirmed it by the Hanoverian Succession;—for all these great constitutional triumphs, and many intermediate ones, were achieved principally by the House of Lords, as the representatives of the higher orders of the people—this long series of patriotism and courage on the part of the Lords, gives us, I say the happy assurance that they need no foreign example to incite them to, and that no domestic turbulence can deter them from, the firm and fearless performance of their constitutional duties. They will stand, as they have hitherto done, like that proud and castled isthmus which divides the Mediterranean from the ocean, breaking, on the one hand, the stormy waves of democracy, and on the other, moderating the pressure and resisting the rise of the Royal prerogative.
But the hon. Gentleman says, that if, upon this occasion, the Lords should take upon themselves to exercise their undoubted—until this hour, at least, undoubted—right of deciding for themselves—of hearing with their own ears, and speaking with their voices;—if, says he, they take upon themselves to exercise their judgments upon the measure now about to be produced to them, they will array themselves in opposition to the declared wishes of the people, and will teach the nation the fatal secret—that the House of Lords can exist only while there is a mock House of Commons. A mock House of Commons!—What! has that been a mock House of Commons, under which England has enjoyed a century and a half of happiness and glory—of civil and religious liberty—of individual security and freedom—and of general national prosperity, unexampled in the history of the world?
In the whole course of the debates on this question of Reform, no one has attempted to say, that there has been any 318 alteration in the constituent state of this House from the Revolution to the present hour. No one has pretended to say, that one close borough has been added, or that one more county has fallen into aristocratical nomination. No such allegation has been or can be made; nay, the very reverse is the fact,—the Representation has gradually become more popular; and there are many Gentlemen on the opposite side, whose very presence here attests that the basis of Representation is wider than at any former time. For the last thirty or forty years there has not been a hint that the power of the Crown has increased. From the celebrated day when Mr. Dunning proposed, and the House voted, the suicidal motion, that 'the power of the Crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished,'—from the day, I say, when the House came to a vote which remains a practical blunder upon its Journals—from that day all question of the undue increase of the power of the Crown, and all arguments for Parliamentary Reform on that account, have been completely and for ever silenced.
But this fact suggests another very powerful reason against the Ministerial proposition. I should say, that the majorities which we have seen this Session in favour of the Reform Bill prove that the Reform Bill is unnecessary. If this Parliament does not speak the voice of the people fairly and fully, the hon. Gentlemen opposite lose the only arguments they have urged for their measure, and if it does, they lose the only fact on which they can rely for its justification; for if their assertion be true, we have already a free and popular House of Commons. Do Ministers expect to have in future Parliaments larger majorities than they have at present? If they do, I, as a commoner of England, would object to the pretended Reform on that very ground. If that be the case, I say that the Bill is not only unnecessary, but (upon that account, if there were no other) absolutely dangerous to our liberties, because the power of the Ministry would then become exorbitant and excessive. They are already powerful—I was going to say too powerful; and so, undoubtedly, I should say if I did not believe that, however great the majority in favour of their measure may be here, it is not so great in the country. I do not pretend to be able to guess what the 319 exact proportion of the difference may be, but to those Gentlemen who appear to deny the fact of any such difference, I would beg leave to state, that if all the contests which occurred in the late elections be numerically considered, we shall find that, on an aggregate of about 35,000 persons who were polled, there happened to be, on the whole, a majority in favour of all the Reform candidates of no more than 1,600. With such a fact as that, I do think that I am warranted in saying, that the majority in favour of the Bill is not, in proportion, so great in the country as it is in this House.
The Learned Gentleman has been under the necessity of making another admission of great importance. When pressed to state what practical advantage the country was to derive from a reformed Parliament, he candidly owned that he had little to reply to that question: he was obliged to admit, that of the objects to which the public anxieties were chiefly directed, few, or rather none, could be effected by a Reform Bill, or, indeed, by any measures of legislation or government;—Of all the ills that human hearts endure.How small the share that laws or kings can cure!The distress of the country, or the wants of the people, or the pressure of taxation, do not, the hon. Member confesses, originate with the Parliament; and, at all events, Parliament cannot, he admits, remove them. An immediate remedy for these evils it is too much, he says, to expect from the Ministry—too much even to hope from the Reform Bill; but there are, he adds, many wise and liberal measures of Administration which would tend to alleviate the distress which the people mistakenly believe the Reform Bill will cure; but, let me ask, what is to prevent the wise and liberal Administration of the present day from adopting at once those measures for the relief of the country? Will Ministers venture to assert that, with the enormous majority they possess in this House, they could find any difficulty in passing any measure which the wants or wishes of the people may require? Where and what are those healing and salutary laws which we may expect from a reformed Parliament, but which the present Parliament would not vote? What taxes do his Majesty's Ministers wish to remit, that this House would insist on retaining? What measure for promoting the industry, alleviating the distress, or enlarging the 320 intelligence of the lower orders, are his Majesty's Ministers obliged to postpone for want of the concurrence of the House of Commons? I defy the Learned Gentleman to name one; and in addition to the confession of the Learned Gentleman, that no practical good, as relates to the condition of the people, can be expected from the Reform Bill, I must add, as my own conviction, that it will, if passed, produce an unimaginable extent of practical mischief and misery.
But the Learned Gentleman says, that although the people of England cannot expect much immediate relief from it, they are still enamoured of the Bill; that notwithstanding the slight alterations it has undergone, the present Bill is the same as that under whose banners they originally arranged themselves, and that they look upon it now with the same approbation, although with more quiet and tranquillity, than they did before the dissolution of the late Parliament. Sir, if the people of England do so, I must say, that the people of England have lost their common sense; for that any two things can be more different in many important particulars than the two Reform Bills,—the one as it was introduced into the last Parliament, and the other as it now stands in this,—is utterly impossible. With the exception of the principle of the Schedules (for the schedules themselves have been largely, capriciously, and I will add, unjustly altered), there are hardly two provisions of the Bill which remain as they were proposed. I admit, that in the eyes of those zealous friends of Reform who look upon nomination with so much dread, the affirming the principle of the disfranchising Schedules must be a great merit; but if the people will examine the Bill closely, they will find that every part of it which applies to their own personal interests, has been changed in the most material degree.
I had intended, if the speech of the Learned Gentleman had not led me to a different line of reasoning, and to so great a length, to have offered some observations on the detail of these alterations; but I do not feel that I have the strength, or that the House would have the patience, necessary to the exposure of the anomalies—the apparent partiality, and the flagrant injustice of all the provisions of this extravagant Bill. There are some, however, which I must notice.
The first thing that appears on the face 321 of the Bill, is the distribution of the future franchise amongst particular counties and towns, in a way that cannot but excite the strongest suspicions of partiality in the framers of that distribution. I do not mean to charge upon the noble Lords opposite,—as I told them the other night I should not,—corrupt partiality and favouritism. Neither parliamentary decorum nor the forms of civilized society would authorise the imputation of personal motives so dishonourable; but no reserve, no complaisance, can induce me to conceal the truth, and I therefore must assert, that if they had been actuated by such motives, I cannot comprehend how they could have more effectually executed them, than they have been by the provisions of this Bill.
To avoid, as much as possible, occupying too much of the time of the House, I shall take an instance or two in each class of enactments, and I shall begin with the case of one of the boroughs which has not yet, I believe, been mentioned; but to understand this case thoroughly, it is necessary that we should revert to that of St. Germain's, about which we have head so-much. The House will recollect that his Majesty's Ministers were pleased to draw two arithmetical lines, by which the right of Representation was fixed,—all towns falling under 2,000 inhabitants being wholly disfranchised, and those falling under 4,000 retaining but one Member. The town of St. Germain's passed the first of these; it had 2,400 inhabitants, and ought, consequently, according to the rule which Ministers themselves had laid down, to be allowed to return one Member. "But," says the noble Lord, "although I take population as my guide, I must also consider how many ten-pound houses the borough may be able to produce as the foundation of the new constituency. Now I find that St. Germain's happens to have but thirteen ten-pound houses, and, therefore, I shall except it from the general rule, and give it no Member at all." The House will see that this reasoning is in itself absurd, because, as the Commissioners appointed by a subsequent clause of the Bill have a power to extend a small borough until it shall include 300 ten-pound houses, it is of no great consequence what the present constituency may be. But I pass over this absurdity, and will abide by the noble Lord's new rule. But does he himself abide by it? We shall see.
322 There happens to be another borough, which, within its own limits, has not 2,000 inhabitants, and which ought, therefore, to have found its place in Schedule A; but by adding to the borough an adjoining township, it is raised to 2,600, and was originally placed by the side of St. Germain's in Schedule B; and as it stood nearest St. Germain's in population, so it did also in the number of ten-pound houses; for as St. Germain's has 13, so the other borough has 14 houses of that class. Nothing, therefore, can be more similar than these two cases, and yet nothing more dissimilar than the treatment they have received. We have seen, that on the revision of the Bill, St. Germain's was violently detruded from Schedule B, and condemned to utter disfranchisement. What was done with this other borough? Was it put into the disfranchising index? No. Then, of course, the House must expect that it was left, as it originally stood, in Schedule B. No such thing; not only has it escaped from that total disfranchisement which has annihilated its twin—St. Germain's, but it has been removed from Schedule B, and is restored to its entire ancient privilege of returning two Members to Parliament.
Now I see, that the curiosity of the House is awakened to know the name of the place which has thus fortunately, and, as it hitherto seems, unaccountably escaped from both the disfranchising clauses of the Bill.—It is Westbury! How the facts which I have stated with respect to these two boroughs can be answered,—how the disfranchisement of the one, and the preservation of the other, can be justified, I know not. Will it be denied, that such circumstances have a suspicious appearance? and what must be the feeling of the House when I acquaint them, that this strange transaction is accompanied by other circumstances still more suspicious? While Westbury stood in Schedule B, it returned one Member known to be opposed to the Ministry; but just about the time when it was restored to its full franchise, that Anti-reform Member vacated his seat, and Westbury, grateful, no doubt, for its prolonged existence, has sent back in his room, not merely a reformer, but one of those Gentlemen who is supposed to have been employed in practically framing the Bill. Here, then, are two cases, as nearly alike as possible, both placed by the Ministers themselves in Schedule B. On a revision 323 of the Bill, one of them, St. Germain's, is annihilated, while the other, Westbury, is loaded with the plentitude of favour; and Westbury, at the same moment, accommodates with a seat the very Gentleman whose pen, probably, had erased its name from the fatal list of proscription. There are many other borough-cases not, perhaps, quite so suspicious, but as flagrantly unjust,—but, for my present purpose, this example will suffice.
But I must call the attention and wonder of the House to proceedings, similar in circumstances of suspicion, but infinitely more extensive and important, with regard to several of the counties. An hon. Member (Mr. John Stanley,) has told us, that he cannot bear to hear that Durham has been particularly favoured—that he cannot listen with patience to an imputation of that kind. I must, however, request his patience, and that of the House, while I detail to him facts that will prove, that if Durham has not been most bounteously favoured, it has been most miraculously fortunate.
The hon. Member, the advocate of Durham, tells us, that it has only one Member for every 20,000 inhabitants, while the general average of the rest of England is one Member for 25,000 inhabitants. So far I would grant to the hon. Gentleman that the disproportion does not appear to be very great, at least not great enough, if there were no other circumstances to create such suspicions as we allude to; but it is very easy, by these general averages—dolus versat in generalibus—to conceal the advantages which have been given to particular places. When it serves their purpose, Ministers choose to reckon the whole population of counties, in order to show, that the Representation which has been given to them is not disproportioned to that which has been alloted to others. It is evident, however, that in comparisons of this kind, they ought in all cases to deduct from the gross population of the county, the population of those places to which a local franchise has been allotted. When the county of Durham, therefore, is stated to have 207,000 inhabitants, the population of the three or four new boroughs which have been created in it should be deducted. If that were done, then Durham would appear to have no more than 135,000 inhabitants; and so far from being entitled to be treated, as it has been, on the footing of one of the 324 most populous counties in England, it stands, in fact, very low in the scale of county population.
I will take the liberty of making this more clear by stating to the House a comparison between Durham and another county—that of Suffolk—which I have selected, because, under this Bill, they will have nearly the same number of Members, and are thus pointed out by the Ministers themselves as the fairest subjects of comparison. Durham has now only 4 Members, it will have 10; Suffolk has 16, it will be reduced to 9—from standing with a superiority over Durham of no less than twelve Members, Suffolk is reduced to an inferiority of one. Now, of course, the House will believe that, on an arithmetical system—a system made on the rule-of-three principle of modern statistics —Durham must have some extraordinary claim, upon the score of population, wealth, or size, to be thus preferred. Quite the contrary: Suffolk has 270,000 inhabitants, and Durham only 207,000—the larger county by 70,000 inhabitants is to be mulcted of seven Members, and the smaller is to be overloaded with six. But then it may perhaps be said, the size of the counties justifies the difference—Durham is probably more extensive than Suffolk? No such thing—it is one-third smaller. Well, but then, perhaps, it is very rich; the contribution to taxation on the part of Durham is probably considerable, while that of Suffolk may be very scanty? No; that conjecture will not do—for favoured or fortunate Durham contributes to the assessed taxes but 18,000l. a-year, while degraded Suffolk contributes 48,000l. a year. Thus then, it appears, that Suffolk, which is to be reduced below the scale of Representation to which Durham will be raised, has a population greater by one-fourth, is larger in size by one-third, and contributes to the revenue in assessed taxes about one-half more than its northern rival.
But the case of Durham and Suffolk is not the only comparison which affords results equally pregnant with suspicion. Let us consider the case of the county with which the Prime Minister is more particularly connected,—Northumberland,—and, on a comparison of that county with Norfolk, you will find another ministerial county favoured in a similar way. Both Norfolk and Northumberland are to have 11 Members, the former having had 325 12, and the latter but 8. To produce this equality, Northumberland is to be raised up four Members, and Norfolk to be reduced one. Doubtless it will be supposed that these counties, to whom equality of Representation has been allotted by our arithmetical lawgivers, are equal in all other respects—who, therefore can be so unreasonable as to object to the raising up of the one and the lowering of the other in order to produce this equality? Now, attend! The population of Norfolk is more than double the population of Northumberland, the first having 260,000 inhabitants—the other only 126,000. Then, with regard to size—Northumberland, it may be imagined, though not so populous, must, nevertheless, be considerably larger than Norfolk: just the contrary—its area is considerably smaller. Then, as I said in the former case, perhaps the wealth of Northumberland, as measured by the amount of its contribution to the public revenue, is greater than that of Norfolk. The contribution of Northumberland is 22,000l., that of Norfolk 53,000l. Thus, again, we have equality of Representation between two counties, although the one is greater in extent, has double the population, and pays more than double the amount of taxation of the other.
I shall now proceed to another topic—but I beg pardon—there is another favoured county which I had forgotten—I must not omit Cumberland!—if I did, "what would they say of Cockermouth?" I shall compare Cumberland, which at present has 6 Members, but is, in future, to be endowed with 8, with Essex, which is to return 9. Let us see whether Essex stands towards Cumberland in the ratio
|* Comparative View of the mode in which the REFORM BILL treats the counties of DURHAM and SUFFOLK,—NORTHUMBERLAND and NORFOLK,—CUMBERLAND and ESSEX,—as to the number of MEMBERS assigned to each respectively.|
|Present number of Members||4||16||8||12||6||8|
|Size in acres||679,040||967,680||1,197,440||1,338,880||945,920||980,480|
|Population, including represented towns||207,673||270,542||198,965||344,367||156,124||289,424|
|Population, excluding represented towns||135,670||239,407||126,489||260,865||116,136||268,200|
|Payment in taxes, including represented towns||£30,743||£59,156||£42,260||£75,795||£21,807||£89,430|
|Payment in taxes, excluding represented towns||£18,614||£48,006||£22,755||£53,569||£14,455||£82,237|
|Proportion of representation to population, one Member for||20,000||30,000||18,000||31,000||19,000||29,000|
§ only of nine to eight. Cumberland has 156,000 inhabitants—Essex has 289,000; so that, if I calculate rightly, when Cumberland obtains eight Members, Essex should have about fifteen. But we may be told, that Cumberland is a very large county, and that extent ought to be reckoned for something;—for argument's sake I will grant this latter theory—but it happens, that Cumberland is not so large as Essex; the difference is less great than in the preceding case, but still Essex is considerably larger. Then the taxation.—Here I am sorry to say, that Cumberland does not shine. The total amount of the taxes paid by that county is 21,000l. a year, while Essex, whose Representation barely exceeds that of Cumberland, contributes to the assessed taxes no less than 82,000l. a-year, nearly four times the Cumberland amount.
§ Now, Sir, is it not a most extraordinary coincidence, that three counties which seem to be so extravagantly favoured in Representation—and favoured at the expense of other greater, richer, and more populous counties*—should be the counties with which Lord Durham and Lord Grey, and the hon. Baronet opposite, the First Lord of the Admiralty, are more particularly interested: and I would beg the House to observe, that these cases are not of my selection; I take those which have been picked for me, by the hands of the Ministers themselves—and very choice specimens they undoubtedly are; I doubt whether I could have picked better myself. I have been led to mention them only by the circumstance of their happening to have either the same, or nearly the same, number of Members with the other counties with which I compared them: where 327 the Bill exhibited equality of Representation, I naturally looked for equality in some, at least, of the elements on which Representation is professedly founded; and, instead of any such equality, I find the most remarkable differences, the strangest anomalies, and, I must add, every appearance of the most flagrant injustice.
But this is not all—
Thus bad begins, but worse remains behind.
The Ministers, when they resolved to increase the number of county Members, had recourse to their favourite device of a numerical line, and we shall see, that they have juggled the counties with the same kind of arithmetical legerdemain with which they have defrauded the boroughs. The county line drawn was at 150,000 inhabitants; and all which exceeded that line of population were to have four county Members. Now one naturally inquires what county falls the first within this favoured line? Ministers are, no doubt, totally disinterested—above all party feelings—and still more incapable of any personal bias. But, then, is it not very extraordinary, that this impartial line should be so drawn, that the smallest county included by it should be this same Ministerial county of Cumberland? Well, but that may be by accident; but which—by accident—is the next county that falls so very closely within this line? Northamptonshire, which returns the Noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; then—by accident—comes Worcestershire, which has just returned the Noble Lord's brother—the first time, I believe, that one of his family have represented that county; and, close on the heels of Worcestershire, we are not surprised to find-still by the merest accident—the Prime Minister's own county of Northumberland. All these would have been excluded, had the line been drawn at 200,000 instead of 150,000.
§ The consequence to be naturally expected from all this arrangement would be, that in each of these four counties, four of his Majesty's Ministers would have a good chance of influencing the return of four Members; but the cases are still more suspicious than even on the first examination they appear. In apportioning four county Members to the county population, it is quite clear, that the population of towns possessing a separate franchise ought to be excluded:—for instance, it would have 328 been absurd to reckon, as the rural population of Middlesex or Surrey, the city of London or the borough of Southwark. Equally absurd is it to allow the population of Whitehaven or Sunderland, to which the Bill has given separate Members, to be reckoned over again, as forming parts of the county population of Cumberland and Durham, and thus entitling them to an additional number of county Members. Yet it is by this trick—a trick at least it seems to be, and such, unless it can be explained, the whole country will believe it to be—that the Ministers have contrived to make their favourite counties fall within the line of 150,000; for if we exclude the separately represented towns, we shall find, that Cumberland has only 115,000 inhabitants, Northumberland but 126,000, Worcestershire 129,000, Northamptonshire 147,000, and even the stately palatinate of Durham itself becomes reduced to 135,000.
§ But connected with this provision of the Bill, which gives four Members to certain counties, there are some further considerations, which I think will surprise and even arouse the House. No doubt this increase of Members was very well intended, and I am inclined to believe that it was at first very popular. Of course every voter in the larger counties was delighted at the proposition. "A boon!" he cried, "a boon! I shall now have four votes instead of two—four Members to represent my interests instead of two—four Members to solicit my little jobs in Downing-street instead of two. In short, I am just double the man I was." But of all people the agriculturists fancied that they had most reason to rejoice. "Increase the Representation of counties, and you increase the power of the agricultural interest." All these propositions were so extremely obvious, that no man would venture to controvert them. But as the larger counties rejoiced, some of the smaller ones began to repine; and it was thought to be very hard upon those poor counties which had not quite 150,000 inhabitants, such as Dorset, Bucks, Berkshire, Oxford, and some others, that they should remain with only two Representatives, while those which had only a few thousand more inhabitants were to have four.
§ To remedy this grievance, and to make their Bill perfect, Ministers had again recourse to the rule-of-three, and they resolved 329 to correct this disproportion by arithmetical rule. "We have given," said they, the larger counties four Members; let us, therefore, give to the middling counties three Members, while the smaller shall remain with two." Perfect calculation—admirable impartiality—beautiful symmetry!—upon which it may look like hypercriticism to observe, that it would have given the 115,000 inhabitants of Cumberland 4 Members, while it only favoured the 120,000 of Hertfordshire, and the 119,000 of Dorsetshire with 3 each, and that the 572,000 of West York, and the 250,000 of Middlesex, were to content themselves with 2. I do not complain of all this, for, by an accident, which I shall allude to presently, this beautiful system has been totally overthrown—but I mention it as one of those curious facts which prove the wisdom, justice, and foresight of the framers of this measure. Thus amended, we saw the Bill, in a state of perfect excellence—clear, consistent, and satisfactory to all interests—laden with good to all men, and ready to bless the empire with its salutary operation; but, alas! what are the hopes of man Ministers discovered some reason why, instead of giving the large counties four Members each, it would be wiser to divide each county into two shires, with two Members to each:—the change was a mere trifle—an affair of detail, which involved no principle, and could lead to no consequence. It was accomplished, and by its accomplishment it has unexpectedly upset their whole system, and has led to the introduction of such a mass of absurdity into this Bill, as is absolutely incredible.
§ Instead of leaving the twenty-six large counties with four Members each, they divide them into fifty-two small counties, with two Members each; so that the freeholder of the large county, who supposed that ho was to have four votes and four Members, finds himself put off with two votes and two Members; and is, in point of Representation, just where he was before—with this disadvantage, that his two new Members will not, and cannot, be persons of the same weight and consideration as the present class of county Members. But see what follows: the little counties which were to have three Members, for the purpose of placing them on something approaching to a level with those which were to have four, are still to retain those three, though the others have 330 lost their four; so that blessed is he who lives in the smaller county, for he shall have the greater share of Representation! Every man in Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Cambridgeshire, Dorsetshire, Hertfordshire, Herefordshire, and Oxfordshire, will have three votes (and I am delighted at their good luck) and three Representatives in this House. But the men of Yorkshire, and Lancashire, and Devon, and Kent, and all the other great counties in England will have but two. The West Riding of Yorkshire, and each half of Lancashire, which are to have but two Members each, are greater, in every point of electoral importance, than four or five of the counties, which are each to return three Members, put together. The five counties will send 15 Members—the West Riding of Yorkshire, whose population is equal to them all, is, by this arithmetical legislation, to have but 2! and thus, from equal data, our impartial Ministers draw such irreconcileable products as two and fifteen.
§ But mark how conveniently the new principle of division happens to suit the county of Cumberland! Cumberland is to have four Members. Its real county population, as I have before stated, amounts to 115,000—divide it by two, and the population of either part will be 57,500,—each of these parts is to return two Members. If this be not a mode for substituting nomination counties for nomination boroughs, I confess I cannot even guess at the meaning of the arrangement. Again, look at Durham—eternal Durham—its two new shires will have only 67,000 inhabitants, who will be placed on the same scale of Representation as 150,000 inhabitants in Kent, and 180,000 in Devon.
§ I now proceed to another part of the subject. This is a Bill, which, as its preamble tells us, is to extend to many of his Majesty's subjects, who have not hitherto enjoyed it, the benefit of the elective franchise. Now, I find this remarkable circumstance—that in the boroughs preserved in Schedule B, the number of electors heretofore actually polled at the elections has been about 11,000; while, by the returns laid on the Table of this House by the Noble Lord himself, it appears that the expected constituency of all these boroughs will not exceed 4,500 voters. This is a fact which appears broadly on the face of the returns. So that the proposed scheme of franchise 331 would, instead of increasing the constituency of these boroughs, absolutely cut it down by more than one-half. I know the Noble Lord will say, and very truly, that he has provided a remedy for that by the power given to the Commissioners of enlarging the constituency of each borough to 300; and he may probably add, that we cannot yet tell what the actual constituency of these boroughs will be, because they are not yet registered, and that, for the sake of obtaining the franchise, many more ten-pound houses will be registered than the returns on the Table contain. All this may be true, and the first part of the answer certainly is—yet what does it amount to?—that they have abolished all the various franchises in England, and have established a new one so partial and imperfect, that the first step of the noble Lord is to disclaim the accuracy of the official tables on which the system was built—that the next step is, to revive the old abuse of out-voters, by creating boroughs which will not have the requisite constituency without calling in places distant five, eight, ten, and even sixteen and seventeen miles distant from the town itself, to which the right is nominally given; and the last step of the Noble Lord's answer, is this: that hereafter considerable numbers of houses will be, for election purposes, rated at 10l., which, in truth, have never been supposed to be of that value; in other words, that there will be a bounty on fraud and perjury. But I would also make another observation in rejoinder; the number of 11,500 which I have mentioned, are of electors actually polled, not merely of those who had a right to vote; and I think that any one who knows how impossible it is to poll a borough completely out, and how seldom above two-thirds of the whole number can be really brought to the hustings, will agree with me that, the number of such unpolled votes will fully counterbalance any fair increase which can be expected to the number of ten-pound houses, as stated in the official returns: at all events it will be confessed, that there can be in Schedule B at least no increase of the franchise extensive enough to justify such a sweeping subversion as the Bill makes of all existing rights.
§ Similar observations apply to the great body of remaining cities and boroughs. I find from the same official papers—which, be it always remembered, were 332 laid before us on the 7th of March last, by the Noble Lord himself, as the basis on which his new Representative system was built—I find, I say, by those returns, that the numbers actually polled in these cities and boroughs, at former elections, were considerably above 100,000 persons, while the number of new electoral houses is but 80,000. Why, then, under pretence of extending the elective franchise, it should be actually restricted—why, when we affect to abolish out-voters, we should create them in half the boroughs of the kingdom—why, when we profess to correct frauds and abuses we should adopt a system which, if we place any confidence in the official returns laid before us for our guidance, the system cannot work without greater frauds and additional abuses—his Majesty's Ministers may hereafter endeavour to explain; but certainly up to this hour they have not afforded us the shadow of an excuse.
§ But I am ready to admit that, in the progress of the Bill, its Noble Advocates have devised, or rather I should say, submitted, to an expedient which will largely increase the town constituency. They set out with giving the franchise to the bonâ fide yearly occupiers of houses of the value of 10l. How stands the Bill now? Why this, one of its leading and most important features, is entirely altered, and an amendment has conferred the elective franchise on every weekly lodger, at a rent of three shillings and ten-pence per week. An hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hawkins), who, last night, extemporised such a string of premeditated sarcasms, and treated us with so many elaborate impromptus, was peculiarly eloquent in favour of this ten-pound clause. He lamented the imperfection of human knowledge, which offered us no other measure of intelligence and education, but income. Information—sagacity—the fitness for the exercise of constitutional franchises, were, he said, to be measured only by property; and the exact amount of property, which, he thinks, implies those electoral qualities, is—three shillings and ten-pence a-week! Nay, Sir, he expatiated on this theme with profuse delight, and called this three-and-ten-penny clause "the most simple and beautiful resolution of a political complexity that the wisdom of man ever devised," and congratulated the House, that, after all ages and nations had failed to discover the true test of electoral capacity, 333 his Majesty's Ministers had "beautifully" solved the problem into the exact sum of three shillings and ten-pence a-week. I must repeat, that if the people of England are, as we are told, enamoured of such a system, supported by such arguments as these, the people of England have lost their common-sense. But, on the contrary, my firm opinion is, that when the people of England come to understand the Bill, they will find it to be an odious and ridiculous mass of inconsistency and injustice from beginning to end. There is not one page of it—hardly one line—which does not contain similar absurdities to those which I have pointed out.
§ I now proceed to the examination of another topic—the creation of new boroughs; and here I am met by the same appearances of partiality and favouritism, and the certainty of similar anomalies and incongruities which I have observed upon in preceding cases. I begin by asking, in what, county will the smallest, of the newly-created boroughs be found?
§ I beg the House to observe, I should not ask this question, if there were only one instance of what, in the face of the transaction, appears to be partiality or favouritism. I should not have before mentioned Cumberland, if it had not stood near to Northumberland; nor Northumberland, if it had not been backed by Durham. I should not have mentioned the case of any one of these places, if the whole did not exhibit such an accumulation of evidence, as would, in my opinion, convict any man at the bar of the Old Bailey.
§ I return, therefore, to my question—which is the borough, that with the smallest population, has been favoured with the Representative privilege? I see the name is ready to burst from the lips of every Member of this House—it is Gateshead! and in which county is this fortunate borough situate?—the answer is equally prompt—in Durham! And will it be said, that this fact is not an additional ground of suspicion? Every circumstance connected with Durham is curious and important; it is the county of all England which is to receive the greatest addition to its Representation, with the smallest proportion of population. Examine this as you will; read the population returns backwards or forwards, upwards or downwards, multiply, subtract, or divide—do what you please, but 334 still this is the fact, that Durham is the most favoured of counties; and another fact is equally notorious, that the Minister the most connected with Durham is supposed to have had the greatest share in framing the provisions of the Bill; so that if the people of England are still enamoured of the Bill, it must be as some hon. Gentlemen even in this House are, who vote—aye, and speak for it still, without having read it, and, which is less surprising, without understanding it.
§ I think I am well authorized in saying, that Gentlemen vote and speak for the Bill without having read it, by what passed in an early part of this evening, when the gallant member for Milborne Port (Colonel Maberly) took upon himself to reply to the speech which my learned friend, the late Attorney-general (Sir J. Scarlett) delivered yesterday. That gallant Officer thought fit to enlighten my learned friend on points of law, and to correct him in point of fact. My learned friend had complained of the hardship imposed on Sheriffs by the necessity imposed on them of erecting booths, without having the opportunity of knowing whether booths might or might not be required. But the gallant Officer rebuked my learned friend's ignorance, and told him, that every body knew, that it was the common practice at county elections to have the nomination a week or so previous to the poll; so that the Sheriff would thus have abundance of leisure to inform himself as to the probability of a poll. The gallant Officer handled this topic with great ingenuity and ability, but unfortunately his ingenuity and ability were all quite thrown away, for it turned out that the provision which my learned friend had objected to, was precisely that clause which directs, that the poll should in future take place on the day but one next following the day of nomination; so that it is quite clear that the gallant Officer had not only not read the Bill he defended, but had not even listened to the arguments to which he professed to reply. Having taken twenty-four hours to prepare his answer to my Learned Friend, I think it a pity that the gallant Officer did not employ one short half-hour of the time in reading the clause upon which he was about to expend so much argument and eloquence.
§ I now, Sir, come to another very important merit attributed to the Bill by its 335 advocates—I mean the saving of expense. The noble Lord, the Member for Northamptonshire, dwells with great complacency on the great advantage which this Bill will confer on the country, by diminishing the expenses of elections. Now let us see how this is likely to be. Under the Bill there may be fifteen polling places kept open for two days. Under the present system there can be but one polling place kept open for fifteen days. Now twice fifteen is thirty; so that if my arithmetic is right, fifteen polls for two days is just double one poll for fifteen days, and in that proportion the expense must be increased instead of being diminished.
§ For Ministers who affect to build up a new constitution on the rules of arithmetic, it does seem to me that the Noble Lords opposite are peculiarly unfortunate in all their calculations. I really doubt whether the Noble Lord opposite even yet sees that a poll of two days at fifteen places is arithmetically equivalent to a poll of thirty days at one place, yet I take upon myself to assure the Noble Chancellor of the Exchequer, that such is the fact.
§ But, again, under the present system, a candidate finding, in the course of the first, or the second, or the third day, that there is a majority against him, frequently gives way, and saves the county, his antagonist, and himself, the expense and trouble of a protracted contest; but under the Bill, how is a candidate, when there are fifteen polling places scattered over the county, to know whether he has a majority, or not? or, even if he should find that out before the close of the second day, he can save neither time nor expense, for the fifteen polls are all at work, and the greater part of the expense must have been already incurred. Why, Sir, an unfortunate county candidate will, hereafter, not be able to come to the hustings without having built fifteen booths, feed fifteen counsel, retained fifteen agents, hired fifteen poll-clerks, collected fifteen tallymen, and opened twice or thrice fifteen taverns for the refreshment of his friends—and all this even though the polling should not last two hours; and from these expenses there will be no possibility of escaping. The boasted celerity of the whole proceeding will render retreat equally difficult in all cases, and the slightest contest will be nearly as expensive as the greatest. I am firmly convinced that it will, in practice, be found that these enactments, if ever 336 they were to be brought into operation, would more than double the costs of every contested county election.
§ But, then, says the Noble Lord, the voters will not have to travel so far—they will not cost so much for conveyance, because the poll will be taken near home; but I beg leave to remind the Noble Lord of an argument of a directly contrary effect, which he used the other night when it was proposed by an hon. Member on this side of the House to take the poll in parishes—the Noble Lord resisted that proposal, because, said he, "You would indeed shorten the distance, but that saving of expense would be more than counterbalanced by the increased number of poll-clerks and agents which would become necessary." So that the Noble Lord himself sets off poll-clerks and agents as counterbalancing travelling expenses? But, after all, will the practical working of the Bill diminish travelling expenses? I should say quite the contrary. I think the expense will be doubled, and I think I can demonstrate this.
§ I presume, that the Noble Lord does not mean that the good old custom of the candidates' appearance before the assembled electors is to be abrogated. He admits that there will be, nay, that there must be, a day and place of nomination, where the candidate may meet his assembled constituents, to render an account of his trust, to explain his parliamentary conduct, and to solicit a continuance of their favours. This the Noble Lord has more than once admitted to be essential. To carry this into effect, the electors must travel to the place of nomination, which, I presume, will be the chief county-town, where the elections are at present held. It will be indispensable, not only as a matter of delicacy, but also as a matter of prudence, that the candidate should wish to see as many of his constituents as possible, in order to ascertain their feelings before he ventures on the expensive experiment of a poll; and every candidate will, of course, endeavour to exhibit all the strength he can muster—the great body of voters will therefore be brought to the place of nomination, and having held up their hands for their favourite candidate, and had a competent portion of refreshment—for which, as well as for their travelling expenses, the favourite candidate must pay—they return to the places from whence they came, and 337 two days after must set out again for the fifteen polling places where they are finally to vote. In this way, I say, the travelling, and therefore the travelling expenses, will be doubled, and I do not see how this is to be avoided. There is a constitutional necessity that the candidate should meet the constituent body. I defy any English gentleman, or any legislator, who knows anything of our political habits and feelings, to say, that it is fitting, or probable, or even possible, that the candidate should not endeavour to collect the constituency at large at the place of nomination. Nor can I imagine how this is to be done without all the marching and countermarching, and all that accumulation of expense, which I have described. If the Bill should pass with such enactments, I say it is perfectly impossible that any one but a madman should contest a county; and he must not only be a madman, but a madman with a prodigality of wealth.
§ It was suggested in the Committee, by some one at this side of the House, that there might be a riot during the two days that the poll is allowed to be kept open, and that one party might get possession of the polling-place, and that some provision should be made against such an accident—but the Noble Lord (Althorp) made as light of the danger of a riot as he did of the expense which might be incurred between the nomination and the poll. I have, however, an authority on both these subjects which I think will convince the Noble Lord that neither of these apprehensions are visionary. I have happened to meet in the Garrick Correspondence, lately published, a letter from Mr. Arthur Murphy, a person very celebrated in his day for his literary acquirements, who also happened to be a practising barrister—and who, in 1767, appears to have been employed as counsel in a contested election at Northampton; one of the candidates, I rather think, was a certain Lord Althorp—
§ Lord Althorp
I think the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. An election in 1767 must have been for the town, and my father was too young to have been the candidate.]
My reason for supposing that Lord Althorp was the candidate was, that I did not apprehend that Lord Spencer would do as much for any other man, as he is stated to have done on this occasion. Mr. Murphy writes to Mr. Garrick, under 338 the date of the 14th May, 1767:—"Our election is fixed for Thursday, and Lord Spencer offers 50l. and 60l. for a vote. At present the other two Lords have a majority, but how matters may fluctuate between this and the polling-day, it is impossible to say. I only wish that my Lord Spencer may not treat us with a riot between this and that time." Now this letter proves not only that there may be very considerable expenses incurred between the day of nomination and the day of election, but that it is in the power of a Lord Spencer to create a riot. I do not suspect the Noble Lord of any inclination to imitate the turbulence of his ancestors, but it is our duty to provide, that no future Lord Spencer should be able, under this Bill, by bribery or by riot, to carry an election against the interest of the peaceable and unbought constituency.
I next pass to the clause appointing Commissioners; and in what I am about to say I beg to be understood as meaning nothing personally disrespectful towards any of those gentlemen. They are all of them, I believe, respectable persons, and I have the honour of calling several of them my friends. But admitting, as I do, the force of the eloquent apology which Mr. Burke made for political party—and acknowledging, as I must, that it is neither possible, nor perhaps desirable, to banish it from a political system like ours—yet, when I see the irresistible strength with which it operates—how it severs the ties of nature—how it, obscures the understanding—how it distorts the sight—and even warps the heart of the most honourable and most amiable of men—I cannot see without alarm any judicial and administrative functions committed to the members of a party. Why do Ministers decline to trust the most ordinary duties of office to those who are opposed to them in politics?—why have they dismissed Members of this House because they voted against them on the Reform Bill? I do not blame Ministers for this: it would perhaps be impossible for the Ministry to conduct a Government, or for their adversaries to keep an Opposition together, if it were not for this feeling. All I contend for is, that for the same reasons that party men are alone employed in political offices, it is utterly inconsistent with the feelings of human nature or the principles of the Constitution, that such persons should be intrusted with any duties which partake in 339 any degree of a judicial character. I have, I repeat, great respect for the gentlemen who have been appointed Commissioners. There are two of them, for instance, Members of this House, hon. friends of mine, whom, in the ordinary business of life, I would readily trust with my life, my property, or even my honour—yet, on a subject like the present, involving party considerations, I would not confide in them any more than I should in any other political partisans. Notwithstanding their high and deserved character in all the relations of private life, I would not trust them—nor should I myself expect to be trusted by them—with the decision of a Turnpike Bill, if it assumed a colour of political party.
There are, I say, the names of two Members of Parliament, and of two only, in this list of Commissioners. Now it is worth while to inquire what could have guided the views of his Majesty's Ministers in their selection of these two Members? I admit that their talents are considerable, and their respectability undeniable; but there are many others as able, as respectable. I am forced, therefore, to look elsewhere for the special cause of their selection, and I ask, who was the county Member, unconnected with office, who took the largest share in promoting the progress of the Reform Bill? Who was the county Member unconnected with office, who sat with the most active assiduity by the side of a Noble Lord, and, when difficulties arose, with respect to certain parts of the Bill relating to the county with which the hon. Member is connected, who stood forward as the Noble Lord's assistant and sponsor? Who was the county Member—almost the only county Member—who favoured the House with his testimony and his opinion on the boundaries and connexions of boroughs;—It was my hon. friend the member for Staffordshire (Mr. Littleton); and he is the single county Member whose name is placed in this Commission.
Now let me turn to another hon. friend. Who, was the Gentleman, who, when we were debating that a certain borough should stand in schedule A, volunteered his testimony in favour of the Ministerial proposition, and, from his personal experience, took upon himself to state, that the borough in question was not entitled to have a Representative? Who was it that, on other similar occasions, gave, I know not which to call it, his evidence or 340 his opinion, in a direction that the Ministers thought proper to follow? There was one Member, and, as I recollect, one only who did so—and that one, that only one, my hon. friend and former Colleague, the member for Bodmin (Mr. Gilbert)—is included in this Commission. The Ministry, then, I say, have selected the two Members, unconnected with office, who particularly distinguished themselves in favour of this Bill.
But this is not all. The town of Walsall, it may be remembered, is the smallest town—(Gateshead is the smallest borough, but Walsall is the smallest town)—to which a Representative is given; it contained only 5,500 inhabitants, and when I objected to Walsall, as not falling within the Ministerial line, who stood up in defence of it? Why, my hon. friend the Commissioner (Mr. Littleton) will not do his duty,—he will break faith with this House, and particularly with me, if he does not go down and superintend the construction of this new borough of Walsall. During the whole discussion of the case of Walsall, so well did my hon. friend understand it, so much better, indeed, did he understand it than his Majesty's Government, that the Ministers left the debate—and they could not do better—in the hands of my hon. friend the Commissioner. My hon. friend, the Member and Commissioner, is popular everywhere; but, if there is any place where my hon. friend the Commissioner is peculiarly popular, it is in this new borough of Walsall—which is near his residence and adjacent to his property, and therefore all the world must agree that he is the fittest—because he must be the most impartial—man in England to assign its limits, and appoint its constituency.
The next name I shall mention is that of the right hon. the Lord Chief Baron of Scotland, Mr. Abercrombie—an excellent man, but I protest I should have as soon expected to have found the Archbishop of Canterbury's name in the list. Sooner, indeed; for the Archbishop might possibly know something about the boundaries of Lambeth, and could, at least, attend the Board without any neglect of local duties. But this Commissioner is the Lord Chief Baron of Scotland—a Judge of the land, or what is worse, of another land,—and he is to be dragged from his proper duties and his local jurisdiction, through all the labour, through all the embarrassment 341 —through all the low details—through all the party squabbles, and through all the odious suspicions that belong to the discharge of a duty of this contentious nature. I can only say, that if, when I and others, who are now around me, sat on the opposite benches, we had proposed to mix up a Judge with such party concerns, and to make him, if not a political partisan, at least a political inquisitor, we should have received the most violent castigation from those who now sit on the Ministerial benches; and we should have deserved it. I do see in this measure a degradation of the judicial character hitherto unknown in this country; and I lament it, not only on the ground that it is a degradation inflicted on the public station, but because I consider it as an imputation on the character of the Chief Baron of Scotland himself. I am doubly sorry to see so honourable a person, and the son of so glorious a father, degraded into a political machine, and subjected to the risk of sullying at once his own judicial ermine, and that of the ennobled hero from whom he has sprung. But I may be asked, can the Commissioners really effect any political object? Clan their decision effect any party purpose? I say they can. Let us suppose that two or three of these Commissioners had been Tories—for my objections apply equally to all party-men, whether Whig or Tory—suppose, then, three Tory Commissioners were sent down to constitute the borough of Tavistock,—suppose them to feel, not unnaturally, indignant at seeing, that while all the Tory boroughs in England were swept away, the Duke of Bedford's close borough of Tavistock was likely to become closer than ever; and suppose these Tory Commissioners to resolve to throw into the existing borough (which stands upon, perhaps, a hundred acres) a circle of ten miles round that town,—what would be the consequence? It would almost inevitably destroy the influence which now prevails in Tavistock, and the Duke of Bedford would then share the fate of his Tory competitors. It is mere nonsense, then, to talk of sending men, influenced by party-spirit, to perform the duty which devolves upon these Commissioners, and to suppose that duty can be performed without exciting, at the least, suspicion, when one recollects the certainty with which they could promote the interest of a political friend, or injure the interest of a political opponent, by selecting 342 200 or 300 electors from a Whig or a Tory property, as the case may be. The House cannot have forgotten the remarkable avowal made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, on the subject of the new borough of Whitehaven, when he confessed, that the general Ministerial rule was, in that single case departed from, in order to defeat the influence of Tory property which happened to lie in its neighbourhood. What an instruction to the Commissioners!
I proceed to the other Commissioners. After the name of the Chief Baron of Scotland, I find that of a gallant officer—his Majesty's Quarter-Master General—who, upon the formation of the present Administration, occupied more of the public eye and ear, perhaps, than any other person—more even than the Lord Chancellor himself. I remember that, at that time, a letter was handed about, said to have been written by the noble Earl at the head of the Ministry, requesting this gallant person to accept a high office—a Cabinet office—in the Government; and stating, moreover, that the acceptance of this offer was considered by the writer as essential to the stability and success of the Administration then about to be formed. This eminent person did not accept the situation thus tendered to him, for reasons and upon grounds which I should have liked to have amused the House by stating; but, although not at all foreign to the matter in hand, it would now occupy too much time. This eminent person, however, did not accept the office that was tendered to him; but it was from no want of party-feeling—nor from any difference of political opinion with the noble Lord at the head of the Government. He refused, however, the office of Master-General of the Ordnance with a seat in the Cabinet, and we saw no more of this gallant and eminent person until we beheld him emerging from his dignified retirement in the less dignified character of seventh travelling Commissioner, under the 23rd Clause of the Reform Bill. How are the mighty fallen! This eminent person, who, a little year ago, refused the highest military command and a seat in the Cabinet, is now to be employed under six commanding civilians, in finding out how many ten-pound houses there may be discoverable in Westbury or Thirsk. I do wonder that this eminent person should have accepted such an office; but if I am surprised that he has taken such—a command 343 I cannot call it—but such a service—I am still more surprised, since it has been admitted by the noble Lords opposite, that there should be something like impartiality on the face of the commission, to find that one so intimately connected with their party—not to say their faction—as to have been proposed for their Cabinet—should have been placed by them in this station of presumed impartiality.
But I proceed with the list. Since this Bill has been under discussion, it may be remembered, that there has been an Election Committee sitting on the case of the borough of Great Grimsby. Two gallant friends of mine were declared not duly elected, and a new election took place. Grimsby, be it recollected, is placed in schedule B, and is one of those boroughs which will require the assistance of the Commissioners to establish the amount of its future constituency. A certain nobleman (my Lord Yarborough) is known to have long exercised a powerful interest in the elections for the borough of Grimsby; and, on the late election, he sent down two very able and respectable persons, with every possible recommendation—except their politics—to stand for the vacant seat. With all their claims, however, and all the interest of my Lord Yarborough, those Gentlemen were defeated. The Reform Bill, to which they were zealous friends, hung, I am told, like a millstone round their necks, and they sank—but they sank to rise again, like the gallant officer, where we should have least expected to see them. It is usual with a party to give their defeated candidate civil speeches, and to endeavour to soften the mortification of such a defeat; but his Majesty's Government applied the most extraordinary plaister in this case I ever heard of. To heal his wounded honour, and console him for his fall, they have made one of the defeated candidates of Great Grimsby another of these Commissioners; and there is nothing but his own decency and modesty (and I am sure the hon. Gentleman possesses both these qualities) which can prevent him from exercising the extensive authority which he will derive under this Bill, in that very place where he appeared only three weeks ago as the defeated candidate of a defeated interest. If that hon. Gentleman is above being swayed by any circumstances connected with the late election, to which he was a party, still I would say, 344 that it is not consistent with common decency, to send that person to Great Grimsby to execute the duties which will devolve upon him under this Bill. But that is not all:—Mr. Bellenden Kerr, the gentleman just alluded to, could not go to Great Grimsby as a candidate without an agent, and he selected a very active, and, no doubt, a very respectable one. This agent, I am satisfied, made himself intimately acquainted with all the details of the borough, its history and politics. He perambulated the bounds—he catechised the voters; he knew whether John Jenks lived in his father's house or his own, and whether Peter Wilkins or his brother Isaac paid the last Michaelmas rate. I dare say he performed his duty as an active and zealous agent, and that his employer, with such an agent, would have been fortunate, if it were not for the circumstance I have already hinted at. I can imagine, when the business was talked of afterwards at Lincoln's-Inn, and that some legal friend said to this gentleman, 'God bless me! Tallants, how is it that, with Lord Yarborough's interest, and your own auspicious name, you should have been defeated at Great Grimsby?'—I have no doubt Mr. Tallants replied, with something of professional pique, but still most truly—"Oh! it was no fault of mine—we failed entirely from professing to support that damned Reform Bill." Well, if there was a plaister required for the political honour of the candidate, there was also one required for the professional credit of his agent, and he, too, is made a Commissioner.
The House seem incredulous; but I do assure them, that of the two gentlemen, of the names of Kerr and Tallants, who appear in this most impartial list of Commissioners, one is the defeated candidate for Great Grimsby, one of the boroughs to be visited, and the other is his electioneering agent.
But if the auspicious name of Mr. Tallants favoured his appointment, the same reason can hardly be assigned for the selection of the Rev. Mr. Sheepshanks. I know nothing of the reverend gentleman—I doubt whether I ever heard his name before—I am sure I never shall forget it. I have heard, since I came into the House, that he is a very able man, a tutor at a college, and a person of considerable acquirements; but that—in addition to these merits, which certainly are 345 not those which, in my opinion, would designate him for an office of this kind—he is known to be a strong political partisan. This is, as the whole Bill is framed, but a minor objection—my more serious complaint is, that it is a degradation to place a minister of religion in such a situation—that it is almost a desecration of his character. However unobjectionable he might otherwise be, I consider it to be most improper to impose upon a clergyman the performance of these secular, and worse than secular, duties. I may be told, perhaps, that he is a clergyman who hangs loosely on society, and that he has no tithes to gather and no souls to cure; but still I say that he is, from his clerical character, an improper person to be mixed up in such miscellaneous proceedings as these.
My right hon. friend near me (Sir Robert Peel) suggests, as an excuse for Ministers, that they have only named the reverend gentleman to a "travelling fellowship;" and it would be well for them if the whole transaction could be passed off as a mere pleasantry:—but, I have done with the Rev. Mr. Sheepshanks.
The next name I come to is that of Mr. Henry Martin, formerly well known in this House. He certainly could not be promoted to a travelling fellowship, for, if I am not mistaken, neither his age nor his health are likely to fit him for any activity of locomotion. He was, I believe, only the other day, appointed by the present Lord Chancellor a Master in Chancery; and of course it would be highly indecorous to insinuate aught to the prejudice of the political impartiality of a gentleman selected for an office so nearly judicial. No one who knows anything of the eminent and distinguished person now presiding over the Court of Chancery could hesitate to repudiate at once the idea of his promoting to a judicial station any man suspected of being a thoroughgoing politician; but I have been long enough Member of this House to recollect, that this new Master in Chancery was, in his day, one of the most ardent partymen in Parliament. He was, I remember, the very coryphæus of the Opposition, who took the lead in the first motion against the Administration of Mr. Perceval; but he retired from this House and from public life, as everybody supposed, from age and infirmity.
This ancient gentleman, my ancient 346 friend, as I believe I might call him (for, though differing in politics, I had the honour of some private acquaintance with him), has suddenly emerged again into active life, after a respite of, I should think, full fifteen years. I certainly never hoped to see him in active business again; but my Lord Chancellor has, it seems, dipped him in the fountain of youth, and enabled him to perform the duties of not only a Master in Chancery, but a riding Commissioner; the latter office is well selected, for I fear he is quite unable to walk. By the way, I should like to know, as a mere matter of curiosity, what may be the age of the late Master, who has been superannuated to make way for my ancient friend, whom, to say the truth, I should rather have expected to have found the subject than the reversioner of a superannuation. It is, however, some consolation to find that my ancient friend is not expected to discharge the duties of a Commissioner without assistance, for a little lower down, in the list of Commissioners, stands the name of Mr. Martin, junior, who, I understand, is a son of the ancient gentleman. The gout, which, as every one who sat m this House twenty years ago must recollect, afflicted my ancient friend, and which I had supposed to have totally disabled him for a perambulating Commissionership, will not be a matter of much consequence, since the provident care of his Majesty's Ministers has joined his son in the Commission, with a view, no doubt, of enabling him to transact his father's business, and to look after his father's little comforts; and so what between Mr. Martin the elder, and Mr. Martin the younger, the duties of the Commission cannot fail of being ably, intelligently, and, above all, impartially performed.
I said, I believe, that my hon. friend, the member for Staffordshire, had distinguished himself almost alone by his extra-official advocacy of the Bill; but the list of Commissioners reminds me that I should have stated that his hon. colleague, the other member for Staffordshire (Sir John Wrottesley), had also tried his hand in the same line, and was almost equally entitled to the honour of being appointed a Commissioner. But it was felt, I suppose, that to have only two county Members in the Commission, and these two both members for Staffordshire, might have excited some unpleasant discussion. 347 To save appearances, therefore, Ministers did not appoint the other member for Staffordshire; but as similar merits should be similarly rewarded, had he no son, no brother, no cousin, or any one over whom he could exercise influence, who could be named to represent him in the Commission? A reference to the list of Commissioners enables me to make an attempt to solve this problem; and I cannot but suspect that John Wrottesley, Esq. will be found to be the son or the brother of the member for Staffordshire. Upon my word, the interests of one party in Staffordshire seem to have been pretty well taken care of; and I advise my hon. friend, the member for Tamworth, to keep a sharp look out, or he may find, one fine morning, that these Commissioners have removed his house and estate out of the parliamentary limits of the new county of Stafford.
I have now shown that, in the selection of this list of Commissioners, the independence of Parliament has been violated—the judicial bench has been degraded—the Church has been profaned—the law has been juggled—and the Horse Guards, in the important person of his Majesty's Quarter-Master-General, has been made ridiculous; there was but one possible step further, and it has been taken.
This House, Sir, the House of Commons of England, has been advised to yield up, if not its privileges, at least its dignity, on a point which it has always regarded as of the greatest delicacy, upon which it has always been most jealous—that of preventing the interference of any external authority with its internal constitution, upon which subject it has never suffered either "King or Kaiser," Peer or Prelate, even to whisper an opinion; but now I find in this Commission the name of the Clerk of the House of Lords—the Clerk of the other branch of the Legislature is to be intrusted with the power of deciding, in this new tribunal, who are to be the electors of Members to this House. I never could have thought that it could have come into the head of any Minister, and still less that the House of Commons would have submitted to delegate one of the most delicate duties connected with its privileges to the Clerk of the House of Lords. It is, in my opinion, one of the most extraordinary propositions ever made to this House. I am well acquainted with the personal respectability and integrity 348 of this gentleman. He is worthy of all private confidence, and he has it; but, as an independent Member of Parliament, I always must and will object to make a gentleman holding this official situation, a judge in a tribunal which is to decide questions of election law.
I have now done with the Commissioners. I hope that, in the remarks I have made upon them, I have not thrown out one word—I certainly did not mean to do so—in the slightest degree derogatory to their private characters. What I have said is solely in reference to the public circumstances in which they happen to be placed, and to their fitness for the discharge of the additional public duties which have been, by this extraordinary piece of legislation, intrusted to them. I protest against Judges, Masters in Chancery, Parliamentary partisans, the King's Quarter-Masters-General, the Clerks of the other House of Parliament, and others of similar description, being the persons to parcel out the constituencies, and to influence the Representation of the Commons of England. I hope—I believe—I am confident, that this monstrous innovation upon every principle of the Constitution will fail; but I cannot, on the mere probability of its failure, refrain from denouncing so mad and profligate an attempt, or from holding it up to the contempt, the ridicule, and the indignation of the House, and of the country.
My next objection to this Bill is, that I see in it an attempt to bring the honourable profession of the law under subjection to the Government of the day. I revere and honour the profession of the law, because I have always found, both in history and experience, the members of that profession foremost in the defence of civil and religious liberty, and the firmest asserters of parliamentary and national independence; but, with all my great confidence in the integrity of the Bar, I cannot consent to place so much legal patronage, as this Bill must confer, in the power of the Crown; for, disguise it as you will, the substantial patronage of this department must eventually vest in the first legal adviser of the Crown and its Ministers—the Lord High Chancellor. I cannot refrain from holding up this part of the Bill also to the suspicion and disapprobation of the Bar itself, and of the country in general. By the proposed division of the counties, anzd by all the 349 new-fangled trumpery which we are now going to substitute for the ancient forms of our Constitution, we have created sixty-eight counties; and to these sixty-eight I counties, sixty-eight barristers are to be appointed annually, to decide votes and try election causes. These barristers are, at present, to have only five guineas a-day. The noble Lord was a little coy at first, and proposed pounds; but then an amatory whisper was breathed by an hon. and learned member of the, profession—"Oh, do pray make it guineas." "No; I cannot, indeed! and indeed, I cannot,!" replied the noble Lord. "Pray—pray do, for the sake of the profession," rejoined the hon. and learned Gentleman; and, at last, after a little similar toying, the noble Lord, nothing loth, murmured, in the soft notes of acquiescence—"Well, then, guineas be it."
I will undertake to say, that before long, the same sort of gentle violence will be urged from some other and higher quarter of the profession, and it will be said that these five guineas ought to be made ten; and when this is done, that they ought to be made fifteen, and then, peradventure, that they ought to be twenty guineas, and twenty guineas they soon will be made, and twenty guineas, in my opinion, will not be too much for the duty. I presume, that, to say nothing of the boroughs, none of these sixty-eight counties will have fewer than ten, and some will have as many as thirty thousand registries; and, let it be remembered, that these sixty-eight barristers will hold these sixty-eight courts, and decide these hundreds of thousands of cases, not merely for one year, but must every year go through this species of circuit. This being the case, it is easy to foresee that these barristers will soon become permanent officers in their respective counties, with salaries of four, five, or six hundred a-year each, and in the course of time these will become most important political functionaries, and a most powerful addition to the legal patronage of the Crown. Has it escaped the recollection of the country, that one of the principal reasons that induced the House of Commons to reject the County Courts Bill was, the additional patronage that it gave to the Crown in the appointment of the forty barristers as Judges, and the passing of that otherwise most useful Bill was prevented by the jealousy that was felt at the appointment 350 of such a mass of salaried officers. But what are we now going to do? Is it not proposed to give the Government—for to the Government it must eventually fall—the appointment of sixty-eight Judges, who will no doubt have adequate salaries for the performance of their duties, and who are to exercise important and influential offices in immediate connexion with the Representation of the people?
I have already trespassed too much on the time of the House, and I will not, therefore, venture to go into the consideration of a number of other details connected with this Bill, which I had originally intended. I had also wished to state some further general reasons in opposition to this Bill, which is, in my opinion, likely to effect a complete revolution in the Constitution of the country; but I feel that I have already exhausted the patience of the House with the lengthened statement, which I have made. I will, therefore, draw to a conclusion, but not until I have satisfied my feelings and my conscience by some observations on the menacing tone in which some hon. Gentlemen have permitted themselves to anticipate the conduct of the House of Lords.
I am satisfied, Sir, that if we, as appears but too certain, should pass this Bill, and that the House of Lords should be intimidated into the adoption of it, we shall have arrived, at a period similar to that in the history of France, which, at the outset of my speech, I called the night of insanity;—the revolution will have commenced, and the experiment, of a republic will be near at hand. Let me not be understood to suppose, that a republic can be permanently established in this country. No, Sir, I entertain no such opinion—our habits, our manners, our good sense, and our political experience all forbid it. I only mean to say, that an attempt will be made to establish a republic; I know that such an attempt would ultimately and inevitably fail. But in the progress of that failure what may happen—Through what variety of untried being,—Through what new scenes and changes might we pass?There may be blood, there may be rapine, there may be both—I hope not. I observe that one hon. Gentleman, the member for Westminster, expresses some surprise, and, it seems, disapprobation, that 351 I should make these allusions to such contingent dangers. I can only say, in reply, that if the hon. Gentleman had attended to the whole course of the debate, he would have known that the allusions were not originally mine—I merely echo, or, I should rather say, retort the language of those who threaten us with such calamities if the Bill be not passed; while I, in my conscience, believe that there is more danger of such misfortunes from the passing than from the rejection of the Bill.
But, Sir, whatever be the peril, and on whichever side it may lie, our first duty is truth; and no consideration shall induce me to conceal what of danger I see in the one course, and what of hope opens to me on the other. I do not affect to deny that we live in critical and eventful times; nay, Sir, it is part of the charge that I make against his Majesty's Ministers, that they have led us into these appalling difficulties. I say the noble Lord who brought in this Bill—te ipso judice, te confitente—it is you who have created the panic; the country, but a year ago, was quiet if not contented, and prosperous if not pleased. It was the noble Lord and his Colleagues, and I only repeat his own previous admission, who awakened this fury of Reform, and created such a frenzy in the public mind that the strongest, indeed the only argument which the friends of the Bill urge upon us or the Lords, is—that a civil war will ensue if we dare to reject it. But I repel that supposition, as well from my confidence in the returning good sense of the people of England whenever they have been momentarily led astray, as from the peculiar circumstances by which the present agitation was created. The danger has not sprung from the spontaneous dissatisfaction of the nation, it has been created by the unjustifiable temerity of the Ministry—by the introduction of this revolutionary Bill—by the votes of the late and present Parliament—by the angry dissolution—by the anarchical elections—by the instigation of the Government—and, above all, by the abuse of the sacred name and authority of the Monarch!
The people of England are not turbulent, but they are excited by a rash and inexperienced Administration. The people of England are not revolutionary, they only echo the opinions, and follow in the train of the constituted authorities. The people of England are not thirsty of blood, or 352 prone to rapine, but they have been told from the Ministerial Bench of this House, and they have been told even from the Throne, that their enthusiasm is patriotism—that in supporting the Reform Bill they were supporting the King, and that their violence in favour of this revolutionary measure is the most acceptable proof of loyalty and affection.
From these causes of the ferment we are led to the cure; the power which has given the wound can heal it; and I hesitate not with perfect confidence to predict, that if the other House of Parliament does its duty firmly and fearlessly, the country will be saved. We, at least, of the minority, have the consciousness of having done ours through a struggle of unparalleled length and difficulty, and against a numerical majority, that in any less vital case would have deterred us from persevering in a contest predestinated from its outset to be fruitless; but, after all our ineffectual labours—our baffled efforts—our signal defeats, I own that I would rather be, as I am, one of this consistent and conscientious, though defeated minority, than be reckoned in that extraordinary majority which, a few nights since, voted to retain Aldborough in schedule B, and within five minutes after voted to condemn the exactly similar case of Downton into schedule A.
I know well that such votes as this were necessary to pass the Bill, but what a Bill must it be which required from its supporters such sacrifices! I admit, that those who were anxious to carry the Bill, acted most wisely in declining to examine its details. Desirous of concurring in their votes upon it, they had no other course than to shut their eyes and not open their mouths; for, on the rare occasions on which they did, collisions or differences of opinions inevitably arose, which endangered the very existence of the majority. To night, when the padlock which has been so long set on their lips has been removed—when the hitherto silent supporters of the Bill have ventured to become its advocates, we have seen enough to show that, had this free expression of opinion begun earlier, the Bill never could have reached its present stage. Of all its adherents, who have spoken in this debate, not one, or I believe only one, has declared himself fully satisfied with its provisions. Some hon. Members, even, did not hesitate to treat the Bill for which 353 they are about to vote with a severity of criticism and expression not exceeded by its most zealous antagonist. I have seen, also, a considerable effect already produced on the minds, though not on the votes, of hon. Gentlemen in this House, by the unanswered and unanswerable arguments of my hon. friends; and I rejoice to believe that they have had a somewhat similar effect in the country.
I am not one of those who venture to talk confidently of a reaction—I am not sufficiently informed of the state of public opinion, to say that it has already changed, but I will venture to assert, that it soon will change; as enthusiasm cools, reason revives, and whenever reason revives, the popularity of this monstrous Bill is gone. Our debates have not altered many votes in this House, but they have shaken many opinions; so I believe they have in the country at large. Sure I am, that the discussions in this House have prepared the public mind to listen with more than usual attention and respect to that which is about to commence in the House of Lords.
We have not been able to gain the victory, but I hope we have contributed to enable the Peers to do so; and I can have no doubt that, as we have performed our duties, so the Lords will perform theirs, in spite of the dangers, real or imaginary, with which weak or wicked counsellors are attempting to terrify them. It were a libel to suspect them of being capable of yielding to such menaces! and I say, that if the hereditary portion of the Legislature performs its part with zeal and honesty—if it is faithful to its station, its duties, and its honour, I have no fear for England.
I have always regarded as the peculiar constitutional excellence of the House of Lords, that it is removed from the immediate impulse of that popular excitement which will occasionally disturb the judgment of every free people—which, from the very constitution and nature of a representative government, is felt in a sometimes dangerous degree even in this House. On that august assembly neither hollow flattery nor insulting menaces will have any effect; they know and appreciate their station and their duties. Firm in their own hereditary honour, they are not to be blown about by squally gusts of popular inconsistency: 354Intaminatis fulget honoribus,Nec sumit aut ponit secures,Arbitrio popularis auræ.Why is it, that a Constitution so democratic in some of its general principles as ours, has yet invested one branch of the Legislature with such aristocratical privileges? Why is the Peerage surrounded with such transcendent distinctions of personal dignity? and why are these personal distinctions still further enhanced by being hereditary? Why are they robed in ermine, and reverenced as the highest tribunal of law as well as legislation? Why are they treated, in social intercourse, with a degree of respect that may seem almost unbecoming a free people? And why, as a public body, do we surround them with some portion of that majesty—I had almost said that sanctity, which environs the Throne, at the steps of which it is their privilege to hold their august assembly? All these distinctions are conferred on them less for their sakes than for ours. They are thus honourably segregated from their fellow citizens, that they may not be involved in the vortex of the popular current. They are raised so high that they may have a more extensive view—that they may be able to exercise a calmer judgment, and to form a more deliberate opinion on the crowded and tumultuous scenes which may be passing below them.
These are considerations upon which the superiority of the Lords is acquiesced in by the Commons of England; these are the reasons that the Members of this House, admitting no personal superiority in any man or body of men, are content to follow you, Sir, when, with a kind of proud humility, we present ourselves at the Bar of the House of Lords, to receive from the Woolsack the commands of the Sovereign. Are we degraded—are we humiliated by this? No—we, who are inferior to none in this country, and superior to those of any other country which is not free, do not think ourselves degraded by thus giving the example of order and obedience to all the other gradations of society, by thus contributing our exemplary aid to the smooth and steady working of the political machine, and by joining our cheerful consent in the full and accordant harmony which results from and attests the well-regulated influences of every constitutional power.
In what crisis of public affairs will it 355 ever be permitted to the Peers to exercise their deliberative functions if it be denied to them now? or are they henceforward to understand that they must confine their independence to amending a Turnpike Act, or criticising a Bankrupt Bill? Such trifles for a little longer they may be allowed to employ themselves upon; but as a deliberative council of the nation, their functions are at an end for ever, if, either from error of judgment or by poorness of spirit, they should on this occasion be intimidated or misled from the exercise of their constitutional rights.
It is, Sir, for occasions of this very kind that the peculiar power of the Lords has been created. On great and vital questions, when the parties in the State and the people in the country are strongly divided and violently agitated, the Lords should intervene, like Judges or Arbitrators, to see that the matter in dispute be discussed with temper, and decided by justice; and surely there never was a question that required a calmer consideration, or deserved a more deliberate judgment than that which is now in discussion; a question which divides the public mind more than any question that has ever occurred—a question on which public opinion was so nearly balanced, that, as I before stated, out of 36,000 electors who polled at various contests in the last election, there was only a majority of 1,600 found in favour of it; a question in which the opinions of Members of this House differ to an extent never known before—a question in which the late Parliament was divided, in the proportion of 302 to 301 (the miserable unit, by which the majority was gained, being of a character on which, if this were the time, I should have much to say)—a question the most important that has ever agitated the hopes or fears of the people of this country—a question even more important than that of the Revolution of 1688, or of the settlement of the Crown of these realms on the House of Hanover! It is on such a question, and it is in such circumstances, that the House of Lords ought to feel that their intervention is peculiarly appropriate, I will even venture to add, indispensably necessary—this is the conjuncture for which they were specially constituted—this is the hour of trial—not so much of our trial, as of theirs—this is the final contest on which they must, decide, if they hope ever to decide again—this is the struggle, from 356 which they must rise victorious, or rise no more—now or never!
Sir, I have been educated in a constitutional reverence for the House of Lords, second in order, but not differing in principle, from that which I feel for the Throne. I see in that august body the real connecting bond between the King and the people—the conservative principle of our mixed Constitution. I respect the functions which have been allotted to it, and I am proud of the integrity and courage with which it has exercised them. I have rejoiced to see the honour with which it is regarded, and which it has deserved, by a long and not merely unblemished, but splendid course of public service—I have augured well for the permanence of our national prosperity when I have seen this assembly successively transferring, as it were, to the House of Lords, as pledges of confidence—I had almost said of affection—our brightest ornaments. I have exulted to see the most eminent talents and services in this House rewarded, in the public opinion and in their own, by the dignity of the Peerage; and to believe that any public man, whatever might be his abilities and his services, would—until, perhaps, within the last few days, have considered that dignity as a species of national recompense for the highest public merit.
These are the feelings with which I am actuated towards the Peerage, and these are the feelings which inspire me with confidence that, on the great matter now in question, the House of Lords will exercise its accustomed wisdom, will exert its ancient fortitude, and will vindicate its hereditary honour; but if it were possible that insults and menaces should deter them from their duty—if intimidation should shake them—if fear, in the mask of prudence, should mingle amongst them—if they could forget their most sacred duty in the mean calculations of personal advantage—if they were to abandon that post for the defence of which they have been specially enrolled, and by anticipation rewarded—if, for a phantom of precarious safety, they should part with the solid power with which they are invested, and thus exhibit themselves equally unworthy and unfit for the duties to which the Constitution destines them—then I too, in spite of all my ancient feelings and predilections, I too, would be against a House of Lords.
357 But I have no such apprehensions; and this melancholy hypothesis has been suggested to my mind, not by any suspicion of the firmness of the House of Lords, but by the audacious and unconstitutional menaces by which they are assailed, and the false, hypocritical, and poisonous advice by which they have been insulted. They will despise and defeat both; and if they are in their consciences convinced that the Bill is, as I believe it to be, pregnant with national calamity—they will resist, all menaces, defeat all fraud, and will boldly and bravely, and as becomes the Barons of England, reject the Bill.
And what will follow? Blood—plunder—civil war? No, Sir; the very supposition is a libel on the people—nay, I would say, on the friends of the Bill; for what hope could we have that they would reverence, a new Constitution, who would thus, on the first provocation, violate the old? Will future laws bind those who are strong and wicked enough to overthrow all that exist? No, Sir; even if the people of England be as devotedly enamoured of the Bill as they are(I believe falsely) represented to be, they would, however they might lament its failure, still reverence the constitutional authority which, in the legitimate exercise of its judgment and its conscience, had suspended its progress. It might be re-produced—re-discussed—urged again and again on our attention with all the warmth of zeal and all the force of conviction, but we should have no appeal to force.
But if I could for a moment admit the probability of such an extremity, what should be its effect on our minds, but only to invigorate and fortify us to resistance? If force is to be employed, where will it end? If directed against the Lords, how long will it spare the King and the Commons? When the Peers shall be expelled from their curule chairs, shall we be allowed to sit on these benches? How long was it after the House of Lords had been abrogated, that Cromwell burst armed into this place, and, standing almost in the spot whence I am addressing you, commanded his soldiers to "take away this bauble?" [Mr. Croker, who standing near the Table, here touched the mace.] Let those, above all, who would countenance the employment of force, beware. Violence done to the Lords would be a sure prelude of violence to the Commons. Does history—does 358 experience, afford a single instance in which those who had incited a rabble to outrage and spoliation, were not, in their turn, and at no long interval, sacrificed by the passions which they themselves had inflamed—unlamented victims of atrocities which their own folly had instigated?
The House of Lords have often found themselves in contradiction to the will of the majority of the people, but they were firm; and when the frenzy of the moment subsided, the sobered voice of the nation thanked them for having thus exercised their moderating power. Thus it was at the Revolution, and thus again at the establishment of the House of Hanover. How infinitely less important were those once engrossing questions, to that on which we have now to decide! Those were temporary, almost, I might say, personal questions, which would have naturally decayed with the progress of time, and died with the men by whom they were raised; but the present question involves principles of eternal application, which may be felt in all times, and by the remotest posterity. Let us emulate the wise and noble courage of our ancestors, and act, in this great and vital question, with the same judgment and constancy that they exerted on the more temporary interests to which I have alluded:—they are gone, and we are going!—but let us take care that, like them, we leave the Constitution of our country unimpaired behind us. Let us take care that, when we go, we may look back upon our course with a self-approving conscience—let us have the pride and the consolation of having preserved those institutions which we inherited from our fathers, and of having transmitted to our children the same liberty, the same glory, and the same prosperity which our ancestors left to us,—let us take care that there be not inscribed on our tomb that opprobrious epitaph which was applied to a Parliament in ancient days, of having been Parliamentum insanum. If such opprobrium is to attach to any portion of this House, it will, at least, not be the honourable friends who sit around me, who, without any prospect of power, and, I believe, I may add, without any wish for place—without any hope of popularity—without any expectation, or any wish, of any other reward than the approbation of our own consciences, have defended, to the best of our manhood, that Constitution which we 359 believe to be inseparably united, linked, and, as it were, bound up with the prosperity of our country.
If the Bill be rejected by the House of Lords in the exercise of its constitutional duty, the Commons will, I confidently anticipate, not be wanting in theirs. We shall pay to the decision of the other House the respect which we demand for our own. We shall exhibit to the imitation of the people an instance of that constitutional subordination which is the basis of all society, and we shall, by our precepts and example, teach them that, without such a gradation of obedience to law and of acquiescence in authority, no country can have any guarantee for its peace, its prosperity, its glory, for its foreign independence, or its domestic liberty.
I deny not that the prospect before us is awful—I am not blind to the darkness of the tempest which seems gathering around us, but I see above the clouds the star of the Constitution shining in distant but clear serenity; I hail its prophetic brilliancy, and feel inspired by a sacred hope, that by its saving guidance we shall weather the gale, and ride triumphant through the storm.
said, that though he differed from the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down upon most of the topics which he had introduced into his very eloquent and discursive speech, yet there was one declaration in it with which he most cordially agreed; and that declaration was, that though the prospect around was dark and lowering, the star of the Constitution was still shining above us and about us, and that by following its guidance we should still be able to weather the storm and to ride safely at last in our wished-for haven. He believed that these expectations of the right hon. Gentleman would be fully verified, and that they would be verified as soon as ever it was decreed that this Bill should pass into law. The right hon. Gentleman, at the outset of his speech had much depreciated his own ability and talents. At that he was not surprised, for it was one of the ordinary tricks of ambitious rhetoricians. He was, however, much surprised at what followed, for he certainly did not expect to hear the right hon. Gentleman offer an apology for his shrinking modesty. Whilst the right hon. Gentleman was thus unnecessarily trying his hand at an 360 apology, he might have offered one for the ingenuity which he was going to display in evading the real bearings of this question: for after the overpoweringly eloquent speech of his hon. friend the member for Calne, who had entered upon the details of this Bill with all the brilliance of a finished orator, and all the knowledge of an accomplished statesman, the right hon. Gentleman had flinched in the most extraordinary way from the subject altogether, had avoided all its great principles' and had read to that House a funeral oration over the dying efforts of opposition, and to the House of Lords a lesson as to the manner in which it ought to treat this Bill, which would now soon make its appearance before their Lordships. In dealing with the Bill, the right hon. Gentlemen had confined himself to cutting a few jokes on the names of the commissioners, and to a few cavils on the petty details of the Bill. To one gentleman who was afflicted with the gout, to another gentleman who bore the uncouth but homely name of Sheepshanks, to the case of the borough of Downton, to the case of the borough of St. Germains—all, except the gout, fair subjects of discussion—the right hon. Gentleman had returned with the most unenviable pertinacity. All the other points in the Bill had been discussed over and over again in the committee. At that stage the right hon. Gentleman had not said a word upon them, but now—
§ Mr. Croker
said that he had reserved to himself the right of discussing these points on the 3d reading of the Bill.
did not know any process by which the right hon. Gentleman could so construe the orders of the House as to reserve to himself a right of discussing these points on the third reading of the Bill. But the fact was, that the Bill had been read a third time already, and it was now quite hopeless for the right hon. Gentleman to carry any amendment on the Bill inasmuch as the question now was, that this Bill do now pass. In this dreadful state of the question, it was some satisfaction to see the right hon. Gentleman, after all his pathetic declamation on the grave perils which at present surrounded the State, able to turn his attention to such light subjects as those which he had introduced into a discussion to which they did not belong, and not unwilling to give the House a merry tune upon his fiddle, even though he stated that Rome was 361 burning. If any stranger had walked into the House, and had listened to the two first hours of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, could he have imagined, from the comic gestures and buoyant tones in which he delivered his speech, that he was discussing the last stage of a measure which he considered more important even than the glorious Revolution of 1688? In the details which the right hon. Gentleman had offered to the House, he had made some mis-statements so extravagant that he (Mr. Stanley) wondered how he could venture to put them before the House. The right hon. Gentleman had again brought under the notice of the House, the old charge, which had been refuted by facts and repelled with indignation and contempt by the House, that Ministers had been swayed by base and corrupt motives in selecting the towns and boroughs for the different schedules. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the case of St. Germain's; but he had totally forgotten the case of Downton. He had said, that the case of Westbury was one in which Ministers showed extravagant partiality. He stated that Westbury contained 2,600 inhabitants, but even if it were so, that would raise it above the line. But by reference to the returns, it would be found that Westbury contained a population of 6,800 souls. Then, said the right hon. Gentleman, there were only fourteen houses of the proper class in it—that was going upon confessedly erroneous returns. By returns of a later date it appeared that the borough and parish of Westbury contained 310 10l. householders. The right hon. Gentleman occupied much time in comparing Suffolk with Durham, Essex with Cumberland, and other counties, as little favoured, as he imagined, as the former, with those who had been more favoured, and wound up his comparison by a joke borrowed from, if indeed it was not in the first instance lent to, a certain publication which every Sunday for a considerable time past had amused its readers by the question of "What will they say at Cockermouth?" He would not follow the right hon. Gentleman in his comparison of the counties, for his whole argument only went to shew that the Bill would not do what it never pretended to do, namely, not fix the Representation of the country on the rule-of-three principle of direct proportion to the population; but if he had taken lancashire, 362 Derby, and some other counties into the calculation, he might have drawn conclusions directly the reverse of what he did draw. But had Suffolk, and Norfolk, and Essex complained of the injustice? Had they complained of being unfairly treated? Let the county Members returned by the whole of them at the last election answer the question. "Then," said the right hon. Gentleman, "to complete the absurdity, having given four Members to each of the large counties—having thereby offered a boon to the inhabitants, and given them to expect that each man would have a vote for four Members—the opinion of the country and of the House was so decidedly expressed on the subject, as to drive Ministers into that absurdity of all absurdities, the division of those counties." But did not the right hon. Gentleman know, that the division of counties formed one of the provisions of the Bill when first it was announced by his noble friend? So far from flattering the voters of large counties with a hope, in which they were afterwards deluded, of voting for four Members, they had never heard of the Reform Bill unaccompanied by the division of the large counties: and, far from that division having been forced upon the Government, it was the point upon which many hon. Gentlemen, usually supporting them on all the other clauses, opposed them most. There was another point, in which the right hon. Gentleman charged partiality on the Government namely, that the smallest, counties and the smallest boroughs were connected with the Government. He instanced Gateshead, but forgot Kendal; so that, to use his own language, it was Tory Kendal, and not Whig Gateshead, that was favoured. The right hon. Gentleman propounded a proposition so startling, that much as he was astonished at many parts of his speech, this astonished him the most. The right hon. Gentleman stated, that the measure, so far from extending the representation, would actually diminish the number of the constituency in counties. [Mr. Croker.—In some of the towns.] That, however, was not a fair way of arguing, for the right hon. Gentleman brought the statement forward against the truth of the preamble of the Bill, at least that part of it respecting the increase of the constituency. For this purpose he took a certain number of boroughs, where, as he said, the constituency would be less under the new law than 363 under the old; but he could not understand on what calculation the right hon. Gentleman made out his case. He said, that the number of voters belonging to the boroughs in schedule B would be reduced from 11,000, to less than 4,000. Each of the boroughs in schedule B must, under this Bill, contain 300 voters each; and there are forty-one boroughs in that schedule: instead of 4,000, the new constituency would be above 12,000, being more than, according to the right hon. Gentleman, they now contain. It was true that some of the voters within these boroughs would not have a vote under the new Bill; but that would not occasion a diminution in the total number, as for each displaced, several were added. The right hon. Gentleman had entered into details of the comparative expense of polling under the new and the old law, upon which he would make one remark. He said, that fifteen polling places in different parts of the county, open for two days, was equal to thirty days' polling; and, assuming that there were no means of communication from one part of the county to another, he asserted, that if once begun, the poll must be gone through. The march of intellect and of improvement was much talked of, but if there were one thing in which progress had been made, it was in the communication of one part of the country with another, and that communication was now so rapid, that, even in the largest county, the whole expense of the second day's poll might be saved. But the right hon. Gentleman, who never was a candidate for a county, said, there must be a great expense in the candidate first bringing every freeholder up to the county town, to meet the electors face to face, and answer questions; and next in sending them their several ways to these fifteen polling places. If the right hon. Gentleman should ever proceed on that very liberal system, he would do what no candidate for a county ever did before; he would be a popular candidate, but the election would be most expensive. But in arguing this point, the right hon. Gentleman had forgotten that there were, under the present law, fifteen polling places, open not for two days but for fifteen days, and all at one place. The difference of the expense, therefore, would not, as he said, be twice fifteen to fifteen, but twice fifteen to fifteen times fifteen. He would not enter into the 364 implied charge made against the Government, or rather the Members of this House who were Commissioners for the division of the counties, and appointing the limits of boroughs, for the right hon. Gentleman would not deny, that two out of the three Members applied to, to act as Commissioners, were opposed to the Bill, and that, although one of the two actually appointed was in its favour, yet that the other was against it. He would be willing, it appeared, to place his life, his property, his honour, in their keeping, and yet he would not confide the interests of a turnpike trust to their impartiality. Truly, it was pretty evident that the right hon. Gentleman did not estimate political honour or moral honesty at a very exalted standard. There was one feature of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which he could not very easily reconcile with the character which he had been pleased to ascribe to this atrocious and revolutionary measure. They were now discussing the very last stage of the Bill so denounced, so vituperated, and yet the right hon. Gentleman had been so facetious upon the subject, that one would have concluded he was analysing the unimportant details of a mere road, or a turnpike trust bill, and not a momentous measure of national policy on which the hearts, and minds, and affections of the people of England were irrevocably fixed. He had talked of changes, important changes, which had been introduced into the measure since it had first received the sanction of the public, but how was that assertion sustained? Was schedule A changed? Had schedule B been altered? And was not the franchise to be extended, as at first proposed, to the great towns, to which hon. Gentlemen opposite would now concede the privilege, when they found that it was impossible any longer to withhold it? In short, what one alteration had been made which could in any degree affect the original merits of the Bill, which had found favour and acceptance with the people of England when first mooted? In proof of a change of opinion on their parts regarding the Bill, since the commencement of the debates upon it, the right hon. Gentleman had mentioned, that there was only a majority of 1,600 in support of it out of 36,000 polled votes. That at least showed, that immense exertions had been made to procure a nominal advantage on the side of 365 the Anti-reformers at the late elections, knowing as they did that great personal interests were involved in the result. But had he included the numbers that would have voted for Reform in all the large towns and important counties throughout the kingdom—could he for a moment doubt that the majority out of doors would be even still greater in proportion than that which existed within the walls of that House? Had not the party been obliged to fly at the general election, without a shadow of chance from every popular hustings which they had ventured to contest? And were there not at that moment but six county Members out of the whole Representation of England, who offered any opposition to the Bill? The right hon. Gentleman had referred to Northamptonshire, and stated, that the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, could not possibly have undergone any risk of losing his election, so much was he personally respected, had it not been for the Bill. In that county there was, he acknowledged, a close run; but when the noble Lord came forward with his late colleague to seek the suffrages of the electors, why had he been returned, while his colleague (than whom a better man was no where to be found), had been ejected? The reason was, because he came with the Bill in his hand, when his colleague came without it; and not only was he elected, but another noble Lord along with him, on the strength of that Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had concluded his address with a petty appeal, not to that House but to the House of Lords, whom he conjured to reject or neutralize the Bill; and then proceeded to prophesy what that House should do when the Bill, pursuant to his prediction, should be sent back to them from the Lords, with considerable amendments. He had apostrophized the French nobles too, by way of enforcing his appeal, but those nobles, he would tell him, had been destroyed by their own vacillating conduct, and by want of due firmness when called upon to act. There was a difference, however, between firmness and obstinacy, between dignity of resolve and a tenacity of grasp, which was in the end compelled to drop powerless and paralysed, although it would never have relaxed of itself, how strongly so ever urged by expediency to do so. The noblesse granted when too late, and that not at the instance of 366 reason, at the call of argument, but under the influence of direct intimidation. The right hon. Gentleman maintained, that if the Peers threw out the Bill and set themselves firmly in opposition to the declared will of the people, there would be no republic. He thought with him there. A republic there certainly would not be, nor would there be even any attempt to establish one, for the people of England were not actuated by a republican spirit, nor did they foster republican principles. But when the right hon. Gentleman demanded what was our security that we should not be carried to much more desperate lengths than any to which this Bill would commit them, he made answer,—we had the same security which guaranteed the success of the Bill itself, the deep-rooted conviction, the indomitable energy, the resistless voice of public opinion throughout the country. They had the same securities, he repeated, which entitled them to expect the consummation of the Bill, and the sooner the safer—which would maintain the sovereign in all the fulness of his royal supremacy, and which would preserve to the Peers the legitimate exercise of their privileges. The people of England were attached to a monarchical form of government, they revered aristocracy generally, but looked up to their own aristocracy in particular, because here there was no line of demarcation drawn between the aristocratical classes of society, and the people themselves, properly so called. There were in this country no persons peculiarly invested with special privileges to the prejudice of others, no order was exempted from taxation, and the House of Peers as such would be suffered at all times to enjoy to the utmost all their legitimate hereditary rights, because those hereditary rights were not exclusive. Of their privilege of legislation the people by no means desired to deprive them; but the result of their rejection of this Bill—if they did reject it, which he could not contemplate—would be a constant pressure on the Peers as a body. Instead of being venerated and esteemed as the safe-guards and ornaments of the country, they would be regarded with aversion and distrust: no longer esteemed the patrons and benefactors of the poor, they would be looked upon as hard and oppressive task-masters, who wrested from the people a power which they had no right to enjoy, and assumed that which they were not entitled 367 to claim. Whatever might happen—and he trusted ere six months to see the Reform Bill the law of the land, cementing all ranks in peace and unity one with another, thus establishing the empire on a solid and permanent basis—whatever might happen, he repeated, the satisfaction of the right hon. Gentleman at the part which he had performed, could not be greater or more comfortable to the conscience than that of those who had brought forward this mighty and most salutary measure, in the humble confidence that, by so doing, they were most effectually consolidating the liberties of the people.
§ Mr. Croker
begged to be permitted to say, in explanation, that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, had either misunderstood or misinterpreted, what he had said relating to the Northamptonshire election. He had not asserted that the noble Lord had been chosen for that county because he held the Reform Bill in his hand, but he had, on the contrary, declared, that he had been elected by the freeholders of Northamptonshire, on account of that esteem which they, in common with all who knew the noble Lord, even his warmest political opponents, always felt for him.
§ Colonel Sibthorp rose to move, that the debate be adjourned.—Debate adjourned.