§ Order of the Day read. Lord John Russell moved that the Bill be now read a third time.
§ Lord Mahon
spoke as follows:—At this the last stage of the Reform Bill—on the brink of the most momentous decision to which, not only this House, but, I believe, any legislative assembly in any country, ever came—when the real alternative at issue is no longer, whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite may say, between Reform or no Reform, but between a moderate Reform on the one hand, and a revolutionary Reform on the other—at such a moment, it is with feelings of no ordinary difficulty that I venture to address you. I have, however, the satisfaction of believing, that, throughout these debates, though overwhelmed by numbers, we have not been defeated in argument, and that, if we look back to our whole parliamentary history, we shall find that, of all the illustrious statesmen who adorn it, not a single one ever framed, supported, or even dreamt of, a measure of Reform one quarter so extensive as the present. Cheered by those recollections, I rise, Sir, to oppose the Resolution which you have just put from the Chair, and to move, as an amendment, that the Bill he read a third time this day six months. Sir, one objection which I have, at the very outset, against this or any other so sweeping measure of Reform, is the principle on which it is founded. It proceeds on this principle—that England has never yet had a good Government; that the House of Commons, since the Revolution, has been thoroughly corrupt; and, whilst it excited the foolish admiration of foreign States, was, in real fact, a scandalous and monstrous abuse. Sir, one of two things must be true; either this Bill is dangerous and revolutionary, or the Constitution, which it professes to remedy, must be rotten to the core. Let me not be told that we are redressing modern corruptions, and that 415 nomination is an aftergrowth of later times. The very reverse is the fact. Every change that has occurred has been in favour of the popular interest. If the House be corrupt now, it was infinitely more corrupt in 1688. You can scarcely show me a single borough that was not then a nomination borough, and that has now become so. On the other hand, how easy is it to name boroughs that were formerly under the control of the Crown, or of the great proprietors, and that have since become independent: some, like Aylesbury and Cricklade, freed by legislative enactment; others, like Lichfield and Hedon, by a process of self-emancipation. Consider, also, the increased power of the popular interests, by the publicity of our proceedings, by the activity of the Press, by the greater responsibility of Members; and thus, every change that has occurred for the last century and a half, except, perhaps, the Septennial Bill, has made Reform not more necessary, but less necessary. To proceed, therefore, on this principle—which, I say, is the principle of the Bill—that this and all former British Legislatures were corrupt, seems to me not only ingratitude for the many blessings we have enjoyed, but folly, if we wish to preserve and to increase them. When I look to the slur which this Bill casts upon all former Governments, I call it an Act of Impeachment against our ancestors: when I look to the danger and ruin that may probably result from it, I call it an Act of Attainder—a Bill of Pains and Penalties—against our posterity. Sir, I may, perhaps, be told, that this unwillingness to condemn our ancient Government is only a prejudice or romantic feeling, which should yield to reasons of state expediency. But I say that the consequences of this principle go much deeper. Will a Reformed Parliament that is, reformed according to the principles of this Bill, respect the obligations of an Unreformed Parliament? Will it pay the debts contracted in an Unreformed Parliament? Will it not be argued, that the House of Commons, which, by its own showing, did not fairly represent the people, had no right to bind down the people; that its contracts are null and void; and that the national creditor should be turned over for payment to the boroughmongers? For my part, Sir, I own that, apprehending, as I do, danger to every one of our institutions from the passing of this Bill, the danger which I foresee to the funds is the greatest and most imminent of all. Hon. Members 416 will come here pledged to a very large retrenchment; for, Sir, say what you will, a wish for retrenchment is the real root of this wish for Reform; and when the people have got Reform, they will expect and demand retrenchment as its necessary consequence. Hon. Members will, therefore, come pledged to retrenchment, but looking into details, they will find, that any further large reduction in the army, navy, and other public services, is utterly impossible, consistently with the public safety. Will the right hon. Gentlemen opposite deny this impossibility? If they do, they are open to the question, since such reductions are possible and expedient, why then do you not make them? I, therefore, apprehend, that the pledged Members I have mentioned, seeing the funds before them open and defenceless, deprived of all the indirect Representation which they at present enjoy through the smaller boroughs, and requiring no skill in finance, and no delay in time, for a reduction—I apprehend, I say, that they will yield to the temptation, and strike a blow at the dividends, and, thereby, let me add, overthrow what, in every calamity, has hitherto remained unshaken—the national honour. Sir, I am anxious to observe, before I proceed further, that these objections apply to a violent Reform, such as that of the present Bill, but not to a moderate Reform; they apply to a Reform which takes for its principle the corruption of all our ancient institutions; they do not apply to a Reform which should take for its principle those ancient institutions themselves—which should touch them with a light, a careful, a reverential hand—which should begin by enfranchisement, and only disfranchise so far as that enfranchisement requires. Such a Reform would throw no shadow on the past; it would throw no blight on the future. It would cut off Gatton and Old Sarum, not because our old system is an abominable nuisance to be immediately abated, but because it is necessary to make room for the growing importance of Manchester and Birmingham. To disfranchisement, under such guards and provisos, I should not be an enemy; to the enfranchisement of the large towns I have always been a friend. But I must observe, at the same time, that, though I wish our large towns to have Representation now, I by no means join in the clamour which has been raised of oppression and injustice, because they had not Representation given to them thirty or forty years ago. I have heard several 417 Members—my hon. friend, the member for Calne, more especially—speak as if we had, all this while, been denying them their rights. Now, Sir, surely the House must be aware, that, far from claiming these real or imaginary rights, they, till very lately, deprecated them; that, finding their commerce thriving and protected, and their interests strongly, though not directly, represented in this House, they were well content to avoid the agitation, the bribery, and the heart-burnings, of contested elections. Why, then, are we to be so severely censured for merely withholding what they themselves wished us to withhold. Sir, I am convinced, that a moderate Reform, such as I have mentioned, giving Members to large towns, and striking off an equal number of small boroughs, would have fully and completely satisfied the people of England. I am not now speaking of the Radicals. I know that they would not be satisfied. [Mr. Hunt: Hear, hear!] I am cheered by the hon. member for Preston, but I will tell him this, that he ought not to be satisfied; that, considering his ulterior views and objects, no good Government should give satisfaction to him or to his friends. But, Sir, I am speaking of the people—the sober, the intelligent, the industrious community of England. I say, that they would have been fully satisfied with a far more moderate measure. The late Government may have fallen short in their expectation of Reform, but I am no less persuaded, that the present Government has very far outrun it. The late Government was unwilling to open this fearful question at all. The late Government was afraid that great accidents, or a long period, might at length bring them to the same violent extent of Reform that the present Government has attained by one single stride. The real fact is this, the people asked for a foot—the late Government would not give them even an inch. They still ask for a foot, and now the present Government gives them a mile. Even now, after all the agitation of this question, I am fully convinced, that a measure of very moderate Reform, brought forward by a Government, and sanctioned by the King, would rally round it nine-tenths of the people of this country. But, even if I am mistaken in this opinion, even if the principles of the Bill are as wise and necessary, as I believe them to be rash and uncalled for—even then, how much have his Majesty's Ministers to answer for, in their conduct with respect to 418 the details! Why was it necessary to unsettle the Representation of every county, city, and borough, in the United Kingdom? Why was it necessary to disturb the relative proportions between England, Scotland, and Ireland? Why was it necessary to give to the skilful hand of the hon. member for Kerry a fresh material for his trade of agitation? Why give Members to the metropolis that never asked them? Why was the Government so hasty and inconsiderate with respect to the practical working of their measure, that now, adhering, as they profess to do, and truly profess to do, to all their first principles, they have been obliged, by the mere force of argument, to alter and new-model every one of their details? Do you think it a slight matter to unsettle the minds of the people on every question connected with their Government—to let them take nothing on trust—to make them go back to first principles on every established institution? Be assured that, valuable as good legislation must always be, the respect of the people for a law is, if possible still more essential than the goodness of a law. You have now, for the first time in English history, legislated for theoretical perfection, instead of practical relief. For the first time, you have taught the people to confound the two ideas of an anomaly and an abuse. They will continue in the course you have taught them. They will find other anomalies in our Constitution, and call these abuses too. Why, Sir, there are sophistries enough to prove all privileges—the privivileges of the Throne, for instance—to be nothing but anomalies. Property, too, or at least, the unequal division of property, will be called an anomaly. It is already called so in those infamous penny publications, which the Government of this country ought to put down, and which the Government of this country will not put down. In these I see it urged, that, since all men are born equal; it is a monstrous injustice, that one man should possess a mansion half as large as a palace, and an estate half as large as a county, while another man, at his gate, has only a mud cottage, and a strip of garden-ground. You may call this sophistry; and, no doubt, it seems very absurd to the man with the mansion and the estate, but, depend upon it, it has very fatal weight on the man with the cottage and the garden. I, therefore, do not scruple to say, that if in this country—which God, in his mercy, forbid!—it should ever come to a war of property, on the 419 heads of his Majesty's present Ministers will rest the chief and original guilt. I fully acquit them of any such intention, but I cannot acquit them of such a tendency. It may be found too late that the boroughs which seemed anomalies in our Constitution were necessary to balance other anomalies;—it may be found too late, by the heirs of the great houses of Cavendish and Russell, that there existed a close and secret connexion between the small boroughs and the large estates. Sir, I oppose this Bill as a friend to the landed interest—I oppose it, because I believe the landed interest to be the firmest basis of a constitutional government, and because I believe that the landed interest has been by no means sufficiently considered in this Bill. On this point I am most completely at issue with the right hon. member for Stamford, who, for the first time this evening, found so many and such strong objections to this Bill, as too favourable to the landed interest. But I own, Sir, that I was not only surprised, but deeply concerned, when found his statement re-echoed and confirmed by the noble Lord, the Paymaster of the Forces. He admitted, this evening, that in this Bill the landed interest enjoyed an undue preponderance. [Lord John Russell: I did not say "undue."] Well, then, preponderance; but will not any preponderance appear undue to those who are affected by it? Will not the mere fact of there being any preponderance at all, be a strong objection amongst all classes of the people? and if it were desired to stir them up to further changes, and to raise a cry for a more violent reform, what stronger and more powerful argument could possibly be urged than that a Minister of the Crown—the very proposer of this Bill—had got up in his place in Parliament, and admitted that it did not keep the balance even between the conflicting interests of the State, but gave a preponderance to the one above the other? Are these the declarations by which the noble Lord expects to strengthen and secure a measure which I have so often heard him advocate as a final and conclusive Reform? Even without such rash admissions, he would soon find that the appetite for change in the people, like all other morbid appetites, is not satisfied, but stimulated by indulgence. But now such language on the part of the Minister of the Crown, will afford a sure weapon to the hon. member for Preston, and all others who call for further changes. Sir, I maintain that the agricultural inter- 420 est, so far from enjoying a preponderance, is to be stripped of its natural and proper weight in the Government. I know that, on this side of the House we have been accused of contradiction, because whilst we have shown how much the agriculturists would suffer by this Bill, it has also been proved, more especially by my hon. friend, the member for Thetford (Mr. Baring), that commercial men would no longer find the same easy access to this House. Say the supporters of this Bill, with an air of triumph, "If, as you say, the agriculturists are to lose, the commercial men are to lose too, who then are to gain?" Why, Sir, I will tell you who, I think, are to gain; the agitators—men without any stake in the country, or any merit in themselves, but skilful in cajoling, and unscrupulous in inflaming the people. What I fear is this, that men of property, whether commercial or landed, will be too much excluded by the present Bill. I believe, also, that several valuable classes of men will, in a great measure, be shut out. Thus for instance, literary men, many of whom have applied themselves to abstruse and philosophical studies, and, coming here, give us, not the dry details, but the practical results of their reading,—some of these are surely not unworthy of a seat in this House. I was anxious to see how the Reform Bill would affect this class; I therefore have gone through the list of the late House of Commons, which, I suppose, will be generally admitted a more fair criterion than the present, as having been elected at a more quiet and regular period. I have excluded the names of those who have written only pamphlets or political treatises, because, undoubtedly, these always have formed, and always must form, effectual recommendations or introductions to large constituencies. But I have taken down the names of all those who have published works on any other subject, and I find that they amount to fourteen. The list comprises many names of real and permanent eminence, and has at its head the venerable and illustrious name of my right hon. friend the member for Knaresborough (Sir James Mackintosh). Now, Sir, of these fourteen, how many does the House suppose were out of Schedule A? or, what is precisely the same thing for my argument, out of the close corporations, such as Tavistock, to be opened by this Bill? How many of these fourteen would not be excluded from Parliament by the present Bill? Sir, only 421 two; and I will name them, the right hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster, (Sir John Hobhouse) and the noble Lord, the member for Yorkshire (Lord Morpeth); all the other twelve are shut out. Sir, there is another class which I think it for the public advantage, to see in this House and which I will not, therefore, shrink from naming; although, perhaps, it may give a handle for saying that I am speaking only from a sense of personal interest. Against such suspicions I will throw myself on the candid construction of the House,—I allude to the eldest sons or heirs-apparent of Peers. I do think it of the highest importance, if we are to have a House of Lords at all, that those who are to compose it should be trained in habits of business—should be drawn from frivolous amusements; and, above all, should be deeply embued with a free and popular spirit, and feel that sense of communion with their fellow countrymen which in this House is so conspicuously shewn, and so certainly acquired. Of all the many eminent statesmen who are to be found in the House of Lords at present, I only remember one—Lord Holland—who has not received his political education here. Nor is this improvement confined only to first-rate minds—even the humblest may partake of it. I am sure that, for my own part, short as has been the time I have sat in this House, I should leave it, if this Bill pass, with the conviction that, should the duties of the Peerage ever afterwards devolve upon me, I should be able to discharge them much less imperfectly and unsatisfactorily than would otherwise have been in my power. I do think this system a very great benefit, not to myself personally—not to us as a class, but to one of the three branches of the Constitution, and, therefore, to the whole Constitution, and to the whole country. I would really beg leave to press this point upon one who is himself a distinguished Member of that class—I mean the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Will he deny the benefit I have mentioned? Or will he admit the benefit, but, say, as has sometimes been done, that he has provided a different channel for the admission of this class, by the increased representation of the counties? Sir, if such be his argument, I will grant him that it is true of some counties—it is true of Northamptonshire—it is true of Devonshire; but I can assure him that there are other counties where the case is entirely different. In Kent, for instance, 422 the county with which I am best acquainted, there exists, and always has existed, a very strong objection to elect the eldest son of a Peer. And this is not from any feeling of hostility to the Peerage; but, they say: "We consider the representation of our county a most important trust; we wish any person whom we select as our Representative to continue so as long as we are satisfied with his services; we do not wish that the death of his father, or of some other relation, should call him, when we least desire it, to another House, and oblige us to look round for another Representative." Now, is not this a perfectly fair and constitutional objection? And so strongly has it prevailed in practice, that I scarcely recollect an instance when any son of a Peer has been Member for that county; nor is this feeling confined to Kent; it extends through many, and, perhaps, through most counties. Take the opposite extremity of the kingdom—for instance, the county of Northumberland. I am informed that a feeling of that sort is very prevalent there,—that in consequence of it, my noble friend (Lord Howick), who now represents that county, was most signally defeated, on a former occasion, and only succeeded at the last election through the overwhelming cry for the Bill. I admit to those hon. Members opposite who cheer me, that the cry for the Bill was at that period overwhelming; but I will tell them that, like all other violent impulses, it has proved proportionably short-lived and evanescent. But, to return to my argument; I believe, for the reason I have stated, that, if the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, expects the eldest sons of Peers to be commonly returned as county Members, he will find himself completely mistaken. Sir, I have already trespassed a long time on the indulgence of the House, and will not try it further by re-capitulating all the other objections which have been urged against this Bill. But, I will entreat every hon. Member to recall them to his mind, to consider their number and their weight, and then seriously ask himself, what advantage, even on the showing of the Ministers themselves, are to be found in the opposite scale. We, the adversaries of this Bill, call it a complete revolution; but, even its supporters admit it to be a doubtful experiment. What advantages, then, are we to gain from the fearful risk, if it succeeds? Sir, we have been told, that this measure will secure the maintenance of peace—that a reformed House of Commons will 423 never go to war—that we may look forward to ingenious and wonderful reductions of the public burthens. Really, Sir, I am almost ashamed of dealing with this sort of one-shilling gallery argument. No wars!—why, does not history show us, on the contrary, that all democracies are naturally warlike and aggressive? that in this country the people have urged war upon the Government infinitely more often than the Government has urged war upon the people; and that the late war, especially, which is now represented as the cause 'of all our distresses, was upheld by the all hot unanimous approbation of the country? Then as to economy; can it fairly be said, that this, or any other House of Commons, is not ready to back any Minister in the schemes of retrenchment? He will, indeed, have great difficulty (as, I believe, most Ministers have found) in inducing them to keep up his Estimates, but is perfectly sure of a great majority as soon as he comes to cutting down. Really, Sir, such shilling gallery arguments, as I think I was justified in calling them, are unworthy the serious discussion of this House. The real fact is, that there is only one argument in favour of this sweeping change—only one—that the majority of the people wish for it—that their minds are made up—that there is no use in refusing their demands. Sir, do admit there is weight in this argument; I do admit that it is decisive in favour of some Reform; but I do not think it, in my conscience, to be decisive in favour of this Reform. I believe, too, that, though the majority of the population is for this Bill, a majority of the property and education of the country is arrayed on the side of moderate Reform. We have also grounds for believing that the majority are partly changing in their opinions, and partly cooling in their vehemence. Why, Sir, of this change I have seen two remarkable instances since I entered the House this evening. The first to which I refer, with the greatest pride and pleasure, is, the result of the Dorsetshire Committee—that result which has been so exultingly expected by the hon. Members opposite, as sure to put an end to the short-lived triumph of the "whispering faction." The second is the petition intrusted to my hon. friend, the member for Okehampton, (Sir R. Vyvyan)—and it could, not be intrusted to better hands—proving that the same county which would not return an opponent of the Bill at the last general election, has itself become opposed to many clauses in the Bill, I am 424 reminded that a third proof has been afforded this evening—a living proof—by the right hon. member for Stamford, whose speech has shown how speedily, after the passing of this Bill, the latent seeds of discord amongst those who are now banded together for its support, would ripen into animosity. But, Sir, admitting, and I do admit, that the majority of the population is in favour of this Bill, I say that to yield implicitly and blindly, and of course, to the will of a majority of the population, is the principle of a republic, but not the principle of a monarchy. Our constitutional principle is, that the will of the people is not indeed to be altogether resisted, but may be considerably guided; that we are not only entitled, but bound to bring their wishes into some degree of accordance with their own real and permanent interests. Sir, I cannot refrain, in conclusion, from appealing most earnestly to those hon. Members opposite—those more moderate Reformers who voted against us on the second reading, but voted with us on so many points in the Committee. Let me most earnestly conjure them, on this most momentous occasion, to dismiss from their breasts every spark of party feeling, animosity, and discord. Let them not yield to any false pride of consistency, to any vain love and popular applause. Maintaining, as they do, a central position, on them may perhaps depend the decision of this great question. In their hands may be the issues of life and death to the Constitution. Since they feel the defects of this Bill, since they have striven with us to amend it in Committee, and striven in vain, are they justified, let me ask them, by their votes this evening to inflict these defects for ever on the country? Let them consider, whether it may not be possible in a more moderate measure to combine the advantage of prescription with the advantage of improvement. I know that many of them only yield to the torrent because they think it irresistible—because they think there would be tremendous danger in resistance to this Bill. Sir, I do not deny that there is no danger in resistance to this Bill, but I maintain that there is no safety in concession to it. At all events I would remind them of the eloquent emphatic declaration made in another place by a noble. Earl last year. Addressing himself to the First Lord of the Treasury, who sat opposite;—"I cannot," he said, "escape the consequences of your rashness. If a revolution ensue, it must crush me as well as 425 you; but on one thing I am determined, that though I must perforce be a partner in the penalty, I will never be an accomplice in the crime."* Sir, I move as an Amendment, That the Bill be read a third time this day six months.
§ Sir John Malcolm
rose, to second the Amendment, and said, he most cordially concurred in the sentiments of the noble Lord who had just addressed the House. He had formerly given notice of a motion for nominating a constituency to return Members to represent the interests of India, but he had withdrawn it from seeing no such prospect of success as would warrant his delaying the progress of the Bill, stating, however, his intention to deliver on its third reading his general sentiments respecting it, and the manner in which it would affect the subject of his notice. He was the more emboldened to expect the indulgence of the House, from the fact that, when the Bill was in Committee, he never once addressed any observations to them upon the subject, because he felt that the details were in far abler hands than his, and he would, on that account, not interfere with them. Upon a former occasion he opposed the disfranchisement of the sons of freemen, because he was apprehensive that such a provision in the Bill might be productive of very great discontent, by rearing a race of Englishmen who could never forget they had been deprived of their rights of inheritance. He had also argued that our municipal institutions instead of being destroyed, ought to be extended to every community that could derive benefit from their establishment. The present Bill had been improved on these points, but his objections to its more material parts remained unaltered. His great objection to the measure was, the principle of change it introduced, which had a tendency to alter and disturb a great deal more than it could ever settle. It defamed our ancient Constitution, and trampled on all those prejudices, passions, and interests, which influenced, but were not dependent on reason. Those landmarks had a tendency to keep every form of Government and society, whether civilized or otherwise, together. Instead of being founded on the principles of long usage, it introduced the form of a new Constitution framed more to alter, than improve that of this old, this great, and glorious empire. Those who prepared the Bill did not act like skilful physicians. On* Hansard, vol. vii. p. 1176.426 the contrary, they acted like a medical man who, finding a patient a little indisposed, administered to him such a dose of alterative medicine as produced a complete change and derangement of his whole system, and consigned him to debility, if not to death. They were now going to alter a Constitution which long experience proved to possess a most valuable principle of self-adjustment, of accommodating itself to the various changes which time and circumstances and the wants of society, had produced. From time to time in this country most beneficial Reforms had been introduced, Reforms which adapted themselves gradually to the changes in society. Did there ever exist, or could there exist, any system of human Government which could effectually and completely prevent abuses? They must, at all times, and under every form of Government, arise occasionally from the passions and feelings of men. A form of society completely exempt from abuse never did, and never could exist; for States would always be more influenced by the dictates of passion than by reason. The Constitution of this country had been the theme of praise by the greatest men in that and the other House of Parliament, and it was from them be learned to appreciate its merits. He could not possibly understand why it was necessary entirely to remodel such a Constitution. Because the late Government were disposed to do too little, was that a reason why the present Government should do too much? It would be totally impossible that any Administration, when -a measure of this kind was brought into operation, could have strength sufficient in Parliament to carry on the Government of the country, consistently with one straight course of policy. It would be liable to be veered about by every gale of popular opinion. This objection applied, not merely in relation to this country alone, but to its distant colonies. His Majesty's Ministers studiously avoided all allusion to this branch of the subject. It was true, indeed, that his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex (Mr. Hume) proposed giving Representatives to the colonies, but it was rejected by Ministers, who stated, as a reason, that the subject was too important to be discussed incidentally, and required serious and separate consideration. He suggested to his noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a plan which embraced the Representation of India, but it was received by his noble friend with en ominous shake of the head, which did not indicate that it 427 met with any favour in his mind. He merely threw it out for consideration to his noble friend, having had no intention to press it upon the House. The West-India interests required dispassionate and serious consideration, and every concession, not injurious to the general interests of the empire ought to be made to their feelings. He was sorry to see the colonies entirely neglected in a Bill of this kind. It appeared to him that the disfranchisement and enfranchisement parts of the measure were equally objectionable, and equally fraught with injurious consequences. Hitherto the small boroughs had been the means of introducing to that House men of talents and of great commercial wealth. He did not see how they were to find their way into it hereafter. It was not unlikely that the newly-created boroughs would send Representatives who, considering merely what they might think beneficial to the particular place they represented, or guided by the limited views of their constituents, would greatly embarrass Government and the Legislature upon questions of the highest importance. He would mention, for instance, the question affecting their Eastern possessions, which must come on at no distant period. One consequence of this Bill would be, to crowd their Table with petitions upon the questions of Indian government and Indian trade, which might eventually lead to most disastrous consequences. Ministers spoke of this Bill as a definitive measure; but was that the view taken of it out of doors? Had they not a specimen of what was likely to follow? In one quarter the property of the Church was attacked and surrendered as the price of supporting Reform. Were they not told that the very first act of a Reformed Parliament would be to overthrow Church property, and that if Parliament rejected the measure, they should have thunder at their doors? The people, he admitted, demanded some measure of Reform, but not this. This was, also, admitted by the hon. member for Sudbury, who, like, Shylock, cried out, "A curse never fell upon our nation till now." He felt confident that many who supported the measure before, were desirous now to see it rejected, and that they continued their support only through fear of the consequences. Let Ministers entertain no apprehensions on this account. If, after such long consideration, they now felt convinced that the measure was too large a one, and that a moderate and equitable and gradual Reform, 428 would suit the country better, let them get rid of it, and they might rest assured they would be joined and supported by a party who would lead them to triumph. They would be opposed and threatened, indeed, by demagogues and agitators, who mistaking themselves for the mighty waves on which they are but the floating bubbles, delight in the troubled waters; but danger from that class of men was only to be apprehended when they were encouraged. To render them harmless, it was only necessary promptly and decidedly to oppose them.
§ Mr. Wilbraham
expressed his determination to support the proposition of his Majesty's Ministers to the utmost of his power; he felt it necessary in the outset, to deny the allegation of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Mahon) that a re-action against the Bill existed at present in the county of Chester. The petition which had been presented that evening was, no doubt, respectably signed, but it did not speak the sentiments of the majority of his constituents. He did not pretend to speak of their opinions on all the separate clauses of the Bill, but he could say that, judging from the enthusiasm they displayed in favour of the former Bill, and from the opinion they had expressed in favour of the present, he did not think there could be any change in their sentiments. The people of Cheshire had, with one voice, joined in condemning the nomination boroughs, and on that question, as well as many others, he knew their opinions were unchanged. With respect to the Bill then before the House, he admitted that it had its defects and anomalies, and he had said so more than once in the course of the discussions on its provisions; but what were all the defects, and faults, and anomalies of the Bill, compared with the enormities of the present system? It had been said by some of the opponents of the Bill, that its provisions were a scaffold, raised by a few artful, designing, and wicked men, to build up the accomplishment of objects which would prove destructive to all order, rooting up the foundations of property. That there were individuals in the country whose purposes were unjustifiable, he did not mean to deny; but, in his opinion, this measure would have the effect of checking, and not of supporting their views. As long as human nature remained the same, there would be a difference of ranks and situations in society, and mankind would be divided into the richer and poorer classes. But, he 429 would ask, were the great mass of the people to remain deprived of their rights, because there happened to be some few persons who would wish to take advantage of the prejudices or misfortunes of a class, in order to go further than prudence and experience would sanction? He believed most conscientiously, that the surest bulwark they could raise against such men and their projects would be the passing the Bill now before the House into law. It was truly said by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on a former occasion, that the time had gone by when any party of men could hope to govern this country by setting up one Administration and pulling down another. The people would no longer consent to be governed on any other principle than that which was consistent with the exercise of their Constitutional rights. If there ever was a popular right which might be fairly said to approach to a natural right, it was that of sending Representatives to Parliament, without the influence of the Crown, or the interference of any party except the people themselves. In giving his most strenuous support to the Government in the measure they proposed for the assurance of that right, he himself adopted no new principle, and forfeited no former pledge. He merely carried into effect those principles he had always entertained and firmly supported. That which was formerly prospective had now become a certainty, and the system which had been merely contemplated as a good which might be one day achieved, was now acknowledged to be absolutely necessary for the salvation of the country. This principle, therefore, as it was laid down in the Bill, he would support under all circumstances, because by it they would obtain that security and that confidence in their institutions which must flow from a full, fair, and free Representation of the people in the Commons House of Parliament.
Sir Robert Inglis
said, he would on this, the last stage of the Bill, call the attention of the House to its injurious effects to the destruction it would accomplish, and to the means by which that destruction would be consummated. It was said by its supporters, that this measure was a restorative and a conservative measure, while it was evident that it would sweep completely away every constituency in the empire, with the exception of those of the two Universities. Such a measure he must call revolutionary, and not restorative. In an ancient State it was customary for those who proposed laws to 430 do that with a halter round their necks, and if the proposition were adjudged to be mischievous, they suffered death. He almost wished that such were the practice in this country, for his Majesty's Ministers had, in the present instance, perpetrated a greater crime against the State than any other body of public men within his recollection. The boroughs proposed to be disfranchised by the Bill, had sent Representatives to the House ever since the Parliament was known, and now at "one fell swoop" they were all to be swept away. He was greatly surprised, on a former occasion, when he heard the noble Paymaster of the Forces say, that those boroughs had no right to send Representatives to this House, and those Representatives had no right to impose taxes, because such a doctrine was of the most dangerous tendency; it would shake every institution to its centre; it would upset all the former Acts of this House, and even stultify all its present proceedings. That doctrine taught the people not to obey the laws. It held out the taxes as illegal, because it denied the authority by which they were imposed. That House was, according to the noble Lord, an unconstitutional Assembly, and had no right to bind the people. Yet the boroughs to be suppressed were not hostile to liberal opinions, for many of the Gentlemen who now supported the Reform Bill sat for those boroughs. Nor could he forget that our most liberal politicians and greatest Statesmen had sat for those boroughs. He could not find one which had not sent some great man to Parliament. The great Lord Chatham "that cornet of horse who shook the Senate with his eloquence," sat for Old Sarum, much as it was now abused. Those boroughs, too, proved as useful to the present Ministers as to any who had preceded them. How, he would ask, was the return of the noble Paymaster of the Forces secured before his election for Devonshire. Why, by a borough, which was now, happily for the noble Lord, to be preserved. In fact, so averse was he to the destruction of boroughs, which had almost a prescriptive right to send Members to this House, that he should be content if the noble Lord and his associates should take possession, not only of their own, but of every Tory borough in the country; hoping that in time they might themselves, perhaps, become Tories, but being at all events convinced that those interests should be preserved. A great deal was said in former debates about the ab- 431 sence of a sufficient constituency in old Sarum; but he could now state as a fact, that the property represented by the two Members for that borough amounted at least to a million and a-half of money. Did not such a mass of property, he would ask, fully justify Old Sarum in having two Representatives? He was sure that the amount of taxes paid on that property more than equalled the taxes paid by some of the noble Lord's new boroughs. Besides, it was necessary, as had been ably stated just now by his hon. friend (Sir J. Malcolm), that the distant parts of our empire should have Representatives in that House, and that great object could only be effected by the existence of boroughs of that character. On this part of the subject, he begged to notice a statement which had been formerly made by the present Lord High Chancellor, relative to the Nabob of Arcot having had twenty Representatives in this House. The fact was otherwise, and he had papers in his possession, which would demonstrate that, in place of twenty, he had not eight Members in Parliament. The statement was greatly exaggerated, for he could prove that, in thirteen years, it had only cost that prince about 13,000l. for parliamentary assistance to support his rights. It might be said that, in making this observation, he did not deny the guilt of the transaction. But he meant to show that the fact was greatly exaggerated, and that a degree of criminality was attached to the transaction, which it did not deserve. The Nabob had claims to Tanjore; Tanjore was taken from him by England; and he owed considerable sums of money to British subjects, which he was forced to pay. If this country took kingdoms from the princes of India, and imposed millions of imposts on them, was it not fair that they should have some persons within those walls to protect their interests, and endeavour to redress their wrongs? In his opinion, the circumstances in this case had been very much exaggerated, and the system was not an evil of such a nature as to be without palliation. He saw nothing unjustifiable in an Indian prince, whose interests were concerned, having within that House individuals who would exert themselves to support those interests. It was said, that the disfranchised boroughs were not wholly disfranchised, because the constituency would be enabled to vote for some other place, or for the county in which the borough was situated. But take the case of Bath, and he would ask, whether existing rights there would be maintained by 432 this Bill? No such thing. The constituency of Bath consisted of a Mayor, eight Aldermen, and twenty-four Common Councilmen: They would still, under this Billy have the right of voting, if they resided in 10l. houses; but that right would be extended to no less than 7,314 persons, who also resided in 10l. houses. This, of course, rendered the right less valuable. It was a different thing to share a glass of wine with a friend, and to empty a bottle of wine into a horse-pond, and invite all the neighbours to partake of it. In the same way, it was one thing to share a privilege with thirty-three persons, and another to extend it to 7,314. He remembered, that, when the Bill for disfranchising East Retford went up to the other House, that it was opposed by the Lord Privy Seal with a pertinacity that could only be equalled by the boldness with which Members had now disfranchised eighty-six boroughs. The contrast between the conduct then and the conduct now, would puzzle future historians. The Bill was pregnant with anomalies and changes. In the case of boroughs to be retained, they were not saved because of their prescriptive rights, but because of the new qualification proposed by the noble Lords opposite. This remark was made by the North American Review, in an article written by a gentleman who was no enemy to Reform, but who was well acquainted with the working of the popular spirit. He had formerly represented Ripon, and he could then declare that he had acted as independently as ally other Member in that House; so, he was sure, had the learned Gentlemen who were his successors, although, he would admit, the constituency of that borough was not large. But he wholly denied, that Members for places of that description could be justly called the liveried menials of great men, or designated as being hired by them, and receiving wages. He knew from his own experience, and he could answer for the assurances of others, that there was no check on their independence, and that nothing could be more unjust than the statements made as to the control exercised over the Members of places having small constituencies, by those who were supposed to influence the returns for those places. It had been stated, that many of the boroughs disfranchised were corrupt; and such, he believed, would be the case in many of the boroughs under the Reform Bill. He believed, it was not because there were thirty voters, or 300, or 3,000, that cor- 433 ruption prevailed, but that, in most cases, where the demand was large and the supply small, money would be given both for voters and seats in the House. It was idle, therefore, either to deceive themselves or the people, to state that they could ever have a Parliament freely elected, or one without corruption. Even in the Congress of America the system of Representation was neither free nor without corruption. So long as human nature remained as at present, large masses of electors would never return Members merely upon principle. There would always be found boroughs of "Guzzledown," and "Sir Francis Wrong-heads" to represent them. The family of that Baronet was, indeed, one of the oldest and most extensive in England. It had been said, that those who were distinguished for their adherence and devotion to the truths and practice of Christianity—that those who professed high and incorruptible principles, were imperatively called upon to support a measure like this, which went to put an end to so much political iniquity. But he would maintain, that the evils in this instance were evils incidental to human nature, and that the correction of such evils was to be found in a reformation—a thorough, and moral, and Christian reformation—of themselves. It was idle to contend that a Representative system was the end of government. It was no such thing. The end of government, as Mr. Hume had justly explained, was the protection of life, liberty, and property, and they should not sacrifice a government which fully answered all such purposes to unsubstantial theories and untried experiments. It was long ago laid down by a celebrated political writer, in a letter to Dunning, that the public ought never to receive a benefit at the expense of an individual, and that a private wrong should not be committed without ample compensation. In this case, however, such a course was not pursued. The members of corporations were deprived of rights which they had possessed for a longer time than any Gentleman opposite could trace the possession of his estate. The House had just as much right to take an estate from an individual as to deprive persons of rights of this nature, without giving them any compensation. They were about to sacrifice, however, a species of property coeval with the existence of the Representative system itself, without taking into consideration those means of compensation to which the individuals possessed of the property in 434 question were fairly entitled. Having thus far called the attention of the House to what the Bill destroyed, he would now proceed to state the mischiefs which he feared it would produce. It had been stated, and truly stated, over and over again, that the Bill would create an unwieldy democracy of 10l. voters, which he thought the Government themselves would not know how to manage for the future. In Greenwich and Deptford there were only 1,200 houses, rated at from 10l. to 20l.; in the city of Coventry the number was 1,500 who held 10l. houses; with regard to that place, he would beg to trouble the House with a fact illustrative of the probable working of this Bill. He held in his hand the copy of a petition of landlords of houses in Coventry, let to tenants under 12l. a-year rent, against the hon. member for Shrewsbury's Bill. They complained that there was from one and a-half to two year's rents due to them from this numerous tenantry, whom they described as "this pauperism population." These were the persons who by the Bill were to have the charge of the interests of this great empire. Why, even a candidate on the hustings would be ashamed to address them "as free and independent." This would be the case, not only in the manufacturing towns, but in those places to which the Government had extended the franchise in direct contradiction of their own principles. He alluded to such places as Marylebone, Brighton, and Cheltenham, in each of which places there would be a numerous constituency, chiefly composed of the lower classes of voters, and where there was no peculiar interest, either commercial or manufacturing, to be represented. The Bill was constructed, not to support the great interests of the State, but merely, he might almost add, with a view to court mob popularity. He would not say that every anomaly was in itself an abuse, but surely a little consistency was to have been expected from Ministers. Why, for example, should they have given one Member to every 19,000 in the county of Durham, and only one to every 100,000 in London and its environs; and if they looked to the assessed taxes as an element, London paid one-fifth of the whole amount, and yet was only to receive one-fifty-fifth part of the whole Representation. The Ministers could not set up prescription as their plea; for when they once relinquished the high ground of prescription, as they did in this measure, and went upon a defined certain principle, 435 they could not, when they deviated fruit that principle, recur to prescription in the defence of their own inconsistency. The Bill seemed to him to proceed upon no one principle of taxes or population; although the learned Lord (the Lord Advocate) had stated, in one of the recent debates on this subject, that there could be no harm in disfranchising boroughs, or varying the principle upon which the new Representation was to be effected in that House. There was no harm, according to the learned Lord, in any one principle of the Bill, and, therefore, there could be no harm in the combination. Charcoal, nitre, and saltpetre, were, taken individually, very innocent things, but, in a state of combination, every one knew that gunpowder would be the result. This Bill appealed to the will of the people out of doors; it did not grow out of the wishes or at the request of this House; and he was sure that the Government who raised the storm would be utterly unable to direct its course, or avert its calamities. They were told, that it had not been made a party question by those who brought it forward. If the House and the country had seen nothing but that letter in which appeared the celebrated expression of "the whisper of a faction," that in itself was enough to stamp the whole question with the character of a party proceeding. There was another letter, also, which, no doubt, was meant not to meet the eye of the country at large, in which the Prime Minister was seen in correspondence with the chief of the Political Union at Birmingham; that letter and the cause which produced it would be found in the Times of the 5th of July last—the extract was as follows:—REFORM BILL.—YEARLY TENANCIES. Birmingham, with its usual political activity, had anticipated the elective feeling of Manchester. The Council of the Political Union, immediately on detecting the cloven foot in the Bill, drew up a memorial to Earl Grey, in strong but respectful language, remonstrating against the clause, and stating its breach of faith, if retained. This memorial was transmitted to Lord Grey on Wednesday last, to which his Lordship, by return of post, sent the following reply:—Downing Street, June 30.Sir,—I have had the honour of receiving your letter, enclosing a memorial of the Council of the Birmingham Political Union, in Which objections are stated to limiting the 10l. franchise to persons paying their rents half-yearly. It is with great satisfaction I have to inform you that the words, so limiting the 436 franchise, were inadvertently inserted, and will be altered in Committee, the only object in contemplation being that of ensuring a bonâ fide holding of 10l. per annum. The memorial also refers to another supposed alteration as to the division of counties. You will find, by referring to the Bill of last Session, that, on this point, no alteration whatever has been made.—I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient Servant, GREY.Thomas Attwood, Esq.Would any man, knowing the character of the Prime Minister of England, have believed it possible to have seen his name signed to such a document, and addressed to the chief of a Political Union at Birmingham? This showed a series of concessions on the part of the noble Lord and his colleagues to parties not recognised by the law or the Constitution, which brought the country to such a state, not more than three months ago, as threatened that all deliberation in that House would be interrupted. It had been stated, that it was necessary to concede, in consequence of the excited state of the public mind on the subject of Reform; but a similar feeling prevailed in 1817, which afterwards entirely subsided. At that time, the hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster, presented 600 petitions to the House in favour of Parliamentary Reform; the excitement, however, which then prevailed came to nothing; but then we had not a Government founded on the principle of La Jacquerie. Were the most alarming results to be much longer avoided if the Government itself came down to the House and demanded the passing of violent measures, supported by the lowest of the people? And what was the state of things under which such a change was rendered necessary in favour of the power of the people? The right hon. Gentleman, the member for Knaresborough, nearly thirty years ago, when the power of the Press, and the democratic power generally, had not attained half its present influences in speaking of the then increase of newspapers, in his "Vindiciœ Gallicœ," expressed himself thus:—In the course of the eighteenth century, a great change took place in the state of public discussion in this country—I speak of the multiplication of newspapers * * At home it has produced a gradual revolution in our Government. By increasing the number of those who exercise some sort of judgment on public affairs, it has created a substantial democracy, infinitely more important than those democratical forms which have been the subject of so much contest. So that I may venture to say, that England has, not only in its 437 forms, the most democratical government that ever existed in a great country, but in substance has the most democratical government that ever existed in any country, if the most substantial democracy be that State in which the greatest number of men feel an interest and express an opinion upon political questions, and in which the greatest number of judgments and wills concur in influencing public measures.If this was the state of things, as described by so competent an authority, thirty years ago, let him ask whether there had not now been far more of the democratical form and spirit infused into every part of the system? Yet it was to a country like this, increasing day by day in its democratic tendencies, that they were called upon to add to the power of its democracy, so as to destroy every other influence but that of the mere physical force of the people. He would not trespass upon the House by going into some other considerations which had occurred to him upon this part of the subject. He would not now stop to state what the same measures and principles as were now brought in in the shape of a Reform Bill had done in this country in other times, or what they were actually doing in other countries at the present time. He should limit his further observations to what those measures would, in all likelihood, effect in this country hereafter. I t was impossible to give this Bill a fair and rational consideration, without looking to the bills for all the parts of the empire, and considering the whole as a general system for reforming the Constitution. Taking it in that view, he must then say, that Ireland had already had her Reform twice over—at the time of the Union, and at the passing of that measure, which was agreed to three years ago. It was asserted, very confidently, that Ireland would send, under the alteration that was then made, seventy-five Members into that House, for what purposes were now very well understood. It was well-known how the band of forty now in the House were conducting their operations, and he would leave it to the House to say, how any Government could go on with such a band even of forty, ready to shift and turn with any party as might suit their views. How, he would repeat, could any Government go on with such a party in existence, even without any increase of their numbers? But, if their numbers were to be increased to seventy-five, as would be the result of this Bill, then he would say it would be impossible for the Government of this country to be conducted with such a 438 body in its Legislature. And, if it should be the intention of the Government so to increase their own embarrassments, and the embarrassments of their successors, then he called upon English Members to reflect, that every question concerning England which came to be decided, must be so decided by the body which he had described, always standing apart, and ready to take any side, according as it furthered their own separate views and interests. Upon other great questions the same change was looked for in all the policy and proceedings of the House of Commons. They were told, only the other day, to wait until there was a Reformed Parliament, and then see what would be done to the Judges if they dared to convict a patriot. Let them wait and see what would be done with the Corn Laws. Surely this was enough to show landed Gentlemen what they had to expect. Then nothing was more certain, they were told, than that the first work of a Reformed Parliament would be to attack the Church. Why, then, he called upon the House to look to Reform as to its effects, and ask themselves whether they were prepared to incur the gratuitous task of grappling with them, instead of refusing to give them existence? Reform was not a toy—it would be found a weapon—and let them regard it as to its probable use and its certain intention. And, above all, he would say, let not the other House of Parliament suppose, that it would get off with the sacrifice of the Courts of Justice, the Corn-laws, and the Church. Do not let them suppose, that even by giving up the National Debt they would be safe, for they would still be called upon to surrender their own rights sooner than some of them supposed. He believed that the other House of Parliament would not save themselves, though they threw up the National Debt, the Corn-laws, the Church, the Courts of Justice; and all the arguments which had been heard in that House, upon the present question, went all equally against an hereditary Peerage. Why, when the Peerage was abolished in France, they were told that it was as vain to expect a difference in the height of the tide at Dover and at Calais, as to maintain a different level for the institutions of the two countries while both were free. So he said, too, unless we were prepared to stand by the exclusive institutions which still remained to us. Without that there was no stopping, no holding back, until we had sacrificed, first, our agricultural system, 439 then our Courts of Law, then our Church, then the public creditor, until nothing was left to tell even of the wreck of our former glory. If such an empire as England were to be sacrificed to these vain theories, he would leave it to the noble Lords who brought them forward, and gave them an existence which the wildest visionaries never expected them to enjoy, to ask themselves, as sooner or later they must, what was their responsibility. By an article in the North American Review, he observed, that even the constitution of some of the North American States required a larger majority in favour of any fundamental change than his Majesty's Ministers had ever yet procured for their measure before it could be even submitted to the Executive. The measure must receive the sanction of three-fourths of each of the bodies in the State, before it could become law. Here it was openly proposed, in order to carry this particular measure, to destroy one branch of the Legislature, though the Government had not obtained in favour of that measure near the required proportion even in the other branch of the Legislature, which in the States of North America, was required before any change could be proposed to the executive. He would never consent to sacrifice that Constitution under which the glory and the happiness of the country had so long grown together, and especially without something like proof that they were about to exchange it for a better. He would, therefore, reject the proffered change of the noble Lords, and stand upon the Constitution as it had been intrusted to their care. Signifer, hic statui signum: hic optime manebimus.
said, that, by the Bill the Representation of the country would be placed in the hands of the most intelligent and the most deeply interested classes of the community. In his frequent communication with those classes, he had not found one of them who was not most anxious to receive this boon, and who would not exercise it to the greatest advantage for the country. By giving the industrious classes that boon, the House would identify itself with the industrious inhabitants of the country. Some Gentlemen doubted whether the franchise could, with safety, be intrusted to a constituency like that proposed under this Bill. He, however, anticipated no such result as the hon. Gentlemen opposite had stated would flow from this measure. It was proposed to place this power in the hands of the most 440 intelligent mechanics, the most skilful artificers, and the most steady shopmen—men who, by their industry and integrity, had placed themselves in a situation of comparative comfort, and by this measure a large class of men would be bound to the Legislature by the strongest ties of gratitude, and a powerful inducement held out to upright conduct. Not only those who were already in the situation described would become supporters of the Government, but all those who had the expectation, by industry and perseverance, to be placed in similar situations. This latter class was constituted of the great body of the industrious classes. A portion of political power was placed in their hands—those who were now dissatisfied would become attached to the institutions—they would be made the upholders and supporters of the institutions, whose dispositions and feelings were formerly alienated. Could it be doubted for a moment, that this was a most important result? But it was said, that, by thus enlarging the constituent body, the character of the Members who would be sent to that House would be changed. At present, Gentlemen were sent here as they were attached to one political party or another. He would admit, that the people would regard this as comparatively of little importance, but would choose such Gentlemen as they believed would truly represent their opinions, and vindicate their interests in that House. He did not think that the new constituent body would return a Gentleman, solely in consequence of his abilities as an orator, or in consequence of his usefulness to his party as a Whig or a Tory. These had too long been the qualifications to a seat in Parliament, while the more important one—namely, a man's habits of business, and his capability to attend to the interests of his constituents—had been neglected. In a Reformed Parliament the political parties which now existed would have little weight, and men would not be sent there because they were gifted with great eloquence which they might occasionally be called upon to exert on grand occasions for the interest of their party—those would be returned who would sedulously devote their time and attention to the important business of the House, and who would anxiously watch over the interests of their constituents. They should then have not men who only occasionally attended in their places, but those who were constant in their attendance, and who would be desirous to promote the well-being of the great 441 communities who sent them there. He would appeal to any hon. Gentleman whether, at present, a full attendance could be obtained unless when party politics or great political questions were before the House, and whether nearly all the important business of the country was not done when only sixty or seventy Members were present? The interests of the country must now be regarded as beyond the mere distinctions of party, and its manifold wants required, that men of business should be in that House, by whom the important affairs of the country would be better attended to than they ever yet had been. And here he could not help observing, that the business of legislation had too often been carried on in that House in a manner utterly unworthy of their situations. During the last few years, the careless manner in which laws had been placed in the Statute Book, was absolutely disgraceful. This was not the fault of hon. Gentlemen on either side of the House, but he trusted all would see that the measure of Reform would afford a remedy for this crying evil. Could any man doubt for a moment that the alterations which were introduced by the late Government were adopted in too hasty a manner? Could any man doubt, again, that the alterations in the Game Laws, which were proposed from his side of the House, were not made after due deliberation and consideration, or that they were carried in a way they would not have been had there been the necessary time allowed for consideration? If party feeling were set aside—and, in his opinion, this ought to be done, the beneficial results which would accrue from having 200 men closely watched by their constituents, who must come there careful of the interests of those they represented, and desirous of doing all in their power to satisfy them, and preserve their support, would soon become apparent. It was, and always had been his wish to avoid creating or increasing any of that excitement which was now so prevalent: but, with the permission of the House, he would make one observation with respect to some remarks of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Could any man deny that the opposite side of the House was placed in a very peculiar and unfortunate situation? Was it not a notorious fact that men of station, men of character, men of talent and ability, well qualified to retain their seats in the House, had been thrown out during the late season of excitement, solely because they had opposed the Bill of Reform? Was it not 442 true that they had lost their seats on no other ground than this? As soon as this question was satisfactorily settled, he firmly believed that many highly respectable individuals, whose political opinions on this subject had been the cause of their losing their seats, but whose integrity and capacity eminently qualified them to sit in the House with honour to themselves and advantage to the country, would be restored, if not in the next Parliament, in which some excitement might still prevail, yet probably in the ensuing one; for, at all events, these qualities could not fail to have their proper weight after a short time. He would ask, was there a single man in the House who did not know, within his own circle of observation, cases like these; and, did not the fact clearly prove the determination of the people to support Reform? On the other hand, if so humble an individual as he was might venture to advise his hon. friends around him, he should say, as it could not have been anticipated that the cause which they supported would be so completely successful as it now was, not to press it to the very utmost extent; but, if it should so happen that this Bill should come down again from another place a little altered, and a little modified, but with its spirit and principle unimpaired, he trusted and hoped that men, who were not connected with the extremes of party feeling, would join hands for the sake of the cause in which both sides were engaged, and for the general welfare and advantage of the country. No man who had considered the state of the country at that moment, could doubt or deny the advantage and necessity of such concession. Let any man go to any of the great commercial towns—let him inquire there, or of any of the great merchants of this metropolis, "what is the present state of trade?" What answer would he receive? Would they tell him it was in a flourishing or improving condition? The truth was, they were watching, anxiously watching, the course of passing events; they sat, as it were, with a cloud over them, which the adjustment of this great question could alone dispel. Let the House, then, speed the settlement of it, and adopt the only real, the only safe, the only wise plan, of satisfying the reasonable wishes of the great body of the people—of giving into the hands of the middle classes a power which they would not abuse, and by binding that great party to the Legislature by the ties of gratitude and of interest? Let the 443 House pass this great and salutary measure, which was no less based on policy than on a consideration of the means essential to the preservation and security of the rights of the people and the institutions of the country; the passing of this measure would unite for ever the people of this country; and the dangers which now threatened us, would vanish as rapidly as they seemed to have accumulated; and, by so doing, that confidence which had been destroyed would be restored—capital released from its present enthralment—and complete satisfaction and general happiness be diffused on every side.
§ Mr. Pemberton
said, that, having already experienced the indulgence of the House upon a former occasion, when in the course of the last Session he stated his objections to their measure, he should not presume again to enter into the general question of Reform. Some alterations had undoubtedly been made in the present Bill, neither few in number nor unimportant. They, however, related chiefly to matters of detail, and considered as intended to further the ends of the authors of the measure, he thought it fair to say, that they were nearly all improvements as far as they went. He, perhaps, might also say, that they had nearly all been suggested on his side of the House; but that rather increased than diminished the credit due to his Majesty's Ministers for having adopted them. So far was he from being disposed to taunt them with their conduct in this respect, that he lamented they had not followed further in the same course, and preferred the advice offered to them in that House to the counsel of false friends, and the dictation of Political Unions; that feeling, as they should have felt, how a great measure like this must lose half its benefits unless framed to meet the general feelings of society, they had upon this second occasion brought forward such a measure as might have breathed into a distracted country the healing spirit of conciliation and peace. If this course had been adopted after the rejection of the last Bill, very different would have been the result of that which they were discussing now. Instead of looking to a future, not to be contemplated without dismay, they might now have seen a united Parliament and a united people carrying the Bill to the foot of the Throne, and calling upon his Majesty for his assent, without trembling at the thought that they were calling upon their Sovereign to barter his legitimate authority for brief 444 and worthless popularity, and that, in the very act by which a beneficent Monarch was exercising one of the most gracious powers of his Crown, he might be loosening that Crown upon his head, and letting the sceptre glide from his grasp. But as his Majesty's Ministers had decided to throw aside all such considerations as the safety of the Crown, or the peace and conciliation of the people, and had preferred securing their continuance in office to setting the Constitution and the peace of the country at hazard, the House was now once more called upon to pass a measure differing nothing in the violence of important changes it proposed to make from that Bill which they passed through this House last year. Without presuming to say, that no attempt had been made to amend the details which had been most open to objection, it was well known that Gentlemen on the other side had agreed to overpower all further objections by one general answer. They asked whether, if, under the existing circumstances of the country, and the present excited state of the popular feeling, they refused to pass this Bill, the consequence would not be, that a worse and more extensive measure would be forced upon them? Now, he would ask, in return, whether, in a question affecting the interests of unborn millions, they were justified as men and statesmen, in having regard to any other consideration than the true merits of the question? And were they sure that the popular feeling had set so strongly in that current, and that it would find no other vent when once proposed in that direction? Might it not prove, after all, that the people who indeed reviled the former temple in which their fathers worshipped were not yet prepared to bow down before the image which his Majesty's Ministers had erected in its place. In arguing this question, the friends of the Bill invariably assumed, that all who were anxious for a change in the representative system, were equally anxious for the success of this particular measure. But surely this was a most gratuitous assumption. Surely there might be some who, while they were dissatisfied with the existence of nomination boroughs, would not object to the erection of some less obnoxious barrier for the protection of the Throne against the swelling tide of democracy; there might be some who would not consider it a fatal defect in a new system, that it should afford some avenue to that House for the responsible Ministers of the Crown, or make 445 some sort of provision for representing the interests of the colonies. There might be some who, although they would give the elective franchise to great towns, yet would not consider it utterly unreasonable that a certain rate of property being a necessary qualification, where the rate of property varied the rate of qualification should vary also. There might be some who would give Members to all places which at present were suffering from the want of them, and who yet might honestly doubt whether the metropolitan districts fell precisely within that predicament. In short, supposing the people to be disgusted with the old system, did it necessarily follow, that they were equally enamoured with the new? He was not disposed to deny, that a large majority of the lower classes had declared themselves in favour of the Bill, but how had the question been proposed to them? They had been told, and told truly, that the effect of this measure would greatly increase their political power. It was a principle of human nature to be fond of power, and, therefore, every man was anxious to obtain it, but whether it could safely be intrusted in such hands as were by this Bill to hold it, was a nice question with which those to whom it was tendered, were not likely to embarrass themselves. Ministers, instead of appealing to the intelligence of the country, had appealed to the passions of the people. What had been the language of Government? It was, that the Bill gave less to the people than they were entitled to—not that it gave them more. If, on the other hand, Government, making a good use of whatever popularity they possessed, inculcated different opinions, the result would not be the same. But, it was said, that the respectable classes were in favour of the measure. Of that he entertained strong doubts, and it certainly was rather difficult to ascertain correctly what were the opinions of any particular class; for in this country they were all so identified and interwoven with each other, that it would be difficult to find out the opinions of either separately. If, however, the clergy, professional men, officers, and country gentlemen were meant, he could not see upon what ground it could be said that they had decidedly declared themselves in favour of Reform. In proof of the assertion it was, however, said, that the counties generally had returned Reformers. Now, he begged leave to refer to a statement of the present Lord Chancellor, who said, with regard to the Representation of 446 York, that he had never found it necessary to canvass that county, but that he was returned altogether by the towns. He would also refer to other counties—Worcestershire, Northamptonshire, Dorsetshire—and he could name several, in which the Opponents of Reform, if not successful, had shown how numerous they were. Let them, also, look at the counties in which there had been no struggle, but from whence since the election several addresses and petitions had been sent up to Parliament, the names attached to which, would challenge a comparison in wealth and character with any of those in favour of Reform. There were also the Members for the two Universities returned by those classes. He maintained that they were returned by those classes; and though he should not then enter into a comparison between the voters for the University and the 10l. householders of Wapping and Saffron Hill, he was at least entitled to use the return as a test of the opinions of professional men and country gentlemen. Let them look, not to Oxford, but to Cambridge, which had always been attached to liberal principles, and see what was the result of the election there. In that instance, two Government candidates went down—one standing upon high family connections, another supported by Treasury influence—one a Minister of the Crown, the other a relation to the first families in the county; both distinguished by the honours they had obtained at the University, and both carrying with them this fatal Bill, and what was the result? One thing, he thought, was manifest from these and other similar circumstances, namely, that Government were not borne forward by any overwhelming influence which ought to induce them to sacrifice their own opinions, and the institutions of the country lo the fear of disturbance. He did not speak in the spirit of party when he declared that no worse measure could have been proposed. They might have gone further in disfranchisement, and even if they extended the elective franchise still more, and probably with less danger, for he was not sure that a greater extension of the franchise must necessarily he a greater evil, for it might be so arranged and so accompanied with checks as to prevent imminent danger; but it would, at all events, have this one advantage, inasmuch as it would give more satisfaction to the people, and there would be a probability of such a measure being final and permanent—at least it would have the merit that in this case there 447 was a chance of its being permanent, whilst the supporters of' the Bill considered it only as the commencement, not the end, of Reform. Whatever might be said in the heat of debate, it was a great mistake to imagine that all who were enemies of this were therefore, enemies of popular rights or anxious to exalt the Throne and the aristocracy at the expense of the people. There was among the opponents of this Bill a very large class of persons—and he was one of them—who wholly unconnected with the Peerage, satisfied with the mediocrity of their own station, and content with their own obscurity, desire nothing from any Government, but that security for person and property which all men had a right to expect from it. They might be, and he trusted they were actuated by sentiments of loyalty to their Sovereign, or by feelings of hereditary attachment to those historic names, whose glories illumined every page of our annals; but it was not from mere motives of regard to the Throne or the aristocracy that they were opposed to a measure which they believed to be ruinous to both; it was because they were convinced that the maintenance of both, in the circumstances of this country, was essential to the maintenance of law and of order, and to the preservation of those sacred rights of person and property which law and order were established to protect. To popular rights, as popular rights, they had no objection, nor to their extension; it was, in truth, an extension of their own rights. It was because they thought the extension of those rights, in the mode proposed by this Bill, incompatible with higher objects, that they objected to it, because it worked entirely in one direction. What was taken away destroyed the value, and endangered the security of what was left. It was proposed to leave the superstructure, and to cut away the foundation. In adjusting the balance of the Constitution, all the weight taken away was from one scale, and all that was added was thrown into the other. There was another point of view, in which it appeared to him that this Bill was peculiarly ill-suited to the existing circumstances of the country, The great want of the country at present was domestic quiet—rest from political agitation, from political dissension—almost from political discussion. Hon. Gentlemen would of course, differ with respect to the quarter to which blame was to be attributed, but, he believed all would agree with him, that the pendency of this Bill hung like a blight 448 over the land. It had been alluded to by the hon. Member who spoke last, and by many other Gentlemen in the course of the debate: the fact admitted of no doubt. Men's minds were distracted and withdrawn from their ordinary pursuits and occupations—commercial enterprise was paralyzed—internal trade stagnated—mutual confidence destroyed—the very intercourse of friends and families embittered by political dissensions—the whole country sickened as under a moral pestilence. For all this mass of evil there was but one remedy, and that was, a cessation—a long cessation—from political excitement. Supposing for a moment that this Bill would be permanent; that it would give at least, a temporary satisfaction to those who now so clamorously demanded it, what prospect of tranquillity, even in that case, did this measure hold out to the country. Why, it offered not the chance, not the probability, but the inevitable certainty, in each succeeding year, of a renewal of all the disputes in the annual registration of votes. In each succeeding year would the registering Barrister go his round, scattering dissension as he went along; the seed-time of discord would come round as regularly as the seed-time of husbandry, and would, he feared, produce a much more certain and more abundant harvest. We should have the worst curse of the American system, without its advantages. This was our prospect, even if this measure should be permanent. But could any man look to this Bill and really expect it to be permanent? Was any man credulous enough to hope that it could give even a temporary satisfaction to those whow ere now so anxious for it? Let the House compare its principles with its results—compare their own reasoning with the consequences practically deduced from it. They told the people that their principle was to destroy nomination boroughs, anti to transfer the elective franchise from inconsiderable places to great towns. How was their principle put in practice? They left untouched boroughs which they said ought to be disfranchised, and left without representation, numerous places which, it was said, ought to possess it. They told the people, that it was their undoubted right to elect their own Representatives, that the election of those Representatives by a few individuals, was a gross abuse, and a scandalous usurpation; and, then, as a practical illustration of these doctrines, they excluded from all right of voting whatever, nine-tenths of the very 449 individuals to whom this language was addressed. It was proposed to give a full and fair representation of all interests of the community, and to give it in the shape of actual instead of virtual representation, and then a great portion of the domestic interests of the country, were left without any representation, actual, or virtual, and all the colonies and foreign possessions of the Crown. They excluded from the of voting a vast proportion of the population, on the ground that a certain rate of property was a necessary qualification for the elective franchise, and that in the metropolitan districts and great towns—in the very places where the numbers were greatest, and the dangers arising from those numbers was most formidable. A share was given in the representation to classes infinitely lower than those who were excluded in other places, where they might safely be admitted. Could such a system be permanent? At this very moment numbers avowed that they considered it only as a step; still greater numbers were with difficulty restrained, by the caution of their leaders, from making a similar avowal. Numbers were secretly applying to the noble author of this Bill, and his friends, that language of Cromwell which he applied, as many thought so successfully to them. It was but an ill omen that the noble Lord should borrow words from such a quarter on such an occasion. It would come with more propriety from the lips of those of whom he was now speaking—men who were prepared to borrow from Cromwell much more than his words, and to use like him a weapon, which he employed much more successfully than his tongue. When further demands were made, as most assuredly there would be, could they be refused by those who supported this Bill; or, upon what principle could the arguments now urged in favour of Reform be applied to the resistance of further demands. The noble Lord opposite had himself admitted, when called upon to increase one of the schedules, that he could not refuse it upon his own principles, but, that he was afraid of going too far. If, however, Ministers should happen to succeed, which, at all events, he hoped they would, not by means of intimidation or unconstitutional measures—they would never be able to resist encroachments; they could not upon their own principles, resist further changes. All history and experience showed that the overthrow of settled institutions led first to a tyranny of the mob, which was invariably 450 succeeded by the tyranny of the sword. He regretted that he had no alternative left him but either to support the Bill as a whole, or reject it altogether; but placed in such a situation, he could not hesitate, and must oppose a measure which he thought was fraught with ruin to the country; and he hoped that all who were conscientiously opposed to the Bill would fearlessly do their duty and resist it. They had not yet decreed the downfal of the finest edifice which had been constructed by human hands or conceived by human minds, and he entreated the House to preserve for their successors that noble inheritance which they themselves had derived from their ancestors. Come what may, he was sure the opponents of this Bill would not swerve from the path of honour which, as usual, was on this occasion the path of safety. There were honours which neither time nor accident could efface; which, neither the caprice of kings nor the revolt of nations could destroy; and the future historian of the county, in paying the merited tribute to the illustrious characters who had, as it were, with their swords, dug the foundation of the British Constitution, would not forget those who stood by it when assailed, nor would the tribute be less honourable though they persisted in the attempt.
§ Mr. Macaulay
said, it was unnecessary for him to declare that he fully concurred in the feeling which the House had expressed at the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, and if that hon. and learned Gentleman thought it necessary to apologize to time House, on account of having once before delivered a speech which, like that just concluded, met with the most enthusiastic reception, how much more necessary was it for him to offer some apology for again trespassing on the time of the House. He could not, however, suffer this occasion—the third reading of the Reform Bill—to pass over without coming forward once more to vindicate the principles he professed. The noble Lord who opened the debate, in a speech distinguished, like everything which fell from him, by the greatest ingenuity and ability, told the House that the first great evil of this Bill was, that it pronounced an absolute condemnation upon our ancestors; and he asked whether we were prepared utterly to condemn all which they had done. He certainly was not prepared to take any such course; but, at the same time, he must say, that the men of the 451 present day were better enabled to decide political questions than their ancestors. Government was not a matter of à priori reasoning, and must always be determined by experiment, and it was the essence of every experimental science that it should be progressive. Moreover, it was essential that every experiment concerning Government should be founded on the special and peculiar circumstances which called for it. Arguments, therefore, that were unanswerable a thousand years ago, would be very defective if applied to the present day; and he would venture to say, that there was no Gentleman in this House who would not be ashamed to be guided by the wisdom of our ancestors, if he were about to make an experiment on any other subject than that of Government. Take chemistry, botany, surgery, or any science, for example, in which ingenuity and invention were necessary, and there was no man in that House who would reject improvements in those sciences because they did not comport with the wisdom of our forefathers, or who would say that the present age, instead of being vastly superior to those times, was, in fact, very inferior. And why was that? Because these sciences depended on observation and experiment. Every age had greater opportunity for experiment than that which preceded it; and every age must, therefore, be considered as wiser than its predecessor. Like the other sciences he had mentioned, the science of Government was essentially an experimental science—that is, that its conclusions were so wholly the creatures of experience, and its application so dependent upon ever-changing circumstances, that nought could be predicated of them of universal applicability. Political doctrines were not like the axioms and definitions of the geometer—of intrinsic truth, wholly uninfluenced by time and place; their worth and force depended on experience, and were necessarily as changing as the circumstances on which all experience was founded. This truth had been happily expressed by Lord Plunkett, with that noble person's characteristic force and stern precision of language. It was observed by him, that history not read in a philosophical manner was merely on old almanack. Another extraordinary doctrine had been advanced with respect to the payment of debts by nations, and their manner of discharging the duties which devolve upon them. But he appealed to experience—was it not a fact, that, among all the democratic revolutions which had been witness- 452 ed, payment of no national debt had been refused on the ground assigned in this argument. There had been instances, both in monarchies, and democracies, of the payment of debts being refused on account of the difficulty or impossibility of paying them; but no such course had been pursued as that which was stated by the nobly Lord. Look to France—look to the different changes which had taken place in the representative system of that county—look to the changes of 1815, of 1817, of 1821, and of 1831, which were all constituted on entirely different principles, and yet, at this moment, the national credit was preserved. The only instance that he knew of a government refusing to discharge a debt on the ground that it was contracted by an illegitimate authority, was not the case of a democracy, but of a monarchy, where the government refused to pay a debt contracted under that very constitution which the king had sworn to maintain. The noble Lord also said, that the classes of men who ought not to be admitted into this House would he admitted by the Bill, and that those whom it would be desirable to admit would never be returned under this measure. He would again only refer to experience, and ask, whether that was the case in large towns which now possess the franchise? The noble Lord said, that the eldest sons of Peers would find great difficulty in obtaining seats in that House. Let him look over the list of the sons of Peers returned for counties at the present time. Let the noble Lord look to Bedfordshire, Buckingamshire, Dorsetshire, Northamptonshire, Northumberland, Lincolnshire, Westmorland, Devonshire, Oxfordshire, and Cheshire; and he would find that there were at present but few sons of Peers returned as the Representatives of the people. The noble Lord was decidedly inaccurate in one of his statements; the noble Lord said, that, in the county of Northumberland this prejudice existed to a very great extent, and to that cause he attributed the circumstance of his noble friend, the under Secretary for the Colonies, being unsuccessful in the election of 1826. The noble Lord forgot that it was the eldest son of a Peer who contested the election with him, and was returned in opposition to him. The noble Lord had not proved his statement, which appeared to proceed entirely upon assumption. There was, however, another class of men, who, according to the noble Lord would be excluded by the operation of this Bill—those Members who had been 453 returned by the oligarchy of this House. The noble Lord thought it a hard case that they should be excluded, but the reason for their exclusion was a proper one, for they were not sent there by the people. The noble Lord also stated, that we had long enjoyed the blessings and protection of good Government, repeating that the system had practically worked well, and that the nation was, in fact, in a state of the greatest happiness and prosperity. Indeed, the hon. member for Oxford said, that we had attained such a state of prosperity, that we ought not to hazard it by making an experiment. If this argument proceeded on facts, he would admit that it was unanswerable. The happiness of nations might be influenced by causes unconnected with their political institutions; but, on the whole, there could be no doubt that the happiness of a people was the best test of the form of Government under which they lived. If it were proved that the House was about to destroy that constitution under which the people of England had long enjoyed so great a measure of happiness as that which the hon. Gentleman described, it would be acting the part of madmen. But he denied that the condition of the people of England was one of unmixed prosperity; and he denied that the Bill was a measure of unmixed destruction. When he heard it said, over and over again, that the English were the happiest people under the sun—when he heard this laid down as an undeniable proposition, which it would be unnecessary to prove, and absurd to deny—he could not but feel astonished at such an argument. From the first acquaintance he had had with political affairs, he had heard, from all sides and from all parties, statements of the distressed situation of the people. Speech after speech from the Throne, parliamentary address after parliamentary address, had admitted the existence of great distress, expressing a vain hope that it would be but temporary. He scarcely remembered the time in which some great interest had not been complaining. It was certain that the people of this country were by no means in a prosperous condition. The hon. Baronet, the member for Okehampton, himself, has distinctly told us, that all the cry for Reform originated in the severe distress of the people, and the indifference of the House to their complaints. The hon. member for Aldborough, too, frequently, in glowing and energetic terms, set forth the miserable state of our commercial and manufacturing classes, and 454 distinctly attributed their distress to the legislative measures pursued by successive Parliaments. When the question of the currency, the renewal of the corn-laws, or the state of trade came before the House, then the country was described in a condition of the deepest distress, plunged into a state of absolute misery, a cloud was over us, our present condition was bad, but our future prospects were alarming. When the Reform Bill was under discussion, all our miseries vanished at once, the sun broke out, the clouds cleared away, the sky was bright, and we were the happiest people on the face of the earth! If hon. Gentlemen wanted a large issue of small notes, our condition was again gloomy, but when the case of Gatton or Old Sarum was noticed, then we laboured under no other imperfections than the unfaithfulness of our own hearts. Was it fair for hon. Gentlemen to describe the country as in a state of the greatest misery, when they complained of the political economists, and to speak of our people as the happiest under Heaven when they wished to attack the Reformers. For different opponents they had different weapons. The Reformers of our commercial code, they slew with the national distress, and with the national prosperity they sought to annihilate the Reformers of the Constitution. The real situation of the country was midway between their extremes. There was much truth in both descriptions, but, at the same time, there was much fiction. He would, however, give his opponents their choice. If they ascribed to the institutions of the country the national greatness, let them also ascribe to those institutions all the evils the nation endured. If it was the Constitution which had improved the public credit, which had extended our trade—if it was the Constitution which had converted the barbarous hordes who once infested the Scottish borders into the finest peasantry in the world—if the Constitution had improved our machinery—if we owed to the Constitution the important factories of Manchester, and the gigantic docks of Liverpool—we were bound, by strict reason and justice, to ascribe to the Constitution, on the other hand, the heavy burthen of taxation under which the people labour, and against which they had to struggle, the frequent stagnation of trade, commerce, and manufactures, and the dreadful and deplorable situation of those parts of the country in which the rate of wages was scarcely sufficient for the support of animal life, in which the labourer, 455 starved and wretched as he is, considers the parochial rates as a fund, not for his occasional relief, but for his daily maintenance; in which men may be met harnessed to cars like beasts of burthen, and in which the far-spreading light of midnight fires, and the outrages of incendiaries have but too often indicated wretchedness and despair, starvation and daring recklessness. Hon. Gentlemen opposite generally contented themselves with pursuing the very convenient course of contemplating only one side of the picture; they dwelt very fully on all the outward signs of our national prosperity, and they concluded, therefore, that the existing system must work most beneficially. There were also violent Reformers who had adopted a course directly the reverse, and who could see nothing in the present state of the country, but causes for apprehension and dismay. He could not agree in either of those extreme opinions. He saw great cause for rejoicing, but also great cause for apprehension and dread. We had vast resources, but we had to bear great burthens. We had magnificent institutions, but they were surrounded by the most appalling misery, and heart-breaking famine and wretchedness. If he was to adopt the lesson of hon. Gentlemen opposite—if he was to judge of the system by its practical working—if he was to look at the condition of society, and pronounce upon the merits of our Constitution, he should be irresistibly lead to this conclusion, as he saw great good alloyed by great evil, so in the Constitution there must be sound and just principles defaced by great corruptions. It was not difficult to ascertain which parts of the Constitution were the source of prosperity; nor would it be difficult to get rid of those corruptions to which we must attribute our distresses. The protection which the laws give to the liberty and property of the subject is a great advantage undoubtedly, and the mere existence of a House of Commons in which, however defective its Constitution, there has always been some Members chosen by the people, and zealous for their service, in which the smallest minority has some weight, and grievances, if not redressed, can at least be exposed, is, undoubtedly, some security for every other advantage. To these circumstances we owe our prosperity—and it was proposed, by the measure then under discussion, to give additional protection to the subject, and make the House of Commons more useful to the people. The distress which the country 456 had suffered, and of which it had so bitterly complained, he must attribute to an unthrifty squandering of the public money—to the injudicious measures of Government—to the negligence of that House—to defects in the Representative system, which had made the House more the council of the Government than the defender of the people—to laws deservedly unpopular, more easily adopted than they could have been under the eye of a reformed Parliament—to laws made for the benefit of particular classes at the expense of the people generally—in short, he attributed the distress to Ministers who had not yet been controlled by Parliament, and to Parliament who had not before its eyes the fear of the people. The noble Lord who moved the Amendment, had argued that in no instance had that House been reluctant to "back" Ministers in measures of public economy. What! the House of Commons merely backing Government who might be disposed to cut down useless expenditure of the public money—the House of Commons whose duty it was to force every Government to effect every reduction of the public expenditure compatible with the public service. Was that a description or justification of the House of Commons? The Commons ought to go before the Government in measures of economy, and force it to be wise. A reformed House of Commons would do it. But the utmost praise bestowed on it by the noble Lord—the negative praise of not being a greater spendthrift than the Government—was upon the House of Commons the bitterest satire. Those who supported the Bill were charged with loving democracy; for his part he had no idea that any species of Government was universally applicable. There was no universal form which could be assured of good Government. He would not make institutions for all ages and all nations. He gave his assent to the Bill because he thought it was adapted to this country at present, but he should think it unsuitable, because too democratic, for Hindostan, and because not democratic enough for New York. He had no more idea that a Government could be called good, which was not in unison with the feelings, habits, and opinions of the people governed, than that a coat could be called good which was not suited to the size or shape of the person for whom it was intended. A coat that does not fit is a bad coat, though it has been cut to suit the Apollo Belvidere. He did not support the present Bill because he thought that 457 democratic institutions were best for all ages and for all countries, but because he thought that a more democratic constitution than that which now existed in this country, and in our age, would produce good Government; and because he believed that, under the present system of Representation, we should soon have no Government at all. He had never declared war with anomalies—he had never, to quote the words of the noble Lord opposite, confounded anomalies with abuses—he had never lifted up his hand against any anomaly, unless he saw in it a cause of misgovernment. He did not, therefore, support the Bill because it removed anomalies, but because it eradicated real abuses, and averted dangers, not imaginary or remote, but palpable and near. That, he conceived, would be the practical result of the Reform Bill. Some men sacrificed practical law to general doctrines; they spoke with rapture of the beautiful machinery of the Constitution, but would not look to its practical working, nor take into consideration existing circumstances. The Representative system, as it at present existed, was said to be good. Be it so; but it was good in vain, unless it suited the state of society for which it was intended. No Members of this House had advocated such arguments more strongly than the present opponents of this measure, when the propriety of giving liberal institutions to other countries had been under discussion. Whenever an attempt had been made to introduce into other countries our best institutions—whenever it had been proposed to give Spain or Naples the freedom of the Press, or the security of the Habeas Corpus Act, how often had it been said, that it was folly to legislate for those countries as if they were England—that what we considered tyrannical the Spaniards and the Neapolitans cherished as a privilege. How often had it been said, that it was absurd to force upon a people institutions which, however good in themselves, that people despise! Was this argument to be used only on one side, and to be invalid when applied to the other. When Spain or Naples was a question, hon. Gentlemen opposite reminded the House that governments should be accommodated to the wishes of the people—that popular institutions could not be useful nor stable, unless they harmonized with public feeling and public opinion. But if this argument be good when applied to one description of institions, was it not equally good when applied himself to be a Reformer. It was an argu- 458 greater blessing than the Habeas Corpus Act, or the trial by jury? No man would deny that it would have been absurd to apply these institutions to nations which did not value them. Would Gentlemen, however, say, that the existence of Old Sarum and Gatton was consistent with the feelings and wishes of the people? That was the true answer to those arguments which had been urged on former occasions, and which had been so eloquently advanced tonight by the noble Lord who opened this debate on the subject of prescription. Prescription was certainly advantageous to a Government, because it was very probable that a Government founded on prescription would possess a greater share of public respect than one which was born yesterday; but if a Government did not possess the public respect, it was in no way the better for prescription. A man would rather have the measles than the cholera (to make use of a homely illustration), because he would be less likely to die of the one than of the other; but if he must die of the measles, why he might as well have the cholera. If a government did not possess the public respect, it might as well be a Representative system of yesterday as of centuries back. In fact, there never was a great change which took away so little of what was really valuable as this did—which took away so little of what we love and respect, or which took away so little of what was connected with our feelings and entwined around our affections. The Reformation and the Revolution of 1688, and the first revolution in France, shocked the prejudices of great masses of people. Glorious as they were, and calculated to promote the public good, they were certainly effected at the expense of long-cherished feelings, deep-rooted affections, and close entwined associations; but what was there of all that in the present Bill? Did it propose to touch any one thing which the people esteemed, respected, or revered. Did it take from the Constitution anything but those which Mr. Burke called its shameful parts? Did it endanger the Government of the country? It was high time that some such measure as this should be introduced to preserve it, that the unpopular and worst parts of the Constitution should be separated from the good, or they would all perish together. But, however forcible the claims of prescription might be, the argument could not he justly used by the noble Lord, who had distinctly declared himself to be a Reformer. It was an argu- 459 ment which no Gentleman had a right to advance, who was disposed to agree to even the most moderate Reform, because the smallest possible change equally destroyed the claim of prescription as the most extensive and important alteration. Prescription might, like honour, be compared to Prince Rupert's drops, "one part cracked the whole does fly." He appealed to the hon. Gentlemen opposite, whether they had not, in the debate on the question respecting the propriety of giving Members to Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield, asserted, that if they once began to change, there would be no end to it. But they had now departed from their own principle; they admitted the necessity of some change, and all arguments on the score of prescription must be at an end. The arguments urged against this Bill would apply with equal force against any plan of Reform whatever. A large majority of the Opposition called themselves Moderate Reformers: but the objections which they offered to the present Bill could be applied to any measure of practical reform. They talked of anomalies: could any plan of reform be devised in which anomalies would not exist? All reform must consist of disfranchisement and enfranchisement. To effect these objects lines must be drawn somewhere, and distinctions made, which would inevitably create anomalies, unless some uniform system were established, and at variance with, and sweeping away, the whole of our present institutions. They might take population, or assessed taxes, or whatever test they pleased, but there would always, as they had already seen, be mathematicians ready to prove that their mode of computation would produce anomalies. The most symmetrical system of Representation was that of the United States—yet, even in that, it would be easy to point out anomalies. It, therefore, became moderate Reformers, who objected to the Bill on the ground of anomalies, to consider whether any plan of moderate Reform could be produced in which there would not be anomalies. Those who supported any plan of Reform must admit one of two things; either that the present system did not work well—or that, working well, it ought to be changed, in deference to what must be considered unreasonable clamour, to which they were prepared to bend. Any plan would also be open to the objection of not being final; and none more so than a very niggardly one. Of every plan of Reform, it might 460 be said, that it was the first step to revolution. It would always afford an opportunity of making allusions to the scenes of the French revolution; to the guillotine—to heads carried upon pikes, and all the horrors of that eventful period. All these topics, however, it would be recollected, were brought into requisition when the only question before the House was, whether Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham should have Representatives. Most of the hon. Members opposite called themselves Reformers; and he was entitled to demand their plan of Reform, in order that the House and country might see whether the objections which they had raised be applicable to the Ministerial plan alone, or he objections to which any plan of Reform must he liable, and such, therefore, as no person who called himself a Reformer was entitled to employ. That something must be done was admitted on all hands; while the Ministerial Bill was the only plan of Reform which had been proposed. The hon. Member who had just sat down said that, at the last election, people were compelled to vote in favour of candidates who supported the Reform Bill, because there was no other plan left before the country. They had no choice—it was this plan or none. He had a right, under these circumstances, to call on the leaders of the hon. Members opposite to let the country know what their plan was; and he was entitled, in particular, to make this appeal to the right hon. member for Tamworth. The right hon. Baronet stood at the head of a great party; he had filled a high situation in the state, and might possibly fill a still higher, and these were circumstances which not only gave him (Mr. Macaulay) a right, but made it his duty, to make observations freely, but respectfully, on the public conduct of the right hon. Baronet. After thirteen months of discussion on the question of Reform, all that the House knew of the opinion of one of its most distinguished Members was, that he was opposed to the Ministerial plan of Reform. He had, indeed, declared, that, though he would not himself have brought forward, yet he would have assented to, a measure of moderate Reform. What the plan of Reform was to which the right hon. Baronet would have assented—on what grounds he would have given his support to a measure which he thought unnecessary—and what were the reasons which made him to hesitate to bring forward such a plan himself, he had not yet explained to the House. The question of Reform might be a question which divided 461 men's opinions, but with respect to the importance of the question all were agreed; and he could not understand, on looking to the high character and station of the right hon. Gentleman, how he could shrink from the responsibility of proposing such a measure as, in his opinion, would satisfy the country, and be less injurious in its effects than the Ministerial proposition. Yet all that the right hon. Gentleman had as yet said was, that he disliked the plan proposed by Government, and that there was a something which would have met with his assent, but that Ministers had not hit upon that something. But let the right hon. Baronet observe the state of the public mind, the excitement which prevailed on the subject, and the delight with which the Ministerial plan of Reform had been received by the people; and then let him ask himself whether he was prepared to bear the responsibility of the consequences which would follow its rejection. But the right hon. Baronet would doubtless say, "that is no affair of mine: the excitement is your own." [Cheers.] He supposed, from that cheer, that the answer was considered satisfactory by the hon. Gentlemen opposite. The next generation would judge them. When the dearest interests of the empire were at stake, the world would hold them responsible, not only for the evil which they had done, but for the good which they had omitted to do. History would not hold such men guiltless if they did not take enlarged views of the state of society; if they did not rise to great occasions; and if, when the public good required them to speak out, for fear of compromising themselves, they held their tongues, or spoke in such a way as not to be understood. If any persons were to be held responsible for the public excitement, the late Ministers had more to answer for than the present. But the great question was, not "what person is to blame," but "what is now to be done?" That was the question before the House and the country; and that was the question which he thought he had a right to ask the right hon. Baronet opposite. The right hon. Baronet possessed pre-eminent talent for debate; but the country had a right to expect from him something of a higher character. The country had a right to call on him for his opinion of the principles upon which Reform ought to be founded, and of the extent to which concession should be made to the public wish at such a crisis as the present. He asked the right hon. Baronet whether be should wish it to go 462 down to posterity that he, in the most eventful period of British history, when the dearest interests of the empire were at stake—that he, being one of the most distinguished members of the House of Commons, brought some sound, and many specious objections against everything proposed by others—hinted in general terms that something might be done, but never could be induced to explain what that something was? Did the right hon. Baronet suppose that he could ever again conduct the affairs of the Government on Anti-reform principles? It would be madness for any Government, pledged to no Reform, to attempt to go on with the present House of Commons. They must dissolve the Parliament, and appeal to the people in a moment of fearful excitement; and they would then find that they had committed the same error which Charles committed when he dissolved the Short Parliament, and exchanged it for the Long Parliament. But supposing that such a Government gained more by the elections than could possibly he expected, and supposing that they should obtain a majority in the House of Commons, still, he asked, what would be the case out of doors? The agitation which prevailed in the year 1817 and in 1819, at the time of Queen Caroline's return to England, and during the latter period of the Duke of Wellington's administration, would seem peace and tranquillity in comparison with the disorder and excitement which would immediately spread throughout the country. Tumults, seditions, agitators without end, would arise. Agitators they had at present; but were they disposed to try what would be their power under a Government hostile to Reform? It was impossible to keep them down by a strong hand, and, if they would not have liberty, they must have licentiousness. Measures of coercion and severity would be of no avail. Charles tried them against Hampden, and failed: James employed them against the Bishops, and failed. It was the same with Mr. Pitt, when he prosecuted Hardy and Horne Tooke; and the same with Lord Castlereagh, when he passed the Six Acts in 1819; and the same would be found by any Government which attempted to smother the complaints of the people of England without redressing their grievances. There was only this simple alternative—Reform, or anarchy. About the result he had no fear, for he placed the fullest reliance in his Majesty's Ministers. If he required any other pledges from them 463 than those which he found in their character, he found them in their position. To abandon their country would be to abandon themselves. They had done that which changed the character of our institutions. They had taken no slight step—no step that could be easily retraced, on the 1st of March, 1831. Before them was glory—behind them was disgrace. For himself, he believed that their virtues, abilities, and firmness would be found equal to the momentous occasion, and that their names would to the latest period be inseparably associated with the noblest measure that ever restored to health a corrupt Government, and bound together the hearts of a divided people.
§ Mr. Croker
I must confess, that amidst the many arguments of the hon. and learned Member who has just addressed the House, with so much ability, there was one which struck me as very extraordinary. The hon. and learned Member drew an alarming, and perhaps, a too faithful picture of the state of the country. He spoke with not unnatural alarm of seditions, associations, and conspiracies; but, above all, he dwelt upon the agitation and anxiety which prevail in every branch of society, which, as it were, have mildewed and blighted our whole social system; and, having exhausted his eloquence on the complicated difficulties of our situation, he turns round to accuse hon. Members on this side of the House, and in particular, and by name, my right hon. friend (Sir Robert Peel) near me, with not having taken this most unfavourable and dangerous opportunity to cast new ingredients into the cauldron of dissatisfaction, by proposing some idle and useless project of Reform, some scheme of our own, theoretic and gratuitous, which, in the present state of parties and of public business, could never even come into discussion, nor serve any other purpose than to worse-confound a confusion already, one should have thought, sufficiently confounded, and this the learned Gentleman would have had us do—not that any practical public advantage could possibly be derived from it, but in the hope that he might possibly derive from such a proceeding on our parts, some argument which he does not at present possess, and of which he feels himself desperately in want.
He accuses my right hon. friend of having been backward in expressing his opinions on this great question. I certainly have witnessed no such back- 464 wardness; but if he has latterly declined making any general propositions on the principle of the Bill, I, in return, would ask, whether he has received any encouragement to volunteer his advice and assistance? The House will recollect that, in the last Parliament a most extravagant proposition was made for diminishing the number of the Members of this House, a kind of Reform as unnecessary and as little looked for as could be imagined. My right hon. friend, and we who are happy to follow him, felt ourselves bound on that occasion to register his and our opinion, that this species of Reform was alike wanton, unjust, and dangerous; and we urged in the strongest manner, as the first principle of any satisfactory Reform, that the number of Members should not be diminished. Was my right hon. friend backward in advocating that fundamental and important principle?—a principle which, though narrow at first view, involved consequences of the greatest magnitude, such as the maintaining, in any Reform that should be attempted, the ancient proportions of the Representation of the different parts of the empire. Well, what was the result? That wise and salutary principle met with the assent of the House. And how did Ministers receive it? They dissolved Parliament, and by this violent and arbitrary conduct gave us no great encouragement to afford them any further insight into the views on which we might think Parliamentary Reform might be most safely conducted. In the same spirit every proposition which has been brought forward on this side of the House, in the present Parliament, some of them fundamental ones, such as the 10l. qualification—the uniformity of the franchise—the metropolitan boroughs—the giving borough-freeholders county votes; all these provisions of the Bill, each of them involving general principles of the greatest general importance, which have been urged with peculiar earnestness and strength of argument by my right hon. friend, have been superciliously rejected and borne down by unflinching and overwhelming majorities. Does the hon. and learned Member think that, under these circumstances, it would have been consistent with common sense, or ordinary prudence, or a due regard to the interests of society, that my right hon. friend should have come forward with the counter proposition of some general theory, which we should then have been told by the 465 hon. and learned Gentleman, could have no other possible object or effect than that of creating delay, embarrassing the question, prolonging agitation, and endangering the public peace.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member, that politics are an experimental science which can only be learned by carefully watching the operations of political societies, and deducing from the observed facts their proper conclusions, in the same way in which we draw scientific rules from the observation of natural objects. The learned Gentleman and I do not disagree about this general principle; we only disagree in our mode of applying it. I, and those who act with me, do, in truth, argue from that induction and that analogy which the learned Gentleman recommends in theory, but is himself the first to reject in practice. When we look to the history of past ages, when we see what is passing around us, we draw from all these circumstances a conclusion which is as evident to our understandings as any deductions in natural philosophy, namely, that the course which you are pursuing will lead to revolution. The hon. and learned Member has told us—and this is a proof of the manner in which he looks at historical facts, and of the experimental spirit with which he pursues his inquiries—that democratic revolutions have never shaken public credit, nor prevented the due payment of the public debt—that in France, for instance, there has been no breach of faith with the public creditor since the commencement of the revolution.
§ Mr. Croker
I heard no such limitation; but what a convenient system of philosophy it is, which permits the hon. Member to look, not at all the facts which history presents, but at those only which happen to suit his own opinions. In vain does the political prism exhibit seven distinct rays of colour, he rejects as many of the rays as he pleases. No, he says, it has but three, and then, arguing from his selected and mutilated facts, he produces his fabricated conclusions, and fancies himself a political Newton. Why, Sir, every body knows, though the learned Gentleman chooses to forget, that the Directory was the third or fourth stage of the Revolution; it was indeed the first moment of pause and breathing-time, and thenceforward, no doubt, weary of anarchy, impoverished by confiscations, and satiate of blood, France was desirous of re- 466 turning to something like the fixed habits of society; but what had happened before that date from which the learned Gentleman now informs us he chose to start? Why, that, Sir, which is the very point in debate at this moment, and the very question in issue between us—the ruin of the public creditor and the dissolution of all public engagements. I have no doubt that, if this Bill should pass, we, too, shall come to a Directory here; and that, when we have arrived at that stage, we perhaps may have no more public robbery; but in passing through the anarchy that is to lead us, as it did France, to that state of comparative quiet, all analogy, all reason, all the rules of philosophizing which the learned Gentleman advises us to employ, prove, that there will have been an utter dissolution of public credit and a predatory confiscation of public property.
But need we go back to the history of France to shew what will be the consequence of passing this Bill? We have it under the hands and seals of an hundred Political Unions, and a thousand resolving meetings—we have it under the solemn sanction of all the reforming revolutionists themselves, that the first thing which will be attempted in a Reformed Parliament is the re-adjustment of the National Debt—that the object nearest to their hearts is to get rid of what they conceived to be the atrocious injustice which has been heaped upon them, the tax-payers, as they choose exclusively to style themselves, by the long-continued, and oppressive, and usurped power of taxation assumed by this House. Why, even the learned Member himself, in the course of his speech, adduced as his own chosen ground for Reform, as the first and foremost grievances of which the Reformers complain, the public debt and the weight of taxation. Now, if these be the first grievances, what are to be the first remedies? If the Bill be good for any thing, it must go at once to cure the most urgent disease. Is it concealed, can it be denied, that the great body of the supporters of this Bill out of doors consider as its chief value, and as is likely to be its first effect, that a sponge is to be applied to the national debt, and that they are to be no longer taxed to pay impositions laid on them by the corruption and profligacy of former Parliaments.
Amidst the beauties of the hon. and learned Member's oratory, which I am sure must be so much felt by every other person that it would appear a sort of 467 vanity in me to say how much I appreciate them, he is in nothing more happy than in the allegories and metaphors with which he occasionally favours the House. For instance, the hon. and learned Member, after having stated that the Bill will be a remedy for great abuses, turns round, and by a happy illustration, with the greatest candour and the most extraordinary ingenuity, converts the remedy into a disease. The hon. and learned Gentleman likened the fever under which he thinks the country is labouring, from what he calls the corruption of rotten boroughs, to a well-known and not very formidable disease, the measles; and then, with singular candour, he declared that he could find nothing with which he could compare the Bill—which is to cure the measles recollect—but the cholera morbus, What a happy illustration! our present system he compares to that slight and general disease, incident to our very nature, the effect of which is, to purify the system, and to preserve from more serious evils in after life, while the counter disease which he strongly proposes as a remedy, is a fierce and frightful plague, beyond all other diseases excruciating in its progress and fatal in its results. I do not wonder that this idea occurred to the hon. and learned Member, for the simile is obvious and just, but I do wonder that, having occurred to him, he did not follow out his metaphor, and pursue the very singular analogy which it offers. If he had done so, the House would have found, that the circumstances attending the origin and progress of the Bill and the origin and progress of the cholera were quite parallel. Where did the cholera first appear? Why, in that very nook of the county of Durham in which we reproach the Reform Bill with having exerted its greatest influence. Its first appearance was, by extraordinary coincidence, in the proposed borough of Sunderland. Thence, hand in hand with Reform, it proceeded to South Shields and North Shields, and to that celebrated scene of the influence of the Bill—Gateshead. It was in this nest of boroughs that Reform and cholera displayed themselves first and with most peculiar virulence. But where did it travel next? To Musselburgh, which, I believe, is to have a share in the Representation of a new Scotch borough. We next heard of it in the new borough of Glasgow, and, what is very singular, it seems to have confined itself, even within all these places, to the very limits of the new 10l. fran- 468 chise. When it came to London where did it first show itself? Most strange to say, it still followed the track of schedules C and D. It first displayed itself in the enfranchised districts of Bermondsey and the Tower Hamlets, and as it advances, seems to select, with peculiar caution, the very localities which have been the subject of so much discussion in this House, Lambeth, St. Giles's, and Marylebone. Really, Sir, this is a most extraordinary series of coincidencies, and I think I may venture to say, that the hon. and learned Member has completely identified the cholera with the Reform Bill, and in none of his many metaphors has he ever been snore happy than when he classed these two simultaneous plagues together.
Let us examine the hon. and learned Member's argument on the subject of prescription. He contends that no man who consents to the disfranchisement even of Old Sarum, is entitled to raise his warning voice against measures which are calculated to shake the foundations of society. "Give up Old Sarum, and give up all claim to prescription—prescription is as much destroyed by the annihilation of one borough as by all the schedules!" This seems to me a strange mode of reasoning, and about as just as if he should have said, that any one who should endeavour to escape the measles, was bound to expose himself to the cholera. And then, Sir, the learned Gentleman proceeds to make very light of the doctrine of Prescription; but has the learned Gentleman seriously considered the meaning of the principle which he treats so lightly? Prescription is that principle in the moral world which, like gravity in the natural world, keeps every thing in its proper place: it is the principle of stability. Without that principle what would society be but a rope of sand—liable at any moment to be dissolved? We may talk of respect for the great charters which conferred, and for the laws which maintain our liberties; we may talk of obedience to authority, of rights of property, of reverence for establishments—all these are comprised in the single word prescription; without that principle, rights would be mere words, and statutes waste paper: it is the foundation of human society; sweep it away, and we begin again with the rudiments of life—we return to the savage state—from that we advance to good order and civilization, to private security and public greatness, only by the gradual operation of prescription. But is the hon. and learned Gentleman entitled by 469 our constitutional experience to say, that if we abandon any one point of prescription, we must, therefore, abandon the whole principle? He talks, indeed, about historical learning; but does he recollect the result of his historical studies? Does he remember our Revolution? Does he not know that our ancestors—our Whig, aye, and our Tory ancestors—who concurred in effecting the Revolution, when they were obliged to depart from the strict rule of prescription and to change the person of the Sovereign, selected as his successor the individuals who had the next best prescriptive right? The principle of prescriptive right was vindicated by the selection of William and Mary to fill the vacant throne, and that principle was further vindicated by the maintenance, inviolate, of the composition of the Houses of Lords and Commons, and of every institution in the country.
The hon. and learned Member, resuming the system, which he alternately recommends and rejects, of reasoning from antecedent facts, has been pleased also to call us on this side of the House, theorists. I cannot well see why we should be thus designated, for, most undeniably, our arguments, such as they are, rest on facts, while his are altogether the schemes of theory; and, as I must take leave to say, undigested and inconclusive theory. The hon. Member alluded particularly to my noble friend (Lord Mahon), but certainly the imputation of theory was never worse applied than to that able and practical speech. Does he mean that my noble friend is a theorist, because he adheres to things which have been established for centuries and rests his arguments on the experience of ages? The hon. and learned Member must allow me to tell him, that, in this sense of the word, all eminent public writers of the present day are theorists also. I am proud to concur with the opinions of the most remarkable of these theorists, though I have not the pleasure of participating in their votes. Who are the writers of the present day—who maintain the theory of the Constitution against the disturbing accidents of a moment of temporary excitement? Who are the theorists who tell us that we should endeavour to move in our ancient planetary system undisturbed by the comets which are occasionally crossing our orbit? They are Lord Holland, Lord John Russell, Sir James Mackintosh, Mr. Jeffrey, and Mr. Brougham. I speak of these persons, and mention their 470 names as authors whose works are before the public, and to which, as literary authorities, I appeal. I happen to have an extract from a work of one of these theorists; one whose evidence must be, in the learned Gentleman's opinion, of great weight both as a writer and a politician—I mean Lord Holland.
In the year 1815 an eminent Neapolitan * consulted Lord Holland as to the best mode of framing a constitution for the country which he was called to govern. In the case in which Lord Holland was consulted there was no prescription to combat—no Old Sarum to get rid of—no Boroughbridge to disfranchise. He had the whole champaign open before him, to indulge, without the risk of invading ancient prejudices, the full scope of his theory; but Lord Holland did not say, "Oh, there is nothing so easy as to frame a new constitution—it is only to divide your country into districts—give the elective franchise to 10l. householders to secure its due weight to property—let there be a registration of voters every year to save trouble—and, instead of taking fifteen days for your elections, establish two days' poll at fifteen polling-places in order to save time and expense." Far different, however, was the answer of Lord Holland: it was an answer full of wisdom; and I am sorry it has been so soon forgotten. Lord Holland said, "Constitutions are, in fact, productions which can neither be created nor transferred; they are the growth of time, and not the invention of man; and, to attempt to frame a complete system of government, which must depend on habits of reverence and respect, would be an attempt as absurd as to build a tree, or to manufacture an animal." Such was the wise advice of that noble, learned, and judicious person. In his observations on the formation of a constitution, he places prominently the principle of reverence and respect, as that which may serve as the safest guide, or, in other words, the principle of prescription. He was, when he wrote that letter, not insensible to the dangers attending a navigation in the sea of politics, when if the fixed star of prescription be lost sight of, a wreck of society must inevitably follow.
Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman has told us we must look to the signs of the times; but he is like those spoken of in the passage of the Holy Scripture where* Supposed to be king Murat.471 that phrase is used, who, when they see the sky red at one time say, to-morrow will be a fine day, and at another time say, that, for the same reason, the day will be foul. The signs of the times are as the hon. Gentleman wishes to see them. In my view the sky shews the signs of bad weather; but the hon. Gentleman prognosticates happy and halcyon days. If I look to the signs of the times, I can see not only no evidence, but no hope of tranquillity. What are the signs of the times with respect to this very Bill? Is there any sign that it will be final and satisfactory? Does the devotion of the majority in this House who support this Bill obtain for them respect or applause out of doors? Does any rational man who supports this Bill hope for the public gratitude? Does the hon. Gentleman mean to say, that he who pushes to the utmost extreme his confidence in this Bill, has seen much ground for believing that it will be final and satisfactory? Does he derive much hope from public gratitude, when he sees the Prime Minister—when he sees each individual of the Ministry—when he sees the characters of the majority—the characters of that body of which the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down is so distinguished a Member—assailed as they are in the public prints, which have constituted themselves the especial protectors of the Bill? If any man indulges in such vain hopes, let him consider what is written on the subject. I will read to the House a passage which I have extracted from one of those organs of public opinion which the noble Lords opposite have taught me to dread, if I do not respect.
[The right hon. Gentleman then read the following extract from The Times newspaper of the 7th instant:]—'The people—the people of England have stuck the spurs deep into the flanks of many a shy and shuffling jade, amongst those who are called their Representatives, and forced the dogged animals onward. It is a nation that has performed the work. The Ministers had only to look on, and be borne forward by the mighty current.'
The writer goes on to pay a sort of compliment to the party with which I am connected for our unity of purpose and proceedings; he says, we have only taken a false view of the subject, and have at least the humble merit of consistency; but whilst this modified praise is given to us, the more unfortunate Gentleman to whom we are opposed, are characterised 472 as "shy and shuffling jades, and dogged animals, into whose flanks the people have found it necessary to stick their spurs." These are indeed the signs of the times, and I confess they concern those whom I am now addressing most nearly and most personally.
But the learned Gentleman has again referred us to the lessons of history, and instanced the causes of the decline and fall of nations. I again accept his challenge, and, in reply, will quote a few words from one of the private letters of Mr. Gibbon, the historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and the prophet, it would seem, of the decline and fall of the Constitution of England. Gibbon, says—'If you do not resist the spirit of innovation in the first attempt—if you admit any specious changes in your parliamentary system—you will be driven from one step to another—from principles just in theory, to consequences most pernicious in practice and your first concessions will be productive of subsequent mischief, for which you will be answerable hereafter to yourselves, your country, and posterity.
Such is the opinion of Gibbon on Reform; on I believe the very Reform proposed by Lord Grey in his early years; and well did Mr. Gibbon appreciate its probable progress and peril. He wisely saw the whole mischief in the first step. Reform may be compared to the little cloud alluded to in Scripture, and familiar to the experience of eastern navigators, which rises not bigger than a man's hand, but which keeps on increasing until it envelopes the world in obscurity and tempests, and announces or accomplishes the overthrow of kings and kingdoms.
Sir, the hon. and learned Gentleman has told us also, in another of those metaphors which he delights to introduce, but in which he appears to me to have been this evening rather unlucky in the way of argument; he says—"When you are about to make a coat, for God's sake let it fit the man for whom you mean it; do not take your measure from the Apollo Belvidere, but adhere to the common shop-board, and, with vulgar chalk and shears, cut your coat according to your cloth, and be sure you keep to your measure." Now, adopting for a moment this elegant metaphor, I wish much to hear at what period of our history the coat of the English Constitution has ever been cut after the fashion now recommended? Was there ever before such a thing heard of as the division of coun- 473 ties? Was there ever before such a thing heard of as the abolition of all corporate rights—as the annihilation of that diversity of franchise which is so peculiar and so salutary to the Constitution of this country? Was it ever before heard that a right of franchise was to be made, like the coat of an army clothier or a parish contractor, not for one man, but every man, of every size and every occupation? Such, however, is that coat whose exact fit the learned Gentleman thus extols, but which I believe, when it comes to be tried, it will be found that, intended to fit every body, it will in fact not fit any one.
The sartorial allegories of the hon. and learned Gentleman, which I should certainly not have ventured to introduce, remind me of the tailor in "Swift's Flying Island," who took measure for a coat with a quadrant, and cut it out by arithmetical calculations; Lieutenant Drummond himself could not have done it better; the coat is made in the most scientific manner; but, unfortunately, the tailor, like Lieutenant Drummond, makes a slight error in his calculation, and when the coat comes home, it cannot be worn—it will fit nobody; there is neither citizen nor burgess who, when they come to see this arithmetical habiliment, are willing to put it on. All were delighted at first when they heard they were to get a new coat, and that it was to be sent home to them gratis, by the bounty of the King's Ministers—that it was made of true-blue cloth, with a red collar and white lining; quite a tri-color garment, but, to save appearances, with the cypher of the King and the figure of the Crown on the buttons. But it was found, and by those, too, who made it, that it did not fit, and so it has been patched, and pieced, and mended, and amended, till, even before it is worn, it becomes like Sir John Cutlar's stockings, to have hardly a shred of the original left together; and, after all the trouble and expense which it has cost, will at length be cast aside as a thing too old-fashioned for the young, too new-fashioned for the old, and, in short, a misshapen tissue of blunders, which, if the learned Gentleman will venture to wear, I give him joy of his courage, and sincerely assure him that, with all my admiration of his talents, I should by no means wish to be in his coat.
To return, however, from the metaphors of the learned Gentleman to the principle of the Bill, you are told that this is to be a final distribution of political power; and if it is 474 not a final distribution of political power, its advocates must admit that it certainly is a most dangerous experiment; because you are going to take out of the House of Commons the special and indirect influence of the Crown exercised by its Ministers, and the special and indirect influence of the Aristocracy by which a power is created in this House, which moderates the direct popular influence, and thus preserves the independence of the other branches of the Legislature. "Yes," say our opponents, "we are going to restore the House of Commons to its original purity and independence." Without stopping here to inquire what the period is at which we find that purity and independence, I must ask, are we equally inclined to restore to the Crown and the Lords their constitutional independence? Are we to expect, as a daily occurrence, that which has not happened since the Revolution—the veto of the King—and is the House of Lords habitually to exert its negative on the proceedings of the House of Commons? Of all the fallacies that have been promulgated by theorists about our Constitution, the grossest is that of the equibalance of the three estates—independent and co-efficient. It is a state of political society which would not exist a month. Supreme power (however nominally distributed) must in practice be vested in one authority. With us that authority is the House of Commons, but, in order to prevent that authority being wholly popular and supreme over the other two, the Crown and the Aristocracy have a disguised but well-known and acknowledged influence here, which preserves the real balance, and obviates those dissensions and collisions, to which the same powers, operating in separate and wholly independent movements, would be liable.
But, say the popular advocates, the result of all this is, that the interests of the people have not been represented in this House in the way they ought to have been, and that the Aristocracy has had in it too much influence. The fact, I think, I may deny, when I look at the House, that even under the present system, I see here collected—is it, can it be denied, that this House is essentially popular, and that every year, almost every month, it has become, and is becoming, more so, and that the influences of the Crown and the Aristocracy are becoming every day less and less? In fact, their influence is not, and never, I believe, has 475 been, a controlling, but only a moderating influence. The present admixture of interests in this House creates a certain elasticity, which has acted like springs, and has prevented violent collision with the Crown and the House of Lords; take away these springs, and we must run the risk of jostling and destroying each other.
This is not mere theory—look at what is even now passing under our eyes. Even before you have an opportunity of trying the larger experiment, the House of Lords have been told, that they shall not have an opinion on this very measure; nay, the most audacious and unconstitutional means have been used to menace and intimidate that House into that which they are not inclined to do. If we are to insist on this measure, if the House of Lords are to have no option, if they must register the Bill when we send it up to them, does not this show what may be expected, what must happen on all future occasions? Is it unreasonable that the House of Lords should have an opinion of its own? Is it justifiable in the Monarch, by the advice of his Ministers to drown the opinion of the House of Lords by such an unconstitutional measure as a large creation of Peers? What security shall we have, when this Bill shall have been passed, that the House of Lords will retain even a shadow of independence? There never was anything more absurd than the theory of distinct powers nicely counterbalancing each other, and still separately maintaining their independent authority. The House of Commons, as it now stands, feels the influence of all the parts of the Constitution, and becomes in fact, though not in theory, an omnipotent body. We see this every day—we see even that the King's Ministers, possessing the confidence of the Monarch, are unable to hold their places without the sanction by this House of their measures. We know that this House not only represents the sentiments of the people, but that it feels the influence of the Aristocracy and of the Crown? It is that union which gives all its vigor to the Constitution of the country, and has enabled us, and us alone, of all the nations of the world, to solve that great problem of a distribution of authority with a unity of power. Let the House of Lords maintain its independence by its preliminary influence amongst us, and this happy and well balanced state will continue; but reduce the Lords to their separate and naked legislative negative, and their authority will vanish before the uncontrolled strength of 476 the Commons; and the House of Commons, when it has got rid of the Lords, will soon, in the wantonness and irregularities of unlimited power, fall a prey to its own dissensions—to the want of some principle of stability—of some permanent standard of policy, and of some fixed power of control.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has attributed the distresses of the country to the feeble influence of the people in this House, and to the corrupt state of the House itself—so little, as he thinks, in harmony with the spirit of the age, and so little affected by the altered circumstances of the times—but I must tell the learned Gentleman, that, in making this observation, he does not appear to have investigated the case with that profundity of research which I should be led to expect from one who professes to have examined with philosophical attention, the practical workings of our system. I contend that the House of Commons has adapted itself to the altered state of society, that it has not merely followed, but met the increased intelligence of the country, and has fitted itself for the developement and protection of new interests as they have sprung up. Can the learned Gentleman deny or disregard the popular preponderance in the personal composition of this House—its more sensitive sympathy with public opinion—its decreased deference to the Crown—its increased dependence on the people? Is not the power of the Press an important popular change? Is not the daily publication of our debates a most important popular alteration?—this is a power which, as the means of popular control over us, has been known as existing at all within only the last half century, but which has grown into what it is now within only the last thirty years. Does not this show that the House of Commons adapts itself to the march of the times? Does not the learned Gentleman also see, that in both the quantity and quality of business done by this House, there is a vast difference between the present and former periods? This House has now brought before it everything connected with internal government, and local and legal administration, as well as those with which it was formerly almost solely conversant, financial questions and state policy. Not only are the chief and most striking questions of national interest discussed, but even parish affairs are regulated, and personal topics of every kind investigated with a degree of attention, which proves, at least, how deeply this 477 House enters into all the minutia of Administration. The grievances, not only of the people, but of every individual, are constantly brought before this House, and the power of communication between this House and every class, however humble, of the people, is considerably enlarged. A most important alteration, therefore, has, I venture to assert, taken place, not only in the composition of the House, but in the extent and exercise of its powers. I say, then, that the House of Commons has accommodated itself to the change of circumstances which it has had to encounter. Among other things, the close boroughs I consider as one of those very adaptations. The existence of close boroughs has, as I have already said, prevented or guarded against those violent checks and collisions between the House of Lords and the House of Commons, which, in all probability, would have happened under other circumstances; but they have also been the channel by which such interests, as have no direct Representatives, whether manufacturing, commercial, or colonial, have been enabled to send Representatives to the great council of the nation. Of these great interests, there is but one—the manufacturing—for the Representation of which the Reform Bill even affects to provide, and for which, in fact, it will not provide so well as at present, while all the other interests of this great empire will be left in infinitely a worse state, even as to Representation, than they are under the present calumniated, and, I will add, misunderstood arrangement.
I may be asked, why should not all these interests be directly represented? My first answer would be, it is impossible.—Direct Representation must he local, and many interests are too subtle, or too diffused, to be localized. Where would you localize the Representation of the Law—of the Church—of Literature—of Funded Property—of Colonial interests? but there is another, and, for our present purpose, a more conclusive answer—this Bill provides nothing like such a Representation; it takes from all these interests their present virtual Representation, and gives them nothing whatsoever instead.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has drawn a frightful picture of the deplorable and increasing distress of the country, and that distress he has attributed to the operation and influence of the feeble and corrupt portions of the Constitution. All that is rich, and prosperous, and great, in our 478 national position, he attributes to what he calls the sound parts of our Constitution; all the misery and distress he imputes to the close boroughs. I will not stop to dissect and expose this absurd division and appropriation of the good and the bad of a system so mixed and interwoven as ours, to what a learned Gentleman may fancy, in his constitutional reveries, to be theoretically good or bad; I need only say, that the learned Gentleman has but a poor recollection of his own arguments. I remember that, on a former occasion, he took particular pains to prevent its being supposed that he anticipated, in the Reform Bill, a remedy for the distress of the country. I am quite confident of the accuracy of my memory; and I am also sure, that either the hon. and learned Gentleman himself, or some one in reference to his line of argument, made use of this quotation—Of all the ills that human hearts endure, How small the share that kings or laws can cure.Whether the hon. and learned Gentleman used this quotation, or whether it was used by myself, or by some other Member, in illustration of his opinion, I really forget; but it certainly was so used, and gave a succinct and just view of the tenor of his argument; and yet he comes forward to-night, and, in the teeth of his recent opinion, attributes the distress of the country to the want of Reform in the House of Commons. If the House could have forgotten that what I have just stated was the distinct direction of the learned Gentleman's argument, I can bring it to their recollection (I am sure I need not revive it in his) by alluding to the felicitous pleasantry with which my right hon. friend, the member for Tamworth, replied to that former speech—how he fixed the learned Gentleman down to the admission, that Reform, though it could not remove the distresses of the country, might, however, tend to the improvement of this or that legal or administrative detail, and how he showed that of these petty improvements, which the learned Gentleman predicted from the Reform Bill, some had already been accomplished before the Reform Bill was heard of. The learned Gentleman must, therefore, allow me to say, that now, as on former occasions, in his difficulty to find argument, he has fallen into gross inconsistencies.
But the advocates for the Bill tell us that our apprehension that this Bill is only 479 the first step to an interminable career of change is wholly groundless, and that the measure will be final. The learned Gentleman, indeed, a little mitigates or obscures that promise, but still tells us that it will be as final as any human arrangement can be expected to be. Alas, Sir, the broader and the narrower assertion are both contradicted by the facts which are passing around us. There is not the slightest reason to hope (but just the reverse) that the Bill will satisfy or, pacify what are so improperly called the people. Let the House look to the proceedings on it which have taken place up to the present moment. No change has been made in this Bill that has not been introduced in obedience to popular clamour, and every change which tended to propitiate popular clamour has been adopted. Such is the fact; and what hope, therefore, is there that, in opposition to the whole course and experience of nature, the appetite for change, once gratified, will die away. No, Sir, the desire of change will not be pacified but instigated by the passing of this Bill. I am satisfied that there is nothing so much calculated to inflame the minds of the bad part of the community as the success they have already achieved. A worse lesson cannot be read to them than that which his Majesty's Ministers have already taught them—that they have only to show their physical strength in order to secure themselves political success.
I am not going at length into that part of the subject, but, as a proof of my assertion, I will call upon the House to bear in mind the history of the 10l. franchise clause. Let any hon. Member trace the changes which have taken place in that clause, and then say, if he can, that those changes have not been dictated by subserviency, not to the people, but to the populace. There is as great a difference between the 10l. clause, as originally proposed, and as it at present stands, as there is between reformation and revolution; and, in the same way on every other point in which an alteration has been made, it has been done under the same pusillanimous subserviency, and in the same democratical direction.
If this Bill shall, unhappily pass, and become a law, I will assert—and I believe it from the bottom of my heart, and that reluctant belief has been formed after the most anxious and agonizing reflections—that it will put an extensive power in the 480 hands, not of the people, but of the populace, who will soon destroy their own work, like a toy—and scatter to the winds all those complicated and contradictory clauses which it has cost you two painful and fruitless years to frame. But will it end here? No! They will go on from bad to worse, having no other guide than their passions; for you will have eradicated from their minds every principle by which mankind are controlled. Anarchy, with all its horrors and miseries will ensue. The appetite for change will go on increasing so long as there remains food on which it can be indulged; and will lie down at last, like the wild beast, appeased and quiet only when it is satiate with having devoured all that is within its reach.
We might as well look to a new course in nature, as for a different result; we might as well expect that childhood wit not be followed by youth, and youth by manhood, and manhood by age, as that indulged license will not be followed by anarchy, and anarchy by despotism. Let me not be misunderstood I do not believe that it is in the power of those who propose and forward this Bill, to destroy for ever the goodly frame of society in this country. I believe that there is a special Providence, that, though it permits temporary inflictions, will not allow of permanent destruction. As in 1660 and in 1688, after intervals of darkness and danger, the principles of our Constitution burst out in renewed vigour, so, I believe, that after the interval of misrule and anarchy with which we are threatened, the principles under which this nation has so long flourished will spring again with renovated power, and restore to the harassed and exhausted people the comfort of living once again under a system of freedom and security. I am glad to be able, with a full conviction of its truth, to say to the promoters of this portentous measure,Fond, impious man, thinks't thou this sanguine cloud,Rais'd by thy breath has quench'd the orb of day?To-morrow it repairs its golden flood,And warms the nations with redoubled ray.Such, I have no doubt, even if we are destined to undergo this trial, will be the ultimate, however distant result. This great and glorious country, with all its recollections and all its hopes, cannot long remain in oblivious anarchy—there will be a new dawn of English society; but, 481 before that dawn can come-O! would that I could disbelieve the prophetic warning—we must have passed through a dreary, tempestuous, and calamitous night.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that argument had been so exhausted upon this question that he felt it necessary to trouble the House with only a few words. He certainly could not refrain from expressing his surprise that the hon. member for the University of Oxford had been bold enough to defend the propriety of the Nabob of Arcot having four Members to represent his interests in the House of Commons. It might with as much reason be contended that the emperor of Russia or the king of France should have Members to represent their interests. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Croker) argued the question upon different grounds. He had accused the Government of making changes in the Bill in obedience to popular clamour. Now, hon. Gentlemen opposite were aware, for it had been very often stated by them, that the Government had yielded, in many instances, to their suggestions in framing the new Bill; and unless hon. Gentlemen opposite were to be considered as the organs of popular clamour, he did not know how Ministers could be charged, when they adopted suggestions from such a quarter, as having done so in obedience to popular clamour. The fact was, however, Ministers had adopted such alterations as they considered beneficial, without considering whether they should be taunted by having it said that they yielded to popular clamour, or that they adopted the views of their adversaries. It had been asserted that the only reason any one had for supporting the Reform Bill was, that it was necessary to satisfy the people. But the correctness of this assertion he could not admit. He hoped and believed that a great majority of those who voted for the Bill supported it on its own merits, and because they believed it to be a good measure to be adopted. A great many amongst the supporters of this Bill he was convinced, agreed with him that it was advantageous to extend the power of the people in that House, and to assimilate somewhat more the practice to the theory of the Constitution. It was argued very strongly that this could not he a permanent measure, but he did not see what good ground there was for considering that any measure would be permanent, except in proportion as it gave satisfaction to the country. For a proof of the satisfaction which this Bill would give, he could 482 appeal to the general anxiety which had been manifested for its success. Did hon. Gentlemen mean to say that there was no such anxiety?—or did they mean that the anxiety was not general that the Bill should pass? He did not know from whence hon. Gentlemen collected their information, or in what society they formed their opinions, but if they looked at the feeling of the country, he should say that there never had been a measure depending in Parliament upon which the public in general expressed such anxiety as upon this. Surely there would be a less chance of permanency if they resisted all change; and if, as some hon. Gentlemen held, the people desired more than this measure, that was a tolerably strong argument that they would not be satisfied with less. But it was also said that the measure could not be permanent, because it did not go the whole length of Universal Suffrage. Was it meant that no measure upon the basis of a compromise could be permanent? He trusted that the good sense of the people of England would be satisfied, when they saw that the grievous abuses of the system—the crying evils of which they complained—were got rid of, and that the body of the people would have a due influence in the Representation of the country. He was sure that the people of this country were not so fickle as to give reason to apprehend that when they had no practical evil to complain of they would still wish for change, for the sake of change itself. It had been truly said, that what the country now required was quiet, and a cessation from anxiety and agitation. He considered this Bill as the most efficacious means of giving it that quiet and putting an end to the present agitation. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that Lord Holland gave the Government good advice when he said that, in any changes which they introduced, they should look to the great landmarks of the Constitution, and not lose sight of those principles under which the country had so long flourished. He acknowledged the justice of this sentiment, and the measure before the House kept this object most carefully in view. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the ingratitude with which the supporters of the Bill were treated, and quoted an article in proof of that from some public paper, he did not know which [a laugh]. Gentlemen laughed as if they doubted what he said, but he assured them that, not having an opportunity of looking at the papers much, he really did not know which of them it was, nor 483 even what were its politics. [Mr. Croker said, it was The Times.] It seemed that the paper in question complimented the Gentlemen on the other side of the House, and called the supporters of the Bill jades and dogged animals, denying them any merit in the measure. Those who supported the Reform Bill might meet with ingratitude from The Times newspaper, but he was sure they would obtain the gratitude of their constituents. He was sure that they would be rewarded by their constituents placing confidence in the sincerity of their support of Reform. They had nobly redeemed the pledges given to their constituents, and he had no doubt they would receive in return the gratitude which they merited.
said, it was his intention to confine himself to one point which had been adverted to by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, in answer to a part of the most eloquent speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the member for Aldborough, asserted, that there was abundant evidence to prove, that the country had decidedly declared itself in favour of this Bill, and that it would not be content with less. From inquiries he had most anxiously made he felt thoroughly convinced that from nothing that they had seen, were they justified in coming to such a conclusion. It was a mistake which hon. Gentlemen too often fell into, of taking the declaration in favour of Reform in general, as a proof that the wish expressed was for this Bill, and nothing but the Bill. With reference to its feelings upon this question the public might be divided into four classes. The first was that consisting of those who really wished for the whole measure, and that, he allowed, was of the four, the most numerous. But of whom did it consist: chiefly of the mob, by which name he alluded to those who were influenced more by impulse than by reason—those who were influenced by a senseless desire of change, for the sake of change alone—those who openly avowed that they looked upon this measure merely as a stepping-stone to ulterior measures, which, he believed, there were few in that House who would not acknowledge were incompatible with monarchy. Abstract all such from it, and he had great doubts whether, of the four, it would then be the most numerous; but if the influence by means of intimidation, which they had exercised both in aggrandizing the one and diminishing the other, had never been in operation, then he was quite sure it would 484 never have been so. The next class was one which he also felt assured was a large one, it consisted of those who resided in large towns, and among large communities, who desired a Reform, but dreaded the extent of this experiment. He assured hon. Gentlemen that he knew such to be the case. He knew that Gentlemen, who, being desirous that the feeling against this measure should not be entirely concealed, had carried about petitions and addresses for signature, but had constantly received such answers as these:—"Are you for Reform?"—"Yes."—"Do you, however, think this measure too violent?"—"I certainly do."—"Put your name, then, to this paper, which only expresses that sentiment."—"I dare not, for, were Ito do so, my property, hardly my person, would be safe from the violence of the mob for a day." He could give instances within his own personal knowledge that would surprise hon. Gentlemen, by showing to what an extent this kind of intimidation had been carried. In a small village, in the neighbourhood of which he resided, several small householders willingly put their names to such a document, but shortly afterwards came begging that their names might be erased, for that they depended for employment solely upon the lower orders, that their customers of that class had come to them, and said that they had been signing against their King and country, and, therefore, if their names were not withdrawn, they would be ruined. The third class were those who, like himself, had opposed openly and constantly the whole measure; and it must not be supposed that, because its voice was not heard as loudly as that of their opponents, that, in numbers even they were insignificant. What means had they of competing with their opponents in making their opinions known? All those who were likely to have recourse to violence in the suppression of opinions were attached to their adversaries; was it to be supposed, therefore, that they would be foolish enough to call meetings at which they would not have a chance of being heard? Very effectual means had been taken for suppressing the demonstration of their opinions; but if a conclusion was, therefore, drawn, that they were few in number, such conclusion was most unwarranted. The last class were those who, in their hearts, were as much opposed to this measure as the last one he had mentioned; but yet, hearing the clamour of the one, and observing the comparative silence of the other, endeavoured to persuade them- 485 selves that the unanimity so sedulously asserted really existed; they were too timid or too cowardly to attempt to stem the current, and, therefore, meanly turned and swam with it. This class, too, no man of candour would deny, was also a most numerous one. Now, however much hon. Gentlemen might differ from him as to the relative proportion of these classes, they must admit that every one of them, except the extreme part only of the first,—would have been content with a more moderate experiment upon the Constitution of the country than this Bill was. At the conclusion of last Session of Parliament, he had declared that if Ministers would consent to introduce a more moderate measure, he would be ready to give it his humble support; and, in spite of the statement of the noble Lord opposite, that they never would consent to do so—in spite of the declarations of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that they would persist in forcing through this measure, in all its undiminished violence, he could not refrain from indulging a hope that they would think better of that decision. The consequences of such perseverance were to him so apparent that he feared it would inevitably lead to one of two results—either that the Bill would be a second time rejected, or that it would be forced through the other House of Parliament by such an exercise of the prerogative of the Crown as must for ever destroy its independence. From the first, he should have thought, if they really did anticipate the consequences which they asserted would follow, the common feelings of humanity would have made them dread risking it; from the second, he should have thought, that if they possessed the slightest attachment to the great institutions of the country, they would have shrunk with horror from the possibility of being placed in a situation in which they might feel themselves induced to advise the Crown to adopt a step which every man who affected respect for the Constitution of his country joined in deprecating. He was sure that it was in their power to have avoided either of these dangers. He was convinced that they might, without sacrificing the main principles of their measure, have produced one which the other House of Parliament would have been, without any such violent step, induced to adopt. He greatly regretted that they had thus rendered it impossible for all declared opponents of the old Bill to withdraw their opposition from this. So deep were his feelings of, the difficulties 486 with which they were surrounded, that he believed it impossible for them to escape unscathed. Constituted as that House was at that moment, it could only be regarded as the slave of the passions of the people, and he would ask if there was any man who would say that it was desirable that the House of Peers should be reduced to a similar condition? He, for his own part, repeated that he had most anxiously wished to see such a modification effected in the Bill as would justify him in supporting it, and, if that had been the case, he would have readily changed his side of the House, although he had gone alone. The fact, however, was otherwise, and he was compelled to vote for the Amendment.
§ Debate adjourned.