§ Mr. Finch
rose, pursuant to notice, to bring before the House a subject of considerable importance, although not, perhaps, of so great importance as some questions which had been brought before it in the course of the Session. It was a subject, however, on which a great deal of public feeling had been excited, and the result of their discussion that evening would be looked forward to with great interest. He begged that it might be most distinctly understood, that he brought the question of the Political Unions forward with no party views, and being a Member of no influence in that House, it would be debated without reference to party feeling. Whatever the result might be, he trusted it would tend towards the best interests of the country. He assured those hon. Members who might take up the defence of Political Unions, that if they could prove Political Unions to be legal or constitutional to the satisfaction of the House, he should be happy to withdraw his Motion. For himself he must confess, that after patiently investigating the subject, he had not been able to discover in these Political Unions any one redeeming virtue. They were, in their origin, in their principles, and their development, as far as their influence extended, fraught with unmixed mischief. He did not mean to say that, at the present moment, the Political Unions were all powerful, or even influential, but he thought, on that very account, that the present was the proper time to take them into consideration. He was not about to ask for any new law—for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, for restrictions on the Press, or for interference with the Trial by Jury, or the right to assemble 1264 at public meetings, or for the suspension of any other privilege of the people recognized by the law or Constitution of this country. He meant to propose to the House a simple Resolution; and, in order to endeavour to avoid collision with his Majesty's Ministers or any party, he had selected words, in which it was couched, from a Proclamation issued by the Government two years ago. In substance, therefore, there could be no difference between himself and his Majesty's Ministers. The Resolution was to the following effect:—"Resolved, that certain voluntary associations, denominated Political Unions, are subversive of the authority of the Crown, unconstitutional and illegal, and that his Majesty's Ministers will be fully justified in enforcing the law of the land for their suppression, and for the suppression of all Political Unions, be their denomination what they may, of which the nature, principles, designs, and operations, are subversive of the authority of the Crown, unconstitutional, or illegal." The hon. Gentleman referred to the Proclamation, to show that it contained the same condemnatory words which he had made use of in his Resolution—namely, that Political Unions were "subversive of the authority of the Crown, unconstitutional, and illegal." There might be some hon. Members in that House who might conceive that he was about to encroach on the liberties of the people. Let them, then, he would say, point out the precise period in our history when Unions were considered legal and constitutional. He would invite them to go back to the most remote period; but although they went back to the time of the Saxons, and thence through the periods when the political dominion of the country was held by the Normans, the Plantagenets, the Tudors, up, indeed, to the date of the first French Revolution, they would not find any institution bearing resemblance to these Unions in the powers which they usurped. They arrogated to themselves the power, authority, and privilege of overawing, or endeavouring to overawe, the Legislature and Executive, by endeavouring to enrol and place under their command large bodies of the people, and establishing a confederacy which might overturn all existing institutions, and were wholly incompatible with any government, law, or constitution whatever. There was nothing in the constitutional history of the country which bore any resemblance or affinity to the 1265 Political Unions; and if it were true that nothing of the kind was discoverable in the constitutional history of the country, it remained for those who were prepared to defend such institutions to show, that they were in harmony with the spirit of the Constitution, and that they might at any time be instituted without any violation or breach of the Constitution. Now, they could not have an implied existence, he-cause all their spirit and operations were contrary to the Constitution. He would, however, admit, that there was a period when societies similar to the Political Unions had an ephemeral existence—he meant at the era of the French Revolution, when, indeed, there were societies exercising a like influence and professing like principles—societies, roots of which had been watered by the tears and the blood of millions. Those institutions were anti-monarchical, and equally violated the privileges of Parliament and prerogatives of the Crown. No one, let his ingenuity be what it might, could successfully defend those Unions on the ground of constitutionality. He had no hesitation in laying down this proposition, that all political power which was not established by law was an unconstitutional power. Let the nature of the power be what it might, there existed that which showed it to be unconstitutional. There was a great difference between natural rights and political power. All persons had a natural right to do what was not at variance with the laws; but no individual could claim political power—it could only be obtained by constitutional grant. He (Mr. Finch) could show in an instant, and from an authorised document, "The Resolutions of the Birmingham Union," and particularly to that which was contained in the 19th page of that document, that the Unions assumed to themselves the exercise of political power. The objects of the Birmingham Political Union were stated to be,
"5th. To obey strictly all the just and legal directions of the Political Council, so soon as they shall be made public, and so far as they can legally and conveniently be obeyed.
"6th. To bear in mind, that the Strength of our Society consists in the peace, order, unity, and legality of our proceedings; and to consider all persons as enemies who shall in any way invite or promote violence, discord, or division, or any illegal or doubtful measures.
"7th. Never to forget, that by the exercise 1266 of the above qualities we shall produce the peaceful display of an immense organised moral power, which cannot be despised nor disregarded; but that, if we do not keep clear of the innumerable and intricate laws which surround us, the lawyer and the soldier will probably break in upon us and render all our exertions vain." Here then were all the elements of political power gathered together in a manner highly unconstitutional. Let the members of this Council be animated by the most exalted patriotism, still the power would be dangerous and illegal. It was alleged to be an "indispensable rule of the Society to obey the Political Council." In another part of the regulations it was declared, that the Society meant to act by availing themselves of moments of "popular enthusiasm." He would read three other rules.
"6th. To consider and report upon the legality and practicability of holding central meetings of delegates from the industrious classes, in the same manner as similar kinds of meetings were lately held by the delegates of the agriculturists assembled at Henderson's Hotel.
"7th. To consider the means of organizing a system of operations whereby the Public Press may be influenced to act generally in support of the public interests.
"8th. In all their proceedings to look chiefly to the recovery and preservation of the rights and interests of the lower and middle classes of the people."
He was ready to argue, that no body of men, however good their intentions, however much they might have an eye to the public good, had a right to frame a system of laws by which they might acquire great political power. Their notions of power were derived from the doctrine of passive obedience. In that Council was centered absolute power, and to this Council the members paid a military obedience. True it was, that the first article of the duties of the members declared, "that they were bound to be good, faithful, and loyal subjects of the King." It was said, that man was the only laughing animal, but he verily believed, that if any irrational or savage creature could be brought to laugh, it would be by the perusal of the Political Union regulations. He could not understand the logical deductions of the framer of those rules, whoever he might be, that could deduce such acts as those warranted by the Political Union regulations from the text of order, faith, and loyalty. It was a recurrence to the system by which Jacobinism 1267 had been promulgated in France, which was by the promulgation of clubs throughout the country, and sending delegates to form a National Convention, which was to supersede the legislative and executive government. Their supposed good order and loyalty to the King was a mere colouring to shelter them from the operation of the law. This was the case with those who had promoted the French Revolution. The rights of man were founded on the assumption, that the foundation of political society was essentially popular, and these Political Unions declared, that all persons were eligible to become members, by which they inculcated anew the doctrine of political equality. It had been said, that these Unions could not be more illegal than the Carlton-street and other Conservative Societies. Now, for his part, he could see no more likeness between the Carlton Club and the Political Unions, than there was between a man and a monkey. These Unions stated that, however desirous both Houses of Parliament might be to promote the happiness of the community, their members had not the means of knowing their wants. Bred up in the lap of luxury, and surrounded by parasites, the members of the Legislature had no means of knowing the extent to which distress existed in the country, and then they proceeded to say, that they would watch narrowly the proceedings of the Legislature, in order to preserve the country from danger. He would ask, was it to the self-constituted Committee that the Legislature was to look for light and reason? Was there among those men that impartiality of judgment that would lead the House to give up its judgment to theirs? Was there that talent among them that would induce the Legislature to put itself under their tutelage? Were its members known as public men, or were they persons in whom the country could place implicit confidence? Or were they persons who sought to engender a spirit of dissatisfaction in the country, placing the poor in open hostility with the rich; or did they put forth such arguments as would induce persons to suppose, that through them, and them alone, national regeneration was to be effected? He would leave the House to answer these questions for themselves. What was the interpretation to be given to the whole of their proceedings? He would leave the House to say, whether it was not that the Ministry be formed out of themselves. Without the gift of prophecy he would say, that if the change con- 1268 templated by the Unions were carried into effect, they would soon call one of their own body to the seat at the head of the Treasury. [Name]. If he were called upon to name he would say the hon. member for Birmingham, and after his late services in the cause of agitation, the hon. and learned member for Dublin would probably have the Seals. Perhaps as a Catholic he could, not fill such a situation, but no doubt the Unions would consider that he deserved it. If, however, the Unions should prevail, the existence of law would be no impediment to their appointments, and then Mr. Parkes and Mr. Edmonds, two legal gentlemen of Birmingham, might hold the situations of Attorney and Solicitor General. Then some place must he made for a gentleman who was a most careful preserver of the public peace—he meant Mr. Larkins; and the Secretary for Ireland would in all probability be Mr. Steele. These appointments would, certainly, appear to be extravagant as well as absurd; but what could be so extravagant or absurd, that the majority of the people would not resort to it to secure their own dominion, and destroy the laws, the Constitution, the religion, and the monarchy of the country? If the Unions could succeed in inducing the Sovereign to act upon their advice, the appointments to which he had referred would not be cither absurd or extravagant. He would admit, for the sake of argument, that these Councils of the Political Unions were able, independent, and filled with patriotic ardour; but, as long as their power was only based upon the breath of popular enthusiasm, no man could deny that Revolution would be the natural consequences of their mob dominion. Such a dominion would be much worse than Universal Suffrage, Annual Parliaments, and the Vote by Ballot. The breath of popular enthusiasm was the groundwork of the Political Unions, and they were framed upon the model of those Jacobin Clubs which prepared the way for the French Revolution. Could any man in his senses mistake the repeated allusions to the fate of Charles 1st—of the disuse, if not of the abuse, of the aristocracy—and the utter subversion of the monarchy? His design was to show, that the Political unions were both unconstitutional and illegal, and had for their object the legislative and executive power of this country. The hon. Member here quoted several passages from speeches delivered at various political meetings in justification of the opinions which he had just stated to the 1269 House. The speakers at these meetings recommended the people to use what they called moral intimidation. They told their auditors that a representative government could only he maintained upon a democratic basis, and that the people should, with a voice of thunder, call out for Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, and Vote by Ballot. Now, he would ask, was this consistent with the law? [Mr. O'Connell: Quite]. Why, these Political Unions held up the example of republican America to the applause and imitation of the people of this country; and they told them, that while America was free from debt England was oppressed by both debt and taxes. These speakers again set forth, that a Constitution to be good and sound must be based on democracy, and, as he had just said, they invited the people to make their demands in a voice of thunder. They also inculcated the doctrine of passive obedience to the Councils of the Unions, although he was aware, that such an assertion might be denied by the abettors and supporters of those Unions. In this country, however, a strong Conservative feeling prevailed. Well, then, he would say a strong, independent, and manly Tory feeling to uphold the laws and constitution of the empire. He considered that the object at which the Unions aimed, was to produce a revolution, although he would admit, that revolution was now at a discount in several of the States of Europe. In France and Belgium revolutions had recently taken place, or if not revolutions, at all events a change of dynasty. A similar attempt was made in Portugal, but as yet the legitimate Monarch had maintained his throne. When the last French Revolution occurred, the hopes of the Jacobins were raised, popular excesses were the consequence, but they were ultimately put down by the only possible and justifiable means—by the musket and the bayonet. But in the case of France and Belgium the Revolutions were of a Conservative character, notwithstanding the changing dynasty. Life, liberty, and property were secured, and the dungeons were no longer filled with the victims of despotism or of republicanism. On the other hand we were not now legislating as it were pro aris et focis, the enemy was not now exactly at our door; but yet he thought the time had arrived when the Parliament should legislate against the existence of Political Unions. It was high time that such nests of perdition should be extirpated, and he was confident, that there was so 1270 much of evil and malignity in their frame and constitution as would justify the Resolution which he had to propose to the House. He trusted, that a majority of this House would condemn the Political Unions, and if the majority did not he was sure the majority of the country would. He hoped that the spirit of liberty would always prevail in the British empire, but that the spirit of French anarchy and confusion would never exist amongst us. He wished to be as concise as possible in the expression of his opinions, and he would say, that the point, after all, came to this, not whether the Unions were illegal or not, but whether they were not attended with such imminent and pressing dangers as loudly demanded their being put down. He had no party feelings to gratify in submitting his Resolution to the House. It was only prospective, and had no retrospective tendency whatsoever. If the existing laws did not enable the Government to put down these Political Unions, he for one would be at once ready to arm the Government with fresh powers to do so. The law should give equal protection to all classes of his Majesty's subjects; the Unions, however, had usurped a dominion over the law. Even supposing that these Political Unions were not formidable as a political body, they ought to be put down as local nuisances, for, at present, it was necessary for everybody in their neighbourhood to be of their mind, or woe be to him. At several elections, occurring near places where those Unions existed, they marched in bodies to the hustings; and not only did any gentleman, who appeared to be opposed to them, run the greatest risks, but all his friends became marked men, and were constantly in fear of the consequences of their independence. Indeed, several gentlemen who had communicated very serious complaints to him on the subject, had earnestly requested him not to mention their names, lest they too should become "marked men." It was, therefore, incumbent upon Parliament to take some steps in this matter, at any rate, for the protection of individuals. The non-suppression of these bodies, too, would inevitably give rise to faction; for, if Ministers refused to interfere, rival confederacies must be formed for self-defence. He was no friend to the Conservative, any more than to the Jacobinical Unions, considering, that the only Political Union should be the British Parliament, and if the latter bodies were suppressed, he would lead every assistance 1271 to suppress the others; but he repeated, if no steps were taken for the protection of the description of individuals he had just mentioned, they must form into societies as a matter of self-defence. It was said, that this mention of the Political Unions was unnecessary and injudicious: that they were fast dwindling away, and would soon expire of themselves; and that therefore any notice of them merely had the effect of giving them a certain degree of consequence. It was very true, that they were dwindling away, but still the circumstances of the times were such, that no ashes should be allowed to remain in which the spark of revolution might be kept smouldering. The most appalling disturbances, predial and civic, had been the result of these Political Unions, and, he repeated, although they might not be, and were not, so formidable by any means as they were two years ago, yet, at the same time, they were not so insignificant as to render it a matter of no consequence that this House should, indirectly, sanction their existence. Besides, the Resolutions he had to propose were very innocent and harmless, and he could not conceive that the House would refuse to agree to them. The House had inadvertently given, as it were, a prescriptive legality to these Unions; and it was therefore due to themselves that they should pass a Resolution, declaring that such bodies as these did not exist with parliamentary sanction. This was not a time to dally with fire. Things were in such a state all over the world as rendered it imperative on us to preserve the utmost possible internal power. If we once allowed of internal convulsion, total ruin would be the speedy and inevitable result. He considered, that the institutions of the country were not only necessary for the safety and happiness of the 100,000,000 of his Majesty's subjects, but these institutions concerned the liberties and happiness of all Europe. Those, therefore, who under any pretence sought a purpose inimical to the British Constitution, were not only the enemies to the liberties of their own country, but they were the enemies of the whole human race. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolutions.
seconded the Motion, which he did with the greater pleasure, inasmuch as it had been said in another place only a few days ago, that Political Unions were inconsistent with any plan of good Government. It was also said, that the law was sufficient to put them down, and if it 1272 were not, he would be willing to strengthen it, for, he believed, that there would be no disinclination in the Ministers to put the law in force. The people had no right to form such Unions as the means of obtaining redress, for they had the right of petitioning. They had no right to form and organize themselves into permanent political bodies. The King, Lords, and Commons, formed, he might say, a Political Union; and with their power these other Unions were inconsistent. If they were permitted any longer to exist they would destroy the deliberative power of Parliament, and, that once destroyed, of what use could the Parliament be to the country? It was easy to account for the origin of these Unions, which happened in consequence of the discussion which took place for the abolition of the rotten boroughs, which was so pertinaciously resisted by a certain party in this country. The existence of these Unions then might be justifiable; but the Reform question having been carried, and the rotten boroughs destroyed, there was no longer any necessity for their continuance. In fact, these Unions constituted an imperium in imperio; and, as such, he would oppose them. He was ready to promote every object of useful Reform. He had offered himself to his constituents as the friend of liberty, but the enemy of disorder; they had accepted him on these terms, and he should be always ready to put down disorder of any kind. He must tell his hon. friend the member for Stamford, that his Resolutions went to give Conservative Clubs a severe blow as well as Political Unions; and certainly, if those Clubs were to oppose all Reform, and were to lift themselves up against the spirit of the age, he, certainly, should not be sorry to deal a very heavy blow at them. The hon. Member concluded by seconding the Motion.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this Motion, assumed, throughout his speech, that the Political Unions were illegal assemblies; but, from all the information which he had been able to procure on the subject, he did not think that they could, in their present form, be said to be illegal. The hon. Gentleman had, in proof of his assumption, quoted the Proclamation issued by his Majesty two years ago; but, he entirely overlooked the particular circumstances which then existed. The Proclamation was issued against those Political Unions which assumed a right to organize their members 1273 upon a military principle, and even avowed their purpose of taking up arms. That certainly was a most illegal proceeding upon the part of those bodies, and against that the Proclamation was directed. Such was not the case at present. The appearance of the Proclamation had warned the Political Unions, as it was intended, to take care, and the illegal course had been abandoned. The hon. Gentleman wished him to say, whether, he thought, the prevalence of Political Unions and the spreading of those bodies growing into great power, was not detrimental to the Constitution, and, certainly, he was ready to say, that the prevalence of such Unions was not devoid of danger to the Constitution. But the hon. Gentleman said, and in that he cordially concurred, that the general feelings of the people of this country were conservative—that the feelings of the great majority of the people were in favour of supporting our present institutions—of preserving them, but, in preserving, to improve them, and, by continual improvements, to make them even more worthy of being preserved. That was, he admitted, the general, he might say almost the universal, feeling of the people. In every large and mixed society like ours there would be, and no doubt were, persons who took a different view from this, but they were in this country very few. Before the House adopted the Resolution proposed by the hon. Gentleman, it ought to be satisfied that there was great danger of these revolutionary views spreading—a greater danger than at present any man supposed to exist. He conceived the hon. Gentleman's Resolution uncalled for, and he certainly could not agree to it, particularly the first part, which was incorrect. The Resolution stated that these Unions were illegal, and he did not believe that they were. With respect to the other part of it, he did not see the advantage of the House giving any opinion on the subject. It was for him a great satisfaction to think that the feelings of the country were in a state of great excitement at the time the Political Unions arose and were extended; they had been preserved and extended subsequently by a continued and even increased excitement; but he was happy to concur with the hon. Gentleman in believing, that, in the present state of the country, their power was diminishing from want of excitement. For himself, he was not speaking out of any partiality to Political Unions, for of all the persons who enter- 1274 tained political opinions, there was no political party more hostile to the present Government than the Political Unions. He, therefore, did not come forward out of any partiality to those Unions; and what he said could not be charged to that motive. The hon. Gentleman said, that Political Unions had interfered at elections, and had prevented those from being elected who ought to have been elected. Certainly, he must admit, that Political Unions had interfered with elections, and, he might say, had endeavoured to prevent the proper persons from being elected; but their exertions had not always been directed against the Gentlemen opposite or in favour of those who supported the Government. He had seen some of the Gentlemen opposite glad of the assistance of Political Unions on a late occasion. The hon. Gentleman had adverted to a sort of a programme of an Administration suitable to these Unions, and had stated the names of those Gentlemen who were to hold offices in the State. The hon. Gentleman said, it was one of their great and peculiar objects to get their own party into power; but, he believed, that no political party ever existed, which did not wish to have an Administration formed of those persons who held their own opinions. Upon the whole, he thought the question was hardly one to speak seriously about; but he felt it to be his duty to give the Motion a direct negative.
§ Mr. Cobbett
rose to say a few words, as he might, perhaps, be suspected of having organized these Unions. He wished that the hon. Gentleman had made out some harm or some mischief these Unions had done. He should like to know what they had dime to make them so distinguished. Since they had been established, there had been a great many riots in the country, but in no one instance had the Political Unions taken part in those riots. At Bristol, in particular, the Political Unions had laboured, and laboured continually and successfully to prevent, and had prevented the riots going further. What, then, had the Political Unions done? There were great difficulties and great embarrassments in the country; there were various things which they all wished to make better; there was a great deal of distress in the country, and a great deal to deplore; but would any hon. Gentleman say, that the Political Unions had produced those evils? While the hon. Gentleman bad been speaking, he had set down a few of the 1275 causes of these things, and if the Political Unions had produced them, the hon. Gentleman should have gone a great deal further. If the Political Unions had caused the Bank stoppage of 1797—if they had caused the twenty-two years war carried on against France to put down liberty—if they had caused the American war, which added 72,000,000l. to our debt, and which ended, as few wars did, in our disgrace—if they had passed the famous Bill of 1819, which doubled all the taxes—and if they had, by partially repealing it, caused the panic of 1825, 1826—if they had made it necessary, after eighteen years peace, to keep up a force of 100,000 men—if they had given 600,000l. among 113 Privy Councillors, and Pensioners, and Servants of the State—if they had given a multitude of pensions and sinecures to idlers, starving the industrious people—if they had given Mr. Burke a pension, which had been enjoyed for thirty-three years, and long after his death, till it amounted to 90,000,000l.—he meant 90,000l.—if (and he quoted it only as a specimen) the Political Unions had given a man a pension for twenty-one years for being Chargè d' Affaires at Florence for five months—if they had given a man a pension of 230l. per annum for five months service, while that gentleman was also a parson, and held two livings—he would not take the part of the Political Unions. If the Political Unions had made the debt 800,000,000l.—if Political Unions had done all or one of these things, he should say, put them down—let them be trampled to the earth under the feet of the people, and let the name of Political Unions be accursed for ever.
§ Mr. Methuen
had seen something of Political Unions in his own county, and could say, that he had never on any occasion witnessed them engaged in an act of riot, or ever knew them guilty of an incivility. If Political Unions were to be put down, they must also put down Conservative Clubs, for they were also an obstacle to the execution of the law, and wished, he believed, to take the Government of the country into their own hands. If the Political Unions offended, the law was strong enough, he believed, to put them own.
would not have trespassed on the House, had he not been personally alluded to by the hon. Gentleman who brought forward the Motion, and to whom he felt grateful for the office lie had be-stowed on him. As the hon. Gentleman 1276 had called on him, he would state his opinion. He believed that these associations were legal, and the Motion of the hon. Gentleman was the most unjust and silliest Motion he ever heard of. It first declared these meetings illegal, and then it said, that the Ministers would not be to blame if they punished what the hon. Gentleman called illegal Unions. That was something new, to call on the House of Commons to resolve that the Ministers would not be to blame for executing the law. But the Resolution was unjust, for it determined that certain things were illegal. It declared that some persons, who had not been tried, who had not even been committed, were guilty of an illegal act. If the hon. Gentleman got his Resolution passed to-night, he might to-morrow post off to Birmingham and hand the Resolution of the House of Commons to the Magistrates, declaring the Union there illegal. Would it be right in the House of Commons to pass a Resolution to-night that the men who were to be tried at the Old Bailey to-morrow or next week, had behaved illegally.? That would not be decent in Parliament, and might bring the House into some danger. They had heard something of a coalition between the Conservatives and the Political Unions not far from Stafford, and some comparison had been made between a monkey and a bear. He too had heard of showmen. One went about with an elephant and a calf, and when he was asked which was the elephant and which was the calf? he replied, "Which your honour pleases." The hon. Gentleman had been taking lessons from these showmen. They travelled sometimes, and the hon. Gentleman had met with one of them who had been abroad, and he told the hon. Gentleman that there were two principles struggling for mastery oh the Continent—despotism and superstition. It was a pity he did not also tell the hon. Gentleman that these were not the only principles struggling for power on the Continent—that there were also cant and hypocrisy—religious cant and political hypocrisy. He could tell the hon. Gentleman that these, too, were rife on the Continent, and that they forced themselves into high stations and high offices for no other reason hut because they stuffed themselves out into importance. Being in office, they made a great parade of their piety, and busied themselves meddling in every other man's affairs. They allowed no difference of opinion to pass unnoticed, and condemned 1277 one man as an Atheist, and another as an Anarchist. They dealt in foul names and much abuse. We had none of these in England. There was no cant, no hypocrisy here. The hon. Gentleman had never heard of them before. But if they were imported here, what could they do? They would be sure to overlook the beam in their own eye—to point out the mote in the eye of another. The Charles-street Society, the Conservative Club, the Orange Lodge, would be overlooked, and the hon. Gentleman would pounce down on the lowly Political Unions—those Unions which had turned out of that House, and kept them out—the nominees of the oligarchy. He considered it fortunate for the country, that it yet possessed Political Unions, for they were ready again to support the Government, should that other collision come by which freedom was threatened, and to which he would not further allude, than to say it was threatened by a Conservative Club in another place, which sought to change the councils of the country. The Political Unions might be more necessary than ever if that collision should come, and they would again protect, as they had before protected, the liberty of the country, and would preserve the principles of our free Constitution.
§ Mr. Walter
was neither a friend nor an enemy to Political Unions; for he Was certain that their merit or demerit must entirely depend upon the nature of the object which men unite for the purpose of obtaining. That object being beneficial, then, he was thoroughly convinced that the best method of obtaining it was by Unions; and all the maxims which they had ever heard of the advantages of unanimity and concord would apply; for individual and detached efforts could do but little. A Union, however, which the present Motion induced him now to bring under the notice of the House, was not of that laudable character, but was a Political Union of a most mischievous nature and tendency. In the county which he had the honour of representing, a Political Union had been formed for an object which he had no hesitation in describing as in a high degree factious and improper. It was a Union of the Magistracy chiefly, to raise a sum of money to be expended in defraying not only the cost of registering the voters who were admitted upon the register in last November, but also the cost of placing 1278 on the register every succeeding year such voters as might be friendly to their views; and, though such was not expressed to be their intention, he feared there could be little doubt that one of their objects was to keep off such voters as might be deemed unfriendly to their interests. He held in his hand a letter from the acting Secretary of this Political Union, who was also a Magistrate of the county, which, with the permission of the House, he would read:—Hurst Lodge, Maidenhead, Berks,April 28, 1833.DEAR Sir—At a numerous Meeting of Gentlemen of the County, which took place yesterday at the Bear Inn, Reading, (Mr. Benyon de Beauvoir in the Chair), to consider the propriety of paying strict attention to the registration of the voters in this county on all future occasions, and to examine into the expenses caused by their original enrolment, it was resolved (among other Resolutions, which I hope shortly to have the pleasure of sending you post free), that it was highly unjust and unfair that the whole expenses attending the original registration of voters, which is to serve as the guide and basis of all future elections, should be imposed on those gentlemen who happened to be candidates for the representation of the county at that particular period, and that a subscription of sums of moderate amount, varying from 30l. to 10l., should be made by such proprietors of lands and estates in the county as may think fit to assist in defraying the expenses of registration itself (unavoidably incurred by Mr. Palmer and Mr. Pusey), and which were wholly distinct from, and unconnected with, those attending the election.I was directed by the Meeting to ascertain your sentiments on the subject, and I shall feel much obliged by as early a reply as convenient, addressed to this place.I am, dear Sir, very faithfully yours,GEOROE HENRY ELLIOTT.Now, if Unions of this kind were suffered to exist on the subject of registration, they could only be met by Unions on the other side, and every county must become a scene of political intrigue from one election to another. The combination of which be had just presented proofs to the House he had reason to suppose, however mischievous in spirit, had not altogether succeeded, as many of the parties applied to for money had declined complying with the requisition. He repeated, however, that if one set of Unions were suffered, another must take place as a counterpoise; but, in any case, the unconstitutional character of this particular Union could not be doubted.
§ Mr. Forster
observed, that at all events the proceedings of the Political Unions 1279 alluded to by the hon. member for Berkshire were not accompanied by any breach of the public peace; but he (Mr. Forster) could name another Political Union—that of Birmingham—which had not only attended the election for the borough which he represented (Walsall), but actually employed on that occasion the influence of physical force in favour of the candidate whom they supported. The members of that body were active promoters of the breach of the peace and outrages which ultimately took place at Walsall; but, for his own part, he hoped speedily to see such unconstitutional interferences put a stop to. These Unionists held out to the people that to support their peculiar doctrines would tend to produce a plentiful supply of roast beef and plum-pudding. They had also made the pot-house, instead of the Church, the resort of the poorer classes: and substituted a Sunday newspaper in the hands of the poor for the Bible. These, however, were subjects on which it would be unwise to legislate, but he thought, if the public were furnished with some explanation with respect to the application of the pence given to support such societies, the gullibility of the system would be made so manifest that their existence would be speedily terminated. This being his opinion, he must entreat his hon. friend to withdraw his Motion.
§ Mr. Finch
had been induced to bring the subject forward solely on account of the situation of the country and the aspect of our affairs abroad; but as the discussion which had taken place had convinced him that such Unions were so contemptible as to be wholly unworthy of notice, he should on that ground consent to withdraw his Motion. The hon. and learned member for Dublin had thought fit to stigmatize the Motion as a silly Motion. This was not very courteous, but although not a professional man he would defy any lawyer to deny that such associations were illegal. He must, however, express the surprise which he had felt on hearing the noble Lord opposite advocate the cause of Political Unions. [Lord Althorp—No, no.] At all events the noble Lord had expressed himself friendly to such Unions. [Lord Althorp—No, no.] The noble Lord had, at least, seemed favourable to them, and he must say that he had not expected to have witnessed such a display of disunion in the Administration as evidently existed. Indeed such difference of sentiment had never before been exhibited in Parliament as 1280 would be found in the opinions that night expressed by the noble Lord and those delivered a short time ago by the Lord Chancellor, who expressly declared that Political Unions were not only most pernicious in themselves, but contrary to law. The contrast between the opinions of Ministers was not only striking but instructive, as illustrating the materials of what the present Government was composed. But the hon. and learned member for Dublin had defended the legality of such associations, and asserted that they were formed for the preservation of the liberty of the people. He had said, that to put them down would be to curtail public liberty; but if such bodies had the effect as had been alleged of intimidating the Upper House of Parliament from the faithful and honest performance of its duties, their existence was as much a violation of public liberty as anything he could well conceive, although the noble Lord opposite had declared that he did not consider them to be illegal.
§ Lord Althorp
had undoubtedly stated that he did not consider Political Unions, as at present existing, illegal; but he added, that if they were to become more extended, and to gain greater power in the country, they would then be detrimental to the Constitution.
§ Mr. Thomas Attwood
assured the House that the conduct of the Birmingham Political Unionists at Walsall was in every respect orderly and good, and that the statement regarding them made by the hon. member for that borough was most unfounded. This he undertook to assert from his own observation, having been in Walsall at the time. Not 1s. had been spent by the Political Union during the Walsall or any other election; and, instead of being violators of the peace, the members of that body were grossly attacked by the soldiers, police, and hired ruffians by whom the outrages alluded to were committed.
§ Mr. Littleton
said that, as one of the Representatives of the county, he was, from the information which he had received, enabled to say that it was not only his own individual belief, but the impression of every respectable man in Staffordshire whose testimony was well worth having, that the conduct of the Birmingham Political Unionists during the election for Walsall was most outrageous. He must say that he could not credit the statement that the conduct of the members of that association was not influenced by their leaders, 1281 for it was notorious, that in the district in which the hon. member for Birmingham resided he was regarded as anything but an apostle of peace.
§ Mr. Hume
had seen a petition on the subject of the outrages at Walsall which gave a different version of the affair, and from the correspondence he had received upon the subject, he was disposed to think that the outrages complained of were not committed by the Political Unionists, but by the friends and adherents of the hon. member for that borough.
§ Mr. Forster
would abstain from going into a recital of the transactions at Walsall during the election; but had not placards calling for the interposition of the Unionists been distributed in all directions for more than a week prior to the day of nomination? If their object was not to intimidate, he knew of no other motive which would, account for their attendance, when they were for the most part strangers and had not a right to vote. With respect to the Petition alluded to by the hon. member for Middlesex, all he could say was, that he had attended for six weeks in the hope that its presentation would afford him an opportunity of refuting its statements, which had been circulated to the prejudice of his supporters. The Petition, however, had not been presented.
§ Mr. Thomas Attwood
said, that, although he did not assume the high character of an apostle of peace, he yet was the friend of peace, law, order, and humanity. Indeed his Majesty's Government had themselves on two occasions, congratulated him on the effect of the exertions which he had used to preserve peace and order.
§ Mr. Littleton
said, it was only justice to the hon. Gentleman to admit, that on the two occasions to which he referred, namely. May and November, he certainly had been mainly instrumental in preserving the public peace.
§ The House divided—Ayes 8; Noes 78; Majority 70.
|List of the AYES.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Price, R.|
|Callander, J. H.||Talbot, J.|
|Dare, R. W. H.|
|Gaskell, J. M.||TEILERS.|
|Gladstone, W. E.||Buller, C.*|
|Plumtre, J. P.||Finch, G.|
§ * Mr. Buller demanded a division contrary to the wish of the mover, and the Speaker appointed him one of the Tellers, and he was compelled to do that duty though adverse to the motion.
|List of the NOES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Mullins, F. W.|
|Althorp, Lord||O'Dwyer, A. C.|
|Attwood, T.||Oliphant, L.|
|Baring, F. T.||Parrott, J.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Perrin, L.|
|Beauclerk, A. W.||Phillipps, Sir G.|
|Beaumont, T. W.||Philpotts, J.|
|Blake, I.||Potter, R.|
|Brodie, W. B.||Poulter, J.|
|Brotherton, J.||Roebuck, J. A.|
|Blamire, W.||Russell, W. C.|
|Butler, P.||Ruthven, E. S.|
|Calvert, N.||Ruthven, E.|
|Campbell, Sir J.||Scholefield, J.|
|Cobbett, W.||Scott, Sir E.|
|Cornish, J.||Shawe, R. N.|
|Dashwood, G. H.||Smith, R. V.|
|Divett, E.||Spankie, Sergeant|
|Ellice, E.||Stanley, E. G. S.|
|Evans, W.||Staunton, Sir G.|
|Faithful, G.||Scrope, P.|
|Fielding, J.||Talbot, J. H.|
|Finn, W. F.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Gaskell, D.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Grote, G.||Tennyson, C.|
|Halcomb, J.||Todd, J. R.|
|Hardy, J.||Tooke, W.|
|Harvey, D. W.||Tynte, C. T. Kemyss|
|Hay, Colonel L.||Tynte, Kemyss, Col.|
|Heathcote, G.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Hill, M. D.||Vincent, Sir F.|
|Hume, J.||Vivian, Sir H.|
|Horne, Sir W.||Walker, C. A.|
|James, W.||Walker, R.|
|Jervis, J.||Wallace, R.|
|Kennedy, J.||Walter, J.|
|Lister, E. C.||White, S.|
|Littleton, J.||Whalley, Sir S.|
|Lloyd, J. H.||Williams, W. A.|
|Methuen, P.||Wood, Alderman|
|Molesworth, Sir W.||Young|