§ MR. HUME
rose to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice, namely—That this House, as at present constituted, does not fairly represent the population, the property, or the industry of the Country, whence has arisen great and increasing discontent in the minds of a large portion of the People; and it is therefore expedient, with a view to amend the National Representation, that the Elective Franchise shall be so extended as to include all Householders—that votes shall be taken by Ballot—that the duration of Parliaments shall not exceed three years—and that the apportionment of Members to Population shall be made more equal,880 He hoped that, after the exhibition which had taken place on that and the previous day (alluding to the numerous petitions that had been presented), it would now be admitted that there was some interest taken by the country in this question. He could assure the House that no arrangement had been made to get up these petitions by any party connected with the Committee to which he belonged. There had been no organisation whatever. He considered that the assertion of the noble Lord in the short speech he made on this subject on a late occasion, had been completely answered by the numerous petitions which had since then been presented. He confessed they had realised to a great degree the expectations which he entertained when he undertook to submit this question to the House. He could assure the noble Lord and the House that it was not without the greatest reluctance that he had undertaken to bring forward a question of so much importance at a time when the public business of the House was so pressing; but it was well known to his hon. Friends about him that it was at their suggestion, and not his, that the meeting was called at which it was determined to bring forward this Motion, with the view of preventing the evils with which the country seemed to be threatened, and of attracting the attention of the community from opinions which seemed to threaten the public peace. He thought it necessary to state, also, that although he had been requested by various bodies of Reformers before the 10th April to bring forward a Motion of this kind, it was not till after that period that he and his Friends agreed to consider whether they could prevent, by any means in their power, the recurrence of such scenes as had taken place on that day. It would be recollected that the public peace of the country was then threatened, and that undoubtedly great alarm was felt—much more, he believed, than there was any occasion for. We had seen nowhere else such a readiness on the part of every class, from the highest to the lowest, to come forward in the support of public order. Nothing was more important to the peace and prosperity of any country than the principle of maintaining the authority of the magistracy, and rendering the civil power paramount; and he believed that it was not necessary to have employed a single soldier in this metropolis, so complete, so general, and so hearty had been the demonstration on the part of the civil 881 power. It was highly to the credit of the Government, and upon that ground he thought the House ought to bear with him in what he was about to submit to them. They ought to take into their serious consideration what it was that caused the alarm on the 10th of April—what it was that had led to the breaches of the peace that had taken place in different parts of the country in the last eight or ten years, and then consider whether the Radical Reformers, who were improperly called Chartists, had any just ground of complaint. It was for the House to consider when they saw matters brought to such a crisis as occurred on the 10th of April, whether the persons who manifested such a determination to obtain an extension of the suffrage and a reform of Parliament, should become participators with those who ruled the destinies of the country—whether those classes who were extending through the whole mass of the community, and who were more numerous than those who enjoyed the privilege of electing Members of Parliament, had just cause of complaint; and, if they had, whether it was not the duty of the House as speedily as possible to correct the abuses that existed. We were not in the condition this year that we had been in for the last three or four years. Events had taken place that had altogether altered the condition and situation of the working and other classes in this country. We stood prominent in Europe as a country with a more constitutional Government than any other. We boasted that that House represented the people at large. We boasted that through the agency of Parliament we could obtain all that might be necessary for the peace and welfare of the country, without having recourse to military power. We stood distinguished from the different Governments of Europe in that respect, for almost all of them had been under military government or a military despot, and depended upon a large army for their support and maintenance. But we had fondly considered ourselves a civil nation—our institutions had been supported without military aid—and, as he had heard it said, our military power was wanted more to maintain our colonial possessions abroad than for any purposes at home. Not that he was one of those who thought that there ought not to be a proper military establishment in every country, to maintain its power in case of need; and he considered that a division of labour carried 882 into effect in this case, by having some men to do exclusively the duties of soldiers, was of great importance; but he must contend that we had more than a proper establishment. We had become a military nation, and had of late years lost the character which had formerly been our boast. The discontent that existed in the country was general. It was time they should consider whether there was any ground for it, and, if there was, they should immediately take measures to remove it and give the people the enjoyment of tranquillity and order. It was for that reason he had felt it to be his duty to submit to the House what he thought would be a remedy for the evils that existed. In the first place, he contended that, whilst the Reform Bill of 1832 had failed to answer all the purposes which, as an ardent and zealous supporter of reform, he had anticipated, yet he should be acting most unfairly if he said that the reform effected by that measure had not done much to secure the peace of this country. He believed that if we had had no such reform up to this day, and the discontent that existed then had continued, more fearful evils would have arisen. But it was because that measure had not effected all the objects for which he had struggled at the time, and which the country, from one end to the other, had interested itself to obtain, that now, after sixteen years had passed away, and they had had ample opportunities of judging how far that measure had answered the purposes for which it was intended, that he brought the subject before the House. In order to explain to the House the view he entertained of what it was the duty of Parliament to do, he would simply state that Parliament was a mere engine by which a constitutional country was to be governed, and which, according to our constitution, purported to attend to the interests of all classes upon all occasions. He wanted, then, to know whether that was the case now, or whether a large portion of the community, most important in numbers and interests, was not exempted from their share of representation in that House? He thought that the constitution gave to every man in the country his share in the representation. Taxation and representation should go together, and those who did not assist in the election of Members who were to sit in that House, and pass laws affecting their liberties and property, were, in fact, deprived of their rights. They were not, in fact, in that 883 condition which distinguished freemen from slaves. The only difference he knew was this—that the slave had a master to make laws for him and to direct him; whilst the freeman ought to have a voice in the constitution, and to assist in the election of those who were to be his representatives and take care of his interests. Was that the case now? And if it were not, if the House did not represent all classes alike, some classes must be injured, and they were now discontented because they were excluded from the pale of the constitution, and placed in a situation where they were obliged to suffer and undergo whatever laws might be passed affecting them, without as freemen having any voice in the election of those who made such laws. If, then. Parliament did not represent all classes, it became a bad engine—an engine in the hands of the few, who had power as against the many; and it might be better, if we were not to have a good Parliament, to have no Parliament at all. In other nations they might have no occasion for a Parliament; a military power, the will of a governor, of a despot, might be sufficient; but it was because he had seen the evils arising from such a system, and the ruin which within the last few months had resulted from it—because he had seen the dreadful risk of driving to desperation men who were entitled in reality to a share in the constitution—that he was desirous to have the political power of Parliament founded on the broadest possible basis. The Crown being the chief magistrate for the conduct of affairs, the Government existed, not for the good of the Crown, the nobility, or any particular class, but for the good of the community at large, of the King, Lords, and Commons, as the best means of carrying on the affairs of the country under the authority of Parliament. No act of the Crown or of the Ministers could or ought to be valid, but by the vote and voice of the House of Commons. They ought, therefore, to invest the House of Commons with the highest possible authority and interest in the country; and to do that they should give to great numbers of their fellow-countrymen the right of suffrage to elect those who were to exercise such important functions. He would ask hon. Members, could they in their conscience say that justice was done, seeing that large classes were unrepresented? Five out of every six male adults in this country were without any voice in the election of the representatives to that House. 884 Out of the 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 male adults above twenty-one, which there were in this country, taking the average, some individuals being registered for more than three, four, or five different places, the number of registered electors did not amount to more than from 800,000 or 850,000. All the remainder then of the 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 adults who had not that privilege, were placed in an inferior situation, and deprived of that right which by the constitution they were entitled to enjoy; he said right—it was not a favour—they had a right to it. Every man born in this country owed an allegiance to the Throne, obedience to the laws, and that which was necessary to maintain order and peace; but in return for that he was to have protection to his person and property, and a share in all those civil rights which, as an Englishman, the constitution gave him. At eighteen, or, he believed, at sixteen, an Englishman might be draughted for the militia; he might be taken in the streets and called upon by the civil authorities to join the magistracy in quelling riots and maintaining peace. The Constables' Act, passed two years ago, gave power to call on every one under penalties to aid the civil authorities in preserving the public peace. He might be drawn for the militia, or taken for the Navy by impressment, for that was not yet abolished—he wished it was; he might be dragged from his home and family and all that was near and dear to him, when the services of the State required it, and in return for those services was it too much for him to ask that he might be placed in possession of that right which the constitution gave him? He (Mr. Hume) was not speaking of natural rights, which was a phrase no one understood, but of constitutional rights—of those rights which our constitution, according to the best authorities, had given to every Englishman, and he said it was not just for Parliament to shut the door, and to say that that class of unrepresented men, many of whom were of superior talents to those who sat in that House, should remain excluded from their share in the election of their representatives. He might say that the best instructed workmen ever known—famous throughout the world for their ingenuity, industry, and ability—were excluded from all share of the representation, and were herded together as unworthy of being considered Englishmen, although they had added to the glory of the country as soldiers, and to its 885 value as artisans. Was not that a legitimate ground for discontent? He therefore asked the House to give him a reason why every man in that situation should not he represented? and he asked those who shut the doors and kept out a person of that class to give him a hearing. It was a matter for serious consideration whether they were not blindly going on creating discontent, by allowing one portion of the people to be admitted to the representation, but keeping the other out; and to those who were the friends of peace and order, it was a serious matter that they should propose a remedy, not, indeed, by conceding a favour, but by giving a right which had been withheld. He asked the House to consider what passed at Manchester on the evening of the 10th of April, after the special constables had performed their duty. They met, and what was their statement?—We met to-day to prevent any outbreak against the peace by the Chartists. And what are they discontented about? Why are they desirous to break the peace? The answer was, 'They want to have a reform in Parliament; they consider they have a right, as Englishmen, to have a vote for those who make laws affecting their lives and property. They consider that those laws place them under contributions for taxation, and that they ought to have a voice in the representation. 'The question was then asked,' Are you contented with the House of Commons as it is? 'and the answer was,' No.'But the remedy for that discontent was to give them the situation the constitution assigned to them, and there would be no occasion for alarm. The aristocracy had a greater stake, apparently, than humbler individuals, and therefore peace and order were of greater importance to them in every point of view. To the Governors of the State, also, it was of primary importance that every cause that could produce discontent should be removed, because no dissatisfaction, no dread of a breach of public order, could take place without the disorganisation and disturbance of those habits of industry and commerce upon which the prosperity of this country depended. It was therefore incumbent upon the Ministers, from the oath they had taken to their Sovereign, to give their best counsel and assistance for maintaining peace, as well as it was the duty of that House to carry out such amendments in the law as were required for that purpose. It was important he should show what were the opinions which were entertained by many as to the right of voting. Various opinions had existed on that point, and the Reform 886 Bill had placed it on no fixed or intelligible principle. Now, in introducing the Reform Bill on the 3rd of October, 1831, Lord Grey, speaking of the great importance at that time of quieting the public mind, and removing the discontent that existed, and speaking also of the rights of those whose interests he was then advocating, used these words:—I believe the present Bill to be a measure of conciliation; I believe that on its acceptance or rejection depends, on the one hand, tranquillity, prosperity, and concord; on the other, the continuance of a state of political discontent. And again, I believe that a change is necessary to infuse new vigour into the constitution, and to unite the estates of the realm in the bonds of a sacred and happy union, to make the House of Commons that which it was intended to be, and professed to be, and ought to be—a full, vigorous, and efficient representative of the people of England.That was the language of Earl Grey, who, from his earliest years, was a Reformer—who had witnessed the evils of rejecting the Reform Bill in 1793—and who bore testimony against the Government for that rejection. But if that noble Lord expressed himself in such language as he (Mr. Hume) had just quoted, ought not those who were his successors, and who were in office with him at that time, even if their own declarations were forgotten, to remember that statement, and let it sink deep into their minds with reference to the present time? But Lord Grey stated elsewhere that he considered it to be the right of every person to be represented, and in his speech he quoted the authority of Mr. Serjeant Glanville, who said—There being no certain custom nor prescription who should be electors, and who not, we must have recourse to common right, which, to this purpose, was held to be, that more than the freeholders only ought to have voices in the election, viz., all men inhabitant householders resident within the borough.In the resolutions on the Cirencester case, 1792, would be found a complete legal and Parliamentary definition of a householder:—A general definition for purposes of enactment as to right of voting might be in some such terms as these:—'Every male person of full age, and not subject to any legal incapacity, who shall occupy any house or dwelling, the same being bonâ fide fitted for, and applied to, purposes of residence, shall, if duly registered, be entitled to vote in the election of a Member or Members to serve in Parliament for such, Ac. Provided always that no such person be registered, unless such person shall have, Ac' (The restriction or qualification superadded as to time of residence, length of occupancy, &c., must of course be according to the view taken of the enlargement or restriction of the right.")887 The Parliamentary Committee, in the case of the borough of Pontefract, came to the resolution:—Household suffrage in the borough of Pontefract was, that any person who had lived in town six months previous to an election, keeping house, was entitled to a vote. Rates and taxes formed no objection. 'Householders resident' was the distinguishing term. Non-payment of rates and taxes would not disqualify the voter.What was the great demand out of doors but for such a decision of the House of Commons as was come to by the Committee in the case of the Pontefract election? What was the opinion of Sir Thomas Smith, which was quoted as of great importance at the time of the Reform Bill? Sir Thomas Smith, who spoke in the time of Queen Elizabeth, said—Every Englishman is intended to be present in Parliament, either in person or by procuration and attorney, of what pre-eminence, state, dignity, or quality soever he be, from the prince to the lowest person of England. And the consent of the Parliament is taken to be every man's consent.But how could it be said that the consent of Parliament was "every man's consent," when five out of six men had no vote? He was asking for these rights, not as a matter of favour, but as a matter of right; and so in former times they were held to be. In 1837, Lord Brougham brought in a Bill for the appointment of a School Committee of five persons; and on the 14th Clause of that Bill, the noble and learned Lord proposed an education suffrage in the following terms:—All persons rated to the relief of the poor for any property in the parish or township, all owners of property rated in the parish, and all persons who have been resident within the same for twelve months before the meeting, and have received certificates of such residence, or who, being so resident for twelve months, have at any time received certain certificates of education hereinafter named.The late Earl Grey, during the Reform discussions in 1832, quoted the opinion of Whitelock on the suffrage, whom he stated to be one of the best authorities he could quote upon a constitutional question. White-lock said in his work on Government:—Whenever any question about elections was brought before the House, the inclination of the House of Commons always was to favour popular elections, observing that the more free they were, the more they were for the interests of the community. At this day, in many boroughs the election still remains popular, being exercised by all the inhabitants, except almsmen and such like.The practice of scot and lot voting was an old and ancient practice, which continued until, he would admit, it became an en- 888 croachment upon the rights of the people at large. But up to the present hour, the great number of non-represented were deprived of that which the rules of the constitution fairly gave them. The Society of the Friends of the People, on the 30th of May, 1795, Mr. W. Smith in the chair, came to the following resolution:—That it is undoubtedly desirable, for many reasons, that the collective body of qualified electors shall be as numerous as possible. To reach the numbers by whom the power ought to be exercised it must be distributed equally and impartially over the whole surface of the kingdom. What we want is a free House of Commons, and a real representation. Any measure of reform which does not really give and effectually secure hat object, is more than unprofitable, and the efforts to obtain it worse than thrown away.The Hampden Club, in 1814, published a resolution that every adult male who paid his taxes had a right to vote for Members of Parliament. This resolution required the payment of taxes as a condition of voting, which was more than the others did. He begged the House to consider whether, when they excluded so many of their fellow-countrymen from the right of suffrage, they were not themselves the aggressors, and whether they did not themselves thereby drive the unrepresented classes to acts of insubordination and breaches of public order. He called upon the House to say whether they would not consider how to remove that discontent, and make the basis of the public institutions of this country as wide as possible. They were, in his opinion, more likely to strengthen the foundations of the throne of this country, and of such of their institutions as were worth preserving—for some of their institutions were not worth preserving—by removing the cause and occasion of that popular discontent which had changed the face of Europe. What, he would ask, was the actual state of the representation of this country? He had prepared now, as on a former occasion, a number of tables to show the actual state of the representation in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. The gross population of Great Britain in 1841 was 18,500,000. The number of electors in Great Britain for 1846 was 944,473. The number of males above twenty years of age was about 4,000,000, of whom, deducting duplicate entries, not more than 850,000 were bonâ fide electors. Could they expect to maintain peace and order under such a system? The inequality was so great and so monstrous, that common sense was shocked at 889 the idea of calling that a fair representation. He would take three English counties—Huntingdon, Rutland, and Westmoreland—which returned two Members each, being six Members in all elected for these counties. The males above twenty years of age in those counties were about 26,400; the registered electors were 9,000, and they returned six Members. He would now take the three counties of Middlesex, South Lancashire, and West Yorkshire, which also returned six Members. Here the male adults, instead of being 26,000, were 316,000, and the number of registered electors was about 73,000. This male adult population of 316,000 persons was met by the voice of Huntingdon, Rutland, and Westmoreland, for which counties six Members were nevertheless also returned. He might take also the case of the Tower Hamlets, with a population of 400,000, which had no greater voice in that House than Harwich, with a population of 3,700; both boroughs returned two Members. Did it not tarnish the character and reputation of the House that so much gross inequality and injustice existed? and were not the interests of the many in great danger of being sacrified, under such a system, to the interests of the few? The six boroughs of Harwich, Thetford, Chippenham, Totness, Huntingdon, and Knaresborough, returned twelve Members. The gross population of the six boroughs was 28,000. They sent, as he had said, twelve Members, and their influence in the representation was as great as that of Westminster, the Tower Hamlets, Liverpool, Finsbury, Marylebone, and Manchester, with 94,000 electors, and a population of 1,500,000; and yet the voice of those 1,500,000 persons, who returned only twelve Members, was equalled by that of those small and paltry boroughs. In the large constituencies, too, something like public spirit and fair voting existed; but these small boroughs were open to corruption and undue influence, of which the House had seen so many instances during the present Session; and thus, against the twelve Members representing the important and independent constituencies he had mentioned, there were twelve Members returned for these small boroughs, who frequently represented either their own pockets or the large landed proprietors of the neighbourhood. He would now take three constituencies in Scotland, Banffshire, Peebles-shire, and Selkirkshire, having 2,173 registered electors, and 890 12,330 adult males; and he would compare these counties with Edinburghshire, Lancashire, and Aberdeen, where the electors were 9,560, and the male adult population 171,000. Was that fair, and ought such a state of things to be allowed? He could point out throughout their representative system the same gross inconsistency. He held in his hand an extract from a speech of his late friend, Daniel O 'Connell, one of the last speeches which he made in that House. Mr. O'Connell contrasted the representation of Ireland with that of England, and complained of the miserable deficiency of electors in Ireland, compared with some districts in England. Mr. O'Connell showed that Rutland, with less than 20,000 inhabitants, had more electors than two Irish counties, ranging between 70,000 and 100,000, than two more ranging between 100,000 and 140,000 than two more with upwards of 150,000, than one more with more than 250,000; and, lastly, than another with more than 300,000. He then took the county of Londonderry, and compared it with Westmoreland. The population of Westmoreland was 42,464; the number of its electors 4,392. The population of Londonderry county was 207,848, and the number of electors 2,172. Thus Londonderry had an excess of 165,384 of population, while Westmoreland had an excess of 2,220 of electors. Mr. O'Connell next compared Downshire with Westmoreland in the same manner, and showed that, with a population six to one greater than that of Westmoreland, the latter county had 1,260 more electors than Downshire. He then took the counties of Galway and Cork, and compared them with Westmoreland, where the disproportion was much greater. All these inequalities ought to compel the House to do justice to the unrepresented, seeing that peace, contentment, and public order would arise from equalising the civil rights of the country. Mr. O'Connell gave two examples of Irish boroughs. He took Lisburn, Portarlington, Tralee, Dungannon, Enniskillen, and Kinsale, six boroughs, having a population of 1,097 electors, and returning six Members, while three other Irish boroughs, Cork, Dublin city, and Limerick, with 14,540 electors, only returned the same number of representatives. In the six small boroughs one Member was returned for 183 electors, while in the large constituencies there was only one Member to 2,423 electors. These instances proved that there was nothing of 891 that counterpoise and equality either in England or Ireland which ought to exist. He had received a letter that morning from Rochester, in which the writer said—Your notice to bring before the House of Commons a Motion for a reform in Parliament, has met with my entire concurrence, from the conviction that the people are not fairly represented. Being a Kentish man, I will take for example the county in which I reside. Greenwich and Deptford return two Members; but Woolwich, a town nearly as populous as the aforesaid two places put together, has no representative. Graves-end, now a very populous place, has no Member, although Rochester, but a few miles distant, returns two, with a less population than Gravesend. Tonbridge and Tonbridge-wells, having a population of several thousands, likewise have no representative; neither has Faversham, Ashford, Tenterden, Cranbrook, nor Sevenoaks, although they are all places very numerously inhabited.He had prepared several other tables to show the disproportion in the representation, and he called on the House to equalise the distribution of the electors when so arranged. If the hon. Members would take his advice, they would consult a pamphlet by Mr. Alexander Mackay, being an analysis of the present state of the representation. He (Mr. Hume) had prepared his own analysis; but Mr. Mackay's was so much more correct, so much more accurate, that he would refer hon. Members to it, as giving an analysis of the present state of the representation throughout the country in the most complete manner possible. And what did that analysis show? Mr. Mackay, to prove how unequally different interests and populations were balanced in the House of Commons, took 22 boroughs, the aggregate population of which was but a fraction above 100,000, and found that they had 42 representatives in the House of Commons, that is to say, one Member for every 2,390 persons; while 20 other cities and boroughs, with an aggregate population of 3,780,000, also returned 42 Members, being one Member for about every 90,000 persons. How was it possible to guard against abuses when they found these small boroughs thus counterbalancing the comparative population of the large cities? The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), when he introduced the Reform Bill, pledged himself that every borough should have at least 300 electors at first, and that the number should be, if possible, from time to time increased. But—Of the cities and boroughs now sending two representatives each to Parliament, there are 15 with a population of upwards of 150,000; 16 of from 50,000 to 100,000; 27 of from 20,000 to 892 50,000; 23 of from 10,000 to 20,000; 47 of under 10,000. Of those returning one Member, there are 3 with a population of from 50,000 to 100,000; 19 of from 20,000 to 50,000; 33 of from 10,000 to 20,000; 30 under 10,000. Of those with a population under 10,000, 32 have only 5,000 and under; and of these, 1 of which falls to below 2,000, no less than 20 return two Members to Parliament.He would say that it was not possible for any man to rise from a perusal of this analysis without being satisfied that the time for a change had come. It appeared that one county Member in England represented 3,290 electors, while a county Member in Wales represented 2,700; in Scotland, 1,633, and in Ireland 1,078 electors. The irregularity in boroughs was as great. In England one Member represented 1,045 electors; in Wales 785; in Scotland 1,260; and in Ireland 1,684. Now, he did not mean to say that mathematical accuracy could be obtained in these proportions, but still there ought to be something like an equality. The population would increase in some places and decrease in others; and they saw in other countries an adjustment of the representative system to the increase or decrease of the population, on the principle that Parliament should really represent the people. The last quotation he would trouble the House with was the following:—The metropolis, including all its Parliamentary districts, with a population of 2,000,000, is represented by sixteen Members in Parliament. The eight boroughs of Bridgenorth, Honiton, Harwich, Thetford, Richmond (Yorkshire), Totness, Stafford, and Lymington, with an aggregate population falling short of 40,000, return the same number of Members. Thus we have one group of Members, sixteen in number, representing 2,000,000 of people, and more property than is accumulated on any other spot, of equal dimensions, on the globe; and another group, consisting of the same number, representing less than 40,000 people, with but petty interests at stake, and all of them, so far as the franchise is concerned, under local influence.Thus the whole influence of the metropolis was neutralised by the Members for these eight boroughs coming into the House in the manner to which he had already alluded. The representation of the country was, in fact, based upon no fixed principle. Some hon. Members might be surprised to hear that, although the 10l. suffrage was the standard for boroughs, and the 40s. freehold the standard for counties, there were, in truth, no fewer than eighty-five different kinds of suffrage. It was scarcely possible to appreciate the confusion, the delay, and the expense that such a system produced. What the House 893 ought to do was, to render the suffrage as simple, as general, as easily obtained, and as easily defended as possible. Yet the very reverse was the state of things at present. The suffrage was complicated, difficult to be obtained, difficult to be preserved, and attended with great expenditure, not only of money but of time. He should therefore counsel the House to adopt an uniform system of suffrage, one for the counties and one for the boroughs. Before proceeding to that part of the subject, however, he begged the particular attention of the House to the various kinds of suffrage now existing. He had before him an analysis of them, made by an able barrister, who had made the subject his study, and, without wearying the House by commenting upon them, he wished hon. Members to note their numbers and intricacy. He would not enumerate all these distinctions, but merely quote a few of them. There was the freehold qualification arising out of an "estate in fee of the yearly value of 40s." Then came "estate for life before the passing of the Reform Act." Then an "estate for lives before the passing of the Reform Act." Next, "having in actual occupation an estate for life or lives of the yearly value of 40s. after the passing of the Reform Act." Then came the acquiring an estate for life or lives of the yearly value of 40s. by "marriage settlement," "devise," "promotion to a benefice," "promotion to an office," "seized of an estate for life of the yearly value of 10l. and upwards," "seized of an eatate for lives of the yearly value of 10l." Then came "joint tenants," "tenants in common," "coparceners," "corporations sold," "leaseholders," and a great variety of others, with which he would not now trouble the House. While such a state of things existed it could not be a matter of wonder that many persons in the country who had a clear right of voting refused or neglected to exercise it, because they would not be subjected to trouble, expense, and waste of time. One great good gained by an alteration of the system, and the adoption of a simple, uniform, and intelligible form, would be that the annual expense now incurred by the country for the registration of voters would be got rid of. The simple result of the system as it stood was that the country did not believe that that House represented the people. The people found votes and proceedings in that House that were altogether at variance with the best 894 interests of the mass of the community. They found class interests attended to; they found that particular persons connected with the aristocracy were in very great favour; and they found that special interests—the agricultural interest, for example—were peculiarly favoured by exemption from taxes which other people paid. They saw that the agricultural interest had been lightly handled, and no wonder; for, until a few years ago, no person could sit in that House unless he had 300l. a year in land. In Ireland matters were pretty much the same; but in Scotland a better system prevailed. There, any man who was an elector might be elected; no qualification was required. In Scotland, therefore, a working man might be returned as well as a man of land; and he wished to know what good reason there was against the return to that House of a working man, if a body of constituents thought fit to elect him, although he had not 300l. a year? In any point of view, the injustice and inconsistency of the present system was manifest, and the discontent that was abroad arose from their own acts, and from a system which they had it in their power to remedy and correct. He submitted to the House that the time had now come when they ought to make this change. He would not now dwell upon the great increase of taxation, nor yet upon the increase of expenditure, whether in the Army, the Navy, or the Miscellaneous Estimates; his own opinion was that one-third of such expenses might be saved. There was a proof of that at the period of the Reform Bill, when the hon. Gentlemen who passed that measure brought down the expenditure of the country by some millions. But of late years, since the public had become indifferent to what their representatives were doing, the expenditure had risen up from the comparatively low figure of those days to its present enormous amount. Returns had been moved for by the hon. Member for Liverpool, which showed the increase was year by year, and million after million, until we had arrived at a state of increased taxation, with decreased profits and decreased labour. Was it possible to believe that under these circumstances the people of England were to remain satisfied with the injustice of exclusion from their civil rights? Was it fair and right to expect them to he without discontent? They ought not to be contented; and, if they had not been regard- 895 less of their duty, they would have taken care what class of men they sent to that House. He did not now see the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth in his place; but he held in his hand a statement of that right hon. Gentleman, which was of great importance to he home in mind—a declaration made at the time when the right hon. Baronet had thought fit to disfranchise the 40s. freeholders in Ireland. Speaking of the suffrage, the right hon. Baronet had said—No doubt it is a rested right, but it is a right that differs in its character from the rights of property, and other strictly private rights. It is a public trust, given for public purposes, to be touched, no doubt, with great caution and reluctance; but still, which we are competent to touch if the public interest manifestly demands the sacrifice.Yes, and it was touched on that occasion, by striking off 240,000 freeholders in Ireland. Let the people hear in mind, that every voice sent into the House by the influence that now existed was a voice against them, to keep up the present extravagant system of taxation, and to prevent the simplification and reduction which ought to take place. It was the fault of the people if they did not come forward, for, under the Reform Bill of 1832, they had at least this undoubted advantage—that whereas before that time the borough-mongers could send their own Members into the House for their own peculiar benefit and advantage, and divide the House between two factions, each contending only for its individual interests, that state of things had been very much altered. Some hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side had been heard to regret that the last Reform Bill was likely to injure and destroy the power of the Crown. Why, the fact was the very reverse, because before that measure passed the King of England had been in the hands of two parties, Tory and Whig, and he could not do as he pleased, or choose his Ministers, but at their dictation. But from the day that Bill became law, and power was given to the 10l. householders, they, if they did their duty and fulfilled the trust reposed in them, might quietly, if they were so minded, send men into that House at the very next election, who would act up to the necessities of the times and the real interests of the people. That might be done in a perfectly constitutional mode—the only mode in which it ought to be done—and that was what he would counsel them to do. But, while they did that, he hoped 896 they would not be so selfish as to interfere with that great extension of the suffrage which he thought was necessary for the welfare of the country. The disturbances excited by the Chartists had been complained of; and he was sorry to say that, for the last ten years, they had interfered with almost every public meeting that had been held, until they had almost practically destroyed one of the most important elements of the British constitution—the right of the people to meet. He had always complained of them on this score, because, whatever might be their own opinions, they ought not to have interfered to prevent the opinions of others on all subjects being perfectly free. When he looked back upon the grounds of discontent that existed, the numerous petitions that had been presented, and the way in which those petitions had been received—petitions again and again ridiculed and treated in no measured manner in that House—he was not surprised that the plan of family petitions had been adopted—a plan which he believed had originated with Mr. Livesey of Preston. He approved of this, and hoped that no petitions would be presented to the House in future without the addresses and occupations of the parties signed being appended to their names. That would prevent all mistakes. The Act of Charles II. referred to petitions signed by more than twenty persons, and he had lately presented some twelve or fourteen, signed agreeably to the Act of Parliament—by not more than twenty persons—and he should be glad to see that rule observed. It was unnecessary for him to say more than he had to satisfy the House as to the inequality of the present system, of the great number excluded from the suffrage, and of the dissatisfaction that prevailed. The remedy he was now to propose was quite constitutional, and was merely a restoration of the rights of the parties. He had placed on the Paper the following resolution:—That this House, as at presented constituted, does not fairly represent the population, the property, or the industry of the country, whence has arisen great and increasing discontent in the minds of a large portion of the people; and it is therefore expedient, with a view to amend the National Representation, that the elective franchise shall be so extended as to include Householders—that Votes shall be taken by Ballot—that the duration of Parliaments shall not exceed Three Years; and that the apportionment of Members to population shall be made more equal.Some anxiety had prevailed in the country—as he had had occasion to know—con- 897 cerning the omission of a word in the resolution which was intended to include all householders. This had arisen from an error on his part, and he would now proceed to explain what he proposed. On the authorities he had already quoted as to the rights of Englishmen, not wishing to create any alarm, or that it should he thought he would not distinguish between a vagrant and a person who really ought to have a vote, he adopted the definition of Whitelock, whom he had before referred to as having been approved of as an authority by those who had carried the Reform Bill, as Lord Grey and Lord Brougham. He begged further to state, that the reason that the words "household suffrage" were not used in the resolution was this—the gentlemen who had met as a committee and requested him to bring forward this question, had agreed on certain terms for the resolution, but they had different interpretations among them of the word "household." He (Mr. Hume) would therefore take upon himself to give a definition as follows:—That every such person of full ago, and not subject to any mental or legal incapacity, who shall have occupied a house, or part of a house, for twelve months, and shall have been rated to the poor for that period, shall be registered as an elector; and every lodger shall have the right to claim to be rated to the poor, and after such rating and residence for twelve months he shall be registered as an elector.There would be no difficulty in carrying out this object. The apparatus all existed. In every parish there were ratings to the poor, and persons who kept account of those ratings. All that was wanted was to have so much of residence as should separate and distinguish the steady inhabitant, who was entitled to a vote, from the vagrant, who was not entitled to one. He knew that this proposition would exclude a certain portion of the population; but at the same time it would include a great many, and be a strong inducement to a great many more, who would remain fixed in their residence for twelve months for the sake of being registered. He was not aware of any difficulty that existed. By the present law every house was rated to the poor; and the Act conferring this suffrage would provide that every man who so desired might, upon entering upon the occupation of part of a house, have a right to be rated for a portion, whatever it might be, of the poor-rate assessed upon that house. Thus registration and residence, both of which were important, would be 898 secured, and a line would be drawn between the mere vagrant and the worthy and educated man who was now excluded from the suffrage merely on account of the nature of his occupation. It might be argued that this proposal, did not keep up the distinction between personal rights and property. He did not wish to draw that distinction too tight; but he must say, that by the law as it stood, too much attention had been paid to bricks and mortar, and too little to brains, and the time had now come when common sense should prevail. He submitted to the House that the proper course to pursue would be, to abolish all qualifications now existing in boroughs, and substitute this simple and intelligible principle, by which a large portion of the people now excluded would be admitted. The noble Lord and some others might say that it would admit too many; but that was not his opinion. The more were admitted, the better the chance of a free and fair expression of opinion, and of doing away with bribery and other influences which had been brought to bear. He would tell hon. Members who might not have had the experience of the working men which he had had, that he had held his position in that House, and been protected, for some twelve or fourteen years during the worst of times, by the virtue and honesty of the working men of Montrose; and the five burghs had kept him in that House in spite of every effort made by the whole Tory aristocracy, who would have given his weight in gold only to get rid of him. The working men now thought and acted for themselves; and hon. Gentlemen should remember that the schoolmaster had been abroad, and that there was a great difference between the days of 1831 and those of 1848. Public affairs were now far better understood, although he could wish education had been still more widely extended. He thought that a large suffrage—such as he hoped to see realised before long—was so consistent with the interests of all classes, high and low, that he believed no Minister would be able long to refuse it. It was as clear to him as any proposition he had ever examined, that if those were admitted within the pale of the constitution who were now ranging discontented over the country, a grand cause of such discontent would be removed, and thereby the number of advocates of order and peace would be increased. This, therefore, was the principal object; all the others were merely subsidiary. 899 The extension of the suffrage was the one great object; all the others were matters of detail. Haying obtained an extension of the suffrage, the result would be—for he would not trouble the House with figures—according to his estimate, that 2,000,000 of votes would be added to the constituency. This increase of the constituency was itself a good. The more votes that were added the better. He hoped that all would be included in the franchise who deserved it; for it was a heartbreaking circumstance to see men of ability and talent, though in a low condition of life, excluded by law from the exercise of their rights in a representative constitution. If this was not to be a representative constitution, it must be a military constitution; it must be one or the other; and he hoped, when he looked round at the state of the Continent, that this truth would be remembered; it ought to ring in the ears of those who obstructed the extension of the principle of representation, and he hoped it would continue to ring in their ears until the object was obtained. If he found the country prepared for this change, he was bound to explain why the resolution, put forth as the resolution of a Committee, was put in this shape. It was thought better to throw out the principle, and to let the country say how far they would go. Having answered what he considered as the calumny of the noble Lord, and having stated the definition which he was anxious to embody in an Act, in order that his plan should have effect and operation, he would mention one circumstance, which he had referred to on a former occasion—namely, why he had put all into one resolution. The extension of the suffrage without protection would, in his opinion, be an evil, since in many cases voters would be subject to a coercion and an influence which was not very delicately exercised by masters; he therefore thought it perfectly right, and he took it upon himself to express the opinion on the part of the community at large, that voters should be protected. It was not the humbler classes alone who needed this protection; the petitions had not been confined to those classes. All had joined—Conservatives and Whigs, the man of wealth and the tradesman, mayors and justices of the peace, had joined in the prayer that the suffrage should be extended; and the next and most important question was, in what manner it should be exercised. Hitherto there had been the grossest inequality. 900 What was to be done? It Was hot his intention to adopt the plan proposed by some, of cutting the country into squares. He was one of those who thought that every change Was an evil. Every change ought, in his opinion, to be Well considered beforehand; and he never would advocate any change merely for the sake of change, or unless he was sure it would effect great good. He did not, therefore, propose to divide the country anew, and he did not propose to alter the proportion of Members for England, Scotland, and Ireland. He would leave the proportions the same as they bow were. He was aware that there were counties with a population treble the amount of other counties, and it might be desirable to alter the limits of some counties, as well as of some boroughs. He had the number of the population in each county and in each borough, and he could state what should be the average of each. The next proposition was the vote by ballot. He knew that this subject had been very fully discussed in the House upon former occasions, and he was not now disposed to renew the discussion; but he would notice one objection to the ballot, namely, that it was un-English. If the ballot was un-English, was it meant that bribery and coercion, against which it was meant to guard, were English? If the franchise was a trust, those in possession of it should vote according to their honest opinion. If a man came into the possession of an estate giving him the command over a certain number of votes, why should the men who had them be Called upon to Vote at all, when they could not do so honestly? But was it those men alone who required protection? Why, men with hundreds and thousands a year had not courage to vote as they ought, and required protection as well as the poor man. But it was the poor man he wished chiefly to protect against the rich, in order that he might give his vote freely, without suffering the consequences which in many cases a working man endured if he gave an honest direction to his vote. What was surprising was, that the higher classes did not object to the ballot amongst themselves. They should do to others as they would be done by. When they got to their clubs they voted by ballot, and why not permit the poor man to exercise his franchise by ballot? He wished any man when he came to vote, to be able to go in an erect and independent manner and 901 exercise his right; he wished him to be as independent in that act as the hon. Member for Sunderland opposite, and therefore he thought the ballot was necessary to the due exercise of the elective franchise. Having disposed of this point, the next Was the duration of the Parliament. Some proposed that Parliaments should be elected for fire years, Some for three years, and some for two years. He admitted that there was no rule by which a person could form an opinion upon this question, which depended upon practical experience. His own opinion, after all his experience in that House, led him to say that if the Parliament were elected for a not longer time than three years, that term would afford a sufficient opportunity of control over the representatives. If the elections were annual, it would occasion trouble, delay, and expense, though if his plan were adopted, candidates would be put to little expense. He thought, however, taking it altogether, that Parliaments ought not to be elected for more than three years. These were, therefore, his propositions—household suffrage, under me conditions he had mentioned; the more equal apportionment of Members to population; triennial Parliaments; and vote by ballot. There was likewise a fifth proposition which he wished to adopt. He wished to act upon the principle he had before referred to, of doing to others as others did to him. He sat in that House without qualification. He was an elector, and as an elector he had a title to be elected. In Scotland there was no qualification required—no property qualification—but the fact of being an elector. He was anxious to put the people of England and Ireland on the same footing in this respect as those of Scotland, where there was no property qualification, and where even working men of talent who had no property qualification were not therefore excluded from the House. Upon this ground, he thought that all the rest of the united Kingdom should be put upon the same footing as Scotland was, which would open the door for the removal of property qualification. This was the plan of reform which he thought ought to be adopted; he thought if the House stopped short of this the plan would be defective; he thought they ought to carry it out entire, and they should beware of making such another mistake as they had done in 1832. In justification of his views he had no occasion to refer—but he must refer—to the sentiments expressed 902 by the noble Lord when he introduced the Reform Bill in 1831, which he supported in this strong manner; and he (Mr. Hume) saw no reason why the noble Lord should have since changed his opinions. The noble Lord, on the 1st of March, 1831, said—But what is the case at this moment? The whole people call loudly for reform. That confidence, whatever it Was, which formerly existed in the constitution of this House, exists no longer—it is completely at an end. Whatever may be thought of particular acts of this House, I repeat that the confidence of the country in the construction and constitution of the House of Commons is gone, and gone for ever, I will say more. I will say that it would be easier to transfer the flourishing manufactures of Leeds and Manchester to Gatton and Old Sarum, than to re-establish confidence and sympathy between this House and those whom it calls its constituents. I end this argument, therefore, by saying, that if the question be one of right, right is in favour of reform—if it be a question of reason, reason is in favour of reform—if it be a question of policy and expediency, policy and expediency are in favour of reform.He (Mr. Hume) could not use stronger language to support his arguments than this; and it was only necessary to read it to show what the sentiments of the noble Lord then were. There was another passage in the same speech of the noble Lord, which it was very important that the House should bear in mind. The noble Lord showed the necessity of a change in the state of the representation at that time; and he (Mr. Hume) wanted to show what the noble Lord's opinions then were:—It will not be necessary on this occasion that I should go over the ground which has frequently before been gone over, for arguments in favour of a change in the state of the representation; but it is due to the House that I should state shortly the points on which the reformers rest their case. In the first place, then, the ancient constitution of our country declares that no man shall be taxed for the support of the State, who has hot consented by himself, or his representative, to the imposition of these taxes; the well-known statute De Tallagio non concedendo repeats the same language; and although some historical doubts have been thrown upon it, its legal meaning has never been disputed. It includes 'all the freemen of the land,' and provides that each county should send to the Commons of the realm two knights, each city two citizens, and each borough two burgesses.He read the next passage to introduce the two branches of his plan, namely, the ballot and the duration of Parliaments:—I ought to notice certain points which are looked to with great interest by the most zealous advocates for reform, but which are not included in the proposed measure. In the first place, the", I have to state that there is no provision in 903 this Bill for shortening the duration of Parliament. That is a subject which has been much considered; but upon the whole, without stating the opinion of His Majesty's Ministers on it, I may observe that it was thought better to leave that matter to be brought forward as a separate question, than to bring it at the end of a Bill affecting franchises and matters of local reference, separate and essentially different from any question concerning the duration of Parliament. Without saying to what opinion His Majesty's Ministers incline on this point, I may say that they consider it of the utmost importance not to burden this measure with any other, but to reserve it by itself, leaving it to any other Member, at any time that may be considered fitting, to introduce the question, and to make it the subject of future consideration.There is another question, likewise, which has excited a vast deal of interest in the country, and of which no mention is made in this Bill—I mean the vote by ballot. I have no doubt the ballot has much to recommend it as a mode of election. More ingenious arguments never fell under my eye on any subject than I have seen in favour of the ballot"—He (Mr. Hume) believed that the noble Lord and his Colleagues were at that time in favour of the ballot—but at the same time, I am bound to say that I hope this House will pause before it sanctions the Motion which the hen. Member for Bridport is to make, and adopts the mode of voting by ballot.Now, he (Mr. Hume) said that these arguments of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) were very good, and ought to weigh with the House on the present occasion; but he wanted to clear away, as the noble Lord did, the objections to a great measure of reform, and in the same speech the noble Lord referred to the doubts entertained by some as to the expediency of bringing forward a great and effectual measure of reform, when the noble Lord said—I think, therefore, that they have a right to be believed, when they come forward with a measure of effectual reform, and say that they do not do so for any sinister purpose of their own. Interested as they are—all must be—in the future welfare and prosperity of the country, they do think that this measure will tend to promote that future welfare, and secure that future prosperity; and, above all, they do think that it is the only way calculated to insure permanency to that constitution which has so long been the admiration of foreign nations, on account of its popular spirit; but that admiration cannot be made to exist much longer, unless, by an infusion of new popular spirit, you show that you are determined not to be the representatives of small classes or particular interests, but that you will form a body which, representing the people—which, springing from the people—which, sympathising with the people, can fairly call upon the people to support any future burdens, and to struggle with any future difficulties you may have to encounter, con- 904 fident that those who ask them so to do are united heart and hand with them, and look only, like themselves, to the glory and welfare of England.Were not all these observations applicable to the present time? He could not show in stronger language the necessity of bringing forward and adopting the plan he proposed than by citing this passage of the noble Lord's speech. Upon these grounds he thought that the Government were bound to give their support to his plan, which the Government, as far as the noble Lord was concerned, had approved; for no stronger reasons, no stronger arguments, could be adduced in its favour than those he had read from the noble Lord's speech. He would repeat once more, that he thought the time had arrived when an important onward step must be taken. If they only did justice to the mass of the people, they might rely upon this, that the mass of the people would give them cordial and unqualified support; but of this they might equally rest assured, that if they continued to exclude a large portion of the people from the enjoyment of civil rights, it would be impossible for the Government of this country any longer to repress universal discontent. To his mind nothing could be clearer than this, that they must freely grant civil rights to their fellow-subjects, or else they must be prepared to coerce them. They had already—most prematurely, in his opinion—begun the plan of coercion, and it certainly had been productive of no good fruits. He meant, not merely recent coercion, but that also of a more distant date. Let him be allowed to refer to the year 1793. That was a period when the first French Revolution raised in this country a widespread and eager demand for more popular institutions. The cry of reform was then raised with great loudness and strength; and he entreated them to look at the measures that were then taken for the purpose of repressing that cry. Let them look at the measures that were taken for the purpose of putting down reform, and let them look at the penalty which this country paid for the pleasure of carrying those measures into practical operation. All possible means of coercion were then resorted to, and what did we pay for it? No less a sum than 600,000,000l. England added 600,000,000l. to her debt—it might be 800,000,000l.—the debt was 1,000,000,000l., and certainly at the lowest computation 600,000,000l. of that must be 905 set down to the account of the war, which war arose altogether out of attempts to coerce the people. Looking hack, then, as no one at present could help doing, to the state of things in 1793, could any rational and dispassionate man deny that all we had since then suffered in the way of war and its consequences, in the weight of public taxation, and in the misery and distress which followed in its train, might all have been avoided if Parliamentary reform had been conceded in good time? But the aristocracy were against it, the Sovereign was against it, and that arch-traitor to reform, Mr. Pitt, was against it. That Minister, who in 1785 took his great stand upon reform principles, kept this country under the severest coercive rule throughout the many years that his administration lasted. Such had been the consequence of formerly refusing to make any concessions to the just demands of the people; and such again would be the inevitable consequence of any resistance to the popular will: that which the people of Eng-and had done before they would do again. It was the duty of the Legislature to concede that which they believed to be just and right, and to trust to the people; if they trusted the people they would be perfectly safe, but if they deceived the people they might expect severely to suffer for that crime. Trust the people, and there need be no ground for alarm; the people were as much and more interested than the wealthier classes were in the maintenance of law and order, for there were none in the community more interested than the working men in the public tranquillity, for they would be the first to suffer by any thing like disturbance. Persons of property, though they might to some extent suffer, could get through such difficulties infinitely better than the poor working man; he was, therefore, much more interested than those who belonged to any other class in preserving the institutions of the country from any species of harm. If the Legislature denied the fair demands of the people, let them not suppose that the working man could be insensible to so great a wrong—let them grant the boon in time, and they would meet with nothing but gratitude in return. On that ground, then, and on the other grounds which he had stated, he should say it was the duty of the Ministers of the Crown to counsel Her Majesty, and assure her that the proposed change was for the benefit of the Monarchy. They should tell her that they did not make this 906 demand for the especial benefit or advantage of a class; that, on the contrary, it was for the good of the whole body politic that every one should participate in the privileges of the British constitution. The people, whose cause he then pleaded, required no more, and they would be content with no less. He asked the House to agree with his Motion more as a pledge than anything else that they would carry out the principle of reform. If the House agreed to his Motion, such assent would not have the effect of pledging them to any of the details of any measure that he might seek to found upon a Motion so agreed to. Further, if they permitted him to bring in a Bill, hon. Members who supported his Motion might nevertheless propose any alterations that they thought proper in the Bill when it came before the House. If he exceeded the just limit of reform, they might correct and curtail what he proposed. If he fell short of what the necessity of the case demanded, they might extend his plan; but he hoped that the House would at least come to such a decision as would restore confidence and impart peace to the agitated feelings of the country, for they much needed a confidence and peace which every one felt they did not at present enjoy. The hon. Gentleman concluded by making his Motion as above stated, correcting an omission by inserting the words "all householders."
MR. HENRY DRUMMOND
* I regret that the hon. Member for Montrose should have used expressions in the course of his speech calculated to lead persons to imagine that there is any direct connexion between the constitution of this House and relief from suffering of any kind which the public now endure; and it is from language of this nature that the people are always disappointed at the result of the discussions of such measures as that now under our consideration. I am also sorry that he should have based the necessity for the measures which he has proposed, upon the threatened disturbances on the 10th April, and given it as his opinion, that the agreeing to his plan would have been a better way of preserving the public peace than that which was adopted by Her Majesty's Ministers. It happens, however, that the preservation of the peace was entrusted to them, and not to him, and they were in possession of the necessary information to enable them to judge of which were the most*From a corrected Report.907 efficient means, and he was not in the possession of such information; and, as to whether that peace were to he preserved by the police or by the military, was a mere question of whether men liked to have their heads broken with a staff or shot by a musket; a question which is a pure matter of taste, that each may decide for himself, the essential point being that the peace should be preserved, and the mode by which that was done being a minor and very secondary object. Fortunately for the country, the mode adopted by the responsible advisers of the Crown did prove effectual, and they are entitled to the gratitude of all peaceable people for the steps they had taken. With all possible deference to the hon. Member, I find it extremely difficult to arrive at an accurate idea of his meaning: in one part of his speech he spoke of the elective franchise as a right, and in another as if he considered it in the light of a trust. Again, I am not able to satisfy myself as to what the hon. Member considers a Parliament to be, for at one time he treated it as if it were a deliberative assembly, and at another he called it the Executive. Again, he spoke of his Motion having been drawn up and entrusted to him by a committee: now, a committee is a small body of persons to whom something is committed by a larger body, but we have heard of no such body who had made such an appointment. [Mr. HUME: The people.] The people! Well but the word people is an abstraction; the only legitimate organ through which the people collectively can speak is the Queen, and I never heard that the hon. Member had been sent for by Her Majesty.
But leaving the reasonings of the hon. Member, let us come to the substantive matter which he has brought forward. I might refer to some pamphlets of mine written in the year 1829, in which an extension of the franchise is recommended, and also the shortening of the duration of Parliaments, to prove that the subject has been for a long time under my consideration. The subject possesses great intrinsic interest, and it has derived adventitious importance from recent circumstances both in this country and on the continent of Europe, so that, even apart from the speech of the noble Lord which has been referred to, we shall all be obliged to discuss it with our constituents at the next election; and I will say, in the language of the learned author of the Œdipus Judaicus, that "he who 908 will not reason is a bigot, and be who cannot is a fool;" we must be prepared to give intelligible reasons for what we will grant, and for what we will withhold. We must consider who the parties are from whom the petitions for this measure have proceeded. I believe, in all the black catalogue of human misery there is none equal to that of a strong and healthy parent, willing to devote all his powers to the support of his children, but enable to do so, and compelled to see them perishing for want before his eyes. The first of modern poets has depicted this suffering in Ugolino. We have all read lately of sufferings so great of this nature, that even the strongest feelings were violated, and mothers were known to promote the death pf some of their children, that they might have the means of supporting others a little longer. No wonder that persons in such extremities were willing to follow any desperado, or to adopt any scheme however wild which promised them the possibility of bettering their condition. These persons are the most clamorpus, and they were the ready instruments of others who had cooler heads and fuller bellies. Another class that called loudly in favour of reform were the intelligent operatives: men who were skilled in all those arts in which some science was necessary, such as dyers, practical chemists, makers of machinery, workers in metals, miners, engine manufacturers, &c. &c. These classes have for the most part no votes, and although earning high wages, they generally consume all they earn. One wan I know, who though gaining often above five guineas a week, never has a farthing in his pocket on the following Monday; and most of them earn from 18s. to 30s. a week. All these are deprived improperly of the franchise; they one and all want improvement in their physical condition; they care nothing about theories of government; but what they require is the greatest enjoyment for the wages they earn, and the greatest amount of reward for the work they do. These classes are the tools with which the real clamourers for reform work. The clamourers are men of a higher class of intellectual acquirement; doctors without patients, lawyers without briefs, writers in public journals, clever dreamers of every kind, who want to see our present social system reduced to chaos, in order that they might be able to fish up a new constitution out of the abyss. It is necessary to distinguish between these three separate classes, and 909 not to confound them all in the common term of Chartists, using it as a term of reproach. I remember when a "Reformer" was considered a black sheep, who was to be expelled from the society of his family and acquiantance; next came the name "Radical," and now Chartist is the word; and although the word Chartist does certainly include every worthless character in the country there are doubtless many worthy men banded under the same title. All of them, however, seem to have strange notions respecting the first principles of government. A meeting was lately held in Birmingham, the proceedings of which have been highly panegyrised in a respectable journal; I call the journal respectable because it is exceedingly well written, and has a large circulation. I am aware that the term respectable is somewhat equivocal, and that when a witness on Thurtell's trial said that he was respectable, and was asked by the counsel what he meant by the word respectable, he replied that "Mr. Thurtell kept a gig." I conclude the writers keep gigs, and are in short respectable, Now, at this meeting an alderman, also I suppose respectable, made use of these words:—But of all things let the people be true to themselves; let there be no dispute about mere words; for himself he had no hesitation in saying that he was a complete Chartist, nothing more nor less; but was that to prevent him from joining hand and heart in such a movement as this; laying aside minor differences for a public good? He believed they were all loyal enough. England had flourished under the system of a King, Lords, and Commons; and although, if he were going to frame a new constitution, he might be disposed to dispense with the King and the Lords, still he would rather endure such ills as those entailed, than fly to changes which might produce bloodshed, havoc, desolation, and misery. Let, however, the rulers of this country—the powerful in this country—remember that there was a spirit of endurance implanted by God in the heart of man beyond which he could not go. With a population on the verge of starvation, what safety and security are to be expected? What the limits of endurance are may not be spoken, even though they were known; but when the period comes that they are outstretched beyond their natural limits, farewell to the love of order which knits men together—ferewell to the ties of humanity. Let Lord John Russell beware of that hour. Great as are the evils we have to endure—great as are the wrongs of which we have to complain—let us all stand for 'peace, law, and order; not bating one jot of our firmness of purpose to obtain our just demands. We will adopt as our motto the three words I have just uttered to you; but if the time comes when the bonds which knit those together are rent asunder—if the Prime Minister and legislators hesitate too long—let it not be laid to our charge that we were the 910 first to trample on social institutions, and to raise the signal for anarchy.Such is the language held at a meeting which was highly applauded in a respectable journal, and held up as a model of propriety. Now, I think it should be laid down by this House as a fixed principle, from which nothing shall induce us to depart, that we will uphold the institutions of the country; we must not regard the Crown and the Lords as evils to be endured; and if we must part with one or other portion of our existing system, it certainly is not the Crown and the Lords that I think we could do best without.
Having considered the three classes of persons who unite in demanding reform, let us next consider the things for which they are asking. I have already mentioned the extension of the suffrage. I think people are clearly entitled to this since the passing of the Reform Bill. I was no party to that Bill. I hated it at the time, and I hate it still; but as it has passed, nothing is left for us now but to carry it out. The former franchises were taken away, and a 10l. franchise established. But there is no principle in 10l. which is not equally to be found in 9l. 19s. 6d. That limit cannot stand. They who talked of the Reform Bill being a final measure, must have had an extraordinary want of foresight not to see that it was merely a first step to a vast number of measures. As to what should be the extent of the suffrage, I will not now enter into any details, but merely say that as far as you can define property, there let it extend. There is an absurd cry against being ruled by the aristocracy, and it was said that this House will never do its duty to the people until all the labouring classes are represented. But does the hon. Member mean that every separate department of industry must be separately represented? We have had today presented to the House petitions from the brush makers, and petitions from the bellows makers; and does he mean that the bellows makers all over England are to be gathered together for the purpose of choosing a representative? Gentlemen talk about returning representatives for all classes; but the moment such a measure is attempted to be worked out, its absurdity is manifested. Although the hon. Member for Montrose says that there is great dissatisfaction with the Reform Bill, I much doubt whether there ever was a time when the labouring classes were so 911 much represented, as several of that class are now sitting in the present House. I am not going into a genealogical inquiry of the pedigree of Members, but by referring to Dod's Parliamentary Companion, hon. Members would be enabled to judge for themselves on this point. The whole question turns upon what is the meaning of the word aristocracy. In uncivilised society it means the strongest, and in civilised society it means the wisest. In every case it must be the aristocracy which rules. Some persons may indeed think one man the wisest, and I may think some other the wisest; and how is wisdom to be defined by Act of Parliament? You cannot make equality. The cry for equality indicates something unsound in the mind and spirits of men. There is no equality throughout all nature. There is no equality in any one of the three kingdoms, animal, vegetable, or mineral; if men are to be discontented, therefore, because others are their superiors, and that all are not equal, they must be discontented to all eternity.
With respect to triennial Parliaments, I certainly think that it would be a very great advantage if the duration of Parliament was shortened, and that Members were oftener thrown back upon and brought into contact with their constituents: whether this be done by triennial or annual Parliaments, does not much signify; they are both according to the ancient practice; but Parliaments for five years, which the hon. Member has mentioned, are a new experiment. I have no faith in any thing new, and I dislike septennial Parliaments because they are of Whig invention; they might be and probably were necessary for that party at the time they were enacted, but they were made for a temporary purpose, and should have ceased when the occasion ceased which called them forth.
With regard to the proposition for Electoral Divisions, Universal Suffrage, and No Property Qualifications, they are merely means of obtaining an end which I think we should all most studiously resist. It must be admitted, and it is useless to deny, that it is the interest of the community, looking only to numbers, to make a fresh division of property every year, for the number of those who have got nothing is always greater than the number of those who have got something. These measures all tend to give power to the many who have no property, and such a state of so- 912 ciety never did exist on the face of the earth. If we refer to ancient republics, we find Athens with 100,000 freemen and 400,000 slaves who bad no political or civil rights whatever; so that four out of five of the entire population were excluded. In Rome all the work and most of the trades were carried on by slaves, who had no civil privileges; and, leaving ancient States, and coming to our own country, the Saxon peasant had no right under the reign of the Edwards and the first Henries. Coming later down, the freeholder was of a different description from that which he was after the Reformation, and still more from that which he was after the Revolution. If you give to those without property the same right which you give to those with property, the power will be in the hands of the masses, who will be driven in times of distress to make a subversion of property, which is a total subversion of society. We have heard about property having duties as well as rights; the expression is absurd, because an abstraction can have neither duties nor rights; but proprietors have duties, and the first duty of every owner of property is to fight for it, and, as a nobleman lately said, "to die for his order;" not to suffer it to be taken from him by any means directly or indirectly; and to resist by moral force, if assailed by moral force—by physical force, if assailed by physical force. If any one doubts that a feeling and intention to make such a division of property is now being manifested, let him attend to the petition which has been this day presented by the noble Lord the Member for Bath. Can any one be so ignorant of the common literature which has appeared in this country within the last twelve months as not to know that there does pervade through a large body of the most intellectual operatives the notion that they have not a due share in the profits of the capitalist? This feeling is gaining ground amongst them; and another feeling also, which is, that every owner of property is a public robber, and that he or his progenitor has taken from the public that which he has appropriated to himself. I cannot cite the exact words in any English work, but I remember them in French. [Cries of "Oh! in French."] Do not imagine that there is any difference in theory on this subject between the operatives in France and the operatives in England. I did not expect to hear this assertion denied, or I would have had with me the works to which I allude; but it is the same as that declared 913 in French by the expression Toute propriété est vol. All the points of the Charter which I have enumerated tend more or less, directly or indirectly to give power to those persons who I maintain never must have it. Political power must be confined to those who have property, and those who have no property must be entirely excluded from it.
Another dangerous delusion encouraged in the speech of the hon. Member for Montrose is, that there is any necessary connection between the alteration of the constitution of this House, and a diminution of taxation. I am willing to go as far as the hon. Member in censuring the present extravagance, and in endeavouring to curtail the expenditure as much as possible; but I cannot admit that the necessary consequence of the old Reform Bill was an immediate retrenchment and diminution of the public burdens. The Government of that day courted popularity at the expense of the best interests of the country, and sold off the capital of the country, its naval and military stores, which we had afterwards to replace at a great loss. Let retrenchment stand on its own footing; and let the amendment of the constitution of this House stand on its own footing; but if it shall be maintained that by any alteration of the constitution of this House, the expenditure of the country will be necessarily curtailed, that can only take place by a return of such Members as would be dead and insensible to the national interests, to the national honour, to the national power, and would be wholly influenced by their own paltry and local interests. There are already in this House some who boast that they are the representatives of large popular town constituencies; but they are not the representatives of the feelings and judgment of the people of England. Nay, I will say more; the more they are exclusively identified with the interests of those constituencies who send them, the more it becomes the Government to look with jealousy on any of their recommendations; it being the duty of the Crown to knit contending interests together, and not to allow one to be absorbed by or sacrificed to another. The popular town constituencies, of which hon. Members opposite boast, do not for the most part send men to Parliament fitted to take in a large grasp of the general interests of the country; and the consequence is that whenever they cannot get their own little whim or crotchet carried, they get out of humour and threaten 914 the House, saying, "You do not know what the people out of doors are saying," meaning by the word people their own little class or party. We have heard most extraordinary statements by Members of this description; we heard it declared lately, that in the opinion of such Members, the noble Lord at the head of the Government was influenced in his course of policy and in his measures by the conversation of drawing-rooms and clubs; now any person who made such remarks showed that he was as ignorant of the habits of English society as he was of the customs of China.
There is great discontent throughout the country, and there ever will be, because this House is a great and expensive club, into which it gratifies the vanity of many people to get; and as long as there exists among men a thing which one wants to gain, and others have to give, so long there will be inducements of some sort or other held out: there will always be a quid for the quo. The candidate says to the popular constituency, "Oh! if you will send me to Parliament, you shall see what reforms I will make; there shall be no more taxes or starvation; the old story of Cockney land shall be realised, and pigs shall run about ready roasted." But men find the House of Commons a different place from that which they imagine it to be; they cannot have their own way; there are others as wise who want to have theirs; and the decision of the House is the aggregate wisdom of contending interests. Promises are made which no House of Commons could ever grant; and the people are discontented because their demands are refused by the House, which were promised by their representatives, and expectations were held out which no Government could realise, just as the Government in France held out the expectation that it had power to feed the people. You may constitute the House as you will, but no House will ever have power to relieve the distress of the people. It is a gross delusion to insinuate to the people that any thing but misery is the lot of the great mass of mankind, and that that misery can be eradicated by any legislation whatever. There is a sort of instinct, for I can call it by no better name, running through Christendom at the present moment, leading men to suppose that the time is come for the regeneration of the human race, although no one can tell by what means it is to be effected. There 915 shall indeed be a regeneration, but the world must first go through a baptism of blood, and it is that baptism alone for which all exertions like the present now under discussion can prepare it. All your strivings will end in that, for the regeneration never can take place, till He comes to establish it who only has a right to reign in peace over the human race.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
Mr. Speaker, I rise thus early to address the House, because I think the House is entitled to an explanation from me of the views which I entertain, not only with regard to this Motion, but with respect to other propositions to which it is nearly akin, and from which I think—after hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Montrose—it can hardly be dissociated. I must be allowed to allude, as the hon. Member for Montrose has done so, to the petitions that have been presented to the House on this subject, and to what the hon. Gentleman has termed the general opinion that has been expressed by the people. Now, Sir, it does not appear that, except for the provisions called "the People's Charter," any large or numerously signed petitions have been presented to this House in the early part of the Session. With regard to the petitions which have since been presented, and to the meetings which have been held in order to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose, I may be allowed to notice two remarkable circumstances. The one is, that considerable pains have been taken to misrepresent a speech which I made some time ago, when the hon. Gentleman postponed his notice of Motion—it having been represented that in that speech I declared that the people wished for no reforms. I have seen this done with such care, that in some placards all the words I used implying my belief that reforms ought to be made, were carefully expunged, and in some cases asterisks were put in their place. What I said on that occasion was this:—"My belief is, that the middle and working classes desire that there shall be a gradual progress in reform; that this House should give its attention to the questions that are before it; and that in securing the peace and quiet of the country rests their true interest and prosperity." [Mr. COBDEN: No!] Of course I do not deny that which has been repeated over and over again, and which is made the staple of the charge against me—that I said that I did not believe the middle and working classes were in favour either of the People's Charter, or 916 of the plan of reform proposed by the hon. Member for Montrose. But that statement has been used as if it was a declaration against all reform, although, after having excluded these specific measures, I went on to say, that the people desired a gradual progress in reform. In using the word "reform," I excluded no species of reform. I excluded neither Parliamentary reform, nor fiscal reform, nor any other reforms that it might be useful to adopt; but I found so great had been the misunderstanding or misconstruction of my statement, that at a meeting in Marylebone the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) moved a resolution to the effect, that Her Majesty's Prime Minister having stated his opinion that the people required no extensive measures of political and fiscal reform, it was resolved—and then the resolution went on. Now, as the hon. Member for Montrose heard what I said, and had the means of ascertaining accurately what my statement was, I think, when that resolution was put into his hands, he should have said, "This is a resolution contrary to the fact. I know it to be so, and it is impossible for me to propose it." [Mr. HUME: It was consistent with the fact, and I knew it.] There is another circumstance, as I have said, which has attended many of these meetings for reform. They have been meetings assembled with the view of supporting the four points comprised in the resolutions of which the hon. Member for Montrose had given notice, and to which he has to-night added a fifth, and of sending petitions to this House in favour of those resolutions. But when the subject came to he discussed, it has repeatedly happened, either that some Chartist rose to move, as an amendment, that every person of full age, and unconvicted of any crime, ought to have a vote, and that this amendment was carried, or that such an amendment having been proposed, there was so great a division in the meeting that the reporters, who generally attend carefully to these matters, were unable to state on which side the majority was. I say, then, with regard to this movement, that, in the first place, it has been in a great degree founded upon a misapprehension of what I, speaking in my place in Parliament, said; and, in the next place, that it is not to be regarded as a movement in support of the proposition of the hon. Member for Montrose, for if we look at the meetings in Leeds, Birmingham, Marylebone, and other large towns. 917 we shall see that there was a great division of opinion, and that in some cases the Chartists had the majority; and where they had a majority, the meetings, I think, could not be considered favourable to the plan of the hon. Member for Montrose. The hon. Gentleman, to my great satisfaction, began his speech by declaring that the plan of reform which I had the honour to propose in 1831, and which was carried into effect by Parliament in 1832, has been mainly instrumental in preserving the peace of this country during the present year. I accept that testimony of the hop. Gentleman as a proof that the plan of reform to which he referred has been useful in averting discontent and in preserving tranquillity, and that it has, therefore, been a great and effectual measure of reform. The hon. Gentleman, indeed, afterwards said, that if the people, acting on their present rights of election, chose those who would fitly represent them—if they attended themselves to their own interests in the manner in which he thought they ought to do—they had the means in their own power of carrying into effect measures which would be most conducive to the public benefit. Why, if that be the case, I think it may make hon. Gentlemen pause before they admit the necessity of any great measure of reform to enable the people to obtain a fair representation in this House, because, according to the hon. Gentleman's own statement, it was only by their mistake of their true interests that the present House does not fairly represent them, and therefore they hare an opportunity, at a general election, of being fairly represented. The electors, indeed, may reply to the hon. Gentleman that they have this power, but that they do not choose to use it in the manner he recommends; that they have a better view of their true interests than the hon. Gentleman himself has; and that they have chosen their present representatives, believing—according to their own notions of public policy—that the views of those representatives are sound, although they may not be similar to the views entertained by the hon. Member for Montrose. The hon. Gentleman may contend for any particular right of suffrage, but he cannot contend—whatever right of suffrage may be established—that the people are to adopt all his own notions, and that they are not fairly represented if their representatives do not coincide in his views. The hon. Member for Montrose began his com- 918 plaints to this House by a declaration that every man who is a contributor to the taxes in any way should have a share in the representation, and that every man of full age who in any way contributed to the taxes has positively a right to vote. Why, if this is a true position, there will be an end of all disputes about the matter; there will be an end to any question as to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman—his limitations, his restrictions, and his qualifications; and he will have nothing to do but, by an Act of Parliament, to acknowledge that right which he says exists in every male person of full age, and at once to admit them to vote. But the hon. Gentleman, in his plan, does not make this proposition. He proposes, according to his resolutions, that the franchise shall be extended so as to include all householders, the word "all" having been left out by mistake. In his explanation of the term "householder," the hon. Gentleman stated that it would include all persons having a fixed residence—even lodgers in a house, who, as I understand, may claim to be rated, and may be actually rated, and placed on the rate-book for the relief of the poor. Why, this is a restriction, a qualification, and a condition, which, if the hon. Gentleman was right in his former proposition, you have not the smallest title to impose. Take the case of a man of full age belonging to a parish in Westminster; he claims his right to vote, but you are to tell him that he has not been registered—that he has not put his name upon the rate-book, and that therefore he cannot be admitted to vote. He replies, "I have an indefeasible right, a constitutional right, as being 21 years of age, and it is impossible for you to deny that right, or to set it aside, by any pretence about rate-books, or registration, or the condition of lodging." The hon. Gentleman, therefore, by this qualification, destroy his own former proposition. The hon. Member for Montrose quoted some sentences of mine when I brought forward the Reform Bill in 1831, which I must admit were somewhat loosely worded. They ought not to be regarded as the foundation of the measure which I then proposed, but I went on to state exactly what the nature of that measure was. I did not leave any doubt about the matter; and every one could judge what was the nature of the proposition which I wished Parliament to adopt. I think, however, that the proposition of the hon. Member for Montrose is of a very different de- 919 scription; it is of a very vague and indefinite character. When the hon. Gentleman says that all householders, including lodgers, are to claim a right to be rated with a view of obtaining the franchise, I really do not understand to how large a portion of the working classes such a proposition would apply. There are many sons living with their fathers, and many persons forming parts of families, who might or might not become part of the constituency to be created under the hon. Gentleman's proposition. The hon. Gentleman has said that there are 6,000,000 of males, of full age, who ought to be entitled to vote, while only 1,000,000, or less, have a share in the present representation. But I imagine that, if the hon. Gentleman's proposition were carried out, and if no man had a right to vote without being rated or registered, it would still be found that there would be at least some 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 of these persons who would be excluded from the franchise. What, then, becomes of his assertion that you have disqualified those who had a right of voting, and that it is beyond the power of Parliament to exclude persons who have a constitutional right to the franchise? I must say at once that I differ entirely from the hon. Gentleman as to the foundation of his proposed representation. In my opinion, that which not only every man of full age, but the whole population of the kingdom, have a right to, is the best government and the best kind of representation which it is possible for the Legislature to give them. The main object of our institutions is good government and the welfare of the people; and we ought not, for the sake of some abstract principles, to lose sight of that great object. In considering this subject, I remember, as was said by the hon. Member who spoke last, that we have a mixed constitution; that the Crown and the House of Lords are part of that constitution; that they are not evils to be endured, but that they are part of the benefits of the institutions we enjoy. I find that one of the greatest and most profound writers of antiquity, in writing on the subject of Government, said in effect, though not perhaps exactly in the words I am about to use, that every Government is formed either of monarchy, of aristocracy, or of democracy; that a Government formed and combined out of these three elements might be easily raised, but it could not easily be brought to pass; or if it should be brought to pass, it could not be 920 durable. Such was the sentiment of a great and profound historian—a sentiment authorised and justified by all his experience—justified almost by the experience of the world in modern times, with the exception of one, and that a most favoured, country. It has so happened that in this country we have had those elements combined which Tacitus said could hardly be combined together—monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy—and it has happened that that constitution has endured. Whenever I have had to discuss or treat of this subject, I have always felt—having had much to do since 1819 with proposing some measures of reform, and promoting others—how nice a matter it was to alter in any way the adjustment of the different parts of the constitution. I remember, on the night before I was about to bring forward the Reform Bill, speaking to an American of distinguished talents, who then represented his country at this Court. I said to him," I cannot but feel great anxiety in proposing to make an alteration in a constitution which has lasted so long." "Yes," he replied, "so long and so strong." That is, in fact, the truth with regard to our constitution. It has lasted long; it has been very strong; and we should therefore apply ourselves with the utmost care and deliberation, and I will also say with the greatest anxiety, to any plan which proposes to alter the representative body in this House. Let us see, then, whether a Parliament elected by the householders and lodgers would be a better Parliament—would afford a better representation of the people than the present Parliament. It appears to me that if you establish a really household suffrage, the objection to which the hon. Gentleman alluded—that you get a representation of brick and mortar—applies; and it would be a ground of complaint that many persons superior in property and intelligence to the small householders were excluded from the franchise. I do not think it is an objection which can be fairly made to the present mode of suffrage, because that mode makes a choice amongst the householders; it takes property of a certain amount, it takes rating combined with that property, and there fixes the franchise. But if you would admit all householders, without any other qualification, I think such a plan is open to the objection. But then, if you are to make it more general—if you are to make the suffrage universal—I do not see that, having universal suffrage, you could well 921 act upon the plan proposed by the hon. Member, of keeping up the present cities and all but the smaller boroughs of the country; you could hardly avoid that division into equal districts, of equal population, which it is the proposal of the advocates of the Charter to introduce. Now, if I am asked whether such a division into districts and universal suffrage—the suffrage in every male person of full age—would give a better representation of the people at large than the present, and more conducing to the people's interest—I must deny that it would do so. You would have a great number of representatives of the large towns, some fifty representatives for this metropolis, some ten or twenty for other, large towns, all of them imbued with the spirit of those towns, and the excited feelings of the population of those towns, but, on the other hand, destroying the smaller boroughs and the middle-sized towns in the country: you would have representatives of the agricultural class, of a totally different character, firmly attached perhaps to the present institutions, but unwilling to adopt reforms which this House, and other Houses of Parliament framed under the Reform Act, have been willing to adopt. I should fear, with a representation so composed, of men totally differing in their political views—one too much inflamed with ideas of extensive amelioration, the other adverse to progress and improvement—you would have a collision and a contest which would be dangerous to its operation, and, above all, would not fairly represent the country which it would affect to represent. It is very easy to say—and nothing is more at hand than the arithmetic which the hon. Member has used—" Here are half-a-dozen boroughs, with 200 or 300 voters in each; and here are half-a-dozen great districts, such as Marylebone and Lambeth; so that you find a million of persons with no more representatives than a few hundreds have." The arithmetic is perfectly clear and plain; but when you come to examine the operation of the system, and the reason of those differences, you will find, I think, that the representation upon the whole is better from your having a large variety of that kind, than it would be if you had one sole kind of representation, and that a representation of numbers. When we were discussing the Reform Bill, a gentleman whose loss we had afterwards to deplore, because he gave promise of great talents in political life—a gentleman whose political views, how- 922 ever, were totally different from mine, Mr. Praed—made a Motion in this House, I think, with a view of giving two Members to boroughs in Schedule B; and he argued most ably, that men of retired habits, who would not face a large body of constituents, who might be men of science, men of talent and information, men of historical knowledge, would be sent to Parliament by those small boroughs, but that they were not people of property in counties who were likely to be sent by any division of a county, nor persons of those opinions or those stirring habits who would be likely to be sent by great towns. And on another occasion I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth (Sir R. Peel) made a similar proposition, and he argued likewise on the great advantage there was in having such a kind of representation. But I will read a few words of what he said upon that occasion with regard to that class of persons representing that portion of the agricultural boroughs. The right hon. Baronet said—The influence of the press, whether it be for good or evil, tells more rapidly and contagiously on the aggregate societies of towns, than on the inhabitants of country districts. Political unions, and all the devices which by means of combination give to men acting in concert a moral force greater than their actual numbers, tend to increase the influence of a manufacturing as compared with an agricultural population. Every consideration, then, derived from the nature of landed property—from its liability to the envy and rapacity of the many—from the position, habits, and characters of those who occupy it—enforce the policy and necessity of providing carefully and permanently for its protection.At the end of what the right hon. Baronet addressed to the House on that occasion, he said—It was with this object that in framing the Jury Bill I purposely called this class into increased action, and sought to familiarise them with the performance of civil duties, and to multiply their points of contact with the more intelligent inhabitants of towns. Granted that they are indisposed to innovation—that their disposition is to maintain things as they are—that they are governed by local ties and by personal attachments rather than by considerations of general politics—it is on that very account that I conjure you to extend their influence; they constitute the ballast of the vessel of the State. Beware how you heave it overboard under the fatal impression that it is a useless incumbrance, occupying space that might be more profitably employed. It may at times retard the velocity of your movement—it may make you less obedient to the sudden impulse of shifting gales; but this, and this alone it is that enables you to extend your canvass, and insures the steadiness of your course and the security of your navigation.923 Sir, I thought those were just sentiments. I said at the time that I thought they were founded on just views of policy; but I conceived that in giving forty Members to the boroughs in Schedule B, giving, I think, sixty Members to other small boroughs, we were providing sufficiently for that class of Representatives. I have not in any way changed my opinion that this country would not be fairly represented; that considering that this is a country which has not only commerce and agriculture, but Which has in it men of every kind of information—men who have studied the constitution of their country; that there are many in active and many who are not in active life, whose intelligence fits them to be representatives in Parliament, but whose habits do not induce them to seek Or qualify themselves for either county representation or the representation of such places as Manchester or Birmingham—the country would not be fitly represented if we merely had representation attached to a certain amount of population. Now, if I am at all right in that view, it disposes very much of the whole of that argument which is put forth in the petitions, that there is an inequality; that small places return as many Members as larger towns; and that you can make out that there are 10,000 voters in one place, and only 300 in another; if I am right in saying that mere numbers ought not to constitute the basis of your representation—that you should endeavour rather to have your House of Commons, like the country itself, composed of various classes and men of various occupations—then the whole argument founded upon the disparity of numbers falls at once to the ground. The hon. Gentleman, however, does not get rid of the disparity. In this, as in the rest of his proposition, he leaves it vague and indefinite what would be the ease if we were to adopt his proposition. He tells us that he will leave the existing boroughs, with the exception of some of the smaller; and he mentioned three or four populous towns in Kent. He would leave such places as Canterbury, such towns as Guildford, or Norwich, or Ipswich, exactly in their present situation. But if he did, he would not have exact equality of numbers; and I do not see how those who ask for equality of numbers would be satisfied if there were 10,000 or 20,000 electors in one borough, and only 3,000 or 4,000 in another, how they would be better satisfied than at the present moment. 924 They would still say, "Here is gross inequality—here is inequality existing—let us have a further reform—a just and effectual reform—instead of this mockery of reform which you have been giving us." The hon. Member, at the end of his speech, said, "Let us have a settlement of this question;"—very much the language for which I have been ordinarily reproached when I have quoted the sentiments of Lord Grey and Lord Althorp. The hon. Gentleman could not expect a settlement of the question if his resolution were adopted: as far as I can see, the advocates of "The People's Charter," who are at all events more numerous than his constituents, would still ask that every male should have a vote, and would still ask for equal electoral districts, which he does not pretend to establish. I do not mean to go through the propositions at length which he has placed before the House; certainly I shall not no enter into any long argument with respect to the ballot. I have always thought that if you had the ballot you would know the votes of the parties pretty much as you do now, and that, therefore, it Would be he remedy against intimidation, while it would give rise to new sources of complaint. I observe, in reading the accounts of the various meetings, that there has been one at Northampton, at which a gentleman, who was supporting the propositions of the hon. Member, said that he had been told by an American citizen that nothing is more easy than canvassing in America; that it is rather more easy than canvassing in this country; and that he could always tell, by going about a day or two before the votes were to be taken in the United States, how each man whom he canvassed would vote, although the vote was to be given by ballot. I believe that would be the case in England as much as elsewhere. Of course the ballot of itself is not a security to a State. We have seen great discontent arise, and at length a revolution has overtaken the Government of France, though they had the advantage of election by ballot; the Chamber of Deputies was elected by ballot, but the ballot was no security against a revolution. Another proposition of the hon. Member is that the duration of Parliament should not exceed three years. Now, if I could agree with the hon. Member (Mr. H. Drummond) in thinking that we ought more frequently to go before our constituents, I really should maintain, instead of saying with him that 925 it is matter of indifference whether we have annual Parliaments or triennial, that an annual Parliament is to be preferred. I think what you want is, not the power of dismissing Members when they behave ill, as the hon. Member supposes, for cases with respect to the dismissal of Members are not always on that ground. Every one knows that Mr. Burke was rejected at Bristol, not on account of behaving ill, but on account of the support he gave to civil and religious liberty in various measures that came before the House. It is not, as I think, a frequent change and the dismissal of the servants of the people that you ought to have in view; but, along with something like confidence between representatives and their constituents, and a free interchange of sentiments, you should have in View some kind of stability in the policy of the country. That I believe is secured by the present mode of having Parliaments endure at the longest for six years. I believe it might also happen—though I have no confidence in that—if you had an election every year. I do not think it would happen that, generally speaking, if an election were to take place in every September or October, there would be a great or a frequent change of Members; but, I think, if you took a period of three years, you would find your whole constitution unsettled—that that period of three years just gave time enough for people to consider that they would make a change, while there would not be, as there might if it were yearly, a sort of renewal of a trust which they would be ready and willing to make. I think that if we are to have any change in this respect, it would be better to fix upon one year than three; indeed, I am of opinion that the proposal to limit the duration of Parliaments to three years is about the worst that can be made. Although I once gave an opinion in this House in favour of Parliaments being limited in duration to five years, I am satisfied with their duration as at present limited by law, and I certainly will not give my vote in favour of a proposal to alter it. I think that the dependence of Members upon their constituents is amply sufficient under the existing system. Communications of a very active character are maintained between Members and their constituents; and, although Members may reckon upon having five years' tenure of their seats, I am well aware that the opinions of constituencies exercise the greatest possible influence upon the conduct of repre- 926 sentatives. I will now beg leave to subject the question which the hon. Member for Montrose has raised to another test, by which he ought not, I think, to refuse to have it tried. The reform of Parliament was effected in 1832. Have the House of Commons since that time shown themselves to be, as they are represented by some, the servants of the aristocracy, or mere bigots afraid to enter on any reform? Have they shown themselves indifferent to improvement, and regardless of the voice of the people? No one who regards the changes which have been made since the reform of the representation took place, and how readily those changes were adopt-ed by this House when the voice of the people was clearly ascertained, will say that the House of Commons has not responded quickly and readily to public opinion. The new Parliament assembled after the passing of the Reform Act, had not long met before slavery in the West Indies was entirely abolished. That immense change was called for by petitions, and Was favoured by the voice of the people; but certainly so vast a change was hardly ever effected by any Legislature in the universe. Very soon after the trade with China was thrown open, and great commercial advantages resulted from that measure. In a year or two afterwards, the commutation of tithes—a measure in which the laity and the clergy were equally interested, but which was surrounded with such difficulties that it baffled the power and intelligence of Mr. Pitt when he wished to accomplish it—was effected. The Dissenters suffered grievances with respect to the celebration of their marriages, and the registration of their births and deaths. Those grievances were soon completely and effectually remedied. In another year or two the municipal corporations of the country were entirely reformed. Before that time many of those corporations were self elected; but they were then all subjected to popular election, and had an entirely new constitution given to them. In later years the House of Commons has been occupied with measures from the propriety of which a great portion of the House dissents; but those measures certainly effected great changes, and in the opinion of the hon. Member for Montrose those changes are great and beneficial reforms; I allude to the changes in the tariff, by which a number of duties were abolished, and others reduced; and I also allude to that great change which certainly cannot be referred 927 to as evidence of this House being under the Government of the landed aristocracy—I mean the entire repeal of the corn laws. Some hon. Members think that measure injurious; others believe it to be highly beneficial to the country; but at all events it shows, that when considerable popular agitation existed, when public meetings were held, and a great cry for change arose, the House of Commons did not obstinately refuse to listen to the voice of the people, but, on the contrary, completely and at once effected the change which was asked for. Whilst these great changes have been made, other measures have been adopted, such as the reduction of the postage of letters to ld. I was about to allude to the reduction of postage in a parenthesis with other measures; but I really think that, viewed as a great social change, nothing more beneficial has taken place in later times. When you contemplate the enormous increase which has taken place in correspondence, you may estimate the number of persons who were deprived of the benefit of communicating with their friends, and of offering the interchange of domestic affections. I really think that we cannot over-estimate all the advantages which have resulted from that Act. It appears to me, then, that it is impossible to say that under the operation of the Reform Act the House of Commons has been either idle or unwilling to entertain great measures of reform. It must be recollected also—and the experience of every Member who has been long in Parliament will attest the fact—that although so large a number of important measures have been carried, the debates on every subject are more protracted than they used to be, and that therefore the difficulty of carrying many measures in a single Session of Parliament is proportionally increased. The hon. Member for Montrose asks me to agree to the proposition which he has submitted to the House, containing four different points which involve an immense change in the representation. I stated in the passage from a former speech of mine, which I took the liberty of reading to the House because it had been so much forgotten and misrepresented, that I am for gradual reform; and I beg to state that I do not think that reforms should be limited to such measures as I have been referring to—measures for improving the laws relating to fiscal regulations and other matters; but that, although I admit the Reform Act to have been the settlement of 928 a great question, it is desirable to admit into it, from time to time, such alterations and improvements as experience and knowledge may suggest. At the time when I was most attacked for speaking of the Reform Act as a final measure, I expressed myself in these terms of the retention of the freemen as voters in elections:—Another alteration was the retention of the freemen, introduced in order to conciliate some who objected to the first Reform Bill, and obtain support to its second reading in the Lords. Here, again, was a change for the worse. If the freemen exercised the franchise corruptly, one of two courses should properly have been taken: the one to disfranchise them altogether—a proposal in which they at first seemed ready to acquiesce—the other, and perhaps the better course, would have been to have treated the freemen in the same spirit in which other rights had been treated. The freemen of old evidently represented the toil and the industry, the mechanical skill and the trading substance of the communities of our towns. They do so no longer. It might have been difficult, but it was not impossible, to make the freemen the proper representatives of one of the most valuable classes of the community—that of the industrious, intelligent, and able mechanics who abound in our great manufacturing and commercial towns, and some of whom only are now admitted to the right of voting. Such a change in the character of freemen would do much to purify our elections and strengthen the House of Commons.In a subsequent passage I said—There are doubtless many defects in the Reform Act which require to be remedied. The 10l. franchise is too much fettered by regulation—the annual registration is made a source of vexation and expense—the freemen might be made the pride of the working classes instead of their opprobrium. But changes such as these, introduced when the public mind was prepared for them, and the proposals had been duly weighed, differ entirely from the proposal to found a new Reform Bill on the basis of triennial Parliaments, household suffrage, and vote by ballot.Those passages are taken from my letter to the electors of Stroud in the year 1839. Prom 1839 to the present day I believe that neither the hon. Member for Montrose, nor any of those who concur with him in opinion on this subject, have thought it necessary to moot the question of the constitution of the House of Commons. For myself, also, neither officially as a Minister of the Crown, nor when I sat on the other side of the House, have I thought it necessary to introduce any measure of reform with reference to that subject. But, now that several other questions are in the course of settlement, and seeing that public attention is drawn to the question of Parliamentary reform, I think that a time 929 may come—perhaps it is not distant—when reforms of the nature to which I adverted in 1839 may be usefully introduced and carried into effect for the improvement of the representation. I think that the inquiry which we propose to effect by the Bill introduced in the present Session with respect to certain boroughs in which it is alleged, and indeed has been proved, that elections have been carried by corrupt practices, may give us further information than we now possess as to the character of the freemen, and will enable us to determine whether some boroughs ought to be altogether disfranchised, and whether we ought to adopt, with respect to others, the course which has been taken in the case of Great Yarmouth, namely, that of disfranchising the freemen alone. I would, however, be sorry to adopt either of those courses without accompanying measures. I would not wish to see the number of the Members of this House reduced by the disfranchisement of boroughs, and I would be sorry to see the freemen disfranchised without establishing some other right of voting, by means of which the traders and mechanical industry of towns would be represented as they formerly were by the freemen, the retention of whose right of voting I have more than once admitted to be a defect in the Reform Act. The hon. Member for Montrose has by a curious enumeration shown that there exist eighty-five rights of voting, and that he deems a defect in the Reform Act; but I, on the contrary, think it is rather a defect that the great variety of rights of voting which existed under the former constitution of the House of Commons, though tainted by many abuses, were reduced to too much uniformity. I think we might create some new varieties of suffrage, perhaps, by giving the right of voting to persons who have placed money in the savings' banks, and thus shown themselves to be of provident and frugal habits; and to men elected by guilds, that being a proof of their possessing the confidence of their fellow workmen. I will not enter further into these matters at present; but it occurs to me that we might by such means extend the franchise without infringing upon the basis of the representation. I have felt it necessary to make these observations in order to show that even at the time when I was most attacked for declaring the Reform Act to be a final measure, I intimated that I would not object to alter it beneficially. If the hon. Member for Montrose asks me whether I am at once prepared to 930 introduce any extensive measure of Parliamentary reform, I reply in the negative. I might find reason enough for my refusal in the various measures which are now before the House, and to which its attention is already in a great degree directed; but I think that there are other reasons for my abstaining from taking such a course. The hon. Member for Montrose said in the beginning of his speech, that there were circumstances in the existing state of public affairs throughout the world which rendered the present time peculiarly appropriate for introducing a large measure of reform; but, for my part, the circumstances referred to lead me to an entirely opposite conclusion. It is admitted—it must be admitted—that sixteen years ago you adopted a very large measure of reform in the representation, a much larger measure, I believe, than the reformers of that day expected to be introduced. It must be admitted, as the hon. Gentleman has himself this night admitted, that the carrying of that reform, the removing of such blots in our representation as that of Gatton, Old Sarum, and the rest of the nomination boroughs, and the admission to the representation of such populous places as Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Manchester, have contributed greatly to the giving a larger and more secure basis to our representation. But it cannot, I think, be denied that the House of Commons, thus reformed, has carried measures of great public importance, vast in their changes, and tending to increase the popular power and popular advantage, and at the same time showing that this House was ready to act according to the enlightened opinions of the people. The hon. Gentleman says that our votes this year have been extravagant, and that we have been acting against the opinions of the people in general, in maintaining the great establishments that are kept up. Now, Sir, there are some votes upon those questions concerning which I have desired that the numbers of the Members of this House should be taken and compared with the numbers of electors represented by the majorities, and that the same thing should be done with regard to the minorities. I find that on the division of the 13th of March, 1848, on Mr. Hume's Amendment for limiting the duration of the income-tax to one year, the number of electors represented by the majority was 668,348, and the number of electors represented by the minority was 346,689. I find that in the 931 division of the 20th of March, 1848, also on Mr. Hume's Motion for reducing the number of men for the Navy, the number of electors represented by the majority was 716,278, and the number of electors represented by the minority was 171,317. I find that on a division of 31st March, 1848, on the Motion of the same hon. Member for reducing the number of men to he voted for the Army, the number of electors to be represented by the majority was 600,753, and the number of electors represented by the minority was 165,255. Now, after these divisions upon great questions, I think it cannot be said that the small boroughs have overpowered the votes of those who represented the great mass of the people. They are the votes representing the opinions of the people at the time they were given. That there has been of late years a tendency to increase our establishments on the part of the Government, of the House, and of the people, I think is perfectly true; and it does happen that there is usually a readiness and a disposition, I do not say to waste and extravagance, but to make all our establishments thoroughly efficient, and to have them ready for any purpose for which they may be intended. But when large sums are asked to be voted to maintain these establishments, then it is that popular opinion takes a different direction, and nothing is done except what is strictly and economically required. I think in times of distress such a wish is nothing but natural and fair. My belief is, that if the Government should he found to persist in keeping up establishments not absolutely necessary, this House would he found to check and control them; and I trust that in that respect every reform, and every retrenchment that can be made, will be made by the Government. But in my opinion you have no ground to say at present, that with regard to the question of establishments and expense, the House has done otherwise than represented the nation. My belief is that they have represented the nation. Well, if you find that there has been a great reform made in the constitution of Parliament sixteen years ago—if you find that great measures have been carried by that Parliament thus reformed—if you believe that with regard to any question likely to arise, the House of Commons will represent the people, and no selfish interest of the aristocracy—then I think that with regard to the present Motion this is not the time in which you ought to incur the 932 risk of greater and more organic changes. I think that if these changes are to be accompanied with such dangerous theories as those propounded in the petition presented by my noble Friend the Member for Bath—that if such erroneous and mischievous views of capital, of labour, and of property, are afloat, we may find one sound reason at least why we should hesitate to make at this time any great change in our institutions. I deny entirely the charge that has been made—a most popular and common charge—that the Government of this country is in any way carried on for the benefit of the aristocracy. The rights enjoyed by the aristocracy in this country are no other than the great and general rights which are enjoyed by the people at large. I believe that the people at large do enjoy the full benefit of the Government. But if it is meant to be said that those persons who belong to the aristocracy are to be deprived of their right of assuming a part in the direction of public affairs, and in the discussions and debates in Parliament, then I object to this narrow and extreme doctrine. I never will allow that because a man is called a Stanley or a Howard he is not as much entitled to take his part in public affairs, and in discussions of questions affecting the public interest, as those bearing a name less noble and less illustrious in the annals of the country. But there are other reasons—reasons which this House must be sensible of—for opposing at this moment any great change; reasons connected with events which within the last few months have occurred in other countries. I say that at such a time the advantages which you have had in your free constitution have been to you of inestimable benefit. The stability of that constitution which you have shown amidst all these storms, and the mode in which the institutions of this country have braved all hostile attacks, have excited the admiration, not only of those who are attached to this country, but even of those who have no connexion with it, but who at the same time delight to see order and social peace maintained; while it has brought to you the respect of those even most hostile to your name and progress. I hope that this House will do nothing to lose that admiration or forfeit that respect. You have stood—Like a great seamark, braving every storm,And saving all who eye it!I trust you will maintain that position—that you will not choose at this time to 933 accede to any vague and indefinite proposal of some measure of reform, which, while it apparently stops short of adopting the People's Charter, cannot actually stop short of ultimately enacting that great change; that you will rather think that it is due to the institutions which you have the happiness to inherit—that it is due to the other advantages you enjoy—that it is due, above all, to that great people whom it is your honour to represent—to give a steadfast and most determined negative to the present Motion.
§ MR. W. J. FOX
could not but observe that the objections which the noble Lord had urged against the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose, referred rather to the details of the measure which that Motion indicated, than to the principle upon which it was founded. But those details were not now fairly before the House; and it was with a view to fix the attention of the House, if he could, to the great principle at stake in this matter, that he now ventured to offer a few observations to the House. He thought the noble Lord must have been pleased with the fair opportunity that had been afforded him of correcting any mistake in reference to his expressions on a former occasion. At the same time he considered the noble Lord to have been rather too severe on those by whom he thought those expressions were perverted. His own impression was, that the noble Lord meant to draw a distinction between fiscal reform and organic reform; that he was willing to see the former gradually progressing, but that he would resist the advance of the other in any way whatever. It must have been gratifying to the noble Lord to have the opportunity of telling the country that he was not opposed to further reform in the representative system; but it would have been still more gratifying to the country if the noble Lord had more distinctly hinted what the reforms were to be; what was the principle by which those reforms were to be guided; what would be their extent, and what their results. He confessed that from what the noble Lord had said, there was very little to guide them in their anticipations, and that little was of the most indefinite description. It merely amounted to this—that he would take the opportunity, from time to time, to disfranchise a man who should be guilty of bribery; or to admit a man to the franchise who should have acquitted himself well by making an accumulation in the savings' bank. The broad question of whether the 934 industrial masses of this country were or were not fairly represented in that House, had been scarcely touched either by the hon. Member for West Surrey, or by the noble Lord who followed him. Nor could he think it a fair reference to the meetings which had taken place to dismiss them by a brief remark as to the differences of opinion that existed at them between those who advocated the People's Charter, and those who supported household suffrage. To meet the question fairly, the noble Lord should have shown—not the differences existing between these two views among the people—but how far they were both opposed by a third party who were adverse to any reform at all. To show that there existed a difference between parties who were for going to a certain limit, and others who were for going beyond that limit, availed but little. To point to that discrepancy struck not at all at the matter, unless it could be shown that they were not agreed that some considerable reform was indispensable. Those meetings, whether in favour of universal suffrage or of household suffrage, proved that the great mass of the people considered that one or the other was necessary; and they demonstrated the unity of the people at large in their main purpose much more cogently than their separation by their diversity of opinion. The real question was, not what fiscal reforms had been or were to be proposed. He meant not to enter upon any censure of the proceedings of the House of Commons, for he thought this fallacy ran through the noble Lord's reasoning, not only on this occasion, but on many other occasions, that in a representative government they had only to regard what might be called the extrinsic agency, and not the power by which it was formed and fashioned. The representative agency had not only to govern the country, but it had to do it in conformity with the feelings of the people. It was a government of opinion. If all the Members of that Assembly possessed the most absolute wisdom, and if every one of their measures bore that stamp, there was still something else to be considered. They were to be the representation of the feelings, the condition—the intellectual, the moral, nay, even the physical, if you would—of those who were the constituents, or claimed to be the constituents, of those representatives. There was another question besides this, and that was, whether the millions of human beings 935 with whom we were connected as fellow-countrymen were cherishing in their bosoms the ennobling feelings of conscious freedom, or were smarting under the irritation of evil passions, excited by being treated as only members of a slave class in what claimed to be a free country. There was no question of home or foreign policy; no relations of treaties with foreign nations; no arrangements which might open or close the doors of admission to fortunate aspirants; no question whatever of more importance to the safety and continued prosperity and glory of Great Britain, than the state of feeling among the great masses of the people of whom that House claimed to be the representatives. The propositions of the hon. Member for Montrose had many and varied bearings on the constitution; but the one practical question to his mind—the question in which he felt the liveliest interest, was this—were the working people of this country represented as they ought to be; and, if not, could they be so represented without any peril to any valuable institution? This was the question which interested him. He maintained that they were not represented as they ought to be. How did the matter stand in electoral statistics? A valuable return had been moved for in the last Parliament by Mr. Williams, then Member for Coventry, and delivered in the course of the present Session, from which it appeared that there were only 320,645 10l. householders; and out of these where would the industrial classes be found but in the poorest rank? The return was so arranged that it showed the number of householders occupying at a rental of from 10l. to 15l., and then from 15l. to 20l., and so on. It appeared from the return, that out of this constituency of 320,645 10l. householders, those who paid a rental ranging from 10l. to 15l. were only 99,149 persons: that was to say, that the inhabitants of houses rated at from 10l. to 15l. were only one-third of the household borough constituency. They were completely swamped by the classes above them; and when the occupiers of 30l., 40l., and 50l. houses were taken into the account, it would be found that they belonged to the higher portion of the middle classes, who could not be called working people at all. Out of the entire constituency of 850,000 persons, upon a rough calculation, only one in seventeen belonged to the working classes, and no more. He did not call that a representation of the working people—of those who 936 made our clothing, who built our houses and palaces, who cultivated our fields, and who made, in fact, all our wealth; nor could he understand the feeling with which hon. Gentlemen could turn round and say, "You have done all this, you have created it with your strong arms; but now we tell you that you are the villeins of the soil, and that you have nothing to do with the laws but to obey them." The noble Lord said that a great many things should be done for their benefit, though the condition of a benefit was, that it should be desired and prized by the party on whom it was bestowed; and though it was most desirable to take away from the working man that incessant occasion for discontent which arose from his having no hand in the matter of legislation, and which led him to fancy that he would have done much more wisely if he had been consulted. Let the working people of this country be substantially represented, and in so doing he would not very minutely inquire into their information and acquirements, or into the amount of their deposits in the savings' banks. They were already taxed; they contributed towards the exigencies of the State; they had at least a property in their own limbs, and nervous arms; and was not that enough to mark them out for constituents—for it must be borne in mind that it was not proposed to make Members of them. It was not necessary that they should be able to unravel the mystery of the Spanish marriages—that they should be versed in the Treaty of Utrecht—or that they should philosophise on the Norman Conquest. It was only necessary that they should nominate a neighbour whom they had known all their lives, or some one who had a national reputation, as the person to whose guardianship they were willing to confide their interests. That was all the knowledge which the labouring man wanted. The knowledge and information which had been talked about, was not required by the House in other matters. By one of the clauses of the Public Health Bill, a plurality of votes was given to wealthy occupiers, upon the ground that the bill affected property. He had no doubt, however, that these persons would be found to be quite as uninformed on sanitary questions as a man in a factory would be on any difficult question on foreign politics. One of the most interesting debates on reform in his recollection was that which took place in 1822, when the noble Lord now at the head of Her 937 Majesty's Government brought forward a Motion on that subject in a most remarkable and impressive speech. On that occasion the noble Lord quoted a passage from Blackstone, which perhaps the House, for the sake of the comment which followed it, would allow him to read. The passage was taken from book i, chapter 2, of the Commentaries:—1. As to the qualifications of the electors. The true reason of requiring any qualification with regard to property in voters, is to exclude such persons as are in so mean a situation that they are esteemed to have no will of their own. If these persons had votes they would be tempted to dispose of them under some undue influence or other. This would give a great, an artful, or a wealthy man, a larger share in elections than is consistent with general liberty. If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote in electing those delegates to whose charge is committed the disposal of his property, his liberty, and his life.In reference to this passage, which the noble Lord quoted in 1822, he continued thus:—We have not only one free agent, but there are in this country at least 1,000,000 of free agents—men perfectly free and independent, men who have no vote for a Member of Parliament, though they are anxious to acquire the right, and are in every way qualified to exercise the functions of electors.On another occasion, so late as 1835, the noble Lord also said—Although it is a much disputed question, yet I believe that, in ancient times, every inhabitant householder resident in a borough was competent to vote for Members of Parliament.He would now revert to the argument used by the noble Lord in 1822, as it was the argument which he meant to adopt and apply on the present occasion. The noble Lord at that time pointed to the intelligence of the country, and to the growth of that intelligence, as a demonstration that the franchise must be largely extended. He argued, that in London there were 100 circulating libraries, and 900 in the country; and that 23,600,000 newspapers had been issued in the year preceding. He would go back, not to 1822, but to 1832, when the noble Lord realised his own views by carrying the Reform Bill; and he would assume that he then proportioned the franchise to what he held to be the advanced intelligence of the country. He could not say, however, that the facts would altogether bear him out in relinquishing the vantage ground he might have 938 gained by the noble Lord's previous concessions. The noble Lord said there were in 1822 1,000,000 persons prepared for the franchise; but the Reform Bill did not provide for half of that million, and they had been left unprovided for since, with a quarter of a century of wrong pressing on their minds, and depressing their spirits. While in 1832 the number of newspapers circulated was 32,000,000, the circulation had been for some time nearer 70,000,000 than 60,000,000; and as regarded societies and institutions established for the people's improvement, he would only refer to one, of which he had read an account in the papers of that morning. It was an account of a meeting of the Yorkshire Mechanics' Institution, held at Ripon, where not fewer than eighty-one societies were included and represented in that institution alone. Since 1832, 500,000l. had been expended by the Government on education; a much smaller sum than ought, as he thought, to have been expended on a matter of such inconceivable importance; but still that sum had been laid out, in addition to the building and support of schools from sources of private benevolence. Since 1832 there had, besides, sprung up a popular literature altogether unparalleled in extent—a literature of which our numerous magazines, the publications of the Messrs. Chambers, and the works of Charles Knight, formed a distinguished part, and which were circulated through the country to an amount altogether unexampled. One of them alone, Chambers's Miscellany of Entertaining Knowledge, being only one of the many publications of the Messrs. Chambers, had been issued to the extent of 18,000,000 of printed sheets; and he understood that their sales fluctuated with the state of the manufacturing districts, one-sixth of the issue being in the counties of York and Lancaster. Then, if they looked to other facts indicative of the advance of intelligence among the people at large, they found proofs multiplying all around them. It might be said that these were cheap publications to which he had referred, and that the public mind would rather he vitiated than improved by them—that their powers would be frittered away, such light reading not being adapted to mature the intellectual character; but they must remember, that all the standard works of the most celebrated authors had at the same time been cheapened; that the Essays of Bacon could be bought for 4d., and the 939 Plays of Shakspeare for 2s., and that the writings of all the philosophers who had adorned the country were circulated at the merest trifle above the cost of type and paper. It was a remarkable fact that the production of new literature had not diminished either. He found, in the history of printing, in Knight's Life of Caxton, coupled with the facts in M'Culloch's Commercial Dictionary, the number of new works published, and the average price per volume, in the four years ending 1832 and 1842. In the four years ending 1832, the new books published were 6,149, and in the four years ending 1842 they were 8,597; while the average price per volume was in the first period 11s. 5d., and in the second period 8s. 9½d. The booksellers' circular had recently fallen into his hands, and he found from it that the number of new works last year was 3,414, and of new editions 579, while the average price per volume was 6s. 3¼d. He might refer, also, to the establishment, since 1832, of parks and places of recreation, which, though not to be used as an argument, might be taken as an indication of growing intelligence. Take, for example, the visitors to the British Museum. In 1832 the number of visitors was 147,896; last year they were 820,965. The visitors to the reading-room of the Museum, in 1832, were 31,200; last year, 67,525. Then, as regarded the economics of the working classes, they found a vast improvement. [The hon. Gentleman pointed out the great increase which had taken place since 1832 in the deposits in the savings' banks, to show the improved system of economy now prevalent; and also the great increase that had taken place in the number of public petitions to Parliament, in order to point out the growing discontent among the unenfranchised classes.] There was one peculiar fact that could not but strike every reflecting person at the present day, and that was the number of writers who were springing up among the working classes—writers who did not, like the authors of former days, rest on patrons and patronage—writers who courted no class above them, but who retained strong within them the feelings of the working class in which they had been born and bred. Nothing like this was known in former times; but in the literature of which he spoke, the fact he had stated was before them in every page. Their works were animated by a peculiar spirit—a spirit the result of the circum- 940 stances in which they had been born and bred, and the political condition of the class to which they belonged. Perhaps he should be naming authors whose names would sound strange to the great majority of those he addressed, were he to run over the list; and yet they were a class of writers whose works every legislator would do well to consult. He could not understand the state of the country unless he did consult them. They had in them the rich and racy spirit of our old English writers; and when they had the sense to avoid the conventionalities of modern authors, and follow out the dictates of their own aspirations, they indeed brought forth "thoughts that breathe, and words that burn." He might refer to Bamford, the radical author of Lancashire, whose graphic description of the sanguinary catastrophe at Manchester in 1819 the future historian would transfer to his pages, as the best record of that event. He might also speak of "One who Whistled at the Plough," whose narration of the flogging of the soldier was enough to make the flesh creep upon the bones. There was the poet Thom, of Inverury, who took shelter under a hedge, and saw his child die there, and who could give his country songs worthy of Burns; that man never knew what it was to live in a 10l. house. There were such men as William Lovett and Thomas Cooper. He would not ask the House to take an estimate of their literary merit and intellectual power from his questionable testimony. He would call for that of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Serjeant Talfourd), who, as it had been said of Akenside that he had breathed the soul of Plato into British verse, might be said to have invoked the spirit of Euripides on the British stage, and not invoked in vain; or of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, who had also gained laurels, though in a different field of literary exertion, and of whom it would ever be a subject of grateful recollection that, with the prompt perception of taste and with the generosity of genius, he saw and recognised the powers which were revealed in the Purgatory of Suicides, though written by a self-taught cobbler, and gave the author facilities for coming before the public, which might otherwise have been more difficult of accomplishment. When this whole literature was considered, from the Corn Law Rhymes of Ebenezer Elliot, the Sheffield worker in iron, it would he found 941 pervaded by the spirit of indignation which would arise among men who felt themselves reduced to a slave class, threatening the disruption of that nationality the unity of which had hitherto constituted the glory of this country. The stream of mind was separated into two distinct courses; and if they did not recognise the claims of a class already represented in the noblest arena, that of their national literature, they would exhibit to the world a most deplorable spectacle; the genius of the country would become suicidal by the antagonism of its elements. Future collections of poets and historians would not be complete without the authors of those productions. They had a niche in history. They had a place among the laurelled, but they were not admissible into the society of 10l. householders. In all ranks, high talent and great information were the exception; but they very much misunderstood the working classes who thought that among them were not diffused the mind and the intellectual aspirations which rendered them not unworthy brothers of such as he had named; nay, which rendered them not unworthy countrymen of those great names, such as those of Milton and Locke, which constituted the brightest glory this country had yet achieved. What was the Legislature to fear? That those men should render this House a less decorous and less dignified scene? Would it be thought that those men would return from their body—still less from the refuse of that body—persons to claim fellowship here, who would turn the House aside by personalities and sarcasm from every great topic of discussion? Would they send thither men elated, not with champagne or burgundy, but with beer or brandy, to throw disorder in the midst of their business? Would they send people who would make attacks on property? Why, property—the love of it was instinctive in an Englishman. They could not propose to him a "land scheme," the hope of any portion of the soil which he could call his own, even with the most formidable chances against attaining his object, but he would make the attempt to acquire property. Nor was there any general participation in the communist opinions, which strangely enough had found their way into a document which had recently been laid on the table of the House. He had consorted with working people—not as master, as landlord, as employer, or as patron—and he had found in them that in- 942 telligence and those qualities which kept alive faith in human nature. They had the spirit of freemen. But it must be considered to what they were exposed. There was a locality which he had known for upwards of fifty years. He first remembered it with a constituency as pure as could be found throughout the length and breadth of the land. Of late it had gained an offensive name for venality; and how? Parties were kept up in the town; partisans were led to bid against one another in corporation as well as Parliamentary contests; and by keeping it before the people that their vote was always to be sold—by this mode of practical teaching—corruption was instilled into their blood. It was the tempter who ought to be the object of indignation. The briber was a thousand times worse than the bribed; and when those people did fall, there was something which ought to abate the severity of the judgment on their conduct. In the Yarmouth election, one poor man said he had never taken money before; but he was in the workhouse, and he took the bribe in order that he might liberate himself from what he thought a poor-law bastile, and consort again with his fellow-men. Another pauper who was invited by a noble Lord to take a place in his carriage and go to the poll, replied, "No, my Lord, I will walk to the poll, and will not disgrace you by riding in your carriage." The working people would not elect men of their own class as representatives unless under very strong inducements. In France, with its universal suffrage, they had chosen 38 from their own class among the 900 representatives. What would they do here? They would look to persons of local importance, to local benefactors, or else to men of national reputation. These were the men who were desirable for that House, rather than those who were unknown to the locality, or who went rambling about with their heavy purses, seeking where they could find a constituency to corrupt. Under such a system as had been presented to the notice of the House, the latter class of candidates would be found generally to fail, and there were only two classes of candidates whose claims would preponderate in the choice of the constituency. Under such a system there could be no such degrading practice of canvassing as now existed, and which only brought the poor and the rich together for mutual degradation. With large constituencies that would not exist. Men of in- 943 formation and talent, for whom little boroughs were said to provide seats, could more easily find their way into the House through large constituencies, without subjecting themselves to any of those degrading practices which polluted him who gave and him who received alike. It was of immense importance that they should be a united people, that they should not have a class unrepresented, whether on account of their industrial undertakings, their relations with other countries, or their internal and external prosperity. One advantage of such a subject as the present being discussed at the present moment was, that it brought the middle and the working classes into more harmonious concert than had existed for many years. It afforded a fair means of amalgamating them together, and it was for the aristocracy to consider whether they would do well in withholding themselves from that union which, with their assistance, would become the union of a threefold cord which could not easily be broken. It was not in our armaments—brilliant as were their exploits, and magnificent as were such means of defence—it was not in these that our great glory and influence consisted. It was in the indomitable energy and enterprise of the people, in the course of operations which depended on the working classes as our mainspring—it was on these that our power and safety must rest—it was from the progress of mind must come our security. Unite this class on such harmonious terms—disregard theological difficulties—spread education with a bold and free hand over the country—throw wide open the doors of the constitution—give the people an equalisation of the burdens of taxation, which surely was their right, whatever else was—do this, and they would have the millions no longer an alienated body, but the real and firm base of the social pyramid. By these means, we should achieve far nobler conquests in other countries than our armies had ever yet won; for we should bring back voluntary tribute from every clime to which our commerce penetrated—we should raise more honourable trophies, trophies not stained with blood—than we could do by the most sanguinary victories; for these measures would be the source of union with, and peaceful dominion over, other nations. Untax the population, so far as their taxation was unequal—educate the population, enfranchise the population, and then they might arm the population with- 944 out a shadow of fear for the result; for if by some strange infatuation of nations we should, have to encounter a hostile world, they would triumphantly roll back from our shores the world's hostility. He would only say, without entering into metaphysical speculations about natural right, but taking suffrage as the rule, and showing the cases for exception, that to accomplish all that the working classes required, the Legislature had only to do them justice; in the words of the Great Charter, "neither denying nor delaying justice." He begged of that House, therefore, justice—equal, universal justice—justice to the working people of the British empire.
§ MR. DISRAELI
* Sir, the best answer to the animated address of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fox) is the resolution of the Member for Montrose. The hon. Gentleman has avowed himself to-night the advocate of those whom he describes as serfs. But I cannot find in the resolution of the hon. Member for Montrose that he is prepared to enfranchise those serfs. The speech of the hon. Gentleman refers to a class of men the circumstances of whose lives, as he describes them, are, in my opinion, extremely imaginary. But whether they are real, or whether they are imaginary, no one can suppose for a moment that the project of the hon. Member for Montrose is one that at all provides the means of alleviating or of elevating their condition in the social or political scale. Whatever may be the prejudices of the hon. Gentleman against the 10l. elector, the proposition of the hon. Member for Montrose is not one that will enfranchise poets sleeping under hedges. That is not the proposition of the hon. Gentleman. And however comprehensive may be the sympathies of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Fox), I cannot understand how, entertaining those opinions, and animated by those feelings, he can find it his duty to take so prominent a part in this debate—I mean as to the moment he has risen in it: how, with those opinions, he can avow himself the friend of a project, which would seem rather to increase the difficulties of those classes whose interests he advocates, by raising up barriers to their hopes, and which marks them out as unworthy of the new privileges which are to be accorded. With respect to the proposition itself, or similar ones, the Gentlemen who sit upon this side of the*From an authorised report published by Painter.945 House are in a very different position to that of the hon. Gentleman and his supporters, or the Members of Her Majesty's Government. It is not for us, Sir, either to defend or attack the Reform Act. We obey it. When it was first brought forward, it encountered the criticism of those who were opposed to His Majesty's Ministers in 1832. Perhaps it benefited in some degree by that opposition. But when it had passed—when it became the law of the country—it received from us that allegiance which the law in this country always commands; and no doubt the remedial and practical sense of this country has prevented some of those evils which were then anticipated.
But, Sir, when I say that we neither defend nor attack the Reform Bill, I cannot myself believe that in an age like the present, when a Motion like that of the hon. Member for Montrose is brought forward, it is consistent with our duty—with the position we occupy with regard to our constituents and the country—and as the representatives of the party who originally were the opponents of the change of 1832—I do not think it is consistent with our duty that we should evade the difficulties of this debate, and some there are who think it is one not unfruitful of difficulty. Therefore I wish to take this opportunity, if the House will allow me, and at this hour, with as much brevity as I can command, to make some observations on the project which has been brought forward with so much preparation—which has been so sedulously prepared, but the true character of which I believe is not yet accurately appreciated, and which certainly seems not to be understood by the eloquent advocate we have just heard, who is prepared to enfranchise imaginary serfs and popular poets. Now, Sir, the hon. Gentleman towards the close of his address told us that he was the advocate of fiscal reform. The hon. Gentleman who introduced this project dwelt but slightly on that topic. Yet I have watched with attention, and read with an observation of no careless character, the proceedings that have been conducted by the hon. Gentleman and by his friends at the meetings they have called, and the resolutions they have offered for the consideration of those assembled: and I have always found that, on every occasion, financial and fiscal reform has been most sedulously brought forward, and that the principal plea for Parliamentary reconstruction and political 946 revolution has always been the increase in the expenditure and taxation of the country under the system that exists; and I had occasion this afternoon to listen to a great number of petitions that were presented, and I found the same tone pervade the whole of them. The same echo had been caught by all: they all assumed the increased expenditure of the Government, and the enormous and increased amount of taxation of the country; and these were the causes—these were the pleas—at the popular meetings, in the popular resolutions, and the popular speeches, of the hon. Gentleman and the new party, that were brought forward as the basis and principal reason for political changes. I want to know what is the reason that to-night we have heard so little of fiscal and financial reform.
Now, Sir, I can easily understand why the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House did not dwell on that subject. The hon. Gentleman is a master of statistics, but of statistics of a different kind to those we are accustomed to in this House—very important, very interesting, no doubt—the amount of penny publications, the great increase in cheap literature, the development of railway intellect, and of all those productions you may find at the terminus or the station—circumstances in the age highly deserving of consideration, and which would not escape the observation of any sensible man. Still, these are not the statistics that touch the question of fiscal and financial reform, of which we have heard so much, and which are the real pleas, and were the popular pleas, of this movement and this new party, and which I wish to see clearly placed before the House, and before those measures for which they were the pleas are brought under our consideration. Now, Sir, I reserve to myself—with the permission of the House, and with as much brevity as I can command—I reserve to myself the right of giving my opinion upon these measures, whatever I may think of the fallacy or truth of those pleas. But I think the House will agree with me, that after all England has for months been told, that there has been in this country an enormous increase of taxation, and an enormous increase in the expenditure of the Government—told this, too, at a period of general suffering and general disturbance—told to the people of this country in order to impress upon them that there ought, as there had been changes in other countries, to be a change here, in cones- 947 quence of our oppressive taxation and the oppressive expenditure of our Government—it is of some importance that, in a de-hate like the present, this House and the country should clearly understand whether those pleas are true or not. I give the hon. Member for Montrose and his friends the benefit of this full admission, that whether those pleas be true or not—however those circumstances may affect the position of himself and his friends in this controversy—they are circumstances which do not affect the abstract excellence or necessity of his measures.
Now, Sir, one word, then, as to the enormous increase of taxation in this country, which is the principal reason for a change in our Parliamentary constitution. I shall not at midnight refer, except by memory, to any documents; but the facts to which I refer are so well authenticated that I speak in the presence of many who, in a moment, can confute me if I make any great mistake. I take the period of twenty years ago—a little prior to the passing of the Reform Bill. The revenue that was raised in this country in 1828, from our ordinary sources, was forty-nine and a half millions in round numbers. The same revenue raised in 1848—that is, twenty years afterwards—was forty-seven and a half millions. How is it possible, then, that the hon. Gentleman can maintain the position that taxation in this country has oppressively increased? But the revenue of 1828 was not only two millions greater from our ordinary sources—of course I omit the income-tax, which does not touch the working classes—than the revenue raised in 1848; but the revenue in 1828 was raised from a population, in round numbers, of less than twenty-three millions, while the same revenue in 1848 was raised from a population of thirty millions. Why, Sir, if you only calculate per head the burden of taxation of these two periods, you will find, I think, that in 1828 the people of England were taxed something like 2l. 3s. 2d. a head; and, in 1848, 1l. 12s. 2d. These figures measure the difference of the proportion borne by the annual taxation imposed by the State to the general fund out of which it is paid; and this on the assumption that the annual wealth of the country has increased in a ratio equal to the population. But we all know, and no man can be ignorant of it, for the documents are upstairs, that the annual wealth of the country has increased in a greater ratio than the population.
948 Well then. Sir, what becomes of the plea for political change founded on an oppressive increase of taxation under the existing system? But it is not only true that taxation per head in this country in 1848, as compared with twenty years ago, has been considerably reduced in amount, but there is another circumstance of deep importance which ought never to be forgotten—that there has been a great redistribution of taxation—that the amount raised has been redistributed—and in every instance the alteration has been effected in favour of the working classes of this country. Sir, I have a return here, but I think I can trust my memory as to its results. The Customs for the years 1827 and 1847—which two years were the financial years of 1828 and 1848—the Customs of 1827 amounted to 18,000,000l., and they barely exceeded 18,000,000l. in 1847. The Excise was 18,5000,000l. in 1827, and it was less than 12,000,000l. in 1847. The Stamps and Taxes are the same in both years; but in the Post Office, there has been a vast change and an immense reduction in favour of those classes who were suffering from fiscal oppression; so that, between the two periods of 1847 and 1827, there has been a redistribution of taxation to the amount of more than seven millions in favour of the working classes, to say nothing of the diminished burthen of the amount left from the great increase in population, in commerce, and in national wealth.
Now, Sir, I mention these facts—I think I heard somebody cry "Question! "—these are certainly not details very agreeable at past midnight; but, after all, it is the business of the case. We are told that in this country there is a system of such oppressive taxation, and of Government expenditure so enormous and increasing, that it is necessary to have reform. I do not say it is not necessary to have reform. I will enter fairly into that question. But do not let us enter upon this great question upon false pretences. The rate of our Government expenditure during the last twenty years, notwithstanding the immense increase in our population and wealth, has been almost stationary. The amount of taxation has been stationary. Well, then, the pleas for reform on these grounds are not true. The pleas that have been tonight repeated ad nauseam in every petition, are utterly fallacious and false. Now, Sir, I again admit, however those pleas may affect the character of those who urge 949 them, they do not affect the nature of the measures proposed. Let us examine those measures. We are asked, in the first place, to increase the suffrage. I listened with great attention to the hon. Member for Montrose, and I certainly expected to hear from the hon. Gentleman some principle laid down upon which the franchise was to be extended, and that in asking us to consent to a great change—as far as the present argument, I am not now denying that a change may be necessary—that point I am perfectly prepared to enter into; but I say the hon. Gentleman who proposes the change, ought to lay down some principle on which that change shall be founded. The hon. Gentleman, as far as I could gather, laid down the principle that an Englishman had a right to a vote. That really was the point of his speech. He talked afterwards of not confounding constitutional rights with the rights of man; but he did not condescend to show what the difference between constitutional rights and the rights of man might be, but he said that every subject of the Queen had a right to a vote. I want to know, if an Englishman has a right to vote, why is it necessary that he should have a qualification for that vote—why that qualification should be the circumstance of living in a house? The hon. Gentleman also says every voter should be of age—of legal age. He says, a man may be called out for the militia at eighteen years of age; and, therefore, from that I infer that every man at twenty-one years of age has a right to vote. But the hon. Gentleman's illustration disagrees with his principle; because, if a man has a right to vote at twenty-one years of age, I want to know, if he is to be summoned for the militia at eighteen, why he should not be entitled to vote at that age? The hon. Gentleman talks of legal age. What has legal age to do with the working classes? And what has legal age to do with any class in the country? The commander of the escort of guards to Her Most Gracious Majesty may be, and often is, not more than eighteen years of age. The hon. Gentleman has properly reminded us that every man is bound to serve in the militia before he is of legal age; and, I believe, even school-boys must join the posse comitatus.
Well: bear in mind that the hon. Gentleman, in proposing this great change, has laid down no principle whatever. I myself cannot understand, if you assume an abstract right to a vote, where the line can 950 be drawn. I observe that, in a debate that recently took place, not only in another place but in another country, on the suffrage, some ridicule was occasioned by a gentleman advocating the rights of the other sex to the suffrage; but, as far as mere abstract reason is concerned, I should like to see anybody in this House, who is a follower of the hon. Gentleman, get up and oppose that claim. I say that in a country governed by a woman—where you allow women to form part of the other estate of the realm—Peeresses in their own right, for example—where you allow a woman not only to hold land, but to be a lady of the manor and hold legal courts,—where a woman by law may be churchwarden—I do not see, where she has so much to do with State and Church, on what reasons, if you come to right, she has not a right to vote. All this proves that right has nothing to do with the matter: the very plan of the hon. Gentleman is a plan that at once disfranchises millions, even of those adult males of which we have heard so much. Other Gentlemen have stated that the suffrage is a trust. I do not wish to take refuge in that very vague and somewhat canting phrase. I do not look upon the suffrage as a trust any more than a right. It is what everything in England is—a privilege. It is created by law, as everything in England is created; and the characteristic of our society has been that it has always held out privilege, not as an odious exception, but as a general reward. This brings us to the real character of this House, and the political order of which we are the representatives. We represent the Commons; the Commons are an estate of the realm. The materials of that estate constitute, of course, a question of policy—of expediency—and it is perfectly open to anybody at any time to discuss the question of what that order should consist. It is an order, whether you make it consist of thousands, of hundreds of thousands, or even of two or throe millions—it becomes an order and a privileged order; and for the hon. Gentleman to pretend that he is settling a great question for ever by proposing that every man who lives in a house should have a vote is an absurdity, because the very supporter of the Motion, on his own side, who has made an eloquent speech in favour of it, has argued throughout that there should be no limitation whatever assigned to the exercise of the suffrage.
951 I ventured to say before, that Gentlemen around me are not responsible for the Reform Bill. But the Reform Bill was a reconstruction of the order of the Commons—of our estate of the realm. It was a settlement most unsatisfactory to us—we offered our objections to it, and got pelted for our pains. But no one can pretend that settlement was not carried with the full support and sanction of the people of England; and if the question of its passing had been submitted to universal suffrage, there is not the slightest doubt that at the moment all would have registered their votes for the Bill. No other plan was desired or tolerated. It was to be something neither more nor less. What you wanted was not only the Bill, but the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill—and you got it. You were told at the time that the first critics of the Reform Bill would be the reformers themselves, and no prophecy ever was more strikingly fulfilled. But when there has been a settlement of a great question—concluded, too, under such circumstances—the country agitated for two years—yourselves choosing the hour of action—when you had every possible advantage—when opposition, legitimate, constitutional, and I believe national opposition, was entirely overcome by the energy and artifices of your triumphant faction—when you yourselves laid it down as a great apothegm that became a household word, that you would have it and nothing else—it is unreasonable that we, who agreed to it with reluctance, or that the Whig party, the Government of the day, who brought it forward after mature consideration, should say before we disturb the settlement then made—"Let us be sure that we are arriving at a new reconstruction that offers a fair prospect of giving satisfaction to the people and security to the State." I speak, not from egotism, for myself on this subject; for one naturally wishes, on such subjects, not to draw any one into responsibility for one's expressions. I, for one, am no advocate of finality. I conceive there may be circumstances, there may be a period, when we shall do that which we have done for five hundred years in this country—reconstruct the estate of the Commons; but I contend that the last reconstruction—and it is rather a recent one, however unsatisfactory to the hon. Gentleman and his Friends—is likely to be more satisfactory to the nation than the plan brought forward by the hon. Gentleman; and I am 952 not prepared to support any new plan, any new change, on a subject so important, unless I believe it to be one that will conduce very greatly to the public interest. Certainly, I cannot, in the character of the present plan, discover anything that has a tendency to satisfy the public heart; because you must divest this question of all that rhetorical varnish and that powerful sentiment with which it has been suffused by the hon. Member for Oldham. This is not at all a project to enfranchise the serfs of England—this is not at all a project that tells the labouring classes they shall take their place in the political constitution of the country. It is characterised by features totally opposed to the principles laid down by the hon. Member for Oldham. If there be any mistake more striking than another in the settlement of 1832—and, in this respect, I differ from the hon. Member for Surrey—it is, in my opinion, that the Bill of 1832 took the qualification of property in too hard and rigid a sense, as the only qualification which should exist in this country for the exercise of political rights. How does the hon. Member for Montrose, the great champion of the new movement, meet this difficulty? He has brought forward a project of which property, and property alone, is the basis: he has not come forward with any scheme for an educational suffrage or an industrial suffrage—he has not attempted in any way to increase or vary the elements of suffrage. It is impossible that any plan can be more hard, more commonplace, more literal, more unsatisfactory, or more offensive, as the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham shows it must be, to the great body of the working classes, than one which recognises property, and property alone, as its basis.
Now, Sir, for one, I think property is sufficiently represented in this House. I am prepared to support the system of 1832 until I see that the circumstances and necessities of the country require a change; but I am convinced that when that change comes, it will be one that will have more regard for other sentiments, qualities, and conditions, than the mere possession of property as a qualification for the exercise of the political franchise. And, therefore, in opposing the measure of the hon. Member for Montrose, I protest against being placed in the category of finality, or as one who believes that no change is ever to take place in that wherein there has been, throughout the history of this ancient country, frequent and continuous change—the con- 953 struction of this estate of the realm. I oppose this new scheme, because it does not appear to be adapted in any way to satisfy the wants of the age, or to be conceived in the spirit of the times.
I shall touch, on this occasion, but very briefly on the second point of the scheme—the ballot, which we shall have another opportunity of fully discussing. There cannot be the slightest doubt that, if you adopt this new mode of registering suffrages, you at once effect a very great alteration in the character and habits of the people. That I think a very great evil; unless called for by strong necessity: that, alone, is a strong objection to the change. I do not dwell on the practical considerations with respect to this subject, that if we adopted the ballot, we probably should not avoid the corruption and intimidation we deprecate. I will not dwell on the experience of the ancient past, or that experience which, on the other side of the Atlantic, is perpetually accruing to us. But, both with respect to the right and the manner of voting—the suffrage and the ballot—I am surprised that hon. Gentlemen opposite perpetually forget an immense element which, in the discussion of this question, ought never to be omitted, and that is the influence of opinion organised by a free press. That is the best safeguard against corruption and intimidation. You may pass what laws you like; but the ultimate means by which intimidation and corruption will be repressed is by elevating the tone of public feeling, and bringing the influence of public opinion, through the press, to bear upon the conduct of the great body of the nation. It is all folly and nonsense to say that the present age and the present Parliament are distinguished by their corrupt practices. The very reverse is the fact. All Parliaments for the last fifty years have become less and less corrupt. But it is not your laws that have made them so, so much as the increasing action of public opinion; for, even when you have passed stringent laws, you only did so when they were called for by public opinion, which desired to be expressed in the shape of a legislative enactment. Why, before the American war—a period not yet very remote—the Secretary of the Treasury used to sit at the gangway, just where the hon. Member for Devonport is now accustomed to sit, and at a stated period of the Session, the end or the beginning, gave, in the House, to the Members who supported Government, a routine 954 douceur of a 500l. note; which was as little looked upon as bribery as head-money by a freeman. [A VOICE: Walpole.] No, no; much later than Walpole, and quite distinct from secret bribery. It was a practice which the manners of the age and the low tone of public feeling permitted. So, you see how frivolous and unfounded are those reiterated assertions that this House is daily more corrupt, and is growing more and more so every day. The fact is, that it is becoming purer and more pure every day—inevitable in a land of progress like England, where, with a free press and a healthy action of public opinion, the undue influence of gold and property must every year and each successive Parliament be diminished.
On the third point, that of triennial Parliaments, I will touch only for a moment. Nobody will venture to maintain that the increase of taxation or the extravagant expenditure of the Government has been in any practical degree occasioned by long Parliaments. Hon. Members are well aware that, during the last twenty years, we have had on an average Parliaments of about that duration which the hon. Member for Montrose advocates. I am the less inclined to say anything against triennial Parliaments, because they are part of those old Tory principles which I have ever taken every opportunity of promulgating. Are they not? Did not Sir William Wyndham advocate triennial Parliaments against a corrupt Minister? They are a portion of that old Tory creed around which, I am happy to observe more than one indication, the people of this country are well inclined to rally. The only objection to the change is that it is a change, and that in the present position of affairs all unnecessary changes of this kind are to be deprecated. If I found triennial Parliaments established, I would support and retain them. But I can hardly think that any sensible man can believe that Parliaments having legally that tenure of existence, which they now possess virtually, could affect the course of our policy and legislation.
I now come to the fourth point, which is one of considerable importance—that of electoral districts. The hon. Member for Montrose entered into some details on the matter, of which I was not myself ignorant, owing to the courtesy of a Gentleman who, I regret to say, is no longer a Member of this House. I have here the manifesto of the new party on this subject. Sir Joshua 955 Walmsley, in the most obliging manner, placed in my hand this pamphlet, as the acknowledged manifesto of the new party. Giving me credit for that candid disposition which I hope I possess, he concluded that,-after reading this important and elaborate document, I should be unable to resist the force of its arguments and its statements. I promised to give the work my most attentive consideration, and I have done so. I should have been happy to have expressed my opinion of the scheme in the public presence of that Gentleman, and thus apprised him of the result of my perusal; but unfortunately that Gentleman, who was sent here to ensure the future purity of Parliament, has from peculiar circumstances of a contrary character, no longer a seat amongst us. The hon. Member for Montrose, in speaking on this part of the question, rather beat about the bush: he fought somewhat shy of it: he first went into statistical calculations; but then he shuffled out of them, and altogether there was a confusion about his statement which showed the hand of a master in political mystification, who knows how to drape with elegance the naked truth, and when to reserve his revelations. He did not commit himself very positively to any particular view; but I have the accredited manifesto of the party here, and will take leave to call the attention of the House to it, as I think it is calculated to throw more light on the subject than the hon. Member seemed disposed to impart to it. The principle laid down in this document is what the hon. Gentlemen only hinted at—namely, that the representation of England should be founded on population. [Mr. HUME made a remark.] Exactly: population, as showing the amount of property.
I will show you how that principle works, and you can then decide as to the expediency of the practice. I must myself confess a little mortification on this subject, when the late Member for Leicester called my attention to the county of Buckingham. The county of Buckingham is here set down at a certain rated rental, and a comparison is then sought to be instituted on that head between it and Lancashire. At present Buckinghamshire has eleven Members; but, under the new system, it is to have only four. Now, I am content to take Buckinghamshire to illustrate my views. It is true that the county of Buckingham has a rated rental to the annual value only of 684,000?., and that the annual value of 956 the rated property in Lancashire is about five millions, and it only has twenty-six Members. I admit that Buckinghamshire has none of those great towns which we are told for the future are to govern England. But the county of Buckingham refused to pay ship money—the county of Buckingham carried the Grand Remonstrance; and ever since the settlement of our Parliamentary constitution in 1640, of which it was one of the main creators, the county of Buckingham has supplied this House with a series of statesmen than whom no body of men have more contributed to create the empire, sustain the renown, and cherish the high spirit of the English people. [Laughter.] You may smile, remembering only the uninfluential person who now addresses you; but I was thinking of those days when the county of Buckingham gave to the House of Commons Mr. Hampden and the Grenvilles, the elder Pitt and Mr. Burke. Why, even at the last reconstruction of this estate of the realm, it was the county of Buckingham that occasioned the enfranchisement of the most numerous class of the new constituency, and not the least reputable. And is it, Sir, to be tolerated that a population which for centuries has been born and bred in the memory and fulfilment of such great deeds as these, should be deprived of their hereditary weight in that free Parliament of which they were themselves among the first originators, because, if told by the head, they may not be equal to the numbers of some great town born in a day, and destined perhaps to vanish in a day? I hear a great deal in the present day about realised capital; but surely. Sir, one of the most important elements in constructing the franchise of an ancient people is the realised experience of a nation. To say that you will, by a stroke of the pen, suddenly deprive of their political position a population which has so worthily exercised its rights, is not only to say that you will bring about a revolution, but very possibly produce a civil war. But how is the new scheme to act. Now, according to the accredited manifesto of the new party—["No, no!"]—0, political ingratitude, thou art indeed a proverb! I would appeal to the spirit of the defunct Member for Leicester. [Mr. HUME made a remark to the effect that the pamphlet referred to had been printed before the party was formed.] Oh! then, it was the origin of your party! Here it is—a most important document—drawn up by Alexander 957 Mackay, Esq., of the Middle Temple, Barrister-at-Law. Now, let us see how Manchester is to be represented under the new constitution. Manchester is not so scurvily treated as the county of Buckingham. Under the new constitution, Manchester is to have for Members—how many think you? Seven! Only think of seven Members for Manchester! Why, Sir, from peculiar circumstances, since the days of our dreary opposition, Manchester has virtually, as far as debate is concerned, only had one Member in this House; and. Sir, as far as I am concerned, I must acknowledge it has been found quite difficult enough to keep him in order. But, Sir, if we are to have seven Members for Manchester—if there are to be seven Richards in the field—if it is to be expected that we are to reply to each of them, night after night, and one after another—I at once, anxious as I am to assist, and cooperate with my friends, I must plainly say that I shall retire from the arena. The energies necessary for such a contest would be colossal—worthy of the giants of the old days of Parliamentary strife—the Pitts and the Poxes. But we are not only to have seven Members for Manchester, but Liverpool and Glasgow are each to have the same number. Conceive Liverpool and Glasgow each with seven Members, and all, of course, statistical Members. Dublin is to have six Members; and, as we always have a petition against the return of a Member for Dublin, and some of our best men—my noble Friend, the Member for Stamford, among them—are now working on a Dublin Committee, there will, of course, be six Dublin Committees all working at the same time. Then, Birmingham and Leeds are to have each five Members, and Bristol and Sheffield only four. London is to be represented by forty. The new constitution distinctly lays it down that London is entitled to as many Members as the whole of the kingdom of Scotland, on the grounds of population and wealth. The only objection to the new scheme is, that when we have got the men together, the seven Members for Manchester, the seven Members for Glasgow, the forty Members for London, and their comrades, we may certainly have something called a House of Commons; but then, unfortunately, this House of Commons will probably be able neither to govern the country nor themselves. It is easy to form these plans. Yon may go the full tether of the hon. 958 Member for Oldham, and have universal suffrage at once—for that is the length to which he goes. We have sufficient experience to know—recent experience—that in a country, however civilised, however powerful, however enlightened, you may elect their representatives by universal suffrage, and yet, when they are elected, the country may laugh in their face. That will happen in our national assembly which has happened in the national assembly of a neighbouring country. Sir, as it is the fashion to lay down principles, I say at once that neither in this nor in any other ancient European country can there be any such thing as government which is not based upon traditionary influences and large properties, round which men may rally. They are the only security for liberty and property. The Manchester school are always attacking traditionary influences, and intimating that it is their wish to subdivide large properties. Foreseeing, as I do, what the results will be, and convinced that, without traditional influences and large properties, you will find it impossible to govern England, I prefer the liberty we now enjoy to the liberalism they promise, and find something better than the rights of men in the rights of Englishmen.
I have now shown the House, more briefly than I could have wished, the fallacy of the pleas on which the measures proposed to-night are brought forward. I have also offered some suggestions to the House, though necessarily much curtailed, which may perhaps make them hesitate before they will agree that the measures themselves are worthy of their confidence and support. I now briefly, because the hour is very late, will endeavour to show what is the real cause of these measures being brought forward, who bring them forward, and what may be the consequences of their adoption. Nothwithstanding all the efforts of the hon. Members for Oldham and Montrose to veneer and varnish their scheme, and however dexterously they may have arranged their concessions, this is a middle-class movement—it is nothing more nor less than an attempt to aggrandize the power of that body of persons who have frankly told us that this is a middle-class Government, and, therefore, that they will take care of their own interests and their own objects. The House will not forget what that class has done in its legislative enterprises. I do not use the term "middle class" with any disrespect; no one 959 more than myself estimates what the urban population has done for the liberty and civilisation of mankind; but I speak of the middle class as of one which avowedly alms at predominance; and therefore it is expedient to ascertain how far the fact justifies a confidence in their political capacity. It was only at the end of the last century that the middle class rose into any considerable influence, chiefly through Mr. Pitt—that Minister whom they are always abusing. The first great movement in which they succeeded, showing their power over the people out of doors, independent of Parliament, was the abolition of the slave trade—a noble and sublime act—but carried with an entire ignorance of the subject, as the event has proved. How far it has aggravated the horrors of slavery, I stop not now to inquire. I make only one observation upon it with reference to the present subject of debate. The middle class emancipated the negroes; but they never proposed a Ten Hours Bill. So much for that move. The interests of the working classes of England were not much considered in that arrangement. Having tried their hand at colonial reform, by which, without diminishing the horrors of slavery, they succeeded in ruining our colonies—they next turned their bands to Parliamentary reform, and carried the Reform Bill. But observe, in that operation they destroyed, under the pretence of its corrupt exercise, the old industrial franchise, and they never constructed a new one. So much for the interests of the people in their second great legislative enterprise. So that, whether we look to their colonial reform or their Parliamentary reform, they entirely neglected the industrial classes. Having failed in colonial as well as in Parliamentary reform—and I need not show how completely they have failed in Parliamentary reform, for the debate of this night is the perfect proof of that fact—they next tried commercial reform, and introduced free imports under the specious name of free trade. How were the interests of the working classes considered in this third movement? More than they were in their colonial or their Parliamentary reform? On the contrary, while the interests of capital were unblushingly advocated, the displaced labour of the country was offered neither consolation nor compensation; but was told that it must submit to be absorbed in the mass. In their colonial. Parliamentary, and commercial reforms, 960 there is no evidence of any sympathy with the working classes; and every one of the measures so forced upon the country has, at the same time, proved disastrous. Their colonial reform ruined the colonies and increased slavery. Their Parliamentary reform, according to their own account, was a delusion which has filled the people with disappointment and disgust. If their commercial reform have not proved ruinous, then the picture that has been presented to us of the condition of England every day for the last four or five months must be a gross misrepresentation. In this state of affairs, as a remedy for half a century of failure, we are under their auspices to take refuge in financial reform, which I predict will prove their fourth failure, and one in which the interests of the working classes will be as little considered and accomplished.
The principle of their financial reform is to throw the burthen of taxation on what is called realised property, which they pretend is of a more aristocratic character than other property. Upon a former occasion I took the opportunity of showing the fallacy of this position. I reminded the House, that if the rental of England were equally divided among its proprietors, the average income of the holders of real property in Great Britain is only 170l. a year; and as there are many possessing more, so there must be many who have less. Then, with respect to another great branch of realised property—funded property—I also reminded the House that there are issued as many as fifty thousand dividend warrants for sums less than 5l. With regard to house property, I presume there is scarcely any Gentleman present who will doubt that the elements of that species of property must be not less democratic than those of landed and funded estates. Now, suppose a Chancellor of the Exchequer—and it would be a great feat—could transfer 10 per cent of our taxation from the multitude to what is called realised property—suppose, on the one hundred millions per annum that realised property produces, he could transfer even 20 per cent. what relief would this afford to a people suffering from the want of work and wages? How far would it tend to increase that want of work and wages? I say nothing of the justice of the arrangements, or the equitable contrivance of relieving large commercial capitals from all imposts to the State. I feel warranted in saying that 961 their financial reform will end in the same failure that has attended all other attempts at reform.
There is one more point to which I must advert before I sit down, and that is the source from which this movement springs. The noble Lord has expressed his belief that this is not a popular movement—that it has not a great array of supporters out of doors; but then the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose tells us to look at the petitions. But he assures us, at the same time, that they are all the consequences of a declaration made by the noble Lord that the people of England did not require this reform. Up to that point the Member for Montrose admits that the people had been silent. Surely, the people of this country are not accustomed to wait to express their opinion, till it may chance to be elicited by some captious expression of a Minister of the Crown. The hon. Member for Montrose, in this respect, proves a little too much. It would have been more frank and instructive if he had told us how these petitions and these movements are managed. I must do it for him. In consequence of the organisation and agitation of the middle-class that has gone on of late years, a new profession has arisen in this country. An hon. Gentleman the other night said that diplomacy was going out of fashion. Possibly: there are people who think lawyers useless, and make their own wills: there are others who think doctors good for nothing, and take quack medicines; and there may be Ministers of State who think that they can dispense with the services of ambassadors and envoys. But those who are interested in finding employment for the rising generation need not be alarmed—a new profession has been discovered which will supply the place of the obsolete ones. It is a profession which requires many votaries-chairmen, deputy-chairmen; secretaries, committee-men, missionaries, pamphleteerers, lecturers, hired orators—Rhetor, grammaticus, geometres, pictor, aliptes, Augur, schenobates, medicus, magus.The business of this profession is to discover or invent great questions. When a great question is settled, it is the ruin of the profession. There is no need for a chairman, for there is no chair to fill—no want of a deputy-chairman to represent his hon. Friend—there are no committees to be attended—no pamphlets 962 to be written—the lecturer is idle, and the orator is dumb. The rule, however, is, when a great question has been settled, immediately to look out for a new one; yet to find a new great question is often the most difficult thing in the world. The profession like a new great question to loom in the distance before the old one is quite safe in port. Unfortunately for the profession, the right hon. Member for Tamworth at one stroke suddenly curtailed their last labours. After the great question of free imports, which they call free trade, was carried, the profession were at fault: they were flushed with triumph, but hungry for new prey. The hon. Member for the West Riding, like a wise man, left them in the lurch and went abroad. Unfortunately for him, he returned a little too soon. However, he brought back a great question with him: and the profession were beginning to work perpetual peace when unfortunately occurred a state of general war. It was a terrible mistake: however, the hon. Member for the West Riding is a man of real talents, and he will get over it—in time. It was impossible to proceed with the perpetual peace plan after the unhappy affair at Paris—so it was shelved; and then this fortunate pamphlet happened to turn up. Electoral districts was a new cry, and served to flavour the somewhat stale pretexts of triennial Parliaments and vote by ballot. People who live in the country know little of what is going on except from the newspapers; and, seeing accounts of the public meetings that have been going forward, they have naturally thought there must be something rotten in the State; but I can assure them the matter is managed with the utmost caution and finesse—like delicate artists they feel their way. Popular enthusiasm requires some cultivation. I will show you, on the authority of the journal that is the avowed organ of the "New Movement," how dexterously and with how much prudence a national demonstration is cockered up:—
§ "REFORM MOVEMENT.
"The New League Movement in Manchester.
It is well known that the Anti-Corn-Law League Rooms in Manchester have been occupied, since the dissolution of that body, as the place of occasional meeting for most of the gentlemen who took part in the great Anti-Corn-Law struggle.
Why, did we not always hear that the great
Anti-Corn-Law League was entirely confined to that single object? But it seems that after their success they have been meeting there ever since—not knowing what to do).
Newall's buildings—the locus in quo—have already become memorable, and their site will, in future days, be traced with scrupulous fidelity by the local historians. Their celebrity promises to be heightened by fresh movements for popular freedom by the men who contended for and gained commercial liberty. A gathering of some ten or a dozen of the old batch of free-traders took place there, as we have already stated, on Thursday evening; and amongst those who took part in the proceedings were Mr. Cobden, Mr. Bright, Mr. Kershaw, and Mr. J. B. Smith. Mr. George Wilson, chairman of the Anti-Corn-Law League, presided on the occasion. The meeting was private, and the proceedings, of course, preliminary; but strong opinions were expressed in favour of household suffrage, vote by ballot, triennial Parliaments, and equal electoral districts. It was ultimately agreed that a circular, signed by the chairman, should be forwarded to all the supporters of the free-trade movement, and that when public opinion should have been obtained on the points under discussion, a more decided measure be taken for appealing to the people at large.
The circular adopted on this occasion was as follows:—
Newall's-buildings, Manchester, April 27.
Dear Sir—A number of gentlemen have met here here to-day to consider what steps should be taken to promote a cordial union of all classes of reformers in favour of an improvement in our system of Parliamentary representation. They feel that the increasing expenditure and increasing taxation are causes of the deepest anxiety, and they doubt the possibility of any permanent remedy being applied whilst the taxpayers are for the most part excluded from direct influence in Parliament.
I have been requested to address this circular to you, to ascertain how far you think the extension of the franchise to all householders—with the protection of the ballot—the more equal distribution of the electoral power by means of electoral districts—and the shortening of the duration of Parliaments to a period not exceeding three years—would afford a system of representation such as the middle classes, now partially enfranchised, would generally acquiesce in, and which the unenfranchised classes would accept as a substantial admission to their legitimate place in the constitution.
I shall be glad also to know whether you think that at the present time a movement is desirable in favour of the changes I have indicated, and if you are disposed to co-operate with an association founded for the purpose of promoting them. I shall be glad also to know what—so far as you have ascertained—is the prevailing feeling of the inhabitants of your town or district on the subject to which I have referred.
The replies to this circular will not be published, and I will thank you to favour me with an answer at your earliest convenience.
This circular bears the signature of a gentleman, whom I will not call distinguished,
for that would be prostituting an epithet—and whom I will not call notorious, for that might be offensive—and whom therefore I will describe as the well-known Mr. George Wilson. The newspaper goes on to say—
A very few weeks will now determine whether the country is to have a new league, more formidable than the former one, inasmuch as it will gather within its fold many sects and parties who stood aloof from the Anti-Corn-Law League in the early stage of its operations.
Now, I have shown the House, without exaggeration, quoting merely their own documents, the manner in which this thing is brought about. It is factitious—it is not popular. Let me not be misunderstood—let it not be said that I am opposed to popular feeling when I say this. No: it is the same movement that has given you colonial. Parliamentary, and commercial reform, and now proposes to give you financial reform. It is the same movement that has always resulted, by their own confession, in disaster and disappointment. But the remarkable circumstance is this—that the present movement has not in the slightest degree originated in any class of the people. Even if the people be misled, it is possible that there might be a popular movement and yet erroneous; but this is erroneous and not popular. But the moral I draw from all this—from observing this system of organised agitation—this playing and paltering with popular passions for the aggrandisement of one too ambitious class—the moral I draw is this—why are the people of England forced to find leaders among these persons? The proper leaders of the people are the gentlemen of England. If they are not the leaders of the people, I do not see why there should be gentlemen. Yes—it is because the gentlemen of England have been negligent of their duties, and unmindful of their station, that the system of professional agitation, so ruinous to the best interests of the country, has arisen in England.
§ It was not always so. My hon. Friends around me call themselves the country party. Why, that was the name once in England of a party who were the foremost to vindicate popular rights—who were the natural leaders of the people, and the champions of everything national and popular; and you must blame yourselves alone if you have allowed the power that has been entrusted to you by the constitution to slip from your hands, to be exercised for other interests than the general good of your country. When Sir William Wyndham 965 was the leader of the country party, do you think he would have allowed any chairman or deputy-chairman, any lecturer or pamphleteer, to deprive him of his hold on the heart of the people of this country? No, never! Do you think that when the question of suffrage was brought before the House, he would have allowed any class who had boldly avowed their determination to obtain predominance, to take up and settle that question? Read what Sir J. Hynde Cotton, in the days of Walpole, said on the question of the suffrage? He was one of the greatest Gentlemen in the country: he did not run away every night from the House and pair till half-past eleven, and let the country go to the dogs. If it be true that we are on the eve of troublous times—if it indeed be necessary that changes should take place in this country—let them be effected by those who ought to be the leaders in all political and social changes. Then we shall not find changes carried into effect for the unblushing purpose of securing a middle-class Government, but an English and a national Government, the pride of the people, and in which confidence can be placed. Then, if you are called on to make changes, it will be in your power to make them within the scope and according to the spirit of the English constitution; because, notwithstanding the sneers of the hon. Gentleman and his Friend to-night, I am not ashamed to say that I wish to maintain the constitution; and I do not mean, by the term constitution, merely the House of Commons, and still less a particular party in the House, which some hon. Gentlemen opposite seem always to consider the English constitution. But I would effect these changes, if necessary, according to the spirit of the constitution: it is a capacious spirit—it will allow you to do all that is required, and yet maintain the institutions of the country. And indeed, Sir, I would maintain that constitution, not merely because it has secured to us the benignant sway of an ancient monarchy, mitigated in its operation by the co-ordinate authority of popular estates—not merely because it has planted English liberty broadly and deeply in the land, and not made it a thing dependent on the breath of an individual, or the caprice or passion of some great city—not merely because it has secured to us the due administration of justice, safety of person, respect for property (though these are all considerations doubtless of vast import)—but I would maintain that consti- 966 tution because I firmly believe that, of all existing polities, it is that system which most tends to secure the happiness and elevate the condition of the great body of the people.
§ Debate adjourned.
§ House counted out at Two o'clock.