HC Deb 16 June 1865 vol 180 cc416-28

Sir, I rise to move an Amendment— That, as a General Election is impending, and we have no Law which can put down the intimidation of Voters nor prevent Bribery, it is, therefore, expedient that a trial should he given to the Vote by Ballot. At this period of the evening (eleven o'clock) it is impossible I can hope to have that support from hon. Members which I might have had if circumstances had allowed me to have brought this question on at an earlier period. At all times it is an irksome task to bring on what is called an annual Motion, but cases will occasionally arise in which duty must take the place of pleasure. I consider the ballot to be one of those questions which, when considered, will bring the mind to but one conclusion, We say it is impossible to defend the position that it is proper for the Legislature to confer the right of voting upon a body of men and to refuse them adequate protection for the exercise of that right. These are the grounds upon which we stand. I believe the ballot to be preferred by the public before any other reform, In 1852, in an able speech made by Mr. Cobden, that eminent man said that there was no new argument for the ballot since the admirable speech of Mr. Grote, and he added— I look upon the ballot as the primary step of all reform. Of all the points of what is called the People's Charter there is nothing so odious to the aristocracy, to the landocracy, and the monied oligarchy that governs elections as the question of the vote by ballot. Mr. Cobden likewise gave it as his opinion in one of his speeches that if any hon. Member would take the trouble to lay before the House the malversations of the franchise as carried on in several constituencies it would form a book of evidence, or an appendix to the body of evidence taken before the Election Committee, which would render the demand for the ballot one that could scarcely be refused. Now my speeches can only be looked upon as practical illustrations of the theories of Mr. Grote. It has been my custom to garrison the fortress raised by Mr. Grote, and to destroy those ghosts of arguments which have been killed over and over again, but which, nevertheless, crop up on all occasions, and never so much so as on the approach of a general election. Now, that is the course which I shall pursue on this occasion. I shall first take the instance of a young gentleman who has assailed some of Mr. Grote's theories. I will take that of a young gentleman who is now asking the suffrages of the ancient city of Chester. This young gentleman bears an honoured name, for which I, in common with the vast body of my fellow-countrymen, feel the greatest respect. It becomes me the more to take into consideration the arguments used by this young gentleman, inasmuch as I believe him to be wrong, and as I think I have it in my power to set him right. Mr. Gladstone, jun., ensconces himself under the gabardine of the Rev. Sydney Smith and Mr. John Stuart Mill. The ballot, said Mr. Gladstone, junior, in an off-hand way, received a quietus from the pen of Sydney Smith, and again from the pen of John Stuart Mill. As to the authority of Sydney Smith, that reverend gentleman wrote a sparkling pamphlet, though a superficial one, abounding in witticisms without logic, and in numerous jokes without argument. As to Sydney Smith giving the quietus to the ballot, it is somewhat ridiculous to imagine that he should be able so easily to dispose of the arguments of Jeremy Bentham, of Mill the elder, of Fonblanque, and of Grote. So far from Sydney Smith thinking he had given the quietus to the ballot, looking into his life I find a letter addressed by him to the late Lady Grey, in which he says— I have written a pamphlet against the ballot very clever, of course, but the ballot will come write I never so wisely. So much for Sydney Smith's notion of the quietus given to the ballot. Next, let me turn to John Stuart Mill, a gentleman of great ability, who has written many clever things, but I take his views to be of a purely theoretical kind, because I do not think he has had much experience, living as he did, until he was superannuated, at the India House. But Mr. Mill is the cheval de bataille, not only of Mr. Gladstone, junior, but of The Times newspaper. Mr. Mill said— If I thought the electors of this country were so hopelessly and selfishly dependent on the landlords I should be, as I once was, a supporter of the ballot. This, I must think, is a slovenly and slipshod way of getting rid of a former opinion. Why did he stop short at the intimidation of the landlord? Why did he not touch on other classes of intimidation, on intimidation by creditors, and by the inquisition of attorneys prying into all their affairs and holding men down with the screw, which was applied in the most Satanic manner? If the upper classes had become politically virtuous, and the under classes politically independent, I would not ask for a protection which I thought the electoral classes did not want; but I can show that the electoral constituencies, taken from 1835 to 1865, are in precisely the same condition, and that if there be any change it is for the worse. We have all read the evidence taken before Mr. Grote's Committee in 1835. That evidence was extensive, and brought the conclusion to the mind of every man who read it that the state of electoral affairs was getting worse. I will show shortly that, up to the present moment, the state of the franchise is what it was in 1837. I will state it first in the words of Lord Palmerston, who, at the nomination at Tiverton, on Tuesday, July 25, 1837, said— My belief is founded not merely on what I have heard from others, but upon my own observations. I believe a system has been extensively pursued, to deter electors, by threats of injury to themselves, from electing the persons whom they think most fit to represent them. No man will turn away from words uttered by my noble Friend; they always carry weight with me, whether uttered for me or against me, and here we have evidence from which we cannot turn away. Sir Henry Ward showed the franchise to be in a most deplorable state in 1847. In 1848 I had, for the first time, the honour, not of my own seeking, to lead the question in the House of Commons, and I stated a number of instances in that speech, after which I was successful enough to carry the Motion; but that was an accident, and did not truly represent the opinion of the House. I know the feeling of this House is against the ballot, and I do not speak to this House, but to the people out of doors. From 1848 to 1852 nothing could be more decisive than the evidence given before the Committee. Not only were the old impenitent boroughs committing their usual sins, but the modern boroughs were just as bad, or worse than the old boroughs. I do not know whether there was a pin to choose between Wakefield and Gloucester. At that time Lord Aberdeen admitted that our electoral system was in such a deplorable state of profligacy that everybody must be ashamed of it. A Committee was formed of almost all the lawyers in the House, and they produced a very bad Bill. The Attorney General was upon it, as were others looking for judgeships, and those who hoped to succeed to the office of Attorney General. Lord Derby said of the Corrupt Practices at Elections Bill, that it was worth so much waste paper. From 1852 to 1865 the debates on the ballot showed an increasing malversation of practice. The old constituencies and the new rivalled each other as regards intimidation, and if I want proof of this let me refer to the election at Exeter nearly twelve months ago. The last election for Exeter presented a sad picture of profligacy and intimidation; for if the Tories were bad, the Whigs rivalled them. A very distinguished member of the Bar, the son of an eminent judge, and the nephew of a poet in whom we all rejoice—Mr. Coleridge—was a candidate for the vacant seat, and he said, after the contest was over, that the election had convinced him that the ballot was necessary, and he had no idea that in the year 1864 such protection would have been required, and that at the present day men would have been so lost to a sense of what was just and fair between man and man. He had commenced his political life rather late, but it was never too late to mend. He had no idea there was that amount of moral coercion existing, and he should not have believed it if he had not witnessed it. A great many instances had come under his knowledge where many men had informed him they would gladly have voted for him, but they had been prevented from doing so from coercion. Nothing, however, could be much worse than what was practised on the other side, and the Exeter Tory papers complain of intimidation to a vast extent. I have received a letter from Sir John Bowring, who is a resident of Exeter, and he says that never in his experience had he seen intimidation so rife in Exeter as at the last election. The Tory papers of that city complained, amongst other things, of the intimidation practised by the Whigs on the clergy of the city; and they also spoke of violence offered to the persons of the electors. There was one outrage in particular to a poor man who had a cart drawn by a donkey. They threw the cart into the river and they cut off the jackass's tail. The people of Exeter were insolent, contemptuous, and metaphorical, and they said that at the next general election that was not the only Tory donkey that would lose his tail. In reference to the character of the election for Truro, Mr. Williams described the contest as a riotous one, not arising from any doubt as to the opinion of the majority, but from the influence that had been brought to bear to prevent the exercise of the franchise; and Captain Vivian, the losing candidate, said that if any argument was wanting to convince him of the necessity of the ballot the re suit of the contest would have furnished him with one, and of course three cheers were given for the ballot. I submit that I have pointed out sufficient evidence to induce an incredulous man to be- lieve that we have not improved in our electoral morals, but on the contrary—that we are as bad as ever we were; and what, I ask, has happened to convince Mr. Gladstone, jun., and Mr. Stuart Mill, to cause them to turn short round on the question of the ballot. Both the dominant parties are going to the country, as Mr. Dickens terms it, in an auriferous and malty shower, in the shape of sovereigns and beer, and if the House is convinced that the landlords have, as Mr. Mill says, ceased to intimidate, where is the evidence to be found? Is Mr. Mill actually convinced of it, or is it a mere pretence put forward by him to cover his ratting from his principles. Let us look northward, and ask ourselves why it is that at all the clubs where they bet upon political as well as turf events they lay five to four on Mill-bank against Morritt for the northern division of Yorkshire. Now, the hon. Member for the North Riding (Mr. Morritt) is known to us all, and as I believe no hon. Member has carried out his political opinions better than he has, why is he to be removed? It would appear marvellous wore not the real cause known—namely, that the late Duke of Cleveland was a Tory and the present Duke is a Whig, and that, therefore, all those men who supported Mr. Morritt at the last election will now vote against him. Of course, being mere voting machines of the Duke of Cleveland's, they must do it. They have no consciences—nobody ever thinks they have a right to exercise the franchise. I will next take the southern division of Durham, and ask, why instead of one there will be two Liberals returned for that division of the county? Why, simply because it is overshadowed by Raby Castle, and the present Duke being a Whig, these free and independent electors, as you call them, but voting machines, as I venture to think them, must vote according to the orders of their landlord. Before I leave Yorkshire I will take a trip to the borough of Ripon. There used to live at Fountains Abbey Miss Lawrence, a lady who was very much respected, but she in good time left this world, and the property fell into the hands of Earl De Grey and Ripon. The borough of Ripon was a place of refuge for every Tory gentleman who could not obtain a seat for any other place. It was a refuge for the destitute. There he found a home and comfortable quarters, and I dare say very good Members of Parliament they turned out. When the property fell into the hands of Earl De Grey and Ripon it turned out there was not a sounder Whig borough in England than Ripon, and if I were called upon to point out one more good honest reformer than another it is Earl De Grey and Ripon. The voting machines at Ripon do not, however, like the position in which they are placed, and they have presented a petition to the House of Lords since Earl De Grey and Ripon has been their ruler in favour of the ballot, and I believe that nothing would please Earl De Grey and Ripon better than for them to vote by ballot. I think we have reason to say that the state of things which existed up to 1865 will continue during the ensuing elections, so that to tell the electors they can vote free and independent is a misnomer, for they can do nothing of the kind, except to their cost. Mr. Brougham, thirty-five years ago, alluded to the power of landlords over tenants in a way I cannot approach. That eminent statesman said— Watch the proceedings of a landlord with his tenants, and mark how he seeks to extinguish in them all sense of public obligation. And how could we come to any other conclusion when we see what is the result? Before I conclude my remarks upon, or rather my review of, Gladstone on Mill, let me earnestly entreat the attention of the House to an extract from a speech made last autumn, the authority of which will be acknowledged by Mr. Gladstone, junior, and by Mr. Mill— What is at stake (said this speaker) is nothing less than the vitality of the representative body. If ever the majority, or a preponderating portion of the Members, represent only their own pockets, we shall have indeed what Mr. Disraeli calls a Venetian constitution, and that in a very bad form. It would be a great mistake to suppose that we have seen the worst of this evil. I am persuaded we are only at the beginning of it when we see the number of persons constantly becoming wealthy, whose sole anxiety is to attain what alone wealth has not given them—namely, position. It is this class of persons who make this evil an increasing one—the vulgar rich—to whom it is worth while to spend any amount of money for the sake of distinction in society. The gentleman who made this speech in 1864, standing by the ballot, and pointing out the ballot as the only remedy for this state of things, is the very Mr. Mill who, in 1865, turns round and opposes it. I say nothing of the insult to this House by the phrase "vulgar rich," because if there is anything we are more proud of than another it is the men amongst us who have made their fortunes by trade and commerce; but what an insult to the City of London if this Mill from off a shelf in the India House is thus to treat its representatives—its Rothschilds, its Crawfords, its Goschens, and its Dukes—who have all made their money by commerce. I think, instead of Mr. Mill giving me a quietus, I have now from his own mouth given him one. Now, I come to what ingratiated Mr. Mill with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and made my right hon. Friend point him out as a fit tutor for his son, and likewise it is an argument which my noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) has sometimes indulged in when he has wished to give me a quietus in this House—namely, that in a free country voting for a Member of Parliament is a public act and ought to be performed in the face of the people, and that the manner in which the elector exercises his privilege ought to be the subject of comment and criticism for the entire community. This is an argument I have often heard from the noble Lord at the head of the Government and from Lord John Russell, but if it is so necessary that the act of the voter should be so public, have we no precedents to the contrary? Let us inquire into that a little. There were great men before Agamemnon, and there were great statesmen before the noble Lord, although I, for one, can do and say nothing to detract from his merits. Now, on this point of protection to the voter (not by means of the ballot, but a general protection by secrecy) we have the highest authority. We have the authority of the great founders of English liberty—those men who guided the counsels of what Lord Macaulay said were the greatest of England's parliaments—Sir Edward Coke, Sir John Elliot, John Hampden, John Pym, and Selden; and they have left their testimony on the Journals of this House. I will venture to state the remarkable case to which I allude, and which is not a little interesting. On the 17th of April in 1628, by the Report of the Committee of Privilege, which Committee included the great names I have mentioned, it is stated that in the election for Yorkshire certain electors presented themselves to vote. They answered the questions put to them satisfactorily as to their having the 40s. freehold and being resident in the county; but, on being asked their names, they declined to give them, on the ground that they would expose themselves to the displeasure of certain powerful personages. They claimed the right, not- withstanding, to have their votes recorded, and it was done. A petition was presented against the return of Sir H. Bellasis and Sir Thomas Wentworth, on the ground that these votes were improperly recorded. The Committee declared that the declaration of their names need not be required, and that it was unnecessary to insert the names of freeholders in the indenture of return, because notice might be taken of it to their detriment, and it accordingly reported that Bellasis and Wentworth were duly elected. The House the same day, by a unanimous resolution, confirming the judgment of the Committee, declaring that if the name of a freeholder was demanded at the poll by the sheriff, and he declined to give it, he should not thereby be disabled from voting. This is not exactly a case on all fours with the ballot, but it affirms the principle, and no man can rail the stamp off that document. Is not this an answer to the frivolous plea that secrecy is cowardly, unmanly, and un-English? If not, it must fall with the galaxy of great names I have mentioned. I have on former occasions referred to an argument which the present Lord Chancellor, when Sir Richard Be-thell, completely upset. It has been said that the voter has no personal beneficial interest in the franchise, and that he is a trustee who acts for the non-elector as well as for himself. But what is the operation of that doctrine? At an election for Cork, the priests, who were then in the interest of Lords Palmerston and Russell, told the non-electors to watch the polling-booths, and see how their trustees voted. They did so, and all those who voted for General Chatterton, the Conservative candidate, were denounced as false trustees; and, accordingly, the non-electors broke their heads and stoned them. He would call the attention of the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) to a case which occurred at Salford. An individual of the name of Stork placed a board in his window with the following inscription:— All persons residing in this street and the neighbouring courts who have no votes, are requested to call and tell me whether I must vote for Garnett or Brotherton at the ensuing election. This notice brought a number of persons to his shop, all of whom being bonâ fide non-electors, were requested to sign their names, and write opposite to them the name of the candidate of their choice. The poll was kept open till ten o'clock, and then Mr. Stork put forth the following state of the poll:— In favour of my voting for Brotherton, 57; in favour of my voting for Garnett, 23; majority for Brotherton, 34. Consequently I shall vote for Brotherton. If that be not the reductio ad absurdum of the noble Lord's argument, I do not know where it can be found. He did vote for Brotherton, and so represented the non-electors. The man whom the law invested with the duty of voting disfranchised himself and enfranchised those whom the law declared to be unfit to vote. If the non-electors were to dictate to the electors, it would be much better to have universal suffrage to give them votes and allow them to vote themselves. Mr. Grote called the ballot the silent vindicator of liberty. Demosthenes—mark what Demosthenes said—addressing a jury he said— You vote in secret. You have nothing to fear, for safety is secured to you by the wisest legislation our lawgivers ever knew. He now asked the House to adopt his Resolution, and thus give practical effect to the words of Demosthenes.

Amendment proposed, To add after the word "That," in the Original Question, the words "as a General Election is impending, and as we have no Law which can put down the intimidation of Voters nor prevent Bribery, it is therefore expedient that a trial should be given to the Vote by Ballot."—(Mr. Henry Berkeley.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


Sir, my hon. Friend said, I imagined that on some occasions I had given him his quietus. Now, I should be very sorry to give him his quietus, for I am sure the House will agree with me that the annual exhibition of my hon. Friend is very amusing and highly diverting, and therefore I should be sorry to give him his quietus, and so prevent him from affording us the treat we are now enjoying. The arguments which my hon. friend has used are those which he has often repeated; and the arguments which I would suggest can only be those which I have often repeated. It is often said—my hon. Friend has often said it—that nothing new can be urged against the ballot. Truth is not new, and nothing is stronger than truth; and therefore if I were called upon to say something new against the ballot, I could only use weaker arguments than those which I used before. My objections to the ballot may be comprised in a short statement. My hon. Friend has to-night given a somewhat different description of the nature of the vote from that which he gave on former occasions. I think on former occasions he treated the vote as a personal right—as a right which the voter was entitled to exercise without exposing himself to any consequences arising from the way in which he might use it; but to-night he has represented the vote as a function confided to the elector for the benefit of the nation at large. [Mr. H. BERKELEY intimated his dissent.] Then my hon. Friend does not adopt this view, but falls back on the ground that the vote is a personal right which the person is entitled to exercise freely without being liable to any consequences. Well, if the vote be a personal right, on what ground does my hon. Friend punish a man for taking money for his vote? If the elector possesses the vote as a personal right, he is entitled to exercise it from whatever motive be pleases. He may exercise it from personal affection, from political agreement, or for personal advantage. The moment you narrow the vote by describing it as a personal right, you take away the ground on which you now punish a man for the corrupt exercise of the franchise, But I deny that the vote is a personal right. I say it is a trust. Even if universal suffrage were adopted, it would be a trust which each person would have confided to him for the benefit of the nation. I say, therefore, that, not only according to the English Constitution, but according to the sense of mankind, the man who holds a trust for others is bound to account to them for the manner in which he exercised the trust so held. I hold, then, that the ballot, the object of which is to screen the trustees, to screen men from the consequences following on the exercise of their votes, is contrary to the British Constitution, contrary to common sense, contrary to the nature of things themselves. But my hon. Friend thinks that the ballot would free the voter from those influences which mankind never can be free from. He has given us examples of the places in which territorial possessions have changed from the hands of owners professing one set of political opinions to those of persons holding other political views, and he has stated that these changes have made a change in the exercise of the franchise. But men must be influenced by one cause or another, and it is a natural thing that there should be harmony between the proprietors of land and those who carry on their occupations under them. Whether it he territorial influence, whether it be the influence of mercantile wealth, or whether it be the influence of commercial engagements, you cannot divest mankind of those influences which are inherent in the nature of things, and must influence the conduct of men. I contend it is a perfect fallacy to affirm that secret voting would prevent the exercise of the influence of the landlord, the merchant, or the customer. Any person in any one of these capacities who might think he could influence a voter, would ask him to promise his vote. If my hon. Friend thinks that the promise made under such circumstances would be broken, he pronounces the strongest condemnation of the voters; because, he says, they would promise one thing today and do a different thing to-morrow. Now, I do not believe that. I believe that if the landlord or employer, thinking he might have a legitimate right to influence a voter's conduct, should go to him and say, "Promise me so and so," the man, if he wished to perform the act, would make the promise. If he refused, the landlord or employer would know what that meant, so that the voter would be exposed to exactly the same influences as he is at present. I think, therefore, that the ballot would be inconsistent with the principles on which human society is constituted; I think it would be at variance with the principles of the British Constitution; and I think it would be immoral in its effects, for if it accomplished the object which few have in view, and enabled a man to break his promise, instead of raising the character of the voter of the country, it would degrade him in his own esteem and lower that character in the eyes of the world.


I think I answered the speech of the noble Lord before he made it.

Question put:—The House divided:— Ayes 74; Noes 118: Majority 44.

Another Amendment proposed, To add after the word "That," in the Original Question, the words "this House will, upon Monday next, resolve itself into the Committee of Supply."—(Viscount Palmerston.)

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.

Words added:—Original Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House will, upon Monday next, resolve itself into the Committee of Supply.