§ On the Order being read, Lords Dudley and Goderich rose at the same moment, but after considerable confusion the latter noble Lord gave way, and
The Earl of Dudley
then addressed the House. His Lordship was understood to state, that in presenting himself on this occasion he did not hope to be able to add any force to the arguments adduced by the noble Lords who had already spoken. He was only anxious to show that he was not insensible to the blessings which he, in common with the country at large, had enjoyed under the existing Constitution; and he was still more anxious to address their Lordships, lest it should be supposed that he was unwilling to take the full share of the odium which attached to every one who opposed this measure. Unless the House was firm and resolved in rejecting the measure now under its consideration, he could not help feeling that perhaps this was one of the last times when he, or any 1335 one, would have an opportunity of addressing a Parliament collected on the principles on which their ancestors founded the present Parliament, and in the full enjoyment of all the rights which the Constitution now gave to a Member of Parliament. But before he said anything as to the Bill itself, he begged to call their Lordships' attention to the circumstances under which it had appeared, and which seemed to him particularly calculated to excite suspicion and disapprobation. The present Ministry came into power upon the sudden and unexpected fall of the government of the noble Duke. It consisted of persons who, however individually entitled to consideration, had not acted together long enough, or with sufficient harmony, to have conferred and agreed upon all the various and important articles of an entirely new policy. On the contrary, they were known, up to a very recent period, to differ upon some great points—and more particularly upon that on which, at the end of a few weeks after their accession to office, they promulgated an unanimous and most astonishing decision, so that it is not uncharitable to suppose that this coalition was owing to personal convenience rather than to any sincere agreement; and their collective judgment is, therefore, of no value, or, at least, only of the value that belongs to the opinion of the majority of the Cabinet, which had prevailed upon the minority to adopt a creed directly contrary to that which they had always held. Thus united, and thus prepared, these Gentlemen proceeded to the discharge of their functions, and thought it their duty to propose to the King, their master, and to Parliament, several measures, which, if carried into effect, would make an entire change in the Government and Constitution of the country, which had for centuries prospered under their influence. He could not but deprecate the impetuous and misguided conduct of the present advisers of the Crown, who, when they had scarcely taken into their hands the command of the reins of the Government of the country, had applied themselves to effect a change in every branch of its institutions, and that without being able to shew to the House the existence of its necessity or expedience. They had attempted a change in financial government, a change in the law, and, though last, not least in his opinion, they had attempted a change in the constitution of the other 1336 House of Parliament—a change, too, the effect of which would be to give supremacy to the worst power that could be exercised by any state—he meant a democratical authority. The measure of his Majesty's Ministers would, unless their Lordships did their duty fearlessly and conscientiously to their country and themselves, be attended with this consequence—that the House of Commons would be, instead of what it then was, converted into a democratic assembly. What, he would ask, were their Lordships called upon to do? They were required, and that in no persuasive tone, but in an authoritative manner, to stigmatize all the legislative acts of their forefathers, and that, too, with less notice than a county had been ever called upon to cut a canal, and this too at the bidding of persons, some of whom had always been hostile to all reform, and others who had scarcely had time to learn the common routine of their officers. It was not in human nature to order wisely so many great things thus suddenly and without preparation. He could not confide in the authors of these measures, unless he also believed them to be inspired. Never was so much proposed by mortal man in so short a time and upon such imperfect authority. Indeed, this measure had been promulgated more like a chapter in the Koran than any human institution, and if their Lordships might judge by the language of the journals under the control of the Ministers, they must suppose that they meant also to propagate it like the Koran—the book in one hand, and the sword in the other. When he considered the extent of this business, and the havoc that was to be made among innumerable charters, rights, and privileges, how many usages, habits, and feelings, were to be trampled upon—not a hundredth part of which could, till lately, have been touched, without exciting the most vehement and passionate resistance,—no one who saw them all, at a few weeks notice, brought to the very verge of destruction, but must be amazed at this sudden mutability introduced into the affairs of a nation heretofore so little given to change. He did not mean to speak with disparagement of the persons that proposed the measure,—men to whose talents and accomplishments an humble individual like himself must look up with the respect due to superior qualifications; but it was not with humble individuals, nor with ordinary 1337 occasions, that they were to be compared, but with the stupendous magnitude of what they proposed, and when he considered that this Bill proposed to give an entirely new Constitution to the country—when he considered that by it our institutions were to be changed, and the privileges of their Lordships placed in jeopardy, he thought that some higher authority should be adduced, and some more masterly hands should be employed in an undertaking of so much magnitude, than the authority of those persons who now introduced a measure, which, had it been broached some years back by any other party in the House, would have been scouted by them from their Lordships presence. What had been the statesmanlike qualities of the present advisers of the Crown who had introduced the measure to their Lordships' notice? Had they gained character by their financial arrangements at home, or by their foreign policy abroad, sufficient to entitle them to propose such a sweeping measure as that which occupied their Lordships' attention? He would say they had not. In every country the management of the revenue had been considered as a matter of the greatest and most paramount importance, and the success of a Ministry was estimated in proportion as its management of that particular branch had given satisfaction to the people. It had always been necessary for the Government of this country to maintain, on that subject, the perfect confidence of Parliament. Now, what was the case with the present Ministers of the Crown? Not only had they failed in engaging the confidence of Parliament, but they had proved themselves incapable of conducting the financial affairs of the country. It was not merely that they had failed in some measures of finance, but they had actually succeeded in none. Was it becoming then in the Ministers who could not succeed in the adjustment of a single tax, from the duty upon cotton to that upon timber, to lay their rash hands upon the most important institutions of the country, and attempt to make alterations, which, if they were to be made at all, required the greatest wisdom, caution, and abilities? He would not say anything of those parts of the foreign affairs of the country which were still said to be in an unsettled state. But some things respecting them were well known. It was well known that his Majesty's Ministers had 1338 formed alliance with our old enemies, and now were at variance with our old friends. It was well known that they had consented to the demolition of those fortresses which had before been looked upon as the keys of Europe, and had been established at an expense of many millions sterling to this country. That was a result which no one would ever have looked for as the determination of an amicable negotiation. It was rather like the result of a war, in which England had suffered total defeat on sea and land, and her treasury had been exhausted of every guinea, and in which the victories of a French general had eclipsed the glories, and robbed us of the fruits of Waterloo. Was it not an excess of confidence, and a dangerous experiment, to intrust such men with the remodelling of our Constitution, more particularly since they had shewn themselves desirous of converting our limited Monarchy into a purely democratic Government? Was it not natural, he asked, that the failures which Ministers had already experienced should induce their Lordships to pause before they reposed an implicit confidence in their present subversive scheme? If there was nothing in their conduct to induce confidence, why should it be generally reposed in them, as to this Bill, for its effect would be to prompt them to further changes in the Constitution? It was material to recollect that this was not a mere question of Parliamentary Reform, but a question as to a totally new Constitution, and an entire change in the most important branch of the State. Were they not, therefore, bound to consider whether the measure which they were called upon to adopt was a safe and salutary one? This Bill proceeded upon a strange and extravagant proposition, which he had no doubt would in a little time be received with scorn by all—namely, that the country had never heretofore had a good Government, and that the people had always been deprived of their rights. If there was any truth in this position the case resolved itself into this, that since the period of the Revolution our Constitution had been bad, for he denied that there had been any change in it since that time. It was the same in substance and the same in principle which then received the sanction of our ancestors, and which they, from long experience, deemed the most expedient that could be adopted. There was, at the period of the Revolution, 1339 as now, an influence of the Crown, and of the great proprietors, and the same nomination boroughs. If there were any difference, it is, that the influence of the Crown and of the great proprietors has become less, and that of the people greater. It was greater on account of the greater number of persons that took an active influence in public affairs; on account of the greater publicity of the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament; and, most of all, owing to the increased activity and influence of the press,—a new power in the State, and always the sure ally of the popular party. All those great party combinations that used to give law to Parliament, and out of the pale of which hardly any active political power was allowed to exist, were now broken up, and every variety of interest and opinion had found a ready way to the House of Commons; the whole tendency of that assembly for many years had been to reflect more directly and more strongly the will of the people. Every alteration that had taken place from time or circumstances, had been of a nature to render Reform less rather than more necessary. The two principal arguments that had been adduced in support of it were—first, right; and, secondly, expediency. Now as to the argument of right, it was, he conceived, ridiculous to say that a man who happened to rent a tenement of 10l. annual value had more claim to franchise than a man who rented a house of half that money. That was his opinion, considering the question on the abstract principle of right. The Bill, in fact, must stand upon its expediency—upon the good that it does, or the evil that it is calculated to remedy. In judging of its merits, we must, therefore, consider what are those evils—evils for which it is desirable to find a cure? He knew of but one, and that was the distress arising from the excess of the population over the means of employment and of subsistence. This, no doubt, was a great evil, and one as to the nature and remedy of which great difference of opinion existed. Some persons utterly desponded—others thought that some remedy was within the reach of legislation—some proposed a return to paper currency—others talked very plausibly of emigration—but even among the most sang[...]ine, was there any one who believed that there was some healing remedy that a reformed House of Commons might discover 1340 and adopt, which an assembly constituted like the present, could neither see nor apply. Was it suppposed that four county Members, chosen by the householders mixed with the freeholders, could overcome some difficulty which two Members chosen by the freeholders only could not surmount—or that some great secrets of public happiness might be discovered by the philosophers of Birmingham and the statesmen of Sheffield, that had entirely escaped the mock representatives of Gallon and Old Sarum? Reform would not contribute, in the slightest degree to relieve distress, but distress was the parent of the desire for Reform. The boroughmongering Peers and the opponents of Reform were blamed as the authors of the evils of the country; but if these evils consisted of the single misfortune of an excess of population, the Constitution could not be blamed for it? The boroughmongers might, with equal justice, be blamed for the constant occurrence of bad weather. They did not generate the evil by generating the excess of population. He deeply regretted the nature of the inducements held out by the supporters of Reform to persuade the people to give their assent to the change. They were told that the profits of trade would be increased, and that bread would be cheaper, if Reform was obtained. These were the notions which were put into the heads of the people by Reformers; but it was needless to say, that no such consequences could attend the measure. When such inducements were held out, it was not to be wondered at that a strong feeling existed through the labouring classes in favour of the change; but was this to induce their Lordships, convinced, as they must be, that the feeling had its origin in misrepresentation, to give their assent to a measure, the effects of which would be extremely detrimental to their privileges? The mass of the people laboured at that moment, under passion and prejudice, which incapacitated them from discerning what was for their own interests. They were completely in the situation of a man who was persuaded, when in a state of intoxication to sign a deed which granted away his property. He admitted that the grounds which he had stated as influencing a large mass of the Reformers were not those on which the higher classes of Reformers based their support to the measure; at least they disclaimed them, and 1341 he was bound to believe their sincerity in doing so; but he would maintain that those inducements influenced ninety-nine out of a hundred of the supporters of the measure. The higher class of Reformers, he understood, grounded their support on principles of logic and philosophy; but these were things of which the larger mass of the people knew nothing, and indeed, he could not see that either logic or philosophy had any thing to do with a measure which professed for its object a reformation of existing abuses. He, therefore, maintained, that if the Bill were carried, it would be carried by the clamour of a people incapable of judging what was best for their advantage. Now, with respect to the consequences of the measure, it was not to be expected that he could anticipate them all, but there were some to which it was impossible he could shut his eyes. First of all, he asserted, that it would be utterly impossible to carry on the government of the country. He did not mean to say, that the country would have no government, but that it would be impossible to carry on any steady system of government. The Ministers were about to undertake a labour like the task imposed upon the Israelites, of making bricks without straw. They were taking upon themselves to govern, without the means of governing, and to manage a body exulting in the newly-acquired possession of the whole power of the State, with curtailed and scanty means—means which were scarcely sufficient to carry on the business of the country in less turbulent and unruly times. Let their Lordships not deceive themselves. The country was on the eve of becoming a republic. He did not deny, that such a form of government had sometimes been carried on by wise men in a manner to render the State happy at home and respected abroad; but this measure would lead to a democracy, the worst form of government, which would abolish the privileges of the Monarchy and the Peerage. He knew it was the theory of our Constitution that the two Houses of Parliament—the one possessing its privileges by inheritance, and the other elected by the people—were supposed to be equal in legislative power. That was the theory, but in practice, even with respect to the present House of Commons, it was not true. If that branch of the Legislature were engaged in a struggle with the two others, it would prove too 1342 hard for both together. It was only by the abuses of the Constitution, as they were called, that the due balance was maintained, and the evils which would arise from the superiority of the popular branch of the Legislature prevented, or at least mitigated. It was only because the Crown and the House of Lords had an influence in that of the Commons, which was wholly unacknowledged by the theory of the Constitution, that the Constitution had been maintained. It would not be proper for him to enter into all the details of the measure at present; but he would ask first—was the mode of election proposed by this Bill, or was it not, such that no man could obtain a place in the House of Commons without pledging himself to certain principles? And, in the next place, was the House of Commons to be so constituted, that, if an election were to take place amidst such strong feelings and opinions—no matter how absurd they might be—all who opposed them would certainly be driven from office and power; and be deprived of the means of serving their country? Before they adopted such a measure, they should consider, not only what they might gain, but what they might lose; and on this subject, he thought he had a right to complain of the language and sentiments which had been expressed. The supporters of the measure, not content with saying that the Constitution should be changed, represented the whole system as so utterly worthless, that no person of honesty could desire its continuance. He thought it would be more fair to say, that however faulty it might be, still, it had lasted so long, and through such good times, that we ought not to give it up, without considering what we were to get in lieu of it. Instead of this, we were told, that, from the beginning, it was tainted with corruption in all its parts. He maintained, that the combination of the different branches of the Constitution, blended as they were harmoniously together, had, at all periods of its existence, produced the happiest effects to the country. During that period, which had been alluded to by some, only for the purpose of deploring the imperfections of our system, we had risen to an enviable celebrity in arts and in arms; and though it served in this day as a common place for descanting upon our ignorance and our humiliation as a nation, it was the frequent theme of gratulation to statesmen 1343 equal in wisdom to any of antecedent times, and superior in eloquence to any who had been recorded in modern, possibly in ancient times. It was a period remarkable in our history for our advancement in the scale of nations. It was the period of continued brightness which intervened between the triumphs of La Hogue and Trafalgar, and between the signal victories of Blenheim and Waterloo. Surely, in retracing the progress of our aggrandisement through an era of so much brilliancy, it was a venial fault if we looked back to it with sentiments of gratitude to a kind and fostering Providence, even if, in the next hundred years, there were to occur days of equal prosperity, and triumphs equally glorious. But these recollections were to be stifled or obliterated by the intimidating picture drawn of the dangers with which they, as the hereditary Peerage of the country were environed, if they refused to pass this Bill through the House; and that, in such an event, they were sure to draw down on their devoted heads, possibly in the loss of life, but at least in the loss of their properties, the dread indignation and vengeance of the excited people. Such were the representations of the supporters of this bold project of his Majesty's Government; but he would admit, it was more than possible that resistance to this innovation might be attended with danger. To whom, however, he would ask, in the event of that danger arising, ought it to be attributed? To the excited people? Certainly not. To whom then? To his Majesty's Ministers, who had kindled, and fed with continued fuel, that excitement by which they were now threatened to be consumed. His apprehensions were totally of another kind. He would direct their attention to dangers also; but they were those of concession; dangers which he concurred in thinking might lead to the loss of all they held personally dear, or that was valuable in the State. What! were their Lordships, as a great estate in the realm, to be content to sit there and register in silence those acts of that other estate in the realm which was to benefit by the concessions thus wrung from the Peerage by intimidation? Or was it not high time to feel alarm for our venerable institutions when this measure was found to be countenanced and approved of by all who had hitherto looked with undisguised hostility on the present accumulation of property 1344 in individuals, the laws of primogeniture, the privileges of their Lordships' House, and the greater portion of our valuable institutions in Church and State? He called on them now to make their stand, whilst that instrument of self-destruction was lying on their Table; nor shrink from their duty nor quail in spirit before the insolent dictation and domineering aggression of those who were the avowed enemies of our institutions and reckless advocates of all innovation. Were they to allow themselves to be intimidated by an hostility which had kindled against them, not in consequence of any aggression on their part, but because they were unwilling to incur the risk of ruin to themselves and revolution in the State? Their Lordships' opposition to it should not be circumscribed by the mere consideration that the regulations of the Bill were fraught with irremediable loss to those who were now within reach of his voice, but they should be the firmer in their resistance to it, because it had been attempted to be forced on them in the crisis of excitement; so that they must adopt or reject it with precipitation, and without being allowed the chance of appealing from the demands of popular impatience to the public when under the influence of a calmer spirit. The object of the King's Ministers was, to precipitate their Lordships' adoption of the measure. They dreaded, and justly too, the probable return of the country to a state of peace, and to habits suitable to her true interests and her old character. They were little disposed to improve the opportunity now afforded them of attempting to renovate the Constitution by well-founded and judicious improvements, which might insure its continuance for centuries to come. Their Lordships were not to be swayed or influenced by the motives of any Administration, in contradiction to a clear sense of the high duties of their station in the realm. If they, in this important conjuncture, did that which was right and their bounden duty, they would in return possess not only the reward of a self-approving consciousness, but be entitled to be recognized as the true friends of order and liberty by future ages, and draw down on their memory the gratitude of their country.
The Marquis of Lansdown
assured their Lordships, that if they had extended to him their attention when he rose to address the House last night, he would not 1345 have abused that indulgence by any lengthened trespass on their time. The delay had given him the opportunity of hearing, though he was afraid very imperfectly, the speech of his noble friend who had addressed himself to the principle of the Bill. He was not about to follow his noble friend into the very wide and excursive range he had taken, but before he offered any observations as to his general argument, he would say a few words on some of the preliminary remarks which his noble friend had made to embrace the whole range of our foreign and domestic policy, with the view of condemning both. He would not object to his noble friend for finding fault with that policy, but he could not allow him to rest any part of his opposition to this Bill on the alleged failure of financial or other measures brought forward by the present Government, for in that assertion his noble friend had been mistaken; and if his noble friend had only studied what passed in that House, or had he attended it personally, which it was well known his noble friend did not always, he would have heard, that measures had been introduced on most important subjects, and, so far from being failures, many of these had passed with his approbation, as far as that could be inferred from his not having objected to them by his speech or by vote. The measures for making some important and valuable changes in the law had been part of these, and to those his noble friend had not objected.
The Marquis of Lansdown
begged his noble friend's pardon. He had understood him to allude to all the measures which had been introduced by Government, and, amongst others, to changes made in the law, all of which his noble friend had said were failures. His noble friend's words, he believed were, not that the Ministers had failed in one measure, but that they had succeeded in none. Now one of these was the alteration with respect to the Bankruptcy Courts, to which his noble friend had never made any objection in its progress through that House. Had not his noble friend now for the first time stated his objection to that measure?
The Earl of Dudley
begged to say to his noble friend, that he had made no such 1346 objection. He had confined himself to the financial measures introduced by the present Government.
The Marquis of Lansdown
said, that his noble friend had stated, that as soon as the Government was formed there was evinced a disposition to change every thing. Now it did so happen, that many of the measures introduced to effect those changes had passed through that House, and his noble friend had not given to any of them the benefit of his great talents. He had not felt it necessary to oppose them, though they formed part of that system to which his noble friend had now stated his objection. His noble friend had stated that all the financial measures of the present Government had failed, and been withdrawn. Was his noble friend in the House when the bill for doing away with the coal-duties passed—was he in the House when the wine-duties bill was discussed? Was he present when the bill relating to the cotton-trade had passed? Did he know that the alterations which he described as failures had been sanctioned by Parliament, and had already been productive of the greatest benefit to the cotton-trade of Manchester, and was imparting life and vigour to that recently introduced into the north of Ireland? These measures had all passed that House, and yet his noble friend had not felt it necessary to offer a single objection to any of them until now that he came forward with a charge that they—for they were included in those which he described as failures—had been introduced and abandoned. His noble friend had told them, that good measures were like good wine, the better for being long kept. The same could not always be said of good speeches, for these might be kept too long, as that of his noble friend had proved. While his noble friend was industriously employed in his closet, these things to which he now objected were passed with unanimity by their Lordships. His noble friend, with that wit which no one admired more than he did, had spoken with a sneer at the philosophers of Birmingham who might be returned under this Bill, but who were not so well qualified to attend the interests of the public as the members for Gatton and Old Sarum; but if his memory did not misgive him, his noble friend had himself attempted to generate one of those philosophers, and had failed, for he had voted for the transfer of the 1347 franchise from East Retford to Birmingham, in order to give the people of that place the opportunity of electing one of those philosophers, who, there was good reason for believing, would be found as capable of attending to their interests as men whom they did not know, and with whom they had no connexion whatever. His noble friend had told them, that if this Bill passed, public men would find great difficulty in getting into Parliament if they were opposed in any thing to popular feeling, and he illustrated it by stating, that in the coalition between Mr. Fox and Lord North, which he said was more unpopular than the Anti-reformers at present, that difficulty was felt, and that Mr. Fox was nearly excluded; but his noble friend, who was a very accurate historian in other matters, did not seem to have read history down to the coalition in 1782. Mr. Fox was elected in that year for the populous city of Westminster; thus showing that the people were not disposed to forget the gratitude they owed to public men, nor to overlook the claims of talent and character. He would not, as he had stated, then follow the arguments of his noble friend, but would rather refer to those arguments which had been used in the earlier part of the debate by the noble Lords opposed to it. Of that part of the arguments of those noble Lords which did apply to the principles of the Bill, the far greater portion was in support of them rather than against them. He had listened with great attention to the able speech of the noble Earl (Harrowby)—certainly one of the ablest which he had ever heard him deliver in that House; and he could assure him, that if the noble Earl had not told them that he was exerting all his ingenuity to find some good ground to vote against the Bill, he should have expected from part of his arguments that he intended to vote in favour of it. The noble Earl had said, that if he were to collect all the speeches and pamphlets that had been delivered and written against Reform, by those who now supported this Bill, he could make one of the most eloquent speeches ever delivered on the subject. Now he (the noble Marquis) would say, that if he were to select and contrast the omissions, concessions, and he might, he hoped, without offence, say inconsistencies, of those noble Lords who had opposed the Bill on the opposite side since the commencement of this debate, they would furnish no slight 1348 argument in favour of the principle of Reform, and of much of the great principle of this Bill; for it certainly did happen, that there was not one of those noble Lords, in contending that their Lordships should not change because public opinion had changed, who had not, in fact, shown, though in different degrees, that their opinions had actually undergone no slight degree of change on this subject. He felt, undoubtedly, that in discussing this question, he laboured under the difficulty of agreeing with those noble Lords in all the premises which had been laid down by them in stating the reasons for the opposition which they gave to the Bill. He would state frankly and without disguise, that there was no opinion which he held more strongly, than that all political change was an evil in itself, and, being an evil in itself, it was more especially so in a form of society so complicated and so far advanced in civilization as ours. He felt with the noble Lords opposite, that the condition of no society could be safe, in which property did not exercise, if not a commanding, at least a great influence upon the Government. He admitted, with them, that the existing relations between man and man, between the governors and the governed, which have descended in any country from remote antiquity, are more easily retained than the relations which may rise up under new institutions, though much inferior, perhaps, to the old ones, but not so interwoven with the habits of those who live under them. Admitting these principles, closing with these premises, there was still one inference drawn from them by the noble Lords opposite with which he could not close, and which he must deny—namely, that it had been at all times the character of the institutions and of the Constitution of this country, to oppose a rigid and stubborn resistance to all propositions of improvement in our usages and laws. He had read with the greatest care and attention the history of our institutions. If he looked to the Statute-book, he was obliged to ask himself, what were the laws attendant on that first great change of public opinion so strikingly developed in this country by the Reformation—what were the laws which defined, and limited, and restricted the Royal prerogative, under the princes of the house of Stuart—what were the laws which altered the succession 1349 to the Throne, after the Revolution, and secured the descent of the Crown to the house of Hanover—what were the laws which sanctioned and ratified the Union between England and Scotland—and still more, what were the laws which sanctioned and ratified the Union between England and Ireland—what were the laws, inferior to none in force and violence, but equal to all that he had already mentioned in policy, by which three-fifths of the voters of Ireland were recently disfranchised—if he looked at the Statute-book, he was obliged, he repeated, to ask himself, what were all these laws but so many cases in which the old institutions of the country were made to bend to a great, he would even say an immense political expediency, and in which the changes introduced rested upon nothing else save that expediency for their defence and justification. He said, that so far from that rigid and stubborn adherence to existing institutions, which never varied under a combination of circumstances very different from those which prevailed in former times, being a leading feature and a distinguishing characteristic in our Constitution, the real feature of the Constitution, its most genuine characteristic, had been, at all times and in all seasons, to absorb into itself all the political strength of the country, consisting—as that strength always did and always must consist—of wealth and of knowledge—of wealth diffused, and of knowledge diffused, among the different classes of the community. He was glad to learn from the speech with which the noble Duke had closed the debate of last night, that the noble Duke fully concurred in the principles which he (the Marquis of Lansdown) had taken the liberty of laying down to their Lordships on a former occasion. The noble Duke and himself evidently agreed in the principles they embraced, though they differed somewhat in the application of those principles. The noble Duke had represented him to have said, that the strength of the country consisted of its wealth and its learning. He believed that he had not used the word "learning" he believed that he had said "knowledge." If he had said "learning," he did not mean by it academical erudition, or that pedantic acquisition of petty information which sometimes was obtained by students in their closets. He had been speaking of that knowledge which in its diffusion was 1350 power, and of that wealth which, not in accumulated masses, but generally distributed, enabled men to judge of what was most expedient to their own interests. The real characteristic of the Constitution was such as he had described; and if it had not possessed that characteristic of absorbing in itself the combined strength of the community, and of bending to the changes of opinion which took place in the country from time to time, he verily believed that their Lordships would have found, in looking to the various laws to which he had just referred, that if they had not been passed, those institutions on which they now placed so much value would, instead of descending magnificently down the stream of time, as they had descended to us, have been left long before this a mere wreck upon the shore. He would further call the attention of their Lordships to some of those observations upon this Bill which had been offered to their Lordships last night by the noble Duke who then terminated the debate. He had heard, certainly with great astonishment, the opinion which the noble Duke had expressed regarding the declaration—and with all deference to the noble Duke, he must style it the unfortunate declaration—which he had made against all Reform on the first or second night of the last Session of Parliament. He had heard the explanation which the noble Duke gave of that declaration last night, when he said that he made it as a Minister of the Crown, not as a Peer of Parliament. The noble Duke had told them that as a Minister of the King, whatever his opinions might be as an individual—and the noble Duke had not informed the House what his opinions were, neither had he (the Marquis of Lansdown) any right to complain of the noble Duke for not giving it that information—the noble Duke, he repeated, had told them that, as a Minister of the King, he felt himself debarred from proposing any project of Parliamentary Reform; or, indeed, from any other course, save that of preserving the Constitution of the country. He must say, that from the noble Duke he should have expected a policy quite the reverse of this; and until he heard the speech of the noble Duke, he thought that, in the peculiar situation in which Ministers were placed, they would have had the noble Duke's high authority to support them in the line of conduct which 1351 they thought it right to follow. Never, before this occasion, had he given his support to any proposition for a Reform in Parliament. He confessed fairly, and he trusted that their Lordships would believe him when he stated, that no popular clamour, no intimidation, as it was styled, from without, would have induced him now to come to the opinion that Reform was needed, if he had not been conscientiously convinced of its correctness—he confessed fairly, that though he had not been blind to the abuses which had appeared from time to time in our Representative system, he had thought it a safer course to wait until he saw a recommendation coming from the Ministers of the Crown to make some change in that system—a recommendation which would give facilities to the alterations proposed to be made, and would enable the country to know where those alteration were leading it. This was the ground upon which he had formerly abstained from supporting, and upon which he now came forward to support, the cause of Parliamentary Reform. He thought that he had the high authority of the noble Duke to justify the course which he (the Marquis of Lansdown) was then pursuing. For what was it that the noble Duke said, when he came forward to propose his immortal measure for the emancipation of his Catholic fellow-subjects? The noble Duke had said, that he felt himself debarred as a private individual from supporting that measure, because it was not brought forward as a measure which had the approbation of the King's Government. He mentioned this, not from any invidious feeling to the noble Duke, but because he thought that the language which the noble Duke then used was marked by his usual prudence, discretion, and good sense. He recollected that the noble Duke had told their Lordships on one occasion, when he was asked by the late Lord Castlereagh to support the question of Emancipation, that he had replied by asking that noble Lord whether the measure which he was about to introduce into Parliament had the sanction of the King's Government, and that, when he was told that it had not, he had refused to support it until it was introduced with that sanction. The tables, however, were to be turned in the case of Reform. In the case of Catholic Emancipation, as soon as the Royal sanction was obtained to the introduction of that measure into 1352 Parliament, the only thing which Ministers had to do, according to the statement of the noble Duke, was to bring it forward, and to pass it with all speed. In the case of Reform, however, that course which the noble Duke had recommended so strongly during the discussion on the Catholic Question, was the only course which Ministers ought not to follow. He hoped that their Lordships would allow him to state, that this intimation on the part of the noble Duke, of a possible change of opinion in favour of Parliamentary Reform, placed the noble Duke in the list of those Noble Peers who had already avowed themselves the converts to a certain degree of Reform; and that list—strange to say—included the name of every Peer who had yet spoken against this Bill, with the exception of a noble friend of his (the Earl of Mansfield); for every one of those noble Lords—with great caution indeed—with considerable hesitation—with a disposition sometimes to go backward, and sometimes to go forwards, not defining very clearly what they meant, but blundering in the dark about a meaning—had given the House, in the progress of their speeches, the satisfaction of seeing that they were labouring under the melancholy impression that there were strong reasons for moving, and that they could not stand where they now were. They were, therefore, with one solitary exception, all favourable to some plan of Reform. Now, if this plan of Reform, which existed in their eyes, whatever shape it might assume—If shape that might be called that shape had none Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb, Or substance might be called, that shadow seemed, For each seemed either.If this plan of Reform which existed in the recesses of their minds, and in the secrets of their counsels, had indeed either shape or substance, the people of England had a right to complain, that six months had elapsed since the present Bill had been submitted to their notice, and that still no information was communicated to them of that nostrum which was to act as the antidote to the bane which Ministers had been said to have forced upon the country, and to have imperiously required their Lordships to adopt [hear!]. He was glad, that the noble Marquis, (the Marquis of Londonderry)cried out "hear" so lustily, for perhaps the noble Marquis would come forward that evening as a 1353 Parliamentary Reformer, and tell them what his nostrum was. With all deference to the noble Marquis, he would venture to tell him once more, that the people of England had a right to complain, that although the necessity for an efficient Reform had been stated at an early period of the last session—although the dissolution of Parliament had taken place for the express purpose of ascertaining the opinions of the people as to the existence of that necessity—although the present Bill, after long and mature discussion, had passed through the House of Commons—and although it had now arrived at its second stage in the House of Peers—they were still left without the means of knowing what remedy the noble Marquis and his friends had in store for them, and what that safety was, which existed in his plan, or in the plan of his noble associates, and yet could not be found in that of the Ministry. "All that we can learn at present is," said the noble Marquis, "that the noble Lords opposite have made some progress in their plan, and that there are certain things in it which, under certain circumstances, and at certain times, might be for the benefit of the people of England, though they will not vouchsafe to tell us what those things are. So that, when we have embarked on this voyage, not unconscious of the dangers and perils to which we are exposed, and still less unconscious of the formidable degree to which those dangers and those penis will increase by delay, it turns out, that all the noble Lords opposite, save one, have been dropping down with us to St. Helen's, and are lying at single anchor to join with us in such voyage, if it shall appear expedient. I must say, that when it is imputed to us, that my noble friend near me is acting the part of an impostor and an empiric, and is dealing out to the public noxious wares instead of wholesome commodities, it is rather hard, that those who think themselves by prescription the only real State physicians—admitting, as they do, that they see the disorder and are acquainted with the remedy—should keep their great science to themselves, and that the public should still be obliged, in want of a regular remedy, to put up with the quackery of my noble friend because nothing else can be obtained. There have been a great many differences, and of no trifling nature, among all the noble Lords who have yet spoken of a remedy. There has been a 1354 great desire amongst them all to find something to propose for your Lordships' consideration, and every one of them, without exception, has stated some concession he was willing to grant. Nay, even my noble friend (the Earl of Mansfield), who spoke so vigorously against every species of Reform, was at last so moved by the palpable necessity for some change, as to give some small contribution to the new Reform stock, to which all the noble Lords at the other side of the House were now subscribing. My noble friend would do something to diminish bribery at elections. That is the only concession of my noble friend.
The Marquis of Lansdown
I beg my noble friend's pardon. I am sorry that I committed him hastily to the opinion, that bribery is inexpedient. My noble friend then will do nothing; but that is not the case with the other noble Lords near him. They have all a remedy for the abuses of our Representative system, but their remedies differ widely from each other. My noble friend, the noble Baron (Lord Wharncliffe) who followed my noble friend at the head of the Treasury in this debate, in a speech replete with good sense and ability, fairly stated to your Lordships, that he was ready to concede the whole principle of the Scotch Reform Bill. The debate, however, had gone but very little further, when the noble Duke travelled out of his course to discuss the Representation of Scotland, and told us, that that Representation was consonant to a perfect state of society, and that under it Scotland had obtained great prosperity.
§ The Duke of Wellington
declared, that he had not said a word of the kind. What he had said was this, that no country was better governed than Scotland, or had advanced more in commerce, intelligence, and prosperity, than that, country within the last sixty or seventy years.
The Marquis of Lansdown
Exactly so; but when the noble Duke said, that Scotland was the best governed country in the world, he used it as an argument, that the Representation of Scotland was the best in the world, and that it was the cause of that good government, and of that prosperity which had followed in the train of that good government, All that I can state on this subject is, that in all the 1355 observations which the noble Duke has made regarding the prosperity of Scotland, and its rapid advances in wealth and intelligence, I fully concur. No one can witness that improving country without agreeing, that it presents a striking picture of civilization and refinement. There is its capital, which by the industry, and talents, and acute investigation of its inhabitants, has become the centre of northern civilization, and has justly acquired the title of Modern Athens. There is Glasgow, which has covered the banks of the Clyde with its steam-boats, and the waves of the Atlantic with its ships. [Lord Ellenborough reminded the noble Marquis, that he was a member of that Government which had endeavoured to impose a tax on steam-engines and on steam-ships.] The noble Baron is offering us a supplement to the joke which his noble friend near him endeavoured to cut, though with most miserable success, on our measures of finance. I could say something on the measures of finance of the noble Baron and his friends, but, in mercy to them, and to your Lordships, who have already been fatigued sufficiently by the introduction of topics foreign to this debate, I abstain. I was observing, before I met with the interruption of the noble Baron, that there was Glasgow, which covered the Clyde with its steamboats, and the Atlantic with its ships, and I was proceeding to notice what I considered to be the other signs of the prosperity of Scotland. But who is there who will tell me, that all this prosperity is in consequence of the Superiorities of Scotland? The only superiority which I can discover there, is the superiority of education, and the superiority, too, of unrepresented education; that superiority which we wish to introduce into the Legislature, and which the noble Duke would exclude for ever, by adhering rigidly and stubbornly to the wisdom of our ancestors. One great feature of the present Bill is, that it will include in the constituency of the country, its knowledge as well as its power—that it will bring within the pale of the Constitution, those who ought never to have been excluded from it, and that it will connect them with the Representation of the country by the closest and most indissoluble ties. The noble Duke has also expressed his alarm at the amount of Representation which is to be extended to other places which have hitherto been 1356 unrepresented; and, in order to deter us from such a measure, has stated instances of the abuses attendant on the Representation of large populous towns, as they exist at present. He has selected his instances—and very curious instances they are too—from the towns of Dublin and Liverpool." [The Duke of Wellington disclaimed having made any allusion to Liverpool—It was the Earl of Harrowby.] He was sorry that he had attributed to the noble Duke sentiments that had fallen from the noble Lord near him; but he was quite sure, that the noble Duke would not feel himself injured by having any sentiments of that noble Lord put into his mouth. Reverting to the elections for Dublin and Liverpool, he observed, that there could be no doubt, that great abuses had occurred in both places. They had been informed of those abuses on the best authority, for they had been made the subject of inquiry upon oath before two Committees of the House of Commons—and what had been the result? That these instances of corruption, which were intended to deter their Lordships from extending the right of Representation to other large towns, were proved to have been committed only by the freemen of Liverpool, whom this Bill did away with, and not by the householders of Liverpool, whom this Bill introduced into the Representation. His noble friend near him observed, that some of these freemen were also householders. On that he would say a word or two directly. But he begged to impress this on their Lordships once more, that at Liverpool all the bribery attached to the freemen only. In the Representation of Liverpool, which was selected to deter their Lordships from incurring the hazards of this Bill, there was something peculiarly curious. All the householders were excluded from voting. Out of 2,400 persons, who as householders of that town were qualified to act as Jurors, there were only eighty that had votes for its Representatives. All the other householders were excluded. The late Mr. Roscoe, who by his talents and his virtues had given to the town of Liverpool a celebrity which it did not previously enjoy—that great and good man, who, with all his sons, was established in business in that town, had not a vote for its Representatives; but their gardener had. And yet their Lordships were to be told, that it was an argument against this Bill, 1357 that it would disfranchise freemen, who from being in the situation of Mr. Roscoe's menial servant, were exposed to bribery, and that it would enfranchise men like Mr. Roscoe, who were far above bribery. The noble Earl, who had taken a conspicuous part in the debate of last night (Harrowby) had stated his apprehensions and his objections to what he would call the conjectural consequences of the Bill, and had blamed the noble Earl near him (Earl Grey) for having omitted all mention of them in his speech. The noble Earl had stated that one of his apprehensions was, that when the new constituencies framed under this Bill should get to work, they would overawe the House of Commons, and would thus put an end at once to the taxation and to the national debt of the country. He could have wished that the noble Earl, before he had ventured upon that rash assertion, had considered who the 10l. householders were. He held at that moment in his hand a paper—and it was a curious paper, as serving to illustrate that which he was always glad to illustrate—namely, the great and general diffusion of wealth in England—he held in his hand, he repeated, a paper, which gave a return of the number of accounts kept at the Bank for dividends. He found from that paper, that out of 274,823 persons keeping accounts there, 264,668 were persons having less than 200l. a-year. He asked the noble Earl, whether it was not a degree of probability, amounting almost to certainty, that these individuals would compose a great portion of the new 10l. constituency? And if they did compose a great portion of that constituency, what became of his apprehensions? Did the noble Earl suppose, that these individuals, who, he said, would issue such peremptory mandates to their Representatives, and whose voices he described as already thundering in the ears of their Lordships—did the noble Earl, he repeated, suppose, that those individuals would tell their Representatives to do what they liked on other matters, but to take care, above all things, that they touched the dividends? He would put it to the noble Earl, whether such conduct would not be as devoid of common sense, and of common prudence, as that man's conduct would be who should say to his steward—"Do what you will to my estate, but take care that no rents are paid to me?" There was another objection 1358 to the Bill, which had been brought forward by the noble Duke who terminated the debate last night. The noble Duke had insinuated, that as all the members of this new constituency were of one class, they would therefore, on that account, be more accessible to bribery. Now, in making that assertion, the noble Duke seemed to have forgotten, that this new constituency included all householders above 10l., as well as all householders of that amount; that this uniformity of suffrage included every thing from 10l. to 10,000l.; so that, in point of fact, there was no uniformity, but the greatest inequality in voting, and no ground for the supposition, that the whole of these voters would be accessible to bribery.
§ The Duke of Wellington
rose to say, that he had not stated that these voters would be particularly accessible to bribery. What he had said was, that there would be a greater spirit of combination among them than was known under the present system.
The Marquis of Lansdown
said, that it came to much the same thing. There would be no more chance of combination than of corruption among these new voters; for he was happy to state, there would be in the towns more voters occupying houses above 15l. than houses of 10l. The noble Duke, in stating his apprehensions on this subject, and in referring to the history of this demand, or, he should rather say, of this wish for Reform, had stated, that the whole, or if not the whole, the greater part of it, had proceeded from the events which took place at Paris in last July. He was inclined to dispute that position. In referring to the history of England, he found that this demand for Reform was an opinion which had been growing up long, very long, in this country. [A noble Lord: Only since the American war.] Only since the American war! Oh no, it had its existence long before the American war. But even if it had received its existence at that time, an opinion of misgovernment which had been growing up for the last fifty years was one which deserved and ought to meet the serious attention of every Administration. The noble Duke had said, that this opinion had advanced neither rapidly nor uniformly. It was in the nature of things that such an opinion should not progress either with rapidity or with uniformity. Those changes which acted on the opinions of large 1359 masses of men, took place by slow and irregular degrees. What Lord Bacon had said of things was equally true of men; namely, that 'when they were moving to their places they moved irregularly, and that when they had got into them they moved regularly enough' [a laugh.] His noble friend was making a joke upon his words again. His noble friend was at liberty to do so as long as he pleased, but laughter was a very bad substitute for argument. The point to which he wished to call the attention of their Lordships, was that which formed the main source of the present discontent of the people. When the noble Duke said, that the discontent with our present system of Representation, which now pervaded the country so generally, originated from the events of last July, he used language which was tantamount to saying, that danger did not arise out of the gunpowder, but out of the match which created its explosion. Whilst this discontent was capable of being stimulated into exertion by the excitement attendant upon events occurring in foreign countries, there could be no safety for the State, except by removing the cause of its danger—a danger, which was the more formidable, because it was not always visible, and which oftentimes only became visible at the moment when it was almost impossible to avert it. He would not detain the House any longer with his observations. The real principles of this Bill were those to which every noble Lord who had yet taken a share in the debate had given his assent, either in a greater or a smaller degree. The principles of this Bill—and he abstained from entering into its details, though it was the policy of the noble Lords on the other side of the House to direct their attention to its details rather than to its principles—the principles of this Bill, assented to by implication by every noble Lord who had yet risen, were these—the extinction of the nomination boroughs, the extension of political influence to the middling classes of society, and the extension of the right of election in counties to every description of landholder, which had hitherto been confined to one class of landholders alone. These were the principles of the Bill; all the rest of it consisted of details, which would be submitted to their consideration when the Bill went into Committee, and on which it was as much the wish of his noble friend near him as it was of himself, that their Lordships 1360 should exercise their undoubted privileges of alteration and amendment. If for an instant, he could have supposed that his noble friend had been animated by a desire to debar their Lordships from the exercise of those privileges—an exercise, by the way, from which it would be impossible for his noble friend to debar them—he should not have hesitated, first in private, and afterwards in public, to have expressed how widely and how materially he differed from his noble friend. He was as ready and determined as any man in the House could be, to contend for those legal and constitutional privileges, whenever and however they might be attacked, which they had derived from their ancestors, and one of the most undoubted of which was, the right of calmly deliberating and determining on any important measure which might be sent up to them from the other branch of the Legislature. This conducted him to the last point upon which he should have occasion to trouble their Lordships. Though last it was not least in importance. Amongst, or rather in addition to the other objections stated to this measure, it had been said, that it would affect the future existence of the House of Peers. As he saw that this proposition was assented to on the other side, he would, on that account, beg for a few minutes to call the attention of the House to it. When their Lordships should have passed this Bill into a law (supposing that they intended to do so), notwithstanding the assumption of his noble friend who commenced that night's debate, and of many other persons, that their Lordships' privileges would thereby be placed in jeopardy, there would not be one constitutional privilege belonging to the House, described by any author, claimed in any Parliament, which would not remain as much in force as at the present moment. That of which their Lordships would be deprived, if they were deprived of any thing, was a corrupt share in the abuses of the other House of Parliament. He knew that it had been said, and often repeated, "What will this House do, when it shall come into direct collision with public opinion?" His answer was, that they must stand upon the constitutional ground which public opinion assigned to them, on that ground which public opinion claimed for them, and on which they would be stronger than they could hope to be by any illegal influence which they could possibly obtain. Suppose 1361 (and it was necessary for the hypothesis of danger to suppose so) that a case should arise, in which public opinion would be opposed to that which the wisdom of their Lordships should deem to be good policy. And if their Lordships were unable to support themselves in the exercise of their honest and constitutional duties, sitting in that House, which might be called the citadel of the Constitution, did they suppose that they could find defence in the corrupt outworks of Gatton and Old Sarum? Let not their Lordships suppose that the public did not see through so flimsy a disguise. In the exercise of their Lordships' undoubted rights, privileges, and influence, which were revered by the people of this country, if their Lordships should have the misfortune to act in opposition to public opinion, they would meet with support from the people; but they could not expect to obtain that support by persevering in claiming a participation in a system which involved in its ramifications an evasion of the law, and all sorts of iniquity—which was attended in its working with the most pernicious effects.—fraudesque, dolusque,Insidiæque, et vis, et amor sceleratus habendi.That was not the character of the system on which he wished their Lordships' power to rest. He entertained the hope, from no selfish feeling, of being able to transmit to posterity those honours which, for the benefit of the public, no less than for his own, he had derived from his ancestors. He believed those honours, not in his own person alone, but in the persons of all their Lordships, to be essential to the well-being of the country, particularly as connected with the state of society and of property existing in this empire. He feared that he had almost exhausted their Lordships' patience, and would not further occupy their attention. After what he had before stated, he hoped that it was unnecessary for him to add, that he did not wish their Lordships to be influenced by public clamour. He hoped that no threats nor intimidation would be used; but if they should be used, he hoped that their Lordships would disdain to notice them. At the same time he thought it would be unwise to disregard the deliberate expression of public opinion; and he trusted that their Lordships would not act an unworthy part, and with the view of shewing that firmness which no man had a right to doubt their possession of, overlook all the 1362 considerations of policy which pointed to the adoption of this measure, because it was connected with changes in society which no noble Lord could deny. By a course of useful legislation their Lordships had encouraged the spread of population, increased the productions of science, and raised up large towns. Would their Lordships deny their offspring the rights and privileges of manhood? By the progress and development of the policy which their Lordships had pursued, the surface of the country had been covered with new streams. Was it possible to turn all these streams to flow in the old narrow channel with all its imperfections unreformed? Having endeavoured to diffuse industry, knowledge, and wealth, and intelligence over the land, he prayed them, not to adopt a real change of principles, but to follow out the policy they had begun, and to incorporate for ever the advantages they had created with the former institutions of the country.
The Marquis of Londonderry
felt himself called upon to address their Lordships after the personal attack which had been made upon him by the noble Marquis, who had wished to know what nostrum so great a Statesman as himself could propose to cure this fear of Reform. He was much surprised at the personal attack which had been made upon him by the noble Marquis, as he was not conscious of having ever given the noble Marquis any personal offence.
The Marquis of Londonderry
said, that as the noble Marquis had disclaimed any intention of attacking him, he would not press the topic further. It appeared to him that the noble Marquis had left all the speeches which had been made against the Bill unanswered. He had indulged in a strain of declamation, but he had not attempted to answer the speech of the noble Earl near him. The noble Earl near him (the Earl of Harrowby), took the Bill, and what did he do with it? Why, he tore it to pieces. He went through it piecemeal. The noble Marquis's speech was full of flimsy attempts, but he had completely failed to put the Bill together again Neither could their Lordships put it together in the Committee. It was a complete rag, it was a mass of anomalies and incongruities which their Lordships could not make into 1363 order. The noble Marquis felt that his colleague committed himself, and he wanted to soften it down. What could be so efficient as the Bill itself, or something almost entirely the same? Would the noble Earl, after his statement on this question, submit to any alterations in the substance of this Bill? Certainly not. And he defied the noble Earl and the noble Marquis to get out of this dilemma. He considered the Bill unjust, unconstitutional, and unprincipled; because it robbed large classes of the people of their vested rights—rights that had been handed down by their ancestors, and which they were bound to preserve for their posterity; because it subverted all the great institutions of the country, and undermined that glorious fabric which had been the work and the admiration of ages; and because, if noble Lords would look to what had taken place in another House, they would see that the Government had departed, in the progress of the measure, from every principle on which they had set out, and had shifted their ground in all ways they thought likely to keep the Whigs in power. The details of the Bill were most ingeniously devised for the great object of its framers, that Whig supremacy should be eternal. In every decision that had been made as to schedule A, and every change in schedule B, the ruling object had been to extinguish and put down all the Tory interests in the country. He would accuse the Ministers of the grossest partiality in all the details of the Bill, and would particularly call their Lordships' attention to the cases of the counties of Durham, Northumberland and Cumberland, which had been so strongly and ably exposed in the House of Commons. There was another point, in reference to that part of the north of England in which he had some interest, which, in consequence of the absence of a noble friend of his (Lord Durham), from the heavy affliction that had befallen him, he was unwilling to notice, and which, from its being personal, he felt some difficulty in adverting to; but it was so strange and so strong a case, that he could not pass it over altogether in silence. There was a clause in this Bill, by which freemen of cities or boroughs residing within seven miles of the places of which they were free, were to retain their votes. Now it singularly happened, that all the freemen in the interest of his noble friend, to whom he had alluded, resided within the seven 1364 miles, and that those in the interest of the humble individual who addressed their Lordships resided only within nine miles, and yet the identical number seven miles had been thus curiously, he ought not to say designedly, fixed on. This, however, was not a singular instance, for there were many such—all, with the shuffling of boroughs from schedule A to schedule B, and from schedule B to schedule A, tending to establish Whig power, with the main view of establishing and upholding the interests of the noble Earl who now supported and ruled the councils of the country. Besides, the noble Earl was making this concession on a plan he much reprobated with regard to the Catholic Question. The noble Earl had said, that if their Lordships had conceded in time to the Roman Catholics all they were entitled to, not the slightest mischief or disaffection would have arisen in Ireland. He urged the House, therefore, to concede in time on this great question of Reform; but did he give the people all they asked, and considered themselves entitled to, even under his fatal and impolitic Bill? The people demanded Radical Reform, Vote by Ballot, and Universal Suffrage, if the cry of the majority of Reformers was to be believed; but did the noble Earl give it? Certainly not. But he called on the noble Lord to answer candidly, if he was not convinced that these measures were behind? [Earl Grey: No, no!] Did the noble Earl imagine, then, that the provisions of this Bill would long satisfy the people? No, they would thank him for the boon at the moment; but in proportion as they received power, they would instantly desire to increase it; and when once established in the first parallel, the Reformers would never be satisfied until they had carried the place. But the noble Baron opposite said, the petitioners say not a word about Universal Suffrage or the Ballot. Certainly not; and in Ireland the cry was all for Reform: not a word was heard about the Repeal of the Union now. But could the noble Lords, with their knowledge of human nature, and looking at the signs of the times, and what was occurring around them, and from the very example of the Catholic Question, be so innocent, so blind, so obstinate, as to believe that this seeming forbearance now arose from any thing but a cunning and deeply-laid policy? Could they be so simple as to believe that the Radicals of this country, or the people 1365 of Ireland, directed as that country was, by one organ, would be satisfied with the Reform Bill alone? the thing was absurd upon the face of it, unless they chose to forget, that before the Reform Bill was brought in, they made various and solemn declarations of their far more extensive wishes. As far as Ireland itself was concerned, he was satisfied that the effect of this Bill would be, to deliver the country up to the power of the Catholics. According to the population returns which he had consulted, he was certain that the Catholics would elect seventy-two out of the 110 Representatives for that portion of the empire. He felt and dreaded the effects of this particular part of the Bill more strongly as an Irishman, and still more strongly as a Protestant, than even the Legislative enactments as to England; for he was satisfied that this was only looked upon as a stepping-stone to the Repeal of the Union, and the destruction of the Protestant Church. There was another circumstance connected with the carrying of this measure, to which he could not, as an independent Peer of Parliament, entirely shut his eyes. The noble Earl, with an energy that did him great credit, disclaimed, as he understood him, any improper motive in the recent elevations to the Peerage, and stated the occasion on which they were made—that it was not meant to overawe the decisions of this House. The noble Earl's remarks on those elevations were quite consistent with what he formerly said, when he spoke on the occasion of the Corn-bill, when it was supposed that the Minister was about to make Peers for a particular measure. He could not help, however, looking upon these new creations as something exceedingly unconstitutional, especially after his Majesty's Speech, urging their Lordships to uphold the authority of both Houses of Parliament. It was unconstitutional in this sense—that an individual who had already voted upon a measure in the House of Commons, should be translated into this House to vote upon it again as a Peer. Such a proceeding surely could never be defended or approved of, and he, for one never thought that the noble Earl was capable of advising such a measure. Allusion had been made to the Charles Grey of former times. He should like to see—not the Charles Grey of former times, but the Earl Grey, who, at a time not far distant, stood forward so manfully in support of 1366 the privileges of his order, and supported those by whose sound policy this country had been carried through a period of unexampled difficulty and danger, almost unparalleled in the history of the world; by whose perseverance and steady resistance of all revolutionary attempts in other countries, the happiness and prosperity of our own had been continued. Happily, despite the dangers of the last half century, this country was still the same England, and God forbid that they should now run the hazard of revolution by adopting such a Bill as this. When the measure of Reform was first introduced into Parliament, it was declared by the noble Earl, that it would be of a moderate nature. How had the noble Earl answered this description of his plan? That measure was lost, Parliament was dissolved, and the voice of the people appealed to; but when that appeal was made, did Ministers shield the King's name in that sacred way which, as Ministers of the Crown, they were bound to do? or did they not rather convert it into a powerful instrument to effect their own views? If he understood the Constitution at all, the King's name ought not to be brought forward in any election contest, nor could the King give his consent to any measure until it had passed through the two Houses of Parliament. He might allow it to be introduced, but further he could not sanction it till it was passed. But at the last general election, in every county and in every town, Ministers placed the King's name by the side of Reform. It was the first instance in the history of the country of such a proceeding having taken place. When did they ever hear before of the King being united with the mobocracy of the country? The present Government, however, had established the precedent; and having assailed the very vitals of the Constitution, they concluded by introducing a measure which would overturn every institution of the country. The noble Earl, however, had said, that they should concede in time. Was it not by ill-timed concession that Neckar, the French Minister, brought his master to the scaffold? While at that very period the British Ministry, amid difficulties and dangers almost as great as those which distracted France, by their firmness and strict adherence to the principles of the Constitution, under the guidance of a Pitt and under the sway of George 3rd, preserved their Sovereign and saved the State. Would 1367 the noble Earl now become the Neckar of England? Was he to be hailed in that character? He would not go at length into this question, indeed, he should not have risen, knowing the superior abilities of so many that are desirous of addressing their Lordships, but for the personal allusion of the noble Marquis, which seemed to demand some answer from him. He was however, glad that he had risen, because he should stand recorded in this debate as having offered his humble, but honest and hearty prayer, that his Majesty's Ministers would weigh well the consequences of the measure which they proposed. Although the noble Marquis and the noble Earl deprecated all menace, still there was something in the noble Earl's (Earl Grey) assertion, that the Bill must pass, and that he would stand or fall by the Bill; which assumed, in his opinion, something savouring much of the shape of menace; and his address, also, to the Right Reverend Bench, carried with it more of threat than of conciliation: he assumed the character of a monitor, and addressed to them, if not a menace and threat, a most extraordinary and unusual, nay indecent caution. That caution was a most unusual and unstatesmanlike proceeding—a proceeding which he had witnessed with the greatest regret. He believed that the right reverend Lords who sat among them, and took a part in their deliberations, would on this, as on every other occasion, act with honour and integrity, and with a conscientious conviction that the course which they adopted was the best calculated to promote their country's good. The noble Earl might have allowed the right reverend Prelates to have gone to a vote upon this question without his caution or direction, and without receiving a lecture at this hands. If the cause was righteous, why should the noble Earl deem it necessary to uphold it by such an extraordinary proceeding? If wise, expedient, and advantageous to the country, why should the noble Earl fear as to the support it would receive? With these observations—standing before his God, his country, and his King—he would declare that this Bill should have his most decided opposition.
§ Viscount Goderich and the Earl of Haddington rose together. There were loud and continued calls for each.
§ The Marquis of Cleveland moved that Viscount Goderich be heard.1368
§ A noble Lord on the Opposition side moved that the Earl of Haddington be heard.
§ The Duke of Richmond
said, that yesterday three Peers addressed the House from the Opposition side, and only one from the Ministerial side. It was well known that the noble Earl intended to speak against the Bill. He put it to the candour of the House, and of the noble Earl, whether it would not be most consistent with fairness to allow the noble Viscount, who was one of those responsible for the important measure under consideration, to address the House first.
The Earl of Haddington
said, that it was his intention to make some observations on the speech of the noble Marquis, but he had not the least desire to prevent the noble Viscount from speaking first.
§ Viscount Goderich
said, he had been twice placed in the painful situation of being called upon in opposition to two noble friends for whom he had the sincerest respect and esteem; but he was sure that neither of those noble Lords nor the House, reflecting upon his situation, would think him presumptuous in presenting himself to their notice. During the incidental discussions which took place, he had offered no opinion, although there were undoubtedly many things to induce a man to come forward and break silence. Still he had persevered in abstaining from taking part in these conversations, considering that he was acting in unison with the feeling of the House, and believing it was the course best calculated to keep down in their minds every feeling tending to give any other tone to a discussion so momentous, save that of calm deliberation. He did, however, feel considerable anxiety to express his opinions upon the subject, and he was the more anxious to do so at that moment, when he remembered the remarkable words which had been used by a noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby) on the preceding evening, in a speech which had received much well-merited eulogy—words which went to attribute to the Ministers a crime of which all their Lordships would be compelled to pay the penalty. If he believed that this was the case, he should not have the face to present himself before their Lordships; but he did not feel guilty of the charges. His conscience told him that he had done nothing disgraceful, that he had done nothing which was inconsistent with his duty to his Sovereign, 1369 his duty as a Minister of the Crown. It was impossible, however, to remain silent under so grave a charge. The noble Earl, in fact, charged them with being the cause of all the excitement which prevailed. It would have been transitory, had it not been for them, said the noble Earl. If they had not kept alive the flame, it would have subsided as soon as the people had the opportunity and advantage of a little calm reflection. If this, indeed, were the right view of the case, or the true history of the question, he should undoubtedly admit the crime with which the noble Earl charged his Majesty's Ministers; but he said, that any man who looked to the nature of the question, and looked to the history of its progress, must take a narrow and contracted view of public feeling, if he considered it founded on any thing so transient that a delay of a few months could change its character. It had been stated by his noble friend, that the question was a new one, but he could not look upon it in that light, for it had attracted the attention of the country, with more or less intensity of power, for a period of fifty or sixty years. It was a strange fact, that when first it was introduced, little comparative disfavour was entertained against it even in the House of Commons. In the progress of its history, however, events arose towards the end of the last century which naturally tended to create in the minds of men great distaste towards all political change. And if he had been old enough at that time to have taken part in public affairs, he should decidedly not have supported any proposition of this nature. But this was a question which, from its nature, might slumber, but could not sleep; and if even it were occasionally to sleep, there was something in the constitution of the human heart that rendered it impossible it could be extinguished. Thus, although for many years after the commencement of the French revolution, there was comparatively a distaste against it, yet there were many circumstances which subsequently occurred that tended to place it in a more favourable position. Many things tended strongly to direct the attention of the people to it, and ultimately to give a great and increased anxiety for its consummation. The increased taxation, the altered state of men's fortunes by the sudden change from war to peace, added to the long continuance of that war, led the people to wish for some change. A great 1370 alteration had taken place in the state of society. The noble Earl had observed, that during the period of time from the battles of La Hogue to Trafalgar, and from Blenheim to Waterloo, the country had enjoyed a degree of glory and prosperity which it might never happen to enjoy again, and most probably not under a Reformed Parliament. But he would tell the noble Earl, that during this period there had been a change, an irremediable change in the state of society. In the midst of all this glory and prosperity, there were symptoms of the unstable nature of that very prosperity, which was produced during that period. And when there came the change from war to peace, there was scarcely an interest in the country, mercantile or manufacturing, which did not suffer and participate in those sudden changes by which thousands of persons actively employed, and enjoying comparative prosperity, were exposed to feel the effects of frequently recurring depressions. What was the effect of this? The people imagined that it was the result of having an unreformed House of Commons. He had not joined in that opinion, neither did he support the present measure because he did not believe that the present constitution of that House was not calculated to work good to the country (for to say that, would be to libel not only the House itself, but all those who had acted with it, and all those who had lived under it); but he would contend, that it was by no means wonderful, when their Lordships looked at the nature of the question, that large masses of the people, exposed to such changes as those he had mentioned, should adopt the feeling, that in the constitution of the Commons House of Parliament was to be found the root of the evils which so vitally affected them, and that in a Reform of the constitution of that House was to be found the only remedy for those evils. When the peace came, men were led to expect the return of many of those blessings of which they thought that the war had deprived them. No one, however, could look at what had since happened, and not be convinced that they were mistaken in their expectations. The peace had not restored those interests to prosperity, as had been anticipated. When their Lordships considered what the importance of the question was, they must feel convinced that it was one which was not likely to be easily forgotten 1371 by the people. It had, however, received an additional impulse from occasional circumstances, until at last it had grown to such an extent, that it was absolutely necessary to look the question in the face and deal with it as prudence might direct. He would ask their Lordships, if nothing had occurred in recent times respecting this question, which of itself was calculated to give further force to the impressions of the public? In the earlier periods of the history of the country, no one could trace the monstrous abuses of the system which had of late years taken place. He meant the buying and selling of places in Parliament. The only place in which any trace could be discovered that such a practice had ever taken place in ancient times, was in a letter written by Lord Chesterfield, and though, subsequent to the time of that nobleman, the practice had been continued, it was for a long period carefully concealed. At length, however, the practice became known, it became as open as the sun at noon-day, and was even defended, as it had been in the course of that debate, on the principle that it was the means of introducing into Parliament persons of the most independent characters. Noble Lords were thus praising the very thing which had been condemned as being unconstitutional. A law had actually been passed, declaring that that very practice which had been so lauded in that debate as being part of the Constitution of their country, which ought to be preserved as being necessary for the maintenance of the dignity of the Peerage, was inconsistent with the rights, the usages, the laws of Parliament, and the Constitution of the realm. When an Act of that kind had been passed, and when people knew that, notwithstanding that law, the practice was still continued with unblushing effrontery—when it had even increased in extent, and was at length held up as a thing to be maintained—their Lordships must suppose, that the people would think that they were not themselves capable of forming a proper judgment as to who ought to be their Representatives if they submitted to such contradictions patiently. The people of England, however, were not fools, and it would not be easy to justify to them the maintenance of that which the law denounced as a crime, or to reconcile to their notions that declaration of the law with the defence of the condemned practice, as if it were a virtue to be upheld and 1372 supported. He knew, with respect to many persons who possessed these rights of nomination, that they presented noble and generous examples of disdaining to soil their fingers with any dirty practices. He had experienced that such was the case, and he sincerely wished that he had not experienced the contrary. He felt that he took some shame to himself by the confession, though he might allege, in alleviation of his having availed himself of the practice in order to have a seat in the Representation, that it was prior to the passing of the Act to which he had alluded. In the face of the existence of this obvious contradiction between the law and the practice of the country, was it very wonderful that the people should wish to dissociate the existence of boroughs and the practice to which he had referred? It had been said, that if this Bill were passed, the government could not go on; but if they had refrained from legislating on this subject, or if they had produced a less extensive measure of Reform, so far from palliating the discontent of the country, they would have prolonged it to all eternity. His noble friend opposite objected to the principle of the Bill, and said, that there could be no more unwise a principle upon which to proceed than that of population, which was the principle of all democracies. He said, that if any principle should be adopted, it ought to be a principle of combined population and taxation. He (Lord Goderich) denied that in the present Bill they had adopted population as the principle in any sense which he had assumed that it had been used. It had been, it was true, stated that certain boroughs were to be no longer entitled to send Representatives to Parliament, on the ground of the paucity of the inhabitants, but that was because it was necessary that they should be limited to some rule. In democracies, however, where population formed the right of Representation, divisions of the country were made; and in whatever place the required numbers were found to exist, that place immediately became entitled to Representation. In the present case, however, the population of a borough was taken merely as an indication of its decay or of its importance, and it was also taken in conjunction with taxation. There were papers already upon their Lordships' Table, calculated to show the relative proportions of taxation, or rather of assessed taxes (for these were 1373 the only taxes which could give any information), which were paid by each of the boroughs which were proposed to be disfranchised. Why were these papers produced? Solely to enable their Lordships to judge of the importance of those boroughs upon the combined principle of taxation and population. He could not conceive what rule they could have taken for their guide if they had left population wholly out of the question. If, as in ancient times, they were to advise the King to omit sending a writ to certain boroughs (and in former times it was as often considered a burthen as a favour to send Representatives to Parliament, owing to the expenses attending it), the Crown would be at liberty to adopt any principle it pleased; but under present circumstances, unless they were to adopt some such principle, it would be impossible to guess what borough ought or ought not to be disfranchised. It was also said, that without the practice of nomination, Government could not go on, for it was necessary to its daily working, and much was said of the inconvenience which would be felt if no places of that description were left, to enable individuals connected with Government, and with the various interests of the country, to find their way into the House of Commons. His noble friend had drawn a beautiful picture, which he felt confident must have touched their Lordships' hearts, and held out to view the benefits likely to result from enabling those who would hereafter arrive at hereditary honours, and would have to discharge hereditary duties in that House, to become initiated in public business in the other House, and by mixing with their equals and inferiors to have their rust rubbed off by the jostling they would have to encounter. He admitted the advantage which would result from this—indeed, if he did not, he must forget the stock from whence he sprang, and the service he had seen himself; but he totally denied that the existence of nomination boroughs was at all necessary for that species of education. Had they no experience upon this subject? How many counties had returned the eldest sons of Peers? At the present moment the county of Northumberland was represented by the son of his noble friend (Earl Grey), and it had once been represented by the noble Earl himself, though at one time he lost it, owing to his public conduct, which, however, he must say did 1374 him honour. That, however, was but a natural consequence of our Representative system. In York, also, and in Lancaster, Derby, Cheshire, and, in fact, in more than half the counties of England, time after time, the eldest sons of Peers had been returned to Parliament, so that it was clear they might still have the benefit of experience in the House of Commons without having occasion to resort to nomination boroughs, or to the expedient of paying 8,000l. for a seat in Parliament. A great many complaints had been made that the Aristocracy of this country would not have that influence in the counties which it had possessed, should the Bill pass, and that those connected with the leading men of the counties would be disregarded. It was really idle to argue thus, for the people of England would still be influenced by the aristocracy among whom they lived. With respect to the Representation of Scotland—but he would not go into that question—there was a something which the measure would correct; for by the law at present, the eldest sons of Peers could not sit for Scotch places. He agreed with those noble Lords who had spoken of the wealth and the prosperity of Scotland. But was that owing to the circumstance of the impossibility of the sons of Scotch Peers sitting in Parliament for Scotch boroughs or counties? There would be no necessity, as some noble Lords who opposed the measure seemed to think, for the Aristocracy to court mob popularity. Why should they? The sons of Peers and the influential men of the country had something better to rely upon. They had their own talents—they had their own characters—they had a thousand individual ties to bind the people of the country to them. He would contend that the more the franchise was extended, the greater would be the certainty of the influential classes being selected to represent the people in Parliament. He really saw no such alarm that the men of talent, of knowledge, of influence in the country would be cut off from representing the people in the House of Commons, because of the excision of the rotten boroughs. But it was said, that the system proposed, of disenfranchising large towns, and of extending the mode of enfranchisement, would deprive the colonies of that Representation which they had hitherto enjoyed. He did not like to offer conjectures, especially to found arguments 1375 upon them; but this he would venture to assert, that the popular places would still be open to men of the description who had hitherto been considered the peculiar Representatives of the colonies. It was a mistake to suppose that these gentlemen, possessing property of the nature which gave them an interest in the colonies, could have no other means of finding their way into the House of Commons than through borough Representation. He could state, he thought, fifty instances in which they would find their way into the House of Commons through other channels. If a man of character, of talents, with connections as to colonial property, to which he had adverted, now found his way into Parliament for Liverpool, Hull, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bristol, or any other place of that kind, he wished to know why the people of those towns, because they had an extended Representation, should act as it was supposed, in so monstrous a manner, as to reject such men, whom they had in other times elected? Those gentlemen who had been considered the Representatives of the colonial interest were not ashamed of showing their faces—they were not usually of those retired habits that would prevent them from presenting themselves at the hustings; and it was a mere gratuitous fancy to suppose, that they would feel those difficulties in getting into the House of Commons which appeared to haunt the mind of his noble friend, and the noble Duke who had spoken last night. But then their Lordships were told, that it was a very gross act of injustice to deprive Corporations of their right of sending Members to Parliament. He would not now enter at length into any disquisition upon what were properly the rights of those corporate bodies. He had stated in the course of last year, with respect to these rights, that they were in the nature of a trust. If, indeed, these corporate bodies possessed them as a right, in a legal sense, why then he did not feel disposed to dispute the difficulties which had been urged against taking them away. But feeling that they were in the nature of a trust, he thought he had a right to ask, why the ancient practice in respect to freemen's rights of voting had been departed from? They had heard of the bribery which had taken place at Liverpool, Dublin, and other places, in election matters; and, if he were not speaking in that House, he might say what he 1376 had a personal knowledge of, as to the practice which was well known to be resorted to. He did not mean with regard to those two places which he had named; but if he were walking with a friend in the street, and the subject of such a practice was entered upon in conversation, he would venture to say, half-a-dozen places might be named in which freemen received a sum of money for their votes. He begged to mention to their Lordships one of these cases. There was a place where he had no interest of his own, which he would not name, and at an election there he was anxious to have his friend elected a Member—a man of great talent, of independent character, and who had served his country with honour, and who had distinguished himself in his country's cause. Understanding that money would return a Member, he consulted a professional man who was acquainted with the practice which had been there carried on. To that individual he stated that one thing was absolutely necessary before the gentleman offered himself—that he must know the exact amount of the douceur to be given. Having been informed what that was, he then inquired whether, supposing he should not comply with giving the sum to the out-voters, they would give their votes to him? The answer was "not one." He next asked, supposing his friend should appear at the hustings without complying with the terms, whether he would have any chance? The reply to that question was, "not the least." Many such practices, he doubted not, were very familiarly known to their Lordships. He would, indeed, venture to say that similar instances were innumerable. Their Lordships were told, in general terms, of the fatal consequences which would follow from the adoption of the measure. His noble friend who had spoken last, had gone into the subject of the French Revolution—not the last revolution, of July, 1830—and had detailed some of the horrors of it, which he had attributed to the policy of Neckar. But what was the real fact? Those who attributed to him that Revolution, misinterpreted the history of France, and overlooked the events which preceded that tremendous convulsion. If their Lordships consulted the history of that period—if they examined into the causes which had operated—the events were easily traced. What were the causes which led to those fearful events? They were to be traced to a corrupt Court 1377 —a degraded nobility—a degraded nobility that insisted upon their exclusive privileges over, he might say, an enslaved people. The history of France showed, from the earliest period of the grievances of the people, down to the latest time, a perpetual struggle carried on between the people and the government. It was necessary to look to the causes, and not to the effects, when speaking on this subject. If history were taken as a guide—if the experience of past ages were to be attended to—the events which had occurred in a neighbouring country would afford beacons to light their Lordships in the path which they ought to pursue. With permission of the House he would now proceed to speak upon a subject which was unpleasant to him—he meant himself. If their Lordships had done him the honour to recollect what he had stated on a former occasion on the subject, they would be in possession of his sentiments; and they would also, he flattered himself, believe that he had not adopted his present course without having deeply considered the grounds upon which he acted, and without feeling that he was fully justified in such a course. In taking that course, however, he could not presume to say, as some of his friends had done on another occasion, that he had made great sacrifices of personal interest or of political power, but this he could state, that he had made a sacrifice of many preconceived opinions, of many early predilections, and of many long-cherished notions. He would not have made such sacrifices as these, as their Lordships would readily believe, if he had not been supported by the consciousness of the sincerity of his intentions, and had not he had a conviction of the necessity of such a measure; upon the faith of which opinions he threw himself upon the House and the public, declaring that he would sacrifice every personal interest to that which was paramount to all feeling—namely, the interest and well-being of the country which he loved.
The Earl of Haddington
rejoiced that he had been preceded by his noble friend, to whom he gave full credit for the principles by which he professed to have been guided in the change of opinion he had undergone; and their Lordships would believe him when he said, that he was equally free from any other bias or motive for the course he should pursue, opposed 1378 as it was to that of his noble friend, than an anxious desire to maintain the unabated welfare and prosperity of the country. His noble friend had entered into a history of the excitement which now prevailed in the country upon the subject of Reform, and had endeavoured to explain its progressive growth. The fact, however, was, that this feeling had not been progressive, that it had only exhibited itself on particular emergencies and by sudden starts, and that it was now mainly to be ascribed to the events which had taken place upon the Continent, and to the imprudent encouragement it had received from his Majesty's Government. The noble Viscount, said that all men now bore testimony to the importance and necessity of Reform, and that all now expressed themselves Reformers. To a certain extent that was true. Many who hitherto opposed all Reform were now friendly to such a measure; but the Reform, and the only Reform in which they could acquiesce, must be a Reform founded upon the known principles of the Constitution. This was no new ground taken up by him, nor was it ground taken up in that debate for the first time. But upon the general theoretical principles of Reform he and all those who would vote with him on the present occasion adhered strictly to their former opinions. He was now as much disposed as ever to contend, and his noble friend, unless he relinquished every opinion he had formerly maintained, must admit, that any change of the institutions of this country, founded upon general theoretic principles, would be pregnant with danger. His noble friend said, that the Revolution of 1688, the Union with Scotland, and subsequently the Union with Ireland, were facts which went to prove the power of the Constitution of the country to adapt itself to circumstances. But it might be observed, that all these changes were founded upon the principles of the Constitution. A noble friend of his (Viscount Melbourne) last night quoted a passage from the writings of Bacon, to show that the object ought to be to secure as much of permanence as possible in institutions founded upon popular consent; and he then proceeded to contend, that permanency in our present institutions was impossible, because the popular consent failed. But his noble friend did not prove, that it was necessary to make this particular change. 1379 The noble Lord asserted that Birmingham had grown greatly in wealth and importance, and that it was therefore necessary to give Representatives to Birmingham. This he believed to be true. But when the noble Lord added that this was the whole question, he denied that it was so. For the noble Lord himself said further, that the whole country having grown in wealth and intelligence, it was therefore necessary to new-model the whole Representation. This proposition he denied. Could it be contended, that because great masses of wealth and population had been accumulated in particular places, that it was necessary to introduce a Bill, founded upon the principle of disfranchisement? But disfranchisement was the principle of this Bill. The Bill began with disfranchisement, and then the grant of new rights followed. Was it necessary, because Birmingham had become a great town, to new-model the whole Representation of the county of Warwick? Was it necessary on this account to trample upon the chartered rights of the freemen through out England? His noble friend, whose health he rejoiced to find had permitted him to come there to defend the institutions of the country—and he sincerely wished that the state of his health would allow him to take a more frequent part in their deliberations, and that share to which his talents so well entitled him in the management of public affairs—the noble Earl (Harrowby) had said in his admirable speech, and justly said, that population was the only principle of the Bill. His noble friend who spoke last said, on the contrary, that the Bill proceeded upon other principles than that of population. This he doubted, or at least he would say, that if the Ministers had taken other principles as their guide they had widely departed from them. He found that additional Members were given to counties which did not pay assessed taxes equal in amount to other counties to which the same advantage was not given. He found also, that some of the boroughs which were inserted in schedule A paid a greater amount of assessed taxes than others which were in schedule B. If this were so, what, he begged leave to ask, became of property as a principle of the Bill? If a population of 4,000 entitled a place to two Members, and a population of 2,000 to one Member, there would not long be wanting persons to 1380 tell them, that a place of 150,000 inhabitants ought to have more than two Members, and a place of 10,000 inhabitants more than one. He was told that this principle was making very rapid progress among the philosophic inquirers of Birmingham and elsewhere, and it was evidently a principle which could only be satisfied by the division of the country into electoral districts. His noble friend had said, that the noble Earl (Harrowby) had accused the Ministers of adopting the pure abstract theory of population. The noble Earl had not said so. He said, that they took the number of the people as a basis, and warned them that others would adopt the pure abstract theory of population, and insist upon having that principle fully acted upon. He held in his hand a very able performance, an article of the North American Review, published here in the shape of a pamphlet, and entitled "The Prospect of Reform in Europe." The writer was, of course, imbued with the principles natural to an American citizen, which he enforced with considerable talent. He looked on at what is passing in this country with surprise, but at the same time with hope—he reasoned learnedly on the operation of the principle of numbers, as exemplified in this Bill. He asked—'What is the plan of Reform in Parliament? It appears to us that it is what it has been declared to be by the most eminent of those who have opposed it in Parliament—a revolution—a great change, carrying within itself a pledge of further change. It has been said of revolutions, that they do not go backward. It may with equal truth be said, that they do not stand still till the goal is reached. The footmarks not only point forward, but they run on to the extremity of the principle.'—Again he said, 'Observe, it is not now a question whether the present system of Representation does not work as well as our system, or as any system; but whether a great change in the present system, called Reform—which begins by wholly disfranchising sixty boroughs, because their population is under 2,000, and deprives of half their franchise forty-seven boroughs more, whose population is under 4,000—can stop there? What reason can be given to satisfy the inhabitants of some of the populous towns, having no Representation at all, and to whom it is not proposed 1381 to give any? As to the present system the answer is ready. The British Constitution does not propose a geographical Representation; it finds certain boroughs, some large and some small, possessed of the right of sending a Member to Parliament, for a long period of years, some of them from time immemorial; the system, in practice, operates well, and it does not profess to be founded on the Rule of Three. But now come the Reformers; they say it does not work well, that the House of Commons has lost the respect of the people; that it is an abuse which cannot be longer borne, that boroughs of less than 2,000 Members should send Representatives, although they may have done it by prescription, as old as any title in the kingdom; and that it is an equal abuse, that boroughs of between 2,000 and 4,000 should send more than one Member. Well, then, cannot all the unrepresented towns in the kingdom, whose population exceeds 2,000, say, that if you discard tradition, and go upon reasonableness and fitness, our right is as good as that of the represented boroughs? Surely they can and will. So too as to the counties. It will appear on the reformed plan, that counties differing widely in population, possess the same share of power in constituting the House of Commons. Will this be endured in a system which disfranchises sixty boroughs for no other reason than that their population is smaller than the others? Those who suffer by the imperfect application of the rule-of-three system—that is, the majority of the people—will clamour to have it carried through; and they will have reason and common sense on their side. Mr. Canning and the Anti-reformists could answer them; but Lord John Russell cannot. The vice of the present system is, that it is the rule-of-three plan, with a blunder in working the question. The question is, if the borough A has 4,000 inhabitants, and sends two Members, how many Members shall the borough B send, which has 10,000? Lord John Russell works the question thus:—as 4,000 is to 2, so is 10,000 to 2. But it is not; as 4,000 is to 2, so is 10,000 to 5'. This able writer afterwards acknowledges, as he well might, that his country derived the spirit of her free institutions from the parent land; and, confident in the superiority of the 1382 American Constitution, and anxious to pay the debt of American gratitude to England, is full of hope as to the workings of this plan of Reform; and looking to our political regeneration, he thus exclaims:—'We shall more than return the inheritance which our fathers brought over with them; and, like the Roman daughter, we shall give back the tide of life to the frame of our political parent'. The Americans, however, with other people, were astonished at our proceedings; they looked with amazement at the course pursued by England. They said to each other, "Here is the country that the world has been looking at with wonder and admiration for centuries; a country which, with a small population and a limited territory, has risen to a height of greatness unsurpassed by any other—which has gone through, with power and success, a contest of a severity unexampled in the history of mankind—a country which boasted itself as the rallying point for all the free and liberal of the earth. What is its people aspiring to? With what are they discontented, that they toss to the winds the institutions which have given them so much fortune and so much power, and launch themselves on the wide ocean of expectation, looking to untried theories as a means of amending that system which experience should have taught them does not require any amendment?" But as to the disfranchising part of the measure, all he wanted to know was, why all the freemen of England were to be disfranchised? His noble friend said, that many of the corporations were corrupt, but it was equally true that some of them were not so. He once Represented a borough which was as honest as any place in the world could be; he meant the city of Rochester. But if some of the boroughs were corrupt, why not apply a remedy by letting in other voters? It was very easy; they might have tenpounded them as much as they liked, but not displaced them for other men in no respect better than themselves. They displaced the freemen, but whom did they put in their place? The men who paid 3s. 6d. or 3s. 10d. per week for their lodging. He asked if these persons were not as much liable to bribery as the existing class of freemen? There were some places where the occupation of a residence of less than 10l. a-year made persons be looked upon as paupers; and during the 1383 the present Session there was a bill in Parliament which exempted from the payment of poor-rates all persons so situated. There were now, it was said, a great number of electors who could be easily bribed, and to this class of voters was to be added all the other, those 10l. voters to whom the Bill would give the franchise. Then they violated all the principles of justice by depriving the children of freemen of their corporate rights. What had the present generation of freemen done, that their children should be deprived of their rights? What had the ten-pounders done, that they should be preferred to the five-pounders? He objected altogether to the principle of disfranchisement. If the freemen were corrupt, a remedy for this might have been found without any violation of right. This was a very serious thing. He had never maintained that political trusts were to be considered the same as private property. Those who did so, attempted, in his opinion, to maintain an ultra opinion and an untenable position. But the political trust being mixed with political rights, which gave value to social position, and in many cases added value to property with political rights which could be maintained in a Court of Law, it followed, that in withdrawing the trust they committed an unnecessary violation of legal rights. This doctrine was laid down in another place by a right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), and he remembered having been much struck by his argument upon this part of the subject. This principle of confiscation, combined with that of uniformity of the franchise, another of the pernicious principles of the Bill, was decidedly objectionable; it had no inseparrable connection with the disfranchisement of nomination boroughs, or the gift of Representation to large towns; and he ventured to say, that if the noble Earl had brought forward a measure comprehending the two latter objects only it would not have experienced so determined a resistance. Those who opposed this measure were twitted with not bringing forward any specific measure of Reform. Why it was not their business to bring forward any measure of this nature. A noble friend of his had said, that he never before took part in any discussion of the question of Parliamentary Reform, but that he thought it a great advantage that the question had been brought forward by Government. That might suit those who were favourable 1384 to Reform, but he and his friends were not among those who clamoured for Reform. They were content to remain as they were. He wished they could remain as they were, but he knew they could not. And he felt that he should be acting the part of a bad and unpatriotic citizen if he were to fight upon such a subject an useless and therefore mischievous battle. He could not but advert to the speech of Mr. Canning upon this subject when he thought he was about to depart for India, and when it was supposed that he was addressing the House of Commons for the last time—a speech distinguished alike for eloquence and moderation. At the close of this speech his late right hon. friend paid a just compliment to the noble Lord, the author of this Bill. He said, that it would be the glory of the noble Lord to have brought forward this subject and to have fought this battle, and his to have resisted it to the last. He was not now bringing forward the name of his right hon. friend for the purpose of saying what his opinion would now have been upon this subject. He had no right to do so, and thus to seek shelter under the well-merited reputation of his right hon. friend for the blunders into which he might have fallen. It was also impossible to say how much the very fact of his being alive might have changed the situation of the country. "Ah! my Lords," pursued the noble Earl, "this leads to melancholy reflections." But another Statesman, three years afterwards—a man eminent for wisdom and ability—expressed the same opinions which had always been entertained by his right hon. friend. Another right hon. friend of his had voted in February 1830, for the extension of the franchise to Birmingham, Leeds, and Manchester, and having stated other reasons which had induced him to adopt that course, finished by saying, that he did so to resist Parliamentary Reform. He said, 'as to a more extensive Parliamentary Reform—a measure founded upon the principle of a general revision, reconstruction, and remodelling of our present Constitution—to such a general revision, and change of our Constitution he (Mr. Huskisson) had been always opposed; and while he had a seat in that House, he should give it his most decided opposition. He conceived, that if such an extensive Reform were effected, they might go on for two or three Sessions in good and easy times, and such a Reformed Parliament 1385 might adapt itself to our mode of government, and the ordinary concerns of the country; but if such an extensive change were effected in the Constitution of Parliament, sure he was, that whenever an occasion arose of great popular excitement or reaction, the consequence would be, a total subversion of our Constitution, followed by complete confusion and anarchy, terminating first in the tyranny of a fierce democracy, and then in that of a military despotism, these two great calamities maintaining that natural order of succession which they have been always hitherto seen to observe. He was, therefore, opposed to such an extensive change and revision of our representative system. It might be easy to raise objections to the boroughs, and by separating the representative system into its various constituent parts, to point out evils and abuses in several of them; but it was a waste of time, and a perversion of common sense, to look at it in that way. He would take it as a whole, and, regarding our present system as one aggregate, he was opposed to any material change in it. It might be easy to take to pieces all the parts of such a complicated system, but he doubted that it would be equally possible for human skill to unite its component parts again; and it appeared to him still more doubtful, even if put together again, that it would ever work as well for the country as it had hitherto done.'* These were the sentiments of that eminent person, Mr. Huskisson. He adverted to these principles, and all that was passing around him made him regret the fatal delusion which deprived them of their proper authority. They heard much of the necessity of the change, but nothing of the fixed resting-place. The noble Lord had said, that it was necessary to go much further in order to find a resting-place. But of all the delusions ever practised by sincere and able men upon themselves, that was certainly the greatest which induced them to produce the present Bill as a final resting place. Instead of a resting-place, it almost seemed to him that in this Bill the noble Earl and his noble friend had discovered the principle of perpetual motion, and he was ready to expect an application to his noble friends* Hansard's Parl. Debates, New Series, vol. xxii, p. 891–2.1386 on the part of the Board of Longitude. If a public extension of the suffrage were claimed, he was at a loss to know what answer would be given. Mr. Canning could have answered this demand; Lord John Russell could not. But if it were possible that the Bill could be considered as a final resting-place, the noble Lords opposite had taken care, by means of the ten-pounders, to provide a means to propel it further; and in the end it would be found that the Bill consigned all the glories of this country, its wealth, its greatness, and its prosperity, to Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, and Vote by Ballot. His understanding was so framed that he could not see principles established without believing that, sooner or later they would work out their proper end. And it was for this reason that he opposed the Bill. The noble Earl had been accused, and he thought unjustly, with not bringing forward some small plan of Reform. The noble Earl could never bring forward a small plan of Reform. The noble Duke—and in saying this he did not mean to find fault with him for not doing so—might have afforded to bring forward a small plan; but the noble Earl, with all his incidents about him, with the memory of his former life, and conduct, and opinions, could never without disgrace and opprobrium bring forward a small plan of Reform. He should never forget the impression produced in that House on the first presentation of the Bill. All parties—with, perhaps, the exception of the Radicals—all parties, Whigs, Tories, and Liberals, were equally frightened. He had met many friends who had always, for a long period, supported the question of Reform, and they all said, that they must support the noble Earl; they could not help it, but they were afraid of the Bill. He warned their Lordships to reflect that the measure was a sudden measure, and that one of the most important of their duties was to give the country time for reflection. There could be no doubt that the debates in the other House of Parliament and in that House would have a great effect upon the public mind. He had no hope that they should be able to satisfy the Radical Reformers, although he certainly would wish to appease even them. He had no hope that they should be able to satisfy the Radical Reformers, but he hoped they might satisfy the rational and moderate men, who valued the Constitution 1387 of the country, and wished to preserve it. The noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, had advised them not to imitate the example of those who, by delay, rendered measures, in themselves safe and salutary, dangerous and pernicious. There was no one of the vices and follies by which States were conducted to their ruin but what ought to be deprecated, and obstinacy no doubt was one of them. In many cases, indeed, obstinacy and concession combined together. In the case of Charles 1st, the only one to which he would allude, the fall of the Monarch was less to be ascribed to the obstinacy at first than to the concession afterwards. What did that unfortunate Monarch do? He conceded the power of the sword to Parliament. He gave the whole power of the state to the House of Commons, by consenting that Parliament should never be dissolved unless by its own consent. Now this Bill would give the whole power of the State to the House of Commons—to a House of Commons representing the direct will of the people. The noble Marquis (Lansdown) said, that there would be no change of the institutions of the country, and that the Bill left that House in full possession of all its rights and privileges. Nobody said that it did not. It was not that the rights or privileges of that House were to be directly assailed, but that a new and overwhelming power was to be created elsewhere, which would by and by restrict them. He was opposed to the whole principle of the Bill, but he wished, nevertheless, to devise, had it been possible, some excuse to himself for voting on the present occasion so as to procure to that House the opportunity of entering into the details of the Bill. But when he reflected upon the subject, he found that to be impossible, unless upon the conditions that a spirit of concession should have been displayed on the part of his Majesty's Ministers, and that a spirit of Reform should have been exhibited on the part of the Opposition in that House. He had unfortunately found neither. If his noble friend should propose to place the enfranchising clauses first, and then proceed to disfranchise the requisite number of boroughs afterwards, he might have entertained some hopes that a salutary measure might have been accomplished. But how could he expect that the noble Earl would suffer them to knock on the head all the 1388 principles of the Bill after what had fallen from him? He felt that he had not a right to expect this. But if it should be bund impossible to go into Committee upon the measure—if the House should determine at once to reject the Bill—he hoped to God that the noble Earl would take no hasty determination. All the responsibility for whatever consequences might arise were upon him. The noble Marquis had said, that his noble friend had founded all his objections to this measure upon one or two points of detail, and that the true ground of that opposition was hostility to his Majesty's Government. The noble Marquis or the noble Earl had no right to find that fault with him. He now took his part in the sacrifice of his feelings and inclination. He had been anxious to give his support, humble as it was, to the noble Earl. He had no suspicion that the noble Earl was actuated by a desire to overturn the Constitution, but he could not bring himself to think that the operation of the Bill would be other than he had described it. He stood there to act upon principle, and if he thought, and he really did think, that the Bill was fraught with mischief, it was his business to reject it. He was not insensible to the dangers, he would say the imminent dangers, which threatened the country. His great confidence was in the quiet, steady, loyal, and good-humoured character of the English people. He felt satisfied that in time, and upon consideration, the people would be grateful to the House of Lords for saving them from the evils of this measure. He had also his firm confidence in the superintending care of Providence, which would not desert their Lordships if they did not desert themselves.
The Earl of Radnor
had listened to the noble Earl with attention, and yet was puzzled whether he was or was not a friend to Reform. For, says the noble Earl at one moment, "I am friendly to the principles of the Bill;" while in the other he declares himself its veriest opponent. Now, those noble Lords who thus declared themselves in theory friends to the principle of Reform, while they in practice proved themselves to be its enemies by their opposition to the present Bill, placed the supporters of the Bill in an awkward situation. For when they, after stating their plan, called upon their opponents, if they did not approve of it, to come forward 1389 with some scheme of their own, they were invariably twitted with "Why should we? It is not our business. It does not follow that, because we do not approve of your plans, that therefore we should announce one of our own. We do not want Reform." This may be all very true; but it came, he thought, with a very ill grace, and rather inconsistently, from those who, like the noble Earl, say they admit the principle, but object to the particular practical application of it. They who, like the noble Duke, denied the necessity of any Reform whatever, might use such language, but it struck him as rather preposterous when it came from the alleged advocates of the principle of Reform. From the noble Earl such objections, in particular, were inconsistent, for says he, "I admit the necessity of Reform—I approve of the principle of your Bill—but I object to your details. You ought not to have begun with your schedule A. Disfranchisement is a wrong beginning." Now if the noble Earl would rather that schedule B or C should take precedence of schedule A, and that his new alphabet arrangement being adopted, he would consent to the second reading, it was rather too much that he should range himself by his vote among the enemies of every species of Reform whatever, and thus mar a measure of the principle of which he was an approver. The noble Earl said the Bill was alarming, and that when the wheels were fixed on the carriage, away it would go down the hill into Universal Suffrage, Annual Parliaments, and Vote by Ballot. But the noble Earl, who was now on the top of the hill, would himself put wheels on the carriage, and he, therefore, would go down too, though he might not go down quite so fast; but, in fact, it would come to the same thing; and whether the noble Earl, or any other noble Earl, put on the wheels, the danger must, according to the noble Earl, be equally alarming. It was to him inconceivable how any noble Lord could vote against the second reading, and yet be in favour of Reform. The debate which had taken place had been altogether a debate for the Committee. With the exception of two speeches, all the speeches which had been made related to the details of the Bill; and all the objections which had been stated might be obviated perhaps in the Committee. And yet all admitted themselves friendly to the principle of 1390 Reform; and that, too, while they were declaring themselves the opponents of a measure which merely went to carry that principle into effect. But the country would see through such flimsy pretexts. It would see into the motives of those who expressed such horror with the clauses which were to put an end to the monstrous system of nomineeship. The people would appreciate the worth and disinterestedness of the advice to Ministers not to take "hasty steps" should the Bill be unfortunately defeated. The people knew that they were entitled to more than a virtual system of Representation, and that the present mockery of Representation consisting of nomineeship and close boroughs was an insult to their moral sense and sagacity; and they would not be deluded by the senseless cry of "I am friendly to the principle of Reform, but I cannot approve of the plan of Ministers." And here he was reminded of the strange declarations of a noble Earl (Earl Dudley) who had that evening addressed their Lordships. "I have never, I confess," said that noble Earl, "read the Bill. I am wholly ignorant of its provisions, but"—there was always a 'but' sure to follow—"though I am not opposed to the principle of Reform, I will vote against the present Bill." And this was the sum and substance of his logical and most consistent oration, and this indeed was the sum and substance of all the speeches which had been delivered in the course of the debate against the Bill, excepting that of the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) opposite. That noble Duke still declared himself opposed to all Reform, and maintained that his being expelled from office had no connexion with his declaration against any change in our representative system. But the noble Duke was in error: all the excitement which occasioned the breaking up of his Administration was produced by his own declaration against Reform. Still the noble Duke was consistent, and in proportion as he was so, were those who professed themselves friendly to the principle of Reform while they expressed their determination to vote against the present measure, grossly inconsistent. He appealed to the noble Duke himself on this point. But says another noble Earl (Mansfield) why should not Ministers wait till the present excitement for Reform has abated?—wait for a couple of years, and then you will be able to discuss the question 1391 with due and calm deliberation. Agreed; but what would the public be doing all this time of repose? Would it be content to await this halcyon season of calmness and non-excitement? Say, would not the delay add to the intensity, and, what was of more moment, to the irresistibleness of the demand for Reform? But did the noble Lord who recommended them to wait for two years, until what he called the excitement of the public mind on this subject should abate, flatter himself that any such result would follow the adoption of such a course of proceeding? The truth was, that the necessity of some Reform was acknowledged on all hands. All the petitions, he believed, that had been presented—as well those which were against, as those which were for the present Bill—were in favour of Reform, with the exception, perhaps of the petition which the noble Baron (Wharncliffe) had presented that evening from the City of London, and which he said he would read, but which he had not read to the House. The petitions which had been presented in such numbers to that and to the other House of Parliament praying for Reform, afforded an unquestionable proof of the universality of the feeling which prevailed throughout the country in favour of that measure. Did the noble Lord opposite hope to put an end to the agitation, of the existence of which he complained, in the country on this subject, by hanging up this Bill for two years, or why did he recommend such a course if he did not think that at the end of that time some Reform should be conceded? Now the present appeared to him the fit time for granting Reform, and the present measure would alone, he was convinced, satisfy the just expectations of the country. The noble Lord had argued against the necessity of Reform, on the old ground that the House of Commons had worked well. Now, the universal feeling of the country was, that the present system of the House of Commons had not worked well; and he was only astonished how noble Lords could maintain that it had done so. It had been said by more than one noble Lord in the course of this discussion, that, in point of fact, the government of the country was to be found in the House of Commons. It was generally admitted that the happiness of a people depended upon the goodness of their government. He did not imagine that the noble Lord 1392 would contend that this country was in a very happy state at present, and that all orders and classes of men in it were in a very satisfactory contented condition. Now if that were the case, and if this country was not in a happy state, it had not had hitherto a good Government, and consequently the House of Commons had not worked well. But the noble Lord said, that matters might have been much worse under a different system; and he instanced particularly the case of the French war. Popular governments, argued the noble Lord, were always prone to war—the last war was a popular war; and it would not have been less so if they had had a popular House of Commons. Such was the argument of the noble Lord; and it was possible that it might have been so; but it was also very possible that it might have been otherwise. That argument brought to his mind a passage in a very clever and able book, which he had been reading—he alluded to "Butler's Analogy of Natural and Revealed Religion." In that book it was truly stated, that all events depended upon such a multiplicity of causes, and the connexion between causes and events was so completely beyond human capacity to fathom or discover, that it was impossible to state what event might not alter any one result that might be expected from a chain of causes. Now it was his conviction that if the House of Commons had been more popularly chosen, it would not have been so prone to go to war as it was in 1793. He was old enough to remember what was the feeling of the country at that period. The feeling of the country at that time in favour of the war was not a spontaneous feeling—it was one that had been excited by books and pamphlets, and if the House of Commons had then been more freely chosen, and if it had represented fairly the wishes and feelings of the people, there was great reason to think that the disposition of the people at that period would not have been so much in favour of the war. The result of what was then done by the House of Commons had been a long and ruinous war, which had been much more expensive and much less satisfactory than it ought to have been. In short the system had not worked well. The noble Baron who moved the Amendment spoke of the dangers of the country, and of the danger especially of having the law of primogeniture repealed, and an hereditary peerage extinguished. 1393 All the difficulties and dangers, however, of which the noble Baron had spoken, had not originated with Reform, and Reform was not in justice to be saddled with them. On the contrary, he would contend, that the existence of such dangers, was in a great degree attributable to the want of Reform. The noble Lord, and other noble Lords who had spoken on that side of the question, had referred to the olden time—had said that these things had gone on formerly, and had asked why they could not continue to go on now. Why, in the first place every thing around them was in a continual state of change—in fact they lived in a world of change. He did not deny that man was the creature of habit, and he might dislike change as much as any one. Indeed, all his feelings were against change, and he was, perhaps, more a man of habit than any other individual in that House. Change might be a grievance; but it was to be weighed against a still greater grievance, and when therefore a greater grievance arose, where was the prudent or the wise man that would hesitate to go to change for the remedy? They were themselves changing every day. He would ask any noble Lord whether there was any, he would not say public but even any private matter, with regard to which he had not changed his opinion at different periods. It would be folly for them, as they advanced in life, not to benefit by experience, by knowledge, and by the opinions of others. If they did not do so, they would continue always the same foolish creatures that they were when they were babies. As change was therefore every day in progress—as improvements were every day increasing—it was absolutely necessary to change the institutions of the country, so as to meet the altered wants, and to supply the necessities of society. To contend against change was to contend against the great necessary principle of existence. It was true that the institutions of the country had been changed; but the misfortune was, that they had been changed the wrong way. While the people of this country became more enlightened, and called for more liberal institutions, and became more entitled to them, their institutions were changed in precisely the opposite direction. Close corporations and rotten boroughs went on increasing in closeness, in rottenness, and in corruption. He was himself the proprietor of a close borough 1394 —the borough of Downton. That was an old and ancient borough, and the place was still shown there where it was said that the Wittenagemote was once assembled. The right of voting there was by burgage tenure, and there were not less than 100 freeholders of that description there 500 or 600 years ago. Now 100 householders was a fair constituency for it at that period—a very large one indeed when it was considered that under the present Bill it would not have a greater constituency than 300 householders. What was the constituency of that borough at this moment? He was the constituency. He was the proprietor of ninety-nine out of the 100 tenures that conferred the right of voting there, and one of the properties that gave a vote was in the middle of a watercourse. That was an instance of the change which had been going on in boroughs towards increased closeness and corruption. Within his own memory, he recollected sharp contests for that borough, and Committees of the House of Commons sitting upon petitions against the return of the Members elected for it. At this moment he (Lord Radnor) was not only the sole constituency of that borough, but he was its returning officer. He mentioned these circumstances to show that those things became close by degrees, and that it was necessary that the institutions of the country should change with the increase of the knowledge of mankind. But the fact was, that if there had been any change it had been all the other way. But it was said, that we were now about to take a too desperate step; he would admit that it was a very long one; but the misfortune was, that we had gone on in the old course too far, without granting a little and a little at a time, as ought to have been done; and now, when they wanted to make up for lost time, they found that it must be by a long jump. But it was said that the Radicals wanted even more than this Bill gave. He did not believe that that was the case. Mr. Hunt, indeed, said that he was not satisfied; but the Radicals, on the contrary, said that they would be satisfied with the Bill. He would not say that, if it should be found that the Bill did not act well, further improvements would not be asked for; but which of their Lordships on finding that a measure wanted improvement, would be foolish enough to refuse it? Surely no one—and, therefore, in 1395 this sense they might all be called Radicals. The question of Reform was not so modern a question as some supposed. In the year 1747, on the occasion of a motion in the House of Commons, upwards of 100 Members voted in favour of Annual Parliaments. But the noble Duke had said, that it was owing to the French Revolution of last year. He was sure that the noble Duke could not mean to say that that Revolution had produced this feeling: it might, indeed, have been drawn out by that occurrence, but it was well known to have existed before. In the year 1819 a million of persons had signed petitions in favour of Reform; and, indeed, if they wanted to lose sight of the time when Reform was agitated, they must go back to forty or fifty years ago? And why, according to some noble Lords, should we not remain as we were forty or fifty years ago? But those noble Lords appeared to forget that it was contrary to the nature of things that one point should stand still while all others were progressing onwards; and the answer that he should like to give those noble Lords would be, to take them to the Gloucester Coffeehouse, about eight o'clock in the evening, and there let them see the six or seven mails that were ready to start for the country. By means of those mails, not only letters but the newspapers of the day were distributed in the course of ten hours over every town within 100 miles of the metropolis. He would take Salisbury, for instance—a city that was eighty miles from London. He believed that it was within the memory of man when the post only arrived there three days in the week, and took six and thirty hours in getting there. Let him illustrate this position by referring to the noble Earl who had spoken against the Bill. Suppose that noble Earl was down at his seat in Scotland, and the post brought him his newspaper according to the present rapid rate of travelling; why, if the noble Earl acted up to his principles, he would say, "Take it away! take it away! and bring it to me ten days hence by the old mode of travelling." This might appear very ridiculous, but it was not so; for if they would have ancient customs in one thing, they must be content to have them in others. So if the noble Earl was to break his leg, he ought to exclaim—"No, no; I will have no Mr. Brodie to tie up my arteries; give me the good old red hot cauterizing knife." But 1396 the fact was, that the march of mind, as it was called, had not only extended to science and art, but had gone on as far as politics. The people knew their rights, and were demanding the possession of them; and their Lordships might rely on it, that one of the greatest Reformers that ever existed was high taxation. Education had made a mighty difference between the mechanic of the present day and the mechanic of fifty years ago: as a proof of which he might state, that he had a letter from a Manchester operative, in answer to one from himself, in which he had desired to be made acquainted how this individual had procured his education. According to the statement of this person, it appeared that though he had belonged to a manufactory from the time he was sixteen, and was then only about twenty-four, he had continued to attend some lectures, and by dint of reading had picked up some knowledge of vulgar arithmetic, Algebra, and Euclid, together with geometrical drawing. And he could tell their Lordships, that when Manchester operatives had time to procure as much knowledge as this, it would not do to treat them as they had treated the same class of persons forty or fifty years ago. Their Lordships might just as well say, "We will not grow older" as attempt to prevent those persons obtaining possession of their rights. Knowledge was power; and those persons were getting more and more knowledge every day. It had been a matter of dispute in the other House of Parliament whether Mr. Canning, if he had lived to the present time, would have been a Reformer; he had no personal knowledge of Mr. Canning; but he would venture to pronounce, that that right hon. Gentleman would have been a Reformer; and he founded his opinion on what fell from him at a dinner given to him at Liverpool—probably that one when it was expected that he was going to the East Indies. Mr. Canning had then stated, as an argument against Radical Reform, that it would overturn the House of Lords and the other institutions of the country—for, said he, I cannot conceive on what ground 300 or 400 opulent individuals should oppose themselves to the declared wishes of the country. Now it was impossible that any delegated Parliament could have better declared the wishes of the country than had been done by the present House of Commons in this instance, He therefore 1397 hoped that their Lordships would consent to the passing of the Bill; and it was for these reasons that he should give it his own most hearty support. No House of Commons delegated by the people could have declared their wishes more fully than the existing House of Commons had done as regarded this measure. All the popular elections throughout the country were in favour of Reform, and all tended to prove to their Lordships that they ought to comply with the reasonable wishes of the people. No intimidation was used—with the exception of the speech quoted in the early part of the evening, he did not remember one instance of any thing like 1398 intimidation; but the people were unanimous in favour of this measure, and was there any one of their Lordships bold enough to say, that he would not let his mind be swayed by the unanimous wishes of the people? He believed that danger and calamity would follow the rejection of the Bill, and on that ground and others he gave it his most cordial support.
The Earl of Haddington
said, the noble Earl had not fairly represented his argument. He had complained that C and D meaning enfranchisement, did not, as they ought to have done, go before A and B, or before disfranchisement.
§ Debate adjourned.
§ END OF VOL. VII.—THIRD SERIES