The Duke of Gordon
said, as he saw a noble Earl in his place (the Earl of Camperdown), who on a former evening had presented a petition which he said conveyed the sentiments of the inhabitants of Aberdeen, in favour of Reform, he availed himself of the first opportunity to declare, that the petition in question was signed by but few persons, and was got up in the old town, and by no means conveyed the feelings of the people of that place generally.
The Earl of Camperdown
said, the Petition had been sent to him by a noble friend, upon whose information he had made the statement alluded to. Of course the noble Duke knew the opinions of the people of Aberdeen better than he, but he must at the same time observe, that he had understood the petition was signed by many very respectable persons.
§ The Earl of Coventry
presented a Petition against the Reform Bill from the city of Worcester, signed by the Mayor, Aldermen, a great number of Magistrates, both of the city and county of Worcester, and by several of the most respectable inhabitants of that city. He begged to take that opportunity to state to their Lordships, that he was determined to vote against this measure. He was bound to no party, and he acted independent of all parties, and in the course which he should adopt on this occasion he should only follow the dictates of his conscience. Nothing that might be said out of doors should deter him from doing his duty. He would vote against this measure, because he thought that it went to subvert the fundamental principles of the Constitution. He had, when a member of the other House, presented 1309 a petition in favour of Reform in 1816, and it was after the most mature deliberation that he had come to the determination to vote against this Bill, as he looked upon it as pregnant with destruction to all the institutions of the country.
§ Petition to lie on the Table.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
had a Petition to present to their Lordships against the Reform Bill, from the inhabitants of the borough of Ipswich, in Suffolk. The petition was signed by 435 persons, including two of the chief Magistrates there; thirteen out of the twenty-one members of the Corporation, nine Clergymen, by several Merchants, and by the greater portion of the respectable Gentry of that town and its vicinity.
§ The Duke of Grafton
said, that the Petition from Ipswich, in favour of the Reform Bill, which he had presented, had been adopted at a public meeting, regularly convened, and that it had been signed by 1,817 persons, many of them the most respectable inhabitants of the place.
The Earl of Radnor
said, that he had the curiosity to read the prayer of the petition which had been just presented by the noble Baron, as against the Reform Bill. The petitioners prayed their Lordships to take the proposed measure into their most serious consideration, and to make such changes in it as might be, consistent with the prerogatives of the Crown, the privileges of that House, and the just rights and privileges of the people. That was the petition which was represented as being against the Reform Bill. He was sure that many of the petitions presented as Anti-reform petitions did not go further than that Petition, and that those petitioners merely prayed their Lordships; to preserve to them their own peculiar privileges, and also to maintain the prerogatives of the Crown, and the rights and privileges of both branches of the Legislature.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
said, that he rose to present to their Lordships a Petition against the Reform Bill, to which he begged leave to call their Lordships' particular attention. It came from the undersigned Bankers, Merchants, and Traders, of the city of London, and, that there should be no mistake as to the object, of it, he should move that the prayer of it should be read to their Lordships. The other petitions which he had just presented, and to which reference had been 1310 made by the noble Lord opposite, had been sent to him as Anti-reform Petitions, and as such he had considered them. True it was that they prayed their Lordships seriously to consider this measure, as he had felt it his duty to do, but after giving to it that serious consideration, he also felt it his duty at once to oppose it, as they could not make it such a Bill as their Lordships could pass, seeing that they had been told that no alterations would be suffered to be made in it in Committee. He should not enter into that subject now; but it was in that sense that he understood the declaration which had been made from the opposite side of the House. The petition which he now had to present was directly against the Reform Bill. It had been adopted at a meeting which had been held in consequence of an attempt which was made to represent, that there was an universal feeling in the city of London in favour of the Reform Bill; and in the course of two days, Saturday and Monday last, 800 of the most respectable persons to be found in the city of London had put their names to this Petition. The persons who had put this Petition into his hands, had authorized him to state, that by far the greater portion of the property and wealth of the city of London was represented by the individuals whose names were annexed to it, as a proof that the feeling in favour of the Bill was not so strong now in the city of London, as it had been in March last. He begged to mention a remarkable fact, namely, that there were 9,600 signatures to the petition from London in favour of the Bill in that month, and that to a similar petition from London which had been lately presented there were only 4,700 signatures. The petition in favour of Reform from the city of London in March last, received only 600 signatures in the course often days, while the present petition against Reform, received 800 signatures in the course of two days. That was a proof that the feeling in favour of Reform was not so strong in the city of London as some persons wished to represent it. He would take that opportunity to offer a few observations on the remarks which had been made on his statement of a former evening, as to the change of feeling which he maintained had taken place in the cities of London and Westminster with regard to this Bill since the original introduction of it, and particularly with regard 1311 to the change which he asserted had taken place on that subject in certain quarters, to wit—amongst the inhabitants of Bond street and St. James's street. He thought that the inhabitants of those streets very fairly represented, the feelings and opinions of the class to which they belonged in the city of London, and he would now challenge any of their Lordships to go into the shops in any part of the town in London, Westminster, or Mary-le-bone, and not to find that there was a shrinking on the part of the inhabitants, and a dread of the dangers which they anticipated from this measure, and that blame was universally cast by the tradesmen upon his Majesty's Ministers for having introduced a measure of this description. He held in his hand a paper, giving an account of certain proceedings to which he could not avoid calling their Lordships' serious attention, demonstrating, as they did, that the dangers which were anticipated from this Bill, were neither chimerical nor far distant. The paper which he now held in his hand contained an account of a meeting of what was called "the Birmingham Political Union;" and he would say, that if their Lordships should be obliged, in coming to a decision on this question, to yield to the dictates of such persons as those who had figured at that meeting, the revolution which many anticipated and feared was not only begun, but it was actually over. He would entreat their Lordships' attention for a few moments to some of the sentiments which had been promulgated at this meeting. It appeared that this "Birmingham Political Union" was not satisfied with the reports which the newspapers furnished of its proceedings, but it was in the habit of publishing a report of its own, with a regular medal in front of the account of its proceedings. He would give their Lordships a specimen of the language employed by one of the orators at this meeting, a Mr. Haynes, and if such language was not the language of threat and of intimidation, and if it did not point to the employment of menaces and of physical force with a view to overawe the deliberations of that House, he did not know what species of language would merit that description. This speaker thus expressed himself, and their Lordships would bear in mind that this language was addressed to an assemblage which the person who used it, himself stated to amount to 150,000 persons. 'I thank 1312 God that the days of holy domination are over, and that my youth has been urged to additional exertion by the beholding of a meeting like the present, assembled for the constitutional purpose of offering resistance to political oppression. I say constitutional purpose, for I wish it to be known that English law recognises in the people a right to protest against, and oppose fiscal tyranny. Resistance to tyrants gave our forefathers Magna Charta—resistance to tyrants gave us the happiness of having a King like the present upon the throne—and resistance to tyrants will restore to us and our children all the blessings of which the boroughmongers have so unconstitutionally robbed us.' That was rather strong language, their Lordships would admit, but let them attend to the still more violent language employed by this individual. 'But in apprising you of your right to make resistance, I do not inculcate force. I agree that the power of the people is greatest, not when it strikes, but when it holds in awe—not when the blow is actually struck, but when it is suspended. As Manlius said to the Roman people, "Ostendite bellum, pacem habebetis;" so I say to you, show that you can fight, and you will never be under the necessity of fighting. It is from the calm manner in which the people have exerted their power that their success has been derived. As Mr. Attwood has said, the Leviathan is hooked in the nose, and with 150,000 men at the foot of Newhall-hill, to hold the rope, Leviathan could not escape. When the Reform Bill was carried into the House of Lords, they were surprised like Belshazzar at his unholy feast. They were not, like him, profaning the vessels of God's altar, but they were profaning that which next unto his altar, the Almighty prizes the most, namely, the happiness and liberty of his people. But now their dynasty is nodding to its fall, the hand-writing has appeared against them, they have been weighed and have been found wanting, and if they do not speedily give to us that which is our own, it will be taken from them. The power of the people is triumphant, they cannot stand against it; as well might the devils in hell rise in opposition to the decrees of Divine justice. As you are aware, my countrymen, we are met to the number of 150,000, to petition the 1313 Lords to pass the Bill.' Again he would stop and ask their Lordships whether that was not most violent language, and whether it did not furnish a sufficient, evidence of the existence of a system of intimidation which was attempted to be put in operation for the purpose of controlling and influencing the opinions and decision of their Lordships? This speaker, however, even went beyond any thing that he had as yet quoted from him. 'The question (he said) has been frequently asked, "Will the Lords pass the Bill?" I answer the question by proposing another—Dare they refuse it?' Dare they refuse it?! Such was the interrogatory which this individual put to an assemblage of 150,000 persons, and it was received by them with "loud cheers!" If, when their Lordships were about to take the question of Reform into consideration, they were to be thus told that they should "not dare" to refuse it—that they should "not dare" to oppose it—if language such as that did not amount to threat and intimidation, and to a menace of physical force towards their Lordships, again, he would say, that he did not know what language deserved such a description. If, when their Lordships were about to exercise that constitutional privilege and those constitutional rights which belonged to them, in deliberating upon, and disposing of, this measure, they were to be told by a person addressing a multitude of 150,000 individuals, that they should not dare to refuse to pass this measure—if such threats of physical force and physical violence were to be employed in order to intimidate their Lordships into an assent to this Bill—then he would say, and he thought he should be perfectly justified in making the assertion, that the revolution which they all dreaded was not only begun, but that it was, in point of fact, actually accomplished. When such terms as these were employed—when language such as this was held—when sentiments such as he had quoted were addressed to an inflamed and excited multitude of 150,000 persons—what could be meant other than a resort to physical violence to compel their Lordships to pass this Reform Bill? What was the language employed by Mr. Attwood, who was the head of this Political Union, at this meeting? He stated that 'every honest labourer in England had as good a right to a reasonable maintenance 1314 for his family in exchange for his labour, as the King had to the Crown upon his head.' And he went on to state, that it was with a view to attain that purpose—one that it was obvious was perfectly impracticable—that this Birmingham Union had been founded. 'If' this same speaker, Mr. Attwood, continued, 'he had seen this right secured—if he had seen every honest man in England possessing an undoubted security for an honest bread for his family—if he had seen every honest labourer possessing abundant wages for himself, and at the same time leaving reasonable profit to his employer, he (Mr. Attwood) should never have assisted in the formation of the Political Union.' Was it safe to hold such language as that to an immense assembled multitude, and to make them believe that those effects would follow from the passing of this Reform Bill, which every man of common sense and common information in England must well know could never be brought about by it? Was it not a gross absurdity, a most unfounded expectation, to hold out to the people of England, that the passing of this Bill would be the means of furnishing to every labourer in England adequate wages for the support of his family? When it was well known that the labourer would only get those wages which his labour was worth in the market, was it not holding out delusive and deceptive hopes to the people of England, to address them in the language of this speaker for the purpose of exciting their feelings in favour of this Bill? Such were the expectations with which the people of this country were deluded, while, on the other hand, their Lordships were menaced with physical violence if they refused to pass this Bill. The employment of such language demonstrated what kind of means were resorted to, to delude the people with regard to this Bill, and to make them think that it would do that which every reflecting man in the country knew neither it, nor any other Bill, ever could effect. He had already stated circumstances to prove that the feeling in the city of London was not so universally in favour of the Bill as it had been represented to be, and that the public Press had most grossly exaggerated the feeling which prevailed on the subject in London and its neighbourhood. He had seen several persons who were present at the Westminster meeting, and other public meetings, held to consider of the propriety of petitioning 1315 on the Reform Bill, and they had represented them as absolutely ridiculous, and had stated, that the persons who acted the principal part on these occasions were positively ashamed of them. It could not be denied that exaggerations had been going about as to the state of the public feeling on the question. While he made this assertion, he at the same time willingly added his belief, that a vast majority of the people were looking for Reform. He repeated, that it was his conviction that a great majority of the people of England wished for a Reform in the mode by which they sent their Representatives to Parliament. He was willing to go the length of these admissions, but he must, in doing so, also declare his belief, that there existed in London and its neighbourhood great shrinking, among a large proportion of the inhabitants, from the provisions of this Bill. They dreaded its probable effects. He had not made these statements without foundation, and when a portion of the community entertained these sentiments, he thought it was only fair to be allowed to call upon them to give their support to the side he espoused.
The Lord Chancellor
felt it to be impossible for him, as the person who had presented the petition from Birmingham to their Lordships on the preceding day, to abstain from saying a few words respecting a petition couched in such constitutional language. Before doing so, however, he must take leave to advert to the inconvenience of the course adopted by his noble friend (Lord Wharncliffe). His noble friend had, with his customary and characteristic frankness—a frankness which he highly estimated—explained his reasons for opposing the measure of Reform. He had explained himself fully, and he had been attended to fully; he had also been answered, as who had not? He had yielded to the common fate of speakers—that was to say, his speech had come to an end. Able as it was, it had been answered; and surely he did not want to come forward at another stage of the measure to take advantage of a future opportunity—he would not say pretext, for his noble friend was incapable of acting upon pretext, but he would say the opportunity—of making a second speech. [A Noble Peer observed that "he had a perfect right to do so."] A royal Duke had just said that his noble friend had a perfect right to do so.
The Lord Chancellor
would then echo the remark of, "some noble Lord." He would echo it, and would, if it were to become general, adopt the principle. He would adopt it, and illustrate its efficiency and its expediency by his practice. Therefore, if he addressed their Lordships that evening, or the next evening, at considerable length, on the merits of the question—then, in order to try the expediency of this new regulation—if it were his fate to be answered as his noble friend had been answered—and if he were galled thereby, as he might chance to be—although he could not arrogate the right of speaking a second time in the debate—still, by having a petition to present on a subsequent evening, he could claim the privilege of making a second speech, and return an answer to all those arguments that had been advanced against him. [A Noble Peer from the Opposition benches, "To be sure."] A noble Lord said, "To be sure;" but he would ask their Lordships, if that were a mode in which they could continue the debate? If it were, then should he assuredly claim the benefit of the practice. But to pass to the subject which had led to the discussion. The noble Lord had condemned a meeting of 150,000 persons at Birmingham. [Lord Wharncliffe expressed his dissent.] Well, a part of the meeting, or an individual of the number, for using intemperate language. What did it signify whether it were one or more, he only protested against the principle of making whoever was present at the Birmingham meeting answerable for the vehement, unmeasured, and intemperate language of a single person. He would claim the same privilege for them as he would for their Lordships, and venture to appeal to noble Lords who were present last night, if, in dealing forth so hard a measure of justice to the people of Birmingham, if they were held responsible for a speech that had been addressed to them by a noble Earl—a speech which was grossly intemperate in language, which violated every principle of law—which contained a threat not amounting to the language of sedition, but to something very like the commission of a capital felony. He begged for one to put forward a protest on behalf of the men of Birmingham, against acknowledging them answerable for the intemperate 1317 language of one or two speakers, because they were present when it was used. It would be far more equitable to the honest men who had signed the petition which he had presented to that House, to judge of them by their own acts. He would inform their Lordships of one evidence of their disposition on the occasion of this meeting. Their last act was, to take off their hats, and, greeting the Royal name with enthusiastic demonstrations of affection, to pray devoutly for the welfare of their Sovereign. He did not advance this fact as a justification of the conduct of one or two speakers, but he adduced it to show that the meeting ought not to be condemned, as originating or assenting to language which, if publicly applauded, would tend to prove not merely that sedition was beginning, but that a revolution had actually been completed. He would not follow his noble friend in all that he had stated respecting the people of Westminster and Southwark being adverse to the Bill. His noble friend had spoken in a prophetic spirit, as if some demonstration of hostility were to happen within the next five minutes. He did not mean to restrict his walks to Bond-street, or even to St. James's, and he should not be surprised, if, instead of the unanimous voices of Bond-street, they should have, within the next five minutes, petitions not only from Bond-street and St. James's-street, but other petitions from other streets to-morrow, for the purpose of bearing out the prognosis of his noble friend respecting the state of the public mind. Not wishing to profit by the practice begun by his noble friend, he must again remind their Lordships of the inconvenience resulting from these desultory discussions when they were on the point of proceeding to the Order of the Day.
§ Earl Grey
was not well qualified to say any thing on the subject of the Birmingham meeting, not having read the account of its proceedings, but he must concur in the protest of his noble friend, against fixing upon the meeting the crime—if crime it were—of the intemperance of individuals. With respect to any effect that might be produced upon their Lordships, he trusted that the House would not depart from its duty because individuals had indulged in the use of intemperate language. He recollected that, during the debates on the Catholic Question, discussions had arisen, as well on petitions as on the measure 1318 itself; and no topic was more cheered by the opponents of the measure, than the topic of referring to the intemperance of Roman Catholics, in stating the consequences that would result from passing that Bill. He could cite quite as intemperate quotations as any that they had heard that night, from the discussions of that period; but he thanked God that the noble Duke then at the head of his Majesty's Government, and his colleagues, had, notwithstanding, had the good sense to persevere in passing the measure. He would now say a few words as to the feelings of the people of London on the question before their Lordships. The petition presented by the noble Lord (Wharncliffe) had, no doubt, names from many most respectable London houses subscribed to it; but it was too much to suppose, that the 800 persons whose signatures it bore spoke the sentiments of that city. The noble Lord's petition had been voted at the Crown and Anchor, without any previous public notice of the meeting; the petition which he (Earl Grey) had presented, had, on the contrary, been voted at a meeting, advertised in the most widely-circulated journals of the metropolis, for at least a week before it was held. If it did not contain so many names as the petition in favour of Reform last session, it was because the previous petition had lain double the time for signature. Facts would speak for themselves; and he was convinced that they would find hereafter that the people of England were as much in favour of the Bill now, as they ever had been since its introduction to that House. Many who had formerly disclaimed the object of the Bill had now very much altered their tone, and had shown an inclination to adopt some measure of Reform. He could not sit down without adverting to a statement which he had heard during his entrance into the House—a statement alleging that he would admit no alteration in the Bill. Though he had expressed himself plainly and intelligibly on the point, the subject was again agitated. Now, to prevent misconception, he begged to state, that though he was willing to admit any alterations consistent with the principle of the Bill, he would not consent to any thing that might subtract from its original efficiency. He had declared the same thing the other night. He had said, that if the present Bill were rejected, he would not be the person to propose any 1319 less satisfactory measure. He had stated this distinctly, and it had been repeated by a noble Earl opposite on a subsequent evening—a proof that he, at least, understood him. But while he said this, would their Lordships think he could be so disrespectful to that House, so disregardful of its privileges, as to anticipate what alterations their Lordships might decide upon making in Committee? That was a matter which depended upon their Lordships. Into Committee the Bill ought to go, if noble Lords acted consistently with their own opinions. He had heard noble Lords on the opposite side assenting to the principle of disfranchising the decayed boroughs; he had heard them assenting to the principle of giving Members to wealthy and populous towns; he had heard them assenting to the principle of adding to the Representation of counties—indeed, they had assented to the whole principle of the Bill; and all that remained was only a question of degree, which would come properly under the consideration of the Committee. Then let them go into Committee on the measure; and he would tell noble Lords, that when there, if they proposed any alterations that would tend to diminish its efficacy—that instead of being a benefit would make the Bill a delusion to the people—such alterations he would strenuously oppose. He should be prepared to discuss these alterations, and to prove their unfitness to be adopted. He had expressed his determination over and over again, and he trusted that there would be no necessity for further explanation. He never would be a party in proposing any measure falling short of the essential qualities of the present; but he had not said that he would admit no alteration that might be consistent with the principle of the Bill, or that he would never agree to any alterations that might be proposed in Committee.
The Earl of Haddington
said, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had thought it right and proper to read his noble friend (Lord Wharncliffe) a lecture for having taken the occasion of the presentation of a petition to make a second speech upon the subject of the Reform Bill. Now he appealed to the judgment of their Lordships, and he asked them, if the conduct of the noble Earl (Grey) did not call, and far more loudly, for a lecture than did the conduct of his noble friend? for the noble Earl had not only made a second 1320 speech, but he had done so after the lecture of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack; and notwithstanding the fact that, in accordance with the regular proceedings of the House, he would, at the proper time, be entitled to a reply. The noble Earl had made a strong appeal to those who were opposed to the Bill, but he would then make no reply to that appeal, but content himself with simply protesting against its irregularity; for although he had not yet made one speech upon the question, he would not upon the presentation of a petition be induced to do so. His noble and learned friend on the Woolsack had assumed, and in that assumption he was understood to be joined by the noble Earl (Grey), that his noble friend (Lord Wharncliffe) had impugned the general conduct of the meeting at Birmingham; but in reality his noble friend had done no such thing. His noble friend had complained of the threats held out against their Lordships, and the attempt made to intimidate them; and in illustration of the truth of the charge, his noble friend had alluded to certain expressions used at the meeting at Birmingham. His noble friend had a perfect right to pursue such a course, and he cordially concurred with him in maintaining it. He was not one of those who did not admit the existence of a strong feeling in the great body of the public in favour of the measure, but he contended that that feeling was the result of delusion; and he contended further, that though the great bulk of the educated and intelligent portion of the community were in favour of some measure of Reform, still that the majority of them looked upon this Bill with apprehension and with dread. And how was the validity of that opinion to be tried, or what were the grounds upon which it had been formed? Let their Lordships look at the results of the attempts recently made to get up public meetings in favour of the Bill. With very few exceptions indeed those attempts had been failures. What was the meeting in Westminster? It was a failure. What was the meeting in the city of London? It was not to be compared with the meeting which had been held a few months previously. From the former a petition with 9,000 signatures had emanated, and from the latter a petition with 4,000. He inferred from these facts that there was a doubt in the public mind as to the character of the Bill, that there was a pause, 1321 and from that pause he anticipated a happy return to that wise and deliberative conduct which had so long distinguished the people of this country, and from which they had, unfortunately, lately been swayed.
The Duke of Buckingham
said, he wished to call their Lordships' attention to the question properly before them. His noble friend (Lord Wharncliffe) had not complained of language hastily uttered in the moment of excitation, but of printed statements, deliberately circulated, and circulated, too, with the seal of an organized Political Union affixed to them. He perfectly agreed with the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that the sins of the few ought not to be visited on the many, and he thought it would be a gross injustice to the great body of the people of England to mix them up with the use of language that was calculated to lead to the destruction of law, order, and property. He was delighted at having an opportunity of expressing his firm conviction, that the great body of the people of this country were strongly attached to the form of government, under which they lived; but their Lordships would recollect, that the mischievous doctrines complained of by his noble friend proceeded, not from a single individual, but from a Political Union—a Union, too, which had been acknowledged by the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government—a Political Union which had not only been acknowledged by the noble Earl, but with which the noble Earl had corresponded. He could not, of course, pledge himself to the fact; but although he had not seen the letter from the noble Earl, that letter had been published, and its authenticity had had not been denied. He trusted that this lesson would render the noble Earl more cautious in future, and not so ready to acknowledge or to correspond with Political Unions. With respect to the explanations which had been entered into by the noble Earl, he must be allowed to say a few words. The noble Earl had explained one passage of his speech, and of course he (the Duke of Buckingham), as he was bound to do, gave every credit to that explanation. He could not conceive, however, that it was meant to apply to a passage which he had taken down immediately after it was delivered. The words of that passage were these—"Your Lordships must take this Bill," at which there was a loud cheer; and when that cheer 1322 subsided, the noble Earl again said—"Your Lordships must take this Bill, or some other measure more dangerous, which your Lordships will not be able to resist." Those were the words which had been used by the noble Earl, but if the noble Earl attached any particular explanation to them, he would be ready to adopt it. He did not wish to tempt the noble Earl to make another speech on that occasion, as he would have an opportunity of giving an explanation when the noble Earl replied at the end of the debate.
would ask the noble Duke if he had not heard the noble Earl say, that if this Bill were rejected, he would refuse to bring in one less efficient? Perhaps the noble Duke would admit that he had heard this statement, but that he had also heard the words he had mentioned to the House. When his noble friend said, that if their Lordships rejected this measure, they might have a stronger one proposed to them, that was obviously only the expression of an opinion; but it was an opinion, he must be allowed to say, in which he entirely concurred, and in which every body else, he thought, must concur, who looked back upon what had been the consequence of rejecting reasonable measures. The rejection of safe, just, and reasonable measures had very frequently been followed by the adoption of measures on the same subject which were neither safe, nor just, nor reasonable. Now the noble Baron (Wharncliffe), and the noble Duke (Buckingham), had admitted that the language complained of was to be imputed, not to the meeting, but to an individual, and if the noble Lords were sincere in this admission, he could not see how that language could be a warning to his noble friend how he had any thing to do with the Birmingham Union. The guilt was not the guilt of the Union, but of an individual: and when the noble Baron stated, that because an individual among 150,000 persons had used violent language, a revolution had not only begun but was over, he must say, that the noble Baron made the most magnificent deduction from slender premises that he had ever heard. But this was the manner in which noble Lords were pleased constantly to deduce the existence of that intimidation by which they persuaded themselves that it was sought to deter them from doing their duty.
§ Lord Tenterden
admitted the danger of 1323 rejecting just, and safe, and reasonable measures, but the question for their Lordships to decide was, whether the Ministerial measure of Reform was just, and safe, and reasonable; and, in order that their Lordships might come to a decision upon that question without unnecessary delay, he begged to move that the Order of the Day be now read.
The Earl of Wicklow
said, he could not reconcile it with his feelings as to his duty to allow the discussion upon the Birmingham meeting to close without drawing their Lordships' attention to one point. He agreed with the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that it would be unjust to attribute to a whole meeting the intemperance, whether premeditated or not, of one man; but he wished to know from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack if his correspondent had apprised him of any proceedings to the following effect:—'That a gentleman at the meeting had stated that as a Hampden had refused the payment of Ship-money, so would he, if the Reform Bill was rejected by the Lords, refuse the payment of all taxes. And having made that statement, he called upon all those who were favourable to it, and would support him in it, and would adopt it, to hold up their hands. Upon which a forest of hands was held up amidst an immense cheer. That that being done, the speaker called upon those who dissented from the proposition to hold up their hands, and not one hand was held up.' Was the noble and learned Lord aware that any such proceedings as that had taken place, and, if they had, was he still prepared to characterize the meeting as orderly, peaceable, kindly, and constitutional?
The Lord Chancellor
said, that nothing could have been more natural than his noble and learned friend's (Lord Tenterden's) mistake, in supposing that they had been debating for a couple of hours without a question before them; for it was a thing that they were in the habit of doing continually. But it so happened, most extraordinarily, that there was a question 1324 before them at that instant, and he should avail himself of it to answer the query that had been put to him by the noble Earl who had just sat down. His correspondent, he begged to say, had not mentioned the fact which had just been stated by the noble Earl; nor had he heard of it till that moment. He certainly did not like the fact, but what he had to say about it he would reserve for the debate on the Bill. Undoubtedly it was a disagreeable piece of intelligence; but, nevertheless, as a lawyer, he must say, that all those hands might have been held up, and yet he could not say that there was any breach of the King's peace, or any offence that the law knew how to punish. He could not help it. Such was the law. With respect to the "kindly" disposition of the meeting, that was a new word introduced by the noble Earl. What his correspondent had stated was, that the meeting was conducted as regularly as one of their Lordships' meetings, and that it had separated as quietly as children coming out of a village school.
§ The Earl of Eldon
should be ashamed of himself, if, after living so long in his profession, he did not take that opportunity of saying a few words. No man could be more ready than he was to admit that a meeting was not answerable for the declarations of an individual; but if by holding up their hands, or in any other way, the meeting had endangered the peace of the country, he knew no reason for believing that they had not already fallen into the situation of being answerable to the laws of the country. If those statements which had been read to the House had really been made, he would take the liberty of saying, that if those statements had come under the cognizance of the Law Officers of the Crown, and if no satisfactory explanation of them had been given, those authorities had not done their duty to the country in failing to bring them under legal notice. But this being the case, he was necessarily disposed to believe that there was some way of accounting for men having presumed to make such statements. As a lawyer, he begged to apply himself to the Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, and to the noble and learned Lord who, for so many years, had presided over the Court of Common Pleas (Lord Wynford); and he desired to know from those noble and learned Lords whether, if those hands had been held up in 1325 the manner that had been described—and the fact could be proved—every individual in the meeting was not, in point of law, as much answerable as the man who had proposed to them to hold up their hands. And he begged to tell the noble and learned Lord (the Lord Chancellor), towards whom he should ever entertain the greatest respect, that his seat on the Woolsack would not be a seat which any one could maintain for six months, if the doctrines which were now circulated throughout the country—which were every morning placed under the review of every one—were suffered to be promulgated any longer. That was his opinion; he alone was answerable for his opinions, and for that he was prepared to answer at all hazards.
§ The Lord Chancellor rose, not so much for the purpose of replying to the observations just made, as for the purpose of preventing his noble and learned friend under the gallery from answering the question put to him. If the matter in question were an indictable offence, his noble and learned friend might be called upon to try it, and, therefore, he would at present feel the impropriety of delivering any opinion respecting the law as applicable to the acts done. It was quite a mistake to suppose that he (the Lord Chancellor) had given the slightest countenance to the Birmingham meeting; he merely said, that no breach of the peace had been committed. An indictment might be preferred for an offence of another nature; upon that he gave no opinion; he went no further than to say, that no breach of the peace had been committed. The Chairman said it was a peaceable meeting, meaning that there was no riot.
§ Lord Tenterden
was not ungrateful to his noble and learned friend upon the Woolsack for the admonition received from him, but he could assure the House, that, even without that admonition, he should have refrained from pronouncing any opinion, for the matter might come before him judicially; and if his noble and learned friend had not so addressed to the House the necessary explanation, he himself should have felt bound to explain.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
did not mean to impute the words of the speech to any one but the person by whom it was spoken, or to fix responsibility for it upon any other person; but he desired to call the attention of Government to this, that if they 1326 allowed such proceedings to go on much further, and questions as to the payment of taxes to be mooted in so large an assembly of persons, everything like legitimate authority in the country must cease.
I do not rise for the purpose of calling any one to order, but I would beg to request the attention of the House, in order that I may be allowed to state the condition in which matters now stand. The question before the House is, that a certain petition do lie upon the Table, and upon this a conversation takes place. Now I have no intention of making observations upon the Birmingham meeting, or upon Political Unions, any further than to observe, that what we heard tonight is nothing more than a repetition of what the noble and learned Lord opposite has often said before upon similar occasions. For example, when the Association in Ireland was under discussion, and also in the case of various other Associations in other places, he over and over again told us, that the country could not last if such things were allowed to continue. I confess it has always appeared to me, that discussions of this nature will neither redound to the honour or dignity of this House, or in the least degree assist our deliberations. However, upon that subject I will not trouble your Lordships with any observations, neither shall I say much upon any other topic; but I cannot refrain from just noticing what fell from a noble Baron as to the feeling of the city of London, and which I cannot for a moment allow to pass without registering my dissent. But as to what fell from a noble Earl on the Cross-bench (the Earl of Haddington), I will assert that nothing more unjust, more unwarrantable, or more uncalled for, was ever uttered. What has my noble friend (Earl Grey) done to call for the censure of the noble Earl? I have heard words quoted by the noble Duke, and attributed to my noble friend, upon which my noble friend has given an explanation, and that the noble Earl described as making a speech. And what do these words amount to?—If you reject this Bill you will soon have another Bill for Reform, though not from the same hands, or from the same Government—which would be a Bill in truth more unpalatable to some of your Lordships, though, probably, more in accordance with the votes of this House. I can think in such circumstances of a noble Lord or 1327 noble Duke who had previously declared that nothing could induce him to form part of any Government which sanctioned a measure of Reform; I can now fancy such a noble Duke coming down to this House and saying—"Things are most materially changed—there is a collision between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. I know what war is, and you do not. I told you I had no intention of bringing forward a measure of Reform, but now the state of things is most materially changed; but don't allow large meetings, such as that of Birmingham, to intimidate you—be bold, be stout, be determined. But if the Association be once formed, you must give way; then there is danger of war, and agitators are abroad; and I know what war is, and I tell you, you are in a different situation from that in which you before stood, and I will drag you through the mire, after having before bespattered you." It is just possible that a noble Duke might hold such language. Is it not just possible, too, that a right hon. Gentleman in another place might say something of the same sort? He might say "my opinions are not altered—I am really opposed to the Bill, but there is danger, and it is only to danger that I would yield; and, therefore, I recommend you to make concessions to the dangerous spirit of the times." Surely, my Lords, you cannot fail to ask yourselves this—is it not much more dignified to yield before there is danger than afterwards? As respects this House, the present is now a virgin question. If you agree to Reform now, it becomes the spontaneous act of this House. I ask your Lordships, is not such a course more consistent with the dignity of this House, and likely to prove more advantageous to ourselves, than to concede after rebellion has raised its head? There is no shrinking from this truth—either that you must take the Bill now, or be forced by circumstances to adopt hereafter a measure full as efficient, and, perhaps, less acceptable to this House; whereas, if the proposed change be adopted before the danger arises, all idea of intimidation will be out of the question.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, the noble Baron rose, and made a speech to order, and I never recollect a speech more inconsistent with order, or with the practice of this House. On the question, "That the Petition do lie upon the Table," the 1328 noble Baron referred to a debate, going on, I may say, upon a subject now under the consideration of Parliament; and he also referred to a debate on a subject respecting which I rather thought that, for once in my life, I had obtained the approbation of the noble Baron. This discussion has now lasted some time; but, during the whole of it I remained silent. I did not wish to draw your attention to the Bill now on your Lordships' Table, upon an occasion merely of presenting a petition. I have not said one word; I have not uttered a cheer during the present debate, and I do not see how my sentiments can with propriety be brought into discussion. I do not deny that I always felt strongly the attempts that were made to intimidate your Lordships; but for that meeting which has been described in the paper produced in this House, and for all such meetings, I feel the greatest contempt; and I am perfectly satisfied that the House is superior to any intimidation founded on the proceedings of any such assemblages. I feel no concern for all these threats, whether proceeding from Birmingham or elsewhere. I have always thought, and I think still, that the law is too strong to be overborne by such proceedings. I know further, that there does exist throughout this country a strong feeling of attachment to the government of the country, as by law established. I know that the people look up to the law as their best means of protection, and those laws they will not violate in any manner to endanger the government of the country, or any of its established institutions. I am afraid of none of these, but I will tell your Lordships what I am afraid of. I am afraid of revolution, and of revolutionary measures, brought in and proposed by his Majesty's Government. I assert, and I believe that history will bear me out in the assertion, that there has been no revolution in this country, or any great change, which has not been brought about by the Parliament, and generally by the Government introducing measures, and carrying them through by the influence of the Crown. I would therefore entreat your Lordships to do all you can to defeat this measure—use every means of resistance which the just exercise of your privileges will warrant, and trust to the good sense of the country to submit to the legal and just decision you come to.
§ The Earl of Carlisle
said, that the noble Duke had told them that history bore him out in saying that no revolutions had been effected in England except by Parliaments; and, in saying this, the noble Duke had displayed a great dislike to revolution. He was somewhat startled at this; and should be glad to know if the noble Duke included, in his historical reading, the Reformation of the Church of England, and the Revolution of 1688? He knew of no other great changes in England which could be properly called revolutions; and it was rather new to hear these events represented in Parliament as mischievous and calamitous. Let him entreat their Lordships to recollect that the eyes of the country were upon them; and, recollecting this, to abstain from language which could, by possibility, have no other tendency than that of increasing the irritation which already existed in a very high degree out of doors.
The Earl of Winchilsea
, could not suffer the unwarrantable attack which had been made upon a noble Duke near him to pass without notice. He could not allow without notice, that any noble Lord should say of that noble Duke, that he would aim at obtaining office by a sacrifice of principle. A more unjustifiable attack than that which had been made upon the noble Duke he had never heard. Though he differed from that noble person upon a great and memorable occasion, yet he gave him the fullest credit for perfect sincerity, and for an earnest wish to maintain the peace of the country. It was with much regret that he had now to acknowledge that he assisted in removing that noble Duke from office, and putting in place of him and his colleagues a Ministry deserving neither the confidence of Parliament, nor the respect of the country—a Ministry ready to sacrifice the dearest rights and interests of the country, and incur the hazard of overturning all the established institutions, from a too great facility in yielding to clamour and popular excitement, rather than listening to the dictates of good sense and sound policy. The noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack had laid down a doctrine to which he (the Earl of Winchilsea) could not subscribe, namely—that to refuse those taxes which the necessities of the country and the honour of the Sovereign demanded, was no breach 1330 of the public peace; he would say it was treason, and if the Government did its duty, it would instantly prosecute the persons accused of such an offence. It would not do its duty either if it did not prosecute those who used libellous language. He hoped, however, that no intimidation would have any effect on the House. Slander was not confined to them, and, could he discover the slanderer to whom he had before alluded, he should run a great risk of breaking the peace. He could not allow the insinuation thrown out against the noble Duke to go uncontradicted while he was present—namely, that he would consent to take the reins of Government for the purpose that had been stated, and he rose to contradict it.
said, that he must protest against the interpretation which the noble Earl had put upon his observations. He had never made the least insinuation against the sincerity of the noble Duke. He had never said that he doubted the sincerity of the noble Duke—he had never doubted the noble Duke's sincerity—and still less had he ever said or thought that the noble Duke was a person who would be guilty of insincerity for the purpose of obtaining or retaining office. All he had said was, that he thought it very probable that they might witness the same issue to this as to the Catholic Question; and that the noble Duke, after changing his opinions with regard to Reform, as he had changed his opinions with regard to the Catholic Question, might be the person destined to carry a measure of Reform through Parliament, as he had carried through Parliament the measure of Catholic Emancipation. He had stated nothing but what was the fact; not only that the noble Duke, but other noble and right hon. individuals, on the occasion to which he alluded, had changed their opinions. The noble Duke, and other members of his Government, stated that their constitutional views were not changed on the Catholic Question, but they felt that the government of the country could not be conducted without conceding it. They plainly stated, that there was a difference of opinion between the Government and the House of Commons; and that they felt it their duty to yield to the opinion of the House of Commons, and the growing opinion of the country. It was said on all sides that their Lordships should do their duty; but he begged to 1331 remind them, that it formed a great part of their duty to consider the consequences which might arise from their actions. That was a part of the duty of all rational men.
§ Earl Grey
assured their Lordships, that he did not rise with any view to protract this discussion, which, he considered, had already gone on too long; he rose in the first place to vindicate himself from the charge of having taken an opportunity, on the presentation of this petition, to make a second speech upon the Bill. He did not recollect, however, that in the observations which he had made he had said any thing which was not directly in reference to the petition, and the statement which was made on its presentation. He rose then chiefly, however, for the purpose of referring to one observation which fell from a noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Winchilsea). The noble Earl had, in addressing the House on this occasion, exhibited that degree of excited feeling and fervour which sometimes caused the noble Earl to proceed further than, he believed, the noble Earl intended. He did not mind the attack which the noble Earl made on his political conduct. He might be one of that set of men who were described by the noble Earl as not deserving the confidence of his Sovereign, although the observation was one which was rather stronger than a sense of courtesy warranted. The noble Earl had, however, if he were so minded, a right to say that he was unworthy of that confidence. The noble Earl might also complain, that the measure which had been introduced, though he considered it a wise and proper one, tended, in the noble Earl's opinion, to subvert the Constitution of the country. That was an opinion which he might controvert at the proper time. But when the noble Earl was pleased to assert, that he (Earl Grey) was one of those who would sacrifice the interests, the rights, and the safety of this country for the purpose of retaining his situation, or deferring to popular clamour, he was sure that their Lordships would at once say, that such an assertion was quite beyond the rules of parliamentary order. He hoped that it was a statement which the noble Earl, on cool reflection, would not persist in. And he now asked the noble Earl distinctly, whether he meant to impute to him that he was a person who would deliberately introduce a measure into Parliament, 1332 which he believed would subvert the rights and interests of the country, for any purpose whatever?
The Earl of Winchilsea and the Duke of Buckingham rose together, and the cries for Lord Winchilsea were very general, but
The Duke of Buckingham
persisted in addressing the House, declaring that he rose on a point of order. He believed the noble Earl had been misunderstood. What he believed the noble Earl to have said was, that the noble Earl opposite, in pursuing this measure, was capable of sacrificing what he (the Earl of Winchilsea) considered to be the rights and interests of the country.
The Earl of Winchilsea
said, as to the question put to him by the noble Earl, he did not impute to the noble Earl any feeling that could lead him to adopt that which he believed to be subversive of the rights and interests of the country. But this he would say, that the principles which were promulgated, that the excitement and public clamour which existed, and the course which the Government had taken, or rather the supporters of Government (for it was far from him, who felt the greatest respect for the noble Earl individually, to believe that he had urged on this clamour), were calculated to subvert the institutions of this country. He admired the consistency which had distinguished the whole of the noble Earl's political life, and, under other circumstances, such was the respect which he entertained for him, that he would have given him his humble support. He did not say, that the noble Earl would, for any purpose, sacrifice interests which he professed to cherish, but that the public clamour which was raised by the great body of those who approved of this measure, must operate against the interests of the country. He offered this explanation to the noble Earl, because he believed him to be a man who would never depart or swerve from that which he believed to be conducive to the general welfare of the country, although he thought that the noble Earl was very much mistaken in the consequences that would flow from the line of politics which he was now pursuing.
§ Petition to lie on the Table.
observed, the understanding was, that they should proceed with petitions until they were exhausted. The noble Lord then proceeded to observe, that on a former evening a noble Baron (Lord Wharncliffe) had referred their Lordships to the tradesmen of Bond-street, as a body who could convince their Lordships that people of their class were opposed to Reform. Now certainly he had not availed himself of the opportunity of making inquiries in Bond-street since the noble Baron had mentioned the fact; but it so happened, that in proceeding to the House this day, he was stopped at the bottom of Bond-street, and requested to present a Petition in favour of the Reform Bill, signed by 101 inhabitants of that street. There were, he believed, about 200 householders in Bond-street; of these, 101 had signed the petition, and he was told, that if there had been time, the whole of the inhabitants of Bond-street would have signed it. The petitioners wished to get rid of the imputation that had been cast upon them, as to their being lukewarm, in comparison with the other inhabitants of London, on the subject of Reform. Many of those by whom the petition was signed were persons of wealth and consideration.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
said, that when he spoke of Bond-street, he alluded to that place merely in exemplification of a general principle. His proposition was, that if an inquiry were made amongst the tradesmen in the different streets of London and Westminster, it would be found that the general opinion amongst them was, that they entertained a fear of, and a shrinking from, the enactments of this Bill.
All he would say was, that this petition stated exactly the contrary; and if the noble Lord would only mention the particular streets in which he wished this inquiry to be made, he doubted not that he should be able to bring down to-morrow a petition in favour of the Bill from every one of them.
The Earl of Mulgrave
expressed his opinion, that, on inquiry, an express contradiction would be given to the assertion, that the tradesmen of the metropolis were growing cool with respect to Reform
§ Lord Wharncliffe
had never said, that they had cooled on the subject of Reform, but that they shrank from the enactments of this Bill.
The Marquis of Westminster
said, the question at present was, that the petition from the inhabitants of Bond-street be received, and he would take that opportunity to make a few observations. He had, on a former evening, presented a petition from Westminster, which a noble Baron asserted was not respectably signed, or that it was a meagre petition. That, however, was not the fact. If, as the noble Baron had asserted, the tradesmen of Bond-street, St. James's-street, &c., were hostile to this Bill, what prevented them from attending the meetings at which petitions were agreed to, and opposing them? If what the noble Baron had said were correct, those who were opposed to Reform would, in that case, have overpowered their opponents and gained a complete victory. Instead of petitions for Reform, were the noble Baron's statement accurate, they would have been all the other way.
§ Petition to lie on the Table.