§ Lord Wynford
proceeded to address the House. The noble Lord commenced by observing that he was fully sensible of the difficulties of the situation in which he then stood. He was duly impressed with a proper estimate of the ability, the practised ability, in debating, of the noble and learned Lord who had concluded the discussion last night, and whose speech he now purposed to answer, and it was impossible for him not to desire to shrink from the comparison which would be 189 raised between his poor and feeble efforts and the splendid display of that noble and learned individual to whose arguments he was now about to address himself. Conscious as he was of his inability to grapple with that noble and learned Lord, but feeling that in the present great and dreadful crisis, it was the duty and the business of every man in the empire to endeavour to employ what little talents he might possess against this measure, he was determined, as an independent member of the British Legislature, to raise his voice against this Bill, and he was confident that the goodness of his cause would make up for any deficiency on his part in his attempt to answer the arguments which had been adduced by the noble and learned Lord. That noble and learned Lord commenced his speech by saying that it was his intention to grapple with the principle of the Bill, and he was delighted to hear an announcement at length made from that side of the House, that they were to have some discussion about the principle of the Bill, convinced as he was, that he should be standing upon vantage ground, in dealing with any arguments that might be brought, forward with regard to the principle of the measure. Unfortunately, however, though the noble and learned Lord set out with that announcement, he soon followed the example of his colleagues who had preceded him—he soon deserted the principle of the measure, and, leaving that to be still explained to the House, he proceeded to attack the existing system, without stating a word in defence of the principle of that which it was proposed to substitute in its stead. Not one noble Lord, indeed, including the noble Earl who opened the Debate, had yet, undertaken to say what was the principle of the Bill. They had contented themselves with attacking the system that now existed, and they refrained from even attempting the defence of that, which they purposed to substitute in its place. One noble Lord had ventured on a variety of topics, including a voyage by water and a journey by land. He was not disposed to go on either of these excursions; but as long as he had a leg to stand on he would take his place on Constitution-hill, in defence of the prerogatives of the Crown, the privileges and independence of both House of Parliament, and the just rights and liberties of the people. That was his political 190 creed—those were his political principles; and he was sure that, whatever might be the opinion which prevailed out of doors generally with regard to this Bill, he should be soon joined by the better portion of the public in the sentiments which he now felt it his duty to ex press upon the subject. He was quite confident that the feeling which had been artificially excited and kept up in favour of this Bill was fast dying away—that the delusion which had been practised on the people was in rapid progress towards a termination—and that the period was quickly approaching when the sober-minded and influential portion of the British community would regard this Bill in the light which he now viewed it—namely, not as a measure of Reform, but as a measure of revolution—as a measure that necessarily led to a revolution of a most desperate character, completely destructive of the Constitution of England, and of all those principles of that glorious Constitution which guaranteed the security of property, and the maintenance of order, regularity, and peace. Impressed with that feeling, he should notwithstanding the difficulties that he had to contend with, endeavour to lay before their Lordships a true picture of the evils that might be fairly anticipated from the present Bill. In the performance of that task he had to struggle with the bad state of his health, and with the infirmities of age, and it was possible that the infirmities of the flesh might more than overcome the energies of the spirit. Trusting, however, to their Lordships' kind indulgence, he should proceed with the observations which he felt it his duty to address to them. He would endeavour, in the first instance, to reply to the arguments that had been employed by his noble and learned friend (Lord Plunkett). When he had done that, he would then proceed to notice some of the assertions—he would not call them the arguments—which had been advanced in the course of this discussion, by some of the noble Lords opposite, with regard to the character of the Bill; and when he had gone through that task, he would then apply himself to "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." He trusted that he should be able to prove, to the satisfaction of their Lordships and of the public, that this Bill was pregnant with destruction to the best interests of the country at large.
, here interrupting the 191 noble Lord suggested, that his Lordship, on account of his infirmities, should take the advantage of being seated while addressing the House.
§ Lord Wynford
felt exceedingly obliged to his noble friend for the kind suggestion. Entertaining, however, as he did, the greatest respect for that House, he would endeavour, as long as he was able, to address their Lordships in the most respectful manner, and whenever he found his physical weakness increasing too much for his present exertion, he would take care to take advantage of that indulgence which he was aware their Lordships would extend to him. He would now proceed, step by step, to answer the arguments that had been advanced by the noble and learned Lord (Plunkett) on this subject. That noble Lord had commenced by stating, that the opponents of the Bill had left the principle of it altogether untouched. He was certain that if the noble and learned Lord found the principle of the Bill untouched, he left it so, for he had not said a word himself about it. The noble Lord had said, that it was admitted by all that some Reform was necessary. It was quite true that the question of Reform was a question of degree, and they on that side of the House who opposed this Bill did not, by doing so, mean to say that they were opposed to all and every species of Reform. If they entertained such an opinion, and if they were determined to resist every effort even for a safe Reform, they would have said so to his Majesty in the Address which they presented to the King at the commencement of the Session, in answer to the Speech from the Throne, instead of pledging themselves, as they did on that occasion, to take this subject of Reform into their most serious consideration. They had applied themselves to the consideration of that subject, and if the measure which was proposed by his Majesty's Ministers was not inconsistent with the safety and security of the institutions of the country—of those institutions which he was determined to uphold as long as he had a leg to stand on—if such a measure as that had been brought forward by Ministers, he would venture to say, that it would not have been opposed on that side of the House. But they were not pledged to any specific Reform, much less were they pledged to the dangerous and destructive and revolutionary Reform which was proposed by 192 this Bill. The noble and learned Lord had said, that a noble Earl (Harrowby) who had addressed their Lordships on a former evening with so much ability against this Bill, had admitted that he was not opposed to a measure which would disfranchise some boroughs, enfranchise some of the large towns, and enlarge the number of county Members. He (Lord Wynford) did not recollect that his noble friend above him had said any such thing; but, even if he had said so, such an admission would not prove that he was at all friendly to this Bill. His noble and learned friend had gone on to argue, that his Majesty would not, in future, be able to carry on the government of this country except on the ground of Reform.
begged to correct the mistake into which his noble friend had fallen with regard to what he (Lord Plunkett) had said. The argument in question, that the government of the country could not be carried on if Reform was adopted, was one that had been used by the noble Duke (Wellington) on the other side, and one to which he (Lord Plunkett) had applied himself in the course of the observations which he addressed to their Lordships last night.
§ Lord Wynford
was glad to stand corrected, as he need scarcely say that he should be most unwilling to misrepresent his noble friend, and the mistake into which he had fallen had arisen from the difficulty of hearing the observations of his noble friend on the occasion in question. Considering the high reputation which his noble and learned friend had so deservedly acquired in that and the other House of Parliament, and this being almost the first time that he (Lord Wynford) had addressed their Lordships upon any great constitutional question, he should have been afraid to enter the lists with his noble and learned friend, were it not that he confided for success in the justice of his cause. The noble and learned Lord said, that his Majesty had dissolved the late Parliament in order to ascertain the sense of his people with regard to this question. Now, he (Lord Wynford) must say, that to him it appeared that that was the most unfortunate dissolution of Parliament that could ever have been made for the purpose of obtaining the sense of the people with regard to such a question as the present. If they wanted to obtain the sense of the 193 people in the way that it should be obtained, they ought to have waited for a moment of calm, when the subject could be quietly and soberly discussed, and they should not have proceeded to a dissolution of Parliament in a period of great excitement and agitation, when, as every one knew, it was absolutely impossible to ascertain the deliberate sense and opinion of the people. Their Lordships could not forget the state in which the country was at the time of the late dissolution of Parliament, and he would assert, that there never could have been a more improper opportunity selected for a dissolution of Parliament than that was. And now that he was upon the subject of that dissolution, he could not avoid adverting to the opinions which had been expressed by two of his Majesty's present Ministers, in reference to a dissolution of a former Parliament, which took place under circumstances, with regard to the state of the public mind, that, according to those noble Lords, rendered it impossible to obtain such a fair and impartial expression of the public opinion as ought to influence the decision of the Legislature. He would just read to their Lordships an extract from a speech delivered by the noble Earl opposite on the occasion to which he alluded—namely, the dissolution of Parliament which took place in April, 1807. After the new Parliament met, Lord Howick, after making some observations on the importance of the subject before the House, went on to say—'Why, then, did they take this step? In order that an appeal should be made to the people, as it was stated in his Majesty's Speech, while recent events were fresh in their recollection—in other words, during the prevalence of that base cry, which it was hoped would have an influence on the elections.'* Such was then the language of the noble Earl opposite—language which was precisely applicable to the circumstances under which the late dissolution of Parliament had occurred. The late Parliament had been dissolved "during the prevalence of a base cry" for Parliamentary Reform. That Parliament, he would repeat, was dissolved during the prevalence of such a base cry, and at a period when the people had been deluded into the notion, that this measure would do that which every man in his sober* Hansard's Parl. Debates, vol. ix, p. 620.194 senses knew it would never effect—namely, afford them relief from the distresses and privations under which they were suffering. On the occasion to which he was now alluding, a noble Lord, whom he did not now see in his place, and who was one of those Ministers that had advised the King to dissolve the late Parliament—he meant Lord Holland—also expressed himself against the dissolution of the Parliament of that day. Lord Holland then used the following expressions:—'The noble Lord states, that at the time of that dissolution there was no irritation of the public mind, no material difference of opinion. Why, then, was not that the moment for an appeal to the people? The noble Lord then states, that at the time of the last dissolution there was great irritability and collision of opinion. Is it not then clear that that was a most improper period for a dissolution of Parliament, when, instead of a cool and dispassionate appeal to the people, it could only be an appeal to their inflamed prejudices and passions?'* Such were the words of the noble Lord, words most truly applicable to the state of things at the period of the last dissolution of Parliament. The noble and learned Lord (Plunkett) spoke of the elections which were consequent on that dissolution as having been conducted peaceably and quietly, but he subsequently confined his statement with regard to the elections in Ireland. He did not know much of Ireland, but he would ask, whether the election in Dublin was an instance of that peace and quietness, and good order, that the noble and learned Lord spoke of—an election at which the influence of persons in official authority had been employed in a way that it had never been before, and which had been remarkable for the rioting and tumults that had taken place at it. Were the elections in England distinguished for peace and good order? Had not rioting taken place at the Dorset election—at the Carmarthen election—and at several other elections throughout this country? Did not the greatest excitement prevail throughout the country in consequence of the paragraphs which had been published in the public Press on the subject? He, therefore, denied that his noble and learned friend's observations with regard to the elections were justly applicable to the* Ibid. p. 584.195 elections which had taken place in this country. But the noble and learned Lord said, that the immense number of petitions which had been presented on this subject, proved that the feeling of the country was in favour of this measure. Several of those petitions had been got up in the grossest manner, with several names affixed to them by the same person, and by no means afforded a fair indication of the opinions of the people. Besides, let their Lordships look to the counter petitions that had been presented on the other side. A petition had been presented by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, from the city of London, in favour of the Bill, but it should be recollected that a counter-petition, signed by many of the most respectable persons in the city of London, had been presented against the Bill. They had seen a petition presented from Bond-street in favour of the Bill, but they had heard that night how that petition had been got up, and how several persons had signed it in mistake. That petition, besides, was signed by only 109 persons, while there were 201 individuals resident in Bond-street. It might be said, that some of those householders were females; but he did not see why women had not a right to express their opinions on this question, and he was sure that, in many instances, they were much better qualified to express an opinion on it than the men. He repeated, that some of the inhabitants had signed the petition by mistake, supposing that its object was Reform generally, and not believing that it was in favour of this particular Bill. There were few on his side of the House prepared to deny the necessity or fitness of a constitutional Reform; but they would rather that their hands were cut off, than employ them in signing a petition in favour of the Ministerial Bill. His noble and learned friend had said, that their Lordships were "sitting in judgment on the people of England." Those, he believed, were the words he used. Now, though his noble friend generally expressed himself with the greatest clearness, he could not rightly understand what his noble friend meant to convey by this assertion. They were certainly sitting in judgment on the rights of the people of England; and when any petition came to be presented, requesting concessions strictly consistent with those rights, he was quite satisfied that such a petition would meet with the greatest attention from the 196 House. But there were reasonable grounds for expecting that the people would not seek to acquire any right at variance with the spirit of the Constitution. His noble friend, however, went on to say, "Are not the people of England to be trusted?" God forbid that he (Lord Wynford) should characterize them—taking them as a body—in any other way, than by declaring that there was not a more respectable people on the face of the earth; but while he made this ready avowal of opinion, he would maintain, point by point, that they ought only to be invested with additional rights in proportion to their capacity of comprehending them. He would not intrust them, nor any other set of men, with rights which they were not capable of exercising. That which they were capable of exercising properly—that their Lordships were prepared to extend to them. If his noble friend meant to say, that all the people of England were to be intrusted with those rights that were included in the present Bill, he for one would enter his protest, and declare, in the name of the Constitution, that the people were not to be so trusted. No doubt it would be well to give the right of electing Representatives to the upper and middle classes of society—persons too independent to be accessible to corruption. He had no objection that the privilege should be extended as far as was consistent with safety; but if his noble and learned friend meant to carry it further, then the point to which his noble friend was advancing was, Universal Suffrage, to which he never could agree. He would refuse the right of selecting Representatives to that part of the people who were not capable of exercising it properly; but he was disposed to admit to it all the better and qualified classes, although not in the manner laid down in the Bill. He considered all who were independent entitled to possess the elective right. He was not, therefore, an enemy to proper Reform, but he would not give that right to persons such as were deemed qualified by the provisions of the Bill. He would confer the right on all who were gifted with knowledge to perceive its value, and possessed of property to pronounce their opinions with independence. He was convinced that he could show that these were considerations not contemplated by the Bill, but that it went to level all distinctions between property and no properly—between ignorance and knowledge. 197 If the argument, he would again say—if the argument of his noble friend, as to the extensive confidence to be reposed in the great mass of the community, meant any thing, it was an argument for Universal Suffrage. Sorry he was, that any person for whom he entertained the high sentiments of respect that he did for his noble friend could advance any such opinions; there was, however, no room for him to doubt the fact, for he had taken down the words at the time, and was certain of the accuracy of his quotation. His noble friend had spoken of the possibility of a collision between the two Houses of Parliament [no, no]. If he had not done so, he would spare their Lordships the observations he was about, to make, but he believed his noble friend had expressed his apprehension of the danger of a collision between the two Houses of Parliament.
§ Lord Wynford
did not mean to say, that his noble friend had, in express words, pleaded for Universal Suffrage, but the mode in which he stated his case had that tendency.
I beg to set my noble friend right. I not only did not use the words "Universal Suffrage," but have all along declared myself openly against such an absurd and mischievous idea.
The Duke of Cumberland
having moved that the noble and learned Lord, in consideration of his infirmities, might be allowed to sit down, the Motion was acceded to, and Lord Wynford took his seat on the Opposition benches.
§ Lord Wynford
was far from wishing to put arguments in his noble friend's mouth, merely for the purpose of confuting them. He could not hope to derive much credit from such a course of proceeding, but he felt persuaded that he should be able to answer the actual arguments which had been advanced. He would now come to another observation of his noble friend's. He had stated, that he "did not see any other way of procuring safety to the country" but through the medium of this Bill. But he hoped that another way might be found without resorting to that expedient. He trusted much to the good sense of the people of this country; he was as old as his noble friend, and had seen enough of the people to know that 198 the good sense which they possessed at bottom, would eventually dispel any delusion by which they might be misled for a time. When the agitation caused by wicked people had subsided, their own good sense would regain the ascendency, and they would return to their accustomed habits of peace and industry. He was sorry to be obliged to advert to the next point touched upon by his noble friend; he regretted it for particular reasons, but as the subject had been introduced, he felt it to be absolutely necessary for him to notice it. His noble friend had spoken of the contingency of creating new Peers for the purpose of carrying the measure under consideration. He was a new Peer himself, though he had not been made for this occasion, and he did not deny the just prerogative of the Crown to reward any person of this country with the honours of the Peerage; but he questioned whether, among recent creations, Peers had been made upon the proper principle of rewarding merit, or of carrying the question of Reform through that House of Parliament. If they had been made for the latter purpose, he would say, that they who advised the King to make them for that purpose had committed a great violation of the Constitution. He recollected his Majesty's Speech last Session, and he recollected that it appealed to the existing House of Peers, and not to a prospective body. He fully admitted the just privilege of the Crown in bestowing honours; but it was the duty of its advisers, to counsel against the use of the royal sign-manual for other purposes than was consistent with the dignity of the realm. He had not the honour of knowing more than two of the noble Lords recently called to that House. He had no doubt, and he was bound to suppose, that they were all entitled to the honour; but he was disposed to think, that they were not brought there on account of any particular claims they possessed to that most honourable—to that highest of all distinctions conferred on the subjects of any country—namely, the elevation to the Peerage of the realm. He only, as he had observed, knew two of those, noble Lords; to one of them peculiar circumstances gave a claim to the distinction. The eminent services of the other long ago entitled him to a seat there. He had often lamented that he had not been sooner elevated to the Peerage; and he was as happy to meet him in that House 199 as he had been in other places. While he wished to meet his noble friend among them, he wished to see merit obtain its reward; but he protested against the creation of a great number of Peers with a view to carry any particular purpose. His noble and learned friend had referred to the Peers made in the reign of Queen Anne; and he confessed he did not clearly understand what was intended by the reference. He did not know whether his noble friend meant to countenance the doctrine advanced in another place, but he considered him to be endowed with too much legal learning and too much knowledge of the Constitution, to broach the doctrine that the Sovereign might at pleasure discontinue the issuing of writs, calling on places possessing electoral privileges to return Representatives to Parliament He could not believe that his noble friend would sanction such an opinion, although it had been brought forward on high authority in another House. His noble friend had mentioned the buying and selling of seats, a point which he could not pass over without some remark. He was himself a decided enemy to that practice, and if his noble friend brought a Bill into Parliament effectually to prevent it, such a Bill should have his assistance, if that assistance were held to be of any value; because he was of opinion that the circumstance of trafficking in seats in the Legislature was a stain on the Constitution of the country. The Irish Parliament had been introduced into the speech of his noble friend. He was not acquainted with the Irish Parliament; he did not know to what extent corruption had prevailed in it, but if it were in the state in which it had been represented, he was obliged to the English Parliament for putting an end to its corruption, and it deserved the fate it had experienced. He would not leave a single observation of his noble friend unanswered, and he would address himself to the concluding part of his speech, and the probable advantages that the country would derive from the adoption of the measure of Reform. For his part, he was for letting well enough alone. He was not for exchanging real good for contingent advantages. Justice was equitably administered in this country; the Army and the Navy were well appointed, elevated as they had been by the unparalleled success of the noble Duke near him, to a higher station than they had ever occupied at any 200 previous period. They should take care not to make any dangerous alterations in the frame of the Constitution, by which England might be deprived of the inestimable advantages of her present position. His noble friend said, however, that notwithstanding all this, the people wanted Reform. There were a number of persons in this country who made a trade of popular excitement, and the people would continue to be excited until that trade was put an end to. These persons only advocated the proposed alterations in the Constitution as the specious cover of other schemes. He was warranted in saying this, and he was afraid that the business of change would soon work out of the hands of his noble friend and his colleagues. The storm would be raised, and they would not be long able to control it. If their Lordships had read any of the publications by the seditious part of the Press, they would understand the force of his remark—they would feel that the real radical Reformers only considered the present Bill as a stepping-stone to the total overthrow of the Constitution. Others might have a greater pecuniary interest in the State than he; but he would yield to none in zeal for its welfare. His statement as to the ulterior objects of many of the advocates of Reform were borne out by a paper he had lately seen, called an "Address to the Inhabitants of the Town of Leeds," the writer of which, going upon the supposition that the people of Leeds had the power of returning Members to Parliament according to the Bill, declared the principles by which he intended to be regulated, if elected to a seat in the Legislature. He wished that he had the paper there, for such was his memory, that he had never quoted any thing in his life without making some mistake: however, he was certain that he was quite correct in the essential points of what he was about to state. He would, ere repeating the main facts of the address, take occasion to express the high respect he entertained for the right reverend bench opposite, whose interests were connected with the views of the writer of the paper to which he alluded. That projector told his constituents at Leeds, looking to their electing him as their Representative, that he would at once vote for getting rid of tithes—that was, he would do away with the property of the Church; that he would vote also for paying half the dividends of the National Debt for two years, and then 201 sweep the whole of it away. Now these were no slight changes. The Church would be first attacked, because it was known to be the weakest branch of the realm—not the weakest in knowledge and virtue, for God knew that in these it was, indeed, most strong—but the weakest in defensive power. He would warn their Lordships against persons who demanded certain alterations only as the prelude to more. The Reformers, among whom his noble friend was included—to use a familiar illustration—only meant to go to Hounslow, but the other class of Reformers intended to go as far as Windsor. Fraught as the designs of the latter class were with mischief to property, it was their Lordships' duty to look at the case, not as it displayed itself at that moment, but as it might be exhibited on a future day, through the consequences of their acquiescence in the Bill, when persons were introduced into the other House of Parliament who already put forward what they now advanced in such an audacious way. He believed that no body of men would stand with greater firmness against these attacks than would their Lordships; but if the whirlwind were once raised, it would not be in their power to arrest, its desolating career—neither station nor talent could withstand it. He was afraid he detained their Lordships too long—he wished to give the best answer to the speech of his noble friend the weakness of his frame permitted; and he hoped he had answered it point by point, taking up the arguments in a plain and straightforward manner, as he had ever done. A noble friend behind informed him, and he was obliged to him for the information, that one of the arguments of his noble friend had escaped him. In the course of his speech he had expressed some doubt as to the right of the interference of that House with the Bill. He confessed that he had heard the intimation of this doubt with very great surprise. He could not but recollect, when the bill to prevent bribery and corruption was forwarded from the other House, that their Lordships had introduced two most efficient clauses in it, and when these amendments had been objected to in the Commons, it said, "do not grudge the Lords the honour of assisting in stopping this practice; they are as much interested in the purity of the Representation as we are." If they had no right to interfere, they were then merely to register the Bill, 202 and lay it at the feet of their gracious Sovereign. But had not the Commons dealt according to their discretion with bills originating in that House, and bills, too, that concerned its privileges? Had they not opposed, and successfully, a measure so originating for restricting the number of Peers? He would now pass to an observation made by the noble Earl at the head of the Government, in his very able speech in moving the second reading of the Bill. The noble Earl had stated that the principle of the measure was to restore the ancient Constitution as to the Representatives of the people. He had heard him make this statement once before, and he then ventured to submit, with great respect to the noble Earl, that in advancing it he was mistaken. According to the noble Earl, property and population were to be the basis of the new Representative system. Such was not, however, the primitive constitution of this country. He begged to deny, that when the Commons' House of Parliament was formerly brought together, its Members were called from places on account of their wealth, or their respectability, or their commerce. So far from that being the case, it appeared from Maddox's work, and Brady's book on boroughs, that they were sent, not from places that happened to be the seats of commerce, but where the King could depend upon the fidelity of the inhabitants to the Crown. Population or property had nothing to do with the matter—it was entirely an arrangement of the Crown and of those great men who held property under it. Conscious that the case stood thus, he was satisfied, therefore, that the measure of Reform supported by his Majesty's Ministers, was nothing like a restoration of the Representation according to the ancient Constitution of this country. If he were right in this, then he contended, that by creating an immense body of householding electors, they were not restoring the old Constitution, but that they were erecting an entirely new one. He thought that he had frequently heard from the noble Lords opposite, that the best way of looking at the Constitution was to take the Constitution as settled in 1688, and not to go further back than that period. If they did go further back, then undoubtedly they would find that summonses to return Representatives were sent to a great many boroughs, particularly in Queen Mary's time; but then the electors 203 were generally the mayors and aldermen. He would not, however, go further back than 1688, but take the Constitution as he found it settled at that period. Had t been altered since? Yes, but only by the Scotch and Irish Unions, and by several boroughs having been taken from corruption, and given to wealth and respectability. Had they then a free Parliament in the time of William 3rd? If so, they had one still more free now, in the time of William 4th. Let them look at a letter which was written from the Hague by William 3rd. In that letter William said, that he accepted the invitation which had been given him by the full, free, and lawful Parliament. Was this language justifiable? Was the Parliament which effected the Revolution of 1688 a full, free, and lawful Parliament? It would be new to deny this character to that Parliament; and if such were its character, was not the lower House then the same as the present much calumniated House of Commons, which it was now sought to abolish because it would not lend itself to the purposes of northern Unions? He said, then, again, that they were not restoring the Constitution by this Bill; and saying this in the presence of his noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, he challenged his noble friend to contradict it if he could, and to tell him what period it was at which the British Parliament had been more free and more pure than at the present moment. No, this Bill, far from restoring the Constitution, was getting rid of the best part of the constituency of the country, and extending the worst part of it. The chief of the electors of England were burgage-tenants, freemen, freeholders, and householders. They were about to get rid of the first and the best, and to increase the last and the worst. Under this Bill a man might be a bankrupt, and still have a right to vote at an election. A table, a joint-stool, and a straw bed were the only implements necessary to set up this new pauper constituency. The Bill paid a delicate attention to the revenue and to landlords, by enacting that the voter's rent and taxes should be paid; but, having paid them, the voter might, at the time of giving his vote, not be worth a shilling in the world. See the difference with regard to the freeholder and the freeman; the freeholder must have his freehold in possession at the time of giving his vote, and the freeman must, before he acquired his freedom, 204 have served an apprenticeship for seven years with respectability. He admitted that the law with regard to freemen ought to be altered; yes, he admitted this, and he did not hesitate to say, that he had always been, and was still a reformer. He was a reformer; but he warned their Lordships how they took away the rights of persons who had not abused those rights; for if they admitted such a principle as a just one, then the right of their Lordships even to their seats in that House became a very precarious right. A noble Viscount (Melbourne) had told them, that the principle of this Bill was not population; but let him tell that noble Viscount, that there was quite enough of the principle of population in it, to make up as pretty a system of universal suffrage as any moderate radical could desire. He contended that if this Bill should pass, they would find it impossible long to resist Universal Suffrage and Vote by Ballot, and Annual Parliaments. Another noble Viscount (Goderich) had told them, that the principle of the Bill was population, in conjunction with taxation; but he should show to the noble Viscount, that the greater part of the new constituency were actually paupers. A gentleman well acquainted with the population of the country had stated in the House of Commons, that in large towns the majority of the 10l. householders were actually receiving parochial relief. Was this, then, giving the elections to population and property conjoined? They would find that the 10l. householders, so far from being fit to elect Members of Parliament, were the very persons who, if the elective franchise were given them, would be the most likely to sell it. Look at the great town of Liverpool. It was stated in a local Act, which passed in the last Parliament, that in Liverpool the holders of houses at 10l. and 12l. a year were in the receipt of parochial relief, and this was stated as a ground for exempting such persons from the payment of rates and taxes. He knew it was said that these persons would not have votes if they did not pay their taxes, and that they would only have votes if they did pay their taxes. This was the point to which he wanted to come. They would pay their taxes of course—that was to say, the gentlemen with long purses who came to be elected by them would pay their taxes for them. It had been said that talent would find its way into Parliament, notwithstanding this 205 Bill. Yes, talent would find its way into Parliament, but it would be the talent of demagogues—talent which would work mischief and destruction—talent which would not prevent the possessors of it from becoming the delegates of the wildest revolutionists. It had been well shown by a noble friend of his, that neither Ministers of State, nor gentlemen who would not stoop to such practices as he had described, would have much chance of being returned to Parliament under this Bill. If all that they had heard was true, they would have had a very different Bill if the labours of his noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, on this subject, had been allowed to proceed. He wished to God that those labours had not been stopped, for he believed that the result of them would have been such a measure as he, with his notions of Reform, could cheerfully have supported. This Bill, however, must inevitably lead to tumult and to riot; for it was a delusion which must, at no distant period, be dispelled; and he need not tell their Lordships that those men whose hopes and expectations had been frustrated and deceived, were, of all men, the most likely to disturb the peace. The people, with an indignant voice, would declare that they had been deluded, and would demand redress. He was sure that boroughs would be sold as constantly under this Bill as they were at present. Any large proprietor of houses might reduce the constituency of a borough to whatever point he pleased, by turning out his tenants every six or nine mouths. Then, again, if this were not done, it would be only the small holders who would have votes; for be appealed to their Lordships who were large landlords, whether any of their tenants, who paid great rents, paid them punctually every year. It was known that such tenants did not, and they therefore would have no votes under the Bill; for no adventurer, however desperate and rich, would attempt to pay such high rents in order to qualify men to vote for him. The farmers, therefore, who were told that they would have votes under this Bill would find themselves deceived—they would have no votes. Upon this turned one of his great objections to the Bill. If this Bill passed into a law, it would destroy the landed interest entirely, and with the landed interest it would destroy also the interest of the Church. He gave this warning to the right reverend 206 Prelates. He stated broadly that the Bill would destroy the landed interest, and with the landed interest the temporal possessions of the Church, so far as those possessions consisted of land. He was aware that many persons had been brought over to be friendly to this Bill, on the ground that it was a great boon to the landed interest. A greater mistake could not have been made, and he stated plainly, that if this Bill passed, there was an end to the landed interest. He was a bad calculator, but he believed that the landed interest at present was protected—counting only county Members—by ninety-two Members. This Bill would add sixty-five county Members, so that, after the passing of the Bill, there would be no other protection for the landed interest than 157 county Members. But how stood the protection of the landed interest now? Had it no other protection than that which arose from the number of county Members? It had other protection, and that protection resulted from the fact that the boroughs generally belonged to large landed proprietors, and that, by means of those boroughs, the just ascendancy, and nothing more than the just ascendancy, which it ought to have in the State, was given to the land. But see how the case would stand if this Bill passed into a law. They would then have 157—no, he was corrected, they would have 161 county Members; but the boroughs would return 316 Members, and he should like to know what chance the landed interest would have under such a system of Representation? These considerations justified him in saying, that there would be an end to the landed interest if this Bill passed. Yes, and of all other interests too, for upon the landed interest all other interests depended—rising with that one interest, and falling as that one interest fell. In the course of the debates on this Bill reference had been made to various other plans of Parliamentary Reform. The first was that of Oliver Cromwell, an usurper, it was true, but still a wise man in his day. Now Oliver Cromwell went further than he should be inclined to go; but Oliver Cromwell gave 262 Members to the landed interest, and 133 only to other property. The present Ministry had done just the contrary. Then again, Mr. Pitt, in the early part of his life, moved for leave to bring in a bill to add seventy-two Members to the counties, and Mr. Fox 207 assented to this proposition. He was sure he need add nothing to such authorities as these, the authorities of Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox, both of whom he held in almost idolatrous respect. The noble and learned Lord next adverted to the intended division of counties, which he was certain would be attended with the most mischievous consequences. It would completely alter the constitution of that great body, the Members for counties, who were essential to the support of the British Constitution. Commissioners, specially appointed, were, it appeared, to draw certain lines, but on what principle he was at a loss to conceive. Those Commissioners, it was stated, had already commenced their labours, though the sanction of Parliament had not yet been obtained. He held that it would be derogatory to his character, having for many years held the office of a Judge, if he did not openly state his opinion on this question; and he hoped and trusted that, if this Bill were passed into a law, an inquiry would be made as to the persons who were to be appointed Commissioners for the divisions of counties, and for what reason they were so appointed. It was said, that the effect of this Bill would be, to give Representation to wealth and knowledge; but he could not see any grounds for supposing that, under this Bill, more Representation would be extended to wealth and knowledge than it possessed at present. And connected with this part of the subject, it was a very extraordinary fact, that persons who at least possessed knowledge, and who paid more than 10l. a-year rent, he meant individuals who resided in the Inns of Court, though in many respects treated by the law as housekeepers, were, for some reason or other, not allowed to vote under the provisions of this Bill. The effect of the measure would be, to place the whole elective rights of this country in the hands of the lowest class of persons. He would ask, how many towns were there in this country in which the majority of voters rented houses above the value of 20l. a-year? Their Lordships would find that in the towns of this country there were 378,280 houses, and of these only 52,000 paid a rent of 20l. and upwards. To that, the wealthier portion of the community, one-seventh of the Representation would be intrusted, whilst the poorer classes would retain no less than six-sevenths. In fact, the elective franchise would be given to a class many 208 of whom were no better than paupers. This would not be a Representation of the property, but of the poverty of the country. He wished to place the Representation of the country in the hands of respectability and property, and he denied that this system, viewed in any way, was calculated to effect such an object. By this Bill they would place the majority in the other House of Parliament, not in the hands of wealth and respectability, but of the lowest and poorest class. Now it was not consistent with the principles of the British Constitution that persons thus situated should be intrusted with such powers. He had no objection, abstractedly, to any class of people; but he would never put trust in any set of men—he never would consent to bestow great powers on them, unless he had some security for the manner in which they would make use of that power. To a system which appeared to him likely to be destructive of the interests of Church and State, he never would be a party. He had done the best he could to prevent this country from being placed in the melancholy situation in which he was sure that it would be placed if this Bill were passed, and, let what might happen, he had at least the consolation of having performed his duty. It had been said in a menacing manner, "If you do not pass the Bill, beware of the consequences." He would say, let them beware if they did pass it, because he was certain that it would not prevent, but that it would produce mischievous consequences. They were told that this measure would put an end to bribery and corruption. Now he was satisfied that if the Bill were carried, bribery and corruption would be increased and extended. It was a Bill decidedly calculated for the encouragement of bribery and corruption. He appealed to their Lordships on all these grounds, to pause before they sanctioned such a measure; and he hoped that if there was any weight in the observations which he had made, they would in some degree influence their Lordships in rejecting a bill which was inconsistent with their rights and with the rights of the Crown. He entreated their Lordships, before they allowed this Bill to go to a second reading, to weigh well the consequences likely to result from it. Sure he was, that if the estimate which he had formed of this Bill were a true one, the people generally were grossly deceived and deluded.
§ The Earl of Eldon
then said—My Lords, if my noble and learned friend who has just sat down has felt it necessary to offer an apology to the House upon considerations arising out of his age and infirmity, in trespassing upon your Lordships, I feel that I am entitled to still more indulgence than, I thank God, my noble friend is yet entitled to. If I did not feel it an incumbent duty on me, I can assure your Lordships I should have spared you, and not encountered the hazard and difficulty which I feel in addressing you, in consequence of my age, and of that infirmity which has been occasioned in some degree by my constant attendance on this House. When threats, however, are held out to your Lordships in general, and those threats have been addressed particularly to me, I think myself called upon to say, from whatever quarter those threats come, that I would rather die by those threats being carried into execution than be influenced by them, or deterred from doing what I consider to be my duty. Having lived long in this blessed country—which still remains, and, I hope, will long remain, the most glorious nation on the face of the earth—it would ill become me, my Lords, to desert the last duty which it is probable I shall ever be able to perform. I well remember that on another question—and I would take this opportunity of declaring, before God and my country, that on that question—I mean the Roman Catholic Question—I took no part which I did not feel it my duty to take both to God and my country—but I very well remember that, at the period when that measure was under discussion, I stated that it was probably the last opportunity of which I should ever avail myself of addressing your Lordships. I thought so at the time, and, considering that I was then advanced to fourscore years, I had scarcely any right to expect to have been able again to address your Lordships, but as the kind and indulgent providence of God, has allowed me to continue in the enjoyment of a certain degree of health for a short period longer, I am able again to take my seat in this House. I remember, my Lords, that a noble Duke—the Peer shall be nameless—taunted me with appearing again before your Lordships, after the declaration I had made; but I felt myself called upon by a sense of duty which I could not resist, from the moment when my Sovereign called me to 210 a seat in this House, as long as my strength permitted me, to offer myself and my opinions to the suffrages and approbation, or to the dissent and reprobation, of my fellow-subjects. At this period, my Lords, no man in the world can address you under more of the feeling of infirmity and age, or under circumstances which distress him more. But I will not go to my grave without giving my opinion, that the measure which is now proposed is a most destructive measure to this country, and is calculated to reduce, by its consequences, this, which has hitherto been the most glorious of all the nations upon earth, to that state of misery which now afflicts all the other countries of the world. I may be wrong—no man is more likely to be so from infirmity of mind, produced by the infirmities of age; but from the moment my Sovereign sent me into this House, so long as I was able to do my duty, I have endeavoured to do so, through evil and through good report, and having duly considered this measure, I think it my duty to let your Lordships and my fellow-subjects know the reasons on which I have founded my opinion on this most momentous subject. I have heard doctrines, and law doctrines too, uttered with respect to this matter now under consideration, which I own have utterly astonished me, speaking as an Englishman and in an English assembly. Doctrines have been laid down with respect to the law of this country and its institutions, which I never heard of before, although I have spent a long life in considering what the law of this country is, and some time in considering how it might be improved. Those considerations, my Lords, have satisfied me that alterations are not always improvements; but when I find it stated in the preamble of this Bill, that it is expedient that all the acknowledged rights of property—that all the acknowledged rights arising out of charters—that all the rights of close corporations, and the rights of corporations which are not close, should be swept away—though it does come recommended by the name of Reform, I find it impossible to give it my assent. I do not think this property can be taken away, and I never can consent to hear the principle of expediency put forward as the justification of a measure which is not consistent, with the principles of British law, and of the British Constitution. I know, my Lords, and I am ready to agree, 211 that there is a popular notion with respect to the boroughs in this country, that they are not property, but trusts. I say, my Lords, that they are both property and trust. Those old-fashioned gentlemen, whose names will be held in lasting remembrance after the delirium of this day shall have passed away—I mean such men as my Lord Holt and my Lord Hale, what have they said with respect to those unpopular things called boroughs? My Lords, they said that they are both a franchise and a right. Well then, my Lords, what are you now doing? I agree—no man is more ready to agree than I am—that, if both be abused to the detriment of the people, they ought to be taken away. But pardon me, my Lords, they are not to be taken away merely because that is said. I will ask your Lordships whether, in the history of this country, there has ever been a single instance of a right of property being taken away upon mere allegation? I do not put it upon the Minister of the day—I am dumb with respect to his Majesty's Ministers. I am a private man; but as a Member of this House, I am bound to do my duty. I will ask the country—I will ask your Lordships—and I wish to God my voice could be heard throughout the country—if you take away the right of property, which you are pleased to say has been abused—I ask if there is a single instance in which it has ever been taken away without the abuse being proved? I have been told, indeed, that in some place or other in the country such proof has been called for, but, nevertheless, that it has been refused to be heard. Now let me ask your Lordships, what is to be the consequence with respect to property of any species whatever—for there is no property in the country which is not accompanied with some trust to ensure its due application. Is it possible for any man to have the boldness to say, that property is secure when we are sweeping away near 100 boroughs, and almost all the corporations in the country, because we have a notion that those who are connected with them have not executed their trust properly? Will you thus proceed on mere allegation, for such is the course pointed out? Will your Lordships now do that which the House of Lords never before thought of doing? Will you proceed to disfranchisement without arbitrating between party and party? Will you not 212 hear the individuals against whom the allegation is made, as well as those who made it? Will you not hear the matter argued in your presence, and allow the right of calling witnesses, on whose evidence you may decide? This new doctrine, I repeat, affects every species of property which any man possesses in this country. My Lords, it has hitherto been the glory of this country that its Parliament will not legislate with respect to property without giving those concerned a full opportunity of being heard, and of asserting their rights. The constant practice is, to allow judicial proceedings in aid of the proceedings of the Legislature. But are your Lordships taking this course now? You are now about to condemn without giving the accused parties an opportunity of being heard. With respect to borough rights, it has been asserted that there is no property in them. Now admitting, for a moment, that they are a mere trust, I am yet to learn that because they only constitute a trust, you are authorized to take away the use of that trust without proof of its mal-administration. This doctrine may be treated as the opinion of a doting old lawyer, but still I shall adhere to it while I find it supported by such men as Coke, and Hale, and Pollexfen, and all the most learned professors of the law. This, I contend, is not only a franchise, but a right of property—a right of property next to that of land. Now, those who have a right of land ought to be cautious before they countenance the sweeping away of God knows how many boroughs, without being aware that any one of them—and certainly with the moral conviction that not all of them—have been guilty of a mal-administration of trust. If such a proceeding be admitted, what security will there be for property in land? I have heard in the course of the last two or three months, a good deal about close corporations. I will now say, that close corporations are hereditary rights, held by Charter from the Crown; and they have as good a right to hold their charters under the Great Seal, as any of your Lordships have to your titles and your Peerages. Now I would ask one and all of your Lordships to say, how you would maintain your right to keep your Peerages, if an existing majority in this House should say, on the creation of other Peers, "We will not do so unconstitutional an act as to allow you to be introduced into 213 this House to secure a majority over us?" I impute to no individual any intention of doing such a thing. I do not object to the courtesy of creating Peers on the occasion of the Coronation. I should, on the contrary, be happy to see individuals introduced to the House, if the Member so created had not already voted for the Bill in the other House, and then came here to vote for it again; and I should be still more happy to find that they did not vote at all on this question. I do not, however, think that any man, or set of men, would dare to counsel such a proceeding under the present circumstances of the country. By such a proceeding the real sense of this House may sooner or later be overruled. My Lords, I respect the whole House of Hanover—I respect the King on the Throne—I am anxious to support his authority, and to forward the general interest of the State—but I believe that nothing could be so subversive of the rights of this House, nothing more injurious to the welfare of the country, than to leave it in the power of any set of men deliberately to effect that proceeding to which I have alluded. But there is a rumour abroad that the opinion of this House is to be, somehow or other, finally overruled. I say, my Lords, I do not credit it. I will not believe that any man, or set of men, will dare to adopt such a course. I know not who are thought to be the set of men alluded to in these, reports; but this I will say, that I do not believe that the noble Earl, to whom I have been opposed throughout the whole course of my political life, honestly on my part, and honestly on his, because I know his opinions are as honest as mine—I do not believe that that Minister, whose name will be illustrious in future generations, whatever may be the fate of this Bill, will ever taint his character by recommending a measure which means neither more nor less than what, if you pass this Bill, will be done in due time—namely, to annihilate this House. With respect to the proposition of his Majesty's Ministers, or any object connected with it, I hope, before the Lords of this House strip off their robes, that they will let their Sovereign know their sentiments. Now, my Lords, let us suppose for a moment that there are some corporations containing but few influential members; I mean, but few who elect Members of Parliament. Has it ever been 214 heard of in the history of this country, or will it ever be heard of in the history of this country, that the Lords of this House should take upon themselves, on a Bill stating it to be expedient to do so and so, to destroy that Constitution which it has been found expedient to preserve from age to age, and which it has never been thought expedient to destroy until this experiment was proposed—that now you are about to sweep away all the corporations in the kingdom, because they are close, and there may be abuses in them? My Lords, the humble individual who now stands before you has some connexion with one of those corporations in which the noble Duke at the Table is interested. I desire to ask any one who knows the practice of that place, with respect to returning Members to Parliament, whether there is any place in the country which has sent more fit Members to the House of Commons than that? Well, then, my Lords, what, is this sweeping disfranchisement that you propose? It is, first, to put an end to all the boroughs in schedule A; secondly, it is to destroy all the corporations in the country; and, thirdly, if it does not destroy the corporations, which to a certain extent it does, it introduces persons who have no connexion with the corporation to vote along with the corporators, and thus to destroy the rights of those corporators, which they have enjoyed for so many years, and for no other reason than that they live about seven miles from the town. My Lords, I am a freeman of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I hold it to be one of the highest honours which I possess, and I consider that it ought to be an encouragement to all the young rising men of that place, that any man in this country, possessing moderate abilities, improved by industry, may raise himself to the highest situations in the country. For God's sake, my Lords, never part with that principle. You may ask me what application I make of this argument. My Lords, I will tell you the application. I received my education in the corporation school of that town on cheap terms. As the son of a freeman I had a right to it; and I had hoped that when my ashes were laid in the grave, where they probably soon will be, that I might have given some memorandum that boys there, situated as I was, might rise to be Chancellors of England, if, having the advantage of that education, they were honest, faithful, and 215 industrious in their dealings. Well, but this Bill, which is, it seems, founded in part on population, and in part on something else which I cannot tell—this Bill is to do away with corporations. My Lords, I have seen papers which were laid upon the Table of the House of Commons, stating that within the last thirty years 700 persons voted in that corporation; 700 is but a small proportion of those who belong to that corporation. But this Bill says, that although the King gave to the corporation of Newcastle-upon-Tyne all these privileges, which had never been touched before by any Bill, now 2,700 3s. 6d. a-week men shall be brought to co-operate with these 700. If any noble Lord will take the trouble to look back to the Members returned for that town, he will agree with me, that they would have done honour to any place; and yet the freemen by which those Members were returned are stigmatized, and are to be absolutely abolished, in order to admit 2,700 persons, whose only qualification is, that they must be householders at 3s. 6d. a-week. My Lords, let us take any objectionable borough, any close corporation, that can be named, and I will venture to say, that if your Lordships' House disfranchise either one or other of them, without calling in aid your legislative or judicial functions, without hearing what objections are to be made to it, and hearing its defence, such a proceeding goes further to abrogate a nation's privileges, and to limit those of your Lordships' House, than any other which I have ever known to be proposed to Parliament. My Lords, a great deal has been said in the course of these deliberations as to whether we are to have some measure of Reform or not. It is said of those who oppose the second reading of this Bill, almost every one—with the exception indeed of two—that is the utmost number that was stated last night—is for some sort of moderate Reform. What that measure is, no one has hitherto explained; but, my Lords, I have lived long in the two Houses of Parliament—more than fifty years—and I will take leave to say that neither the opinions of the noble Lords on the one side nor on the other, nor of those who sit between both sides, will ever get me to say one word more than this—that it is the duty of every Member of Parliament, when he is called on to declare his assent to or his dissent 216 from any measure, not to pledge himself beforehand; on the contrary I hold it to be his bounden duty, whatever may be the measure proposed, whether it be a measure which some call Reform, or some call a measure of change or alteration, to consider it well before he pronounces upon it. People suppose that everything which is called change is reform, but change and alteration are not of necessity reform. My Lords, you will observe that whatever the change may be, if the individual does not give it his best attention, if he does not reject the proposition, if he conscientiously thinks he ought to do so, or agree to it if he thinks it merits his approbation he does wrong, and he stands exactly in the same circumstances with regard to this Bill as to any other measure. As an old man, my Lords, I would take leave to warn the young men of this House, that they must not pledge their future opinions as to any particular measure, until they perceive what the full public bearing of that measure will prove to be. My Lords, I now come to one of the many considerations which have influenced me in the humble opinion which I have formed upon this subject. I well remember, my Lords (although it is a long time ago, I have a perfect recollection of it), that I fought under the banners of no less a man than Mr. Fox in the House of Commons, and feebly supported him against a proposition of this kind. Mr. Fox then stated that it would be an absolute injustice to disfranchise a borough, even where the majority of its voters were proved to be corrupt. That statesmen, on a subsequent occasion, confirmed this statement by repeating that it was an injustice, unless they were ready to tell all the other boroughs that they must be prepared to expect the same. I have had the honour of fighting under Mr. Fox against all my political friends. I was then what is now called a nomination-borough Member. But I would not have sat one moment in the House if I were not at liberty to rest upon my own opinion. No man would dare to put me into Parliament if it were not upon that understanding. Whether that opinion of mine was right or wrong, it is impossible for this House, if it wishes to maintain its united legislative and judicial functions, to consent to schedule A, without acting upon a principle which endangers every right and every privilege in the country. I well recollect also—and 217 your Lordships well know the time, when another eminent statesman made a motion for a Committee to inquire what could be done with a view to the reformation of Parliament. That motion failed, and in the subsequent year, or two years after—I forget which—the same Gentleman brought forward another motion, which had for its object to add eighty or a hundred Knights of the Shire to the House of Commons; but he never talked of admitting leaseholders to the franchise. I remember that distinguished individual stated to me, that he was obliged to those who had enabled the House of Commons to escape the consequences of that proposition. Let me now, my Lords, for a moment call your attention to the circumstances in which this country was placed in the year 1793. At that time there were three Societies in existence, one of them contained some of the best men in the country, and it was called the Society of the Friends of the People: when I mention this Society I am sorry to couple it with the other two, because more honourable and more respectable men never belonged to any association. And I cannot pass over this subject without repeating what I said in reference to the Catholic Association, that if you direct the law against associations, instead of against what passes in these associations, you will do no good. The second of the Societies to which I have alluded was that of the Constitutionalists, who had a very clever man at their head; and then there was the Corresponding Society. The doctrine of Universal Suffrage got into those associations, they sent delegates to France, and had communications with the revolutionary government of that country; and I will venture to say, that, blamed as the Government and the law officers of that day have been, if the measures had not been taken which were then taken, your Lordships would not be sitting here this night. Will the country—will your Lordships—will my fellow-subjects, whom I now see in another part of the House, say this—that they would rather have this country turned into a republic than have sustained the expenses of the war which we have carried on? I am sure you would express your indignation and contempt, if such a question were seriously put to you. My Lords, sacrifice one atom of our glorious Constitution, and all the rest is gone. Shall I ask whether the people 218 of this country would like to have young Napoleon on the throne of this country, or the House of Hanover? We owe to that House blessings for which we can never be sufficiently grateful. I have taken the liberty of making these observations, for the purpose of stating the reasons why I decline saying a word more than that, with respect to any measure—whether it be a Reform Bill or any other measure, nothing shall induce me to say one word for or against it, until I know what the measure is. My Lords, when I see that this has been a subject of so much consideration—when I see that not this exact measure, but the question of Reform, has been a subject of so much doubt and difficulty for fifty years, may not an humble man like me hope that your Lordships will excuse me, if I retain my opinion until I know whether the wisdom of the present day will effect a practical improvement upon the institutions of former days? No proposition, I am ready to admit, could be more invidious than that the House of Lords should refuse to go into Committee upon any measure, when, taking the principle and the provisions together, they do not object to the principle. But I qualify that by saying, that it would be unworthy of your Lordships' House to adopt a measure, even though you approved of its principle, if, having carefully read it, there were not one single clause of which you could or ought to approve. But, my Lords, I say that the principle of this Bill strikes at the established rules of property, and disfranchises with an unsparing hand, and in an unjust manner, not only whole bodies of our fellow-subjects, but I defy any man carefully to read any one clause and to point out a single one which does not either entirely disfranchise, or taint the franchise, by communicating the right to others, and thus, in effect, disfranchise those who held their privilege under charters, and under the established law of England—and this without any abuse being proved. I call upon any noble Lord to tell me if this Bill does not disfranchise every individual in Corporations, whether he be a tradesman or any thing else; whether it does not either disfranchise him altogether, or, by communication to others of those rights which he holds under charter, of that property which he has a right to enjoy as his exclusive privilege? In defiance of those 219 sweeping clauses of disfranchisement by which the Bill is characterised, I would ask the noble Earl, by what right was a freeman of a borough to be told that because he lived at a distance exceeding seven miles from the place, which distance he chose to traverse on foot or on horseback to the poll at his own expense, he shall not be allowed to give his vote for a Representative? Yet if he lived at a distance of seven miles and one furlong off, he is, without any other blame whatever, disqualified by the Bill on the Table. The case of the widows and daughters of freemen who, in particular boroughs, carried with them, or to their children, the franchise, is one which particularly appealed to the humane sympathy of your Lordships, yet even the widows and orphans are not spared by this inclement measure. Every thing which may oppose its sweeping clauses is borne down without reflecting on the ruin it brings along with it on individuals. Yet; if any person shall marry one of those privileged females on the Friday, and the Bill receives the next day the Royal Assent, the man so marrying her shall acquire the derivative right; but if he marries her one minute after the Royal assent, the Bill takes care to deprive him of all and every such advantage. The noble Earl was proceeding to describe the mode in which the franchise had been originally acquired, and was endeavouring to shew that it first sprung up in the agricultural districts, and was intimately, if not solely connected with the land, when
§ The Earl of Oxford rose to express a regret that the noble Earl confined his address to those immediately about him, so that he and others on the Ministerial side of the House could scarcely catch an occasional sentence of what he said.
§ [Cries of "order order," "Lord Eldon is on his legs."] Lord Rolle, the Marquis of Salisbury, and others rose to order, and a considerable period elapsed before the noble Earl could resume, after the Earl of Oxford had disclaimed all intention to interrupt, and said he only wished the noble Earl to raise his voice so that he might be heard.
§ The Earl of Eldon
, resuming, said—a thousand other considerations of enormous weight, on my mind on such a momentous occasion might be added, without, travelling into minor objectionable details, but I am not disposed to reiterate what has 220 been in many cases so ably argued, or fatigue the House. It is, I confess, my Lords, an all-engrossing subject—and the Bill will be found, I fear from my soul, to go the length of introducing in its train, if passed, Universal Suffrage, Annual Parliaments, and Vote by Ballot. It will unhinge the whole frame of society as now constituted. Will you then, my Lords, consent to introduce into the Constitution a Bill which is at war with the preservation of that Constitution, and which is more particularly remarkable for being altogether incompatible with the existence of a House of Lords. I, my Lords, have nearly run my race in this world, and must soon go to my Maker and my dread account. What I have said in this instance in all sincerity, I have expressed out of my love to your Lordships, and in that sincerity I will solemnly assert, I believe in my heart that, with this Bill in operation, the Monarchy cannot exist—and that it is totally incompatible with the existence of the British Constitution.
§ The Marquis of Cleveland and several other noble Lords rose with the Lord Chancellor, but they gave way and the noble and learned Lord proceeded and spoke as follows:—
The Lord Chancellor
* My Lords; I feel that I owe some apology to your Lordships for standing in the way of any noble Lords who wish to address you; but after much deliberation, and after consulting with several of my noble friends on both sides of the House, it did appear to us, as I am sure it will to your Lordships, desirable on many grounds that the Debate should be brought to a close this night; and I thought I could not better contribute to that end than by taking the present opportunity of addressing you. Indeed, I had scarcely any choice; I am urged on by the anxiety I feel on this mighty subject, which is so great, that I should hardly have been able to delay the expression of my opinion much longer; if I had, I feel assured, that I must have lost the power to address you. This solicitude is not, I can assure your Lordships, diminished by my recollection of the great talents and brilliant exertions of those by whom I have been preceded in the discussion, and the consciousness of the difficulties with which I have to contend in fol-* Printed from the corrected report published by Ridgway.221 lowing such men. It is a deep sense of these difficulties that induces me to call for your patient indulgence. For although not unused to meet public bodies, nay, constantly in the habit, during many years, of presenting myself before great assemblies of various kinds, yet I do solemnly assure you, that I never, until this moment, felt what deep responsibility may rest on a Member of the Legislature in addressing either of its Houses. And if I, now standing with your Lordships on the brink of the most momentous decision that ever human assembly came to at any period of the world, and seeking to arrest you, whilst it is yet time, in that position, could, by any divination of the future, have foreseen in my earliest years that I should live to appear here, and to act as your adviser, on a question of such awful importance, not only to yourselves, but to your remotest posterity, I should have devoted every day and every hour of that life to preparing myself for the task which I now almost sink under—gathering from the monuments of ancient experience the lessons of wisdom which might guide our course at the present hour—looking abroad on our own times, and those not uneventful, to check, by practice, the application of those lessons—chastening myself, and sinking within me every infirmity of temper, every waywardness of disposition, which might, by possibility impede the discharge of this most solemn duty—but above all, eradicating from my mind every thing that, by any accident, could interrupt the most, perfect candour and impartiality of judgment. I advance thus anxious and thus humbled to the task before me; but cheered, on the other hand, with the intimate and absolute persuasion that I have no personal interest to serve—no sinister views to resist—that there is nothing in my nature or in my situation, which can cast even the shadow of a shade across the broad path, I will not say of legislative, but of judicial duty, in which I am now to accompany your Lordships.
I have listened, my Lords, with the most profound attention to the debate on this question, which has lasted during the five past days; and having heard a vast variety of objections brought against this measure, and having also attended to the arguments which have been urged to repel those objections, I, careless whether I give offence in any quarter or no, must, in common fairness, say, on the one hand, 222 that I am so far moved by some of the things which I have heard urged, as to be inclined towards the reconsideration of several matters on which I had conceived my mind to be fully made up; and, on the other, that in the great majority of the objections which have been ingeniously raised against this Bill, I can by no means concur; but, viewing them as calmly and dispassionately as ever man listened to the arguments advanced for and against any measure, I am bound by a sense of duty to say, that those objections have left my mind entirely unchanged as to the bulk of the principles upon which the Bill is framed. If I presumed to go through those objections, or even through the majority of them, in detail, I should be entering upon a tedious, and also a superfluous work: so many of them have been removed by the admirable speeches which you have already heard, that I should only be wasting your time were I once more to refute them; I should only be doing worse what my precursors have already done far better. I will begin, however, with what fell from a noble Earl (Earl Dudley)—with whose display I was far less struck than others, because I was more accustomed to it—who, viewing this Bill from a remote eminence, and not coming close, or even approaching near, made a reconnoissance of it too far off to see even its outworks—who, indulging in a vein of playful and elegant, pleasantry, to which no man listens in private with more delight than myself, knowing how well it becomes the leisure hours and familiar moments of my noble friend, delivered with the utmost purity of diction and the most felicitous aptness of allusion—I was going to say a discourse—but it was an exercise, or essay—of the highest merit, which had only this fault—that it was an essay, or exercitation, on some other thesis, and not on this Bill. It was as if some one had set to my noble friend, whose accomplishments I know—whose varied talents I admire, but in whom I certainly desiderate soundness of judgment and closeness of argument, a theme de rebuspublicis, or de motû civium, or de novarum rerum cupiditate—on change, on democracies, on republicanism, on anarchy; and on these interesting, but somewhat trite and even threadbare subjects, my noble friend made one of the most lucid, most terse, most classical, and, as far as such efforts will admit of eloquence, 223 most eloquent exercitations, that ever proceeded from mortal mouth. My noble friend proceeded altogether on a false assumption; it was on a fiction of his own brain—on a device of his own imagination, that he spoke throughout. He first assumed that the Bill meant change and revolution, and on change and revolution he prælected voluminously and successfully. So much for the critical merits of his performance; but practically viewed—regarded as an argument on the question before us—it is to be wholly left out of view; it was quite beside the matter. If this Bill be change and be revolution, there is no resisting the conclusions of my noble friend. But on that point I am at issue with him; and he begins by taking the thing in dispute for granted. I deny that this Bill is change in the bad sense of the word; nor does it lead to, nor has it any connection with, revolution, except so far as it has a direct tendency to prevent revolution.
My noble friend, in the course of his essay, talked to your Lordships of this Administration as one prone to change; he told you that its whole system was a system of changes; and he selected as the first change on which he would ring a loud peal, that which he said we had made in our system of finance. If he is so averse to our making alterations in our scheme of finance the very first year we have been in office, what does he think, I ask, of Mr. Pitt's budgets, of which never one passed without undergoing changes in almost every one tax, beside those altogether abandoned? If our budget had been carried as it was originally brought in, with a remission of the timber duty, and the candle duty, and the coal duty, it would have been distinguished beyond all others only as having given substantial relief to the people on those very trivial and unnecessary articles, I suppose, of human life—fire, and light, and lodging. Then, our Law Reform is another change which my noble friend charged the Government with being madly bent on effecting. Scarcely had the Lord President of the Council risen to answer the objection raised against us on this score, than up started my noble friend to assert that he had not pressed any such objection into his service. My Lords, I am not in the habit of taking a note of what falls from any noble Lord in debate—it is not my practice—but by some fatality it did so happen that, whilst 224 my noble friend was speaking, I took a note of his observations, of which I will take the liberty of reading you the very first line. "Change and revolution; all is change; among the first—law." I took that note, because I was somewhat surprised at the observation, knowing, as I did, that this Law Reform had met with the approbation of my noble friend himself; and, what was yet more satisfactory to my mind, it had received the sanction of your Lordships, and had been passed through all its stages without even a division. My noble friend then told us, still reconnoitring our position at a distance, or, at most, partaking in an occasional skirmish, but holding himself aloof from the main battle—he told us that this Bill came recommended neither by the weight of ancient authority, nor by the spirit of modern refinement; that this attack on our present system was not supported by the experience of the past, nor sanctioned by any appearance of the great mind or the master genius of our precursors in later times. As to the weight of ancient authority, skilled as my noble friend is in every branch of literary history, I am obliged to tell him he is inaccurate; and, because it may afford him some consolation in this his day of discomfiture and anguish, I will supply the defect which exists in his historical recollections; for an author, the first of satirists in any age—Dean Swift—with whom my noble friend must have some sympathy, since he closely imitates him in this respect, that as the Dean satirized, under the name of man, a being who had no existence save in his own imagination; so my noble friend attacks, under the name of the Bill, a fancy of his own, a creature of his fertile brain, and which has no earthly connexion with the real ink and parchment Bill before you—Dean Swift, who was never yet represented as a man prone to change, who was not a Radical, who was not a Jacobin (for indeed those terms were in his day unknown); Dean Swift, who was not even a Whig, but, in the language of the times, a regular, staunch, thick-and-thin Tory, while enumerating the absurdities in our system, which required an adequate and efficient remedy, says:—'It is absurd that the boroughs, which are decayed, and destitute both of trade and population, are not extinguished;' (or, as we should say, in the language of the Bill, which was as unknown to Dean Swift as it is now to 225 my noble friend, put into schedule A,) 'because,' adds the Dean, 'they return Members who represent nobody at all;' so here he adopts the first branch of the measure; and next he approves of the other great limb; for the second grand absurdity which he remarks is, 'that several large towns are not represented, though they are filled with those who increase mightily the trade of the realm.' Then as to shortening the duration of Parliaments, on which we have not introduced a single provision into the Bill—if we had, what a cry should we have heard about the statesmen in Queen Anne's day, the great men who lived in the days of Marlborough, and during the period sung of by my noble friend, from Blenheim to Waterloo; how we should have been taunted with the Somerset and Godolphins, and their contemporaries, the Swifts and the Addisons! What would they have said of such a change? Yet what did the same Dean Swift, the contemporary of Somers and Godolphin, the friend of Addison, who sang the glories of Blenheim, the origin of my noble friend's period—what did the Dean, inspired by all the wisdom of ancient times, say to shortening the duration of Parliament? 'I have a strong love for the good old fashion of Gothic Parliaments, which were only of one year's duration.' Such is the ground, such the vouchers, upon the authority of which my noble friend, in good set phrase, sets the weight of ancient wisdom against the errors of the Reformers, and triumphs in the round denial that we have any thing in our favour like the sanction of authority; and it turns out, after all, that the wise men of the olden time promulgated their opinions on the subject in such clear, and decisive, and vigorous terms, that if they were living in our days, and giving utterance to the same sentiments, they would be set down rather for determined Radicals than for enemies of Reform.
Then my noble friend, advancing from former times to our own, asked who and what they are that form the Cabinet of the day? To such questions it would be unbecoming in me to hazard a reply. I do not find fault with my noble friend for putting them; I admit that it is fair to ask who are they that propound any measure, especially when it comes in the shape of a great change. The noble Earl then complained of our poverty of genius—absence 226 of commanding talents—want of master minds—and even our destitution of eloquence, a topic probably suggested by my noble friend's display who opened the Debate (Earl Grey), and whose efforts in that kind are certainly very different from those which the noble Earl seems to admire. But if it be a wise rule to ask by whom a measure is propounded before you give it implicit confidence, it certainly cannot be an unwise rule to ask, on the other hand, who and what be they by whom that measure is resisted, before you finally reject it on their bare authority. Nor can I agree with a noble friend of mine (the Earl of Carnarvon) who spoke last night, and who laid down one doctrine on this subject at which I marvelled greatly. It was one of his many allegories—for they were not metaphors nor yet similies—some of them, indeed, were endless, especially when my noble friend took to the water, and embarked us onboard of his ship—for want of steam, I thought we should never have got to the end of our voyage. When we reply to their arguments against our measure, by asking what Reform they have got of their own to offer, he compares us to some host, who, having placed before his friends an uneatable dinner, which they naturally found fault with, should say, "Gentlemen, you are very hard to please: I have set a number of dishes before you, which you cannot eat—now, what dishes can you dress yourselves?" My noble friend says, that such an answer would be very unreasonable—for he asks, ingenuously enough, how can the guests dress a dinner, especially when they have not possession of the kitchen? But did it never strike him that the present is not the case of guests called upon to eat a dinner—it is one of rival cooks, who want to get into our kitchen. We are here all on every side cooks—a synod of cooks (to use Dr. Johnson's phrase), and nothing but cooks; for it is the very condition of our being—the bond of our employment, under a common master—that none of us shall ever taste the dishes we are dressing. The Commons House may taste it; but can the Lords?—we have nothing to do but prepare the viands. It is, therefore, of primary importance, when the authority of the two classes of rival artists is the main question, to inquire what are our feats severally in our common calling. I ought, perhaps, to ask your Lordships' pardon for pursuing my noble friend's allegory; but I saw that it produced an impression by the 227 cheers it excited, and I was desirous to show that it was in a most extraordinary degree inapplicable to the question, to illustrate which it was fetched from afar off. I therefore must think myself entitled to ask, who and what be they that oppose us, and what dish they are likely to cook for us, when once again they get possession of the kitchen? I appeal to any candid man who now hears me, and I ask him whether, it being fair to consider who are the authors of the Bill, it is not equally fair to consider from whom the objections come? I therefore trust that any impartial man, unconnected with either class of Statesmen, when called upon to consider our claims to confidence, before he adopts our measures, should, before he repudiates us in favour of our adversaries, inquire—are they likely to cure the evils, and remedy the defects, of which they admit the existence in our system?—and are their motives such as ought to win the confidence of judicious and calmly reflecting men?
One noble Lord there is (the Earl of Winchilsea) whose judgment we are called upon implicitly to trust, and who expressed himself with much indignation, and yet with entire honesty of purpose, against this measure. No man is, in my opinion, more single-hearted; no man more incorruptible. But in his present enmity to this Bill, which he describes as pregnant with much mischief to the Constitution, he gives me reason to doubt the soundness of the resolution which would take him as a guide, from the fact of his having been, not more than five or six months ago most friendly to its provisions, and expressed the most unbounded confidence in the Government which proposed it. Ought not this to make us pause before we place our consciences in his keeping—before we surrender up our judgment to his prudence—before we believe in his cry that the Bill is revolution, and the destruction of the empire, when we find that the same man delivered diametrically opposite opinions only six months ago? [The Earl of Winchilsea: "No!"] Then I have been practised upon, if it is not so; and the noble Earl's assertion should be of itself sufficient to convince me that I have been practised upon. But I can assure the noble Earl, that this has been handed to me as an extract from a speech which he made to a meeting of the county of Kent, held at Maidstone, on the 24th of last 228 March:—'They have not got Reform yet; but when the measure does come, as I am persuaded it will come, into the law of the land' [a loud cry of "No!" from the Opposition Lords]. Then if noble Lords will not let me proceed quietly, I must begin again, and this time I will go further back. The speech represents the noble Earl to have said—'His Majesty's Government is entitled to the thanks of the country. Earl Grey, with his distinguished talents, unites a political honesty not to be surpassed, and leaves behind him, at an immeasureable distance, those who have abandoned their principles and deceived their friends. The noble Lord is entitled to the eternal gratitude of his country, for the manner in which he has brought forward this question. I maintain, that he deserves the support of the country at large.' And, my Lords, the way in which I was practised on to believe that all this praise was not referable to the timber duties, but to Reform, I shall now explain. It is in the next passage of the same speech—'They have not got Reform yet; but when the measure does come, as I am persuaded it will come, into the law of the land, it will consolidate, establish, and strengthen our glorious Constitution; and not only operate for the general welfare and happiness of the country, but will also render an act of justice to the great and influential body of the people. The measure has not yet been introduced to that House of which I am a Member.' [Lord Winchilsea and his friends here cheered loudly.] Aye, but it had been debated in the House of Commons for near a month—it had been published in all books, pamphlets, and newspapers—it had been discussed in all companies and societies—and I will undertake to assert, that there was not one single man in the whole county of Kent, who did not know that Lord John Russell's Bill was a Bill for Parliamentary Reform. The speech thus concludes—'When the Bill is brought forward in that House of which I am a Member, I shall be at my post, ready to give it my most hearty and cordial'—opposition?—no—'support.' But why do I allude to this speech at all? Merely to show, that if those who oppose the Bill say to us, "Who are you that propound it?" and make our previous conduct a ground for rejecting it, through distrust of its authors, we have a right to reply to them with another question, and 229 to ask, "Who are you that resist it, and what were your previous opinions regarding it?"
Another noble Earl (the Earl of Mansfield) has argued this question with great ability and show of learning; and if we are to take him as our guide, we must also look at the panacea which he provides for us in case of rejection. That noble Earl, looking around him on all sides—surveying what had occurred in the last, forty or fifty years—glancing above him and below him, around him and behind him—watching every circumstance of the past—anticipating every circumstance of the future—scanning every sign of the times—taking into his account all the considerations upon which a lawgiver ought to reckon—regarding also the wishes, the vehement desires, not to say absolute demands, of the whole country for some immediate Reform—concentrates all his wisdom in this proposition—the result, the practical result of all his deliberations, and all his lookings about, and all his scannings of circumstances—the whole produce of his thoughts, by the value of which you are to try the safely of his counsels—namely, that you should suspend all your operations on this Bill for two years, and, I suppose, two days, to give the people—what? breathing time. The noble Lord takes a leaf out of the book of the noble Duke near him—a leaf which I believe the noble Duke himself would now wish cancelled. The noble Duke, shortly before he proposed the great measure of Catholic Emancipation, had said—"Before I can support that measure, I should wish that the whole question might sink into oblivion." But the proposition of the noble Earl, though based on the same idea, goes still further. "Bury," says he, "this measure of Reform in oblivion for two years and two days, and then see, good people, what I will do for you." And then what will the noble Earl do for the good people? Why nothing—neither more nor less than nothing. We, innocents that we were, fancied that the noble Earl must, after all his promises, really mean to do something; and thought he had said somewhat of bribery—of doing a little about bribery—which was his expression; but when we mentioned our supposition, that he really meant to go as far as to support a bill for the more effectual prevention of bribery at elections, the noble Earl told us that he would do no 230 such thing. [The Earl of Mansfield: I gave no opinion on the point.] Exactly so. The noble Lord reserves his opinion as to whether he would put down bribery for two years and two days; and when they are expired, he, peradventure, may inform us whether he will give us leave to bring in a Bill to prevent bribery; not all kinds of bribery—that would be radical work—but as far as the giving away of ribands goes, leaving beer untouched, and agreeably to the venerable practice of the olden time.
Another noble Lord, a friend of mine, whose honesty and frankness stamps all he says with still greater value than it derives from mere talent (Lord Wharncliffe), would have you believe that all the petitions, under which your Table now groans, and indeed for Reform, but not for this Bill, which, he actually says the people dislikes. Now is not this a droll way for the people to act, if we are to take my noble friend's statement as true? First of all, it is an odd time they have taken to petition for Reform, if they do not like this Bill. I should say that if they petition for Reform, whilst this particular measure is passing through the House, it is a proof that the Bill contains the Reform they want. Surely when I see the good men of this country—the intelligent and industrious classes of the community—now coming forward, not by thousands but by hundreds of thousands, I can infer nothing from their conduct, but that this is the Bill, and the only Bill, for which they petition? But if they want some real Reform other than the Bill proposes, is it not still more unaccountable that they should one and all petition, not for that other Reform, but for this very measure? The proposition of my noble friend is, that they love Reform in general, but hate this particular plan; and the proof of it is this, that their petitions all pray earnestly for this particular plan, and say not a word of general Reform. Highly as I prize the integrity of my noble friend—much as I may admire his good sense on other occasions—I must say, that on this occasion I descry not his better judgment, and I estimate how far he is a safe guide either as a witness to facts, or as a judge of measure, by his success in the present instance; in either capacity, I cannot hesitate in recommending your Lordships not to follow him. As a witness to facts, never was failure more complete. The Bill, said he, has no friends anywhere; and he 231 mentioned Bond-street as one of his walks, where he could not enter a shop without finding its enemies abound. No sooner had Bond-street escaped his lips than up comes a petition to your Lordships from nearly all its shopkeepers, affirming that their sentiments have been misrepresented, for they are all champions of the Bill. My noble friend then says, "Oh, I did not mean the shopkeepers of Bond-street in particular; I might have said any other street, as St. James's, equally." No sooner does that unfortunate declaration get abroad, then the shopkeepers of St. James's-street are up in arms, and forth comes a petition similar to that from Bond-street. My noble friend is descried moving-through Regent-street, and away scamper all the inhabitants, fancying that he is in quest of Anti-reformers—sign a requisition to the Churchwardens—and the householders, one and all, declare themselves friendly to the Bill. Whither shall he go—what street shall he enter—in what alley shall he take refuge—since the inhabitants of every street, and lane, and alley, feel it necessary, in self-defence, to become signers and petitioners as soon as he makes his appearance among them? If, harassed by Reformers on land, my noble friend goes down to the water, the thousand Reformers greet him, whose petition (Lambeth) I this day presented to your Lordships. If he were to get into a hackney-coach, the very coachmen and their attendants would feel it their duty to assemble and petition. Wherever there is a street, an alley, a passage, nay, a river, a wherry, or a hackney-coach, these because inhabited become forbidden and tabooed to my noble friend. I may meet him not on "the accustomed hill," for Hay-hill, though short, has some houses on its slope, but on the south side of Berkeley-square, wandering "remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow"—for there he finds a street without a single inhabitant, and therefore without a single friend of the Bill. If, in despair, he shall flee from the town to seek the solitude of the country, still will he be pursued by cries of "Petition, petition! The Bill, the Bill!" His flight will be through villages placarded with "The Bill"—his repose at inns holden by landlords who will present him with the bill; he will be served by Reformers in the guise of waiters—pay tribute at gates where petitions lie for signing—and plunge into his own domains to be overwhelmed 232 with the Sheffield petition signed by 10,400 friends of the Bill.Me miserable! whither shall I flyInfinite wrath and infinite despair?Which way I fly Reform—myself Reform!for this is the most serious part of the whole—my noble friend is himself, after all, a Reformer. I mention this to show that he is not more a safe guide on matters of opinion than on matters of fact. He is a Reformer—he is not even a bit-by-bit Reformer—not even a gradual Reformer—but that which at any other time than the present would be called a wholesale and even a Radical Reformer. He deems that no shadowy unsubstantial Reform—that nothing but an effectual remedy of acknowledged abuses, will satisfy the people of England and Scotland; and this is a fact to which I entreat the earnest and unremitting attention of every man who wishes to know what guides are safe to follow on this subject. Many now follow men who say that Reform is necessary, and yet object to this Bill as being too large; that is, too efficient. This may be very incorrect; but it is worse; it is mixed up with a gross delusion, which can never deceive the country; for I will now say, once for all, that, everyone argument which has been urged by those leaders is as good against moderate Reform as it is this Bill. Not a single reason they give, not a topic they handle, not an illustration they resort to, not a figure of speech they use, not even a flower they fling about, that does not prove or illustrate the position of "No Reform." All their speeches, from beginning to end, are railing against the smallest as against the greatest change, and yet all the while they call themselves Reformers! Are they then safe guides for any man who is prepared to allow any Reform, however moderate, of any abuse, however glaring?
Of another noble Earl (Lord Harrowby), whose arguments, well selected, and ably put, were yet received with such exaggerated admiration by his friends; as plainly shewed how pressing were their demands for a tolerable defender, we have heard it said, again and again, that no answer whatever has been given to his speech. I am sure I mean no disrespect to that noble Earl, when I venture to remark the infinite superiority in all things, but especially in argument, of such speeches as those of the noble Marquis (Lansdowne) and the 233 noble Viscount (Melbourne).The former, in his most masterly answer, left but little of the speech for any other antagonist to destroy. The latter, while he charmed us with the fine eloquence that, pervaded his discourse, and fixed our thoughts by the wisdom and depth of reflection that informed it, won all hearers by his candour and sincerity. Little, indeed, have they left for me to demolish; yet if anything remain, it may be as well we should take it to pieces. But I am first considering the noble Earl in the light of one professing to be a safe guide for your Lordships. What then are his claims to the praise of calmness and impartiality? For the constant cry is, against the Government, "You are hasty, rash, intemperate men. You know not what you do; your adversaries are the true State physicians; look at their considerate deportment; imitate their solemn caution." This is the sort of thing we hear in private as well as public." See such an one—he is a man of prudence, and a discreet (the olden times called such, a sad man); he is not averse to all innovation, but dislikes precipitancy; he is calm; just to all sides alike; never gives a hasty opinion; a safe one to follow; look how he votes." I have done this on the present, occasion; and, understanding the noble. Earl might be the sort of personage intended, I have watched him. Common consistency was of course to be at all events expected in this sale model—some connexion between the premises and conclusion, the speech and the vote. I listened to the speech, and also, with many others, expected that an avowal of all or nearly all the principles of the Bill would have ended in a vote for the second reading, which might suffer the Committee to discuss its details, the only subject of controversy with the noble Earl. But no such thing; he is a Reformer, and approves the principle, objecting to the details, and, therefore—he votes against it in the lump, details, principle and all. But soon after his own speech closed he interrupted another, that of my noble and learned friend (Lord Plunkett), to give us a marvellous sample of calm and impartial judgment. What do you think of the cool head—the unruffled temper—the unbiassed mind of that man—most candid and most acute as he is, when not under the domination of alarm—who could listen without even a gesture of disapprobation to the speech of one noble Lord (Mansfield), 234 professedly not extemporaneous, for he, with becoming though unnecessary modesty, disclaims the faculty of speaking off-hand, but elaborately prepared, in answer to a Member of the other House, and in further answer to a quarto volume, published by him—silent and unmoved, could hear another speech, made up of extracts from the House of Commons' debates—could listen and make no sign when a noble Marquis (Londonderry) referred to the House of Commons' speeches of my noble friend by his House of Commons' name, again and again calling him Charles Grey, without even the prefix of Mr.; nay, could himself repeatedly comment, upon those very speeches of the other House—what will your Lordships say of the fatal effects of present fear, in warping and distorting a naturally just mind, when you find this same noble Earl interrupt the Chancellor of Ireland, because he most regularly, most orderly, referred to the public conduct of a right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel), exhibited in a former Parliament, and now become a matter of history? Surely, surely, nothing more is wanted to show that all the rashness—all the heedlessness—all the unreflecting precipitancy, is not to be found upon the right hand of the Woolsack; and that they who have hurried across the sea, in breathless impatience, to throw out the Bill, might probably, had they been at home, and allowed themselves time for sober reflection, have been found among the friends of a measure which they now so acrimoniously oppose! So much for the qualifications of the noble Lords, to act safely as our guides, according to the general view of the question as one of mere authority, taken by my noble friend (Earl Dudley). But I am quite willing to rest the subject upon a higher ground, and to take it upon reason, and not upon authority. I will therefore follow the noble Earl (Harrowby), somewhat more closely through his argument, the boast of our antagonists.
He began with historical matter, and gave a very fair and manly explanation of his family's connexion with the borough of Tiverton. This he said would set him rectus in curiâ, as he phrased it; if by this he meant that he should thence appear to have no interest in opposing the Bill, I cannot agree with him; but certainly his narrative, coupled with a few additions by way of reference, which may be made to it, throws considerable light 235 upon the system of rotten boroughs. The influence by which his family have so long returned the two Members, is, it seems, personal, and in no way connected with property. This may be very true; for certainly the noble Lord has no property within a hundred miles of the place; yet if it is true, what becomes of the cry, raised by his Lordship, about property? But let that pass—the influence then is personal—aye, but it may be personal, and yet be official also. The family of the noble Earl has for a long series of years been in high office, ever since the time when its founder also laid the foundations of the borough connexion, as Solicitor-general. By some accident or other, they have always been connected with the Government as well as the borough. I venture to suspect, that the matter of patronage may have had some share in cementing the attachment of the men of Tiverton to the House of Ryder. I take leave to suggest the bare possibility of many such men having always held local and other places—of the voters and their families having always got on in the world through that patronage. If it should turn out that I am right, there may be no very peculiar blame imputable to the noble Earl and his Tiverton supporters; but it adds one to the numberless proofs, that the borough system affords endless temptations to barter political patronage for parliamentary power—to use official influence for the purpose of obtaining seats in the Commons, and, by means of those seats, to retain that influence.
The noble Earl complained that the Reform Bill shut the doors of Parliament against the eldest sons of Peers, and thus deprived our successors of the best kind of political education. My Lords, I freely admit the justice of his panegyric upon this constitutional training, by far the most useful which a statesman can receive; but I deny that the measure proposed will affect it—will obstruct the passage to the House of Commons; it will rather clear and widen it to all, who like your Lordships' sons, ought there to come. My noble and friend (Viscount Goderich), who so admirably answered the noble Earl, in a speech distinguished by the most attractive eloquence, and which went home to every heart from the honest warmth of feeling, so characteristic of his nature, that breathed through it—has already destroyed this topic by referring to 236 the most notorious facts, by simply enumerating the open counties represented by Peers' eldest sons. But I had rather take one instance for illustration, because an individual case always strikes into the imagination, and rivets itself deep in the memory. I have the happiness of knowing a young nobleman—whom to know is highly to esteem—a more virtuous, a more accomplished I do not know—nor have any of your Lordships, rich as you are in such blessings, any arrow in all your quivers of which you have more reason to be proud. He sat for a nomination borough; formed his own opinion; decided for the Bill; differed with his family—they excluded him from Parliament, closing against him, at least that avenue to a Statesman's best education, and an heir-apparent's most valued preparation for discharging the duties of the Peerage. How did this worthy scion of a noble stock seek to re-open the door thus closed, and resume his political schooling, thus interrupted by the borough patrons? Did he resort to another close borough, to find an avenue like that which he had lost under the present system, and long before the wicked Bill had prevented young Lords from duly finishing their parliamentary studies? No such thing. He threw himself upon a large community—canvassed a populous city and—started as a candidate for the suffrages of thousands, on the only ground which was open to such solicitation—he avowed himself a friend of the Bill. Mutato nomine de te. The borough that rejected him was Tiverton—the young nobleman was the heir of the House of Ryder—the patron was the noble Earl—and the place to which the ejected Member resorted for the means of completing his political education in one House, that he might one day be the ornament of the other, was no small, rotten, nomination borough, but the great town of Liverpool.
§ The Earl of Harrowby
begged to set the noble and learned Lord right. He was himself abroad at the time, 1,500 miles off; and his family had nothing to do with the transaction. His son was not returned, because he did not offer himself. [cries of hear!]
The Lord Chancellor
continued, I hope the noble Lords will themselves follow the course their cries seem to recommend, and endeavour to hear. Excess of noise may possibly deter some speakers from performing 237 their duty; but my political education (of which we are now speaking) has been in the House of Commons; my habits were formed there, and no noise will stop me. I say so in tenderness to the noble persons who are so clamorous; and that, thus warned, they may spare their own lungs those exertions which can have no effect except on my ears, and perhaps to make me more tedious. As to the noble Earl's statement, by way of setting me right, it is wholly unnecessary—for I knew he was abroad—I had represented him as being abroad—and I had never charged him with turning out his son. The family, however, must have done it. [The Earl of Harrowby said, "No."] Then so much the better for my argument against the system, for then the borough itself had flung him out, and prevented him from having access to the political school. I believe the statement that the family had nothing to do with it, because the noble Earl makes it; but it would take a great deal of statement to make me believe that neither the patron nor the electors had any thing to do with the exclusion, and that the Member had voluntarily given up his seat, and indeed his office with his seat, beside abandoning his political studies, when he could have continued them as Representative of his father's borough.
But the next argument of the noble Earl I am, above all, anxious to grapple with, because it brings me at once to a direct issue with him, upon the great principle of the measure. The grand charge iterated by him, and re-echoed by his friends, is, that population, not property, is assumed by the Bill as the basis of Representation. Now this is a mere fallacy, and a gross fallacy. I will not call it a wilful mis-statement; but I will demonstrate that two perfectly different things are, in different parts of this short proposition, carefully confounded, and described under the same equivocal name. If, by basis of Representation is meant the ground upon which it was deemed right, by the framers of the Bill, that some places should send Members to Parliament, and others not, then I admit that there is some foundation for the assertion; but then it only applies to the new towns, and also it has no bearing whatever upon the question. For the objection—and I think the sound objection to taking mere population as a criterion 238 in giving the elective franchise, is, that such a criterion gives you electors without a qualification, and is in fact Universal Suffrage. And herein, my Lords, consists the grievous unfairness of the statement I am sifting; it purposely mixes together different matters, and clothes them with an ambiguous covering, in order, by means of the confusion and the disguise, to insinuate, that Universal Suffrage is at the root of the Bill. Let us strip off this false garb. Is there in the Bill any thing resembling Universal Suffrage? Is it not framed upon the very opposite principles? In the counties, the existing qualification by freehold is retained hi its fullest extent; but the franchise is extended to the other kinds of property, copyhold and leasehold. It is true that tenants-at-will are also to enjoy it, and their estate is so feeble, in contemplation of law, that one can scarce call it property. But whose fault is that? Not the authors of the Bill, for they deemed that terms of years alone should give a vote; but they were opposed and defeated in this by the son of my noble friend near me (the Duke of Buckingham), and his fellow labourers against the measure. Let us now look to the borough qualification. [Some noise from conversation here took place.] Noble Lords must be aware that the Chancellor, in addressing your Lordships, stands in a peculiar situation. He alone speaks among his adversaries. Other Peers are at least secure against being interrupted by the conversation of those in their immediate neighbourhood. And for myself, I had far rather confront any distant cheers, however hostile, than be harassed by the talk of those close by. No practice in the House of Commons can ever accustom a person to this mode of annoyance, and I expect it, in fairness to cease.
To resume the subject where I was forced to break off. I utterly deny, that population is the test, and property disregarded, in arranging the borough Representation. The franchise is conferred upon householders only. Is not this a restriction? Even if the right of voting had been given to all householders, still the suffrage would not have been universal; it would have depended on property, not on numbers; and it would have been a gross misrepresentation to call population the basis of the Bill. But its framers restricted that generality, and determined that property to a certain, consi- 239 derable amount, should alone entitle to elect. It is true they did not take freehold tenure of land, as that qualification is inconsistent with town rights—nor did they take a certain amount of capital as the test—for that, beside its manifest inconvenience, would be a far more startling novelty than any the measure can be charged with. But the renting a 10l. house is plainly a criterion both of property and respectability. It is said, indeed, that we have pitched this qualification too low—but are we not now debating on the principle of the Bill? And is not the Committee the place for discussing whether that principle should be carried into effect by a qualification of 10l. or a higher? I have no objection, however, to consider this mere matter of detail here; and if I can satisfy the noble Earl, that all over England, except in London and a few other great towns, 10l. is not too low, I may expect his vote after all. Now, in small towns—I speak in the hearing of noble Lords who are well acquainted with the inhabitants of them—persons living in 10l. houses are in easy circumstances. This is undeniably the general case, In fact, the adoption of that sum was not a matter of choice. We had originally preferred 20l., but when we came to inquire, it appeared that very large places had a most inconsiderable number of such houses. One town, for instance, with 17,000 or 18,000 inhabitants, had not twenty who rented houses rated at 20l. a-year. Were we to destroy one set of close boroughs, the Old Sarums and Gattons, which had at least possession to plead for their title, in order to create another new set of boroughs just as close, though better peopled? In the large town I have alluded to, there were not 300 persons rated at 10l. Occupiers of such houses, in some country towns, fill the station of inferior shopkeepers—in some, of the better kind of tradesmen—here they are foremen of workshops—there, artizans earning good wages—some-times, but seldom, labourers in full work; generally speaking, they are a class above want, having comfortable houses over their heads, and families and homes to which they are attached. An opinion has been broached, that the qualification might be varied in different places—raised in the larger towns, and lowered in the smaller. To this I myself, at one time, leant very strongly; I deemed it a great improvement 240 of the measure. If I have since yielded to the objections which were urged, and the authorities brought to bear against me, this I can very confidently affirm, that if any one shall propound it in the Committee, he will find in me, I will not say a supporter, but certainly an ample security, that the doctrine, which I deem important, shall undergo a full and candid and scrutinizing discussion. I speak for myself only—I will not even for myself say, that were the Committee so to modify the Bill I would accept it thus changed. Candour prevents me from holding out any such prospect; but I do not feel called upon to give any decisive opinion now upon this branch of the details, not deeply affecting the principle; only, I repeat emphatically, that I shall favour its abundant consideration in the proper place—the Committee.
My Lords, I have admitted that there is some truth in the assertion of population being made the criterion of title in towns to send Representatives, though it has no application to the present controversy. Some criterion we were forced to take; for nobody holds that each place should choose Members severally. A line must be drawn somewhere, and how could we find a better guide than the population? That is the general test of wealth, extent, importance; and therefore substantially, though not in name, it is really the test of property. Thus after all, by taking population as the criterion of what towns shall send Members, we gel at property by almost the only possible road, and property becomes substantially the basis of the title to send Representatives; as it confessedly is, in name as well as in substance, the only title to concur in the election of them. The whole foundation of the measure, therefore, and on which all its parts rest, is property alone, and not at all population.
But then, says the noble Earl, the population of a town containing 4,000 souls, may, for any provision to the contrary in the Bill, be all paupers! Good God! Did ever man tax his ingenuity so hard to find an absurdly extreme case? What, a town of 4,000 paupers! 4,000 inhabitants, and all quartered on the rates! Then who is to pay the rates? But if extreme cases are to be put on the one side, why may not I put one on the other? What say you to close boroughs coming, by barter or sale, into the hands of Jew jobbers, 241 gambling loan-contractors, and scheming attornies, for the materials of extreme cases? What security do these afford against the machinations of aliens—aye, and of alien enemies? What against a Nabob of Arcot's parliamentary and financial speculations? What against that truly British potentate naming eighteen or twenty of his tools Members of the British House of Commons? But is this an extreme case, one that stands on the outermost verge of possibility, and beyond all reach of probable calculation? Why, it once happened; the Nabob Wallajh Cawn Bahauder had actually his eighteen or twenty Members bought with a price and sent to look after his pecuniary interests, as honest and independent Members of Parliament. Talk now of the principle of property—the natural influence of great families—the sacred rights of the Aristocracy—the endearing ties of neighbourhood—the paramount claims of the landed interest! Talk of British duties lo discharge—British trusts to hold—British rights to exercise! Behold the Sovereign of the Carnatic, who regards nor land, nor rank, nor connection, nor open county, nor populous city; but his eye fastens on the time-honoured relics of departed greatness and extinct population—the walls of Sarum and Gatton; he arms his right hand with their venerable parchments, and, pointing with his left to a heap of star pagodas too massive to be carried along, lays siege to the citadel of the Constitution, the Commons House of Parliament, and its gates fly open to receive his well-disciplined band. Am I right in the assertion, that a foreign prince obtaining votes in Parliament, under the present system, is no extreme case? Am I wrong in treating with scorn the noble Earl's violent supposition of a town with 4,000 souls, and all receiving parish relief?
But who are they that object to the Bill its disregard of property? Is a care for property that which peculiarly distinguishes the system they uphold? Surely the conduct of those who contend that property alone ought to be considered in fixing the rights of election, and yet will not give up one freeman of a corporation to be disfranchised, presents to our view a miracle of inconsistency. The right of voting, in freemen, is wholly unconnected with any property of any kind whatever; the being a freeman, is no test of being worth one shilling. Freemen may be, and very 242 often are, common day-labourers, spending every week their whole weekly gains, menial servants, having the right by birth—men living in alms-houses—parish paupers. All who have been at contested elections for corporate towns know that the question constantly raised is, upon the right to vote of freemen receiving parish relief. The voters in boroughs, under the present system, are such freemen, non-resident as well as resident (a great abuse, because the source of a most grievous expense to candidates)—inhabitants paying scot-and-lot, which is only an imperfect form of the qualification intended by the Bill to be made universal, under wholesome restrictions—and burgage tenants. I have disposed of the two first classes; there remains the last. Burgages, then, are said to be property, and, no doubt, they resemble it a good deal more than the rights of freemen do. In one sense, property they certainly are. But whose? The Lord's who happens to have them on his estate. Are they the property of the voter, who, to qualify him for the purposes of election, receives his title by a mock conveyance at two o'clock in the afternoon, that he may vote at three for the nominee of the real owner, and at, four returns it to the Solicitor of that owner, to be ready for the like use at the next election? This is your present right of voting by burgage, and this you call a qualification by virtue of property. It is a gross abuse of terms. But it is worse; it is a gross abuse of the Constitution—a scandal and an outrage no longer to be endured. That a peer, or a speculating attorney, or a jobbing Jew, or a gambler from the Stock Exchange, by vesting in his own person the old walls of Sarum, a few pigsties at Bletchingly, or a summer-house at Gatton, and making fictitious and collusive and momentary transfers of them to an agent or two, for the purpose of enabling them to vote as if they had the property, of which they all the while know they have not the very shadow, is in itself a monstrous abuse, in the form of a gross and barefaced cheat; and becomes the most disgusting hypocrisy, when it is seriously treated as a franchise by virtue of property. I will tell those peers, attornies, jobbers, loan-contractors, and the Nabob's agents, if such there still be among us, that the time is come when these things can no longer be borne—and an end must at length be put to the abuse which suffers 243 the most precious rights of government to be made the subject of common barter—the high office of making laws to be conveyed by traffic, pass by assignment under a commission of bankrupt, or the powers of an Insolvent Act, or be made over for a gaming debt. If any one can be found to say that the abuses which enable a man to put his livery servants in the House of Commons as lawgivers, are essential parts of the British Constitution, he must have read its history with better eyes than mine; and if such person be right, I certainly am wrong—but if I am, then, also, are all those other persons far more in the wrong, who have so lavishly, in all times and countries, sung the praises of that Constitution. I well remember, when I argued at that bar the great cause of my noble friend claiming a barony by tenure (Lord Segrave)—it was again and again pressed upon me by the noble and learned Earl (Eldon), as a consequence of the argument absurd enough to refute it entirely, that a seat in this House might become vested, as he said, in a tailor, as the assignee of an insolvent's estate and effects. I could only meet this by humbly suggesting, that the anomaly, the grossness of which I was forced to admit, already existed in every day's practice; and I reminded your Lordships of the manner in which seats in the other House of the Legislature are bought and sold. A tailor may, by purchase, or by assignment under a bankruptcy, obtain the right of sending Members to Parliament, and he may nominate himself—and the case has actually happened. A waiter at a gambling-house did sit for years in that House, holding his borough property, for aught I can tell, in security of a gambling debt. By means of that property, and right, of voting, he advanced himself to the honours of the baronetcy. Fine writing has been defined to be right words in right places; so may fine acting be said to consist of right votes in right places, that is, on pinching questions; and in the discharge of my professional duty on the occasion of which I am speaking, I humbly ventured to approach a more awful subject, and to suggest the possibility of the worthy Baronet rising still higher in the State; and by persisting in his course of fine acting and judicious voting, obtaining, at length, a seat among your Lordships—which he would then have owed to a gambling debt. Certain it is, that the honours of the Peerage 244 have been bestowed before now upon right voters in right places. While I am on this subject, I cannot but advert to the remarks of my noble and learned friend (Lord Wynford), who was elevated from the Bench to this House, and who greatly censured the Ministers for creating some Peers who happened to agree with them in politics. The Coronation was, as all men know, forced upon us; nothing could be more against our will; but the Opposition absolutely insisted on having one, to show their loyalty; a creation of Peers was the necessary consequence, and the self-same number were made as at the last Coronation, ten years ago. But we did not make our adversaries Peers—we did not bring in a dozen men to oppose us—that is my noble friend's complaint; and we did not choose our Peers for such merits as alone, according to his view, have always caused men to be ennobled. Merit, no doubt, has opened to many the doors of this House. To have bled for their country—to have administered the highest offices of the state—to have dispensed justice on the Bench—to have improved mankind by arts invented, or enlightened them by science extended—to have adorned the world by letters, or won the more imperishable renown of virtue—these, no doubt, are the highest and the purest claims to public honours; and from some of these sources are derived the titles of some among us—to others, the purest of all, none can trace their nobility—and upon not any one of them, can one single peer in a score rest the foundation of his seat in this place. Service without a scar in the political campaign—constant presence in the field of battle at St. Stephen's chapel—absence from all other fights, from "Blenheim down to Waterloo"—but above all, steady discipline—right votes in right places—these are the precious, but happily not rare qualities, which have generally raised men to the Peerage. For these qualities the gratitude of Mr. Pitt showered down his Baronies by the score, and I do not suppose he ever once so much as dreamt of ennobling a man who had ever been known to give one vote against him.
My Lords, I have been speaking of the manner in which owners of boroughs traffic, and exercise the right of sending Members to Parliament. I have dwelt on no extreme cases; I have adverted to what passes every day before our eyes. See now the fruits of the system, also, by every 245 day's experience. The Crown is stripped of its just weight in the government of the country by the masters of rotten boroughs; they may combine; they do combine, and their union enables them to dictate their own terms. The people are stripped of their most precious rights by the masters of rotten boroughs—for they have usurped the elective franchise, and thus gained an influence in Parliament which enables them to prevent its restoration. The best interests of the country are sacrificed by the masters of rotten boroughs—for their nominees must vote, according to the interest, not of the nation at large, whom they affect to represent, but of a few individuals whom alone they represent in reality. But so perverted have men's minds become, by the gross abuse to which they have been long habituated, that the grand topic of the noble Earl (Harrowby), and other debaters—the master-key which instantly unlocked all the sluices of indignation in this quarter of the House against the measure—which never failed, how often soever used, to let loose the wildest cheers, has been—that our Reform will open the right of voting to vast numbers, and interfere with the monopoly of the few; while we invade, as it is pleasantly called, the property of the Peers and other borough-holders. Why, say they, it absolutely amounts to Representation! And wherefore should it not, I say? and what else ought it to be? Are we not upon the question of Representation, and none other? Are we not dealing with the subject of a representative body for the people? The question is, how we may best make the people's House of Parliament represent the people; and, in answer to the plan proposed, we hear nothing but the exclamations—"Why; this scheme of your's is rank Representation! It is downright election! It is neither more nor less than giving the people a voice in the choice of their own Representatives! It is absolutely that most strange—unheard-of—unimagined—and most abominable—intolerable—incredibly-inconsistent and utterly pernicious novelty, that the Members chosen should have electors, and that the constituents should have something to do with returning the Members!" But we are asked, at what time of our history any such system as we propose to establish was ever known in England, and this appeal, always confidently made, was never more pointedly 246 addressed than by my noble and learned friend (Lord Wynford) to me. Now, I need not remind your Lordships, that the present distribution of the right to send Members is any thing rather than very ancient, still less has it been unchanged. Henry 8th created twenty boroughs—Edward 6th made twelve—good Queen Elizabeth created 120, revived forty-eight; and in all there were created and revived 200 down to the Restoration. I need only read the words of Mr. Prynne upon the remote antiquity of our borough system. He enumerates sixty-four boroughs—fourteen in Cornwall alone—as all new; and, he adds, 'for the most part, the Universities excepted, very mean, poor, inconsiderable boroughs, set up by the late returns, practices of sheriffs, or ambitious gentlemen desiring to serve them, courting, bribing, feasting them for their voices, not by prescription or charter (some few excepted), since the reign of Edward 4th. before whose reign they never elected or returned Members to any English Parliament, as now they do'.
Such then is the old and venerable distribution of Representation, time out of mind had and enjoyed in Cornwall and in England at large. Falmouth and Bossiney, Lostwithiel and Grampound, may, it seems, be enfranchised and welcome, by the mere power of the Crown. But let it be proposed to give Birmingham and Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield Members, by an Act of the Legislature—and the air resounds with cries of revolution!
But I am challenged to prove, that the present system, as regards the elective franchise, is not the ancient parliamentary constitution of the country—"upon pain," says my noble and learned friend, "of judgment going against me if I remain silent." My Lords, I will not keep silence, neither will I answer in my own person, but I will refer you to a higher authority, the highest known in the law, and in its best days, when the greatest lawyers were the greatest patriots. Here is the memorable report of the Committee of the Commons, in 1623–4, of which Committee Mr. Serjeant Granville was the chairman, of which report he was the author. Among its members were the most celebrated names in the law—Coke, and Selden, and Finch, and Noy, afterwards Attorney-general, and of known monarchical principles. The first resolution is this:—'There being no certain 247 custom, nor prescription, who should be electors, and who not, we must have recourse to common right, which, to this purpose, was held to be, that more than the freeholders only ought to have voices in the election; namely, all men, inhabitants, householders, resiants within the borough.'
What, then, becomes of the doctrine that our Bill is a mere innovation—that by the old law of England, inhabitants householders had no right to vote—that owners of burgage tenements, and freemen of Corporations, have in all times exclusively had the franchise? Burgage tenants, it is true, of old had the right, but in the way I have already described—not as now, the nominal and fictitious holders for an hour merely for election purposes, but the owners of each—the real and actual proprietors of the tenement. Freemen never had it at all, till they usurped upon the inhabitants, and thrust them out. But every householder voted in the towns without regard to value, as before the 8th of Henry 6th, every freeholder voted without regard to value in the counties—not merely 10l. householders, as we propose to restrict the right, but the holder of a house worth a shilling, as much as he whose house was worth 1,000l. But I have been appealed to; and I will take upon me to affirm, that if the Crown were to issue a writ to the Sheriff, commanding him to send his precept to Birmingham or Manchester, requiring those towns to send burgesses to Parliament, the votes of all inhabitant householders must needs be taken, according to the exigency of the writ and precept—the right of voting at common law, and independent of any usurpation upon it, belonging to every resident householder. Are, then, the King's Ministers innovators—revolutionists—wild projectors—idle dreamers of dreams, and feigners of fancies—when they restore the ancient common law right—but not in its ancient common law extent, for they limit, fix, and contract it? They add a qualification of 10l. to restrain it, as our forefathers in the fifteenth century restrained the county franchise by the freehold qualification.
But then we hear much against the qualification adopted—that is, the particular sum fixed upon—and the noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby) thinks it will only give us a set of constituents busied in gaining their daily bread, and having no 248 time to study, and instruct themselves on State affairs. My noble friend, too, (the Earl of Dudley) who lives near Birmingham, and may, therefore, be supposed to know his own neighbours better than we can, sneers at the statesmen of Birmingham and at the philosophers of Manchester. He will live—I tell him, he will live to learn a lesson of practical wisdom from the statesmen of Birmingham, and a lesson of forbearance from the philosophers of Manchester. My noble friend was ill-advised when he thought of displaying his talent for sarcasm upon 120,000 people in the one place, and 180,000 in the other. He did little, by such exhibitions, towards gaining a stock of credit for the order he belongs to—little towards conciliating for the aristocracy which he adorns, by pointing his little epigrams against such mighty masses of the people. Instead of meeting their exemplary moderation, their respectful demeanour, their affectionate attachment, their humble confidence, evinced in every one of the petitions wherewithal they have in myriads approached the House, with a return of kindness—of courtesy—even of common civility—he has thought it becoming and discreet to draw himself up in the pride of hexameter and pentameter verse—skill in classic authors—the knack of turning fine sentences—and to look down with derision upon the knowledge of his unrepresented fellow-countrymen in the weightier matters of practical legislation. For myself, I too know where they are defective; I have no desire ever to hear them read a Latin line, or hit off in the mother tongue any epigram, whether in prose, or in well scanned verse. In these qualities they and I freely yield the palm to others. I, as their Representative, yield it. I once stood as such elsewhere, because they had none of their own; and though a noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby) thinks they suffer nothing by the want, I can tell him they did severely suffer in the greatest mercantile question of the day, the Orders in Council, when they were fain to have a professional advocate for their Representative, and were only thus allowed to make known their complaints to Parliament. Again, representing them here, for them I bow to my noble friend's immeasurable superiority in all things, classical or critical. In book lore—in purity of diction—in correct prosody—even in elegance of personal demeanour, I, and they, in his 249 presence hide, as well we may, our diminished heads. But to say that I will take my noble friend's judgment on any grave practical subject—on anything touching the great interests of our commercial country—or any of those manly questions which engage the Statesman, the philosopher in practice—to say that I could ever dream of putting the noble Earl's opinions, aye, or his knowledge, in any comparison with the bold, rational, judicious, reflecting, natural, and because natural, the trustworthy opinions of those honest men, who always give their strong natural sense fair play, having no affectations to warp their judgment,—to dream of any such comparison as this, would be, on my part, a flattery, far too gross for any courtesy—or a blindness which no habits of friendship could excuse!
When I hear so much said of the manufacturers and artisans being an inferior race in the political world, I, who well know the reverse to be the fact, had rather not reason with their contemners, nor give my own partial testimony in their favour; but I will read a letter which I happen to have received within the three last days, and since the Derby meeting. 'Some very good speeches were delivered,' says the writer, 'and you will, perhaps, be surprised when I tell you that much the best was delivered by a common mechanic. He exposed, with great force of reasoning, the benefits which the lower classes would derive from the Reform Bill, and the interest they had in being well go verned. Not a single observation escaped him during a long speech, in the slightest degree disrespectful to the House of Lords, and he showed as much good taste and good feeling, as he would have done had he been a Member of St. Stephen's. He is, of course, a man of talent; but there are many others also to be found, not far behind him. The feeling in general is, that their capacity to judge of political measures is only despised by those who do not know them.' These men were far from imputing to any of your Lordships, at that time, a contempt for their capacities. They had not heard the speech of the noble Earl, and they did not suspect any man in this House of an inclination to despise them. They did, however, ascribe some such contemptuous feelings—horresco referens—to a far more amiable portion of the aristocracy. 'They think (pursues the writer) they are only 250 treated with contempt by a few women (I suppress the epithets employed) who, because they set the tone of fashion in London, think they can do so here too.'
The noble Earl behind (the Earl of Harrowby) addressed one observation to your Lordships, which I must in fairness confess I do not think is so easily answered as those I have been dealing with. To the Crown, he says, belongs the undoubted right, by the Constitution, of appointing its Ministers and the other public servants; and it ought to have a free choice, among the whole community, of the men fittest to perform the varied offices of the executive Government. But, he adds, it may so happen, that the choice having fallen on the most worthy, his constituents, when he vacates his seat, may not re-elect him, or he may not be in Parliament at the time of his promotion; in either case, he is excluded till a general election; and even at a general election, a discharge of unpopular, but necessary duties, may exclude him from a seat through an unjust and passing, and, possibly, a local disfavour with the electors. I have frankly acknowledged that I feel the difficulty of meeting this inconvenience with an apt and safe remedy, without a great innovation upon the elective principle. In the Committee, others may be able to discover some safe means of supplying the defect. The matter deserves fuller consideration, and I shall be most ready to receive any suggestion upon it. But one thing I have no difficulty in stating. Even should the evil be found remedyless and that I have only the choice between taking the Reform with this inconvenience, or perpetuating that most corrupt portion of our system, condemned from the time of Swift down to this day, and which even the most moderate and bit-by-bit Reformers have now abandoned to its fate—my mind is made up, and I cheerfully prefer the Reform.
The noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby) has told my noble friend at the head of the Government (Earl Grey) that he might have occupied a most enviable position, had he only abstained from meddling with Parliamentary Reform. He might have secured the support, and met the wishes, of all parties. 'He stood,' says the noble Earl, 'between the living and the dead.' All the benefit of this influence, and this following, it seems, my noble friend has forfeited by the measure of Reform. My 251 Lords, I implicitly believe the noble Earl's assertion, as far as regards himself. I know him to be sincere in these expressions, not only because he tells me so, which is enough, but because facts are within my knowledge, thoroughly confirming the statement. His support, and that of one or two respectable persons around him, we should certainly have had. Believe me, my Lords, we fully appreciated the value of the sacrifice we made; it was not without a bitter pang that we made up our minds to forego this advantage. But I cannot so far flatter those noble persons as to say, that their support would have made the Government sufficiently strong in the last Parliament. Honest, and useful, and creditable as it would have been, it never could have enabled us to go on for a night without the support of the people. I do not mean the populace—the mob: I never have bowed to them, though I never have testified any unbecoming contempt of them. Where is the man who has yielded less to their demands than he who now addresses you? Have I not opposed their wishes again and again? Have I not disengaged myself from them on their most favourite subject, and pronounced a demonstration, as I deemed it, of the absurdity and delusion of the Ballot? Even in the most troublous times of party, who has gone less out of his course to pay them court, or less submitted his judgment to theirs? But if there is the mob, there is the people also. I speak now of the middle classes—of those hundreds of thousands of respectable persons—the most numerous, and by far the most wealthy order in the community; for if all your Lordships' castles, manors, rights of warren and rights of chase, with all your broad acres, were brought to the hammer, and sold at fifty years' purchase, the price would fly up and kick the beam when counterpoised by the vast and solid riches of those middle classes, who are also the genuine depositaries of sober, rational, intelligent, and honest English feeling. Unable though they be to round a period, or point an epigram, they are solid, right-judging men, and, above all, not given to change. If they have a fault, it is that error on the right side, a suspicion of State quacks—a dogged love of existing institutions—a perfect contempt of all political nostrums. They will neither be led astray by false reasoning, nor deluded by impudent flattery: but so neither 252 will they be scared by classical quotations, or browbeaten by fine sentences; and as for an epigram, they care as little for it as they do for a cannon-ball. Grave—intelligent—rational—fond of thinking for themselves—they consider a subject long before they make up their minds on it; and the opinions they are thus slow to form, they are not swift to abandon. It is an egregious folly to fancy that the popular clamour for Reform, or whatever name you please to give it, could have been silenced by a mere change of Ministers. The body of the people, such as I have distinguished and described them, had weighed the matter well, and they looked to the Government and to the Parliament for an effectual Reform. Doubtless they were not the only classes who so felt; at their backs were the humbler and numerous orders of the State; and may God, of his infinite mercy, avert any occasion for rousing the might which in peaceful times slumbers in their arms! To the people, then, it was necessary, and it was most fit, that the Government should look steadily for support; not to save this or that Administration; but because, in my conscience, I do believe that no man out of the precincts of Bethlem Hospital—nay, no thinking man, not certainly the noble Duke, a most sagacious and reflecting man—can, in these times, dream of carrying on any Government in despite of those middle orders of the State. Their support must be sought, if the Government would endure—the support of the people, as distinguished from the populace, but connected with that populace, who look up to them as their kind and natural protectors. The middle class, indeed, forms the link which connects the upper and the lower orders, and binds even your Lordships with the populace, whom some of you are wont to despise. This necessary support of the country it was our duty to seek (and I trust we have not sought it in vain) by salutary Reforms, not merely in the Representation, but in all the branches of our financial, our commercial, and our legal polity. But when the noble Earl talks of the Government being able to sustain itself by the support of himself and his friends, does he recollect the strong excitement which prevailed last winter? Could we have steered the vessel of the State safely through that excitement, either within doors or without, backed by no other support? I believe he 253 was then on the Bay of Naples, and he possibly thought all England was slumbering like that peaceful lake—when its state was more like the slumbers of the mountain upon its margin. Stand between the living and the dead, indeed! Possibly we might; for we found our supporters among the latter class, and our bitter assailants among the former. True it is, the noble Earl would have given us his honest support; his acts would have tallied with his professions. But can this be said of others? Did they, who used nearly the same language, and avowed the same feelings, give anything to the Government, but the most factions opposition? Has the noble Earl never heard of their conduct upon the Timber Duties, when, to thwart the Administration, they actually voted against measures devised by themselves—aye, and threw them out by their division? Exceptions there were, no doubt, and never to be mentioned without honour to their names, some of the most noble that this House, or, indeed, any country of Europe can boast of; one of them was Mr. T. P. Courtenay. They would not, for spiteful purposes, suffer themselves to be dragged through the mire of such vile proceedings, and conscientiously refused to join in defeating the measures themselves had planned. These were solitary exceptions; the rest, little scrupulous, gave up all to wreak their vengeance on the men who had committed the grave offence, by politicians not to be forgiven, of succeeding them in their offices. I do not, then, think that in making our election to prefer the favours of the country to those of the noble Earl, we acted unwisely, independent of all considerations of duty and of consistency; and I fear I can claim for our conduct no praise of disinterestedness.
My Lords, I have followed the noble Earl as closely as I could through his arguments, and I will not answer those who supported him with equal minuteness, because, in answering him, I have really answered all the arguments against the Bill. One noble Earl (Falmouth), seems to think he has destroyed it, when he pronounces, again and again, that the Members chosen under it will be delegates. What if they were delegates? What should a Representative be but the delegate of his constituents? But a man may be the delegate of a single person, as well as of a city or a town; he may be just as much a delegate, when he has one constituent as 254 when he has 5,000—with this material difference, that under a single constituent, who can turn him off in a moment, he is sure to follow the orders he receives implicitly, and that the service he performs will be for the benefit of one man and not of many. The giving a name to the thing, and crying out, Delegate! Delegate! proves nothing; for it only raises the question, who should be the delegator of this public trust—the people, or the borough-holders. Another noble Earl (Carnarvon) professing to wish well to the great unrepresented towns, complained of the Bill on their behalf, because, he said, the first thing it does is, to close up the access which they at present possess to Parliament, by the purchase of seats for mercantile men, who may represent the different trading interests in general. Did ever mortal man contrive a subtlety so absurd, so nonsensical as this? What! Is it better for Birmingham to subscribe and raise 5,000l. for a seat at Old Sarum, than to have the right of openly and honestly choosing its own Representative, and sending him direct to Parliament? Such horror have some men of the straight, open, highway of the Constitution, that they would, rather than travel upon it, sneak into their seats by the dirty, winding, by-ways of rotten boroughs.
But the noble Earl behind (Harrowby) professed much kindness for the great, towns—he had no objection to give Birmingham, Manchester, and Sheffield, Representatives as vacancies might occur, by the occasional disfranchisement of boroughs for crimes. Was there ever any thing so fantastical as this plan of Reform? In the first place, these great towns either ought to have Members, or they ought not. If they ought, why hang up the possession of their just rights upon the event of some other place committing an offence? Am I not to have my right till another does a wrong? Suppose a man wrongfully keeps possession of my close; I apply to him, and say, "Mr. Johnson, give me up my property, and save me and yourself an action of ejectment." Should not I have some cause to be surprised if he answered, "Oh no, I can't let you have it till Mr. Thomson embezzles 10,000l., and then I may get a share of it, and that will enable me to buy more land, and then I'll give you up your field."—"But, I want the field, and have a right to get it; not because Thomson has committed a crime, 255 but because it is ray field, and not yours—and I should be as great a fool as you are a knave, were I to wait till Thomson became as bad as yourself." I am really ashamed to detain your Lordships with exposing such wretched trifling.
A speech, my Lords, was delivered by my noble friend under the opposite gallery (the Earl of Radnor), which has disposed of much that remains of my task. I had purposed to show the mighty change which has been wrought in later times upon the opinions, the habits, and the intelligence of the people, by the universal diffusion of knowledge. But this has been done by my noble friend with an accuracy of statement, and a power of language, which I should in vain attempt to follow; and there glowed through his admirable oration, a natural warmth of feeling to which every heart instinctively responded. I have, however, lived to hear that great speech talked of in the language of contempt. A noble Earl (Falmouth), in the fullness of his ignorance of its vast subject, in the maturity of his incapacity to comprehend its merits, described it as an amusing—a droll speech; and, in this profound criticism a noble Earl (Carnarvon) seemed to concur, whom I should have thought capable of making a more correct appreciation. Comparisons are proverbially invidious; yet I cannot help contrasting that speech with another which I heard not very long ago, and of which my noble friend (Carnarvon) knows something—one not, certainly, much resembling the luminous speech in question, but a kind of chaos of dark disjointed figures—in which soft professions of regard for friends fought with hard censures on their conduct, frigid conceptions with fiery execution, and the lightness of the materials with the heaviness of the workmanship—Frigida pugnabant calidis, humentia siccis,Mollia cum duris, sine pondere habentia pondus.A droll and amusing speech, indeed! It was worthy of the same speaker, of whom both Mr. Windham and Mr. Canning upon one occasion said, that he had made the finest they ever heard. It was a lesson deeply impregnated with the best wisdom of the nineteenth century, but full also of the profoundest maxims of the seventeenth. There was not a word of that speech—not one proposition in its luminous context one sentence of solemn admonition or of touching regret—fell from my noble friend (the Earl of Radnor) 256 —not a severe reproof of the selfishness—nor an indignant exclamation against the folly of setting yourselves against the necessary course of events, and refusing the rights of civilization to those whom you have suffered to become civilized—not a sentiment, not a topic, which the immortal eloquence and imperishable wisdom of Lord Bacon did not justify, sanction, and prefix.
They who are constantly taunting us with subverting the system of the Representation, and substituting a Parliamentary Constitution unknown in earlier times, must be told that we are making no change—that we are not pulling down, but building up—or, at the utmost, adapting the Representation to the altered state of the community. The system which was hardly fitted for the fourteenth century, cannot surely be adapted to the nineteenth. The innovations of time, of which our detractors take no account, are reckoned upon by all sound statesmen; and in referring to them, my noble friend (the Earl of Radnor) has only followed in the footsteps of the most illustrious of philosophers. 'Stick to your ancient parliamentary system,' it is said; 'make no alteration; keep it exactly such as it was in the time of Harry 3rd, when the two Houses first sat in separate chambers, and such as it has to this day continued!' This is the ignorant cry—this the very shibboleth of the party. But I have joined an issue with our antagonists upon the fact; and I have given the evidence of Selden, of Glanville, of Coke, of Noy, and of Prynne, proving to demonstration that the original right of voting has been subjected to great and hurtful changes—that the exclusive franchise of freemen is an usurpation upon householders—and that our measure is a restoration of the rights thus usurped upon. I have shown that the Ministers are only occupied in the duty of repairing what is decayed, not in the work of destruction, or of violent change. Your Lordships were recently assembled at the great solemnity of the Coronation. Do you call to mind the language of the Primate, and in which the Monarch swore, when the sword of kingly estate was delivered into his hands? 'Restore the things that are gone into decay; maintain that which is restored; purify and reform what is amiss; confirm that which is in good order!' His sacred Majesty well remembers his solemn vow 257 to restore the Constitution, and to reform the abuses time has introduced; and I, too, feel the duty imposed on me of keeping fresh in the recollection of the Prince, whom it is my pride and my boast to serve, the parts of our system which fall within the scope of his vow. But if he has sworn to restore the decayed, so has he also sworn to maintain that which is restored, and to confirm that which wants no repairing; and what sacrifice soever may be required to maintain and to confirm, that sacrifice I am ready to make, opposing myself, with my Sovereign, to the surge that may dash over me, and saying to it, "Hitherto shalt thou come; here shall thy waves be staid." For while that Sovereign tells the enemies of all change, "I have sworn to restore!" so will he tell them who look for change only, "I have also sworn to maintain!"
"Stand by the whole of the old Constitution!" is the cry of our enemies. I have disposed of the issue of fact, and shown that what we attack is any thing but the old Constitution. But suppose, I for argument's sake, the question had been decided against us—that Selden, Coke, Noy, Glanville, and Prynne, were all wrong—that their doctrine and mine was all an illusion, and rotten boroughs the ancient order of things—that it was a fundamental principle of the old Constitution to have Members without constituents, boroughs without Members, and a representative Parliament without electors. Suppose this to be the nature of the old and much admired and more bepraised Government of England. All this I will assume for the sake of the argument, and I solicit the attention of the noble Lords who maintain that argument, while I show them its utter absurdity. Since the early times of which they speak, has there been no change in the very nature of a seat in Parliament? Is there no difference between our days and those when the electors eschewed the right, of voting, and a seat in Parliament, as well as the elective franchise, was esteemed a burthen? Will the same principles apply to that age and to ours, when all the people of the three kingdoms are more eager for the power of voting than for any other earthly possession; and the chance of sitting in the House of Commons is become the object of all men's wishes? Even as late as the union of the Crowns, we have instances of informations filed in the Courts of law to compel Parliament 258 men to attend their duty, or punish them for the neglect—so ill was privilege then understood. But somewhat earlier we find boroughs petitioning to be relieved from the expense of sending Members, and Members supported by their constituents as long as they continued their attendance. Is it not clear that the parliamentary law applicable to that state of things cannot be applied to the present circumstances, without in some respects making a violent revolution? But so it is in the progress of all those changes which time is perpetually working in the condition of human affairs. They are really the authors of change who resist the alterations which are required to adjust the system, and adapt it to new circumstances—who forcibly arrest the progress of one portion amidst the general advancement. Take, as an illustration, the state of our jurisprudence. The old law ordained that a debtor's property should be taken in execution. But in early times there were no public funds, no paper securities, no accounts at bankers; land and goods formed the property of all; and those were allowed to be taken in satisfaction of debts. The law, therefore, which only said let land and goods be taken, excluded the resource against stock and credits, although it plainly meant that all the property should be liable, and would clearly have attached stock and credits, had they then been known. But when nine-tenths of the property of our richest men consist of stock and credits, to exempt these under pretence of standing by the old law, is manifestly altering the substance for the sake of adhering to the letter; and substituting for the old law, that all the debtor's property should be liable, a new and totally different law, that a small part only of his property should be liable. Yet in no part of our system has there been a greater change than in the estimated value attached to the franchise, and to a seat in Parliament, from the times when one class of the community anxiously shunned the cost of electing, and another as cautiously avoided being returned, to those when both classes are alike anxious to obtain these privileges. Then, can any reasonable man argue, that the same law should be applied to two states of things so diametrically opposite? Thus much I thought fit to say, in order to guard your Lordships against a favourite topic, one sedulously urged by the adversaries of Reform, who 259 lead men astray by constantly harping upon the string of change, innovation, and revolution.
But it is said—and this is a still more favourite argument—the system works well. How does it work well? Has it any pretensions to the character of working well! What say you to a town of 5,000 or 6,000 inhabitants, not one of whom has any more to do with the choice of its Representatives than any of your Lordships sitting round that Table—indeed, a great deal less—for I see my noble friend is there? (the Duke of Devonshire.) It works well, does it? How works well? It would work well for the noble Duke, if he chose to carry his votes to market! Higher rank, indeed, he could not purchase than he has; but he has many connexions, and he might gain a title for every one that bears his name. But he has always acted in a manner far more worthy of his own high character, and of the illustrious race of patriots from whom he descends, the founders of our liberties, and of the Throne which our Sovereign's exalted House fills; and his family have deemed that name a more precious inheritance than any title for which it could be exchanged. But let us see how the system works for the borough itself, and its thousands of honest, industrious inhabitants. My Lords, I once had the fortune to represent it for a few weeks; at the time when I received the highest honour of my life, the pride and exultation of which can never be eradicated from my mind but by death, nor in the least degree allayed by any lapse of time—the most splendid distinction which any subjects can confer upon a fellow citizen—to be freely elected for Yorkshire, upon public grounds, and being unconnected with the county. From having been at the borough the day of the election, I can give your Lordships some idea how well the system works there. You may be returned for the place, but it is at your peril that you show yourself among the inhabitants. There is a sort of polling; that is, five or six of my noble friend's tenants ride over from another part of the country—receive their burgage qualifications—vote, as the enemies of the Bill call it, "in right of property," that is, of the Duke's property, render up their title deeds—dine, and return home before night. Being detained in Court at York longer than I had expected on the day of this elective proceeding, 260 I arrived too late for the chairing, and, therefore, did not assist at that awful solemnity. Seeing a gentleman with a black patch, somewhere about the size of a Sergeant's coif, I expressed my regret at his apparent ailment; he said, "It is for a blow I had the honour to receive in representing you at the ceremony." Certainly no constituent ever owed more to his representative than I to mine; but the blow was severe, and might well have proved fatal. I understand this is the common lot of the Members, as my noble friend (the Earl of Tankerville), who once sat for the place, I believe knows; though there is some variety, as he is aware, in the mode of proceeding, the convenient neighbourhood of a river with a rocky channel sometimes suggesting operations of another kind. I am very far, of course, from approving such marks of public indignation; but I am equally far from wondering that it should seek a vent; for I confess, that if the thousands of persons whom the well working of the present system insults with the farce of the Knares-borough election (and whom the Bill restores to their rights) were to bear so cruel a mockery with patience, I should deem them degraded indeed.
It works well, does it? For whom? For the Constitution? No such thing. For borough proprietors it works well, who can sell seats, or traffic in influence, and pocket the gains. Upon the Constitution it is the foullest stain, and eats into its very core.
It works well for the people of England? For the people, of whom the many excluded electors are parcel, and for whom alone the few actual electors ought to exercise their franchise as a trust? No such thing. As long as a Member of Parliament really represents any body of his countrymen, be they freeholders, or copyholders, or leaseholders—as long as he represents the householders in any considerable town—and is in either way deputed to watch over the interests of a portion of the community, and is always answerable to those who delegate him—so long has he a participation in the interests of the whole state, whereof his constituents form a portion; so long may he justly act as representing the whole community, having, with his particular electors, only a general coincidence of views upon national questions, and a rigorous coincidence where their special interests are concerned. But 261 if he is delegated by a single man, and not by a county or a town, he does not represent the people of England; he is a jobber sent to Parliament, to do his own or his patron's work. But then we are told, and with singular exultation, how many great men have found their way into the House of Commons by this channel. My Lords, are we, because the only road to a place is unclean, not to travel it? If I cannot get into Parliament, where I may render the State good service, by any other means, I will go that way, defiling myself as little as I can, either by the filth of the passage, or the indifferent company I may travel with. I won't bribe; I won't job, to get in; but if it be the only path open, I will use it for the public good. But those who indulge in this argument about great men securing seats, do not, I remark, take any account of the far greater numbers of very little men who thus find their way into Parliament, to do all manner of public mischief. A few are, no doubt, independent; but many are as docile, as disciplined in the evolutions of debate, as any troops the noble Duke had at Waterloo. One borough proprietor is well remembered, who would display his forces, command them in person, carry them over from one flank to the other, or draw them off altogether, and send them to take the field against the larks at Dunstable, that he might testify his displeasure. When conflicting bodies are pretty nearly matched, the evolutions of such a corps decide the fate of the day. The noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) remembers how doubtful even the event of Waterloo might have been, had Grouchy come up in time. Accordingly, the fortunate leader of that parliamentary force raised himself to an Earldom and two Lord Lieutenancies, and obtained titles and blue ribands for others of his family, who now fill most respectable stations in this House.
The system, we are told, works well—because, notwithstanding the manner of its election, the House of Commons sometimes concurs immediately in opinion with the people; and, in the long run, is seldom found to counteract it. Yet some times, and on several of the most momentous questions, the run has, indeed, been a very long one. The Slave-trade continued to be the signal disgrace of the country, the unutterable opprobrium of the English name, for many years after it had 262 been denounced in Parliament, and condemned by the people all in one voice. Think you this foul stain could have so long survived, in a Reformed Parliament, the prodigious eloquence of my venerable friend, Mr Wilberforce, and the unanimous reprobation of the country? The American war might have been commenced, and even for a year or two persevered in, for, though most unnatural, it was, at first, not unpopular. But could it have lasted beyond 1778, had the voice of the people been heard in their own House? The French war, which in those days I used to think a far more natural contest, having, in my youth, leant to the alarmist party, might possibly have continued some years. But if the Representation of the country had been reformed, there can be no reason to doubt, that the sound views of the noble Earl (Earl Grey), and the immortal eloquence of my right hon. friend (Mr. Fox), whose great spirit, now freed from the coil of this world, may be permitted to look down complacent upon the near accomplishment of his patriotic desires, would have been very differently listened to in a Parliament unbiassed by selfish interests; and of one thing I am as certain as that I stand here—that ruinous warfare never could have lasted a day beyond the arrival of Buonaparte's letter in 1800.
But still, it is said, public opinion finds its way more speedily into Parliament upon great and interesting emergencies. How does it so? By a mode contrary to the whole principles of representative government—by sudden, direct, and dangerous impulses. The fundamental principle of our Constitution, the great political discovery of modern times—that, indeed, which enables a State to combine extent with liberty—the system of Representation, consists altogether in the perfect delegation by the people of their rights, and the care of their interests to those who are to deliberate and to act for them. It is not a delegation which shall make the Representative a mere organ of the passing will, or momentary opinion, of his constituents. I am aware, my Lords, that in pursuing this important topic, I may lay myself open to uncandid inference, touching the present state of the country; but I feel sure no such unfair advantage will be taken, for my whole argument upon the national enthusiasm for Reform rests upon the known fact, that it is the 263 growth of half a century, and not of a few months; and according to the soundest views of representative legislation, there ought to be a general coincidence between the conduct of the delegate and the sentiments of the electors. Now, when the public voice, for want of a regular and legitimate organ, makes itself, from time to time, heard within the walls of Parliament, it is by a direct interposition of the people, not in the way of a delegated trust, to make the laws—and every such occasion presents, in truth, an instance where the defects of our elective system introduces a recurrence to the old and barbarous schemes of Government, known in the tribes and centuries of Rome, or the assemblies of Attica. It is a poor compensation for the faults of a system which suffers a cruel grievance to exist, or a ruinous war to last twenty or thirty years after the public opinion has condemned it, that some occasions arise when the excess of the abuse brings about a violent remedy or some revolutionary shock, threatening the destruction of the whole.
But it works well! Then why does the Table groan with the petitions against it, of all that people, for whose interests there is any use in its working at all? Why did the country, at the last election, without exception, wherever they had the franchise, return Members commissioned to complain of it, and amend it? Why were its own produce, the men chosen under it, voting against it by unexampled majorities? Of eighty-two English county Members, seventy-six have pronounced sentence upon it, and they are joined by all the Representatives of cities and of great towns.
It works well! Whence, then, the phenomenon of Political Unions—of the people everywhere forming themselves into associations to put down a system which you say well serves their interests? Whence the congregating of 150,000 men in one place, the whole adult male population of two or three counties, to speak the language of discontent, and refuse the payment of taxes? I am one who never have either used the language of intimidation, or will ever suffer it to be used towards me; but I also am one of those who regard those indications with unspeakable anxiety. With all respect for those assemblages, and for the honesty of the opinions they entertain, I feel myself bound to declare as an honest man, as a Minister of the Crown, as a Magistrate, 264 nay, as standing by virtue of my office, at the head of the magistracy, that a resolution not to pay the King's taxes is unlawful. When I contemplate the fact, I am assured that not above a few thousands of those nearest the Chairman could know for what it was they held up their hands. At the same time there is too much reason to think that, the rest would have acted as they did, had they heard all that passed. My hope and trust is, that these men and their leaders will maturely re-consider the subject. There are no bounds to the application of such a power; the difficulty of counteracting it is extreme: and as it may be exerted on whatever question has the leading interest, and every question in succession is felt as of exclusive importance, the use of the power I am alluding to, really threatens to resolve all government, and even society itself, into its elements. I know the risk I run of giving offence by what I am saying. To me, accused of worshipping the democracy, here is indeed a tempting occasion, if in that charge there were the shadow of truth. Before the great idol, the Juggernaut, with his 150,000 priests, I might prostrate myself advantageously. But I am bound to do my duty, and speak the truth; of such an assembly I cannot approve; even its numbers obstruct discussion, and tend to put the peace in danger,—coupled with such a combination against payment of taxes, it is illegal; it is intolerable under any form of government; and as a sincere well-wisher to the people themselves, and devoted to the cause which brought them together, I feel solicitous, on every account, to bring such proceedings to an end.
But, my Lords, it is for us to ponder these things well; they are material facts in our present inquiry. Under a system of real Representation, in a country where the people possessed the only safe and legitimate channel for making known their wishes and their complaints, a Parliament of their own choosing, such combinations would be useless. Indeed, they must always be mere brutum fulmen, unless where they are very general; and where they are general, they both indicate the universality of the grievance and the determination to have redress. Where no safety-valve is provided for popular discontent, to prevent an explosion that may shiver the machine in pieces—where the 265 people—and by the people, I repeat—I mean the middle classes, the wealth and intelligence of the country, the glory of the British name—where this most important order of the community are without a regular and systematic communication with the Legislature—where they are denied the Constitution which is their birthright, and refused a voice in naming those who are to make the laws they must obey—impose the taxes they must pay—and control, without appeal, their persons as well as properties—where they feel the load of such grievances, and feel too the power they possess, moral, intellectual, and let me add, without the imputation of a threat, physical—then, and only then, are their combinations formidable; when they are armed by their wrongs, far more formidable than any physical force, then, and only then, they become invincible.
Do you ask, what, in these circumstances, we ought to do? I answer, simply our duty. If there were no such combinations in existence—no symptom of popular excitement—if not a man had lifted up his voice against the existing system, we should be bound to seek and to seize any means of furthering the best interests of the people, with kindness, with consideration, with the firmness, certainly, but with the prudence also, of Statesmen. How much more are we bound to conciliate a great nation, anxiously panting for their rights—to hear respectfully their prayers—to entertain the measure of their choice with an honest inclination to do it justice; and if, while we approve its principle, we yet dislike some of its details, and deem them susceptible of modification, surely we ought, at any rate, not to reject their prayers for it with insult. God forbid we should so treat the people's desire; but I do fear that a determination is taken not to entertain it with calmness and impartiality [cries of "No! no!" from the Opposition.] I am glad to have been in error; I am rejoiced to hear this disclaimer, for I infer from it that the people's prayers are to be granted. You will listen, I trust, to the advice of my noble and learned friend (Lord Plunkett), who, with his wonted sagacity, recommended you to do as you would be done by. This wise and Christian maxim will not, I do hope, be forgotten. Apply it, my Lords, to the case before you. Suppose, for a moment, that your Lordships, in your wisdom, should think it expedient to entertain 266 some Bill regulating matters in which this House alone has any concern—as the hereditary privileges of the Peerage, or the right of voting by proxy, or matters relating to the election of Peers representing the Aristocracy of Ireland and Scotland, or providing against the recurrence of such an extraordinary and indeed unaccountable event as that which decided on the Huntingdon Peerage without a Committee;—suppose, after great exertions of those most interested, as the Scotch and Irish Peers, or this House at large, your Lordships had passed it through all its stages by immense majorities, by fifty or a hundred to one, as the Commons did the Reform [cries of "no."] I say an overwhelming majority of all who represented any body—all the Members for counties and towns; but to avoid cavilling, suppose it passed by a large majority of those concerned, and sent down to the Commons, whom it only remotely affected. Well—it has reached that House; and suppose its Members were to refuse giving your measure any examination at all in detail, and to reject it at once. What should you say? How should you feel, think you, when the Commons arrogantly turned round from your request and said—"Let us fling out this silly Bill without more ado?—true, it regulates matters belonging exclusively to the Lords, and in which we cannot at all interfere without violating the law of the land; but still, out with it for an aristocratic, oligarchical, revolutionary Bill, a Bill to be abominated by all who have a spark of the true democratic spirit in their composition." What should you think if the measure were on such grounds got rid of without the usual courtesy of a pretended postponement, by a vote, that this Lords' Bill be rejected? And should you feel much soothed by hearing that some Opposition Chesterfield had taken alarm at the want of politeness among his brethren, and at two o'clock in the morning altered the words, retaining their offensive sense—I ask, would such proceedings in the Commons be deemed by your Lordships a fair, just, candid opposition to a measure affecting your own seats and dignities only? Would you tolerate their saying, "We don't mind the provisions of this Lords' Bill; we won't stop to discuss them; we won't parley with such; a thing; we plainly see it hurts our interest, and checks our own patronage; for it is an aristocratic Bill, and an oligarchical 267 Bill, and withal a revolutionary Bill?" Such treatment would, I doubt not, ruffle the placid tempers of your Lordships; you would say somewhat of your order, its rights and its privileges, and buckle on the armour of a well-founded and natural indignation. But your wonder would doubtless increase, if you learnt that your Bill had been thus contemptuously rejected in its first stage, by a House in which only two Members could be found who disapproved of its fundamental principles. Yes—all avow themselves friendly to the principle;—it is a matter of much complaint, if you charge one with not being a Reformer; but they cannot join in a vote which only asserts that principle, and recognizes the expediency of some Reform. Yes—the Commons all allow your Peerage Law to be an abomination—your privileges a nuisance—all cry out for some change as necessary—as imperative—but they, nevertheless, will not even listen to the proposition for effecting a change, which you, the most interested party, have devised and sent down to them. Where, I demand, is the difference between this uncourteous and absurd treatment of your supposed Bill by the Commons, and that which you now talk of giving to their's. You approve of the principle of the measure sent up by the other House, for the sole purpose of amending its own Constitution; but you won't sanction that principle by your vote, nor afford its friends an opportunity of shaping its features, so as if possible to meet your wishes. Is this fair? Is it candid? Is it consistent? Is it wise? Is it—I ask you—is it at this time very prudent? Did the Commons act so by you in Sir Robert Walpole's time, when the Bill for restraining the creation of Peers went down from hence to the Commons? No such thing; though it afterwards turned out that there was a majority of 112 against it, they did not even divide upon the second reading. Will you not extend an equal courtesy to the Bill of the Commons and of the people?
I am asked, what great practical benefits are to be expected from this measure? And is it no benefit to have the Government strike its roots into the hearts of the people? Is it no benefit to have a calm and deliberative, but a real organ of the public opinion, by which its course may be known and its influence exerted upon State affairs regularly and temperately, 268 instead of acting convulsively, and as it were by starts and shocks? I will only appeal to one advantage, which is as certain to result from this salutary improvement of our system as it is certain that I am addressing your Lordships. A noble Earl (Earl Winchilsea) inveighed strongly against the licentiousness of the Press; complained of its insolence; and asserted that there was no tyranny more intolerable than that which its conductors now exercised. It is most true, that the Press has great influence, but equally true, that it derives this influence from expressing, more or less correctly, the opinion of the country. Let it run counter to the prevailing course and its power is at an end. But I will also admit that, going in the same general direction with public opinion, the Press is oftentimes armed with too much power in particular instances; and such power is always liable to be abused. But I will tell the noble Earl upon what foundation this over grown power is built. The Press is now the only organ of public opinion. This title it assumes; but it is not by usurpation; it is rendered legitimate by the defects of your Parliamentary Constitution; it is erected upon the ruins of real Representation. The periodical Press is the rival of the House of Commons; and it is, and it will be, the successful rival as long as that House does not represent the people—but not one day longer. If ever I felt confident in any prediction, it is in this, that the restoration of Parliament to its legitimate office of representing truly the public opinion, will overthrow the tyranny of which noble Lords are so ready to complain, who, by keeping out the lawful Sovereign, in truth, support the usurper. It is you who have placed this unlawful authority on a rock: pass the Bill, it is built on a quicksand. Let but the country have a full and free Representation, and to that will men look for the expression of public opinion, and the Press will no more be able to dictate, as now, when none else can speak the sense of the people. Will its influence wholly cease? God forbid! Its just influence will continue, but confined within safe and proper bounds. It will continue—long may it continue—to watch the conduct of public men—to watch the proceedings even of a reformed Legislature—to watch the people themselves—a safe, an innoxious, a useful instrument, to enlighten and improve mankind! But 269 its overgrown power—its assumption to speak in the name of the nation—its pretension to dictate and to command, will cease with the abuses and defects upon which alone it is founded, and will be swept away, together with the other creatures of the same abuses, which now "fright our Isle from its propriety."
Those portentous appearances, the growth of later times, those figures that stalk abroad, of unknown stature, and strange form—unions, and leagues, and musterings of men in myriads, and conspiracies against the Exchequer—whence do they spring, and how come they to haunt our shores? What power engendered those uncouth shapes—what multiplied the monstrous births, till they people the land? Trust me, the same power which called into frightful existence, and armed with resistless force, the Irish Volunteers of 1782—the same power which rent in twain your empire, and conjured up thirteen republics—the same power which created the Catholic Association, and gave it Ireland for a portion. What power is that? Justice denied—rights withheld—wrongs perpetrated—the force which common injuries lend to millions—the wickedness of using the sacred trust of Government as a means of indulging private caprice—the idiotcy of treating Englishmen like the children of the South Sea Islands—the frenzy of believing, or making believe, that the adults of the nineteenth century can be led like children, or driven like barbarians! This it is that has conjured up the strange sights at which we now stand aghast. And shall we persist in the fatal error of combatting the giant progeny, instead of extirpating the execrable parent? Good God! Will men never learn wisdom, even from their own experience? Will they never believe, till it be too late, that the surest way to prevent immoderate desires being formed, aye, and unjust demands enforced, is, to grant in due season the moderate requests of justice? You stand, my Lords, on the brink of a great event—you are in the crisis of a whole nation's hopes and fears. An awful importance hangs over your decision. Pause, ere you plunge! There may not be any retreat! It behoves you to shape your conduct by the mighty occasion. They tell you not to be afraid of personal consequences in discharging your duty. I too would ask you to banish all fears; 270 but, above all, that most mischievous most despicable fear—the fear of being thought afraid. If you won't take counsel from me, take example from the Statesmanlike conduct of the noble Duke (Wellington), while you also look back, as you may with satisfaction upon your own. He was told, and you were told, that the impatience of Ireland for equality of civil rights was partial, the clamour transient, likely to pass away with its temporary occasion, and that yielding to it would be conceding to intimidation. I recollect hearing this topic urged within this House in July, 1828; less regularly I heard it than I have now done, for I belonged not to your number—but I heard it urged in the self-same terms. The burthen of the cry was—"It is no time for concession; the people are turbulent and the Association dangerous." That summer passed, and the ferment subsided not. Autumn came, but brought not the precious fruit of peace—on the contrary, all Ireland was convulsed with the unprecedented conflict which returned the great chief of the Catholics to sit in a Protestant Parliament. Winter bound the earth in chains; but it controlled not the popular fury, whose surges, more deafening than the tempests, lashed the frail bulwarks of law founded upon injustice. Spring came—but no ethereal mildness was its harbinger, or followed in its train—the Catholics became stronger by every month's delay, displayed a deadlier resolution, and proclaimed their wrongs in a tone of louder defiance than before. And what course did you, at this moment of greatest excitement, and peril, and menace, deem it most fitting to pursue? Eight months before, you had been told how unworthy it would be to yield when men clamoured and threatened. No change had happened in the interval, save that the clamours were become far more deafening, and the threats, beyond comparison, more overbearing. What, nevertheless, did your Lordships do? Your duty—for you despised the cuckoo-note of the season, "not be intimidated." You granted all that the Irish demanded, and you saved your country. Was therein April a single argument advanced, which had not held good in July? None, absolutely none, except the new height to which the dangers of longer delay had risen, and the increased vehemence with which justice was demanded—and yet the appeal 271 to your pride which had prevailed in July, was in vain made in April, and you wisely and patriotically granted what was asked, and ran the risk of being supposed to yield through fear.
But the history of the Catholic claims conveys another important lesson. Though in right and policy and justice, the measure of relief could not be too ample, half as much as was received with little gratitude, when so late wrung from you, would have been hailed twenty years before with delight; and even the July preceding, the measure would have been received as a boon, freely given, which, I fear, was taken with but sullen satisfaction in April, as a right long withheld. Yet, blessed be God, the debt of justice, though tardily, was at length paid, and the noble Duke won by it civic honours which rival his warlike achievements in lasting brightness—than which there can be no higher praise. What, if he had still listened to the topics of intimidation and inconsistency which had scared his predecessors? He might have proved his obstinacy, and Ireland would have been the sacrifice.
Apply now this lesson of recent history—I may say of our own experience, to the measure before us. We stand in a truly critical position. If we reject the Bill, through fear of being thought to be intimidated, we may lead the life of retirement and quiet, but the hearts of the millions of our fellow-citizens are gone for ever; their affections are estranged; we, and our order and its privileges are the objects of the people's hatred, as the only obstacles which stand between them and the gratification of their most passionate desire. The whole body of the Aristocracy must expert to share this fate, and be exposed to feelings such as these. For I hear it constantly said, that the Bill is rejected by all the Aristocracy. Favour, and a good number of supporters, our adversaries allow it has among the people; the Ministers, too, are for it; but the Aristocracy, say they, is strenuously opposed to it. I broadly deny this silly, thoughtless assertion. What, my Lords, the Aristocracy set themselves in a mass against the people—they who sprang from the people—are inseparably connected with the people—are supported by the people—are the natural chiefs of the people? They set themselves against the people, for whom Peers are ennobled— 272 Bishops consecrated—Kings anointed—the people, to serve whom Parliament itself has an existence, and the Monarchy and all its institutions are constituted, and without whom none of them could exist for an hour? The assertion of unreflecting men is too monstrous to be endured—as a Member of this House, I deny it with indignation. I repel it with scorn, as a calumny upon us all. And yet are there those who, even within these walls, speak of the Bill augmenting so much the strength of the democracy, as to endanger the other orders of the State; and so they charge its authors with promoting anarchy and rapine. Why, my Lords, have its authors nothing to fear from democratic spoliation? The fact is, that there are members of the present Cabinet, who possess, one or two of them alone, far more property than any two Administrations within ray recollection: and all of them have ample wealth. I need hardly say, I include not myself, who have little or none. But even of myself I will say, that whatever I have depends on the stability of existing institutions; and it is as dear to me as the princely possessions of any amongst you. Permit me to say, that, in becoming a Member of your House, I staked my all on the aristocratic institutions of the State. I abandoned certain wealth, a large income, and much real power in the State, for an office of great trouble, heavy responsibility, and very uncertain duration. I say, I gave up substantial power for the shadow of it, and for distinction depending upon accident. I quitted the elevated station of Representative for Yorkshire, and a leading Member of the Commons. I descended from a position quite lofty enough to gratify any man's ambition; and my lot became bound up in the stability of this House. Then, have I not a right to throw myself on your justice, and to desire that you will not put in jeopardy all I have now left?
But the populace only, the rabble, the ignoble vulgar, are for the Bill? Then what is the Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal of England? What the Duke of Devonshire? What the Duke of Bedford? [cries of Order from the Opposition.] I am aware it is irregular to name any noble Lord who is a friend to the measure; its adversaries are patiently suffered to call peers even by their Christian and surnames. Then I shall be as regular as they were, 273 and ask, does my friend John Russell, my friend William Cavendish, my friend Harry Vane, belong to the mob, or to the Aristocracy? Have they no possessions? Are they modern names? Are they wanting in Norman blood, or whatever else you pride yourselves on? The idea is too ludicrous to be seriously refuted—that the Bill is only a favourite with the Democracy, is a delusion so wild as to point a man's destiny towards St. Luke's. Yet many, both here and elsewhere, by dint of constantly repeating the same cry, or hearing it repeated, have almost made themselves believe that none of the nobility are for the measure. A noble friend of mine has had the curiosity to examine the List of Peers, opposing and supporting it, with respect to the dates of their creation, and the result is somewhat remarkable. A large majority of the Peers created before Mr. Pitt's time, are for the Bill; the bulk of those against it are of recent creation; and if you divide the whole into two classes, those ennobled before the reign of George 3rd, and those since, of the former, fifty-six are friends, and only twenty-one enemies, of the Reform. So much for the vain and saucy boast, that the real nobility of the country are against Reform. I have dwelt upon this matter more than its intrinsic importance deserves, only through my desire to set right the fact, and to vindicate the ancient Aristocracy from a most groundless imputation.
My Lords, I do not disguise the intense solicitude which I feel for the event of this Debate, because I know full well that the peace of the country is involved in the issue. I cannot look without dismay at the rejection of the measure. But grievous as may be the consequences of a temporary defeat—temporary it can only be; for its ultimate, and even speedy, success is certain. Nothing can now stop it. Do not suffer yourselves to be persuaded, that, even if the present Ministers were driven from the helm, any one could steer you through the troubles that surround you, without Reform. But our successors would take up the task in circumstances far less auspicious. Under them, you would be fain to grant a bill, compared with which, the one we now proffer you is moderate indeed. Hear, the parable of the sybil; for it conveys a wise and wholesome moral. She now appears at your gate, and offers you mildly the volumes—the precious volumes—of wisdom and peace. The 274 price she asks is reasonable; to restore the franchise, which, without any bargain, you ought voluntarily to give: you refuse her terms—her moderate terms—she darkens the porch no longer. But soon, for you cannot do without her wares, you call her back—again she comes, but with diminished treasures; the leaves of the book are in part torn away by lawless hands—in part defaced with characters of blood. But the prophetic maid has risen in her demands—it is Parliaments by the Year—it is Vote by the Ballot—it is Suffrage by the Million! From this you turn away indignant, and for the second time she departs. Beware of her third coming; for the treasure you must have; and what price she may next demand, who shall tell? It may even be the mace which rests upon that Woolsack. What may follow your course of obstinacy, if persisted in, I cannot take upon me to predict, nor do I wish to conjecture. But this I know full well, that as sure as man is mortal, justice deferred enhances the price at which you must purchase safety and peace—nor can you expect to gather in another crop than they did who went before you if you persevere in their utterly abominable husbandry, of sowing injustice and reaping rebellion.
But among the awful considerations that now bow down my mind, there is one which stands pre-eminently above the rest. You are the highest judicature in the realm; you sit here as Judges, and decide all causes, civil and criminal, without appeal. It is a Judge's first duty never to pronounce sentence, in the most trifling case, without hearing, Will you make this the exception? Are you really prepared to determine, but not to hear, the mighty cause upon which a nation's hopes and fears hang? You are. Then beware of your decision? Rouse not, I beseech you, a peace-loving, but a resolute people; alienate not from your body the affections of a whole empire. As your friend, as the friend of my order, as the friend of my country, as the faithful servant of my Sovereign, I counsel you to assist with your uttermost efforts in preserving the peace, and upholding and perpetuating the Constitution. Therefore, I pray and I exhort you not to reject this measure. By all you hold most dear—by all the ties that bind every one of us to our common order and our common country, I solemnly adjure you—I warn 275 you—I implore you—yea, on my bended knees, I supplicate you—Reject not this Bill!
The Earl of Winchilsea
wished to say a word in explanation after what had fallen from the noble and learned Lord who had just resumed his seat on the Woolsack. He had not expressed himself at the meeting to which reference had been made, as an advocate for "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." It was true that he had expressed an opinion about Reform before he had ever read this Bill in print, but on his return from the House of Commons, the night that it was introduced, he wrote a letter to the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond) which he was sure that noble Duke would have the candour to acknowledge. In that letter, of which he had a copy in his possession, he stated decidedly his objections to parts of this measure, and the utter impossibility of giving his sanction to them, or to any such enactments. He called on the noble Duke to say whether he had not received such a letter from him. When he came down to that House on Monday last, no individual in that House knew what vote he intended to give with respect to this measure, and he could honestly and fairly declare, that he had not, up to that moment, made up his mind as to how that vole should be given. He waited till he heard the speech of the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government, and if in that speech that noble Earl had given him ground for supposing that those parts of the Bill to which he had expressed his objection in the letter to which he had already alluded, would be omitted from it, he would have given his vote for the second reading of this Bill. As that, however, was not the case, and as those objectionable parts of the Bill were to be still retained in it, he felt it his duty conscientiously and consistently to vote against it. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had indulged in several personal attacks on several individuals on that side of the House. Amongst those attacks that noble and learned Lord had made a most cruel and uncalled for attack on him (the Earl of Winchilsea) and he must say, that such attacks were unworthy of the dignity of the high situation which that noble and learned Lord filled.
§ The Duke of Richmond
said, that his noble friend had appealed to him to say whether he had not, on the occasion to 276 which he alluded, written the letter he stated to him (the Duke of Richmond). It did not require his testimony, he was sure, to confirm his noble friend's assertion of the fact. His noble friend did write such a letter to him, in which he expressed the same opinions that he expressed when he last addressed their Lordships. At the same time he could not avoid saying, that he thought his noble friend ought to vote for the second reading of this Bill.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
After the splendid declamation which you have just heard, my Lords, from my noble and learned friend, which has never been surpassed on any occasion, even by the noble and learned Lord himself, it is no matter of surprise that I should present myself to your Lordships with great hesitation and anxiety; but feeling the situation in which I now stand, and recollecting the station which I formerly had the honour of holding in this House, I presume it would be considered a shrinking from an imperious duty, if I satisfied myself with giving a silent vote on so important and momentous an occasion. After the various discussions which have taken place in this, and the other House of Parliament, on the subject of Reform, and sinking, as I now am, under, as I may say, the effects of personal fatigue, and exhausted as your Lordships must be, it will not be expected that I should enter extensively into the details of this measure. I shall, therefore, confine myself to stating, as distinctly and as clearly as my strength will permit, the grounds upon which I oppose the second reading of this Bill. My noble friend at the head of his Majesty's Government stated, on a former night, the opinion which his Majesty was supposed to entertain upon this subject. My noble friend might have been somewhat incorrect in phrase, but his meaning was such as could not have been misunderstood. It must have been quite obvious to all your Lordships, that my noble friend could not have meant to convey that his Majesty had approved of this specific measure, for such conduct on his part would have been of a most unparliamentary character. All that my noble friend could have meant to convey was, that his Majesty had expressed himself favourably to a consideration of the question of Reform by the two Houses of Parliament, 'confident' as he was, 'that in any measures which you may prepare for its adjustment, you will carefully 277 adhere to the acknowledged principles of the Constitution, by which the prerogatives of the Crown, the authority of both Houses of Parliament, and the rights and liberties of the people are equally secured.'* After the best consideration which I can give this Bill, and the subject to which it refers, I am ready to admit, that if it at all corresponded to the recommendation contained in the Speech from the Throne, it should have my cordial support. With great hesitation, and not without the most anxious inquiry, should I have resolved to do so, but still I should have felt it my duty not to have withheld my support, if there had been any accordance between the recommendation from the Throne and the Bill that now lies on your Lordships' Table. But I feel it my duty to oppose this measure, because it appears to me not calculated to support the just prerogatives of the Crown, but to destroy them—not of a nature to establish the authority of this House, but to undermine and overthrow that authority—not to protect the rights and the liberties of the people, but to overturn them. On these grounds, then, do I oppose the second reading of this Bill. It could not but have been obvious to your Lordships, that in the whole of the lengthened speeches which you have heard from the advocates of this measure, not even excepting that of my noble and learned friend, the great question at issue has been left out of view. When my noble friend (Earl Grey) opened this matter to the attention and adoption of the House, it could not but have been observed, that instead of entering at length into the probable consequences of the adoption of the measure, he contented himself with making an attack upon the late Government of his Majesty. Instead of pointing out the nature and extent of the proposed Reform, he contented himself with making an attack upon the noble Duke now at the Table, who was not present to defend himself, and upon a right hon. friend of mine who was not present in this House to vindicate his own principles and conduct, as the noble Duke did so successfully. My noble, friend recurred to the thrice-told tales of the resignation of the late Administration, and his Majesty's intended visit to the city, and seemed to found on them alone the justification of* Hansard's Parl. Debates, Third Series, vol. iv. p. 85.278 a measure which is to alter the whole Constitution of the country. The omissions of my noble friend were not supplied by any of the noble Lords who followed him. In fact, not one of the advocates of the measure has pointed out a single result that is likely to ensue upon its adoption. Adverting now to the speech of my noble and learned friend upon the Woolsack, in conjunction with this omission, I confess I did expect that his master-mind would have grappled with this part of the subject, but in no part of what fell from him have I been able to trace anything in justification of so extensive a change, or anything like an anticipation of what may hereafter be expected to ensue from the adoption of such a measure. I think this omission on the part of the supporters of the Bill the more remarkable, as the course of argument on this side of the House has mainly turned on the consequences that may be expected to result from the adoption of this measure; and that most of my noble friends near me, who opposed the second reading, had argued that a change to this extent was not called for, and that it would be attended with the most disastrous consequences. In fact, by many noble Lords this has been treated as the real question at issue, while his Majesty's Ministers have, throughout the whole of the Debate, maintained upon this point the most extraordinary silence and reserve. We, who oppose Reform, founded on the principles of this Bill—we, who argue that such an extensive measure as this would subvert the old Constitution of the country, and substitute a new one in its place—introducing a representative body entirely of a new character—we, who take this view of the subject, and who object to the principles on which this specific plan of Reform founded, are stigmatized, I will not say within the walls of this House, though, to speak the truth, we have not even here been treated with great courtesy, but stigmatized out of doors as the supporters of old and obsolete prejudices—as persons who cling to ancient abuses solely on the ground of their antiquity; and as persons—for even that has been hinted—who, in the view we take of this question, are influenced by sordid and personal motives. Allow me, however, to say, that amongst the opponents of the Bill in this House, there are not more than six proprietors of nomination boroughs. We have been attacked 279 through the public Press, and in different quarters, with a force which appeared to assume that we were destitute of the means of vindication; but I can appeal to the very highest authorities—I could fight our battle—I could defend our language—I could support the principles we advocated by the high authority of the greatest Statesmen, the profoundest philosophers, and the most eminent politicians, that this country has ever produced. My Lords, it is easy to show that if we do err, we err in the company of the greatest men this, or any other country, has ever been proud of. I might easily refer to illustrious names, but I pass from these—I pass from the dead to the living—I pass to the authority of the noble Lords opposite themselves—I say, if we err, we do so under the sanction of the noble Lords opposite themselves. I remember the speech made by the noble Earl (Grey) on the first day of the last Session of the last Parliament—the language of that brilliant speech made a deep impression on my mind—I remember that the noble Earl said, that in early life I have urged this question with the rashness of youth, but I have never thought that Reform should be insisted on as a matter of popular right.' 'The right (my noble friend added) of the people is, to good Government, and that is, in my judgment, inconsistent with Universal Suffrage, under our present institutions.'* Now, however, my noble friend advocates a measure which, even in the rashness of youth, he thought was going too far. The present Bill forms a striking contrast with every measure which at any period of his life, he ever recommended or supported, and far transcends them all. The speech of my noble friend was warmly applauded by the noble Baron (Lord Wharncliffe) but the noble Earl (the Earl of Radnor) who has distinguished himself by his support of the intended Reform, did, on a subsequent occasion, when my noble friend was repeating these sentiments declare, that the opinions expressed by my noble friend, at the head of his Majesty's Government, would fill the country with alarm and dismay; and yet now we find that noble Earl amongst the warmest and most thorough supporters of this Bill. How little consistent with themselves, then, do we find the supporters of this measure.* Hansard's Parl. Debates, vol. 1, Third Series, p. 37–38.280 Another of the past declarations of the noble Earl was, that he hoped his Majesty's Ministers would devise such gradual measures of Reform as could be carried without difficulty or danger. In 1810, his speech declared for nothing more than a gradual, temperate, and judicious Reform. In 1817, the noble Earl required nothing more than that which was gradual, temperate, and judicious—such have been uniformly the opinions that, for the last few years, he has expressed. The present question presents this remarkable difficulty—that if you make one false step, you cannot retrace it—if you make one step too much in advance, your position will be irretrievable, and you can no longer return to that wise, temperate, gradual, and judicious Reform, for which the noble Earl in times past was so warm an advocate. It is within those principles that we fortify ourselves—it is to those authorities that we refer for sanction and support. There is another authority to which I may appeal, it is that of the noble Lord who brought up this Bill from the House of Commons. His assent to our principles of a safe and sound Reform is contained in a speech of great eloquence delivered by him in the year 1819, and with which most of your Lordships are, no doubt, familiar. He speaks in these words:—'The borough of Old Sarum existed when Somers and the great men of the revolution established our Government. Rutland sent as many Members as Yorkshire, when Hampden lost his life in defence of the Constitution. Are we then to conclude that Montesquieu praised a corrupt oligarchy—that Somers and the great men of that day expelled a King in order to set up a many-headed tyranny—that Hampden sacrificed his life for the interests of a boroughmongering faction? No! the principles of the construction of this House are pure and worthy. If we should endeavour to change them altogether, we should commit the folly of the servant in the story of Aladdin, who was deceived by the cry of "New lamps for 'old.'" And further the noble Lord, after eloquently expatiating on the practical results of the system, indignantly asked—'Shall we change an instrument which has produced effects so wonderful, for a burnished and tinsel article of modern manufacture? No, small as the remaining treasure of the Constitution is, I cannot consent to throw it into the 281 wheel for the chance of obtaining a prize in the lottery of Constitutions.'* Such, my Lords, was the language held by that noble Lord in 1819; and it would be beyond the powers of expression of which I am master, to paint the surprise of the noble Lord himself, and the astonishment of the other House, when a passage from that speech was read to him by a right hon. friend of mine during the discussion upon this Bill. But I turn from the noble Lord to the noble Viscount (Viscount Melbourne) the Secretary of State, who spoke in this Debate with so much eloquence, but who seemed to me to say but little about the Bill, and who made, upon a former occasion, an able and manly speech, which I can never forget. He said, amongst other things to the same effect:—'We are not sitting here to argue the question whether there be too much or too little democracy in the Constitution of the House of Commons. But yet this I will state, that although I should not do anything to diminish the democratical influence, I certainly would not do anything which could have the least tendency to increase it. In my opinion, all the advantages are already upon the side of the people.' Allow me, also, my Lords, to refer as the last, but not the least authority, to my noble and learned friend upon the Woolsack, who has this evening delighted us with his eloquence and wit. But I do not refer to the plan which he developed at the hustings during the election for Yorkshire; nor to the allusion which he made, on the day before the last dissolution of Parliament, to the plan then intended to be brought forward by my noble friend at the head of his Majesty's Government; but the speech which he delivered in the other House of Parliament at the commencement of the last Session. My noble friend then said: 'His object was not revolution but restoration; to restore the Representation to that state in which it ought to be, not to change it from what it had been: to repair, not to pull down.' † But look, my Lords, to the whole of this Bill, in which every part of the constituency is to be changed, and the formation of the House of Commons entirely re-modelled. Does it not substitute an entirely new Constitution? How, then,* Hansard's Parl. Deb. vol. 41, p. 1105.† Hansard's Parl. Debates, Third Series, vol. 1, p. 55.282 let me ask, is it possible to reconcile the sentiments of my noble and learned friend, as I have quoted them, with the measure which he now supports? My noble and learned friend smiles; and, no doubt, he is thinking of that part of his speech in which he referred to Glanville's Report, in which it is stated that the common right of Representation is in the inhabitant householders. My noble friend, however, forgot to state, though I must remind your Lordships, that the doctrine my noble friend has quoted, was accompanied by this restriction, that where there exists no right by prescription, nor by Charter, then the common right is in the inhabitant householders. Can my noble and learned friend then extricate himself from the difficulty in which he is placed by the inconsistency of his support of this measure with his previous declarations? On another occasion, in the year 1810, he wrote a letter on the subject of Reform, which was published, and which I have no doubt many of your Lordships have seen. Now, I beg leave to ask him, how can he reconcile that letter with the opinions which he has this evening expressed? I shall not detain your Lordships by referring more particularly to that letter than to say, that it states that 'above all things, disfranchisement could not be Reform.'
The Lord Chancellor
I have no objection to reply to my noble friend's appeal, except this, that any use made of that letter is an encouragement to servants to steal. I have no wish to disclaim that letter, or any other act of mine done as a private individual. But I say, that the letter alluded to was stolen by a servant, and sold to a printer, and that I obtained an injunction from the Lord Chancellor of that day to prevent the circulation. My only objection to any use being made, therefore, of that letter is, that it gives countenance to a theft committed by a servant [cries of "spoke."] I beg that I may be allowed to say, without interruption, that I have no desire now to disclaim the opinions expressed in that letter.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
I never would have referred to the letter, had I been aware of the circumstance which my noble and learned friend has now explained. I assure him that I never heard of the letter until this day, when I read it in one of the newspapers; and when I referred to it, I was not aware that it had been obtained in a 283 surreptitious manner. I was merely making use of the arguments contained in it, as authorities derived from my noble friend himself in support of my views of this Bill. I set the more value upon those authorities, because they were his opinions formed in times of calmness and deliberation. I was desirous of contrasting the opinions dispassionately formed by men of high talent with the opinions embodied in this Bill, and formed in a time of intense excitement. And I quoted these opinions of my noble friend in particular, as the best arguments I could use in answer to the attacks levelled with so much perseverance and bitterness against the opponents of this Bill. We, however, my Lords, are acting in strict conformity with the opinions of its present supporters, when they could have no motives derived either from popular excitement or the possession of office to deliver any other than a calm and unbiassed opinion. I have now said enough to show, that if this Bill, or one of a less sweeping nature, had been introduced two or three years ago by some Radical Reformer, the noble Lords themselves to whose speeches I have referred, must have opposed it; and that such a bill would, under those circumstances, and at that time, have been unanimously rejected, not only by your Lordships, but by the other House. Why then, I will ask, are we to be reproached for entertaining the opinions held by the noble Lords opposite themselves when they had time to reflect. Allow me, my Lords, to advert to one other topic. My noble friend at the head of his Majesty's Government, in the eloquent speech in which on Monday last he proposed the second reading of this Bill, referred to the manner in which it had been carried through the House of Commons. He said, with great propriety, that as it had been carried there by so large a majority, your Lordships are bound to treat it with respect. To that assertion I willingly subscribe. We are bound to treat it with deference and respect; and for my part, I have treated it so. I have given to it as much attention as possible since it first came before Parliament. But at the same time that we are bound, my Lords, to give every attention to the votes of the other House, I may be allowed to say, that we are not the less bound to look at what has been done by former Houses of Commons on that same subject. This Bill, when first introduced into the other 284 House, was carried only by a majority of one. Afterwards, one of its most important provisions was struck out by a majority of seven. His Majesty's Ministers were satisfied that the opinion of that House of Commons was adverse to the Bill. I may be pardoned, then, if, on a question not relating merely to the present moment, but one in which our posterity are equally interested with ourselves, I look to the votes, not only of the House of Commons which has passed this Bill, but to those of former Parliaments. This subject has been before the other House now for thirty years, and has been discussed at different periods during that time, and on all those occasions the decision of the House of Commons was unfavourable to Reform. Although, therefore, I am disposed to give all possible attention and respect to the present House of Commons, I must take into consideration what have been the votes of former Parliaments. There is another consideration which ought not to be overlooked, as to the manner in which the present House of Commons had been formed, and the circumstances under which the last elections were carried on. A dissolution had taken place, expressly with a view to this question; and I quite agree with the opinions of those noble Lords who preceded me in this Debate, and who contended for the impolicy and impropriety of that dissolution. What was the fact? I beg your Lordships to consider what was done? His Majesty's Ministers, in the name of the King, go to the people and state to them that there exists great corruption in the House of Commons, and that they (the people) are deprived of their just share of influence. Then the Ministers follow up that statement by asking the people—"Are you willing to have a greater share of political power, and to have the Legislature more immediately the instrument of your own will?" Was it possible that there could have been any other than the one answer? When the people were asked by the Ministers, in the name of the Crown, were they willing to accept a large increase of power, what other answer was to be expected than that which they had received? Are we, therefore, to be surprised that this question, put at a time of a general election, should be followed, as it was, by questions to the candidates, as to whether or not they would bind themselves to support the Bill? Are we to be surprised that the 285 candidates who would not so pledge themselves, were told that they were not fit for the people? But, my Lords, that was not all. In most places Committees of Inspection were formed for the purpose of seeing that the Members acted up to their pledges. The result of all this is, that the Members of the present House of Commons can scarcely be considered Members of a deliberative assembly, but delegates sent out by the people for an especial purpose. Their votes might just as well have been taken at the hustings as in their places in Parliament. Although that objection, standing by itself, may not be sufficient, yet, taken with the others which I have mentioned, it justifies me in saying, that, comparing the votes of the present House of Commons with those of former Parliaments, I am inclined to pay more deference to the votes of the Commons elected under different circumstances, and exercising the power of a deliberative assembly. We are told, moreover, that the people are excited to the highest degree—that they have set their hearts upon the Bill, and that no man can say what the consequences may be if their wishes be disappointed. Now, my Lords, no man can regret more than I do the circumstances in which we are placed. But with all respect for his Majesty's Ministers, I must say, that they are responsible for the consequences. It is by them that the storm has been raised, and on them the responsibility must fall. But we, my Lords, must not, to avoid the risk which those noble Lords have so eloquently described, agree to a law which will change the whole form of the Constitution, and substitute nothing of equal value in its stead. Allow me, my Lords, to refer to dates for an elucidation of the temper in which this Reform was introduced. The last dissolution of Parliament, consequent on his late Majesty's death, took place before the French Revolution of July, and the elections were proceeding when the news of that event was received. Up to that time the cry was all over the country for negro emancipation. But after the news arrived of the successful resistance of the military force by the people of Paris, the cry was changed, and the universal demand was for Reform. Previous to that period, the subject had lost its hold amongst the people. From 1824 to 1829, there had been no petitions respecting Parliamentary Reform; and in 1830 no 286 more than fourteen petitions had been presented. What did the noble Lord who brought the Bill to the Bar of the House state, when it was intimated to him that the people had ceased to care for Reform? He said, with his usual candour, that the people had become indifferent, but that his Majesty's Ministers had called upon them, and that they had responded to the call. What was the consequence? why, in the next Session, that is, during the last Parliament, there were 650 petitions presented on this subject. By means of the call of the Ministers, and the revolutions abroad, and the exertions of a factious Press, the people have been driven up to their present state of excitement. For all this, who are responsible but the Ministers of the Crown? We are entitled to call on them, armed with the power which they possess over the spirit which they have called up, to extricate us from the danger into which they have brought us. I was, I confess, in no small degree surprised to hear my noble and learned friend, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, speak of the tranquillity with which the elections were carried on. Surely my noble friend must not have been in England at the time. He must have been in retirement in some remote part of Ireland; for never was there a time in my memory of greater violence and excitement than that of the late elections. Never shall I forget an article which at that period was published in a newspaper, which was said to be the organ of the Government, and in which the people were taught how they could most effectually annoy the candidates who should presume to offer themselves on what was called the Tory interest. Amongst those instructions there was this phrase, borrowed from the well-known orders of the Roman General to his slingers at Pharsalia—"Strike at their faces," and the advice was not lost upon the populace—witness the outrages committed at Boston, at Wigan, at Rye, and in other places throughout the kingdom. In addition to all those means of excitement, the name of the Sovereign—than whom never was there a more popular King—was used, as if he had a deep interest in the question. But my noble and learned friend (Lord Plunkett) said last night, that if this Bill were thrown out, and if his Majesty's Ministers should withdraw, there could not be found another Administration to take their place. I have a great respect, my 287 Lords, for my noble friends opposite, as men of great talents and sagacity; but I do not see any marks of their talents in their financial management or in their foreign policy. Does my noble friend despair that, if they retired from office, there should not be found men as capable, if not more so, of conducting the affairs of the country? It is by no means my wish that they should go out of office; but, on, the contrary, I should rather prefer that they remained, to introduce and carry, a more moderate measure of Reform. Give me leave to say that they would not fairly treat their Sovereign, or discharge their duty, if, under the circumstances of peril into which they have brought the country, they were to desert their post. Allow me now, my Lords, to call your attention to another point, which, even in this last stage, I think it necessary to revive. What, I ask, is the nature of our Constitution? It consists of three estates, not opposing or counteracting each other, but mutually fitted and adjusted to each other—the one estate influencing the other—the Lords influencing the Commons, the Commons the Lords, the King both Lords and Commons, and both Lords and Commons the King. What has been the result? That we have obtained a Constitution consisting of the Sovereign power, the Aristocracy, and the Democracy, so combined and blended as to form the most perfect system of government ever known in the civilized world. Such a system as the philosophical Roman historian tells us is, indeed, to be desired, but can seldom be hoped for; and, if obtained, can hardly be of long duration. Let us be cautious, then, how we abandon or even hazard it. What is the object of the present Bill? It is to make, not a slight alteration in the most important and influential of the three estates, but to make an entire change in the persons who are to elect, and consequently an entire change also in the persons to be elected. The object is, to give a greater degree of power and preponderance to one estate—to destroy the nice balance now existing, and in this respect to give us a new Constitution. Whether hereafter we may be able, by any fortuitous combination of circumstances, again to adjust the balance, is a secret yet hidden in the womb of time. It has been said by some noble Lords in the course of the Debates, that the Bill is most aristocratical; others—and those some of the wisest 288 and ablest patrons of the Bill—admit it to be democratical; and the utmost they can say in its favour is, that they hope it will work well; but that it is possible only to ascertain its effect by experience. Then, I ask, having such a Constitution as we possess—serving all its purposes so well, will you risk it upon an untried experiment, which may be fatal, and, if fatal, utterly irretrievable? We have heard something of the theory of our Constitution—from what is that theory formed? From its practice. Our Constitution is not the work of a day; it has been built by time, and we have been most fortunate in its construction. When persons draw a supposed theory from our Constitution, they invert the order of things, and hence the extravagance, of their projects. What is the reason that the growth of our Constitution has uniformly failed when transplanted to other countries? This—that the supposed theory of that Constitution has been made the basis of the new experiment. The new Constitution did not resemble our own, but the Bill upon the Table, which is to be its substitute. A noble friend of mine, while in Naples, was consulted by Joachim Murat on the subject of a new Constitution, and his reply was, "Constitutions cannot be made—they are the growth of time;" and his reply not being sufficiently understood, he wrote an explanatory letter to a Neapolitan nobleman, containing the following passage, which most eloquently and beautifully expresses the sentiments I would convey. 'Constitutions cannot be created nor trasnplanted: they are the growth of time, not 'the invention of individuals. To attempt 'to form a perfect system of government, 'depending upon reverence and experience, 'is as absurd as to attempt to build a dream.' I do not mean to say that the constitution of the House of Commons is perfect or not liable to objection; but I do mean to say, that it has existed in the form in which we now see it for the last 150 or 200 years, and in that period it has undergone no material change. Some boroughs may have declined and others increased in population, but it is substantially the same, as is established even by the language of the passage frequently quoted from Lord Clarendon, as well as by the works of many other writers who existed about his time. When we say, therefore, that we will restore the Constitution to its purity, it is quite clear that we must go further 289 back than the Revolution; and will any man pretend to tell me that, anterior to the last 150 or 200 years, any model of a House of Commons existed justifying the present Bill? The right hon. member for Knaresborough (Sir J. Mackintosh), in the work he has recently published, says, that in the earliest periods of our parliamentary history, some of the smallest places returned Representatives, and that the right of voting was infinitely diversified. Then, I ask, was there less influence at that date? Everybody knows, that the Crown then continually interposed to procure the return of Members. Instances may be quoted as far back as the reign of Edward 3rd, when the Crown actually nominated the Members for all the boroughs in the kingdom; and it can be established, that in other instances the Privy Council exercised the same power. I am not justifying that exercise; I am only showing that you cannot look to those ancient periods for an example of a pure and uninfluenced House of Commons. Individuals also exercised direct influence, and of this fact it is needless to refer to proof, for is it to be supposed that noblemen living in Appleby or Warwick or Arundel Castles, would not command the elections in those boroughs? But it is not necessary to rely on general reasoning upon this point—many instances of such interference are incidentally mentioned, and must be well known to your Lordships. The Marquis of Winchester, for instance, nominated one of the Members for Lyme; the Bishop of Exeter returned one Member for that city; the Representatives for Gatton were chosen by a single individual; and in the well-known case of Aylesbury a female nominated both the Members. To refer, then, to remote times of our history for purity and independence of elections, is extravagantly absurd and ludicrous. Further than that, I ask you, my Lords, to look at the abject state of the House of Commons at former periods, and ask yourselves what has the House of Commons done during the last 200 years that we are warranted in thus cashiering it? Is it necessary that I should enter into details on this part of the subject? Noble Lords must run before me in matters of history of this kind. Our popular historian has shown us the power uncontrolledly exercised in former times by the Crown and its advisers. What change has been effected, and by what means? It has been brought about by 290 the exertions of that very House of Commons which is now to be destroyed. The capricious authority of the King and his Ministers has been curbed by the persevering resistance of the House of Commons, and a system of civil liberty has been established, such as is enjoyed by no other country on the face of the globe. Has anything recently occurred in the other House of Parliament to warrant this great change in its construction? In the old time was there more intelligence, more purity, more honour, more independence, more activity and exertion, than during the last fifty years? My noble friends opposite came into office on pledges of retrenchment, economy, improvements in the law, and of promoting even perfection in the administration of every branch of the public service. Have they redeemed their pledges? What has been the result of their desire to promote economy? They found when they took the Seals of Office, that economy and retrenchment had been carried by their I predecessors to the utmost extent. If they I have not gone further, it has not been for want of support by the House of Commons. It was supposed that the military force of the kingdom was too large; the House of Commons has shown a disposition to reduce it, but Ministers found it absolutely necessary to increase it. Then as to the Penal Code. My noble friend on the Woolsack, with great zeal and activity, I has endeavoured to mitigate its severity; and my right hon. friend in the other House (Sir R. Peel) brought in several bills to effect this desirable object. They found in the House of Commons no indisposition to second them. I ask your Lordships, then, most seriously, what is there in the conduct of the other House of Parliament, in the manner in which it has watched over the public interests, which calls for the great change contemplated by this Bill? Allow me now, for a short time, to advert to that single specimen of legislation. It is said, that as we acquiesce in the principle of the Bill we ought to consent to the second reading. I deny that any noble Lord on this side of the House has acquiesced in the principle. We subscribe to the object of the measure, which is Reform, but not to the principle of the Bill which is made to carry it into effect. The noble Earl has given us very clearly to understand, that if we go into the Committee we shall not be permitted to alter the Bill substantially, although he modified his expression afterwards. 291 Mark what took place in the other House, and from thence we may judge of what we shall be allowed to do here; but suppose we did make important changes in the Bill, what would the House of Commons say? We should be then obliged to have a free conference, and the two branches of the Legislature would be brought into collision and contest. I should undoubtedly deplore those consequences, because they would be much more fatal than any that can result from our not consenting to read the Bill a second time. Every man must foresee the infinite inconveniences which would grow out of such a state of things. But to return to the principle of the measure. In my opinion the principle of such a Bill ought to be enfranchisement; the principle of this is disfranchisement. You disfranchise places returning 157 Members, and then you are at a loss to know what to do with the vacancies. Of the thirty-five you are utterly at a loss how to dispose; and here I request your Lordships to mark this circumstance also. Of the thirty-five it is intended that five shall be given to Scotland and five more to Ireland. I will venture to say, that a more mischievous project never entered into the mind of man; for what would be the effect of it? A contract with express and clear stipulations, has been agreed upon and settled between Scotland and England, and between Ireland and England. By this Bill the compact will be broken, and there will be an end of the treaties on which the Unions are founded. What, then, will the Reformers of Ireland say? They will tell us that they have not their fair share of Representatives—that they have a population of seven or eight millions, and only 100 Members, while Great Britain, with a population of 12,000,000, has 558 Members. The very foundation of this Bill is population, and, for the sake of carrying it into effect, certain arbitrary lines have been drawn of 2,000, 4,000, 6,000, 10,000, and 20,000 inhabitants. We have heard and seen many speeches upon the Bill, but we have never either seen or heard any reason assigned for these arbitrary distinctions. The cases of Horsham, Calne, Guildford, Dorchester, and many others, show that they have been productive of the most crying injustice. I do not mean to impute any improper intention to the framers of the Bill; but certainly there has been, to say the least of it, something unfortunate in 292 the results of the lines drawn by Ministers. Suppose we were to establish this new Constitution, can it last—can it endure? At present we rest upon prescription—upon long usage; and let us beware how we break down a system so established. Here we are forming a new establishment, and its inequality is evident, from a comparison of the population of Malton and Huddersfield; yet the former is to retain its two Members, and the latter, though so much larger, is to have only one. Besides, let me observe, we are entitled to have some reasons shewn to justify us in assenting to this general and sweeping disfranchisement. It was truly said by my noble and learned friend (Lord Eldon), that the elective franchise was a trust, coupled with an interest. I do not say that these are equal to pecuniary interests, but they are acknowledged by the law to be of a most valuable description. The office of Earl Marshal is a trust coupled with an interest; it is a valuable privilege, of which the possessor cannot be deprived without an Act of the Legislature; and that Act cannot be passed without an assignable cause or a gross violation of justice. This particular franchise of electing Representatives, Lord Holt, speaking of the infringement of it, calls a "transcendent privilege." Are we not, then, entitled to require some reason why all this has been done—some justification of so extensive a confiscation of valuable and important rights and privileges? In defence of the clauses for the disfranchisement, noble Lords have said, that the privilege has been abused. But if that abuse has been universal, the disfranchisement ought to be so; yet the rights of the existing electors are to be preserved. It is impossible, therefore, to allege the abuse as the justification for this partial disfranchisement. But if these rights have been abused so as to justify their being put an end to, by whom have they been abused? By the very individuals whose rights are saved under this Bill. And let me ask what is the proposed substitute for the old, and, as it is called, corrupt constituency? The right of voting in 10l. householders, the worst species of franchise which your Lordships can establish. What, according to the present practice, is the worst species of Representation? That of scot-and-lot voters, who bear the closest analogy to the right now proposed to be introduced by this Bill. It has been said by a noble 293 Marquis, that the 10l. householders embrace all above that sum, and do not form a low constituency; but the returns show that this is an error, for the majority of voters will be persons who pay only from 10l. to 20l. per annum for their houses. The great feature of this Bill is this new right of voting. What confidence can you have in the measure, when you see this uniform right, of voting substituted for that varied constituency which we before possessed? Again, according to the present law, all the interests in the country are represented. That was the result of a long experience, which it is impossible by any one act of a hasty Legislature to equal in the creation of any artificial system. The want thus created was felt so strongly in the other House of Parliament, that a warm friend of the measure—a warm Reformer—considering how the colonial interest would be affected, proposed a clause to give Representatives to the colonies, and that proposal was debated for one night. The evil was not denied, but the remedy was said to be impracticable. The noble Lord at the head of the Colonial Department endeavoured to obviate this objection, and he referred to the Representatives of Hull. It was an unfortunate selection of the place, because the persons elected there are not peculiarly connected with the colonial interest. A noble Lord admitted he had no solution for another difficulty, that of finding a place in the House of Commons for the King's Ministers; yet we are called on to consent to the second reading of a Bill full of difficulties, and encountered by forcible objections to which its framers see no solution. There is another point of importance. Among certain persons, I know that gentlemen connected with the profession of the law are not regarded as persons of great importance; but, my Lords, in times of trouble and danger, this opinion, at all times mistaken, becomes doubly erroneous. There are few men in such times who are so important—active agitators, keen intelligent men, prepared for an active life by previous habits and education; by what means have you secured for them an entrance into the House of Commons? None. But then they will become agitators—they will excite public feeling, and make extravagant promises, in order to secure themselves a share in the Representation. These active, intelligent, and ambitious men will necessarily, therefore, 294 throw themselves into the democratic scale, and make the contest between that interest and all the other interests of the State fearfully decisive. I have now touched a few of these difficulties, but these are vain and insignificant when compared with the aggregate of the composition of the Bill. From the first time at which I looked at it, the point that occurred to me was, what will be the composition of the new House of Commons? You will strike off 157 Members from the present House of Commons, and how do you dispose of the vacant places? You give sixty-five to counties, and fifty to the large populous towns of the empire, to be elected by the constituency I have already described. I ask you, whether by this arrangement you do not throw an enormous weight into the democratic part of the Constitution? Recollect what that constituency consists of; see who are now the favourite candidates at popular places. This change takes away nearly fifty Members; it makes a difference of 100; for fifty are taken from the close boroughs, and fifty added to the populous towns. In the same manner thirty-five are taken from small boroughs, and altogether, therefore, the difference amounts to 135. The change is one of a most important nature. That, however, is not all. The noble Duke, in his speech the other night, pointed out the result with respect to Scotland—he showed, and I agree with him, that the greater part of the conservative system of Parliament has been destroyed by this Bill. Let me add the result with respect to Ireland. That is an important point. Out of 100 Members returned for Ireland, what is the proportion of Catholics and supporters of the Catholics? At least three-fourths. That number, therefore, are, or will be agitators; and when you add this to what I have already pointed out, your Lordships will believe that the noble Duke's description was nearly correct, when he said that this Bill would constitute a fierce democratic assembly. In my view of the matter, this change creates a great and most important difference. I know the House of Commons. I have served a long apprenticeship in it—I know that it is often unmanageable; but if those who are conversant with the House of Commons will advert to the change to which I refer, they will agree with me in, saying, that it will be a most unmanageable democratic body, and that by adopting 295 this measure, we shall alike endanger the Crown and the Constitution. On this view of these circumstances, I say, that whatever name the Government choose to give to this Bill, it is in fact and in substance a revolutionary measure. It will endanger the Constitution itself. To the monarchical institutions of the country I have been attached, both by habit and education. I do not wish for a change that might affect the rights and privileges of the Crown, nor for one which will bring about a republic, or a republic in the shape of a limited monarchy. Republics are tyrannical and vicious, arbitrary and cruel, and unsteady. I do not charge the Ministers with having introduced this Bill for the purpose of subverting our form of Government; but such will be its effect. I ask again, what will be the consequence with respect to Ireland, with respect to the Church of Ireland—will it stand? The Protestant Church of Ireland is supported by persons who form but a small portion of the people there, but they possess political power, most of the power, the wealth, and the intelligence of the country, and by those means they have been enabled to stand against the Catholics. The effect of this Bill will be, to transfer that power to the Catholics. Many of those who advocate Reform may consider that as an argument in its favour, but we are bound by the terms of the Union to maintain the Protestant Church of Ireland, and because I have the feeling that we are strictly bound to do this, I cannot give my assent to this measure. Observe, too, my Lords, the proof of what I say. Before this Bill was introduced, there was a loud cry for the Repeal of the Union; but the moment this Bill was promulgated, that cry at once ceased. The noble Lord says, that subsequent to this Bill the cry for the Repeal of the Union has been silenced, and that we have not a single petition on the subject. Does my noble friend, who knows mankind so well, suffer himself to be deceived by this? A calm appears to have been produced, but although the storm has ceased to rage, and the agitation has subsided, you can detect, from time to time, the underworkings with a precision and certainty that are infallible. The noble Earl at the head of the Government says, give largely, in order that the people may not want more. That is a most extraordinary mode of proceeding. Are men so little interested in the extending of their 296 own power, that they will cease to grasp at any thing more when they have the means of effecting their own wishes in their own hands? But, though the noble Earl may be mistaken on this point, the Reformers do not disguise the matter. The noble Earl proposes to open the door to their wishes. He is ready to throw open the floodgates that will admit the torrent of democratic power. That torrent will rush in and overpower him. The noble Lord on the Woolsack, with his activity and power, may, for a time, float upon the tide, and play his gambols on the surface; but the least check will overturn him, and he will sink beneath the waves. But is this the last step with respect to Reform in the House of Commons? On the ground of ancient usages, you could fight the battle; but now, with them taken from you, your resistance will be in vain. The Ballot has been talked of, and on one occasion, a learned gentleman, who is a candidate for Leeds, was asked whether he would support it. He answered, that at present his Majesty's Ministers did not approve of it, and, therefore, he could not engage to support it, though I must admit that his arguments in favour of the Ballot were the best I ever read, and his conviction openly expressed that it was a good regulation. That is his answer now; but when this Bill shall have passed, how will he be able to answer it? He, undoubtedly, will be, in a reformed Parliament, an active instrument for introducing and supporting it. The Church in Ireland will be one of the first of the aims of the Reformers for they say, that they do not ask for Reform for the sake of Reform, but for the sake of the consequences. What are the consequences? The abolition of tithes, and remember, my Lords, that lawyers of some eminence have lately told us, that they ought to be diverted from their present, and revert to their original purposes. The next point is that of the funded property. It is said that there must be an immense reduction of taxation, and that reduction can only take place in a manner inconsistent with the rights of the public creditor. It is said in plain terms, that there must be an equitable adjustment, which means a gross injustice to the public creditor. The Corn-laws, our colonial possessions, all will be attacked in the Reformed Parliament. Who, I ask, is the first candidate for Manchester? Mr. Cobbett, a gentleman of extreme talent and power, who has stated his views 297 to the people of that town, and who tells them that he will not suffer himself to be returned unless they consent to agree in his views, which they seem likely to do, as they still support him. He is a political writer of great power, and by whom is he supported? By a noble Earl who sits opposite to me, whose talents I admire, and whose talents all of us have very recently had occasion to admire, but I more than many others, because I have been acquainted with them by their frequent exhibition in the other House of Parliament. What does that noble Lord say? He writes a letter to Mr. Cobbett's committee, recommends Mr. Cobbett to their choice, and states he concurs in the views of Mr. Cobbett. Now, what are the views of Mr. Cobbett? The noble Lord refers to the Norfolk Petition, which was drawn by Mr. Cobbett, which states his principles, and to which the noble Lord says he entirely subscribes. In that petition he proposes the reduction of the National Debt, an equitable adjustment, which, in other words, is a flagrant breach of the public faith. I do not quarrel with the noble Earl; I do not mention these things as a matter of charge against him, he has aright to his opinions, and I am sure he is sincere in them; but I will not consent to constitute a House of Commons, which shall lead to the pursuit of such objects, the support of which, by men of talent and character, and rank and station, such as distinguish the noble Earl, fills me, I confess, with the most serious apprehension and alarm; and I foresee, in this and other similar circumstances, consequences likely to result from this measure, which it is impossible for me to deprecate in terms sufficiently strong. But, it is said, we must pass this Bill. We have been threatened with the consequences which will result from our refusal. Out of doors we have been menaced in every variety of form—in the hypocritical shape of friendly advice contained in anonymous pamphlets, and in the most undisguised and virulent language of the daily and weekly press. The cry of the seventeenth century, of malignant and rotten-hearted Lords, has been revived and appeals have even been made to the soldiers. It is true that the supporters of the Bill in this House have not made use of the language of menace, but the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government, and the noble and learned Lord on 298 the Woolsack, have conveyed the impression in allusions as sufficiently and intelligibly strong, and in a manner as forcible as if terms of menace had been employed. My Lords, I owe the situation I have the honour of holding in this House to the gracious kindness of my late Sovereign—a monarch largely endowed with great and princely qualities. I cannot boast of an illustrious descent—I have sprung from the people. I am proud of being thus associated with the descendants of those illustrious names which have shed lusture upon the history of our country. But if I thought that your Lordships were capable of being influenced by the unworthy measures that have been resorted to, and that you could from such motives be induced to swerve from the discharge of your duty on this important occasion, when everything valuable in our institutions is at stake, I should be ashamed of this dignity, and take refuge from it in the comparative obscurity of private life, rather than mix with men so unmindful of the obligations imposed upon them by their high station and illustrious birth. We are placed here, my Lords, not to pass Vestry Acts or Road Bills, but for the purpose of guarding against any rash result from the act of the advisers of the Crown, and against the wishes of the people when they might lead to destruction. I say, my Lords, I fear not the threats with which we are menaced. The people of England are noble and generous. If they think that we have not done our duty, but have deserted it from base, personal, or selfish motives, they would turn from the contemplation of our conduct with disgust. On the other hand, whatever may be their inclinations, and however vehement their desires, if they see that we honestly perform our duty, be our decision what it may, they will receive it with approbation and applause. I believe that in what has been said respecting the public feeling there is much exaggeration. I do not speak of the mere multitude— but of the enlightened portion of the community. And I am convinced that if they were satisfied that if from any base personal motives, we neglected to do what in our conscience we conceived to be our duty, they would turn from us with contempt and disgust. My Lords, I am satisfied, too, that whatever may be the conclusion to which we come—if we perform our duty according to our own view of it 299 —although that should be contrary to their inclination, they will abstain from all violence. If, on the contrary, we should by one vote this night give the people reason to suppose that, contrary to the dictates of our consciences, and what we believe to be our duty, we, urged by unworthy motives, should decide in favour of the Bill, our titles, our possessions, and the liberties of the people would all be forfeited, and we should be for ever debased. Perilous as is the situation in which we are placed, it is, at the same time, a proud one—the eyes of the country are anxiously turned upon us, and if we decide as becomes us, we shall merit the eternal gratitude of every friend of the Constitution and of the British empire.
§ Lord Holland rose amidst cries of "Question." He entreated the indulgence of their Lordships, observing, that he was not going to make a speech. But the noble Lord who had just sat down, had thought proper to pass a sneer and a sarcasm upon him, because, in presenting the petitions of the people of England, he had ventured to remark, that they applied to their Lordships to pass this Bill, and did not mention Vote by Ballot or Universal Suffrage. If the noble Lord had any advantage over him by sneering at his innocence and simplicity—
§ Lord Lyndhurst rose, apparently for the purpose of offering some explanatory remark, but was interrupted by several noble Lords, who vociferously called "Order!" Considerable tumult prevailed for several minutes.
§ Lord Kenyan rose to order, and said, that when a noble Lord rose with the intention of calling any other noble Lord to order—if he was himself out of order, it was quite competent to any other noble Lord to call him to order.
§ Earl Grey
observed, that the noble Lord who had just risen appeared to have totally mistaken the matter. His noble friend (Lord Holland) was not speaking to order—he had not yet spoken in the course of the Debate, and he had a right to reply to an insinuation or sarcasm made, he thought, not in a very courteous manner. His noble friend had a right to justify himself, and to answer an insinuation which had been thrown out against him. He had also a right to speak upon the whole question, not having yet spoken. Therefore, as it had come to his (Earl Grey's) turn to speak to order, he would 300 desire that his noble friend might, according to the orders of the House, be heard without interruption, and that, if any noble Lord should afterwards wish to answer his noble friend, or make any observations upon what he should say, he might also be heard.
§ This was followed by a general cry of "Lord Holland."
My Lords, I did not rise to speak to order, but if you insist upon my speaking to order, I have a right to be heard now; for having been called to order by the noble Lord (Kenyon) I have a right, by the rules of the House, to speak in preference to any other Peer. Let it, however, be understood, that I did not rise to speak to order, but I threw myself upon your Lordships' indulgence to bear with me while I made an answer to a personal attack which has been made upon me by the noble and learned Lord. I now again ask that indulgence which I never in the whole course of my parliamentary career heard refused to any Peer who asked it. I request, then, that I may not again be interrupted by any noble Lord, and especially by the noble and learned Lord who will be allowed, I have no doubt, to speak after me if he please. I say, then, that the noble and learned Lord has thought proper to indulge—in a manner perfectly parliamentary, I admit—in a sneer and sarcasm at what he is pleased to call my innocence in remarking that petitions which I presented prayed for the Bill, and said nothing about Vote by Ballot; and the noble and learned Lord asked me, if I were simple enough to believe the petitioners. Now if there were any wit or advantage in that sarcasm, I leave the noble Lord in the full possession of both. I tell him plainly, that I do believe the petitioners, and that I do not suspect them of insincerity. I am in the habit of speaking what I think, and nothing more than what I think; and I am in the habit also of believing that others do the same, except when, from facts that are obvious, and from observations which I cannot be mistaken in, I am convinced that a person is neither speaking all he thinks, nor what he thinks; and I tell the noble and learned Lord that I have seen and heard such a person. I repeat, that I am simple and foolish enough to believe the people of England, and not to suspect them of a mean and pitiful deception, and I do trust that your Lordships 301 will leave the noble and learned Lord in the sole enjoyment of his witty, and perhaps clever discernment, and share with me in the folly and simplicity of believing that the people are not so base as the noble and learned Lord thinks he has discovered them to be.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
said, he did not by any means intend to suggest the inference which the noble Lord drew from what he had said. He might have expressed his sentiments in a manner which displeased the noble Lord; but that noble Lord was the last man to whom he should be disposed to say any thing disrespectful.
§ Lord Tenterden rose, and said, that he felt it necessary to address a very few sentiments to their Lordships upon this important question. Many topics had occurred to his mind with respect to the Bill now before their Lordships, and the arguments which he had heard in favour of it, which he thought he could with propriety offer to their Lordships. But he found that all those topics had been urged with so much more force and ability than he could bring to the task, that he should forbear entering upon them. There was, however, one point, and one alone, upon which he would beg leave to address a few words to their Lordships; and, indeed, it was not so much in his character of a Peer, although it was only in that character that he had a right to speak, as in the character of which the robes be wore reminded him, that he desired to address their Lordships. He found that the rights of almost all the corporate bodies in England, whether they were held by charter or prescription, were treated by this Bill, so far as he saw, with absolute contempt, and that many of them were to be annihilated and abrogated, while others were to be despoiled of their privileges. He had listened in vain for any sufficient reasons for the extent to which these measures were carried—or, if it were intended only to transfer from some decayed parts of the constituency their privileges to other more sound, more numerous, and more healthy parts, which he believed in his conscience was all that was desired by all the reasonable classes of his Majesty's subjects—by the middle classes, for whom he entertained as great a respect as any man—(he ought to tell their Lordships, that he entertained a respect and affection for those classes, since he was sprung from them); but, instead of such a reasonable and moderate 302 measure, reconcileable with the institutions of the country, he found one going infinitely beyond what any man had ever expected, and carrying the principle further than could ever have been anticipated. And upon what footing was this Bill put? Upon the footing of expediency. Now, he would ask, was it expedient? Expediency was a tyrant. It was the plausible pretext for every act of injustice. But what particularly called upon him to address these few words to their Lordships was this:—If they passed this Bill into a law, it would establish a precedent of future argument for the annihilation of all other rights. He did not say that such arguments would be just, but they would be as plausible as any arguments of expediency which had been put forth on this Bill. He held himself, in the situation which he unworthily filled, peculiarly bound to uphold the chartered rights of the people. This would go to subvert those rights, and upon that principle, though not for that reason alone, he felt bound to dissent from the measure.
The Archbishop of Canterbury
said, it was his intention to have addressed their Lordships at an earlier hour this evening, and if he had had an opportunity of doing so, he would, as he greatly desired to have entered into a full statement of the reasons which imposed upon him the painful necessity of opposing a measure which came before that House with the strong recommendation of his Majesty's Government, and which had been carried by a majority of the House of Commons. But having been disappointed in that wish, he hoped, after the splendid display of argument and of eloquence which they had heard in the course of the Debate, that he should be considered as acting most properly, both to their Lordships and to himself, if he trespassed on their attention as briefly as possible at that very late hour. He meant to confine himself to a few words, and he would not trouble the House even with these, if he did not deem it necessary, in justice to himself, to state his opinions and feeling on the general subject of Reform. Most sincerely as he admired our happy Constitution, still he did not carry his veneration so far as not to allow that it had its defects and anomalies; neither had he such a strong predilection for things as they were as not to think that improvement was desirable and might be effected. Whatever abuse or corruption had crept 303 into the Constitution, by neglect or by vicious practice, he was anxious to correct by safe and constitutional remedies. To a Reform synonymous with the extermination of abuses, and the restoration of the excellencies of the Constitution, he professed himself a sincere friend, and amongst the right reverend Prelates who sat on the bench near him, he did not believe there was a single individual who did not concur with him in that sentiment. He had heard, with great satisfaction, in the course of this Debate, the opinions delivered by noble Lords in opposition to this Bill, because they had declared that their opposition was directed, not against the principle of the Bill, or the general principle of Reform, and they had expressed their willingness to accede to a measure of gradual, temperate, and safe Reform. In that sentiment he entirely concurred with them. He could not help indulging a hope, that the result of this discussion might be an union of men of all parties, having the same great object in view—the good of their country, and that, thus uniting, they would prepare some measure for the consideration of Parliament, so cautiously worded as to tranquillize the fears of those who dreaded agitation, and, at the same time, sufficiently efficient to satisfy the friends of the Constitution, who, while they desired to have its excellencies preserved and its blemishes removed, were unwilling to try an experiment so extensive as that which was now proposed. Some persons might think that a notion of this kind was chimerical and futile. He was not of that opinion; he thought that, on each side, feelings and prejudices might be sacrificed; and in proportion to those sacrifices—in proportion as the question was relieved from the asperities and difficulties which surrounded it—in that proportion would those who adopted that wise and temperate course command and receive the gratitude of the country. He would only add, in conclusion, that, if it were their Lordships' pleasure to pass this Bill, he should sincerely rejoice, and no man more so, than himself, if the apprehensions which he entertained of its effects should turn out to be groundless. If, on the other hand, their Lordships threw out this measure, and popular violence, which he did not expect, should unfortunately follow, he would be content to bear his share in the general calamity; but, in either case, he should have this consolation, 304 during the few remaining years he had to live, that in the course which he had taken, he was actuated by no sinister motives, but that he had opposed the Bill because he thought that it was mischievous in its tendency, and would be extremely dangerous to the fabric of the Constitution.
§ The Duke of Sussex rose amidst loud cries of "Question!" The illustrious Duke said, I rise under great disadvantages—fatigued by a long and serious attention to the Debate, not only of this night, but also of the five last nights upon the important, question which is now under the consideration of your Lordships—[signs of impatience]. I really must claim the courtesy of noble Lords. I do not intrude on their attention on common occasions; it is only on great constitutional questions, when I conceive the rights and liberties of the people to be concerned, when it is my duty to give a conscientious vote, that I claim their indulgence to listen to the humble opinion of an individual who discusses a question conscientiously, according to what he feels to be his duty. I state, my Lords, that I come before you under peculiar disadvantages. I believe all the talent that is concentrated in this House has expressed its opinion upon this important question; and that a humble man like myself should be forced to be one of the last speakers, exhausted by the fatigue of the proceedings, is a great disadvantage, independent of my want of abilities to discharge that duty, which I am so anxious to perform to the country and to myself. I have been alluded to particularly by a noble Baron on the other side of the House, who courteously addressed his arguments to me, and by another noble and learned Baron in the course of the evening; and having those opinions addressed to myself, so far as an individual is concerned, I wish to answer the points which have been applied particularly to me. The noble and learned Baron, in stating the principle of the origin of seats in the lower House of Parliament, was correct in his first statement; but the noble and learned Baron must allow me to add, that I do not think in his statement he has argued correctly or fairly. I am using the terms in no invidious sense; but I heard the same remark mooted by a noble and learned Lord, who formerly held the situation now filled by my noble and 305 learned friend, who staled to me an opinion from which I historically differ. If I have any idea of the origin of the introduction of the lower House of Parliament, I conceive that it originated at a time when there was much less knowledge than there is now; and when the Crown conceived, as the noble and learned Lord stated, that by the appointment of these boroughs it might check the power of the Barons. That I grant—but where is the difference? It is not for me to enter into the details. That power which the Crown intended as a balance to the Aristocracy might by circumstances—by lavish grants from the Crown itself—by the Reformation—and by the Revolution—have passed from the hands to which it was consigned into those which would extend the interests of the Crown. The House of Commons, I think, my Lords was raised up by the Crown, as a balance against the power of the Aristocracy; but the power of the Crown has for many reasons, become much less since that period. I impute no undue motives to the noble Lords who oppose this Bill. I certainly have party feelings, but those feelings do not prevent me from respecting those who differ from me. But, my Lords, what is the nature of this Bill? Your Lordships have received from the House of Commons a Bill, which they submit to your consideration. In favour of that Bill numberless petitions have been presented; and I say, therefore, that the Bill is in conformity with the opinions of the people. It has been the fashion with some noble Lords to treat the people with disrespect. I can not agree with the noble Lords in that sentiment. I know the people better than many of your Lordships do. My situation, my habits of life, my connection with many charitable institutions, and other circumstances on which I do not now wish to enter minutely, give me the means of knowing them. I am in the habit of talking with them from the highest to the lowest. I believe they have confidence in me, and that they tell me their honest sentiments; and my firm conviction, arising from the strong feeling which I have heard expressed on this subject, is, that it is absolutely necessary that this Bill should be adopted, to meet the improved condition of the people. I wish to give your Lordships a description of these individuals, for many noble Lords are not acquainted with their habits and pursuits. I have gone to the mechanics' societies, I have visited their 306 institutions, and seen their libraries. At Nottingham they have a library that would do credit to the house of any nobleman; they have every kind of books, historical and philosophical; in short, they possess an abundance of those works which are calculated to instruct the mind and improve the heart. Now, have not these men as good judgment as your Lordships?—And if they have, have they not a just right to use it? Let me add to this, when we are talking of classes of society, that I have every respect for the nobility of the country. No man can have a greater respect than I have for the claims of rank; but at the same time your Lordships must allow me to say, that education ennobles more than anything else, and when I find the people increasing in knowledge and wealth, I should be glad to know why they ought not, also, to rise in the ranks of society. As they increase in affluence and knowledge, will they not perceive that they have a claim to greater rights, and is it not natural that they should endeavour by every means in their power to attain them? Without meaning any disrespect to the noble and learned Chief Justice, who, in a manner that did him honour, stated to your Lordships that he had emanated from the middle class of society, I ask him, and I ask your Lordships generally, whether it is wise, when you can turn the wealth and knowledge of that class to the benefit of the State, to take a different course; to prevent it from having a fair share in the Representation of the country, and thus to turn that which ought to be a national advantage, into a source of evil, which must retard the general interest and prosperity of the country? We have been told of the French Revolution, and of other foreign transactions, as having created the present feeling in the public mind. If I were to use an expression which, perhaps, is not very courteous in this House, but which, nevertheless, is strong and comprehensive, I should say that this is a mere humbug. We are too sensible in this country to take political fashions from the French. Our Constitution is too good to induce the people to take a leaf out of the mushroom constitution of France. We may have our faults—we may have our vanity; but I am sure the good sense of the people of this country will never suffer them, to forget the origin of our institutions, and while they look to that they will never go wrong—they may renovate, 307 but will never impair the Constitution. How particular boroughs, which it is the object of this Bill to disfranchise, got into the hands of noble Peers I do not pretend to say; but this I will say, that they have no right to them. It is a ground from which I will not depart—that however these noble Peers came into the possession of these boroughs, the time has now arrived when they ought no longer to be allowed to retain them. I certainly am less interested in matters of this kind than other noble Lords, because I have no property of that sort. But notwithstanding that fact, I must be allowed to say, that belonging to the Aristocracy of the country, when an odium is cast upon that Aristocracy, I, as a member of it, must bear my share of it; therefore, as one concerned, but not interested, I think I have a right to require that the cause of that odium should be removed. As I said before, the people of this country have too much good sense to be induced to take a leaf out of the French constitution. In the year 1792 I differed most materially upon this point with several noble Peers, who went over from the party to which I had the honour to belong, under the impression that the people of England would follow the example of the people of France. I confess that, at that time, although I was a very young man, I felt much surprised at the conduct of those noble Lords, because I could not conceive how an English Peer could, for one moment, rank himself with the Peers of France under the old regime. In England our Aristocracy is independent—its privileges are acknowledged—its duties are plainly marked out—it stands between the people and the Crown, invested by the Constitution with the sacred charge of maintaining the prerogative of the one, and protecting the just rights and privileges of the other. The Aristocracy of France was of a totally different character. I will undertake to say, that very few of the old French noblesse had an income of more than 2,000l. a-year; and that was principally derived from honorary situations about the Court; so that the merit of their fidelity to their Sovereign consisted in their not being able to live without him. We, however, are an independent body; and when we do justice to the people, as I am sure we shall do, by giving our sanction to this measure for the amendment of the Representation, I have no doubt but that 308 they will perceive, and acknowledge with joy, the kindly feelings which we have manifested towards them. Whether this Bill be carried this day remains with your Lordships; but if it do not, something else assuredly will pass—something else, perhaps, which may not be so palatable, because it will be introduced under less advantageous terms. That is what I wish to avoid; and I say this with a thorough conviction, that the vote which I am about to give this night is one of vital importance—one in which my character, as a member of the Royal Family, and a Peer of England, is deeply implicated. A noble and learned Earl, whom I have always respected, although I have always differed from him upon politics, has observed, that the Constitution would be subverted by this measure; that it would undo what had been effected by the Revolution which placed my family upon the Throne, and that it would place that family in jeopardy. I deny that statement; I deny it with all possible respect to the noble and learned Earl. My family came to the Throne on the principles of the Revolution—on the principle of a full, free, and fair Representation of the people. My Lords, I take my stand on that ground, and on that ground I shall vote in favour of this Bill. I regret that others, with whom I am personally connected, do not take the same view of the subject that I do; but I have no doubt that they have seriously weighed and considered their opinion. For my own part I have, from my earliest life, been a Reformer; and until I see the Constitution improved, I will continue to be a Reformer. But unless the object is attained by constitutional means, and not by acts of violence, anxious though I am to carry the question, I shall feel it to be my duty to support that Government which is ready to put down what can only be viewed as an attack upon Government itself. I shall, therefore, if this Bill be thrown out, as perhaps it will be, say to the people—"Receive the decision with submission—you must ultimately succeed; but if you trust to violence, your cause will be thrown back. The object you seek is enlightened and rational, and you must not hope to carry it by any other than enlightened and rational means—you must not, and cannot hope to carry any thing by the violence of the mob." My Lords, I have already stated, that I am acquainted with the construction 309 and internal machinery of many of the Mechanics' Institutions in the country. I have stated that the extension of these institutions through the country, is a proof of the growing spirit of intelligence amongst the great mass of the community; but, my Lords, not only do the people devote much of their leisure hours in acquiring information in these institutions, but I am given to understand, that in many parts of the country, it is quite a common thing for men to be employed to read to the others while they are engaged at work. My Lords, let us take into consideration, that the great portion of the funded property of the country is in the hands of the middling classes. From a document which I hold in my hand, it appears, that out of 274,000 fundholders, there are 264,000 with incomes of less than 100l. a-year. Let us now look to the means of information which the people possess, and the rapidity with which intelligence may now be conveyed from the metropolis to every part of the United Kingdom, by means of the Press. This will be evident, when I state the fact, that there are sent from London, weekly, and circulated through the country, not less than 191,500 newspapers, besides the circulation of about 270 provincial newspapers. Will any of your Lordships tell me, that with this information at their command, the people will not use it? Will you tell me that they will not read—that they will not think? My Lords, I repeat, that, the people are hourly becoming more and more intelligent. Your Lordships have not now to deal with an ignorant, or unintelligent body of men; you have to deal with men who are well instructed, intelligent, well-conducted, peaceable, and orderly; who know their lights, and who will not be prevented from asserting them—aye, and from obtaining them, too, if they only adopt constitutional means. Knowing that the people are becoming more and more intelligent, I would earnestly call upon your Lordships to pause before you reject a measure on which they are now, I may say, unanimous. I feel, from the circumstances I have stated, that I am under an obligation to vote for the second reading of this Bill, because I am convinced that, in doing so, I vote for that which will add to the prosperity, and secure the tranquillity, order, and peace of the country. My Lords, I deeply lament that many of your Lordships differ from me on this occasion, 310 but I owe it to my God and my country, thus to state candidly and fairly my reasons for supporting a measure in which in my conscience I firmly believe that the prosperity of the country is involved.
The Duke of Gloucester
said, in one point he agreed with many noble Lords who had preceded him. He should be glad to see a safe and constitutional measure brought in, for the correction of such defects as might, from length of time, have crept into the frame of the Constitution. If such a measure were brought in, it should receive his most cordial support. But as the present was not a measure of that nature, he must vote against it. He did not think that the Bill proposed was a measure of Reform; it was, in fact, a totally new Constitution. As he looked upon it to be a most dangerous and mischievous measure—a measure that would lead to the ruin of all their most valued institutions, he should give his most decided vote against the second reading.
The Marquis of Hastings
said, he believed the desire for Reform was very general among all classes throughout the country. This he thought was sufficiently shown by the numbers of petitions, praying for the measure, which had been presented to the House. He would not go into the details, for he felt the Committee was the proper place to discuss them, and he, therefore, should vote for the second reading of the Bill, as he fully believed some measure of Reform was necessary.
§ The Earl of Harewood
said, he observed that, during the whole Debate, when any sentiment was uttered by noble Lords on that (the Opposition) side of the House, which indicated a friendly feeling towards a certain degree of Reform, such an indication of opinion was received with that sort of cheering which showed that noble Lords opposite doubted the sincerity of the statement. Now he was a Reformer, but he did not think, though a Reformer, that the Reform of this Bill was necessary to remedy the evils under which the country now suffered. He should be disposed to carry his principles of Reform to the extension of the elective franchise to great commercial and manufacturing places, but that was no reason why he should support an entire change of which no man could see the end. Whatever might be the result of this night's division, he hoped that in any future measure which should be introduced, Ministers would take a tone 311 somewhat less high than that which they had at present adopted. There would be less difficulty in carrying such a measure.
§ Lord Barham
supported the Bill, and contended, amidst frequent cries of "Question," that their Lordships were called upon in duty to pass a measure which had come before them so sanctioned and supported. He fully concurred with the illustrious Duke, that those noble Lords who had possessed themselves of that to which, by the Constitution, they had no right, were bound, by every principle of religion and morality, to relinquish it. He would offer one word of counsel to his noble friends (the Bishops), from whom it pained him to differ. It grieved him to see them ranged, as it were, under the banners of corruption. He could not conceive why men who professed religion and morality in private life, should depart from the principles of both on public questions. He therefore earnestly hoped that those who sincerely professed religion, would make that religion their law on this occasion, and sanction a measure which would tend to support moral as well as political purity.
§ Earl Grey
.*—Considering the exhausted state in which I find myself at this advanced hour of the morning, and considering, still more, the exhaustion which most of your Lordships must feel, it is not my intention to trespass at any great length on your Lordships' time. I cannot but regret my present state of feebleness at a moment when I have so much need of more strength than I ever possessed. Such strength would be required to enable me to follow the whole of the speech of the noble and learned Lord opposite. I was prepared to expect an expression of dissent, from the noble and learned Lord, and I feel deeply all the disadvantages which the opposition of the noble and learned Lord must entail upon a question, which I, with him, consider as one of vital importance. Much as I must, on this account, regret that the weight of the noble and learned Lord's high authority should be opposed to me, I regret still more the tone and spirit in which that opposition has been made. For this, I own, I was not prepared—I did not expect the bitter, acrimonious, and virulent attack on the persons of his Majesty's Ministers, and on the whole course of their policy, foreign* From the corrected edition, published by Ridgeway.312 and domestic, in which the noble and learned Lord has chosen to indulge. The noble and learned Lord, not content with attacking the Bill, has entered into a review of the whole conduct of the Government for the purpose of condemning it; and this he has done in no very measured terms. No part of our policy has escaped his objections, and the whole object of his speech seemed to be to shew, that the present Administration was not suited to the country, and yet, after all this, the noble and learned Lord has expressed a wish that, whatever be the result of this Bill, the present Administration should not resign. Not only has the noble and learned Lord indulged in general objections to the policy of Government, but he has, with careful industry, raked up and collected opinions and speeches of mine, amongst those of others, also members of the Government, and this he has done in order to place our conduct in the most invidious view before the public. Like a noble Earl who, on a former evening, began his objections to the Bill in terms of great personal courtesy to me, the noble and learned Lord also began his objections in very courteous language.
The noble Earl (Earl Carnarvon)
to whom I have alluded, felt it necessary to state the grounds on which he withdrew his support from the present Administration, though he knows well that I have at all times professed precisely the same opinions on the subject of Reform which I now entertain and profess. However much I may regret the loss of the noble Lord's support, I have one great consolation—namely, that I have not forfeited that support by any change in my principles. Much as I regret the charges of my noble friend, they do not surprise me, for it has often happened to me, to find great personal compliments made the prelude to great severity of attack. Of this I now find an additional instance. The noble Lord, beginning his speech with great compliments to me, proceeded to indulge freely in condemnation—in sneers, and in sarcasms, at what he was pleased to consider inconsistencies. He has read an extract from a speech of mine, in which he considered that I expressed opinions different from those which I now entertain. That extract I will now read again to your Lordships. It runs thus:—'I, therefore, am ready to declare my determination to abide by the sentiments I have before expressed; and 313 that I am now, as I was formerly, the advocate of a temperate, gradual, judicious correction of those defects which time has introduced, and of those abuses in the Constitution of the other House of Parliament, which give most scandal to the public, at the same time that they furnish designing men with a pretext for inflaming the minds of the multitude, only to mislead them from their true interest. To such a system I am a decided friend—whenever it shall be brought forward, from me it shall receive an anxious and sincere support. But as I never have, so I never will, rest my ideas of salutary Reform on the grounds of theoretic perfection.'*
My Lords, the speech which I delivered on that occasion was published, though not by me or with my authority, in a more authentic shape than is usual, and I am ready to abide by the sentiments contained in the passage which I have quoted. Allusion has been made to the Society of the Friends of the People, in the proceedings of which I took a part. There was nothing in the proceedings of that Society—nothing in the part I took—at all inconsistent with that which I now take on the measure before your Lordships. I would refer your Lordships for a moment to a Letter published by that Society on the 10th of May, 1792, which, with your Lordships' leave, I will now read. It was signed by my noble friend (the Duke of Bedford) then Lord Russell:"May 12th, 1792.We profess not to entertain a wish that the great plans of public benefit which Mr. Paine has so powerfully recommended, should be carried into effect; nor to amuse our fellowcitizens with the magnificent promise of obtaining for them the rights of the people in their full extent. The indefinite language of delusion, by opening unbounded prospects of political adventure, tends to destroy that public opinion which is the support of all true governments, and to excite a spirit of innovation of which no wisdom can foresee the effect, no skill divert the course. We view man as he is—the creature of habit as well as of reason. We think it, therefore, our bounden duty to propose no extreme changes, which, however specious in theory, can never be accomplished without violence, nor attempted without endangering some of the most inestimable advantages we enjoy. We are convinced that the people bear a fixed attachment to the happy form of our Government, and to the*Hansard's Parl. Debates, vol. xvii. p. 560.314genuine principles of our Constitution; these we cherish, as the objects of such attention—not from any implicit reverence or habitual superstition—but as institutions best calculated to produce the happiness of man in civil society; and it is because we are convinced that abuses are undermining and corrupting them, that we have associated for the preservation of those principles. We wish to reform the Constitution, because we wish to preserve it.We concluded by declining all further intercourse in these words:We must beg to leave to decline all future intercourse with a Society whose views and objects as far as we can collect them from the various resolutions and proceedings which have been published, we cannot help regarding as irreconcileable with those real interests on which we profess to inform and enlighten the people.These are the opinions which I then expressed—these are the principles upon which I this day act. I wish to reform the Constitution, because I wish to preserve it, I wish for a correction of abuses, to give increased purity and vigour to the Representation, and by these means to restore the character of Parliament and regain the confidence of the people. These, I say, are the principles which I have uniformly professed, and which are the guides and directors of my conduct this day. But might it not have been very possible, that in the year 1810, when the speech which the noble Earl has alluded to was made, I might have thought advisable a less Reform than that which has now become necessary. Might it not have been possible, too, if a smaller Reform had at that time been adopted, that it might have obviated the necessity of the larger Reform which I now propose. After a lapse of twenty years, then, during which the abuses of which I complained, and which it was my object to remedy in the year 1810, have had time to strengthen and to take a deeper root, is there any inconsistency in my proposing now a stronger and a larger measure than I thought necessary to restore the purity of Parliament at that period? Where justice is delayed, does it not happen, in almost every instance, that more extensive measures are ultimately necessary than would have been sufficient if early concession had been made? And are those, who, having advocated milder means of correction at first, afterwards deem it necessary, from change of circumstances, to adopt stronger, to be liable to the charge of inconsistency 315 of conduct? If it be so, my Lords, I know not which of us can escape the charge.
At the commencement of the discussion of the Catholic claims, it was proposed to give to the Crown the veto on the appointment of Bishops as a security for a measure of concession. To this condition I was then a friend, as likely to afford the means of conciliation and success. The Bishops themselves consented to it, and there is no doubt, that at that time, though subject to this condition, a measure of relief would have been thankfully accepted; but was there afterwards anything inconsistent in my conduct, because under different circumstances, and when long-suffering and frequent disappointments had irritated the minds of the Catholics, and made this proposed security so odious to them, that they would have rejected with indignation any measure with this accompaniment—was it, I say, any proof of inconsistency that I then proposed, and supported when it was proposed by the noble Duke, a measure of relief without any such condition? When the Roman Catholic Relief Bill of 1828 was proposed, the state of Ireland was widely different from what it was when that measure was first brought into discussion; and after a lapse of years I felt that the effect of the condition which I had formerly supported would be to destroy the benefits which the measure was otherwise calculated to confer. For that reason I abandoned my former opinion, and assented to concession in its fullest sense. Was there anything, I again ask, inconsistent in this? But above all, is it the noble Lord who is qualified to call me to account upon the score of inconsistency? Upon this very Question of Parliamentary Reform, were his opinions never different from those which he has this night supported? But on the Catholic Question—not as to the mode—not as to the degree—but as to the whole policy and principle of the measure, were not his opinions directly adverse to it? Were not his most strenuous efforts used to defeat it? And yet at the end of two short years he became its most powerful advocate and supporter. I do not impute it to him as blame that he changed his opinion upon that Question; neither do I impute it as blame to the noble Duke that he changed his; on the contrary, I join with those who express their gratitude to the noble Duke for carrying that great and healing measure of policy, and justice, 316 and conciliation, and peace, though I must regret, that, by his and the noble Lord's opposition, it had been so long delayed, as greatly to impair its beneficial effects.
But can your Lordships have forgotten the noble Lord's celebrated speech in the House of Commons, in reply to an hon. Gentleman now no more, in which he deprecated the concession of the Catholic claims, as subversive of the Constitution, and destructive of the Established Church in Ireland? When the noble Lord, therefore, charges me with inconsistency, I would recommend him to remember the speech which he made on that occasion—a speech in which he endeavoured to support the strongest assertions by arguments precisely the same as those with which, on the present occasion, he has endeavoured to alarm the consciences of your Lordships. What was the noble Lord's conduct on a subsequent occasion? He appeared in this House the supporter of the very measure which, in the Commons, he had so strongly denounced. I heard the eloquent and able speech which he made on that occasion. I was gratified at it as developing a measure which came up to all that I had ever wished upon the subject; but I admired it, particularly, for the boldness with which the noble Lord, throwing aside all his former arguments, and repudiating his former opinions, adopted at once to their fullest extent, and enforced as the result of his settled conviction, all the reasonings which either I, or others of far greater ability than me, had ever urged in favour of that measure of relief, which the Government most beneficially, but alas, too tardily, had, at last, determined to support. But I should apologize to your Lordships for this digression from the subject immediately under your consideration. I could not abstain from making it, because I think that the noble Lord, after his own conduct upon the Catholic Question, is the last man in the world who has any right to make an attack upon the King's Government, upon the score of inconsistency. I now proceed to what has occurred on the present occasion.
The noble Lord says, that I made an attack upon the noble Duke, and the Administration of which he was the head. I deny that I did anything of the kind. I stated historically—and it was necessary for me to do so—the circumstances under which the noble Duke and his colleagues 317 retired from office. In doing this, I meant to pass no censure upon his conduct. I wished merely to state the facts. It is not necessary for me to describe what were the circumstances of the country at the commencement of the late Session of Parliament. They have to-night been too forcibly stated by another, to render any repetition of them necessary from me; but every one must be aware of the situation of difficulty and danger in which we were then involved. It was then that I stated my opinions in favour of Reform—qualified, I admit, as the noble Lord has stated, and as I am prepared to qualify them now. The noble Duke made a contrary statement; but will the noble and learned Lord tell me, that he was not himself considerably alarmed at the state of the country at that time?—that he did not deeply regret the declaration of the noble Duke?—that he did not himself feel, from the circumstances which then existed, and which I could have had no share in producing, that it was necessary to look to the Question of Reform? The noble Duke, however, made his declaration against all Reform whatever; and shortly afterwards his Government fell—fell without an attack. I was leagued with no party whatever against it, but it fell without an attack in consequence of its being opposed to the general sense of the country, and of its internal weakness—and this event was connected, as I think, but as the noble Duke denies, with the great Question of Parliamentary Reform.
The French Revolution occurring at the very period that the general elections in England were going on, it was owing to this circumstance, says the noble Duke, that a feeling in favour of Reform was then revived; that it was not this, says the noble Duke, but the loss of the Question on the Civil List in the House of Commons that occasioned his resignation. Finding that he had not the confidence of the House of Commons, he retired from office, in order to avoid the embarrassment of the Question of Reform, which was to be brought on in the course of a very few days. That being the noble Duke's statement, I must consider, notwithstanding his declaration to the contrary, that his resignation was in some degree connected with the Question of Reform.
§ The Duke of Wellington
I repeat, that Parliamentary Reform had nothing to do with my resignation. The noble Earl may 318 surmise what he pleases. I will say no more upon the subject, except again, and for the last time, to tell the House, that I did not resign on account of Parliamentary Reform.
§ Earl Grey
Then I do not know what was the cause of the noble Duke's resignation. He certainly stated, last night, that one of his motives was to avoid the embarrassment of the anticipated discussion on the Question of Reform. What other circumstance was there that could have operated so powerfully upon his mind as to induce him to retire from office? That he had lost the confidence of the House of Commons. Was there anything in the debate on the division upon the Civil List, taken abstractedly, and in reference to no other question, which could form an inducement to any Ministry to resign? Surely the question of whether the Civil List should, or should not, be referred to the consideration of a Select Committee, was not of sufficient importance to produce so sudden and so unexpected an effect. In the previous Session the noble Duke was obliged to retract or give up measures at least of equal importance, and yet he retained his power. I do not allude to this with any view of giving personal offence to the noble Duke: nothing can be further from my intention. From the noble Duke I have experienced acts of great personal kindness, which I am not a man to forget. I wish only to state the facts that attended the change of Government which then took place. The noble Duke resigned, and I was appointed, most unworthily, by favour of a too indulgent master, to succeed him. But I felt it to be necessary to make the power of bringing forward a measure of Reform an indispensable condition of my acceptance of office. Was this done with the false motive of maintaining a consistency with my former opinions, because I had once professed them? God forbid that I should ever act under such an influence, or that I should shrink from abandoning opinions which I had once maintained, when convinced that they could no longer be acted on with safety. No, my Lords, it was from no such unworthy feeling that I took up this question, but because I felt that it could no longer be avoided without infinite and incalculable danger. The abuses which had crept into the system of the Representation were more strongly felt than at any former period—the confidence 319 of the people was estranged from Parliament—the voice of complaint became daily more loud and more appalling—and under these circumstances, in conformity with an opinion which I had expressed but three weeks before, when I had no expectation of office, I could not withdraw myself from the duty of proposing the measure which appears to me to be necessary for the cure of all these evils. But then, says a noble Earl, we are responsible for all the excitement that has followed. I deny the charge in toto. I say that the excitement which has prevailed since we have been in office existed before; that it was the cause, and not the consequence, of our being called to the Government, and of the measures which we thought it our duty to propose. But then this excitement, it seems, has been restrained; it was restrained, I say, by the satisfaction which the measure of Reform afforded. But no, says the noble Earl, these are false appearances—it is only a delusive calm, which those who look to certain results have produced for the better attainment of their destructive purposes, which aim at nothing less than the overthrow of our ancient institutions. But does any body believe that the feelings of a whole people can be so controlled, can be awakened, roused, excited, and then again suddenly silenced, by any individuals, or any combination of individuals, more especially of men whose purpose is contention, and whose means civil violence and commotion? I, for one, cannot believe in the possibility of such a state of things; but if such were the dangers, and such the designs to which we were exposed, granting for a moment what I totally deny, I am still prepared to defend the course his Majesty's Government has taken. Granting all this, I contend, that to embody the sound part of the community against the violent and disaffected, if such there be, the first and most effectual step was to unite them, by re-establishing their confidence in the Government, for which purpose it was necessary to convince them, by a substantial measure of Reform, that the abuses which they complained of would be corrected. I may be in error—I may be imprudent; but I ask the noble Earl opposite, what earthly object I could have in bringing forward a measure to produce excitement? Is it generally the object of a Government to produce excitement? I am past the age when men from mere gaiety of heart, 320 from youthful vanity, or pride of place, reckless of consequences, do not fear to set all the elements of political contention in motion. I love my ease as much as other men, and must I not have been the most short-sighted of men, if I had not foreseen all the difficulties, all the ill-will which I should have to encounter from a conduct opposed to long-established prejudices, and to interests threatened with destruction?
I appeal to your Lordships' candour—I appeal to your good sense—whether it is possible that I could have any wish to expose myself to such embarrassment, and whether, seeing all these difficulties before me, I could be led to brave them by anything short of an imperious sense of duty? Man is subject to error—and I, perhaps, more than most other men; but it could be from no other motive than a sincere belief that it was necessary for the public tranquillity and safety that this measure of Reform was proposed. It has now for some time been under the consideration of Parliament; its opponents have described it as revolutionary, violent, destructive of the settled institutions of the State, subversive of the Aristocracy, and dangerous to the Crown; I trust it will not be found to deserve that character.
The noble and learned Lord has stated that we never gave any reason for introducing it; that in the Speech from the Throne he could collect nothing which led him to expect such a measure as this. The Speech at the opening of the present Parliament recommended to the attention of the House a measure of Reform which should support the just prerogative of the Crown, the privileges of both Houses of Parliament, and the rights and liberties of the people. This was what his Majesty proposed, by the advice of his Ministers, in his Speech from the Throne; and the noble and learned Lord has done me justice in saying, that I have never alluded to that Speech but in the sense of its being the speech of the King's Ministers. But does this measure, or does it not, coincide with the expressions contained in his Majesty's speech? That is the question which we have to determine. In considering a measure of Reform, neither I nor my colleagues were actuated by any other motive than a sincere desire to preserve those ancient and valuable institutions by which the prosperity of this country has been promoted, to a degree seldom, if ever, 321 attained by any other nation. We had no other desire than to propose a measure which should effect the objects described in the Speech from the Throne. Now is this measure, or is it not, well calculated to support the interests of the Crown, the Aristocracy, and the people, or is it, deserving of all the reprobation which the noble Lord opposite has fixed upon it?
No man is more sensible than I am myself of my incompetency and frequent, failure in effecting that which I attempt. I certainly endeavoured to explain the grounds upon which his Majesty's Government deemed this measure necessary. I said that it was on account of the defective and abusive state of the Representation, and of the discontent consequent upon it. I stated that I thought those abuses which had excited complaints so loud and so general were in themselves indefensible, and that their removal was absolutely necessary, to restore public confidence, and to insure to the Government the strength and security which, without that support, it never could obtain. These, I think, were sufficient grounds upon which to propose a measure of this kind. Then comes the question—is the measure calculated to produce this salutary effect? Is it, or is it not, conducive to the support of the Crown, consistent with the privileges of this House, and necessary for securing the rights of the people? I answer, in the almost unanimous voice of the people of England, that it is felt by them to be pregnant with all these advantages. They are now awaiting, in anxious expectation, the result of to-night's Debate—looking to the success of the measure as necessary to the peace and prosperity of the country, and dreading its rejection as likely to lead to evils which I will not attempt to describe, lest it should be said that I am endeavouring to control the free opinion of the House by intimidation. Then, what is the character of the measure? In proposing it, I stated that we had no desire but to perform our duty. The noble Lord says, that the opposition to it has been disinterested. I give the noble Lords opposite as much credit for sincerity in opposing as we had in proposing the measure.
It is said, that there are only six Peers opposite who possess nomination-boroughs. I think, however, that merely looking along the benches opposite, I can see more than that number. I have put 322 down in this manner twenty-one proprietors, or patrons, as they are sometimes called, of boroughs. I do not mean to say, that the votes of those noble Lords are influenced by the possession of such nominations; but does that make the fact of their existence less unconstitutional? Many of the opponents of this measure have stated that they feel the necessity of Reform. I believe the great majority do, although I do not know whether I may include the noble Duke. Lithe early part of the last Session, the noble Duke certainly declared himself opposed to all Reform; and even in the case of East Retford, when I stated the necessity of Reform, he denied that such necessity existed. The noble Duke said, only last November, that he considered the existing system of Representation so perfect, that he had no hope of improving it, and that if he had to form a new system, he should propose something as similar as possible to that under which the Representatives of the people were then returned to Parliament.
But this statement, it is said, was made by the noble Duke solely in his capacity of a Minister of the Crown, and that, having left office he is now no longer bound to it. If that be the case, I hope that his opinions upon the question of Reform may undergo as complete a change as they did upon the measure of Catholic Emancipation, and that he may hereafter propose or support some bill, which at least will allow to the people of England a better Representation in the House of Commons than that which they now possess. The distinction taken by the noble Duke between his duty as a Minister of the Crown, and the duties which he has to discharge as an individual Member of the House, was adverted to by the noble Marquis who sits near me, in the very able and powerful speech which he delivered a few nights ago; and I confess that I am myself incapable of comprehending it. It is a distinction which I never heard of before; and I should have thought that the duty of a Minister of the Crown, upon any great national question, would be pretty similar to that of a private Member of the Legislature. Both are equally bound to do what may appear best for the public interest and safety. What was the noble Duke's conduct on the Catholic Question? Did he then resort to any such distinction? It was argued that the admission 323 of Catholics to the full enjoyment of the privileges of the Constitution, was contrary to the established policy of our forefathers, and subversive of the securities of the Protestant Church. Did the noble Duke then think that he was bound, as a Minister of the Crown, to resist a change, from which destructive consequences were so confidently predicted? No, my Lords, his policy was more rational, and withal more safe. The conviction being forced upon his mind, that the Government could no longer be conducted on the old principle of exclusion, he came forward himself to propose that great measure of peace and conciliation, which he had till that time opposed. I vindicated him at the time from the charges that were made against him on this account. I now repeat, that he is entitled to the lasting gratitude of his country for having done what was prescribed to him by his duty, both as a Member of the Legislature and as a Minister of the Crown; and I am not without hopes of living to see the noble Duke abandoning the untenable doctrines which he has put forward in this Debate, and cherishing the adoption of Reform, called for by the public voice, and by an almost unanimous expression of public opinion.
But to proceed; we found ourselves under the necessity of proposing a measure, upon which, as we thought, men's opinions were much united. I speak not of the opinions of the mob, but of the middle classes—of the great, muss of intelligence and property throughout the country, whose opinions, I maintain, are decidedly in favour of this measure. But we are told that, the state of public feeling and of public opinion is the result of agitation; and it was said by the noble Earl—from whom, I confess, I was much surprised to hear such a sentiment—that the people are not qualified to form a correct, judgment, upon such matters. What! not qualified to form an opinion, or to draw a correct conclusion upon a question which concerns them so nearly? I must say, that amidst the present diffusion of knowledge, such an assertion is an insult upon the people of England. That they cannot understand paradoxes—that they cannot understand the new, and curious, and ingenious system of morals which justifies the purchase and sale of nomination boroughs—and the theory by which it is maintained that these boroughs are a necessary 324 part of the Constitution; that they cannot understand, when they are told it is their right to be fully and freely Represented in Parliament, that this means that Peers and others are to have the power of appointing Members to sit in the House of Commons—that the people of England cannot understand this I am ready to admit; but I must make this apology for them, that Locke, and Blackstone and Saville, and Pitt, and Fox, laboured under the same incapacity, and that these, and many other great men, were as little able to understand as the body of the people of England, whom the noble Earl would exclude from the right of deliberating on this subject—what is now declared to be part and parcel of the Constitution of the country. I think the people of England, then, may be excused if they are as ignorant, as incapable of seeing the advantage of venal and dependent boroughs, as the high authorities which I have cited. I maintain that no Reform can be satisfactory to the people which does not, strike deep at the, extirpation of nomination boroughs. The system, however, was upheld by a noble and learned Lord, who spoke early in the Debate, and who, in defence of nomination, said, that there was an absolute necessity for its existence, as the Government of the country could not, by possibility, be carried on without it. In point of fact, then, while he justifies these corrupt boroughs, the noble and learned Lord condemns a government which, according to his argument, can only be carried on by corrupt, and, as I contend, by unconstitutional means.
Above all too, the noble and learned Lord appeals to the right reverend bench on my left, as the guardian of public morals, to resist a measure which establishes a system of Representation in smaller boroughs, consisting of 200 or 300 voters each, as of all others the most corrupt, and, as a remedy for this, to maintain this system of nomination. I also appeal to those right reverend Lords, as guardians of the public morals, and I ask them, whether they are prepared to support the principle, that evil may be done, that good may come of it? Will they support a system founded in hypocrisy, falsehood and fraud—(the unavoidable concomitants of the practice of nominating Members of Parliament, by Peers, and others, to be returned by those 325 boroughs which it is now proposed to disfranchise)—as a necessary part of the Constitution? Will they admit the moneychangers into the temple, and resist any measure to dislodge them? Will they confirm by their vote the pollution, by which the sacred edifice of the Constitution is desecrated, as necessary to its support? These are principles of morals, as well as of politics, which I feel confident the right reverend Prelates will not maintain. The system which it is the object of this Bill to correct, is an eye-sore—a blot—a blemish; it is worse, it is a rankling and a consuming ulcer, which, if allowed to continue, will eventually spread gangrene through the whole body of the State. Not to carry the principle of disfranchisement too far, we have had recourse to an expedient, by which we thought we could save some portion of the less corrupt of the close boroughs. This is one of the points upon which we have been most attacked, and I confess I have always thought it the weakest part of our case. The real remedy, however, would only make it worse in the eyes of the noble Lords opposite, by making the disfranchisement more extensive.
In the first place, we are told that we have taken a wrong principle in looking to population instead of property as the test of Representation. That objection has been so fully argued and explained by my noble and learned friend upon the Woolsack, that I am unwilling to say one word more upon it. I must repeat, however, that we do not take population alone as the basis of Representation—we take it. only as primâ facie evidence of wealth and importance. Where there is great population there is generally wealth—therefore where there is population, according to the noble Lord's own argument, there should be Representation. We found many populous places in England, the seats of commerce and of manufacture, returning no Representatives to Parliament; we also found many places in which there were few inhabitants, in which there were no interests to represent, and in which it, was impossible to form a constituency, returning two Members to Parliament; these we determined to disfranchise. But not to proceed too far, we allowed all places in which, according to the provisions of the Bill, a constituency of 300 qualified persons could be found, to retain their franchise.
326 But, says the noble Earl who spoke on the second night of the Debate, is there anything so corrupt in any part of the Representative system as the boroughs in which there are from 300 to 400 electors? Let him look to schedule B, and he will find that the boroughs there enumerated are those in which the exercise of the elective franchise, as it existed before this Bill, was the most objectionable. I admit, as I have already stated, that this has always appeared to me to be the weakest part of the measure; but, unless we carried the principle of disfranchisement much further, it could not be avoided. It is true, that the Representation derived from these boroughs is not so desirable as could be wished. We made it the best we could; and we, at the same time, gave Representatives to the large towns—to that, I think, much objection has not been raised; and we added to the Representation of the counties.
It has been said that, by this Bill, we propose to overturn all existing rights. In answer to that I state, that the right of voting in counties is left, the same with respect to freeholders, and that the franchise is extended to copyholders; and, by an amendment in the House of Commons, to leaseholders—also paying a certain amount of rent.
In the next place, as to the charges that, have been brought against his Majesty's Ministers, with respect to Corporations, and which have been designated in another place as corporation robbery, I have only to say, in reply, that there is not a corporation in the country that will be deprived by this Bill of any right whatever, except, of the privilege of voting for Members of Parliament. Even this right will be preserved to every member of every corporation in the country, for the lives of the present possessors, as well as to those who are in possession of an inchoate right, which it depends upon them to establish. It was obvious that, under the present system of voting in corporations, numerous abuses existed; and although it was not thought expedient to deprive any of the present possessors of the elective franchise, yet it was considered most desirable that a different constituency, bitter guarded against abuse and corruption, should be provided for the future.
I do not think that any one who has considered the subject, and who has looked, to the condition of a large portion of the 327 present voters in many of the corporations, can object to the abolition of the system of granting the franchise exclusively to the freemen of those bodies, when at the same time, care is taken to preserve all existing rights. I think that we shall do well to abolish this right of voting, which, whatever it may formerly have been, is not now a system best adapted to represent the feelings and interests of the more intelligent and respectable classes. It is notorious that in many places, the freemen are taken from the very lowest classes, most exposed to corruption, and, in innumerable cases, are not enabled to exercise their franchise till they have taken out their freedom, the expense being paid, which is in itself a bribe, by the candidate for whom they are to vote. After the best consideration, therefore, that we could give to the subject, his Majesty's Ministers determined to recommend that a new constituency should be framed, on the basis of property, the right of voting being confined to the bonâ fide occupiers of houses of the value of 10l. a-year. I believe I may say that nearly all those best qualified to give a correct opinion on the subject, have come to the determination that by these means, a respectable and intelligent constituency will be formed, and will be an adequate Representation of the interests of all classes. It has been urged by some persons that this qualification is too high, and will exclude many respectable persons in the smaller country towns from the right of voting, which they ought, to possess. On the other hand, however, very many have stated, and in particular the noble Lord opposite, who dwelt on this part of the measure at great length, that the qualification is too low, and will not afford an adequate representation to property. I am ready to admit that our first intention was to form the new constituency of the occupiers of houses of 20l. rental. But we found on an inquiry that the constituency would be so narrow and confined in many of the country towns, that the large body of the householders would be excluded.
To make a distinction in the qualification in great and small towns, seemed on many accounts objectionable. The present arrangement, therefore, was proposed, and it is my sincere belief, that it will be found to operate beneficially if adopted. It will embrace, the great mass of the property and intelligence of the country, 328 without descending too low—even the freemen of corporations, against whose disfranchisement so much declamation has been used, will find themselves restored under another qualification as householders, to the right of voting. To this extension of the right of voting the people look with an anxious hope, and the last and first great advantage which I expect from it is, that in giving general satisfaction, it will afford the means of successfully resisting more dangerous and more extensive changes.
These, my Lords, are the grounds upon which we proceeded on this point. But it has been said, that this Bill will lead to Universal Suffrage, and will, to use the language of the noble Duke—introduce a fierce democracy into the Constitution. In the first place, as to the numbers that will be entitled to vote, I believe the noble Duke will be found to be completely mistaken. Even in the largest towns, where the right will be most extensive, I do not believe the number of voters, under the regulations which are provided in the Bill for the management of elections, will be found to be inconvenient or dangerous. But when the noble Duke fears that the measure will produce almost Universal Suffrage, and will destroy any influence that the landed interest may possess, I refer him for an answer to the noble Baron (Wharncliffe) who sits near him. That noble Lord told us, that the pretended right of a 10l. qualification was a cheat and a delusion—that it was an attempt to gain the people by false pretences—that occupiers to the value of 10l. would not gain the right of voting, which was so clogged and frittered by the various provisions of the Bill, that it would, in fact, require the possession of 15l. or even 20l. or 30l. to ensure to them the enjoyment of this right. The right, therefore, so far the from threatening the inundation of a fierce democracy, is, according to the noble Baron, so restricted, that it can be exercised by none who do not possess property considerably above the proposed qualification of the Bill. This statement of his noble friend will, I trust in some degree remove the fears of the fierce democracy entertained by the noble Duke.
The noble Lord, in his usual off-hand way of doing business, has been pleased to say, that he would have given at once a 10l. qualification, unembarrassed with the conditions which tend to restrict or to defeat 329 it. I do not dispute the large and liberal ideas of the noble Lord; and, if we have taken the narrower view, which, not very consistently with his general objections, the noble Lord now makes the object of his censure, it has been in order to prevent fraud—to secure the purity of election against false and fictitious votes, and to make the new right, one proceeding from the real and bonâ fide possession of a 10l. qualification. He says, we have changed our opinions on this subject. I have already stated the change that took place with respect to a more limited franchise. Whatever other changes have taken place have been occasioned by our anxiety to give full effect to the spirit and intention of the Bill, to guard against abuse and fraud, and to establish a real and substantial constituency. It is true, that in making provisions for this purpose, we have sometimes found that effects would be produced contrary to our intentions. In such cases we revised our measure; and is there any shame in this? I believe it has been for the first time exacted from Ministers, in a measure so extensive and complicated as this, that it should be at once produced in a complete and perfect shape, and that any alterations which further consideration and discussion might show to be necessary, should be imputed to them as a reproach.
In referring to the returns already made by the Commissioners proposed to be appointed under this Bill, it will be found that the constituent body in many places is not nearly so large as might be anticipated. I am ready to admit that the Commissioners have been sent to many places where their attention will be required, without the authority of Parliament, with a view to expedite matters, and to facilitate the arrangements which must be made before this Bill can be carried into effect. These gentlemen have been sent to different places on the responsibility of Government, and the result of their inquiries appears to me to be most satisfactory. It appears from one of tire Reports that I have received, that there are 12,000 persons who would be entitled to vote at Manchester; but from this number a considerable deduction—almost amounting to one-fourth—is to be made. In the largest of the new London boroughs—I mean Marylebone and Pancras—according to the returns, there are 26,000 houses; but the number of voters, after making the 330 necessary deduction, will be very greatly reduced—to the amount of one-third at least. From the same inquiries, it seems reasonable also to conclude, that the numbers in the districts of Finsbury and the Tower Hamlets will not much, if at all, exceed 13,000—a number which some may think too large, but which does not appear to me to threaten any very serious inconvenience.
It is not true that the landed interests and the Aristocracy will be injured by granting the privilege to return Members to these great and important towns. Surely it has not been forgotten that a great addition has been made to the number of Members hereafter to be returned by the counties. Supposing that the right of Representation, including the most important commercial and manufacturing towns, should produce the return only of Members connected with those interests, it would not give them a greater degree of influence than they ought to possess. But from the experience we have in Liverpool, in Newcastle, in Hull, where Representation now exists, has it been found to be so confined?—or in Westminster, in Southwark, and other populous places, as well as in those above-mentioned, have not persons eminent for political distinction, or connected with these places by great possessions in the neighbourhood, been actually the Members returned?
I deny, therefore, that these changes will have the effect of injuring the landed interest, strengthened as it will be by the addition made to the county Representation. Nor can I admit that the destruction of the nomination boroughs will have the effect of generally injuring that interest. I endeavoured to shew, when I addressed your Lordships in opening this Debate, that the influence arising from this corrupt source was not possessed generally either by the Aristocracy or the landed interest. The odium arising from it falls upon thorn, but the advantage is confined to a few, and by them so used as to be anything rather than conducive to the general interest of the body to which they belong. Be this, however, as it may, when the abuses of such a system have been generally exposed, is it possible to maintain it? In removing the odium of such a system, and introducing another, in which the legitimate influence of rank, and property, and intelligence will have their due weight, this Bill affords the most 331 effectual security to those interests which it is alleged to destroy. This, perhaps, more than any other part of the Bill has given general satisfaction. An almost universal feeling appears to prevail, that the disfranchisement of these boroughs was necessary to relieve the Constitution from the corruption which is undermining the government, and to restore to it an effective and healthy administration. It has been said, indeed, that by these boroughs an adequate Representation is secured to all the various interests of the community; that by these means the merchants, manufacturers, and fundholders, obtained seats in the Legislature, and thus prevented the inconvenience which might otherwise have arisen from Manchester, or Birmingham, or Leeds not being directly Represented in the House of Commons.
It surely cannot be necessary in the present day to dwell upon the advantages of direct Representation, and to contend for the right of the people to choose for themselves the Representatives by whom their interests, whether they be agricultural, manufacturing, or commercial, are to be protected. It would be adding insult to injury, to tell them that this right was of no consequence to them, because it was amply supplied by the return of Members to Parliament, by the open sale of seats, or by the nomination of the proprietors of boroughs. And can we hear without indignation the assertion—that to eradicate such a system, and to substitute for it the real Representation which the Constitution was bound to secure to the people of this country, to restore to the people the right of choosing for themselves, is a revolutionary measure, which will infallibly destroy the most valuable institutions of our government? I entertain no fears of such a result from the passing of this measure into a law; but I confess I have great fears, from what has passed in the Debates on this question, that its rejection by this House may be productive of disastrous consequences. I trust, therefore, that the assent of the House will be given to the second reading, sanctioning thereby the principle of the Bill, which so many have admitted, and affording a full opportunity for the consideration of its provisions in the Committee. But to this it is objected that I have declared a determined and uncompromising opposition to all alterations whatever. No such declaration has ever been made by me. I certainly did 332 assert my determination to maintain the principle of the Bill in all its efficiency. Nothing that could derogate from this could have had my consent; but any alteration that could have been shown to be necessary to carry into full effect the Bill, could have met with no opposition from me. To many of the changes, which we may collect from their speeches noble Lords opposite would have thought indispensable, I should have been decidedly opposed. But the decision must have rested, not with me, but with the House. Though I might have objected, the House might have decided according to the opinion of the noble Lord—and why could they not rely as confidently on a majority in the Committee, as they do on that which they anticipate as the certain result of this night's division? Admitting the principle, therefore, they have no ground for opposing the second reading of the Bill, which would have given them the opportunity of proposing in the Committee such modifications of the measure as might be consistent with their notions of what was necessary for the security of the Constitution. I wish to address this part of my argument more particularly to the noble Earl opposite, who spoke with so much ability a few nights ago.
The noble Earl says, that he is not opposed to Reform, but that the present Bill is far too extensive. He does not object to the disfranchisement of some of the nomination boroughs—he is not opposed to the granting Members to the large towns which are now unrepresented—he consents to the extension of the right of voting in counties, and to the addition made by the Bill to that part of the Representation. Disfranchisement, enfranchisement, additition, extension of qualification—all this the noble Earl admits, and this, my Lords, forms the whole principle of the Bill. All the other parts have reference only to the manner in which that principle is to be worked out. The detailed provisions which have been introduced for this purpose, may be so modified or altered as to improve, to confirm, or to restrict the operation of the principle. If the noble Earl objects to the registration, may not that clause be altered in the Committee without touching the efficiency of the measure? If the noble Earl objects to the proposed qualification, and thinks that it ought to be the occupancy of a house of a rental of 20l. a-year, instead 333 of one of only 10l., can a change to this effect be made elsewhere than in the Committee? If the noble Earl objects to the division of counties, can he not, propose that, this part of the Bill be struck out in the Committee? If the noble Earl objects to any part of the schedules, where can he so well propose an alteration as in the Committee? To all such alterations I should, undoubtedly, give my most strenuous opposition; but, it would be, as I have already stated, for the Committee, and not for me, to decide. In the Committee all these questions might be fully discussed; in short, no way appears so easy of obtaining what the noble Earl declares that he desires, as by going into Committee.
The noble Earl, however, calls upon your Lordships, at once to reject, this Bill, for this, though the most offensive form originally proposed by the noble Baron opposite has been abandoned, must be the effect of a postponement of the second reading for six months. Let me ask, in what situation this House will be placed if your Lordships should be induced to reject this Bill upon such principles? Would it not be said, that, admitting the principle, without any consideration of the manner in which that principle might be advantageously worked into a law, you had hastily rejected a measure, sent to yon by a vote of a large majority of the House of Commons, and eagerly supported by the almost unanimous voice of a whole people? I ask the most reverend Prelate who spoke lately—for he, too, has declared that he is not opposed generally to Reform—whether he can reconcile such a vote with the opinions which he has stated? He wishes for a meeting of the most eminent and able men that can be found, to consider of the means of producing a satisfactory measure. I confess I should not be very sanguine in my hopes of a successful result from such a proceeding. But if a measure, cleared of the objections which the most reverend Prelate feels to that which is now before you, and fortified by all the safeguards which he requires for the security of the Constitution is to be effected, where can it be so well done as in a Committee, where all these points might be fairly and fully discussed?
This, my Lords, is the only course which the most reverend Prelate, and those Peers who, with him, are friendly to the principle of the Bill, can consistently adopt. I confess I cannot understand either the consistency 334 or the wisdom of those who, acting with those views, would throw out the Bill at once. I can well conceive that those who are opposed to all Reform whatever should act in this manner; that, a noble Earl, for instance, who sits opposite, and who does not qualify his opinion, and who is willing to proclaim to the people, in terms to produce despair, "Leave all hope behind, you who enter here"—that he should take such a course is intelligible; but how is it to be reconciled with the statements of those who declare some measure of Reform to be both just and necessary?
It has been said, that, a measure of a more contracted nature than this would have satisfied the people. I doubt whether, in such a state of things as the present, this could have been reasonably expected. It seemed to me that, permanent contentment could only be produced by a decisive and extensive measure; and the object which the King's Ministers had in view was, to produce such a settlement of this long-agitated question, which might prevent its being brought into renewed discussion in these seasons of distress and difficulty, when experience has shown that, it has constantly revived, calling into action all the elements of political division and discontent. It surely was desirable, if this question was to be entered into at all, it should be done in such a manner as to afford a hope that it might be effectually and permanently adjusted.
I have now nearly done. I have only to make one or two other observations. The noble and learned Lord opposite has indulged himself with going into the whole of my political life, with a view of showing that I formerly professed opinions somewhat, different from some of those which I now entertain; but the noble and learned Lord has forgotten the influence circumstances must have on the opinion of Statesmen. If I thought it necessary, I might refer to the change that took place in the opinion of the noble and learned Lord with reference to the question of Catholic Emancipation. The policy, nay, the justice of concession on that question, had long been argued by myself, and by those with whom I had the honour of acting; but it was not until the danger became imminent that the late Government were induced to abandon their opposition to the just claims of so large a portion of their fellow-subjects. But if in that case the danger was imminent, how much greater must it be 335 now, if, with their hopes and expectations raised to the highest pitch, the people should have their prayers disregarded, their petitions rejected with contempt, and all hope excluded, by a vote of this House, of their obtaining that to which, according to the principles of the Constitution, they have a right—a full, fair, and free Representation in a House of Commons chosen by themselves, and relieved from those defects which have impaired its character, and deprived it of the confidence which is so necessary to its useful and independent action? God forbid that this practical experiment upon the patience of the people should now be tried, for never did there exist—I, in my conscience, believe—in the most turbulent and dangerous times of our history, so general and so alarming a degree of discontent and dissatisfaction as that which will break out, when the hopes now entertained of obtaining a salutary and effectual measure of Reform shall be converted into despair. I believe that the feelings of the people are loyal and affectionate to the King, and even warmly attached to the various institutions of our Government in its separate branches; and let me entreat you not to throw away the opportunity which is now afforded of strengthening this general sentiment, so necessary to the safety of the country, by a timely and prudent attention to the wants and wishes of the people.
I have been reminded that, on some former occasion, I made use of the expression, that the House of Commons, even as it is, was a better representative body than any institution of the sort that ever existed in Europe. This certainly was, and is my opinion; no country, I believe, ever possessed an institution upon the whole so well calculated to promote the general welfare. But is it inconsistent with this admission, to acknowledge that there are defects, even in this system, which have materially impaired its vigour, have alienated the confidence of the people, and which require correction and reformation? To remove the abuses which have crept into the system, and to restore it to its original principles, is the object of the present Bill, which is a conservative and not a revolutionary measure, and is sanctioned by the opinion of the most enlightened men, that free governments, if not occasionally recalled to their first principles, necessarily degenerate into abuse, from the usurpations of power, and the tendency of all 336 human things to corruption and decay. I feel confident, however, whatever be the result, that the public peace will not be endangered. I agree with the noble Lord, that the good sense of the people will prevent them from breaking out into acts of violence and outrage, and I trust, whatever may be their feelings of disappointment from the rejection of this measure—if such should, unhappily, be its fate—that they will not depart from the legal and constitutional means of seeking redress for the grievances of which they complain. It is by such a course alone that their object can be obtained; and by a steady and a resolute perseverance in that course, their success is certain.
If, therefore, this measure should not pass into a law on the present occasion, I expect the people to wait patiently for a more favourable season, when their petitions may again be brought, as they infallibly must be, and at no distant period, under the consideration of the Legislature, under better auspices. Is it possible long to withstand so general and so powerful an expression of the public feeling as that which we have now heard? With the noble Lord opposite, I sincerely hope that the passive resistance to which allusion has been made, as being contrary to law, will no longer be thought of—that no combinations, which the authority of Government must be exerted to repress, will be entered into to refuse the payment of taxes; in a word, that no proceedings of any kind will be resorted to, which could only be injurious to the people themselves, and to the cause which they have so much at heart, and which their most sincere friends could only condemn and lament. Forbearance under provocation—patience under suffering—hope and perseverance under adverse circumstances, have hitherto distinguished the people of England, and, I trust, will not now desert them.
I am willing to give every credit to the noble Lords who oppose this measure for conscientious motives, but I cannot help feeling, from a number of circumstances that have occurred, that there has been shown a considerable degree of party-feeling in what has taken place both in this House and elsewhere; and his Majesty's Ministers have had reason to complain of attacks, for which, I am confident in asserting, their conduct has given no such occasion, [several Noble Lords: 337 "No! No!] My Lords, I cannot alter my conviction, that on this occasion symptoms of a party spirit have shewn themselves, which have greatly increased the bitterness of these discussions, and added not a little to the dangers to be apprehended from their results. For myself, and for my colleagues, I will only say, that we have acted from no motive but that of promoting the peace and safety of the country. To the measure which has been proposed for this purpose, or to one of equal extent, and efficiency, I am personally pledged, and as to a measure more limited in extent and principle—despairing of its producing that effect—it will not be proposed by me.
The noble and learned Lord has said, that if I were to resign office, it would be a culpable abandonment of the King. It is my duty to consider what course I shall follow, under the circumstances in which I may be placed. I certainly will not abandon the King as long as I can be of use to him. I am bound to the King by obligations of gratitude, greater, perhaps, than subject ever owed to a sovereign, for the kind manner in which he has extended to me his confidence and support, and for the indulgence with which he has accepted my humble but zealous exertions in his service. Therefore, so long as I can be a useful servant to him, I trust that it never will be a reproach to me, that I abandoned so gracious a master. But I can only serve him usefully by maintaining the character which belongs to a consistent, conscientious, and disinterested course of public conduct: this character I should deservedly forfeit, if, by any consideration, I should desert principles which I believe to be just, or give up, for any consideration whatever, measures which I believe to be essential to the security, happiness, and honour of my Sovereign and of my country. If I could fall into such disgrace, I should be at once disqualified from rendering to his Majesty any useful service.
As to abilities, I am too sensible of my own deficiency, which is not less in those other qualifications which long habits of office give. All that I can pretend to is, an honest zeal—an anxious desire to do my duty in the best way I can: as long as he is content to accept my services on these terms, no personal sacrifices shall stand in the way of my performing the duty which I owe to a sovereign, whose claims upon my gratitude and devotion 338 can never be obliterated from my heart, whatever may happen, to the last moment of my existence. I had no desire for place, and it was not sought after by me; it was offered to me under such circumstances that nothing but a sense of duly could have induced me to accept it. To such as have observed my public conduct, I think I need make no such professions, for I can appeal to the history of my whole life to prove that I have not been actuated by an unworthy desire for office. But I found myself placed in a situation in which to shrink from the task imposed upon me by the too partial opinion of a benevolent master, would have been the dereliction of a great public duty.
I have lived a long life of exclusion from office—I had no official habits—I possessed not the advantages which those official habits confer—I am fond of retirement and domestic life, and I lived happy and content in the bosom of my family. I was surrounded by those to whom I am attached by the warmest ties of affection. What, then, but a sense of duty could have induced me to plunge into all the difficulties, not unforeseen, of my present situation? What else, in my declining age,What else could tempt me on those stormy seas, Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease?I defy my worst enemy, if he has the most moderate share of candour, to find ground for charging me with any other motive.
I have performed my duty as well as I am able—I shall still continue to do so, as long as I can hope to succeed in the accomplishment of an object which I believe to be safe, necessary, and indispensable; but should this hope fail me, and should the Parliament and the public withdraw the confidence with which I have been hitherto supported, as, in that case, I could no longer prove a useful servant to my King or to my country, I would instantly withdraw from office into the retirement of private life, with the consoling reflection, that, whatever my other defects may be, I had not been wanting, according to the best of my ability and judgment, in a faithful, conscientious, and zealous discharge of what I have felt to be my duty.
§ The Duke of Wellington
When I made the observations that I did, in reference to the question of Parliamentary Reform, at the commencement of last Session, that question stood upon a very different footing to what it does at present. I look 339 upon the state of the question to have been completely altered by his Majesty's Speech on the 22nd of April, from what it was when I left office. I will not complain of anything personal that has been said of me, and I am sure that the noble Earl will do me the justice to admit, that I have rendered the noble Earl and his colleagues every assistance that I could consistently with my avowed sentiments.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
The noble Earl has been pleased, in the course of his speech, to allude to me, and he seemed to consider that, at one period of my life, I entertained opinions directly opposed to those
|List of the NOT-CONTENTS.|
|His R. H. the DUKE of CUMBERLAND||DONCASTER (Duke of Buccleuch)||VISCOUNTS.|
|His R. H. the DUKE of GLOUCESTER.||DUDLEY||ARBUTHNOTT|
|BEAUFORT||GLENGALL||GORDON (E. of Aberdeen)|
|EXETER||NORWICH (D. of Gordon)||CARTERET|
|HERTFORD||ORFORD||CLANBRASSILL (Earl of Roden|
|THOMOND.||POULETT||CLANWILLIAM (Earl of Clanwilliam|
|BATHURST||ST. GERMAIN'S||DE ROOS|
|BRADFORD||VANE (M. of Londonderry)||DYNEVOR|
|DELAWARR||WILTON||GAGE (Viscount Gage)|
§ that I now avow and act upon. Now, if the noble Earl entertains any such impressions, I beg to assure him that he is mistaken.
§ The House then divided: Not contents, Present 150; Proxies 49–199. Contents, Present 128; Proxies, 30–158. Majority against the second reading 41.
§ House adjourned at half-past six.
|HAY (Earl of Kinnoull)||OXFORD||GORT|
|KERR (M. of Lothian)||ROCHESTER||STRATHALLAN.|
|MELDRUM (E. of Aboyne)||CALTHORPE|
|MELROS (E. of Harrington)||LORD KENYON.||CARRINGTON|
|PENSHURST (V. Strangford)||Proxies.||FARNHAM|
|RIBBLESDALE||NORTHUMBERLAND.||HOPETOUN (E. of Hopetoun)|
|RODNEY||MARQUIS.||LOFTUS (Marq. Of Ely)|
|ROLLE||LAUDERDALE (E. of Lauderdale)|
|SHEFFIELD(E. of Sheffield)||EARLS.||RIVERS|
|SKELMERSDALE||Ross (Earl of Glasgow)|
|SOUTHAMPTON||CARDIGAN||SALTERSFORD (E. of Courtown)|
|STUART DE ROTHSAY||CARRICK|
|WHARNCLIFFE||GRAHAM (D. of Montrose)||WIGAN (Earl of Balcarras)|
|WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE||LEVEN and MELVILLE|
|CANTERBURY (Archbp.)||MOUNT EDGECUMBE||CARLISLE|
|BATH and WELLS||SCARBOROUGH||CLOYNE|
|GLOUCESTER||LEIGHLIN and FERNS|
|LLANDAFF||CLANCARTY(Earl of Clancarty)||PETERBOROUGH|
|List of the CONTENTS.|
|His R. H. the DUKE of SUSSEX.||EARLS.||ILCHESTER|
|BRANDON and HAMILTON||AMHERST||MINTO|
|WESTMINSTER||HILLSBOROUGH (Marquis of Downshire)||FALKLAND|
|HOOD||MELBOURNE (Viscount Melbourne)||Proxies.|
|LEINSTER (D. of Leinster)||DUKES.|
|ABERCROMBY||MOUNT EAGLE (Marq. of Sligo)||PORTLAND|
|BOYLE (Earl of Cork)||ORMONDE (Marquess of Ormonde)||BREDALBANE|
|CHAWORTH (E. of Meath)||POLTIMORE|
|CLEMENTS (E. of Leitrim)||PONSONBY of Imokilly||BUCKINGHAMSHIRE|
|CLIFTON (E. of Darnley)||PONSONBY(Earl of Bessborough||BURLINGTON|
|DACRE||ROSSIE (Lord Kinnaird)||FORTESCUE|
|DAWNAY(Visc. Downe)||ROSEBERRY (Earl of Roseberry)||HUNTINGDON|
|DE SAUMAREZ||SAYE and SELE||SHREWSBURY|
|DORMER||SEFTON (Earl of Sefton)||VISCOUNTS.|
|DUNALLEY||SOMERHILL (Marquess of Clanricarde)||ST. VINCENT.|
|DUNMORE (E. of Dunmore)||STAFFORD|
|FIFE (Earl of Fife)||STOURTON||CARLTON (E. of Shannon)|
|FINGALL (Earl of Fingall)||SUFFIELD||CLIFFORD of Chudleigh|
|FISHERWICK (Marquess of Donegall)||SUNDRIDGE (D. of Argyll)||DURHAM|
|GARDNER||VERNON||GRANARD (E. of Granard)|
|GOWER||WELLESLEY (M. Wellesley)||HAWKE|
|HOLLAND||WENLOCK||LOVELL and HOLLAND (Earl of Egmont)|
|HOWDEN||WILLOUGHBY of Eresby|
|HOWARD DE WALDEN||YARBOROUGH.||RANFURLY (Earl of Ranfurly)|
|HOWARD OF EFFINGHAM||BISHOPS.|
|KENLIS (M. of Headfort)||SELSEY|
|KILMARNOCK (E. of Erroll)||CHICHESTER.||SONDES.|
|LUDLOW (Earl of Ludlow)||LORD AUCKLAND.||NORWICH.|