§ Earl Stanhope
rose to present several petitions in conformity with the notice he had given to their Lordships in favour of Universal Suffrage and Vote by Ballot, particularly one which though signed only by the chairman, was unanimously resolved on at a public meeting, consisting of 300,000 persons, in Lancashire, and from the number of the persons who had adopted it, and the prayer it contained, it ought to receive the attentive consideration of their Lordships. The Chairman of that meeting was a person for whom he entertained the greatest private friendship and regard, and 800 who from his patriotism and public spirit was entitled to the admiration of his country—he meant one of the hon. Members for Oldham, Mr. John Fielden. The prayer of the petition was, that every male person unconvicted of crime should have a right of voting for the election of Members to serve in Parliament; that such vote should be taken by secret ballot; that no Parliament should continue longer than a year; that all property qualifications of Members should be abolished, and that due remuneration should be made to Members for their labour. He had formerly told their Lordships that it was his firm conviction, that unless Parliament redressed the grievances of the country, the arguments for reform in Parliament would be unanswerable, and he need not observe to their Lordships that his anticipations had been fully confirmed. He knew that it had been said on his side of the House, that the French revolution of July was the cause of English reform; but that appeared to him to be only one of those common errors of considering as cause and effect two matters that were wholly unconnected. We had not experienced in this country that infraction of constitutional rights which had occasioned and justified the French revolution; but, on the other hand, the French had not suffered from that grievous distress with which this country had been inflicted in the course of the same year, and which had been so forcibly and feelingly represented to Parliament in the numerous petitions laid on their Lordships' table in the course of that Session, many of which he had the honour to present. The real cause of that extensive English distress had been most correctly stated by a person who had the sagacity to detect it, and the candour to avow it, by one who was and is still a zealous reformer, who was a former Member of the Cabinet, and who had declared that without Peel's Bill we never should have had reform. Undoubtedly without that great and general discontent, which was engendered by the grievous distress that naturally and necessarily resulted from that edict of confiscation, for it could be designated by no other name, this country would not have been prepared to receive, or disposed to allow an experiment to be tried on the constitution, so extensive in its nature, and so perilous in its effects. Before the Reform Bill was proposed, and when a Reform Cabinet must have been considered as a most improbable, and almost impossible contingency, a petition had been adopted 801 at a great public meeting in Kent, for reform in Parliament, founded on proper principles and prudently conducted. Such a reform would have been good, but the Reform Act which passed, was not founded on true principles, and had been carried by clamour and agitation. Had he not been impressed with the dangers of the country, had he not found that Parliament had refused to inquire into the cause of the grievances of the country, or to the remedies which they required—had he not felt that the salus populi was the Suprema lex, he would not have voted for the Reform Act, such as it was [as we understood the noble Earl]. He was struck with a remark of the hon. Member for Birmingham, (Mr. Attwood), who said on one occasion,I am considered a man of extreme opinions, but I have become so in consequence of the system followed for the last twenty years, and I should not have been so had Mr. Pitt lived to preserve and protect the prosperity of the country.And would have continued to preserve it; but when he died, there was no man left to fight its battles. He (Lord Stanhope) had voted for the second reading of the Reform Bill, because he felt its expediency, but by admitting its principle, he did not consider himself pledged to its details. It was his intention to have proposed certain resolutions in the committee, but when the bill had been read a second time, and when a noble and learned Lord, not now in his place, proposed some not very important alterations in the committee, what had been the result? Why, it was intimated, that if any change were made in the bill, such a number of peers would be created, as would be sufficient to carry it in its original form, and thus the independence of the House of Lords would have been swamped. That was a threat which, in days of constitutional purity, would have been followed by the impeachment of the Minister who gave such advice to his Sovereign. Yet, even if the threat had been acted upon, and the new peers had been created, he believed that the peers would still have been able to assert their independence; for though the prerogative of the Crown to create peers would have been admitted, yet if a number were created for political purposes, he was of opinion that the peers already existing, would be justified in refusing to sit with them. He said this, lest the example should be followed by any future minister. He was in the House when it was proposed to postpone the considera 802 tion of Schedule A., and he saw no ground for postponing it; but, when he heard of the threat to which he alluded, he did not vote at all, because he could not support those from whom that threat came. Let him now call the attention of their Lordships to the resolutions of Mr. Pitt in 1782. They had for their object the prevention of bribery and corruption, and the lessening the expenses of elections; but since then bribery had increased tenfold. Could their lordships, then, be surprised that the call for the ballot had become general in the country? Could their Lordships doubt that there were many in the country who possessed abilities, and integrity, and patriotism, which would render their services of the utmost importance to the state? Yet these men were kept away by the enormous expenses of the elections, and had no chance of coming into Parliament, unless they attached themselves to some party, or came in in the train of some political leader. It was not his wish to disparage any one class, but he would not give to any one class a power exclusively, which should be shared by all. The line drawn in the Reform Bill of the 10l. franchise, was partial and arbitrary. It swamped all above that amount, and excluded all below it, and created discontent and dissatisfaction to all but the favoured class. It was perfectly clear, that such a system of representation could not possess that finality which its advocates thought it should have. When their Lordships considered what was the composition, what the character, and what the conduct of the House of Commons, could they be surprised that they had lost—or rather, that they had never possessed, the confidence of the people, and that they had now fallen into —he would not say merited contempt. If any one had any doubts of this, let them call a meeting in any district thickly peopled, and let them, with the aid of their satellites, try whether they could raise again the senseless cry of "the bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill," and they would be disappointed. He was aware that many attempts had been made to extend the principle of the Reform Act, but any measure which would enable one class to swamp all above it would be bad, and would be only a stepping stone to universal suffrage. His opinion upon that question he would state in a very few words. He objected to it on this ground, that it would give to that class which had the majority, a preponderating power, such as could not be possessed by any one class, without great injury to 803 the rest of the country; and if this power were possessed by that class which had in itself the physical force of the country, property would remain without that protection to which it was entitled. He had stated his opinions on this question frankly and freely to some members of the convention assembled in London, but though he was opposed to universal suffrage, in the sense in which it was usually understood, yet no man would support more strongly than he would, the right of the labouring class, and, indeed, of every class, to be represented in Parliament; but in this he did not mean more, than that each class should be fully represented, not collectively, but in classes, so that there would be no danger of one class being swallowed up or swamped by another. He would support any kind of reform which did not embrace this principle. As to the ballot, he fully agreed in a remark made by the noble Lord the Secretary for the Home Department, in an address to his constituents, that it would not be safe without a great extension, the noble Lord might have added, the greatest extension—of the franchise. If not, he could not see how the trust could be well exercised. Without this, it was liable to all the objections made to it by the rev. Sidney Smith, which he would not then repeat. Another prayer of some of the petitioners was, that a property qualification of Members might be dispensed with. It was well known that many of these were fictitious. The payment of Members was in strict accordance with the ancient usage of the Constitution, but he thought it might be left optional to Members to refuse or accept it. As to annual Parliaments, he thought it was absurd. One effect would be that it would prevent legislative measures from being duly matured; but, though he disapproved of annual Parliaments, yet he was favourable to triennial, accompanied with some measure to render elections less expensive. No man, he repeated, was more anxious than he was for a full representation of all the labouring classes,—they were a most meritorious body. It could not be denied that labour, which was a species of property, had as full a right to be represented in Parliament as any capital, whether vested in land or in the funds. If a man had no rights derived from property, he had personal rights, which ought to be respected and represented. If he had had any doubts on this subject, they would have been removed by the Poor-law Amendment Act, which was one of the 804 most infamous laws that had ever disgraced the statute-book of any country, and which could not have been passed in any Parliament in which the labouring classes were fairly represented. They had also been much injured by free trade. The sorrows of the labouring classes would have secured the sympathy of that House in which they were fully represented, and their welfare would have been the object of its unceasing solicitude. Their Lordships, before he concluded, would allow him to entreat them to consider for a moment the present condition of the people, to abstract their thoughts for a few moments, if they could, from parties, and from those considerations which alone insured a numerous attendance in that House, and to contemplate the present condition and prospects of the country. He asked and entreated their Lordships calmly and dispassionately to consider what was the cause of that cry which had been raised in so many parts of the country for universal suffrage? what were the causes of that agitation which was unexampled in its extent, and in the character which it had assumed, as well as in the consequences to which it might lead? whence did it arise that in various districts, and even in some of those which were purely agricultural, arms had been provided, as if the country were preparing for civil war? And here he need not, he thought, assert that he had always disapproved of such conduct, considering it as most injurious to the cause which it was intended to advance. He considered the employment of arms the ultima ratio, that could lead only to one or other of most melancholy alternatives—either to universal anarchy, or to most deplorable despotism. Nor did he believe that obtaining arms could add anything to the strength of those who were unaccustomed to their use. But they knew that when rage, resentment, and revenge, inflamed the minds of the people, furor arma ministrat. But "great was truth, and it would prevail," and he could not entertain any shadow of doubt that persevering powerful exertion of moral force would, in a righteous cause, prove ultimately triumphant. No man could contemplate without anxiety, and even without alarm, that state of things in which, according to the confession made by the noble Viscount he saw opposite (Viscount Melbourne), in many parts of the country the inhabitants believed that they had, even at present, no security for their property, nor for their lives. He had, with a sincere and anxious desire to 805 acquire information on the subject, asked those who were best able to instruct him, and were cognizant of those proceedings, what were the causes that the people in so many districts had provided themselves with arms? and the answer that he had received was this:—" That the first cause of the arming was, the New Poor-law; the second cause was, the desperate condition of the hand-loom weavers; the third cause was the disgraceful situation in which the factories continued; and the fourth cause (hardly to be considered as a subsequent cause, but as a corollary) were the principles of the Government." Might he remind their Lordships (if any expresssion which fell from an humble individual, one entirely unconnected with any party, could deserve their attention) of what he had the honour of stating to them two years ago, when he was induced, at the earnest desire, and by the express command of great bodies of his fellow-citizens, to resume his seat in that House, from which he had so long seceded, from a full conviction that any exertion he might make must be unsuccessful? He had stated to their Lordships, that "unless they repealed the New Poor-law, the infallible consequence must be, universal suffrage and a partition of government." He would not quote any Radical authority, which might have less weight, probably, than it might deserve; he would quote the sentiments which were to be found in a work conducted with eminent ability, and in a high Church of England spirit—the Church of England Quarterly Review. In an article in that review for January, last year, called "The Working of the New Poor-law," the author saidLet our Whig rulers have a care. If existence is indeed to be made a burden to the poor, Bradford may have its barricades as well as Paris. There will be but one cry all over the country which Heaven itself will echo back, for universal suffrage. This awful consequence, with all the ruin which it involves, we charge upon the New Poor-law Act.And again, in the same passage, the author saidThe heart that is withered by persecution obtains an awful emancipation from the ordinary restraints of human action, and when one half of the population is rendered liable to that extremity, what is to be expected but that the physical energies, inadequate to lay by a subsistence for old age, will, in the prime of life, take a destructive direction? Every drop of blood that will be shed we charge upon the New Poor-law Act.806 He saw, alas! too much reason to expect that, at a future and no distant period, a Radical. Reformer—perhaps some Chartist—would exclaim, with joy and exultation, quoting the expressions of some former Cabinet Minister to whom he had referred—" Without the new Poor-law we never should have had universal suffrage." And here he would entreat their Lordships, by way of judging fairly and justly, to consider and suppose for an instant, that instead of being placed in the elevated and independent situation in which they were, every one of them might, without any fault of his own, be subjected to the operation of this most odious act. Let them suppose themselves assembled and listening to a person who had addressed them on universal suffrage. Would they not say to themselves—" We are not represented in Parliament, and Parliament, therefore, had no lawful authority whatever to pass a law so affecting our interests and our rights. We have been reviled and calumniated; we have been stigmatised as indolent, as worthless, as living by the support of others, instead of by our own industry, and we have not had the opportunity and advantage, of which no man should be deprived, of being heard in our own defence. Our natural rights—those rights of man which ought always to be held sacred—have been violated and trampled under foot. We have been sacrificed by what is called an Act of Parliament, and dispossessed of those rights which we claim under a positive statute, existing for more than two centuries. And now we are insultingly told, that ' we may rely upon our own resources.' We have been consigned to the absolute, uncontrolled, irresponsible power of three dictators, whose arbitrary mandates, whose orders, have all the force and authority of law. Although our poverty has resulted, from causes over which we have no control, our adversity is punished as crime. If we apply for relief, we are confined and separated from our wives and children, and removed to a distance from our families and our friends. The precepts of that religion which we all of us value, and of that book which we regard as the word of God, and which enforces more frequently and more forcibly the virtue of charity than any other, have been utterly disregarded. We are told, and truly told, that universal suffrage would be the cure of these evils (and such would certainly be the case), and shall we object to a cure so beneficial to 807 ourselves because the consequences may be, that the Peers may lose their titles, and certain landed proprietors be injured?" If such an appeal as that were made by any advocate of universal suffrage to any hand-loom weavers, must not that appeal be attended with serious consequences? If an honest and industrious man, by the greatest exertion and toil, by all the skill and talents he possessed, was obliged to labour for a greater length of time than that to which human labour ought ever to be extended, to which it could never be extended without injury to the labourer, and if the remuneration for that toil was to be, as it was in many cases, quite insufficient, was it natural to expect that he should be satisfied? Let them look to the factory system, by which unnatural system children, instead of being supported by their parents, supported their parents, and, ignorant and Uninformed, knew nothing of the charms of childhood, and became disabled and prematurely diseased; and when they heard about the merits of the British constitution, and of the enlightened and patriotic Assembly which called itself the House of Commons, let them recollect—
§ Earl Stanhope
, in order to make what he had said with regard to the House of Commons palatable, had called it "enlightened and patriotic," perhaps ironically; he would call it unenlightened and unpatriotic, and let that be the correction of the noble Earl. He would even suppose, that no such Assembly existed; he thought such an Assembly hardly deserved taking notice of. An act which had been passed by an arbitrary government of Spain for the protection of negro slavery was not so severe on the slaves as the Factory Act was on factory labourers. The labourers claimed a fair day's wages for a fair day's work —a claim perfectly fair and reasonable, and to which they must listen, except they were determined to produce scenes in the country to which he would not venture more particularly to allude. And here he would quote again, not a Radical authority, but the authority of a tight hon. Friend whom he greatly revered, but who, so far from being a Radical, was in common with himself an old-fashioned Tory—he meant his right hon. Friend, who, to the eternal disgrace—he did not say of the House of Commons—the noble Earl need not be under any apprehension—of the electors of 808 Leeds, was not elected to represent that place—he meant Sir John Beckett. He said, in a speech delivered at Leeds, as reported—I say that peace at home means contentment at home, and unless we can establish such a system of things as will afford men a fairer remuneration for their labour, and enable them to maintain themselves and their families in comfort, there can be no peace at home, there never will be peace at home, and there never ought to be peace at home.Such a fair and profitable employment as that of which Sir John Beckett spoke, was impossible so long as they persevered in a ruinous-system of free-trade, so long as they persevered in the Currency Bill; and, let them do what they would, a very short time would probably elapse before they would be compelled to retrace their steps on that subject, except they were determined to doom this country to bankruptcy and ruin. He conjured them to consider, as they ought to do, the state and condition of this country, and the spirit and feeling of the people. Let not their Lordships be deceived: a revolution of the most tremendous and terrific nature —most destructive and desolating in its consequences, was now at the threshold of their doors; even now, at the twelfth hour they might be able to avert it. But he knew, that neither in nor out of Parliament, if that revolution broke out, would, any one be able either to direct or to control the storm. Whatever might be the result of that revolution, it would afford him sincere consolation to the last hour of his life to reflect, that he had zealously, though imperfectly, endeavoured to discharge his duty; and that he had earnestly, though he feared most ineffectually, endeavoured to warn their Lordships of the perils by which this country was encompassed on all sides, and of those grievances which, if allowed to continue, menaced their Lordships, all the institutions of the country, and even the Monarchy itself, with destruction. He had now stated, at more length probably than their Lordships liked, as concisely, however, as was in his power, some of the observations which appeared to him to be requisite. He had passed cursorily over many parts of his subject, though they deserved, and ought to receive full and frequent investigation. Having stated thus much, he would conclude, reserving to himself, with the permission of their Lordships, the right and privilege of hereafter replying, if he should find it 809 requisite to do so, to any observations which might be made.
was quite certain of one thing, that if the noble Earl, who had so elaborately supported tbe prayer of the petition, had not prayed their Lordships' attention to it, that their Lordships would have received it with that attention, and they would permit him to add, with that respect and consideration, with which they were ever ready to greet the respectful prayer of their countrymen. The importance of the subject, the vast meeting at which one of them was agreed to with a singular unanimity, he meant the Manchester meeting, at which there were 300,000 persons present; the great assent given in other parts of the country to the proceedings at that meeting, the anxiety which prevailed over all the manufacturing districts, without any exception, but particularly in the north and in Scotland, on this subject, and the countless numbers who had signed other petitions elsewhere, presented precisely to the same effect, and proceeding on the same grounds; the yet greater number than had even signed these petitions, that there was reason to believe agreed in their prayers, he was perfectly certain would, even if his noble Friend had not recommended the petition by his statements and arguments, have secured for the petitioners their respectful attention. He might differ, in some things, from his noble Friend, and he might have his doubts on others, but upon the whole he was disposed to agree with him. On one part of the subject, he had no doubt whatever— viz., the unrepresented state of the petitioners. But was that a consideration which disentitled them from being heard by their Lordships? No; it set the seal to the charter which entitled them to be heard, and to have their statements considered. These persons were unrepresented, and why? It was the painful duty of those who framed the Reform Bill, 1832— a duty which was felt to be painful by those who helped to carry through the measure, that a line must necessarily be drawn somewhere; that, subject though it might be to be called partial and arbitrary, as his noble Friend had called it, yet it must be drawn; that it was both convenient and fitting to draw it where they did; still they felt it most painful to draw that line, because they knew it must cut out and leave unrepresented the great bulk of the good people of these realms. They made, therefore, a property qualification, 810 though they well knew that men who might have no title to the given amount of property might still be as well qualified to exercise a vote for the benefit of the State as the 10l. householder. He said for the benefit of the State, for that was what he looked to; the franchise was given for the public good, not for private gain— it was not like the right of property, and it might very likely be exercised even better by persons possessed of no property at all, but having certain mental and moral qualifications, than by many of those who, possessing a 10l. house, possessed no other qualification. On the other hand they felt, in framing the Reform Bill, the great evils of boundless meetings of electors, and of the expense to the candidate. There were also other views, from some of which he disagreed, while he assented to some. It was not true, that those who carried the Reform Bill stated that measure to be a final measure; it was not true, that all the advocates of the bill admitted its finality; it was the reverse of true, that all the advocates of the bill in 1831 and 1832 contended, that such a measure was not to admit of alteration. It had been said, however, that in the view of the Government of that day, the measure was to be permanent and unalterable; and speeches made in their Lordships' House and elsewhere had been brought forward in support of the assertion. But this could no longer be done now, that he said thus solemnly that this was not true, that it was not consistent with truth so to state or recount. He spoke with full recollection of what passed at the time; he spoke as a Member of that Government, and with a full and accurate knowledge and recollection of the terms which one of the Members of that Government used; the individual was personally humble enough, that it mattered little to him whether the opinions he then put forth passed, like other men's, into oblivion; the individual was humble enough in talent, humble enough in powers of usefulness, and might not possibly have had a title to claim attention, but for the high and dignified station in the councils of the Sovereign which he held—but for having had a hand in the bill—but for having been one of those who succeeded in carrying it through —but for having held a most distinguished station in the Government at that time, however little might have been the talents he possessed; he spoke as a Member of that Government, when he said that he 811 had a right to rebut the charge which was made upon, and to ward it off,—to declare war against the barbarous word "finality," and say that the Government did not consider the Reform Bill as a final measure. As Chancellor in that Government, as framer of the bill, as knowing what were the views, expectations, and intentions of the Members of that Government, quorum pars magna fuit, he had made no secret of his own views in reference to the measure; he did say then, as he said now, that he had no doubt some advance must be made at some future period beyond the principles laid down in that bill, and he particularly stated, that before long, and as soon as the people became more enlightened as to their political rights, and better versed in the practice of them, he had no doubt it would become expedient, and he should not hesitate to extend the suffrage much lower—"much lower "was his phrase — than it was fixed by the bill. Therefore, they who said, that the Government which carried the Reform Bill attributed finality to it must, at least, admit, that finality was not the doctrine of all the Members of that Government. But though to have put forth the doctrine of finality then, when reform was given for the first time, and the people were so much less used to exercise the franchise, would have given much less offence than its promulgation at present, when it was looked upon as taking away from the people, that which they already were entitled to; yet now the doctrine appeared to be, that the more the people became able to exercise with propriety the right of suffrage, the more sternly you must refuse to admit them to an extended suffrage. It had become the doctrine—or rather it did become the doctrine, a few weeks ago, of the Government, that the stone on which their existence rested, was the determination to oppose all further constitutional reform. From this he had dissented in that House a-year and a-half ago; he had dissented from it out of doors at the great education meeting at Manchester, many of the Members of which had signed the petition which had been presented by his noble Friend; and he had dissented from it once more; for on finding that a noble Friend of his still continued to assert this doctrine in a pamphlet which his noble Friend had published, he had thought fit to address to his noble Friend his reply on the part of Reformers, and, as he had 812 thought, on the part of his colleagues in 1832. He had done this because he thought it possible, that in this way he might be able to frame a bridge by which his noble Friend might have crossed and passed back again, as it were, into the same ranks as he (Lord Brougham) understood his colleagues of 1832 to belong to; and he was the more anxious and earnest to effect this, because, of all Parliamentary Reformers, he knew none more stout, naturally and by acquirement, than the noble person to whom he alluded had proved himself to be at that time in all matters and on all questions relating to the subject. But the vision which he must say he never hoped with any confidence to see arrive, volvenda dies en attulit ultro: for that answer of his—he spoke as a man and must correct himself, for it was not that alone, but that of the coadjutors in another place whom he found he had, who, not by force, but by intimations—intimations of that gentle kind which sufficiently show nevertheless, that they are of a practical kind, by being given on matters of a quite practical nature—in short, by that kind of hint which consists in showing, that you are in earnest, by voting in a certain direction,—the united force of the two together seemed to have produced the result, that the doctrine of finality had been abandoned, and the charming vision had been realized: he said this because they found that the ballot—disgusting as it was to some of her Majesty's Ministers, and fondly cherished as it was by others—had been made an open question. Great was the joy of the friends of the ballot upon hearing that this was to be the case; he himself was not without some surprise at the event, but at all events, he felt that he had contributed some little, by his letter, to effecting this change in the dispositions of her Majesty's Government. Such were the visions that passed before men's eyes, though but for a short time; for they were as fleeting as they were pleasing; or rather they were still more fleeting than pleasing; for then there came out, almost immediately, that which certainly did astonish, did astound, did petrify, did convert into tears of sadness the tears of joy which Reformers were shedding, when they found that the ballot was made an open question for the express purpose of defeating it. They, simple 813 men, as they were, in their ignorance of statesmanship and cabinetship, and the ways of a Ministry, getting in and getting out of office, and the various intricate subtleties of Parliamentary tactics—they, in their gross dark, ignorance, thought, that if forty or fifty persons connected with Government, and who had hitherto voted against a particular question, or abstained from voting on it at all, were told that they were at liberty to vote for the question, it was probable some slight increase would be made to the minority. How could they—single-minded, simple men as they were—how could they arrive at the recondite conclusion, that to be in a minority was better than to be in a majority, how could they come to the conclusion, that to be in a minority, was better than to be in a majority, even if it were but a majority of five? Or even if it were only a majority of two, as sometimes majorities were? They, however, had the simplicity to think, that if the minority should be changed into a majority—no unfrequent case with minorities of two, then the ballot would be carried. "But, oh!" said the Government, "a majority is nothing; its a minority that's the thing; we have the confidence of the country with us; we are as permanent as ever, if not in our places, at least in our policy and in our doctrines; and as for the ballot, why above all things we abhor the ballot, and because we abhor the ballot, and cannot bear the idea of its exercising its baneful influence over the minds of the people, we have issued notice to all the people in office, that they have leave to vote for the ballot, and we do this because we know that if we continue to resist the ballot it will inevitably be carried." That was the doctrine which the Government had broached. If the Government did not come into this doctrine of minorities; if they were agreed to come into this doctrine, that finality should be declared to be given up, while in reality it was clung to more than ever, then he said this was a line of conduct which seemed to him too subtle, and one which did not savour of plain, straightforward dealing, and he could not but think, that those who left the question open ostensibly for the purpose of advancing it, but really with other intentions, would find themselves in the event strangled by the fondling of the sincere advocates of it; they would find, 814 that the very mode they took of professing their affection, their very Iscariot embrace itself, would prove the reason why in a short time, perhaps even within a few days, they might be put out of the position to give such an Iscariot embrace a second time. In fact, he had been a little uneasy lest this might not be the last act of finality for which he and those who thought with him might have to thank the Government, for he thought that it was not impossible before many weeks, or even many days, were over, he might have to thank them for something which left a man in doubt whether it was meant ill or well, but for something or some step of a more beneficial character. But, leaving this part of the subject, he would come to the question of the extension of suffrage. He thought, then, that all should have the right to vote who possessed such qualities as would enable them to exercise it creditably to themselves, beneficially to the State, and usefully to the proper constitution of the Commons House of Parliament. He cared not if the franchise were taken away from others who now enjoyed it, provided they extended the right in the directions he had indicated; for instance, he would not object to taking it away from some of the freemen, and from some of the 10l. householders who had shown themselves not qualified to exercise it. He was persuaded that those who led a creditable industrious life, and were intelligent and well-informed, were qualified to exercise the right, and that such persons would exercise it as a public trust in a manner creditable to themselves, beneficially to the State, and usefully as regarded the constitution of the House of Commons. This was his opinion as to the extension of the franchise; but as for giving the ballot, if not accompanied by an extended suffrage of this kind, what was it but to vest those who could not be entitled to vote at all except they voted in the eye of their fellow-citizens, with an unlimited power in the direction of Government? At present voters in general, but especially those classes, exercised a public duty, exercised a public trust which they could not exercise privately, any more than they could exercise it agaist the will of those who domineered over them. But if the suffrage he advocated were given, there would be no fear, or but little fear, of abuses of this kind. If it were not given—if no such extension of the franchise took place, but the ballot were given alone, then he said that they would deprive the honest, 815 industrious, respectable day labourer of that degree of influence which he at present exercised indirectly over the constituency in which he happened to be placed. Give the secret mode of voting alone, and this man would exercise no more influence indirectly over his fellow-citizens than he did directly. This was the ground on which he agreed with his noble Friend opposite in wishing for an extension of the suffrage. But the ballot without universal suffrage he was convinced would be injurious. With respect to the questions of the payment of Members of Parliament, and of a property qualification of Members, he should make no remarks, holding that, in comparison with other parts of the wants of the petitioners, they were so insignificant as hardly to deserve notice at present. As to the question of the continuance of Parliaments, he would not consent to take annual Parliaments, because till some method was taken to diminish the expenses of elections, he well knew that, constituted as men were, annual Parliaments would wholly defeat the object of instituting them; for that system would operate exclusively in favour of a long purse, carrying, as a long purse always would, a long line of agents with it. The wealthy merchant, the successful stock jobber— men who counted their fortunes by the hundreds of thousands, and sometimes by the millions even—would be the men who would get into Parliament as Members. In connexion with this, he could not but mention that he considered the present system of annual registration to be accompanied by certain drawbacks, for under it they had some of the evils of an annual election without the advantages. That was unquestionable. On the whole, a triennial election of Members appeared to him to be that system which met the greatest number if wishes, and reconciled the most difficulties. It was quite certain that the conduct of the first, and of the last Session of every Parliament was very different. The best proof that could be given was, that we never saw the civil list passed in a new reign until after the Old Parliament was dissolved and the New Session begun. Why was this? It was not necessary, nor was it the more respectful course towards the Sovereign, that the Civil List should be delayed till the opening Session of the New Parliament. A grant of 70,000l., he understood, had been voted in another place for a set of new stables at Windsor Castle. It was very un 816 likely that a sum so enormous would have been given by a House of Commons about to render an account to its constituents, as it were on its death-bed. He mentioned this fact to show the difference between a death-bed vote and a vote passed in the full vigour of life and health, and as a good proof that the shorter the duration of Parliaments was made, so that they were not made short enough to lead to universal and endless expense, the better would it be for the people, and the more wholesome for Parliament itself. On the rest of his noble Friend's speech he would not comment further than to say that some facts had been misrepresented by him, he was sure, unintentionally. He was astonished that his noble Friend, speaking of something which he supposed to have taken place in 1832, had used language which seemed to countenance the notion that that House had a right to resist any accession to its numbers. Surely his noble Friend did not mean to say that they could prevent a Peer from taking his seat after his creation. The House knew that the form of procedure on such occasions was merely this—that the individual appointed came to the table of the House with a charter from the Crown, and the clerk, if he refused to read it, was liable, as he believed, to a considerable penalty. His noble Friend had also declared that threats had been held out to that House during the discussions on the Reform Bill of swamping the independence of the Peerage by a very extensive creation. Now he had the most distinct recollection that not one Member of the Administration at that time had either used unbecoming language to that House, or touched upon the indecorous topic broached by his noble Friend, or even opened his mouth in any way upon the subject. The matter took a totally different turn. A certain number of individuals had thought fit, for particular reasons, no doubt satisfactory to themselves, to absent themselves from the service of that House, and had made it unnecessary to make any such proposal as that pointed at by his noble Friend, even if Ministers had been disposed to make it, which they were not. He was sure that, if it had been necessary eventually to take such a decided step, the first intelligence their Lordships would have had of it would have been the arrival of the new peers in the House to take their seats. It was a great mistake to suppose that one threat had been held out.
§ Earl Stanhope.
—I was present in this 817 House when the threat I mentioned was used, and that in the most distinct and unequivocal language.
was sure his noble Friend was the last man in the world to state any thing he did not believe to be true, but he had the most distinct recollection of every thing that passed, and not only had his noble Friend then at the head of the Government not said so, but from the course the thing took it was impossible he could have said so. To pass from that subject, however, he could not help thinking that his noble Friend had been a little too harsh upon the other House of Parliament. He did not think it was right to say, that they had fallen into universal and merited contempt; this was language which ought not to be used towards the other House, even if it were true.
§ Earl Stanhope
— Those were not my words. I said, they had never enjoyed the confidence of the country, and I added, "I will not say they have fallen into universal and merited contempt."
—Oh! that is just one of the ways of saying that they have fallen into contempt. If such a thing could be said out of doors, and if an indictment were in consequence brought against the party saying it, the indictment would run thus: —" That he did then and there use the words, ' I will not say that they have fallen into universal and merited contempt,' meaning that they had fallen into universal and merited contempt." He did not think that House had merited this contempt, or that so much should be said against them. Every sort of opinion was represented in that House, but was seldom expressed with much force one way or the other. Instead of a good working majority, Government had no more than the respectable majority of two; instead of a good, earnest, downright opposition, their opinions on all subjects were so mild, as hardly to be well distinguishable from those which they opposed. Certainly their opinions were any thing but dogmatical; the representatives of the people seemed to be so much overwhelmed by the difficulty and importance of the subjects that came before them, that they rarely ventured to give an opinion upon any, but decided every disputed question upon the narrowest possible grounds. If 180 was a better majority than 216 upon the ballot, however, then, by a parity of 818 reasoning, a majority of two was better for a Government, than a majority of two to one. But the very respectable body, which, though it appeared to have no mind of its own, had so irritated and inflamed the mind of his noble friend, should be more mildly dealt with. He was glad his noble Friend had entered at large into the subject of the petition, for certainly the statements contained in it deserved the full, ample, and deliberative consideration of their lordships. The petitioners spoke the sense of the vast, the overwhelming majority of the working classes, the universal opinion, without any one exception, of the unrepresented classes —those classes which were for secret voting, provided the suffrage were extended, but who, before all things, were bent to work out such an improvement in their political style as an extension of the suffrage would produce. He would not use the language of intimidation to their lordships; he would not say that he had the least dread of revolution, for he differed with his noble Friend opposite in thinking that revolution was advancing amain, and was at our gates already. He thought the reverse of this was true; he held that never were the people of this country more perfectly tranquil, and the proof of the fact was to be found in the little outbreaks that had taken place, where the spark had been flung and the fuel collected, and the fire had never spread an inch. All that had been done in town, all that had been done in the north, all that had been done more recently in the western districts of Scotland, only the more demonstrated to his mind that the really disaffected, the lovers of mischief, those who would break the peace for mischief's sake, or pursue objects of their own by unlawful means, formed a most scanty and insignificant body in point of numbers, a body miserable in point of respectability and honesty. This was his deliberate opinion; but, far from diminishing the claims of the petitioners to a respectable consideration of their wishes, that circumstance should rather incite their Lordships to take the earliest opportunity of acceding to the wishes of the petitioners.
§ Viscount Melbourne said
I do not much approve of these useless discussions —these mere excitations,—the conflict of argument and oratory—and certainly think them a departure from the ancient, earlier, and sounder, practice of Parliament, which, in general, confined those who presented petitions to a statement of the objects of the petition and any remarkable circum 819 stances connected with it, as the peculiar respectability of the meeting at which the petition was adopted, or the signatures annexed to it. Considering, however, the nature of this petition, as described by the noble Earl who presented it, and also by my noble and learned Friend who spoke last, considering, also, the great bodies of men who concurred in the sentiments of the petitioners, the noble Earl was perhaps not much to blame for having dwelt at some length upon them. I certainly do not think that the opinions set forth in the petition prevail to such an extent as my noble and learned Friend has represented; I do not conceive that these are the opinions of the whole body of the labouring classes; but I am well aware that they are entertained by many in that rank of life, and are so sedulously inculcated by others who possess weight and influence with the working classes, that it is only a miracle they do not prevail to a greater extent. Nothing, indeed, surprises me more than the firm and steady good sense of the great majority of the people of this country, exposed as they are to the most violent representations, to the most severe temptations, suffering under great grievances, and told that the common cause of all their distresses is to be found in the mal-administration of the country, which might be very easily removed. Nothing surprises me more than the little impression made by these representations, and I only feel astonished that consequences a little more like those predicted by the noble Lord who presented the petition, are not produced by the continual excitement in which the nation is kept. But, considering the importance of the petition, the respect which is due to those classes whence it emanates, the momentous subjects to which it refers, I do not know that the noble Earl has acted wrongly on the present occasion, in going more at length into the matter of the petition than he might otherwise have done, and calling the attention of your Lordships to those topics pressed upon your consideration by the petitioners. I don't know that, if I were one of the petitioners —if I were one of those whom the noble Earl represents on the present occasion, I should be very well satisfied with the manner in which he has discharged his duty, because the noble Earl has expressly, in stating these matters to the House, avowed his disapprobation of every one of the measures sought for. Annual Parliaments are asked for. He disapproves of annual Parliaments. Universal suffrage is asked for.
820 He disapproves of universal suffrage. Extension of the suffrage is asked for. He disapproves of extension of the suffrage, unless it be conducted on a particular principle, which when it comes to be explained will not, I apprehend, be very agreeable or suitable to the views of those whose views he undertakes to convey. If I understand what the noble Earl meant, he says that he wishes for an extension of the suffrage by giving the right of voting collectively, or by classes. [Earl Stanhope: In classes, and not collectively.] And that mode of proceeding would exactly establish those distinctions in the various ranks of society most contrary to the views of the present petitioners, and to the opinions which they generally entertained. It is not my intention to go, on the present occasion, into a discussion of the topics contained in the noble Earl's speech, even to the extent to which my noble and learned Friend has treated them. With respect to the opinions contained in the petition, I agree with the greater part of the views expressed by the noble Earl who has presented it, and to the arguments which he has urged I am content to leave them. Neither is it my intention to go into a history of the Reform Bill, which to a certain degree has been adverted to by my noble and learned Friend. Nor, again, shall I notice the doctrine of finality, further than to say that it is a term not to be found in the language, at least in any dictionary, and that I believe it was never held by my noble Friend, to whom my noble and learned Friend alluded, in the sense in which it has been understood, and in the sense in which it has been animadverted upon. It never could be meant or intended, that with respect to any bill or any human measure, it should be fixed, settled, final, and decisive, or incapable of any change or alteration. What was meant unquestionably by my noble Friend's statement was, that a measure of so solemn a nature should not be hastily or wantonly altered. But it never could be held, and, I am sure, never was held, by my noble Friend, or by any man, that any measure was incapable of change—that its defects were not to be mended, and the results of experience not attended to. For myself, I stand more particularly clear of the doctrine of finality; and, though it is not probable that your Lordships may recollect anything that fell from me, I beg leave, for my own satisfaction and vindication, and for the explanation of my own conduct, to recal to your memory some 821 remarks which I made on the second reading of the Reform Bill in this House,—an occasion on which I delivered a speech, which was censured at the time, as not very friendly or decisive with regard to the measure which I advocated. I then made two statements for my own vindication, and to guard myself against future misconceptions of my sentiments. One was, that unquestionably the measure would fail to answer some of those anticipations then held regarding it; that it would not produce any of those advantages to which the parties to whom I allude then looked forward; that it would not introduce great changes in the state of society; that it would not do away with bribery and corruption, and that it would not free the electors from all influence. And the other statement I made most perfectly and distinctly was, that I was aware the measure could not stop there, and that it could not be final. I stated these opinions on that occasion, as wishing to lay the matter fairly and distinctly before your Lordships, and when I made them, I was certainly led to look to ulterior consequences. Therefore, in saying that I agree with my noble Friend who brought forward this petition in most of the statements which he made and in most of the opinions which he delivered on the measures recommended in this petition, I beg leave to add that I am against those measures, not because they are an advance on the Reform Bill, not because they go farther than the Reform Bill, not because they are steps towards further progress, but because they are bad and pernicious measures in themselves, and ought not, therefore, to be adopted. Unquestionably, it is not on any other more general grounds that I oppose them. I shall not now go into a consideration of those measures. Most of them relate to the other House of Parliament; and although unquestionably the privileges and proceedings of the other House of Parliament are subjects of so much importance, that it is not only competent to, but it is your Lordships' right and duty to pronounce an opinion upon them, yet, at the same time, I don't think there is any necessity wantonly to discuss these matters in this House until they are brought regularly and distinctly before us. On the ballot I shall say nothing. I understand that a motion has been made in the other House for the adoption of that mode of election. It has been negatived by a large majority, and it is not, therefore, likely that we shall soon have to con 822 sider it. I shall only say, that my opinion is adverse to secret voting, or to substituting secrecy for publicity in the mode of taking votes. But, my Lords, my noble and learned Friend has adverted to other matters sufficiently well understood, but which I do not know whether it is very regular to state, or to allude to distinctly in this House. Is there anything Jesuitical (according to the assumption of my noble and learned Friend) in arguing on this matter in the manner to which he has referred? May not one person (I know not whether any person has so said) state, "if this question be fairly and freely discussed, without influence and without constraint, it will be sure to retrograde in public opinion?" A person who is in favour of the ballot may, on the other hand, urge very naturally this view: "Give it fair play, and it will be sure to advance in public favour." Is not that a natural state of feeling, and are not the recommendations to which I have alluded such as would be likely to be employed by those entertaining the opposite views which I have described? I don't at all agree in the former opinion to which I have referred; for I think what we have done with respect to the ballot gives that question a considerable advantage. I feel what my noble and learned Friend says to be true, that it is impossible to see this motion gaining a number of more votes without advancing it in public opinion, and giving it a greater chance of ultimate success. At the same time, in viewing the question from the other point, there is nothing that can in the slightest degree warrant my noble and learned Friend in visiting those who think in that way with the severe animadversions in which he has indulged. My noble and learned Friend has not said anything on the subject of open questions in general, and I shall not therefore in any degree revert to that subject. But I again repeat that I do not think that anything which has taken place bears the character which my noble and learned Friend has assigned to it. I was extremely glad to hear the noble Earl who opened this subject express the opinion which he did with respect to the advice given to the people to arm, for that advice to arm, in connexion with political subjects, in connexion with measures which are to be forced on the adoption of the Government and of the Legislature, though it may in form be legal, can be considered in fact as nothing short of a recommendation to rebellion. It can be 823 viewed in no other light; it can have no other meaning; and at the same time that the noble Lord disclaims any participation in that advice, I must observe, that it has been given by persons for whom the noble Lord professes a high respect and regard, by persons of a respectable station in life, and from whom, therefore, other conduct, other feelings, other dispositions, and other modes of acting, ought to have been expected and looked for. My noble and learned Friend has remarked, with great liveliness and humour, on the state of the other House of Parliament, and on the narrow majorities that take place there. My noble and learned Friend was not always so hostile to small majorities; for he must recollect that the second reading of the first Reform Bill was carried by a majority of one. The equal division of an assembly is a possibility always on the cards —a contingency which may at any time take place. Whether this be an advantage or disadvantage, we are not precisely the tribunal to determine. We must decide by majorities, which, perhaps, after all, is not a very satisfactory mode of settling questions. But the imperfections of human nature force it upon us. God forbid I should say that a majority is always in the right. I have been for so long a period of my life acting with a minority, and I even now so often find myself identified with them, that my associations and feelings are all the other way. My prepossession, therefore, is, that a minority is generally in the right. But, however, the view of a majority must be held to be decisive from the nature of things, from the constitution of public assemblies, and from the mode in which public affairs are conducted. I do not deny, that there may be difficulties in the state of the country. I do not deny, that there may be matters which require our serious consideration in the existing condition of affairs; or that many of the views of those petitioners require to be calmly and deliberately investigated. But what I consider alarming, and what is the case in the present situation of this country, is the manner in which every man thinks he is justified in pressing his own opinions to an extreme. If a gentleman thinks we have not done right with regard to the currency—that we ought to have more 1l. notes, and that we should alter the standard of value of the legislature, and the Government do not accede to his views, he considers himself justified in rousing the people to put forth all their strength, and to push 824 the whole thing to the utmost against the Government and the Legislature. It is just the same with the poor-law. Because we have passed a law for the reformation of great and enormous abuses, (a law which I have no doubt contributes as much to the comfort and happiness of those who are the objects of it, as it does to the welfare of the community, and to general economy and good government), why this is a grievance which justifies rebellion, armed resistance, and the very dissolution of the bonds of society. This is, in fact, pushing the doctrine of resistance, which I admit belongs to great and extreme cases, for the purpose of applying it comparatively to every small case, and doing that so happily and powerfully expressed by Mr. Burke, "making the extreme medicine of the constitution our daily bread". I don't know whether there is any other part of the noble Lord's speech, or of the petition, upon which it is necessary for me to make any observation; but I certainly greatly lament, (knowing the noble Earl's integrity and right feeling) the strong and bitter spirit in which he has spoken of the Poor-law Bill on the present occasion.
My Lords, with regard to what I said as to the ballot being made an open question, if the noble Viscount's explanation be true, nothing can be more obvious and natural, than that every person being allowed to vote as he pleased, it might be some parties' opinion that this would not advance the cause of the ballot. —[Viscount Melbourne—" That is not my opinion."] No; but what I commented upon was a very different thing. I understood that it had been represented by the Government elsewhere—not that I ever read the debates—perhaps I ought to be ashamed for saying so—but next to the pain of reading the report of a debate in which I myself took a part, is the pain of reading a debate in which I did not take a part— but it was stated to me that the Government represented, in the other House, that the object of making the ballot an open question, was to injure it. Now, as to the offensive expressions I am accused of having used—I meant no such offence. I certainly used a common form of speech—perhaps too carelessly employed—when a cause is supported, or pretended to be supported only to be in reality retarded. I certainly spoke of that traitorous personage generally alluded to on such occasions. Then, my Lords, I really am astonished to hear my noble Friend speak of my having been 825 satisfied with the majority of one on the second reading of the bill; for I remember having said, on the following day, "Well, this majority means dissolution."
The Marquess of Normanby
said, the Member of the Government (Lord Howick) who had used the expressions which had been commented upon, respecting the ballot having been made an open question in order to injure it, had distinctly stated that he spoke only for himself.
remarked, that none of the noble Lord's colleagues had contradicted the declaration he had made at first.
§ Earl Stanhope
said, in the reign of Queen Anne, when the twelve peers were created at once, it was gravely considered whether they should be allowed to take the oaths; and it was held that the House could constitutionally prevent them taking the oaths.—[Lord Brougham—" But nothing was done."] Beyond all doubt, however, the House could resolve, that on a division, the names of certain Peers should not be counted, just as any other persons, strangers, who might happen to be in the House. With respect to the threatened creation of Peers at the time of the Reform Bill, he had certainly seen a letter beginning, "Dear John Russell"—and signed "Brougham," in which something was said about the King having granted the then Ministry a carte blanche to create any number of Peers.
explained. He did not deny the fact of the power having been given, but that Earl Grey had threatened that House with the use of it.
§ Earl Stanhope.
Of course the power was intended to be employed, if the necessity for it had not been prevented by a very unconstitutional circular—[Lord Brougham—" No, not a circular "] — or letter from the late King's Private Secretary, desiring the absence of many of the Opposition Peers, who acceded to that as the least dangerous alternative. The noble and learned Lord had said, that the country was in no danger of revolution. He fervently trusted that this might prove true, but he feared that the noble and learned Lord spoke in utter ignorance of the real feelings and situation of the people. The cause of the continual excitement in which the people were plunged: and of the great influence of agitators, was the state of poverty, and the want of employment which pervaded such large masses. As to his having opposed the prayer of the petition which he had presented on this occasion, 826 he had candidly told the Members of the National Convention, who had desired him to present it, that he could not conscientiously support its principles.
§ The Duke of Wellington
agreed with the noble Viscount opposite, in much that had fallen from him with respect to the inexpediency of delivering lengthened harangues in that House, on the presentation of petitions, and he could not help lamenting that the noble Earl, his noble Friend, should have taken that opportunity of delivering one of those long harangues. The petitioners stated fairly enough the grievances of which they complained, and prayed for the adoption of measures calculated to put an end to them. He could not be pregretting, that his noble Friend should, on that occasion, have been tempted to dilate, at so much length, upon the supposed causes of those grievances, and their present and anticipated effects, without suggesting some measure, such as the repeal of the Poor-law, or bringing forward some distinct proposition for the enactment of a new law, or the repeal of an old one. If he made some such proposition and that the House did not attend to him, then indeed might the noble Earl find some excuse for haranguing on the presentation of petitions; but it really was unworthy of the great mind of his noble Friend to endeavour to excite such a spirit as his speeches were calculated to call forth. He was happy, however, to find that his noble Friend and he agreed in some things, that he disapproved of the arming of the people, and he hoped that if the disaffected spirit which was abroad went further, he and the noble Earl should be found on the same side, that they would stand in the same ranks. He should wish to stand near the noble Earl. Of one thing there could be no doubt, that his own place would be on the side of order and the laws, and he hoped that the noble Earl would be found near him. Let the noble Earl bring forward measures upon those several subjects, and let the House decide upon them at once. That would be a more fair and manly course, and one more likely to give satisfaction to the country than the course which the noble Earl thought fit to pursue night after night. With regard to the subject of the petition which had been presented by the noble Earl, he must confess that he had heard with great satisfaction the sentiments which the noble Viscount opposite had expressed upon these subjects. He fully concurred with the noble Viscount in the pro 827 priety of opposing the further extension of the suffrage, and upon the very same ground, namely, that such extension would be inconsistent with the best interests of the country. He likewise concurred in the sentiments which the noble Viscount had expressed upon the subject of the ballot, that obnoxious, and he must say, un-English measure; at the same time he deeply regretted that the noble Viscount had thought proper to make it what was called an open question. He had had the misfortune to be in office when there were such questions, and he must say that he never could consider them as any thing but a symptom of weakness on the part of those who were carrying on the service of their Sovereign—a symptom that they were not acting together, that they did not agree amongst themselves, and that there was a division, also, amongst their supporters. Instead of its being a matter of satisfaction that an important question like the ballot should be left an open question, he regarded it as a circumstance most likely to prove disastrous to the Government, and eventually so to the country. Under these circumstances, although perfectly content with the opinions delivered upon the subject by the noble Viscount, he confessed he had lamented, and did still lament most sincerely, that the question of the ballot should be considered an open question by the Government, and more particularly still did he regret that it should ever have been declared so.
§ Earl Stanhope
thought that the best answer he could give to the challenge of the noble Duke to bring forward those questions to which he had alluded in the shape of a motion, bill, or something else, was to be found in a military anecdote. It was said that a French general, upon returning from an inglorious campaign, had been asked by his sovereign, Louis 14th, with an air of astonishment, why he had not taken the general to whom he had been opposed in battle; to which inquiry he replied by saying, "Sire, if I had attempted to do so, he would have taken me." Such was his position. He did not bring forward any measure, because he had no chance of success, and because, if he did so, the noble Duke would no doubt triumph in his defeat. He preferred waiting for better times, and, by acting according to his own tactics, not expose himself to such a defeat. This much he would say for the satisfaction of his noble 828 Friend, that if the bill for continuing or extending, he did not care which, the powers of those dictators, the Poor Law Commissioners, should come up to that House, he should consider it his duty to take the sense of the House upon it, though he should stand alone. He had already voted in that House in a minority of three, and he should not be ashamed or afraid to do so in a still smaller, minority.