§ Mr. Curwen
rose and spoke as follows: Mr. speaker; the question of which I have given notice, and am now called on to submit to the consideration of the house, is as important as any recently brought under their consideration. It is not without the deepest regret I feel myself compelled to advert to the existence of practices derogatory to the honour and reputation of this branch of the legislature. I shall not disguise my full conviction that heavy responsibility attaches to the agitating unnecessarily, at such a crisis, measures by which the feelings of the people may be still more irritated: when I consider the dangers and difficulties to which the country is exposed, I am ready likewise to admit that the present moment, if the choice was open to us, would be the least proper for such an investigation. In common with other gentlemen, I feel it to be the bounden duty of us all, whatever may be our political sentiments, to promote union, and give efficacy to every measure calculated for the general safety and defence of the country.
With this declaration of my sentiments, I feel that I am bound to make out such a case as shall show that greater danger may arise from neglecting to discuss the questions proposed to be laid before the house, than can arise from their discussion. Is it policy, or wisdom, nay is it possible for us, to be inattentive or passive spectators of what is passing amongst our fellow subjects? Can that be termed magnanimity which disregards the voice of the people resounding from every quarter of the empire? Are not the interests of the nation deeply involved in the estimation and respect in which this house stands with the people? Could there be a greater misfortune to the country than the loss of confidence in the commons? To us, then, are attributed the corruption, the prodigality, and waste of public money: we are 354 charged in participating in it: the defects in our representation are pointed at as the source of all these evils; and we are called on to reform these abuses.—If these charges be false and unfounded, ought we not to refute them? If true; ought they not to be corrected? Lee us act betimes, whilst we have yet the power of fixing the time and the degree to which regulation ought to extend. If abuses have crept in amongst us; and in truth, they are too notorious and self-evident to be denied; let us proceed gravely and dispassionately to examine their origin and nature, and to apply effectual remedies. Whatever we now do, will be received by the country as a boon; and may restore unanimity. Wide as the field is, I promise the house not to occupy more of their time than is necessary to the faithfully discharging of an important duty.
My first object shall be to endeavour to prove the propriety of bringing forward the measure at this moment, as a justification for myself, as well as a ground to call on the house for their sanction. If blame does attach, it is imputable solely to myself: besides my worthy friend, one of the members for Norfolk, (Mr. Coke), whose absence I regret, my intention of submitting this question to the house was not communicated to an individual till I gave notice of it.—It will net be denied that it is at all times the duly of the executive government to pay particular attention to the temper and feelings of the people; and to note well any material alterations which may take place. To this important duty I am strongly inclined to believe that the right hon. gent. opposite, has not been sufficiently attentive. Prior to certain recent discussions, there was manifested throughout the country, an unusual apathy and torpid indifference to public men and public measures. Whilst such a deviation from British character existed, the people could not be considered in a healthy state. A calm so unnatural in the political world, ought to have excited alarm, as foreboding an approaching storm: the causes of it are however not difficult to develope. A general disgust and disbelief of the existence of virtue in all public men had taken root. Corruption had destroyed all public confidence. But at length, the discussions which have recently taken place in this house, have awakened fresh hopes in the people, and tended to revive their confidence. They perceive that there still exist in this 355 house, talents and numbers to contend against abuses.—The Chancellor of the Exchequer is not, I trust, among those who ascribe the general feeling which pervades the country to a Jacobinical plot to vilify and degrade the house of Brunswick. If he does, he libels the people of England. Much is it to be regretted that the decision pronounced by this house on the important subject alluded to, was so little in unison with that pronounced by ninety-nine out of a hundred of the people. The general opinion is, doubtless, that it was by the public voice the Commander in Chief was driven to resignation: but their exultation does not proceed from any idea of triumph over this house. No, Sir. This burst of feeling proceeds from a sentiment more worthy of the people. Despondency has now given way to more pleasing emotions: hope is again cherished (and may that hope meet with no disappointment) that a speedy Reform of abuses is approaching. On this house then, it depends to convert this feeling to the wisest and best purposes. Can it be pretended that these feelings, publicly expressed, are the effect of delusion, of artifice, or intrigue? It is well worth our attention to examine how the meetings have been composed; as well as the language in which their Resolutions have been worded. It will be found that they have consisted of the respectable part of the community; of men attached to the constitution, firm supporters of the throne; not hostile to the administration of the right hon. gent., or friendly to those opposed to him. In their expressions wilt be found nothing to justify alarm, except in the minds of those who profit by abuses. Invariably they point at these abuses, and at the defects in this house, as their source. By timely Reform you will turn the tide of popular feeling, and convert it into increased affection and attachment to the constitution. It is true dignity to resist, when right and justice are on our side: but it is obstinacy and madness to identify our existence with abuses which we can neither deny nor defend.—The measures, Mr. Speaker, which I have to submit to the house, are calculated to renovate, not to alter any thing in the existing establishment. I do not propose to dislodge one stone in the building; but to examine whether through the lapse of time its foundation may not have need of reparation; and to submit to your consideration, a mode of effecting that repara- 356 tion, which if much longer neglected will bring into danger the whole fabric.
Before I explain my proposition, I would beg the indulgence of the house for a moment, whilst taking a rapid view of the circumstances under which former Reforms have been attempted. Nearly about the conclusion of the American war, Mr. Pitt made his first proposition.—The agriculture of the country was then depressed; our commerce stagnant; taxes augmented; and all rational hope of success in the contest, vanished. An opposition the most respectable in character, talents, and weight of property, failing in every attempt to convince this house, appealed to the people: they succeeded in raising a general cry for Peace and Reform. By driving the minister from the helm, they obtained the former. Reform they would have obtained, had Mr. Pitt maintained his consistency. This house received his proposition with considerable favour. In the progress of time, however, the political horizon brightened; our difficulties were removed; and the minister, finding the facility with which he could govern on the old system, fled from his promises, and abandoned his former supporters. Unfortunate was it for his country, that he thus sacrificed his reputation; and preferred place with corruption, to measures to which he was pledged, and which would have secured us from the present, and from future dangers!—I pass over minor attempts which excited little sensation: the next serious effort was made by "the Friends of the People." They sought to inspire the country with their own sentiments: but the moment was unpropitious: Reform was neither called for nor wished. The events in France had astounded, and created general alarm amongst all ranks of people. Mr. Pitt finding that he could not avoid discussing the question, or defend his apostacy, seized the moment to excite alarm, and adopted measures to avert supposed dangers, which, a short time previous to this association, he had treated with contempt. Great was the error of those gentlemen, and not less that of the opposion of the day, in not paying sufficient deference to the feelings of the people.—Speaking for myself at least, on a review of that period, I lament the warmth into which I was occasionally betrayed. The indiscretion of our zeal afforded opportunities to designing men to misrepresent our intentions. Here, Sir, may be found a strong example of the defect of political 357 wisdom; in not attending to the temper and feelings of the people.—Contrasting former periods with the present, I think, Sir, I am borne out by the fact, in stating, that now, for the first time, the people call out for Reform, without instigation, and purely on their own persuasion of its necessity. Such a call ought not to he represented as delusion; cannot be expected to subside; or be safely disregarded.
Now, Sir, allow me to remark on the difference that lapse of time has occasioned between our present state, and that in which we were at either of the periods to which I have before particularly alluded. The power and influence of the crown have received considerable increase: our army, navy, system of taxation, and expenditure, are at present on such a scale, and under such management, as materially to augment that influence:—and next, observe the effects which Mr. Pitt's profuse creation of Peers has produced.—Without much enriching that noble body, it has tended to impoverish us. This weight of landed property and influence has been subtracted from this house and added to another, which may fairly be supposed to direct its views more towards the crown than the people. The arguments then for restoring the purity of this house, for adding to its respectability whilst we restore its integrity, are infinitely stronger at the present, than at any former period.—Distant, however, as it is from my wish or intention, Sir, to say a word unnecessarily, that may be construed into disrespect to this house, I shall touch as slightly as may be, on the abuses proposed to be remedied. To our own Journals I may indeed refer, by which it appears, a bold petitioner has told us, "that the Seats are bought and sold in this house like the stalls in Smithfield;" and I may remark, that to this insult the house thought fit to submit in silence. For my purpose it is quite sufficient to recall to memory the statement made by an hon. member, of the infamous traffic which on the dissolution of every parliament takes place at the Treasury, and the memorable reply made to that statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What was that reply? Denial? No, no; Recrimination. As if the example of others, or as if any pretext, could justify a crime so atrocious and flagrant.—In some former parliament, a mercantile house in the city, forsooth, also speculated in this commodity. They bought four seats; whether to vend 358 again, in retail; or to dispose of to some special customer, I am not informed.—In the quarter of England in which I reside, an occurrence, also in a former parliament, may be stated. A lady, whose influence in a certain borough was supposed to be considerable, was surprized by a visit from a person, naming himself Reding, or some such name. He proceeded at once to business, and offered her 10,000 guineas for the two seats. The respectable lady dismissed him with indignation. But the borough-monger, judging of others by himself, conceived that the rejection of his offer could not proceed from any other motive, than its inadequacy. He returns to the charge: bids 12,000 guineas! This drew from the lady a reply which does honour to her memory; "Never have I disgraced myself with such practices: it is now too late in life for me to begin them."—But, Sir, if I needed any proof of the existence of these abuses besides their notoriety, I might refer to the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, witnessed by the whole house. In a bill he has introduced to stop the sale of places, &c. he consented to accept a clause inflicting penalties on the traffic in seats in this house. Here, Sir, is an avowal of the existence of the abuse. It is no answer to say that he finds difficulty in framing a clause to correct it. May not another man attempt, it? If the right hon. gentleman maintain that no such abuses exist, then let us adopt the suggestion of an hon. gentleman behind me, and examine into the fact in a committee.—The anxious care with which the legislature has guarded the purity of election is evinced by a mere reference to the Statute-book. From the 13th Elizabeth to the 10th of the king, various laws have been passed for this very purpose: my design is merely to further their operation, and extend their principle. The sale or purchase of seats has not indeed been directly forbidden, or even pronounced illegal; but I am persuaded, Sir, that this is because the question has never yet happened to be directly brought, either under parliamentary, or judicial cognizance.—Notwithstanding the precedents which seem, to apply so strongly to my plans; still, Sir, I might have hesitated in proposing them, had not I found myself fortified by an authority to which every Englishman looks with veneration. During the present reign, the selection of persons clad in the ermine of justice, has certainly done 359 honour to his majesty's government. Both in point of talents and unimpeached integrity, our judges have been most eminent: and in no country, and at no time, has the administration of justice been more unblemished. From this body I draw my authority: I have, Sir, the direct sanction of sir W. Blackstone himself,* for the extension to the elected of the oath against bribery. Under such authority as his, I feel confidence in adopting this as a leading feature in the proposed measures of reformation.—Another measure, Sir, I shall bag leave to propose, will be to impose penalties on the sale, or contracting to sell a seat in this house: and next, to extend the bribery laws to agents or other persons attempting to corrupt electors during the whole period of parliament; to preclude their receiving a corrupt consideration for their votes, at any period, as well subsequent, as preceding the election.
To revert, Sir, to the first, in order, of the measures about to be submitted to the house, if the legislature has seen the necessity of guarding the purity of election by an oath administered to the elector, how much more strongly will every argument apply to the representative. To him, are entrusted the lives and properties of the people; on his faithful execution of that, trust depends the preservation of all that man holds dear. The moral sanction of an oath by him being better understood, would be better observed, and in fact, considering the class of men from which this house is usually composed, I do not harbour the least suspicion, but that this measure will attain completely its object. When the question, Mr. Speaker, is brought directly before the house, whether or not they will require from their own members, an oath similar to that already imposed on their constituents, if that question be decided in the negative, in common fair dealing let them also exempt the great body of electors. Such a proposal would, I fancy, find few supporters.—But, Sir, the house has already agreed to the expedience of requiring from its members certain oaths. The principle is neither new, nor can be construed to imply any disrespect towards any of our number. To the immortal honour of the wise and*"It might not be amiss if the members elected were bound to take the latter oath (viz. against Bribery and Corruption,) as well as the former; i. e. the Oath of Abjuration." 1st Bl. Com. p. ISO.360 virtuous statesman to whom this house and this country owes the obligation, and by whose respectable name the act will ever be distinguished, (Mr. Grenville,) the tribunals for the adjudication of contested election, acting under the solemnity of an oath, have been found to execute their important trust with unsullied integrity. From tradition and from history we know what the evils were, which required this very remedy. It has been tried: it has been found effectual. No voice is heard; no sentiment is felt, but that of applause to the measure itself, and gratitude to its author.
On the subject, Sir, of the proposed restraint on the Sale of Seats, I shall content myself with remarking, that if the legislature in its wisdom has thought fit to forbid the corrupt disposal of a single vote, à fortiori, should they restrain the transfer of the seat itself on considerations equally immoral. The crime is of deeper dye: it brings on us ignominy at home and abroad. It is indeed high time that a practice so flagitious should be marked with our reprobation, and subjected to punishment.—The Sale of the elective franchise by the voters themselves, has, I fear, Sir, become too frequent. As it affects the state, and as it is accompanied among the lower orders with an increasing relaxation of morals, it demands imperiously a remedy speedy and effectual. These scandalous bargains are, it seems, often not completed till after the period is elapsed for petitioning. The Bribery Act, in these cases, becomes a dead letter.—One objection to my plan, Mr. Speaker, which I have heard taken, is that it would tend to exclude talent; that those who possess no other recommendation or means of courting public favour, would find increased difficulties in procuring seats. In my own opinion, a great recommendation of this measure is, that the effect would be found precisely opposite. As things stand, place in one scale, Mr. Goodluck's five thousand guineas; in the other, modest merit; and which may be expected to preponderate?—That some men have found their way hither, solely from the reputation of their abilities, we may instance Mr. Pitt himself. To the credit of a man whose political opponent I was through life, I mean the late lord Lousdale, he more than once returned Mr. Pitt to this house, gratuitously. Let this measure pass; and there is no ground for apprehension, but that patrons of seats would feel their honour as much concern- 361 ed in the due exercise of that patronage, as they now do with regard to ecclesiastical preferments. How seldom do we hear of the possessors of the latter species of patronage being swayed by sordid motives?—Other objections which I have heard taken, seem all to resolve themselves into this, that every means of corruption would be cut up by the roots, and every subterfuge defeated. I am told that a Reform in the Representation should precede such a measure; that when this is effected, we may place our guards for its preservation. Sir, I question the sincerity of this advice. It recommends the undertaking any thing but that which is likely to succeed. By many, I well know I shall be deemed to attain little, if my object succeeds: by others, I shall be deemed guilty of presumption in attempting too much. My own sentiments I never disguise:—the measures I have this night submitted to the house, do indeed fall short of what I might wish, or even think necessary; but I have undertaken no more than what I trust may be found practicable, and if carried into effect, productive of real, permanent benefit to my country. For popular applause I care not, and look not; but earnestly wish, by the conscientious discharge of my duty, to deserve it.
I shall now proceed, Sir, to shew what would be the practical benefits resulting from the correction of existing abuses.—The first and the most important would be the re-establishment of tins house in the good opinion of the people; an advantage that cannot be too highly estimated. I should be unworthy of a seat in parliament if I were disposed to give way to popular clamour and delusion. But the just and legitimate complaints of the people I would redress; their reasonable petitions I would comply with. The arguments urged against Reform in general, do not apply to measures of wise regulation; and least of all, where the circumstances are found essentially different.
In adverting to the next topic, Mr. Speaker, I would, in the first place, wish to guard against misapprehension. In the paths of commerce I am well persuaded there are to be found men of as high honour, as independent minds, of as much general information, and in every point of view as respectable, as many other. But there are attached to every class in society a peculiar character, and distinguishing habits. In former days, the mercantile character was marked by frugality and industry. 362 Amidst all our changes, has there not taken place some change in these characteristics? Trade is commuted for speculation: a lucky hit produces the objects of a whole life. If unsuccessful, hundreds are reduced to poverty, and the principal consigned to a prison, and oblivion.
How few are there among us who can decide impartially and correctly when our own immediate interests are at stake? War produces loans, contracts, and not unfrequently an extension of commerce to those engaged in certain branches of it. Is it uncandid to suppose that those who contemplate war under this aspect, will out be as averse to it as the landed proprietor who knows and feels its miseries. He who spends a considerable portion of his time in the country necessarily witnesses the hardships that war produces to the lower classes. The power of interest over judgment and every patriotic feeling, was strongly exemplified by an occurrence which, I wish to God, could be erased from the memory of man, and the page of history. On the Royal Exchange, when the lord mayor communicated in 1806, the miscarriage of our negociations for peace, his auditors expressed their indecent, unfeeling exultation, by three cheers!
By the alterations I propose, a larger proportion of the landed interest would appear amongst us. The mercantile portion of the community would continue, indeed, to represent the metropolis and those boroughs where they have a natural interest. The very excellence of parliament consists in having a due proportion of all ranks in society: considering the importance of our commerce, I should be sorry if we had not of those who pursue it, that due proportion, as well as of the army, and learned professions. But the peculiar advantage of having the landed proprietor in this house, is that each individual brings with him the affections and the confidence of a portion of the people. Thus the united affections of each portion of the empire, concentre in parliament; and hence springs the moral power which it possesses. The infallible consequence, Sir, of increasing the numbers of our country-gentlemen within these walls, would be to make us more pacifically disposed. It would give a different tone to our councils. It would check the rage for foreign commerce, and the acquisition of fresh colonies. It would turn our efforts and our attention to domestic improvement; to the melio- 363 ration of our internal resources and the happiness of our country. It would inspire greater moderation of conduct towards other nations, and dispose us not to imitate on the ocean those strides of power which we deprecate on the continent. We should then no longer be the objects of hatred and jealousy to every power in Europe. But, Sir, another and most important object would be attained, if this measure fortunately receives the approbation of the legislature. The times require a strong administration: measures of great energy must be resorted to. But how can an administration, not possessing the public affection and confidence, venture on such measures? No combination of talents can form a strong government unless this sin quâ non be effected. Some of the measures adopted by the right, hon. gent, have unfortunately had the effect of increasing the distrust, and lessening the respect of the people for this house. How shall we, for instance, reconcile to the country, the vote given recently in the case of a noble Secretary? The loss which might have been sustained by the retiring from office of a person possessing the noble lord's acknowledged talents and assiduity would have been ten-fold compensated by the effect that sacrifice would have had on the outraged feelings of the country. I am ready to allow that under the present system, ministers can hardly be deemed free agents. Those who support them think themselves entitled to the patronage most commodious to them: and the demands are so great, that I do believe many jobs are consented to by ministers sorely against their will. An opportunity now offers itself to the minister, of compliance with a measure which I sincerely believe will be grateful to the country. It comes from no concert: it is offered with no view of hostility to him, or favour to his adversaries. Anxious I admit myself to be, to learn the right hon. gent.'s sentiments. If hostile; to him, not to me, be the consequences. To opposition I would say, be cautious how you sanction this measure with your approbation, earnestly as I wish it. If it receives your support, you are pledged to act in conformity to it in the event of your return to power. The nefarious traffic in seats must then have an end. I beseech you therefore, not to delude the nation; and not to support me with your votes, unless the measure fortunately receives your sincere approbation.
364 No long time has elapsed, Mr. Speaker, since we had an opportunity of witnessing the benefits which result to a minister from his sedulous observation of the temper and wishes of the people; and his compliance with these wishes, when reasonable. The waste and profusion, the harsh and obnoxious acts of power, by which the predecessors in office of lord Sidmouth had disgraced their career, appeared to have been little to the taste of his lordship when minister. He adopted another line of conduct. Temper, mildness, and economy marked his sway. The object before his eyes appears evidently and uniformly to have been, to rule in the hearts of the people: and he succeeded. Though the country was again plunged in war, though extraordinary sacrifices and privations became necessary, yet we might then observe a general coalescence of opinion; when our voluntary services in our country's cause were called for, hundreds of thousands started to arms; our "plowshares" were converted into "swords." Instead of finding difficulty in completing our volunteer corps, the difficulty consisted in selecting among the too numerous offers. Could all this have been effected under an unpopular minister?
Still, I admit, Sir, that the present discontents may in some degree be ascribed to our taxation: but not so much to its direct pressure, as to the imprudent aggravation it receives from the mode in which our fiscal laws are administered. In the infancy of taxation, as in the infancy of life, to reconcile us to the pill, it may be prudent to gild it. But that system which might be suitable when five or ten millions were to be raised in the year, must be departed from, when your wants demand forty millions. The necessities of the times have taught us, that it is our interest to pay direct taxes. Simplify the system; levy a few efficient taxes: do not by means of multifarious unintelligible laws, inflict on the people constant vexation. Do not summons a whole country to know who keeps a dog; or whether the petty farmer who curries his own horse, and plants his own cabbage, is to be surcharged with a groom, and a gardener. Take what is wanted directly from us. A less sum will then be requisite, and you may dismiss from the service a legion of tax gatherers, inspectors, assessors, and excisemen. You may then repeal also such revenue laws as are pernicious and oppressive: for instance, that affecting 365 salt. Providence in its bounty bestows on us this boon inexhaustibly: Foreigners find it their interest to export it for agricultural purposes from our ports. But as to our own use or it for that purpose, and for the use of the manufacturer, the high duties altogether preclude its application.
Another, perhaps a greater source of public dissatisfaction, which the plans I have submitted to the house, may I trust, Sir, help in future to eradicate, arises from the present wasteful profusion of the public money in pensions, reversions, jointures, and other such jobs of infamy. When public services merit rewards out of the public purse, the people ought to have the reasonable gratification of bestowing them by the hands of their representatives. From them the public wousd not require a niggardly policy. The gift itself would be doubled in value by its publicity, and by its being the fair meed of brilliant and meritorious services. Different indeed must be a person's feelings on hearing, as at present, that his name is thrust in at the bottom of a pension list, to enter which merit usually forms no part of the recommendation; and on receiving openly, for causes assigned, and with the applause of his country, the reward of merit. I wonder not that the relatives of a truly meritorious officer (sir John Moore), who lately gloriously fell in his country's cause, declined being confounded on a pension list, with the retainers of a court; though they might gladly and gratefully have accepted any mark of national munificence. A minister who paid due attention to the feelings of the people would never sanction, and I trust, Sir, no minister of any description, will ever again sanction the dealing out pensions of a few hundreds among the relations of the most elevated and opulent of our nobles.—To aid the brilliant illuminations of their mansions, the farthing candle of the industrious indigent cottager must, be sooner extinguished.
Not, Sir, that I would insinuate that by this sort of saving; by the cessation of abuses of this description, any considerable alleviation of the public burdens would be felt. But they indispose the public mind; they tend to impeach all public character. Too many are already inclined to view all men who held public offices, as equally corrupt. That opinion, I fear, is becoming too general; though none can be more fatal, or more ill founded. Public character is the strength of a country: and truly poor is that country which possesses little 366 of it.—Should it be, for instance, our misfortune at any future time, to have a monarch incapable of distinguishing between firmness and obstinacy; who conceived it magnanimity never to yield to circumstances, would there not be an essential difference between one set of men willing to accept and to retain office, without possessing the power to judge, but bound to act as the tools of others; and another, who would only hold office so long as their judgment was permitted to direct their actions?
In a neighbouring country, Sir, if a strict examination were to take place of all the causes which have led to the total extinction of that liberty which at one moment there was a fair prospect of their obtaining; if the convulsions, which have accompanied the loss of this, the greatest blessing that man can possess, have been so dreadful as to lead many to abhor its very name; perhaps, the most prominent and the most active of these causes has been the want of character, and consequent want of confidence in their successive leaders.
How different, happily for us, is OUT prospect at home! Amidst all our divisions we can do justice to one another's motives:—However estranged by casual circumstances, and the inevitable discordance of opinion whore thought and action are free, yet I trust such will ever be the conduct of our public men of all parties, as not to give real ground for the diffusion of that opinion to which I have just alluded. Though we may look askance at each other for the moment, yet we know not how soon, or with whom, we may again cordially unite. On the important question which lately rivetted the attention of the house, I for one considered myself as exercising a painful duty, and in the capacity of a juryman. Though the conclusion formed by others was in opposition to my own, yet I shall not doubt that it was on their part equally conscientious; that as the one deserves no praise, the other as little merits reprobation.
In the sincerity of our wish to uphold the just prerogatives of the crown, we are, I trust, ail united. In distinguishing these, from the exercise of influence unknown to the constitution, though alas! too well known in practice, and attended with dangers not only to the subject, but to the prerogative itself, I foresee many struggles. But as to the just and fair prerogative, let it never be forgotten, that though 367 this be the inheritance of the crown, it is a trust for the benefit of the subject, for purposes the most useful.
I shall no longer detain the house; but must conjure them, I must conjure the right hon. gent. to reflect coolly; not to mistake the feelings and the expressions of the people. They arraign us of corruption; they point at the disreputable manner, in which it is alleged that some persons find their way hither. To this accusation we must plead. No evasion, or special-pleading sophistry will stand us in stead. If we evince a disposition to reform, we shall heal our divisions and re-establish ourselves in the good opinion of the people. Then may the right hon. gent. proclaim to all Europe; it is not on the bravery of her troops, or on the unparalleled prowess of her navy alone, that our country builds her strength: it is on the hearts and the affections of her children. Possessing these, she can securely bid defiance to a world in aims. With increasing difficulties she can call forth increased exertions.—Her soldiers, are every man who can wield a musket.—Her resources, every guinea we possess. In her defence every arm will be uplifted; every, danger despised: and no other object of emulation can then exist among us, but how each in his station can yield the best service to his sovereign and his country.—I move, Sir, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill for better securing the Independence and Purity of Parliament, by preventing the procuring or obtaining Seats in Parliament by corrupt Practices; and likewise more effectually to prevent Bribery."
§ Mr. Windham
said, he had no doubt but the house was willing and desirous to receive and discuss every question in a cause which ought to be heard; but there might be instances in which a party ought not to be heard at all, instances in which, as in the courts of law, the plaintiff should be nonsuited. This was peculiarly the case with respect to Parliamentary Reform, in which nineteen in twenty, or perhaps 900 in a thousand, held such different, wild, and extravagant notions, that it was impossible any man could form a just or fair opinion of what they would be at. There were some measures which ought to be rejected in limine, to prevent the evil consequences which might follow from giving them the slightest encouragement. Such was, in his opinion, the measure of Parliamentary Reform; and as he looked upon the present motion to be a measure tending 368 to that, he could not avoid opposing it in its outset. He begged the house to consider the nature of the remedy, and the danger of a change, which he, for his own part, was convinced would create greater difficulties than those which were proposed to be redressed. It seemed to him that the particular object which his hon. friend meant to correct by his proposed bill, was to lessen the influence of the monied interest, and to increase that of the landed interest. Before he adverted to the first or last object, he thought this motion ought to be rejected in the very first instance. It had for many years been his opinion, that the house ought strenuously to oppose, as dangerous and mad, any proposal for Parliamentary Reform; every system, and every feature of which that had hitherto been produced, was, in his mind, extravagantly and even ludicrously wrong—both practically and philosophically wrong; and when his hon. friend described the unanimity of the people, and inferred that it was to be obtained by this measure, he confessed he was totally at a loss to understand his meaning. They were then at issue, not on a point of theory, but of fact—would that measure satisfy the people?
§ The Speaker.
Having called the right hon. gent. to order, the hon. member must proceed to prove him out of order, otherwise he is himself acting most disorderly. (Hear! hear! from all parts of the house).
§ Mr. Fuller.
I saw some gentlemen next to the right hon. gent. interrupting him by whispers; and, Mr. Speaker, I disdain to do any thing wrong as much as you do. (Universal cries of Chair! chair!)
§ The Speaker.
It will become the hon. member to be on his guard how he commits such an act of disorder, as to interrupt, by a call to order, any hon. member on his legs.
§ Mr. Windham
continued.—Among the various plans which had heretofore appeared of Parliamentary Reform, that of universal suffrage was the most predominant. The monied interest might then say, it is very well for you who have landed property, but it won't do for us: other objections would be raised by those who had neither money nor lands, and it would eventually turn out just as the French revolution had done. Nothing could do: it would be impossible to produce a plan at which one party or the other would not snap their fingers. Of late days he had 369 never heard any one who wanted to give preponderance to the landed interest, and those who did so must have little attended to the reforming out of doors. An hon. friend complained that the people were generally discontented, and desirous of change, and the great cause of this was the existing corruptions. He wished to know how far this doctrine was laid down. The bill, it appeared, went to do away borough-mongering and corruption: would it do away the influence of property? When men laid down principles, they ought to be able to explain them. If his hon. friend had a greater fortune, he would of course have more interest than a 40s. freeholder. We had an argumentum ad hominem and an argumentum ad absurdum, but we had no argumentum à rentali, otherwise the influence of the landlord over the tenant was equally corruption with what was complained of. The law had laid down a rule that after so many days for the teste of the writ there should be no treating; by having infringed that rule he had lost the representation of the county of Norfolk; and yet he had done nothing either immoral or wrong. He had inadvertently acted contrary to the provision of an act of parliament on the subject, and be had thereby lost his seat. Was not this guarding against even the shadow of corruption? One set of reformers say, We will go so far; another set say, You shall go further; so that, once permitted to begin, there was no knowing where, or at what they would stop. His hon. friend had doubtless proper sympathies, but he could not expect others to have the same. If men took bribes, it was not a corruption of that house, but co-extensive with the people itself, coeval with the constitution; such corruptions existed in times when the country was most prosperous and the best governed, and therefore, unless his hon. friend could shew that the country was now worse than it had ever been, he would not consent to a change. He denied that the transactions which had been brought to light in the late Inquiry were at all to be considered corruptions of government. All that had been proved was, that such persons as Mrs. Clarke and Mr. Beazely had been trafficking for places and commissions, but there was no proof of corruption in the government; and as to any hope of pacifying the people by this bill, it was extravagance itself to suppose it. If there were corruptions in that house, they could not be cured by Parliamentary Reform; 370 but he would not countenance such an idea. If once we began, we could never stop, and if we once made a change to please the people, they would go on; they would never know when they had enough; and therefore he would oppose the general principles of Reform. There were two periods which the house ought to keep in remembrance; the American war and the French revolution. The former might in some degree be forgotten, but we had still the benefit of the French revolution fresh in our memory, and could not but recollect the manner in which the revolutionists had effected their purposes. Parliamentary Reform was of the same cast and character; and it was blindness, infatuation, and madness, in the people, to think of relieving themselves by pulling the government to pieces.
said, the question of the late inquiry had already been disposed of, and he should therefore limit his observations to the motion only. His right hon. friend who had just sat down had argued this as a measure of Parliamentary Reform, and that the house should therefore reject it as such. There was a notice of a motion on that subject on the books, and when it came forward, it would then be time enough to argue that question. He could have wished that his right hon. friend, before he exerted his influence to reject the motion, would have condescended to consider what it really was, and then he would not have had occasion to combat the phantom which he himself had raised. He would state his opinion of the motion, and the reason why it had been brought forward. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer had lately introduced a bill to prevent trafficking in places. He (lord Folkestone) had stated that at the treasury there existed a market, where a traffic was carried on for seats in that house, and that in consequence thereof persons came into that house bound to vote as they were ordered. There was at that moment an appearance on the other side of the house, as if they meant to deny the fact; but on its being more roundly asserted by an hon. friend of his not then in the house (Mr. Creevey,) ministers reverted to recrimination. He (lord Folkestone) then declared that he would move a clause on this subject, to be added to the bill; but upon Mr. Curwen's giving notice of this motion, he gave up the idea of introducing that clause. His right hon. friend who spoke last, had said it was senseless to sup- 371 pose men in office would traffic for such places: it was, however, clearly ascertained they did so, and having come under the cognizance of the house, it appeared to him impossible the house should refuse to countenance a bill, the object of which was to correct such abuses; and if the house refused to grant what was little for them to give, but great for the people to receive—if they refused to grant that relief which the bill held forth, it would be apt to drive the people to despair, and dispose them to look to other means than those which were nothing more than the real spirit of the constitution.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the manner in which the hon. gent. had brought forward his motion, made it necessary for him to trouble the house at greater length than he would have wished to do. The noble lord who had just sat down, had given notice of a clause which he intended to bring forward, to be added to the Bill which he (Mr. Perceval) had introduced and he had promised the noble lord to give such clause a candid and serious consideration. He did also mean, and still continued in the same mind, to give an impartial judgment on the merits of the present bill; but it was impossible he could do so at present, for he could not by any means form an opinion in what way or on what grounds the hon. gent. meant to obtain his object. There seemed to him to be an impracticability of doing it, but he would not oppose his bringing in the bill, in order that he and the house might be able to judge what the merits and demerits of it might be. But, in agreeing to the motion of the hon. gent. for leave to bring in his bill, he begged distinctly to be understood not to give any pledge to concur in the measure, or to consent to any project of alteration, regulation, or reform, such as that proposed by the hon. member. He could not, under the call of the hon. gent., pledge himself to support his measure throughout, though he should agree to its introduction, because as far as he was able to judge of it from the statement of the hon. gent. himself, he did not think he could put it into any practicable shape, which would entitle it to the adoption of parliament. The hon. gent. at the time he admitted that it was not right to hold out any language to the people, which might excite hopes that were not likely to be realized, stated in the same breath, that the people had a settled opinion that a reform in parliament 372 was necessary. Then the hon. gent. besought of him not to apply the character of Jacobinism to those who advocated reform. He could assure that hon. member, that he did not mean to apply a jacobinical character to him or to any other honourable member, who should support his measure. But in saying this, had he not a right to expect to enlist that honourable member on his side, in imputing a jacobinical spirit to those, who by their speeches and resolutions out of doors, from which alone the honourable member appeared to have collected his notion of the opinion of the people, endeavoured to impress upon the people the idea that a reform in parliament was necessary; to delude the public by statements mischievous, false and fallacious, which were the true characteristics of jacobinism; and to inflame the public mind with exaggerated pictures of abuse, and imaginary and impracticable ideas of reform. It was to such conduct that the character of Jacobinism particularly applied; and if any member of that house, not venturing to make such delusive statements in his place, where they might be met and refuted, should think proper to repeat them in other places, it would not be difficult to appreciate the mischief that might be the result. The language held to the public in these places was, that the house of commons was a sink of corruption; and that that house was the only place wherein the sense of the people was treated with contempt. Throughout the whole of the speeches and resolutions to which he alluded, there were assertions in terms not literally false, but founded upon reasoning delusive and fallacious. It was asserted that they who composed that house, sat there contrary to that law which seated the family of his majesty upon the throne; because it was enacted by that act, that no placemen or pensioners should have a seat in that house. What language was that to be held out to the people without any comment on the fact, or any illustration of the law? The act in question had been passed in the year 1700, and was repealed in the year 1704; it was not to have taken effect until after the accession of the house of Brunswick to the throne, and had consequently never been the law of the land. And yet, the persons to whom he had been called upon not to apply the word Jacobin, had ventured to state with a view to inflame the public mind, that the members of that house 373 were sitting in it contrary to law; without adding that the law they referred to had never been in force, was never intended to have operation in the time of the framers, was only to have effect at the expiration of two successive reigns, and had actually been repealed four years after it was passed, and many years before it could pass into a law. The hon. gent. had acknowledged that he had been a reformer in 1784; and though he admitted, at the same time, that he had then acted upon mistaken grounds, he had in the same breath accused the late Mr. Pitt of apostacy from the cause of reform. The fact was, that Mr. Pitt upon clearer facts and more accurate information, had anticipated that conviction which seemed so tardily to come upon the honourable member.—He should now proceed to say a few words upon the plan of the hon. gent. It appeared that he proposed to subject the elected member to an oath: to impose a penalty upon the seller of a seat though not upon the buyer, and to extend the bribery laws to a certain limit after the electron. The imposition of the oath upon the elected member might be desirable, but it was impossible to judge, without having the precise form of the oath under consideration. The hon. gent. had a right to expect that the house should give him leave to bring in his bill; but, in doing that, the house would not be pledged to his plan, or any other to the same extent. The bill in its title was unexceptionable; but in order to decide upon the measure they should have the bill before the house; and he was apprehensive that the hon. gent. would find himself involved in endless difficulties. The hon. member had deprecated the use of language that might tend to mislead the people, yet, without certainly having any such intention, the hon. member had, in representing that house as too warlike, used language calculated to mislead the public, as if a reform of that house would put an end to the war. After the very able speech of the right hon. gent, opposite (Mr. Windham), it was unnecessary for him to shew that the measure proposed would not allay what the hon. mover represented as the disturbed state of the public mind. If the hon. member took his idea of the state of the public mind from the resolutions and speeches to which he had before alluded (and where could he have taken it but from them), would he suppose that this 374 measure would satisfy the persons who uttered them? If the measure had been proposed by government, it would have been characterized as the most delusive that had ever been projected to impose upon the nation. He should not oppose the motion for bringing in the bill, and trusted he should have the vigilant assistance of the right hon. gent. (Mr. Windham) in watching every part of its progress. Whatever he might think respecting the inconvenience of any change at the present moment, he had no hesitation in saying, that there could be no inconvenience in discussing any project of reform. What was said to be the growing sentiment of the country respecting reform had arisen from the silence of parliament; and the only effectual mode of putting an end to the delusion practised upon the public, was to take up the discussion of such subjects in that house, and not leave them to be discussed in popular meetings and inflammatory papers out of doors. On these grounds, he should allow the bill to go to a second reading, but without giving any pledge to support it.
heard with satisfaction the intent on of the right hon. gent. to support the motion of his hon. friend, so far as the introduction of the measure. This measure was simply an act of regulation, and, as it did not make any part of the question of Parliamentary Reform, he should abstain from making any observation upon that subject. The hon. gent. who proposed this measure to the house had said, that he would not value the support of any man who would not continue that support whether in or out of office. For his part, he had never given support to any measure that he did not continue to the end; and he was then out of office because he would not abandon the support of a measure which he looked upon as essential to the vital interests of this empire. But in demanding such a pledge, the hon. member must suppose two things; first, that his measure was such as a member could support; and next, that it was practicable. As far as he could judge from the statement of his hon. friend, he forked upon the measure he proposed not only as right and practicable, but not likely to produce any of the dangers apprehended by his right hon. friend. It would be impossible, however, to give an unlimited pledge until the measure should be before the house, and they could have an opportunity of examining 375 it in all its bearings. He agreed that it was particularly desirable for the members of that house, and most especially for those on the side on which he sat, not to give rise to any expectations on the part of the people, which there was no prospect of realizing. They should never resort to those base and detestable arts, by which such expectations were encouraged, when the persons exciting them must be sensible that they could never be gratified.
§ Mr. Fuller
begged to apologize to the right hon. gent. (Mr. Windham) for having interrupted him, which had arisen from the state to which his feelings had been excited, by observing an hon. member the third from him, interrupt him, whilst speaking so nobly to the subject. He could assure the Speaker on the honour of a gentleman, and his family had been for two centuries as honourable as any others in the kingdom, that he had not meant any disrespect to him. On the contrary, he had ever supported him, even against the miserable fellows who sometimes wrangled with him, (loud cries of "Question, question," and laughter). Well, he would come to the question. With regard to this same swearing, it was much beyond his comprehension, and so totally out of his way (loud laughter) that he would have nothing at all to say to it; and so he would leave them. (The hon. member then took his hat, made his bow to the Speaker, and walked out).
§ Mr. I. H. Browne
disapproved of the measure, because it would have the effect of excluding a great portion of the wisdom and talents it possessed from that house. If the bill passed, it would not satisfy the persons at the Crown and Anchor that their charges of bribery and corruption were not well founded. The bill could not lead to any beneficial result, and in opposing it he trusted that he should not be considered as more a friend to corruption than any other hon. member. The bill he thought could not be rejected too soon.
was of opinion that his right hon. friend (Mr. Windham) had unnecessarily blended this measure with Parliamentary Reform. Me was pleased with the candid manner in which the proposition had been received by his right hon. friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), when he admitted that the bill might be entertained. Many of the topics which had been introduced during 376 the discussion he was determmed to lay out of his consideration, as it was enough for him to look at the measure as it was presented to him. He was not to take it upon the grounds even of the hon. gent. who brought it forward. The measure, in his mind, would be productive of benefit, though he was not sanguine enough to expect that it would be attended with all the good consequences expected by the hon. mover. From the long examination which that house had lately been unfortunately engaged in, (not unfortunately, considering the importance of the subject, but unfortunately, as must appear to all those who wished well to the good government of this country,) it had gone abroad that that house and the present times were peculiarly chargeable with corruption. From all that he had seen he was convinced that the charge was groundless. The bill proposed would, however, not satisfy those persons who made this charge. As to the expectation held out that the measure would make any alteration in the description of persons returned to that house, he did not think it would have any effect of that nature, because he was persuaded that as large a proportion of landed gentlemen, as of any other description, procured their seats in that house by the means objected to. He conceived the measure to be much more practicable than it was supposed by his right hon. friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer). The precise complaint to be redressed was, that the influence which individuals had in the return of members to that house, had been transferred to others for a pecuniary consideration. If it was desirable that this practice should not exist, then the next question was, how it would be practicable to restrain it? and this the measure proposed appeared to him likely to do. But his right hon. friend (Mr. Windham), appeared to him to take the alarm too soon at the idea of Reform. If the practice was wrong, it was no reason to urge against the adoption of a remedy, that it might lead to an expectation of still further measures. The bill proposed by the hon. gent. was a mere act of regulation, and had no connection whatever with the more difficult and more dangerous question of Parliamentary Reform. The arguments urged against this bill would have equally applied against the Grenville act, and alt the other acts for regulating the conduct of parliament which had been passed since the Revolu- 377 tion, and he contended that the present question had less reference to Parliamentary Reform than any of the other acts to which he had alluded. This bill was to contain a mere regulation, and was not intended to touch any existing rights of election. It proceeded upon the assumption that any individual might constitutionally exercise the influence which his character, his rank, or his property might procure for him in his neighbourhood, in favour of any body he pleased to recommend, but was to prohibit him from transferring that influence for a pecuniary consideration. It was perfectly proper, that any individual so circumstanced should recommend whom he pleased to those who might apply for his advice, from deference to superior knowledge, experience, and character, but it was not right that he should transfer that influence for money. For one, he should not pledge himself to the measure, till it should be brought in, and he should have an opportunity of judging whether he could give it his support. But he was glad that the bill was to be allowed to go to the second reading, because the house would thereby be enabled to decide upon its merits.
§ Mr. W. Smith
expressed his regret that a spirit like that displayed in the very able speech of the last speaker did not pervade the house. He could not conceive what right any man had to throw the smallest reflection on the advocates of Parliamentary Reform. The principles upon which they proposed to proceed had the sanction of lord Chatham, Mr. Pitt, and Mr. Fox, three of the greatest men that ever appeared in this or any other country. Would any of the puny mortals of the present day think of setting themselves up against such men? Did any man mean to say that these persons were insincere? Would they have brought forward the subject, if they were insincere? And now, Gentlemen,—[a roar of laughter, which continued for several minutes. Mr. Smith was one of the speakers at the late meeting at the Crown and Anchor.] There was an opinion among the people, that members of parliament ought to be independent of all except their constituents. In that opinion he concurred, and that was his view of Reform. This measure was so far connected with Reform, that it went a certain way to secure the independence which he had stated. He perfectly agreed that no expectations ought to be held out to the people that could not be realized, but he totally dif- 378 fered from his right hon. friend (Mr Perceval) who considered that Reform would render the house of commons less disposed to rush into wars as a proof of Jacobinical intentions. It was his opinion that Reform would have this beneficial effect. Everyone, at all acquainted with the history of the American war, must be sensible that it would not have lasted so long had it not been for the improper influence of ministers; and the same thing might be said of other instances. There were persons brought into the house by the present system who had an interest in protracting war. He concluded by observing, that in discussions of this kind, the gentlemen on the other side had always an advantage. They talked easily and fluently of the dignity and independence of parliament in general terms, while the friends of Reform were under the necessity of directing their observations to a particular class of men, or against individuals, which was always an odious duty. But as it was a duty, they must perform it in the best manner they could.
§ Earl Temple
entirely agreed in the very able speech made by the right hon. gent. (Mr. Bathurst) on the bench below. He wished it to be understood, that the principle upon which he agreed to the motion was the principle which pervaded, what, by the courtesy of the house, was called the Grenville bill, a measure for which he had an hereditary veneration. It was upon that principle that he wished success to the bill of the hon. gent. He would support the bill also, because it took away one of the greatest arguments in favour of Parliamentary Reform. It would diffuse a salutary confidence in parliament throughout the country. With this retrospective view, and looking forward to the future, the motion should have his cordial support.
§ Mr. Curwen
did not intend to trouble the house at any length. He was totally at a loss to account why the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not oppose the bringing in the bill, when he had expressed so determined a resolution to oppose it in its progress. Did he say, that the evils, which it was the object of the bill to remedy, did not exist? If he did, why did he allow the bill to be brought in? He was obliged to the right hon. gent. below him (Mr. Bathurst) for the qualified promised support he had given him: but he would not admit that he was in the smallest degree obliged to the right hon. gent. on the opposite bench. Was 379 it for the purpose of putting him in a situation of difficulty, and thereby shewing his inability, that he would suffer him to bring in the bill? In answer to what had fallen from an hon. gent., respecting factious meetings, he would assert that there was not a man in the house who would more firmly resist the clamour of such meetings than himself. It was not to the inflammatory proceedings of a drunken meeting at a tavern that he looked far the opinion of the people. He abhorred such meetings, and he lamented that men of character, talents, and respectability, should be found to countenance them. Their proceedings betrayed a confirmed disposition to depreciate all public men, as well as a total disinclination to accept and pursue any system of Reform, haying moderation for its principle and basis. But, as he said before, it was not from such meetings that he collected the sense of the people. It was impossible for him not to look round the country, and to hear the expression of public opinion echoed from every corner of it. With respect to the objection against the indefinite nature of his motion, he would say, that the form in which it was submitted to the house was not of his dictation. On that subject he had consulted some of the ablest men in the house, and particularly the distinguished character in the Chair. He must again disclaim for himself any connection with tavern meetings. The hon. member thought wrong of him if he supposed he thought differently of the late meeting at the Crown and Anchor from himself.—After the very able explanation given of the bill by the right hon. gent. below him, he should not trespass on the indulgence of the house by any further observations. He must, however, again repeat, that the object of the bill was to prevent the obtaining of seats in parliament by direct, flagrant, palpable corruption, and not to do away the operation of influence. He could not believe that any member of that house, any man in the country, would be capable of an act so immoral as the violation of the sanction he meant to propose. He knew that he had great difficulties to encounter, but he trusted, with the assistance of the house, he should be able to surmount them. His bill would have no reference to the act of William and Mary, commonly called the Treating Act.
The question being put, the motion was carried; and Mr. Curwen, Mr. Ponsonby, sir A. Pigott, sir S. Romilly, lord Folke- 380 stone, Mr. Windham, and others, were ordered to prepare and bring in the bill.