Sir Francis Burdett
rose and said:—In consequence of the notice I gave the other day, I now rise to bring once more under the consideration of the House, the state of the representation of the people in parliament. With respect to what has fallen from the noble marquis, who has just presented the petition from Liverpool, and who took the opportunity of inveigh- 1441 ing so loudly against what he called wild and visionary plans of reform, I am at a loss what to reply: for as the noble lord neither tells us, what his principles of reform are, nor to what extent he is ready to support any plan of reform, nor what it is which he considers wild and visionary, nor who the persons are, who support these wild and visionary plans, it is impossible to make any reply to the observations in which the noble lord has indulged himself. But in respect to that which was observed by the noble lord upon the disunion which he states to have been created amongst the friends of reform, by the conduct of some, I can only say, that I am not conscious of having ever acted in such a manner, as to justify any man in charging me with being one of those, whose conduct is calculated to disunite the friends of that measure. Whatever might be the difference of opinion on this subject, to whatever extent small or great, gentlemen were willing to push a measure of this nature, I have always been ready to assist in the work, and I acknowledge that I am unable to entertain any of those apprehensions which seemed to have disturbed the minds of many on account of the principle being pursued to the utmost extent, to which it is capable of being carried. The absence of all danger on this account, having, as I think, been clearly and irrefragably demonstrated, I cannot feel any apprehension from pursuing too far the ancient and recognized common law maxim, the corner-stone of the edifice of our liberty:—"That the people of England have a property in their own goods, which are not to be taken from them without their own consent;" in other words, that they are not constitutionally liable to be taxed without their own consent, expressed by a full, free, and fair representation in parliament. This is my principle, upon this I stand as upon a rock, from which I think it impossible to be removed.
Before I proceed farther, it may not be amiss to state my reasons for not bringing on the present motion at an earlier period of the session. I was unwilling that those gentlemen who are called the Opposition, should suppose me desirous of thwarting any of their exertions, or should have it in their power to accuse me of having impeded their progress, or contributed in any way to render inefficient their attempts to remedy those evils of which 1442 they so loudly complain, and in which they might have flattered themselves they would have succeeded, but for my interference; and because I wished both them, and the public, to be convinced from experience, how vain and futile were any efforts and all expectations formed of any important redress of grievances from a new parliament constituted like the old.— Much was said about the infusion of independence into the new parliament: the elections were said to have proved, that the present system of ministers could not be continued—that the ministers must! relax in their career of corruption, and adopt a plan of economy and retrenchment, or resign to those who would: hopes were excited both within, and out of this House, which nothing but the conduct of this parliament and the evidence of facts could have dispelled: nothing short of this could have induced persons to abandon their pleasing expectations, and to concur with me in believing that any effectual remedy for our disease, any material amelioration in the condition of the people, could only be rationally expected from a radical reform.—Had I stirred this question sooner it might have been attributed to me, that I had thrown the apple of discord amongst that party denominating themselves. Whigs, maliciously and advisedly, with a view to defeat all those rational and moderate plans of reform, as they are falsely called, of which they are the champions; every failure might have been attributed to me, and I might have been exposed to accusation on account not only of what they had left undone, but also of what the ministers had done; not only might have been attributed to me the failure of schemes of economy and retrenchment, but likewise the imposition of the three millions of" new taxes on the public.
Now, therefore, that all attempts at remedying minor abuses have failed, and the utter hopelessness and folly of any reliance placed on what is called a new parliament, has been made apparent, knowing the anxiety of the public mind at the present moment, seeing the dissatisfaction every where expressed by the people, from the public burthens and distress; and, the cause of ail, the want of a fair representation of the people in parliament; I feel it a duty that I owe to the public, to bring forward this question even at this late period of the session. I 1443 can entertain no expectation of the motion being followed by any measure immediately to be adopted by the House; but that the principle, if adopted, would have a practical and beneficial effect out of the House, and prove the best means for preserving the tranquillity of the country, I entertain no doubt; and I am anxious that the country should be tranquillized, and that the people should give no pretence to the noble lord at the head of administration, for again proposing to this borough-monger parliament, the suspension of rive Habeas Corpus act. I wish to interrupt, or at least to prevent from being established, those annual suspensions of the liberty of the subject, to which it seems this House has no objection, Whatever it may have to annual parliaments; that ministers may have no pretence to ask, nor parliament to grant, the exercise of a despotism over the people, inconsistent with the laws and constitution of the country.
The motion I mean to propose will not lay gentlemen under any obligation to support general suffrage, or annual parliaments; I do not wish even to put them into the dilemma of stating explicitly, the extent to which they are willing to go:—all I request of them is, an engagement to satisfy the public mind, that early in the next session, some remedy may be expected for an evil of such magnitude, as that of the people not being represented in the Commons House of Parliament. I do trust that all those gentlemen who have talked so much of grievances during this session, will support a resolution for taking early next session into their consideration this master grievance—this cause of all other grievances, which, without its removal, never can be redressed:—and I do trust, that if I introduce the question to the House early in the next session of parliament, I shall not then be considered as guilty of any hostility, or any impropriety of conduct towards the gentlemen more immediately around me; or, as a stumbling block in their way, depriving them of opportunities of promoting the public interests, by means of the system as it at present exists. It is not necessary for me, nor would it be proper now to enter into any details, nor to recapitulate the specific plans and principles which I have formerly proposed, and still abide by. With respect to wild and visionary views and plans lately alluded to. I trust the noble 1444 marquis will be contented to take my own views from my own exposition of them. I have proposed two different plans for a reform of parliament, differing in degree, but both far from wild and visionary. In 1809, I submitted a measure on the subject, and stated it as my opinion then, that to require to vote for a member to serve in parliament, every person who was subject to direct taxation in support of the poor, the church, and the state, would be sufficient for the security of the liberty and property of the subject.
Of that opinion I still remain, though I am also convinced, that according to the true principles of the English constitution, every man is entitled to participate in the power of making those laws by which he is governed—to some share in the appointment of those who dispose of his liberty, his property, and his life. If these are termed Jacobinical principles, still I maintain them to be the principles of the English constitution; they are the doctrines laid down by all our constitutional authorities, not only by Locke, and the writers at, and after the Revolution, but they are also the doctrines laid down by our own lawyers in our own times; and by those not at all likely from their circumstances to advance doctrines of a wild and visionary nature. Mr. Justice Black-stone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, maintains, and truly maintains, that, by the principles of the English constitution, every man is entitled to vote at elections for members of parliament. This is the general principle, then follow his exceptions, that is, the persons-excluded from the exercise of this right; and the special reasons on account of which they are excluded. This general principle, it will be recollected, is laid down by a great crown lawyer—one in his day not considered as the advocate of liberty, but a time-serving tool of power; and if this principle is now branded as Jacobinical, it can only be accounted for from the lowered tone of the public mind, and the degraded spirit of the present times. A doctrine so lately laid down by a lawyer and servant of the Crown, is, it seems, considered in the present day, too bold to be entertained by any but wild and visionary, and mischievous persons.
Judge Blackstone says explicitly. "The true reason of requiring any qualifications with regard to property in voters, is, to exclude such persons as are in so mean a¶1445 situation, that they are esteemed to have no will of their own." Now, however, it seems the prevailing notion in this House (clearly deduced at least from its practice) is, that persons who are in so mean a situation, that they are esteemed to have no will of their own, not only ought not to be excluded from voting on that account, but ought to return a large majority of this House; for it is notorious, that the majority of its members are re-turned by persons of this very description, by persons who have no property whatever, who are kept off the poor rates for this only purpose, by those whose instruments for this pernicious end they are. Thus in practice we have the exception made the rule—the rule denied—and the majority of the members of this House, returned by a small number of patrons, whose nominees they are; which patrons possess the means of influencing persons of this description, who are thus enabled to exercise the elective franchise, the birthright of every Englishman, but who themselves have in effect no will of their own. Surely those may with great justice be called wild and visionary, who would exclude from the elective franchise, all the intelligence, the independence, and property of the country into the bargain. I say, the persons excluded from voting at elections, are the persons of intelligence and property; and that the majority of this House are returned in spite of the property and intelligence, by persons who have neither property, nor will of their own. It cannot be too often repeated, nor should it be ever lost sight of, that the returns to this House of a majority are made by that very description of persons, who Mr. Justice Blackstone says, ought alone to be excluded; because, says he, "If those persons had votes, they would be tempted to dispose of them under some undue influence or other." Will any gentleman contend that such undue influence is not exercised at present; out of this House, any one who pretended to doubt it would be either laughed at as an egregious fool, or as an odious hypocrite detested.
After the disclosures, too, which have been made during this session, respecting the corruption of the boroughs, and the widely spreading contamination of that corruption throughout the country, and the impression made on the public mind by the defence of it, on the ground of its having so long and so universally prevailed, and. which corruption is but the effect of 1446 that undue influence which Mr. Justice Blackstone says, "would give a great, an artful, or a wealthy man a greater share in elections than is consistent with general liberty," it is impossible that the public mind should long endure the evil without some attempt at an efficient remedy. Every word in this sentence is a libel on the present state of the House. We all know that a great majority of this House are the nominees of the artful and wealthy men here described:—we know how the patrons in boroughs act, although the common law says, "Fiant electiones rite et liberè:"—we know, that in affirmance of this maxim of common law, peers are by statute expressly excluded from interfering in the election of members to parliament; we know also, that in conformity to both common and statute law, a resolution is passed by this House at the commencement of every session, declaring it to be a high breach of the privileges of this House, for any peer to interfere with the election of its members.
In the face, then, of these laws of the land, and of these resolutions of the House, it is well known that peers do cause to be returned, and even nominate its members-Do we not know, that a majority of this House chiefly consists of the nominees of these very peers, whilst almost every member of the community, who, according to Blackstone ought by law to return its members, stands excluded? "If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and general principle of liberty, every member of the community," (says justice Blackstone—these are his words)" however poor, should have a vote in electing those delegates to whose charge is committed the disposal of his property, his liberty, and his life."—So say I too, and with this addition—that nothing would be more easy than to provide the means of securing every man (whatever might be his situation) against undue influence of any kind. I add, moreover, that neither should the rich be excluded. Now then, I will ask, if, as Mr. Justice Blackstone says, every member, however poor, should have a vote in electing those to whose charge is committed the disposal of his property, his liberty, and his life, is not Mr. Justice Blackstone an advocate for Universal Suffrage? Is he not one of those wild and visionary persons who think all men have rights?—there can be no doubt that he 1447 maintains the principle to its fullest ex-rent;—and I think there can be no doubt that in law and reason, the people of England have that right according to the constitution; that their right is as good as the right of the king to his crown; and that both are hold by the same tenure— the constitution of the country. Such, then, is the theory of the constitution, according to this learned commentator: "Not," says he, "that it is so perfect in the practice; for," says he, "if any alteration (what an admission for a solicitor general!) might be wished or suggested in the present frame of parliaments, it should be in favour of a more complete representation of the people."
It is, indeed, impossible to contemplate the whole system of our laws, the maxims of the common law, and the true principles of liberty, without, at the same time, perceiving, that the true principles of the English constitution are the same. Election is the soul of both, and the people of England in former times, not only elected members to serve in parliament, but also a great number of other constitutional officers—sheriffs, magistrates, and constables; leaders in war, and conservators of peace;—so far, therefore, from being wild, and visionary, and exorbitant in their demands for the restoration of their rights—the people are moderate and wise:—their aims are noble—their first wish, even in the midst of distress is to be free—and yet so modest are they in their demands, wild and visionary as they are called—that they demand only to be restored to that portion of their rights which is necessary for the security of their property and of their persons,—the appointment of those men, who are to have the disposal of the hard-earned fruits of their industry and labour, and in whom they can confide for the honest application of them to the purposes of the state:— to have some share in the appointment of those who not only raise taxes from their labour, but who also exercise the power of taking the people themselves—using their limbs and shedding their blood—whenever the cause of the country demands the sacrifice. Is it, then, asking too much for men who are liable to be torn from their families, and exposed to all risks and dangers—that they should have some share in the election of the representatives, who have the power of saying when and how these services shall be demanded? That they should, appears to me both reasonable and just.
1448 By many modern political writers and speakers on political subjects, it has been taken for granted, that the people of this country were never in so advanced a state of prosperity and freedom as now. This has been an erroneous induction from the antiquated language of former times; for it appears from the most ancient and authentic records, that the people of this country did enjoy a state of ease, prosperity, and freedom, which form but a melancholy contrast to their present condition:—in proof of this, I may be allowed to read one extract from lord chancellor Fortes-cue, from his excellent treatise in praise of the laws of England. After having given a description of the comparatively wretched condition of the people of France, and which he traces to its true cause—the despotic nature of the French government; with the honest exultation of an English lawyer (for strange as it may now appear—ki former days, it is no less true than strange, that English; lawyers were friends to English liberty) he proceeds triumphantly to state the very different condition of the people of this country—and which he justly attributes to the excellence of its laws and constitution. "Here (says he) every man's property is his own. Neither doth the king there (speaking of England) either by himself or his servants or officers, levy upon his subjects talliages, subsidies, or any other burthens, nor alter their laws, nor make new laws without the express consent and agreement of his whole realm in his parliament." The Latin is—" Sine concessione, vel assensû totius regni sui, in parliamento suo expresso."—"Where-fore every inhabitant of that realm useth and enioyeth at his pleasure all the fruits that his land or cattle beareth; and hereby it cometh to pass, that the men of this land are rich, having abundance of gold and silver, and other things necessary for the maintenance of man's life; they drink no water, unless it be so that some for devotion, and upon a zeal of penance, do abstain from other drink; they eat plentifully of all kinds of flesh and" fish; they wear fine woollen cloth in all their apparel; they have also abundance of bed coverings in their houses, and of other woollen stuff". They have great store of all husselments and implements of household; they are plentifully furnished with all implements of husbandry, and all other things that are requisite to the accomplishment of a quiet and wealthy life. 1449 according to their estates and degrees. Neither are they sued in the law, only before ordinary judges, where by the Jaws of the land they are justly entreated; neither are they arrested and impleaded for their moveables or possessions, or arraigned of any offence criminal, be it never so great and outrageous, but after the Jaws of the land, and before the judges aforesaid; and these are the fruits which government, politic and regal conjoined, do bear and bring forth." And so goes he on stating many advantages enjoyed at that time by the people of England.
Now, I say, if a comparison were at this day drawn between the people of England, and the people of that country, whom chancellor Fortescue thought so wretched and miserable by the comparison, I am greatly afraid, from all I have been able to learn from well-informed persons, acquainted with the situation of the people of that country,—it would appear, that the situation of the two countries was now completely reversed. Of the unhappy condition of this country no one can doubt, who pays the least attention to what is passing immediately before his eyes. It is not this nor that particular class of persons, for all state themselves to be under a severity of pressure they are no longer able to bear. Do we not see numerous bodies of men in every part of the country, all stating for themselves, with a strange and unaccountable indifference or ignorance of the condition of others, the dreadful distresses under which they labour, and their conviction that it is the intolerable burthen of taxes imposed on them, which is the cause of that of which they complain? That such is the state of the country no one can doubt, notwithstanding the assertions of the noble lord opposite respecting its prosperous state, and who appears as uninformed of its real condition as any mortal can possibly be. But indeed, how should the noble lord know any thing of the true state of the country? he lives perpetually in London, or its vicinity, and has little opportunity, therefore, of acquiring any knowledge from his own observation;—he cannot know the state of the nation; and when he meets this House, he finds few individuals here willing to disturb him in his happy reveries.
At the commencement of the present session, the noble lord dreamed that the agriculture, manufactures, and commerce of the country were in the most satisfac- 1450 tory state, and had recovered from that temporary pressure, which he had admitted it had undergone, in consequence of the transition from war to peace; and though this temporary pressure and long transition had lasted now five years, the noble lord was led from every inquiry to believe, at the commencement of the session, that misery was at an end, and that every thing were the happy aspect of abundance and content. I cannot but suppose these to have been the real sentiments of the noble lord, because he put this language into the speech from the throne; but I will say, that if the noble lord believed this, he was the only person in the country who did: at least I never conversed with any gentleman from the country, either then or since, whose opinion was not the very reverse.—Your manufacturers come forward and state to you, how impossible it is for them to continue under the present weight of taxation;—that their workmen, notwithstanding unremitting toil to the almost extinction of life, are still unable to procure a pittance sufficient for the maintenance of the most wretched existence; you have petitions from the clothiers of Yorkshire, which state to you that it is impossible for them to continue their business, unless they are protected in a monopoly at home, and are freed from all duties on importation from abroad. The farmers, on the contrary, petition, and tell you that it is quite impossible for them to pursue agriculture, without the imposition of duties on foreign wool, and still heavier duties on corn, sufficient to secure to them the home market, and to put an end to a competition destructive to them, and impossible for them to maintain even in their own market with the untithed, and comparatively untaxed corn of France.—The manufacturer says, if you do this, you ruin for ever the commerce and manufactures of the country. On the other hand, the farmer says, if you do not do this, I am undone; for without it it is impossible for me to come into market in competition with the farmer of France on terms compatible with the expense of production.—The merchant declares, that if the Bank shall narrow its discounts, it will ruin trade; and the ministers reply, that if they permit the Bank to continue to inundate the country with its paper circulation, the nation is absolutely undone. Whilst the Bank says, that until the government first pays the monstrous debt it has contracted with the Bank, they cannot pay in cash.
1451 Thus the farmer, the merchant, and the manufacturer are all telling us their distress is more than they can bear, each taking a contracted view of his own particular interest,—none comprehending the interest of the whole, and each exclaiming for God's sake relieve me, and cast the burthen on the shoulder of my neighbour, without reflecting that his neighbour is already crushed with his own share of the burthen, and absurdly crying out for the same sort of relief; and thus that burthen which is too great for all together, each supposes the other is able to sustain. The truth is, taxation is far beyond what the country can bear, and to relieve it is impossible, without having recourse to reform; and, I have no hesitation to tell the House of Commons, and particularly those gentlemen who denominate themselves Whigs, and who have so long called aloud for retrenchment and economy, who demand, that expenditure should be lowered without the abandonment of the present system—that is, without a reform in the representation, their object cannot be attained:—that under the present system, it is not in the power of ministers, nor would it be in the power of the Whigs, were they ministers, materially to retrench expenditure, even if they were so disposed. The profusion and expenditure complained of, is indispensably necessary to carry on the government in the present state of the representation—what we call corruption and unnecessary expenditure, is that which Mr. Arthur Young, at the commencement of the last war, very significantly called the oil for the machine; and it must be confessed, a great quantity of oil is requisite to keep in action a machine, the motion of which is opposed by so much friction, arising from its repugnance to the interests and feelings of the people: —the country will therefore always be called on for taxes necessary to support the present system, and necessarily so, until a reform takes place in the House of Commons; and, until this does take place, aggravation, and not alleviation, is what wise men will lay their accounts with.
It has been said, that I entertain wild and visionary notions; but what, I ask, can be more wild and visionary, than to look for effects without causes, to expect the present system to be carried on without the means of corruption, which are requisite for the purpose. It is not merely sufficient for this purpose that taxes should 1452 be levied—but also, that great numbers of individuals should be employed in their collection. The number of persons so employed, is as much an object with the government, as the money brought into the exchequer. With a reformed parliament, all this indeed might be dispensed with, and taxes collected as in ancient times, free from expense, by the sheriff; every parish might collect its own taxes, and transmit them either to the sheriff, or to the exchequer. Under the present system, in many instances of particular taxes, the sum levied on the people is half exhausted before it gets to the Treasury. Another source of large economy for the public, to which I beg leave to call the attention of the House, is the monstrous, dangerous, and unconstitutional military establishment of the country; this monstrous unconstitutional standing army, every one must see, is thought necessary to support this monstrous and unconstitutional standing parliament. If this House was looked up to with confidence and respect by the people —if the people viewed this House as their safeguard, and not as the instrument of their oppression; if, in one word, the people were not excluded from all share in the appointment of those who call themselves the representatives of the people, this immense army would become perfectly useless. The army, however, may be essential, or the so called representatives may think it so, which comes to the same thing, for the support of the government carried on by means of a corrupt House of Commons;—for I do not deny, that the people might be indisposed to submit to this usurpation, this exclusion of the great mass of the country from its right of representation, if it were not for the army employed for the purpose of supporting it. I ought to beg pardon however for calling this a corrupt House of Commons. I ought to have done it justice in its real character, and to have spoken of it, as an assembly calling itself a House of Commons, denominating itself the representation of the people—[Cries of Order, order.]
§ The Speaker
said.—If the hon. member thinks that such language is consistent with what he considers to be the order of the House, some apology will be due from me, for interrupting him.
Sir Francis Burdett
. —Whatever you think is out of order, Sir, I must feel to be so.—In truth, the gentlemen who com- 1453 pose this House of Commons, are not Corrupt. On the contrary, this House is certainly composed of gentlemen most true and faithful to their constituents; they discharge their duty not only honestly and faithfully, but magnanimously, and in the face of their country incur much public odium often manifested in most unpleasant ways. It must be admitted, that they pursue, like honest attorneys, the interests of their principals. The mistake of calling them corrupt, arises from overlooking their real, and making a false estimate of their supposed duties; the public, who have nothing to do with their appointment, are unreasonable in expecting that they should attend to the public interests; the public may at the same time see in the faithful mirror of their conduct towards their employers, a practical demonstration and proof of the benefits to be derived from a representation appointed by themselves; for true as the nominees of patrons are to their patrons, so true would representatives be to the public, if by the public they were appointed to the same stations. "No man expects to gather grapes from thorns, nor figs from thistles. No man can serve God and Mammon." No man can reasonably expect to derive from another's appointment, the same advantage as from his own.
It is curious to observe, how every part of the present system is made to operate against the people; how the borough proprietors, even when they bind the people, keep themselves free from every restraint: for instance, that most outrageous act, the Septennial act, which Dr. Johnson justly stigmatized as by far the greatest outrage ever offered to public freedom, and a contempt of national rights far transcending those invasions of English liberty, for which the Stuarts were expelled the country. This monstrous subversion of the rights of Englishmen; this cutting up of the constitution, as it were, by the roots; this bondage imposed upon the people by an usurping House of Commons, affects not the usurping boroughmonger at all; it leaves him free as air; for him there is no septennial act; with him parliaments are not triennial, nor even annual; he is practically what has been called, to raise a silly laugh, an oftener-if-need-be-an. The patron can dismiss his nominee whenever he pleases; the first moment or any moment that he sees a disinclination to comply with his interests 1454 or his wishes. It is only in popular elections, or places where people have apparently a choice, that the Septennial act has any operation, and when once any portion of the people has been tricked, deceived, or cajoled into an apparent election, their representative is indeed fastened upon them for seven long years; their representative may for the whole of that period vote contrary to their wishes and their interests; he can display his independence of his constituents, magnanimously despise popular clamour—for indeed popular clamour at such a distance is but little formidable—and pursue uninterruptedly his own views and interest?, without any regard to the disapprobation or remonstrances of those who sent him there. Not so the borough-patron's nominee; here the Septennial act loses all its efficacy, and though he may display his spirit and contempt of popular clamour, the slightest whisper from his patron either vacates the seat, or bends him to his purposes; to the clamour of the people they will not yield, why should they? with them they have nothing to do, and the nice and curious constitutional question, whether a member when once returned is to be considered as the representative of the particular county, or city, or borough, who sent him there, or whether he is to be considered as the representative of the whole kingdom, which being the most convenient doctrine, is most generally adopted, and therefore at liberty to act as he pleases for seven long years, never comes into discussion between patrons and nominees. If any gentleman should refuse to take the first hint from his patron, he would be considered as the basest and most dishonourable of men. Between constituents and real representatives, common sense and common honesty without refinement at once determine the conduct.
This state of the representation is as derogatory to the dignity of the Crown, as it is injurious to the interests of the people. The king of England can exercise none of the functions belonging to him, none of the prerogatives to which he is legally entitled; even that only act which the boroughmongers admit him to be capable of performing, that of appointing his own ministers, is in truth put out of his power. The king ought to be able to appoint to any place any person whose integrity and talents he thinks calculated to advance the interests of the public; but the powers 1455 and prerogative belonging to the regal office are now unavailing, and his only choice is between one set of boroughmongers and another. The just prerogatives of the Crown, vested in it for the good of the nation, and forming an indispensable part of the constitution, are, under the present system, not exercised by the sovereign, except under the control of those who make use of his public authority for their own private ends, usurping equally upon his rights and upon those of the people. It is as if a country gentleman, being desirous of engaging a person for his steward, was told that in such case the steward's brother must be appointed butler, his cousin Tom must be coachman, Peter the cook, and James his valet de chambre. I shall be told, perhaps, that I am professing a Tory doctrine, yet am I not afraid to avow, that the principles of those who were called Tories in the reign of queen Anne, form the substance of my political creed. My belief, that the sovereign ought to have the free and unrestrained enjoyment of his constitutional rights, may be stigmatised as a base and submissive doctrine, contrary to the spirit of Whigism—I have only to answer, that I wish such absurd party distinctions were buried in oblivion for ever; my persuasion is, that the best means of enabling the Crown to acquire and preserve the affections of the people, its best treasure and its safeguard, is, to restore to it those attributes which are essential to its dignity, and of which the borough factions have stripped it and left it bare. The love and reverence of its subjects are the best and only lasting security for every throne; under the present system, little means has the Crown of acquiring them; the ancient property of the Crown has been taken from it; and thus its means of splendor and hospitality, without being a burthen upon the people, are diminished; and it is now placed in the odious light of being a great pensioner on the public: as Junius says, "the feather that adorns the royal bird supports his flight; strip him of his plumage, and you fix him to the earth." Such a condition of things is wholly inconsistent with the plan of government established by our forefathers, and is, in my opinion, adverse to the real interest of the country. We know, from our own history, from many of its brilliant pages, and from the glorious examples of some patriotic kings, who carried the happiness and glory of their country to a higher 1456 pitch than was within the reach of individuals similarly placed in other nations, what streams of public good may flow from the unfettered exercise of those prerogatives that the constitution has vested in the Crown! The dignity of the kings of England, formerly supported from their own revenues, exercising a hospitality suitable to the station, without being a charge or burthen to the people, and in the splendor and enjoyment of which almost all, in one shape or another, partook, was well calculated for engaging the subjects' love, willing obedience, and respect to authority.
I have frequently referred with pleasure to a period in our history, which, though often, can never be too often remembered; to that of a sovereign whose memory (I mean the great and glorious queen Elizabeth) every one must be disposed to cherish with sentiments of pride, and fondness, and veneration:—That exemplary sovereign (it never can be sufficiently repeated) stood in no need of a standing army. Not with standing the paltry cavils of venal writers, who would persuade us that in her time England was enslaved, because the love and affection of her subjects enabled her to exercise an authority which seemed to know no bounds; the dangers with which she had to contend were perhaps greater, both at home and abroad, than any prince had ever successfully struggled against;—by the wisdom of her councils, the heroic fortitude of her nature, above all, by the generosity and the justice of her government, she overcame them all. When going to meet her subjects upon a great public occasion, as was her constant practice, the Spanish ambassador, who was to accompany her, seeing her receiving the unbought homage of popular affection, asked, with some surprise, where were her guards? she, pointing to her people, replied, "these are my guards." Her great mind saw neither safety nor satisfaction in sitting upon a throne surrounded by satellites. That the affection of her people was her best security, was the first principle of her government; her next was, that her best exchequer was her people's pockets. By a steady adherence to these principles; by a constant undeviating course of impartial administration of justice; she has left a name which, though assailed by the foul breath of calumny, will be renowned as long as England shall be a nation, and be em- 1457 balmed in the memory of a grateful people, as long as a sense of duty, patriotism, or gratitude, influence their hearts.
How different the maxims of the present day! When the people are borne down by burthens they are unable to support, and when fiscal rapacity, and profligate need, are so great, that the chancellor of the exchequer, who is held up by his colleagues as an example of religion and morality in his private capacity, and who is also, I believe, a member of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, is, nevertheless, always ready to exclaim, whenever money is at stake—religion and morality, what are ye to a tax? "Virtus post nummos," is the motto of the chancellor of the exchequer. In the present labouring state of the finances, every consideration must give way to money. When called on to abandon the plan for raising money by means of a lottery, spreading vice, misery, crime, and a spirit of gambling, and every pernicious effect throughout the country, and bringing but a pepper-corn into the exchequer, there being much patronage connected with it, the chancellor of the exchequer can by no means afford to give it up. Lotteries, however mischievous, are indispensable in the present state of the revenue. When applied to for the remission of a tax, proved to act in a manner most injurious to the health of the people of Ireland, to such a degree as to have obtained the denomination of the fever tax, which carries contagion throughout the country, and is most particularly destructive amongst that people, whose open doors, and hospitable tempers, expose them peculiarly to its effects; still, however, the right hon. gentleman, who is the most humane man in the world, is obliged to confine himself to the mere expression of his excessive sorrow, that the very virtues of the people of Ireland should augment their sufferings, but that the tax, in the present labouring state of the finances, cannot be dispensed with. So when the situation of large classes of the community, literally expiring under the weight of their burthens, demands instant relief, the same answer is at hand, the labouring state of the finances. Nothing can show more the effect of the system, than this difference of character in the right hon. gentleman in his public and his private capacity; in the one, religious, humane, and a suppressor of vice; in the other, unfeeling, rapacious, and the promoter of vice.
1458 The gentlemen denominated Whigs, who talk of retrenchment in this House, though they at the same time declare, it is more for the satisfaction of public feeling, than from any expectations which they believe can be justly formed from the effects of economy and retrenchment, think that though little can be obtained, something should be attempted. If they expect little, the people expect less: the people are well aware of the necessity of wasteful expenditure to support the present system. They entertain no foolish expectations; they have no hope of benefit, except from a very differently constituted House of Commons. In this, indeed, every one has an interest, and the public creditor, who is generally thought to be identified with the present system, has the only chance of payment and security in the change. Without a reformed parliament, his interest and that of the boroughmongers must clash; then who can doubt whose interest must give way; and it is greatly to be apprehended, that more taxes will produce less. I confess, I shall be much surprised if, at the end of the year, the three millions of new taxes just now imposed, shall be found to have produced three millions of additional revenue: the public creditor, therefore, as well as every other class of society, from the king to the cottager, the borough proprietors alone excepted, have the strongest reasons for desiring an improved popular representation. But the advocates of reform have been called wild and visionary: and weak attempts have been made to ridicule them for their perseverance in attempting to obtain the only remedy that can effectually relieve every class of the community; nevertheless, men of as great talents, at least, as are possessed by any of those I now see around me, and I say this without any wish to disparage any one, or to extol departed, at the expense of living merit, have entertained the same views, and have made many able, but ineffectual efforts for the same end, and have by their failure so frequently disappointed hope, that the people are almost in a state of despair. They have thought with us, that no partial measures, however ingeniously devised, or ably executed, could be of any avail, without a total change of the system; and, therefore, the people have come to the conclusion, that a different result cannot be expected from the exertion of any party of men, so long as the same 1459 system continues. This was predicted, and justly predicted, by the late Mr. Pitt, at the close of the American war; he asserted, that without a reform of the representation of the people in parliament, no honest man could carry on the government, and that if parliament was not reformed, the country would again be plunged in new wars, upon similar principles, and be involved still deeper in debt, difficulty, and danger. Unfortunately he verified his own prediction, and illustrated, by his example, the truth of his own doctrine. In possession of power, aided and abetted by the circumstances of the times, and lending to them the aid of his own splendid eloquence, he intoxicated the country, as. it were, with its charms, and bent his whole powers to the creating that system of delusion, the effects of which we have now reason so deeply to deplore: at length, the excited feelings of the people have subsided; the delusion and the deluder have both passed away; the sad reality alone remains, and the country has at length its eyes open to the miserable situation into which it has been plunged: a situation which may be compared to the state described by a delightful poet, Dr. Armstrong, as that of the miserable being who has long been the victim of habitual intoxication:—The happiest you of all that e'er were madOr are, or shall be, could this folly last.But soon your heaven is gone; a heavier gloomShuts o'er your head, and, as the thund'ring stream, [rain,Swol'n o'er its banks with sudden mountainSinks from its tumult to a silent brook,So, when the frantic raptures in your breastSubside, you languish into mortal man,You sleep, and, waking, find yourself undone.Thus, Sir, did this country, after passing from delusion to delusion, and after enjoying a short, a very short interval of repose,—"awake and find itself undone." It is in vain for the gentlemen opposite to endeavour again to stimulate the worn-out feelings of the country, to think they have caught the prophet's mantle, that they can recreate the same unsubstantial visions, which have vanished never to return, that would be beyond the power of even the great magician, now no more: he could not do that were he recalled to life, even he, Modred,—Whose magic tongueMade huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud-capp'd head.What then are we to do? To set about 1460 endeavouring to repair the injury we have sustained. What are the first steps that we ought to take? To revise the whole frame of the constitution, to accomplish a radical reform in the representation of the people, to make every practicable retrenchment in the public expenditure, and to abolish establishments serviceable only to the ends of corruption.
It has been said by those whose chief object is only a change of administration, —" Give us good men, and they will give us good measures," than which no creed can be more wild and visionary: nothing advanced more weak, empty, and fallacious, more contrary to just political reasoning and experience, and to the lessons of history, which is well styled wisdom teaching by experience; it is contrary to the opinions of the most celebrated political writers; to the doctrines laid down by Locke, by Machiavel, and above all by Harrington, who opposed these arguments when advanced in his days, by those who looked only to men, and who thought all would be right if the Saints governed; and in answer to it, that great and wise man said, you must have a change of system. "Give us good men, and they will make us good laws, is (said he) the maxim of a demagogue, and is (through the alteration which is commonly perceivable in men when they have power to work their own wills) exceeding fallible. But give us good orders, and they will make us good men, is the maxim of a legislator, and the most infallible in politics." And this is the language of the reformers; and we maintain, that good orders require a fair representation of the people.
We say, moreover, that this embraces the interests of the whole community; it is the interest of the king; it is the interests the people at large; and of every particular portion of the people;—of the public creditor—of the landed proprietor —the merchant—the manufacturer—the mechanic—and the agriculturist.—It is the interest of all orders and degrees in the state, that a few individuals shall no longer be suffered to usurp the right to nominate, a large portion of the members in the Commons' House of Parliament:— even the proprietors of rotten boroughs themselves, on an enlarged view, would find their interest in the measure, when made by the legislature peaceably and quietly. Over and above their interest in a good government, they might get some equitable consideration in exchange for 1461 that mischievous power of which they would be deprived; whereas, should the people be ultimately driven to act for themselves, and pay regard to nothing but strict justice, they will lose the whole together, and the state of the country will soon press upon the prudence of the legislature, in a manner not to be resisted, for the reform of a system, which in plain and simple truth, and without oratorical exaggeration, is literally grinding the people to atoms. "His gratiora dictu alia esse scio, sed me vera pro gratis loqui si meum ingenium non moveret, necessitas coget." With respect to those who object to reform on the score of impracticability, it is difficult to comprehend what they mean—there is nothing inherently impracticable in any of the plans that have been proposed, nothing indeed half so difficult in practice, as carrying into effect the present anomalous system. Their meaning must be, that they will render impracticable whatever plan may be proposed, cither by opposing it with hollow majorities of this House, or by employing against it that physical force, with which they are entrusted for a very different purpose.
All the plans are equally practicable, though that is to be preferred which combines the greatest portion of public opinion in its support. But ministers are grossly mistaken, if they suppose that the presence of a large standing army will enable them to force upon the people a system of despotic government, heretofore unknown in England; they are mistaken, if they imagine there are no effectual means of opposing even a military force, however great; they forget there is such a thing as passive resistance, as well as passive obedience, and that when the people are determined to be attended to; they have only to cease willingly to co-operate with their oppressors, simply to refuse to pay taxes, and allow ministers to distrain for them. Then would the ministers be undone—Somerset-house would be turned into an appraiser's shop, and bayonets and barracks would be rendered perfectly useless; besides, ministers are grossly mistaken, if they think it is possible to resist moral force by the bayonet; and I confess it is to the expense of maintaining a large standing army in the circumstances of the country, and to the corrupt patronage it affords, that I principally object. I am under no great apprehension with respect to a disposition 1462 in the army to assist in the destruction of the liberties of their country. Attempting to destroy English liberty with an English army, the noble lord may not find so safe an experiment; and, I have no hesitation in declaring, that as far as our liberties are concerned, I am infinitely less afraid of the gentlemen of the army, clothed in red, than of the gentlemen of the long robe, clothed in black. The expense however of supporting such an army at such a time, is a most serious evil; and I defy ministers to show any rational ground, except the corruption of this House, for keeping the army up to its present establishment. There is nothing in the situation of Europe, to induce any belief that it can be soon necessary to call forth the warlike energies of the state; most unfortunate indeed would it be for the country, were any such necessity soon to recur, while the spring and sources of national prosperity are by taxation nearly exhausted. But it is said by ministers that it is necessary to keep the country in a commanding attitude, than which no notion can be more absurd. It is with nations as with individuals; any common boxer will inform you, that there is no surer way of being beaten than to hold yourself in a constant position of defence—the powers are debilitated before a blow is struck: on the contrary the boxer takes care to relax every sinew, to case every muscle, till the moment he is called on for exertion: nothing, therefore, can be more injudicious than keeping the country in this war like attitude, even if there was the least likelihood, which, thank God, there is not, to call for warlike exertion; but if there were, the relaxation of even a single year, would render those exertions more capable off power and effect than they can possibly be, if this overstrained vigilance, this attitude of defence is maintained, until the country becomes ready to faint and drop down from fatigue.
Much however as I object to the large military establishment on account of the expense, I object to it still more from the corrupt patronage which it affords the minister, and the purpose for which alone it is necessary (a fact well known to the people) to support the corrupt majority of this House in their usurpation. If the army were necessary to support the king —which it is not—I should be less reluctant to consent to the sacrifice, than I am under the present circumstances, when I sec it employed to support those usurping 1463 subjects who nominate the majority of this House—who acting under the authority of, and assuming, and appearing to be the representatives of the people, are, in fact, only the representatives of about two hundred individuals, who thus possess the means of disposing of the liberty and property of the whole country.—But whilst we are apparently guarding ourselves against foreign hostility, we are neglecting our defence against domestic foes. Doctor Johnson relates of his father, who kept a bookseller's shop in Litchfield, that he v/as very attentive to bar and bolt, and fasten the front of his house; but, never thinking of a small back door, thieves came in at that entrance and carried off all his goods. The undue influence of the individuals to whom I have alluded, is the unguarded back door of this country, at which have entered the public spoilers, and deprived us of our liberty and property:—To bar up this mode of entrance, is the object of reform.
As I am not now about to propose any specific measure upon that subject—as my object is rather to exhibit the state of the nation and its grievances, and their connexion with the corrupt state of this House, I shall content myself with insisting generally on the necessity of some reform; at the same time protesting against any inadequate measure, convinced that nothing short of the House of Commons being appointed by the great bulk of the community, can satisfy reasonable men, or afford national redress. I am one of those who think that extensive, is of less importance than equal right of suffrage; but I am particularly desirous at this time of applying to the wounded and irritated minds of the people the balm of hope—a hope that their just pretensions may, at an early period of the next session, engage our attention: and, as on the one hand I am persuaded, that it is not necessary to carry abstract principle of right to its fullest extent; so, on the other hand, I cannot be persuaded of the policy, sense, or propriety of stopping short of that which is requisite for giving full effect to the public will.
A right hon. gentleman opposite, the member for Liverpool, the supporter and admirer of every thing as it is, though he admits there are some theoretical blots, and irreconcileable discrepancies in the present system, contends, nevertheless, that it answers its purpose, and, on the whole, works well. Now these words 1464 "well or ill," are words of reference, and must be applied to something. A system might work well for one party in a country, and very badly for another. I recollect reading somewhere of a scientific surgeon who proposed a system to be adopted for the benefit of science by the dissection of living subjects, and thought that if criminals were thus rendered subservient to the purposes of science, though there might be some little objection to it on the score of humanity, yet the benefit to be derived from such a scheme would be great; and upon the whole that his system would work well: he even complained— "Ut pro duritiâ temporum vivos homines dissecari non licet." The present system may work very well for the right hon. gentleman, but it works very ill for the people of England, Ireland, and Scotland. This notion of working well puts me in mind also of the grave-diggers in Hamlet. The one asks the other—"What is he that builds stronger than the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter?"—His fellow labourer replies, "The gallows maker."—"I like thy wit well," rejoins the first—"The gallows does well, but how does it well?—It does well to those that do ill.—"Argal the gallows may do well to thee." What right have the right hon. gentleman, and the noble lord on a bed of roses near him, who seem to be totally unacquained with the state of the country—who say that this system of corruption works well—who say that the starving manufacturer is happy, that commerce and agriculture are flourishing: —What right have they to characterise our opinion as visionary and delusive,— they who themselves live in a world of delusion, in a paradise of their own creation, utterly ignorant of, and indifferent to, the general misery and discontent. My object has always been, and still is, to endeavour to impress on the minds of men both within and without this House, and even on the minds of the borough-proprietors themselves, the absolute necessity of coming to some agreement, of entering into some conditions with the people of England; for it is impossible that the present system can much longer continue, and a blind determination to persevere in it against the common feeling and the common sense of the country, will involve all in one common ruin.
To descend to particular grievances would be endless—would occupy far more time than your attention would af- 1465 ford, or my strength supply. Every public department is found to be full of abuse —grievances abound in the reports on your table: whether charitable institutions, madhouses, or prisons, or courts of justice, are objects of inquiry, all equally call aloud for reform; and all the abuses complained of, are intimately connected with, or originate in the corrupt state of the representation; but those which are most directly and plainly connected with it are, the delays and expenses attending on all legal proceedings. It is stated by my lord Coke, that the king is, in the eye of law, ever present in the courts of justice, proclaiming "Nulli negabimus — nulli vendemus, aut deferemus rectum vel justitiam." And what may the people answer?—Negatur, Defertur, Venditur— certainly not using the last word in its literal sense; for judgment is not actually sold, but the expense of obtaining it is so great, that many persons are induced to put up with material injuries, rather than aggravate them by such expensive means of redress. Even the courts of common law, from which the maxims of common law are nearly excluded by modern statutes and practices, and whose admirable forms were originally well calculated for doing justice without expense or delay, are now almost choaked up by an accumulation of legal expenses, an impediment even to the rich, and an utter prohibition to the poor. But great as is this grievance in the Common Law Courts, it shrinks to nothing by the comparison with the still greater grievances of the same sort in courts of equity. It would not be rash to assert, that the present system of the court of chancery is the source of more human suffering, of more misery and ruin, than any establishment that could well be devised, or tolerated in a civilized country. This too is an effect resulting from the same general cause, the want of a superintending, vigilant House of Commons; and that profligate expenditure which has extended taxation even to the proceedings in the administration of justice, which, above all things, ought to be exempt from burthen, which is the great end of society, and for the obtaining of which, all other' taxes are paid.—Better, far, that even bread should be taxed, than that justice, which is equally necessary to human society, should be in any way obstructed. For what purpose are all our taxes—why are we at the expense of maintaining this constitution, and on 1466 what ground are our praises of that constitution founded?—What, but that it promises equal justice to the rich and poor. But there is a certain class of subjects to whom, literally, justice is absolutely and altogether denied; that is, all persons, who, not being able to swear they are not worth ten pounds, are however worth very little more. To all such, there is an absolute denial of justice, and though delay is in some sort a denial, and expense a still greater, there may be some quibble upon that, but none as to the first. To take one instance of the magnitude of the expense which may be incurred in a court of equity: In a suit still actually pending in the court of chancery, the defendant was called upon by the plaintiff to set forth a certain statement of accounts; to obtain an office copy of which, what does this House think was the sum which would have been required? say 1,000l.? more:—say 10,000l.? more:—say 20,000l.? more:— not to keep the House in suspense, 29,000l. was the sum which would have been required to procure the office copy of these accounts. True it is, the lord chancellor, in this instance, assumed a dispensing power, but that he had any legal right so to do, I am still to learn. The defendant was not compelled to set out the account which the plaintiff had called for; legally or not, it was dispensed with upon the occasion, and the right hon. gentleman, the chancellor of the exchequer, was thus defrauded of a considerable amount of revenue; but ought not this House to be ashamed to hear, that a great part of this sum of 29,000l. was composed of stamp duties, arising from its own relentless taxation!
Gentlemen may possibly say, that redress upon such subjects might be obtained without having recourse to reform; but they will not, they cannot say, that it is not a great practical ill immediately connected with the subject under consideration; and it will be difficult to persuade us reformers, that a House of Commons appointed by the people, and vigilant in the discharge of its duty towards the people, could ever have been induced to consent to the imposition of taxes of such a description; and it would be difficult to persuade me, that in bringing it before parliament, as at present constituted, there would be much chance of obtaining effectual redress. This is only one of the manifold evils which result from the want 1467 of representation, and which can be radically cured only by that want of the people being supplied.—To this cause may every evil be traced, and, until it is removed, the effects cannot be expected to cease; and experience must have taught us, that even when inquiries into abuses do take place, and which never do take place till the abuses become notorious and intolerable: even then, little else is the result, but intended palliatives, at best inefficient, attended generally with a considerable expense, and not unfrequently aggravating the evil to which they were applied. Therefore it does appear to me, that all minor grievances are the necessary offspring of this master-grievance, this state of Rotten-borough representation, to remedy which, is the "one thing needfull;" without which little good can be proposed, or attempted to be done, and in my opinion less effected.—I shall therefore conclude this subject by moving, "That, early in the next session of parliament, this House will take into its most serious consideration the state of the representation."
§ Mr. George Lamb
, in rising to second the motion, congratulated the friends of reform on the manner in which it had been introduced by the hon. baronet. It had been introduced so as to embrace all the supporters of reform, and not to embarrass the question by harassing details, which might tend to excite conflicting opinions, and which could be much better reserved for future consideration. He did not mean to follow the hon. baronet through all his eloquent and able details, many of which, however happily delivered, were yet extraneous to the question, and in one of which only he thought him not borne out by the fact. He begged to be understood at the outset as dissenting from the opinions of those men and their theories with whom the hon. baronet was sometimes in the habit of connecting himself; he disclaimed their absurdities; but while he did so, he avowed himself to be the firm friend of a rational reform. He was not one of those who thought that the march of reform had of late been judicious or great out of doors; he rather thought that, from the hands into which it had fallen it had been, to use the military phrase, "marking time," rather than advancing. It had been marching here and marching there, kicking up a dust in its progress, standing still though the feet were occasionally thrown 1468 forward; or rather, if any, making a retrograde motion. He could not think with the hon. baronet, that the House had been idly occupied in the course of its present sittings; though not indeed engaged in the work of reform, it had been employed in punishing and pulling down, to a certain extent, bribery and corruption. He was astonished that the hon. baronet should have overlooked these acts. The hon. baronet was certainly absent on the occasions to which he alluded. He did not impute any blame to the hon. baronet for such absence: no doubt he was employed in his retirement, and had consumed his midnight oil, in preparing the able statement which he had that night made to the House. With respect to the ulterior steps to be taken, he had no hesitation in avowing his wishes to see the borough system purged of its corruption, and the elective franchise extended to populous places where it did not now exist. He should also wish to see the duration of parliaments shortened. The effect of this would be, to create a greater identity between the represented and the representative, than now existed, particularly at the beginning of a new parliament. Were parliaments triennial instead of septennial, this distinction would not be observed between the first year and the last of a new parliament.—It had been said, that much evil would arise from the close repetition of the tumultuary proceedings at elections. He was of a different opinion, and would feel no hesitation at triennially facing his constituents. He was one of those who admired the bustle of a popular election—it was an excellent ordeal—for bringing the candidate before his constituents—it was, in fact, the periodical infusion of a new spirit into the constitution. He liked the jollity, the freedom of language, and even the abuse which flew about on such occasions. He knew there was another and a different ordeal sometimes to be passed at elections, and which resembled that of their ancestors—an ordeal of fire and sword. He had no objection to a little bespattering of mud, as the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Canning) once alluded to—on these occasions; he was content to run all risks of that kind triennially, instead of septennially; and he should even have no objection to see the right hon. gentleman or himself bringing with them into that House some of the mementos of their being confronted with their consti- 1469 tuents at fresh elections.—He differed materially from the hon. baronet in thinking that reform was the grand panacea for all evils, or that it was the only thing which ought to be attended to. He was not one of those who thought that reform would make bread cheaper, that it would do away the possibility of wars, or prevent the possible occurrence of bad harvests. He did not think it would realise those happy times, when, according to Fortescue, "all men would wear woollen clothes, and drink no water." But although he did not think parliamentary reform absolutely the philosopher's stone, he was persuaded it might be so managed as to be productive of great good. If it would not prevent the origin of evil, it might check its career. It would diffuse among the people a greater reliance on their rulers—a reliance of which, he lamented to say, the great mass were at present almost wholly divested. He saw much to approve in the hon. baronet's proposition. It appeared to him to be the only one calculated to unite the friends of reform. He had endeavoured, and he hoped not unsuccessfully, to express his own opinions on this interesting subject; and in doing so, to draw a broader line of distinction between himself and some of those who called themselves advocates for reform, than existed between himself and any other class of political men. He begged leave to add, that whatever reception the present proposition might meet with, he must still consider the members of that House as the constitutional representatives of the people; and he trusted, that if he had uttered any sentiment that might be deemed in the slightest degree disrespectful, it would be attributed solely to haste or inadvertence.
§ Mr. Grenfell
observed, that the present did not belong to the class of subjects on which he was accustomed to address the House. Although it was not his intention to follow the hon. baronet through all the arguments which he had, for the eighteenth time during the last eighteen years, heard that hon. baronet advance, yet, as the subject was one which of late years had appeared to attract peculiar attention, as it was undoubtedly one of great importance, and as although since he had held a seat in the House, he had frequently voted, but never expressed his opinions on the subject, he felt anxious not to allow this great constitutional question to be decided without taking 1470 one opportunity, in the face of parliament and the country, of avowing his sentiments upon it. In the few observations with which he should trespass on the House, he would endeavour strictly to confine himself to the subject under discussion. Without further preface, therefore, he would declare that he was one of those— he trusted a great majority both in the House and in the country—who saw in the practical effect of the existing system of representation much real, substantial, and positive good. He might perhaps be permitted to add (and in doing so he disclaimed all intention of giving offence, although he felt it his duty to express his opinion without reserve) that he wanted faith and confidence in the political wisdom and sagacity and sound discretion of many of the advocates of what was called parliamentary reform. Unquestionably there were many whose sentiments were moderate, to whose opinions and principles he paid great deference and respect, and among them not a few to whom he was politically attached; but he could not disguise from himself that there were others in whose general qualifications, in whose attainments as statesmen, in whose competence to new model the system of representation (the heart's blood of the constitution) he had no faith or confidence. Without going out of his way to attribute improper motives to any one, the conviction of his mind was, that if the object at issue were once in their grasp, so great were their zeal and enthusiasm, that they would risk every thing in order to try their hands at an experiment, the result of which would not be to give the country any thing better than that which it already possessed. Before he could consent to endanger an existing for a possible good, he must have some stronger inducement than the hopes and promises held out by the description of reformers to which he particularly alluded. This was not an opinion hastily, rashly, or vaguely adopted. It was his deliberate conviction that the present system of our representation, with all its theoretical defects, was a more practical guard of liberty, and afforded a better security for property, than any that had ever been established in other states of society constituted as ours was. But he did not stop there. Having stated his conviction of the positive, substantial and unequivocal benefits which the country derived from the existing system of representation, 1471 he must be allowed to express considerable doubt whether any great, material, or, above all, radical change in that system, however beautiful in theory, would, in practice, be attended with the advantages prognosticated from it. While he declared this to be his opinion, he was anxious to guard himself from being misunderstood or misrepresented. He by no means held that the present system was complete, that it was free from blemish, or that it did not, in a certain degree, partake of those imperfections which pervaded every human institution. No doubt time had done something to diminish its excellence, and perhaps impair its stability. But instead of the sweeping measures of reform suggested by the hon. baronet, he (Mr. G.) would rather recommend a more sound and practical course. Whenever a proposition should be made to the House, clearly pointing out a defect, and indicating a remedy equally intelligible and precise— to such a proposition no man would be more ready than himself to give a cordial assent. As the question of parliamentary reform had for many years engaged his attention, he trusted the House would allow him to state what had always appeared to him to be the only practicable principles on which that reform could proceed. He had long thought that the influence of the Crown in this country, and particularly with reference to this very question of parliamentary reform, was much too great; and that it would greatly tend to the public good if that influence were to be considerably diminished. All must recollect the resolution which, in the year 1780, was proposed by Mr. Dunning, and adopted by the House, namely, "That the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished." This resolution was carried 39 years ago. He entreated the House to recall to their minds what had since happened. In 1780, the national debt was only 160 millions; at present it was little short of 800 millions, being a fivefold increase. The next feature of difference was, the public revenue, or, in other words, the taxation, which had increased in a still greater proportion than the debt: for it had been augmented, not only to meet the increased charge on the debt, but the increase of all the establishments, civil and military; and they formed the third feature of difference. The most material consideration, however,†1472 was yet to come—he meant the means of collecting the revenue. The machinery by which the collection of the revenue was effected, was neither more nor less than one entire mass of Crown influence. He was perfectly satisfied that the influence of the Crown, inherent in this increase of debt and revenue, had spread like a torrent over the land. If, therefore, there was the least truth in the resolution of 1780, declaring the influence of the Crown to be too great, must not the House arrive at this conclusion—namely, that under the operation of the circumstances which had since taken place, the influence and patronage of the Crown must in a tenfold degree weigh down the public interest? He had only one further observation to make. It related to a circumstance connected with any parliamentary reform, which he confessed had for many years made a deep and almost an indelible impression on his mind; strengthening the opinions on the subject which he derived from other considerations. That circumstance always made him cling more earnestly to the present system, and rendered him more averse to lend himself to any measure tending to bring that system into risk or jeopardy. It was this —the total want of concord and unanimity among those who called themselves reformers. With the exception of the radical reformers, he never met with three individuals professing moderate reform to be their aim, who coincided in their opinions on the subject; or from whom he was able to obtain any distinct view of the grievances of which they complained, or of the remedy by which they were desirous that those grievances should be removed or mitigated. The only point on which the different advocates or reform concurred, was, in that of moving for a committee of inquiry similar to that now sought by the hon. baronet. He had been often desirous to obtain such information as would direct his judgment on this question. He had frequently asked some of his hon. friends what it was they wanted, and which was the mode by which they could satisfy those wants. The only answer he could obtain was, that a reform in parliament was necessary, and that if the House would only grant a committee, both the evil and the remedy would be pointed out. Now, before he could agree to any plan of parliamentary reform, he must see, not only what the nature of the abuse was, but also what 1473 was the specific remedy to be applied. He should give his dissent to the motion; and he could not do so more satisfactorily to himself, than by moving as an amendment, "That the other Orders of the day be now read."
said, he should vote for passing to the other orders of the day, on the grounds of the motion going to pledge the House as to its proceedings in a future session.—When circumstances might be such, as that it would be extremely proper to go into an inquiry on the state of the representation; or others might arise to render it extremely inconvenient. The hon. member said, he should not follow the hon. baronet through the whole of his historical detail, in which, as usual, he had instanced times and persons with a very singular infelicity; but he could not help expressing his hope, that the measures of the present session in throwing boroughs convicted of gross corruption into the adjacent hundreds would not be persisted in. The Commons House of Parliament, had, from the first, been constituted of four descriptions of persons—the knights of shires, the representatives of considerable places paying largely to subsidies, the burgesses of the boroughs of burgage tenure as the king's tenants in ancient demesne, and the representatives of the chartered boroughs: through the medium of these, all classes of the community were in effect pretty fairly and equally represented. Whilst, by the hon. baronet's plan of localizing reform, the whole power of the state would be thrown into the hands of the Crown and the great landholders—the professions, and the commercial interests, would hardly be represented; and it was difficult to see how the colonial interests could be represented at all—which last, in the present extent of the British empire, was no trifling consideration in the well governance of the state. At the same time it would not be denied that all the towns formerly of great importance did send representatives—that borough after borough whilst the representation was considered a burthen, did, either by favor or neglect cease from receiving the precept—That there had been constant instances of writs issued to new places — and therefore, according to all constitutional precedent, and all principle, and all analogy, when the charter of any borough was declared to be forfeited, the vacancy ought most purely to be filled by some great unrepresented districts, and 1474 not by the freeholders of an adjacent hundred, already, as such, voters for their county. By pursuing such a system, you might give Cornwall forty-four county members, and thereby, instead of these small places furnishing representatives to the interests of the country at large without local bias—produce such local preponderance as would be utterly unbearable. He most earnestly wished that, instead of this, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, and other large unrepresented towns—might receive the right of sending members to parliament; which he was convinced would give universal satisfaction, and put an end to the clamour which was every where attempted to be raised by the radical reformers.
§ Sir Robert Wilson
stated, that he could have only one objection to the course pursued by the hon. baronet, and that related to the time when he introduced this motion, the session being so far advanced that a number of members were absent, not expecting a question of such magnitude would come under discussion, and who therefore lost the opportunity of giving the measure their support. He, however, had been one of those who thought that the question of reform had better be deferred, that the economists might make a fair experiment of their strength, and not have it in their power to say that they were weakened by an apple of discord being thrown amongst them by the reformers. Their campaign, however, had ended as he anticipated; they had failed in every attack on the admiralty, the ordnance, the war office, and the colonial and foreign department. His hon. friend, the member for Cork, although he had seen him gain difficult trophies in Egypt, Eylau and Friedland, had not been able to wrest a single snuff-box from the noble lord opposite. At length they were totally defeated and shattered to pieces by the chancellor of the exchequer, so that with difficulty they could form a new guard to check the progress of the conqueror, who pursued his advantages night and day without intermission. The economists would now see the prudence of combining their plans and advancing in parallel lines with the reformers. It would have been desirable, therefore, that the question should have been delayed until every man was at his post; but the hon. baronet had assigned as a reason the serious state of the country for not waiting till the next session, and if by the vote 1475 of this night he could appease the irritated feelings of the people, he would render a great service to the community. It was natural those feelings should exist; the people were generally instructed in their rights; they knew that they ought to be substantially represented, and they were daily instigated to desire and labour for a purification of the House of Commons, by woful experience of the consequences of the present incomplete and partial representation. They knew that the House of Commons should fully speak the wants and desires, and be an express image of the feelings of the people; but was not it invariably the echo of the ministers of the Crown; without any regard to public opinion, if that opinion consisted in the approbation or disapprobation of the great majority of the community as to the acts of government? But this was the natural consequence resulting from the composition of the House, also exposed to the action of that machinery of revenue and patronage which had been described by the hon. member for Marlow. At the present time, if the former were to be examined into, it would appear that from two to three hundred members were nominated by peers, 187 by individuals and the government, leaving only a balance of 121 returned by the people. It would be superfluous to attempt to prove that such practice was at variance with the principles and theory of the constitution.— The hon. baronet had quoted Justice Blackstone. He might have quoted Locke and every other public writer, and what was said by lord Chatham, Mr. Fox, and Mr. Pitt. What had been published by the friends of the people (of which the noble lord opposite was one of the most distinguished members) were familiar to every member. The only question, therefore, was, whether the practice should be brought back to, and reconciled with theory; and whether the present was a fit season for making the attempt? He thought the hon. baronet had proved the necessity of the measure, and that it was a convenient time to apply the remedy. Certain members, however, were hostile to every species of reform. An hon. member had called upon the House to bear in mind the substantial blessings the country enjoyed under the existing constitution of the House; but even he had been able to distinguish, and had pointed out certain evils resulting there from among others, the vast extern of taxation 1476 —and was not that alone a sufficient ground to agree to the motion? Did not the inhabitants of York, of Lancashire, of Ireland, cry out against the pressure of taxation, to which they well knew they would never have been subjected, had they been equally represented? He should not undertake a refutation of all the objections usually made against altering the construction of the House of Commons; but there were two among them which he thought entitled to some consideration. In the first place, it was urged, that ours was a constitutional monarchy, and not a regal commonwealth, and that, therefore, any attempt to obtain a purer representation, went to overturn the constitution. What was that but saying, that no confidence was to be reposed in the loyalty of the people, and that it was necessary to substitute nomination and corruption, which debased the national character, for free suffrage, uninfluenced election, and honest opinion? He was sensible the house of Brunswick would never assent to a doctrine which tended to strip it of the truest glory any prince could gain—the glory of founding authority on the consent of the people, and making their laws the foundation and support of the throne. —The next objection was, that that House already virtually represented the people— that its members were obliged themselves to obey the laws that they enacted, and that thence resulted an union and harmony of the general with individual interests. But that deduction was at variance with all history, which showed that in all times and countries legislators passed laws contrary to the public feelings, and which had ended in revolt and the overthrow of the government. The fact was, that when law-givers were nominated by persons in authority, they were subject to what may be called a sinister influence, and must necessarily have views, feelings, and duties distinct from those of the great body of the people from which they were selected, and to which they hoped never to return—or at least never to return without securing such advantages to themselves as would compensate for the evils their legislation had wrought for the nation. To these causes the people justly ascribed resistance to all measures of economy, the multiplication of taxes, and the greatest of all evils, the irresponsibility of ministers. The most ungenerous enemies of reform were those who rejected alt inquiry till a specific plan was brought for- 1477 ward. An hon. member had declared he would not sanction the motion till some particular system were proposed of which he could approve; but he seemed to forget that plans had been produced in the House. He himself had submitted one (to transfer the elective franchise from convicted boroughs to unrepresented districts), so had the lion, member for Weymouth (Mr. Williams), neither of which had received the support of that hon. gentleman. What would be said of a trustee, whose duty it was to repair an edifice, but whose interest it was not to make those repairs, always replying to the complaining heir, that before he agreed to their demand, he must first see some plan which he might oppose—Though Wyatt, Smirke, and all the artists in England, were to exhibit plans, none of them would satisfy such minds: one would be too Grecian, another too Gothic; some too ancient, others too modern. The complying drummer might as well have attempted to please the unfortunate soldier, who when flogging cried out "that's too high, that's too low; Oh! don't strike in the middle!" The hon. baronet with great propriety had abstained from producing any plan: it was for the committee to consider all plans, and select the best. In that event, the triennial and householders' plan might be examined, Mr. Pitt's, the duke of Richmond's, as well as others. For himself, he should say, that he was for the triennial and householders' system; but if they only agreed to grant the triennial parliaments on the first instance, he should think a great advantage would have been gained for the country; for triennial parliaments would undoubtedly be more under the control and influence of the public than septennial; and, therefore, pay more attention to the wishes of the nation. The people make their appeal to the House as their judges upon earth; let not the House reject that appeal; let it not be said of the House, "Eripit etiam spem, qua sola homines in miseria consolarisolet." He should conclude with this sentiment of that great political writer, Mr. Locke: —"As it is the undoubted interest and intention of the people of this country to have as fair and equal a representation as possible, whoever brings it nearest to that end is a friend to, and establisher of the government, and cannot fail to obtain the consent and approbation of the community."
§ Mr. Wilmot
could not help regarding 1478 the agitation of this question with much suspicion and apprehension, when he observed that it coincided so accurately, in point of time, with those meetings throughout the country which he could characterize by no other name than seditious. Reform in that House was ingeniously combined with the most dangerous and alarming schemes. It was a lever or instrument by means of. which the whole force of the lower and more turbulent classes of the community could be applied to the overthrow of all that was stable and salutary in the state. For the ostensible purpose of reform, meetings were held in districts where those classes were numerous. It was upon those occasions represented, that the rich, the land-owners, and the clergy, were the enemies of the people. Upon those occasions, there never was any sober inquiry, or deliberate discussion, but loose and vehement declamation against every thing established and every thing respectable. He was therefore justified in connecting the motion now brought forward with the state of the people, and in regarding that connexion as equally unwise and delusive. The gallant general had said, that he should be satisfied with triennial parliaments and household suffrage; but would such a reform, if effected, remove the abuses and difficulties which now existed? The radical and sweeping reform of the hon. baronet would probably remove all establishments, and dissolve all national obligations: we should be driven back in the career of civilization, and obliged to begin de novo. He was an enemy to corruption, and where any overt acts of corruption were proved in boroughs, he thought nothing better could be adopted by that House than disfranchisement. As for the mere restoration of triennial parliaments, that could not improve or change in any degree the connexion between the people and that House. He could not therefore see any good that could be expected from it. Comparisons had been instituted with former times. He had hoped that the time had gone by when contrasts should be brought forward in that House, even by the hon. baronet, to the advantage of ancient times. He was astonished that the House could have repressed its indignation at hearing it gravely asserted that liberty was better understood and more enjoyed at periods when portions of the people were transferred, like cattle, from one lord to ano- 1479 ther, when Richard 2nd could say to the villains of Essex, "Rustic!, foist is et estis in bondagio," &c.; for the hon. baronet had stated that the liberties of the people had then been infinitely more attended to than at present. The House of Commons of those times had been in nothing like the present corrupt House as it was called. They had been then assembled solely to assent to propositions and acts from the Lords. He was therefore astonished that such assertions could be ventured on in that House. It seemed as if it were expected that the guardians of the constitution should be fast asleep, and that the reformers could, as Boling-broke expressed it, "sculk into the sanctuary of the state." The people listened with avidity to such false representations; anxious to be deceived, because the deception flattered their pride, they never doubted the correctness of assertions the most unfounded. It was by exaggerated statements of the advantages to be derived from a radical and sweeping reform, that all reform was brought into disrepute. It was sufficient to refer to Blackstone as an authority for affirming that our liberties stood now upon a fairer and stronger foundation than at any former period of our history. The Friends of the People in 1793 and 1794 had proposed a plan immeasurably more rational than the hon. baronet's. He was convinced that the right of suffrage required, not to be brought lower, but to be raised higher than at present. Lord Bolingbroke, in his "Dissertation on Parties," represented the necessity and advantages of reform in more vivid colours than the hon. baronet could use; and he admitted, at the same time, the great talents of the hon. baronet. Yet lord Bolingbroke said distinctly, that reform was to be effected by raising the qualifications of electors, as proposed in the reign of Edward 6th. That was the only reform which he should consent to, as a measure that would place the elective franchise in the hands of those whose education and independence would not suffer them to flatter the worst passions of the people, and to juggle them out of their rights and liberties. That all the evils of our population would cease if the motion of the hon. baronet were acceded to, he positively denied. The deduction of the hon. baronet in this respect was totally unphilosophical and unwarranted. With respect to the sufferings of the people, remedies might be found for them; 1480 and probably the wisdom of that House would provide suitable remedies, but he did not connect it with reform. The first remedy in his view, was a radical alteration of our system of poor laws. The next was a due encouragment to a system of emigration; not such as those would recommend who opposed the restraint on foreign enlistment, but emigration to our own colonies. As far as sound political economy, as far as the progress of political science, could afford relief to the poor, none could be more zealous than he was, to afford relief. But, because political economy and political science Were not acted upon so far in some points as he thought right and salutary, was he therefore to support a proposition for reforming parliament? A parliament constituted and assembled merely to consider the sufferings and to administer to the comforts of the poor, was an absurdity and a fallacy. In such a parliament as the hon. baronet would form, great and public business could not be carried on. It was surprising that so little sympathy with the hon. baronet appeared in that House; but the cause was, the discrepancy between his views and those of other members, and the conviction that no ultimate object could be attained by him. He, for one, had seen no specific proposition of reform, which would not endanger the whole constitution of the state. Dr. Johnson had been referred to by the hon. baronet, and Dr. Johnson had said, that "the hand which could not build a hovel, could destroy a palace." This was strikingly true. The work of destruction was soon done, and required but the coarsest instruments; while to rebuild required skill, perseverance, and careful nicety. It was on this account that he opposed the motion of the hon. baronet, who had improperly lent himself to the passions of the people at the expense of the members of that House. It was all at their expense; for it was by describing them as corrupt and cruel, that the people were led to believe reform indispensably necesssary, and to expect every advantage from its adoption. There were many great men who had, on former occasions, delivered opinions upon this question, but he should confine himself to the srentiments expressed by the late Mr. Fox. He begged permission to read Mr. Fox's opinion on this subject—not because he considered himself bound to maintain the permanency or consistency 1481 of Mr. Fox's opinions; but because sentiments, most just in themselves, were upon this occasion expressed by him in a manner peculiarly forcible:—"We have higher obligations to justice than to our constituents; we are chosen the delegates of the British electors, for salutary not for pernicious purposes; to guard, not to invade the constitution; to keep the privileges of the very freemen we represent, as much within their proper limits, as to control any unwarrantable exertion of the royal authority. We are bound to promote their true interests in preference to the dearest desires of their hearts; and the constitution makes us the sole arbiters of those interests, notwithstanding the imaginary infallibility of the people. To show the propriety of this reasoning, let us suppose that the people, instead of this mixed monarchy, which we celebrate as equally the pride and envy of the Universe, should instruct us, their representatives, to introduce a democratical form of government; should we act as good subjects to our king, or as faithful guardians to our country, if we complied with so dangerous an instruction? Shall we then do what we are sensible is wrong, because the people desire it? Shall we sacrifice our reason, our honour, our conscience, for fear of incurring the popular resentment; and while we are appointed to watch the Hesperian fruit of liberty with a dragon's eye, be ourselves the only slaves of the whole community?" Upon those principles he thought himself perfectly justified in not concurring with the hon. baronet.
Mr. Alderman Wood
said, that he had heard it contended in that House that the freemen of boroughs ought not to be deprived of their rights. By their rights, he supposed was meant the public breakfast, or 24l. for every vote, as at Penryn. In London there were 12,000 voters, and they would have no objection to the addition of 12,000 more, if the number of representatives were not diminished. This, then, was the zeal of members for the rights of freemen—for rights that Were vendible to the highest bidder. There had been a display of this sort of zeal a few nights back Against a bill for very limited improvements in the Cornish boroughs. Many members had promised at the last election to support reform. For himself, his sentiments had been well known, and therefore no particular promise had been required from him. The 1482 motion had been brought forward later than he had wished, but it had no connexion whatever with the meetings of the people which had been alluded to. On the contrary, he was convinced that the object of the motion was to allay the indiscret ardour of the people, by showing that persons better fitted for conducting the question had undertaken it; and if agreed to, its effect would be, to produce tranquillity in all classes of the community. An hon. gentleman had objected that no plan had been proposed. Thus it always happened some plan was always referred to as visionary, and no plan that could be proposed would be satisfactory. The hon. baronet had last year proposed resolutions which appeared to him extravagant, and therefore he had not voted with him; but this year he had proposed no plan, and therefore he would vote with him. Of every thing in the hon. baronet's speech he approved.
said, it was his firm conviction, that on a reform of that House depended the stability of the constitution and the happiness of the people. An hon. member had urged that much good had been derived from the House of Commons as now constituted. This was indisputably true. It was impossible that an assembly of gentlemen, however selected, could deliberate and take part in legislation in the present age, without doing much good. But the question recurred, can we not derive greater good from it? If the House had consulted the good of the country, it was most unfortunate for that hon. member to have been uniformly opposed to the good of his country. If he had thought it necessary, he could have come prepared to specify many particular questions which had been decided by that House, and the numbers which divided upon them; but one instance he could state from memory, in which a different result would have been a great good. A motion had been made immediately after the peace for maintaining a large standing army. Particular good would have been got by defeating this motion. It was carried by 3 to 2. But if all the members for boroughs requiring reform were struck out of the number, the proportion would be reversed, and the motion for the large standing army would be supported by 2 to 3. He would ask, was not the county representation more pure than the representation of Penryn, Grampound, and Barnstaple. 1483 There never had been a question in which the feelings and happiness of Englishmen were more concerned than in the question respecting a standing army. When the people were roused into action, they were always sufficient to repel any invasion; and therefore a standing army, to a free people, and environed, as we were, by the sea, was quite unnecessary. Thus, then, it appeared, that the feelings of the House would have been more in unison with those of the people, if the representation were uncorrupted. He entertained the profoundest veneration for our constitution; but he was convinced that its stability depended upon the purity of that House. If that House degenerated into a nominative senate, wherein did it differ from the base instrument of oppression in the hands of an insolent despot, who bad carried desolation and rapine, to the remotest corners throughput Europe? He had had a nominative senate; but if he had had a representative assembly, he could not have occasioned so much mischief. It appeared that ministers did not consider any arguments upon this question worthy of a reply. If a committee were appointed to inquire into this subject, nothing but what was beneficial could result from its labours. As a friend to his country, as an enemy of corruption, as an admirer of the constitution, as an Englishman, as a lover of his king, he believed reform to be essential to the prosperity of the nation. He did not believe that the influence of the Crown had increased since 1780. It had never been so low as at the present times. But the influence of the government had increased. If the Crown should take an administration not acceptable to those who held boroughs, that administration could not stand. An instance had occurred not long since, which proved that the Crown was controlled by the holders of boroughs.
§ Mr. Grenfell
said, he was friendly to the throwing open of corrupt boroughs, and extending the elective franchise to the hundreds, or transferring it to the northern counties.
§ Mr. Alderman Waithman
said:—Sir; the speech of the hon. gentlemen near me (Mr. Grenfell), appears, as far as the proceedings of this House have fallen under my view, to be at variance with his own conduct, and inconsistent with the vote he has declared his intention to give on this occasion. The hon. gentleman has contended, that all our present evils 1484 have arisen,—not from the defective state of the representation,—but from the influence of the Crown; which has, since the time of Mr. Dunning's celebrated motion, been the means of increasing our public debt from 160 millions to the enormous amount of 800 millions. But, Sir, how could this influence have so predominated, if there were no defect in the construction of this House?—In our constitution, the House of Commons is the controlling power over the executive branch of the government;—the guardian of the public purse, as well as of the liberties of the people. If, then, the influence of the Crown, as expressed by Mr. Dunning, has increased, and is increasing, and by that means our debt and taxes have advanced to their present fearful amount,— is it not manifest that this House has lost its controlling power, and become inefficient?—that it is itself controlled, and requires reformation? Had this House exerted a vigilant and efficient control over the executive,—and had this influence been restrained by a free representation of the people,—could the country have been brought into its present calamitous condition? Upon what ground, then, does the hon. gentleman defend the constitution of this House, by which that influence which he so loudly deprecates is promoted and protected?—And how does it happen, that the hon. gentleman himself, should for so many years have felt it necessary to oppose that system of taxation and influence, which the majority of this House has always supported?— Would it not follow, that the hon. gentleman had always been wrong;—that the ministers were always right;—and, therefore, his exertions were uniformly rendered unavailing by the decisions of a pure majority of this House. The hon. gentleman has stated that he has sat 18 years in this House, and has often hoard similar propositions supported by a repetition of the same arguments. But, sir, instead of making this objection,— would it not have been better, if the hon. gentleman had undertaken to refute those arguments; which, however, he has left untouched. And is he not aware, with how much force the same objection might be urged against him, upon his favorite topic—the Bank.
An hon. gentleman (Mr. Wilmot), instead of attempting to meet the arguments, or to controvert the facts, in favour of reform, has imputed to the friends of 1485 the measure the base and wicked motive of endeavouring to inflame the public mind, by instigating popular discontent. This, Sir, is a natural way of meeting propositions that are unacceptable, and arguments that are unanswerable. I have heard nothing from the hon. baronet that can fairly be said to have any such tendency, nor can I conceive how the molion can have such an effect;—why else, it is said, has the measure been deferred to this advanced period of the sessions? I have had no communication with the hon. baronet on the subject, nor does it follow that, in supporting the motion, I should agree in his view or plan of reform. But, Sir, I can see no objection, either to the time, or the manner, in which this proposition is introduced to the House. On the contrary, after the sentiments of the people were so clearly ascertained at the late election,—after the desire for reform and retrenchment was so unequivocally and universally expressed,—after the result of all the popular contests had evinced a spirit favourable to temperate and practicable reform, and adverse to wild and visionary theories,—there was reason to hope, that the question would have been taken up by ministers themselves in this House;—that, seeing this strong and steady disposition, they would secure the respect and esteem of the country, by consenting to its unequivocal wishes. It therefore became the hon. baronet, and others interested in reform, to wait, and see what would be the conduct of ministers. They have therefore given the government fair play. The people have waited,—in silent expectation,—to know whether the government or the parliament would originate any measure calculated to allay their sufferings, and redress their grievances;—and what has been the result?—What has the nation witnessed? Why Sir, the session has been suffered to pass away, your deliberations are nearly brought to a close, and no measure of retrenchment has been determined upon, nor any attempt made to promote the principles of reform; on the contrary, you have only added to their burthens;—and, when corruptions so flagrant at Grampound, Penrhyn, and some other boroughs, were brought under the consideration of this House, that it would not be prudent, perhaps, altogether to overlook, as if fearful that too much should be disclosed,—a most cautious delicacy was chown to individuals called 1486 upon to answer questions calculated to discover the full extent of such moral and political depravity.
Sir, the people of this country are treated, on some occasions, as if they were destitute of common comprehension. They are thought to be incapable of understanding their own interests, and unfit to be entrusted with the exercise of those rights they inherit from their ancestors. Gentlemen are however greatly mistaken, if they entertain such notions. In one respect I have the advantage of most of the honourable members present; for, however deficient in talent or knowledge on other subjects, I have this superiority, at least, of knowing the real sentiments of a great portion of the British public, no one having mixed more with them, or been more accustomed to popular assemblies. I know them to be an enlightened, intelligent, and reasoning, community. I have recently canvassed some thousands; and, invariably, a spirit of sound and rational reform has appeared. I never could have obtained my seat in this House on any other principles. If the people of this country are not sufficiently enlightened to be allowed the exercise of the elective franchise,—I would ask, then, to what period of our history are we to look?— Even in times the most remote, our ancestors enjoyed this right. If, then, during the earlier times of our political history, they were vested with the sacred right of choosing representatives, will any hon. member have the confidence to contend, that they are now too ignorant of the constitution, or have too little attachment to its principles, to be permitted the full enjoyment of its benefits.
Sir, as a measure of imperious justice, —as a measure of national policy, upon which the safety and happiness of the state depends; this House ought not to separate, before some advancement has been made towards inquiry:—the very prospect of which is calculated to allay the irritated feelings of the nation, and encourage a tranquil confidence in the administration, and in parliament. By agreeing to the present motion, the House does not pledge itself to any particular measure: it merely gives an assurance, that, in the ensuing sessions, it will take the most direct and effective means to ascertain the real cause of alarm, distress, and dissatisfaction; and apply to them the best remedy which an earnest, and faithful investigation can suggest. Is there 1487 any tiling in such a proposition to inflame or to irritate the public feeling? Will it not, on the contrary, tend to calm the minds of the people?—The chancellor of the exchequer has lately thought proper, with this view, to hold out to the country some promises of economy the next session: these promises, however, appear to be a mere delusion, to get over present difficulties, and made for the mere purpose of passing down some most unpalatable expedients. The people pressed down with the weight of their distresses, covered the table of the last parliament with petitions:—those petitions were passed over with neglect and contempt. They have how-ever borne their sufferings with exemplary patience;—they have sustained with fortitude and forbearance, the irritating union of injury and insult. And what has been done, during the present sessions, towards redressing their grievances?—Why, Sir, they have complained of their burthens, and you have increased them;—they have asked for bread, and you have given them a stone;—they have complained of excessive taxation, and you have loaded them with three millions of additional taxes; and these taxes, on commodities that affect chiefly the middle and poorer classes of the community. A tax, for instance, of 4s. a pound is paid on tobacco:—the real value of the article itself is only 6d. The tax on malt is most oppressive to the labouring classes.—Sir, I am sorry 10 have seen the misapplication of knowledge and ability in an hon. gentleman to whom I have before alluded; had he given his powers to the cause of reform, he would have made a more formidable appearance. The hon. gentleman came evidently prepared with a quotation from Mr. Fox in his hand; but I would advise him to look a little further into the opinions of that great statesman, before he ventures again to quote him on that subject. The hon. gentleman will not surely pretend, that the quotation he gave was applied to the question of reform; it applied to the relative duties of members and their constituents. Mr. Fox's sentiments are well known on that point. He was of opinion, that in some instances a member might be instructed to do that which, as an honest and conscientious man, he could not perform:—I am of the same opinion, although I do not think such a difficulty very likely to arise. I wish the hon. gentleman to understand, that Mr. Fox was a zealous and 1488 consistent reformer, and a radical reformer; not in the sense that term is now applied: I wish, indeed, these silly catchwords were exploded, for there can he no reform but what is radical;—that is, wherever an abuse is found, it should be taken up by the root: to remove the top only would be to make it shoot up with more vigor. I would recommend the hon. gentleman to read Mr. Fox's speech on reform in 1797, the best speech ever made on the subject. In that speech he maintained, that "we had no chance of recovery without reform;" and that—"a day, an hour, ought not to elapse, without giving ourselves the chance of this recovery. When government is daily presenting itself in the shape of weakness, that borders on dissolution,—unequal to all the functions of useful strength, and formidable only in pernicious corruption, —weak in power, and strong only in influence,—am I to be told, that such a state of things can go on with safety to any branch of the constitution? If men think that, under the impression of such a system, we can go on without a recurrence to first principles, they argue against all theory, and against all practice." I need not remark, Sir, with how much more force these observations would apply at the present moment. The hon. gentleman has talked of other authorities, but he has not adduced any; indeed, all the great authorities are in favour of reform,—Locke, Justice Raymond, and fifty others, down to Blackstone; with lord Chatham, lord Camden, Mr. Pitt, and even Mr. Burke,—for, although alarmed, yet in his better days, and cooler moments he had avowed the same doctrine; and it is nowhere more strongly enforced than in his "Thoughts on the present Discontents," where, among other forcible reasons, he stated that, "the House of Commons was not instituted to be a control upon the people, but a control for the people;" and further, "an addressing House of Commons, and a petitioning nation; an House of Commons full of confidence, when the nation is plunged in despair; in the utmost harmony with ministers, whom the people regard with the utmost abhorrence; who vote thanks when the public opinion calls upon them for impeachments; who are eager to grant, when the general voice demands account; who, in all disputes between the people and the administration, presume against the people; who 1489 punish their disorders, but refuse even to inquire into the provocations to them:— this is an unnatural, a monstrous state of things, in this constitution. Such an assembly may be a great, wise, and awful senate; but it is not, to any popular purpose, a House of Commons." These are the sentiments of Burke; and which would apply now with tenfold force.
It has been objected by the hon. gentleman (Mr. Grenfell) that no specific plan was proposed; but, Sir, at various times specific plans have been proposed, by Mr. Pitt, Mr. Flood, and others, none of which were acceded to; and now, when a motion is made, merely pledging the House to take the subject into consideration, this is made a ground of objection by those who are avowedly against all reform, and who would equally oppose any measure of a specific nature. We likewise see the old objection again resorted to,—that the reformers are not agreed among themselves. Nothing can surely be more futile than such objections. Would any man be so absurd as to contend, that, because there was some difference of opinion among physicians, no remedy whatever should be administered;—much less, that the case should not even be inquired into? If inquiry were never to be made until all the members of this House were agreed upon the precise measure that should be adopted, no advances could be made in public business; we should be debating without end;—and you, Sir, might remain in that chair for ever. How is it with any measure which the government is determined to carry?—Is this unanimity necessary? —Did all agree in the precise nature of the income tax? No;—the measure was discussed, and conflicting opinions were settled by the vote of the House. So would it be with the question of reform, if undertaken with sincerity; but it seems, in questions that are to add to the burthens and the grievances of the people, these difficulties are easily got over;— but in measures which propose to lighten their burthens, and to redress their grievances, they are insurmountable. The distresses of the people are not denied; but it is said, Will a reform in parliament remove them?—Will it give them employment?—Will it feed the hungry? —Certainly not: no man would contend that it could have any such instantaneous effect;—but, as our present difficulties have arisen for want of a watchful and 1490 vigilant parliamentary control, a reform would tend gradually to remove them, and to guard against their recurrence.
Gentlemen deprecate the extension of the elective franchise, and exclaim, What! would you let in the rabble?— Why, Sir, you have already got the rabble: it is the rabble who vote in most of the rotten boroughs;—while the people of property and respectability are excluded. But, even in the great and populous towns,—Liverpool, Lancaster, and various others that I could mention, —how many of the rabble have the right of voting; while the persons of property and respectability residing on the spot are altogether excluded, and cannot obtain, even by purchase, the right of voting. An apprenticeship to a waterman or master of a coasting-vessel confers that right, although the parties may reside at the extremity of the kingdom. By a petition presented this day from Liverpool, and now upon your table, it is stated, that two-thirds of the resident householders there have no votes, and that two-thirds of the voters are nonresidents. Even in the city of London the freeholders have no votes;—nor even the resident householders, although citizens, unless they are also on the Livery. The county of Cornwall alone returns to parliament, exclusive of county-members, as many representatives as thirteen other counties:—and who will pretend to say that every borough in that county is not as corrupt as Grampound and Penryn? Sir, when these practices are brought to view, how do you propose to cure them? —Why, by extending the right of voting to the adjacent hundred; that is, by conferring the right of voting on those freeholders who already have votes, and allowing them to vote conjointly with the corrupt and perjured voters of the borough;—while the great majority of the respectable householders throughout the kingdom have no votes at all,—and some of the most wealthy and populous towns are totally unrepresented:—thereby, instead of allowing these boroughs to sell themselves, you turn them over to one man, who will sell them in the lump;—a condition infinitely more pernicious, degrading, and detestable.—It is said, however, that, if it were not for such boroughs, the commercial interest would not be represented in this House; but this, Sir, I deny; for, if the right of voting were transferred from rotten boroughs to po- 1491 pulous towns, and manufacturing districts, an equal number of commercial men would be returned in a free and independent manner;—while, by the present system, they are compelled to buy their seats, and, in return, obtain an indemnity for the purchase, by selling themselves to the minister. The landed interest has its full proportion of members;—and, as for lawyers, we are so over-done, that we are devoured by them; —but, the objection is not so much to their being here, as to the way in which they come here, and the purposes for which they buy their seats. If reform took place, this House would not probably be filled with better or more en-lightened members than at present; but, there would be this essential difference, that, obtaining their seats by the free suffrages of the people, they would feel an obligation to attend to the interests of those by whom they were elected, instead of their own. Talents, character, and property, would then have their due weight in the estimation of the electors; and we should no longer see men enter these walls, whose persons, or even names, were never before known or heard of at the place for which they take their seats, and with which they never had any interest or connexion.
Sir, a long course of ruinous measures, wantonly entered upon, and extravagant and boundless expenses, have so reduced the resources of this country, that if, unhappily, another war should be found necessary, there would be no means left to meet it. From whence came all this?— Can any member have the confidence to state, that, if this House had shown a watchful regard for the public interest, and acted with firmness and independence, the country could have been reduced to its present situation. The question now is, Will you look the evil in the face, and make a vigorous effort to retrieve the country?—Will you endeavour to effect a reformation, which you may yourselves guide and direct?—or will you wait until it be forced upon you, in a manner that you can neither resist nor control? The question can no longer with safety be postponed; and, unless this House will take timely and effectual measures to remove existing grievances, God knows whether any one will be allowed to sit here, or whether we shall have any house at all. Nothing short of a pure House of Commons, and a 1492 thorough reformation of abuses, can put the country into good-humour, and secure the affections of the people:—this, Sir, is the rooted conviction of my mind, and fire cannot drive it out of me. Am I to be answered, that such a reformation is impracticable;—that, to attempt it, would put to hazard existing establishments? Have, then, Sir, the abuses assumed so gigantic a shape, that it would be unsafe to touch them?—This would be an argument against further delay. Will it be said, that there are wild and extravagant notions afloat;—that the people are unreasonable in their demands? But, Sir, if the people are unreasonable,—if they do ask too much, is that a reason why you should do nothing? If you satisfy the honest and the reasonable, you would leave the factious and unprincipled to sink into insignificance, and no danger could be apprehended.
But, Sir, how are you to get rid of the question?—Can you persuade the people that no abuses exist? Will you pretend to say there are none? Can you prevail upon the people to abandon the pursuit of reform?—Can you, in short, contrive to set this question at rest?—Impossible! The people know how this House is constructed as well as you do: this question has been agitated, and gaining strength, for the last fifty years;—it has grown with the distresses and the burthens of the country, and is too well understood ever to be abandoned. I implore the House, then, to take this subject into its serious consideration: —apply a remedy to these abuses, and carry tranquillity and confidence to the people. Let the House search into the condition of the representation; and, if they are able to report (what, by the way, will be doing wonders) that such abuses do not exist, then indeed might the people be satisfied. But no, Sir, the abuse is acknowledged, and the remedy is refused. While redress is denied, we see exorbitant imposts demanded by ministers, and granted almost as a matter of course. They are opposed indeed by long speeches, which keep us here until three or four in the morning;—but nothing is done to alleviate the distresses of the country [Continued cheering].—Sir, I feel grateful for these marks of applause, as they have afforded me some relief at the present moment. I have been induced, by the kind indulgence of the House, to make larger drafts upon its patience than I at; first intended:—I shall, however, only 1493 trouble you with two or three observations more. As, Sir, every member of the House, whatever may be his political feeling, or of whatever party, professes to support the constitution, —it only remains to ascertain what that constitution really is. Is it a part of the constitution to have a free representation of the people in par-liament?—If that be the case, will it be contended that it would be unsafe to render it so? That, if freed from these abuses, the government could not stand? Is, then, the constitution a mere fanciful fabric,—beautiful only in theory,—existing only in name—that it requires the aid of influence and corruption to carry it into practice? If so, we ought no longer to venerate it;—instead of our regard, it would only call for our abhorrence. But, Sir, if this House really values the constitution;—if it be calculated to promote and secure the rights, the interests, and the liberties, of the people;—let us lose no time in freeing it from those impurities which threaten its destruction. The measure of reform must one day come upon us;—and I again implore this House not to shut its ears against the complaints of the people, by rejecting this proposition, but to give it all the attention and consideration which a question of such momentous and such vital interest demands.
, of Gal way, said, as the present motion was rather a notice of one to be made in the next session, he thought every argument on reform at present irrelevant. An hon. alderman had said, that his constituents, many thousands in number, were unanimously in favour of reform; but he pledged himself, if the worthy alderman would obtain for him a fair audience by those persons, that he would cause some of them to change their opinions. He had once spoken at Palace-yard against reform, and thanked the worthy baronet opposite for having then procured him a patient hearing. It those gentlemen who with him entertained opinions opposed to a reform in parliament were to attend popular meetings, their arguments would then be turned to more advantage than if delivered in this House.
said, that although a friend to parliamentary reform, he was far from 1494 entertaining those wild notions which had thrown discredit on the subject. The present question, however, was one which he thought might safely be entertained.
§ Mr. P. Moore
said, he would uniformly support any member who brought forward the subject of reform, and the oftener it was recommended to the attention of the House the better. Every great authority for the last 150 years had recommended parliamentary reform. Many years had elapsed since that House had voted, that the influence of the Crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished. If that resolution was well founded then, was it not much more so now, when the system of corruption was so far extended and so openly avowed? We went to war with France, to prevent the then growing spirit of parliamentary reform. The question ought to be constantly before the House in some shape or other, till the grand end was attained. Me condemned the Foreign Enlistment bill, the prop of Old Spain against the liberties of the patriots in South America. If a reform had previously taken place, no minister would have dared to introduce such a bill into parliament.
§ Mr. Tennyson
said, he should never bring himself to agree with those who believed the representation of the people in parliament to be in a condition which required no amendment. Nevertheless, he shrunk from the idea of administering any general reform, especially at a period when theories the most visionary and alarming were vehemently contended for out of doors. He could not therefore accede to the motion of the hon. baronet, for, so far from agreeing with a worthy alderman, who thought it would pledge the House to nothing, the House would, in his opinion, clearly stand pledged by it, to the early adoption, or at least consideration, of some organized and general plan. He considered it even more objectionable than a proposal, that the House should at once bind itself to a specific and exclusive mode of reform, because that might have appeared to supersede the necessity for any further discussion of various schemes and systems, either in or out of the House; but the resolution proposed by the hon. baronet, would excite the most absurd and dangerous suggestions, and possibly occasion very serious commotions in the country prior to the next session. Apprehensive, however, as he was of any 1495 sweeping and precipitate measure, he should ever cordially promote the most effectual application of all means casually arising, which, though partial in their immediate operation, might, with a constant and religious regard to the ancient landmarks of the constitution, gradually tend to a general and substantial reform. The cases of Barnstaple and Penryn, respecting which bills had recently been passed, and those of Gram-pound and Camelford then under investigation, afforded very desirable means of this description; but, he would ask, whether due advantage had been taken of such opportunities?—He wished also to inquire, upon what principle which had reference to ancient forms and practice, corrupted boroughs were opened to the neighbouring free holders, on whom, gratuitously and unnecessarily, a double representation, in respect of the same freehold, was thus to be conferred? [Hear, hear!] —The nomination of members would, by such a disposition of the franchise, in many cases, devolve upon one or two considerable landholders, and he would submit, that if the principle of representation were worth any thing in the constitution, the more substantial and extensive interests of the country should on these occasions be provided for. He not only agreed with those hon. members who had urged that it would be a more beneficial, but he contended and would undertake to prove, that it would be a more constitutional course, entirely to disfranchise boroughs so situated, and transfer the right to the most important counties, or to considerable trading towns, according to the relative expediency of increasing the proportionate representation of the landed or commercial interest [Hear!]. This, too, he was persuaded, while perfectly safe in itself, would tend greatly to satisfy all persons who entertained legitimate and reasonable views on the subject of reform. Though Mr. Pitt, in consequence of events in France, and certain mischievous proceedings in this country, had abandoned his own plans of general reform, and afterwards resisted those devised by others, yet he had never retreated from his declaration, that some reform was highly desirable, provided it could be applied with safety; and that Mr. Pitt would have concurred in the adoption of such a course as he was anxious for respecting corrupted boroughs, no one could doubt who read the resolutions 1496 proposed by that distinguished statesman in 1783; for it was precisely what resulted from them, when they were divested of all that tended to an immediate and general reform of parliament. On such and similar incidental means and gradual measures he should probably be ever contented to depend, and with these limited and moderate views he must oppose the present motion. Even if he suspected that the manner in which he was disposed to proceed in future with regard to corrupted boroughs, had not the sanction of historical authority, or at least of constitutional analogy, he should not press it so earnestly upon the House.
§ Lord John Russell
wished to state distinctly that he did not agree with those who opposed all and every system of reform. He agreed in the propriety of disfranchising such boroughs as were notoriously corrupt, and would give his consent to any measure that would restrict the duration of parliament to three years. He could not, however, pledge himself to support a measure that went the length of proposing an inquiry into the general state of the representation, because such an inquiry was calculated to throw a slur upon the representation of the country, and to fill the minds of the people with vague and indefinite alarms. The hon. baronet had complained that the reformers were represented to be wild and visionary theorists, and had called upon the House to state where those wild and visionary reformers were to be found? If the hon. baronet did not know where to find them, he would refer him to those persons who had advised him during the last session to bring forward his celebrated motion for annual parliaments and universal suffrage.
said, he supported the motion from a thorough conviction, that the House of Commons, as at present composed, did not afford to the people a full, fair, and impartial representation. He had anxiously watched the conduct of the recently-elected House, in the hope of finding there the faithful guardians of the public purse; but he was grieved to say, he had not discovered any improvement, nor a considerate and economical discharge of, perhaps, the most important trust with which individuals could be vested. He had heard language in the debate which had convinced him, that there did not exist that sympathy between the representatives and the people, that proud, and, he would call it, that happy 1497 feeling of dependence upon, and of connexion with, them, without which their rights and interests could never be cordially advocated and protected. The member for Newcastle-under-Lyme having boldly disclaimed being one of those who are guilty of the grave offence of ambitioning popular applause, thought that the hon. baronet had at all times lent himself too much to the multitude, and, in allusion to the meetings of the people, he had charitably stated, that the hon. baronet had availed himself of such a crisis to agitate the question of reform; and though unwilling to impute motives, he (Mr. Wilmot) could not help observing, that those meetings which he viewed in another light than of a seditious nature, co-existed, and seemed to have a strong connexion with such motions—motions which had, in his opinion, no other tendency than that of dissatisfying the people with their situation; and the hon. gentleman, at the same time, declared his unqualified distrust of all reformers, whom he accused of wishing to throw the apple of discord where they could, and who, whilst they professed the public good, were invariably found skulking behind the shield of their individual and private interests, and watching the opportunity to steal into the sanctuary of the state. How far this last observation applied to the hon. mover, and those enlightened statesmen of ancient and modern time, who were friendly to the principle of reform; or how far such imputation might not be retorted with tenfold effect upon those who so calumniated, it was not for him to pronounce. In the present acknowledged distress in all parts of these islands, he could not refrain from condemning any language which seemed to undervalue such distress, or such a total want of commiseration and prudence, as could unfeelingly apply epithets tending, not to soothe, but to irritate and inflame. If some members did not represent their money or their patron—if they participated in the feelings of the people—if they had a common interest, an indissoluble connexion, with them, such as, for the honour and interest of both, should exist, such language could surely not have been heard within the walls of parliament. True, there were meetings, numerous and frequent at this moment, but were they therefore "seditious" meetings? Were they produced by the hon. baronet's motion for reform? Had any speeches in that House created the universally-felt 1498 distress throughout the country? Was it this expected motion for reform which had run up the national debt to nearly 900 millions? that had induced the House, at a period of profound peace, and in the fifth year of that peace too, to impose three millions of new taxes upon the people, already pressed to the earth by excessive taxation? Was it the apprehension of this motion that caused the House to refuse the inquiry into the state of the nation at such a season of peril and alarm? which induced them to pass such a bill as the South American Enlistment bill? which induced them to keep up all the establishments to their present extravagant amount, and to negative every motion for retrenchment?—Another hon. member, while he admitted an enormously-increasing debt, increasing establishments, and the increasing influence of the Crown in the House of Commons, declared, that for 18 years he had held the same language, namely, his total want of confidence in all reformers, because they were not united in opinion among themselves, and had never been able to state what they wanted. As one of those who wished to see the House reformed— reformed by connecting the extension of the elective franchise with property—by shortening the duration of parliaments, and by curtailing the pernicious influence of the mercenary, and, in many instances, almost depopulated boroughs—he would state what he wanted. He desired to see an honest, full, and fair representation of the people, which he flattered himself could not fail to produce decreased taxation, and decreased influence. It was because he was as fully convinced as any man of the positive, substantial, and unequivocal blessings enjoyed under the constitution of King, Lords, and Commons (blessings and privileges to be found, perhaps, in few other states), that he was disposed to apply correctives in time, in order to restore and preserve a constitution, in principle equalled by none. He did not desire to pull down, but to repair. He wished to see the House of Commons purified by a rational, practical, and temperate reform, connected with the true constitutional principles of reform, Property. And, as it had been well stated early in the evening by a noble lord (Tavistock), he too wished for such a reform as would be radical in the correction of the abuses which had grown up in our existing institutions. He required no 1499 authorities to justify the vote he meant to give, though such might be cited in abundance; nor was he afraid of having his motives questioned; therefore he should not detain the House by any explanation of them. The motion went merely to pledge the House to inquire into the state of representation in the next session of parliament, without binding it to any specific measure. For himself, he was neither for universal suffrage nor annual parliaments. Who those persons are, so desirous as an hon. member would insinuate, to persuade the people that the "rich were not their friends, but their enemies," the gentleman had not explained. There seemed, indeed, a very prevailing inclination, and a kind disposition on the part of several who opposed the motion, to advise and lecture the hon. baronet; and surmises and insinuations had been generously thrown out, as to the tendency of such motions, and the possible motives from which they originated; though it was admitted, without the consciousness of the hon. mover, as to the impelling cause for the agitation of such questions, big at the same time with such mighty danger, not only to the House of Commons, but to all the constituted authorities of the state. He (Mr. H.) did not support the motion as a "sovereign panacea" for all complaints, but as likely, in its operation, to restore health and vigour where disease and corruption had already taken strong hold, and threatened to destroy, if not speedily eradicated. It was the rejection of such motions, and not their agitation in, or adoption by, the House of Commons, that, in his (Mr. H.'s) opinion, might convert the meetings of the people into dangerous associations—meetings which were recognised, respected, and even wisely courted by the constitution. After what had fallen from another member (Tennyson), he (Mr. H.) was sorry to know, that he should incur that gentleman's displeasure, and he apprehended that of the independent electors of Grimsby, in venturing to advocate a measure in such bad company as in that of the inhabitants and electors of the poor, ignorant, unthinking people of the contemptible, depopulated city of Westminster, who stood so low in public esteem, for having repeatedly sent to the House of Commons, as one of their representatives, so time-serving, necessitous, unenlightened an individual, as the hon. 1500 mover, who was so notorious for looking up to every administration for countenance and support, who had nothing to lose, but every thing to gain, by a reform in the House of Commons—by such a reform as would produce the terrible and revolutionary effects of extending the elective franchise to some of the most populous towns of the empire; as also, in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Grimsby to many of the wealthy and perhaps most respectable, but at present non-franchised inhabitants of those places! Who more interested in such a change than the hon. baronet? who, instead of continuing as he is at present, a poor, pennyless, troublesome, designing patriot, would all at once, in the general confusion, become rich, powerful, and somebody in the state, nay, possibly obtain the distinguished honour of sitting in the House of Commons for Great-Grimsby, and represent all its famed purity and patriotism! Yet, strange as it may appear, notwithstanding all this, he (Mr. H.) had resolved to support the hon. baronet's motion, neither awed by the frowns, nor intimidated by the sarcasms of those who, profusely dealing in every charitable insinuation, opposed this and every other attempt to reduce expenditure and reform abuse; nor was he ashamed to own that he ambitioned nothing so much as to merit the people's confidence, and live in their affections. He had unhappily witnessed in his own ill-fated country the lamentable consequences of a heedless, dishonest representation, and of an obdurate, profligate government; he would advise gentlemen to take warning by the state of Ireland. It was most unwise, instead of thoroughly examining into the causes, to deny the discontents of the people. The very disposition to afford redress would essentially tend to tranquillize and reconcile—the people conceive that an improved state of the representation would be beneficial to them—the present defective representation they consider as one of the national diseases. They do not want to disturb the pillars of the state, but to strengthen and ornament the venerable and respected fabric. Had the Irish House of Commons been vigilant, economical, and honest, the government had never been extravagant and oppressive. It was not the people there who combined against the state; but it was a stubborn unblushing system of continued refusal, accompanied by insult, a shameless combination of oppression 1501 and corruption, that drove the people to madness, and completed the ruin of that country. Had the parliament of Ireland attended in time to admonition and remonstrance—had they watched and checked the government—had they acted for the good of the people, and the honour of the Crown—had they been the faithful guardians of the public purse, the intrepid champions of the people's rights—equally persevering and undaunted in their opposition to what was wrong, as in the defence of what was valuable in the state, the rebellion of 1798 had not occurred, and Ireland would not now have to lament a rapidly accumulating debt, an increasing absentee list, a legislature far removed, and a House of Commons so composed, as to leave all the local concerns, in a great degree, to the protection of strangers for the most part ignorant, and not unfrequently distracted by conflicting, and in some cases, even entirely opposite interests; but by an obstinate denial of justice, by constantly refusing relief, by continued persecution, by mocking the people's sufferings and putting them at defiance, by crying out innovation, when a despised, calumniated, and much harassed people, desired but protection and justice; by such conduct, he had seen in his own country, her parliament bought and sold, the land impoverished and degraded, a provoked and desolating rebellion; until the same insolent and triumphant majorities, acting under the control of corrupt and designing ministers, after having long and obstinately denied the existence of any grievance, and refused the people redress and kindness, betrayed their sacred trust, and consented to have their country blotted out from among the nations of the earth, and to be becoming a degraded and dependent province of the empire.
said, he would not be deterred from supporting this question, because it was brought forward by an hon. baronet, who, by his conduct, had made himself very unacceptable to many members in that House. This he said with sincere regret, on account of the high respect he entertained for him. The hon. baronet had not shown himself a friend to parliamentary reform; on the contrary, he was very much its enemy, and had prevented many, who had formerly favoured the question, from latterly giving it their support. The hon. baronet, by separating himself from the gentlemen of the coun- 1502 try, had done injury to himself and his cause; because he must be aware, that no great object had ever been obtained without the concurrence of the aristocracy of the realm.
Sir Francis Burdett
replied as follows: —After the able support which the motion has received, and the very little argument which has been advanced against it, I have but few remarks to make. I am well contented that the question should stand before the public in the way in which it will be presented to them by this debate. In respect to the hon. member for Herefordshire, who has given me the advantage of his testimony to my good conduct, I feel a full sense of the obligation; and for the small degree of support which he seems inclined to give to reform, I beg leave to assure him, in the language of those who receive charitable contributions, that the smallest donation will be thankfully received.— As to the member for Middlesex who is pleased to say, that he considers it a great misfortune that I have disconnected myself with the aristocracy of the country, I can only say, that I cannot attribute it to any fault of my own, but to their desertion of those principles which alone can restore happiness and liberty to this country: it has been owing to those who suffer the differences of public opinion to disturb and embitter the relations of private society, and not to any feelings of animosity on my part. My endeavour has always been to persuade the aristocracy that their real interest consisted in being the leaders and supporters of the rights of the people; and I can only lament that this has proved any cause of offence.—The noble lord (John Russell) has thought proper to stigmatize, as wild and visionary, those resolutions for reform which I moved last year. One would suppose that there was some magic in these words, which are repeated over and over again, which are made to stand in lieu of all argument, and seem to be considered as a sufficient answer to every plan of reform on every occasion. The noble lord would do more credit to his talents and candour, and I intreat him to undertake the task, if he would point out the defects, either in the principles or in the reasoning employed in those resolutions, and I can assure him that he will find no one more willing or more ready to become a convert to the truth, when proved to be so, however different from 1503 any opinions I have hitherto entertained; but it is a little too much in the noble lord to expect that men should resign their reason and judgment, the result of much laborious investigation, from the mere apprehension of the unmeaning cry of wild and visionary.—The hon. member for Galway has been pleased to compliment me, for having procured him, as he says, a hearing from a meeting of the electors of Westminster some time since. I can assure the hon. gentleman that the compliment is unmerited by me; it is justly due to the electors of Westminster, who, I will venture to say, will at all times pay attention to any gentleman who attends their meetings, and conducts himself in the manner that the hon. member did.—The hon. member for Newcastle (Mr. Wilmot) has, I think, been peculiarly unlucky in the whole of his speech, and more particularly in his historical allusions, endeavouring to prove, from the insolence and folly of the language of a misguided king, the slavish state and condition of the people of England, without recollecting that that same king, for his usurpation upon the liberties of the country, and the violence of his conduct, ended his career by losing his crown and his life: I should, therefore, have rather adduced the example of that king, in aid of my argument, to prove the vigour and energy with which our forefathers resented any violation of the constitution, than have expected to hear it employed as a proof of their base and abject condition.—In answer to what has been said on different plans of reform, and which are practicable or impracticable, my opinion is, that the most practicable is that which obtains the greatest number of honest supporters; and to such a plan I shall be always ready to lend my assistance. I am happy to state, that the press has communicated many circumstances connected with this subject to the public with the greatest ability. An impulse has been given to the public mind, which will be long felt, and not easily forgotten; and, whatever may become of the present question, I am convinced, that the cause of reform will ultimately meet with the success which it so justly merits.
§ The question being put, "That the other orders of the day be now read," the House divided: Ayes, 153; Noes, 58.
|List of the Minority.|
|Anson, hon. G.||Becher, W. W.|
|Browne, D.||Bernal, R.|
|Barnett, J.||North, Dudley|
|Benyon, B.||Nugent, lord|
|Brand, hon. T.||Osborne, lord F.|
|Byng, G.||Pringle, John|
|Calcraft, John||Palmer, C. F.|
|Carter, John||Pares, Thomas|
|Clifton, lord||Price, R.|
|De Crespigny, sir W.||Ponsonby, hon. F. C.|
|Denman, Thos.||Phillips, C. M.|
|Dundas, hon. T.||Robarts, W. T.|
|Dundas, hon. C.||Robarts, A. W.|
|Ebrington, visct.||Ricardo, David|
|Foley, Thos.||Russell, lord Wm.|
|Fellowes, hon. N.||Sinclair, Geo.|
|Fitzroy, lord C.||Spencer, lord R.|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Smith, John|
|Graham, Sandford||Smith, W.|
|Gurney, R. H.||Stewart, W.|
|Harvey, D. W.||Tavistock, marquis|
|Hutchinson, hon. H.||Thorp, alderman|
|Hume, Jos.||Waithman, ald.|
|Kennedy, T. F.||Williams, Wm.|
|Lamb, hon. G.||Wood, ald.|
|Lemon, sir W.||Wharton, J.|
|Lloyd, sir E.||TELLERS.|
|Longman, G.||Burdett, sir F.|
|Martin, sir T. B.||Wilson, sir Robert|
|Madocks, W. A.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Maxwell, J.||Bennet, H. G.|
|Martin, John||Ellice, E.|
|Moore, Peter||Fitzgerald, M.|