Lord J. Russell
moved the Order of the Day for the continuation of the Adjourned Debate on the Second Reading of the Reform Bill.
§ Mr. Hunt
wished to ask a question of the noble Lord before the debate began upon the Bill. It was in a manner connected with the Bill itself. A Clause had been introduced rotating to the half-yearly payment of rent in the Case of the 10l. holders-holders. That Clause" Was objected to; and the noble Lord said, that the Only object of the Ministers Was, to take care that the rent reserved was bonâ fide. He wished to know what the Ministers intended to do in this matter? They said they should alter the Bill so far as that Clause was concerned: he wished to know how they meant to make the alteration; Whether it was to be left indefinite or not?
Lord John Russell
said, that at that moment he was not prepared to answer the question. The object the Ministers had in view was, to ensure the vote to the bonâ fide renter of the premises which conferred the right.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
then resumed the Debate. In moving last night the adjournment of this question, he had done it for the convenience of all, and also because he had a wish to be heard upon this subject. The noble Lord told them, that he wished the debate to be brought to an early conclusion, but he understood that the reason for that wish was very different from what they might perhaps suppose— a purpose different from what the House might imagine. He was told—the noble Lord would correct him if he was wrong— that they expected a great and grand illumination—for what they might consider a grand triumph—a triumph which he hoped and believed they would not get. He hoped they would be disappointed in this. He must persevere in the same honest opposition which he had always offered to this dangerous measure. With respect to this important Bill itself, what was it that the Ministry had brought forward? He had read it over most carefully, and he must declare, he found it just as obscure as the former—a more un- 805 intelligible chaos he had never known. It was a heap of nonsense and absurdity. And yet men had been returned to that House on a pledge to support this Bill. They had given a pledge to vote for a measure which they did not understand. Then they were pledged to vote for the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill, and yet it was most manifest that the whole Bill had been altered in its most important details. One of the important clauses was changed, so that the right which had atone time been confined to leases of twenty-one years, had now been changed, by reducing the term from twenty-one to fourteen years, and from fourteen to seven years. A question had been put upon this subject by the hon. member for Preston, who had much reason to be dissatisfied with the answer. That matter had been denominated in a paper which, perhaps, might now be called a Ministerial paper, "an unintentional slip." If the Ministers would make another "unintentional slip," the best way in which they could do it would be to slip out of the House, and riot return again. Notwithstanding all that had passed, lie retained the opinion he had before held. In that he was unchangeable—and if his Majesty's Ministers were to send him back again to his constituents—and they were men of such deep machinations—they might do so—he should still maintain the same opinion. It was said, that his opinions against Reform would throw him out of Parliament; but his constituents were more zealous in his behalf than ever they were before. He must allude to the shameful profanation of the name of the sovereign. He had always been taught to consider that the sovereign had no voice whatever—no deliberative opinion, on any constitutional question. How, then, was it that Ministers consented to the use of the name of the sovereign, when it was not legally supposed that the sovereign was favourable to one or another opinion? He honoured the name of the King as much as any other Member in the House, and therefore it was, that he so much deprecated the introduction of that sacred name into the discussions on this question. It was a profanation to have done so; although he admitted the fact that the King's name was a tower of strength, and long he hoped it might be so. But still the opponents of Reform had been menaced, and he for one was told, that his 806 throat would be cut for his determined opposition to it. But still the freemen of Lincoln had returned him, honestly and independently, and he would as independently discharge his duty. He believed the Reform Bill to be a democratical measure; but whatever it might be called it was revolutionary, in his opinion, and therefore he would oppose it. Some said that this Bill was aristocratic, others said that it was democratic. If it was aristocratic, how came it to be so popular? He should like to ask the people of St. Giles, whether they would support the Bill because it was aristocratic. He had a right to find fault with the Ministers for the time at which they introduced the Bill. They pretended that they went on the principle of population. If so, why had they not waited for the census of 1831 before they had made out their lists of the Schedules A and B? He knew that, in the case of Lincolnshire, the difference between the census of 1821 and 1831 would be most material. The population of Lincolnshire, according to the old census, was 283,050. It must be more now. With respect to Grimsby, he might observe, that, according to the old census, the number was less than 4,000, and therefore it was to lose one Member; but he knew, as a fact, that its population now amounted to 4,263. The Ministers depended on this Bill alone for their continuance in office, but the people would not be satisfied with it, unless it went further. The support now given to them would be withdrawn, if they did not go further than this Bill went at present; and if they did not do something more than it either promised or performed, to satisfy the wild desires of unreasonable men, he was convinced, that this Bill, in its present state, could not be a final measure. The elective franchise was not given in a due proportion to the population on the average. Some were unwisely admitted, others improperly excluded. Was the basis of this Bill to be population or property? If to be population, then the Bill would work most unjustly and most partially; if to be property, he would say, that the giving the right of vote to electors having 10l. houses could only be considered in the light of an usurpation against property, rightly understood. Why the franchise was given to the 10l. householders in boroughs, and yet denied in counties to the substantial farmer, who paid a large annual rent, 807 although he did not happen to hold his land under a given tenure, he did not understand. If it were correct to grant such a right, why should the principle not be extended to the farmer? It would be degrading and insulting to him to withhold from him a right which was granted to the occupier of a 10l house. Such distinctions acted partially, unjustly, and therefore offensively- If this Bill was carried (which it would not be), it would be followed by measures of free trade, and by meddling with the Corn-laws, but the country had already too much of free trade, too much importation of foreign goods, and also too much importation of foreign live stock. Upon the subject of this Bill, he had read with some interest the observations of the noble Lord opposite, though he could not well understand the distinction which the noble Lord (he meant the member for Northamptonshire, Lord Milton) had drawn, in his memorable address to the electors of that county, between what he called "delegate rights," and "delegate trusts;" nor upon what ground the noble Lord could advocate the "influence" of property, which would not equally justify what he denounced as the "illegitimate right of nomineeship." Be that as it might, the noble Lord had raised an objection to the "delegate" right of leaseholders, which it would take his present colleague some time to digest. In his opinion, the effect of the measure would be, to lessen the number of leases, and thereby diminish the influence of the landed influence through the elective franchise. These were some of the reasons upon which he should oppose a measure which altogether excited his detestation. For himself he could not conceive that this Bill was calculated to remedy the real evils of elections. He should give his decided objection to the Bill, and his strenuous support to the amendment moved by the hon. member for Sudbury, He should conclude by saying, that he would give to the noble Lord the advice given by that illustrious statesman, Mr. Burke, to those who would introduce rash reforms into the State. It was this:— "To avoid the evils of inconstancy and versatility, ten thousand times worse than those of obstinacy and the blindest prejudice, we have consecrated the State that no man should approach to look into defects or corruptions but with due caution 808 that he should never dream of beginning its reformation by its subversion, that he should approach to the faults of the State as to the wounds of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude. By this wise prejudice we are taught to look with horror on those children of their country who are prompt rashly to hack their aged parent in pieces, and put him into the kettle of magicians, in hopes that, by their poisonous weeds and wild incantations, they may regenerate the paternal constitution, and renovate their father's life." The Ministerial plan of Reform was a dream—it was a cataplasm intended to allay the public irritation; a mode by which the Ministers hoped to keep themselves in their places.
Lord William Lennox
said, that in rising to claim the attention of the House for a few moments, he trusted that the consideration which had always been shewn to a Member when he, for the first time, addressed it, would be extended to him upon this occasion. He would not follow the hon. member for Lincoln through his fanciful images of visionary theories and incongruities, but merely deprecate the system of making the House of Commons a foundling hospital for any Member's illegitimate offspring. He would refrain from going over the old beaten track, nor would he gratify those opponents who thought no Member could be returned, or no speech be made upon the question of Reform, without introducing what they call the revolutionary and unconstitutional' cry of the King and Reform—Magna Charta and the Rights of the People— Gatton—Grinding the Poor — and the purse-proud Oligarchy, and concluding with the cuckoo cry of "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." He would rather content himself with briefly and dispassionately noticing two positions taken up by the friends of the present system. The first was, the old hackneyed doctrine which had always been brought forward in support of every rotten cause,viz.— that though the system was theoretically bad, yet that, practically, it had worked well. Now could it be said, that a system worked well under which the petitions of the people had been treated with contempt, and that when they had called aloud for retrenchment and attention to their grievances, they were told that their distress was only partial. Could it be said that a system worked well under the 809 operation of which the country was groaning with an almost intolerable burthen of taxation, and that the funds which had been wrung from the hard earnings of the productive classes had too often been lavished upon sinecurists, who, in indolence and sloth, consumed the bread which others gained by their toils? Lastly, could it be said, that a system worked well which notoriously placed the Representation of the people beyond their own control, and introduced into the House of Commons nominees of certain titled and wealthy proprietors—men who, upon the principle of doing what they "like with their own," were fully as likely to exert their influence and votes to forward their own and their patrons' aggrandisement, as to benefit the people whom they were falsely said to represent? The system had been one altogether of patronage; and the manner in which it had been carried on was as outrageous to morality as it was pernicious to good government? It gave a scandal to the House of Commons in the eyes of the people; it did more: it undermined the very principles of integrity in their hearts, and gave a fashion to imposture and deception. They heard of individuals bartering their thousands for seats in Parliament, unblushingly selling and buying the franchises of the people, and making at the same time vehement speeches against bribery and corruption. These were the things that vitiated the system; that spread degeneracy, hypocrisy, and sordid fraud over the country; that took from it its energies of virtue, and sapped its foundations of patriotism and spirit. The next position taken up by the anti-Reformers was, that the nomination boroughs were the only means of introducing into the House of Commons men of high talent. He was ready to admit that men of high talent had been and still were, thus introduced into the Mouse, and if he required a modern illustration he would allude to a brilliant speech made by a noble Lord on the opposite side of the House (the member for Wootton Basset, Lord Porchester); but these visitations were, like angels' visits, few and far between. He was not, however, prepared to admit, that the good was at all commensurate to the evil; nor that it was fair to argue, that a good resulting from a bad cause justified the means by which it was obtained. As to the consistency of the nomination patrons, he would quote as an 810 instance his hon. friend, the member for Grimsby, late member for Gatton (Mr. Shelley). That hon. Member had made an eloquent appeal in behalf of his cause, and had found himself in a minority of 2,999 at a county meeting of Sussex, battling for Gatton as if it was for his heart's blood. Would that his gallant spirit and talents had been employed in a better cause! And what was the result? Why, at the dissolution, he, without warning, received notice to quit, not because he did not do his duty to his patron, but because his patron, on the principle of doing what he liked "with his own," accommodated another friend of the family. Now a good deal had been said of county meetings being farces, but could there be a more ridiculous burlesque than a Gatton election, in which the patron, the candidates, the constituents — if constituents there were—and he believed the hon. member for Gatton owned to eight, including the cook and gardener—could all be packed in and sent down by the Brighton omnibus. Was it not a mockery, a caricature upon Representation, and calculated to throw ridicule upon the House of Commons? In conclusion, he could only look at the success the Reformers had met with in the country—aye, even in Scotland, that beau ideal of a boroughmonger's imagination— as the best proof that the measure was congenial to the sentiments of the people at large. He would say, in the words of an able writer in The New Monthly Magazine—" As well might we expect, Canutelike, to arrest the progress of the ocean tide, at the bidding of a maniac, as to stay the great current of public opinion. It was not a question of expediency—it was a contest of right against usurpation, —the right of the middle classes, the wealth, and the intelligence, and the mainstay of the British name, to have a voice in the elections of those who are to impose their burthens, and who hold their purses and properties in their hands." He had no confidence in the anti-Reformers, still less in some who called themselves "moderate," "bit by bit," "little as needs be," Reformers. For it required all their ingenuity to point out the virtue of moderation when an evil was admitted on every side. If their houses were falling, were they satisfied with moderate repairs? If on a bed of sickness,' were they satisfied with moderate cures—" bit by bit,", and "little as needs be," alleviation of their 811 sufferings? No, their moderation was only extended towards the State, whose rottenness was their profit; but soon would there be an end to the system—a system which was, as it were, a political bastile— the last and tottering bulwark of the feudal borough mongers.
Mr. Keith Douglas
said, he was anxious shortly to state the grounds which he thought justified him in the vote he should give upon the second reading of the Bill. Though he was inclined to agree to some amelioration of the present system of Representation, he was opposed to the present Bill, because he considered it a measure of such extensive change in our institutions, that it would be impossible to foretel its consequences. He saw, that the measure went to strike at the existence of every corporation, in the country, and with those corporations he knew that all the laws and the property of the country, were interwoven. He would not, therefore, consent to strike so overwhelming a blow at the existing- institutions of the country for the purpose of substituting a system, of which it was impossible for any man to say how it would act. He had heard no reason whatever from hon. Members opposite, which could justify so sweeping a revolution in all the existing institutions of the country; and particularly had heard no argument in favour of the clause for abolishing or lessening the Representation of boroughs of from 2,000 to 4,000 inhabitants, which would not hold good with respect to the boroughs of 6,000 and 7,000 inhabitants. If a borough with 4,000 inhabitants should have but one Member, one with 5,000 or 6,000 should not retain two: and, on the other hand, if a borough with 2,000 inhabitants should lose its right of returning two Members, there was no argument justifying one with 2,005 inhabitants to return one Representative, which would not equally apply to a population some six units less. If the Ministers had proposed a measure for simply giving the franchise to the towns named in schedules C and D be would have given that measure his support, and then have waited to see the effect and working of that change before he adopted others, if they might be found necessary. But he was not prepared to risk at once the application of a measure of this extent and description. He thought it impossible for any man not to see, that further changes would be demanded upon the same 812 grounds, and backed by the same arguments. They were told, indeed, by the hon. member for Middlesex, and those who professed themselves Radicals, that they accepted this because they knew it would be a step to other alterations. The noble Lord who introduced the measure, had said, that there would still be a number of boroughs left with 4,000, 6,000 and 8,000 inhabitants, the Representation of which would be open to gentlemen connected with the colonial and other interests, and to those of the learned professions whose talents would be an ornament to the Legislature. But the noble Lord had failed to state by what means the voters in these boroughs were to be influenced to return such Members any more than those of larger towns, where exactly the same suffrage was to exist. Neither had they been told what benefits were to arise from the measure, or how they were to be brought about. Were the manufactures and the commerce of the country to be extended by it? And if so, by what means? He confessed, that although he had heard these questions often asked, he had never heard them answered with any tiling like satisfaction to his mind. He knew, that in the country they were easily and readily answered by saying, "Give us a Reformed Parliament, and we shall have a repeal of the Corn Laws, a reduction of the National Debt, and an abolition of the tithes." Now he should like to be told by what further measures these Reforms were to be accomplished, and who were the men expected to propose them. He must take the liberty, before he sat down, of referring to the Scotch Reform Bill, by which forty-five Members were to be exchanged for forty-eight, chosen on a more open system. To such an exchange he should not have been much inclined to object, had he not seen, that after it was accomplished, thirty-one Members were to be taken from the gross number of the Members of that House. Now those thirty- one Members were, in general, the Representatives of close places, by means of which the colonies were virtually Represented. One of the most powerful objections then, which he had to the Bill was, that while extending the popular influence in that House, by extending the suffrage, it cut off thirty-one of its Members, and of those who were returned from the closest parts of the Constitution, and who were 813 known by every man to represent the various interests of the colonies, and other parties who could find no other way into that House. As no direct Representation, therefore, was given to the colonies, and as their virtual Representation was destroyed by this Bill, he felt himself compelled, for that reason, and for others with which he should not detain the House, to vote against the second reading of the Bill. At the same time he wished distinctly to declare, that he was prepared to support such changes as could be made with safety, not unsettling the respect of the people for those institutions under which they had attained an unexampled extent of wealth, power, and intelligence.
Sir R. Lopez
said, that as allusion had been made in the course of the debate to the latter part of Mr. Pitt's plan of Reform, he was anxious to say a few words on this most important question. He did not pretend to rise either as the advocate or the agent of a numerous body of constituents; but, impelled by His own feelings alone, he rose to give his vote in favour of the present system of Parliamentary Reform. It had always been his opinion, that, when the period arrived, at which. Reform was called for by the united voice of the people, those who had private interests in opposition to those of the public at large, should be prepared to come forward and surrender them. The call for Reform had now been made by the highest person in the State: it had been heard far and wide, by the instrumentality of Government; and it had received great additional force from the appeal which had recently been addressed to the people. The period, therefore, at which the surrender he had just spoken of ought to be made by private individuals, had now arrived. He, therefore, as one who was much interested in the preservation of property, was now prepared to proclaim the idea which he had entertained from the first moment in which this subject was discussed, that it was his duty, on the present occasion, to abandon every selfish and personal interest. Satisfied he was, that no period had ever occurred in the history of this country, in which such a duty was more imperative. Considering how often and how loudly the public voice had made itself heard upon this question which had been exhausted by discussions that were almost endless, he concluded that it was needless for him to enter into 814 any elaborate discussion of this great question. He considered it impossible that any great measure could be framed so that all the Members of that House should agree in all its details. For his own part, he did not concur in all the provisions of this Bill; one great omission in the Bill was, that no provision had been made for securing seats to the responsible Ministers of the Crown. Another was, that the agricultural interest, which mainly supported the institutions of the country, and the prosperity, of which was the best test of national property as they contributed most to national wealth, would not have its proportional share of importance and influence in the Representation But because the whole plan of this Bill did not please him, he would not dissent from the grand scheme of Reform which had been proposed. He was certain, that on this occasion his best course was, to waive his private opinions for the. public good. A more vital and more important question had never been submitted to Parliament. He would only say, may the result be the preservation of this great empire in all its integral and undivided parts, and then he should be satisfied that he had been one of the first to have sacrificed all ideas of private interest to the great work of basing the Constitution on more open and liberal principles, while he supported a measure that was intended to conciliate and unite, as it ought to do, all degrees and classes amongst us, and the effect of which would be, he hoped, to obtain a secure and fairly-balanced Representation of all classes and orders and interests in the State.
Mr. F. Lewis
declared, in all honesty and sincerity, that it was his most anxious wish, that the House should really and effectually entertain the question of Reform; and he therefore felt it a point of duty that he should state his opinions upon the present measure to the House. But he could not help feeling the difficulty of doing this, when he knew that by so doing he and all those who were not prepared to give the Bill a blind and precipitate support, exposed themselves to the certainty of being attacked and taunted with all the slang terms, such as had been used by a-noble Lord that evening, and which had run through all the elections throughout the country, and which were enough to make men remain still, and join either the one party or the other in a silent vote, rather 815 than fairly deliberate upon and discuss, the best means of carrying a good and sound Reform into effect. He was determined, however, not to be driven from that coarse which he conceived the best, but to state his general opinions upon the subject of Reform, and to apply them to the measure before the House. In deference to the importance of the Bill formerly introduced, and to the quarter from which it had come, he had assented to the first reading of it. When it came fairly before the House, he found that it contained various clauses of which he could not approve. He had, in consequence, opposed the second reading-of that Bill. Since that time, Ministers had advised the dissolution of Parliament. An appeal had been made to the people; and, though he did not admit that the opinion of the people had been wisely formed, still he readily admitted that there existed in the thinking part of the community, whose opinions were certainly entitled to deference, a wish that the subject of Reform should be taken into consideration. He said that, of the public voice generally, and specifically of the voice of his constituents. He did not mean to say, that his constituents were unanimous in support of the Bill—by no means; he meant to say, that as a body they were favourable to Reform, though they entertained grave doubts as to the propriety of the present Bill. In spite of the obloquy to which such a declaration might expose him, he would declare, that looking at the situation in which he was placed, and also at the opinions of his constituents, he felt himself bound to go as far with this question as, consistently, he could, without surrendering his own judgment—a surrender to which he, for one, never would consent. These were reasons sufficient to incline him very strongly to vote for the second reading of the Bill, and he had therefore, listened with anxious and eager ears to the arguments in its support, in the hope that the objections which pressed with irresistible force upon his mind might be removed or shaken. And what had been the result? This debate he considered to be peculiarly different from every other debate which he had yet heard in the House of Commons. He had heard it gravely asserted in that House, that none of our institutions were stationary, and that as in history we had formerly had our Revolution, so now we ought to have our Reform? He 816 had heard on one side of the House practical objections to details of the Bill repeated over and over again, while from the other side they had received no answer but brilliant and beautiful speeches about the necessity of political and social improvement going hand in hand, all which generalities might be very true in themselves, but did they justify the House in passing all the provisions of this Bill into laws? The hon. member for Calne, on the previous night, had delivered a speech of enchanting and overpowering eloquence; but he would say of it, that if the hon. and learned member for Kerry should, five years hence, move for the Repeal of the Union, as he fully believed he would, under far more favourable auspices, then, if the speech of the hon. member for Calne were taken, and the word Repeal substituted for that of Reform, he would ask any man, if every word of the speech would not be as applicable and as forcible applied to that question as to the one upon which it was delivered? That might be so—but this Bill, he would contend, was not Reform. There were many objections to this Bill in detail, too numerous to be gone over now, of which the House must get rid, before it proceeded to pass it into a law. He felt it due to himself and to his constituents to state, that this Bill ought to be fairly, and calmly, and deliberately considered. He felt in his conscience that he had himself given it a fair, and an honest, and a sincere consideration, with an earnest desire to put it in such a shape as would justify him in giving it his assent. But he should be acting insincerely to the House, if he stated that he thought that all the objects of the proposers of this Bill would be answered by giving to their project the force of law. There were one or two serious difficulties which they ought at once to consider. The preamble stated, in the first place, that it was desirable to deprive many boroughs of the right to return Members to Parliament, and, in the next place, that it was desirable to grant this privilege to several considerable towns. He was thus called on to deprive some places of the power of returning Members, and this was certainly very painful, unless sufficient cause were shewn. If it were proved, that it was desirable to do this, then he should consent to it—that is, if it were proved, that the right of voting in such places was so much under im- 817 proper influence that the place was open to corruption. When this was proved, in all such cases, he should entirely concur. The right to deprive boroughs of their franchise for proved corruption was acknowledged, but where is that proved? He admitted the desirableness of giving the franchise to the large towns; but he could not admit the desirableness of disfranchising these boroughs, and, therefore, he objected to coupling these two, disfranchising and enfranchising parts of the Bill together in the preamble by the conjunction "and." He would not, however, go into his objections to the details of this Bill at present. He would only observe, that as the Bill had a tendency, not to improve, but to destroy the present system, he must pause before he gave it his support. He would submit to the proposed transfer of the elective franchise— but further he would not go. He hoped it would be made such a measure in the Committee, as he might be able finally to support; but he would state at once, that he had little hope of this, and that he feared he saw on the other side of the House a tendency to precipitancy—a wish to rush through with the Bill as if they were afraid of losing their object. He earnestly hoped, that no such spirit would prevail, but that every part of the Bill, and every suggestion for its improvement, would be fully and deliberately entertained. He thought it right to say, that as he voted for General Gascoyne's motion in a perfect spirit of sincerity, so he never would accept any Reform coupled with a proposition for taking away thirty or forty of the English Members from that House. If a few Members were wanting to make up the number it—Scotland and Ireland, he did not know that he should stand upon that point; but to any further reduction of English influence in the House of Commons he never would consent. He believed, most fully and sincerely, that the inevitable result of carrying the Irish Reform Bill, and at the same time taking away from the number of English Members, would be, that they should have the Repeal of the Union carried in five years. That it would be done in ten years appeared to him a matter of certainty, but he fully believed that it would not require five. Every reason now advanced in favour of this measure would have the same force as applied to that, and having been once admitted, they would be afterwards irre- 818 sistible. Prophesying was, in general, a foolish thing; but he firmly believed, that the result of passing this Bill would be such as he had stated. Many hon. Gentlemen had objected to the anomalies of this Bill—he objected to its uniformity. Why should the same principle of qualification be applied to the borough of New Radnor and to the opulent and populous parish of Marylebone? Why should a 10l. qualification be the qualification for the elective franchise in two places so dissimilar as to influence population and wealth? Another objection which he had strongly entertained had been partly removed—he meant the appointment of Privy Councillors to settle the divisions of counties. This had been very properly transferred to parliamentary Commissioners, but the change did not go far enough. He trusted that, whether the individuals to be so appointed should emanate from that House or not, the result of their investigations would be laid upon the Table of that House before they were acted upon. There were many private and party interests mixed up with that part of the subject, and he sincerely hoped there would be no desire to precipitate the Bill, so as that this most material matter should be neglected, and afterwards give rise to heart burnings and discontent. He called upon them to take time. He wished from the bottom of his heart that the House and the country would believe, what he knew to be true, that they had accomplished their object, and secured the question of Reform. He stated it as his deliberate conviction, that a Reform of the Representation of the country would and must come—let who would obstruct—let who would gainsay it. The House, then, secure in this, were doubly responsible to their country and to posterity for the acts which they should adopt. If they acted precipitately and rashly, their work must be imperfect; but let them inquire, let them call for information, let them, after they had obtained, discuss and examine it, and then they would produce a good measure; but if they trusted the formation and management of the measure to individuals who had dealt in no topics save those of declamation and exasperation—if that which such individuals proposed should not only be made law, but more important than all laws—if, in short, the House should leave them to decide, not only what places but; 819 also what individuals should return Members to that House, they would commit an act which was not only in itself dangerous, but which was also calculated to expose them to endless trouble, for mistakes would inevitably be made, which they of necessity must rectify.
§ Mr. John Campbell
Every one must admire the candour and sincerity which have marked the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down; and every one must honour the doubts and difficulties which perplex his mind. I gather a very favourable omen from his declaration, that he shall, nevertheless, vote for the second reading of the Bill. Indeed, the second reading may now be expected to be carried almost unanimously; for all profess they are for Reform, and the principle of the measure is conceded. The hon. Member allows that the measure is inevitable, and says, that the time will come when it must pass; but complains of precipitation. I say the time has come—the fullness of time has arrived. The subject has been treated in innumerable publications for fifty years. It has often been debated within these walls, and in the other House of Parliament, by all the illustrious Statesmen who have flourished during that period. This specific measure was brought forward in the last Parliament, and canvassed many successive nights. It has since been submitted to the people, and been sanctioned by their universal approbation. Farther delay ought not to be demanded, and will not be endured. The hon. Member has strongly objected to the appointment of Commissioners for dividing counties, and defining the boundaries of boroughs. It seems to me, that this part of the Bill has been greatly improved. The power to regulate the Representation of the people, proposed in the former Bill to be given to a Committee of the Privy Council, which might have consisted entirely of Peers, I thought highly unconstitutional, and should have strenuously opposed; but I cannot feel the same jealousy of Commissioners named by the House itself. The local arrangements which will become necessary, cannot be made directly by Parliament, and introduced into the Bill, and I am not aware of any mode in which the power of making these arrangements can be more constitutionally or more advantageously delegated. All the objections of the hon. 820 Gentleman opposite, apply merely to the details of the Bill, and if the introduction of the word "and" into the preamble would (as he has told us) tend greatly to reconcile him to it, we may hope, that when it has received a few amendments in the Committee, he will give it his warm and unqualified support. For my own part, the more I have examined the measure, the more I have approved of it; and the doubts and difficulties that rested upon my mind have entirely vanished. I can assure the House, that I proceeded to the consideration of the subject with the most profound reverence for the Constitution of my country. I believe, and I hesitate not to affirm, that there has been a greater share of freedom, prosperity, and happiness, enjoyed by the English nation under the English Constitution, than ever fell to the lot of any other nation in the world. My conviction is, that an hereditary monarchy, with an hereditary peerage, and an elective assembly, truly returned as the Representatives of the people, form the best Constitution that can possibly be framed for the welfare of any country. To renovate and preserve this Constitution I support the present Bill. If it were introduced merely to remove anomalies, or to gain some experimental advantages, or to illustrate some political theory, I should condemn it. If it were to make a new Constitution, no arguments in its support, however plausible, would weigh with me. I allow, that Constitutions cannot be made; they must grow up gradually, according to the circumstances of the people who are to live under them. I entirely concur in the sentiment of Mr. Fox, "that, if by some interposition of Divine Providence, all the wise men who ever lived in the world were assembled together, they could not make even a tolerable Constitution,"—that is, a Constitution adapted to the habits, feelings, and prejudices of the people to be governed. Any other must vanish like a passing cloud. A noble Lord (Lord Porchester) who spoke the other night with so much ability, in describing the failure of the Constitutions introduced into Corsica, Portugal, and Spain, seemed to ascribe this failure to their not having created rotten boroughs; he said, they had adopted the theory, not the practice, of our Constitution, and he intimated, that with a few Gattons and Old Sarums, it might have been trans- 821 planted, and would still have been flourishing in those countries. I must beg leave to differ from that noble Lord, and to doubt whether the English Constitution, either in theory or practice, would long endure in a country where no legislative power had been previously intrusted to the aristocracy, and representative assemblies were unknown. Violent changes are not to be attempted, at least in a country like this, where there is so much that is good to be put in hazard. The rule of wisdom seems to be—introduce such changes only as are necessary to remedy practical grievances, and to adapt the institutions of the country to the change of circumstances which time has introduced. The United Provinces acted on this rule when they threw off the Spanish yoke; and so did the United States of North America, when they achieved their independence. Such was the principle on which Lord Somers and the authors of the Revolution of 1688, proceeded. It was necessary to exclude Catholics from the Throne, and to correct the abuses of the prerogative. The dynasty was changed no farther than to the exclusion of Catholics, and the just limits of the prerogative were determined by the Bill of Rights. It has been said triumphantly, that the rotten boroughs were not then touched; but it should be recollected, that the grievance then felt was, the tyranny of the Sovereign in attempting violently to subvert the religion and the laws of the country. However, it is a grievous error to suppose that the Representation of the people in 1699, upon the accession of William 3rd, was in the same desperate state as in 1830, on the accession of William 4th. The number of close boroughs was by no means so considerable then as now, and above all, large towns without Representatives, and large classes in the community without Representatives, had not then exhibited the spectacle of a great nation that had outgrown its institutions. Let us take the metropolis as an example of the change which has since taken place. The metropolis then consisted of the city of London, the city of Westminster, and the borough of Southwark, and all the substantial inhabitants of the metropolis had a right to vote for Members of Parliament. At present there is an unrepresented population in this metropolis more numerous, and possessing more wealth and intelli- 822 gence, than all the inhabitants of the metropolis in the time of William 3rd, or than all the inhabitants of any other capital in Europe at the present day. If the same grievances which we now experience, had existed in the time of Lord Somers, he would have applied the remedy now proposed. What are these grievances? That a majority of the Members of this House are either the nominees of borough proprietors, or are returned to it by means of the grossest corruption—that many large towns have sprung up of late years, which are without Representatives, and that there are numerous classes, possessed of wealth and intelligence, from whom the elective franchise is improperly withheld. These are the evils which this Bill is to remove, and I contend, that it does not go one iota beyond what is necessary for the attainment of its object. If it had destroyed all distinction between county and borough Representation, and enacted that a certain number of Members should be returned, according to arithmetical rule (as some contend it should have done), it would have been an experiment departing from the basis of the Constitution; but having merely done what is necessary to destroy corruption, and to give the elective franchise to those who will exercise it for the public good, it leaves the Constitution entire. The Bill naturally divides itself into two parts—that which disfranchises, and that which enfranchises. The disfranchising part has caused the greatest tempest of opposition, and is that which is most clearly defensible. Much debate has taken place, as to whether the elective franchise is to be considered property or trust. Whether it be the one or the other, the Legislature has equally the right to modify it, or to take it away. If it be property, compensation is to be made to the owner; but, compensation being made, the owner of the franchise who is deprived of it, is no more aggrieved than the owner of land, which is taken upon a valuation, for some public improvement. But I utterly deny, that the elective franchise is property admitting of a pecuniary estimate. It is a trust—a sacred trust— conferred, and to be resumed, for the public good. If it could be shown that the electors of the boroughs in Schedule A, are legally in the possession of the elective franchise, as the Irish 40s. freeholders, were, when they were disfranchised, we should have an undoubted 823 right to deprive them of it without compensation, and without proof of delinquency. But I maintain, that these electors now exercise the franchise by usurpation and abuse. The boroughs in Schedule A consist chiefly of two classes—the first, of boroughs once considerable, but now in decay—the second, of boroughs which even, when they first sent Representatives to Parliament, were inconsiderable villages. The first class can have no right to retain the enjoyment of the elective franchise, since, if being summoned to Parliament amounted to a grant, it must have been subject to the condition that there should continue a town—that there should be persons to be represented. The grant was not to continue to the site of a town, which had become the haunt of deer in a gentleman's park, instead of resounding with the busy hum of men. The condition being broken, the grant is gone. With respect to the other class of boroughs, which began to send Representatives to this House in the time of theTudors—in the worst reigns of English history—their doing so was an abuse in its origin. The prerogative of the Crown enabled it to send writs to considerable towns, but not to the lord of any village, to vest in him a transferable power to return Members to the Commons House of Parliament. I deny, that it was a legitimate exercise of the prerogative of the Crown by which these boroughs were summoned to send Members to the House: they may be disfranchised, therefore, without hesitation or remorse. There is a third class of close, boroughs, which have the particular sympathy of the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge, such as Bath, for instance, where there may be an immense population and only twenty-five electors. Now, I say, that the alteration of this Bill, in throwing open such boroughs, forms a restoration of the Constitution, and not a revolution. As a lawyer, I do maintain, without the fear of being contradicted, that when boroughs were first summoned to send Members to Parliament, the terms of burgess and householder were synonymous, and all the inhabitants of a town being free who were sworn at the leet, had a right to share in the election of their Members. It is by a comparatively modern usurpation that the inhabitants at large of such boroughs have been deprived of the right of voting. Are the burgesses who now elect Members of 824 Parliament the same kind of burgesses who exercised that right in former times? No;—for they may be men without property—without education—without character—whilst the substantial householder —the man of education, property, and independence—may have no vote either in his native town or elsewhere. I say, therefore, that to throw open the elective franchise in such places to all substantial householders, is a restoration of the Constitution of old England, instead of being revolutionary. With respect to the fantastical rights of voting, which, for their variety, have been so much praised, I will again, as a lawyer, venture to affirm, they arise from usurpation, and can be ascribed to no legal origin. The law, after long usage, where there can be a legal origin, will presume the usage to have had that legal origin; but in these cases no legal origin can be imagined. Take the case of Fowey for example. That place was summoned to send Members to Parliament in the reign of Elizabeth, and the chief class in whom the elective franchise was vested, are Princes' tenants, qualified for the office of portreeve of the borough. It cannot be said, that Queen Elizabeth had a legal right to confer any such franchise. These rights of voting take their origin in corrupt decisions of this House, before the Grenville Act. A person who supported the Minister of the day had a small class of supporters in a particular borough, and in these exclusively was the right of election decreed to be, contrary to all law, justice and decency. This decision was supposed to form a precedent, and was the rule till a change of Ministry, when the right of voting was transferred to some other class, perhaps as little entitled to it. Then came the statute 2 George 2nd, c. 24, which enacted, that the last decision should be final, and perpetuated all the abuses of the preceding century. We are told by the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge, that this Bill is a corporation robbery. It is a curious fact, that if we examine Schedule A we shall find very few corporations in it. It consists chiefly of petty villages, that never reached the dignity of a corporation. But, in truth, the incorporation of a place, and the elective franchise have no necessary connexion. There are many corporations which have no Representatives, whilst, on the other hand, there are many towns which return Members that are not corporations. The 825 House of Commons existed for some centuries before there was any considerable number of corporations in England, and corporations were established entirely for the good government of the people, that there might be Magistrates to enforce the laws and to protect property; so that, when the right of voting in corporate towns is restored to those whose ancestors enjoyed it, the corporation will still subsist for all the purposes for which by law it was originally instituted. The right to disfranchise being established, the matter resolves itself into a question of expediency. If rotten boroughs arc useful to the Crown, the Peers, and the people, by all means let them be preserved. But if they impede the exercise of the just prerogatives of the Crown, if they are hurtful to the character and usefulness of the peerage, if they infringe the rights find corrupt the morals of the people, let them be instantly abolished. That the march of government is facilitated by the power now existing, of introducing the Ministers of the Crown into this House by means of the small boroughs, it is impossible to deny but this convenience is much more than counterbalanced by the thraldom to which the Crown is often reduced by a combination of boroughmongers; and if the necessity should arise, the privilege may be given to the holders of certain offices appointed by the Crown, to sit and speak in this House, either with or without the right of voting. There has been a new doctrine recently brought forward—not to be found in Blackstone or De Lolme— forming no part of that constitution praised by Montesquieu and other foreign writers of great name—that this House is the arena in which the three great powers of the state, are to struggle, and that in particular the Peerage are to retain a mercenary band of political gladiators or condottieri, who are here to fight their battles. Such a doctrine tends to bring the Peers into contempt, and if it were to continue to be acted upon, would be fatal to the order. In times like these, men must depend upon their own talents, their own energies, and the respect which they earn by their own exertions. I honour the hereditary Peerage of England, and wish to see the members of it preserve all their constitutional power and privileges. But these can only, be endangered by their sinking into inactivity, and devolving upon others what can alone be properly achieved 826 by themselves. If there should occasionally be some collision between the two branches of the Legislature, it is what has before happened in the best of times, and what, perhaps, may have a salutary tendency. A more plausible argument is, that young men of talents are introduced to the public service through the close boroughs. I allow that this result is not merely an accident, but an effect of nomination, and it is almost impossible to avoid being dazzled by the splendor of the names of those who by this "portal" have entered the House. But looking at nomination in all its tendencies and consequences, I am fully convinced that it has been the source of infinite evil to this country. If the patron be a liberal man, and there is a complete accordance of sentiment between him and his nominee, all goes well. But have we not heard of tyrannical and capricious patrons?—have they not sent mandates which their nominees were unwillingly bound to obey? Did we not, in the last Session, hear a Member, distinguished for his talent rise in his place, and declare, that he must vote against this very Bill, but hoped he should be found in a minority? What can be the effect of such declarations, and of the existence of the system which occasions them, but to degrade this House in the estimation of the public? No doubt thus some young men brought into the House gain great distinction, but do you not believe, that many have been introduced here, who, from the caprice of their borough patron, have sunk into apathy, or who have voted not once, but systematically, against their consciences, and have finally betrayed their honour?By Jove's decree, whatever fatal dayMakes man a slave, takes half his worth away.''An hon. and gallant Officer last night declaimed on the wretched state of the colonies, should the disfranchisement take place. Interpreted into plain English, this means, that certain boroughs are to be put up to sale and knocked down to the highest bidder. The rich nabob arriving from India and burning to serve his country in Parliament, is to be at liberty to buy the entirety of a seat from the patron of the borough, or the component parts of it by bribing the voters. Time has been, when India was represented, and a native Prince had seven or eight Members; in this House. Are these the glori- 827 ous days which the gallant General wishes to restore and perpetuate? If the colonies ought to be represented in this House, let it be done openly and directly, and let us be able to refer in the next Parliament to the hon. member for Calcutta, for Jamaica, or for New South Wales. But look to the general corruption which this system of nomination necessarily induces. If a Duke of Devonshire may purchase the property in a borough, to bring in men of talent free from all expense, a jobbing attorney may purchase the same property, and put up his seats to the highest bidder. Nor does it rest there. The sanction given to a violation of the law by Peers' nominations, introduces corruption and venality among a great part of the constituency of the country. If the sole owner of a borough may sell a seat for 5,000l. where there are fifty electors, each considers himself as owner of the fiftieth part of the borough, arid he considers he has a good right to 100l. for his share of the seat: so if there are 500, each claims 10l., and if all the electors Come in pari passu, when the "breakfast" is given, or the "cheesecakes" are distributed, the borough is thought very virtuous. The next step is, that the voter naturally thinks he may turn his vote to the best account, and sell it to the person who will give him the best price before he comes to the poll. What mischiefs, thus arise? A large proportion of the community learn to violate the law. These unhallowed gains are of no benefit to the bribed or their families, but bring on habits of idleness, improvidence, and intemperance. The Bribery Oath being thought an empty form, the sanctity of an oath on other occasions is disregarded, and the foundations of morality and religion are undermined.It is not, nor it cannot come to good.I must likewise point out the disgrace brought on the Peerage itself by this system, supposed to be so much for its advantage. If a man is detected in this traffic, he is liable to be prosecuted and punished. In my own time I have known individuals sent to Newgate for a conspiracy corruptly to procure the return of Members of Parliament; but individuals more fortunate have escaped detection, and have for the same conduct been sent to the Upper House, having acquired the means of nominating certain Members to this:Ille crucem sceleris pretium tulit; hic diadema,828 The worst consequences must necessarily flow from the present conflict between laws and manners. If the sale of seats and votes is in practice to be tolerated, it ought to be legalized, like the sale of game. No wonder the poor smuggler should not pay much respect to the law, when he sees; it openly violated by the Members for the borough, and possibly by the Lord-lieutenant of the county, I am afraid that the Members returned to Parliament under such a system of corruption cannot be as intelligent and as virtuous as if they were elected by the free and unbought voice of the people. But allowing them to be so, it is impossible that they should enjoy the confidence of the public or usefully exercise the functions of legislators. The scandal necessarily occasioned by the present system, alienates from Parliament the affections of the people. Laws, however wise, will not be cheerfully obeyed if made by legislators so constituted. There is always a tendency to disaffection among the people. By the constitution of human affairs, there is much misery to be endured in society, and the notion of the vulgar is, that this is all caused and may be all cured, by the Government. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that there should be a decency and propriety in the manner in which a legislature is constituted, as well as wisdom in its acts, Is it possible that this House can be regarded with respect, if a majority of the Members be returned by undue means? Those who buy will be suspected of selling. Suppose the Judges in this country were to buy their offices, and were even to administer the law with the same purity as at present, would they be treated with the same reverence? The only mode of regaining the confidence of the people is by taking care that the Members are freely chosen by the people. By the proposed disfranchisement this object will be accomplished. When nomination is at an end, the laws against corruption may be enforced, and the Representatives being elected with purity, they will enter on the discharge of their duty, enjoying public confidence and affection, and the inevitable evils which must still continue to afflict society, will be ascribed to the dispensations of Providence, instead of being considered the effect of misgovernment. I have now only to make a few observations upon the extension of the elective franchise to com- 829 munities by whom it is not now enjoyed. As to the great towns, no objection is made. An hon. Member has declared tonight, that he is not opposed to Schedules C and D; but he must recollect, that he cannot take C and D without A and B; for the new Members to be brought in by C and D will not have room, except by displacing those in A and B. The chief objection on this score has been urged against the metropolitan Members, who, for some reason or oilier, it is supposed will not be the ornaments of this House. I am at a loss to understand on what ground this supposition is made. The new metropolitan Members will be returned by a constituency of higher qualification than that of Westminster, for Westminster, it must be remembered, is a scot and lot borough,—every one who boils a pot having a vote—and only let us remember who have been returned for Westminster. I will not speak of the present Members; but history tells us, that Mr. Fox, and many others most distinguished for their rank, family, and eminent talents, have been returned for that place. When has a demagogue succeeded there? At every election one or more persons of that description have presented themselves as candidates, and how have they fared? What reason have we to suppose that Marylebone will not return Members as respectable as those of Westminster have hitherto been? With respect to copyholders and leaseholders in counties, I am not aware that any objection can be made. Copyhold tenure, though of base origin, is now as secure and independent as freehold, and it is monstrous to say, that a man who holds a lease for 1000 years, which is worth a clear profit to him of 1000l. a year, shall not have a vote, whilst a vote is given to the grantee of 40s. a year, for the life of a man of seventy years of age, who has had a stroke of the palsy. The great stand is against the 10l. qualification in towns. This is urged by some to be too high, by others to be too low. I own I deem it a happy medium. To allow every man who can boil his pot under cover to vote would be attended with many of the evils of Universal Suffrage. The man who does not pay 10l. a-year rent can hardly be above abject poverty. Paying scot and lot was at common law, a necessary part of the qualification to vote for boroughs. There has been much controversy as to the original 830 meaning of scot and lot. The object evidently was, to establish a test to discriminate substantial householders, and this may probably best be effected by the amount of the rent of their dwellings. Giving the right to householders has this advantage, that he who has it not this year may hope to have it the next. It is not like the freedom of a corporation, which can only be gained by birth or apprenticeship, or having a burgage tenement, which the lord of the borough will take care is never parted with, except to One of his retainers on the morning of the election. The occupation of a house of a given value seems to me to be a much better test of fitness to exercise the elective franchise, than payment of taxes to Government, or the wealth of each individual, which could only be ascertained by an inquisitorial scrutiny into his private affairs. It is said, that your electors are thus all of one class; but all classes ate included. Every head of a family, be he mechanic, or tradesman, of professional man, or man of independent fortune is a householder. It may likewise be observed, that as the qualification will be different in value, though not in amount, in remote rural boroughs, from what it is in great manufacturing towns, the constituency will consist of a different class, so that by an apparent uniformity of qualification, that practical diversity will be obtained which some hon. Gentlemen so much desire. The objection is urged, that the qualification of 10l. a-year is in all cases too low. It is easy to dwell upon the imperfections or vices of 10l. householders, or any other class in society. I might say, men of large fortune should not be trusted with the elective franchise, because they are sometimes idle, indolent, and profligate, and that they care for nothing except Melton Mowbray, Newmarket or Almack's:Rarus enim ferme sensus communis in IllaFortunâ "—But it would be absurd to disfranchise all men above 1,000l. a-year because some of them may be liable to such imputations, So the humble attorney and little shopkeeper, of whom so much was said in the last Parliament, may have their vices and infirmities; but I can see no ground on which the elective franchise can be fairly withheld from them. Nor am I at all apprehensive of there being any clamorous demand for a further ex- 831 tension of the franchise. The lowest of the people will, henceforth, be unsupported by persons of substance or influence, and will cease to be formidable. What I should apprehend as the danger from a reformed House of Commons, is, not that it will lower the qualification, to let into a share of power those who are excluded, but that it may attack the other authorities of the State, and seek to ingross all power into its own hands. But when the Constitution is restored and re-invigorated, these attempts will be unavailing. Such are the evils of the present system, and such are the benefits that may be expected from the plan brought forward by his Majesty's Ministers. An hon. Member has observed, that it would be convenient we should have two plans before us, that we may compare them, and take the best. But, strange to say, though all now acknowledge that Reform is necessary, no one has suggested a plan of Reform with which that of Ministers may be contrasted. I beg pardon, I am wrong— another plan has been started—it is the punishing of delinquent boroughs, and transferring their franchise to large unrepresented towns. That is a specific plan that has been gravely and seriously propounded in opposition to that before us. In the first place, I am much struck with this difficulty—why should these boroughs be delinquent for doing the very thing which the hon. Gentlemen opposite say ought to be done; they sell themselves— they furnish Representatives for the colonial, the banking, and the commercial interests—they give the opportunity for a person suddenly arriving from India, with money in his pocket, to come into this House; in short, they are the useful, necessary, and indispensable, though shameful, parts of the Constitution so much praised by the opponents of the Bill. If that plan were pursued—if all delinquent boroughs were eradicated, there would be no bribery and corruption —the Constitution would be destroyed— we should be in the situation of France, and have revolution follow revolution, until the frame of society is dissolved. But can there be a greater mockery—a greater piece of hypocrisy—than selecting one borough for punishment because it is detected, when no conscientious man can lay his hand upon his heart, and say that he does not believe the majority of the Members of this House have obtained 832 their seats by such delinquent acts. Again, how are you to discover this delinquency? In such places as Newcastle-under-Line, where 5l. or 10l. may have been given for a vote—I do not say that it is given— discovery might take place, but how could discovery take place in the case of such boroughs as Gatton or Old Sarum, where one individual is the sole elector? He receives a check from his purchaser on his banker, and the transaction remains for ever secret. This plan of Reform proceeds upon the principle that secresy is virtue, and detection crime. It is said, however, that supposing the plan of Reform proposed by Ministers to be good, it ought to be adopted step by step, and not all at once. Now, I will candidly confess, that when I first heard the noble Lord unfold his plan, I was somewhat startled, and I thought it would have been more prudent to have proceeded more gradually; but I have as little hesitation in saying, that, upon consideration, I think the Government in the right, and that I was in the wrong: the boldest measures are often the safest. If it be proper to go a certain length, do so at once, because, if you only go by degrees, it is impossible to say where you will stop. The people would not have been satisfied with anything short of that now proposed to them. A great deal has been said of the delusion under which people labour; but, Sir, they labour under no delusion: they are capable of judging for themselves—they have considered this measure, and they have approved of it in all its great outlines, because they believe, upon full deliberation, that it will be beneficial. Take, as a proof, their promptness in noticing the inadvertence of Ministers with respect to the clause regarding half-yearly payments of rent. It is no fault in the Government that none of them were conveyancers or attorneys, and that they did not know that in almost every lease of a house the rent is reserved quarterly instead of half-yearly; so that, if the clause had been suffered to remain as it now stands, more than half the intended constituency would have been disfranchised. The people, however, not being deluded, were alive to the fact; and I believe the noble Lord will say, that he had complaints and remonstrances upon the subject from every corner of the kingdom. In granting Reform, we cannot follow a better precedent than that set by the right hon. Baronet in the Catholic Relief Bill. Concession was 833 not made to the Catholics bit by bit; the veto was abandoned, no restrictions were imposed, and all disqualification from religious opinion was at once done away. There was one speck upon the bill which I am persuaded the author of it condemned, and only submitted to from necessity. The effect of that was, for a time, to exclude an hon. and learned Member from the pale of the Constitution (Mr. O'Connell), and to prolong agitation in Ireland. Fortunately, that hon. and learned Member is now within the pale of the Constitution, and I hope he will always remain so, for his own honour, and the benefit of his country. But it is said, that the times are unfavourable for such a. change as this —that revolutions are travelling over the world, and that it would be better to wait. It seems to me, on the contrary, that this is the very time when it is necessary to make such changes, in order to guard against similar revolutions; and if we do so, the storm may rage around us, and we yet remain safe. The probability of war, also spoken of as an objection, is an additional argument in favour of Reform; for do you believe that, without Reform, the people would bear the necessary sacrifices and burthens that a war for the vindication of our honour would require? Whether, therefore, we remain in peace, or go to war, this measure is equally necessary. I am not afraid of any sudden violence if the Bill should be rejected, but I do apprehend something worse. A riot may be suppressed; but deep-seated jealousies and discontents will prevail; by degrees the affections of the people will be completely alienated from our monarchical form of government, and they will be prepared for a desperate movement, which will involve all orders of the State in one common ruin. On the other hand, if the Bill now passes, we shall regain, and continue to enjoy, the confidence and the affections of the public, and our ancient institutions being adapted to the actual state of society, we may look forward to a long career of harmony and happiness.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
wished to know from the noble Lord (Lord William Lennox) whether he meant anything personal in his allusions to his (Colonel Sibthorp's) understanding.
Lord William Lennox
assured the gallant Colonel that he did not. He had intended to use, and he thought he had 834 used, the very words of the gallant Colonel.
§ Mr. Wrangham
assured the House, that he felt most sensibly the difficulties of addressing it upon the most important measure under its consideration, but the very extent of those difficulties rendered it his duty not to give a silent vote, but to endeavour to state some of those reasons, the operation of which induced him to oppose the proposition of his Majesty's Government. But before he proceeded, he must observe, that he did not rise with any intention of replying to the long, elaborate, and somewhat tedious speech, of the hon. and learned Member who had last addressed the House. When that hon. and learned Member applied himself to legal arguments, no one could question his ability and success; but from his political reasoning he must be allowed to differ. His object in rising, however, was to notice the principles and details of the Bill itself; but before he did so, he could not refrain from adverting to one or two points in the able and eloquent speech of the hon. and learned member for Calne. Of the splendor and ability of that speech there could be no doubt. It was rich in eloquence, in information, and in reasoning; but it was also rich in venturesome assertion—and it was rich also, to overflowing, in that most easy and cheap quality, political prophecy. He agreed, however, with much that had fallen from the hon. and learned member for Calne, for he was certainly convinced that considerable changes in the Representative system were necessary, and he would even say, that he objected, not so much to the extent of the measure proposed, as he did to its nature. He could not go along with the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Macauley) in characterizing the Government of this country as oppressive and tyrannical—and he would say, that an argument based upon such an assertion, was the last he should have expected to have heard in support of the measure. There was another point referred to by the hon. and learned member for Calne, upon which he thought it necessary to say a few words, for he certainly could not but object to the sentiments set forth respecting it. The point to which he alluded was, whether or not the elective franchise was property? He must begin by declaring, that he was not prepared to go to the length of affirming the proposition to 835 its full extent; but at the same time he could not consent to treat political power and political rights with that easy indifference which they met with at the hands of the hon. Gentlemen opposite. Much had been said of the danger of binding up political power and political rights with property, lest both should fall to the ground; but was there no danger in treating lightly the possession of political rights? Was nothing fearful to be apprehended from that reasoning which led people to imagine political rights were independent of property, and that the one might with safety and with case be separated from the other? When he found hon. Gentlemen so anxious to meddle with political rights, and to argue upon their nature, their origin, and the purposes for which they were instituted, he called upon them also to take care lest, by the course they pursued, they destroyed political power altogether. For, by what title, he would ask, did the highest person in the realm hold his authority and his prerogatives? He knew of no right which the King possessed to the Crown that was not in the nature of a trust, and therefore let hon. Members mark well the danger of dealing lightly with the rights of persons to the political trusts of which they had for a long series of years been the possessors. Let the House take care that in its dealing with political rights it did not do that which would lead to an infringement upon the prerogatives of the Crown, and upon the privileges of the House of Peers. So much had been said, and upon so many occasions, respecting the general question of Reform, that he should not detain the House by; offering upon it any remarks; but he should confine his observations more immediately to the particular measure proposed, especially its constructive part. The House, therefore, would not hear from him any defence of the system of nomination boroughs, but he should proceed at once to comment upon that particular part of the Bill to which he had alluded, namely, the creative part. He approved of giving the elective franchise to the large towns; that was an alteration which had long been wanted: and the only question respecting it which remained to be settled was, how was it to be carried into effect? Into that question, however, it was not necessary then to go, but he should proceed to mention clauses in the Bill materially connected with the 836 same subject, and which regulated the qualifications of voters in those large towns. From that clause he dissented; and he should comment upon it with freedom. He contended, that instead of extending the basis of the Constitution with respect to the diffusion of the elective franchise, it narrowed it. By the returns which were upon the Table of that House, it appeared that in the large towns, those places that would by the Bill be entitled to return Members to that House, the number of holders of houses of between 10l. annual value, and 30l. annual value, amounted to at least two-thirds of the whole. The same majority, then, would be found among the electors under this Bill, as far as the large towns were concerned, as the holders of houses between the value of 10l. a-year and 30l. a-year possessed over the other classes. He therefore could not understand how it could be said, that the Bill extended the franchise. On the contrary, it would narrow the basis. By the present system, all classes were represented, but by the system proposed, many classes would be wholly without that advantage. By the present system the aristocracy was represented through the counties—the Colonies and the commercial interests through the close boroughs— the artisan was represented through the vote of the freeman, and the labourer through the vote of the potwallopper. The argument that the present Bill would not interfere with any existing right, was, in his estimation, of no value; it operated, indeed, rather against the measure than in its favour; for if those rights were improperly obtained, or injuriously exercised, why were they to be tolerated in such a Bill? The argument was of a temporising character, and unworthy of further consideration. He hoped it would not be inferred from what he had said, that he was in any degree, even the slightest, a friend to Universal Suffrage. On the contrary, one of his objections to the Bill arose from the conviction that it would lead to Universal Suffrage, and he thought this from the unstable and dangerous qualification which it instituted with respect to votes for large towns. It was idle to suppose, that the qualification now to be adopted, would long prove satisfactory. It would be assailed, and altered, and modified, and at length swept away altogether. In this view he was justified by a reference to history. Let the House look at the re- 837 sult of the experiments which had been made in France. The number of electors had been doubled; and was it to be supposed, that if such an alteration could be effected, and with ease, a further alteration would not be required? The subjects, he contended, were perfectly analogous, and whatever difference might exist between the characters of the Constitutions of the two nations, that difference could not affect the reasoning upon this point, which was applicable to all Constitutions, and to all people. The operation, even of natural causes, would almost necessarily lead to this effect, for the qualification required by the Bill was a money one. Who knew that in the course of fifty years 5l. might not be equal to 10l. of the present time? What would then become of the 10l. qualification? Suppose a change to take place in the currency, and that the value of money was reduced, would this not affect the qualification? There were other causes which might lead to the same effect. The noble Lord at the head of the Government, had expressed a hope that peace might be preserved. No person, however, could be certain of this, considering the present unsettled state of France, of Belgium, and the whole of the Continent. The flame once lighted up, this country could not expect to escape. If war should break out, it could not be carried on with a gold currency. Another Bank Restriction and a depreciation of currency must follow; so that eventually the 10l. qualification would become equivalent to Universal Suffrage. This was a point which appeared to him well worthy of attention. He had endeavoured to shew, that the 10l. qualification was unjust, even if it could be maintained; and if it could not be maintained, that Universal Suffrage must be the consequence. In this consisted his principal objection to the measure. Any uniformity of qualification so low as this, must necessarily have the effect of throwing the great bulk of influence into the hands of that class who possessed the qualification. He intended to have made some further observations on other parts of the Bill, but feeling himself taken suddenly ill, he would not trespass longer on the time of the House, but take some future opportunity of stating with more clearness, and at greater length, his objections to the measure.
Mr. H. Lytton Bulwer
spoke to the following effect:—I thank the hon. Gentle- 838 men opposite, more particularly the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, for giving us a new advantage—for placing us in a new position—so that that argument with which the Reformers were assailed in other days, is the very argument with which we can most appropriately assail the anti-Reformers of ours. That nice distinction —those speculative differences—that want of unanimity in any plan or opinion, which was so much the subject of Mr. Canning's contempt and ridicule, have left us, to become the peculiar characteristics of our opponents. But that which is a proof of their real weakness, I am willing to acknowledge became, in argument, the great point of their strength, for no sooner have we answered a violent anti-Reformer of the good old school, than we are replied to by some gentleman,In moderation placing all his glory,Not quite a Whig, and yet not quite a Tory,who proffers us some pet little scheme of his own, of which we know nothing—of which he tells us nothing—but he leaves us to conjecture, that the principal object will be, to prevent an inopportune dissolution of Parliament. But I do not think I shall be doing injustice to the hon. Gentlemen opposite if I state, that the same horror of change which animated those who object to its principle, and deny its necessity, is equally predominant in others, who are willing to allow a very small alteration indeed, in order to prevent a more effectual one. I am not one of those inclined to suppose, that such Gentlemen as happen to differ from me in this important and difficult subject, are necessarily actuated by petty feelings or personal motives; on the contrary, history will tell us that high-minded and honourable persons have, at various times, been the mistaken but disinterested advocates of existing abuses— laying down their lives, and sacrificing their property, in their support. But what I do contend for is, that many hon. Gentlemen would be taking a much more manly and straightforward path, if they declared themselves frankly and unflinchingly the opponents of any measure of change, than thus to assume the title of reformers, for the purpose of defeating the cause of Reform. And indeed, Sir, if I were convinced, as those hon. Gentlemen state themselves to be, that those parts which we are about to change in our Constitution has been the objects of admiration to the wisest Legislators—the subject 839 of imitation to the most intelligent nations—then, indeed, I should be very unwilling to compromise or to tamper in any manner with change. But it is precisely that which the hon. Gentlemen have so very quietly assumed that I take the liberty to dispute. I say, that it is we who are the advocates of that Constitution which Montesquieu praised, and De Lolme described. It is the hon. Gentlemen who are the advocates of the defects in this Constitution, which some, indeed, have palliated and excused—but which none have pretended to praise, or attempted to imitate. I say, that those who have admired—those who have imitated our Constitution, have always considered it as we are now about to make it, a mixed form of Government, consisting of a King, intrusted with the executive authority; a House of Lords, exercising its functions from hereditary right; and a House of Commons chosen out of the body of the people. I know, Sir, that I am alluding to Constitutions which have furnished a noble Lord with warnings and examples; but if anything equalled my admiration for the spirited eloquence with which the noble Lord spoke on these subjects, it was my surprise at the ignorance, the willing ignorance, I must believe, that he displayed upon them. Mistaking the case of Sicily, misstating the case of Portugal, when the noble Lord approached his favourite manorof France, he certainly justified his boast of poaching there very unceremoniously. Any person, to have heard the noble Lord speak, unacquainted with this portion of modern history, would have imagined, that France, during the whole Constitutional Monarchy of the Bourbons, had been the scene of continued decay and uninterrupted confusion. But let any one look at France at the time of the Restoration—seeitscontendingparties, its fallen commerce, its ruined credit, its gross political ignorance—and let him again look at it under the ministry of Martignac, viewing its almost perfect union, the prosperity of its trade, the immensity of its resources, the increased and widely-extending intelligence—let him also consider the disadvantages against which the free institutions of that country had to struggle, in the absolute spirit of those who administered them; and I think he will say, that there never was a country under ft similar circumstances,-which, in the same progress of time, made the same progress in improvement that France did under 840 hat monstrous form of government against which the noble Lord so bitterly inveighed. The hon. Gentleman, however, maintains, that in all mixed governments, such as its theory at least would prescribe our own to be, the elective character would destroy the other two orders of the State, if separated from them; and they think they have proved this by a few modern examples. Might not we quote ancient examples of a House of Commons, constituted as this House now is, which did destroy the other two orders in the State, and waged a war, in which it was victorious (for it was a popular war) against the Sovereign? The fact is, that the hon. Gentlemen assert a truism while they maintain an error. If there were one power in a State, representing the feelings and the interests of the people, and there were others, it does not signify how many, which were merely the representation of themselves, of their own interests and their own privileges, there can be no doubt that that power which enlisted on its side all the sympathies of the community would be able, should they come into collision, to destroy the others, whether they should be two or twenty. But I have always considered the constitutional doctrine to be, that the King and the House of Peers are the hereditary representatives of the people, as we are their representatives chosen at certain periods. As all represent the same feelings and interests, so we are all supported by the same authority—the authority of public opinion; and if this is the support of each, is it not necessary for the safety of all, that there should be one of us, at least, who should be able to say what that public opinion is? But to come from theory to fact. The hon. Gentleman will ask, whether we have not arrived at a great pitch of prosperity, and whether it be wise to alter that Constitution under which that prosperity has been attained? Surely no hon. Gentlemen can be led away by such sophistry as this; surely they will see that a doctrine like this, which supposes that if the whole be productive of advantage, no alteration can be made in the details, would be in favour of any abuse now existing, of all those abuses that have been now abolished, and more particularly in favour of those abuses which the right hon. Baronet gained so much credit for removing. The country grew up to pre-eminence under its complex laws, its wretched police, its gross religious in- 841 justice. It increased in strength and power under the servile Parliaments of the tyrannical Tudors, and, let the hon. Gentleman remember, under the rule, equally arbitrary, of a Protector. But are those calamities to which we have been subject—are those circumstances which may have been so many impediments to our prosperity, to be considered as the only causes of our good fortune? Certainly it has so happened that our poets have immortalized our language—that our philosophers have added new stores to the wisdom of the world—that our navies have spread their dominion, and our armies signalized their valour on the Continent; but does it follow as a matter of course, that we owe all this to 160 Gentlemen, whom Providence has, from time to time, beneficently sent to Parliament to represent a broken down wall—a rotten park paling, or a hundred drunken pot-wallopers? Not that I mean to say, that those hon. Gentlemen were idle; on the contrary, while our men of science and letters advanced our national knowledge— while our armies and navies advanced our national glory—it is but justice to add, that the 160 Gentlemen in question were almost as actively employed in advancing our National Debt. But I am not anxious to exaggerate, when so much can be adduced without it. I will take the argument as I rind it in the hon. Gentleman's hands, who noticed, that although there may be imperfections here, as in all other forms of Government, still the House of Commons, as at present constituted, has been, to use the cant phrase, a machine that upon the whole has "worked well" for the benefit of the public. But let us understand what this "working well" means. If the hon. Gentleman means by such an expression, that the House of Commons has, to a certain degree, been a barrier against the encroachments and expenses of the Crown; that it has, to a certain degree, been a protection to the rights and liberties of the people, I am, I will own, not inclined to dispute the assertion. But let us remember, that in this sense of the term the present Council of Castile works well, the ancient Parliament of Paris "worked well," even Barebone's Parliament "worked well," and was found too independent for Oliver Cromwell. It would be impossible to choose, by any means whatsoever, a certain number of persons out of a nation, 842 without their being connected in some degree with the great body of the persons they were chosen from. But the object of all good government is, to connect the interest of the governors as closely as possible with that of the governed; and we have not to consider whether this be not in a certain degree connected with the community at large, but whether we cannot knit and unite the two more closely and inseparably together. The question is not whether this House of Commons works tolerably well, but whether we cannot have a House of Commons that will work better; and really, when I look at our villages, and see age going to the workhouse, and youth to the gallows—when I look at our colonies, in which slavery is still found, I cannot say that it works well. The hon. Gentleman has alluded to the changes which has been made in other countries—and certainly, when a change is too sudden and too violent, when the most intelligent, but by far the smallest number of a community rashly substitute a new government (better adapted to their own wants and wishes perhaps) for an old one, which, however, is still dear to the habits and the recollections of the people, the change is not likely to be beneficial. Such a change was formerly made in France, where liberty, for want of being properly understood, assumed the alternate characters of terror and licentiousness. The second was more recently the case in. Spain and in Portugal, where a modern Constitution, hastily adopted, was notable to stand against an ancient despotism that had not ceased to be loved. But if these are cases which render a change too violent and sudden, can that be said to be the case with us? Can this change be said to come unpremeditatedly before a people by whom it has been agitated for upwards of a century, and to whom it was presented in almost the same shape as at present about thirty years ago? Is it then the plan of a few, to which the many are ill-prepared and disposed? I think I can appeal to the hon. Members who for the first time take their seats in this House— i think I can appeal to the melancholy shades still hovering over yonder benches of the hon. Gentlemen who have departed from it—as an evidence of the fact, that whatever this change may be, it has at all events, the sanction of the great majority of the country. But it is singular enough, that the same hon. Gentlemen who con- 843 tend that the change is too sudden or too violent, maintain also that it is not sudden and violent enough—the angry declaimers against governments of theory —the enthusiastic admirers of our anomalous Constitution, find fault with his Majesty's Ministers for not having lopped off all these anomalies at once— for not having divided England into so many municipal departments—for not having constituted so many electoral colleges. If we are to have a change say they, in God's name let us have such a change as this. The hon. Gentlemen have adopted their opinions with too much facility to have looked very accurately into their foundation, or they would have found that many of the same anomalies exist in the present Constitution of France, which the hon. Gentlemen think that such a Constitution would necessarily abolish.— But before I answer this argument seriously, let me know whether the hon. Gentlemen are in earnest. If they are, let them come forward and propose that a National Assembly should be convened, and a new Constitution given to the country; but if that which they seem to call for is that which in reality they most shrink from, then will they do well to remember, that what is urged inconsiderately by them to-day, may be urged considerately against them to-morrow; and that it will be from the arsenals of those who stand here the defenders of the British Constitution, that its enemies will take their weapons to destroy it.—But whatever inconsistencies there may be in the arguments of the hon. Gentlemen, they arc, at all events, consistent in their conclusions. Whether this change be too sudden and violent, or whether it be not sudden and violent enough, it is equally certain that great calamities are to ensue from it. Would not any one who heard the hon. Gentlemen, imagine that the National Debt was due to five or six wealthy aristocrats, whose interest it was the object of the middling classes to promote? Is this the case? So far from it, this species of property is divided into such small proportions, that if the interest of those who derive their income from the public funds were taken at an average, it would amount to about 100l per annum. So that those persons whom the hon. Gentlemen suspect as likely to destroy this species of properly, are, singularly enough, the very persons to whom it belongs. But I 844 am aware, that even if I could persuade the hon. Gentlemen that the National Debt is safe, they would still say that the Church and the Aristocracy are so unpopular, that an adequate Representation of the people would immediately proceed to destroy both. This reproach, coining from friends, is certainly severe, more especially when we remember, that if there are any sentiments deeply grafted into society, they are reverence for the ministers of religion, and respect for those who unite hereditary rank with large possessions. Nor is there any example in history, of the one being despised, or the other detested, but through their own crime and misconduct. If the Church and the Aristocracy had really lost the affection of the people, instead of vainly endeavouring to prevent their fall, we should rather rejoice at having found a legal form for effecting it. But I do not think things are yet gone so far; and I should like to know who are the best friends of this same Church and Aristocracy—those persons who plead their unpopularity as an excuse for the maintenance of their obnoxious privileges, or those who would give them popularity as the means of preserving their power? When an ancient city decreed, that there should be no walls for its defence, did it mean to expose itself thereby to the insolence or the violence of its enemies? No, Sir, the legislator knew, and he wished his fellow-citizens to understand, that the real ramparts of a state are the valour and the virtue of its citizens. "Away," said he, "with those idle barriers, which may serve to delude you into security, but which cannot protect you from danger." So say we, away with those rotten defences, which the progress of intelligence has rendered untenable: let not the Church or the Aristocracy suppose, that it is beneath the worn-out works of past times that they can stand secure, if their present services do not sanction their ancient origin. Let them know—I wish them to know—the real nature of the prestige which surrounds them with inviolability to-day, but which the narrow-minded bigotry of the one, the ignorance and party zeal of the other, may weaken or may annihilate to-morrow. Let them know, that their only protection is public opinion; and that if they wish to stand secure, they must be guarded by a respect for their character and a sense of their utility. But the hon. Gentleman asks, if we cue certain of stopping here in 845 the course we are pursuing? Heaven forbid, that we should be certain of stopping any where in the course of improvement. Heaven forbid, that we should be certain, that at this, or at any time, the progress of civilization should cease, or civilization fail to be attended by its just results. I, at all events, do not presume to think that we can legislate for eternity. All that we can pretend to, by means of the present measure, is, that it seems likely to satisfy the principal wants of the present epoch. To pretend to an absolute authority over the future, would, indeed, be to adopt the notions of the hon. Gentleman, who would make us the blind slaves of the past; and indeed, Sir, it is not so much for the peculiar merits, as for the happy principle of the Bill before us, that in turning from the obscurity of those days which I do trust are set for ever, I accept this measure as the promise of a brighter dawn. We are at length about to obtain, in a peaceful manner, a new Charter, as precious as that one which our fathers formerly conquered, at the point of the sword. But there is this difference between our ancestors and ourselves—they fought for the liberties of the people as the inheritance of the past—we assert them as the prerogative of the present. They demanded the record of tradition—we claim the consequeuce of improvement. At length our claim is allowed; but how great have been the doubts and difficulties through which we have struggled to enforce it. Through many a long year were those principles denounced as theories by yonder hon. Gentlemen, which the voice of the country now unanimously proclaims to be truth. Thus many a long year did the hon. Gentlemen beside me vainly declare, in despite of those denunciations, that there would come a time when we should no longer suffer bad things, because our ancestors had suffered worse—that there would come a time, when the hoary head of inveterate abuse would neither claim reverence nor obtain protection. The time has come; it has come slowly, but it has come; rendering for ever memorable the reign of our gracious Sovereign, whose name is of happy augury in the annals of this country; and as it has hitherto been glorious by our escape from bigotry, it will now be celebrated for our deliverance from corruption.
said, he was not disposed to obtrude himself for any length of time on the attention of the House; but he felt 846 it due to the situation he occupied in the country to offer one or two observations on the measure then under their consideration. The noble Lord (Althorp) had assured the House last night, that the Aristocracy would lose nothing under the new system, unless they failed to profit by the advantages of property and station, or grossly misconducted themselves. He, for one, doubted much the accuracy of the views of the noble Lord on that point; and he confessed he saw much to alarm him for the safety of the rights and privileges of the Aristocracy in the events which had already taken place. Though by no means desirous or qualified to rank with that class called the Aristocracy of England, he felt himself called upon to deny the assertion that the Aristocracy would not be prejudiced, or their interests sacrificed, by this Bill. The obvious effect of the outcry of Government for that measure on which they were disposed to risk their fame and popularity, had been to shake already that weight, and influence which they had hitherto possessed in the country—and greatly, he thought, to the benefit of the public. He did not stand there to contend that these things happened in ordinary times, or without the use of more than ordinary influence. Manœuvres and artifices had been resorted to, which, in ordinary times, would never have been tolerated. If no other than ordinary means had been used, the result of the election would have been very different in the county with which he was connected; and that able and patriotic Gentleman (Sir R. Vyvyan) who had represented it in the last Parliament, would have still represented it at that moment. Let them not suppose, however, that the county of Cornwall was to be set down as decidedly favourable to Reform, because it had rejected that hon. Baronet, and returned his opponent, by a large majority. If all were excluded from the lists of the majority, who came to the hustings with the conviction that the success of the Reform Bill would demolish the tithe system; if all were excluded from the majority, who came to vote for the Reform. Candidates with the impression that it would tend to get rid of all taxes: if all were excluded who came to the hustings under an improper use of the name of the King, and who were led to believe, that by supporting the hon. Baronet and him, (Lord Valletort), and those who professed an attachment to the institutions of their 847 country, they were showing their disloyalty to the Crown; if all were excluded who came under expectations which are never likely to be realised, and promises never to be fulfilled—he would assert boldly, in his place in that House, that Sir Richard Vyvyan would at that moment be the member for the county of Cornwall. He gave the noble Lord (Althorp) and his colleagues all credit for the sincerity of their opinions, and the integrity of their motives; but he felt bound to say, at the same time, that, in his humble opinion, by the Bill then before the House, they were endangering the peace and overturning the prosperity of their country. At the same time he would candidly say, that nothing in the world would give him greater pleasure, than to see some plan of Reform propounded to the House to which he could give his assent. He thought that the Members of that side of the House had good reason to complain of the conduct pursued by the Government in the Debates on the Reform Bill. They were told that some must pass the Bill, because they had hitherto resisted all Reform; and they were told that others must consent to it, because they were willing to give some Reform. This was the course of argument pursued by the noble Lord who introduced the Bill, and he had illustrated his arguments by references—the aptness of which it was not for him to question, although he would say, that it gave him pain 'that the Lord had delivered them into such hands.' With regard to the question of Reform itself, it was a common course with the Reformers to ask those opposed to their plan of Reform, what plan they would be disposed to support? It was not for him to take on himself to propose any specific- plan of Reform; but he would state the principles which must form the foundation of any plan of Reform to which he could give his assent. He would say, then, that the House of Commons must continue to possess the power of controlling the momentary and passing will of the people; and that it had no greater power at the present moment, was evident from the effects which had followed the late dissolution. To that dissolution he appealed in support of his assertion. They were told, that the House must carefully examine all the measures which it allowed to pass into a law. Here was a plan of Reform, which required greater examination and more mature consideration than any ever submitted to Parlia- 848 ment; and was it likely to be examined and discussed with an attention equal to its importance? He believed, on the contrary, that if the discussion was left solely in the hands of those who were sent to that House for no other purpose than to deliberate on the merits of the Bill, those persons would pass it without any examination whatever. He would say of rotten boroughs, that he was not solicitous about them, and the Government might been do as it listed with that of which it no longer seemed to wish to avail itself. But there was one thing for which no provision was made by the Bill, for which he was most anxious—namely, that the connection should be kept up between that House and the House of Peers. Any measure of Reform to which he could consent, must preserve that legislative connexion between the Houses of Lords and Commons. When he heard that connexion inveighed against, as it was at the present moment, by the friends of the Government, and particularly by that part of the Press which supported the Government, he could not avoid entertaining some apprehensions of the consequences of their plans; and the more so when the House of Lords was threatened with all the consequences of revolution, if it exercised its legitimate privileges with respect to the question of Reform in the only manner in which, after the passing of the Bill, it would be able to exercise a privilege at all. They were threatened with the most fatal consequences to their interests, or, possibly, their extinction as a part of the Legislature, if they dared to exercise that which for ages had been never questioned to be their undoubted privilege. There were few men in public life who had the courage, or, he had almost called it rashness, to advocate, as it should be advocated, a right whose exercise was made the object of such a threat as this, more especially when the conduct of Ministers was such, that they seemed lost to all reflection as to the probability of plunging the country, by this measure, into revolution, and, possibly, all the horrors of civil anarchy. Such he regretted to find was the spirit which actuated, and the language which escaped from the Ministry in that House, taking the speech of the noble Lord, last night, as a sample of their general sentiment. He could not avoid alluding to another very formidable objection to this measure, which was, that should it pass into law, 849 he foresaw that it must inevitably cripple the prerogative of the Crown in a most important exercise of its duty. He meant to allude to its free choice of a Ministry, a task which on many occasions had been found one of not very marked facility. The influence of popular excitement and clamour, when the public mind was artfully directed by influential men to a particular set of opinions, had already, in the instance of the measure of the Ministers now before the House, been too sensibly felt, and violently expressed, not to give good reasons to apprehend that the same excitement might not be quoted as a reason why the choice of the Sovereign should not be directed to, or diverted from, anti-popular or obnoxious individuals. He thought this was no idle fear. In what manner were the Ministers to be elected after the passing of the Bill? He would, ask where was the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, or was it necessary that such a Minister should be present in that House"? He supposed they were to wait until the noble Lord was returned for some of the popular places which received their franchise from the Bill. He would conclude by avowing his opposition to the present Bill, although he hoped that the loudly declared wishes of the country, on the subject of Reform, would not long be delayed. The noble Lord and his Colleagues expressed great exultation at this; he would tell them what was the real state of the case. The party opposed to them could have continued the contest for a long time, and have granted according to their own views, that degree of Reform which their experience showed them was desirable had not the noble Lord and his party raised a force in their rear. He would tell them that it was to them the country owed the dissatisfaction which now pervaded it. They had excited discontent in the minds of the people. They directed men's eyes to the blots of the Constitution, and never held up to view its excellencies. They had made a contented people turbulent and clamorous for innovation and change, and at the head of all their appeals to them, they had placed the King's name. When the opponents of the measure saw this, they found that their position was untenable, and felt that it was necessary to look for some Reform that would save themselves. He, and many at. that side of the House, were honestly anxious to find some measure 850 which would satisfy the people, and do away with the evils which those Gentlemen had created. Perhaps, the efforts made by that party might still have been defended, if it had not been for the French Revolution. It was said, that that revolution had nothing to do with this measure; but he said it had. If he believed that the dangers did not exist—which, however, he was convinced did exist—if he could persuade himself that this Bill would confer the benefits which its supporters promised for it, he should feel great pleasure in voting for it; but the able speech of the noble Lord, the member for Wootton Basset (Lord Porchester) had proved, but too truly, that his (Lord Valletort's) gloomy anticipations were correct, that his fears as to the effects of this Bill were too well founded, and that he should be only discharging his duty to his country by doing all that he could, to defeat this noxious measure.
§ Mr. Strickland
said, that the hon. member for Radnorshire (Mr. F. Lewis) had adverted to the state of Ireland, and expressed his opinion, that the measure would lead to the Repeal of the Union. For his part, he thought the state of Ireland an unanswerable argument in favour of Reform, and such a Reform as was proposed, would, in his opinion, unite the people of that country with the Government. The present circumstances of that country demonstrated the absolute necessity of granting the people some great measure of peace, union, and conciliation. He must declare his conviction, that the people wished for no change which could bear the slightest appearance of revolution. The people, as far as he had an opportunity of learning their sentiments, desired a restoration of their ancient rights of popular election, but they desired no more. It had been said in the course of these discussions, that the new Members were compelled to give pledges to support the Bill, and nothing but the Bill. No such pledge had been exacted from him. Among the thousands he had canvassed, no man had asked him for such a pledge, and he came as free into that House, to express his opinion of the Bill, as any of the Members he saw around him. Although one of the Members for the great county of York, which he might more properly call a province of England, he was yet as free to state his opinions, and to take objections to the Bill, as the hon. 851 and learned Member opposite (Sir C. Wetherell), who represented a few decayed cottages at Boroughbridge, in a corner of the same county. With respect to the Bill, he might say, that although he approved of the disfranchising clauses, and thought it absolutely necessary to give Representation to the large towns, yet there were other parts of it to which he could not quite reconcile himself, and which he might say did not go far enough. If the Bill was intended to produce a final settlement of the question of a Reform in the Representation, he would ask, how that could be expected, when the county of Nottingham, with only 186,000 inhabitants, was to have its Representation doubled, while the great province of York was to have an addition of only six Members? Adverting to another, although a minor point, and one for which he was not inclined to oppose the whole Bill, he must say, he could not reconcile to himself the propriety of a division of the counties. He had always been much disgusted by seeing the bailiffs of noblemen and men of property driving up herds of tenants to the hustings, who were, if questioned on the subject, seldom able to tell even the name of the candidate for whom they were to vole. Now, he confessed, he was much afraid that the division of the counties would tend to perpetuate this system, and that, by seeking to make the elections too easy, they would soon hear as much of nomination counties, as they now heard of nomination boroughs. The hon. Member then proceeded to comment on the changes of opinion among public men, and observed, that the Ministry, which so triumphantly in one Session refused all concession to the Roman Catholics, and referred so boldly to the Coronation Oath, had unanimously agreed to unqualified concession in the succeeding Session. They had then, however, declared it to be their determination to resist all other changes. "Thus far shall though go, and no farther," was their motto. A single word against Reform proved in a short time destructive to the Ministry; and now, as if to prove the truth of the assertion, that truth is stranger than fiction, the right hon. Baronet, the member for Tamworth (Sir R. Peel), who refused the smallest possible Reform—who set himself decidedly against even the transfer to a great town like Birmingham of the forfeited franchise of a close, decayed and 852 corrupted Borough, had avowed himself a Parliamentary Reformer. Under such circumstances, and with an opposition of such a nature at that which now presented itself, he trusted the Government would persevere in the present course, and by reforming the Representation of that House, confer a lasting benefit on their country.
§ Sir C. Wetherell
said, that, although the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down represented the county of York, and he was but member for the borough of Boroughbridge, still, standing there in his place as a Member of that House, he would claim as much independency as the hon. Member, moving as he did in the larger theatre, and representing a county, or, as he called it, a province of England. Though the hon. member for the county of York, not boastfully, but with a good deal of confidence, said, that he was Member for a province, and that he (Sir Charles Wetherell) was the Representative of a small and limited place, what the hon. Member would, perhaps, magnificently call a speck in the province, he, nevertheless, laid claim to independency equivalent to the hon. Member's, and asserted the same right as his to stand forward independently and speak his sentiments. He dared say, the hon. Member did not mean to make any aristocratical distinction between the Member for a speck, and the Representative of a county; and hoped, therefore, that he stood well with the hon. Member, his provincial and superior in the county; but although he recognised the hon. Member's provincial superiority, yet he would not hold under him by any vassalage or villain tenure. As his superior, and lord of the province, he tendered the hon. Member the respectful recognition of his superiority. The hon. Member had illustrated his own independence by observing, that he came into Parliament as unfettered as the member for Boroughbridge, and if at any time the Member for one of the provinces taunted the Member for a borough with his want of independence, the Member for the borough would have a right to refer to the confession of the member for York, who could find no higher criterion of independence than a borough Member. Some objection seemed to be made to the reference which he (Sir Charles Wetherell) had made on a former occasion, to those who called out for "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." He cer- 853 tainly meant nothing disrespectful to any one, but he meant to signify, that the Members for boroughs were not in vinculis, and bound by pledges, and the county or provincial Members were. If, therefore, the county Member taunted the borough Member, the borough Member would reciprocate the taunt. He wished that he saw in his place a right hon. and learned friend (Sir J. Mackintosh)—Scotch by birth, but Yorkshire by his Representative character—but perhaps the hon. member for Yorkshire had never been in the borough of Knaresborough, though his right hon. and learned friend represented that speck in the province over which the hon. Member presided. With these preliminary remarks, he would proceed to make some few observations on the question of Reform. In the last Parliament he had declared himself hostile to the Reform Bill, and he must say, that all his objections were, since that period, multiplied and confirmed; and his judgment was strengthened by consideration in reprobating its principle, and condemning all its details. The general subject matter of the Bill involved a great many constitutional and elemental principles; but he would confine himself to two —the disfranchisement of the boroughs, and the extension of the right of Representation. By the first, 154 seats were decanted, if he might so express himself, to 154 other places. The corks were to fly out of 154 bottle?, and their contents to be poured into 154 new recipients. The next to which he should advert was the greatest and most important—namely, the change of the elective franchise—the change being this, that the right conferred by personal freedom in any city, town, or borough, which should escape the decanting principle, was to be destroyed, and for it was to be substituted the right of voting given to every man holding a tenement of 10l. a-year rent. These were the two main principles of the Bill; and to these he proposed to address himself. He had been charged with using too strong language when he called the disfranchisement a corporation robbery; and feeling his own comparative deficiency to those Gentlemen in the use of the English language, and in the application of very apposite and appropriate terms, he was ready, when they gave a more descriptive term of this disfranchisement, to give up his. Let them tell him what to call it, and 854 be would withdraw his description if it were too strong. Let any moderate Re-Former, or any violent Reformer, in the English language suggest a more appropriate term, and (to use an academic phrase) he would consent to be "plucked." But until a more fit expression was discovered, he must repeat, that this disfranchisement was corporation robbery. They might call it a bill of attainder against corporations—a bill of pains and penalties against them—or what they liked. To use an observation of Locke's, he cared little about the name, so long as they were agreed upon the idea of the thing. His hon. and learned friend opposite, whom he always heard with great pleasure, had charged the opponents of the measure with terming- the elective franchise a property. He (Sir C. Wetherell) had never so called it. But although it was not property, in the usufructuary sense of the word, it was property according to the general rules by which property was constituted and guarded. It was so recognized by a clause in Magna Charta, which he would presently read to the House. It was so recognized by the law of the land. It was held by Lord Chief Justice Holt, in the memorable case of Ashby and White, that an action for pecuniary damages might be sustained for the refusal of a just right of voting; for that that right was property, according to the uniform rule and practice of the law. He would trouble the House with a few remarks on the character of the disfranchisement which it was proposed to them to enact. The authors of the Bill laid violent hands on all the boroughs which were enumerated in Schedules A and B; the list of which was so numerous and appalling, that they thought it right to withdraw it from the Bill, and wrap it up in the Schedule; feeling that whoever had to read it must call for an orange or a glass of lemonade to refresh himself during his labour; and, therefore thinking that it would be better to make the Schedules the depository of it, and thereby save the Members the fatigue of its perusal. And here he would withdraw any offensive terms which he might have formerly used in speaking of the Bill. He would call it the Reforming of Boroughs Bill, or the Disfranchisement Bill, or any other name that would be more agreeable to the delicate ears of its friends. But he would now call the attention of the House to the passage in Magna Charta to which be had 855 already alluded; by which it would appear that the elective franchise was considered equally valuable—that it was placed on the same footing—that it was protected by the same laws of the realm—as freehold or any other description of property. The passage was as follows:—" The City of London shall have all the old liberties and customs which it hath been used to have. Moreover, we will and grant, that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and barons of the five ports, and all other ports, shall have all their liberties and free customs." He heard the deep and sonorous voice of his hon. friend, the member for Westminster, to whom he would only observe, that if he would have a little patience he would have the opportunity of playing the schoolmaster and of setting him right, if he was wrong. He could assure his hon. friend that he was not afraid of him as a pedagogue. He also heard the deep and sonorous voice of the hon. and learned member for Kerry. He was not afraid, however, of the exposure which the hon. and learned Gentleman was, he presumed, preparing for him; being quite sure that it would be accompanied by the hon. and learned Gentleman's accustomed good humour and sense of propriety. Those, however, who thought that they could set him right on the point to which he had just adverted, would have to show that it was a proposition contrary to law, that they had no more right to take the right of voting from a man than to take from him his pecuniary or other property. Some friend of the measure might exclaim, "What! cannot the House of Commons take away what elective franchise they choose V He (Sir C. Wetherell) did not say the House of Commons might not do so if they choose. He did not say the House of Commons might not pass a bill to take away any man's estates. He did not say the House of Commons might not pass a Bill to confiscate the splendid domains of Woburn Abbey. But the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Russell) would, he was sure, go along with him, in thinking, that any such law would be, not a law of right, but the law of the strongest—that it would be merely the jus fortioris—that it would be a knockdown blow inflicted by a majority. If that were the case, it would go to prove that there was something else besides mere power to be considered when they came to deliberate on the acts which Parliament might be supposed capable of carrying into 856 effect. The hon. Gentleman who sat on the summit heights behind him might say that this was a lawyer's argument; but he thought it would be found to be one of considerable force and application. He was not disposed to deny the omnipotence of Parliament; he was not disposed to doubt their power to cashier and cancel the rights of every Corporation, and to disfranchise every man in the kingdom. Abstractedly he was not disposed to question their equal power to do all this, as to interfere with all pecuniary and other property. They might, if they chose, abolish the Habeas Corpus Act; or adopt any other measure injurious to the liberties and interests of the people. In that sense of the expression, he did not deny the power of Parliament. But he supposed that any such proceeding would be generally admitted to be unjust, tyrannical, and oppressive. He would now beg to call the attention of the House to the opinions of several eminent men on the general subject of the disfranchisement of boroughs. The authors of the Bill acted as if they thought the elective franchise might be packed up in a box, and sent any where by coach. The elective franchise of Boroughbridge they proposed to pack up, and send down to Cheltenham; and the elective franchise of Aldborough they proposed to pack up, and send down to Brighton. But what had been the opinion of eminent Members of Parliament on this subject? When the Shoreham case was under the consideration of Parliament, Mr. Fox declared, that he could not go the length, because a portion of the electors had been proved delinquent, of disfranchising those who were free from offence. In that opinion Mr. Fox was supported by Mr. Welbore Ellis and Lord Eldon. When the Nottingham case was under the consideration of Parliament, Lord Grey, then Mr. Grey, objected to the Bill, because it was one of disfranchisement; and Mr. Fox maintained, that if the principle on which it was founded were followed up, not a Corporation would be left existing in the country. A more rash and tyrannical innovation on the Constitution than the present had never been attempted. The main principle of the Bill was, to raise up a new body of electors throughout the empire, by conferring the right of exercising the elective franchise on all 10l. householders. As he had observed on a former occasion, the tendency of the measure was 857 to democratise, he had almost said to sansculottise, the Constitution. Why, the French Jacobin philosophers of 1792 did not propose to render the qualification of an elector so low as the qualification proposed by the present Bill. The class to be invested with the elective franchise by the present Bill, whom, for brevity's sake he would call the ten-pounders, would constitute the large majority of the electors of the country, and would, in some places, be as three to one, in others as four to one, in others as five to one, compared with the higher classes of electors. The power was to be taken from the legitimate conservators of our ancient institutions, to be taken from men of property and rank, and given to the ten-pounders. Ten pounds was considered the golden rule—the happy medium between extremes. He would demonstrate, from a copy of the French Constitution in his possession, that the framers of that Constitution in 1792 did not permit the scale of voters to sink so low. Those individuals—Jacobins as they were in their hearts, and pedants as they were in their heads—not only did not permit the scale of voters to sink so low, but they made their voters pass through a kind of filtering-stone, in the shape of what they called an electoral body, in order to cleanse them from their political filth. Those voters were to choose, not members of the Parliament, but only the electoral body, which electoral body was to choose the Members of the Parliament. But what were the qualifications of the voters so limited in their authority by the French Constitution of 1792? By the clause in the Bill, the character of which the noble Lord opposite—not ignorantly, but inadvertently (he believed that was the favourite word), or by a clerical error, or by some other feathery light deviation from correctness, had nearly changed in a most material point—the qualification was fixed at a 10l. a-year householder. By the French Constitution of 1792, the qualification of a similar kind was required to amount to 15l. or 20l. What had his hon. and learned friend the member for Knaresborough stated, with respect to the qualifications of electors, in the well-known contest on the subject of the French Revolution between him and Mr. Burke? He regretted that his hon. and learned friend was not present to answer the advocates of the 10l. qualification. In that celebrated Treatise the "Vindicise Gallicæ," his hon. and 858 earned friend, speaking of the Primary Assemblies, and of the candidates, said, 'In those far more numerous cases where hey (the Candidates) are too obscure to obtain that notice but by the polluted medium of a popular canvas, this delegation s still more evidently wise. The peasant, or artizan, who is a primary elector, knows intimately men among his equals, or immediate superiors, who have information and honesty enough to choose a good Representative. But among this class (the only one which he can know sufficiently to judge) he rarely meets with any who have genius, leisure, and ambition, for that situation themselves. Of the candidates to be electors in the Department he may be a disinterested, deliberate, and competent judge. But were he to be complimented, or rather mocked, with the direct right of sleeting to the legislative body, he must in the tumult, venality, and intoxication of an election mob, give his suffrage without any possible just knowledge of the situation, character and conduct of the candidates." It thus appeared to be the opinion of this learned and eminent writer, that the classes to whom the franchise had been communicated in France, although higher than those to whom it was now proposed to give the elective franchise in England, although they might be competent to choose the electoral body, were not competent to choose the actual legislators. Perhaps some hon. Members would say, that "the tumult, venality, and intoxication of an election mob" was an expression not applicable to that numerous class of ten-pounders who were to have the franchise conferred upon them by the present Bill. In such an opinion he could not agree. He had stated, although not with any intention of throwing blame on individuals, but of defining the consequence of a plan, that by the new system many of the Members would be returned to the House as the delegates, not as the Representatives of the people; that they would be required not to exercise their own judgment, but to obey the mandates of others. In the French Constitution, to which he had alluded, it was, however, laid down as unconstitutional in a member of the Legislature to be so bound. He was to give an independent vote, and not to be instructed how to vote by his constituents. By the present Bill, would the citizen mob be made the masters of the citizen Parliament. The question under the consider- 859 ation of the House was not a question of party; it was an affair of State. He so felt it. The fact was, that it was not until the present Bill had been brought in by this conservative, or rather this despoiling Administration, that he had resumed his connexion with those with whom he had formerly acted in that House. He did so, because he felt that the question was not which of two parties should exist, but whether the Constitution which belonged to the people should remain; whether there should be any party, or any Government. The question was, whether they were to put down the Church, the Monarchy, and the Peerage? The question was, whether the Monarchy, the Peerage, and the Church were to be intrusted to the conservative care and honourable feeling of a plebeian body of voters; or whether the legitimate principles of the Constitution, recognised by the usage of ages, was to be supported and maintained. Was it to be supposed that these ten-pounders would be very deeply interested in the preservation of that balance which had hitherto been the boast of our Constitution? Were they calculated by their piety to be a conservative body as respected the Church, by their loyalty, to be a conservative body as respected the Crown, by their habits, to be a conservative body as respected the Peerage? And did hon. Members call this a restoration? If he were frequently himself unhappy in his phrases, he must take the liberty of saying, that he considered those as peculiarly infelicitous who termed that which it was now proposed to do a restoration. He would only repeat the admirable question of the hon. member for Callington— "When did that which you now wish us to adopt, form any part of the Constitution?" He would only beg any Lawyer in the House to consult Selden, and ascertain whether the hon. member for Stafford had been correct in the opinions which he attributed to that learned antiquary. He wished Selden was in the House. If he could so far indulge a flight of fancy as to suppose Selden seated by the noble Lord, he was sure he should see him jogging the noble Lord's elbow, or pulling him by the ear, and imploring him not to quote him as an authority for the Opinions which the noble" Lord had advanced. Let the measure be called a newfangled system, a Cromwellian system, or let it have any other nick-name applied 860 to it; but, let it not be supposed to have the authority of one of the most learned and eminent writers of whom England could boast. It was utterly impossible, that those who used the term restoration could deceive themselves into the supposition that they were replacing the elective franchise upon the footing on which it stood at any former period of our history. He would now advert to what had been stated with respect to the 10l. franchise by a learned Lord, and by the hon. and learned member for Calne, who had addressed the House with an eloquence and a power which he (Sir C. Wetherell) had never heard surpassed, and who had experienced so much well-deserved applause from the House. He agreed with the hon. Member in thinking, that the middle classes do form a body peculiarly qualified to enjoy fully the elective franchise. He did not differ from those who propounded the theory, that the middle classes consisted of persons whose opinions it was most desirable for a Minister to consult. But still they would remain at issue, as to the fact of who were, in truth, the middle classes—who were they that fell within the hon. Member's description. Not, certainly, he would declare, the 10l. freeholders of the Ministers; and he would explain why, although he feared he might be offensive in what he had to say. It was an indisputable fact, that great numbers of those ten-pounders paid their rent weekly—not half-yearly, not quarterly, not monthly—but weekly. Now, here was a class of men, that their landlords would not trust, except from week to week; and were they, he would ask, proper persons to be intrusted with the power to return Members to the House of Commons? Some people, it was true, did think they were; and, when it was supposed they might be possibly excluded, a body of persons calling themselves the Birmingham Political Union, had taken up the subject; and he was sorry to see, that the Prime Minister of this country had recognized that Birmingham Political Union: they had written to the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister had condescended to answer them, and explain the meaning of this 10l. clause. If that Reform Bill were to be a restoration of the British Constitution, he would ask the readers and quoters of Selden, if it was consistent with its ancient practice and principles, that a Prime Minister 861 should recognize by his letter a usurping body of men, who claimed to be a Corporation, but who were a self-constituted Corporation? Would it, he asked, be consonant with sound reason, that, even if the most extensive alterations were to be made—if we were to make a new State, a Prime Minister should recognize this arbitrary institution? If the Birmingham Union petitioned the House of Commons by that name, he asserted, it could not be received, because the petitioners would present themselves loaded with a character to which they were not entitled. In their individual capacity they might petition; but, they could not in their corporate character. He made these observations on the Prime Minister with regret; but, he made them with the independence of character, which always should be his. He would riot follow the hon. member for Knaresborough in the course he mentioned of venality, falsehood, and the degradation of telling untruths to anybody, but he would charge the Prime Minister with a great and glaring impropriety in recognizing, by his letter, an unlawfully constituted and falsely assumed Corporation. To return to the main object he had in view, the character of the 10l. voters, he must declare, that he believed the 10l. system would be highly mischievous, and that in the largest towns of England the 10l. men were paupers; and, he believed, in Bristol, and certainly in many other towns, this was carried to such an extent, that, from the destitute state of those people, even a poor's-rate was not payable. These ten-pounders were, in fact, a mere mockery of a, representative body. He ventured to assert it as a proposition in the abstract, that 10l. men were not fit for the enjoyment of the elective franchise. What, he would ask the hon. Gentlemen opposite, was this their conservative body?—the respectable constituency of the parish workhouse? But, for his own part he considered, that to solicit votes in the lazaretto, or in pauper establishments, was degrading to the character, qualifications, and station of a Representative. Great was the alarm, however, and great the indignation at the idea that this body was to be diminished. The hon. Members' opposite own beloved Press—their Morning Chronicle, and other papers, turning aside, for a moment, their wrath against corrupt borough- 862 mongers, vented it upon the Ministers themselves. Their own friends, their own admirers, their own beloved daily Press, declared that the obnoxious clause must have been introduced, either from ignorance in the framer of the Bill, or from breach of faith, or delusion upon the part of the Ministers who suffered it to be put in. If he were at liberty to make a Constitution de novo, if he had a blank leaf before him whereon to trace it out, he never would breathe such an insolent proposition—a proposition founded on folly and fatuity in principle, and ignorance and heedlessness in its details; he never would dream of soiling that leaf with any proposition founded on the sans-culottizing principle of the French Revolution, which the Constitution of that country had exploded, and which every Constitution ought to explode, as too degrading and too base for the appointment and regulation of the general body of electors. He next begged to ask the County Members, who were generally described as the representatives of the landed interests, whether, in counties and manufacturing towns, certain pledges were given— not, he meant, upon the part of Government, but by hon. Gentlemen on the hustings, who undertook to hint at intentions, and to insinuate pledges on their behalf? He asked if the prospect of a free-trade in corn had not been held out? of the quartern-loaf being sold for 3½d.? [name, name.] How could he be asked to name? Did the hon. Members who raised this cry, suppose that he had the ubiquity of a conjuror, so as to be present upon all those hustings. The last man in the. House who should call on him to name, was the hon. member for Essex, who was not on the hustings during his election from first to last. So much for short memory. He repeated, that expectations of a free trade in corn had been entertained by the people, from prospects held forth in many places in England [name, name.] If he wished, he could name one place, in which the wives of the men, who were supposed capable of influencing and overruling their votes, had such prospects held forth to them [name, name.] He would name the places if he were driven to it: but he would assert his own independence. If they would give him a Committee, he would undertake to adduce evidence in proof of his assertion. It could not be 863 denied, that in many places, the people were told that they would derive immense advantages from the destruction of the East-India monopoly—that, for instance, they would have the finest tea for a shilling a pound. [Name, name, name.]
Mr. F. Lewis
spoke to order. He observed, that it was very unfair in hon. Gentlemen to raise this cry of "Name, name," when it was evidently not for information, but simply to interrupt the speaker.
§ Sir C. Wetherell
resumed: The hon. Gentlemen who raised that cry for the purpose of interrupting him, should lose their labour. If men, who had pledged themselves to support the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill, gave utterance to the cry, he would tell them, it was unavailingly and unprofitably launched. He could only say, that he knew the fact. In one of the midland counties, a handbill, or banner, with a certain theoretical decoration, had been displayed on the hustings. A theoretical flag had been displayed in a county, which was, at present, called Northamptonshire. In the new departmental division of England, it would probably have a new name. But, touching this flag, he could not vouch for the fact, as he was not himself present: but, he begged to correct himself—he was mistaken; it was in Worcestershire where the flag was exhibited, in connexion with the name borne by the noble Lord, connected with Northamptonshire. On this flag was displayed, "Spencer, and no Corn Laws." Now, it could not be deemed any very violent stretch of fancy, or described as an instance of malignant Tory misconstruction, if he were to say, this was calculated, to spread abroad the opinion, that the noble Lord was not adverse to a free trade in corn. The noble Lord's nod should not disturb him, even though it were one of disapprobation. But, now he came to ask, how could men —county Members—call themselves the friends of the landed interest, when they encouraged such things, and inculcated such doctrines? which he described as certain to produce collision between those who really represented the agriculturists, and those who represented the manufacturing interests in the Reformed Parliament. He must now beg leave to observe, that he supposed hon. Members would not cry out "name" when he stated, that Abolition of Tithes was one of 864 the expectations raised in the constituency of many places, and had been, in fact, described as synonymous with Reform. Nor would it, he presumed, be denied, that the new constituent body had intimated their intention to apply the sponge to the National Debt. The hon. Gentlemen opposite were peculiarly happy in not happening to have been candidates at any of those places. They had all been peculiarly fortunate, and their good fortune was never likely to occur again, either to themselves or anybody else. They were happy in being returned for places in which their constituents made no complaint, nor called on them for any pledges, or demanded from them any promise that they would endeavour to free them from their grievances, or respecting any other of those matters which are not unfrequently discussed between electors and their Representatives. And yet, there were cases in which a difference in opinion did prevail between the Members and their constituents. The electors in some places, said of the noble Lord's Bill —it was not meant as a final measure: it was but to create a Provisional Government, until a new Constitution could be substituted. This, he believed, was not the opinion of the hon. Members opposite; they wished it to be final, but their friends out of doors did not: they meant it to be eternal; but their constituents mean it merely as a shift, and a pretence to engraft on it a new and perfect Revolution. But, he would ask, were Gentlemen aware how long the new Constitution—how long the new Representative system, in France— had lasted? Were they aware that when Louis 16th adopted the Constitution, he was described as having entered into a blessed union with his people, and as being the restorer of the liberties of France? Were they aware, that in the instance of the King of France, his name was put foremost by all the friends and advocates of the new system, just as the name of our King was most unconstitutionally linked with that of the people and the projects of Ministers, in the late contests? That the name of his present Majesty, of the Citizen King, as he was sometimes called—was used at the elections, he declared to be notorious. Were right hon. Members aware, that in two years after Louis had, in 1792, formed this union with his people, in the attempt to erect the glorious fabric of the new Constitu- 865 tion, he was brought to the guillotine? Were they aware, that the march of mind, so great and so highly lauded at that period, was outstripped by the inarch of atheism and irreligion, so that in 1793—in less than two years after—Christianity was abjured at the bar of the National Convention? The hon. member for Knaresborough said, go on conceding; but was the hon. Gentleman aware of what the French king, the French nobles, and the French Clergy had gained by their concessions? The king conceded his prerogative, and he perished on the scaffold. The Nobles conceded their titles, and their privileges, and their order—the Clergy their dignities and their lands—and their reward was exile, proscription, and death. Were hon. Gentlemen aware of all this, and would they, with such results submitted to their view, yet venture to form a similar body to that which had been the cause of so much evil in France? Who would assert, that from the change contemplated in the elective body, the monarchy would not receive a shock, that the Church of England would be safe, or that the Peerage could continue to exist? Who could assert this, when the body who were to send Members to that House would send them, not to deliberate, but as delegates, to carry into execution the arbitrary mandates of an arbitrary and Jacobinical constituency? Were they to take as a model that splendid community, which, after a contest and discussion of forty years, had not yet got a Constitution? Were they, because the machinery of our Constitution was not such as satisfied the theories of political projectors, to try a speculative experiment—to cast away the wisdom and experience of ages,' and try a new speculative system of Representation, which had been already tried three times in France—in the Constitution of 1791, in that of Louis 18th, and in that of 1831, and yet left that splendid community in the same state of confusion which had prevailed for nearly half a century, for the whole of the forty-five years which had passed since it was promulgated. He, at least, would never consent to this. He would miss no opportunity to declare against it, till he was compelled to submit to that, which no human power on earth should ever compel him to submit to [laughter.] The hon. Gentlemen who interrupted him with their laughter, had doubtless been engaged with a repast 866 more pleasant than listening to a discussion on the British Constitution. They bad been pushing about the bottle with the same freedom as the hon. Gentlemen opposite had been decanting one borough into another. Reverting to the subject of the relation between Members and electors, the hon. and learned Gentleman then observed, that, to use the words of the hon. member for Knaresborough, never would he submit to the degradation of buying his seat in that House, by a disgraceful system of falsehood, deception, and corruption; and remarked, that although the hon. Gentlemen opposite might have, on a late occasion, succeeded in getting into Parliament without wearing handcuff's, it was a piece of good fortune which could never, by possibility, occur to them again. The honour and dignity of the House of Commons would be forever disgraced, vilified, and degraded, if the present Representation should be superseded by the noble Lord's mockery of a Constitution.
begged to assure the House, that he had been no party to the displaying of the theoretical banners or placards said to have been exhibited at the last election for the county which he had the honour to represent, and which had been alluded to by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down. Without denying that such a placard did exist, he positively denied having been a party to it: nor had he canvassed the county in the manner stated by that learned Gentleman. Neither had he, on any occasion, or in any speech which he delivered, alluded to the subjects which that hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned.
§ An Hon. Member said, that the placards or banners, such as had been described by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir C. Wetherell), had been carried into Oxfordshire, from the neighbouring county of Worcester; and that they had upon, them the words "Spencer, and no Corn. Laws."
§ Mr. Thomas Foley
said, that when he canvassed the county of Worcester, during the late election, he had never been a party to the publishing, nor had he ever seen a placard with such an inscription as "Spencer, and No Corn Laws." But he had seen placards and banners, coming from the other side, and bearing the inscription of "No Popery," and in other respects calculated to produce excitement; 867 but he could safely declare, that from his part)' no such placard as that referred to had proceeded. He acknowledged that there was a strong feeling throughout that county during the contest. But it was the feeling of the people in favour of Reform, and it was such, that wherever he presented himself as the advocate of Reform, he was drawn from town to town by the people in the manner of a triumph. He was everywhere received with the warmest demonstrations of welcome; not because he or his family were connected with the county, but solely on account of the principles he professed. He had supported the Reform Bill in the last Parliament, because he was convinced that it would promote the welfare of his country, and he had been elected because that opinion was in accordance with the feelings of his present constituents. He was proud of having been so returned, and proud of the honour of a seat in that House to vote in favour of the Reform Bill, which he considered of vital importance.
said, he did not regret, that the statements respecting the banners alluded to had been made, as it gave the hon. members for Worcestershire an opportunity of refuting the imputations which had been cast upon them. For his part, considering that there were a vast number of hon. Members desirous to speak, and still more who were desirous to divide, upon the present question, he should not have troubled the House with any remarks; were it not that he had been sent to that House by a very numerous constituency, to be the organ of their wishes on this question, in compliance with the requisition of his Majesty, and he should not, therefore, feel justified in giving a silent vote. With respect to the statements of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, who had delivered his address with so much energy and vehemence, that he (Mr. Brougham) thought his learned friend might bettor have chosen one of the cooler months, say Fructidor or Nivose, than to have exerted himself in Thermidor: he (Mr. Brougham) would only say, that he had been returned by a very large constituency, and he could lay his hand upon his heart and say, that he for one had never held out such hopes to the poorest of his constituents, as that the Reform Bill would give them tea for a shilling a pound. He had a right, there- 868 fore, to assume that other Gentlemen equally honourable with himself had not resorted to the arts which had been attributed to them, and which they had denied; but that they had obtained the votes of their constituents by arguments such as he. himself had used. As to the complaint respecting the recognition of the Birmingham Political Union, the hon. and learned Gentleman must remember that the House had itself received Petitions from Political Associations. The petition of the Deputation from the Manchester Union had been received with the approbation of the House. There was no Statute against the reception of petitions from those societies, although they were not Corporate bodies. But still more, the complaint in this instance was not well founded. The Prime Minister had, in fact, not written a Letter in answer to the Political Union, but to Mr. Attwood, as a private individual. He did not know but that the hon. and learned Gentleman alluded to some answer as fabricated as the placards and banners in Worcester. A petition had also been received by the House, without objection, from the Sheffield Committee; and he therefore thought that the learned Gentleman's objection to the recognition of Political Societies was no better founded than his charges respecting the improper arts resorted to by hon. Gentlemen at the late elections, It was gratifying to observe, that the discussion hitherto had been carried on with so much good humour. Perhaps they might thank the interval which had elapsed since the last Session, which gave hon. Gentlemen time to recover their temper. Indeed it was not to be wondered at that those hon. Gentlemen whose boroughs were included in the Schedules A and B, should feel a little sore, and that the anticipation that they should lose their seats should have caused them to lose their tempers. However, they had now lost their majority, but recovered their temper. There was one class of boroughs represented in the House which were considered the closest of the close—the Scotch burghs; and an hon. and gallant General, who represented a borough-county (Sir George Murray), had last night referred to Oliver Cromwell, and fancied he saw one now behind the scene. But if the hon. and gallant General's historical recollection was correct, he would find, that there was no parallel between a lawyer of several years' 869 standing, a friend of education, and a hater of tyranny, and the Usurper Cromwell. A question had been asked by the hon. member for Corfe Castle, what were the people to get by the Bill? Why, everything which the boroughtnongers lost. Everything would be gained which had enabled a faction to rule over King and people. The King would be emancipated from thraldom, and enshrined in the hearts of his subjects; and the people would enjoy the free air of good government. Ministers had been taunted with a desire to ruin the Constitution, but their object was to restore it. He denied, that the Ministers had ever said, that the Bill would restore the Representation to the state in which it was at the beginning of the Monarchy; but it would enlarge the Representation on the principles which had been acted on at the beginning of the Monarchy. The hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge had repeatedly urged in opposition to this measure; — that it would be destructive to the principles of the Constitution; and his Majesty's Ministers had been taunted over and over again for saying, that it was a restoration of the Constitution. He contended, that Selden would prove that it was a restoration of the earliest principles of the Constitution. His Majesty's Ministers had declared, that it was their intention to place the Constitution on the same principles as it was at the very foundation of the Monarchy, and in spite of the assertions of the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge, he could shew, in a few words, that that was precisely the object and effect of the Bill. In the very first Parliament which was summoned, only the landed interest was represented; the Representatives then consisted of Knights of the Shire and Barons by tenure. When other interests grew up, certain boroughs were added to the Representation, for the purpose of returning merchants to represent the mercantile interests; so that the Representation was in proportion to the interests to be represented. In the reign of Edward 3rd, a considerable augmentation was made; twelve Burgesses were elected to serve in Parliament; and it being peculiarly necessary at that time to protect the shipping interests, a certain number of ship-masters were also elected to serve in Parliament. Those ship-masters were not summoned in any succeeding Parliament, thus forming an additional argu- 870 ment in favour of the principle of representing interests which require a particular Representation. Since that time various important, commercial interests had grown up in this country to an enormous extent; and other classes of persons had arisen, who had been hitherto entirely overlooked in the Representation—he meant, that large, enlightened, wealthy, and well-educated portion of the community, the middle classes. These interests were rapidly increasing; and his Majesty's Ministers were acting on the same principle as was pursued in the twelfth century, by giving Members to these unrepresented interests—by extending the franchise from boroughs to towns, and by giving additional Members to Birmingham, Manchester, and other large places that one or two centuries ago had no existence. It had been objected to this Bill, that it would create a Republic, which, by whatever name it might be called, would, in effect, put an end to the Monarchy. Now, if that were the fact— if the free expression of the sentiments of the people in that House would put an end to the Monarchy, it must be assumed that the people of this country wished to put an end to it. How otherwise could it be said, that the full representation of their sentiments in that House would lead to the overthrow of the Monarchy? Was there a period of our history which did not shew that the people were disposed to Monarchy? Was it not the fact, that even when they had before their eyes the example of Cromwell, of whom Clarendon admitted, that under him England was not only triumphant abroad, but well governed at home—was it not the fact, that even with that example before their eyes, the people of England received, with open arms, the son of the former King, although his character was stained with many vices; and that, in despite of his profligacy, they retained him, and would have retained his successor but for his Catholicism and arbitrary government? Did they not very recently show their attachment to Monarchy, when our late revered Princess was borne to the tomb? He made those few remarks, in reply to the objections which had been made to a measure which he looked upon as a great boon to the country. The institutions of the country could not be endangered by being based upon the affections of the people; which was the best anchor the House and Government could rely upon.
§ Sir G. Murray
thought, that the House would not think he asked too much, when he requested to be allowed an opportunity of replying, in a few words, to the serious charges which had been brought against him by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Brougham.) Those charges were not the less grave because they had been condensed in a few words. The hon. Gentleman had charged him (Sir G. Murray) with having lost his temper. Well, that was an infirmity to which any other hon. Gentleman might be liable; but, for his part, he did not recollect that he had ever lost his temper in that House, during the present, or any former discussion. If he had ever fallen into such infirmity, no man could regret it more than he would himself. The hon. Gentleman had also charged him with ignorance of history. He had always led a very active life, and that might be his excuse if his knowledge of history was not as accurate as that possessed by other Gentlemen, who had bad the advantage over him of greater leisure. But he really was not aware that he had on the preceding night made any Historical mistake; and perhaps there might be some room for charging the hon. Gentleman himself with ignorance of history, when he said, that there had never been in this country any indication of a desire for a Republic. The hon. Gentleman's next charge against him was, that he drew a parallel between a lawyer (and that too, an Equity Judge) and the usurper Oliver Cromwell. He had never said, nor supposed, the Cromwell who should arise from the convulsion to which this measure might lead, was a lawyer. He believed rather, that the usurpation would be accomplished, not by law, but against law, by the sword and by violence.
Sir Robert Peel, who was loudly called for, spoke as follows:—There is one advantage resulting from the present system of Representation, which has not been prominently referred to in debate—I mean the advantage of ensuring to the minority its fair influence on the public councils. As this House is at present constituted, no opinion, however unpopular, is excluded; nor can any degree of public excitement and enthusiasm, bar altogether the avenues through which those who are uninfected by the prevailing fear, and are prepared to struggle against the current of popular clamour, can ensure access to the deliberations of Parliament—of that ad-
vantage I now avail myself—and as a member of that minority, ridiculed as a despairing, and denounced as an unpopular, minority, I claim the privilege of being heard with attention—a privilege which ought to be conceded with an indulgence proportioned to the comparative smallness of our numbers, and hopelessness of our cause. I am swayed by no motives of self interest to take my present course,—I have no borough to protect—I have contracted no obligation to those who possess that influence which the present measure is intended to destroy, and I am about to resist the wishes of a great and overpowering majority—backed by the support of an united Government— and acting in conformity with the supposed opinions and wishes of the King. My opinions therefore—erroneous though they maybe—cannot be influenced by considerations of personal or political advantage. While I have been listening to this debate, and have heard the cheers echoed and re-echoed from each side of the House, on the introduction of some topic involving personal allusions, or party criminations, I have more than once lamented, that we allowed ourselves to be diverted by matters of such trifling concern, from the mighty subject of our deliberations, and that we forgot, even for a moment, amidst the excitement of party conflict, that we are occupied in the establishment of a new system of Representation, involving in its issue the highest and most permanent interests of the country. That is the great question which I wish to discuss, and to which I would willingly confine myself. I rejoice that I did not follow last night the learned member for Calne, that I was not betrayed by the just provocation to bitter and acrimonious reply which that speech afforded, a speech commencing with pious exhortations to forbearance, with solemn inculcations of the necessity of temper and moderation, of the oblivion of all party interests and party resentments, but ending with a bitter philippic against the late Administration, and taunts and insinuations directed against individuals who formed a part of it. Let the hon. Gentleman select some other occasion for preferring his charges, and he shall then have our defence, and we shall expect some better proof than his mere unsupported assertion, that we have been the enemies of public liberty. I never made frothy declamations about
liberty, but I deny, that any act of mine violated that liberty, or diminished the security of its continued enjoyment. Why did the hon. Gentleman, after preaching on the necessity of suspending, at least for the present, all party animosities, and enlarging and exalting our minds to a level with the great question of domestic Reform?—why did he select this occasion to institute an invidious comparison between the failures of the late, and the success of the present Administration? All was confusion and discord under the late Government! Under the present, says the hon. Gentleman, there is universal tranquillity and contentment. I hope it is so. Painful as the contrast might be, in some respects, to the late Government, I shall cordially rejoice if the hon. Gentleman can prove, that his compliments to the present are well merited. But, in the absence of that proof, I protest against the justice of the learned Gentleman's condemnation. This, and this only, will I state in my own vindication; that during the short period of the last six weeks— since the boasted restoration of tranquillity, long after the Day Star of Reform had glittered above the horizon, many more lives of the King's subjects have been sacrificed in conflicts with the military and police, than were lost during the whole period of six years which I presided over the Home Department. I blame not the military nor the police, I blame not those who were compelled by necessity to resort to the last dreadful means of protecting the public peace; but it is too much to expect, with these undeniable and notorious facts, that I should acquiesce in the justice either of the hon. Gentleman's satire or his praise. Ireland, too! The hon. Gentleman takes credit for the restoration of peace in Ireland. Let him wait a few short days, and he will hear a proposal, founded on the disturbed state of Ireland, for increasing the powers of the Government, and adding to the severity of the law. He may then discover, that when he shall be next appointed to chaunt the hymn of triumph over the predecessors of the present Government—it will be well for him to omit the strophe which celebrates the tranquillity of Ireland. I turn from topics of this nature, into which I was compelled by the learned Gentleman reluctantly to enter—and will confine myself exclusively to the great question before us. I propose to review the main ar-
guments which have been, in the course of his debate, urged in its support, and to attempt the refutation of them when they rest cither on unstable foundations of fact —or on conclusions illogically drawn from he premises. I will, in the first place, enumerate the arguments on which the chief stress has been laid—and consider each of those arguments consecutively in the order in which I place them. The main arguments in favour of the Bill are these, first, that the time has arrived when we must correct those defects in our representative system, which have arisen from the lapse of time and change of circumstances— when we must abolish practices which are modern abuses, and must, in the terms of the Speech from the Throne, "resort to the acknowledged principles of the Constitution," for the purpose, not of capricious and arbitrary improvement, but of restoring that purer and better system which was originally contemplated, and at a former period actually existed. Secondly, that the House of Commons, as at present constituted, does not practically answer the ends for which alone a popular assembly is established—that it is in arrear of the intelligence of the age—and being less enlightened than the great body of the people, is not their fitting representative. Lastly, that whether theoretically well constituted or not, the House of Commons has lost the confidence of the people—that there is, whether it be rational or not, a demand for Reform, which cannot be resisted—that the question is one not of choice but of necessity—for that, without Reform the country will not submit to be governed. Before I consider these arguments, I wish to notice one preliminary objection which has been taken to any consideration of Reform, in which I cannot entirely concur. It has been urged by some, that the elective franchise, whether corporate or freehold, partakes so much of the nature of property, that it is scarcely within our power to legislate regarding it. If well founded, this argument would dispose of the whole question; but to that extent I cannot concur in it. Whatever the hon. and learned member for Calne may think, I never contended that the elective franchise was of the nature of property. When the cases of Grampound and of Penryn were under consideration, I expressly claimed for Parliament the right of taking away the
franchise of the minority, if the majority were convicted of an offence which rendered the borough unfit to be trusted with electoral rights—I, who was a party to the disfranchisement of the forty-shilling freeholders of Ireland, could hardly think I was guilty of an act which amounted to a violation of private property. The disfranchisement of the forty-shilling freeholders was a measure necessary, but still greatly to be deprecated, and although I see a clear and palpable distinction between the individual right of an Irish forty-shilling freeholder, and a corporate franchise which has existed for centuries, still, if you establish the same overruling necessity for the forfeiture of the latter trust, I do not deny the competency of Parliament to legislate. I must not omit to state, also, that I have on a former occasion admitted the great objection which I felt to any proposition for compensating the holders of borough franchises. I stated, that it appeared to me, that there was the greatest difficulty in the way of pecuniary compensation for the loss of a privilege of this nature; and, in the temper of the present times, it would be exceedingly difficult, I apprehend, to recognize any such principle. While, however, I admit the distinction between private property and the elective franchise, I must also say, that, if you take away this ancient privilege on any other ground than that of overpowering necessity, clearly established, you do shake the public confidence in the security of property itself. On every ground we ought to be most cautious not to interfere, without an urgent necessity, and strictly to limit our interference to that necessity. First, we cannot interfere at all, without shocking those feelings of reverence and affection with which ancient institutions of government are naturally regarded, and which are more powerful than reason itself, in promoting habits of proper obedience and submission to law; and, secondly, by our interference we establish a precedent by which other franchises, which are equally distinguishable from property, may be exposed to hazard. What, let me ask, is the franchise of the peerage? That, too, is a public trust for public objects; and if you deal lightly with corporate franchises which have endured for ages, for the sake of visionary schemes of speculative improvement, you establish a precedent by which, at no distant period, the franchise of the peerage, and even the
prerogative of the Crown, being public trusts, and forfeitable upon similar reasons of supposed public improvement, may be attacked upon the same ground, and for the same reasons. Whilst I admit the distinction, therefore, between those public trusts and private property, I say that we should proceed with the utmost caution, and only upon undeniable proof of overruling necessity; and I rejoiced to hear the hon. and learned member for Calne state, that although he was among the foremost to contend for the taking away these public franchises, yet that none should surpass him in zeal in contending for the sanctity and inviolability of private property of all descriptions. But what is the danger to which that property is exposed? It is not the changer of absolute violence, of a tumultuous insurrection of the poor, in order to seize upon the possessions of the rich. The danger is, that certain descriptions of property, the existence of which is supposed to retard improvement, or to diminish the comforts of the many—may be, if not sacrificed, at least greatly impaired, on some such suggestions as those on which we are now called upon to confiscate the elective franchise. We may console ourselves, however, with the reflection, that should such attempts be made, the learned Gentleman will be the foremost to resist them; and if, therefore, any person should be found, holding the situation of Chancellor of the Exchequer, who should, in breach of a solemn compact—in contempt of the clearest enactments of Parliament, propose the violation of private property, by imposing an exclusive tax on the transfer of that property by the fund-holder—I shall remind the learned Gentleman of his promise, and rely upon his co-operation in strenuously resisting the robbery. I revert to the consideration of the arguments which I have before enumerated, as the main arguments relied upon in support of the Bill. The first is, that there has been a gross encroachment upon popular rights—that nomination boroughs exist in defiance of the acknowledged principles of the Constitution, and that we are adhering to those principles, by establishing an uniform system of popular election. This is the argument of the noble Lord—I should rather say it was his argument—for nothing can be more marked than the contradiction of his speech of last March, and his speech in the present debate. In March the noble
Lord contended, that we might revert to some past period of our history, and there discover the universal recognition of the right of free popular election. He quoted the 34th Edward 1st, the statute de tallagio non concedendo. He attempted to prove, that taxation was illegal without the consent of the whole people, evidenced by popular elections. He said, there was a time when the House of Commons did represent the people of England, meaning, of course, in consequence of the exercise by the people of general suffrage; and his conclusion was, that if the Reform Bill be a question of right, right is in favour of Reform. But what says the noble Lord now? He assumes a position the very opposite of that which he before assumed, and absolutely cuts from under himself the ground on which he formerly stood. He now denies, that there was ever any uniform practice or right of popular election; he proves that nomination boroughs have always existed; and his argument is, not that there are any acknowledged principles of the Constitution to which we can revert—but, on the contrary, that there are no such principles, and because there are none, we are at perfect liberty to make what changes we please, and to consult our own judgment as to the nature and extent of them. Now, let us keep these two questions distinct. It may be no reason for maintaining very limited rights of election, or nomination boroughs, that such things have always existed—but if they have always existed, you are not justified in exasperating the public mind by denouncing them as modern corruptions, and as the recent encroachments of a rapacious oligarchy upon popular liberties and privileges.? The noble Lord now proves that they have always existed, and I repeat, that by that proof he destroys the foundations of the argument on which he before relied, namely, that he was about to restore a previously existing constitution, and that the people had a right to Reform. Nothing can equal the success of the noble Lord, in the establishment of his second position, and the consequent destruction of his first. He shows triumphantly, that it is nonsense to talk about the acknowledged principles of the Constitution—that our system of Representation conforms to no settled rules, but that it is the work of time and accident, and the varying circumstances of society. Says the noble Lord, in the speech which
he made in this debate—" It will be seen, that during this period there was nothing more irregular or less settled than the right of boroughs to send Members to Parliament.✶" Now the period to which the noble Lord here alluded is a very remote one, for it comprehends, I think he stated, 250 years before the reign of Henry 6th. We have got the noble Lord's admission, therefore, that for 250 years before the year 1420, nothing could be more unsettled than the system of Representation. His second period extends from the reign of Henry 6th, to the end of the line of the Tudors, during which period, says the noble Lord, it was thought right that there should be some change in the constitution of the House of Commons. Of course we expected to be told, that the changes so made included the return of Members for large, populous, and commercial places. But "no, no," says the noble Lord, "it is a striking fact, that the great proportion of the boroughs summoned within this period were not large and prosperous towns, but, on the contrary, a great many of the small boroughs, particularly in Cornwall, were enabled to send burgesses to Parliament; and of the total number of places now proposed to be disfranchised, of the fifty-five boroughs referred to in Schedule A, no less than forty-five were, according to the noble Lord, created or restored in the reigns of the Tudors †" The modern doctrines of Reform, therefore, were evidently no part of the system of the Tudors, for they selected places to send members, many at least of which were the reverse of flourishing and populous. The noble Lord mentioned another circumstance as a remarkable fact. He said," I mention it as a remarkable fact, that the power of sending Members was given to these boroughs by the Tudors, apparently rather with the intention and object, that the Members sent should depend upon the Crown, than with any view of enlarging and improving the Representation of the country!.'' Welt, then, is it not quite clear, from this statement of the noble Lord, that these small boroughs are not modern usurpations by the Peers on the rights of the people, but that they did exist at an early period of our history? In confirmation of this position of the noble Lord, I may refer to a very learned writer
✶ Hansard's Parl. Deb. vol. iv. p. 326.
† Ibid, 326. ‡: Ibid.
upon the Constitution of this country, and one free from the possibility of any imputation of partiality—I mean Mr. Hallam, who, like the great majority of the literary community, is decidedly opposed to the present Bill. Mr. Hallam says, that sixty-two Members were added, at different times, for petty boroughs — that those Members were under the influence of the Crown; and he adds, that "Ministers took much pains with the elections for those boroughs; of which many proofs remain." Does not all this shew, that the mode of conducting public business in this country in former times was not by the operation of three independent checks upon each other—the King, the Lords, and the Commons; but that at an early period the administration of affairs was carried on by a House of Commons in which both the Crown, and members of the House of Peers, exercised considerable influence—I say not whether it be right or wrong, that that influence should have existed. I am not arguing, that because it existed, therefore it must continue; but for this I do contend—that the fact of the existence of the influence cannot be denied; and that for the last 400 years the small boroughs have formed a part of the representative system. But it may be said, true, these places existed in former times, but they have decayed, and were anciently much more populous than they are at present. Now this is not the fact; many of those boroughs arc as large now as they ever were. With all his research on this subject, does not the noble Lord know what appears with respect to Gatton. on the indisputable authority of the Harleian and Lansdowne manuscripts? In the reign of Elizabeth, Mr. Copley used to nominate the members for Gatton, in default of electors, the proprietor being a minor, and in the custody of the Court of Wards. We find too, that Lord Burleigh directed the sheriff to make no return from Gatton without instructions from himself: the instructions were, that the sheriff should cancel the return containing the name of Mr. Francis Bacon, and substitute that of Mr. Edward Brown, there being then no burgesses existing. Finding no precedents for this Bill before the reign of Henry the 6th, and none in the reigns of either the Tudors or the Stuarts—the noble Lord, with not very becoming exultation, relies on the authority of Cromwell, Cromwell effected a
Reform in the House of Commons, which received, says the noble Lord, the sanction of Lord Clarendon. But does the noble Lord recollect, that before Cromwell reformed the Commons, he had abolished the Lords? and does it follow, that the democratic assembly constituted by Cromwell after the extinction of Monarchy, and after the abolition of the House of Lords, is a happy model for a House of Commons which is to co-exist with a limited Monarchy, and with a House of Lords possessing co-ordinate authority? Perhaps, if Cromwell had so to constitute his reformed House of Commons that it should not usurp the functions of the other branches of the Legislature, he might have been a more prudent and moderate Reformer than the noble Lord. There is, at least, among the panegyrics lavished on him by his admirers, one by Waller, which praises him for the caution with which he effected great improvements in the State, through the means of gradual and almost insensible change.
Still as you rise, the State, exalted too,
Feels no disorder when 'tis changed by you:
Changed like the world's great scene, when without noise.
The rising sun night's vulgar lights destroys.
But, said the noble Lord, we have the authority of Lord Clarendon in favour of that Reform, forgetting that Lord Clarendon was not then speaking his own opinion, but merely referring to a prevailing sentiment as to the changes made by Cromwell. I advise new Members to distrust nothing more than quotations. When I hear Bacon or Burke, or any other great authority cited, I know that sometimes in the next page, and more frequently in the same, a passage might be found, which, if taken separately, might be relied upon as an authority for opposite doctrines. See, in this case, what is the real value of Lord Clarendon's sanction of Cromwell's Reform. When Lord Clarendon comes to speak his own sentiments, we shall find he was not quite so complimentary. There were two Parliaments summoned by the Protector, founded on his new basis: the first sat for a few months, and, as will be the case with many Reformed Parliaments hereafter, I fear, did nothing. Lord Clarendon remarks of it, that "it spent its time in long debates and wrangling discourses." Cromwell dissolved it in seven months, and called another Parliament on the same principle, which lasted only three
months; and when Lord Clarendon, who, according to the noble Lord, is the greatest panegyrist of that Reform, comes to speak of it in his own person, he uses these expressions:—" The Parliament did not re-assemble with the same temper and resignation with which it parted." "It quickly appeared how insecure new institutions are; and when the contrivers of them have provided, as they think, against all mischievous contingencies, they find they have unwarily left a gap open to let their destruction in upon them." Such is the opinion of the philosophic historian, when speaking his own sentiments upon Cromwell's notable Reform. I have then, at least, as much right to claim Lord Clarendon as an authority against Reform, as this noble Lord can have to rely upon him as an authority in its favour. I think I have said enough on the first branch of the argument, and have, with the aid of the noble Lord, proved, that the projected Reform is not a restoration of the Constitution; and that the House of Commons, as it now exists, is not a novelty and an usurpation. I approach now the second argument, which is in substance this—that whether the House of Commons, as it at present exists, be or be not a novelty or an usurpation, still, that time has effected such changes in the fabric of society, that there must be corresponding changes in the form and mode of Government; that nomination boroughs are odious to the people, that their existence is absurd in theory and pernicious in practice, and that you must widen the basis on which Representation is hereafter to be founded, to the full extent proposed by this Bill, Now I ask two questions connected with this point: first, where is the form of Government ever existing, which has provided such security for the possession of property, and the enjoyment of rational freedom, as that which you are about to disturb in one of its essential elements, viz. the constitution of the House of Commons; and secondly, what proof have you in the history of any country, that a popular assembly, formed on the principle of that uniform right of voting which you are about to establish, has practically coexisted with a Monarchy and with an aristocratical body, with powers and functions like the House of Peers. It is only now, since the Revolution of July, that France is about to make a similar experiment. At no former
period since the downfall of her absolute Monarchy, has there been a Chamber of Deputies directly returned by an individual right of voting. Up to this time, as was truly said by the noble Lord, the Member for Wootton Basset, (Lord Porchester) in the ablest first speech which I ever heard delivered, there have been breakwaters against the vehemence of popular opinion. When the National Assembly was constituted, it was not returned on any such principle as that of uniform and equal right of voting. A complicated system of election was devised, founded on three bases—geographical, arithmetical and financial, the basis of territory, the basis of population, and the basis of contribution. The assumption of such bases may have been an absurd one; but two out of the three bases were nevertheless assumed, for the express purpose of controlling popular opinion, and of preventing intelligence and property from being overwhelmed by numbers. How can you hope permanently to preserve the free action of two such authorities in the State, as a limited Monarchy and an hereditary Peerage, if you make the popular assembly the immediate uncontrolled organ of the public will; if you devise no means by which property can exercise a proportionate influence in the election of that popular assembly, but give an equal right to the poorest class of electors, with that you give to the most wealthy? What is the result of this first experiment made by France, of that principle on which we are about to act? France has very recently adopted it—what is the consequence? Why, that the men who headed the Revolution of last July are already become unpopular; their doctrines are too moderate for those of the present constituent body; and in almost every election, they struggle with difficulty against men avowing more democratic and republican opinions. And yet, with this example before us, we are pressed at this moment to adopt the same system as that adopted by Fiance—the same in respect to its uniformity, but much more popular and extensive in respect to the numbers by which the right of voting is to be exercised. It is triumphantly asked, will you not trust the people of England? Do you charge them with disaffection to the Monarchy and to the Constitution under which they live? I answer, that, without imputing disaffection to the peo-
ple, or a deliberate intention on their part to undermine the Monarchy, or destroy the Peerage, my belief is, that neither the Monarchy nor the Peerage can resist with effect the decrees of a House of Commons that is immediately obedient to every popular impulse, and that professes to speak the popular will; and that all the tendencies of such an assembly are towards the increase of its own power, and the intolerance of any extrinsic control. Among the great majority to whom I find myself reluctantly opposed, I cannot help thinking that there are many who, as the excitement is subsiding, are casting a longing, lingering look behind, at the ancient institutions of their country, and doubting whether or no there is any such paramount necessity to justify us in incurring the danger of this immense change. I heard, the other night, a quotation from Cicero, made use of by a right hon. Member whom I do not now see in his place (Sir James Mackintosh). That hon. Member, in the course of a very long and very animated speech, did me the honour, in quoting the opinion of Cicero, in favour of making accessions to the popular power, to suppose that I might have been familiar with it. I did think, notwithstanding that my classical recollections are impaired somewhat by political occupations and public duties—I did think that there were, in the admirable treatise from which that quotation was extracted, some other expressions of a totally different character—some splendid lessons with respect to the principle of changes in established governments, from which, even now, after the lapse of so many centuries, we may derive benefit. I was pleased to see the hon. Member drawing political knowledge from a mine so richly stored— I was pleased to see him shedding a light upon our discussions, which he drew from so bright a fount. I repeat with respect to himself, that generous wish which he expressed with regard to Mr. Burke:— "Long may those studies be the solace of virtuous and venerable age." The right hon. Member will excuse me if I refer to that very treatise, aye, and to some expressions immediately preceding the very passage he quoted, and attempt to extract from the writings of Cicero a salutary caution. They contain a tempered and very dignified reproof of the haste in which changes in forms of Government are sometimes determined on. Cicero condemns
the injustice of looking only to one side of the question, and observes to Quintus: —" Vitia quidem tribunatus, præclare Q inte, perspicis. Sed est iniqua in omni re accusanda, prætermissis bonis, ma-lorum enumeratio, vitiorumque selectio." Now, Sir, let me comment upon that text. Cicero, it seems, was not for comdemning institutions rashly, nor was he an advocate for an enumeration of the faults, præler-missis bonis, of any form of Government. "Nam isto quidem modo," he continues, "vel consulatus vituperabilis est, si consulum, quos enumerare nolo, peccata collegeris." Yes, says Cicero, if you adopt this course, no institution will be safe. So I say in the present instance, with respect to the small boroughs and the influence of the Peerage: who can doubt that if the Government will join with the Press in condemning them, unlearned minds—minds unacquainted with the real fact—should madly adopt the censure; nay more, if the absurdity of hereditary legislation should be asserted; if it should be denied, that this prerogative is justly exercised by men who inherit the right from their fathers, without any necessity of personal qualification on their part, a ready assent will be given to such doctrines. More just is the calm observation of Cicero:—" Ego enim fateor in ista ipsa potestate in esse quiddam mali. Sed bonum quod est quæsitum in ea sine isto malo non haberemus." I cannot defend the sale of boroughs—I am not ignorant of the exercise of absolute nomination, yet I am not certain that it will be possible to eradicate these defects, without depriving the country of good that more than counterbalances the evil. Let us act, Sir, upon these maxims of caution; and not, in our too great eagerness to eradicate defects, upset the Constitution, which has ensured to the country more happiness and more liberty than any other has ever enjoyed. The learned Member opposite (Mr. Macaulay) has contended, that the House of Commons is unfit for the purposes for which it is intended. He asserts, that we have consulted the interest of the tax-consumer before that of the tax-payer—that we are in arrear of the intelligence of the age—and, being undeserving of the Representative character, that we must submit to extensive reformation. But, Sir, I deny the fact—I deny that the House of Commons, as at present constituted, neg-
lects its duty, or has become incompetent to perform the functions of a Legislative Assembly—I deny, that it is in arrear of the intelligence of the age; and if I do not prove, to the perfect satisfaction of every unprejudiced mind, that the specific charges brought by the learned Member against the conduct of the House, are utterly unfounded, I will consent to abandon the whole of the case at once, and go to the Second Reading of the Bill. The first charge is, that we have not laid taxes upon properly, but have imposed them upon articles of consumption which press upon the poor. But what were the circumstances under which the Property Tax was removed at the close of the last war? The Government was desirous of maintaining that tax—they did, in fact, all in their power to maintain it; but in spite of every effort, it was removed by this House, in consequence of the petitions of the people, demanding its repeal, and charging the House with gross neglect of its duty if that tax was suffered to exist. No less than 400 petitions were presented to the House, to induce it to take off that tax, and, in consequence of those petitions, it was removed. What was the motive for the repeal of the Beer Duty? Did that repeal shew indifference to the comfort of the poor? The complaint is, that we acted too precipitately in the repeal of the duty; and that, in our eagerness to promote the present comfort and enjoyment of the poor, we have overlooked the checks on intemperance and immorality. What pretence is there for saying-, that the House is in arrear of the intelligence of the age? Is that charge supported by the conduct of this House on the question of the Currency? Or \vas this House in arrear of the intelligence of the age, when it passed those laws of commercial intercourse introduced by Mr. Huskisson? If the House of Commons had been a Reformed House, elected as now proposed, is there any one who believes that those laws could have been enacted? The Catholic Question, again, shewed that the House of Commons, in consenting to remove the Catholic disabilities, was not in arrear of the intelligence of the age; and I ask again, if the new House of Commons had existed at the time of the passing of that Bill, whether there is a chance that it would have been carried? In that pamphlet which has been so often quoted—Friendly Advice to the Lords—it
is admitted, that the Catholic disabilities were removed against the opinions and wishes of the great majority of the people, of the majority of that very class of voters which you are now about to create. Again, the Test and Corporation Acts were repealed against the wishes of the people. [No, no.] Well, I will not rely upon that fact; but at least the Catholic disabilities were. That measure is admitted on all hands to have been passed contrary to the opinions and feelings of a great majority of the people. And if this be the fact, it is rather hard at one time to charge the House of Commons with exceeding the liberality of the people, and acting in contradiction to their feelings and opinions, and at another to represent it as less enlightened and less liberal than the people, and to urge such contradictory statements as grounds for a Reform; and the learned Gentleman says, that the country has been governed so well, that we must have a House of Commons capable of governing it better. This sentiment has met with the applause of the other side of the House, and on it they would build such great and dangerous innovations. It amounts to this, that without Parliamentary Reform, for the space of 400 years, there has been so elastic a principle of improvement in the Government, such a power of accommodating itself to the spirit of the age, and to the circumstances of the people, that this country has been governed better than any other country on earth has ever been governed. Having effected all this, it becomes necessary to do—what? I should! have thought, to adhere to a system which had produced such immense benefits; but no—the inference is the very reverse; in these days of illumination, the just conclusion is, that you ought to upset and destroy that system altogether. The member for Calne says, that looking through the whole habitable world, contemplating society as it now exists in every quarter of the globe, nay, that ever since civil institutions have been formed by man, he cannot find any society so perfect as that of England, so far as concerns the development of intellect, the improvement of science, the cultivation of the land, the enjoyment of liberty, or the protection of property. But, adds the hon. Gentleman, although all this be true, there are certain defects, which are of such a nature and extent as completely to justify a total change in the Represents
tive system. And what are these great defects which require the hazarding of every blessing, for the chance of correcting them? Why, first, there is the state of the penal code; next, the bottomless pit of Chancery; and thirdly, in this flourishing and happy country, a new system of Representation is necessary, because there is a cumbrous legal process of fines and recoveries. Oh, Sir, I am sick of the miserable pedantry which urges, that in consequence of such petty defects the great advantages of our state of society are to be forfeited; the more miserable, since all these defects the House is not only competent, but has repeatedly manifested its anxiety to remove. If the hon. Gentleman can shew, that this is not the case—if he can shew that the House of Commons, as it is now constituted, is unable to apply adequate remedies to evils of such a nature, then I will confess, that the House stands in need of Reform. But how absurd it is to say, here is a Constitution which has given the people every blessing of civil government, but yet cannot remove a few evils which may exist in subordinate institutions. But do I rest here? No. I will prove that these evils being admitted in their fullest extent, you have a better prospect of their remedy by the present House of Commons than you have by a Reformed one. What can your new constituency—the 10l. householders, know of Reforms in the Court of Chancery—or of your defective system of fines and recoveries? I am sure that if I were to ask a given number of them what fines and recoveries meant, the majority would answer, that a tine was a pecuniary penalty, and recovery a state of convalescence. What was the mode by which the great advocates for reforming all such abuses found their way into this House? Did not Sir Samuel Romilly sit in Parliament for a close borough? Does not the learned Gentleman himself find his way into this House by a similar avenue? And did not Lord Chancellor Brougham sit for a close borough? In fact, the close boroughs may be said to have generated the Reformers. But what pretence is there for charging the House of Commons collectively with indifference to the reform of these specific abuses'? By whom was the bill of Lord Lyndhurst rejected? By the House of Commons. On what ground? Because the House was determined to have a more
searching and extensive Reform of the Court of Chancery. By whom was the first blow struck against fines and recoveries? By the House of Commons—and at this moment we have bills before us, originating in an address from this House to the Throne, for the absolute destruction of those very fines and recoveries. Then with respect to the penal code; this House has shewn a disposition to mitigate its severity. With respect to forgery, I introduced a bill remitting the punishment of death in certain cases. The House was not satisfied, but remitted that punishment much more extensively; and though the bill did not ultimately pass in that shape, it was not this House, but the House of Lords, which restored the punishment. The House of Commons rejected the advice of his Majesty's Ministers. It resisted their influence, and insisted upon repealing the punishment of death for the crime of forgery. Why, then, if the arguments of the learned Gentleman have any weight, they prove that the Reform should take place in the House of Lords. It is they who have defeated the benevolent intentions of the House of Commons, and yet we are proposing to Reform not the House of Lords, but the House of Commons, which, in all the instances to which I have referred, has shewn that it is neither behind the intelligence of the age, nor neglectful of the complaints of the people. I say, then, Sir, that the alleged reason for change in this House is utterly destroyed. I will now say a few words with respect to the Bill itself. It may be said to contain two great principles; the first is the principle of disfranchisement; the second is that of constituting a new Representation. Four times have there been essential alterations made in the Bill; and although we see held out the phantom of the 10l. right of voting, yet four times has that very matter been subjected to changes, and to changes so important, that my confidence must not be asked for those who have felt it necessary to make them. At first the right of voting was given to resident 10l. house-holders, and residence was insisted on as a necessary qualification for the franchise. Now mark the alteration which has been made. What is the effect in Manchester? It altered the constituency of that place so much, that instead of giving the right of voting to resident 10l. householders, by a little alteration, the great principle of residence is thrown overboard—it is overpowered by
non-resident occupiers of warehouses and counting-houses, and thus the original ground of residence is cut away, as forming; the condition of qualification. And then, Sir, what is the effect of the change that has last been made?. When Gentlemen are asked to support this Bill, it is in vain to attempt to conceal the fact from men equally informed and intelligent with ourselves, whose interests and feelings are so deeply affected, that these changes are making alterations by tens of thousands in the numbers of the constituency of the country. I know this may be called mere inadvertency; but really, Sir, if through the inadvertency of his Majesty's Government, these changes can be made in a Bill, affecting not less than 100,000 people, let me say, the time is not yet come when we can maturely deliberate upon so grave a matter; we are not yet in a condition to legislate at all upon it, and least of all will this House stand excused in hastily passing a law which is brought before us under such circumstances. The projectors of this Bill, after having established the 10l. franchise, come forward with subsequent alterations which totally alter the character of the constituency. As the Bill now stands, every 10l. householder is disqualified who pays his rent more frequently than half-yearly. The Bill originally gave the right to the weekly and the quarterly tenant. By confining it to the tenant paying half-yearly, you disfranchise many thousand voters in places that I could name. In Birmingham there is a very numerous class of persons who pay rents of 3s. 10d. or 4s. per week, which amount, of course, to 10l. a year. By the simple insertion of the words quarterly payments' or half-yearly payments, I care not which, there is no use in concealing the fact, the number of such voters would be reduced by many thousands. Why raise expectations so inconsiderately, and defeat them with equal precipitation. What avails it to say that you have acted inadvertently. That you have been administering prussic acid—and that you forgot to look at the prescription. You have made another, and a most important change. You have by this new Bill admitted land into the value of the 10l. holding. It seems a simple and easy matter to insert "land," but will any man deny. that this is a most important change? Without saying whether these changes are good or bad, I do say that these facts de-
stroy my confidence in the ability of his Majesty's Government to conduct such a question to a salutary and happy conclusion. I hope, that hon. Gentlemen will consider the effect of the alteration made by the insertion of the word "land" upon our rural economy. If one thing more than another would tend to improve the condition of the peasantry, it is the attaching of small gardens to the tenements they occupy. Now, by making the possession of land with a house a qualification, we encourage landlords to take away those small gardens where they are now enjoyed, and to withhold the possession of them when otherwise the possession might be conferred. It may be said, that landlords will not be influenced by this consideration, and I know that they ought not, but I contend, that the policy and the principle of that law must be bad which tends to sacrifice the improvement of the condition of the peasantry to electioneering interests. These are the main grounds on which I oppose the second reading of this Bill. The hon. Member who spoke last, expressed his hope that I was prepared to bring forward some scheme of Reform, and has taunted me with being at length a Reformer. But what did I say in the last Session respecting Reform? I said, that having left one Government in consequence of its resistance to Reform, and another Government having been formed pledged to Reform, I would, rather than risk a change of Government—seeing the impossibility of constituting an Administration opposed to Reform—support a measure of Reform introduced by my opponents, provided that measure was perfectly consistent with the safety of the institutions of the country. I said, I might be wrong or I might be right, but that is the extent of the declaration I made, and which I am prepared to make again. I have been uniformly opposed to Reform upon principle, because I was unwilling to open a door which I saw no prospect of being able to close; it was not because I thought that the transfer of the franchise from East Retford to Manchester might be in itself injurious, but because I was of opinion that a Government which should unsettle the minds of the people upon this subject, would be responsible for the consequences that must result. I certainly was one of those who opposed the giving Representatives to Manchester, and to other large towns; because I thought the
advantage of such a measure not sufficient to counterbalance the evil of altering the constitution of Parliament, and agitating the public mind on the question of Reform. And if it be truly said, that the demand for Reform has been a steadily increasing demand, if it be the fact that nothing short of this Bill will give the least satisfaction, surely I was justified in doubting whether the grant of Members to three or four large towns would stay the public appetite for Reform, and whether it would not prove the commencement, rather than the close, of the discussion. I do not admit, however, that the settled opinion of this country is fixed, and permanently decided, in favour of this Bill. I would advise those who assert it, not to rely too confidently on the duration of the present excitement; to bear in mind the causes which have combined to foment it—and to consider whether they are of lasting operation. Our sober judgment has been disturbed by the recent events in France, by sympathy in the triumph of liberal opinions, and by a natural indignation at the illegal exercise of authority. While those feelings are at their height— a Government is formed pledged to Reform, and they redeem that pledge by a more extensive measure of Reform than was expected by the most sanguine Reformer. They dissolve the Parliament in order to take the opinion of an already excited people, on a question of all others the most requiring sober and dispassionate inquiry, and they super add to every other cause of agitation, an appeal to the personal wishes and opinions of the King. With regard to the dissolution of the Parliament, it might be right or it might be wrong, but nothing could be more unwise than to countenance the popular belief, that the King was personally interested in the question of Reform. I do not for a moment call in question the undoubted prerogative of the Crown to dissolve the late Parliament, but I do call in question the prudence with which that prerogative was exercised, the time and mode of its exercise, and above all, the lavish use of his Majesty's name and authority, with the view of influencing election contests. I regret, most deeply, that through their organs of the Press, the Government condescended to the humiliation of propagating tales which could only be addressed and suited to the lowest and most vulgar class of minds. I regret most
deeply that they should, for any purpose whatever, have resorted to the dangerous expedient of teaching the people to associate loyalty to their King with hostility to the constitution of Parliament. I do not think it a happy circumstance that the feelings of the people have been thus excited; I doubt the existence of an unanimous feeling as connected with this measure on their part; and I deeply regret that the sober and temperate judgment of the people has been disturbed by a variety of causes. But, Sir, if this feeling be such as we have heard it represented, and if it shall permanently endure, I am then ready to admit, that no Government can go on without enacting such measures as shall alleviate and remove that intense feeling. But all I ask is, time for deliberation upon a question of such vital importance; I say, do not rely upon this temporary excitement—do not allow that to be your only guide—do not force this Reform Bill upon the country, upon the assumption that the unanimous voice of the people demands it. I doubt the existence of any such ground; and if you do find hereafter that you have been mistaken—if you find that the people have only been acting under an excitement produced by temporary causes— if they are already sobering down from their enthusiasm for the days of July, let the House remember, that when the steady good sense and reason of the people of England shall return, they will be the first to reproach us with the baseness of having sacrificed the Constitution in the vain hope of conciliating the favour of a temporary burst of popular feeling; they will be the first to blame us for deferring this question to popular opinion, instead of acting upon our own judgment. For my own part, not seeing the necessity for this Reform, doubting much whether the demand for Reform is so urgent, and doubting still more whether, if carried, this measure can be a permanent one, I give my conscientious opposition to this Bill. In doing this, I feel the more confident, because the Bill does not fulfil the conditions recommended from the Throne—because it is not founded on the acknowledged principles of the Constitution—because it does not give security to the prerogatives of the Crown—because it does not guarantee the legitimate rights, influences, and privileges of both Houses of Parliament—because it is not calculated to render secure and permanent the happiness
and prosperity of the people—and above all, because it subverts a system of Government which has combined security to personal liberty, and protection to property, with vigour in the executive power of the State, in a more perfect degree than ever existed in any age, or in any other country of the world.
Sir F. Burdett
congratulated the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), on the tone of his speech, and expressed his regret that that tone had ever been departed from in the discussion of this question. Still, however, the speech of the right hon. Baronet, in its matter and purport, resembled not so much the speech of a legislator as the speech which would have been made by a lawyer at the Bar of the House, who had been retained to defend the borough proprietors, and who, in the prosecution of that duty, had skilfully endeavoured to throw dust into hon. Members' eyes, and to conciliate, as far as he could conciliate, the persons who were to decide upon the question. Into that speech of the right hon. Baronet he thought that he was not called upon to enter, and for this reason—the House would call to mind, that in the early part of that speech, after the hon. Baronet had stated what he thought the proper mode of discussing the question —the right honorable Baronet, instead of following that course, had indulged in extraneous remarks, so that the early part of the right hon. Baronet's speech consisted almost wholly of an argument ad hominem —an argument with which he could have nothing to do, and which had very little to do with the question. The main part of the right hon. Baronet's speech consisted of an administrational attack, and from the Administration it might, perhaps, call for an answer, but from him, or from any other general advocate of Reform, it could not require any reply; and although he did not complain of the right hon. Baronet adopting any mode of address he pleased, yet he must be allowed to say, that in his opinion, the hon. Baronet had not, in the mode he adopted, taken either a great or Statesman-like view of the important question under their consideration. Ably, very ably, he must admit, had the right hon. Baronet endeavoured to mislead the House, and to divert its attention from the nature of the question before them but, when the right hon. Baronet talked about the Constitution, did he or did hi not blink this question—namely, whether 894 it was a part of the Constitution that Peers and others should nominate persons to seats in that House? This was the real question for their decision, and was it to be endured, he asked, that in this House, which was called the Representatives of the people, seventy Peers should nominate to 150 seats? But the right hon. Baronet had told them, that the people were labouring under a temporary excitement—an excitement caught from the temper of the present times in foreign parts. Was the right hon. Baronet serious when he told them this? If so, allow him to say, that the right hon. Baronet had forgotten the whole of the past history of his own country; for as long as he (Sir F. Burdett) had been engaged in public affairs—ever since he entered into public life—this question had, at various times, excited the people. Yes, excited them to such a degree, that the Government had actually attempted to suppress that excitement by military force. [No, no.] No! What, had the hon. Gentlemen who cried No, forgotten the Manchester business? Had they forgotten the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act? Had they forgotten the imprisonment, aye, the imprisonment for whole years, of many of their fellow-subjects, who till the very moment he was speaking, had never been brought to trial, and who, still remained without compensation for this deprivation of their liberty? Were these things to be cast into oblivion, and, forgetting them, were they to be told, that this question of Reform was a question, the agitation of which was commenced only the other day, a question which had now for the first time roused in the minds of the people a feeling quite novel, a feeling to which they had never given utterance before? Why, there was upon the Table of that House a petition which was presented by Lord Grey in 1795, which complained of the constitution of that House, and which enumerated, among other abuses, the fact which he had just mentioned respecting the nomination of Members by Peers. From that day to the present moment, the people had complained of the manner in which they were re- presented, or rather misrepresented; and he would venture to say, that the whole history of this country would show that the people,—though under different circumstances, in different times, and in different language, had always, and strenuously contended for the great 895 principle, that they ought not to be taxed without being represented. When the right hon. Baronet talked of principles, he forgot these two great principles, namely, that the people ought not to be taxed if they were not represented, and that elections ought to be free. These were ancient and original principles of the Constitution. Fiat electio ritè et libere was a maxim of the common-law, which was supported by many Acts in the Statute-book. He did not wish to call names, or to use harsh expressions, but there was a class of persons who more or less dealt in boroughs, and whom he knew not how to characterise, except by the name of "borough-mongers," and the existence of such persons was, he contended, not only no institution of the country, but contrary to the common and the statute law of the land. Nay, farther, he declared, without fear of contradiction, that persons who practised such dealings were guilty of criminal offences, and liable to be prosecuted as criminals. A law which was passed before the time of the Tudors, after first plainly declaring the object it had in view, as all our old laws did — enacted in Norman French, "Et pur ceo que elections doîent estres franches, cy defende le roy sur le greeve for-faiture, que nul haute homme n'auter pas poyar des armes, ne per malice ou ma-naces, ne distourbe de faire franke election;" or, according to Lord Coke, any man interfering with, or disturbing the freedom of elections, was to be punished with grievous fines and imprisonment. From that time till the present, this doctrine had been confirmed by Acts of the Legislature, and, though was constantly set at nought, it was still the law of the land. In truth, the Gentlemen to whom he was speaking, and those who sent them there were the only persons in the country, who either did or could violate the laws with impunity. From that time, however, until the present, the people had complained that this law was violated, and had called for Reform; and although, not to go very far back for an instance, Lord Chatham had told the House, that if they did not reform themselves from within, they would be reformed with a vengeance from without, yet the right hon. Baronet now stood, up gravely in his place, and told them, that he dated the excitement of the people upon the subject of Reform to the French and 896 Belgic affairs of yesterday. But why need the right hon. Baronet tremble at the occurrences which had taken place in France, while the instance of America must prove to him, that to obey the voice of the people was not necessarily to plunge into anarchy, and confusion, and disturbance]? What the people of England complained of was, the unconstitutional practice of peers nominating their so-called Representatives, instead of they doing it for themselves; and what they, therefore, with justice demanded, was a restoration of their rights—to have a voice in the election of those on whose decisions their properties and lives depended. This demand of the people was not the result of temporary excitement, as the right hon. Baronet would insinuate, but the echo of the long-expressed wish of the wealth and intelligence of the middle classes for Reform. When Lord Cochrane was his colleague, he and that noble Lord actually covered the Table of that House with petitions for Reform, but the House refused to attend to them, and would do so still but for the increased influence of public opinion. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Charles Wetherell) had severely condemned Political Unions, like to that in Birmingham; but he wished to remind that hon. and learned Gentleman, that so long as the people were denied a legitimate channel for the expression of their grievances, they would be sure to find a channel of their own. Such institutions and unions had produced an excellent effect in keeping alive and strengthening the love of political liberty. The petition presented by Lord Grey in 1795, had come from a similar society, the Friends of the People, and that he believed to have been the foundation of all those since presented. If of late years the petitions had been less numerous, it was not because the people felt less, but because they had lost all confidence in that House. The spirit of Reform had never slept, though circumstances now made it more watchful and energetic than ever before. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) would, however, give the question for the present the go-by; but the attempt would be vain; the country was no longer to be deluded, and great danger would be the consequence of longer withholding their rights from the people. He must complain of the manner in which the right hon. Baronet had treated 897 the splendid and powerful, and statesmanlike speech of the hon. member for Calne. The right hon. Baronet applied himself to parts of that speech. In that speech the details of the measure were properly avoided. The right hon. Baronet, notwithstanding all his professions of candour, had most uncandidly applied himself to the details of the Bill, while the real question before the House was its principle. And that principle resolved itself into the simple question, have or have not the people of England a right to call upon the House to apply itself to redress grievances of long standing? This was the real question, and not those matters of detail, in which the right hon. Baronet had expatiated at such length, and for which a Committee would have been a more fitting place; and this important question was not to be got rid of by the right hon. Baronet shutting his eyes to plain facts, and endeavouring to make up a plausible case for the borough-mongers by quotations from Cicero "De Legibus," which, when expressed in common English would be found to be vapid common-place. The right hon. Baronet had ridiculed the idea of quotations, and cautioned the House against attaching any importance to them; and yet, for the next half hour after giving such advice, the right hon. Baronet was occupied in quotation. But what were quotations to the people of England? The people of England wanted Reform, and not quotation. And mark, too, the modesty of the right hon. Baronet. "The people of England," says he," I admit, are just now in favour of Reform; but they are wrong, and I am right." What the people of England—and by the term he meant the middle classes, the wealth, and intelligence, and solid support of the country— not know who are their friends and who are their enemies'.—who the guardians of their rights and properties, and who the betrayers and despoilers of both, as well as my Lord this or my Lord that, or the right hon. Baronet, notwithstanding his solemn cautions—not as enlightened and independent, and as distinguished for integrity and regard to the public interests, as any man or men in either House of Parliament! Why, one of the benefits he expected from the Reform Bill was, that it would admit into that House more talent, more practical knowledge, and more independence, than was to be seen in it at 898 present. "But," say the enemies of the Bill, "see how the country has thriven under our institutions, and would you with rash hands mar the Constitution from which such excellent results have followed?" No, we do not want to destroy the Constitution, but to restore and preserve it, in all its genuine purity. The right hon. Baronet had taunted the Ministers with incapacity; but, he asked, would any one impeach their integrity? For his own part he had a full confidence in the Ministry, and he contended that a more able or honest set of men had never composed a Government. But for him to defend the Ministry who were so deservedly popular might be an act of absurdity. It reminded him of the story of the man at Rome who gave a long vindication of the strength of Hercules, and he was replied to in two words—this vindication was true, but Quis vituperavit? He, therefore, supported the Ministers. He owed no allegiance to the boroughmongers, but he did owe allegiance to a Monarch who ruled in the hearts and affections of his people. He venerated the Constitution—he felt the warmest allegiance for the excellent Monarch on the Throne—he loved his virtues as a man, he admired his conduct as a King—and he felt convinced, that while his Majesty was united as he was at present with his people in the pursuit of one great object, the improvement of the Representation in that House, he might set at defiance the efforts of faction, particularly such a faction as at present raised its puny voice against Reform. They had had the benefit of much whining prophesyings from the right hon. Baronet, delivered in his most elaborate tone of candour and solemnity, as to the evils of the present Bill; but that was not the first time in which he had indulged in his pythonisms. They all recollected his whining prophesyings—repeated year after year—of the danger to the Constitution from the Catholic Relief Bill; and they all also recollected his counter vaticinations of the still greater danger of refusing to pass that wise measure. They all recollected his solemn remonstrances against the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts; and they all recollected how he prudently assisted in proving the absurdity of his own declarations. So now with, respect to the Reform Bill, against which he took it upon him again modestly to prophesy, notwithstanding his own repeat- 899 ed proofs of the narrow range of his foresight. Was it not likely, that if it were not passed, that the right hon. Baronet would comedown himself next Session with some similar measure, and solemnly assure the House, that nothing but it could save the country from destruction? "But," says the right hon. Baronet, "the people of England were numerically opposed to the Catholic Relief Bill, so that if we had at the time a Reformed Parliament, it would not have passed; ergo, we borough Representatives are wiser than the people of England; and ergo there is no necessity for this Reform Bill." Now he denied his premises and his conclusion. Not only the enlightened portion of the people were friendly" to the Catholic Relief Bill, but the mass of the people. Nay, more, if they were not, and that the House acted contrary to their wishes in passing that Bill, it only followed, that it was not composed of their real Representatives, and should therefore be reformed. The right hon. Baronet had indulged in many gloomy forebodings of the effects of this Bill, but he was sure, that by it the Crown would be more firmly fixed than ever on the brow of the Monarch, and never was it more firmly fixed than on the head of William 4th, and at the same time he was sure, that no danger could arise from the Reform Bill to the stability of the constitutional privileges of the Peers. According to the right hon. Baronet, he and his friends were the only defenders of the Constitution, and he had warned the House, by the fate of the French Peerage not to pass this Bill; but all comparison between the mock, hereditary Peerage of France and that of England was out of the question. The former, had neither wealth, personal influence, nor a long line of ancestry to recommend them, the latter had all these, and nothing could expose the Peers of England to danger, but offending the people by nominating Members to Parliament. Their usurping the power of nominating to seats in that House was not constitutional, but the very reverse; so that the Bill could not be complained of if it put an end to that usurpation. Let the Peers keep themselves in their own station, in the exercise of their duties, and not trench upon the people's rights, and the people would not trench upon theirs. If they thought they had no better support than rotten boroughs, it was evident that they knew not the theory or the prac- 900 tice of the Constitution. In fact, the system of borough mongering was no longer to be borne. It had cost us America—it had produced the war with France, with a legacy of oppression on the industry of the country, in the shape of our immense debt; and still more, it fettered us, so that we dared not venture to interfere in foreign affairs—say the glorious struggle of the Poles—even though invited by honour, justice, and national policy. But, said an hon. Baronet (Sir J. Malcolm) opposite, recollect, that if you shut up the close boroughs, men of experience in the affairs of the colonies cannot find an avenue of admission into that House, so you must legislate for the colonies in the dark. Now he would ask the hon. Baronet, by way of an argumentum ad hominem, was he with all his various knowledge of the affairs of India, on which he had expatiated last night, a Representative of that great colony, or a nominee of a boronghmonger? Did he not, in fact, fill his present seat on the express stipulation that his votes and conduct in that House should exactly correspond with the sentiments of the borough proprietor who sent him there? And was not a defence of the rotten-borough system an essential feature of these sentiments, and therefore, should he vote contrary to that system, would not he, notwithstanding his extensive acquaintance with the affairs of India, be forthwith ejected by his patron? What did the Duke of Northumberland care about 120,000,000 of British subjects in India, in comparison with the possession of one of his Cornish boroughs? Not a straw; no, not more than he (Sir Francis Burdett) cared for the snap of his fingers. So the argument was a mere fallacy. It was a curious fact, indeed, that Mr. Pitt had in 1785 made use of the very same argument—and that, too, with effect—to show the necessity of Reform; quoting, as a remarkable case in point, that so far from the people of England being the electors of the majority of Members in that House, the Nabob of Are of nominated seven or eight. He cared little for the cheers with which the right hon. Baronet had been greeted; for they had been given on the same principle as the countryman whistled when he crossed the churchyard, for no other purpose than to keep up the courage of a losing party. He recollected an expression which a gallant Officer, whom, he was proud to call his friend, had used—he 901 meant Colonel Napier—who, in describing one of the victories which our bra v countrymen had won in the Peninsu a by the gallantry of their charge, had said, "then it was, the French army saw the majesty of an English soldier." He would borrow that expression, and would say, that during the late elections the borough-mongers had seen the majesty of the people of England. The right hon. Baronet had seen once, already, the error of the policy which he had adopted. He had changed his policy on the subject of Catholic Emancipation in the most manly way, at the moment when it was least expected; and yet, though he had changed his policy, the right hon. Baronet had stated, that he had not changed the opinions on which that policy was founded. The right hon. Baronet had proclaimed his dislike of quotations, and therefore he (Sir Francis Burdett) was both to make a quotation from Shakspeare, which he considered very applicable to the right hon. Baronet's conduct on that occasion. He doubted not but the right hon. Baronet recollected it; for it was a passage in which Hotspur said, "I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle danger, we pluck this flower safety." He hoped that the right hon. Baronet would see as urgent reasons to change his policy on this question of Reform, as he had seen to change his policy on the question of Catholic Emancipation. He maintained, in opposition to the right hon. Baronet, that the excitement which now prevailed was not a temporary excitement, which would soon be calm again. The present Bill had been thoroughly examined, and was well understood by the people. Though the right hon. Baronet was so averse from his quotations, he must take the opportunity of calling the right hon. Baronet's attention to a speech made by John Spry, at Manchester, which, in language and sense, would be found equal to most that were uttered in that House. This person says, "that the Bill, in granting such a general suffrage as it did, was all the people wanted; they would thereby obtain a fair share of Representation, and a fair share of influence; and that was all they could want." That, too, was his opinion: the Bill gave the people all which they required, for they did not stand on abstract principles, but sought only to acquire a practical good. That was the feeling which prevailed through- 902 out all England, and which would prevail until this Bill was carried. He would not trespass longer upon the attention of the. House. He would shortly say, that it did appear to him, that the only question which the House had to decide was, whether the Bill was supported by the permanent feeling and conviction of the people of England or not; because, if it was supported by that feeling and that conviction, it was the duty of Parliament to pass it in such a shape as would at once accommodate it to their wishes, and render it the source of inestimable benefit, not only to them, but to their remotest descendants.
Lord John Russell
observed, that as some remarks had been made in the course of the debate which were personal to himself, and as other matters had been brought before the House which affected the character of the Government, he could not allow the debate to close, without intruding one or two observations upon the notice of the House. In the first place he begged permission to notice the remark of a gallant General, who had found fault with him for the manner in which he had given his explanation of this Bill when he first introduced it. The gallant General had said, that upon that occasion his manner was not merely unbecoming, it was downright arrogant. Now, if by any accident his manner had been such as the gallant General had described, he could assure the House that it had been so most undesignedly. He had expressed no unbecoming or arrogant exultation: even if he had indulged in any such feeling, which he denied, it was only in reference to the manner in which the question had been treated when brought forward on the present occasion, in comparison to the manner in which it was treated when brought forward on the former occasion. Then it was treated with disdain—now it had been admitted to be worthy of attention. If the subject had always been treated as it had now been treated by the right hon. Baronet, nothing whatever should have fallen from him but what was due to that fair and candid consideration which so important a measure required. The debate had been conducted, on the present occasion, in a manner worthy of its importance. In the fair exercise of discussion, he had remarked, that those who argued against this Bill had taken two objections, which to him appeared contradictory of each other. They 903 had, at the same time, declared innovation to be a thing to be avoided, and professed, that they were ready to embrace a plan of Reform, provided it were safer than that proposed by Ministers. He thought they should restrict themselves to one line of opposition, and either say nothing against innovation, or give up all notion of moderate Reform. If they held by prescription, they ought not to go to the people and say they were reformers. They differed amongst themselves, too, as to the plans of Reform they would recommend; and he had even heard, in the same speech, that both lines of argument had been adopted. In particular this was the case with the noble Lord (Lord Porchester) who had both argued, that the Constitution could not exist if the people were to be represented, and that he would have gone with the Ministers had they brought in a plan of moderate Reform. With reference to what the noble Lord had said concerning France. he must deny, that what had happened in that country was a criterion of what could possibly occur here. The arguments derived from France were only the recollections of the horrors of the first French Revolution. There was no similarity between the two countries as to the state of society, and no inference could be more erroneous, than that which anticipated a Revolution here from proposing Reform, because a Revolution had taken place there, from the government making an attempt at oppression. With regard to the 10l. householders, who were so much decryed by hon. Members, he would only say, to his hon. friend (Mr. Baring), who had taken the lead in expressing his horror of giving their the franchise, that they did not differ from the electors of potwallopping boroughs from whom Gentlemen had no apprehensions. Wishing to decry them, Gentlemen, went to France for a comparison, instead of going to one of our own boroughs; and a 10l. householder, instead of being like? respectable inhabitant of Taunton or Callington, was conceived by them to be a sans culotte, with a pike in his hand, bearing on it a bloody head. The excitement in the country on the subject of the 10l clause, showed that altering the clauses of the Bill to make it less extensive would occasion something unpleasant among the people, and how much more, then, the total rejection of the measure. When the right hon. Baronet, therefore, warned then against the 10. qualification, he begged 904 to remind him of this circumstance. He was sorry, that the Manchester and Birmingham Bills, as proposed by himself and the hon. member for Stamford, had not been successful; for we should, in that case, now have had the experience of the small franchises provided by those bills as a guide to the judgment of the House. The next complaints made against the Ministers was, that they had used the King's name improperly, and it was said, that the clamour which had been raised in support of the Bill, had been raised in consequence of the improper use which had been made of the name of his Majesty at the late elections. He admitted, that it was objectionable that the name of his Majesty should be introduced at all upon such occasions; but he would beg leave to remind the House, that his Majesty's Ministers had not been guilty of any such conduct, neither ought they to be held responsible for that cry which throughout the country had connected the names of Reform and of the King together. It was undoubtedly the duty of his Majesty's Government to give that advice which they had given to his Majesty respecting the dissolution of Parliament when they had to combat with a succession of reports which stated that his Majesty was opposed to his responsible advisers, and when individuals were attempting to divide the personal authority of the King from the measures which were brought forward under his constitutional sanction. When his right hon. friend (Sir James Graham) had alluded once in that House to the possibility of a dissolution, a number of reports were immediately circulated, that the King would not consent to any such thing, and would sacrifice his Ministers before he would allow of a dissolution. When, therefore, after these reports had been spread, the King had gone down to dissolve Parliament in person, the question was immediately solved as to the feeling of the King, and it became a natural consequence of the false reports which the enemies of Reform had spread, that the, King's name should be connected with the question of Reform. The cry which had gone through the country, making the name of the King the watch-word of the reformers, was the undeniable consequence of the machinations of the opponents of Reform. The right hon. Baronet had warned the House over and over again against changes, and seemed to think, that 905 he (Lord John Russell) had been arguing against the principle of even endeavouring to keep our institutions permanent and stable. The object, however, at which he had aimed in his argument was, first of all, to show, that there was in our institutions a tendency to change; and, secondly, that electors and elections ought to be free. For that purpose he had, on a former occasion, quoted the preamble of an Act of George 2nd, and having, as he thought, an historical authority, which would illustrate both those points, he would proceed to quote, notwithstanding the right hon. Baronet's terror of quotations, a passage from a Writer—Mr. Hume—whom he believed the right hon. Baronet would admit to be an authority. After describing the system of Representation which Edward 1st had given to this country, Mr. Hume added these words—" It is a most equitable rule," said the Monarch, "that what concerns all should be approved by all, and common dangers be repelled by united efforts; a noble principle, which may seem to indicate a liberal mind in the King, and which laid the foundation of a free and equitable government." He said, that the 906 principle then laid down, was the foundation of the system of Reform now proposed to the consideration of the House. The reformers said, that a nation which was entitled to consider itself as moral and free, was liable to be injured perpetually by a system of Representation which was at once barbarous, immoral, and destructive of freedom. The people claimed, that that system should be altered, and the Ministers say," their claim is just." They say," let their claim be granted; let the people of England be fairly and freely represented in the House of Commons: for they are convinced, that the people will not make a wrong use of the power intrusted to them. He believed in his conscience, that a great and enlightened nation like our own, would make that use of political privileges which freedom required; and he placed this Bill before the House, in the hope of uniting the people with the House of Commons, and thereby inducing them to support the legitimate prerogatives of the Crown, and the authority of both Houses of Parliament.
§ The House divided,
§ For the second reading 367; against it 231—majority 136.