§ The Speaker called upon Mr. Grote to bring forward his Motion on the Ballot.
§ Mr. Philpotts
begged leave to be allowed that opportunity of presenting a Petition, most numerously and respectably signed, from Gloucester, which was intimately connected with the hon. Member's Motion.—The following petition was accordingly presented and read.To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom in Parliament assembled. The humble Petition of the undersigned Electors and Inhabitants of Gloucester,Showeth,—That the oppressive practices of many wealthy and influential persons, resident within this city and in its neighbourhood, since the general election in December last, and during a recent contest for a seat in your honourable House, compel your petitioners to lay before you a statement of their grievances and of their formed opinion, that freedom of election in this place, and, as they fear, throughout the country, can be insured by no other means, than the adoption of the system of the Vote by Ballot.That your petitioners are not insensible to the truth, that if no other than legitimate influence were exerted, open suffrages would, as the most manly, be the far preferable, mode of exercising the elective franchise. To the desire for change they have been driven, by the acts of men who arrogate to themselves the right, and usurp the power, of controlling the expression of public opinion.That not only has the intimidation, not un-frequently practised, been resorted to in the inordinate exercise of the rights of creditors, of landlords, of masters, of magistrates, of clergymen, and of public functionaries, but very many tradesmen, dreading great pecuniary losses, and, in some instances, even the ruin of themselves and their families, did not dare, at the recent election, to exercise the rights conferred upon them by the Reform Act, in defiance of the urgent threats of their richer customers, and the avowed adoption, by the Tory party, of a system of dealing exclusively with tradesmen who are accustomed to vote for a Tory candidate, regardless of the injuries thus inflicted upon respectable men, for no other cause than their acting upon their own opinions. That this latter species of oppression, as it cannot constitutionally be encountered by any legal restriction, or penal enactment, is an evil, for which your petitioners perceive no other remedy than the introduction of the Ballot.Though gross bribery has been practised at the recent contest, and though the Ballot is an undoubted means of preventing that crime, yet, inasmuch as the law, in that respect, though not sufficiently strict, is, when enforced, very penal towards offenders, your petitioners 608 do not deem it necessary to draw the attention of your honourable House more expressly to that subject; feeling, however, that the poorer classes of the community require protection against a sort of oppression which cannot be included within the precise legal definition of any crime.Your petitioners humbly pray, that your honourable House will be pleased to protect every man in the due exercise of his constitutional rights, by passing a bill for taking votes by Ballot, at the elections of Members of Parliament for cities and boroughs.
§ Mr. Grote
then spoke as follows; *—Sir,—I rise to submit to you the Motion of which I have given notice, respecting the mode of taking votes at elections for Members of Parliament: and I do so with peculiar satisfaction and encouragement, after the very weighty petition which has just been presented. It is my intention to move that the votes be taken by Ballot, instead of openly.
Aware, as I am, of the interest which this question excites amongst many of your constituencies, in all parts of the country, I could have wished that it had been taken up by some gentleman abler and more practised in the business of this House, than I can boast of being. But though many persons might be found better qualified to do justice to the subject, there is none who takes in it a warmer or a deeper interest. My conviction of the necessity of a secret suffrage, and of the gross mischiefs inseparable from an open suffrage, is now of long standing: and all subsequent reflection upon the matter—all enlarged acquaintance with the detail of elections—has only tended to confirm and corroborate that opinion.
But, Sir, though I feel strongly the importance of the change which I am urging, I should have hesitated in bringing it forward, if it had violated or contravened in any way the principles of the great measure of Reform passed last year—a measure to which I cannot allude without my humble tribute of gratitude and admiration. The noble Lord who first brought forward the measure, in 1831, glanced in his opening speech at the question of the Ballot, with the express view of stating that he pronounced no opinion either for or against it, and that it must be reserved for consideration at some more appropriate season. He thus left the Ballot undecided, and on neutral ground; and I even presume to say that the question now stands on a more fa-* Reprinted from the corrected edition published by Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange.609 vourable footing than it did before the passing of the Reform Bill.
For it is to that bill, Sir, that we owe our emergence from the chaos and the anomalies of the ancient elective system, and the first approach to a real representative government. The legitimate purpose of voting has now been defined and recognized by authority; we know the end which we have to attain, and we can consider deliberately the best means of attaining it. The great decree has gone forth, that nomination shall be for ever extinguished, and representation substituted in its place. The idea of a sham representation is now banished, amidst the disgraces and mischiefs of the past. The noble Lord opposite, in originally proposing the Reform Bill, announced his distinct intention of so constituting this House, as that it should enjoy, and command, and deserve, the confidence of the people. Sir, I honour him for the recognition of this great and glorious end; and not merely for the recognition of it, but for the mighty stride which he has made towards its accomplishment. I gladly join hands with him, and I desire nothing better than the full attainment of the end which he has thus marked out. Let this House bear upon its front the clear impress of the public confidence—let it carry in its fabric and mode of selection, unequivocal evidence that its members, collectively and individually, possess the confidence of the people—let this be assured, and I, for one, shall be amply satisfied.
Sir, it was with reference to this end that you last year re-organized your constituent body; you gave it a new form, you increased it in number, and you distributed it into new classes and detachments. You discarded the ancient constituency, because it was not calculated to secure to you a Legislature possessing the confidence of the people; you created a new constituency, specially adapted for that express object. I call upon you now to review your mode of taking votes upon the same simple, precise, and momentous principle. I call upon you, no less in consistency with your own professed aim, than with a view to the settlement of a most important question, to consider—whether you are most likely to obtain a Legislature possessing the confidence of the people by taking the votes of electors secretly or openly? And further—whether the benefits promised by the Reform Bill may not be intercepted and nullified, by an unwise or mischievous method of taking; votes?
610 You are aware, that secret suffrage is preferred in France, and in twenty out of the twenty-four states of the American Union; open suffrage has been hitherto the practice in your un-reformed parliamentary elections. But, however happily an open suffrage may have chimed in with that borough-holding ascendancy, under which your unreformed Parliament was cast, I think I shall be able to show you, that secret suffrage is the only arrangement compatible with the genius and purposes of Parliament, as it has now been reformed.
Sir, the Reform Bill has given you a numerous and intelligent constituency, amounting perhaps to something near a million of voters. What would have been said, if there had been a clause in the Bill dividing that constituency into two classes: one class, voters juris sui,—another class, voters Juris alieni; one class free, the other subject, voters; the first invested with a will of their own, the second under legal obligation to express only the will of another? What if the Bill had numbered all the tenants on a great man's estate, and all occupiers of houses under him, as so many lip-voters, necessary, indeed, as mechanical instruments for transmitting his will to the hustings, but legally incapable of expressing any other determination than his? What if it had imposed on all clerks, or journeymen, or labourers, the obligation of voting in the way that their masters prescribed, under the sanction of a pecuniary fine in case of disobedience?
Sir, if any one of such enormities had been comprised in the Reform Bill, it would have been torn in pieces amidst the execrations of the whole community. Tories, Whigs, and Radicals, would have denounced it with one unanimous voice; there would not have been one single hand held up, from any political party, in favour of this abolition of the right of private judgment even amongst the humblest portion of the electors. No one would then have talked of the right of the landlord to control the votes of his tenants, in recompense for the permission granted to them of residing upon his land. Every man would have been full of indignation at the bare thought of according a vote without formal liberty of disposing of it.
But it is not by law alone that the freedom of voting can be subverted. That same state of biassed, dependent, and subjugated voting now exists among you, in full malignity, by the mere force of natural 611 causes. What need is there to enact by law, that the landlord shall have power over the vote of his tenant? The landlord has himself the power of enforcing his own dictation, and of inflicting a penalty on disobedience, much more serious than any which the law would provide—ejectment from house and home. What necessity is there to decree, that customers shall have power over the votes of their tradesmen, and employers over the votes of their labourers? The power exists as surely, and the penalty is as imminent and as terrible, whether you legalise it or not.
Now, Sir, if dependence and subjection of votes, when created by law, be thus abhorrent to your feelings, why should the same thing be less abhorrent when it breaks in upon you perforce, without the aid of law? Its mischiefs are precisely the same, whether it be a weed of natural growth, or a poison artificially planted. You are just as much bound to extirpate the weed, as to refrain from planting the poison. It is not the name—it is not the legalised establishment—of dependent voting, which is mischievous. No, it is the thing called dependent, compulsory, spurious voting, which is of such deplorable effect, whether it be of natural growth, or of factitious and intentional creation. What signifies though it be covered with a thin film of freedom, and ushered in with the empty proclamation of "Every voter to do as he pleases"? If, nevertheless, the voting be really under compulsion, you have the same actual mischief to answer for, coupled with an unworthy piece of hypocrisy to screen it from public recognition.
Cast your eyes over your constituency as it now stands, and you will perceive that a very large proportion of them—I may, without exaggeration, say one-half—are unable to call their votes their own. Each Than amongst them is so placed as to be liable to suffer, at the hands of some one or some few other parties, pecuniary loss equivalent to a large legal fine, and amounting often to the utmost extremity of injury, if he does not dispose of his vote at their dictation. Some there are amongst the voters thus hardly circumstanced—splendid examples of political virtue—who give an honest vote and incur the full consequent hazard; and the last election has exhibited to us instances of this devoted principle quite sufficient to excite our deepest sympathy. But the larger number of voters are dragged aside 612 and perverted by the successful exertion of ascendancy from without; they give way before an over-ruling destiny, and they stifle the voice of conscience, because it cannot be put forth without hazard and ruin.
Throughout the county elections, you have the landlord putting the word into the mouth of his tenants, for whom they shall vote, and against whom they shall vote. In the towns, you have the rich customers sending round circulars to their tradesmen, and exercising a similar constraint, by plain hints of the impending consequences, if the circular remains unheeded. Gentlemen may, indeed, call these requests: so they may be, perhaps, in the wording, but they are requests with a fearful sting in the tail; they are requests such as those described in the emphatic language of Tacitus: "Preces erant, sed quibus contradici non poterat." In many cases, even the semblance of request is dispensed with; the employer promises away the votes of his labourers without the ceremony of asking them; or a large body of the population of a town are seen signing peremptory declarations of exclusive dealing, thus threatening poverty and ruin to any tradesman whose conscience may lead him to vote against them. All these are manifold results of the same great cause: interference and coercion left open by your present system. Many a voter, too, evades this collision between his duty and his interest, by refusing to register his name or by keeping away from the poll; and you have thus a large self-inflicted disfranchisement, resulting purely from the unguarded condition of the voter.
Now, Sir, I earnestly urge upon you that this dependent and compulsory voting is pregnant with boundless mischief, both public and private. It totally frustrates and subverts the great purpose for which alone voting is useful; for how can you learn from such votes, heartless and stimulated as they are, who it is that really possess the confidence of the people? Nay, more, how can you escape being saddled with legislators who do not possess the confidence of the people, when so many of your voters are constrained to say yes, where they wish to say no? What is the value of a majority of votes obtained by one candidate over another, if half the votes composing that majority are spurious and extorted? Now, if this be really the state of the case, and if, after all, you get a Legislature which does not carry with it 613 the stamp of confidence from the people, I submit to you, that the benefits promised by the Reform Bill are frustrated—your elective system is, to a great extent, a failure and a nullity; for the basis on which the whole elective system rests—the source from which all its virtues are do-rived—the only characteristic which distinguishes it from a vain mummery—is, the genuine suffrage of each qualified voter.
So much for the public mischiefs of this compulsory voting. Add, besides, the fearful private mischief and immorality accompanying it—the solemn falsehood at the poll, told by the dependent under constraint of his superior—the self abasement in the mind of every one, who thus feels himself degraded into the lifeless instrument of another's will—the apathy and recklessness created, as to political duties in general, when a man cannot give effect to his own resolutions—and the thousand angry feelings which accompany every where the workings of this private terrorism;—sum up all the items in this gloomy catalogue, and you will be convinced that dependent voting is one of the most calamitous of all our national evils.
Now, Sir, whence arises this power of constraining the votes of others, exercised amongst us with such deplorable effect? We need not investigate its various sources, for there is one condition indispensable to its agency—I mean the publicity of votes. However hardly the hand of power may bear on a voter in other ways, it will not reach his vote, if he votes in silence and darkness. Secrecy of voting, and freedom of voting, are necessary and inseparable companions: where the one is, there will the other be also; and conversely, where the one is not, the blessings of the other will never be known.
I know that there are some who dispute whether secrecy really will bestow this freedom. But how can it possibly fail of doing so? How can a man hope to please any one, or fear to offend any one, by an act unseen, unknown, uncognizable, by any one but himself. Imagine the elector alone in a balloting closet, with his card or ticket in his hand. How can he possibly please any body, by scratching out the name of the wrong candidate? How can he displease any body, by scratching out the name of the right candidate? His vote is in this case, a mere silent thought: an unproclaimed wish, which leaves no memorial behind it. Can a man be either 614 rewarded or punished for an untold secret of this kind? No, Sir, it is the commonest of all proverbs, that thought is free; and the unheard expressions of thought are just as much beyond the reach of human coercion or revenge, as thought itself.
Gentlemen do indeed argue, that though an elector's vote may be concealed, his political feelings will be known from other evidences. Suppose they are known: I contend that his vote will be just as much emancipated as if they were not known. He may be punished or rewarded for any overt expression of his sentiments; he cannot be punished or rewarded for his unseen vote. I, as a landlord, may, if I please, eject a tenant for real or suspected political sentiments; but I cannot eject him for an unknown vote, and, therefore, I cannot create in bun any motive to vote against his conscience. "This is the direct and specific virtue of the Ballot, that it destroys all motive for an elector to falsify his sentiments at the poll, because, under no circumstances can he attract favour or avert injury by doing so. Nobody will give him credit for a vote contrary to his sentiments, when nobody can possibly know how his vote was really given.
Sir, I do not assert that the Ballot, directly and of itself, will put an end to all persecution for political sentiment expressed elsewhere, but I do assert, that it will put an end to compulsory and insincere voting. You cannot have forgotten the analogous case of France. To every one who has followed the eventful course of affairs in that country, during the last ten years, it is notorious, that the Ballot proved the single guarantee, but the all-sufficient guarantee, against an overwhelming Government ascendancy. This is a matter confessed by all parties, friends as well as enemies; indeed the shameless efforts of the Bourbon Government, to elude or nullify the Ballot in practice, plainly proved how well they know and felt its influence. I do not presume to cite the case of France in proof of the goodness of the Ballot, but I do cite that case confidently in proof of its efficacy in shielding the voter from all undue compulsion. I rely. Sir, fully and surely, on the Ballot, as an effective bar against intimidation and coercion of votes: I rely on it, too, as going far to preclude bribery, much farther than any penal enactment which can now be devised—for it cannot be unknown to those who hear me, that there is no case in which the lame 615 foot of justice finds greater difficulty in overtaking the doublings of crime, than in investigations of bribery. Under the Ballot, individual bribery could have no place: for no man would buy that which he could have no assurance of obtaining; but there is, undoubtedly, a sort of wholesale or collective bribery which might still remain practicable. A man may offer a sum of money, to be distributed among the aggregate of the voters of any place, conditionally upon his being returned Member. But it is to be recollected, that this is a transaction not a little hazardous, and very likely to bring about an exposure; so that the Ballot will at least render bribery much more difficult, much more complicated, and much more dangerous, to the parties concerned. Moreover, I beg to remind you, that for one vote perverted by bribery, there are twenty perverted by intimidation.
Others, again, there are who object to the Ballot, not on the score of inefficacy, but from pure dislike of secrecy in general. It leads (they tell you) to mendacity and promise-breaking: for a tenant, after having promised his vote to his superior, may break his promise with impunity, and vote against him at the poll.
Now, Sir, it is very true that a tenant, voting by Ballot, may thus break his promise: But why should you suppose that he will do so? There can be but one answer: because the promise has been given contrary to his genuine and conscientious feeling. In no other case can he be tempted to violate it. For had it been given of his own free-will, and coincident with his judgment and conscience, he would feel pleasure in performing it, and pain in violating it, whether performance were open or secret. The mere supposition, therefore, that the voter will be disposed to break his promise, implies that he has promised contrary to his genuine inclination, and therefore by some extraneous force or compulsion. It is from these compulsory promises alone that the chance of promise-breaking arises.
Let any man just contemplate the nature of this compulsory promise, and mark what is involved in it. Preferring A in his conscience, the elector has been constrained to promise, that he will vote for B; he has promised to give an insincere and dishonest vote—to tell a known and deliberate lie at the poll. A promise, like this, involves the necessity of lying, one way or the other: either to his country, if 616 he keeps the promise, or to his superior, if he breaks it. But what falsehood can be worse than a dishonest vote at the poll? Is it not a falsehood told under the most awful circumstances—told, too, in express violation of a solemn trust towards his country, which calls upon him to speak the truth? What comments do you make upon a juror who gives a dishonest verdict, or upon a witness who knowingly deposes an untruth in open Court? You treat them as vile and dishonoured outcasts, and you treat them justly. Yet note well, that if these judicial trust-breakers sin in poisoning the fountains of justice, the electoral trust-breaker sins scarcely less in poisoning the fountains of legislation.
I take great pains, Sir, to present to you forcibly this horn of the dilemma, because gentlemen are very fond of dwelling exclusively upon the other. They talk as if the only falsehood which a voter could tell, and the only wrong which he could commit, were, the breaking faith with one who had extorted from him a dishonest promise. I maintain, that there is another and a greater wrong which he may commit—the breaking faith with the public; and further, that one of the two he infallibly must commit, if he has given a promise of this kind. In the eyes of this House, especially, as the recognized guardian of the public interest, the performance of a public trust must be the first of all things to be enforced, in spite of any pledge to the contrary, by which the trustee may choose privately to bind himself You will condemn and censure him for entering into so criminal a covenant; but you will not permit him to make the immorality of the covenant an excuse for the still greater immorality of violating his trust. I am almost ashamed. Sir, to load you with illustrations of a principle so obvious, but suppose that I engage, as juror; or as witness, to find an unjust verdict, or to bear false testimony—am I to be held bound, or am I even authorized, to commit the iniquity to which I stand pledged." Not if I have promised it ever so broadly and unequivocally. The promise is bad enough; the act would be far worse. I will, with your permission, read half-a-dozen lines from Shakspeare, which set this truth in a striking point of view:It is great sin to swear unto a sin,But greater still to keep a sinful oath.Who can be bound by any solemn vowTo do a murderous deed, to rob a man.To force a spotless virgin's chastity,To reave the orphan of his patrimony,617To wring the widow from her customed right;And have no other reason for his wrong,But that he was bound by a solemn oath?These lines are no less exact than forcible. I value, as highly as any man, the sanctity of a promise; but promise-keeping is only one amongst many various and important duties, and whenever a more commanding obligation intervenes, the breach of the promise becomes a duty, and the observance of it a sin.
Now, Sir, the very worst effect which the Ballot can produce is to enable these compulsory and immoral promises to be violated with impunity. But it neither will, nor can, create any additional breach of faith, over and above what there would be under open voting. In one case, the voter breaks faith with his country; in the other case, with his private superior. Take it at the worst, the Ballot gets rid of the more noxious lie of the two, and substitutes a lie more harmless and excusable.
But this is not the fair way of appreciating the effects of secret voting. For I contend that the compulsory and dishonest promises, from whence alone lying proceeds, will seldom or never be exacted. For where is the advantage of forcing a man to promise against his inclination, when you cannot force him to keep his promise? To tie a man down by a hateful pledge, against which his conscience kicks and struggles, when you cannot by any means ascertain whether he keeps his promise or not, seems little better than a fruitless affront; tending only to rouse in the mind of the dependent all the galling ideas of coercion, without strengthening your real hold over his conduct. Therefore, I infer, that it will seldom or never be done. By depriving the superior of the power to extort a vote, we shall deprive him of the motive to extort a promise. No promises will be asked or given, except those which coincide with the voter's inclination; and there is no fear that promises of this kind should ever be broken.
Here, Sir, you have the final result of all this promise-breaking and mendacity which the Ballot is pretended to entail upon us. It is purely fanciful and gratuitous. But let me ask, is there no promise-breaking now, under open voting? Why, there is scarcely a single election-contest which docs not exhibit, not only compulsory promise-making, but compulsory promise-breaking, in abundance. Does it not eternally happen that a dependent is compelled by his superior to 618 break a promise which he has voluntarily made to another? I have already shown you that the Ballot will put an end to compulsory promises: I now show you that it will put an end to compulsory violations of previous promises, and this at least you will admit to be of serious moment.
But the more you look at the subject, Sir, the less you will be disposed to connect secret voting with falsehood and duplicity, or open voting with frankness and ingenuousness. Speaking in a whisper is not synonymous with lying: much less is speaking aloud synonymous with openness of heart and truth-telling. There are cases, no doubt, in which secrecy is conducive to fraud and deception: but there are also cases in which it is the only sure road to the truth. Where a man is called us a witness, to depose to facts, or to recount actual events, there it is essential that his testimony should be delivered in public; for it is only by a public hearing, that you can procure the opportunity of confronting him with others who may have been cognizant of the same facts. But where you want to learn from a man, not any matters of fact, but simply his own private judgment and opinion, of which no one can be cognizant except himself—where, besides, he has no motive of his own to deceive you—there you are much more likely to hear the truth by making his communication strictly confidential. It perpetually happens in private life, that you have occasion to ascertain the opinion of A or B, respecting the integrity, or the skill, or the commercial solvency of C or D: and every man to whom this necessity occurs, knows well that the only way to get a frank and genuine opinion is, to put the question in strict privacy and confidence.
Now, Sir, this is precisely the situation of an elector at the poll. You do not want to learn from him any facts; you want to know his opinion with regard to the merits of the candidates on the list, of which no one can be cognizant except himself. He has no motive to tell you wrong; and if he does tell you wrong, it can only be by the force of some compulsion acting upon him from without. What, then, is the rule which prudence prescribes? To make his communication perfectly confidential, and to let him see that he has nothing to fear from disclosing to you unreservedly the state of his conscience. By rendering the suffrage secret, you will be sure to heat the truth, and nothing but the truth.
619 Gentlemen are pleased to talk of open voting, as if it were pre-eminently frank and ingenuous. But are they really simple enough to believe, that because an elector speaks aloud, he therefore of necessity speaks from his heart? I assert, and it is the very mischief of which I complain, that in numberless cases the elector is compelled to express, not his own opinion, but the opinion of another. What is there frank and ingenuous in this proceeding? Nay, does not open voting, by exposing the elector to persecution, operate as a penalty on sincerity and conscience, and as a premium to servile and dishonest compliance?
I know that there are some who object to the Ballot, on a ground different from any which I have hitherto touched upon. They allege, that the elective franchise is a trust: that every elector is responsible for the way in which he exercises it; and that this responsibility carries with it the necessity of publicity, in order that the great body of non-electors may have security that he shall exercise it well.
Sir, it would indeed be a weighty argument, if Gentlemen could show that open voting was either a security or a benefit to the great mass of non-electors. But I think I can prove to them that the very reverse is the fact.
What is the nature and obligation of the electoral trust? Simply this, that an elector shall deliver his genuine and conscientious opinion at the poll, whether it agrees or disagrees with that of other people.
Now, Sir, you must suppose one of two things—either the electors are disposed to deliver their honest conviction of their own accord, or not. If they are so disposed, you want no better security for their conduct; you have only to shield them against intimidation from without. But if the case be otherwise, and if they are disposed of their own accord to vote dishonestly, can you force them to vote honestly by merely making them vote in public?
Sir, I contend that the thing is totally impracticable. That which you seek from the voter, an honest expression of opinion—can never be obtained except from his own free will. The utmost extremity of force cannot wring it from him, if he be not disposed to give it freely. It is a secret of his own conscience, which no human being can fathom, and which none but himself can disclose. If it be his wish to vote dishonestly; he may do so just as easily in 620 the face of the fullest congregation, as in his own closet. No conceivable supervision can compel a man to deliver an honest vote, because no human discernment can ascertain whether his vote be honest or not. Therefore, I maintain, that as far as regards the attainment of honest and conscientious voting, publicity is utterly fruitless and impotent, if you assume the voter himself to be dishonestly inclined.
But I shall go further and show you, that publicity of votes, as a means of securing responsibility, though impotent towards good, is most potent and effective indeed towards evil. It cannot convert a single voter from dishonesty to honesty; but it makes thousands of honest voters dishonest against their inclinations. For wherever votes are publicly known, the door is opened for tampering with voters as individuals, and every voter becomes controllable by one or a few private masters, who exercise a paramount influence over his comforts and position in life. Under the mask of responsibility to the public, you thus fasten about his neck the base and dismal chain of private dependence.
But look once again at this pretended responsibility: From what quarter is it to come? By what parties is it to be en forced? It is the mass of the non-electoral population (we are told) who are to enforce it: it is they who are to watch over the electors, and to drive them into honest voting in spite of dishonest inclinations. Is it really contended that the non-voters are competent to exercise any such control or supervision? Why the only reason for setting them aside as non-voters, and for withholding from them the elective franchise, is, their presumed incapacity of forming any judgment whatever on political subjects! Whether the presumption be well-founded or not, it is not for me to determine; but it is the common ground, and certainly the only just ground, for disfranchising them. How can it be pretended that men, thus set aside as incapables, are qualified to dive into the hearts of electors, and to render honest voting a matter of compulsion?
Besides, Sir, how is it that the non-electoral population really comport themselves, whenever they do intermeddle in matters of this kind? They appear as the ardent partisans of one candidate, and as the enemies of his opponent; they applaud every man who votes for him, they denounce every man who votes against him, without the slightest regard to the conscience, or 621 honesty, or sincere persuasion of the elector. Is this the responsibility which you would wish to see prevailing in your various cities and boroughs? In my view it is purely mischievous. Dictation by an assembled crowd is no less odious, than dictation by a private individual, for both end in the same deplorable result—spurious and insincere voting. I wish the voter not to be shaken in his honest conviction, either by the vultus instantis tyranni, or by the civium ardor prava Jubentium; and for that reason I wish that neither the tyrant nor the crowd should know for whom he votes. His conscience is, in ray view, an august oracle, to be consulted with silent respect; merely taking care that no force is put upon the priestess, and no bribes tendered to seduce her.
I think I have now shown you, that this pretended responsibility of voters is at best a mere nullity—that it cannot, under any circumstances, make a dishonest elector vote honestly—and that whenever it is attempted to be enforced, it creates the very evil against which it professes to guard. Where, then, I shall be asked, is the security for honest voting? It lies in the will and disposition of the voter himself. If it be not there, it is no where. If the voters are sufficiently numerous, and sufficiently well-distributed, to have collectively the same interests as the community, they can have no wish except to choose honestly; and all that is needful is to grant them the protection of the Ballot, in order to insure their being left to their own free-will. And give me leave to remind the noble Lords opposite, that this is the only ground on which their late extension of the constituency can for a moment be vindicated. If they had relied upon the responsibility of the voter, as the guarantee for honest voting, any extension of the constituency would have been absurd and injurious; for a small constituency is far more pointedly responsible than a numerous constituency; and every step which you took in enlarging the electoral body, was a step in diminution of the responsibility of each individual elector. Nay, upon this principle, the single-headed constituency of Old Sarum would have been the best in the whole kingdom; for you had there responsibility concentrated to the utmost possible degree. And, as a general rule, nomination would be better than representation; for there can be no doubt that one or a few nominators are more urgently responsible, than 1,000 or 2,000 electors.
622 No, Sir, the framers of the Reform Bill did not contemplate that their new constituency would be dishonestly inclined—they did not look to responsibility of the voter as the proper guarantee for honest voting. They proceeded on a wiser and more righteous principle; they aimed at giving us a constituency numerous enough to have no interests opposed to honest voting. What I ask of them now is, that they will give us a constituency in fact, where as yet we have only a constituency in name that they will give us a body, not of mere paper voters, not of lifeless ciphers, not of voters in wax-work, but of real, self-determining men; and that they will guard every elector in the exercise of that free and unembarrassed volition, without which he is worse than disfranchised.
Sir, I have already troubled the House at greater length than I could wish, but there is yet another argument which I cannot omit to answer. You are often told, that the influence of rich men over voters is a very salutary thing, and that the Ballot is mischievous as tending to abridge it. Gentlemen do, indeed, draw a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate influence—a distinction which I heartily admit and approve of, though I think the real meaning of these important words ought to be very carefully explained.
How much influence over voters ought a rich man to have? As much as he can purchase? No, certainly—for even the present law forbids all idea of his purchasing any influence. Not as much as he can purchase, but as much as he deserves, and as much as unconstrained freemen are willing to pay him. Amongst unconstrained freemen, the man of recognised superiority will be sure to acquire spontaneous esteem and deference; these are his just deserts, and they come to him unbidden and unbespoken. But they will come to him multiplied tenfold, if, along with such intrinsic excellencies, he possesses the extrinsic recommendations of birth and fortune—if he be recommended to the attention of his neighbours by the conspicuous blazon of established opulence and station—and if he be thus furnished with the means of giving ample range and effect to an enlightened beneficence. This is the meed which awaits men of birth and station, if they do but employ their faculties industriously and to the proper ends. Poorer men may, doubtless, attain it also; but with them the ascent is toilsome, the obstructions 623 numerous, and the success, at best, uncertain: to the rich man the path is certain and easy—the willing public meet him half way, and joyfully hail the gradual opening of his virtues. He is the man to whom they delight to pay homage; and their idolatrous fancy forestalls and exaggerates his real merits.
This, Sir, is, in my opinion, the legitimate influence of wealth and station; to serve as the passport, the ally, and the handmaid, of superior worth and talent. This influence is as gentle and kindly as it is lasting and infallible; it is self-created and self-preserving; and it is, moreover, twice blest, for it blesses as well the few who exercise it, as the many over whom it is exercised. If our great and wealthy men would be content with this legitimate influence—if they could employ their superior opportunities in the display of those qualities which really fit them for guides and governors—then would their ascendancy be assured beyond all competition, under any conceivable system of election, rare or frequent, secret or open.
But, Sir, it is the curse and misery of our species, that the great and wealthy men, both here and elsewhere, will seldom be satisfied to pursue this straight and righteous path to dominion. They seek to play the prime parts among mankind, without any display of those commanding qualities which make mankind willing to acknowledge and submit to them. 'Diversissimas res—to use the words of Sallust—"diversissimas res pariter expectant—ignaviæ voluptatem, et præmia virtutis." They choose to govern by mere dint of wealth and station, unallied with those beneficent ingredients, which bestow upon rulers an empire over human hearts as well as over human persons. Then comes the strain and tug, to make the influence of wealth alone, in worthless and ungifted hands, a substitute for that of wealth and personal merit united. Wealth alone, in any hands, carries with it the power of befriending one man, and injuring another; it will not indeed procure for its possessor the heartfelt esteem of a willing public, but it will at least enable him to purchase the simulated demonstrations of esteem, and to extort those votes which he has not virtue enough to earn. This, Sir, is the illegitimate influence of wealth and station—when it supersedes and disenthrones the diviner qualities of the man and the hero—when the favours and injuries which it deals out are made to stand in the place of talents and virtues, and 624 to usurp that recompense which the people delight to bestow upon the glorious compound of superior worth and worldly station.
Now, when I am asked whether the Ballot will abridge the influence of wealth and wealthy men, I reply, that in all those cases in which such influence is really legitimate and beneficial, not only it will not be abridged, but it will be materially strengthened and exalted. Under open voting, the influence of wealth is alike in every hand—alike, whether combined with exemplary merit, or with worthlessness and mediocrity. Ejectment of tenants—privation of custom—dismissal from employment—all these miserable weapons may be employed alike by the best and by the worst—nay, the worse a man is, the more effectively will he employ them, since he will be less restrained by scruples of justice or tenderness. You thus have the hurtful influence of wealth strained to its utmost pitch, while the salutary influence is counteracted and enfeebled, at the least, if not entirely trodden out.
But the Ballot, Sir, decomposes this confused heap of good and evil, with the exactness of a chemical agent. It banishes from the voter's mind both the hope of favour and the fear of injury; but that affectionate and willing homage, which wealth, combined with superior merit, so infallibly awakens, is left in full empire over his heart, and becomes the determining principle of his vote. Fear not. Sir, that the man who employs wealth and station as they ought to be employed, in elevating his own character, and in affording conspicuous evidences of active philanthropy—fear not, that such a man should lose one particle of influence by means of the Ballot. His standard is planted in the interior of men's bosoms; his ascendancy is as sure and as operative in the dark as in the light; his recommendations need no coercive force to ensure obedience. And what harm would ensue, if that coarser and baser influence, which cannot subsist without coercive force, were suppressed and extirpated altogether?—if the worthless and unfurnished minds, who are now enabled to dictate commands to an array of timorous dependents, were compelled to restrict their influence within the narrower limits of persuasion and good-will?
I contend that not only no harm would ensue; but very great good would ensue; in this, as well as in other ways, that it will so materially strengthen the motive for 625 men of wealth and station to extend their knowledge and to enlarge there sphere of practical usefulness. As matters stand now, a man's influence is in the ratio of his wealth; it signifies not whether his character be good or bad, whether his capacity be vast or limited: in either case, his power over the comforts of others, and his consequent means of perverting their votes, are equal. So long as he can thus command votes he has no motive to earn esteem or admiration. But, if their votes were rendered free instead of servile—genuine instead of simulated—then he could only hope to obtain them by really deserving them; then would he have a powerful motive to attract to himself those heartfelt sentiments from whence alone free-spoken votes proceed. The question has been started by an esteemed author, (Bishop Berkeley) "Whether an uneducated gentry are not the greatest of all national evils?" Certainly, if not the greatest, they are amongst the greatest, of national evils; nor is the counterpart of the proposition less true.—That a gentry well-educated and of enlarged sympathies with the people, are among the foremost of all national blessings. I am sure, Sir, that the most effectual way of preserving to ourselves that blessing, will be to render the vote of an elector inaccessible to all coercion, and attainable only by such as shall have earned his genuine esteem. This is the only prize which can stimulate the listlessness, or soften the natural pride, of one whose wealth places him above the equal communion of his fellow-men; and by rendering the suffrage secret, you lock this precious prize in a casket, which can neither be stolen by fraud, nor ravished by tyranny; you reserve it in the inmost sanctuary, as a free-will offering to ascertained merit, and as a stimulus to all noble aspirations.
I have thus, Sir, exhibited the reasons which demonstrate to my mind the urgent necessity of the vote by Ballot; the proof is in my view quite conclusive and unanswerable. I have examined, too, at some length, the principal arguments urged against the Ballot, and I have shown you, that even the firmest of them are either founded in misapprehension, or are outweighed, a thousand times over, by the inestimable blessings of free and genuine voting.
I might now rest my cause on the simple strength of reasoning, and I fear not the sharpest assaults of sophistry or prejudice against it. But, Sir, I should 626 not do justice to the subject, if I did not lay it before you with all the affecting circumstances which naturally and intrinsically belong to it. If ever there was a case in which the address to your reason was vehemently and powerfully seconded by the appeal to your feelings, that case is the emancipation of honest voters—the making peace between a man's duty and his worldly cares—the rescue of political morality from the snares which now beset it, and from the storms which now lay it prostrate. You are called upon to protect the rights, and to defend the integrity of the electoral conscience; to shield the innocent from persecution at the hands of the guilty; to guard the commonwealth against innumerable breaches of trust, committed by the reluctant hands of well-meaning citizens. You are called upon to bridle the tyranny of those who violate, by the same blow, their duty to their neighbour and their duty to their country. You are called upon to encourage the formation of an electoral conscience in those bosoms where it has as yet had no existence; and to cure that recklessness and immorality with which unprincipled voters now prostitute their franchise, in order to conciliate custom or promotion. Above all, you are called upon to make this House, what it professes and purports to be, a real emanation from the pure and free-spoken choice of the electors; an assembly of men commanding the genuine esteem and confidence of the people, and consisting of persons, the fittest which the nation affords, for executing the true end and aim of government. When all these vast interests, collective and individual, are at stake in this one measure, am I not justified in demanding from you not merely a cold and passive attention, but an earnest sympathy and solicitude?
Recollect again and again, Sir, what class of men it is whose protection is most immediately and prominently the object of my proposition. It is the poorer and humbler half of the aggregate constituent body; and more especially those among them who unite the conscience of a citizen and a patriot with the anxious industry of a virtuous domestic man. It is these men, especially, whose cause I now plead—and a nobler body of clients the world does not comprise. Suppose them admitted to address you, and to state their case in person—"You have given us," they would respectfully urge, "a sacred privilege, that of selecting men fit to make laws for our- 627 selves and our fellow-countrymen. We know the value of that privilege, and we prize it among the most precious jewels of our earthly lot. We know, also, the duty which it entails upon us, and we are disposed to fulfil that duty with the utmost exactness and rigour. But with all possible purity of intention, we find it often totally impossible—always distressing and hazardous—to execute the duty consigned to us. We are tempted and threatened on every side, to induce us to forfeit our trust; we see others who forfeit their trust without compunction, thriving and prosperous; we are oftentimes so hemmed in by conflicting motives, by private ruin as opposed to public probity, that we know not which duty is to be preferred—our duty to our country on the one side, or our duty to our families on the other. All this temptation and conflict arises from the knowledge which you allow the enemy and the oppressor to obtain, of the way in which we vote. Deprive him of this knowledge, and his power of constraint is annihilated. Collect our opinions confidentially and in private, where the spies of the enemy cannot penetrate, and where the sound of his wrath cannot he heard. You wish to know our real opinions; we wish to communicate them to you; and all we ask is, to be enabled to communicate them without fear, without disturbance, and without uneasiness."
This, Sir, is a simple and faithful summary of the condition, the wishes, and the apprehensions, of thousands among your best and purest citizens. Are the prayers wicked, are they indecorous, are they extravagant, that yon should repudiate them without ceremony, and leave the oppressors unchecked, and the sufferers unprotected?
You may so repudiate them—you may leave the mischief still rankling—but how will such a negative be received in the country? What lesson will it convey to the poorer classes in general, when they see the Legislature thus sport with their consciences, and turn a deaf ear to their difficulties and persecutions? Be assured, that they will not recognize in your refusal the even-handed ministration of a Legislature which "careth for all alike." They will see in it, and they cannot help seeing, a fatal evidence of your disposition to uphold the ascendancy of the rich, however oppressive or demoralizing—to sanction the full dominion of landlords over their tenants, as electors—and to erect every 628 great estate into an electoral jurisdiction, subject to the control and dictation, and arbitrary penalties of the proprietor; while the vote nominally bestowed on the tenant is mere mockery and delusion.
Believe me, Sir, you cannot pronounce this harsh sentence, without fatally alienating from you the affections of the poorer voters, nor without widening the gap, already but too inauspicious, between the richer and the poorer classes in this community. I am one of those who look with dismay at any occurrence which tends to undermine the respect for property—not for the larger heaps of property more than for the smaller, but for every man's earnings and every man's inheritance. There is in each person's mind a natural tendency to respect the inestimable institution of property, unless where accidental causes occur to alienate him from it; and amongst these various counteracting causes, there is not one to which history bears such constant testimony—there is not one which works with such disastrous effect—as the exercise of unjust and iniquitous privileges by the possessors of the conspicuous fortunes. I would urge upon you most particularly this momentous consideration, when you are dealing with the signal abuse which I have this day denounced to you. Be assured that the reverence for property cannot be what it ought to be, so long as your rich men are allowed to subjugate the humbler electors—so long as every poor man who dares to have a conscience is compelled to look upon them with enmity and terror. Prohibit this unholy aggression on the one part; efface the sinister feelings to which it gives rise on the other. Let your rich men, if they will do nothing better or more glorious, at least enjoy their enviable position in peace and innocence; if they will not inspire gratitude and admiration, let them at least refrain from exciting fear and hatred; let them not play the inquisitor and the dragon in the poor man's cottage, and ravish from him by force the precious jewel of citizenship.
This, Sir, is little enough to demand from them; far less than I would wish to obtain. For, if I durst whisper in their ears as their suggesting genius, I would animate them to far higher and nobler ends; I would entreat them to employ their superior leisure and opportunities in qualifying themselves for all those commanding functions which naturally devolve to them; I would implore them not to rest contented without the heartfelt esteem and 629 the grateful admiration of the public, for whom they are born; I would beseech them, in the language of Milton,With winning words to conquer willing hearts,And make persuasion do the work of fear.This is the divine sceptre which lies within their reach, if their hearts were set and their minds were worthy to grasp it. But look not for any change in their dispositions, until the ways of force and coercion are for ever barred against them. Therefore, Sir, I repeat again, grant us the all-sufficient protection of the Ballot—chase away at once the accursed demon of compulsion, and make room for the paternal and kindly empire of wisdom and beneficence.
I conclude by moving, "that it is expedient that the votes at elections for Members of Parliament be taken by way of Ballot."
§ Sir William Ingilby
seconded the Motion, and he did so because he had within the last six months witnessed the baneful effects of the present system of voting. Nothing could be worse or more corrupt than the way in which the elective franchise was now used. The voter was placed at the mercy of the country attorney and the steward of the squire, and these persons were more dreaded than the squire himself, or even the parson. All sorts of means were resorted to by the attorney and the steward to compel the unfortunate voter to support any candidate they pleased; and he would read to the House a sample of the letters which persons of this description sent round to intimidate the electors over whom their influence extended on such occasions—(the hon. Baronet then read a letter which he said had been written by a country attorney to a farmer, stating that by an act of George 3rd, no persons were allowed to vote at elections but freeholders, and that any person who voted without being duly qualified was subject to serious pains and penalties). The time had arrived when such a system of intimidation should be put an end to. The system of canvassing at the recent general election had done immense mischief. There was at that time a religious crusade throughout the country. He knew nothing more likely to bring the clergy into disrepute than their interfering at elections; and if it were for no other reason than that he wished to preserve them from falling into odium among the people, he should vote in favour of this Motion. He spoke with regret of any thing that was likely to be injurious to the 630 character of the clergy, being himself almost part and parcel of the Church. He most cordially seconded the Motion.
The Earl of Darlington
was surprised and disappointed to find that although the representation was now completely amended—although the people now really had a voice in that House—yet that there should be still such a spirit of restlessness that many persons would not be satisfied till all the institutions which were old were brought to an end. The object of this Motion was to throw into the hands of the democracy a greater degree of weight, and a degree of power, than was consistent with the well-being of other classes in the State. He certainly must oppose the views of the hon. Member who proposed the Motion, as he did not wish the object of that Motion to be attained. If the Reform Act had not been passed, he might have been in favour of the Motion. So long as the former state of things continued, there might be some reason for the Ballot, because the smallness of the constituency might enable a powerful individual to influence them; but that was no longer the case—the constituencies now were too numerous and powerful to be thus influenced. The events of the two last years had rendered the Motion totally unnecessary. He was, therefore, surprised that the hon. Member should, upon the very first day of the Session, have given notice of this Motion, before it was possible that he or any one else could have had any experience of the composition and character of the Reformed House of Commons. With the feelings of an Englishman he protested against this secret and unmanly mode of voting. Every change in the institutions of a country was in itself an evil as a change, and ought not to be adopted unless there was some accompanying benefit. He did not think that any public benefit could arise from this change. The main argument in its favour was, that an honest voter might, from his situation in life, he at present unable to give his vote according to his opinion, and this scheme was to enable him to do so. Before, however, the change would be made, it should be inquired, would it be effectual. It was well known, that in contested elections all the electors were canvassed by influential persons, to whom they were all known; and suppose they promised their vote in accordance with their interest, and afterwards violated that promise, was it possible that they should long remain unknown to the persons they attempted to deceive? 631 The Ballot was generally called for by the lower orders, and by few others. Notwithstanding all that was said of its purity, he thought it was intended to cloak an attack on property. Suppose a tenant promised to vote for his landlord and voted against him; he would probably be suspected—or what was still worse, his innocent neighbour might suffer for his falsehood. Was it desirable that men should make a promise with one hand and break it with the other? Would not such a system demoralize the lower orders? It would tend to destroy the honourable confidence between man and man, and would make all men look with jealousy upon each other. Besides, he did not believe it was necessary. Property gave power, and while it was exercised with discretion it was a public good. He must admit, that amongst the rich as well as amongst the poor there were bad as well as good; but certainly the power of the rich was generally exercised for the public good. If it were improperly exercised it was to be corrected not by this scheme of the Ballot, but by the remedy of public opinion: and he believed that there was nothing so corrupt in the framework of society as to render such a remedy hopeless. Suppose the labourer, a 10l. voter, was freed from the control of his landlord or employer, could he be freed from the control of an agitator or of public meetings? Suppose a body of 1,000 electors—which, he would ask, was likely to be most for the public good, that they should express the opinion of an agitator in one mass, or that they should, in classes express the opinion, of the several persons who exercised the influence of property over them. However good the Ballot might be in a republic, he thought it was utterly incompatible with a Constitutional Monarchy, for a Constitutional Monarchy could not exist at the same time with a perfect equality of rights; and he believed that those who supported the Ballot desired this perfect equality. He had always been a supporter of a Constitutional Monarchy, and he did not wish to see the introduction of anything that would tend to destroy it. He, therefore, should always oppose the Ballot; particularly as it would change the frankness of character by which the English voter was now distinguished, for guile, hypocrisy, and fraud.
§ Mr. Peter
Sir, respecting, as I long have done, the talents of the hon. Member who has brought this Motion before the House, and grateful, as I must ever feel 632 to him, for his long and uniform exertion of those talents, in the cause of liberty and Reform, it is not without diffidence and regret that I find myself compelled to stand forward as one of his opponents on the present occasion. Sir, I need not assure the hon. Gentleman that I have listened to his arguments with all the attention which their own intrinsic value, no less than the importance of the subject on which they have been urged, so justly demands. But, Sir, great as the ability—great as the ingenuity displayed by the hon. Gentleman, he has failed to convince me either of the justice or expediency of the proposed measute—a measure, which, far from promising any of the advantages which he so fondly anticipates, would, I am confident, but introduce new evils into our elective system, and go far to undo the good, and to defeat the very end and object, of all our labours in the cause of Reform. Sir, in considering the proposition which has been made by the hon. Gentleman, the first objection which arises in my mind, and which must naturally occur to all who have heard him, is, that it is unseasonable—that it is premature. Surrounded as we are by so many subjects of the most pressing importance—by the questions of Tithes, Church Reform, Colonial Slavery, the Bank and East-India Charters—all calling for immediate inquiry and decision—and ere the Act which the hon. Gentleman proposes to alter is twelve months old—ere the vessel of State can be said to have been safely moored within its promised haven, or ere its crew has had time to look around and to explore the long-sought-for land—lo! we are, all hands, called on again to weigh anchor—to embark in this polar voyage—to launch forth, without pilot or compass, into the dark ocean of disputed theory and undiscovered Reform.
Now, Sir, without meaning to say, that the measure so recently passed into law is perfect in all its parts, or that it may not admit of amendments—still, I would contend, that any alteration, at the present moment, would be inconsiderate and premature. Though changes are often necessary, yet change is not, in itself, a good. "Experiments," (to use the words of a wise and great man)—"Experiments should not be tried in States, except the necessity be urgent, or the utility evident." It should be "the Reformation that draweth on the change, and not the desire of change, that pretendeth the Reformation." In contending for Reform, we contended for it as a means of good Government—as a 633 means of insuring the greatest happiness to the greatest number. Let us, therefore, before we advance further—let us see how far the means which have been adopted, are likely to prove adequate to the attainment of the desired end. Let us, at least—before we make further changes—pause and consider, whether the great change which has been already effected, is not, in itself, sufficient for every purpose of liberty and good Government—whether the House of Commons, as newly amended and remodelled by the Reform Act, does not now represent the people, and whether it does not promise to secure to them as much real good—as much practical freedom and happiness—as could be hoped for from any other system of representation, however specious in theory, or even uncontradicted in practice. In all great works of practical Reform, there is not less wisdom in knowing where to stop than when to begin. Could France have been aware of this truth in 1789, or even in 1791—could her constituent assembly have paused in its career of change—could its leaders, instead of being borne away headlong in the popular tide, have stopped and looked around to discover "the straight and right way," what crimes, what miseries might have been prevented—what wars, what sufferings, what destruction, might have been averted from that unhappy country, and from all Europe!
But, Sir, to come to the question more immediately before the House, what is it that the hon. Gentleman has asked for? He has asked for the Ballot—for a law to dispense with the responsibility of all electors, by enabling them to give their votes at elections in privacy and darkness! And this in the nineteenth century! This at a time when the universal feelings of mankind call aloud for publicity—for publicity—increased publicity in all affairs of Government, in all debates and votes of Parliament, in all tribunals of law and justice, in all county and local proceedings—at a time. Sir, I repeat when publicity is called for in all things, in all places, in all departments of Church and State, and when public opinion may be said to have been constituted, with consent of all, supreme arbitress of human conduct and affairs, and to sit, as it were, "crowning good, and repressing ill;" this is the time at which it has been thought necessary to introduce the Ballot—this is the time at which it has been deemed expedient to propose a law for exempting all electors from responsibility and control, and for allowing one of the most solemn trusts, 634 one of the most sacred and important duties that can devolve upon the citizens of a free State, and on the faithful discharge of which the peace, the liberty, and the happiness of the whole community so vitally depend, to be performed under the shroud of darkness, and in the mask of night! And on what plea, on what pretence, is this proposition introduced? Under the pretext of protecting liberty! As if liberty needed such defence—as if liberty feared the light—as if liberty ever did, ever could, flourish in darkness! No, Sir, liberty needs no such defence, she needs no ambushments, no policies, no stratagems, to make her victorious over her enemies. Let her and tyranny grapple, and who ever knew liberty put to the rout, in free and open encounter?
But, Sir, the hon. Gentleman tells us that great evils, that great abuses prevail under the system of open voting. Be it so; still I would contend that it is not every partial grievance, it is not every occasional evil, that can warrant the overthrow of a whole system, that can justify so great a change as that which the hon. Gentleman requires in our elective constitution. Great national questions must be determined on general grounds. Political wisdom consists not in perpetually altering the machine of Government, not in perpetually encumbering its wheels with new contrivances to obviate every partial inconvenience, but rather I should say in removing the obstacles that impede its course. Admitting, as I do, the existence of many of the evils complained of—still, I would put it to the hon. Gentleman, and I would entreat him to consider—whether they might not all be cured by some simpler and more Constitutional, and less costly remedy than by that of the Ballot.
Could the elective franchise be considered as a private property, could it be considered as a thing given not for the good of the community, but for the personal sake of the holder; then. Sir, perhaps the hon. Gentleman might be right. Or were Suffrage universal, were every individual,—man, woman, and child—entitled to a voice in the election of Representatives; then also might there be some grounds for the hon. Gentleman's arguments; then. Sir, might there be some pretext for releasing electors from the control of public opinion, and for leaving them amenable to the sole tribunal of their own consciences. But, Sir, if the elective franchise be a public property, if it be a trust committed 635 to a given class of individuals for the good of the whole State, for the benefit of the unrepresented, no less than of the represented, part of their fellow-citizens, then, Sir, do I contend that the exercise of it should be public, that it should be open to the scrutiny, and subject to the judgment of the whole community. But, Sir, the hon. Gentleman, though he admits that the elective franchise is a trust, and, as such, that it ought to be exercised for the good of the State, nevertheless contends that such object would be more easily attained—that such trust would be more justly administered by secret than by open suffrage. The great mass of individuals, he says, who compose the elective body, can have no interests inconsistent with those of their country. And why. Sir, may not the same be said, with equal justice, of the nation at large—of the great body of the unrepresented, no less than of the represented, members of the community? Neither of them can, in fact—neither the represented nor the unrepresented can, as a body have any interests at variance with those of their fellow-citizens. But still, Sir, there are many amongst both, who do not feel or understand this truth, and who, from narrow views, or selfish and corrupt policy, may miscalculate, and thus betray, both their country's interests and their own. Now, under such circumstances, how are these errors and vices of the electors to be corrected or controlled? I reply—by free and open discussion—by the interchange of sentiments with their friends and neighbours—by that influence of public opinion which the ballot would altogether extinguish. Admitting that electors might be, here and there, acted on by corrupt or arbitrary men—by men, having interests opposed to those of the people—yet on which side is the balance most likely to lean? By whom will the great body of electors be most probably influenced? By the threats and bribes of a few unprincipled individuals, or by the free voice and right feeling of the great mass of the community? Sir, it has been said by an eminent philosopher, that—'Nature, when she formed man for society, endowed him with a desire to please; that she taught him to respect the sentiments and judgment of his fellow-men, and to feel pleasure in their approbation and pain in their disapprobation.'
Now this, Sir, I believe to be not less true in a political than in a moral point of view. Of all checks on misconduct (reli- 636 gious principle alone excepted)—of all incentives to virtue—of all supports to freedom—I believe public opinion to be the most powerful and effective. It is a great moral tribunal to which the most despotic must bend—which the proudest, the most powerful, the most corrupt, cannot brave with impunity. Sir, it is to this influence—it is to the publicity—to the discussions which prevail in all affairs of general interest, that I do not hesitate to attribute many of our national virtues, and, more particularly, that strict habit of truth which has been described by an illustrious foreigner as one of the most distinguishing features of the English character—a habit which cannot exist but in a country where publicity prevails, and where dissimulation leads to nothing but the mortification of being exposed.
Sir, the hon. Gentleman seems to imagine that there is a magic in the very name of Ballot—that it must at once operate as a spell or charm, to allay all evil passions—to banish all discord and injustice—to make the crooked straight, and the rough even. He seems to imagine that it will check all undue influence and control—that it will even preclude all canvassing and solicitation of votes! But has it done so in elections at the Bank and India House? Has it dime so in other ages or in other countries? in the ancient republics of Greece and Rome, or in the modern governments of America and France? The hon. Gentleman has indeed appealed to the two latter in support of his argument; but I contend that neither of them will bear him out. In America, where there are few or no temptations to secrecy, the Ballot is a dead letter—in France, the adoption of it is so recent, that its effects on the moral character and interests of society, remain yet to be developed; but in neither, has it put an end to canvassing and solicitation of votes, which prevail to as great a degree there as in England, or in any other country. Why, then, do we expect miracles from the Ballot here? But what is the promised benefit—what is the expected boon, which the Ballot would confer on the elector? Sir, the only boon-;—the only possible privilege, which I can conceive it capable of bestowing upon electors would be the privilege of lying with impunity—of taking bribes with less fear of detection—of becoming greater masters and adepts in casuistry and deceit. And this is the boon, this the freedom, which the first Reformed Parliament is to bestow on the people of England.
637 Sir, I believe it will not be denied, that the characters of nations, no less than of individuals, are, to a great degree, dependent on moral causes, on examples, on circumstances, on institutions. Everything, therefore, that tends to awaken the loftier qualities of our nature—every thing that tends to call forth a manly avowal and exertion of principle, is productive of benefit to society. Examples of moral courage and self-denial—of devotion to our country's weal—of rights bravely asserted, or of duties disinterestedly performed—examples, like these, are never lost, but all tend, sooner or later, to exalt nations, and to bless mankind. But docs the Ballot hold out any such incentives? Does a system of secrecy and distrust—a system, which enables a man to promise one thing and to do another with impunity, and perhaps reward—does such a system tend to elevate the characters of nations? Can it teach duty? Can it inspire virtue? Or is it not rather calculated to impair both? To hold out temptations to cowardice and falsehood? Temptations to take shelter under equivocation and deceit, on apprehensions of the slightest injury to private interests—on apprehensions which, by the aid of reason, or by discussion with others, might, under different circumstances, have been despised or overcome? Sir, it has been asked whether it be more degrading or unmanly to vote in secret, under the protection of Ballot, than to vote openly against our consciences, for the want of its protection? No one, I believe, has ever asserted that it was so; but is there no alternative? Is there no other mode for enabling a man to vote according to his own conscience, except the Ballot? Is there no remedy to be found for the abuses of open voting, but in the greater evils of secret suffrage? Can no better method be devised for giving the people security in the exercise of their rights, than by exonerating them from all responsibility for the performance of their duties? Sir, I am not one to underrate the evils and abuses now complained of, with regard to elections; I am not one of those who would palliate injustice, or protect its base perpetrators. No one holds all acts of intimidation and corrupt influence in deeper hatred and abhorrence than I do; and if they cannot be repressed by moral means and example—if they cannot be put down by the finger of public scorn, and the indignation of mankind, let the Legislature interfere—let the Parliament, I say, apply its 638 heaviest penalties, its severest remedies, to subdue the evil.
Sir, though many exaggerations have, no doubt, prevailed on this subject—though the instances of abuse which have come to ray ears frequently turned out, on inquiry, to be neither so gross nor so numerous as they had been previously represented, still, however, I am grieved to admit there have been but too many cases of intimidation and undue influence—acts, exercised not only by the rich and powerful, but (strange to relate) even by the middle and poorer classes of society—by Members of Political unions—by many of the very men who have been loudest in their declamations against such abuses, and in calling on the Legislature for the protection of the Ballot. But in what instances, I would ask, have these practices been successful? What encouragement has been afforded by their results for repetitions of the crime? Sir, I will venture to affirm that not half a dozen cases can be found in which the perpetrators of these enormities have been successful—in which they have reaped anything but public scorn and execration for their base and unprincipled attempts. Sir, I have admitted that I know cases where intimidation and undue influence have been resorted to. In some, the electors, too timid or too dependent to resist, have yielded reluctant submission to the will of their superior. In others, they have resisted, have manfully resisted the haughty mandate, and vindicated to themselves the sacred right of voting according to the dictates of their own consciences. I am acquainted with many instances, both of farmers and tradesmen who have acted in this independent and honourable manner; but I know of none who have been ejected from their farms—of none who have been ruined in their trade by this, their conscientious adherence to principle. Even where tradesmen may have suffered for the moment by the withdrawal of some of their customers, they have been recompensed, I believe, in the end, by the accession of others; and the threat, or attempt to injure, has been productive of anything rather than of eventual loss to the persecuted individual:—Yea,—even that which mischief meant most harm,Did, in the happy trial, prove most glory.Sir, in this life—in this state of moral discipline, and warfare—it was never meant that the current of human affairs should always run smoothly; it was never meant 639 that men should be triumphant and virtuous without an effort. That which purifies mankind is trial, and trial comes by what is contrary. This I hold to be no less true in politics than in religion. Were the Ballot to be obtained to-morrow, and were it to be attended with all those results of secrecy and protection which the hon. Gentleman so fondly anticipates, still. Sir, I very much doubt whether those benefits would, in any degree, compensate for their accompanying evils; for that effeminacy and demoralization of mind, which a system of secrecy and distrust could not fail of entailing upon the people. It would go far, I fear, to engender habits of evasion and falsehood; it would go far to impair the spirit, the candour, the energy of the British character, and with them, its best virtues; for I say in the language of Mr. Fox: "That it is not the written law of the Constitution—that it is not the law to be found in books, that constitutes the true principle of freedom in a country; no—it is the energy, the boldness, of a man's mind, which prompts him to speak and act—not in private, but in large and popular assemblies, that constitutes, that creates in a State the spirit of freedom. This is the principle which gives life to liberty, and without which the human character is a stranger to freedom." Sir, in arguing this question, I have considered the Ballot as likely to be effective for all purposes of secrecy. There are many, however, who contend—and not without reason—that such would not be the case; that from our families, from our friends, from our companions—in the unreservedness of domestic intercourse, in the conviviality of the social circle, in the excitement of popular assemblies, it would be impossible for us altogether to conceal our sentiments—that we should be more or less than men, were we never to give vent to our political feelings and opinions. Be this, however, as it may, it is a part of the subject on which I will not dwell. Should such be the case, the measure would then be only an absurdity—a mere waste of labour. My fear, however, is, that it would prove something more than a dead letter; and that, although nugatory for all good, it would be amply effective for every purpose of evil. Underhand and oblique ways would be more sedulously studied; and the sciences of casuistry and evasion, already tolerably understood, would be soon brought to their utmost perfection.
Sir, believing all this—believing that a system of secret suffrage would be preju- 640 dicial to the character and best interests of the country—that it would lend encouragement to imposture and corruption—that it would engender habits of insincerity and distrust—that it would level all distinctions of character, reducing the honest and brave to a footing with knaves and cowards—that it would operate as a check on free discussion, and chill and repress that moral energy, that manly candour, and constancy, and independence of mind, which are amongst the noblest properties and best preservatives of representative Government, and which it was the especial object and tendency of the Reform Act to cherish and improve. Sir, believing, in my honour and conscience, that such would be, sooner or later, amongst the inevitable results of the proposed measure, I have considered it as a duty—as a high and sacred duty—to resist it to the utmost of my power. Sir, it is not by mechanical, but by moral, means—it is not by the Ballot-box, but by the schoolmaster—it is not by screening the hand, but by strengthening and elevating the mind—that we can hope to make the elector such as he ought to be—that we can expect to render him enlightened and independent—competent to exercise the rights, and to perform the duties of a free citizen in a free state. As for the oppressor—the corrupter—the man—whosoever he may be—who abusing, shamefully abusing, the privileges of his rank and station—who, basely perverting the wealth and power with which Providence had intrusted him for the good, into the bane and curse of his fellow-creatures—as for the man, I say, whatever his name and station, who corruptly or tyrannically interferes with the rights of electors, and the freedom of elections—be the hisses of popular execration—the scorn of the wise and good—the severest penalties of the Legislature upon his head!
But, in suppressing the abuse, let us consider well about the means. Let us take care that the remedy be not worse than the disease. Let us, at least, beware that we do not substitute a general and permanent evil for one which, however grievous and oppressive, is still, I would fain believe, of a very partial and temporary nature. Sir, I repeat that the Ballot is not necessary. I agree with the noble Lord who spoke last, that there is nothing in the state of the country—nothing in the character of the people—to demand so extreme, so desperate a remedy. Whatever be the amount of abuse complained of, it may all, I am confident, be redressed by milder, by more con- 641 stitutional means. The people of England require not the Ballot; they want no such defences. They braved the borough faction in the strength of its power; need they now fear it in this its mortal hour of weakness and decay? They defeated it by their own native courage, and by the exercise of their own manly and characteristic virtues, they defeated the combined oligarchy in fair fight and in open day; and would they now resort to the arrows of darkness and the shield of night, to protect themselves from the wrecks of its scattered host? Sir, I will detain the House no longer. I know the popular prejudices, the popular fears, that prevail upon this subject. I know the penalties, the misrepresentations, to which every man is subject who opposes those prejudices and fears. But, Sir, (if I may be permitted to speak of so humble an individual as myself,) I would say, that however dear to this heart must be the approbation of my countrymen, the cause of liberty is still dearer. It is a cause for which I struggled in my youth, and which I will not desert in my maturer years—it is a cause which I have often endeavoured to defend against the attacks of open enemies, and which I will not compromise or betray now that it is assailed by the more dangerous counsels of injudicious friends.
said, he thought the Ballot necessary to complete the Reform Bill. The vote was worse than useless to the elector, who was under a control that prevented the free exercise of his right; a right that was given by law, but of which he was deprived by an usurper. If the people were incapable of exercising the right why was it given? If the privilege were taken away by Act of Parliament, or by a private individual, the people were equally enslaved. Who were they that required the protection of the Ballot? The honest, the industrious, but the poor and the humble; and not he that did not need it as a safeguard—the ruined and profligate tradesman, who, having nothing to care for, defied all control. The careful, the industrious, the frugal tradesman—the man, who hoped, by steady attention to business, to support himself and family in respectability, was, on account of his family, checked by the fear of offending his customers, and must either determine to vote against his conscience, or to ruin the prosperity of his family. For such a man the Ballot was required; and who would say that such a man did not deserve its protection? He was at a loss to reconcile the 642 arguments by which this Motion was combated. At one moment its opponents said that the Ballot would be degrading to men, by teaching them to conceal their opinions, while at another they asserted that the Ballot would not enable them to conceal opinions or votes, for that the utterance of one would betray the others. The great principle on which he supported the Ballot Was this, that it would put an end to flattery on the one side, and to servility on the other. No man would take the pains of attempting to influence a vote, when he knew that it could be given independently of his control, nor any labour to wring from a voter a promise, the performance of which he knew he could not enforce. The rich man would cease to think that he had a right to the vote of the poor man, and the poor man that it was his duty to give it at the bidding of his wealthier neighbour. He was confident its effect would be to unite landlord and tenant. The opponents of Ballot lauded the English character; but if they were sincere, as they must know the corruption that at present exists at elections, they should consider the Ballot as highly in accordance with the character of the people, as it would prevent their debasement. It was said, that the elector should be answerable to the public for his vote: but all that could be fairly exacted from him was, that he should not vote from any private motive, but for the advantage of that class of which he was a member; or, if capable of taking a more enlarged view, in favour of what he considered the good of the whole nation. The mortification of those who were compelled to vote against their feelings was not the only evil of the present system; the revenge inflicted on those who refused to surrender their opinions was very lamentable. This evil was mostly felt in towns, where tradesmen were dealt with, not for the quality of their goods, but for their vote at the election. He thought a wrong so generally inflicted should be provided for by Act of Parliament. It was said, that no change should be made till the Reformed Parliament should be sufficiently tried; but he thought the last election gave sufficient evidence that a further reform was necessary for the good of the people, and to give them the benefit of that which had already taken place.
Mr. Francis Baring
protested against the manner in which the hon. member for London had divided the constituency of the country into two classes, the landlords and 643 the tenants, or, in other words, the tyrants and the slaves. Neither could he agree with the hon. Member in designating the new constituency, created by the Reform Bill, as living ciphers, and as mere waxwork voters. He did not know what might be the case in London, hut he appealed to such Members of the House as had been elected by large and populous places, and asked them whether they considered themselves the nominees of corrupt influence and oppressive intimidation? He was also surprised that the hon. member for London, who had come to the conclusion that the Ballot was necessary to put down bribery without bringing any individual proofs of the existence of bribery, should have so far forgotten his own theory as to have admitted, that even with the Ballot, bribery would still continue to exercise some power in every election. "Bribery," said the hon. Member, "cannot be put down entirely; it works unseen, and in obscurity, and, do what you will, the foot of justice cannot always follow it in all its doublings." Now, if the hon. Member, with his experience of elections, was obliged to make this admission, did he not think it possible that electioneering agents, with all the ingenuity and acuteness which distinguished them as a class, might devise some means of tampering with electors in clubs and societies, so as to commit bribery and still leave it unscathed by the law? "But, then," said the hon. Member, "the Ballot will prevent the landlord from compelling his tenant to vote in behalf of his nominee, and will enable the tenant to vote according to the dictates of his own conscience." Now, in his humble judgment the Ballot would not even have this effect, for the landlord who was inclined to compel his tenant to vote as he pleased, would, when he became suspicious of the mode in which the tenant would vote, get rid of the possibility of his tenant's voting against him, by insisting that he should not vote at all. The hon. Member had referred to the manner in which the system of the Ballot worked in America and in France, as a recommendation for the introduction of it into this country. Now, from the hon. Member's own statement, it appeared that some of the States, in the United States of America, adopted the open system of voting, though the majority adopted the secret system of the Ballot. If, then, the open system of voting were pregnant with such dangerous consequences to the independence of the electors, we should see all 644 those dangerous consequences developed in those states where the open system of voting formed part of their constitution; and if the secret system of voting were productive of such general benefits as the hon. Member represented, we should see all those benefits exemplified in those states where the secret system was adopted. At any rate, if there was any force in the hon. Member's argument, we should see a wide difference in the manner in which the election of the two classes of states were conducted. Such, he contended, ought to be the result of the hon. Member's theory. Now, he had never heard that there was in practice the slightest difference discernible in the two. Perhaps the House might imagine, from the tone of the hon. Member, that in the United States all parties were united in praise of the Ballot. To show them how wide that supposition was from the truth, he would read them the sentiments which the Governor of the province of New York, where the Ballot prevailed, had expressed not long ago in a public document, which he had addressed to his constituents. The whole subject of the Governor's grievance in that document was the intimidation which had been exercised in favour of the United States, Government candidate, and against himself, who was the provincial or popular candidate. This was his language:—"That many persons holding offices in the public service of the United States' have acted most improperly, by interfering in our elections, is known to every man in the community, who has eyes to see, and who is not steeled by prejudice against the admission of truth." The Governor then went through the different offices, beginning with those in the Navy-yard. After enumerating the holders of different offices, he added, "The documents herewith produced will show, that at the last election officers in the public employ were brought up to vote, not according to their own feelings, but according to the feelings of the different chiefs in their respective departments, and that improper attempts were made upon all of them, in order to influence the result of the contest." He would not tire the House by reading further extracts, but would confine himself to stating that the Governor of New York concluded by stating a series of facts, proving a close concert between the officers of the Customs, the Excise, the Post-office, the Navy-yard, and even of the judicial Bench operating upon the local election. They 645 had, then, the opinion of an able and accomplished man, who was practically acquainted with the system, that in one of the United States, where the Ballot was in full operation, its effects were not such as the hon. Member represented them in his argument. But the hon. Member would, perhaps, tell him that the Ballot did not exist in its utmost purity in America. If that were so, then the inference was, that the Americans had not put the system of Ballot into full execution, or that they had found it so inconsistent with the habits of a free people as to have deemed it politic to abandon it as a remedy for the evils which the hon. Member had described. With regard to the effects of the Ballot in France, the hon. Member had limited the period which be selected for the illustration of its benefits to the last ten years. He had begun with the year 1820, and had thought it prudent to forget that the Ballot existed in France from the first existence of a popular assembly in France in the year 1790. Now if the hon. Member quoted the great improvements in civil liberty which France had reaped from her legislative assemblies elected by the Ballot during the last ten years as proofs of the advantage to be derived from the Ballot, he ought, in fairness, to have shown the other side of the picture, and to have told the House that the National Assembly, the National Convention, Robespierre, Marat, and all the great monsters of the French Revolution, were also elected under the same system. He did not think that there was much force either way in such an argument, but it was not fair to take one period of history to exemplify the blessings of a system, and to overlook another period which exemplified its evil consequences. In fair argument the whole period should be taken, and the advantages and disadvantages of the system during that whole period should be contrasted and balanced with each other. The hon. Gentleman concluded by stating, that whilst on the other side of the House he had always voted against the introduction of the Ballot into our elective system, and now that he was seated on the Ministerial Benches he saw no reason for changing his opinion. He should certainly vote against this Motion.
§ Dr. Lushington
said, that no man, however great his eloquence and ability, should induce him to believe that if the system of voting by ballot were made the law of the land, and if, as a consequence, the voting at elections was secret, the effect would not 646 be visible in the diminution of that intimidation, corruption, and bribery, of which every Member in the House complained, and of which all men professed their desire to obtain a remedy. If there were any certainty in the motives of human actions, there was certainty in this, that when a man parted with his money for any object, he parted with it in proportion to his assurance that the object which he sought to purchase would be attained by the outlay. In proportion, therefore, as the House diminished the certainty' of bribery being successfully exerted, would it diminish the attempts made to corrupt and influence the constituency of the country He was surprised at the language which he had heard used that evening in the House. His hon. friend, the member for Portsmouth, had said, "I have listened with the greatest attention to the hon. member for London, and disappointed, indeed, am I that, after such long and elaborate preparation, he should have concluded his speech without bringing us some direct proofs of the existence of the evils which he seeks to remedy." Now, did any man in that House, did his hon. friend himself, venture to deny the existence of those evils? Must he, at that time of day, ask for proofs of the existence of bribery and corruption? Let those who entertained doubts on such a subject look at what had occurred that Session—let them look at the different reports which had been received from the different election committees—let them look at the disgrace by which the borough of Hertford was stained—let them look at the evidence already on their Table; and then let any man state, if be dared, that the House would have listened to any detail of individual cases to establish a crime which was incontrovertible, and which was as notorious as the sun at noon-day. Intimidation! had the House heard nothing of intimidation? Was there any Member who had stood a contested election that was bold enough to say that he had not seen it produce its effects? Had not his noble friend, who introduced the Reform Bill, experienced himself in Devonshire what the hand of the oppressor was on the exorcise of that franchise of which the possession, supposing it not to be exercised independently, was not a boon, but an injury—not a blessing, but a curse—a curse on the individual, who must feel his degradation, in case he was compelled to vote in favour of an individual whom in his conscience he believed to be unworthy of the 647 sacred trust confided to every Representative of the people—and a curse upon the country, as it led to the election of persons whom a majority of the electors deemed to be actuated by principles dangerous to the well-being of the state. He had made up his mind upon this question, not from any hearsay evidence, but from his own experience. It had been his fortune to stand two contested elections in the last three years; one was for a populous borough in the country, and the other for the Tower Hamlets, a borough which he believed contained the most numerous constituency in the empire. Now, he could aver, from facts which came within his own knowledge, that intimidation of the most revolting character was exercised upon the electors of the lower orders in both districts,—intimidation which might have overawed the independence of either borough, had it not been resisted by exertions so extraordinary that no man could believe, who had not personally witnessed them. Individual instances of intimidation his hon. friend should have, as he had called for them. He (Dr. Lushington) had had to contend at his last election against the whole weight of the West Indian interest. Now, he would give the House an instance how the West Indian interest had conducted their operations. The principals of a large West Indian house went to a tradesman, with whom they were in the habit of dealing. They said to him, "Will you give us one vote for Captain Marryat?" He replied that he would. The next question was, "Will you give us another against Dr. Lushington?" The tradesman replied, that he was ready to give one vote to please them, because they were his customers, but said that he must give the other vote to please himself. "Then," said they, "make out your account immediately, there is a draft for the balance, but on no account shall you ever have another order from our house." It so happened that the tradesman was in independent circumstances. His spirit was roused by this mixture of insolence and oppression, and within an hour of the occurrence of this transaction, he came and informed him (Dr. Lushington) of the particulars. By the late Reform Bill they had extended the elective franchise, and by so doing, they had rendered the adoption of the Ballot more necessary than ever. They had given the franchise to voters of a lower class than those who previously possessed it, and for the safety and comfort of those voters, the 648 House ought to give them the Ballot as a shield and protection against the foul weight of the oppressor. He implored the House to recollect the principles upon which the Reform Bill was based. Ever since that question, which had been recently brought to so triumphant a conclusion, had been mooted in Parliament, he had advocated it upon this ground—that if they wished to ensure good government, to enforce economy at home, and peace abroad, and to protect by equal justice, all classes of his Majesty's subjects, it was necessary to have the representatives of the people chosen by large bodies of electors, who voluntarily gave them their suffrages to act as their representatives in Parliament. Now, was it not a mockery, after passing such a Bill as that under which this present Parliament was elected, to continue any longer the system of open voting? But they had been told, that this was a public trust, which ought to be publicly exercised. He acknowledged that it was a public trust of the deepest importance; and he therefore advocated the Ballot as that mode of discharging it which would enable the trustee to discharge his duty the most effectually for the benefit of his trust. Experience had satisfied him that a trial of the Ballot was indispensably necessary to the secure and beneficial exercise of the elective franchise.
§ Sir George Phillips
declared himself adverse to the system of secret voting. At the same time he felt obliged to admit, that gross interference with the rights of the constituency had been used by those persons who were most adverse to the introduction of the Ballot. He felt obliged to admit, that those landlords who called themselves conservatives, had attempted to control their tenantry as to their votes, in a manner that was inconsistent with the principles of the Reform Bill. Before the new system of election was again changed, we ought to have more experience of its operations. He did not see that the Ballot would prevent bribery; it would be likely to double bribery, for voters might delude both sides. It had been said, that the Ballot had been tried in America; but a friend of his, speaking from observation, had stated, that too much importance was attached to this measure there. He wished to put all parties on their guard, by impressing upon them, that the Ballot, though it might be employed for good purposes, might be easily abused for bad.
§ Major Fancourt
said, that if, in the ar- 649 guments adduced by hon. Gentlemen who had brought this question before the House, or in those urged by hon. Members in support of the proposed change, he could discover any proof, however slight, that such a change would be beneficial to the real interests of the people, then indeed this measure should have his cordial support; but, from the best consideration he had been enabled to give to it, he could discover little or no advantage derivable from it. On the contrary, to him at least it appeared fraught with results fatal to the integrity of the popular character, not less than to the natural and honourable influence of a liberal social intercourse. The assertion thus hazarded he would, with the indulgence of the House, endeavour to prove; feeling at the same time deeply sensible of his inadequacy to give a full and forcible expression, even to his own views, and not less sincerely estimating the great information and various talents of many of those from whom on this question he felt bound to differ. But, in matters of this nature, something of personal reluctance might well be sacrificed, when, as regarded our social usages, a national evil was threatened—an opinion which he was fortunate enough to enjoy in common with a very large proportion of his own constituents, and, he sincerely believed, in common with the great majority of the intelligent and really liberal population of the empire. It was almost needless to remark on the inconsistent impatience with which this question had out of doors been pressed on the public attention, by the very persons who, during the discussions on the Reform Bill, over and over again declared that they were willing to let the question of Ballot rest, so they obtained Reform. "Give us Reform," said they; "let us try a Reformed Parliament, and that failing, we will claim the Ballot." Now, I ask, has this trial been made? Would any hon. Member say that a short portion of the first Session of a Parliament, convened under such peculiar circumstances, could, even were its acts unpopular, be urged as a sufficient reason for demanding the Ballot? But he need not press this point. The hon. Member's notice of motion was among the first of the Session, so that if Ballot were to be a sort of remedial measure for the popular inefficiency of a Reformed Parliament, it was singularly enough proposed before the merits or demerits of that Parliament could possibly have been known. However, any speculation as to the inconsistency of those 650 who had at public meetings and in the public Press agitated the question was useless. The question of Ballot was before the House, to be dealt with on its merits. All, that learning, ability, and strenuous zeal could do for it had been done both in and out of Parliament. Some of the most able and argumentative writers of the day had honoured it with their advocacy; and, it need hardly be observed, that many distinguished Members of that House had been equally ardent in its support. From opinions so enforced he should not venture thus publicly to express his dissent, but upon the sincere conviction that the ultimate tendency of the Ballot was against the true interests of the country considered as to its present constitution. And here he would, before entering more minutely into the merits of the question, observe on the assumption on the part of certain politicians, of an exclusive right to speak of the Representation of the people. According to them, property and due influence were irreconcileable. The accident of birth was with such liberals more decisive than with the haughtier members of the aristocracy. According to them no gentleman could possibly love his country; and the class most interested in the preservation of institutions, which give security to all, were held up to public reprobation as enemies to the freedom and impediments to the prosperity of the Empire. This practice of denouncing the gentry as a body distinct from, and opposed to, the people of England, he could not but regard as the most ominous of the signs of the times which had of late years perplexed the really patriotic mind with the fear of fatal change. He was aware that such doctrines were as yet but partially disseminated, for the people of this country were not actually prone to political delusion, but the fact of a large and influential portion of the Press being devoted to such unjustifiable denunciations rendered it probable that the mass of the British population might eventually be misled to that fatal error of regarding their natural protectors as their political foes. With merciless iteration they were daily and hourly told of the pensions, possessions, and political influence of some few great families whose public views were not of a popular character, but never did they hear of the personal and beneficial influence by which, in their respective spheres, the gentry of England were distinguished beyond the aristocracy of any nation in the world. And this was the influence—the influence of 651 friendly acts and feelings, of neighbourhood and a community of interests between the country gentleman and those who through different gradations, were all more or less socially connected with him—this was the influence which the Ballot would destroy. That the destruction of this influence might be an object of solicitude to the avowed enemies of our present form of Government he could readily conceive; and also that they could have selected no better means for the attainment of their object than the vote by Ballot; but precisely on these grounds he felt bound to resist it, and, he trusted, that his Majesty's Ministers would not consent to so early and important a disturbance of their final measure. At all events he trusted that the House would resist it as an innovation not only uncalled for in itself, but one of the most injurious and revolutionary tendency. He said revolutionary tendency, because out of doors the avowed advocates of a republican Government were at the same time the most urgent in the clamour for Ballot. To him it appeared that both on the one side and the other, in all that he had read on this subject, too much attention was paid to certain men, or points urged with great skill and various advantage, but to the exclusion of the great considerations as to the tendency of secret voting, with reference to the moral character of the people, and to the legitimate influence of property in the several gradations of society. On the first of these points, he contended, that bribery, wholesale irresponsible bribery, must be increased and facilitated by the Ballot; yet were its tendency to throw difficulty in the way of such practices, he should not conceive that a sufficiently countervailing circumstance, upon looking to the systematic duplicity and remorseless violation of good faith, which one of the most able writers in support of the measure has pronounced preferable to the venality now too prevalent. The mischievous nature of the Ballot appeared to him to be this—that while it neither diminished, nor tended to diminish, the old practice of bribery, it, by its very nature, induced the additional degradation of a deeply designing and heartless duplicity, now, certainly, not among the distinguishing characteristics of the English people. But he further contended, that secret voting must, in the cases of boroughs and divisions of counties, fail of its object. In such constituencies concealment was almost impossible. For example, with reference to the great majority of borough 652 towns, would any Gentleman who had had occasion to make himself acquainted with such constituencies dispute the facility and precision with which calculations as to voting might be made? And what, in such cases, would be the effect of the Ballot.' Why, to throw the freemen and poorer class of electors into the hands of some venal farmer of votes, who, upon a promise of conditional payment, might secure a majority, and whose pernicious influence would be perpetuated by the secrecy of its working, a secrecy which the law could hardly reach. Thus, personal responsibility, one of the great features of our political and social condition, must be abolished. Was not that point worthy of consideration in a British House of Commons? Surely the elective franchise was a political trust. So at least it was emphatically denominated by the borough-abolitionists in the recent discussions on Reform. Their great argument was, that the elective franchise was a political trust, and not a personal right. Well, if it were a political trust, surely its exercise involved a public responsibility. But what became of this responsibility if they agreed to secret voting? There was no responsibility in secret voting; and why, he would ask, should the voters enjoy an unconstitutional protection, when the Representative, the Minister of the Crown, nay, the Monarch himself, were all subject to the salutary control of public opinion? He could not but think it singularly inconsistent that those who were so urgent for the accurate publication of parliamentary votes, and for the most undisguised method of proceeding in all matters of public interest, should pertinaciously contend for secret voting at elections. In support of this inconsistency they adduced arguments to which it was more painful than difficult to reply. He said painful, because of the subterfuges to which some of the most powerful writers were reduced in support of their favourite theory. One of these arguments he would just notice. "Why," it was asked, "do Gentlemen oppose the vote by Ballot for the people, while they themselves adopt it in their club election?" This specious question, so proudly urged in political reviews, so loudly cheered at public meetings, might be most easily and fairly answered. Every gentleman belonging to a club must know that the case of a club election was essentially distinct from that of a political election. In the case of a club election there was no contest between gentlemen of different political opinions— 653 indeed there was no contest whatever. All that the electors had to determine was, whether the particular individual balloted for, were a gentleman with whom they would willingly associate or not? Certain of the members might have good reasons for rejecting a candidate. They did so under the shelter of Ballot, and thereby not only avoided personal altercation, but also saved the rejected candidate from the annoyance of ulterior explanation. Now, could this apply to political elections when a choice was to be made between two candidates, not upon personal grounds, not upon private character, but upon public principles and political efficiency? In the case of the rejection of a club candidate there was always more or less of personal slight. In that of the political candidate there was nothing of the kind. If rejected, he was rejected on public grounds, and his rejection ought to be a public act, marked and decided, and not a covert attack as was proposed by the present measure. By the operation of such a measure he could not believe that electors would enjoy any protection which they did not now possess, if they had sense to form, and courage to maintain, an opinion. He who had not sense enough to form an opinion had no need of Ballot as a protection; he would always be led by some one; and he who had not the manliness to act on his conviction was not justified in applying to Parliament for the protection of Ballot—a mode of voting favourable not only to pusillanimity, but to duplicity, meanness, and venality. Then one word as to the probable effect of Ballot on the legitimate influence of property. In this view he conceived it to be objectionable chiefly as regarded county Representation. But first, considering the principle generally—that was, the influence of landlords with their tenants, employers with their workmen, &c., he contended that such influence was a due influence, and one which ought to be preserved. In large commercial constituencies, for example, where the Ballot would most effectively operate as to secrecy, what was the necessity for concealment at all? Among all classes of such a constituency there existed a community of interests, and the candidate most conversant with those interests, and best qualified for their effective advocacy, was tolerably certain of success. This assertion would be amply borne out by a reference to the results of the late election: and if this were so, who was to be benefitted by 654 the Ballot? One person only,—the popular declaimer, who, by vehement appeals to the passions of the people on some favourite topic, might excite them against the legitimate influence of intelligence and property, employing the stale but inexhaustible manœuvre of decrying all station as tyrannous, and all wealth as wrung from the sufferings of the poor. An audience so excited, might, under the shelter of ballot, vote in a way which, without that protection, they would probably hesitate to do, namely in opposition to the more enlightened and dispassionate of those with whom, by a community of personal and commercial interests, they were naturally associated. But how far this was to be considered an advantage, it is incumbent on the advocates of Ballot to prove. He, for one, thought it would be an evil, and therefore he opposed the measure. He now came to the probable working of the Ballot in the agricultural districts. Here it would, he conceived, be most inefficient as to secrecy, and at the same time most objectionable as to its general results. As far as his own experience of county elections went, he ventured to assert, that secrecy under ballot-voting, would be scarcely possible; and that such secrecy, if attainable, or indeed any mode of voting tending to alter the present relation between landlord and tenant, would be a mischievous innovation. Did hon. Gentlemen who advocated ballot as a protection for the farmer, differing in opinion from his landlord, propose to do away with personal canvass? He should imagine not. It was impossible to abolish this long-established usage. Well, personal canvass continuing, how, if the tenant were really in awe of his landlord, was the Ballot to benefit him, except in the case where, by promising one way, and voting another, he established his claim to political integrity?—unless in that case concealment was next to impossible, and he again contended, that were it possible, it would be most undesirable. Gentlemen talked of tenants being led to the hustings, and forced to vote under the fear of ejectment; but reprobating such undue influence as much as any man, and furthermore satisfied of its infrequency, he would ask those Gentlemen if they had ever witnessed a willing and confiding tenantry accompanying their landlord to the hustings, relying on the political honesty of one whose personal honour they had abundant opportunities of estimating? He had had the pleasure of witnessing this, 655 and he could sincerely assert that a mutual understanding more honourable to both parties, it was impossible to conceive. And what was to be substituted for this? Why, a mode of voting which, if it ensured secrecy, must, at the same time, ensure distrust and duplicity, and which, if it could not—as in the case of counties he contended it could not—ensure that secrecy, would be a perpetual lure to deception, and at the same time wholly inadequate for its declared objects. This mischievous innovation was uncalled for—it was by its very nature foreign to our habits, and at direct variance with our established usages. Were the country now forming, for the first time, a political constitution, and establishing popular representation as an element of that constitution, they might resolve on Ballot, and prohibit personal canvass, should such a course appear advisable. In that case, the instance of France and America might be fairly adduced; but guarding, as he trusted we ever should, with fostering care, a constitution of tried wisdom and enduring power, we were not justified in looking either to France or America, for models as regarded our electoral law. He had no wish to allude to the present state of either of those nations, but thus much he might be permitted to observe, that, until the usages adopted by them should have succeeded, not alone in forming and encouraging a popular character of more general and pervading patriotism, but also in electing a representative body, distinguished by greater and more nationally useful qualities than had been hitherto evinced by the people and Parliament of England, we ought to employ ourselves rather in preserving our own customs, than in imitating theirs. That these opinions, at a period of political excitement like the present, should be popular, he could not expect. But principles were not to be sacrificed to popularity. The advantages enjoyed by us under our free constitution, were originated and secured by no selfish or merely temporary views. No; those advantages had resulted from a generous but no less prudent spirit of legislation, looking, it was true, to the interests of each particular period of our progression, but never losing sight of the ultimate destinies of this constitutional monarchy, as far as they were subject to human wisdom or control. Animated by this spirit, devotedly attached to this form of Government, because he believed it to be the only one adapted to the feelings, habits, and 656 true interests of the people of England, he felt bound to resist this and all other measures which, to his judgment, appeared levelled at what he might be allowed to call the interwoven interests of the people the aristocracy, and the Crown. He, for one, would never consent to any disseverance of those interests; and believing the Ballot to have a decided tendency to such disseverance, he should give his vote against this measure.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the position in which he stood, rendered it necessary that he should address the House on this question, in order to explain the grounds of the vote he should give. Since he had had the honour of a seat in that House, there had been one division on this question, on the motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. O'Connell), in which he had voted for the adoption of the ballot, and he had since expressed himself in favour of that mode of taking votes; but he had never stated or urged it as a sine quâ non of good government. He had stated that he was inclined to prefer it, but he did not fail to state, at the same time, that he saw many objections to it, though he still thought the advantages preponderated. When the question of the Reform of Parliament was before the House, though there were some who wished that that measure should have gone a great deal further, there was a readiness, for the sake of the great measure of Reform, to abandon the question of the Ballot: that was, in fact, the universal feeling of the country. If this was the case—if, in the first place, they, uniting with the majority of Reformers (for those who espoused the Ballot were not the majority of the Reformers)—if uniting with them they obtained the measure of Reform, it could not be right and proper, or just and fair, to turn round and say, "having obtained this advantage, we will make use of it, in order to obtain the Ballot." But there was one ground on which he should not be justified at present, and in the circumstances of the country, in giving his vote in favour of the motion. He never should have supported the Ballot in a reformed Parliament, or any other, unless he saw great practical inconveniences resulting from not having it. He did not deny that great practical evils were produced, but those evils must exist to a great extent, and become a real public evil, before he could adopt so great a change in the Constitution, in order to remedy them. He did not think that, under the present 657 system of reform such evils existed to any extent, and therefore not believing them to exist to such an extent as to influence the public interests, he certainly did not think we ought to adopt such a change as this. It had been stated by the hon. member who brought forward this Motion, that when his noble friend introduced the Reform Bill, he said, that this was a question not immediately connected with that measure. But he (Lord Althorp) appealed to every Gentleman who was in the last Parliament, and who knew the whole proceedings whilst the question of Reform was going on, whether the promoters of that measure did not contend, that, as far as the representation of the people was concerned, it was to be considered and was proposed as a final measure. He (Lord Althorp) had stated that frequently to the House. It might be said, undoubtedly, that the vote he should give to-night would be inconsistent with that which he had given on the motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman; but if he were now to vote with the hon. member for the city of London, he should be acting more inconsistently with every thing he had stated during the whole progress of the measure of Reform. If those Gentlemen who supported that measure thought it was wholly inefficient and useless, unless it was accompanied by the Ballot, they would have acted more fairly if they had come forward last Session, and stated that they could not be satisfied with Reform, unless it was accompanied with the Ballot. There might be one or two Gentlemen who were of that opinion; the late member for Preston was one, who always advocated the Ballot; the hon. member who cheered (Mr. Warburton) was another; but the great body of supporters of the Reform Bill did not claim credit for the same declaration; and would it not be inconsistent in this, the first Session of the Reformed Parliament, before any great practical evils had been laid before the House, which interfered with the public interests, immediately to support a motion for the Ballot? With regard to the speeches on both sides to-night, he thought some of those who had spoken for the Ballot had exaggerated the evils it was proposed to cure; but he thought those who had spoken against it had been guilty of more exaggeration. He did not think that the Ballot would destroy the legitimate influence of property, or that any measure would do so. But still he did not think it 658 a grand panacea to prevent bribery and corruption, though it would render them more difficult. He avowed, that if there were no other reasons, on the whole he should prefer this mode of taking votes, but he did not think the evils were such as to justify the change. He was conscious that he was liable to attack for the vote he should give, but if he gave his vote any other way, he should be liable to a still more merited attack.
§ Mr. Cobbett
rose and said: Sir, before I proceed to the merits of the question, the House will be so good as to suffer me to make a remark on what has fallen from the hon. member for Portsmouth, relative to the practice of the Ballot in America. The hon. Gentleman has told us, that in some of the states there is Ballot, and in some of them no Ballot; so that, as far as America goes, here is no authority at all in its favour. For the want of full information upon the subject, the hon. Gentleman omitted to tell the House that there is no Ballot in those States where slavery exists in the greatest degree; and that there is Ballot in all the States where slavery does not exist. Then the hon. Member has read to us an extract from an address of the Governor of New York to the Houses of Assembly of that State, complaining of the interference of the government officers in the late election, complaining of the conduct of the officers of the naval yard, of the custom-house, and even of the judiciary. It must have appeared somewhat strange to the House that there should have been a Governor complaining of the officers of his own government, and persons of his own appointment. But, when the House is told, that the general government of the United States have a naval yard, a custom-house, and a judiciary in the State of New York, as well as in each of the other states, the seeming absurdity disappears; and the fact is this, the governor of the State of New York, who had been just elected, was of politics different from the President of the United States; and he very justly complained of the interference of the officers of the United States to prevent his election; and he was suggesting to the legislature the propriety of adopting some regulation to prevent such interference in future; and, upon this peculiar transaction, with regard to which the Ballot is not once mentioned by the governor of the State of New York, the hon. member for Portsmouth puts the construction, that the great and flourishing 659 state of New York had cast aside the Ballot. So much for the argument imported from America, whence I could, if I would, import an argument, and a set of facts much more available to the use of the hon. Gentleman than those which he has chosen to employ; but, even these, if duly considered, would amount to no argument at all against the use of the Ballot in England. Now, Sir, with regard to the Ballot in England, it never has been a very great favourite of mine; it involves no principle of political rights: it is merely a regulation for the prevention of unjust influence, and I am sorry that it has been found to be absolutely necessary to that prevention. But, after having seen the proceedings at the late election, and after hearing the speech of the hon. and learned member for the Tower Hamlets (to have drawn forth which would have been worth much more than this whole discussion), it is impossible for any man to doubt of the justice of adopting this regulation. I am sorry not to see one of the hon. members for West Surrey in his place; and sorry, too, lest he should be kept away by a cause affecting his health. That hon. Member told us in the town hall at Guildford, on the day of the declaration of the result of the election, that many persons who had promised him their votes, had come to him before the day of election, and some of them with tears in their eyes, to beseech him to release them from their promises; for that they had been threatened with ruin to their families if they voted for him, and did not vote for his opponent. He, with his characteristic goodness and benevolence, told them at once, "Take care of your families and never mind my election: the good of electing me is very doubtful, while the evil resulting to you is certain; therefore never think about injuring me, but consult the good of your families." The tax-gatherers and hired overseers canvassed for votes, with their taxing-bills and rate-bills in their hand; and, at the bottom of those bills was printed, on papers, which I myself saw, "Vote for Sumner." Now, Sir, ought this to be? Is it not a shame to call men freemen and free electors while they are left exposed to an imperious influence like this? I am sure that hon. members who sit here for counties, sit here to act an honest and independent part. I am to presume that none of them were conscious of improper means being made use of to procure their election; but I bare no hesitation to express 660 my firm belief, that a majority of them sit here in virtue of the exertions of stewards, attornies, tax-gatherers, and hired overseers. An hon. Gentleman, and a noble Lord, who have spoken from this bench, have represented us, who support this proposition, as being actuated by a restlessness to get on to further changes. They have told the House, that, while the Reform Bill was passing, we said that we would give the Bill a fair trial; that we would ask for nothing more until it had a full and fair trial. This is not a fair statement of the language of the reformers upon that occasion. We always excepted the two points, the ballot and triennial Parliaments, which were points expressly reserved by the noble Lord who brought in the Bill, and, we expected that these two points would have been taken up by the last Parliament that has passed; that this was the understanding of the reformers is clear; because the hon. member for London, on the very first day of the Session, gave notice of this Motion, while another hon. member for London gave notice of a Motion for triennial Parliaments. It was relative to the extent of the suffrage that we pledged ourselves to give the Bill a fair trial; and not at all with regard to these two points; and, therefore, it is unjust to accuse us of restlessness and of a desire for further and further change. There was something said, but not very good-naturedly nor very prudently, by the noble Lord the member for Shropshire, and by the hon. Gentleman who a little while ago was sitting on my right (Major Fancourt I believe). The noble Lord, while he called us the party of the "Movement." rather broadly hinted, that we aimed at the destruction of the rights of property; no man is more ready to allow than I am, that property has its rights; but at the same time the noble Lord will have the goodness to allow, that property has also its duties; and if he will have the goodness to attend here to morrow-night, he will, I am sure, assist me in urging that property to perform its duties. The law commands every one in a whole vicinage, to come forth, and if need be, even to risk his life, in defence of a Lord's estate. I have no objection to that; I say that that is right; but if property has thus the command of men's bodies, I deny its right to extend to their souls; I deny its right to coerce men's votes and consciences. The hon. Member who spoke from my right, was more indiscreet still; he went so far as to 661 say, that he discovered amongst the bad signs of the times, a disposition in some persons (and I am afraid that he looked rather hard at me when he said it) to stir up the other classes of the community against the nobility and gentry of the kingdom; he said that these were the natural protectors of the humbler classes, and that the persons, to whom he rather more than alluded, were labouring to set the common people against these their natural and kind protectors. Sir, the nobility and gentry are naturally the protectors of those in inferior life, particularly the poor; they ought to be their kind protectors; nothing more desirable, than to see every creature in a bunch of parishes deeming that there is always safety under the wing of the Lord; nothing more lamentable, than to see the chain broken. But, Sir, will the people deem those, their kind protectors, who transport them to Botany Bay for seven years, for killing or being in pursuit of a hare; and that too by novel laws made by themselves? Will they deem those their kind protectors who hang them for resisting their gamekeepers? And am I to be accused of a desire to set the poor against the rich, because I complain, and justly complain, of these cruel oppressions of the poor? It has never been an object of mine to set the poor against the rich. I beg the House to observe that I claim no merit in having abstained from doing it; for, probably, it was my duty to have done it. Sir, I give my hearty assent to the Motion: and, with regard to the noble Lord and the hon. Gentleman to whom I have alluded, my advice to them would be to leave the rights of property very much to take care of themselves; and by no means to continue their hostility to the rights of the people; for, they may be well assured, that, though they may triumph for a while, in the end they are sure to fall.
said, that he would only detain the House for a few minutes. He thought that hon. Members who had spoken against the adoption of Vote by Ballot, though they said they were averse to it, had brought forward no sound argument against its adoption. The question at issue was really this. Was the vote to belong to the voter, or to any body else? Was it his own property, or the property of those who could exercise an influence over him? Those who thought that the vote ought to belong to the voter, should support Vote 662 by Ballot; those who thought that it was not his property, and that he ought not to have the free exercise of it, should oppose Vote by Ballot. Without Vote by Ballot and without secresy, it was impossible that a vote could be a voter's own. There was bribery and interference to influence him on all hands. There was hope of gain on the one hand, and fear of loss on the other; and if there was not actual bribery there was at least the expectation of a bribe to induce a man to vote contrary to his conscience. There were two views in which the question should be considered. Ought a man's vote to be his own? And ought he to be allowed to sell it? It would be at once conceded that a voter should not be allowed to sell his vote, and the Ballot was the only security against such sale; for, if there were Vote by Ballot and secrecy (without which Vote by Ballot was nothing) he was not likely to get a purchaser. No man would give money for a vote, when he had no means of ascertaining whether it were given him or not, A great deal had been said in the course of the debate by those who opposed the question, of the destruction of the influence of property which the Ballot would cause. Such would not be the effect. The influence of property in the hands of a man who knew how to use it well, would for ever remain, and would have its weight over the minds and consciences of those dependent upon him. But at present it was not that kind of influence which property bore. No. It was the harsh unforgiving landlord who had influence now over his trembling and degraded tenantry. It had been said, that it was impossible to maintain secrecy of Ballot, and that had been brought forward as an argument against the adoption of Vote by Ballot. But if it were impossible, he would beg to ask in what worse situation would they be with the Ballot, than without it? But with proper regulations secrecy might be easily preserved. It had then been said, that the Ballot would engender a system of hypocrisy, which might be dangerous in its moral effects. But could there be a worse or more dangerous species of hypocrisy than that which induced a man to give his vote contrary to his opinion. Vote by Ballot would put an end to the system of canvassing for situations of public trust, which ought to be conferred not for favour, but on account of the merit of the person chosen. It would be impossible long to deny the people the Ballot and it was impolitic to refuse it at present. 663 The Parliament had very properly extended the suffrage, and, by that extension, many were admitted to the exercise of the franchise whose necessities could not withstand a bribe, and by refusing Vote by Ballot and secrecy of voting, they were holding out a bonus to bribery and perjury. On these grounds he would cordially support the Motion of the hon. member for the City of London.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that though the hon. and learned member for Dublin had not made a long speech, yet, as it was well known that he had paid much attention to the subject, his powerful mind would have suggested stronger arguments in favour of the question before them, if stronger were to be urged. He (Sir Robert Peel) would briefly review the reasoning of the hon. and learned Gentleman in favour of the Vote by Ballot, confident that the learned Gentleman had omitted nothing which could really be relied on as an argument in its behalf. One of the effects which the learned Member expected from the Ballot was, that it would put an end to canvassing. Did the learned Gentleman consider that as an improvement? Did he think it an improvement, that, after a man had been toiling for years in the service of his constituents, they should receive him with a dead langour and apathy, or that he should return among them with the same feeling? Did he consider it an improvement, that a Member should not have an opportunity of explaining his conduct to his constituents, or of asking them for a renewal of their confidence? For his own part, far from thinking that an improvement, he should consider it to be destructive of one of the strongest links between the represented and their Representatives—one of the best securities for an honest discharge of their respective trusts. It would debar the constituents from a personal acquaintance with their representatives, and it would deprive the representative of the opportunity of mixing with the humbler classes of his constituents, of ascertaining their wants and wishes, and asking their support upon public grounds. If a man of wealth, station, and character, were thus relieved from the necessity of canvassing; in other words, of all personal and individual communication with his constituents—if he was only to appear before them on a stated day, amid all the confusion of a public ceremony, he for one should consider this boasted effect of the Ballot as any thing but a recommendation. The hon. and 664 learned Member had admitted, that the Ballot was nothing without secrecy. Now, he doubted whether it was possible to prevent the public functionaries employed in the elections from knowing how a man voted, and thus obtaining a great degree of influence over many men who would dread that the manner in which they voted should be known. These functionaries would, in fact, become intolerable petty tyrants. In order that secrecy should be maintained, the machinery must be so complete, that the functionaries should remain as ignorant of the nature of a man's vote as any other person. All would allow, that if vote by Ballot were introduced, secrecy was indispensable to any chance of its successful operation. But did the hon. and learned Member think that the voters themselves would permanently conceal their votes? Could they, in the course of gossip with their neighbours, conceal them. Was it possible that a man could conceal it from his wife? Where then was the secrecy? But suppose the secret inviolably kept—that never, in any moment of conviviality, or friendship—of confidential intercourse with a friend or relative, did the voter at a contested election divulge the vote he gave; what an abominable system must that be, under which persons could not discuss with their nearest connexions, how they had fulfilled, or meant to fulfil, a public trust! Could it be expected that men, in their private societies, in their families, in their clubs, at the market, were not to mention that which was probably uppermost in the minds of all. If strict silence were to be observed, vote by Ballot would do more than put an end to public canvass; it would stop public discussion. The hon. and learned Member said, that under the present system, landlords could be tyrants, but did the system which he had advocated not lay the tenantry open to a greater degree of tyranny? Would not the landlords, supposing their power to remain the same, and secrecy to be impracticable, wreak a double vengeance upon those who both disobeyed and deceived them? The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that the Ballot would prevent bribery; but if the disposition to bribe and to be bribed existed, it would have ingenuity enough to defeat their paper regulations against it. The learned Gentleman said, even if you failed in preventing bribery, you would have done no harm—the law would be inoperative—but no mischief would have been done. 665 But he must contend, that every inoperative law was in itself mischievous. No clubs would be formed, and a more systematic and more extensive system of bribery would be carried on. It threw discredit upon the law to legislate only to fail. If vote by Ballot was only a delusive security against bribery, it was worse than no security at all, for it would prevent other and more effectual precautions. The hon. and learned Member had spoken of the delight of seeing a landlord with his tenantry encompassing him, and going to give their votes in his favour, from a real and conscientious preference, founded on gratitude and respect. If the sight were so delightful, why deprive them of it. He objected to the Ballot, because it would make that House more democratic than it was already, and he thought it democratic enough. He said so openly. He did not wish to conceal that he thought the House of Commons as democratic as was consistent with the principles of the Constitution, and with the maintenance of the just authority and undoubted privileges of the other branches of the Legislature. It had been said, that the Ballot would destroy the influence of property. He would confidently assert, that if the influence of property in elections were destroyed, the security of all property and the stability of all Government, would be destroyed with it. It was surely absurd to say, that a man with ten thousand pounds a year should not have more influence over the Legislature of the country, than a man of ten pounds a year. Yet each was only entitled to a single vote. How could this injustice, this glaring inequality, be practically redressed excepting by the exercise of influence. How could the Government end but in a democracy, if the influence were merely according to numbers? An additional reason for opposing the Motion of the hon. Member was, that after the change made in the electoral system last year, another not less extensive change in the system was most unwise. What! Was there never to be any fixedness in the electoral system? Were they to give no opportunity of judging the effect of the change already made? Until there was strong proof of some practical defect in the system as it at present stood, he should object to a change. By a continual series of experiments on the Institutions of Government, they were depriving themselves of one of the main stays of Government, one of the chief sources of legitimate power—respect for, and attachment, to that 666 which is established, and upon that ground alone he would oppose the Motion. He thought Universal Suffrage more plausible than Vote by Ballot. But if they were to admit Vote by Ballot, it would only be the prelude to further demands; and there was nothing to hinder any Member to come forward the following day to ask them to adopt Universal Suffrage, or any other plan which might be popular. There was no system which had not plausible arguments in favour of its adoption, and certainly the theoretical arguments in favour of Universal Suffrage were at least as strong as those in favour of the Ballot. There were arguments in favour of extending the franchise to women, to which it was no easy matter to find any logical answer. Other and more important duties were intrusted to women; women were allowed to hold property, to vote on many occasions in right of that property—nay, a woman might inherit the Throne, and perform all the functions of the first office of the State; why should they not vote for a Member of Parliament? He objected to the Motion on another ground-namely, that many had been induced to yield their consent to the change effected in the electoral system of the country last year, under a clear understanding that it was to have a fair trial. He would take leave to tell hon. Member's, that they would do more good to the country, and be more useful Representatives for their constituents, if they devoted some of the time consumed in discussions on the form of Government under which they were to live, in reading the report of the Poor-law Commissioners, in considering the facts, and in applying themselves to remedy some of the practical and growing evils which it brought to light. On these grounds, and believing that it was necessary for the welfare of the country, that the state of excitement and desire for change in which the people were, should be allayed, he would vote against the Motion of the hon. member for London. So far from thinking that the Ballot would work well, he was of opinion that—though, in quiet times, it might do no harm—yet, in times of excitement, when the public mind was agitated and inflamed, if a Parliament were elected, it would be any thing but a fair representation of the real and sober feelings of the country, and might do irretrievable injury. He concluded by expresssing a hope, that the House would do nothing to change the constituency as established 667 by the Reform Act, till they had had a fair trial of its efficiency
§ Mr. Grantley Berkeley
said: I am well aware. Sir, of the great disadvantages I must labour under, in following the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down; but, at the same time, I feel it necessary to make a few observations in support of the vote I am about to give. I would, therefore, beseech the House to dismiss from their ears the eloquence they have just heard—loud as a trumpet with a silver sound—and turn their attention to the simple and unvarnished facts I shall offer to their notice. Sir, in the division of the county which I have the honour to represent, and during the last election, in one instance, six honest and industrious men, hatters by trade, at Oldland, comprising in their families no less than forty-five individuals, were discharged from their work, and driven to seek the charity of the public, for giving their votes according to their conscience, and as they conceived as best served the interests of their country. The truth of the statement of these men was at first questioned, and finally, accompanied by a solicitor, they went before no less than six different Magistrates to be sworn, who all refused to take their oath on various and frivolous pretexts. Now, Sir, I would ask the House—I would appeal to the country—what purity of election can exist if such intimidation is to continue? Are we not bound, then, to pass some measure for the protection of the labouring man in the free exercise of his franchise? I confess that for a length of time my opinions ranged against the Vote by Ballot, but the necessity of it has been, as it were, forced upon me by the acts of that very party who have ever been loudest in their cry against it. I repeat, that the purity of election does not, and cannot, exist under these circumstances, and without trespassing at this late hour further upon the House, I must say that the measure now before it has my warmest support.
|List of the AYES.|
|Adams, E. H.||Berkeley, hn. G. C. F.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Berkeley, hon. C.|
|Astley, Sir, J.||Biddulph, Robert|
|Attwood, Thomas||Bish, Thomas|
|Barnard, Edward||Blandford, Marq. of|
|Barnett, Charles J.||Brotherton, Joseph|
|Bayntun, Capt. S. A.||Buckingham, J. S.|
|Buller, Charles||Rider, T.|
|Bulwer, E. L.||Rippon, Cuthbert|
|Chichester, J. P. B.||Romilly, John|
|Clay, William||Romilly, Edward|
|Cobbett, William||Scholefield, Josh.|
|Divett, Edward||Simeon, Sir R. G.|
|Dundas, hon. J. C.||Stanley, hon. H. T.|
|Dykes, F. L.||Staveley, J. K.|
|Ellis, Wynn||Strickland, George|
|Evans, William||Strutt, Edw.|
|Ewart, William||Tancred, H. W.|
|Faithfull, George||Tayleure, William|
|Fellowes, H. A. W.||Tennyson, rt. hon. C.|
|Fellowes, hon. N.||Thicknesse, Ralph|
|Fenton, John||Tooke, William|
|Ferguson, Sir R.||Torrens, Col. R.|
|Fielden, John||Trelawney, W. L.|
|Fitzroy, Lord James||Turner, Wm|
|Fryer, Richard||Tynte, C. J. K.|
|Gaskell, D.||Thompson, Ald.|
|Guest, J. J.||Wigney, Isaac N.|
|Gully, John||Wood, Ald. Matthew|
|Hall, Benjamin||Walker, R.|
|Hawkins, John H.||Gillon, W. D.|
|Hill, Matthew D.||Maxwell, Sir Jn.|
|Hodges, Thomas L.||Parnell, Sir H.|
|Hornby, E. G.||IRELAND.|
|Hume, Joseph||Bellew, R. M.|
|Humphery, John||Chapman, M. L.|
|Hutt, William||Evans, G.|
|Ingilby, Sir W. A.||Finn, W. F.|
|Kemp, Thomas R.||Fitzgerald, T.|
|Key, Sir John||Fitzsimon, C.|
|King, Edw. Bolton||Fitzsimon, N.|
|Lambton, H.||Grattan, H.|
|Lamont, Capt. N.||Lalor, Patrick|
|Lister, Cunliffe||Maclaughlin, L.|
|Lloyd, John H.||O'Connell, D.|
|Lushington, Dr. S.||O'Connell, C.|
|Marshall, John||O'Connell, Morgan|
|Molesworth, Sir W.||O'Dwyer, A. C.|
|Moreton, hon. H. G.||Roche, W.|
|Palmer, General||Roe, James|
|Parrott, Jasper||Ruthven, E. S.|
|Pease, Joseph||Ruthven, E.|
|Penlease,—||Vigors, N. A.|
|Potter, Richard||Grote, George|
|Ricardo, David||Warburton, Henry|
|List of the NOES.|
|Althorp, Lord||Brocklehurst, I.|
|Apsley, Lord||Bruce, Lord E.|
|Ashley, Lord||Bulkeley, Sir R. W.|
|Astley, Sir J. D.||Buller, James W.|
|Bankes, W. J.||Bulteel, J. C.|
|Baring, Francis T.||Burdett, Sir F.|
|Baring, Francis||Burrell, Sir C.|
|Baring, Henry B.||Byng, George|
|Bell, Matthew||Calvert, N.|
|Benett, J.||Carter, J. B.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Cavendish, Lord|
|Bethell, Rich.||Cavendish, hn. Col. H.|
|Bewes, T.||Cayley, Sir G.|
|Blackstoue, W. S.||Cayley, E. S.|
|Chaplin, Colonel T.||Lennox, Lord W.|
|Clive, E. B.||Lennox, Lord G.|
|Clive, hon. R. H.||Lennox, Lord A.|
|Collier, J.||Lincoln, Earl of|
|Crawley, Samuel||Lopes, Sir R.|
|Curteis, Capt. E. B.||Lygon, Hn. Col. H. B.|
|Dare, R. W. H.||Lumley, Visct.|
|Darlington, Earl of||Lyall, George|
|Dick, Q.||Maberley, Col.|
|Dillwynn, L. W.||Madocks, J.|
|Dugdale, W. S.||Mangles, J.|
|Dundas, Hon. Sir R.||Martin, J.|
|Ebrington, Visct.||Mildmay, P. St. J.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Miller, W. H.|
|Fancourt, Major||Milton, Lord|
|Fenton, Capt. L.||Molyneux, Lord|
|Folkes, Sir W.||Moreton, hon. A. H.|
|Fordwich, Visct.||Morpeth, Viscount|
|Forester, Hon. G. C.||Nanney, Ellis O. G.|
|Forster, C. S.||Nicholl, J.|
|Fox, S. L.||Norreys, Lord|
|Gaskell, J. M.||North, Frederick|
|Gladstone, W. E.||Paget, Frederick|
|Gordon, Robt.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Gore, Montague||Parker, J.|
|Goring, H. D.||Parker, Sir H.|
|Graham, Sir J. R.||Patten, J. W.|
|Grant, Right Hon. R.||Peel, Rt. Hon. Sir R.|
|Greville, Sir C.||Pelham, Hn. C. A.|
|Grey, Hon. Col.||Pendarves, E. W.|
|Grimston, Visct.||Peter, W.|
|Grosvenor, Rt. Hon. Lord R.||Phillips, Sir R.|
|Philips, Sir G.|
|Guise, Sir Berkeley W.||Pigot, R.|
|Hughes, Hughes||Pinney, W.|
|Halford, H.||Plumptre, J. P.|
|Handley, H.||Ponsonby, Hn. W. F. S.|
|Harcourt, Geo. V.||Price, Richard|
|Harland, Chas.||Pryme, G.|
|Hawes, Benjamin||Ramsbottom, John|
|Heathcote, J. J.||Rickford, Wm.|
|Heathcote, G. J.||Ridley, Sir M. W.|
|Henniker, Lord||Ramsden, J. C.|
|Herbert, Hon S.||Rolfe, R. M.|
|Hobhouse, Sir J. C.||Ross, Charles|
|Hodgson, John||Rotch, Benj.|
|Home, Sir W.||Rumbold, C. E.|
|Howard, Philip H.||Russell, Rt. Hn. Ld. J.|
|Howick, Visct.||Russell, C.|
|Halcomb, John||Sandon, Viscount|
|Hope, H. F.||Sanford, E. A.|
|Hyett, W. H.||Sebright, Sir J.|
|Ingham, R.||Shawe, R. N.|
|Irton,—||Skipwith, Sir G.|
|Jermyn, Earl||Slaney, R. A.|
|Jervis, John||Smith, John A.|
|Johnstone, Sir J. V.||Smith, R. V.|
|Johnstone, Sir F. G.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Jolliffe, Col. H.||Spankie, Mr. Serjeant|
|Kerrison, Sir E.||Spry, S. T.|
|Kerry, Earl of||Stanley, Edward|
|Labouchere, Henry||Stanley, E. J.|
|Langsten, J. H.||Staunton, Sir G. T.|
|Lee, John Lee H.||Stewart, John|
|Lemon, Sir C.||Stewart, P. M.|
|Lennard, T. B.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Lennard, Sir T. B.||Talbot, W. H. F.|
|Throckmorton, R. G.||Ewing, James|
|Todd, R.||Ferguson, Robert|
|Tower, C. T.||Hay, Col. A. Leith|
|Townsend, Lord Chas.||Jeffery, rt. hn. Francis|
|Trevor, hon. H.||Johnston, A.|
|Verney, Sir H.||Loch, James|
|Vernon, hon. G. T.||Mackenzie, J. A. S.|
|Vyvyan, Sir R.||Macleod, R.|
|Wilbraham, George||Murray, J. A.|
|Williams, Robert||Ormelie, Earl of|
|Williams, T. P.||Oswald, J.|
|Williams, W. A.||Ross, H.|
|Willoughby, Sir H.||Stewart, Sir M. Sha|
|Wood, Charles||Traill, G.|
|Walsh, Sir J. B.||Wemyss, Capt. J.|
|Waterpark, Lord||Acheson, Vise.|
|Welby, Glynne E.||Christmas, J. N.|
|Whitmore, W. W.||Cole, Lord|
|Wrottesley, Sir J.||Cole, Hon. A.|
|Wynn, Rt. Hn. C. W.||Conolly, Col. E. M.|
|Yorke, Capt. C. P.||Hayes, Sir E.|
|Young, George T.||Jones, Capt. T.|
|SCOTLAND.||Lamb, Hon. G.|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew||Macnamara, Major W.|
|Bannerman, Alex.||Macnamara, F.|
|Dalmeny, Lord||Martin, J.|
|Dalrymple, Sir J. H.||Martin, J.|
|Dunlop, Capt. J.||Stawell, Col.|
|Elliot, Hon. Capt. G.||Young, John|
|Bainbridge, E. T.||Arbuthnot, Gen.|
|Barron, W.||Brougham, W.|
|Brigstock, W. P.||Byng, Sir John|
|Bulwer, H. L.||Dundas, Capt.|
|Dawson, E.||Ferguson, George|
|Davies, Col.||Fox, Colonel|
|Handley, Benj.||Grey, Sir George|
|Jephson, D. O.||Hardinge, Sir H.|
|Lambert, Henry||Hanmer, Sir John|
|Langdale, Hon. C.||Heneage, G. F.|
|Langten, Col. G.||Hill, Lord M.|
|Lynch, A. H.||Houldsworth, T.|
|Methuen, P.||Johnstone, J. J. H.|
|Morrison, James||Knatchbull, Sir E.|
|O'Connell, J.||Marjoribanks, S.|
|O'Connell, Maurice||Mandeville, Visc.|
|Ord, William||Ossulston, Lord|
|Phillpotts, John||Palmer, Robert|
|Roebuck, J. A.||Price, Sir R.|
|Seale, Colonel||Rica, Rt. Hon. T. S.|
|Sharpe, General||Tynte, C.|
|Sinclair, George||Verner, Colonel|
|Talbot, John H.||Warre, J. A.|
|Tennant, James E.||Weyland, Major|
|Vincent, Sir F.||Windham, W. H.|