The Peel Web

I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.

The Parliamentary Debate on the introduction of the Reform Bill: 8 March 1831

Taken from Hansard's Debates of the House of Commons, vol 2 columns 181-247

[181] Mr. O'Connell moved, that the Order of the Day for the resumption of the Debate on the Bill to amend the Representation be read. — Read accordingly.

Mr. O'Connell then proceeded to address the House. — His object in rising was to give his most decided and most anxious support to this measure. He looked upon it as a measure which deserved support, because it was a large, a liberal, and a wise measure — he would even call it a generous measure; and sure he was, that it would be an effectual measure of Reform. He thought that it had been brought forward wisely; for if the Ministers had offered less, the country would soon have complained that they had not given more; and whoever had attempted to get more for the country, would have made an attempt which would as certainly end in defeat. The measure should have his vote in support of it in that House; and if he possessed any influence elsewhere, all that influence should be exercised in its favour. There were, however, objections to the measure. He was upon conviction a Radical Reformer; and this was not a Radical Reform. He was of opinion, that in every practical mode, universal suffrage should be adopted as a matter of right: he was likewise of opinion, that the duration of Parliaments should be shortened to the time stipulated at the glorious Revolution of 1688; and, above all, he was of opinion that votes should be taken by Ballot. This measure gave none of these three modes of Reform; but. it was in other respects so liberal and so extensive, that he was convinced that it would demonstrate one of two things — either that further Reform was not necessary, and that a more extensive suffrage, shorter parliaments, and the Vote by Ballot could be dispensed with; or that it would give all these at a future period, without the slightest disturbance, safely, certainly, and rationally. As a Radical Reformer he accepted this measure heartily. There was another [182] point of view in which he had a right to object to this measure. It would not carry its own principle into effect in Ireland. He thought that Ireland had been badly treated by it. He could not thank the present Administration, or at least that part of it to which the government of Ireland was intrusted, for their conduct towards that country. He thought that the present Administration, to whom he felt deeply grateful for this measure, had not acted well towards Ireland. He thought that it had acted unwisely — he was sure that it had acted arbitrarily, and he was sorry to add arrogantly, and therefore, if he were to take counsel from his passions, or to indulge his prejudices, he should be able to find many objections to this measure. It was, however, too advantageous to be thus cavilled at; and that consideration made him sink all paltry objections to a measure which he believed would be highly advantageous to the whole community. He would proceed to point out the mode in which it would operate in the counties and boroughs of England; and first in the counties. It would leave all the 40s. freeholders, and the other persons who now had votes, just where it found them; but it would confer on the copyholders of £10 a year, the elective franchise. Was not that a substantial advantage? Why had they been prevented from enjoying it heretofore? For nothing but a technical reason, known only to lawyers, and intelligible only to them. Why should an individual who held his property as securely and as freely by court-roll as the freeholder held it by his freehold, be prevented from exercising the same privileges on account of his property, as belonged to the freeholder on account of his? The measure did not, however, stop there. Hitherto all persons having what the lawyers called a chattel-interest, or a lease for years, were debarred from voting. Thus it happened, that a man who held a large and extensive property, at his own disposal, for a lease of 999 years, had no vote; whilst another, who held only three acres for an old life, was entitled to vote — that was an absurdity This measure, therefore, added two numerous and influential classes of proprietors, who were now excluded, to the electoral body; and thus, as it related to the counties of England, it must of necessity be very beneficial. But it would have another effect. Twenty-eight counties [183] were each to have two additional Members, which would increase the sound part of the Representatives. The only objection which had been urged to this portion of the measure came from the Ministerial side of the House. It was grounded on the clause which gave the Privy Council power to divide counties into districts. It had been said, that such power was unconstitutional: but no attempt had been made to prove it so, and he was inclined to treat such an assertion, not as an argument, but as an empty cavil. Besides, such power had already been given to the Privy Council in Ireland, where the counties had been divided into local jurisdictions, and no objection had ever been made to the mode in which the Privy Council had performed this duty. The power, therefore, was not novel. He believed that it would be harmless; but if it should prove otherwise, how easily could that be remedied in a reformed Parliament? In England, therefore, the provisions which this measure would extend to counties would be productive of unmixed good. He rejoiced that they were about to get an increased constituency in all the counties, and that they were about to get an increase of new county Members, who belonged to a class which was the least revolutionary in the world. The next part of the Bill related to the boroughs of England, and here he must say, that he delighted beyond measure in the way in which they had been dealt with. The measure used the pruning-knife to the rotten parts of the Constitution, and used it, too, with a master's hand; it cut out, unsparingly, all the corrupt parts of the Constitution, and left all the sound parts of it intact and inviolate. What was the great reproach against the House of Commons? The existence of nomination boroughs. What was the chief grievance in its Constitution in the eyes of the people? The existence of these boroughs. Was it an idle or imaginary grievance? No such thing. The people complained of them as a real grievance, They were in direct contradiction to the theory of the Constitution — they were an open violation of its first principle, the representative principle. When, therefore, Gentlemen talked to him of this measure conferring a new Constitution upon the country, he was inclined to ask them, whether they knew what its old Constitution was? Was it the old Constitution of England that the mound at [184] Old Sarum, or the park at Gatton, or the niches in the walls of Midhurst should be represented in the House of Commons? What lawyer would dare — yes, he repeated the words advisedly — what lawyer would dare to assert that such was the old Constitution of England? This consideration reminded him of an occurrence which happened some years ago in one of the courts of law in Ireland. At the time of the Union between England and Ireland, certain close boroughs were disfranchised, and, by a precedent by no means to be imitated, compensation was given, not to the voters who lost their suffrages, but to the patron, who arrogated to himself the right of selling them to the highest bidder. The borough of Askeaton was one of the boroughs thus disfranchised, and £13,000 was given by the Parliament to Massey Dawson, as compensation for the loss he had sustained by the disfranchisement of it. Shortly afterwards, his brother, who was the other Member for that borough, claimed half that compensation-money, and, not being able to obtain it by fair means, brought an action in one of the Irish Courts to recover the moiety to which he deemed himself entitled. No sooner had the plaintiff's counsel opened his case, than the learned Judge on the bench told him, that he must be nonsuited, and further added, "Sir, I have a great respect for you personally, but I must tell you, that your client is a most audacious man in having dared to come into Court with such a cause of action as this." And yet it afterwards appeared, from a statement which he heard made in the Court of Chancery, that this very Judge, together with the father of the hon. member for Limerick, were the trustees named in a marriage-settlement, by which it was provided that the nomination to the borough of Tralee should be set aside as a provision for the younger children of sir E. Dennie. And yet this was called the old Constitution. — [An hon. Member, "Oh, but that was in Ireland."] — Be it so; still it was a case in point, and one which he had a right to quote on the present occasion, especially as there had been a similar testamentary disposal of property in England by a late nobleman, in favour of his daughter's husband. But he had not done with Ireland yet, he could assure the hon. Gentleman. To return, however, to the nomination boroughs. The constitutional writers, the lawyers the Judges, — all men [185] who could distinguish right from wrong — joined in denouncing this practice. And yet, had they not heard in this discussion, that the Duke of Norfolk, the Duke of Newcastle, the Duke of Bedford, the Marquis of Cleveland, the Marquis of Lansdown, and other great noblemen, were in the daily habit of nominating Members to boroughs, and that they possessed an admirable facility in discovering young gentlemen of talent and ability, who were hovering about Parliament, and yet had no place within it on which they could alight, until they received the olive-branch from such aristocratical patrons? Was not this a direct violation of the principles of the Constitution? What was the first resolution which that House laid down on the opening of Parliament? Before the King's Speech was read, — before the Commons were even summoned to attend in the presence of their King, who deserved better of his subjects than any King who had ever reigned before him, — they passed the following Resolution: — " That it is a high infringement of the liberties and privileges of the Commons of the United Kingdom, for any Lord of Parliament, or other Peer or Prelate — yes, any Prelate, to concern himself in the election of Members to serve for the Commons in Parliament." He arraigned the proprietors of nomination boroughs of an infringement, and a most culpable infringement, of the privileges of Parliament. This resolution of the House passed unanimously: no one ventured to raise his voice against it; and, now that it had passed, if any one were to say that it was not binding, it would be the duty of the Speaker to interfere. By talking, however, about the old Constitution, under which we had made war and peace, Gentlemen were enabled to laugh at this resolution of the House, and to treat it with contempt. True it was, that ours was an old Constitution, and true it was, that they had oftentimes made war and peace while they had been living under it; but what those facts had to do with the matter he could not comprehend, and Gentlemen might, in their eloquence, bear in mind that post hoc was not always propter hoc. Let the Resolution be rescinded if the House thought fit, and let the House declare that they were not in favour of the rights and the liberties of the people, but against them; only let them not, while the Resolution existed on their Journals, talk about its [186] being revolutionary and unjust to act upon that to which they had unanimously pledged themselves. The hon. member for Callington had, the other night, become quite poetical upon this subject, and in weeping over the untimely fate of his own borough, had called it a violet. Anything argumentative, and sterling, and strong, might reasonably have been expected from the hon. member for Callington, but who could have dreamed of that hon. Member turning poet, and of his having, in his fondness for his constituents, and by the inspiration of his muse, mistaken a rotten borough for a violet? But the Gentlemen on the other side threatened them, told them, that they were guilty of an unjust seizure of franchises, and accused them of robbery. Now these were very grave charges; but let hon. Members give their attention to the subject for a few moments, and inquire who the robbers were. He had never heard of a royal charter, grant, or deed to any nobleman, conferring on that nobleman the right of nominating Members to sit in that House. No; but he had heard of such grants being made to the people. He knew that the people had been robbed of those grants, and he liked this Bill because it laid hold of the spoliators. The seizure was with those who now cried out so lustily "Stop thief." He supposed that no man would be inclined to question the title of the King to his throne; for that would be treason both here and elsewhere; and it would be a crime, — not of so high a degree, but still a crime, — to say that the House of Lords ought to be deprived of its legislative and judicial powers. This was obvious, and every body would readily admit it; but let him ask, whether it was more justifiable to violate the liberties of the people, and to set at nought the privileges of that House? The people well knew who their spoliators were, for they perfectly understood the close-borough system. Some delusion was practised upon the subject in that House, and the matter was mystified there by one Gentleman quoting what another Gentleman had said upon some other occasion, or what some deceased statesman of great name had been reported to have said some years ago: but he would tell the House that the people out of doors were in the habit of talking common sense, and that this was the language which they held to the borough-proprietors: — " You have [187] taken away our rights, you have usurped our franchises, you have robbed us of our property, and, do what you will, you shall disgorge!" Thus, then, he had dealt with what were called nomination boroughs He might, however, be told that although many were swept away, yet that Calne, and Tavistock, and Knaresborough still remained, and that this was unjust. Now he bad been intrusted with a petition against the return for Calne, and the petitioner would doubtless have succeeded, and been the sitting Member, but that a Committee of that House decided that Calne was a Corporation, and that there could not, therefore, by any possibility be more than 36 voters there. Now what would be the effect of this Bill with regard to Calne? Why, the effect of it would be this — that Calne would be thrown open, and that the election would no longer be in a close corporation. It had been said, that nevertheless the Members for Calne would not be changed. He did not know how that might be, but he was sure that every Gentleman who had heard or who had read that beautiful display of talent and eloquence which had proceeded from the hon. member for Calne, — that admirable speech, which contained as much ancient law as would have adorned an antiquary, which was strewed with the most beautiful flowers of literature, and which shone with all the ornaments which grace, and elegance, and learning could impart, — he was sure, he said, what all who had heard that speech would agree, that the hon. Member had a claim upon Calne which, now that it was freed from its former evils, it would be impossible to disallow. He defied any one to say, that that claim could be resisted, and what, he would ask, need that hon. Member now care for the influence of the Marquis of Lansdown? By-the-by, this brought to his recollection the speech of the hon. and learned member for Drogheda (Mr. North) last night. They all remembered how that hon. and learned Member, when he sat for a rotten borough, and was on the other side of the House, hardly ever opened his lips, and when he did, spoke scarcely above his breath, and always voted with Ministers; but they had all seen how he threw himself forward now, — how loudly and independently he talked now that he sat on the opposition side of the House, and sat for Drogheda, and was disencumbered of the influence of a patron. [188] Oh! God help those who would creep into that House. They said, that they stooped, and that they were not ashamed to stoop. Out upon this saying! they did not stoop, — they could not stoop, — for they were already bent so low that it was impossible they could bend lower. Let him remind the House how very amusing it must be to the people of Ireland to be told that every House of Commons gravely resolved that no Prelate should interfere in the election of Members of that House. Ardent reformer as he was, he would give up all Reform if he did not prove at that bar that they had among them a Member for a borough, who had been nominated by a right rev. prelate. The Member to whom he alluded was the right hon. the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Representative for the borough of Armagh [Archibald Acheson, 3rd Earl of Gosford]. He did not say that the borough of Armagh was the only one in Ireland in the elections of which a Prelate exercised a controlling influence. That borough was celebrated for miracles, but he believed it had never produced a greater miracle than the conversion of a Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yes, and as soon as the right hon. Gentleman, the nominee of the right rev. Prelate, had been safely returned by the influence of the right rev. Prelate, then the Orangemen and the Presbyterians, and other inhabitants of the borough, met together, and joined in the work of burning the right hon. Gentleman in effigy. And this was the old and much-lauded Constitution! This was the Constitution which some Gentlemen thought it almost sacrilege to touch. Oh! if the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge had only been as pathetic as he was comical — if he had been, like Niobe, all tears, — and what an admirable representative of Niobe he would have made! — the House would have been almost washed away in the flood which would have gushed forth at. the notion of destroying this venerable old Constitution. But the Bill did not only put an end to the nomination boroughs, it did more, it struck off also those small boroughs of another character and of which no man could speak in a merry mood. Why, the agents of these boroughs had been even at him, who had, however, no connection with England with all their usual solicitations, and the crowning temptation of an attorney at a small expense. Was not this system also notorious throughout the country? Was it [189] not known to those who professed themselves to be the friends and advocates of religion, and honesty, and good order? He differed from the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge, but he honoured that hon. and learned Gentleman as a man of the highest integrity, and of the most uncompromising principles; and he appealed to him whether, as a conscientious man — whether, as a responsible creature, — he could defend the system of corruption which carried perjury and bribery among the race of needy and miserable wretches who form the constituency of these boroughs — once in six years certainly, and oftener as accident might create vacancies in their Representation? Was this a system to be advocated? Was it a system, the existence of which could be denied? No one would deny it out of that House, nor would any one in that House dare to dispute the existence of it, or of its vices, except by some circumlocution, — by some crafty insinuation of that which no man would peril his reputation by asserting openly. But were not nomination boroughs sold also? It was notorious that they were, and the price of them was as much inquired about, and as easily ascertained, as the price of the stocks. Was it not said in 1792 that seats in Parliament were sold like stalls in Leadenhall Market? and if it were not said in 1831, was it not undeniable that the practice still continued? The people of England were awaking to the necessity of a reformation of these abuses; they were awaking, not suddenly, — not convulsively. — but quietly, and like a giant refreshed; and they would call aloud for his black sin, — this foul shame, — this high iniquity of the borough system, to be put an end to. But the boroughs were sold, — they all knew this fact; and yet, when they assembled there, they gravely came to an unanimous vote, that if any one should procure himself to be returned to that House by bribery, or by other corrupt practices, the House would proceed to punish such an individual with the utmost severity. And how did they deal with this vote afterwards? Why, they laughed at it, and made a joke of it; but let him tell them, that the people out of doors did not relish such jokes. The present Bill had been objected to by one hon. Gentleman that it would create a fantastic variety of voters; but was there no variety of voters now? [190] Undoubtedly there was: in one place the election was in the Mayor and Aldermen; in another in the Mayor, Aldermen, and Jurats; in another in the Mayor, Aldermen, Jurats, and Freemen; in some places men voted by tenure, in others by scot and lot, and in others Members were returned by potwallopers. Why, there was not more diversity in the shades and colours of the inhabitants of the West Indies than in the present elective franchise of England, The proposed measure reduced it to uniformity and simplicity by giving votes to all householders of £10, and it took away none of the present votes. It disfranchised only the non-residents, who had already disfranchised themselves by non-residence. This had been called an anomaly; but why had the Ministers taken this course? It was because they thought that property ought to be spared wherever it was possible, and because they had very wisely made their experiment as narrow as they could consistently with the great object they had in view. The next objection to the measure he found in the ultra-arithmetical speech of the right hon. member for Aldborough (Mr. Croker). That hon. Member had complained, that they gave but one Member to Brighton with its 24,000 inhabitants, while Tavistock was still to return two Members. But the fallacy of the hon. Gentleman — and a complete fallacy it was — consisted in his supposing that this Bill gave any thing to Tavistock, whereas the Bill gave nothing to Tavistock.

Sir C. Wetherell . — Yes, it does.

Mr. O 'Connell thanked the hon. and learned Gentleman for the interruption. The Bill did give something to Tavistock — it threw the borough open, and created 1,000 electors, where there were at present but twenty-four. But the charge of inconsistency and of creating anomalies came with a very bad grace from Gentlemen who opposed the new, and supported the old system. The hon. Gentlemen who contended for the beauty of that system which gave Gatton as many Members as Westminster, Rutland as many as Lancashire, and denied Manchester Members at all, had the imprudence to take a position in the front, and exclaim — "How dare you give less Members to Brighton than to Tavistock?" Should he not be wasting the time of the House if he were to go into those details, by which every one must know that be could [191] prove the present system of Representation to be full of the most fanciful inequalities? The truth was, that the ancient system had been dilapidated and disfigured by those who now pretended to venerate it; and the Government were endeavouring to build up again the old and simple fabric of the Constitution. The Gentlemen on the other side had, in some cases, destroyed the very foundations of that fabric, and left no basis where on a structure could be raised; but wherever they had left even they ruins of the ancient edifice, the Government had endeavoured to build up again upon such remnants, scanty as they were, which had escaped the lawless hands of the spoliators. The right hon. member for Aldborough had treated them with a disquisition in a tone and accents with which he was certainly familiar enough. A good deal had been said about mob oratory, and he would admit, that if he were acquainted with any style of oratory, it was mob oratory. He did not mean to say that such oratory as he had heard from the right hon. member for Aldborough and the learned member for Boroughbridge, would satisfy the mobs to which he had been accustomed, for the people were good judges of reasoning on subjects that concerned their own interests, and he must say, that the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman and the learned Member were the furthest possible removed from speeches that would satisfy any reasonable men. The right hon. Gentleman began by ridiculing a contradiction between the speech of the noble Lord who had introduced this measure, and the learned Lord who had spoken the other night; but how did he make out the contradiction; why, by misrepresenting the argument of the one, and the quotation of the other. That right hon. Gentleman understood as well as any man the philosophical illustration used by the learned Lord, in which he so happily displayed the gradual growth of wealth, and intellect, and people, making them too mighty for the narrow bounds assigned them at a former period, and shewing how they had cast off their restraints and had assumed their native dignity. The right hon. Gentleman must have been delighted, though he might refuse to be instructed, by that beautiful illustration. The complaint of the right hon. member for Aldborough was, in plain terms, this, namely, that the noble Lord, going back to the time of [192] Edward for an argument, and taking the statute de tallagio non concedendo, had not brought along with it also all that rubbish and lumber of antiquity, which the right hon. member for Aldborough delighted in. To leave this subject, however, and to pass on to other parts of the measure, he would only say further upon it, that if rotten boroughs were violets, and if there were a nosegay of them, he would willingly sacrifice them all on the altar of the Constitution. This was, in his opinion, the most valuable part of the Bill. They had next been told, that this Bill was a corporation robbery, and they had had that assertion sounded in every tone except a low tone, and in every key except a minor key. Now, being a lawyer, and having a little of the curiosity which belonged to his profession, he had gone through the list of disfranchised boroughs, with the view of ascertaining how many of them were Corporations. He had found, that out of the sixty only sixteen were Corporations; and the most comical result of his inquiry was, that neither Boroughbridge nor Aldborough were, or ever had been, Corporations. Then, again, they had been told that the Bill was a seizure of franchises and of the rights of the people. Now he should be glad to know if the Gentlemen who held this language meant to assist him in his endeavour to carry the Repeal of the Union; for if they thought that the Legislature had no right to take away franchises, what did they think of 200 boroughs being disfranchised by one single Act of Parliament? Yet this was done at the Union. And were the voters tried and convicted? Oh, no: far from it, the electors of forty of them were so innocent, that it was thought right to give £13,000 a piece of the public money to each of the forty boroughs. It was acknowledged that the people so disfranchised were innocent and guiltless, and he would ask the hon. member for Tamworth, who had called the present Bill atrocious, and the noble Lord who had called it iniquitous, whether they meant to join with him in repairing those acts of greater atrocity and of greater iniquity, which had been committed at the time of the Union? Thus it was that those Gentlemen, who ran against him as though he had two heads to lose, furnished him with arguments in favour of the very views which they stigmatized: but he had better [193] arguments of his own when he chose to use them, and would not borrow in such a quarter. He had said, that he would say a word or two about the borough of Tavistock [the parliamentary seat of Lord John Russell], and, with the permission of the House, he would do so now. It had been said, that, although this Bill should pass, the borough of Tavistock would remain a close borough still. Now he had the fullest confidence in the character of the noble house of Bedford; but he agreed that the people ought not to be satisfied on such a subject with the character of any one. But had they no other security against Tavistock remaining a close borough? Let him ask hon. Members, what sympathy such a borough — if it should happen to escape — could meet with in a Reformed Parliament? When he first came into that House, there was a question of disfranchising a certain borough, and some opposed the disfranchisement of that particular borough, on the ground that there were many other boroughs equally guilty. On that occasion he had taken the liberty of addressing the House, and of comparing the delinquent borough to a wolf which, separated from the rest of the herd, had fallen into our hands, and he had asked, whether they would allow the one wolf to escape because they could not lay hold of the rest? But what would be the case hereafter, if, when all the other close boroughs were destroyed, Tavistock alone remained? They would have destroyed the whole herd of wolves, with one solitary exception, and the surviving one would be within their clutches. Oh, God help the lonely one in a Reformed Parliament! To pass from the gravity of the lawyer to the merry cheer of the fox-hunter, they would see what a tally ho they should have against poor Tavistock. The wens of the Constitution being removed, the warts would easily be got rid of, and the Bill was a glorious instrument for removing the wens. Such, then, was the nature of the Bill as far as regarded England, and such were the grounds on which, so far, he approved of it. He approved of it also with regard to Scotland. He was not a Scotch lawyer, — perhaps, it would be presumption in him to say that he was a lawyer at all, — but he was not even a Scotch barrister. However, it required neither law, nor spectacles, nor second sight, to perceive that the measure would be productive of very good effects in Scotland, and work a great improvement [194] in the Representation of that country. [An hon. Member exclaimed "No, no."] No! — why take Edinburgh as an instance. There were thirty-three constituents in that great city, and this measure would turn the thirty-three into 10,000. Was that no improvement? There never yet existed a Representative of 10,000 constituents who had received as much of the public money for doing nothing as the member for Edinburgh; and he would back one Member for a close Scotch borough for putting more of the public money into his pocket, without doing anything but signing receipts for it, than all the Representatives of 10,000 constituents in the empire. The majority of the voters of Scotland had neither land nor income, and possessed their franchise solely by virtue of a piece of parchment, which had not even the merit of a seal, nor even of a bit of wax. Those Scotch voters had only the advantage of a parchment vote. It was necessary that there should exist in the deed of enfeoffment not the smallest mistake; but let its technical directions be observed, and the possessor of the bit of parchment had a right to vote for the member of a Scotch county. It was a pity that the hon. and. learned member for Boroughbridge, who had wept so piteously over charters, and who had held up to their indignation one Nat Lee for having said that a charter was only a piece of parchment with a seal attached to it, — it was a pity that that hon. and learned Member, who had laid so much stress upon the seal of a charter, had not recollected that the Scotch voter did not rise to the dignity of a seal. Happy Englishmen, whose rights were secured with wax.: but unjust Englishmen, who, because the Scotch spoke a broader dialect, and lived at a distance, had sentenced the Scotch voters to vote for members of Parliament under an instrument which had no wax to it. The only person who had been chivalrous enough to defend the present state of the elective franchise in Scotland was a noble Lord, the member for Sutherland shire (Lord F. L. Gower). Now he had ascertained that the voters of Sutherlandshire all held either under the noble Lord or the noble Lord's father, and that they amounted in all to the large number of twenty-four. These voters were, doubtless, as respectable for their independence as for their numbers. The noble Lord, however, had not only [195] given them his own opinion upon this subject, but had, with the wand of a German necromancer, conjured up the ghost of Fletcher of Saltoun, to bear witness how much better off Scotland was than it used to be. But it required no ghost to tell them that Scotland had prospered, and that she did not owe her prosperity to the vices of her representative system; and there could be no conjuring in the noble Lord's necromancy, or Fletcher of Saltoun must be very close in his grave, if the extension of free institutions to Scotland did not make, the old reformer turn in that grave. But the Scots could not have fallen so low, — her Representatives could not be so imbecile, that it was necessary to furnish them with what the French called a gardefou, composed of twenty-four free and independent Sutherland voters. Let the petitions from Scotland answer what the noble Lord had said with regard to the Representation of that country. But the noble Lord said, that Scotland had flourished. This was quite true: she had flourished; and that was owing to her connexion with England, whose free institutions had enabled her to bear up against all the difficulties with which she had had to contend. It was now proposed, that Scotland should participate in those free institutions, and that she should be relieved from that feudal despotism which had hitherto ridden rough-shod over the elective franchise of the Scots. He would only add one word respecting the measures proposed for Scotland, and that was, that he highly approved of the regulations intended on the subject of the tenures. He also expressed his approbation of the conduct of the corporators of Glasgow, who, tired of the despotism with which they were invested over their fellow-citizens, came forward voluntarily to offer the surrender of their corporate privileges. Surely the opening of the broughs could not do injury when those who possessed the privilege asked to have it taken away. He would just add, that the Bill adapted itself to the class of resident land-proprietors in Scotland as it did to the land-owners of England. He now came to speak of the measure with regard to its operation in Ireland: and here he must say at once, that he was sorry to see, that some of that malign influence which it seemed fated should for ever wait upon the destinies of that country had extended even to this [196] measure. But no matter; that should not deter him from giving his support to such, a Bill. Let him be believed when he said, that he entertained no ungenerous jealousy at advantages that were conferred upon England and upon Scotland. All he asked was, that Ireland should not be excluded from a share of those advantages. He had always seen in that House, and in the country, the most unbounded benevolence and the most splendid munificence towards the distresses of Ireland; and while he made this just admission, he hoped that he should be pardoned if he said — believing that he said it with truth, — that when the political rights of Ireland were concerned, he had not observed the same liberality of spirit among the gentlemen of England. He recollected when, some few weeks since, a right hon. Gentleman near him had congratulated the Ministers upon the harsh measures which the Government in Ireland had thought proper to pursue; and when the right hon. Gentleman added to this congratulation the assurance, that the Ministers should have his support in such measures. No doubt these congratulations of the right hon. Gentleman came from his heart; no doubt his professions of support were sincere; for the Administration of which that right hon. Gentleman formed a part had issued two proclamations, founded upon the same despotic Act. The amount, therefore, of the right hon. Gentleman's generosity, in offering his support in this matter to his political opponents was, "Defend me, and I'll defend you." They had a proverb in Ireland, about a practice which certain long-eared animals had, of reciprocally allaying cutaneous irritations. That proverb must not be mentioned to "ears polite;" but no doubt hon. Gentlemen had heard it in this country, and would know what he meant when he recommended that the right hon. Gentleman should take that proverb as a motto to the next offer of support which he might publish on this subject. What he claimed for Ireland was, that the same principles should be applied to her as were to be applied to England. By the measure of the noble Lord, the Capital of England would have double the number of its Representatives, getting sixteen instead of eight. The Capital of Scotland was to be proportionally benefitted. But no such boon was intended for the Capital of Ireland. The population [197] of Dublin, however, amounted to considerably more than the fourth of the population of London, and upon that ground he was of opinion that Dublin was fairly entitled to a double Representation. On the principle of giving additional members to English counties, he also claimed additional members for some Irish counties. He had in his possession some details regarding the population of the different counties in Ireland, compared with the population of the counties in England to which it was proposed to give additional Members, and though they consisted of dry and tedious arithmetic, he thought them well worthy of the attention of the House. It appeared from those statistical tables, that out of the twenty-eight counties in England to which it was proposed to give two additional members each, fifteen of them possessed a population less than that of the county of Antrim; nineteen of them less than that of Down; twenty-two of them less than that of Tipperary; and that there was not any one of them, with the exception of Lancashire and Yorkshire, that had any thing like the population of the county of Cork. Leave those two out of consideration, and all the remaining twenty-six were inferior in population to the county of Cork. But he might be told, that the county of Cork had boroughs in it which sent Representatives to that House. He would readily give up all those boroughs, with all their population, and still he could find in Cork a population to the extent of 100,000 greater than that of any of the counties in England, with the exception which he had already mentioned, of Lancashire and Yorkshire, which were to receive two additional members. These were facts which he submitted should be well weighed before this Bill passed into a law. He respectfully demanded, then, another member for Antrim, another for Down, another for Cork, another for Galway, another for Kerry, another for Mayo, and another for Tyrone, for he could show them that every one of them was above the line of 200,000. There were seven or eight counties in Ireland, with a population less than that amount, but those counties that had more than 200,000, he would contend had a right to additional members. They proposed by the present Bill to get rid of sixty-two members; they had therefore so many members in bank — that was, a fund which [198] they could draw upon — and it would be but just and reasonable to give those additional members to the Irish counties which he had named. There was another objection which he had to the details of this Bill as it regarded Ireland. They proposed to give an additional member each to Limerick and Waterford: the proposition was a most proper one, though the interests in those towns were, at present, very well taken care of in that House. But there was Galway, with its vicinage, which had a larger population than one of those towns, and Kilkenny, with its vicinage, which had a larger population than either of them, and which, let him inform the House, before the Union returned four members to Parliament. Now it appeared to him that they should give additional members both to Galway and Kilkenny. In making these observations — in urging these objections — he did not wish to be at all considered as arguing against the Bill. He was determined to vote for that Bill, in its present shape. He did not want to make any bargain or contract as the condition on which he should give his support to this excellent measure: he was ready to give his cordial support to it, even though his suggestions might not be attended to; but he offered them to his Majesty's Government in the spirit of candour and fairness, as suggestions which were worthy of their consideration. He would appeal to their common sense on the subject. He was stated to possess an irregular power or influence in Ireland. If his Majesty's Ministers wished to take that power out of his hands, he would tell them, that the best way for doing so consisted in giving to Ireland the full and entire benefit of the principles of this measure. What were the facts which he had to urge upon their attention? He found upon the list of counties in his hand, Antrim, with a population, taking it in round numbers, of 260,000 inhabitants. In that county, he found that there were disfranchised at one blow by those — not by all of them — but by many of those who now talked of the atrocity and iniquity of the present measure, 6,246 freeholders, almost all of them Protestant freeholders, who had not been even accused of any crime which could justify such a measure against them. He might be told, that it would have been invidious, at the time of the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders, to take the franchise from the [199] Catholics, and to leave it with the Protestant freeholders; but he would put an end to that argument by the statement of a single fact. At the time of the passing of that bill, there were eighty Catholic gentlemen in London, who might be taken as a very just Representation of the Catholics of Ireland. They met at the Thatched House Tavern, and they unanimously agreed to petition against the disfranchisement generally, and also to present another petition to this effect, — " You accuse the Catholic freeholders of being subservient to their Clergy, and you propose to disfranchise them on that account. Be it so. But there is no complaint of the kind against the Protestant freeholders, and we, therefore, the Catholic Nobility, Clergy, Merchants, and Lawyers (for the petition was signed by individuals belonging to all those classes), pray you to leave the Protestant freeholders as they are." They thus gave the Legislature an opportunity to make the distinction which it did not take. The Parliament, on the contrary, passed the Disfranchisement Bill, by which they disfranchised 6,246 Protestant freeholders in the county of Antrim, and reduced the constituency of that county to 700. They disfranchised the 40s. freeholders in Galway to the amount of 32,000; in Cavan they disfranchised 5,000; in Dublin 10,000; in Kerry 3,776; and in Tyrone 6,600. They reduced the constituency of Tyrone to 364; that of Carlow to 140; and, by similar reductions in the other Irish counties, they reduced the constituency of Ireland by this Bill, almost to the narrow limits of the constituency of Scotland. That being the case, he thought that there were fair and just grounds now to call for an enlargement of the Representation in Ireland. There was another objection which he had to this Bill, as far as it applied to Ireland. Where there were boroughs, this Bill would not allow the freeholder in a borough to vote at the election of a Member for the county in which that borough town was situated. Now he would tell them, that the effect of that part of the Bill in Ireland would be this, — that it would take the right of voting in counties from the most numerous and best class of voters — the shopkeepers residing in towns, who had grown rich upon the fruits of their industry, and who would not. be subservient to the lordly domination of the county aristocrats and landlords. In the great [200] and prosperous town of Belfast, for instance, the right of voting in the county would be taken away from the freeholders resident there; the same would be the case with the inhabitants of Tralee, who would no longer be allowed to vote for the county of Kerry, and the result would be, that the number of freeholders in the different counties in Ireland who would have the right to vote would be exceedingly small. Now that was a part of the Bill which it appeared to him required to be modified. There was also another portion of the measure which he wished to see modified with respect to Ireland. The present measure proposed to throw the right of voting open to two classes in England — the copyholders, and those who held leases for years; and it was also proposed to give the right of voting to those holding-leases for years in Scotland. Now why, he would ask, not also throw the franchise open to leaseholders in Ireland? He said, in Ireland especially, where one-third part of the land could only be let for a term of years, being land belonging to the Church. He need not say that he did not want to increase the influence of the Church, but he wanted to give to the leaseholders in Ireland that right to which they were justly entitled. Gentlemen, he trusted, would remember that the Reverend and right Reverend persons to whom those lands belonged, took especial care to have the leases renewed as often as they possibly could, upon the payment of fines, and to procure the highest prices that the tenants could be induced to pay; for this reason the tenants were independent of their landlords; therefore, to give them the elective franchise, was to impart it to a large, intelligent, wealthy, and independent body of men. He really thought, that, upon reflection, every honest and independent Member of that House must arrive at the conclusion, that nothing could have been more unjust than to have disfranchised the Irish 40s. freeholders in the manner in which that great act of injustice was committed — that was, by fixing the qualification so high as £10 For his part he was content to divide the difference — he should be content if the highest qualifications were fixed at £6. With such anomalies, then, as he had stated, it was idle to talk about confirming the Legislative Union between this country and Ireland. He admitted, at the same time, that the Bill, even in its present [201] shape, would be of considerable advantage to Ireland, as well as to every other part of the empire. It would open the rotten corrupt boroughs there; it would open seventeen or nineteen of that description; it would open such boroughs as Portarlington, which had been brought into the stock-market, and regularly sold there. Lord Portarlington wanted to borrow £40,000 or £50,000, at an interest beyond that which was allowed by the law of the land. The sum was lent to him by the late Mr. Ricardo, and Mr. Ricardo accordingly came into that House as the hon. member for Portarlington. That, of course was not usury. He believed that, legally speaking, seats in that House could not be considered of any pecuniary value, but the fact was notorious that the borough-holders got £5,000 for them in the market. He was ready to admit that this measure, as it broke down the borough influence, was a great boon, and he would receive it with gratitude, but the object of the House should be, to command the gratitude of the people. In many boroughs in Ireland this Bill would strike off a majority of the £20 and £50 freeholders. He would select as an instance the borough of Dungarvon. Those who had the right to vote there at present consisted of 40s., £20, and £50 freeholders. There was another species of franchise in Dungarvon, which was conferred in this way, — namely, that, every one having a house worth £5 a-year was entitled to vote. Now by this Bill they would strike off the £50 freeholders and the £20 freeholders, nonresident voters, and 40s. voters as they fell in, and also the voters possessing the right from having a house worth £5 a-year, and they gave the right of voting to those who were rated at £10 a-year house rent. By such a measure as that, they would take away two-thirds of the number of voters in this borough, and the same argument would apply to most of the other boroughs in Ireland. These facts shewed that they were working without sufficient knowledge of the state of things in Ireland. Now what he would propose was, to leave the £50 and £20 freeholders in those boroughs as they were at present. [Here Lord John Russell was understood to intimate across the Table, that such was his intention.] He did not gather from the noble Lord's statement in the first instance, that such was his intention. But he would ask the [202] noble Lord, would he get rid of the £5 franchise, which, as he had just mentioned, existed in Dungarvon? That was an old and long-established franchise; which had returned his friend, the hon. member for Downpatrick [Edward Southwell Ruthven], and he thought that it should be allowed to remain. He (Mr. O'Connell) did not make these objections to the Bill in a cavilling spirit, nor with any desire to oppose the successful progress of this measure. He thought that it was calculated to effect a substantial amelioration and improvement, and though it might have gone to a greater length, perhaps its doing so might have interfered with its success. Looking at it altogether, he considered it a great boon indeed, and he made no objection whatever to the principle of the measure, of which he cordially approved. He repeated, that those remarks were not urged as any matter of cavil; they were merely then put forward at such length, and only with such degree of detail which that stage of the measure called for; but, at a future time, he should enter more minutely into what he conceived to be matter of the very highest importance to the interests of justice and the honour of Parliament; and he hoped that when he did so, the appeal which he intended to make would not prove unavailing. He should not animadvert upon the ingenious arguments which the fancy of the learned member for Drogheda [Thomas Wallace] had suggested during a long and laboured harangue in support of the borough system, but he could not avoid remarking, that the hon. Member had, in the course of his speech, resorted to a weapon from the use of which he seemed to shrink. He had with great dexterity shewed the opponents of the Bill where they might find a dagger, though he wished to make it appear that the blow was not made by his hand. That hon. Member said, that one effect of this Bill in Ireland would be, to increase the Catholic popular and political influence, and to extinguish the Protestant influence altogether. Did any one imagine that in the close boroughs, as they at present existed, any inquiry was ever made about religion? Did his (Mr. O'Connell's) excellent friend, Sir E. Denny, care anything about the religion of the First Lord of the Treasury to whom he sold his borough? Or would he have any objection to sell it to him if he should offer the usual price for it? Oh no; the supposition was absurd, and contrary to the fact, But he would [203] ask, was every improvement in Ireland to be met by this cry about religion? How long had not Catholic Emancipation been retarded by such a cry as that which the hon. Member attempted to raise? Were they to go to the people of Ireland, and to tell them that the Protestant religion, which had been made, in the first instance, an argument against their religious liberty, should be now an argument against their civil rights; and would they, in the same breath, tell them that they must continue to pay tithes, and to support the Protestant Church, the existence of which debarred them of the privilege of their fellow-citizens? He was sure that the period was gone by when such an infatuated policy as that could be adopted with success. The present excellent measure would break down a long-cemented monopoly — it would break down a power that had originated with Cromwell and his party in Ireland — it would break down a power by which, under Charles 2nd, the children of the followers of Charles 1st had been trodden upon in that country. The 16th and 17th of Charles 2nd went to establish new rules and regulations, the effect of which was, to throw every borough in Ireland into the hands of close corporations. There was no one, who had the slightest acquaintance with those subjects, who did not perfectly well know — that every borough in Ireland was one of the closest and most compact monopolies. Forty of those boroughs had been originally created by King James 1st in one day, and for what purpose did they suppose? Not for the purposes of religion, or the promotion of public liberty, but to secure his designs upon two provinces of Ireland, which he wished to partition out and plunder. With that view, the King's livery-servants were elected for those forty boroughs: twelve burgesses were all they summoned together to return the mere servants of the King for those boroughs; and what was one of the results? — that in the Irish House of Commons an Englishman and a Welshman fought, in the Speaker's presence, and it was not ended till the Welshman conquered, and that was venerable antiquity. The present measure was, he repeated, a great boon, and it would do great good, even in the city of Dublin. It would be productive of great benefit to those towns in Ireland that had been long domineered over by close corporations. The measure was, indeed, a healing measure; and although he had pointed out some [204] changes, which he hoped would still be made in it, as far as it affected Ireland, he thought it almost unnecessary to repeat, that to the measure itself he was a most cordial friend, and that he should give it all the support in his power. After these historical details as to the origin of boroughs in Ireland, the hon. and learned Member proceeded as follows: "If I had not great objections to trespassing longer an the House, and did not feel that I had already addressed it at considerable length, I should be disposed to attempt something like a catalogue raisonné of the orators who have figured in this Debate in opposition to the Bill. The advocacy of these Gentlemen certainly has not been distinguished by its entire disinterestedness — no very vivid emotions of generosity were exhibited by them. They were not standing up for the destruction of their own property, but for upholding it. The learned Lord (the Lord Advocate) told them, that if the case was in a Court of Law, they would not be admitted as witnesses. I am sure, in stating that, the learned Lord stated what is the law of Scotland, and what I know, as he stated it, to be the law of this country. Instead of following the example set them by a noble Duke and a noble Marquis in the other House, and by two hon. Gentlemen in this, and giving up for the public benefit what they ought never to have held, these hon. Members have rallied round Gatton and Old Sarum — and we are called innovators and robbers because we propose to restore to the people what has been so long and so unjustly withheld from them. The people, however, will return the taunt levelled by them at us. I was sorry to see the hon. member for Oxford (Sir Robert Inglis) amongst the first who opposed this measure. If I know anything of history, or have read it rightly, there was a time when Church and State united for the benefit of the people. I remember to have heard that it was an Archbishop of Canterbury who put his cross as the first signature to Magna Charta, and therefore I regretted to find the hon. Baronet, representing one of the first Protestant Universities in the world, departing from what are called Protestant principles — I mean the principles of general liberty — and opposing a measure, the object of which is, to advance and promote the rights of the people of England. The arguments, if arguments they can be called, which have been used on this occasion against us, have all been [205] founded on what? On Charters. We have been told of Jeffreys, and the lawyers of his day, and of the Charters seized by James 2nd, which caused the Revolution. The charters seized on that occasion, however, were charters giving rights to the people, and purchased by them for their own protection. Under those charters markets were held, and the citizens were free from tolls over different parts of the kingdom, and where those charters extended, the King's toll-gatherer dare not go. James 2nd seized those charters, and was deservedly hurled from his throne by the Revolution; but to defeat the borough-mongers, who have now filched the charters from the people, we need no Revolution — all that is wanted or sought for is a restoration of just rights. But then we have been told, that the boroughs have been made to bring in a number of exceedingly clever men into this House. The right hon. Baronet endeavoured, by going back for a series of years, to make up what I may call a galaxy of borough mongering glory. He produced the list of great names which the borough system had introduced into the House, beginning with Mr. Dunning, and ending with my Lord Liverpool — God save the mark! Now, I think that if every one of the persons named by the right hon. Baronet had perished before they became statesmen — before they entered this House — and, at all events, before they underwent the filthy baptism of borough mongering contamination — the country would not have been anything the worse for it. The name of Mr. Canning was amongst them; and, when he was referred to as one of those who had been introduced into Parliament by the borough system, his name was received with cheers. But what did Mr. Canning do? It is true he advocated the Catholic Question; but did not Mr. Canning, to the end of his life, oppose the just rights of the Protestant Dissenters? I do not know upon what principle any man, and particularly a Protestant, could have advocated the Catholic claims, and at the same time opposed the repeal of the laws affecting the Protestant Dissenters. Then the name of Mr. Burke was alluded to — a high Tory name — none higher, none dearer to that class of persons who are opposed to this measure. But what did Mr. Burke do for the country? He did something for himself — he rendered himself rich and comfortable by the course he pursued, and the country, be it recollected, has to pay [206] the pensions granted to him up to this hour. If those who praise him, or who receive the pensions, would give up those pensions, I would much doubt if the country would not be ready to give a receipt in full for the eulogium on his merits. He might have been a great man; but Burke was brought into this House by the borough-mongers, and his greatness and his value were lost to the country. His epitaph was written long before his death:—

Here lies our good Edmund, whose genius was such,
We scarcely can praise it, or blame it, too much;
Who, born for the universe, narrow'd his mind,
And to party gave up what was meant for mankind.

That is the natural effect of the borough system, I contend, on any one who is introduced to this House through its influence. But, granting that the borough system has introduced some able and useful men to Parliament, is there some fairy touch which opens that door only to men of talent? Are there no dull, drowsy Members ever returned for boroughs? — Members without talent to join in a Debate, but with sufficient perseverance to be able to attend at the division — Members without any regard for the interests of the country, but with the most devoted regard for their own interests — men who have raised themselves as their country has fallen, and have become great and mighty men, by the spoils of the people. The right hon. Baronet has gone back half a century to find out those stars which he has brought forward, like those lights that go down to the country theatres from the Metropolis. The right hon. Baronet has certainly brought us some of those stars; but he is like the country managers, who bring clown Hamlet and forget Polonius and all the other worthy personages who figure in the drama. He has pointed to the great names, but he forgets to tell us how many there were who left no name. But then we are told that the system works well. Go to your agricultural population, and ask how it works. Go and read by the lights which have lately blazed, and are yet blazing, in your villages and hamlets, how the system works. If you cannot see by that light, go to your gaols, and ask the imprisoned poachers how the system has worked, as exemplified in the operation of the Game-laws. Take a view of the Wilful Trespass Acts, which gave such a dominion to Magistrates, and have caused so much [207] oppression and misery to the people, and say how the system works. Recollect how the power of the borough mongers in this House has worked. Remember that it is to the exercise of that power we owe the Walcheren expedition, the war with France, and all its consequences. The votes of the nominees of borough mongers have already been brought to the notice of the House in a manner too decisive to let in any doubt as to the operation of the system. In 1822, a motion was made for retrenchment, and when a division took place, it appeared that the number of Members representing boroughs containing a population of less than 500, who voted against retrenchment, was 19; for retrenchment, of this class, none. Of the Members representing: a population of between 500 and 1,000 persons, there voted for retrenchment 12; against it 33. Of the Members representing a population of between 1,000 and 2,000 persons, there voted for retrenchment 17; against it 44; whilst of the Members representing boroughs containing above 5,000 inhabitants, 66 voted for retrenchment, and only 47 against it, showing that precisely as the borough influence prevailed, the numbers of those favourable to retrenchment and economical expenditure diminished. This shows the working of the system. When the Minister stated, and the House voted, that a pound note and a shilling were as good as a guinea, though every man knew, at that time, that he could get a pound note and ten shillings for a guinea, that was another proof how the system worked. The National Debt is stated generally at £820,000,000; but I have the authority of the hon. member for Middlesex [George Byng] — an authority which will not be disputed in this instance, that the National Debt, if properly counted, amounts to £1,000,000,000. [1] That enormous amount of debt shows how the borough system has worked. But it may be said, that, notwithstanding the Debt, the country has prospered. Why has it prospered? Because it is placed by nature in a mild climate, and has a fertile soil. Because it is indented with numerous sea-ports, and imbedded with mines of salt and coals. Because it has boundless resources in the industry and enterprise of its inhabitants, and in their manufacturing skill; and because its institutions have been generally free, though mixed up with evil. With such advantages, this country ought to be what she has been, [208] and what I trust she will be again — the protectress of liberty all over the world, and the object of the most ardent hate to all despots. The spirit of liberty fills the hearts of the people; its banners should ever wave over us. It is floating now in Poland, and I am satisfied that there is not a British heart that would not throb to hear that, under that banner, its followers had marched to victory. If the despot of Russia, however, should have power, as he has the inclination, to crush, his Polish subjects to atoms — if he oblige them to adopt his religious professions, however dissimilar to their own — if he establish the vilest inquisition, and trample upon every thing worthy of the name of liberty, still we owe £1,000,000,000 and we cannot interfere. The working of the system, and that alone, has brought us to this pass. Our troops are as brave as ever, our Officers as gallant as any that ever trod "the embattled plain;" a better and more generous soldiery never existed; but then the country owes £1,000,000,000. The borough mongers have gained under this system; they got bishoprics, and commissionerships, and offices. They got plenty of the public plunder — but the people have got nothing but a debt of £1,000,000,000. This is the miserable malady produced by the borough system — the enemy you cannot conquer or get rid of, but by calling in the universal people, by their Representatives, to this House, to aid you. Before I sit down, when showing how well the system worked, I intended to whisper one word in your ear, and that one word was Ireland. I will not now, however, press upon this subject. I will not ask how the system has worked in that country, — I will not ask, does famine stalk through the streets? Do the crowded cellars of its cities exhibit anything but abject misery and wretchedness? Does not starvation stare the populace in the face? I only ask of any Gentleman to inquire into the extent of misery and starvation which prevails in Ireland, and, after that, to tell me that the system works well. I call upon you, in the name of the God of charity — an appeal which, when asked for gifts from your own property, you have never rejected — to do an act of justice for Ireland. I call upon you, as you propose to do it for the people of England, also to do it for the people of Ireland; and by so doing you will secure the tranquillity of that [209] country, and find an ample return in the contentment and gratitude of its people.

[1] This would have been "one thousand million pounds", rather than the American "billion" which has replaced traditional English amounts. [back]

Mr. Attwood congratulated his Majesty's Ministers on so new and so extraordinary an ally, as was the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down. He congratulated the House on the cordiality which subsisted now, for the first time, between the Treasury Bench and the hon. and learned Gentleman. But recently the political differences between the Government and the hon. Gentleman had reached a height both in Ireland and England, which threatened the peace of both countries. He trusted that the strange union they now witnessed was not an evidence that his Majesty's Ministers were now employed in transferring to England that system of agitation, which they had lately endeavoured to suppress in Ireland, by the aid of extraordinary laws. The Ministers however, who had no foundation for their power but what was based upon the troubled waves of discontent, appeared to say to themselves — " We will give to an embarrassed people what will not relieve their embarrassments, and trust to the natural love of change for the popularity of our attempt." One of their arguments was, that the former Administration had lost the confidence of the country. But might not the same clamour be again brought into action? — and what security was there, even after the passing of the present Bill, that another Ministry might not call up an agitation, like the present, to bear upon the remaining bulwarks of the Constitution? It could not be expected that the people would relax on the question of Reform. They were in love with the principle, and would still act on it. That they would be content with this measure could only be expected by those who held the reins of Government, on the strength of the discontent of the people. The late Government had gone out of office on a question of finance, and he, therefore, could not see how that showed that a Reformed Parliament was demanded by those who had voted against them. If this first change were conceded, the people would proceed to demand additional change, and again would be raised the same clamour and excitement, the consequence of which would be, that the remaining bulwarks of the State would disappear. The noble Lord who introduced the measure, said, that it was now [210] impossible to resist the people; and was it then to be expected that they could be more easily resisted when they had obtained increased power? Before they proposed to destroy the present system, they ought to examine fearlessly into what its character was, and the means that they had of guarding against the consequences of alteration. He, therefore, begged to call the attention of the House to the different state of the Representation now to what it was formerly. It was said, that the present Representation did not conform to the disposition of society in this country — that new towns had sprung up into wealth, the population of which was knocking at the doors of Parliament, and which it would not be just to exclude, and that those who possessed the hereditary power of influencing the return of Members to Parliament had encroached on the rights and liberties of the people, by which means a full Representation of the trading and commercial interests of the country was prevented., He did not pretend to belong to the class that possessed the hereditary power of which he had just been speaking; he had sprung from the people; his feelings and sympathies were with them, and in a jealous watchfulness of their rights he would not yield to the noble Mover of the Motion, nor to any member of his Majesty's Government. With feelings such as these he approached the consideration of the important question before them, and, on looking round the House, he could not say that even the commercial and manufacturing classes were inadequately represented. He would defy any man to say, who looked fairly at the composition of that House, that the wealth, the intelligence, and the interests of the middle classes throughout the country were not fully and fairly represented. He would even go so far as to say, that they were now more adequately represented than ever. They had been told, indeed, by the Lord Advocate, that the middle classes had increased, both in number and intelligence; but had not the higher classes also increased in intelligence and numbers. And, therefore, why did not the Corporation interests stand now relatively to the other interests of the country as they did formerly? In his opinion, the commercial interests of the country were more actually represented now than they would be under the Bill of the noble Lord; and to hope that [211] measure would be the final settlement of the question was to hope what could not be. They might destroy the privileges of sixty boroughs, and half extinguish the remainder, without bringing the question nearer to a permanent arrangement than it was before. If would be impossible to believe that other vested rights would be left unattacked, when those privileges were extinguished which had been so long enjoyed. On what ground were these boroughs to be sacrificed? Why because, according to the population returns of 1821, they did not possess 2,000 inhabitants. The Ministers had made population the basis of Representation; but would they undertake to say, after that principle was once established, that any one borough would be safe, so long as there was a town of larger population unrepresented? Yet, once pass this Bill, and such would be the results. The Lord Advocate had also told them, that they ought not to puzzle themselves with the Plantagenets and the Stuarts, but remember the vast mass of knowledge and talent that had been generated within the last five and twenty years. He was not. surprised that the learned Lord had fixed upon that period, for that was about the length of time that the Edinburgh Review had existed. And since then, so much intellect had been generated, and such large demands of freedom had been made, as called imperatively for great alterations. And what were the great alterations by which Ministers proposed to meet the great demands of the age? They proposed that seven large towns were to send two Members each, and they expected that that would satisfy the demands of the people. Never would that be enough. The greatest clamour had taken place in respect to Newark, Stamford, and such places as those. And were they extinguished? No; instead of extinguishing them, the same principle was to be extended to thirty-four other towns. The owners of property would not change their nature after the Bill was passed, though the House had been told that the Duke of Bedford would not interfere with Tavistock: perhaps it might be thought that he did not interfere with it at present, but it was an evidence to the contrary, that the borough had always sent to Parliament two Members of the House of Bedford. The noble Lord said, he gave the franchise to large towns that they might return commercial men to [212] Parliament. But whence had the real Representation of the commerce of the country emanated? Liverpool sent two Members to Parliament and he believed it had never elected one merchant; but many of her merchants had sat in that House, not for that town, indeed, but for boroughs. Manchester, under this change, was to have two Representatives; but at what time hitherto had not that place really had at least three times two Members, who protected its interests and expressed its wishes? Of them she would now be deprived. Eight Members were to be added to the Metropolis. But would they be merchants? What merchants had Westminster or Southwark ever returned? And with respect to the City of London itself, though he had every respect for the Members who sat for it, yet it could not be denied, that they were not the men who represented its commerce or possessed the confidence of its merchants. Who were these men? The two hon. members for Callington — the member for Bramber [William Stratford Dugdale] — the member for Midhurst [George Robert Smith] — the member for Wendover [Samuel Smith] — and the members for Old Sarum [James Alexander; Josias du Pre Alexander]. Those were the men in that House who represented the commercial interests of the metropolis. In this manner the men of Manchester and other places found their way into that House, by a door that was open to them, but would soon be shut, if the present Bill should pass. What they were about to do then was, to give up a practical Representation, and introduce on the country a nominal one — the very thing the Ministry pretended that they were trying to avoid. The reason why men wished to sit in that House, was, for the sake of distinction; and did any one suppose that the wealthy merchants of Manchester would be content with the two Members that that place was to have? No such thing; they had always sat in that House to a much greater extent, and this Bill would be the means of preventing that in future. They were to be shut out by the very door that it was pretended would open the way to them. If, too, the Bill was on principle, how came it that the borough of Tavistock and Manchester were to be placed on the same footing, when, if the fair proportion were taken, Manchester, with its 130,000 people, ought to return twenty Members for the two sent by Tavistock. The noble Lord had said, that it was monstrous that the miserable occupiers of a few miserable houses should [213] return two Members to Parliament. But that was not a correct statement of the case. It was the owners, and not the occupiers of those houses, that returned the Members; and that right had descended to them with their property, as a means of protecting that property itself. The sheep-cotes and houses, and niches alluded too were appendages of great estates in the country, and representing them was a means of protecting property. He would not say that their boroughs were as inviolable as their property or land; but it was a fair question, whether, as their property ran so great a risk, such a Representation was not required to secure it against that risk. He would not go into detail, but ask whether those who, elevated to the pinnacles of society, and exposed to great danger, should not receive proportionate protection. They were not forming a new Constitution; if they were, the question would be open for discussion, whether they would have a Representation based on property or not. But as it was the old Constitution they still professed to keep, it was a principle of that Constitution that Representation should be based on property. He thought, that the noble Lord, in the history of his own family and ancestors, might have learned that property was exposed to all sorts of risks, and that cupidity and profligacy were ever ready to make a snatch at it. To him it appeared, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the noble Lord hardly knew what they were about to do. They were destroying the present mixed Representation — a Representation in which all classes of the people were found, and they were about to make the House of Commons a strictly popular assembly. That was, perhaps, according to some new view; but he knew not where, except in the minds of some Reformers, to find such a theory of our Constitution. He knew that in the minds of the Reformers the Constitution was supposed to consist of three co-equal and independent bodies, each of which was a check on the other, and that no measure of the Legislature could pass without the concurrence of all three. No measure would become a law, whether it was for good or for evil; which had not the final concurrence of these three independent bodies. In this theory were the efforts of the reformers directed to carry back the Constitution. But be defied any man to invent a Constitution [214] less capable of being carried into execution, and, if carried into execution, less capable of promoting general welfare; but the answer to the supposition was, that it never was even attempted to be carried so into execution, except by some men bigotted to a theory. The men who had actually carried our Constitution into effect, were not men of that class who were bigotted to a theory. They were not men who were disposed to make a sacrifice of the public happiness, and of the interests of the people to any theory. They were men who were convinced that the people were not made for a theory of Government, but that Government was made for the people; and, according as their interests demanded it, and according to circumstances, these Statesmen made one part of the Constitution yield to another; one part supply the deficiencies of another; one part do that which was necessary to the happiness of the others, and so kept them all moving together in harmony, giving the people protection for their liberty; and for their property, the security of fixed and stable laws. Hereditary power had a natural tendency to fall into the hands of men little capable of using it efficaciously; men generally of feeble talents, and whose energies were lulled to rest because they had nothing to seek. The House of Commons, according to the theory of the noble Lord's measure, was to consist of an elected body, always changing — having no attachment to stability — composed, of necessity, of men the most ambitious — of men the most enterprising — of men of the greatest talents and intelligence to be found in the age and in the country; and that was, in theory, to be the result of the new elections, and this was to be a pure House of Commons. He should be glad to know from the noble Lord, if this would not lead to pure democracy? He should be glad to learn from the noble Lord who had introduced the Bill, where he could find a single example in history — a single instance, having the guarantee of experience, of any purely democratic body, elected by the great mass of the people, deriving its existence from the popular voice — he should be glad to learn where such a body had existed in conjunction with hereditary Monarchy and the Peerage? There were no such examples, except such as taught them a serious lesson. Let them direct their eyes [215] to the new Constitutions formed in neighbouring kingdoms — let them look to the Chamber of Deputies in France, and they would find that the Chamber of Peers never rejected a measure which had been agreed to by the Chamber of Deputies, that the latter body did not immediately question the utility of the other Chamber. Did the House of Commons and the House of Lords differ, the dispute went off quietly; but it was not so in France. In France, the result of the Chamber of Peers rejecting a measure was, that the other Chamber immediately inquired if the Chamber of Peers ought to exist? If such was the result in France, should we not find similar dangers here? These appeared, to him at least, the kind of dangers which we might expect from this untried Bill, which had no experience to sanction it, but which we were warned against by the fruits of a similar expedient in another country. They blinded their eyes to the natural operation which experience had shown to be the result of such a species of Government, and such a species of Constitution, in a neighbouring country; and blinding their eyes to that, they had had no experience whatever to guide them; or rather, might be said to act in defiance of experience. In fact, they were called on to make an experiment in government, such as had never been successful. It appeared to him, that the measure, important as it was, had not been adequately described in the speeches of the hon. and right hon. Members opposite. The noble Lord, indeed, said, that he meant to sacrifice the rotten boroughs, and admitted that they were vested rights, but he also contended that they were not property, but a trust, and because they were a trust, and not property, he meant to give no compensation for them. The noble Lord disfranchised sixty-two boroughs totally, and forty-seven others in part: he did not charge them with any guilt — he did not prove any guilt — but he had formed a theory of Government with which the existence of these boroughs was not compatible, and, therefore, he swept them out of existence. The noble Lord was ready to sacrifice these boroughs, though they had existed as a part of the Constitution, and long been held as an important privilege. He did not know in what school the noble Lord had learned his wisdom, when he talked so fluently of sacrificing any kind [216] of property, or any kind of trust. He should like the noble Lord to distinguish between the different trusts which existed in the community, and tell him in what respect property differed from other trusts. All property was of the nature of a trust, and for that reason he would not sacrifice Old Sarum — on that ground he would protect the boroughs, lest, in destroying them, he should sap the foundation of all property — and on that ground, he would caution the noble Lord, that in sacrificing the rotten boroughs, he might find that he was not giving security to Woburn. The only ground why property should be protected was, that it was for the good of the community, and on the same ground he was prepared to defend all the trusts it was proposed to destroy. To see those trusts destroyed, was for him a ground of serious alarm. He regretted very much that Ministers should have brought forward a measure of that sweeping and destructive kind in these times of agitation, when there was a sort of National Convention sitting throughout the land; when the whole country was agitated; and when it was not improbable, that by setting the example of confiscating trusts, they might lead to a general confiscation of property. Could the noble Lord and his friends allay the discontent by this measure; or could they stop the people when they were once set in motion? He solemnly warned them that they could not, and he would never give his consent to a measure so revolutionary and dangerous. It was not a measure of restoration; for what it was about to create never existed; it was not a measure of conservation; it was not a measure for repairing the structure; it was a measure tearing up the foundations of the Constitution, and laying them anew. He trusted that it would never be sanctioned by that House; he called on that House not to trust the theories of modern times, but to take counsel of the wisdom of our ancestors, and to look at the destruction which had been brought on a neighbouring nation. In conclusion, the hon. Member again solemnly warned the House against the dangers of the measure, and called on them, rather to confide in the wisdom of our ancestors than the theories of the moderns, for that wisdom had established the liberty of the community and the greatness of the nation.

Sir James Graham was aware of the [217] difficulty of addressing the House after five nights' Debate, and he should not then have risen, as he had been led to believe that its termination was about to take place without any division, not thinking it necessary to answer some of the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, had not the right hon. Gentleman alluded personally to him, and had he not felt unwilling to allow a question of such great magnitude and importance to be disposed of without stating his opinions. In the first place, the present Ministry had not laid themselves open to the charge implied by the language of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) of cowering to taunts from the Opposition side of the House. They had never shrunk from the responsibility of bringing forward the measure, and still less had they ever wished to throw any of the responsibility on, or share any of the honour which he believed would accrue from the measure, with the members of the late Ministry. He might entertain a private opinion as to the policy of the late Ministers respecting that partial Parliamentary Reform, adopted by the House of Commons, as fit and proper in the cases of Penrhyn and East Retford; but conceiving that Reform inadequate, and that the country now needed a searching, substantial Reform, he, for one, could not regret the course that was then finally pursued. But this charge of a disposition to avoid responsibility, came with an ill grace from the right hon. Baronet, who had now abandoned the high ground taken up by the Duke of Wellington, the head of the Administration of which the right hon. Baronet formed a part, and admitting that some Reform was necessary, had not only not proposed any such Reform, but had acted with the noble Duke who denied the utility of all Reform. The Duke of Wellington contended, that it was not the universal wish of the people to effect Reform, and that to suppose so was a vulgar error. The noble Duke also laid it down, that our present system of Representation was so perfect that the wit of man could not conceive anything more so, and that he could not fancy anything more excellent. But the right hon. Baronet had departed from this principle; he had relinquished this high ground, and stated, that to some measure for reforming the representation, not brought in on the responsibility of Ministers, but on that of [218] some other person — on the responsibility of some Member in his individual capacity — that, to such a measure, he would give a reluctant consent. The right hon. Baronet must regret, he thought, that he brought forward such a charge, when he himself could not deny that there was a necessity for Reform, and that there was no difference between them as to principle, but only as to degree. The only discussion could be, whether the step the Ministers had taken was too great; for it being admitted that some Reform was necessary, their measure could only be blamed as too sweeping and extensive. So far from shrinking from responsibility, there was no responsibility connected with the measure which he, as an individual, had not incurred, and which the Cabinet had not taken on themselves. Considering it necessary, they had shrunk, indeed, from the responsibility of delaying the measure one day, or one hour longer than was required to prepare it, and they thought it both unwise and unfair, not to bring the measure under the consideration, at their own risk, with the least possible delay. As far as he was concerned, he could say, both for himself and his colleagues, that they had not lost a single hour in bringing forward the measure. He was anxious to state, that they conceived it was not consistent with their duty to the public to bring forward any shifts, or temporising schemes, or what Mr. Burke emphatically called miserable expedients and half measures; neither had they taken any indirect course, either for encouraging or for averting the honest and just expression of the people's demand for Reform. It was not consistent with the pledges they had given on accepting office, that they should nicely balance the means of redeeming the pledges they had made to the nation, or that they should devise plans barely and legally to redeem those pledges, cheating the people by the name of Reform, but carrying no Reform into execution. Neither did they think that any justification could be found for delay. They had before them the example of Catholic Emancipation — they saw the benefit of early concession — that delaying to concede just claims when resistance was in their power, only led to more extensive claims, and ultimately to the necessity of making large and unwise concessions. It was inherent in the nature of things, that the refusal of just claims led [219] to granting claims that at first no man dreamed of making. The reason, too, was obvious; when justice was denied, men became convinced that the authority which was capable of denying it, was itself an injury, and ought to be abated. On that ground the Ministers had thought it their duty — first, to introduce a measure on their own responsibility — second, to take care that it should be such a measure as would be a redemption of their pledge, and would satisfy the public demand for Reform; and, thirdly, it was their duty to lay that measure before the House with the least possible delay. The Government certainly, and the country, he believed, were of opinion, that the measure was calculated to satisfy all moderate men. There were, he knew, Ultra Tories and Ultra Reformers, who would be satisfied with nothing; but he was convinced that moderate men of all parties would say, that enough was done, and not too much. The measure would, he believed, remove all just ground of complaint, and removing all just ground of complaint was the principal reason why it was proposed by an Administration determined to stand by the Monarchy and support the Government, being convinced that the best means of preserving both unimpaired was to satisfy the people. The measure was not the offspring of innovation, nor did he deem it inconsistent with the institutions of the country. He had something to regret in the asperity with which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded to some circumstances in his political conduct. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the Resolution he had moved last Session, to have a return of the emoluments of the Privy Council laid before the House. The right hon. Gentleman said, that return was one cause of the great dissatisfaction. He was not disposed to shrink from the responsibility of that motion. His conduct on that occasion was before the House and the country. He charged the Administration with repeatedly making great public professions of economy and retrenchment; and he had charged them with carrying those professions only into execution in the lower grade of the public service, while they left the higher offices untouched; and he wished to have some returns to show the outline of the manner by which they carried retrenchment into effect. His motion was intended to obtain documents, to show the salaries of offices [220] held by members of the Privy Council, in. order to make it appear that one of the members of his Majesty's Cabinet held five great offices, and several of them held more than one. His motion was met by an Amendment, by the right hon. member for Armagh, for a return of all salaries above £1,000, and those extraordinary returns were accordingly laid on the Table which had astonished the country, but for which he was in no manner responsible. The right hon. Gentleman had made an allusion to his salary as First Lord of the Admiralty: he should not have been astonished at that remark, if it had come from the hon. Baronet, lately a Lord of the Admiralty; but it was unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman was one of the members of that Committee to which the salaries of the officers of Government had been referred, and it was competent for the right hon. Gentleman to propose to reduce the salary of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and if the right hon. Gentleman gave that advice, and the Committee adopted it, he could only assure the House, that the Ministers would not defend the salary so pertinaciously as the right hon. Gentleman and his friends defended the superannuation of the sons of two Cabinet Ministers. He turned, then, willingly from such topics as these, which he wished it might be understood were not of his seeking; but as they had been adverted to, he could not overlook them. He might have taken no notice of them coming from any body else but the right hon. Gentleman, but coming from him, he felt himself called on to reply to them, because they were intended to cast a slur upon him, and stigmatise him for his conduct. He would then come to the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman, who strongly reprehended the measure, because it severed the lower classes of the country from the franchise which they had exercised, much to the advantage of the country. He would venture to oppose to the assertion of the right hon. Gentleman the broad principle laid down by a Statesman who was deservedly considered as the very highest authority on constitutional law. Mr. Fox asserted, that that was the best system of Representation which secured to a country the largest number of persons whose circumstances were independent; and that system, on the contrary, was the worst, which embraced the largest number of voters, who, from being [221] in dependent circumstances, were incapable of deliberation, and. must act as they were commanded. He would not refer to what had been said by the right hon. Baronet, in the Debate in 1829, relative to the 40s. freeholders; but he would refer to opinions given by the right hon. Baronet in 1828, in the case of Penryn. The right hon. Baronet then laid down a doctrine, to which he gave his cordial assent. He said — "I agree that these privileges are not to be treated as the property of the electors. They do involve considerations of public trust, and if they are abused by the majority of the electors, the innocent parties must take the consequence of their association with the guilty." He understood the distinction drawn between the present case and that of the violation of a trust; but if there were such a violation in the case of Penryn, there was none in the case of the 40s. freeholders. There was no disposition ever to refer to any former misconduct on their part. One hon. Gentleman, indeed, said, that it had been giver, in evidence before a Committee of that House, that they had been driven up to the hustings like oxen, and did not know for whom they were to vote. But between 1821 and 1829 an election had taken place, which proved, particularly that of Clare, that the 40s. freeholders had emancipated themselves from this thraldom, and were capable of exercising a deliberate judgment. The right hon. Gentleman, in the able speech he made on the occasion of disfranchising the 40s. freeholders, quoted a passage from Nathaniel Bacon, in which he cordially agreed. Bacon was speaking of the effect of that Statute of Henry 6th, by which the right of election, that before was vested in the whole commonalty, was restricted to the possessors of freeholds of 40s. value. Bacon said, as quoted, by the right hon. Baronet — "Thus the manner of election is retained, but the electors are more considerable; for hitherto any man of English blood promiscuously had a right to give or receive a vote, although his residence was over the wide world. Thus the freemen yielded up their liberty of election to the freeholders, possibly not knowing what they did. This change was no less good than great. For, first, those times were no times for any great measure [222] of civility. The preface of the Statute shows, that the meanest held himself as good a man as the greatest in the country, and this tended to parties, tumults, and bloodshed. Secondly, where the multitude prevail, the meaner sort are upon the upper hand, and these (generally ignorant) cannot judge of persons nor times; but being for the most part led by faction or affection, rather than by right understanding, made their elections, and thereby the General Council of the nation, less generous and noble. Thirdly, there is no less equity in the change than policy. For what can be more reasonable than that those men should have their votes in election of the public Council, whose estates are chargeable with the public taxes and assessments? But, above all the rest, this advancing of the freeholders in this manner of election was beneficial to the freemen of England, although, perchance, they considered not thereof; and this will more clearly appear by the consideration of these three particulars. First, it abated the power of the Lords and great men, who held the inferior sort at their discretion, and much of what they had by their vote. Second, it rendered the body of the people more brave for advancing of the freeholder above the freemen, raised the spirit of the meaner sorts to public regard, and with an ambition to aspire to become freeholder. And thus the meaner sort, sifted to the very bran, become less considerable, and more subject to the coercive power, when the freeholder, now advanced in some degree, becomes more careful to maintain correspondence with the laws; and thirdly, by this means the law makes a separation of the inferior clergy and cloistered people from this service, wherein they might serve particular ends much, and Rome more." In this opinion he agreed, conceiving that to restrict the franchise on this principle was to make the people more free. The only difference between him and the right hon. Baronet, was, that the right hon. Baronet applied the passage to the 40s. freeholders, and he applied it to the potwallopers. Applying himself to the question of Charters, he was supported by the authority of Mr. Burke, when he declared an opinion, that charters were procured for a particular purpose and to uphold the due execution of that purpose, the Government was warranted in preserving them; but when they ceased to fulfil those purposes for which they were [223] intended, then their privileges were forfeited, and it was in the power of the Government to take back the power which it gave. In the reign of James 1st, the Committee of Privileges of that House, of which Selden was a member, in a report to the House, in consequence of some interference, stated, "that the commonalty of this country possess the right of electing Members to this House as heretofore." Yet no one could be ignorant that many statutes had been passed for restraining these privileges as circumstances might have required; although it had been invariably admitted, that the commonalty of this country are to have a voice in the choice of Members to this House, it had always been in the power of the Legislature to limit this right. He should weary the House were he to quote the instances in which Parliament had interfered to regulate charters; but that was not necessary. The question which they had to consider, with reference to them and to the other parts of the measure, was not whether they had the power to make these changes, but whether it was expedient to do so; and he confessed, after the fullest consideration he had been able to give the subject, he was satisfied that the time was come when the wishes of the people, with respect to these, could not longer be resisted. He now proceeded to the other branch of the subject — the nature and extent of the power exercised by the Peers and men of property in the return of Members to that House, and the insignificance of the places through which these returns were generally made. In a question of that kind, touching so nearly the composition of the House, it would not, perhaps, be very agreeable to the Members if he alluded too closely to the rotten boroughs which exercised such an undue influence; and it might, perhaps, be sufficient to state, that he found there were, under the present system twenty-eight English boroughs returning fifty-six Members to that House, although the population of those places did not in any case amount to 1,000 persons; and forty-eight boroughs returning ninety-seven Members, although the population of each was not in any instance above 100 persons. In nine of them the number of voters was less than ten; in twenty-seven the number of voters was above ten and under twenty-five: and these boroughs sent to Parliament a large proportion of Representatives, 115 boroughs [224] returned members to that House at the present moment, although the number of voters in no instance was above 200. From the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman, the member for Boroughbridge, and some other Members, it would seem to be their opinion, that every rich Peer was almost entitled, as a matter of right, to have a Representative in that House. This might be very congenial to their feelings, but it was not very agreeable to the people, nor did it suit well with the conceptions of a House of Commons representing the people. Now, what was really the case, with reference to these boroughs? He found that 142 Peers and Commoners returned 173 Members as their own nomination; and that sixteen Peers return seventy-six Members to that House — being about, on an average, five members for each Peer. This was a state of things which, he contended, must be altered, and these were the evils to which the Reform was to be applied. The hon. member for Callington (Mr. Baring), in his other objections to the plan, had intimated his fear, that merchants and bankers, and gentlemen connected with trade, would not possess, under the new system, those facilities for entering Parliament which they had at present. Now what was the case at this moment? He found that the members for Tewkesbury and for Maidstone, one of the Members for Liverpool, [An hon. Member. He is a lawyer.] — was intimately connected with a mercantile house, and was returned through its influence. Then there were the members for Worcester, and Chichester, and Newcastle, and Cork, and the two members for Bristol — all these, and many others he could name, were populous places, open to the influence of the commercial interest, and to men in whom they reposed confidence purely on account of their high character and reputation for knowledge and integrity, and altogether independent of any influence of rank or overwhelming property. He had, therefore, a right to contend, that many gentlemen connected with the banking and mercantile system owed their seats in that House, not to close-borough Representation, but to the open practice of general election. The question, in truth, between the Government and their opponents, at the present moment, was, whether the Members of that House should continue to be the Representatives of constituents — the people — or whether they were to continue [225] to be, as at present, the Representatives merely of their own property, or the patron who grants them the nomination? Members returned in that manner could not truly represent the interests of the people. He repeated, they could not. They might, and probably did, do their duty to a certain extent, from a sense of private honour, but they had no immediate and pressing sense of duty, such as that which must be felt by those who were responsible for their conduct, to a large and respectable body of constituents. They might, he repeated, be influenced in their conduct by a high sense of honour, but he feared very much that they frequently acted on that sense of honour more in regard to their patrons than to the people. He believed that nothing could be imagined more servile or more obedient than was the feeling frequently entertained by those who were seated for close boroughs towards the patrons who had placed them in Parliament. The right hon. member for Aldborough (Mr. Croker) had commented on the expression of his noble friend (Lord Tavistock), when he said that the Duke of Bedford would never again use his interest to influence the returns for the borough of Tavistock. Now, his noble friend did not say that the Duke of Bedford would not exercise his legitimate influence with his tenantry, but that he would never again be able to control the Representation in the same manner as he did now, when there were only twenty-seven voters. The great misfortune of the present borough system was, that it mattered little whether property was possessed by a good or a bad man, by the best or the worst of landlords; the influence in returning Members for the borough where property prevailed was just the same in either case; but by the reformed system, character would begin to be necessary, residence would be necessary, and men of property, denuded of that undue power which they possessed at present, would be compelled to rely more on the exercise of those qualities which would by rendering service entitle them to the favour of the people. The hon. member for Callington (Mr. Baring) had commented much on the nature of the line drawn by the noble Lord (J. Russell) for the disfranchisement of the borough, and he had asked who drew that line. He (Sir. J. Graham) had no hesitation in saying at once, that his Majesty's Ministers drew the line; and he would say further, that if they could, in [226] such a matter, be obnoxious to the suspicions which were insinuated with respect to the disfranchisement of a peculiar class of boroughs, that Ministers were not only unfit to hold their stations, but even unfit, as men of honour, to hold a station in the society of gentlemen. He should surprise the House if he read the list of boroughs which must have been interfered with if Ministers had drawn the line so as to affect Knaresborough, Tavistock, and Calne. The line was, therefore, drawn at 2,000 inhabitants, and he would presently show very good grounds for placing it there. Before, however, he proceeded to that point, he begged leave to remark, that the doctrine of deciding Representation with reference to population was not a new one. They had the authority of Mr. Pitt for such a course, both at the time when he made his proposition with respect to Reform in 1785, and subsequently, when he carried into effect the Union with Ireland. In introducing his measure of Reform, in 1785, Mr. Pitt is reported to have used the following expressions: "Gentlemen had undoubtedly read, that of the boroughs which used formerly to send Members to Parliament, seventy-two had been disfranchised; that was to say, that the Crown had ceased to summon them at general elections to return burgesses to the House of Commons. After the Restoration, thirty-six of these boroughs petitioned Parliament to be restored to the exercise of their ancient franchise; their prayer was granted, and to this hour they enjoy it; but the other thirty-six, not having presented any petition on the subject, had not received their lost franchise. Upon this he would be bold to say, that, considering the restoration of the former, and the continued deprivation of the latter, the spirit of the Constitution had been grossly violated, if it was true (but which he denied) that the extension to one set of boroughs of the franchise, and the resumption of it from others, was a violation of the Constitution. For if the numbers could not originally have been constitutionally increased, so they could not constitutionally have been diminished. But having been once diminished, to restore them might by some be said to make an innovation; and if the Parliament had any authority to restore the franchise, the principle of restoration ought to have been extended to the seventy-two [227] boroughs, and not confined to one-half of them. Here, then, it appeared manifest that the whole was governed by a principle which militated directly against the modern doctrine, that to do what had been constantly done for ages, by the wisest of our ancestors, was to innovate upon the Constitution. In these earlier periods, such was the nature of Representation, that as one borough decayed and another rose, the one was abolished and the other was invested with the right. The alterations were not made by principle; they did not arise from any fixed rule laid down, and invariably pursued; but they were founded in that notion which gave the discretionary power to the Crown, viz. that the principal places, and not the decayed boroughs, should be called upon to exercise the right of election. These were the opinions of Mr. Pitt; and all the regulations with respect to the distribution of the parishes in Ireland were regulated on the principle, that population and importance were to confer the right of returning Members. Passing now to the question of the propriety of the rule adopted with respect to population, he admitted at once that the census of 1821 was defective; but it was the best that they possessed, and even its errors were favourable to the extension of the franchise. It was contended, however, that Calne, Tavistock, and Knaresborough, should have been disfranchised; but if they had determined to abandon the line that they drew, with respect to 4,000 inhabitants, they must have disfranchised a vast number of independent boroughs, against some of which no complaint could be made. If they had disfranchised Calne, eleven other boroughs must also have been sacrificed, because their population was inferior to that burgh. These were Malton, Harwich, Newport (in the Isle of Wight), Andover, Grantham, Devizes, Hertford, St. Alban's, Bridgenorth, Pomfret, and Dartmouth. If they had disfranchised Knaresborough, they must also have sacrificed Ripon, Horsham, Chichester, Peterborough, Christ Church, Tewkesbury, Barnstaple, Shrewsbury, Abingdon, Winchester, Stamford, and Ludlow. These made twenty-three to be sacrificed for Calne and Knaresborough; and, adding them, they must, if they had not laid down a [228] rule, have disfranchised twenty-five boroughs of a smaller population than Tavistock. Already the Ministers were condemned for the extent of their disfranchisement, and yet their opponents censured them for not making it of still greater extent. The principle of the Ministers was, to go as near as possible to cut off all the proprietary boroughs. Wherever, indeed, they attempted to draw a line, he was sure they would have been open to objections of the same description. They were obliged to fix a standard. They had taken the minimum, and he believed they had done so with the minimum of loss and difficulty in effecting the change. The right hon. member for Aldborough (Mr. Croker) had spoken of the effect produced by the fixing the standard of franchise at £10, and referred to the Tax Returns to prove that the calculations of the Government were ill-founded. Now he, too, had referred to these Returns, and he found, that in the whole sixty boroughs to be disfranchised, there were only 1,471 houses rated at £10 a-year, while in the town of Sheffield, unrepresented in that House, there were 1,556 houses rated at £10; so that Sheffield had more houses of that value than the whole of the sixty boroughs. In forty-seven of the smaller boroughs, with a population of between 2,000 and 4,000, the houses rated at £10 were 6,323, while in the parish of Mary-la-bonne, which is not represented, he found 10,421 houses rented above that sum; being nearly one-third more than the forty-seven boroughs. The hon. member for Boroughbridge had charged the Government with endeavouring to carry the question by agitation; but he believed the original cause of that agitation was to be found, not in the Government, but by the refusal to give Birmingham any share of the Representation which she claimed from the justice of that House. He was bound to say, that he conceded Reform, not on account of any excitement which was abroad, but at the same time he could not overlook those considerations of safety which must present themselves to every rational mind; nor could he forget, that needlessly protracted resistance always ends, in such cases, in humiliating concession. He did not, therefore, overlook the agitation of the public mind, but he was not overborne by it; and he was willing to give Reform frankly and freely, because he was convinced of its justice as [229] much as of its necessity. It was said, that the cry for Reform was the old story, and that, if not attended to, it would exhaust itself. But what said the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel) on that subject, when the same objection was urged with respect to the Catholic Relief bill? He then said, "perhaps I shall be told, as I was on a former occasion, in forcible, though familiar language, that this is the old story — that all this has been so for the last twenty years — and that, therefore, there is no reason for a change. Why, Sir, this is the very reason for the change. It is because the evil is not casual and temporary, but permanent and inveterate — it is because the detail of misery and of outrage is nothing but the old story, that I am contented to run the hazards of a change." The hon. member for Callington said, however, that if they waited a little while, and made a few concessions, they might go on for some time longer; but was it not better, he would ask, to change at peace and safely that which all admitted should be changed, and which they also admitted could not much longer be preserved. He well remembered, during the late war, to have seen a British frigate undergoing a process which was common in the Navy. Her keel was damaged, and it was thought expedient to examine it. No dry dock being at hand, it was found necessary to heave her down. Her sails were unbent, her yards unslung, her streamers were lowered, her thunder was silenced, her masts were struck, and she lay a vast hulk in the water — no inauspicious emblem, he was afraid, of what Britain would be, stripped of her glories By the aid of mechanical power a pulley, attached to a lever, was brought to bear upon her, and she lay balancing on the water, nearly on her beam ends. Her experienced Commander did not disdain to superintend the operation. Desirous to bring her somewhat nearer the surface, and thinking he might safely order another turn of the capstan, he gave the word; when the vessel heeled, filled, and for ever disappeared. Now let the House understand his application. The right hon. member for Aldborough had said, that when the waters subsided, the public vessel would right herself. He apprehended, that [230] when the waters of bitterness and strife had risen to a certain height, when the tide of discontent was full, a slight wave, raised by a passing gust, might, at a moment when it was least expected, overwhelm and swamp the vessel of State. Adverting to the threat thrown out last night by a noble Marquis, that unless Government adopted the course which was conformable to the noble Marquis's opinion, he would take the means which the forms of Parliament allowed him of stopping the supplies, and disbanding the army; he (Sir James Graham) expressed his conviction, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite would not concur with the noble Marquis in that line of conduct. The right hon. Gentleman, in speaking of the condition of Ireland, had admitted that, in his opinion, civil war would be a less evil than the Repeal of the Union; but he had added something as "darkly shadowing forth "some evil which he was sure would arise if the measure were carried. He had, however, never read in history though he did not pretend to be so well versed in it as the right hon. Baronet, that the Monarchy had been endangered by binding the affections of the people to the Monarch; but, on the contrary, that the Throne of England had never been in danger save when it attempted to overthrow the rights, or invade the just liberties of the people. They should never forget the memorable expression of Charles the 2nd, when he ascended the Throne of his ancestors, after years of exile, and suffering, and distress. In his first address to the people his words were, "My first consideration will always be, what will the Parliament wish." These were his words, which had been preserved by Lord Clarendon, who probably advised him to use them, and who had survived the civil war, and witnessed its effects, and who was surely as attached to the privileges and prerogatives of the Crown as man could be. This Statesman. also, in his advice to his Prince, said, "Keep well with your Parliaments, and suffer not your mind to be carried away by any whimsies, introduced from foreign countries. They arc utterly inapplicable here; but keep close to the interests of the nation, and the King of England will always be the happiest Sovereign of the world." And what were the whimsies of foreign despots, alluded to by Lord Clarendon. Attempting to put [231] down by force the opinions of the bulk of the people. There were but two modes of dealing with public opinion — either concession, or the suppression of it by force. Concession, if it were possible, he would always counsel. Force was a fearful alternative, which, when public opinion was once decidedly expressed, was inconsistent with the real interests of the nation, and incompatible with the safety of the Crown; it was adverse to the wishes of all who had the interests of the Crown and the people at heart, and incapable of rendering a King of England what Clarendon described — namely, the happiest of Sovereigns. One word as to himself. He had been asked if this measure would be a panacea for the ills of the people of England; and he did not pretend it would be so; but if the people were allowed freely to choose for themselves, they would know that every thing possible to relieve them was done, and they would, in consequence be more tranquil, for there was no liberty so safe as that which was based on the intelligence of the people. But it was said, that this was an imperfect measure. He admitted that it was capable of improvement. At that time it was not the details, but the principle, that was under discussion, let the house only admit the last, and the first might be easily arranged and improved. To secure the safety of the Monarch, and to prevent the people from taking up dangerous doctrines, were the grounds upon which he had given his advice for the introduction of the present measure, and the reasons why he asked the Parliament to give it a hearty support.

Sir R. Peel rose to explain. He was sure the House would not be surprised at his wishing to make an explanation, and he should, therefore, claim their indulgence. The right hon. Baronet opposite had charged him with introducing personal asperity into this Debate, and he hoped he might fairly say, that he never was accustomed to give occasion to such a charge. The question, however, was, who had been the aggressor; and that which the right hon. Baronet alluded to had been spoken in reply to his noble friend (Lord Palmerston) who had introduced the crimination of the last Ministry. The right hon. Gentleman had also said, that he (Sir R. Peel) was now acting as the advocate of pot-wallopers. What he had said was, that if there were [232] no alternative between the £10 franchise and the pot-wallopers, he would prefer the £10 but that if they found the people were entitled to this right of voting, he doubted the policy of disfranchising them, and thus cutting off the link between the lowest order and other ranks of society. He could not see any reason why he had been thus referred to, nor was it possible that he could be a party to any attempt to obstruct the Government. His introduction of the subject of Ireland was in allusion to the danger of massacre, which had been talked of. He asked why he should not be left to form his own opinion as to the amount of danger, as well as right hon. Members upon the subject of Reform, as was done with respect to the proposal of the noble member for Woodstock [Lord Stormont] last year, and as the members of the Government themselves had acted upon this principle with respect to the Repeal of the Union, upon which as great a clamour had been raised as was now raised for Parliamentary Reform; in this sense only had he referred to Ireland.

Mr. Lefroy rose amidst much confusion in the House, which called for repeated interference on the part of the Speaker, and rendered it difficult to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman. He was understood to say, that he would confine himself to the consideration of the principle of the measure; but, before going to the principle, he should make a remark on an observation that had fallen from the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham), as he should be sorry that any statement made by the right hon. Baronet should go before the public in an ambiguous shape. The right hon. Baronet had alleged as one reason why he and his colleagues brought forward the measure, that they had done so to redeem a pledge given by them to their Sovereign. It might be inferred from that, if it were correct, that our gracious Sovereign had been metamorphosed into a citizen King, and that he had addressed the Gentlemen opposite thus, "My good citizen Ministers, prepare a new measure of Reform of a great and striking nature;" to which Ministers replied, "Yes citizen King, we will bring forward a measure more great, more sweeping, and more certain than ever was heard of before." — He had however, heard a declaration in another place, which rescued our gracious Sovereign from this imputation, as the measure was declared to have emanated [233] from Ministers, and so far it was right. The franchises the House had to deal with were a trust, but he would not discuss that question, except to say, that the powers by which the House dealt with them was also a public trust. The test by which the measure was to be tried, was, whether it was inconsistent with the Constitution, and whether it should not on that account be viewed with severe and scrutinising jealousy. The constitution of that House was, that it should consist of Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses; and the House could not justify the severance of one from the other. Every one knew that the origin of these franchises was either from charters, prescriptive, or burgage tenures. So far as they originated by charter, they came from the constitutional prerogative of the Crown, which no one disputed. It was understood that there were already adequate means in the law to put down that corruption which it was the object of the present Bill to remedy. Why then should not abuses be removed without disturbing the whole Representative system, which, instead of making this merely a disfranchisement of boroughs, rendered it a dismemberment of the House. If one branch of the Representation were taken away only, might not another, and another branch of the Legislature, and perhaps all, by an usurpation similar to that now attempted, be destroyed? There could hardly exist a doubt in any man's mind who was acquainted with the subject, that the dangers which were to be apprehended from the surrender of so many corporate rights to popular entreaty, or rather, to make a Ministerial experiment at allaying excitement in the country, would be of a much more aggravated nature than any that could reasonably be apprehended from withholding a concession, not in point of fact, insisted on by the generality of the petitions for Reform.

Sir Joseph Yorke assured the Speaker and the House, that he felt the best proof he could give them of his gratitude for any attention they might confer on him would consist in addressing them in as few words as possible, after this lengthened discussion, notwithstanding the very great importance of the subject before the House. He could not refrain from stating his objections to some particulars of the plan of Reform chosen by the present Ministry; least of all, could he reconcile himself to give, on such an occasion, a [234] silent vote, or refrain to attempt, by his humble efforts, to assist the cause of those who had sent him to that House as their Representative, when an attack so vital was meditated on their dearest privileges. A man must have no small force of nerves to induce him to rise and address the House, after hearing from the hon. and learned member for Waterford that he came there representing seven millions of stout, able-bodied Irishmen; and from the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge, who assumed the character the other night of the Representative of sixty bodies of parchment voters; or after having heard the able speech of the hon. Baronet, his legitimate commander-in-chief; or, though last, not the least or shortest, the speech just spoken by the hon. and learned Member, who came all the way from Ireland to deliver it. Under all these discouraging circumstances he acknowledged he felt considerable apprehension in rising to address the collected Representatives of the people of England. But they had been told by some very discourteous Gentleman that they were not the Representatives of the English people. Such a reflection on them was the more unjust, because, in the preamble of the Bill of Rights, William the 3rd had pronounced them a full and fair Representation of the people. In the second place, he confessed that he felt that, after having enjoyed in that House a seat for nearly forty years past, a considerable degree of regret, though not of absolute despair, at the prospect of being deprived of it by this measure. He, however, was no friend to the practice of suicide, and it would be quite against his creed to cut his parliamentary throat in the way proposed. He, notwithstanding, believed his hon. friends opposite, if they would allow him to use that epithet, were men who were zealous in a cause which they thought would be beneficial to the nation, and hoped by it to arrive at the haven of prosperity, whither they were bound, at least in their own opinions and calculations. But he hoped they would hesitate ere they allowed themselves to be cajoled out of their consent to an act depriving so many unoffending boroughs of privileges to them dear and valuable. There was a class in which many worthy Members were, he feared, confounded, which appeared to have come in for a harvest of odium, denominated the borough Representation; [235] they had been reviled as the borough-mongers, and the sources of the corruption in that House. An impulse had been given to this measure from an expression in the Speech from the Throne; and, more than all these, by the active powers of the Press of this country of late, though, for five or six years before, it had comparatively rarely recurred to the topic of Reform. It was singular to see a Constitution which had been formed by a Whig Administration, under William the 3rd, likely to be taken to pieces, and reconstructed, by a Whig Administration under King William the 4th. It. was certainly a consummation to be avoided, that five or six powerful Peers should be enabled to make head against the Government of the day by uniting together their Representative interest in the Commons House. That undoubtedly was neither fit nor proper. Were they, therefore, prepared to say, that, sixty boroughs having committed no other offence than that of wanting an enlarged population, should be deprived at once of their franchise? and this heavy calamity was to fall on them because of their paucity of numbers, or their not happening to fall within the line of march of the noble military Paymaster and his qualifications of 10,000, or 4,000, or 2,000, souls resident in the places hitherto enjoying the franchise. Had the noble Lord only given them but nine months' warning, as the hon. member for Wareham stated, that hon. Gentleman and others would have taken care, as far as was in their power, that their respective boroughs should not be deficient in the necessary proportion of population. Indeed, despite of the Malthusian principles now in fashion, he himself, and the gallant Colonel, his worthy Colleague in that Representation would freely have undertaken to do the utmost in their poor power to have increased the population there to the ideal standard of fitness, had they received notice in time. He confessed there were appearances connected with this scheme which seemed to favour of partiality to particular places and to particular interests; for instance, with reference to Tavistock, towards which it was too much suspected there had been a little leaning. Though several great towns had been mentioned as deserving an increased share, or altogether a new allotment, in the scale of Representation, amongst which he certainly thought Devonport [236] ought to be classed, with its population of nearly 40,000 souls, yet he saw no reason for so wide a departure from the Constitution as that proposed by Ministers with respect to the boroughs to be disfranchised. The hon. member for Preston had, on a former night, fallen foul of what he termed the too prevailing fashion in debate to call in the aid of technical phrases, taken from naval life, to assist in the elucidation of their sentiments, and denounced it as bilge-water. He wished to assure that hon. Member, that that was not an unknown language, or, like the old Saxon language, buried in deep obscurity; but that it latterly had been pretty general in very decent society, perhaps in the very best, since we had had a naval King. For instance, nothing could be more sailor-like than the phrase "thrown overboard;" yet they heard often, and were amused at hearing, of such an hon. Member's speech or argument being "thrown altogether overboard;" and, under such circumstances, nothing could be more completely technical than the phrase Davy Jones's locker, yet that was frequently heard in the very best society. A noble Lord had talked very learnedly and nautically upon the dry-rot in the Constitution the other night, but if the vessel of the State, whenever she was supposed to be unsound, were to be pulled to pieces by unskilful hands, and made so strong and heavy that she would neither sail nor steer, but lay on the water like a haystack, what was the use of such waste of time and labour? Where was the use of remodelling the bark of the Constitution, if after all, she would neither stay nor veer or if, in making her strong, you made her so full in the bows, and with such a clumsy run-aft, that she would not go through the water, could not be steered, and would be sure to run ashore the first trip she went to sea. The allusion made by the right hon. the First Lord of the Admiralty to the practice of heaving down a ship, might, perhaps, be denominated bilge-water by the hon. member for Preston, but he had not perceived that it stunk in the nose of the House, though he must acknowledge that, in his mode of handling the metaphor, the right hon. Baronet was not only in very great danger of upsetting the vessel of the State he was busy in repairing, but nearly capsized his own argument. On the whole, it was not surprising to find that the right hon. Baronet, [237] who had the advantage of being at the head of a Board of Admiralty, all navy men, with a Secretary, also a naval Officer, should have hazarded his newly-acquired cargo of nautical knowledge, and shoved off his little boat on the sea of debate. In calculating on the experiment mentioned by that right hon. Baronet, and bringing the vessel of the State so close to the water's edge, and to ruin, by a pull more at the fall, as he said, by the advice of an experienced commander, he begged to remind him it was exactly in this way, about fifty years ago, that, by a pull at the fall too much, an inexperienced commander had occasioned the loss of the Royal George, and pulled her over into the deep, with every soul on board, at Spithead, where all went to the bottom; and this should be a warning to them, lest they should, in the present day, by the one pull more at the fall, upset the good ship William the Fourth. The course they were steering was certainly an experimental one, and on that account alone, if on no other, dangerous. The Bill might go to a second reading; but if it did, he hoped every true-hearted man embarked in the cause would by another pull, as the sailors said, "by way of coming up," right the ship. If they did so the project would be formed, he hoped, so effectively, that there would be little of it left that was objectionable. As for himself, he must confess he felt it would be his duty to oppose the measure, which he regarded as unjust.

Mr. Bethell said, the hon. member for Boroughbridge had called upon all Members having a large constituency, to come forward, and express their opinion. He assented fully to the justice of that call, but he was exhorted by a more powerful voice; namely, that of the numerous petitions from the county he had the honour to represent. He asserted — and he appealed to his noble Colleague to confirm the assertion — that the spirit from which these petitions emanated had prevailed through out the country long before the events in which it was supposed to have originated. If he might venture to state that to which, in his opinion, the feeling was owing, he would say that it was raised by the voice of the House, when it refused to transfer the franchise of East Retford to Birmingham. The people then were assured there was no hope when they saw that Ministers risked, their [238] very being rather than concede this point to the wishes of the people. Could it be wondered at, then, that a strong feeling existed in the country? He contended, that as the same wealth, intelligence, population, and deep attention to the debates in Parliament did not exist at the time of the Revolution as at present, the parallel which had been drawn between the two periods did not hold good. At the time of the Revolution the people, and even the gentry, were much more ignorant than now, and were, for the most part, hostile to the establishment and the settlement of the kingdom then made. He could not, however, be blind or deaf to what was passing around him; and he saw the feeling was not confined to the lower classes, but extended to the middle orders. He found that the desire for Parliamentary Reform was increasing among the whole of those who formed the middle classes of society, than whom no body of men existed guided by greater purity or intention, or possessed of more intelligence to direct their actions. Under these circumstances he was prepared to support an effective enlargement of the right of suffrage, for he did fully believe that some remedy was required for our system, the Members returned under which, he was sorry to say, had now lost the confidence of the country. However anxious they might be to promote its welfare — however willing they might be to sit there, engaged in heavy and protracted debates, with a view to ascertain what was best for the interests of the country, he much regretted to say, that whatever they did was not accompanied with that degree of confidence which could alone enable them to turn their deliberations to the public advantage. He felt, therefore, that some Reform was necessary; but although he was ready to go some length in Reform, he must say, that this measure ought to have been produced before them with more caution than had been displayed. He could not but think, that in a society possessed of such vast interests the matter should have been treated with more caution. He could not but see, he could not but feel, that however ill this system might have worked for the public welfare, still, when great and untried changes were to be introduced, it might happen, that consequences would follow which the most clear-sighted man was not able to imagine. He admitted most [239] willingly, that in many instances too great a portion of influence was exerted by certain persons possessing the power of nominating Members of that House, When seats were in the hands of four or five owners, these persons might, on a nice-balanced question, act so as to produce most unfavourable results — they might embarrass the Government, and promote objects that tended to advance their private ambition. He repeated, therefore, that he was willing to apply the pruning-knife, and to apply it with freedom, but he wished not to use the axe. He did not fear, if this measure were carried, that the danger which so many had alluded to would arrive — namely, that the members of great and noble families would not find their way into that House. He knew his countrymen too well to believe that they would act on such a principle as that they would not be anxious to introduce into that House men of rank, who adorned their rank by the possession of talents, by high character, and by industry: and with respect to men in humbler ranks of life, who had raised themselves by their industry, he believed that they would be able, through their acquaintance with gentlemen of property, and through the circumstance of their living in the neighbourhood of great towns, to find their way into that House. But he listened with a willing ear to know whether this measure would have the effect of securing an entrance to those gentlemen whose labours, most important in themselves, had been prolonged through the greatest part of their lives — whose knowledge was, therefore, not so great on some particular questions, but who still possessed knowledge most valuable to be introduced into that House. He wished to know how such men, who might have a good character for knowledge and integrity in the town in which they resided, but who had not the means of making that character known elsewhere — he wished to know how such men were to get into that House? They were, besides, men of that character who would naturally shrink from the contest of popular elections, but whose knowledge was of the utmost consequence to that House in considering the great and extended commercial relations for which England was distinguished. He was not to be convinced that this measure, if carried in its present form, could be beneficial in every respect. He was not sure that the Government itself might not be controlled, [240] and that the freedom of his Majesty's choice of Ministers would be materially diminished. This was a measure that, if passed at all, should be passed as a permanent measure — as a measure not only for the sunshine, but for the storm and the tempest. A recent instance of what, he feared, would be the effect of this measure, must be fresh in their memory. A measure of a most beneficial kind had been introduced and carried, and after it had been carried, a Minister of the Crown had not been able to present himself at a populous place as a candidate. A right hon. Baronet, who had adorned Oxford by his ability in his youth, and who had supported it in his manhood by his acts, was not able to come in for that place; and, but for these boroughs, that House would have been deprived of the presence of an important officer of the Government. This seemed to him a serious objection. He was ready and willing to join in any plan that would cut down those parts of the system that were infamous and odious in themselves, and obnoxious to the public. He did not hold that the resumption of a trust originally granted by the Crown for the benefit of the Crown and people, if not properly used, was not to be resorted to. On the contrary, he thought that the public had a right to rescind such a trust, and that its resumption was no act of robbery or spoliation, and ought not to have been branded with those names. Under these circumstances, he was prepared to vote for the Bill in all its stages till it should come into the Committee. It could then undergo such modifications as would render it powerless for evil, and powerful only for good. He should deeply regret if, after that, he should not be able to vote for it; but whatever regret he might feel, he wished to do his duty, and should do it, and afterwards he should face his constituents with this assurance, and if they said he had not acted according to their opinion, and that his and theirs did not agree on this subject, they might dismiss him from their service; but though he lost the honour of representing them, he should not forfeit their respect.

Mr. Praed said, that he should not have risen at this late hour of the sixth night of a very protracted discussion, if it were not for this consideration — that although men who had been long Members of that House — men who had gained public confidence by their talents, and retained it by their integrity — men whose opinions were shown [241] on this now hackneyed subject might remain silent, without any danger of misconstruction or misinterpretation, yet it was not unnatural that a young man, who had no such character to look back to, should be desirous to explain to the House his views of the question more clearly than could be done by a silent vote. He did not much fear the probability of involving himself in generalities, for in that he should only follow the example of the First Lord of the Admiralty, for he, beyond all others, had dealt in generalities, with which that House was familiar; or, if it were not so, they might have been recalled to the recollections of its Members by the Public Press of that morning. He should not endeavour to follow that right hon. Baronet, or any other Member, from topic to topic, but discuss briefly the general principles involved in the measure. The question now before the House was one on which not only the destinies of this country depended, but by which those of all Europe would be affected. The question of Parliamentary Reform differed from any other question which could be brought before that House in this, that whatever error of principle might be introduced would perpetuate itself, and would defy after revision. So long as the enacting body continued the same, it could revoke its own acts, if necessary, but when a new body of Representation was formed to correct the evils, it must revoke the very act from which it derived its existence. The short observations which he had been able to make of the proceedings of that House since he had had the honour of a seat within its walls, confirmed the opinion which he had already conceived from what he had read of its Debates, and he had no hesitation in declaring his belief, that there never was a Representative body which contained within itself so large a proportion of the property and intelligence of the community which it represented. There were certainly anomalies in the present system of Representation so palpable that they could not be defended. It was such a manifest absurdity that Leeds should have no Members to watch over its manufacturing interests, and that Old Sarum should, as the noble Lord said, have two Members to die in its one ditch, that it was a question with him whether any man of ordinary observation must not have been at some period of his life, to a certain extent, a Parliamentary Reformer. It was only a close observation [242] of the result of those anomalies that induced them to be content with the theoretical defects, in consideration of the practical results which, somehow or other, flowed from the system. This was acknowledged to be the great difficulty by the honourable Gentlemen opposite. They found themselves at a loss to answer the objection that presented itself, as to how, under a system which was denounced as so corrupt, so great a portion of the latent rank and opulence of the country found a place in that House. The hon. and learned member for Calne had spoken of lucky accidents, and had said, that if we took 100 of the tallest men, some might prove men of talent. He (Mr. Praed) would say, that if this system had gone on for a long series of years, and the same effects had regularly and uniformly arisen, he should be disposed to remain as we were. He would stand by a system, the results of which were good, though brought about by a seeming accident. The hon. Member had also said, that, under a despotic government, we frequently saw the people happy. Then he would say, that he would not change that despotic government, producing such effects for this constitutional government. A system might be good, not only as regarded its own merits, but in so far as it was bound up with the habits, the feelings, and the circumstances of the people, and if it were so, it could not be safely exchanged for another system, even though it should be proved to be a better one. It might be perceived from what he had said, that he was not very favourable to the plan of Reform proposed by his Majesty's Ministers; and his objections to it were so strong that he despaired of seeing it so remodelled as to enable him to give it his support. His first objection to the general principles of the Bill was, that it introduced an enormous number of monstrous anomalies, and when anomalies were introduced in a measure which professed to correct anomalies, all ground of justification or defence was taken away. Whilst it was said that Members were to be returned by population, and that votes were to be governed by property, it was clear that there would be many instances of capital towns in a county, containing houses the inhabitants of which were rated at the proper rate, but the population of which might be infinitely inferior to that of a town where the houses were worse, and the voters, consequently, fewer. This anomaly [243] would create great discontent. It was an anomaly by which the basis of Representation was narrowed. Suppose, for instance, a voter of Buckingham were to ask why that town should be deprived of its privileges, and the franchise given to another town, where, although the population was larger, the voters would be fewer, it would not be enough to say to him, "It is true this is an anomaly, but you must submit to it." At present men had been educated under the prevailing system, and they knew what they had to expect while they possessed the rights to which they had hitherto considered themselves entitled. With respect to chartered rights, a great and paramount necessity was the only ground for tearing off the seal of a charter; but none had been shown. If it were granted that it was desirable to have Representatives for Manchester and Birmingham, where were they to find seats for the Representatives of the West-India interests and the East-India interests. The hon. and learned Gentleman, the Judge Advocate, (Mr. R. Grant) had said, that those seats were not to be altered at all. What, then, was the member for Buckinghamshire to represent the West-India interests, and the member for Dumfries to represent the East-India interests? This might be virtual representation, but it appeared to him, that the member for Buckinghamshire ought to represent Buckinghamshire, and the member for Dumfries ought to represent Dumfries. He should certainly oppose all Reform which went to a remodelling of that House; and his apprehensions on that subject were much greater than the First Lord of the Admiralty seemed to entertain. He saw, that for a long series of years, attempts had been made, and more successfully made than the friends of the Constitution could have wished, to diminish the respect in which the House of Peers ought, for all beneficial purposes to the State, to be held. He knew that the Sovereign of this country had once been endowed with a veto. He knew what had become of that veto, — that it had become obsolete; and he looked with serious apprehension to this Bill, as tending to make the House of Peers obsolete. There was an admirable form of reasoning used some years back, he believed by the noble Lord on the Woolsack, who said, that it was only by an amalgamation of the House of Peers with that House, and by [244] the influence of the Peers in that House (an influence which he openly avowed), that the House of Peers held its station in the country. He was almost afraid to say, that he believed this to be the case, and he dreaded the present measure on that account. He apprehended that Reform would be carried beyond that House to the threshold of another, and the House of Commons would become surreptitiously supreme in this country. He did not object to the removal of such grievances as could be proved to exist. Such cases had been frequently alluded to in the course of this Debate, and particularly the case of East Retford. The noble Lord, the member for Arundel [Lord Dudley C. Stuart] had asked, where those who wished for a moderate Reform were on the discussion relative to the disfranchisement of East Retford? He would ask the noble Lord, where were the people then? At present the Table of the House was loaded with their petitions; then they demanded neither the particular Reform then agitated, nor general Reform. The noble member for Winchilsea had said, that one advantage had been produced by this measure, that the country would never again be mocked by the open and undisguised hypocrisy which had been exhibited in these discussions for disfranchisement. He was led by this still to look forward to times when some noble Lord (he believed not the noble Lord opposite) would stand up in the place from which he had spoken, and say, that the country would never again be shocked by such hypocrisy as had been displayed on the discussion of the measure of 1831. He believed that this would not be a final measure. Although the Judge-Advocate said that it was sweeping and extensive enough to satisfy all moderate men, yet he looked forward to times when a bill would be brought in as much beyond what was sweeping enough to satisfy all moderate men as this measure was beyond that state of the Constitution which satisfied the High Tories. Need he remind the hon. member for Waterford of the words of Edmund Burke — a man who had a clearer insight into the merits of the British Constitution than perhaps any other individual upon record? The peculiar beauty of our Constitution was, that this House was slower to make changes than the body of the people at large. Yet it still changed with the people, though not at the same time. It [245] was well it did not change at the same time; for, if so, they would have, with the forms of a representative Government, all the evils of a democracy. It was a well-known fact, that all great changes were made in obedience to, and not in contradiction to, the will of the people, except one great measure, which he was not then called upon to discuss. No petitions for Reform had been presented to the House for four or five years together, and the present excitement was of very recent date. It could not be denied, that the House had proceeded to legislate on the expediency of transferring the franchise from East Retford to Birmingham, at a period when no strong feeling existed on the subject of Reform. He sincerely believed, that if the feeling of the people were attended to as it should have been, a moderate plan of Reform might be effected, step by step, without a measure which should pull down about our ears the whole fabric of the Constitution. There was one most objectionable principle in this proposition; it went to destroy entirely sixty-two seats in this House. They were told, that at present the proportion of Members was too numerous; but he asked, how it possibly could be thought so, considering the varied, extensive, and complicated nature of the business which the House had to transact in so great an empire as this? He maintained, that the proportion of Members was not by any means too numerous. He trusted that his Majesty's Ministers would see the necessity of materially altering and revising the measure. He, himself, could suggest to them certain improvements, which might be adopted with advantage. There were, for instance, certain towns to which the franchise should be transferred, as well as to those already particularised. Moreover, many boroughs which had their franchise taken away, ought to have the right of representation restored to them. He did not see why there should not be a Member for Jamaica, and for the borough of Barbadoes or Grenada. He would ask, if the measure was to be of so popular and extensive a character, why did they not increase the Representation in the higher and more enlightened classes? Why did they not, he should like to ask the noble Lord, the member for the University of Cambridge, allow double numbers to the two Universities? Such an [246] arrangement would, he could assure Him, be calculated to allay the well-founded apprehensions of his ecclesiastical constituents. It had been said, that the Bill was but a just concession of the demands of the people, whose excitement it would thus abate. Entertaining, as he did, the most perfect respect for the feeling of the people, he should still like to know whether, in the present instance, that feeling was permanent or ephemeral? Looking at the several petitions which had been presented on the subject of Reform, he found that they were not for the noble Lord's Bill, whatever else they might be for. Some of them were for Vote by Ballot, and others were for dealing with the property of the Church, in order to satisfy the public creditor. They, therefore, would not be satisfied by it. Neither would Mr. Bentham and his numerous disciples; nor would that large class, of whom the hon. member for Preston might be considered the Representative. All, it was true, openly approved of it. But why did they? Because they considered it the first step towards further changes. The decided impression on his mind was, that, in the event of the Bill being passed into a law, there would be as many petitions laid on the Table of that House for further Reform, as there were now in favour of the Bill. The language used was this, "Accept this Bill that you may get more; put this into your pocket, for it will supply you with funds to prosecute your future claims: this will enable you to shake off the 'old man of the mountain.'" But then, it was said by the advocates of the measure, that it was received with open arms. He contended, that such was not the fact. When he looked to the triumphant anticipation which was indulged of a more extended measure, he thought that persons must be blind and deaf if they shut their eyes and ears to the actual circumstances of the case. He utterly denied that these petitions had come from men, to whose opinions, as contradistinguished from their wishes, the House ought to defer. [The hon. Member was here frequently interrupted by calls of "Question."] He begged pardon of the House; he felt he was trespassing on its indulgence, but he would be brief. He did not mean to deny that some of the petitioners who had approached that House on the subject of Reform were respectable and intelligent individuals; but he would maintain [247] , that, take them as a body, they were not those persons to whose opinions he would refer on a great legislative measure. He should have preferred more of the intelligence and wealth of the community as a guide of their decisions. The distress which had for some time past prevailed in the country had been greatly instrumental in producing those petitions; but the reviving industry which was now observable in various quarters, would do much towards alleviating that distress. He entirely acquitted his Majesty's Ministers of the charge of having lent their aid towards producing popular excitement on the subject of Reform. He could not for a moment conceive such an idea, either of the noble Lord or of his noble and right hon. Colleagues; — as soon believe, with kind Sir Roger,

That old Moll White took wing, with cat and broomstick,
And raised the last night's thunder,

as that the right hon. Gentlemen opposite had raised the present excitement. But what he did believe was this — that the excitement for Reform, or the facilities for creating such excitement, had arisen from the passing of the Catholic Relief Bill. If the Constitution were to be put down by the means so eloquently stated by the hon. member for Callington — namely, by the substitution of new and frail materials for the solid and substantial parts that were to be taken away, by ruining the influence of the Aristocracy, by sullying the influence of the Crown, and endangering the existence of the Hierarchy, then he, for one, would leave the hon. member for Higham Ferrars [J. B. Ponsonby] to weep over the obsequies of national liberty. But he could not bring himself to anticipate so disastrous an event; and he, and others who concurred with him on the subject, would do their utmost to throw out this Bill. Of this fact he was quite certain — that the gentlemen of England would never regret having done their duty to themselves and their country.

The Debate was then adjourned till the following day.

Meet the web creator

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 9 May, 2017

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind