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A Disillusioned Whig (1838)

Taken from Norman Gash, The Age of Peel (London, Edward Arnold, 1973), with the kind permission of Professor Gash. Copyright of this document, of course, remains with him.

The election of 1837 confirmed many liberals in their view that the full benefit of reform could not be realised without further improvements in electoral machinery, especially the introduction of the ballot, an extension of the suffrage, and triennial parliaments. This brought up the question whether the Reform Act of 1832 was regarded by its authors as a final measure or not. The reluctance of Lord Melbourne to sanction any move towards the ballot led to Russell's 'finality' speech in the House of Commons at the start of the new session in November 1837 which brought him much unpopularity and the nickname of 'Finality Jack'. His argument on that occasion that a further instalment of reform would be a breach of faith with those who had supported the bill in 1832 as a permanent and satisfactory settlement, was one that was felt strongly by the 'old Whigs' though they did not all trust the government to resist much longer the demand for the ballot. Sir James Graham, a former Whig and one of the Committee of Four which drafted the reform bill, had resigned from the government with Stanley in 1834 and by 1838 was closely identified with the Conservative opposition. His correspondent was Lord John Russell's elder brother.

C. S. Parker, Sir James Graham (1907), i.268

Sir James Graham to Lord Tavistock

29 August 1838

Already, in my opinion – I had also believed, in the opinion of the Government of Lord Grey – 'in recasting the representative system that point has been reached beyond which it is impossible to proceed with safety', if the rights of property are to be respected, and an aristocracy maintained.

The struggle against the progressive advance of democracy may be more or less protracted, and may end in unforeseen results. But my part was taken at the passing of the Reform Act. I pledged myself to resist the Ballot, short Parliaments, and further extension of the Suffrage, in consideration of the great change which we were then enabled peaceably to effect. Reason, honour, duty, combine to restrain me from assenting directly or indirectly to any of those measures on which the Radicals insist, and which inevitably tend to the destruction of our mixed form of Government. The resistance may be hopeless, but I am bound to make it; and it would not be so desperate, if all who promised to resist were united, and in time opposed a manly front to the open designs of that Radical party which is now stronger in the House of Commons than the Whigs.

If Ballot be made an open question, it will be carried. This mode of treating measures which affect the foundations of our policy weakens every day the main-spring of government itself, and practically gives an advantage to the more violent members of a Cabinet over their more prudent colleagues.

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