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Peel's criticism of parliamentary reform: 17 December 1831

Taken from

Peel's speeches

The general election of 1831 resulted in a large majority in favour of reform and a second bill passed the House of Commons in September and went up to the Lords. There on 8 October it was defeated by 199 votes to 158, the news being greeted by widespread riots in the country, particularly at Bristol, Derby and Nottingham, with some loss of life. Parliament was prorogued and reassembled for a new session in December when the government introduced a third reform bill, embodying a number of concessions including the maintenance of the existing numbers of the House of Commons. Peel's speech, from which an extract is given below, was made during the debate on the second reading of the bill, which produced a two to one majority in its favour.

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.

[424] Sir Robert Peel said, that at that late hour of the night, and in that stage of the debate, when so short a time was left for discussion, unless that discussion were (contrary to the usual practice) protracted into the morning of Sunday, he should have desired at once to address himself to those arguments in favour of this measure which remained unanswered, without referring to any matters of a private or personal nature. But the speech of the learned member for Calne — who, for the fourth time, had thought it desirable to introduce topics unconnected with the merits of the question, and who had addressed himself in a manner purely personal to him — compelled him to adopt a different course; for he should be unworthy of the situation which he held in that House, if he permitted the debate to close without reference to those topics. He thought, that the learned Gentleman, having already, in the three speeches he had made in favour of Reform, taunted him on the subject of the Catholic Question, might have left that subject at rest. But the learned Gentleman again returned to the charge, bursting with all the "sweltering venom" which had been collecting during the days and nights that had passed since the last attack.

The hon. Member had charged him with having been guilty of ingratitude towards the present Ministry in the course he had been pursuing. The hon. Gentleman said, "When you proposed the Catholic Question, they who had before brought it forward, handsomely gave you their cordial support; and when they bring forward the Reform Bill, why do not you return the compliment, and support Reform?" What exalted notions of public duty the learned Gentleman must have! He makes it a matter of courtesy and civility; a sort of interchange of compliments. But the learned Gentleman overlooked the essential difference in the two cases. The Gentlemen opposite supported the Roman Catholic Relief Bill when brought forward by him (Sir R. Peel) because they had always supported it. Had he supported Reform? No, never; and yet the learned Gentleman contended that he ought to support it now, not from conviction but from gratitude.

The learned Gentleman's charge amounted to a charge of gross and corrupt apostacy. He accused him (Sir R. Peel) of having brought forward, first, the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, and secondly, the Roman Catholic Relief Bill — not from a sense of public duty, but from the mere love of the power or emoluments of office, and the desire to appropriate to himself the credit which was due to others. He had long been silent under these charges — in the first place, because he did not think that the time had come when he could properly make the necessary disclosures, and in the second place, because he was conscious of having acted from pure motives, and because he felt assured that the time must come when those motives would be justly appreciated.

Now to begin with the first of these charges. He met it with a positive denial of the fact. He had not undertaken, as a Minister, the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. As a Minister of the Crown he had opposed it, and he was beaten. When the noble Lord (Lord.J. Russell) had brought forward the question, the Ministers had been left in a minority, and having been so left, he had not made any attempt to deprive the noble Lord of the honour due to his success; but convinced, after what had occurred, that something must be done towards the settlement of the question, he had privately and unostentatiously laboured all in his power to effect an amicable settlement. "But," said the hon. and learned Gentleman, "why, [425] having opposed this while in office, did you not resign when you found your opposition unavailing?" The hon. Member, with his usual discretion, seemed to wield a two-edged sword, which equally wounded friends and foes. Was it a matter of inevitable necessity that Ministers should resign when they could not carry into effect a measure to which they were favourable? If it was so, then why did not the present Ministers resign when the House of Lords rejected the Reform Bill? He made no charge against them for not resigning; on the contrary, he contended, that it was not fair to infer improper conduct, because Ministers did not at once resign when they were defeated in their attempt to oppose or to carry a particular measure.

What were the circumstances under which he, having failed in his opposition to the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, continued in office? On the 9th of January, 1828, he was called on to form part of the Ministry. There had been three recent changes of the Government; the last, the Administration of Lord Goderich, having existed eight weeks only. There were three parties in the State; the Tories, the Whigs, and the friends of Mr. Canning. In the government of Lord Goderich, two of these parties had been united, and yet that Government came to an untimely end, from its own intrinsic weakness, before a blow was struck — before even Parliament was assembled. In the month of January, the Duke of Wellington was called on to form an Administration. The Duke and himself were obliged to postpone the meeting of Parliament till the 29th of January, and on the 26th of February, one month after his noble friend and he had taken office, the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) brought the subject of the Test and Corporation Acts forward, and Ministers were beaten on the question. Was there any Gentleman who would have had them abandon the King, one month after a signal proof that no other party, nay, no combination of other parties, could make a permanent, or even a decent Government? This he considered a sufficient answer to the charge that, having failed in resisting a certain measure, he had not forthwith resigned office.

He now came to the heavier charge, to that connected with the Catholic Question. For several years he had taken an active part in resisting concession to the Roman Catholics. He had taken that part from a serious doubt, whether, viewing the state of property in Ireland — the state of the Protestant Church — the state of society in a country wherein the religion of the great majority was not, and could not be, the established religion of that country, the concession of equal political power to the Roman Catholics would extinguish its religious discord, and lay the foundation of ultimate repose. But a combination of circumstances had concurred to convince him that exclusion was no longer maintainable — that there was greater risk to the peace of Ireland, and to the security of the Protestant establishment and Protestant interests, in attempting to prolong that exclusion, than in the removal of every existing disability under which the Roman Catholic laboured. When he had declared that his opinions were unchanged on the Catholic Question, what did he mean? Simply this — that his apprehension of the consequences of concession — his fears that it would not produce satisfaction and harmony, remained the same; but still there was a certain, and impending evil, which could only be averted by incurring the remoter hazards of concession, an evil which would, after desolating Ireland, leave the question of concession where it found it, or rather, with a diminished prospect of any satisfactory settlement.

Into some of the reasons for entertaining these opinions he could not then enter; but the events of the Clare election shewed that matters could no longer rest where they then were — that there must be either a settlement of the Catholic Question, or the elective franchise must be modified. But in a House of Commons recently elected, the Roman Catholics had an actual majority. There was, in truth, so large a mass of Protestant influence, and Protestant opinion ranged on the side of the Roman Catholics, encouraging their vehemence, and defeating the efforts to restrain it, that further opposition to a settlement of the Catholic Question became, in his opinion, equally mischievous and impracticable. With that opinion, what course was he bound to pursue? Was it his duty to consult his own personal interests, to maintain his own personal consistency, by continuing and encouraging resistance — or to say, as he had said, to the King of whom he was the Minister — "On the balance of public evils there is, in my opinion, less of hazard in concession than in continued [426] and fruitless resistance, and therefore I advise concession?" — The Question, so far as any charge could be justly preferred against him, was this. In giving that advice to the King, was he influenced, as the learned Gentleman insinuated, by any desire of office, any wish to usurp honour or credit due to others, or by any base and interested motive of any kind?

He trusted he should be able now to vindicate himself for all time to come from any charge, or any suspicion, on that head.

After the discussions in the two Houses of Parliament on the Catholic Question, in the Session of 1828 — frequent communication took place between himself and the Duke of Wellington respecting the position of that Question — and each of them had come to the conclusion, that it could not safely be left in the position in which it had stood for so many years — the members of the King's Government having no opinion in common upon it, and the two Houses of Parliament coming to opposite decisions.

He left town shortly after the close of the Session, and the communication to which he referred was continued with the Duke of Wellington, in a confidential and most unreserved correspondence, from which he should quote those passages which would explain his own personal views and wishes in regard to the mode of settling the Catholic Question. In the Month of August, 1828, he wrote a letter to the Duke of Wellington, which, after entering fully into the general policy of attempting a final adjustment of the Question, proceeds in these terms: —

'I have thus written to you without reserve upon the first, and great Question of all; the policy of seriously considering this long-agitated question, with a view to its adjustment. I have proved to you, I trust, that no false delicacy in respect to past declarations of opinion — no fear of the imputation of inconsistency will prevent me from taking that part, which present dangers, and a new position of affairs, may require. I am ready, at the hazard of any sacrifice, to maintain the opinions which I now deliberately give — that there is upon the whole less of evil in making a decided effort to settle the Catholic Question than in leaving it as it has been left — an open Question, the Government being undecided with respect to it, and paralyzed in consequence of that indecision upon many occasions peculiarly requiring promptitude and energy of action.

I must at the same time express a very strong opinion that it would not conduce to the satisfactory adjustment of the Question, that the charge of it in the House of Commons should be committed to my hands.

I put all personal feelings out of the question. They are, or ought to be, very subordinate considerations in matters of such moment, and I give the best proof that I disregard them, by avowing that I am quite ready to commit myself to the support of the principle of a measure of ample Concession and Relief, and to use every effort to promote the final arrangement of it.

But my support will be more useful, if I give it with the cordiality with which it shall be given, out of office. Any authority which I may possess, as tending to reconcile the Protestants to the measure, would be increased by my retirement. I have been too deeply committed on the Question — have expressed too strong opinions in respect to it — too much jealousy and distrust of the Roman Catholics — too much apprehension as to the immediate and remote consequences of yielding to their claims — to make it advantageous to the King's service that I should be the individual to originate the measure.'

The letter from which he was quoting concludes thus:

'Consider these things well. If the question is to be taken up, there is clearly no safe alternative but the settlement of it. Every consideration of private feelings and individual interests must be disregarded.

From a strong sense of what is best for the success of the measure, I relieve you from all difficulties with respect to myself. I do not merely volunteer my retirement at whatever may be the most convenient time — I do not merely give you the promise, that I will, out of office (be the sacrifices that I foresee, private and public, what they may) cordially co-operate with you in the settlement of this question, and cordially support your Government; but I add to this, my decided and deliberate opinion — that it will tend to the satisfactory adjustment of the Question, if the [427] originating of it in the House of Commons, and the general superintendence of its progress, be committed to other hands than mine.'

He trusted that he had thus shewn, that, when he originally concurred in the course which was afterwards adopted, he had not been swayed by any considerations but those of public duty. He remained until the month of January, 1829, retaining a decided opinion that the Government ought to bring forward the Roman Catholic Relief Bill without delay, but in the earnest hope and belief, that his support to that measure would be given by him in a private capacity. But in the course of that month it was proved to him to demonstration, that his retirement from office would aggravate the difficulties with which the Duke of Wellington had already to contend to such a degree as to make them insuperable. He had, therefore, written to the Duke of Wellington a letter, which bore date the 12th January. He repeated, in that letter, that his retirement from office was the only step which he could take which would be at all satisfactory to his own feelings; he deprecated, in the most earnest manner, the necessity that he should be the person to bring forward the Question in the House of Commons; but he concluded that letter by the following declaration: —

'But I will have no reserve with you. I know all the difficulties of your situation. I know how those difficulties have been recently increased, as well by the communications which have taken place with the Bishops, as by the necessary recall of Lord Anglesey.

You will do justice to the motives of the declaration which I am about to make, and you will take no advantage of it unless it be absolutely necessary.

If my retirement should prove, in your opinion, after the communications which you may have with the King, and with those whom it may be necessary for you to consult — an insuperable obstacle to the adoption of the course which I believe to be unavoidable; in that case you shall command every service that I can render in any capacity.'

On this letter of the 12th January he found the following endorsement, written at the time: —

'When I wrote this letter, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, and the Bishop of Durham, had had an interview with the Duke of Wellington, and had declared to him that they were finally resolved to give their decided opposition to the proposed measure for the relief of the Roman Catholics.'

The circumstance referred to in that memorandum, and the earnest appeal made to him by the King, not to shrink from proposing a measure which, as a Minister, he advised the King to adopt, left him no alternative, consistent with honour and public duty, but to make the bitter sacrifice of every personal feeling, and himself to originate the measure of Roman Catholic Relief. Could he, when the King thus appealed to him, when the King referred to his own scruples — to his own uniform opposition to the measure in question — When he said, "You advise this measure — you see no escape from it — you ask me to make the sacrifice of opinion and of consistency — will you not make the same sacrifice," what answer could he return to his sovereign but the one he did return, viz. that he would make that sacrifice, and would bear his full share of the responsibility and unpopularity of the measure he advised? So much for the part he had taken on the Catholic Question, and the motives by which he had been swayed.

While he totally abjured the doctrine of the learned Gentleman, that he was bound to support Reform because the advocates of Reform had supported the Catholic Question, he would never retract the opinions he had expressed with regard to those who, being politically opposed to him, had supported most zealously the Roman Catholic Relief Bill. He must repeat now what he had before said, that the conduct of those Gentlemen who had given him their support on the Catholic Question, was dictated by the purest and most honourable motives, and entitled that party to his respect and gratitude. He said so at the time; but did the hon. and learned Member, therefore, think that with "bated breath and whispering humbleness," he should shrink from offering opposition to this Bill? Was he not at liberty boldly to say, that he thought the King's Ministers were in error, if he thought them so? If he considered he was disqualified from taking the most decided part on Reform, he would abdicate his functions, and not stand there to offer weak opposition to the measure. He would assert, however, that he was at liberty to offer this opposition, and without any compromise of principle, or rendering himself liable to any charge of ingratitude [428] or inconsistency, to resist to the utmost of his power the extensive measure of Reform proposed by the Ministers.

A great part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman turned upon the question, not whether this measure was for the permanent advantage of the country, but who were the parties that caused the present excitement. The assumption was, that to the pressure of external force we must give way, and that we had no alternative but that of satisfying the craving of the people. The hon. Gentleman had said, "How is it that we can have eyes and not see, ears and not hear, legs and not walk; how is it that all our senses do not convince us that Reform must be conceded?" Would he ask the same question of the Marquis of Lansdown, who had eyes, and ears, and legs; but who had neither seen, nor heard, nor walked, having for years opposed Parliamentary Reform? The hon. Gentleman was very severe on all doubt and indecision in matters of public concern. How was it then that the hon. and learned Gentleman was himself still undecided on that important point, the ballot? How did it happen that, like a certain animal (to which he meant by no means to compare him) between two bundles of hay, the hon. and learned Gentleman remained still balancing, and unable to decide, between two series of arguments? He had been accused of obstinately resisting the popular demand for Reform, and he felt that from many, the majority, of the members of the present Reform Government, such an accusation fell with a particularly ill grace. Had hon. Members forgotten the events of the year 1827? Did they recollect, that in that year the Marquis of Lansdown, Lord Palmerston, and the two Mr. Grants, and other hon. Gentlemen opposite, took office under Mr. Canning? — Mr. Canning, the uncompromising foe of all Reform; and who emphatically declared in that House (and that, too, be it remembered, after these noble and right hon. Gentlemen had joined his Administration), that he would oppose Reform to the last hour of his life. Perhaps it might be said, that though these were Mr. Canning's personal feelings with respect to this particular question of Reform, it, like the Catholic Question, might be open to every member of the Government to speak and vote as he pleased without affecting its integrity. His noble and right hon. friends had not this resource; for Mr. Stapylton's recent "Life of Mr. Canning" placed the fact beyond doubt, "that Mr. Canning was not only determined to resist Reform himself, but that he would not acquiesce in any member of his Government supporting that question. According to Mr. Stapylton, there was a written record of the principles on which Mr. Canning's Government was formed, in which were these words — "That the inconvenience of having one open question in the Cabinet, made it more necessary to agree that there should be no other; that all the then acting members of the Cabinet were united in opposing the question of Parliamentary Reform, and could not acquiesce in its being brought forward and supported by any member of the Government." Thus it appeared that public men, differing upon other questions — actuated by no dishonourable motives — taking what are supposed to be enlarged and comprehensive views of the interests of this country, did dread the agitation of that question of Parliamentary Reform.

Why did he state these facts? Not, be assured, for the purpose of condemning the inconsistency of his noble and right hon. friends, who had joined with Mr. Canning, and were now Reformers, but to inculcate this lesson — that if so recently as 1827 these eminent, noble, and right honourable Gentlemen saw no reason against their joining an Administration pledged to the death against Reform, he, who then as now was opposed to all such schemes of Reform as the present, might see reasons — other than mere party obstinacy — for persisting in the same course in the year 1831. If his noble and right hon. friends shrunk from opening the question in 1827, surely it was not so very remarkable but that he might remain impressed with the same feelings of apprehension a few years longer? Why censure him for not being immediately convinced of the necessity of Reform, when Lord Lansdown and the other members of Mr. Canning's Cabinet — those very persons by whom it was now advocated in both Houses of Parliament — had, up to this time, remained unconvinced? They knew the decided opinions of Mr. Canning upon the question, for in 1827 he refused to transfer the franchise of Grampound to Leeds, and yet he believed that Mr. Tierney was the only member of Mr. Canning's Cabinet who stipulated for liberty to support the question of Reform. The learned Gentleman said, that pertinacious resistance to moderate Reform was the cause and the justification of the present measure. Could he be surprised [429] at resistance to the principle of Reform, however moderate the shape it might first assume? Did he recollect the triumph of the noble Lord, the author of this Bill? Did he recollect his address to the most moderate of all Reformers? Said the noble Lord, "You have conceded the whole principle, when you agreed to transfer the franchise of Grampound to Manchester. How, then, can you stop there? To you who admit the principle, but refuse to go its lengths, I say, in the words of Cromwell, 'the Lord has delivered you into my hands.' "If, then, to make the slightest concession be a "delivering into his hands," what resource had the opponents of extensive Reform, but to oppose the principle altogether? He had been complimented by the learned Gentleman for having, on the first night of this discussion, sung his palinode — —

Mr. Macaulay: I did not mention you; the term was directed to the right hon. ex-secretary of the Admiralty [Croker]. All that was meant was, that the right hon. Baronet's party took the whole credit to themselves of measures for the improvement of our systems of jurisprudence, commercial laws, and foreign policy, which had been forced on their reluctant conviction by the party now in office.

Sir Robert Peel: True, the hon. Gentleman did not mention him by name, but the sarcasm was not the less pointed on account of the omission of the name. In introducing improvements into the commercial jurisprudence of the country, he had never arrogated to himself the praise that belonged to Sir Samuel Romilly; but what was to prevent him from effecting substantial reforms, supposing such reforms though contemplated by others remained unexecuted? The learned Gentleman represented him as having taunted the Government on the evening in which the present Bill was introduced. So far from taunting Ministers with their amendments of some of the details of the Bill, as so many adoptions of the principles advocated on the Opposition side of the House, as so many concessions to the wisdom of their opponents' policy, he staled, that he did not regard the alterations in the light of concessions, for that the essential principles of the measure remained wholly unchanged, and, therefore, equally objectionable. He added, at the same time, that he thought the country was in a better situation now for a deliberate consideration of the Bill than when that of last Session was under their notice — and therefore that the House and the country ought to feel grateful to the House of Lords for that decision, which afforded them an opportunity of reconsidering the fatal consequences of the former Bill. He, for one, heartily rejoiced at that decision. He was confident that it would tend to the permanent advantage of the country. It was necessary to that calmness and deliberation fitting the Legislature, and essential to the satisfactory discussion of the great question at issue, that the excitement which prevailed throughout the country with respect to the Ministerial plan of Reform should abate — that the public mind should be cooled somewhat from the fervour into which it had been artfully thrown — that some short time should be afforded

"requiem spatiumque furori",

and that opportunity, and that interval, and that requies, were furnished them by the decision of the House of Lords. Indeed, no persons should feel better pleased with that decision than Ministers themselves, inasmuch as it had enabled them to lick somewhat into comeliness and grace another bantling of the same family. The right hon. Secretary for Ireland seemed quite enamoured with this new offspring, vaunting much of the symmetry of its features, telling them, in the well known

O matre pulchrâ filia pulchrior,

that the daughter far exceeded in beauty her lovely parent. Without presuming to offer an opinion on the delicate question of female beauty, while he complimented the right hon. Gentleman's gallantry and good taste in embracing the daughter in preference to the mother, he wished he could contemplate with any satisfaction the future progeny of Reform. He wished that it might not prove degenerate in itself, and, in the words of the same Horace,

mox datura
Progeniem vitiosiorem.

After what they had heard in the course of this debate, it was but fair to presume, [430] that they should no longer hear this Bill defended on the ground of the Constitution. The noble Paymaster appeared to dissent from this; but had he not himself said that evening, that if it had been his fortune to have lived at the period of the Revolution, he would have voted for the exclusion of Catholics from political power, and also for the maintenance and continuance of the small boroughs? But surely, if these small boroughs were now contrary to the first principles of the Constitution, they were equally so at the time of the Revolution. The noble Lord had, in the course of the Debates, cited that part of the Bill of Rights which declared that "elections should be free."

Now, it would not become him to question the historical and constitutional knowledge of the noble Lord; but when he quoted these words as an argument in favour of the present Bill, particularly that part of it which disfranchised the small boroughs, it became necessary to remind the House of the true meaning of the words "elections shall be free," and of the intention with which they were inserted in the Bill of Rights. Those words were introduced into the preamble of the Bill of Rights to meet a particular specific grievance, which had no connexion whatever with small boroughs or the reduced number of electors. The grievance to be redressed was, the direct and repeated interference of James 2nd in the election of Members of Parliament. That monarch was then deeply engaged in his design of restoring the Catholic worship to its pristine supremacy; and, for that purpose, he had issued orders to the several Sheriffs to make out lists of electors and candidates who would vote for the repeal of the Test Act — the barrier against the admission of the Catholics into Parliament and public office. Without entering into a minute history of James's proceedings, he would cite one anecdote in point: it was told by Sir John Reresby, in his Memoirs. It appeared that the King requested the writer to stand for York. "If your Majesty so please it," replied Sir John, "I will, but it can only be on one condition." "Name it," "Simply, that your Majesty will so order it that none of the Corporation shall vote but those I may choose." The King gave the order, and Sir John was returned. And it was to meet this, and similar gross violations of corporate rights, that it was declared in the Bill of Rights, that "elections shall be free," evidently showing, that there was not the remotest connexion whatever between that declaration, and the disfranchisement of small boroughs.

One word with respect to what had fallen last night from the hon. member for Calne; if, indeed, it was not something worse than superfluous, to offer any additional observations, after the unanswerable and matchless speech of his right hon. friend (Mr. Croker) beside him. The hon. Member dwelt much on the necessity of the Legislature evincing, what he called an animus, for adapting its enactments to the growing wants, and intelligence, and spirit, of the age. He was ready to admit, that if there did not exist an elastic spirit in the Constitution, expanding itself to meet the temper of the times, that there was something imperfect, something that required alteration; and he would further admit, that if the boroughs were made of such iron stuff, that they would not yield to the impression of improvement, that their doom ought to be from that moment sealed. But would any one, after looking at the acts of the Legislature, and of late years in particular, say, that the animus of this House lagged behind the improvement of the times? Was it not rather in advance of the spirit of the times in what it did on the Catholic Question, and on that of free trade? In what instance, during the last five years, would the hon. Member point out, that that House had not kept pace with the growing improvement of public opinion? or, if the hon. Gentleman preferred the phrase, with the "spirit of the age?" If the hon. Gentleman could not point out any; it was most unwise to attempt, by precipitate means, and rushing on blindly in the dark, to effect a change which was silently and gradually in operation, and which violent interference on our part could only obstruct and retard. Had hon. Members duly considered the effect of the proposed change in our Constitution, upon our immense colonial possessions? If it were said, that the population of India was of so low a grade of intellect, as not to understand the nature of good government, he thought that was an additional reason for caution in unsettling a dominion which had its foundation in the feelings, in the habits and prejudices connected with established usage, and the prescriptive exercise of authority? Then, to look nearer home, let them consider the effect which their [431] freely and cavalierly destroying the smaller boroughs must inevitably have upon the minds of the people. If there was any feeling which, more than another, should be cherished in this country, it was that of regard — scrupulous regard — for the interests of property, and for the preservation of those political rights which were the birthright of freemen. Was the feeling cherished, by destroying small but honourable boroughs, merely because they were small? — for no effort was made by Ministers, to distinguish merely the small from the nomination boroughs, though the distinction was as practicable as it was just. It might be very well to say, that the nomination boroughs must be got rid of, but why not destroy the principle of nomination, by extending the constituency, and reserve the elective right to the borough? This was the very course pursued in the case of some boroughs. Take Midhurst for example — the mound Midhurst; they had been told, over and over again, that the Representation of that place belonged to a hole in a wall; but, after all, that very hole in the wall was to retain its right. It was true that the constituency was enlarged, and why not apply the same principle to other boroughs, at least equally admitting of its application? The noble Lord confessed that this great and immediate change in the Constitution could not be made without peril, and his noble colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, added, if he thought it would have the effect of injuring the landed interests, he would, instead of forwarding the measure, oppose it. This remark of the noble Lord seemed to imply some latent doubt as to its working, but the noble Paymaster had not distinctly described the nature of the peril he anticipated. Was it to be found in the great extension of the franchise? The noble Lord said, that by giving a vote to £10 householders, it would be conferred on a class of persons of intelligence, who could not be easily led astray by those whose interest or whose wish it might be to deceive them — a class of persons who could not be deceived into a belief, as the electors of Preston had been, that the Civil List for the exclusive use of the Sovereign, and for his individual purposes, amounted to £1,000,000 a year, He could not concur with the noble Lord in opinion that £10 householders were a class qualified to draw profound conclusions on the intricate questions of commerce and legislation, or exempt from the bias of party violence, or deaf to the delusions and exaggerations by which they would be assailed. He had been favoured with the copy of a manifesto, addressed by the Walsall Political Union to the new constituency of that embryo borough; and if that manifesto contained the appeals and arguments best suited to their taste and capacity, he could not consent to any compliment paid to them at the expense of the electors of Preston. The House, however, might judge for themselves, for he would read an extract from this document: — " The reign of oppression is nearly at an end; the fiat of the people of England has gone forth, and the decree has been confirmed by our patriot King, that might shall no longer triumph over right. The Bill of Reform must pass; and our future destinies will be placed in the hands of upwards of a million of Englishmen, whose true interests are identically the same with those of the still greater body of their unrepresented fellow-countrymen. You, fellow-townsmen, will have an important trust to perform in the great work of national regeneration. Reform in Parliament will matter little to us, if we do not send men there who will do the business of the people; we entreat — we implore you, then, in the name of our common country, to look well to the character and political principles of the men who may offer themselves as candidates for your suffrage. Do not vote for any man who will not pledge himself to insist upon the most rigid economy in the expenditure of the public money, as well as to vote for the repeal of all taxes which press with peculiar weight upon the poverty and the industry of the nation; especially the iniquitous corn-laws, the assessed taxes, and all acts imposing taxes or restrictions upon the circulation of political knowledge — those odious and oppressive imposts whose only effects are, by inducing ignorance, to lead to the commission of crime, and to hide from the public gaze the open profligacy and the insidious workings of corrupt and tyrannical governments. The abolition of the monopoly of the East-India Company — the instant and utter extinction of that abominable traffic in human flesh and blood, denominated negro-slavery — an earnest endeavour to procure for the honest electors of Great Britain, the protecting shield of the Ballot — and the limitation and duration of Parliaments to a period not exceeding three years — on each and all of these important questions, the man who desires to be your Representative ought to give distinct and positive pledges that he will act [432] in accordance with your opinion and feelings; or, if his own opinion shall come into collision with these, that he should then resign the trust which you shall have delegated to him, and thus afford you an opportunity of choosing some other person whose political opinions shall be more congenial with your own."

He did not mean for a moment to question the right of the workmen of Walsall to urge their opinions on these difficult and most complicated questions, nor did he mean to say, that all which they did was not very honestly intended; but what he was afraid of was, that when the country got a popular Parliament, it would jump to conclusions — conclusions that might be right abstractedly, but which, from the great variety of interests they embraced, required the nicest caution and consideration in their management. In the same way with respect to property: he had no fear of its destruction by confiscation; but he was afraid that some popularity-seeking Chancellor of the Exchequer might be forced by a democratic assembly to propose the repeal of taxes, and to adopt steps the ultimate tendency of which would be, to shake the confidence of the country in the security of property; and that confidence once shaken, there would be an end to the chief stimulus to productive industry, the foundation of all our wealth, power, and eminence. Let them look to the present state of France. France, after her glorious revolution — France, relieved from the load of an hereditary peerage, and an established religion — France, with her popular king, whose only occupation it would seem was to run about seeking the vive le roi of his enthusiastically devoted subjects. And what was the state of this favoured country, which had so far outstripped us in the race of Reform, notwithstanding the zealous efforts of our Reform Ministers? Let hon. Members, anxious for the solution of the question, read the foreign correspondence of The Times, a journal above all exception as a witness in this case, being an advocate for Reform, and distinguished for the ability of its foreign correspondents — what is their account of the state of France in respect to the employment and happiness of the industrious classes, whose especial benefit is to be promoted by Reform — "Every post" says the French correspondent of The Times, "brings fresh intelligence to Paris from all those departments where any considerable portion of the inhabitants depend for their support on the prosperity of their trade or commerce, of the extreme state of misery and depression to which they are reduced; as an instance, you may take that portion of the French territory which is nearest to the shores of England. The towns of Arras, Bethune, and Hesdin, including the whole line of coast from Calais to Etaples, are described to be in a state of privation bordering on famine." This was the condition of a country with a decreasing revenue, a declining commerce, and a daily increasing army. Was it to be inferred from his stating these facts, that he thought that the French were not justified in resisting the illegal exercise of power? No such thing. But he said, that the effect of all such rash and precipitate changes in government was, to suspend commerce, to derange industry, to put a stop to credit, and injure almost to death the manufacturing and labouring classes. His object was, to show that any violent change in the constitution of a country, exposed to hazard its dearest interests, and that no such change could be advisable, unless under the pressure of a necessity, the existence of which in this country he utterly denied. "I oppose the Bill," said the right hon. Baronet in conclusion, "not that I expect to be successful here in my opposition, but because I will enter my solemn protest against incurring the responsibility of making one of the greatest and most precipitate changes in a Constitution, which was the very best that ever existed in the annals of history. You should well consider the ultimate effects of the change you are about to accomplish on the three parts of the empire. You are about to disturb those proportions which were settled at the respective periods of the Union, and to add to the already existing causes of discontent and excitement in Ireland, new sources of jealousy and complaint which it is wholly unnecessary to open. It is not in the spirit of hostility, but from the common interest which I take with the Ministers in the welfare of the country, that I implore the Government not to suffer this House to separate for the Recess, without publicly proclaiming the course they mean to pursue with respect to the proportions of Representation for the different parts of the empire, particularly Ireland.

If you are determined upon not adding to the number of the Irish Representatives, say so; but if you are not so determined, and feel that you must ultimately concede, I say give way at once, and by doing it graciously and in time, make the merit and favour [433] your own. I offer no opinion on the justice or expediency of the concession, but call upon Ministers to at once avow their intentions. Do you, or do you not, mean to yield to the demands of the Irish Members? I repeat, Sir, my opinions are decidedly opposed to the Bill. I expected that the present ministers would bring in a reform bill on their acceptance of office; but I believe, in my conscience, that the concessions made by them to the popular demands have been far more extensive than was at all necessary. I was not prepared for so extravagant a measure, still less could I have thought that they would venture to bring in so large a measure of reform within three months after they had taken office, and while the country was yet agitated by the events of the French Revolution. No issue of this discussion can be satisfactory, for, decide as we may, there must be much irreparable evil. I may be obliged to submit by necessity to a plan of reform which I cannot successfully oppose; but believing, as I do, that the people of this country are grossly deceived, grossly deluded, in their expectations of the practical benefits they will derive from reform, I shall not be precluded from declaring my opinion, and opposing that reform as long as I can. My opinions being thus wholly opposed to ministers on the question of reform, I am precluded from taking any part whatever in the settlement of the question.

I am satisfied with the constitution under which I have lived hitherto, which I believe is adapted to the wants and habits of the people, I deplore a disposition, which seems too prevalent, to innovate unnecessarily upon all the institutions of the country. I admit, that to serve the sovereign, and the public in an office of honour and dignity, is an object of honourable ambition; but I am ready to sacrifice that object, rather than incur the responsibility of advocating measures which, I believe on my conscience, will tend to the destruction of the best interests of the country. I will continue my opposition to the last, believing, as I do, that this is the first step, not directly to revolution, but to a series of changes which will affect the property, and totally change the character, of the mixed constitution of this country. I will oppose it to the last, convinced, that though my opposition will be unavailing, it will not be fruitless, because the opposition now made will oppose a bar to further concessions hereafter. If the whole of the House were now to join in giving way, it will have less power to resist future changes. On this ground I take my stand, not opposed to a well-considered reform of any of our institutions which need reform, but opposed to this reform in our constitution, because it tends to root up the feelings of respect, the feelings of habitual reverence and attachment, which are the only sure foundations of government. I will oppose to the last the undue encroachments of that democratic spirit to which we are advised to yield without resistance. We may it supreme – we may establish a republic full of energy splendid in talent – but in my conscience I believe fatal to our liberty, our security and our peace.

Mr. Hunt said, he rose to defend himself against a charge of having told a meeting of the working classes in Lancashire which he addressed, that a million a year was given on the Civil List for the King's personal expenses: he had never made any assertion of the kind. The meeting he addressed did not deserve the character of rabble, as the noble Lord the Paymaster ofthe Forces had represented them to be. There was scarcely a man in it but was as clean and well looking and intelligent as any man in that House, and there were very few present whose clothes were not as well made and as good as those of the dandy First Lord of the Admiralty. The people of England would not and ought not to be satisfied with the present Bill. Notwithstanding the noble Lord had said, it would give a share of the Representation to a large proportion of the people, he would contend that the words "Representation of the people "ought not to be used in connexion with this Bill, for only those who occupied £10 houses, and all above that value would be represented by it. The great majority of the working classes would be excluded. As the hon. and learned member for Calne expected to represent Leeds when the Bill had passed, he would tell him that he did not know the feeling of the people in that town. There was one factory in which 130 men were employed, only three of whom would have a vote, and in another not one of the operatives would be entitled to the franchise. In point of fact, the great body of manufacturers and artizans would be excluded; he therefore told the House in plain and distinct terms, this Bill would not satisfy the working classes.

The House divided on the question that the Bill be read a second time. Ayes 324; Noes l62; — Majority 162.

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