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fred would not have been endangered on the head of the sovereign; the glories of a thousand years would not have been sinking into a sea of blood.
There never was so mistaken an idea as that which is now frequently adopted by those who perceive the present dangers of the country, that they have arisen from the Duke of Wellington's declaration against Reform. They have all arisen from his not being supported in that declaration. Had Mr Pitt been deserted as the Duke was, the present crisis would have occurred in 1793. Had the government then been delivered over to a reforming administration,the earthquake which has now shaken the empire would have occurred thirty-eight years sooner, and half the present generation would have been buried in its ruins.
But it is useless to lament the past. We refer to it not for the purpose of exciting unavailing regret, but to demonstrate the course of the perilous progress which the nation has since made, and to warn our legislature of the only course which still promises a chance of safety.
It is to the PEERS of Britain that we, in an especial manner, now address ourselves. With them it lies to temper passing excitement by permanent wisdom; to save an infatuated nation from itself; and perform an act, for which they will obtain temporary obloquy and eternal admiration.
By rallying round the Duke of Wellington in November last, before the excitement began, the conservative party might have crushed the hydra in its cradle; and postponed for cooler times the gradual reformation of the constitution. That opportunity is past; the excitement has been created by the prodigal gift of power to the populace, and it is no longer a transient passion of the multitude, but a settled resolution of a large part of the Commons. The last election, unparalleled in the annals of England, has demonstrated from whence the future peril to the constitution is to be apprehended. By rousing the multitude with the double prospect of their own elevation and the destruction of their superiors; by exciting imaginary hopes and chimerical expectations among
that numerous and ignorant class in whom the freehold qualification is placed; by dissolving Parliament at a moment of the highest excitement, and kindling the fire of misguided loyalty in the breasts of the rural tenantry, the Ministry have succeeded in obtaining a great majority in favour of Reform in the Lower House. Some concession must be made to the declared wish of the majority in point of numbers of the nation, and some change in the constitution must be admitted by its hereditary guardians.
In making this admission, we not only do not abandon, but adhere more strenuously than ever to our declared opinion, that no Reform should have been conceded till the excitement of the last French Revolution had passed away. We shall abandon this opinion when we are shewn that Mr Fox was wrong when he declared, "that all the collective wisdom of mankind could not frame a constitution; and that that of England was put together by the hand of time in a way which no future architect could hope to rival." We shall abandon it when we see new constitutions as stable, as free, and as beneficent, as those which have grown up with the wants of twenty generations; when we see the people as prosperous, the public wealth as flourishing, the national independence as secure, as under the pristine order of things; when the ancient glories of English story shall have been rivalled by the achievements of a more popular dynasty; the names of Bacon and Newton eclipsed by the discoveries of future philosophy; the strains of Milton and Shakspeare abandoned for the witchery of future rhyme; the remembrance of Cressy and Waterloo dimmed by the lustre of future triumphs; the flag of La Hogue and Trafalgar forgotten in the splendours of the British tricolor.
But the philosopher may lament the deplorable effects of popular delusion; the historian may condemn the fatal ambition of unexperienced statesmen; the legislator must deal with mankind as they are: he is exposed to the fury of popular violence, and must stem the torrent of reckless ambition. How to do this is now the question. A general who finds
that his best position has been lost by the divisions of those intrusted with its defence, must take up the next best which can be selected. Though forced to abandon the ridge of Busaco, he may still present an impregnable front at Torres Vedras.
It is in the House of Peers that this last defensive contest must be maintained. Let not that illustrious assembly be intimidated by the assertion that they are but an insulated titled body, severed from the people by their privileges, possessing no part in their affections. They are but novices in history, who do not know that it is the Barons and landed aristocracy of England, who in every age have proved the firmest supporters of its liberties, and the strongest bulwark alike against sovereign or popular tyranny.
Who extorted from a feeble and tyrannical monarch the great charter of English liberty at Runnymede, and compelled its renewal two and thirty times on the succession of subsequent sovereigns or the repeated encroachments of the crown? Who declared at Mertown, in defiance of ecclesiastical usurpation, nolumus leges Anglia mutare-who defeated the democratical insurrection of Watt Tyler, and saved England from the horrors of servile insurrection-who took the lead against the arbitrary usurpation of Charles I., and bravely conquered at Marston Moor-who resisted the Catholic usurpation of James II., and hurled a race of arbitrary monarchs from the throne-who protected the throne from the reckless ambition of its own Ministers, and saved the liberties of England from being sacrificed by a popular administration at the shrine of Indian ambition? The Peers of Englandthe titled and the untitled aristocracy of the realm; and it is to them that her good genius still looks to throw their shield over her future destinies.
Is it said that the times are now changed; that the whole weight of the constitution virtually resides in the Commons; that the days of aristocracy are gone by, and that the House of Peers dare not now throw out a bill supported by the Commons and the Throne? Here again
history disproves the assertion, and recent events nullify its application.
It is stated by Mr Hume* and it has been repeated by Guizot, that at the commencement of the great rebellion, the landed estates of the House of Commons were three times as large as those of the House of Peers. The Upper House consisted of 78 members, and at their deliberations seldom more than thirty or forty members assisted. The whole weight of the landed property of the kingdom was in the hands of the members of the Lower House, whose leaders, Sir Edmund Hambden, Sir Orlando Bridgman, Sir J. Hollis, Sir Henry Vane, were the destined leaders of the people, not only by their individual energy, but their vast possessions. The wars of York and Lancaster, in which eighty princes of the blood and nine-tenths of the ancient nobility of England perished, had fearfully thinned the ranks and dimmed the splendour of the Norman aristocracy; and the people, accustomed to see the great estates of the nobility forfeited repeatedly in the vicissitudes of fortune consequent on the civil wars, had lost much of their respect for their hereditary legislators. When the Long Parliament, therefore, in return for the innumerable concessions of Charles, and the tame submission of the nobles, voted the House of Peers a nuisance, and terminated their legal existence, the success of their usurpation was not a proof of the insignificance of the aristocracy in a contest with the Peers; but of the inability of a remnant of that body to maintain their ground against the great majority of the landed proprietors, almost all the commercial wealth, and all the religious frenzy of the nation.
Matters have since that time been completely changed. The policy of all the administrations who have ruled the country since the Revolution, has been to call up the most distinguished members of the Lower House, whether for talent, services, or possessions, to a place in the peerage. In consequence of the long prevalence of this system, not only the great bulk of the landed property, but the descendants of all the great
Hume, vi. 176.
+ Guizot, i. 13.
Hume, vi. 278.
est men in the kingdom, the most distinguished representatives of its commercial wealth, and the greatest of its living orators and statesmen, have found a place in the hereditary legislature. Not only are the peers now more than four times as numerous as they were in the great Rebellion, but their landed property is at least ten times as great, and greatly exceeds the collected wealth of the whole House of Commons, Among its ranks are to be found the descendants alike of noble virtue, and of humble ability: of the generals who have led our armies to victory, the admirals who have swept the ocean with our fleets,—the lawyers who have sustained our liberties by their exertions,-the statesmen who have maintained our property by their wisdom. The peerage is not adorned only by the blood of the Howards, the Percys, and the Scotts its weight is not increased only by the vast possessions of Devonshire, Northumberland, and Buccleuch; but it numbers among its members the immediate descendants of the greatest names of Britain, whether of patrician or plebeian origin-of Marlborough, Chatham, and Somers of Mansfield, Hardwick, and Loughborough-of Abercromby, Howe, and Nelson. Among its present members are to be found the greatest statesmen, generals, and orators of the age-the Duke of Wellington, the Marquis of Anglesea, Lord Lansdowne, Marquis Wellesley, Lord Brougham, Lord Plunkett, Lord Eldon, Lord Lyndhurst, Lord Holland, Earl Grey, and many others. Its debates are conducted in a style of dignity, moderation, and temper, which places them foremost in the rank of real statesmen; and it is a common observation, that on all the great questions that have recently occupied the attention of Parliament, Catholic Emancipation, Criminal Law, the Corn Laws, and the Currency, the speeches in the Peers have been decidedly superior__in point of ability to those delivered in the Lower House. Even on the question of Reform, though only incidentally introduced, few speeches in the Commons equalled those of the Duke of Wellington, Lord Caernarvon, Lord Wharncliffe, and Lord Mansfield.
It won't do, therefore, to direct
against a body thus constituted the common newspaper slang, of their being a house of incurables-the last refuge of imbecility-always behind the age, &c. &c. This wretched abuse may do very well with the vulgar, but with men of thought and information, who hear their names and read their speeches, it can have no weight whatever.
While the weight of the Peers has thus immensely increased, that of the House of Commons, considered as composed of men of extensive landed property, has proportionally declined. With the exception of Sir Francis Burdett, and Mr Coke of Norfolk, both of whom, in pursuance of the same system, are shortly to be called to the Upper House, there is no man of great landed property in the Lower House. The successive ennobling of the second or third generation of all the principal landed proprietors, has nearly exhausted the great estates of the kingdom. Sir Robert Peel is no exception. He might have been in the Peers long ago had he chosen to relinquish his station of leader of the conservative party in the House of Com
This gradual but unceasing change in the composition of the two Houses, must long ago have brought on a direct collision between them; in other words, between the property and the popular ambition of the kingdom, had not the indirect influence of the nobility, through the medium of the close boroughs, counteracted its tendency. This, as is universally known, restored the ascendency of property in the popular branch of the legislature, and notwithstanding the increasing property and weight of the one, and the increasing energy and ambition of a portion of the other, prevented them from coming into open collision.
Mr Fox's India Bill in 1783, first proved the superior weight which the House of Peers had acquired, in consequence of the cause now mentioned, since the Revolution of 1688. On that occasion, as is well known, the administration, strong in the coalition of Lord North and Mr Fox, and supported by a majority in the House of Commons, brought forward the celebrated Whig India Bill. This extraordinary measure, based on the principle of throwing the whole pa
tronage of India into the hands of ministers, would have perpetuated the Whig ascendency as effectually as the extinction of the one hundred and sixteen Tory members proposed in the present Reform Bill. The first measure of the Whigs in both periods was the same, viz. to make the first use of their installation in office, by intrenching themselves for ever in power. Mr Fox proposed to do it in direct violation of all the principles of his life, by throwing an enormous and fataĺ addition of patronage into the hands of the existing administration, without regard either to the interests of freedom in this country, or the chartered rights of the India Company in the Eastern world: The Reformers propose to do it, in opposition to the chartered rights of a hundred and eight boroughs, and in defiance alike of historical evidence and experienced utility. Ambition equally blinded the leaders of administration in both periods: had the first measure succeeded, it would have sunk the Whig influence under the weight of sovereign despotism; if the last prevails, it will bury it under the waves of popular ambition.
of State, and Mr Pitt was created First Lord of the Treasury.
The House of Commons immediately took fire: the situation of the new ministry was singular, and indeed unprecedented since the Revolution, being formed in immediate opposition to the majority of the Lower House. Mr Fox immediately carried a resolution in the House of Commons (December 24th) to address the Crown, praying that the House should neither be prorogued nor dissolved, and the King, in answer to this address, promised that he would do neither the one nor the other. The majority in the Lower House proceeded to still stronger measures: on January 12th, they passed a vote preventing payments from being issued from the bank for the public service; and on the 23d, they actually adjourned the Mutiny Bill.
But Mr Pitt and the Peers were not discouraged. By resolutely maintaining the contest, they brought fortune round to their side, even in circumstances of increasing and apparently hopeless adversity. On the 14th January, Mr Pitt brought in his India Bill, which Mr Fox threw out by a majority of 222 to 214: and in the committee on the state of the nation, Lord Charles Spencer moved "that the continuance of the present ministry was injurious to the interests of his Majesty and of the nation." This resolution was carried against Mr Pitt by a majority of 205 to 184. On February 2d, another resolution was carried against Ministers, expressive of the sense of the Commons," that the continuance of the present Ministers in office was an obstacle to the formation of a firm, efficient, extended, and united administration." On the 18th of the same month, the supplies were refused by the House of Commons; and on the 21st, an address for the removal of Ministers was carried by a majority of 21.
But at that critical period, the firmness and sagacity of the House of Peers saved the constitution and liberties of England from destruction. Removed from the strife of ministerial ambition, and permanently interested in the liberties of the country with which their fate was indissolubly connected, that intrepid body boldly threw themselves into the breach, and the event soon demonstrated how rapidly popular favour will incline to those who bravely defend the constitution.
On the 8th December, 1783, the Whig India Bill was carried in the House of Commons by a division of 208 to 202. The Peers, however, did not despair. On the second reading of the bill, a minor question was carried against Ministers by a majority of 87 to 79; and on December 17th, the bill was finally thrown out on the third reading, by a majority of 95 to 76.* Ministers immediately resigned-the seals were given to Lord Temple as Secretary
But these vehement proceedings of the Lower House only roused the indomitable spirit of the British Aristocracy. On the 24th February, they passed two resolutions, expressing at once their decided disapprobation of the conduct of the Commons, and their own determination to support
* Campbell's Annals, ii. 170.
the new minister, whose dignity they considered as identified with that of the crown. This demonstration of firmness saved the constitution. Finding that the Crown and the Nobles were firm, the Commons, recently so vehement, gradually relaxed in their assumed tone of superiority. The majority began to decline against Mr Pitt. A resolution, denying that the Crown had a right to choose its ministers in opposition to the declared opinion of the House of Commons, was carried by a majority only of one. The supplies were all voted before the 10th March. On the 24th, Parliament was prorogued, and next day dissolved. The new Parliament gave an overwhelming majority, as is always the case, to the new minis.
The history of this memorable contest demonstrates the extraordinary addition of weight which,in the course of a century and a half, the House of Peers had acquired in the constitution. It was enabled to maintain a long, and, at first sight, almost desperate, contest with the Lower House, and at last came off triumphant in the struggle. Its details are of vital importance at the present moment.
The Peers now are, incomparably, in a more favourable situation to maintain such a contest than they were in 1783. Since that time, above an hundred members have been added to their ranks, and a large portion of plebeian vigour and ability infused into their veins. Almost all the greatest men, of whatever description, have been gradually elevated from the Lower House, the army, and the bar, into the hereditary legislature.
Farther, the results of the last election have completely altered the relative situation of the two branches of the legislature, and the success of the democratic party in the Lower House not only calls for, but justifies, a firm conduct on the part of the House of Peers. This is a matter of vital importance, to which we earnestly request particular attention.
The Tories have always maintained, and till within the last six months the Whigs have uniformly concurred in the assertion, that the influence of
the Peerage and of property was best exerted indirectly in the Lower House, because that prevented the different branches of the legislature from being brought into open conflict, and rendered the Commons the arena where the powers of the constitution balanced each other. It is not their fault if this salutary and pacific state of things under which the nation has reposed a century and a half in tranquillity and happiness, has not continued. They clearly saw the advantages of this unobtrusive contest; they forcibly pointed them out; but their opponents, blind to all the lessons of experience, deaf to all the dictates of wisdom, forgetful even of their own early principles, have compelled them to abandon this pristine scene of combat, and to bring the democracy into open collision with the aristocracy.
By having done so, they have augmented greatly the popular, or innovating party, in the House of Commons; but they have proportionally strengthened the hands of the conservative influence, in the upper branch of the legislature.
Formerly the Peers, by means of the nomination boroughs, possessed an extensive influence in the House of Commons. It was the constant theme of the reformers, that a majority in the Lower House were nominated by the nobility. Whether this was actually the case or not, is of little importance now to enquire. Suffice it to say, that this influence, so much the subject of complaint, is now all but extinct. Its decline was signally perceptible on the election of last autumn. Its extinction has been witnessed in the late contests.
Everywhere, almost, the influence of property, rank, and possession, has been thrown overboard. The whole counties, with the exception of Salop and Buckinghamshire, have returned reforming members, although the county declarations against Reform shewed that the great bulk of the landed proprietors decidedly were opposed to the measures of ministers. Warwickshire has returned six radical members, though almost every landed proprietor within its bounds has signed the declaration against Reform. Essex, Kent, Sus
Campbell's Annals, ii. 170-179.