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upon the subject at all; and the consideration, that wise men have long ago seen all the evils which are now so much and so vauntingly noised abroad, and have thought, that "the effect of reasoning upon the subject is to diminish the first impression," will, I should hope, have some success in persuading the public to look with patience upon a review of what has taken place in the grand council of the nation, upon a matter so mo
We commence with the second reading of the Bill, to which there was a little preliminary discussion, which it would be a thousand pities to omit, throwing, as it did, so strong a light upon the wishes and capabilities of Ministers, and shewing how much their integrity towards the public harmonized with their honourable conduct towards an individual. I allude to the case of Gregson versus Inadvertence, which was opened on the part of the plaintiff by Mr Estcourt, on Lord John Russell moving the order of the day for the second reading of the Reform Bill. The case was this:-The Ministers ordered Mr Gregson to put a clause into the bill, which he, the said Mr Gregson, saw, as any man of much less knowledge and acuteness than he would have seen, must cut out about nine-tenths of all householders in towns from any benefit under the bill. He stated this to the Ministers; they hesitated for a little, but, after consideration, persevered in having the clause inserted. The bill was published, and immediately a popular storm arose, which made Ministers feel excessively uncomfortable; so they said, and swore, and wrote letters, asserting in the most solemn manner that the clause was an inadvertence, and the government newspapers (of course without orders) insinuated that an enemy had done it-that a Tory underling had stolen in, and sowed his vile tares among the precious wheat of the Ministers. Now, the only subordinate that could have done it was Mr Gregson; so he went to that eminent statesman, and sheep-farmer, and successful financier, Lord Althorp, and demanded that he should exert a small portion of his eloquence in the House of Commons, to clear his (Mr Gregson's) characVOL. XXX. NO. CLXXXIV.
ter from the imputation. His Lordship promised that he would do even so; but somehow or another it turned out that he had no opportunity; upon which down came Mr Estcourt, with a bundle of papers in his hand, which seemed to frighten the Treasury Bench as much as if he had pointed upon it an eighteen-pounder, charged to the teeth with grape-shot, and ready to be fired, and he informed the Ministers, that if they would not explain, he would.
Then, with rueful countenances, and most unwilling speech, Lords Althorp and John Russell, piece by piece, and after repeated interrogatories, made confession of the matter as I have related it; admitting that the inadvertence was a thing done after caution given, and consideration had, and that no Tory, nor subordinate, nor any but themselves, was the author or contriver of the offensive clause. And these are the Ministers who, after this affair, assume an unusually insolent and despotic deportment in the House of Commons! If the world were what it ought to be ́ if what is called character and the respect for it, were not in a considerable degree a mere affectation and a farce, these men would have found it extremely convenient to make a tour of the Continent for a few years, until time had weakened the feelings of scorn and indignation which a certain description of conduct ought to excite; but the world is gulled by names, and the affair still passes with the million as an "inadvertence". that is to say, a thing done deliberately, and persevered in after caution given as to its consequences, is described by a word signifying an action done hastily, and without observation of its natural effect! How acute and "intelligent" does this prove the public to be-how honest the public instructors, the newspapers, who swallow and support the “inadvertence"-how admirable and honourable the conduct of Ministers, and how worthy they are to be intrusted with new-modelling the Constitution of Great Britain! But LORD GREY wrote his name to a paper declaratory that this clause was an "inadvertence."-Alas! for "the order," by which he once boasted he would “stand or fall;" this is falling indeed, and in a way the most ignominious!
Sir John Walsh commenced the discussion on the second reading of the Bill. His speech was a temperate statement of facts, upon the face of them pernicious, which, in this country and elsewhere, had grown out of the Reform Bill, and the revolutionary principles upon which the Bill was founded. These facts were, the unconstitutional pledges required from, and given by, members of the House to their constituents; the riots in this country, and the distracted and dangerous state of France. Mr Fynes Clinton also dwelt on the pernicious effect and gross inconsistency of pledges to the people on the part of those who assembled to judge for the people-he insisted on the democratic tendency of the bill, and the certainty that it would not give satisfaction to the Radical party, who would demand further change after that now proposed was accomplished. Sir James Mackintosh began by drawing some nice and refined distinctions. He said that candidates might state their opinions to their constituents, and yet not bind themselves-that the events in France were not brought about by democratic principles, but by those who wished to establish unbounded and uncontrolled power-that Ministers only proposed to do in gross, what Mr Pitt had proposed to do in detail, and by purchase; then followed a number of abstract propositions, relative to the general policy of free states, and the distinctions between property and political rights. He did not say one word about any specific practical good which the change that he advocated would effect.
Mr Bruce made an excellent speech, full of sound sense and manly spirit. He was sometimes interrupted with great rudeness by the trained bands of the Ministers, who thought they might venture upon this method of putting down a new member; but in spite of these obstacles, Mr Bruce made a strong impression upon the House. He set out with an argumentative cautionwhich it were to be wished was more generally imitated-by stating expressly what the question was which he opposed." It was not," he said, "whether we should or should not have a reform in the re
presentation, but whether or not the Ministerial Bill was to be passed." He denounced the injustice of the government who misrepresented their opponents in this measure, as being necessarily the friends of corruption, and enemies of all improvement; he was himself, he said, a friend to reasonable and constitutional reform, but he thought all the alterations which were necessary could be effected without endangering the constitution, or risking the tranquillity of the country by a measure so rash, sweeping, and ill considered as the present.
This distinction, although obvious enough, is certainly one which is too much passed over by people in general, and too apt to be thought of only when they are reminded of it, by the idle babbling trash of the newspapers, about "bit by bit" reformers. Is it only in Parliamentary reform that a rational medium becomes ridiculous? or have modern politicians discovered a new general principle in the affairs of mankind, to the effect that extremes are the most wise and safe? Is there to be no choice between the headlong extremity of a revolution, and the inactive endurance of what we believe to be capable of amendment? Such a doctrine is a fitting item in the list of preposterous follies with which Ministers have supported their measure, and which thoughtless people have swallowed as reason, because it was given as such by hired newspapers.
Mr Cutlar Fergusson, a man of considerable ability, and very considerable heat and vehemence of manner, answered Mr Bruce. The chief point of his argument was, that there could be no real representation of the people, because many of the representatives were not chosen by the people. This is a common but very fallacious ground of objection to the present system. It does not follow that a member of Parliament will not act for the people's good if he be not chosen by the people; and though it were much to be lamented, if there were not members chosen by all varieties and shades of interests, whether popular or otherwise, yet, to suppose that because some members are nominated by Peers, they must, therefore, be in
different to the interests of the people, and consequently unfit for the Commons' House of Parliament, is a mere phantom of a discontented imagination, and wholly irreconcileable with practical truth. Have we ever found that the Peers themselves have been more neglectful of the people's interests in the public questions that come before them, than the Commons? And if we have not, why is it to be assumed that the nominees of Peers in the Lower House are so? Nay, more, I venture to affirm, that if we appeal to the surest test, that of experience, it will be found that the most illustrious friends of the people who have ever appeared in the House of Commons, were not popular representatives, but obtained their opportunities of doing good through the instrumentality of nomination boroughs. Even that recreant from the cause of moderate reform, Lord John Russell, did admit, that but for these convenient boroughs, Sir Samuel Romilly would probably have never sat in Parliament. It is quite certain that the present Lord Chancellor never would, at least in the Lower House he might, by devoting all his energies to his profession, have reached the Upper House as a Law Lord, but except through such a friendly door as the nomination borough of Winchelsea, he never would have obtained the Parliamentary reputation, which, at last, made him Member for Yorkshire:-yet Mr Fergusson would be as ready as any to admit that he was no idle or inattentive advocate of the popular cause.
Lord Porchester, who also declared himself a friend to Reform, although an enemy to the measure of the Ministers, delivered a speech of which the combined force and elegance very much captivated the House. The noble lord having, as he stated, spent much of his life abroad, contrasted, with much point and felicity, the attempted constitutions of the continent, which were framed upon the understood theory of our system, with our practical constitution, and argued that their failure was in conquence of the adoption of theories, similar to those upon which the scheme of the Reform Bill was founded. It was because they had adopt ed our three estates as branches of
government, independent, and capable ofbalancing and controlling each other. They unconsciously adopted our constitution, not as it was grounded on, and supported by practice, but as they found it laid down on paper. This is, indeed, the grand error of the Ministerial Reformers-of such of them as are sincere and honest in the advocacy of the Bill. Forgetting the sober caution of Englishmen, they would leave the good they have, to fly to an apparent but impracticable improvement-they would leave the substance to grasp at a pleasing shadow, and desert experience, to embrace a dream of the imagination, which sober meditation would tell them could never be realized. The different estates of the realm must, in practice, blend with one another; and if the theory of their separate existence and independent action be attempted to be realized, they must clash, and the weaker must fall before the stronger.
Mr Gally Knight supported the Bill upon a practical ground. He said the people were not satisfied with the representation-they felt it as a grievance, and when that grievance was removed, they would be satisfied, but not till then. This would be a cogent argument, if the fact were true, but I do not believe it is. It is impossible that the dissatisfaction can arise out of a settled conviction of wrong; for if it did, it would not all at once rise to such a height, when the grievance is no more now than it has been since the Revolution. It is the result of an excitement arising out of the circumstances of the time--the revolutionary spirit of the continent, and the pains taken by crafty misrepresentation, and by various means of inflaming the passions of the people, to create the discontent for a party purpose. The people do not feel any practical grievance from the state of the representation, and the dissatisfaction would die away, as soon as the artificial means of excitement were withdrawn.
Mr R. A. Dundas took the lead in the debate the next evening, and delivered a most excellent speech, rich in historical knowledge, and exceedingly effective in the candid and common sense views of the question. He admitted the blemishes on the
surface of the representative system, but denied the necessity for the violent change which was contemplated, and which he described as a violation of common sense, and a gross infraction upon the established Constitution. The Ministers might have introduced a modified plan of Reform, conferring proper rights upon intelligence and property, to which they would be likely to have the consent of all moderate men, in and out of the House; but they chose instead, to upset the whole of our ancient institutions, for the trial of a wild and unnecessary experiment.
Sir John Malcolm opposed the bill, and has acquired thereby the honour of the dirty vituperation of the mean and malignant Ministerial press, of which the venomous rancour is generally in proportion to the virtues and lofty reputation of the individual attacked. Sir John Malcolm's character, as a gallant soldier, and a distinguished man of letters, is happily beyond the reach of the paltry abuse which has been directed against him -the filth falls back on those who cast it. Sir John said, that from his experience in life (and few men have a better right to speak on this ground,) he looked to results rather than to theories, to the fruits of an existing system, rather than to any speculative good, which might be imagined to confer some benefit upon the community. Now if the Reform Bill were carried, men of experience in East India matters would be excluded from seats in Parliament; and for the sake of India, where the growing reform had reduced all manner of profits full thirty per cent, he must protest against such a measure being passed into a law.
Sir Edward Dering well maintained the reputation which he acquired in the preceding session. He contended that the effect of the working of the close boroughs was a wholesome and necessary check upon the influence of popular opinion, and regulated the operation of sudden and mischievous fluctuations in the popular wishes, before they were felt in the acts of the legislature. At all events, those who proposed to remove them, were bound to shew that they had not been essential to the benefits which the constitution had conferred upon this happy country,
and that the same glorious results in the power and greatness of the country, would have been produced without them.
This certainly is a legitimate argument: when men propose an important change, and particularly a change which partakes of the nature of penalty and confiscation, the onus probandi of delinquency unquestionably lies with them. In the present question, it is not so much the business of the opponents of the measure to defend the boroughs, as it is of those who vote for their abolition to establish the case of damage and injury to the common weal from their existence.
Mr Lytton Bulwer addressed the House, according to the newspaper phrase, at some length. This gentleman quoted Bolingbroke, and talked much of the aristocracy; there was little in his speech to call forth either censure or praise, and it was perhaps upon the whole less offensive than might have been expected from one whose dandyish affectation, and spitefulness, do so much to mar the kind of small literary ability which he possesses, and which has obtained him some reputation in the circulating libraries.
After Mr Lyon, Mr Edmund Peel, and Mr Rice Trevor, had spoken against the bill, and Mr Godson and Colonel Torrens in its favour, Mr Macaulay favoured the House with a speech which has made a considerable fuss. Lord Althorp, in his felicitous and original way, described it as an eloquent discourse which had "electrified" the House. The truth is, that the independent member for Calne has been taking very great pains of late to improve himself as a speaker, and has reaped the usual reward of diligence, in very considerable improvement. His discourse is not now the hurried, mumbling, confused thing that it was, when he began to electrify" the House; and his lisp, and affectation of brilliancy, do not come quite so offensively upon the ear and the understanding. Considerable, however, as the improvement is, and praiseworthy the excessive labour by which it has been accomplished, yet it is obvious enough, that Mr Macaulay is not, nor is likely to be, a ready and able debater. Nothing
could be more evident than that the speech about which the great fuss has been made, was from beginning to end a prepared speech; it scarcely touched on those which had gone before it during the same night, and was full of suggested objections which he had prepared himself to argue against, upon the chance of their being used by his opponents. As they say Mr Macaulay is a vastly clever young man, and as he himself is manifestly very much of that opinion, I shall do him the favour of giving him a little insight into what he must become, in order to have the ability for a successful debater; and even then, Heaven knows what may stand in the way, to prevent such ability from being allowed its full effect in the House of Commons. He must be able at the moment, and on the spur of the occasion, to grapple with the arguments, or expose the no-arguments of his opponents-to ridicule their wit, and make their humour appear absurdity-to compress all the argument they may have used into a little space, and to demolish it with ruthless vigour; and then, upon the ruins of their wit, humour, and argument, to raise up a splendid superstructure of serious eloquence, the happy result of knowledge, imagination, and felicity of language and action. A man capable of doing this would have the requisites for a Parliamentary debater-such a man is not Mr Macaulay, nor, as far as I can see, is he likely to be.
The chief argument in his speech was, that the elective franchise could not be property, and, therefore, the arguments directed against disfranchisement, on the ground of its being similar in its nature to confiscation, did not hold good. Now, without entering into the lengthy and difficult discussion of the nature of property, and the distinction to be drawn between it and a franchise, it is sufficient for the practical question to state, that even if the franchise were not strictly property, the thing to which it is commonly annexed, and which derives in many cases its sole value from the annexation, is beyond question property, and recognised as such by the law of the land; and if the exchangeable and legally recognised value of a thing be
swept away by the obvious and im mediate operation of an act of Parliament, though Mr Macaulay should go on " electrifying" the House till doomsday with his eloquence, still every man of common sense must admit, that such an act of Parliament is an act which substantially and effectually confiscates property.
The electrifier was followed by Mr W. Bankes and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when Sir George Murray rose and delivered one of those admirable discourses, which, for their clear and unambitious forcibleness, and elevated plainness, eminently distinguish him among the public men of the day. Ministers, he said, contended that it would give stability to the throne, and security to the people-he believed that it would shake the monarchy, and make the House, of Commons a more efficient instrument in the hands of the democracy for the purpose of embarrassing the government. He thought that the monarchical principle was not confined to the throne alone, nor the aristocratical principle included only within the walls of the House of Peers. To the blending of the three powers we owed our present happy condition, under which we had the power of making gradual improvements, without the risk of great and dangerous changes. If the three powers should be separated-if the Crown should be left to defend the monarchical principle, and the House of Peers to defend the aristocratical principle, whilst the House of Commons would be occupied in advancing the spirit of democracy-he thought that both the spirit and the practice of the British Constitution would be effectually destroyed.
On the third evening of the debate there were, in the beginning, many speeches, good, bad, and indifferent, which I must take the liberty of passing over without any special remark, save this, that a person "commonly" called Lord William Lennox, talked much about morality, and the iniquity of those who, in indolence and sloth, consumed the bread that others had toiled for. I should have thought that he would rather have avoided such topics, but there is no accounting for tastes. The crowd being dispatched, let me dwell for a moment