Imágenes de páginas


that stood on either hand. Whether or not the actual proceedings of the present ministry be entitled to the character of a “middle course,” will be most properly ascertained by an inquiry into their

Nothing in the whole history of the existing cabinet more unequivocally proves that the ministerial intentions were guided by a disinterested love of country than the resolution with which they started of reforming the parliament. From time immemorial, the security of a ministry was looked for only in the possession, on their part, of a predominant power over the house of Commons, through the instrumentality of the borough system. With such allies as they might make of the borough representatives, any ministry might continue to hold the reins of power without apprehension of ever losing them provided a little management were adopted in the maintenance of such a system. But the Grey cabinet saw full well that the tyrant boroughmongers sat beneath a suspended sword; and that their existence was numbered: the ministers disdained such an equivocal security for their places, as was afforded by such a fragile tenure, and they made up their minds at once to shake off the yoke of ancient corruption, and to make an experiment on the possibility of governing the people according to the rules of justice and of candour. Here, then, is the eternal and undeniable proof that the present ministers were not actuated by selfish motives, for they could have gone on as their predecessors had proceeded before them, aggrandizing themselves, and suffering their country to fall into decay; they might have done so as safely and as prosperously as any ministers ever did before: but they preferred the true interests of the country, and, taking the chances of remaining in power, after they had set the constitution at liberty, they boldly dragged off the trammels which had so long oppressed her. From the moment that this decided measure was accomplished, the ministers stood, as all their successors must hereafter stand-solely dependent on the will of the people! Since all the measures which were proposed by them in the last session, were considered under new circumstances, in which no ministers were ever before placed, it will be instructive, and, in other respects, highly useful, if we trace the peculiar effects to which this happy change of things has led.

The earliest, and decidedly the most pressing of the questions which forced itself on the attention of the ministry on its accession to power, was that connected with the old grievance of this empire - Ireland. Taking a true view of the condition of that country, they referred the symptoms exhibited by her to the right cause, and measures were adopted for removing the collision between the tenantry and the clergy as to tithes, and for throwing the maintenance of the establishment upon the landlord; public edueation was made equally accessible to the Catholic and the Protestant; agriculture and manufactures were encouraged; a large fund was appropriated for the promotion of public works; the road to pros


perity was opened, if the peaceful and industrious portion of the community could only obtain protection while treading it. This protection, however, they were debarred from by the state of the law, and it hence became necessary to exercise the power of the legislature, in order to redress the existing state of things; and though we lament that by the remedy which was applied the spirit of the constitution was violated, still the case was not susceptible of a remedy less repugnant. At all events it has taken effect, and there are but few of any party now, who would have wished that the bitter cup was withheld from Ireland. The Irish Church Bill succeeded the former measure, being one of a series of statutes which were intended to remove those causes of complaint, and disturbance, which rendered the coercive law necessary. The provisions of this bill have been so recently discussed, that it would be useless to enter into any detail. Its more important features were, the abolition of church rates, or, as they are called in Ireland, vestry cess, the suppression of ten bishopricks out of twenty-two, and the application of their revenues to purposes of religious instruction

Then followed the bills for reforming the grand jury and jury systems in Ireland. It is not generally known in England, that one of the great duties of grand juries, in the sister country, consisted, up to a recent period, in awarding sums for making and repairing public roads. "Great abuse existed in their proceedings, for individuals amongst the members of the grand juries were often found to influence the body in authorizing the making of roads, which could be of use to nobody but themselves, though the country would have to pay for them. Some steps had, in previous parliaments, been taken for the correction of these extensive abuses, but the act of the present ministers, altogether struck down the evil. It provides that a certain number of persons, paying the highest amount of county rate, shall be associated with the magistrates at sessions, to judge of their presentments, and that all works to be executed shall be done by open contract; and a certain portion of the ratepayers are vested with a control over the expenditure. The object of the bill was to promote the better administration of justice, by securing the impartial selection of juries, and preventing the intimidation of witnesses, which was done by assimilating the law of Ireland as far as possible to that of England, under Sir R. Peel's Jury Act; this was aided by the change of Venue bill, which gave an opportunity of removing the trial of offences beyond the reach of local heats and animosities.

Two commissions of inquiry were next to set to work to find out what abuses exist in corporations in Ireland, and what is the state of the labouring classes. Thus far the ministry had shewn itself to be a well-instructed superintendent in estimating the ills of Ireland, and in selecting the suitable remedy for her permanent relief.

Having subdued the alarms which attracted the public to the consideration of Irish affairs, the Grey ministry were now forced to grapple with one of the most complicated problems that ever disturbed the repose of a statesman-we allude to the abolition of slavery in the West Indies, a question which is not treated with any exaggeration by the present writer, when he states that the gigantic extent of the subject, the vast commercial interests involved in its development, the conflicting principles and prejudices which were to be encountered, the great moral and political data which were to be discussed and solved, might well justify the apprehensions of those who felt that, while the crisis was inevitable and the danger imminent, the difficulties which were to be encountered were hardly less than insuperable.

Nevertheless, to the credit of the ministry, be it remembered, that instead of timidly declining to seize the intractable monster before them, and transferring it, as they might, to some protracted process, the result of which would be indebted to time, rather than to any positive exertion for its success: further, unshaken by the addition which the exorbitant demands of the West Indians made to the natural embarrassment of the question itself, the ministers, we repeat, in spite of all these desperate appearances, came forward, and openly declared that they had made up their minds as to the necessary measure. The act, which finally passed, in pursuance of this resolution, is a sweeping measure, which prostrates the demon Slavery in the British dominions for ever! On the 1st of August, 1834, begins the reign of universal liberty throughout the vast regions over the earth, where the sceptre of King William is acknowledged! Upon that day, slavery is numbered amongst the crimes denounced for punishment by the law. The consequence of such a singular change as this must occasion in West Indian society, has been ingeniously provided for by the government; for, whilst by the rapidity and decision of their acts, they nearly satisfied the abolitionists, they, on the other hand, by the welcome loan of twenty millions, succeeded in turning the planters into friends of the mea

But it was not merely to the downfall of slavery and the compensation of the proprietor, that the government were to confine their care. If they stopped short, after a mere abolition of slavery, what was to become of the slave? Was he to be permitted to relapse into his former dreadful barbarity? or was he to be so treated, as that he could remain in communication with civilized man, and be thus taught to appreciate the blessings of civilized life? The ministry hesitated but little as to which course they should adopt, and the act contains ample provision for securing the better alternative to the slave.

. The act provides that every negro shall, immediately upon his emancipation, become an apprentice to his present master for a very limited period, not exceeding six years.

• During this interval, the slaves who are engaged in the cultivation and manufacture of sugar, and other agricultural produce, are to work for their

[merged small][ocr errors]


[ocr errors][ocr errors]

masters, as apprentices, for forty-five hours per week, in consideration of being provided with all the necessaries of life in the same manner as at present,

• By this arrangement, a supply of labour to a moderate extent is insured to the proprietors: they are protected from the incalculable inconyen nce and danger which would accrue from the uncontrolled vagrancy and indolence of the negroes, and they will be able, in this interval

, not only to make such laws and police regulations, as the communities may require, but also to train up the negro in habits of voluntary industry, and to fit him for the duties of a free citizen, which he will eventually have to perform

• The certain supply of labour which the apprenticeship provides, although insufficient for the production of the amount of produce now exported from the colonies, will probably be sufficient to prevent the necessity of resorting to the slave colonies of other nations for the supply of that produce, which would be a direct encouragement to that very system we are in the act of abolishing.

• The principal advantage of the apprenticeship, however, accrues to the negroes themselves. They are, in fact, placed in a condition of

greater comfort than that of the peasantry of any civilized nation,

*For a very moderate amount of labour, leaving a large reserve of unrestricted leisure, not only are the effective negroes, but the whole slave population to be maintained by the proprietors during the apprenticeship.

The duty imposed upon them of working forty-five hours per week for their employer, secures them from the evils and vices of a vagrant and idle life; and, at the same time, the mutual dependence of the employer and the apprentice, arising out of this limitation of the hours of compulsory labour, will lead necessarily to a system of voluntary contracts to work for wages.'--pp. 14, 15.

In fact, it may be said that, as soon as the bill is carried into effect, the negroes will be in the actual receipt of that which is equivalent to wages, for the apprenticed labourer will have an allowance amply sufficient, not only for his own maintenance, but for that of all the natives whom he may be bound to support. Nor must it be overlooked, observes the author, that, in a state of slavery, the master is bound to furnish his slaves with houses and provision grounds, to which they in general become much attached, and which, from long babit, they have learnt to consider as their own individual property. The nature of rent, or the very idea of making a payment for leave to occupy these premises, has never entered into the imagination of a negro: yet it is clear, that when he ceases to be a slave, the master is no longer bound to furnish him with a lodging and land gratuitously; and that, on the other hand, any attempt to eject the negro population, would be not only hazardous, but impracticable. It seems, therefore, a wise provision, that by an intermediate state of attachment to the soil, the negro should, for a time, retain possession of his present habitation, and, during the time of his contract, pay for it, and for the annual supplies of clothing which, on the present system of trade, are regularly supplied from Great Britain, according to the demand, by a reasonable proportion of labour in lieu of money.

Before quitting this important measure, we should particularly advert to two other points in this act which are well worthy of applause. The first is the complete removal of every sort of restriction now felt by the ministers or teachers of the Christian religion in their zealous labours to diffuse it; the only limitations to their perfect freedom being the same as those which exist in the mother country. The other provision of this statute is, that to ensure a wise and impartial administration of the laws under the present and future circumstances, a body of gentlemen is to be sent from this country who are to act as special magistrates, unconnected with local prejudices, independent of colonial influence, whose presence, dispersed as they will be throughout the Islands, cannot but give confidence to all

classes, inspire a feeling of increased connection with the Mother Country, and of secure participation in the impartial administration of the law.

1:1 We come now to the consideration of the measures of economy which were entered upon by the government, in that spirit of retrenchment which they always professed. In referring back to the circumstances in which the country was situated at the era when the Grey ministry assumed the helm of state, namely in 1830, we find that up to that moment their predecessors uniformly declared the utter impossibility of further reduction. The latter assured the country that the sum of fifty millions only constituted the net come of the state, that out of that, no less than thirty-five millions were eternally and irrevocably dedicated to the payment of the interest of the national debt, the civil list, half-pay of army and navy, superannuations, and other charges, with similar sacred pretensions ; and, lastly, that there remained only fifteen millions of the whole income which was capable of being handled for purposes of very delicate trituration, but by no means of any very sensible diminution. The new ministers, however, satisfied that no great reliance was to be placed on the representation of those whom they superseded, proceeded to the examination of the expenditure, and found, it seems, the difficulty of reducing the fifteen millions, very slight indeed. The general expenditure consequently was diminished, and a relief from taxation to the amount of three millions; reductions have taken place in the army, navy, ordnance, and several other branches of the public service; in the salaries of the Ministers themselves in the salaries even of the Judges, of Ambassadors, Commissioners, &c. in the custom-house the reduction of 414 officers has taken place; and the same spirit of saving has been extended to many

of our colonies, both in the East and West.

But it is not alone for what the ministers have done in the way of practical economy, that we are disposed to praise, but that which they have pledged themselves to accomplish, is, in our estimation, of still greater value. They appointed a committee to investigate the

« AnteriorContinuar »