« AnteriorContinuar »
working classes no characteristic expression in the legislature; you would give them an influence in every constituency in appearance considerable, but which would be of no practical avail to them as a class, because on all characteristic points their voice would be neutralized, and whenever there were class candidates theirs would be rejected by the more numerous votes given for that very purpose to the more educated classes.
I must have wearied every reader with this part of the subject; and my only excuse is the strong conviction which I feel of its importance, and my wish not to omit to make any observation which may serve to throw it into what seems to me the true light.
As far as the nomination boroughs go, I have no wish to say a word in their defense. In former times there may have been a certain advantage in the existence of such seats: young men of promise were then occasionally brought into Parliament by the patrons of such constituencies, and great statesmen sometimes found a refuge in them during moments of unpopularity; but these advantages belong to past times. Before the Reform Act of 1832 the borough proprietors had boroughs to spare; such was the plenty of such seats that there were some left for the public after providing for the relations and personal friends of the proprietor. But the fact is otherwise at present; there are not now enough of such boroughs to provide for the personal connections of those who own them, and the public derive almost no advantage from their continuance.
As I have explained, all very small boroughs tend to become either dependent or corrupt, and therefore all very small ones should be abolished; but this is no ground for abolishing a great number of constituencies which, though not very large, are still large enough to be fairly independent and fairly uncorrupt. There can be no ground for disfranchising every place which has not 10,000 inhabitants. If we look to abstract principle as our guide, no measure would be more undesirable. We have seen it to be desirable not only that there should be special representatives for every class in Parliament, but likewise that the predominant tone and temper of Parliament should be despotically controlled by no class or sect of persons, - that it should coincide with the feeling of the nation itself: the accordance of the opinion of Parliament with that of the country is the principal condition for the performance by Parliament of its great function of ruling the country. This can only be secured by the continuance in Parliament of many members representing no special interest, bound down to state the ideas of no particular class, themselves not markedly exhibiting the characteristics of any particular status, but able to form a judgment of what is good for the country as freely and impartially as other educated men. It is impossible to expect that such persons will be commonly sent to Parliament by the counties and the large towns. A good deal has already been said of the sectarian character of the county members: I fear it must be allowed that the better class of members for large towns are at least as sectarian; they are capitalists, men of business, representing the views and opinions of the £10 householders. I am not speaking of such members as stray in occasionally for such constituencies as the Tower Hamlets, -- a low class of demagogue will now and then be returned by every very large constituency; but the characteristic tendency of the large towns is to return men of business, of mature age and of a certain very recognizable if not very describable tendency of sentiment and opinion, - a kind of member as marked, as peculiar, and as distinct from all others as any county member can be. I cannot but think that we shall impair the proper working of our parliamentary constitution if we greatly augment the number of class representatives, whether for the large towns or the counties. Whatever other defects may be alleged to exist in the smaller boroughs, the objection that they return exclusively the representatives of a class cannot be made to them: every species of member sits for some of them; a list of persons more unlike one another could hardly be found than the list of the representatives for our smaller boroughs. When we consider how exceedingly important it is that the judgment of Parliament should be alloyed by no class prejudice or class interest, that its decisions should be in accordance with the real and deliberate decision of the nation, we shall, I hope, pause before we abolish constituencies so likely to contribute to effect this result. It is not possible for human skill to apportion to each special interest the exact number of representatives which it ought to have, and to compose a Parliament exclusively of such special representatives; it would require more skill than any statesman can claim to establish a coincidence of opinion between Parliament and the country solely by the definite allotment of particular members to particular classes; there is no criterion to tell us with accuracy how much each class contributes to the formation of public opinion. The sole expedient for securing the result which we wish to obtain is that by which it has actually been obtained. We have a Parliament, subject to two slight objections, fairly coincident in judgment with the reflecting part of the community: this inestimable coincidence of judgment is largely due to the immemorial existence of very many impartial constituencies. We have class advocates in Parliament, it is true; but many unbiased judges, many national representatives, are to be found there likewise. Perhaps no course could be more dangerous for the country than to diminish the number of the latter, and so lose, possibly at a very critical moment, the incalculable benefit of their impartial intelligence.
AND ITS LESSONS.*
(1860.) PERHAPS no subject of historical research should be so interesting just now as the practical working of our system of parliamentary representation before 1832. The principles of representative government are again about to be brought under discussion; a new proposal for Parliamentary Reform must be announced before many weeks are past. The more that subject is discussed, the more do all thoughtful persons wish 'to consult the lessons of experience with respect to it. We feel more than we used to do the difficulty of the question; we distrust more the tenets of pure democracy; we know more of the complexity of a cultivated community; we know the necessity of giving to each class the weight which it ought to have, and no greater weight: in consequence we feel more than formerly the intellectual prudence of recurring to the facts of experience, - but unfortunately there are very few such facts. Of all important political expedients, representation is by far the newest; and
* The Rise and Progress of the English Constitution. By E. S. Creasy, M.A. Fourth edition, revised and with additions. London: Richard Bentley. 1858.
The Representative History of Great Britain and Ireland: being a History of the House of Commons, and of the Counties, Cities, and Boroughs of the United Kingdom, from the earliest Period. By T. H. B. Oldfield. In six volumes. London: Baldwin, Cradock & Joy. 1816. VOL. IV.- 24
( 369 )