« AnteriorContinuar »
ceased to be coequal. The Duke of Wellington, in a most remarkable paper, has explained what pains he took to induce the Lords to submit to their new position, and to submit, time after time, their will to the will of the Commons.
The Reform Act of 1867 has, I think, unmistakably completed the effect which the Act of 1832 began but left unfinished. The middle-class element has gained greatly by the second change, and the aristocratic element has lost greatly. If you examine carefully the lists of members, especially of the most prominent members, of either side of the House, ou will not find that they are in general aristocratic names. .Considering the power and position of the titled aristocracy, you will perhaps be astonished at the small degree in which it contributes to the active part of our governing assembly. The spirit of our present House of Commons is plutocratic, not aristocratic: its most prominent statesmen are not men of ancient descent or of great hereditary estate; they are men mostly of substantial means, but they are mostly, too, connected more or less closely with the new trading wealth. The spirit of the two assem
. blies has become far more contrasted than it ever was.
The full effect of the Reform Act of 1832 was indeed postponed by the cause which I mentioned just now: the statesmen who worked the system which was put up had themselves been educated under the system which was pulled down. Strangely enough, their predominant guidance lasted as long as the system which they created: Lord Palmerston, Lord Russell, Lord Derby died or else lost their influence within a year or two of 1867. The complete consequences of the Act of 1832 upon the House of Lords could not be seen while the Commons were subject to such aristocratic guidance. Much of the change which might have been expected from the Act of 1832 was held in suspense, and did not begin till that measure had been followed by another of similar and greater power.
The work which the Duke of Wellington in part performed has now, therefore, to be completed also. He met the half-difficulty; we have to surmount the whole one.
We have to frame such tacit rules, to establish such ruling but unenacted customs, as will make the House of Lords yield to the Commons when and as often as our new Constitution requires that it should yield. I shall be asked, How often is that, and what is the test by which you know it?
I answer that the House of Lords must yield whenever the opinion of the Commons is also the opinion of the nation, and when it is clear that the nation has made up its mind. Whether or not the nation has made up its mind is a question to be decided by all the circumstances of the case, and in the common way in which all practical questions are decided. There are some people who lay down
. a sort of mechanical test: they say the House of Lords should be at liberty to reject a measure passed by the Commons once or more, and then if the Commons send it up again and again, infer that the nation is determined. But no important practical question in real life can be uniformly settled by a fixed and formal rule in this way. This rule would prove that the Lords might have rejected the Reform Act of 1832. Whenever the nation was both excited and determined, such a rule would be an acute and dangerous political poison: it would teach the House of Lords that it might shut its eyes to all the facts of real life, and decide simply by an abstract formula. If in 1832 the Lords had so acted, there would have been a revolution. Undoubtedly there is a general truth in the rule: whether a bill has come up once only, or whether it has come up several times, is one important fact in judging whether the nation is determined to have that measure enacted; it is an indication : but it is only one of the indications,
there are others equally decisive. The unanimous voice of the people may be so strong, and may be conveyed through so many organs, that it may be assumed to be lasting.
Englishmen are so very miscellaneous, that that which has really convinced a great and varied majority of them for the present may fairly be assumed to be likely to continue permanently to convince them. One sort might easily fall into a temporary and erroneous fanaticism, but all sorts simultaneously are very unlikely to do so.
I should venture so far as to lay down for an approximate rule that the House of Lords ought, on a first-class subject, to be slow - very slow-in rejecting a bill passed even once by a large majority of the House of Commons. I would not, of course, lay this down as an unvarying rule: as I have said, I have for practical purposes no belief in unvarying rules. Majorities may be either genuine or fictitious;
. and if they are not genuine, if they do not embody the opinion of the representative as well as the opinion of the constituency, no one would wish to have any attention paid to them, But if the opinion of the nation be strong and be universal, — if it be really believed by members of Parliament as well as. by those who send them to Parliament,-in my judgment the Lords should yield at once, and should not resist it.
My main reason is one, which has not been much urged. As a theoretical writer I can venture to say - what no elected member of Parliament, Conservative or Liberal, can venture to say—that I am exceedingly afraid of the ignorant multitude of the new constituencies. I wish to have as great and as compact a power as possible to resist it. But a dissension between the Lords and Commons divides that, resisting power. As I have explained, the House of Commons still mainly represents the plutocracy, the Lords represent the aristocracy. The main interest
VOL. IV. - 2
of both these classes is now identical, which is to prevent or to mitigate the rule of uneducated members. But to prevent it effectually, they must not quarrel among themselves; they must not bid one against the other for the aid of their common opponent. And this is precisely the effect of a division between Lords and Commons. The two great bodies of the educated rich go to the constituencies to decide between them, and the majority of the constituencies now consist of the uneducated poor. This cannot be for the advantage of any one.
In doing so, besides, the aristocracy forfeit their natural position, — that by which they would gain most power, and in which they would do most good. They ought to be the heads of the plutocracy. In all countries new wealth is ready to worship old wealth, if old wealth will only let it; and I need not say that in England new wealth is eager in its worship. Satirist after satirist has told us how quick, how willing, how anxious are the newly made rich to associate with the ancient rich. Rank probably in no country whatever has so much “market" value as it has in England just now. Of course there have been many countries in which certain old families, whether rich or poor, were worshiped by whole populations with a more intense and poetic homage ; but I doubt if there has ever been any in which all old families and all titled families received more ready observance from those who were their equals-perhaps their superiors — in wealth, their equals in culture, and their inferiors only in descent and rank. The possessors of the “material” distinctions of life, as a political economist would class them, rush to worship those who possess the immaterial distinctions. Nothing can be more politically useful than such homage, if it be skillfully used; no folly can be idler than to repel and reject it.
The worship is the more politically important because it is the worship of the political superior for
the political inferior. At an election the non-titled are much more powerful than the titled. Certain individual peers have, from their great possessions, great electioneering influence; but as a whole, the House of Peers is not a principal electioneering force, - it has so many poor men inside it, and so many rich men outside it, that its electioneering value is impaired. Besides, it is in the nature of the curious influence of rank to work much more on men singly than on men collectively; it is an influence which most men - at least most Englishmen— feel very much, but of which most Englishmen are somewhat ashamed. Accordingly, when any number of men are collected together, each of whom worships rank in his heart, the whole body will patiently hear-in many cases will cheer and approve- some rather strong speeches against rank. Each man is a little afraid that his “sneaking kindness for a lord,” as Mr. Gladstone put it, will be found out; he is not sure how far that weakness is shared by those around him. And thus Englishmen easily find themselves committed to anti-aristocratic sentiments which are the direct opposite of their real feeling, and their collective action may be bitterly hostile to rank while the secret sentiment of each separately is especially favorable to rank. In 1832 the close boroughs, which were largely held by peers and were still more largely supposed to be held by them, were swept away with a tumult of delight; and in another similar time of great excitement the Lords themselves, if they deserve it, might pass away. The democratic passions gain by fomenting a diffused excitement, and by massing men in concourses; the aristocratic sentiments gain by calm and quiet, and act most on men by themselves, in their families, and when female influence is not absent. The overt electioneering power of the Lords does not at all equal its real
The English plutocracy, as is often said of something yet coarser, must be “humored,