Imágenes de páginas

strange land; as if he were of no service in his own, and removed as a burthen from the scenes of his daily life. More than all, revolutionary movements reach him earliest. Whoever may preserve himself, the labourer suffers first, and, at the very beginning of the outburst, he loses his all, while his wealthier neiglıbour loses but a part only, which part, too, he often finds means, in what remains, to recover.

We resist every such view of the question, as the one on which we have animadverted. First, because, though adopted by some Tory writers, fond of conceding to Radical or Whig dogmas, it is injurious to the cause of constitutional principle, of which we are advocates; humble it may be, but, we trust, not mistaken, as we are sure we are sincere. We resist it as a concession to the enemy, who has charged such in the way of objection, however much he may, on other occasions, advocate the view himself to the ascendancy of that principle which we are anxious to maintain. The stronghold of the enemy has been in an appeal to the passions of the people, by asserting, (how falsely!) that the interests of the rich and poor were diverse, and that the latter were considered by the former as outcasts of the state. This was, is, and ever will be, to assert a lie! Yet, this lie—or, perhaps, the word fullacy would be liked best by the quarter intended-has formed the basis of Jeremy Benthamism in reform. What says the Jurisconsult in his Plan and Catechism of Parliamentary Reform? “In the Peers, great landholders, and as yet uncoronetted Commoners, styled country gentlemen, and others, is the chief property of the country, and with it (for, in the language of the aristocratic school, property and virtue are synonymous terms) the virtue of the country." Oh no! we confine not thus the ornament of virtue to the superior classes of society, though the very possession of property is indicative of virtue at some time existing, by which it was obtained or preserved ; but we extend it to the poorest man, and find it, as we have found it, not seldom, in the humblest cottage.

Nay, among the inmates of such we recognise some of the finest specimens of humanity, and adore the Godhead in labouring independence and purseless piety! Such is the feeling of every truly noble mind towards the lower orders, as they are called ; and hence it was that Burke expressed so strong an indignation against the use of the phrase " Labouring Poor.”

Whoever really wishes well to, pleads for the poor man; mere trading politicians plead to him. They plead to him to excite him to revolution, by which they may profit; but, whosoever may escape, the poor man must suffer. The former pleads for him, because thereby he cannot but benefit him in his circumstances, and improve the condition of his existence. Such are the feelings and motives by which the different parties are actuated, and such are the resnlts of the efforts of one and the other.

Secondly. We resist the view on which we have animadverted, because it is a libel upon the inherited constitution of England-a libel too, of which its enemies have made but too effective a handle. In their cry for Universal Suffrage, they have exclaimed that the poor man was excluded from representation—was cut off from the state.

He paid his taxes, but his voice was not heard-he worked for the rich proprietor, but his interests were not consulted-he laboured worthily in his vocation, but his opinion was unasked. We may, perhaps, thank the patrons of the present Reform Act for having made manifest, and brought into distinct consciousness, the truth on this matter, and for having demonstrated the mendacity of all such declamation to the prejudices of the uninstructed. Yes, the promoters of the present law have to be thanked for this good consequence, though unmeant by them. We never knew so much, and so much good, of the old constitution of Old England, as the discussion on that subject made known. We had been inclined to think that the apparent anomalies therein might be real defects, but we have been taught now to understand, that they were useful make-weights, conservative of the due balance of the constitution. We have also been taught, that the old constitution recognised no difference between the classes and orders of men, but admitted them all to a due share of the representation—in a word, that it granted UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE in the only way in which Universal Suffrage can at all be granted - namely, that every rank should be actually represented, and that every individual, by means of one or more of the order to which he belongs, should be virtually represented. In resisting the wild schemes which usurped the name of Universal Suffrage, we had well. nigh forgotten, what, upon this ground, might be said in favour of that condition of society, which we had the blessing to inherit, though not to bequeath.

VIRTUAL UNIVERSAL Suffrage was all that Bentham himself considered fit and proper, and constituted his ideal of a constitution; but, by some perversion of intellect, he failed to perceive its realization, in all practicable measure, in that of England. Take his own words :

Applied to the name of the quality Universality, the use of the adjunct virtual is-- by the limitation of which it gives intimation to distinguish it from unlimited universality of suffrage-unlimited or absolute, being the degree of universality, which, but for the application of some limitative adjunct, would, according to the correct import of the word, be to be understood. Of absolute universality, if admitted, the effect would be to admit to the exercise of the franchise in question persons of various descriptions, none of whom would be capable of exercising it, to the advantage either of others or of themselves. Idiots, and infants in leading strings, may serve for examples. Byó virtually universal suffrage' what I mean is, that which will remain of absolutely universal suffrage, when from the number of individuals designated by the word unrersail, all such defalcations shall have been made, as, by specific considerations, shall have been shown to be productive, each of them of a benefit in some special shape; that benefit being at the same time preponderant over every inconvenience, if any such there be, resulting from the limitation thus applied—a limitation, viz., to the operation of the princip!, by which the comprehension of all interests, as far as practicable, is prescribed.”

The only sort of Universal Suffrage allowable, therefore, is the virtual ; and a virtual Universal Suffrage was that which belonged to our inherited constitution. And this was the first principle of Englishmen, which the misnamed Reform Act, lately foisted upon the country, proceeded to break down. It was an impious attempt—an infamous attainment-an iniquitous grinding of the faces of the poor. It was an insidious attack upon hereditary rights, when they were most in want of protection, and may yet work its way upwards until it shall make desolate the halls of the aristocracy, and the seat of royal power,

“ Our ancestors," as the Marquis of Bute well observed, * in that grand debate, which will be the glory of the House of Lords to the end of time, “ took especial care that the hereditary principle of representation was observed. The right of voting has been wisely handed down from generation to generation, and whatever interfered with that hereditary principle would prove injurious to the aristocracy. Thus it is that the respective interests of the poor and the peasant are identified." “ The interests of the peer and the people,” said Lord Mansfield, “were inseparable. Hence it was not only the duty, but the interests of their lordships, that the people should be in full possession of liberty and of the other blessings of the constitution ; and it was impossible that the liberties of the people should receive any augmentation, without deriving it in a great measure from the lords. It was true the peers had legislative places assigned to them peculiar to themselves; but they must come in at last with the great mass of the population. The tie, in fact, was indissoluble, and the people should know the strength and value of the connexion.”

The strength and value of that connexion had been proved in the preservation of their hereditary rights even to the lowest of the people, which was attempted by the aristocracy, and for awhile not in vain. Upon that great occasion noble lords undertook manfully the consideration of the question, as it stood in relation to the bill of reform, as it then existed --" the Bill—the whole Bill--and nothing but the Bill.” They adverted to the means of tyranny of which it would possess the middle classes over that immediately beneath them. They considered the middle classes, as they are, in themselves, as also their relation to the orders above and beneath them. They showed how both were sacrificed to an accumulation of power in the centre. The Bill—the new Bill—and anything but the Bill, however, sought to remedy this defect. The ludicrous attempt to confine the ten-pound privilege to half-yearly rent payers, will not readily be forgotten. Anon, a change came over the spirit of the ministerial dream—and, behold, the same privilege is to be extended yet further, instead of being contracted, and the weekly tenants of three shillings and tenpence a week were to be included. This, they no doubt, in their wisdom, thought would obviate the objection, which they could not but feel to be just, namely, that society, by the original Bill, was classed into invidious distinctions, founded upon mere property, such as it was, and however ludicrous the amount. Still the principle of the Bill remained. Every man not renting a house of ten pounds a year was excluded from all right of voting.

But while the principle remained, its effect, by this modification, was essentially, and for the general interest, injuriously altered. If it be the object of the constitution to bring all classes of the community into the representation, then ought there to be different rights of voting. Such rights, as to boroughs, belonged to burgage tenures, freeholds, and freemen. Now, it was proposed to get rid of these, and to bring in the

Debate in the House of Lords, Friday, 7th October, 1831.

lowest species of householders. A man might be a householder without any property whatever—he might be a bankrupt, but still he could vote at an election. To this point, Lord Wynford * called the attention of Lord Brougham ; for a man might be an uncertificated bankrupt and still vote, if he were a ten-pound householder, “ He asked, where was the improveinent, if a man whose property was his creditors' could vote, while he could hold a ten-pound house in which he might have a joint stool and table as the instruments of a great constituent power—the materials of a pauper vote ? On the subject of paupers, he begged to say a few words-Rent and taxes being paid, the householder was in a capacity to vote. A freeholder and a possessor of burgage tenure had property, and a freeman had served an apprenticeship in the town. But there was necessity neither for service nor property with respect to a householder. So far from transferring the representation of the country from borough proprietors to the wealth and loyalty of the nation, many persons of great respectability and intelligence would be deprived of the right of exercising the elective franchise. Persons residing in the inns of court, though treated by the law as householders, and paying considerable rents, would nevertheless acquire no right of voting under this Bill. The constituency under the Bill would not include the wealth and knowledge of the country-on the contrary, its general principle seemed to him to be, to get rid of the respectable representation, and to throw it into other hands. It appeared from the Parliamentary Returns, that the number of householders valued above ten pounds a-year was 378,280, and of these only 52,000 were householders rated above twenty pounds a year."

Such, then, has been the effect of this new scheme of voting, that wbile, in the most invidious, impious, and contemptuous manner, declaring every man who pays not ten pounds a-year rent to be an outcast from the state, and not even worthy of virtual representation in the person of some one or other of his own class—it introduced so great a number of the poorest and meanest and most objectionable of the qualified order, as to produce all the evils of a system of absolute universal suffrage, without any of the benefits that might belong to such. And all this arose, forsooth, from the desire of the framers of the measure to proceed on a principle of property as well as of population. This point has been much misunderstood, even as regards our inherited constitution. The Commons House of Parliament, when first called together, was not constituted on the ground of wealth, respectability, or commerce but members were sent for from places where the king could depend on their fidelity. The extent of commerce, or wealth, or population, had nothing to do with their being summoned. And, in good truth, a money qualification is, of all the sorts of qualification that can be invented, the very worst. It never can fix the kind or degree of individual respectability, which it is proposed to admit. In the 8th of Henry VI., such a mode was indeed resorted to, to insure people of substance and worth as the constituency for the election of knights of shires; and forty shillings a year was presented as the value of the property in land or tenement requisite for the qualification. Now, those said forty shillings were equal to forty pounds of money of the present day, and implied quite a different class of voters. In the same way, a ten-pound rate-payer of the present day may, in process of time, come to represent a far lower degree of property than can now be calculated upon. This fact ought to make the framers of a measure of this kind pause before they adopt so uncertain and variable a standard of worth and substance as a money qualification. Better, far better, is the hereditary right, which grounds the respectability of the voter on the basis of his parentage, or his apprenticeship, and, in the latter, provides for his aptitude as an elector, by the fact of his having received an education in some trade or handicraft-a practical knowledge superior in itself to any speculative intellectuality, induced by instruction in mere letters, and not at all to be substituted by the latter, though by the latter it may be improved and rendered of yet greater utility and wider application.

* Debate, 7th Oct., 1831.

Every one acquainted with corporations must be aware of the advantage of this sort of qualification. Lord Eldon* bore witness of it in his own person in the House of Lords, thus :

“My Lords, the humble individual who now stands before you had some connexion with one of those corporations in which the noble duke at the head of the table is interested. I desire to ask any one who knows the practice of that place, with respect to returning members to Parliament, whether there is any place in the world which has sent more proper members to the House of Commons than that ? Well, then, my Lords, what is this sweeping disfranchisement that you propose ? It is, first, to put an end to all the boroughs in Schedule A ; second, it is to destroy all the corporations in the country; and third, if it does not destroy the corporations, which, to a certain extent, it does, it introduces persons who have no connection with the corporation to vote along with the corporators, and then destroys the rights of those corporators, which they have enjoyed for so many years, and destroys them for no other reason than that they live about seven miles from the town. My Lords, I am a freeman of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I hold it to be one of the highest honours which I possess, and I consider it ought to be an encouragement to all the young rising men of that place, that any

man in this country possessing moderate abilities, improved by industry, may raise himself to the highest situations in the country. For God's sakė, my Lords, never part with that principle. You may ask me, what application I make of this argument ? Lords, I will tell you the app.ication. I received my education in the corporation school of that town on cheap terms. As the son of a freeman, I had a right to it; and I had hoped that, when my ashes were laid in the grave, where they probably soon will be, I might have given some memorandum that boys there situated as I was might rise to be chancellors of England, if, having the advantage of that education, they were honest, faithful and industrious in their dealings.”

Such an instance as this could not fail of being impressive, and ac cordingly it was received with cheers. Considering the character and age of the speaker, had it not its own appropriate sublimity? It hadit had. Such an association, we venture to say, is barely possible under the new system.

* Debate in the House of Lords, Friday, October 7, 1831,

« AnteriorContinuar »