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Peel's speech on Parliamentary Reform: 3 March 1831

Taken from

Pee's Speeches

[276] At the close of a speech of great length, Lord John Russell, pursuant to notice, moved for leave to bring in a bill for amending the state of the representation in England and Wales.

After a, protracted discussion, the debate was adjourned to the following day.

MARCH 3, 1831.

In the third night of the debate, SIR ROBERT PEEL, rising after Lord Palmerston, thus addressed the Chair : —

Sir, I must begin by assuring my noble friend, that the part of his speech in which he adverted to the delicacy and difficulty of his personal situation in this debate appeared to me wholly unnecessary; for if my noble friend had not thought it right to explain the grounds which have induced him to adopt a different course from that which he pursued on a former occasion, still I, for one, should not have drawn any unfavourable conclusion from his silence, or joined in the taunts of which he has complained. I have been placed in the same situation with my noble friend. I, too, have found it necessary, from a regard to the interests of the country, to adopt a different course from that which I had long conscientiously followed; and I ought, therefore, to be the last man in this House who would refuse to put an indulgent construction on the language, or to join in harsh conclusions with respect to the motives, of public men. I never can allow it to be supposed that public men have not higher and nobler motives for their public conduct than the paltry desire to retain place; and the character of my noble friend, therefore, even if he had been silent, would have proved to me a sufficient guarantee for the rectitude of his intentions. Having thus imitated that generous courtesy which prevails in more deadly combats than that in which I am about to engage; having, as it were, shaken hands with my noble friend, and disclaimed all personal hostility, I trust I shall now be excused if I descend into the arena, and with perfect freedom apply myself to the speech of my noble friend. At the moment when we were anxiously waiting for a vindication of the measure before the House — at the moment when we wanted to know, not what popular opinion demanded from us, but what we were practically to gain from the adoption of the measure of the noble lord — at that moment the noble lord had thought fit to enter into an invidious comparison of the merits of the late and the present administrations, and the greater part of his speech was composed — not of the arguments which the House so greatly desiderated, but of sarcastic allusions to the conduct and opinions of the late administration, connected with an attempt — not a very successful one I admit — to magnify the deeds of the present government at the expense of that government which was lately honoured with his Majesty's confidence. My noble friend says, that if there had not been a change in the government, the same results, in respect to the restoration of the public peace, and especially in Ireland, would not have taken place. In that opinion I am much disposed to concur. No party hostility shall ever prevent me from doing justice whenever justice should be done, or bestowing praise wherever praise ought to be bestowed. I approve the course pursued by the present Home department; I admire the conduct of the noble marquis now at the head of the Irish government; ever since he has reassumed that office, I have seen nothing in his conduct but what entitles him to praise. I believe that there is some truth in what has been said by my noble friend, that had the late administration been in office, they would not have been able to effect what has been effected by the present administration. But should we have had the same assistance? Should we, if at a period of great excitement, if amid a loud and general demand for retrenchment, we had produced estimates of increased extent, — should we have found all party considerations yield to a feeling for the public service; or had we resorted to measures of extreme coercion, should we have found a united and generous disposition in all parts of the House to support the executive government, and supply it with the means of defeating [277] whatever efforts might be made to disturb the public tranquillity? Sir, I will not enter into any comparison of the merits of the two administrations. But let my noble friend recollect, that the instrument which the noble marquis at the head of the Irish government has wielded, with his characteristic vigour and success, was an instrument placed in his hands by his Majesty's late government; fabricated by their foresight, contrary to the opinion, and contrary to the wishes of many members of the present administration. If we found it difficult to preserve peace in some districts of England for want of a local and constitutional force, let it be remembered that it was not by the late government that the reduction of the yeomanry was effected. I cannot say that my noble friend, in his anxiety to blame his Majesty's late government for their measures, has shown himself a very acute or a very discreet advocate for the plan of reform proposed by the noble member for Tavistock. For my noble friend says, that if, in the year 1828, the late government had not refused to transfer the elective franchise from the borough of East Retford to the town of Birmingham, we should not be now discussing the question of Parliamentary reform; for that single measure would have quieted the people on this subject, and would have given general satisfaction. If, Sir, from so small an event, such mighty consequences should have flowed — if it really would have been possible, by so trifling a concession as the transfer of the elective franchise from East Retford to Birmingham; to have satisfied and conciliated all classes of the community, it is surely of great importance to enquire what is the paramount reason which should induce us at the present moment to make so extraordinary a change in the constitution as that which is now proposed. My noble friend says, "Why did you not consent to the disfranchisement of East Retford?" Why, Sir, if I am not greatly mistaken, my noble friend and myself entered the House together on that fatal night which led to the dissolution of the late government, and my noble friend and myself had intended to give our votes on the same side upon that occasion; but the effect of a taunt upon my late right hon. friend, Mr. Huskisson, compelled him, in obedience to his feelings, to deviate from the course which he had intended to adopt, and which, out of a delicate sense of honour, led him to tender his resignation. If, therefore, there was so much blame due for the rejection of that measure, my noble friend cannot entirely exclude himself from some participation in it. But to pass from that topic, my noble friend says, that if in 1828 we had consented to transfer the elective franchise from the borough of East Retford to the town of Birmingham, there would not have been the least necessity for agitating at the present moment the question of parliamentary reform, for that would have satisfied the whole country. What! would my noble friend himself have rested satisfied with the existing state of the representation, notwithstanding the five grand defects which he has just described as existing in it ? Would my noble friend have rested satisfied to let so gross a system of corruption as that which he now finds it convenient to deplore, continue without any attempt on his part to rescue the country from its baleful influence? My noble friend says that Mr. Canning, if he had lived, would have pursued a different course from that which we, who oppose this bill, are pursuing. My noble friend undertakes to say that if Mr. Canning were living, he would raise his voice in favour of the plan which his Majesty's government have brought forward. Oh, would to God that he were here! —

Tuque tuis armis, nos te poteremur Achille!

Would to God that he were here to confound the sophistry and fallacies of reformers, and to win back the people, by the charms of truth and eloquence, to a right appreciation of the form of government under which they live! If Mr. Canning had lived, and had changed his opinions on this or any other subject, none but high and generous motives would have influenced his course, and he would have come forward boldly and manfully to avow and vindicate his change of opinion. But in no expression that ever fell from the lips of Mr. Canning — in no one step in his brilliant and noble career, can I trace the slightest indication of the probability of any such change. My noble friend, however, says he has discovered some expressions proceeding from Mr. Canning which justify his supposition. And where does my noble friend find those expressions? Why, in a speech made by Mr. Canning in [278] the year 1826, upon the silk trade! But does my noble friend forget that one whole year afterwards, in 1827, Mr. Canning, being head of the government, and the question being, not silk, but reform, Mr. Canning rigidly adhered to all his former opinions? The question was, what should be done with the franchise of the borough of Penryn — whether it should be thrown open to the adjacent hundred, or transferred to the town of Manchester? Did Mr. Canning do violence to his own judgment, and make that concession to public opinion which my noble friend now demands, or did he not refuse the slightest concession, and submit to be in a small minority, rather than abate one jot of his resistance to reform? When my noble friend therefore imputes to the conduct of public men, in the years 1827 and 1828, the necessity for parliamentary reform, which he says exists at present, tenderness for the fame of Mr. Canning ought to prevent so indiscriminate an accusation. I now come to the tremendous question before the House; but before I approach the consideration of it, I must give vent to feelings of pain and humiliation, which I cannot adequately express. I am asked, I will not say to make a revolution in the country, but as was properly said by the hon. member for Callington, to substitute for the present a different constitution; and I am not invited to do this after a calm and dispassionate enquiry, but to take this hasty step by an appeal to motives, which, if I permitted them to influence me, would brand me with disgrace. I am desired — expressly and repeatedly desired — not to subject my fears to my judgment, but my judgment to my fears; to defer to authority which I cannot recognise; and to consult my own personal interest, by averting the threatened penalty of a dissolution. I would ask, why the King's name is introduced in this discussion? Why has it been stated day after day to the country, that this plan has received the particular sanction of the King? As to the reference that has been made to the discussion on the Catholic question, the cases have no similarity. On that occasion it had been publicly stated that the measure had not the sanction of the King, and the ministers had then no alternative but to declare that the measure was brought forward with the sanction of the King. But when a measure like this is introduced by the administration — when the King's consent must be presumed — when it is not called in question, is it necessary, day after day, in both Houses of Parliament, and in the public press, to state that this measure has received the approbation of his Majesty, and not only the approbation, but the written sanction of the King? I assume that such is the fact. But granting the fact, it is no imputation on my profound respect and loyalty towards his Majesty, if I disregard that circumstance; and if, admitting that the noble lord's plan has the sanction of the King, I nevertheless, as a member of parliament, exercise my judgment as unreservedly upon the question as if that sanction had not been so indefatigably proclaimed. But, Sir, I regret on other grounds that it has been thought necessary, by the friends of the measure, to introduce the name of the King in connection with it. I will not now discuss the right or the expediency of the sweeping disfranchisement that is proposed. But I am sure it will be granted to me, that the measure is at least one of great harshness towards a number of corporate bodies of proved loyalty to the crown, which are suddenly called upon to sacrifice privileges of which they have been long and justly proud. Why hold out to those bodies his Majesty as the approver, almost as the especial author, of the plan by which these privileges are to be invaded? I had thought the King was the fountain of grace and favour; but it now seems as if his ministers shrank from their proper share of their own acts, and transferred to their sovereign the odium of this plan of disfranchisement. I do not think that it is right or decent to aggravate the injury which the corporate bodies of this country are to sustain, by telling them that it is inflicted at the instigation and by the hand of their King. I have further to complain of the menace of dissolution which has been thrown out by some members of his Majesty's government. I will not stop to enquire whether or not it is probable that that menace will have any effect. For myself I care not for it; for I should be unworthy of a seat in this House if I were to permit myself to be influenced by it. Dissolve Parliament if you will; I care not much whether I am returned again, or retire altogether into the obscurity of private life; but if I did feel any extreme anxiety on this head, I would go to my constituents with your bill in my hand, and I would put forward, as my especial claim for a renewal of their confidence, my determined opposition to its enactments. I will go to a community which consisted, [279] in 1811, of between 7,000 and 8,000 persons; I will go to a borough which, whatever may have been the case in 1821 — in 1831 contains above 4,000 souls; and I will tell my constituents, 400 or 500 in number, many of them not paying a rent of £10, but entitled to vote as resident householders paying church and poor-rates; I will tell them that to this bill, brought in without proof, or even argument, of its necessity, so far as it concerns them, I opposed myself to the utmost extent of my power. I will tell them that I did my utmost to preserve to them the privilege they at present enjoy, and which the humblest of them never abused — by the solicitation or acceptance of a bribe. Those constituents received me with kindness at the time when I was subjected to the indignity of expulsion elsewhere, for doing what I conceived to be an act of duty — an act beneficial to the country, but especially beneficial to that Church of whose interests I was bound to be the guardian. Shortly after I lost that proud distinction to which I have just adverted, my present constituents received me; and I will not, till some better reasons are brought forward, repay their kindness by being a party to their disfranchisement. Sir, another, and a still more alarming menace has been thrown out by the advocates of the bill. I am told by them that the alternative before me is the adoption of that bill, or civil commotion. I am to be deterred from forming a deliberate judgment on a most important public question by the prophetic visions of massacre and confiscation. Such were the words used last night by the hon. member for Calne. Let me ask the friends of the bill why I am to allow myself to be scared by this intimation? Why may I not form the same deliberate judgment on this bill, which you, who have introduced it, formed on the bill which was introduced last year by a noble lord (Lord Blandford)? By your opposition to that bill you did not imply that you were opposed to all reform; you merely implied that you objected to that bill. It is the same with me in this case. Again, on the same principle on which you, who support the bill, reject the application of the people for vote by ballot, why am not I at liberty to reject your bill? Why am I to yield to popular clamour and violence, when the noble lord opposite has not yielded to them when they demanded the repeal of the Union? We were told last night, that if we rejected this proposition, we, the individual members who so rejected it, would be held responsible for the consequences. "We will shift from our own shoulders," say his Majesty's ministers, even at this early period of the agitation they foresee, "the responsibility of having provoked it. We have proved our incapacity to govern, but we will show you our capacity to destroy, and hold you responsible if you obstruct us." Oh no, Sir! On their heads shall be the responsibility of this mad proceeding. I, for one, utterly disclaim it. For what am I responsible? Was it I who raised the stormy waves of the multitude? Was it I who manifested my patriotism by exerting all my powers to excite the people to discontent with the existing constitution? Did I taunt the people with their indifference to reform, with having closed their ears to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely? With having lived in the lazy enjoyment of practical good, and disregarded the promises of visionary improvement? Was it I who called for the pension list of the privy council, for the express purpose of holding up the members of that council to public indignation? Did I draw invidious comparisons between a great naval commander and the civilians who presided over the department of the Admiralty? Did I ever doom to public obloquy that hapless first lord who should be so grasping of emolument as to include in his own estimates £5,000 per annum for his own salary? Did I, at a moment when the events of Paris and Brussels had caused great public excitement, when various causes were conspiring to agitate the public mind, did I express my misplaced admiration of the conduct of assembled thousands who were supposed to have flaunted in the face of their King the emblem of a foreign revolution? Sir, if there be men who, having thus excited the passions of the people, and spurred their lazy indifference, bring forward the question of reform at a time when all prudential considerations, whether with reference to foreign or to domestic topics, ought to have forbidden such a step, — if, I say, disappointment should follow their rash undertaking, I will never, while I have a voice in this House, allow them to hold me or any other individual member of the House responsible for the consequences of their infatuation. I am told that an appeal will be made to the people. I beg not to be included among those who are charged with making any one observation disparaging to the middle classes of society in this country. I repudiate such [280] sentiment — sprung as I am, from those classes, and proud of my connexion with them. So far am I from underrating their intelligence or influence, that I tell you this, — you who talk of appealing to the people, — that unless these middle classes shall show more prudence, more judgment, and more moderation than their rulers, I shall despair of the destinies of my country. There are happy indications, however, which induce me to think that the confidence which I repose in the prudence, the moderation, and the judgment of the middle classes of society, has not been misplaced. You have all heard what the noble lord opposite, the Chancellor of Exchequer, said, with respect to the supposed exhibition of a tricoloured flag at the Palace of St. James's; but have you also heard the indignant refutation of that charge which was laid on your table by a portion of the middle classes of society? So far from thinking that it was becoming in them to wave under the windows of their sovereign the memento of a fallen dynasty, — so far from thinking that it was decent, that it was consistent with the patriotic feelings of Englishmen to prefer any foreign standard to the flag which

— has braved a thousand years
The battle and the breeze;

these people, these middle classes of society, presented an address to this House, in which, so far from accepting the vindication which had been offered for their conduct in the supposed use of the tri-coloured flag, they stated, "that they felt themselves much aggrieved by certain observations and misrepresentations made on the 9th instant, which conveyed a charge of a most foul and disgraceful nature, and an approach even to the foul crime of treason." Sir, so far were they from intending to express any approbation "of the beautiful days of Paris," that they assured the House, that the flag they so unfortunately displayed "was nothing more than four specimens of silk, of different colours, of exquisite workmanship, curiously sewed together, and manufactured expressly for the occasion by Messrs. Lee and Bousfield, of Cheapside." It is, Sir, from this expression of just indignation, and this natural explanation of the quadri-colour flag that I feel redoubled confidence, that the middle classes of this country, notwithstanding the bribe of power by which it is attempted to cajole them, have too much of self-denial and too much of good sense to wish to invade that admirable constitution under which they, of all classes, have especially flourished. If I must appeal, not to the reason and calm judgment of this House, but to some extrinsic and higher authority, — the feelings and wishes of the people, — why, then, I have nothing to hope for but that, before the people of England approve of this bill, they will listen to a calm and temperate appeal in behalf of what the noble lord calls, with somewhat of cruel mockery, the old English constitution. I hope they will consider that the constitution of a government is a matter of extreme delicacy and importance; that it is a most complex machine, not to be judged of by the examination of any isolated part which may be put forward for the purpose of exciting abhorrence; but demanding a comprehensive view, not only of the structure as a whole, but of its practical effects. It was well said by Mr. Canning, whose language, however, I will not attempt to quote, that, in judging of any form of government, we should bring to the consideration of it the same caution, the same distrust in our own knowledge, with which we should pronounce upon some mighty and complex piece of mechanism. There may be detached movements that we do not comprehend — movements which, to the superficial and ignorant, may seem not only useless but pernicious; but, surely, we must not condemn them if there be harmony in the working of the whole machine, and if its object be completely effected. "Look" (said Mr. Canning) "at the frame of man — it is fearfully and wonderfully made! yet this frame of a created being — ' so noble in reason — so infinite in faculties — in apprehension so like a God,' — has parts, and performs functions which, if they are to be separately regarded, provoke feelings of abhorrence and disgust." Sir, let the people recollect that the writers of ancient times,who existed upwards of a thousand years ago, and could have no partiality for the British constitution — that mere speculative writers, discussing, à priori, the various forms of government, either despaired altogether of the formation of such a constitution as ours, or described it as the most perfect of all. Can there, by possibility, be a better description of the British constitution than that contained in the words of Cicero, "Statuo cam esse [281] optime constitutam rempublicam" — I do not know whether I quote the words correctly — "quæ ex tribus generibus illis regali, optimo, et populari, modice confusa." Another eminent writer of antiquity (Tacitus), speaking of forms of government says, that all forms of government must consist either of king, nobles, or the people, or a combination of all these elements, the practicability of which he doubts, "Cunctas nationes et urbes populus aut priores, aut singuli regunt." "Delecta ex his et constituta reipubliciæ forma, laudari facilius quam evenire; vel, si evenit, haud diuturna esse potest." Such, Sir, are the dicta of great writers on the abstract question of the modes of government. The British constitution has been made a subject of praise by every writer who has touched upon the question. I have heard quotations from Mr. Canning, from Mr Burke, and from other great men now no more, in assertion of the excellence of the British constitution, but to these I will not refer, for I have a higher and a living authority on the same subject. I will venture to say, that if the House will permit me to substitute it for my own imperfect praise, I will read to it one of the most beautiful panegyrics on the English constitution, and more especially on the constitution of this House, that wisdom and truth have ever produced. The author of this panegyric is the noble member for Tavistock, alas! too, the author of a proposal fatal to the object of his praise. Sir, in quoting this speech, I beg that the noble lord who now proposes to lay violent hands on what was once the theme of his warmest admiration, will not imagine that I am about to upbraid him with inconsistency on account of his having altered his opinion. If he has changed his opinion, I am sure it is from a sense of duty; but, change that opinion as he may, he cannot gainsay the eternal truths which he himself has put upon record in language worthy to convey them. Sir, it was in the year 1819, on a motion which was brought forward for reform in parliament, that the noble lord made the speech which I am about to quote. The question put to him was this — "Why not disfranchise also the unconvicted boroughs?" — What was the answer of the noble lord? — "To this," says he, "I answer, that I do not, by any means, maintain that the resolutions I now propose comprise all the amendments that can be made in the frame of this House. Whenever a specific proposition is made, I shall be ready to give it all my attention, and, if I can approve of it, to adopt it. But I do not at present, I confess, see any rule by which any unconvicted borough can be disfranchised without disfranchising the whole." He goes on to say, "we then arrive at what is called a reform upon principle, or the reconstruction, of the entire House of Commons." Therefore, Sir, I have the authority of the noble lord himself for this explanation of the character and effect of his present proposal, that it is neither more nor less than an entire reconstruction of the House of Commons. — Says the noble lord — "We then arrive at what is called a reform upon principle, or the reconstruction of the entire House of Commons. Now, Sir, I will not dwell upon the arguments which are generally used to repel such a proposition; arguments resting chiefly upon the advantage of admitting men of talent into this House, by means of the close boroughs; and on the danger that an assembly of popular delegates would overthrow the two other branches of the legislature. But I cannot forget that these arguments have been urged, not as some out of doors endeavour to persuade the people, by borough-mongers anxious to defend their own vile interests, but by some of the greatest, the brightest, and the most virtuous men whom this country ever produced. I cannot say, however, that I give entire credit to these arguments, because I think that, in political speculation, the hazard of error is immense, and the result of the best formed scheme often different from that which has been anticipated. But for this very reason I cannot agree to the wholesome plans of reform that are laid before us. We have no experience to guide us in the alterations which are proposed, at least none that is encouraging. There is, indeed, the example of Spain. Spain was formerly in the enjoyment of a free constitution; but in the course of the fifteenth century many of the towns fell into the hands of the nobility, who, instead of influencing the election of members to Cortes (the practice so much reprobated in this House), prevented their sending members at all. The consequence was, that when a struggle took place between the king and Cortes, the aristocracy, feeling no common interest with the representative body, joined the crown, and destroyed for ever the liberties of their country. The constitution of this country is not written down like [282] that of some of our neighbours. I know not where to look for it except in the division into King, Lords, and Commons, and in the composition of this House, which has long been the supreme body in the state. The composition of this House by representatives of counties, cities, and boroughs, I take to be an intimate part of our constitution. The House was so formed when they passed the Habeas Corpus Act — a law which, together with other wise laws, Mr. Cobbett himself desires to preserve, although with strange inconsistency, whilst he cherishes the fruit he would cut down the tree. This House was constituted on the same principle of counties, cities, and boroughs, when Montesquieu pronounced it to be the most perfect in the world. Old Sarum existed when Somers and the great men of the revolution established our government. Rutland sent as many members as Yorkshire when Hampden lost his life in defence of the constitution. Are we then to conclude that Montesquieu praised a corrupt oligarchy? — That Somers and the great men of that day expelled a king in order to set up a many-headed tyranny? — That Hampden sacrificed his life for the interests of a borough mongering faction? No! the principles of the construction of this House are pure and worthy. If we should endeavour to change them altogether, we should commit the folly of the servant in the story of Aladdin, who was deceived by the cry of 'New lamps for old.' Our lamp is covered with dirt and rubbish, but it has a magical power. It has raised up a smiling land, not bestrode with overgrown palaces, but covered with thick-set dwellings, every one of which holds a free man, enjoying equal privileges and equal protection with the proudest subject in the land. It has called into life all the busy creations of commercial prosperity. Nor, when men were wanting to illustrate and defend their country, have such men been deficient. When the fate of the nation depended upon the line of policy she should adopt, there were orators of the highest degree placing in the strongest light the argument for peace and war. When we were engaged in war, we had warriors ready to gain us laurels in the field, or to wield our thunders on the sea. When, again, we returned to peace, the questions of internal policy, of education of the poor, and of criminal law, found men ready to devote the most splendid abilities to the welfare of the most indigent class of the community!" And then exclaims the noble lord with just and eloquent indignation at the thought: — "And, Sir, shall we change an instrument which has produced effects so wonderful, for a burnished and tinsel article of modern manufacture? No! small as the remaining treasure of the constitution is, I cannot consent to throw it into the wheel for the chance of obtaining a prize in the lottery of constitutions." Now, Sir, I think I have fulfilled my promise, that I would present the House with as just and beautiful a panegyric on the British constitution, as emphatic a warning against the danger of tampering with it, as practical wisdom ever uttered. Let it not be forgotten, that this speech was delivered in the year 1819, — a period when the internal state of the country was such, that almost every page of your debates teems with the proofs of internal disorder. There was a Seizure of Arms Bill, a Blasphemous Libel Bill, a Seditious Meetings Prevention Bill, a Newspaper Stamp Duty Bill, and a Bill to prevent Training and Exercise, each following the other in sad succession. Why, Sir, there might be in 1819, when these Six Acts of coercion were necessarily introduced, — there might be in the circumstances of the time some justification for the measure of reform. The member for Calne might then have said with some plausibility, "You have exhausted every measure of restraint, — try now the measure of reform:" but it is strange to hear that argument used in 1831, when, every one of the coercive measures of 1819 has been blotted from the Statute-book. — Now, Sir, allow me to ask the noble lord, in his own emphatic language, " What cause should now induce me to exchange the old lamp for a burnished and tinselled article of modern manufacture?" And if some deputy from the trading company of which we heard last night — if some agent of Althorp and Co. — some dealer in the new lights — should offer me his tinsel lamp in lieu of the old one, am I not at liberty to spurn his offer, and would it not be just to inflict on him the penalty of reading in a sonorous voice, his own speech in condemnation of his own article? It has been insinuated that among those who oppose this measure are some who wish to convert it into the instrument of recovering power for themselves. Disclaimers of the wish for power are apt to find no favour, and I say little on that head; but to a certain extent I must explain myself. When last in office, I could not have proposed reform as a minister of the Crown. I [283] deprecated the agitation of such a question at the instance of the Crown. But having left office, and being reduced to the station of a private individual, I was then at liberty to take other views of this subject. I had to balance the danger of moderate reform against the monstrous evil of perpetual change in the executive government of this country; and I do not hesitate to avow, that there might have been proposed certain alterations in our representative system, founded on safe principles, abjuring all confiscation, and limited in their degree, to which I would have assented. I see a smile on the faces of some hon. gentlemen opposite. I am speaking with the utmost unreserve and sincerity. I never conferred upon this point, upon my honour, with any individual whatever. I am not stating this as an indication of any other plan which I have to propose. I am stating the course which I should have taken as a private individual, having a deeper interest in the prosperity of this country than any that I could possibly have in a return to office. But in this plan, which proceeds upon so extensive a principle, amounting, in fact, to a reconstruction — to use the words of the noble lord himself — of this House, I cannot concur; and I so wholly despair of modifying its provisions in any way, that when the time shall come, I shall have no alternative but to give my positive dissent to the proposed measure. I do this because I am wholly dissatisfied with it. Having listened attentively to the plan, I am wholly unconvinced by the arguments of the noble lord. Really, Sir, I fear I am wearying the House; but the subject is of such immense importance that it constitutes an apology even for unseasonable length. Let me then address myself to the arguments of the noble lord. They are arguments which, if good for anything will preclude this from being the final change. We shall be bound to procede further. The noble lord said, with some inconsiderate frankness, that he found the constitution of this country in the 26th of Edward I., and the statute, "De tallagio non concedendo." The constitution of England in the reign of Edward I.! — And what did he find there? — that no taxes could be imposed without the consent of the whole commonalty of the realm; and therefore, says the noble lord, "if this be a question of right, as I contend it is, the right is on the side of the reformer." These are the noble lord's own words. But if it be a question of right, and if the right be on the side of the reformer, why, I would ask, does the noble lord limit the franchise to particular districts and particular classes? Why confine the privilege of voting to those who rent a House rated at £10 a-year? The law knows no distinction in this respect between the contributors to the support of the state. Yet the noble lord not only refuses the right of voting to persons rated at less than £10, but he also disfranchises many who contribute to the public taxes, and who now possess the privilege of suffrage. I conceive the noble lord's plan to be founded altogether upon an erroneous principle. Its great defect, in my opinion, is that to which an objection has been urged with great force and ability by the hon. member for Callington. The objection is this — that it severs all connexion between the lower classes of the community and the direct representation in this House; I think it a fatal objection, that every link between the representative and the constituent body should be separated, so far as regards the lower classes. It is an immense advantage that there is at present no class of people, however humble, which is not entitled to a voice in the election of representatives. I think this system would be defective if it were extended further; but at the same time I consider it an inestimable advantage, that no class of the community should be able to say they are not entitled, in some way or other, to a share in the privilege of choosing the representatives of the people in this House. Undoubtedly, if I had to choose between two modes of representation, and two, only, and if it were put to me whether I would prefer that system which would send the hon. member for Windsor, or that which would return the hon. member for Preston, I should, undoubtedly, prefer that by which the hon. member for Windsor would be returned; but I am not in this dilemma, and am at perfect liberty to protest against a principle which excludes altogether the member for Preston. I think it an immense advantage that the class which includes the weavers of Coventry and the potwallopers of Preston has a share in the privileges of the present system. The individual right is limited, and properly limited, within narrow bounds; but the class is represented. It has its champion within your walls, the organ of its feeling, and the guardian of its interests. But what will be the effect of cutting off [284] altogether the communication between this House and all that class of society which is above pauperism, and below the arbitrary and impassable line of £10 rental which you have selected? If you were establishing a perfectly new system of representation, and were unfettered by the recollections of the past, and by existing modes of society, would it be wise to exclude altogether the sympathies of this class? How much more unwise, when you find it possessed from time immemorial of the privilege! — to take the privilege away, and to subject a great, powerful, jealous, and intelligent, mass of your population to the injury — ay, and to the stigma, of entire uncompensated exclusion! Well, but, says my noble friend (Viscount Palmerston), "Our plan at least does this — it cures that anomaly, that absurdity of the present system, which gives to voters the right of voting for places where they do not reside." My noble friend is shocked, that men who have, or who may acquire the right of voting for places in which they do reside, should enjoy the right of voting for other places from which they are habitually absent. Well, Sir, this at least must be admitted, that my noble friend is liberal in thus consenting to the disfranchisement of a great majority of his own constituents, the non-resident Masters of Arts of Cambridge.

Lord Palmerston. — They will still continue to vote; the rule of non-residence will not apply to Universities.

Sir Robert Peel. — Not apply to the Universities! Every non-resident voter in England to be disfranchised, except non-resident Masters of Arts! And do you think that the disfranchised class will acquiesce in the reason and justice of this exception? Why may not the non-resident voter of Norwich, who cannot find employment in the place of his nativity — who is earning an honest subsistence in London — why may not he plead just as good a reason for his absence from the town, where he is now entitled to vote, as the non-resident clergyman of Cambridge or Oxford? And mark the difference; the latter will almost certainly acquire, under this very bill, the right of voting for a district in which he does reside — the former may, probably, never be able to acquire it. To the one you give a new right of voting, and also continue to him the possession of the old one while, to the latter, you give no new right, and yet you deprive him, for a reason which equally applies to both — namely, non-residence — of the privilege of which be is now possessed. And this is your notion of justice and conciliation! A word more as to the disfranchisement of non-resident voters. One of the loudest complaints we now hear is directed against the influence exercised over voters by their landlords. We have petition after petition pointing to what has occurred at Newark and Stamford, as one of the strongest proofs of the defective state of our representative system. What is the effect of your bill? It is to confine the right of voting to a class, the great majority of which must be tenants subject to the influence of their landlords; and to deprive of the right of voting that class whose right accrues from their being freemen of a corporation on account of birth or servitude — who are all liable, as others are, to the temptation of bribery — but who possess an inalienable right of voting, not acquired by, and in no way dependent on, the will of the aristocracy. These considerations, Sir, however important, are but subordinate, when compared with the changes which must take place in the practical working of the constitution. In defence of it, we have frequently referred with exultation to the names of those men who were indebted for their first return to Parliament to some borough of comparative insignificance, and who, had that avenue not been open, might probably have never had the opportunity of distinguishing themselves in the public service. This argument has been met, in the course of this debate, by two observations. The first fell from the member for Westminster, the second from the member for Calne. Says the member for Westminster — and the remark comes with a bad grace from a man of his ability — "I admit that the small boroughs return frequently very able men, but I think we have had too much ability; we have suffered much from the talents of able men; and I want a system of representation which will give us honest rather than able men." I reply, first, that it is absurd to suppose that the man of ability will be less honest than the man of no ability; and, secondly, that any system which tended to exclude from this House men of the first ability of their day, would be a great practical evil. If the average of the talent and general acquirements of this House should ever be below the general average of society, this House would sink in public estimation, and the distrust in our opinions and judgments would very rapidly spread downwards, [285] from the class of persons more enlightened than ourselves, to the great mass of society. The second observation to which I have referred fell from the member for Calne. He, too, admits that men of first-rate ability have occasionally owed their entrance into Parliament to small boroughs. "But then," says he, — and says very justly, — "we must judge of every human contrivance, not by its accidents, but by its tendencies." "No plan of selection (says he) could be hit upon which would not give you occasionally able men; — take the hundred tallest men that you meet in the streets, you will, probably, have some able men among the number." The cheers with which this remark was followed were so encouraging, that the hon. gentleman proceeded to illustrate his arguments by various other instances. "Take (says he) the first hundred names in the Court Guide, — adopt any other principle of selection that you will, — occasionally and accidentally able men will be ensured by it." Now, Sir, I am content to try the merits of our present representative system by the hon. member's own test. I repeat with him, that it is by tendencies, and not by accidents, that we are to judge of its merits. For the purpose of submitting those merits to that test, I wrote down this morning the names of those distinguished men who have appeared in this House, during the last forty or fifty years, as brilliant lights above the horizon, and whose memory, to quote the expression of Lord Plunkett, has had buoyancy enough to float down, to posterity on the stream of time. I made this selection of these men, in the first  instance, without a thought of the places they severally represented. I looked to their ability and their fame alone. If I have omitted any, their names may be added; but I believe the list I shall read will contain all the names that are of the highest eminence. It includes the names of Dunning, Lord North, Charles Townsend, Burke, Fox, Pitt, Lord Grenville, Sheridan, Windham, Perceval, Lord Wellesley, Lord Plunkett, Canning, Huskisson, Brougham, Horner, Romilly, Tierney, Sir William Grant, Lord Liverpool, Lord Castlereagh, Lord Grey. I will now read the names of the places for which they were respectively returned, on their first entrance into public life: — Dunning was returned for Calne — Lord. North for Banbury — Burke for Wendover — Charles Townsend for Saltash — Pitt for Appleby — Fox for Midhurst — Lord Grenville for Buckingham — Sheridan for Stafford — Windham for Norwich — Lord Wellesley for Beeralston — Perceval for Northampton — Plunkett for Midhurst — Canning for Newton — Huskisson for Morpeth — Brougham for Camelford — Romilly for Queenborough — Horner for Wendover — Lord Castlereagh for the county of Down — Tierney for Southwark — Sir William Grant for Shaftesbury — Lord Grey for Northumberland — Lord Liverpool for Rye. These are the names of, I believe, the most distinguished men of the times in which they lived. They are twenty-two in number. Sixteen, on first entering public life, were returned for boroughs every one of which, without an exception, the noble lord proposes to extinguish. Some few of these distinguished men owed, it is true, their first return to a more numerous body of constituents. Mr. Sheridan was first returned for Stafford — Mr. Windham for Norwich — Lord Castlereagh for the county of Down — Mr. Tierney for Southwark — Lord Grey for Northumberland; but it is equally true that, for some cause or other, either the caprice of popular bodies, or the inconvenience of ministers of the Crown sitting for populous places, in every one of these cases the honour of the populous place is relinquished for the repose of the small borough. Mr. Sheridan quits Stafford for Ilchester — Mr. Windham takes refuge in Higham-Ferrars — Mr. Tierney prefers Knaresborough to Southwark — Lord Castlereagh rejects Down for Orford — and Lord Grey consoles himself for the loss of Northumberland by appealing, with success to the electors of Tavistock. Now, then, I have applied your own test, I have looked not to accidents but to tendencies, and I ask you, whether the tendency of the present system of representation is not to secure to distinguished ability a seat in the public councils? But, after all, this question must be determined by a reference to still higher considerations. The noble lord has pointed out the theoretical defects in our present system of representation; he has appealed to the people; he has desired them to accompany him to the green mounds of Old Sarum, and the ruined niches of Midhurst. I, too, make my appeal to that same people. I ask them, when they have finished poring over the imputed blots in their form of government, when they have completed their inspection of the impurities of Old Sarum, and Gatton, and Midhurst, I ask them to elevate their vision, Os homini sublime dedit, [286] to include within their view a wider range than that to which the noble lord would limit them. I ask them to look back upon a period of 150 years — to bear in mind that their constitution, in its present form, has so long endured, — and I ask them where, among the communities of Europe, do you find institutions which have afforded the same means of happiness, and the same security for liberty? I conjure them to bear in mind the result of every attempt that has hitherto been made to imitate our own institutions. In France, in Spain, in Portugal, in Belgium, the utmost efforts have been exhausted to establish a form of government like ours — to adjust the nice balance between the conflicting elements of royal, aristocratical, and popular power — to secure the inestimable blessings of limited monarchy and temperate freedom. Up to this hour these efforts have signally failed — I say not from what causes, or through whose fault — but the fact of their failure cannot be denied. Look beyond the limits of Europe, and judge of the difficulties of framing new institutions for the government of man. If power can be so safely entrusted to the people — if they are so competent to govern themselves — such enlightened judges of their own interests — why has it happened that, up to this hour, every experiment to establish and regulate popular control over executive government has, with one single exception, failed? Where are the happy republics of South America? What has obstructed their formation? What has prevented the people from exercising the new power conferred upon them to the advancement of their own interest, and the confirmation of their own liberties? Let us beware how we are deluded by the example of a single successful experiment — how we conclude, that because the form of government in the United States is more popular than our own — that it would be safe, therefore, to make ours more popular than it is. The present form of the American government has not endured more than forty years. It dates its institution, not from the establishment of American independence, but from the year 1789. Even within that period, the spirit of that government has undergone a change, it is not the same as it was at its original formation; its constant tendency has been towards the establishment of a more pure and unmixed democracy. If I were to grant, that it is a form of government constantly tending towards improvement, that it is calculated permanently to guarantee vigour in war and internal repose, and to meet all the growing wants of a great nation, still the circumstances of the two countries are so totally different, that no inference could be drawn from the success of such a form of government in the United States, in favour of the application of its principles to this country. The boundless extent of unoccupied land in the United States — the absence of all remote historical recollections — of an ancient monarchy — a powerful aristocracy — an established church — the different distribution of property in the two countries, are all circumstances essentially varying the character of the institutions suitable to each country. We should do well to consider, before we consent to the condemnation of our own institutions, what are the dangers which menace states with ruin or decay. Compare our fate with that of other countries of Europe during the period of the last century and a half. Not one has been exempt from the miseries of foreign invasion, — scarcely one has preserved its independence inviolate. In how many have there been changes of the dynasty, or the severest conflicts between the several orders of the state? In this country we have had to encounter severe trials, and have encountered them with uniform success. Amid foreign wars, the shock of disputed successions, rebellion at home, extreme distress, the bitter contention of parties, the institutions of this country have stood uninjured. The ambition of military conquerors — of men endeared, by success, to disciplined armies, never have endangered, and never could endanger the supremacy of the law, or master the control of public opinion. These were the powerful instruments that shattered with impunity the staff of Marlborough, and crumbled into dust the power of Wellington. Other states have fallen from the too great influence of a military spirit, and the absorption of power by standing armies. What
 is the character of the armies which our commanders led to victory? The most formidable engines that skill and valour could direct against a foreign enemy; but in peace, the pliant, submissive instruments of civil power. "Give us," says the member for Waterford, "give us for the repression of outrage and insurrection the regular army, for the people respect it for its courage, and love it for its courteous forbearance, and patience, and ready subjection to the law. And what, Sir, are the practical advantages which we are now promised, as [287] the consequence of the change we are invited to make, — as the compensation for the risk we must incur? Positively not one. Up to this hour, no one has pretended that we shall gain any thing by the change, excepting, indeed, that we shall conciliate the public favour. Why, no doubt, you cannot propose to share your power with half a million of men without gaining some popularity — without purchasing by such a bribe some portion of good-will. But these are vulgar arts of government; others will outbid you, not now, but at no remote period — they will offer votes and power to a million of men, will quote your precedent for the concession, and will carry your principles to their legitimate and natural consequences. On all former occasions, some inducements were held out to us to embark on this perilous voyage. We used to be told that we should acquire new securities against ruinous wars; as if every war, according to the express admission of Mr. Fox, up to the time at which he was speaking, and every subsequent war, had not been the war of the people. We used to be told that great retrenchment, great reduction of taxes, must inevitably follow reform; but we are told this no longer, since a reforming government has found it necessary to increase the public expenditure in the very year in which they propose reform. But reform is necessary for the purpose of curtailing the influence of the Crown in this House! Some say, that through the influence of the Crown, others that through the influence of the aristocracy, bad ministers are kept in office against the wishes and interests of the people; and that this is effected through the means of enormous patronage, and for the purpose of sharing in its spoils. The influence of the Crown, indeed! The power of the Peerage to maintain unpopular ministers against the public opinion! And this is gravely said at the time when you have had five different administrations in four years; five prime ministers in rapid succession, from Lord Liverpool to Lord Grey. I lament — deeply lament, the time which has been chosen for the introduction of this measure. It is brought forward at a period of great excitement; when men are scarcely sober judges of the course which it is fitting to pursue. This has been always the case with reform; it has been uniformly brought forward, either at the times of domestic calamity, or when the agitations of other states had infected us with extravagant and temporary enthusiasm for what was considered the cause of liberty. Look at the great periods of commercial or agricultural distress. You will almost invariably find reform in parliament proposed as the panacea for distress, and finding favour just so long as the distress has endured. If you find a debate on parliamentary reform, be assured that " some dire disaster follows close behind." Look again at the political struggles in other states. They never have occurred without suggesting to us the necessity of parliamentary reform. In 1782, shortly after the great contest in North America, and the establishment of an independent and popular government in the United States, Mr. Pitt brought forward the question of parliamentary reform. It remained dormant altogether from 1785 to 1790. The revolution in France had then commenced, and Mr. Flood, who brought forward the question in 1790, appealed to the example of France as a powerful reason for adopting reform at home. He dwelt on the shame of England in being behind any other country in the race for liberty, and prophesied that France was about to establish a popular, and therefore a pacific government — abjuring all wars and all aggressions, because they were contrary to the interests of the people. We fortunately waited a short period, and found that his prophecies were not very accurately fulfilled. In 1820, revolutions took place in Italy, in Spain, and in other parts of the continent. In 1821, we had a motion for reform; and the author of that motion, the present Lord Durham, then Mr. Lambton, hailed the events that had occurred on the continent as the auspicious dawn of liberty abroad, and improvement here. He said, speaking of the force of public opinion — "Where its power and justice are acknowledged, as in Spain, the prospect is most cheering. We see disaffection instantaneously quelled, venerable and rotten abuses reformed — superstition eradicated — and the monarch and the people united under a constitution which alike secures the privileges of the one, and the liberties of the other. May I not, then, consistently hail the rising of the star, in what was once the most gloomy portion of the European horizon, as a light to show us the way through all our dangers and difficulties, as a splendid memorial of the all-conquering power of public opinion?" Again we waited, and now, I ask, was the star that appeared in Spain that steady light by which it was fitting that our steps should be [288] guided? or was it the return of an eccentric comet, shedding "disastrous twilight," and "with fear of change perplexing monarchs?" We are arrived at 1831, and reform is again proposed, whilst the events of the last year in Paris and Brussels are bewildering the judgment of many, and provoking a restless, unquiet disposition, unfit for the calm consideration of such a question. I, too, refer to the condition of France, and I hold up the late revolution in France, not as an example, but as a warning to this country. Granted that the resistance to authority was just; but look at the effects, — on the national prosperity, on industry, on individual happiness, — even of just resistance. Let us never be tempted to resign the well-tempered freedom which we enjoy, in the ridiculous pursuit of the wild liberty which France has established. What avails that liberty which has neither justice nor wisdom for its companions — which neither brings peace nor prosperity in its train? It was the duty of the King's government to abstain from agitating this question at such a period as the present — to abstain from the excitement throughout this land of that conflict — (God grant it may be only a moral conflict!) — which must arise between the possessors of existing privileges, and those to whom they are to be transferred. was the duty of the government to calm, not to stimulate, the fever of popular excitement. They have adopted a different course — they have sent through the land the firebrand of agitation, and no one can now recall it. Let us hope that there are limits to their powers of mischief. They have, like the giant enemy of the Philistines, lighted three hundred brands, and scattered through the country discord and dismay; but God forbid that they should, like him, have the power to concentrate in death all the energies that belong to life, and to signalize their own destruction by bowing to the earth the pillars of that sacred edifice, which contains within its walls, according even to their own admission, "the noblest society of freemen in the world."

When the right hon. baronet resumed his seat, Mr. Gisborne moved the adjournment of the debate, which was agreed to, and the adjournment ordered till the following day.

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