The Peel Web

I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.

Passage of the First Reform Bill

from The Times, 6 June 1832, p. 51

There never was, in the history of the world, an example so ennobling to the character of the English nation, or so encouraging to the hopes of every other. as this triumph of intellectual and moral power, achieved over gross stupidity and brutal force. A race of usurpers have been ousted from the field of their usurpation, and a great empire reconquered by its own people, without the shedding of one drop of blood, or the disturbance of any one right of person or property which the common consent of civilized men holds sacred.

The passing of the Reform Bill has been the victory of dispassionate opinion over interested prejudice - of universal justice over glaring selfishness, - of principles which are eternal over rotten and obsolete institutions. What had not the borough faction on their side? The KING only excepted (and that not within these three weeks), the Court was theirs. The House of Lords was theirs. The army they imagined was their own. The clergy, the magistracy, the old functionaries in all the public departments, the patronage derived from the collection of £48,000,000 sterling of revenue, and the distribution, of £20,000,000 - every thing was anti-reform. The roots of their dominion struck into fearful depths, or stretched beneath the surface to immeasurable distances, while its branches waved above our heads, and overlaid the land with darkness. What, then, was for the people? Truth, enthusiasm in a just cause, hatred of wrong, and contempt of danger. Many generous men were seen to make a sacrifice of personal influence, wealth, and power, to the public good. This gave the country confidence in a portion of its aristocracy, and re-acted kindly upon the sentiments of the latter class; - a concord and union of the rich and industrious orders, which have mainly saved England from convulsion. That mirror, too, which reflects faithfully whatever passes within the bosom of society - that which, because it is a faithful mirror of whatever animates the individual mind, is likewise a powerful and invaluable organ for the excitement of general sympathy-the PRESS,that which is stigmatized as the "base press," by those to whom base motives, and no others, are conceivable, - the Press devoted itself to the people.

The people, in their political unions, were denounced by the Tories, who, in the wickedness of their own hypocrisy, charged those unions with indifference to the reform for which they petitioned Parliament, and with a fanatical thirst for revolution, which they did not ask for, but had associated themselves expressly and solemnly to prevent. "The Political Unions," cried the Tories, "must be put down, that we may not be bullied into reform." "You cannot put us down," said the united Englishmen, "because we transgress no law, and interfere with no authority. You shall not, moreover, put us down; for is it not better that you should be bullied into reform, than that we should be bayonetted out of it?" For, indeed, the army was "to be let loose" upon the 'Radicals,'! - so were denominated all friends of good Government, law and liberty - all who, in the wise and statesmanlike spirit of Lord GREY, were for repairing those dilapidations by which "Time, the innovator," - "Time, the destroyer," marks the human
origin of the noblest political institutions. Yes, the army was to be let loose upon us! Many a green or grizzled jackanapes
about the clubs, and public offices, and in Bond-street, was heard to declaim on the "necessity of placing the 'Hero of
' at the head of affairs," when the "edge of the sword" would settle the question in a fortnight. We have our own doubts whether the "Hero of Waterloo" would have resorted to such means, but none at all as to his utter and signal discomfiture had he been hard-hearted or soft-headed enough to try them. But how did the people receive this disgusting language? Did it terrify them into Toryism? - or exasperate them to violence? - or involve them in any course unworthy of respectable and honest citizens? Certainly not.

They shed no blood: they attacked not the person of any public enemy. They only joined the Political Unions by myriads, - attended meetings by 200,000 at a time, - discussed public questions with more eagerness and ability than ever - and signed and presented fresh petitions to Parliament. The threatened assault on the unions disgracefully failed.

The press next had its turn. The "vile press" - the head and front of revolution - the "omnipotent press" - was menaced with a system of gagging which should amount at last to suffocation. How did the press behave under this extra-judicial and unbecoming bitterness? Was it terrified or laid prostrate? Or, on the other hand, was it provoked to unlawful or unseemly outrage? We suspect not. The reform press, comprehending 9-10ths of the metropolitan, and 19-20ths of the whole press of England, held the tenour of its way unshaken. It answered not the furious charges of Lord Lyndhurst by congenial abuse. It turned not to the right hand nor the left; but worked onward for and with reform. The people and the press are alive and unscathed, and. thank GOD! triumphant. The Reform Bill will, in a few hours, become the law of England, and the nation and its liberties, and the much calumniated organ of its sentiments - the PRESS, the impersonation of the enlightened mind of England - are from this day forth secure.

In, what form, or with what circumstance, the Royal assent may be given to this great measure for establishing on their only solid ground the rights and true interests of the British monarchy, is of little moment to the nation. But to him by whom, or in whose name, that flat is to be affixed to the Reform Charter, it will be a question of incalculable price. After having in its difficulties, and through obstructions numberless, maintained the measure, and manfully cheered on and supported his Ministers in their course; - shall King WILLIAM now, when that course has led Lord GREY to victory, - now, when difficulties and obstructions are at an end; - now when the British nation can scarce restrain itself from rushing to the feet of a beloved and paternal Sovereign, embracing his knees, and all but worshipping him as a glorious benefactor, - will King WILLIAM now recede? turn aside from his affectionate and grateful subjects? - separate for ever his name from that noble record which bears upon its page no syllable that will not be immortal? - will he let posterity infer that reform in 1832 was carried not under his auspices, but in spite of him, and that to make manifest a posthumous and stingless detestation of the most splendid act by which English history is adorned?
If the anti-reforming courtiers would dissuade His MAJESTY from showing himself on this occasion to his happy subjects, on the plea that some wretched slight or insult might be offered to him, well worthy is such a calumny of the foul source whence it springs, but little worthy of credit from a sovereign who ought by this time to know the nature of English feelings. Let King WILLIAM but see the honest exulations of hundreds of thousands of freemen at his graceful performance of this crowning act of a reign which has hitherto procured for him the blessings of all who have the - he will then be qualified to judge of the dreadful sacrifice which evil counsellors would exact from him when they urge HIS MAJESTY to pass the Bill by commission.

Meet the web creator

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 4 March, 2016

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind