Page images

ART. XI.-What will the Lords do?
London, 1831.

[ocr errors]

Second Edition, 8vo:


ST INCE we last addressed our readers upon the momentous question which still occupies the undivided thoughts of the whole people of these kingdoms, the Great Measure has been thoroughly discussed in Parliament, and has passed, after three months of constant debate, through the Lower House. This delay this lingering of the Bill in the Commons-has excited considerable discontent both within doors and without. Why,' it has been said, do not the King's Ministers take a higher tone? They have a great majority to back them; they have 'their Master's entire confidence; they have the whole country with them-then, let them feel their power, and show it. Let them, from the commanding position they occupy, dictate terms to their adversaries; and not irritate the country by 'eternal debatings that can end in nothing but long delay.' Such was the language at one time very generally prevailing among the friends of the government and of the measure; and we are neither inclined to wonder at nor to blame it. But we think it very far from well founded, and are convinced that they who used it are now satisfied they were wrong; and that the Ministers were altogether in the right when they resolved upon the dignified, and candid course which they chose, and steadily followed, unmoved alike by the clamours of their enemies and the impatience of their friends. As all that relates to this Great Measure, and its history, possesses a permanent interest, we shall stop for a little while to illustrate our position.

They are certainly thoughtless persons who conceive that it would have been either practicable or desirable to pass the Bill as it was framed and introduced, rapidly, by the mere force of numbers within doors, and acclamation without. It would have been impossible; for the ministerial majority, though pledged to support the whole Bill, were only bound to the whole of its fundamental principles, and free as to the details; they were men of reason and sense, inclined to think for themselves, not blindly to follow a leader; and the constituents who delegated them could only mean that they should be generally bound in favour of the principle and groundwork of the Measure, and not on all its mechanism. Any Minister who should have been so impatient, and so ill advised as to dictate the very Bill of the former Session in all its particulars, in the new Parliament, would speedily have found himself deceived; and might have alienated from the government, and the cause of Reform, many of their most valued

supporters. But the measure itself was sure to gain by the long and full discussion. Let it for a moment be remembered that the Bill was no ordinary one. If the giving two new members to Yorkshire, and taking two from East Retford, took, the one half a session to succeed, the other as long time, and to fail, what shall we say of their thoughtlessness who would have a Bill hurried through in a fortnight, which disfranchised boroughs by the dozen, and added members to old counties, and gave them to new towns by the score? The Bill is a Code of Reform; each line is a new law. It was essentially necessary to have each word thoroughly sifted, and all the details behoved to receive a vigorous and searching scrutiny, if the representatives chose to do their bounden duty, and give the Great Measure a fair chance of being practically useful. No man, no twelve men even, can be found capable of framing a law so various in its provisions, so extensive in its scope, without the risk of many errors, the certainty of many important oversights. The same kind of men, men actuated with a common feeling, holding like principles, and viewing matters in the same light, are certain to omit many considerations which are essential to the right framing of their own measure, and the effectual accomplishment of their common purpose. It is by free and enlarged discussion,-by bringing many different minds, habits of thinking, feelings, tastes, passions, all to bear upon the details of the plan, that light of a useful clearness and intensity can be let in, so as to show all the flaws and defects of a scheme. This thorough sifting has the Bill now undergone. Nothing, in all likelihood, that any rational person can even think respecting it, has passed unspoken in the course of the last three months. Assuredly, nothing of any value remains still to be said. Many general views of the argument on both sides may doubtless be yet taken; felicitous illustrations of the necessity and advantages of Reform may strike other minds; the dangers of the experiment may be painted by a finer genius and with more of a master's hand. But to suggest much that shall be useful at once and new, on the adaptation or mal-conformation of the provisions, seems hardly within the power of any assembly. The Bill cannot now be said to have been hurried through the Commons, and to come unsifted, crude, and unformed, to the Lords' House of Parliament. This is a great advantage towards its success in that high and important quarter; and it is a great security for the good working of the measure, if it shall finally become a law.

And here we must stop to express the admiration which we feel, in common with all the country, for the distinguished individual who has represented the King's government during this



long and momentous struggle in the House of Commons. Lord Althorpe had long been endeared to his fellow-countrymen by the sterling virtues which sustain his honest, manly character; and had, by his statesmanlike talents, made for himself a reputation higher than any which the more brilliant accomplishments of the mere orator or debater can attain. He stood, moreover, in the position so rarely occupied by politicians, of not merely not seeking office, but of unaffectedly disliking it. The difficulty has always been to overcome his repugnance towards any place of power or profit; and all men, knowing well the plain and frank sincerity with which he had uniformly expressed his feelings of reluctance, were aware of the sacrifice which he made to a sense of duty, when he suffered his scruples to be overcome, and took upon himself the most thankless, and the most disagreeable office under the crown. Those high and rare titles to public confidence were now augmented by the extraordinary temper, firmness, and sagacity, with which he fought the fight of the government and the Reform. His conduct from first to last displays a singular union of those qualities. He was ably supported, it is true, by his distinguished colleagues, especially by Lord John Russell, the immediate manager of the Bill. But the chief praise will always be bestowed upon Lord Althorpe; and future times will look back with love and admiration upon the man who could carry through such a measure, amidst all the heats of jarring principles, and the turbulent conflict of opposing interests, without ever once abandoning a post which he ought in honour or prudence to have maintained, or making a stand for any point which he ought to have surrendered;-who, without the least attempt to court his adversaries, or a single sacrifice to please injudicious friends, retires from the contest, without losing one of the latter, and without leaving in the field one man who does not lament to rank himself among the former class.

A striking instance of the effect produced by such conduct, has been presented by the independent portion of the House of Commons. About 350 members, unconnected with the government, have presented an adddress to him and Lord John Russell, expressive of their admiration of the conduct which we have been feebly attempting to delineate, and inviting them and their colleagues to a banquet in the city of London. So extraordinary a testimony was never before borne to any Ministers; and, proceeding from affection as well as admiration and respect, it may very well console its favoured objects for the slanders which have disgraced some parts of the Press-the Sunday papers especially-which enjoy, at present, a monopoly of scandal, and espouse the ultra doctrines both of reform and antireform. The country, which begins now to enjoy the prospect

of having a Parliament that really represents their opinions and feelings, no longer looks with anxiety to the quarter we have referred to, as speaking its sense, and no longer permits itself to be urged by any efforts thence proceeding to injure public men in the public estimation. The testimony so nobly earned, has been given to the vigour and skill, as much as the admirable temper, of the statesmen who are its subjects. All men allow that Lord Althorpe, in the unparalleled difficulties of his situation, displayed, on all occasions, a sagacity and quickness almost intuitive, in deciding when to persist and when to yield. Nor is there a man among those who, at one time, were wont to assail him with abuse, which he heeded not, or weary him with complaints, which vexed him not, that does not now admit the extraordinary talent and judgment by which his temper was sustained, and his vigour made effectual.

The Bill has passed the Commons by a very large majority; and there remains the question, put in the front of the tract before us,- What will the Lords do?" This is a question which every man in the three kingdoms is now asking his neighbour. On the answer he receives depend his hopes and his fears for his own lot, and the lot of his children; but on the answer which the Lords will give, depends the sum of our affairs, the continuance of our most valued institutions--the whole safety of our state.

Let us only for an instant reflect on the first fortunes of this great measure, that we may be the better able to spell its coming fate.

The second reading of the Bill was carried in the last Parliament by the most narrow majority-by one vote. It was afterwards plain that the minority had gained strength, and a defeat, upon a subsequent division, proved the House of Commons not to be favourable to the measure. With prompt decision the Ministers appealed to the country; all the empire answered their call; everywhere the people returned reformers to the new Parliament; open counties as well as boroughs all but close, joined in speeding the common cause; freemen, whose disfranchisement was pronounced by the bill, vied with freeholders whose importance was enhanced by it;-nay, places about to be struck out, in whole or in part, from the representative system, were as anxious for the healing measure, as the cities which were about to receive, for the first time, the most precious rights of our free constitution. Nor was the general election marked by any one circumstance more striking, or more creditable for the people, than the abstinence of even the humbler classes from all selfish conduct, or unseemly distrust of their more favoured

brethren. Various attempts were made by the anti-reformers to obtain the alliance of those numerous bodies who received no elective rights from the Bill-in vain. Vain were the efforts of all candidates to act upon Sir R. Peel's hint, and obtain the aid of the multitude, by telling them they got nothing from the measure. Vain were the efforts of those who practised the doctrines preached by another member hostile to the government and the Bill, and, by a strange jumble of parties, co-operating with the honourable Baronet. All was in vain. The people indignantly rejected such offers of friendly aid, coming from quarters so suspicious.

They said at all events, the Bill promised them members openly and freely elected; answerable to a general constituency; and pledged in public to honest conduct, whoever might choose them; and they cared little whether themselves had a voice or no. Our fellow-townsmen distinguished themselves on this memorable occasion. Seven or eight thousand-probably ten or twelve, may have votes, and more than thrice as many will be excluded. What, then, said our citizens and their workmen ? At least the old three-and-thirty will no longer choose the member for Edinburgh, and job the place. At least we shall be redeemed from the shame of a vast population standing by, while three-and-thirty delegate to a tool of their own the management of all their most important affairs. At least, and at length, said they, we shall have honest and free representatives chosen by thousands, and to those thousands responsible for the duties delegated to them; and, whether we ourselves may or may not happen to concur in the election, our interests are safe in their hands, and the hands of the electors. We cite our city as an honourable example of this wise and magnanimous conduct; but wheresoever the stratagem was tried, it met with the same fate; and even the rabble asked those who, all of a sudden, had become so careful of their claims to political power-Since when all this friendly anxiety had begun? The poor people were quite astonished to find, all of a sudden, what affectionate friends they had in high quarters; but it must be admitted, they met this friendly zeal with a moderate share of confidence, the affection was very far from being reciprocal.

The results of the dissolution were soon perceived on the meeting of the new Parliament. The Bill, nearly in the same form, was again brought in, and the second reading passed by a majority of near 140. This was decisive of the whole question as regarded both the sense of the people, and the progress of the Bill through the Commons; decisive, if mere numbers be taken into consideration; but that is very far from being the whole

« PreviousContinue »