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Let no person, therefore, run away with the notion that these things were done without design. To bring together the inhabitants of a particular division, or men sharing a common franchise, is to bring together an assembly, of which the component parts act with some respect and awe of each other : ancient habits, which the Reformers would call prejudices, preconceived attachments, which they would call corruption, that mutual respect which makes the eye of a neighbour a security for each man's good conduct, but which the Reformers would stigmatise as a confederacy among the few for dominion over their fellows-all these things make men difficult to be moved on the sudden to any extravagant and violent enterprise. But bring together a multitude of individuals having no permanent relation to each other, no common tie, but what arises from their concurrence as members of that meeting-a tie dissolved as soon as the meeting is at an end : in such an aggregation of individuals there is no such mutual respect, no such check upon the proceedings of each man from the awe of his neighbour's disapprobation ; and if ever a multitudinous assembly can be wrought up to purposes of mischief, it will be an assembly so composed.
How monstrous it is to confound such meetings with the genuine and recognised modes of collecting the sense of the English people! Was it by meetings such as these that the Revolution was brought about, that grand event to which our antagonists are so fond of referring? Was it by meetings in St. George's fields ? in Spa-fields ? in Smithfield ? Was it by untold multitudes collected in a village in the north? No it was by the meeting of corporations in their corporate capacity-by the assembly of recognised bodies of the State—by the interchange of opinions among portions of the community known to each other, and capable of estimating each other's views and characters. Do we want a more striking mode of remedying grievances than this ? Do we require a more animating example? And did it remain for the Reformers of the present day to strike out the course by which alone Great Britain could make and keep herself free?
Gentlemen, all power is, or ought to be, accompanied by responsibility. Tyranny is irresponsible power. This definition is equally true, whether the power be lodged in one or many ; whether in a despot, exempted by the form of government from the control of law, or in a mob, whose numbers put them beyond the reach of law. Idle, therefore, and absurd, to talk of freedom where a mob domineers! Idle, therefore, and absurd, to talk of liberty, when you hold your property, perhaps your life, not indeed at the nod of a despot, but at the will of an inflamed, and infuriated populace! If, therefore, during the reign of terror at Manchester or at Spa-fields, there were persons in this country who had a right to complain of tyranny, it was they who loved the Constitution, who loved the Monarchy, but who dared not utter their opinions or their wishes until their houses were barricadoed, and their children sent to a place of safety. That was tyranny! and, so far as the mobs were under the control of a leader, that was despotism! It was against that tyranny, it was against that des potism, that Parliament at length raised its arm. All power, I say,
say, is vicious, that is not accompanied by proportionate responsibility. Personal responsibility prevents the abuse of individual power ; responsibility of character is the security against the abuse of collective power, when exercised by bodies of men whose existence is permanent and detined. But strip such bodies of these qualities, you degrade them into multitudes, and then what security have you against any thing that they may do or resolve, knowing that from the moment at which the meeting is at an end, there is no human being responsible for their proceedings ? The meeting at Manchester, the meeting at Birmingham, the meeting at Spa-fields or Smithfield, what pledge could they
give to the nation of the soundness or sincerity of their designs ? The local character of Manchester, the local character of Birmingham, was not pledged to any of the proceedings to which their names were appended. A certain number of ambulatory tribunes of the people, self-elected to that high function, assumed the name and authority of whatever place they thought proper to select for a place of meeting ; their rostrum was pitched, sometimes here, sometimes there, according to the fancy of the mob, or the patience of the Magistrates ; but the proposition, and the proposer, were in all places nearly alike ; and when, by a sort of political ventriloquism, the same voice had been made to issue from halfa-dozen different corners of the country, it was impudently assumed to be a concord of sweet sounds, composing the united voice of the people of England.
Now, Gentlemen, let us estimate the mighty mischief that has been done to liberty by putting down meetings such as I have described. Let us ask, what lawful authority has been curtailed; let us ask, what respectable community has been defrauded of its franchise ; let us ask, what municipal institutions have been violated, by a law which fixes the migratory complaint to the spot whence it professes to originate, and desires to hear of the grievance from those by whom that grievance is felt; which leaves to Manchester as Manchester, to Birmingham as Birmingham, to London as London, all the free scope of utterance which they have at any time enjoyed, for making known their wants, their feelings, their wishes, their remonstrances; which leaves to each of these divisions its separate authority ; to the union of all, or of
of them, the aggregate authority of such a consent and co-operation ; but which denies to an itinerant hawker of grievances the power of stamping their names upon his wares: of pretending, because he may raise an outcry at Manchester or at Birmingham, that he therefore speaks the sense of the town which he disquiets and endangers; or, still more preposterously, that because he has disquieted and endangered half a dozen neighbourhoods in their turn, he is, therefore, the organ of them all, and, through them, of the whole British people.
Such are the stupid fallacies which the law of the last session has extinguished ! and such is the object and effect of the measures which British liberty is not to survive !
To remedy the dreadful wound thus inflicted upon British liberty; to restore to the public what the people have not lost; to give a new impulse to that spirit of freedom, which nothing has been done to embarrass or restrain; we are invited to alter the constitution of that assembly through which the people share in the legislature ; in short, to make a Radical Reform in the House of Commons.
It has always struck me as extraordinary, that there should be persons prepared to entertain the question of a change in so important a member of the constitution, without considering in what way that change must affect the situation of the other members, and the action of the constitution itself.
I have, on former occasions, stated here, and I have stated elsewhere, questions on this subject"; to which, as yet, I have never received an answer. “ You who propose to reform the House of Commons, do you mean to restore that branch of the Legislature to the same state in which it stood at some former period, or do you mean to reconstruct it on new principles ?”
Perhaps a moderate Reformer or Whig will answer, that he means only to restore the House of Commons to what it was at some former period. I then beg to ask him, and to that question also I have never yet received an answer, “ At what period of our history was the House of Commons in the state to which you wish to restore it?”
The House of Commons must, for the purpose of clear argument, be considered in two views : first, with respect to its agency as a third part in the constitution ; secondly, with respect to its composition, in relation to its constituents. As to its agency as a part of the Constitution, I venture to say without hazard, as I believe, of contradiction, that there is no period in the history of this country in which the House of Commons will be found to have occupied so large a share of the functions of Government,
as at present. Whatever else may be said of the House of Commons, this one point, at least, is indisputable, that from the earliest infancy of the Constitution, the power of the House of Commons has been growing, till it has almost, like the rod of Aaron, absorbed its fellows. I am not saying whether this is or is not as it ought to be ; I am merely saying why I think that it cannot be intended to complain of the want of power, and of a due share in the government, as the defect of the modern House of Com
I admit, however, very willingly, that the greater share of power the House of Commons exercises, the more jealous we ought to be of its composition ; and I presume, therefore, that it is in this respect, and in relation to its constituents, that the state of that house is contended to want revision. Well, then, at what period of our history was the composition of the House of Commons materially different from what it is at present? Is there any period of our history, in which the rights of election were not as various, in which the influence of property was not as direct; in which recommendations of candidates were not as efficient, and some boroughs as close as they are now? I ask for information : but that information, plain and simple as it is, and necessary, one should think, to a clear understanding, much more to a grave decision of the point at issue, I never, though soliciting it with all humility, have yet been able to obtain from any Reformer, Radical or Whig.
The Radical Reformer, indeed, to do him justice, is not bound to furnish me with an answer to this question, because with his „view of the matter, precedents (except one which I shall mention presently) have nothing to do. The Radical Reformer would, probably, give to my first question an answer very different from that which I have supposed his moderate brother to give. He will tell me fairly, that he means not simply to bring the House of Commons back either to the share of power which it formerly enjoyed, or to the modes of election by which it was formerly chosen, but to make it, what, according to him, it ought to be, a direct, effectual Representative of the People ; representing them, not as a delegate commissioned to take care of their interests, but as a deputy appointed to speak their will. Now to this view of the matter I have no other objectign than this--that the British Constitution is a limited Monarchy; that a limited Monarchy is, in the nature of things, a mixed Government ; but that such a House of Commons as the Radical Reformer requires would, in effect, constitute a pure Democracy, a power, as it appears to me, inconsistent with any Monarchy, and unsusceptible of any limitation. VOL. XVI.
NO. XXXI. Р
I may have great respect for the person who theoretically prefers a Republic to a Monarchy: but, even supposing me to agree with him in this preference, I should have a preliminary question to discuss, by which he, perhaps, may not feel himself embarrassed : which is this, whether I, born as I am (and as I think it is my good fortune to be) under a Monarchy, am quite at liberty to consider myself as having a clear stage for political experiments ; whether I should be authorised, if I were convinced of the expedia ency of such a change, to withdraw Monarchy altogether from the British Constitution, and to substitute an unqualified Democracy in its stead; or whether, whatever changes I may be desirous of introducing, I am not bound to consider the Constitution which I find as at least circumscribing the range, and in some measure prescribing the nature of the improvement.
For my own part, I am undoubtedly prepared to uphold the ancient Monarchy of the country, by arguments drawn from what I think the blessings which we have enjoyed under it; and by ar. guments of another sort, if arguments of another sort shall ever be brought against it.-But all that I am now contending for is, that whatever reformation is proposed, should be considered with some reference to the established Constitution of the country. That point being conceded to me, I have no difficulty in saying, that I cannot conceive a Constitution, of which one-third part shall be an assembly delegated by the people, not to consult for the good of the nation, but to speak, day by day, the people's will, which must not, in a few days' sitting, sweep away every other branch of the Constitution that might attempt to oppose or control it. I cannot conceive how, in fair reasoning, any other branch of the Constitution should pretend to stand against it. If Government be a matter of will, all that we have to do is to collect the will of the nation; and, having collected it by an adequate organ, that will is paramount and supreme. By what pretension could the House of Lords be maintained in equal authority and jurisdiction with the House of Commons, when once that House of Commons should become a direct deputation, speaking the people's will, and that will the rule of the Government? In one way or other the House of Lords must act, if it be to remain a concurrent branch of the Legislature. Either it must uniformly affirm the measures which come from the House of Commons, or it must occasionally take the liberty to reject them. If it uniformly affirm, it is without the shadow of authority. But to presume to reject an act of the deputies of the whole nation !-by what assumption of right could three or four hundred great proprietors set themselves against the national will? Grant the Reformers, then, what they ask, on the principles on which they ask it, and it is utterly impossible that, after