Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs, Accompanying the Annual Message of the President to the Second Session Thirty-eighth Congress, Part I
Mr. Adams to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have the honor to transmit a copy of the London Times, containing a report of the speech of Mr. Gladstone, in the House of Commons, on Wednesday afternoon, on the question of franchise.
I need not say that this is one of the most significant events of the day. It at once marks out the shape which parties are likely to take after this ministry shall have vanished from the scene. Whilst, as a first consequence, it seems to render the return of the conservative party to power nearly certain, it betokens a close of that period of transition between one phase of government and another, which for the time has had the effect of almost paralyzing its executive energy.
The expectation seems now to be general that this change is soon to take place. I have not the necessary time to dwell upon the subject longer by the present opportunity.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
Borough Franchise Bill.
Mr. Baines, in rising to move the second reading of this bill, claimed the indulgence of the house, as he had to address them on behalf of a class of persons who neither by themselves nor by their representatives could be heard there. He had to appeal to a highly aristocratic assembly on behalf of a plebeian community, for, strange as it might appear, the House of Commons was in the main an aristocratic assembly with an admixture of the middle class. He believed, however, that that house would always remain in a great degree an aristocratic assembly, because of the great advantage which wealth, rank, and education gave men for the service of their country in a legislative capacity. The great grievance that was complained of by those whose interests he was advocating was that the commons of England had no voice whatever in the nomination of the commons’ house. [Hear.] He did not mean to say that in no borough nor county were there any working class representatives; but the great and broad fact remained that the great bulk of the working classes was wholly unrepresented in this house. [Hear, hear.] He deemed that fact to be at the same time his weakness and his strength in his advocacy of the bill which he now submitted,—his weakness, because he could not expect to enlist the sympathies of those whose interests were adverse; his strength, because the house, like all assemblages of Englishmen, would be disposed to deal justly and generously with those who stood in need of their generous consideration. [Hear.] The bill which he had introduced differed essentially from that of the honorable member for Bast Surrey, as while that honorable member sought to give a fuller representation to a class already partly represented, the object of the bill was to extend the range of representation, bringing it down to a lower level, so as to include a considerable but not excessive number of the working classes. It was well known that the working classes comprised about three-fourths [Page 866] of the entire population, and yet, speaking generally, that class was almost wholly excluded from participation in the privileges of the franchise. The honorable member for Shoreham had given notice of his intention to move the previous question. From that notice it was to be inferred that the honorable member did not intend to oppose the principle of the bill, but probably intended to object upon the grounds of time and expediency. As to time, he thought there could be no better opportunity than the present for the settlement of a question which must be dealt with sooner or later. This was the last or the penultimate session of this Parliament, and he could not but think that the proper time to deal with this question was when Parliament was approaching its natural termination, and when a general election must necessarily soon take place. Then as to the expediency of agitating this question now, he would remind the house that honorable members sitting with him on that side were called upon to redeem the pledges which they gave at their elections to support a reform bill of a more extensive character than the bill that was proposed by Lord Derby’s government. The policy of a £6 franchise was distinctly affirmed by the country at the last general election, and surely now, in a time of political calm and industrial prosperity, it was the proper moment for them to redeem their pledges to their constituents. It would be very objectionable if that house were to lay down a rule that it would never act except under popular coercion. He repeated that the opinion of the people of this country had been expressed upon this question, and it was the duty of their representatives now to carry that opinion into effect. The events which had occurred of late years had been so absorbing and of such great importance as materially to interfere with the expression of political opinions on the part either of employer or employe; but he would not admit that this apathy by any means proved that any change of opinion had taken place with reference to this subject. [Hear, hear.] As a proof that this apathy was not universal he would refer to the numerous petitions which had been presented by honorable members advocating the extension of the franchise. He would also remind the house that the/present time was eminently favorable to the admission of the working classes to the participation of political power, because it was always better to grant such reforms willingly than to have them exacted through public agitation. [Hear.] The sympathy with which the working classes regarded the extension of representative institutions abroad proved, also, that they could not be entirely indifferent to an increase of liberty at home. He would appeal to the spiiit of the age as a further proof of the necessity for the movement which he advocated. Since the reform bill of 1832 representative institutions had become general throughout nearly the whole of Europe. He believed, from what had fallen from” members upon the opposition benches, that he might look to the conservative aristocracy for a great amount of sympathy with the rights and interests of the working classes.
On the occasion of the debate upon the county franchise bill the honorable member for Northamptonshire had expressed his opinion that the house ought to r; cognize the rights of the laboring class to some share of political power, from which, in spite of their increased intelligence and respectability, they were at present excluded. He believed that, judging from those opinions, he might rely upon the support of the honorable gentleman on the present occasion. The honorable member for Northamptonshire had said that there were “many on his side of the house” who shared the opinion that the working classes were entitled to the franchise. The honorable and learned member for Belfast, who was solicitor general under Lord Derby’s government, (Sir II. Cairns,) had said he “would not reduce the franchise in boroughs so low as £5” He hoped, therefore, he might infer that the honorable gentleman would approve its reduction to £6. The right honorable member for North Wilts, who was a secretary of state under the conservative government, (Mr. Sotheron-Estcourt,) was “in favor [Page 867] of a moderate extension of the franchise.” The honorable baronet, the member for Hertford, (Sir M. Farquhar,) was also “in favor of admitting the working classes to a large share of the franchise.” The member for Carnarvon (Mr. Finch) was “in favor of a larger extension of the suffrage than Lord Derby’s bill effected.” The right honorable member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) and the right honorable member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole) actually quitted the government of Lord Derby because of his unsatisfactory reduction of the borough franchise, and the latter gentleman was understood to favor a £6 rating franchise. The honorable baronet, the member for Stamford, (Sir S. Northcote) also a distinguished member of Lord Derby’s government, was “in favor of removing the anomalies from and moderately extending the franchise.” The right honorable baronet who represented Lincolnshire, (Sir J. Trollope,) and who was president of the poor-law board under Lord Derby, was “in favor of lowering the franchise, especially in towns.” And the gallant member for West Sussex (Mr. Wyndham) was “in favor of extending the franchise to the intelligent portion of the working classes.” He also maintained that the recorded opinions of the noble viscount, the member for West Kent, (Lord Holmesdale,) the honorable baronet the member for Ayrshire, (Sir J. Fergusson,) the honorable member for North Essex, (Mr. Du Cane,) the honorable member for Berkshire, (Mr. Benyon,) the honorable member for Stoke-upon-Trent, (Mr. Copeland,) the honorable member for Tynemouth, (Mr. Hodgson,) the honorable member for Buckingham, (Mr. Hubbard,) the honorable and learned member for Chippenham, (Mr. R. Long,) the honorable and learned member for Truro, (Mr. Montague Smith,) the honorable member for Dumbartonshire, (Mr. Smollett,) and the honorable member for Hull, (Mr. Somes,) warranted him in believing that they would regard the present measure with favor. Honorable members would allow him to bring forward two branches of evidence which to his mind were absolutely irresistible. He could quite understand so strong an advocate of the increase of education as Earl Russell shrinking in 1831 from proposing an extension of the franchise to the working classes, but it should be remembered that no statistics upon the subject had then been collected since those obtained by Lord Brougham in 1818. According to those statistics the number of day scholars in England and Wales was 647,000, or one in every seventeen of the population. A commission issued subsequent to the passing of the reform bill showed the number to have increased to 1,276,000, or one in eleven of the population. In 1858 the results of another commission showed that the number had reached 2,535,000, but in the census of 1861 a similar return was made, and this return included what did not appear in the others— those who were educated privately. The number was then 3,120,000. [Hear, hear.] That return proved that England was one of the best educated countries in the world, and that prodigious strides had been made since 1830 and 1831 in the matter of education. The other branch of evidence was the marvellous increase of popular literature, and the figures to which he purposed to call the attention of the house would, he hoped, completely exonerate the right honorable gentleman the chancellor of the exchequer from any blame which might be attributed to him on account of his removal of the taxes upon knowledge. The figures were not recommended to the consideration of the house upon his own authority, for they were supplied by gentlemen who were in every way calculated to possess information upon the subject of the increase of political journals. In 1831 the stamp returns showed that the total circulation of papers in that year was 38,648,314, of which number 32,000,000 were published in England, 4,360,564 in Ireland, and 2,287,750 in Scotland. In 1864 the daily circulation of the London daily papers alone was 248,000, giving a total for the year of 87,776,000. The circulation per issue of the metropolitan weekly papers was 2,263,000, and the total for the year 117,686,400, so that the yearly circulation of journals in London was 205,462,400 copies, as against 118,000,000 in 1861, [Page 868] when the right honorable gentleman, the chancellor of the exchequer, proposed to repeal the taxes on knowledge. In 1854 there were five daily papers in the provinces, with a daily circulation of 10,000, while the number in consequence of the right honorable gentleman’s measure had increased to fifty-two. In England there were now twenty-seven papers with a daily circulation of 283,000, in Wales one with a circulation of 2,000, in Ireland fourteen with a circulation of 96,000, in Scotland nine with a circulation of 77,000, and in Jersey one with a circulation of 1,000, amounting to an aggregate daily circulation of 439,000, or a yearly circulation of 137,407,000 copies. The circulation of provincial weekly papers was 3,907,500 per issue, and the annual issue 203,190,000, giving a total circulation for the provincial papers of 340,597,000, or 1,313 per cent. over the number issued in 1831. [Hear, hear.] In addition to these papers there had sprung up a large quantity of most useful and interesting literature in the shape of magazines, periodicals, and serials. He had a return of the monthly issue of magazines and periodicals of a literary, scientific, and religious kind, showing that there were published monthly 1,809,000 religious works, 793,000 temperance, 338,000 useful, educational, and entertaining, 244,000 magazines and serials of a higher class, and 363,000 serials issued by great publishing firms, highly embellished and illustrated, making a total monthly issue of 3,609,000. [Hear, hear.] Of weekly publications there were issued: religious, 489,000; useful, educational, and entertaining, including serial republications of standard works, 734,000; journals, containing novels, tales, biographical sketches, &c., 1,053,000; romances exciting wonder and horror, 195,000; the decidedly immoral and impure publications, the issue of which three years ago was 52,500, were now reduced to 9,000, [hear, hear;] and the free-thinking were under 5,000. [Hear, hear] Thus, the total issue of weekly publications was 2,485,600, and the grand total of monthly and weekly publications 6,094,950. [Hear, hear.] This estimate excluded all the issues of the British and Foreign Bible Society, religious tracts and missionary literature, the extent of which was enormous and ever-increasing, as well as all books issued in the form of volumes. In 1831 the aggregate circulation of monthly magazines issued in London did not, on a very liberal estimate, exceed 125,000; now they were 3,609,000. He believed he should be going beyond the mark in saying that the weekly and monthly issue of serials in that year amounted to 400,000; now they were 6,094,000, or an increase of 15-fold. [Hear, hear.] These facts were surely most gratifying. It had been feared that in throwing open the flood-gates of knowledge direct encouragement would be given to impurity and infidelity; but, on the contrary, as he had shown, publications of this class had immensely diminished in number, and those of a sacred, a useful, and an innocent class had taken their place. On these points he had thought it undesirable to rest satisfied with the evidence of persons in London, and he had therefore written to two gentlemen in the provinces of the highest authority on the subject. Mr. Guest, bookseller of Birmingham, said:
“I consider that every grade of the working classes is in a state of progression. Our free library has been opened with great and increasing success. The number of volumes issued during the past year was 357,436, daily average 436, and about 10,000 persons have visited the reading-room. Building societies have increased in number and amount of business, proving that careful and provident habits are understood and practiced. Sunday and other schools have progressed in the amount of usefulness. I have every reason to think that in the last three years the class in whose hands you wish to place the franchise, namely, the £6 householders, have materially increased in intelligence, and that they are fully entitled by their qualifications to the right to vote. The newspapers have made rapid strides. We have two dailies and four weeklies, circulating about 250,000 copies per week. Periodicals and other newspapers have by no means diminished in sale, but I am not in a condition to give you [Page 869] even an approximate number. There are about 300 families wholly or partially supported by the sale of the various publications, and they employ 1,000 persons at the least. This state of things, contrasted with the state of things up o midsummer, 1830, when we had two papers only, whose total circulation was not more than 6,000, and only three periodicals, at 2d. and 3d., for the whole country, is such that a parallel can only be found in the extension of trade and travelling from railway, and letter-writing from cheap postage.”
Mr. Alderman Heywood, ex-mayor of Manchester, said:
“It is frequently asserted by members of Parliament, and by those who copy them, that the people care nothing for the right to vote; that they are apathetic, and want not the franchise.”
He then accounted for their present quietness by their being wearied of political agitation, and by asking in vain for the franchise; and he stated that they had turned their attention to the co-operative societies as a means of improving their circumstances. He added:
“But all these men are advocates for the right to vote, without any other qualification than that of enrolment. But it is amazing to see the progress they have made during the last twenty or twenty-five years. Whatever may be said to the contrary, there is a sturdy self-reliance being implanted in the people, which will exhibit itself whenever the right man in the right place is displayed before them. Great measures have been carried during years gone by, of immense value to the workman, such as the abolition of the bread tax, the uniform system of postage, and the entire abolition of the duty upon newspapers—measures which, had they been accompanied with a progressive admission upon the electoral lists, would have silenced political agitation forever. Are the people fit for the exercise of political power? I thought they were in 1832; I am the more firmly convinced of it now. Since 1849 no political émeute or disturbance has taken place here or in the neighborhood, nor would the bitterest foe to popular right find occasion to justify his resistance in the conduct and behavior of the people. I need not refer to the example they have shown, the sufferings they have borne, during the last two years, as instances to prove how greatly the principles of law and order have become associated with their daily life.”
With these facts before the house, showing the vast progress which this country had made in education and intelligence, the house would surely be justified in an extension of the franchise. The particular class upon whom he sought to confer it was exactly that upon whom all these influences concentred. They were the better part of the working classes—not the idler, the scapegrace, the vagrant, or the man sunk in sensual gratification, but those by whom this mass of cheap literature had been to a great extent bought and absorbed—the educated, the steady, the sober, the settled, the industrious, and the provident part of the working classes. [Hear, hear.] Could it be doubted that such men were fit to exercise the franchise? Hitherto every grievance redressed and every abuse swept away had been followed by increased contentment and loyalty among the people, so that reform had proved of all things the most conservative. [Hear.] The more you trusted the people the more you would find they deserved to be trusted. It was said that if the franchise were conferred on the working classes they would prove dependent and corruptible. He believed that this was utterly untrue, and that workingmen were not so dependent upon masters as was supposed. What would be the effect of the extension of the franchise which he proposed, namely, a £6 rental in boroughs? From a return issued in 1860 it appeared that the number of borough electors was 443,000, and it was estimated that the reduction of the franchise to £6 would add 210,000 to this number, being an increase of 48 percent. Last year he had moved for a similar return, but unfortunately it only referred to 77 out of 200 boroughs. The same officer of the poor law board, however, who had revised and sifted the return of 1860 had gone over, this, and he estimated that [Page 870] the present number of borough electors on the register was 487,000, and that the reduction of the franchise now proposed would add some 240,000 electors, being an increase of 49 per cent. This was a very moderate addition. The census of 1861, brought up to the present time, showed the number of adult males in the represented boroughs of England and Wales to be 2,268,169; and supposing 728,300 of these had votes, as would be the case if his bill were adopted, 1,539,860 would still be left unrepresented. [Hear, hear.] The proportion of working men to the middle and upper classes in boroughs would then be between one in four or one in three. Now, it was known that the upper and middle classes were only one-fourth of the population, while the working classes were three-fourths. Yet the upper and middle classes would have about two-thirds the votes in boroughs. In the counties the working classes had no appreciable share in the representation; and, looking to the whole country, therefore, it would be found that even after the proposed extension the working classes would enjoy only about one-fifth or one-sixth of the representation. [Hear, hear.] He thought that this would be a moderate and a safe measure, that it would conduce to the concord of the people and to the stability of our institutions. [Hear, hear.] He believed it would redeem the honor of Parliament, which was in great danger of being sacrificed by the non-carrying out of the pledges given at the last general election, and afterwards by the government. If a considerable number of the sons of industry were admitted to the franchise, they would prove a defence to the throne, a great accession to our strength in war, and to our prosperity in peace. [Hear, hear.] With the seer of old, speaking of an ancient people, he believed he might say to constitutional England, “Lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes.” [Cheers.]
Mr. Cave, in rising to move the previous question, said that he should not attempt to follow the honorable member for Leeds through a mass of statistics and figures, which could not be checked in a debate, and which he had adduced apparently for the purpose of proving that the change he proposed was really no change at all. It was enough to say that it had been made quite clear on former occasions that in almost every borough in England the addition he would make would be quite enough to turn the scale. [Hear.] He should now endeavor to show that if, as the house decided by a large majority in 1861, the time the honorable member then chose for his motion was not a convenient one, the present could not be considered more happy. He should try to prove this from the arguments brought forward then, and reiterated now by the honorable gentleman, as well as by suggesting that the reasons which he (Mr. Cave) then adduced had, if anything, gathered strength in the interval. It was objected before, and probably might be again, that his motion ought to be for the rejection of the bill altogether; but, though the effect would undoubtedly be the same, he had chosen this form as evincing no hostility to the honorable member’s doctrine, that the working classes ought to have a share in the representation. A very able professor, whose talents he admired, and whose misfortune he deplored, Mr. Fawcett, said the other day, in a lecture on reform, in Manchester, that “he hated the phrase that the working men ought not to have the franchise because they had no stake in the country.” Now, he should not like to indorse all the learned gentleman’s views, but he entirely concurred in this; and therefore he felt disposed to ask the house to agree with him in postponing the consideration of the amount of that share which the working man had, and that which he should have, to a more convenient season, rather than to move the direct negative, since his motives in doing this would certainly be misrepresented by those whose interest it was to give themselves out as the friends of the working man. He said the share which he had, for had not a great change taken place since 1832? In these thirty years had there not been a vast alteration in the material condition of the working classes] [Hear, hear.] The £6 and £10 houses of that day bore a very different value now. We knew that house-rent had doubled [Page 871] and trebled in large towns, and the wages of skilled labor risen in proportion, so that if, as the honorable member averred, education and intelligence had reached a lower social stratum, then he answered that these changes to which he referred had already raised the best of that stratum to a higher political position. The committees under the new assessment act had told us that the question of valuation was now entirely unsettled, and the general impression appeared to be that the majority of houses of this description were even now valued far too low. Therefore the changing value of property was effecting a reform in the direction aimed at by the honorable member, silently, and gradually, and safely to the nation, though he could well imagine that this might not be satisfactory to those who preferred a violent change with a Sourish of trumpets, and would sacrifice anything for a little fleeting popularity. [Hear, hear.] He hoped the honorable member would understand that he made these remarks generally, and was far from supposing them to apply personally to himself, as he believed his character to be entirely above such imputations. And now he would proceed to examine those arguments of the honorable member in his former motion on this subject, which were based upon his conjectures of what might happen in future. He need hardly say that prophecy was very dangerous, unless the prophet’s predictions were so vague that, like the oracles of old, they might be read in more ways than one. [A laugh.] But the honorable member was, if he might presume to say so, almost rashly precise. He said that the spring of the year 1861 was the proper time for deciding this question, and why? Because “we had had one bad harvest, and were threatened with a second. Recent events across the Atlantic had raised doubts as to the supply of our most important raw material. The nations of Europe were bristling with arms. It was possible that a time of trial awaited us from domestic distress and foreign danger. Should it be so, where would be our security but in a people satisfied with their institutions?” He begged the attention of the house to that expression. We had been much worse off than the honorable member even imagined we might be. Not only had his anticipation of a bad harvest in 1861 been realized, but we had another in 1862. Nor had there been doubts as to our supply of cotton, but it had been almost wholly cut off, and the industry of the northern counties had received a blow unparalleled in their history. [Hear, hear.] For some weeks of the very year in which the honorable member made that speech we did not know whether we were not at war with the United States, and what was the conduct of the working classes of England? Did we hear of a repetition of the reform riots of Nottingham and Bristol? [Hear.] Was there any evidence of bitterness against the wealthier classes, or any disposition to take advantage of the calamities and dangers of the country? [Hear.] Was there not, on the contrary, an universal outburst of loyalty on the mere rumor of war? and did not the nation work together, high and low, north and south, east and west, to tide the factory operatives over the cotton crisis, as if instead of the hard strata of unsympathizing castes, as honorable gentlemen opposite sometimes were pleased to represent us, we were members of one family, with a common object and common interests? [Cheers.] He asked whether the conduct of the people of England during these twenty-four months of the severest trial we had ever known was not that of a “people satisfied with their institutions?” The honorable member was entitled, no doubt, to use this most admirable behavior in support of his present motion; but he appealed to the house whether he had not at least an equal right to employ it in demolishing his former position? [Hear, hear.] The honorable member for Birmingham also took up his parable, and said a little earlier that if the bill of 1860 did not pass there would be delegates from every Trades’ Union in the country sitting in London. That showed, by the way, the honorable member’s idea of the independent exercise of the franchise by the working man.
Well, the bill of 1860 did not pass, and in 1862 there were delegates, if not from all the Trades’ Unions, certainly from all the trades in the country, [Page 872] assembled in London, and for what purpose? Not for a barren agitation in which the best working men took no real interest, though some of their leaders made a profitable trade of it, [hear, hear;] but for the real, tangible, sensible, and legitimate object of improving their taste and skill in workmanship, and so attaining that material prosperity which would quickly enable the intelligent and industrious to cross the almost imaginary barrier of disfranchisement whenever they might care to do so. [Flear, hear.] But were there no signs of discontent now? Why, we had had mass meetings and indignation meetings within the last few days, and with what object? The mass meetings were to plant trees in memory of Shakespeare; the indignation meetings had no greater grievance to declaim against than the premature departure of an illustrious stranger. [Hear.] In listening to the speeches of some honorable members one would suppose that we lived in a political state resembling that of France before the first revolution, when there was a barrier against which talent, industry, and ambition surged in vain on one side, while pride, indolence, and luxury looked carelessly on on the other; and yet even while they were speaking hundreds upon hundreds of the working classes rose with ease to competence and the franchise; while the commanding intellects among them, who formerly led the masses against the ranks above, now simply came forth from the crowd, obtained affluence and position, and not only votes but seats in that house, and might aspire, without either presumption or despair, to the highest offices. And as, in a well-ventilated room, when the heated air rose the cold fell in constant circulation, so in this free country there was a perpetual recruiting of the higher ranks from the lower, and sinking of the higher into the lower again, until, as had once been observed, it was difficult to decide whether we had the most democratic aristocracy or the most aristocratic democracy in the world. [Hear, hear.] Surely it was far better that men should rise to the franchise than that the franchise should be lowered to them. Surely those who had so risen ought to be the last to advocate indiscriminate scattering of the privileges they had worked for, and he believed, as a matter of fact, the great body of £10 householders had no wish to be swamped by a vast influx of the ranks below them. [Hear, hear.] Indeed, it stood to reason that a transfer of power to the masses as masses by mere lowering of the franchise must be dangerous, because those classes which worked from morning till evening had, to use the words of the member for Birmingham, “limited means of informing themselves on these great subjects.” They were, therefore, at the mercy of mere declaimers, who bowed the hearts of great masses as one man by the force of the voice alone, as an eloquent counsel would excite the sympathy of his audience without the least reference to the justice of his cause. [Hear, hear.] There were times of great excitement when masses of people could not be induced to hear reason, and therefore the transfer of power to those who naturally and habitually acted in the masses was dangerous even without question of the intelligence and education of the component part of the mass. He had seen, at least on one occasion, even that house act very much like an infuriated mob. But perhaps the best illustration of what he meant was afforded by a scene in which the member for Birmingham himself took a part in 1857, when not even his powerful voice, and readiness of speech, and former popularity could gain him a hearing from a body of people, scarcely one of whom perhaps knew the real objects of the war for which they were so enthusiastic, and, if he had known them, would probably not have given a day’s wages or an hour’s thought on their behalf. The working men were, like other people, good, bad, and indifferent; but, like all others who from circumstances had much in common, were apt to be led by the worst among their number. The true, honest, industrious workmen—the men who were respected by their employers, were rarely much of politicians, and seldom had the “gift of the gab;” yet in times of excitement, as we had already seen, they too often lacked courage to assert their independence, and surrendered their [Page 873] will to unscrupulous agitators, just as in American elections the majorities, or “self-styled” majorities, to use a classical expression, exercised a complete tyranny over the rest of the community, and drove them like sheep to the poll. Why, it was only the other day that a newly-made corporation elected as their chief magistrate a man who had been twice convicted of using false weights before the very bench on which he was now to sit; and we know the £6 element pretty nearly controlled municipal elections. He was not now talking of working men pressing their own interests against those of other classes, but of their sending there as their representatives strike-leaders and such like, when there were members on both sides of this house whom individually they would consult on any emergency fifty times rather than their ostensible leaders at whose chariot-wheels they were unresistingly dragged. But supposing they did understand and work their own interests, then they must not be allowed to overbalance the best. He would not trust any interest with overwhelming power; and it was the excellence of our constitution that one interest checked another, and all were kept within proper bounds. He remembered many years ago having the advantage of an acquaintance in Boston, in the United States, with the late Mr. Abbott Lawrence, who was afterwards American minister at this court. At a party in his house the repudiation of the State debts was being discussed, and compared, as Americans were fond of doing, to the suspension of cash payments by the Bank of England. When the company had gone their host remarked to him, “After all that has been said, it was a very disgraceful thing; but if your cabmen in London were told that if the national debt was wiped out they would get beer at half-price, don’t you think they would vote for it?— because that is our case; those are the people who govern us here.” [A laugh.] He believed our cabmen were much improved since those days, and perhaps the American statesman might have done them an injustice even then; but he was much struck with his words, and still more when he went on to say, “England seems hurrying towards universal suffrage. Ah! if she had only our expererience; but she seems judicially blinded.” The honorable member for Norwich (Mr. Warner) in an able pamphlet had explained this danger, and proposed a certain number of mouth-pieces for working men, in the shape of delegates from their own body as representing extra seats in large towns. Whether the Sussex laborer would think the Manchester artisan a better representative of his interests than his own landlord or neighbor, he questioned. In Sweden the peasantry had a house of Parliament to themselves, as had the nobles, the clergy, and the burghers. These four chambers must concur on all legislative measures; but the system worked badly, and naturally, therefore, threw more power into the hands of the executive, the result being that the Parliament met only once in three years, the government doing pretty much as they liked in the interval. [Hear, hear.] He must say he had no great faith in symmetrical constitutions. He preferred that which worked fairly to that which ought to work perfectly. England should remember the epitaph on a tombstone: “I was well; I wanted to be better, and here I am.” A Prussian once said to him, “I cannot understand your English constitution; it is full of the most absurd anomalies, but everything seems to turn out right; while in Prussia we have a perfect constitution, but we are always in trouble—everything seems to go wrong.” [Hear, hear.] But these anomalies were not all in one direction; a double first-class man or senior wrangler, who objected to pay for commons he did not eat and sermons he did not sleep under, and therefore took his name off the books, was called to the bar, or had the care of two or three thousand souls, and if he lived in furnished lodgings—a very common case—had no more vote than a pauper. The same was the case with officers in the army and navy and many others; so that the £6 franchise by no means produced the symmetry so much desired. [Hear, hear.] Did the people consider themselves unrepresented? He did not when he was one of them, [Page 874] and he believed the working classes were fully represented in that house as far as their material welfare was concerned. Had not the tendency been to relieve them of taxation? To give merely one instance of a trifling character, but of very recent occurrence:
The chancellor of the exchequer proposed in his budget to remit a portion of the duty on licenses to sell tea in places outside of parliamentary boroughs. He took the liberty of stating to the right honorable gentleman grounds which he considered sufficient for extending the boon to people within those limits. And to whom had this concession been made? To those who, by means of their votes, could exercise pressure upon the government or their representatives? No; it was confined to occupants of £8 houses. [Hear.] Whenever there was a genuine feeling in the great body of the English people that they wanted something, they generally got it, and in such cases they had almost always a good reason for the demand. What was the general feeling now—a feeling which was not very likely to be weakened by the state of surrounding nations? Why, that peace, and equal laws, and security of life and property, were things worth having; not an artificial, symmetrical constitution, which was always coming to a dead-lock, as in Prussia—not extended suffrage, ending in despotism, as in France—not extended suffrage, tending to anarchy, as in America. [Hear, hear.] They did not consider a vote a good thing in itself, and they did not want it as an engine to bring about great changes, as was the case in 1832. Four times within a very brief period (without reckoning minor measures) had reform bills been introduced by the government of the day, and four times abandoned, without exciting more feeling in the country than so many railway or canal bills. In 1861 the honorable member for Leeds introduced his present measure, which was defeated, without much remark out of doors. Very strong speeches were undoubtedly made in its favor within those walls by two honorable members opposite. They seemed, however, to have modified their views, for one of them, the honorable member for Huddersfield, on a late occasion called the present proposal a single-barrelled reform bill—meaning, he presumed, by this disparaging description, that it was an antiquated weapon, not adapted to the wants or habits of the present day; and the other, the honorable member for Halifax, who denounced the government for their coolness on the subject of reform, became afterwards a member of that government, judging—and he thought wisely judging—that more good was to be done by applying his time and talents in limiting the expenses of government establishments than in ventilating speculative questions. [A laugh, and “Hear, hear.”] The few petitions presented in favor of reform, when not mere copies of one model, varied most materially in the very principle of the measures they demanded. In 1861 he ventured to suggest that certain objects seemed to belong to certain periods, and that our whole attention was then concentrated on foreign affairs. He instanced the unsettled state of Austria and Italy, and he said that “seeds of discord were being sown in Hungary and Poland; that Prussia was threatening Denmark, and France threatening Europe.” Would the house say that this argument had not gained force by the lapse of those three years? And would any one assert that when the conference was sitting within a few yards of that house, with peace and war depending on its breath, and had been more than once, as they understood, on the point of breaking off at the very threshold of its deliberations—when the channel fleet was riding in the Downs, with fires banked up, anchors short stay apeak, and—as the noble lord, the secretary to the admiralty, told them the other night in the most significant manner—ready to sail anywhere in 24 hours—would any one assert that this was the time to plunge the country into the troubled waters of domestic revolution? [Cheers.] The true policy was, not to meddle with our institutions except in an emergency which rendered it absolutely necessary, and then to do our work in such a manner as to settle the question at least for our day. [Hear, hear] If, therefore, [Page 875] the house did not feel that the present was the time for even a comprehensive, well-considered measure, brought in by the government with the solemnity befitting the occasion, still less favorably did they feel towards this bit-by-bit reform—this pecking at our intitutions—this instalment, as they had heard it called; but it was the kind of instalment which one of the ingredients of a physician’s prescription would be without the rest. The whole might be a salutary remedy; part alone might be fatal. [Hear, hear.] If there was to be a more numerous constituency, care must be taken so to balance the new proportions as to gratify a desire for enfranchisement without destroying the present constitution, which worked so well. That man must have attended the House of Commons to very little purpose who was not convinced that every interest—he cared not whether landed, mercantile, shipping, railway, or any other—would be disposed to use preponderating influence for its own advantage. He could not suppose that the working classes would be more abstinent; therefore he feared that what the honorable member called moderate reform might turn out to be a dangerous revolution. If his fears were groundless, and if the honorable member’s own estimate were more accurate, then it was merely throwing a tub to a whale, and would be simply the prelude to more sweeping changes. [Hear, hear.] In either case, he ventured to repeat that a far more comprehensive, more deeply considered measure was requisite for the attainment of the honorable member’s object, without grave peril to the common weal; and as he believed that the house and the country were indisposed just now, for the reasons which he had endeavored to state, to enter upon so intricate and difficult a task, he ventured humbly to move that the present was not the time for putting this question. [Cheers.] The honorable member concluded by moving, as an amendment, the previous question.
Mr. Marsh had much pleasure in seconding the amendment. There were no public meetings in favor of this reform, and it seemed to him that nobody outside wanted it. It was a measure more sought for in the House of Commons than anywhere else. [Hear, hear.] And he confessed he did not know why that should be, because he, for one, thought he had constituents enough. [A laugh, and hear, hear.] It might be said that a time when the people did not ask for reform was the best time to carry it; but he did not agree in that doctrine. If they looked to the history of the world, they would find that all great political and social reforms had proceeded from the people. [Hear.] And the monarchs who had attempted to lead their people in those directions had not been the luckiest. [Hear, hear.] A great deal had been said about the working man not being represented in the House of Commons. He had analyzed his own constituency, and he found that a very large number of the people who occupied £10 houses either had been mechanics or were at the present moment living by the work of their hands. [Hear, hear.] The people who lived in the great squares of London were virtually unrepresented, while the publican at the corner who had his rooms engaged as committee-rooms very likely had a score of votes at his command. [Hear, hear.] The same was the case in the Tower Hamlets—all those who owned the great docks and warehouses there were virtually unrepresented. [Hear, hear.] No one could complain that the interests of the working classes were not well looked after. There was always a cheer when anything was done for them. [Hear, hear.] And sometimes bills were passed in utter defiance of all principles of political economy for their benefit. [Hear, hear.] If any one wanted to encourage bribery and corruption, he had but to support the lowering of the franchise. [Hear, hear.] In all the boroughs which had obtained notoriety on this score, it was the freemen, and not the £10 householders, who formed the bribed classes. [Hear, hear.] For these reasons he seconded the amendment of the honorable gentleman opposite. [Hear, hear.]
The Chancellor of the Exchequer. The speech of the honorable gentleman opposite, in my opinion, went far beyond the scope of the motion which he [Page 876] has submitted to the house; for it was really a speech against the extension of the franchise in the direction of the working classes, and it did not refer merely to the particular question which we are called upon to decide on this bill. However, it may be said that it is the motion of my honorable friend with which we have to deal, and let us, then, consider what is the issue raised for our present decision. There are two points bearing upon this question—one a matter of fact; the other a matter of judgment, upon which there may be said to be a general concurrence of opinion. With regard to the matter of fact, there is no doubt that those who sit on the other side may be said to be unanimous in deprecating at the present time—and certainly, as far as the honorable gentleman went, at any time—the extension of the franchise. I don’t conceal or deny, on the other hand, that the other great party in this country is not unanimous on the subject. [General cheering.] The second point, upon which I think all parties are agreed, is this: that this is not a period at which it would be advisable, or I might even say justifiable, for the government of the Queen, however it may be composed, to submit a measure on this subject to Parliament. Under these circumstances, the question is, What course ought we to take on the motion of my honorable friend, having regard to the amendment which has been moved for postponement? My honorable friend, without communication with the government, and acting, as far as I am aware, entirely in the exercise of his own discretion, has brought this matter before us as a subject for discussion. It may be said that the motion of the honorable gentleman opposite, which is a motion for time, does, in fact, merely embody the admissions I have myself made—that this is not a period for dealing with this question, and that that party which represents the liberal opinions of the country is not unanimous on the subject. [Hear, hear.] Why, then, do I vote against the honorable gentleman’s motion? It is because, apart from his speech, it appears to me to support, to justify, and to confirm a state of facts and opinions which I deeply deprecate and deplore. [Cheers.] Admitting the existence of those opinions within the limits I have described—and it is useless to shut our eyes to their existence—I must say that I deeply deplore them. [Hear, hear.] I will not go the whole length of my honorable friend in respect to what he said as to the pledges of governments and parties, but I will not scruple to admit that it appears to me that so much of our parliamentary history during the last thirteen years—that is, since the vote on Mr. Locke King’s bill in 1851—as touches parliamentary reform is a most unsatisfactory chapter in it. [Cheers.] I am convinced that the discussion of this question in the house must, by the gentle process by which parliamentary debates act on the public mind, bring home the conviction that we have not been so keenly alive to our duties in this matter as we ought to have been, and that it is for the interests of the country that this matter should be speedily entertained and settled. [Cheers] It is an advantage in the discussion of this question that, at present, at all events, it is not strictly a party question. I am afraid, however, if I take as a criterion the cheers with which the speech of the honorable gentleman opposite was received, and the side from which they proceeded, that the time may come when this may become a party question. For the present, however, we may discuss it without exclusive reference to party associations; and here I may say that for this reason I am glad—though for others I am not—that the honorable member for Salisbury has stepped into the arena on this occasion, because the circumstance enables us to find our way into the discussion of this question without feeling that we are irritating and exciting those passions and party sentiments which necessarily enter into our debates when party interests are concerned.
I will address myself, then, to the question actually before us, admitting again that if I deeply deplore the state of opinion opposite, I am far from being satisfied with the state of opinion on this side of the house. My honorable friend the member for Salisbury appears to think that he has made out his case [Page 877] when he says that anybody who desires the extension of the franchise downwards desires also the encouragement of bribery, and that the working classes have their interests well attended to by the house as at present constituted. I decline altogether to follow my honorable friend into the argument whether or not the extension of the franchise downwards would really lead to the encouragement of bribery. I would simply record my emphatic dissent from that statement. [Cheers.] But with respect to the fact that the working classes have their interests well looked after by this house, far be it from me to deny that this house has a strong feeling of sympathy with the working classes, [hear, hear;] but permit me to say that that sympathy is not the least strongly felt among those also who are the immediate promoters of this bill. [Hear, hear.] With regard to the assertion that nobody desires a measure of this sort, I want to know where, in a discussion such as is now before us, lies the burden of proof? Is the onus probandi upon those who maintain that the present state of the representation ought not to be touched, or upon those who say it ought to be amended? The honorable member for Shoreham says the case of the British constitution, after a bill of this sort, will be like the case of the man over whom was written the epitaph, “I was well, I would be better; here I am;” and he told us that to venture on a reform such as is presented in this bill was entering on a domestic revolution. I entirely deprecate the application of language of that kind to this bill. [Cheers.] I will not enter into the question whether the precise form of franchise and the precise figure which my honorable friend has indicated is that which upon full deliberation we ought to choose, whether the franchise should be rate-paying or occupation, or whether or not there should be a lodger’s franchise; but this I say, not to be misunderstood, and this I apprehend my honorable friend’s bill to mean, that I give my cordial concurrence to the proposition that there ought to be not a wholesale, but a sensible and considerable addition to that portion of the working classes—at present almost infinitesimal—which is in possession of the franchise. [Cheers.] If I am asked what I mean by a “sensible and considerable addition,” I say that I mean such an addition as I think would have been made by the bill which we as a government submitted to the house in 1860. Does the onus of proof of the necessity of such a measure lie with us? What is the present state of the constituency, any departure from which the honorable gentleman deprecates as a “domestic revolution?” At present we have, speaking generally, a constituency of which between one-tenth and one-twentieth—certainly less than one-tenth— consists of working men. [Hear, hear.] And what proportion does that fraction of the working classes who are in possession of the franchise bear to the whole body of the working men? I apprehend I am correct in saying that they are less than one-fiftieth-of the whole working classes. [Hear, hear.] Is that a state of things which it would be “a domestic revolution” to meddle with? [Cheers.] I contend, then, that it is on the honorable gentleman that the burden of proof lies [“oh, oh,” from the opposition;] that it is on those who say it is necessary to exclude forty-nine fiftieths that the burden of proof rests; that it is for them to show the unworthiness, the incapacity, and the misconduct of the working classes. [“Oh, oh,” from the opposition; and counter cheers.] I am sorry to find that it is thought necessary to argue this question by what, perhaps, to use a mild phrase, I may call “inarticulate reasoning,” [laughter,] and I will endeavor not to provoke more of it from a certain quarter of the house than I can help. [Hear, hear.] But it is an opinion which I entertain that if forty-nine fiftieths of the working classes are to be excluded from the franchise, it is upon those who maintain that exclusion that it rests to show its necessity. [Hear, hear.] On the other hand, my honorable friend indicates that kind of extension of the suffrage which would make the working classes a sensible fraction of the borough constituency—an important fraction, but still a small minority of it. [Hear, hear.] That is the proposition we have before us. [Page 878] We are told that the working classes don’t agitate; but is it desirable that we should wait until they do agitate? [Hear.] In my opinion, agitation by the working classes upon any political subject whatever is a thing not to be waited for, not to be made a condition previous to any parliamentary movement, but, on the contrary, is to be deprecated, and, if possible, prevented by wise and provident measures. [Hear, bear.] An agitation by the working classes is not like an agitation by the classes above them having leisure. The agitation of the classes having leisure is easily conducted. Every hour of their time has not a money value; their wives and children are not dependent on the application of those hours of labor. When a working man finds himself in such a condition that he must abandon that daily labor on which he is strictly dependent for his daily bread, it is only because then, in railway language, “the danger signal is turned on,” and because he feels a strong necessity for action and a distrust in the rulers who have driven him to that necessity. [Hear, hear.] The present state of things, I rejoice to say, does not indicate that distrust; but if we admit that, we must not allege the absence of agitation on the part of the working classes as a reason why the Parliament of England, and the public mind of England, should be indisposed to entertain the discussion of this question. [Cheers.] I have had a recent opportunity of judging for myself of the views of the working classes on this subject. It arose incidentally, but I thought it worth attention at the time, and it may be worth the attention of the house. It was in connexion with the discussion on the government annuities bill, when a deputation representing the most extensive combination of the working classes of Liverpool came to me and expressed their sentiments with respect to that bill.
Mr. Horsfall. It was not a deputation from Liverpool, but from London. [Hear, hear.]
The Chancellor of the Exchequer. I didn’t say Liverpool. [“Yes, yes.”] I beg pardon, then; I meant London, and I thank the honorable gentleman for the correction, as it enables me to report the views of a body of men eight times larger than the working men of Liverpool. [Hear.] They said to me, “If there has been a disinclination to this bill on the part of the working classes, it is owing to their dissatisfaction with the conduct of Parliament with reference to the extension of the suffrage.” My answer to them was, “If you complain of the conduct of Parliament, depend upon it the conduct of Parliament has been connected with the apparent inaction and alleged indifference of the working classes with respect to the suffrage.” The answer made a deep impression on my mind. They said, “It is true that since the abolition of the corn laws we have given up parliamentary agitation; we began to feel then that we might place confidence in Parliament—that we might look to Parliament to pass beneficial measures without agitation. We were told then to abandon those habits of political action which had so much interfered with the ordinary occupations of our lives, and we have endeavored to substitute for them the employment of our evenings in the improvement of our minds; but don’t turn round on us and say that we don’t care for the extension of the franchise because we don’t agitate for it.” [Cheers.] The objection made by the honorable gentleman opposite and many others is, that the working classes, if admitted even in limited numbers, or at all events in a considerable proportion, will go together as a class, and wholly separate themselves from other classes. I don’t wish to use harsh language, and therefore I won’t say that that is a libel, but I believe it to be unjustified by reference to facts. It is not a fact that the working men who are invested with the franchise go together as a class, and there is not the slightest reason to suppose that they would go together if there were a moderate and fair extension of the suffrage. If you were to adopt a sudden and sweeping revolutionary measure which would give a monopoly of power to the working classes; if, instead of one-third, you gave the franchise to two-thirds, there [Page 879] would be some color for the anticipation; there would be some temptation to set up class interests on the part of those who would then have the means of obtaining a monopoly of power, and it would be for us to show that there no danger would arise. But I appeal to the evidence of all who know anything of the facts to say whether we have not seen the working classes when they possessed the franchise, instead of being disposed to go together as a class, rather inclined to follow their superiors, to confide in them, to trust them, and to think well of their conduct. Their landlords in the country, their employers in the town, their neighbors, and those whose characters they respect—these are the men whom the working classes select to follow, [hear, hear;] and if there is anything which will induce them to band together as a class, it will be a sense of injustice. [Hear, hear.] Whatever tends to denote them as persons open to the influence of bribery, as persons whose admission within the pale of the constitution constitutes a “domestic revolution;” whatever tends to denote them as unworthy of confidence and respect, is calculated to drive them back to the use of their natural means of self-defence, and might possibly, in times we can conceive, become the source of a union of the working classes, which would be adverse to other classes. [Hear, hear.] It is worse than idle, after the able and luminous speech of my honorable friend, to detain the house with the statistics of the question; but I take my stand on the reform bill of 1832, and my belief is that before 1832, the epoch of the reform act, although the working classes were not better represented in this house, yet we had among the constituencies some of an important character which were entirely and absolutely working-class constituencies. [Hear, hear.] I myself sat for a scot and lot borough—Newark. At the time that I was first returned for that borough, in December, 1832, the constituency was close upon 1,600, and the constituency is now a little more than 700; in fact, it is in progress of regular decay. That borough was enfranchised in the time of Charles II, when the crown did not fear to issue writs calling for the return of members by constituencies consisting of all who paid scot and lot. Since the act of 1832 there has been a large deduction made from the number of working men in the possession of the franchise by the changes which have taken place in the condition of the boroughs called potwallopers, scot and lot boroughs, and by other denominations. I greatly doubt whether, after making fair allowances for the bettered Circumstances of working men, as large a proportion of them hold the suffrage now as in December, 1832. [Hear, hear.] If that is so, is it fair and proper that in the thirty-two years which have since elapsed a reduction should have taken place in the proportion which they bear to the rest of the constituenc? [Hear, hear.] Have they no claims to an extension of the suffrage? I think the facts are clear, and I think my honorable friend has shown that a great portion of the facts are reducible to figures, and are capable of being extended with reference to education and the state of the press. Let me, then, refer to one or two points which are not reducible to figures. We are told, for instance, that the working classes are given to strikes. I believe it is the experience of the employers of labor that these strikes are more and more losing the character of violence and compulsory interference with the free will of their own comrades and colleagues, and are assuming that legal and, under certain circumstances, legitimate character which they have as the only means labor can fairly possess of asserting itself against capital in the friendly strife of the labor market. Let us take, too, that which in former times I believe to have been the besetting sin of labor—the disposition of the majority not to recognize the right of the minority, and, indeed, of every single individual to sell his labor for what he thinks fit. On behalf of the laboring classes I must say that this doctrine is much harder for them to practice than for us to preach. [Hear, hear.] We have nothing analogous to that which the laboring man feels when he sees his labor being, as he thinks, undersold; but still it is our duty to assert in the [Page 880] most rigid terms and to carry high the doctrine of the right of every laboring man to sell his labor as high or low as he pleases. [Hear, hear.] But with respect to this point, which has certainly been a point of weakness, I appeal to those who have experience of the working classes whether there is not reason to believe that the progress of knowledge has borne fruit. [Hear.] Has not the time come when every class of working men admit the right of freedom of labor as fully as it could possibly be asserted in this house? Let us look, for instance, to the altered relations of the working classes to the government, the laws, the institutions, and, above all, to the throne of this country. Let us go back—it is no long period in the history of a nation—to some years before the passing of the reform bill, and consider what was the state of things at a time when many of us were unborn, and when most of us were children—I mean to the years which succeeded the peace of 1815. We all recollect the atmosphere and the ideas under the influence of which we were brought up. They were not ideas which belonged to the old current of English history, nor were they in conformity with the liberal sentiments which pervaded, at its best periods, the politics of the country. They were, on the contrary, ideas referable to the lamentable excesses of the French revolution, which produced here a terrible reaction, and went far to establish the doctrine that the masses of the community were naturally antagonistic to the laws under which they lived, and were disposed to regard those laws and those by whom they were administered as their natural enemies. Unhappily there are too many indications to show that this is no vague or imaginary description. The time to which I am alluding was one when the deficiencies in the harvests were followed by riots, and when the rioters did not hold sacred even the person of majesty itself. In 1817, when the Prince Regent came down to open Parliament, his carriage was assailed by the populace of London; and what was the remedy provided for this state of things? Why, the suspension of the habeas corpus act, the limitation of the action of the press, already restricted, the establishment of spies, who, for the security of the government, were sent throughout the country to arrest persons in the formation of conspiracies. [Cheers.] And what, let me ask, is the state of things now? Why, that this epoch removed from us, in a mere chronological point of view, by less than half a century, is in reality separated from us by a distance almost immeasurable. [Hear, hear.] Now, the fixed traditional sentiment of the working man is confidence in the law, in Parliament, and in the government. [Cries of “No, no,” and laughter.] The quick-witted character of honorable gentlemen opposite outstrips, I am afraid, the course of my observations. I was about to proceed to say, in illustration of my argument, that only yesterday I had the satisfaction of receiving a deputation of working men from the Society of Amalgamated Engineers, and that society, consisting of immense numbers, had large balances of money open for investment, and that many of its members would not feel satisfied unless they were allowed to place their money in the hands of the government by means of some change in the post office savings bank system. Now that, I think, I may say, without being liable to any expression of feeling on the part of honorable gentlemen opposite, was a very small indication among thousands of others of the altered temper to which I am referring. [Hear, hear.] But, instead of uttering on the point my own opinions, I would like to use the words of the working classes themselves. In an address which my right honorable friend the member for Staffordshire heard read at a meeting which was held in the Potteries last autumn, they say of their own spontaneous motion, uninfluenced by the action of their employers, in relation to the legislation of late years—
“The great measures that have been passed during the last twenty years by the British legislature have conferred incalculable blessings on the whole community, and particularly on the working classes, by unfettering the trade and [Page 881] commerce of the country, cheapening the essentials, of our daily sustenance, placing a large proportion of the comforts and luxuries of life within our reach, and rendering the obtainment of knowledge comparatively easy among the great mass of the sons of toil.”
And this is the mode in which they describe the conduct of the upper classes towards them:
“Pardon us for alluding to the kindly conduct now so commonly evinced by the wealthier portions of the community to assist in the physical and moral improvement of the working classes. The well-being of the toiling mass is now generally admitted to be an essential to the national weal. This forms a pleasing contrast to the opinions cherished half a century ago. The humbler classes also are duly mindful of the happy change, and, without any abatement of manly independence, fully appreciate the benefits resulting therefrom, contentedly fostering a hopeful expectation of the future. May heaven favor and promote this happy mutuality! as we feel confident that all such kindly interchange materially contributes to the general good.” [Cheers.]
Now, that language does, in my opinion, the greatest credit to the parties from whom it proceeds. [Hear, hear.] This is a point on which no difference of opinion can prevail. [Hear, hear.] I think I may go a step further, and consider these statements as indicating not only the sentiments of a particular body at the particular place from which they emanate, but the general sentiments of the enlightened working men of the country. [Cheers] It may, however, be said that such statements prove the existing state of things to be satisfactory, [hear, hear;] but what I would say in reply to that argument is this, that every man who is not presumably incapacitated by some consideration of personal unfitness or political danger is morally entitled to come within the pale of the constitution. [Cheers and counter cheers.] Of course, the meaning of that is this, [laughter,] that sudden, violent, and intoxicating changes must be avoided, but that fitness for the franchise, when it is shown to exist—as I say it is shown to exist in the case of a select portion of the working classes—is not repelled on sufficient grounds from the pillar of the constitution by the allegation that things are as well as they are. [Cheers.] I contend, moreover, that persons entertaining such sentiments as those to which I have referred are fit to discharge the duties of citizenship, and that to admission to the discharge of those duties they are entitled. [Hear, hear.] The present franchise, I may add, on the whole—subject, of course, to some exceptions—draws the line between the lowest middle class and the upper order of the working class. As a general rule, the lower stratum of the middle class is admitted to the exercise of the franchise, while the upper stratum of the working class is excluded. That I believe to be a fair description of the formation of the constituencies in boroughs and towns. Is it a state of things, I would ask, recommended by clear principles of reason? Is the upper portion of the working classes inferior to the lowest portion of the middle? That is a question I should wish to be considered on both sides of the house. For my own part, it appears to me that the negative of the proposition may be held with the greatest confidence. Whenever this question comes to be discussed, with the view to an immediate issue, the conduct of the general body of the operatives of Lancashire cannot be forgotten. [Cheers.] What are the qualities which fit a man for the exercise of a privilege such as the franchise? Self-command, self-control, respect for order, patience under suffering, confidence in the law, regard for his superiors; and when, I should like to know, were all these great qualities exhibited in a more illustrious degree than under the profound affliction of the winter of 1862? [Hear, hear.] I admit the danger of dealing at once with enormous masses of men; but I am now speaking only of a portion of the working classes, and I for one cannot admit that there is that special virtue in the nature of the middle classes which ought to lead to our drawing a marked distinction between [Page 882] them and a select portion of the working classes, so far as relates to the exercise of the franchise. [Hear, hear.] So far as Lancashire is concerned we have the most extraordinary evidence—evidence amounting almost to mathematical demonstration—of the competency of the working man to discharge such duties as are commonly intrusted to the lower part of the middle classes. I allude to the evidence afforded by the marvellous success of the co-operative system. [Hear, hear.] For my own part, I am not ashamed to say that if ten years ago anybody had prophesied to me the success of that system as illustrated in Eochdale and other towns in the north—if I had been told that laboring men would so associate together for their mutual advantage, to the exclusion of the retail dealer, I should have regarded the prediction as absurd. There is, in my opinion, no greater social marvel than the manner in which these societies flourish in Lancashire, combined with a consideration of the soundness of the basis on which they are built, for the bodies of men who must have had recourse to the system have been those who have stood out with the most manly resolution against the storms of adversity, who have been the last to throw themselves on the charity of their neighbors, and who have proved themselves to be best qualified for the discharge of the duties of independent citizens. [Hear, hear.] Having numbers of men of that description, it is, I think, well worth our while to consider what is the title which they advance to the generous notice of Parliament in regard to their appeal to be admitted to the exercise of the franchise. I myself confess that I think the investigation will be far better conducted if we approach the question in a calm frame of mind, [hear, hear,] without having our doors besieged by crowds, or our table loaded with petitions, than if we do not enter into it until a great agitation has arisen. [Hear, hear.] I believe that the most blessed of all social progresses is that which consists in the amalgamation together of the interests of all classes of the community, and the forgetting of those distinctions which tend to keep men asunder. [Hear, hear.] I know of nothing which could contribute in any degree comparable to that union to the welfare of the commonwealth. It is all very well to have armies, fleets, and fortifications, and to have them sustained as they ought to be by a sound system of finance, and out of a revenue not wasted by a profligate Parliament, or a profligate administration. But that which is more important still is that hearts should be bound together by a reasonable extension among selected portions of the people of a privilege to which they have a just title, and it is because I think that it will tend to that binding and knitting of hearts together, and thus to the infusion of new vigor into the old, but in the best sense still young and flourishing, British constitution, that I, for one, am prepared to give my support to the motion of the honorable member for Leeds. [Loud cheers.]
Mr. Whiteside. I think it must be admitted that we have had reason to deplore the absence of the noble viscount at the head of the government more than once during our recent discussions. [Cheers.] His presence would be of value to us in the discussion of matters, not only of foreign policy, but of domestic interest, and it would be chiefly useful in those cases in which we might expect to have from him a satisfactory reply to his refractory chancellor of the exchequer. [Cheers and laughter.] In the midst of grave events of European interest this question of parliamentary reform suddenly reappears, and I would beg the attention of the house to the way in which it turns up at this crisis. It seems that individual members, for whom I have a great respect, are of opinion that the constitution of the country should be changed. The honorable member for East Surrey introduced a few days ago a bill to extend the county franchise, and he must have been pleased with the result of his motion, for he had the support of the noble viscount in a most enthusiastic speech, [a laugh,] which the chancellor of the exchequer has thought fit to follow up to-day in a speech directly leadin to universal suffrage. [Cheers] But why, let me ask, should [Page 883] the house entertain a motion of the magnitude of that under our notice, emanating, as it does, from a private member? The noble lord the prime minister, on one of those lucky occasions on which he happened to have been driven from office, [a laugh,] said, in reply to the late Mr. Duncombe, that a measure proposing a change in the representation of the people was a matter of such importance that it ought not to emanate from a private member, but should, if introduced at all, be brought in on the authority of the responsible advisers of the crown. Now, that answer is, I contend, a complete objection to the present motion, even if there were no other; because if one private member can carry a motion to reduce the borough franchise to £6, there is no reason why another honorable gentleman below the gangway may not propose to reduce it to £3, which is mentioned in the present measure as a possible franchise. Therefore, the answer of the noble viscount refusing as a private member to introduce a reform bill is a complete and satisfactory reply to the motion of the honorable member for Leeds, and in favor of that of my honorable friend near me. [Hear, hear.] I heard the observations of the chancellor of the exchequer upon this point with some surprise, because when he spoke of the shortcomings of Parliament, and when the honorable member for Leeds spoke of the necessity for redeeming the lost honor of the government—the word “lost” is my own—I dare say that the house had forgotten the language of the honorable gentleman on the memorable occasion when the government that he served then, and serves now, were invited to withdraw their reform bill. I shall trouble the house with his observations:
“The right honorable baronet the member for Herefordshire, whose good faith in giving us the advice no one can doubt, also recommended us to withdraw the bill. The course which the right honorable gentleman asks us to take, however, is one which it is impossible for the government to adopt. I may, at all events, venture to say for myself, that in my opinion any ministry which should have introduced a measure such as this with so little caution and in a shape so unfitted to undergo discussion as to render it expedient that it should be withdrawn, without the decision of the house being taken upon it, would in so acting have covered itself with irretrievable disgrace. I may add that no such idea, or intention, or dream, as the adoption of such a course presupposes has ever entered our heads.”
To withdraw that reform bill would, according to the strong language of the chancellor of the exchequer, cover the government that introduced it with irretrievable disgrace. In a few days afterwards they withdrew it. I leave every honorable member to draw the conclusion. [Cheers.] When observations are made upon the conduct of Parliament and the honor of the government I am justified in appealing to the testimony of t,he chancellor of the exchequer; and while I admit that a government which introduces a bill of vast importance must be understood to have staked their character and credit upon it, I shall presently have occasion to show that the same men who resorted to the factious contrivance of an abstract resolution to evict their opponents from power, when they introduced a bill not as good as the one they rejected, covered themselves, according to the words of the right honorable gentleman, with irretrievable disgrace by withdrawing it without the decision of the house having been taken upon it. [Hear, hear.]
When we are told that we are to receive this bill, I ask the house to consider another subject. A great measure was introduced by that government I admit, and a very important measure by the government of Lord Derby. What is the present plan of parliamentary reform? One gentleman cuts a slice out of the first bill, lays it on the table, and calls upon the house to adopt it. Another highly respectable member of Parliament cuts out another slice and says: “Adopt that,” without any regard to the general scope of either of those measures to which I have referred. Without any provisoes or safeguard a particular clause [Page 884] is abstracted from a bill, and the House of Commons is told to settle the question by taking one part of an important measure and rejecting the rest. My confident belief is that the chancellor of the exchequer, in making the speech which we have heard, never imagined that the House of Commons would assent to that proposal, but that he thought it to be a safe opportunity and a good occasion on which fro make a little political capital. [Loud cheers.] I understood him to say very unequivocally that the honorable member for Leeds had no connexion with the government; that the government had nothing to do with the honorable member, nor the honorable member with the government. I understood him to hint, in his usual peculiar manner—vague and undefined as his language sometimes is, still we can make out his meaning—that the time was not suitable for the government to deal with the subject; that, personally, he had no objection to the details of the measure, but would not pledge himself to them; that he was not quite certain that, being the chancellor of the exchequer, he ought to touch the figures to which reference had been made, but that he thought that he might give a safe, definite, and worthless support to an impracticable scheme. [Cheers.] I think I might almost content myself by giving to the chancellor of the exchequer the answer which the noble viscount at the head of the government gave to Mr. Duncombe; but the right honorable gentleman has a peculiar mode—rather an abstract mode—of presenting a question to the house by telling us what the honorable member for Leeds means by his bill. That is no argument. The question is what the bill means. It speaks for itself, and we can all understand it. It is to introduce some 250,000 or 300,000 men whom we do not know much about suddenly into the constitution. [Ministerial cheers.] Honorable members opposite cheer, but if I don’t know much about a subject I don’t like to touch it. Honorable members are quite satisfied to introduce half a million of persons into the constituencies, and to do it under the allegation, which has no foundation in fact, that the introduction of this vast body is to be scattered over the whole of the country. Now, we know that this bill cannot apply at all to the great cities, and must apply with overwhelming effect to certain boroughs in the country. We know very well that in this city there are very few houses the rent of which is not £10 a year, and that a great number of the working classes vote for the members for our metropolitan boroughs. Are we not satisfied with what we have got? [Laughter and cheers.] Are we ungrateful for what they have done for us? Are we such political cormorants as to demand that all England shall be metropolitanized? [Renewed laughter.] I confess that I am slow to believe it? [Cheers.] Abstracting the large cities, and remembering that the change will apply only to a certain class of boroughs in the country, we must see that the admission to the franchise of these 250,000 or 300,000 persons is a very perilous political experiment, which, once made, can never be altered or reversed—an experiment which, if made at all, ought to be propounded by the responsible ministers of the crown, acting as a body, through their chief, who is unfortunately absent to-day, but who if present would, I have no doubt, have delivered as enthusiastic a speech in favor of this bill as he did in favor of the bill of the honorable member for Surrey. It was a damper. [Loud laughter.] He destroyed every clause of the bill, showing very clearly what a difference there may be between theory and practice, and how a theoretical reformer may be a praptical conservative. [Hear, hear.] The first word which I heard from the honorable member for Leeds as I came into the house was the word “distraction.” He said that foreign events had caused a distraction in the public mind, or else it would have been turned strongly to parliamentary reform. Looking at the petitions which have been presented in favor of parliamentary reform during the last few years, the mind of the nation would appear to have been distracted in a very remarkable manner. In 1863 there were no petitions at all; in 1862 there were two, signed by 1,097 persons; in 1861 there were fourteen, signed by 2,225, and I am sorry to be obliged to admit that in 1860 the honorable member stood [Page 885] alone in the country upon the subject. That is what I call a strong sensation in favor of reform, backed by the popular voice. [Laughter.] But to return to the word “distraction.” I have heard of an eminent minister in a constitutional country, governed in a very constitutional manner—I mean Prussia—who, whenever it is necessary to bamboozle the Parliament, organizes a foreign invasion of some country that does not deserve and has not provoked the favors bestowed upon it. Whenever the Parliament asks questions about the number of soldiers who are to be paid, and the taxes which are to pay them, forthwith this M. Bismack organizes a foreign war, which is carried on in a graceful and truly happy manner. I can reverse that illustration. I can conceive a ministry who are apprehensive of a great act of retributive justice suggesting the discussion of parliamentary reform in order to distract attention from their own misdeeds. The honorable member for Leeds asked us to look round the world and consider the course of events. I will do so, and I ask what the government have done? They have alienated France. [“No, no,” and “Hear, hear.”] They have bombarded Japan, bullied Brazil, distracted China, inflamed and then deserted Poland, and have nearly finished Denmark. [Hear, hear.] And this is the moment when you are to reform the Parliament. In the time of Lord Aberdeen’s government they said that the moment that war or danger of war approached, parliamentary reform was not to be thought of. You accepted that excuse. You forgave them the non-introduction of a bill then.
The gentlemen below the gangway who are sincere upon the subject of reform have, for several years, endured a government which has introduced no measure of parliamentary reform. They have been contented with the performance of the compact of Willis’s rooms as it has been performed. The whigs embraced you, and they choked you in their embrace. [Loud cheers.] If we are invited to an investigation of that transaction, we will not shrink from it. I maintain that there is in the records of Parliament nothing so unjustifiable or so difficult to be reconciled to reason, justice, or common sense as the abstract resolution carried by Earl Russell to prevent the discussion of a reform bill; not to advance reform, but to oust the government and seize upon power. [Cheers.] The honorable member for Leeds talked about education. There lies the bill that provided an educational franchise. You refused to give it. It contained clauses providing a lodger franchise, on the ground that the clerk in a bank who paid five times as much rent as that of the house which you make the basis of the franchise had a better claim to be an elector than the £6 man who is engaged in daily toil all his life. You refused to allow that to be considered. Vast bodies of educated gentlemen were to be enfranchised. You refused to allow that bill to be read a second time. You voted for an abstract resolution—a course which, if generally acted upon, would make your proceedings ridiculous, your debates impossible, and would convert your assembly into a mere conclave of factious men who are looking out for some pretext to prevent the discussion of a measure which, according to their avowed opinions, it ought to be the dearest object of their hearts to promote. [Hear, hear.] I except the chancellor of the exchequer from the blame of that transaction. I admit that he did not vote for the abstract resolution. I admit, gladly, that it is a point, a redeeming point, in the political and peculiar character of the right honorable gentleman, that he stood up against Earl Russell upon that point The attorney general also pronounced that memorable opinion that in his judgment it was a motion that emanated from a party—I forget whether he used the word “faction”—which emanated from a party, and was not intended to promote the discussion of the subject. How, therefore, does this question now stand before you? You will not listen to a bill which had in it much that was good, and then a new government comes into power. The first year they are too busy to introduce a reform bill. Multifarious occupations engross their minds, and there is no reform bill, yet you are all content. The next year [Page 886] comes and brings with it a reform bill, but, as far as I could understand, no body of gentlemen were more rejoiced to see it die out tranquilly than were its creators. [Hear, hear.] I believe that they submitted to its withdrawal with perfect composure. I cannot read the hearts of men; but, although the chancellor of the exchequer must have conceived it to be an act which would subject the government to irretrievable disgrace, he quickly recovered his spirits, shook off the disgrace, and has remained in office from that time to the present without any reform bill, or any proposal to introduce one. Now, when a conference is sitting upon Denmark—and there is, I suppose, a prospect of an early dissolution—it is advisable to make a speech which is to lead to nothing, [loud cheers,] and to announce to the working classes of this country, who are not to be caught with chaff, that at some indefinite time, in some indefinite manner, by somebody, nobody can tell whom, a bill will be introduced which will recognize their many virtues, and acknowledge their growth in knowledge and industry. That is where the matter stands. Has the right honorable gentleman said that the bill is to be carried? Has he said that the government as a government will support it? I listened with all possible attention to ascertain whether there was anything serious in his support of the bill; but, although he spoke from the treasury bench, I heard nothing to induce me to think that he spoke the sentiments of the noble viscount. [Hear, hear.] I heard nothing to show that he was authorized by the head of the government to deliver that eloquent though somewhat sophistical speech; therefore, I come to the conclusion that in this assembly of busy and practical men the motion is only intended to afford an opportunity for making speeches useful for electioneering purposes. [Cheers.] Might I ask her Majesty’s government whether the £6 men are to be introduced to restore the balance of power in Europe, or to restore the balance in favor of her Majesty’s government? What way will it be? Was there ever before heard in an assembly of reflecting and educated men such an argument as the chancellor of the exchequer employed? “There you sit,” he said to us; “I throw the onus upon you.” I answer, “There you sit; I throw the onus upon you.” [Hear, hear.] A proposal is made to change the constitution and to introduce, it may be, 300,000 men into the constituencies of a few boroughs in the kingdom, and the person who propounds it says, “I have no need to prove the wisdom of the innovation. It does not lie upon me to consider the facts or to offer arguments. I throw upon you, who are the objectors, to find reasons if you can, for I can find none in favor of the measure.” Would such an argument be endured in any court or tribunal of reasonable men? No. On the contrary, it lies on those who propound this scheme to show not only that it is wise and safe, but that it is expedient. The honorable member for Leeds repeated the word “right.” I deny the abstract right of any class of persons in this country to possess votes. I deny that the constitution ever asserted that principle. I also dispute the truth of what has been said as to unrepresented people. Are the working classes unrepresented? Does not the honorable member for Birmingham feel for them? Does he not represent them? Every word that has been spoken to-day is an argument to prove that they are felt for, that their interests have been considered, and that legislation has been directed to their benefit. And when you come to the practical result of your argument, it is that the people are in perfect concord, harmony, and affection with the classes who are above them. If so, how does the argument apply? If they are happy, if they are prosperous, if they have been advancing in knowledge and education under the system which exists, how does it follow that you should, therefore, change the system? The figures that have been referred to, the newspapers that have been recited, the eloquent passage just read by the chancellor of the exchequer, only prove how much good feeling and good sense there is in the people of this country, and it must be conceded that those who argue in favor of a bill of this kind at such a time, [Page 887] and in such a manner, are more likely to disturb that harmony than to secure it. I do not admit that it is the theory of our constitution that there should be no unrepresented men. At what time, I ask the honorable member for Leeds, was the franchise ever separated from this condition, that it was to be associated, not with multitudes or vast masses of men, but with those who had sufficient property, and would exercise a free and independent will? The last argument of the chancellor of the exchequer was that the working classes are so contented with their superiors, that they would always vote with them, and never differ from them. I do not think that proves that they have an independent, will. And what was 40s. a year at the time that it was made the test of the franchise in counties? Has the honorable gentleman considered that the equivalent for that sum was, in the reign of Queen Anne, £12, then £20, and now £30 a year? These gentlemen would exclaim against reverting to the ancient principles of the constitution, but the wisdom of our forefathers is not to be forgotten. Their idea of a county constituency was that the voter should be able to gird his sword upon his thigh, and follow the knight of the shire to fight against the enemies of the Crown and kingdom—and it was an excellent idea. [Hear, hear.] The honorable gentleman says that he objects to all sharp lines. Is not £6 a sharp line? What will you say to the man who pays £5, or £4, or £3 a year, and who is hinted at in the second clause of this exceedingly curt production? That argument is well put by Mr. Austin, who says:
“Every extension of the franchise in the direction of universal suffrage tends to introduce it, for the jealousy and ambition of the excluded classes are inflamed by the admission of those whose place in the social scale is not higher than their own.”
The argument is a very philosophical and, in my judgment, a very wise one. It is this: If you admit 200,000 or 300,000 men to the franchise, what will be the feelings of the persons below them? They will say, according to the argument of the chancellor of the exchequer to-day, “Is not the superior workman equal to the best of the middle class? I clearly am equal to those who are included; I am excluded because I pay only £4 a year; I demand my right;” and I should like to know how it could be refused. [Hear, hear.] The origin of the speech of the chancellor of the exchequer can very easily be traced. Some time ago he received a deputation, to whom he made a statement which, when I read it in the newspapers, prepared me for a brilliant oration at the first convenient opportunity, and during the sittings of the conference that opportunity has arisen. On that occasion the right honorable gentleman said, “he thought the remark of Mr. Odgers respecting the franchise perfectly justifiable”—as I don’t know what the remark of Mr. Odgers was I cannot state it:—“there was no doubt the liberal party in the House of Commons had failed in their duty in this respect towards the working classes, to whom he thought the franchise should be extended, and about which he should shortly have something to say in the house.” We have had that something to-day. [Hear, hear.] Let me refer for a moment to those meetings which have been held on Primrose Hill, and their mode of dealing with the right honorable gentlemen. I beg those respectable men not to suppose that I think their original meeting ought to have been dispersed. I thought it a most reasonable thing that they should inquire what had become of General Garabaldi. [A laugh.] He had been well received here, the diet was good, the company excellent—I believe equal to that of the selectest circles of Caprera; he was in the enjoyment of rude health, as every one who saw him could perceive; he was quite content with the country, and the country with him, but suddenly he vanished. [Cheers and laughter.] The working classes thought fit to meet upon the classic site of Primrose Hill to inquire into this matter, and immediately, with a happy instinct, they selected the chancellor of the exchequer, Lord Shaftesbury, and one or two other eminent persons as the chief offenders, and determined to deal with [Page 888] them. They said that it was absolutely necessary that Parliament should be reformed; and why? That as soon as they got admission to this house they might demolish the chancellor of the exchequer. So that if the right honorable gentleman should attain the object of his new-born zeal, which must have grown up since he represented Newark in the good old times, as soon as these decided characters gain admission into the house they will make an attack upon the treasury benches which it would be impossible for the ministry, feeble as they are, to withstand. [A laugh and cheers.] The chancellor of the exchequer advocates the extension of the franchise on the ground that the working classes are industrious and respectable. I believe they are what he has said. So little inclination have I to speak disrespectfully of any class of people [hear, hear] that when a bill was introduced conferring a lodger and educational franchise I thought it was wise. But what is the argument of the honorable gentleman who introduces the bill? He sums up all the newspapers, and contends that they are only read by the non-electors. How does he prove that they are not read by the electoral body? I, too, have some figures here, and I consider them quite as good as those of the honorable gentleman. The total number of borough and county voters is 1,285,385, and multiplying the constituency by 300, which excludes the odd 65 days on which they do not read newspapers, it gives a total of 385,615,500. I only allow one newspaper to each elector, [much laughter,] and yet there is a calculation surpassing all the statistics of the honorable gentleman. Having disposed of the argument founded on the newspapers, I willingly admit with the honorable gentleman that many of the penny newspapers are well conducted and very largely read. Either he or some one else referred to America, where newspapers are published at a half-penny, and where they govern the State very largely. I am told that Congress is seriously considering the propriety of taking a halfpenny newspaper into its pay in order that its proceedings may be reported. At present nobody minds what Congress says or does, and unless a halfpenny journal condescends to report what they say their orations will never be known to posterity. [Laughter.] The honorable gentleman has spoken of the middle classes and of their refusal to admit the just claims of those below them in the social scale; but among the middle classes must be included a large number of the better order of working men, who by their own industry and energy have worked their way upwards. [Hear, hear.] Those men are now in possession of votes, for in this great and thriving country a large estate is not needed to constitute an elector. Let me ask the honorable gentleman, does he think that the right moment to make an experiment on a great scale in the direction of democracy is just at the time when the democratic principle is on its trial? [Cheers.] And in putting this question to him, I must in candor add that there was a vast contrast between the moderation of the honorable gentleman the member for Leeds and the extravagance of the right honorable gentleman the chancellor of the exchequer. [Loud cheers.] I understood the right honorable gentleman to say—and I thought the words so remarkable that I wrote them down—“Every man who is not subject to any incapacity ought to have the franchise.” That points directly to universal suffrage, [loud cheers,] and although the right honorable gentleman immediately afterwards went on to explain—his talent for copious explanation I take to be even more remarkable than his power of humorous exposition, [laughter]—those were the very words he used. When the idea so thoroughly carried into practical operation across the Atlantic is put before us, as men of sense we have a right to express an opinion upon it; and though the democratic principle invigorates and gives strength and energy to such a constitution as ours, the question whether it ought to be made the predominant element of the state, and whether this house should be thrown into utter want of harmony with the other branch of the legislature by the concentration of the whole power of the country in the masses [Page 889] proposed to be enfranchised, assumes a magnitude and importance not to be overrated. Inquiry was made in a city of 30,000 electors, with which I am acquainted, as to what classes of householders were at present excluded from the franchise, and it was found that there were some living in wretched back lanes and in the most filthy parts of that large city who let out portions of their small and frail tenements at 1s. a week to one person and 6d. a week to another, retaining an interest perhaps equal in amount in their own possession, besides the key of the hall door. Persons in such a position are among those proposed to be admitted to the franchise, and they are precisely those who would be exposed to the influences so well described in the course of the debate, not having a free and independent will to exercise. The chancellor of the exchequer says: “Are we to wait till the working classes agitate?” Now, that looked to me very like an invitation to agitate. [Cheers.] If I may express it in my own humble, unoratorical fashion, [“Oh, oh,” and laughter,] it seemed to me that the meaning of that observation was, “why don’t you agitate—why don’t you complain?” “Why, sir,” the working classes naturally replied, “we have no grievance.” “Oh, but you ought to imagine a grievance; can it be that you have nothing to complain of?” “Well, no complaint in particular except the dispersing of the meeting on Primrose Hill and the sending away of Garibaldi, and we come to complain of your conduct on that occasion.” [Much laughter.] Practically, what grievance has been put forward, what petitions presented, what complaints made?
It is said that the feeling of the English people in favor of liberty is so strong that they have expressed sympathy with every free State and every nation striving for liberty all over the world. I rejoice that they did so, [cheers;] but according to my estimate of the event which has most recently taken place they expressed their sympathy with that eminent Italian, not because they admired his political views, but because they thought him an unselfish, disinterested, heroic man, who risked his life in an undertaking from which he gained nothing, [loud cheers,] though achieving the liberties of others. Yet, are you aware that this same eminent person proposed that the Chambers at Turin should be dissolved and the King made dictator in order to carry out the objects on which he was bent? [Hear, hear.] Surely this is not constitutional government. [Hear, hear.] It would be a very interesting question to solve, whether liberty has suffered most from democracy or despotism; whether the wits who write and the men who think have not found out that by appealing to the suffrage of the masses, always ready to be governed by master minds, they can obtain power as complete and uncontrolled as the absolute imperial rulers of the world. The chancellor of the exchequer, who to-day addressed to the working classes such dangerous arguments in favor of agitation, introduced into his speech a very curious passage about the results of the French revolution and the relations at that time subsisting between the people and the state. What is the use, on a practical subject of this kind, of talking of what occurred before most of the members now in the house were born? [Hear, hear.] I do not know how matters stood in 1815; I only know what was said by M. Thiers of the results achieved by Oastlereagh, and if he were now our foreign minister England would not be the laughing stock of Europe. [Loud and prolonged cheering, which began on the left hand of the speaker and rolled round the lower end of the house to the benches below the gangway at the ministerial side.] Lord Castlereagh was a minister who knew how to assert the dignity and power of England at the right moment [hear, hear;] and, as M. Thiers said, he achieved more than the great leaders who conducted the armies and fleets of England to victory. Why does the right honorable gentleman bring on this question of the French revolution? I venture to say that upon the records of no popular assembly which ever existed in the world can a greater number of remedial measures be found than were passed from the time of the French [Page 890] revolution to the present in favor of the mass of the English people? [Cheers.] Merciful laws, wise improvements in every branch of the state, ending in the enjoyment of all those blessings and comforts and advantages which gentlemen opposite admit indeed, but which they use to furnish them with an argument against the value of the system under which they live, instead of the most powerful and conclusive argument in its favor. [Hear, hear.] The right honorable gentleman read a passage from a paper which we all admired. But it seems to me a very illogical process to produce the works of particular persons, who think correctly and who write in terms and language that command an approval, and then to say: “Will you not admit these and thousands with them to the right of voting?” If he will bring me those selected individuals who write so gracefully, I shall be proud to assist in passing a special act, even to introduce on their behalf the educational franchise which gentlemen opposite refused to listen to. [Cheers and laughter.] The right honorable gentleman, the chancellor, no doubt believes that the opinions which he advocated to-day would, if adopted, be for the benefit of the country; but I ask the honorable member who introduced this measure, does he, or does anybody, believe that the government of her Majesty are about to take up his cause, or that if the bill be read a second time they will give him their support cordially and sincerely, after the fate which has overtaken the proposition of the honorable member for Surrey, (Mr. Locke King,) who sits behind him? No, they will both share the same fate; and a reform bill will be reserved, in the words of the noble viscount, till there is a government “strong enough to take up a measure of the kind, and sincere enough to prosecute it to a satisfactory conclusion.” The right honorable gentleman called on this house in a marked manner to say in what consist the security and strength of states. Those who assert and advocate the absolute necessity for a great increase of democratic power in the state will allow me to refer not merely to what is passing across the Atlantic at the present hour, but to the whole page of history. According as you have strengthened democratic influence until it became overwhelming liberty in every state has fallen. Look at the patrician senate when supplanted by democracy; it fell beneath the military power. Look at the brilliant commonwealths of Italy. They had their day, and, with one striking exception, they fell:
“A thousand years scarce serve to form a state,
An hour may lay it in the dust, and when
Can man its shattered splendors renovate?”
A step in the wrong direction may be fatal to the greatness of a state. I therefore ask the house to refuse its assent to an experiment the consequences of which cannot be foreseen, and to preserve to posterity the incalculable blessings which gentlemen bringing forward this motion admit that the people ought to possess, and may they long continue to enjoy. [Loud cheers.]
Mr. W. E. Forster would not follow the right honorable gentleman into the history of the Primrose Hill meeting, or of those measures for the benefit of the working classes nearly every one of which he and his friends had opposed [cheers,] but rose to congratulate the honorable member for Leeds on the great advantage to the cause which he advocated that had been gained in the able and moderate speech of the chancellor of the exchequer. [Hear, hear.] The honourable member for Shoreham was surprised that there had been no reform riots on the part of the working men. They had long outgrown ideas of that kind, the secret of their inactivity lay in the fact that they were puzzled by the conduct of Parliament about the question of reform. [Hear, hear.] They could not bring themselves to believe that promises made on both sides of the house to give them a share in the representation would be violated, and that an opposition, more dangerous because it was a corrupt opposition, existed within the wall of Parliament itself to all proposals for reform. The present debate, therefore helped on the cause of reform, because in the speech of the honorable member [Page 891] for Shoreham the opposition boldly disclosed its opinions, and declared it to be better that the working classes of England should not have any share in the representation. (Cheers.)
Mr. Cave denied that he had made any such statement.
Mr. Forster thought the honorable gentleman would entertain a different opinion when he read his speech in the newspapers. [“Oh, oh,” and cries of “hear.”] But if he would come down to the borough which he had the honor to represent he would undertake that in a meeting exclusively composed of working men all his objections should be courteously listened to and then fully answered. The honorable member had certainly talked about a domestic revolution, and he was bound to explain his meaning.
Mr. Cave. Perhaps the honorable gentleman will explain what the member for Birmingham said. [Hear.]
Mr. Forster said the honorable member for Birmingham was well able to explain his own meaning, and he therefore should not attempt to do so. Without entering further into the speech of the honorable member for Shoreham he would say this—that it showed the objection entertained to the extension of the franchise to the working classes was no longer a question of time but of principle. [Hear, hear, and No, no] The conservatives were evidently about to return to their old policy of preserving the constitution from encroachments. For his own part he denied that a bill which, in a town like Bradford, would compose less than one-third of the constituency of working men, could fairly be stigmatized as a domestic revolution. The conduct of the government hitherto had been marked by hesitation and indifference on reform questions; but after the speech of the right honorable gentleman it would be difficult for them to continue that policy; and the sooner the country knew where it was, and with whom it was dealing on home questions, the better. [Hear, hear.] If, which he very much doubted, the present constituencies were conservative on all constitutional grounds, let them have a conservative government carried on upon conservative principles by acknowledged conservatives, and not a conservative government carried on by liberal leaders on professedly liberal principles. [Hear, and laughter.] It was possible that members like his honorable friend the member for Salisbury might go over to the other side of the house, [cheers,] and that others who thought they had constituents enough already might not like to increase them. [Laughter.] It was better for them and every one else that they should know exactly how they stood. [Hear, hear.] One result, however, was certain to follow from the speech of the chancellor of the exchequer. Hitherto they had been in the extraordinary position of having some of the strongest supporters of the government sitting on the other side of the house—-not men of moderate opinions, whose views were akin to those maintained by the leaders of the liberal party, but strenuous, exclusive conservatives, like the honorable member for Warwickshire, and the honorable member for West Norfolk. The effect of the right honorable gentleman’s speech that day no doubt would be to make these conservative supporters forget the speech delivered on a similar occasion by the noble viscount at the head of the government, and withdraw their support in future. The government, no doubt, would be losers to that extent, but the liberal party would gain very greatly. The Chancellor of the exchequer had been taunted with holding different views now from what he formerly entertained; but as his views became enlightened and enlarged, [laughter and ironical cheering,] he never retracted from those views. [Cheers from below the gangway.] It might be that the country would first have to pass through a conservative government; but the time was certainly hastening on when it would no longer be open to the reproach of lagging behind all Christian civilized countries in the share of political power which it accorded to its working classes. [Hear, and cries of “Divide.”]
Mr. Newdegate, having been alluded to by the honorable member for Bradford, [Page 892] wished to say that he had been accurately described by the honorable member as a decided conservative. As such he would support any government that served her Majesty truly, to the extent of his opinions; but he would oppose any government, whether calling itself conservative or by any other name, which departed from the great principles of the constitution. [Hear, hear.] These were the conservative principles he professed, and by which he intended to abide. Having voted for the previous question on the bill of the honorable member for East Surrey, he was not going to turn round and vote for the present measure. It was no principle of conservatism that the temporary arrangements by which the representation of the people was ordered should always remain immovable. [Hear, hear.] But by transferring the £10 franchise to the counties they would have swamped the only representatives of the working classes, the 40s. freeholders. The people could not too seriously consider the facts recorded in the parliamentary return No. 410 of the session of 1862, from which it appeared that some 8,000,000 of the population were represented by 338 members, while 11,000,000, being the great majority, were represented by only 159 members. He objected to this measure because it was partial, because it would increase the power of the inhabitants of the cities and boroughs, and because it took no steps to remedy the unfairness in the representation of those residing beyond the limits of boroughs, who had less than half the number of the members assigned to the great towns. [Hear, hear.] He should therefore support the amendment of his honorable friend.
Mr. Bass said it was impossible to conceal that the aspect of this question had very materially changed, both in the house and in the country. It would be very interesting to determine in what proportions the house, the government, the constituencies, and the unenfranchised classes had contributed to place the question of parliamentary reform in its present unpromising aspect. It was, however, necessary for the house to show that they had not misled the people, and had not made promises which honorable members repudiated as soon as they got back to the house, All the supporters of Lord Derby who voted for the reform bill brought in by his government had clearly acknowledged the necessity of parliamentary reform. So also had honorable members on the ministerial benches. There were many honorable members on the opposition side who had on the hustings declared themselves favorable to an extension of the borough franchise, yet they had absented themselves from the divisions in favor of this bill, or had come down to vote against it. The honorable member, amid the gradually increasing impatience of the house, which at times rendered him inaudible, proceeded to quote the opinions of opposition members in support of his allegation. He was, he said, ready to go through the liberal side, if the house wished it. [Loud cries of “Divide, divide.”] The house did not, how ever, need to be reminded of the change of opinion on the ministerial benches, although honorable members had not given the reasons for it. There were many cases in which the present measure would increase the constituency. In the borough he represented a £6 franchise would more than double the number of electors. But in many other places the increase would not be very great and in no case, as he believed, would the extension of the franchise be attended with danger. [“Divide.”]
Lord Fermoy and Mr. S.Beaumont rose together, and there were loud calls for the latter, but he gave way, and
Lord Fermoy, amid much interruption and cries of “Divide,” proceeded to defend the bill as a moderate measure of reform.
Mr. S. Beaumont said he had listened with great admiration, but not without great surprise, to the eloquent speech of the chancellor of the exchequer coming as it did from the most prominent member of a government who, more than any other, had damaged this question of parliamentary reform, who upon this very question had struck their flag, abandoned their party, and handed over the measure to the statistical championship of the honorable member for [Page 893] Leeds. [Loud cheers and laughter.] He would not enter into a discussion of the bill, because the honorable member for Shoreham (Mr. Cave) had said that he did not disagree with its principle, but did not think it opportune. He (Mr. Beaumont) must say that in this matter the excellence of the bill and its opportuneness so hung together that the best thing they could do who did not think the moment opportune was to vote against the second reading. [Cheers.] He saw no special reasons for changing his opinion about the opportuneness of the measure, because, though he had heard a great deal, upon that and other occasions, of an “ugly rush,” the only “ugly rush “that he knew of was the “ugly rush” of a certain party when in opposition to the pigeon-holes of “Whitehall and Downing street. [Loud cheers.] It was because he did not think the present moment opportune that he would record his vote against the motion. [Cheers.]
Lord H. Scott felt called upon to protest against the assumption laid down by the other side, that that (the opposition) side was against reform. It was a mere election manoeuvre to say so. There were honorable gentlemen on that side who had always said that they were not opposed to a measure of parliamentary reform, but they disagreed with honorable members opposite as to the points of detail in the bill, the general results of which would go far beyond the expectations of its supporters. [Hear, hear.]
Mr. Watkin, who spoke amidst great interruption, supported the second reading of the bill, on the ground that there were numbers of the working men throughout the country who were qualified to exercise the franchise, and yet were without the power to do so.
Mr. Greenall, as one of those to whom the honorable member for Derby had referred, declared that any promise he had ever made to his constituents he was ready honorably to perform. [Hear, hear.] He had said that he would support any well-considered measure of reform, and that promise he would keep. He was as favorable as any honorable gentleman in that house to a fair, a liberal, and a just extension of the suffrage, (cheers,) but he should vote most unhesitatingly against the bill of the honorable member for Leeds, (cheers and laughter,) because he regarded it as unfair, unequal, and calculated in its action to do more harm than good to the cause of reform.
Sir J. Elphinstone, who was met with loud cries of “Divide,” begged to assure the honorable member for Derby that he for one was quite ready to go on the hustings, and when he got there he would most assuredly tell his constituents where reform originated in that house, and how it was defeated; and in doing so he would not shrink from naming those who had reduced the question of reform to an organized hypocrisy. [Hear, hear.]
The house then divided, when the numbers were:
The question was therefore not put. The announcement of the numbers was received with cheers from the opposition.