- Russian War. I. House of Commons, December 22, 1854.
- Russian War. II. House of Commons, June 5, 1855.
- Russian War. III. Manchester, March 18, 1857.
- American War. I. House of Commons, April 24, 1863.
- American War. II. Rochdale, November 24, 1863.
- China War. House of Commons, February 26, 1857.
- Foreign Policy. I. House of Commons, June 12, 1849.
- Foreign Policy. II. London, October 8, 1849.
- Foreign Policy. III. London, January 18, 1850.
- Foreign Policy. IV. House of Commons, June 28, 1850.
- Foreign Policy. V. Rochdale, June 26, 1861.
- Foreign Policy. VI. House of Commons, August 1, 1862.
- Foreign Policy. VII. Manchester, October 25, 1862.
- Foreign Policy. VIII. Rochdale, October 29, 1862
- Foreign Policy. IX. Rochdale, November 23, 1864.
- India. House of Commons, June 27, 1853.
- Peace. I. Wrexham, November 14, 1850.
- Peace. II. Manchester, January 27, 1853.
- Policy of the Whig Government. Manchester, January 23, 1851.
- Parliamentary Reform. I. House of Commons, July 6, 1848.
- Parliamentary Reform. II. London, November 26, 1849.
- Parliamentary Reform. III. Manchester, December 4,1851.
- Parliamentary Reform. IV. Rochdale, August 17, 1859.
- Parliamentary Reform. V. Rochdale, August 18, 1859.
- Education. I. Manchester, January 22, 1851
- Education. II. House of Commons, May 22, 1851.
- Education. III. Manchester, December 1, 1851.
- Education. IV. Barnsley, October 25, 1853.
MANCHESTER, JANUARY 27, 1853.
[The following is one of the speeches which Mr. Cobden made with the purpose of disabusing the public of a panic which was common some years ago. The second Empire had just been established in France.]
I confess I have listened to those letters from our French correspondents with feelings of shame and humiliation,—shame, that it should be deemed necessary by our well-wishers on the other side of the Channel that they should give us assurances that there is no intention on the part of France to come and, without provocation, to invade our shores; and humiliation, that there should have been a considerable number of the people of this country who could have been deluded by the merest child's cry, the mere baby's talk that we have been listening to, for the last few months, and that they should have believed for a moment that anything so absurd and all but impossible was going to happen.
Now, let me just call your attention to the source from which those assurances come. The outcry that we hear in this country about an invasion from France is levelled at the present Government of France. The parties who are addressing us are not the partisans of that Government. We have had a letter from M. Carnot; he is not a friend of the present Government. I have an extract here from the Journal des Débats, which is a pacific newspaper, not in the interest of Louis Napoleon, but a decided advocate of peace and free trade; and what is the tone in which that paper speaks of this cry of invasion in this country? It says, that ‘whilst the British journals are every day accusing our Government of making large augmentations of its navy, we observe that under this unfounded pretence, England is constantly adding to its fleet and other armaments; and we are led to believe that the English press can have no other object in thus declaiming against the imaginary armaments of France, than to conceal the real preparations that are going on in that country.’ Well, you have had a letter from M. Emile de Girardin; he is not a partisan of the present Government; he was an exile after the last revolution, and he is expressing his doubts whether the preparations we are making for ‘a disembarkation from France without an object'’—for, mind you, with his usual logic, he, in a word, has hit upon the whole point of this absurd outcry,—these preparations, he is rather inclined to think, there must be something else to account for, than the absurd supposition that we are preparing for a descent from France without an object; because nobody has ever professed that there is any object; we have had no quarrel; there is no dispute,—no unsettled boundary, no Spanish marriages, no Tahiti question, no Mr. Pritchard; there is no quarrel at all; and, when I ask our invasionist friends what it is the French are coming here for, I never could hear an intelligible answer. Sometimes they say that some five thousand men are coming here to burn down one of our towns, and yet they admit these men will never go back again! I am as much at a loss as M. de Girardin is to see any logical ground for any such attempt as that.
But you may depend upon it that you are apt to underrate the effect of all this kind of menacing demonstration. The effect will be precisely the contrary of what these alarmists want. Instead of damaging Louis Napoleon, you will unite all parties in France with him as against England. And that is the great evil of such demonstrations as this,—you make every man in France, that has one atom of self-respect, or of French spirit in his blood,—you make him feel indignant that you have lowered him and his country to the rank of savages, in supposing that they are to come here some day, without notice, without declaration of war,—a thing that never happened in any civilised country in the world; that you are assuming that it is going to be done, some day, without any fact to warrant it; and that you are making all the preparation which he sees in your ports, in order to receive those savages. And you find people who are still considered fit to be trusted in the management of their business, whom you meet in the streets every day, who will shake their wise heads, and tell you that they believe that there is some danger of a French invasion. Might not I say, ‘I think there is some danger of somebody attacking me in the street,’—might not I, with just the same logic, prepare myself with a dreadnought club or life preserver; or, perhaps, a brace of pistols, if I deemed it necessary; might not I make any kind of provision against any such imaginary danger as that? But I should be no more rational in doing it than we are as a nation in making these preparations against France.
I wish I could get some of these public instructors and bring them to the test of how far they are in earnest when they write in the way some of these Manchester papers write about a French invasion. Now, to my knowledge, they have been writing in the same way these last five years; I have had them upon me ever since December, 1847, which is about five years ago. They were writing in the same way when Louis Philippe was King of the French, and when M. Guizot was his Prime Minister. I will not let them off on their protesting that all they want now is to guard us against a usurper and a despot. I say they raised that cry as long ago as in 1847, when Louis Philippe was king, as loudly as they do now. They have been five years in this state of panic and alarm; and I say it is high time that such people should take some assurance against the consequences of this invasion, when it comes. Well, now, I am prepared, not only to give them that assurance on moderate terms, but I will put their sincerity to the test. Bring me that public instructor in your town, that has been telling you for the last five years, and upwards, that this invasion is so imminent; bring him to me, and I will make a proposal to him. If he will pay one shilling a week to your Infirmary, as a subscription, I will enter into a legal bond to pay him down ten thousand pounds when this invasion takes place. Well, but you sometimes have your public instructors, who write as though they had some special sources of information from London.
Now, I tell all those writers in newspapers in the provinces, who have joined in this cry of invasion, that they are being heartily laughed at by those in London, who are profiting by the cry. The Government has no belief in any danger of a sudden invasion. I will prove it to you in a moment. If an invasion took place without notice, our Government would be certainly impeached, because they are allowing our largest concentrated fleet—a fleet more powerful than the whole American navy;—now, I am speaking deliberately when I say that we have a fleet before which, if every ship of war which the Americans have were brought, they could not exist for twentyfour hours; and that fleet is now lying at Malta, or amusing itself between Malta and Corfu (with a great expenditure on the part of the officers for kid gloves for their parties and excursions); and I say that if Parliament believed what the Government and the instructors of the people are saying, as though it were derived from some special sources of information, that any Government that ever existed in the country, and which was proved, if an invasion or descent on our shores took place, to have suspected it, to have anticipated it, and to have given a hint of it to some of those public instructors in the country, would inevitably be impeached, and deservedly so, for having left our largest fleet 1,200 miles off, and at such a distance that it could not be collected in less than a month's time. So I assure gentlemen in the provinces who join in the cry, that they are only being heartily laughed at for their pains, and that the Government, which may profit by the cry, is by no means a sharer in the panic. And that is one of the worst parts of the panic—that Governments do manage to tide over a session, and gain time when they can find silly people through the country who will occupy their fellowcitizens by such a cry as this, because those who would be better employed in urging forward the Government to do something, are kept trotting about the country to try to prevent the mischief which these alarmists create. Don't you think, now, that I and others on this platform, who form humble units in the political world, might be better engaged, and might perhaps be troublesome to some party in the Government, if we were not kept on trotting about by this cry of an invasion? It is a very clever contrivance, and is the very thing that despotic Governments are always seeking for—something to keep the country always in a state of agitation, from a fear of invasion by any other Power than themselves. That has been the system that has always been adopted from the very beginning of misgovernment; since Governments will always find not only silly people who will believe them and become their dupes, but also people who will perform the part of impostors to those dupes; for there is quite as much knavery as folly at the bottom of this cry.
Now, I think that we are playing very much the part of bullies in this matter. If I have read history to any purpose at all, we have some atonement to offer to the French people. We are not in a position to put our fist constantly in the face of the French, and accuse them of an intention to come and molest us. The last French war arose out of a gross and unprovoked aggression on our part. The last war on the Continent originated with us, from an oligarchical Government, fed from the resources of this great nation, but carried on against the interests of liberty and in the interests of despotism. But, after that war is at an end, I think we might have expected that if there were any complaints, or accusations, or suspicions, they would more naturally have come from the other side of the Channel. I think that, under the circumstances, when we investigate the origin and character of the last great French war with this country, it is surprising that there is not a greater feeling of resentment and indignation on the part of the French nation against the English. But are the English people in a position to begin again to exasperate the French people by accusing them of an intention to invade us, and of entertaining those base intentions against our shores, when the only example in the memory of living man, is one in which we played that part against them? If there should be suspicion in the minds of any, it should be in the breasts of Frenchmen. If we follow the Christian maxim, of doing as we would that others should do unto us, we should try a different tone, and see what a little conciliation towards France would do.
I will tell you what is at the bottom of the whole of this cry in England about a French invasion. It is ignorance in the minds of the great masses of the people, as to what the real condition and circumstances of the French people are. I have told my friends who are met here from different parts of the country, and who are proposing to take steps for a vigorous agitation on behalf of peace, that the first thing they have to do is to spread four or five lecturers over the face of the land, to enlighten the public mind as to the state of feeling in France. We have no danger, it is admitted on all hands, from any other country. If it was not for this bug-bear of France and the French invasion, there would be lamentation and woe in some clubs in London, for I do not think they could have any excuse for keeping up so large a military and naval force. As to America, they do not give us any excuse for keeping up our navy. If France was out of the way, and we had only to look to and to be prepared for competition with America, or even with Austria or Russia, that would hardly afford us an excuse for keeping up our present armaments. It is France alone that you are threatened with danger from, and I say that the people of this country are alarmed with respect to France, simply because they don't understand the circumstances of that nation; and, being in ignorance, you may persuade them anything. It is like blindfolding a man and spinning him round once or twice. He then does not know where he stands, and you may persuade him that anything in the world is coming to eat him up; but unbandage his eyes, and he is not easily frightened. You must go through the country with lecturers, deluge them with tracts, and show them the actual position of the French nation. I tell you candidly my firm belief is, and I am quite prepared to meet the consequences, that if you will let the people of this country know the whole truth as to the economical and social condition of the millions of France, instead of their fearing that the French people are coming to take anything they possess, they will be themselves possessed of a considerable amount of dissatisfaction that their own condition, as a mass, is not equal to that of the French. The French people coming here, like a band of pirates, to take what the English people have! Why, you have to deal with 8,000,000 of landed proprietors. A very worthy friend of ours, who is now travelling in the south of France, and who is known to most of my friends about me, has written within the last few days to us, that, as the result of his inquiries and investigation, the condition of the rural population of France is very superior to that of the English peasantry. The French peasantry are the proprietors of the land. When the man follows his horse to field there, he is turning up the furrows upon his own soil.
Now, do you think that is exactly the population to run over from their acres and come here on a mere marauding expedition? Our mistake is in judging the French people altogether by our own standard. It is true the French have not yet quite got an appreciation of the representative forms of government according to our machinery, and the habit of association and public meeting, and the freedom of the press which we have; it is because it does not enter into French feeling to appreciate these things. For instance, the French people have no Habeas Corpus Act, as we have in England, to give them the guarantee for their personal liberty. We attach the utmost importance to the inviolability of individual freedom, and I think we are quite right. But the French, though they have had three or four times possession of power in the streets, have never known one of their leaders, when he had absolute possession of their assemblies,—have never seen one of their democratic leaders getting up and inserting a fundamental clause in their Constitution to give them that protection which we have against any arbitrary and undue infringement of our personal liberties. Again, with regard to their habits of association and public meeting, it does not enter into the ideas of the French people to have public meetings such as we have, and discuss such questions as we do. It is not in their habits to do it. No class or party in the country has used it or adopted it with any general success. And, therefore, these things which we prize, the French, up to this time, have not shown that they attach much importance to. Now, the time may come when they may have precisely the same feelings and views that we have with reference to these questions. The time may come. Recollect that hitherto they have been about fifty or sixty years in pretty constant and successive revolutions, so far as the political form of their Government goes. Well, but we had to go through a century of revolution before we settled down. From the time of the commencement of the civil war with Charles I. down to the time of our last civil war in 45, this country passed through a whole century of revolutions. Give them time, and perhaps at some future period the French may have your tastes upon those questions to which you attach so much importance.
And now I'll tell you the lesson I think we ought to learn from the French having parted, apparently with so little reluctance, from their representative form of government, and their freedom of the press; and the lesson, I say, is this—that we English ought to learn—not to stroke our beards and to thank Heaven we are not as other men; but we ought to say, ‘Let us take care that our newspaper press shall be such a useful organ, both in the cause of morality, of truth, but, above all, so useful in the cause of international peace, that the popular mind shall cling to it as an institution, and never allow it to be infringed upon; and let public men, leading statesmen, be so truthful in their representative capacities; and let them show patriotism enough, that the people shall have confidence in them, and cling to their representative system, and not abandon it as the French have done, because probably they have not found those attributes of which I am speaking.’ Now, what the French do, is this. Recollect I am now, with all submission, indicating what I think is the line necessary for peace lecturers to take, and whatever it is absolutely necessary to take, if we are to put an end to this howl of a French invasion. What the French do prize, and we don't prize much, is equality in social rank. The French people have abolished and destroyed feudalism for sixty years, completely. They don't tolerate any arbitrary rank or title, or any entails, or anything which can tend to give social inequality. They carry that principle of equality into their religious concerns; the French people won't tolerate one exclusively endowed religion, even although you had the Church selected that comprises nearly the whole population. All people are treated alike in France. Every religion is put upon a perfect footing of equality. So in the taxation, which is the most equal, fair system of taxation in the world; you could not have in France a probate and legacy duty upon one description of property and not upon another.
Now, I see that France could not have what we have in this country, because public opinion revolts at it. They would not have an hereditary House of Peers. Louis Napoleon would fall instantly—his throne would not be worth twenty-four hours' purchase if he were to attempt anything of the kind. Therefore, they have their tastes, and we have ours. They do not understand our tastes;—I can vouch for it, from being a good deal among them, that they are very much puzzled at our little regard for this principle of equality which they attach so much importance to; but they discriminate, and they say, ‘We envy you your jealousy of personal liberty; we wish we had it; we wish no man might have his personal freedom infringed. But that is not our taste. We have a passion for equality—you have a passion for personal liberty; and we should be better if we perhaps interchange a little and share our respective qualities.’
Well, now, I say, let the English people be told exactly what is the condition of French society. Let them understand, when we are told the French are coming here to rob our banks, that the French have had more silver in the Bank at Paris than we have had of gold and silver in the vaults of the Bank of England at the time that we were treating them as pirates who were coming to rob our Bank. Then we talk of their coming to carry off the various commodities we have in this country. There are more silver forks and spoons in France than in England, a great deal. If you were to go to a roadside publichouse in France, you would get a napkin and a silver fork; and we know in all their private families the class of people who live in that style are much more numerous than they are with us; the spirit of equality keeps up a vast mass there who have not similar tastes or aspirations here; and, therefore, when we hear of the French coming to commit a piratical incursion upon our shores, we are dealing with a people who would not be bringing all their worldly wealth in their canoes, like the New Zealanders or the Malays, but with a people that in many respects are considered by the rest of the world more civilised than ourselves. The rest of the world imitates their dress, their language, their amusements, and not ours. We are dealing with a people having more portable property in their country than they would find here. Well, then, I say, to tell us all that of a people that have never molested us within the lifetime of any living being, is absurd. On the contrary, they have a good right to complain of a most aggressive attack upon their shores on the part of our aristocracy sixty years ago. Well, I say we are placing ourselves in the attitude of an insolent, impudent bully that goes about the streets holding up both his fists, and trying to incite peaceable men to attack him. I hope that we shall not separate until we have organised a plan by which we can spread this information, and a good deal more, through the country, in the interest of peace.
Now, something has been said about the financial reformers. I cannot understand what a financial reformer can be thinking of who expects ever to get any reduction of Government expenditure, or any remission of those taxes which are pressing us in so many places, unless he can hope to effect a reduction in our warlike expenditure. Now, take in round numbers—I won't trouble you with figures, but take in round numbers our expenditure: say eight-and-twenty millions annually go to pay the interest of the debt incurred in past wars,—I am sorry to say, aggressive wars; well, then, we have about twenty-four or twenty-five millions more to pay. Out of that, about sixteen millions go for our present warlike expenditure. Well, these invasionists tell us, that cannot be reduced; and if the interest of the debt must be paid, which we all admit, there you have twenty-eight millions and sixteen millions, which make forty-four millions, that must not be touched. Then the financial reformers find some five or six millions more, which make the whole expense of our civil Government. Ours is not an expensive Government, really, for twenty-eight millions of people. We can find no fault with these six or eight millions. But if the financial reformers join in this great cry for more warlike armaments, and give way to this redherring drawn across our path in the shape of an invasion, then, I think, they ought to close their books and retire from business, and no longer call themselves financial reformers.
Now, gentlemen, if you can only destroy this wicked delusion, that is spread abroad respecting the conduct of France and the intentions of France, there is a very productive mine still to be worked in this large amount of military and naval expenditure. I won't promise you that it shall be quite as productive as the repeal of the Corn-laws, and yet I really don't know but what, if you would give me the amount which, by putting an end to this wicked spirit of animosity which has crept between France and England, might be fairly taken from our warlike expenses, and let me deal with it in the readjustment of taxation, in the reduction of taxation, I think I could so relieve industry by removing its trammels in the shape of custom-houses and excisemen, that I verily believe I could give a new lease to trade, almost as profitable as that derived from the repeal of the Corn-laws. And if you tell me that this invasion cry is founded in common sense and reason, that we must be prepared with our present armaments and then increase them, I should be guilty of the grossest imposture in the world if I were to tell you that any appreciable diminution could be made in the amount of our Government expenditure. You must, in that case, make up your mind to bear it, and I advise those who advocate this expenditure to do it without grumbling, and without making wry faces over it. I would not, if I believed what these people tell me; I would pay my taxes with right goodwill, and be very glad indeed to pay my money for such security.
Well, now, one word upon that which is of most vital importance in any agitation which may be renewed from this time. We are going to make this a revival, gentlemen; this is to be a new start. Now, you will all remember—I am sure my friend, Mr. Sturge, will—in fact, he has said as much to me this very day himself, and, therefore, I need not appeal to him to confirm what I am going to say,—no taunts ever thrown upon me have ever, to this moment, that I am aware of, led me to open my mouth to say that I disavowed the principles upon which the Peace Society is founded, and that I don't profess to go the lengths which the members of the Peace Society go. I have been told, I confess candidly, by political friends as well as political enemies, that I was doing myself a great deal of harm by allowing it to be thought that I was opposed to all defensive armaments. My answer has been:—If anybody believes that of me, and chooses to make that a reproach to me, I don't suppose that if I disabused him it would do much good, for he would be sure to find something else, to invent something else; and, besides, I add, I have so much respect for those gentlemen who belong to the Peace Society, and see that they are doing so much good, that I don't feel disposed at all to say anything that should appear to be construed to imply anything like a slight or disapproval of their conduct. But it is very well known to my friend Mr. Sturge, and others with whom I have acted,—and who know me very well, that although I am as anxious as they are to put an end to war at once and for ever, and see universal peace, yet that I was not educated in the principles of the Society of Friends, and it is generally to our education that we are indebted for our principles. And I have never avowed—I should be hypocritical if I avowed—that I entertained the opinion, that, if attacked, if molested in an unprovoked manner, I would not defend myself from such an act of aggression. Nobody, I presume, who wishes to do me justice, ever dreamed that I would do so. But it was not necessary, because I found every one bullying and crying, ‘We will remind them of Waterloo; we will sing "Rule Britannia;" we will remind them of Trafalgar and the Nile;'’—it was not necessary I should join in reminding them of that. But I hold opinions which are held by the great body of my countrymen, and an unprovoked attack would find, I dare say, as resolute a resistance from me as from many of those who are now crying out in a panic, and who, I suspect, would be very likely to run away from the enemy.
Now, the Peace Society has just as tolerant views towards me as I have towards them. The Peace Society has never attempted to coerce me into their principles of non-resistance. I must say I have never found them attempting to make a proselyte of me. They perfectly understand what my views are on this subject,—that I will put an end to war if I can, but will submit to no injustice if I can prevent it. Now, it is intended from this time that we shall enlarge the scope of this movement. We have met this morning, and we have had a gathering which has reminded me of the good old time of the League. I have seen at the very outset of this agitation noble-minded men put down their names for a sum of money which we were glad to wind up with in our League agitation after five years' struggle—I have seen 500l. put down to one name this morning; and it is proposed that there shall be not a new society, because the Peace Congress Association forms the common ground on which all men may co-operate. We don't propose to found any new society, but we intend to extend the operations of that body which was founded when we began the Peace Congress which visited the Continent, and also sat in London. We intend that there shall be a more abundant supply of the sinews of war placed in the hands of your committee by the addition of some other names in Manchester and elsewhere; and we hope to set at work, not only with a machinery for inundating the country with printed papers for its information and instruction, but we hope to set four or five lecturers to work in visiting every borough in the country, and see whether we cannot counteract the poison that is being infused into the minds of the people. When I met one of my friends in the streets of Manchester yesterday, he said, ‘Why, you have come at a very inopportune time for your Peace meeting; for everybody is in a panic, and thinks you wrong.’ I said, ‘Why, that is the very reason why we are here; there never was a time yet when it was so necessary for the Peace party to redouble their efforts as at present.’ And I venture to predict that the creation of the militia, and the present cry for an increase of our armaments, will give a date for the downfall of this very system which we condemn. This insane and wicked attempt at misleading and exasperating the people will recoil upon its authors—there will be from this time but the beginning of a reaction; and we won't fail to profit by it.
Then our lecturers and our tracts will be directed to disabuse the public mind, in the first place, of the impression which is created with respect to the intentions of France. That is the first thing to be done, because there's where the danger is. Then let them deal with the economical view of the question—I mean the pressure of the enormous burdens on the industry of this country. Let our lecturers go and show what each town pays—why, I heard it stated that Manchester has to pay 200,000l. as its share for our past wars, and for our present preparations. Let them go and show in all our towns and boroughs what are our economical objects. But don't let us lose sight of the still higher motives for peace. I have always been of opinion that the mainspring of this movement must be with those men who look beyond temporary concerns of any kind—who, instead of viewing this as a pounds, shillings, and pence question, or even a question of physical suffering, have an eye to the eternal interests involved in it. I say these are the men who are the mainspring of this movement. If anything be done to destroy the energy, or check the zeal, or to wound the consciences of those men who, from 1815 to the present time, when there was little attention paid to the question, kept the sacred lamp burning in the midst of contempt and contumely—if we do anything to disparage these men, I would not give a button for the prospect of this movement. And, therefore, our lecturers and tracts and publications must not only advocate the cause of peace on the ground of religious duty and the interests of morality, but they must not say one word that shall wound the convictions of those men who conscientiously believe in the inviolability of human life, and who would not resist to the death even to save their own existence.
Now, I know well that our opponents will try to make it appear that it is very inconsistent for men to co-operate together with such different objects, and for those who call themselves members of the Society of Friends to co-operate with others who stop short of their principle. Well, that is a new doctrine, at all events. It was not so when the French war broke out. I find that then the Society of Friends co-operated with Mr. Fox and his colleagues of the Whig party in trying to prevent that most unrighteous and most unhappy war of the French revolution. I find that Mr. Gurney, of Norwich, corresponded constantly with Mr. Fox in the House of Commons, and that Mr. Fox corresponded with Mr. Gurney, entreating him to get up a county meeting in Norfolk, and encouraging him to get up numerous petitions from Norwich; but I certainly never heard anybody among the Whig party saying that Mr. Fox was inconsistent in co-operating with Mr. Gurney to prevent that dreadful war, or saying that Mr. Gurney sacrificed his principles in lending his help to Mr. Fox; although, if they had come together and sought out their points of difference instead of seeking out their points of union, they would have found, very likely, that their principles were quite as opposite, as the principles I hold would be found if compared with those of my friend Mr. Sturge. But we shall not have from the present Ministry, I think, any cavilling—no, nor from their organs of the press either; we shall not, I should think, have any cavilling or criticising as to men co-operating who don't agree on all points.
I recollect that during the debate on the Militia Bill, a certain noble Lord, who is now filling a very important office in the present Government, somehow picked up a pamphlet, written by a gentleman to show the inconsistency of a clergyman joining a rifle club, and the object of the writer was to show that the taking of human life at all, under any circumstances, was inconsistent with a belief of the New Testament; but who, being pushed by his adversary to the logical consequences of his own argument, made sundry admissions which, to those who have not adopted these views, appeared somewhat absurd. Well, this noble Lord, I say, got this pamphlet, and very dexterously turned this pamphlet, written by this gentleman, who, I dare say, was very consistent and very honest in what he wrote—he turned its contents against us who were opposing the militia. Well, that noble Lord is now filling an important office in the Government of Lord Aberdeen. I think I remember when the Earl of Aberdeen was Foreign Secretary under Sir R. Peel, that that noble Lord, from 1841 to 1846, employed a vast deal of his time, when in opposition, in criticising and condemning in no very measured terms, the principles upon which Lord Aberdeen's foreign policy was carried out. But I suppose the noble Lord must now have changed all his views on foreign policy since he took office under Lord Aberdeen; or if he has not, I suppose now that he will contend that it is not impossible for men to co-operate together without having identical views, and without being ready to go to the same extent in their views upon every question. If that be the case, I should hope that the noble Lord will, from the exigencies of his present situation, have learnt toleration for others, and that we shall hear no more of those taunts against men in the House of Commons who advocate the reduction of our armaments, or who resist the increase of those armaments, and who still may no more be identified with all the views of the Society of Friends than the noble Lord would be with all the foreign policy of the Earl of Aberdeen.
Gentlemen, our object here is business. You are here, from all parts of the country; and we have made a beginning in the essential part of our business this morning. At the meeting that has been held since the morning meeting, I think some four or five thousand pounds have been subscribed. It is proposed that it should be made up to ten thousand pounds, and that we go to work at once. Now, let us tell those people who have fancied they have it all their own way, for some time, in calling out for more soldiers, and in threatening us with a French invasion, that we are going to have a good deal to say upon that question, and they may expect to meet us in every borough and town in the kingdom. I presume that our friends who are here will take charge of counties; for instance, suppose my friend Mr. Bowley would take charge of Gloucester,—I was going, almost, as a challenge to him, to take charge of a county myself; but I certainly think that all those who are, as I am, imbued with the conviction that the present is a most critical time in the cause of Peace, should bestir themselves now. I hope they will, and that they will be ready, not only to give their time to it, in all parts of the kingdom, but that they will subscribe the sinews of war; and if it be only known through France that in Manchester, in the centre of the Free-trade agitation, surrounded by the very men who won that battle, there are men here now who are prepared to commit themselves, ay, and to commit liberally of their fortunes, to the agitation of this Peace question, and to the disabusing the minds of the people of this country as to the intentions and as to the condition of the French people,—I believe that if this be known in France, it will have more effect than anything that could possibly be done to counteract the mischievous effects which are being produced by those publications which are now issuing from the press.
MANCHESTER, JANUARY 23, 1851.
[The most important or engrossing public business discussed in the Session of 1850 was the dispute between the Foreign Office and the kingdom of Greece in the affair of Pacifico. Towards the end of the year occurred what was called the Papal Aggression, the Pope having divided England into dioceses. This act caused great excitement, and a law was passed, under the name of the ‘Ecclesiastical Titles Act,’ prohibiting the Roman Catholic prelates from adopting territorial designations. From the commencement the Act was a dead letter. In the following speech Mr. Cobden commented on the apathy of the Government of Lord Russell.]
It used to be my practice, when I was agitating with my friend Bright, to stipulate that I should speak before him, and I need not tell you why. In entering this room to-night, I was under the same difficulty that he has expressed. I was not quite aware of the character of the present meeting; but when I looked round upon the countenances of the gentlemen assembled, I perfectly understood the character of the meeting. It comprises, I can vouch for it from personal knowledge, the pith and marrow of the Reform and Free-trade party in South Lancashire. It comprises men who worthily represent those who cannot be present in this room,—men without whose co-operation no election can be carried in South Lancashire, Manchester, or Salford, and against whose opposition it is equally important to know that no victory can be won. I appear here tonight as a spectator and visitor, to be a witness of your reception of those who represent you in Parliament. I am glad to have had the opportunity of beholding the cordial, the kind, and the flattering reception with which you have greeted them. It is right they should be so received by you. They are the men who stand the brunt of abundance of abuse; they have to meet detraction coming from your own city, and professing to express your own sentiments. The shafts of calumny, the mean insinuations of base motives, are continually flung at them—those unfair weapons of political warfare which are never resorted to except when men are either conscious of a bad cause, or acting solely from personal pique and spite. This is the abuse and this is the calumny with which these men have to contend, not only in the arena where they have to fight your battles; but I repeat it, in the very city which they represent, whose best sentiments they express. It is right, when they have to bear the brunt of such attacks, that they should, when they meet you, receive the reward which you bestow upon them. But I, for my part, come here, not to answer to you for my conduct in Parliament, nor to share the tribute of respect and gratitude which you have bestowed upon them; it is as a listener and spectator that I rise here, at half-past ten o'clock, to say a few words; for, after the speeches you have just heard, I should be doing great injustice not only to you but to myself if I were to attempt long to arrest your attention.
This has been called a meeting to talk over all sorts of subjects. Now I am not going to deal in vague generalities. I do not mean to say that anybody who preceded me has done so, for they have been special enough; but I will not range the wide topics of political controversy. I will say, generally, that after we succeeded in the Free-trade controversy, I set myself a certain task in public life. I thought that the natural and collateral consequence of Free trade was first to endeavour to give the people, along with physical comfort and prosperity, improved intellectual and moral advantages. I thought that the country which had bargained for itself to enter into the lists of competition with the wide world, seeking no favour, but asking only for a fair field and free competition, would set about to economise its resources, and in every way to attempt to mitigate a load of taxation which must impede the career of any nation that is unduly burdened in its competition with more favoured countries. I thought that, when we had said, ‘We offer to trade with the whole world, and we invite the whole world to trade with us,’ by that very declaration we told the wide world we sought peace and amity with them. Entertaining these views, I set myself the task, as a public man, of endeavouring, by every effort which, in my humble capacity, I could bring to bear, to stand prominently forward as the advocate of education, peace, and retrenchment. I do not come here to enter into a discussion on these questions, each one worthy of an essay by itself; but I will say this, that whilst upon all these subjects we have met with keen opposition, and upon two with obloquy and derision, I see such progress making, and made, as will encourage me to persevere in the advocacy of these principles with renewed and redoubled efforts. I find education assuming a prominence and importance, even by the admission of those who, until lately, have been opposed to it in every form, that I cannot have a doubt in my mind, that public opinion will be brought to bear on that topic with such irresistible force, that, ere long, we shall find a solution for this, which is one of the most difficult problems of our social existence. I find the question of peace, even in the eyes of those who have been attempting to ridicule its advocates, has become a leading topic of the day. Those who have derided us for helping forward the movement in favour of peace, do not hesitate to signalise this as an age which has the pleasing advantage over all preceding ages, of being characterised by symptoms which indicate that we are approaching an era when peace will become the maxim of the whole world. I find that what I told you in the Free Trade Hall, just three years ago,—that we might live to see the time when the expenditure which sufficed for 1835 would suffice again—is in process of being realised. We have already made such progress, that some four or five millions of reduction in our expenditure has taken place. I have no doubt that further retrenchments are going on at this very moment; and I now repeat, not only my conviction that we may return to the expenditure of 1835, but that we shall, ere long, attain that point, and that we shall not stop even there.
As fiscal questions will engage a good deal of attention in the ensuing Parliament, I would have you draw a rigorous distinction between two questions which are very often jumbled together, causing great confusion in the public mind. I mean the difference between a surplus caused by increased revenue, and a surplus occasioned by reduced expenditure. The Government comes forward with a surplus of 2,000,000l., arising from an increase in the receipts of the various existing taxes; and the Government is then too apt to take credit to itself for the great merit of having effected the superabundant revenue. They do not tell you, and you are too apt to forget it, that this surplus is merely the effect of your having given out of your pockets 2,000,000l. more into the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in one year than you did in the last year; and then the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells you, ‘I have 2,000,000l. more than I estimated, I will return it to you.’ ‘Thank you for nothing,’ is all you should ever say for that. But I wish that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer brings forward his Budget, you would look critically to the amount of the reduction of his Estimates for the next year's expenditure as compared with the Estimates of last year. If, in the ensuing session, the Chancellor of the Exchequer does that which we may do, bring forward a reduction in our establishments, then you may leave an estimated surplus over the expenditure of next year of nearer 5,000,000l. than 2,000,000l. The surplus that is now being estimated is upon the present year's Estimates. I want to see the next year's Estimates and the Budget, that we may judge of the Government by their Estimates, and not by any revenue they may have reached. I am not going into any tedious fiscal argument to-night. I only want to take this opportunity of saying two words upon a question which has been already alluded to. I have not since the close of Parliament addressed any audience upon general political topics. I have addressed peace meetings; I have addressed meetings of freehold land societies; I have addressed education meetings; but I have addressed no meeting where so wide a range of discussion and observation has been permitted as is now open to us in this assembly. I very much regret it, because I should like to say a few words upon a controversy which has been raging in this country for two or three months, and to which if I did not refer I should be guilty of cowardice, seeing it is always my practice to deal with the prominent topics of the day. In these few words I beg to say I speak to you solely as a politician. For the last two or three months there has not been a calm in this country. We have heard of a great political calm, but there has been no calm. On the contrary, there has been an agitation. It has, I admit, been mainly sectional, but it has been widespread, and it has almost exclusively occupied the attention of the leading public prints.
I need not tell you that the question is that which is called the ‘Papal Aggression.’ The remark I wish to make is, that the discussion of this topic, as a political topic, has overlaid, arrested, and smothered for a time every other political topic. It is well known that in this country the public mind entertains but one question at a time; therefore the first remark I wish to make is, that the discussion of this topic, as a political topic, has prevented the public mind from occupying itself with fiscal questions, and questions affecting reform in the representation, and other questions which politicians have had for many years at heart, so that we approach the meeting of Parliament without the opportunity being afforded, or taken, by the country, of signalling to the Government the views we take upon those questions. I wish you to bear in mind that when we meet, ere another fortnight, in Parliament, our time will then, I fear, be very much occupied with the discussion of this same question; for, if we may believe Mr. Hugh Stowell in what he told us at a very large assembly, every political question, whether fiscal, social, or reformatory, must be suspended until this one great question be settled by the House of Commons. What, I want to ask, is this demand? Is this a question that can be settled by politicians? I speak as a politician. I may settle it in my own mind as a Protestant, and as a Protestant I may have my own opinions. I have my own opinions, for it is everybody's duty to have his own opinions, and if he has an aggressive opponent, I doubt if it be not his duty to defend actively the opinion he entertains—always, of course, as an individual. But I want to ask, if there is any reason why religious questions should not be removed out of the domain of politics, just as they are in the United States of America? Lord Carlisle, when he, I will not say descended from his seat in the Cabinet to deliver an address to the Mechanics' Institution of Leeds, but when he honoured himself by coming out of the Cabinet for that purpose, made a remark which, coming at the time it did, I think, expressed more than the ordinary meaning of the words, when he said, ‘I confess I do envy the complete toleration which exists in the United States.’ I think that was a significant expression, and might be taken, probably, to justify those who believe in the rumour, that the Cabinet is not quite united upon the question of Papal Aggression. In the United States, the Pope may appoint bishops whenever he pleases; he may parcel out that vast Continent into as many dioceses as he pleases, including even California; he may send as many cardinals as he pleases; and no matter by what pompous phraseology all that be done, the United States politicians, and the United States Legislature at Washington, would be perfectly indifferent to it all. Why cannot we, in this country, as politicians, while giving the same security to private and individual judgment, leave the settlement of this question as it is in the United States? Is it that we are so ignorant, or that we are so liable to be misled? Then, I say, let us look sharp, and follow the advice given by Mr. Lawrence, the American Minister, and educate ourselves.
But I am told that the reason is that we have a State Church in England. Well, but does a State Church render the people of this country less able to protect themselves by their own unaided judgment, knowledge, and sound sense, from aggression? Are the people less able to protect themselves against error because they have a State Church? Will that be the confession? No. But the State Church has been made the obstacle, or attempted to be made the obstacle, in every parish, to the promotion of the same liberality that exists in America, against every proposal with regard to liberty, whether civil, religious, or commercial. There is no advance made in the path of freedom of any kind, but we are, and have been, continually threatened with obstruction by the cry of ‘The Church in danger.’ Yet, I must say, that in every case the partisans of the Church have found their predictions singularly falsified. After the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act, after the accomplishment of Emancipation, after the Reform Bill was secured, there was the same cry; but I believe it will be admitted by both Churchmen and Dissenters, that the Church never was so active and prosperous, never were so many churches built, and never had the Establishment greater authority, than after the last of those great reforms down to the present day. Where, then, are the grounds for fear, on the part of Churchmen, for the security of the Church? But I say here that we will have toleration and religious freedom in this country, cost what it may. I do not stand here as the advocate of the partisans of the Roman Catholic body. As a politician, I do not presume to offer my opinions on the faith of any man. On the polity of that Church, I might possibly be allowed to offer an opinion; yet at the present moment, when county meetings are held and advertised (partly at the expense of Roman Catholics themselves, who pay rates as well as Protestants); when, I say, so much abuse is lavished upon them, I should be loath to offer any observation upon the polity of that Church. But I may be allowed to say that I am no friend to the organisation of the Roman Catholic body. It is too centralising for me; it is too subduing to the intellect for me; and if I changed my religion at all, I should be as little likely as any gentleman in this room to go into their chapel, nay, as any one upon the face of the earth. But, at the same time, let the Roman Catholics living in England judge for themselves, not only of their own faith and motives, but of the mode in which they would constitute the organisation that will always follow religious teaching. Why should you dictate to the Roman Catholic bishops whether they will govern by a cardinal, an archbishop, or diocese? They do not come to me, as a politician, to ask me to give force and validity to their titles, or to give them stipends out of the public purse. What right have I, then, as a politician, to come before a public meeting, or to get up in the House of Commons, and say a word upon the subject of their faith, or on the polity of the Roman Catholic Church?
We shall be told pretty often, no doubt, that unless Government interferes, the privileges and prerogatives of the Queen of England will be invaded by the Pope,—not by Cardinal Wiseman. Cardinal Wiseman is a British subject; he cannot invade the prerogative of the Crown without being guilty of high treason; and if he is so guilty, let him be tried by the law. But what prerogatives have been invaded by the conduct of the Pope? Not the temporal prerogative. Why, the Pope has at this moment in his army a few thousand French and Austrian troops. And I have it on the best authority, that if these troops were removed, dire would be the dismay and speedy the flight of the whole body, Pope and cardinals. It is not, then, the army of the Pope that can threaten the temporalities of the Crown. Are the temporal prerogatives threatened by sea? You may have a list of the active naval force of the Pope; it amounts to two gun brigs and a schooner. Put one quarter of the effective service which is stationed on the coast of Sussex, and it would be quite sufficient to guard the whole island against the Pope's navy. It is not, then, the temporal sovereignty or the secular privileges of the Queen that can be endangered by the Pope, but her spiritual dominion, we are told, is to be perilled.
Now are we, as politicians, who are called upon fairly enough to vote money for ordnance, and for shot and shells, to meet and repel the aggressive enemy that meets us with spiritual weapons? Are we to forge the spiritual artillery with which we are to meet the aggression? If we are, I beg you to consider how capitally we are suited in the House of Commons for that purpose. I won't say a word to asperse the character of that body, of which I form a humble unit,—I mean the general character of that body, as a religious body. You may say, if you will, and believe, if you please,—I leave you to enjoy the pleasures of your credulity,—that a large majority of that House of Commons are living in an especial odour of sanctity and piety. You may believe it, if you please; I offer no opinion on it, for being one of the body, and having to face them in about a fortnight, I hope you will excuse my expressing an opinion on the subject. But admitting, if you please,—admitting that we are, the great majority of us, eminent for our piety,—how are we constituted? Are we all Churchmen, owning the spiritual authority of the Queen? Why, we are about forty or fifty of us Roman Catholics, and, mark me, you will have a great many more Roman Catholics returned from Ireland at the next election. We have an Independent or two, we have three or four Unitarians, and we have a Quaker, I am happy to say, and I wish we had a good many more; and we have a fair prospect of having a Jew.
Now, is not that a very nice body of men to uphold the Queen's supremacy as the head of England's Church? Why, gentlemen, if you wanted to give us a task in the House of Commons which should last till Doomsday, and that we should therefore put off, as no doubt Mr. Hugh Stowell would require, all reforms, whether fiscal or parliamentary, till that remote day, then give us the task of settling this question of Papal Aggression. I say, give it to the politicians to settle, if you want it never to be settled at all. As has been well expressed here by Mr. Bright, politicians have been at the work already for four or five hundred years. They have used every available method. They have tried fire and faggot: that is the most effectual means, I admit—but, then, you must exterminate also those who hold the opinions from which you differ. That was too shocking even for the sixteenth century, and so it was given up—I mean the attempt to exterminate those who professed these opinions. Then came the penal laws, which went every length short of extermination. What has been the tendency of the last century? Constant relaxation—a tendency more and more to religious toleration. What has been the course taken by the leading statesmen of this country? Why, to their honour be it said, the greatest and most illustrious statesmen of the last sixty years were so far in advance of the latent bigotry still existing in this country, that they were ready to sacrifice their fame—I mean such a fame as temporary popularity—they were willing to forego place, patronage, everything which statesmen and politicians hold most dear, rather than lend themselves to the continuance of that system. But I very much fear there are men now in the Cabinet, who owe all their distinction in public life to having been identified with that principle of toleration to which we are constantly more and more progressing, but who are now ready to sully their fair fame, and belie, I had almost said, the whole of their past political career, on entering into the political session of 1851. Gentlemen, I entreat you to remove this question of religious opinions,—remove it out of the domain of politicians, if you wish not only to make progress in those questions which we cannot delay, and if you wish to prevent a retrograde policy. It will not end in a mere return to the paths of religious monopoly, but will be certain to conduct you into a retrograde track, in questions affecting our temporal interests, and for which many of those who fancy themselves sincere, are now lending their voices when they raise this cry for religious intolerance. I agree with Mr. Gibson completely, that if this country permits one step backward, in the career of religious toleration, you are endangering yourselves on questions in which you feel most nearly interested. I never felt the slightest doubt in the world come across my mind on the subject of retaining everything we have gained in the way of social improvement, until I saw the account of a county meeting in Essex, which has had its counterpart nearly in every part of England, and at which Sir John Tyrell was one of the most prominent actors, when he called for three cheers for Lord John Russell.
Look at the actors throughout the country, in this present movement against what is called the Papal Aggression. Who are they? Have you seen those men advocating the repeal of the Corn-laws? Have you not seen in every case, that the most prominent actors in these county meetings are the men who resisted the establishment of that principle of commercial reform? Let me ask you if by any accident,—such accidents as may happen in our Constitution, which are precipitated at any moment,—you who entirely agree with me upon the subject of commercial freedom, and generally upon questions of liberal policy in secular affairs, let me ask you to answer me this question: Suppose a general election were to take place, and those who are prominent in opposing religious toleration succeeded (and I am not sure that they would not succeed), in returning to Parliament a majority for re-enacting the disabilities and restrictions upon Roman Catholics, would not that be a majority that would either tamper with the Corn-laws, or take care to indemnify themselves for what has been taken from them? It is so; and those who are acting have not been so discreet, in this case, as to conceal their belief in the possibility of retrieving their monopoly. I say to those who have generally been favourable to commercial freedom, who have been, in fact, friendly to civil and commercial freedom, and who join in this cry, and lend themselves to the support of this party who are in favour of religious restrictions,—I say that they would, in my opinion, bring back on themselves the commercial monopolies and political monopolies; and I say to them as inconsistent men,—for I don't address myself to those who oppose freedom in every shape,—but to those who were generally with us in advocating civil and commercial freedom,—I say if they gain the triumph of religious intolerance, and if they gain along with it a monopoly in food, they richly merit their fate.
But there is one thing that has been said by those who preceded me,—they have alluded to the bigotry, and fanaticism, and ignorance, which prevailed fifty years ago amongst the mass of the people of this country. Now, there is one symptom, and almost the only symptom, which has consoled me in this agitation for religious disabilities, and it is this:—the calm, passive, and, in many respects, contemptuous silence and indifference with which it has been regarded by the great mass of the people of this country. If the same tumults had occurred fifty or sixty years ago, owing to the prevailing ignorance and bigotry of the mass of the people of this country, half the Roman Catholic chapels would have been in flames, and half their occupants' lives in danger. And I thank the demonstration only for this: that it has given me, more than anything else, a conviction of the great progress that has been made in real intelligence by the great mass of the people, especially in the north of England. I will not say so much of the south. And I cannot say much for the Corporation of London. Why, only think of that Corporation professing to represent the City. Only think of it! Last year it was setting itself up and agitating in a ferment of enlightened intelligence and patriotism, in favour of religious liberty to the Jews. Now it is denouncing the superstitious ceremonies of the Roman Catholics. When has there been such a spectacle, so absurd a spectacle, exhibited as that which was shown, when the London Corporation took that great gingerbread coach, the pattern of 200 years ago, and clothed themselves in that Bartholomew-fair dress of theirs, and took a man with a fur cap, whose pattern dates back, I believe, five centuries, with a long sword in his hand, and all the other paraphernalia of the Corporation of London, and went down by the railroad to Windsor, in order to present an address to the Queen, in order to put down—Popish mummeries! If you want to see mummeries, go and see the Lord Mayor's procession. I have seen the grand ceremonies in the Vatican at Easter, I have seen the most gorgeous religious processions the Church of Rome can boast of, but I never saw anything half so absurd, or half so offensive to intelligence or commonsense, as the mummeries in which the Corporation of London indulge every year. Now I am glad to say of the north of England, that the mass of the people here have not joined in this intolerant outcry. I only regret that circumstances have prevented this meeting from being held in the Free Trade Hall, that I might have heard the cheer which I should have had from five thousand auditors, in expressing the sentiments I have just enunciated.
Now, gentlemen, only one word more, as a politician again, but not as a party politician, if you please. Something has been said about conduct or misconduct during the last session. I don't come here to answer to you, because I have not the honour of representing many of you. But this I will say, I am exceedingly tolerant of every Member of the House of Commons who strains a point to vote with the Government, provided he has been some fifteen or twenty years longer in the political arena than I have been. I believe my friend Mr. Brotherton, for instance, aims as much at benefiting the mass of the people in this country, in every form by which he can effect it, as I do; but I believe Mr. Brotherton has a stronger sentiment of reliance and sympathy towards the present Government than I have, and it is easily accounted for. Mr. Brotherton entered Parliament after the passing of the Reform Bill, and shared the struggles in obtaining that Bill, which I still regard, notwithstanding what Mr. Dyer said, a great progress in political reform. He shared all the struggles in carrying that Bill, and it is natural that he should have those sympathies. But I will say this in vindication of myself, that I entered somewhat at an advanced time of life for a man who has taken up the discussion of a public question, and I did it resolved to devote my labours to the solution of that question, without reference to the temporary interests or conveniences of any existing political party; and the result of that agitation in the case of the Corn-laws has convinced me that if anything is to be done in this country for the great mass of the people, if you are to succeed in establishing any reform of magnitude, it can only be done by the people out of doors, and in the House resolving to do that one thing, and totally disregarding the existing political parties in that House.
I desire to see something accomplished. I have set myself the task of accomplishing certain things, and amongst them that which is most dear to my heart is the advocacy of a more peaceful and conciliatory policy in the intercourse of nations, or, as I would especially say, in the intercourse between this country and weaker nations. If you want to wound my principles most acutely, it will be to show me England violating the principle of a conciliatory and humane policy when it has to deal with a weak Power, which is like a child in its grasp. I look upon inhumanity, rudeness, or violence, on the part of England towards a powerless state like Greece, with additional resentment, just as I should regard that man as a coward as well as a despot who molested and ill-used a child. Feeling, then, that my principles were violated in the case of Lord Palmerston, in the Greek affair, I voted against him on that occasion, and I should do so again, if ten thousand seats in Parliament depended on the issue of my vote.
Now, gentlemen, let me give one word of advice to those who are in Manchester or elsewhere, and take up a hasty conclusion against some of our Members, with whom you generally agree, and in whose judgment and sagacity you have some confidence, to beware how you take a side against them, merely because you see a certain line of policy argued in certain public prints. Give them credit for being wary; they have a better opportunity of sifting public men than you have. A man must be a fool. if he does not, after being in Parliament seven or eight years, and sitting in Committees with nearly all the Members, discover the motives of Governments when they are disclosed, not on the public arena, but where they are chatted over by friends in private. Depend upon it your Members will have rather better opportunities than you will have of judging the conduct of public men. And if you happen to think that Lord Palmerston, although he did try to maintain a fixed duty long after Lord Aberdeen had become the advocate of total repeal and untaxed bread,—if, notwithstanding certain other symptoms I could mention, which prove that Lord Palmerston is not the champion for liberty that you suppose,—if, I say, notwithstanding you have an impression in favour of Lord Palmerston, your Members come to a different conclusion, why, give them credit for the same honesty of purpose and intelligence with yourselves; and bear in mind, that they have the better opportunity of forming an opinion than yourselves. I have no desire to stand out singularly in my vote. As was well expressed by Mr. Bright, it is a very unpleasant thing to do so; it would be far more agreeable to make companionship with those men on the Treasury-benches, instead of treading on their toes and poking them in the ribs, and making them uncomfortable. Is it any satisfaction to me, do you think, that Lord Palmerston's organ, the Globe, has denounced me, over and over again, as a disappointed demagogue, and hurled language at me which no other journal, the Times, for instance, has ever levelled at me? I know perfectly well that on the Manchester Exchange, and the Leeds Exchange, and the Liverpool Exchange, where the Globe paper is taken, and is understood to be a Whig paper, when persons see it speak in such terms of the Member for the West Riding, they are apt to think there must be a great deal in it, and that the Member must be making himself especially ridiculous in the House of Commons. I am not a disappointed demagogue; if ever there was anybody who ought to be satisfied with his public career, it is I. I thank you for giving me the only response which could relieve me from the imputation of great egotism in saying so.
Well, as I said before, my position is not the same as that of Mr. Brotherton. I cannot see the line of demarcation between Whig and Tory which he sees. I cannot see what principle the Whigs advocate which the Tories do not advocate. I find in Lord John Russell, in the House of Commons, not simply great impatience but petulance, and I had almost said great insolence, in his dealings, particularly in the remarks he has made to our friend, Mr. Bright. He, I am sure, is very indifferent to the remarks themselves, but they are sufficiently important as indicating the tone of the man who is supposed to be the leader of our party. I must confess that, in regard to fiscal matters, I am bound to say, I believe the Opposition party would do quite as much in the way of retrenchment as the Whigs; I am not sure that they would not do more. I believe Sir James Graham, for instance, would show less subserviency to the Duke of Wellington, in military arrangements, than Lord J. Russell or Lord Palmerston. I believe in Colonial policy, whilst Sir R. Peel resolutely refused to add another acre to our tropical possessions, the present Government are taking possession in Asia, as well as Africa, of tracts of tropical territory, which, I believe, notwithstanding anything that may be said to the contrary by the Manchester Association, are only calculated to entail additional expense upon us, instead of benefiting us, as a free-trading community; and I fear that next session we shall be placed in a still worse dilemma. If we are to believe the reports that Lord J. Russell, instead of being the champion of religious liberty, is going to embark in a crusade against religious freedom, I shall find myself then still further alienated from the present party. But this I say: if I do not see that I have at least the liberty of voting in the House of Commons for something different to that which now exists,—if I cannot hope to see some change and some reform,—at least if I am not allowed the free advocacy of my own opinions for some distinct principle different from that which is now the rule of conduct with Whig and Tory,—why am I to be sitting up till twelve o'clock every night in the House of Commons? This disappointed demagogue wants no public employment; if he did, he might have had it before now. I want no favour, and, as my friend Bright says, no title. I want nothing that any Government or any party can give me; and if I am in the House of Commons at all, it is to give my feeble aid to the advancement of certain questions on which I have strong convictions. Deprive me of that power; tell me I am not to do this, because it is likely to destroy a Government with which at the present moment I can have no sympathy; then, I say, the sooner I return to printing calicoes, or something more profitable than sitting up in the House of Commons night after night in that way, the better both for me and my friends. I have come here, then, merely to renew personal acquaintances,—or rather, anxious by a short sojourn in this neighbourhood and in Yorkshire, not to lose old acquaintances which I highly prize and value. I come, moreover, in order to have an opportunity of testing the current of public opinion a little, and sounding its depth, to see whether it be an unusual tide, or a steady, permanent stream. I think this meeting has demonstrated to me, that whatever exists in other parts of the country, here at least there is no reaction; and that, remembering. what are our recorded opinions, you in Lancashire, and I hope my friends in Yorkshire, will always be found true to the principles of liberty and toleration.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, JULY 6, 1848.
[On June 20, 1848, Mr. Hume moved the following resolution:—'That this House, as at present constituted, does not fairly represent the population, the property, or the industry of the country; whence have arisen great and increasing discontent in the minds of a large portion of the people; and it is therefore expedient, with a view to amend the National Representation, that the elective franchise shall be so extended as to include all householders, that votes shall be taken by Ballot, that the duration of Parliaments shall not exceed three years, and that the apportionment of Members to population shall be made more equal.' On July 6, the motion was rejected by 267 (321 to 84).]
I rise under great disadvantages to address this House, after the hon. and learned Gentleman (Serjeant Talfourd) who has just sat down; and the difficulty of my position would be very much increased if I were called upon to address myself to this question in the manner, and with the eloquence and fancy, by which his speech has been distinguished; but I make no pretence to follow in such a track. I can only help observing, that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not given us any facts as the groundwork of his reasoning. There is one statement, however, made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, which is not a fact, but on which the opponents of my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) seem very much to rely. The statement to which I allude is to this effect,—that the wishes of the country are not in favour of the change which my hon. Friend proposes. That assertion, as we all know, was made by the noble Lord the Member for London. Now, it must be generally felt that this statement is of more importance than any other that has been uttered upon this subject. On other subjects connected with the Government and Constitution of this country there may be much diversity of opinion; but I ask, is there any great diversity of opinion, at this moment, amongst the great class, who are now excluded from the franchise? I put it to the noble Lord to say, does he, or do his friends, mean to say, or do they not, that the masses of the unrepresented population in this country have no desire to possess political power and privileges? Will any one utter such a libel on the people of England? Will any one say that they are so abject, so base, so servile, as not to desire to possess the rights of citizens and freemen? I have not believed, and I do not believe, that such are the sentiments of my fellow-countrymen. I should entertain a very poor opinion indeed of the people of this country if I were to give a vote in favour of such a proposition; but yet it forms an important element in the reasonings of the Gentlemen who oppose my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose. If you admit the most evident truth that can come under the notice of any man, you must admit that at least six-sevenths of the male population of this United Kingdom are earnestly pressing for and claiming the rights which you are denying them. I will go further, and tell the House that a very large proportion of the middle class regret that so many belonging to a humbler order of society than themselves should have been included amongst the unrepresented portion of the community. They express a sincere desire that the franchise should be extended; they look with great interest to the result of this night's division; and I undertake to say, that you will find those Members of this House who represent large and independent constituencies, comprising, for the most part, persons belonging to the middle class, you will find such Members voting with my hon. Friend—they are the men who will go into the lobby in favour of his motion. It is thus that the strongest and most useful appeal will be responded to by the great mass of the middle orders, and thus, I think, it will be shown, that the middle class entertain no such feeling of hostility against the admission of working men to political power as they are said to indulge. In proportion as the middle class are free and independent, in so far do they desire the freedom and independence of the rank nearest to themselves, in that proportion do they desire to open the portals of the Constitution to the poor man. Some hon. Members in this House have contended against this truth; but I take the liberty of saying, that I have for a long time been accustomed to watch the progress of opinion on this subject out of doors; and this I tell the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I can prove it, even to his satisfaction, that I have had better opportunities than he possesses of estimating the state of opinion out of doors upon this matter; and I beg to inform him, that this opinion in favour of my hon. Friend's motion has arisen spontaneously—that there has been no organization; and the best proof of this assertion that I can offer is to be found in the fact, that the number of public meetings to consider, discuss, and petition upon this subject, has been no fewer than 130. I find it so recorded in the Daily News, and I repeat that this is a purely spontaneous movement. I have no hesitation in frankly acknowledging that we were five years agitating for a repeal of the Corn-laws, before we reached so advanced a point as that which the friends of the present question now occupy. Respecting the repeal of the Corn-laws, the mass of the people were said, truly enough, perhaps, to have been galvanized from a centre. But, with regard to the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, the practice has been reversed; and whatever manifestations of opinion have been displayed out of doors, they have arisen without any exertion of central influence.
I do not say that all men are agreed upon this subject—that there are no diversities of opinion; but I say there is much less of this than those who resist my hon. Friend's motion at all like to see. We have had petitions from those who favour the Charter, and from those who desire universal suffrage, and very many in favour of the particular plan upon which we are now speedily to divide. I have not anything to say against those petitions in favour of the Charter, or in favour of universal suffrage. I am not contending against the right of a man, as a man, to the franchise—I mean the right that a man ought to enjoy apart from the possession of property; but I feel I should not be justified in taking the line of argument adopted by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and by the noble Lord the First Minister of State, who addressed himself to the advocates of universal suffrage, and seemed to argue that they were more right than the advocates of household suffrage. If he intends to vote for universal suffrage, I can understand the force of that argument; but as I am not going to oppose universal suffrage, and as I do not stand here to support it, I leave him in the hands of the advocates of universal suffrage, and, judging by what has been done, they seem disposed to make the most of the argument which has been put into their hands.
I will not occupy the time of the House in discussing this point further, but rather prefer to direct attention to this circumstance,—that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not display his usual legal skill and knowledge in dealing with the question of household suffrage, for it certainly is not surrounded with the difficulties which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has imagined. To judge from his speech, it would seem to be the law, that no one except the landlord and occupier of a house enjoys a vote in right of that house. Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to have known that the Court of Common Pleas has decided that lodgers paying more than 10l. annually, and rated to the poor-rates, are entitled to be placed on the list of voters—that is to say, in cases where the landlord does not live on the premises. That is the state of the law as established by the Reform Act, and my hon. Friend seeks only to extend that privilege a little; it therefore can scarcely be considered a matter difficult of arrangement. The mere extension of the existing rule gets rid of all difficulty, and gives the franchise to prudent young men—too prudent to marry and take houses with insufficient means; to them, being lodgers, and paying a rent exceeding 10l., the plan of my hon. Friend gives the franchise. The law of the land already goes very near to this.
The allusion which the hon. and learned Gentleman made to the case of Cooper must be fresh in the recollection of the House. I am sorry he alluded to that part of Cooper's career, who, I believe, greatly regrets those events, and would be glad to forget the part that he took in the affair at the Staffordshire Potteries. I again say, I am sorry that the subject was introduced here, for we want no additional examples to prove to us that a very good poet may be a very bad politician. The object of the motion of the hon. Member for Montrose is, that he may bring in a bill for the purpose, among other things, of giving votes to householders; that is to say, that parties not only paying taxes to the country, but rates to the poor, should have a voice in the election of Members to this House. In advocating this principle, we are really acting on the theory that exists as to the franchise of this country; for we say that the people of this country elect the Members of this House. Is that sham, or is it reality?
Now, if there is one thing more than another that the people do not like, it is sham. The people like realities. The theory of this country is, that the people like political power; and there is nobody responsible, as the hon. and learned Gentleman in his poetical flight seemed to imagine, for the education of the people and the preparation of them for the political franchise. If there had been any such responsible parties, the thing would have been done long ago. But, I ask, what danger is there in giving the franchise to householders? They are the fathers of families; they constitute the laborious and industrious population. What would be endangered by giving this class the franchise? When our institutions are talked of, I always hear it said that they live in the affections of the country, and that the Queen sits enthroned in the hearts of the people; and I have no fear of danger from any such wide extension of the suffrage as we now contemplate. I do not believe that it would lead to any change in the form of our government. I say, God forbid that it should. I sincerely hope, if there is to be a revolution in this country in consequence of which the monarchical form of government shall give way to any other form, that that revolution may happen when I shall be no longer here to witness it, for the generation that makes such a revolution will not be the generation to reap the fruits of it. I do not believe that the people of this country have any desire to change the form of their government, nor do I join with those who think that the wide extension of the suffrage, of which we now speak, would either altogether or generally affect a change in the class of persons chosen as representatives. I do not think that there would be any great change in that respect. The people would continue, as at present, to choose their representatives from the easy class,—among the men of fortune; but I believe this extension of the suffrage would tend to bring not only the legislation of this House, but the proceedings of the Executive Government, more in harmony with the wants, wishes, and interests of the people. I believe that the householders, to whom the present proposition would give votes, would advocate a severe economy in the Government. I do not mean to say that a wide extension of the suffrage might not be accompanied by mistakes on some matters in the case of some of the voters; such mistakes will always occur; but I have a firm conviction that they will make no mistake in the matter of economy and retrenchment. I have a firm conviction, that, if proper political power were given to the people, the taxation necessary for the expenditure of the State would be more equitably levied.
What are the two things most wanted? What would the wisest political economists, or the gravest philosophers, if they sat down to consider the circumstances of this country, describe as the two most pressing necessities of our condition? What but greater economy, and a more equitable apportionment of the taxation of the country? I mean, that you should have taxation largely removed from the indirect sources from which it is at present levied, and more largely imposed on realised property. This retrenchment and due apportionment of taxation constitute the thing most wanted at present for the safety of the country; and this the people, if they had the franchise now proposed, would, from the very instinct of selfishness, enable you to accomplish. Let me not be mistaken. I do not wish to lay all the taxation on property. I would not do injustice to any one class for the advantage of another; but I wish to see reduced, in respect to consumable articles, those obstructions which are offered by the Customs and Excise duties. You ought to diminish the duties on tea and wine, and you ought to remove every exciseman from the land, if you can; and I believe that the selfish instinct—to call it by no other name—of the great body of the people, if they had the power to bring their will to bear on this House, would accomplish these objects, so desirable to be effected in this country.
Then where is the danger of giving the people practically their theoretical share of political power? We shall be told that we cannot settle the question by household suffrage; and I admit that by no legislation in this House in 1848 can you settle any question. You cannot tell what another generation or Parliament may do. But, if you enfranchise the householders in this country, making the number of voters 3,000,000 or 4,000,000, whereas at present they are only about 800,000, will any one deny that by so doing you will conciliate the great mass of the people to the institutions of the country, and that, whatever disaffection might arise from any remaining exclusion (and I differ from the hon. and learned Gentleman, who thought that more disaffection would thereby be created), your institutions will be rendered stronger by being garrisoned by 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 of voters in place of 800,000?
The hon. and learned Gentleman has expended a great deal of his eloquence on the question of electoral districts. Now, when you approach a subject like this, with a disposition to treat it in the cavilling spirit of a special pleader, dealing with chance expressions of your opponents, rather than looking at the matter in a broad point of view, it is easy to raise an outcry and a prejudice on a political question. But, as I understand the object of the hon. Member for Montrose, it is this,—he wishes for a fairer apportionment of the representation of the people. He said that he did not want the country marked out into parallelograms or squares, or to separate unnecessarily the people from their neighbours; and I quite agree with the hon. Member for Montrose, that his object can be attained without the disruption of such ties. The hon. and learned Gentleman dealt with this question as if we were going to cut up some of the ancient landmarks of the country, as the Reform Act cut up some counties in two, and laid out new boundaries. But I will undertake to do all that the hon. Member for Montrose proposes to do without removing the boundary of a single county or parish; and, if I do not divide parishes or split counties, you will admit that I am preserving sufficiently the old ties. I must say that I consider this question of the reapportionment of Members to be one of very great importance.
When you talk to me of the franchise, and ask me whether I will have a man to vote who is twenty-one years of age, and has been resident for six or twelve months, whether a householder or lodger, there is no principle I can fall back upon in order to be sure that I am right in any one of those matters. I concur with those who say that they do not stand on any natural right at all. I know no natural right to elect a Member to this House. I have a legal right, enabling me to do so, while six-sevenths of my fellow-countrymen want it. I do not see why they should not have the same right as myself; but I claim no natural right; and, if I wished to cavil with the advocates for universal suffrage, I should deal with them as I once good-humouredly dealt with a gentleman who was engaged in drawing up the Charter. He asked me to support universal suffrage on the ground of principle; and I said, ‘If it is a principle that a man should have a vote because he pays taxes, why should not, also, a widow who pays taxes, and is liable to serve as churchwarden and overseer, have a vote for Members of Parliament?’ The gentleman replied that he agreed with me, and that on this point, in drawing up the Charter, he had been outvoted; and I observed that he then acted as I did,—he gave up the question of principle, and adopted expediency.
I say that, with respect to the franchise, I do not understand natural right; but with respect to the apportionment of Members, there is a principle, and the representation ought to be fairly apportioned according to the same principle. What is the principle you select? I will not take the principle of population, because I do not advocate universal suffrage; but I take the ground of property. How have you apportioned the representation according to property? The thing is monstrous. When you look into the affair, you will see how property is misrepresented in this House; and I defy any one to stand up and say a word in defence of the present system. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire alluded the other night to the representation of Manchester and Buckinghamshire, and made a mockery of the idea of Manchester having seven representatives. Now, judging from the quality of the Members already sent to this House by Manchester, I should wish to have not only seven such Members, but seventy times seven such. I will take the hon. Member's own favourite county of Buckingham for the sake of illustration, and compare it with Manchester. The borough of Manchester is assessed to the poor on an annual rental of 1,200,000l., while Buckinghamshire is assessed on an annual rental only of 760,000l. The population of Buckinghamshire is 170,000, and of Manchester 240,000; and yet Buckinghamshire has eleven Members, and Manchester only two. The property I have mentioned in respect to Manchester does not include the value of the machinery; and, though I will grant that the annual value of land will represent a larger real value of capital than the annual value of houses, yet, when you bear in mind that the machinery in Manchester, and an enormous amount of accumulated personal property, which goes to sustain the commerce of the country, is not included in the valuation I have given, I think I am not wrong in stating that Manchester, with double the value of real property, has only two Members, while Buckinghamshire has eleven. At the same time, the labourers in Buckinghamshire receive only 9s. or 10s. a week, while the skilled operatives of Manchester are getting double the sum, and are, consequently, enabled to expend more towards the taxation of the country.
If this were merely a question between the people of Buckinghamshire and Manchester,—if it were merely a question whether the former should have more political power than the latter, the evil would in some degree be mitigated, if the power really resided with the middle and industrious classes; but, on looking into the state of the representation of the darling county of the hon. Member, I find that the Members are not the representatives of the middle and industrious classes, for I find that eight borough Members are so distributed as, by an ingenious contrivance, to give power to certain landowners to send Members to Parliament. I will undertake to show that there is not more than one Member in Buckinghamshire returned by popular election, and also that three individuals in Buckinghamshire nominate a majority of the Members. If called on, I can name them. What justice is there in, not Buckinghamshire, but two or three landowners there, having the power to send Members to this House to tax the people of Manchester? When this matter was alluded to on a former occasion, the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire treated the subject lightly and jocosely, as regarded the right of Manchester to send its fair proportion of Members to this House, and that jocularity was cheered with something like frantic delight in this House; but I think this is the last time such an argument will be so received. I maintain that Manchester has a right to its fair proportion of representatives, and I ask for no more.
I will now refer to the case of the West Riding of Yorkshire. That contains a population of 1,154,000; and Wilts contains a population of 260,000. The West Riding is rated to the poor on an annual rental of 3,576,000l., and Wilts on an annual rental of 1,242,000l., yet each returns eighteen Members; and when I refer to Wilts, I find six of its boroughs down in Dod's Parliamentary Companion as openly, avowedly, and notoriously under the influence of certain patrons, who nominate the Members. I hold in my hand a list of ten boroughs, each returning two Members to Parliament, making in all twenty Members; and I have also a list of ten towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire which do not return any Member; yet the smallest place in the latter list is larger than the largest of the ten boroughs having two Members each. Is there any right or reason in that? According to a plan which I have seen made out, if the representation were fairly apportioned, the West Riding of Yorkshire should have thirty Members, whereas it now has eighteen only. We do not wish to disfranchise any body of the people,—we want to enfranchise largely; but what we would give the people should be a reality, and they should not be mocked by such boroughs as Great Marlow, where an hon. Gentleman returns himself and his cousin; as High Wycombe, Buckingham, and Aylesbury; but there should be a free constituency, protected by the ballot.
With respect to Middlesex, the assessment to the poor is on an annual rental of 7,584,000l.; and the assessment of Dorsetshire is on an annual rental of 799,000l. Yet they both have fourteen Members, while the amount of the money levied for the poor in one year in Middlesex is as large within 6l. as the whole amount of the property assessed to the poor in Dorsetshire. The assessment to the poor in Marylebone is on an annual rental of 1,666,000l., being more than the annual rental of two counties returning thirty Members. Why should not the metropolis have a fair representation according to its property? I believe that the noble Lord at the head of the Government did intimate a suspicion of the danger of giving so large a number of Members to the metropolis as would be the result of a proportional arrangement. I am surprised at the noble Lord holding such an opinion, as he is himself an eminent example and proof, that the people of the metropolis might be entrusted safely with such a power. I observed, that in the plan for the representation in Austria, it was proposed to give Vienna a larger than a mere proportional share in the representation, because it was assumed that the metropolis was more enlightened than the other parts of the country.
Now, notwithstanding all that may be said to the contrary, I maintain that the inhabitants of your large cities—and of a metropolis especially—are better qualified to exercise the right of voting than the people of any other part of the empire; for they are generally the most intelligent, the most wealthy, and the most industrious. I believe that the people of this metropolis are the hardest-working people in England. But where is the difficulty? An hon. Gentleman has objected to large constituencies, on the ground that Members would then be returned by great mobs. Now, my idea is, that you make a mob at a London election by having too large a constituency. Some of your constituencies are too large, while others are too small. Take Marylebone, or Finsbury, with a population of between 200,000 and 300,000; the people there cannot confer with their neighbours as to the election of representatives. But you may give a fair proportion of representatives to the metropolis; and you may lay out the metropolis in wards, as you do for the purpose of civic elections. I do not undertake to say what number of electors should be apportioned to each ward, that is a matter of detail; but if the subject were approached honestly, it would not be difficult to come to a satisfactory conclusion. I believe that if the metropolis were laid out in districts for the election of Members of Parliament, the people would make a better choice of representatives than any other part of the kingdom. Do not be alarmed by supposing that they would send violent Radicals to Parliament. You would have some of your rich squares, and of your wealthy districts, sending aristocrats: while other parts of the metropolis would return more democratic Members. It is a chimera to suppose that the character of the representation would be materially changed; the matter only requires to be looked into to satisfy any one that it is a chimera. I tell you that you cannot govern this country peaceably, while it is notorious that the great body of the people, here in London and elsewhere, are excluded from their fair share of representation in this House. I do not say that you should have an increased number of representatives. I think we have quite as many representatives in this House as we ought to have; but if you continue the present number of representatives, you must give a larger proportion to those communities which possess the largest amount of property, and diminish the number of Members for those parts of the country which have now an undue number of representatives. You cannot deal with the subject in any other way; and you cannot prevent the growing conviction in the public mind, that whatever franchise you may adopt—whether a household or a 10l. franchise—you must have a more fair apportionment of Members of this House. Do not suppose that this is a mere question of mathematical nicety. No; where the power is, to that power the Government will gravitate. The power is now in the hands of persons who nominate the Members of this House,—of large proprietors, and of individuals who come here representing small constituencies. It is they who rule the country; to them the Government are bound to bow. But let the great mass of the householders, let the intelligence of the people be heard in this House, and the Prime Minister may carry on his Government with more security to himself, and with more security to the country, than he can do with the factitious power he now possesses.
Upon the ballot I will say but a few words; and for this reason—because it stands at the head of those questions which are likely to be carried in this House. I mean, that it has the most strength in this House and in the country among the middle classes, and particularly among the farmers, and among persons living in the counties. Some hon. Gentlemen say, ‘Oh!’ They are not farmers who say ‘Oh, oh!’ they are landlords. The farmers are in favour of the ballot. I will take the highest farming county—Lincolnshire. Will any one tell me that the farmers of Lincolnshire are not in favour of the ballot? I say this question stands first; it will be carried. Why, no argument is attempted to be urged against it, except the most ridiculous of all arguments, that it is un-English. I maintain that, so far from the ballot being un-English, there is more voting by ballot in England than in all the countries in Europe. And why? Because you are a country of associations and clubs,—of literary, scientific, and charitable societies,—of infirmaries and hospitals,—of great joint-stock companies,—of popularly governed institutions; and you are always voting by ballot in these institutions. Will any hon. Member come down fresh from the Carlton Club, where the ballot-box is ringing every week, to say that the ballot is un-English? Will gentlemen who resort to the ballot to shield themselves from the passing frown of a neighbour whom they meet every day, use this sophistical argument, and deny the tenant the ballot, that he may protect himself not only against the frowns but against the vengeance of his landlord?
As to triennial Parliaments, I need not say much on that subject. This, also, will be carried. We do not appoint people to be our stewards in private life for seven years; we do not give people seven years' control over our property. Let me remind the House that railway directors are elected every year. Something has been said by the Prime Minister as to the preference of annual to triennial Parliaments. I think I can suggest a mode of avoiding all difficulty on this point. Might it not be possible to adopt the system pursued at municipal elections—that one-third of the members should go out every year? I mention this only as a plan for which we have a precedent. If one-third of the Members of this House went out every year, you would have an opportunity of testing the opinion of the country, and avoiding the shocks and convulsions so much dreaded by some hon. Gentlemen.
I will only say one word, in conclusion, as to a subject which has been referred to by the hon. and learned member for Reading (Mr. Serjeant Talfourd) and the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli). They complain that leagues and associations were formed out of doors, and yet in the same breath they claim credit for the country that it has made great advances and reforms. You glorify yourselves that you have abolished the slave-trade and slavery. The hon. and learned Gentleman has referred, with the warmth and glow of humanity by which he is distinguished, to the exertions which have been made to abolish the punishment of death. Whatever you have done to break down any abomination or barbarism in this country has been done by associations and leagues out of this House; and why? Because, since Manchester cannot have its fair representation in this House, it was obliged to organise a League, that it might raise an agitation through the length and breadth of the land, and in this indirect matter might make itself felt in this House. Well, do you want to get rid of this system of agitation? Do you want to prevent these leagues and associations out of doors? Then you must bring this House into harmony with the opinions of the people. Give the means to the people of making themselves felt in this House. Are you afraid of losing anything by it? Why, the very triumphs you have spoken of—the triumphs achieved out of doors—by reformers, have been the salvation of this country. They are your glory and exultation at the present moment. But is this not a most cumbrous machine?—a House of Commons, by a fiction said to be the representatives of the people, meeting here and professing to do the people's work, while the people out of doors are obliged to organise themselves into leagues and associations to compel you to do that work? Now, take the most absurd illustration of this fact which is occurring at the present moment. There is a confederation, a league, an association, or a society,—I declare I don't know by what fresh name it may have been christened, formed in Liverpool, a national confederation, at the head of which, I believe, is the brother of the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford, Mr. Gladstone, a gentleman certainly of sufficiently Conservative habits not to rush into anything of this kind, if he did not think it necessary. And what is the object of this association? To effect a reform of our financial system, and to accomplish a reduction of the national expenditure. Why, these are the very things for which this House assembles. This House is, par excellence, the guardian of the people's purse; it is their duty to levy taxes justly, and to administer the revenue frugally; but they discharge this duty so negligently, that there is an assembly in Liverpool associated in order to compel them to perform it, and that assembly is headed by a Conservative.
It is not with a view of overturning our institutions that I advocate these reforms in our representative system. It is because I believe that we may carry out those reforms from time to time, by discussions in this House, that I take my part in advocating them in this legitimate manner. They must be effected in this mode, or they must be effected, as has been the case on the Continent, by bayonets, by muskets, and in the streets. I am no advocate for such proceedings. I conceive that any man of political standing in this country—any Members of this House, for instance—who join in advocating the extension of the suffrage at this moment, are the real conservators of peace. So long as the great mass of the people of this country see that there are men in earnest who are advocating a great reform like this, they will wait, and wait patiently. They may want more; but so long as they believe that men are honestly and resolutely striving for reform, and will not be satisfied until they get it, the peace and safety of this country—which I value as much as any Conservative—are guaranteed. My object in supporting this motion is, that I may bring to bear upon the legislation of this House those virtues and that talent which have characterised the middle and industrious classes of this country. If you talk of your aristocracy and your traditions, and compel me to talk of the middle and industrious classes, I say it is to them that the glory of this country is owing. You have had your government of aristocracy and tradition; and the worst thing that ever befell this country has been its government for the last century-and-a-half. All that has been done to elevate the country has been the work of the middle and industrious classes; and it is because I wish to bring such virtue, such intelligence, such industry, such frugality, such economy into this House, that I support the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose.