- 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.
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.
LONDON, NOVEMBER 26, 1849.
[The object of the meeting held at the London Tavern, and of which Mr. Samuel Morley, now Member for Bristol, was Chairman, was to advocate the scheme of the Metropolitan and National Freehold Land Association. Mr. Cobden's Speech introduced the following resolution:—'That this meeting is of opinion, that the Freehold Land movement, adapted, as it is, to the varied position and circumstances of all classes of the people, is calculated to improve the parliamentary representation of the country.']
If I understand the character of this meeting, it is assembled solely for business purposes. We are the members and friends of the Metropolitan and National Freehold Land Society, and we meet here to promote the objects of that society. It is an association framed for the purpose of enabling individuals, by means of small monthly contributions, to create a fund by which they may be enabled, in the best and cheapest way, to possess themselves of the county franchise. You will see, then, that this society has a double object in view: it is a deposit for savings, and a means of obtaining a vote. Now we don't meet here to-day, as a part or branch of the Birmingham Society, which was formed a few days ago, and called the Birmingham Freeholders' Union. That is a society composed of individuals, from all parts of the kingdom, who choose to subscribe to it, for the purpose of enabling a committee in Birmingham to stimulate throughout the country by lectures, and by means of a periodical journal called the Freeholder, to be published on the first of next month, the formation of freehold land societies. We do not meet as part of an agitating body, but merely to promote the objects of the Metropolitan and National Freehold Land Society. The plan of that society is, to purchase large estates—large, comparatively speaking, and to divide them amongst the members of the association at cost price. In that explanation consists the main force and value of this association. The principle, you will see in a moment, is calculated to give great advantages to those who wish to join associations of this kind. I know that some gentlemen, who have given their attention to building societies, will say that this is not a building society. Why, the building societies, as they are called, are none of them, strictly speaking, building societies. They may be properly called mutual benefit security societies; but this Freehold Land Association is enrolled under the Building Society Act, and certified by Mr. Tidd Pratt, the revising barrister; and the object is, that members of the association shall have all the benefits the Act of Parliament can give them, and all the security it confers; and we propose to give them some other additional advantages. It has been said by those who look closely into the rules of this association, ‘You have no power under the Building Act to purchase estates and divide them.’ That is perfectly true. We have no such powers; but the directors will, at the risk of the parties who buy the estates, undertake to purchase land, and to give the members of this-association the refusal of that land. So that our object is to give you all the benefits of the Building Societies Act, and also the refusal of portions of the estates which have been bought at the risk of others.
I need not tell you, that a great deal of the success of all associations of this kind depends, first, on correct calculations being made in framing the society; and next, and, perhaps, most of all, on the character and stability of those who have the responsible management. Now, with regard to the calculations on which this society is founded, I should be very sorry to allow this opportunity to pass, without coming to a perfectly clear understanding with all who are concerned in the association, as to what I propose, as a member of the board of directors, to undertake to do towards the share-holders. It has been stated that we undertake to find a freehold qualification for a county at a certain sum, say 30l. I believe that, in the first prospectus, that sum was stated; but, when I heard of it, I stipulated that it should be withdrawn, for I will be no party to any stipulation of the kind. I do not appear here, having myself land to sell. All I promise you is, that, while I remain for twelve months as a responsible director, all the property bought shall be divided without profit, and that the members of the association shall have its refusal at cost price. But, whether it cost 20l., or 30l., or 40l., or 50l., is a matter to which I do not undertake to pledge myself, because it is a matter which I cannot control. It has happened, at Birmingham, that many persons obtained as much land as gave them a qualification for as little as 20l., but that may be a lucky accident. I will not be a party to any pledge that we shall procure land for others on equally favourable terms.
Well, having cleared the ground, so that there may be no misunderstanding, I next come to the consideration of the character of those who have the direction of the affairs of the society. I am very happy to see our chairman (Mr. S. Morley) here on this occasion. He is one of the trustees, and I need not tell you that he stands very well in Lombard Street. The other trustees are responsible men; not merely responsible in point of pecuniary circumstances, but men, any one of whom I should be happy, were I making my will tomorrow, to leave as trustees for my children, of every farthing I had in the world. This is the only test you can, with safety, apply. If you have not men, whose private characters will bear such a test as that, you had better have nothing at all to do with them in public matters. Besides the trustees, you have the board of directors. I have attended every meeting of the board of directors when in town, and there is not one of the gentlemen I have found at the board whom I should not be happy to meet in private life, and to call my friend. I believe, therefore, leaving myself, if you please, out of the question, that the affairs of the association are in truly responsible and honourable hands. And here I beg not to be misunderstood. We do not come here to puff ourselves off at the expense of other associations. There are other societies formed, or forming, and, no doubt, their directors are as trustworthy as those of our association. We are not so badly off in England that we cannot find honour and honesty enough for every situation in life. You will get the strictest integrity for 20s. a week, and as much as you wish to hire.
It has been objected (and I confess there was some difficulty in my mind on the subject) that, in working an association of this kind, you may not be able to find freehold property, in convenient situations, or of convenient size, to carry out the movement. There may be that difficulty; but there are difficulties in every useful undertaking in this world, and there always will be. Those who make it their business to turn a green eye on our proceedings, will, no doubt, find plenty of difficulties; but, from every inquiry I have made, since my connection with the board of directors, I believe that there will be no insurmountable obstacle in working out our plan. It is perfectly true that, in seeking property, you may not find it at your own doors. If you live in a street in this metropolis, you may not be able to buy building-land in the immediate neighbourhood of your own residence, but you must be content to go farther from home, just as you would in other investments. One man buys Spanish bonds, and another Russian and Austrian bonds. Others, again, buy railway shares, which are running all over the country, and some of them running away. But give me a freehold investment in the earth, which never does run away, and it does not matter whether it is in my own parish or not, so that I have good title-deeds, and receive my rent by the penny post, I need not care, then, whether I see it or not. With that proviso, that you cannot always get land at your own doors, I do not see any difficulty in qualifying a person in the county in which he resides, with a freehold franchise. Many people think, that the only object for which they should buy land is, to build a house upon it; but there are other ways of disposing of it. Gardens, for instance, than which nothing is more sure of a rent; for if you buy land in the neighbourhood of any town, that land is always increasing in value; since, whatever the Corn-laws may have done to the agriculturist, you may depend upon it that, if food be cheap, population will be increasing in towns, and land, in the neighbourhood of towns, will increase in value. Whatever the foreigner may send us in the shape of wheat, he cannot send us garden-ground.
Now, for the purpose of illustration, I will take the case of Surrey. Many of you, I have no doubt, come from the other side of the river. I will suppose, then, that our friend Mr. Russell, the indefatigable solicitor of this association, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing and co-operating with for many years, has heard that there is a bit of land to be sold in the neighbourhood of Guildford. I will suppose that there is a farm, or one hundred acres of land, to be sold, within a mile or two of that town, and that Mr. Russell goes, with one of the directors, to look at it. They get a valuer to examine it; and, having learned the price at which this farm can be bought, they buy it; and then, instead of letting the hundred acres to one farmer, they determine to cut it up into plots of one or two acres. Now, if the shopkeepers and mechanics of the town were told that this land was to be let, I will venture to say that there is not one of the plots which would not let at the rate of 40s. an acre.
I know the avidity with which the peasantry of our towns and villages take half an acre or an acre of land. It is an article which is in greater demand than any other. I could find land in Wiltshire, which is, I am sorry to say, let to the peasantry at the rate of 7l. or 8l. an acre. I am supposing that a person wished to buy as much land as would give him a county vote, but, living in a borough, did not require land for his own purposes. Such a person might let his acre of land for 40s., in the form of garden allotments, without any difficulty.
And here I wish much to guard myself against being supposed to countenance a very popular, but, in my opinion, a most pernicious delusion. I would not have it imagined that I am a party to the plan of transferring people from their employments in towns to live on an acre or two of land. If a person leaves a workshop, a foundry, or a factory, and tries to live on even two or three acres of land, why all I can say is, that he will be very glad to get back to his former occupation. No, no; we have no such scheme as that. If a man has followed a particular pursuit, whatever it may be, up to the age of five-and-twenty, and if he is still receiving wages or profit from that pursuit, that man had better, as a general rule, follow his business than go to any other. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred he will succeed better in that pursuit than in any other to which he can turn his hand. But what we say is this, that it is a very good thing for a man who is receiving weekly wages to have a plot of land in addition. Nothing can be more advantageous to people living in the country than to have, besides their weekly wages, a plot of ground on which they can employ themselves with the spade, when they have not other employment. With the proviso which I have mentioned—guarding myself against being supposed to be a party to the delusion to which I have alluded—I say, that if you have a freehold qualification in the neighbourhood of an agricultural town at a distance from you, but in the same county, even in that case the security will be good, the rent will be received, and the value of your plot of land will always be increasing instead of diminishing. If your object be to get a vote, and to have along with that vote a freehold property, even at the worst, if you cannot get a bit of garden-ground near the metropolis, you can always get it in the county. The freehold being in the county, you can claim to vote in any part of that division of the county. If the property be situated at one end, you can poll at the other. I have looked at this matter with some care, and, I will confess, with some suspicion; and I must say that I see no difficulty in the way of everybody qualifying, and obtaining good security for his money.
I have explained practically what is the object of this association; suppose I go a little more widely into the question. Leaving our immediate practical object to others who will follow me, and who will answer any questions that may be put to them, let us look at this matter generally. Now, here we are, standing in the ancient ways of our Constitution. Nobody can say that we are red republicans or revolutionists. Here we are, trying to bring back the people to the enjoyment of some of their ancient privileges. Why, we have dug into the depths of four centuries, at least, to find the origin of this 40s. freehold qualification. But now, as to the practicability of our plan, as a means of effecting great changes in the depository of political power in this country. That is the question. Can you by this means effect a great change in the depository of political power? Because I avow to you that I want, by constitutional and legal means, to place, as far as I can, political power in this country in the hands of the middle and industrious classes; in other words, the people. When I speak of the middle and industrious classes, I regard them, as I ever did, as inseparable in interest. You cannot separate them. I defy any person to draw the line where the one ends and the other begins. We are governed in this country—I have said this again and again, and I repeat it here to-night—we are governed, in tranquil and ordinary times, not by the will of the middle and industrious classes, but by classes and interests which are insignificant in numbers and in importance in comparison with the great mass of the people. Every session of Parliament, every six months that I spend in the House of Commons, convinces me more and more that we waste our time there—I mean the seventy or eighty men with whom I have been accustomed to vote in the House of Commons, and to whom your chairman has alluded in terms of so much kindness—I say, we waste our time in the House of Commons, if we do not, in the recess, come to the people, and tell them candidly that it depends upon them, and upon them alone, whether any essential amelioration or reform shall be effected in Parliament. I repeat, that in ordinary times we are governed by classes and interests, which are insignificant, in real importance, as regards the welfare of the country; and if we did not occasionally check them—if we did not, from time to time, by the upheaving of the mass of the people, turn them from their folly and their selfishness,—they would long ago have plunged this country in as great a state of confusion as has been witnessed in any country on the Continent. Take the class of men who are ordinarily returned by the agricultural counties of this country. What would they do, if you let them alone? Nay, what are they trying to do at this moment? Why, at the very time, when even the Austrian Government is proposing to abandon the principle of high restrictive tariffs; when the Government of Russia has in hand a reduction of duties; when America has participated in the spirit of the times; when Spain, which some wicked wag has called the ‘beginning of Africa,’ has imitated the example set by Sir R. Peel three years ago; these county Members and Members for agricultural districts are thinking of nothing but how they may restore protection. Surely such people must be the descendants of those inquisitors who put Galileo into prison! Galileo was imprisoned because he maintained that the physical world turned upon its axis, whereas these men insist that the moral world shall stand still; and, if left to themselves, they would soon reduce England to the state in which Austria is now. But is it a wholesome state of things, that nothing can be done in this country except by means of great congregations of the people forcing the so-called representatives of the people to something like justice and common sense in their legislation? Nothing of importance is ever done by Parliament until after a seven-years' stand-up fight between the people on the one side, and those who call themselves the people's representatives on the other. Now, I say that this is an absurd state of things, and that, by constitutional and moral means, we must try to alter it; and I believe that we have now before us a means by which such an alteration can be effected.
I am here speaking on a subject to which I have given much attention for many years. It is more than six years since it was attempted to secure the repeal of the Corn-laws by means of the 40s. franchise, as part of the tactics of the Anti-Corn-Law League. I should be sorry to claim to myself exclusively the merit of first suggesting it. I rather think that Mr. Charles Walker, of Rochdale, recommended it before I announced it publicly. But from the moment that the plan devised was put forth at a great meeting in Manchester, I never doubted of the ultimate repeal of the Corn-laws; although until then I could never conscientiously say that I saw a method by which we could legally and constitutionally secure their abolition. I will give you the result of our labours at that time in two or three counties. You know that the West Riding of Yorkshire is considered the great index of public opinion in this country. In that great division, at present containing 37,000 voters, Lord Morpeth was, as you are aware, defeated on the question of Free Trade, and two Protectionists were returned. I went into the West Riding with this 40s. freehold plan. I stated in every borough and district that we must have 5,000 qualifications made in two years. They were made. The silly people who opposed us raised the cry that the Anti-Corn-Law League had bought the qualifications. Such a cry was ridiculous. The truth was, that men qualified themselves, with a view of helping the League to obtain the repeal of the Corn-laws; and you are aware that, in consequence of this movement, Lord Morpeth walked over the course at the next election. We followed the same plan in South Lancashire, and with a similar result. Our friends walked over the course at the next election, although at the previous one we had not a chance. My friend, the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King), joined us in carrying out our plan in his division; and its adoption was there also attended with success. I am not sure that it would not have been better in some respects if the Corn-laws had not been repealed so soon—though of course I should like to have had them suspended for three or four years; for in that case we should have carried half the counties of England. Now, when I came back from the Continent, after the repeal of the Cornlaws, I told my friends—(I have never disguised my feelings from that day to this)—as the result of constant reflection for several years, ‘If you want to take another step, constitutionally and legally, you must do it through the 40s. freehold; by no other process will you succeed.’
Let us talk this matter over, as men of common sense. Ask yourselves how do you purpose to obtain reforms? Do you intend to try violence and fighting? No, no; you see the result of that everywhere that it has been tried. Violence does no good to those who resort to it. I do not mean to blame those in other countries, who have not the right of meeting in assemblies like this, if they do not pursue the same course that we do. I do not blame them, because, being without experience, and not being permitted to gain experience, they do not succeed, when they make a bold and sudden trial of constitutional forms. No; I leave those to blame them, who will blame us equally, for adopting constitutional means. The very same parties who are now so intolerant, with regard to the failure of Hungarians, and Italians, and Germans, were the constant assailants of my friends and myself, at the early stage of the League agitation. Every species of abuse, every sort of misrepresentation, every kind of suppression, was resorted to by them, until we became strong; and when we were both strong and fashionable, we were beslavered with their praise; and I confess I liked it less than their abuse. No; we do not come here to censure other countries. England is under no necessity for resorting to force or violence. Our ancestors did all that for us, and they were obliged to do it. During the greater part of the seventeenth century, England presented a scene of commotion almost as great as that which has been witnessed in Hungary, Germany, and Italy; and to the great sacrifices then made, we owe almost all the liberties we possess at present. But to go back to the kind of warfare pursued in the seventeenth century, would be to descend from the high position, which, at the expense of so many sufferings, our ancestors obtained for us.
But as everybody admits that we must not go into the streets to fight, let me ask my friends what other step they intend to take? Petition Parliament! Petition Parliament to reform itself! Why, no; the clubs would not like that; it would not suit their cards. Nobody thinks of getting a reform of Parliament by petitioning. Well, then, how are you to get it? I find that every person is brought to the same dead lock, as regards substantial reform or real retrenchment, that I was in when, in 1843, I sat down to think of the freehold movement. You must aim at the accomplishment of your object, through the plan which the Constitution has left open to you. Men of common sense, when they have a certain thing to do, look round for instruments for effecting their purpose. In other countries, men who resort to physical force, always adopt that plan. They adapt their tactics to the physical features of the country. If the people of Switzerland have to fight for their liberties, they retire to the mountains, and there defend them; in Hungary, the army of the people, retreating beyond barren heaths, puts two rivers between itself and the enemy; while the patriots of Holland in former days cut their dykes and let in the water to drown their enemies. These are the means adopted by parties who have to use physical force. What are we to do, who have to fight with moral force? Why, here is a door open, which is so expansive that it will admit all who have the means of qualifying themselves through 40s. freeholds. These are our tactics—these are our mountains—these our sandy plains—these our dykes. We must fight the enemy by means of the 40s. freehold.
Now, what chance have we of succeeding? I have paid a great deal of attention to this subject, and I shall proceed to trouble you with a very few figures, from which you will be astonished to find how little you have to do. We have as near as possible at this moment a million of registered electors for the whole kingdom. According to a valuable return made on the motion of Mr. Williams, the late Member for Coventry, the total number of county votes on the register in 1847 was 512,300. What proportion of them do you suppose are the votes of occupying tenants? 108,790. All that boasted array of force, which constitutes the basis of landlord power in this country, and about which we have frightened ourselves so much, amounts only to 108,790 tenants-at-will in the fifty-two counties of England and Wales. Why, half the money spent in gin in one year would buy as many county freeholds as would counterpoise these 108,790 tenant-farmers. What resources have we to aid us in the process of qualifying for these counties? I shall surprise you again, when I inform you how very few people there are who are qualified for the counties. I will take, for illustration, three or four of the counties at random. There is Hampshire: there are in Hampshire, according to the last census, 93,908 males above twenty years old. The registered electors in the same county amount to 9,223; so that only one-tenth of the adult males are upon the register, and 84,685 are not upon it. In Sussex, there are of males above twenty years old, 76,676; of registered electors only 9,211, or one-eighth of the entire number of adult males: 67,466 adult males are not voters. Take the purely agricultural county of Berkshire, which has 43,126 males above twenty years old; 5,241, or one-eighth, was the number of registered electors; 37,885 are not voters for the county. In Middlesex, the numbers I find are as follows:—males above twenty years old, 434,181; registered electors, 13,781, or one-seventeenth; 420,400 not being voters. In Surrey, the males amount to 154,633; of these, 9,800, or one-sixteenth, is the proportion of registered electors; and thus 144,833 are not voters. Why, if only one in ten of the men who are not qualified to vote in London and Southwark, would purchase votes in the neighbouring counties, it would almost suffice to carry every good measure that you and I desire. In round numbers, there are sixteen millions of people in England and Wales; there are four millions of adult males above twenty years of age. There are 512,000 county electors in the fifty-two counties of England and Wales; so that at this moment there is but one in eight of the adult males of England and Wales who is upon the county register, and seven-eights of them have no votes. That is our ground of hope for the future We must induce as many as we possibly can of these unenfranchised people to join this association, or some other association; or by some means endeavour to possess themselves of a vote.
I do not disguise it from you, there is a class in this country that has not the means of finding money to purchase a vote. The great bulk of the agricultural peasantry, earning 8s., 9s., 10s. a week—it is impossible that you can expect that any considerable portion of that class can possess a vote; but when I speak of the mechanics and artisans of our great towns, I will say, there is not one of them that, if he resolutely set to the work, may not possess the county franchise, in a few years; and, having the county franchise, who will not be in a position to help his poorer and humbler neighbour.
I am perfectly well aware that this is work that cannot be done in a day; and, if it could be done in a day, it would not be worth doing. I have no faith in anything that is done suddenly. My opinion is, that no very great change in the policy or the representation of this country will be effected in less than seven years. Many great struggles have lasted seven years. The great war of independence in America took seven years; the civil war, in which our ancestors were engaged against prerogative, in the reign of Charles I., lasted seven years; the Anti-Corn-law contest lasted seven years. I think we might assert of these great public questions, that the danger is, that when you have effected your object suddenly, you do not know how to value it, and have not the conviction that it is valuable and worth preserving. That is the great advantage of having to struggle some time for a great object; and I tell you candidly, when I enter on this 40s. movement, it is with the idea, that it will be a long and arduous struggle. I am prepared, if health and strength are given to me, to give some portion of every working day for the next seven years to the advancement of this question. I do not propose this in exclusion of other reforms; I do not propose this as an obstacle to any other plan which other persons may have in view. If anybody thinks he can carry reform in Parliament by any other plan than this, I hope he will show us how he would do it; I do not see any other way. Let no one who has any other popular object or great reform to carry in this country—if he does not co-operate with us, let him not look disparagingly at our efforts; for I tell him, that in proportion as this 40s. freehold qualification movement makes progress, just in that proportion will he find that the votes of the House of Commons on all liberal questions will also make progress. And when I say that it may be necessary to work for seven years to accomplish this object—that is, to effect a great change in the depository of public power in this country (for this is the object, and I avow it), although it may be necessary, that for these seven years there should be continuous work in this matter, it does not follow you will not reap the fruits long before the seven years are expired. They are wise people in their generation whom we wish to influence. They gave up the Corn-laws, for they saw the question was settled when we carried South Lancashire, the West Riding, East Surrey, and Middlesex. I always said, if we can carry these counties, they will give up the Corn-laws.
In proportion as you exert yourselves for this great movement, you will become powerful. Every class of men that sets itself vigorously to work, by means of the 40s. qualification, to place as many as possible of that class on the register, will find itself elevated, politically and socially, by the position it has given itself. Take the mechanical class. Nothing could so elevate them in the eyes of their countrymen as to know they had a voice in the representation of the country—that the knights of the shire were partly indebted to them for their election. Take the class of Dissenters. Their very existence is ignored by the County Members; the most moderate measure of justice they ask is the removal of church-rates. I do not believe that there are ten County Members who would vote for that moderate instalment of justice—[from the meeting, ‘Not five!'’]—perhaps not five; but I have heard the most insulting language from County Members towards Dissenters on that very question. Why is it? Because this numerous and really influential body of men have not had self-respect enough to guard themselves, by the possession of the franchise, so as to be in a position to protect their religious liberties, by the exercise of the dearest privileges of free men. Throughout the country you will find great bodies of Dissenters, who are religious men, moral men, and, which always is the consequence of morality, men who keep themselves from those excesses which produce poverty and degradation; and these are the very men who ought to possess the franchise. We tell them to place themselves on the county list. We do not wish to give them complete dominion and power in the country. I say to no class, come and gain exclusive power or influence in the country; I am against class legislation, whether from below or above; but I say, if you wish to have your interests consulted—your legitimate rights respected; if you wish no longer to have your very existence ignored in the counties; then come forward, and join such a movement as this, and by every possible means promote the extension of the 40s. freehold qualification.
In conclusion, let nobody misunderstand me. I do not come here to seek this or that organic change, without having practical objects in view, which I believe to be essential for the interests of this country. I believe our national finances to be in a perilous state. I say that the extravagant expenditure of the Government is utterly inconsistent with the prudent, cautious, economical habits, which the great body of this people are obliged to follow. I want to infuse the common sense which pervades the bulk of the people into the principles of the Government, and I declare I see no other way of doing it, but by increasing the number of voters, and no other way of doing so, independent of the House of Commons, but by joining yourselves to this movement, and possessing the 40s. freehold.
MANCHESTER, DECEMBER 4,1851.
[The subject of Parliamentary Reform occupied the attention of the House of Commons for a short time during the session of 1851, for Mr. Locke King carried the first reading of a bill to reduce the county franchise, on Feb. 20, an occurrence which was followed by a Ministerial crisis. In the country, however, the feeling in favour of Reform grew till it was arrested by the Russian war, and the circumstances which followed that war.]
I feel too much commiseration for you to delay you more than a very few minutes with any remarks upon this important question. I have been sitting on a comfortable chair with a back to it, and have been surveying the scene before me, and I have felt my heart melt at the position in which you must be placed. And after all, gentlemen, there is nothing new to discuss about the matter that is before us. There have been four propositions, as old as the hills almost, that have been now submitted to this meeting. We have had a discussion in a Conference this morning for five hours; this Conference resulted simply in declaring itself in favour of those four points, which Mr. Hume has for four successive years been bringing before the House of Commons,—household suffrage, with a right to lodgers to claim to be rated and to be upon the rate-books,—triennial Parliaments,—a redistribution of electoral power, and the ballot. Why, gentlemen, these four points have been subjected to a discussion, within the House and out of it, which I am sure renders it impossible for any one to say anything new upon the subject here. There may be persons who think that this programme of Mr. Hume, who is as honest, and sincere, and disinterested, as any man in this assembly or out of it, does not go far enough to satisfy the demands of all. On the other hand, I have no doubt there will be many people who will laugh at us, and treat with scorn a demand which they will consider so unreasonable, because so great.
Well, now, household suffrage is the old recognised Saxon franchise of this country. The whole community in ancient times were considered to be comprised in the householders. The head of the family represented the family; the heads of all the families represented the whole community. With the addition of a clause which shall give to those who are not themselves householders, but who may become so, the right to claim to be rated, I think the rate-book of this country may be taken now for as good a register as it could have been in the time of our Saxon ancestors. When you have a redistribution of the franchise proposed, no one would suppose that you could continue to give Manchester and Harwich the same number of representatives. It does not require an argument; the figures that the chairman gave you are sufficient to settle the point. There is not an argument that can be used to enhance the force of those figures. We don't propose—Mr. Hume never proposed—that you should cut the country into parallelograms in a new fashion; he has always said in the House of Commons,—we have always said in the country,—that we will take the ancient landmarks and respect them as far as we can. Keep to the bounds of your counties; group boroughs together where they are too small to have a representative of their own, that by such means you may get an equalisation of political power, a fair distribution of the franchise, which alone can give anything like a fair representation to the whole country.
Well, we come to triennial Parliaments. Many people say it ought to be annual; in America they say biennial; some people say triennial; we had friends at the Conference who were for quinquennial Parliaments. I think we have precedents for three years' Parliaments in the old custom of the country; but as there is a ground of union sought on that question, I think there can be very little difference about reformers who are in earnest agreeing to the extent at least of triennial Parliaments.
Well, now, I come to another question, to which I confess I attach great importance—I mean the ballot. Give us the franchise extended, with the other points alluded to, and yet they will be comparatively worthless unless you have the ballot. The ballot in other countries has been adopted as necessary to the protection of the voter. You have never had, I believe, a large representative system anywhere without the adoption of the ballot; but it is perfectly necessary that you should have the ballot in this country, because in no country in the world where constitutional government exists, is there so great an inequality of fortune as in this country, and so great an amount of influence brought to bear upon the poorer class of votes. And I don't confine my advocacy of the ballot merely to protecting the farmers or the agriculturists; give me the ballot also to protect the voter in the manufacturing districts; for you may depend upon it that you have quite as glaring an evil arising from the influence of great wealth and station, in your electoral proceedings in Lancashire and Yorkshire, as you have in any purely agricultural district.
Now, go into any borough like Stockport, or Bolton, or any other neighbouring borough; give me the names of the large employers of labourers, and I will tell you the politics of the men employed by these capitalists, by knowing the politics of the capitalists themselves. Nine-tenths of them in ordinary circumstances vote with their masters. Why is that? Is there any mesmerism, or any mysterious affinity which should make men think the same as those who happen to pay them their wages? No; it is from an influence, seen or unseen, occult or visible, I don't care which, but it is an influence which operates upon the mind of the labouring class. But they have a right to a vote without any such restriction, or any such coercion. I want the ballot to protect everybody in their votes from the influence of everybody else. I want it as a protection against landlords, manufacturers, millowners, priests, or customers; and I for one would look upon any Reform Bill—I don't hesitate here to declare it—as nothing than delusive, that does not comprise the ballot; and I don't call myself, and never will own myself, as a member of any political party, the heads of which set themselves absolutely in opposition to the ballot.
Now, other questions admit of modification, and other difficulties also admit of being surmounted by electoral bodies themselves, and their representatives, without going to Parliament at all. For instance, though the Parliament won't give a vote to a man, there's a way by which some men may get a vote without going to Parliament to pray for it. Though you don't get triennial Parliaments, there's a way by which constituents can arrange with their representatives, as is often done, and make a bargain with them that they will come every year to give an account of themselves, and to receive their re-election. So with the question of the redistribution of the franchise. Well, we all know that that is a question, after all, so vague, that a greater or a less degree of adjustment may be pleaded as meeting our demands, and I don't see how you can lay hold of any defined principle by which you can secure a fair and equal re-adjustment of the representation; but when I come to the ballot, it is something ay or no; you have the whole thing, or you have nothing; and you cannot get it without an Act of Parliament. And I say, I take my stand upon the ballot as a test of the sincerity of those who profess to lead what is called the Liberal party in this country.
Now I, once for all, beg to state that, according to my opinion, settled now for three or four years, ever since the passing of the repeal of the Corn-laws, when parties were all broken up, I have never considered that we had a political party in this country, nor a Whig or a Liberal party: we have had a Free-trade party to fight for and maintain the Free-trade victory; that party is as much a Sir Robert Peel party as a Whig party; but I have always thought that the necessities of parties, and the difficulties of carrying on business in the House of Commons, for want of a party organisation, is no longer to be rendered necessary, and that as the time must come, and come speedily, when everybody would admit that Free Trade was a matter of history, and no longer to be made a bugbear for maintaining this or that party in the ascendant; so the time must come when there must be a reconstruction of parties, and that there should be now a bid made to the country, by which there could be a reconstruction of what is called the Liberal party. Well, now, I once for all state that, not recognising the bonds of party in any way, since the time of the passing of the Corn Law Bill,—feeling that I as much belonged to Sir James Graham's party as I did to Lord John Russell's party from that moment, I wanted to see where there would be a flag hung out that would warrant me in ranging myself under that organisation, without adding the gross imposture of pretending to belong to a party, when I knew there was no bond of union or sympathy existing between us.
Now, I say, I take the ballot as one test, and it is the smallest test I will accept, of the identity of any political party with myself and my opinions. And I say more, that if any body of statesmen attempt to carry a Reform measure, and launch it on the country with the idea of raising such an amount of enthusiasm as shall enable them to pass such a measure; and if they think that the constituencies will allow that Ministry to leave the ballot out of it, they are under a very gross delusion, and don't know what they're about. In fact it is more palpable every day and every hour, that what the people have fixed their minds upon as one of the points in the new Reform Bill, is the ballot. Why, listen with what acclamation the very word was mentioned here;—there was a perfect unanimity in the Conference this morning, amongst the men who met from all parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, upon the subject; and I venture to say, that if you take what is called the Liberal party in this country,—that party which is reckoned upon by your Reform Ministry as a support to them in carrying any measure of reform in the House of Commons, I have no hesitation in saying, that nine-tenths of that party are in favour of the ballot; and that being the case, there being a greater unanimity out of doors amongst the Liberal party upon the ballot than on any other question, I say it would be the most absurd, and most inconceivably unreasonable thing on the part of the leaders of that so-called Liberal party, to think that that which constitutes the greatest bond of union amongst the party, should be left out in the programme of their Reform Bill.
I can understand that people should have their doubts about the efficiency of the ballot. I am not intolerant at all with people who tell me that we are deceived with respect to the ballot; who say, ‘I don’t think it would cure this drunkenness or demoralisation, or that coercion or intimidation would cease; I don't believe that it would prevent many of these evils;'—I can fully understand that there may be a difference of opinion about it; but I never can understand how a person calling himself a reformer, should set himslf up resolutely to oppose the ballot; that he should make a point at all times to speak against it, and to quarrel with those who advocate the ballot; that I can't understand, and I must confess, that so far as I am concerned, I can have no party sympathy with any leaders who do take that course in repudiating and opposing the ballot.
Now, gentlemen, I have only to say in conclusion, that I have seen to-day a meeting at the Conference this morning which has exceedingly gratified me, because I there met men from all parts of these great counties, and other parts of the kingdom, among whom were some whom I saw thirteen years ago this very month, when we began another struggle, which, after seven years, was successful, for the repeal of the Cornlaws. I have seen great numbers of those men to-day, meeting in Manchester, some of them more mature in age, I am sorry to say, for the thirteen years that have elapsed, but as earnest and resolute in giving their adhesion to what they believe to be the interest of the great mass of the people, as ever they were in the contest for free trade in corn. Yes, it is a good augury when you find men who possess the sinews of war, as these men do, joining the rank and file of the people in their efforts to obtain political justice. And don't let anybody persuade you, the working classes, for a moment that you can carry out any great measure of political reform, unless you are united with a large section of the middle and capitalist classes; and don't let anybody persuade you, either, that you have an especial quarrel with those rich millowners and manufacturers down here. For I will tell you, the result of my observations and experience is this: that of all the rich men in the country, the most liberal men are those that you have among you in these two counties. It is not to be expected that a man who has a large balance at his banker's, and perhaps 100,000l. capital in his business, should rush at every proposal for change quite as readily as a man who is not so fortunately situated; because the natural selfish instinct occurs to him,—'What have I to gain by change? I have got the suffrage; I don't want political power; I don't want the protection of the ballot;' and, therefore, you must make allowances for all such men; but, also, you must value them the more when you catch them. And I can assure you, if you go to Lombard Street, or any other quarter where rich men are to be seen, you will find much fewer liberal politicians, fewer men that will ever join together, pulling shoulder to shoulder with the working classes for great political reforms, than in Lancashire and Yorkshire; and I was glad to find, this morning, the hearty concurrence with which these men joined in advocating the ballot. Let it not be said by the great landowners, or any people elsewhere, that the manufacturers and millowners of this part of the world, those, at least, with whom I have ever been accustomed to associate, are afraid of giving to the working classes political power, and ensuring them in the full exercise of that power. The experience of this morning has redounded to the honour of those men; and if the union which I perceive to have arisen between the working classes and a large portion of those who should be their natural leaders in these struggles, be cemented and continued, nothing can prevent you, be assured, from obtaining those political rights which you seek.
Now, since I have been in Manchester, we have heard news from France, which probably some of our opponents will think ought to be turned in argument against us, as discouraging further political change. We have heard that one branch of the Government of France at Paris has shut up the shop of the other branch. And the latest accounts are, that he and his soldiers together have carried off some hundreds of the representatives of the people, and locked them up. Will it be pretended that that is an argument against our advancing in the course in which we now propose to advance? I tell you what I find it an argument for,—for doing away with some of these soldiers, like those that are doing the work for the President over there. Is it not a nice illustration of the beautiful system of governing by 350,000 or 400,000 bayonets? The Assembly meets, votes the army estimates without any discussion at all; it would be quite heretical to think of opposing a vote for the maintenance of this army. As soon as they have got their pay the President sends for them, and says: ‘I intend to-morrow to shut up that Assembly; and you shall assist me by occupying all the streets, and I will declare Paris in a state of siege, and you shall enable me to do it.’ Now, I hope one of the lessons learnt from such proceedings as this will be, that no constitutional Government, at all events, is likely to be served by basing itself on the power of the bayonet. But what other lesson do I find in this state of things in France? Why, this, that the French people have not learnt to do what Englishmen have done—to make timely repairs in their institutions; not to pull them down, not to root them up, but to repair them. The French, instead of building upon old foundations, expect the house to stand without foundations at all. They expect the tree to grow without the roots in the ground. The English people have been in the habit of repairing and improving their institutions, and widening the base of their Constitution, as we are going to do now. It is by widening the base that we intend to render the structure more permanent. And when I look at France, and see what a terrible evil it is that men have not confidence in each other, and that there is such a separation of classes, and such a want of cohesion in parties, that there scarcely exists a public man who can be said now to possess the confidence of the people, or whose loss, if carried off to Vincennes, will ever be felt in the hearts of the people; therefore do I rejoice again for the safety and security of my country, that I have witnessed to-day such an instance of the union and confidence that exists among the people of this country.
I entreat all classes to cherish this union for the common benefit of all; for there is no other security for you. I remember, quite well, that, at the time of the passing of the Reform Bill, I was then living in London. Just before the Reform Bill passed, as you will recollect, the Duke of Wellington was for a few days called to power, and there was a momentary belief and apprehension in the country, that the King, aided by the military, was going to resist the passing of the Reform Bill; you know the awful state of perturbation in which the country was placed; you know how you sent off, in a carriage and four, your petition from Manchester, and petitions were carried up with it from all along the line of road; you know what a dreadful state of excitement the country was in. I remember, at that time, one of your largest calico-printers in Manchester called upon me, in my warehouse in London. He employed between 700 and 800 men, and was a very rich man, but had never formed any decided political principles. In our conversation, I spoke to him of the crisis then impending in the north of England. He was deeply anxious, and he said:—'Yes, I expect every day that the cauldron will boil over, and that we shall be in a state of social anarchy.' I said, ‘If such is the state of affairs, what do you intend to do in this emergency?’ He said, ‘I’ll go home this very night by the coach, and I'll put myself at the head of my men, and I'll stand or fall by my men; for that is the only security I have, to join with my men, and to be with them. Now, I tell all the manufacturers, and the capitalists, and the men of station in the country, that, whether it be a time of crisis or a time of tranquillity, the only safety for them is to be at the head of the great masses of the people. I therefore do rejoice at the proceedings of this day, which have given so favourable a prospect of that union, in which there is not only strength but safety.
ROCHDALE, AUGUST 17, 1859.
[Mr. Cobden was elected to Parliament for the borough of Rochdale at the General Election, in April, 1859. He was at that time absent in America. On June 17, the Derby Ministry resigned, and Lord Palmerston succeeded to Office. He offered the Presidency of the Board of Trade to Mr. Cobden, who, however, declined a place in the Administration. The following Speech was delivered to the electors of Rochdale on Mr. Cobden's return.]
I am rather out of practice, for I think it is now two years and a half since I addressed a public meeting out of Parliament, and I am afraid that, with the disadvantage of being under canvas, I may fail to make myself heard by every one of you who are here present, unless you indulge me with silence during the short time I shall occupy your attention. And first, gentlemen, let me tender to you my too-long deferred personal homage for the kindness you showed me, when I was four thousand miles distant from you, in having returned me for your constituency, which I make no secret of telling you is an honour I coveted beyond that of representing any other constituency. For having returned me voluntarily, I may say almost without solicitation, I return you, one and all, my hearty thanks for the honour and kindness you have shown me. I thank those gentlemen here present who took the leading part in my Committee; I thank those gentlemen at a distance, some of whose letters caught my eye, who tendered substantial support in my cause; and I will venture—if I am not travelling beyond the bounds of strict party discipline—also to express my acknowledgments to our opponents, who on this occasion sheathed their sword, and granted me an armistice, and which I hope—at all events it will not be my fault if it should not be so—may ripen into a permanent peace. And now, when I read and hear of the transactions at the last general election, I think my acknowledgments are still more due to you for having thought of me during my long and remote absence; for, if I gathered correctly the tenor of the last general election, it was this, that there was a more than usual avidity to obtain seats in Parliament; there were more contests than usual to achieve that honour; and, unless I am greatly misinformed, some of the aspirants for that honour did not confine themselves within the strict rules of propriety or decorum.
Now, I do not think it out of place here, at our first meeting, to say a word or two upon that subject, whilst it is fresh upon our memories. We have had presented to Parliament upwards of forty petitions praying for inquiry into the proceedings at so many different elections. But I am informed, that if all those had petitioned who had proofs that corrupt practices had been resorted to, the number of election petitions would have been double what they are. Now, I am going to say something which I am afraid, in these days, when we are very fond of soft phrases, will be considered to be uncharitable, and yet, Heaven forgive me if I am not telling the truth when I say that I do not believe that Parliament is in earnest in its attempts to reform this system, or it would have accomplished the intention long ago. For what do these election petitions mean, after all? Let us say a word or two about them while one is fresh from the scene of their operations.
What is the meaning of an election petition? Why, in the first place, when the petitioner has been unduly deprived of his seat by the improper and corrupt proceedings of his opponent, he has to appeal to a tribunal for justice,—to a tribunal which is the most inaccessible and the most costly in the civilised world. For I will venture to say, that a man who presents an election petition to the House of Commons, goes before a tribunal the expense of which makes the equity which is administered at the Court of Chancery dirt cheap indeed. In fact, the principal obstacle to a petition at all is that the party paying for redress of this grievance-I mean the grievance of having been deprived of a fair chance of being elected by the free and unbought suffrages of his fellow-countrymen—that the petition is so costly that no man can tell him beforehand how much it may cost. The election petition may cost a man 500l., or it may cost him 5,000l.; and no Parliamentary lawyer who had one shred of conscience would ever venture to say that he could guarantee him against the larger amount. The consequence is, that very few men have the courage to present a petition, and to undergo the risk and expense of following it out before a Committee of the House of Commons. But supposing he does so—and this is my great grievance and charge against the proceedings of the House of Commons—what does it end in? He proves corrupt proceedings on the part of his opponent, he proves corruption on the part of the constituency, and the result may be that his opponent is declared unseated. But that does not give him the seat; it merely says that there shall be another election in the same borough, that he may go again, and, if he likes, incur the same expense with the same prospect of an election petition, and that those very men who have been shown to have sold their votes before, may have the privilege of selling them again; another election in such a case being nothing more nor less than a fresh harvest to those corrupt voters who make merchandise of their privileges as free citizens. Such being the case, what wonder is it that not one-half of those who lose their elections venture to petition for a redress of grievances? A friend of mine lost his contest for a very large borough in one of the Eastern counties, and he told me that he had a clear case against his opponent for bribery, but he did not intend to petition, and for this reason—he petitioned once before, and his expenses cost him 500l. a day, and if he went into a Committee again, he had no guarantee that it would not cost him as much, and therefore he abstained from prosecuting his petition at all.
Well, now, this is the state of things; and I may be asked, What is the remedy for it? Well, I repeat, if the House of Commons was in earnest to put down this system, a remedy would be found. In the first place, make this inquiry cheaper and more accessible. If you cannot have a tribunal on the spot to inquire into these proceedings, at all events spare the aggrieved party this enormous expenditure; and where he has a case, and where he is proved to have had a case—I would not say where you have frivolous and vexatious petitions, but where there is a good case for a petitioner—let the expenses be borne by somebody else than by him. If the country has an interest in putting down this system, if the very foundations of our representative system depend upon purity at their source, why then, who so interested as the great body of the community in not allowing those forty or fifty boroughs, that are now going scot free, to go unpunished? But who are the parties that should so properly pay the expense as those communities themselves where those transactions are permitted, or by the whole country at large, if it should be thought more expedient? Well, I say, let the inquiry be carried on in such a way that it shall not be the punishment and probably the ruin of the petitioner. But beyond that, let there be some punishment inflicted upon those who are detected as the guilty parties in these transactions.
Now, I will venture to say that if, when a case of bribery is clearly detected, the House of Commons would order in every such case that the parties detected in the act of bribery should be prosecuted criminally by the Attorney-General—I venture to say that that would very soon put down bribery and corruption, more than anything else that the House of Commons could resort to. Formerly, you know, the system of corruption and undue influence in our constituencies was confined very much to a privileged class in this country. One noble family contested a county against another noble family, and they spent a hundred thousand pounds apiece, and all the world knew it; it was agreed that they should all resort to the same habit of expenditure, and it was considered, in fact, the legitimate exercise of their wealth and their power. In the same way, if a contest took place in a borough, it was some leading landed proprietor or some influential family of the neighbourhood who contested with another individual having the same pretensions as himself, and they fought the battle of some borough during fourteen or twenty days of saturnalia, extravagance, and corruption; and there again it was considered so much a matter of course in this country, seeing that the system was patronised by the titled and the great, that those things were passed over with very little notice. But now, gentlemen, we have another class of aspirants for Parliament altogether. During the last general election, I have seen a new element in our system of electoral corruption. We have had a number of gentlemen come over from Australia, where, I suppose, they have been successful at the diggings; they have brought over great nuggets, and they administer them in the shape of 50l. notes. They have gone to some of our boroughs and there fought their battles and bribed just as their betters did fifty years ago. Now, I have great hopes, when this system is resorted to in that unblushing way by parties who have none of the prestige of our ancient nobility about them, that very likely it will be treated differently by public opinion and by Parliament, and that some plan may be resorted to to put it down.
I remember when duelling in this country was so regular a mode of meeting a certain description of insult, that if a man holding a certain position in society received an affront at the hands of his equal, he was obliged to meet him in deadly combat, as a consequence, or he would have been banished from the social life of his equals. Well, I remember that some linendrapers' assistants took it into their heads to go down one Sunday morning (I think it was to Wormwood Scrubs, or somewhere where the nobility used to carry on that pastime), and they began fighting duels; and that as soon as the linendrapers' assistants took to duelling, it became very infamous in the eyes of the upper classes. The consequence was that some of these young gentlemen were sent to Newgate; and now nothing would be so ridiculous as any nobleman or gentleman thinking of resenting an insult by going out and fighting a duel about it. Now, I am very much in hopes that since this system of bribery and corruption has fallen into hands such as I have described,—that is, since gentlemen coming home from the Australian diggings, or from their broad acres and pastures and their flocks and herds of those regions, have begun to rush into the market of electoral corruption here, and offer to buy their seats by the expenditure of 4,000l. or 5,000l. for a little dirty borough in the west of England—I have very strong hopes that the system won't be as fashionable as it has been, and that very likely we may succeed in having those parties prosecuted criminally. I say criminally—let them be indicted criminally, and let the consequence of their conviction be a few months at Newgate, or in the House of Correction; and if they are ex-M. P.'s, and they wear the prison dress and have their heads shaved, there cannot be the least doubt in the world it would do very much to put an end to this bribery and corruption.
And now, gentlemen, this is a much wider question than that. I do not mean to say that it is the only way in which our electoral system is to be reformed. I shall have something more to say of that to-morrow evening, when, I believe, I am to meet the whole body of my constituents, who will attend here with free access, and to whom a greater development of that system would properly belong; but this I may say, that I look upon all the present attempts and pretended measures for putting an end to this system of corruption as insincere on the part of the House of Commons. There is a rule resorted to when bribery has been proved, in certain cases, of ordering commissioners to proceed to a town and inquire into these proceedings. Now, I will tell you what that amounts to. Your Select Committees that sit in the House of Commons produce a pile of blue-books after every general election. About five years ago I took the trouble to measure and weigh this pile of blue-books and it was just four feet high, and it weighed rather over a hundred-weight, and I will undertake to say that these blue-books, recording the misdeeds of all the delinquent boroughs, were never read by half-a-dozen people in one of them. I will tell you another device of the House of Commons. They pretend to send out commissioners to inquire into these proceedings at particular boroughs, where they have reason to suppose the corruption is more than usually vile. What does that amount to? Why, two or three young barristers are sent down to a city like Gloucester, and there they pass a few months in summer-time very pleasantly, hearing stories from Jack, Tom, and Harry. They prepare a large blue-book, much larger than the blue-book that comes from the House of Commons, and then in six or twelve months that is presented to Parliament. The report is more voluminous than the one we had before, and if six men read the report from the House of Commons, when there were some people still feeling an interest in it, why, not three people would ever open the big blue-book that comes out when other things occupy the people's attention. The consequence is, you are put to an enormous expense for these commissions, and no result comes from them, and no result is intended to come from them.
Now, I myself voted the other day in Parliament against the issue of a commission in the case of Gloucester, and nobody will suppose that I so voted because I wished to screen that city from inquiry; but I knew the futility, the utter valuelessness of the inquiry, and, therefore, would not lend myself to what I knew would be the perpetuation of a delusion. I say that any man, who will resort only to the existing means of putting down corruption, must have a larger credulity than I possess. I have no faith in any existing means, and I will not lend myself to the delusion that is willing to practise them any longer.
What you want, besides such plans as I have spoken of, is honesty enough in your Parliament to at least try the experiment of the ballot. I do not speak of the ballot as a cure for all these evils; I do not speak of the ballot as a political measure, mixed up with other questions of organic change; I speak now only of the ballot as a means of preventing, to a large extent, the exercise of this gross corruption, and as a moral instrument to check the growth of that rottenness which is sapping the foundations of our electoral system. You have all observed, I dare say, in the accounts that have been published of the recent Election Committees, that when there has been the existence of bribery, particularly in the smaller boroughs, the price of votes has risen just in proportion as the day has advanced; that whilst the polling has been going on, a vote has been worth probably 5l. at ten o'clock, 10l. at twelve o'clock, 20l. at two o'clock, 50l. at three o'clock, 100l. at half-past three o'clock, and in some cases 250l. five minutes before the clock strikes. Again, you have seen, that whenever you have had ruffianism and rowdyism, if I may use an American phrase—whenever you have had the party whom we call the roughs at an election called into requisition—it has been to hustle and jostle the electors just at the critical time of the poll, when probably the scale might be turned by the forced absence of one or two electors. Why, we have seen a trial the other day of a gallant admiral who tried to record his vote in a borough in the west of England, and who was seized by the roughs, not knowing that he was a valiant servant of the Crown, wearing Her Majesty's livery, and who was carried off and prevented from voting at the poll.
Well, now, let us, whilst these pictures are fresh in our observation, see their bearings upon the question of the ballot. If you voted by the ballot, the state of the poll would never be known until the voting was over, and you would have none of this tumult and excitement. The great merit and the great recommendation of the ballot is this—that it would promote order, decorum, and morality in taking the poll. I am by no means certain—and I tell it in all frankness—that the ballot would have a very decisive effect in forwarding any one of the particular parties interested in the poll. I am not prepared to say that my views with regard to public questions would be likely to be more represented in the ballot-box than they are now by open voting. I think it very likely that the political party that most dreads the ballot would sometimes the most profit by it. But this I say, that nobody who has inquired as to the proceedings in elections in America, in Switzerland, in France, in Spain, or anywhere, and compared them with the proceedings, the tumults, the violence, the bloodshed, the disgusting and odious corruption witnessed at our elections—that nobody can doubt that as a moral engine, as a means of repressing these excesses, the ballot is the best resource, the best expedient that can be resorted to.
I will mention one illustrative fact which I acquired in America upon this subject. Now, understand, I am not going to quote America as a country where you should go for imitation in everything regarding their political institutions; theirs are as unfitted for us in many respects, as ours would be unfitted for them. But this I may say, in passing, that the white men of the United States have a theory of government, and they have laid down a theory of government in their Constitution, which, if the human instrument be equal to the political machine, means to deal justly and fairly by every man in their community. But now I confine myself to one fact that was given to me during my travels in America. I was speaking to a gentleman—whose letter I might read, for it is but a few words—whose name, Mr. Randall, is known to some of our statesmen here, for I remember he gave evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons, upon which I sat, to inquire into the mode of proceeding of our Houses of Parliament, in order to furnish information as to the results of proceedings in the Congress of the United States; he is a man standing high, both socially and politically—who mentioned this fact in conversation with me, and wishing that I should have the full benefit of it under his own signature, wrote me a letter after I had left Philadelphia, where this gentleman lives, which letter I will take care to have published. The letter was addressed to me at Washington, and it contains these lines:—'I have been for fifty years connected with political and party movements in Philadelphia, and I never knew a vote bought or sold.' Philadelphia is one of the largest cities in America, and contains one of the largest populations of mechanics and working-men; for Philadelphia has changed its character from being, as it formerly was, a leading seaport, and it has become almost entirely a manufacturing city, containing now 600,000 or 700,000 inhabitants. Now, this gentleman would not have told me, I am sure, that elections in America were pure in every respect, that there are not a great deal of manœuvring and party management, that there are not very often the same liabilities as here to personation, to double votes and the like; and he would not have told me that, without exception, all their elections were carried on peaceably and tranquilly; but he mentioned the fact that the ballot presented such an obstacle to bribery, that nobody cared to buy a vote, and pay for it, when they did not know that they got value received.
Well, I will say no more with regard to my experience in America at present; for to confess the honest truth, I was so kindly treated there, and I felt that I was treated so kindly from my connection with a great question of cosmopolitan interest—and I felt, in all humility, that I was so treated as the representative of those who had the same claim as myself to receive the kind civilities of that people, and who, if they had presented themselves there, would have been received with the same hospitalities as myself—I confess, I was so kindly treated in America, that I feel I am not an impartial witness in the case, and that I ought to say as little as I possibly can about them.
It is important that we should see that the source of our electoral system is pure, inasmuch as it is quite evident that, for weal or for woe, public opinion in this country, as manifested at the polling-booth, must become more and more powerful in the government of this country. And not merely in our own domestic government, but—and it is a question, too, which at the present moment we may well refer to—public opinion in this country is becoming more and more potent in matters of foreign as well as domestic policy. We have seen lately, and I have seen it with very great satisfaction—it was during my absence that it occurred—that the public voice of this country was raised in opposition to any interference by force of arms in the dreadful war which has raged on the Continent since I left England. I was glad to see that outburst of public opinion in this country in favour of non-intervention; and I congratulate you all, and I congratulate this country, that we have for the first time, almost, in our modern history, seen great armies march and great battles take place on the Continent without England having taken any part in the strife.
And now, shall we take stock just at the present moment—to use a homely but expressive phrase—shall we take stock, and ask ourselves whether all the old musty predictions and traditions of our diplomacy have been proved to be true on this occasion? They told us that if we did not mingle in European wars we should lose our prestige with the world; that we should become isolated; that we should lose our power. Well, now, I ask you, whilst the thing is fresh upon our memory and observation, have we lost prestige or power by having abstained from the late war in Italy? On the contrary, do we not know that now the great Powers on the Continent, feeling that England is powerful,—more powerful than ever, in her neutrality,—are anxious, are clamorous, are most solicitous, that we should go and take a part in the peaceful conferences that are to take place with a view of securing peace?
Well, gentlemen, we have prevented intervention by force of arms. I say, let public opinion manifest itself, as I believe it has manifested itself, against any intervention by diplomacy, unless it can be upon principles and with objects of which England may be proud to approve; but do not let us have any more Congresses of Vienna, where we are parties to treaties that partition off Europe, and apportion the people to different rulers, just with the same indifference to their wishes and their instincts as though they were mere flocks of sheep. Now, I think Lord John Russell in the House of Commons laid down certain conditions, upon which alone the Government would be disposed to go into a Continental Congress, in order, if possible, to arrange and perpetuate the terms of peace; and he made conditions which I thought were good, though I think they are not very likely to be acted upon or accepted by the great Powers of the Continent. But what I wish now to express, and I am sure I cannot utter any words that will be more likely to express your sentiments; they are these—that if England takes any part in the Congress that is to be held by the great Powers on the Continent, our object, and the sole condition on which they should go into that Congress, should be,—that the Italians should be left free to manage their own affairs; that they should be as secure from intervention—that they should enjoy the privilege of non-intervention in the management of their own affairs, just as entirely and as sacredly as the great Powers themselves. I know what is the excuse that is made by those great Powers for interfering in the affairs of Italy and the smaller States; they do it under the pretence of preserving order,—the hypocritical pretence, I have no hesitation in calling it. Do the great Powers preserve order themselves? Have we had perfect order reigning in the Austrian empire or in the French empire for the last twenty years? Do they preserve the earth from bloodshed? Have not those two great Powers, Austria and France, during the last six months, shed more blood in their mad quarrels than has been shed by all the smaller states of Europe for the last fifty years? And shall these great Powers, for the purpose of interfering, and sending their armed bands to coerce the free instincts of the people of Italy, be allowed to set up the pretence that they want to preserve order and prevent bloodshed? I will face the chance of disorder. I say that if the Italians cannot settle their own affairs without falling into discord, why should not they be allowed even to carry on civil and domestic tumult, or even war itself, without any other Power pretending to take the advantage and entering their territory? How did we act in the case of France, when she fell into her almost red republic ten years ago? Was not our Government most eager at once to proclaim that, whatever happened in France, we would never interfere with her internal affairs, but would leave her free to choose any government she pleased?
Well, I say, that which you allow to the great Powers, allow to the smaller Powers; and I say this, not merely in the interest of those Powers themselves, but of humanity, for I say there can be no peace in Europe, there can be no chance of peace, and no prospect of any abatement of those vast military efforts that prevent the people from enjoying the fruits of their industry, until you have the principle of non-intervention recognised as applicable to every small State as sacredly as to a large one. I say, therefore, and I do not say wrongly when I express my conviction that I rightly interpret your views on the subject—I say that one condition, and almost the sole condition, on which our Government should be prepared to take any part in any Continental Congress with reference to the affairs of Italy, should be by laying down and insisting upon the fundamental maxim that Italy should manage her own affairs, without the interference, by force of arms, of Austria, or Russia, or any other Power whatever.
I confess that I do speak with some strong sympathies on this question. I have had the opportunity of mingling much with the Italians. I have travelled in all parts of their country. I have watched, with the greatest interest, the proceedings of their late elections. I have seen, with admiration, the orderly moderation in which they have carried on the elections, though plunged suddenly, as it were, into the furnace of revolution, and with all their old landmarks and all their old politics disappearing. And I have been very much struck with this fact, and I mention it not merely for this meeting, but because our proceedings will be heard and read elsewhere: I say that I have observed that both in Tuscany and in the Legations of the Pope, as well as in other parts of Italy with which I am acquainted, the people have elected not only the very ablest men, but they have elected the men who, by their wealth and their position, represent the wealth and property of the country. There are men elected—I have seen their names in the papers—as their representatives, who are as fairly entitled to be taken as representing the great wealth and influence of the country as Lord Derby would be, or Lord John Russell, or Lord Lansdowne, or any of our great names of historic family fame in this country.
Well, the Italians having done this, having shown themselves capable of maintaining order amongst themselves, are entitled, at least, to the forbearance of those countries which surround them. But we all know that if the more powerful nations choose to send secret emissaries, and spend money in corrupting or debasing the least instructed part of the community, it will be very easy to produce disorders in those countries; or it will be very easy to make it difficult for those eminent men who have been elected as the representatives of the people, to carry on a Government with moderation or success. But, I say, if they should fall into disorder by such means, or because they have not within themselves for the moment the elements of self-government (and, God knows, it must be difficult to find them, with so little experience as they have had in such matters), that is no reason—it is a hypocritical pretence, it is no reason—why the stronger Powers of the Continent should go and interfere in their concerns.
What would have become of this great nation, if, when we were in the cauldron of revolution,—if, during the hundred years that elapsed from 1645 or 1650 down to 1745, when the last battle was fought in favour of the Stuart dynasty,—what would have been the effect on this great nation, if, instead of allowing us free opportunity to fight out our own redemption, to turn away first one king and then another, and to overturn one Ministry after another,—what would have become of us as a nation, if some great Power from the Continent, immediately that we fell into civil war or commotion, had planted a large permanent army on our shores, and had insisted on taking the power out of the hands of the people—the power to remove their grievances—the power to rescue themselves from disorder? What would have been the fate of this country? Could it have grown up with that stamina, and power, and force, and wisdom, and experience that we have enjoyed? Why, what we went through during that century was a process of fermentation, which, in the moral as in the physical world, is necessary to throw off impurities and attain objects which it is desirable to secure. What gives strength to nations or individuals but battling with difficulties? Where would have been our maxims of self-government if that century of commotion of which I spoke had been blotted out from our annals,—if, instead of those contests to which I have alluded we had had a French army, or a Spanish army, or the two united, placed in the city of London to control our operations, to dictate to both parties? They might have preserved peace, but where would have been our liberties.
Now, I contend, and Heaven knows I shall not be charged with being one who looks with anything like sympathy, or anything like toleration, on violence or bloodshed as a process of attaining any human good in this country; but I stand here to maintain the right of every people, however weak, on the Continent, having the same opportunity of going through the same process which we went through; and (if it cannot be had by any other means) attaining to the maxims of self-government which we have attained to, by that dreary and melancholy, but, in such a case, probably inevitable process of civil commotion and strife.
Now, gentlemen, I have said that I am in favour of non-intervention in the affairs of Italy; but it may be said, Where would Italy have been at this present moment if there had not been the intervention of the Emperor Napoleon? Well, I am not going to be so unreasonable, as, I fear, some of us have been, as first to have a quarrel with the Emperor Napoleon for having gone to Italy, and then having a quarrel with him for coming away from Italy. He has removed the Austrians from Lombardy; he has left them in Venetia; and I quite agree with Mr. Gladstone, that he has done as much good for Austria in removing her from that perilous position as he has done for Italy in getting rid of her hated masters; and I will add one word more, and say, that I do not think Austria could do a wiser thing than make an arrangement with the population of Venice and those provinces that are called Venetia, for abdicating her sovereignty altogether, and, for a consideration, such as that a fair proportion of her national debt should be borne by those provinces—and they are rich enough to bear a very considerable pecuniary fine for the blessing of independence—I say, that Austria could not do a wiser thing than to emancipate the rest of Italy, and remove herself into territory where she will be tolerated and probably loved, which she never will be so long as she remains in Italy. I have said, if she were wise; but Governments never are wise: they are never wise in time, and the least wise of all the Governments of Europe is the Government of Austria. It seems to me that this Austrian Government is living in so happy a state of blessed ignorance, that she has no more notion of what public opinion is thinking of her Government, than if she were in the middle ages. She might have avoided all this bloodshed and all her present disasters—she might have left Lombardy, and she might have received, no doubt, a very much larger payment for the independence of Lombardy—nay, she might have avoided this collision with France—if she had only undertaken to have abstained from interfering with the States of Italy, other than those which have belonged to her by the Treaty of Vienna. But she loves no terms—she listened to none—and was mad enough to commence the encounter by crossing into her neighbour's territory; and I say that from such a stupid Government as that,—for it is the stupidest Government in all creation,—it is useless to expect any wisdom; and, therefore, I do not think it is worth our while to say anything upon the subject of what she ought to do with the remainder of her territory in Italy. I said I did not blame Louis Napoleon for going to Italy, and I did not presume to judge his motives for going there; it was no business of mine. I did not blame him for coming from Italy, because, as he did not go there to do my business or my bidding, I do not think I had any reason for calling in question his motives for coming back. But I must say that we Englishmen have quite a due notion of our own importance and power of undertaking to judge people for what they do and what they do not do, and without any reference exactly to our rights or pretensions in the matter.
Now, we have an interest, apart from the question of Italy, in these questions of foreign policy. I may say that out Budget is framed with reference to our foreign policy, not to our domestic policy. It is not what we want to spend at home that oppresses the people, and troubles them with taxes: it is what we want to spend with reference to proceedings abroad; and it is on these accounts that I talk to you of foreign policy now, because I see no progress (and I will say a word about it directly)—I see no chance of progress in these fiscal reforms to which the resolution which has been read to-night refers, unless we can bring our relations with foreign countries into a different position to that in which they are. I do not come here to advocate, and I never have advocated, a principle of defencelessness—of total disarmament; that we should trust any man on the face of the earth, and not be prepared to defend ourselves, like rational beings, against all probable contingencies. But what I do stand up for is this—that which I heard the late Sir R. Peel declare in connection with the question of our finances, that for England to pretend to take precautions so that every mile of her coasts, and every mile of the coasts of her colonies, shall be safe from aggression, that is a hopeless and a ruinous policy; and he used these words: ‘We must be prepared to take some risks; and the wisest statesman is he who will face some risks rather than undertake these ruinous precautions.’
Now, that is my principle and my policy with regard to our foreign policy. Gentlemen, what would you say if I were to tell you,—and I do it as the result of a little calculation,—that if you take the amount of money which we annually spend in this country as a means of defence and precaution against possible warlike aggression from France, as I will take it, at the very lowest possible amount—six millions sterling,—and I believe it is nearer twelve millions,—if you assume that we spend six millions sterling per annum as a means of protecting ourselves against the possible aggression of France, beyond the ordinary amount which we should sustain with reference to the preparations for war with the rest of the world,—and if I were to tell you that that sum of money represents far more than the whole of our trade with France,—that, as a consequence, as a politico-economical maxim, I can say that it would be for the benefit of England if France did not exist; and assuming that France's preparations against us are in the same way, and on the same scale, that England's are against her, then I say it would be equally an economical truth that it would be better for France if England were at the bottom of the sea.
Well, now, I ask you one question as a corollary to that. Is that man who calls himself a politician, and does he then aspire to the rank of a statesman—is he deserving of the name of Utopian, is he to be considered as living only on dream-land, and to be incapable of giving counsel to practical men like Englishmen—if he asks whether there is no possible remedy to such a state of things as that? Is it so hideously unnatural that 36,000,000 of people in France and 28,000,000 of people in England, separated by only twenty miles of sea, that they, in 1859, are so incapable through their Governments of placing themselves on any footing of real security and of trust towards each other, and so unable to believe the professions and protestations and engagements of each other, that they must keep themselves prepared in this deadly attitude for mutual attack and defence—I say, is it too Utopian to ask whether diplomacy and statesmanship cannot devise some scheme to spare the age in which we live such frightful scandal as this? I need not trouble you at length upon the whole question; you will say I am harping upon the old string; but I am bound to say that we ourselves have much to answer for under this unnatural and most unprofitable state of things. I know I shall be called to account by those organs of public opinion which claim the right to think for us, to speak for us, to predict for us, to guard us, and which expect that we shall allow them to do all that they say, and which, if we attempt to say a word for ourselves, immediately chide us as a very intolerant and very troublesome people; but I venture to say that a large part of the newspaper press of this country, and a good many of the politicians, themselves weak vessels who follow and are easily led by a popular cry, have had much to answer for this state of things in which we are now placed with regard to France; for I hesitate not to say, as an observer of this matter for the last ten or twenty years, and as a close observer of it, that the increase of the army of France, and their preparations in their dockyards, and their other naval and military preparations, so far as they relate to England, have been quite as much provoked by this country as our preparations have been provoked by theirs.
Now, probably in this matter we should be more inclined to take the opinion of a native of another country. I confess to you that most of the good feeling and all the high respect which I found in the United States was entertained towards this country—the high respect of the offspring towards their parents, and of offspring proud of their parents, and parents proud of their offspring, and I believe and feel that they have a very good cause for their pride,—arose from the fact that they were ever most ready and willing to admit that everything that is worth possessing in maxims of liberty and freedom they owe to that parent. Yet one thing which I saw in the papers of the United States always struck me with shame and humiliation, and that was the ridicule which they cast upon us for this constant cry in England about a French invasion. We were again and again the laughing-stock of the newspaper press of America. I will just read you an extract from the New York Times, a paper not unfriendly to England, and one which evidences great knowledge of European affairs; I will read one extract, and no more:—
'There was a time in English history when the "inviolate island" laughed all foreign threats to scorn, and met even the terrible peril of the great Armada of Spain with a front of haughty defiance. But that time seems to have passed by. The press and the orators of England have now no capital stock so rich in sure returns of interest and excitement, as the chronic terror of invasion which seems to have fixed itself in the British mind. On the slightest disturbance of the continental relations of the great Powers; on the least appearance of unusual activity in the dockyards of France; on the merest rumour of a new combination between one or more States of Europe, not commonly united in their policy, England at once sets up her outcry of distress. Her leading journals thunder alarm over the land; the parliamentary candidates make the hustings ring with the "dreadful notes of war;" her captains take down the sword of Wellington, and her poets-laureate take up the lyre of Tyrtæus. If England were consciously the weakest or the wickedest of Powers, her conduct in this respect would be perfectly reasonable. If she knew herself to have fairly earned the hatred of all the world, and felt herself unequal to resist the onslaught of avenging justice, one might attribute her propensity for panics to causes that would be rational, at least, if not respectable.'
Now, I repeat, that it is not pleasant for an Englishman travelling in a foreign country to read paragraphs such as that—and that is the mildest part of the whole article. There is scarcely a post that has not brought me some newspapers from some part of France, and particularly from a seaport, from Havre, and the centres of commerce in France, in which they do not speak with a pity and charity which you would show to a child of the outcry by the English newspapers about a French invasion: the Americans call this outcry the ‘craze'’—'the English craze.' Well, now, is it too much—I don't want our newspapers to abstain from expressing their opinion—I don't want to say one word then; I don't wish to curtail their privileges to criticise the world. They may say just what they please of Louis Napoleon or any other arbitrary sovereign on the face of the earth; and I tell these sovereigns, that if they cannot bear the criticism of the English newspapers amidst all their other triumphs, they must be difficult to please, and that, if they will only sift it, they will find a great deal more good than bad treatment in this world, and they ought to be content to bear it. I don't want to curtail the liberty of the press, so don't let them get up a screech against me, and say I want to put down the liberty of the press. But I ask these newspapers, in lending themselves to all this absurd scream about a French invasion, not to make me and the rest of my countrymen ridiculous in continuing this tone hereafter. Is that an unreasonable request to make of them? Well, if you will only strike—will only treat these outcries with the ridicule these panics deserve, we shall be able to put an end to them.
Now, what are the facts? When I came home, I looked into a blue-book that had been presented to Parliament. I found—I don't believe anybody else looked into it, because it did not just answer the cries of the moment, it was not the pabulum that these papers wanted for the moment—I found that there was a paper presented to Parliament which had been drawn up by the late Government, giving us an account of the condition of the French and English navies. I read the account in the House of Commons. It has never been contradicted. And recollect that this was the state of our navy and the French navy in 1848, before our present increase. I read these figures in the House of Commons, and they have never been controverted. They showed that for every vessel that France has increased in number in her navy during seven years—the time when all this extension of our navy was going on—that for every vessel she (France) has added to her fleet, we have added ten; and that whilst our writers and those public speakers who seem to pander to this panic, want to make money out of it in some direction or other, while they were giving you merely the statistics of the line-of-battle ships and the frigates that were building and in preparation, they ignored and kept out of view altogether the rest of our naval preparations, and which preparations, I venture to say, the scientific and nautical men of this day declare to be the most perfect preparations you could bring against aggression by a foreign foe; because you have in all one hundred and sixty steam-gunboats lying in the creeks and harbours of our coasts, which have been pronounced by the highest scientific nautical men in Europe and America to be in the event of an aggressive war against this country, the most desirable means for the defence of the country of any you could possess. And for this reason. In the present state of the improvement of our cannon; in the deadly nature of the missiles which can now be projected from our cannon; and in the enormous distances at which we can strike an object, either with solid shot or hollow shell—the most scientific nautical men say that, to put a thousand in a line-of-battle ship—I repeat the words I made use of in the House of Commons—with thirty or forty thousand tons of gunpowder in her hold, and to place her to be shot at with an Armstrong gun, which striking the vessel would blow it to atoms, is a piece of suicide, and has earned for such vessels the sobriquet of ‘slaughter-houses.’
Now mark what I tell you. We had at the end of 1848, when this panic began, when the French accused us of making excessive preparations, two hundred more steam-vessels of all sizes than the French had; and I tell you that we had increased tenfold in the number of vessels, sailing and steam, as compared with the French increase, since 1852. Now, what has been the consequence of this panic outcry? You have added 4,000,000l. or 5,000,000l. yearly to the taxation and expenditure of the country. Bearing in mind the rule laid down before, I have no hesitation in saying that this has been a perfect waste, and that we were as safe before from any aggression as now, with all the additional expenditure. Well, but what would that money have done—that is the point which I want to refer to—if left in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? It would have given him 5,000,000l. of revenue to deal with. Instead of voting that money by acclamation, as many do for these useless and senseless preparations, give him that 5,000,000l. of money to deal with in the modification of taxes, in the reduction of the customs duties—in relieving us from excise incumbrances and interferences,—give him that money and see what can be done with it,—see how he could remove the incumbrances and obstructions to commerce; see how he could reduce those high duties which check our intercourse with France itself. Give him that money to deal with by reducing the duty on French commodities, and this would be the most effective bond of peace between this country and France. Far more will be done by that means than will be accomplished by any preparations for war, for France is a country which we cannot terrify by preparations; though you may provoke them into antagonistic rivalry, you cannot coerce them into peace by mere shows of superiority of naval strength.
Let me remind you, that while we have heard from France—I don't pretend to know with what truth—a proposition for the reduction of her navy, our trusty advisers are telling us that we must not diminish for a moment our preparations. I will tell you in all soberness what the consequences will be. If you show yourself with ten or twelve line-of-battle ships sailing up and down the Mediterranean—the Mediterranean which belongs as much to France as to us—I say no French Government will dare to disarm or reduce its navy while you make such a display on the French coast. For bear in mind that France has a seacoast second only in extent to England, and her commerce is next in importance to our own. Would a proud nation like ourselves be content to see a vastly superior force at the entrance of her seaports? But it is said that France has no occasion to be afraid of England, that we have no intention of invading her; but if we consult history, we find that whenever there has been invasion between England and France, it has always been an invasion of France by England, and not an invasion of England by France. Bear in mind that the French children read in their schoolbooks of our carrying armies into France, and our taking their great seaports. When they read this, they form a different opinion of us to that which we entertain ourselves, and they don't believe us to be a nation of Quakers, whatever some of us may fancy.
Now, gentlemen, I am not sure that the experience of the last six months may not have had a tendency to incline the great Powers of the Continent to peaceful counsels, if this country should do its best to promote those views. I think the experience of the last six months must have shown the two great military Powers of the Continent that war is too serious a pastime in our day to be resorted to lightly and at very short intervals. It is a very serious thing, with our immense power of locomotion, with our tremendous preparations of the means of destruction, to bring 500,000 or 600,000 men in array against each other; for a few days will now do what would have taken months to do at the beginning of last century; we now bring these mighty hosts into instant collision with means of destruction such as the imaginations of our forefathers would never have conceived. Well, that has been found out, and I think something more has been found out—that public opinion in Europe is not in favour of these wars. I have never presumed, since I have spoken in public on the question of the ruler of France, to offer one word of censure or praise on that individual, and for this reason. The Emperor of the French was elected by the whole people of France, and I believe freely elected, inasmuch as he received more than two-thirds of the whole votes of the country for President when the ballot-boxes were in the hands of his rival, Cavaignac. When I take that as a proof that the feeling of the people was in favour of Louis Napoleon, I take it for granted that they voted for him as Emperor as freely as they voted for him as President.
Well, now, such being the case, what may have been the motives of 6,000,000 of people in the election of their chief, it is not my business, and I have no right, to inquire. I bow to their decision. Supposing they have acted from impulse; that may have been very right in them, though it might not be right in us. I have had the impression the last seven or eight years that the ruler of France has a perception of the altered times in which we live, and that his career was no to be the career of one who bore his name before; and this I will say, that if he or any other ruler on the Continent should so far mistake the spirit and requirements of the age as to dream of repeating the career of war, of annexation, and of conquest which Napoleon the First achieved, then he will find that public opinion, which was impotent sixty years ago, will be sufficiently powerful now to avenge itself against the man, whoever he may be, who may attempt to trouble the industry, commerce, and agriculture of the present world, and deprive the populations of Europe of their just expectations of reaping the benefits of those improvements and those inventions which characterise the present age. I say, if such a man should attempt to convert the inventions and discoveries of the commerce of our day into such purposes—if he should attempt to convert the steamboat, and telegraph, and railroad, merely to purposes of warlike accommodation—I say then that he will have the prayers and aspirations of nineteen-twentieths of the honest, industrious men of Europe in favour of his dethronement and downfall. And where nineteen-twentieths, where such a majority proclaims its voice now, its power, sooner or later, will make itself felt. And such an individual, in mistaking the character of the age in which he lives, will realise very soon in his own person the truth of that Divine precept, ‘They who take the sword shall perish by the sword.’
As I am going to have the pleasure of saying a few words in this place tomorrow, I will not now trespass at further length; but I find I am expected here to offer an explanation with regard to an incident that occurred some little time ago. If it should be thought that, even at this distance of time, it is becoming in me to say a few words to you on the subject—(I should have thought it presumptuous to say anything on the subject to anyone else)—but if I understand from your chiefs on the platform that such is your wish, I, of course, must obey. Gentlemen, I need not tell you that on my arrival in England, on finding myself your representative, I received a communication from Lord Palmerston, and also another from Lord John Russell. In Lord Palmerston's letter, he was kind enough to urge many reasons, frankly expressed, why I should accept a seat in his Cabinet, as President of the Board of Trade. Now, I will not affect any modesty in this matter: I will say that if I was fit for any office in the Cabinet, I should be fit for the office of President of the Board of Trade. I think, probably, if other circumstances had not intervened, my being in that place would have been really putting a square peg in a square hole. But, gentlemen, my reasons, if you will have them, for declining to accept the honour which was offered to me were as follows. The honour, I beg to assure you, I did not consider a matter of indifference, it was probably peculiarly inviting to me, if I had been one of an ambitious character, because, taking it for all in all, it would have been the first instance of a man springing immediately from amongst you, literally a man of business,—being offered a seat in the Cabinet at all. I was not indifferent to the honour; none of the concomitants of office could have been a matter of indifference to me; but in that case I felt that it was a matter calling for my conscientious action; the more so in proportion to the inducements that were held out to take a particular course. Well, gentlemen, I went to London, and before calling on any one, or receiving any one, I thought it best to call upon Lord Palmerston, and to express to him exactly my views in the matter; and I may tell you just as frankly as I have told him what passed between us. I stated to my Lord Palmerston my case thus: I have been for ten or fifteen years the systematic assailant of what I believe to be your foreign policy. I thought it warlike,—not calculated to promote peace or harmony between this country and other countries. I explained to him exactly what my feelings had been, in those words; and I said to him, it is quite possible that I may have been mistaken in all this; when a man takes an idea and pursues it for ten or twelve years, it is very likely that he takes an exaggerated view of his first impressions; but I put it to Lord Palmerston, and now I put it to you, whether, having regard to those opinions, it was fit and becoming in me to step from an American steamer into his Cabinet, and there and then, for the first time, after having received at his hands a post of high honour and great emolument, to discover that I had undergone a change in my opinions; and whether I should not be open to great misconstruction by the public at large if I took such a course; and I candidly confess that it was inconsistent with my own self-respect.
Now, gentlemen, I do not intend to dwell upon this subject, because it would be egotistical to do it. And I do not intend to claim for myself more humility in the matter than belongs to me, and I do not wish that my abnegation should be considered to in any way reflect upon others who take a different course. I must explain to you candidly the course which I took had reference solely to my own conviction in the matter. I told the gentlemen at Liverpool who did me the honour to meet me at my landing there, that it was a question which I alone could decide; and I tell you that I alone could decide it, because I alone was conversant with the extent of my convictions with respect to Lord Palmerston's policy; and I was bound to be faithful to my own convictions, and especially was I bound to be so when under the temptation which his very magnanimous offer presented to me. I am bound to say, at the same time that whilst my own feelings and convictions prevented my taking that step which many of you here wished, and which so many of my friends in Liverpool and Lancashire pressed upon me,—though I could not take that course myself, I was very glad to find that my friend Mr. Gibson found himself in a position to be able to accept office in Lord Palmerston's Government. And I confess to you that I was glad to find that my friend Charles Gilpin has taken a subordinate office, where there is plenty of work if he chooses to do it; for I will avow to you candidly that I like to see a man cropping up from the lowest stratum,—one who has worked as hard as any man here present,—and step into a public office from the very ranks of the people; because what we want is to show that you need not be born in certain regions to be able to serve the Queen.
Now, gentlemen, I need not, I hope, add—and it is all I have to add—that I had no personal feeling whatever in the course I took with regard to Lord Palmerston's offer. If I had had any feeling of personal hostility, which I never had, towards him, for he is of that happy nature which cannot create a personal enemy, his kind and manly offer would have instantly disarmed me; I think I am made of very yielding materials when anything in the way of conciliation presents itself to me. But I had no such feeling. I should be sorry if it were thought so; and, as I told him, I tell you, if, in my attacks upon his foreign policy, I ever said one word that was offensive to himself or any public man, I am very sorry for it. I told him the motives which actuated me in the course I have taken. I claim no merit whatever for doing more than any other public man in my situation would have done. I can only justify myself by falling back, as I do, upon my own strong feelings and convictions in the matter; and I will only now say to you, that I trust to your kind and indulgent interpretation of the course which I have thought it my duty to pursue.
ROCHDALE, AUGUST 18, 1859.
[This second Speech was delivered to the whole body of inhabitants at Rochdale.]
I am more distressed and disappointed than I can express to you to find myself so hoarse to-night from the effects of our last night's meeting, that I am almost afraid I shall not be able to make myself heard by this meeting; but I will, at all events, reserve so much of my voice, that if there should be anything which I shall omit to say that may be interesting to any one here present, whether elector or non-elector, I shall be happy, as your Mayor has intimated to you, to answer any questions, and consider myself here now in the position which I should have been if I could have been present when you so generously elected me without having the opportunity of questioning me as to my views on any particular topic; and I shall be gratified if any gentleman present, who feels any inclination to elicit information which I have it in my power to give, would give me the opportunity of imparting it.
Gentlemen, I have heard it announced that this is to be considered rather a non-electors' than an electors' meeting, though I believe this assemblage comprises both classes in Rochdale. You are fortunate in this borough in having less of that jealousy and discord of classes than are unfortunately to be found in other places; and the very fact of my finding myself here to-night, at a meeting presided over by the Mayor of the borough, shows, at all events, that in the eyes of the first magistrate of the borough the non-electors hold the same rank in the social scale, at least in a political capacity, as any other class of the community.
Now, gentlemen, I feel that I have a fair right to consider myself at home in addressing a body of non-electors, for I can conscientiously say—and I do not say it in the way of boast, because there are many politicians who are just as sincere in that respect as myself—but I can conscientiously say that I have never entertained a political view, or cherished a principle in connection with politics, that has not embraced the well-being of the great mass of the community as the fundamental rule and maxim of my politics. And I need not hesitate to say, that I do this not from any exclusive regard for any particular class of the community, but from this view, that I hold it to be quite impossible that you can promote the permanent well-being and prosperity of any part of the community, unless you carry with you in that career of advancement and prosperity the great mass of the people who form the working class in the community. And I will go still further and say, that any policy which has for its effect to promote the prosperity of the great mass of the people, cannot fail in the end also to benefit every class who are above them in the social scale. Therefore, with these doctrines, which I conscientiously hold, I always feel myself as much at home, and as fairly entitled to the confidence and the friendly regard of the working class, as I do to those of any other class of the community.
Now, we have on this occasion promised ourselves that we will discuss that question, which I believe is of most interest to the non-electors of this borough—I mean the question of Parliamentary Reform. It is a good sign to find so many of the working class, the non electors of this borough, taking an interest in this question; for I should despair of my country, I should think that there was little chance, at least, of our preserving those institutions which we prize so much, unless the great bulk of the people, who are now unfortunately deprived of the electoral franchise, were pressing forward, and anxious to elevate themselves to the dignity of free citizens. Now I will, in the first place, say a few words to you upon the subject which I consider to lie at the foundation of all questions of organic change—I mean the suffrage. I am inclined to think that we Reformers have probably erred in times past in having dealt with the question of reform rather as a compound than as a simple or separate question. I mean this—and I take to myself the full blame of any mistake that may have been committed in it—we have always lumped three or four things together, and advocated them all as one measure, or one bill, when I think it would have been wiser if we had dealt with them separately, and had begun with the franchise as the thing which must carry with it, and as a consequence establish, the other points of our Reform Bill. I once heard Mr. O'Connell, in his humorous way, illustrate this policy, which I think we have erroneously followed, in this fashion. He said, ‘If you want to get through a gateway with a waggon, where there is hardly room for one horse to go, it isn’t wise to put on four horses a breast, because it will be still more difficult to get through.' I have come to the conclusion that in any future measure of reform the wisest way would be to deal with the question separately, to have one bill for the extension of the franchise, to make the ballot another measure, to make the shortening of Parliaments another,—that, I believe, would be the wisest course to pursue; and my opinion is, that the franchise being that upon which all the rest depends, ought to be dealt with first. My opinions on the franchise have for the last twenty years been pretty generally given. I do not think I have gone as far as everybody in this assembly; I have gone a great deal farther than many of those with whom I have found myself acting in the House of Commons. I always voted for household suffrage. I know you have many partisans of that amount of the franchise, and you have also friends of manhood suffrage in this borough. My idea is this, that whether you get manhood suffrage, or whether you get household suffrage, or whether you get something different from either,—which we are very likely to get before we get the other two,—my idea is this, that some step in advance in the franchise will render future steps in the direction of the franchise and other measures of reform far easier than the first step will be. We have got to a dead-lock now, when the question of the franchise must be dealt with, for parties in the House of Commons have come to that pass, that, whilst all of them have agreed to some measure of reform, there seems to be hardly power in either side of the House to carry any efficient measure; and therefore I say, in the interest of parliamentary government, as well as for the benefit of the people at large, it is most important that this question of the franchise should be dealt with speedily, and I hope it will be dealt with largely and generously.
Now, I have told you what my advocacy has been; I have also named what others in this borough to a large extent. I believe, advocate; but I will not disguise from you, who are non-electors, that, in dealing with this question, we have to argue it before a tribunal which already possesses the franchise, and it would not be human nature if we did not find that the class that already possess the electoral power are a little bit jealous, and a little bit reluctant to diffuse their power over a greater number of voters, and thereby lessen the intrinsic value of the franchise itself. It is very much like somebody having a glass of pretty strong wine-and-water, letting somebody come and water it for him and make it weaker. There is no doubt an idea amongst the electors that the extension of the franchise to a large body of the working classes would weaken their own power, and probably endanger their influence; and therefore it is only human nature to expect a reluctance on the part of those who have the franchise to grant it to those who have not got it. Now you know I was always a practical man; even in advocating the repeal of the Cornlaws, I never found that I could make any progress until I began to take up the landlord's and the farmer's view of the question, and try to reconcile both to the change, and show both that they were not going to get any harm from it.
Well, now, in advocating the extension of the franchise, on your behalf, I should always present myself before the present body of electors with such arguments as I could find to show them that they would not derive any injury from a large extension of electoral rights to those outside of the electoral pale. My first question to the electors would be this, ‘What interest have you of the middle class that the people of the working class have not also got?’ You cannot separate the interest of the one from the other. The question then will be, ‘Are we sure that if we let in a large number of voters from another class, the working class, that they will see their own interest in the same way as we see ours?’ Well, I think people are generally very quick-sighted as to their interests; and fortunately there is this in the constitution of society, and of all earthly things, that if a man does not pursue his interest, if he does what is wrong, he is very soon reminded of it by the damage he does to himself as well as to others. I therefore do not think there is much danger that a large proportion of the working class, by following merely their own instincts, will not take a wise view of their own interest. But I would ask the middle class, if I may call them so, who have now got the franchise, whether they may not incur some difficulties and dangers themselves if they keep out of the electoral pale the vast majority of the community who have now no interest in the suffrage? The working class, and those who are not entitled now to vote, I believe amount to five millions of persons. Well, I say to those who have the vote, ‘Take into partnership with you a portion of those who are now excluded from the right of voting, and do it, if you have no other motive, from the selfish motive of being secure in the possession of the power you have.’ For your electoral system is standing now upon so narrow a foundation that it is hardly safe to reckon upon its standing at all in case of some certain contingencies arising, which we can imagine may some day arise. Why, what have we seen abroad? I remember quite well when Louis Philippe, the last king of France, was strongly urged by the reformers in France to double the electoral body in that country. They then had only about 250,000 voters. He was urged to double the number of votes. He refused; he continued to govern the country through this small minority of voters; and one evening when we were sitting in the House of Commons, the telegraph flashed the news from Paris that the Government of Louis Philippe had been overthrown, and a Republic proclaimed in its place. And I remember quite well when the buzz of the conversation ran round the House as this piece of news was passed from Member to Member, I remember saying to the late Mr. Joseph Hume, who sat beside me, ‘Go across to Sir Robert Peel, and tell him the news.’ Sir Robert Peel was sitting then just on the front seat on the other side of the House, having been repudiated by his large party, which he had lost by having previously repealed the Corn-laws. I remember Mr. Hume going and sitting by the side of Sir R. Peel, and whispering the news to him, and his immediate answer was this: ‘This comes of trying to govern the country through a narrow representation in Parliament, without regarding the wishes of those outside. It is what this party behind me wanted me to do in the matter of the Corn-laws, and I would not do it.’ We stand here upon a different basis; instead of 250,000 voters, we have about a million; but recollect this, that whilst France had been only a constitutional country, at that time, about twenty-five years, we have been governed under constitutional maxims for centuries. Recollect that it is our boast that the people here do rule, and that they have ruled for centuries; and I do say that, taking into account our great pretensions in regard to the freedom of the subject in this country, and comparing our present state, when we have but a million of voters, I declare that our state is less defensible than the case of Louis Philippe was in the time of which I speak, because, compared with our pretensions, our system of representation is no doubt an enormous sham; and there is no security in shams at any time, because they are very liable to be upset by any sudden reality such as that which occurred in the streets of Paris at the time of which I speak.
Now, I can imagine such a thing as our hearing some day within the next five years of some hurricane of revolution passing over the Continent of Europe, and we know what the effect of that was upon this country in 1830; and I can imagine such a state of things as that we should be in such a position at some time, owing, for instance, to some circumstance that has happened in India or elsewhere—for we are not without our outlying dangers—I can imagine ourselves in such a state of things at that moment that there may be very great excitement in this country, and probably very great discontent and suffering and consequent disaffection; and I can imagine this great change, coming like a thunder-clap from the Continent, might rouse up elements in this country which might produce changes far greater than anything which is now contemplated in this country, and which would make those men who then had to deal with this question look back with regret to those tranquil times in which we now live, and lament that they did not, like wise statesmen, deal with this question as they ought to deal with it, in a time of prosperity and of political calm. I am therefore using the most homely and the most common-sense counsels when I advise the class in this country which has the possession of political power, to deal with this question now, when the people are in a good temper, and when we are in a prosperous state. Besides, we have seen another change on the Continent. We have seen the great mass of the people sometimes throw themselves into the scale in favour of some one great man, or some great party; and although it is not a thing that is very likely to happen in this country, yet I can imagine in any country, that, if you exclude five-sixths of the male adult population from electoral rights,—I can imagine a state of things when, if they have been proscribed for generation after generation, that they might be disposed to avenge themselves upon a privileged class by turning the scale in favour of some other party in the community, who might be in favour of oppressing those whom they may consider to have been their oppressors. I think these are not whimsical fancies, but they are chances which ought to be considered by every thoughtful and prudent man, and they should be a motive, even though drawn from the instincts of selfishness, why the middle class of this country should seek to deal with this question of the franchise at the present moment.
Well, but still we have the bugbear, that the working class of this country are not to be trusted with the franchise; the saying is that the people would injure themselves if you gave them the franchise; that they cannot take care of themselves. Now, in answer to that, I will put another question which has often occurred to me in my travels in distant countries: ‘If the people are not fit to take care of themselves, who are to be trusted to take care of them?’ That is the question which I have asked myself in many countries. I have asked it of myself where they are governed as they are in Russia, I have asked it where they are governed as they are in Austria, where they are ruled as they now are in France—I have asked myself this question: Where will you find a resting-place—how will you ever establish a system by which the people can be governed unless you come to this, that they must be left to govern themselves? Why, we do not profess to go to any of those countries for a rule and system of Government. Well, there is another remedy for this difficulty of ignorance. [A Voice: ‘Go to America.'’] A friend says, ‘Go to America.’ Well, I have been to America. But we must deal with this as an English question, and we must deal with it in a practical way; we cannot deal with it as an American question; but I have no objection to illustrate what I am going to say by a reference to America.
Now, in America they have generally universal suffrage, but not everywhere; until lately, the suffrage was not so widely extended as it is now. I saw it lately stated, in a New York paper, that, thirty years ago, the franchise in the State of New York was not more popular than it is in England now. In the various States of the American Union they have a great variety of franchises. In some parts, it is universal suffrage; in others, it is a tax-paying suffrage; in some, it is a kind of household suffrage; and in others, it is a property qualification. But the tendency, everywhere and always, is constantly to widen the possession of the franchise, constantly to increase the number of voters; and the principle is now everywhere admitted, that they must come to manhood suffrage for the whole of the white population. And this is the point that I was coming to as an illustration of my argument with reference to the alleged ignorance of the people. I have found in America that everywhere the question of education lies at the foundation of every political question. I mean this: that in America the influential classes, as you may call them, the richer people, everywhere advocate education for the people, as a means of enabling the people to govern themselves. Their maxim is this: the people govern for themselves; they govern us as well as themselves; and, unless we educate the people, our free institutions cannot possibly work. Their maxim is everywhere, ‘educate or we perish;’ and the consequence is that the influential classes in America devote themselves to the education of the whole people, in a manner and to an extent of which no country in Europe can have any idea. Wherever I have been on my travels there I have found—and I have visited in some places where, when I was in America twenty-four years ago, the Red Indians were still encamped, and where, twenty-four years afterwards, I have found flourishing towns—I have found that everywhere in these new communities the schoolhouses were the largest and most conspicuous buildings, and that, even whilst the streets were unpaved, and whilst most of the citizens were still dwelling in wooden houses, there were large brick or stone buildings run up, containg eight, ten, or twelve long rooms, and every room, from the floor to the roof, was filled with children, receiving, without one farthing fee or charge, as good an education as you could give to the sons of the middle classes in this country.
Now, I have no hesitation in saying that the system of education in America has gone hand in hand with the extension of the electoral franchise to the people, and that the one great strong pervading motive of the people of America to educate their sons is that they may be enabled to exercise the power which they possess for the benefit of themselves and the whole country. One of the advantages which I expect to see derived from the wide extension of the franchise in this country is that there will be increased attention paid by those who are in influential places to the promotion of national education. And if it has the effect of drawing the different classes together, and inciting them to a common effort to raise the intellectual and moral condition of the great mass of the people, I know of no better effect which could be produced by any measure than that which will come from an extension of the franchise.
Well, there are questions connected with our taxation which some people think could hardly be safely left to be dealt with by a largely and widely-extended constituency. Now, I am of opinion that the country will gain in the question of taxation; that it will have a chance of reforms, which, under existing circumstances, there seems to be little, or only a very remote, prospect of effecting Everybody is, or ought to be, interested in a sound and just system of taxation, because nothing cripples people more than unjust or excessive taxation. But having already expressed my belief that the extension of the franchise will tend to the extension of education in the country, I say, in reference to the taxation of which some people are afraid, that I think that the tendency of legislation in our fiscal affairs, as the result of a widely-extended franchise, would, in my opinion, go very far to promote the prosperity of our commercial system.
Now, what is it that people are afraid of? They say, ‘If you give a vote to the people they will tax property, and they will relieve themselves of taxes.’ Well, now, although I cannot follow the subject into all its details, I am not at all alarmed at this threat. I believe that even if all that is predicted in that direction should be fulfilled—I am not quite sure that it would be, but assuming that the effect of an extension of the franchise was that the votes of the people removed, to a large extent, taxes which now press upon articles of consumption, such as tea and sugar, paper, and other articles taxed at our custom-houses and excise-offices—I say that if it had that effect I do not believe that would prove injurious to the country. I believe that if the instinct of the people—the working people who would be thrown in as an addition to our electoral list—if their instinct led them to substitute for a large portion of our indirect taxes, taxes upon property, or taxes upon incomes, I believe that it would have a beneficial effect upon the commerce of this country; and that, though urged by their natural instincts, their selfishness, you may say, they would, in fact, be carrying out the most enlightened principles of political economy.
Now, I do not know anything that could come from an extension of the franchise that would be more likely to benefit the upper classes as well as the lower, if I may use the term, than a change in our fiscal system, which very largely removed those taxes and duties that are now paid in the consumption of the working classes, and transferring that revenue to income and to property. I therefore see in that fear of ignorance the greatest chance of an improvement in the education of the people. In the tendency of an extension of the suffrage, in regard to taxation, I cannot see that the working-classes can possibly do that which could prove injurious to other classes of the community. But I am sometimes told that the working-classes, if they had the power, would be very likely to deal with their power after the manner of a trades' union, and attempt to force measures through Parliament that would benefit particular classes. Well, I am not afraid of that. We have had classes before who have had possession of the power of legislation, and who have used it for their own advantage. We had the Corn-laws passed by the landowners, the Navigation-laws passed for the benefit of the shipowners, we had the timber duties passed for the benefit of the timber merchants, and we had the sugar monopolies established for the benefit of the West Indies. We have had classes in this country who have usurped political power, and have applied it for their own purposes; but the progress of enlightenment and the continued discussion of these questions have shown that this process of selfish legislation is found only suicidal to those who follow it, and that the best interests of all are consulted by those measures which deal fairly with the interests of all. And I do not think that if the matter came fairly to be discussed between those of the working classes who are possessed of the franchise and those who are above the working classes in the social scale,—I do not think they would be likely to come to any conclusion, respecting these questions, which would prove inimical to the rest of the community. For bear in mind that I always fall back upon this: when we have taken into partnership a larger section of the working classes as electors, we shall all be interested in seeing that they get all the information we can possibly give them on these subjects. The law of self-preservation will be immediately at work, and we shall, through the newspapers, through our addresses, and through our schools, be constantly trying to bring up the intelligence of the working classes—if that be necessary,—so as to enable them to fulfil their duties as electors, without any of those dangers of which some people are—but I am not—afraid.
Well, now, with regard to the probable measure itself, with which we shall have to deal—I am sorry to say it, because it may have the effect of damping some of your spirits, but I do not think the country or the House of Commons is in a mood for a very considerable measure of parliamentary reform. I do not know who is to blame—the House of Commons or the country. I rather think there is quite as much agitation about parliamentary reform in the House of Commons as in the country. It has got into the House of Commons, and they don't know what to do with it. It is bandied about from side to side, and all parties are professing to be reformers; everybody is in favour of an extension of the suffrage; and, upon my honour, I think in my heart that no one likes it much, and that they don't care much about it. Well, then, I must deal frankly—because I like to speak my mind fairly; and, though it may not excite cheers or be very acceptable, it is the best way to tell the honest truth, and I am sure a Rochdale audience will always approve of the truth being told them—I must say that there has not been very much stir in this country in the cause of parliamentary reform. When I was travelling in America, my friend Mr. Bright was making some of the most eloquent speeches that ever have been delivered by any human being in this country in favour of a large measure of parliamentary reform; but I did not gather from the newspapers which fell under my eye in America that there was much spontaneous combustion in the country to help him in his efforts. I will tell you what an American friend of mine said in the course of conversation about it. He was a great admirer of Mr. Bright's eloquence, but he said, ‘Ah, you made a great mistake, you and Mr. Bright; if you are going to be political reformers, you should have gone for the reform of Parliament before you repealed the Corn-laws; because now the people are well fed, and have plenty of work and wages, and they have all turned Tories.’ Well, I don't go so far as that; but in looking back to the last forty years, over which my memory unfortunately extends, I must say I have found that in almost all cases of great political excitement—when reform was most popular with the masses,—I must say that it was always at a time of great manufacturing distress, when provisions were dear and labour was scarce, and the people were discontented with everybody and everything about them. On the contrary, there is no doubt that by the measures that have been passed, and with which I hope that, without vanity, I may say Mr. Bright's name and my own, and the names of many other gentlemen here present, are associated, we have put an end to those periodical seasons of starvation. People are not driven now to eat garbage, or to subsist upon cabbage-stalks. There is generally plenty to eat; but I should be sorry to find that my American friend was so far correct that the people of this country, because they are well fed, and because they are generally getting fair wages, are therefore indifferent to their political rights. I hope to find it otherwise; but it must be admitted there has been rather an unusual quiescence in regard to this question of parliamentary reform. I may tell you candidly, that those who advocate reform in Parliament find it very difficult to get admission to the electoral pale for those outside, unless these outsiders are knocking for admission, and knocking pretty loud. You know it is not easy to get those who are inside the privileged apartment to open the door, unless those outside manifest some desire to get in. But still, I say, this is the time when we ought to deal with this question effectually, for all parties now agree that in the next session we must have a measure of parliamentary reform that shall carry us over at least the next twenty years. Lord John Russell has given notice of his view. He has pledged himself to a measure, as I understand—I was not present at the time, and have not referred back to his speech—of a 6l. rental for boroughs, and a 10l. franchise for the counties.
Well, I suppose a 6l. rental in a borough like Rochdale would make a very large addition to your electoral list; because, owing to the high rents paid in a town like this, a 6l. rental would include a very large proportion of the working class. But if you go to smaller places in the rural districts, into the farming villages and small towns generally, a 6l. rental would not add largely to the constituency; and I believe that in Scotland and Ireland it would have a very slight effect. Altogether, this 6l. rental would not, I believe, double the present constituency. I have not had an opportunity to investigate it, and perhaps it would not be easy to ascertain it, but I am told, that if we had a franchise extended to a 6l. rental, would not add a million to the present million of votes. I have heard some people say it would not add more than five or six hundred thousand. I hear a voice say, ‘Not so much.’ Well, I have heard, but I cannot quite believe it, that amongst some of the statesmen, Lord John Russell's colleagues, there is contemplated a resistance even to this measure of a 6l. rental franchise; but I would ask those Lords and right hon. Gentlemen, whether it is worth disturbing the franchise at all, if they do not go as far as that at the least? Let us see—it will be thirty years next year since we had the last Reform Bill. That Reform Bill gave us about a million of voters. We wait thirty years, and now it is considered an extreme measure if we add one million more to our voting list; but, as I understand it, there are six millions of adult males in this country, five millions of whom at present have no votes. Well, if we take in a million next year, after thirty years' waiting, and if we are to go on no faster than that for the future, it will then take four times thirty years to bring in the other four millions of voters; and, in fact, it will take 150 years before the whole of the adult males are entitled to vote in this country. I apprehend that nobody would think we were travelling too fast at that rate.
I do not say that it is necessary that we should do everything at once. There are young men now growing up who will have better capacity than their fathers to agitate and work and argue for their own franchises. I have no objection that the measure which I look for shall not come all at once, but gradually, and as soon as we can get it; but this I do say, that if the present Government really falter in that measure which Lord John Russell has proposed, it will be the most unwise and suicidal thing that the privileged class of this country, who really have the executive power in their hands, could possibly accomplish. Assuming, at all events, that the franchise will be dealt with, there is another question to which I attach the utmost importance,—I mean the question of the ballot. Now, I consider, myself, that the ballot is sure to follow an extension of the franchise. There are about 230 men now in the House of Commons, who are pledged to the ballot. One election under a Reform Bill would inevitably carry the ballot. And, therefore, I consider that an extension of the franchise necessarily leads to the ballot. I am for keeping the questions separate. There is a society in London organised for the purpose of advocating the ballot. I have advised them always to keep their society separate from all others. They have, I believe, some supporters in Rochdale. That society is worthy of your support, and will, I hope, go on advocating the ballot, and adducing, as it is adducing, the best possible arguments to show its morality and its efficiency.
Well, now, since I have been home, I have been asked a dozen times what the people think of the ballot in America. It is a very remarkable thing that I never heard anybody say anything about it in America. It is a thing that nobody thinks of discussing. It is so perfectly understood by ninety-nine hundredths of that community to be the best way of taking votes, that they no more think of discussing it than they do as to whether it is better to button their waistcoats in front rather than button them behind; or whether it is better to mount a horse on the left side instead of getting awkwardly on on the right. It is not a subject that ever forms matter of discussion there. There are not two sides of it. Nobody questions it; it is the last thing you ever hear discussed in America; and the reason is this, that everybody admits, wherever the ballot has been tried, that it is the most convenient, the most peaceful, the most moral, the most tranquil, and therefore the most desirable mode of taking votes of any that was ever devised. In an ordinary case, their votings in their large towns go on with as much tranquillity as your proceedings on a Sunday do, when people walk quietly off to their different places of worship. A man goes to one of the different polling-places; he deposits his vote; nobody is there to shout at him or ask him questions; nobody expects to know how he is going to vote; nobody cares to inquire; it is assumed that no one has a right to interfere with another man's right of voting as he pleases; and when that is once assumed and once conceded, there is nobody that has any interest in opposing the ballot.
I last night alluded to a communication I had received from a gentleman in America—in Philadelphia. I had not the letter in my pocket then, but I have it now. When I was in Philadelphia, a large manufacturing city of more than half a million of inhabitants, I met a gentleman who had been previously very well known to me, and who is in the highest social and political circles in that city, and he was talking to me about the ballot; and after I left Philadelphia, and reached Washington, he sent me this letter, which I have no doubt he intended that I might publish, and therefore I will read it to you:—
April 29, 1859.
I called upon you yesterday, a few minutes before twelve o'clock, and found that there had been a mistake about your time of departure. I desired to have had some conversation with you upon the subject of vote by ballot, and to repeat, what I had verbally stated before, and now subjoin in writing. During fifty years' close intimacy with the machinery of parties, and in active participation in conducting our elections, I have never seen a vote bought or sold, nor one which I had any reason to believe had been bought or sold.—Hoping to see you once more before you leave our country,
‘I remain, yours truly,
Now, that was written to me by a gentleman who is at the head of that party in America, which is considered to include in its body the largest portion of the working classes of that community,—I mean the democratic party; and that gentleman had never seen a vote bought or sold. Now the reason, no doubt, was partly this,—that their constituencies are so large in most cases that it would be quite futile to attempt to carry an election by bribery, just as it would be impossible to carry one by bribery in Manchester or Leeds; and consequently you hear much less of bribery in the large constituencies than in the smaller ones. But I would ask whether, considering that we are twenty-eight millions of people, ought we not to have, as a rule, all our constituencies much larger than they are? I know not how you are to keep your House of Commons within its present numbers, unless you are to enlarge all your constituencies, and thereby secure to a fair proportion of the population their right of representation.
And this brings me to the question of the redistribution of the franchise; and I would say, gentlemen, I have a very strong opinion that where you have to give, as you would have to give in any new Reform Bill, a considerable number of new Members to your large cities,—as, for instance, Manchester, Liverpool, and the like,—and Rochdale will, of course, be included in the number,—it would be the most convenient and the fairest plan, if you apportioned your large towns into wards, and gave one representative for each ward. I mean that, instead of lumping two or four Members together, and letting them be the representatives of a whole town or city, I would divide the place into four wards, and I would let each ward send one Member. I think there is a fairness and convenience about that plan which ought to recommend it to Lord John Russell, and to every one who has to handle a new Reform Bill. For instance, you will find in a town, generally, that what is called the aristocracy of the town live in one part, and the working classes live in another. Now, I say, if, in dividing a town into three or four wards, it should happen that one of the districts where the working class predominates should have the opportunity of sending a Member which that class may consider will most fairly represent their views, and if in another part of the town another class, living there, choose a Member that more completely represents theirs, I do not see why the different classes or parties in the community should not have that opportunity of giving expression to their opinions. I think it would be much better than having two or four Members for one borough; for I have observed, in watching the progress of elections in England, that where you have one Member representing a borough, as in the case of Rochdale, there is a tendency to maintain a higher degree of public spirit—there is a more decided line of demarcation in parties; and men are more earnest in their political views, than where they have two Members to a borough; for I have frequently seen, as in the case of Liverpool, Blackburn, and many other towns that I could name, that the people begin to get tired of contests, and acquiesce in a division of the town. They say, let us vote one-and-one, and do not let us have any more political contests. That is a very bad state of things; because, if a country is to maintain its free institutions, it must constantly have political discussions and contests.
Well, I do not say anything about the shortening of Parliaments; at present, we seem to have Parliaments very short, and I think that we are likely to have a recurrence of elections until, at all events, our Legislature deals with this question of parliamentary reform, and puts us on a footing by which some one party or other can have a preponderance in the House. But I have always advocated, at the same time, the ballot and household suffrage, and a return to triennial Parliaments. I think that a short lease and frequent reckonings are likely to maintain the character both of the representatives and of their constituents; and the oftener they meet, within moderation as to time, to renew the lease of the confidence of their constituents, the better it will be for the working of our free institutions.
Gentlemen, I could enlarge upon these subjects, if my time and yours would permit; but I am to be followed by other gentlemen—one, in particular, who has more peculiarly identified himself with this question, and to whom, if we get any measure of reform, the country will be largely indebted for succeeding in it. I am to be followed, also, by a gentleman—Mr. Sharman Crawford—who was formerly your representative. I say yours, for the working men and the non-electors never had a more honest representative than Mr. Sharman Crawford. I cannot too much, I cannot too heartily, express my gratitude to him, coming, as he has, across the stormy Channel, to pay us a visit here to-night. I cannot forget, either, that when I was in America, and my name was proposed to this borough, he volunteered to come across from Ireland to represent me at the hustings, if there was any need. I tender him my warmest gratitude for his kindness to me. There are other gentlemen here present who will also address you. I reserve what little voice I have left to answer any questions that may be put to me by any gentleman here present. I invite discussion now, just as if I were going to be elected by you to-morrow. And thanking you all for the kind support you gave me at the late expected contest, knowing, as I do, that I owe my election to the enthusiasm of the working classes in my favour, as well as to the favour of those of their employers who sympathise with my views, I cordially repeat my thanks to you all for your kindness to me in my absence, and for the warm and generous reception which I have met with on this occasion.