- 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.
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.
MANCHESTER, JANUARY 22, 1851
[The National Public School Association, the objects of which were nearly the same as those advocated at present by the Education League, held an annual meeting at Manchester, at which Mr. Cobden moved the following resolution:—'That the present aspect of the Educational Question gives high testimony to the value of the efforts of this association, and promises a complete and speedy triumph.']
The aspect of this room certainly affords encouragement to the friends of Education. The very numerous and influential body of gentlemen that I see before me is a proof of the growing interest taken in this important question; and I see around me many gentlemen,—I see many of the old familiar faces with whom I was associated in a former struggle; and if continuous courage and perseverance, and an undeviating adherence to principle under trying circumstances can warrant success, then, I think, the past experience which those gentlemen have given to the world, augurs a triumph for the cause we have now in hand. But, gentlemen, I don't disguise from myself,—and you will not for a moment conceal from your minds, that we are indebted for this meeting, in some degree, to a recent movement that has taken place in this city by gentlemen who have hitherto not taken a prominent part in the cause of national education.
Now I join most unfeignedly in the expression of congratulation upon the fact, that those gentlemen have come forward to avow, to a great extent, their adhesion to the principles of this association. They have given the sanction of their approval to the main features of this association, as has been well observed,—they have adopted the principles of local rating; and I will further say, they have, by one of the provisions of that scheme which has been published to the world, given in their adhesion to the principle of secular education, inasmuch as they leave to the parents of children the power of demanding for their children an exemption from that doctrinal instruction, which has been hitherto held by every party an indispensable requisite of education. Now, I must confess, I have always been so impressed with the difficulties of this question, that if a proposal had been made by which it was intended to give an improved education to the people, coupled with conditions ten times as objectionable as those we have lately had proposed to us, I do not think I could have found it in my heart to have offered any very strong opposition. I have really passed beyond the time in which I can offer any opposition to any scheme whatever, come from whatever party it may, which proposes to give the mass of the people of this country a better education than they now receive. I will say more,—that in joining the secular system of education, I have not taken up the plan from any original love for a system of education which either separates itself from religion, or which sets up some peculiar and novel model of a system which shall be different from anything which has preceded it in this country. I confess that for fifteen years my efforts in education, and my hopes of success in establishing a system of national education, have always been associated with the idea of coupling the education of this country with the religious communities which exist. But I have found, after trying it, as I think, in every possible shape, such insuperable difficulties in consequence of the religious discordances of this country,—that I have taken refuge in this, which has been called the remote haven of refuge for the Educationists,—the secular system,—in sheer despair of carrying out any system in connection with religion. I should, therefore, be a hypocrite, if I were to say I have any particular repugnance to a system of education coupled with religious instruction. But there is no one in this room, or in the country, that can have a stronger conviction than I have of the utter hopelessness of ever attempting to unite the religious bodies of this country in any system of education; so that I can hardly bring myself even to give a serious consideration to the plan that has been now brought forward by gentlemen in this city, and who have brought it forward, no doubt, with the best possible intentions, and who have only to persevere in order to find what I have found, for the last fifteen years,—the hopelessness of the task. For what is it those gentlemen have now proposed to do? Is there any novelty in it? Why, it is precisely what Parliament, and the Government, and the Committee of Privy Council, have been attempting to do now for a great number of years,—that is, to give a system of education to the country which shall comprise religious instruction, and which shall call upon the people of this country to subscribe, through taxation or rates, for the general religious as well as secular education of the country.
There is no novelty in the plan now brought forward; it is merely a proposal to transfer to Manchester, as the theatre of contest, what has been hitherto just going on in the House of Commons and the Government. It is, in fact, a proposal by which everybody shall be called upon to pay for the religious teaching of everybody else. Now, this is precisely what has been objected to by a great portion of this community, and what has prevented the present system, administered through the Minutes of Council, from being successful. There is this novelty, certainly,—that for the first time a body of Churchmen have themselves come forward, and recommended that all religious denominations should be allowed to receive public money for the teaching of their catechisms and creeds. Now, that is a novelty, because hitherto, although the Church body have themselves been in favour of endowment for one particular sect,—if I may be allowed to call it so,—yet the Church has not hitherto been an active promoter of any system which shall recognise the right of other religious sects to receive public money to teach their catechisms. So far, then, we have a difference in the quarter from which this proposal has come; but does this alter the character of the opposition we may expect from those who have hitherto opposed the Minutes of Council and the parliamentary grants for education? It is precisely the same thing over again,—the same thing, whether you ask the religious voluntaries of this country to receive and pay public money for religious teaching through a local rate in Manchester, or through the Minutes in Council voted by Parliament in the annual grants. There is no difference in the two proposals, except that one is done by rates levied in Manchester, and the other by a vote in the House of Commons. How then are we to escape those difficulties in the religious question which we have hitherto encountered? If the members of the dissenting bodies have been sincere in their opposition hitherto to the national system of education, as administered through the Minutes of the Committee of Privy Council, there is not the slightest hope of that proposal, which has now emanated from the Church party in Manchester, being acceptable to this city. But I am not sure we are dealing with any well-considered or matured proposition from any particular religious body. We probably have the plan of an individual rather than the manifesto of a party. I am not sure that any party in this city, any religious body as a body, or any committee as a committee, has yet endorsed the proposal submitted to us; and I do not think the gentlemen who have so far given in their adhesion to this proposal, as to assemble together and discuss it, have considered the ultimate bearing and scope of the proposal that has been put forward. It is based upon the principle of voting public money for the teaching of the religious creeds of every religious denomination in the country. If it does not recognise that principle, it is an unjust proposal. There are but two principles on which you can carry on an education system in this country, or in any other, with the slightest approximation to justice. The one is, if you will have a religion, to form your plan so as to pay for the teaching of all religions; the other is, to adopt the secular system, and leave religion to voluntary effort.
Now, I must say, I doubt if the gentlemen who have so far joined this new association as to attend in person to hear it mooted,—I question if they fully understand the ultimate scope of what must be their proposal, if carried out with fairness; for it amounts to this, that you should pay from the public rates of this city the money for educating children in the Church schools, where, independent of the secular education which they shall have secured to them, they shall be taught the Church Catechism; and to the Independents, the Baptists, and the Unitarians and Wesleyans, the same system would be applied, in which, besides the secular instruction which should be enforced, they must be allowed to teach their various creeds or catechisms. But there is a large body in Manchester and Salford lying at the very lowest stratum of society, whose education must be embraced in any plan, or that plan must be worse than a mere pretence, fraught with downright injustice and negligence, and negligence of the most necessitous portion of the people. I speak of the Roman Catholics,—that portion of the people which was described by Dr. Kay, now Sir James Shuttleworth, in his pamphlet written here, some fourteen years ago,—that portion of the population which he has described, comprising 60,000 or 80,000 of the Irish, or immediate descendants of the Irish, being all Roman Catholics, and who import into this city a great deal of that barbarism which has, unfortunately, characterised the country from which they came. Any system which does not embrace that part of the population, cannot be entertained for a moment as a system.
Well, then, the proposal of the Church party must mean, that the schooling of all of those Roman Catholic children shall be paid out of the public rates, and that, besides the secular instruction they may receive, they shall be taught their catechism, and be permitted to observe their other religious ceremonies, precisely in the same way that the Church of England and the dissenting schools are allowed to do. Have those gentlemen made up their minds that they will pay rates for the purpose of the religious training of the Roman Catholic children? Now, I say, I should be a hypocrite if I expressed any great repugnance myself to that which would give these poor children an education, coupled with that sort of instruction which I am here to advocate. But have the gentlemen who put forward this proposal fully considered the scope of their own plan? Have they made up their minds that the whole of the Roman Catholic children in Manchester shall be taught their religion at the expense of the ratepayers of Manchester? Have they made up their minds, when they talk of enforcing the reading of the Bible—have they made up their minds what version of the Bible they mean in all this? Has that subject been discussed among them,—has it been settled? Do they mean that the Douay version of the Bible shall be taught in these Roman Catholic schools? Because if they do not mean that, when they make the Bible the condition of receiving any schooling, it is at once shutting the door most effectually to the instruction of the great mass of the Roman Catholic children in this town. Do not let any one suppose I am interposing these objections as my objections. They are what I have encountered here for the last fifteen years. I remember so long ago as 1836, when Mr. Wyse, himself a Roman Catholic, and Mr. Simpson, of Edinburgh, and others, came down here to enlighten us on the subject of education—I remember having in my counting-house in Mosley Street, the ministers of religion of every denomination, and trying to bring them to some sort of agreement on the system of education we were then anxious to advocate. I believe the insuperable difficulties that then existed have even increased now, and have not been in the slightest degree modified; and I believe those gentlemen who, with the best intentions, have brought forward this plan now, will find, before they have pursued it to one-twentieth part of the time and trouble gentlemen here have given to the Education question, that they have attempted an impossibility, and will be compelled to turn aside from what they are attempting to do. And if they view education at all as of that paramount importance I trust they do, the effect of this well-meant effort will be to bring many of those gentlemen to our ranks, if, as I sincerely hope and trust will be the case, we do nothing in the mean time to repel them from joining us.
The difficulties I spoke of have been encountered in two other countries, the most resembling us in the state of their civilisation and religion—the United States and Holland. They have both gone through the very same ordeal. In the United States, the education was once religious. When the Pilgrim Fathers landed in New England, the system of education then commenced embraced religious teaching; everybody was taught the Catechism, and there was no objection made to it. But when the number of sects multiplied, this religious education became a bone of contention; a great struggle ensued, and the Americans have had to go through the same difficulty that we have now; and it has ended, as it will end in this case, in the fundamental principle laid down in the Massachusetts statute for erecting common schools, which says that no book shall be admitted in the schools, and nothing taught, which favours the peculiar doctrines of any particular religious sect. In Holland, they have come to precisely the same conclusion. There they have adopted a system of secular education, because they have found it impracticable to unite the religious bodies in any system of combined religious instruction.
Well, now, if ever there was a time when it was desirable, more than another, to try and separate religious from secular instruction, it is the present time. And why? Because we have arrived at that period when all the world is agreed that secular instruction is a good thing for society. There are no dissentients now, or, if there be, they dare not avow themselves. We are agreed that it is good that English boys and girls shall be taught to read, and write, and spell, and should get as much grammar and geography as they can possibly imbibe There is no difference of opinion about putting the elements of knowledge into the minds of every child in the land, if it can be done. But while we are all united on that, can any one who moves in society conceal from himself that we are also arrived at a time when we have probably more religious discord impending over us than at any period of our history? I do not allude to the dissensions between Roman Catholics and Protestants; I do not allude to them, excepting so far as they may lead to schisms and controversies in the internal state of other religious bodies. But I think there is at the present moment looming in the distance, and not in the very remote distance, a schism of the Church of England itself. I think you have two parties, one probably more strong than the other in numbers, but the other far more strong in intellect and logic, which are going to divide the Church. I see the Wesleyan body torn asunder by a schism, which, I think, the most sanguine can hardly hope to see healed; and I think there are several other religious bodies, not perfectly tranquil in their religious organization.
Now, while we have the prospect of these great internal dissensions in religious bodies,—while we are all agreed that secular education is a good thing,—is it desirable, if it can be avoided—would it be desirable, if it were practicable, which it is not, I think,—that our national education should be one which is united and bound up with the religious organisations, when schisms may prevail in the churches, and must be necessarily transferred with increased virulence to the schools? For bear in mind that what you see now pervading the churches in Scotland, where you have an irreconcilable dispute with regard to the appointment of the masters of the parochial schools—a dispute between the Old Kirk and the Free Church—recollect, if what I say be correct, that you have an impending schism in the Anglican Church, that then you will have precisely the same difficulty in the appointment of masters in the national schools. You will have High and Low Church contending for the appointment of masters; in one parish, High Church predominating, the masters will be dwelling on the necessity of the old forms of the Church, and enforcing the ritual and observances prescribed by the Liturgy and Canons; and in another you will have the Low Church, on the other hand, dwelling on what they regard as the more vital essence of religion, and discountenancing those forms which the High Church regard; and you will have the same discords pervading your schools; and the consequence will be, decreased efficiency of the masters, and, in some cases, a divided school, a disruption of the school along with the congregation; and you will have to fight the battle again, to reconcile the different bodies; and in the end, I believe in my conscience, it will come as in America and Holland to this,—you will be obliged, after a great waste of time, to return to the secular system which they have adopted, and which we are met here to advocate.
Since I addressed you here last, I have been visiting many places—Birmingham, Leeds, Huddersfield, Bolton, and elsewhere,—and I have sought private interviews with numerous bodies of gentlemen interested in the question. I have especially sought private interviews with those who have been supposed to differ from us, but have been thought usually as ardent advocates of education as ourselves,—those connected with the dissenting bodies in different parts of the kingdom. I have endeavoured to meet them privately, and to have a full and free discussion of the question, because I thought that such a cause would be more likely to put them in possession of the real objects of this association, which have been so much misunderstood. I thought it better to do so in a private conference, rather than to enter on an antagonistic discussion with them in the public arena, where they might be committed to views which I hope and trust, when they have fully considered our plan, they may be induced to modify and even to change. One of the objections made to our plan has been alluded to by my friend Mr. Schwabe; and it is that we propose by our plan to supersede all existing schools, and render all existing school-rooms valueless. Now, it seems to me, that the plan put forward by the Church party here, seems rather to insinuate that they have caught us tripping, when they offer to avail themselves of school-rooms already in existence, and assume that we contemplate doing nothing of the kind. I have mentioned a dozen times, it is my firm belief, if a system of education such as we propose were adopted, you would have no difficulty in getting an Act of Parliament for a local rate in Manchester, and in doing what your Corporation does with the water-works, taking power to use, either by purchase or renting, existing school-rooms. I do not conceal the fact from our friends, that I believe, if we have a system of rating for free schools, the effect will be to supersede all other schools, which are now partly supported upon the eleemosynary principle, that is, by charitable contributions. I do not conceal from others,—I cannot conceal from myself,—that if you establish free schools in every parish, you will ultimately close all those schools that now call upon the poor children to pay 3d. or 4d. a week, and in which the difference of expense is now made up by the contributions of the congregations. If they did not have this effect, they would be unworthy of the name of national schools. But I have never considered that the school-rooms in connection with existing places of worship, or otherwise, would be rendered useless, for I have always considered they might be rented or purchased in precisely the same way as Mr. Schwabe has suggested; they might be rented for the week-time, and left on the Sunday in the hands of the congregations. This is merely a matter of detail; but we should be taking a rash leap if we had contemplated closing all existing schools, and wasting the vast capital invested in bricks and mortar for the erection of them.
Another strong objection which I have heard from our dissenting friends has been, that the secular system of education is adverse to religious teaching. I cannot tell how to account for it, but there seems to be a pertinacious resolution to maintain that the teaching the people reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, grammar, and the rest, is inimical to religion. Now, I have found the most curious refutation of this doctrine, where I have been, in the practice of the very parties who have objected to us. I remember at Birmingham, I found there a preparatory school built by a joint-stock association, by men of every religious denomination—I heard of a clergyman sending his son to that school. No religion is taught there—the building would never have been erected, unless by a compromise, which agreed that no religion should be taught in that school; and yet, the very parties that object to us for not proposing to give religion with secular education, send their sons to schools where secular education is separated, avowedly, from religious teaching. Again, in Yorkshire, I was present at a meeting where a gentleman stoutly maintained it was impossible to separate religious from secular instruction. It was in Huddersfield. And another gentleman said, ‘How can you possibly maintain that doctrine? You know the Huddersfield College here could not exist a day, unless we consented altogether and totally to separate religious from secular teaching; and you know you send your son to the college, and that he never received any religious instruction there!’ I must say that gentleman was silent for the rest of the evening. But I also found that at Huddersfield they have, in connection with their Mechanics' Institution, a very excellent school for young children (not for adults), where they may go and enjoy the benefits of this institution for a week, by subscribing 3½d. They give the smallest doses of instruction, because they see the ginshops and such places offer to their customers a twopenny or threepenny taste; and so they let the children come in for a week for 3½d., in hopes that they will be tempted to repeat the dose,—I think a very wise regulation. I find there are hundreds of the children in this admirable school; but that excludes all religious teaching. I do not know whether the Bible exists in the institution library; but they never touch it in the schools, and never use it as a school-book for teaching religion. And this applies to the schools generally connected with the mechanics' institutions in Yorkshire, of the union of which my friend, Mr. Baines, is president; in those schools there is no religion taught or professed to be taught. And, therefore, in my travels, I have found that gentlemen offered in their own practice the best example of the success of our principle, and the best refutation of their own theories.
I have heard it said, the voluntary principle is succeeding very well, and that has been said by men for whose judgment in other matters I have great respect; but I am glad, among the other advantages afforded by our friends, the Church Society in this town, that we have got a corroboration of the doctrine with which we started, that the existing system of schooling is very defective. The Church party tell us, what we were aware of before, that we have a multitude of school-houses, but they are badly attended, and the instruction is not sufficiently good to attract children. The great fallacy we have hitherto had in the statistics of education is this,—we have taken school-houses for schooling, and mistaken bricks and mortar for good masters. I never doubted we have had vast efforts made in building schools; nothing is so easy as to galvanise an effort in a congregation or a district for raising a school, or to persuade men that when they have done that they have provided for education. What do bricks and mortar do for education? The gentlemen of this Church system have told us—these schools are in many cases standing idle, and the children do not come to them. I have heard mentioned, wherever I have been, that you have plenty of schools, and the people will not attend the schools until you adopt some system of compulsion, some coercive system, and compel people to send their children to school; it is of no use building schools, for the children will not attend them. I have heard this compulsory system of attendance at schools advocated in private meetings, in friends' houses, wherever I have been—where gentlemen have spoken, probably, with less reserve than they would in public; and I have found, to my astonishment, everywhere a strong opinion in favour of a compulsory attendance in schools.
Now, I beg my friends will understand that I did not bring that principle with me to Manchester. We have stopped short of that yet; and we say, before you call on us to do that you must show us first that people will not send their children to school. You have two things to do: firstly, to establish free schools in Manchester, to receive all the children of those who may choose to send them there; and, in the next place, to have good schoolmasters. I am firmly convinced, as I have told my friends everywhere, that if you set up good schools, and have good school-masters, you will have no difficulty in filling your schools. I have never yet found a good schoolmaster that did not fill his school, even when the children had to pay 2d. or 3d. a week for the schooling. And if, after you had established a free school, and given every one the opportunity of attending gratis, and given them good masters, you find the people will not send their children to the schools, but bring them up in idleness and ignorance, I don't know that, under such circumstances, I should see that it would be any great infringement of the liberty of the subject, if you did adopt some plan; first, perhaps, to seduce or bribe them to send their children to school, and, if that would not do, to try a little compulsion. I don't see any objection in principle to that; but I say to our friends, before you do that, try every inducement to make them come; and I should not be squeamish about any outcry there might be of the liberty of the subject, and so on;—there is just as much liberty in Switzerland as in England, and in Switzerland they do punish parents who do not send their children to the free school, unless they can show they are giving them an education elsewhere.
These are some of the objections I have heard our friends of the dissenting bodies urge to this plan in the last few weeks. They have objected, on the ground of principle, that they cannot separate the secular from the religious education. Well, I must say we have endeavoured to be very accommodating to these gentlemen, and have found it very difficult to please them. When the attempt was for many years to have an education combined with religion, then these same gentlemen told us it was contrary to their consciences, either to receive or pay money raised by taxation, for teaching religion. When we offer to separate it, we are told by these same gentlemen, that it is contrary to their conscientious convictions to separate religious from secular teaching. I do think such a course, if persevered in, will go very far to alienate the feelings of the great mass of the working community, who, I am very much afraid (speaking of the surrounding district), are not in communion with either Dissent or Church; it will do very much, I fear, to alienate the great mass of the people from those who take an impracticable course, which stops the avenues of education to the working classes, by setting up obstacles which it is impossible for any rational man either to obviate or remove.
Now, have those gentlemen a due appreciation of the value of the education which they are opposing, apart from religious instruction? I believe they must have an adequate idea of the value of secular knowledge. I put it to them, do they not value it in their own cases and in their own families? I put it to a gentleman I met with, one of my strongest opponents,—a minister of religion,—and he told me, in a party of religious men, that ‘he valued secular knowledge so much, he would not give his secular knowledge, apart from all religion, in exchange for all the world.’ Well, and if he would not put himself on a par with the unenlightened peasant for the whole world, is he carrying out the Christian principle of doing to others as he would be done by, if he lightly interposes obstacles to the acquisition of some portion of that knowledge which he values so highly, by the great mass of his poorer fellow-countrymen? I want to ask the gentlemen, who interpose at all times the question of religion as an obstacle to secular teaching, do they or do they not consider that knowledge is in itself a good? I will say, apart from religion altogether, do they consider that Seneca or Cicero were better for their knowledge than the common gladiator or peasant of their day? But even as a matter of religious import, I would ask those gentlemen, do they not think they will have a better chance of gaining over the mass of the people of this country to some kind of religious influence, if they begin by offering to their children, and tempting their children to acquire, some kind of secular knowledge? It seems to me, that to argue otherwise would contend for this,—that ignorance and barbarism, and vice, drunkenness, and misery, are conducive to Christianity, and the opposite qualities contrary to it. I feel we are in danger of alienating the great mass of the people in these manufacturing districts from every religious communion, and even estranging their minds from every principle of Christianity, if we allow this unseemly exhibition to go on—of men squabbling for their distinctive tenets of religion, and making that a bone of contention, and a means of depriving the great mass of the people of the knowledge that is necessary for them to gain their daily bread, or to preserve themselves in respectability. Why, what a spectacle do we present to the world? Where is our boasted common sense, which we think enables us to steer our way through social and political difficulties, when we vaunt ourselves with our superiority to Frenchmen, Germans, Danes, and Italians? Where is our boasted superiority, when the American Minister can come to our Town Hall here, and taunt us with the ignorance of our people, and when nobody dares to rise up and say, we have done as much for education as they have in America? Is it not true (as Mr. Lawrence properly said), that we can show a great accumulation of wealth, that we are exporting more largely than any other nation, but there is something more wanted; and I agree with him, there is danger so long as it is wanted; and that there is no time to be lost—not a day, not an hour to be lost. I do not boast of the country we live in, so long as the mass of the people are uneducated and ignorant. Our friend, our worthy president (Mr. A. Henry, M.P.), whom I met at Leeds—and who, allow me to say, most manfully maintains your principles wherever he goes—told them at the Mechanics' Institution meeting at Leeds:—'They say we are a great nation—that is true, we are a great nation, if paying an enormous taxation, and keeping up an enormous navy, and exporting a large amount of goods, constitute greatness, we are a mighty nation; but so long as we have an ignorant people, we have not much reason to boast of our greatness.'
I have nothing more to say than to exhort you, now you have encouraging symptoms of progress, to continue and agitate in the same way you have hitherto done. I have seen nothing since I joined your ranks to make me doubt you have got hold of the right principle. I don't think any other can possibly succeed in this country, that is, provided what I have heard from religious bodies for the last fifteen years be truth,—if they have been shamming, and telling us they have qualms of conscience while they have none at all,—if they have been telling us they are voluntaries, when they are looking and sighing for endowment,—then, I say, the parties who have taken up another principle may succeed, and we may fail, and I can only say I am sorry they allowed me to lose time in trying to make them take up with this. But I do not think it possible that any plan of this kind can succeed. I want you to base it on the American experience; they have gone through this ordeal, and adopted the very plan we want. I call for the American system. I do not want to have my Bible read in the schools; because, if so, the children of 60,000 people here must go uneducated. I am neither an advocate for the Bible as a school-book, nor for its exclusion as a school-book; I am for the American system precisely as it stands. And I say, now is the time for you to continue the agitation of this question, and more actively than ever. The very fact of the attention paid to what is going on in Manchester by the press of the whole kingdom shows to what a degree the whole kingdom looks to Manchester to solve this great and difficult question. You have had the honour of commencing this agitation; you are now met with another agitation, which is far from being an enemy or a rival, and will ultimately be an assistant. I will say,—go on—quarrel with nobody—invite their concurrence. If you will appoint me to the Conference, I shall be happy and proud to be one of a deputation to their body, to seek an interview, and ask a private and confidential conversation with the gentlemen taking the lead in this scheme. I say, don't go in opposition to anybody, but keep your own course. I believe you have got the right principle, and, if you have—I know you of old—I believe you are the right men to succeed in it.