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less than 4,000 should be deprived of one member, and though in the interval one or two little places had been able to show that they contained a few more houses than had been imagined, and had consequently been able to extricate themselves from Schedule B, or to wriggle from extinction in Schedule A to mutilation in Schedule B, the Bill remained in principle as in substance the same as before. The Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill had been the cry at the election. The Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill, was the reply of the Government. * The confidence of the Ministers was justified by the event. The first Reform Bill had been read a second time by a majority of only one vote. The second Reform Bill was read
a second time by a majority of 136 votes. But the labours of
the Government were only beginning. The Opposition, wholly unable to contest the principle of the Bill, was resolute in discussing and objecting to its details. For forty nights the long and weary wrangle was protracted, and the Bill was only finally passed on September 21 by 345 votes to 236. Throughout this debate labours of an excessive, and of, at that time, unprecedented character fell on the resolute but weakly statesman who had charge of the Bill. Lord John, indeed, derived such assistance from Lord Althorp as has seldom been rendered by one Minister to a colleague. But the toil was greater than had, up to that time, ever fallen on any one person. How the tedious discussion was protracted night after night in the sultry atmosphere of August ; how the dawning day frequently broke on members still wrangling over little points which they had commenced discussing the night before; how the people, irritated at the scene, clamoured for speed ; how the Tories, foreboding their own ruin, struggled for delay—these are incidents which have been told and retold. It is sufficient to say that throughout the whole of these debates, Lord John displayed knowledge, firmness, readiness,
Throughout the Reform Bill debate Lord John and Lord Althorp were inseparable. They were so much accustomed to be together that Lord John told Mr. Moore that on one occasion, when Lord Althorp was not present, some one asked him whether he had a snuff-box and he answered, ‘No, but Althorp has.”—Moore's A/emoirs, vi. 290.
dignity, and good humour, which naturally raised his own reputation and facilitated the progress of the measure. His chief labours were for the moment over. On September 22, in company with Lord Althorp, he had the satisfaction of carrying the Bill, which he had successfully piloted through all its stages in the Commons, to the Lords. A formal proceeding was on this occasion raised into a great political demonstration. Nearly 200 earnest Liberals' accompanied their leader, and, in defiance of the rules of the assembly into whose portals they had penetrated, broke out into cheering when Lord John Russell handed the Bill to the Lord Chancellor. The greatness of the occasion, indeed, influenced Peers and Commoners, and, in the language of contemporary reporters, ‘words of mere form and ceremony, which no one perhaps ever thought of listening to before, were heard with breathless silence.’ Four days afterwards the two members who had been the chief actors at this significant scene, were made the heroes of a more remarkable demonstration. On September 24 the Reformers in the House of Commons gave a great banquet at the Thatched House Tavern to their two leaders, and the guests of the evening were received with an enthusiasm which proved the popularity of their principles and the admiration of their followers. - - - The House of Lords would have acted wisely if it had appreciated the significance of these demonstrations, and have adopted a policy which it was powerless to resist. But perhaps it could hardly have been expected to agree at the first summons on a policy of self-effacement. It is too frequently forgotten, by those who comment on events of this kind, that the whole political power of England was virtually concentrated in 1831 in the hands of two or three hundred individuals, who returned a majority of the House of Commons, and sat in large numbers in the House of Lords. If the oligarchic garrison had been absolutely of one mind the Reform Bill could never have been carried without bloodshed. Happily, in 1831, a large number of the borough owners were in favour of Reform, and consented to allow their own nominees to vote
'So Sir Denis le Marchant says (Spencer, p. 345). Hansard says upwards of one hundred (vol. vii. p. 479).
for the Bill. The votes of the county members and of the few members who represented popular constituencies proved under these circumstances sufficient to turn the scale. But the oligarchic garrison which sat in the House of Lords was insensible to the influences which had moved the House of Commons. On October 7 it threw out the Bill by a majority of 199 votes to 158. Perhaps the Lords who composed the majority failed to see the full significance of the division. It brought the country to the verge of civil war. - - - -In one sense, indeed, it would be almost possible to contend that civil war actually broke out in consequence of this division. Riots occurred in London and the provinces. The Duke of Wellington's windows were broken. Lord Londonderry was attacked by the people and seriously hurt; Nottingham Castle was burned to the ground ; and, before the end of October, Bristol was in possession of a mob which treated it as, forty years afterwards, Paris was treated by the Commune. More significant than these disturbances was the attitude of the great meetings which were everywhere summoned to denounce the Lords and to support the Administration. At Birmingham, in particular, the headquarters of the Political Union, a gathering which was computed to comprise 150,000 persons voted an address to the Crown expressing alarm at the awful consequences which might ensue from the failure of Reform, and praying the King to create as many peers as might be necessary to carry the measure. The persons present pledged themselves to pay no taxes if Reform were not passed, and in the meanwhile they accorded their thanks to Lord Althorp and Lord John Russell. Lord John replied in a letter which became famous. I beg to acknowledge with heartfelt gratitude the undeserved honour done me by 150,000 of my fellow-countrymen. Our prospects are obscured for a moment; but, I trust, only for a moment. It is impossible that the whisper of a faction should prevail against the voice of a nation. No neater phrase was ever turned off a literary anvil. The only question was whether its use by a Cabinet Minister was justifiable or wise. There is a tradition, which on the whole is salutary, that in moments of excitement the King's Ministers may be more usefully employed in smothering the embers than in fanning the flame. So thought the King, who expressed his strong objection to the phrase." So thought Tories like Sir Henry Hardinge and Sir Richard Vyvyan, who brought the language before the House of Commons, and accused its author of supporting the illegal resolutions of the Birmingham Political Union and of calling the majority of the House of Lords a faction. Lord John Russell was no coward –Mr. Sydney Smith said that he was ignorant of moral fear —and he at once repeated and defended the language which he had used. But he explained that the word in his letter which had given most offence was not intended to include the whole majority in the House of Lords. There was a faction in the Lords which had swelled the majority, but the majority was not in itself a faction—an explanation to which there was only one objection : in extracting the sting, it had blunted the point, of the writer's apophthegm.
* Correspondence of Earl Grey with William IV., i. 387. To the King's remonstrance Lord John replied as follows: “Lord John Russell presents his humble duty to your Majesty, and is extremely concerned that any expression of his should have given your Majesty offence. The letter referred to was written chiefly with a view of impressing on the excited population of Birmingham the belief that the Reform for which they were so anxious was postponed and not defeated. And he has since received a letter from Birmingham from a dissenting minister of that place, who does not belong to any political union or society, declaring that the letters written by Lord Althorp and himself contributed in a great degree to prevent acts of violence against persons of property. At the same time Lord John Russell does not wish to justify to your Majesty the expression in question. Although not intended to apply to the majority of the House of Lords, it was certainly a phrase which, had he not written in the first moments of dis. appointment at the rejection of a measure the object of so much labour and such protracted discussion, he would not have used. Lord John Russell is fully sensible that the present interval is one which all his Majesty's advisers must wish to be one of tranquillity and reflection—a feeling in which he participates as strongly as any of them, and on which he relies for the future progress of a measure of wise and constitutional reform.—Whitehall : October 18, 1831.” The King replied: ‘St. James's : October 19, 1831. –The King hastens to acknowledge the receipt of Lord John Russell's very proper and highly satisfactory letter of yesterday; and his Majesty assures him that, while he gives him great credit for the mild and gentlemanly feeling with which he has met the communication of his Majesty's notice of the unguarded expression he used in his letter to Mr. Attwood, he rejoices to find in his letter to his Majesty so decided a concurrence in his wish that the present interval should be one of tranquillity and reflection.—William R.' | Sir D. le Marchant says that “at five o'clock the Speaker looked at the Cabinet bench for Lord John Russell to begin the debate; but he was absent, and half an hour passed away before he made his appearance, looking very pale, and, as I was informed, feeling very ill.’–Zose of Zars Spencer, p. 378.
This debate gave some evidence of the excitement which was stirring the nation to its depths, and which would have been even greater if the attitude of the Commons had not partially modified the effect of the division in the Lords. On the Monday which succeeded it, Lord Ebrington, Lord John's colleague in Devonshire, brought forward a resolution lamenting the fate of the Reform Bill, and asserting the unlimited confidence of the Commons in the integrity, perseverance, and ability of those Ministers who, in introducing it and conducting it, had so much consulted the best interests of the country. The motion, which was carried by a large majority, was the first instance in English history of the Commons enabling an Administration to escape from the consequences of a vote of the Lords. But for Lord Ebrington's motion Ministers could not have avoided tendering their resignation to the Crown, and of surrendering office to their opponents. Lord Ebrington gave them the opportunity of avoiding this course; and made it thenceforward certain that, whatever else the Lords might technically be able to do, no vote at which they might arrive could alone be fatal to the fortune of a Ministry. Sustained by Lord Ebrington's resolution, the Whig Ministers of 1831 were able to disregard the vote of the Peers, to wind up the business of the session, and to announce that, after a few weeks' recess, Parliament would again be called together to reconsider the Reform Bill. -* Thus it came to pass that, on December 12, for the third time in 1831, Lord John rose to introduce the Reform Bill." A circumstance for which the Minister was not responsible necessitated a slight alteration in the principle on which the Bill was prepared. The Census of 1831 had been taken ; its results were known ; they could not be ignored in framing the measure. Ministers, indeed, hesitated to accept these returns as conclusive evidence of the population of the smaller boroughs. They felt that people residing in boroughs whose