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their straw mattresses to vote for the Liberal candidates in ballot-boxes put up at the corners of every street.
It must be confessed that this system of appeasing discontent by extending the suffrage has several things to recommend it. In the first place--and this is a most important consideration with Governments which behold the national resources wasting away under the influence of monetary and commercial measures, introduced by the dominant class—it costs nothing. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is sure to give it his cordial support. It is much easier to enfranchise two hundred thousand paupers or bogtrotters, than to issue two or three millions of exchequer bills to sustain their industry. The old panacea, so often applied in the days of Tory Government, when distress became general, to relieve it by issues of exchequer bills, has been totally discarded since a Liberal Administration, resting on the urban constituencies, was installed in power.
It is now discovered that it is much better to give the sufferers votes. Undoubtedly it is cheaper; and in these days, when everything is sacrificed to cheapness, charity itself, albeit covering a multitude of sins, must be sacrificed to it with the rest. In the next place it implies, or is likely to lead to, no change of public measures, no reaction against the commercial policy which has produced the suffering. The new voters, it may be presumed, will support the Liberal Government which has enfranchised them; gratitude will bear Ministers over more than one contested election. The very suffering produced by FreeTrade measures will bring up a host of voters to the poll, who will, it is hoped, support from gratitude the FreeTrade candidate. That is a matter of immense importance. It is not only spreading division through the Protection camp, but recruiting in it for troops to themselves. And though, doubtless, it is scarcely to be expected that men in the long-run are to support representatives who are ruining them, yet it is often astonishing how long they will continue to do so from party influences. The poison, like the contagion of the cholera, floats in the air, without any one knowing whence it comes or whither it is going : and, at any rate, the opening of men's eyes is the work of time;
and the great thing with Liberal Governments is to secure immediate support, or tide over immediate difficulties.
For observe one very remarkable feature in both the Liberal measures intended to allay the discontent in the agricultural districts of the empire--that is, that there is no change in the composition of the House of Commons. That assembly, which, as it has the command of the public purse, rules by its majority the whole empire, remains the same. Three-fifths of its members are still returned by the urban constituencies of Great Britain. At the late division on the motion of Mr Disraeli, the majority of twenty-one was composed of Scotch members, most of them members for burghs. Thus the ruling power is lodged in the urban constituencies, and the suffering rural districts are to be pacified by an extension of their electors, which will confer no real political power, and benefit no human being. The majority for Free-Trade measures will be the same whether the Irish members are returned by seventy-two thousand or three hundred thousand voters; or, rather, it is hoped by the promoters of the new measures, the Protectionists will be weakened by the change—because the Liberal candidate will be able to call himself the friend of the people, and to call on the new voters to record their votes for the Government which has enfranchised, and is ruining them.
So also in regard to the Colonies. The new measures announced by Lord John Russell propose to give provincial assemblies or parliaments to all the Colonies ; and so far they are founded on just principles. But they contain no provision for the representation of any of the Colonies in the Imperial Parliament which meets in London. The fatal majority of three urban to two rural representatives still determines the measures of Government, and will continue to do so, whatever provincial assemblies may be conceded to the Colonies. The invaluable nomination burghs, by means of which these distant parts of the empire, under the old constitution, were so effectually represented, still are extinct. Colonial wealth now can get into Parliament only by the favour of urban constituencies—that is, by adopting FreeTrade principles. Any man who stood upon the hustings in a British burgh, and proclaimed, “ Justice to the Colopies,” would be speedily thrown into a minority, from the dread that his return might raise the price of sugar a penny a pound. Lord John Russell's Colonial parliaments will afford no remedy for this great and crying evil. It leaves the ruling power still in the hands of those actuated by an adverse interest, and directed by adverse desires. Give real representation to the Colonies indeed-give them a hundred members in the Imperial Parliament—and you make a mighty step in the principles of real, just government, and in reconstructing the bonds which once held together this great and varied empire. But to give them local assemblies which have no real power, at least in the general legislation of the empire, and which are doomed to sit by and be the impotent spectators of their own and their constituents' ruin, by the burgh-directed measures of the Imperial Parliament, is to mock them with a shadow of constitutional privileges which, in this age of intelligence, will not long be borne. It is giving the means of organising discontent, without those of averting disaster; and preparing, in those powerless provincial assemblies, men for the assertion of rights which, as was the case with North America, will one day cause the tearing asunder and dismemberment of the empire.
Nineteen years have elapsed since, in the very first paper on Parliamentary Reform in this Magazine, we pointed out the fatal effect of the extinction of Colonial representation by schedules A and B as the grand defect of the Reform Bill; and predicted that it would, if not remedied, lead to the dissolution of the empire.* Consequences, since that time, have followed precisely as we predicted. The shortsighted urban majorities of the dominant island have perseveringly pursued their separate and immediate interests, until they have ruined the West Indies, to make sugar cheap—all but ruined Ireland, to make oats cheap—and rendered agricultural distress universal in Great Britain, to make bread cheap. The discontent produced by these measures having become universal among the rural producers in the empire, Government, thinking they are applying a remedy to the most suffering parts, propose to extend the rural suffrage in Ireland, by lowering the existing suffrage of ten pounds, requisite to enfranchise on a piece of ground, to
* See article on Parliamentary Reform, May 1, 1831 ; reprinted in Alison's Essays, vol. i. p. 32, 40,
an eight-pound interest, and creating everywhere provincial parliaments in the Colonies. They never were more mistaken. What is really wanted in the Colonies and in Ireland is not so much an extension of voters or local parliaments, but a just system of government at home. Fiscal measures, which shall secure their interests, are what they require ; and they can only be passed by the Imperial Parliament. What these measures are is well known : you have only to take up any file of the Jamaica, Sydney, or Montreal papers to see what are the sentiments of the Colonies. Introduce Colonial representation, in numbers adequate to their wealth, population, and importance, into the Parliament of Great Britain, and the effect will be immediate. Measures such as they desire will soon be carried, and the threatened dismemberment of the empire averted. Delay or refuse the possession of real power to these important parts of the British dominions, and you only aggravate existing discontent, and accelerate approaching dismemberment. To suppose you can now alleviate Irish suffering by quadrupling its electors, and stifle Colonial discontent by giving them local parliaments, is as absurd as if it had been proposed to still the storm of indignation raised in all the manufacturing towns of Great Britain by the suffering consequent on the contraction of the Currency, by giving the complainers all votes for their respective towncouncils.
Although, however, for twenty years past, we have anticipated with certainty the ultimate extension of the suffrage to a still lower class of voters, as the unavoidable consequence of the Reform Bill, yet we must admit that we did not anticipate the mode in which the necessity for this extension was to be brought about. We thought it would arise from the increase of the unenfranchised population, and the loud cry for electoral privileges on the part of the inferior urban or working population. Not at all : a very different reason is now assigned for the extension of the suffrage in Ireland. It is not the increase of the unenfranchised, but the diminution of the enfranchised, which is assigned as the reason for the change. It is said there are now only 72,000 voters in Ireland, instead of 250,000, which there should be, and which it was calculated the Reform Bill would bring up to the poll. Mr Cobden boasts that he has more constituents in the West Riding than there are in all the counties in Ireland put together. We have no doubt the remark is well founded ; although the fact of so numerous a constituency having selected the man who made the boast, augurs but little for the wisdom, if imitated, of the measures which we may expect from the popularly elected representatives for the sister kingdom. But the material thing to observe is this : A great and important change on the Reform Billan innovation on the foundations which, we were told, were non tangenda non movenda of the new Constitution, is vindicated on account of the immense destruction of the former freeholders which has taken place within these few years. We have long been aware of the fact: we adverted to it in the most pointed manner, in a late article on the effects of Free Trade.* But we little expected that our observations were so soon to be confirmed from so high a quarter, and that the first breach in the Constitution, as fixed by the Reform Bill, was to be justified on the avowed destruction of the freeholders of Ireland which the Reform measures have effected.
For what is it which has occasioned such a chasm in the freeholders at this time, and rendered it necessary, on the admission of Ministers themselves, to lower the suffrage to an £8 interest, if we would marshal anything like a competent number of freeholders round the Reform banners ? It is in vain to refer to the famine of 1846. That famine occurred three years ago : it was bountifully relieved by the British Government; and since its termination we have had two fine harvests, those of 1847 and 1849, for each of which a public thanksgiving was returned. A bad harvest does not destroy some hundred thousand electors. If it does, there are heirs who succeed in ordinary circumstances to the freeholds, and form as respectable an army of electors as their fathers had done. What has become of all the heirs of the starved electors, if they were really starved ? What has become of the freeholds which they formerly held ? The answer is obvious, and has been now officially returned by Government, and made the foundation of a great constitutional change. THEY HAVE BEEN DESTROYED BY THE
See“Free Trade at its Zenith”: Blackwood's Magazine, December 1849. Alison's Essays, vol. i. p. 652.