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declining; if the measures of Parliament are daily becoming more favourable to public freedom, and the remnants of ancient severity are fast wearing out of our statute-book, then it is evident that no change in the composition of the House of Commons is requisite. If each successive election adds to the strength of the popular party in the legislature if multitudes of boroughs are throwing off the yoke of authority and returning democratic candidates, instead of those who heretofore commanded their suffrages ; then it is plain that the system of representation stands in need of no amendment, at least on the popular side, and that under the subsisting inlets to democratic ambition a sufficient number of members in that interest find an entrance.
That the last of these alternatives is the fact, is matter of proverbial notoriety. The Reformers were themselves the first to proclaim it, when they announced, with such satisfaction, the unprecedented number of boroughs which were thrown open—in other words, gained over to the democratic influence, at the election which preceded the fall of the Wellington Administration. The last election has demonstrated its truth beyond the possibility of dispute ; because the democratic influence has become so overwhelming, that the Conservative party has been reduced, at one blow, from 300 to 230 members, and a majority of 136 has voted the adoption of a new and highly democratic constitution.
After this result without reform, what becomes of the argument, that a change in the representation bas become necessary to enable the people to keep their ground against the increasing preponderance of the aristocracy? It is apparent that the argument is at an end ; that the danger is now to be apprehended from the other quarter ; that the risk now is, that the constitution is to be torn in pieces by the democracy; and that the wisdom of real statesmen should be incessantly directed to protecting the bulwarks which face the people. And yet this is the argument and this the time which is chosen for their demolition !
“ Amidst the turbulence and disorders of faction," says Adam Smith, “a certain spirit of system is apt to mix itself with that public spirit which is founded upon the love of
humanity. The leaders of the discontented party seldom fail to hold out some plausible plan of reformation, which they pretend will not only remove the inconveniences, and relieve the distresses immediately complained of, but will prevent, in all time coming, any return of the like inconveniences and distresses. They often propose, on this account, to remodel the constitution, and to alter, in some of its most essential parts, that system of government under which the subjects of a great empire have enjoyed perhaps peace, security, and even glory, during the course of several centuries together. The great body of the people are commonly intoxicated with the imaginary beauty of this ideal system, of which they have no experience, but which has been represented to them in all the most dazzling colours in which the eloquence of their leaders could paint it. These leaders themselves, though they originally may have meant nothing but their own aggrandisement, become, many of them, in time the dupes of their own sophistry, and are as eager for this great reformation as the weakest and foolishest of their followers. Even though the leaders should have preserved their own heads, as indeed they commonly do, free from this fanaticism, yet they dare not always disappoint the expectation of their followers, but are often obliged, though contrary to their principle and their conscience, tó act as if they were under the common delusion. The violence of the party, by refusing all palliation, all temperaments, all reasonable accommodations, by requiring too much, frequently obtains nothing; and those inconveniences and distresses which, with a little moderation, might in a great measure have been removed and relieved, are left altogether without a remedy.”*
One would have imagined that this illustrious philosopher was here portraying the history of the present Reform Bill, instead of calmly reflecting on the effects of public folly in former times ; so exactly do its consequences coincide in all ages and parts of the world.
The disfranchisement of boroughs sending 168 members to Parliament—in other words, the almost total destruction of the influence of the aristocracy in the House of Commons; the reduction of 63 members from England ; the
* Moral Sentiments, ii. 96, 98.
transference of the right of returning 70 new members to boroughs hitherto not represented, and almost all in the manufacturing interest ; the extension of the right of voting everywhere to the £10 householders-constitute the principal features of a constitution bearing less resemblance to the British than to the visionary fabric of the National Assembly
No such alteration has been projected since the Norman Conquest—a change greater than was contemplated by Vane, Pym, or the republicans of the Long Parliamentan innovation from which Lord Somers and the authors of the Revolution in 1688 would have shrunk with apprehension, is seriously brought forward at a time when no practical domestic grievance calls for its adoption, and everything in external affairs forbids its being made the subject of agitation. We do not say that Government intend to bring about a revolution ; we only assert a fact which is undeniable, as to the magnitude of the innovations which they have proposed.
In all those great changes, the close boroughs were retained as a constituent and essential part of the constitution. When the Petition of Right was framed, which practically amounted to a revolution ; when the Long Parliament made open war against Charles I. ; when the race of the Stewarts was finally expelled by an unanimous effort of all classes, no similar invasion of private right, no such reconstruction of the Government, was attempted. These great innovators left the representation of the country untouched ; well knowing, that to disturb its proportions was to destroy the equilibrium in a way which could never be restored. Erroneous measures of finance may be departed from ; oppressive laws may be altered ; injurious commercial systems abandoned; but a great concession once made to the popular part of the representation, and there is no retracing our steps. The ground once lost will never be regained; the power relinquished will be seized by reckless and tenacious hands; we are launched upon
unknown sea, on which there is no return.
When the French, in consequence of the successful revolt in July, established, in Lafayette's words, “a throne surrounded by republican institutions ;" when the principles of
French republicanism, long smothered, again burst forth, and framed a constitution suited to the utmost verge of modern democracy ; the greatest length which the framers of the new constitution deemed it safe to go, was to concede the elective franchise to 220,000 persons in all France. They had had, under the Constituent and Legislative assemblies, full experience of the evils of an extension of the right of voting to a more numerous and inferior class, and well knew that, under the name of freedom, it in truth establishes the worst kind of tyranny.
By the proposed new constitution, the elective franchise is to be extended in this country to 1,000,000 voters ; onehalf of whom are to receive this privilege now for the first time. The population of France is 30,000,000—that of the British empire, 22,000,000 ; France, therefore, receives one voter in every one hundred and forty souls—Great Britain one in every twenty-two. In other words, the new constitution of Great Britain is to be about seven times as popular as the new constitution of France.
Republican France deems it only safe to lower the elective franchise to a person paying two hundred and fifty francs, or about £10, of direct taxes. Monarchical England lowers the qualifications to £10 householders, most of whom do not pay ten shillings in the year of direct taxes. Ten pounds a-year of direct taxes in France is equivalent, from the difference in the value of money in the two countries, to about £15 in this country; and a man who here pays £15 a-year in direct taxes is certainly, at an average, worth £300 a-year. The general income of £10 householders probably will not exceed £60. The French system, therefore, lowers the right of voting to a minimum of £300 a-year; the English to a minimum of £60. In other words, in this view the new constitution of England is to be five times more democratic than that of France.
Considered with reference to the population, therefore, and the national wealth combined, the new constitution of Britain is to be six times more democratic than that of France.
There are, in England and Wales, fifty-two counties, returning one hundred and four members, and, by the new constitution, there are to be in the United Parliament about
four hundred and thirty English members. The new county members are to be fifty-four, therefore there will be one hundred and fifty-eight county members, and two hundred and seventy-two for boroughs. In other words, the borough members will be to the county not quite as two to one.
In Scotland, there are to be twenty-eight county members, and twenty-two for boroughs. In Ireland, there are to be one hundred and three members, of whom sixty-two are for counties, and forty-one for boroughs. Thus, in the Imperial Parliament there will be, upon the whole, three hundred and thirty-five members for boroughs, and only two hundred and forty-five for counties,—that is, the borough members will be to the county as three to two nearly.
Under the present constitution, the close borough seats represent the whole intelligence and wealth of the empire which is not engrossed by the county representation. All the ablest statesmen who have sat in Parliament for the last half century, have obtained their places through these boroughs. “The use of such members,” says Lord John Russell, “is incalculable.”*
The important and weighty interests of the East and West Indies, of Canada, of the shipping interest, of foreign commerce, are thus enabled to obtain a due representation in the legislature ; and an immense empire of 120,000,000 of inhabitants, embracing all the quarters of the globe, is held together under a legislature placed in a little island in the German Ocean.
Who are to be the principal electors under the new sysstem? The £10 householders over the whole island in other words, the most democratic, and, at the same time, the most venal class in existence. Persons of this class, whose incomes vary from £50 to £60 a-year, are of all others those who, in periods of tranquillity, are most accessible to corruption. Mr Hunt, who professes himself the representative of that class, has made this declaration in the House of Commons, which coincides with universal experience ; and added, that so strongly is he impressed with this truth, that rather than have the new constitution without the ballot, he would go on with the House of Commons constituted as it at present is. He supports the Reform Bill, being well assured that, if it passes, the
* LORD JOHN RUSSELL on the Constitution, p. 209.