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vote by ballot, and all that the Radicals wish, will speedily follow.
Small boroughs, containing four or five thousand inhabitants, are, of all others, the most easily bribed, because they are too large to be entirely under the dominion of the proprietor, and too small to be beyond the reach of external wealth. They are the places where men of fortune strive to outbid each other, by the promise of a large gratuity to each elector. It is unnecessary to refer to examples of so well-known a fact. Every man's experience must furnish him with instances of its application. Lord John Russell's bill may be entitled—“A bill for the extinction of the close, and the increase of the venal boroughs.”
In other words, it is a bill to close the avenues which admitted the greatest statesmen of whom England can boast ; "which afforded an entrance,” in Mr Shiel's words, “to the dignified energy of Chatham, the splendid oratory of Pitt, the impassioned eloquence of Fox, the learned humanity of Romilly, the philosophic wisdom of Mackintosh, the gifted energy of Burke, the grasping intellect of Brougham ;” which still furnishes a safe and secure channel of representation to all the great interests of the empire, without going through the disgraceful and demoralising process of actual bribery, in order to augment boroughs which, closed against all these interests, unless when supported by gold, are open only to the dictates of urban selfishness, the cupidity of moneyed power, or the seduction of democratic ambition.
This would be the state of matters during ordinary and pacific times ; but what would be its operation in periods of excitement ? during those periods of periodic recurrence, when the lower orders, pressed by scarcity or thrown out of employment, are naturally disposed to turbulence, and when the democratic press, ever following in the rear of distress, like vultures on the skirts of a destroying army, stimulate, for their own base purposes, the passions which suffering has produced ? Nothing can be clearer than that, in such periods, the great majority of the borough members would be returned in the Radical interest; and thus the great barrier, erected by the constitution against the inroads of democracy, would be converted into the rampart of the revolu
tionary party. In vain would the county members struggle against the successive inroads of democratic ambition during such periods of excitement. Stimulated by the revolutionary press, urged by suffering and insane constituents, the tribunes of the people, sent forward by the boroughs, would successively abolish the corn laws, the church, the funds, and every interest which promised the prospect of spoliation in this great and complicated empire. In making this prophecy, we are not indulging in unauthorised speculation ; we are only supposing that the same causes, when brought into operation in this country, would produce the same effects as they have already produced during the French Revolution.
The Lord Advocate of Scotland has asked on what principle the Conservative party can express apprehensions regarding the extension of the right of voting to £10 householders, when they bewail, in such piteous terms, the disfranchisement of the potwallopers in the popular burghs ? He must have had a low opinion of the intelligence of his audience when he could broach such an argument. Is there no difference between ten Radical members and two hundred? between Middlesex, Southwark, Preston, and a few similar places, returning Radical representatives, and a hundred boroughs making such a return? The opponents of Reform make no objection to a proportion of Radical members in the House of Commons; on the contrary, their principle is that they should be there, because the Radicals, like every other interest in the state, should be fairly represented in Parliament. What they object to is, that the constitution should be so altered as to give them a majority. Mr Hume, Mr O'Connell, and Mr Hunt, form a valuable part of the House : but what would be the effect of a hundred Hunts, a hundred O'Connells, and a hundred Humes ?
This consideration points to the fundamental and irremediable defect of the proposed constitution, that it vests an overwhelming majority in the populace of these islands, to the exclusion of all the other great and weighty interests of the British empire. By confining the right of returning members to Parliament to 40s., and ultimately £10 freeholders in the county, and £10 householders in towns, the command of the legislature will be placed in bands utterly
inaccessible, save by actual bribery, to the approach of the commercial, colonial, or shipping interests. If such a change does not soon produce a revolution, it must infallibly, in the end, lead to the dismemberment of the empire. The East Indian and Canadian dependencies will not long submit to the rule of the populace in the dominant island, indifferent to their interests, ignorant of their circumstances, careless of their welfare. What do the £10 householders of the English boroughs either know or care about the colonial dependencies of the empire ? A Radical in their neighbourhood who would promise them relief from taxes, poor-rates, tithes, and corn laws, would carry the day against all the remote or colonial interests of the world.
This evil is inherent in all plans of uniform representation, and must to the end of time render it unfit for the legislature of a great and varied empire. Being based mainly upon one class of society, it contains no provision for the interests of the other classes : and still less for the welfare of the remote but important parts of the empire. The great majority of electors being the possessors of houses or shops rented from £10 to £20 a-year, that is, possessed of an income from £60 to £100 per annum, the representatives will be persons inclined to support their local and immediate interests. The remote possessions of the empire can have no influence on such men, save by the corrupt channel of actual bribery.
The most valuable feature of the British constitution, that of affording an inlet through the close boroughs to all the great and varied interests of the empire, will be destroyed. The Reform Bill, in this view, may be entitled, a bill for disfranchising the colonial, commercial, and shipping interests, and for investing the exclusive right of returning members to Parliament in the populace of Great Britain and Ireland.”
The Radical papers have pointed with exultation to the division on the second reading of the Reform Bill, which showed 209 members for boroughs voting against the bill, and 108 for it.
It is not surprising that the division stood as it did. These members were the representatives not only of the boroughs, but of the interests, which were threatened with disfranchisement. Not the borough-mongers, but the
borough-purchasers, found themselves on the verge of destruction. And who are the borough-purchasers ? The great merchants and bankers of London : the manufacturers of Lancashire : the shipping owners of Hull, Bristol, and all the principal harbours : the West India proprietors, the Canadian merchants, the East Indian judges, commanders, and civil servants. The fact of their having combined to resist the bill, is the strongest proof of its ruinous nature; of its obvious tendency to close the avenues by which all these great interests have found their place in the legislature, and to vest an overwhelming preponderance in Parliament in the representatives of the lower orders in Great Britain.
This is precisely the rock on which all the republics of the world have hitherto split : the fatal vesting of preponderating power in the populace of a limited district, to the exclusion of all the other parts of the empire. Athens, Carthage, Sparta, Venice, Florence, Genoa, Milan, have all been ruined by the same cause : the exclusive enjoyment of legislative power by the lower orders, in a particular city or district, without any representation of the other interests of the empire ; the necessary consequence of which was, that on the first reverse they all revolted against the parent state, and it speedily found itself reduced to its own
With a magnanimity, on the other hand, as extraordinary as it was unexampled, the Romans, from the first foundation of the republic, admitted the conquered or allied states to a participation of the privileges of Roman citizens. They received in return the empire of the world. But for the virtual representation of the British dependencies, through the medium of the close boroughs, the British empire would long ago have been destroyed. That representation which Roman wisdom gave to the conquered provinces and colonial dependencies, fortune, or rather the providence of God, has given to the far more extensive and scattered dependencies of this vast empire over all the world, by means of the gateway which is now to be closed for ever. America was lost by refusing it a direct voice in the legislature : the other colonies have only been preserved by the unobtrusive but spacious channel which admitted their repre
sentatives to the British Parliament. Nominally professing to extend, this bill is really destined to contract, the representation—to base the legislature, not upon the empire, but the island : and in lieu of the collected voice of British prosperity from every part of the world, render it the organ of democratic ambition or urban selfishness in the populace of the heart of the empire.
It is not surprising that the close boroughs have been the avenue by which the talent, as well as the wealth, of the empire have been represented in all former ages. Great men never have submitted, and never will submit, to the degradation of mendicating votes from a venal rabble. Mr Canning never would have done so in the earlier part of his career, or before his contest at Liverpool had become the arena for contending faction through the empire. “In turbis et discordiis,” says Sallust,“ pessimo cuique plurima vis.”
Through all the discord of faction,” says Thucydides, “ I have uniformly observed, that the worst, the most dissolute and dangerous men were the idols of the populace, and invariably prevailed over men of rational or virtuous dispositions.”—“Enfin je vois,” said Danton, when about to be led to the scaffold, “ que dans les revolutions l'autorité toujours reste aux plus scélérats.”* The same bitter truth was extorted from the witnesses of Grecian, Roman, and French democracy, in three distant ages of the world.
The other hemisphere forms no exception to the principle. Talent seldom seeks the American Congress. Men of honourable and upright dispositions disdain the servile adulation to popular sovereignty required of their representatives; and so low is the situation of a member of the legislature fallen in public estimation, that it has become a separate profession, forming an outlet to superfluous barristers and attorneys, who are paid a regular salary of seven dollars a-day, to defray their expenses during the sitting of Congress.
Could we suppose that men of great and powerful minds would submit to the degradation of becoming members of parliament for populous places, under such a system, the time of the representative would be so completely absorbed by attending to the demands and correspondence of his constituents, as to render him incapable either of the study
* RIOUFFE, p. 67.