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requisite to form a great statesman, or of the attention necessary to master all the multifarious objects which are presented to the consideration of the British legislature. Twenty years' previous study—unbroken leisure at the moment - a mind unharassed by minute considerations, are indispensable to form an accomplished orator and states
The close boroughs have hitherto both admitted such men, and afforded them the leisure requisite to train their minds and discharge their duties. The representatives of populous places know whether their constituents afford them such leisure as is requisite for these purposes.
It is, accordingly, extremely well worthy of observation, how rapidly the character of the French legislature degenerated in proportion to the extension of the number of the electors; and what a deplorable ascendency democratic violence and intemperate character soon acquired over virtue, wisdom, or humanity. In the Constituent Assembly, chosen under the monarchical régime, was found a great mass of talent, more benevolence of intention and splendour of eloquence than perhaps ever was collected in one assembly since the beginning of the world. In the Legislative Assembly, chosen by the suffrage of every man in France, who was not a minor or a pauper, and worth the produce of three days' labour, the diminution of talent and increase of violence was most apparent. Lastly came the Convention, chosen after the 10th August, under republican institutions; and there Virtue, Genius, Eloquence, and Humanity rapidly fell beneath the incessant attacks of democratic ambition. Danton triumphed over Vergniaud and Roland-Robespierre over Danton—and the Reign of Blood terminated the career of visionary improvement.
It is another deplorable effect of a considerable accession of popular representatives to the House of Commons, that it would infallibly lower the standard of sense, and elevate the standard of popular flattery in that important branch of the legislature. When several demagogues are incessantly trumpeting forth the majesty, purity, and worth of the people— when the Press, adapting itself to the taste of the great body of its readers, is following the same base course of popular adulation—no member who depends on popular constituents will dare to hold the language of truth on any
question which excites the public mind. If he does, he will infallibly lose his seat on the next election. Few will be returned but those who promise submission to the public voice, and basely sacrifice their principles and independence at the altar of popular adulation.
We cannot better express the dangers of such a state of the representation, than in the words of an article—from the pen, we believe, of Lord Brougham—which appeared twenty years ago in the Edinburgh Review. “ There was in France at the time of the meeting of the States-General, no legitimate, wholesome, or real aristocracy. The persons, sent as deputies to the Assembly, were those chiefly who by intrigue and boldness, and by professions of uncommon zeal for what were then the great objects of popular pursuit, had been enabled to carry the votes of the electors. A notion of talent, and an opinion that they would be loud and vehement in supporting those requests upon which the people had already come to a decision, were their passports into that Assembly. They were sent there to express the particular spirit of the people—they were not their hereditary patrons, but the hired advocates for a particular pleading,—they had no general trust or authority over them, but were chosen as their special messengers, out of a multitude whose influence and pretensions were equally powerful. In this way, instead of the great basis of rank and property, which cannot be transferred by the clamours of the factious or the caprices of the inconstant, and which serve to ballast and steady the vessel of the state in all its wanderings and disasters, the Assembly possessed only the basis of talent or reputation. The whole Legislature may be considered therefore as composed of adventurers, who had already obtained a situation incalculably above their original pretensions, and were now tempted to push their fortunes by every means that held out the promise of immediate success. They had nothing, comparatively speaking, to lose, but their places in that Assembly, or the influence which they possessed within its walls ; and as the authority of the Assembly itself depended altogether on the popularity of its measures, and not upon the intrinsic authority of its members, so it was only to be maintained by a succession of imposing resolutions, and by satisfying or outdoing the
extravagant wishes and expectations of the most extravagant and sanguine populace that ever existed. For a man to get a lead in such an Assembly, it was by no means necessary that he should previously have possessed any influence or authority in the community, that he should be connected with powerful families, or supported by opulent and extensive associations; it was only necessary that he could obtain the acclamations of the mob of Versailles, and make himself familiar to the eyes and ears of the galleries of the Assembly. The prize was too tempting not to invite a multitude of competitors ; and the Assembly, for many months, was governed by those who outvied their associates in the impracticable extravagance of their patriotism, and sacrificed most profusely the real interests of the people at the shrine of a precarious popularity.
“Mere popularity at first was the instrument by which this unsteady Legislature was governed ; but when it became apparent that whoever could obtain the direction or command of it must possess the whole authority of the state, parties soon found out that violence and terror were infinitely more effectual and expeditious than persuasion and eloquence. Encouraged by this situation of affairs, the most daring, unprincipled, and profligate, proceeded to seize upon the defenceless legislature, and, driving all their opponents before them by violence and intimidation, entered without opposition upon the supreme functions of government. The disposal of the legislature thus became a prize to be fought for in the clubs and conspiracies of a corrupted metropolis, and the institution of a national representation had no other effect than that of laying the government open to lawless force and flagitious audacity.
“ It is in this manner, it appears to us, that from the want of a natural and efficient aristocracy, to exercise the functions of hereditary legislators, the National Assembly of France was betrayed into extravagance, and fell a prey to faction ; that the institution itself became a source of public misery and disorder, and converted a civilised monarchy first into a sanguinary democracy, and then into a military despotism.”
Edinburgh Reriew, April 1805, p. 147.
Such were the cool and dispassionate sentiments of Lord Brougham upon the causes which destroyed the French Constituent Assembly.
The errors of the French reformers are thus pointed out by the same powerful pen :—“The parade which they made of their popularity, the support which they submitted to receive from the menaces and acclamations of the mobthe joy they testified at the desertion of the royal armies, were so many preparations for actual hostility, by which all prospects of establishing an equitable government were finally cut off. They relied openly upon the strength of their adherents among the populace. If they did not actually encourage them to threats and acts of violence, they availed themselves of those which were committed to intimidate and depress their opponents. This was the inauspicious commencement of the sins and the sufferings of the Revolution. The multitude, once allowed to overawe the old government with threats, soon subjected the new government to the same degradation. Reason and philosophy were discarded, and mere terror and brute force harassed the misguided nation, till, by a natural consummation, they fell under a successful military usurper.
As a contrast to the French Assembly, Lord Brougham powerfully and triumphantly quotes the old British constitution :-“No representative legislature can be secure, unless it contain within itself a large portion of those who form the natural aristocracy of the country, and are ablc, as individuals, to influence the conduct and opinions of the greater part of its inhabitants. In England, the House of Commons is made up of the individuals who, by birth, fortune, or talents, possess singly the greatest influence over the rest of the people. The most certain and permanent influence is that of rank and fortune; and these are the qualifications, accordingly, which return the greatest number of members. Men submit to be governed by those to whose will, as individuals, the greatest part of them have been accustomed to submit; and an act of parliament is reverenced and obeyed, not so much because the people are impressed with a constitutional veneration for the thing
Edinburgh Review, April 1805, p. 142.
called parliament, but because it has been passed by those who are recognised as their natural superiors, and by whose influence, as individuals, the same measures might have been enforced over the greater part of the kingdom. The Long Parliament, after it was purged by the Independents, enjoyed all the form of power that had belonged to their predecessors; but as they no longer contained those individuals who were able to sway and influence the body of the people, they speedily lost all their authority over the multitude. Where the conditions on which we have insisted are awanting, the sudden institution of a representative legislature will only be the prelude to the most frightful disorders.” *
We hold these observations of Lord Brougham's to be perfectly unanswerable ; and we bring them forward not from any puerile and contemptible desire of pointing out inconsistency in so able a man, but as the strongest proof of the rapid progress of democratic opinions during periods of excitement, and the necessity which the most powerful minds are under of bending to the force of that current which they have originally been chiefly instrumental in putting in motion. Borne forward upon the wave of popular ambition, the authors of the present bill are carried so far beyond their dispassionate opinion on a similar crisis in another state, that they have literally adopted the very measure which they condemned so vehemently in the French reformers, and set themselves to destroy that very aristocratic influence on which they had so well shown the proud superiority of the British legislature was founded
Do they maintain, on the other hand, that the influence of the aristocracy will not be destroyed under the new constitution, that property will still maintain its just sway over the majority of the electors ?—the answer is to be found in the words of the noble mover of the present bill. “ It is quite certain,” says Lord John Russell, “ that if members are to be returned entirely, or even chiefly, by the yeomanry of the country, no man will be able to stand up before them who is not known to them by harangue, and pledged to support whatever they choose to impose. The
Edinburgh Rerier, April 1805, p. 145.