« EdellinenJatka »
When the annexation of Savoy and Piedmont was proposed in the Convention in October 1792, only one voice was raised against an unjustifiable aggression which entailed a dreadful war on Europe, and, for the first time for 400 years, brought an invading army to the French capital.
The whole of France was unanimous in supporting Napoleon's expedition to Russia in 1812.
“ The youth, says Ségur, “looked upon it as a mere military promenade
a party of pleasure, which would hardly last six months.”
Everybody recollects the general delusion in favour of joint-stock companies in 1825. From the Chancellor of the Exchequer downwards, there was but one opinion as to the boundless wealth and inexhaustible resources of the British empire. The public as little anticipated the catastrophe of December 1825, as the Reformers of the present day do the probable consequence of their
Examples of this sort lead the thoughtful to distrust public opinion, on all occasions when it is violently excited. Education cannot give intellect. Newspapers will not extinguish passion. The great majority of the public are now as incapable of judging on political subjects as they were in the days of Aristides. Printing has extended to the whole people the passions of a mob; it has not given them a larger share of intellect.
If there is one duty more sacred than another, in such periods of excitement, it is the duty of the legislators to moderate the public effervescence, and resolutely withstand those demands which they judge fatal to the balance of the constitution, or perilous to the institutions of the empire. Concession, in such circumstances, is the weakest as well as the basest policy. It was not by yielding to the extravagant demands of the plebeians that the Roman Senate obtained the empire of the world, but by resolutely resisting them, and enduring the last extremities, rather than surrender the constitution of their forefathers. Such conduct was in the end triumphant; the nobles ultimately prevailed in every contest; and the empire, though often endangered, was only overturned when the nobles gave way to popular violence.
Concession and conciliation were tried to their utmost extent by the Britons and other inhabitants of the Roman empire, when exposed to the inroads of the Danes. The weak and timid monarchs of the Heptarchy, proceeding on the principle now urged in support of Reform, sought to buy off their enemies, by giving them sometimes £10,000, sometimes £20,000, on condition that they would depart, and not return. They did depart, accordingly, and returned invariably in six months, in greater force than before, equipped by the spoil of their weak and pusillanimous enemies. Who put an end to this ruinous system of conciliation and concession? Alfred the Great, who from the first refused to yield any payment, and fought his enemies hand to hand, till he expelled them from his shores, and founded the English monarchy.
The case is exactly the same with the concessions now so loudly recommended to the popular demands for power. The more you concede, the more daring and vehement these demands will become. Every successive acquisition will be made the means of a still more extravagant demand, until the last remnants of the monarchy are swept away, and bloody republicanism proclaimed in its stead. There is no evading the danger. Concession must now be stopped, or the nation may make up its mind to republican institutions; and what will then become of the church property, the national debt, the estates of the nobility, or the lives of all the higher orders ?
Concession was the principle on which Charles I. acted. He first yielded the Petition of Rights, which, as Mr Hume observes, “was so great a concession to the Commons, that it in truth amounted to a revolution." He gave up tonnage and poundage ; he yielded Strafford to their violence ; he agreed to triennial Parliaments; he allowed the sheriffs to be invested with the power of summoning them, if not convoked by royal authority ; his ministers were chosen exclusively from the popular party ; he paid the arrears of his rebellious Scotch troops; he conceded all the demands of the Scotch Parliament; the famous “Remonstrance" of the Commons was carried, after a vehement debate : and what was the consequence of all these concessions ? Encouraged by so much success, the Commons openly declared to the Lords, “ that they themselves were the sole representative body of the nation ; that the Peers were nothing but individuals, who held their seats in a particular capacity ; and, therefore, if their Lordships would not consent to the passing of acts necessary for the preservation of the people, the Commons, together with such of the Lords as were sensible of the danger, must join together, and represent the matter to his Majesty.”* Having stript the crown of all its prerogatives, the Commons next demanded the command of the militia, which would have given them the exclusive use of the sword; the civil war ensued; the King was beheaded, the Peers abolished, and Cromwell enthroned.
Louis XVI. was the next monarch who, in turbulent times, tried the system of concession. The nation demanded the States-General—he convoked them : they demanded a popular representation—he anticipated them by voluntarily, and by a royal ordinance, doubling the deputies from the Tiers Etat : they demanded the abolition of feudal rights and personal services-he abolished them. He agreed to abandon all the prerogatives of his crown : he formed the National Guard, dismissed his Royal Guard. and attendants, made war on his own brother-in-law, the Emperor of Austria, issued severe proclamations against the emigrants, granted a constitution more free than the Republicans themselves have adopted in 1831, and sanctioned the confiscation of all the property of the Church. His whole life was one uninterrupted series of concessions and reforms, and, in return, he was led to the scaffold.
The nobles vied with the sovereign in the surrender of their rights. At the first struggle, in July 1789, between the noblesse and commons, as to sitting in one or separate Chambers, forty-six of their number, headed by the Duke of Orleans, joined the Tiers Etat; they voluntarily, on the night of 4th August, surrendered all their exclusive privileges; they consented to the abolition of tithes, titles of honour, entails, and dignities of every description. They concurred in a constitution of the most democratic character; and they received, in return for so many concessions, exile, confiscation, and death.
* HUME, vi. 393.
The clergy of France were the first and steadiest friends of the Revolution. During the continuance of the contest as to a single or separate chambers, 127 of their body left their own order, and united with the Commons; and, by so doing, first gave them a numerical superiority, and compelled the union of all the three estates in the National Assembly. Unbounded gratitude, universal joy, followed this first and decisive movement towards the popular side; and, in return, the Assembly confiscated their whole property, banished and proscribed their leading members, and sent them forth destitute from that very country, whose freedom their adherence had been the first means of establishing.
At the very time that these dreadful scenes were passing in the neighbouring kingdom, the cry for Reform, spreading as at present by contagion, became vehement in this
country. Revolution, bloodshed, and massacre were loudly threatened, if it were any longer delayed. “The nation," it was said, “will no longer submit to be trifled with ; the representation must be reformed, the demand for extended popular constituents must be satisfied, or a revolution will inevitably ensue.”* But this clamour was not met by concession. Mr Pitt resisted the popular cry. He was supported by the firmness and intrepidity of the British aristocracy; the threatened revolution came to nothing, and the constitution, with its inestimable blessings, was preserved. If the demand for Reform were occasioned by any experienced grievance, which Reform could remedy, it would, indeed, be dangerous to refuse it. Actual evils do not pass away like the fleeting passions of the multitude. But there is no actual evil in the country to which Reform could prove a remedy. The demand for it has all grown up within these six months : it has arisen from foreign contagion, and been fanned by party ambition.
The consequences of Reform may be predicted with tolerable certainty from the preceding observations.
Suppose that the consequences of Reform are not so disastrous as the most vehement of its opponents predict,
* Thoughts on Reform, 1793, p. 27.
and as the examples of all similar innovations prognosticate. We shall suppose that the prodigious and unexpected victory over the aristocracy does not, to any alarming degree, increase the ambition of the democratical party ; that the £10 tenants return, upon the whole, as respectable men as could be expected ; that no immediate convulsion takes place ; that the secret hopes of the Whig leaders are realised, and the aristocrats of their party acquire silently, but steadily, an absolute sway over a great part of the small boroughs in their neighbourhood. We sball suppose, in fine, that things go on under the new constitution as much in their former course as the magnitude of the changes which have been adopted leaves possible. This, it will be admitted, is as favourable a view of the effects of Reform as its most sanguine advocates could desire ; and the question is, what effect will it have, even in such a view, on the British empire ?
In considering this question, it must be recollected that, if the prosperity of the country of late years has been unprecedented, so also is the artificial and complicated form which society has assumed. In a vast commercial country such as this, where upwards of twenty millions of souls are dependent on the daily wages of labour, and totally destitute of property of every sort ; where so great a proportion of the industry of the people is put in motion by capital, and so large a portion of that capital is entirely dependent on credit ; where so many millions exist on the variable market for manufactures, and an inexhaustible source of pauperism is always at hand in the redundant population of the sister island—it is evident that the prosperity of each class is inseparably interwoven with that of every other; and that it is impossible that a great blow can be struck, either at landed opulence or commercial credit, without producing a degree of widespread misery, to which there has nothing similar occurred in modern Europe. We have ascended the giddy summit of national grandeur, and the world is in admiration at the height to which we have reached ; but every foot of the ascent has removed us farther from its base, and a false step would precipitate us at once into a fathomless abyss. The fabric we have reared is gigantic ; but the base has not expanded with the rapid progress of