Page images

Alderman SAWBRIDGE's frequently renewed efforts on the like tendency deserve to be remembered as proofs of his zeal, if not of his energy or genius.

The Duke of Richmond also prepared, and offered to the Upper House, in the session of 1780, a bill for the reform of Parliament, founded on the bases of annual election and universal suffrage ; but which was afterwards dropped, probably as a measure little calculated for the discussion of the House of Peers.

But in May 1782 Mr. Pitt brought forward with equal policy and address, a motion for the appointment of a committee to inquire into the state of the representation of the people in parliament. He began with an apology for undertaking a task so extensive, and which required abilities and experience so much greater than his ; but having said this, he would trust to the indulgence of the House, and believe, that the importance of the subject, to which he meant to call their attention, would induce them to treat it with the utmost seriousness and respect. The representation of the Commons in Parliament was a matter so truly interesting, that it had at all times excited the regard of the most enlightened ; and the defects which they had found in that representation had given them reason to apprehend the most alarming consequences to the constitution. It would be needli ss for him in the present moment to recal to the memory of the House the many occasions, upon which he and others in an anxious struggle with a minister, who laboured to exert the corrupt influence of the Crown in support of an inadequate representation of the people, maintained the necessity that there was for a calm revision of the principles of the constitution, and a moderate reform of such defects as had imperceptibly and gradually stole in to deface, and which threatened at last totally to destroy the most beautiful fabric of government in the world. Upon these occasions, they were unsuccessful in their efforts, on account of that corrupt in



fluence of which he had spoken ; but at last he thanked God, the voice of the people had happily prevailed, and we were now blessed with a ministry, whose wishes went along with those of the people for a moderate reform of the errors which had intruded themselves into the constitution ; and he was happy to see there was a spirit of unanimity prevalent in every part of the kingdom, and also in every part of that House, which made the present day the fittest for undertaking this great task. The ministers had declared their virtuous resolution of supporting the King's government by means more honorable, as well as more permanent than corruption ; and the nation had confidence in the declarations of men, who had so invariably proved themselves the friends of freedom, and the animated supporters of an equal and fair system of representation. That the frame of our constitution had undergone material alterations, by which the commons house of Parliament had received an improper and dangerous bias, and by which indeed it had fallen so greatly from that direction and effect, which it was intended, and ought, to have in the constitution, he believed it would be idle for him to attempt to prove. It was a fact so plain and palpable, that every man's reason, if not his experience, must point it out to him. He had only to examine the quality and nature of that branch of the constitution as originally established, and compare it with its present state and condition. That beautiful frame of government which has made us the envy and admiration of mankind, in which the people were entitled to hold so distinguished a share, was so far dwindled and departed from its origi'nal purity, as that the representatives ceased in a great degree to be connected with the people. It was the essence of the constitution that the people had a share in the government by the means of representation; and its excellence and permanency was calculated to consist in this representation having been designed to be equal, easy,

[ocr errors]

practicable, and complete. When it ceased to be so, when the representative ceased to have connection with the constituent, and was either dependent on the Crown, or the Aristocracy, there was a defect in the frame of representation, and it was not innovation, but recovery of constitution, to repair it.

He would not in the present instance call to their view, or endeavour to discuss the question, whether this species of reform, or that, whether this suggestion, or that, was the best; and which would most completely tally and square with the original frame of the constitution : it was simply his purpose to move for the institution of an inquiry, composed of such men as the House should in their wisdom select, as the most proper, and the best qualified for investigating this subject, and making a report to the House of the best means of carrying into execution a moderate and substantial reform of the representation of the people. Though he would not press upon their consideration any proposition whatever, he should still think it his duty to state some facts and circumstances, which, in his idea, made this object of reform essentially requisite. He believed, however, that even this was unnecessary; for there was not a gentleman in the house, who would not acknowledge with him, that the representation, as it now stood, was incomplete. It was perfectly understood, that there were some boroughs absolutely governed by the treasury; and others totally possessed by them. It required no experience to say, that such boroughs had no one quality of representation in them : they had no share nor substance in the general interests of the country; and they had in fact ng stake for which to appoint their guar

no dians in the popular assembly. The influence of the treasury in some boroughs was contested, not by the electors of these boroughs, but by some one or other powerful man who assumed, or pretended to, an hereditary property of what ought only to be the rights and privileges of the electors. The interests of the treasury were considered as well as the interests of the great man, the lord, or the commoner, who had connection with the borough ; but the interests of the people, the rights of the electors were the only things that never were attended to, nor taken into the account. Would any man say, that in this case, there was the most distant idea or principle of representation? There were other boroughs which had now in fact no actual existence, but in the return of members of the House. They had no existence in property, in population, in trade, in weight. There were hardly any men in the borough who had a right to vote ; and they were the slaves and subjects of a person who claimed the property of the borough, and who in fact made the return. This also was no representation, nor any thing like it. Another set of boroughs and towns in the lofty possession of English freedom claimed to themselves the right of bringing their votes to market. They had no other market, no other property, and no other stake in the country than the property and price which they procured for their votes. Such boroughs were the most dangerous of all others. So far from consulting the interests of the country in the choice they made, they held out their borough to the best purchaser, and in fact they belonged more to the Nabob of Arcot, than they did to the people of Great Britain. They were cities and boroughs more within the jurisdiction of the Carnatic than the limits of the empire of Great Britain ; and it was a fact pretty well known and generally understood, that the Nabob of Arcot had no less than seven or eight members in that house. Such boroughs, then, were the sources of corruption : they gave rise to an inundation of corrupt wealth and corrupt members, who had no regard nor connection either for or with the people of this kingdom. It had always been considered, in all nations, as the greatest source of danger to a kingdom, when a foreign influence was suffered to creep into the national councils. The fact was clear, that the influence of the nabobs of India was great: why then might not their imaginations point out to them another most probable circumstance that might occur, the danger of which would be evident, as soon as mentioned. Might not a foreign state in enmity with this country, by means of these boroughs, procure a party of men to act for them under the mask and character of members of that House? Such a cabal was more to be dreaded than


other; and this, among other domestic evils, was to be apprehended from the present incomplete and improper form of representation. How many other circumstances were there, under which the various descriptions of boroughs in this kingdom were influenced and seduced from their real and direct duty ?

Having mentioned these facts, by which experience came in aid of reason, to convince him of the inadequacy of representation, he conceived it would be perfectly needless for him to enter into any argument to prove the necessity that there was for a reform in this particular. He was convinced that every gentleman would acknowledge the truth of the fact, however they might differ about the means of accomplishing it; or about the delicacy with which they ought to meddle in any shape with the constitution. He begged leave to say, that there was not a man in that House, who had more reverence for the constitution, and more respect, even for its vestiges than himself. But he was afraid that the reverence and enthusiasm, which Englishmen entertained for the constitution, would, if not suddenly prevented, be the means of destroying it; for such was their enthusiasm, that they would not even remove its defects, for fear of touching its beauty. He admired the one so much, so great was his reverence for the beauties of that constitution, that he wished to remove those defects, as he clearly perceived that they were defects which altered the radical principles

« EelmineJätka »