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and virtue, and had forced both parliament and people to countenance their administration, yet it would be unwise for the people of England to leave their fate to the chance of such characters often arising, when prudence must dictate that the certain way of securing their properties and freedom was to purify the sources of representation, and to establish that strict relation between themselves and the house of commons, which it was the original idea of the constitution to create. He hoped that the plan which he had mentioned was likely to re-establish such a relation; and he recommended to gentlemen not to suffer their minds to be alarmed by unnecessary fears. Nothing was so hurtful to improvement as the fear of being carried farther than the principle on which a person set out.
It was common for gentlemen to reason with themselves, and to say, that they would have no objection to go so far and no farther, if they were sure that in countenancing the first step, they might not either be led themselves, or lead others farther than they intended to go. So much they were apt to say was right : so far they would go : of such a scheme they approved : but fearing that it might be carried too far, they desisted from doing even what they conceived to be proper. He deprecated this conduct, and hoped that gentlemen would come to the consideration of this business without fearing that it would lead to consequences, that would either ruin or alarm
He begged pardon for having troubled the house so long: he wished to put them in possession of all his ideas on the important subject, though he was aware, that until the matter came to be argued in the detail, it was impossible for him to foresee all the objections that might be stated. He should therefore conclude for the present with moving, “That leave be given to bring in a bill to amend the representation of the people of England in Parliament."
The principal speakers against the motion were Lord NORTH, and Mr. Powis, the declared enemies of all reform. Mr. Powis in particular ridiculed the whole plan as the mere “knight erranty of a political Quixotte. It was an example, a precedent, an incitement to the wildest and most paradoxical nostrums that speculative theorists could devise. They got by it what ARCHIMEDEs wanted, a foundation for their inventions, a fulcrum from which they could throw the Parliament and constitution of England into the air. He could not contemplate it with any degree of patience. He shou'd not treat it therefore with the ceremony calling for the order of the day ; but as its purposes were so hostile to the constitution, so menacing and unqualified, he would meet the question in front, by giving it a direct and unequivocal contradiction.”
Mr. WILBERFORCE replied to Lord North and Mr. Powis, when the attention of the house was immediately directed to the following speech of Mr. Fox:
“ After the many occasions, on which I have before expressed what my sentiments are on the subject of a reform in the representation of the people in Parliament, I shall not consider myself under any great necessity of troubling the house ; but there have been extraordinary circumstances attending the introduction of the present question. That I have always been a friend to the principle of the bill is a fact which does not require to be now repeated. Whether the means taken to effect that principle are such as are most unexceptionable, must remain for future discussion, but cannot provoke my opposition to the motion. There remain ample opportunities in the future stages of the Bill to examine and correct it ;-opportunities which in themselves will be the highest acquisition. In the review which has been taken of the question this night, there are means used to implicate the American war in the subject now under discussion, by suggesting that it was supported by the influence of burgage
tenures, and that if they had been withdrawn, that war would have had a more speedy termination. I acknow
I ledge that it would have been in the power of the Parliament to bring that war to a period, had they considered it was an improper one ; but the manner, in which it must have been done, would be such as I should little expect to hear recommended from the gentlemen on the other side of the house. When the delay of a few days in passing the supplies was represented last year as the most heinous proceeding. What would have been the enormity of stopping not the ordnance supply, as was the case, but all the other supplies also, as would be the case in the event which might here take place. This would be a conduct worthy of a Parliament in certain situations, and would shew them to be sensible of their due weight, and importance in the scale of the constitution, and not the instruments of a superior power, kept for no other purpose but to register edicts, and perform an annual routine. Much has been said of the merit of dissolving that cohesion which has been said to subsist in the parties in this house. That cohesion does subsist, is a truth in which I take too much pride to think of denying, and from which this country derives too much advantage to be an enemy to: my connections were formed on liberal and systematic principles, and could not be dissolved by any regulations, while the same union in sentiments and principles continued to cement them. When an honorable gentleman said, that parties on one side of the house occasioned similar engagements on the other, he should have considered that it equally applied to one as to the other; but there might be some circumstances which might induce that honorable gentleman to look forward, with eagerness to the dissolution of such attachments, if they obliged him to support and defend measures, in which his opinions did not correspond : if they forced him to act one way, and think another. Under such circumstances it was perfectly natural that he
should pant to be disengaged from such connections, and resign the load which seemed so much to oppress him. To that principle which by a diminution of the members of boroughs tended to encrease the proportion of representatives for counties, I am sincerely and cordially a friend. But while I am thus explicit on the subject of my approbation, it is but just to mention, that there is another point to which I totally disagree. With all respect which I always pay to the house of commons, I can perceive in it no superlative excellence, no just superiority, which can justify the suspension of the operation of this bill. To defer for a period of years any system of reform, however partial and inadequate, is by no means complying with the declared wishes of the majority of the electors of this country, whose voice, though by no means to be acknowledged as that to which the house of commons must conform, when they are directed by any sudden impulse as the opinions of a moment, should always be obeyed on points which the experience and consideration of years have taught them finally to decide on.
The people, notwithstanding all that has been said, have no peculiar obligations to this Parliament for uncommon instances of that propriety of conduct, which could warrant so implicit a reliance in it. No very flattering proofs of extraordinary attention to the rights of the people have been given by his Majesty's present ministers, in their support of that excellent measure the Westminster scrutiny: and no very splendid testimony of their prudence in financial concerns could be drawn from the commutation tax. This is a proceeding, the hardship of which they have already felt ; and there are some others now in agitation, which are not likely to turn out much more favorable. These only are the reasons the people can have for a reliance in their present Parliament. I do not however mean to say any thing which can be construed as invective against them. I have before been accused of insulting them.
I do not know that I did so; but if heat should have led me at any time to say any thing which could have that appearance, I am exceedingly sorry for it. There was nothing in any of these circumstances which could impress them on my memory; but I have observed, that nothing I have ever said in my warmest moments has ever drawn forth so much passion and ill temper on the other side of the house, as when I have attempted to praise them. The Right Honorable Gentleman has in this instance receded from those opinions which on two former occasions he seemed to maintain ; and the altera. tion which he has now made for the purpose of a specific plan is infinitely for the worse. It is in vain that he endeavours to qualify the objections which the idea of innovation raises in the minds of some, by diminishing the extent and influence of reformation. From the earliest periods of our government, that principle of innovation, but which should more properly be called amendment, is neither more nor less than the practice of the constitution. In every species of government, for I will put absolute monarchy out of the question, as one which ought never to take place in any country, democracy and aristocracy are always in a state of gradual improvement, when experience comes to the aid of theory, and speculation.
“ In all these the voice of the people, when deliberately and generally collected, is invariably sure to succeed. There are moments of periodical impulse and delusion, in which they should not be gratified; but when the views of a people have been formed and determined on the attainment of any object, they must ultimately succeed. On this subject the people of this country have petitioned from time to time, and their applications have been made to their Parliament. In every reason therefore they should be gratified, lest they may be inclined to sue for redress in another quarter, where their application will have every probability of success, from the experience of last year.