« EelmineJätka »
seasonable. The nation stands in the most perilous predicament. Government is forced to call upon the people for greater exertions than at former times, burdens which appeared impracticable even in speculation, are now to be carried into practical effect. This must be done either by affection or coercion; and this is the moment for the choice. Give the people the blessings of the constitution, and they will join with ardor in its defence : raise within these walls a standard which was never before raised, around which the friends of the constitution may rally, and to which the people will be attracted by the feelings of confidence and attachment: it will give general satisfaction; it will unite all who are divided and create a general spirit to bear up against the calamities by which we are surrounded.”
Mr. Pitt made the following reply.
“ Feeling, Sir, as I do, the danger with which the present proposition is attended, upon the grounds upon which it has been supported, and in the circumstances in which it has been brought forward, I am very desirous, as early as possible in the debate, to state the reasons, by which I am determined to give it my most decided opposition. The honorable gentleman who introduced the motion, began with disclaiming very distinctly, and as far as he went very satisfactorily, all those abstract principles of imprescriptible right, all those doctrines of the rights of man on which those without doors, who are most eager in their professions of attachment to the cause which he now supports, rest the propriety of their demand, and upon which alone they would be contented with any species of parliamentary reform. The honorable gentleman denies the truth of that principle which prescribes any particular form of government, as that which is essential to freedom, or that universal suffrage is necessary to civil liberty, or that it even must depend upon that light which the revolution of France has let in upon the world, and
from which however he derives the hopes of so much advantage to the general happiness of mankind. But in disclaiming these views of the question, and in placing it upon the footing of the practical benefit it was calculated to produce, the honorable gentleman did not state all the considerations by which the conduct of a wise statesman was to be regulated, and the judgment of an upright senator to be guided. The question is not merely whether some alteration might or might not be attended with advantage ; but it is the degree of advantage which that alteration is likely to effect in the shape in which it is introduced ; the mischief which may be occasioned from not adopting the measure ; and the chance, on the other hand, of producing by the alteration an effect upon those to whom you give way, very different from that which had induced you to hazard the experiment. These are the considerations which the subject ought to embrace, and the views upon which impartial men must decide. Before we adopt the conclusion of the honorable gentleman, we have a right, it is even imposed on us as a duty, to take into our view as a leading object what probability there is by encouraging the particular mode of attaining that union, or of effecting that separation of the friends of moderate reform, and the determined enemies to the constitution which they conceive it calculated to produce ; we must consider the danger of introducing an evil of a much greater magnitude than that we are now desirous to repair ; and how far it is prudent to give an opening for those principles which aim at nothing less than the total annihilation of the constitution. The learned gentleman, who seconded the motion, said, that those who formerly supported parliamentary reform had sown the seeds of that eagerness for parliamentary reform which was now displayed, and of the principles on which it was now pressed: he thinks that those who have ever supported the cause of parliamentary reform upon grounds of prac
tical advantage, must not oppose those who having nothing in common with them but the name of reform, make that the cover for objects widely different, and support that pretence which they assume upon principles diametrically opposite to those upon which the true friends to the cause of reform ever proceeded. Will the honorable gentleman who made, or the learned gentleman who seconded the motion, say, that those men who contend as an indispensable point for universal suffrage; that those who hold doctrines which go to the extinction of every branch of the constitution, because they think it convenient to avail themselves of the pretence of parliamentary Teform, as the first step towards the attainment of their own views, and as facilitating their progress; that those who, though they condescended to take advantage of the co-operation of those who support the cause of reform in this house, yet have never applied to Parliament, and who would not even receive as a boon, what they contend for as a right; can it seriously be said, that such men as these have embarked in the cause or have proceeded on the principles of those, who, upon far different grounds, and for far different objects, have moved this important question ? Will they say, that those men have adopted the principles, or followed the course of those who formerly have agitated the cause of reform, who have avowedly borrowed their political creed from the doctrines of the rights of man, from the writings of Thomas PAINE, from the monstrous and detestable system of the French Jacobins and affiliated societies, from that proud, shallow, and presumptuous philosophy, which, pretending to communicate new lights to mankind, has carried theoretical absurdity higher than the wild imaginations of the most extravagant visionaries ever conceived, and carried practical evil to an extent which no age or history has equalled? Will it be said, that those men pursued only that practical advantage which a reform upon principles consonant to the British constitution was calculated to afford, who saw without emotion the detestable theories of the jacobins developed in the destructive ravage which marked their progress, and their practical effects in the bloody tragedies which were acted on the theatre of France, and who still adhered to their system of indefeasible right, when they saw such overwhelming proofs of its theoretical falsehood, and its baneful tendency? Will it be believed, that those men are actuated by principles consonant to the spirit of the British constitution, who, with the exception of the pretence of parliamentary reform, adopted all the forms of French political systems, who followed them through all their consequences, who looked upon the ravage which they spread through all laws, religion, and property, without shrinking from their practical effect, and who deemed the horrors with which it was attended, as the triumphs of their system? Can we believe, that men who remained unmoved by the dismal example which their principles had produced, whose pretensions rose and fell with the success or decline of jacobinism in every part of the world, were ever actuated by a similarity of motives and of objects, with those who prosecuted the cause of reform as a practical advantage, and maintained it upon constitutional views? The utmost point of difference, indeed, that ever subsisted between those who supported, and those who opposed the question of reform, previous to the French revolution, which forms a new æra in politics, and in the history of the world, was union and concert in comparison with the views of those who maintained that question upon grounds of expediency, and those who assert it as a matter of right.
“ The question then was with those who contended for reform on grounds of expediency, whether the means proposed were calculated to infuse new vigor into the constitution? The object with those who affect a parliamentary reform upon French principles is the shortest way to compass its utter destruction. From the period when the new and alarming æra of the French revolution broke in upon the world, and the doctrines which it ushered into light laid hold of the minds of men, I found that the grounds upon which the question rested were essentially and fundamentally altered. Whatever may have been my former opinion, I am to be told that I am inconsistent, if I feel that it is expedient to forego the advantage which any alteration may be calculated to produce, rather than afford an inlet to principles with which no compromise can be made ; rather than hazard the utter annihilation of a system under which this country has flourished in its prosperity, by which it has been supported in its adversity, and by the energy and vigor of which it has been enabled to recover from the difficulties and distresses with which it has to contend? In the warmth of argument upon this subject, the honorable and learned gentleman has conceived himself at liberty to assume a proposition which was not only unsupported by reasoning, but even contradicted by his own statements. The learned gentleman, assumed, that it was necessary to adopt the moderate reform proposed, in order to separate those whom such a plan would satisfy from those who would be satisfied with none; but who, I contend, by means of this would only labor to attain the complete object of their wishes in the utter annihilation of the constitution. Those men who treat Parliament as an usurpation, and Monarchy as an invasion of the rights of man, would not receive a reform which was not the recognition of their right, and which they would consider as vitiated if conveyed in any other shape. Though such men had availed themselves of the aid of those who supported parliamentary reform on other grounds, would they be contented with this species of reform as an ultimate object?