Page images
PDF
EPUB

dation of his assertion, that Parliament does not enjoy the public confidence. The learned gentleman has, in the fanciful flights of his eloquence, pushed his objects farther than his honorable friend ; for he has not only said, that Parliament has lost the confidence of the people, but that the proceedings of Parliament have no effect whatever on the public mind.

“ The learned gentleman, however, wished to unite two classes of persons very opposite in their pursuits. He desires to reconcile those, who by the very nature of their principles are altogether irreconcilable ; those whose political doctrines are known to be inimical to legal government; and those who are distinguished by the moderation of their tenets. With respect to the moderates, it could not be too minutely attended to by the house, that they propose no plan of reform whatever ; that they prefer no complaints ; that they set out with no petition on that subject; and is it proper or reasonable that the house should spontaneously give what had not been even demanded ? With regard to the other persons alluded to by the learned gentleman, the house, by agreeing to what has been urged in their favor, would give them not merely what they claim, but what they demand as an absolute right, and what is in reality the first step to the accomplishment of their real views. That the present moment should be a time for the measure of reform appears rather inconsistent, when it is admitted by the learned gentleman himself, that radical discontent is prevalent in the country; and when it is undeniable, that the men who talk of liberty aim merely at licentiousness, and set up the name of reform as a disguise to mask their revolutionary projects, and as the first step to their acknowledged system of innovation. Concessions to such men, at such a time, would be impolitic, would be fatal, would be absurd. The house also, by agreeing to the arguments of the learned gentleman, would grant what could not be of any use to

one set of men, and what would be productive of great mischief to the other description. Such concessions, I

I will maintain, are not warranted by the sound maxims of philosophy, nor to be measured by the numerous examples drawn from the history of the world.

" The honorable gentleman (Mr. GREY]has talked highly of the blessings which are to result to mankind from the establishment of French liberty ; and because new lights have appeared to set off the doctrine of freedom, this house is therefore to alter their principles of government, and to accommodate themselves to the new order of things. The system of French liberty is represented as a new light diffusing itself over all the world, and spreading in every region happiness and improvement: Good God! is the house to be told, after the benefits which have been derived from the revolution in this country, that other and more essential benefits are to be added, by adopting the principles of the French revolution ? From such lights, however, I hope, we shall ever protect this country, as against principles inconsistent with any government. If we are to be relieved from any evils under which we at present labor, by means of this new light, I, for one, beg leave to enter my solemn protest against the idea. The doctrines upon which it is founded are, as I have already said, false, shallow, and presumptuous, more absurd than the most pestilent theories that were ever engendered by the disordered imagination of man; more hostile to the real interests of mankind, to national prosperity, to individual happiness, to intellectual and moral improvement, than any tyranny by which the human species was ever afflicted. And for this new luminary shall we abandon the polar star of the British constitution, by which we have been led to happiness and glory; by which the country has supported every danger which it has been called upon to encounter, and risen superior to every dif. ficulty by which it has been assailed?

“ But, independent of these general grounds on which I have opposed this motion, I have no difficulty in stating, that the particular measure appears liable to so many objections, that in no circumstances could I have given it my assent. Indeed I could as little concur in the plan of the honorable gentleman as in a proposal for universal suffrage : how near it approaches to that system, I shall not now discuss. The honorable gentleman on a former occasion has said, that he would rather have universal suffrage than no reform. The learned gentleman, however, disclaims universal suffrage, when asserted as a matter of right. Certainly indeed some people have reason to complain of the learned gentleman, who in supporting a plan of reform on grounds of practical advantage, refuses that universal suffrage to which he has no objection on practical grounds, merely because it is asked as a matter of right. He will however find it difficult to reconcile that practical expedience with the new light of general freedom, which has so unexpectedly broken in upon the world. The proposition, however, is neither more por less than, with the exception of one fifth, to abolish the whole system of the representation of this country, as it has been formed by charter or by parliamentary arrangement, as it has been moulded by time and experience, as it has been blended with our manners and customs, without regard to the rights or compensations, or to the general effects of modifications. All these are to be swept away, and a numerical scale of representation to be substituted in its place; the country is to be divided into districts, and every householder, paying taxes, is to vote ; thus a system would be introduced little short of universal suffrage. On what experience, on what practice is this gigantic scale of numerical representation to be introduced ? In former plans, the variety of modes of representation was admitted to be proof, how much better time and circumstances may mould and regulate represen

a

tation than any institutions founded on reasonings a priori, and how necessary it was to give way to the effects of such experience. It is not the harsh uniformity of principles, cach pushed to its extreme, but the general complexion arising out of the various shades, which forms the harmony of the representation, and the practical excellence of the constitution, capable of improving itself consistently with its fundamental principles. Who will say that this beautiful variety may not have contributed to the advantage of the whole? That system was practical, and experience has confirmed the excellence of it; but the present plan goes the whole length of destroying all the existing representation, with the exception only of the county members (why they alone are excepted I am at a loss to conceive) and bringing all to one system. Are the gentlemen, who propose this system, aware of the benefits resulting from a varied state of representation ; ; and are they at once ready to resign them?

“ It never was contended, that the inequality of the representation has been attended with any practical disadvantage, that the interest of Yorkshire was neglected because it sent only two members to Parliament, or that Birmingham and Manchester experienced any ill consequences from having no represntatives. How does it appear that universal suffrage is better than if the right to vote be founded on numerical or even alphabetical arrangement ? There is no practice, certainly no recognised practice for its basis. The experiment proposed is new, extensive, overturning all the ancient system, and substituting something in its stead, without any theoretical advantage, or any practical recommendation. In the mixt representation which now subsists, the scot and lot elections are those which have been chiefly objected to, and the honorable gentleman opposite to me formerly agreed with me in opinion, that burgage tenures and small corporations were less exceptionable than open burghs with small quali

!

fications. Yet this extension of small qualifications, from which it has been a general complaint that much confusion, debauchery, and abuse at elections arose, forms the principal feature in the honorable gentleman's plan.

“ Upon these grounds, therefore, looking seriously at the situation of the country, examining facts with attention, unless we would seal our own dishonor, unless we would belie the testimony of our constituents, we must dissent from the reasons on which the necessity of this proposition is founded. We ought to resist the specific plan which the honorable gentleman has offered, unless we would renounce the tried system of our representation for a plan at once highly exceptionable in theory, and totally unsupported by experience.”

After several other gentleman expressed their sentiments on the subject, Mr. Fox wound up the debate in the following manner :

" SIR, “Much and often as this question has been discussed both within these walls, and without, and late as the hour is, I feel it my duty to make some observations, and to deliver my opinion on a measure of high importance at all times, but which at the present period is become infinitely more interesting than ever. I fear, however, that my conviction on this subject is not common to the house. I fear that we are not likely to be agreed as to the importance of the measure, nor as to the necessity; since, by the manner in which it has been discussed this night, I foresee that, so far from being unanimous on the proposition, we shall not be agreed as to the situation and circumstances of the country itself, much less as to the nature of the measures which, in my mind, that situation and those circumstances so imperiously demand. I cannot suppress my astonishment at the tone and manner of gentlemen this day. The arguments that have been used

« EelmineJätka »