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Chapter XVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7


The New Parliament - Mr. Manners Sutton, Speaker - The Royal Speech: Intense Excitement produced by it - Reform - Earl Grey's Manifesto - The Duke of Wellington's fatal Declaration against Reform - Mr. Brougham's Notice of Motion on Reform - Lord Winchelsea's Attack on the Government - Mr. Hume - Mr. O'Connell - Public Excitement - The Metropolitan Police - Alarm in London - Preparations for Insurrection - The King advised not to attend the City Banquet - Consequent Odium of the Government - The Duke determines to retire from Office - The Civil List - Defeat of the Government - Resignation of Ministers: their Reasons for the Step - Mr. Brougham's Motion postponed - Mr. Roebuck's View of Mr. Brougham's Position and Conduct at this Crisis- Mr. Brougham becomes Lord Chancellor - Lord Grey's Administration - Ministerial Statement - Policy of the New Government - The Duke of Wellington out of Office: Despairs of the Country: his gloomy Predictions - Disturbances in the South of England - Special Commissions - Seditious Agitation - Distress in Ireland - Mr. Sheil on the Repeal of the Union - Lord Cloncurry on the Emancipation Act - Lord Anglesey again Irish Viceroy: his Reception - Prosecution of O'Connell: he pleads Guilty, and escapes Judgment - The Game Act.
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The new parliament met on the 26th of October. Mr. Manners Sutton was again chosen speaker of the house of commons, having already presided over four successive parliaments, occupying a period of fourteen years, during which he performed the onerous duties of his high position to the satisfaction of all parties. A week was occupied in the swearing-in of members. All the preliminary formalities having been gone through, the parliament was opened by the king in person on the 2nd of November. The royal speech, which was of unusual length, excited the deepest interest, and was listened to with breathless attention and intense anxiety. The old house of lords was closely packed with eager listeners; every one seeming to feel that the most momentous issues depended upon the proceedings that were thus inaugurated. " Every paragraph that was uttered," says Mr. Roebuck, "was received as a declaration of war. The clear and distinct enunciation, the high, shrill voice of the king, gave a disagreeable effect to the words, as they fell on the ears of the many thoughtful men who listened to these important statements; for these words might be the signal for great and disastrous commotion. Triumph was on the countenance of the ministerial phalanx, and depression visible in the bearing of the opposition." The concluding paragraph of the speech, while expressing the strongest confidence in the loyalty of the people, intimated the determination of the government to resist parliamentary reform. This attitude was regarded as a defiance to the opposition; and it roused into excitement the spirit of hostility, which might have been disarmed by a tone of conciliation, and by a disposition to make moderate concessions. Nothing, therefore, could have been more favourable to the aims of the whig leaders than the course taken by the administration; and if they wanted an excuse for breaking forth into open war, it was supplied by the imprudent speech of the duke of Wellington. The royal speech, indeed, suggested revolutionary topics to the reformers, by its allusion to continental politics. The king observed that the elder branch of the house of Bourbon no longer reigned in France, and that the duke of Orleans had been called to the throne. The state of affairs in the Low Countries - namely, the separation of Belgium from Holland - was viewed with deep regret; and " his majesty lamented that the enlightened administration of the king of the Netherlands " should not have preserved his dominions from revolt; stating that he was endeavouring, in concert with his allies, to devise such means of restoring tranquillity as might be compatible with the welfare and good government of the Netherlands, and with the future security of other states.

Earl Grey was not slow to avail himself of these exciting topics in order to point the lightning of popular discontent against the head of the government. " We ought," he said, "to learn wisdom from what is passing before our eyes; and, when the spirit of liberty is breaking out all round, it is our first duty to secure our own institutions, by introducing into them a temperate reform. I have been a reformer all my life; and on no occasion have I been inclined to go farther than I am prepared to go now, if an opportunity were to offer. But I do not found the title to demand it on abstract right. We are told that every man who pays taxes - nay, that every man arrived at the years of discretion - has a right to vote for representatives. That right I utterly deny. The right of the people is to have a good government, one that is calculated to secure their privileges and happiness; and if that is incompatible with universal, or very general suffrage, then the limitation, and not the extension, is the true right of the people."

This speech, which was regarded as the manifesto of the reform party, called forth a reply from the duke of Wellington, which was pregnant with revolution, and which precipitated the downfall of his administration. He said: - "The noble earl Grey has recommended us not only to put down these disturbances, but to put the country in a state to meet and overthrow the dangers which are likely to arise from the late transactions in France, by the adoption of something like parliamentary reform. The noble earl has stated that he is not prepared himself to come forward with any measure of the kind; and I will tell him further, neither is the government. Nay, I will go farther, and say that I have not heard of any measure up to this moment which could, in any way, satisfy my mind, or by which the state of the representation could be improved, or placed on a footing more satisfactory to the people of this country than it now is. I will say that I am thoroughly convinced that England possesses at this moment a legislature which answers all the good purposes of a legislature, in a higher degree than any scheme of government whatever has ever been found to do, in any country in the world; that it possesses the confidence of the country; that it deservedly possesses that confidence; that its decisions have justly the greatest weight and influence with the people. Nay, I will go yet farther, and say that if at this moment I had to form a legislature for any country, particularly for one like this, in the possession of great property of various descriptions, although perhaps I should not form one precisely such as we have, I would endeavour to produce something which would give the same result; namely, a representation of the people containing a large body of the property of the country, and in which the great landed proprietors have a preponderating influence. Further still, I beg to state that not only is the government not prepared to bring forward any measure of this description, but, in so far as I am concerned, while I have the honour to hold the situation which I now do among his majesty's counsellors, I shall always feel it my duty to oppose any such measures, when brought forward by others."

The scene in the house of commons during the debate on the address was still more animated and exciting. It is thus graphically described by Mr. Roebuck: - u No one incident was so important and startling as the closing announcement made by the duke of Wellington in the lords; but the variety, the general excitement, the skilful debating of Sir Robert Peel, the vigorous and eloquent sallies of Mr. Brougham, the eager curiosity of all to learn from the commons of England the feelings of the people of England, the importance of the crisis, the danger and the turbulence abroad and at homeĢ - all these things made that a memorable night in the annals of our parliament. So soon as the house assembled, and before the speaker read the speech which had been delivered from the throne, Mr. Brougham made the first and a significant move in the great game that was about to be played, by announcing that he would that day fortnight submit to the house a proposition on the great question of parliamentary reform. Well skilled in all the forms of parliament, an admirable adept in all those arts which, by means of manner and expression, lend importance and give effect to every act performed, every word spoken in a deliberative assembly, Mr. Brougham seized upon the opportunity offered him by the proposal of some formal vote, to give, in a deliberative and solemn manner, notice of a motion upon which he knew, and the world knew, the fate of the ministry might ultimately depend. The tone of his voice, the settled gravity of his demeanour, when he rose on that memorable occasion, riveted every eye upon him who was now the great popular chief. Having determined to give notice of his intention when there was a question before the house, he was enabled to accompany his notice with an explanation. This was his explanation: - He had,' he said, ' by one party been described as intending to bring forward a very limited, and therefore useless and insignificant, plan; by another, he was said to be the friend of a radical, sweeping, and innovating, and, I may add, for conscientiously believe it would prove so, a revolutionary reform.' Both these imputed schemes he disavowed. 'I stand on the ancient way of the constitution.' To explain at that moment what the details of this plan were to be would have then been inconvenient - was, indeed, impossible. 'But,' said Mr. Brougham, 'my object in bringing forward this question is not revolution, but restoration - to repair the constitution, not to pull it down.' This notice was a master-stroke of policy. It chimed in exactly with the excited feelings of the people. Its disclaimers and its apparent positive declarations were alike directed to enlist on the side of the speaker the largest possible number of adherents. He spurned a sham reform; he was careful to guard against violent and dangerous change. He won to his proposition all the old affections, the love for the ancient forms and substance of our institutions, by declaring that he stood on the ancient ways of the constitution; while, by vaguely disclaiming the imputation of limited views, by declaring that he must have something large and effective, he gave a licence to the imaginations of those more ardent minds who hoped to attain some wide concessions to the popular party, and who desired to establish a regular symmetrical plan for electing throughout the empire the representatives of the people. Confining himself to wide generalities, he really committed himself to nothing. Whatsoever his actual scheme might have been, it would strictly have satisfied the terms of his notice, while it might have disappointed every expectation raised by that artful announcement."

The duke of Wellington's declaration against reform had all the effect of an arbitrary prohibition thrown in the way of a violent passion. The effect was tremendous; a revolutionary flame was kindled everywhere at the same instant, as if the whole atmosphere - north, south, east, and west - was wrapt in a sheet of electric fire. No words from any statesman in English history produced such an impression. The transports became universal; all ranks were involved; all heads, save the strongest and most far-seeing, were swept away by the torrent of excitement. John Bull's patience was gone. Parliamentary reform was right; the time was come when it should be granted; and no man, not even the duke of Wellington, should be allowed to withstand the nation's will. The unpopularity of the duke with his own party swelled for the moment the current of the movement. High churchmen declared that reform would raise a barrier against papal aggression, which they felt to be necessary, as experience had shown that the existing constitution afforded no security. The old tories, in their resentment on account of the concession to the catholic claims, appeared to be ready to support the popular demands, if by so doing they could mortify or overthrow the government. The population of the towns, intelligent, active, progressive, longed for parliamentary reform, because they believed it would remove the impediments which retarded the advancement of society. There were only two classes of the community who were believed at the time to be opposed to the reform movement: first, the aristocratic whigs, because parliamentary reform would destroy the influence by which they had for a century after the revolution governed the country; but their accidental position as popular leaders obliged them for the time to go with the current. Second, the class to whom Mr. Cobbett applied the term " borough-mongers," including all those who had property in parliamentary seats, and could sell them, or bestow them, as they thought proper. The former, it was argued, were obliged to conceal their attachment to the old system, which had secured to a few great families a monopoly of government and its emoluments. The latter had become so odious to the nation, that their opposition availed little against the rapid tide of public feeling, and the tremendous breakers of popular indignation.

There are times when a firm mina, a great character, planted in the front of danger, by taking a determined stand in a commanding position, can turn back the tide of aggression, and change the fortunes of the day. The duke of Wellington had done that more than once, both as a general and a statesman. He attempted to do it again on this supreme occasion, and signally failed. " I must be allowed," said lord Winchelsea, the champion of the tory interest, " to say, that if the assertion of the noble duke made on a former night, relative to parliamentary reform, was framed with a view of conciliating and gaining the support of the noble and high-minded persons with whom he had been usually united, I can tell the noble duke he might as well attempt to take high heaven by storm. These are times of danger and peril, in which we require to see efficient men at the head of the government of the country. Now we see the consequence of having given up a great question - not upon the ground of justice and equity - but upon the ground of fear. So far from creating confidence, the yielding up of that question has created a feeling of distrust in the minds of the people. They no longer rely on the government to afford them redress, or to mitigate their sufferings; they know that the ministry will grant nothing but upon compulsion. I am one of those that feel the necessity of having competent men at the head of the administration, in the present situation of the country; and I feel bound to say that those who comprise the higher branches of his majesty's government at this moment are not, in my opinion, worthy of the confidence of the people in this hour of imminent peril."

When it fared thus with the government amongst the tories in the upper house, where it had found support and shelter from the blasts of popular anger, little mercy was to be expected for it in the assembly which now represented the feeling out of doors. Mr. Hume, representing the radical party, objected to the royal speech, because, lengthy as it was, " the people of England were left out." He objected to it because, though there were nine paragraphs on foreign politics, there was only one upon economy. Through him spoke the great county of Middlesex, with its millions of intelligent and energetic population. Mr. O'Connell also wielded against the government the fierce democracy of Roman catholic Ireland. Sir Robert Peel had irritated him by some contemptuous remarks on his repeal agitation, and he rose in his own defence, like a lion in his fury. " At once he proudly separated himself from the house, while repelling a personal calumny. He scornfully declared that he had more constituents than all his majesty's ministers taken together. They had all shrunk from populous places, and taken refuge in rotten boroughs; they had shown in the speech, he said, an utter disregard to the distress of the people, both in England and Ireland. He endeavoured to demonstrate, by dissecting the royal speech, that the ministers were in their hearts the friends of despotism wherever it might be found - whether in the character of Dom Miguel of Portugal, prince Polignac and Charles X. in France, king William in Belgium, the Turks in Greece, or the Orangemen in Ireland. He employed all his great powers to win the favour of the people of England. He placed their demands in the van of his army, and brought in the demands and complaints of his own country only as the necessary consequence of those principles which he had established and invoked on behalf of the English nation." He then proceeded to give a description of the condition of Ireland, "which," said Mr. Brougham, "if not magnified in its proportions, if not painted in exaggerated colours, presents to my mind one of the most dismal, melancholy, and alarming conditions of society ever heard of or recorded in any state of the civilised world." Mr. O'Connell thus addressed the treasury bench: - " Tell the people of Ireland that you have no sympathy with their sufferings, that their advocate is greeted with sneers and laughter, that he is an outlaw in the land, and that he is taunted with want of courage, because he is afraid of offending his God. Tell them this, and let them hear also in what language the secretary of state, who issued the proclamation to prevent meetings in Ireland, has spoken of Polignac." A powerful defence of his system of peaceful agitation, and a fierce defiance and denunciation of the existing administration, closed this remarkable speech, whose effect upon the house, Mr. Roebuck says, was great and unexpected. Its effect upon the Roman catholics of Ireland, it need not be said, was immense. Indeed, the perusal of the debates, in connection with the royal speech, threw the whole United Kingdom into a ferment of agitation. Public meetings were held to express indignation at the anti- reform declaration of the duke of Wellington. Petitions were presented, pamphlets were published, harangues were delivered, defiances were hurled from every part of the country. It was under these circumstances that the king was invited to honour the city with his presence at the lord mayor's banquet, which was to be held on the 9th of November, the day on which the new lord mayor enters upon his office. It has been the custom for a new sovereign to pay this compliment to the city, and William IV. was advised by his ministers to accept the invitation. The new metropolitan police force had been recently established, It was a vast improvement upon the old body of watchmen, in whose time thieves and vagabonds pursued their avocations with comparative impunity. The new force, as may be supposed, was the object of intense hatred to all the dangerous classes of society, who had organised a formidable demonstration against the police, and the government by which the force was established, on Lord Mayor's Day. Inflammatory placards had been posted, and handbills circulated, of the most exciting and seditious character, of which the following is a specimen To arms! Liberty or death\ London meets on Tuesday next an opportunity not to be lost for revenging the wrongs we have suffered so long. Come armed; be firm, and victory must be ours.... We assure you, from ocular demonstration, 6,000 cutlasses have been removed from the Tower for the immediate use of Peel's bloody gang. Remember the cursed speech from the throne - these police are to be armed. Englishmen! will you put up with this?" Appeals of this kind, and sinister rumours of all sorts, industriously circulated, created the greatest alarm throughout London. It was reported that a conspiracy of vast extent had been discovered - that society was on the eve of a terrible convulsion - that the barricades would immediately be up in the Strand, and that there would be a bloody revolution in the streets. The inhabitants prepared as well as they could for self-defence. They put up iron blinds and shutters to their windows, got strong bolts to their doors, supplied themselves with arms, and resolutely waited for the attack. So great was the public consternation, that the funds fell three-and-a-half per cent, in two hours. This panic is not a matter of so much astonishment when we consider that the three days' fighting in the streets of Paris was fresh in the recollection of the people of London. The lord mayor elect, alderman Key, had received so many anonymous letters, warning him of confusion and riot if his majesty's ministers should appear in the procession, that he became alarmed, and wrote to the duke of Wellington, pointing out the terrible consequences of a nocturnal attack by armed and organised desperadoes in such a crowded city as London. The duke, thinking the danger not to be despised, advised the king to postpone his visit. Accordingly, a letter from Sir Robert Peel, as home secretary, appeared posted on the Exchange on the morning of the 9th. The multitude of sight-seers, disappointed of their pageant, were excited beyond all precedent, and execrations against the government were heard on every side. In fact, this incident, concerning which no blame whatever attached to the ministers, exposed the duke of Wellington and his colleagues to a hailstorm of popular fury. The two houses of parliament hastily met, in a state of anxiety, if not alarm. Unable to restrain their feelings until the arrival of ministers to give explanations, they broke forth into vehement expressions of censure and regret. " Why," they asked, " did ministers advise the king to accept the invitation? Did they not know that such a pageant would bring a number of dangerous characters together, and that disturbance would be almost inevitable? But having promised, why did they disappoint the people? The king was popular, and had nothing to apprehend. If there was to be rioting, it would be caused by the hateful presence of the ministers. Why did they not stay away? Why did they thus risk the peace of the metropolis, and by that the peace of the whole community?" Addressing the ministers, the opposition demanded, u Why have you done this? For a selfish end; your own unpopularity was so great, that you could not appear among the people without running the chance of being hooted, perhaps pelted; and in order to turn from yourselves the odium attendant on such a disaster, you have unjustly, most ungenerously, endeavoured to make the king share the ill-feeling which belonged to yourselves alone. Your duty was to have retired from the pageant - to have said to his majesty, ' You, sire, can go to the city amidst your affectionate people with perfect safety, and loud acclaim. We should mar the scene by our obnoxious presence, and shall therefore beg your majesty's permission not to attend you on this occasion.'" If such a course had been pursued, nothing would have resulted except one more proof, added to the number already existing, and quite sufficient for all practical purposes, of the extent and bitterness of the popular feeling against the present administration. As the conversation proceeded in the house, its acrimony increased. Ministers at length said, "If we be, as you say, thus unpopular and unworthy of confidence, why not subject us and our conduct to the proper and constitutional test, by submitting a motion to this house for an address to the crown praying for our dismissal?"

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Pictures for Chapter XVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7

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