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Chapter XX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 3


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The division on the second reading took place on the 6th of July, when the numbers were - for the bill, 367; against it, 231; majority, 136. This result was a sufficient vindication of the appeal made to the country. The nation had now spoken constitutionally as to the evils of the old system of representation, and unmistakably expressed its determination to have it reformed. The measure might be delayed in the commons by vexatious opposition. But if it were to be defeated it must be by the house of lords, and it required some boldness in the majority of that assembly to take upon itself to hinder the other branch of the legislature from effecting its own reform. The bill now went into committee, when the case of each borough which it was proposed to disfranchise came under separate consideration. In schedule A were placed, alphabetically, all the boroughs which had less than 2,000 of population, and these were to be disfranchised. When Appleby, the first on the list, came under consideration, there was a keen contest as to the actual numbers then in the town, and the question turned upon the census, by which the committee were to be guided. By the census of 1821 the place would be disfranchised, but the inhabitants affirmed that by the census of 1831, then in progress, they were shown to have more than the requisite number; and Sir Robert Peel contended strenuously than they should wait for the more correct information. Mr. Wynn having moved a general resolution that the consideration of the schedules should be postponed till the result of the census was published, Sir Robert Peel said, with great show of reason, "After having obtained so large a majority as 136 on the principle of the bill, government would have acted wisely, even for the interests of the measure itself, to have postponed going into details, till they were in possession of better documents on which to proceed. They know what is coming; they are aware of the event which is casting its shadow before - namely, that the boroughs will be overtaken by the population returns of 1831. In another fortnight these returns would be laid before the house; and though his majesty's ministers now proceed expressly on the doctrine of a population of 2,000 and 4,000, they are guilty of the inconceivable absurdity of proceeding on the returns of 1821, when they can so soon be in possession of the census of 1831." The house, however, determined, by a majority of 118, to proceed upon the old census. A series of wearisome debates upon the details of each particular borough proceeded from day to day, and lasted for two months, the ministry invariably carrying their points by triumphant majorities. The tone of the discussion was often acrimonious, as might naturally be expected, from the weighty personal interests involved. Sir Edward Sugden solemnly declared that he considered the tone and manner, as well as the argument, of the attorney-general as indicating that they were to be dragooned into the measure. In the opinion of Sir Charles Wetherell, all this was " too capricious, too trifling, too tyrannical, and too insulting to the British public, to carry with it the acquiescence either of the majority within or the majority without the house." The ill-temper and factious obstruction of the opposition greatly damaged the tory party out of doors and exasperated the people against them. Indignant and impatient, the public began to cry out, " Are we bound to await the pleasure of these interested and factious opponents? Are we tamely to suffer them to employ the forms of the constitution thus unjustly as a means of delay? and shall we not quicken their tedious pace, by a significant exhibition of our power and our impatience? "

During the passage of the bill through committee, three important proposals were made - the first by lord Chandos - that tenants paying fifty pounds per annum for their holdings should have a vote in the counties. This was known as "The Chandos clause of the reform bill," which was carried on the 18th of August, by a majority of 84, the numbers being 232 and 148. Mr. Hume proposed that the colonies should be represented in the house of commons; but the motion was negatived without a division. Mr. Hunt, the celebrated radical reformer, moved that all householders paying rates and taxes should have votes; but, strange to say, household suffrage had in the committee but a single supporter, Mr. Hunt himself, who upon a division constituted the minority. Mr. Hume asked only nineteen members to represent 100,000,000 of inhabitants, including our Indian empire, to which he would give four representatives. It was certainly a small demand, but as a representation of our colonies and dependencies it was ludicrously inadequate. Those who consider the present state of our Australian colonies, governing themselves by means of their own effective legislatures, and consuming manifold more British produce than all the American colonies, will be amused to read that when Australia was mentioned as a place entitled to send a member to the imperial parliament, there was a loud laugh.

At length, after every clause of the bill, and every word and every place in each of the schedules had been the subjects of all possible motions and discussions - after a warfare which, for animosity and duration, is unparalleled in our parliamentary history, the bill was read a third time on the 21st of September, and passed by a majority of 109, the numbers being 345 to 236. The result was received with loud and long-continued cheering by the reformers in the house. The anxious and impatient multitude in the streets caught up the sounds of triumph with exultant enthusiasm; the acclamations of all classes of the people rang throughout the agitated metropolis. The news spread like wildfire through the country, and was everywhere received with ringing of bells, and other demonstrations of joy. As soon as the bill passed, an illumination of London was proposed, and an application was made to the lord mayor, in order to obtain his sanction, which was ^ranted. The illumination was extensive, and those who refused to comply had their windows broken by the populace. In many places the people, whose patience had been so severely tested, began to lose their self-control, and were betrayed into riotous conduct. Mr. Macaulay, and other heading reformers in parliament, had warned the opposition of this danger, and it turned out that their apprehensions were not altogether visionary. At length, on the 22nd of September, lord John Russell, attended by lord Althorp, and a great body of the most distinguished reformers, appeared at the bar of the house of lords, and handed the English reform bill to the lord chancellor, praying the concurrence of their lordships. This scene has been made the subject of a great historical painting. The bill, without any opposition or remark from any conservative peer, was read a first time on the motion of earl Grey, and ordered to be read a second time on Monday week. On a subsequent day, a petition in favour of the bill having been presented, the marquis of Westminster asserted that the bill having passed the commons, to which it peculiarly belonged, the peers ought not to interfere with it. For this he was rebuked by lord Eldon, who said, " The proposition that the peers of England had no interest in this question, was the most absurd one that ever had been uttered or propounded, there or elsewhere. He hoped and believed that, when the question came to be discussed by their lordships, they would do their duty, fearlessly and manfully, and at the hazard of all the consequences. He should be utterly ashamed of himself if he gave way to the imputation of being prevented by fear from doing his duty. Bred as he had been in loyalty, living under the law, and revering the constitution of his country - now that he had arrived at the age of fourscore years, he would rather die in his place than suppress his indignation at such sentiments." "It is difficult," says lord Campbell, " to imagine the consternation now felt by him who had successfully resisted such mild reforms as taking away the punishment of death for the offence of stealing to the value of forty shillings in a dwelling-house, or five shillings in a shop, when he regarded the triumphant progress of a measure which was to operate a revolution, by the transference of political power, under the form of a legislative act, to be passed by king, lords, and commons."

The debate lasted a week, and was conducted with extraordinary ability, with a freshness of interest and eloquence which seemed hardly possible on so worn a subject. During its progress there was a skirmish between the lord chancellor and lord Eldon on the legality of public meetings. A peer stated that at a meeting of the Birmingham Political Union, attended by many thousands, an orator advised them, if the reform bill should be rejected by the lords, to refuse to pay taxes any more; that he called upon those present who supported his motion to hold up their hands; and that thereupon a forest of hands was held up, amidst immense cheering. The lord chancellor expressed disapprobation of the proceedings; nevertheless, he could not say, as a lawyer, that there was any breach of the king's peace, or any offence that the law knows how to punish. Lord Eldon took fire at this opinion. As a lawyer, he declared that every man who held up his hand was responsible for the language of the speaker, and he begged to tell the noble and learned lord that his seat on the woolsack could not be maintained by any one for six months, " if the doctrines now circulated through the country, and placed every morning under the review of every one, are suffered to be promulgated any longer."

The debate on the second reading commenced on the 3rd of October, with a speech from lord Grey - grave, elaborate, earnest, and impressive; simple, yet dignified. He described his own efforts in regard to parliamentary reform, spoke of the changes which had of necessity attended his opinions on the subject, and of the circumstances which, at the close of his long career, when the conservative spirit is naturally strongest in every man, had led him to endeavour to put in practice the theories and speculations of his youth and manhood. And with the matured wisdom which a fine intellect and upright nature like his enabled him to acquire, he said - " I felt that the most prudent and the most safe measure I could propose would be a bold one; and this the more especially, because I felt that looking to the safety of the country as our true policy, I could effect what would satisfy the feelings and reasonable desires of the people, which would thus give me a position on which I could make a firm stand for the defence of the true principles of the constitution." Towards the close of his speech, he said - " Brave, I know your lordships to be, and angrily susceptible when approached with a menace. I fling aside all ideas of menace or intimidation; but I conjure you, as you value your rights and dignities, and as you wish to transmit them unimpaired to your posterity, to lend a willing ear to the representations of the people. Do not take up a position which will show that you will not attend to the voice of nine-tenths of the people, who call upon you in a tone too loud not to be heard, and too decisive to be misunderstood. The people are all but unanimous in support of the bill; the immense preponderance of county members, and members for populous places which have voted for it, is a sufficient proof of that. If this measure be refused, none other will be accepted - none less would, if accepted, be satisfactory. Do not, I beg, flatter yourselves that it is possible by a less effective measure than this to quiet the storm which will rage, and to govern the agitation which will have been produced. I certainly deprecate popular violence. As a citizen of a free state, and feeling that freedom is essentially connected with order, I deprecate it. As a member of the government, it is my duty to maintain tranquillity; but as a citizen, as a member of the government, as a man and a statesman, I am bound to look at the consequences which may flow from rejecting the measure. And although I do not say, as the noble duke (Wellington) did on another occasion, that the rejection of this measure will lead to civil war - I trust it will not produce any such effect - yet I see such consequences likely to arise from it, as make me tremble for the security of this house and of this country. Upon your lordships, then, as you value the tranquillity and prosperity of the country, I earnestly call to consider well before you reject this measure."

The most impressive part of this memorable oration was the appeal to the bishops. He said - " Let me respectfully entreat the right reverend prelates to consider that, if this ' bill be rejected by a narrow majority of the lay peers, and its fate should thus be decided, within a few votes, by the votes of the heads of the church, what will then be their situation with the country? You have shown that you are not indifferent to the signs of the times. You have introduced, in the way in which all such measures ought to be introduced by the heads of the church, measures of melioration. In this you have acted with a prudent forethought. You appear to have felt that the eyes of the country were upon you; that it is necessary to put your house in order, and prepare for the coming storm. I implore you to follow on this occasion the same prudent course. There are many questions at present which may take a fatal direction, if upon a measure on which the nation has fixed its hopes, and which is necessary for its welfare, the decision of this house should, by means of their votes, be in opposition to the feelings and wishes of the people. You are the ministers of peace; earnestly do I hope that the result of your votes may be such as will tend to the peace, tranquillity, and happiness of the country."

It is a remarkable fact that the bishops were utterly deaf to this appeal. Through their votes, it may be said, the measure was rejected. Had the bishops voted the other way, it would have been carried by a majority oŁ one. The majority against it was forty-one, and the number of bishops that voted against the bill was twenty- one - just enough to turn the scale. The solitary supporter of the measure on the Episcopal bench was the bishop of Norwich. The people were violently exasperated by this conduct on the part of the heads of the national church. They could make allowance for the hereditary peers - for the feelings of caste in those who were born to wear coronets, and who were naturally proud of their " gentle blood; " but most of the bishops were commoners by birth, some of them sprung from the plebeian ranks, and it was felt that they ought not to have made the episcopal bench a barrier in the way of the concession of popular rights. The consequence was, that the bishops became odious to the people, as the men who threw out the bill.

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Pictures for Chapter XX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 3

William IV. and lord Brougham and Grey
William IV. and lord Brougham and Grey >>>>
View of Ayr
View of Ayr >>>>
Earl Grey
Earl Grey >>>>
The Bristol reform riots
The Bristol reform riots >>>>
London Bridge
London Bridge >>>>

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