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Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 4


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Nothing could exceed the indignation of the public at the attempt that was being made by the court, in league with an intriguing faction, to resist the national will. All classes, high and low, rich and poor, nobles and commoners, churchmen and dissenters, were roused into a state of wild excitement and fierce determination. Indignation meetings were everywhere held, and threatening resolutions passed. The house of commons was called upon to stop the supplies; placards were put up in the windows of shops expressing the determination of the inhabitants to pay no taxes. This determination was not confined to the middle classes; men of the highest rank and largest property, such as lord Milton, told the tax-gatherer not to call again. A complete and active organisation existed in London for the purpose of stimulating and directing public feeling in the provinces, and obtaining from the people vehement petitions, which poured in to both houses rapidly, especially to the house of commons. The political unions were everywhere preparing for actual insurrection. In London meetings were held by day and by night, in which the most violent language was used even by persons of property and rank. The common council of London met, and passed resolutions denouncing those who had advised the king not to create peers as enemies of their sovereign, who had put to imminent hazard the stability of the throne and the security of the country. The following resolution was passed with acclamation: - " That under these circumstances, this court feels it to be its duty, as a necessary means of procuring for the people of this great country an efficient reform, to petition the house of commons to withhold the supplies until such a reform shall have been secured." A standing committee was appointed to watch the course of events. The feeling excited by these extraordinary proceedings proved, beyond the possibility of doubt, that the whole mercantile and trading classes in the metropolis were prepared to adopt revolutionary measures, if such were necessary, for the attainment of the reform bill. Immense numbers of persons who had hitherto considered the proceedings of the National Political Union in London too violent, were now, says the Times of the 11th of May, at their own solicitation, admitted members. Similar excitement prevailed throughout the provinces. Deputies from the surrounding towns went in hot haste to Birmingham, in order to concert the necessary measures in this dangerous crisis. A meeting was held, which adopted a petition, amidst tumultuous applause, containing the following passage: - "That your petitioners find it declared in the Bill of Rights that the people of England may have arms for their defence suitable to their condition as allowed by law; and your petitioners apprehend that this great right will be put in force generally, and that the whole of the people of England will think it necessary to have arms for their defence, in order that they may be prepared for any circumstances that may arise." This petition was brought up to London by delegates, whose presence next day at various public meetings in London added to the intensity of the public excitement. There was an absurd report that lord Brougham was to continue in office under the duke of Wellington. This report his brother, Mr. W. Brougham, positively contradicted, saying, " My brother will ever continue to support the cause of the people by every means within his power; and with no other cause will he identify himself. The lord chancellor is at this moment in better health than ever. He is in good fighting order, as the sham reformers will discover to their cost. He will prove a sharp thorn in their sides; he will never desert the cause of the people."

Shortly after the king arrived, on the 12th of May. Pursued to his palace gates by the multitude of his angry and insurgent subjects, he was waited upon by the duke of Wellington, who remained in conference with him about twenty minutes, and then departed amidst the most astounding yells of the populace. "A week since," said the Sun of that day, "only a short week since, the king was in full possession of the greatest popularity any earthly monarch could enjoy; and now behold the change! "

Among the means resorted to for the purpose of coercing the peers, was a run upon the banks. The cry was raised, " To stop the duke, go for gold! " The advice was acted upon, and in three days no less than 1,800,000 was drawn out of the bank of England in specie. The press gave audacious expression to the popular feeling. The Times mocked the pretensions of the duke of Wellington, u the commander-in-chief of the ultra-reformers." "There may," says the writer, "be dexterity in such conduct; there may be generalship; there may be food for incontinent exultation and chuckling at Apsley House; but it affords evidence also of mere ignoble faction - of a lust for office more sordid and execrable, of a meanness of inconsistency more humiliating and more shameful, than we had ever suspected the duke of Wellington of being capable of affixing to his own political character. As for success in such a course of imposture, it is, let us once for all warn his grace, hopeless! "

The motion of lord Lyndhurst, to postpone the disfranchising clauses of the reform bill, was carried on Monday, the 7th. On Wednesday lord Althorp formally announced the resignation of the cabinet, when lord Ebrington immediately rose, and gave notice that he would next day move a call of the house, and then an address to his majesty on the present state of public affairs. In the course of the debate which ensued, attempts were made by Mr. Baring and Sir Robert Peel, to excite sympathy for the lords, as taking a noble stand against the unconstitutional pressure upon the king for the creation of peers; but in vain. Neither the house of commons nor the country could be got to give them credit for any motives but the most selfish. They considered their obstinacy to be nothing better than the tenacity of the monopolists in power. Mr. Macaulay indignantly denounced their inconsistency in pretending that they wished to carry a measure of reform. " Why," he exclaimed, " the ink was scarcely yet dry of the protests which noble lords had entered against the reform bill. In attempting to administer the government they were so eager to grasp, they must either shamefully desert the whole of their former protestations, or go in direct opposition to the majority of this house. And even if they could succeed in overcoming the majority of this house, they would still have dangers before them from which Mr. Pitt would have shrunk, and even an earl of Strafford have hesitated to encounter. They would go forth to the contest with public opinion without arms, either offensive or defensive. In short, they would, in taking office, present a most miserable exhibition of impotent ambition, and appear as if they wished to show the world a melancholy example of little men bringing a great empire to destruction."

The influence of the crown, always powerful, was visible in the division on lord Ebrington's motion. The " ayes" were only 288 instead of the 353 that carried the third reading of the reform bill. There were evidently many defaulters; but woe to them at the next general election Rigid scrutiny was instituted, and a black list made out of those who had deserted their constituents on this momentous question. In the meantime the most angry remonstrances came to absent members from their constituents. Th motion, however, was carried by a majority of 80, large enough to constitute an insuperable barrier in the way of a tory government. Civil war seems to have been averted only by the duke's precipitate abandonment of the undertaking to form a ministry. No one can for a moment imagine that the chief members of the Grey administration ever intended to proceed to illegal extremities* but that the conduct of their friends led the reforming world to think of and prepare for armed resistance, admits of little doubt. Parliament and the country were kept in suspense and anxiety by varying rumours about the formation of a government for several days, during which comments were freely made on the conduct of the duke of Wellington and his friends. On the one hand, it was confidently stated that the king would keep his word as to reform, which the duke had agreed to carry. On the other hand, it was denied that the duke could ever consent to tergiversation so base. On the former supposition, Mr. Macaulay said he was willing that others should have u infamy and place." But he added, " Let us have honour and reform." Sir Robert Inglis was too honest to differ from this view of the matter, and too candid to conceal his sentiments. He declared that he could not but regard such a course on the part of his leader u with the greatest pain, as one of the most fatal violations of public confidence which could be inflicted."

Mr. Baring, who represented the duke in the house of commons, seemed to regard this declaration from the high- minded member for Oxford University as fatal to the tory scheme for recovering power. They came at length to understand that the new premier would be equally unacceptable to the country, whether he appeared with a reform bill or a gagging bill. The duke at length confessed that he had failed in his attempt to form an administration; and the king had no other resource, but to submit to the humiliation of again putting himself in the hands of his late ministers. He had before him only the terrible alternative of a creation of peers or civil war. His pain was aggravated by a mortifying condition, which the chancellor insisted on imposing, in consequence, no doubt, of the vacillation or double -dealing from which the cabinet had already suffered. The king must have acted in such a manner as to forfeit, in some measure, his self-respect, or he would never have submitted to give a pledge in writing to servants who dared to doubt his royal word. It is certain that they exacted from him the following document: - " The king grants permission to earl Grey, and to his chancellor, lord Brougham, to create such a number of peers as will be sufficient to insure the passing of the reform bill, first calling up peers' eldest sons. (Signed) William R. Windsor, May 17th, 1832."

We are not surprised to learn that on this occasion the king received lord Grey and the chancellor with evident emotion, " being annoyed and angry, as well as alarmed, and his pride being hurt, by his defeat and humiliation." Contrary to custom, he allowed them to stand during the whole of the interview, his private secretary, Sir Herbert Taylor, remaining in the room. Lord Grey wondered how his learned colleague could have the heart to insist on the document, when he saw the state the king was in; but the chancellor replied that he would soon see reason to think he was right. The opposition peers were exasperated beyond measure when they heard that the premier had got authority to u swamp the house; " and one of them ventured to question the right of the crown to create peers in such numbers. But the abhorred expedient was averted by the submission of the peers themselves. To avoid the degradation threatened, of which they were privately informed by Sir H. Taylor, they consented to absent themselves from the house, and let the bill pass. The consequence was, that on the 17th the following circular was sent to the hostile lords: - "My dear lord, 1 am honoured with his majesty's commands to acquaint your lordship that all difficulties to the arrangements in progress will be obviated by a declaration in the house of peers tonight from a sufficient number of peers, that in consequence of the present state of affairs, they have come to the resolution of dropping their further opposition to the reform bill, so that it may pass without delay as nearly as possible in its present shape."

After this complete surrender, the house resumed its labours in committee on the bill on the 1st of June. Few alterations were made, and the thinned ranks of the opposition ceased to throw obstacles in the way. The third reading was carried by a majority of 84, the numbers being 106 and 22. The lords' amendments having been acquiesced in by the commons, the bill was referred to the upper house, and on the 7th of June it received the royal assent by commission, the commissioners being lords Grey, Brougham, Lansdowne, Wellesley, Holland, and Durham. The king was so hurt by the coercion to which he was subjected, and by the insults heaped upon himself, the queen, and all belonging to him, that nothing could persuade him to go to the house, and give his assent in person. " The question," he said, " was one of feeling, not of duty; and as a sovereign and a gentleman, he was bound to refuse."

In reviewing this great contest, now brought to a happy termination, one thing seems extraordinary - almost unaccountable: the contrast between the conduct of the duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, in dealing with the two questions, catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform. In Ireland, they recognised in the Catholic Association the concentrated power of public opinion, the representative of tremendous physical force, which they shrunk from encountering; not that the duke of Wellington had any doubt of the result of a conflict between the army and the people in that country, but that he had a horror of civil war, and of the calamities and crimes which it entails. Sir Robert Peel fully participated with him in this feeling. Both of them were thoroughly convinced that the admission of Roman catholics into parliament - the infringement of the protestant character of the constitution - would be a departure from the principles of the highest state policy, and would be fraught with danger to our institutions. They avowed that they yielded not to principle, not to right - but to expediency; that they had to choose between two classes of evils and of dangers, and that they adopted the course which they thought would be productive of less mischief than the other. They adopted it, moreover, because they believed it was inevitable, and that they could only postpone the evil day. They openly and frankly recognised the power of the Catholic Association and of the priesthood, admitting that by that power emancipation was wrung from them.

Now what strikes the reflecting mind as very strange is, that these two eminent statesmen did not adopt the same course of reasoning, and act upon the same principle of expediency in dealing with the English people on the subject of reform. The people of England who sought to be represented in the house of commons were not what one of their most zealous and influential opponents, lord Lyndhurst, afterwards called the Irish Roman catholics - "aliens in language, religion and blood." They were true-born Englishmen, enlightened protestants, honest patriots, who prized the institutions of their country, and were ready to die in its defence. They were loyal to the throne; and instead of wishing to overturn the constitution, they asked only to be permitted to share in its blessings, and to have it freed from iniquitous abuses. They, too, had formed political combinations of the most formidable character. The political unions were not less powerful or less determined than the Catholic Association. Men of the Saxon race are not less resolute, less self-reliant, less persevering, less earnest in the cause of justice, less sensible to the value of! freedom, than the men of Celtic blood, who composed the organised masses whose shouts terrified the duke of Wellington in Ireland. They were men, moreover, who would not lend themselves to an idle agitation for the benefit of demagogues. They could not be roused into angry resistance to the government with at real grievances; and when roused, and organised, and armed, and determined to act in defence of their reigns against a usurping and monopolising oligarchy, all their history proved that they were not to be easily quelled or crushed. Nor did they want the element of religion to sanctify the reform movement, to elevate their views, to strengthen their purpose, and to sustain their demands by the strength of religious conviction and the power of conscience. There was therefore in the conduct of the congregated multitudes at New Hall Hill, Birmingham, in the crisis of the reform bill, a manifestation of religious feeling that ought to have deeply affected protestant and conservative statesmen, especially those who had previously succumbed to similar manifestations. When, at the sound of the bugle from the platform, those heaving masses were hushed to silence, to listen to the voice of Mr. Attwood, their chairman, the procession of the Bromsgrove Union was observed approaching in the distance. Then followed a scene which was perhaps never forgotten by any one who witnessed it. The new-comers as they advanced, were welcomed with the singing of "The Union Hymn," then familiar even to children in every English household. It was now sung by 100,000 voices, with a pealing melody and a thrilling power which all the organs in the land could not equal. It is hard to conceive how even the Boroughmongering lords could, as Englishmen, be insensible to such strains as the following, when sung by such a multitude, under circumstances which invested the whole scene with the attributes of sublimity: -

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Pictures for Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 4

The Earl of Durham
The Earl of Durham >>>>
Great Reform demonstration at Birmingham
Great Reform demonstration at Birmingham >>>>

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