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Foreign Policy of the Government page 2


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The subject of trades - unions, combinations, and strikes was brought before Parliament in February by Mr. Wakley, who moved for a select committee to inquire into the constitution* practices, and effects of the Operative Cotton Spinners' Association of Glasgow and its neighbourhood. To this Mr. O'Connell moved, by way of amendment, for a select committee to inquire into combinations and trades-unions generally in the United Kingdom. The subject is worth notice on account of the interesting speech delivered by the honourable and learned gentleman with reference to trades-unions in Ireland. He declared there was no tyranny equal to that which was exercised by their members in public over their fellow-labourers. He had in vain wished to convince these people of the wickedness and impolicy of their proceedings. He had had interviews, hour after hour, with the deputations from various trades, and had seldom met with men of more ability, information, or skill in putting forward their own views. He had also challenged public discussion, and assemblies had been held for the purpose, but in vain, for the workmen, by a concerted interruption, had rendered it impossible to proceed with the business of the day. They refused to hear him; and, without denying that they had been violating the law, they expressed their determination to persist in their system. Cotton- printing had been established at Belfast by a Mr. Grimshaw, who employed 107 persons in his service; but in consequence of the tyranny of the combination, which insisted peremptorily upon an equalisation of wages, he was compelled to abandon his business. In Bandon another large manufactory was opened, and the proprietor obtained an important contract. He bought the machinery, and as soon as it was erected his men "turned out" for higher wages, telling him that they knew he had the contract, and that he was therefore in their power. He worked out the contract, and then gave up the manufactory; and the loss to the town of Bandon in wages was between 10,000 and 12,000 a year. It was calculated that wages to the amount of 500,000 a year were lost to Dublin alone by these associations. The combination of tailors in that city, for instance, had raised the price of clothes to such a pitch, that it was worth a person's while to go to Glasgow, and wait a couple of days for a suit, the difference in the price paying the expenses of the trip. In the same city there were formerly four ship-builders; now, not a single ship was constructed at the Dublin Docks. Mr. O'Connell concluded by saying that he had no wish to re-enact the old combination laws. Some combinations were not only harmless but meritorious; and his aim would be to separate unions of this kind from those of a pernicious character. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, after having paid some compliments to Mr. O'Connell for the course he had pursued with reference to this subject, proposed a second amendment, which did not materially differ from that of the member for Dublin. He moved for a select committee to inquire into the operation of the 6th of George IV., and into the general constitution of trades unions, and also of the combinations of workmen and masters in the United Kingdom. Mr. "Wakley expressed himself well satisfied to leave the question in the hands of Her Majesty's Ministers; and Mr. Spring Rice's motion was agreed to. The employment of children in factories also occupied the attention of Parliament at this time. A bill had been framed in 1833 with the most benevolent intentions for the protection of factory children. Lord Ashley (afterwards Earl of Shaftesbury) made great exertions to mitigate the hardships endured by children working in the mills. The subject was felt to be one of great difficulty, inasmuch as humanity and political economy came into collision. It was seen that when the Legislature undertook to limit the hours of labour, making it penal to work children more than a stated period, according to their age, it at once disturbed the whole course of manufacturing industry. Short time involves short wages for adults: for ten hours' labour men will not receive the wages of twelve. Parents ma^ absolutely require the labour of their children for the support of their family. On the other hand, their cupidity often exacts too much from children of tender years, whose growth must be stunted and their constitutions debilitated by unnatural confinement in a heated atmosphere for so many hours in the day. Legal protection therefore seemed to be absolutely necessary in the interests of humanity and of society. The law excluded from factory labour all children under nine years of age, except in silk factories, and prohibited those under thirteen from working more than thirteen hours any one day; the maximum in silk mills alone being ten hours. The provisions of the law were, however, evaded by fraud. Children were represented as being much older than they really were, and abuses prevailed which induced Lord Ashley to bring in a bill upon the subject. Accordingly, on the 22nd of June the noble lord moved, by way of amendment to the order of the day, the second reading of his bill for the better regulation of factories. Sir Robert Peel, while differing from Lord Ashley in his views, strongly condemned the ministers for their faltering policy on the subject. Session after session they introduced and abandoned bills, thus applying a perpetual blister to the sides of the country, and keeping up the fever and irritation of a dangerous sore. If the question admits of solution, he said, let the Government solve it at once. If, on the other hand, they feel that the difficulties which surround the question are inseparable from it and insoluble, then, as a Government, let them manfully come forward and acknowledge the fact; let them do either one or the other; and then the manufacturers, knowing what they really mean, will shape their course accordingly. " It is," he continued, " because I see that the interests of humanity, in the large view of the question, are likely to be less consulted in the short-sighted restriction of labour than they are by its perfect freedom; it is because the fact is unquestionable, that, though you may exempt the child from fatigue, you also deprive it of protective employment, by driving the manufacturers to seek elsewhere the protection which is denied at home. It is for these reasons that I implore Parliament to decide the question this night, whether they will legislate or not."

The order of the day was carried by a majority of 119 to 111. The bill was therefore lost by a majority of eight. On the 20th of July Lord Ashley again brought the whole matter under the consideration of the House in a speech full of painful details, and concluded by moving a resolution to the effect that the House deeply regretted that the imperfect and ineffective law for the regulation of labour in factories had been suffered to continue so long without any amendment. Mr. Fox Maule replied to Lord Ashley, denying his charges against the Government) and warning him of the danger that by the interference of the Legislature children might be deprived of employment altogether, and thrown idle upon the country. Several gentlemen connected with manufactures addressed the House, but it is a singular fact that one of the best speeches in the debate was delivered by Mr. O'Connell, who could not be expected to know much about factories. He showed from the evidence taken before the "Combination Committee" that the law had been deliberately violated at Glasgow and Manchester, because it could not be carried out without entirely stopping the machinery of the mills. And why was this? Because they had legislated against the nature of things, and against the rights of industry. They were bound to provide for the protection of the children. Be it so; but they were equally bound to abstain from any interference with adults, who should be masters of their own time. They were legislating between the parent and the child. But why did the parent part with the child? Why expose it to the miseries to be endured in a factory? Because the sufferings of hunger were still greater. He asked those who were most clamorous for an alteration in the law, would they give the people cheap bread? Would they consent to repeal that tax, the removal of which would enable the mother to give more food to her child? The lowering of the price of the loaf by a halfpenny or a penny might spare half an hour's labour to the children. In the present state of the world, was it to be expected that men would obtain more wages for less work? Capital was the lightest of things; it would make to itself wings, and, eluding all attempts to restrain it, fix itself upon that favourite spot where labour was free and bread cheap. Let them not, then, be guilty of the childish folly of regulating the labour of adults, and go about parading before the world their ludicrous humanity, which would end by converting their manufacturers into beggars.

Lord John Russell argued that, in the present condition of the manufacturing world, we could not, with restricted hours of labour, compete with other nations. A ten hours' bill would drive the manufacturers abroad; and it would no longer be a question as to an hour or two more or less work to be performed by the children, but as to how their starvation was to be averted. With restricted hours of labour would come diminished wages, and in such case how could the corn laws be kept out of the consideration of the people? As to the violation of the existing law, the noble lord did not see why that should be a ground of reproach. They might as well hope to extinguish poaching by their game laws, smuggling by their revenue laws, and bribery by their election laws, as expect to prevent over-working by any factory law, which the avarice of the masters on the one hand, and the desire of the men to increase their earnings on the other, would inevitably combine to defeat. Mr. Hume contended that it was the corn laws that obliged persons to work for twelve, or thirteen, or fourteen hours in English factories, while in similar establishments on the Continent they only labour for ten. On a division, the motion was lost by a majority of 121 to 106.

A select committee had been appointed in 1837, to inquire how far the pensions charged on the civil list, and on the consolidated fund, respectively, ought to be continued, regard being had to the just claims of the parties, and to economy in the public expenditure. Their report appeared in July this year, and it was found that, of the whole number of pensioners (700), a large proportion had a valid claim upon the public either for services extraordinary in their nature or insufficiently remunerated on the established scale of reward. In some cases the pension was the commutation of a legal allowance; in others, it was purely charitable. All that the committee was able to effect in the way of saving was the reduction of about 9,000, composed of pensions either actually rescinded or voluntarily resigned by the parties themselves. A circular had been addressed to all the pensioners,, requiring each to state the ground on which the pension was given. The result was a very curious and interesting document, abounding in instances in which the venerable descendants of some hero of ancient and traditionary wars were brought in the attitude of supplicants to the bar of the committee. One lady, named Mortimer, aged sixty-seven, was the daughter of a general who commanded at the taking of the island of St. Lucia from the French, in the year 1780, leaving a family of infant daughters without provision. Mary Brereton, aged eighty-nine, had a pension as a reward for the services of a relative in the celebrated reduction of Manilla; and so on. The committee recommended that precaution should be taken to prevent fraud, that the warrant should set forth distinctly the reason for the grant, and that under no circumstances should the mere combination of poverty with hereditary rank be considered as a justification of a grant of the pension. In April the sum of 33,500 had been granted to the Queen for payment of pensions becoming due pending the inquiry.

It now becomes our duty to record a case of extraordinary delusion, attended with fatal consequences, which occurred in Kent in the summer of this year. Some years before, a native of Cornwall, named John Nicholl Thom, abruptly left his home, and made his appearance in that county, where he soon became a distinguished personage. He exchanged the name of Thom for the style and title of Sir William Courtenay, Knight of Malta; and he adopted the practice of parading his naturally fine and commanding person before the admiring people, clad in rich and extravagant costume, and pouring forth streams of exciting and most persuasive eloquence. Notwithstanding these lofty pretensions, however, he was in reality the son of a small farmer and maltster, at St. Columb, in Cornwall. Having been for fifteen years a cellarman to wine merchants at Truro, he set up in business as a maltster and hop-dealer, and conducted himself for four years very respectably. His premises being consumed by fire, he received 3,000 as insurance, a sum which was supposed to have been far beyond their value. Two years after he freighted a vessel with a large quantity of malt to Liverpool, and, having disposed of it, turned adventurer. His manners and figure were suited to the character which he assumed. His countenance indicated him to be of foreign extraction, and he decked his person with gay and imposing costume: his conversation showed that he was well acquainted with every part of the kingdom. The populace, attracted by his romantic appearance, and fascinated by his singular talents, flocked round him with the wildest enthusiasm, while even the superior classes of society furnished him with occasional partisans. In the year 1833, he stood for the city of Canterbury in the Conservative interest, and polled 950 votes. Soon after he was convicted of perjury, and sentenced to six years' transportation. Decided symptoms of insanity appeared on the trial, and he was removed from Maidstone gaol to the County Lunatic Asylum, where he remained four years in confinement as a criminal lunatic. In October, 1837, Lord John Russell, in virtue of the power invested in him as Home Secretary, by the act of George IV., released him, and ordered him to be delivered to his friends. It seems, however, that they took very little care of him, for he returned to Kent in the spring of 1838, where his conduct became more extravagant than ever. To his political pretensions he now added others of a religious character. He claimed a divine mission, and announced himself to be the Messiah. The infatuated peasantry, who were literally enchanted by his eloquence and his personal accomplishments, readily acknowledged his pretension, and did homage to him as a divine being. He also claimed to be entitled to large estates in Kent, and he promised his followers that they should have fine farms without rent. He would shower upon them favours and honours, for he had boundless influence at court, and was to sit on Her Majesty's right hand on the day of the coronation. As proof of his Messiahship he pointed to punctures in his hands, which he said were inflicted by the nails in the cross, and to a cicatrice in his side as the wound out of which issued blood and water. As a matter of course, he was invulnerable to steel or shot, a fact which he was about to put to the proof,' for he placed himself at the head of nearly 100 of the most determined of his followers, for the purpose of redressing political wrongs.

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