Political Tranquillity page 3
In Ireland the followers of Mr. O'Connell regarded the postponement of Lord Morpeth's bill till after the Easter recess as a piece of finesse to foil Lord Stanley's measure, and get rid of an unpleasant subject. The repealers argued there was no use in hanging back any longer, that there was nothing to be hoped for from English justice, and that they must put forth all their energies to obtain an Irish Parliament. Mr. John O'Connell, at a public meeting, exclaimed - "Let the English choose between these two bills; let them confer the blessings of Lord Morpeth's bill, or inflict the deep, determined curse of which Lord Stanley's bill would be the source. Let England now do justice to Ireland, or, so sure as to-morrow's sun will rise, Ireland will yet refuse her assistance in the hour of need."
There was a vital principle at issue between Lord Stanley and the Government on the subject of the franchise. The bill of the former was based upon the principle that the tenant should have an interest in his holding above the rent. This would pi nee the franchise altogether at the mercy of the landlords, the rents in Ireland being generally equal to the full value of the land, if not more, and the franchise being connected with leases which the landlords were at liberty to give or to withhold, and which they would not give unless to tenants upon whose political support they could rely. This fact was proved by the gradual diminution of the constituency arising from this cause. The principle of the Government bill, on the other hand, was to make the franchise dependent upon a certain amount of rating for the support of the poor, which was based upon the real value of the land, and upon occupation independently of leases.
When the question was introduced again, on the 26th of April, it gave rise to a party debate. While the House was in committee on Lord Morpeth's bill, Lord Howick proposed an amendment to the effect that the tenant, in order to entitle him to the franchise, should have a beneficial interest in his holding of £5 a-year over and above the rent. Lord Morpeth proposed as a qualification for the franchise a lease of fourteen years, and a low rating of £8. Lord Howick proposed that the yearly tenant should be entitled to vote as well as the leaseholder if he had an annual interest of £5 in it; but Lord Morpeth contended, and showed from statistics, that this principle would disfranchise more than three-fourths of the £10 tenant voters in several of the counties. In short, it would have the effect of almost entirely disfranchising the existing occupying constituency of Ireland. As the law stood, the Irish electors were being diminished at the rate of 5,000 a-year; and Mr. O'Connell affirmed that the county constituency had decreased to the number of 20,000 since the Reform Act passed. Lord Stanley and Sir Robert Peel declared that they would vote for the principle of Lord Howick's amendment.
Sir Robert, however, said that the question before the House was of another kind. It was not whether the franchise should be co-extensive with the population; the question which arose was this, whether Her Majesty's Government had made a provision on the subject which entitled them to the confidence of the House, and he must say that the course they had pursued on the Irish franchise appeared to him to disentitle them to the confidence of the House and the country. This statement was received with vehement cheering by the Opposition.
On a division, Lord Howick's amendment was carried by 291 to 270. Lord Howick subsequently stated that he meant his clause to be merely an addition to some other franchise which would secure a large constituency. And Lord Morpeth explained that Lord Howick's argument in favour of a £5 beneficial interest had not been resisted by the Government as an addition to their £8 qualification, but as a substitution for it; and on this £8 qualification they were determined to take the opinion of the House. After much discussion, and considerable confusion, the House came to the point of real interest - namely, the division, which was supposed to involve the fate of the Government, and was, therefore, anticipated with intense eagerness and anxiety. The numbers were found to be - for the main clause of the Government bill, an £8 rating, 289; against it, 300; majority against the Government, 11.
Sir Robert Peel observed that to conciliate one or two individual members the Government had raised the rating test of franchise from £5 to £8 - a change which, judging by returns from thirty-one unions, swept away 76,000 out of the proposed constituency of 103,000. Such uncalled-for concessions, he said, must destroy all confidence in the adherence of a Government even to its own propositions. At the conclusion of this speech a great majority of the members quitted the House, leaving a comparatively small audience to Lord Howick, who briefly attempted to justify his own course. Lord Stanley said a few words, and the Chairman left the chair. Thus ended the great party struggle of the session. A vast deal of time was wasted in party debates and fruitless discussions, and the proposal to give the Irish people the benefit of the Reform Act by putting its perishing constituencies on a proper basis, simple as it may seem, utterly failed. Lord Stanley also abandoned his measure, and there the matter ended. The whole of the proceedings plainly indicated that the doom of Lord Melbourne's feeble Cabinet was at hand.
A movement was made in Parliament during the present session to place the Jews on a level with their fellow-subjects in respect to their civil rights. Up to this time they were excluded by law not only from seats in Parliament, but from the magistracy and town- councils, as no one could enter these bodies without taking the oath of allegiance, " on the true faith of a Christian," which of course could not be done conscientiously by Jews. This small but valuable class of the community bore their exclusion quietly, and the question of Jewish Emancipation excited but little attention. Mr. Divett, one of the members for Exeter, brought in a bill the object of which was to do away with the declaration required by the Municipal Corporations Act, from all persons taking corporate offices, by reason of which the members of the Jewish persuasion were debarred from holding civil magistracies. It was opposed on the second reading by Sir Robert Inglis, who earnestly protested against surrendering the principle of the constitution, by which all civil authority had been confined to the professors of Christianity. Lord John Russell supported the bill, and said he was willing to go further, and admit Jews to Parliament, should they demand that concession. On a division, the second reading of the bill was carried in a thin House, by a majority of 113, only 24 members voting in a minority. The principle of the bill was again discussed on the third reading, when a debate occurred which was remarkably interesting, on account of masterly speeches by two of the greatest orators of their time, Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Macaulay.
Mr. Gladstone argued that it was not possible to draw a line between a bill to admit Jews to municipal offices and one to permit them to hold other offices, including seats in Parliament. To this he objected, on the following grounds: the Jew's profession was in itself a disqualification for legislative offices in a Christian country; Christianity was part and parcel of the law of England; our laws were modelled on the principles of Christianity. The proceedings in both Houses of Parliament were commenced by the solemn invocation of the Almighty, and the object set before them was the promotion of true religion and the glory of God. The question, then, really was, would they destroy the distinctive Christianity of the constitution? The test for office was at present a Christian test, and this the bill went to annul. He did not know whether he was not rendering himself liable to the charge of sheer intolerance; but the ground he occupied was precisely the same as if he were discussing a purely civil question. Let him guard himself in speaking of the Jews as a body. Who could doubt there were many honest, zealous-minded men amongst them? The stronger, therefore, was the objection to investing them with the privilege of legislating for Christians. There were many Jews, doubtless, who would discharge those duties well; but still it was the duty of the State to choose those who, as a class, were most competent for the duties to which they were appointed. Now, he did not see how it could be held that the Jews possessed the necessary qualifications. Mr. Gladstone here called attention to the great number of questions essentially connected with the highest Christian considerations which had come before the House during the last ten years. For instance, in England, the question of church-rates, church extension; national education in Scotland, and the Established Church in Ireland. Such questions were always arising. These were the questions the most difficult to adjust, the most impossible to agree upon, and the most prolific of agitation in the country. If Christianity were a great pervading principle of our law, if most great questions were intimately associated with that principle, then those who rejected Christianity were not competent to enter on those subjects. The proposition was very different from that on which the claims of Roman Catholics and Dissenters were founded. With them we had the common bonds of belief in the same redemption. There were also considerations which broadly distinguished the case from that of the Jews. The one adhered as strongly as ourselves to the text of Christianity; the other did not: the one constituted a large majority in one portion of the United Kingdom; the other was scarcely perceptible on the face of English society. So much as to numbers; now as to grievances. He was not aware that the Jews had any special grievances to complain of. No allegation of this kind had ever been made. It was to be borne in mind that there were still some offices to which the religious test was strictly applied - to the holder of the crown, to the Lord Chancellor, and to certain great offices in Ireland. To his mind, the constitution would be much better preserved by limiting the power of holding office to Christians, than by admitting Jews. The time might come when the Parliament of England would be called upon to exercise functions still more directly ecclesiastical. He admitted that the present House was, to a certain extent, disqualified for discussing such questions as these. He did not complain of this change. The time might come when the admixture of creeds amongst them would be so strange that it would be an insult to public opinion to think of discharging ecclesiastical functions. In introducing these men, therefore, to Parliament, and to other high offices, there existed an absolute tendency to disqualify Parliament for the performance of any duties connected with religion, and, by easy transitions, to overturn the very principle on which the constitution of this nation is based.
This speech was answered by Mr. Macaulay, who said that, leaving the question of religious toleration in general, he intended to confine himself to the positions advanced by Mr. Gladstone. On the ground that the bill relieving the Jews from all political disabilities would render them at some future time eligible to seats in Parliament, it had been said that those disabilities should not be removed. This argument was not a fair one. He had listened to the speech of the honourable member for Newark, and could discover no arguments which might not, with great facility, be applied to the members of that House. Who was to decide on points of faith? to say which was the true religion? The honourable member had mistaken the object of the bill. It was not to admit Jews into the House. The case of our excluding Roman Catholics from the throne, which had been alluded to, was a different one. Mr. Macaulay compared the treatment of the Jews with that of Roman Catholics and Dissenters, and held that the former was much worse, as, if carried out, it would lead to actual and open persecution. He thought their exclusion from civil offices a practical grievance, of which they had a just right to complain. The Roman Catholics amount to six or seven millions. It was found impossible to resist the determination of disaffected millions. But it was said the Jews were insignificant in point of number - that there was no need to fear a revolution in Petticoat Lane. If they were so insignificant a sect, why refuse to remove their disabilities? He apprehended no danger from it; the Jews were not a proselytising people; and they had seen how little influence articles of faith had in binding the ingenuity of certain casuists. He should be glad if those of Oxford would instruct the Jews in some of their ingenuity, and then he had no doubt they would make any declaration required of them. He did not believe that, after removing the disabilities of the Roman Catholics and Protestant Dissenters, the House would be guilty of so great an injustice as to refuse the same boon to that portion of Her Majesty's subjects which belonged to the Jewish persuasion.
The third reading was carried by a majority of 77; the numbers being, ayes, 108; noes, 31. The bill passed through the House of Lords as far as the third reading; but at that stage it was thrown out by a majority of 34.
Another matter involving the principles of religious liberty was, on the 1st of May, introduced by the Duke of Argyle, who took up the question of non-intrusion in the Church of Scotland. In an able speech he reviewed the various acts of the legislature on the rights of patronage in that Church. The object of his bill was to give effect to the principle of non-intrusion, by legalising the right of the congregation to dissent from the appointment of any presentee who might be sent to them by the patron. He was convinced that unless some measure to this effect was passed, the most lamentable consequences to the Church of Scotland would ensue, and there could be no doubt that a secession of a large number from the Church would take place; while, if the principle of non-intrusion were conceded, the surest means would be adopted to put an end to the agitation of those who were opposed to patronage altogether. He therefore earnestly appealed to their lordships to settle the question. The bill was resisted by the Earl of Aberdeen, Lord Dunfermline, and Lord Haddington. The bill was read a first time, and the second reading was postponed till after the meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in which the question was debated amidst scenes of the greatest popular excitement.
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