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The Hudson's Bay Company

The Hudson's Bay Company - Termination of its Monopoly - Discovery of Gold Mines in its Territory - The Colony of British Columbia founded - Vancouver's Island - Speech of Sir E. Bulwer Lytton - The Atlantic and the Pacific - Proposed Anglo-American Confederation - Mr. Locke King's Act for Abolishing the Property Qualification of Members of Parliament - Evils of the old System - Abortive Attempt to abolish the Privilege of Freedom from Arrest for Debt enjoyed by Members of Parliament - Parliamentary Reform - Agitation by Mr. Bright - The Reform Bill of Lord Derby's Cabinet - Speech of Mr. Disraeli - Novel Features of the Measure - Objections to the Bill - Its Exclusion of the Working Classes - Secession of Mr. Walpole and Mr. Henley from the Ministry - Their reasons for this Step - A Uniform Franchise - Electoral Districts - Resolution of Lord J. Russell - Seven Nights' Debate on the Second Reading - Speeches of Lord J. Russell, Lord Stanley, Mr. Horsman, Sir E. Bulwer Lytton, Sir Hugh Cairns, Mr. Bright, Mr. Cardwell, Lord Palmerston, Mr. Whiteside, Sir J. Pakington, Mr. Gladstone, Sir Robert Peel, and Mr. Disraeli - Defeat of the Government - Dissolution of Parliament - General Election - Debate on the Address - An Amendment carried against the Government - Resignation of the Cabinet of Lord Derby - His Complaint of Unfair Treatment - Lord Palmerston's Administration.
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The vast territory of the Hudson's Bay Company was converted into a British colony in 1857. For nearly half a century the varied productions of this territory had enriched that Company - fur and skins of various kinds, fish, timber, all of excellent quality. Agriculture was discouraged, and the land was preserved as well as possible for the use of fur-bearing animals, although the soil was in many places extremely rich; it was watered by magnificent rivers, and abounded in minerals. Several attempts had been made to open this region for the purposes of colonisation, and thus to connect the Atlantic with the Pacific, the whole intervening country being the property of the British Crown. The monopoly of the Hudson's Bay Company, however, effectually resisted those attempts until its licence expired, contemporaneously with the discovery of gold, in 1857. This discovery attracted an immense number of adventurers from California and other parts of the United States, and from China, as well as Great Britain, its dependencies, and the American colonies. The aborigines, too, abandoned their hunting and fishing in the pursuit of gold, and, owing to intemperance, disease, and famine, perished in great numbers. The influx of so much heterogeneous population taxed the energies of Mr. Douglas, the Governor of Vancouver’s Island, who of necessity united in his own person both legislative and executive functions, subject to the ex post facto approval of the Colonial Secretary. During the year 1859 the export of gold was at the rate of £14,000 a month. The number of gold- diggers was reckoned at above 50,000.

The time was therefore come when a regular government for the whole territory should be provided, and in the session of 1858 Sir E. Bulwer Lytton, then Colonial Secretary in Lord Derby's Government, brought in a bill for the purpose. He stated that the Government intended the following year to resume possession of Vancouver’s Island, and to include it within the new colony, which was first called "New Caledonia," but the name was subsequently changed to British Columbia. The territory lies between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific, bounded on the south by the American frontier line, 49 deg. lat., settled with the Government of the United States in 1859. Its average length is about 420 miles, and its average breadth about 300 miles; but taken from corner to corner it is nearly double those numbers, and the territory has been estimated at 120,000 square miles, exclusive of Vancouver’s Island, which is estimated at 18,000 square miles. This island abounds in the most valuable fisheries, salmon, herrings, and oysters being found to an extent almost unknown elsewhere. It also produces coals and timber in large quantities. Mr. Douglas, a servant of the Hudson's Bay Company, then Governor of the island, was appointed the firs ' Governor of British Columbia. Sir E. Bulwer Lytton, at the conclusion of his speech, remarked - " I do believe that the day will come, and that many now present will live to see it, when a portion at least of the lands on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, being also brought into colonisation, and guarded by free institutions, one direct line of railway communication will unite the Pacific with the Atlantic. Be that as it may, of one thing I am sure, that though at present it is the desire of gold which attracts to this colony its eager and impetuous founders, still if it be reserved, as I hope, to add a permanent and flourishing race to the great family of" nations, it must be, not by the gold which the diggers may bring to light, but by the more gradual process of patient industry in the culture of the soil, and in the exchange of commerce. It must be by respect for the equal laws which secure to every man the power to retain what he may honestly acquire; it must be in those social virtues by which the fierce impulse of force is turned into habitual energy; and avarice itself, amidst the strife of competition, finds its object best realised by steadfast emulation and prudent thrift. I conclude, sir, with a humble trust that the Divine Disposer of all human events may afford the safeguard of his blessing to our attempt to add another community of Christian freemen to those by which Great Britain confides the records of her empire, not to pyramids and obelisks, but to states and commonwealths, whose history will be written in her language."

In the Queen's speech at the close of the session, Her Majesty expressed a hope that this new colony on the Pacific might be but one step in the career of steady progress, by which her dominions in North America might be ultimately peopled, in an unbroken chain from the Atlantic to the Pacific, by a loyal and industrious population of the subjects of the British Crown. This hope is likely to be realised sooner than even sanguine minds anticipated, by the rapid progress of colonisation and the proposed establishment of a great Anglo- American confederation, stretching across the Continent from ocean to ocean.

Mr. Locke King has been honourably distinguished by his persevering efforts to extend the franchise in counties; but he was more successful in his endeavours to remove a great blot from the system of parliamentary representation, by abolishing the property qualification of members. This was always regarded as a highly conservative feature of the constitution; and at the time the Reform Bill was passed, it would perhaps have been impossible to carry its abolition. It had, however, so notoriously become a sham, and involved so much that was discreditable, false, and immoral in the efforts to 9vade the law, that although the Conservatives were now in power, the bill of Mr. Locke King encountered no serious opposition in either House. A member for a county was obliged to swear that he had a clear estate in perpetuity worth £500, or for a borough £300 a year. But it was well known that the oath was not true, but merely conventional, and that the qualification was often created by fictitious conveyances, which if obtained for any other purpose would have been regarded as positively fraudulent. Consequently, the theory that the property qualification secured the respectability and local weight which landed estates confer, was altogether delusive. Adventurers and men of straw entered the House without any difficulty when returned by English and Irish constituencies; while in Scotland, where there was no property qualification, men of standing and worth were almost invariably selected as representatives. Besides, the existing system was rendered still more obnoxious by the fact that the sons of peers were exempt from the operation of the law, and could enter the House of Commons without any property qualification. The law, therefore, was universally understood to be an unreality, a sham, and a snare; while, as Lord Fortescue remarked in the Upper House, it limited the freedom of choice among the electors, and was an infringement on the rights of the people. Earl Grey, indeed, considered the measure to be only one of a series put forward by a party that desired to effect a total change in the representative system - a change that would bring it closer to a democracy, which they hoped to effect by degrees and in detail. But the Earl of Derby met this objection fully: it did not follow that because the House of Commons passed this measure, it would also pass those which Earl Grey deprecated; the £10 franchise in counties, for example. He did not believe the abolition of the qualification would make any substantial difference in the condition of the representation. The argument that the abolition would encourage men of straw to set up as candidates at elections, was met by the fact that this did not happen in Scotland, where no qualification was required; and that the present law was constantly, and almost with connivance, evaded. The Duke of Newcastle also argued that they might safely remove all restrictions, and added the sensible remark, " that if some poor men did get into Parliament, they were likely to be more honest than those speculative politicians who supported any government for the advantages they could obtain for themselves and their friends." The bill passed without much further opposition.

The success of the measure encouraged an attempt to abolish the privilege of freedom from arrest for debt; but it was defended on the ground that it protected the independence of members, and was shared in by barristers attending the courts or on circuit, justices of the peace at sessions, suitors and witnesses, the Queen's servants, and foreign ambassadors with their servants; and on the ground that the Bill drew a distinction between peers and members of the House of Commons. It was read a second time by a considerable majority on the 30th of June; but it was allowed to drop.

One of the most singular anomalies connected with the relations of political parties in this country, occurred in the session of 1859. The defects of the Reform Act had occupied the attention of politicians from time to time, and fruitless attempts had been made by Lord John Russell and others to remedy those defects, and supplement the great measure of 1831. Mr. Bright agitated the subject in the North with his usual eloquence and power of argument, and not without considerable effect on the public mind in the manufacturing districts; but the nation at large could not be induced to take much interest in the subject. No urgent need was generally felt for a reform in the representation, the prevalent conviction being, that the House of Commons as it stood was quite competent to perform all its duties as a representative body; but if any attempt were made to give fuller effect in the Commons to the will of the people, nothing could be more unlikely than that it should be made by a Conservative Government, supported by men who had strenuously resisted reform at a time when it was imperatively demanded by the nation. Yet, in the Royal speech, at the opening of the session, the Queen was made to say - "Your attention will be called to the state of the laws which regulate the representation of the people in Parliament, and I cannot doubt but that you will give to this great subject a degree of calm and impartial consideration pro portioned to the magnitude of the interests involved in the result of your deliberations."

In pursuance of this announcement, Mr. Disraeli, Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the Commons, introduced a Reform Bill, on the 28th of February, in a crowded House, full of interest and curiosity to learn what might be the nature of a measure of the kind proceeding from a Conservative Cabinet. The right honourable gentleman spoke in a manner worthy of an occasion so remarkable and a position so equivocal. The question as he viewed it was more important than one of peace or war. It was beset with difficulties, but they were mitigated by the absence of passion and the advantage of experience. There was a general wish to settle the question, and the Government offered a solution, not based upon any mean concession or temporary compromise, but consistent with the spirit and principles of the constitution. Since the great measure of 1831 the progress of the nation had been extremely rapid, there being no instance in history of such an increase of population and accumulation of capital as had taken place within that period. Hence parliamentary reform had become successively a public question, a parliamentary question, and a ministerial question. Lord John Russell in 1852, and Lord Aberdeen in 1854, counselled Her Majesty to announce from the throne a measure of parliamentary reform, nor was the House reluctant to deal with the question. What, under these circumstances, was Lord Derby's duty? It might have been practicable, by evasion, to stave off the difficulty; but was it to be left in abeyance as a means for reorganising an opposition, as a desperate resource of faction? Lord Derby's Cabinet were unanimous in thinking that the question should be dealt with in a sincere and earnest spirit, nor was there anything in the antecedents or position of the Premier - whom Lord Grey had summoned to his cabinet in 1832 - to preclude him from dealing with it, or to justify the taunts so freely used against the present ministry for undertaking the task. Mr. Disraeli argued against the principle of basing representation upon population. If the House of Commons were re-constructed according to that principle, it would find itself in the ignominious position from which it had been emancipated more than two centuries ago. His plan would combine population with property, adding the new principle of representing property in the funds; a new kind of franchise, founded upon personal property; and another founded upon education. He would give a vote, therefore, to persons having property to the amount of £10 a year in the funds, Bank stock, and East India stock; to persons having £60 in a savings bank; to pensioners in the naval, military, and civil services receiving £20 a year. He would also give the vote to lodgers, or persons occupying a portion of a house, whose aggregate rent was £20 a year. He would give the franchise to graduates of the universities, clergymen of all denominations, members of the legal profession, of the medical body, and to a certain class of schoolmasters. He proposed an identity of suffrage between counties and boroughs, in order to bring about general content and sympathy between the different portions of the constituency. Thus a £10 franchise would be given to counties, which would add 200,000 to the county constituency. Commissioners were to be appointed to adjust the borough boundaries to the altered circumstances of the country, so as to embrace the population that had sprung up. Discarding the principle of population, and accepting as a truth that the function of the House was to represent, not the voice of a numerical majority, or the predominant influence of property, but the various interests of the country, the Government proposed to add four members to the West Riding of Yorkshire, two to South Lancashire, and two to Middlesex; and also to give members to Hartlepool, Birkenhead, West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Burnley, Staleybridge, Croydon, and Gravesend, for which purpose one member was to be taken from each of a number of small places then represented by two.

Strong objections were made to this measure by members representing various classes of reformers. Mr. Baxter complained that it excluded Scotland, and moved as an amendment that " it is expedient to consider the laws relating to the representation of the people in England, Scotland, and Ireland, not separately, but in one measure." Mr. Pox said that the bill did nothing for the working classes. Lord John Russell condemned the clause which would take away from freeholders in towns the right of voting in counties. Mr. Roebuck denounced it as a measure of disenfranchisement, leading to a worse state, and not giving one iota of power to the working classes. Mr. Bright also strongly censured the measure for excluding the working classes from power. The new franchises were absurd, and seemed intended merely to make it appear that something was given. He thought that a Government, representing a party which had always opposed the extension of political power to the people, ought not to have undertaken to settle this question. It would have been better if it had adopted a measure of its opponents, than to introduce a bill which must create anger and disgust throughout the country - which would disturb everything and settle nothing.

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