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The Hudson's Bay Company page 2

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But one of the greatest blows to the measure was the secession of Mr. Walpole and Mr. Henley, two of the ablest members of the Cabinet. On the evening after the introduction of the bill, the former rose and read a letter to the Premier, stating the grounds of his resignation. He said that he found it utterly impossible to sanction or countenance the policy which the Government had determined to adopt on the important subject of parliamentary reform. He regarded the reduction of the county occupation franchise to a level with that which existed in boroughs as utterly contrary to every principle which the Conservatives, as a party, had always maintained - as a complete destruction of the main distinction that had hitherto been recognised and wisely established between the borough and the county constituencies. It was to his mind a most dangerous innovation, giving to temporary and fluctuating occupations a preponderating influence over property and intelligence; while it would throw large masses into the constituencies who were almost exempt from direct taxation, and therefore interested in forcing their representatives to fix that taxation permanently on others. He could not help saying that the measure that the Cabinet had recommended was one which the Conservatives would all have stoutly opposed if either Lord Palmerston or Lord John Russell had ventured to bring it forward. Mr. Henley also explained, stating that he had taken as his guide the principles laid down by Lord Derby in 1854, and he believed that identity of suffrage, which was the principle of the Government bill, would be fatal to the constitution of the country. If they took a paint-brush to draw a line across the country, and say that all the people upon one side were to have the franchise, and all the people upon the other were not to have it, as sure as the sun was in heaven, they would find the people upon the outside of the line, some day or other, making a very ugly rush to break over it, and when they did break over it, it would not be easy to maintain the constitution. "Ever since the Act of 1832," said Mr. Henley, " the working people have had a less and less share in the representation. Before 1832 they had considerable power through the scot and lot voters and freemen. To draw a hard line, and leave the working people behind it, is to lay the foundation of a revolution. If there be an identity of franchise, the whole electoral power would then be placed in one class, and whether it were a £10, £15, or £5 class, it would, in my judgment, be equally dangerous. Our safety - the permanence of this constitution - has depended on the great variety of the constituency. You never have all classes at one time for one thing. If anything is proposed it gets well ventilated and well considered; then the truth is found out, and the country accepts it. I believe that, under an identity of franchise, you would lose that great and invaluable safeguard."

A few days after the introduction of the measure, Lord John Russell prepared the battle ground by giving notice of the following resolution, on which issue was taken: - "That this House is of opinion that it is neither just nor politic to interfere in the manner proposed by this bill with the freehold franchise as hitherto exercised I in counties in England and Wales; and that no readjustment of the franchise will satisfy this House or the country, which does not provide for a greater extension of the suffrage in cities and boroughs than is contemplated in the present measure." There never, perhaps, was a ministerial proposal of reform of any kind so badly supported by the country. Notwithstanding the influence of Government - generally great, no matter what party is in power - only three petitions had been presented in favour of the bill when it came on for the second reading on the 20th of March, while an immense number was presented against it. The debate on the second reading occupied seven nights, and was sustained throughout with remarkable ability and animation. The first speech was delivered by Lord John Russell, on moving his amendment to the motion of Mr. Disraeli, which was made without any remarks. The noble lord argued that the bill would completely change the constitution of the country, destroy rights that had existed since the Conquest, deprive men of their country votes who had not shown themselves unworthy of the trust, and enable persons of landed property to flood small boroughs with fagot votes, and make them what they were before 1832 - nomination boroughs; while in counties the measure would lead to the formation of electoral districts, which Lord Derby five years before had said would destroy one of the main balances of the Constitution. After referring to his own connection with the reform question, which began in 1819, Lord John Russell described the effects of the Reform Act of 1832, which had not been productive of those calamitous consequences that had been predicted by its opponents, but of great benefits - benefits obtained not through bloodshed, not through civil war, but by peaceable and tranquil discussion, and by the legitimate influence of public opinion. "Since that time," he said, "slavery has been abolished; we have had the question of tithes amicably arranged; we have had free municipal corporations established; a great reduction in the duties on customs and excise, which pressed heavily on the masses; protection was given up, and free trade sanctioned by Parliament. These and many other benefits have flowed from the Reformed Parliament, which, we were told, would be so fruitful in calamity and disaster, and which was to take the crown off the king's head, and shake the balance of the State." He concluded in these words: - " With regard to this great question of reform, I may say that I defended it while I was young, and I will not desert it now that I am old."

Lord Stanley replied to Lord John Russell, and taunted him with having allowed the question to fall in abeyance, and with having brought forward his motion as virtually a vote of censure, and as such it was met on the part of his colleagues, who declared that the noble lord's motion would be fatal to the bill. Mr. Horsman delivered a strong speech against Lord John Russell. Sir E. Bulwer Lytton, then Secretary for the Colonies, delivered one of his most elaborate and splendid orations in defence of the measure, arguing that the effect of the amendment would be to transfer political power from the middle class to those below them, and place "capital and knowledge at the command of impatient poverty and uninstructed numbers. Sir Hugh Cairns, the Solicitor-General, also shone in this debate. Referring to an alleged compact between Lord John Russell and Mr. Bright, he said, " We all know and admit the noble lord's attachment to this question; but we also know that there is a form of the tender passion which sometimes develops itself in jealousy of any attention to the object of its affection from any other quarter. I think the noble lord exposes himself to some misconstruction on this point. The English people," he continued, " do not like a 'a dodge.' They do not like it in business, they do not like it in politics; but least of all do they admire it in a man who, at a time when the best interests of his country at home, and our most peaceful hopes abroad, demand all the patriotism, all the candour, and all the forbearance of a statesman, approaches the consideration of a great national question like this, not fairly to criticise, not boldly to reject, but with a crafty and catching device to confuse, and, if it may be, to dislocate parties, and on that confusion and dislocation to secure his own political aggrandisement and private advantage." Mr. Bright ably exposed the main defects of the bill. The people out-of-doors understood by a Reform Bill a large enfranchisement, and larger, freer constituencies. The bill did not meet that demand; it got rid of the most independent electors from counties, and insidiously proposed to alter the boundaries of boroughs to complete the work. The object was to make the representation of counties more exclusively territorial, and to gratify the hundred and fifty gentlemen who sat behind Mr. Disraeli elected by the territorial interest. As to small boroughs, which were only a refuge for the politically destitute, he knew no limit whatever to the amount of corruption in them that would be occasioned by the bill. It would, at the same time, exclude the working classes, telling them that they were dangerous, notwithstanding their improved mental, moral, and physical condition. "I have," he said, "endeavoured to stand on the rules of political economy, and to be guided by the higher rules of true morality; and when advocating a measure of reform larger than some are prepared to grant, I appear in that character; for I believe a substantial measure of reform would elevate and strengthen the character of our population, and, in the language of the beautiful prayer read here every day, it would tend to knit together the hearts of all persons and estates within this realm. I believe it would add to the authority of the decisions of Parliament; and I feel satisfied it would confer a lustre time could never dim on that benignant reign under which we have the happiness to live."

Mr. Cardwell regarded the present bill as calculated to increase instead of reducing undue influence, and to diminish instead of augmenting the power of public opinion in that House. He contended that variety of franchise was the rule of the constitution, and that, in order not to unsettle ancient prescription, a reform bill should deal with the county franchise according to the history of that franchise. Unlike the Continental nations, freedom, not equality, had always been the desire of the British people, and the principle of uniformity was wholly foreign to our constitution. Lord Palmerston supported the amendment of Lord John Russell. On the other hand, Mr. Whiteside denounced it as " an inscrutable resolution to stifle truth and prevent discussion - a crafty contrivance to defeat the bill, and, if possible, the Ministry." Sir J. Pakington complained strongly of the speech of Lord Palmerston, stating that he had adopted a tone of arrogance altogether unusual between gentlemen who sat opposite to each other in that House, and that his language could be looked on in no other light than as wanting in due respect to the Crown. Mr. Gladstone remarked upon the singular coincidence of opinion on all sides with respect to the great question of parliamentary reform. There was no controversy traceable to differences between political parties, and he thought it was to be regretted that the House was now in hostile conflict, with a division before them, which would estrange those by whose united efforts alone a satisfactory settlement could be come to. The resolution was unprecedented in form, being an amendment on the second reading of a bill, referring to a portion of a measure that might be dealt with in committee. Pleading for consideration to the Government, he described the failures of their predecessors who had engaged in a similar task. Reform had been promised by Lord John Russell, Lord Aberdeen, and Lord Palmerston, none of whom had been able to redeem the pledges that had been given to the people from the mouth of the sovereign on the throne. In 1855 Lord Palmerston escaped all responsibility for a reform bill on account of the war; in 1856 he escaped all responsibility for reform on account of the peace; in 1857 he escaped by the dissolution of Parliament; in 1858 he escaped by the dissolution of his Government. This series of events strengthened the misgivings of the people that the House was reluctant to deal with the question, and made it more hazardous to interpose obstacles. Mr. Gladstone defended small boroughs. He regarded them as a means of supplying a race of men who were trained to carry on the government of the country; the masters of civil wisdom, like Burke, Mackintosh, Pelham, Chatham, Fox, Pitt, Canning, and Peel, all of whom first sat for small boroughs. If there was to be no ingress to the House but one, and that one the suffrages of a large mass of voters, there would be a dead level of mediocrity. The extension, the durability of our liberty, were to be attributed under Providence to distinguished statesmen introduced to the House at an early age. But large constituencies would not return boys, and therefore he hoped the small boroughs would be retained. Those facts formed a reason for going into committee, where Lord John Russell could carry his views. Mr. Gladstone earnestly deprecated the postponement of the question. It was a golden opportunity which they should not let slip.

Sir Robert Peel followed in an effective speech. After this bill had been dissected and disembowelled, he should enter into no long disquisition upon its merits. He asked the House the simple question, Where were they? He had listened to the debate from the first, and had been bewildered by the confused conflict of opinions. The bill pretended to amend the representation; but while it unsettled the existing system, it did not admit to the franchise any portion of the industrious classes. It disfranchised the borough freeholders, it retained the small boroughs, and it introduced the objectionable scheme of voting papers. He called upon the House, if it desired a measure of reform founded on true principles, to confide the task to other and abler hands. Mr. Disraeli, in replying, defended his measure with vehemence, and not without personal acrimony towards Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell, whom he charged with living in an atmosphere of combinations and cunning resolutions when out of office. By bringing forward this untoward motion, and by sneering at Lord Malmesbury at a moment when negotiations were pending, when an awful responsibility rested on the Minister, Lord John had not only embarrassed the Government, but injured the public service. The Government, he said, had been sustained in all its arduous struggles by a conviction of the justice of the people of England, and were sustained by it at that moment, amid all the manœuvres of parliamentary intrigue and all the machinations of party warfare. The House then proceeded to a division, in the midst of a scene of extraordinary excitement, the issue being rather uncertain till the last moment. It was, however, decisive against the Government, the numbers being - for the second reading, 291; against it, 330; majority, 39. The division took place on the 1st of April.

Next day Lord Derby had an audience of the Queen; on the same evening, in the Lords, he stated that the majority against him left him but one alternative, either to resign or dissolve Parliament. He regarded the vote as equivalent to a vote of want of confidence, and he thought the Government would have laid themselves open to a charge of indifference if they took no notice of such a division. The distracted state of parties in the House of Commons, he said, rendered it almost impossible to administer the affairs of the nation. He excepted from this censure the Conservative party, whose support had been unwavering, cordial, and generous. According to his lordship's view, the chief mischief-maker was Lord John Russell, who, from the restless energy of his disposition, had the peculiar fortune to overthrow many Governments, not only of his opponents but also of his friends; the consequence of which conduct was, that hardly a year now passed without a ministerial crisis, and if the system were persevered in, it would put an end to all government; for it inflicted injury at home, and damaged the influence of the country abroad. In accepting office he had endeavoured to carry on the Government, not by embittering, but by conciliating all parties, until a party should be formed capable of carrying out a fixed and definite policy. One of the questions bequeathed to him by the late Government was the damnosa hœréditas of parliamentary reform. He had, in consequence, introduced a bill to meet that question. Their lordships knew how it had been received. It had not been suffered to be read a second time, and to be amended in committee; but had been met by a resolution which, according to some authorities, was contrary to parliamentary practice, and had been swamped without discussion. Had it been otherwise, he and his colleagues were prepared to vindicate its principles, and to consider proposed alterations, which, had they been admissible, no false pride would have prevented him from accepting. An opportunity had thus been given to the House of Commons to settle this question, but the Opposition preferred the interests of party to the interests of the country. Lord Palmerston had said that "the Ministers should be condemned to keep their places and do our bidding." But Lord Derby begged to tell him that he would do no one's bidding but that of the Queen, so long as he retained her confidence. But whose bidding were they to do? Was it that of the motley and heterogeneous Liberal party? He then announced that, considering the grave condition of European affairs and the domestic interests of the country, he had deemed it his duty to recommend to Her Majesty an early dissolution of Parliament, stating that he looked with confidence to the result of the appeal about to be made to the country. Lord Granville vindicated Lord John Bussell from the severe reflections cast on him by the Premier. He wanted to know what the Cabinet were going to the country for? to confirm their policy? They had no policy, but wanted the country to provide one.

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