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Chapter X, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2

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The line of argument which he adopted was, first, to show the vanity of any assumption of an abstract right of all men to have a share in their own government - in other words, to establish one standard by which questions of this kind were to be judged, namely, the standard of public utility; and next, to show that in this case public utility demanded that the qualifications for the franchise should remain as they were. " If these abstract rights to a vote exist," said Mr. Lowe, " they are as much the property of the Australian savage and the Hottentot of the Cape as of the educated and refined Englishman. Those abstract rights are constantly invoked for the destruction of society and the overthrow of government, but they can never be successfully invoked as a foundation upon which government may securely rest." This kind of protest against the doctrine of " abstract rights " was followed by a series of illustrations, immensely relished by the House, of the evils of democracy in other countries, and of the ruin it would bring upon England. Mr. Lowe attacked in turn " the sentimental argument," "the fatalistic argument," and " the argument of necessity; " denying that the franchise, when made cheap and vulgar, would elevate the working classes; denying that sooner or later the upper class would have to give way; and denying that the working classes were " thundering at the gates " of the upper class and demanding admission with dangerous noise. He went on to draw two companion pictures, of the prosperity and happiness of the England of the present, with its adequate House of Commons, and of the dismal prospect offered by the England of the future, with the franchise, as he said, " degraded into the dirt," with its "institutions imperilled," with the boroughs handed over to the improvident class, with the state " cast loose from its only safe moorings in the £10 franchise, and set adrift on the ocean of democracy without chart or compass." Then, after pointing out natural differences between America and England which made, as he maintained, what was advisable there unadvisable here, Mr. Lowe concluded: - " The great Liberal party may well be presumed to know its own business better than I do. I venture, however, to make this prediction - that if they do unite their fortunes with the fortunes of democracy, as it is proposed they should do in the case of this measure, they will not miss one of two things: if they fail in carrying this measure, they will not ruin their party; and if they succeed in carrying this measure, they will ruin their country."

The rest of the debate is not specially memorable. Sir George Grey, speaking from the Treasury bench, expressed the feelings of the Whigs when he declared, almost in so many words, that the Government had not made up its mind, and when he implied that he at least approached the whole question with reluctance.

But, as we said above, not all the measures proposed in this session failed to be carried; one at least of great practical importance became law. This was the Union Chargeability Bill, brought in by Mr. Villiers, the President of the Poor Law Board. The object of this bill was to improve still further the working of the new Poor Law of 1834 - the law which created such a revolution in the system of relieving paupers. It will be remembered that that law sprang from the gross abuses to which the old Poor Law gave rise, and the palpable encouragement to pauperism which was given by the system of home-relief to the able-bodied. The new Poor Law went a long way to remedy those evils, but still it in its turn was open to objections; and this in spite of frequent amendments which Parliament had passed. The principles of the law were, (hat while all necessitous persons had a claim to relief, that relief was only to be given on conditions - namely, in the case of the able-bodied, in exchange for labour, and that labour to be given, not at the pauper's own home, but in the workhouse. The increased importance of workhouses led to their being consolidated. Instead of a separate and, probably, ill-appointed house in each parish, a large and well-appointed house was established for Unions of parishes, and these were to be under the control of properly elected guardians and of a central office. It appeared from Mr. Villiers, that, however well this system had worked in general, much inequality was caused by the overburdening of some parishes, and the inducement which the landowners and occupiers in some others had to drive away the poor. Hence followed a capricious distribution of the burden of the rates. Mr. Villiers proposed the simple plan - a plan, however, strongly opposed by the strenuous defenders of the strict parochial system - that the Union fund should for the future have to support all the poor within the Union, so that where its administration reached its charges should reach too. This very simple and just measure, denounced by some and applauded by others as the first step towards a system of national rating, was a good deal opposed by members of the Conservative party, but was finally carried both through the Commons and the Lords by considerable majorities. Mr. Villiers acknowledged that he proposed it as an instalment towards the removal of "settlement" altogether - that is, towards allowing a pauper to claim to be taken in to any workhouse, no matter what his domicile or " settlement " might be. But it was only a step. The total abolition of the parochial system, and the substitution of a national system for it, is not done in a day, nor in a single session. Few other measures of importance passed into law during this session. One at least, however, if we look to its future realisation rather than its present dreary uncertainty and delay, was important enough: this was the bill for the concentration of the courts of justice into one great building, the site indicated by the promoters being either one on the Thames Embankment, near the Temple, or the space of ground between the Strand and Lincoln's Inn Fields. The proposal was received with satisfaction both by the House, the lawyers, and the country; and every sane man was gratified at the thought that English law would be at last administered in courts that were properly built and decently ventilated. Only a few objectors, led by Lord St. Leonards, found fault with the proposal for paying the cost of the building out of the accumulated " Suitors' Fund " in Chancery. It was thought, however, that the great public convenience to be gained amply justified the wrong done to purely imaginary sufferers. The bill was passed, and, as all Londoners know, the Carey Street site, between the Strand and Lincoln's Inn, was decided upon. But, as is equally well known, beyond the choosing the site and demolishing the houses upon, it, and selecting a plan to be modified until everybody be pleased, nothing was done for many years. Greenwich Hospital was also reformed in this session. A Public Schools Bill was brought forward, but postponed; and the legislation on the subject will come into the history of another year.

This year was a quiet one in the religious world. In the course of it several interesting measures relating to religious tests and subscriptions were brought into Parliament; and though in the end little or nothing was done towards a practical settlement of the questions raised, still public attention was kept alive to them and to the importance of the convictions and feelings at issue. It is the wholesome check imposed upon every serious change in the opinion and rules of society, that it takes long years of slow and apparently fruitless effort before the general sense of the community is at length arrived at, and its decision given and recorded. There are now no such short cuts to change, especially to religious change, as were possible in bygone centuries; the jurisdiction of force in matters of opinion and belief has been minimised, and the reformer knows well that his only trustworthy support lies in the gradual accumulation of thought and opinion in his favour. Thus regarded, as steps in an inevitable road, even abortive Reform Bills, and Test Bills lost in the Commons, have a lasting interest and value. The University Tests Bill of 1865 was introduced by Mr. Göschen, then one of the members for tin city of London, and the motion for the second reading was seconded by Mr. Grant Duff - both men who have since won for themselves distinction in official life, and the latter a most eminent writer upon contemporary European politics. The bill, said Mr. Göschen, did not propose to admit Dissenters to the governing body of the University, although it might lead to that result eventually, but to enable degrees to be conferred without reference to religious tests. The Universities were not ecclesiastical corporations designed for the benefit of a portion only of the people. On the contrary, they were lay corporations, in which the ecclesiastical element had been accidentally introduced, and it was never contemplated that the clergy should assume the sole control and authority. If tests and subscriptions were done away with altogether, he did not believe that the University would be revolutionised, or the Established Church at all endangered. The change he proposed was large and substantial. It would give a degree independent of any theological test. It would also go beyond the Cambridge Act, and give a vote in Convocation; whilst it would admit to certain privileges and emoluments, to obtain which under the present system the degree of Master of Arts was an essential qualification. He could not believe that these concessions would lower the tone or impair the prestige of Oxford. So far from injuring the University, they would rather widen its basis and make it more useful and acceptable to the country, for he was convinced that no system could flourish which practically excluded one half the population from their traditional seat of learning.

In a short effective speech, Mr. Grant Duff gave three reasons for his support of the bill: (1) That it would be beneficial rather than hurtful to the Church; (2) that it was an act of simple justice to the Dissenters, who had been from the beginning of their history altogether excluded from the higher education of England; (3) that it would be useful to the University, by enabling it to understand more fully its duties to the nation and the proper scope of its influence and training.

But the time was not yet come for the admission of the principle upon which these arguments were based. Lord Cranborne and Mr. Gladstone, alarmed by certain conclusions advanced in Mr. Göschen's speech - such as, " We could not do better than copy the Universities of Germany in the matter of religious tests; " and " that our Universities and Colleges were national institutions not connected with any particular form of religion," - and persuaded that the effect of the bill would be to give over the government of the University to Dissenters, offered a warm opposition to it. The promoters of the bill, said Mr. Gladstone, openly avowed their desire to separate education from religion, and that was a principle to which he was resolutely opposed. How resolutely, the conduct of his Government with regard to the Education Act of 1870 has amply shown. Mr. Gathorne Hardy and Mr. Henley followed suit. According to Mr. Hardy, " the generalisation of religion was a dream of philosophers; there must be something definite and dogmatic in religious teaching; and the connection of the Church of England with the Universities was essential to their existence as teachings bodies." Mr. Henley thought that " simple indifference or downright unbelief" would follow the introduction of the proposed change into the Universities. Finally. Lord Cranborne's amendment - that the bill should be adjourned for six months - was negatived by 206 votes to 190. But it was felt that with so small a majority it was useless to push the bill any farther. If such was the temper of the Commons, it was well known that the Lords would make short work of it, and the measure was temporarily abandoned.

The Roman Catholic Oaths Bill again brought forward the subject of religious tests, only, however, to afford another triumph to religious conservatism. The object of Mr. Monsell, its introducer, was to alter the form of the oath required from Roman Catholic members of Parliament under the Relief Act of 1829, and to substitute for it the simple oath of the Queen's supremacy. The oath as administered under that Act required a Roman Catholic member to swear that he renounced, rejected, and abjured the doctrine that princes excommunicated or deposed by the Pope or any authority of the See of Rome might be deposed or murdered by their subjects or by any person whatever; - that lie disclaimed, disavowed, and abjured any intention to subvert the Established Church; and that he would never disturb or weaken the Protestant religion, or the Protestant Government in the United Kingdom. Such an oath, it was argued, was not an anachronism; it was a grievance and a degradation. It was apt to give rise to all kinds of strained interpretations, with which those who subscribed to it were liable to be harassed whenever it suited their opponents. For instance, some people had been found to declare that the terms of the oath ought to prevent Catholic members from voting on any Church question, and it might become a serious difficulty, whenever the question of the Disestablishment of the Irish Church should be raised, as men saw it must be raised sooner or later. Why, said Mr. Monsell, are Roman Catholic members alone required to take such an oath? Were they the only members who regarded the principle of the English Establishment as erroneous, and the Establishment itself a thing to be got rid of? Were they or the Dissenters most likely to subvert the present Church Establishment? Was it not, at least, a monstrous thing, that the oath should not be imposed in the one case, while it was required in the other? And of what real use to a Government is the imposition of oaths? (Here Mr. Monsell quoted from Mr. Speaker Onslow.) " A Government is never secure of the hearts of the people but from the justice of it, and the justice of it is generally a real security. When men habituate themselves to swear what they do not understand, they will easily be brought to forswear themselves in what they do understand. The like danger is from the frequency of them, which always takes off from the awe of them, and consequently form their force." The oath was, indeed, a remnant of the state of things before Catholic emancipation, and there could be no doubt that the just and liberal course would have been to oblige all members of Parliament, without exception or variation, to take a uniform oath. A strong and finally successful opposition, however, was advanced. Mr. Whalley's and Mr. Newdgate's Protestant consciences took the alarm; "in the interests of social and political order and the peace of families," they felt themselves bound to resist the measure. Sir George Grey, who supported the bill, was taunted with his Ultramontane leanings; and, according to Mr. Whiteside, the proposed change affected the Constitution, the Church, and the property of the country! However, by the help of Government support, given, said the Opposition, from electioneering motives, the bill was read a second time, and successfully maintained in committee. Substantially unaltered, it was sent up to the Lords, where, however, a night's debate disposed of it. Lord Derby made a long and powerful speech, appealing to every Tory cry and every Tory prejudice, till the measure assumed such formidable proportions that it frightened even its supporters. Lord Harrowby, Lord Chelmsford, and others followed suit, and, in spite of the efforts on the Liberal side, the bill was lost on division by twenty-one votes.

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