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Chapter XXIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 6

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Or, to look at the figures differently, if we compare the representation of the towns with a population under 20,000 with those whose population is above that line, we discover that 89 boroughs with an aggregate population of 7,641,000 have 159 members, and 168 boroughs with an aggregate population of 1,112,000 have 149 members. A sufficiently startling discrepancy! The small boroughs, with about one-seventh of the population of the large boroughs, have all but as many members as they. Or, lastly, to select one more set of figures, we find that while the average representation in the boroughs of more than 100,000 inhabitants is one member for 101,000 persons, in the 68 boroughs below 10,000 the representation is one member for about 7,000 persons. It is not surprising that much criticism was passed upon this feature of the Government bill, though it must be confessed that the criticism was chiefly outside the walls of Parliament. Ministers and Opposition have a common interest, and are warned by a common experience, in questions of redistribution. The issue is too personal for any reform to be very thorough. No minister could expect his followers to vote directly for their own political extinction; still less could a leader of Opposition in a case where a successful vote must lead to a dissolution, and that to a confronting of the members for the assailed boroughs with their angry constituents. On the whole, whatever was the opinion out-of-doors - and that, of course, varied with the local circumstances of the critics - Parliament itself was fairly satisfied with the redistribution scheme.

The remaining time during which the bill was in committee was occupied with a discussion of the complicated question of boundaries. It was necessary, in order to give completeness to the bill, to examine the boundaries of existing boroughs and counties, as well as to determine those of the new boroughs created by the bill. For this purpose, after much debating on minute points connected with the rights conferred by different kinds of ownership in boroughs and counties, a parliamentary commission was appointed " to inquire into the boundaries of all the boroughs of England and Wales, with a view to ascertain whether the boundaries were to be enlarged; " to investigate also the local conditions of the new boroughs, and to ascertain what alterations should be made in the divisions of counties. The report of the Boundary Commissioners was to be laid before Parliament, and, till its adoption, provisional regulations were made on the points in question. At last, at the end of a long and weary session, the moment arrived - the " supreme and solemn moment," as Mr. Beresford Hope described it - when the Reform Bill was to be read a third time. It was the evening of the 15th July. During four months the bill had occupied the exclusive attention of the House of Commons, the partial attention of the House of Lords, the unvaried interest of the country and the press. The principles, and even the details, of Reform had at last become familiar, not only to the working man who was about to be enfranchised, but to the Conservative member who was about to enfranchise him. Everybody's mind was made up; the doubtful points of residence, of personal rating, of dual voting, of household suffrage, were settled at last - so far, at least, as the House of Commons was concerned. Mr. Disraeli's success was at hand. But, first of all, although no more divisions were to be faced, and although the passing of the bill was certain, the Government knew that it was not to escape a whipping from exasperated enemies and candid friends. In the presence of a crowded House - the galleries filled with ladies, peers, and strangers - Lord Cranborne rose to deliver his soul. From the day when he had resigned office, and refused to work with Mr. Disraeli, the rooted antipathy between the late Secretary for India and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been growing in strength. The aristocratic English blood of the heir of the Cecils could never brook the success of the man whom he always regarded as, at best, a resident alien; his rigid uprightness was always offended by the over-versatility of his late colleague; his bitter temper was outraged by the triumph of a minister who, however stinging he might be to his enemies, made friends, and kept them, by his power of ready sympathy and self-obliteration. Throughout this year and the next, anonymous articles appeared in the Conservative periodicals, laden with venom, and aimed at Mr. Disraeli; and Mr. Disraeli himself charged Lord Cranborne with their authorship, and was not contradicted. But none of those articles exceeded in savageness the speech which Lord Cranborne delivered on the third reading of the bill. In incisive language, and with the slow measured action to which his tall figure so readily lends itself, he deliberately charged the Tory leaders with a betrayal of their trust. He ridiculed the idea of the bill being called " a Conservative triumph." " The real parent of the bill, as we are about to pass it," he said, " is not the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Disraeli), but the member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone). " The bill which had been offered to the House in March was wholly unlike the bill which was now waiting its final approval. The "checks and counterpoises," of which Mr. Disraeli had spoken so confidently, were gone. Mr. Gladstone had demanded ten alterations in the bill, and had carried nine of them - the lodger franchise, the abolition of the compound householder, the provision against traffic in votes, the abolition of the "taxing franchise," the omission of the dual vote, enlarged redistribution of seats, reduced county franchise, the omission of voting-papers, of the educational, and of the savings bank franchise. " If the omission of these clauses, and the adoption of the principles of Mr. Bright, be a triumph, then the Conservative party has never in the whole course of its history won a triumph so signal as this." Then, in words of profound seriousness, he went on: "I desire to protest, in the most earnest language which I am capable of using, against the political morality on which the manœuvres of this year have been based. If you borrow your political ethics from the ethics of the political adventurer, you may depend upon it the whole of your representative institutions will crumble beneath your feet.... Even if I deemed this measure to be most advantageous, I still should deeply regret that the position of the Executive should have been so degraded as it has been in the present session. I should deeply regret to find that the House of Commons has applauded a policy of legerdemain; and I should above all things, regret that this great gift to the people - if gift you think it - should have been purchased at the cost of a political betrayal which has no parallel in our parliamentary annals."

This, from a seceding Conservative, from one who, even in opposition, retained the confidence of the Conservative back benches, was severe; and no less severe was the language of Mr. Lowe, who spoke immediately after. If Lord Cranborne was bitter because he, and genuine Conservatives with him, had been sacrificed to keep, as he said, " political adventurers " in office, Mr. Lowe was furious because he had succeeded in turning out the Liberal Government in 1866 only to make way for a more revolutionary Tory Government in 1867. " Was it to be conceived," he said, "that right honourable gentlemen, who had given no indications of the extreme facility of changing their opinions and lending themselves to the arts of treachery, would, for the sake of keeping a few of them in office for a short time and giving soma small patronage to half a dozen lawyers, have been prepared to sacrifice all the principles, all the convictions, all the traditions of their lives; while others were prepared to turn round upon their order and the institutions of their country, merely for the purpose of sitting behind these right honourable gentlemen, and hearing, with the knowledge that it is all true, language such as that the noble lord (Cranborne) has used to-night?" However, Mr. Lowe had, in the midst of his wrath, what may be called " lucid intervals " of foresight and practical reflection upon the consequences of the bill. Every one admitted that it was to pass; every one admitted that its effect would be striking and immediate. What, then, ought to be the attitude of Parliament and public opinion? Clearly, to soften " the blow which had been levelled at our ancient institutions " as much as possible. " We must," said Mr. Lowe, in an afterwards famous epigram - " we must persuade our masters to learn their letters." That is to say, education on a wide and national plan must at once begin to be the concern of Parliament. As Mr. Bernai Osborne expressed it in the same debate, " the cry must in future be, not ' register, register,' but ' educate, educate; ' for it would be highly dangerous to Americanise our institutions without raising our education up to the standard of America." But Mr. Lowe had little time to spare for the future; the present was too galling to him. He compared the defeat of the anti-Reformers by Mr. Disraeli to the " rout of Chœronea, fatal to liberty," when King Philip of Macedon crushed, once for all, Athenian independence. Athenian art embodied the sense of Athenian defeat in the statue of a prostrate lion; " and O!" said Mr. Lowe, " that some one would do the same for us! O that a man would rise in order that he might set forth in words that could not die, the shame, the rage, the scorn, the indignation, and the despair with which this measure is viewed by every cultivated Englishman who is not a slave to the trammels of party, or who is not dazzled by the glare of a temporary and ignoble success."

Several other speeches followed, none of them very complimentary to the Government, and Mr. Disraeli was not happy in his attempt to answer them. He had to perform the impossible task of showing that the Conservative party had in this measure acted in a purely Conservative spirit, and in a manner consistent with previous professions. Instead of taking up the tenable ground, that the Conservative party had seen good cause, on an examination of figures and facts, to change their old opinions, he boldly asserted that the old opinions remained unchanged and were embodied in this bill. With a noble audacity he declared that even in 1859 - the year when Lord Derby's first Reform Bill was projected - '"'the Cabinet was unanimous... that if we attempted to reduce the borough qualification which then existed, we must have recourse to household suffrage; " an assertion which it is sufficient to say was flatly contradicted soon afterwards by Lord Carnarvon in the House of Lords. But neither questionable paradoxes on Mr. Disraeli's part, nor fierce invective on Mr. Lowe's, had any influence on the success of the bill. When the Speaker put the momentous words from the chair, " That this bill do now pass," only one obstinate voice cried " no; " and a shout of " aye," audible far beyond the limits of the House, gave Mr. Disraeli the happy assurance that his bill had passed the Commons.

The bill had passed the Commons, but it was not yet law. It is the peculiarity of bills passed by the Conservative party in the Commons, in spite of Conservative traditions, that the Lords are apt, if not to reject them, at least to accept them unwillingly. An aristocratic body is always attached to its own order, but it is notoriously unwilling to submit to leaders in the same way that a popular body submits. It has immense respect for personal character; but it does not allow that respect to lead it to disregard its own convictions. It is deferential, but not obedient. Hence, when Lord Derby rose to move the second reading of the Reform Bill in the House of Lords on July 22 - exactly a week after it had left the Commons - he found his own party by no means so manageable as Mr. Disraeli had found them in the Lower House. The debate was long, the speeches able. Almost all thè prominent debaters on both sides of the House took part in the discussion; in the end the second reading passed without a division, and yet the speeches were very nearly unanimous in disapproving of the measure. Lord Cairns, indeed, approved the bill warmly, and made no secret of his hopes from " the residuum." "We know that on most subjects there is a considerable difference of opinion between what are called the higher artisan class and those below them," said he; that is, we know that there is a gulf fixed between the bricklayer and the bricklayer's labourer. Lord Cairns appealed, in the name of the Conservatives, from the bricklayer to the bricklayer's labourer. This, he said, was the distinction between the bill of 1866 and the present bill: the line of £7 rental would let in the " higher artisan class " only - a class presumed to be hostile to Conservatism; and household rating suffrage would let in the " class below them " - a class easily manageable at election times. This dangerous argument was, however, not generally supported in the House. Lord Shaftesbury, whose judgment on matters of fact connected with the working classes commands universal respect, said: " To proceed as is done by this bill, to lift by the sudden jerk of an Act of Parliament the whole residuum of society up to the level of the honest, thrifty working-man, is, I believe, distasteful to the working-men themselves. I am sure it dishonours the suffrage." And again: " The bill leads us to the Tarpeian Rock, and throws us over like criminals." This was in the debate raised by Lord Grey's amendment, which was to the effect that " the Representation of the People Bill does not appear to the House to be calculated, in its present shape, to effect a permanent settlement of this important question, or to promote the future good government of the country." Lord Grey, however, did not mean to oppose the second reading, but only to show to the Commons what the Lords considered to be weak points in their bill; and in the end, finding that the common opinion of the House accepted the bill as inevitable, he withdrew his amendment - not, however, before Lord Carnarvon, one of the seceding ministers, had spoken in words which almost echoed the furious charges of Lord Cranborne and Mr. Lowe in the other House. Speaking of Mr. Disraeli's assertion, to which we have already referred, that household suffrage had been the secret doctrine of the Conservatives ever since 1859, he said: " My lords, whatever others may say or may do, and though I stand alone, a mere unit, I repudiate and protest against this assertion. I protest against it, not only as being inconsistent with fact, but as being a gross and palpable insult to my understanding. My lords, I am not a convert to this new faith, and I will not stultify by any act or word of mine my own course of action. I will not stultify the very existence of the Conservative party; for if this indeed were so - if household suffrage really be the-secret faith of Conservative Cabinets and the Conservative party - if during the time we have been opposing successive Reform Bills as they were introduced; if, whilst last year we denounced a £7 rental franchise as leading directly and immediately to revolution, we all the while cherished the hope of uniform household suffrage - why, my lords, I would heap ashes on my head, and would acknowledge, with all humility, and yet with all sincerity, that the whole life of the great party to which I thought I had the honour to belong was nothing but an organised hypocrisy."

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Pictures for Chapter XXIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 6

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