OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

The Reform Bill page 2

Pages: 1 <2>

Deep among the masses of the British people was already a demand for universal suffrage and vote by ballot. Among the governing class was a settled conviction that any demand by the people for a share in the government was deserving of punishment as a crime. It was evident that a satisfactory measure of reform was not near. Many years passed before it was wrung from the reluctant hands of those who had it in their power to give or to withhold. The people never relaxed their effort to gain reform. Their patience and forbearance under the cruel frustration of their wishes argued fitness for the privileges from which they were debarred. They learned to put trust in the moderate counsels of Earl Grey, Lord John Russell, and the Whig party, and they ceased to think of force. The wishes of a people without representation in Parliament gathered weight slowly, but quite inevitably.

In the summer months of 1830 the despotism of the restored house of Bourbon made itself unendurable by the French people. The Parisians, after three days of fighting, expelled their king, and reasserted the liberties of which he had sought to rob them. Again, as forty years before, French example exercised a powerful influence in England. For fifteen years the English people had been vainly striving for a little reform in their system of government. In three days the French had struck to the earth a tyrannical government, and vindicated their right to be governed as they chose. The impression produced in England was deep and universal. Public meetings to express approval of this new revolution were held everywhere; and the desire for immediate reform now passed into a determination.

A few weeks before the expelled King of France came to find his refuge in the old palace of Holy rood, George IV., the worn-out voluptuary, passed unlamented away, and a general election consequent upon the accession of his brother was ordered. The new Parliament was of a greatly more reforming spirit than its predecessor. The prolonged struggle of the people was visibly approaching a victorious close.

At the very outset Earl Grey made it plain that the question of immediate reform was to be made the engrossing business of the session. The Duke of Wellington, on the part of the ministry, intimated, with the calm resolution which never failed him, that in his opinion the country possessed a legislature which answered every good purpose, and that he would resist any proposal of change. But within a few days the government saw reasons for resigning, and a ministry pledged to reform, with Earl Grey as prime minister, was appointed.

It was not, however, to be permitted to this Parliament to inaugurate the era which was about to open. The ministry having sustained a defeat, appealed once more to the country, and a new Parliament was returned, pledged to support to the utmost the great measure which now absorbed the thought of the British people.

The Reform Bill was carried in the House of Commons by great majorities. But victory was not yet secured. The House of Lords - appropriately commanded by the Duke of Wellington in its antagonism to popular rights - threw out the Bill. Earl Grey demanded from the king power to create peers in sufficient number to overbear the resistance offered by the House of Lords. The timid monarch refused, and the ministry resigned.

Popular excitement was unbounded. Petitions rained upon the House of Commons, demanding that the House should refuse to vote supplies. A run. upon the bank was commenced. Enormous meetings in all parts of the country resolved to pay no taxes till the Bill should pass. Plans were laid for arming large bodies of men in the northern counties and marching on London. There were serious discussions of barricades and street-fighting. The duke was reported to have said that "there was a way to make the people quiet." It was believed that he meant to suppress reform by violence, and the dragoons were seen by the eye of imagination, if not in actual fact, grinding their sabres as for the work of immediate battle.

Meantime, while this fierce excitement was raging over the land, a feeble effort was made to form a Tory administration with a view to some acceptable compromise. The hopeless attempt was quickly abandoned, and Earl Grey returned to office with power to add to the House of Lords such a number of new peers as would effectually quell the resistance of the obstructive dignitaries. Their lordships did not wait to be thus diluted. The Duke of Wellington and a hundred other peers, majestically sullen, quitted the House and ceased from troubling. Amid rejoicing such as political victory never awakened in England before, the great measure passed which inaugurated, for all the coming generations, government of the people, by the people, and for the people (The Reform Act bestowed the privilege of the franchise in towns upon occupants who paid a rental of ten pounds; in counties, upon those who paid a rental of forty pounds. In England, fifty-six burghs with a population under two thousand, and returning one hundred and eleven members, were disfranchised; thirty burghs with a population under four thousand, and returning each two members, were reduced to one member. Twenty new burghs received each one member; twenty-two received each two members; the county members were raised from ninety-four to one hundred and fifty-nine. Scotland received an addition of eight burgh members).

<<< Previous page <<<
Pages: 1 <2>

Pictures for The Reform Bill page 2

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About