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Chapter XXVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7

Agricultural Distress - Financial Statement - Practical Reforms - The Naval Code - The Patent Laws - Work of the Session - Obstructive Action of the House of Lords - Agitation against the Peers - Submissive Attitude of the Commons in presence of the Lords - O'Connell's Agitating Tour in England and Scotland - Enormous Increase of Peers by the Tories, Counterbalanced by the Whigs - Privileges and Immunities of the Order - Committee of Inquiry on Orange Lodges in the Army - Alleged Conspiracy to set aside the Succession of the Princess Victoria, in order to make way for the Duke of Cumberland - Startling Revelations made by the Committee - Commission given by the Duke of Cumberland, as Grand Master of the Orange Society, to organise a Counter-Revolution against the Emancipation Act - The Duke of Wellington charged with playing the part of Cromwell - Plans of the Conspirators - Formidable extent of the Confederation - Mr. Hume's Resolutions on the subject - Colonel Fairman, threatened with Imprisonment for Breach of Privilege, absconds - Proposed Criminal Prosecution of the Duke of Cumberland and the Orange Leaders - Mr. Hume again brings the subject before Parliament, moving for an Address to the King on the Case of the Duke of Cumberland, and calling for the dismissal of all Orange Officials - Amendment of Lord J. Russell carried unanimously - The Orange Society dissolved - Its Revival in Ireland - The Irish Government under Earl Mulgrave - Viceregal "Progress" - Wholesale Liberation of Prisoners - Sir Harcourt Lees - The Statue of King William blown up - General Prosperity of the United Kingdom in the Winter of 1835 - 36.
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Some attempts were made during the session to induce the house of commons to take up the subjects of the currency and agricultural distress. A motion was made by Mr. Cayley, member for the North Riding of Yorkshire, to appoint a select committee, to inquire whether there were not effectual means within the reach of parliament to afford substantial relief to the agriculture of the United Kingdom, and specially to recommend to the committee the subject of a silver standard, or a conjoined silver and gold one. This motion gave rise to a debate of three nights' duration, but it was rejected by a majority of 216 to 126. Lord Chandos brought forward a motion on the subject of agricultural distress, with a view to the immediate removal of some part of those burdens to which the land was peculiarly subject. This motion was lost by a majority of 211 to 150. On the 14th of August Mr. Spring Rice, the chancellor of the exchequer, made his financial statement. The budget was not so satisfactory as had been anticipated. He had calculated the income of the country at 45,550,000, and the expenditure at 44,715,000. But instead of the surplus which these figures would indicate, not more than about 200,000 could be calculated on after paying the interest of the West Indian loan, which amounted to 1,000,000.

After a lengthened and toilsome session, parliament was at length prorogued by the king in person on the 10th of September. The great work of the session, a work which of itself was of sufficient value to constitute a lasting claim upon the gratitude of the country, was the reform of municipal corporations. It may be regarded as a supplement to parliamentary reform, the natural and necessary complement of that great measure, and therefore the appropriate performance of a liberal administration. But there were several other measures passed effecting improvements of great national importance. Among these were acts for the improvement of the naval code, amending and consolidating the laws relative to merchant seamen, and establishing a registry of all persons engaged in the merchant service, encouraging the voluntary enlistment of seamen into the royal navy, by limiting the period of service to five years, unless in case of special emergency, when they may be detained six months longer, with one- fourth increase of pay, seamen being allowed to provide substitutes, and entitled to certificates of protection for two years at the expiration of their terms of service. It was thought a hazardous experiment to abolish the prerogative right of naval impressment, but it was expected that the exercise of that obnoxious power would not be necessary except in very rare cases of sudden emergency.

The absurd and antiquated patent laws had long been a subject of complaint, and an impediment in the way of progress in the industrial arts. Lord Brougham applied his active and practical mind to a correction of their more glaring defects. According to the old system, a man might be the author of an important invention, but if any portion of his plan had been previously discovered by another person, though without his knowledge, his claim was invalidated, and he could not obtain a patent. But under the amended law, if a patentee found himself anticipated on any part of his plan, he could drop his claim to that, and obtain a patent for the rest. Thus one man could go on improving upon the work of another, rendering some engine, for example, or piece of machinery more perfect and better adapted to accomplish the original design; so, if an inventor hit upon a plan that had been formerly discovered by somebody else, and it had not been generally known or used, he was not to be debarred from getting a patent. If the right of a patentee was once established before a judge, a certificate to that effect would protect him from future actions. Another great improvement was the power vested m the crown of extending, on the recommendation of the privy council, the term of the patent from fourteen to twenty-one years. Under the old law, a valuable patent often expired just about the time the difficulties attending its first introduction had been surmounted, and it was beginning to be profitable to the inventor, of which the most remarkable illustration was presented in the case of Watt, who was deprived of the benefit of his improvements on the steam engine, which only came into general use when his interest had ceased. Since that time more effective measures have been adopted for encouraging invention by securing patents. By an act of the 15 and 16 Victoria commissioners of patents were appointed, consisting of the lord chancellor, the master of the rolls, the attorneys-general for England and Ireland, the lord advocate, and the solicitors- general for England, Ireland, and Scotland. This act was passed in 1852, and since that time a journal has been published under the authority of the commissioners, with indexes of patents from March, 1617, to the present time. Specifications of patents may be consulted by the public at the Free Library and Reading Room in Southampton Buildings, which were established in 1854. In 1859 a museum containing models, portraits, &c., was opened at South Kensington.

Various other legislative improvements were effected during the session, tending to facilitate social progress, the exercise of constitutional rights, and the removal of grievances. For example, acts were passed for establishing a copyright in lectures, for the enforcement of uniformity in weights and measures, for amending the highway laws, for improving the postal communication with foreign countries, for regulating the conveyance of passengers to our colonies, for limiting the duration of polling at elections to one day in England and Scotland, for abolishing imprisonment for small debts in the latter country, for abolishing capital punishment for the crimes of stealing letters and of sacrilege, for authorising substitution of declarations for oaths in the treasury, in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and in the Bank of England, for the appointment of inspectors of prisons, and for the introduction of greater uniformity of practice in the prison regulations of England and Wales. The number of private bills passed during the session of 1835 was 160, of which 42 related to improvements of towns and districts.

Several important measures which had passed the commons were rejected by the lords. Their resistance had caused great difficulty in carrying through the imperatively demanded measures of municipal reform; and they had deprived the Irish Church Temporalities Act of one of its principal features. But their obstructive action was not confined to great political measures of that kind. They rejected the Dublin police bill, and other measures of practical reform. The consequence was that the liberal party began to ask seriously whether the absolute veto which the lords possessed, and which they sometimes used perversely and even factiously, was compatible with the healthful action of the legislature, and the well-being of the country. It was roundly asserted that the experience of the last two years had demonstrated the necessity of reform in the house of lords. The question was extensively agitated, it was constantly discussed in the press, public meetings were held throughout the country upon it, and numerous petitions were presented to parliament with the same object. On the 2nd of September, Mr. Roebuck, while presenting one of these petitions, announced his intention of introducing early in the next session a bill to deprive the house of lords of its veto upon all measures of legislation, and to substitute for it a suspense of power, so that, if a bill, thrown out by the lords, should pass the commons a second time, and receive the royal assent, it might become law without the concurrence of the peers. Mr. Ripon also gave notice of a motion to remove the bishops from the house of peers; while Mr. Hume indignantly denounced the humiliating ceremonials observed in the intercourse between the commons and the lords. Although the whole proceeding at a conference between the two houses consists of the exchange of two pieces of paper, oral discussions not being permitted, the members of the house of commons are obliged to wait upon the lords, standing with their hats off, the members of the upper house, as if they were masters, remaining seated with their hats on. The state of feeling among the working classes on this subject was expressed in the strongest language in an address to Mr. O'Connell from the "non-franchised inhabitants of Glasgow." They warmly deprecated the unmanly and submissive manner in which the ministers and the commons had bowed bare-headed to the refractory lords. They demanded that responsibility should be established in every department of the state: and they said, "As the house of lords have hitherto displayed a most astounding anomaly in this enlightened age by retaining the right to legislate by birth or court favour, and being thereby rendered irresponsible, it follows it must be cut down as r, rotten encumbrance, or be so cured as to be made of some service to the state, as well as amenable to the people."

Indeed, Mr. O'Connell's agitating tour in the north of England and in Scotland was in effect a crusade against the lords. In a speech which he addressed to an immense assemblage of the working classes of Manchester, he said, if there were only one house of parliament, a majority of that house, perhaps a faction, might become the rulers of the entire nation. He was, therefore, for two houses, but they should be honest and competent. Why should a man be a legislator because his father was one? It was as reasonable to expect that a man would be a good tailor on the hereditary principle. The lords had proved themselves to be arrant botchers in the work of legislation. Were they to have 170 masters of that class? He then proceeded in this strain: - "Will you endure that any gang or banditti, I care not by what name you call them, should treat you contemptuously? In one word, I call them rogues. We must put down the house of lords. Ye are miserable minions of power. Ye have no choice for yourselves till that house be thoroughly reformed. Let the king retain his prerogative of raising men to that rank and station to which they may be eligible. Let every 200,000 men in Great Britain and Ireland select one lord from this list; that will give you 120 for the 24,000,000; let them be re-eligible every five years, and you will have a steady chamber."

Such absurd projects of reform were listened to with favour at that time by large numbers of the working classes, in consequence of the way in which a majority of the lords set themselves against the will of the majority of the nation. There was danger to the constitution from this state of things. It was evident that the upper house had not the power of permanently obstructing the course of society, and that by persisting in that attempt it was putting its own existence in peril. The obvious remedy was to save it by bringing it into harmony with the other branch of the legislature, and with society. This lord Melbourne resolved to do by a gradual creation of peers. Indeed, this plan had been in operation for some time; and we find that the number of peers created in the reign of William IV. was not less than fifty-two, of whom thirty were created at his coronation. Numerous additions have been made since that time; but it is admitted by the tories themselves that it was only following the example that had been set during the long period that that party had the ascendancy. At the accession of George III. the peers were only 180; but when Mr. Pitt came into power, in 1784, they had increased to 220; and when the whigs came into office, in 1830, they found that the body had been doubled in half a century, the number of peers then being 410, exclusive of the elected peers of Scotland and Ireland. An overwhelming majority of these were wedded to tory principles; or rather, without troubling their heads with principles, they were animated by the instinct of a dominant and highly privileged order; and it would be something miraculous if they did not often indulge in an insolence of tone and manner very offensive to a free people; though it must be confessed that many of the old nobility were models of gentleness, affability, and courtesy, presuming far less upon their rank than new men among the commoners did upon their wealth. Peers and peeresses are free from all arrest in civil actions. In such cases they cannot be outlawed, nor can any attachment lie against their persons. Peers are exempt from serving on juries, from attending courts leet or sheriffs' turns, or, in case of riot, from attending the posse comitatus. A peer gives his judgment, not on oath, but on honour, though when examined as a witness he must be sworn. In cases of treason and felony he must be tried by his peers in a court arranged specially for the purpose, usually in the centre of Westminster Hall, at the expense of the crown; and the court is removed as soon as the trial is over. The house of peers, says Sir William Blackstone, is so highly tendered by the law that it is much more penal to spread false reports of them, and certain other great officers of the realm, than of other men; scandal against them being called by the peculiar name of scandalum magnatum, and subject to peculiar punishments by divers ancient statutes. This proceeding, however, says Sir Bernard Burke, by writ of scandalum magnatum, which is of a civil as well as of a criminal nature, is now almost obsolete, the ordinary modes of obtaining legal redress being generally preferred. Indeed, in a criminal prosecution for scandalum magnatum, the defendant would no doubt now be allowed the privileges, and be subject only to the punishments enacted by the common Libel Act, 6 and 7 Vic., cap. 96. It has been held that words are actionable in the case of a peer which are not so in that of a common person - as to say of a peer, he is an unworthy man, and acts against law and reason. Peers have the privilege of sitting covered in courts of justice during their proceedings; and have also the privilege of voting in parliament by proxy. Peers have the privilege in parliament of wearing robes of scarlet cloth, differenced from each other by bars of ermine - dukes having four, marquises four on the right side and three on the left, earls three, and viscounts and barons two rows of plain white fur only. By the curialitas regni, the eldest son in each degree of created dignity is as of the degree next to his father; and such eldest sons of peers as enjoy a plurality of titles take and use the secondary one by courtesy. All peers carry supporters to their arms, as incidental to their hereditary dignity, and otherwise adorn them exteriorly with their respective coronets and mantles. Selden states that a coronet is first mentioned in the investiture of earls in the time of Edward VI.; but that they were much more ancient appears from the will of Richard, earl of Arundel, dated 5th of December, 1375, in which he bequeaths his three coronets to his son and his two eldest daughters, a circumstance which proves that coronets were carried as ensigns of high nobility in the fourteenth century, but not according to any rule or restriction as to their descent.

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Pictures for Chapter XXVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7

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