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

Agricultural and Commercial Interests in the House of Commons - Motion of Lord Chandos - Admission of Ladies to the House of Commons - The Budget - Feeble Condition of the Navy - Mr. Hume's Motion for the Reduction of the Military Force - Remission of Duties - O'Connell's Election for Dublin declared Void - English Church Reform - Royal Commission: its First Report on the Duties and Revenues of Bishops - Reports on Cathedral and Collegiate Churches - Establishment of the Board of Ecclesiastical Commissioners; its Constitution and Powers - State of the Church - Non-resident Incumbents - Unequal Distribution of Church Property; its aggregate Amount - Reduction of Episcopal Incomes - Livings in commendam - Translations - The Tithe Commissioners - Commutation of Tithes into a Rent Charge - The Marriage Act - General Registration of Births, Marriages, and Deaths - Report of the Sclect Committee on the Subject - The Registration Act; its Provisions, Machinery, and Operations - The Vital Statistics of England - The Operation of the New Poor Law - The Workhouse Test - Reduction of Newspaper Stamp Duties - Excessive Commercial Speculation and Overtrading in 1836-7 - Gigantic Transactions in American Houses - Joint Stock Banks - Commercial Collapse in America and consequent Monetary Embarrassments in this Country - Paralysis of Trade - Bursting of Bubble Speculations - Our Foreign Relations - The Policy of Russia - Speech of Lord Dudley Stuart- Cracow - State of France - Attempt on the King's Life - The Infernal Machine - Arbitrary Measures of the Government - Freedom of the Press extinguished - Abolition of the Charter - Execution of Fieschi and his Accomplices - Limitation of the Elective Franchise - M. Thiers on the State of France and the Success of Louis Philippe's Government - Civil War in Spain - Insurrection at Madrid - The Constitution Proclaimed; its Principles - Honours voted to the Martyrs of Patriotism - Revolution in Portugal.
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The conservative party had got the impression that the commercial interest in the house of commons would swamp the landed interest, in consequence of the preponderance of the representatives of cities and boroughs. But that impression was shown to be a delusion by many votes, and by none more remarkably than by the division on a motion brought forward by lord Chandos on the 27th of April: - " That in the application of any surplus revenue towards the relief of the burdens of the country, either by remission of taxation or otherwise, due regard should be had to the necessity of a portion thereof being applied to the relief of the agricultural interest." That interest had been relieved to a considerable extent in a variety of ways during the recent progress of legislation, and especially by the Poor Law Amendment Act, which had been an immense boon to both landlords and tenants. The policy of the motion of lord Chandos was so unsound that Sir Robert Peel, lord Stanley, and Sir James Graham felt constrained to vote with ministers for its rejection. It is probable that several other conservative members followed their example, yet with all this accession of strength from the ranks of the opposition, the motion was defeated only by the narrow majority of 36; the numbers being - for the motion, 172; against it, 208.

On the 3rd of May a gallant attempt was made by Mr. Grantley Berkeley to have ladies admitted to hear the debates in the house of commons, and he carried his point to a certain extent, the motion for their admission having been adopted by a majority of 132 to 90. But it was rendered abortive by the subsequent refusal of the house to adopt the proposal of the chancellor of the exchequer for a grant of 400, to provide accommodation for the fair auditors. For a long time the public had obtained admission as spectators to both houses of parliament only by written orders of peers for the lords, and for the commons by the speaker's order to a seat below the gallery; and either by a member's order, or the payment of half a crown, to the strangers' gallery. But by a regulation promulgated this summer, the privilege of admission by the payment of half a crown was abolished, and the written order of the member was made the only passport, it having been resolved to put an end to the reception of all fees or gratuities by the officers of the house.

On the 6th of May the chancellor of the exchequer brought forward the budget, which placed in a strong light the long standing anomaly of distress among the agricultural classes, contrasting with general prosperity in the commercial classes. He was enabled to exhibit a more favourable state of the finances than he had anticipated in his estimate the previous year. The total income of the nation was 46,980,000, its total expenditure 45,205,807, which would give a surplus of 1,774,193. Of this surplus all but 662,000 would be absorbed by the interest on the West Indian loan, which had now become a permanent charge. There was an addition of 5,000 seamen to the navy, for which the sum of 434,000 was required. This addition seemed to be quite necessary from the feeble condition of the navy as compared with the navies of other nations. On the 4th of March Mr. Charles Wood had stated that the French would have twelve sail of the line at sea during summer; that in 1834 the Russians had five sail of the line cruising in the Black Sea, and eighteen besides frigates in the Baltic. During this period there never were in our Channel ports more than two frigates and a sloop, with crews perhaps amounting to 1,000 men, disposable for sea at any one time, and that only for a day or two. At the same time the whole line-of-battle ships this nation had afloat in every part of the world did not exceed ten. Our land forces voted for the year were 81,319 men, not counting the Indian army. Of these one-half were required in the colonies. France had 360,000 regular soldiers, and three times the number of national guards. Mr. Hume, however, moved that the military force should be reduced by 5,000 men. " England," said he, " is a civil, not a military country; and I wish to see an end put to that vicious system which has arisen out of our late wars - the maintenance of a preposterously large military force during peace. No real friend of the government wished them to keep such a force. The tories might. They were consistent men, attached by system to large establishments and great expense; but no well-wisher to the government would support them to enlarge the present unnecessary force, or maintain it without diminution. I think that not merely 5,000 men, but 15,000 men may be saved; and as to Ireland, the putting down the Orange lodges will render the presence of the military unnecessary."

The army, however, would cost less this year than last year by 154,000; and the ordnance by 10,000. With the surplus at his disposal, the chancellor of the exchequer proposed to reduce the duty on first-class paper from five- pence to threepence-halfpenny - a suitable accompaniment to the reduction of the stamp on newspapers, already noticed - and to abolish the duty on stained paper; to remit the South Sea duties, amounting to 10,000; to reduce the duties on insurances of farming stock, on taxed carts, and on newspapers. He estimated the total amount of repeals for the present year at 351,000, which would be increased to 520,000 when they all came into operation.

From the annual report of the registrar-general it appears that the annual rate of marriage in England is 8 marriages, or 16 persons married, to every 1,000 persons living, or 1 person in 62 of the population married annually; there are 33 births to every 1,000 persons living, or 1 birth in 30 of the population; and 22 deaths to every 1,000 persons living, or 1 death in 45 of the population. The marriage rate was highest in the years 1845, 1846, 1850, and four following years, in all of which it exceeded 85 marriages to 1,000 persons living; it was lowest in 1842 and 1843, when it fell below 76 per 1,000. The birth rate was highest (over 34 per 1,000) in 1851, 1852, 1856, and 1857; and lowest in the earlier years of registration, when many births were unrecorded. Fluctuations in the death rate are mainly influenced by epidemics, and by the varying temperatures of different years. In 1849 and 1854, years in which cholera greatly increased the mortality in this country, the rates were 25 and 23.5 per 1,000; and in 1847, when influenza prevailed epidemically, the rate was 24.7 per 1,000. Amongst the healthiest years were 1847, 1850, and 1856, in each of which the rate of mortality was below 21 per 1,000. The cost to the country of the registration system in force in England and Wales is now about 100,000, of which sum 65,000 are defrayed from the poor rates for registrars' fees; and the remainder - consisting of 18,000 for the central establishment, and 17,000 for fees to superintendent registrars, and expenses of registration officers - is defrayed out of the public revenue. The portion of the expenditure paid from the national exchequer is annually voted by parliament.

The return of Mr. O'Connell and Mr. Ruthven for Dublin having been petitioned against, the committee appointed to try its validity reported, on the 16th of May, that those gentlemen had not been duly elected. Mr. O'Connell had anticipated this result, and the seat for Kilkenny had been placed by a friend at his disposal. On the 1st of June there was a numerous meeting held at the " Crown and Anchor," for the purpose of organising a subscription to indemnify him for the expense to which he had been put in defending his seat. So important were his services deemed to the liberal party at that time, that the very large sum of 3,000 was subscribed at the meeting, and the sum raised ultimately amounted to nearly 9,000.

The measures of church reform that had been adopted in Ireland suggested the propriety of adopting similar measures in England, where the relations between the clergy and the people were not at all as satisfactory as they should be, and where the system of ecclesiastical finances stood greatly in need of improvement. Accordingly, a royal commission was appointed during the administration of Sir Robert Peel, dated the 4th of February, 1835, on the ground that it was 11 expedient that the fullest and most attentive consideration should be forthwith given to ecclesiastical duties and revenues." The commissioners were directed to consider the state of the several dioceses in England and Wales with reference to the amount of their revenues and the more equal distribution of episcopal duties, and the prevention of the necessity of attaching by commendam to bishoprics benefices with cure of souls. They were to consider also the state of the several cathedral and collegiate churches in England and Wales, with a view to the suggestion of such measures as might render them conducive to the efficiency of the established church; and to devise the best mode of providing for the cure of souls, with special reference to the residence of the clergy on their respective benefices. They were also expected to report their opinions as to what measures it would be expedient to adopt on the various matters submitted for their consideration. The commissioners were the two archbishops, the bishops of London, Lincoln, and Gloucester, the lord chancellor, the first lord of the treasury, with several other members of the government and laymen not in office. When the change of government occurred a few months after, it was necessary to issue a new commission, which was dated the 6th of June, for the purpose of substituting the names of lord Melbourne and his colleagues for those of Sir Robert Peel and the other members of the outgoing administration. But before this change occurred, the first report had been issued, dated the 17th of March, 1835. Three other reports were published in 1836, dated respectively 4th March, 20th May, and 24th June. A fifth had been prepared, but not signed, when the death of the king occurred. It was, however, presented as a parliamentary paper in 1838.

The first report related to the duties and revenues of bishops. The commissioners suggested various alterations of the boundaries of dioceses. They recommended the union of the sees of Gloucester and Bristol, and of Bangor and St. Asaph. They also recommended the establishment of two new sees, Ripon and Manchester They calculated the net income of the bishoprics of England and Wales at 148,875. They found that, owing to the unequal manner in which this revenue was distributed, the income of one-half the bishoprics was below the sum necessary to cover the expenses to which a bishop is unavoidably subject, which rendered it necessary to hold livings in commendam. To do away with this state of things, and with a view of diminishing the inducements to episcopal translations, they recommended a different distribution of episcopal revenues. In the second and fourth reports, and the draft of the fifth report, they presented the result of their inquiries on cathedral and collegiate churches. They recommended the appropriation of part of their revenues, and of the entire of the endowments for non-residentiary prebends, dignitaries, and officers, and that the proceeds in both cases should be carried to the account of a fund, out of which better provision should be made for the cure of souls. In their second report they stated that they had prepared a bill for regulating pluralities and the residence of the clergy.

On the 13th of August, 1836, an act was passed establishing the ecclesiastical commissioners permanently as " one body politic and corporate, by the name of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England." The number of commissioners incorporated was thirteen, of whom eight were ex-officio members - namely: the archbishops of Canterbury and York, the bishop of London, the lord chancellor, the lord president of the council, the first lord of the treasury, the chancellor of the exchequer, and one of the principal secretaries of state, who was to be nominated by the sign-manual. There were five other commissioners, including two bishops, who were to be removable at the pleasure of the crown. The lay members were required to sign a declaration that they were members of the united church of England and Ireland by law established. A subsequent act, passed in August, 1840, considerably modified the constitution of this commission. The following were added to the list of ex-officio members: all the bishops of England and Wales; the deans of Canterbury, St. Paul's, and Westminster; the two chief justices; the master of the rolls; the chief baron; and the judges of the prerogative and admiralty courts. By this act the crown was empowered to appoint four laymen, and the archbishop of Canterbury two, in addition to the three appointed under the former act; and it was provided that, instead of being removable at the pleasure of the crown, the non ex-officio members should continue so long as they should "well demean themselves " in the execution of their duties. Five commissioners are a quorum. The chairman, who has a casting vote, is to be the commissioner present who is first in rank; and if the rank of all the commissioners present be equal, the chair is to be taken by the senior commissioner in the order of appointment. Two of the episcopal commissioners must be present at the ratification of any act by the common seal of the corporation; and if they, being the only two episcopal commissioners present, object, the matter is to be referred to an adjourned meeting. The commissioners may summon and examine witnesses on oath, and cause papers and documents to be produced before them. They were empowered to prepare and lay before the sovereign in council such schemes as shall appear to them best adapted for carrying into effect the recommendations contained in their five reports. These were to be ratified by an order in council, which order must be registered by the registrar of the diocese within which the place or district affected by the order is situated, and it must also be published in the London Gazette. Thenceforth the order has the same force as if it had been included in the acts of parliament for carrying into effect the reports of the commissioners.

The total number of benefices in England and Wales is 11,730, of which 9,669 are in the province of Canterbury, and 2,059 in the province of York. In consequence of the smallness of the livings, many clergymen hold benefices without doing any duty; others do duty in two parishes that are contiguous to one another. By an official return to parliament in 1815, it appears that there were 798 incumbents non-resident from sinecures, dilapidated churches, lawsuits, absence on the continent, &c. Altogether, the number of non-resident incumbents was upwards of 4,000; while the number of resident incumbents was 5,847. A great change was effected by the ecclesiastical commissioners; for the returns for the year 1850, made by the respective archbishops and bishops in England and Wales, give the total number of benefices in which the incumbents were resident as 8,077; while the non-resident were 2,952. Upwards of 8,000 had glebe houses. A considerable number of the benefices were under the annual value of 20, while sixteen of them were worth 2,000 and upwards. The rectory of Stanhope, in Northumberland, was worth 4,863; and Doddington, in Cambridgeshire, was of the annual value of 7,306. The income of the church of England is derived from land tithes, church rates, pew rents, Easter offerings, and surplus fees. The distribution of these revenues, according to the report of the commissioners, was, in 1831, as follows: - Bishops, 181,631; deans and chapters, 360,095; parochial clergy, 3,251,159; church rates, 500,000 - total, 4,292,885. The total number of churches and chapels of the church of England was then 11,825. For the purpose of raising the incomes of the smaller livings, the governors of queen Anne's bounty received the annual sum of 14,000, the produce of first-fruits and tenths, which were formerly paid to the pope, and at the reformation appropriated by the sovereign, till queen Anne "granted them for the augmentation of the maintenance of the poor clergy." The ecclesiastical commissioners applied to the same object a portion of the surplus proceeds of episcopal and capitular estates. In order to obtain funds for raising small livings, and increasing the efficiency of the established church, the income of the archbishop of Canterbury was reduced to 15,000; of York, to 10,000; that of the bishop of London, to 10,000; of Durham, to 8,000; of Winchester, to 7,000; of Ely, to 5,500; of St. Asaph and Bangor, to 5,200; and of Worcester, to 5,000. By these reductions the sum of 28,500 a-year was saved. The other bishops were to have incomes varying from 4,000 to 5,000. No ecclesiastical dignity or benefice was to be in future granted to any bishop to be held in commendam. These regulations, it was expected, would lessen translations, by leaving only three or four sees objects of temptation. Acts were passed for separating the palatine jurisdiction of Durham from the diocese, thus abolishing a remnant of the feudal system; also for extinguishing the secular jurisdiction of the archbishop of York, and the bishop of Ely, in certain districts, and for imposing restrictions on the renewal of ecclesiastical leases. Other measures of church reform, relative to residence, pluralities, and collegiate churches, having been abandoned for that session, a bill was passed suspending for one year appointments to cathedral dignities and to sinecure rectories.

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