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which they urge us to make in the constitution of the kingdom. I therefore think that I should act disingenuously if I gave my voice for calling in orators whose eloquence, I am certain, will make no alteration in my opinion. I think too that if, after voting for hearing the petitioners, I should then vote against granting their prayer, I should give them just ground for accusing me of having first encouraged and then deserted them. That accusation, at least, they shall never bring against me.
The honorable member for Westminster * has expressed a hope that the language of the petition will not be subjected to severe criticism. If he means literary criticism, I entirely agree with him. The style of this composition is safe from any censure of mine ; but the substance it is absolutely necessary that we should closely examine. What the petitioners demand is this, that we do forthwith pass what is called the People's Charter into a law without alteration, diminution, or addition. This is the prayer in support of which the honorable member for Finsbury would have us hear an argument at the bar. Is it then reasonable to say, as some gentlemen have said, that, in voting for the honorable member's motion, they mean to vote merely for an inquiry into the causes of the public distress? If any gentleman thinks that an inquiry into the causes of the public distress would be useful, let him move for such an inquiry. I will not oppose it. But this petition does not tell us to inquire. It tells us that we are not to inquire. It directs us to pass a certain law word for word, and to pass it without the smallest delay.
I shall, Sir, notwithstanding the request or command of the petitioners, venture to exercise my right of free speech on the subject of the People's Charter. There is, among the six points of the Charter, one for which I have voted. There is another of which I decidedly approve. There are others as to which, though I do not agree with the petitioners, I could go some way to meet them. In fact, there is only one of the six points on which I am diametrically opposed to them : but unfortunately that point happens to be infinitely the most important of the six.
One of the six points is the ballot. I have voted for the ballot; and I have seen no reason to change my opinion on that subject.
Another point is the abolition of the pecuniary qualification for members of this House. On that point I cordially agree with the petitioners. You have established a sufficient pecuniary qualification for the elector; and it therefore seems to me quite superfluous to require a pecuniary qualification from the representative. Everybody knows that many English members have only fictitious qualifications, and that the members for Scotch cities and boroughs are not required to have any qualification at all. It is surely absurd to admit the representatives of Edinburgh and Glasgow without any qualification, and at the same time to require the representative of Finsbury or Marylebone to possess a qualification or the semblance of one. If the qualification really be a security for respectability, let that security be demanded from us who sit here for Scotch towns. If, as I believe, the qualification is no security at all, why should we require it from anybody. It is no part of the old constitution of the realm. It was first established in the reign of Anne. It was established by a bad parliament for a bad purpose. It was, in fact, part of a course of legislation which, if it had not been happily interrupted, would have ended in the repeal of the Toleration Act and of the Act of Settlement.
* Mr. Leader.
The Chartists demand annual parliaments. There, certainly, I differ from them : but I might, perhaps, be willing to consent to some compromise. I differ from them also as to the expediency of paying the representatives of the people, and of dividing the country into electoral districts. But I do not consider these matters as vital. The kingdom might, I acknowledge, be free, great, and happy, though the members of this House received salaries, and though the present boundaries of counties and boroughs were superseded by new lines of demarcation. These, Sir, are subordinate questions. I do not, of course, mean that they are not important. But they are subordinate when compared with that question which still remains to be considered. The essence of the Charter is universal suffrage. If you withhold that, it matters not very much what else you grant. If you grant that, it matters not at all what else you withhold. If you grant that, the country is lost.
I have no blind attachment to ancient usages. I altogether disclaim what has been nicknamed the doctrine of finality. I have said enough to-night to show that I do not consider the settlement made by the Reform Bill as one which can last for ever. I certainly do think that an extensive change in the polity of a nation must be attended with serious evils. Still those evils may be overbalanced by advantages : and I am perfectly ready, in every case, to weigh the evils against the advantages, and to judge as well as I can which scale preponderates. I am bound by no tie to oppose any reform which I think likely to promote the public good. I will go so far as to say that I do not quite agree with those who think that they have proved the People's Charter to be absurd when they have proved that it is incompatible with the existence of the throne and of the peerage. For though I am a faithful and loyal subject of Her Majesty, and though I sincerely wish to see the House of Lords powerful and respected, I cannot consider either monarchy or aristocracy as the ends of Government. They are only means. Nations have flourished without hereditary sovereigns or assemblies of nobles; and, though I should be very sorry to see England a republic, I do not doubt that she might, as a republic, enjoy prosperity, tranquillity, and high consideration. The dread and aversion with which I regard universal suffrage would be greatly diminished, if I could believe that the worst effect which it would produce would be to give us an elective first magistrate and á senate instead of a Queen and a House of Peers. My firm conviction is that, in our country, universal suffrage is incompatible, not with this or that form of government, but with all forms of government, and with everything for the sake of which forms of government exist; that it is incompatible with property, and that it is consequently incompatible with civilisation.
It is not necessary for me in this place to go through the arguments which prove beyond dispute that on the security of property civilisation depends; that, where property is insecure, no climate however delicious, no soil however fertile, no conveniences for trade and navigation, no natural endowments of body or of mind, can prevent a nation from sinking into barbarism; that where, on the other hand, men are protected in the enjoyment of what has been created by their industry and laid up by their self-denial, society will advance in arts and in wealth notwithstanding the sterility of the earth and the inclemency of the air, notwithstanding heavy taxes and destructive wars. Those persons who say that England has been greatly misgoverned, that her legislation is defective, that her wealth has been squandered in unjust and impolitic contests with America and with France, do in fact bear the strongest testimony to the truth of my doctrine. For that our country has made and is making
this world, theyond all comparisen in the last
great progress in all that contributes to the material comfort of man is indisputable. If that progress cannot be ascribed to the wisdom of the Government, to what can we ascribe it, but to the diligence, the energy, the thrift of individuals ? And to what can we ascribe that diligence, that energy, that thrift, except to the security which property has during many generations enjoyed here ? Such is the power of this great principle that, even in the last war, the most costly war, beyond all comparison, that ever was waged in this world, the Government could not lavish wealth so fast as the productive classes created it.
If it be admitted that on the institution of property the wellbeing of society depends, it follows surely that it would be madness to give supreme power in the state to a class which would not be likely to respect that institution. And, if this be conceded, it seems to me to follow that it would be madness to grant the prayer of this petition. I entertain no hope that, if we place the government of the kingdom in the hands of the majority of the males of one and twenty told by the head, the institution of property will be respected. If I am asked why I entertain no such hope, I answer, because the hundreds of thousands of males of twenty-one who have signed this petition tell me to entertain no such hope; because they tell me that, if I trust them with power, the first use which they will make of it will be to plunder every man in the kingdom who has a good coat on his back and a good roof over his head. God forbid that I should put an unfair construction on their language! I will read their own words. This petition, be it remembered, is an authoritative declaration of the wishes of those who, if the Charter ever becomes law, will return the great majority of the House of Commons; and these are their words : “ Your petitioners complain, that they are enormously taxed to pay the interest of what is called the national debt, a debt amounting at present to eight hundred millions, being only a portion of the enormous amount expended in cruel and expensive wars for the suppression of all liberty by men not authorised by the people, and who consequently had no right to tax posterity for the outrages committed by them upon mankind.” If these words mean anything, they mean that the present generation is not bound to pay the public debt incurred by our rulers in past times, and that a national bankruptcy would be both just and politic. For my part, I believe it to be impossible to make any distinction between the right of a
fundholder to his dividends and the right of a landowner to his rents. And, to do the petitioners justice, I must say that they seem to be much of the same mind. They are for dealing with fundholder and landowner alike. They tell us that nothing will “unshackle labour from its misery, until the people possess that power under which all monopoly and oppression must cease ; and your petitioners respectfully mention the existing monopolies of the suffrage, of paper money, of machinery, of land, of the public press, of religion, of the means of travelling and transit, and a host of other evils too numerous to mention, all arising from class legislation.” Absurd as this hubbub of words is, part of it is intelligible enough. What can the monopoly of land mean, except property in land? The only monopoly of land which exists in England is this, that nobody can sell an acre of land which does not belong to him. And what can the monopoly of machinery mean but property in machinery ? Another monopoly which is to cease is the monopoly of the means of travelling. In other word, all the canal property and railway property in the kingdom is to be confiscated. What other sense do the words bear? And these are only specimens of the reforms which, in the language of the petition, are to unshackle labour from its misery. There remains, it seems, a host of similar monopolies too numerous to mention; the monopoly, I presume, which a draper has of his own stock of cloth; the monopoly which a hatter has of his own stock of hats; the monopoly which we all have of our furniture, bedding, and clothes. In short, the petitioners ask you to give them power in order that they may not leave a man of a hundred a year in the realm.
I am far from wishing to throw any blame on the ignorant crowds which have flocked to the tables where this petition was exhibited. Nothing is more natural than that the labouring people should be deceived by the arts of such men as the author of this absurd and wicked composition. We ourselves, with all our advantages of education, are often very credulous, very impatient, very shortsighted, when we are tried by pecuniary distress or bodily pain. We often resort to means of immediate relief which, as Reason tells us, if we would listen to her, are certain to aggravate our sufferings. Men of great abilities and knowledge have ruined their estates and their constitutions in this way. How then can we wonder that men less instructed than ourselves, and tried by privations such as we have never known, should be easily misled