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The bill met with no opposition in the Lords; and on the 27th February, it was proposed by Lord Althorp that it should be read a first time in the Commons.
The scene was a memorable one. After the House had been called over, the Chancellor of the Exchequer rose to state the reasons which had induced the Government to propose such a measure. “It was,” observed one of those who looked most leniently on his faults, and who himself has since enjoyed singular advantages of observation and experience, in forming a judgment of the effect produced in the House of Commons on occasions of difficulty and importance, “It was just the sort of task which in every way was unsuited to him. The House expected a statement of broad and general views justifying the extraordinary powers demanded, but there was nothing of the sort.
He took out of a box a number of papers containing lists of so many murders and so many robberies of arms, and so many cases of breaking into dwellings by men with their faces blacked, just as you would in a prison report. All this produced little or no effect; and when he sat down after detailing the provisions of the bill, it was impossible not to perceive that its supporters were conscious that no adequate case had been made out in the estimation of a large
portion of those who heard him. But when, at the close of the debate Stanley proceeded to deal with the same materials and to use the same facts, the effect produced by his vigour of style, clearness of arrangement, and vehemence of invective, was quite extraordinary; and had he proposed when he sat down a vote of denunciation of any kind against O'Connell, it would probably have been carried by nine-tenths of those present.” It was perhaps the most complete and sudden re-animation of a whole party with his own spirit by one man, not recognised or claiming to be its leader, that has been witnessed in our time.
Mr. Grote, Sir E. Lytton (Bulwer), Mr. Romilly, and other English members, spoke strongly against the unconstitutional provisions by which trial by jury and the right of meeting to petition, were to be taken away. The first reading was however carried after six nights' debate by 466 to 89.
Upon the second reading, Mr. Charles Buller, Mr. Hawkins, and others, opposed its further progress; a majority, however, of 363 to 84 decided in its favour. Every clause was contested in committee, but without any other result than to inflame still further the exasperation which the introduction of the measure had caused.
On the 29th March, the Bill was read a third time by 3 15 to 86. On the 11th April, the Society of Irish Volunteers was suppressed by proclamation issued under the new Act.
A motion to abolish military flogging having been made by Mr. Hume, it was supported by Mr. Sheil, who did not think the opinion expressed in support of the practice by officers of the army ought to govern the judgment of the House. He should not feel bound by the opinion of the beneficed clergyman on the question of reform in the church, or by that of a West India planter regarding negro slavery, or by that of a lawyer respecting reform of the abuses of the law. He thought it a most dreadful and demoralizing system and he should unhesitatingly vote for its entire abolition.
On Mr. Sadler's motion, pledging the House to adopt some system of Poor Laws for Ireland, Mr. Sheil pointed out that the whole value of the measure would consist in its nature and scope. It was essentially one which would either be useful or injurious according as it was adapted to the wants and habits of the people it was intended to relieve. Mr. Sadler had not ventured to describe what he would do, or by what instrumentality the object was to be effected.
A bill reducing the number of bishops in Ireland from twenty-two to twelve, providing for the conversion of church lands into perpetuities by the tenants who held leases, establishing an Ecclesiastical Commission for the regulation of church property, and abolishing church cess, was brought in and read a first time. The manner in which the last of these objects was to be effected was that proposed by Mr. Sheil in the previous session. By the 147th clause the surplus, if any, which should remain in the hands of the commission after duly providing for the spiritual wants of the Protestant population, was made applicable to general purposes of charity and education. This was denounced by the Conservative Opposition, as involving the principle of the alienability by Parliament of the property of the church, and Mr. Stanley, on the 21st June, moved in committee that the clause should be omitted. Bitter reproaches were directed against Ministers both by English and Irish members, for having held out this principle as a lure for support until the last moment and then withdrawing it to conciliate their party opponents. The omission however was carried by 280 to 148.
On the third reading, Mr. Sheil again raised the question, destined ere long to prove the great shib
boleth of party conflict, by proposing to insert words tantamount in effect to the appropriation clause as a recital in the preamble. His speech on this occasion is well deserving of notice, as a proof of the facility with which he could at will lay aside the piquancy and picturesqueness of language which were supposed to form essential features in his style, and to adapt himself to the less imaginative and more obviously argumentative manner which has so long been traditional in the House of Commons. There is not perhaps a single sentence or even a paragraph in this masterly speech which, severed from the context, would give any striking notion of the cogency and weight of the reasoning employed. As well might a few broken bricks be offered as a sample of the strength or solidity of a wall, as any brief or fragmentary quotations from a concatenation of facts and arguments like that in question. This it must be owned, is in the main characteristic of the greater number of great speeches that have been made in Parliament during the present century; and it is peculiarly true as regards those of Mr. Pitt, Lord Grenville, Lord Wellesley, Sir Robert Peel, and Earl Grey. In supporting his amendment, he traced back to its first avowal in 1824 the fundamental differ