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avoidable, but their reunion for the purpose of amending the Bill would give a certainty of success, not in attempting to preserve what is no longer preservable— the Boroughs in Schedule A ; nor in excluding (which is not in my opinion advisable) all Schedules C and D, but in striking out the most objectionable parts in the latter Schedules; in securing a better qualification than that of the 10l. householders as it now stands in the Bill; and in making such other amendments in various parts of the Bill, as, though far from depriving it of all its venom, would at least mitigate its noxious qualities. The entire avoidance of one great evil, and the diminution of another, appear to me to be within our reach by this line of conduct, namely—the not resisting the Second Reading of the Bill, and by no other. The general tone of the moderate on both sides of the House of Commons is, that amendments which the supporters of Government dare not do otherwise than reject when proposed there, would be readily admitted when sent down from the Lords, in order to put an end (for the time at least) to this dreadful question, which by keeping the whole country in a state of suspense and agitation paralyses all its faculties. What else can be done? If we reject the Bill, and Ministers do not resign (which I am satisfied they would not), I have before stated the consequence: if they do, what is to happen? Is it possible to form any Government which could stand for a week with the present House of Commons? and is there the least hope that a Dissolution would materially mend the matter? F
To go on without some IReform Bill is evidently impossible. Neither the Duke nor Sir Robert Peel will make himself responsible for any such Bill;-can they or either of them be Ministers on any other terms? and is not, who is there? The Reform Bill once passed in a mitigated shape, the door is opened to them and to a more conservative Government; for excepting as the instruments of Reform, I do not see what hold the present Ministers have upon the affections or esteem of the country. I can look at nothing now with a party view; but were I a party man, I should feel the weight of this consideration. In taking the line of not opposing, or even voting for, the Second Reading, I act, as I conceive, upon the very principles which decided me, after much hesitation, to a different line in the last Session. I then stated that our great object was to afford the country time for reconsideration. How has that time been employed? All the public meetings have been as decided as ever for a very extensive reform ; but have, as I conceive, shown less bigotry in favour of “the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill.” All hole-and-corner addresses and petitions (an authority to which I look with much more respect) have concurred with different shades in admitting the necessity of reform. The first fact gives the hope that less than the whole Bill would satisfy the least irrational portion of the first bodies; and the second fact, that the latter bodies would be satisfied if by yielding some points we can preserve others. How can these opinions be carried into effect except by going into the Committee?
It has been said, “Reject this Bill, and propose another.” Who is to do this? Not the leaders who abjure such an idea. Who else will take upon himself the responsibility of originating a new system 2 The Government have indeed proposed a new system, and by a mixture of party-feeling within, and intimidation from without, have prevented their supporters from following their own crotchets, and have compelled them to vote in the House for a measure as a whole, of many of whose parts they openly express their disapprobation out of it. As their supposed successors decline the task, what shadow of hope could there be that any other individual could reconcile jarring opinions in favour of any Bill proposed from our side of either House, and opposed as it certainly would be by the then late Government? This idea, which has weight with some people, and at first caught me, appears to me now quite visionary; for every man has his own Bill: and the only use of proclaiming any one of them might be to prove to the public that the proposer was himself in earnest, and perhaps to call forth from others a declaration in favour of some reform, though probably not that of the proposer.
On the other hand, if a sufficient number can agree upon the amendments to be proposed (a point upon which agreement is much easier than on the construction of a whole new Bill), we the Conservatives shall remain within our own sphere, and may regain the confidence of a large portion of the community. If we take the line of resisting & toute outrance, knowing that our resistance cannot be effectual, the consequence will be that, the place being taken by storm, it will also be given up to pillage; and at the next election the Conservatives will be swept from the face of the earth. If, on the other hand, the contest end by what will be a sort of compromise (for though we can now beat the Government in the House of Lords, they can beat us in the House of Commons), there is some hope of a return of tolerable good humour, and of the old influences regaining a part at least of what they have now lost.
I had promised to be short: but long as I have been, I have said but a portion of what occurs to me; and I should have said much less, if I had not been anxious you should not misunderstand the grounds on which I act. I heartily wish they may appear as strong to you as they do to me, after much anxious and hesitating thought.
Sir Robert Peel to the Earl of Harrowby.
DEAR LORD HARROWBY, Whitehall, Feb. 5, 1832.
I am much obliged by the communication of the enclosed letter. No one can feel more strongly than I do the absurdity of the doctrine that because a certain course was taken one Session, it must necessarily be taken the next
with reference to the same measure. You might as:
well say that you shall always navigate the same water
with the helm set the same way, without regard to the state of the tide or the shifting of the wind. The question you discuss is one of extreme difficulty. Questions of a similar nature must frequently recur in politics, but rarely under circumstances so peculiar— rarely when so many considerations have to be weighed, and when the hazard of a false step, I fear, indeed, of any step, is so great. I assume with you that the Ministers have the power of carrying the Bill, or to speak more correctly, have the power of making any number of Peers which they may deem sufficient to carry the Bill. Shall the necessity of a fresh creation for such an object be averted by acquiescence on the part of the present House of Lords in the Second Reading of the Bill? If the Bill were the whole question, and if, the Bill being passed, I could blot out the memory of all that had preceded and all that had accompanied its passing, I should perhaps answer that question in the affirmative. The whole question being res integra, and the passing of the Bill being assumed to be inevitable, I would rather see a graceful concession to necessity by the present House of Peers, than that recourse should be had to a proceeding unconstitutional in its origin, and in its consequences full of permanent irremediable evil. But can the House of Peers now make a graceful concession? Public impression—the impression of the vulgar, that is, of the vast mass of mankind, of the highest as well as the lowest station, cannot be disregarded in politics; and will not that public and that vulgar argue, “The House of Lords has yielded not