Imágenes de páginas

ating state of a manufacturing and commercial kingdom, might, fall into decay in one part of the country, and rise into condition in another. These propositions, taken together, comprehended what he conceived to be a final and complete system, and which would ease the minds of gentlemen with respect to any future scheme of reform being attempted, or being necessary. This was not a plan of reform either fluctuating or changeable. It was not subject to the argument, that the stirring of this question would lead to endless innovations, and that when once involved in change, there was no foreseeing where we might stop: nor was it subject to the objection that it was an innovation; for he had very much failed in making his own ideas intelligible to the House, if he had not shewn them that it was a plan in every respect congenial, not only with the first principle, but with the uniform practice of the constitution. These arguments, therefore, he trusted, would not be brought against his plan. The argument whether his propositions were practicable, whether they were susceptible of an easy and early execution, he should be happy to hear and to discuss. But all the arguments that had from time to time been brought against general and unexplained notions, as they were not applicable, he trusted they would not be adduced. lt

PT IST He anticipated several objections, which, when the propositions came to be discussed in the detail, he should be happy to meet and to combat. The first, he supposed, would be the argument of the expense. Certainly it would always be wise and proper for that House to guard against wild and chimerical schemes and speculations, which might involve their constituents in additional burthens; but he did not believe that, in a matter so dear and important to Englishmen, they would be intimidated from embracing it by the circumstance of the cost. He conceived it to be above price; it was a thing which the people of England could not purchase too highly. Let gentlemen set the question in its proper point of view ; let them oppose to the expense, however great, the probable, and indeed the almost certain, advantages to accrue from it, and then they would see how little the argument of economy ought to weigh against the purification of the popular branch of the legislature. If there always had been a House of Commons who were the faithful stewards of the interests of their country, the diligent checks on the administration of the finances, the constitutional advisers of the executive branch of the legis. lature, the steady and uninfluenced friends of the people, he asked, if the burthens which the constituents of that House were now doomed to endure, would have been incurred? Would the people of England have suffered the calamities to which they had lately been made subject? And feeling this great and melancholy truth, would they consider the divestment of any sum as an object, when by doing so, such a House of Commons might be ascertained ? He did not, therefore, think that the argument of the expense would be much insisted on, nor indeed would the expense be so great as, on the first blush of the matter, gentlemen might be apt to imagine.


Another objection that he foresaw was, that the operation would be but gradual, and its full and final accomplishment at least be distant. This, however, was not an objection that could have much weight. He did not believe that the operation would either be slow or very distant: he had stated to the House several reasons to shew that the different descriptions of men would have an interest in accepting the conditions to be offered by parliament; and in the fluctuating state of property, and in the almost constant necessities of men, he argued, that the offer of the consideration would from time to time be irresistible. He was sanguine, perhaps, in saying, that, before next parliament, the benefit of this plan might be felt, and in the mean time, this objection of the plan being gradual, would be less regarded, from the confidence which the people of England had in their present representatives. They would wait with patience for the operation of this arrangement, from the confidence which they had in the truth and character of the present parliament. It was elected under circumstances which made it dear to Englishmen; it had not yet forfeited the confidence of the country; and he was warranted in presuming that, with such a House of

of Commons, the constituent body would not be eager for the immediate accomplishment of this reform. .

He said, that in the proposed change of representation, and in adding seventy-two members to the counties, he forgot in the proper place to mention, that it was his wish to add to the number of the electors in those counties. There was no good reason why copyholders should not be admitted to the exercise of the franchise as well as freeholders. Their property was as secure, and, indeed, in some instances, more so than that of the freeholders; and such an accession to the body of electors would give an additional energy to representation. He conceived that the addition of seventy-two members would be as much as it would be proper to give to the proportion between county and borough. These seventy-two members would be divided between the counties and the metropolis, as nothing could be more evident than that the cities of London and Westminster, as well as the counties, had a very inadequate share in the representation of the kingdom. To give to the counties and the metropolis a a greater addition than seventy-two members or thereabouts, would be the means of introducing disorders into the election more injurious than even its present inadequacy.

He needed not, he believed, enumerate the arguments that presented themselves to his mind in favour of a reform. Every gentleman who had taken pains to investigate the subject, must see that it was most materially wanted. To conquer the corruption that existed in those decayed boroughs, would be acknowledged an impossible attempt. The temptations were too great for poverty to resist, and the consequence of this corruption was so visible, that some plan of reforming the boroughs had clearly become absolutely necessary. In times of calamity and distress, how truly important was it to the people of this country that the House of Commons should sympathise with themselves, and that their interests should be indissoluble? It was most material that the people should have confidence in their own branch of the legislature; the force of the constitution, as well as its beauty, depended on that confidence, and on the union and sympathy which existed between the constituent and represen. tative. The source of our glory and the muscles of our strength were the pure character of freedom, which our constitution bore. To lessen that character, to taint it, was to take from our vitals a part of their vigour, and to lessen not only our importance, but our energy with our neighbours.

If we looked back to our history, we should find that the brightest periods of its glory and triumph were those in which the House of Commons had the most complete confidence in their ministers, and the people of England the most complete confidence in the House of Commons. The purity of representation was the only true and permanent source of such confidence: for though occasionally bright characters had arisen, who, in spite of the general corruption and depravity of the day, in which they lived, had manifested the superior influence of integrity and virtue, and had forced both parliament and people to countenance their administration; yet it would be unwise for the people of England to leave their fate to the chance of such characters often arising, when prudence must dictate that the certain way of securing their properties and freedom was to purify the sources of representation, and to establish that strict relation between themselves and the House of Commons, which it was the original idea of the constitution to create. He hoped that the plan which he had mentioned was likely, to re-establish such a relation; and he recommended to gentlemen not to suffer their 'ininds to be alarmed by unnecessary fears. Nothing was so hurtful to improvement as the fear of being carried farther than the principle on which a person set out.

It was common for gentlemen to reason with themselves, and to say that they would liave no objection to go so far and no farther, if they were sure, that, in countenancing the first step, they might not either be led themse!ves, or lead others farther than they intended to go. So much they were apt to say was right- so far they would go --of such a scheine they approved but fearing that it might be carried too'far, they desisted from doing even what they conceived to be proper. He deprecated this conduct, and hoped that gentlemen would come to the con

sideration of this business, without fearing that it would lead to consequences that would either ruin or alarm us. He begged pardon for having troubled the House so long; he wished to put them in possession of all his ideas on the important subject, though he was aware, that until the matter came to be argued in the detail, it was impossible for him to foresee all the objec, tions that might be started. He should therefore conclude for the present with moving,

“ That leave be given to bring in a bill to amend the repre, sentation of the people of England in parliament.” The question was negatived,

Ayes............. 174
Noes............ 248

May 5. 1785. DEBATE on Mr. Francis's motion, for appointing a committee to take into consideration the several lists and statements of the East-India company's establishments in India, that had been laid before the House during the present year.

Mr. Fox strongly supported the motion, and expressed much surprise at seeing any opposition offered to it. Whilst he was proceeding in some severe remarks upon the delusive statement of the East-India directors, which he asserted was of a piece with the whole conduct of those in office, Mr. Pitt and the Master of the Rolls were observed to laugh: upon which Mr. Fox said, with considerable warmth," he saw he was treated with personal indecency by the right honourable gentleman, and by another honourable gentleman, whose indecency was a matter of mere indifference to him. He disregarded the incivility of such conduct, and held it in contempt. It was sufficient for him to be convinced he was completely in the right on the question of finance discussed the other day. * So convinced was he of this, that he would risk his reputation on the two statements; and he thanked God a time would come when they would have an opportunity of knowing who was in the right, and

* On the 29th of April, when Mr. Fox moved for a committee to in, vestigate the financial statements of Mr. Pitt; which motion was rejected by the House.


« AnteriorContinuar »