« AnteriorContinuar »
tempt for the tall talk' of their newspapers, and on whom the sayings and doings of their countrymen inflicted torments. Human nature in America is somewhat like the articles in a great exhibition, where the largest and loudest things first catch the eye and usurp the attention. Also, their system of representation gives the largest and loudest expression to the grosser human interests in the political sphere; it aggregates a huge mass of ignorant selfishness, such as is not swiftly or easily touched with the fine thought or noble feeling of the few. For instance, the writers of America who represent its moral conscience, are in favour of an international copyright; they are on the side of right and justice, in opposition to those who represent only the political conscience of the country. But their difficulty is in bringing their momentum to bear upon the political machine, seeing that they cannot work directly through it. With us the apparatus is far more delicate and sensitive, and the chances of representation for the truer feeling and higher wisdom are indefinitely greater. Nevertheless it is satisfactory to find and the finger-pointings and the smile of Yankee humour help greatly to show it—that there is among the Americans a stronger backing of sound sense, of clear seeing, and of right feeling, than we could have gathered any idea of from their political mouthpieces.
Art. IX.-1. Speech of the Right Hon. R. Lowe in the House of
Commons, April 26th and May 3rd. 2. Speeches on Parliamentary Reform, by John Bright, Esq.,
M.P., delivered during the Autumn of 1866 to the People of
Leeds, Glasgow, Dublin, and London. Manchester. 3. Ireland and her Servile War. By Colonel Adair, F.R.S.
London, 1867. 4. Land Tenure in Ireland: a Plea for the Celtic Race. By
Isaac Butt, Q.C. Second Edition. Dublin and London,
1866. 5. Ballads and Poetry of Ireland. 6. A few Words on the Relation of Landlord and Tenant in
Ireland, and in other parts of the United Kingdom. By the Earl of Rosse, London, 1867. WE accession of Lord Derby to power was the signal for a
direct declaration of war to the knife on the part of Mr. Bright. The substitution of a Ministry representing the lovers of our constitutional monarchy-not fellow-conspirators with him
in subverting it-filled the Radicals with dismay. The watchword was passed from Land's End to John o' Groat's to calumniate Lord Derby and his friends as the enemies of the working man;* to persuade the people that they were like the Coolies imported into the West Indies.' Not only this, but intimidation was to be used, and, in accordance with the example of the Sections of Paris in 1792-93, Parliament was to be coerced by multitudes assembled at Westminster. Two preliminary exhibitions have already been seen in London. In the first instance, outrage and injury to person and property were perpetrated by the Reforming mob-not from any denial of the right to assemble, but because they were forbidden to meet in the Parks, which have been deemed by Whig and Tory Home Ministers alike to be unsuited for such gatherings. In the second, the Trades were called out in martial array to betray in marching past how small their real numbers in comparison with the menaces held out beforehand. Some have argued, from the thinness of this gathering, that the ardour of the hand-working classes in the cause was slight. We come to that conclusion from the fact that down to the 18th † of October, 1865, the voice of Reform was scarce heard in the land, and that the present clamour is the result of the efforts of designing demagogues—flogging into excitement the lower classes, and aided in this respect by the popularity-hunting Ministry of Lord Russell and Mr. Gladstone." We are supported in this belief by the still more momentous fact that the working class in Britain have no real grievances to complain of, such as laws and kings can cause or cure; that a large and increasing number of them are enjoying the franchise by means of the Reform Bill of 1832, and that comparatively few would be shut out from it, under the existing law, if only they would imitate in some degree the saving and provident habits of the workmen of their own class in France, Belgium, and Germany, who receive wages much inferior to their own.
But what was the avowed purpose of the meetings and demonstrations held during the recess? We are answered, Reform. But what Reform ? That, it is not so easy to define with precision. The rejected Reform Bill of last session would, if passed, have added less than half a million to the electors of the United Kingdom. That, Mr. Bright tells us, is not the Reform Bill which will satisfy him now. Still less will it satisfy those who crowd to listen, applaud, and support him. Whatever prejudices
*' I say that the accession to office of Lord Derhy is a declaration of war against the working classes.'--Speech of Mr. Bright at Birmingham, Aug. 27. † The date of Lord Palmerston's death.
he may profess to retain in favour of what he deems constitutional precedents, they, at least, have none.
At the meeting at Glasgow the true principle of Reform was defined to be “residential and registered manhood suffrage.' At all the meetings the subordinate speakers have elicited the cheers of their audiences by insisting on manhood suffrage as the goal to which they were to urge forward. At the great gathering at Beaufort House, Mr. Bright's London adjutant, Mr. Beales, amidst the enthusiastic assent of his followers, declared that the labouring men should persistently strive for manhood suffrage, and that he himself would never be contented with less. While the lieutenants of the populace have been so out-spoken as to the object of their league, the great leader himself has been less explicit. In one or two speeches he clearly intimated his predilection for household suffrage; and we all know what is meant by household suffrage in the boroughs of the North. But even household suffrage, wide and comprehensive as that would be, is hardly co-extensive with the latitude implied in the following paragraphs of Mr. Bright's harangues. Speaking in October, at Glasgow, he said :
The question is this, whether in future the Government and the legislation of this country shall be conducted by a privileged class in a sham Parliament, or on the principles of the Constitution of the nation, through its representatives, fairly and freely chosen. Now, there are persons who will think that I am speaking harshly of the existing Parliament. Some probably in this meeting might think that Mr. Beales was indiscriminate in the terms which he used when he spoke of our representation being steeped in corruption; but I am certain that if the representation of this country existed in any other country, and its details were explained to Englishmen, there are not five Englishmen within the bounds-or five Britons within the bounds of this island—who would not admit that the language be has applied to the Parliament was correct.'
Mr. Bright on this occasion made the remark,* that the rich alone are no more qualified to legislate for the poor, than the poor alone would be to legislate for the rich.' And he said that the addition of a million electors to the constituencies would make the legislation of Parliament'wiser and better in every respect than it now is.' Further on we shall see what this mixed legislation amounts to, and what is the interpretation which not only his more ardent followers, but he himself affixes to the mode of its operation. It is sufficient to hint at the spirit of this speech, and to recognise in it the influence of ideas entirely remote and alien from all constitutional principles of government. In his speech at the Trades Reform meeting in London, in December, he declaimed against the insufficiency of a constituency which, in the aggregate, did not exceed 900,000 men, and practically might be said not to exceed 400,000 registered voters; and with deep indignation he answered the question which he asked himself:
* We think the context justifies Mr. Bright's rather tardy correction of the • Times' report.
• What is the grievance of which you complain? You are the citizens, the native inhabitants, of a country which is called constitutional ; and what is meant by that is that your government is not the despotic government of a monarch, or the oligarchical government of an oligarchy, but that it is a government a large and essential portion of which is conducted by the honestly elected representatives of the people; and the grievance is this, that this constitution, so noble in its outline and so noble in its purpose, is defaced and deformed, and that when you look at it it seems in this respect absolutely worse than any representative constitution existing in the world ; for I believe there is no representative system whatsoever at this moment, in America or in Europe, that is so entirely deformed from its natural, just, and beautiful proportions as is the representative system of this country.'
There can be no mistake about the meaning either of the demagogue or his followers. The great and immediate object of the agitation is to give the electoral power to numbers. A million of men ought to be added to the constituencies at once. This would double them, and more than double them. It would swamp every existing influence and power in the State. Wealth, intelligence, education, experience, learning, professional capacity, commercial or political knowledge, would be overwhelmed at one rush by the power of numbers. Hitherto through all its changes, our constitution has uniformly recognised the primary purpose of a Parliament. It has never forgotten that the first object in summoning the barons, the knights, and the burgesses, was to assess the proportions of taxation to be borne by each. And it has so provided that the men who assessed the taxation of the country should be men who themselves possessed, or were deputed by others who possessed, taxable property. But the theory of Mr. Bright, and still more the theories of Mr. Bright's followers, are utterly at variance with the scheme of the Constitution. Give Mr. Bright his million additional voters, or give Mr. Bright's satellites their • residential suffrage' (which is probably equivalent to two millions and a half additional voters), and what follows as an inevitable consequence ? Vote by ballot, if required; electoral areas; the abrogation of all distinction between borough and county suffrage; a still more elastic stretch of the franchise, until we
are fairly launched on the wide sea of Universal Suffrage. To call this a Reform would be like giving the name of alteration to one of those momentous convulsions of Nature which, at intervals of hundreds of years, dry up lakes, and estuaries, and submerge great continents. The Reform would be a great and violent revolution, It would rive a great chasm between the present and the past history of the country, and, whatever it ultimately produced, its first work would be a wide and terrible destruction. And for what purpose ? The old Chartists told us in plain and unadorned phrase. Mr. Bright is more unctuous, more tender and more seductive; but his object is identical with theirs. It is the old story, old as Feargus O'Connor, and the demonstration of 1848, and the provincial agitation, which, initiated under Whig auspices in 1832, was taken up by the Birmingham Union, and then turned over to their more democratic imitators. It is far older, too, than this. It is as old as the birth of Envy and Hatred in the world. It is—however glozed and guised—the irrepressible impulse of those who have not against those who have. Mr. Bright finds it convenient in a peroration to hymn the beatitude of that blissful time when “the large and generous admission of the working classes to citizenship shall sweeten the breath of British society,' or to portray the accession of strength which the empire would gain from even a gradual and partial concession of the franchise to the unenfranchised millions. No doubt all just and thoughtful men would wish to make the basis of our representation as broad as it can be safely made: to see unity in the national councils and harmony in the national elements: to see the rich and the poor mutually confiding and contented : to see an Utopia of general disinterestedness and self-denial. But it was not to indulge in the expression of philanthropical platitudes that Mr. Bright addressed his admirers in Glasgow, Manchester, and London. Nor was it to express sympathy with all classes, but to denounce one class, that the thousands paraded the streets of Glasgow, and the miry road to Fulham. It was to tell them that '84 per cent of our male population might as well live in Russia as in England, for all constitutional purposes, so far as they were directly concerned,'that Mr. Bright travelled to Glasgow and harangued in St. James's Hall. But more than this. It was not merely to exasperate the feeling of popular self-love that Mr. Bright denounced a Government which is, after all, the freest in the world, or a Parliament which has occupied itself most sedulously with the best social interests of the people. The English operatives are not, as a class, vain; the sensitiveness with Vol. 122.-No. 243.