Imágenes de páginas

which they have resented the imputations which in spite of all denials are pertinaciously represented to have been thrown on them by Mr. Lowe, has been roused by the repeated and calculated flagellations of the Potters and the Bealeses. Whatever their leaders may do, they themselves do not pretend to dislike beer and tobacco, nor would they care to deny that they consume a considerable portion of their earnings on these luxuries. They would not, then, gather in thousands, time after time, to hear an indignant repudiation of habits of which they are not wholly unconscious, or a tirade against the vices of their rulers. All this kind of eloquence is powerful to attract them for a time. But highly flavoured as it is, something both more telling and more palpable is required to concentrate their attention, to stimulate their passion, and multiply their gatherings. And this they find in Mr. Bright's speeches. We mean his speeches addressed to them. His speeches in Parliament are in a very different tone. • If,' virtually' he says, “if you had not been cursed with this sham Parliament--if you had had a Parliament elected, as every Parliament ought to be—by the whole body of the people then you would have had a better Government—the taxes would have been lighter--the wars fewer, the land more in the hands of the people and less in the hands of a class, education more diffused-trade freer, and one half of those who in this country are called the working classes would have been in comfort and position equal to those whom we call the middle classes. There it is. If the 84 per cent. now unrepresented had taken part in the Parliamentary elections, the mass of the people would have been landholders, paying small taxes, and enjoying free trade and free education. But how would this have been effected ?

Mr. Bright never loses an opportunity of denouncing the law of primogeniture. His never-failing complaint is that the land of England is in the hands of a class. His cherished balsam is a free trade in land. We may, therefore, safely infer that one of the first objects of a Parliament elected on his basis, and one of the first objects of the people’ in electing it, will be to abolish the law of primogeniture. But of what avail will this be, unless the power of settlement and testamentary disposition be abolished also ? It would clearly be useless to enact that, in default of a will, landed property should be divided equally among all the children, while the power of devise and settlement remained unaltered. To attain the object which he professes to desire, Mr. Bright's Parliament must pass a law forbidding any proprietor, under any circumstances and by any means, to bequeath or settle a landed estate in favour of one son. Those who are familiar with the


history of English tenures, and the conveyancing artifices which cling to them, may perhaps be able to suggest the inevitable consequences of such a law, and the results of the long struggle to which it must lead between a learned profession and a Parliamentum Indoctum. But it is curious to see the Coryphæus of Free Trade so blinded by the intoxication of Demagoguism as to dupe both himself and his credulous followers by a scheme which cuts directly at the root and life of free agency. What would be the value and extent of that free trade which would receive the support of a Parliament that had interfered with the right of a man to dispose of property earned by his own exertions, or by those of his ancestors ? Supposing that difficulty surmounted, of what nature and what extent would be the value of the boon thus conferred on the labouring classes ? In the address of the Glasgow Reformers, Mr. Bright is thus appealed to : •Through you we call attention to the unrighteous policy prevailing .... and compelling the flower of our population to seek freeholds and freedom where entails and primogeniture are unknown.' When we see hard-headed Scotchmen, who boast of belonging to the City of Adam Smith, avowing the doctrine that freedom could be advanced by a despotic control of individual action, we may well ask, What does the boasted love of freedom and free-trade come to ? But when we see them actually professing to believe that the most open and unrestricted sale of land could convert any large proportion of them into comfortable proprietors, we cannot help admiring the anticipative credulity which makes large bodies of men the facile instruments for a demagogue to play on. Did the Glasgow operatives imagine that any Act of Parliament can extend the area of the acreage of England, or that if half of the estates in Scotland were for sale to-morrow, in plots of from four or five to ten acres, they would buy them at less than the market price: or that, if 100,000 Paisley and Glasgow operatives became small peasant proprietors to-day, their children would retain the same properties five years after their decease? Have they yet to learn that in France the system of peasant-proprietorship is fatal to superior agriculture, and probably to the increase of population, and that their complaints should be directed not against the law of the land which recognises the rights of primogeniture, where the proprietors themselves have not thought fit to lay down a different course of descent, but against the law of nature, which forbids a growth of the soil co-extensive with the growth of a population, developed by years of prosperous and remunerative industry? It may be, however, that they reckon on the willingness of such a Parliament as they desire, to sell land R 2


for a fixed price, and to their own class, and with the certainty of a fixed profit ; and probably the sort of Parliament which they look for might be elected by the conjoint aid of universal suffrage, and those "great and menacing exhibitions of force,' which Mr. Bright, amid the enthusiastic shouts of his admirers, announced as the next move in his political campaign.

Of a truth, despite honeyed perorations and guarded prefaces, Mr. Bright's speeches are explicit enough; and what they want in simple candour is quite made up for by the rude frankness of his aides-de-camp. According to him and to them, the measure of Reform rejected by the House of Commons last session is not to be accepted by the people in the next session. An extension of suffrage which will include about one million, according to Mr. Bright, or, according to Mr. Beales, “registered residential suffrage,' which (if it comprehends all householders and their lodgers, as we presume it does) must include at the very least over two millions, is to be clamorously demanded. If it is refused, then new demonstrations are to be made—the streets of London are to be again occupied--the tradesmen of London are to be again terrified and interrupted in their daily business-the traffic of this great city is to be suspended and its peace jeopardised in order that these menacing exhibitions of force' may -in open

defiance of the law of the landscare the assembled Senate of England into an ignoble concession which at heart it disapproves and dreads.

Such are the conditions under which Lord Derby will meet the next Parliament. They are not without shadow. But while all these menacing announcements have been thundered forth, men reasonably liberal in their politics, and men who were more liberal than moderate, have been startled by the mixed wrong-headedness and violence of the demagogue no less than by the outrageous pretensions of his satellites. They see clearly that the object contemplated is Chartism resuscitated under the guise of Reform ; that it means the substitution of numbers and masses for property, hereditary position, and personal influence in the election of the House of Commons. Henceforward, if this agitation is allowed to conquer, the men who impose and distribute the taxation of the country will belong to one class, those who pay will belong to another. It is incredible that when residential manhood suffrage is once established, the 500,000 persons who own houses rated at over 201. a year, and who may be regarded as the representatives of the middle and the upper classes, will be allowed to retain political influence over the 1,500,000 or 2,000,000 others who will be invested with new privileges. Then we shall see in their



full practical force all those theories which have captivated every aggressive mob from the days of Cade to the days of Albert Ouvrier—the time and the wages of labour fixed by Act of Parliament, and fixed solely in reference to the convenience of the labourer. Then shall we recognise the advantage of the poor legislating for themselves, while legislating with the rich, in the realization of that dream which as yet flits through the imagination of the Socialist poet in England, though the legislators in the model colony of Victoria seem to have gone tolerably far in the way of making it an every-day fact:

Eight hours work and eight hours play ;

Eight hours for sleep, and eight shillings a-day.' Precious as is the example of Victoria, that of another colony, Newfoundland, where universal suffrage also prevails, is still more noticeable. There the legislature combines the duties of a parliament with those of a vestry. It has to vote the amount of poor-relief allowable to each family in the capital of the colony (and few families live out of the “liberties’ of the capital). The popularity of each member of the Assembly depends on the number of his constituents that he can put on the relief-lists; consequently there is a struggle who can obtain the greatest amount of public aid for his own constituents. As responsible government is established in the colony, the success or failure of a ministry there may be said to turn on the comparative liberality with which it lavishes the proceeds of the poor's-rates. Such are the ultimate pillage and corruption in which a wide and comprehensive suffrage' may plunge a community. Of course it would be difficult to parallel such a case; but it is not so difficult to come near to it.

To a constituency composed as these constituencies would be, primogeniture would necessarily be an abomination, and the House of Peers anathema.

The over-shadowing eminence of noble houses would be as offensive as the accumulated wealth of opulent firms. It would be equally intolerable that one man should, by the accident of birth, be entitled to a prominent seat in the Legislature or to a palatial mansion and a splendid domain, and that another should, from the talent and industry of his father, inherit a bank or a factory which is estimated at the value of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The Parliament elected under such an Act would be, not a deliberative council, but an assembly of delegates; and one of its first duties would be, after remitting all taxation now incident to the bard-handed and virtuous sons of toil,' to compel the sale of landed estates which exceed a certain magnitude, and the division of industrial profits which exceed a


certain amount. The taxation levied on the helpless rich would be expended, not according to the knowledge and judgment of educated statesmen, but according to the whim and impulse of men whose complaint is, that under the existing state of things they have received no education, and who would place themselves entirely in the hands of the leaders of the Trades Unions. In fact, the Trades Unions, after having exchanged their industrial direction for political direction, and having tried their 'prentice hands on the capital, would try them on the government of the country.

The testimony of Messrs. Creed and Williams, in their impressive letters to the “Times,' shows what effects the action of trades combinations has produced already in the iron manufactures of the country; and other evidence sufficiently valid has been adduced to show that not only are we compelled to import rails, and carriages, and engines for our railroads, from Belgium or France, but also doors and window-frames for our houses from Sweden. The ruin with which the Societies are threatening the industry would soon, if they got the chance, assail the character and the position of England. But the Trades Unions have not been satisfied with producing a mere economical result. Take the following example quoted by Mr. Lowe. Last year the body of masons struck for nineteen weeks, and then sent the following letter to their employers :

We present you with the wishes of our Trade Union, requesting a reply on or before Saturday next. Mr. Thomas and all non-society plasterers to be discharged; all non-society carpenters and improvers to be discharged; piecework to be abolished, &c. On behalf of the United Building Trades, John BRAG, Chairman,' Who shall say that the effect of this menace ends with the particular concession demanded ? It is not merely that certain

are dismissed—that, in consequence of the monopoly granted, the cost of production is raised for a longer or shorter time, and that a home trade is partly superseded by a foreign trade ; but it is that the principle of authority is inverted and its exercise transferred; that a secret judicial and legislative authority is established, which denounces and ostracises at pleasure, and which innovates on the routine proceedings of ordinary despotism by selecting for special condemnation and punishment those workmen who are most distinguished for the cleverness, quickness, and perfection of their work. This is a bad sample, but it is not the worst. It is bad enough that the selfish wickedness of conspirators should deal a fatal blow at the energy, honesty, and skill of individual workmen ; but worse than this is in the back-ground. The recent disclosures at



« AnteriorContinuar »