Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

been bribed and corrupted, the borough should then lose the privilege of sending members to parliament ; the corrupt majority should be disfranchised ; and the honest minority be permitted to vote at elections for Knights of the shire. By this expedient he was sure the boroughs would be preserved free from corruption; or else they must be abolished gradually, and the number of members of that house be reduced to its present standard. This disfranchising of boroughs would be the work of time : the necessity of disfranchising any one, whenever that necessity should appear, would sanctify the measure : it would appear to be what in fact it would then be, an act of justice, not of whim, party, or caprice, as it would be founded not on a surmise, but on the actual proof of guilt.

After amplifying upon this for some time, and shewing that it was equally founded on policy and justice, he urgently pressed the necessity of something being done in compliance with the petitions that had been presented ; complaining of the present state of the representation ; and took abundant pains to caution the house against adopting any extravagant plans of reform, that might be suggested by enthusiastic speculatists on the one hand, or obstinately refusing to take any step whatever in compliance with the petitions, under a childish dislike and dread of innovation on the other. After urging very elaborately an infinite variety of arguments Mr. Pitt said his first resolution was, what he conceived every individual member would feel the force of, and be ready to come into without a moment's hesitation : of the second, he entertained hopes pretty nearly as sanguine, convinced as he was of its propriety and justice ; and with regard to his third, though it might possibly meet with considerable opposition, he was extremely anxious to obtain it the sanction of the House. He then read his three resolutions, which in substance were as follow.

a

:

1st. That it was the opinion of the house, that measures were highly necessary to be taken for the future prevention of bribery, and expense at elections.

2dly. That for the future, when the majority of voters for any borough should be convicted of gross and notorious corruption before a select committee of that house, appointed to try the merits of that election, such borough should be disfranchised, and the minority of voters, not so convicted, should be entitled to vote for the county in which such borough should be situated.

3dly. That an addition of the Knights of the shire, and of representatives of the metropolis, should be added to the state of the representation.

Mr. Pitt said if he should be so happy as to succeed in carrying these resolutions, his intention was to bring in a bill upon their respective principles. When that bill was under consideration, it would then be the proper time for discussing and deciding on the number of Knights of the shire to be added, and for making all such other regulations, and restrictions, as to the wisdom of the house might appear necessary. He therefore should not hold any gentleman, who chose to vote for his resolutions as containing general propositions, to be bound and pledged either to support the bill he intended to bring in, provided the house agreed to his present motion, or to any clauses it might be fraught with ; but to be wholly at liberty, and as much unrestrained in that respect, as if he had not voted in support of the resolutions. Before he sat down, he again earnestly pressed the house either to adopt his propositions, or to suggest some other plan equally calculated to remedy the grievance.

The motion was seconded by Mr. DUNCOMBE ; but met with a very strenuous opposition from Mr. Powis, who paid however a very high compliment to the beautiful theory, the elegant speculation, and the bright oratory of the right honorable mover.

Lord NORTH also spoko VOL. I.

Рp

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

against the measure, declaring, with an happy allusive pleasantry " that, whilst some with LEAR demanded an hundred knights, and others with GONERIL were satisfied with fifty, he with Regan exclaimed “No-not one.” As Mr. Fox, Mr. SHERIDAN, Mr. BEAUFOY, and several other very able speakers took a share in the debate, it was continued till past two o'clock in the morning, when the house divided on the order of the day, the ayes 293—noes 14?_majority against Mr. Pitt's propositions 144.

Mr. Pitt's last attempt of this kind was made in April 1785, when, in conformity to the notice he had previously given, he again called the attention of the house, to the subject of a reform in the representation of the people. In entering upon this subject, he said he was aware of the division of sentiment, and of the pertinacity with which some men adhered to opinions inimical to every species of reform. But he rose with hopes infinitely more sanguine than he ever felt before, and with hopes which he conceived to be rationally and solidly founded. There was never a moment when the minds of men were more enlightened on this interesting topic than now: there never was a moment when they were more prepared for its discussion. A great many objections, which from time to time had been adduced against reform, would not lie against the propositions which he intended to submit to the house; and the question was in truth new in all its shape to the present Parliament.

He was sensible of the difficulty there was now, and ever must be in proposing a plan of reform. The number of gentlemen who were hostile to reform, were a phalanx, which ought to give alarm to any individual upon rising to suggest such a measure. Those, who with a sort of superstitious awe reverence the constitution, so much, as to be fearful of touching even its defects, had always reprobated every attempt to purify the representation. They acknowledged its inequality and corruption; but in their enthusiasm for the grand fabric, they would not suffer a reformer with unhallowed hands to repair the injuries which it suffered from time. Others, who, perceiving the deficiencies that had arisen from circumstances, were solicitous of their amendment, yet resisted the attempt, under the argument, that when once we had presumed to touch the constitution in one point, the awe which had heretofore kept us back from the daring enterprize of innovation might abate, and there was no foreseeing to what alarming lengths we might progressively go, under the mask of reformation. Others there were, but for these he confessed he had not the same respect, who considered the present state of representation as pure and adequate to all its purposes, and perfectly consistent with the first principles of representation. The fabric of the house of commons was an ancient pile, on which they had been all taught to look with reverence and awe; from their cradles they had been accustomed to view it as a pattern of perfection : their ancestors had enjoyed freedom and prosperity under it; and therefore an attempt to make any alterations in it would be deemed by some enthusiastic admirers of antiquity as impious and sacrilegious. No one reverenced the venerable fabric more than he did; but all mankind knew that the best institutions, like human bodies, carried in themselves the seeds of decay and corruption; and therefore he thought himself justifiable in proposing remedies against this corruption, which the frame of the constitution must necessarily experience in the lapse of years, if not prevented by wise and judicious regulations.

Toʻmen who argued in this manner, he did not presume to address his propositions, for such men he despaired of convincing; but he had well grounded hopes, that, in what he should offer to the house, he should be able to convince gentlemen of the former descriptions, that though they had argued so strongly against general and unexplained notions of reform, their arguments would not weigh against the precise and explicit proposition, which it was his purpose to submit to them. The objection to reform, under the idea of innovation, would not hold good against his suggestion ; for it was not an innovation on any known and clear principle of the constitution. Their objection to reform, because it might introduce habits of change and alteration, of which no man could foresee the extent or termination, would be equally inapplicable to his plan; for, in his mind, it would be complete and final. In his mind it would comprehend all that a rational reformer would think it necessary now, or at any time, to do, and would therefore give no licence to future or more extensive schemes. The argument that no alteration of the number of members composing the house ought to be at any time suffered, and that no reform of the representation in what was emphatically called the corrupt parts ought to be accomplished by an act of power, would be equally inapplicable ; for, by his proposition, he meant to lay it down as a first principle, that the number of the house ought to remain the same; and that the reform of decayed boroughs ought not to proceed on disfranchisement. This he said was the third effort made by him, since he had the honor of a seat in Parliament, to prevail upon the legislature to adopt a reform in the representation of the people. He had twice failed in his endeavours to effect this salutary purpose; and yet he was not discouraged from renewing them this day: he was encouraged by two circumstances which he had not in his favor on the former occasions. The reform which he now meant to propose, was more consistent with the views of the best and most moderate men: and this was a new house of commons, that had never been consulted on the subject of reform, and consequently had not, like the two last, negatived a proposi

« ПредишнаНапред »