« ПредишнаНапред »
Failing in their representatives, they may have recourse to their prerogative. It has been urged, that now, whilst this business is in agitation, the people of Birmingham and Manchester have not petitioned to be represented. This is an argument which at this time of all others can have but little weight ; for while they were alarmed for their trade and their subsistance, it is no time for them to set about making improvements in that constitution, in which they are not certain how long they may have any share. On the eve of emigration, they are to look for this in another country, to which their property and business are soon to be transferred. The different parts of this plan would certainly in a committee be submitted to modification and amendments ; but as it now stands admitting only the first principle, every other part and the means taken to attain the principle are highly objectionable. I shall not hesitate to declare, that I will never agree to admit the purchasing from a majority of the electors the property of the whole. In this I see so much injustice, and so much repugnance to the true spirit of our constitution, that I cannot entertain the idea one moment. On the other hand, when the property of a borough is in one man, there is no chance of his disposing of it on the terms this day mentioned ; for when a particular sum is laid down for a certain purchase, and interest suffered to accumulate on that sum, the man must be a fool who could be in haste to get the possession of it. There is something injurious in holding out pecuniary temptations to an Englishman to relinquish his franchise on the one hand, and a political principle which equally forbids it on another. I am uniformly of an opinion, which, though not a popular one, I am ready to aver, that the right of governing is not a property, but a trust; and that whatever is given for constitutional purposes, should be resumed when those purposes
shall no longer be carried into effect. There are instances of gentlemen offering to sacrifice the interest
they may have in boroughs to the public good. It is • strange that none of them now come forward, when the occasion has presented itself. I am averse to the idea of confining parliamentary situations to men of large fortunes, or those who have distinguished themselves in public professions. Should this be the case, there is scarcely any man so little acquainted with the history of Parliament, as not to know that the house would lose half its force. It is not from men of large and easy fortunes that attention, vigilance, energy, and enterprise are to be expected. Human nature is too fond of gratification not to be somewhat attentive to it, when the means are at hand; and the best and most meritorious public services have always been performed by persons in circumstances removed from opulence. The Right Honorable Gentleman need not be ashamed to take some of those regulations formed in the time of the protector, OLIVER CROMWELL ; for though a character too odious ever to be the object of praise or imitation, his institutions, confirmed afterwards by his successor, CHARLES II., bear strong marks of genius and ability ; for his political disposition was as good as that of his successor, and his genius infinitely more powerful. I shall conclude with earnestly intreating all sides of the house to concur in the question now before them.”
I am sorry the honorable gentleman who spoke last [Mr. WILBER FORCE] did not, in all the warmth he professed on the occasion, take the most conciliatory mode of acquiring strength to it. Instead of reproaching the noble Lord (North) for confining himself to arguments and observations, he should rather tremble for the success with which these old observations have been applied by his noble friend, and the contrary fate which has before attended the novel and more variable stile of the minister.
After a long protracted debate, the question was lost by a majority of 248 voices against 174.
In March 1790, Mr. FLOOD, who had before distinguished himself by eloquent exertions in support of parliamentary reform in Ireland, moved for leave to bring into the British senate a plan for the improvement of the national representation ; which he thus explained, and endeavoured to recommend.
" Sir, “I rise to propose a reform in the parliamentary representation of the people. I cannot mention the subject without making you sensible of its importance : it is surrounded with difficulties, some that are inherent in the subject, and more that do not in reality belong to it; difficulties of private interest in the prepossessions of those, who having benefitted by the perversion of the constitution, are unwilling to restore it. To such persons I have but one application to make, and that is, that they will suspend those prepossessions till they hear what I have to propose ; and then, if they find they can do a noble justice to their country, without a personal injury to themselves, that they will receive, or at least that they will examine it. There is another sentiment which I wish to obviate, and that is, that it is preposterous for any man to attempt a reform, in which some years ago the chancellor of the Exchequer did not succeed. Bowing to the superiority of the chancellor of the Exchequer, my answer is plain : First, that I have avoided the objections that militated most strongly against his plan ;--next, that the lights, which he has thrown upon the subject, are a great assistance now ;-that his declared patronage of the principle, as well as that of his right honorable antagonist, are a farther encouragement ; seeing that it cannot be supposed that persons of their talents and information, who differ in so many other things, should concur in this, if it were not for the overbearing force of an irresistible conviction. I have to add, that such a principle, so vital to the consti.
tution, and yet so strongly opposed by private interest, is the very thing that cannot be supposed to succeed at once; but that it is the very thing of which we may be certain, that, with due perseverance, it will succeed in the end. For myself I shall only say, that I have too much confidence in the magnanimity and wisdom of this house, and of the people of England, not to trust, that they will rather consider the weight of the matter than the weakness of the mover.
“ Under these auspices I begin, and will say what, but in a confidence in your virtue, I dare not say, that you are not the adequate representatives of the people.
“ That you are their legal representatives I freely admit, and that as such you were entitled, as well as any other house of commons, to all that was resolved, with respect to your powers, in the last session of Parliament. And I appeal to the candor of the chancellor of the Exchequer, who I am sare will readily acknowledge, that the words full and free Parliament, that were used on this occasion, were not used indirectly to anticipate the present question; nor to declare the adequacy of that representation, the inadequacy of which he has himself arraigned. But I
go ther, and say, that you are not only the legal representatives of the people, but that you are an highly useful and honorable council-a council, which, in any other government of Europe, would be a great acquisition ! But, to the honor of the British constitution be it spoken, that the British constitution entitles us to something better; namely; an adequate representation ; now this it cannot be, unless freely, and frequently elected by the body of the people. Before I go farther into this subject, however, I must stop to notice a declaration of the right honourable member (Mr. Fox) that he was an enemy to absolute government, whether in the form of monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy. I go farther, and am an ene
my to any two of those orders combined, without the intervention of the third. And though I do not distinguish between any of the three, so as to express a preference ; yet I have a right to say, that, as all just government must be founded in the choice of the people, and must have their benefit for its end, so it is clear that the popular order of government is at least as indispensible, and as valuable as either of the others. Now what is the popular form of government in the British constitution? It is the representation of the people ; that great arcanum and wise mystery of our government, by which it so much excels all the governments of antiquity. By this principle, though scattered over a great country, a great people can possess an efficient influence in their own Legislature, without being Legislators themselves. But how ? Not by the shadow, but by the substance of representation; or, in other words, by an actual and not a virtual representative. Now, in what does actual representation consist? In this, that as, by the general law of the constitution, the majority is to decide for the whole, the representative must be chosen by a body of constituents, whereof the elective franchise may extend to the majority of the people. For what can be so evident, as that, if the constituent body consisted but of one thousand for the whole nation, the representatives chosen by that thousand could not, in any rational sense, be the actual representative of the people? It is equally clear in reason, that nothing less than a constituent body, formed on a principle that may extend to the majority, can be constitutionally adequate to the return of an actual representative of the people ; and that unless the people be actually represented, they are not constitutionally represented at all. I admit, that property, to a certain degree, is a necessary ingredient to the elective power; that is to say, that franchise ought not to go beyond property ; but at the same time to say, that it ought to be as nearly com