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was once as free as England ; in every country of Europe it was said, that every thing was well, till they found that every thing was otherwise ; they went to bed saying they were free, and they wakened bondmen.
“ Let us not flatter ourselves, that there is a destiny peculiar to England ; she has lost her liberty more than once ; it is our business to take care, that they shall never lose it again. MACHIAVEL says wisely, that no free government can last, that is not often brought back to its first principles_and why? Because the excellence of a free government is to control the evil passions, and practices of rulers. What is the consequence? Those passions and practices are at perpetual war with such a constitution, they make a constant effort to undermine or evade this barrier which is opposed to them. What is perpetually assailed, must be perpetually defended : what is incessantly sapped, must be incessantly repaired. It is nonsense to say, that the English constitution, because it was once the best in the world, can never want reformation. A bad government cannot easily become worse ; it therefore may not want, and certainly does not deserve reparation. A good government does easily become worse ; it is with difficulty it can be preserved, even by vigilance ; and of all things in the world it best deserves to be repaired. The proposition which I make to you, is practicable ; that cannot be denied ; it cannot be denied to be efficient; it will add a body of responsible constituents, of such a number that a majority of the people may have the exercise of franchise ; thus it cures the defect of the constituent body; and on the representative body it will have this good effect, that there will be no longer a decided majority in the house of commons under another · choice and another influence than that of the people ; it leaves every county, city, town, borough, manor, &c. as it finds them; it molests none of the private proprietors of that which ought not to be private ; and what does it ask
of them in return? Nothing, but that they will suffer the constitution to be indemnified; and the influence of the people to re-enter the representation. To carry all this into execution would require but one short provision ; namely, that the sheriff of each county be required, by himself and his deputies, to take the poll of the resident householders of his county in each parish on the same day; thus this great remedy to the constitution may be obtained in one day, with less tumult and expense than attends upon the election of a diminutive borough: thus the representative will be chosen, as he ought to be, by the people ; and by shortening the duration of Parliaments, he will continue to act as if he were so chosen.
“ MONTESQUIEU has said, that a free people will pay more taxes with greater alacrity, than a people that are not free; and he adds, the reason, because they have a com
: ; pensation in the rights they enjoy. The people of England pay fifteen millions and an half annually to the revenue. This purchase they pay for the constitution. Shall they not have the benefit of it? Every individual pays fifty shillings a year. How many enjoyments must every inferior individual relinquish, and how much labor must he undergo, to enable him to make this contribution ? No people ever deserved better of government than the people of this country at this moment: they have not only submitted with alacrity to this enormous mass of taxation : but when the health or rights of their sovereign were at stake, they gathered round the throne with unexampled zeal. Can such a people be denied their privileges? Can their privileges be a subject of indifference or remissness to this house? I cannot believe it; and therefore I move for leave to bring in a bill to amend the representation of the people in Parliament."
The motion having been seconded by Mr. GRIGBY, Mr. Windham observed, that, in his opinion, one preliminary question ought to be answered, previously to even the
least reception of the motion. The right honorable gentleman had not proved enough to encourage them to go on with him in his proposition. He ought first to make qut his grievance; then propose his remedy, and when the house were put in possession of both, it would be for them to judge how far the first was ascertained, and the second proportionate, and to decide, whether the remedy ought to be adopted or not. The right honorable gentleman had only said, that there was an inadequate representation, without producing any proof of the fact. The right honorable gentleman seemed to have mistaken the end for the means : experience had convinced them that they were not an inadequate representation, but that the house of commons, constituted as it was, was answerable to all the purposes that a house of commons ought to be,' and that the people lived as happy and free under it, and enjoyed all the luxuries of life as fully as they could possibly desire. It was not usual to judge of the goodness of a tree otherwise than by its fruits ; and to apply a homely adage to the British constitution, “ The proof of the pudding was
, in the eating.” The experience of ages had demonstrated, that the house was adequate to all which was necessary, and that with no better representation of the people in Parliament, they had been comfortable and easy, the country flourishing and prosperous, and the people safe. Every proposition of reformation or innovation was good or bad according to the nature of the case : this was a case in which we might lose every thing and could gain nothing. This project came before the house under the appearance of liberty, as all innovations did, which were likely to destroy that very liberty they professed to preserve. The liberty of their country needeth no speculative security : it could not be better secured than it was. But the right honorable gentleman had quoted the case of the Middlesex election, and laid great stress on the minority's governing the majority in that case. Why! be it so! If it had been the general rule of election, for aught he knew that house might have gone on well; and if it did, ought he to qnarrel with it, because he was not able to see exactly how it happened, or how it had confused the people? If he were asked the reason, why it went on so well, he should answer only, 'there are more things in nature than are to be found in your philosophy. As to the American war, the right honorable gentleman came somewhat near where he wished to bring him, to matter of fact.
Mr. WINDHAM denied that the continuance of the American war had been owing to the inadequacy of representation ; on the contrary, it was the wish of the people that it should be begun; a better proof of which need not be desired, than what had happened to the member for Bristol, a right honorable friend of his [Mr. Burke). Where did his right honorable friend sit for before the war, and where after it? He had been turned out for opposing its continuance. Towards the close of that war, a clamor was raised, and the cry was a reform of representation in Parliament, as a remedy for the expense to which the people had put themselves; when, he was afraid, they had undertaken the war, with no better reason than the hope of saving themselves by taxing America. A deluge of opinions were then let loose. All those wild notions were generated during the war ; but happily they had long subsided, as he had hoped, never to rise again ; but unfortunately, to · borrow a phrase from the last debate, he feared the cry
then set up “ was not dead, but only sleepeth.” He was sorry that a brood of these wild impracticable opinions had spread abroad from the continental affairs which, like locusts that lay torpid till awakened into life, would buzz about, fill the air, and fly away. He apprehended if they were suffered to remain here, they would destroy the verdure and beauty of the constitution. If he had approved ever so much the right honorable gentleman's proposition for a parliamentary reform, he should have objected
to it, on account of the time, at which the right honorable gentleman had thought proper to introduce it. What, would the right honorable gentleman advise them to repair their house in the hurricane season? The right honorable gentleman seemed desirous of opening the door for a change, though he was so candid in his mode of proposing it, that he had professed himself perfectly indifferent what the change should be, and seemed only desirous that there might be some change: a change might be good in the abstract, but he would never consent to open a door to change, and to pull down and take the chance of building again. It was not playing upon velvet, as it was called in the language of play, when one party was sure of his game: much might be lost, but nothing could be gained. He reprobated the wild theories which were now so frequently broached as if they were to give up practice and experience, and resort to theoretical projectors. It seemed as if a system of metaphysics was about to be introduced, and the ideal world were to govern the real.
Let it be recollected, that speculatists and visionaries were now frontibus adversis pugnantia; and therefore we ought to abstain from catching the infection. There was no grievance in this country, which we could not correct without resorting to ask the advice of a theorist. While the people enjoyed every possible degree of freedom and felicity, they were to be persuaded that they were miserable and slaves. It reminded him of a story in the Spectator, of a man in good health, getting into an habit of reading medical books till his fancy was taken such possession of, that he imagined that he had every symptom of that terrible disorder, the gout, except pain. He intreated the house, therefore, to resist these trifling reparations, as they were called : once adopted, like the puncture on a man's arm, they might lead to dangerous disorders of the body, and of the body politic as well as the body human,