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own course, and he had begun to see that the times were
changing, and to feel the rising gale of Liberalism in
his sails. He had quarrelled and had fought a duel with
Castlereagh, who had accused him of an intrigue when
they were colleagues in the Portland cabinet, but this
quarrel had been closed, to the surprise and disgust of
some who held that wounds ought never to heal. With
Canning was Huskisson, a politician out of the aristo-
cratic pale, the first apostle in parliament, since the
young and liberal Pitt, of enlightened economy and
free trade ; as well as some younger men, of whom
Palmerston was destined to become the most famous,
and to carry the Canning tradition with him into far-
distant times.

Of the Whig circle of Fox, Lord Grey was the leading
survivor. Grey had been the steadfast advocate of par-
liamentary reform. In that cause he had been more
zealous and daring than Fox. He remained, neverthe-
less, an aristocrat in character and bearing, and ti*ue, as
he said himself, to his order, the privileges of which he
seems to have thought could be reconciled with the sover-


eignty of the people. Round him were the representatives
of the great Whig houses, such as Russell and Cavendish,
which, dead as were the issues between the House of
Hanover and the Stuarts, had kept their popular tradi-
tions and had been disposed to reform by thirty years of
exclusion from power. Grey was an impressive speaker
while his pure and lofty character commanded general and
deserved respect.

Beyond Whiggism now lay Radicalism, aiming not
only, like the Whigs, at reform, but in its extreme sections
at least, at changes which would have amounted to a revo-
lution ; at annual or triennial parliaments, vote by ballot,
payment of representatives, the abolition of the state
church, perhaps the abolition of the House of Lords, and
even of the monarchy itself. These men had imbibed the
teaching of Home Tooke, of Godwin, and Cobbett in poli-
tics ; of Jeremy Bentham in jurisprudence; the more
refined of them, perhaps, of Byron and Shelley in poetry.
Bentham's utilitarianism may be said to have been their
prevalent creed. They were the heirs of the Constitu-
tional and Corresponding Societies denounced by Burke,
and represented, as far as Englishmen could, the ferment
of the French Revolution. This party could not fail to
Ije prolific of demagogues and declaimers such as Orator
Hunt, who gave his followers the word to cheer for him-
self. Cobbett, its chief writer, and the great master of
the robust and home-spun style, afterwards found his
way into the House of Commons, but too late in life to be
there in his element.^ In the House of Commons the
Radicals followed Brougham, a great advocate, a marvel-
lous being, endowed with a superhuman energy which
revealed itself in the ever-restless play of his face and


figure, and enabled him, as his secretary said, to go
through a week's work with two hours' sleep each night.
With amazing talent, though without genius. Brougham
aspired to excellence and pre-eminence in all lines, legal,
or rather forensic, political, literary, and even scientific.
He at once led the bar and the Liberal party in the House
of Commons, and was the reformer not only of the constitu-
tion and the law, but of education. He was a most vo-
luminous writer, as well as an orator who made a speech
six hours long, and he did not want the courage to
read a scientific paper before the French Institute. It
was said of him by one of the old lawyers, whom he
flouted as pedants, and who hated him, that he knew a
little of everything, even of law. Joyously he rode
the rising storm. His force, his vivacity, his daring,
his omniscience, his vanity, his indiscretion, and his
levity, made him a great but half-comic figure on the
scene. The radical party had a parliamentary precursor
in Whitbread, a wealthy brewer, an honest ^and able man,
true to his class and to the people, who fought fear-
lessly and strenuously through the long night of re-
action for popular government and reform. But he had
died tragically at the dawn of returning day.

George III., after some years of death in life, at last 1820
expired. The regent became king. The debauchee was
retiring into sybaritic seclusion. Still, it was necessary
to reckon with the crown. Ministers were still constitu-
tionally its servants. Without it parliament could not
be called or dissolved. Its consent had to be obtained
by cajolery or pressure to great measures of legislative
change. To great measures of legislative change royalty
was still naturally opposed, all the more since it was


haunted by the spectre, only half laid, of the French
Revolution. George IV. had already, as regent, thrown
off his Liberalism, which in fact had never been much
more than a phase of his youthful dissipation combined
with his hatred of his father. In spite of his illicit mar-
riage with a catholic, he had a languid fear of Catholic
Emancipation, not on religious grounds, for religion he
had none, but because it boded change. He was untruth-
ful enough to believe his own untruths.

Of the House of Commons, now almost the sovereign
assembly, the majority, reformers could assert, was
elected by less than fifteen thousand persons. Seventy
members were returned by thirty-five places, with scarcely
any voters at all ; ninety members were returned by forty-
six places with no more than fifty voters ; thirty-seven
members were returned by nineteen places with no
more than one hundred voters ; fifty-two members by
twenty-six places with no more than two hundred voters.
The local distribution of the representation was flagrantly
unfair. Rutland returned as many members as York-
shire, and Cornwall was a corrupt nest of little boroughs
whose vote outweighed that of great and populous dis-
tricts. At Old Sarum a deserted site, at Gatton an
ancient wall, sent two representatives to the House of
Commons. Eighty -four men actually nominated one hun-
dred and fifty-seven members for parliament. In addition
to these, one hundred and fifty members were returned
on the recommendation of seventy patrons, and thus one
hundred and fifty-four patrons returned three hundred
and seven members, or a majority of the House ; so that
the legislative power might possibly be controlled by one
hundred and fiftj^-four persons. In Scotland there was


no free representation ; the borough franchise there was
vested in self -elected town councils, while the county
franchise consisted of "superiorities," independent of
property or residence, which were bought and sold in the
market ; so that in one case the candidate called the meet-
ing, proposed, elected, and returned himself. In coun-
ties only freeholders voted, copyholders, leaseholders,
and tenants-at-will being excluded. In a few boroughs,
by old custom, the suffrage was household or nearly uni-
versal ; but where the constituency was large enough for
free voting, corruption was apt to prevail. Seats for
nomination boroughs were unblushingly put up to sale,
and even so virtuous a man as Sir Samuel Romilly held
that there would be absurd scrupulousness in refus-
ing to enter parliament by that gate. A large proportion
of the nominations was in the hands of peers, so that
the House of Commons was practically much under the
control of the House of Lords. The number of con-
tested elections was usually very small, but immense
sums, as much sometimes as a hundred thousand pounds,
were spent by rival houses in their struggles for the repre-
sentation of their territorial realms.

Representation had originally been elastic, the crown
calling representatives at its discretion from the most
important, which were the most taxable boroughs.
The prerogative had afterwards been used in the crea-
tion of petty boroughs, such as the Cornish group, for
the purpose of packing parliament in the interest of the
crown. An end having been put to its exercise in the
reign of Charles II., the system of representation had been
petrified at that point. Thus, the franchise had been
completely outgrown by population and new interests,

VOL. II 21


and the upshot was an oligarchy intrenched in an obsolete
system of representation, combining survivals from the
middle ages with abuses of the prerogative in later times.

Meantime to the agricultural and commercial England
another England, that of manufactures, had been added.
By a long line of inventors and improvers in different
fields, the cotton, woollen, worsted, iron, and pottery
manufactures with their auxiliary industries had been
developed. Power, first of water, then of steam, had
taken the place of hands. On the wolds, once lonely, of
northern England there now swarmed a manufacturing
population. Migrating, when coal took the place of char-
coal for smelting, from the weald of Kent, the iron indus-
try was making its Black Country in the North Midlands.
The factory system, with its mighty interests, with its
new relation of capitalist and workman, employer and
employed, with its great bodies of artisans, democratic in
their tendencies, had come into existence. Commercial
wealth, as well as that of the East Indian nabob and the
West Indian planter, the landed aristocracy had been
able socially to capture and politically to annex. Over
the master manufacturer, radically alien to it, and dwell-
ing in a realm of his own, its influence did not extend.
Nor was he, like the rich trader, the nabob, or the planter,
able or disposed, by buying boroughs, to give his interest
a representation in the House of Commons. He now
demanded for that interest, and for the new and as yet
unenfranchised cities which were its seats, political recog-
nition and admission within the pale of the constitution.

By this time, moreover, had come fully upon the
scene three powers which by their combined influence
could exercise a not inconsiderable control even over a


parliament of rotten boroughs. These were Association,
the Platform, and the Press. The platform and the press
raised, while the association embodied and sustained, a
volume of public sentiment which even the representa-
tive of Gatton or Old Sarum could hardly defy. The
newspaper of that day was poor indeed compared with
our political press. Its articles were usually written
by hacks ; its scale w:as small. Statesmen of the old
school saw nothing in it but license. No statesman
would have confessed that he was influenced by it, or
owned that he was connected with its writers. Its power,
however, was born, and it gained considerably by the
reporting of parliamentary debates, which subjected the
doings of parliament and of every member of parliament to
its comments. The platform is by nature an engine fully
as much of popular passion as of reason ; but the expres-
sion even of popular passion might be useful when selfish
and sinister interests were dominating under the forms of
the constitution.

It was in the field of foreign policy that Liberalism, first
showed its- new life. Canning, thinking his game lost at
home, had accepted the governor-generalship of India.
He was at Liverpool, ready to embark. He had made a 1822
farewell display of his oratorio genius in the famous
speech in which he describes the dormant power of Eng-
land under the figure of one of her battleships sleeping
on the water, with furled sails and silent thunders, till
war gives the word. Suddenly he was recalled to power
by the tragic death of his great rival, Castlereagh.
He took Castlereagh's place as foreign minister with a
more liberal policy of his own.

Spain, in the absence of her Bourbon king, had given


herself a constitution ultra-republican in fact, monarchical
only in name, and she had got rid of her Inquisition.
The restored Bourbon, Ferdinand VII., a cruel and per-
fidious idiot, set himself to restore absolutism, the Inqui-
sition, and the Jesuit. He had with him not only the
priesthood, but the ignorant and priest-ridden peasantry.
Seeing him likely to be overpowered, the restored Bourbon

1823 of France came to his assistance and invaded Spain.
Canning could only protest. He alleged the division of
parties in Spain, which made it a case of civil war, and
the absence of any treaty right of intervention, as his
grounds for declining to interfere. In fact, he had no
means of coercing a great military power. He and Eng-
land were compelled to witness the assassination of Spanish
liberty and the atrocities by which the victory of a blood-
thirsty tyrant and his Jesuits was followed. But Can-
ning had resolved that if the Bourbon must have Spain,
it should not be Spain with the Indies. When the native
monarchy of Spain was overturned by Napoleon, the Spanish
colonies in South America had cut themselves loose from
the mother-country, and they were now, after American
example, though not with American capacity for self-gov-
ernment, setting themselves up as republics. The Holy
Alliance was minded to stretch the arm of its Christian
charity across the ocean, and put republicanism down in
the western hemisphere as well as in its own. Canning,

1823 here strong in England's naval power, interposed, warned
off interference, and, as he rather too boastfully said,
called the new world into existence to redress the balance
of the old. He found a hearty ally in his former enemy,
the American Republic. Even Jefferson hailed the concert
of Great Britain with America in the cause of humanity.


and Canning has had the credit, partly at least deserved,
of fathering the Monroe Doctrine, that manifesto of the 1823
new world's chartered immunity from the interference of
European powers. When an attempt was made to extend
the counter-revolution from Spain to Portugal, Great
Britain having in that case something like a treaty right
of interference, Canning interposed with the same prompt- i823
ness and vigour which he had shown in the seizure of the
Danish fleet, and the Bourbons shrank from the encounter.
In the kingdom, of Naples, on the other hand, the British
minister was compelled to witness a restoration of Bour-
bon despotism by Austrian arms, and to see liberty thrust 1821
into the Bourbon dungeon, though not for ever. Nor
could the British people extend to agonizing Poland
any aid but that of unsubstantial sympathy or pecuniary
contribution. To Greece, rising against the Turkish yoke, 1826
and appealing by her classic memories to all imaginations
and hearts, they lent not only sympathy but substantial
and effective help. It has been remarked that the end of
the war turned loose military and naval adventurers who,
like De Lacy Evans in the civil war of Spain and Lord
Cochrane in the Chilian insurrection against Spain,
served and promoted the Liberal cause beyond the field
of British diplomacy or arms.

Great Britain, playing her part still as the balancing
power of Europe, having thrown herself into the scale
of order against revolution, henceforth passed into the
scale of liberty and national independence against the
despotic and anti-nationalist reaction set on foot by the
Holy Alliance. She was not a military power ; the pol-
icy of the great military powers she could not control.
Beyond the range of the guns of her navy her influence


was moral. But her moral influence after her victorious
leadership of the nations against Napoleon was great.
From the pinnacle to which circumstances had then
raised her, above the measure of her actual force, it was
difficult to descend.

At home meanwhile, in spite of the great increase of
her wealth, she was unhappy. Her people were suffer-
ing, malcontent, and disaffected. The waste of a long
war, the taxation imposed by a debt of nine hundred
millions, the sudden suspension, after the peace, of war
expenditure and war industries, the disbanding of sol-
diers and sailors, combined with the standing evils of a
pauperizing Poor Law, the cruel rapacity of employers,
especially in mines and factories, and the general neglect
of the poor by the rich, to produce a terrible crisis
of misery. Bad harvests once more brought dearth of
bread. Matters were made worse by speculation crazy
enough to send Scotch dairymaids to milk wild cattle in
South America and by the failure of a number of banks.
Wages fell till the farm labourer and his family had not
enough to support life. Men died of hunger after eating
wild herbs. Mechanics were working twelve hours for
three pence a day. In the mines and factories woman-
hood and childhood were being ruthlessly sacrificed.
Many men were out of work and were wandering in
quest of it, while the settlement clause of the Poor Law
was driving or carting them back to their own parishes.
Even the improvements in machinery, agricultural or
textile, the threshing-machine, the spinning- jenny, and
the power-loom, as they threw hands out of employment,
for the time increased the distress; so that the burning
of threshing-machines and the breaking of power4ooms,


though unwise as well as illegal, was not without a motive
or an excuse. Hence widespread agitation, seditions,
harangues, wild and fantastic conspiracies, sometimes
riots. Hunger was the cause ; the cry was for political
change ; nor was the cry without relation to the cause.
The unreformed parliament was the organ of a special
and selfish interest, that of the land-owners, who, during
the war, having a practical monopoly of the supply of
food, had revelled in high rents, and when the war was
over, finding their rents fall, had passed Corn Laws to
prolong their monopoly by the exclusion of foreign grain.
Not only grain was excluded but other farm products.
The effect was doubly evil. Great Britain, the continent
having been ravaged by Napoleon, stood alone as a manu-
facturing country, and might have exchanged her manu-
factures for the food which was the only staple of the
other nations, thereby developing her own industries and
finding employment for her people, had not protectionism

The government, however, with its mind still full of
the French Revolution, in the writhings and wailings of
the starving people could see nothing but political sedition,
and thought of no remedy but repression. Even in the
speeches of such a man as Canning, who must have had
a heart as well as an eye, coercion, not sympathy, is the
pervading note. A body of poor sufferers, called from 1817
carrying their blankets strapped on them, the Blanket-
eers, marched from Manchester to lay their griefs before
the government. A great meeting at Peterloo, an open 1819
space in Manchester where now stands the Free Trade
Hall, was charged and ridden down by the yeomanry ;
eleven persons were killed and a large number hurt.


The government, lauding the yeomanry, showed no feel-
ing for the sufferers, and the iron of the Peterloo
massacre, as it was called, entered deeply into the soul
1819 of the people. Six Acts for the prevention of arming
and training, for the repression of public meeting and
discussion, for the restriction of the press, and for sum-
mary dealing with conspiracy and seditious movements of
all kinds, were framed by the home secretary Sidmouth,
and enforced with rigour. In their train spies and decoys
did not fail to appear. There was fatal enmity and mutual
distrust between the government and the people.

Within the ministry, however, one good genius was at
work, if not giving immediate relief, preparing for better
times to come. This was Huskisson, unaristocratic but
thoroughly versed in commerce, finance, and all that con-
cerned the material welfare of the people, a precursor of
the Manchester School. By him as far as was possible
in a perverse generation and under a reign of landlords,
were advanced in all directions sound economical prin-
ciples, above all the principle of free trade. He con-
siderably relaxed the navigation laws. He tried to
restrain the madness of speculation which led to the
commercial crisis of 1825. But the grasping desire of
growing suddenly rich without labour not even the fore-
sight and wisdom of Huskisson could control. The crisis
came. It increased the dangers of the situation and was
ascribed by the protectionists to Huskisson's policy of
free trade.

Huskisson had the full sympathy of his friend and
leader. Canning. He had the sympathy, less full, yet
growing, of his younger fellow-worker, Robert Peel, who
in 1819, as chairman of the committee on the resumption


of cash payments, underwent his first conversion, and
becoming convinced that a depreciated currency was the
result of the system of paper pursued since 1797, framed
an Act for a return to cash payments, and thus restored 1819
the soundness of the currency, the life of trade.

A royal scandal helped to increase the ferment. The
Princess of Wales, cast off by her husband, the Regent,
had wandered on the continent, and there, not being a
woman of refined taste, had, it can scarcely be doubted,
fallen into the arms of her courier, Bergami. When her
husband became king she claimed recognition as queen
and came to England to assert her right. The king i820
forced his ministers to move for a divorce. There was
a trial before the House of Lords in which the king's
character was not spared. Brougham, the counsel for
the queen, comparing him, not obscurely, to Tiberius.
Thanks largely to Brougham's power of bullying wit-
nesses, the king's suit practically failed. Popular feeling 1820
was thoroughly roused in favour of the queen, or rather
against the king, and showed itself in riotous demonstra-
tions. The ill-mated pair had one child, the Princess
Charlotte, married to the Belgian Prince Leopold, a girl
of spirit, on whom the hopes of the nation, still in senti-
ment monarchical, were fixed. She died in child-bed 1817
amidst universal sorrow, embittered by the thought that
the next heir to the throne was then the Duke of Cumber-
land, a brutal reactionist, and so hated by the people that
they could suspect him of a dark crime.

The fear of revolution which was created by disturb-
ance threw parliamentary reform for the present into
the background. Catholic Emancipation, with Canning
and Plunket for its eloquent champions, was carried in 1821


the Commons, only to be defeated by Eldon in the Lords.
Samuel Romilly, a noble servant of humanity, pushed,
with slight success, reform of the criminal law in the
teeth of Eldon, who did not want the effrontery to allege
in favour of the retention of the death penalty for minor
offences that it gave the judge opportunities of showing
the grace of mercy by remission. Hangings by scores
and the condemnation of a boy of ten to death for steal-
ing were enough to move anyone but Eldon. For the
Gordon riots three boys under fifteen had been hanged.
Juries, unwilling to send a man to the gallows for a trifling
fault, acquitted against evidence, and thus excessive
penalty bred impunity of crime. The House of Lords,
however, threw out Romilly's bill abolishing the death
penalty in case of a petty theft, seven bishops voting in
the majority.

1827 After being premier fifteen years, Liverpool was struck
with paralysis. The two sections of his cabinet, the pro-
catholic and the anti-catholic, the reactionary and the
more progressive, the Tories and the Conservatives,
as we may already call them, naturally fell apart. The
question then was whether Wellington, the head of the
reactionary section, with Robert Peel still at his side, or
Canning, the head of the more progressive section, should
form and lead the next government. Here something" de-
pended on the king, and the king, a worn-out debauchee,
caring for nothing but his ease, was distracted between
his political leaning towards the Tories and his fear of
Canning. After a farcical vacillation, Canning received
the royal command to form a government. The resig-

i,S27 nation of Wellington, Peel, Eldon, and the rest of that
section followed of course, without conspiracy or even


concert. Peel, who as home secretary was responsible
for the government of Ireland, could least of all serve
under a prime minister opposed to him on the catholic
question. The suspicion which a sinister imagination

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 70 of 84)