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of the municipal corporations reported that there was
crying need of reform. Under cover of antiquated
charters self-elected municipalities had become gangs of
public thieves, misgoverning the towns, stealing the cor-
porate property, abusing it for political purposes or
wasting it in revelry, jobbing the appointments, and
selling the parliamentary representation, sometimes for
a regular sum. The basis of the city constituency,
instead of tax-paying, was the freedom of the city, a relic
of the commercial middle ages, now a figment and a cover
for abuse. There were cities in which only a trifling
minority of the ratepayers were members of the corpora-
tion. A city council might be made up of a borough-
mongering magnate, two members of his family, three or
four of his dependents, and an officer of the corporation.
Of the charitable funds three-fourths or more miglit go to
the Blue party. The judicial powers of the corporations,
owing to medieval accident, varied absurdly, and were
often vested in untrustworthy hands. Peel and Welling-
ton consented. Peel no doubt most willingly, to reform.
1835 Elective government on a ratepaying basis was given to
all boroughs, including cities such as Manchester and
Birmingham hitherto unincorporated, and to such as
might thereafter apply for it. The charitable funds and
the judicial power were respectively placed in trustworthy
hands. The city of London alone by its grandeur repelled
reform and retained its ancient government, its Gog and
Magog, the pomp and banquets of its Mansion House,
and those sumptuous survivals of medieval trade, its
guilds, with their vast wealth and its then equivocal appli-
cation. The Tory Lords would gladly have thrown out
the Bill ; they entered, in fact, on what would have been


an endless course of delay ; but, discountenanced by their
chiefs, they ventured only to mutilate by respiting here
again the evil privileges of the freemen and by other
reactionary amendments. Their conduct throughout
this period is marked, it must be said, by blind and.
factious opposition utterly unlike the prudent after-
thought which is the supposed function of their House.

In passing the Municipal Reform Act, its authors 1836
thought that they were not only purifying municipal
government, but studding the country with little com-
monwealths, to be the schools of good and active citizens.
A borough in the middle ages was indeed a little com-
monwealth, political as well as commercial, asserting its
liberties against king, lord, or abbot. It was ruled by
its chief merchants, who lived in the heart of it, mingling
constantly with their fellow-citizens. The main duty of
its rulers, besides the defence of its liberties, was the
regulation of its handicrafts and trades. The modern
problems of city administration were then almost un-
known. The police were the citizens, called to arms at
need. Public works were done by common labour. Sani-
tary regulations were unborn ; the street was the sewer.
The only school was the monastic or charitable foundation.
The almshouse and private alms provided for the poor.
A great city in these days needs an administrative and
not a political organization. Its leading men usually
live apart from the masses, and have not time to spare
from their own business for the work, now serious, of
city management. The citizens do not know each other
and have no means of combining for the selection of
city officers. Hence the ward politician, whose reign over
American cities warns the world.


Great expectations had been raised of the lightening
of the public burdens by the reduction of expenditure
in the offices of government and the establishments which
was to follow the reform of parliament. Retrenchment
found an indefatigable, pertinacious, and most unsenti-
mental advocate in the Radical member of parliament,
Joseph Hume. But it turned out that the administration
of Wellington and Peel, in its effort to lighten the ship
on the approach of the political tempest, had pretty well
made jettison of everything that could be spared. Some
scandalous sinecures and pensions, products of the oli-
garchy, remained ; but vested rights protected them
during the lives of their holders. The army and navy
were, up to a certain point, fixed charges so long as
Europe remained in arms. Nor, considering the re-
sponsibilities of ministers and the social position which
they had to maintain, were the offices of state by any
means overpaid. The salaries of English judges were
and still are large ; but the money is well spent in
placing on the bench men who have full command over
their courts and can make justice swift as well as re-
spectable and sure. That underpayment of public ser-
vants and judges is false economy America has good
reason to know.

The bishops had voted against the Reform Bill, which,
unluckily for them, had been defeated by the exact
number of their votes. Scenting restriction of clerical
privilege, the clergy had everywhere opposed political re-
form. The anger of the people had been kindled against
them, so that it was hardly safe for a bishop to walk the
streets in the dress of his order. Nor was the church in
a state to repel rude treatment by her command of popu-


lar respect and affection. Methodism, which she cast
out; evangelicism, on which she frowned; and growing
peril, had done something to awaken her to her duties.
Still the vices of a rich establishment prevailed. Sine-
curism and pluralism abounded. It is found that under
the primacy of good Archbishop Sutton, seven Suttons
shared among them sixteen rectories, vicarages, and
chapelries, besides preacherships and dignities in cathe-
drals; while one of his daughters carried as her mar-
riage portion to her husband eight different preferments,
valued together at ten thousand pounds, in the course of
as many years. The nepotism of Tomline, Pitt's tutor,
had been conspicuous. The inequalities of income and
the disparities between the work and the payment were
still intense. Patrons of livings treated the cure of souls
as provision for the younger members of their family,
or sold it in market overt. Hunting parsons were
still common. The poor in many districts were neglected
and abandoned to heathendom and vice. The churches
themselves were often in a slovenly condition. At the
same time the privileges of the state church were odious,
and made every nonconformist her enemy. Grey had
warned the bishops to set their house in order. The
Radicals would have set it in order with a vengeance,
and strong measures would have been welcomed by the
people. But the Whigs, though thorough Erastians,
were staunch upholders of the Establishment. Their
prophet, Macaulay, vindicated it on the ground that the
state, besides its cure of bodies, which was its primary
duty, might well undertake as a secondary object the
cure of souls. All attempts at disestablishment, or even
at the removal of the bishops from the House of Lords,


made by champions of religious liberty such as Mr.
Ward, were totally defeated by the combination of Whigs
and Tories. A proposal to secularize the surplus funds
of the plethoric Irish church cost the government the

1834 secession of four of its members. Reform was limited to
the appointment of an ecclesiastical commission, which
set the house internally in order by the abolition of the
most flagrant abuses such as pluralism and sinecurism,
by the partial equalization of incomes, rectification of
dioceses, and other reforms of a practical kind. Reform
in this sense was promoted by statesmanlike prelates,
such as Blomfield, Bishop of London, who understood
the crisis and saw that the cry of sacrilege could not avail
to hallow abuse. The hand of reform was not laid on
the private patronage of livings, nor was anything done
to prevent the sale of the cure of souls.

Some points, after much struggling with the obstruc-
tiveness of the Lords, were gained for religious liberty.
Dissenters obtained permission to marry after their own

1836 fashion instead of being compelled to marry with the
service of the church. The commutation of tithe into
a rent charge rendered its collection less galling to the

1833 nonconformist conscience. Quakers were permitted, on
taking their seats in parliament, to substitute an affirma-
tion for the oath. The franchise was still withheld from
the Jews, but in their case it was not wholly or chiefly a
question of religion. Religion, even in the middle ages,
had told less than is commonly supposed. The real dif-
ficulty lay in the political incorporation of a race which
everywhere cherished a separate nationality accentuated
by a tribal rite, refused intermarriage, held aloof, regarded
other races as the stranger is regarded under the Mosaic


law, was kept united in itself and separate from other
nations by a cosmopolitan tie, and was everywhere
naturally disposed to use its vast financial influence
for objects of its own. It is hard to say whether the
transportation of the negro or the dispersion of the Jews
has been most serious in its consequences to mankind.

Registration of births, deaths, and marriages was trans-
ferred from the church to the state. This again was a
step in the divorce of church and state, and the thorough
secularization of the state.

The connection between church and state had now
become a manifest and, to earnest churchmen, a revolting
anomaly. Since the suspension of convocation, parlia-
ment had been the only legislature of the national church.
Parliament had once been Anglican. It was now a med-
ley of men of all religions and of none. The union with
Scotland had introduced a body of Presbyterians. Cath-
olic Emancipation had introduced a body of Roman Cath-
olics, mortal enemies to the church of England, and little
likely to be restrained by any formal renunciation from
the use of their power for her subversion. The political
tide seemed to be setting towards a withdrawal by the
state of its support from the church. Some of the clergy
began to look about for another basis of their authority.
They found it in apostolical succession, to which was
presently to be added the sacerdotal theory and sacra-
ments, and in time the ''whole cycle of Roman doctrine."
Thus commenced the Tractarian movement, upon which,
after its catastrophe through the secession of its leaders,
the Ritualist movement has followed. Oxford, with her
medieval colleges, half monastic, clerical, and celibate,
furnished a natural centre for an attempt to return to the


beliefs and to restore the church authority of the middle
ages; while the movement was limited by the marriage
of the Anglican clergy and their rectories, combined with
the rooted protestantism of the mass of the people.
Tractarianism, as the Romanizing movement was called,
found its natural end in a secession to Rome. Again, as
soon as life awoke in the church, the Elizabethan compro-
mise broke down. It broke down always because the
proper sphere of compromise is interest, not conviction.
But it must be repeated that Oxford and Cambridge
at this time, especially Oxford, were not so much uni-
versities as centres of the clerical interest, which was in-
trenched in the statutes of the ecclesiastical middle ages.
Nonconformists had been excluded by religious tests
from the national universities and upbraided for the lack
of culture which was the consequence of their exclusion.
A measure of emancipation passed the Commons, but as
a matter of course was thrown out by the Lords. The
nonconformists, however, succeeded in obtaining a charter
for the free University of London, which bestowed the
1836 power of conferring literary and scientific degrees. Con-
science continued to be mocked in the old universities by
the imposition of religious tests, at Oxford the Thirty-
nine Articles, on the consciences of boys. Statesmen
failed to see the political advantages of identifying the
great national universities with the nation, and educating
the youth of the governing class under the same aca-
demical roof. Yet the nonconformists had more reason
to fear for their young men the witchery of the ancient
seats of learning, than the ancient seats of learning had
to fear the subversion of their religious character by the
admission of nonconformists.


An attempt of the government t6 get rid of the church
rates, with the scandals and vestry wars which they bred,
by a compromise in the shape of a substituted charge on
the land-tax, had miscarried, the clergy being resolved to
keep all they had, the nonconformists refusing to be
satisfied with anything but total abolition.

Another measure of the Whigs, passed under their first
government, was a new Poor Law. Of this they alone, 1834
perhaps, as aristocratic yet unsentimental economists,
could have been the authors. The Tories would have
been too sentimental ; the Radicals too democratic.
The law as it stood, by prodigal distribution of out-
door relief, had to a fearful extent pauperized the labourer.
By proportioning alms to the number of children, it had
encouraged that reckless increase of population, to the
dangers of which attention had been called by the alarm-
bell of Malthus. The poor-rate had for some time been
increasing three times as fast as population, and amounted
nearly to eight millions. Farmers had been taking to the
employment of pauper labour paid by the parish in the
shape of public alms instead of giving proper wages to
the labourers. The property of ratepayers who were not
farmers was being devoured. The self-reliance, self-
respect, and industry of the poor were being fatally un-
dermined. Pauperism, as might have been expected,
became hereditary. A Bastardy Law, which enabled
abandoned women to swear their bastards to any man
th^y chose, was filling parishes with illegitimate children.
A senseless Law of Settlement penned the poor in their
native parishes and prevented labour from seeking its
best market, besides breeding incessant litigation. Rural
England was sinking into the slough of mendicity and


parochial jobbery combined, though the best of the labour-
ing class still pathetically struggled against degradation.
A commission of inquiry having reported on these evils, a
1834 great measure of reform was introduced. The workhouse
test of indigence was established, and relief was denied
to all, except the sick or hopelessly infirm, who would
not come into the poor-house and submit to its discipline.
The Bastardy Law was amended by charging the chil-
dren on the mother ; an enactment apparently harsh, but
effective in restoring chastity. The law of settlement was
amended ; unions of parishes were formed ; boards of
guardians were created to administer the new system ; the
whole being an important step in centralization. The
measure worked well, and the plague of pauperism was
stayed. Peel and his Conservative following concurred
with the Whigs in this legislation, which, however, was
specially creditable to the Whigs, who risked their popular-
ity by a measure sternly economic. The new "- Bastilles,"
in truth, were and are ugly features in the lovely English
landscape, though their grim forms preach, to the peasant
at least, the wholesome doctrine that he who will not work
shall not eat, and they may claim to be regarded rather as
bulwarks of industry than as cruel counterparts of the
Bastille. Strong opposition, however, was made to them
by a party, or rather a circle, which combined Toryism
with a strain of Chartism, and of which the leading spirit
was John Walter of the Times. It is a blot on the es-
cutcheon of the great journal that it long continued' its
bitter attacks on this most salutary measure. The system
of public poor-relief was so rooted, that the question of
falling back on voluntary charity, raised by Brougham
and other economists, could not be entertained.


Democracy, whatever its political weaknesses, is hu-
mane. It is not to be charged with the French Reign of
Terror, which was a paroxysm of blood-thirsty madness in
the leaders of the Parisian rabble. It sets equal value on all
human life, and recognizes in every human form the dig-
nity of man. Its influence on jurisprudence was now felt,
and had begun to be felt as soon as, the great war being
ended. Liberalism was restored to life, when Romilly, and
after him Mackintosh, laboured to reform the criminal
law. Peel's growing Liberalism had been shown in the
same field. The hideous list of capital crimes which an
oligarchical legislature had bequeathed was reduced to
murder and a few other offences of the most heinous kind.
Further reduction was vetoed by the House of Lords. In
the case of capital punishment a merciful interval was
interposed between sentence and execution. Counsel was
allowed to be heard for the accused in cases of felony, a
piece of common justice, which, if English law had not
been the slave of custom, it would be startling to find so
long delayed. An end was put to imprisonment for debt,
under which, to the disgrace of English jurisprudence,
tens of thousands had languished, not a few of them for
life. Inspection of prisons was instituted to prevent a
repetition of the sickening horrors and brutalities which
had moved the heroic efforts of Howard.

Something was done to give practical effect to the
promise of the Great Charter that the crown would not
delay or deny justice. In chancery, delay, above all when
Eldon was chancellor, had practically amounted to denial.
So had the cost, which was such that no one could be
advised to sue in chancery for any sum less than five
hundred pounds. Small debts were almost irrecoverable.

VOL. II вАФ 24


So it had been till the machinery of justice was improved
by Brougham. The landed interest was so far reduced
in power that it had to allow its estates to be made liable
for its common debts. Registration of its titles was,
under the inspiration of the family solicitor, resisted with

The great act of humanity, however, was the abolition
1833 of slavery, which had taken place under the government
of Grey. It was honourable to the people that the boon
which they demanded next to their own enfranchisement
was the emancipation of the slave. They had, perhaps,
an instinctive feeling that there might be white slaves as
well as black. The time for emancipation was now come.
Slave colonies, with the whip, the branding-iron, and
the general brutality, were a hell, and they had been
growing still more hellish as the declining profits of the
planter led him to press more ruthlessly on the slave.
Slavery was abolished, twenty millions being paid as
indemnity to the slave-owners. Wilberforce just lived to
see the day and to utter his Nu7ic Dimittis. Parliament,
seeing the dangerous gulf which lay between slavery and
free labour, sought to bridge it with apprenticeship. But
this failed, and before the term had expired full freedom
was conferred. The planters of Antigua did themselves
honour by forwarding emancipation ; the planters in gen-
eral, as was natural, opposed it, more bitterly because on
the approach of freedom the slave had begun to shake his
chains, and disturbances had broken out. The abolition
of slavery by Great Britain gave an impulse to the aboli-
tion of slavery throughout the world, notably in the
United States. The slave-trade was already under the
ban of nations ; but it was carried on by contrabanders,


with horrors in the packing of negroes on board slave-
ships aggravated by the danger of capture. Great Britain
maintained a crusade against it which, purely disinterested
and philanthropic though it was, by the jealousy of other
nations was ascribed to her lust for domination, and
might, under the conduct of Palmers ton, now master of
the foreign office, assume an imperious and offensive form.

Military flogging, that foul stain on the honour of the
British army, and the impressment of seamen, both mor-
ally received their death-blow, though the practice of
military flogging died a very lingering death.

Freedom of trade had undying advocacy in the " Wealth
of Nations," while apostles of it, such as Huskisson,
Brougham, and Horner, did not fail. Huskisson, as a
minister under Wellington, had effected some reciprocal
reductions of duties and a relaxation of the navigation
laws. For deliverance from the Corn Laws there was
nothing as yet to be done. The landed interest was still
too strong in parliament ; the argument that the country
must produce its own bread, not be dependent on the
foreigner, had great weight ; and the Whig premier had
declared that to propose repeal of the Corn Laws would
be madness. At last there arose a great power op-
posed on this question to the landed interest, and strong
enough, when circumstances favoured, to cope with it
in the political field. The manufacturer wanted more
hands and cheaper bread to feed them. He set on foot a
crusade against the bread tax ; founded an Anti-Corn 1836
Law League ; and enlisted in its service the eloquence of
Bright and Cobden. There was war between the manor-
house and the factory. The land-owner exposed the
cruelties of the factory system ; while the manufacturer


exposed the misery of the underpaid tiller of the soil, and
in the Free-Trade Hall, which rose on the scene of the
Peterloo massacre at Manchester, exhibited the nether
garments of a Dorsetshire labourer standing upright with
patches and grease.
1834 As a free-trade victory, may be reckoned the abolition,
on the renewal of the East India Company's charter, of
the Company's monopoly of the China trade. The mo-
nopoly of the Indian trade having been abolished on the
last renewal of the charter, here is the end of that great
system of commercial monopolies which, having served
its purpose when there was no peace on the sea, and
commerce needed everywhere to go armed, had now sur-
vived its usefulness, and become a mere obstruction to
the growth of trade.

In the Factory Acts the legislature enlarged its sphere
and verged on socialism ; so at least it appeared to strict
economists, who viewed this legislation with misgiving,
as well as to the manufacturers and coal-owners whose
personal interests were touched. Yet government does
nothing socialist or beyond its rightful sphere in pro-
tecting those who cannot protect themselves. The fac-
tory system, while it was adding vastly to the wealth of
the nation, was showing its darker side in its ruthless
employment of infant labour. Children had been sent, by
parishes which wished to get rid of them, to distant fac-'
tories as little slaves, and manufacturers had sometimes
covenanted to take one idiot in every twenty. Nor was
the cruelty much less when the supply of infants was
produced on the spot. Children eight years old or even
younger were kept at work for twelve or thirteen hours
a day, in rooms the air of which was foul and the moral


atmosphere equally tainted, to the certain ruin of their
health as well as of their character and happiness. Atten-
tion had been drawn to the evil and something had been
done for its mitigation under George III. ; but the voice
of philanthropy was little heard amid the din of the great
war. Stubborn was the struggle made by avarice against
humanity, which in the person of Lord Ashley pleaded
for mercy to the child. Labour for children under thir- 1833
teen was in the end reduced to eight hours a day, and
factory inspectors were appointed.

The Factory Acts presently led on to similar acts, also
due to the efforts of Lord Ashley, in favour of the people
employed in coal mines, in which women were used as
beasts of burden, children were even more cruelly treated
than - in the factories, and women and children were
made to crawl on all fours in the passages of the pits
dragging carts by a chain from the waist passed between
the legs, immorality as well as filth surrounding all.

Medieval statutes of labourers had compelled the
labourers to work at wages fixed by the employer class.
Later, combination laws forbade labourers to combine for
an advance of wages. On the motion of Joseph Hume,

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 73 of 84)