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easier to transfer the flourishing manufactures of Leeds and
Manchester to Gatton and Old Sarum, than re-establish con-
fidence and sympathy between this House and those whom
it calls its constituents. If, therefore, the question is one of
right, right is in favour of Reform; if it be a question of
reason, reason is in favour of Reform; if it be a question of
policy and expediency, policy and expediency are in favour
of Reform.

I come now to the explanation of the measure which,
representing the ministers of the king, I am about to propose
to the House. Those ministers have thought, and in my
opinion justly thought, that no half measures would be suf-
ficient ; that no trifling or paltering with Reform could give
stability to the Crown, strength to Parliament, or satisfaction
to the country. The chief grievances of which the people
complain are these. First, the nomination of members by
individuals ; second, the election by close corporations ; third,
the expense of elections. With regard to the first, it may be
exercised in two ways, either over a place containing scarcely
any inhabitants, and with a very extensive right of election;
or over a place of wide extent and numerous population, but
where the franchise is confined to very few persons. Gatton
is an example of the first, and Bath of the second. At Gat-
ton, where the right of voting is by scot and lot, all house-
holders have a vote, but there are only five persons to exer-
cise the right. At Bath the inhabitants are numerous, but
very few of them have any concern in the election. In the
former case, we propose to deprive the borough of the fran-
chise altogether. In doing so, we have taken for our guide
the population returns of 1821 ; and we propose that every
borough which in that year had less than 2,000 inhabitants,
should altogether lose the right of sending members to Par-
liament, the effect of which will be to disfranchise sixty-two
boroughs. But we do not stop here. As the honourable
member for Boroughbridge [Sir C. Wetherell] would say,
we go plus ultra; we find that there are forty-seven boroughs
of only 4,000 inhabitants, and these we shall deprive of the
right of sending more than one member to Parliament. We
likewise intend that Weymouth, which at present sends four
members to Parliament, should in the future send only two.
The total reduction thus effected in the number of the
members of this House will be 168- This is the whole ex-


tent to which we are prepared to go in the way of dis-

We do not, however, mean to allow that the remaining
boroughs should be in the hands of a small number of persons
to the exclusion of the great body of the inhabitants who
have property and interest in the place. It is a point of great
difficulty to decide to whom the franchise should be ex-
tended. Though it is a point much disputed, I believe it will
be found that in ancient times every inhabitant householder
resident in a borough was competent to vote for members of
Parliament. As, however, this arrangement excluded villeins
and strangers, the franchise always belonged to a particular
body in every town ; that the voters were persons of prop-
erty is obvious, from the fact that they are called upon to pay
subsidies and taxes. Two different courses seem to prevail
in different places. In some, every person having a house,
and being free, was admitted to a general participation in
the privileges formerly possessed by burgesses : in others, the
burgesses became a select body, and were converted into
a kind of corporation, more or less exclusive. These differ-
ences, the House will be aware, lead to the most difficult, and
at the same time the most useless questions that men can be
called upon to decide. I contend that it is proper to get rid
of these complicated rights, of these vexatious questions,
and to give the real property and real respectability of the
different cities and towns, the right of voting for members
of Parliament. Finding that a qualification of a house rated
at 20 a year, would confine the elective franchise, instead
of enlarging it, we propose that the right of voting should be
given to the householders paying rates for houses of the
yearly value of 10 and upwards, upon certain conditions
hereafter to be stated. At the same time it is not intended
to deprive the present electors of their privilege of voting,
provided they are resident. With regard to non-residence,
we are of opinion that it produces much expense, is the cause
of a great deal of bribery, and occasions such manifest and
manifold evils, that electors who do not live in a place ought
not be permitted to retain their votes. With regard to res-
ident voters, we propose that they should retain their right
during life, but that no vote should be allowed hereafter, ex-
cept to 10 householders.

I shall now proceed to the manner in which we propose to
extend the franchise in counties. The bill I wish to in-
troduce will give all copyholders to the value of 10 a year,


qualified to serve on juries, under the right hon. gentlemen's
[Sir R. Peel] bill, a right to vote for the return of knights
of the shire; also, that leaseholders, for not less than twenty-
one years, whose annual rent is not less than 50, and whose
leases have not been renewed within two years, shall enjoy
the same privilege.

(History of the Reform Bill, Molesworth, Lend., 1866, 103.)

219. The Prorogation of the Anti-Reform Parliament



The First Reform Bill had passed two readings when the
ministry, concluded after an adverse vote upon a motion, in-
troduced by General Gascoyne, in opposition to their policy, that
it was useless to continue the struggle in Parliament. Confident
of the support of the electors, they resolved to appeal to the
country. To dp this a dissolution of Parliament was necessary,
and against this the anti-reformers were firmly arrayed. The
ministry appealed to the king. In the selection which follows,
this appeal is vividly described, and the action of the king in
dissolving Parliament is clearly portrayed.

Under these circumstances, ministers acted with prompti-
tude and decision. Their defeat had occurred on the morn-
ing of the 22nd of April ; on the same day summonses were
issued, calling a Cabinet council at St. James's Palace. So
short was the notice, that the ministers were unable to attend,
as was customary on such occasions, in their court dresses.
At this council it was unanimously resolved that the Parlia-
ment should be prorogued the same day, with a view to its
speedy dissolution, and the royal speech, which had been
prepared for the occasion, was considered and adopted. All
necessary arrangements having been made, in order to take
away from the king all pretext for delay, Earl Grey and Lord
Brougham were deputed to wait on the king, and communi-
cate to him the advice of the Cabinet. From what has been
already said, the reader will be prepared to anticipate that
this advice was far from palatable. The unusual haste with
which it was proposed to carry out that measure, naturally
increased the king's known objections to the proposed step,
and furnished him with a good excuse for refusing his assent
to it. Earl Grey, the pink and pattern of loyalty and chival-
rous courtesy, shrunk from the disagreeable errand, and re-
quested his bolder and less courtly colleague to introduce the
subject, begging him at the same time to manage the suscep-
tibility of the king as much as possible.

The Chancellor accordingly approached the subject very
carefully, prefacing the disagreeable message with which he


was charged, with a compliment on the king's desire to pro-
mote the welfare of his people. He then proceeded to com-
municate the advice of the Cabinet, adding, that they were
unanimous in offering it.

"What !" exclaimed the king, "would you have me dismiss
in this summary manner a Parliament which has granted me
so splendid a civil list, and given my queen so liberal an
annuity in case she survives me?''

"No doubt, sire," Lord Brougham replied, "in these respects
they have acted wisely and honourably, but your Majesty's
advisers are all of opinion, that in the present state of affairs,
every hour that this Parliament continues to sit is pregnant
with danger to the peace and security of your kingdom, and
they humbly beseech your Majesty to go down this very day
and prorogue it. If you do not, they cannot be answerable
for the consequences."

The king was greatly embarrassed ; he evidently enter-
tained the strongest objection to the proposed measure, but
he also felt the danger which would result from the resigna-
tion of his ministers at the present crisis. He therefore
shifted his ground, and asked "Who is to carry the sword
of state and the cap of maintenance?"

"Sire, knowing the urgency of the crisis and the imminent
peril in which the country at this moment stands, we have
ventured to tell those whose duty it is to perform these and
other similar offices, to hold themselves in readiness."

"But the troops, the life guards, I have given no orders for
them to be called out, and now it is too late."

This was indeed a serious objection, for to call out the
guards was the special prerogative of the monarch himself,
and no minister had any right to order their attendance with-
out his express command.

"Sire," replied the Chancellor, with some hesitation, "we
must throw ourselves on your indulgence. Deeply feeling
the gravity of the crisis, and knowing your love for your
people, we have taken a liberty which nothing but the most
imperious neccessity could warrant ; we have ordered out the
troops, and we humbly throw ourselves on your Majesty's

The king's eye flashed and his cheek became crimson. He
was evidently on the point of dismissing the ministry in an
explosion of anger. "Why, my lords," he exclaimed, "this
is treason ! high treason, and you, my Lord Chancellor,
ought to know that it is."


"Yes, sire, I do know it, and nothing but the strongest
conviction that your Majesty's crown and the interests
of the nation are at stake, could have induced us to
take such a step, or to tender the advice we are now giv-

This submissive reply had the desired effect, the king
cooled, his prudence and better genius prevailed, and having
once made up his mind to yield, he yielded with a good grace.
He accepted, without any objection, the speech which had
been prepared for him, and which the two ministers had
brought with them, he gave orders respecting the details of
the approaching ceremonial, and having completely recov-
ered his habitual serenity and good humour, he dismissed the
two lords with a jocose threat of impeachment.

At half-past two o'clock the king entered his state carriage.
It was remarked that the guards on this occasion rode wide
of it, as if they attended as a matter of state and ceremony,
and not as being needed for the king's protection. Persons
wishing to make a more open demonstration of their feelings,
were allowed to pass between the soldiers and approach the
royal carriage. One of these, a rough sailorlike person,
pulled off his hat, and waving it around his head, shouted
lustily, "Turn out the rogues, your Majesty." Notwithstand-
ing the suddenness with which the resolution to dissolve had
been taken, the news had already spread through the metrop-
olis, an immense crowd was assembled, and the king was
greeted throughout his whole progress with the most enthu-
siastic shouts. He was exceedingly fond of popularity, and
these acclamations helped to reconcile him to the step he had
been compelled to take, and to efface the unpleasant impres-
sion which the scene which had so recently occurred could
not fail to leave behind it.

Meanwhile, another scene of a far more violent kind was
taking place in the House of Lords. The Chancellor on
leaving the king went down to the House to hear appeals.
Having gone through the cause list he retired, in the hope
that he should thereby prevent Lord Wharncliffe from bring-
ing forward his motion. But the opposition lords had mus-
tered in great force, and the House was full in all parts. It
is usual on the occasion of a prorogation by the sovereign,
for the peers to appear in their robes, and most of those
present wore theirs, but owing to the precipitation with
which the dissolution had been decided on, several peers,
especially on the opposition s ; c!e of the House, were without


them. A large number of peeresses in full dress, and of
members of the House of Commons were also present. And
now a struggle commenced between the two parties into
which the House was divided. The object of the opposition
was to press Lord Wharncliffe's motion before the king's
arrival ; the supporters of the ministry wished to prevent it
from being passed. The firing of the park guns announced
thai the king was already on his way down to the House, and
told the opposition they had no time to lose. On the motion
of Lord Mansfield, the Earl of Shaftesbury presided, in the
absence of the Lord Chancellor.

The Duke of Richmond, in order to baffle the opposition,
moved that the standing order which required their lordships
to take their places ehould be enforced. The opposition saw
at once that this motion was made for the sake of delay, and
angrily protested against it; whereupon the duke threatened
to call for the enforcement of two other standing orders
which prohibited the use of intemperate and threatening
language in the house. Lord Londonderry, furious with in-
dignation, broke out into a vehement tirade against the con-
duct of the ministry, and thus effectually played the game of
his opponents. So violent was the excitement which pre-
vailed at this time in the House, that the ladies present were
terrified, thinking that the peers would actually come to
blows. At length Lord Londonderry was persuaded to sit
down, and Lord Wharncliffe obtained a hearing. But it was
too late to press his motion, and he contented himself with
reading it, in order that it might be entered on the journals
of the House.

At this conjuncture, the Lord Chancellor returned, and the
moment the reading of the address was concluded, he ex-
claimed in a vehement and emphatic tone

"My lords, I have never yet heard it doubted that the
king possessed the prerogative of dissolving Parliament at
pleasure, still less have I ever known a doubt to exist on the
subject at a moment when the lower House have thought fit
to refuse the supplies." Scarcely had he uttered these words
when he was summoned to meet the king, who had just ar-
rived and was in the robing room ; he at once quitted the
House, which resounded on all sides with cries of "hear" and
"the king."

This tumult having in some degree subsided, Lord Mans-
field addressed the house, regretting the scene which had
just occurred, and condemning the dissolution, which he


qualified as an act by which the ministers were making the
sovereign the instrument of his own destruction.

He was interrupted by another storm of violence and con-
fusion, which was at length appeased by the announcement
that the king was at hand. When he entered, the assembly
had recovered its usual calm and decorous tranquillity. The
members of the House of Commons having been summoned
to the bar, the king, in a loud and firm voice, pronounced his
speech, which commenced with the following words :

"My lords and gentlemen,

"I have come to meet you for the purpose of proroguing
this Parliament, with a view to its immediate dissolution.

"I have been induced to resort to this measure for the
purpose of ascertaining the sense of my people, in the way in
which it can be most constitutionally and authentically ex-
pressed, on the expediency of making such changes in the
representation as circumstances may appear to require, and
which, founded on the acknowledged principles of the consti-
tution, may tend at once to uphold the just rights and pre-
rogatives of the crown, and to give security to the liberties of
the people."

(History of the Reform Bill, ed. cit., 185.)

220. Passage of the First Reform Bill


The scenes which accompanied the passage of the first Re-
form Bill are graphically described in the following letter from
Lord Macaulay. The writer was himself an ardent supporter
of the Bill, and he thoroughly entered into the spirit of its


London, March 30th, 1831.

Dear Ellis, I have little news for you, except what you
will learn from the papers as well as from me. It is clear
that the Reform Bill must pass, either in this or in another
Parliament. The majority of one does not appear to me, as
it does to you, by any means inauspicious. We should per-
haps have had a better plea for a dissolution if the majority
had been the other way. But surely a dissolution under such
circumstances would have been a most alarming thing. If
there should be a dissolution now, there will not be that
ferocity in the public mind which there would have been if
the House of Commons had refused to entertain the bill at


all. I confess that, till we had a majority, I was half in-
clined to tremble at the storm which he had raised. At
present I think that we are absolutely certain of victory, and
of victory without commotion.

Such a scene as the division of last Tuesday I never saw,
and never expect to see again. If I should live fifty years,
the impression of it will be as fresh and sharp in my mind
as if it had just taken place. It was like seeing Caesar
stabbed in the Senate-house, or seeing Oliver taking the mace
from the table ; a sight to be seen only once, and never to be
forgotten. The crowd overflowed the House in every part.
When the strangers were cleared out, and the doors locked.
we had six hundred and eight members present more by
fifty-five than ever were in a division before. The ayes and
noes were like two volleys of cannon from opposite sides of a
field of battle. When the opposition went out into the lobby,
an operation which took up twenty minutes or more, we
spread ourselves over the benches on both sides of the
House ; for there were many of us who had not been able to
find a seat during the evening. When the doors were shut
we began to speculate on our members. Everybody was
desponding. "We have lost it. We are only two hundred
and eighty at most. I do not think we are two hundred and
fifty. They are three hundred. Alderman Thompson has
counted them. He says they are two hundred and ninety-
nine." This was the talk on our benches. I wonder that
men who have been long in Parliament do not acquire a
better coup d'oeil for numbers. The House, when only the
ayes were in it, looked to me a very fair House much fuller
than it generally is even on debates of considerable inter-
est. I had no hope, however, of three hundred. As the
tellers passed along our lowest row on the left-hand side the
interest was insupportable two hundred and ninety-one
two hundred and ninety-two we were all standing up and
stretching forward, telling with the tellers. At three hun-
dred there was a short cry of joy at three hundred and two
another suppressed, however, in a moment ; for we did
not yet know what the hostile force might be. We knew,
however, that we could not be severely beaten. The doors
were thrown open and in they came. Each of them, as he
entered, brought some different report of their numbers. It
must have been impossible, as you may conceive, in the
lobby, crowded as they were, to form any exact estimate. First
we heard that they were three hundred and three; then that


number rose to three hundred and ten ; then they went down
to three hundred and seven. Alexander Barry told me that
he had counted, and that they were three hundred and four.
We were all breathless with anxiety, when Charles Wood,
who stood near the door, jumped upon a bench and cried out,
"They are only three hundred and one." We set up a shout
that you might have heard to Charing Cross, waving our
hats, stamping against the floor, and clapping our hands.
The tellers scarcely got through the crowd ; for the House
was thronged up to the table, and all the floor was fluctua-
ting with heads like the pit of a theatre. But you might have
heard a pin drop as Duncannon read the members. Then
again the shouts broke out, and many of us shed tears. I
could scarcely refrain. And the jaw of Peel fell; and the
face of Twiss was as the face of a damned soul ; and Herries
looked like Judas taking his neck-tie off for the last opera-
tion. We shook hands and clapped each other on the back,
and went out laughing, crying, and huzzaing into the lobby.
And no sooner were the outer doors opened than another
shout answered that within the House. All the passages
and the stairs into the waiting-rooms were thronged by
people who had waited till four in the morning to know the
issue. We passed through a narrow lane between two thick
masses of them; and all the way down they were shouting
and waving their hats, till we got into the open air. I called
a cabriolet, and the first thing the driver asked was, "Is the
bill carried?" "Yes, by one." "Thank God for it, sir!"
And away I rode to Gray's Inn and so ended a scene which
will probably never be equalled till the reformed Parliament
wants reforming; and that I hope will not be till the days of
our grandchildren till that truly orthodox and apostolical
person, Dr. Francis Ellis, is an archbishop of eighty.

(Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, ed. Trevelyan, Lond., 1897, I, 201.)



221. The First National Petition


The first petition drawn up in 1838 by the Chartists, although
not that subsequently presented to the House of Commons, well
defines the motives and purposes of the movement. One of the
six points demanded that of equal representation was omit-
ted ; perhaps because it was deemed a corollary of universal
suffrage. This petition was the first definition of the spirit of
the movement, and formed a basis for the petitions which were
afterward drafted and presented.

"To the Honourable the Commons of Great Britain and
Ireland, in Parliament assembled, the Petition of the under-
signed, their suffering countrymen,


"That we, your petitioners, dwell in a land whose mer-
chants are noted for their enterprise, whose manufacturers
are very skilful, and whose workmen are proverbial for their
industry. The land itself is goodly, the soil rich, and the
temperature wholesome. It is abundantly furnished with the
materials of commerce and trade. It has numerous and con-
venient harbours. In facility of internal communication it
exceeds all others. For three and twenty years we have en-
joyed a profound peace. Yet, with all the elements of na-
tional prosperity, and with every disposition and capacity to
take advantage of them, we find ourselves overwhelmed with
public and private suffering. We are bowed down under a
load of taxes, which, notwithstanding, fall greatly short of the
wants of our rulers. Our traders are trembling on the verge
of bankruptcy; our workmen are starving. Capital brings no
profit, and labour no remuneration. The home of the artif-
icer is desolate, and the warehouse of the pawnbroker is full.
The workhouse is crowded, and the manufactory is deserted.



We have looked on every side; we have searched diligently
in order to find out the causes of distress so sore and so long
continued. We can discover none in nature or in Provi-
dence. Heaven has dealt graciously by the people, nor have
the people abused its grace, but the foolishness of our rulers
has made the goodness of our God of none effect. The ener-
gies of a mighty kingdom have been wasted in building up
the power of selfish and ignorant men, and its resources
squandered for their aggrandisement. The good of a part
has been advanced at the sacrifice of the good of the nation.
The few have governed for the interest of the few, while the
interests of the many have been sottishly neglected, or in-
solently and tyrannously trampled upon. It was the fond
expectation of the friends of the people that a remedy for the
greater part, if not for the whole of their grievances, would
be found in the Reform Act of 1832. They regarded that

Online LibraryGuy Carleton LeeSource-book of English history : leading documents, together with illustrative material from contemporary writers and a bibliography of sources → online text (page 48 of 56)