« AnteriorContinuar »
ON PARLIAMENTARY REFORM AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.
Revolutionary Concession-The New Bill.
Ir was this day twelve months that this course of papers on Parliamentary Reform and the French Revolution began. At that period all the journals, and a great proportion of the people of this country, were unanimous in favour of the French convulsion; and a large majority, in point of numbers at least, were inclined to expect public tranquillity, general satisfaction, increased pros perity, and renovated vigour, from the infusion of popular power into the ancient veins of the British Constitution.
Foreseeing the disastrous consequences which must inevitably ensue from the prevalence of such absurd and unfounded illusions, we applied ourselves vigorously to stem the torrent; never expecting, indeed, that any single efforts could at once effect any considerable change in public opinion; but confident that Truth would gradually assert its ascendant over Falsehood, and that in the end the truth of the principles we advocated would become obvious to the most prejudiced of mankind. With this view, we endeavoured, in a series of papers, to illustrate the fundamental principles which govern such questions, which may be summed up in the following propo
1. That the late French Revolution, like every other sudden change in government brought about by popular force, was a calamity of the deepest kind, which threatened a grievous series of misfortunes to
requisite authority; but a violent convulsion, in which the lowest classes at once subverted the highest, and the mob of Paris re-assumed its fatal revolutionary ascendant over the rest of France. That from such a catastrophe, nothing but weakness in government, vacillation in council, and anarchy in the na tion, could be anticipated; and that the first and greatest sufferers from such a state of things would be the very lower orders, by whose infatua ted ambition it had been occasioned.*
2. That in solving the difficult question, of how to deal with a nation in a state of reforming or revolutionary excitement, the only method is to afford the utmost redress to every real and experienced grie vance, but to resist steadily all the advances of democratic ambition; that inattention to complaints founded upon real suffering is as fatal an error, as concession to revolutionary fervour; and both tended equally to plunge the nation into the horrors of anarchy; the first, by causing them to brood over unredressed wrongs
the last, by awakening in their minds the insatiable passion for democratic power.†
3. That in considering the question of Parliamentary Reform, it was above all things necessary to await a period of coolness and moderation; that such a temper of mind could not be expected, while the transports consequent on the French Revolution continued; and therefore the subject should not be broached that unhappy country, and promised till those transports had subsided, to retard for a very long period, in every European state, the progress of real freedom. That it was not, like our Revolution in 1688, a na
tional movement, headed by the higher classes, and in effecting which the different bodies of the state re
and the real consequences of the change in the neighbouring kingdom had developed themselves; and consequently, that any Ministry would
have the fate of the country to an
swer for, who, at such an excited moment, should throw into it the additional firebrand of democratic am
tained their respective places, and
*No. 176, Jan. 1830.
+ No. 177, Feb. 1830,
4. That the passion for democratic power, like every other passion which agitates the human breast, is insatiable, and becomes more violent, the more it is indulged, and therefore that it is chimerical to expect that any concessions made to that desire can have any other effect, than rendering the discontent and fury among the classes excluded from the legislation more violent; that, therefore, if change on a considerable scale is once begun, it is impossible it can be stopped short of universal suffrage, by any other method than the sanguinary and unanswerable force of military despotism. That the power of the people, so far from diminishing of late years in the legislature, has been steadily and progressively increasing, and is already, without any reform, more than a match for the influence of the Crown and the Aristocracy put together; and therefore that it is utterly impossible that any great change in the constitution can have a beneficial effect, because, if it makes any considerable addition to the power of the people, it must at once subvert the constitution; if it does not, it will increase the existing discontent, by awakening desires and expectations which were not destined to be realized.*
5. That at all events, whatever change is introduced, should be gradual and progressive in its operation, experience having proved in every age that constitutions suddenly formed are ephemeral in their duration, and those alone are destined to endure for ages, which, like those of Rome and Britain, have slowly arisen with the wants of successive generations.+
6. That of all the methods of preserving the public peace during revolutionary fervour, the most chimerical and fatal is the institution of clubs and national guards. That from the former, all the horrors and atrocities of the first French Revolution directly emanated; and from the latter, the fiercest and most sanguinary of their civil conflicts: that the National Guard invariably failed at the critical moment, and witnessed, without a struggle, devastation, blood
*No. 178, March 1830.
shed, and horrors, unparalleled since the beginning of the world; and that this was always to be expected from a domestic force so constituted during the unhappy periods of civil dissension; because it shared in the passions of the different classes of citizens of which it was composed, and was itself as much divided as the inhabitants whom it was intended to protect.‡
All these principles were laid down and illustrated by historical refer ences, before the dissolution of the late Parliament; before the first de bate on the Reform Bill; while a yet England was free from revolu tionary convulsion, and her cities ha not been lighted by popular confla gration. Were we actuated by th malice of demons, we should feel malignant satisfaction at the extr ordinary proof which subsequen events have given to the very lette of the truth of all these principle We do not pretend to the gift of pr phecy, but only to the results of p tient historical research. It is in th book of history that we looked fo "the shadows which coming even cast before," and in the lessons historic experience, that we hav sought to portray the mirror of fi ture fate. The reformers have adop ed the opposite course; they hav rejected the "old Almanack" wi all its contents, and put to sea wit out either rudder or compass, in th midst of a tempestuous gale; and tl nation is astonished that they ar drifting upon the breakers!
It is hard to say whether the pr gress of events in France or Èn land has most strongly demonstrate the enormous peril of the cours upon which the Reformers have pe rilled the national existence. Th pressure of domestic danger, the r pid succession of subjects of intere in our own island, have withdraw our attention from the tragedy whic is approaching its catastrophe on th Continent; but the recurrence of new year naturally suggests som reflection upon the march of even in that which is passed. They hav become the province of history; th conclusions to be drawn from the now belong to a loftier class tha
the contentions of party; they constitute the basis of thought and instruction to the end of the world. We have all along stated that we give no opinion upon the question whether the ordinances of July were justifiable or not. A new dynasty, dating from their overthrow, is on the throne; revolutionary passion, springing from their repeal, has overspread the land, and the period has not yet arrived, when historic truth can return its eternal verdict. It must be evident to the most impassioned observer, that the crown at that period, and for months before, had been engaged in a desperate struggle with the democratic party, and that the famous ordinances were but one step in a contest which was already become so violent as to preclude any hope of an accommodation but by force of arms. Whether the measures of the King were, as the royalists affirm, an indispensable, though unsuccessful, effort to stem the torrent of democracy, or, as the democrats maintain, a flagrant and unjustifiable invasion of the constitution, is a question upon which there is no man in Britain who possesses the information which_qualifies him to give an opinion. But one thing is perfectly clear, that the imbecility of the royalist administration, in either view, in engaging in such a contest with such feeble means provided for resisting the public effervescence as they had assembled when it broke out, was such as to preclude all hope that they could for any length of time have steered the vessel of the state through the storm with which it was surrounded.
But let it be conceded, that the ordinances were the most violent stretch of tyranny that ever was witnessed, and the Revolution the most legitimate exercise of the " cred right of insurrection" that ever took place, the conclusion only becomes the stronger in favour of our argument. For the consequences of the French Revolution upon the people of that country, are now rapidly developing themselves; and if such have been the effects, even of a justifiable burst of democracy on the southern, what may be anticipated from an unjustifiable indulgence of it on the northern side of the channel?
The Revolution broke out at Paris on 27th July, 1830, and it may be doubted whether, in so short a time, so great a change ever was effected as it has worked upon the prosperity of any people from that time to the present moment. There is no country which has made, in modern times, such extraordinary progress in wealth, industry, and public prosperity, as France did during the fifteen years that the expelled dynasty was on the throne. They enjoyed the advantages of order, tranquillity, and general protection; the press, during the whole period, in all works of information or value, was unfettered, and latterly had reached a degree of licentiousness unparalleled till of late years in this country; books had enormously increasedgeneral information was diffused to an extent altogether unknown in former times-their agriculture, solidly established upon the basis of an extensive division of landed property, kept pace with the wants of an increasing population, and their manufactures thriving under the shadow of a pacific government, had sprung up in a few years to a state of unheard-of and perilous greatness. The traveller, as he traversed the provinces of that great country, was struck with astonishment at the resources, both natural and artificial, which it enjoyed. He admired the animated activity of its cities, and the boundless fertility of its plains; the increasing splendour of its edifices, and the Eastern luxury of its theatres; the vine-clad slopes of its hills, and the waving riches of its harvests; and he was tempted to ask whether this was really the country which had been watered by the tears, and stained by the blood of the Revolution, and to bless the healing powers of nature which had so soon obliterated the traces of human wicked
plains more cultivated, their higher ranks more opulent, their poorer more prosperous, than during the hated government of the Bourbons? The reverse of all this is avowedly the case from the very height of prosperity, France has fallen into the depths of misery; her nobles are banished, her shopkeepers bankrupt, her manufacturers starving; squalid want and hopeless suffering have succeeded to contented labour and requited employment; her cultivators are dejected, her commerce declining, her artisans in rebellion; the enormous military force she has raised is fully employed in repressing the insurrections which the agony of famine has produced. One-half of the shops in Paris are closed; the authors of the glorious revolt are bankrupt, fled, or lingering in hospitals; the peasantry of La Vendée and Brittany are in a state of smothered but incessant insurrection; the vine-growers and mariners of the Garonne are starving; the commerce of Havre and Marseilles is ruined; the workmen of Lyons, after a desperate revolt, have been crushed only by Marshal Soult, the rival of Wellington, with 30,000 men; and those of Rouen are merely maintained in the lowest state of existence by the charity and beneficence of their employers. The five stories of the lofty houses in the streets of Lyons, which used at nights to be resplendent with the lighted windows of busy workmen, are dark and deserted; unheard is the anvil of the smith or the shuttle of the weaver; and the only lights which illuminate its sad and gloomy piles, are the flames of the bivouacs, and the burning torches of the cannoniers who sleep under their guns. Such are the fatal effects of popular government; such the misery which it brings upon the poorer classes, whom the ambition of demagogues has instigated to revolt. When Providence sees fit to punish the sins of a guilty world, it needs not send down the fire of heaven, nor raise the fierce tempest of Scythian war; it is only necessary to rouse the passions of democracy, and the generations of men drop like the leaves of autumn before the blasts of winter.
The instability and vacillation of government in France, since the glorious revolt of July, is singularly
characteristic of the inevitable con sequences and fatal effects of democratic ascendency. Guizot and the doctrinaires-the philosophers and declaimers in favour of freedomwere first brought in on the shoulders of the populace, as Mr Croker finely expressed it, by an ascent yet slippery with blood. Unable to stem the torrent of revolution, they soon gave way to make room for men of sterner mould and more unflinching democracy. Lafitte, by whose prodigal expenditure the workmen of the Faubourg St Antoine had been arrayed in arms, and the old government overthrown, was next placed at the head of affairs; but he was as little equal to the task, and was soon dismissed from the helm, bankrupt in fortune and ruined in reputation. Five successive administrations have been formed and displaced in less than fifteen months; and the reign of Cassimir Perrier is only upheld by the usual termination of democratic strife-cannon and the bayonet. The rule of the sword has begun in France; Marshal Soult has stood forth the viceroy over the King in fierce and fearful prominence; the cries of suffering thousands have been answered by volleys of musketry, and the agony of approaching famine drowned in the terrors of military execution.
The whole institutions of France which savour at all of monarchical tendency, are fast melting down in the revolutionary crucible. The hereditary peerage has been abolished, by an immense majority, in the House of Commons; the Established Religion destroyed; the law against the assumption of titles of honour by any one among the people, and against the breach of observance of Sunday, repealed. Any cobbler may now, with impunity, assume the title of Duke or Peer, and expose his aristocratic wares for sale, with impunity, at any time on Sunday. This regulation, coupled with the abolition of the hereditary peerage, promises soon to extinguish the last remains of religion or aristocracy in France. As usual with all sovereigns who place themselves at the head of a revolu tionary movement, Louis Philip has been obliged to adopt measures ultimately destined to subvert the monarchy. By a royal ordinance, thirty
new Peers have been created for the purpose of overwhelming the last defenders of the throne. Strange that the Ministers of the Crown in both countries should, at the same time, urge the adoption of measures so fatal to the authority it is their first duty to uphold: and a memorable proof of the impossibility of resisting the revolutionary torrent, when once the supreme authority of the state places itself at its head.
How have the finances of France stood this successful tempest of democratic power? Have they thriven in consequence of the more extended influence of the people at elections, or the victory of the mob of Paris over the regular government? The reverse is the fact; taxes upon most articles have been doubled under the popular regime; the expenditure, which was forty millions sterling under Charles X., has been screwed up to sixty millions under his citizen successor. And as the revenue, notwithstanding the great increase of taxes, has fallen off from the general distress, new and extra ordinary expedients to meet the public exigencies have been adopted. A loan of L.13,000,000 sterling has been contracted in a period of general peace, and crown-lands to the extent of L.8,000,000 sold. "With truth it may be asserted," says Chateaubriand, “ that the revolutionary baptism has cost France more than any royal inauguration since the days of Clovis."
These simultaneous effects of a decreasing revenue, an increasing expenditure, and a general spread of suffering among the poor, are the invariable attendant of democratic ascendency, and are in fact a step in the chain of causes and effects, by which nature expels the deadly poison of democratic ambition from the political body. It was exactly the same in the first French Revolution, where the decrease of the revenue, and the misery of the people, was such for seven years after the convulsions began, that government were forced, as the only means of assuaging the public distress, to issue a forced paper circulation, and enforce arbitrary requisitions over the whole kingdom; measures which speedily produced a national bankruptcy,
stripped every proprietor of his possessions,and induced a greater change in the state of property than ever occurred in any state in so short a time since the beginning of the world.
The steps of the progress succeed each other in natural and inevitable progression. The convulsion into which society is thrown by the elevation of demagogues, and the violence of the populace, paralyzes every branch of industry, and contracts every expenditure of capital. The rich, fearful of the future, diminish their expenditure, and seek to conceal, or withdraw their wealth. The capitalists decline to embark their capital. The affluent cease to pursue their pleasures. Distrust succeeds to hope, inactivity to industry. The poor, dependent for sustenance upon their daily bread, are the first to suffer from this stagnation, and the augmented suffering which they endure, is felt with increased poignancy, from the bitter contrast which it affords to the brilliant prospects in which they had indulged, and the splendid chimeras by which they had been seduced. These deplorable effects following rapidly on an excited and highlywrought state of public feeling, necessarily lead to agitation; they give rise to revolt and insurrection, and they, in their turn, furnish both a reason and an excuse for a great increase of military force. Thus the expenses of government are increased, at the very time that the revenue is declining, from the contracted expenditure of the rich, and the diminished consumption of the poor; and this, in its turn, necessarily leads to measures of robbery or spoliation, the confiscation of property, the breach of faith with the public creditor, or the establishment of a forced paper circulation. These measures, by paralyzing every branch of industry, complete the revolutionary progress, and bring men back through the protracted agony of national suffering, to the tranquillity of despotism, and the unresisted empire of the sword.
So uniformly has this progress been observed in all ages to attend the excitation of democratic ambition, and so clearly do we perceive its symptoms among ourselves, that