Imágenes de página

tholics of Ireland were sensible that the disfranchisement of these bogtrotting freeholders, created for mere political purposes, was an immense benefit, not only to the country generally, but the dispossessed freeholders in particular, by relieving them from a frequent collision between their landlords and spiritual guides; and accordingly, the Catholic Relief Bill, burdened as it was with the disfranchising clause, was hailed as an immense benefit by the whole Catholic population; and in particular by the great Agitator, who declared that it would reduce him from a popular demagogue to a mere nisi prius lawyer;" and that after it passed, "Othello's occupation's gone." It is obvious, therefore, that as the Catholics were not only satisfied with, but ardently petitioned for, the Relief Bill, clogged as it was with the disfranchising clauses, they had made their election, and had no ulterior claim for compensation.

[ocr errors]

But the case is totally different with the present Reform Bill, which is not brought forward at the suit or application of the holders of the close boroughs, to relieve them of certain disadvantages with which their situation is attended, but is urged on by other parties, not only without the consent of the freehold ers threatened with disfranchisement, but against their most strenuous opposition. These parties do not say, we call on the Legislature to relieve us of certain disabilities, and if they do so, we are willing to lose our freeholds; but they strenuously resist the proposed disfranchisement, as a confiscation of their birthright, a destruction of their inheritance, and a violation of the rights which they hold by as sacred a tenure as the King does his throne. How can such parties be deprived without their consent-nay, against their will, of their property, without compensation? Does their disfranchisement stand on the right by which a robber obtains the purse of the traveller on the highway

"the simple plan,

If not, let the legal or equitable ground on which their property is taken away, without either proved delinquence or compensation, be stated, for, assuredly, none such has hitherto been brought forward. It is quite in vain, therefore, to disguise the matter. The proposed disfranchisement, without compensation, is neither more nor less than legislative spoliation; and as such it will most assuredly be stigmatized by history. Mr Pitt, as all the world knows, was in early life, and anterior to the period when the French Revolution had roused the democratic passions, and totally changed the grounds on which a change in the representation was demanded, a Reformer. He never, however, proposed the measure of confiscating private property, without compensation; on the contrary, he intended to give full value to all the dispossessed proprietors. So tender was this great statesman of that sacred base of all government, the security of vested rights, that he did not even venture to propose forcing the acceptance of compensation on the owners of the boroughs marked out for disfranchisement, but left it to their inclination to accept it or not. "The plan which he proposed was, to transfer the right of choosing representatives from thirty-six of such boroughs as had fallen into decay, to such chief towns and cities as were at present unrepresented; that a fund should be provided for the purpose of giving to the owners and holders of such boroughs as were disfranchised, an appreciated compensation for their property;—that the taking this compensation should be a voluntary act of the proprietor, and if not taken at present, should be placed out at compound interest, until it became an irresistible bait to such proprietors." "'* Mr Fox admitted the justice of the principle of compensation, but objected to the mode laid down of purchasing the boroughs.

Such were the principles on which those giants of ancient days approached the subject of freehold

That they should take who have the qualification; and such the tender

[blocks in formation]

ness of vested rights which they evinced in all their measures for amend

[blocks in formation]

ing the representation of the country. Compare this with the sweeping measure of the present day, which, without a shadow of compensation, without any proof of delinquence, proposes to disfranchise completely fifty-six, and, to the extent of one half, thirty-one boroughs; and say which is the work of just and cautious statesmen, and which of reckless and inconsiderate innovators.

This argument is altogether independent of any alleged impolicy or inexpediency in the existing system. Let it be admitted that the existing system of close boroughs is the most prejudicial that can be conceivedthat the claim of the unrepresented towns for representation is utterly irresistible; still, is that any ground for depriving individuals of their property, without either proved delinquence, or tendered compensation, in order to accomplish the change? This is not a question of expedience or policy, it is one of law and justice. Law decides what the nature of the right is, justice what the compensation which should be given for its being taken away. Both are wholly independent of any considerations as to the expedience and necessity of the removal, and are not diminished one iota by the strongest case being made out for that measure that can be imagined.

A nobleman has a domain in the neighbourhood of a great town, which it is thought would form an eligible acquisition to the inhabitants, by affording room for their exercise and recreation. That is a good reason for the citizens forming a fund for the purchase of the property, and, if they can make out a strong case, for applying to the Legislature to compel a sale, upon the value being tendered to the proprietor. But is that any reason for confiscating the domain to the citizens without any equivalent? Supposing even that the right had been originally acquired by encroachment, and the title of the owner stands alone on prescription; or that it was once vested in a number of proprietors, and now has fallen into a few hands; still, is that the slightest ground for taking away the right of the existing owner without any com

[ocr errors]

pensation? This may be done by act of Parliament on the principle of the strongest, just as the same authority may order an innocent individual to be beheaded; but it is difficult to perceive any other principle on which it can be founded.

"The freehold in the corporations," say Lord Holt and Hale, "is both a property and a trust." Considered as the former, it cannot be taken away, unless delinquence is proved, without an equivalent; considered as the latter, it may justly be forfeited upon the proof of guilt. Here, then, are the two grounds on which disfranchisement can be legally rested: tendered compensation, or proved delinquence. Let, therefore, the boroughs which Parliament thinks fit to abolish, be either purchased from the owners, or disfranchised, like Grampound and East Retford, on the ground of proved corruption; but let not a measure be entertained, which, without either the one or the other, violates the rights of the subjects of the realm.

The extent to which this arbitrary confiscation is proposed to be carried, is one of the most enormous evils which threatens us in these days of political peril. By the new bill, about 150 seats are to be disfranchised in England alone. Supposing that each seat is worth, to the persons who now return the member, L.30,000, which is certainly a very moderate allowance, the value of property thus confiscated in that part of the island without equivalent, is L.4,500,000.

In Scotland, the injustice is equally crying. There are about 5000 electors, according to the Lord Advocate's statement, in Scotland, of which 2500 are county freeholders. Supposing each county freehold to be worth L.800, which it certainly is at the very lowest computation, the value of the property thus destroyed is L.2,000,000. Taking into account the borough votes threatened with destruction, the property to be sacrificed cannot be computed, at the lowest rate, at less than L.2,500,000. The greater part of these votes indeed are not, strictly speaking, destroyed; they are rendered of no value by the immense addition made to the number of voters. Who will

give any thing for a vote in any Scottish county, when it is shared with a mob of L.10 feuars in all the villages which it contains ?

This freehold property is legally vested in the present owners. It is the subject of marriage contracts, provisions to children, and all the lasting obligations between man and man. It has all been purchased at one period or another for full value. It has been recognised as legal property in innumerable decisions of the Court of Law, the House of Peers, and acts of Parliament. If property thus solemnly established is to be destroyed, without an equivalent, by the introduction of a whole army of new voters to the benefit of the privilege which constituted its value, there is no security for legal rights in the kingdom.

On the same principle it may be maintained, that any other right which at present is enjoyed by an individual, or a limited number of persons, should be spread over a wider surface, and extended to a more numerous class in the community. Why should landed estates be confined to the existing owners, when so large a portion of the community are suffering from want? It is clear that the argument for the extension of the franchise is a fortiori applicable to a division of estates, by so much more as the enjoyment of actual property is more valuable than the acquisition of a mere political privilege. Why should the peerage be confined to four or five hundred individuals, and not be diffused, with all its consequent advantages, over a larger portion of the community? Why should the dividends be paid to 264,000 individuals, and the benefit of these regular payments be not extended, on a principle of funded reform, to every individual who pays taxes? Why should the crown remain on a single head, and not be divided, as in France in 1789,"among 1200 sovereigns, whom, as Catherine well said, no one obeyed but the puppet on the throne.?" These consequences are disastrous: they will startle the most thorough Reformer, tending, as they obviously do, to overthrow the whole fabric of society, and for ever destroy the glories of modern civilisation: but on what principle are they to be re

sisted, if the precedent be once admitted, that the rights of so large a portion of the British freeholders are to be sacrificed without either proved delinquence or tendered compensation, merely because those who do not as yet possess that species of property, choose to assert that it would be agreeable to them that their neighbours' property should be divided for their behoof?

The peril to funded property, if this grand precedent of dividing other people's estates be once established, is peculiarly great, and eminently worthy of consideration in a commercial country. The property of money in the funds is far more obnoxious, and more likely to be made the object of popular execration, than the exclusive privilege now vested in either the English or the Scotch freeholders. The public creditor, literally speaking, lives upon the industry of the people: he does not, like the freeholder, merely exercise a privilege which they are desirous to share with him. When, therefore, the storm of democratic fury is by a revolutionary press directed against the fundholders, as it assuredly will be, the topics presented to inflame the passions of the people will be infinitely more powerful than those which have been used with such fatal effects against the freeholders. They will say, boroughmonger debarred you from a privilege, but the fundholder preys upon your vitals: in shaking him off, you are not demolishing the giant who has chained you to the earth,. but the vampire which sucks your heart's blood." When considerations of this sort are presented day after day, month after month, and year after year, by the daily press, to the minds of their indigent and squalid readers, can it be deemed surprising if a most vehement outcry is raised for the destruction of the funds? And if the grand precedent be once established in 1832, that private property is to be confiscated, in obedience, not to proved necessity, or admitted expedience, but mere popular outcry, on what principle can the confiscation of funded property be averted?


There are many persons who calmly contemplate such an event, and

flatter themselves, because they have no money in the funds themselves, that they will escape unharmed in the general wreck which such a measure must produce. To such persons we would beg to make the following observation. You are all either debtors or creditors, landlords or tenants, buyers or sellers, employers or workmen. Now, how are any of these obligations to be discharged, if the funds, the great bank of the nation, is destroyed? How is the landlord to recover his rents when the banks have all broke, bills have ceased to be discounted, and credit is utterly suspended by this fatal measure? How is the tenant to effect his sales, in the universal consternation consequent on such an event? How is the manufacturer to employ his workmen, when the banks refuse his bills, and the sale of his produce is destroyed? How is the creditor to recover his debt, whether in mortgage or chattel, after a national bankruptcy has destroyed his debtor's funds? How is the debtor to get time to discharge his obligations, when his creditor is himself pressed by overbearing necessity, and forced to exact the last shilling from every one who owes him money? It is evident that all must share in the general calamity: the rich by the failure of tenants and debtors, the poor by the stoppage of their employment, and the cessation of the market for their industry. But let it never be imagined that the reality, the near approach of these perils, will deter the revolutionary party from then, as now, clamouring for the measures which are to occasion them: it is the nature of democratic ambition, as of every other vehement passion, to be blind to consequences: the measures now called for, the confiscation of free hold property, now the object of such violent desire, will lead to the demolition of the funds, as necessarily, though perhaps not quite so rapidly, as that dreadful step will spread famine, devastation, and ruin through every hamlet in the land.

Farther, we can see no reason why the nation generally, and, still more, the dispossessed proprietors, should be subjected to the burden of providing the fund which should be set apart for the disfranchised

proprietors, Cujus est commodum ejus debet esse onus. If an advantage is to be gained for the whole community, it is fair that the public should pay for it. But where the advantage is confined to a single class of society, that class, and that class only, should be burdened with providing the funds for a change, by which it alone is to be benefited. Here, then, is a clear principle, on which reform in the representation may be brought about, in perfect unison with the rules of justice, and in so gradual a manner, as not materially to endanger (for every change must to a certain extent endanger) the institutions of society. Let the Legislature fix, upon a survey of the unrepresented towns, what number of boroughs should be in all disfranchised, and let every unrepresented town, which is desirous of members, make up the funds, either by subscription. or assessment, requisite to indemnify the proprietor. This, combined with the gratuitous disfranchisement of all boroughs convicted of corruption, would afford a direct inlet for commercial and manufacturing influence in the Legislature, fully as rapidly as is consistent with the stability of the other institutions of the country. It may not be so agreeable, no doubt, to these reforming gentlemen to pay for the franchise they are desirous of acquiring, as to wrest it from their neighbours by Parliamentary authority, without any equivalent; just as it is sometimes not so convenient to purchase an estate, as to obtain a confiscation of it to the Crown, and a grant for nothing of the confiscated lands; but if the appearance even of justice is to be preserved in the transaction, no other method of transfer can possibly be adopted; and if it be not, no estate in the kingdom, from the Crown downwards, is held by any other than a precarious tenure.

While we are now writing, the die is probably cast; the Rubicon is passed; an unprecedented step is about to be adopted, by a violent exertion of the prerogative of the Crown; the means of effectual deliberation is taken away from one branch of the Legislature, and a precedent established, which leaves the liberties of England at the mercy of the Commons and the Throne.

When this measure is to be made public, we know not; we speak of the step pressed upon Government by the Reformers, and which, it is to be feared, they are noways unwilling to adopt.

In approaching this terrible subject, where strong expressions must be used, if justice is done to the cause of freedom and the constitution, it is our earnest desire to avoid any thing which is either inflammatory to the passions, or hurtful to the feelings. We have no cause of discord with the Administration, excepting as subjects of the realm, and interested in the preservation of our common country; we say nothing of them personally, and confine ourselves to those public measures which affect every subject, and are the property of the annalist and the historian. We address ourselves to the Conservative Party-to men who venerate the constitution, and are attached to the cause of order-who know the distinction between fearless discussion addressed to the understanding, and inflammatory topics calculated for the passions-who feel that their only chance of salvation is by a strict adherence to the constitutional means of resistance-and that the adoption of violent stretches on one side, is only a reason why they should be avoided on the other. We shall point out the true character of the measure which has been adopted, and the only means of averting its disastrous consequences which still remain to the country.

The Crown, it is said, possesses the prerogative of creating Peers, and therefore the exercise of this right cannot be objected to, if vindicated by sufficient reasons of state necessity. There can be no doubt that the Executive has the power to create an hundred Peers at a time, just as it has the power of ordering a file of an hundred grenadiers to march into the Chapel of St Stephen's, or the House of Lords, and expel both branches of the Legislature. But the question is, whether the exercise of this power is constitutional; whether it is vindicated by any precedent, supported by any analogy, justified by any expedience ?

The only example of a similar stretch, is the creation of twelve Peers at one time by Queen Anne. This was done upon occasion of the fall of the Duke of Marlborough, to secure a majority against that illustrious general in the Upper House.* Such is national gratitude! The only occasions on which this stretch has been attempted in English history, have been to secure the overthrow of the two greatest benefactors of their country;-of that illustrious commander who shed the radiance of glory over the commencement of the eighteenth century, and that unconquered hero, who crowned with immortal renown the opening of the nineteenth century-of the victor of Louis XIV. and the conqueror of Napoleon!

During the most arbitrary and despotic reigns of English history, no such stretch of the prerogative was ever attempted. The proud Elizabeth, notwithstanding her high ideas of the royal prerogative, never made any such attempt; and six Earls and eight Barons were all that she created during a reign of more than usual glory of eight-and-forty years. It was unknown during the reigns of the Edwards and the Henrys, the Tudors and the Plantagenets, and never attempted, even when Ministers were most pressed, under the House of Hanover. When Mr Fox, Mr Burke, and Lord North, in 1784, had carried the India Bill through the Commons, and had reason to anticipate defeat and ruin in the House of Lords, they never thought of such an invasion of the deliberative powers of that Assembly. The haughty coalition, notwithstanding its uniting all the most powerful parties in the state, resigned the helm rather than do what Earl Grey is urged to do. The Duke of Wellington did not create a single Peer, when he had reason to anticipate a defeat on the Catholic_Question in the House of Lords. It was reserved for a Whig party, the vehement declaimers in favour of popular rights, to urge the Crown to the adoption of a measure unparalleled, save in a single instance, in English history; to adopt and enlarge upon that measure of their political oppo

* Smollett, II. 214,

« AnteriorContinuar »