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important class in England, he shews the influence which it has exercised upon our manners and national character. The passage is written with as much truth as elegance.
'I have referred the origin of the gentry, like that of the peerage, to the feudal times. From those times they have inherited many of the qualities which we usually annex to the idea of a gentleman-a grace and dignity of manner, a high sense of self respect, a peculiar delicacy of honour. But like the peerage, even more than the peerage, have they changed in the actual composition. Much of the tone has been preserved, but the qualification has never been in the proofs of lineal descent. The human body, it has been supposed, changes every particle of its frame in the course of seven years, yet the spiritual identity remains. In the same manner many of the best characteristics of ancient chivalry form the foundation of, and still survive in the class of modern gentry, although few of their ancestors ever went to the crusades, or broke a lance in a tournament. From this point, and in this class, are we to trace the great difference between English manners and character, and that of the continental nations. While the latter clung to heraldic forms, to rigid proofs of descent, to artificial distinctions, and therefore only obtained from this stock of knighthood, and chivalry, a withered, stunted offspring of provincial, petty, secondary noblesse, we took a totally different course. The original foundation was common to all, but we built upon it very differently. Retaining a certain value for family and descent, we wisely rejected too close an adherence to these strict rules. Our patent of admission was more in the soul and spirit than in the quarterings,-was more a moral than an heraldic qualification. The ranks of the English gentry were widely and liberally opened to receive all those who became distinguished by successful enterprize and talent, who attained fortune by honourable means, who won eminence by intellect and exertion. Ours was an expansive, theirs an exclusive spirit. They decreed that no man who was not “gentilhomme,” should enter the army; we resolved that every officer of the army and navy was de facto a gentleman. They condemned the learned professions of law and medicine to a marked inferiority, we paid a generous respect to the high talents they require. They disdained and rejected the least mixture of commerce, we welcomed cordially those enterprizing and enlightened men, who, in acquiring great wealth to themselves, conferred great benefit on their country. They preserved the narrowness, the prejudices of feudality, we caught and diffused its best spirit. They copied the castes of the Hindus, we imitated the sagacious policy of the former mistress of the world, who conferred upon the incorporated nations the lofty privileges of Roman citizens.
It followed, from these different courses, that while the great and little noblesse of the continent became an extremely obnoxious body, and were gradually undermined by the increasing wealth and intelligence of the rest of the community, the composition of our gentry was totally different. Their ranks included not merely all that was illustrious in descent, but the most affluent in fortune, respectable in station, honourable in character, distinguished by professional ability, pre-eminent in intellectual merit, throughout the country. They blended the highest acquirements of civilization with ennobling feelings, derived from their chivalrous parentage. There was in this distinction nothing that was
invidious, nothing that was oppressive, nothing that curbed or injured freedom. It is a profoundly marked national line, and is viewed with no national hostility by any part of the people. In its most popular signification, the word gentleman is never used in a bad sense; it never conveys an unfavourable impression. It is so exclusively national, that it has no corresponding term in the other languages of Europe, and all the niceties of expression must be resorted to, if we wish to explain its meaning to a foreigner. The most violent demagogue seldom ventures to assail it with his terms of invective and reproach; he knows that he should not easily excite the sympathy of his hearers. The lowest classes always annex to it a mixed meaning of character and of station. The readiest term of vulgar abuse, is, to tell a person of respectable situation that he is no gentleman, meaning that he wants the moral qualities which ought to accompany his rank in life. They are right. An English gentleman generally justifies their impression of this necessary union. Were I, without previous knowledge of the individual, obliged to place boundless confidence in the honour and integrity of another, I would select through the world an English gentleman. pp. 81-84.
The connexions of the gentry with the aristocracy, brought about by means of the numerous peerages created in the late reign, although it may have raised one class nearly to a level with the other, has not, however, deprived the country of the gentry as a separate and most useful body. The author is equally happy in this part of his subject; but we have no room for his observations upon it.
Thus we see that Sir John Walsh is a very timid and moderate reformer, who altogether denies the sovereignty of the people, who is adverse to the vote by ballot, and is anxious only for such a change as may lessen the expence of elections at Sudbury and elsewhere. We certainly do not agree in all his views, but at the same time we must admit, that they are put forward clearly and temperately, and that they deserve to be treated with great respect by every person who gives any thought to the question of Parliamentary improvement.
The second pamphlet on our list differs widely on many points from that which we have just noticed: the author contemplates the House of Commons as a body no longer retaining that confidence and affection with which it was formerly considered by the people. It has become a mere appendage of the executive. The mode in which it is constitued is notoriously corrupt and defective. It is true that under the present system of borough interest, a Fox, a Pitt, a Tierney, a Brougham, a Mackintosh, may have obtained seats in a House from which they would have been excluded if they had to submit to the expence of a popular election. But admitting that these prizes have turned up in the Parliamentary lottery, let it be asked how many blanks have been drawn under the same system! These and the other usual palliating arguments being got rid of, the author contends that, as at present constituted, the House of Commons is not an adequate, a fair, or a
faithful representation of the people,-that the middling classes are not represented by any persons of their own body, and that they never can be while the expences of elections are so enormous; that 'the open and free elections, in the great and populous cities and boroughs, are, upon the present footing of a tumultuous poll, and an eight days' contest, almost as little calculated to secure the return of fit representatives, as the right of election in any of the most decayed boroughs or venal corporations.' In the counties, the aristocratical and landed interests prevail, and the author does not object to the continuance of that predominance. In the open boroughs, the franchise is for the most part in the hands of the lowest orders, a nuisance which he thinks ought to be removed, unless it be rendered, as he says it might be, comparatively innoxious by the establishment of vote by ballot. Without the ballot, the disfranchisement of the non-resident freemen in corporate boroughs would only add to the value of the votes of the residents, and the diffusion in such places of the right of election among all the householders, would only increase the expences of the candidate. The venality of the voters in the corporate towns is universally acknowledged, and yet how few of them have been punished ! The author's reasoning thus far is cogent; he seems perfectly acquainted with all the bearings of the subject.
After some judicious observations on the origin and progress of the House of Commons, the author gives an accurate historical summary of the different plans of reform which have been proposed at various periods in Parliament. But he objects altogether, and with good reason, to the preservation of any of the close and decayed boroughs, such as Gatton and Old Sarum. Why should they not follow the fate of above sixty other places which are known to have sent members in former times, but which have since lost that right? It appears that there are boroughs
'Where the election is purely nominal
Where the electors are under fifty
Where the electors do not exceed one hundred
Thus we have two hundred and fifty members returned without even a decent form of election! There is no just ground for retaining these, or so much as one of these places. The author is of this opinion, and he leans to the idea of compensation in case of their being abolished,-the rights which are now exercised in those places to be transferred to the people upon such principle as should ultimately be deemed most advisable. He cites with approbation Cromwell's plan of reform, contained in the Instrument of Government which that great man acted upon in the year 1654. By reference to that Instrument it will be seen that the close boroughs
were either altogether abolished, or reduced to one member, that the members for all the counties were augmented, and that there was scarcely an important town in the kingdom which was not called upon to return at least one member. The precedent is a good one, so far as the omission or reduction of the depopulated boroughs is concerned; it deserves attention also on account of the proof which it furnishes that the idea of compensation in such cases is altogether a modern one. Indeed the author adduces several strong arguments against it, although, as a matter of compromise, he would not object to at least a partial purchase of "vested rights." He then discloses his own plan of reform, which would consist in abolishing the nominal and totally decayed boroughs, confining the right of returning members in small boroughs to one instead of two, allowing the populous towns, not now represented, to return one or more members, and adding one or two to those already elected by the larger counties. With respect to the latter, Mr. Flood's idea might be adopted; that the knights of the shire might be chosen as now by the county, and the additional members by the resident householders; or, both the knights and the additional members might be chosen by new districts, into which the population of the kingdom should be divided, without adhering to the existing division by counties. The cities and towns now possessing the franchise might continue to exercise it, the franchise itself being extended, under a new system of qualification, to inhabitant householders paying taxes and poor rates. The mode of election should be by parishes, or other convenient subdivisions, and it should be simultaneous. A substantial equality of representation might thus be obtained by every part of the country.
The question of qualification of voters is one of detail into which we need not now enter. That of ordinary assessment to the relief of the poor, and to the maintenance of the state, is perhaps the fairest that can be devised for towns. In counties or districts the freehold qualification might remain as it is, with the admission to the franchise of copyholders and leaseholders having beneficial interests. It has been suggested, that in order to afford property its just weight in representation, the franchise should be graduated from one to four or five votes according to the amount of each voter's property assessed to the poor and to the state. Such a scheme as this would tend to the establishment of that most odious of all aristocracies, the aristocracy of wealth, and it would be, we are confident, extremely unpopular. Perhaps it might be expedient, however, to adopt the idea to the extent of two votes, in cases where a more than ordinary contribution is paid by the individual to the relief of the poor and in the shape of taxes-say where it exceeds in the whole one hundred pounds per annum. To this extent such an alteration might not be complained of.
The author of this pamphlet is decidedly in favour of the ballot, though he does not think it a sine quâ non; and as we have given No. III.
Sir John Walsh's opinion against that measure, it is but just that we should allow the argument on the other side to be heard also.
'I am aware, that the proposal to alter the mode of election, particularly by introducing the ballot, is the subject of great difference of opinion, even among persons well inclined to a parliamentary reform. I cannot help thinking that this aversion to election by ballot, arises from prejudices which will yield to reflection.
"There seems to me no part of our positive institutions more deficient than those which relate to the machinery of elections. It is not to be wondered that, in rude times, no attempt should have been made to obtain the expression of the general will, by any contrivance fitted to combine perfect tranquillity with a faithful expression of that will by the greatest numbers. The simple chirotonia is the expedient of the most rude times, and the earliest age of society. It was soon discovered, however, that such a mode of ascertaining the majority was hardly compatible with the public peace. In the progress of civilization, some species of ballot was adopted by all the popular governments of antiquity. The bean, or the pebble, or the shell, and other contrivances of the same kind, have given names to the votes, decrees, and resolutions of popular assemblies.
I am inclined, indeed, to consider the statute of Hen. VI., which introduced the qualification of 40s. in county elections, and which recites the outrages and batteries which numerous assemblages, at a county election, must naturally have produced, as a measure, than which the rudeness of the age could find no better for correcting a very real grievance. It probably never occurred to the legislators of that day, that a ballot, or a well-conducted poll, would have effectually removed the cause of complaint. Need we wonder at their ignorance, or listlessness, in missing the proper remedy, since it is only within living memory that the nuisance of an election possibly extending to six weeks, has, in England, been abated by law. Nothing can explain the barbarous and imperfect modes of our elections, even at this day, but the morbid antipathy which has prevailed in the legislature to every alteration in the forms of the constitution, at least in favour of popular rights.
I am convinced that the ballot is the most effectual contrivance to render extended and popular rights compatible with the peace of society. The apprehension of what is called universal suffrage, appears to me to have arisen from the awkward and ill-combined arrangements which have hitherto been provided for the practical exercise of popular election. In America the election by ballot prevails, and in most of the States there is no qualification for electors at all but the not being paupers, and residence and payment for a fixed term-a year, or half a year-of the public taxes, where the party claims to vote. In those of the States which have retained, or established, a qualification of property, that qualification is little more than nominal. In Massachusets, there is required a qualification of a freehold of 31. a year, or property to the value of 607.; and this appears to be the highest of all*. There is no complaint that these elections do not work well, or that they in the smallest degree disturb the peace of the country.
See The American Guide, a collection of the different constitutions of the States, and the general constitution.-Philadelphia, 1828.'