UK, House of Lords, “The Address”, vol 51, cols 5-42 (16 January 1840)
By: UK (House of Lords)
Citation: UK, HL, “The Address“, vol 51 (1840), cols 5-42.
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The Lord Chancellor having read her Majesty’s Speech, and it having been also read, as usual, by the clerk at the Table,
The Duke of Somerset rose to move a humble Address, in reply to the Speech. I adverting to the first paragraph of her Majesty’s Speech, the noble Duke was understood to say, that it was an announcement upon which to congratulate their Lordships, as it settled a question of the utmost importance to the country; and, judging from previous connection of the families of the illustrious personages, and the previous acquaintance which had existed between themselves, the marriage now proposed seemed to presage an union happy in itself, and beneficial to the country at large. It was certainly an alliance which seemed to deserve the approbation of their Lordships, and he sincerely hoped that they would concur in a respectful and cordial expression of that sentiment.
The next topic alluded to in her Majesty’s Speech, was the war in Spain, which had been for some years carried on under circumstances of barbarity, which would hardly be considered possible in the present age, but for the weight of evidence in relation to them. It must, he was sure, be a subject of congratulation to their Lordships that her Majesty’s diplomatic exertions in this quarter had been so far crowned with success as to give a hope of ultimately insuring the tranquillity of that country. But the affairs of Europe might now be considered to be a very small part of our foreign relations. This was, necessarily, a consequence of the great extent of the British empire, which brought us into contact with many nations differing in their habits and views from ourselves, but whom political circumstances rendered it necessary that we should hold in relationship with us. The Turks were most undoubtedly a people differing in almost every feature from ourselves: but he would say, that the difference between us here was the less dangerous from the very circumstance of its being so complete. The Ottoman empire had been for a long period justly entitled to fame for the stability with which it adhered to all its engagements; for that it deserved the respect of the other governments of Europe and accordingly now, in a period of difficulty, it was enjoying the good offices of the five great powers: and he hoped that the House would approve of the policy which had dictated so humane and laudable an undertaking on their part. Adjacent
to the Ottoman empire, but farther east, we find a country differing in internal policy from almost every state in the world, bat from its local position, that country became so far of importance to us, that it had been deemed advisable to have a representative at its court. The success of the British arms in the East, and the good conduct of the army, both European and native, there engaged, must be a source of pride to the House and the country generally. The affairs of Canada had for some time past been in a most deplorable state, and had deeply engaged the attention of the Legislature. Her Majesty had ordered to be laid before their Lordships all the papers connected with the affairs of that interesting country, and her Majesty, after seeing the evil consequences of the ill-concerted plans under which it had so long been governed, called upon this and the other House of Parliament to devote to this important subject their most mature attention.
With regard to Ireland, municipal institutions were a matter of the greatest importance, and he hoped that the present Session of Parliament would bring the discussion of that subject to a conclusion. The Established Church of this country had always been a subject of deep interest to Parliament. The lapse of ages had rendered some changes in its affairs necessary, and a commission had accordingly been appointed to inquire into the subject, and to follow up the recommendations of those commissioners seemed to be now the course before them. He was sure, that their Lordships would participate in the sorrow expressed by her Majesty at the commercial distresses and embarrassments which had taken place in this and other countries, and would endeavour to remove the cause of them as far as lay in their power. But he apprehended that these distresses were in a great degree connected with the spirit of insubordination which had been manifested in certain quarters, but upon which he would not dilate, as the principal agents in these transactions were now under course of trial. But the firmness and energy of the magistrates, and the steadiness and good conduct of the troops, as manifested on these trying occasions, must be a theme of pride and congratulation both to this House and the country. The noble Duke then moved the Address, which was, as usual an echo of the Speech.
Lord Seaford, in rising to second the Address, said that he must begin by earnestly
intreating the indulgence of their Lordships. It was always with great reluctance and diffidence that he ventured to address them, but at no other time had he ever felt, that to do so in a manner befitting the occasion, was at once so difficult and important that his sense of difficulty and the consciousness of his own inadequacy would indeed have made him shrink from the attempt, had he not felt that he could not with propriety, on such an occasion, decline that honour, however much he could have wished that his noble Friend would have proposed it to some other of the very many among their Lordships, far better qualified than himself, for the performance of such a task.
The topic which first, and pre-eminently was entitled to their Lordships’ attention, the royal marriage—an event in itself of the greatest national importance, was at the present moment one of the highest—indeed of unexampled interest. It was impossible, considering the age and sex of the Sovereign, that their Lordships could consider this event drily, as a mere political alliance, or without feelings of the most anxious solicitude as to its influence upon the future domestic happiness of her Majesty. At no other time in the history of this country had such an event been attended with circumstances altogether of equal interest; and that interest, great as it was in itself, must have been that day, further enhanced by the grace with which it had been personally announced to their Lordships.
It was impossible, he thought, for their Lordships to have heard that announcement without feelings of the warmest and most cordial sympathy, not to have accompanied it by an internal prayer that every hope expressed in it, of domestic happiness and public advantage, might be fully and equally realised. It must be most satisfactory to their Lordships to know, that her Majesty, from early intimate acquaintance, must have had the opportunity of forming a mature judgment of the character and disposition of the Prince who was the object of her choice; and that her choice had been determined by that joint influence of reason and of feeling, which forms the best foundation for a happy union. He trusted that their Lordships would not hesitate to concur in an unanimous Address, expressing that approval which had been so graciously asked of them, and that they would follow it up by making such a provision as would be at once suitable to the liberality of this country,
to the rank of the Prince, and the dignity of the Crown. If ever there was an occasion when it was peculiarly important that the Address should be altogether and throughout in unison with the Speech, surely it was the present. With that view, the Speech had been studiously framed so as to avoid exciting any discordant feelings, or provoking any hostile discussion; and he should certainly endeavour, not to defeat that object by anything he might say in treating any of the few topics which he should feel it his duty to notice. It fortunately happened that the principal events which had taken place since the last prorogation were not of a nature necessarily to call for the expression of any difference of opinion. The first and most striking event in our foreign relations was the expulsion of Don Carlos from Spain, and the pacification of the Basque provinces. Whatever might be the opinions of some of their Lordships respecting the pretensions of that Prince, or whatever their sympathy in the cause of those who fought in his name, he could assure those noble Lords that at the present moment he had no wish to controvert those opinions, or to raise a question which lie thought had already been abundantly discussed, and which might well be left at rest at the present moment.
But, whatever might be those opinions, he thought that there could now be but one common feeling of rejoicing in the minds of men of all parties, that the barbarous and sanguinary warfare which had been so long carried on in the Pyrennees had at length been terminated, and that the privileges of those provinces had been recognised in a manner satisfactory to both parties; and though peace had not been established throughout Spain, that the war had been confined within narrower limits and had assumed a different and less formidable character, affording a prospect of its complete termination within no very distant period; and he further thought it peculiarly a matter of congratulation that this long-protracted struggle was likely to end, not in the triumph either of absolutism, or of extreme democratical principles, but in a combination of the rights of the legitimate sovereign and a representative legislature. It was, indeed, a fortunate concurrence, when the rights of legitimacy were thus happily united with the liberties of the country in a common cause. With regard to the differences between the Sultan of Turkey and the Pacha of Egypt, or the
Eastern question as it was called, notwithstanding its very great importance, in which it yielded to none; yet, considering the state of the pending negotiations and the very imperfect information on the subject before their Lordships, he did not think that their Lordships could deem it a fit subject for discussion on the present occasion. He would, therefore, content himself with the expression of his confident hope that the same ability and judgment which had brought to a satisfactory termination other negotiations of the most intricate and delicate nature, and in which, conflicting interests—not less difficult to be reconciled, had been involved, would be equally successful in this important negotiation, and bring these important matters to that happy settlement which was contemplated in her Majesty’s Speech. The brilliant successes of the British arms in India could not fail to obtain the fullest expression of congratulation from their Lordships. Any thing that could be added in praise of the gallantry of our troops, or the military skill of those who led them, by so humble an individual as himself would be of as little value as it would be superfluous.
He could not, however, refrain from expressing his individual gratification, that this great success had been achieved under the administration of a noble Lord whom he had known from his youth, and for whom he entertained the highest esteem. He certainly could not pretend to possess sufficient knowledge of the complicated political interests of our Indian empire as to enable him fully to appreciate the various reasons which might have determined him (the Earl of Auckland) to undertake that great enterprise; but if, judging from the extensive scale of the operations, and the natural and necessary difficulties attending the march of a great army to a scene of action so remote, he had, at first, been startled at the hardihood of the undertaking; he should now feel only the more disposed to give full credit to those who, possessing better information were enabled more accurately to estimate the real extent of those difficulties, and who so provided against, and overcame them, as to have rendered an expedition, so formidable in contemplation, apparently so easy of execution, if measured only by the rapidity and the completeness of its success. As to the importance of the result of that success, he conceived also that there could be no dissentient voice. One most important result, whether considered
as affecting the immediate interest of our Indian empire, or as connected with our European foreign relations, had been already made apparent in the change that had come over the disposition of the court of Persia. There would also be little doubt, but that this signal proof of the greatness of our power, and the extent of our resources, and the irresistible superiority of our military skill, must, by its moral effect upon the minds of the other powers connected with our Indian empire, most essentially contribute to insure the tranquillity, and confirm the stability of our dominion. It was with very different feelings that he turned from this topic of unmixed gratification to the concluding paragraph of the Speech from the Throne.
It certainly must be impossible for their Lordships not to contemplate with great pain the severe distress that prevailed in many of the manufacturing districts, and it must also be a matter of the deepest concern to know, that in a district where no such distress seemed to have existed, where there was no want of employment, no deficiency of food, no substantial grievance, a spirit of insubordination should have prevailed among so large a portion of the population, and to such a degree as to render them liable to be practised upon by designing men, so as to lend themselves as their instruments in an outbreak so lawless and so violent as that which had lately taken place in Monmouthshire. On the other hand, however, he conceived that it could not fail to appear to their Lordships matter of congratulation that the vigilance and firmness of the chief magistrate, and the gallantry, judgment, and temper displayed by the troops and the officer in command, had been successful in so immediately and effectually repelling that attack. The complete discomfiture of the insurgents, notwithstanding their enormous superiority in numbers, also afforded a striking example of the inefficiency of mere physical force when opposed to military skill, and it might be hoped that this proof, not only of the hopelessness but of the danger attending such attempts, would operate as a salutary lesson on the minds of others who might be ambitious of standing forward, or who might be induced to become their dupes or their victims, in similar enterprises. If, however, this lesson should not be completely effectual, and if there should be a disposition to renew such attempts, of which there had, unfortunately, been indications,
still he trusted that there was no reason to doubt that the same watchfulness on the part of the magistracy and the civil power would be effectual in repressing such a disposition, or if it should be necessary to call out the military, he trusted that the same gallantry and good conduct on their part would prove equally successful, and that the confident reliance expressed by her Majesty in the good sense and right feeling of the country, and in the power of the law for the maintenance of order and the protection of property, would not be disappointed.
The Duke of Wellington said, that no noble Lord in that House concurred more sincerely than he did in the expression of congratulation to her Majesty upon the alliance which her Majesty had, for the second time, announced to the country that day. He agreed with the noble Mover and Seconder of the Address, in hoping that this event might tend to the happiness and comfort of the Queen. Upon this occasion he should have been contented with the Address, and should have offered no other word, if they had not been called upon in the Speech from the Throne to concur with the other House of Parliament in making provision for the Prince for whose future station in this country her Majesty’s Speech had prepared them. It appeared to him, that if that House were to be called upon to express an opinion upon a matter of this description, they ought to look into and act upon this subject. It ought not to be a mere congratulation; the public ought to know something beyond the name of the Prince. He had the honour of being summoned to attend her Majesty in Privy Council, when her Majesty in Council was graciously pleased to declare her intention of becoming the spouse of this Prince. He had heard, that the precedent of the reign of George 3rd was followed in all respects except one, and that was the declaration that this Prince was a Protestant. He entertained no doubt that the Prince was a Protestant. He was sure he was a Protestant. He knew he was of a Protestant family. He had the honour of being known to some members of that family, and he was sure that it was a Protestant family. But this was a Protestant State, and it was absolutely necessary to know, that a person who became the spouse of the Queen was a Protestant; and if the precedent of
George 3rd had been taken, it ought to have been followed throughout, and then the public would have had the satisfaction of knowing, that the fact of the Prince being a Protestant had been officially declared by her Majesty’s Government. He knew the anxiety of the public mind on this subject, and the noble Lords opposite also knew this, and knew well that they had it in their power to relieve that anxiety, and to gratify the public by making this declaration; nay, more, he was convinced, that the public, feeling the same anxiety about the Protestant character of the state that he did, would naturally infer why the precedent of George 3rd had been departed from.
Was there any doubt about the point? Not at all. The Prince was a Protestant. It could not be otherwise. He must be a Protestant. Why then was it not so stated? They had heard from other parts of these kingdoms something of this marriage. The marriage had been declared by her Majesty in Council, and he saw clearly why it was not declared in Council that the Prince was a Protestant. He had seen further proceedings on this subject since. He confessed he was one of those who read with great attention all that passed in that part of the world to which he had alluded, the different speeches, and all the public proceedings, and he did so for this reason—he had been accustomed to this sort of revolutionary discussion. And although, according to the sentiment expressed by a great French author, en plein jour, on ne conspire pas, still in that country (Ireland) these things were declared publicly, and therefore it was, that he read those publications and missives, in order to see what the real danger was, in the hope of being able to measure it accurately without allowing himself to be taken by surprise.
Then what he meant to say was this, that what passed there afforded a very suspicious reason why the word “Protestant,” had not been inserted in the communication made to the Privy Council, and why it had not been inserted in the Speech from the Throne. He would frankly tell the noble Lords opposite that he believed, that they were as much determined as he was to maintain the Protestantism of the State. He thought then, if that was the case, that upon the first occasion when this question came before them, and when the House of Lords was called upon to do any act, or to make any
declaration upon the subject beyond the mere congratulation of the Queen, they should take that course which should give her Majesty’s subjects the satisfaction of knowing, that Prince Albert was a Protestant Prince, thus showing the public, that this was still a Protestant state. He was the person who came forward, when silting on the other side of the House, to move the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts, and also the Act affecting Roman Catholics, with a view to admit Protestant Dissenters and Roman Catholics to all the privileges of the constitution, and to become part of this Protestant state; but he never intended, their Lordships never intended—the noble Lords opposite, every one of whom supported those measures, never intended otherwise than that this should be, and should continue to be, a Protestant state. Those measures had been passed by Parliament, but since then circumstances had materially altered in respect to the situation of the two classes into which the sister country was divided; but still, judging from all that passed, he believed it never was intended by any of the supporters of that measure, that this should be otherwise than a Protestant state, or that any thing should be done which could in the slightest degree endanger the existence of the Protestant faith.
The House of Lords could not omit that first opportunity on which they were called upon to pledge themselves, beyond mere congratulation on this marriage, to declare in such terms their opinion as should not leave the public in the smallest doubt of the Prince chosen by her Majesty being a Protestant Prince. When the measures to which he had alluded were passed, certain other measures were proposed as a security to this Protestant state, they were willing to admit Roman Catholics into the Protestant state, notwithstanding all the objections founded upon ancient laws that were urged against it; and they did admit all these persons as partakers of the benefits of the Protestant state, upon the security of oaths and other such securities, providing for the security of the state; but it never was intended, and for his own part he declared, that he was incapable of intending to do any thing that would materially affect the state. He therefore entreated their Lordships to satisfy the public upon this subject. His own impression was, indeed he could declare his
belief, that the Prince was of a Protestant family, and was a Protestant; but still if the precedent of George 3rd were not followed, the public would be disappointed in some respects. He found that George 3rd declared to the Privy Council that the princess he was about to espouse was a Protestant princess. He was married to her before Parliament met, and the circumstance of the princess being a Protestant was not mentioned again in the Speech from the Throne, but in the Address from the House of Commons an amendment was moved, by which the word “Protestant” was inserted, and the Address so amended was presented to the Throne. A similar course was not then thought necessary to be pursued in that House owing to the communication made to the Privy Council; but in an altered state of circumstances he thought their Lordships ought to adopt a similar measure now to that adopted by the other House of Parliament in the case of George 3rd. Although there were other topics in the Address to which he should undoubtedly, under other circumstances, wish to advert, yet on the present occasion he would be content with expressing his anxiety that their Lordships should adopt the amendment he would propose unanimously. The noble Duke concluded by moving, that the word “Protestant” be inserted before the word “Prince” in the first paragraph of the Address.
Viscount Melbourne—My Lords, from the commencement of the speech of the noble Duke, from the tone which he preserved throughout the greater part of it, and from the great forbearance with which the noble Duke concluded, I had hoped that we should come to an unanimous vote on this question without even the shadow of difference, if difference it can be called, which the noble Duke seems to think worth while and fitting and proper to raise upon the present occasion. That unanimity would certainly have been more desirable and more precious, and necessarily would have been more deeply felt by her Majesty and the whole country, because it would have been felt, that at a moment and a period when I am afraid it cannot be said to prevail in any degree upon other subjects, that notwithstanding the strong feelings which prevail, had this House for once wholly forgotten and put aside all party and political difference for the purpose of agreeing to and
concurring in an unanimous Address. I own I am sorry that this should be in any degree altered by the amendment which the noble Duke thinks it fitting and proper to move upon the present occasion. Unquestionably the noble Duke has introduced topics the most fitting of all others to create differences and dissensions, and bitterness, and irritation. The noble Duke has said, that we had, as of course we had, the precedent before us, of the declaration of George 3rd, to the Privy Council when we advised her Majesty to make the declarations she did make; and the noble Duke states that we did not follow that declaration, because the declaration of George the 3rd. states, that the Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg Strelitz was a Protestant Princess. In fact, however, that declaration did not state, that the Princess Charlotte was a Protestant Princess, but that she was descended from a long line of Protestant ancestors.
A person may be so descended and not be a Protestant. That declaration did not in fact state, that the Princess was a Protestant, and I say that it is utterly unnecessary, utterly superfluous—yes, entirely unnecessary and superfluous to state, that Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, with whom it is proposed to contract marriage, is a Protestant. It is required by the Act of Settlement that he should be a Protestant. Does the noble Duke suppose that we are going to advise her Majesty to violate and break through the Act of Settlement. In my opinion it is perfectly unnecessary to introduce those words, or any declaration stating that which is positively and decidedly demanded by the law as a condition of the possible legality, the constitutional legality of the union, namely, that the Prince with whom the marriage is about to be contracted is a Protestant. The noble Duke has said, that unquestionably the Prince is a Protestant. Why every man knows not only that he is a firm and decided Protestant himself, but also that he is descended from that which has been called emphatically the most Protestant family in Europe. It is to the eldest branch of his family that the Protestant religion owes its existence. The Prince is descended from that very elector whose name stands at the head of the Protest from which the name of Protestant is derived—that Elector whose name stands first in the Protest signed at Spires,
by six princes and fourteen cities against the decision of the Diet of Augsburg, which Protest was the foundation of Protestantism. Every one knows, that the Elector of Saxony lost his throne and electorate for his adherence to the Protestant religion. His brother also was a Protestant, and the defender of Luther, and by that very family the reformed religion was established and maintained at the period of the Reformation in Germany. Why, then, state, what it is perfectly unnecessary to state, that Prince Albert is a Protestant, and descended from a Protestant family? and really, I ask noble Lords, what can be the use or advantage of this amendment, except to throw doubt on the subject?
If anything is calculated to dissatisfy the mind of the country, it is the amendment proposed by the noble Duke. The Prince will not be more nor less a Protestant because we declare him to be a Protestant. If he declares himself a Protestant, as he is quite ready to do at any moment, that is something; or if those who have been perfectly well acquainted with him declare him a Protestant that is something; but, if we make that declaration, what certainty or satisfaction can that be to anybody. If the slightest suspicion or doubt has been entertained before, what advantage will be gained by our statement that he is a Protestant? The only effect of the amendment will be, to introduce doubt where there is none, and to introduce dispute and dissension where there ought to be nothing but agreement and unanimity, and to give countenance to a cry that, I believe, has been attempted to be raised upon this subject in the country, and to sanction the cry upon the part of that House and of the noble Duke opposite. Whether the word be inserted or not, is perfectly immaterial. It neither makes the Prince more or less a Protestant. We cannot affect his religion by its insertion. The noble Duke knows he is a Protestant, all England knows he is a Protestant, the whole world knows he is a Protestant, and for my own part, therefore, I consider it perfectly unnecessary to introduce the word proposed by the noble Duke.
The Earl of Winchilsea said, that there could not he a more convincing proof of the necessity of this amendment than the speech which had been delivered by the noble Viscount The noble Viscount stated
that he saw no necessity for the insertion of the word “Protestant.” He asked the noble Viscount and those around him, whether, when they relieved the Roman Catholics from the disabilities under which they laboured, securities were not taken that the state should remain a Protestant State? He asked the noble Viscount whether the Sovereign had been relieved from the necessity which was imposed upon the family when it came to the throne, of allying himself or herself with a Protestant spouse. The noble Viscount had stated, that it did not follow, because the family of a person was Protestant, that, therefore, he should be a Protestant. Why, therefore, he contended it was the more necessary to have the matter set at rest.
He firmly and sincerely believed that the illustrious Prince, upon whom our Sovereign had placed her affections—and might God prosper their marriage, which no man more devoutly or sincerely wished than himself—was a Protestant; but still he maintained that it was absolutely necessary, for the tranquillisation of the public feeling, that this word should be inserted. The noble Viscount stated, that the electoral family from which the Prince was descended was essentially a Protestant family. True, at the period of history to which the noble Viscount referred, the family was most decidedly a Protestant family. But bad no change taken place in that very family which called more imperiously for the insertion of this very word? Were there not near and dear connections of the family who had become Roman Catholics? Did not one individual, he would not say it was not from conviction, change his religion and cease to be a Protestant? It was a notorious and well-known fact, if they cast their eyes to Portugal, that the Husband of the Queen, a first cousin of this very prince, was an avowed Roman Catholic.
He contended that the declaration that the proposed husband of the Queen was a Protestant was absolutely required by the great majority of the Protestant part of the community. He believed it to be quite true that the word ”Protestant” had been left out to satisfy a certain body of men. He heartily supported the amendment, and he was sure that it was one which would give offence neither to the Sovereign nor to the illustrious individual mentioned in the Address. He should be sorry that there should be any additional rankling in the minds or feelings of the people. If the people were satisfied that
the power already conceded by their Lordships to the Roman Catholics of this country would be exercised for the destruction of the Protestant character of the country, then he maintained, that they would for ever rue the day when they attempted to exercise that power for such a purpose; as the moment they declared that to be the object for which such power was to be exercised, from that moment all power with them would cease. No man more anxiously wished for unanimity upon the present occasion than he did; but there were topics in the Speech from the Throne which he could not pass over without notice. He could not look upon the internal state of the country without feelings of alarm and fear. He firmly believed, that the country was in a most fearful state. He believed they were upon the very brink of one of the most awful convulsions that had ever taken place. What had brought the country into this state? He thought that the present situation of the country might be traced to the passions that had been excited by those who had made the lower orders the instruments to forward their own political views. They had raised a storm which they could neither control nor direct, and that was the storm that was now bursting over the country, and God only knew how it would end. If the noble Viscount were determined to perform that duty which he owed to his Sovereign, he never would have countenanced the introduction to that Sovereign, of an individual whose principles were subversive not merely of Protestantism, but every principle on which morality, religion, and social order, were founded; and subversive, too, of all principles.
This was the first opportunity which he had of expressing his indignation (to use no stronger term) upon this subject. He did not know how the noble Viscount could feel justified in having tainted the approach to the Throne by introducing to their pure and virtuous Sovereign one of the most unprincipled individuals that ever existed. He was not in this country when the noble Viscount introduced this person to the Sovereign; but if it were true, then the noble Viscount had introduced one whose principles struck at the principles of morality, and of religion, and at all those principles, too, which had been enacted for the welfare and guidance of man. He would bring this question before their Lordships at a future time, and make a distinct motion for a vote of censure upon the noble Viscount, and take the sense of the House upon it.
The Earl Fitzwilliam observed, that from the tenor of the speech made by his noble kinsman (Earl of Winchilsea) it was plain that his noble kinsman believed that they were upon the eve of a dreadful convulsion. His noble kinsman, then, most deeply impressed with the awful situation in which he was, must wish to lay a little tranquillising oil upon those rising waves, with which he saw them all invested; but whether his noble kinsman had made a speech calculated to effect any such object he left to their Lordships’ judgment, and his noble kinsman’s own decision in his somewhat calmer moments. It seemed, according to his noble kinsman, that the Government was sanctioning principles subversive of all morality—subversive of all religion; and his noble kinsman went even a little further, and said that they were sanctioning principles which were subversive of all principle. Undoubtedly, a principle subversive of all principles was hitherto a great curiosity in philosophy.
The Earl of Winchilsea—No, no; I said principles subversive of all religion, and subversive of all morality.
The Earl Fitzwilliam—He had not the slightest doubt, it was that which his noble kinsman had intended to say; but then he did actually say principles subversive of all morality, and of all religion, and he then added of all principles. He was inclined to think, that if they were to carry their views beyond the walls of that House, he was sure that it would be found that a very large portion of the people would be disposed to feel very little interest in the decision of the question, whether the word “Protestant” was originally introduced, or whether the Address should now be left without it. Whether the word “Protestant” was or was not there was a matter that seemed to him (who was as sincere a Protestant as his noble kinsman) of very trifling importance; but then he did think that it was a matter of no trifling importance that their Lordships’ attention—the attention of a body of men, who, perhaps, were not in the habit of turning their attention and thoughts to such subjects—should be turned to the subject alluded to in the latter part of her Majesty’s Speech, He thought that his noble Friends were deserving of the gratitude of the country, because they had turned their Lordships’ attention to the distresses under which the country was now labouring. He believed that it was impossible to exaggerate those distresses. Having been long acquainted with the
state of the country, and, from the situation in which he was placed, having his attention attracted to the multifarious commercial interests of this country, he would say, that he never had seen them, at any period, in equal distress to that existing at the present moment. The events of the years 1825 and 1826 had very possibly made more impression on the public mind, and might, too, have called forth more of the public observation, from the destruction of so many banks, and the ruin of credit—the manner in which those things had been openly displayed, might, too, have made a still greater impression upon those in their Lordships’ situation in life; but, he believed, that if their Lordships inquired—if they investigated, they would find, that the difficulties of that period, great, alarming, and destructive, as they were, yet were nut equal to those under which the commercial interests of the country were now labouring.
Their Lordships’ habits of thinking—the sort of independence they enjoyed from all these storms and all these under-currents, might make them possibly little aware of those distresses, which men engaged in commerce, and conversant with manufactures and the various interests connected with them, were now suffering. He rejoiced that his noble Friends had not shrunk from adverting to this subject: he thought them entitled to the gratitude of the country for turning their Lordships’ attention to the situation that was then before them. He trusted, that this invitation to their Lordships to think on those calamities would be a prelude to an investigation into the causes that led to them, If he were of opinion that these causes were above the power of human wisdom, and above the power of human prudence, or above the power of the Government and the Legislature to treat upon them, then he might pass over such a subject in painful silence; but he believed that this was not the case. He believed that the calamities now endured might be traced to their sources; and he believed that the inquiry might be made, and the investigation conducted, not only without adding to these distresses, but with a certainty of devising the means, if not of entirely removing, at least of alleviating those distresses. It was, for this reason, that he called their Lordships’ attention to that part of the Speech which referred to commercial distress; and he did so, with out expressing any opinion of his own upon it. He satisfied his own mind in calling
their attention, and that of others to the matter, and would impress upon his noble Friends who conducted the affairs of this country, that if they felt it to be their duty to advert to “the distress” now existing, it was still a greater duty imposed upon them to ascertain its causes, and that they will not fulfil that duty which they had so well begun, if they did not invite their Lordships’ attention still further to this subject, and urge upon their Lordships that investigation which would bring them to understand the causes that had led to this distress.
Lord Brougham—At no former time have I ever felt so reluctant to intrude myself upon your Lordships’ attention as on the present occasion, and if I could feel it at all consistent with my public duty to withhold myself from the discussion, I would with pleasure do so, because I never had a greater desire to avoid it; but with the views I entertain of the present alarming state of the country, although, my Lords, I am not so accessible, generally speaking, as many—not so accessible as many to political fear—yet with the great anxiety which has been impressed on my mind by all I have heard and read, and believing as I do, that there is a very widely spread and diffused distress; also from other symptoms and indications of what I consider worse evils, I feel that I would not be discharging my duty to the public—my painful duty—if I did not address some observations to your Lordships—however painful—and the more so because from the general arrangements of the House, if the first night of the Session is allowed to pass without some notice being taken of the state of the country, or any other topic included in the Speech, practically they are left over till after Easter.
I feel that I would be deserting my public duty, did I not take this opportunity of addressing your Lordships, very shortly, upon the subjects introduced into the Speech, and upon the urgent and important subject I have alluded to. It is characteristic my Lords of a free state, that the duties of a loyal subject and of a good citizen, are not only not incompatible, but consentaneous. I think I discharge both, and I therefore discharge both with cheerfulness, by joining in the congratulations of the noble Duke opposite, and of my noble Friend near me, on the auspicious event which was first announced in the
Address. The same duly of a loyal subject and of a good citizen, will also be best discharged by me, if, in adverting to the call upon the liberality of Parliament, which followed that important and happy announcement, I mean the adequate provision for the consort of her Majesty—I say, that I shall fully discharge my duty, not more as a good citizen of the country, than as a loyal subject to the Queen, if I express my earnest hope, that we may not be doomed to see on this, as on former occasions, an indecent and unfeeling race run between conflicting parties, at the expense of the interests of a suffering people, for the purpose of paying court in the highest quarters. I know well, that in those quarters, such court will be viewed in the light that it merits. With a suffering people—with a people in a state of distress described by my noble Friend, and which cannot be exaggerated—with a people torn by factions—with a people divided by mutual animosities—as to the subject, and the actors on the scene, I dare not trust myself in describing them; but with a people full of discontent, and afflicted with distresses such as we know they are now suffering under—with falling wages, rising prices, and diminished profits—with the country in such a state, to propose any provision beyond what is required by the absolute necessity of the case, would, in my deliberate and conscientious opinion, be a breach of all the duties which either the Government or the Parliament owes to the people; and, above all, it would betoken a criminal indifference to the best interests of the State—to the character of the Legislature, and the stability of the Throne itself. I pass over willingly the other topics connected with the royal marriage.
I bestow no attention upon the omission of the word “Protestant” in the royal declaration to the council, or the insertion of the word “Protestant” in the Address; and I am astonished, that we should have been discussing for half an hour whether we put in or keep out the word. Good God! if any one were to hear that this House was so long engaged upon such a matter, he must think, that we had to administer in all ease and in all tranquillity, the affairs of a happy and of a united people! Why the word was left out in the declaration, I for one shall not stop to inquire; but if the noble Duke supposes that, possibly, it was to pay
court to quarters to which his allusions were not very dark or very remote, I must tell him that those quarters must have changed very much of late if they rest satisfied with that concession, nor are they to be satiated or contented by any such omission, or to be very much thwarted in their views, or greatly disappointed by any insertion of the word. Whether my noble Friend thinks it worth his while to dispute with the noble Duke as to the word, I cannot say. Its insertion, I admit, is superfluous; although I cannot help observing, that my noble Friend who moved the Address, made it one of the topics of his congratulation to your Lordships, that her Majesty was about to ally herself to a Protestant consort; and which, my Lords, was hardly a subject of congratulation, as from the state of the law it could not be otherwise. I may remark, that my noble Friend (Viscount Melbourne) was mistaken as to the law. There is no prohibition as to marriage with a Catholic; it is only attended with a penalty, and that penalty is merely the forfeiture of the Crown. Is it then becoming a grave legislative proceeding, that those who take part in it, should congratulate themselves that there is no intention on the part of her Majesty to forfeit the Crown; and yet that seems to be the sum and substance of the insertion of this word in the Address.
Passing from that, I go to a subject which is forced upon me, as it is a subject bearing upon the differences between Catholics and Protestants—I mean the state of Ireland. We are told of the tranquillity of that country; we are told, that it is unbroken and unprecedented, and then we have the municipal corporations again recommended as the panacea for all the evils of Ireland. It is now fifteen years since the affairs of Ireland were amply discussed on an important occasion in both Houses of Parliament, but chiefly in the other House, and then there were other means stated for the tranquillization of Ireland, and for the better government of that part of the United Kingdom. I have more than once reverted to those means—I know that they have occupied the attention of many of your Lordships. I doubt if any one has had the honour of serving the Crown at any time during the last twenty years, without having had his attention so occupied, I am firmly persuaded, and it is
one of the most settled convictions of my mind, which every day’s experience and observation strengthen more and more, that to apply the axe to the root of all the great evils that afflict that country and involve it in distress—to destroy the seed and the series of crops of perpetually renewing and everlastingly growing discord—to take away that influence, which, with safety to the State, cannot be allowed to remain—to lay the foundations broad and deep of lasting tranquillity for the Irish people—to consult the best interests of the State and of the Church—the permanency of religion, as of morality among the people—the one thing needful is—and it is the bounden duty of the lawgiver to discover how that one thing needful best can be given—that one thing needful—is upon just, moderate, and well considered principles, and with well-contrived machinery, to give a due but fixed legal provision to the clergy who administer to the spiritual wants of the Irish people.
All that has passed since 1823, has convinced me, that in this opinion I am perfectly correct. I heartily agree with the Address in its congratulations to the Crown, upon the brilliant successes that have attended the expedition to the westward of the Indus. No rewards can, in my opinion, be too great for the military deserts of those who took part in that expedition. I must, however, still pause, and have a little more ample information—perhaps I must wait a little until I see the progress of events—before I subscribe to the opinions that have been adopted in this Address. The change in the Cabool dynasty was effected by the operations of a military force; but was the policy that dictated the employment of that force, such as to merit the approval of Parliament, and such as promises to serve the British interests In Asia.
When I shall have seen a renewal of our alliance with Persia, our natural friend and ally, and the best security for the British power on the north-western frontier—when I see the wisdom of acting hostilely towards Persia, and of resting on the Afghanistan influence—when I see the wisdom of thus acting towards Persia, which the best instructed statesmen have always looked to as a defence against invasion from the north, and from the Affghauns themselves, and that they have declared, that our peace and security were derived from their disagreements
among themselves—and when I shall find, that the company with a very reduced income, have sufficient means to maintain a large military force miles and miles beyond our own territory, to the north-west of the Indus—and shall be convinced with resources that are diminishing, enormous new and great expenses can be maintained—then, but not before, shall I feel myself justified in joining in the congratulations on the success of our military movements, and on the policy in which the employment of that military force originated.
And now having gone shortly over the prominent topics of the Speech, I must turn to state the views which I am reluctantly compelled to advance, as to the present condition of our domestic peace, and our internal concerns, and to what extent there are, in my opinion, great and serious apprehensions to be entertained. I know well, that the late disturbances have aroused anxiety on the part of all statesmen. I know, that outbreaks have taken place; that violence has prevailed; that meetings—midnight meetings—have been held; that there have been associations more or less contrary to the law; that there have been confederacies and armed conspiracies; that there have been extensive correspondence, and sometimes organizations, followed by breaches of the peace; that in some of the northern towns there have been acts on the part of persons, which the judges have defined as high treason —I know, that all these are, by more careless observers, regarded as mere events and facts; and they are so looked upon by those who are sometimes more alarmed by facts than they ought to be, and who at others are more easily calmed and tranquillized than they should be, when outrages are suppressed either by the force of the law, the vigour of the magistrates, or the good behaviour of the troops.
I do not regard them as ultimate events at all. As such I might deplore them; but I should not be alarmed about them at all, because I should trust in the power of the law to suppress them. But this is not the case at present. If put down here, they will break out elsewhere, as it has so happened within the last forty-eight hours; nay, if the efforts of the law should have put down those outrages—if they had reduced all to an apparent tranquillity—yet, with the views that I have upon this subject, and with the knowledge that I think I
possess of the condition of the people, I should look upon the calm as deceitful, and I should look upon the lull as a false, and not a real tranquillity; and still, I should revert to those eruptions, knowing something of their causes, as a subject of the greatest interest. Knowing those mischiefs existed, and knowing those discontents prevailed, I should revert to the words of one of the wisest men—I mean Lord Bacon—who, dealing with a matter of the same kind, said, “Beware if you have to probe popular discontents, and find that they are deep-seated and wide-spreading—beware how you drive back the humours—for they will then only cause the wound to bleed inwards.” That is my opinion of the present condition of this country, and I am now about to stale its causes, and their apparent remedy.
First there is one mischief, and I say it is not a sudden one; but it is gradual, and great, and widely-extended mischief—a change that has taken place, I will not say, yesterday, or of late years, but that has been going on year after year, until, at length, it shows a total change in the habits and disposition of the people of this country. The change is this; formerly the people of England used to have confidence in certain leaders, and willingly marshalled themselves under the guidance of men known from their rank, their fortune, their hereditary claims lo popular respect, and from their public virtues. The more distinguished of our countrymen used aforetime to command the respect, and to have the confidence, and to be attended by the following of their fellow-citizens. That is now entirely changed; it is gone. I do not mean to say, that as relates to this or that borough or to these or those corporations which have been lately called into existence, or to this or that magistrate, those who have the Home Department, meaning those who preside generally over the domestic peace of the country—will, if they be content to rest satisfied with the assurances of self-important and complacent corporators—all the more self-important and complacent, that their self-importance is fostered by daily communications with men in office—if they be content with hearing from such persons, “Oh, you have the confidence of this borough, you are adored in that part of the country; you are highly esteemed by such and such a party, and in such and such a place you would
carry everything before you, if there were a dissolution to-morrow.” I will not say, that they will not receive an abundance of such assurances. If they are satisfied with that, let them have it and welcome, and make the most of it; while, throughout the country, with the exception of a few cases, where natural influence still survives, the masses of the people may be in all but rebellion—not rebellion against those that govern, not taking part with one or another faction in Parliament, not anxious for the removal of one Ministry, and the placing of another—but marshalled in distrust and hostility—marshalled, combined, banded in a deep-rooted and habitual distrust of all politicians, of all Ministries, and of all men in power.
My Lords, I am very far from holding the doctrine, that it is a wholesome state for a people to be in not to think for themselves, and to have others make their opinions for them. On the contrary, my opinion is, that it is the bounden duty of all rational men, by those means of information and thinking, which they may have, moderate, little, or extended, according to the measure of those means, to think and inquire for themselves, and to come to their own opinions on subjects relating to their own affairs; for the worst crime that every party or faction was charged with is this—that it tends to make men take their opinions not from their own inquiries, or the results of their own reason, but from partisans, or princes, or priests—I care not which; for, so long as they do this, it is no exaggeration of Dean Swift to pronounce party “the madness of the many for the gain of the few.” Therefore, let no man believe, that I am now lamenting or complaining because the people think more than they did for themselves; but it is the most consistent, sound, and rational result, the proper and legitimate fruit of thinking rationally and soberly for themselves, that they should act under their natural leaders—that they should know in whom they might dare to confide, and that they should confide in those whom they could trust. Else they act without concert—else they act wildly, without bringing their force under the influence of guidance in any given direction, or accomplishing any useful purpose. It is not the least bad effect that it makes all efforts to influence and guide such people of none effect. But it does not at all follow that,
acting under obscure leaders, or under no leader at all, they may not be the dupes of knaves, of designing knaves, and factious and unprincipled agitators. On the contrary, if legitimate influence be removed, it gives place to the worst influence, the consequence of which is such as we have all now to lament, in the late proceedings in South Wales and elsewhere. And here, I must say, that the crimes which have been so committed I have been astonished to find palliated as political offences, and, therefore, not subjects of detestation and abhorrence. This is said of a crime which, not only technically speaking, is the highest crime known to the law, but is morally and substantially speaking the worst of all crimes, because there is hardly any other crime which it does not lead to and involve. Pillage, alarm, insecurity of property, insecurity of the, destruction of life, nay, wholesale massacre, are included in the idea of civil war, the worst form in which war can appear, and all are necessarily involved in the crime of treason. It is all the worse, it is all the more punishable, it is all the more to be detested, and the more severely to be visited, because it has for its characteristic what no other crime has—for whereas all other offences are worse and more aggravated as they are successful, but lighter if they happen to fail —the crime of treason secures impunity if it can but accomplish its object, and obtain success. How, then, can it be asked, “Why punish men for conspiring to subvert the state, for conspiring and compassing merely,” as I have of late been astonished to hear of at public meetings, among the guides of the people, the false guides.
Why, they must be punished for compassing and attempting only, to be sure, because if the attempt were successful the criminal would have been the ruler, and could not have been punished. Therefore, the law holds it to be the heaviest and most grievous offence. Whatever leads to it is a no less grievous offence. Whoever, in Yorkshire or Wales, shall assemble a meeting so numerous that no discussion can take place, shall congregate masses, whose very force is sufficient to show that it is not to debate but to break the peace that they are got together; and whoever, having so assembled such masses, shall proceed to scatter among such combustibles the flakes of seditious harangues; whoever shall teach
them to look to any quarter but to the Legislature for a redress of their grievances, or for an alteration in the established institutions of the country, in Church or State; whoever, whether in the West Riding of Yorkshire or South Wales, shall hold this most seditious—I had almost called it most treasonable—doctrine, that if the Sovereign dare to change her counsels there would be an end of the peace of the country, and there should be an end to the allegiance of the people, and that recourse must be had to other means—whoever holds that language in his addresses to those meetings, is the proximate and not the remote cause of the breach of the peace that may follow, in Yorkshire or in Wales, though he may withdraw himself from the combat which he has excited, and keep himself safe from the perils into which he has cheated, duped, seduced, or driven his followers. That person has the blood that is so shed on his head, even though, from some unaccountable reason, he may evade the penalties of the law.
With regard to the offenders who have not so escaped, I hope and trust that as justice has been administered towards them on its true principles, with the utmost learning, with the greatest industry, with the most patient attention, with the utmost temperance, decorum, and even suavity towards the unhappy criminals—that so now, when it has left the hands of the judge, it may still be administered in the same merciful and humane spirit; and that after the blood that has been shed, whatever secondary punishments may be deemed proper for the heavy guilt of the offenders, may be all that the offended majesty of the law will require. But I must say, that if there be others, who have done what I have before described as the proximate cause of rebellion, it must appear strange that while to one set of men the gibbet should be given, another set of men, sharing the same guilt, should receive, not the gibbet, but the patronage of the Crown. Distinctions, indeed, might be easily found between the two classes of men, though hardly of a kind to explain the difference of treatment they have experienced. For instance, I have not heard that any of these men in Wales have been accustomed to play alternately the part of a slanderer and a sycophant—one day pouring forth the venom of their foul defamation, and another pouring forth the more nauseous
slaver of their coarse, overdone, fulsome, and offensive adulation. Another difference may be marked between the two sets of men. You may not find amongst the Welshmen exhortations to raise fiery attacks on all respectable men, all venerable institutions, or incentives flung about among the combustible matter to make them kindle and blaze, followed by such admonitions as “Pray do nothing against the public peace;” “Pray be quiet, however;” any more than you may find those same honest Welshmen throwing oil on the flame, and beseeching it not to burn, or scattering firebrands among gun powder, and begging of it not to explode.
They have less confidence in being able to dupe their followers; they address themselves to a people incapable of being deluded by such stuff—they are too honest to deal in such gross and scandalous falsehoods. There is another circumstance of difference which certainly distinguishes them. I am not aware that, bad as the Welch and Yorkshire proceedings have been—highly injudicious in their origin—leading to acts of treason —tending, no doubt, to breaches of the peace and to rebellion against the Government—bad as they have been, highly to be reprobated—detestable acts worthy of all punishment, which mercy tempering justice would allow—at least they don’t seem to have had any sordid end in view. They don’t seem to have had a design of raising a cry in order to enable the perpetrator of the sedition, also to perpetrate an inroad on the exhausted resources of their famished followers. No such sordid views (and it. is almost the only merit that their proceedings can be said to have), no such base, mean, sordid views appear to have been the motives of those proceedings against the peace.
Those three circumstances which I have mentioned, no doubt, distinguish the one class from the other; but how far they afford a reason for the totally opposite course, which has been pursued towards the followers of sedition in two different parts of the empire, I leave to your Lordships’ penetration and calm reflection to decide. Nevertheless, that this outbreak, that this sedition, that this excitement to tumult could never have been resorted to, and much more, never could have been successful, if there had not been in the body of the people an aptitude for receiving the delusion and excitement, and to break out into discord, I hold is perfectly self-evident,
and to be one of the most melancholy circumstances which distinguishes the present day. But, my Lords, this is not all. I observe now, for the first time, a universal alienation of one great class of the community from all that stands above it. The great labouring population of the country are no longer knit in the bonds even of amity—even of neutrality with the other classes. Wild doctrines have been spread—doctrines that go to the root of all property—not of this or that government, or this or that form of polity, but which sap the foundations of civil society itself. Those doctrines go to the root of property, the foundation and corner-stone on which society is built; nay, which may be almost considered the distinguishing difference between the civilized and savage state—if it be not the distinction, the main distinction, between our species and the lower tribes of animated nature.
The right of property is denied. The propriety of unfixing all rules and titles is freely discussed, and this is addressed to thousands, hundreds of thousands of people; but I would fain believe, not yet with anything like considerable success. But whatever success has attended these efforts, though I believe that such wild doctrines, the products of bewildered imaginations and troubled spirits, have not very greatly spread, notwithstanding the activity with which they have been disseminated—but whatever success may have attended them. I believe has been greatly owing to that distinction which divides the great body of the people of this country from all classes of their fellow citizens, who are ever so little removed from them—I mean the division which separates the unrepresented, from the represented portion of the people of this country. My Lords, of this there are manifest and plain symptoms in the late proceedings. You can never keep society together by main force—you cannot keep society bound in one consistent mass by the vigour of magistrates, or the good behaviour of troops. Even if you could be constantly applying such means to a body of which every one part is disunited in itself, and the great mass of which, is constantly and perpetually at war with a smaller portion, it is as utterly impossible as it is to mix fire and water in the same mass. It is contrary to the nature of things—it is contrary to the nature of man—it is
contrary to the whole nature of human society, which stands on this law, that force, direct force, may correct trifling mischiefs; but it is by kindness and conciliation that reasonable men can be moved—by treating them as reasonable, that you can alone secure a constant and permanent tranquillity. Perhaps your Lordships may ask me why I dwell on these topics, which don’t excite much interest in this House. No doubt they have nothing to do with the displacing of one government or the making of another; they have no personal reference any more than they have a party bearing.
Yet they are all that on which a government must act if it means to deserve the name of a government—it is that on which all governments must proceed—first in inquiring into them, and then acting on them — Altius his nihil est: hæc sunt fastigia mundi: Publica natureæ domus his contenta tenetur Foribus. They are the very limits, the bonds, the conditions, the foundations, the essence of all the principles of our social system. Therefore, my Lords, I make no further apology for pursuing what I was about to state to your Lordships, or why I dwell upon this, and make apparently, as some of you may think, a theoretical and speculative, but, as I say, in the present state of this country, most strictly practicable use of the subject; and therefore it is, that I proceed to show, why it is, that I think this great severance has taken place, and the symptoms and indications in the consequences and effect of its present state. First, I go at once to the existence of Chartism. The Chartists are by no means, in point of numbers, so contemptible a body as many are pleased to suppose. Your Lordships would commit a grievous error if you supposed any such thing. They look fewer than they are, because they have no leaders in whom they have great confidence. A great number are prepared—are all but disciplined, are bound and united together, and are ready enough to show their numerical force, had they but leaders whom they could trust to march with them. But I come to another fact which shows the discrepancy of the two classes, and I know this from those whose business it is to understand it. Was there ever a time, till within the last two or three years, when a seditious or other political
offence was prosecuted—that the Government could quite safely trust a common jury—a jury of tradesmen and shopkeepers. No such thing. The rule was never to think of it—acquittal would be certain—and a special jury was always had. Nay, as my noble and learned Friend opposite knows, they would not even pray a tales; but now ask any man in Westminster-hall to-morrow, and I will be bound the answer will be, that you would get a conviction of a common person for a seditious and political offence, by any common jury you can put into the box. Now that most undoubtedly, is a very great change, and it betokens a very considerable difference between the common masses of the people as they are now, and the shopkeepers—those a little above them, the proprietary class, even down to the most humble of that proprietary class—very different, indeed, from any thing that existed at a former period. But I come next, and last, to by far the most flagrant proof of this total difference which separates the various classes of the community—I come at once to the Corn-law. I venture to say, that if there is any one subject in which the interest of ail classes are united—your Lordships may think the interests of the landlord are pre-eminent, and I know, that most of you think the interests of all classes are in favour of the Corn-law—but I am taking the interests of all classes, exclusive of the landlords, and these are supposed to be, I think rightly supposed to be, the interests of all classes, the numerous class of labourers, as well as the classes of proprietors, capitalists, and others are supposed to be universally the same, and their opinion, rightly, as I suppose, is against those laws, and in favour of the repeal. But it is quite immaterial to me whether I am right or wrong, for at all events no man can doubt, that all those classes firmly believe their interests are contrary to the Corn-laws, and in favour of the repeal, and my noble Friend opposite (Earl Stanhope) would make the greatest mistake that he ever committed in his life, if he were for a moment to fancy that, in consequence of what had taken place at some public meetings, the great bulk of the people agree with him, and differ with me, on the subject of the Corn-laws. They know full well their interest is against the Corn-laws—they have declared it again and aeain—they declare it to this House
as often as they have a fair opportunity of doing so; but they are firmly resolved, notwithstanding their desire to effect a repeal, notwithstanding their conviction that it is for their better interests to abolish those laws; notwithstanding they are anxious to see the end of them, they declare and they act upon the supposition, that it is not their interest, and would not be their pleasure, to join with the superior classes of their fellow-citizens in any such project of improvement. The consequence of that is, that upon a question involving the interests of the whole population of the country, you dare not in the great towns call a public meeting, because you are sure that public meeting would decide against those who called it. Not, as my noble Friend (Earl Stanhope) may be well aware, on the merits of the question—I know their reasons—I know they hold the same opinion against the Corn-laws as the middle-classes—they were not taken in by the foolish speeches made by some Manchester men some years ago, in which they said, as if they had been determined to alienate from themselves the labourers of the country, that the consequences of repealing the Corn-laws would be to lower the price of wages—they have not been taken in by that.
First, because they doubt whether it would lower wages, and next, because if it did take a little away it would bring it home to them in another direction, and that they would gain a great deal more by lowering the price of food than they would lose by the lowering of their wages. But these men are not to be taken in by the nonsense that is talked in some quarters, any more than that the alliance is to be rejected, as I have heard, on the question of the Corn-laws or on account of extreme violence of language they are said to have used in discussion on the Charter itself. I have heard that the shopkeepers look down upon them with a degree of aristocratic pride wholly unknown in this House, and in the other legitimate haunts of patricians—any thing more unmitigated, more unbroken, or more proud and somewhat intolerant, and perhaps unbearable than the aristocracy of the inferior classes of men towards those who are yet their inferiors, I believe can hardly be exaggerated. Don’t believe what they tell you when they say they did not wish for their alliance on account of the extreme violence to which they had recourse. Why no Chartist ever made
half so violent a speech since the Charter was first drawn up and first talked of, as was made at the Manchester meeting of the “capitalocracy”—that particular description of the aristocracy of the shopkeepers at Manchester, the other day, when your Lordships were described as dishonest men because you maintained your opinion in favour of the Corn-law—when being for or against them was laid down as the test of common honesty—ay, and when every landlord for abiding by the law, and using his property as be chose, was openly, and amidst the applause of thousands, denominated a robber. I never heard such violent language as that at any of the Chartist meetings, or even at their own convention in Palaceyard. Now, my Lords, no public meeting can be held in London, in Southwark, or in Westminster.
In Edinburgh it has been attempted, and signally failed. In Nottingham and other places also attempted, and signally failed. But in this immense metropolis, with 1,500,000 inhabitants, who of all others have the greatest interest, and who, from personal intercourse with them, I know of all others have the strongest opinions and the warmest feelings against the Corn-laws, no man dare summon a meeting to petition or to resolve for a repeal of the Corn-laws. It is ascertained the cause of that is, that the people consider it is not their interest to co-operate in any degree or to any extent whatever with other classes above them, between whom and them there is now so wide a separation. Their mode of reasoning is this—we stood by you in 1831 to obtain Parliamentary Reform, you obtained the franchise for yourselves, but you left us out, and we are as much misrepresented as before.
My Lords, that brings me at once to what I think is the cause of all this, and I rejoice (and of course your Lordships still more rejoice), that I am approaching to the end of what I deem to be a necessary and indispensable, though certainly a most painful duty. The great body of the people of England are excluded, and they know and feel that they are excluded from the political privileges of the constitution. They deny the doctrine of virtual representation altogether. If the workman has no vote himself he holds that it is an insult, and not an argument, when you bid him look to the vote of his master. His master! That is the very man,
perhaps, that he is pitted against, and whom he wishes to vote against had he the franchise himself. He holds himself excluded by the vote being withheld, and le holds himself insulted by the mockery if the argument of his being virtually represented. He says, that to be represented by another, whom he has no fellow-feeling with, is not being represented, but that it is being misrepresented. He holds that he were better left without the vote of the other, without the virtual representation, if he is to have no direct and substantive vote.
That is the condition of the great body of English people—it is the condition of ninety-nine in one hundred of the inhabitants of this country—it is the condition of all the most industrious, the most virtuous, the most skilful workman —it is the condition of almost all the artizans of the country—those whose ingenuity, as well as hard labour, are the very causes of the prosperity of England—it is the condition of nine in ten of the literary men in this country, men of science, lovers of arts, those men who carry the name with the wealth of this country all over the world to universal acceptation—it is the condition of all those labouring, industrious, ingenious classes, that a broad and impassable line is drawn between them and the Constitution, and that they are outlaws and outcasts from the Constitution. Then the question is, how long is this to be endured by them? And are they patiently to sit down under this exclusion? Are they to hug these chains as they deem them to be?
And if men are excluded from that which they wish to enjoy, it is the consequence, the very nature of man, greatly to overvalue that which you withhold from them, and you enhance prodigiously and incalculably the value of it in their eyes. Then the common answer is, Oh, but you are not sufficiently educated, and the reply to that answer, when used by a very liberal person, a M. P., among his constituents the other day, in Yorkshire, appeared to me very applicable. The Member said to his constituents, “I am extremely desirous you should have the Elective Franchise, provided you are sufficiently instructed to use it.” “Then,” said the constituent to the Member, “Why did you vote for 30,000l. only for a grant for education the other day? See what are you now alleging? Yon don’t educate me, and then you make
your own withholding of education from me a ground for refusing me the Elective Franchise.” Therefore it will be seen at once that such argument as that was utterly intolerable and ought not to be used. The time, if not come, is fast approaching when you will find it hope less to use such an argument. The time will come when it will be no longer practicable to keep to that line which you have thought fit to draw, and to exclude the whole bulk of the labouring people of this country from the enjoyment of what they feel to be the most valuable rights under the Constitution.
If a contrary course were adopted—if, instead of the exclusive system now adopted, you were to confide in the good sense of your fellow-countrymen, and under judicious regulations, adopting such tests independent of property, as might give you the best security for the Elective Franchise being honestly and wisely used—if, following that sacred principle of our Constitution, which holds that no man ought to be taxed who is not represented, and that no man ought lo be called upon to obey laws which he had no hand, directly or indirectly in making—if, following that principle, and working it out, you were to throw open the door wider than it now is of our political constitution, extend the portals still farther to all classes of your industrious and useful fellow countrymen, believe me, you would see a great change. You would then see those preachers of sedition lecture to empty walls, if they continued to preach it. You would see an end to what I now regard as the most frightful of all the portentous sights that of late years have been displayed to the view of statesmen, that of the people separated into classes, irreconcileable, hostile to each other, and moreover, you would see the genuine aristocracy of the country, the rank, the wealth, the virtue, the intelligence, and the experience of the upper classes, once more regain that ascendancy with their fellow citizens which I believe to be natural, and which, if I know the nature of Englishmen, I believe to be congenial to their feelings and their habits. My Lords, I have to apologise to your Lordships for detaining you so long on the present occasion; and if I had thought I would have another opportunity I would willingly have postponed what I had to say, but I deemed it my duty to make these observations.
Earl Stanhope said, that nothing could be more against his wish than to trespass on their Lordships’ time; but he could not possibly be silent after the speech of the noble and learned Lord. In all his observations upon the troubles that encompassed the country he (Lord Stanhope) entirely concurred, for the danger by which we were now surrounded was such as no man could possibly overlook; but, agreeing as he did with his noble and learned Friend in that part of his speech, he must, however, express his entire dissent from the opinion which his noble and learned Friend stated as to the causes of those troubles.
It did not seem to have occurred to his noble and learned Friend in the course of his eloquent and impressive speech, that he unwillingly, and unwittingly perhaps, pronounced a severe censure upon measures which he had himself strongly advocated. Six years had now elasped since that noble and learned Lord, who then occupied the highest station in the country, had on his bended knees implored them to pass the Reform Bill, and said that from that moment all agitation would cease, and there would exist nothing but contentment, great satisfaction and happiness. Had the event justified that prediction? What had they found but that the people had been incited, and by high quarters too, to menace this House of Parliament and the constitution itself, by an array of physical force and threats of actual violence? Had they not found, too, that the people had acted on the lesson they had been taught? Their Lordships had heard of a great leader living in times not very remote from the present—no other than John Wilkes—and after he had become a quiet and tranquil member of society, his windows being broken by the populace, he merely said, that it was only his apprentices setting up for themselves. Did not the noble and learned Lord say, that the New Poor-law which he so strongly recommended, was to exalt the character and improve the condition of the people? Without entering into a discussion of the merits or demerits of that measure on this occasion, he would say that the effect of it had been this—and he spoke not from the authority of Chartists, or members of what was called the National Convention, but from the authority of clergymen who were daily and hourly in communication with their parishioners, discharging with
Christian feeling the functions of their sacred office; who were not friends of innovation or reform, but, like himself, old-fashioned Tories; and, indeed, he knew from many quarters that what they said was true. It was, that the effect of the New Poor-law was such, that if any serious disturbance took place in the country, the agricultural labourers would rise as well as the manufacturers. Discontent was general and pervaded all classes of labourers, notwithstanding Reform and the New Poor-law. The noble and learned Lord seemed to consider the Corn-laws as the main-spring of the present discontent; but let him refer to the proceedings of any public meeting that had taken place of late, and he would find that that question was treated with scorn and contempt, and regarded as insignificant in comparison with the claim of Universal Suffrage, and Annual Parliaments.
He was aware that the noble Earl opposite who preceded his noble and learned Friend, dwelling as he had done on the commercial distress of the country, meant to insinuate that it arose altogether from the existence of the Corn-laws; but on inquiry he would have found that the cause of that distress, which no man could deplore more deeply than himself, arose from the contraction of the circulating medium occasioned by Peel’s Bill. On talking to a Member of the other House on the danger of an impending revolution, he was asked how it could be prevented; and the reply which he made was, that two measures should be repealed—namely, the New Poor-law and Peel’s Bill, and that if that were done, all agitation would be vain and ineffectual, but that he believed neither of them would be repealed. He would conclude by saying, that he agreed with the noble Earl on his side of the House that a revolution was at the very threshold of our doors, the extent and consequence of which no man could foresee.
The Duke of Richmond would detain their Lordships a very few moments, whilst he made some observations on what had fallen from the noble Earl who had spoken early in the debate, and also from the noble Earl who had last spoken. He thought it highly important that it should not go forth to the country that the House of Lords thought we were on the eve of a revolution. He knew nothing more likely to produce such an event than that the people should be told that there was
real cause of danger, that the Peers believed the country was on the eve of a revolution, and that they took no measures to prevent it. He deeply deplored the recent outbreak, as it was called, that had taken place in Wales, but he believed if inquiry were made, it would be found that that part of the country was not suffering great distress. He believed that the people of England were too loyal to allow any set of deluded men to incite them to take part in open rebellion. There might be some tumults in particular parts of the country, but he hoped and believed that by the energy of the local authorities all disturbances might be prevented, and that if any other outbreak took place, it might be put down without the aid of military power. There were large numbers of misguided men who marched in armed bodies upon Newport, and by whom were they defeated? By the mayor doing his duly, by one lieutenant and twenty-eight of the youngest soldiers perhaps in her Majesty’s army.
One lesson that the insurgents had learnt was, that they could not trust their leaders, that the man who had led them to Newport, who had induced them to join in open rebellion, and to fire on her Majesty’s troops, was the first to skulk away to leave them in the danger, and like a coward was found some distance from the scene of action, only anxious for his own personal security; and they had also learnt that a few disciplined soldiers could beat thousands of men who knew they were acting against the laws of their country. He had no fear of the country, so long as the country was true to itself. The aristocracy should unite with the middle classes and with the labourers, and he hoped that their Lordships would take every opportunity of mixing with and meeting those who were placed under them, when they behaved in a manner to deserve to be countenanced.
He had been in hopes, that on the very first day of the Session, they should not have heard of the Corn-laws; especially as, during the last Session, both Houses of Parliament had, by large majorities, declared that they did not think it expedient to alter them; it was a most curious proposal, that because unfortunately some of the manufacturers were in distress, the Legislature should, therefore, ruin the whole agricultural interests, and thus add to the distress of the manufacturers, by taking away from them the home market, which was far the most profitable of the two. But he would say no more upon this subject at present, than to express his
opinion that Parliament having last year most properly refused to entertain the question, could not now do it without its being supposed that the riots out of doors had alarmed them. He hoped, therefore, that an inquiry into the Corn-laws would not he permitted, but if they succeeded in getting such an inquiry, which he himself thought quite unnecessary, he hoped that the statement of his noble and learned Friend would not be forgotten, that the labouring classes of the manufacturing districts would not support petitions for the repeal of those laws, and that the agricultural labourers and farmers would watch the proceedings of Parliament, and if they saw it was the intention to alter those laws, that they would exert themselves to the utmost to convey their opinions to both Houses of Parliament, that to repeal the Corn-laws would be to ruin them and to destroy the best interests of the country.
The Address was put from the Chair with the proposed Amendment, when
Viscount Melbourne said, he thought the insertion of the word “Protestant,” as proposed, was quite unnecessary, and in fact, in his opinion prejudicial to the Address. It could add no confimration to that which was already sufficiently known; but if the amendment were persisted in, he would not make any further opposition to it.
The Duke of Cambridge said, that on this occasion he might be permitted to make a few observations. He had felt it his duty as a Peer to attend at the opening of Parliament this day, and more so as he was the only one of the Royal Family who could be present. He begged to express his most sincere and hearty concurrence in the way in which the marriage of her Majesty had been settled, and he might also add the concurrence of his brother, who was unfortunately prevented from appearing in the House this night. Having been so much on the Continent, and having perhaps more information than their Lordships of the principal families abroad, he had great satisfaction in stating that from all that he had heard and knew of the Prince, and from the high character he bore, he thought the young Prince whom her Majesty had chosen for her consort would contribute to her domestic happiness, and render himself equally popular to this country. What he now stated was from his full conviction, and all he had beard within the few last
months tended to strengthen him in that opinion.
Address agreed to as amended. To be presented to her Majesty.