Page images
PDF
EPUB

XXXIV.

CHA P. point at issue, to convince a hearer in the re

nate, and induce him to vote as the speaker de1785. sired. The part of his reasoning that appeared fpe

cifically applicable to the subject before the house
was adduced, to demonstrate that the alleged debts
arose from a collusion between the nabob and cer.
tain servants of the company, who had been guilty
of the most heinous fraud, oppression, and cruelty :
forcibly animated and highly coloured was the
picture he drew, of tyranny and suffering, guilt
and misery, in British India, as the result of the al-
leged connivance; but since, as a chain of logical
deduction, the evidence did not make out the case,
the motion was negatived; and in the house of
peers a similar propofition was rejected.

On the eighteenth of April, Mr. Pitt again intro-
duced his propositions for a reform in parliamente
Desirous, as the minifter professed himself, of such
a change in the representation as he conceived most
consistent with the principles, and conducive to the
objects of the constitution, he was aware of the
danger of essays of reform, unless very nicely modi-

fied and circumscribed. The general character.
plan of pare
liamentary istics of his plan for that purpose, were caution and

specification : nothing vague or indefinite was pro-
posed; no chasm was left which visionary imagina-
tions might fill with their own distempered fancies :
thus fur Jhalt thou go and no fartber, was obviously
expressed in the extent and bounds. The leading
principle was, that the choice of legislators should
follow such circumstances as give an interest in their
acts, and therefore ought in a great degree to be
attached to property. This principle being esta.

blished,

Mi, Pitt's

[ocr errors]

teform,

[ocr errors]

ment,

lished, it was obvious, that as many very consider. CHAP.

XXXIV. able towns and bodies either had no vote in electing representatives, or had not the privilege of chu- 1785, sing a number proportioned to their property, it would be necessary to disfranchise certain decayed boroughs. In relations between government and subject it was a manifest rule in jurisprudence on the one hand, that the interest of a part must give way to the interest of the whole; but on the other, that when such a sacrifice is required from a subject, the state should amply compensate individual loss incurred for the public good. Guided is introduced

into parliaby these maxims of ethics, Mr. Pitt proposed to transfer the right of chuling representatives from thirty-fix of such boroughs as had already fallen, or were falling into decay, to the counties, and to such chief towns and cities as were at present unrepresented; that a fund should be provided for the purpose of giving to the owners and holders of the boroughs disfranchised, an appreciated compensan tion; that the acceptance of this recompence should be a voluntary act of the proprietor, and, if not taken at present, should be placed out at compound interest, until it became an irresistible bait to fuch proprietor: he also projected to extend the right of voting for knights of the shire to copyholders as well as freeholders. The chief arguments in favour of a reforin were derived from the alleged partiality of representation; an active, reforming, and regulating policy, which kept pace with the alterations in the country, was requisite to preserve the constitution in its full vigour : when any part of our fystem was decayed, it had ever been the wisdom of the legisla

ture

F 3

XXXIV.

CHAP ture to renovate and restore it by such means as

were most likely to answer the end proposed; 1785. and hence had arisen the frequent alterations that

had taken place with respect to the rule of repre. sentation. From a change of circumstances, towns which once ought to have a vote in chusing a fenator or senators, now behoved to have none; and towns once without any just claim to the right of such an election, were now aggrieved and injured by the want of that privilege. The principle continued the same in both the former and the lat. ter, but its application should be altered in a differ, ence of case. The opposers of reform, on the other hand, contended, that no necessity had been shewn for such a change; that whatever inequalities theory might exhibit in the existing system, the people were all actually represented, as far as was necessary to their rights and happiness; that no man could be deprived of liberty, property, or life, but by his own act, whether he had a vote for a member of parliament or not; that under the present mode of representation, both individual and national profperity had risen to a very great pitch, and was rapidly rising to a higher ; that it was extremely dangerous to alter what experience, the only sure test of political truth, had uniformly shewn to be good *. The people did not want reform; the

large

Never, perhaps, were the arguments on this fide of the quellion more clearly exhibited, than those which are compressed into a page of one of the most valuable works that can be recorded in the literary history of the present reign. Paley, in his Principles oí moral and political Philosophy, resting

the

XXXIV.

large towns that were said to be aggrieved by the C H A P. present state of representation had made no complaint, or sought any redress; those which were 1785called rotten and decayed boroughs were frequently

[ocr errors]

the question concerning representation, as well as every political establishment, folely on expediency, says, “We consider it (representation) fo far only as a right at all, as it conduces to public utility: that is, as it contributes to the establishment of good laws, or as it fecures to the people the just administration of thefe laws. These effects depend upon the disposition and abilities of the national counsellors: where. fore, if men the most likely, by their qualifications, to know and to promote the public intereft, be actually returned to parliament, it fignifies little who return them. If the propereft persons be elected, what matters it by whom they are elected ? At least no prudent statesman would subvert long established or even settled rules of representation, without a prospect of procuring wiser or better representatives. This then being well observed, let us, before we seek to obtain any thing more, confider duly what we already have. We have a house of commons composed of five hundred and forty-eight members, in which number are found the most considerable land-holders and merchants of the kingdom, the heads of the army, the navy, and the laws; the occupiers of great offices in the state, together with many private individuals, eminent by their knowledge, eloquence, or activity. Now, if the country be not safe in such hands, in whose

may it confide its interest ? If such a number of such men be liable to the influence of corrupt motives, what assembly of men will be secure from the same danger? Does any new scheme of representation promise to collect together more wisdom or produce firmer integrity ? In this view of the subject, and attending not to ideas of order and proportion (of which many minds are much enamoured), but to known effects alone, we may discover just excuses for those parts of the present representation which appear to a hasty observer most exceptionable and absurd.” Paley, vol. ii. P: 219.

represented

F 4

XXXIV.

and negatived by a

great ma.

State of lieland.

CHAP. represented by gentlemen who had the greatest stake

in the country, and consequently were as much con. 1785 cerned in its welfare as any other representatives.

Mr. Pitt's propositions were negatived by a majority

of two hundred and forty-eight to one hundred jority.

and seventy-four.

Parliament was this year principally occupied by forming arrangements for a commercial intercourse between Great Britain and Ireland.

We have seen that, in the year 1780, the trade of Ireland had been freed from the hurtful restrictions by which it had long been shackled. In 1782, the independence of Irish parliament had been for ever established. It remained for the legislature of the two countries to arrange a system of commer. cial intercourse, which might best promote the ad, vantage of the two parties so nearly connected, The freedom of trade had afforded to Ireland the means of improvement; of which the success must depend on the active, well directed, and persevering industry of the inhabitants; as without those exertions, the mere exemption from former restriction could be of little avail ; no effectual meafures had hitherto been employed for exciting and cherishing so beneficial a spirit : the manufacturers had for some years been much engaged in political specula. tions, which, by abstracting their attention from their own business, naturally caused great distress; and that distress, discontent and violence. Various expedients were attempted for their relief. In 1784, Mr. Gardener brought forward a plan for protecting their own manufactures, and enforcing the consumption of them at home, by laying heavier duties

on

« PreviousContinue »