Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

advanced to power had to contend with a hostile Court, a suspicious and unfriendly Parliament, and a jealous, discontented and burthened people? The history of that short period, while it may prove in many particulars useful as a lesson of errors to be in future avoided, ought also to console the country by the evidence it affords of how much real service might be rendered to its best interests by honest and able ministers enjoying the confidence of the people,

There is one ground of invective against party, to which we have not yet adverted, because we believe it to be the least solid of any. Some timid persons are wont to apprehend violence and turbulence from what they term fạctious proceedings.There seems to be a great mistake in this view of the matter. -The fuel of popular discontent exists independent of all party, in the ignorance of the multitude, the distresses of the times, and the misconduct of the Government. The formation of a regular and respectable party to maintain the cause of the people, instead of blowing up the flame, and causing an explosion, is rather likely to moderate its violence, and give it a safe vent. Besides, there exists, at all events, a regular

party for the Government; and if it is not opposed by a similar force, it will either destroy publick liberty, or go on encroaching on the people's rights, until a popular commotion, under no regulation or control, disturbs the publick peace, and perhaps subverts the Government.

These remarks upon the uses of party union, have prepared the way for the few observations which we are to offer upon the present aspect of politicks in this country; and they have anticipated not a few of the strictures which we had to make on the conduct and views of the present Opposition: For the greater part of the attacks to which that party has been exposed, are those to which it is liable as a party,

in common with

every

other body of this description,

It is certain, that at no period of the English History was there ever embodied so formidable an association in behalf of the principles of civil and religious liberty, and, in general, of liberal, enlightened and patriotic policy, as the great body of the Whigs now are. Whether we regard the high rank and ample possessions of many members, the commanding talents and acquirements of others, or the mere amount of heir numerical force, such a party union never was before witnessed. Last Session saw an event completed, which had been expected to diminish their forces, the separation of the Grenvilles.But, although the loss of Lord Grenville, and one or two other eminent individuals as regular coadjutors, is deeply to be regretted, the defalcation either of weight or of numbers, that has arisen from this secession, is too trifling to be felt; and this change needs be dwelt upon no longer.

The ministers, on the other hand, are, beyond all comparison, the most contemptible in pretensions of any that have ever governed a great 'nation. With one or two exceptions, they are men of whom their own steadiest supporters are daily ashamed; and the same men who give them their votes, for fear of disturbing the peace of the community, by destroying one government before they know who shall succeed, leave their places in Parliament, to express in private, openly and strongly, their sense of the humiliation to which they are constantly reduced. How does it happen, that such a Ministry can stand against such an Opposition? We think nearly the whole difficulty will be resolved, by attending to the delusions which have been practised upon the publick by a third class of persons, insignificant in numbers, and still more contemptible in weight, either by talent or station, who have stood forward as the champions of the people, and set themselves regularly to defame the regular Opposition, until they had well nigh succeeded in undermining their credit with the country. We allude to the faction of the Cobbets and Hunts, whom the Opposition too long allowed to triumph, by treating them with an ill-judged contempt. These men, whatever were their designs, whether to gratify a preposterous love of distinction, or for merely mercenary purposes, or from worse love of mischief, have long been persuading the people, that no publick man is to be trusted that all political leaders are engaged in a scramble for place—and that they alone are their friends. Of late years, they have only succeeded with the lowest and most ignorant parts of the community. But, by constant misrepresentation, weekly repeated by some, and daily and industricusly echoed by the hirelings of the Government, they at one time were too successful in making many, who had no trust in them as political guides, believe ali they said against the Whigs. The force of undaunted, never-ceasing falsehood, in damaging the fairest reputations, is well known, especially if no pains are taken to expose it. To give any specimen of the arts thun used against the Whigs, would be quite endless. But the last which strikes us, is Mr.Cobbet's hardy assertion, that they urged the ministers to suspend the Habeas Corpus act; and, with a few exceptions, voted for the measure! We think that the Whigs acted unwisely in not taking more decisive steps to defend their characters, thus wantonly and unremittingly invaded;- we think that their supporters in the department of the daily press, showed a most culpable slowness to expose the vile falsehoods propagated concerning them, probably from an unworthy dread of being personally attacked by those who

[graphic]

spared neither high nor low, the illustrious nor the obscure. But, at all events, time has come surely, if tardily, to their aid; and has, among other calumnies, completely refuted the often urged charge of a fondness for office. Never, certainly, was there a set of men whose whole conduct bears so little the marks of any such propensity.

Although the permanent influence of the men we have been describing has been confined to the lowest rabble, another class, far more respectable, very numerous, and, generally speaking, of honest principles, having suffered themselves to be led away by false theories of government, in which the Whig party never could concur, were disposed to view that body with suspicion, and to incline towards the tales propagated against its members. Major Cartwright, at one time, had great influence with this part of the community; and his unwearied zeal, and unabating perseverance in the cause of Reform, merited much consideration, however erroneous his views might be. This sect laid it down as an incontestable principle, that only one measure was of any value-Parliamentary Reformi; —and that only one reform deserved the name--the introduction of Universal Suffrage and Annual Parliaments, to which, at Mr Bentham's suggestion, they have lately added, voting by ballot. This being their creed, they held every one who differed with them, even by the smallest shade, as utterly ignorant of the true nature of the constitution; and they generally questioned his honesty also. With regard to their own síncerity, we have nothing to say; but their great apostle has recently given us some reason to doubt the extent of their learning, by citing the title of Mr Prynne's book on Parliamentary Writs, Brevia Parliamentaria Rediviva, as signifying— Short Parliaments Restored ;'-an indication, too, that this of politicians sometimes brag of an acquaintance with works which it is morally impossible they could ever have seen.

pure class

• The worthy Major has since defended himself by saying, that he has been too much engaged in studying English liberty, to pay attention to Roman language. The fact, however, is, that the bar. barous Latin in question is only worth learning, because it assists the study of English liberty. And the Major assumes to himself an almost exclusive knowledge of our constitutional history, which no man, so ignorant as he now admits himself to be, can have well stu. died. The error was committed in a letter addressed to Lord Hol. land, in consequence of his accusing the Major of claborate blunThat Parliamentary Reform is a subject of singular importance, no man will deny. But that it is the only subject worthy of engaging the attention of statesmen, no one will assert, but an enthusiast blinded by zeal for a favourite speculation. And that all other points should be neglected for this; that, until it be carried, the ministry of the day should be suffered to do as they list ; that victories gained for the people, without reform, are even to be lamented, as diminishing the criminality of an unreformed Parliament, and the necessity for a change,-is a doctrine, of which the absurdity is so monstrous, as almost to prevent its mischief. Yet this doctrine has prevailed among many well-meaning, and even well-informed classes of the community, whose heated imaginations, engrossed by a favourite object, could rest upon no other view, and regarded all who differed or doubted as enemies. The kind of reform, too, which alone would satisfy them, was immediate, sweeping, radical, unsparing. No time must be given for trying the safety of projects confessedly new; all must be done at once by a single bill. No compromise must be endured with the faults of the present system; the whole must be swept away, and a new one substituted, by creation, in its place. They chose to say Annual Parliament; and therefore no man must whisper a word of Triennial. They said every male of 21 (Mr Hunt says, or rather swears in an affidavit, 18) should vote : and therefore no honest man could presume to confine the franchise to inhabitants or householders. It was in vain to ask for the foundation of all this dogmatical theory, or to demand why the period of one year was chosen, and the extension of suffrage to all males, rather than to all females, according to the most learned of the reformers, Mr Bentham. Attempts to trace the history of Parliament gave them no assistance; for though of old a year was the common duration, or rather a few days, and each session was a new Parliament, the circumstances were so entirely different, that there was no possibility of applying the precedent; while instances were frequent, of two and three Parliaments sitting in a year ;—and as to universal suffrage, there was no more evidence of all males ever having voted, than of all females. But these limits had been assumed; and the arbitrary doctrine, thus laid down, became the Shibboleth of the party. Greater dogmatism; more gra

[graphic]

ders' on constitutional questions. He complained bitterly of this charge, and gave the above marvellous confirmation of it. The þurthen of his song was Lord Holland's ignorance of the authors who treat of the constitution-such as Prynne!

tuitous assumptions; more intolerance towards other sects ; never marked the doctrines or the proceedings of any religious party or establishment. And in this respect they resembled those bigots who have at different times filled the world with confusion. No terms short of entire submission would ever satisfy them; and they regarded with far more inveterate hostility him who came near their own faith, without exactly adopting it, than him who abjured them and their tenets altogether. - Many reasons concurred to render this class of persons extremely jealous of the Whig party. It formed a part of their fanciful doctrine of the Constitution, that, in a renovated Parliament, the Crown was to have no ministers, but only certain government orators, who might explain measures without a deliberative voice. The whole business of the State was to be conducted by the ministers, without any control in Parliament, unless when they merited impeachment; the public affairs were not, as now, to be transacted under the eye, and in the presence of the Great Council of the nation ; its functions were to be confined within the narrowest limits of voting supplies, while the Crown was restored to its ancient prerogative of ruling unchecked till matter of impeachment should be found, or the season of actual resistance arrived.

Of course, the patrons of this very practical scheme of government, abhorred the idea of a regular party :-in their Utopia it could find no place. But the Whigs had other crimes to answer for, beside that of being a party. Some of them were conscientiously, and, upon long reflection, averse to all parliamentary reform whatever; none of them were advocates of Universal Suffrage; and the great majority of them, though sincerely attached to a moderate and rational system of reforin, refused to regard that, or any one other question, as alone deserving of attention, and to sacrifice to its promotion all other measures. A few of the party had, in the course of time, so far altered their opinions upon the subject, not so far as to oppose reform, but only to consider it as less vitally important than they had once deemed it. Nothing more was wanting to raise against them, and their coadjutors and followers, the cry of desertion ; they were viewed with distrust ns false friends, or openly attacked 'as the worst enemies of the cause. Moderate reform, being held quite synonymous with mock reform, was even deprecated, in comparison with a continuance of the present system; and the only class of statesmen who could possibly hope to succeed in carrying any measures for the improvement of our Parliamentary Constitution, were den

« AnteriorContinuar »