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MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ON MR GROTE'S MOTION, OF

THE SECOND OF JUNE LAST, IN FAVOUR OF THE BALLOT.

By J. A. ROEBUCK, M.P.

OPERA

LONDON:

PUBLISHED BY JOHN LONGLEY,

14 TAVISTOCK STREET, COVENT GARDEX.

Printed by C. and W. RESNELL, Little Pulteney street, Haymarket.

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232. 2.

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ON THE MEANS OF

CONVEYING INFORMATION

TO THE PEOPLE.

It hath pleased the paternal government of frightened. The grand object was to shut this country to lay certain restrictions upon out the gaze of the multitude to build up the means of conveying information to the a high and thick wall between themselves people: some of these restrictions are im- and the millions without. Having a shrewd posed under the pretence of levying a reve- sense of the evil, they formed the remedy nue; others, without disguise, have been with great care, and no small sinister sagaforged for the express purpose of prevent- city. When mischief is to be done, the ing the people knowing what is being done best instrument is an act of parliament ; so by their so-called representatives. It is to they determined to pass certain acts, now the last class that, for the present moment, consigned to deserved ignominy, under the I desire to call the attention of the reader. well-known title of “the Six Acts ;” the

Mr Cobbett, during the time of great dise precious offspring of the brains and cantress that followed the peace of 1815, com. kered hearts of Lord Castlereagh and commenced a publication, called “ Two-penny pany. One of these acts was distinguished Trash. This publication, from its price, from its brethren by the popular name of was within the reach even of the poor. Mr Cobbett's “Two-penny Trash Act.” The Cobbett chose to indulge in strictures upon thunders of the law were to be directed the conduct of the then government, and he against the means of conveying knowledge clothed his strictures in language so strike to the poor, and the following were the ing, while his price was so low, that not means adopted. It was rendered a crime only did he render the people able, but to convey intelligence, to relate any circumwhat was worse in this case, he made them stances connected with church or state, or willing to buy and read them. The goveri- to publish any “comments thereon ” in any ment took alarm at this proceeding. The publication, the price of which was under people, in the widest signification of that sixpence, and which issued oftener than term, were now about to be made actually once in twenty-six days, unless the publicognizant of the conduct of their rulers. cation paid a four-penny stamp duty. The Hating the salutary control that would framers of this exquisite specimen of legishave resulted from this knowledge, the lation knew two things. They knew first, government set themselves diligently to that the people, that is, the labouring milwork in order to put an end to the inculca- lions, were little interested in publications tion of it.

that did not convey what they signified by What the government feared was, that intelligence,-meaning thereby the intellithe mass of the people, that is, the labour- gence of the day,--did not treat of matters ing millions, should hear of and understand relating to church or state. They knew their proceedings. So long as the rich few secondly, that, by imposing the stamp duty were the only persons informed of them, upon such publications, the price would be they were perfectly at their ease : when the raised above the means of the people. poor many were enabled to pry into and They therefore believed that they should criticise their conduct, then, indeed, the thus be able to consign the people to helpministers were naturally and dreadfully less ignorance.

The atrocity of this disgraceful enactment coinbine for certain useful purposes : the deserves to be duly appreciated—and that rich go to a lawyer and ask him if they (the for two reasons; we shall in the first place poor labourers) cannot be punished for thus be able fairly to estimate the character of combining? The lawyer hunts up the two the statesmen who enacted this stain upon acts that have lain hidden for so long in that our laws, and in the second, to understand grand hiding place, the “statutes at large,” the patriotism of those liberal and reform- and he pounces upon these unfortunate and ing ministers who continue it.

necessarily ignorant men. Necessarily ignoI assume that it is the first duty of a go- rant, I say, and I will prove my assertion. vernment to take the most effectual means A benevolent and really patriotic friend of of making the people obey all laws which the working man-in fact, one of themselves justly protect person, property, and reputa- (I see no reason why I should not name tion. I also assume it to be the duty of the hin)-Mr Place, wished to publish a small government to seek rather for means of pre- and cheap abridgment of the Combination vention, than of punishment; that is, that it Laws—but before doing so, he had a case should not so much seek to deter the citi. laid before the present Lord Chief Justice zens generally from breaking the law through of the Common Pleas, then Mr Tindal, to the terror created by punishing such as have know if such a publication would be legal, broken it, as by taking precautions, that no and it was replied that it would be illegal. one should have the desire to break it. Now The Statutes the people could not buy, if one of the most effectual, one of the most they had wished; the separate Acts they necessary, means of creating this desire, is knew nothing of, and they who desired to to teach the people what the law is. Let instruct them were prevented by this trash is understand the mode in which the govern- act, because it would be publishing intelliment of England teaches the law to its peo- gence. But to proceed in showing how ple. In the first place, it writes its laws in the Government promulgates the law :-the a language totally unintelligible to any one lawyer, as I said before, pounces upon these · who has not spent a life in trying to under- necessarily ignorant men: he condemns them stand it; and this, in England, is called learn- to transportation for life, and through this, ing the science of the law. Secondly, having their sentence, it is expected that the labourpromulgated the law in this jargon, it next ers will learn the law. But, behold! the creates a monopoly in the printing of it. newspaper which would tell the labourer the Let us see the true working of this ma- fact of the condennation of his fellows, is chinery, by taking a particular case of it.

taxed so highly, that he cannot buy it, so The Parliament passes an Actof Parliament,

that he is compelled to rest in ignorance, say, respecting combinations of the working and perhaps may learn the law like his unpeople: the act is totally unintelligible, and

fortunate and guiltless fellows, by incurring takes its place amid a heap of other acts, its penalties. Such, reader, is the mode of and lies hidden in the mass called the "sta- promulgating the law, adopted by the patertutes at large,” of which the people, that is, nal Government of England, and such is not one person in one hundred thousand, one of the blessed fruits of those atrocious ever see even the outside: soinetime after, restrictions on the press, which the present -the Parliament passes another act, relating Ministry refuse to abolish. to the same subject-without which, the The catalogue of evils, however, does not former act now becomes unintelligible, even end here. It so happens, that, although the to lawyers themselves—and this second act man whose mind is trained specifically to is buried in the same way, and in the same the investigation of truth, viz. the philoso. -voluminous publication : both the one and pher, may be content to take, as illustrations the other are completely hidden from the

of great principles, fictitious cases, which do persons whose conduct they are intended to not interest his feelings, the generality of regulate. Some years after this the rich mankind are unable to bend their attention people became frightened by the temper and

to such cases, and are always unwilling to proceedings of the working classes. While

• How this opinion was arrived at baffles the rich are thus frightened, a few ignorant apprehension ; nevertheless, the fact is as I have

my labourers,-say the Dorchester labourers,– stated it.

1

entertain them. The great majority of the ciation. And we further, as the great, rich, for example, feel this repugnance, and indeed the only means of enabling us to do crave after the news of the day, and the law this, intended to establish a weekly periodidoes not prevent their thus acquiring infor. cal, which should contain moral and politimation through means that interest and cal discussions, resulting from the occuramuse, while they instruct. The poor, how- rences of the day. The whole of this ever, who are of the same frame of mind, scheme was rendered abortive by the state are cruelly shut out from this source of in- of the law and the conduct of the then struction. The rich are allowed, from the ministry. We were given to understand passing events of the day, to reap whatever that Lord Althorp contemplated the aboliknowledge they convey: the poor, who, like tion of the stamp duties on newspapers, as the rich are interested in the occurrences well as the repeal of the odious “ Trash of the present time, are compelled to be ig- Act;” and it was deemed advisable to renorant of them. The law steps in and says main quiet until he had done so, and not to to the poor man, “ You shall not hear of or attempt to brave the law, or to devise learn these events unless you pay a sum means by which its enactments might be above your means. It is true you ought to legally evaded. The world knows but too be instructed—it is true that you wish to be well what Lord Althorp didmor rather did 80—that you thirst after knowledge-and not do. With constant protestations rethat could you attain it, you would be both specting his desire to take off this impost, better and happier-but all this notwith- he allowed it to remain, in spite of the most standing, I condemn you to ignorance, be- cogent arguments and convincing evidence cause the rich, who have made me, fear the that went to prove, first, that the revenue knowledge of the people. What do they would lose nothing by such repeal, and secare for your loss of pleasant recreation-of condly, that the people at large would denoble and inspiring ideas and feelings? rive immense benefit from it. Our society They, the rich, tremble while you read separated, and awaited Lord Althorp's good they dread the magnanimous spirit which deeds. These good deeds were never perknowledge creates; and they would rather formed, and we are still labouring under the see you ignorant, wretched, and dependent, same difficulty, and shackled by the same than instructed, happy, and blessed with a mischievous law. Mr S. Rice has no intengenerous independence.Such is, in fact, tion of being wiser or better than his prethe language of the rich man's law—such is decessors. He cannot* be made to see the language of that law which the Liberal that no injury would happen to the revenue Ministry, made by the breath of the people, by the repeal of the law, and having no have determined to retain.

popular sympathies, he is careless of the It behoves good men to learn whether

mischievous consequences resulting from the mischievous influence of this law can.

restrictions on popular instruction.

What, then, is to be done? Are we to not be counteracted. Early in the year 1833, a body of persons united for the pur

rest contented with this condition; confine pose of devising means of diffusing moral

ourselves to mere complaining, and leave and political knowledge among the people.

untried what remains to us of instructing The chief movers in this scheme were Mr

one another? I have, myself, long since Hume, the member for Middlesex, Mr

answered this question, and have determined Grote, the member for London, Mr War

to try the value of such means as the law burton, the member for Bridport, Mr Fran.

still allows. Being deprived of the best ineis Place, and myself. Several others joined strument, let us try an inferior one. Good 09, and we hoped to be able to furnish to

may be effected even by failure. To this the great body of the people the means of

end of trying the means that remain to us, acquiring a knowledge of their duty as citi- I say “cannot.” I suspect the more corzens, as well as of generally instructing rect phrase would be “will not.” Mr Rice is themselves. We contemplated the republi- amazingly profuse of liberal professions. The cation of standard works at a low price, and however, who judge of the worth of professions also the publication of new works of solid by the character of him who makes them, will

be at no loss to estimate the value of Mr Spri nstruction expressly written for our asso.

Rice's liberal declarations.

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