« FöregåendeFortsätt »
tation ; on the contrary, it was the 'wish of the people that it should be begun; a better proof of which need not be desired, than what had happened to the member for Britsol, a right honorable friend of his (Mr. Burke). Where did his right honorable friend sit for before the war, and where after it? He had been turned out for opposing its continuance. Towards the close of that war, a clanor was raised, and the cry was a reform of representation in Parliament, as à remedy for the expence to which the people had put themselves; when, he was afraid, they had undertaken the war, with no better reason than the hope of saving themselves by taxing America. A deluge of opinions were then let loose. All those wild notions were generated during the war; but happily they had long subsided, as he had hoped, never to rise again; but unfortunately, to borrow a phrase from the last debate, he feared the cry then set up “ was not dead, but only sleepeth.” He was sorry that a brood of these wild impracticable opinions had spread abroad from the continental affairs which, like locusts that lay torpid till awakened into life, would buzz about, fill the air, and fly away. He apprehended if they were suffered to remain here, they would destroy the ver dure and beauty of the constitution. If he had approved ever so much the right honorable gentleman's proposition for a parliamentary reform, he should have objected to it, on account of the time, at which the right honorable gentleman had thought proper to introduce it. What, would the right honorable gentleman advise them to repair their house in the hurricane season? The right honorable gentleman seemed desirous of opening the door for a change, though he was so candid in his mode of proposing it, that he had professed himself perfectly indifferent what the change should be, and seemed only desirous that there might be some change: a change might
be good in the abstract, but he would never consent to open a door to change, and to pull down and take the chance of building again. It was not playing upon velvet, as it was called in the language of play, when one party was sure of his game: much might be lost, but nothing could be gained. He reprobated the wild theories which were now so frequently broached, as if they were to give up practice and experience, and resort to theoretical projectors. It seemed as if a system of metaphysics was about to be introduced, and the ideal world were to govern the real.
Let it be recollected, that speculatists and visionaries were now frontibus adversis pugnantia ; and therefore we ought to abstain from catching the infection. There was no grievance in this country, which we could not correct without resorting to ask the advice of a theorist. While the people enjoyed every possible degree of freedom and felicity, they were to be persuaded that they were miserable and slaves. It reminded him of a story in the Spectator, of a man in good health, getting into an habit of reading medical books till his fancy was taken such possession of, that he imagined that he had every symptom of that terrible disorder, the gout, except pain. He intreated the house, therefore, to resist these trifling reparations, as they were called : once adopted, like the puncture on a man's arm, they might lead to dangerous disorders of the body, and of the body politic as well as the body human. The constitution, now healthy and flourishing, might be alarmingly attacked, and thence fall to cureless ruin.
Mr. PITT coincided with Mr. WINDHAM in most of his arguments, and declared, “ that were the motion before them the precise proposition he himself had formerly offered, he should now vote against it, from a conviction of its actual impropriety."
Mr Fox saw no reason why we should be struck with a panic on account of the situation of affairs in France ; and in allusion to Mr. WINDHAM's metaphorical argument, he affirmed, “ that no season could be more proper to begin' a repair, than when a hurricane was near, and ready to burst forth.”
After some farther debate, Mr. FLOOD consented to withdraw his proposition.
In the beginning of the year 1793 several petitions were presented to the house of commons, pointing out abuses or defects in the parliamentary system of representation, and praying for some effectual mode of reform. But the most masterly of those petitions came from an association which had been lately instituted under the title of “ the Friends of the People," and was presented by Mr. Grey. It stated with great propriety and distinctness, the defects which at present exist in the representation of the people in Parliament. It took notice of the division of the representation, or the proportions in which the different counties contribute to the total number of the representatives, shewing, under that head, the absurd disproportion which takes place in a variety of instances, in so much that the county of Cornwall alone sends more members to Parliament, than the counties of York, Rutland, and Middlesex, put together, &c. It proceeded to take notice of the distribution of the elective franchise, or the proportional number, by which the different representatives are elected; stating under that head, that a majority of the whole house of commons is elected by less than 15,000 persons, or in other words, by the two hundreth part of the people to be represented, supposing that they consist only of three millions of adults, &c. It went on to take notice of the right of voting, or the va
rious restrictions and limitations, under which the privilege of a vote for the choice of a representative is bestowed, stating the great evils and inequalities that prevail in that respect. It afterwards took notice of the qualifications to be possessed by candidates, and those elected ; and then considered the evils arising from the length of the duration of Parliaments. It went on then to detail the model in which elections are conducted and decided
; and under that head, shewing the evils arising from the length of time, to which polls are protracted ; from the influence of corporations by the powers entrusted to returning officers; and from the appeal to the house of commons under the operations of the acts roth, uth, 25th, and 28th of GEORGE III., as far as the same relate to the expence and delay. The petition proceeded to take notice of the mischief resulting from the defects and abuses which it had previously pointed out, particularly by the system of private patronage, and the influence possessed by peers and wealthy commoners in the nomination of what are called the representatives of the people, shewing, under this head, that, by the patronage and influence of seventy-one Peers and ninety-one Commoners, the return of no fewer than three hundred and six members of that house was procured, which considerably exceeded a majority of the house. The petition dwelt at considerable length upon all the points already mentioned, and detailed a variety of other abuses, all which the peritioners offered to substantiate by proof, and it concluded by stating the great necessity there was for the application of an immediate remedy, and the high importance of such à measure ; and prayed the house to take the matter into their serious consideration, and to apply such remedy and redress to the evils complained of as should appear proper
After the petition had been read, Mr. Burke expressed his wish to know from whence the petition came which had just been read, as the place of residence of the petitioners was not mentioned. The names of the petitioners was then read by the clerk; after which
Mr. Grey rose and said, “ It was certainly not uncommon that petitions should be presented to that house from persons not describing their place of abode, or assuming any other description than that of the persons whose names were subscribed to the petition : if however it would afford any satisfaction to the Right Honorable Gentleman (Mr. Burke] he had no
bjection whatever to state, that all the subscribers resid either in London, or near it, and that the petition had been drawn up and signed there. On the
On the very important subject which it respected, he was apt to believe, that whatever opinions gentlemen might entertain, either with respect to a reform in the representation of the people, or as to the time which might be thought proper for bringing it about, it must be considered by all parties as a matter of much importance to have laid before them such an accurate, full, and precise detail of all the facts connected with the subject, by those who are ready and able to prove the facts which they have asserted in their petition : it would also have the effect to shorten very much what he would have to say, and to render it unnecessary for him to trouble the house at any great length. He was aware of the difficulties he had to encounter : in bringing forward this business he was aware how ungracious it would be for that house to shew, that they are not the real representatives of the people : he was aware that the question had been formerly agitated on different occasions by great and able characters who have deserted the cause from despair of success; and he was aware that he must neces