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namely the duration of Parliament. If the reform representation was adopted, but not otherwise, it occur to him, that the duration of Parliament should be limited to three years. Having thus stated the outline of the plan, there remained little more for him to trouble the house with. The objection had always been made to a motion for reform, when he brought it forward, viz." that it was an improper time to agitate the question." So far from this appearing to him to be an objection on the present occasion, that the time is one of the greatest inducements he had for bringing it forward. If he had had any doubts on the point, they would have been removed by the change which had taken place in the sentiments of many persons of respectability, who formerly disapproved of the substance of the measure, and doubted much its propriety, and whose support he looked for on this evening. But there were considerations of much greater weight. In what situation were we placed? In prosperity we were told that there was no need for reform; and though the Right Honorable Gentleman [Mr. PITT] at one time contended for the necessity of reform, if we would shun the recurrence of the evils of the American war, he forgot his promise when he got into power. At present, we are in a state, which, God knows was far very far removed from prosperity. He would ask then, whether, in the present state of unexampled calamity, the country could go on in its present scale of expence, without a check being given to those who had the direction of public affairs? If the present house of commons had brought us near the end of our resources, what could prevent our ruin, but a change in the constitution of that house? When he looked abroad and surveyed the face of Europe, there was no object which to him appeared so desirable to an Englishman attached to the constitution of his coun
try as a respectable and independent house of commons, speaking the sentiments, and consulting for the interest of the nation at large. In France a revolution has taken place; the principles at least in which it originated, whatever others might think of them, he should always defend. Stained it certainly had been with enormities, but ministers themselves had confessed, that order was restored, and that they had asked pardon both of God and man. For his own part he entertained a sanguine hope, that in the end it would tend to the diffusion of liberty and rational knowledge all over the world. With this revolution then, how ought the people of this country to be governed? The constitution ought to be restored to them; and when every abuse was reformed, the system would leave them nothing to regret. If you look to Ireland, you find the affairs in that country every day beoming more alarming. God grant, said he, that a convulsion may not happen; but it can only be prevented by measures of reform and conciliation. If such an event should unfortunately take place in that country, would it not, he asked, be wise to prevent all ground for discontent in this, by removing in time every just cause of complaint? How is it possible that the house could possess the confidence of the people, after having brought the country to suffer disgrace after disgrace; after being brought to the verge, if not into the gulph of bankruptcy, without witnessing one effort on the part of its representatives to wipe off the stains it has received, or to save it from approaching ruin? Was it believed, that their debates in that house were conducted with a view to the public good? He admitted, for the sake of argument, that the side of the house, with which he had the honor to act, were no more actuated than the other by motives of a pure disinterested nature; though, while he made the admission, his con
science acquitted him of the crime. Was it not in every one's mouth, that the object of the one party was to keep their places, and of the other to supplant them? And, if such an opinion was entertained, how is it compatible. with respect? These were the motives which induced him. to submit to the house the motion which he should have the honor to propose. There was one other point, which was personal to himself, and upon which he ought not perhaps at all to trouble the house. As long as he held a seat in that house, he should think himself bound to perform the duty he owed to his constituents; but he considered it as unnecessary any longer to expose himself to that obloquy, which he had sustained in acting the part which he found himself called upon to take in the discussions of that house. Seeing calamity succeed calamity, and that every effort of his had hitherto been ineffectual in stemming the tide of misfortune, he despaired of a continuance of his efforts being more successful. Though he should always be present therefore in future, to vote for or against any measures by which the interests of his constitutents might be affected, after this night, he should not think proper to trouble the house with any observations. He concluded with moving for leave to bring in a bill to amend the representation of the people in the house of commons.
Mr. GREY was immediately followed by Mr. ERskine, who spoke thus:
"I rise to second the motion of my honorable friend; and though I might content myself with saying, that I do so, resting upon the reasons and principles which he has so ably detailed, and which have always been mine also: yet I cannot, at this awful and momentous crisis, with. propriety pursue that course. The principles, upon which we maintain the cause of the people of England, and in-.
deed the universal liberties of mankind, have been so frequently and scandalously misrepresented, that I owe it to my country, and to myself, to state distinctly the motives of my conduct. I will do it with firmness, and with a most fixed determination to follow up by my actions all that I shall profess. I desire with my honorable friend, to remove from the consideration of this momentous question all vain speculations on theories of government. I recommend a reform in Parliament simply upon the footing of the practical advantages which it is obviously calculated to produce, and its consistency with the genuine principles and practice of the British constitution.
"There are three questions for consideration, arising out of the motion which has been made: First, whether the house. of commons in its present frame and constitution fulfils the ends of its office in the British government, so as to render any change in it inexpedient? By the house of commons I desire not to be supposed to speak of this, or of those long past, or that yet may be elected, but of any possible house of commons in its present frame and constitution. Secondly, Whether, supposing a reform in Parliament to be necessary, the specific proposition submitted to the house appears to be salutary, practicable, and adapted to cure the evils complained of, so as to entitle it to the ultimate consideration of the house in the. form of a bill to be brought before us? Thirdly, Whether, supposing a reform of Parliament to be expedient, and the proposition made by the motion to be worthy of consideration, the present moment is seasonable for entertaining it? This last point is, indeed, a matter of the highest importance. The present is no common period, and pregnant with no common events. We are in a crisis of unexampled difficulty and danger; and we stand answerable to God and man for that singleness of conduct
which can alone avert our ruin. I observe that this state of things is not only admitted, but loudly returned to me as a censure on the rashness of the proposition before the house: but I undertake to demonstrate, that, if you would avert the calamities which threaten to overwhelm you, you have not a moment to lose in adopting the motion which has been made. Indeed, I am convinced this is the last moment that may be ever given you for delibeIf you do not come to a vote this very night, which sanctions at least the principle of a reform in Parliament, you will find that you have neglected an opportunity never to be recalled. You will find it come back to you in a shape which may disrobe you of the power of deliberation, when concession will have lost its charm, and authority its dignity, and when the voice of wisdom and deliberation can be no longer heard. This, however, is out of its place, I shall arrive at it in its order. For the present, I will pursue my course.
"I will offer what I have to say on each of these points in a very words. In examining whether the present constitution of the House fulfils its office in the government, it is necessary to reflect, what the office and character of the house of commons really is, in genuine theory, and in original practice. Its office is to balance the other branches of the government; to watch with jealousy over the executive power, which for the ends of good and active government ought to be strong and powerful; and to protect the popular privileges against the encroachments of aristocratic influence and authority. Unless the house of commons be sufficient to maintain this character in its full vigor and purity, the popular branch of the constitution is cut off to every practical effect. The genuine principle of the government is lost and the people have no more political existence than