Imágenes de páginas

cial and manufacturing wealth of the country, we are inclined to think, that a number of commoners equal to the number of peers might be selected, whose aggregate fortunes should equal those of the peers. But whether this be so or not, the contrast of the present with the ancient condition of Old Sarum is surely not greater, than the contrast of the present with the ancient character of the English peerage. While then you disfranchise Old Sarum, because it is a theoretical absurdity that an individual nobleman should, as its proprietor, return two members to Parliament, how can you defend the still more stupendous absurdity, that some three or four hundred noble individuals, neither richer, nor more enlightened than as many thousands in the community around them, should actually compose one entire house of legislation, independent of the people and the crown, and transmit this great franchise to their posterity? We again wish the precise point we are labouring to be understood. We are not now arguing against a House of Lords; to moot that question, in this country, would be like reviving the Ptolemaic system; but we are maintaining that the reasons alleged for disfranchising Old Sarum, go the whole length of disfranchising the House of Lords. “It may be said, that there is no clamour against the House of Lords, and that there is a vehement clamour against rotten boroughs. This is a reason of a different kind; and the fact, we believe, is partly so. The whig aristocracy do not yet clamour against “their own order;” on the contrary, they manfully sustain it; and the moderate reformers go along with them in this respect. But is a majority of the people of England, numerically taken, friendly to an hereditary house of legislation; is the peerage popular with the Radicals Read the extracts from the Penny Papers in the Quarterly Review for last October. Recollect the manner in which the axe was laid at the root of the House of Lords in the time of Cromwell. We know the statesmen, who bring forward the present measure, do not propose to destroy the peerage; but will the like forbearance be observed by the agitators, whom that measure will bring into parliament, and by the people, whom that measure will instruct in their strength, and animate in their zeal ‘And if such be the prospects of the peerage, how will it fare with the crown and the church 2 Let us dwell for a moment upon the principle of these establishments; was it all mere arrogant assumption ; all gratuitous fraud upon a credulous age, which taught that the establishment of crown and church was jure divino 2 Far from it. It was a calculation of the deepest worldly wisdom, a provision of the most consummate selfish sagacity. Starting from the simple and undoubted principles that civil government is approved by Providence, and that Christianity is a revelation of Divine truth, men were trained on to the toleration, and at last to the reverence of an established church and an hereditary crown, subsisting by the grace of God. The subtle spirits who reared this fabric knew well that it could rest on no other foundation. The great master principle of human weakness, man's dread of the mysterious unknown, his self prostration before the Infinite, was resorted to, by the authors of these institutions. They looked round for shoulders broad enough to bear this yoke. Chivalry rattled her sword at the very suggestion of it. The great barons looked over their battlements, and laughed at their fellow baron, the king, who, claiming to be greater than the greatest, was some

times weaker than the weakest ; but Superstition offered his sturdy back to the burden, and bore it, like the strong ass in the bible, for centuries. But those centuries are passed. The divine right of the crown and an established church are exploded, and on what foundation do they now rest ? If they rest on any other foundation than that on which the franchise of Old Sarum rests, we do not know what it is."—pp. 173–175. Thus, according to the notions of this author, and be it recollected that they are his notions, which we are analyzing,-one reform necessarily leads on to another, and no man can say where it is to stop. He thinks that when once tradition and prescription are got rid of, there will be no principle to guide us, save that which is in itself reasonable; that we shall follow the example of France in abolishing our hereditary peerage, and our established church, and that in other matters we shall not disdain to take a lesson even from the United States. * The prosperity of this country, under its popular representation, will prove an argument for radical reform in England, which nothing can refute. It will come with the greater force, because it comes from a kindred source. When we proclaim the superiority of our system over the English, we do not say that our Abana and Pharphar are better than all the waters of Israel. No ; the pure stream of our popular system flows out of the living rock of English liberty. Our fathers brought the prin

ciple from their native land, and established it here. Of British origin,

it is congenial with British feeling; it is natural to the Saxon race. Till it had been so beautifully developed here, it was competent for the champions of ancient prescriptions to say that an equal representation was an Utopian dream. But we have exhibited it to the world, a noon-day reality; a living, healthy and powerful agent. We learned from the fathers of English liberty, that taxation and representation should go hand in hand. We saw, in the land of our forefathers, that this glorious maxim was thought to be satisfied, when supplies were voted to the ministry by a parliament in which four hundred and eighty-seven out of six hundred and fifty-eight” held their seats, either on the mere nomination or under the controlling influence of the government and two hundred and seventeen individuals. Not thus did we understand and apply the maxim. We believed that all, who share the burthen of the taxes, should possess a share in the representation; and on this, as on the corner stone, our system rests. Is it just 2 Is it equitable 2 Is any other system either just or equitable. And when you cut adrift the vessel of state from the ancient moorings of tradition, will she not infallibly be borne down the popular current, as far as it flows : Will the people of England, once engaged in the business of Reform, compare their unequal, imperfect, and complex system with one as simple, equal, and just as ours, and submit to the continuauce of the abuse 2 It cannot be. We shall more than return the inheritance, which our fathers brought over with them; and, like the Roman daughter, we shall give back the tide of life to the frame of our political parent.

*The author has evidently by mistake supposed this to be the number before the Union with Ireland.

‘What period may elapse, before the political system of England will be thus regenerated, we affect not to conjecture. No observant person can deny, on the one hand, that elements are there in motion, competent to the production of any change, however stupendous; nor, on the other, that the existing institutions are deeply enough rooted, for a duration indefinitely prolonged. What we call accident, exercises the most potent influence over human affairs, in peace as well as in war. We believe it may be safely said, that no great political movement ever resulted precisely as it was intended to. We should not be surprised, if a very few years witnessed an organized republican government in France and in England. It would not imply greater changes than those which took place in this country between 1775 and 1789. Those changes here, it has been said a thousand times, grew out of the prevalence of a few elementary principles of civil liberty; and those principles at the present day, are just as current in Europe, as they were and are in America. The object of government is the good of the people; the rights of the people are equal; the well ascertained will of the people is the rule of government; these maxims are just as well understood in England as in America; and they are, if possible, more inconsistent with moderate reform, than with the continuance of the old system.—pp. 176—177.

The writer next proceeds to argue, that the rising war of opinion, whether it be at present successful or not on the side of popular rights, will of necessity carry with it the seeds of freedom, through every other part of Europe. He combats with irresistible force the often repeated objection, that the institutions of America are not congenial to the states of our continent, and maintains that they are in reality as well adapted to the political societies at this side of the Atlantic, as they are to those on the other; because those societies are all descended from the same original stock, and it cannot be that ‘families of nations of kindred origin, and reared in the same school of civilization, should require, the one an arbitrary, the other a liberal system; that despotism should suit men on one side of the water, and liberty on the other.’

“But,’ he adds, “not only are the nations of Europe and America of the same stock, and brought up in the same school of civilization, but their present social condition, man for man, family for family, neighbourhood for neighbourhood, is so nearly the same, in all things not connected with their political condition and civil privileges, that it is scarcely conceivable that they should be supposed, by any intelligent person, to require a radically different constitution of government. Compare Americans and Englishmen together. Do not the same principles of natural justice, the same notions of equity prevail between man and man 2 Is the duty a man owes his neighbour very differently understood in the two countries? Are not the domestic relations on a footing substantially the same? Are not reputation, pleasure, fortune, ease, and other great ends of life derived and pursued in the same way there and here 2 Most certainly. With what plausibility then can it be affirmed, that England is unfit for republicanism; that while in America the people insist on choosing those who make and administer their laws, it is absolutely necessary that in England they should not choose them : We believe that no such necessity exists ; nay, that the pretence of it was abandoned, when the doctrine of divine right was abandoned. There is no medium between that doctrine and popular will. How can there be? If the king holds neither of God nor man, of what or whom does he hold 2’-pp. 179–180. The objections, that the mass of the people in Europe are not sufficiently enlightened for republican institutions; that for such institutions there is here too great an inequality of fortunes; that the people are too much habituated to hereditary systems, and are, in fact, too ignorant for the machinery of a republic to work well amongst them, are combatted by the author with a masculine power of argument, which we have never seen excelled on any subject whatever, and which he winds up with the following pointed conclusion.

“But were the difficulties, few or many, small or great, which oppose the introduction of liberal institutions in Europe, they are not of a nature which will satisfy the mass of the people. You cannot satisfy them, that any thing is too good for their enjoyment. Seeing the American people choosing their chief magistrate every four years, they will not trust to the chance of birth the designation of a chief magistrate for life. When they see us calling from the mass of the community the citizen, whom we may deem most worthy and best qualified to administer the State, they will not allow this momentous trust to pass by inheritance. When they see us, at the end of four years, quietly displacing the chief magistrate, who has disappointed public expectation, they will not submit to the alternative of a life of misgovernment or a bloody revolution. They will have an elective system; or, at any rate, they will try for it.'—pp. 183, 184.

Finally, he contends that the very means which the governments of Europe have adopted for upholding their existing system, namely the employment of a large military force, will of itself administer the most efficient remedy to the disease by which those states are afflicted. ‘Were we called upon,’ he observes in his masterly style, “to single out and identify the most peculiar characteristic of the age, we should say that it is the extension of public opinion to the ranks of the army; the integration into the state of the military array, which had been set apart to watch, to overawe, and to govern the state; the transfusion into the breast of the soldier, of the feelings and sympathies of the citizen. Henceforth it is a most grave question, how far the army may be trusted by the government, and in this doubt, the support, which the government derived from the army, crumbles into dust.’ This is a change obviously to be traced to the rising of Europe against Napoleon, when its armies may be said to have been infected with a noble contagion, which still prevails amongst them. We have seen the effects of its influence in the army that proglaimed the constitution in Spain, and in that which has once more raised the tricoloured flag in France; we have also seen it in the armies of Belgium and Poland. “When addressed as citizens by Caesar, the

soldiers were ashamed of their mutiny, and begged to be restored to their character as soldiers; [but] when addressed as citizens by their neighbours, by their fellow citizens, by their country, they are ashamed of their employment as the instruments of oppression, and beg to be restored to the character of patriots and men.”. It may be doubtful to what extent this feeling has leavened the armies of Russia and Austria, but that it pervades the Prussian troops, is evident from the kind of cordon sanitaire by which the king endeavours to guard against the example of the Poles. Should a contest ever take place in England between the reformers and the antireformers, does any man doubt for a moment the course which, with perhaps one or two exceptions, the troops would in general adopt? “In this state of things, concludes the author, ‘what is to prevent the people of England’ (should it be rendered necessary by the obstinacy of the house of peers) ‘from meeting by their delegates in convention, to devise a general reform of the Constitution ? The right to do so, has been, on the most solemn occasions, recognized as the birthright of Englishmen. Such a measure is familiar to them from our example; and the history of their own liberties dates from a similar convention of all those who, at that day, were allowed to have any rights, the Barons at Runnymede. There is no doubt, that such a measure is in accordance with the spirit of the age, and with the temper of a large majority of the people of England; and if the troops could not be depended on to suppress the preliminary movements, required for such a convention, we see nothing to prevent its taking place. And that some such course will be adopted, we have little doubt; we might almost say, that it is the general belief in England, that a radical change is impending in the Constitution of the country. It is conceded that the proposed measure of reform is forced upon the ministry, by the fears of popular convulsion. Of this measure, the Duke of Wellington, as the head of the last administration, has lately declared in the House of Lords, from the lights of an experience of forty-five years in the public service, that it will be fatal to the Constitution of the country; while Lord Grey, the responsible author of the proposed plan, offers it as the least that would satisfy the public demand, and as a measure which would content the people for a long time. It seems to us, that these are but two forms of expressing one and the same prevailing, undefined, and alarming idea, that the present Constitution of England cannot last. ‘We have already remarked, that we see no intrinsic difficulty in the adoption by England and the other countries in Europe, of a Constitution like ours; and we believe it will take place ; with what ease and tranquillity on the one hand, or violence on the other, must depend upon the resistance the party opposed to change. If the liberal party, as a class, are to undertake the business of reform, with halters round their necks, they will of course go desperately to work; and if they triumph, the blood of their adversaries will flow. But if, as appears to to be the intention of the privileged orders at present, they allow the measures of amelioration proposed, to take a parliamentary course, although we are far from believing the plan now in agitation will content the people of England for a long

« AnteriorContinuar »