Imágenes de páginas


prices; Mr. Fullarton, whose “Regulation of Currencies” is a standard work; Mr. Macleod, whose just-issued book displays the endless injustices and stupidities of our monetary history; Mr. James Wilson, M. P., who, in detailed knowledge of commerce, currency, and banking, is probably unrivalled; and Mr. John Stuart Mill, who both as logician and economist, stands in the first rank ? Do they not know that the alleged distinction between banknotes and other credit-documents, which forms the professed basis of the Bank-Act (and for which Sir R. Peel could quote only the one poor authority of Lord Liverpool) is denied, not only by the gentlemen above named, but also by Mr. Huskisson, Professor Storch, Dr. Travers Twiss, and the distinguished French Professors, M. Joseph Garnier, and M. Michel Chevalier ?* Do they not know, in short, that both the profoundest thinkers and the most patient inquirers are against them? If they do not know this, it is time they studied the subject on which they write with such an air of authority. If they do know it, a little more respect for their opponents would not be unbecoming

* See Mr. Tooke's “Bank Charter Act of 1844,” etc.

[ocr errors]



[ocr errors]

THIRTY years ago, the dread of impending evils agi

tated not a few breasts throughout England. Instinctive fear of change, justified as it seemed by outbursts of popular violence, conjured up visions of the anarchy which would follow the passing of a Reform Bill. In scattered farmhouses there was chronic terror, lest those newly endowed with political power should in some way filch all the profits obtained by rearing cattle and growing corn. The occupants of halls and manors spoke of ten-pound householders almost as though they formed an army of spoilers, threatening to overrun and devastate the property of landholders. Among townspeople there were some who interpreted the abolition of old corruptions into the establishment of mob-government, which they held to be equivalent with spoliation. And even in Parliament, such alarms found occasional utterance: as, for instance, through the mouth of Sir Robert Inglis, who hinted that the national debt would not improbably be repudiated if the proposed measure became law.

There may perhaps be a few who regard the now pending change in the representation with similar dread


who think that artisans and others of their grade are prepared, when the power is given to them, to lay hands on property. We presume, however, that such irrational alarmists form but a small percentage of the nation. Not only throughout the Liberal party, but among the Conservatives, there exists a much fairer estimate of the

popular character than is implied by anticipations of so gloomy a kind. Many of the upper and middle classes are conscious of the fact, that if critically compared, the average conduct of the wealthy would not be found to differ very widely in rectitude from that of the poor. Making due allowance for differences in the kinds and degrees of temptation to which they are exposed, the respective grades of society are tolerably uniform in their morals. That disregard of the rights of property which, among the people at large, shows itself in the direct form of petty thefts, shows itself among their richer neighbours in various indirect forms, which are scarcely less flagitious and often much more detrimental to fellow citizens. Traders, wholesale and retail, commit countless dishonesties, ranging from adulteration and short measure, up to fraudulent bankruptcy-dishonesties of which we sketched out some of the ramifications in a late article on "The Morals of Trade.” The trickeries of the turf; the bribery of electors; the non-payment of tradesmen's bills; the jobbing in railway-shares; the obtainment of exorbitant prices for land from railway-companies; the corruption that attends the getting of private bills through Parliament—these and other such illustrations, show that the anconscientiousness of the upper class, manifested though it is in different forms, is not less than that of the lower class: bears as great a ratio to the size of the class, and, if traced to its ultimate results, produces evils as great, if not greater.

And if the facts prove that in uprightness of inten


[ocr errors]



tion, there is little to choose between one class of the community and another, an extension of the franchise cannot rationally be opposed on the ground that property would be directly endangered. There is no more reason to suppose that the mass of artisans and labourers would use political power with conscious injustice to their richer neighbours, than there is reason to suppose that their richer neighbours now consciously commit legal injustices against artisans and labourers.

What, then, is the danger to be apprehended? If land, and houses, and railways, and funds, and property of all other kinds, would be held with no less security than now, why need there be any fears that the franchise would be misused? What are the misuses of it which are rationally to be anticipated ?

The ways in which those to be endowed with political power are likely to abuse it, may be inferred from the ways in which political power has been abused by those who have possessed it.

What general trait has characterized the rule of the classes hitherto dominant ? These classes have not habitually sought their own direct advantage at the expense of other classes; but their measures have nevertheless frequently been such as were indirectly advantageous to themselves. Voluntary self-sacrifice has been the exception. The rule has been, so to legislate as to preserve private interests from injury, whether public interests were injured or not. Though, in equity, a landlord has no greater claim on a defaulting tenant than any other creditor, yet landlords, having formed the majority of the legislature, the law has given them power to recover rent in anticipation of other creditors. Though the duties paya. ble to government on the transfer of property to heirs and legatees, might justly have been marle to fall more heavily on the wealthy than on the comparatively poor, and on real property rather than on personal property, yet the reverse arrangement was enacted and long maintained, and is even still partially in force. Rights of presentation to places in the Church, obtained however completely in violation of the spirit of the law, are yet tenaciously defended, with little or no regard to the welfare of those for whom the Church ostensibly exists. Were it not accounted for by the bias of personal interests, it would be impossible to explain the fact, that on the question of pro-. tection to agriculture, the landed classes and their dependents were ranged against the other classes: the same evidence being open to both. And if there needs a still stronger illustration, we have it in the opposition made to the repeal of the Corn-Laws by the established clergy. Though by their office, preachers of justice and mercy, though constantly occupied in condemning selfishness and holding up a supreme example of self-sacrifice; yet so swayed were they by those temporal interests which they thought endangered, that they offered to this proposed change an almost uniform resistance. Out of some ten thousand ex officio friends of the poor and needy, there was but one (the Rev. Thomas Spencer) who took an active part in abolishing this tax imposed on the people's bread for the maintenance of landlords' rents.

Such are a few of the ways in which, in modern times, those who have the power seek their own benefit at the expense

of the rest. It is in analogous ways that we must expect any section of the community which may be made predominant by a political change, to sacrifice the welfare of other sections to its own. While we do not see reason to think that the lower classes are intrinsically less con-. scientious than the upper classes, we do not see reason to think that they are more conscientious. Holding, as we do, that in each society, and in each age, the morality is,

« AnteriorContinuar »