THE brief interval, during which we write, between the completion of the election returns and the meeting of Parliament, would furnish materials for an extraordinary scene, were it possible to exhibit pictorially the phenomena of the moral world, as the painter delineates those of the material creation. Externally, it is one of comparative repose. The constituents have waged their warfare, and won or lost the prize for which they struggled; while the representatives, an equally pugnacious body, have not yet begun their conflict. But this quiet is chiefly external. At no season, perhaps, except on very extraordinary emergencies, is there more of strong and turbid political feeling than in this interval. The glow of recent success, the bitter recollection of irretrievable mistake, the rage of defeat, the self-upbraidings of indolence or delinquency, the planning of what might have been done and of what shall be done another time, the stimulated sensation of new enmities or friendships, the excited discussion of characters, measures, or principles; the anxious speculation into future proceedings and consequences; these, and a thousand other commotions, are mingling beneath the smoothened surface of society, unquiet elements, that would readily relieve themselves by the outbursting of another storm. We are much mistaken if a large proportion of the people would not rush into the excitement of a second election with more zest and avidity than they engaged in that which has just been terminated. Scarcely any result short of having beaten the opposite party by at least two to one, is sufficient to slake the electioneering fever, when once the blood is really up. It would not be wise in the Dictator to try a succession of dissolutions. The popular spirit will not soon cry, Hold! enough!' There are defeats which it is eager to retaliate; and triumph only puts it in the mood to sing, If it be na weel bobbit, we'll bob it again.' We have no doubt that the fresh election in March, with which some of the Tory journals threaten the country, will, should the threat be realized, produce a Parliament decidedly more hostile to the Administration than the one now chosen.


But although, as politicians, we look with satisfaction on the security which this condition of the public mind affords against the daring and desperate designs which have been prematurely avowed, we cannot but lament it as evil in itself, and as a mournful object of contemplation, when compared with the state in which the country might have been but for the intrigue, cupidity, and caprice which are allowed to sport with the welfare of millions. These excitements are only less unwholesome for the nation than would be the demented baseness that would quietly return to the condition from which we have emerged. They are not that troubling of the waters which is caused by the descent of an angel, and succeeded by the gift of healing; they are only a No. 98.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

needless stirring up of angry passion; the symptoms of a mischievous power, too strong for the public peace. Evil in themselves, they are the fruits of a culpability which calls for reprobation, if not for retribution, which it is necessary to quell, though it may not be magnanimous to punish.

How long is it to be endured that an election should be merely a party conflict? That the most dignified act of free men, the choice of representatives for protecting the honour and interests of the community, for revising its institutions, and accommodating them from time to time to the people's wants and opinions, and for facilitating national improvement by the wise application of national resources,-should be degraded into a convulsive effort to repel a faction struggling for place and power, that it may rule for its own advantage. The Tories complain of demagogues; there would be no demagogues but for themselves. There is no party in the country but their own; no set of men, that is, banded together for the purpose of gaining and keeping possession of public property and political authority. Could we imagine the whole faction deported, the next election might, for all that ap pears, be simply the choice of persons supposed to be the best qualified to legislate for the country; from whom again, on account of capacity or station, would be selected the requisite number of individuals for the executive department. The great good of the Reform Bill was in its being a step towards this state of things. The selfishness of party, now concentrated in Toryism, is the great obstacle in the way of our arriving at its realization, and therefore a nuisance which requires to be abated.

That the country should have any interest in being governed by a party, is a manifest absurdity. Legislative wisdom and executive impartiality and energy, these are what the nation needs. That a party has a strong interest in governing the nation is an obvious truth. They become possessed thereby of an enormous mass of that material of enjoyment for which mankind are continually striving. All public offices and appointments, diplomatic, judicial, colonial, the church, the army, the navy, corporations, together with the influence of legislation upon class interests, all become the prizes of an organized body, instead of being simply the machinery of social order and prosperity. The late change in the Administration was a barefaced attempt to appropriate these advantages, or rather to recover that monopoly of them which Reform had broken up; and the dissolution was an endeavour to deceive or to corrupt the electors into an acquiescence in this attempt; with what measure of success will soon appear.

The elections have been conducted in the spirit which corresponds with this view of the occasion. With scarcely more than one or two exceptions, the known and hitherto avowed enemies of Reform, the men who occasioned or took advantage of the late change for the very purpose of obstructing the progress of Reform,

have presented themselves before their assembled countrymen, with the lie upon their lips that they were Reformers. We cannot descend to language less plain. The instantaneous conversion of the entire party, immediately upon the success of the last and deadliest of a long succession of hostile efforts, is a miracle not to be credited, and the affectation of it an hypocrisy not to be endured. Would that this were all, and that these soi-disant novitiates of Reform had not been polluting the souls of multitudes by demoralizing practices, which in several cases have proved successful; which in very many more were sufficiently notorious; and which in all are deeply disgraceful.

It is evident that the Tories have gained in numerical strength by the elections. That they have done so to a sufficient extent to retain possession of the Government, we will not believe until we see it. By no calculations that have been made on any rational principles, by no test that we can apply, is any other result to be obtained than that as a party they are decidedly in a minority, whose only chance of success is in their superior organization, the strong bond of a selfish interest, the support of the House of Lords and the Court, and the opportunities which may occur for dividing those to whom they are opposed. It is the business of all honest representatives to render these chances unavailing.

Devoutly is it to be hoped that no false delicacy, no foolish fear of being called factious, no vain expectations of future opportunity, will interfere with that immediate decision of the great question between the Ministry and the people, which is so aptly provided for by the forms of Parliament. The battle can never be so well fought as on the first two topics that must necessarily engage the attention of the House, viz. the choice of a Speaker, and the Address. The first is not a mere matter of form; nor, now that the transition has been accomplished from a nomination Parliament to a representative one, can it be again treated as only a question of convenience for the despatch of business. There is nothing, henceforth, to interfere with the appointment of a man who, while qualified by his experience and attainments for the routine duties of the office, shall also be qualified, by his principles and character, to represent the reformed House of Commons; who shall be in sympathy with the majority of that House; and who may, therefore, without the incongruity which was temporarily submitted to, be presented to the King, in the face of the country and the world, as the first commoner of Great Britain. To endure, now, the elevation of a member of the party, the one party which alone disturbs and confronts the nation, to so conspicuous and honourable an office, would show an indifference and insensibility as culpable as they would be extraordinary.

But while the strength or weakness of the new Administration will, in all probability, be exhibited by this question, it is that of the Address by which their fate will be decided. And here we

trust that the Reformers in Parliament will rise to the full sense of the responsibility and dignity of their position. The occasion is a magnificent one. It is for them, now, to give an elevated tone to the popular feeling, a defined aim to the national desire for improvement, a distinct expression to the great principles of Reform. The Amendment on the Ministerial Address ought to be a National Manifesto, embodying the desires and determinations of the people on the mode and agents of Government. There should be none of the little tricks of the old party conflicts. None of the ambiguities by which parliamentary tacticians used to catch straggling votes. Carried or lost, if lost it can be, it should tell why the country will never again voluntarily endure the misrule of party. It should denounce those who, after the lapse of so many generations, have revived the exercise of an irresponsible prerogative, the obsolete and fatal claim of the Stuart dynasty. For royal interpositions it should demand accountable advisers. It should proclaim that when a public act is imputed to the King personally, as in the dismissal of the late Administration, there is a gross violation of all that, by courtesy, is called the Constitution. It should indicate the absurdity of calling for public confidence in the hitherto systematic opponents of public right. It should declare that the National Reformers tenaciously uphold the sacredness of property, and the obligation of applying public endowments to public purposes; and that therefore they claim for the people the benefit of educational and religious funds which are grossly abused in their monopoly by a sectarian and political hierarchy. It should assert full and entire civil equality for the holders of all the diversities of theological opinion. It should announce their determination to correct the abuses, to extend the advantages, and to liberalize the spirit of municipal institutions. It should pledge them to apply the now recognised principles of Reform to all political, civic, legal, or religious establishments that may require revision. And in the respectful but manly language of free men, speaking with the voice and armed with the authority of a free people, it should remind the Sovereign that he holds his crown but by common acquiescence for common good; that it befits not his station to lend his authority to the selfish purposes of a party; that in these sentiments he hears the reply to his appeal to the people; and that should he, by renewing that appeal, allow the accursed enginery of electioneering demoralization again to bear upon their weakness, their dependence, and their fears, they will arouse the popular spirit to such a manifestation of determined principle and resistless power as shall make faction, corruption, and oligarchic pride call on rocks and mountains to screen them from the awful judgment. Let the majority, as majority we think, and a large one too, they must be; let them but thus speak, and the hearts of the mere men of office will quail within them, while the

grumblings and vituperations of their subordinates will, in spite of their angry loudness, be drowned in the roar from without of the thunders that will utter their voices responsively.

If the Reform Members of the House of Commons will take their stand on such ground as this, they will do more for their country than has ever before been accomplished, even by the noblest patriots of the most trying periods; more than by the Parliamentarians of 1641, for they will head the people in the warfare, not of brute force, but of enlightened opinion; more than by the Revolutionists of 1688, for they will establish, not the ' reign of Influence,' but that of Representation.

Such an Address must be followed, either by the resignation of Ministers, or the dissolution of Parliament. Preparation should

be made for either event. The constituencies should hold themselves in readiness for the latter by permanent committees, which, like skeleton regiments, can at short notice recruit their ranks, and be fit for action. The other alternative is ably discussed in a pamphlet, of which the second edition has just been published, and which we earnestly recommend to the attention of our readers,* as full of sound political philosophy.

'It appears, therefore, that, under any combination of circumstances, the present Administration cannot stand. It can stand only on these suppositions: First, that the present Ministers are willing to sacrifice all the reputation and self-respect which alone can render the toils of office endurable. Secondly, that the country is willing to sanction a degree of political profligacy, which even the tools of a despotism would not venture. And, thirdly, that the monstrous doctrine is to be admitted, that no one is responsible for the most dangerous of all possible exertions of the Royal prerogative, the unforeseen and total, and, unless indeed its popular measures were the provocation, the unprovoked, dismissal of a popular Administration. Any one of these objections would be fatal. What, then, must be the effect of their combination? The arduous question is, therefore, forced upon us, On what terms are their successors to take office?

It is obvious that they cannot accept it simpliciter, without pledge or condition, subject to be summarily ejected, while apparently possessing the full confidence of the Crown and of the people, without even a pretext that will bear a moment's discussion. Some pledge must be given, and it must be more than a mere nominal pledge; it must consist of something more than mere words, which four months after may be forgotten, or explained away, or disowned. It must be a pledge, deriving its force, not from the giver, but from the thing given. It must be a pledge, not merely promising the means of good government, but actually affording them.

'Our readers must at once acknowledge that only one such pledge is possible, and that is, a majority in the House of Lords.'-p. 70-72.

The writer proposes to conform the House of Lords to its

* On National Property, and on the Prospects of the present Administration and of their Successors. London: Fellowes.

« VorigeDoorgaan »