Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

can remodel our present purely hereditary Upper Chamber so as to suit itself to these requirements.

In April 1869 Earl Russell introduced a Bill in the Lords to enable the Crown to create life peerages, conferring at the same time on their holders seats in the Upper Chamber, a course which the decision of the Committee of Privilege in the Wensleydale case proved to be beyond the power of the Royal Prerogative. Earl Russell argued that the infusion of a new element of intellectual strength into their Lordships' House would be of service to the country, and to the general advantage of the Upper Chamber. He was supported by Lord Granville on the part of the Government. Lord Salisbury proceeded in a collateral strain of argument, concluding his speech with the following words : We must try to impress on the country the fact that because we are not an elective House, we are not a bit the less a representative House; and not until the constitution of the House reveals that fact shall we be able to retain permanently, in the face of the advances of the House of Commons, the ancient privileges and constitution of this House.' The Bill was read a second time and passed through Committee, but, largely owing to the action of Lord Malmesbury, was thrown over on its third reading by a parcel of resuscitated peers, the numbers being 76 to 106. Such, as usual in that Chamber, was the fate of the only measure, microscopic as it was, which in recent years has had for its object the reform of the constitution of the House of Lords.

There are great difficulties, however, in attempting a solution of the hereditary problem.

If the number of seats in the House of Lords were limited to say 400, proportioned between the three great divisions of the kingdom in the same ratio as the Parliamentary representation, we should have first to consider the best method of constituting the Chamber. The system of election of representative peers by the whole body of peers themselves has proved a signal failure, notably in Scotland, where the representative peers are universally Tory while the popular electorates are strongly Liberal. Ireland, which possesses a foreign nobility,' is not so convincing an instance.

We miglit proceed according to two methods distinctly involving different principles. First, we may leave the hereditary character of the Upper House largely as it is, and merely introduce qualifications for a seat in that Chamber—such as having been elected at some period to serve in the Lower House, or having served the country in some public capacity for a period of not less than five years—and further impose a restriction as to age, say forty years, before a peer could take his seat. Peers not in the Upper Chamber should have the right to sit in the Commons if they could obtain election. These qualifications being obtained, the right to seats might proceed by precedence of rank, 300 hereditary peers being the fixed number of seats allotted to the peers proper, 100 extra seats, or as many more as might be necessary from time to time to make up the full number of 400, being reserved for ex officio members, such as the Judges and other officers under the Crown or life peers created by the advice of responsible ministers. The bishops would naturally be rigidly excluded from a reformed Upper Chamber.

The only other alternative reform is one which involves a wholly different conception, namely, to bring the Second Chamber directly under the control of an electorate. There are manifestly great objections to so great an innovation, and it is questionable if the hereditary peerage would not necessarily succumb under so considerable a change in our legislative constitution. The only plan which could be proposed would be to first define the classes from which members of the Upper Chamber should be derived, such as properly qualified peers, general officers in the army, diplomatic ministers, holders of professorial chairs at universities, Judges of the High Courts, &c. ; and secondly, by constituting an electorate to consist of registered voters paying rates up to a certain annual value, or in receipt of certain professional incomes, and superadding an educational test of having passed the examination or received a degree in one of the colleges of Great Britain incorporated under royal charter. It is highly questionable, however, in a country like England, whether this system of an electoral Upper Chamber would be possible, and it is more reasonable to suppose that the balance of influence between the two Chambers would be best preserved, and their respective dignity most enhanced, by leaving the House of Commons as the single representative of the popular voice, and associating with it in its legislative functions a Second Chamber, which, while it must of necessity preserve a large portion of its former inherited system of constitution, shall have been so far modified by a judicious process of addition and subtraction as to become what Lord Salisbury would have had it in 1869, if not an elective assembly, at least a representive one of all that was best and most distinguished among England's statesmen.

There is no reason, then, to fear that an Upper Chamber, properly constituted, although itself independent of the control of the constituencies, would venture to oppose legislation which embodied the absolute and manifest feeling of the people. In order though that its action should be respected in the country, and that its decisions should command the respect which pertains to the judicial decision of the Bench-that one unsullied glory of English freedomthe present purely hereditary constitution of that Chamber must be modified. There is hardly a measure which the Lords now attempt to deal with or modify, which does not draw forth an outburst of indignation from the ultra-Liberal quarters-an indignation which is shared partly by more moderate Liberals at times. This is surely a proof, if proof were needed, that this institution as it exists is out of harmony with the popular feeling. The only function fulfilled by the House is the one of inaugurating barren debates on matters of general policy, and the result of its decisions, even when brought to the test of a party division, is ignored by the Ministry and the Lower Chamber. It is fast sinking, in fact, into the condition of the House of Convocation. The Church goes on and lives, while prelates discuss, and neither the general feeling of the religious body nor.the law of church discipline is in any way affected by their debates. If the House of Lords is willing and prepared to see its Chamber sink into this state of senile impotence, it will adhere to its present constitution, and thereby prepare the way to justify that class of politicians who maintain that the very existence of an Upper Chamber is unnecessary, and that the country would exist as well without it.

If, on the other hand, a new life were infused into the Lords, and the character of their debates, procedure, and constitution were modified, we might live to see resuscitated in this country an institution which has for so long a period been gradually dropping into decay and political effacement, that its members themselves are unable to perceive how far it has receded from its old position in the constitution, how far it has lost its vital energies. The halt, the maimed, and the blind, who now inhabit its precincts, have not the energy to rejuvenate their existence. Herein lies its greatest danger. The country itself does not care for the reform of the Upper Chamber, any more than a man cares for his neighbour's domestic arrangements, so long as they do not affect him personally. The power of the Upper House is so largely in abeyance that its virility itself is becoming rudimentary from disuse. The surrounding of the organism has changed ; its histological function must change with it, otherwise the inexorable law of decay must be left to fulfil its natural course.

The British Constitution is a monument to antiquity; the slow elements of change which have taken place in its development require almost a geological period to recognise them. The true genius of the English people, as reflected and taught by our poets, is less different between Shakespeare and Milton compared with Tennyson and Carlyle than the ordinary observer would admit. The sturdy independence of English character, its uncompromising hostility to crude theory, and its veneration for mystical sentiment, was as much a living reality of the fifteenth as it is of the nineteenth century in England. There is thus an inexhaustible fund of conservatism to draw on in this country, if only its leaders will bave confidence in its people. The reforms which its people demand are but the natural outcome of increased education and increased intelligence among the people. There is a vitalising force of spontaneity about an educated people which prevents them from being willing to abstain from a proper share in the direction of their own affairs. Formerly it was the business of great leaders, great social castes, to lead the people who had no initiative energy of their own; to-day, the public man, the statesman, has a different problem before him ; it is for him to interpret and formulate into legislative language the aspirations of the whole people. Politics has ever been considered a noble and honourable profession in this country, one to which every man with stake and fortune has aspired. The English nobility, from their peculiar position of influence and wealth, are eminently favoured in the race for power; it will be from their own fault if they forego their heritage. The country is willing to confide to its upper class a large preponderance in the direction of its affairs, feeling that in many ways they are technically fitted and educated to do the work. Yet the people of to-day are not the indiscriminating class of old; they look to names as being guarantees of political honesty, not as a divine ordinance to rule. The upper classes who may think well to ignore this exhortation, because they see no immediate signs of rising discontent in the air, no tangible indication of the gradual wane of their authority, would be doubly wrong-wrong because they are blinding themselves with false hopes and vain aspirations, and wrong because they would be gradually sacrificing an inheritance, of which they of all people interested in the future have reason to be justly and immeasurably proud.

BLANDFORD.

PRESIDENT GARFIELD.

GENERAL JAMES ABRAM GARFIELD is the twentieth President of the United States. He is descended from an Edward Garfield, who, in 1635, was one of the proprietors of Watertown, having accompanied Governor Winthrop to New England. So far as is known, the family was of Saxon origin; and this conclusion is sustained by the complexion, temperament, and other characteristics of the President, as well as by his enthusiastic love of the language and literature of Germany, and other distinctive features of the German character. His father was born in Massachusetts, and his mother in New Hampshire.

In 1830 they settled in the Ohio forest, on a tract of land heavily wooded. A small log house was built, and the struggle to subdue the forest began. The farm is in Orange Township, Cuyahoga County, and is not more than eighteen miles from the flourishing town of Cleveland. Not quite two years afterwards, November 19, 1831, young James was born.

At an early age he was left fatherless, and his mother had to struggle with many difficulties. Some portions of the forest had been turned into fruitful fields when, one hot summer's day, a fire broke out in the surrounding woods, whose dry leaves and branches easily ignited. The ripening corn was in danger. The farmer's hopes were near destruction. With an admirable energy Abram Garfield set to work to throw up a dyke between his standing corn and the ravaging fire. After tremendous exertions be succeeded. But the success was dearly bought. Returning home, weary and overheated with his exhausting efforts, he took a chill. Inflammation of the throat followed which baffled all attempts to remedy. Medical practitioners in those thinly-settled districts were often mere pretenders, and Abram Garfield fell a victim to their incapacity. The poor fellow crept to the window of his log house to take a last look at his oxen, was seized with a paroxysm, and, leaning against the head of his rude bed, was choked to death. He was in the prime of life, and left four children to the care of his wife-a woman of intrepid spirit, of thorough

· The Life and Public Services of James A. Garfield. By Captain F. H. Mason, late of the Forty-second Regiment, U.S.A. London: Trübner & Co., 1881.

« VorigeDoorgaan »