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Mr. Bright said that the question had now taken great hold upon the public mind, and it could not be spoken of as a scheme of wild enthusiasts. In dealing with the subject, we should look to the improved condition of the people or to special legislation : he preferred trusting to the former influence. He was old enough to remember when drunkenness amongst the upper classes was ten or twenty times more common than it was at present. Temperance had made great way amongst those classes who could obtain liquor at their will; and if it were possible to make all classes in the country as temperate as those of whom he had spoken, we should be amongst the very soberest nations of the earth. But something might still be done by special legislation, for the condition of things was not satisfactory; and as regarded licences, in some cases the number of publichouses and beer-houses had been unnecessarily and mischievously increased. But the present proposal, that a majority of ratepayers should decide whether licences should be granted or renewed in their districts, was a novel experiment, and one which had never been proposed or sanctioned by the House with regard to any other description of property, or any other interest. However desirous the mover might be to carry out his object, he (Mr. Bright) did not think it likely that the House of Commons would consent to such a proposition as that.
He would object altogether to allow such a matter as this to be decided by the vote of two-thirds of the ratepayers of any parish or town. 'I think there would be, in all probability, sudden, capricious, and unjust action under this bill, which would have a very unfortunate effect upon the interests of those immediately concerned ; and I think it might also create throughout the country violent discussions on the question, and I am afraid might even produce a great and pernicious reaction against the very honest and good objects which my hon. friend desires to carry out. For that reason, as a member of this House representing a very large constituency, and having my sympathies entirely with those who are endeavouring to promote temperance amongst the people, and after much consideration on this subject, I have never yet seen my way at all to give a vote which would tend to pass a measure such as that now proposed to the House.' Those friends of temperance made a great mistake who argued that the sale of these articles was in itself absolutely evil and immoral. 'There is abundant ground on which to argue this question on which no man can assail or controvert them, and it is unfortunate for a great and good cause that any of its enthusiastic but illogical advocates should select arguments which cannot fairly be sustained.'
But if this Bill were disposed of, was there nothing else which the House could do to meet the growing opinion of the country on the question ? He thought that the municipal councils of boroughs might be entrusted with the decision of how many licences should be granted in their districts, thus avoiding that capriciousness of action which would exist if the matter were left to the decision of a majority of ratepayers. In conclusion, Mr. Bright remarked: 'I have not that faith in any act of the Legislature on this subject which my hon. friend has. I believe in the effects of the instruction of the people, and of the improvement which is gradually taking place amongst them. I think that drunkenness is not on the increase, but rather is declining; and I hope, whether the law be altered or not, we shall find our working classes becoming more and more sober than in past times. But as I have on many occasions been before the public favouring the efforts of the advocates of temperance, I have felt bound to state the reasons why I cannot give my vote in favour of this bill, and to suggest what the House might do by way of giving to the people through their municipal councils control over this question. By doing this you might promote temperance among the people, and at the same time avoid a great and manifest injustice to thousands of persons now engaged in this trade, whose property would be rendered uncertain, if not altogether destroyed, if the bill of the hon. gentleman should receive the sanction of the House.'
The bill was also strongly opposed by Mr. Roebuck, who described it as the most mischievous measure he had ever heard proposed. Sir George Grey objected to the proposal on grounds somewhat similar to those dvanced by Mr. Bright; and after further discussion
the second reading of the bill was negatived by a large majority, the dissentients being 292, and the supporters only 35.
The measure was reintroduced by its author in many subsequent sessions, but it was invariably rejected, in many instances by very decisive majorities.
MR. BRIGHT ON CANADA.-GOVERNOR EYRE.—THE DEATH OF
Relations between England and the United States in 1865.-Excitement in
England. - The Defences of Canada. — Debates in the House of Commons —
-Nova Scotia and the Confederation Scheme. - The Jamaica Massacre.-
M HE relations between England and the United
1 States were somewhat strained at the opening of the year 1865. There was a suspicion in this country that our hostility during the war might cause retaliation on the part of the States, and the attention of English statesmen was directed to our Canadian possessions. A portion of the American press, moreover, was very active in endeavouring to foment discord. Previous to the meeting of Parliament, the American Government gave formal notice of their intention to terminate the Convention under which England and the United States had mutually agreed