Page images
PDF
EPUB

the remote past—because from 1760 to 1828 was à period of utter political darkness in this country. But in 1828 no Dissenter in England could hold any civil or military office in the State. Many did hold these offices contrary to law, but every year a bill of indemnity was passed to excuse them for having broken the law. There were six millions of Roman Catholics in the kingdom, and not one of them was permitted to sit in the House of Commons. Where did the members of Parliament come from? He had lately been spending some days in the county of Cornwall, with beautiful coast scenery, and with an industrious, a frugal, an intelligent, and a nobleminded population; but the rotten boroughs of that county formerly returned forty-four members.

At the time of which he was speaking, too, of municipal government there was scarcely anything in England, while in the colonies we had 800,000 negroes in a state apparently of hopeless bondage. Then there were monopolies in corn, sugar, and many other things. In canvassing a working man, he had told him that since the repeal of the Corn Laws there had come into this country more than five hundred millions' worth of food which those laws were intended to keep out. A loaf had been given where otherwise it could not have been given, and there was not an agricultural labourer in England whose wages had not been increased, whose comforts had not been made more secure, by the abolition of the law which was supposed to give special protection to their interest. Then there was the abolition of the tax upon the newspaper press, respecting which great change his old friend Mr. Milner Gibson, of all men, deserved the honour and the credit; and this change could not be reckoned second to any. England had undergone a revolution in the past forty years.

How were those changes made, and who made them ? Public opinion had never been created, or stimulated, or guided—it had sometimes been obeyed—by the Tory party.

After referring to the French Treaty, slavery emancipation, the repeal of the paper duty, reform, and the disestablishment of the Irish Church—as matters all supported by the Liberal party, Mr. Bright thus concluded his stirring address :

[ocr errors]

“We must have done with everything that is intended solely to please and to elevate one class as against another class. (Hear, hear.) We must be as one people, and we must have one law, and one measure of justice, and one great equality in all our institutions. (Cheers.) And if you intend to have this, you must give no more support to the Tory party—(cheers) -now, when you have votes, than you did by your voices when you had no votes. If it had not been for that party, your fathers and your grandfathers would have had a vote, which is only now conceded to you. (Hear, hear.) What would you think of the liberated negroes of the Southern States coming forward to vote for any of the members of the Copperhead faction-(laughter)—that would have kept him in perpetual bondage ? Metaphorically, may I not say that your chains are but just dropping off ? They now lie at your feet. (Applause.) Your limbs at this very moment are sore with their chafing. The sound of their clanking has not left your ears, and you are impudently and audaciously asked to vote for a man and a party who for a hundred years past have riveted those chains upon you. (Prolonged cheering.) Ten years ago I appealed to you from this place. I appealed to you on behalf of the franchise, which I said you had a right to, and which must be shortly conceded to you. I did not appeal in vain. (Hear, hear, and applause.) I reminded you then of what

of

your fathers had done, not then thirty years ago, when they had shaken the fabric of privilege to its base—I appeal to you now. Ever since I have been permitted to speak in these open councils of my countrymen I have pleaded for their rights—for their political rights. You have now, to a large extent, obtained those rights. I plead with you once more that you should regard those rights as a sacred trust—(cheers)-in the eyes your countrymen, and in the eye of Heaven itself, and that you should use those rights only as an instrument of good—that you should seriously weigh the claims of all those who seek your suffrages, and that you should so vote that you may expect to influence in the Imperial Parliament the legislation of your country, so that you may advance the happiness of all the people in all its families, and the grandeur and the security of this nation. (Loud applause.)

On the 30th, Mr. Bright delivered another stirring speech to an enthusiastic audience which crowded the Town Hall in every part. He spoke with more action and vigour than on the previous occasion. The subject of the minority clause roused the hon. member's eloquence to its highest pitch, and, apart from its other merits, the whole address was a fine piece of oratorical display. Mr. Jaffray moved the following resolution : That with the view of defeating the operation of the minority clause, and of rendering certain the return of the three Liberal candidates, Messrs. Bright, Dixon, and Muntz, this meeting is of opinion that the plan of voting proposed by the Liberal Association should receive the unanimous support of the Liberal electors.' By this plan, which originated with a well-known Birmingham Liberal, Mr. Harris, the borough was mapped out into various districts, and the electors in each district were told which candidates they were to vote for, with the view of ensuring the safe

return of the whole three. The resolution was seconded by the Rev. Charles Vince, and carried without a single dissentient.

Mr. Bright then addressed the meeting. Referring first to the Reform Act of the previous session, he showed that out of sixty-one clauses left in it when the bill passed, there were only four complete and perfect clauses as the Government offered them to the House. Sixteen clauses were borrowed from Mr. Gladstone's bill of 1866. He then referred at length to the ratepaying clauses of the Act, which had caused so much suffering and irritation in Birmingham. The Government were responsible for what had taken place in this matter. Without the abolition of compounding, in the then attitude of the Government, one of two things must have happened-either the bill must have been wholly lost for the session, or the great bulk of the householders, below £10—476,000 of them-must have remained without enfranchisement. He (Mr. Bright) had done all he could to inform public opinion on this question, and when any rational and just remedy was proposed to the House of Commons he hoped to be there to support it.

Passing then to consider the operation of the minority clause, Mr. Bright observed that the right of the electors at the nomination to hold up their hands for their candidates remained as it was before the Act passed. Now when a poll was demanded, it was granted to prove whether the show of hands did really express the opinions of the constituency. But how could the electors, being only allowed to vote for two candidates at the poll, correct or in any way prove the propriety and the truth of the demonstration at the bustings ? Was it not quite clear that our ancient constitution was entirely departed from, and that the innovation which was passed last year was directly in the teeth of all the principles in this matter which had governed the electors for six hundred years past? If the principle were a good one, why not have it all over the constituencies? If they gave a seat to the minority in those places having only two seats, the borough was neutralized, and politically might just as well be extinct. Mr. Bright next demonstrated the fallacy of the cumulative vote as proposed by Mr. Lowe, showing that if a Tory candidate in Birmingham had only ten thousand supporters out of forty thousand, he might even come in at the head of the poll, if his supporters gave him all their three votes, and the Liberals distributed theirs amongst the various Liberal candidates. This was rejected, but the House of Lords, on the motion of Lord Cairns, introduced the odious clause now complained of, and the Government had carried it in the Commons by the united vote of the Conservatives, and some forty or fifty men from the Liberal side.

Their Conservative opponents, said Mr. Bright, were in favour of this clause, but if one of them by any possibility had a chance of creeping in through it

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »