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this bill to make, you will show that you have a generous confidence in your countrymen—you will show that you believe in the constitution of your country, that it really means a representation of the people, and you will show further, what I hope you will prove by your votes on this bill, that you are willing the institutions you boast of so much, and pretend to love so much, shall repose upon the goodwill, the intelligence, and the virtue of your countrymen.'
After a debate extending over many evenings, the bill was read a second time without a division. On the 12th of April, Mr. Bright spoke on the question of Reform at a great meeting in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, when seven thousand persons were present. In the course of this speech, he defended the right of working men to engage in strikes when the condition of trade made such a step necessary. In nine cases out of ten, perhaps in ninety-nine out of a hundred, a strike would be better avoided; but the strike was a reserve power. He continued :
But if these strikes are sometimes—it may be often, it may be mostly-bad, and that, I think all classes of persons would agree to, still the House of Commons and Mr. Whiteside and his friends are not the parties to upbraid the working men with what they do upon this matter. The House of Commons itself was a great trades union from 1815 to 1846. (Cheers.) You know that the Shibboleth of country members was wheat at so much, barley at so much, oats at so much ; and one of them, wishing to be minute in the profession of his faith-the member for the North Riding of Yorkshire-was for establishing a proportionate price for new milk cheese. (Laughter..) Now, we combined against this system. We “struck.” (Loud applause.) Why, nature itself, constant and
beneficent as she always is, “struck" against this inhuman system. The very harvest rotted in your fields. As in the old time the bondsmen of Egypt were liberated by means of the plagues of Egypt, so famine and fever, and an exodus greater than that which Moses led, was necessary, and came and succeeded in striking off the manacles from the industry of the people of this kingdom.'
Ministers had appointed, the 4th of June for going into Committee on the Reform Bill, but when that date arrived there was little chance, considering the position of affairs, that the bill could be got through both Houses in time to become law. During the debate which now arose, however, Mr. Bright made another urgent appeal to the House to pass the bill, and so settle this important question. There could be little differenoe of opinion, he said, as to the object of the discussion. The real question was, not whether the House would wait until the census had been taken—as Sir, J. Fergusson's motion asked them to do-or until the Irish and Scotch bills could be discussed, but whether they were willing during the present session to pass any measure of Reform. He did not believe that the views of the leader of the Opposition differed materially from those of Her Majesty's Government on this question, though he had been unable to persuade his followers to pursue a course which he was prepared to take himself. The subject of Parliamentary Reform had been recommended from the Throne, and votes had been given in that House in favour of Reform; yet the other side still resisted even so moderate a measure as this, which proposed to open the door to. 300,000 or
350,000 in the United Kingdom, or one in twenty of the men now excluded; and no one could say that this concession would be perilous to the constitution.
Mr. Bright observed, however, that it had been frequently asserted during the discussion that the admission of this number would give up the representation of the country and the power of Parliament to a class altogether unworthy of the trust—an assertion which, having had ample means of knowing the wishes, opinions, and character of the working classes, he strenuously denied, and could disprove by evidence. He had made a series of calculations, from which he estimated that the annual income of the working classes derived from wages was £312,000,000, and the aggregate income of all the other classes was only one million sterling more than this amount; but the former had not a single member to represent them in that House, nor a voice in the choice of a member to speak their opinions as to the amount of the taxation, or the mode in which it was laid on the shoulders of the people. With regard to this bill, his opinion was that, though he should have wished it to go further, if the franchise were brought down to £6, it would fix the point just where a man might hope by frugality and industry to bring himself within the line, and therefore would be of the greatest benefit to the working classes. As to the redistribution of seats, the present measure only touched the fringe of the question. He implored the House, with all the power and earnestness which it
was possible for him to infuse into words, to pass the bill, and treat their countrymen with generosity and justice.
On the division, Ministers had a majority of 21, but as it was practically hopeless to attempt to get through with the bill, on the 11th of June Lord John Russell announced its withdrawal. Mr. Bright said that although he could not blame the noble lord for the course he had taken, he lamented to find his own hopes blighted. But it would be unjust to attack the Government for difficulties for which they were not entirely responsible. The session, however, had not been wholly without results: the reform of the Tariff was of itself a measure of great importance, so was the Commercial Treaty, and nothing could exceed the good faith and honour of the French Government in their endeavours to carry out the provisions of the treaty. He had authority for saying that, as the Convention was now proceeding, the results of the treaty would be such as to exceed the sanguine anticipations of its friends. With regard to the Reform Bill, it was a very moderate and a very reasonable one, and the opposition to it had been emboldened by members on the Liberal side of the House, who wanted a pure Whig Government, which would never be seen again—which, in fact, was just as much extinct as the dodo. But he preferred that the Government should withdraw their bill rather than that it should be mangled in committee, and a £6 franchise altered to one of £8, which would be most
pernicious. He hoped that the House, if it would not have a Reform Bill for itself, would not allow its rights to be impaired by letting in the pretensions of the Peers. If in addition to Mr. Gladstone's commercial measures there had been an extension of the suffrage, he thought it would have been said in after times that there had been no session of the Parliament of England comparable to that of 1860 for the good it had given the people, and for the binding effect which its legislation had had between the great body of the people and the three estates of the realm.
'he bill was withdrawn, and the question of Reform was postponed to another and more convenient period, as it had been postponed before.
Towards the close of 1860, Mr. Bright on several occasions directly addressed the working classes. Speaking at the annual meeting of the Wakefield Mechanics' Institute, on the 20th November, he said that there was nothing so entirely neglected in the education of the working classes as the consideration of the principle upon which the permanent prosperity and peace of nations or of commonwealths were based. They were infinitely more important than the ephemeral struggles and triumphs which attended the ambition of a statesman. The science of political economy was of immense importance. If through bad principles of legislation, if through error of government, public resources were wasted, if a vast quantity of our industry were misdirected, if such great blunders were made, we might have rich men and