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The battle now waged as furiously as ever. During the discussion, Mr. Gladstone warned the House of the impropriety and danger of entering into a conflict with the constituency which had returned Mr. Bradlaugh. Mr. Bright raised the tone of the debate, and made another eloquent appeal on behalf of toleration. One phrase in his speech greatly excited the wrath of the Opposition. He affirmed his belief and regret that 'to a large extent the working people of the country do not care any more for the dogmas of Christianity than the upper classes care for the practice of that religion.' Mr. Bright laid great stress on the fact that Mr. Bradlaugh had never refused to take the oath, that he had merely expressed a preference for affirming, and that he had always declared the oath to be binding on his honour and conscience. As to the first report, without desiring to disparage its authority, it left the matter in great doubt; and with regard to the second, he thought Mr. Bradlaugh had not been fairly treated in being refused the oath because he had asked for the affirmation. There was no precedent for this inquisition into a man's religious views when he came to the table to be
This interference, he contended, would set up a new test of Theism, and would divide members into two classes. After blaming the Conservative party for resisting, as usual, the claims of justice and generosity, he warned them that all the constituencies of the kingdom would make Mr. Bradlaugh's case their
own, and that the course proposed would lead
to much evil, and involve the House in humiliation. 'I am here,' said Mr. Bright, 'as the defender of what I believe to be the principles of our constitution, of the freedom of constituencies to elect, and of the freedom of the elected to sit in Parliament. That freedom which has been so hardly won, I do not believe the House of Commons will endeavour to wrest from our constituencies, knowing by what slow steps we have reached the point we have now attained; and I do not believe that on the recommendation of the hon. member for Portsmouth they will turn back and deny the principles which have been so dear to
Notwithstanding the appeals made by Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Bright, however, Sir H. Giffard's amendment was carried by 275 to 230—about thirty Liberals voting in favour of it, and a still larger number abstaining from voting altogether. On the following day, Mr. Bradlaugh, who appeared at the bar, and in an able speech claimed his right to take the oath, was taken into custody by the Serjeant-at-Arms for refusing to obey the Speaker's order to withdraw. Considerable excitement ensued, but Mr. Bradlaugh was speedily released by an order of the House, carried on the motion of Sir S. Northcote. On the 1st of July the House passed another resolution, to the effect that every person claiming to be a person permitted by law to make an affirmation instead of taking the oath should be allowed to do so, subject to any liability by statute. This temporarily removed
the difficulty between the constituency and the House.
Actions at law were commenced against Mr. Bradlaugh, however, to recover penalties from him for having voted in the House without being entitled to
On the main question the case was decided against him, but an appeal was raised on a technical point, which went against the member for Northampton. Meanwhile, in the session of 1881, further difficulties arose in connection with the case, in consequence of the appearance of Mr. Bradlaugh at the House, demanding admittance.
Orders were given forbidding him to enter the House, and on his attempting to do so he was forcibly removed. A great number of sympathisers with Mr. Bradlaugh were present in Palace Yard during this scene, and it formed the subject of a debate in the House of Commons. Mr. Bright said he had heard a description of the scene with great pain, and he spoke with feeling of the severity which had been exercised towards Mr. Bradlaugh. He hoped some means would be adopted to meet the case, and to preserve the dignity of the House of Commons, which appeared to him to be in danger. The pressure of public business prevented the Government from bringing in a bill to meet the necessities of the case, and this extraordinary legislative difficulty remained still unsettled at the close of the session of 1881.
On the 2nd of June, 1880, Mr. Bright presided at the annual public debate of the University College Debating Society. The proposition discussed was • That Capital Punishment should be abolished. In summing up at the close of the debate, he spoke strongly against the penalty of death, and expressed his firm couviction that the time would come when the barbarous system of capital punishment would be abolished in this country. The meeting decided in favour of the abolition, which was one of the earliest measures ever advocated by Mr. Bright, and one of the few great social reforms which he has not as yet lived to see carried out.
Mr. Bright's hostility to the principle of the representation of minorities has always been very pronounced, and the most recent evidence of this was furnished in a letter which he wrote last year, to be read at a meeting held to celebrate the formation of a Liberal club at Platt Bridge, near Wigan, on the 20th of July. “In our division of the county,' said Mr. Bright, “a great change has been made. There is now, I believe, only one Tory member returned from the constituency of the South-East division, and he is in the humiliating condition of being the minority member. He sits by virtue, not of the goodwill or vote of the majority of the electors of Manchester, but by a contrivance invented to cripple the Parliamentary influence of the great populations and constituencies. His sitting in Parliament is by a direct violation of the ancient principle of the constitution, which in all past times gave to majorities the right to select and to elect members of the House of Commons. Much may be done by labour bestowed on registration, and you have a good field before you. I hope you will be able by the time another general election occurs to place your division in a position as advantageous and as creditable as that now occupied by the South-East division, and by the boroughs within its limits.
On the 15th of November, 1880, Mr. Bright was elected Lord Rector of Glasgow University, in succession to Mr. Gladstone. The Conservative and Independent students nominated Mr. Ruskin, but the author of The Stones of Venice' only received 814 votes as against 1,128 for Mr. Bright. The right hon. gentleman had a majority in all four nations. A torchlight procession by the Liberal students took place at night through the principal streets of Glasgow in honour of Mr. Bright's victory. It was understood that the new Lord Rector was to be at perfect liberty to deliver his Rectorial address at any time he pleased during his period of office, which expires in November, 1883.
A great Liberal meeting was held at Birmingham on the 16th of November, 1880, and Mr. Bright, who delivered a lengthy speech, again devoted himself to a consideration of the Irish question. Mr. Chamberlain occupied the chair at this meeting, and in his opening speech made a spirited defence of the Eastern policy of the Government. On the subject of Ireland, he remarked that the state of affairs in that country was exaggerated by panic; but at the same time it was