« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
rich families, but we might rely upon it the multitude would still be poor, and the little comforts they had would still be precarious. By governing more wisely, we might give greater glory to the country, dispense greater happiness amongst the families of which it was composed, and do that which was not a little thing—they might do something to justify the ways of God to man.'
Early in December Mr. Bright attended the inauguration of the Leeds Working Men's Parliamentary Association, and paid a high tribute to the working classes. He said he had asked himself, "Why this dread of the people ? I have lived amongst them all my life—I never had any distrust of them, I never expected perfection in them any more than I found it elsewhere or conceived it to exist in myself, but I say that for those qualities that go to make a people, that are requisite to fulfil the duties of citizenship, the working classes of this country need not bow the head before the highest in the land.' With regard to the question of Parliamentary Reform, he said Reform might be delayed, but it could not be withheld. It was because he dreaded disorder, because he knew that resistance to just demands was the fertile parent of confusion in every state, because he wished England to be great, and glorious, and free, and moral, that he urged the working classes, the unenfranchised millions, to insist upon their just rights; and it was for those causes that he counselled the ruling classes to grant those rights, although it might be that his counsel would be in vain.
The Town Hall, Birmingham, was crowded on the 29th of January, 1861, with constituents of Mr. Bright anxious to hear his address on that occasion. He spoke at length upon the questions of taxation and expenditure, remarking that he had never heard the feeblest protest raised in the House of Lords against the extravagance of the Government. It was worth their while to know that, with very few exceptions, the members of the present peerage owed their peerages to creations within the last hundred years. The origin of them came from the rotten borough system : any man who could get four, five, or six seats in the House of Commons at his command to serve the Government of his day, could by ways known to such a gentleman procure for himself, in all probability, the dignity of a peerage. They might single out a few families who had come down from remote times, the majority of whom had generally shown themselves considerate and just to the people of the country ; but the modern peerage was bred in the slime and corruption of the rotten borough system, and they need not look to a House so constituted for any great anxiety to save the pockets of the nation. Mr. Bright referred to the good feeling which subsisted amongst the working classes notwithstanding their trials, and the taxation under which they laboured, and claimed for himself and his friends to be the true Conservatives in the country. England's past policy had loaded us with debt. It had desolated millions of houses, and added immeasurably to the chaos and infinitely to the sufferings of Europe. He would reverse this policy. He would practise a religious abstention from all the tumults and quarrels which might arise upon the Continent of Europe. As for the people, they were entitled to share in the bounty of Heaven so freely bestowed. “As you have revolutionized your commercial legislation, revolutionize also your foreign policy, and bring it to the standard of common sense and common morality. Permit the people, for whom my very heart bleeds when I see the sufferings which so many of them endure-permit them to enjoy that which they created. The Crown will gain fresh lustre; institutions that are good will be more stable ; and this nation, to its humblest homestead, will be ever the more contented and the more happy.'
In three successive sessions, Mr. Bright addressed the House of Commons on the subject of Church Rates. The first occasion was on the 27th of April, 1860, in the debate on the third reading of Sir John Trelawny's Church Rates Abolition Bill. The measure had been strongly opposed on its second reading, and also in committee, and on the order of the day for the third reading Mr. Whiteside moved its rejection. It was understood that a determined effort would be made to throw out the bill.
Only three important speeches were made, namely, those by Mr. Whiteside, Mr. Disraeli, and Mr. Bright,
the first and second of whom strongly opposed the measure. Mr. Bright began by expressing his indebtedness to Mr. Whiteside for having, by his physicalforce oratory, infused some new life into this question; but he had not done much to satisfy that great portion of the people who objected to Church-rates, and thought that they ought not to be permanently maintained. Mr. Whiteside had attached extraordinary importance to the opinions of the Wesleyan body on this question, but the large majority of Wesleyans united with the great body of other Dissenters in opposition to Church-rates. A total of more than eight hundred petitions had been presented from the Wesleyans in favour of this bill. Moreover, no inconsiderable number of regular attendants upon the Church of England joined the Dissenters in opposition to Church-rates.
Mr. Bright detailed what had taken place in the town of Rochdale on this question. Contests had been carried on in past years with a vigour and a determination, and, if they liked it, an animosity which had not been surpassed in any other part of the kingdom. But the result of the struggle was that the Church-rate was for ever entirely abolished in that parish, and for many years now. the parish had been a model of tranquillity upon this question. It would not be enough that it should be a model of tranquillity if the result had followed which the learned gentleman foretold in such dolorous language, that religion would be uncared for, and that the Gospel
would no longer be preached to the poor ; but I will undertake to say that since that contest the venerable old parish church has had laid out upon it, in repairing and beautifying it, from money subscribed not altogether, but mainly, by churchmen, ten times—ay, twenty times as much as was ever expended upon it during a far longer period of years in which Churchrates were levied.'
Touching upon another important point, Mr. Bright said he wished Mr. Whiteside had told them why, year by year, there had been a growing power in that House in opposition to Church-rates, and why there was a secession from their advocates throughout the country. There were only two courses with reference to this most mischievous impost-either to leave the law exactly as it was, with all its irritating incidents, or to adopt this bill. Then came this remarkably effective passage in the orator's speech :
'I often have occasion in this House to give hope to hon. gentlemen opposite. They are probably the most despairing political party that any country ever had within its borders. They despair of almost everything. They despaired of agriculture. Agriculture triumphs. They despair of their Church, yet whenever that Church has been left to its own resources and to the zeal of its members its triumph has been manifest to the country and to the world. Are you made of different material from the five millions of people who go to the Dissenting chapels of England and Wales? You have your churches—I speak of the old ones, not of those recently erected by means of voluntary contributions,—you have your churches, which you call national, and you have them for nothing. You have your ministers paid out of property anciently bequeathed or entrusted to the State for their use. In that respect you stand in a far better position for undertaking what, if Church-rates are abolished, you must undertake, than do the great body of your Dissenting brethren. Have you less zeal, have you less liberality, than they have? Do not you