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Mr. Bright proceeded to substantiate his views on this matter by the course which had been adopted by the Protectionists—who refused to be convinced until the occurrence of the terrible famine in Ireland—and other facts. He next referred to the Land Laws, observing that half the land of England was in the possession of fewer than one hundred and fifty men, and half the land in Scotland in the possession of not more than ten or twelve men. The result was the gradual extirpation of the middle class, and the constant degradation of the tillers of the soil. He hoped that Scotchmen would lead the way in the deliverance of the farmers from their present slavery. Mr. Bright then touched upon the ignorance amongst the agricultural population of England, and pointed out that in the United Kingdom there were more than 1,200,000 paupers. There was so great a mass of misery that benevolence could not reach it. It was not benevolence, but justice, that could deal with giant evils. The hon. gentleman next condemned the proposed increase in the naval expenditure, and remarked upon the inequality of the taxation of the country. He admitted that good things had been done by Parliament, but they had sprung from the people, and the people had really carried them. He was in favour of a system of legislation by all for all, as they would then have an average. If they could add another million to the existing voters, they would modify the constituencies, and they would be less open to management. Further, Parliament would
not then revile and slander the people; nor would it cheer with frantic violence when their countrymen were described in hideous and hateful colours. What might be called the Botany Bay view of their countrymen would be got rid of, and a sense of greater justice and generosity towards the bulk of the nation would take its place. Having asked whether there were any ministers of religion amongst his audience, Mr. Bright closed his stirring address with this appeal:
‘An eminent man of your country, the late Dr. Chalmers, in speaking of the question of Free Trade, and particularly of the struggle for the abolition of the Corn Laws, uttered some memorable words. He said he thought there was nothing that would tend so much to sweeten the breath of British society as the abolition of the Corn Laws. I believo now that there is nothing which would tend so much to sweeten the breath of British society as the admission of a large and generous number of the working classes to citizenship and the exercise of the franchise. Now, if my words should reach the ears and reach the heart of any man who is interested in the advancement of religion in this country, I ask him to consider whether there are not great political obstacles to the extension of civilization and morality and religion within the bounds of the United Kingdom. We believe—these ministers, you, and I-we believe in a Supreme Ruler of the Universe. We believe in His omnipotence; we believe and we humbly trust in His mercy. We know that the strongest argument which is used against that belief, by those who reject it, is an argument drawn from the misery, and the helplessness, and the darkness of so many of our race, even in countries which call themselves civilized and Christian. Is not that the fact? If I believed that this misery, and this helplessness, and this darkness could not be touched or transformed, I myself should be driven to admit the almost overwhelming force of that argument; but I am convinced that just laws, and an enlightened administration of them, would change the face of the country. I believe that ignorance and suffering might be lessened to an incalcuable extent, and that many an Eden, beauteous in flowers and rich in fruits, might be raised up in the waste wilderness which spreads before us. But no class can do that. The class which has hitherto ruled in this country has failed miserably. It revels in power and wealth, whilst at its feet, a terrible peril for its future, lies the
multitude which it has neglected. If a class has failed, let us try the nation. That is our faith, that is our purpose, that is our cry-Let us try the nation. This it is which has called together these countless numbers of the people to demand a change ; and as I think of it, and of these gatherings, sublime in their vastness and in their resolution, I think I see, as it were, above the hill-tops of time, the glimmerings of the dawn of a better and a nobler day for the country and for the people that I love so well.'
Speaking on the following morning at a public breakfast given to him at the Cobden Hotel, Glasgow, Mr. Bright reiterated his strong desire that Scotland should make itself felt in the great movement. He also referred to the mighty awakening in England; and with regard to his own prominent position in the agitation, said that it had been altogether unsought by him. He had no anxiety to be a leader in politics, or to be lionized in great cities; but from his youth upwards he had had a horror and a hatred of that which was unjust to the people. It was that feeling,' he observed, which led me to join one of whom I cannot speak without a faltering voice (Mr. Cobden) in that great labour in which we worked so long together, the abolition of the monopoly in food; and now if I am engaged more prominently than some men may think I ought to be in this question, it is because I would wish to join my countrymen in striking down monopoly of a wider influence, and which when it is gone, ten or twenty years afterwards, all thoughtful and good men in the country will rejoice at as much as they now rejoice that the monopoly, the stupid and ignorant monopoly, of the land
owners no longer limits the supply of food to a great people.'
We must reserve the remainder of Mr. Bright's speeches during this vigorous Reform campaign, together with our account of the Derby-Disraeli Reform Bill, for another chapter.
THE REFORM BILL CARRIED.
Mr. Bright's Reform Speeches.—An arduous Campaign. He visits Ireland.
Speeches at Dublin.-Reform Banquet in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester.Mr. Bright on the Inequalities of the Suffrage.—Lord Derby and his Party and the Reform Question.-Trades' Demonstration at Kensington.—Meeting in St. James's Hall.-Speech of Mr. Bright.-Forcible Pleas for Reform.—The Question pressing for settlement.- Mr. Bright's Defence of the Queen.—He is himself misrepresented and slandered.—Reply. to Mr. Garth, M.P.-Workmen's Address of Sympathy with Mr. Bright.-Reform in 1867.-League Demonstration in London.-Mr. Disraeli introduces the Government Scheme in the House of Commons.—The Resolutions being opposed, are withdrawn.-New Measure resolved upon by the Cabinet.-Resignation of three of the Ministers. -Mr. Disraeli introduces the New Reform Bill.-It is severely criticised by Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Bright.-Demonstrations during the Easter Recess. Mr. Bright on Mr. Gladstone's Leadership.—Reform League Meeting in Hyde Park.-Mr. Bright on Voting Papers.—The Bill in the House of Lords.Important Amendments.—Lord Cairns's Minority Clause. —It is warmly opposed by Mr. Bright.—The Reform Bill passes. -Its general Character.
HE work THE upon which Mr. Bright entered in the
autumn of 1866, and which was completed in the following year, in connection with the Reform question, was amongst the most arduous he has undertaken during the whole course of his political life. Putting out of sight the physical wear and tear, and the strain upon the nervous system, which so much travelling and the attendance of so many meetings involved, the speeches he delivered forined in themselves an extraordinary intellectual effort. To