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denouncing them. At a demonstration held at Manchester, Mr. Bright strongly animadverted upon the alterations. He could not, he said, but regard them as the offspring and spawn of feeble minds. He condemned and repudiated the whole scheme from beginning to end, and said that any one who adopted the principle of the representation of minorities must shake the faith and lose the confidence of every true friend of reform and of freedom.
On the 8th of August the amendments came on for consideration in the House of Commons. One of the most important—that passed at the instigation of Lord Cairns, for the representation of minoritieswas warmly opposed by Mr. Bright, who delivered a lengthy and forcible speech on the whole subject.
He said that he considered it to be a restriction of electoral power, and pointed out to those who, like Mr. Mill, supported it more as a mode of representing everybody than, like Lord Cranborne, as a corrective of the democratic tendencies of the bill, that it would create such ill-feeling in the country, as for a long time to prevent the consideration of any comprehensive scheme such as Mr. Hare's. To Mr. Disraeli's single plea for accepting it he replied that the Commons had originally rejected the idea by a large majority, and insisted that on a point affecting their own constitution the vote of the House of Commons was of more authority than that of the Lords. The scheme had never been asked for by any constituency; it had never been discussed in
the country; and the least the House could do was to suspend its decision until the idea had become more familiar. There are jugglers whom we have seen exhibiting their clever tricks-pouring out port, champagne, milk, and water from one and the same bottle. The proposal resembles this. The scheme is, that an electoral body, by a peculiar contrivance hitherto unknown, and I will undertake to say, if ever heard of, only despised, shall not be asked, but shall be made to do this—to return two members to sit on this side, and one on the other, or vice versâ.'
Mr. Bright further argued that the clause would extinguish the political life of the country; it would nullify the boon conferred on the four great towns, each of which would for the future, in all divisions on great political questions, be represented by one member. He avowed that, had he suspected the House would sanction this scheme, he would have voted against giving these towns a third member; and after showing that it would be inapplicable to bye-elections, caused either by the death or the appointment to office of some member representing a minority, he concluded by a powerful denunciation of the scheme as utterly inconsistent with constitutional principles. “Let us get rid of all feeling,' he said, 'except that this change has been recommended to us by the House of Lords, in which there cannot be either the same knowledge or the same interest in the matter which exists in this House. Let us look
at this simply as it refers to the great body in whose names we sit and speak here. Let us look at it in reference to that grand old freedom which our forefathers struggled for, and secured, and maintained, and the advantages of which, from the day of our birth till this hour, we have been constantly enjoying. If this proposal had come before this House at the time when the great men, the giants of the English constitution, sat in this House, they would have treated it in a manner far less decorous than we shall treat it. There is no name that appears among the great men of that day, parents of English freedom, which would not have been found among the names of those who shall this day say “No!” to the mischievous proposition sent down to us by the House of Lords.'
The Commons, however, adopted the Lords' amendment by 253 votes to 204. The Reform Bill received the Royal assent on the 15th of August.
With all its defects, judging from the point of view of Mr. Bright and his supporters, the measure, on the whole, was a great concession to the principles advocated by the member for Birmingham. As Lord Cranborne said, the Government bill had been modified according to the demands made by Mr. Gladstone, on the principles laid down by Mr. Bright. From a strongly Conservative measure it was transformed into an extremely Liberal one. Men of all parties, however they might differ as to the details of the bill, recognized in it a settlement for
a long period of a question which had given rise to an agitation now extending over a series of years, and which threatened still further to disturb the peace of the country, until the representation of the people was placed upon a more satisfactory and durable basis.
Mr. Bright's Advocacy of Irish Questions.—Disturbed Condition of Ireland in 1866.
- The Coercion Bill.—Mr. Bright on the Irish People.—He appeals to Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli to settle the Irish Question.-Renewal of the Coercion Act.-Mr. Bright on Mr. Roebuck.–Visit of the former to Ireland. Letter from Mr. John B. Dillon and The O'Donoghue.—Mr. Bright's Speech at Dublin.—Arguments for Disestablishment and Land Reform.-Eloquent Peroration. --The Ballot and the Electoral System.-Scheme for the Sale of Land in Ireland.-Mr. Bright at Birmingham.–Irish Reforms.-Irish Debato in the House of Commons. —Mr. Maguire's Motion.—Speech of Mr. Bright.He examines the Government Policy.-His own Plan for a Farmer Proprietary.—Religious Equality in Ireland a Necessity.–Outline of a Scheme for Disestablishment.-Important Declaration by Mr. Gladstone.—Mr. Maguire withdraws his Motion.--Mr. Gladstone introduces his Irish Church Resolu. tions.- Prolonged Debate.- Powerful Speech by Mr. Bright in support of the Resolutions.—Mr. Gladstone's Motion carried by a large majority.–Ministers advise a Dissolution. Their Conduct is severely condemned.—Meeting in St. James's Hall against Disestablishment. The Irish Church Resolutions carried in the House of Commons.- Mr. Bright sternly rebukes Mr. Disraeli. -The Irish Church Suspensory Bill introduced.-It passes the Commons, but is rejected by the Lords.—Mr. Bright advocates Disestablishment at Liverpool. --Justice to Ireland. He visits Ireland in 1868.-Speech at Limerick.—The General Election.-Great Liberal Majority.--Mr. Gladstone becomes Premier.
N the memorable period of legislation extending
from 1866 to the second year of Mr. Gladstone's first Administration, Mr. Bright was not only unresting in the cause of Reform, but indefatigable in pleading the claims of Ireland. His eloquent advocacy had much to do with accelerating two of the greatest measures which were passed in the interest of Ireland