This is from The Times, Friday, September 26, 1851. It largely comes about because of Sir Josh’s involvement. For anyone who’s interested, he’s a great grandfather x5. It’s also quite a radical meeting, and for that alone, thank you Manchester.
Parliamentary and Financial Reform
MANCHESTER, THURSDAY MORNING.
(from our own reporter)
Last night a public meeting was held at the Free Trade Hall in this city, to receive a deputation from the National Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association. The hall in which the meeting took place was originally calculated to afford accommodation, it is said, to nearly 10,000 persons, but since the objects of the Anti Corn Law League were accomplished, the building has been, in some measure, curtailed of its fair proportions to adapt it to the purpose of dioramic and other exhibitions. The spacious hall was yesterday filled to repletion, and, probably, at the lowest computation, there could not be less than from 6,000 to 7,000 persons present, many of whom were evidently, from their dress and appearance, mechanics and operatives. Considering the crowded state of the building, the behaviour of the audience was most exemplary, and, although the pressure in some parts of the room must have been most severe, no interruption of any consequence took place in the course of the proceedings, The chair was taken at half-past 7 o’clock by Mr. George Wilson, formerly president of the Anti-Corn Law League and the deputation included Sir Joshua Walmsley, M.P., President of the National Reform Association, [Sir Josh was at that point, M.P. for Bolton, though he swapped it for Leicester the following year, and remained the M.P. for Leicester until 1857] ; Mr. W. J. Fox, M.P.; Mr. G. Thompson, M.P., and Mr. J. ,Williams, M.P.
Free Trade Hall, Manchester
The Chairman said, the meeting had been convened to receive a deputation from the National Parliamentary Reform Association, and, judging from the state of the room, he must say the invitation had not been neglected. The Prime Minister had announced that it was his intention, at an early period of the next session of Parliament, to introduce into the House of Commons a measure for improving the representation of the people. What that measure might be no one could be expected fully to know at present (a laugh), but he did not think it was likely to exceed the expectations of the people. (Laughter and cheers.) The only indication given by the Prime Minister as to the measure he intended to introduce might be found in a short speech, in which he intimated that he was not unwilling to abolish the qualification for members of Parliament. He (the chairman) hoped the measure to be proposed by the Prime Minister would be a full and complete one ; but it was necessary that meetings should be held, that organizations should be formed, and that public opinion should be excited on the subject; and they might depend upon it, if this course were taken, the measure would not be the less likely to be a valuable one, or the less sure to be carried. (Cheers.)
Lord John Russell
Whatever the nature of the bill might be, he did not believe it could pass without a rigid inquiry as to its merits being instituted by the people. It would not certainly possess all the attractions of the Reform Bill. It could not enfranchise again another Manchester, another Birmingham, another Leeds, or other large constituencies. It might not be so long in schedule A, though be hoped it would be equally long in schedule B. Lord J. Russell would, however, have to deal with two important subjects – the question of the suffrage and that of the re-distribution of electoral power, and in those questions alone be believed the people of this country felt as great a degree of interest as was ever connected with the Reform Bill of 1832. There were some easy well-to-do people, who expressed their astonishment when they heard reform mentioned; who might perhaps swallow a large dose of the suffrage, who might manage to get down the ballot, and who might not hesitate to consent to some redistribution of electoral power, but who, when they heard that it was proposed at the same time to shorten the duration of Parliaments, threw up their heads, in despair. (” Hear,” and a laugh.) Now perhaps, it might relieve the anxiety of these gentlemen if he told them that the oldest form of Parliament in this country was annual. (Cheers.) Eight Parliaments were held during the reign of Edward I. for eight years. In the reign of his successor Edward II., 15 Parliaments were held in 20 years; and, though in the reign of Edward III. this annual election was to a certain extent discontinued, there were still 37 Parliaments in 50 years. In the reign of Charles II. an act was passed, called the Triennial Act, which provided that elections should take place every three years. In the reign of William and Mary, another act was passed, which recited that the frequent election of members of Parliament tended to increase the welfare and improve the condition of the people, and that Parliaments should be triennial. It was, therefore, nothing very extraordinary, and certainly not unconstitutional, to contend that the duration of Parliaments should be shortened. In the reign of George I. the Septennial Act was passed, and during his reign there were two Parliaments in 13 years. In the reign -of George II. there were six Parliaments in 33 years; and in that of George III. 11 in 60 years.
Now, nine years after George II. ascended the throne, the public debt of this country was under £50,000,000. The great bulk of the present debt was incurred from 1793 to 1815, when the amount had increased to £ 865,000,000. Nearly the whole of that debt, therefore, was incurred during four, or five, or six Parliaments. He (the chairman) believed that even under the rotten-borough system which then existed, if more frequent appeals had been made to the people, they would have made a stand against the extravagant expenditure of the Government. (Hear, hear.) He wished to say one word with regard to the redistribution of electoral power, which was a subject on which he felt very strongly. In that county (Lancashire) they had 14 boroughs returning 22 members to Parliament, and the total constituencies of these boroughs amounted to 46,600 voters. Now, in Wiltshire there were nine boroughs, large and small, returning 14 members, and in which the aggregate number of voters was 4,294. In Buckinghamshire there were four boroughs, returning eight members, and whose united constituencies were 2,628. These two counties, therefore, returned to Parliament as many borough members as Lancashire, although ,the united constituencies of their boroughs did not amount in round numbers to more than 7,000. He found that in 12 agricultural counties, including Cornwall, Dorsetshire, Devonshire, Essex, Hereford, Herts, Surrey, Sussex, and Norfolk, there were 65 boroughs, returning 110 members, with an aggregate constituency less in number than the entire borough constituencies of Lancashire. It might be asked how it was that, at the time of the passing of the Reform Bill, such a state of things could be allowed to continue ? ‘
The reason was plain. They had invariably had in this country an agricultural and aristocratical Government making laws for a commercial people; and therefore in the arrangements which had been heretofore made the first consideration had been to give the aristocratical and agricultural interests a predominance in the House of Commons. There was a fiction that peers could not interfere directly or indirectly in the return of members to Parliament. He did not say they ever did so (a laugh), though he had certainly been at elections where he had seen peeresses riding about in carriages, and speaking to drapers, grocers, and other voters, but he did not believe their visits had anything to do with the election. (Laughter) Yet on examining a little book called Dod’s Parliamentary Companion which he did not believe was published by his friend Sir J. Walmsley (a laugh), but was an orthodox and standard work -he found information given with respect to certain boroughs which he thought must be libellous. He considered it was actionable, if the noble peers referred to would but take the question in band, and dispose of the vile insinuation indirectly conveyed that their influence predominated in certain boroughs. (Cheers and laughter.) He did not mean for a moment to say that the names he was about to mention did not comprise those of men who would be an honour and credit to any constituency in the kingdom, He knew some of them to be as upright men, and if left to their own judgments as liberal men, and as much disposed to support the interests of the people, as any in the country; but, if the inference which might be drawn from Mr. Dod’s work, that they were returned to Parliament by the interest of noblemen having seats in the House of Lords, was correct, then he protested against such a system as cc contrary to the laws and institutions of the country. He would first take the borough of Ludlow, of which the Parliamentary Companion said, ” The influence of the Earl of Powis is considerable here ;” and he found that Mr. H. B. Clive – of course no relation to the Earl of Powis (a laugh) -sat as member for that borough. He found it said of the borough of Peterborough, ” This is usually considered a borough of Lord Fitzwilliam’s “ a Whig peer. (Laughter and cries of ” Hear, hear.”) Surely nobody thought that these proceedings were confined to peers on one side of the house, and were eschewed by those on the other? (“Hear, hear,” and cheers.) Lord Fitzwilliam, a very liberal man under most circumstances, had a large interest in the borough of Peterborough, and his son, the Hon. G. W. Fitzwilliam, was returned as its representative; but he (the chairman) did not believe that Lord Fitzwilliam’s influence had ever been exerted to return the Hon. G.W. Fitzwilliam. (Laughter.) Of Woodstock it was said, “The Duke of Marlborough has influence here,” and the Marquis of Blandford, son of the Duke, sat for the borough; but they were bound to believe that the Marquis of Blandford had never derived the smallest advantage from the influence or support of the Duke of Marlborough. (A laugh.) The Companion said of the borough of Malmesbery, “Lords Suffolk, Radnor, and Holland divide the influence here.” and it was a curious fact that the Hon. James Kenneth Howard, youngest son of the Earl of Suffolk, was the member for Malmeebury. Then it was stated that ” the Duke of Bedford has considerable influence in Tavistock;” and it was somewhat curious that the Hon. Edward S. Russell (no relative, of course, of the Duke of Bedford) was one of the members for that borough. (Cheers and laughter.) Of Thetford it was said,-” The Duke of Grafton and Lord Ashburton have considerable influence in this borough ;” and he found that one of the members was the Hon. F. Baring, the brother of Lord Ashburton, and the other was the Earl of Euston, eldest son of the Duke of Grafton. (Cheers, much laughter, and a cry of “Alter it” ) These were very curious facts; but they must observe that he would not commit himself to saying that there could be the most remote connexion between the return of these gentlemen and the influence possessed by the peers he had mentioned with the constituencies. (A laugh.)
Well, it was said that the Marquis of Lansdowne had influence in the borough of Calne, and it was not a little singular that the Earl of Shelburne, son of the Marquis, sat for that borough. But he found there was a commoner who did a little in this way, (Laughter) It was said of the borough of Eye, ” Sir E. Kerrison’s influence in this borough in considerable,” and it so happened that Lieutenant-General Sir E. Kerrison sat for the borough. (Great laughter,) In the borough of Arundel the Duke of Norfolk, it was stated, had considerable influence, and it seemed that some votes had been given by the Earl of Arundel and Surrey, the late member for Arundel, at variance, with the opinions of the Duke, and, curiously enough, the Earl of Arundel had resigned the representation of Arundel, and had obtained another seat. (Cheers and laughter.) He (the chairman) did not mean to say that the resignation took place under instructions from the Duke of Norfolk though some people had said so. (Renewed laughter) In Chippenham another commoner did a little on his own account. (A laugh.) ” Mr. Neald “ it was said, “ has considerable influence in Chippenham “ and Mr. Joseph Neald and his brother-in-law sat as members for that borough. (Hear hear.) Of Chichester it was stated ” The interest of the Duke of Richmond preponderates in this borough,” and, although they had heard a great deal of the Duke, very few of them might be aware that Lord Henry G.C. Gordon Lenox, son of the Duke, was the sitting member for Chichester –(laughter) At Horsham the Norfolk interest prevailed, and the member for that borough was Lord Edward Howard, second son of the Duke of Norfolk. Of the borough of Dudley it was said “The prevailing influence is that of Lord Ward,” and Mr. J. Renbow, steward to Lord Ward, sat for that borough (” Hear” and laughter.) He did not mean to say that this state of things had been brought about by the intentional culpability of those who framed the last Reform Bill, but he considered that the people themselves had sanctioned it as much as they had sanctioned any other part of the measure. For the future, however, they must take care, if any nice family arrangements of this kind were attempted, to say to the aristocratic families who might seek to retain an unholy influence over the constituencies, “Keep your hands off, gentlemen, the Commons of England belong to the people of England (cheers), and by God’s blessing they shall represent the people of England.” (Loud cheers)
Mr. Alcock read letters from Mr. Hume, Mr. Cobden, Mr. T. M. Gibson, Mr. Bright, Lord D. Stuart, and Mr. Wakley, who had been invited to attend the meeting, expressing their regret that various engagements prevented them from being present.
Sir Joshua Walmsley 1794 – 1871
Sir J. Walmsley then delivered an address of some length, in the course of which he observed, that their object was to restore the just political rights of their disenfranchised fellow subjects. The monopoly of the elective franchise in a community like this by one-seventh portion of the adult male population was a monstrous injustice and a glaring usurpation. The theory of the constitution was, that the House of Commons should be the embodiment and expression of the mind and will of the people, and their desire was to carry out that theory. Their watchword should henceforth be, “The Constitution, the whole Constitution, and nothing but the Constitution.” (Cheers.)
Some 18 months ago he had stood upon that platform as the humble but earnest advocate of Parliamentary reform, and he was happy now to congratulate them upon the progress which had since been made. If he could not assert that there was an active and intense feeling on the subject, he could at least say that there was an all but universal conviction of the necessity of further reform. (Cheers.)
The plan of reform put forth by the National Parliamentary Reform Association, and with the details of which they were acquainted, had the sanction and support of most, if not all, the Radical members of the House of Commons, and would increase the number of electors from 1,000,000 to 4,000,000, or thereabouts. It was safe, practical, and constitutional, and he trusted it was the least measure of reform with which the people would be satisfied. (hear, hear.)
Lord J. Russell had declared his intention to introduce a measure for reforming the Reform Act, but he (Sir J. Walmsley) would advise the people to save the Prime Minister the trouble of deciding what the new measure of reform should be by deciding the question for themselves. (Cheers and laughter.) They must practise in 1851 the lessons which their Whig advisers taught them in 1831, and do for themselves now that which they did for others then. They must crowd the table of the House of Commons with their petitions, that there might be no mistake either as to whether the people required reform, or as to their determination to have it. (Cheers.)
Mr. J. C. Dyer then moved the following resolution, which was seconded by Mr. Heywood, of Bolton:-
“ That the First Minister of the Crown having intimated his intention to introduce a measure of Parliamentary reform during the next session, the people should lose no time in giving effective expression to their wishes. This meeting doth, therefore. declare that any measure which does not re-arrange the electoral districts, extend the franchise to every occupier of a tenement, protect the voter by the ballot, shorten the duration of Parliament, and abolish the property qualification required of members, – will fail to satisfy the just expectations of the people -will be ineffectual in preventing the corruption, intimidation and oppression now prevailing at elections,, and in securing the full and fair representation of the people in the Commons’ House of Parliament. “
Mr. W. J. Fox, who, on presenting himself, was received with enthusiastic cheers, said that meeting was worthy of the great cause which they had congregated to support. The gentleman who had preceded him had complained of the feebleness of his voice in addressing so vast a multitude, but it had been well said that one voice had many echoes. It was always so when that one voice, however feeble, told some great truth or asserted some noble right which belonged to human nature, and the possession of which was claimed or reclaimed for human nature; and, if one voice so raised had many echoes, how must it be with the voice of congregated thousands, such as were assembled in that hall? (Hear, hear.)
What was the echo of their assertion of public right and justice but the acclamation of millions declaring that they had waited long enough for the possession of their legitimate inheritance? They had heard from the letters which had been read, and also in other modes, that the labours of the last session had rendered relaxation necessary for restoring the health and strength of the members of the House of Commons. It had been a very laborious session. (“Hear, hear,” and laughter.) The House of Commons heaved with the throes of the mountain in labour, and brought forth the little black mouse of a theological enactment. (Laughter) But if individual members of the House of Commons felt the need of a change of air for the renovation of their physical, and moral, and intellectual condition, how must it be with those on whom devolved the heavy responsibility of guiding the destinies of a nation, and of conducting the policy of the British empire? If Mr. Hume, Mr. Gibson, Mr. Bright, and other members needed a change of air, how much must Lord J. Russell need it? (Cheers and laughter.) He wished Lord J. Russell was there to enjoy it. (A laugh.)
He would find the atmosphere of that meeting very different from that of the House of Commons, and one which would do him much good. If the noble lord could be put under a course of Manchester meetings, he thought his weak sickliness might give way to the strength and energy of a real reformer, and he might become strong enough for his place. (Laughter and cheering.) The fact could not be denied that the atmosphere of that meeting, and of any large meeting of the people of England, was a different one from that of the House of Commons. A different class of feeling prevailed; their principles were asserted, other objects were contemplated, other sympathies were glowing in the bosom. For proof of this they had only to look at many of the leading questions which now interested the public mind of this country and of Europe.
In the House of Commons, the sympathy was with large military and naval armaments, and their enthusiasm was unbounded when a lucky officer won a victory, and got a pension and a title, while the sympathies of the people were with peace and the works of peace. The people looked for that which the majority of the Souse of Commons regarded as chimerical and utopian – they were desirous of that one brotherhood of nations when swords should be beaten into plough- shares. In the House of Commons they always found a readiness to vote away millions of the people’s money almost as a mere formal matter, while, in such meetings as that, the sympathy was with those from whose bones and sinews were extracted these millions which they wished to see, and which they had a right to see, rigidly economized. In the House of Commons there was too much sympathy with the despots of the continent, while the sympathies of such meetings as that were with the patriots of the continent. (Loud cheering.)
In the House of Commons he had heard a member ask, with a sneer upon his lip, whether the Secretary of State was aware that such a person as Mazzini was in this country. In such a meeting as that the question was when would not only Mazzini but Kossuth be among them. (Loud and continued cheers.) In the House of Commons members spoke respectfully of “His Catholic Majesty the King of the Two Sicilies,” and of “the Emperor of all the Russias,” while there were some in that meeting who agreed with him that it would be no unpleasant sight to see a gibbet of two arms, with the Czar dangling at one end and the Catholic King at the other. (Great cheering and laughter.)
If Lord J. Russell intended to introduce a new reform bill that would satisfy the people, and would not need botching and tinkering within a dozen years, he should consult the feelings and principles which were expressed at meetings such as that, the precursor, as he trusted, of many more, which would insure the result towards which they were certainly advancing. The noble Lord was too little in the habit of doing this; his tendencies had always been to look to the narrow rather than to the broad and expansive, to the out- worn creed of an effete party instead of the living voice of the living millions, When Lord J. Russell should be reading his Bible of religious truth and liberty he went and consulted a bishop (laughter); he took counsel with a clique, when he ought to be listening to the voice of public opinion. Lord J. Russell was attentive to the tendencies of the House of Commons, when his senses should all be open to the language and the will of those who in theory and by right were the makers and the masters of the House of Commons (” Hear, hear,” and cheers.) The House of Commons was called representative. Representative, he would like to know, of what ? Supposing an intelligent foreigner were brought into the House of Commons, and looking round him, marking one man and another, were to ask, “What worthy and trusted commoner is that?” The reply might be, “Oh, Sir, he is a marquis; we have six marquises in the House.” (A laugh.) The foreigner would think this rather odd; but if he asked about another man he would be told “ Why, that is a viscount; we have eight viscounts in this house.” If he inquired about another member he might be told, ” Oh, he is an earl; we have several earls here.” If be asked about another he might be answered, “ He is a lord; there are 36 lords in the house, and at the back of these we have 61 baronets, besides 12 honourables (” hear, hear,” and laughter); altogether 274 persons connected with the peerage and the aristocracy.” (Cheers.) “And this,” the querist would say in amazement, “you call your House of Commons! What, then, is your House of Lords ? Why this is only a sort of junior or journeyman House of Lords ! (A laugh.) One finds them here in such multitudes that there seems not the least propriety in the designation you conventionally bestow upon them.” Nor, indeed was there. (Hear, hear.) He (Mr. Fox) was reminded of the young angel in Franklin’s fable, who asked an older angel to show him the earth and its curiosities. The old angel brought him down at a time when a tremendous sea fight was purpling the water with human blood. “Why,” exclaimed the young angel, “you have made a mistake! I asked you to show me earth, and you have shown me hell !” So the foreigner might say, “I asked you to show me your House of Commons and the chief thing you show me are your lords” (Hear, hear.) The House of Commons ought to be the reflex of the real commons of England of which those present at that meeting were part and parcel. Let any of them take up a position in any street of that great city, or upon London-bridge or in any place of multitudinous resort, and what spot could they find where one in every fourteen of the passers-by was a place-man? Yet it was so in the House of Commons. In what place could an individual post himself where he would find that every seventh or eighth man who passed by was an officer in the army or navy? Yet it was so in the House of Commons. In what place could they find that every ninth man was a barrister? Yet that was the case in the House of Commons; and a fine place for the lawyers it was! (A laugh.) The promotions to good things there fell thick and fast. There had been three or four every year since he had had a seat in that assembly, and the House for the Commons was what Mr. Barry planned it to be -one end of a vista where in perspective they saw the House of Lords (Cheers and laughter) “ lt was, indeed, a lord-making factory;. (Renewed laughter) -,’ In what place, in this country could they find that every fourth person was either the son, or the brother or the uncle, or the nephew, or the grandson, or related by marriage to the peerage and the aristocracy? Yet so it was in the House of Commons.” It was evident he thought that,they required a new House of Commons, on a better principle (” Hear “ and cheers ) The vice of its constitution was like the deformity of the poet Pope who was constantly exclaiming, “God mend, me,” and who was one occasion heard by a boy, who said, ” God mend you, you little deformity; it would be much easier to make a new one altogether.” (Cheers and laughter.) But how could they wonder that the House of Commons should be a deformity and incongruity when they looked at the mode and principle –or rather the want of principle- on which it was constructed? Their electoral system-if system it might be called which had nothing to answer to that word – went to the utmost verge of absurdity.
They had in the boroughs, 30,000 electors returning four representatives, and they had 30,000 electors returning 105 representatives. They had 330 members representing £ 6,000,000. of property, and they had 328 representing £ 78,000,000. There were nine counties that had 50 per cent. of the property of the country, and 34 per cent of the representation, There were 34 counties that had also 50 per cent, of the property of the country and 66 members. These incongruities were in a continual state of aggravation. The census returns just published showed the great importance of that which was placed first in the resolution. They showed the necessity of a redistribution of representatives in proportion to population, which happily was the same thing as in proportion to property. There were places where the population had diminished in the last 10 years, but which still returned the same number of representatives. There were places where the population was stationary, and where the representation remained the same as before. There were also places where the population had rapidly increased, and was likely to continue to increase, but which only returned the same number of representatives previously. In that city alone[Manchester], within the last 10 years the increase was 36,000 souls – a number which constituted the five-hundreth part of the entice population of the kingdom -a number equal to the population at the last census of 9 or 10 boroughs which returmed 16 members. The increase of population in Liverpool, Manchester, and Salford, was 85,876. Now 81,000 persons, in 18 boroughs, returned no fewer than 30 members to Parliament. In London the population had increased by 405,000, but yet there was no increase of representation. In Lancaster the increase had been only 55, and that place retained its two members. These incongruities were inherent in the Reform Bill itself, which drew an arbitrary line of distinction without any foundation whatever in reason or justice. Who and what was a £10. householder? Why did the amount of his rent constitute his title to have a share, by representation, in the legislation of the country? The line was most unhappily drawn.
It included the most dependent of all classes, the small tradesmen, and it excluded the most independent of all classes, the intelligent operatives. What was the share of working men in the representation? What art and part had they in the present electoral arrangements ? He supposed it was seldom that a working man paid more than £ 15 a year rent, and he might take for granted that all the working men who obtained the franchise under the Reform Bill were to be found in the number whose rental was between £10. and £15. a year. That number was between 90,000 and 100,000. Suppose the half of these were working men ; they got not quite 59,000 as the total number of the working classes enfranchised by the much boasted Reform Bill so that the working men who constituted the Commons of England had one vote to the 17 votes possessed by the other classes of society. This was an anomaly not to be endured. The middle classes owed it as a debt of justice to the working men to strive with heart and soul for their enfranchisement. He thought the time had now fully arrived for the fulfilment of that obligation. His fear was lest Lord John Russell should stick too closely to the little and accommodating way in which he achieved Parliamentary reform in 1832 – that he should be peeping about in society to see whether there was a class here or a class there that might be, as it was called, safely admitted within the boundaries of the constitution.
The course pursued ought to be directly the reverse of this. He (Mr. Fox) contended that there was a prima facie right to the franchise in all; and, instead of inquiring on whom Parliament should bestow a boon which it was not the property of Parliament to give, they should show good cause in every instance where the franchise was withheld or denied. (” Hear,” and cheers.) It was a privation, a punishment, a degradation, that should not be inflicted unless incapacity for its use were fully demonstrated against the excluded individual.
Lord J. Russell had his fears and apprehensions, which he had expressed at different times, and he seemed to be in great alarm as to the safety of some of the institutions of the country. Why, there was much greater alarm felt in other quarters when Lord J. Russell introduced his Reform Bill. He heard Lord John say, a short time ago, ” I cannot conceive that a House of Commons, merely representing numbers, would act in harmony with a monarchy, an hereditary House of Lords, and an established church.” His (Mr. Fox’s) thoughts then went back to the time when a townsman of his, a Norwich operative, made a collection of the prophecies uttered when the Reform Bill was introduced, and very alarming they were. Mr. Bankes said the Reform Bill would introduce a state of things approaching to the despotism of the mob; Sir J Shelley believed that if the bill passed no Administration would be able to carry on the government for six weeks; Mr. Price prophesied confusion and civil war, and believed some powerful chief would arise who would establish a military despotism; and Sir R. Vyvian considered that freeholders and landholders might satisfy themselves that their property would not be safe under a reformed Parliament, which might take the crown off the King’s head. (” Hear,” and a laugh.) Even Sir R. Peel then expressed his opinion that a reformed Parliament would give the government of the country into the hands of demagogues, and would reduce this happy land to a state of despotism and destruction, and that, though the monarchy would not be nominally abolished, still it would be virtually, by the democracy who would reign in the House of Commons.
As these predictions had not been fulfilled, he (Mr. Fox) thought that Lord J. Russell might have spared himself the folly of prophesying on this occasion. Let the noble lord do right and justice, and have the consequences to follow. (Loud cheers.) He (Mr. Fox) believed the monarchy would be perfectly secure under any reformation Lord J. Russell might dream of as contemplated by the most thoroughgoing democrats of this country, He believed the House of Lords would be quite as safe as it deserved to be. (Cheers and laughter.) As to the established church, he was not sure that every voter should be pledged, as his Lordship seemed to wish, to the support of that institution, (A laugh.) It arose on grounds of policy; it had been reformed and modified on grounds of policy; and the time might come when, on grounds of policy, it might be further reformed or entirely abolished. (Loud cheers.) Church, peerage, Royalty, only existed by the people and for the people. Their claim to existence and to respect was when they properly discharged their functions, and showed themselves in their several spheres truly subservient to the general good. While that was the case they were entitled to the respectful notice and support of the people.
When that ceased to be the case they were only entitled to the sentence, – “ Cut them down; why cumber they the ground? ” ( Loud cheering.) He would not go further into particulars on this reform question, for he would be followed by gentlemen who would amply supply any deficiencies of his. He would only express his heartfelt delight at this great combination. He anticipated a not remote and triumphant success from this union of the middle and operative classes for the common rights and interests of both. He thought he might safely prophecy in this case; for, by whom and in what way had the most brilliant achievements of public right in the history of this country been realized but by such a combination? It was by an union of the trading and the productive classes, in the days of Norman despotism, that the vestiges of Saxon institutions and their free spirit were preserved in the country through those stormy times, until they should again become recognized, and again be regarded as institutions which were dear to the English heart, and which should be prolonged through all generations. It was by the union of the trading and the productive classes that feudalism was shorn of its terrors, and that eventually it was abolished. Every town and every guild was then a place of refuge for the victims of feudal tyrants lording it over the land. They fled to the abodes of industry, and there they were safe, and cities rose in the land, while castles crumbled in the dust. (Cheers.) It was this union of the intelligence of the middle and productive classes that realized that great event, the Reformation – great, not from the doctrines or the forms which it established, for these were the least part, the non-essentials of the work, but great from the assertion of the rights of mind and conscience (hear, hear) – rights belonging to the Catholic as well as to the Protestant – rights inherent in human nature, but which needed the protection of the broad shield of public opinion to keep bigotry and hypocrisy in high places from trampling them under foot. (Loud and prolonged cheers.)
It was this union of the trading and productive classes which, when the institutions of the country bad been grossly perverted and abjured, when the Throne had become the symbol of tyranny, and the altar had become the symbol of superstition, overthrew throne and altar both; and taught the people of this country that their rights comprehended even the solemn function of sitting in judgment on archbishops and on kings. (Great cheering.) It was to the union of these two great bodies that they owed all the best improvements since the settlement made at the Revolution of 1688. From that time to this every great, and good, and generous measure – every emancipation of serf-classes – the striking off the chains of the negro slave – the restriction of barbarous, and brutal, and sanguinary punishments – all great reforms had arisen, not from an aristocratical Legislature, nominally representative – they had arisen from the might of public opinion, commanding that body to know its duty, and to perform its duty, (Cheers.) By the union of these two classes had the burdens of the State, in all their weight, been borne and manfully sustained through the heat of long and toilsome days. By the union of these classes had the wealth, the intellect, the greatness of our country been realized. They had achieved its brightest victories; they had won by that union its noblest trophies; and as, by the union of the tradespeople and the operatives, the first Reform Bill was carried, so by that union would they at length enjoy another and a better reform bill, more just, more comprehensive, more glorious, and more enduring. (Loud and prolonged cheering.)
The resolution was then agreed to.
Mr. R. Kettle, barrister, of London, proceeded to read a long address from the Council of the National Parliamentary Reform Association to the people of Great Britain, calling upon them to declare their will on the subject of Parliamentary reform, The following are the principles recommended by the asociation as the basis of a representative system:-
“1. The extension of the suffrage to every occupier of a tenement or portion of a tenement.
“2. Vote by ballot
“3. Triennial Parlaments.
“4. A more equal apportionment of members to population
“5. The abolition of the property qualifieation.
“ Such a reform, carried in its integrity would make the House of Commons the embodiment and expression of the mind and will of the people, and with this, and with nothing less should the people be content.”
With a view to the accomplishment of these objects the address offers the following suggestions:-
“1. Organization.- Let every city borough, town, and hamlet form its Parliamentary Reform committee. Apart from local organisation, let every Reformer enrol himself a member of the National Reform Association.
“2. Public Meetings.-The healthy political sympathies of the people should be aroused by frequent public meetings.
“3 Petitions. – Let petitions be presented not only from every city and town, but from every workshop, hamlet, and homestead.
“4. The Press. – The press will do its duty if it sees the people are in earnest. The tracts and publications of the National Reform Association must be distributed – they must be read. Educate and sustain each other in this great work.
“5. Constituencies. – Let constituencies be faithful to themselves. Personal considerations and personal attachments must be disregarded. There is no intermediate course. Every man who Is not for the people is against them. Let constituencies be prepared to replace with better men those who prove unable or unworthy to lead the people in this great struggle.”
Mr. J. Williams M.P., who was called upon to support the address said he was satisfied that after that meeting public opinion would become so mighty that to disregard it would be the blindest folly. The extension of the franchise could not be obtained for the people, but must be obtained by the people. Some allusions had been made that night to the Tories. Now, looking at that meeting of the people of Manchester, who cared for the Whigs, or who cared for the Tories ? (Great laughter and cheers ) If those present at that and similar meetings united and formed a party, both Whig and Tories would be as feeble as the dying – as cold and inanimate as the grave into which they were both tottering. (Laughter and cheers.) As the treasurer of the London Parliamentary Reform Association he had to report to them that the association had held upwards of 500 meetings on behalf of the working classes of England, that they had money in the bank and that they did not owe anything. (A laugh) They knew it was usual for men of business to take stock, and, as they knew the public money was freely disposed of by the House of Commons, he wished, when he first went into the House, to know the motives which induced members to support such grossly extravagant expenditure. He said to himself one day, ” Now, I will just take stock of these fellows.” (Laughter.) The first notice of motion he gave was for a return of the number of members who held appointments in the army, navy, and ordnance. Well the meeting might be sure he got into very bad bread with the House. (A laugh.) One gallant officer came up to him immediately after, in a bouncing manner, and said, ” Oh. oh! I find you have placed a very invidious notice on the paper,” and walked by him, thinking, no doubt he would make him very little. (Laughter.) He.(Mr Williams) said “Well, Sir, what’s the matter ?” and the gallant member replied, ” I shall put a notice upon the paper for a return of the number of retail shopkeepers in the house.” (Great laughter.) He told the gallant member that he could not do anything that would please the people of England, and especially the working-classes of England, better; he dared him to carry out his threat, but the gallant member had never done so. (Cheers and laughter.) He would venture to pledge himself that, if 3,000,000 of the unrepresented men of England would contribute the smallest sum to the Parliamentary Reform Association, in a very few months every man 21 years of age who had been 12 months in a lodging, should have a vote for a member of Parliament. (Cheers.)
After some observations from Mr. George Thomson, in advocacy of the principles of the Parliamentary Reform Association,
Mr. Heywood moved the second resolution, which was seconded by the Rev. J. Schofield, and carried unanimously:-
” That the cordial union and energetic action of all Reformers are now imperatively requisite. That the principles, advocated by the National Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association merit the support of the great body of the people of this kingdom ; and this meeting consisting of Reformers of every shade, pledge themselves, to sustain the well-directed efforts of that association. That the conveners of this meeting are hereby constituted a committee (with power to add to their numbers) for the purpose of organizing a branch of the National Parliamentary Reform Association, to co-operate with the Council in London; and that the committee be requested to take immediate steps for that purpose.”
A vote of thanks having been given to the chairman, the meeting broke up soon after 11 o’clock.
The Times, Friday, September 26, 1851