Imágenes de páginas

him and the Earl of Lauderdale, who charged him with apostasy, and spoke of his being appointed to the camp at Bagshot to overawe the people of the metropolis, and to destroy their endeavours to obtain reform, the dispute grew so warm that a challenge passed to the Duke. The duel, however, was avoided. In the debate the Duke pleaded the difference of the times for his change of views, and maintained that the people now did not wish for reform. Bitter resentment was felt at the desertion of the popular cause by ministers, some of whom had actually directed the counsels of the societies which Government found to be inconvenient, and the Society for Constitutional Information took care to publish the earlier opinions of the ministers. The Friends of the People had themselves had experience of the suspicions that the conduct of public men had aroused. Their chairman was Lord John Russell, father of the earl whom we of the present generation once BURKE'S OPPOSITION.


knew by the same name, and a number of members of Parliament were members. The Constitutional Society, in offering the Friends of the People congratulations on their establishment, warned them that should members of Parliament on this occasion prove faithfully instrumental in effecting a substantial reform in the representation of the people and the duration of Parliaments, it would be the first time the nation had not found itself in error in trusting their professions as reformers.

Burke was conspicuous among the public men of his day for a consistent opposition to short Parliaments. He, while firmly maintaining that government ought to be according to the sense and in conformity with the interests of the nation, was greatly impressed with the evils of popular election. He believed it was necessary, in the interests of the State, to prevent a too frequent repetition of elections. He persuaded himself that triennial Parliaments had nearly ruined the State. He liked the Septennial Act, because he regarded it as having saved the State. He feared a recurrence to short Parliaments “would make the member more shamelessly and shockingly corrupt; would increase his dependence on those who could best support him at his elections; rack and tear to pieces the fortunes of those who sat upon their own fortunes and their private interest; make electors infinitely more venal; and make the whole body of people, who are, whether they be voters or not, concerned in elections more lawless, more idle, more debauched. It would utterly destroy the sobriety, the industry, the integrity, the simplicity of all the people, and undermine, he was much afraid, the deepest and best-laid foundations of the commonwealth.” *

[ocr errors]

* "Parliamentary Debate on Sawbridge's Motion," 1780.





Down to the middle of the present century, the demand for short Parliaments was continually pressed. Its comparatively recent subsidence has been due to the preoccupation of the public mind with questions which, since the passing of the Reform Acts, have seemed of more immediate importance. The point is now raised whether its revival is not necessary to complete

the work of reform.

In the history of the early reform agitations of the present century, the call for short Parliaments is heard contemporaneously with that for an extended franchise. The programme of the third Duke of Richmond was taken up by William Cobbett, and in his Weekly Political Register annual Parliaments and universal suffrage were advocated. The shortening of Parliaments was recommended to Parliament by men who were then far more influential. Mr. Brand, in his Reform motion of 1810, advocated triennial Parliaments, and was supported by Mr. S. Whitbread. Sir Frances Burdett, in 1817, took up the cause in the House of Commons, and in a motion for a committee on reform expressed surprise that annual Parliaments should be thought wild and visionary instead of constitutional. Sir S. Romilly, though opposing annual Parliaments, was in favour of the repeal of the Septennial Act. A motion was made by Sir R. Heron, in 1818, for its repeal. It had the support of Romilly and also of Brougham. It was seconded by Lord Folkestone, and its supporters in the division lobby included Lord Althorp, Sir

« AnteriorContinuar »