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Thinking he had effectually checked the course of the debate, Lord Brougham again disappeared. sooner was he gone, than Lord Shaftesbury was replaced
the woolsack, and Lord Mansfield was bitterly inveighing against the dissolution and the Reform Bill, when shouts were heard of—"The King ! the King ! God save the King !” The large doors on the right of the throne were flung wide, and his Majesty, accompanied by the Chancellor and other great officers, entered the House, and took his seat. The Commons were summoned, and when they had arrived, his Majesty began :
"My Lords and Gentlemen, I have come to meet you for the purpose of proroguing this Parliament, with a view to its immediate dissolution. I have been induced to resort to this measure, for the purpose of ascertaining the sense of my people, in the way in which it can be most constitutionally and most authentically expressed, on the expediency of making such changes in the representation as circumstances may appear to require; and which, founded upon the acknowledged principles of the Constitution, may tend at once to uphold the just rights and prerogatives of the crown, and to give security to the liberties of the people."
Thus was a great political peril—perhaps a revolution of portentous dimensions—happily averted.
The new Reform Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons by a majority of 136, on the 7th of July, and its third on the 21st of September, by a majority of 109. The great question then arose, as it has often since arisen, “What will the Lords do ?”
the Upper House, the crucial debate—that on the second reading—took place on the 3rd and extended to the 7th of October. On the last night of the debate, the Lord Chancellor delivered, in support of the bill, one of his finest speeches, in which he analysed, with a power of criticism he did not always exhibit, the arguments of its opponents, emphasized those of its supporters by a variety of illustrations, and concluded with an eloquent and dignified peroration :
“Among the awful considerations,” he says, "that now bow down my mind, there is one which stands pre-eminent above the
You are the highest judicature in the realm ; you sit here as judges, and decide all causes, civil and criminal, without appeal. It is a judge's first duty never to pronounce sentence, in the most trifling case, without hearing. Will you make this the exception ? Are you really prepared to determine, but not to hear, the mighty cause upon which a nation's hopes and fears hang? You are. Then beware of your decision! Rouse not, I beseech you, a peace-loving but a resolute people; do not alienate from your body the affections of a whole empire. As your friend, as the friend of my order, as the friend of my country, as the faithful servant of my sovereign, I counsel you to assist with your uttermost efforts in preserving the peace,
and upholding and perpetuating the Constitution. Therefore, I pray and I exhort you not to reject this measure. By all you hold most dear, by all the ties that bind every one of us to our common order and our common country, I solemnly adjure you—I warn you—I implore you—yea, on my bended knees, I supplicate you-reject not this bill !"
But, ir spite of warning, remonstrance, and argument, the Lords threw it out by a majority of 41. A flame of wrath at once lit up the country, from John-o'-Groat's House to Land's End; and for a time the fate of the Constitution hung in the balance. Various solutions of the difficulty were proposed ; the most popular was the creation of a number of peers sufficient to outvote the hostile majority. This bold and revolutionary proposal, which involved a direct degradation of the dignity and authority of the Upper House, was made by Brougham, accepted by ministers, and urged upon the King, who very reluctantly gave a verbal assent. The Government then introduced their bill into the House of Commons, on the 12th of December, and it passed through its various stages with immense majorities. In the Lords, the indignation of the country and the threatened creation of new peers had not been without good effect; and on the second reading, ministers secured a majority of nine. The bill then went into committee, where the facilities for “maiming and delaying a measure of great magnitude and intricacy” proved too much for the moderation and self-control of the Lords. The King, moreover, had receded from his original ardour in the work of reform, and refused to adopt the expedient by which a minority in the Upper House might have been converted into a majority.
no alternative for Earl Grey and his colleagues but resignation ; and the Duke of Wellington, with what bis admirers called courage, but cooler critics audacity, stood forward to meet the storm. But he could get no colleagues in his Cabinet, no majority in the Commons, and no soldiers to fight for him in the streets; and it was soon clear that without fighting, and hard fighting, he could not prevent the people from carrying reform. The crisis lasted a week. Then the Duke resigned ; Earl Grey was recalled ; the King addressed a curious but significant circular letter to the Opposition peers; and on the 7th of June the
Reform Bill received the royal assent, and became an Act of Parliament.
It is unnecessary to dwell on Brougham's personal share in this protracted struggle. What is certain is, that his boldness and decision contributed largely to the steadfast action of the ministry, and that the final triumph was in no small degree due to his consummate energy
In reference to the proposed creation of peers, he discusses, in his “Political Philosophy,” the question : Whether, if the peers had persisted in their opposition, this swamping process would have been adopted, and he replies :
I cannot, with any confidence, answer it in the affirmative. I had a strong feeling of the necessity of the case in the very peculiar circumstances we were placed in. But such was my deep sense of the dreadful consequences of the act, that I much question whether I should not have preferred running the risk of confusion that attended the loss of the bill as it then stood; and I have a strong impression on my mind that my illustrious friend (Earl Grey] would have more than met me half-way in the determination to face that risk (and, of course, to face the clamours of the people, which would have cost us little) rather than expose the Constitution to so imminent a hazard of subversion.”
But this was written long after the victory had been gained, and when the excitement of battle was over. There can be little doubt that if Wellington had “stood to his guns,” this bloodless revolution must have eventually been wrought, if only to prevent the outbreak of a sanguinary one.
At no time of his life was Lord Brougham more popular than now, and never had he more deserved popularity. He had exhibited all his best qualities-his
intellectual activity, his courage, his promptitude of resolution—in their fullest measure, and none of his worst. But his was not a character that throve in prosperity ; it lacked moderation, self-control, composure.
His intense egotism began to prevail over his judgment; his irritability of temperament over his discretion. On these meaner things, however, I do not care to dwell; I remember too keenly the magnitude of his services. Even during the two years of his Chancellorship, from 1832 to 1834, he introduced and successfully carried out several legislative measures of importance. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council-a tribunal of appeal in ecclesiastical cases, was his creation. He suggested the establishment of those local centres of civil jurisdiction which, under the designation of “ County Courts," have proved so useful to the community. The reform of the Scottish municipal corporations, the settlement of the Bank Charter, the partial reform of the Church of Ireland—these measures bore the impress of his versatile energy.
In 1834, Lord Grey and Lord Althorpe resigned office; but through Brougham's vigour and singular readiness the Whig Ministry was almost immediately reconstructed, with Lord Melbourne as Premier. At this time, before a committee of the House of Commons, he proved that office had not deadened his sympathy with the great cause of popular education, by strenuously advocating the repeal of the stamp duty on newspapers, the tax upon advertisements, and all duties upon paper—a wise and truly liberal proposal, which it was reserved for Mr. Gladstone to carry out some thirty years later. But he was now offending his colleagues by his injudicious pretensions and the King by his brusque familiarity; and