Page images

Alliance found an implacable assailant in the Edinburgh Review. Several articles were wrilten by its leading contributors to expose the designs of that jesuitical confederacy. That which has been selected for this work contains an exposition of the objects and principles of the Continental governments associated under the title of the Holy Alliance, and of the means by which they sought to accomplish their views. This essay may be read with advantage in connection with the preceding one. The sum of the doctrines supported in that article, as well as the present, is, that“ knowledge is indestructible; that liberty is inseparable from knowledge; and that all the interests which support the cause of tyranny must wear away, whilst those which point to freedom must increase in the progress of civilisation.”

The last article allotted to the department of Foreign Politics is on the French Revolution of 1830.” It opens with a spirited narrative of the causes which led to that great cvent. It details the proceedings of the Polignac Ministry, from its formation to the period when those oppressive measures were adopted which terminated in a patriotic resistance on the part of the people. The determined conduct of the French Opposition in the Chambers, the promptitude and decision of the French after the passing of the obnoxious ordinances,—the bravery and union of the citizens in battle, and their dignified moderation in victory, — are described in a masterly style. . The position which the English would probably have assumed, had the same arbitrary encroachments been attempted by their rulers, is commented on in a tone of cutting sarcasm. The observations on the necessity of placing the elective franchise in France upon a more extended basis, on arming the executive with sufficient power to give effect to its own functions, on the important subject of the Nobility, and on the constitution of the National Guard, are entitled to attention. Of the part which England sustained during the contest, and of the reception given to Charles X., the author speaks in no very complimentary terms. Of the consequences of the revolution, and its effects in advancing the progress of liberty throughoul Europe, his opinions are in unison with those so conspicuously manifested in the contributions of other writers in the Edinburgh Review. None but an honest champion of truth and justice would have written the following declaration :-“The emancipation of France is the hope and strength of freemen all over Europe. Had she succumbed, the chance of liberty in Italy, in Spain, in Portugal, was indefinitely postponed ; in England herself, a sight of much evil omen was held out to both rulers and people. The most imbecile of ministers, and the least trusted by their country, are ever ready to retreat behind the ranks of the army; ever prepared to support their power by force. But no reflecting man can now entertain a doubt, that is our rulers, untaught by the recent lessons, should ever attempt to enforce arbitrary acls by arms, the people of this country would be ashamed of being outdone by those of France in defending their most sacred li


It has been thought necessary to give a more minute analysis of the views and reasonings contained in the articles on Foreign Politics, than will be required of those upon other subjects which have yet to be noticed. The Editor was desirous of directing the attention of his readers to the opinions of the Edinburgh Review on many of the great questions of foreign policy, which have given so deep an interest to the history of Europe from the period of the French Revolution. He is aware that those opinions have

been intentionally misrepresented; and he was, therefore, the more anxious to assign them a prominent place, both in his selections and his commentary.

Under the designation of “General Politics" have been inserted articles on “Reform in Parliament;" “Church Reform;" “Liberty of the Press;" " Ireland ;” and “West India Slavery.” On the first of these topics four able essays have been selected, written at different periods, and not by the same contributors; though they are all by men of high literary altainments and extensive information. It need not be disguised, that the opinions of the Edinburgh Review on Parliamentary Reform have not been consistent. Of the glaring inequalities and abuses in our late system of representation, it was never the unqualified defender, though it differed essentially from the leading reformers as to the nature of the change that was required, the extent of the advantages which it would produce, and the time at which it should be made. Its writers never denied the necessity of a great and substantial improvement in the mode of electing the House of Commons, nor the right of the people to oblain it by the exercise of every means which the laws of the country placed within their reach. But they were less apprehensive, than some sterner politicians, of the evils resulting from the concession of power to the peerage and the landed interest; and they manifested a lenderness towards the rolten boroughs almost amounting to an acknowledgment of the benefits attributed to them by those who reaped subslantial advantages from their existence. It is but fair, however, to admit, that the Edinburgh Reviewers invariably laid it down as a fundamental principle, that Reform in Parliament, on a broad and efficient plan, ought to be cheerfully granted, when the weight and consequence of the middle and lower classes, increased by a wider diffusion of wealth and intelligence, siiould produce such a change in the structure of society as should render il safe and expedient to intrust them with a more abundant share of political power. It would not be in accordance with the object of this essay to criticise the schemes in detail, which have been proposed by the Reviewers for the accomplishment of the great measure to which they were pledged from the beginning of their labours. The outline it is intended to give of the arlicles on that subject will sufficiently explain the grounds upon which they conceived the representative system should undergo an entire change, and the specific plans they recommended for adoption. There is nothing more certain than that, in all extensive innovations on the laws and constitution of a nation, the friends of practical improvement ought not to be unmindful of times and circumstances. Upon every occasion that the Edinburgh Review directed the attention of the public to the question of Reform in Parliament, this wise precaution was observed. The principle was strenuously upheld, that whenever the voice of the nation called loudly and unanimously for the selllement of that vital question, it should no. longer be withheld, and that the magnitude of the concession should be commensurate with the “new power and energy generated in the nation, for the due application of which there was no contrivance in the original plan of the constitution.” In the following passage, this view of the matter is developed in language that cannot be misunderstood :-"If the people have risen inlo greater consequence, let them have greater power. If a greater proportion of our population be now capable and desirous of exercising the supetions of free cilizens, let a greater number be admitted to the exercise of those functions. If the quantity of mind and of will, that must now be

[ocr errors]

represented in our legislature, be prodigiously increased since the frame of that legislature was adjusted, let its basis be widened, so as to rest on all that intellect and will. If there be a new power and energy generated in the nation, for the due application of which there is no contrivance in the original plan of the constitution, let it flow into those channels through which all similar powers were ordained to act by the principles of that plan. The power itself you can neither repress nor annihilale ; and, if it be not assimilated to the system of the constitution, you seem to be aware that it will overwhelm and destroy it. To set up against it the power of influence and corruption, is to set up that by which its strength is recruited, and its safe application rendered infinitely more difficult: it is to defend your establishments, by loading them with a weight which of itself makes them toller under ils pressure, and, at the same time, affords a safe and inviting approach to its assailant.

Having made those explanatory remarks, which the principles of the Review on Parliamentary Reform will, it is hoped, fully justify, it now remains to give a rapid notice of the four articles transferred to this work on that great question. The first professes to be a Review of the Right Honourable William Windham's Speech in the House of Commons, in 180), OA Mr. Curwen's bill for beller securing the independence and purity of Parliament, by preventing the procuring or obtaining of seats by corrupt practices. After eulogising Mr. Windham's intellectual accomplishments, the writer details the origin, progress, and destiny of Mr. Curwen’s Bill, upon which he makes some very keen strictures. He then proceeds to examine the arguments of Mr. Windham against Parliamentary Reform, and in defence of the sale of public trusts, and other instruments of corruption. The conclusion to which he comes is, that a traffic in seats, under any circumstances, is fraught with manifold evils; that no pretext, however plausible, can justify the “ abuses of throwing the nomination seats into the hands of borough patrons; and that the most beneficial and important of all reforms would be that which would prevent the exercise of this power." On the question as to the influence of property in elections, much ingenuity is displayed in drawing the line of demarcation between its natural and its corrupi or artificial influence. Any attempt to interdict the former is characterised as absurd and unjust; whilst the latter is condemned, and means suggested for its repression. Of the practical consequences resulting to the nation from the various species of boroughmongering, a description is given which exhibits, in striking colours, the revolting deformities of the old system of representation. The commonplace fallacy, of the danger that might result to our constilution from a correction of these abuses, is very happily exposed; and a series of arguments are employed to prove, that the infamy and danger of parliamentary corruption consists in the “weakening and depravation of that public principle, and general concern for right and liberty, upon which all political freedom must ultimately depend : and the real increase of the power of the crown, by the means which this organised system of abuse affords for bringing the whole weight of its enormous patronage to bear upon the body of the legislature." The remedies proposed for these glaring evils are, to lessen the pressure of that influence by an exclusion of placemen and minor officers of the government from parliament,—to abolish all sinecure offices, and to enforce a


* Edinburgh Review, vol. xvii. p. 383.

[ocr errors]

system of rigorous economy,—to multiply the numbers and raise the qualifications of voters, by taking away the right of election from decayed, inconsiderable, and rotten boroughs, and bestowing it on great towns of cunmercial wealth and distinction. These leading principles having been brielly touched upon, the author refutes, with admirable tact and ability, an argument of which the enemies of Reform dexterously avail themselves as a plea against all attempts at innovation, viz., that " although the inluence of the crown has increased very greatly within the last fifty years, yet it has not kept pace with the general increase which has taken place, in the same period, in the wealth, weight, and influence of the people; so that, in point of fact, the power of the crown, although absolutely greater, is proportionally less, than it was at the commencement of the reign of George III.; and ought to be augmented rather than diminished, if our object be to preserve the ancient balance of the constitution.” To expose this fallacy, the causes are investigated which have produced an augmentalion in the intellectual and moral power of the people. The supposition is ridiculed, that it can be checked or weakened by perpetuating a system of corruption and abuse. A Reform in Parliament, adapted to the change in the structure of sociely, is urgently recommended as a safe and effectual means of rectifying the grievances, removing the discontents, and restraining the excesses of the nation. One passage may, with propriety, be added to the imperfect outline now attempted of this able disquisition - “ The people are grown strong in intellect, resolution, and mutual reliance, -quick in. the detection of the abuses by which they are wronged, and confident in the powers by which they may be compelled ultimately to seek their redress. Against this strength, it is something more wild than madness, and more contemptible than folly, to think of arraying an additional phalans of abuses, and drawing out a wider range of corruptions. In that contest, the issue cannot be doubtful, nor the conflict long; and, deplorable as the victory will be, which is gained over order, as well as over guilt, the blame will rest heaviest upon those whose offences first provoked, what may probably turn out a sanguinary and unjustifiable vengeance.” It is upwards of twenty years since this powerful passage was written; and, forlunately for the peace and tranquillity of society, and the security of the throne itself, the nation has been at length delivered from the appalling dangers which the writer so eloquently depicts, by the firmness of the King, the integrity of his ministry, and, above all, by the union, energy, and ubconquerable resolution of the people.

The important question of Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage is discussed in the second article on Parliamentary Reform. That they are not the ancient right of the people of England, was proved by historical evidence in an essay, in the Review, not inserted in this work. But in, the present article the subject is investigated on the principle of utility, and it is demonstrated that universal sufrage would be injurious to the lim berties of the community. To establish this position, an enquiry is made into the mode of representation best calculated to secure the freedom and happiness of a nation circumstanced like Great Britain. The author conceives that a system of representation by classes is the most likely to effect that object. The following passage embodies the fundamental principle of the theory, in the developement of which a great deal of ingenuity and acute

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Vol. xxviii. p. 126.

ness is exhibited :-" To understand the principles of the composition of a representative assembly thoroughly, we must divide the people into classes, and examine the variety of local and professional interests of which the general interest is composed. Each of these classes must be represented by persons who will guard its peculiar interest, whether that interest arises from inhabiling the same district, or pursuing the same occupation,-such as traffic or husbandry, or the useful or ornamental arts. The fidelity and zeal of such representatives are to be secured by every provision which, to a sense of common interest, superadd a fellow-feeling with their constituents.”

Having unfolded, at considerable length, the merits and advantages of his favourite plan, he draws an estimate of the influence of popular clections on the character of the different classes of the community ; first, on the English nobility, and, secondly, on the humbler orders. He then proves that a variety of rights of suffrage should be preferred to any uniform system, and that all interests are better protected when the representatives are chosen by considerable portions only of all classes, than by all men. In support of this view of the subject, he enters into a variety of details, the object of which is to point out the injurious consequences which would flow from the adoption of universal sussrage. Several plans of reform are canvassed; among others, that of Mr. Horne Tooke, which the Reviewer denominates “an ingenious stratagem for augmenting the power of wealth, under pretence of bestowing suffrage almost universally.” Of vole by ballot he avows himself a decided opponent, and for the following reasons :That it would not produce secrecy; that is secrecy of suffrage could be really adopted, it would, in practice, contract, instead of extending, the elective franchise, by abaling, if not extinguishing, the strongest inducements to its exercise; and that, is secret suffrage were to be permanently practised by all voters, it would deprive election of all its popular qualities, and of many of its beneficial effects. This valuable essay closes with some remarks on the operation of universal suffrage and ballot in America; which are worthy of particular altention. The authorship has been ascribed to the late Sir James Mackintosh,

The object of the next article is to explain and defend a scheme of Moderate Reform, which would provide for a real and considerable increase of the direct power of the body of the people, in the Commons' House of Parliament; furnish a reasonable security that it will not be the source of new dangers to the other institutions and establishments of the Kingdom; be founded, not only on general reasons of political expediency, but in the acknowledged principles, and, as far as may be, in the established and eve technical forms, of the British constitution, and on such constitutional principles as present a distinct and visible limit to its operation; so as to lead by no necessary consequence to the adoption of other measures, and to leave all future questions of that nature to be discussed on their own intrinsic merits; and, lastly, as a consequence of the previous conditions, be so cautiously framed, that an administration friendly to Reform, but invariably altached to the constitution, could propose and carry it."

The limited plan of Lord John Russel, as developed in his speech in the House of Commons, in 1819, is characterised as embracing ihe foundations of such a Reform. The Reviewer is of the opinion that it should comprise an immediate addition of lwenty members to the House of Commons, to be chosen by opulent and populous lowns not previously represented. The accordance of this proposilion with the principles of the constitution, is

« PreviousContinue »