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That Parliamentary Reform is a subject of singular iinportance, no man will deny. But that it is the only subject worthy of engaging the attention of statesmen, no one will assert, but an enthusiast blinded by zeal for a favourite speculation. And that all other points should be neglected for this; that, until it be carried, the ministry of the day should be suffered to do as they list; that victories gained for the people, without reform, are even to be lamented, as diminishing the criminality of an unreformed Parliament, and the necessity for a change,-is a doctrine, of which the absurdity is so monstrous, as almost to prevent its mischief. Yet this doctrine has prevailed among many well-meaning, and even well-informed classes of the community, whose heated imaginations, engrossed by a favourite object, could rest upon no other view, and regarded all who differed or doubted as enemies. The kind of reform, too, which alone would satisfy them, was immediate, sweeping, radical, unsparing. No time must be given for trying the safety of projects confessedly new; all must be done at once by a single bill. No compromise must be endured with the faults of the present system; the whole must be swept away, and a new one substituted, by creation, in its place. They chose to say Annual Parliament; and therefore no man must whisper a word of Triennial. They said every male of 21 (Mr Hunt says, or rather swears in an affidavit, 18) should vote: and therefore no honest man could presume to confine the franchise to inhabitants or householders. It was in vain to ask for the foundation of all this dogmatical theory, or to demand why the period of one year was chosen, and the extension of suffrage to all males, rather than to all females, according to the most learned 'of the reformers, Mr Bentham. Attempts to trace the history of Parliament gave them no assistance; for though of old a year was the common duration, or rather a few days, and each session was a new Parliament, the circumstances were so entirely different, that there was no possibility of applying the precedent; while instances were frequent, of two and three Parliaments sitting in a year;—and as to universal suffrage, there was no more evidence of all males ever having voted, than of all females. But these limits had been assumed; and the arbitrary doctrine, thus laid down, became the Shibboleth of the party. Greater dogmatism; more gra
ders' on constitutional questions. He complained bitterly of this charge, and gave the above marvellous confirmation of it. The burthen of his song was Lord Holland's ignorance of the authors who treat of the constitution--such as Prynne !
tuitous assumptions; more intolerance towards other sects; never marked the doctrines or the proceedings of any religious party or establishment. And in this respect they resembled those bigots who have at different times filled the world with confusion. No terms short of entire submission would ever satisfy them; and they regarded with far more inveterate hostility him who came near their own faith, without exactly adopting it, than him who abjured them and their tenets altogether. - Many reasons concurred to render this class of persons extremely jealous of the Whig party. It formed a part of their fanciful doctrine of the Constitution, that, in a renovated Parliament, the Crown was to have no ministers, but only certain government orators, who might explain measures without a deliberative voice. The whole business of the State was to be conducted by the ministers, without any control in Parliament, unless when they merited impeachment; the public affairs were not, as now, to be transacted under the eye, and in the presence of the Great Council of the nation ; its functions were to be confined within the narrowest limits of voting supplies, while the Crown was restored to its ancient prerogative of ruling unchecked till matter of impeachment should be found, or the season of actual resistance arrived.
Of course, the patrons of this very practical scheme of government, abhorred the idea of a regular party :-in their Utopia it could find no place. But the Whigs had other crimes to answer for, beside that of being a party. Some of them were conscientiously, and, upon long reflection, averse to all parliamentary reform whatever; none of them were advocates of Universal Suffrage; and the great majority of them, though sincerely attached to a moderate and rational system of reforin, refused to regard that, or any one other question, as alone deserving of attention, and to sacrifice to its promotion all other measures. A few of the party had, in the course of time, so far altered their opinions upon the subject, not so far as to oppose reform, but only to consider it as less vitally important than they had once deemed it. Nothing more was wanting to raise against them, and their coadjutors and followers, the cry of desertion; they were viewed with distrust as false friends, or openly attacked as the worst enemies of the cause. Moderate reform, being held quite synonymous with mock reform, was even deprecated, in comparison with a continuance of the present system ; and the only class of statesmen who could possibly hope to succeed in carrying any measures for the improvement of our Parliamentary Constitution, were des cried as the supporters of all its existing abuses and imperfections.
The leaders of this third party, and those who composed it in the country, were, it may safely be asserted, influenced by very different views, and possessed of very unequal degrees of information. The former had formed the design of establishing a popular interest, and guiding its operations themselves. They saw that no chance of succeeding in this project was left to them, as long as the Whig party retained the confidence of the people. They therefore set themselves about undermining that favour which the party had so long enjoyed; and, availing themselves of the unreasonable disappointment produced by their conduct while in office, and of some unfortunate coldness towards the popular cause displayed after their retreat from power, they succeeded in persuading a great body of the community that the Whigs had deserted them; that place only was their object; and, in fine, that all public men are alike all the enemies of the people, whose only chance of salvation must be sought in throwing off every party connexion, thinking for themselves, and taking into their own hands the management of their affairs; in other words, blindly following these new guides through a course of mere turbulent discontent, without any plan, or any prospect of effecting a single one of the objects represented as necessary to save the country. Having thus, in a great measure, succeeded in shaking the people's confidence in their natural leaders, and in branding rank, station, long services and liberal accomplishments as tokens of hostility to the cause of liberty, and warnings to put the country on their guard against their possessors; they had only themselves to recommend instead of the leaders and advocates whom they were endeavouring to set aside; and their own crude, visionary schemes to propose, in place of the sober, rational, and practicable plans of improvement patronized by the great popular party whom they supplanted.
A little leisure was now afforded for observing the conduct of these men of high and exclusive pretensions to patriotism. And first of all, it was found that they excelled far more in railing at others, than in bringing forward themselves any useful measures for the relief of the country. They talked as if they were possessed of some nostrums for removing all evils; and effectually resisting the pernicious councils of the Government. But, in the mean time, the force of the people being divided, and the energies of opposition cramped, the Government went on more triumphantly than ever, and, for some time, met with no check to its encroachments. Then it was observed, that these new leaders of the publick opinion ran, in a short period of time, the whole round of inconsistent and opposite opinions. Almost every week they had a new doctrine to promulge-a new Shibboleth to propose. As each lost its novelty, another was invented. Every topic they broached, too, was in its turn the one thing needful--the grand and paramount interest--the only matter worthy of the publick attention. Now it was Lord Wellington's campaigns and pensions; then the Duke of York and Mrs Clarke; this day the privileges of the House of Commons; the next Walcheren ; and, on the morrow, parliamentary reform, or tythes, or taxes, or the learned languages, or the aristocracy and its vicious accomplishments. All their motions in either House of Parliament, which only one or two members could be found to support—all the plans which, by their extravagance, revolted men of sober judgment—and all the publick men who, from accidental circumstances, or through their own conduct, were deprived of intercourse with the more polished and enlightened classes of society, were held up to the admiration of the multitude. As any creed of reform gained converts among persons of a superior cast, new articles were added to stagger them, and leave the profession of it to the pure reformers alone. As soon as any candidate for popular favour was found to associate with the upper classes of society, he was denounced as an object of distrust. To have quarrelled past all chance of reconciliation with those hated orders, was deemed the surest road to publick confidence, next to that of never having belonged to, or kept any terms with them. And thus new patriots easily arose to the height of popularity, and as suddenly sunk, never more to be heard of, leaving the people unprotected, and the ministry unopposed, except by the regular Whig party, whom all these tricks and follies had crippled, but not destroyed. .
This party, on the contrary, went on holding its even and steady course, except that it wisely lent itself more and more to popular measures, and cultivated more assiduously the esteem of the respectable portion of the community. While the new candidates for publick favour were doing nothing for the country, but railing at every measure of reform, in proportion to its real value and its practicability, the Whigs were resolutely opposing every dangerous stretch of power and unnecessary expenditure of the revenue-defending the cause of liberty and of national independence abroad-reducing the standing army at home-compelling the ministers to adopt measures beneficial to trade, and to relinquish an enormous amount of taxes the inost burthensome and oppressive. All these real services were ren
dered to the State, without the most remote appearance of an undue thirst for place or power. On the contrary, their reluctance to accept once was made the ground of charging them with a factious and obstinate opposition.
The people of this country, although they may for a season be misled, are sure in the end to think for themselves, and to recover from the blindness of temporary delusions, either of attachment to unworthy favourites, or of prejudice against old and tried friends. The evidence of facts in the end has its weight; the merit of continued honest and useful conduct never pleads with them in vain. They began to acknowledge the unfairness of the attacks made upon the popular party in Parliament, and to doubt the wisdom of the new guides who preached Universal Suffrage as the sovereign panacea for all ills. Their eyes would have been opened much sooner, had the Whigs not committed the error on the one hand, of refraining from openly attacking and exposing the follies of that doctrine; and of being too slow, on the other, to lay down distinctly their own views of reform. Of late they have done so, and with perfect success. The recent Elections plainly show that the people are no longer under the guidance of shallow pretenders to constitutional learning, or base dealers in vulgar sedition; and that even the more respectable zealots of reform have failed to estrange them from their natural leaders. To those leaders they have evinced their willingness to return; and there cannot be a doubt that this disposition will, as it ought, be met by corresponding kindness.
The question here naturally arises, what are the principles of government adopted by the present ministers, and what the ground of the constitutional opposition to their remaining in office? A single glance at this subject will at once show how deeply the country is interested in the regular conflicts of the two parties, and how false the assertions have been of those who try to inculcate a feeling of indifference upon this momentous affair. The present ministry are in their hearts and in their whole conduct the enemies of every reform, and of none more than of retrenchment. They will yield nothing of the patronage of the Crown; and, until forced, they will lessen none of the people's burthens. They are friendly to large military establishments; patrons of arbitrary power abroad; and ready to make arrangements with foreign courts which may lead to war for merely foreign objects. At home, they undervalue the rights of the people, and carelessly treat the most sacred parts of the Constitution. Hostile to every improvement, they despise the voice of those who call for a revision of our commercial system, that it may be adapted to the circumstances of the