صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors]

family having seven : a Whig Earl had as many when (in 1830) he patriotically bartered his boroughs for a marquisate, to be followed by a dukedom. The counties, says Mr. Massey, were in the hands of the great landowners, who mostly settled the representation by previous concert. When they could not agree, or when there was a rivalry between two great families, the contest, which in former ages would have been decided in the field, was fought at the hustings; and at least as many ancient houses have been ruined in modern times by these conflicts as were formerly destroyed by private war. He adds that the great feud between the houses of Lascelles and Wentworth, when they disputed the county of York for fourteen days, cost one hundred thousand pounds.? It cost more than treble that sum. Wellesley Pole spent eighty thousand pounds in contesting Wilts, of which four thousand pounds went in ribbons.

Unfortunately, the inherent corruption or perversity of poor human nature is such, that it has proved as difficult to convince the people at large of the wickedness of selling votes as of killing a pheasant or a bare. In some of the largest constituencies (Liverpool, for one), at the last general election, independent electors might have been bought by the hundred at five shillings a head. In one of his powerful speeches against Parliamentary Reform, Mr. Lowe, after reading a list of sums allowed as legitimate expenses (ranging from eight thousand pounds up to twenty-seven thousand), said : “Now, I ask the House how it is possible that the institutions of this country can endure, if this kind of thing is to go on and increase?'

Let us hope that it may be checked, if not stopped, 1 The Duke of Norfolk had eleven members; Lord Lonsdale nine; Lord Darlington seven; the Duke of Rutland, the Marquis of Buckingham, and Lord Carrington six each.'-May. Three of these numbers include county members. 2 . History of England during the Reign of George III.,' vol. i. chap. 9.

by the ballot, and die out, like another kind of thing which grew out of it. When, towards the commencement of the last century, Henley, member for Southampton, was called to account by his constituents for voting against their interests for the promotion of his own, he replied, “Ibought you, and, by G-d, I will sell you.' This was the practice, if not the language, of his time. Bribery was reduced to a system soon after the Restoration, and even the great and good’ King William did not venture to depart from it. Speaking of Sir John Trevor, Speaker and First Commissioner of the Great Seal. in 1690, Burnet says : · Being a Tory in principle, he undertook to manage that party, provided he was furnished with such sums of money as might purchase some votes : and by him began the practice of buying off men, in which hitherto the King had kept to stricter rules. I took the liberty once to complain to the King of this method. He said he hated it as much as any man could do; but he saw it was not possible, considering the corruption of the age, to avoid it, unless he would endanger the whole.'

Trevor was afterwards expelled for receiving as well as giving bribes. Mr. Massey has found no trace of the practice after the Grenville administration. Up to that period, he says, money was received and expected by members from the Minister whose measure they supported, apparently without any consciousness of infamy, very much in the same manner as the voters in certain boroughs received head-money from the candidate as a matter of right and custom. There is a letter in the Grenville Correspondence showing that the practice extended to the Peers :

• London, November 26, 1763. Honoured Sir,—I am very much obliged to you for that freedom of converse you this morning indulged me in, which I prize more than the lucrative advantage I then received. To show the sincerity of my words (pardon, sir, the, perhaps,

VOL. III.

famy, ve

boroughs tes right and cu

over-niceness of my disposition) I return endorsed the bill for 300l. you favoured me with, as good manners would not permit my refusal of it, when tendered by you. •Your most obliged and most obedient servant,

“SAY AND SELE. “As a free horse wants no spur, so I stand in need of no inducement or douceur to lend my small assistance to the King or his friends in the present administration.'

Fancy the state of morals when good manners would not permit the direct oral refusal of a bribe. A parallel story is told by Dr. King. Sir Robert Walpole, meeting a member of the opposition in the Court of Requests, took him aside and offered him a bank bill of 20001., which he put into his hands, for his vote. The member replied : "Sir Robert, you have lately served some of my particular friends; and when my wife was last at Court, the King was very gracious to her, which must have happened at your instance. I should therefore think myself very ungrateful (putting the banknote into his pocket) if I were to refuse the favour you are now pleased to ask me.' The difference in amount may possibly account for the difference of conduct in the Commoner and the Peer.

The dispute between the Duke of Newcastle and Fox touching the disposition of the secret-service money strikingly illustrates the venality of the House of Commons in 1754. 'My brother,' said the Duke,

when he was at the Treasury, never told anybody what he did with the secret-service money. No more will I. Fox, who was differently situated from Pelham, replied : “But how can I lead in the Commons without information on this head ? How can I talk to gentlemen when I do not know which of them have received gratifications and which have not ? And who is to have the disposal of places ?' 'I myself,' said his Grace. “How then am I to manage the House of Commons' "Oh, let the members of the House of

Commons come to me. Well may the historian call this conversation one of the most curious in English history. The Duke had precedent in his favour, for early in the preceding reign, Craggs had led the House of Commons (if it could be called leading) as the docile agent of Sunderland, and was called Sunderland's man.

The settled price for a vote in approval of the peace in 1763 was 2001., and it is stated on good authority that not less than 20,0001. was paid to members on a single morning for their votes.

The latest of these pecuniary bargains (those which come nearest to our time) were no longer conducted by the leader. They fell within the province of the patronage Secretary of the Treasury or “whip;' and although the boldest would now hardly risk the offer of a bank-note, it would be a hypocritical affectation of purity to assert that modern legislators are no longer open to a bribe. The Secretary of the Treasury in Lord Grey's administration used to boast that he had promised between 250 and 300 peerages, or promotions in the peerage, besides baronetcies, to ensure the passing of the Reform Bill; and it is related to the credit of a successor, that, on a discontented supporter objecting to the ministerial policy in his hearing, he took him aside and bluntly asked, “What do you want?'

Next to Lord Castlereagh, the person who was most instrumental in bringing undue influence to bear upon the last Irish Parliament, was the Under-Secretary and whip, Cooke; who was thus apostrophised by Flood as he crossed the House on one of his secret missions whilst the orator was on his legs :

- What is it that I see? Shall the temple of Freedom be still haunted by the foul fiend of bribery and corruption ?

1 The late Charles Buller used to say that the votes of O'Connell's original 'tail ' might have been had for ten pounds a vote, or two hundred pounds the session, provided the money was laid before them in gold.

I see personified before me an incarnation of that evil principle which lives by the destruction of public virtue.

On Fox's refusal to submit to the Duke of Newcastle's terms in 1754, his Grace conferred the leadership on Sir Thomas Robinson, the Keeper of the Great Wardrobe, whose qualifications may be guessed from the remark of Pitt on hearing of the nomination : “Sir Thomas Robinson lead us! The Duke might as well send his jack-boot to lead us.' Nothing more strongly illustrates the altered position and character of the House than the immeasurably enhanced importance of the leadership. The conversation at “The Grove' (Lord Clarendon's) happening to turn on a probable change of Ministry, • Don't trouble yourself about the Prime Minister,' exclaimed the late Sir George Cornewall Lewis ; you may always find one amongst the Peers : tell me who is to lead the House of Commons.' Tell us who is to lead on either side in the contingency of Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Disraeli being superseded or displaced ? There arose no such difficulty in 1754. Thanks to the ducal distribution of the secret-service money and the patronage, the equivalent to the jackboot got smoothly through a session, and was prepared to try another, when a European war compelled the avowal of his helplessness. A fresh negotiation was opened with Fox, and ended in the junction made famous by the comparison to the junction of the Rhone and the Saone. "At Lyons,' said Pitt, I was taken to see the place where the two rivers meet : the one gentle, feeble, languid and, though languid, yet of no depth; the other a boisterous and impetuous torrent; but different as they are, they meet at last.'

From the accession of the House of Hanover till within living memory, the two Houses hardly ever differed about public matters, because they had the same objects in view and were subject to the same influences. The course taken by the House of Lords

« السابقةمتابعة »