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it not monstrous that they should, nevertheless, attempt to exercise the direct influence of their vicinity and their numbers, and endeavour to overpower the minister with the double force of immediate as well as representative solicitation? What is to become of the general interests of a country, if the district in which the government happens to reside is to exert such an influence over it?an influence which will, in the course of practice, inevitably assume a higher tone and a more commanding attitude; and which may, at length, prostrate all England at the feet of the metropolis, as, during the French Revolution, Paris, by the agency of her electoral districts, became the bloody tyrant of France. But this deputation, thus dangerous in principle, seems to have been exceedingly offensive in its manners. What must the public think of such passages as the following, which we extract from the published report of the transaction?
MR. C. PEARSON said, that in his opinion the motion of Sir John Key ought to be brought forward previous to bringing forward the Budget, otherwise the noble Lord would be in the dark respecting the merits of this question.
'LORD ALTHORP. I don't think I can be much in the dark. There is a good deal of light in this room (a laugh).
MR. PEARSON. I wish your Lordship had a little more fire-(renewed laughter).'
And this Mr. Pearson was thus constituted spokesman of the deputation-in the presence, but to the exclusion, of the twenty-two members for the Metropolitan district! My Lord Grey, who has been broken into this kind of visit by Mr. Place, and Lord Althorp, who once before received with great pride' Mr. Stevens and a deputation from Bishopsgate, may be callous to the personal degradation of such intrusion and such language: but we appeal to the country at large, whether the King's government can be maintained in the respect and authority to which it is constitutionally entitled, if such practices are allowed to continue, and (if they continue) to increase both in frequency and in insolence? And as, in a system like ours, local interests are frequently adverse to each other, will Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and indeed all the rest of the empire, see, without jealousy and fear, London throwing its numerical weight into the councils of the Cabinet?
In the conduct of the business of the House, the same principles produce effects equally indicative of feebleness and uncertainty in the government, and of an undue interposition of external influence. In the old days of what was called virtual representation, the practice of petitioning was natural and necessary; for when great classes thought and said (however errone
ously) that they were not represented in the House, it was reasonable that they should convey their sentiments by petitions. But it is obvious that the nearer we approach to direct universal representation, the less occasion there must be for petitioning. Manchester and Birmingham have, one should have thought, less occasion to urge their sentiments in the shape of petitions, since they have acquired representatives, than when they had no other direct channel of expressing their wants and wishes. How has it turned out? why, that petitioning has increased tenfold-and that the very first act of the new Parliament is to put itself to the intolerable (as it will be found) inconvenience of a morning sitting, for the sole purpose of receiving petitions from the reformed constituency.
In addition to the extraordinary and instructive coincidences, which we in former articles have noticed, between these times and the crisis which preceded the Grand Rebellion, the report of a committee lately appointed to consider the best mode of facilitating the presentation of public petitions, affords the following:
12th Dec. 1640.-Committee of petitions appointed to peruse all petitions that are come in, or to come in, and to peruse them and see what petitions are fit to he received and to what committee they are fit to be referred, and to report the same to this house.'-(Journals, vol. ii. p. 49.)
And this committee appears to have continued to sit, with occasional additions, till 1653, the very year when a certain Oliver Cromwell was declared Protector of the liberties of England-and we hear no more of the committee of petitions! But-on this precedent of 1640-the present House of Commons has appointed a committee for similar purposes. Of the labours of this committee, or its utility, we know nothing; but, in spite of its appointment, we see that the meridian sittings of the house are continued -and, as far as we can judge from the newspaper reports, they appear to be a most idle and unprofitable waste of the public time. We say nothing of the personal grievance to the Speaker and the ministers, who are obliged to attend the meridian as well as the post-meridian meetings: we wonder where they find time for the animal functions of life. Sure we are that such over-work can produce no good; and that the official and real business of the country must be neglected for this extra show of diligence and zeal. We are not insensible, any more than Mr. Sadler, or his worthy successor, Lord Ashley, to the sufferings of the poor factory children, but we really think a ten-hours bill for the House of Commons itself is of hardly less pressing necessity.
And, after all, are the petitions, to which all this apparent deference is shown, really the more attended to, or the better dis
cussed or considered? We understand that the morning sittings are attended by few but those who have petitions to present—or, as one gentleman is reported to have said, to get rid of; and that, when a member happens to get possession of the house, he presents not only all his own petitions on all sorts of subjects, but his friends, weary of waiting for their turn, hand to him their petitions on all sorts of subjects, which he presents, knowing nothing and, we presume, caring nothing about them. So that no practical benefit can ensue; and the only result is to countenance and propagate the system of out-of-doors interference, and to create political agitations in every village and corner of the empire, where busy and presumptuous and, generally, ignorant men imagine that it is their duty to instruct their representatives on subjects the most difficult, the most delicate, and often the most remote from either the knowledge, the business, or the interests of the petitioners.
Nor is this all these petitions, so far from being humble, as petitions used formerly to be designated, seem occasionally to assume quite a contrary character, and to be rather designed to insult than to entreat the house. We read in the papers that, on the 11th of March, Mr. Cobbett presented a petition, to the indecorous language of which he very fairly and very properly called the attention of the house :
The honourable member would not repeat the name the petitioners gave to the bill-his modesty made him not like to pronounce it.'— (Morning Post, March 12.)
And, a little after, Mr. Roebuck presented another, which he said
was worded in a way he should not have worded it; but it was his duty to present all petitions that came to him.'-(Ibid.)
How these petitions were worded, we know not; but it must have been something rather strong which Mr. Cobbett or Mr. Roebuck would not have said. It appears, by the same paper, that the ministerial leader, Lord Althorp, was then in the house; but it does not appear that any notice was taken of these petitions, thus characterized by the very gentlemen who presented them. Upon all this we shall hazard but one remark, and that shall be an aphorism, which is so trite that we hope we may quote it without offence that the authority which is not respected will not be long obeyed.
There are some other circumstances, which, though not really more important (because all are of equal importance-as indicating the imbecility and incapability of what calls itself the government), are more striking. On Mr. Hume's motion, before mentioned, the ministry, as we have said, would probably have been beaten, if the Conservatives, actuated by personal or political hostility, or revenge, or disappointment, or a very natural indignation
against the ministers for bringing the royal prerogative so indecently into question,-if the Conservatives, we say, could have persuaded themselves to vote for Mr. Hume; and on the debate on the Irish Coercion Bill, on which Lord Althorp made so signal a failure, the ministers loudly expressed their gratitude for the admirable and triumphant speech, in which Sir Robert Peel came to Lord Althorp's rescue. Yet the very next day, when Sir Robert Peel earnestly requested that a bill of such vital public importance, and of such infinite private interest, as the Irish Church Bill, should not be appointed for a second reading before it was printed and when-speaking on the Monday-he implored that the bill, which was not to be in the hands of members till the Tuesday, should not be read on Wednesday—a delay which the most common turnpike interests would have obtained, and which one would have thought the recent services of Sir Robert Peel, and the Conservatives entitled them to ask as a courtesy, if it were not a matter of right,--no, the ministers would not we are told they dared not concede even so slight an indulgence. The poor victim Church implored the respite of a week,-'no!'-two days, no! '—a day~no, not an hour!' The trial, to be sure, had not yet taken place, but the scaffold was built-the executioners were ready-the grave was dug-the spectators were collected and impatient for the show, and die she must at the stated minute! while shouts of joy and approbation stimulated the cruel impetuosity. But, alas! when the bill came to be printed and delivered, it was found that these inexorable judges were but indifferent pleaders: the bill turned out to be inconsistent with parliamentary law; it became necessary to throw it out; and the Irish Church has had a respite of-not an hour, nor a day, nor a week-but of three or four weeks; not the boon of courtesy or justice, but the ridiculous blunder of blindness and ignorance.
Again, look at the conduct of these ministers with regard to the Irish Coercion Bill. The framing of this bill required, if ever bill did, the most anxious deliberation in the Cabinet, and the most cautious care that not one jot more of severity should be introduced than the dire necessity required. It passed through the Lords, at the instance of the first minister, and with the help and concurrence of those two great lawyers, the chancellors of England and of Ireland. Did they ask, in the wantonness of apostacy, more coercion than the distressing case indispensably required? We hope and believe not! Yet their colleagues in the Commons have given up several important points; and have, to use the phrase attributed in the newspapers to some of their adherents, frittered away the most important features of the measure.' The dilemma seems to us inevitable-either the bill, as recommended by Lords
Grey, Brougham, and Plunket, was a wanton and unnecessary inroad on the constitution, or the bill of Mr. Stanley and Lord Althorp is a mutilated, imperfect, and hypocritical pretence.
And yet, here again, we believe that, personally, no one is to blame. We are satisfied that the Cabinet acted to the best of its judgment, with a great reluctance to go one step beyond what the case required; and we believe that the ministers, in the House of Commons, have yielded their judgment to their discretion, and have consented to fritter away the bill-only because they did not think it possible to carry it entire.
'Lost power and conscious fear their crimes create,
We acquit the men—but we tremble for the interests of the country, under a system which necessitates such vacillation and inconsistency in a government apparently so strong as to have carried the second reading of this very bill by so enormous a majority as 363 to 84.
Neither do we presume to feel-and still less to express-any personal objections to the individuals who constitute the new parliament. It is undoubtedly a most remarkable fact that hitherto the balance of ability seems to be on the side of the men of the old system; and that the volcano of public agitation, which was to have set so much groaning genius, and such compressed mines of intellect at liberty, has as yet thrown up more cinders than flame. But of this we say nothing-this is sufficiently felt and understood everywhere. We are willing to believe that our new representatives are as upright and conscientious men as any of their predecessors, there seems to be hardly one of them who might not have been returned under the old system,—and we are convinced that, individually, their talents are respectable, and their intentions patriotic and honourable. It is the position in which they are placed that makes them dangerous; and the peril arises-as we have already said, still more charitably, of the ministers-not from the character of the persons, but from the inevitable operation of the system. Like some of their predecessors in the Long ParliamentThey do not strike to hurt, but make a noise.'
If they wish to continue to sit in parliament they must act, not according to their own judgment, but in such a way as may conciliate their constituents; and if a man of the greatest acquirements should arise, if another Burke should represent Bristol, and another Windham Norwich, they would not be the free and unshackled Windham and Burke of former days,Burke could not have dared to offend the constituency of Bristol, or Windham that of Norwich, if they had not had Wendover and St. Mawes in reserve, in which, or other nomination seats, they