Page images
PDF
EPUB

not find, and could not secure a hearing. They accepted the challenge, made the trial, and farmers and labourers who were sent to disturb, remained to hear and to be convinced. The county free trade meetings and triumphs of Messrs. Cobden and Bright shewed the propriety of attending to the county registrations. Appearances favoured the hope of success in South Lancashire; and the encreased strength which was realised was a fresh encouragement to watch and work the electoral registers; by which this division of the county is now secured for free trade. An impulse has thus been given, and, to make assurance doubly sure, the acquisition of bona fide forty-shillings freeholders is sought to counterbalance tenant-at-will votes. Other counties have eagerly followed the example, and North Lancashire, North Cheshire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, Middlesex, &c. have now a rational prospect of ranking as the homes of free men. The constituencies of other parts may be stimulated to the like efforts; and a fresh infusion of youthful energies may yet help to redeem the country from a vassalage, which is derogatory to freemen and injurious to the empire.

The measure advocated by the League' is of such practical importance, and so capable of being employed as a precedent, that we deem it expedient to dwell a little more at large upon its details and the reasons for its adoption. We shall not anticipate that any objections to the scheme are gravely entertained by our readers. Indeed we seriously apprehend that the country and the cause of freedom and nonconformity are in such a condition, as to suggest the propriety of a similar course to the better paid operatives and middle classes, of dissenters and reformers. The Church will never be dissevered from the State, or the franchise be extended to the people, but by a decree of the senate; and the senate will never be or do anything but as the people bring their influence to bear upon it. The assumption is not unwarrantable that dissenting congregations are composed of the intelligent, moderately wealthy, or industrious and better paid mechanics and tradesmen. They ought to be, and we think generally are, the most independent members of society. There are in England and Wales four thousand Independent and Baptist congregations; besides, perhaps, five thousand others belonging to the different sections of the Methodist body. The adult members of these congregations are probably as numerous as the whole electoral body of England.—How few of them are, and how many of them ought to be, enfranchised, would be an interesting statistical question-but it would be more to our present purpose could we demonstrate how many might, by the forty-shillings freehold qualification, be placed upon the county register. That it would be altogether uncanonical for ministers

and deacons to look into this subject, and most inexpedient for them in such character to interfere is clear; but we may suggest that the Council or the Executive of the Anti-State Church Conference, and the Complete Suffrage Union, will find no inconsiderable accession of power and influence from the application of this constitutional resource.

On this important subject Mr. Cobden's statement—which was received with the most enthusiastic approbation by more than five thousand free traders in the town of Manchester-demands the consideration of every advocate of an extended suffrage. The honourable member for Stockport is no visionary projector, but one whose clear and practical judgment cannot probably be exceeded among the politicians of the day. The scheme is his, though commended by the council of the League ; and we give it in his own words. He affirms, and, we think, truly,

• The counties are more vulnerable than the small pocket boroughs ; if we can rouse the free traders, the outcry will be a systematic effort such as we have exercised in the case of South Lancashire. In many of the small boroughs there is no increase in the numbers, there is no extension of houses, the whole property belongs to a neighbouring noble, and you can no more touch the votes which he holds through the property than you can touch the balance in his banker's hands. Now the county constituency may be increased indefinitely. It requires a qualification of 40s. a year in a freehold property to give a man a vote for a county. I think our landlords made a great mistake when they retained the 40s. freehold qualification; and mark my words, it is a rod in pickle for them. I should not be surprised if it does for us what it did for catholic emancipation, and what it did for the reform bill--give us the means of carrying free trade ; and if it should, the landlords will, very likely, try to serve us as they did the 40s. freeholders in Ireland, when we have done the work. The 40s. franchise for the county was established five or six centuries ago. At that time a man in the constitutional phraseology of the time was deemed to be a 'yeoman,' and entitled to political rights provided he had 40s. a year, clear, to spend. That was, at that time, a subsistence for a man, probably it was equal to the rental of one hundred acres of land. What is it now? With the vast diffusion of wealth, among the middle classes, which then did not exist, and among a large portion, I am happy to say, in this district of the superior class of operatives too, that 40s. franchise is become merely, nominal, and is within the reach of every man who has the spirit to acquire it. I say, then, every county where there is a large town population, as in Lancashire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, South Staffordshire, North Cheshire, Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, and many other counties I could name; in fact, every county bordering upon the sea coast, or having manufactures in it, may be won, and easily won, if the people can be roused to a systematic effort to qualify themselves for the vote in the way in which the South Lancashire people have reached to the qualification. We find counties can be won by that means and Vol. xvii.

I

no other.

It is the custom sometimes for many to put their savings into the savings' bank. I believe there are fourteen or fifteen millions, or more, so deposited. I would not say a word to lessen the confidence in that security, but I say there is no investment so secure as the freehold of the earth, and it is the only investment that gives a vote along with the property. We come, then, to this; it costs a man nothing to have a vote for the county. He buys his property-sixty pounds for a cottage is given-thirty or forty pounds in many of the neighbouring towns will do it—he has then the interest of his money; he has then the property to sell when he wants it; and he bas his vote in the bargain. Sometimes a parent wishing to teach a son to be economical and saving, gives a set of nest eggs in a savings' bank—I say to such a parent, make your son, at twenty-one years, a freeholder ; it is an act of duty, for you make him thereby an independent freeman, put it in his power to defend himself and his children from political oppression ; and you make that man, with £60, an equal in the polling booth to Mr. Scarisbrick with his eleven miles in extent of territory, or to Mr. Egerton. This must be done. In order to insure the next year's register, it requires only that you should be in possession of a freehold before the 31st of next January. We shall probably be told that this is very indiscreet-what is the use of coming out in public and announcing such a plan as this, when your enemies can take advantage of it as well as you ?' My first answer to that is, that our opponents, the monopolists, cannot take advantage of it as well as we. In the first place very few men are, from conviction or prejudice, monopolists, unless their capacity for inquiry or their sympathies have been blunted by already possessing an undue share of wealth. In the next place, if they wish to urge upon others of a rank below them to qualify for a vote, they cannot trust them with the use of the vote when they have got it. But apart from that, I would answer those people who cavil at this public appeal, and say,

you will not put salt upon your enemy's tail-it is much too wise a bird.' They have been at this work long ago, and they have the worst of it now, have our opponents. What has been the conduct of the landlords of the country? Why they have been long engaged in multiplying voters upon their estates, making men farmers—taking their sons, brothers, and nephews to the register-making them qualify as many as the rent of the land will cover ; and they have been making their land a kind of political capital ever since the passing of the reform bill. You have, then, a new ground opened to you, which has never yet been entered

upon, and from which I expect, in the course of not more than three years

from this time, that every county (if we persevere as we have in South Lancashire) possessing a large population, may carry free traders as their representatives to parliament.'

On the same subject The League adds some remarks alike interesting and important. Referring to Mr. Cobden, they say:

* He proposes to increase the number of small freeholders on the old constitutional principle, which gave the right of franchise to every man having a clear income of forty shillings from land. This is a matter of immense importance, not only to the political constitution, but to the

[ocr errors]

social condition of the empire. During the meeting of the British Association at Liverpool, the subject was brought forward in the statistical section, and men of all parties unanimously agreed that to facilitate the creation of small freeholds would be a most efficacious means of elevating the moral condition of the working classes. It would place before them an object of ambition attainable by honest exertions, and would at the same time lead them to consider what are their duties as citizens and members of a free state. The freehold cottage and the freehold plot of ground have ever been among the best and purest features in our county constituencies ; and it was for this reason that too successful an effort was made to swamp them with dependent tenants-at-will. The restoration of such freeholders to their former influence would not only lead to something like a political regeneration of the constituencies, but would greatly add to the independence, the happiness, and the comfort of the great body of the nation.'

Mr Cobden has not invited his colleagues to a visionary project—a mere castle in the air. The subject is tangible, and capable of being reduced to practical and comprehensible dimensions. The county representation is the power by which the landowners retain their ascendancy in the House of Commons: but for the 252 county members, Mr. Villiers would, in less than two years, have a majority in parliament. Were only a fourth part of them converted to free-trade principles, or supplanted by free-trade members, the present ministry would be in a minority. The voters who constitute the county power of the landlord are the €50 tenants-at-will. The defeat of the free traders in Lancashire, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, or in North Cheshire, has been proved, by an analysis of the poll, to have been occasioned by such voters. The same class preponderating in Buckinghamshire, Huntingdonshire, &c., render a popular contest in such rural counties almost hopeless. To attempt to swamp them would be a bootless task, and the only hopeful alternative is to neutralize them in the electoral field by an equal number of independent voters. Such a scheme is demonstrably practicable. The late census returns farmers and graziers, who are adult males, at 230,155; including, of course, all the small dairy farmers, and many paying a rental less than £50 a year. It has been computed that these may be about a tenth of the entire number, being about 200,000, tenants-at-will, whose votes turn the scale at the election of 158 members, the representatives of the 52 English and Welsh counties. Another deduction might, however, be made of, perhaps, one tenth, for the tenants of those landlords who either do not influence their tenants, or who are opposed to the corn monopoly; so that the net strength of the poll which monopolist-landowners can command, may be reckoned at about 180,000 voters in all these counties. A fourth part of these 52 counties, containing but a small proportion of town population, and therefore wholly under the control of the landlord, being set aside as unassailable, there remain the seats of 119 members subject to a sufficiently numerous body of middle-class voters in the towns to give scope for the favourable operation of this scheme. According to the calculation, it remains to provide 155,000 persons, willing and able to qualify themselves as county voters, to neutralize the power of the monopolist-landlords in three-fourths of the English and Welsh counties. The field which opens to the patriotic citizen, wherever his residence, thus to counteract the chicanery

and oppression of an unscrupulous oligarchy, is inviting and accessible to multitudes, who may thus extend their sphere of usefulness, by enlaging their political power, at so cheap a rate, that it is accessible to all but the poorest of the population.

A single county will show the vast importance of this movement, especially in such as are most populous, and therefore most open to the operation of this undertaking. County meetings were designated by the term 'Farce' in the abrupt language of the greatest anomaly among living statesmen ; but county elections have never been so regarded, even among the greatest adversaries of popular representation. The election of Mr. Wilberforce for Yorkshire doomed the slave trade; and how many generous spirits then sought to be enrolled among the freeholders in that county! The aristocracy have always set a high price on the voice of a county. It was the election of Henry Brougham—then not a peer--that gave the coup-de-grace to the rotten-borough system, and made way for Reform. It was the defeat of Lords Morpeth and Milton, for the same county, which signalized the overthrow of the Whig cabinet. How that disaster was incurred, it boots not now to inquire: enough for

us,
that
many

friends of freedom mourned their own supineness, and regretted that they did not then possess the franchise for Yorkshire. Sir Robert Peel saw the full force of his victory in the success of his party in the West Riding; and when the new parliament assembled in 1841, placed in the hands of Mr. Stuart Wortley

• The motion for an amendment to the Address, declaring a want of confidence in the late Ministry. It is not long,' said the latter in the commencement of his speech, since Her Majesty put a question to the country, and asked them to return an answer that might serve as some guidance to her in the future conduct of her government. Now, I appear here as the bearer of a portion of that answer, and I hope th without presumption, I may say I appear as the bearer of not the least significant portion of that answer.' Loud and long were the cheers with which the speaker was greeted by the monopolist majority; and well

« PreviousContinue »