Page images
PDF
EPUB

might they cheer, for they knew that whilst the West Riding sent such an answer, monopoly was secure.'

It is reasonable that such importance should attach to the constituency of York : its population exceeds the inhabitants of Bedford, Berks, Bucks, Hereford, Hertford, Huntingdon, Monmouth, Oxford, Rutland, and Westmoreland, -ten coun. ties, which send twenty-five members to parliament. The twelve Welsh counties contain a population of 240,000 less than the West Riding of Yorkshire. Its registered voters exceed the aggregate constituencies of twenty-two Irish counties, returning forty-four members; and on a similar comparison, outnumbers twenty-eight Scotch counties. The nearest approach to it is London or South Lancashire, which contain each about 20,000 registered electors: but the West Riding possesses equal to one and a half of either, that is, 30,000 enfranchised citizens who can vote for a knight of the shire; while the free traders within its bounds might increase it one-third more. If any person is inclined to doubt our accuracy,

• Let him take a map of the county, and run his eye over the district, from Sheffield, in the extreme south, to Pateley Bridge, in the north, and from Saddleworth, in the south-west, over that chain of populous towns and villages running north-east, and including Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, and Huddersfield, let him count the numbers, estimate the wealth, and remember the spirit and liberality of this great manufacturing community, and then ask himself if it be possible that such a population will submit to be imprisoned and fettered by the squirearchy, who dimineer over the comparative wastes and wildernesses of the county?'

There are facilities for free traders in this county which are not possessed in other parts of the kingdom. Here are many towns which do not possess the borough franchise, and whose electoral power lies in the county, while almost all these towns are dependent on trade with foreign countries. All occupiers of their own freeholds in Barnsley, Rotherham, Saddleworth, Holmfirth, Dewsbury, Hebden-bridge, and such other unenfranchised towns, as well as the villages, are entitled to be on the county register. Many might conveniently invest in a freehold qualification (by clubs, or other means) £40 or £50, who perhaps could not afford, or might not wish, to occupy a £10 house in a borough. The League holds out encouragement to their coadjutors in Yorkshire in the following terms: and we quote it because of its utility and practicableness elsewhere. It is a common cause, and involves the nation's prosperity, as well as the expansion of the popular power.

• At the last revision for the West Riding we had a gain of less than one hundred upon the register of 30,000 names, whilst in South Lancashire the free traders gained upwards of 1,700 upon a register of only

19,000, which was accomplished by a bold, determined, and successful effort to win the county. Whatever can be done in Lancashire, Yorkshiremen can do. The task to which they have to set themselves is to qualify at least 2,000 new voters before the 31st of January. Nothing less than this must be aimed at. There are sixteen manufacturing polling districts ; an increase on an average of 130 in each will more than give the required number. This can, and, we bave no doubt, will be done. Then there are our friends across the borders in Lancashire, the North Riding, and in Westmoreland ; we have no doubt they will send their contingent of new qualifications from Clitheroe, Colne, Rochdale, Oldham, York City, Kendal, &c., to swell the noble army of freetraders at the next general election. The Manchester leaguers have, we take it for granted, all qualified, or are preparing to do so, for the West Riding. We tell them, for their encouragement, that Messrs. Wortley and Dennison's stronghold is in the non-resident monopolist voters, their friends and partisans in all parts of the north of England having been induced to qualify.'

We gather from "The League,' that the project of increased qualification has been embraced with cordiality and zeal in not only north and south Lancashire, in north Cheshire, and the West Riding of Yorkshire, but that our Metropolitan county is also the scene of vigorous operations, which promise a speedy rescue from the power of monopoly. The circumjacent counties will provide a wholesome accession to its free trade electors, Bedfordshire and Bucks will co-operate with the city of London in the glorious struggle to restore Middlesex to its once proud eminence : while Surrey may share in the sympathy and generous efforts of the champions of free trade from all contiguous districts, metropolitan or rural. South Staffordshire also has begun an organization which will yield a supply of enlightened coadjutors whose bona fide qualification will give authority to the advocates of unshackled commerce, on the floors of the Senate House. The question has been started, Which county should come first in this legitimate strife, and the League' has an. swered

In forming our opinion, we have had an eye to the town population in each, to the present representation, to the contests since 1832, and to other data, for judging of the state of parties. We look to the extent of town population as the first point for consideration, because, whatever may be the present state of the register, if there be a numerous middle class in the county, not qualified to vote, the free-traders may, by purchasing 40s. freeholds, possess themselves of the representation. The following list of thirty-three English counties, and divisions of coun. ties, comprises those which appear to us at once the most important and the most vulnerable : in fact, just in proportion to the importance which they derive from the extent of their population is the power which that population possesses to carry out our plan :

West Riding of Yorkshire, West Worcestershire,
South Lancashire, South Cheshire,
Middlesex,

North Staffordshire,
North Lancashire, South Leicestershire,
North Cheshire,

South Derbyshire,
East Surrey,

North Nottinghamshire,
North Derbyshire,

Rutlandshire,
North Durham,

South Northumberland,
South Stafford,

West Cumberland,
East Gloucester,

North Warwickshire,
West Gloucester,

East Kent,
East Cumberland,

West Kent,
West Surrey,

South Hants,
East Somerset,

Cornwall,
South Durham,

East Sussex,
North Wiltshire,

East Norfolk, East Worcestershire. • There may be local circumstances with which we are unacquainted, affecting some of these counties; but looking at them from a distance, with a map and the last census tables in hand, we should say there is not one in which the landed monopolists might not be easily beaten by the 40s. freeholders,'

Some of the counties however may be deemed more hopeless than they really are—the registers may exhibit an exaggerated idea of the actual strength of the adverse party—they have seldom been subjected to a thorough revision; while the partisan procedure of overseers in the court of the revising barrister has been unwatched, many names have been enroiled which would be struck off under the vigilant operations of a free trade committee. This is a consideration which ought to give weight to the urgent appeal of the Free Traders when they plead :

' But the good work must not be confined to particular districts. Wherever an individual Free-Trader may happen to reside, be it in Kent, Devon, or Northumberland, let him make it his first duty, after having provided himself with the franchise, to urge all his neighbours and friends, who are favourable to our cause, to qualify themselves with the 40s. freehold. Let him not be deterred by the apparent weakness of our party upon the present register. Ours is a growing body. Let nobody, therefore, omit to possess himself of a vote, from the notion that it will be useless ; nor must anybody hesitate to qualify, merely because there happens to be no organization in the neighbourhood for aiding him in the formal business of registering his vote. If every Leaguer in the country will only do his best to secure possession of a 40s, freehold before the 31st of January, and induce such of his friends and neighbours as are Free-Traders to follow his example, we undertake to furnish them afterwards with ample instructions how to enrol their names upon the county list, and to retain it there,'

a

The objection has been taken by the party whose strongholds are assailed, that this course is unconstitutional, and an attempt has been made to stigmatise electors thus qualified as 'faggot voters.' The tu quoque argument might be brought to bear on assailants whose party have qualified their footmen, retainers and tenants as far as their means or power

extend, and who first fought their battle in the registration courts not by bona fide freeholders, but by representatives of the landlord's pleasure. The ‘League' however answers such imputations in a bolder tone, and with confidence in the wisdom and integrity of their course.

What! is it not constitutional to place ourselves within the electoral pale, by conforming to the letter and spirit of the Reform Act ? That act decides that a man, possessed of a freehold of 40s. a year, is entitled to vote for knights of the shire. We say to every unenfranchised FreeTrader who is able to invest 501. at good interest, buy a freehold cottage, and become a free citizen. Lay out as much more as you please, or as is convenient, in the purchase of lands, or houses ; but, at all events, let your first investment be in that description of property, and to that amount, at least, which the law prescribes to be necessary to secure a county vote. Our scheme involves no agitation for an alteration of the law : we desire to induce a few hundred thousand persons to conform to the spirit and letter of the Reform Act. Our project requires less of public agitation or exciting demonstrations than of close, earnest, and business-like application; and we hope to see our friends, in all parts of the kingdom, rivalling the Leaguers of Lancashire, in their quiet but effective mode of carrying out a plan which appears to us, the more we consider the matter, to be by far the most important, from its practicability, of that has been put forward by the League: a plan which, if persevered in for a few years, will solve the problem of—How can just and equal legislation be extorted from the landowners of this country?"

There are others who fancy they have discovered a weak point in the measure adopted by the League, alleging that as it is a game that two can play at, the victory will be with the richest: that is with the monopolists. Were the dependance of free traders on wealth, some weight might be allowed to this objection-but their confidence is in public opinion, in the suffrage of the many, in the diffusion of right principles: and in the ultimate adherence of freemen, of enfranchised citizens. Whatever therefore encreases the number of voters, favours the free trade party. It is notoriously the policy and aim of the monopolists to restrict the franchise as well as commerce: since it is far easier to manage a small than a large constituency; and free traders have more chance in the ten thousands of Lancashire, the West Riding, or in Middlesex, than among the hundreds of Rutland, Bucks, or Monmouth. But the Leaguers have another answer, more as a matter of fact than of opinion

any

they affirm that the monopolists have played out their game the land agents of the aristocracy have worked the Chandos clause in the rural districts to the last available vote; while not only have the inhabitants of county districts practically forgotten that there was such a clause or principle in the law of parliamentary election as the 40s. freehold qualification, but the middle classes in the cities and boroughs have looked on, unconscious of the power which this principle gives them to outnumber the tenants-at-will in the polling booth.

* To quote an illustration or two from the register for the West Riding of Yorkshire:-

There is Huddersfield, containing by the last census a population of 38,454 souls, with only 104 votes on the county register ; whilst the obscure rural township of Thome can boast its 181 electors in a population of 3,507. Barnsley, the great seat of the linen manufacture, without the borough franchise, has been so indifferent to the possession of the only vote within its reach, that out of a population of 12,310 there are only 285 county electors. Rotherham, one of the largest unenfranchised towns in the kingdom, with a population of 13,439, contributes 127 voters to the county list; whilst the land-agents in the unheard of agricultural township of Tickhill have contrived to place 163 electors on the register, out of a population of 2040.

• There are, we venture to say, 500 Free-Traders in Huddersfield, and half as many at least in Barnsley or Rotherham, who are able and, we have no doubt, willing immediately to purchase property which will give them the county qualification; and there are hundreds of places in England and Wales similarly circumstanced. All that has been wanting is, that their attention should be called to the privilege they possess. This could only be done by a public appeal, and, in making it, we must take the risk of rousing a few of our enemies along with the multitude of our friends.

Another mode of monopolist resistance has been anticipated. The landlords, it has been said, may increase their voters indefinitely by granting on their estates life-rent charges. But how many of these landlords possess uncontrolled disposal of their estates? and where the property is free, where are the men to be found in sufficient numbers to whom conservative landlords would dare trust their property or their vote? The farmers are already registered as tenants-at-will

. The squires will hesitate before they invest agricultural labourers, such as Lawrence Eborns, with a 101. life annuity. The operative Conservative Associations or Orange lodges, may, not afford the safest or most profitable materials for such investment. The respectable members of the tory party in towns may for a time give a vote to their friends on the day of election, even should it uphold the corn laws; but they will give no active support in the organization of such a movement in towns, no vigorous efforts to qualify voters, or counteract the exertions of the Leaguers. Their

« PreviousContinue »