Article 16

ART. XVI. An Address to the People of England on the absolute necessity of a Reform in Parliament, &c. Blacklock.—Reasons for Reformation. By John Cartwright, Esq. Bone and Hone.—A Letter to Samuel Whitbread, Esq. upon the late Enquiry, the Destruction of important Papers, and Parliamentary Reform. By James Clarke. Jones.—Debates on the Charges, &c. and Minutes of Evidence, 2 vols. 8vo. Blacklock and Chapple.

[pp. 429-437] [original article in PDF format]

  1. IT is not from choice, nor from caprice, nor from the affectation of ingenuity in discovering secret sources of analogy, that we have brought together two subjects of examination apparently so little connected as the reform of parliament, and the investigation of the charges against the Duke of York. Either of them would be sufficient to supply us with more materials than it would be easy to condense into the compass of an article in our Review. The one has employed the pen of almost every political writer since the establishment of our political liberties: the other has lately engrossed, during many following weeks, almost the whole time and attention of one branch of the legislature. But we must take things as we find them; and as the two subjects have been canvassed together at numerous public meetings, as well as in a cloud of pamphlets which are daily issuing from the press, we must adopt the arrangement employed by the authors whose works we examine.

  2. The three pamphlets which now lie before us are of nearly equal merit in point of execution, but that which stands first on [429] our list is entitled, we think, to some pre-eminence, from the magnificence of its plan; because it comprises a sort of abstract of English history, from the reign of King John to the present time, together with suitable remarks on all the popular topics of the day, and exact copies of Magna Charta and of the Bill of Rights. From this work, therefore, we will borrow a short extract: 'The Court of Common Council,' says our author, 'have expressed, most fully, their opinion on the subject of corruption, and also on the conduct of the majority in parliament in favour of the Duke of York. In Resolution V. they declare, that "they (the majority of parliament) voted in direct contradiction to the evidence produced." This declaration, or resolution of the citizens, falls very little short of a vote of infamy, and places them and the majority of parliament at issue; one or the other must be right, and the people at large are the umpire in this great question.—The present conduct of the citizens will do them honour so long as liberty remains in England, and has shown them as men worthy of a place by the side of those immortal worthies our ancestors, who brought about the glorious revolution in 1688.' (pp. 16, 17)

  3. Now we believe this to be a fair and correct description of the doctrine at present very assiduously inculcated by all those who profess, like our author, to be 'true friends to the constitution, and to nothing but the constitution;' though, so long as that constitution shall remain, it is obviously no less impossible that the Common Council should ever be at issue with the body of representatives of the united kingdoms, as to the exercise of any right of control over their opinions, than that the nation at large should by some strange power of spontaneous amalgamation, condense themselves into an umpire or arbitrator. The proposition, therefore, when divested of metaphor, and reduced into plain language means this, that the Common Council have taxed the majority of the House of Commons with an unjust vote, that both parties may, if they think fit, write and print or cause to be written and printed, a defence of their respective opinions; and that those who can read may, if they please, compare their arguments and judge between them. And on this ground we think ourselves entitled to offer our comments on the statement of our author.

  4. We are disposed to suspect that the famous resolution of the Court of Common Council was founded on a mistake, which took its rise from the words of Mr. Perceval's motion, stating that 'there is no ground for charging him (the Duke of York) [430] in the execution of his office of Commander in Chief, with personal corruption, as alleged in the said evidence, or any connivance in the corrupt and infamous practices therein exposed.' Here, it is true, the general context is by no means obscure, yet it is not unreasonable to suppose that the worthy citizens may have discovered in the ambiguous words which we have printed in Italics, the direct avowal of a conduct which they thought it necessary to record with marks of reprobation. It should seem too that this misconception must have been very general, for it is impossible to believe that any editor of a newspaper would have ventured to print, at the desire of any man or body of men, a declaration which, if not founded on the confession of the house, was a direct and professed libel upon the popular part of the legislature; and it is incredible that the worshipful the Lord Mayor, whilst sanctioning, as he had an undoubted right to sanction, a vote of censure on himself, should have thought himself authorised to make public his ignorance of the privileges or defiance of the power of parliament, by affixing his signature to the resolution. We admit that our opinion is subject to some objections, as tending to call in question the sagacity of the Common Council; but, on every possible supposition there will be considerable difficulty in comprehending the motives or the wisdom of their conduct. The hope of immortalizing themselves, in company with the patriots of 1688, was perhaps in their view, but it was a distant one, and one which they probably did not wish to see realized till after the attainment of a good old age. Besides, this general inducement would not necessarily dictate the specific measure of publishing an allegation, which might be either true or false, but of which they do not seem to have possessed the means of ascertaining the truth or falsehood.

  5. It is usually supposed that in the examination of vivâ voce testimony, nothing which can assist the scrutiny can be considered as indifferent. It is thought important to behold the witnesses, to observe their countenance and demeanor, to hear their voice, to watch every word that falls from their lips, to imprint in the memory, or to fix, at the moment, in an authentic and exact record every minute circumstance, and only to form a final judgment after a careful comparison of the whole. It does not appear that the Common Council did or could adopt these precautions in coming to their decision. It is true that the daily reports of the newspapers, such as they were, lay open to their inspection, and it might naturally be presumed that, availing [431] themselves of these reports, they had at least perused with some attention the address for which they voted their thanks to Mr. Wardle, and to the minority who supported him. But, even of this we must, with great deference, venture to express our doubts, because it seems to us that this address is obnoxious to censure on precisely the same grounds as the vote of the majority. It does not assert the corruption of the Duke of York as alleged in the evidence; it does not take advantage of that ground to pronounce him guilty of connivance; it only professes to fix that charge on the foundation of a very short and general argument. It says, 'That it is the opinion of this House, that the abuses which they have thus most humbly represented to His Majesty, could not have prevailed to the extent in which they have been proved to exist, without the knowledge of the Commander in Chief; and, that even if, upon any principle of reason or probability, it could be presumed that abuses so various and so long continued, could in fact have prevailed without his knowledge; such a presumption in his favour would not warrant the conclusion, that the command of the army could with safety or ought in prudence to be continued in his hands.' Now, if this argument were just, it would follow that unsuspecting confidence and criminal connivance are the same thing, and that every dupe is necessarily an accomplice; an inference which however supported by the sarcastic remark with which it was coupled, was not apparently very well suited to the solemnity of an address to the King. But, whatever might be its merit in point of logic and taste, it was certainly an insufficient substitute for a decisive sentence. If the charge of connivance had been proved, it was surely necessary to assert this distinctly in the proposed address; if it was not proved, it seems to have been the duty of the House to express the negative in their verdict.

  6. It is not, perhaps, the least extraordinary circumstance attending the opinion of the Common Council, that they seem to have totally forgotten, in their comparison of the measures proposed by the two adverse parties m the House of Commons, that the one was comprehensive and definitive, and the other confined to two specific charges. Had the address been carried up to the throne, and had its prayer been granted, there would have been a necessary termination of the whole proceeding; whereas the declaration of acquittal on the charges of corruption and connivance was so far from being a general absolution from blame, that it rather facilitated than precluded any further process, [432] which might have been grounded on the abuses already brought to light by the preceding investigation. It thus produced the immediate resignation of the Commander in Chief, who lost no time in seeking to avert the censure of parliament, as soon as he was able to do so consistently with a due sense of his own character. And since the warmest of his opponents declared that resignation a sufficient atonement for his past conduct; since they concurred in disavowing all vindictive feelings, and joined in the vote to close the proceedings; it seems that there was little substantial disagreement in the ultimate judgment of the opposite parties, although there were shades of difference in the sentiments of nearly all the members who had previously delivered their opinions. Whether the abuses which are proved to exist in any public office are likely to have originated in the weakness or wickedness of the presiding officer; in confidence blindly bestowed and impudently abused, or in criminal connivance and participation; are questions on which wise and honest men may reasonably differ, and their discordance can afford no ground of suspicion against the motives of either party; and when both concur in accepting the same atonement from an offender, it may be presumed that their estimates of his delinquency, whatever name they annex to it, cannot be very dissimilar.

  7. We are, however, told, by numbers of persons professing to be well-informed, that the dissatisfaction occasioned by the late proceedings is violent and universal. This assertion is mysteriously whispered in coffee-houses, proclaimed from high authority in taverns, circulated, under the condensed form of resolutions, in the papers, and dilated into numerous pamphlets, some of which are now on our table. Mr. Clarke communicates it in his letter to Mr. Whitbread; Mr. Cartwright states it amongst his reasons for reformation; and the writer, whom we have already quoted as a friend to the constitution and to the immortality of the Common Council, draws the same inference. He tells us, that 'the cry of corruption in the state comes from every mouth; and the cry of Reform! Reform! proceeds from every tongue, and reverberates on every ear.' Now we should suspect that such a description of the cries of London would not be very gratifying to the Common Council. Experience must have taught them that when, through the beneficial influence of a free press, or of non-commissioned orators in the cause of liberty, large bodies of men are assembled as parts and parcels of the nation, for the purpose of proclaiming the national [433] will, and of redressing all national wrongs, the progress of patriotism and reform through the streets of London has occasionally spread terror and dismay amongst its worshipful citizens. Windows and heads may be broken, to a considerable amount, without exciting much alarm to the police, or at all affecting the general government of the country; and it is by no means improbable that dangers of this magnitude may at this moment be impending over us. But of very extensive evils we are not extremely apprehensive. We could not easily point out, in the whole course of our recollection, a single year during which the cowardly merit of being satisfied and contented with their condition could be fairly imputed to our countrymen. We have witnessed many and heavy discontents amongst the people; we have seen frequent riots, some of which had a promising appearance, and afforded hopes of a tolerably extensive revolt; but, we cannot even now discern a tendency to that universal insurrection from which alone, as it seems to us, can be expected the hitherto untried blessing of Radical Reform. We have, perhaps, amongst us a greater number of puritans in religion, and in morals, and in politics, than at any former period, and their zeal may produce a daily accession of proselytes; but, we believe that, as the mass of mankind are willing to submit to live in this bad world, however lively may be their hopes of a better, so the mass of the nation will for some time longer persist in their preference of the old-fashioned government of king, lords and commons, to that perfect state of political regeneration in which the absence of all abuses must put an end to their comfortable enjoyment of hourly complaint and remonstrance.

  8. In the mean time we are by no means disposed to wage war with those who frankly avow their love of revolution, as a step towards political perfection. We consider this as a mere matter of taste, and completely harmless under a free government, because such a government, being armed with the whole power of the nation, can never suffer from the shock of discordant opinions. But when we find a set of persons professing to promote innovation from an attachment to the existing order of things, and to wish for reform for the sake of the constitution; when we hear them assert that the abuses of delegated power originate, not in the extent of that power, or in the temptation which it creates, but merely in the mode by which it is delegated, and that a different form of election would alter the views and passions of the elected; we cannot help suspecting [434] them of some little insincerity: and should think it our duty to attempt an exposure of their fallacies, if this had not been already done, in one of the ablest essays of a most popular and very modern publication. We allude to the 9th article in the 20th number of the Edinburgh Review; a work, from many parts of which, no feelings of competition could justify us in withholding our unqualified applause.

  9. But as it may be of use to shew that the arguments of our present reformers do not possess, in any great degree, the merit of novelty, we will venture to recall to the recollection of our readers a few short passages from a tract on this subject, written many years ago by the late Soame Jenyns. He observes that the kind of parliament wished for by our political doctors is 'one in which the members shall be always ready to support the measures of ministers when right, and to resist them when wrong, unawed, and uninfluenced, and guided only by the dictates of their own judgment and conscience. This indeed is what every wise man would desire but no wise man will expect to see; as no such assembly, if numerous, ever existed in this or in any country, from the beginning of the world to the present hour; and never can, unless mankind were melted down, and run into a new mould. As they are now formed, there must be, in every numerous assembly, some who have no judgment, and others who have no conscience, and some who have neither: take away self interest, and all these will have no star to steer by, but must sail without a compass, just as the gales of favour or resentment, of popular absurdity or of their own, shall direct them. A minister therefore must be possessed of some attractive influence, to enable him to draw together these discordant particles, and unite them in a firm and solid majority, without which he can pursue no measures of public utility with steadiness or success. An independent House of Commons is no part of the English constitution, the excellence of which consists in being composed of three powers mutually dependent on each other. Of these, if any one was to become independent of the other two, it must engross the whole power to itself, and the form of our government would be immediately changed. This, an independent House of Commons actually performed in the last century; they murdered the king, annihilated the peers, and established the worst kind of democracy that ever existed; and the same confusion would infallibly be repeated, should we ever be so unfortunate as to see another.—Parliaments are seldom, very seldom bribed to injure their country, because it is [435] seldom the interest of ministers to injure it; but the great source of corruption is, that they will not serve it for nothing. Men get into parliament in pursuit of power, honours, and preferments; and, until they obtain them, determine to obstruct all business, and to distress government: but, happily for their country, they are no sooner gratified, than they are equally zealous to promote the one and support the other. Upon the whole—we have too much oratory, too much liberty, too much debt, and too many taxes; but then we have plenty, we have security to our persons and properties, and excellent laws, justly, though not very cheaply administered: we have a parliament not worse, and a king a great deal better than we deserve; and therefore I shall conclude,' &c. (Works, vol. 2, p. 235)

  10. We cannot, however, conclude without noticing a novel and ingenious project of reform, which has, most unexpectedly, originated in the parliament itself, at the suggestion of a member who is also, we believe, a member of the board of agriculture, and author of many valuable improvements in the art of steaming potatoes. The advantages of this project, in an agricultural point of view will, we believe, be very great; because it will effectually exclude from parliament, and consequently from any concern in political affairs, all classes of men excepting the truly useful class of landholders. If such men as Pitt, Fox, and Burke, who, having no tenants to represent, could have no real business in the House of Commons, had been employed, as they certainly might have been, and as the honourable author of this project has been, in devising articles of salutary food for cattle, or in composing Chemico-Georgical essays, Great Britain might probably have derived many solid and permanent benefits from their abilities. It seems that talents and genius ought, in common consistency, to be confined to the learned professions, or to mathematical or physical science; that the important business of legislation should be left to those who being qualified, as justices of the peace, to execute laws, will best understand how to make them; and that the public purse cannot be more properly entrusted than to persons of whom, as Mr. Spence has proved in his pamphlet, it is the peculiar privilege, and even the paramount duty, to circulate money through its proper channels. It is also clear that, from such an arrangement, we may anticipate the removal of all those evils which we have already enumerated. We have, at present, too much oratory; but we may expect that, in our future senates, the temperate rhetoric of a few speakers will only be employed to explain those [436] motives of assent or dissent, which might be left in obscurity by the dignified taciturnity of the greater number. We have too much liberty; but we may hope to see more serious obstacles to poaching, and a more vigorous execution of the game laws, from those who best know the value of such enactments. We have too much debt, and too many taxes; but a remedy will doubtless be found by a set of legislators who will divest themselves of that extreme lenity towards the public creditors, and of that partial attachment to the monied interest which have misled their predecessors. It would perhaps be an improvement to the plan, if the election of members in the towns which, as we suspect, would generally, on the new system, devolve on the wealthiest inhabitants, viz. the attorney or apothecary, were by law insured to the nearest land-holder. With this precaution, the most delightful harmony might be expected to subsist between the parliament and the crown; because the influence of the peers and of the great commoners and possessors of close boroughs, when aided by that of government, and no longer thwarted by the baneful competition of private bribery at elections, would, to a great degree, prevent the intrusion of refractory members. We will not attempt to explain, any further, the various merits of a plan, of which the characteristic distinction is that it tends to prove, to the conviction of all mankind, the omnipotence of the British legislature by decreeing, under the pains and penalties of perjury, that money shall, henceforth, lose its efficacy; that corruption and all the vices consequent on the gradual increase of natural opulence shall cease and determine; and that patriotism and wisdom, together with all the advantages of office or emolument to which such qualities are entitled, shall be exclusively possessed by the principal land-proprietors of the united kingdom.