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We must not, however, suppose, because Grampound was selected as an example, that this place was more deeply involved in elective degeneracy than many other places, which had the good fortune to escape detection. Grampound was rather, when found guilty of being caught, so disfranchised, as at once to expiate the crime, and to serve as a beacon to others, that they might transact their little concerns with more circumspection, prut dence, and secrecy.
In the examination of evidence, to which the affair of Grampound led, it was stated by one of the aldermen, that there were not more than three or four uncorrupt electors in the place. This avowal, which seemed to excite some considerable surprise in the house, drew from Lord Russell the following observations. “ Alas! the glory of Grampound is gone for ever.
The electors will no more have the pleasure of seeing a baronet, (Sir M. Lopez,) out of pure motives of charity, sending confidential agents to relieve their distresses, and minister to their wants. They will no more be delighted with the gratifying spectacle of the merchants of London contending to represent them. Never again will they have the satisfaction of almost murdering those who had the hardihood to propound the bribery-oath!"
On this mock lamentation over the political death of Grampound, it will be unnecessary to make any comment. The general feeling of the house on the occasion, was hailed as a favourable omen towards reform, and subsequent years and events have proved that the indications were not delusive.
It will be recollected by many of our readers, that, after the second reading of the bill for the disfranchisement of Grampound, it stood over until the ensuing session of parliament; the affairs of her late majesty queen Caroline, engrossing a considerable portion of legislative attention, and absorbing nearly the whole of the public mind. In the month of February 1821, the bill was, however, again brought forward, and, with scarcely any further opposition, carried triumphantly through both houses. This secured to the county of York the franchise which Grampound had lost, and was, to the friends of parliamentary reform, a source of the highest gratification, and a powerful stimulant to their future hopes.
Animated by this harbinger of further successes, the friends of reform immediately prepared some propositions of a more general nature. The first attempt was made by Mr. Lambton, now Lord Durham; but the motion was so sweeping, that it produced a long and tempestuous debate, through two successive nights, and was finally negatived during the absence of the mover.
Having learned wisdom by the defeat which Mr. Lambton had sustained, Lord John Russell, about a month afterwards, appeared before the house, with a bill of more moderate dimensions. This was seconded by Mr. Whitmore, but was finally thrown out, though by only a small majority. Gathering from this circumstance, that the friends of reform were rapidly on the increase, the promoters of this measure seized every favourable opportunity to carry their important object. Accordingly, in 1822, when the agricul tural interest appeared in so distressed a state, that various meetings were held, to petition parliament for its relief, the want of reform in parliament was assigned, among other causes, as one source of the general calamity. To redress this grievance, petitions for reform were presented to the house from various parts of the kingdom; among which, Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey, Cambridge, Bedford, Devon, and Cornwall were particularly conspicuous.
Encouraged by these petitions, and stimulated by past success, Lord John Russell moved" That the state of the representation required the serious attention of the house." This motion was supported by a long and elaborate speech ; but the attempt proved abortive. A speech from Mr. Canning not only neutralized its effect, but procured a rejection of the motion by a majority of 105.
Nothing daunted, however, by these defeats, Lord John Russell, during the ensuing year, made a fourth motion on the same subject; but this was likewise negatived by a majority of 111. A fifth attempt was made, by the same nobleman, in 1826, but this was rejected by a still greater majority, of 124.
Still tugging at the tree of corruption, much about the same time, Lord Russell introduced his bill, the more effectually to prevent bribery at elections. The objects which it was intended to embrace, were comprised in two resolutions. These were vigorously supported and opposed by the opposite parties; 'which were so nearly balanced, that, on a division, sixty-two appeared on each side. The speaker's casting vote was in favour of the resolutions, and a dissolution of parliament almost immediately followed.
At the general election which took place in the summer of 1826, Lord Russell, being decidedly favourable to Catholic emancipation, lost his seat as county member for Huntingdon; and at that time it was generally understood, that, unable to sit for a county, he would not accept a representation for a borough. From this resolution, however, he seemed to have been dissuaded by his friends; for, on the opening of the new parliament, we find him again at his post, as member for Bandon in Ireland. In the important transactions of this parliament he bore an active part, and rendered himself conspicuous by his able speeches, and zealous efforts on the great questions which were agitated, respecting the foreign enlistment bill, the cause of the Greek and Spanish patriots, and the occupation of Spain by the troops of France. On each of these subjects, all his powers were placed in full requisition, and the eloquence which he displayed, as occasions demanded his advocacy, will not speedily be forgotten.
It was, however, on the repeal of the test and corporation acts, that this steady friend of toleration and reform shone with a still brighter lustre. The cause lay near his heart; and in every movement that it took, he seemed to feel a personal interest. Many unsuccessful efforts had been made in previous parliaments and preceding years, to obliterate the intolerant statute, and emancipate the whole body of dissenters from the chains which barbarous days had imposed and riveted. But it was reserved for the year 1828, to enjoy the long-desired triumph; and for Lord John Russell to march among the foremost in the patriotic band by whom this great deliverance was achieved.
This bill having passed the commons, Lord John Russell, in company with other ardent friends of the measure, was commissioned to convey the precious document to the upper house. This was of itself an honour of enviable distinction; but the bill being thus presented to the lords, under a secret assurance that it would meet in that august asembly with no formidable opposition, and that the royal assent was ready to give its final ratification, must have created sensations of patriotic feeling which no language can adequately express. On this very momentous occasion, the following remark of Sir James Mackintosh merits insertion in this place.
“The first person,” he observes, “who sought to repeal these acts was William the Third, who, five weeks after he ascended the throne, went to
the house of peers, and implored them in behalf of the dissenting portion of his subjects. He implored, however, in vain. But on that very occasion, he offered atonement on the spot for the national sin, by reversing the attainder of Lord Russell. And now, one hundred and forty years after, a descendant of Lord Russell is appointed to go to the house of peers, to perform this act of justice, in the name, and with the authority, of the commons of England."
A strong desire for reform in parliament prevailing throughout the country, the commons of England were besieged with petitions from every quarter; but under the Wellington administration, very faint hopes were entertained of success. On this momentous subject, the duke hesitated not to declare, that “Ministers were not prepared to introduce any measure for a reform in parliament. He had never heard any
sufficient reason to induce him to think that the representation of the people in parliament could be materially improved by reform, or rendered more satisfactory to the nation; and should it come under discussion while he continued in his present post, as a public man, he should feel it his duty to resist it.”
This ill-timed speech proved fatal to the Duke of Wellington's popularity, which for some time had been on the wane ; and, with other pre$ages, indicated that his administration was nearly at an end. In the city of London, and throughout the country, discontent assumed an alarming aspect, which it became needful to appease. On a question relating to the civil list, on the 15th of November 1830, ministers were left in a minority of twenty-nine. This was the death-blow; and on the following evening his grace, alluding to the circumstance, observed, “that he had that morning tendered his resignation, of which his Majesty had accepted"
This resignation was immediately followed by a new ministry, in which Mr. Brougham appeared as Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, with a peerage; Earl Grey, as First Lord of the Treasury; and Lord John Russell, as Paymaster of the Forces.
Scarcely had the new ministry taken their seats, before parliamentary reform again made its appearance in both houses. Earl Grey, on presenting several petitions in favour of reform, observed, that, although "he was pot prepared to follow them in all their extent, yet, in the principle of the measure he entirely concurred; that himself and friends had framed a plan which, he was convinced, would prove efficient, and that it had met with the approbation of His Majesty's government."
In the House of Commons, Lord Althorp stated, “ that His Majesty's government would be prepared to submit the plan, by which they proposed to reform the representation, on the first of March. He wished also to state, that the government had determined to depute Lord John Russell, the Paymaster of the Forces, to bring the question forward. The noble lord had been selected for that task, in consequence of the ability and perseverance which he had displayed in the cause of reform, in days when it was unpopular. His noble friend had proposed various partial measures of reform, when even partial measures were viewed unfavourably; now, therefore, when the cause was prosperous, the government thought that the noble lord was the fittest person to take the lead in the business, and to introduce a full and efficient reform, instead of the partial ones that he had suggested.”
On the first of March, 1831, Lord John Russell, according to previous arrangements and appointment, brought forward, in the House of Commons, the important question of parliamentary reform. His speech was cool, dispassionate, and guarded, and suited by its solemnity to the great occasion, then about to claim the serious attention of the house. Of this bill, in its general outline and its various clauses, we forbear to give any account, the whole having been so lately circulated in almost every newspaper throughout the kingdom. The debates also, which originated in the important questions which it involved, it would be tedious even to enumerate. After a severe ordeal, and undergoing some trifling alterations, that branch of the bill which related to England was read a second time, on the twenty-first of March, when there appeared in favour of an amendment, proposed by Sir Richard Vyvyan, 301, and for the bill, 302; thus leaving ministers with a majority of one! In this state, it was ordered to be committed on the fourteenth of April.
During the interim, innumerable petitions poured in from all parts of the empire, in favour of the bill; but the formidable minority placed its ultimate success in a very equivocal light. On Monday the eighteenth, however, Lord John Russell moved the order of the day, “ That the house do resolve itself into a committee, to consider the provisions of the bill for the amendment of the representation of England and Wales.” This was accompanied with an elaborate and energetic speech, every way worthy of the occasion on which it was delivered. This commitment was opposed with much violence by the Tories, and defended with equal warmth by the powerful talents of its supporters; but, on a division, it was found, that in favour of an amendment by General Gascoyne, there were 299 votes, while, in support of the bill, as it originally stood, only 291 appeared; thus leaving ministers in a minority of eight, upon what might be deemed an essential branch of the great question.
His Majesty being decidedly in favour of the bill, and feeling the utmost confidence in his ministers, determined on dissolving the parliament in person, and on making as fair an appeal to the people as circumstances would allow. Pursuant to this resolution, His Majesty, at the time appointed, entered the house, and, ascending the throne, commenced his speech in the following words
My Lords and Gentlemen, I am come to meet you for the purpose of proroguing this parliament, with a view to its immediate dissolution.
“ į have been induced to resort to this measure, for the purpose of ascertaining the sense of my people, in the way in which it can be most constitutionally and authentically expressed, on the expediency of making such changes in the representation as circumstances may appear to require, and which, founded upon the acknowledged principles of the constitution, may tend at once to uphold the just rights and prerogatives of the crown, and to give security to the liberties of the people."
Correspondent with this speech, the parliament was accordingly prorogued until the tenth of May, in due form; and, on the following day, it was dissolved by proclamation, and the new one was appointed to meet on the fourteenth of June.
On the assembling of the new parliament, His Majesty, in his speech, renewed his wishes, that the subject of reform should immediately occupy the attention of the legislature; and, in pursuance of this recommendation, Lord John Russell again introduced his bill for this important measure, Early in July it was read a second time in the House of Commons, and carried by a majority of 136. After seven divisions, the house resolved itself into a committee about the middle of the month. The first week in September it passed the committee, and, on the twenty-first, it finally received, in the House of Commons, a triumphant majority, there being in its favour 345, and against it 236.
Coming before the Lords, the merits of this bill were examined with the most rigorous scrutiny, and, after a discussion during five nights, on the sixth of October it was rejected by a majority of forty-one.
The fate of this popular bill, on becoming known, created a general ferment, both in town and country; and numerous acts of outrage were committed by an exasperated and disappointed populace. Many of the nobility, who had been active in their opposition, became particularly obnoxious ; several of their mansions were consumed by fire; and, in some instances, their persons were by no means safe. The bishops, with two or three solitary exceptions, were, perhaps, more deeply involved in this popular odium than any others; and, if vengeance had been permitted to operate unrestrained, in the first paroxysm of irritation, few among them would have been permitted to give another vote.
His Majesty, however, being decidedly in favour of the bill, and uniformly approving the measures pursued by the House of Commons, speedily informed the nation that his purpose was unaltered, and that his confidence in ministers remained unshaken. This open avowal tended much to tranquillize the public mind; and, with the exception of some restless and impatient spirits, all appeared willing to wait the result of another effort.
Correspondent with these sentiments, on the 20th of October His Majesty, in person, prorogued the parliament until the 6th of December, when it was again opened in person by this liberally-minded monarch; whose firm resolution to restore to his people their constitutional rights will endear his name to the latest posterity. His example will be held
up as a pattern to future monarchs; and historians will tell the world, that in the days of William IV. Toryism was as despicable and odious as Jacobinism had been during the reign of George III.
On the 12th of December, Lord John Russell obtained leave to introduce a third reform bill, which, in general outline, was precisely similar to that which the Lords had negatived in October. This bill
, after some discussion during two nights, obtained a second reading on the 17th, by the large majority of one hundred and sixty-two, and immediately afterwards parliament adjourned until about the middle of January, 1832. On reassembling, the reform bill was speedily resumed, and in the committee its various clauses are now undergoing daily discussion.
It would be desirable if this memoir could be delayed until the fate of the reform bill shall be ultimately decided; but the time of our periodical being fixed, this desideratum cannot be obtained. In the House of Commons it has nothing to fear from opposition; and the Lords, it is presumed, will have more prudence and wisdom than to treat with defiance and contempt the voice of a spirited nation.
But whatever may be the final destiny of the reform bill, with which the name and reputation of Lord John Russell are closely connected in all its movements, no issue which awaits it can tarnish the lustre of his exertions, or eclipse the immortal honours which he has acquired. His efforts in the cause of freedom will be enrolled in our national archives, and in future years, when the subject of reform shall be mentioned, the country and posterity will be told, that Lord Russell was its immutable friend.
Should his lordship hereafter be compelled to mourn over his country's wrongs, and to behold her liberties trampled under the feet of local despotism, he may console himself with this reflection, that he has done every thing in his power to prevent the degradation of his native land; and finally, say, in the language of Addison,
" Tis not in mortals to command success,