Page images

qualifications, the body of electors in general will be invested with a more respectable character, and feel a greater jealousy of every thing that may tend to degrade or dishonour them : but. above all, a rigid system of economy, and a farther exclusion of placemen from the legislature, by cutting off a great part of tiie minister's most profitable harvest of corruption, will force his party also to have recourse to more honourable means of popularity, and to appeal to principles that must ultimately promote the cause of indepeud, ence.

By the introduction, in short, of a system of reform, even more moderate and cautious than that which we have ventured to indicate, we think that a wholesome and legitimate play will be given to those principles of opposition to corruption, monopoly, and abuse, which, by the denial of all reform, are in danger of being fomented into a decided spirit of hostility to the government and the institutions of the country. Instead of brooding, in sullen and helpless silence, over the vices and errors which are ripening into intolerable evil, and seeing; with a stern and vindictive joy, wrong accumulated to wrong, and corruption heaped up to corruption, the Spirit of reform will be continually interfering, with active and successful zeal, to correct, restrain, and deter. Instead of being the avenger of our murdered liberties, it will be their living protector; and the censor, not the executioner, of the constitution. It will not descend, only at long intervals, like the Avatar of the Indian mythology, to expiate, with terrible vengeance, a series of consummated crimes; but, like the Providence of a better faith, will keep watch perpetually over the actions of corrigible men, and bring them back from their aberrations, by merciful chastisement, timely admonition, and the blessed experience of purer principles of action.

Such, according to our conviction of the fact, is the true state of the case as to the increasing weight and consequence of the people; and such the nature of the policy which we think this change in the structure ot our society calls upon us to adopt. The People are grown strong, in intellect, resolution, and mutual reliance, — quick in the detection of the abuses by which they are wronged,—and confident in the powers by which they may be compelled ultimately to s<?ek their redress. Against this strength, it is something more wild than madness, and more contemptible than folly, to think of arraying an additional phalanx of abuses, and drawing out a wider range of corruptions — In that contest, the issue cannot be doubtful, noy the conflict long; and, deplorable as the victcry will be, which is gained over order, as well as over guilt, the blame will rest heavii'st upon those whose offences first provoked, what may very probably turn out a sanguinary anil an unjustifiable vengeance.

The conclusions, then, which we would draw from the facts that have been relied on by the enemies of reform, are indeed of a fery opposite description from theirs : and the

course which is pointed out by these new circumstances in our situation, appears to us no less obvious, than it is safe and promising.— If the people have risen into greater consequence, let them have greater power. If a greater proportion of our population be now capable and desirous of exercising the functions of free citizens, let a greater number be admitted to the exercise of these functions. If the quantity of mind and of will, that must now be represented in our legislature, be prodigiously increased since the frame of that legislature was adjusted, let its basis be widened, so as to rest on all that intellect and will. If there be a new power and energy generated in the nation, for the due application of which, there is no contrivance in the original plan of the constitution, let it flow into those channels through which all similar powers were ordained to act by the principles of that plan. The power itself you can neither repress nor annihilate; and, if it be not assimilated to the system of the constitution, you seem to be aware that it will ultimately overwhelm and destroy it. To set up against it the power of influence and corruption, is to set up that by which its strength is recruited, and its safe application rendered infinitely more difficult: it is to defend your establishments, by loading them with a weight which of itself makes them totter under under its pressure, and, at the same time, affords a safe and inviting approach to the assailant.

In our own case, too. nothing fortunately is easier, than to reduce this growing power of the people within the legitimate bounds and cantonments of the constitution ; and nothing more obvious, than that, when so legalised and provided for, it can tend only to the exaltation and improvement of our condition, and must add strength and stability to the Throne, as well as to the other branches of the legislature. It seems a strange doctrine, to be held by any one in this land, and, above all. by the chief votaries and advocates of royal power, that its legal security consists in its means of corruption, or can be endangered by the utmost freedom and intelligence in the body of the people, and the utmost purity and popularity of our elections. Under an arbitrary government, where the powers of the monarch are confessedly unjust and oppressive, and are claimed, and openly asserted, not as the instruments of public benefit, but as the means of individual gratification, such a jealousy of popular independence is sufficiently intelligible: but, in a government like ours, where all the powers of the Crown are universally acknowledged to exist for the good of the people, it is evidently quite extravagant to fear, that any increase of union and intelligence— any growing love of freedom and justice in the people — should endanger, or should fail to confirm, all those powers and prerogatives.

We have not left ourselves room to enter more at large into this interesting question; but we feel perfectly assured, and ready to maintain, that, as the institution of a limited, hereditary monarchy, must always appear the

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

Short Remarks on the State of Parties at the Close of the Year 1809. 8vo. pp. 30.

London: 1809.»

The parties of which we now wish to speak, are not the parties in the Cabinet,—nor even the parties in Parliament, but the Parties in the Nation ;—that nation, whose opinions and whose spirit ought to admonish and control both Cabinet and Parliament, but which now seems to us to be itself breaking rapidly into two furious and irreconcileable parties; by whose collision, if it be not prevented, our constitution and independence must be ultimately destroyed. We have said before, that the root of all our misfortunes was in the state of the People, and not in the constitution of the legislature; and the more we see and reflect, the more we are satisfied of this truth. It is in vain to cleanse the conduits and reservoirs, if the fountain itself be tainted and impure. If the body of the people be infatuated, or corrupt or depraved, it is vain to talk of improving their representation.

The dangers, and the corruptions, and the prodigies of the times, have very nearly put an end to all neutrality and moderation in politics; and the great body of the nation appears to us to be divided into two violent and most pernicious factions ;—the courtiers, who are almost for arbitrary power,—and the democrats, who are almost for revolution and republicanism. Between these stand a small, but most respectable band—the friends of liberty and of order—the Old Constitutional Whigs of England—with the best talents and the best intentions, but without present power or popularity,—calumniated and suspected by

* This, I fear, is too much in the style of a sage and solemn Rebuke to the madness of contending factions. Yet it ia not all rhetorical or assuming: And the observations on the vast importance and high and difficult duties of a middle party, in all great national contentions, seem to me as universally true, and as applicable to the present position of our affairs, as most of the other things I have ventured, for this reason, now to produce. It may be right to mention, that it was written at a time when the recent failure of that wretched expedition to Walcheren, and certain antipopular declarations in Parliament, had excited a deeper feeling of discontent in the country, and a greater apprehension for its consequences, than had been witnessed since the first great panic and excitement of the French revolution. The spirit of such a time may, perhaps, be detected in some of the following pages.

both parties, and looking on both with too viable a resentment, aversion, and alarm. The two great divisions, in the mean time, are daily provoking each other to greater exce'ses. and recruiting their hostile ranks, as they advance, from the diminishing mass of the calm and the neutral. Every hour the rising tjJes are eating away the narrow isthmus upon which the adherents of the Const i tu t ion Dow appear to be stationed; and every hour it becomes more necessary for them to oppose some barrier to their encroachments.

If the two extreme parties are once permitted to shock together in open conflict, there is an end to the freedom, and almost to the existence of the nation,—whatever be the result,—although that is not doubtful: And tie ] only human means of preventing a consum'mation to which things seem so obviously tending, is for the remaining friends oi tie constitution to unbend from their colt) i.r.J repulsive neutrality, and to join themselves to the more respectable members of the party to which they have the greatest affinity : aul thus, by the weight of their character, an! the force of their talents, to temper its violence and moderate its excesses, till it can be guided in safety to the defence, and not to the destruction, of our liberties. In the present crisis, we have no hesitation in saying, that it is to the popular side that the friends of the constitution must turn themselves; and tha! if the Whig leaders do not first conciliate, ar.d 1 then restrain the people,—if thevdo not *av'them from the leaders they are already chtxing in their own body, and become thenwlrc* their leaders, by becoming their patrons, a:Í their cordial, though authoritative. advif*r«: they will in no long time eweep away the Constitution itself, the Monarchy of Engiind. and the Whig aristrocracy, by which that Monarchy is controlled and confirmed, and exalted above all other forms of polity.

This is the sum of our doctrine ; though we are aware that, to most readers, it will require more development than we can no» j afford, and be exposed to more objections than | \ve have left ourselves room to ai:.«wer. To I many, we are sensible, our fears will appear I altogether chimerical and fantastic. We have

jad these two parties, it will be eaid— always some for carrying things with A high hand against the people—and some for subjecting every thing to their nod ; but the conilict has hitherto afforded nothing more than a wholesome and invigorating exercise; and the constitution, so far from being endangered by it, has hitherto been found to flourish, in proportion as it became more animated. Why, then, should we anticipate such tragical effects from its continuance?

Xow, to this, and to all such questions, we must answer, that we can conceive them to proceed only from that fatal ignorance or inattention to the Signs of the Times, which ha? been the cause of so many of our errors and misfortunes. It is quite true, that there have always been in this country persons who leaned towards arbitrary power, and persons who leaned toward? too popular a government. In all mixed governments, there must be such men. and such parlies: some will admire the monarchical, and some the democratical part of the constitution; and, speaking very generally, the rich, and the timid, and the indolent, as well as the base and the servile, will have a natural tendency to the one side; and the poor, the enthusiastic, and enterprising, as ¿veil as the envious and the discontented, will bo inclined to range themselves on the other. These things have been always; and always must be. They have been hitherto, too, without mischief or hazard; and might be fairly considered as symptoms at least, if not as causes, of the soundness and vigour of our political organisation. But this has been the case, only because the bulk of the nation has hitherto, or till very lately, belonged to no party at all. Factions existed only among a small number of irritable and ambitious individuals; and, for want of partizans, necessarily vented themselves in a few speeches and pamphlets—in an election riot, or a treasury prosecution. The partizans of Mr. Wilkes, and the partizans of Lord Bute, formed but a very inconsiderable part of the population. If they had divided the whole nation among them, the little breaches of the peace and of the law at Westminster, would have been changed into civil war and mutual proscriptions; and the constitution of the country might have perished in the conflict. In those times, therefore, the advocates of arbitrary power and of popular licence were restrained, not merely by the constitutional principles of M many men of weight and authority, but by the absolute neutrality and indifference of the great body of the people. They fought like champions in a ring of impartial spectators; and the multitude who looked on, and thought it sport, had little other interest than to see that each had fair play.

Now, however, the case is lamentably different; and it will not be difficult, we think, to point out the causes which have spread abroad this spirit of contention, and changed so great a proportion of those calm spectators into fierce and impetuous combatants. We have formerly endeavoured, on more than one occasion, to explain the nature of that great

and gradual change in the condition of European society, by which the lower and middling orders have been insensibly raised into greater importance than they enjoyed when their place in the political scale was originally settled; and attempted to show in what way the revolution in France, and the revolutionary movements of other countries, might be referred partly to the progress, and partly to the neglect of that great movement. We cannot stop now to resume any part of that general discussion ; but shall merely observe, that the events of the last twenty years are of themselves sufficient to account for the state to which this country has been reduced, and for the increased number and increased acrimony of the parties that divide it.

The success of a plebeian insurrection—the splendid situations to which low-bred men have been exalted, in consequence of that success—the comparative weakness and inefficiency of the sovereigns and nobles who opposed it, and the contempt and ridicule which has been thrown by the victors upon their order, have all tended to excite and aggravate the bad principles that lead men to despise existing authorities, and to give into wild and extravagant schemes of innovation. On the other hand, the long-continued ill success of our anti-jacobin councils—the sickening uniformity of our boastings and failures— the gross and palpable mismanagement of our government—the growing and intolerable burthen of our taxes—and, above all, the imminent and tremendous peril into which the whole nation has been brought, have made a powerful appeal to the good principles that lead men into similar feelings; and roused those who were lately unwilling to disturb themselves with political considerations, to cry out in vast numbers for reformation and redress. The number of those who have been startled out of their neutrality by such feelings, very greatly exceeds, we believe, that of those who have been tempted from it by the stirrings of an irregular ambition: But both are alike disposed to look with jealousy upon the advocates of power and prerogative— to suspect falsehood and corruption in every thing that is not clearly explained—to resent every appearance of haughtiness or reserve— to listen with eager credulity to every tale of detraction against public characters—and to believe with implicit rashness whatever is said of the advantages of popular control.

Such are the natural and original causes of the increase of that popular discontent which has of late assumed so formidable an aspect, and is, in fact, far more widely spread and more deeply rooted in the nation, than the sanguine and contemptuous will believe. The enumeration, however, would be quite incomplete, if we were not to add, that it has been prodigiously helped by the contempt, and aversion, and defiance, which ha» been so loudly and unwisely expressed by the opposite party. Instead of endeavouring to avoid the occasions of dissatisfaction, and to soothe and conciliate those whom it conld never b«> creditable to have for enemies, it has been but too often the policy of the advocates for strong government to exasperate them by menaces and abuse;—to defend, with insolence, every thing that was attacked, however obviously indefensible;—and to insult and defy their opponents by a needless ostentation of their own present power, and their resolution to use it in support of their most offensive and unjustifiable measures. This unfortunate tone, which was first adopted in the time of Mr. Pitt, has been pretty well maintained by most of his successors; and has done more, we are persuaded, to revolt and alienate the hearts of independent and brave men, than all the errors and inconsistencies of which they have been guilty. In running thus rapidly over the causes which have raised the pretensions and aggravated the discontents of the People, we have in fact, stated also, the sources of the increased acrimony and pretensions of the advocates for power. The same spectacle of popular excess and popular o which excited the dangerous passions of the turbulent and daring, in the way of Sympathy, struck a corresponding alarm into the breasts of the timid and prosperous—and excited a furious Antipathy in those of the proud and domineering. As fear and hatred lead equally to severity, and are neither of them very far-sighted in their councils, they naturally attempted to bear down this rising spirit by menaces and abuse. All hot-headed and shallow-headed persons of rank, with their parasites and dependants —and indeed almost all rich persons, of quiet tempers and weak intellects, started up into furious anti-jacobins; and took at once a most violent part in those political contentions, as to .. they had, in former times, been confessedly ignorant and indifferent. When this tone was once given, from passion and mistaken principle among the actual possessors of power, it was readily taken up by mere servile venality. The vast multiplication of offices and occupations in the gift of the government, and #. enormous patronage and expectancy, of which it has recently become the centre, has drawn a still greater number, and of baser natures, out of the political neutrality in which they would otherwise have remained, and led them to counterfeit, for hire, that unfortunate violence which necessarily produces a corresponding violence in its objects. Thus has the nation been set on fire at the four corners! and thus has an incredible and most alarming share of its population been separated into two hostile and irritated parties, neither of which can now subdue the other without a civil war; and the triumph of either of which would be equally fatal to the constitution. The force and extent of these parties is but imperfectly known, we believe, even to those who have been respectively most active in arraying them; and the extent of the adverse party is rarely ever suspected by those who are zealously opposed to it. There must be least error, }. in the estimate of the partizans of arbitrary government. They are

in power, and show themselves;–but for this very reason, their real force is probably a great deal less than it appears to be. Many wear their livery, out of necessity or convenience, whose hearts are with their adversaries; and many clamour loudly in their cause, who would clamour more loudly against them, the moment they thought that cause was going back in the world. The democratic party, on the other hand, is scattered, and obscurely visible. It can hardly be for the immediate interest of any one to acknowledge it; and scarcely any one is, as yet, proud of its badge or denomination. It lurks, however, in private dwellings, it gathers strength at homely firesides, it is confirmed in conferences of friends,--it breaks out in pamphlets and journals of every description,-and shows its head now and then in the more tumultuous assemblies of populous cities. In the metropolis especially, where the concentration of numbers gives them confidence and importance, it exhibits itself very nearly, though not altogether, in its actual force. How that force now stands in comparison with what is opposed to it, it would not perhaps be very easy to calculate. Taking the whole nation over head, we should conjecture, that, as things now are, they would be . equally balanced; but, if any great calamity should give a shock to the stability of government, or imperiously for more vigorous councils, we are convinced that the partizans of popular government would be #. to outnumber their §. in the proportion of three to two. When the one party, indeed, had failed sofa. tally, it must seem to be a natural resource to make a trial of the other; and, if civil war or foreign conquest should really fall on us, it would be a movement almost of instinctive wisdom, to displace and to punish those under whose direction they had been brought on. Upon any such serious alarm, too, all the ve. nal and unprincipled adherents of the prerog. ative would inevitably desert their colours, and go over to the enemy, while the Throne would be left to be defended only by its regular forces and its immediate dependants, reinforced by a few bands of devoted Tories, mingled with some generous, but downcast spirits, under the banner of the Whig aristocracy. But, without pretending to settle the mumerical or relative force of the two opposing parties, we wish only to press it upon our readers, that they are both so strong and so numerous, as to render it quite impossible that the one should now crush or overcome the other, without a ruinous contention; and that they are so exasperated, and so sanguine and presumptuous, that they will push forward to such a contention in no longtime, unless they be separated or appeased by some powerful interference. That the number of the democrats is vast, and is daily increasing with visible and dangerous rapidity, any man may satisfy himself, by the common and obvious means of information. It is a fact which he

may read legibly in the prodigious sale, and still more prodigious circulation, of Cobbett's Register, and other weekly papers of the same genera! description: He may learn it in every street of all the manufacturing and populous towns in the heart of the country; and may, and must hear it most audibly, in the public and private talk of the citizens of the metropolis. All these afford direct and palpable proofs of the actual increase of this formidable party. But no man, who understands any thing of human nature, or knows any thing of our recent history, can need direct evidence to convince him, that it must have experienced a prodigious increase. In a country where more than a million of men take some interest in politics, and are daily accustomed (right or wrong) to refer the blessings or the evils of their condition to the conduct of their rulers, is it possible to conceive, that a third part at least of every man's income should be taken from him in the shape of taxes,—and that, after twenty years of boastful hostility, we should be left without a single ally, and in imminent hazard of being invaded by a revolutionary foe, without producing a very general feeling of disaffection and discontent, and spreading through the body of the nation, not only a great disposition to despise and distrust their governors, but to judge unfavourably of the form of government itself which could admit of such gross ignorance or imposition?


The great increase of the opposite party, again, is but too visible, we are sorry to say. in the votes of Parliament, in the existence of the present administration, and in the sale and the tenor of the treasury journals. But, independent of such proof, this too might have been safely inferred from the known circumstances of the times. In a nation abounding with wealth and loyalty, enamoured of its old institutions, and originally indebted for its freedom, in a great degree, to the spirit of its landed Aristocracy, it was impossible that the excesses of a plebeian insurrection should not have excited a great aversion to every thing that had a similar tendency: and in any nation, alas! that had recently multiplied its taxes, and increased the patronage of its government to three times their original extent. it could not but happen, that multitudes would be found to barter their independence for their interest: and to exchange the language of free men for that which was most agreeable to the party upon whose favour they depended. If the numbers of the opposed factions, however, be formidable to the peace of the country, the acrimony of their mutual hostility is still more alarming. If the whole nation were divided into the followers of Mr. Cobbett and Sir Francis Burdett, and the followers of Mr. John Gifford and Mr. John Bowles, does not every man see that a civil war and a revolution would be inevitable1! Now, we say, that the factions into which the country is divided, are not very different from the followers of Mr. Cobbett and Mr. Gifford; or. at all events, that if they are allowed to defy and provoke each other into new extravagance and increased hostility, as they have been doing lately, we do not see how that most tremendous of all calamities is to be avoided. If those who have influence with

the people go on a little longer to excite in them a contempt and distrust of all public characters, and of all institutions of authority, while many among our public men go on to justify, by their conduct, that contempt and distrust ;—if the people are taught by all who now take the trouble to win their confidence, that Parliament is a mere assemblage ol unprincipled place-hunters, and that ins and nuts are equally determined to defend corruption and peculation; and if Parliament continues to busy itself wilh personalities,-—to decline the investigation of corruptions,—and to approve, by its votes, what no sane man in I he kingdom can consider as admitting of apology;—if those to whom their natural leaders have given up the guidance of the people, shall continue to tell them that they may easily be relieved of half their taxes, and placed in a situation of triumphant security, while the government continues to multiply its impositions, and to waste their blood and treasure in expeditions which make us hateful and ridiculous in the eyes of many of our neighbours, while they bring the danger nearer to our own door ;—if, finally, the people are a little more persuaded that, without a radical change in the constitution of the Legislature, they must continue in the condition of slaves to a junto of boroughmongers, «hile Parliament rejects with disdain every proposal to correct the most palpable defects of that constitution; Then we say that the wholesome days of England are numbered,—that she is gliding to the verge of the most dreadful of all calamities,—and that all the freedom and happiness which we undoubtedly still enjoy, and all the morality and intelligence, and the long habits of sober thinking and kindly affection which adorn and exalt our people-, will not long protect us from the horrors of a civil war.

In such an unhallowed conflict it is scarcely necessary to say that the triumph of either party would be the ruin of English liberty, and of her peace, happiness, and prosperity. Those who have merely lived in our times, must have seen, and they who have read of other times, or reflected on what Man is at all times, must know, independent of that lesson, how much Chante, and how much Time, must concur with genius and patriotism, to form a good or a stable government. We have the frame and the materials of such a government in the constitution of England; but if we rend asunder that frame, and scatter these materials—if we "put out the light" of onr living polity,

"We know not where is that Promethean fire. That may its flame relumine."

The stability of the English constitution depends upon its monarchy and aristocracy ; and their stability, again, depends very much on the circumstance of their having grown natnrally out of the frame and inward structure of our society—upon their having struck their roots deep through every stratum of the political soil, and having been moulded and impressed, during a long conree of ages, by the

« PreviousContinue »