« PreviousContinue »
of the whole order, especially when they are all distinguished from their slaves by the same conspicuous and indelible marks. Yet, in Virginia, which has long been the ruling State of the Confederacy, even the citizens of the governing class cannot vote without the possession of a freehold estale. A real or personal estate is required in New England, the ancient seat of the character and spirit of America; the parent of those seamen who, with a courage and skill worthy of our common forefathers, have met the followers of Nelson in war; the nursery of the intelligent and moral, as well as bardy and laborious race, who now annually colonize the vast regions of the West.
But were the fact otherwise. America eontains few large, and no very great towns;—the people are dispersed, and agricultural; ---and, perhaps, a majority of the inhabitants are either landowners, or have that immediale expectation of becoming proprietors, which produces nearly the same eflect on character with the possession of properly. Adventurers who, in other countries, disturb society, are there naturally allracted towards the frontier, where they pave the way for industry, and become the pioneers of civilization. There is no part of their people in the situation where democracy is dangerous, or even usually powerful. The dispersion of the inhabitants, their distance from the scene of great affairs, are perhaps likely rather to make the spirit of liberty among them languid, than to rouse il lo excess. The majority are in the condition which is elsewhere considered as a pledge of independence, and a qualification for suffrage. They have no populace; and the greater part of them are either landholders, or just about to be so. No part, then, of the preceding argument is inconsistent with the example of America, even were Universal Suffrage established there.
In what manner the present Elective system of America may act, at the remote period when the progress of society shall have conducted ihat country to the crowded cities and unequal fortunes of Europe, no man will pretend to soresee, except those whose presumptuous folly disables them from forming probable conjectures on such subjects. If, from the unparalleled situation of America, the present usages should quietly prevail for a very long time, they may insensibly adapt themselves to the gradual changes in the national condition, and at length be found capable of subsisting in a state of things to which, if they had been suddenly introduced, they would have proved irreconcileably adverse. In the thinly-peopled States of the West, Universal Suffrage itself may be so long exercised without the possibility of danger, as to create a national habit which may be strong enough to render its exercise safe in the midst of an indigent populace. In that long tranquillity it may languish into forms, and these forms may soon follow the spirit. For a period far exceeding our foresight, it cannot affect the confederacy further than the effect which may arise from very popular elections in a few of the larger western towns. The interior order of the country where it is adopted will be aided by the compression of its former and more compact confederates. It is even possible that the extremely popular system which prevails in some American elections may, in future times, be found not more than sufficient to counler balance the growing influence of wealth in the South, and the tendencies towards Toryism which are of late perceptible in New England. The operation of different principles on elections, in various parts of the Continent, may even now be discerned.
Some remarkable facts have already appeared. In the state of Pennsylvania, we have a practical proof that ballot is not attended with secrecy. We also know, † that committees, composed of the leaders of the federal and democratic parties, instruct their partisans how they are to vole at every election ; and that in this manner the leaders of the democratic party who now predominate in their Caucus # or Committee at Washingion, do in effect nominate to all the important offices in North America. Thus, we already see combinations formed, and interests arising, on which the future government of the Confederacy may depend more than on the forms of election, or the letter of its present laws. Those who condemn the principle of party may disapprove these associations as unconstitutional.' To us, who consider parties as inseparable from liberty, they seem remarkable as examples of those undesigned and unforeseen correctives of inconvenient laws which spring out of the circumstances of society. The election of so great a magistrate as the President, by great numbers of electors, scattered over a vast continent, without the power of concert, or the means of personal koowledge, would naturally produce confusion, if it were not tempered by the confidence of the members of both parties in the judgment of their respective leaders. The permanence of these leaders, slowly raised by a sort of insensible election to the conduct of parties, tends to counteract the evil of that system of periodical removal, which is peculiarly inconvenient in its application to important executive offices. The internal discipline of parties may be found to be a principle of subordination of great value in Republican Institutions. Certain it is, that the affairs of the United States have hitherto been generally administered, in times of great difficulty and under a succession of Presidents, with a forbearance, circumspection, conslaney, and vigour, not surpassed by those commonwealths who have been most justly renowned for the wisdom of their councils. The only disgrace or danger which we perceive impending over America arises from the execrable institution of Slavery,—the unjust disfranchisement of free Blacks, -the trading in slaves carried on from State to State,-and the dissolute and violent character of those adventurers, whose impatience for guilty wealth spreads the horrors of slavery over the new acquisitions in the South. Let the Lawgivers of that Imperial Republic deeply consider how powerfully these disgraceful circumstances tend to weaken the love of Liberty,—the only bond which can hold together such vast territories,
Fearon, 138, &c. How could this intelligent writer treat the absence of tumult, in such a city and country, as bearing ang resemblance to the like circumstance in Europe ? + Id. 320.
The following account of this strange term will show its probable origin, and the long-experienced efficacy of such an expedient for controlling hallot :-“ About the year 1738, the father of Samuel Adams. and twenty others who lived in the North or Shipping part of Bostou, used to meet, to make a Caucus, and lay their plan for introducing certain persons into places of trust. Each distributed the ballots in his own circle, and they generally carried the election. In this manner Mr. S. Adams first became representative for Boston.— Caucussing means electioneering." -Gordon, Hist. Am. Revol., i. p. 216, Note. London, 1788.
It is conjectured, that as this practice originated in the Shipping Part of Boston, “ Caucus.” was a corruption of Caulkers' Meeting. For this information we are indebted to Pickering's American Vocabulary (Boston, 1816); a modest and sensible book, of which the principal fault is that the author ascribes too much importance to some English writers, who are not objects of much reverence to a near observer. Mr. Pickering's volume, however, deserves a place in English libraries.
See Mr. Pearon's Account of the Slave Trade on the Mississippi, and his frightful extracts from the newspapers of New Orleans.
and therefore the only source and guard of the tranquillity and greatness of America.*
A SPECIFIC PLAN OF REFORM;
Comprising the Disfranchisement of Delinquent Boroughs--the Transference of the
Elective Franchise to large Commercial Towns—a Change in the Scotch System of Representation-and the Restoration of Triennial Parliaments.t
It is peculiarly difficult to make the supporters of Moderate Reform act as one body: for, from the very nature of their opinions, they are subject to great divisions.
This has been always the main source of their weakness, and the standing reproach of their opponents on both sides. While one of the extreme factions see, in every form of the Constitution, the sacredness of an article of faith, and the other ascribe to every visionary project of change the certainty of a proposition in geometry,—the Moderate Reformers, who pretend only to seek for probable means of quiet improvement, are exposed by the very reasonableness of their principles, to that disunion, from which both classes of their enemies are secured by absurdity and arrogance. It would, however, be a gross deviation from those principles of prudence and expediency on which Moderate Reform is founded, if its partisans were unwilling, at a crisis like the present, to make some mutual sacrifices of opinion. Most of them agree in thinking, that the direct power of the people in the House of Commons is too small, that the right of suffrage ought to be extended, and the duration of Parliament shortened. A plan which promises substantial improvement in these respects, however it may fall short of the opinion of some, or go somewhat beyond that of others, ought to be supported by the main body. The great strength of the cause of Moderate Reform lies in the middle classes, who at the present moment have a strong feeling that there are serious defects and abuses in the Government, and a warm desire of reformation, without any very distinct notion of its particular nature. It seems extremely desirable to present a Scheme of Reform 10 these important classes, in order to fix their opinions, to form a point of union between themselves, and to guard them against the contagion of extravagant projects. The main benefit, however, to be expected from such a plan, would be the probability of its gradually reconciling the prudent friends of the Establishment, with the better, and perhaps, at last, the larger part of the more zealous Reformers. We are not so ignorant of human nature, as lo consider the success of such an attempt as certain, or in any case as easy or speedy. If it be accomplished at all, it can only be by those who have the patience to bear disappointments, and the spirit io rally, after successive defeats.
One of the best pamphlets ever composed on the question of Reform in Parliament was published in reply to this Essay, by Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, in 1821. It is entitled, “ State ment of the Question of Parliamentary Reform; with a Reply to the Objections of the Edinburgh Review, No. 61." Those who wish to see the advantages of an extended suffrage and vote by ballot established on incontrovertible aud triumphant grounds, should peruse that admirable and unanswerable production.
+ Speech of Lord John Russell in the House of Commons on the 14th December, 1819, for the Elective Franchise from Corrupt Boroughs to Unrepresented Great Towns.-Vol. xxxiv. p. 461. November, 1820.,
The conditions to be exacted from the proposer of a pacific plan of reformation seem to be the following :
First, It ought to provide for a real and considerable increase of the direct power of the body of the people, in the Commons' House of Parliament.
A plan, which did not fulfil this condition, would neither unite Moderate Reformers, nor detach sensible and reputable men from more extensive plans of change. It would be of little value, therefore, in the eyes of those who might be persuaded to employ Reform as an instrument of conciliation.
Secondly, It ought to furnish a reasonable security, that it will not be the source of new dangers to the other institutions and establishments of the kingdom.
Without this condition, it would be treachery to propose it to those who al present have the chief influence on public affairs. They have unquestionably a right to such a security; and it would be folly to expect that they would not demand it. No reform which does not satisfy this condition can be a pacific measure.
Thirdly, it ought to be founded, not only on general reasons of political expediency, but in the acknowledged principles, and, as far as may be, in the established and even technical forms of the British Constitution.
This condition is a strong preservative against disunion among the reformers, and the best, if not the only, security which any plan of reform can offer, that its adoption will lead to no changes but those which are contemplated and avowed by its authors.
Fourthly, It should, if possible, be peculiarly founded on such constitutional principles as present a distinct and visible limit to its operation, so as to lead, by no necessary consequence, to the adoption of other measures, and to leave all future questions of that nature to be discussed on their owo iotrinsic merits.
It is obvious, that a plan of peace ought not to be embroiled by the demand of any sacrifices of opinion respecting future controversies; but justice requires, that it should be so framed that the party which yields should, at the time of the transaction, clearly see all the consequences of his concession.
Fifthly, As a consequence of the previous conditions, the plan should be such as may be reasonably expected to be proposed and carried by an administration friendly to Reform, but inviolably attached to the Constitution.
All the previous conditions are general, and some of them, perhaps, rather abstract. This last divests them of their generality, and brings them into the light of practice :-no Reform can ever be peaceably carried, otherwise than by a friendly administration :--all plans which will not bear the test of this condition are either delusions or instruments of revolution. Whoever seriously intends Reform, and sincerely designs nothing more, ought constantly to bear in mind, in framing his plan, how a minister could propose in the Cabinet, or move it in the House of Commons.
The foundations of such a Reform as might fulfil all these conditions may be found, we think, in the two General Resolutions, moved by Lord John Russell, on the 19th of December, 1819, after a speech, which combined the prudence of a Statesman with the enlarged views of a Philosopher. These Resolutions are as follows:
"1. That it is expedient that all Boroughs, in which gross and notorious bribery and corruption shall be found to prevail, shall cease to return members to serve in Parliament.
" 2. Thal it is expedient that the right of returning Members lo serve in Parliament, so taken from any borough which shall have been proved to have been guilty of bribery and corruption, should be given to some great towns, the population of which shall not be less than 15,000 souls; or to some of the largest counties."
The debates on these Resolutions, and on the measure which followed them, are remarkable, as the first occasion on which a majority of the House of Commons showed a willingness to listen favourably to a proposal of Parliamentary Reform. The object of Lord John was twofold :redress a particular grievance, and lo take that opportunity of introducing a reformatory principle into the Constitution. The nature of his measure, and the conditions under which the principle was to be applied, were well suited to the altainment of these objects. The most material change which we should propose in his plan would be an inversion of the order of time in which the two Resolutions are to be carried into effect.
I. The first article in a wise plan of reformation would, in our opinion, be the immediate addition of twenty Members to the House of Commons, to be chosen by the most opulent and populous of the communities which aro at present without direct representation; with such varieties, in the right of suffrage, as the local circumstances of each community might suggest, but in all of them on the principle of a widely-diffused franchise. In Scotland, Glasgow ought to be included ; in Ireland we think there are no unrepresented communities to which the principle could be applied.
In endeavouring to show that this proposal is strictly constitutional, according to the narrowest and most cautious use of that term,—that it requires only the exercise of an acknowledged right, and the revival of a practice observed for several ages, we shall abstain from those controverled questions which relate to the obscure and legendary part of our Parliamentary history. A very cursory review of the authentic annals of the House of Commons is sufficient for the present purpose. In the wrils of summons of the 11th of Edward I., the Sheriffs were directed (as they are by the present writ) to send two Members from each city and borough within their respective bailiwicks. The letter of this injunction appears, from the beginning, to have been disobeyed. The Crown was indeed desirous of a full attendance of citizens and burgesses, a class of men then subservient to the royal pleasure, and who, it was expected, would reconcile their neighbours in the provinces to the burthen of Parliamentary grants. But to many boroughs, the wages of burgesses in Parliament were a heavy and somelimes an insupportable burthen; and this struggle between the policy of the Crown and the poverty of the boroughs occasioned great fluctuation in the towns who sent Members to the House of Commons, in the course of the 14th century. Small boroughs were often excused by the Sheriff on account of their poverty, and at other times neglected or disobeyed his order. When he persisted, petitions were presented to the King in Parliament, and perpetual or temporary charters of exemption were obtained by the petitioning boroughs. In the 1st of Edward III, the county of Northumberland and the town of Newcastle were exempted, on account of the devastations of the Scotch war.
The boroughs in Lancashire sent no Members from the reign of Edward III, to that of Henry VI.; the Sherifl slating, in his returns, that there was no borough in bis bailiwick able to bear the expense. Of 184 cities and boroughs summoned to Parliament in the reigns of the three first