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him, that it was not adviseable at present to interfere with a consideration of so much danger and difficulty.
On moving for a more equal Representation in Par.
He began with informing the house of commons of a truth, which, but from a confidence in their virtue, as he said, he should not have dared to have uttered ; that they were not the adequate representatives of the people. That they were the legal representatives he freely admitted ; nay, he would go farther, and say, that they were a highly useful and honourable council; a council, which in any other government of Europe, would be a great acquisition. But, to the honour of our country be it spoken, the British constitution entitled us to something better. Representation, Mr. Flood said, was the great arcanum and wise mystery of our government, by which it excelled all the states of antiquity. Now in what did representation consist? In this, that, as by the general law of political society the majority was to decide for the whole, the representative must be chosen by a body of constituents, who were themselves a clear majority of the inhabitants. He admitted, that proper. ty to a certain degree was a necessary ingredient to the elective power ; that is to say, that franchise ought not to go beyond property ; but at the same time it ought to be as nearly commensurate to it as possible. At present these principles were grossly violated. The freeholders who originally included the whole property of the country, now constituted only a small part of it. What was worse, the majority of the representatives, who decided for the whole, and acted for eight millions of people, Vol. II.
were chosen by a number of electors, not exceeding sis or eight thousand. A new body of constituents was therefore wanting, and in their appointment two things were to be considered: one, that they should be numerous enough, because numbers were necessary to the spirit of liberty ; the other, that they should have a competent share of property, because that was conducive to the spirit of order. To supply these deficiencies his propo. sition was directed.
But he was told, this was not the time for a reform. And why? Because there were disturbances in France. Now in the first place he averred, that if those disturbances were ten times greater than with every exaggeration they were represented to be, they would only render the argument more decisive in favour of a timely and temperate reform. It was for want of such a reform, that these evils had fallen upon France ; it was to the want of similar measures, that the former convulsions of our own country were to be ascribed. Had the encroachments of the Tudors been seasonably repressed, Charles the First would not have mistaken those en. croachments for a constitutional prerogative. Had the malpractices of Charles the Second been less tamely endured, James might not have been a tyrant, and needed not to have been an exile. Mr. Flood was no friend to revolutions, because they were an evil ; he was a friend to timely reform, which rendered revolutions unnecessary. Those who opposed such a reform, might be enemies to revolution in their hearts, but were friends to it by their folly. He argued farther from the proceedings in France, that if France improved her government, it became the more urgent that we should restore ours. France, now busied in her internal affairs, was not at leisure to disturb our operations. At home we were not in a state of despondency on the one hand, which might tempt us to an act of despair, nor of that drunken prosperity on the other hand, by which nations were rendered ignorant of the present, and regardless of the future.
In developing his own plan, Mr. Flood recalled to the attention of the house the projects of Mr. Pitt and of lord Chatham. Lord Chatham had proposed an addition of county representatives, leaving, as he expressed it, the rotten boroughs to drop off by time. "To this pro. position, it was not objected, that it would make a considerable increase in the present number of representatives; but it was objected, that the freeholders were already represented, and that the plan proposed did not give franchise to any of that great and responsible body of men, who were now non-electors. To the plan of the chancellor of the exchequer, it was not objected, that he introduced a new body of electors, namely, the copy.. holders. It was admitted, that, by adding them to the freeholders, he had diminished by so much the objections that had been made to his father's plan ; but that there were objections which remained applicable to them both. Respecting Mr. Pitt's plan, as to the boroughs, it was objected, that to disfranchise them might indeed be arbitrary ; but that to buy them out would be to build reform, not on purity, but corruption; that the purchase must be slow and uncertain; and that the worst boroughs, those of government, would never resign, but would comparatively be increased in importance by the resignation of others. Mr. Flood's proposition was, that one hundred members should be added to the present house of commons, to be elected by a new and numerous body of electors, the resident householders in every county. It was on all hands admitted, that every individual in this country paid upon an average fifty shillings per annum to the revenue. The master or fa. ther of a family, contributed in proportion for himself and all its members. Who should say that this class of men ought to be confounded with the rabble ? Who would dare to say, that they ought to be proscribed from franchise? They maintained the affluence of the rich, the dignity of the noble, and the majesty of the crown; they supported our fleets and our armies, Could we deny them the right to protect their liberty ?
Mr. Flood added another argument.
The constitution consisted of three orders, the monarch, the aristocracy, and the people. Its health consisted in maintaining the equipoise between them. The lords had been the most stationary branch : yet, by an increase of their numbers of late, they had obtained many patri. monial and private boroughs, and engrossed an influence over the house ofcommons which did not constitutionally belong to them. But the great alteration had happened on the part of the crown. Judge Blackstone had ad. mitted this, and had expressly referred us, as a remedy, to an amendment of the representation in parliament. Mr. Home had said, that arbitrary power was the euthanasia of the British constitution. An attempt had been made to diminish the influence of the crown ; but an East-Indian bill and a declaratory law had since passed, and by those laws more influence had been given than was subtracted by the act of reform. Mr. Flood proposed, that the sheriff of each county should be required, by himself and his deputies, to take the poll of the resident householders in each parish on the same day. Thus the representative would be chosen, as he ought to be, by the people; and by shortening the du. ration of parliaments he would continue to act as if he were so chosen.
On Reply to Mr. Flood.
He said, the experience of ages had demonstrated, that the house of commons was adequate to every necessary purpose ; and that, with no better representation of the people in parliament, the country had been flourish
ing and prosperous, and the people happy and secure. Mr. Flood had quoted the celebrated case of the Middlesex election, in which the candidate chosen by the mi. nority of the electors had been decided to be the legal representative. Mr. Windham could not see the hard. ship of this. If such had been the general rule of election through the whole kingdom, the affairs of the nation, for ought he knew, might have gone on as well as
At the close of the American war, which, he was afraid, had been undertaken for no better reason than the hope of saving ourselves by taxing America, a cla. mour was raised, and a parliamentary reform demanded, as a remedy for the expence we have incurred. A deluge of opinions was then let loose ; all these wild notions were generated during the war ; but happily they had long since subsided. The danger however was now breaking out afresh. A brood of these wild impracticable opinions were come over, like locusts, from the continent; and would, he feared, if they were suffered to remain, destroy the verdure and beauty of the constitution. If he had approved ever so much of the proposition for a parliamentary reform, he should have objected to it, on account of the time at which Mr. Flood had thought proper to introduce it. Where was the man that would be mad enough to advise them to repair their house in the hurricane season.
In Reply to Mr. Grey, on the same Subject,
He said, he believed it was not strictly regular to enter into any observation on a mere notice of a motion, and therefore he was under the correction of the house whether he should proceed. [Go on! go on ! was then