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The matters you touch upon, says his lordship, are of a nature not to be comprehended at a glance. They rest, not on one principle, but on many, and each has its separate and relative claim to consideration. Society itself is a complex web, and every social question accordingly partakes of complexity. It would be pleasant, no doubt, if it were otherwise, and if all matters connected with government were as simple as some men appear to suppose. But the gentlemen who belong to this politics-made-easy school, are much better friends to their own ease than they will ever prove to the body politic. Every interest of society being necessarily of a mixed nature, the setting forth of any simple element of change, as a remedy for all social diseases, must carry the presumption of quackery upon its very surface. When society goes wrong, it is always from a confluence of causes; and if it be made to go right, that change must be brought about by a combination of influences of an opposite description. Simple remedies may touch a part of the malady,
a but can never reach the whole. They may abate disease in one fornı, but augment it in another. They may remove humours from one part of the system, but it may only be that they may find their lodgment in some other shape and rage with greater virulence elsewhere. It may be well that every man should meddle with this state-pharmacy: it would be better if we could regard every man as capable of meddling with it wisely.
Thus, in regard to the question of church establishments, nothing may seem to be more simple or reasonable, than that no man should be compelled to sustain a church to which he does not belong. Suppose that principle acted upon, and, beyond doubt, a large class of alleged grievances would be at once removed. But the change would not end at that point. Concerning the right or the wrong of that question, as of every other arising in actual society, society itself must be the judge; and only allow it to be understood, that this ultimate judgment of society is an authority to be thrust aside in obedience to the language of individual or of party complaint, and the whole frame-work of society is dissolved. In such case, you may cease to have an established church, but you cease also to have a government of any kind. If the opinion of the majority on that one question is to be without authority, then the opinion of the majority in all other questions must be without authority, and society ceases to have anything authoritative in it. A
A very little of that sober discernment, which has been so conspicuous in the history of English nonconformists, should have been enough to have made it very plain, that if dissenters are to be freed from the burden of a state-church, it must be by possessing themselves
of state-power; that if a religious establishment which owes its existence to parliamentary enactinent, is to be put down, it must be by the increase of dissenters in the constituency of Great Britain, in a degree sufficient to constitute the power of parliament a dissenting power. That being done, the extinction of the church of England, as resulting from the fair progress of public opinion, would be an act of social justice. But when I have listened to the language of deputations from dissenters, who have deemed it expedient to apprize me that their great grievance was the existence of an established church, and that all lesser concessions were received only as instalments in prospect of the one final concession,—the extinction of the church of England; and when I have heard petitions read in the House of Commons from dissenters, praying that house to repudiate the principle of church establishments, and at the same time, have called to mind, that of the six hundred and fifty-eight members of that assembly, scarcely a second man has been returned at any election to advocate such opinions, I must confess, that I have felt amazed at the want of judgment which such a course of proceeding has evinced.
It may be, that the whole peerage of England, and the whole of the House of Commons, with an exception so partial as hardly to admit of description, have been in error on the question of church establishments. But so long as their opinions are what they are, it is plain, that the business of nonconformists is with the nation, and not with the legislature; and that even in respect to the nation, the course which wisdom would dictate, must be one adapted to conciliate churchmen and not to exasperate them; to disarm them of their more plausible objections to nonconformity, and not to furnish them with new pretexts for denouncing it as intolerant and destructive. But in neither of these departments have we seen the discretion on which we thought we had good reason to depend. Hostile associations, inflammatory publications, and still more inflammatory speeches, have contributed to give an aspect to nonconformity of late ġears which is new in its history. Every sort of handle has been supplied by this means to its enemies, and to the enemies of liberal opinions generally, and the natural consequences have followed. Among dissenters themselves, if reports speak truly, the effect of this course has been to produce dissatisfaction, division, and weakness. The more educated and influential classes of society still within the limits of nonconformity, are, it is said, dropping away from it more and more every day; while the great majority of those classes, always found beyond its pale, are now barricaded against it by a strength of prejudice
which it seems utterly vain, at least for the present, to attempt to remove. You are not yourselves what you were, and you never had so little prospect of repairing your losses from general society. The progress made among you by the severe labour of your more prudent men, seems to be more than counterbalanced by the drawbacks which have resulted from the conduct of the imprudent. Suppose this course of things to continue during the space of another generation, and what, on probable calculation, will then be the condition of protestant dissent in England ?
Indeed, if I am rightly informed, political zeal has taken such hold on a section at least of modern nonconformists, as to have disposed them to adopt opinions in regard to popular government, which not only carry with them the seeds of revolution, but of a revolution so extended, as to point to nothing less—whatever the abettors of such opinions may intend—than the setting up of a wild and coarse democracy, at the cost of nearly everything which has hitherto been distinctive of the English people, and of the English constitution. I am not about to enter upon a disquisition on the theory of suffrage; but I may be allowed to say, that no sober man, as I conceive, will deny that it may be expedient and just in some of those incipient stages of society which belong to history to assign to every man a vote. It may be admitted, also, that the point at which society begins, in this respect, is that toward which it should return, by as rapid a process as may be consistent with social safety. But when our ancestors promulgated the maxim, that the subject should not be taxed without his consent, every man entitled to an opinion on this matter, will know that the consent intended was that of a parliament, and of a parliament as parliaments were then constituted. The notion of making the principle of taxation commensurate with the principle of suffrage, so that no man should pay a tax who had not a direct vote for a representative in parliament, never entered their mind. In truth, up to that time, such a notion had never been adopted by any man in relation to any state which had risen to populousness, wealth, and intelligence.
It may sound almost like a truism to say that the best theory of suffrage is that which secures the best guardianship to the interests of the state. But if that truth be admitted, the question concerning the propriety of giving to each man a vote, is only one amidst many similar questions which present themselves. If it be good, for example, that the best elements which a state may include should be brought to its service, can that scheme be the most expedient which looks to the mere quantity of suffrage, without caring at all about its quality? Inasmuch as society
exists that men may possess property, intelligence, and virtue, can that theory of franchise be other than absolutely unjust which takes no account of these? Human beings congregate that such interests may come into existence, and when they exist, should no bounty be set upon them? Men associate that they may cease to be savages; and can that franchise be the best for civilized man, which simply regards him as man, and which is that, accordingly, that would have been meted out to him had he continued to be as one among a horde of savages? Must we account that a good principle for society, which sets out, after this manner, with fixing contempt on everything giving to society its value ? If, as a rule, men who possess property, knowledge, and some moral position among their fellow-men, are more likely to serve the state profitably than those who have not such qualifications, is it well that no effort should be made to secure to the state the advantage of such services? Will it be pretended that the hodmen of London possess capacity and motive to do the best for their country, equally with the various classes of professional men which abound in that capital ? Seeing that to a large extent distinctions of this nature might be safely made, should they not be made ?
If a money payment, moreover, is to determine the franchise, we know that money payments are a matter of degrees, and ought not the franchise, for that reason, to be a matter of degrees? The man of forty, also, is more likely to vote wisely than the man of twenty-one-should the same vote be given to both? The citizens of Athens were all alike enfranchised, but they voted in four classes, according to the gradation of their money payments, and in two classes, according to agewas it caprice which suggested that order of things, or was it wisdom, resulting from an extraordinary measure of experience in reference to the working of popular governments? If society is to be indeed reconstructed, and reconstructed on a scale so thorough as is supposed in the adoption of the principle adverted to, then all these questions, and more to the same effect, will come to be discussed. But what shall we say of that discernment which regards the conferring of the same franchise on all men, as the beginning and the end of the science of suffrage-seeing not, or regarding not, the many cognate questions which, in an old country like ours, come up of necessity along with that one question ?
If we assume that the non-franchised males in Great Britain and Ireland are to the franchised, on the average from the two countries, as about nine to one, nearly the whole of these ninetenths are, according to our present system, without franchise, as being without property; and, as the natural consequence, these nine-tenths must be further regarded as being comparatively without education, and without those modes of thought and the sort of feeling which arise from education. Enfranchise this majority, and they will vote independently or they will not. Supposing them to vote independently, then the one-tenth having property is placed wholly at the mercy of the ninetenths having no property; and this ninefold majority, devoid, for the most part, of education, is vested with an absolute mastery over all the social interests of the small minority distinguished by education. Would this be to put an end to class power, or to class law-making? In this case, would not class domination be more glaring, more mischievous, and more monstrous than ever?
Nor are there wanting symptoms to indicate the sort of use which would probably be made of this new machinery. Unless they are greatly belied, no class of men have shown themselves more adverse to the spirit of real freedom than the men who are loudest in the cause of this extreme form of theoretic freedom. Of what moment is it whether the expression of public opinion be put down by the yells of a faction, or by the point of the bayonetis not the tyranny the same? When men scarcely know how to speak of the property and privileged classes, except as so many banded plunderers, is there no room to fear that, had they the power, they would not be wanting in the inclination to chastise
these plunderers by plundering them in return? Would it require any peculiar hardihood at such a crisis to allege, that restitution is not confiscation, that retribution is no robbery? At present, the choice instruments of these persons are noisy violence, fierce invective, and the most bitter denunciation of all men who venture to question their dogmas—but if these things be done in the green tree, what will be done in the dry? In short, the men who insist on this extent of change, and who do not avow themselves as hostile, not merely to the existence of the church of England, but to the peerage, to the monarchy, and to everything short of the most exclusive and absolute democracy, are either very short-sighted, or very insincere, for to that issue their policy naturally and necessarily conducts them.
It may be said, indeed, that all this danger is imaginary-that wealth, knowledge, and moral worth will always have their influence, and will be sure to fix their impression on the movements of society. But is it, then, come to this, that the wisdom of legislators is to consist in enacting laws which they do not expect, which they do not even intend that society should obey ? Is it to be their duty to see that the provisions contained in our statutes flow in one direction, while they are fully aware that the stream of social opinion, and feeling, and usage, will flow, and