Liberty and Liberalism
By Bruce Smith
Biographical Remarks on Arthur Bruce Smith (1851-1937)
by David M. HartBruce Smith was an Australian Barrister (a lawyer who is qualified to argue before a judge) and a Member of the Parliament of New South Wales when it was still a self-governing colony before it became one of the states in the federal Commonwealth of Australia (1901). He also went on to have a parliamentary career after Federation. I first came across Smith’s name while doing research on 19th century French free trade thought in the Mitchell Library (the State Library of NSW). One of the issues that had made the debates over Federalism so bitter in Australia was the fact that the state of New South Wales (capital of Sydney) was very pro-free trade, while the state of Victoria (capital city Melbourne) was very protectionist. Unfortunately for Australian economic history, the new Federal government adopted Victorian-style protectionism and free-trading NSW had to abandon its position if it wished to join the Federation. Thus for nearly 75 years, until deregulation became government policy again in the 1970s, Australia was a strongly protectionist nation. However, as a result of NSW’s strong 19th century free trade tradition the State Library had a very impressive collection of free trade writings in both the English and French languages, hence my interest in their holdings. It was while doing research on
Gustave de Molinari and other French classical liberals that I came across Smith’s book “Liberty and Liberalism”. Upon closer examination I realised that Smith was one of the very few (perhaps the only one) Spencerite liberals in the Australian colonies. As he says in his introduction, while doing research for this book he came across the writings of the English “Liberty and Property Defence League” which was a group of radical individualists and free traders who had among their members
Thomas Mackay and Auberon Herbert (whose books we have online at Econlib). Although he was not a member of the League, their guiding spirit was
Herbert Spencer. Smith came to share many of their ideas as the book will show. We present it online as part of our ongoing series of critiques of socialist thought.
David M. Hart
May 3, 2004
First Pub. Date
London: Longmans, Green, and Co.
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
A brief review of the principal extensions of civil liberty from the Reform Bill of 1832 to the Ballot Act of 1872
“LIBERAL.—One who advocates
greater freedom from restraint, especially in political institutions.”—
Webster’s Dictionary, 1847.
“In the sphere of the State, the business of the last half century has been, in the main, a process of
setting free the individual man, that
work out his vocation without wanton hindrance, as his maker will have him do.”—W. E. GLADSTONE, ”
Locksley Hall and the Jubilee,” (
Nineteenth Century, January, 1887.)
THE Reform Bill of 1832, with which I open this chapter, constitutes one of the greatest victories for Liberal principles which modern English history affords. Prior to it, as I shall show, the representation of the people, in the English legislature, was distributed, in a manner, at once unequal and inequitable. Parliament—the medium through which the public revenue was collected and, afterwards, expended, and by which all the laws which determined the rights and liberties of the people were enacted—was, practically, in the hands, and under the influence of a comparatively infinitesimal section of the nation; and, as a consequence, there was nothing to guarantee, and everything to prevent the equitable distribution of civil rights under the constitution.
The supreme legislative power of England in the eleventh century was lodged in the king and the great Council, or what was afterwards called the parliament. It is not doubted but that the archbishops, bishops, and most considerable abbots were constituent members of that council. The barons were another constituent part of the same body, and, in addition, the knights who held their estates under them. So far the nature of the ancient parliament is beyond doubt.
*1 It seems, however, equally certain that the commons were no part of the parliament, nor became so “till some ages after the conquest.”
*2 The “meetings of the wise men” are spoken of as having taken place
before the conquest, but their constitution and proceedings are so vaguely recorded, that beyond mere mention, they do not call for further comment. “There are traces of the attendance of a few of the lesser knighthood, gentry perhaps of the neighbourhood where the Assembly was held, in some of its meetings under Henry III. (thirteenth century); but, till a late period in the reign of his successor, the great Council practically remained a gathering of the greater barons, the prelates, and the officers of the crown.”
*3 In 1265 two burgesses from each town were summoned to parliament, but “rather to afford financial information to the great Council than as representatives.”
*4 In 1295 “the admission of the burgesses and knights of the shire to the assembly completed the fabric of our representative constitution.” The great Council of the Barons had then become the parliament of the realm, a parliament in which every order of the state found itself represented, and took part in the grant of supplies, the work of legislation, and the control of government.”
*5 The proclamation by which this Council was convened, invited
“all who had any grace to demand of the king in parliament, or any plaint to make in matters which could not be redressed or determined by ordinary course of law, or who had been in any way aggrieved by any of the king’s ministers, or justices, or sheriffs, or their bailiffs, or any other officer, or have been unduly assessed rates, charged or surcharged to aids, subsidies, or taxes,” to deliver their petition to the Receivers at the great hall of the Palace of Westminster.
These petitions were then forwarded to the Council. It appears tolerably certain that the first liberal extension of the franchise, in the direction of the “commoners,” was effected, not so much on the score of a consideration for their rights, as for the purpose of constituting a check upon the barons, who had gradually become haughty and powerful; and to facilitate the collection of certain subsidies.
As England grew in population, in commerce, and in civilisation, the middle classes began to claim, as a right, what had been originally granted as a concession; and what had been originally used as a means to facilitate the exercise of the royal prerogative, became, in time, an ever-growing check upon its hitherto practically unlimited power.
As the country progressed, and as wealth accumulated and became more widely distributed, claims for representation were more confidently expressed by the people. At first, all counties, and cities, and boroughs sent representatives to the parliament thus constituted. As fresh towns came into notice, they too were admitted to take part in its deliberations; but no provision was made for contracting or reducing the representation of such towns and boroughs as, in the natural order of things, fell away in population and importance, with the evolution of commerce and society. In 1509, the House of Commons consisted of 298 members, some of whom represented constituencies, the population of
which had in some cases shrunk almost out of existence. In fact, (except in a very small number of cases resulting from bribery,) from this date to the Reform Bill of 1832, no town or borough was curtailed in its representation, yet no less than 255 additional members were added to represent new towns and boroughs. Thus the Commons had come to consist of upwards of 550 members. The condition of English representation, in 1832, previous to the great Reform Bill of that year, was of an extraordinary nature, and it is somewhat surprising that it should have been allowed thus to drift so far away from a condition of even approximate justice and equity to the different classes of the community. Burke had already said, in his “Thoughts on the Causes of the Present Discontents:—”I see no other way for the preservation of a decent attention to public interest in the representatives, but the interposition of the body of the people itself,” but he had said this without effect, and, in 1776, Wilkes had asked leave to introduce a measure, in order to increase the proportion of representation allowed to the metropolis and certain growing and increasingly important counties; and, further, to give, for the first time, representation to a number of the modernly developed manufacturing towns—such as Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Leeds. “Reform,” in fact, became, for the time being, a popular cry, but it led to nothing practical.
In 1830, the condition of things had become almost ridiculous, and it was in consequence of that fact that certain boroughs acquired the unenviable reputation of “rottenness.” They consisted for the most part of places which, having been at one time opulent and important, had, in the course of generations, sunk into commercial inactivity and unimportance. One of the most notorious was known as “Old Sarum.” No business had been conducted, nor had any inhabitants resided in the place for generations;
yet it was as fully represented in the House of Commons as the county of Lancaster, the population of which was over a million. In such cases the representation was in the hands of wealthy peers or “log-rolling” commoners, who had uses for them; and such constituencies were passed from hand to hand with the property within which they were comprehended. It is said that an East Indian prince was possessed of estates which entitled him to send
twenty members to the House of Commons. In the course of the debate upon the subject it was asserted that certain constituencies, with an aggregate population of less than five thousand, returned one hundred members to the House of Commons. “Manchester,” said Macaulay, in one of his Reform speeches, “with two hundred thousand inhabitants, has
no members. ‘Old Sarum,’ with
no inhabitants has
two members.” As a fact, thirty-eight noblemen commanded one hundred and fifty votes,
*7 and two hundred persons, already sufficiently represented in the House of Lords, were said to have returned a
majority of the House of Commons. The expulsion of the Bourbons from the French throne in 1830 intensified the agitation for reform, which was already becoming powerfully felt. The masses of the people were beginning to more vividly realise their numerical strength. The cry of “reform” was going up on all sides, and being rendered more simultaneous, and therefore more effectual for agitative purposes, by means of the increasingly powerful labour organisations which had then lately sprung into existence.
The election of September, 1830, resulted in a considerable gain by the Liberals. The King’s Speech, instead of promising, or even mentioning reform, boasted of the prosperity and social contentment of the people. In the House of Lords, in the debate on the Address, Earl Gray,
referring to France, said: “We ought to learn wisdom from what is passing before our eyes; and when the spirit of liberty is breaking out all around, it is our first duty to secure our own institutions, by introducing into them a temperate reform.” The Duke of Wellington, in reply, insisted on the existing condition of parliamentary representation as being eminently satisfactory in every way, and boldly asserted that he would strenuously resist any measure of reform.
A fortnight after this, the ministry was defeated on a financial question, and resigned. Lord Grey’s ministry followed—the first Liberal ministry (with one or two exceptions, covering as many months,) which had existed for upwards of sixty years.
On 1st March, 1831, Lord John Russell introduced a Reform Bill. It did not provide for any alteration in the number of members, but, in the matter of their distribution, great changes were proposed to be effected. The “rotten” boroughs were proposed to be completely abolished. By the bill, fifty-six of them were wholly disfranchised; thirtyone were partially disposed of in the same way; and fortyone new towns were afforded parliamentary representation: some receiving two members, others only one. The large cities were increased in the number of their representatives: the same treatment being accorded to Scotland and Ireland, as well as to England. The aggregate number of electors was doubled, by means of this extension of the franchise.
Macaulay, in speaking upon the bill, said: “I have no hesitation in pronouncing it a wise, noble, and comprehensive measure, skilfully framed for the healing of great distempers, for the securing at once of the public
liberties, and of the public repose, and for the reconciliation and knitting together of all the orders of the state.” Speaking of the principle of the bill, he said: “It is to admit the
middle class to a large and direct share in the representation, without any violent shock to the institutions of our country.”
Macaulay, however, liberal as he was, did not consider that the principle of manhood suffrage was then defensible. He admitted its success in America, but argued that, inasmuch as the labouring classes in England were occasionally in a state of great distress, and as the condition of mind which that distress would produce was calculated to render men “irritable, unreasonable, credulous, eager for relief, and heedless of remote consequences, it was expedient to require a pecuniary qualification for the suffrage.” Many Tories, of course, predicted “revolution,” instead of “reformation.”
The bill passed its second reading by a majority of one! Parliament was dissolved. The excitement of the populace was intense. The supporters of the bill carried nearly all the counties; and all the cities, and large towns. The Tories relied, for the most part, upon the constituencies which were speaking for the last time. The bill was now passed by a majority of 109, and was sent up to the Lords. In advocating the measure before them, Lord Brougham made what has been regarded as the greatest oratorical effort of his life. He spoke for five hours, and the speech is said to have constituted “an era in the history of that House.” The peroration is somewhat thrilling: terminating as follows: “Rouse not a peace-loving, but resolute people. Alienate not from your body the affections of a whole empire. I counsel you to assist with your uttermost efforts in preserving peace, and upholding and perpetuating the constitution. Therefore, I pray and exhort you not to reject this measure. By all you hold dear—by all the ties which bind every one of us to our common order and our common country, I solemnly adjure you, I warn you, I implore you, yea, on my bended knees, I supplicate you, reject not this bill!”
The bill was rejected notwithstanding. The public excitement now became intense, and frequent riots occurred. The property of various anti-reformers was destroyed, and the whole country was profoundly agitated. The bill was again introduced, and again boldly opposed. It, however, passed the second reading; but an amendment, which destroyed its usefulness, was adopted. The head of the administration (Lord Grey), now demanded the creation of sufficient peers to carry the bill, which request the king refused. The ministry resigned, and the people rose in a body, and petitioned the Commons to stop supplies. At many public meetings resolutions were passed that the payment of taxes should be resisted. The king proposed a compromise between the two parties, and immediately public indignation rose to a dangerous pitch. The king then recalled Lord Grey, and agreed to create peers for the purpose required. The peers now saw that further resistance was useless, and the bill was quickly passed through all its stages, and became the law of the land.
Thus was placed upon England’s statute book one of the most famous and the most Liberal of enactments—the Reform Bill of 1832. “It broke down the monopoly which the aristocracy and landed classes had enjoyed, and admitted the middle classes to a share of the law-making power. The representation was divided between the aristocracy and the middle class, instead of being, as before, the exclusive possession of the former.”
Macaulay, in his speech of March, 1831, upon the subject of this measure, said when it was introduced by Lord John Russell, “A great plan of reconciliation, prepared by the minister of the crown, has been brought before us in a manner which gives additional lustre to a noble name, inseparably associated, during two centuries, with the dearest
liberties of the English people.” I need scarcely spend
time in showing that this great measure comes unmistakably within the definition of Liberalism, in its historical and genuine interpretation. “The taking away of a vote” says Burke, “is the taking away of the shield, which the subject has against the oppression of power.”
To have withheld this fair distribution of voting power, by conserving the unequal and inequitable state of things which existed prior to the bill, would certainly have been to deprive the masses of the English people of the political shield with which to protect their civil rights.
Finally, Macaulay said of the great measure, “I call it, and the nation calls it, and our posterity will long call it, this second Bill of Rights: this great charter of the liberties of England.”
The abolition of slavery in one country, by means of the generosity and love of freedom in another, is unprecedented in the world’s history, as a spontaneous expression of genuine Liberalism.
The abolition of slavery itself, as an institution, in 1833, was preceded by the abolition of the slave trade with Africa, which was effected a quarter of a century before—viz., in 1806-7.
The latter movement is said to have originated from the fact of a vice-chancellor of one of the colleges at Cambridge, having, in 1785, chosen, as a subject for a Latin dissertation, the following question: “Is it right to make slaves of others, against their will?” Thomas Clarkson, one of the competitors, concentrated his whole mind upon the question, and won the prize. His essay was translated and supplemented. He then became seized with an overwhelming enthusiasm for the subject. Having collected every obtainable fragment of information concerning the question, and having convinced himself of the truth of the frightful tales of
kidnapping which he had heard, he published the results, and called together a committee, of which he was afterwards appointed secretary. The eminent Wilberforce, in 1787, lent his sympathy and great abilities to the movement. In 1788 Clarkson published a work, entitled “The Impolicy of the Slave Trade.”He visited France, and enlisted further sympathy among the most famous men of that country; and, by unceasing labour and advocacy, succeeded in bringing the matter under the notice of parliament. In the same year, Mr. Pitt carried a resolution to the effect that it was desirable that the subject should be dealt with by parliament. In 1790, Wilberforce himself brought forward a proposal for the total abolition of the traffic. The proposal was supported by such men as Pitt, Fox, and Burke. Strong opposition was raised by the West-India interest; they claimed that the system was justified by Biblical writings, and declared that its abolition would ruin English commerce. Two years afterwards, petitions in favour of the movement were sent into the House of Commons from all quarters of the country; and the same distinguished statesmen again gave it their earnest support. Wilberforce was stigmatised as a “meddling fanatic.” The subject was revived annually, until 1806, when, by a vote of the Commons, the whole system was condemned. In the following year it was totally abolished. The name of Granville Sharpe is inseparably connected with this great movement. In 1767, he had interested himself in the case of a negro slave, who had been cruelly whipped and ill-used by his master in London. Sharpe’s interference involved him in a law suit. His legal advisers discouraged him in his contention that the law should not, and would not tolerate slavery in England. He devoted all his energies to a searching examination of English law in support of his views, and succeeded in persuading some eminent authorities of their soundness. He completely circumvented his
adversary, and mulcted him in heavy costs. In 1772, a negro slave, named Somersett, who had been brought to England by his master, claimed his freedom. Every effort was made, and the ablest advocacy employed on both sides to attain success. The subject was argued and re-argued: occupying several months in being thus dealt with. Sharpe was throughout deeply interested in it, and frequently assisted in the case, in various capacities. Lord Mansfield, on June 22nd, 1772, delivered judgment, deciding (admittedly against his own inclinations) that the institution of slavery, being inconsistent with natural law, must require actual and positive law to support it. No such positive law being in existence, he pronounced the man free, and, thereby, laid down the general principle that such must always be the result as soon as a slave “touches English soil.”
The success which had thus attended the efforts put forth against the slave trade was now only diverted to the institution of slavery itself. In 1823 public sympathy had become sufficiently excited to enable Mr. Canning to carry resolutions affirming the desirability of measures to ameliorate the wretched condition of the slave population in British colonies. The resolutions were not then further acted upon. An insurrection in the West Indies, followed by the barbarous treatment and ultimate death of a clergyman, who was suspected by the planters of having incited the people by his religious teachings, roused public indignation in England. Lord (then Mr.) Brougham moved in the House of Commons a vote of censure on the government and court of the West India colony, in which the outrage had occurred. The motion was lost by a very small majority, but its effect again aroused public feeling. The year 1830 saw the subject still fresh in the minds of the people. It then became a question whether the abolition should be gradual or immediate. Daniel O’Connell said: “I enter into no compromise with slavery; I am for justice, in the
name of humanity, and according to the law of the living God.”
Lord Brougham, in the same year, again introduced resolutions on the subject, and literally thundered denunciations on what he termed the “traffic of blood.” Then came the French Revolution of 1830, absorbing, as it did, all public attention. In 1831-2, however, that event having passed into the list of reconciled occurrences, and another outbreak having taken place in Jamaica, the public sympathy was once more aroused; and, in 1832, a committee of enquiry was appointed by the House of Lords. The Commons adopted a similar course, on the motion of Mr. T. Fowell Buxton. The result of the two committees was most favourable to the cause. The ministry of the day gave its advocates an assurance that it would be dealt with “without delay.” The government proposal was made in May, 1833. The measure was pronounced a compromise, inasmuch as it limited emancipation to slaves under six years of age, and subjected those above that age to a further term of service of twelve, afterwards reduced to four or six years. The bill then stipulated that, at the end of those terms, the slaves should be free, and further provided for compensation amounting to £20,000,000. The bill was most doggedly opposed. The abolitionists themselves, at first, objected to compensation. The West India interest objected to the whole measure. The subject afforded opportunities for several great oratorical efforts; and, in the course of the debate which it gave rise to, many hard things were said, and many harder ones predicted. But the bill was passed in August, 1833, and constitutes a glorious monument to true Liberalism—the love of personal freedom among men, irrespective of race. For the English people to have contributed so enormous a sum towards the manumission of a race of people, separated from them by thousands of miles—a race, too, of a different colour, having nothing in
common with themselves but their humanity, is sufficient in itself to have placed England in the very van of freedom and civilisation.
It is perhaps difficult to find, now-a-days, any intelligent person who is prepared to advance a single argument in favour, or in justification of the institution of slavery; yet it is evident, from the fact of its having required so many years of agitation to overturn, that the institution had many advocates as well as opponents. Buckle says that “George III. looked upon slavery as one of those good old customs which the wisdom of his ancestors had consecrated.”
I come now to a legislative movement which has had the most far-reaching consequences in determining the occupations, affecting the commercial prosperity, and generally influencing the modern history of the English people. I refer to that alteration of 1846 in the fiscal policy of Great Britain, which consisted of the repeal of the Corn Laws, which had, as a fact, been established, off and on, for some centuries.
This was, of all the legislative acts with which I have dealt, one of the most unmistakably Liberal in its character. It consisted in the removal of certain misconceived restrictions upon the right of a citizen to purchase one of the first necessities of his daily life; viz., his bread, where it was obtainable at the cheapest price. This most ordinary liberty had been subjected, for centuries, to the most arbitrary interference on the part of parliament; and it was not till the year I have mentioned (1846), that public opinion became sufficiently unanimous to bring about a repeal of the meddling legislation in question, and to secure to the subject, in the purchase of his corn and bread, that full liberty of action which, in other departments of his daily life, had been fought for by his ancestors with so much vigour and determination. At the present day, in Great Britain, it is the frequent wonder of enlightened citizens, and leading
Liberal statesmen, that such a restriction upon civil liberty could have been allowed to remain so long upon the statute book of a country, which was recognised as standing in the very van of human progress. Lord Stanley, when defending the Corn Laws, sought to be repealed, boasted that the principle of protection to the agricultural interest had lasted for eight centuries; but the boast was of no avail in stemming the tide of popular intelligence. The truth is that, for many centuries, there existed in England a strong belief that the general prosperity of the people could be artificially guarded, and even
created, by means of legislative action and reaction upon the one staple article—corn. Glancing cursorily at history, we find that, so far back as the year 1272, (Henry III.), the price of bread was fixed by statute to rise and fall according to the value of corn; and Hume, the historian, mentions that this statutory regulation was “copied from a preceding assize, established as far back as the reign of King John.”
*12 In 1461, (Henry VI.), the permission of parliament had to be obtained for the exportation of corn, and even the carrying of that commodity from one county to another was restricted, except by license from a collector of customs.
*13 In the reign of James I., a proclamation was issued, establishing national magazines, and empowering commissioners to purchase corn to fill them.
*14 In 1753, (George II.), a bill was introduced for the purpose of offering a premium on the exportation of corn.
*15 So that, in the eighteenth century, we find parliament offering a premium for that which it expressly prohibited in the fifteenth century. Again, in 1757, a bill was passed to prohibit the exportation of corn, and many other articles of commerce, because it was feared that there might be a dearth, and consequent distress to the poorer classes. In the same year, an act was passed removing the import duty on foreign
corn and flour; and a resolution of the Commons was passed to prevent spirits from being distilled from wheat, lest, by that means, it should reach too high a price.
*16 Later again, in the same year, further interference was exercised by parliament. In 1758, an act was passed, prohibiting the exportation of corn, or its use in the distillation of spirits, and, at the same time, removing the import duty on that article.
In 1759, the subject again occupied the attention of parliament, and was afterwards repeatedly dealt with in 1774, 1791, 1804, 1815, and 1828. The system, which is generally known under the title of the “Corn Laws,” arose by virtue of the revisions which took place in 1815 and 1828. The whole object of these statutory provisions was to produce a monopoly for English agriculturalists, or perhaps, more correctly speaking, English landlords, by practically prohibiting the importation of foreign corn.
The import duty was fixed on what was known as a sliding scale, by which, when the home corn rose in price beyond a certain sum, the import duty fell proportionately: thus allowing the introduction of the foreign article when the home article became too high in its value. The price, however, to which it was necessary for the home article to rise, before the foreign article could come in, was altered from time to time. In 1774, it was 48s. per quarter; in 1791, it was 54s.; in 1804, it was 66s.; and in 1815, it was 80s.—the quarter containing eight bushels. In 1828, the maximum price was again lowered to 73s. By means of these laws the English farmers, or rather the English landowners, had a magnificent monopoly secured to them; and the whole bread-consuming population, rich and poor alike, were compelled to subsidise this wealthy class, by contributing, in the high price of the loaf, towards that great
monopoly. “The theory of this law had,” says Mr. McCarthy, “a charming give and take—live and let live air about it. ‘You give me a little more than the market price for my corn, and, don’t you see, I shall be able to buy all the more of your cloth and tea and sugar, or to pay you the higher rent for your land.’ Such a compact,” he adds, “seems reasonable and tempting.”
By the scale which was thus adopted, the duties fell as the prices rose, and rose as the prices fell. The act of 1828 had twenty or thirty degrees in its scale, three or four of which are given as illustrations. When the average price of wheat in the kingdom was 52s. per quarter, the duty on foreign wheat was 34s. 8d. When the price reached 60s. the duty fell to 26s. 8d. When the price rose to 70s., the duty sank to 10s. 8d. When the price attained 73s. and upwards, the duty went down to 1s.
*19 The prices were ascertained every Saturday, at 150 of the chief market places in the kingdom, and an average taken; then the averages of the preceding five weeks were added and the ‘general average’ of the whole six taken. This price was proclaimed every Thursday by the government, as the standard for the ensuing week. The greatest influence which was wielded during the struggle that led to this important epoch, was that which emanated from an association known as the Anti-Corn Law League. It has been said of it that, “in seven years it revolutionised the minds of the most intelligent nation of Europe; bent to its will the proudest legislature in the world; and overthrew a system, rooted to the the earth by the steady growth and fostering culture of centuries.”
The struggle for the repeal of the Corn Laws was, indeed, a broader and more comprehensive political conflict than the terms, in which it is described, would at first indicate. It was, in fact, a decisive trial of strength, between the
advocates of the two economic doctrines, known under the respective titles of “Free Trade” and “Protection.” The latter of these theories had, as I have said, held the field for centuries; and the Anti-Corn Law League was really a Free Trade League, and set itself to fight for the broad doctrine, of which the Corn-Law question was only an example. So far back as the year 1581, free trade in corn was recommended in an essay, referred to by Buckle; and that writer says of it, that it “should be read by every student of English history.”
Adam Smith, again, writing his “Wealth of Nations,” in 1776, had said that “to give the monopoly of the home market to the produce of domestic industry, in any particular art or manufacture, is, in some measure, to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capital; and must, in all cases, be either a useless or a hurtful regulation.” And he added that “the statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capital, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever; and which would nowhere be so dangerous, as in the hands of a man, who had folly, and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.”
He had argued that, inasmuch as different countries possess different qualifications, which render them more or less adapted to the production of certain articles of human want, it was desirable, on the ground of “the division of labour,” that each should produce that to which it was best suited; that inasmuch as “every individual endeavours, as much as he can, both to employ his capital in support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry, that its produce may be of the greatest value,” each country was more likely to produce the best aggregate result by
unrestricted trade. “It is,” he said, “a maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home, what it will cost him more to make than to buy;” and that “all people find it for their interest, to employ their whole industry in a way in which they have some advantage over their neighbours, and to purchase with a part of its produce, or what is the same thing, with the price of a part of it, whatever else they have occasion for. What is prudence,” he added, “in the conduct of every private family, can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom.”
It is not my province to enter here into this wide controversy, but merely to set forth the general terms of Adam Smith’s arguments, as constituting one of the many factors which operated in the movement with which I am dealing.
These arguments, however, did not prevail. Though Adam Smith is spoken of familiarly, in the present day, by hundreds and thousands of people, there is good reason to believe that comparatively few have actually read his writings; and it is more than likely that, in the times about which they were first published, they enjoyed a still more limited perusal.
In 1837, England suffered a great commercial crisis, partly attributable to previous bad harvests, and aggravated by the same cause in that year. Many intelligent people attributed the national trouble to the Corn Laws; and, in consequence, there was formed at Manchester, an Anti-Corn Law Association. Mr. Justin Macarthy, in his “History of Our Own Times,” says:—”Naturally, it was in places like Manchester, that the fallacy of all this theory was first commonly perceived, and most warmly resented. The Manchester manufacturers saw that the customers for their goods were to be found in all parts of the world; and they knew that at every turn they were
hampered in their dealingswith the customers, by the system of
protective duties. They
wanted to sell their goods wherever they could find buyers, and they chafed at any barrier between them and the sale.”
*23 “Manchester,” he adds, “had always spoken out for free trade.” Mr. Richard Cobden was the real leader of the Anti-Corn Law movement. In December, 1838, the Manchester Chamber of Commerce presented a petition to parliament, praying for an immediate and total repeal of the Corn Laws. In 1839, an immense meeting was called of delegates from all parts of the kingdom. In pursuance of this meeting, the Anti-Corn Law Association, which had now become possessed of large funds, sent deputies to London on the opening of parliament. They petitioned parliament to allow them to appear at the bar of the House, in order to expose the injurious effects of the Corn Laws. The motion, which was brought forward by Mr. Charles Villiers, was negatived. The protectionists called the association the “Anti-Corn Law Parliament,” which title they at once adopted; and, a month later, Mr. Villiers again brought forward his motion, which was ridiculed, and again negatived. He brought it forward again and again with no greater success; but meanwhile, the League was vigorously engaged in the provincial centres. In the beginning of 1840, over one hundred important towns had had established in them branches of the League. The cry for “cheap bread” was now raised, and spread like an epidemic through the whole country. The public feeling was gradually but surely working up to a high pitch of enthusiasm. In 1841, Lord John Russell, seeing the coming change in popular opinion, and, having determined on a dissolution of parliament, gave notice of a motion, which had for its object the abandonment of the sliding scale, and the adoption, in its place, of a fixed duty of eight shillings per quarter on imported wheat. This was, of course, a political ruse, conceived with a view to catch the
current of public feeling which was then discernible. The effect of this false move was felt throughout the country. The Conservatives, who represented the landed interests, thus threatened, (to use the words of an able writer upon this subject), “swept the kingdom.” When Lord John Russell returned with the new parliament his motion was defeated. He then resigned, and Sir Robert Peel succeeded him; but, meanwhile, Richard Cobden had become a member of the new House of Commons. It was fully expected that though the new member had moved Manchester audiences as he liked, he would be lost in the crowd, now that he had entered parliament. It was not so. He became a power, almost from the moment he entered its portals. The year 1842 was one of great distress in the manufacturing centres. The duties were now sought to be much reduced by Sir Robert Peel himself. Mr. Villiers’ motion for absolute repeal came forward again, as a counter movement, but the government measure was adopted by a large majority. It was, however, distinctly stated by Sir Robert Peel, that parliament had no power to secure, for the producer, by means of any fixed or movable duty, a certain price for his corn. Sir Robert Peel had adopted the Free Trade doctrine—that was evident—and to many of his followers, galling; but nevertheless a fact; for in the same year he expressed his belief that, “on the general principle of Free Trade, there is now no great difference of opinion; and that all agree in the general rule that we should buy in the cheapest, and sell in the dearest market.”
*24 This confession was followed by “ironical cheers,” to which he gave answer that the Corn Laws were “exceptions to the general rule,” and added “I will not go into that question now.” At the end of 1842, it was proposed by the League to raise £50,000; and Messrs. Cobden, Bright, and Thompson, were deputed to traverse
the country and address the people. The great Free Trade Hall was now built at Manchester, and opened in the beginning of 1843. Some twenty-four years or so previously, a meeting of Manchester reformers had been held, and had been dispersed by an attack of soldiers and militia, with the loss of many lives. “The memory of that day,” says Mr. McCarthy, “rankled in the hearts of Manchester Liberals, for long after.”
*25 The land, upon which this meeting had taken place, was the property of Mr. Cobden, and he had given it to the League. This hall was now built upon it. At the opening of the building it was announced that £44,000 of the £50,000 had been collected. London was next made the centre of the League’s operations. Drury Lane Theatre was the scene of nightly crowded meetings, and, meanwhile, Cobden traversed thirty-two counties, holding numberless meetings, and coming face to face with the advocates of the protectionist doctrines.
In 1844, it was proposed to raise £100,000, and to distribute ten million anti-corn law tracts; £20,000 of this sum was contributed by the Manchester branch, at a single meeting. In the same year, Cobden moved a resolution that the effects of the protective duties should be investigated; and it is the speech which he made on that occasion, which is supposed to have completed Sir Robert Peel’s conversion to Free Trade principles. The League was now sending many of its members into parliament, and matters were becoming somewhat urgent. In 1845 duties were repealed on 450 articles—in fact, the whole tariff was re-arranged; but corn was left untouched.
Covent Garden now became the scene of numerous and excited meetings. Many noblemen were numbered among its audiences, and the cry of “cheap bread” went up from many thousand throats. A single bazaar, organised by ladies, realised £15,000. At the end of 1845 the League
was engaged in raising a quarter of a million of money. Macaulay, speaking at Edinburgh, said: “I have always considered the principle of protection of agriculture as a vicious principle. I have always thought that this vicious principle took, in the act of 1815, in the act of 1828, and in the act of 1842, a singularly vicious form.
*26 There was a time,” he said, “when politicians were not ashamed to defend the Corn Laws, merely as contrivances for putting the money of the many into the pockets of the few…. Nobody now ventures to say in public that ten thousand families ought to be put on short allowance of food, in order that one man may have a fine stud, and a fine picture gallery…. It seems strange that Conservatives—people who profess to hold new theories in abhorrence; people who are always talking about the wisdom of our ancestors—should insist on our receiving, as an undoubted truth, a strange paradox, never heard of from the creation of the world, till the nineteenth century.”
*27 The end had now come. The session of 1846 opened. The Corn Laws were repealed. Sir Robert Peel said, in the speech in which he announced that famous measure: “I will not withhold the homage which is due to the progress of reason, and of truth, by denying that my opinions on the subject of protection have undergone a change”; and he afterwards added: “Not to the Tory party, nor to the Whig party; not to myself, nor to the noble lord at the head of the opposition, is this change to be attributed; but the people of this country are indebted, for this great measure of relief, to the rare combination of elements which centre in the mind and heart of Richard Cobden.” Mr. Harris, in his “History of the Radical Party,” says, in speaking of the divisions on the bill which repealed the Corn Laws: “In all these divisions the government had
the aid of
nearly the whole of the
almost entirely Tory.”
In the final division, 202
Liberals and 102 Conservatives voted
for the bill and 208 Conservatives and only eight Liberals
*29 Thus ended, for the time being, the Conservative theories of protection to home industries; and thus was concluded the Liberal struggle for
freedom of action in the matter of trade, by which was permanently established the principle of liberty to the individual to buy where he can do so most cheaply, and to sell where he can get the best price for his products. “A permanent revival of the old order of things,” says the author of “Reform and Reformers,” “is no longer hoped for, or even desired; unless, by a few superannuated members of the House of Peers, and some half dozen unyielding old Tories and Quixotic young Hotspurs in the House of Commons.”
Let us turn now to a few of the innumerable comments which have been, from time to time, made regarding the passing of this great Liberal measure.
Sir Erskine May says: “The employers of labour, and the working classes, were combined in support of interests common to them both. This agitation, if an illustration of the force of democracy, is also an example of the
power of reason in a free State.”
*30 Buckle says: “The abolition of the Corn Laws is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable facts in the history of England during the century. The propriety, and indeed the necessity of their abolition is now admitted by every one of
*31 “Those who knew the facts, opposed the laws; those who were ignorant of the facts, favoured the laws. It was clear that, whenever the diffusion of knowledge reached a certain point, the laws must fall.”
*32 “The Reform Bill, the Emancipation of the
Catholics, and the Repeal of the Corn Laws, are admitted to be the three greatest political achievements of the present generation.”
*33 Mr. Harris, in his “History of the Radical Party,” says, in commenting on the policy of Lord Palmerston in 1850-55: “It was in Free Trade alone that Palmerston was a
Liberal.” John Bright, than whom England has never produced a more thorough or more consistent Liberal, said in 1845: “The Corn Law is as
great a robbery of the man who follows the plough, as it is of him who minds the loom, with this difference that the man who follows the plough is of the two nearest the earth, and it takes less power to press him into it.”
In 1858, the same statesman said: “Twelve years ago there was a great party in parliament, led by a duke in one House, and by the son and brother of a duke in the other, which declared that utter ruin must come, not only on the agricultural interest, but upon the manufactures and commerce of England, if we departed from our old theories upon the subject of Protection…. The plain, honest, common sense of the country swept away their cobweb theories, and they are gone. What is the result? From 1846 to 1857 we have received into this country, of grain of all kinds…not less than an amount, equal in value to £224,000,000…. During that period your home growth has been stimulated to an enormous extent…. With all this, agriculture was never more prosperous; while manufactures were never, at the same time, more extensively exported; and with all this the labourers, for whom the tears of the protectionists were shed, have, according to the admission of the most violent of the class, never been in a better state, since the beginning of the great French War.”
In 1866, speaking on the subject of Ireland, and Daniel O’Connell’s connection with the Corn Law agitation, Mr. Bright said: “We owe much to his exertions in connection
with that question; for almost the whole
Liberal—I suppose the whole
Liberal party of the Irish representatives in parliament supported the measure of Free trade, of which we were the prominent advocates.”
*36 In October, 1885, when addressing a large audience in Somerset, he dealt at length with the Corn Law repeal movement. He said, in the course of that speech: “I should like, if I might be allowed, to state a few things which describe the state of affairs in this district in the year 1845, which is now exactly forty years ago. I should begin by stating that, at that time, there was an extraordinary law in this country, which you would suppose could not be possible—I will not say among Christian men, but among
thinking men—that is a law, which prevented the importation of grain, and especially of wheat, from foreign countries into this country. At that time, there were a great many men, who thought that law very wicked—a great many more men have come to that conclusion since—and these men, who thought it a wicked law, formed themselves into an association with a view, not violently to overthrow it, but by persistent labour and discussion, to bring the great body of the people, and ultimately the legislature, to the conclusion that that law ought to be repealed.”
Mr. Herbert Spencer, commenting upon this matter in the abstract, says: “In putting a veto upon the commercial intercourse of two nations, or in putting obstacles in the way of that intercourse, a government trenches upon men’s liberties of action; and, by so doing, directly reverses its function…. Trade prohibitions, and trade restrictions not only do not secure this freedom, but they take it away.”
The Chartist movement, which culminated, and also subsided, in 1848, is an epoch which cannot consistently be passed over here; though, unlike the other movements with which I have dealt, it failed to terminate in the legislative
enactment of the principles which inspired it. There can be little doubt that the six “points” of “the Charter,” which, yet, failed to receive legislative recognition, were conceived in the true Liberal spirit; and the chief use of a study of that movement is to be found in a consideration of the reasons why it did not, as a whole, meet with a larger share of success. I shall be able, I think, to show that the movement so failed, by reason of its including among its demands a condition of affairs which comes distinctly within the definition of “Socialism,” which the English people, of that time at least (whatever may be the tendency now), were by no means inclined to view favourably.
I shall have occasion, hereafter, to carefully define the limit of state functions, as determined by the principles of true Liberalism. I shall then show that such principles favour the possession, by each citizen, of the maximum of personal liberty, limited only by such restrictions as are necessary to secure equal liberty to all other citizens; or, as Mr. Herbert Spencer puts it, of “the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties, compatible with the possession of like liberty by every other man.”
I shall show, in this chapter, that the demands of the Chartists, of 1848, included principles which, when carried into practice, meant nothing more nor less than social anarchy. I am not aware that at the time, these excessive demands were analysed with any degree of scientific accuracy, for the purpose of showing that they really were excessive; but there is little doubt that the majority of the public, and their legislators, were, however vaguely, impressed with the fact that the movement was being pushed on by the advocacy of principles, which would, if realised, overturn, or at least permanently disturb the social organisation. Macaulay himself showed this, in a speech which he delivered in parliament, in criticism of the Charter, and
from which I shall quote hereafter. It is to these excesses; to the unnecessarily violent and unpopular means adopted for the purpose of forcing on the movement, that is to be attributed its ultimate non-success. A proof of this is to be found in the fact that all that was included in the Charter, which was reasonable, has since been made the law of the land, though the Charter, as a whole, failed in 1848. This movement, like all others of its kind, has a history. Its cause can be pretty clearly traced to certain other events and circumstances which preceded it.
“The year 1838,” we are told, “chronicled the avowed and open beginning of chartism.” The same authority
*40 informs us that the year 1837 was one of great commercial depression; that there were heavy failures in London, Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow; that, ere the summer arrived, deep distress had reached the houses of the working classes; and that, in Lancashire, thousands of factory hands were discharged. “The Chartists,” says Mr. McCarthy, “who represented the bulk of the artizan class, in most of the large towns, did in their very hearts believe that England was ruled for the benefit of aristocrats and millionaires, who were absolutely indifferent to the sufferings of the poor.”
The manifesto, which afterwards came to be known as the Chartist Petition, was adopted at a great Radical meeting, held in Birmingham, a few weeks after the queen’s coronation.
*42 The movement was supported by a large amount of genuine enthusiasm, passion, and intelligence; and it appealed, strongly and naturally, to whatever there was of discontent among the working classes.
*43 Thousands upon thousands of the unthinking masses joined in the movement, who were yet really indifferent as to its real political objects. “They were poor; they were overworked; they were badly paid; their lives were altogether wretched; they
got into their heads some wild idea that the people’s Charter would give them better food and wages, and lighter work, if it were obtained.”
The manifesto to which I have already referred, and which came to be known as the “people’s Charter,” contained six “points.” One was manhood suffrage, another was annual parliaments, a third was the ballot, a fourth was the abolition of the property qualification for parliamentary candidates, a fifth was payment of members of parliament, and a sixth was the division of the country into equal electoral districts. It has been said of Chartism that it soon became divided into two distinct divisions—the “moral force” Chartism and the “physical force” Chartism. Some of the leaders were men of great ability and eloquence; and the movement brought into existence a newspaper literature of its own; for every town of importance was possessed of its Chartist press.
The agitation for the parliamentary recognition of this movement and for the legislative realisation of its “points,” was energetically maintained. Torch light processions were held, and here and there riots were the result. There began to spring up, in many minds, a desire to resort to arms and physical force, in order to push on the movement. The town of Newport became well known in connection with it, in consequence of a serious and fatal disturbance which occurred there. Newport was possessed of a large mining population, and a procession was arranged to take place after midnight, with the further intention of attacking the gaol, and releasing certain Chartist prisoners. They came into collision with the authorities, and a large number of people were killed and wounded. The ring-leaders were transported for life. Still the agitation went on. The government, meanwhile, were on the alert; and prosecutions, in hundreds, were instituted in different parts of the country. Many of the leaders were
convicted and imprisoned. The Chartists began to acquire considerable political influence, and it is said that, in 1841, by reason of their support of the Tory party, they assisted in the downfall of the Melbourne administration. In 1842, parliament was moved in the matter; the Petition containing the now celebrated “six points,” concluding with the following paragraph:—”Your petitioners therefore, exercising their just constitutional right, demand that your Honourable House, to remedy the many gross and manifest evils of which your petitioners complain, do immediately, without alteration, deduction, or addition, pass into law the document entitled ‘The Peoples’ Charter.'”—The motion was rejected by 287 votes to 49.
In 1848, The Revolution in France had cast its influence over the other European countries, and had created a feeling of dissatisfaction among a large number of the working classes. Mr. McCarthy says:—”In England and Ireland the effect of the events in France was instantly made manifest. The Chartist agitation instantly came to a head. There was, as I have said, a widespread belief, among the artizan class, that the country was being corruptly governed to their detri ment, and with a disregard for their misery.”
On the other hand, “Most of what are called the ruling class did really believe the English workingmen, who joined the Chartist movement, to be a race of fierce, unmanageable, and selfish communists, who, if they were allowed their own way for a moment, would prove themselves determined to overthrow throne, altar, and all established securities of society.”
*46 It was in this year (1848) that the most celebrated procession of the Chartists was arranged. A convention, for the purpose of its organisation, sat in London, and some very wild language was indulged in. It was resolved to present a monster petition to the Commons, demanding the enactment of the Charter. A serious difference occurred upon
the point of obeying the authorities, in case an attempt should be made to interfere with the procession. The demonstration took place on Kennington Common, but, though the numbers were large, they fell far short of what was anticipated. It was said that half-a-million people would be present, but only about 25,000 appeared upon the scene. The air was full of wild rumours as to what the day would bring forth, and many people believed England was upon the eve of a revolution. The Duke of Wellington undertook to perfect all the arrangements for the protection of the metropolis; and, in order to remove any doubts, nearly 200,000 persons were enrolled as special constables.
The eagerly looked for procession collapsed, and the great Chartist petition itself, concerning which such wild and various rumours were current, proved a failure. It was duly presented to Parliament by Feargus O’Connor, the great Chartist leader, and, at the time, was said to contain five millions of signatures. When examined, however, by a committee of experts, it was found to fall short of two millions, a large proportion of which, even, were not genuine. This terrible
fiasco was the death of Chartism; for it became, from that hour, a subject of ridicule, rather than of serious consideration. Another monster gathering was attempted, two months afterwards; but it, likewise, was a failure, and has, moreover, been described as “the last gasp of Chartism.”
Most writers upon the subject agree, in opinion, as to the causes of its failure as a political movement. Macaulay, when criticising it in 1842, in his speech in the House of Commons, said: “There is only one of the six points on which I am diametrically opposed to them (the petitioners). One of the six points,” he said, “is the ballot. I have voted for the ballot, and I have seen no reason to change my opinion on that subject. Another point is the abolition of the pecuniary qualification for members of this
House On that point I cordially agree with the petitioners. The Chartists demand annual parliaments. There certainly I differ from them; but I might, perhaps, be willing to consent to some compromise. I differ from them also as to the expediency of paying the representatives of the people, and of dividing the country into electoral districts; but I do not consider these matters vital. The essence of the Charter,” he added, “is ‘universal suffrage.’ If you grant
that, it matters not at all what else you withhold. If you grant
that the country is lost…. My firm conviction is that in our country universal suffrage is incompatible, not with this, or that form of government, but with all forms of government, and with everything for the sake of which forms of government exist; that it is incompatible with property, and that it is incompatible with civilisation…. I entertain no hope that, if we place the government of the kingdom in the hands of the majority of the males of one and twenty, told by the head, the institution of property will be respected.” This, at first sight, seems a very extreme view to take of an institution, which has, since the year in which these words were uttered, been in actual work, in more than one of our colonies; but a further passage of the same speech shows what circumstances had led to such anticipations. “If,” he said, “I am asked why I entertain no such hope, I answer:—Because the hundreds and thousands of males of twenty-one, who have signed this petition, tell me to entertain no such hope; because they tell me that, if I trust them with power, the first use which they will make of it will be to plunder every man in the kingdom who has a good coat on his back, and a good roof over his head. God forbid,” he added, “that I should put an unfair construction on their language! I shall read their own words. ‘Your petitioners complain that they are enormously taxed to pay the interest of what is called the national debt, a debt amounting, at present, to eight hundred
millions, being only a portion of the enormous amount expended in cruel and expensive wars for the suppression of all liberty, by men not authorised by the people, and who, consequently, had no right to tax posterity for the outrages committed by them upon mankind.’ If these words mean anything,” continued Macaulay, “they mean that the present generation is not bound to pay the public debt, incurred by our rulers in past times; and that a national bankruptcy would be both just and politic…. They tell us that nothing will unshackle labour from its misery, until the people possess that power under which all monopoly and oppression must cease; and your petitioners respectfully mention the existing
monopolies of the suffrage; of paper money; of
land; of the
public press; of religion; of the
means of travelling and transit; and a host of
other evils, too numerous to mention: all arising from class legislation. What,” says Macaulay, “can the monopoly of land mean except property in land? The only monopoly of land which exists in England is this, that nobody can sell an acre of it which does not belong to him. And what can the monopoly of machinery mean but property in machinery? Another monopoly, which is to cease, is the monopoly of the means of travelling. In other words, all the canal property and railway property in the kingdom is to be confiscated. What other sense do the words bear? And these are only specimens of the reforms which, in the language of the petition, are to unshackle labour from its misery…. In short, the petitioners ask you to give them power, in order that they may not leave a man of a hundred a year in the realm.”
A subsequent passage, in the same speech, affords some further explanation of the apparently exaggerated view of the institution of universal suffrage. “What we are asked to do,” he says, “is to give universal suffrage
before there isuniversal education,” and he adds, “Have I any unkind feeling towards these poor people? No more than I have to a sick friend who implores me to give him a glass of iced water which the physician has forbidden. I would not give the draught of water because I know that it would be poison…. I would not give up the keys of the granary because I know that, by doing so, I should turn a scarcity into a famine; and, in the same way, I would not yield to the importunity of multitudes, who, exasperated by suffering, and blinded by ignorance, demand, with wild vehemence, the liberty to destroy themselves…. But the doctrine of the Chartist philosophers is that it is the business of the government to support the people. It is supposed by many that our rulers possess, somewhere or other, an inexhaustible storehouse of all the necessaries and conveniences of life, and from mere hard-heartedness refuse to distribute the contents of this magazine among the poor.”
*48 I have quoted Macaulay at some length, because the speech, referred to, sets forth, better than I know it to be done elsewhere, the extreme and revolutionary portions of the Charter, to which I consider its failure was in a great measure owing; and further, its comments, upon those portions, are so much better than any that have been made by others.
Mr. McCarthy says: “The effect of this unlucky petition, on the English public mind, was decisive. From that day, Chartism never presented itself to the ordinary middle-class Englishman as anything but an object of ridicule.”
*49 And, elsewhere, the same writer says: “Its active or aggressive influence ceased with 1848…. All that was sound in its claims asserted itself, and was in time conceded.”
*50 It is highly probable that, if the Chartist movement had been conducted, throughout, without the constant references to physical force; and if, in addition, the Charter had been confined to the “six points,” which professed to sum up
the wants of the petitioners, but to which were added the ill-considered and revolutionary demands which I have noticed, it might have received early legislative sanction, instead of having proved a failure; and men like Feargus O’Connor, who now stand in English History as mere visionary agitators, would have been ranked among the reformers of modern times.
The connection which this movement has with the other subjects of this chapter, consists in the fact that, amid the noise, clamour, and fevered agitation which surrounded it, there were, at least, three genuinely Liberal demands, which, nevertheless, were lost sight of, or pushed out of consideration, by reason of the revolutionary character of many of the other sentiments which it contained, and to which Macaulay took such serious exception. The ballot, universal suffrage, and the abolition of a property qualification for parliament are principles, which have long since been adopted in British colonies, without, so far, leading to any great amount of injury to society; and there can be little doubt that, although the second of these “points” was somewhat before its time, the first and the third would have met with a favourable reception by the English people, if they had not been introduced in a document, which contained, also, so much that pointed to a social revolution.
It is certainly somewhat difficult to realise, in the present day, that, less than a quarter of a century ago, the fact of an English citizen professing the Jewish religion, was deemed a sufficient reason for excluding him from the Council of the nation, even though he had been duly elected by a competent constituency. Yet, such is the fact. The admission of Jews into the House of Commons, as representatives of the people, was allowed for the first time in 1859; and a study of English history will show that, from the Conquest downwards, to that date, the treatment of this able and industrious race has consisted of a
gradually reducing, and mitigating system of persecution: begun in absolute cruelty and practical exile from all political privileges, and ending in the acquirement of the fullest civil liberty accorded to Englishmen themselves. The removal of the disabilities, which had hitherto prevented this consummation, constitutes one of the most unmistakeable steps in the history of Liberalism. It was nothing more or less than a concession, to a section of citizens, of one of the most clearly recognised of civil rights—freedom of thought and belief, in matters of religion; and a section of citizens, too, whose ancient traditions, as a race, were essentially free and liberal in their character. Sir Erskine May speaks of the Jews as being “by far the most interesting example of freedom in an Eastern race,”
*51 and adds, that the fact “that a race more entitled to our reverence, than any people of antiquity, should have afforded an example of popular freedom, notwithstanding their Eastern origin, and the influence of Eastern despotism, by which they were surrounded, is a conspicuous illustration of the principle that the spirit and intelligence of a people are the foundations of liberty.”
*52 I shall now take a brief survey of the condition of the Jews from the Conquest, down to the date of the removal of their disabilities, in order that the justice of that removal may be the more fully realised.
The Jewish traders, who followed the Conqueror from Normandy, and from whom that monarch found it extremely convenient to draw advances for his immediate wants, were, in return, afforded royal protection, and allowed to establish themselves in separate quarters or jewries of the chief English towns. He (the Jew) then had no civil rights, and the “jewry,” in which he lived, was exempt from the common law of the country.
*53 “He was simply the king’s chattel, and his life and goods were absolutely at the king’s
*54 But, upon the principle of royal indulgence, the Jewish merchant was, in many ways, protected from persecution and affront, and his valuable possessions were allowed to be deposited in the royal palace at Westminster. He was the only capitalist in Europe; and, heavy as was the usury he exacted, his loans gave an impulse to industry, such as England had never felt before…nor was the influence of the Jews simply industrial. Through their connection with the Jewish schools, in Spain and in the East, they opened the way for the revival of physical science…. To the king, the Jew was simply an engine of finance,…it was in his coffers that the Norman kings found strength to hold their baronage at bay.”
A century or more later, (1189), they seem to have been less fortunate; for their industry and frugality had “put them in possession of all the ready money, which the idleness and profusion of the English had enabled them to lend, at exorbitant and unequal interest;”
*56 and they were held in the greatest hatred and detestation by the English people in consequence. They were, by royal edict, prohibited from appearing at the coronation of Richard I.; but some of them ventured to do so notwithstanding: bringing with them considerable presents from their nation. They were grossly insulted, and put to flight. A rumour became current that the king had ordered their massacre, and a series of dreadful outrages followed. The people, moved by rapacity and zeal, broke into their houses, which they plundered, after having murdered their owners; and, where the Jews barricaded their houses, and defended themselves with vigour, the rabble set fire to the houses.”
*57 This terrible outrage extended to all the most important towns of England. “In York, 500 of them, who had retired into the castle for safety, and found themselves unable to defend the
place, murdered their own wives and children, threw the dead bodies over the walls upon the populace, and then setting fire to the houses, perished in the flames.”
In 1275, great dissatisfaction existed, on account of the very prevalent adulteration of the coinage, and, “as this crime required more art than the English of that age, who chiefly employed force and violence in their iniquities, were possessed of, the imputation fell upon the Jews.”
Edward, who entertained a strong prejudice against them, as a race, and whose zeal for Christianity was intensified by an expedition to the Holy Land, “let loose the whole rigour of his justice against that unhappy people.” In London alone, two hundred and eighty were hanged for this crime, besides those in other parts of England. Their property was confiscated, and half of it given to such as were willing to profess Christianity. Edward determined to clear the kingdom of the race, and seized the whole of their property for himself. No less than fifteen thousand of them were robbed and banished the kingdom.
Green describes the condition of these people, previous to their expulsion from the kingdom. “Statute after statute,” he says, “hemmed them in. They were forbidden to hold real property; to employ Christian servants; to move through the streets, without the coloured label of wool on their breast, which distinguished their race. They were prohibited from building new synagogues, or eating with Christians, or acting as physicians to them.”
In the midst of this reign of tyranny over a class, it is refreshing to find, so far back as the 17th century, a spirit of fairness—a spirit in fact, of true Liberalism, springing out of a juster conception of moral rights.
Green, again, speaking of Cromwell during the protectorate, says that he “remained true, throughout, to his cause
of religious liberty.” “The Jews (he adds) had been excluded from England since the reign of Edward I., and a prayer, which they now presented for leave to return, was refused by the Commission of merchants and divines, to whom the protector referred it for consideration. But the refusal was quietly passed over, and the connivance of Cromwell, in the settlement of a few Hebrews in London and Oxford, was so clearly understood that no one ventured to interfere with them. From this time forward, the Jews seem to have been accorded a moderate amount of fair and liberal treatment, and, as a consequence, they increased in number and influence. In 1753 ‘An act to permit persons, professing the Jewish religion, to be naturalised by parliament’ was introduced into the House of Lords, and was passed without much opposition. In the Commons, it was favourably regarded by the ministry; and it was further supported by petitions from manufacturers and merchants. The mayor, aldermen, and commons of the city of London, lodged a counter petition, on the grounds of ‘dishonour of the Christian religion,’ ‘danger to the constitution,’ and ‘prejudice to the trade of the kingdom.’ This was supported by a further petition from merchants and traders. Counsel were heard, and violent debates ensued. Extravagant arguments were used against the measure. It was ‘prognosticated that the Jews would multiply so much in number, engross such wealth, and acquire so great power and influence in Great Britain, that their persons would be reverenced, their customs imitated, and Judaism become the fashionable religion of the English.’ It was contended, further, that ‘such an act was directly flying in the face of the prophecy, which declares that the Jews shall be a scattered people, without country or fixed habitation, until they shall be converted from their infidelity, and gathered together in the land of their forefathers.'”
*62 The measure
excited a complete ferment throughout the nation, and created a renewed and intense feeling against the Jews; but the bill passed through both houses, and was duly assented to.
In the following session, however, public disfavor had been again worked up to a high pitch, and the ministry, who had supported the measure, were held up to the most universal reproach. Ministers became, now, as anxious to repeal, as they had formerly been to pass the measure, and its passage through the Commons was correspondingly rapid. Though somewhat more deliberate, the House of Lords finally sanctioned the bill, and it was duly assented to, so that the Liberalism of the preceding session was completely nullified. The feeling against the Jews, throughout the country, was now more bitter than before the Naturalisation Act; and an attempt was actually made to repeal some former acts favourable to them. Fortunately, there was sufficient sense of justice to prevent such a palpable piece of tyranny. The attempt therefore failed. In 1830, leave was asked, in Parliament, to bring in a bill to remove the civil disabilities under which the Jews laboured. The claim, then made on their behalf, was “simply that they should be allowed to enjoy all those rights which we may call fundamental to the condition of the British subject, without having to profess the religion of the State.”
*63 During the debate on this motion, Macaulay delivered his maiden speech. The bill was strongly opposed, and defeated by a majority of sixty-three votes. In 1833 the bill was again introduced. It passed the Commons, but was thrown out by the Lords, by a majority of fifty. On this occasion Macaulay again spoke, and there are one or two passages, in his speech, which are well worth quotation, as presenting a brief summary of the claims which the Jews had upon a people like the English, who prided themselves in their freedom, and, as a fact,
owed so much to the civilisation and intellectual progress of older nations.
“In the infancy of civilisation,” he said, “when our island was as savage as New Guinea; when letters and arts were still unknown to Athens; when scarcely a thatched hut stood on what was afterwards the site of Rome, this contemned people had their fenced cities, and cedar palaces; their splendid temples; their fleets of merchant ships; their schools of sacred learning; their great statesmen and soldiers, their natural philosophers, their historians, and their poets. What nation ever contended more manfully against overwhelming odds for its independence and religion? What nation, ever, in its last agonies, gave such signal proofs of what may be accomplished by a brave despair? And, if, in the course of many centuries, the oppressed descendants of warriors and sages have degenerated from the qualities of their fathers; if, while excluded from the blessings of law, and bowed down under the yoke of slavery, they have contracted some of the vices of outlaws and of slaves, shall we consider this as a matter of reproach to them? Shall we not, rather, consider it as a matter of shame and remorse to ourselves? Let us do justice to them. Let us open to them the door of the House of Commons. Let us open to them every career, in which ability and energy can be displayed.”
The resolution, upon which this speech was made, was ingeniously phrased, in order to appeal to the liberality of those who were to have the determination in their hands. It affirmed “that, in the opinion of this committee, it is expedient to remove all civil disabilities, at present existing, with respect to His Majesty’s subjects professing the Jewish religion, with the like exceptions, as are provided with respect to His Majesty’s subjects professing the Roman Catholic religion.” Seeing that the Catholic Emancipation
movement had been crowned with success, only four years before, this ingenious reference to that long oppressed, but so lately liberated people, was well calculated to arouse whatever spark of liberty there might be in the minds of those who were about to be appealed to, on the question which it involved; but, as I have shown, that spirit was wanting among the peers of England, who, consequently, threw out the measure. In the following year the same fate attended it.
In 1847, a new turn was given to the movement, by the election of Baron Lionel Rothschild, for the city of London; and in the following year the bill was again thrown out by the House of Lords; whereupon Baron Rothschild at once resigned his seat, and was re-elected. In 1850, Lord John Russell moved a resolution, affirming their eligibility, and it was carried by a large majority. Baron Rothschild had presented himself at the table of the House, and offered to take the required oaths. He went through with all the ceremony, excepting that portion, in which he was required to use the words, “On the true faith of a Christian,” which he thereupon omitted. He was, in consequence, forced to withdraw from the body of the House, and take up his seat in the gallery. Lord John Russell’s bill was passed by the Commons, but again rejected by the Lords. In 1851, another Jew (Mr. David Salomans), was elected. He, likewise, refused the part of the oaths referred to, and was forced to withdraw. But, subsequently, he re-entered the House, and took his seat among other members. Considerable excitement followed, and many prominent members of the House were really at a loss to know what ought to be done. Lord John Russell tested the question by moving that Mr. Salomans be ordered to withdraw. An irregular discussion followed, in which the latter spoke, and even took part in the divisions. Lord John Russell’s motion was carried. Mr. Salomans refused to withdraw. The serjeant-at-arms
approached, to take the usual course of physical removal, when Mr. Salomons, being touched upon the shoulder, withdrew. Two actions were brought against Mr. Salomons, and, after careful argument and consideration, the Court of Exchequer, by three to one, decided against him. The bill, for the removal of the disabilities, was again and again introduced, and thrown out by the Lords. In 1859, when the measure was again rejected by the same authority, the question was raised whether the Commons should not deal for itself with the question of admission of its members. This had the desired effect, for, on the 26th July, the bill, having passed both Houses, Baron Rothschild took his seat in the ordinary way, having been, under the provisions of the act, permitted to omit the words, “On the true faith of a Christian.”
As I have said, it is difficult to understand, even now,—so short a time since the passage of this measure—how the reform should have been so long delayed. The arguments, to a fairly constituted mind, are overwhelming. In fact, as Macaulay said, in 1833, “the strength of the case was a serious inconvenience to an advocate, for it was hardly possible to make a speech without wearying the audience by repeating truths which were universally admitted.”
Macaulay had occasion, in 1829, to write upon the subject of the “Civil Disabilities of the Jews,” and he dwelt with great force and effect upon the glaring anomalies involved in their exclusion from parliament. “Government exists,” he said, “for the purpose of keeping the peace; for the purpose of compelling us to settle our disputes by arbitration, instead of settling them by blows; for the purpose of compelling us to supply our wants by industry, instead of supplying them by rapine. This is the only operation for which the machinery of government is peculiarly adapted, the only operation which wise governments ever propose to themselves as their chief object. If
there is any class of people who are
not interested, or who do not think themselves interested, in the security of property and the maintenance of order, that class ought to have no share of the powers which exist for the purpose of securing property and maintaining order. But, why a man should be less fit to exercise those powers because he wears a beard; because he does not eat ham; because he goes to the synagogue on Saturday, instead of going to the church on Sundays we cannot conceive.”
*65 “But,” he continued, “it would be monstrous, say the persecutors, that Jews should legislate for a Christian community. This is a palpable misrepresentation. What is proposed is not that the Jews should legislate for a Christian community, but that a legislature composed of Christians and Jews should legislate for a community composed of Christians and Jews.”
Mr. John Bright, speaking upon the same subject at a much later date, (1853), uttered very similar sentiments, when he said, “What can be more marvellous than that any sane man should propose that doctrinal differences in religion should be made the test of citizenship and political rights. Doctrinal differences in religion, in all human probability, will last for many generations to come, and may, possibly, last so long as man shall inhabit this globe; but if you permit these differences to be the tests of citizenship, what is it but to admit into your system this fatal conclusion—that social and political differences, in all nations, can never be eradicated, but must be eternal?”
*67 The same speaker went on to remind the Commons that, up to that time even, the bill had been passed by them, and in each case rejected by the Lords
fourteen times, and he concluded by exhorting them in the following words:—”Let us then get rid of this question, which has been discussed and decided year after year; and, above all, let us see that the Commons House
of England is open to the Commons of England, and that every man, be his creed what it may, if elected by a constituency of his countrymen, may sit in this House, and vote on all matters which affect the legislation of this kingdom.”
*68 Let me close this sketch by adding that the opposition to the claims of the Jews came almost exclusively from the Tories, and especially from the Tories in the House of Lords; from the High churchmen, also from the bishops.”
The Trades-Union Act of 1871, which stands next in my category of modern Liberal measures, marks an epoch of great and memorable import to a very large section of Englishmen, viz., the whole of the working classes. This measure was undoubtedly of a truly Liberal character, as it had the simple and beneficial effect of conferring additional liberty upon a large class of subjects, who had previously suffered under the disadvantage of legislative restriction, for which no good defence or justification can, or could at the time, be urged. This act removed the last remnant of formidable legislative barriers, which had previously curtailed the liberty of workmen, in their endeavours to strengthen their position by combination and unanimity of action, in dealing with employers.
It will be necessary, hereafter, for me to distinguish between that part, or those features of trades-unionism which can, and those which cannot be justified upon the true principles of Liberalism. That part which I am now justifying, as having been legalised by the measure of 1871, I shall carefully define hereafter. It is not generally known that trades-unionism is really a very old institution, and that strikes and locks-out are by no means novel, as means of increasing the power of employers or employés respectively. So far back, in fact, as 1349, it was considered necessary to
introduce legislation for the purpose of dealing with the subject of labour.
The previous year had witnessed what was known as the “Black Death,” described by Green as “the most terrible plague the world ever witnessed.” In consequence of its ravages, “the organisation of labour was thrown out of gear.” As a result of the scarcity of hands, farms were abandoned, and cultivation became impossible. “The sheep and cattle,” says a contemporary, “strayed through the fields of corn, and there were none left who could drive them.” Wages suddenly rose, “harvests rotted on the ground; and fields were left untilled, not merely from scarcity of hands, but from the strife which now, for the first time, revealed itself between capital and labour.”
*70 “While the landowners of the country, and the wealthier craftsmen of the town, were threatened with ruin, by what seemed to their age the extravagant demands of the new labour class, the country itself was torn with riot and disorder. The outbreak of lawless self-indulgence, which followed everywhere in the wake of the plague, told especially upon the “landless men,” wandering in search of work, and for the first time masters of the labour market.”
A remedy for all this was attempted, by means of the Statute of Labourers of 1349. By this act, “every man or woman, of whatever condition, free or bond, able in body, and within the age of three score years…not having of his own, whereof he may live, nor land of his own about the tillage of which he may occupy himself, and not serving any other, shall be bound to serve the employer who shall require him to do so, and shall take only the wages which were accustomed to be taken in the neighbourhood, where he is bound to serve, two years before the plague began.” The statute further provided for punishment
by imprisonment. Shortly afterwards, (1350) further and even more stringent measures were adopted. The price of labour was fixed; the labourer was forbidden to leave his parish in search of better wages; and, if he did so, he was deemed a “fugitive, and subjected to punishment.” Green observes that it was impossible to enforce such a law, inasmuch as corn had risen to such a price, that a day’s labour on the old terms would not purchase sufficient for a man’s support. The original penalties were so insufficient for their intended purposes, that a “fugitive” was punished by being branded on the forehead with a hot iron. By means of legal ingenuity, many duly emancipated serfs were successfully claimed to still belong to the class from which they had been regarded as having been freed. “In the towns, where the system of forced labour was applied, with even more rigour than in the country, strikes and combinations became frequent among the lower craftsmen.” A lawless spirit began to show itself among the class affected by these restrictions on personal liberty; and, from this time downwards, the working classes, and those in authority——whether parliament or the monarch—have carried on a series of reprisals in the attempt to, on the one hand regulate, on the other hand resist the regulation of such matters as rates of wages, hours of labour, etc.
In 1362, for instance, after a violent storm, when much damage was done to roofs, a royal order was issued that neither the price for materials for roofing, nor the wages of tilers should be increased in consequence. This was an attempt to interfere with the free play of supply and demand in labour and material, which had been suddenly disturbed by the damage mentioned. In the following year, in consequence of the continued rise of wages, and the increased prosperity of the peasant population, an act was passed admonishing agricultural labourers generally not to eat or drink “excessively,” or to wear any material in their
clothes except “blanket and russet wool of twelvepence.” At the same time domestic servants were declared entitled to no more than one meal a day of flesh and fish, and were required to content themselves, for the remainder, with “milk, butter, cheese, and other such victuals.” This attempted interference touched even more near home in the direction of personal liberty, and of course met with some resistance. Still wages rose. In 1383 a proclamation was issued from the City authorities of London, prohibiting all “congregations, covins, and conspiracies of workmen.” The punishments were very severe, but, notwithstanding, the combinations continued to be maintained.
In the beginning of the sixteenth century, Sir Thomas Moore published his “Utopia,” and he dealt, at considerable length, with the hardships of the working classes. He advocated the “nine-hours'” system, with a view to the intellectual improvement of the workmen.
In 1548, an act of parliament was passed, by which any man who refused to work at statute prices, could be branded “V” for vagabond, and reduced to a condition of slavery for two years; and, if he attempted to escape, he could be branded “S,” by which he became a slave for life. If he further objected, he was hanged. The preamble of the act in question evidences the existence, even then, of combinations of workmen, and of their being regarded as illegal and injurious to commerce; for it recites that artificers, handicraftsmen and labourers have made confederacies and promises, and have sworn mutual oaths, not only that they should not meddle with one another’s work, and perform and finish what another had begun; but also to constitute and appoint how much they shall do in a day, and what hours and times they shall work,
contrary to the laws and statutes of this realm, and to the
great impoveriskment of his Majesty’s subjects.” Under this act, a third conviction resulted in the prisoner’s ear being cut off. Down to the year 1812, the
justices had the power to fix the rates of wages for certain classes of workmen; but the exercise of the power fell into disuse, sometimes for long periods, and was only revived when the wages had risen to a level which attracted notice, and appeared to require regulation. As affecting weavers’ wages, no interference was attempted up to 1720, when an effort was made to re-assert the almost forgotten prerogative. The attempt was not successful, but was again made in 1745. In 1768, an act was passed, by which the hours of labour for London journeymen tailors were fixed at “6 a.m. to 7 p.m.” with an allowance of one hour for meals. By the same act, the wages of cloth-workers were fixed and an employer who engaged a workman, living more than five miles from London, was liable to a fine of £500. The miners of Scotland, at this time, were subjected to great oppression, in consequence of the statutory provisions affecting them. Down to so late a time as 1779, that class were not at liberty to come up out of a pit, unless with the consent of their master; and it is said that they were actually sold as part of the property. If they attempted to obtain work at another mine, they could be taken, brought back, and flogged as thieves, for having robbed him of their labour. All their hardships and oppressions naturally tended to nourish the growth of combination, which was carried on, notwithstanding the many attempts at repression. Up to the same date which I have just mentioned, a workman could not travel out of his own district in search of work. So great continued to be the fear of the law, as affecting the members of trade organisations, that, as late as 1810, a society of ironfounders held their meetings at night, “on the water and moors on the highlands of the Midland counties;” and all the papers connected with the association were kept buried in the peat.
Down to the year 1824, with the exception of a certain modification in 1813, the act of Elizabeth remained in force,
by which the acceptance of wages was rendered compulsory, and the hours and wages were definitely fixed; and down to the year 1825, the mere combination of workmen was absolutely illegal. Previous to 1871, the date of the measure with which we are more particularly concerned, trades unions were, in the eye of the law, illegal, and, as a consequence, no contract made by such an organisation could be enforced, or made the groundwork of a prosecution.
In 1869, a secretary of a trade’s association misappropriated a large sum of money, and was accordingly prosecuted. The charge was, however, dismissed, on the ground that the society was established for illegal purposes. Inasmuch as combinations do exist, and have nearly always existed among merchants and others, for the purpose of securing better terms in the disposal of their particular commodities, it is obviously unfair and inequitable, that those who have their labour to dispose of should not be allowed the same right of combination. Yet, such was the case; for, whereas, if a servant of such a merchant had appropriated a sum of money, he could be duly prosecuted for the offence, while the servant or secretary of a trades union could not be so prosecuted. This was obviously unjust, and constituted a denial of the “equal opportunities,” or the “equality in the eye of the law” to which every citizen is entitled.
It was to remedy this unjust state of things that the act of 1871, was passed. By it, workmen were allowed the liberty to act in unison in matters of the hours of labour, or the rates of pay; and its concessions, amount to nothing more nor less than what every other class of citizen was enjoying. The act provides that “the purposes of any trades union shall not, by reason merely that they are in restraint of trade, be deemed to be unlawful,” (sec. 2) that “the purposes of any trades union shall not, by reason merely that they are in restraint of trade, be unlawful, so as to render
void or voidable any agreement or trust.” The same act contains many provisions regarding the registration of trades unions. The practical effect of the act was simply to permit men to exercise their civil liberty, by accumulating their funds for combined purposes, without being thereby deprived of the protection of the law, in the event of such funds being criminally appropriated by any officer happening to have it under his custody.
Shortly described, this measure had for its object the bestowal of more liberty and more equal opportunities for the perfecting of trades-unionism—an institution perfectly legal in itself, though frequently used for purposes just as tyrannical as the very laws which, for centuries, retarded its own growth and development.
The Ballot Act of 1872, which should be classed among the most important of modern Liberal measures, finally disposed of a question, which had, with more or less frequency, and with greater or less intensity, occupied and agitated the public mind for upwards of a century and a half. This feature of the movement is not generally known. The author of “The Radical Party in Parliament,” writing of the year 1778, says: “At a meeting on the 22nd March, with Fox in the chair, and Burke, Sheridan, and Beckford present, we come upon the
first reference to the ballot.” The resolution which contained that reference ran as follows:—”That the obtaining of a law for taking the suffrages of the people, in such a mode as to prevent both expense in elections, and the operation of undue influence therein, is necessary towards the
freedom of parliament.”
This is, however, not the first reference to that subject; for Hallam, in a note to his “Constitutional History,” mentions the publication, in 1705, of a tract, entitled “A Patriot’s Proposal to the People of England,” which consists of a recommendation of election by ballot.
*73 The same writer
also mentions the introduction into the Commons of a bill “for voting by ballot,” in 1710.
Notwithstanding that Lord John Russell once said that “secret voting was opposed to the open and free constitution of the country,”
*74 a moment’s reflection will convince any one that, as the resolution of the Westminster committee of 1778, discloses, the ballot was “necessary towards the freedom of parliament.” The Ballot Act simply gave voters the liberty to vote secretly, if they thought it desirable; but by no means compelled them to maintain secrecy, afterwards, as to how they had voted. Previous to the act, a voter possessed less freedom than after its passage, inasmuch as he had not the power to vote secretly if he wished. The effect of the act was to leave it optional with a voter whether he kept as a secret, or made it known, how he expressed himself at the poll. This option was, too, a necessary liberty, inasmuch as thousands of voters have been in the past, and are, in the present, liable to intimidation by employers, landlords, creditors, and others; and, if this privilege, or rather liberty, to express a choice at the poll, were not possessed by all citizens, much of the freedom of opinion on matters political which now exists would be withheld from those who at present possess it.
The employer, the landlord, and the creditor were able to record their votes without fear of suffering disadvantage, if it happened to be contrary to the wishes of others; but the employé, the tenant, and the debtor were frequently compelled to choose the alternative of stultifying themselves at the poll, or incurring the displeasure, perhaps the serious enmity of others, on whom they were dependent, by voting “contrary to orders.”
The ballot then conferred freedom on a class who did not previously possess it, without any corresponding curtailment of liberty in regard to any other class. This is true
Liberalism; and, therefore, such an institution could not have been “opposed to the open and free constitution of the country.” Cobden said “it would do much to put an end to that corruption in the boroughs, and subserviency in the counties, which we have now to deplore.”
When Burke wrote his “Reflections on the French Revolution,” in 1790, he took a very jaundiced view of society, to which we may attribute the gloomy prognostication that “all contrivances by ballot were vain and childish, to prevent a discovery of inclinations.” He was certainly wrong; for, nowadays, unless a man is weak enough to lose control of his tongue, he may carry to the grave with him the secret as to how he voted at an election; and, if he finds it necessary to do so, he may even “prevent a discovery of his inclinations.” When Burke wrote this, however, he was despondent of society, which had been subjected to so complete an upheaval in France. Many of his most cherished Liberal opinions and theories, concerning it, had appeared to be for ever doomed to disappointment, by that great revolution; and, he was, in consequence, rendered permanently sceptical as to the popular judgment.
Mr. Bright, in one of his speeches, mentions that John Stuart Mill, even, had considerable scruples on the question of the ballot, though he seems to have been curious to see it tried.
*75 We are not without high authority as to the intimidation to which voters were subjected, previous to the passing of this liberal measure. Sir Erskine May says: “The Ballot Act of 1872, by introducing secret voting, struck at the influence of patrons and employers over the independence of electors.”
It was O’Connell who asked for leave in the former year to introduce a bill to establish triennial parliaments, universal suffrage, and vote by ballot; and, in 1832, Lord Durham did his utmost to have a provision, dealing with the subject of voting by ballot, introduced into the Reform Bill.
*77 In fact, according to Mrs. Grote,
*78 it was actually inserted in the original draft of that measure, though subsequently omitted. The same writer informs us that, as a principle, it had always formed a “leading article of the Radical faith.”
In 1833, George Grote himself undertook to introduce the question in the ensuing session of Parliament. The decision appears to have arisen out of a meeting between a number of distinguished men, including Joseph Hume, John Romilly, Prescott the historian, Grote himself, and the elder Mill. Grote is said to have introduced the subject in a speech, which “not only conferred honour on the speaker, but strengthened the party to which he was attached.”
*79 The division resulted in there being 134 for the motion, and 239 against the motion. From this time forward, Grote made his motion on the subject annually. In 1837, 155 members voted for the motion and 267 against it, and out of the latter number, 200 of the votes were given by Tories. In 1838 Lord John Russell declared himself opposed to the ballot, and prominent Radicals protested against such an expression of opinion. In 1839 the annual motion was affirmed by 217 votes as against 335, and Macaulay’s name was included in the former number. In 1848 the same resolution was included in a larger and more comprehensive one, dealing with extension of suffrage and triennial parliaments; and it did not therefore afford a test as to the growth of feeling on the subject. In 1849 the matter was taken in hand by Mr. H. Berkely, who repeated it year by year until
his name became as inseparably connected with it as that of Sir Wilfred Lawson with the subject of Local Option. For some years the divisions were very small, and show that the interest taken in the motion was by no means intense; but, in 1855, the proportion was much more favourable, there being 157 for and 194 only against the motion. In 1858 Mr. John Bright, speaking upon the subject of the ballot, said: “The argument has been already exhausted for twenty years,” and, a few days later, he said, in speaking of the large class of people interested in Reform: “I believe the ballot alone will give them the power of exercising the franchise, in accordance with their own convictions.”
*80 In the same speech, he added, “I cannot comprehend why any man should oppose the ballot. I can understand its importance being exaggerated, but I cannot understand the man who thinks it would be likely to inflict injury upon the country…. The educated man, the intellectual man, the benevolent man, the man of religious and saintly life, would continue to exercise a most beneficent influence, which the ballot, I believe, would not in the slightest degree impair; but the influence of the landlord, of the creditor, of the customer—the influence of the strong and unscrupulous mind over the feeble and the fearful—that influence would be as effectually excluded, as I believe it could be, by any human contrivance whatsoever.”
Mr. Bright then speaks of the “moral aspect” of the question. “How,” he says, “would canvassing be conducted under the ballot? I do not know how you conduct the canvassing of electors in this great city, but I will tell you how it is managed in small and moderate boroughs in England. The candidate goes to see as many electors as possible. In calling on any particular elector, the canvassers endeavour to find out his employer, his landlord, some one
who has lent him money, or done a kindness to some of his friends, or who has some influence over him; and half-a-dozen meet together, and though there may be nothing said, the elector knows very well there is somebody in that small number who has done him a benefit for which he expects a return: somebody who has power over him, and who expects to be obliged; and while the object is professedly a canvass, it is little better than a demonstration of force and tyranny. Every man who, for want of the ballot, votes contrary o his convictions, is a demoralised and degraded man…. There is no portion—I can assure this meeting there is not one of the propositions for Reform that have been submitted to the public—there is no other portion that is received with such unanimity, such enthusiasm of resolution, throughout all the meetings in England, as the proposition that the ballot shall form a portion of the coming Reform.”
In 1860, the division on the ballot was very close, though it is evident, from the smallness of the numbers, that the amount of interest taken in the matter was very slight. Ninety-nine votes were recorded for, and 102 against the motion. In subsequent years, down to 1866, the divisions were not so favourable.
In the same year we find Mr. Bright again mentioning the subject, in a speech upon Ireland. “The ballot,” he said, “is almost universal in the United States. It is almost universal in the colonies, at any rate in the Australian colonies; it is almost universal on the continent of Europe; and, in the new parliament of North Germany, which is about soon to be assembled, every man of twenty-five years of age is to be allowed to vote, and to vote by ballot. There is,” he adds, “no other people in the world that considers that it has a fair representative system, unless it has the ballot.”
*82 A remarkable fact, in connection with the ballot, is that John
Stuart Mill, who had begun by advocating it, subsequently became an opponent of it, on the ground that it was unmanly to conceal one’s vote,
*83 and, strange to say, in the very speech in which he condemned it, he quoted an opinion of Edmund Burke, which appears to tell completely against the conclusion which he was actually founding upon it. The sentence was to the effect that “the system which lays its foundations in rare and heroic virtues will be sure to have its superstructure in the basest profligacy and corruption.”
In 1871-72, a change was taking place in public feeling upon the subject of the ballot. “The gross and growing profligacy and violence, which disgraced every election, began to make men feel that something must be done to get rid of such hideous abuses.”
*84 “The objection to the open vote was that, in a vast number of instances, the elector could not safely vote according to his conscience and his convictions. If he was a tenant, he was in terror of his landlord; if he was a workman, he was afraid of his employer; if he was a small shopkeeper in a country town, he was in dread of offending some wealthy customer; if he was a timid man, he shrank from exposing himself to the violence of the mob. In many cases, a man giving a conscientious vote would have had to do so with the certainty that he was bringing ruin upon himself and his family. In Ireland, the conflicting power of the landlord, and of the crowd, made the vote a mere sham. A man in many places dared not vote, but as the landlord bade him. Sometimes, when he thought to secure his safety by pleasing the landlord, he ran serious risk by offending the crowd who supported the popular candidate. Voters were dragged to the poll, like slaves or prisoners, by the landlord and his agents.”
In 1869, a committee had been appointed to enquire into the method and manner of conducting elections, and that
committee had reported in favour of the principle of the ballot. In 1872 the Ballot Act was, after a good deal of hesitation on the part of the House of Commons, passed. Having been affirmed on the third reading by 276 votes against 218, the measure was sent to the Lords; and, inasmuch as they had rejected a similar measure in the preceding session, they made several amendments in the bill, the principal one being that which rendered the ballot optional. This modification was resisted on the motion of Mr. Forster, but supported by Lord Beaconsfield, (then Mr. Disraeli) who characterised the system as a new-fangled experiment, which he considered of a degrading character, and no better, as an expedient against corruption, than the Riot Act was against the tending to riot.
*86 Ultimately, a compromise was arrived at between the two Houses—the Commons admitting the right of scrutiny, on demand by a defeated candidate, and accepting the limitation of the operation of the act to 1880: the “optional” feature being of course eliminated. The bill then passed. The 1874 election which followed, is said to have been “one of the most quiet and most orderly ever known,” and the same may be said of that of 1880.
The Ballot Act has by no means rendered corruption a thing of the past; but it is acknowledged to have almost completely prevented intimidation being exercised over voters.
Let me now, before closing this chapter, briefly glance back over the several Liberal measures dealt with, in order to show how one and all of them conform to the principle we have laid down as the true foundation of that school of politics, viz., the conferring of “equal liberties” by the removal of class privileges, which have grown up by prescription, or been actually conferred by the action of parliament. I have, in the opening of this volume, used, as a sort of text for my subject, an admirable, and, at the same time a most scientific
definition of “liberalism,” by Mr. Henry Broadhurst. I shall deal with it at greater length in a subsequent chapter; but shall also quote it here, in order that I may, by the light it affords, criticise the several Liberal measures dealt with in the present chapter.
“Liberalism,” says Mr. Broadhurst, “does not seek to make all men equal—nothing can do that. But its object is to remove all obstacles erected by men, which prevent all having
The affirmative part of this definition can be further abbreviated into “the securing, to all, equal opportunities.” But, it is necessary to observe that “Liberalism does not seek to make all men equal,” that is to say, that, while aiming at the bestowal of
equal opportunities, it does not attempt to produce an uniformity of wealth, or an equality in social conditions; but aims merely at securing “equal opportunities,” such as may result from the removal of “obstacles of human origin.” Mr. Joseph Cowen, in his admirable speech upon “Principles,” says much the same thing. “The first of Liberal principles is equality. I do not mean equality of social condition. That is a speculative chimera which can never be realised…. If they were made equal to-day, they would be unequal to-morrow. I mean
equality of opportunity—a clear and equal course, and victory to the wisest and the best.”
*88 We may from these two definitions of Liberalism, offered by prominent Liberals of the most pronounced type, draw the conclusion that the object of Liberalism is to secure “equality of opportunity” to all men; and from this it follows that any attempt to approximate to a more extended equality, such as equality of wealth, or of social conditions, would involve a departure from true Liberalism, inasmuch as it would at once have the effect of rendering the opportunities
unequal. Men will always be unequal in wealth, in social position, and even in the extent
of happiness which falls to their lot, so long as they are born with different abilities, among different surroundings, and with different constitutions and susceptibilities. To attempt to equalise them with regard to the natural gifts which they possess would be to attempt an impossibility; to attempt to equalise their surroundings would be similarly impracticable; and, at the same time, it would be open to the objection that it was an attempt to make men equal in “social conditions.” To attempt to equalise the constitution or susceptibilities of men would be ridiculous. So that one is brought back to the conclusion that all “Liberalism” can do is to secure to every man “equal
opportunities” for the exercise of whatever faculties he may possess: unrestricted by any actual obstacle or hindrance, which nature has not herself imposed. When that is secured, victory must be allowed, as Mr. Cowen says, to go to “the wisest and the best.”
An examination of the various instances of Liberalism, which I have dealt with in this and the preceding chapter, will show that they have all conformed to this definition, and, therefore, come correctly under the category of Liberal legislation, even though that party-title was not known when many of them were made part of the constitution under which we live. It will be found that this expression “equal opportunities” is almost identical with the older and more traditional word “liberties.”
De Lolme, in his treatise on the British constitution, says “Private liberty, according to the division of the English lawyers, consists, first, of the right of
property, that is of the right of enjoying exclusively the gifts of fortune, and all the various fruits of one’s industry; secondly, of the right of
personal security; thirdly, of the
locomotive faculty: taking the word Liberty in its more confined sense. Each of these” continues that writer, “is inherent in the person of every Englishman.” In my chapter entitled “Historic Liberalism,” I have sufficiently shown how each of the events, therein dealt
with, involved the principle of “liberty,” thus defined. I shall now show how each of those reforms coming under the category of “Modern Liberalism” does likewise, and conforms also to the “equal opportunities” principle.
The Reform Bill of 1832, produced a closer approximation to that “equality of opportunity” which consists in possessing, as fully as one’s fellow-men, the right to a voice in the election of the national legislature, and in the consequent management of the public funds in which every citizen is interested. If, as Edmund Burke has said, a citizen’s vote is his shield against the oppression of power, then, it is essential to his possessing equal opportunities, that he should have that shield in his possession.
The Anti-Slavery movement certainly needs no apology; for, so long as a man was deprived of personal freedom, he was deprived of his equal opportunites by reason of “obstacles” of the most distinctly “human origin.” The Anti-Slavery movement of 1833, was, therefore, one of the most Liberal measures ever proposed.
The Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, was a most unmistakably liberal piece of legislation. Previous to its passing, the great majority of the English people were prohibited, by legislation, from purchasing their bread where they chose, and where they could buy it at the cheapest price. The Corn Laws, which were in existence, practically imposed a penalty on all who purchased corn abroad, by requiring a duty to be paid. The effect of those laws was to give the landowners of England an artificial price for the produce of their land, which they could not otherwise have obtained: thus affording to them opportunities which the legislature could not secure for all citizens equally. The Repeal Act removed this inequality of opportunity, without in any way trespassing upon the rights of others.
Regarding the Chartist movement a distinction must be observed. As I have pointed out, the Charter failed because
it contained erroneous and revolutionary proposals. Those which have since been made the law of England, were truly liberal, inasmuch as they clearly conform to the principle of “equal opportunities.” The ballot simply gave to the poor and dependent man the right to record his vote without fear of punishment. The rich and powerful citizen enjoyed that privilege; and the ballot, as a principle, sought only that all should be similarly free.
The desire that the pecuniary qualification for the House of Commons should be removed was equally liberal. The necessity for a money qualification was an “obstacle” of “human origin,” which prevented many men from enjoying the privilege of entering parliament if elected. The removal of such an obstacle was therefore in strict accordance with true Liberal principles.
injure the working classes.