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to hang over the precipice of disunion, to see whether, with my short sight, I can fathom the depth of the abyss below; nor could I regard him as a safe counsellor in the affairs of this government, whose thoughts should be mainly bent on considering, not how the Union should 5 be best preserved, but how tolerable might be the condition of the people when it should be broken up and destroyed. While the Union lasts, we have high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us,- for us and our children. Beyond that, I seek not to penetrate the 10 veil. God grant that, in my day, at least, that curtain may not rise! God grant that on my
vision never may be opened what lies behind! When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored 15 fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the Republic, now known and hon- 20 ored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured ; bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as “ What is all this worth ?" nor those other words of 25 delusion and folly, “ Liberty first, and Union afterwards;” but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every 30 true American heart, - Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable !
ON THE REFORM BILL; HOUSE OF COMMONS, MARCH 2, 1831.
It is a circumstance, Sir, of happy augury for the motion before the House, that almost all those who have opposed it have declared themselves hostile on principle to Parliamentary Reform. Two members, I think, have 5 confessed that, though they disapprove of the plan now
submitted to us, they are forced to admit the necessity of a change in the representative system.
Yet even those gentlemen have used, as far as I have observed, no
arguments which would not apply as strongly to the most 10 moderate change as to that which has been proposed by
His Majesty's Government. I say, Sir, that I consider this as a circumstance of happy augury. For what I feared was, not the opposition of those who are averse
to all reform, but the disunion of reformers. I knew 15 that, during three months, every reformer had been
employed in conjecturing what the plan of the Government would be. I knew that every reformer had imagined in his own mind a scheme differing, doubtless, in
some points from that which my noble friend, the Pay20 master of the Forces, has developed. I felt, therefore,
great apprehension that one person would be dissatisfied with one part of the bill, that another person would be
dissatisfied with another part, and that thus our whole strength would be wasted in internal dissensions. That apprehension is now at an end. I have seen with delight the perfect concord which prevails among all who deserve the name of reformers in this House; and I trust that I 5 may
consider it as an omen of the concord which will prevail among reformers throughout the country. I will not, Sir, at present express any opinion as to the details of the bill; but, having during the last twenty-four hours given the most diligent consideration to its general prin- 10 ciples, 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 reconciling and knitting together of all the orders of 15 the State.
The honorable Baronet who has just sat down, has told us that the Ministers have attempted to unite two inconsistent principles in one abortive measure. Those were his very words. He thinks, if I understand him 20 rightly, that we ought either to leave the representative system such as it is, or to make it perfectly symmetrical. I think, Sir, that the Ministers would have acted unwisely if they had taken either course. Their principle is plain, rational, and consistent. It is this, to admit the 25 middle class to a large and direct share in the representation, without any violent shock to the institutions of our country. I understand those cheers; but surely the gentlemen who utter them will allow that the change which will be made in our institutions by this bill is far 30 less violent than that which, according to the honorable Baronet, ought to be made if we make any reform at all. I praise the Ministers for not attempting, at the present time, to make the representation uniform. I praise them for not effacing the old distinction between 35 the towns and the counties, and for not assigning members to districts, according to the American practice, by the Rule of Three. The Government has, in my opinion,
done all that was necessary for the removal of a great 5 practical evil, and no more than was necessary.
I consider this, Sir, as a practical question. I rest my opinion on no general theory of government. I distrust all general theories of government. I will not positively
say, that there is any form of polity which may not, in 10 some conceivable circumstances, be the best possible. I
believe that there are societies in which every man may safely be admitted to vote. Gentlemen may cheer, but such is my opinion. I say, Sir, that there are countries
in which the condition of the laboring classes is such 15 that they may safely be entrusted with the right of
electing members of the Legislature. If the laborers of England were in that state in which I, from my soul, wish to see them; if employment were always plentiful, wages
always high, food always cheap; if a large family were 20 considered not as an encumbrance but as a blessing; the
principal objections to universal suffrage would, I think, be removed. Universal suffrage exists in the United States without producing any very frightful consequences;
and I do not believe that the people of those States, or of 25 any part of the world, are in any good quality naturally
superior to our own countrymen. But, unhappily, the laboring classes in England, and in all old countries, are occasionally in a state of great distress. Some of the
causes of this distress are, I fear, beyond the control of 30 the Government. We know what effect distress pro
duces, even on people more intelligent than the great body of the laboring classes can possibly be. We know that it makes even wise men irritable, unreasonable,
credulous, eager for immediate relief, heedless of remote 35 consequences. There is no quackery in medicine, religion, or politics, which may not impose even on a powerful mind, when that mind has been disordered by pain or fear. It is therefore no reflection on the poorer class of Englishmen, who are not, and who cannot in the nature of things be, highly educated, to say that distress pro- 5 duces on them its natural effects, those effects which it would produce on the Americans, or on any other people; that it blinds their judgment, that it inflames their passions, that it makes them prone to believe those who flatter them, and to distrust those who would serve them. 10 For the sake, therefore, of the whole society, for the sake of the laboring classes themselves, I hold it to be clearly expedient that, in a country like this, the right of suffrage should depend on a pecuniary qualification.
But, Sir, every argument which would induce me to 15 oppose universal suffrage induces me to support the plan which is now before us. I am opposed to universal suffrage, because I think that it would produce a destructive revolution. I support this plan, because I am sure that it is our best security against a revolution. 20 The noble Paymaster of the Forces hinted, delicately indeed and remotely, at this subject. He spoke of the danger of disappointing the expectations of the nation; and for this he was charged with threatening the House. Sir, in the year 1817, the late Lord Londonderry pro- 25 posed a suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. On that occasion he told the House that, unless the measures which he recommended were adopted, the public peace could not be preserved. Was he accused of threatening the House? Again, in the year 1819, he proposed the 30 laws known by the name of the Six Acts. He then told the House that, unless the executive power were reinforced, all the institutions of the country would be overturned by popular violence. Was he then accused of threatening the House ? Will any gentleman say that 35