Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

1839.

............ 24,443 1840 ..

27,187 1841 .... ... 27,760 1842 ............ 31,309

1843 ............ 29,591 * The variation is not important during the years 1837, '38, and '39. In the last-mentioned year the pressure of famine rapidly increased, and from that period to 1842 the number of commitments increased from 24,443 to 31,309, whilst in 1843, when the price of food had considerably fallen, the commitments also fell to 29,591.

* The tables of the Registrar-General also tell their tale of woe in the muster-roll of evidence against the laws which decree starvation. We have before us the returns of the number of deaths in nine divisions of the north-western district for the years 1840 and 1843; they are as follows:

1840.

1843. Bolton....... 2,900 .... 2,576 Bury

2,170 ... 1,832 Rochdale....

1,688 .... 1,531
Preston ..

2,637 .... 1,938
Blackburn .. 2,140 2,031
Wigan....... 2,144 .... 1,832
Prescott ...... 1,155 .... 920
Manchester .... 6,489 .... 6,283
Ashton ..... ... 4,873.... 4,391

....

26,196 23,334 Showing a diminution of not less than 2,862 deaths during the cheap year 1843, as compared with the dear year in 1840, in nine districts out of 115 to which the report refers.

The 2,862 human beings whose removal from life is noted in the return for 1840, and is in excess of the number who died in 1843, were of the poor, may we not say of the poorest of our population.

* Have the working classes of this country, then, no interest in the repeal of the Corn Law ? Deficient harvests would not have brought famine if the corn law had not stood in the path. Our artisans were producing goods of almost every kind; the world begged that they might buy them from us and sell us food in exchange ; but our breadtaxing lords and squires interposed, lest if the people were thus fed, rents should fall. But the working men and their families suffered. From their ranks the corn law picked its victims : they loaded the emigrant ship-they stood in the felon's dock-they were consigned prematurely to the grave! The friend of the corn law is the enemy of the artisan, and of every man who lives by the reward of his toil. The League is the foe of the corn law, and every blow which tends to break down this grievous usurpation of the landowners, by so much contributes to give independence, and comfort, and happiness to the labourer.'

But to pass on to our more immediate object. The League tells us what the free traders have been doing while their adversaries were shouting mutual congratulations on the alleged

failure of the confederacy. For ten weeks their forces were withdrawn from the public parade ground, to fight the battle of free trade at close quarters with the enemy in the registration courts. Election contests there were none; aggregate meetings in Covent Garden Theatre or in the Free Trade Hall had been suspended. There were no great field days; but recruiting was most successful and drilling most efficient, and the effective strength was never greater or more prepared to occupy advantageous positions in a fair field so soon as a general election shall come. The bitterest antagonists of the League now confess that it never was more powerful or its operations more to be dreaded. In a hundred and forty boroughs it has exercised a healthful and constitutional influence; suggesting, counselling, and even directing registration procedure : and in the greater number has added not only to the numerical strength of free-trade voters, but to the probability of parliamentary success when the trial of strength shall come. It was wise to render, as far as possible, their electoral power im

pregnable in the county which may be called their own, and the , result is that out of twenty-six members returned by the Duchy

of Lancaster, twenty-one are certain to be free traders at the next election. Lancaster and Clitheroe, where the Tory Chairman of Ways and Means and a prospective President for a'would but dare not be' free trade Tory Board of Trade, have their seats, are in a position to dictate terms of surrender from such representatives. Blackburn and Warrington have also retrieved their strength. And even in Liverpool the anti-monopolists have registered this season 452 more than their opponents. The Southern Division is no longer at the beck of Lord Francis Egerton or of a monopolist squirearchy; 1751 added to the previous number of free traders on the poll will secure the triumph of the good cause at the next contest. The Northern Division is in process of preparation and will assuredly follow.

They are not now afraid to proclaim what their antagonists say and do; neither do they hesitate to avow their own policy. They aim not at success by any coup d'etat : the conviction of the public mind and the hearty assent of enlightened citizens is deemed essential to permanent triumph. Their progress among the people they believe to be all but complete; reason and conviction are with them, principle and action will soon follow. When the masses have the power, and are free to deliberate, they do not long hesitate between monopoly and free trade. The common sense admissions of Sir James Graham, and the abstract rectitude of free trade principle of Sir R. Peel, are not more significant and cheering than is the blunt and frank acknowledgment of Lord Londonderry, who is reported to have recently told his tenantry, 'He did not understand how any minister

the previous the goods of prepło pro

who thought right to introduce into his policy free trade at all— he did know how that minister could make corn an exception. They had seen during the last twenty years many changes— they had seen the minister by the force of circumstances, by the pressure from without—obliged to follow out a course of policy which was contrary to his mind to pursue; and having seen that he could not sit down without impressing on them that similar things might take place with regard to the Corn Laws. He wished them to bear in mind that when every thing else was free, they could not expect that corn alone would be an exception.’ When the light of such truths breaks in upon nobles, proverbially obtuse and benighted by obsolete prejudices, the advocates of free trade may well hope that the dawn of a triumphant day is breaking; when the liberty of commerce, and the abolition of the Corn Laws will be realised. From the peer to the peasant, from the hereditary senator to the newly enfranchised elector, or those qualified to become such, opinion, confirmed by religion and experience, will find an echo and response: all that remains is to give them organization in the community and due representation in the legislature. This then is the object of the League's present movements. The Council of the League contains many strenuous promoters of other liberal principles, and some who are Complete Suffragists in the fullest sense of the term. But they do not expect that the mere outcry of unenfranchised millions will prevail. The presentation of petitions has already been tried, and their prayers signed by three millions, have been contemptuously rejected. Though lords fear the issue as a class, they will not aid the cause; and a free constituency has not been realised strong enough to extract from them the concession. The sovereign of Great Britain is not a despot; and the will of our Queen is under the control of her Cabinet. She cannot, if she would, come to the delivery of her suffering people, till they can help themselves. The policy of the League is, therefore, to extend the constituency, to encrease their parliamentary strength. Three years ago they commenced this procedure. They deprecate faggot votes, and can place no reliance on the suffrage of tenants-at-will. They imagine that their antagonists have split farm votes and registered their menials to nearly the ultimate verge of their power; and they step forward to persuade the middle classes and better-paid workmen to purchase county qualifications. The strength of trade and of the League resides in boroughs—the strength of monopoly is in an oligarchy of 30,000 landlords. The advocates of free trade were reproached with the adverse strength of the counties, and taunted to try the agricultural districts, where they were assured they would not find, and could not secure a hearing. They accepted the challenge, made the trial, and farmers and labourers who were sent to disturb, remained to hear and to be convinced. The county free trade meetings and triumphs of Messrs. Cobden and Bright shewed the propriety of attending to the county registrations. Appearances favoured the hope of success in South Lancashire; and the encreased strength which was realised was a fresh encouragement to watch and work the electoral registers; by which this division of the county is now secured for free trade. An impulse has thus been given, and, to make assurance doubly sure, the acquisition of bona fide forty-shillings freeholders is sought to counterbalance tenant-at-will votes. Other counties have eagerly followed the example, and North Lancashire, North Cheshire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, Middlesex, &c. have now a rational prospect of ranking as the homes of free men. The constituencies of other parts may be stimulated to the like efforts; and a fresh infusion of youthful energies may yet help to redeem the country from a vassalage, which is derogatory to freemen and injurious to the empire.

The measure advocated by the League' is of such practical importance, and so capable of being employed as a precedent, that we deem it expedient to dwell a little more at large upon its details and the reasons for its adoption. We shall not anticipate that any objections to the scheme are gravely entertained by our readers. Indeed we seriously apprehend that the country and the cause of freedom and nonconformity are in such a condition, as to suggest the propriety of a similar course to the better paid operatives and middle classes, of dissenters and reformers. The Church will never be dissevered from the State, or the franchise be extended to the people, but by a decree of the senate; and the senate will never be or do anything but as the people bring their influence to bear upon it. The assumption is not unwarrantable that dissenting congregations are composed of the intelligent, moderately wealthy, or industrious and better paid mechanics and tradesmen. They ought to be, and we think generally are, the most independent members of society. There are in England and Wales four thousand Independent and Baptist congregations; besides, perhaps, five thousand others belonging to the different sections of the Methodist body. The adult members of these congregations are probably as numerous as the whole electoral body of England.—How few of them are, and how many of them ought to be, enfranchised, would be an interesting statistical question—but it would be more to our present purpose could we demonstrate how many might, by the forty-shillings freehold qualification, be placed upon the county register. That it would be altogether uncanonical for ministers

and deacons to look into this subject, and most inexpedient for them in such character to interfere is clear; but we may suggest that the Council or the Executive of the Anti-State Church Conference, and the Complete Suffrage Union, will find no inconsiderable accession of power and influence from the application of this constitutional resource. On this important subject Mr. Cobden's statement—which was received with the most enthusiastic approbation by more than five thousand free traders in the town of Manchester—demands the consideration of every advocate of an extended suffrage. The honourable member for Stockport is no visionary projector, but one whose clear and practical judgment cannot probably be exceeded among the politicians of the day. The scheme is his, though commended by the council of the League; and we give it in his own words. He affirms, and, we think, truly,–

“The counties are more vulnerable than the small pocket boroughs; if we can rouse the free traders, the outcry will be a systematic effort such as we have exercised in the case of South Lancashire. In many of the small boroughs there is no increase in the numbers, there is no extension of houses, the whole property belongs to a neighbouring noble, and you can no more touch the votes which he holds through the property than you can touch the balance in his banker's hands. Now the county constituency may be increased indefinitely. It requires a qualification of 40s. a year in a freehold property to give a man a vote for a county. I think our landlords made a great mistake when they retained the 40s. freehold qualification; and mark my words, it is a rod in pickle for them. I should not be surprised if it does for us what it did for catholic emancipation, and what it did for the reform bill—give us the means of carrying free trade; and if it should, the landlords will, very likely, try to serve us as they did the 40s. freeholders in Ireland, when we have done the work. The 40s. franchise for the county was established five or six centuries ago. At that time a man in the constitutional phraseology of the time was deemed to be a “yeoman,’ and entitled to political rights provided he had 40s. a year, clear, to spend. That was, at that time, a subsistence for a man, probably it was equal to the rental of one hundred acres of land. What is it now * With the vast diffusion of wealth, among the middle classes, which then did not exist, and among a large portion, I am happy to say, in this district of the superior class of operatives too, that 40s. franchise is become merely nominal, and is within the reach of every man who has the spirit to acquire it. I say, then, every county where there is a large town population, as in Lancashire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, South §. North Cheshire, Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, and many other counties I could name; in fact, every county bordering upon the sea coast, or having manufactures in it, may be won, and easily won, if the people can be roused to a systematic effort to qualify themselves for the vote in the way in which the South Lancashire people have reached to the qualification. We find counties can be won by that means and

Vol. xv.11. I

« ZurückWeiter »