THE ELECTION FOR STOKE-UPON-TRENT.
THE election of Dr. Kenealy for Stoke-upon-Trent by a vote of 6,110, and a majority of nearly two thousand over his next opponent, Mr. Walton, who, as a working-man, thought himself sure in a working-man's borough, is a heavy discouragement to the admirers either of household suffrage or the Ballot, and will, we greatly fear, tend directly to the increase of Conservatism in the country. We do not wish to exaggerate the importance of the incident, and are quite aware that the House of Commons has suppressed or survived bores at least as portentous as Dr. Kenealy may choose to become ; but there is no way of looking at the election which deprives it wholly of a disagreeable significance. Let us take the very best view of it, and suppose that the electors of Stoke honestly fancied that in electing the Claimant's Counsel they were help- ing to remedy an injustice ; that they believed the butcher in the right, and regarded Dr. Kenealy as a heroic defender of an oppressed man, and what a depth of ignorance existing among our masters does the polling reveal! The motive of the majority would then be cleared, but at the expense of their intelligence. They had read or heard the evidence in the Tichborne Case, had seen the verdict, had been assured that the three Judges agreed, had been made acquainted with the unanimous approval of all men competent to judge, and still suspected that the trial, with all its length, and all its cost, and all its interest, was a gigantic fraud. To think the Claimant innocent, or to believe his Counsel an oppressed hero, they must have suspected the Ministry of a conspiracy with the Tichborne family to concoct a fraud ; the Judges, one of them a strong Dissenter, of corrupt subservience to Catholics ; the jury of infidelity to their oaths, most of the witnesses of perjury, and the whole machinery of English law of failure,—that is, they must have been in that state of ignorant exasperation in which facts seem worthless, evidence useless, and the whole atmosphere of society tainted with vil- lany and fraud. They must have been so utterly ignorant or perverse that no excess of language in the candidate shocked them ; that no promise, however wild, could shake their con- fidence; that no remonstrance, however visibly disinterested, had the least effect upon their obstinate belief. They must have been in the condition of a Paris mob in the Terror, when it was willing to believe that Pitt paid for the prison masearres, or of Englishmen on December 13, 1688, when all along the North Road they rose from their beds to fly from massacre by an. Irish army hundred of miles away. Supposing this the explanation, it shows us that there is at least one constituency in England in which the householders distrust or detest the Courts, have no confidence in the law, and are so steeped in ignorance as to believe that all the upper classes are banded together in order, in the interest of the Jesuits, to refuse justice to the poor. And this, be it remem- bered, is the very best explanation to be suggested, for it shows something of nobleness in the voters. A determination to redress a wrong, whatever the depth of ignorance as to the facts, is not an ignoble impulse, and however great the danger from such "preternatural suspicion" may be—and it is very great— we heartily hope that this was the motive of the six thousand. The ignorant may be educated in time, and although it is impossible to stumble on ignorance of this kind without a shudder, or to reflect calmly that the Empire is in the hands of men who, if these are fair samples of them, are less competent to form political opinions than so many children, still time alone is required to oope with a curable
evil. Every other explanation is indefinitely worse. The election may have been a mere outburst of that half-angry, half-humorous, and wholly brutal rowdyism which undoubtedly exists in the British character ; may have been regarded by the residuum as a spree, in which the respeetables were sure to be annoyed, and they were sure not to suffer ; may have been taken as a method of pelting mud without danger of inter- ference from the police. In that case, there is serious risk of an evil breaking out in politics which we have just seen manifest in society,—a love of rude horse-play with- out motive except excitement, or excuse except ignorance, which always in England degenerates into a love of violence. Violence, as is evident from the precautions taken, was ex- pected in the borough ; and had Mr. Davenport been elected by a rush of the respectables, as was in many quarters fully ex- pected, the town might have been wrecked. No spirit more dangerous to the freedom of Parliament could possibly be evoked, and if it spread, the method of electing Members would have to be radically changed. Or finally, electors may have supported Dr. Kenealy merely as a politician, and if so, there are electors among us who are attracted by the most violent recklessness of statement, who are not annoyed by any wildness of accusation against the most respected names in the land, and who prefer alike to Conservative and Liberal the man who as they think -is opposed to everything that exists. Dr. Kenealy as politician avows, in language so crude and violent that, coming as it does from a man of culture, it seems scarcely compatible with mental health, that he despises both parties alike, that he hopes to destroy both, and that he desires to raise above all alike either the Monarchy, or the Mob, or himself, we cannot make out which. In that case, the country has no security from any project whatever which may seem acceptable enough to the residuum to induce them to use their hold of the balance of power to seat men pledged lip-deep to secure it, even if it
be as vague or as unintelligible as the design attributed in the Englishman--the paper stated on its title-page to
be edited by Dr. Kenealy—to the Member for Stoke :—" He will go to Parliament, not to be the flunkey of either the apostate Jew or the renegade Protestant, but to represent England and English welfare ; and above all, the working-
classes, who want a MAN, and have him here at hand, with the fire and force of Milton and the intrepidity of Cromwell to
meet and fight despotism. Dr. Kenealy goes to the House of Commons with the express determination to destroy the Whig and Tory conspiracy against the people ; to found, with the
assistance of the Magna Charta Association, a great, power- ful, honest, and determined ENGLISH PARTY, of fifty or a hun- dred people's representatives ; and with these under his banner and leadership, to sweep away for ever the two family factions who have possessed themselves of England so long, and so loaded her with debt that even to live beomes a matter of the hardest difficulty. And let no man despair that Dr. Kenealy can do this. This man showed himself in the Court at West- minster to be an avalanche, who bore all before him ; and we believe that, within ten years, he and his Magna Charta will rule England for the PEOPLE and the PEOPLE only. Oh what a splendid consummation this will be. Let the working-classes bear in their thoughts that there are, in this man's mind, a hundred measures teeming for their benefit : that the force of thousands in the house of corruption cannot put him down ; that as he tamed the three judges, and kept them down like three cats, that hardly dared to mew in his presence, so he will master these right honourable humbugs who delude the people, and pass the wicked laws under which they groan. He is a mighty army in himself, and will carry all before him in Parliament, like Mirabeau in France, or Chatham in England." If those are the projects which can move multitudes, Mr. Disraeli in carrying household suffrage commenced a revolution of which none living will see the end.
For ourselves, we believe the result of the election to have been due to all the impulses we have mentioned acting upon men so ignorant, so violent, and so liable to be inflamed by verbal excitements that, except under moral pressure from without, they are unable to restrain themselves, and may do anything out of mere caprice. That moral pressure has been withdrawn by the introduction of the Ballot, and it is as an illustration of the worst effect of secret voting that we regard the triumph of Dr. Kenealy. But for the secrecy of their votes, the voters would, we believe, have been ashamed to give full swing to such a caprice of hatred for all above them, or such a burst of admiration for a man dis- barred for insults to the Judges, or such a reckless accept- ance of a candidate who promised such vague impossibilities. But for secrecy, their respectable fellow-citizens could not have been so powerless. But for secrecy, the four thousand voters who abstained could not, in the teeth of their own convictions, have suffered their town to be so represented. But for secrecy, there could not have been such a sense of irresponsibility or devil-may-carishness, of enjoyment in political rowdyism as, whatever explanation we may adopt, clearly marked all the proceedings at the election. A rough and ignorant electoral body was, in fact, so liberated by the Ballot from all restraints, from the opinion of its own leaders, from the advice of its own fellow-citizens, from the dread of the morrow, that it be- came a mob and acted as a mob, choosing as its repre- sentative the loudest and most violent and least restrained candidate it could find. It sunk from a constituency into
a crowd, and like other crowds, was delighted with higb1i"\'
spiced talk, with abuse of anybody highly placed, the leaders' of both parties in Parliament included, and with promises all the more fascinating because so unintelligible. Hurrahing for the restoration of Magna Charta and the extinction of every- body who ever offended the orator of the hour seemed the wildest fun. The scene has been witnessed in England often enough before, but it has been on nomination-day, and among non-electors, and not among the constituency or at the polling- booths. The majority at Stoke-upon-Trent acted exactly as the freemen, and potwallopers, and unwashed mob of a hun- dred boroughs in England used occasionally to act on nomina- tion-day, rejecting the only candidates with a chance, and hurrahing and showing hands for some rough demagogue who happened for a moment to have their ear. The only difference is that, under the Ballot, the passion which formerly exhaled itself in a sort of half-goodhumoured, half-dangerous carnival, now expresses itself in actual voting, and sends its favourite up to sit in the House of Commons. The new secrecy of the hustings acts like the impersonality of a crowd. The first motive for reflection, personal responsibility, is taken away, and the humour of the moment, which may be anything, is transmuted by the mere swaying of the agitated body into formidable action. We see no reason whatever why the scene at Stoke-upon-Trent should not be repeated in any borough with a large residuum, till Parliament in sheer disgust, weariness, and anger, suffers the Ballot Act to lapse. Long before that time, however, serious mischief may have been done to the character of the House of Commons, and a series of blows have been given to the only authority among us which still shows living strength, and which has more reason than it fancies to apprehend a decline. The election for Stoke-upon- Trent shows that the rowdy element in the electoral body, under the Ballot, can carry seats if it likes ; and the perception of that fact will, we fear, be rapidly spread.