TOPICS OF THE DAY.
OUR COURSE bN THE REFORM BILL.
JOURNALISTS, like members, have constituents, and some of the most valued of ours seem nearly as much irritated by our course on the Reform Bill as others were by our steady adherence to the cause of free labour in the American Civil War. " You are deserting your party," says one friend whom we cordially respect, but who would, we be- lieve, vote for the abolition of a future state if he sus- pected that Tories could have a majority in heaven. "You exhibit incredible pettiness," says another, "in resist- ing a Bill which does so very little." You " don't see," says a third, or rather " won't see, that the Bill secures in a rough way your own ideal, giving the great cities to working men and small boroughs to the existing register ; you are endangering an excellent Ministry simply for a crotchet." There is no help for it in this case, any more than in the last ; " we can no other," as the old Puritan said ; and those who disapprove had better console themselves with the more congenial Philistinism of the Telegraph, or the noisy balderdash with which the Star spoils its own very great position as the single representative of the American form of democracy in Great Britain. But though we claim the right to express our own views without the faintest reference to those of our constituents, and should express them if, instead of gaining every day, we were left next week without a subscriber, we still desire that those views should be understood, are anxious to repudiate the deduction drawn from an apparent alliance with the " dwellers in the Cave," or even with the men who, like many of the Tories, speak fair words on the suffrage, but vote against every measure which a just suffrage would secure. Once more we repeat, that in common with the whole of the higher press of the capital, except the Examiner and the Daily News, we have resisted this Bill not out of dread of the workmen, still less out of dislike to a Ministry which contains the statesman whom we yet hope to follow in many another reform, but solely because we believe it embodies the worst principle which can infect politics, the 'right of the numerical majority to autocratic power. That principle has never been established in any country however prosperous, for any time however short, without leading directly either to tyranny, as in France, or to anarchy, as in Poland. It never has been established in America for an hour, for it has there been corrected, first, by the existence of the immensely over- privileged corporations called States, and secondly by the unex- pected and to us unintelligible growth of a religious respect for the piece of paper called the Constitution. We do not believe for an instant the vague alarms which Mr. Lowe and a few members like him think it their duty to spread. We do not believe that a wide suffrage menaces property, or national safety, or the place of Great Britain among the nations of the world. On the contrary, we hold that one great objection to numerical rule is the excessive severity with which it pro- tects property, working, for example, the laws against larceny twice as recklessly as the laws for the protection of life. A common jury always does that even in England, while in many American States you cannot punish a blow half so easily as the theft of a handkerchief, and in France the resistance to trespass degenerates into downright oppression. It is aristo- cracies which are timid of war, not democracies, and we would trust the artisans to wage a great war for a few tons of cod- as we may be forced to do—a great deal sooner than the Peers. The Peers would consider the object at stake, the artisans will think of nothing except the immediate insult to the flag. The country, if this Bill passes, will be just as safe abroad, and far more active, just as rich at home, and even more inclined to hold individual riches sacred than it is now. But if the majority rules, and that majority is composed, as in England, of a single class, we hold that, whatever the merits of such rule, and it will have Many; the nation will cease to be free. Every class will be first powerless and then silent except one. That one may be the very best of all. We de- liberately believe that it is one of the best ; would, for example, far rather be governed by Rochdale operatives than by any conceivable group of greengrocers, would sooner trust England to a trades union than to a parish vestry. It may be the most important of all, and in one light undoubtedly is the most important, man simply as man having rights which we who have advocated political justice to negroes should be fools to often away. But no class once made absolute, whatever its merits, or its importance, or its intelligence, can safely b's made the single depository of power. Priests have been tried a hundred times, and have always produced a hatred to which all other hatreds are mild. Peers were tried in England for one hundred and thirty-five years of modern life, and produced a state of society in which the most prominent features were ' excessive taxes on food, reckless almsgiving to prevent the- famine artificially produced, and wholesale executions. The workmen have have been tried to the full at Geneva, and the only result has been a debt scarcely paralleled even by- that which successive administrations of Peers have placed on us. We have no more fear of a Parliament of workmen's' delegates than of a Parliament of dukes or archbishops, and no more confidence in it either. This Bill makes such a- Parliament ultimately inevitable. We do not say it is inevi- table now. On the contrary, we believe that what with the ingrained reverence for rank, the increasing influence of the plutocracy, the deep-rooted Toryism of a section of workmen, and the immense weight of the Nonconformist ministers, class- leaders, and deacons, all of whom are middle class to their toes, this Bill will produce less change than even Earl Russell calculates. But it establishes the principle that the only- standard of capacity is to be the imaginary one of rental, and the only limit on lowering the standard the will of the- Ministry of the day. There are still a vast multitude, four- fifths of the whole people, outside, and all thought of repre- senting the nation having been abandoned, they must in the- end be admitted en masse. We do not say that will be the destruction of England ; we leave nonsensical menace of that kind to those who think it right to threaten the representatives of the people with the hootings of a- mob, but we do say that English society, that great anct multiform organization which has before it so magnifi- cent a future, ends, to be replaced by one as inferior to it as a star-fish is to a salmon, a mob to a regiment, a heap of stone to a statue, a dictionary to a poem. So believing, allegiance to a Ministry seems to us the most insignificant of trifles_ Twenty years hence no man save an old politician will be able. to say off hand who was Premier in 1866, but the new Con- stitution will be still at work, still affect every resolve and aspiration and act of the most poWerful race the world has ever seen, the only one now existing which is felt directly in every sea, and which on every continent is growing steadily up to empire. What is even the career of Mr. Gladstone, the one element in the Ministry worth five minutes' thought, com- pared with a consequence like that I " A petty result" It is a radical change in the organization of the British people which is in question, and if that be petty, why be interested in any human affair ? Party discipline is very useful and party fidelity very commendable, but there are times when the demands of the party must give way to those of the nation,. when the question is not of the hour, but of the whole future, when every man who votes against his judgment and his con- science is a coward cursed with power.
"All this is crypto-Toryism," or, as one Liberal critic puts it„ is caused by the " passion of the Spectator for being respect- able." If there is one form of calumny harder to bear than another, it is that which, accepting half a man's opinions,. coolly ignores the other half. We have fought consistently for years for a Reform Bill as much wider than this one as our Liberalism is wider than that of our detractors. We have deliberately advocated over and over again, not as an ideal, but as a practical measure to be carried out now, the admission of the infinite majority of working men into the franchise, the admission, that is, of all among them who by dwelling in great cities have received the political cultivation from which otherwise they would be debarred, of the whole class, wherever it is beyond intimidation or corruption. Instead of this contemptible 71. clause, this measuring alike of capacities and rights by a pecuniary thermometer, this flunkey estimate of comparative merit, we have recommended household suffrage in great cities only; instead of wrangling over a few thousands less or more, have asked for the whole elite, without inquiry whether they paid more or less of rent, and that is, forsooth, hidden Tory- ism. If it be, there is a worse form of it than that, the form which, talking always about equality, so arranges the constituencies that the independent votes at one end shall be weighted by the bought votes at another, which looks to corruption as the preventive of democracy, and remedies the enfranchisement of honest workmen in Rochdale by disfranchising honest professionals in Penzance or Carlisle. Our scheme would have seated a hundred working members in Parliament, this Bill will seat 200 middle- class members to whom workmen have dictated compromises
—which of the two is the more genuinely Liberal I Doubt- less in the end, when the work of reduction has all been done, and England is ruled by a simple majority, the workmen will have more power than we should have conceded, and so far we admit our guilt. But then it is with Democrats, and not with thinking Liberals, that our condemnation rests—with those who regard the suffrage as an end, not those who look at It only as a means—with Americans, not Englishmen.
The mode of resistance to the Bill was and is a matter of minor importance. The knot of Liberals who have led it tin the House are certainly not tempting allies, have displayed in fact far less liberality than many very strong Tories, but they bit on a real blot in the Bill, the immense demand it made on the trustfulness of the House, which was asked to make a transfer of power without information as to its extent or the persons to whom it was to be transferred. Nothing in the debate has altered our conviction that this was an unwise proceeding, just as unwise as it would be to sign a bill with- out knowing for what amount it was drawn. That, however, we frankly acknowledge is not our main objection, which is simply that blank reduction applied without attention to circumstances ends inevitably and speedily in government by numerical majority, ends, that is, in the reign under one form or another of physical force. We do not want to see that in England, and those who do had better abandon a journal -which takes for its cardinal dogma the right of the brain to rule the body.