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There were many other strange notions broached by the Socialists, such as community of wives, as well as other things, but the main principle which is to be considered is that above mentioned.
Let us contrast the Socialist scheme with the system under which we live. It is, we believe, a well-ascertained fact, that most of the present master manufacturers, are men who either themselves or their forefathers have sprung from the ranks of operatives. A workman with more skill, or good management, or self-denial than his brethren contrives to get together a little money. What others spend in the beer shop or the gin palace he puts into the savings' bank. A skilful artisan's wages husbanded prudently will, with the accumulating interest, soon amount to a considerable sum. When be has got together a few hundreds, he takes it out of the savings' bank, and invests it in some prudent speculation. Prudence and foresight ensure success, and in course of time he finds himself possessed of a moderate fortune, which, in consequence of his thoughts having been so long directed to the business in which he has himself laboured, he invests in a manufactory; and so, from having been a workman, he finds himself a master. Continuing fortunate and prudent, he becomes a rich man, and perhaps he purchases a landed property, and makes his eldest son a squire, while the second son continues a master manufacturer. The squire, perhaps, becomes a baronet; in another generation the family becomes ennobled, and the head of it takes his seat amongst the aristocracy of the land. We believe that a great number of instances might be mentioned, in which workmen have thus risen to eminence. The Arkwright and the Peel family are perhaps the most remarkable instances. But a very large proportion of respectable and opulent families have been founded in this manner, not to speak of those who, from being originally workmen without any capital but their labour, have come to be foremen, managers, engineers, and so forth, and live in comparative comfort and respectability. It may also be said with truth, that every workman of good character and conduct
at least, unless he have very ill luck indeed, obtain good wages and live in comfort. It is his own fault, almost universally, if he does not.
The Socialist or Communist system is altogether different. A number of men are to work and live together, and share the profits equally; there is no scope for superior skill, nor encouragement to superior industry. A man could never be a master manufacturer, or rise above the station of workman. The idle, and stupid, and dissolute would have the same advantages as the industrious and well-conducted. This is the system which the Communists wish to introduce. But it is easy to see at a glance that it must at once annihilate that spirit of enterprise and industry which has made England the great nation which she is. There is no denying, indeed, that it is very possible for men to be too ambitious, too thrifty, and covetous: that is a great fault. Still the desire which exists in the breast of the honest working man to better his condition, to gather comforts around him, to see his family better fed, better lodged, to secure an independence for his old age, and a competence for his children after him—this surely is an honourable motive, and has led to the enterprise and energy which has enabled England to take its place amongst the first of nations.
All this would be utterly done away with by the Communist plan. The whole community of workmen, and their children after them, would be mere slaves and drudges, tied down all their lives to the same dull routine, without the hope of bettering their condition.
However, if any persons prefer the Communist system, there is nothing whatever to prevent them from adopting it. A hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand families may form this sort of partnership if they choose; only do not let them think of forcing others to adopt it, who believe they shall do better according to the old system. If their experiment succeeds, no doubt others will follow their example. But at present the large majority of persons would consider the Communist system an intolerable burden and restraint upon their free agency; they would much prefer to go on upon the old system, under which each individual works for himself and his family; and while the intemperate and improvident remain poor and depressed, the industrious and well-conducted are sure to obtain a comfortable livelihood, and have the chance of raising themselves to the highest places in the social system.
The next plan that we shall consider, by which the poor seek to better their condition, is Chartism, the leading point of which is universal suffrage. They imagine that under the present representative system, by which a qualification is required of the voter, those who are unqualified, and therefore without votes, have not their interests rightly attended to, and that the remedy for this would be, that every man should be admitted to the right of suffrage.
This is a plausible system, but only at first sight. If we look to the history of our constitution, we shall see that the suffrage has never been considered as a personal and inherent right derived from nature, but a privilege or trust conferred by law. The great value of our present system is, that it has grown up gradually, and from age to age adapted itself to the wants and circumstances of the people. When Parliaments were first assembled, the King issued bis writs to certain places to send knights of the shire and burgesses to consult with him on the wants of the nation. And there was often great reluctance in persons so summoned to avail themselves of the right conferred on them. In process of time the privilege was more appreciated, and defined, and the constituency was fixed by law, Thus has been formed our present constitution, which gives the right of making and amending the laws to the three estates of the realm, including the Commons' House of Parliament, the members of which are returned by those on whom the law of the land confers this privilege or trust.
The last great settlement of the constituency was at the time of the Reform Bill in 1831 ; which was certainly passed with the approval of the large majority of the nation. And by that bill the same principle is recognised, viz. that the right of voting is to be limited, as it always has been in England, and indeed in every other nation, to those on whom the law confers it. It is not a matter of right but of law. The Reform Bill is the law under which we are now living. Of course its provisions may be altered, but any alteration will be made, not with reference to some abstract or philosophical notion of an inherent right of suffrage in each individual, but according to what appears likely to be most advantageous to the interests of the country at large. The claim of universal suffrage as a right is evidently quite contrary to the received usages of the English nation for a long course of ages, and opposed to the deliberately expressed wishes of the people at the last settlement of the Reform Bill.
It is also opposed to the true interests of the country, and subversive of justice between class and class. The Chartists themselves will probably agree in this principle, that the true use of representation is, that the interests of all classes may be duly considered. No one class should be oppressed by the others. The well-being of all should be taken care of. Now this we are prepared to show would not be the case under a system of universal suffrage. It is manifest that, if all persons had equal votes, the poorer classes, being a great deal more numerous than the richer, would return all the representatives ; the richer and middle classes would have no chance of being represented, their votes would be so few in comparison with the rest, that their interests would be set aside. It is most important for the well-being of the nation that property should be protected, not only for the sake of the employers, but the employed, the poor as well as the rich. If capital were not protected, employment would cease, and society fall into disorder.
It would never do, therefore, to have the interests of all classes placed in the hands of one class, and that the lowest.
Suppose, for instance, what is not very unlikely, that the members of Parliament, elected exclusively by the working classes, and representing their views, were to take off the duties from spirits and tobacco, and place it all on wine-wine would become so dear that scarcely any would be drunk, and so the revenue of the country derived from the excise would cease. In order to obviate this, suppose they were to put a large increase of the income tax upon the rich. Then in proportion they would take away from the rich the power of giving employment to the people; for it ought to be borne in mind that almost the whole income of the rich is expended, directly or indirectly, in the payment of the wages of labour. The rich, therefore, thus heavily burdened, would employ so much less labour. And consequently in proportion as the workmen were benefited (in their own estimation) by getting more spirits and tobacco, in like proportion would labourers be thrown out of employ. This is a specimen of the disadvantages which would arise from class legislation.
In France, where the lower classes at present have their own way, and rule over the rest, the most tyrannical proceedings are going on. Not only do the workpeople in some of the factories fix their own wages and hours of work, but they will not allow their masters to give up business, though the expenses are greater than the profits. Their object is to live upon their masters' capital as long as it lasts, and then they must all starve together. Others force the landlords to lower the rents of their houses, on pain of having their own houses pulled down and pillaged. And the Government set up by the people are actually contemplating the seizure of the property of railroads, and other speculations, on their own terms, and for their own use, against the wishes of the owners. This is the sort of tyranny which is exercised, when the balance of power is destroyed, and one class lords it over the rest.
In England all classes are represented, and the interests of all are perhaps as fairly looked to as they can be in this imperfect world. The counties send members who represent the landed interest, the great towns those that represent the manufacturers ; the small towns hold the balance between them. And as in large constituencies the ten-pound household suffrage embraces the great bulk of the community, there is no lack of persons to represent the feelings of the lower classes. It is very desirable indeed that the working classes should have a sufficient number of persons in Parliament to represent their interests. But it would be a strange House of Commons in which all the members were Wakleys and Duncombes.
In every system of human laws or society, there must needs be a large amount of anomalies which should be gradually amended : but we think it may easily be shown that the tendency of the present course of legislation in this country, is to regard not only the interests but even the prejudices of the poor. Let us consider one or two of the most recent measures of Parliament. The repeal of the Corn Laws for instance. It was argued that the effect of the old corn laws was to increase the cost of bread to the poor, and keep up the rent of the landlords. Constant discussions took place on the subject for several years. The advocates of the corn laws contended that it would be dangerous if this country did not in the main support itself in the great article of food—that if we got our corn from abroad, our own lands would go out of tillage, and our labourers lose their employment; that the home trade would suffer in proportion as the foreign trade was benefited. No one can deny that there was a good deal to be said on this side of the question. Still the arguments of repealers of the corn laws, especially the assertion that the poor would get their bread cheaper, prevailed. Many even of the landlords voted for the repeal, and it was carried.
Take another instance. It was found two years ago that the finances were insufficient for the increased expenditure of the country, occasioned principally by the extension of our empire in different quarters of the world. The Ministry thought it a good opportunity to introduce a new principle of taxation. Many duties which had been levied on articles consumed by the poor, and increased their cost, were taken off, and a tax imposed on incomes above £150; so that the entire body of the lower classes escape the burden altogether. Will any one say that the interests of the poor have not been consulted in these important measures ?
But countless other matters might be named in which the interests of the poor are specially attended to. Every class has its advocates in Parliament. The advocates of the poor are listened to with marked attention, and laws are constantly passed for the express purpose of relieving them. The Ten Hours' Bill exempts children under a certain age from that unremitting labour which exhausted their frame, and allowed them no time for improvement of their minds. The law against the truck system secures the working classes against a mode of extortion by which their wages were diminished, and their liberty interfered with. The poor have full power of meeting together and discussing their grievances, and ample opportunity of expressing their wishes by petition to Parliament; and when they have made