« ZurückWeiter »
TOWN AND COUNTRY.
THE STATE AND PROSPECTS OF THE COUNTRY.
may entertain of the political and intellectual training of the honesty of Sir Robert Peel and his people left, as had heretofore been late cabinet, it seems impossible to the case, to the exertions of the doubt, looking back upon the events clergy, acting as the trustees of of the last quarter of a century, that individual benevolence. The Gothe great experiment on which the vernment stepped in with its Comcountry has entered could have been mittee of Privy Council, and its postponed much longer.
Boards of Management, rendered as Throughout the whole of that liberal in their constitution as posimportant period the tide of our sible, and undertook to do the work legislation ran with a strong and which it was alleged that the Church steady current in direction. had either not done at all or done First we disturbed the settlement very imperfectly. Meanwhile our of 1688, by passing a law to esta relations with foreign powers assumed blish a principle, his endeavour an entirely novel character. Engto force which upon a reluctant land, which used to be the guarantee nation cost the representative of a of order in Europe, became all at long line of native princes the throne once the abettor of change, provided of these realms. Next we took in only there were involved in it a curhand to reform the Commons' House tailment of the authority of governof Parliament, and effected in doing ments, and the extension of the so one of the most complete revolu rights, real or imaginary, of subjects. tions that ever occurred in the in And all this, be it observed, not befluences of a great country. By and cause the English people required bye we unsettled the foundation of these changes for the bulk of the that law which the great statesmen people, if fairly polled, would have of Elizabeth's day had enacted, with been found indifferent to most of a view to keep the land free from the them and hostile to some-but be. plague of mendicancy; and instead of cause agitators and demagogues sucsetting on work every able-bodied ceeded in over-riding the law, and pauper,' condemned him to pass his Government, finding itself unable to days in idleness in the workhouse. put them down, lost heart of grace, In due time the Church, both in and came to the conclusion that poIreland and in England, was cast into licy required its submission to them. the crucible, from which she came Moreover, successful agitators will forth not slightly attenuated in be found to have begun almost inher privileges and dignities, and in variably in this country-as, indeed, her property reduced to the rank they begin in all countries with the of a mere dependant on the will great provincial towns. In Ireland,
VOL. XLI. XO. CCXLII.
no doubt, the peculiar eloquence ingenuity of man was continually of Daniel O'Connell drew after him devising expedients whereby an inpotato - diggers from Connaught in creased amount of work might be as large numbers and with the done, and well done too, at a dimisame enthusiasm as animated the nished expenditure of manual labour. coal - porters of Burgh Quay. But But the appetite of Manufacture in England and in Scotland the ad seems, like Ambition, to grow with vocates of change have found their what it feeds on. Mills multiplied, first and readiest listeners in Man and new principles of mechanism chester, Birmingham, Preston, Glas came into play, as fast as spare gow, and Liverpool ; delegates from hands could be got to work them, which places have subsequently come till the accumulation of stock became up to inflame the capital, and to such as to set the ordinary chanhint to the minister of terrible con nels of demand at defiance. As a new sequences in the event of the people's cessary consequence millowners and just demands being disregarded. Nor brokers began to inquire after new has the press, that faithful index markets, and the readiest means of rather than guide of what is called gaining access to them. All the public opinion, been idle. Purely maxims of political economy were commercial in their organization and taken up, turned over, and twisted purposes, - got up with the single so as to suit the purposes of the view of affording a good investment hour. Nobody considered the actual for capital, --written, edited, printed, state of the mother-country, overand published in order that they may burdened with debt, and devoted to sell, and in so doing pay back the its antique institutions; nobody took costs of production with a profit, the into account the present state and majority of newspapers have really future prospects of her settlements, no choice except to advocate the which as yet seemed to operate as a opinions of the great body of their drop in the bucket upon commerce. purchasers; and as the purchasers All looked further a-field. Nature and readers of newspapers are far had intended England to be the more numerous in the great manu workshop of the world, and there facturing towns and districts than must be something radically wrong anywhere else, for the great towns in thc tendency of the legislation and manufacturing districts the ablest which stood between her and this of our newspapers are mainly writ great destiny. Then awoke again ten. Hence almost all “the pressure the same desire of change which had from without' to which successive opened the doors of parliament to Rogovernments gave way has come man Catholics and carried the Reform from the great provincial towns and Act. But a new field of operation their organs; for though the rural presented itself. It was no longer the constituency of Clare may have abstract theory of the Constitution frightened the Duke into the aban that was at fault; it was in the comdonment of Protestant ascendancy, mercial system of the empire, and the it was the Birmingham Political laws which maintained it, that the Union and The Times newspaper fault lay. These laws must be altered, which between them carried the this system must be changed ; and Reform Bill. And all that has since by the self-same process which taken place, such as Municipal Re worked out the triumphs of 1829 form, Church Reform, and what not, and 1832 has the great purpose been deserves to be regarded as little else achieved. Agitation has done it all. than so many concessions made by ---agitation begin in Manchester and parliament to the demands of clever Liverpool, and carried thence through men, who carried the great manu the manufacturing districts of Lanfacturing towns along with them, and cashire,-coming up to London,had the ablest and most popularly scouted, ridiculed, and jeered at conducted of the journals to back there,--resisted by the newspapers
even after it had assumed the form Meanwhile, in the great manufac of the Anti-Corn-law League, but turing towns themselves vast changes holding its course steadily, till by were in progress. While population degrees the manufacturing and tradincreased at a tremendous ratio, the ing mind was worked upon, and The
Times, at first its stoutest opponent, parliament when it met, we felt that made common cause with it. Froin times were indeed changed with this that moment the issues were inevita empire, and that wherever the battle ble. Nobody pretends to say that of the Constitution might hereafter the great body of the people, gravely be fought, it would not be fought in and on conviction, desired the legis the Houses of Lords and of Commons. lative measures of 1846 and 1849. Nor did the results of the struggle Quite otherwise. But the great ma which immediately ensued, or the nufacturing towns were united in ministerial tactics displayed in it, lead favour of them—at least in favour to a different conclusion. Sir Robert's of the former ; and the great manu resistance to the tyrant majority' facturing towns, with The Times was scarcely that of one who took a newspaper to plead for them, over real interest in the matters at issue. bore as usual all opposition.
He fought like a general who is In giving this sketch of the causes beaten ere the battle begins. And which have brought us, for good or failing to conquer by proposing confor evil, to the position in which we cessions more important, and therenow stand, there are two mistakes fore more perilous, than his rivals into which it is necessary to keep had as yet thought of demanding, he our readers from falling. First, we left the field, having shaken the condo not say that the changes which fidence of his own party in their have occurred during the last five chosen leader, and surrendered to the and-twenty years are all for the bad.
enemy one of the keys of the position Quite otherwise. We feel that many
which he had been called upon by have been changes for the better. the sovereign and by his party to We merely assert that they were defend. forced, one by one, upon a supine It is an instructive fact that the majority by an active minority of Whig policy, both previously to the the people. And next, it is by no interregnum here alluded to and for means our purpose to represent one some years afterwards, was much of the two great political parties as more that of a body of Doctrinaires having been more completely carried than of a set of practical innovators. away by the tide than the other. They had, to be sure, abolished No minister ever felt so acutely the slavery in the West Indies, at the pressure from without' as Sir Ro cost of twenty millions in the shape bert Peel, or evinced greater un of compensation to the slave-owners; easiness under it. His first public but they made no change in the act, when forced reluctantly into fiscal administration of the empire, office in 1835, was to make an osten nor innovated in any degree on its tatious display of his sensibility in system of commerce. Protecting duthat respect. Ilis published letter to ties still faroured the grower of Britthe electors of Tamworth, wherein ish sugar in the colonies, as well as he told the people of their power, the producer of British corn, cattle, and sought to conciliate out-of-doors silk, gloves, cottons, and woollens at support by announcing a great scheme home. For the Whigs were content of Church Reform, stands on record to go on tinkering the constitutions as one of the most remarkable tokens of boroughs, municipalities, schools, which this remarkable age can show. and such-like. And had they only The measure of Church Reform itself managed to make the national inmight have been a wise one, or it come cover the national expenditure, might not. That is a question which the probability is that they would we certainly do not intend to argue have been permitted to labour in the now, and of which at the moment we same comparatively - speaking innotook comparatively little heed, for cuous vocation to this day. But there was another and more urgent what with Commissions of Inquiry, subject of grave retiection forced non-intervention armaments, wars in upon us. When we saw the first the East, and rebellions in the West, minister of the Crown explaining his they got as usual into difficulties ; intended policy to the world through and then arose the question how the columns of a newspaper, instead they were to get out of them. Someof waiting, as had heretofore been body advised them in the House of done, that he might explain it to Commons- we believe it was Mr.
Villiers, to repeal or modify the included under any system. They Corn-laws, and strive by that means to are exceptions to all rules. Observe, force a way into foreign markets. But that it is of Sir Robert's attempt the proposal was scouted. Indeed to combine the two systems that we Lord Melbourne, at that time head speak ; and observe, also, that it was of the cabinet, declared, that the man the manner of this attempt which must be mad who seriously thought ensured its failure. Had he come of interfering with the Corn-laws.' boldly forward and said, “The public Then came the memorable addition deficiency is so and so; I believe of ten per cent to the assessed taxes, that the failure of the revenue is under which, if we mistake not, the occasioned by a temporary pressure revenue sank below its original level. which must be removed, but against And now Mr. Cobden began to make the return of which, when removed, a figure, and the Anti-Corn - law there will be no difficulty in proLeague to consolidate its strength. viding security ;' he might have done It is not worth while to pursue the what he liked. For then his obvious current of history further. Beaten course would have been, not to begin in the house and bullied out of doors, a series of alterations in the existing not more by their avowed rivals than taxes under the plea of giving to the by their professed supporters, the public some set-off against the InWhigs resolved to get up a cry and come-tax, but to propose an Incomeappeal to the country. They chose tax as a burden additional to those an alteration of the Corn-laws. They under which the nation already laydissolved on the proposal of sub a burden to be endured only till a stituting for the then sliding scale a particular end should be attained, of fixed duty on importation of eight which he might have calculated the shillings per quarter, and were sig accomplishment well-nigh to a day. nally defeated. If ever the country Had he done this, though there might declared for anything through its have been opposition in the House, constituencies, it was the continuance and plenty of clamour, perhaps some in 1841 of the established system of rioting, ont of it, the measure must commerce and finance, and Sir Robert
have been carried,-ay, and it would came in as the recognized leader of have served its purpose too; for three the majority which supported that years of the tax would have made opinion.
good all that Whig mismanagement The Whigs had left Sir Robert a had squandered, and we should have very difficult game to play. Apart been delivered at the end of them from the disorganized condition of from the most vexatious, and in the Ireland, he had a large deficiency in mode of its collection the most unjust, the Exchequer to provide for, with impost that ever was laid upon a a revenue which for the two or three
people. previous years had been steadily de Sir Robert Peel went upon a princlining. He had also a great Indian ciple directly the reverse of this. war upon his hands, and a spirit more He wished to convert his deficiency than half hostile in several countries into a surplus, and at the same time of Europe to smooth down. With
to press as lightly as possible on the his foreign and colonial policy we industry of the country. So, at least, have here no concern; they were he said in the House of Commons, both eminently successful : but his though his letter to the municipavery first act of financial arrange lity of Elbing told a different tale. ment was a blunder,-if, indeed, we He therefore threw a tub to the ought now to speak of it as anything whale by letting down the maximum else than a step in the direction of of the variable duty on corn, and refree trade. The attempt to combine pealing or diminishing the duties herea system of direct with one of indirect tofore levied on certain articles, as well taxation, as he set about it, could not
of foreign as of home manufacture. possibly succeed. The two things, The boon was accepted gratefully. looked to as of protracted co-opera Some people expected that if they tion, are absolutely incompatible, themselves did not derive benefit unless the nation be at war, and war from the arrangement their neightaxes being confessedly the arrange bours might; others, if they were ments of necessity cannot fairly be gifted with a sharper vision, saw that
things could not stop there. Nor 1829, he undeniably betrayed his could they. The moment a country party; and became in consequence submits in peace to an Income or a an object of bitter hostility to his Property-tax, the end of all other late adherents. But these facts in means of raising a revenue is a mere no degree touch the real merits of question of time. And the repeal of the question, for Lord John had the Corn- laws and the breaking-up already announced his change of of the old protective system by the mind, and was prepared to repeal the minister who had prevailed upon the Corn-laws absolutely when the connation to submit to his Income-tax, venient moment should arrive. And was just as much an inevitable se though he failed in the autumn of quence of events as the ebb of the 1846 to form a cabinet, subsequent tide is an inevitable sequence to its events have shown that the jealousies flow.
even of Lords Grey and Palmerston It is not worth while to inquire may be put in abeyance by the how far it might have been possible, prospect of place. We repeat, then, at any moment subsequent to the that even if Sir Robert Peel had passing of the Reform Act, to give remained true to his colours, the a different direction to the spirit of Corn-laws could not have been mainchange of which we have here traced tained three years beyond 1846. The the course.
We ourselves enter first dissolution would have found tain grave doubts on that subject; the great towns united against them, but we have no doubt at all that the and angry, with the whole body of tariff of Feb. 1812 rendered every the Whig aristocrats ministering to such project-if, indeed, any were in their wrath. And had this event any quarter entertained -- illusory. taken place in 1848, who will answer Men of large minds might, indeed, for the consequences ? concoct schemes of systematic colo Looking at the matter in this nization - such as should at once light, accepting the status quo as a lighten the pressure on the labour positive social necessity, it is not our market at home, and create valuable intention to pander to the bad taste markets for manufactured goods in of the public, by taking any part in the islands of the Pacific; and mi the war of words which for the last nisters might or might not regard two months has raged in all parts of these views with favour, and consider the country. For it is not by dealhow far the necessary funds could be ing out hard names upon their opporaised for carrying them into effect. nents, and still less by threatening a But plans for colonization, besides revolution, which is more easily involving a large immediate out spoken of than effected, that party lay, promise no more than remote men need hope, in these days, to win and contingent advantages to an their way to the confidence of the overtaxed people; whereas the towns country. Such a mode of warfare having tasted the sweets of an im may suffice for schemers who seek mediate, though partial, improve the attainment of some end that is ment of trade, were easily persuaded yet hidden beyond the mists of the to look to a still larger progress in future. But when a nation is called that direction as the only road to upon to choose between two rival sysprosperity. Hence the war of classes, tems, both subjected totheordeal of exwhich had slumbered for a while, perience—one present, the other only broke out afresh ; and the potatoe just past something sounder and blight in England, with the terrible more intelligible than invective must famine in Ireland, came in as power be applied to determine the choice. ful auxiliaries to the aggressive And very happy are we to find, that party. Was the onslaught to be re while Mr. Cobden and Earl Stanhope sisted? We think not. Whether recreate themselves and their hearers, the Peel Cabinet had given way or each after the bent of his peculiar held out, it is our deliberate con genius, men wiser than either are viction that the Corn-laws had willing and able to examine the ceased to be tenable. That Sir question at issue with a philosophic Robert Peel was the proper man to eye, and to give to the thinking porrepeal them we are far from pre tion of the public the results of their tending to assert. In 1846, as in inquiries.