European Leaders

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Lord John Russell was selected by the government to introduce the bill into the House of Commons. He was not regarded as the ablest of the Whig statesmen who had promised reform. His person was not commanding, and his voice was thin and feeble; but he was influential among the aristocracy as being a brother of the Duke of Bedford, head of a most illustrious house, and he had no enemies among the popular elements. Russell had not the eloquence and power and learning of Brougham; but he had great weight of character, tact, moderation, and parliamentary experience. The great hero of reform, Henry Brougham, was, as we have said, no longer in the House of Commons; but even had he been there he was too impetuous, uncertain, and eccentric to be trusted with the management of the bill. Knowing this, his party had elevated him to the woolsack. He would have preferred the office of the Master of the Rolls, a permanent judicial dignity, with a seat in the House of Commons; but to this the king would not consent. Indeed, it was the king himself who suggested the lord chancellorship for Brougham.

Lord Russell was, then, the most prominent advocate of the bill which marked the administration of Lord Grey. It was a great occasion, March 1, 1831, when he unfolded his plan of reform to a full and anxious assembly of aristocratic legislators. There was scarcely an unoccupied seat in the House. At six o'clock he arose, and in a low and humble manner invoked reason and justice in behalf of an enlarged representation. He proposed to give the right of franchise to all householders who paid L10 a year in rates, and who qualified to serve on juries. He also proposed to disfranchise the numerous "rotten boroughs" which were in the gift of noblemen and great landed proprietors,--boroughs which had an insignificant number of voters; by which measure one hundred and sixty-eight parliamentary vacancies would occur. These vacancies were to be partially filled by sending two members each from seven large towns, and one member each from twenty smaller towns which were not represented in Parliament. Lord Russell further proposed to send two members each from four districts of the metropolis, which had a large population, and two additional members each from twenty-six counties; these together would add ninety-four members from towns and counties which had a large population. To obviate the great expenses to which candidates were exposed in bringing voters to the polls (amounting to L150,000 in Yorkshire alone), the bill provided that the poll should be taken in different districts, and should be closed in two days in the towns, and in three days in the counties. The general result of the bill would be to increase the number of electors five hundred thousand,--making nine hundred thousand in all. We see how far this was from universal suffrage, giving less than a million of voters in a population of twenty-five millions. Yet even so moderate and reasonable an enlargement of the franchise created astonishment, and was regarded by the opponents as subversive of the British Constitution; and not without reason, since it threw political power into the hands of the middle classes instead of into those of the aristocracy.

Lord Russell's motion was, of course, bitterly opposed by the Tories. The first man who arose to speak against it was Sir H. Inglis, member of the university of Oxford,--a fine classical scholar, an accomplished gentleman, and an honest man. He maintained that the proposed alteration in the representation of the country was nothing less than revolution. He eulogized the system of rotten boroughs, since it favored the return to Parliament of young men of great abilities, who without the patronage of nobles would fail in popular elections; and he cited the cases of Pitt, Fox, Burke, Canning, Perceval, and others who represented Appleby, Old Sarum, Wendover, and other places almost without inhabitants. Sir Charles Wetherell, Mr. Croker, and Sir Robert Peel, substantially took the same view; Lord Althorp, Mr. Hume, O'Connell, and others supported the government. Amid intense excitement, for everybody saw the momentous issues at stake, leave was at length granted to Lord John Russell to bring in his bill. No less than seventy-one persons in the course of seven nights spoke for or against the measure. The Press, headed by the "Times," rendered great assistance to the reform cause, while public meetings were everywhere held and petitions sent to Parliament in favor of the measure. The voice of the nation spoke in earnest and decided tones.

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