The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51
Chapter VII. — Temporary Rejectors. — Fourth Epoch (1832—1884)
"Since the Revolution of 1688 cruelty and oppression have been legalized, but the interior history, the social proceedings and everyday life of our rulers since that time would hardly appear less frightful than the horrors of ancient days. A more despicable set of wretches cannot be found than the nobles of England under the Georges. Licentious, mean, in every way thoroughly corrupt and cruel, it would be difficult to find their superiors in vice in the world's history. The history that would fairly state all these things has yet to be written."
—J. A. Roebuck.
"Since the Reform Act the House of Lords has become a revising and suspending house. The house has ceased to be one of latent directors, and has become one of temporary rejectors and palpable altcrers."
Fourth Epoch (1832—1884).
Temporary rejectors and palpable alterers! This truly is the miserable function fulfilled by the Peers since the Reform Act of 1832. By that Act their power for mischief was curtailed, but their will to do harm has undergone no change whatever. Formerly they did evil, now they prevent good. Irish patriots we have seen dragged from their seats in the Commons because they obstructed Coercion Bills which were a disgrace to the Gladstone Ministry and the entire Liberal party; but here we have a House of arch-obstructionists, with no other visible object in life but to arrest the march of civilization—to prevent the emancipation of the oppressed. And strange to say, until the other day it has never been seriously proposed for more than two centuries to rid the country once and for all of this mediaeval hulk so inconveniently stranded in the mid-channel of nineteenth century progress.
The oft-told tale of lordly opposition to the Reform Bill of page 62 1832 it is not necessary to repeat. Suffice it to say, that at a time when there were not more than 15,000 electors in a population of 30,000,000, and when more than half the House of Commons were the simple nominees of peers, the Duke of Wellington, as Prime Minister and leader of the Upper Chamber, declared, "I am fully convinced that the country now possesses a legislature which answers all the good purposes of legislation, and this to a greater degree than any legislature ever has answered in any other country whatever. I will go further, and say that the legislature and the system of representation deservedly possess the full and entire confidence of the country." Lord Kenyon tersely summed up the sentiments of his brother peers, when he prophesied a few days before the passing of the Act, "The Bill will be the destruction of the monarchy. (Would it had!) By forcing this measure on his reluctant sovereign, the noble Earl (Grey) has placed the king in a situation in which he could make no choice of a minister; and his advice to exercise his prerogative in so unconstitutional a manner as to destroy the independence of the House is abandoned and atrocious."
Howbeit, this atrocity had the effect of saving the nation from all the horrors of revolution. Twenty-four hours' further delay, and crown and coronet would have rolled in bloody dust. If the king had not been induced to sanction a fresh creation of peers, the madness of the Lords would certainly have carried them on to destruction. On October 7th, 1831, they had rejected the Reform Bill by a majority of 199 to 158. Out of twenty-two Christian bishops only one could be induced to vote for the enfranchisement of the people.
But though cowed by the formidable attitude of the people, the Lords were by no means reconciled to parliamentary reform. In 1833 they rejected with very little ceremony Bills for the disfranchisement of the corrupt "freemen" of Stafford, Liverpool, Warwick, and Carrickfergus. In the same session they "amended" an excellent Bribery Prevention Bill out of existence, and in 1848 they threw out another similar measure bodily because it iniquitously proposed to disfranchise for life anyone convicted by an election commission of unblushing corruption. Men who could thus shield corruption were not likely to do aught to diminish the page 63 scandalous cost of elections. Accordingly, in 1852, they rejected a measure for limiting the poll in counties to a single day.
The Lords have always been singularly vigilant in rendering the electoral register as inaccessible as possible. In 1857 it was proposed to allow an elector who had paid his rates to within six months of voting to exercise his right. The Lords held that the voter must have paid up to the date of election. They likewise disqualified electors who had changed their residence between registration and registration, and in 1838 they caused the loss of a useful Bill because it sought to enable trustees, as such, to exercise the franchise.
In the Reform Bill of 1867, which probably escaped rejection because it was the handiwork of a Conservative Government, they contrived to insert the abomination of three-cornered constituencies, and but for the firmness of the Commons they would otherwise have disfigured that measure even more seriously.
In 1871 the peers threw out the Ballot Bill by a majority of forty-nine. The following year they read the Bill a second time, but insisted that secrecy should be optional. Eventually they reluctantly permitted secret voting to become the law of the land.
As regards the Reform Bill of 1884, they have assumed such an attitude of insolent defiance that it is not too much to say that a large majority of the people have determined not to mend, but to end them. Disguise it as they may, they have deliberately attempted to usurp the Crown's prerogative to dissolve parliament, in the hope that a Conservative majority may be returned to the House of Commons—a majority prepared to aid them in manipulating the constituencies in the interests of Toryism. So much for the peers and reform.
Next in importance to the relation of the people to the suffrage—nay, perhaps first in importance—comes their relation to the land. Let us see how the peers have dealt with this great question. The House of Lords is really a House of Landlords. The noble five hundred share among them nearly a fifth of the available soil of the country, and their brothers and nephews, uncles and aunts, hold most of the remainder. The peers alone extract from the toilers and page 64 spinners of the nation nearly £12,000,000 per annum in the shape of rent. But for this unearned and unheard-of wealth, their pretended blue blood would avail them but little. Were it not for their bread acres they would have been ignominiously drummed out of St. Stephen's long ago.
It may be true that "knowledge is power," but it is still truer that acres are power. This truth the aristocracy of England, at every stage of their shameful history, have appreciated so keenly, that in order to illustrate the proposition they have not hesitated to rob successively the People, the Church, and the Crown of nearly all that once was theirs. The theft of the commons by Enclosure Acts was a mere matter of detail.
And theoretically, as well as historically, the Lords are merely a chamber of robbers. Land is the free gift of God to all men, as much as the air we breathe. Hence its ownership is necessarily in society as a whole, and not in individuals, let the process of acquisition be never so innocent. This being so, the land robbers of the Upper Chamber, as might have been expected, have dealt with their booty in much the same way as a crew of pirates would treat a captured merchantman. Rent is the cargo of the prize: eviction is equivalent to walking the plank; tenancy-at-will is the slavery into which buccaneers were wont to sell their victims. In a word, the House of Landlords have from first to last regarded the national soil of Great Britain and Ireland—of Ireland more particularly—not as the property of the people, but as their property.
The dealings of the peers with the Irish land question will best illustrate the manner in which noble lords hold that it is competent for them "to do as they like with their own." In 1845 the Devon Commission, composed exclusively of landlords, reported that the Irish tenants were subject to "greater sufferings than the people of any other country in Europe," and recommended compensation for improvements and for disturbance. Lord Stanley framed a Bill in harmony with the report, but notwithstanding that it was backed by a Conservative Government, it was successfully strangled in the Lords, and for five-and-twenty years more, Irishmen continued to endure "greater sufferings than the people of any other country in Europe."page 65
In 1854 several Bills were introduced by Lord Aberdeen's Government to give compensation to Irish tenants for the reclamation of bog, the construction of roads and fences, the building of homesteads, of outbuildings, &c. The Lords "amended" or ended them all out of existence. "It is notorious," said Sir J. Napier in 1855, "that the House of Lords will pass no such measure, and that for a Government to propose it to them or pretend to support it is an imposture and a sham."
In 1860 an Irish Land Act was passed simply because it did not contain a single provision of the least use to the tenant. Subsequent attempts in 1865, and 1867 to legislate on the lines of the Devon Commission were defeated without difficulty, and it was not till 1870 that a little headway was made.
In that year Mr. Gladstone brought in a Bill which, but for the "amendments" on which noble lords insisted, might have spared us the terrible experiences that culminated in the butchery of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke. The Bill, as it left the Commons, empowered the farmers to sub-let small portions of their farms to their labourers. It moreover secured to tenants not in arrears compensation for eviction not exceeding seven years' rent; and what was still more important, it allowed compensation to tenants in arrear in such special cases as a failure of crops, &c. Both these provisions the peers obdurately struck out of the Bill, with most disastrous results.
In 1878 and 1879 the crops were all but a complete failure, and the tenants necessarily fell into arrears by the thousand. A tenant two years in arrear of rent might be entitled in equity to five years' compensation for disturbance, but it mattered not. The provision for his protection in the Bill of 1870 had been deleted by the Peers, and he and his were at the mercy of the merciless evictor. There was yet time to repent. In 1880 Mr. Gladstone introduced a short Compensation for Disturbance Bill, practically reviving the clauses eliminated from the Bill of 1870. But his solemn warning to the Peers availed nothing. By a majority of 282 votes to 51 they rejected the measure. In sheer despair the downtrodden people determined to 'temper such intolerable despotism by assassination.' It is easy to lift up hands of holy horror; but page 66 "death by starvation" cannot be endured by mortal men with equanimity. Besides, it ought never to be forgotten that Irishmen, unlike Englishmen and Scotsmen, are forbidden the legitimate use of arms. They are as brave as any race under the sun, and but for the Arms Act would almost certainly have fought us gallantly in the open against whatever odds. The existence of this Act explains if it does not justify some of the worst deeds of violence. "Beware," cried these ruined men,
"Lest when our latest hope is fled
Ye taste of our despair,
And learn by proof in some wild hour
How much the wretched dare."
The lesson they taught was not lost. It required such strong medicine to secure the passage of the Irish Land Act of 1881 and the Arrears Act of 1882. Then the Lords showed once more that though they will yield nothing to reason or a sense of justice, they will concede almost anything to fear. They of course "amended" both the Land Bill and the Arrears Bill; but the Commons, with an incensed nation at their back; were resolute, and, nolens volens, they had to swallow both these bitter pills with many wry faces. They were small, inadequate pills, it is true; but they were the most nauseous that have ever been administered to the Landlords' House. Fair rents and fixity of tenure wrested from us, and the luxury of eviction rapidly going! Alas! alas! what next—and next?
Since the beginning of the century England and Scotland may be said, generally speaking, to have been governed by the House of Commons. Ireland, on the contrary, has been ruled by the Lords, and we have only to "look on this picture and on that," to apprehend how great is the difference between the responsible and the irresponsible control of a people. "Why are the Irish discontented?" asked O'Connell, in the House of Commons. "Because," said he, "for seven hundred years England has governed them by a faction and for a faction."
In 1829 the peers yielded to the demand for Catholic emancipation, only on condition that the Irish forty-shilling free-holders should be disfranchised.
The Reform Bill of 1832 gave the suffrage to nineteen out page 67 of every hundred adult males in England; in Ireland the percentage was not over five. Ministers admitted the glaring inequality; but in the face of a hostile majority in the Lords they were powerless.
In 1835, 1880, and in 1883 a Bill to assimilate the Irish to the English registration system passed the Commons, and was presented to the Lords. The measure would, to some extent, have increased the Irish electorate by the removal of galling impediments, but on each occasion the hereditary chamber threw it out. On the first opportunity it was rejected on a division by three to one; on the last by fifty-two votes to thirty-two.
In 1837 a Bill to afford Irish electors better polling facilities in large towns was extinguished by a hostile lordly majority of seventy-four to thirty-six.
In 1850, when twenty-eight out of every hundred adult Englishmen had the franchise, the percentage in Ireland was two. To remove this inequality a Bill with an eight pound ratal qualification was sent up to the Lords. They fixed the rating at fifteen pounds, and it was not without the greatest difficulty that they could be induced to agree to a twelve pound rating compromise. As it was, they managed to exclude 90,000 "capable citizens" from the suffrage. As matters now stand, while the population of an English borough has the suffrage in the ratio of one in seven, in Ireland it is in the proportion of one in eighteen.
In 1835, in 1836, in 1837, in 1838, in 1839, and in 1840 strenuous attempts were made to reform, as in England and Scotland, the close municipal corporations of Ireland, but to no purpose. The Lords defied the Commons, and Irish municipal reform had finally to be abandoned. One Bill, that of 1836, contained 140 clauses. The Lords struck out 106 of them, and wrecked the measure beyond recognition.
In 1834, 1835, 1836, and 1837, an Irish Tithe Abatement Bill heartily supported by O'Connell and an immense majority of the Commons—a majority, in 1837, of 229 to 13—suffered shipwreck in the Lords. In 1838, they permitted it to pass on condition that the Appropriation Clause, the most important in the Bill, should be struck out. Why? Because their lordships held that it would be sacrilege to devote any page 68 portion of the revenues of the Church to national purposes. It was not till 1869 that eventual retribution came in the disendowment of the alien Church in Ireland.
"Guilty and frail, how shalt thou stand
Before thy Sovereign Lord? (the people)
Can troubled and polluted springs
A hallowed stream afford?
Determined are the days that fly
Successive o'er thy head;
The numbered hour is on the wing.
That lays thee with the dead."
"March without the people," says Ledru Rollin," and you march into night; their instincts are a finger-pointing of Providence always turned towards real benefit." It is the one function of the Peers to "march into night." Privilege afflicts them with a second nature, which causes them, like bats and owls, to prefer the darkness to light. They are politically reprobrate, and incapable of repentance. In small things, as in great, it is their constant habit to devise illiberal things. They are not pious, as their frequent appearances in divorce and police-courts fully testify; yet they are uniformly orthodox. They are not permitted to burn heretics as of old, but they never miss a favourable chance of harassing and insulting their Nonconformist fellow-countrymen.
In 1834 it was proposed to permit more than twenty persons to meet in any private house for divine worship, without exacting from the worshippers any declaration of their religious tenets. This latitudinarianism shocked their lordships beyond measure, and they made haste to throw out the Bill.
In 1834 a modest measure enabling Nonconformist students who had studied in their own "private colleges" within a university to take degrees, was thrown out by noble lords on the ground that such a concession would poison the wells of religion and virtue," and it was not till 1854 that the virus of page 69 dissent was permitted to contaminate the pure springs of Anglican sanctity. In that year relief was granted on condition that non-juring students should enjoy no university emoluments, and it was not till 1871 that religious tests for fellowships, scholarships, &c., were finally abolished. Twice did the Peers reject the Test Abolition Bill by overwhelming majorities after it had been read a second time without a division in the House of Commons. Justice delayed for forty years in such a matter is enough to make the heart even of a lukewarm friend of freedom of conscience grow sick.
The agitation for the abolition of church-rates had been active since 1843, but it was not till 1858 that the question got fairly before the legislature. Then a Bill passed the Commons by a majority of more than sixty. The Peers threw it out by a majority of fifty-one. In 1860 their majority was even more decisive—viz., ninety-one. In 1867 they still held out with a majority of fifty-eight, but in 1869 their lordships were fain to capitulate without any of the honours of war. How any body of men can be so utterly devoid of self-respect as to be perpetually sacrificing their most cherished convictions on compulsion is past all understanding.
In trying to preserve for the Civil Service Church, which is largely manned by their relations, the solid pudding of university fellowships and church-rates, some excuse maybe made for the peers. Even Radicals are found not to despise the loaves and fishes of office. But what can be said for gratuitous insults that bring no grist to the mill? Two samples of these lordly affronts to Dissenters will suffice to show the malignant spirit of caste.
In 1836 noble lords in the Dissenters' Marriage Act stipulated that whoever should take exception to the Church service should be condemned to have their marriage banns read before the board of guardians! Two years previously they had amended a Poor-law Bill so as to prevent Nonconformist pastors from obtaining access to workhouses, be the inmates of whatever religious persuasion they might. "Poison the wells of pauper religion and virtue," would you, ye impenitent offspring of the Roundheads! Mr. Chamberlain told us but yesterday that as a Dissenter he has an account to settle with the peers, and that he will not forget the page 70 reckoning. More power to his elbow! England at this moment requires a leader like Pym, who will lead public opinion, and not be content reluctantly to follow it.
Not satisfied with harassing the Dissenters while alive, noble lords have even carried their animosity into the silent graveyard, "where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest." They have striven hard to convert "God's Acre" into a Church monopoly. For ten years they successfully opposed the Burials Bill, which became law in 1880, and even then they contrived to exclude Jews and all non-Christians from the benefit of the measure.
Hebrew Tories, of whom we have so many odious specimens, are really the most ungrateful of men. For five-and-twenty years—till 1858—the Lords, session after session, spurned their claims to sit in parliament after they had been recognisd by immense majorities in the Commons. One would naturally have expected the chosen people to have much the same feelings towards noble lords as their ancestors entertained for Philistines, Hivites, and Hittites. Howbeit they lick the hand that smote, and they know best.
It was hardly to be expected that the relentless foes of religious liberty would be much enamoured of educational enlightenment. When the first grant for national education (£30,000) was passed by the Commons, the Lords' condemnation of the proposal was unequivocal, 229 votes to 118. They did all they dared to spoil the Education Act of 1870, expunging in particular a clause permitting school boards to give free education in certain cases. Free education, as in the American Republic, is a necessity almost as pressing as suffrage extension or the solution of the land question. The sagacious peers saw the danger lurking under the clause. It was the thin end of the wedge of free national education, and they peremptorily declined to sanction its insertion.
Against every extension of the principle of local self-government the Peers have invariably set their faces, maiming remorselessly when they dared not kill. The Great Municipal Corporation Bill (1835), as originally "amended" by the House of Lords, was a sight to see. They restored the corrupt "freemen" to the register; they made town clerks irremovable; they gave indirectly-elected aldermen life tenure of office; they excluded Nonconformist councillors from the page 71 exercise of Church patronage; they insisted on a high property qualification; and they deprived corporations of the right to nominate justices. The country indignantly refused to accept most of these and other "amendments;" but whatever blemishes there are in the statesman-like Corporations Act are to be laid to the door of the Peers. The loss of right to nominate justices, and 'the vicious system of electing aldermen, are among the worst results of their mischievous interference.
In 1838 they rejected a Bill empowering municipal justices to exercise the same control over town gaols as county justices possessed in counties. They took particular exception to a clause sanctioning the appointment of chaplains other than Anglican parsons. Study any recent statute, and if you stumble on a section limiting its usefulness, ten to one you will discover, on reference to Hansard, that it is the handiwork of the Lords.
The Peers have always exerted themselves with peculiar energy to retain on the statute book as many barbarities of the penal code as they conveniently could. Their love of the hangman was, and is, ardent. With the utmost reluctance were they induced to restrict the death-penalty to cases of wilful murder. But blood they must have in some form. The revolting torture of domestic pigeons commended itself to the noble lords in 1883 as a manly British "sport." Mr. Anderson's humane Pigeon Shooting Bill was thrown out by a majority of two to one, Lord Fortescue remarking that it was "a frivolous Bill which it was trifling with the time of the House to bring forward."
For the weak, the peers have no bowels of compassion. Witness their rejection, in 1838, of the Custody of Infants Bill, giving a woman separated from her husband, through no fault of her own, access to her children; their mutilation in 1842, of the Children Regulation Bill, protecting women and children from toil more crushing than was ever inflicted on negro slaves; their elimination from the Mines Bill (1860) of the clauses securing the pit-boys of tender years fixed hours of instruction; and their futile attempt in 1880 to delete from the Employers' Liability Bill the clause rendering employers responsible for the acts of those to whom they delegate authority.page 72
There is in the House of Lords, a non-hereditary element—the Spiritual Peers—the twenty-six representatives of the Civil Service Church. They are a "survival" from those early common-sense times when men were summoned to the Commune Concilium Regni, not because they had "taken the trouble to be born," but because by reason of their piety and superior learning they were, or were supposed to be, the fittest councillors of the monarch. However this may once have been, it is very certain that for centuries they have out-Heroded their strictly hereditary co-legislators in trampling on every popular right, in violating every precept of the Christian religion.
"It is a melancholy thing," says Sidney Smith, "to see men clothed in soft raiment, lodged in a public palace, endowed with a rich portion of other men's industry using their influence to deepen the ignorance and inflame the fury of their fellow-creatures."
A bare record of some of their more recent enormities ought to satisfy even Churchmen that their career as legislators should at once be terminated.
In 1807 power was sought by Bill to enable magistrates to provide rate-supported schools wherever they were wanted. It was a highly necessary, moderate, and efficient measure. The Archbishop of Canterbury lifted up his testimony against it, and it was rejected without a division. "Their lordships would feel," he unctuously said, "how dangerous it might be to innovate in such matters. Their lordships' prudence would, no doubt, guard against innovations that might shake the foundations of our religion."
In 1810, "shop-lifting" to the extent of five shillings and upwards was punishable by death. It was proposed by Bill to substitute for the death-penalty transportation for life. The measure was rejected by a vote of 31 to 11. Not a single bishop was found in the minority; seven voted in the majority. It is almost incredible to conceive that at the beginning of this century 223 offences required the intervention of the hangman. Whenever it was proposed by Sir Samuel Romilly, Lord Holland, and other humane men to disestablish this hideous functionary, the bishops by voice and vote sedulously "guarded against innovations that might shake the foundations of religion."page 73
In 1821 it was proposed to enable Roman Catholics to sit in parliament. Twenty-five bishops voted against the Bill, which was thrown out by a vote of 159 to 120.
In 1822 a Bill was brought in to enable Roman Catholic peers to take their seats in the Upper House. Twenty-three bishops voted against it, and it was rejected.
In 1829 a Catholic Emancipation Bill was eventually got through the Lords by a majority of 213 to 104; but small were the thanks due to the successors of the apostles, to the professed disciples of the Great Teacher who told the woman at the well of Samaria that the hour had come when the true worshippers should worship God in spirit and in truth—the hour when Samaritan mountains and Jewish Jerusalems, Anglican Establishments, and Papal Infallibilities should avail nothing. Twenty bishops voted against the third reading of the Catholic Emancipation Bill.
In 1831 the Lords threw out the great Reform Bill by 199 votes to 158. Twenty-one bishops voted in the majority, his Grace of Canterbury declaring that it was "mischievous in its tendency, and would be extremely dangerous to the fabric of the constitution."
In 1831 the Reform Bill passed the second reading in the Upper House by a vote of 184 to 175. Fifteen bishops were found in the minority.
In 1833 the Jewish Disabilities Repeal Bill was introduced, and it was not till after a struggle of twenty-five years, not till 1858, that the Lords permitted it to become law. Twenty bishops voted against it in 1833, and eleven in 1858. Archbishop Howley held that "the moral and intellectual capacity of the Jews" disqualified them for all legislative duties.
In 1834 twenty-two bishops voted to exclude the Dissenters from the universities. The Bill was lost, 187 to 85 noble lords voting against it.
In 1839 it was proposed to appoint a committee of Privy Council to deal with matters affecting the education of the people. Fifteen bishops voted against the proposal, and it was rejected by 229 to 118 votes. Archbishop Howley led the opposition.
In 1867, and again in 1869, the University Tests Abolition Bill was rejected by the Lords. On both occasions a majority of the bishops who voted opposed the measure.page 74
In 1858 twenty-four bishops, as was to be expected, voted against the abolition of Church rates. The Bill was lost, there being a majority of 187 to 36 against it. Archbishop Sumner declared that Church rates were "essential to the permanent welfare of the Church."
In 1860 the Bill was again thrown out by a majority of 128 to 31. Sixteen bishops were in the majority.
In 1860, 1861, 1862, 1863, and in 1865, a Bill was brought in to abolish the declaration exacted from office-holders not to seek "to interfere with or weaken the Church, or disturb the said Church, or the bishops and clergy of the said Church, in the possession of any rights or privileges to which they are or may be by law entitled." On no occasion could more than one bishop be got to vote for the Bill. In 1865, the year before it was finally passed, ten episcopal legislators voted in the majority against it, In 1867 it was rejected for the third time. Seven bishops voted in the majority of eighty-two to twenty-four, and none in the minority.
In 1876 sixteen, and in 1877 eleven bishops voted to restrict the privilege of "Christian and orderly" funeral services in churchyards to Churchmen exclusively.
In 1883 the Deceased's Wife's Sister Bill was lost on the third reading for the want of five votes. Seventeen bishops were in the majority.
In 1883 one would naturally have expected the disciples of the gentle Nazarene who broke not the bruised reed, and whose mighty compassion embraced at once the "lilies of the field" and the "fowl of the air," would have had a word to say in favour of Mr. Anderson's Anti-Pigeon Torture Bill. But no; not a man of them thought it worth his while to speak or vote for the measure.
The Prelates, it would appear, have aggregate salaries, &c., amounting to £166,771 with the patronage of 2,649 Benefices of the net annual value of £887,733. A singular commentary is this truly on the pastoral equipments prescribed by Him who had not where to lay his head. "They should take nothing for their journey save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purses: but be shod with sandals and not put on two coats."
"With gates of silver and bars of gold
Ye have forced my sheep from their Father's fold;
I have heard the dropping of their tears
In heaven these eighteen hundred years."
"O Lord and Master, not ours the guilt
We build but as our father's built;
Behold thine images how they stand
Sovereign and sole through all our land."
Then Christ sought out an artisan
A low-browed, stunted, haggard man
And a motherless girl whose fingers thin
Pushed from her faintly want and sin,
These set he in the midst of them,
And as they draw back their garment-hem
For fear of defilement, "Lo, here," said he,
"The images ye have made of me!"
It is not too much to say that there is not a good cause nor a respectable class in the whole community that has not experienced some injury or some contumely at the hands of our hereditary Episcopal legislators. In theory and in practice they are alike beyond endurance. Lord Salisbury recognises this and sighs for the creation of a Senate after the American model. He would "Americanize our institutions," the wicked innovator! But perchance even this fond wish of his heart will be found unattainable. The torrent of democracy is not to be repelled even by a respectable senatorial breakwater. In one of the ablest works (Mr. Lock-wood's volume, which appeared in New York the other day) on the American Constitution it is seriously proposed to abolish both the Presidency and the Senate as filthy monarchical rags. We recommend the book to Lord Salisbury, for early and careful perusal.
It may be well at this stage to say a word or two on the utility of Second Chambers in general.
Most countries, it is true, have imitated us in the division of their Legislatures into two Houses, but that proves nothing more than that man is a foolishly gregarious animal, ever prone to follow bell-wethers. If England had started not merely with a Second but with a Third and Fourth Legislative page 76 Chamber, there is no reason to doubt that it would have been generally discovered that the eternal fitness of things demanded that every legislature should consist of four houses. But if we were the first to start on a false track, let us also be the first to retrace our steps. I can see no better reason for a two-chambered Parliament than for two Town Councils with co-ordinate powers say in Birmingham or Manchester.
The United States Senate is admittedly the giant of the whole forest of bi-cameral superstition and if I can effectually dispose of it, it will not matter much about the other senatorial brambles whether in Europe, South America or the Colonies.
The origin of the American Senate was, everything considered, almost as haphazard and irrational as that of the House of Lords. The original Articles of Confederation of the thirteen States correctly enough provided only for a single House, with an Executive Committee, the Committee to adminster the affairs of the State while the House was out of Session. But this rational arrangement was too good to last. The National Convention which gave the Constitution of the United States its present form contained a majority of politicians who, though they had been able to throw off the military yoke of England, were unable to divest themselves of the yoke of pernicious English precedents. They must have a King, Lords, and Commons in some shape. Accordingly, Article I., Section 3, was submitted: "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof for six years, and each Senator shall have one vote."
Of the debate that followed we know little, the Convention sitting with closed doors, as did likewise the Senate for the first five years of its existence; but we know enough of the proceedings to point the moral of the wise Swede, Oxenstiern, "Behold, my son, with how little wisdom this world is governed!" Chief Justice Yates, of New York, made the following profound memorandum in his note-book:—"May 31st, 1787.—The 3rd resolve, to wit: 'That the National Legislature ought to consist of two branches.' N.B. As a previous resolution had already been agreed to, to have a Supreme Legislature, I could not see any objection to its being in two branches." Mr. Dickenson held that the Senate should be as like the British House of Lords as possible, and page 77 consist of men of rank and property. The celebrated Alexander Hamilton was a great stickler for English forms, and wrote eloquently against "an improper consolidation of the States into a simple Republic." At the same time there were not lacking far-sighted men, like David Brearly, who advocated the complete obliteration of State lines, and the division of the whole country into equal parts based on population. Jefferson, also, was a One House man; and out of the thirteen States the delegates of three—the great State of New York being one of them—voted against the institution of a Second Chamber. The deliberations were naturally expedited by certain gnats, which infested the Convention Hall. In those days gentlemen encased their legs in silk stockings, which gave the pestiferous insects great advantages.
The Senate met, and its members made the most ludicrous attempts to ape their hereditary English prototypes. Mr. Maclay kept a journal in which he describes the ceremony of the inauguration of President Washington:—"The President (of the Senate), Mr. Adams, rose in the most solemn manner. 'Gentlemen,' he said, 'I wish for the direction of the Senate. The President will, I suppose, address the Congress. How shall I behave? How shall we receive it? Shall it be standing or sitting? Mr. Lee began with the House of Commons, as is usual with him, then the House of Lords, then the King, and then back again. The result of his information was that the Lords sat and the Commons stood on the delivery of the King's Speech. Mr. Izard got up, and told how often he had been in the Houses of Parliament. He said a great deal of what he had seen there; made, however, this sage discovery: that the Commons stood because they had no seats to sit in on being arrived at the House of Lords," &c.
But dearly was America to pay for this thoughtless adoption of English Monarchical forms, for this servile compromise of Republican principles. By giving power and dignity to the Senate, the House of Representatives has been degraded. Wherever two Chambers exist one must be master, and, unfortunately for the Western Republic, the master is the Aristocratic Upper Chamber. Hence Lord Salisbury's admiration for the American Senate, in which the little State of Delaware is put on a footing of equality with that of New York, with more than thirty times its population.page 78
The American Senators are individually superior to Members of the House of Representatives, but collectively they have ever been worse legislators. Take the crucial test of the Slavery Question. After the Mexican War the Representative House, by a majority of fourteen, passed a Bill admitting the conquered region as a territory, on condition that it should never be polluted by Slavery. The Senate would not so much as look at it. Again, in 1848, a Bill excluding Slavery from the territory of California passed the House by a majority of thirty-nine. The Senate scornfully declined to consider it. By a majority of ninety-nine the House prohibited Slavery in Oregon. The Senate laid the Bill on the table, from which it was never lifted. In 1849 the Senate made an attempt to extend Slavery into the new territories by the daring expedient of affixing an enabling provision to the Appropriation Bill. The House, however, sternly rejected the amendment, and the Senate retreated. The idea of arresting the entire machinery of government in order to further the ends of slaveholders ought to have attractions for the mind of the descendant of that Cecil of whom Lord Clarendon wrote; "No act of power was ever proposed which he did not advance and advocate with the utmost rigour. No man so great a tyrant in this country."
Suffice it to say that, but for the existence of the American Second Chamber, the Republic might have been spared all the horrors of the Civil War, with its holocaust of 900,000 lives and its loss of £1,400,000,000 of treasure. What is wanted in the United States, in this country, and every other self-governing State, is a single Democratic Assembly, with an Executive Committee elected by and responsible to that Assembly. "Useless and dangerous" is stamped on the face of every other more complex arrangement.
The problem how the Lords are to be abolished is of easy solution. They cannot present themselves at the Gilded Chamber without writs, and these a Democratic Ministry could and would peremptorily stop. Should they come without writs, Inspector Denning could be instructed to take charge of them. Or the House of Commons could simply revive its resolution of 6th January, 1649, decreeing their abolition.
Some fears have been expressed lest if this were done the page 79 Peers should find their way into the House of Commons by the legitimate door of election. But why not? If the people desire to be represented by gentlemen who neither "toil nor spin" let them. They will have none but themselves to blame if they are misrepresented. Besides, a sprinkling of Salisburys would give colour and variety to the popular assembly. We may have too much undiluted Grand Old Man; and I can even conceive of greater boons than a House of Commons exclusively composed of Broadhursts and Howells.