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composed would be a poor representation of the varied interests of the country, Some measure that would put a stop to the necessity of paying travelling expenses for the voter—some adaptation of the system of voting papers, which has answered so well at the Universities, would go far to meet the evil.
Many other changes in our electoral system, which are small in extent, but which still it would be desirable to make, might be suggested. But they must all be subject to the far more momentous question, whether it is desirable for a Government formed from the ranks of the Conservative party to undertake the question of Reform at all. There is a genuine desire in the minds of many persons that something should be done in order to release the numerous persons in all orders of society, from Cabinet ministers down to pot-house politicians, especially upon the Liberal side, who have pledged themselves to the passing of some measure that shall bear the name of Reform Bill. Beyond this, there is undoubtedly the consideration, that both electors and non-electors have heard the question of Reform so much discussed, and know that so many promises have been given on the subject, that if nothing is done, they may retain a vague feeling that some one has kept from them what authorities, which they think good, told them they had a right to possess:
and though they may entertain no very distinct idea of its precise value, a certain amount of resentment may be left behind in their minds. Some of this feeling must undoubtedly be created by any Reform Bill which could be accepted by the Conservatives, or the moderate Liberals : for it must of necessity leave a large number of persons without the franchise for whom it is now claimed. Yet there can be no doubt that if some enfranchisement were made, the feeling of soreness even in their minds would be diminished. They would not have won anything for themselves; but still they would have won a partial triumph. Half, or more than half the earnestness of a political struggle, belongs to the sporting category of feelings. Men are sore when they lose, and satisfied when they win, not for the value of the thing at stake, but for the value they set on winning in the abstract. Therefore it is that any termination of a struggle in which either side wins nothing is unsatisfactory. It is not that one of the extremnes may not be perfectly right. In times of great excitement the mean between two extremes may be anything but moderate in reality, But a complete victory on either side leaves a wound that will not heal. It gives earnestness to the defeated, while the victors are apt to lose it: and earnestness, no matter in what cause, exercises a fatal charm often upon whole generations as they pass through the sentimental age. "If legitimacy had not conquered
so completely in 1815, that strange ultra-Liberal superstition, which so deeply tinged and fired the growing minds of the country for a whole generation after that time, would never have been more than the eccentricity of a few enthusiasts. It would not, therefore, be an unmixed good to conquer completely in this matter of Reform.
Such are some of the principal arguments which might be urged in favour of a Conservative Reform Bill. 'We do not deny that a certain weight might be assigned to them, if the Conservatives were in a position from which they could secure the passing of a fair compromise. But it is not for combatants to offer terms of compromise unless they are certain that they are strong enough to hold their own in case of need. Otherwise, to offer a compromise is to sue for peace. The attitude which the Conservative party ought to assume in reference to the question of Reform must depend on the strength which they find they possess in the House of Commons. If they can command an assured support which shall enable them to secure that the terms of any compromise adopted shall be really moderate, it may be wise to close the controversy, so far as it can be closed by any action of theirs. But to bring forward any measure affecting the representation of the people in the presence of adverse forces strong enough to engraft democratic amendments on it, would be to throw away all the advantages which the labours of this session have secured.
On this subject we are tempted to refer to Lord Derby's most impressive speech in the House of Lords on the 9th of this month, when he first met the present Parliament as Prime Minister :
My Lords, I must in the first place say that I hold myself entirely free and unpledged on that great and difficult question of Reform. I have in reference to that question experienced certain dangers of my own—and I shall certainly consider well and carefully, before I again introduce a Reform Bill, the wise advice given by the noble earl, my predecessor, that no government is justified in bringing in a Reform Bill without having a reasonable prospect of carrying it; and also the remark of the noble earl upon the cross benches (Grey), that a Reform Bill cannot be carried, or the constitution amended, except by a mutual understanding between the two great parties in the country. On the other hand, I am afraid that that portion of the community who are the most clamorous for a Reform Bill will not be satisfied with any measure such as can be acceded to by the great parties of the country, and I greatly fear that any measure of a moderate character would not satisfy those persons, but would lead to further agitation and be made a stepping stone for further measures. I reserve to myself entire liberty as to whether the present Government shall or not undertake in future sessions to bring in any measure for the amendment of the representation of the people: but of this I am quite sure, that if there be no reasonable prospect of passing a sound and satisfactory measure, it will be an unfortunate thing and a great disadvantage to the country that session after session should be lost, and measures of useful legislation should be put a stop to, by continued contests over a Reform Bill.'
It is, in truth, impossible to forecast the course which the Conservative party will preserve upon this momentous question until the position which is likely to be occupied by the constitutional Whigs is more clearly ascertained. That they have resolved not to aid Lord Derby in assuming the government of the country, as they aided him in repelling an attack upon the Constitution, will be matter of earnest regret to every friend of the Constitution. It can in no sense, however, be a matter of complaint; for the honour of public men is too precious to be hazarded lightly, and every man is the best judge of the course which a regard for it prescribes to him to follow. In such matters precipitate action might lead to misconstruction of motives. The recasting of political associations, however imperatively the exigency of the times may demand it, should not be the work of a momentary impulse. The time, however, it may be hoped, is not far distant when merely personal and traditional ties will cease to keep apart those who are of one mind upon the most vital question of our generation. In the meantime their refusal leaves the House of Commons divided in effect --though not very distinctly-into three parties. It is obvious that no one of those three parties can command a majority without the help of one of the other two : or, to put it more practically, neither the Conservatives nor the Radicals can retain the government of the country for any length of time except by the assistance of the Whigs. On the heads of this central party, which holds the balance between the other two, a heavy responsibility rests. It is clear, from what has passed this year, that they will not consent to an alliance with the Radicals except upon terms which the Radicals refuse to accept. They will not take Mr. Gladstone, in his present mood, as their leader. Rather than do so they have helped to drive a Liberal Ministry from power. It will lie with them to decide whether Mr. Gladstone shall remain powerless for evil until either he shall have abandoned his Radical allies, or until a broad Constitutional party shall have been formed strong enough permanently to baffle his designs,—or whether he is to come back with a stronger Reform Bill and increased power to pass it. That they should look to the ultimate-perhaps the early-formation of a party whose course they should have their just share in guiding is natural enough. But it lies with them, by giving a general support to
the Government which has just been formed, to render the formation of that party possible.
There can be no doubt-so far as the subject matter adınits of such an expression—that Mr. Gladstone intends to adhere to the democratic policy he has already announced. It is doubtful whether he intends now to head the movement for suffrages still lower than those which he proposed. He does not disdain apparently to act as the recognised leader of Mr. Potter and Mr. Lucraft. To what extent he has by that act accepted their doctrines may be a matter of dispute; but he clearly sees in them nothing to repel him. It may, therefore, be assumed that if he moves at all from the seven pound limit, it will be to go lower and not higher. He is evidently in no mood to win back by concession those who have left him, or to calm those, who, though they voted for him, watched his proceedings with undisguised alarm. Opposition, as is usually the case with him, has made him more bitter and more extravagant. He is trying to put himself at the head of a great democratic agitation. It is quite clear that if he comes into office again he comes in as the nominec and champion of the Radicals — pledged to their measures, accepting their principles, and relying upon them to inflame the populace out of doors against his antagonists. And he will come in again as the inevitable Minister : as a last resource after all alternatives have been exhausted : not upon his trial, as this year, but in triumph. In such a position it is needless to point out how terrible his strength will be. He will then level again the blow, which this year he has narrowly missed, and which will hardly fail again. He will introduce, and, supported by the belief that no other Ministry but his own can exist, he will pass a Reform Bill that shall build up his future power on the attachment of the Trades Unions of the great towns, and shall rid him for ever of aristocratic opposition.
It is for the Constitutional Whigs to consider how far thev will be partakers in this enterprise. If they allow Lord Derby's Government to be thrown out upon any vote of confidence, no other result can follow but that Mr. Gladstone will come back again. We will not urge the title Lord Derby's Cabinet has to their confidence—the agreement upon the one vital point, the paucity of subjects on which any difference can be found, the real identity of interest and of sympathy in presence of the moveinent which Mr. Gladstone Jeads, and which Mr. Potter and Mr. Lucraft represent. We will content ourselves with pointing to the inevitable result of their defeat. There may be members of that Government of whose appointment they disapprove, or to whose views on particular subjects they are opposed. Questions Vol. 120.–No. 239.
may arise on which they may dislike the course of the Government, or may feel inclined to censure the bearing of some particular member of it. If they could replace it by something which they liked better there would be nothing unreasonable in their giving effect to their objections. From their own point of view they would be acting logically and consistently, if they could replace a Conservative Government by a moderate Liberal Government, free from the reproach of any democratic leanings. But they are bound in this momentous crisis to take all the elements of the calculation together, and to work out from the whole the result which according to their views will be most beneficial to the community. They must not sacrifice to their feelings upon a secondary question, or their dislike to this or that individual, the issues of the one all-important conflict. It is not a moment to quarrel about party badges, when the common enemy is at the gate. If Mr. Gladstone comes back upon the shoulders of the politicians who hold their debates in Trafalgar Square, the personal controversies that are keenly canvassed now will become matter of faint but melancholy historical interest. The classes who now are divided among themselves upon differences merely personal, or on questions of altogether subsidiary importance, will have leisure in the retirement of absolute political annihilation to reflect on the wisdom and opportuneness of their mutual distrust.
The decisions that are taken within the next two or three years will determine in all probability the future character and complexion of our constitution. The public apathy upon all questions of domestic policy is profound. The nation is too intent on other matters to point out to its rulers the course it would have them take. Our destiny is in the hands of a score or so of influential politicians of various schools. If they sufficiently understand the supreme importance of the crisis to forget awhile for their country's sake old antipathies or personal aspirations, the men who really love our ancient constitution will be gathered under one banner, and their united force may defy democracy. But if the opportunity is squandered in personal self-assertion or sectional bickering, they must fall before an enemy who at least may claim the praise of never suffering private ambition to impede the attainment of a great end. Our system may fairly be said to be on its trial. If the virtue of our public men is not equal to an exigency which for objects so precious asks for sacrifices so small, the world will think we have little cause for boasting over the less pretentious selfishness of more democratic communities.