Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/36

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32
The Reform Bill of 1832—Subsequent History.

the downfall of the coalition administration which ensued, supported the younger Pitt, who had undertaken to form a new Ministry, against the majority of the House of Commons, who did their best to overthrow him. The story of how Mr. Pitt held his ground, how the majority against him in the Lower House gradually diminished on every division, how at length after a conflict of three months, he appealed to the country, and how the new electors gave him a triumphant majority in the House of Commons forms one of the most interesting episodes in our constitutional history. Its value in our present inquiry consists in the fact that it furnishes an important instance in which the Lords resolutely adopted the right course in defiance of the Commons, and in which their conduct received the warm support and approbation of the country.

The Reform Bill of 1832.When we come to the proceedings as to the Reform Bill in 1831-2, we, no doubt, find that the Peers, as a body, made a mistake; but even in this case they ultimately yielded. If, however, we look a little closer into the causes which led to this resistance, we shall see that they were such as could not possibly occur again, and that they were in fact connected not with the character and composition of the House of Lords, but with that of the House of Commons. And it is well to remember that even on the Reform Bill of 1831-2 the Peers did not all of them adopt a hostile attitude; and that Lord Grey in particular mainly contributed to its ultimate success. It is well also to remember that, as was always insisted on by Lord Beaconsfield, this Reform Bill was by no means a perfect measure; that it actually disfranchised considerable numbers of the working classes, and placed political power in the boroughs in the hands of a portion of the middle classes, arbitrarily determining whether they should or should not possess the franchise by the accident of whether their houses were above or under the annual value of £10.

Subsequent history.And the actual state of the case was, in truth, history, very quickly perceived by the country. The Lords did not long suffer in popular esteem from the pardonable mistake which they had committed. Nor did success attend the renewed outcry which, in the course of the next few years, was attempted to be raised against them because they did not endorse every word of every Bill which was sent up to them for approval by the reformed House of Commons in the crude and inexperienced exercise of its new