Trust the People

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1884

Trust the People
by Randolph Churchill
A speech given by Lord Randolph Churchill MP on the Tory (Conservative) and 'Radical' (Liberal) parties. Given in Birmingham on 16 April 1884.

What is the great and wide difference which distinguishes the two great political parties who endeavor to attract the support of the English people? It has been well and wisely said—but I do not think it can be too often repeated—that the Tory party cling with veneration and affection to the institutions of our country. The Radicals regard them with aversion and distrust and will always give multitudinous and specious reasons for their destruction.


But can we, the Tory party, give no good convincing reasons to the people for the faith which is in us? We do not defend the Constitution from mere sentiment for the past, or from any infatuated superstition about divine right or hereditary excellence. We defend the Constitution solely on the ground of its utility to the people. It is on the ground of utility alone that we go forth to meet our foes, and if we fail to make good our ground with utilitarian arguments and for utilitarian ends, then let the present combination of Throne, Lords, and Commons be for ever swept away. An hereditary throne is the surest device which has ever been imagined or invented for the perpetuation of civil order and for that first necessity of civilized society—continuity of government.


And he would be a bold man in argument who would assert that the hereditary character of the British throne is a vice, or even a defect. When we remember that the English monarchy has endured for upwards of a thousand years, what device of the wisest philosopher or the most acute mathematician could have discovered a monarch more perfect for all the purposes of a monarchy than the one whom an hereditary descent of a thousand years has provided for us? To those—and there are, I believe, many—in this town who glibly tell you that the monarchy is too expensive and is not worth the price—to them I reply that it would be impossible to devise a form of government as effectual, and yet cheaper and more simple; and that if, in an evil hour, you were to listen to those silly tattlers, the sums of money that you would ultimately have to pay for police and military in times of administrative change, the fluctuations of credit, the displacement of capital, the loss to the interests of industry and labor which constant and inevitable administrative changes would produce, and the destruction to property which, in the absence of any recognised center of authority, those administrative changes would at times occasion, instead of being counted by the few hundred thousands which are the cost price of an hereditary throne, would be counted by millions and millions. So much for the first estate of the realm which the Radical party gloomily threaten and darkly scowl at. It is as well to remind ourselves from time to time of its history, its nature, and its use.


The more immediate object of Radical detestation is the House of Lords, in which they pretend to discover all the most execrable forms of class prejudice and privilege: and I have no doubt that much of the enthusiasm with which the Radical party clamor for the Reform Bill is due to the hope which they entertain that the passage of that Bill may possibly provoke a conflict between the Lords and the Commons, in which the Lords must for ever go down. I am not concerned, nor need you be concerned, to defend all the actions of the House of Lords in modern times; but I could, if I liked, point to many bright instances of statesmanship and liberality on their part. The House of Lords makes mistakes at times, I have no doubt; but even in this respect they will compare very favorably with Mr. Gladstone’s government, or even with the Radical party. I maintain that the House of Lords should be preserved solely on the ground of its utility to the people. I do not put forward as an argument for its preservation its long history, in order to show you that it possesses great merit as an institution. I do not argue, as some do, that it has acquired stability from the circumstance that by its composition it is rooted in the soil. I content myself with the fact of its existence at the present moment, and I find in it not only a powerful check on popular impulses arising from imperfect information, not only an aggregation of political wisdom and experience such as no other country can produce, but, above all, because I find in it literally the only effectual barrier against that most fatal foe to freedom, the one-man power—that power which has more than once prostrated and enslaved the liberties of France, and which constantly gives anxiety to the citizens of the United States.


From a national and imperial point of view, you need never be alarmed at the dangers of one-man power so long as the House of Lords endures. Be he minister, be he capitalist, be he demagog—be he Mr. Gladstone, or Mr. Chamberlain, or even Mr. Schnadhorst—against that bulwark of popular liberty and civil order he will dash himself in vain. The House of Lords may, perhaps, move slowly; they may, perhaps, be overcautious about accepting the merits of the legislation of the House of Commons; they may, perhaps, at times regard with some exaggeration of sentiment the extreme rights of property. That is the price you have to pay—and a small price it is for so valuable a possession—which guards you against so great a danger. They are essentially of the people. Year by year they are recruited from the people. Every privilege, every franchise, every liberty which is gained by the people, is treasured up and guarded by those who, animated by tradition and custom, by long descent and lofty name, fear neither monarchs, nor ministers, nor men, but only the people, whose trustees they are. It is recorded of the Sultan Saladin that he always had a shroud carried before him in State procession, to remind him of the perils and the destiny of monarchs. In like manner I would advise the English people, when speculating on or deciding political questions, to bear always before their minds this great constitutional fabric of the House of Lords, and to be continually questioning and inquiring the reasons for its existence and preservation, in order that they may be perpetually reminded of the dangers to which democracies are prone.


I can not pass from this subject of the House of Lords without alluding to the other bugbear of the Radical party, the Church of England, and its connection with the State. This question will be more or less directly before you at the next election. Again I adhere to my utilitarian line of defense, and I would urge upon you not to lend yourselves too hastily to any project for the demolition of the Established Church. But I would also, in dealing with this question, mingle a little of the wine of sentiment with the cold clear spring water of utilitarianism. I see in the Church of England an immense and omnipresent ramification of machinery working without cost to the people—and daily and hourly lifting the masses of the people, rich and poor alike, from the dead and dreary level of the lowest and most material cares of life, up to the comfortable contemplation of higher and serener forms of existence and of destiny. I see in the Church of England a center, and a source, and a guide of charitable effort, mitigating by its mendicant importunity the violence of human misery, whether mental or physical, and contributing to the work of alleviation from its own not superfluous resources; and I urge upon you not to throw that source of charity upon the haphazard almsgiving of a busy and a selfish world.


I view the Church of England eagerly cooperating in the work of national education, not only benefiting your children but saving your pockets; and I remember that it has been the work of the Church to pour forth floods of knowledge, purely secular and scientific, even from the days when knowledge was not; and I warn you against hindering the diffusion of knowledge, inspired by religion, among those who will have devolved upon them the responsibility for the government of this wide empire. But I own that my chief reason for supporting the Church of England I find in the fact that, when compared with other creeds and other sects, it is essentially the Church of religious liberty. Whether in one direction or another, it is continually possessed by the ambition, not of excluding, but of including, all shades of religious thought, all sorts and conditions of men; and, standing out like a lighthouse over a stormy ocean, it marks the entrance to a port where the millions and the masses of those who are wearied at times with the woes of the world, and troubled often by the trials of existence, may search for and may find that peace which passeth all understanding. I can not, and will not, allow myself to believe that the English people, who are not only naturally religious, but also eminently practical, will ever consent, for the petty purpose of gratifying sectarian animosity, or for the wretched object of pandering to infidel proclivities—will ever consent to deprive themselves of so abundant a fountain of aid and consolation, or acquiesce in the demolition of an institution which elevates the life of the nation, and consecrates the acts of the State.


Last, but not least—no, rather first—in the scheme of Tory politics come the Commons of England, with their marvelous history; their ancient descent, combining the blood of many nations; their unequaled liberties, and, I believe, their splendid future. The social progress of the Commons by means of legislative reform under the lines and carried on under the protection of the institutions whose utility I have endeavored to describe to you—that must be the policy of the Tory party. Their industries must be stimulated and protected by lightening the taxation, and by a large redistribution of the incidence of taxation. Their efforts to emancipate their brethren from the vices of an undeveloped civilization—such as intemperance, crime, and a weak standard of morality—must be provoked, encouraged, and facilitated. No class interests should be allowed to stand in the way of this mighty movement, and with this movement the Tory party not only sympathize, but identify themselves.


Social reform, producing direct and immediate benefit to the Commons—that must be our cry, as opposed to the Radicals, who foolishly scream for organic change, and waste their energies and their time in attacking institutions whose destruction would not only endanger popular freedom, but would leave the social condition of the people precisely where it was before. Apply this test to every legislative proposal, to every political movement, to every combination of circumstances and phenomena, and you will know what course to take and what line of action to adopt. I was much struck the other day in the House of Commons by a sentence which fell from the prime minister, when, leaning over the table and addressing directly the Tory party, he said to them, “Trust the people.”


I have long tried to make that my motto; but I know, and will not conceal, that there are still a few in our party who have that lesson yet to learn, and who have yet to understand that the Tory party of to-day is no longer identified with that small and narrow class which is connected with the ownership of land, but that its great strength can be found, and must be developed, in our large towns as well as in our country districts. Yes, trust the people. You, who are ambitious, and rightly ambitious, of being the guardians of the British Constitution, trust the people, and they will trust you—and they will follow you and join you in the defense of that Constitution against any and every foe.


I have no fear of democracy. I do not fear for minorities; I do not care for those checks and securities which Mr. Goschen seems to think of such importance. Modern checks and securities are not worth a brass farthing. Give me a fair arrangement of the constituencies, and one part of England will correct and balance the other. I do not think that electoral reform is a matter of national emergency. I should have been glad to see Parliament devote its attention and time to other matters, such as finance, local taxation, commerce, Ireland and Egypt. But I think that electoral reform is a matter of ministerial urgency, of party urgency, and that it is being treated as a question of party tactics for the purpose of uniting and stimulating the shattered Liberal majority; and it was for these reasons that I voted against the Reform Bill. But you may be sure that the English Constitution will endure and thrive, whether you add two millions of electors or two hundred to the electoral roll, so long as the Tory party are true to their past, mindful of their history, faithful to the policy which was bequeathed to them by Lord Beaconsfield. The future of the Constitution, the destinies of the Empire, are in the hands of the Tory party; and if only the leaders of the party in Parliament will have the courage of their convictions, grasp their responsibilities, and adapt their policy to those responsibilities, and if they are supported and stimulated by you who are here to-night, and by others like you in our large towns, that future and those destinies are great and assured. To rally the people round the throne, to unite the throne with the people—a loyal throne and a patriotic people—that is our policy and that is our faith.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.