A Short History of English Liberalism/II

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[ 42 ]

CHAPTER II[edit]

POLITICAL CONDITIONS IN THE REIGN OF GEORGE III[edit]

Modern English politics may be fairly said to begin about the accession of George III. The conflict of Liberalism and Toryism can no doubt be traced farther back. But though the same principles may have been at stake during the Civil War, or even in the time of the Lollards, the general movement was slow, and the connection with modern politics less definite. About the middle of the eighteenth century society began to group itself more permanently, and a train of events was started which can be traced continuously to our own time. Movement also became more rapid, and the appearance of the social fabric has been more changed in the last hundred and fifty years than it was in the preceding fifteen hundred. It is possible, therefore, to get a substantially accurate explanation of modern politics by a survey of the recent period alone. So many causes have been crowded into those few years that the weight of the others is almost negligible. The history of Liberalism is, for practical purposes, the history of Liberalism since 1760. This chapter will therefore examine the political condition of England about that date.

The political structure changed little between 1760 and 1820. At the end of that period, as at its beginning, power was in the hands of a class which monopolized every privilege of race, sex, creed, and rank, and disposed, at its discretion, of the fortunes of all inferior persons. Ireland and the Colonies were subordinated to Great Britain, women to men, Catholics and Dissenters to Churchmen, manufacturers, traders, and workmen to landowners. [ 43 ] The classification of humanity, for political purposes, was complete. The machinery of the State was controlled by a governing class, bound to listen to the complaints of its subjects, but not submitted to their authority. The temper of this class as a whole, though it was nominally divided into Tories and Whigs, was essentially Tory. The two sections disputed between themselves, and some of the Whigs expressed Liberal opinions on particular subjects. But the general mental habit of both parties was that of Toryism. It was not until after the Reform Act of 1832 that even the germ of a Liberal party made its appearance in English politics, and it was not until after the Reform Act of 1867 that such a party held office. The history of Liberalism in the early period of its growth is the history of its slow and painful progress through people who did not consciously accept it.

The general Tory view of political society was most forcibly expressed after the French Revolution. The proclamation of the equality of individuals which that implied was met by very clear and explicit denials. It is obvious that Toryism was thus strung to its highest pitch, and that it may have been less aggressive in temper before the violence of the Revolution inflamed it. But though it was exaggerated by the Revolution, it was not essentially altered, and the language of the Tories of 1820 may fairly be taken to illustrate the mental habit of Tories of 1760. The root principle of government was that it should be controlled by the wealthy owners of land. There was some free voting in towns. But most borough seats could be bought, and many were in the absolute disposition of the nearest landowner. The owners of freeholds worth forty shillings a year voted in county elections, and were comparatively independent. But no voter, however sturdy and self-reliant, had a real voice in politics. The landed gentry took politics for their business, and if the voter could draw attention to what he conceived to be a grievance, the landowner decided whether any remedy should be applied. "The country gentlemen," said Lord North, "are the best and most respectable objects of the confidence of the people."[29] Wilberforce described [ 44 ] the same class as "the very nerves and ligatures of the body politic."[30] The manufacturing class and traders were looked upon with a curious and comical jealousy. The great growth of these classes at the end of the century meant a new form of wealth and a new form of political power, and Sir William Jones probably spoke the feelings of most of his class when he opposed a motion for the Reform of Parliament in 1793. He said "it had ever been his opinion, since he began his political career, that the country had too much of a commercial turn, and that its commerce would soon become more than a match for its virtues. The petitioners proposed a measure that evidently tended to throw weight into a scale which preponderated too much already. He asserted that boroughs, bought and controlled by men of property, formed the only balance to the commercial influence, which was increasing by too rapid strides, and which ought to be checked."[31] So Robert Jenkinson, afterwards Earl of Liverpool, "thought the landed interest, which was the stamina of the country, ought to have the preponderant weight, the manufacturing and commercial interest the next place, and then those whom he styled 'the professional people.'" He therefore opposed attempts to reform Parliament, because "the counties and many of the populous boroughs were required for the return of country gentlemen. The commercial towns secured the election of certain persons in that line, and the close boroughs for the election of the professional people."[32] He thus divided society into nicely graded classes, and constructed the whole political system with a view to securing that each class should express just the value which he attached to it. Corrupt town constituencies were to be preserved in the constitution in order that the landed gentry might preserve their monopoly of politics against the men of commerce. But a more striking, because a more innocent, revelation of the arrogance of the dominant class is contained in Lord John Russell's record of his discovery of intelligence among employers of labour. Russell was a Whig, and lived long enough to become a Liberal. In 1810, [ 45 ] when he was a young man, he made a pilgrimage through England, and solemnly made this entry in his diary. "The first of the few remarks still to be made is the singular quantity of talent we found amongst the manufacturers. There was not one master manufacturer of Manchester or Leeds ... that might not be set apart as a man of sense, and hardly any that, besides being theoretically and practically masters of their own business, were not men of general reading and information."[33] What are we to think of social estimates, when a young nobleman makes a note of signs of intelligence among captains of industry in the conscientious spirit in which his modern successors record traces of civilization among Papuans or the inhabitants of the Congo? The public privileges of the two classes corresponded with these private estimates of their relative importance. Political offices as a matter of course were reserved for the landed proprietors. A trader was sometimes made a knight or a baronet, but never a peer.[34] The best appointments in the Army and Navy and what is now called the Civil Service were distributed in the same way. A Member of Parliament must have a definite income derived from land.[35] A similar qualification was required in Justices of the Peace. No one could kill game who was not a landowner, or a person holding a licence as gamekeeper from a landowner. If a man died in debt, his plate, furniture, and stock in trade might be seized by his creditors, but his land could not. In every way land was invested with peculiar rights. There were in fact only three ways in which a man might rise to political importance without being a landowner. A few naval officers of high rank had risen from mean beginnings. Servants of the East India Company sometimes acquired vast fortunes in India, and forced their way into domestic politics by sheer weight of wealth. A lawyer of [ 46 ] the humblest birth might fight his way up to the Woolsack, and become a peer of the realm. But as a rule the ordinary avenues were open only to the landowning class.

The wage-earning common people were more contemptible than the merchants and manufacturers. On no account were they to be admitted into the political ring. "Send the people to the loom and the anvil," said Lord Westmoreland, and there let them earn bread, instead of wasting time at seditious meetings.[36] "I do not know," said Bishop Horsley, "what the mass of the people in any country have to do with the laws but to obey them."[37] "It requires no proof," said the Lord Justice Clerk from the bench, "to show that the British Constitution is the best that ever was since the creation of the world, and it is not possible to make it better.... A government in every country should be just like a corporation; and in this country it is made up of the landed interest, which alone has a right to be represented; as for the rabble who have nothing but personal property, what hold has the nation upon them?"[38] So Pitt "did not consider those to be the best friends of the people who were always goading them to bring forward petitions, and encouraging the agitation and discussion of political affairs."[39] Castlereagh, the last great leader of the Tory reaction, "always maintained that in a representative government the preponderance of property and high station was more conducive to order and general prosperity than that of mob orators or needy adventurers.... He was no friend to a system which was to be directed by men who had no other influence than what they could acquire by pandering to the low interests and lower passions of a misguided rabble."[40] The most consistent of all the Tories was Windham, a country gentleman of considerable learning and practical good sense, and the intimate friend of Pitt. He began his political [ 47 ] career as a Whig, but turned Tory after the outbreak of the Revolution, and died without a shred of Whiggery left to him, except a qualified dislike of the Slave Trade. He seldom lost an opportunity of depreciating the common people, and of excluding them from politics. "He could not see the harm there was of preventing all endeavours to explain to a poor, illiterate fellow, whose extent of powers was but barely adequate to the task of procuring food for his own subsistence, points which had divided the opinions of the ablest writers."[41] Referring to the case of Bloomfield, a labourer, who wrote a poem called "The Farmer's Boy," he said that "he had doubts how far it was proper to encourage ideas of literary profit or renown in those who had been bred to a useful trade."[42] Speaking against a Bill for the suppression of bull-baiting, he said that the petition from Stamford against the Bill came from "a body of sober, loyal men, who attended to their several vocations, and never meddled with politics."[43] When Whitbread introduced a Bill to provide a public school in every parish, Windham opposed it. "The increase of this sort of introduction to knowledge would only tend to make the people study politics, and lay them open to the arts of designing men."[44] The publication of the proceedings in Parliament was to be suppressed for similar reasons. "The people at large were entitled to justice—they were entitled to every favour that could be shown to them consistently with their own safety, on which depended their own happiness—they were entitled to every advantage they could possibly be capable of enjoying, as much as the proudest person in the state; but they had not education to enable them to judge of political affairs.... He confessed he never saw any man of a low condition with a newspaper in his hand, and who read any of it, without comparing him to a man who was swallowing poison under the hope of [ 48 ] improving his health."[45] Though Windham did not succeed in persuading the House to exclude the reporters, the basis of his case was generally accepted by the Tory party. Plunket described the working classes in the same style as Windham. "He was willing to allow to them the enjoyment of every constitutional privilege which they were entitled to possess; he never could consider that nice discussions on the very frame of the constitution, on the most essential changes in the institutions and fundamental laws of the country, were calculated for minds of such intelligence and cultivation."

Politics, in a word, were bad for the lower classes. "These men, the nature of whose employment and whose education disallowed them to be statesmen, might, however, learn enough to become turbulent and discontented subjects."[46] Government was not to be according to the will of the people, who were incapable of directing that will rightly. "If, to our misfortune," said Canning, "we had found a popular assembly existing under the direct control of the people, forced to obey its will, and liable to be dismissed by its authority,... it would have been the duty of wise legislators to diminish its overbearing freedom, and to substitute in its place a deliberative freedom."[47] Even public meetings were only to take place under the sanction of the superior class. "Far was it from him," said Castlereagh, in introducing his Six Acts, "to call on the House to do anything that would operate against the ancient and sacred right of the people to petition, under the protection and with the sanction of the magistrates, or the other constituted authorities of the land.... But meetings not called under such authorities, convened by men without character, rank, or fortune, were in all probability called for improper objects, and therefore were a fit subject for the animadversion of the law, and it was but reasonable that they should assemble under circumstances that gave a sort of prima [ 49 ] facie security against outrage."[48] There was a general presumption that a popular meeting was a seditious meeting, and if any such meeting was held at all, its respectability must be guaranteed by members of the upper classes. These opinions, aggravated as they were by the excesses of the French Revolution, may be taken as fairly representative of Toryism during the whole of the reign of George III.

The natural consequence of this general depreciation of the poorer people was that they were injured in other ways than mere disfranchisement. The whole scheme of society was so constructed as to prevent them from ever rising above the station in which they were placed. No facilities were provided for their education by the State, in spite of the obvious inadequacy of private enterprise. A Scottish Act of 1696 had compelled landowners to provide schools in every parish of Scotland. But in England the neglect was gross and widespread. A Select Committee reported in 1818 that not more than 570,000 children were publicly educated. As the number of children of school age was about 2,000,000, this meant that only one child in four received any sort of education. As the teaching was often hopelessly inefficient, the case was much worse even than the figures themselves showed; and as affairs had considerably improved during the twenty years before the Committee began its inquiry, it would probably be fair to assume that in 1788, immediately before the outbreak of the Revolution, only one poor child in ten received any substantial mental training. Lancaster the Quaker began to found schools in 1801, and the British and Foreign and National Societies commenced operations a few years later. No systematic teaching of the poor had been previously attempted except by private benevolence. But it must not be supposed that even charity was always disinterested. Lurking behind many of these projects was the belief in education as a precaution against disorder. Wilberforce spoke of popular education in language which showed that he believed in it not merely because it helped the poorer people to develop their natural capacities. Referring to [ 50 ] the political disturbances of 1819, he asked, "If a proper notion of the sacredness of property had been given to the people, would they have passed such resolutions as those by which they had disgraced themselves at Barnsley?"[49] The governing class thus used education partly, at any rate, as a measure of police. Ignorant poverty meant danger to wealth.

The poorer people, being kept in such a state of intellectual degradation, were naturally criminal to a far greater degree than at the present day, and the criminal law punished their offences with such savagery that juries often acquitted guilty persons rather than expose them to the consequences of an adverse verdict. In 1819 there were still on the Statute Book two hundred felonies punishable with death. When it was proposed to substitute transportation for life for the death penalty in the case of stealing goods worth five shillings from a shop, Lord Ellenborough, the Lord Chief Justice, protested in the House of Lords in the name of himself and all his colleagues on the bench.[50] Conspicuous in ferocity were the Game Laws. In 1816 it was made a crime punishable with transportation for seven years for any person to be found at night in possession of a net or a snare.[51] Spring-guns and man-traps might be set by any landowner about his premises. The public prisons were dens of vice and breeding-places of disease. Women were flogged in public till 1817, and in private till 1819, and transportation meant prostitution for nine women out of ten, if not on the voyage, at any rate after they reached the colony.[52]

While the general state of the common people was so low, some of them had religious consolations. Those of them who belonged to the Church of England were elevated above Dissenters and Catholics, as country gentlemen were elevated above themselves. The same habit of mind persisted in religion as in politics. A particular Church, connected with the ruling class, and staffed by [ 51 ] its members and dependents, was termed the Church of the nation. Others existed only on sufferance. The conditions of their existence were prescribed by the members of the dominant sect. Free-thinkers were punished for blasphemous libel. Dissenting Christians, whether Protestant or Catholic, were excluded in different degrees from public life. Persecution of an active sort was at this date very rare, and Dissenters, at any rate, enjoyed a qualified legal immunity. The Test and Corporation Acts, passed in the reign of Charles II, were still in force, and bound practically every public officer to take the sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England. As a Liberal Churchman of the time put it, "The Saviour of the world instituted the Eucharist in commemoration of His death—an event so tremendous that afflicted Nature hid herself in darkness; but the British Legislature has made it a qualification for gauging beer-barrels and soap-boilers' tubs, for writing Custom-House dockets and debentures, and for seizing smuggled tea."[53] But breaches of these Acts were regularly committed, and were regularly covered by the passing of an annual Act of Indemnity. The Catholics were in much worse case. A whole code of penal laws had been contrived against them in the reign of William III, and in Ireland, where three-fourths of the people were Catholics, the code had been a fearful engine of oppression. Catholics were by these laws excluded, not only from Parliament and public offices, but from the Army and Navy and the legal profession. A Catholic could not have a priest as his private chaplain. He could not send his children to be educated abroad. He could not inherit land. He could not own horses above a certain value. The exclusions were still absolute in 1760. The grosser interferences with private liberty were, like the Acts against Dissenters, not commonly enforced, though so late as 1793 a zealous Scottish Protestant claimed his right to tender a Protestant oath to a Catholic landowner, and, on his refusal, to take possession of his estate.[54] But such enjoyments as were possessed by the members of these inferior Churches, including the deliberate [ 52 ] mitigations of the existing law, were concessions from their superiors. All was a matter of permission and connivance, and not of right. It was the benevolence of masters which they had to acknowledge, and not the association of equals. "It is idle to hope," said Castlereagh in 1801, "that Dissenters of any description can ever be so zealously attached subjects as those who are of the established religion; but the question is, what system, without hazarding the powers of the State itself, is best calculated, if not warmly to attach, at least to disarm the hostility of those classes in the community who cannot be got rid of, and must be governed?" Pitt, eleven years earlier, displayed less insolence, but was as firmly opposed to any idea of equality between sects. "The Dissenters had a right to enjoy their liberty and property; to entertain their own speculative opinions, and to educate their offspring in such religious principles as they approve. But the indispensable necessity of a certain permanent church establishment, for the good of the state, required that toleration should not be extended to an equality.... He had no idea of such levelling principles as those which warranted to all citizens an equality of rights."[55] This is the essence of Toryism, to grant to others such indulgences as we think fit, and to retain the consciousness of our own superior worth and power, even while we refrain from abusing them.

Within the borders of Great Britain the Tory philosophy was expressed most crudely and practised most universally in the relations of men and women. Women were made only for those purposes which they could fulfil in connection with men. They must be trained only in those qualities which men required in them, irrespective of their own varying capacities and dispositions. They must not engage in any occupation where they might compete with men. Their political conditions were prescribed by men. Even the moral rules which regulated their private conduct were settled by men, who degraded the wretched prostitute while they permitted themselves the indulgence which produced her downfall. When a woman married a man her real [ 53 ] property passed to him for his life and her personal property absolutely, and the subordination of her judgment to his, enjoined upon her by the marriage service, was secured by this deprivation of her economic independence. "The profession of ladies," said Mrs. Hannah More, "to which the bent of their instruction should be turned, is that of daughters, wives, mothers, and mistresses of families."[56] "Men," said Mrs. Barbauld, "have various departments in life; women have but one.... It is, to be a wife, a mother, a mistress of a family."[57] Association with a man being the beginning and end of a woman's course of life, her whole mind was to be trained, not according to her capacities, but according to what a man would want of her. Almost every contemporary treatise on the education of women emphasizes the necessity of suppressing the woman's intellect in the presence of the man's. "If you have any learning," said Dr. Gregory in a very popular work, "keep it a profound secret, especially from the men, who generally look with a jealous and malignant eye on a woman of great parts and a cultivated understanding."[58] "Young ladies," said Mrs. Barbauld, "ought only to have such a general tincture of knowledge as to make them agreeable companions to a man of sense,"[59] and she persuaded Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu to abandon her scheme of endowing a women's college. Toryism has never elsewhere been so remorseless in warping nature to its own prejudices, and no slave was ever more carefully trained to intellectual feebleness and triviality, or more carefully educated in submission and docility towards his master, than was the ordinary young English lady of the end of the eighteenth century.[60]

If this was the general atmosphere of feminine education, it is not difficult to understand the ferocious contempt which was poured upon Mary Wollstonecraft, who suggested that women should even take part in affairs of State. Even Fox, who came nearer to [ 54 ] pure Liberalism than almost any of his contemporaries, spoke with derision of Woman Suffrage.[61] After the great war with France, demonstrations of the working classes in favour of Reform were frequently attended by women. This drew from Castlereagh a coarse and brutal condemnation. Speaking in favour of his Six Acts, which were intended for the suppression of these popular demonstrations, he said: "There was one point on which he should propose no law; it was the part which women had borne in the late transactions, for he trusted that it would be sufficient to restrain them from similar conduct in future, to let them know that when the French republicans were carrying on their bloody orgies, they could find no female to join them except by ransacking the bagnios and public brothels. He was happy that no female had attended any public meeting in the metropolis. Such a drama would, he trusted, be put an end to by the innate decorum and the innate sense of modesty which the women in this country possessed, and which would purge the country of this disgrace."[62] Castlereagh was an honest and chivalrous man according to the standards of his time. But which showed the greater appreciation of the real worth of woman, and the greater respect for her real interest, the workman who permitted her to take an active part in political affairs, or the nobleman who hinted that if she so much as showed herself at a public meeting, she was no better than a whore?

Eighteenth-century Toryism was less definitely extended beyond the boundaries of Great Britain than is its modern equivalent. The conception of a nation as a unit in human society had little weight in politics until after the French Revolution. Before that great event the mass of a people was regarded more as an appendage to the titular head of the State than as an aggregate of human beings with claims to control their lives without foreign interference. It was only when nations came to be regarded as collections of individual men and women, whose individual security and happiness were the first objects of their government, and no longer as mere lumps of weight in the [ 55 ] balance of power, that the independence of a nation became an important thing in itself. The revolt of the American Colonies, which fired the train of modern Liberalism, was an assertion not only of individual rights as against government, but of the rights of one homogeneous and self-contained community against another. But Toryism had a more ancient and a more thorough experience in Ireland. A clearer example of the egoistic use of one nation by another could hardly be found in history. From the day when the first English raiders descended upon the Irish coast down to the day when George III ascended the throne the paramount object of the English Government in Ireland had been the maintenance of English and not of Irish interests. It was no longer a case of subjugation and forcible repression. But it was still a case of conscious and deliberate employment of the territory and resources of a conquered people for the benefit of the conquerors. The Irish were left the semblance of freedom, but they were so hedged round with limitations and qualifications that they would have resented slavery no more bitterly. The strength of their limbs served only to aggravate the fretting of their chains. They had a Parliament which could legislate only as the English Parliament allowed. They could engage in industry, but only in such industries as the English Government, ever jealous for the English manufacturer, permitted. They could make goods for export, but the English Government kept the most lucrative branches of foreign and colonial trade for its own people, and practically confined the Irish to supplying such goods as it required for its own domestic consumption. Englishmen owned land in Ireland, and spent the rents in England. English clergy owned cures in Ireland, and did their duties by deputy. The whole system was absentee, and the fate of Ireland was always decided abroad.

But the worst of the grievances of the Irish were the penal laws against Catholics, by which racial and religious Toryism combined to deprive of property and exclude from public life, not a sect, but almost an entire people. Of all the instruments of foreign tyranny, religious disabilities are the most hateful, and [ 56 ] if economic abuses did more to impoverish the Irish, the penal laws did most to poison their temper. The Irishman's enemy pursued him into his most private heart, and as the wound was deepest, so the resentment was most fierce. The laws were not enforced so mercilessly as they had been fifty years before. But they remained on the Statute Book, and kept alive the memories of the more active persecutions of the past. The whole nation was thus aggrieved. The Protestants suffered no less than the Catholics from the legislative and commercial grievances, and if the religious disabilities tended to sunder the dominant caste from the rest of the people, both sects tended to forget their mutual hostility in their hatred of the common enemy. Towards the end of the century a few English statesmen foresaw the inevitable explosion, and urged that the recognition of Irish nationality was the only way to establish good Irish government. Not even an Irish Parliament could work if it was closed to the vast majority of the people. "The Catholics," said Fox, "are no longer a party. The parties now to be dreaded in Ireland are, on the one hand, a few people holding places of great emolument, and supporting corruption and abuses; and, on the other, the Irish nation.... I no longer apprehend any danger to Ireland from disputes between the Catholics and the Protestants; what I apprehend is the alienation of the whole Irish people from the English Government."[63] "God never intended one country to govern another," said Shelburne, "but that each country should govern itself."[64] "In a mighty empire," said Dr. Laurence, "which enjoyed the blessing of a free constitution pervading the whole, where two independent Parliaments existed, that which was the more illustrious and exalted in character, in authority, and in jurisdiction, he should have expected, would have felt it to be its peculiar duty to cultivate, protect, and foster in the other, whatever could be there discovered of the true parliamentary spirit. And what was that spirit? A zealous attachment of each and all to their proper constitution, a conscious sense of their own [ 57 ] dignity, a reverence for themselves, a vehement and a jealous love of independence."[65]

These Whigs, speaking after the French Revolution had shaken old political systems to their foundations, expressed the Liberal theory of the Empire, that local control of local affairs is not only the best preventive of English egoism, but also the best cure for local feuds. But in 1760, thirty years before the Revolution, few Englishmen of either party could be persuaded, in dealing with Ireland, to consult anybody's interest but their own. In 1778 Bills were introduced to abolish most of the restrictions upon Irish trade with England and the Colonies. So vehement was the opposition aroused by these proposals that we are assured by a contemporary authority that "a foreign invasion could scarcely have created a greater alarm." Petitions poured in from every quarter except the City of London. Even the errors of the English manufacturers displayed their bitter and unreasoning jealousy. An old Statute had permitted the importation of Irish sailcloth. This Statute was overlooked, and one of the new Bills proposed, in effect, to enact what was already law. But this was opposed as fiercely as the rest, and the most disastrous consequences were predicted from a practice which had been in operation for half a century. The efforts of Burke and the other champions of Ireland were powerless in this whirl of selfishness. Most of the proposed reforms were abandoned, and his disinterested conduct cost Burke his seat for Bristol.[66] No other events of the time so clearly showed how the great majority of Englishmen regarded Ireland.

Such was the general scheme of Toryism, an elaborate system of distinctions. A small class of male, rich, Church of England landowners controlled and regulated the whole of political society. This class monopolized public honours and dignities of every kind, and in each of their separate spheres of aristocracy smaller personages lorded it over those without the pale. Some were invested with all the privileges at once, others might content themselves with one or two. Everywhere some one was [ 58 ] exalted and some one depressed, irrespective of their natural capacities and their intrinsic worth. It is not suggested here that active tyranny was at all common. The Catholics were not persecuted as they had been in the reign of William III. Dissenters were generally indulged. The education of women, bad as it was, was substantially better than in the time of the later Stuarts. The working classes enjoyed a much higher degree of comfort and security than was to be theirs for a century to come. But the atmosphere of Toryism remained. The test of a political system is not how it operates in a state of equilibrium, but how it shows itself in the face of changes. Condescension and indulgence are no less the marks of tyranny than persecution and confiscation, and its essential nature is revealed when the inferior asks to be permitted to think and act for himself. When economic and psychological changes began to break down the old acquiescence in arbitrary disposition, Toryism became active, positive, and subjugating.

Formally contrasted with the political party which was called Tory, was the political party which was called Whig. In many respects the contrast was no more than formal. The fundamental assumptions of the two parties about the comparative worth of classes were the same, though the Whigs relied more than the Tories upon commercial places like the City of London. In theory there was substantial difference between the two conceptions of the State. The Tories preferred strong government, and inclined towards the Crown, as its titular head. The theory of Hobbes thus expressed the Tory mind: "The Covenant of the State is made in such a manner as if every man should say to every man, 'I authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner.' This done, the multitude so united is called a Commonwealth."[67] In this view association in political society is association in surrender. The essence of it is subordination. The Whigs, on the other hand, inclined towards Locke. "Men [ 59 ] being by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the power of another without his own consent. The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community."[68] The essence of this association was delegation and not surrender. The subject conferred power without abandoning his right to control the use of it. The theory of Locke was afterwards incorporated by Rousseau and the other French thinkers into their revolutionary philosophy, and at the end of the eighteenth century its effect was tremendous. It contains the germ of complete Liberalism, But in England it was long embedded in a mass of circumstances which prevented it from attaining to full growth. The people who held it were aristocrats and landowners, and they converted the potentiality of Liberalism into the fact of Whiggery. Whiggery, in short, was nothing but Liberalism qualified by interest.

To this extent Whigs and Tories were distinguished. The Whigs, in the line of old controversies, inclined to Parliament as against the Crown. Society, according to Locke, was based upon a sort of contract. Each member, subject to the corresponding rights of his neighbours, was entitled to enjoy such property as he acquired without interference by others. For the common good, certain general rules are contrived by agreement, and the State is entrusted with all powers necessary for protecting the common interest of the whole as well as the separate interests of the individual members. As the State affects all, so it must act with the consent of all, and a representative Parliament is the only means of expressing that consent. This argument puts the supreme control of the State in the hands of Parliament. If the Tories had any definite theory of this nature, it was more that of Hobbes, who suggested that the State was imposed upon Society for the purpose of maintaining order among mutually hostile individuals. The two schools of thought were [ 60 ] thus led to emphasize, in the one case, the need for Parliamentary control, and in the other, the need for a strong executive Government. But this theoretic distinction, though it contained the seeds of many practical divergences, did not correspond, in the year 1760, to any great difference of character. The Whigs as a body were aristocratic, they were Protestant, they were Church of England, they were territorial, they were male. The sole point in which they were substantially more Liberal than the Tories was the toleration of opinion. They inherited from Locke a much more real belief that a man had a right to think as he pleased, and to express his opinions as he pleased. They were more willing that other people should differ from themselves. They had no doubt of their own superiority, but they did not abuse their inferiors. They remained themselves orthodox, but they declined to persecute.

This general toleration must not be rated at too high a value. Religion was a cold and lifeless thing among the governing class, and the Wesleyan movement, which began about this time to breathe a new moral spirit into the common people, was treated by the bulk of fashionable society with extreme contempt. Toleration sprang more often from indifference than from generosity, and when the French Revolution broke out most of the Whig aristocracy deserted to the Established Church as one of the strongholds of reaction. Religion then became valuable to property. So long as it meant little, they gave it liberty. When restriction became useful to the magistrate, liberty was forgotten. It was only a small section of the Whigs that, at any particular date between 1760 and 1820, could be found steadily and conscientiously practising Liberal ideas even in religion. In the early part of that period Liberalism existed only among the body headed by Lord Rockingham, of whom Edmund Burke was the brains and the tongue. Burke thus attacked the Catholic disabilities: "To exclude whole classes of men entirely from this part of government cannot be considered as absolute slavery. It only implies a lower and degraded state of citizenship; such is (with more or less strictness) the condition of all countries in [ 61 ] which an hereditary nobility possess the exclusive rule." He admits that "this may be no bad form of government," but declares that in the Irish case the indirect hardships produced by the Protestant ascendancy are more even than the indirect. "They are rivalled, to say the least of the matter, in every laborious and lucrative cause of life; while every franchise, every honour, every trust, every place down to the very lowest and least confidential (besides whole professions) is reserved for the master cast.... If they who compose the privileged body have not an interest, they must but too frequently have motives of pride, passion, petulance, peevish jealousy, a tyrannic suspicion, to urge them to treat the excluded people with contempt and rigour." This is pure Liberalism, perceiving that the whole man is depreciated by his political disabilities.[69] So Fox said of the Catholic claims: "Though they require only qualification for corporations, Parliament, and offices under Government, the object is of great magnitude to them. It is founded on the great principle of requiring to be placed on a footing of equality with their fellow-subjects."[70] This insight was rare, and it was confined almost entirely to matters of religion. Discussion of political and proprietary institutions was as hateful to the ordinary Whig after the Revolution as to any Tory, and even Burke always drew the line at Unitarians. This Church had been excluded from the Toleration Act of William III, and in 1792, the year in which Burke wrote his Letter to Langrishe, Fox introduced a Bill to put them in the same position as other Dissenters. Some of the Unitarians, especially Priestley of Birmingham, had written and spoken in favour of the Revolution, and a Unitarian society had celebrated the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. Burke's support of the Catholics may have been partly due to his reverence for the antiquity of their creed, which was, if anything, more venerable and more august than his own. [ 62 ] The Unitarians were revolutionaries in religion and in politics alike, and were opposed to the Established Church. "Let them disband as a faction," said Burke, "and let them act as individuals; and when I see them with no other views than to enjoy their own conscience in peace, I for one shall most cheerfully vote for their relief." Fox was beaten by two to one, and the Unitarians were not relieved until the end of the French War.

With the exception of this Rockingham section, and the small section which at a later date took the Liberal view of the French Revolution, there were no Whigs who showed a real tendency towards Liberalism. They suffered, for the most part, no uneasiness at aristocratic monopolies, and had no illusions about the equal worth of all human beings and their right to equal opportunities. They believed in a governing class as firmly as the Tories, and but for their religious freedom and their dislike of prosecutions for seditious libels the Rockingham Whigs were not much better than the rest. Government must always remain in the hands of aristocracy. There must be an element of representation in order to prevent an abuse of the governed by men endowed with absolute power. But representation must be of classes and interests, and not of persons; and it must always be qualified by property. "Nothing is a due and adequate representation of a State that does not represent its ability as well as its property. But as ability is a vigorous and active principle, and as property is sluggish, inert, and timid, it can never be safe from the invasions of ability unless it be out of all proportion in the representation."[71] The franchise must be confined to men of substance, and so long as there was a fair representation of all classes, except those who had no property, it was of little importance that whole centres of population had no representatives at all, while some depopulated districts had almost as many representatives as electors. The individual voter did not count. He voted as representing an interest. One manufacturing town would be able to protect the industries of all. One seaport [ 63 ] would maintain the interest of all. It was a sufficient check on a Government that there was one channel of communication through which its subjects might make their complaints audible.

The elector thus appointed had no power to suggest or to originate. He could only check and prevent. So Burke, in his speech on a Bill for Shortening the Duration of Parliaments, said: "Faithful watchmen we ought to be over the rights and privileges of the people. But our duty, if we are qualified for it as we ought, is to give them information, and not to receive it from them; we are not to go to school to them to learn the principles of law and government. In doing so we should not dutifully serve, but we should basely and scandalously betray the people, who are not capable of this service by nature, nor in any instance called to it by the constitution.... They can well see whether we are tools of a court or their honest servants ... but of the particular merits of a measure I have other standards." Philip Francis was no less explicit: "In the lowest situations of life the people know, as well as we do, that wherever personal industry is encouraged, and property is protected, there must be inequalities of possession, and consequently distinction of ranks. Then come the form and the order, by which the substance is at once defined and preserved. Distribution and limitation prevent confusion, and government by orders is the natural result of property protected by Freedom."[72] In plain English, the Whigs regarded man not as a political, but as a proprietary animal. The object of the State was to protect man as the owner of property. Man as a living creature was not its concern. If he could acquire property he came within its consideration. If he could not, it would not help him; he must fend for himself. He had a right to its protection against interference, but he must expect no positive help. Equal worth, equal rights, and equal opportunities were principles of which the Whigs knew as little as the Tories themselves.

Between 1760 and 1820 there were only two prominent Whigs who approached complete Liberalism. Others occasionally used [ 64 ] language which led in the same direction. Lord Moira was not far away in 1796, when he opposed a Bill for suppressing public meetings. "He could not believe that the Almighty made any part of mankind merely to work and eat like beasts. He had endowed man with reasoning faculties, and given him leave to use them." Whitbread was as near when he introduced a Bill to enable justices to fix a minimum wage instead of leaving workmen to charity and the Poor Law. "Charity afflicted the mind of a good man, because it took away his independence—a consideration as valuable to the labourer as to the man of high rank."[73] But the Whig leaders whose settled habits of mind were most Liberal were Shelburne and Charles James Fox. Shelburne's Liberalism was deep and philosophic, that of Fox impetuous and practical. But both, though they were never friendly with each other, had substantially the same sympathies in all controversies of their time. Shelburne seems to have had no social prejudices. He was an intimate friend of Bentham the Utilitarian, of Priestley the Unitarian, of Price the Dissenting parson-economist, and of Horne Tooke the Radical. He even appointed a Dissenting minister as tutor to his son. In politics he held opinions which were astonishingly in advance of those of his contemporaries. He was a Free Trader. He favoured the election of local authorities, the abolition of alehouses, the encouragement of workmen's clubs and friendly societies, annual national holidays, cheap county courts, the conversion of prisons into reformatory institutions, and national compulsory education.[74] This practical Liberalism was inspired by original Liberal theory. The old feudalism and government by territorial aristocracy must go, and the middle and working classes must take its place. After the fall of the Bastille he said: "The nonsense of feudality can never be revived.... The Bastille cannot be rebuilt. The administration of justice [ 65 ] and feudality cannot again go together.... The rest ... may be very safely left to public opinion and to the light of the times. Public opinion once set free acts like the sea never ceasingly, controlling imperceptibly and irresistibly both laws and ministers of laws, reducing and advancing everything to its own level."[75] In drawing up a series of reflections on society he laid down "one fundamental principle, never to be departed from, to put yourself in the power of no man."

"Constitutional liberty consists in the right of exercising freely every faculty of mind or body, which can be exercised without preventing another man from doing the like.... No man can be trusted with power over another.... No gratitude can withstand power. Every man from the monarch down to the peasant is sure to abuse it."[76] The territorial theory he despised. "It would have been happy if the right of primogeniture was destroyed altogether or never had existed."[77] He said that the middle and working classes were sure to govern England in the long run, and not only published an English edition of Condorcet's Life of Turgot, in order to spread sound economic ideas among them, but even proposed to found a non-party and Free Trade newspaper to be called The Neutralist.[78] He welcomed the rise of the new industrial democracy. "Towns," he said, "will be always found the most open to conviction, and among them the tradesmen and middling class of men. Next to them are the manufacturers [i.e., the workmen], after which, but at a great distance, comes the mercantile interest, for in fact they belong to no country, their wealth is movable, and they seek to gain by all, which they are in the habit of doing at the expense of every principle; but last of all come the country gentlemen and farmers, for the former have had both their fortunes and their understandings at a stand ... and the farmers, who, uneducated and centered in their never-ceasing pursuit of gain, are incapable of comprehending anything beyond it."[79] This frank acceptance of the new order at home and abroad, and this wise confidence in the good sense of the [ 66 ] classes who were coming into power contrast very forcibly with the frantic denunciations of Jacobinism in which Burke taught most of his contemporaries to indulge. Shelburne was generally suspected and disliked by his associates, and the only explanation seems to be his undisguised indifference to the conventions of the old order.

Fox was as Liberal in his own way as Shelburne, and if his Liberalism was less wise, it was much more lively. Even his vices seem not to have impaired what was a rare and beautiful nature. He never took sides coldly. As a mere debater he excelled. He was a perfect master of words, and no English orator has ever surpassed him in readiness, in force, in the arrangement of a case, in simplicity and directness of statement. But his finest quality was his warmth of heart. He was a very spendthrift of sympathy, and every speech of his on behalf of the Americans against England, of the Indians against Warren Hastings, of Revolutionary France against her foreign invaders, of the Irish Catholics against their Protestant oppressors, or of the English common people against their reactionary Government, had a reality which was absent from the more splendid utterances of men like Sheridan. Even Burke, who was allied with Fox in such fierce contests as those about America, Warren Hastings, and Catholic disabilities, never felt a cause as Fox felt it. Fox had that very rare and admirable faculty of inserting himself into the very heart of the oppressed and of resenting their wrongs as if they had been his own. Even in his greatest moments, when he denounced the treatment of the Americans or of the Hindoos, Burke was external to the object of his sympathy. He was a sort of divine arbiter, condemning wickedness because it violated an eternal principle. Fox was never more than human, and if he was always less majestic than Burke, his sensitiveness was far more acute. "The defeats of great armies of invaders," he said, "always gave me the greatest satisfaction in reading history, from Xerxes' time downwards."[80] A man who can feel the ardour of a patriot in a struggle more than two thousand years old may [ 67 ] be a bad philosopher, but he is the best possible champion of struggling colonies, of oppressed nationalities, and of peoples whose governors deprive them of the rights of liberty and discussion. His defence of democratic institutions shows how Fox got into the heart of Liberalism. "We are compelled to own that it gives a power of which no other form of government is capable. Why? Because it incorporates every man with the State, because it arouses everything that belongs to the soul as well as to the body of man; because it makes every individual feel that he is fighting for himself, and not for another; that it is his own cause, his own safety, his own concern, his own dignity on the face of the earth, and his own interest on the identical soil which he has to maintain."[81] It was this capacity for seeking human beings rather than forms which made Fox such a champion of liberty during the great war with France. He never thought out his principles, and his instinct for their application was not always unerring. There are some early instances of factious opposition, which do him no credit. But he stood the great test of the French Revolution, and if others provide posterity with more of the philosophy of Liberalism than he, no other ever preached it more honestly or more courageously in his day.

With these exceptions the Whig party of the end of the eighteenth century contained few believers in Liberalism. The parties were indeed less sharply divided at the accession of George III than they are at the present time. Groups of statesmen, like the Rockingham Whigs, were united on general principles of government. Districts, like the City of London and Westminster, showed a general inclination towards democratic institutions. But party ties were largely personal, and George III deliberately set himself to break down divisions of opinion by bribery and intimidation, and to consolidate a majority of the Commons in a union which had nothing in common but its subserviency to the Crown. The labels of Whig and Tory could not then be applied so surely as those of Liberal and [ 68 ] Conservative to-day. Liberal opinions are therefore to be found only in a state of partial distribution. The Rockingham Whigs were Liberal in maintaining the supremacy of Parliament over the Crown, in claiming the rights of free election and free discussion for the electors, in advocating the abolition of religious disabilities, and especially in defending the American colonists against arbitrary government from England. But even they had no belief in a wide franchise, and some of them, who lived into the French Revolution, even became violently reactionary. Liberalism was thus a matter of patchwork at the best, and it would be difficult to find any considerable party of men who were united in a substantially Liberal political creed until 1868, when Gladstone's first Government came into power. The general tone of government up to the outbreak of the Revolution was Tory, tempered in some quarters by Liberal views of special subjects. After the Revolution, though the general aspect was more definitely Tory, a real Liberal appearance was assumed by a small section of the Whig party, and the growth of modern Liberalism actually began.


29 ^  Parliamentary History, xxv. 472.

30 ^  Wilberforce Correspondence, i. 219.

31 ^  Annual Register, 1793, 113.

32 ^  Parl. Hist., xxx. 810.

33 ^  Walpole's Life of Lord John Russell, i. 56.

34 ^  The first exception to this rule was Mr. Smith the banker, who was made Earl Carrington in 1797.

35 ^  Scottish borough members were exempt. But Scottish boroughs were the most rotten of all rotten boroughs. An English county member must have £600 a year, a borough member £300. The qualifications were often fictitious.

36 ^  Annual Register, 1796, 52.

37 ^  Parl. Hist., xxii. 422.

38 ^  State Trials, xxiii. 229.

39 ^  Speech on Seditious Societies, 17th November, 1795.

40 ^  Londonderry to Brougham, 31st August, 1829, Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 121.

41 ^  Speech on Revolutionary Principles, 13th December, 1792. Compare the argument which is used to-day against the enfranchisement of working women. Toryism knows no sex.

42 ^  Speech on Bull-baiting, 24th May, 1802.

43 ^  Ibid.

44 ^  Speech, 24th April, 1807.

45 ^  Parl. Hist., xxxiv. 162, 165 (1798). The publication of reports of debates began in 1771, or rather, was then first permitted.

46 ^  Hansard, I. xli. 1045 (1819).

47 ^  Hansard, I. xxxviii. 1171 (1818).

48 ^  Hansard, I. xli. 388 (1819).

49 ^  Hansard, I. xli. 914. The resolutions were no more "disgraceful" than those of the ordinary Trade Union Congress of to-day.

50 ^  Arnould's Life of Denman, i. 253.

51 ^  In 1817 no less than 1,200 persons were sent to prison for offences against the Game Laws.

52 ^  Hansard, I., xxxix. 1435, 1439.

53 ^  Beaufoy's speech, Annual Register, 1787.

54 ^  Burke's Memoirs of the English Catholics, ii. 459, 466.

55 ^  Speeches: On Repeal of the Test Act, 2nd March, 1790.

56 ^  Strictures on Female Education (1799), i. 106.

57 ^  Legacy to Young Ladies (1826).

58 ^  Legacy to his Daughters (1784).

59 ^  Lucy Aikin's Memoir of Mrs. Barbauld (1825), xvi.

60 ^  See further, the writer's Emancipation of English Women, ch. 3.

61 ^  Speeches, 26th May, 1797.

62 ^  Hansard, I. xli. 391.

63 ^  Parl. Hist., xxxi. 1384.

64 ^  Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne, ii. 367.

65 ^  Parl. Hist., xxxiv. 416.

66 ^  Parl. Hist., xix. 1100.

67 ^  Leviathan, ii. ch. xvii.

68 ^  On Civil Government, ch. viii.

69 ^  Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe (1792). Compare his Speech at Bristol previous to the Election (1780).

70 ^  Speeches, vol. vi. 310 (23rd March, 1797). Compare Granville, in the Annual Register, 1808, 196.

71 ^  Burke, French Revolution.

72 ^  Parl. Hist., xxxii. 961 (1796).

73 ^  Parl. Hist., xxxiv. 1429.

74 ^  Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne, iii. 88, 435. His ideas on education he tried to enforce on his own estates. But "the clergy opposed his lordship's intentions, lest the children should become Dissenters, although it was engaged that the children of Church people should go to Church with their parents." Ibid., 438 n.

75 ^  Fitzmaurice, iii. 497, 498.

76 ^  Ibid., ii. 329.

77 ^  Ibid., 360.

78 ^  Ibid., iii. 438.

79 ^  Ibid., iii. 365.

80 ^  Letter to Lord Holland, 12th October, 1792.

81 ^  Speeches, vi. 383.