A Short History of English Liberalism/IV

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The Revolution affected English society in two directly opposite ways. It is unquestionable that its violence drove the majority into hostility not only to Revolution, but to Reform. But many men and women welcomed the triumph of its principles with an enthusiasm which was almost as extravagant as the opposition of the rest. Those who had preached equality in the days of Wilkes and the American War were encouraged to greater zeal, and the bigness of the new shock awakened interest in masses of people who had previously been apathetic. The Industrial Revolution had by this time produced much of the social alteration of which some account has already been given, and the artisans of the North offered a fertile soil for doctrines which had previously fallen on barren ground. Political speculation now for the first time attracted the serious attention of the governing class. The new thinkers themselves belonged to all ranks, though very few of them were to be found among the aristocracy. They all preached, with more or less ardour, and with a more or less crude application of logic to political conditions, the doctrine that every man had an equal moral right with every other to control his own life. For practical purposes the speculation of these primitive Liberals did not extend beyond male limits. But some, of whom Mary Wollstonecraft was the most conspicuous,[1] even made the same claim for every woman. When only one woman in ten thousand had any substantial intellectual training, it was natural enough that men should give little thought to their political rights. Until women were sufficiently educated to ask for equality in the State, it was impossible that men should think seriously of granting it. But the French Revolution, though its direct effect on the political condition of women was insignificant, started, in their case as in that of men, a train of events which has borne fruit in more modern times. The emancipation of women from the control of men, which is the most profound of all the social changes of the last fifty years, has been produced by precisely the same changes in social ideas as those which have abolished the political distinctions among sects and classes of men. It is only another part of the process of the emancipation of the individual which is called Liberalism.

The most obvious feature of this early Liberal movement is its neglect of economic questions, and its concentration upon the mere machinery of government. The science of political economy was indeed only in its infancy, and Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, had little effect upon practical politicians of any school until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Political argument was therefore conducted in these early stages very largely upon a theoretical basis, and Tories, Whigs, and Radicals contended as mightily about the abstractions of natural rights and sovereignty as the early Churches about the difference between Homoousion and Homoiousion. Almost the only practical grievances alleged against the old system were expensive wars and the maintenance of sinecures. The early Reformers, though the doctrine of laissez faire was not formulated until half a century later, in fact believed it. They were in economics what the Whigs were in politics. They hated the interference of the executive, and they would probably have looked upon attempts to alter economic conditions as meddling, which would restrict the liberty of the citizen and increase the already dangerous influence of the Crown.

This indifference, or rather hostility, to economic reforms was shared by all parties alike. Practically everybody agreed that it was a bad thing for Government to interfere with trade, though few went so far as to condemn the system of Protection. Arthur Young disliked Government interference as an economist. "All restrictive forcible measures in domestic policy are bad."[2] Burke declared that his opinion was against "an overdoing of any sort of administration, and more especially against this most momentous of all meddling on the part of authority, the meddling with the subsistence of the people."[3] Adam Smith, in his Wealth of Nations said that "According to the system of natural liberty, the sovereign has only three duties to attend to ... I. The duty of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies; II. The duty of protecting, as far as possible, every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice; and III. The duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions, which it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals, to erect and maintain, because the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals, though it may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society."[4] This was the general opinion of the manufacturers, and in 1806 it was embodied in a Parliamentary Report on industrial conditions: "The right of every man to employ the capital he inherits or has acquired according to his own discretion without molestation or obstruction, so long as he does not infringe on the rights or property of others, is one of those privileges which the free and happy constitution of this country has long accustomed every Briton to consider as his birthright."[5] The aristocracy and the commercial classes alike distrusted an interference which restricted their personal freedom.

The Radicals, who professed to be, and were much more alive to the distresses of the labourers and artisans, were hardly less emphatic. "All government," said Dr. Price, "even within a State, becomes tyrannical as far as it is a needless and wanton exercise of power, or is carried farther than is absolutely necessary to preserve the peace or to secure the safety of the State. This is what an excellent writer calls 'governing too much.'"[6] "Government," said Godwin, "can have no more than two legitimate purposes, the suppression of injustice against individuals within the community and defence against external invasion."[7] Most of the Radicals were in fact of the middle class, and few of them saw things from the workman's point of view. However far they went, they were careful to maintain the rights of property. "The phrase 'domineering rich' is exceptionable," said Major Cartwright, "as it may, by cavillers, be construed into an attempt to excite the poor to invade the property of the rich. It is not by an invasion of such property that the condition of the poor is to be amended, but by such equal laws as would have a natural tendency to prevent injustice, and to benefit every class of the community."[8] A free Parliament would allow every man an equal chance of obtaining wealth. Neither Cartwright nor any of his associates seems to have considered that, while wealth was accumulated in the hands of a small class, equality, even of opportunity, was impossible without some measure of State interference. What was needed by the working class was the removal of taxes upon food and raw materials, a helpful instead of a degrading Poor Law, the right to combine against their employers, and factory legislation. But the speculators were more concerned to reduce the interference of aristocratic government with the liberty of the middle class than to increase the interference of any sort of government with the working class, and they failed to see that the workmen's grievances were not the same as their own. A man who was wellnigh pressed to death with heavy weights was to be relieved by an improvement in the ventilation of the torture-chamber.

The Radicals[9] thus, in common with the Tories and the Whigs, ignored economic problems, or assumed that they were incapable of solving them by political action. But their opinions, so far as they went, were Liberal opinions. They made the individual the unit of political society, and denounced all artificial barriers between ranks and classes. In his younger days Cartwright held principles which led directly to Republicanism. In his pamphlet Take Your Choice, which was published in 1776, at the height of the American dispute, he said: "How much soever any individual may be qualified for, or deserve any elevation, he hath no right to it till it be conferred upon him by his fellows.... It is liberty, and not dominion, which is held by divine right."[10] The suffrage must be extended to all adult men. "Personality is the sole foundation of the right of being represented; ... property has, in reality, nothing to do in the case.... It is a very fit object of the attention of his representative in Parliament, but it contributes nothing to his right of having that representation."[11] "We might as well make the possession of forty shillings per annum the proof of a man's being rational, as of his being free."[12]

But Cartwright, though a perfect specimen of the logical politician, and reasoning on principles as purely Republican as those of Paine himself, was a member of the middle class, and enjoyed, during a great part of his life, a substantial income. He openly opposed the followers of Paine, and at a meeting of the Society of the Friends of the People, which he helped to found in 1792, he carried a resolution in favour of King, Lords, and Commons.[13] This Society contained not only Radicals like Cartwright, but Whig Reformers like Grey and the Duke of Bedford. Eventually, the logicians were squeezed out, and the Society became a Whig organization, the least vigorous of all those which worked for reform outside of Parliament. The best of its members were practical politicians, who concentrated on active and notorious abuses like rotten boroughs and the disfranchisement of large towns.[14] Grey worked in Parliament very steadily, and other representatives of the Society spoke manfully on occasion in both Houses. But as a whole it seems to have done little to arouse the feeling of the country, and it was as vigorous in its condemnation of its more active associates as in its attack upon the common enemy. Its principles were essentially Whig, and not Liberal. "We profess," wrote Lord John Russell, the chairman of the London Society in 1794, "not to entertain a wish 'that the great plan of public benefit which Mr. Paine has so powerfully recommended will speedily be carried into effect,' nor to amuse our fellow-citizens with the magnificent promise of obtaining for them 'the rights of the people in their full extent'—the indefinite language of delusion."[15] So even Fox, though he said that "government originated not only for, but from the people," and "the people were the legitimate sovereign in every community," yet declared himself "a steady and decided enemy to general and universal representation."[16] Sir Francis Burdett and one or two other Members of Parliament took the purely Radical view. But so late as 1818, when, after nearly twenty years of heated agitation, Burdett moved resolutions in favour of manhood suffrage, annual Parliaments, and equal electoral districts, Brougham said on behalf of the official Whig Opposition: "As for universal suffrage, or the doctrine which severed the elective franchise altogether from property, he begged leave to observe that he never had at any time held it as less than the utter destruction of the Constitution."[17] The Whig Reformers were thus distinguished from the Radicals, and as they spoke contemptuously of the extremists, so they were in their turn attacked as lukewarm and time-serving. Even Fox himself did not escape censure, though he was always careful to abstain from recrimination.[18] The real value of the Whigs was that they opposed themselves steadily to all attempts to suspend the ordinary law, to stifle public discussion, and to govern the country by the arbitrary power of the executive. In this cause Bedford and Grey and Fox were heartily at one, and the various Bills for suspending the Habeas Corpus Act, suppressing or restricting public meetings, and dissolving political associations were always opposed by a compact body of members of both Houses.[19] The few Whigs, who kept their heads in the face of Revolutionary France, aimed at the old Whig objects, the supremacy of Parliament over the executive, and the maintenance of the rule of ordinary law.

When the Society of the Friends of the People had fallen into the hands of the Whigs, Cartwright and Radicals like the Duke of Richmond, Dr. Price, and Horne Tooke found a new outlet for their logical energies in the Society for Constitutional Information, which had been founded in 1780. The members of this Society were infinitely less experienced in practical affairs than men like Grey, and some of their publications show a most pedantic and ludicrous precision of reasoning from abstract principles. Like all abstract politicians, they despised those who were content to advance in opinion by easy stages. "How," asked Cartwright, "shall we speak of the imbecile efforts of our professors of moderate reform—so much in the nature of moderate honesty!—politicians whose abortive conceptions and Sisyphean labours never can command the respect of Parliament, Prince, or People? Can nothing cure these step-by-step Reformists of their insanity?"[20] Their own doctrine was compressed on one occasion into the following remarkable resolutions:

"1. Representation—'the happiest discovery of human wisdom'—is the vital principle of the English Constitution, inasmuch as it is that alone which, in a State too extensive for personal legislation, constitutes Political Liberty.

"2. Political Liberty being a common right, Representation co-extensive with direct Taxation ought, with all practicable equality, to be fairly and honestly distributed throughout the community; the facility of which cannot be denied.

"3. The constitutional duration of a Parliament cannot exceed one year."

The question of the ballot was on this occasion left open, and a prize, consisting of the thanks of the Society, was offered for the best essay on its advantages. The justification of the third proposition is a comical instance of the way in which these theorizing politicians were carried away from practical affairs.

"The truth of the third proposition in the Constitution or this Union is made evident by the following, among other considerations:

"1. An Englishman, at twenty-one years of age, enters on his inheritance, whatever it may be. 2. A greater inheritance descends to every one of us from Right and the Laws than from our Parents; on which maxim Sir Edward Coke (in his second Institute) remarks, 'Right is the best birthright the subject hath; for thereby his goods, land, wife, children, his body, life, honour, and estimation are protected from wrong.' 3. To no other 'Right' than that of a People either personally or representatively making their own Laws, whereby they may be 'protected from Wrong,' can this remark of Sir Edward Coke possibly apply. 4. When Election is withholden for seven years, then all who came of age since the preceding election are kept out of their Inheritance and best Birthright. 5. Even supposing the Representation of our Country were in other respects quite perfect, yet septennial Parliaments would still deprive the whole Nation of its political Liberty for six parts in seven of human life; and triennial Parliaments must have a like effect for two years in every three; whence it follows, that Parliaments of any duration exceeding One Year instead of a protection from, would be an infliction of 'wrong'; contrary to the Constitution, against Right, and destruction of Liberty."

This pedantry would destroy itself: by the application of the same principles it could be proved that a General Election was necessary once a month, or once a week, or once a day. But the real objection is that which these a priori Reformers constantly overlooked, the fact that a Constitution is after all only a machine contrived for certain practical ends of government, that it must be arranged upon a basis of convenience, and that infinitely greater hardship could be inflicted upon the country by interrupting trade for one month in every twelve and spending a million pounds in unproductive ways, than by forcing a small portion of the population to abstain from voting even until it was as much as twenty-eight years old.

These doctrines being based upon pure logic, and not upon practical convenience, were naturally made applicable to all peoples without distinction. "All being pure and genuine," said Cartwright, "the result will be, a strict unity of form universally applicable; and exhibiting its subject, political liberty, as evidently a common right and inheritance of every people or nation; for to talk of English liberty, and French or Spanish or Italian liberty, as different in nature is contrary to reason."[21] It is easy to understand why men like Fox and Grey, accustomed to grapple with the affairs of men who were swayed by prejudice, tradition, interest, by everything but reason, were contemptuous of political theories of this sort. No one who has been engaged in active politics can fail to understand that men are infinitely variable, and that what suits one race will not suit another. There was really only one problem to consider. Given a society with a known history, composed of human beings of a known character, and distributed among known conditions, what form of government was best suited to their case? Origin, character, social and economic distribution, and past history, are all different in different peoples, and political institutions will inevitably differ also. The Radicals were far enough away from real life. But with all their incapacity for politics, they performed the great service of preaching the political importance of individuality.

More influential than they were Tom Paine and his followers. These had fewer men of experience in their ranks, they had less respect for existing institutions, and they were as bitterly contemptuous of pioneers like Cartwright as the pioneers in their turn were contemptuous of the Whigs in Parliament. Cartwright clung to King, Lords, and Commons, the Established Church, and administration by men of property and rank. Paine was a Republican, a theist, and a social reformer. The one had influence among the aristocracy, the gentry, the manufacturers, and the forty-shilling freeholders. The other was popular with the artisans and tradesmen. But in general habit of mind the two men were very similar. The differences were differences of class. Both belonged to the same species. They were equally destitute of the historic sense, and equally incapable of understanding that institutions must grow and change with society, and cannot be praised or condemned according as, at any particular moment, they do or do not correspond with the needs of the people who work them. Both pushed theory to logical conclusions, irrespective of the course of events in the past or the practical difficulties of the present. Of the two, Paine had more political capacity. He had more genuine understanding of the character of his audience, and his influence was infinitely more widespread than that of any of the older men. Burke's French Revolution drew a volley of books and pamphlets from his opponents. The Vindiciæ Gallicæ of Sir James Mackintosh was the best of these. But Mackintosh, no less that Dr. Price, Mrs. Macaulay, and Mary Wollstonecraft, was outwritten and outsold by Paine. Of the French Revolution 19,000 copies were sold in twelve months. In the same period Paine sold more than 40,000 copies of the First Part of the Rights of Man.[22]

This famous book is marked by many of the vices of extreme opinions. Its reading of events in France, in some of which Paine had taken part, was far more accurate than that of Burke's treatise. Paine avoided the mistake of taking the Revolution to be a mere outbreak of capricious violence, and gave due weight to the intellectual revolution which had preceded it, and to the economic distress which aggravated it. But though he knew France better than Burke, he had not Burke's grasp of the idea of growth, of the necessity of development rather than of reconstruction in politics, and he could not understand that an institution, which was now useless or detrimental, might, in an older system, have been necessary to the existence of society. Such phrases as Burke's "chain and continuity of the commonwealth" had no meaning for him. Everything was to be cut off and begun afresh. "Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself in all cases as the ages and generations which preceded it."[23] "When we survey the wretched condition of man, and the monarchical and hereditary systems of government, dragged from his home by one power, or driven by another, and impoverished by taxes more than by enemies, it becomes evident that those systems are bad, and that a general revolution in the principle and construction of governments is necessary."[24] Paine is here not unlike the surgeon in Mr. Shaw's play, for ever eager to plunge his knife into the vitals of the patient, without knowing either the history of the disease or the chances of its cure. How much wiser is Burke's "I cannot conceive how any man can have brought himself to that pitch of presumption, to consider his country as nothing but carte blanche, upon which he may scribble whatever he pleases. A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may wish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it, but a good patriot and a true politician always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country. A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman." Paine's prophecies were as extravagant as his reading of history was inaccurate. "I do not believe," he said, "that monarchy and aristocracy will continue seven years longer in any of the enlightened countries in Europe."[25] After one hundred and twenty years Portugal alone has attempted to follow the example of France, and it was eighty years before even France expelled its last despot.

The truth lay midway between the two extremes. Burke was right in theory and wrong in facts. Paine was right in facts and wrong in theory. Paine was deceived by the events of his own time. He had personally assisted at the making of two new constitutions, and he exaggerated the ease with which others might be made like them. This violent plucking out of ancient loyalties seemed normal, when in fact it was altogether abnormal. In America, separated from the old world and its old habits, the process had been comparatively easy. In France, as subsequent events proved, it was of enormous difficulty. Men who habitually build their houses on the sites of abated earthquakes are not in a day to be twisted out of their habit of submitting to illogical things like kings and nobles and Churches. Nor is it often servility or credulity which produces that submission. In the vast majority of cases it is only that they accept that to which they have been accustomed, and require some outrageous provocation to make them change. This was incredible to Paine. What was unreasonable was fraudulent, and what was fraudulent to-day had always been fraudulent. "It is impossible that such Governments as have hitherto existed in the world would have commenced by any other means than a total violation of every principle, sacred and moral. The obscurity in which the origin of all the present Governments is buried implies the iniquity and disgrace with which they began."[26] The obscurity seems a little less dense to us, and the King and the Church appear as necessary in their proper order to the consolidation of society and its advance out of barbarism. To Paine the early king was only the head of a band of robbers, and the early Church was contrived only to maintain him in power by investing him with superstitious terrors. He assailed monarchy and aristocracy with a variety of scornful epithets: "Nobility means No-ability." "Titles are but nicknames." "France has outgrown the baby-cloaths of Count and Duke, and has breeched itself in manhood." "The difference between a republican and a courtier with a respect to monarchy is that the one opposes monarchy, believing it to be something, and the other laughs at it, knowing it to be nothing." "As to who is king in England or elsewhere, or whether there is any king at all, or whether the people choose a Cherokee chief, or a Hessian hussar, for a king, it is not a matter that I trouble myself about." "The House of Brunswick, one of the petty tribes of Germany." "The splendour of a throne ... is made up of a band of parasites living in luxurious indolence out of the public taxes." "Monarchy is the master-fraud, which shelters all others." A torrent of these gibes and sneers at things which to the ordinary man and woman of comfortable surroundings were hardly less than sacred, roused against Paine all that horror and aversion which in our own day has been inspired by Mr. Lloyd George.

But the most disturbing part of Paine's book was not its epithets, but its doctrine. Before him Radicals had argued more or less directly from the assumption of natural rights that every man is invested at his birth with rights against his neighbours, and that political constitutions must be based upon these rights. The theory of natural rights came from Rousseau, and the French Revolution claimed to be a practical consequence of it. Paine brought it over from France in its crude simplicity, and preached it more forcibly and more effectively than it had ever been preached before. It was based on a false historical assumption. Every account of the creation agreed that men are all born equal, of the same degree, and endowed with equal natural rights. These, natural rights were the foundation of all his civil rights. "Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the natural rights of others. Civil rights are those which appertain to man in right of his being a member of society. Every civil right has for its foundation some natural right fore-existing in the individual, but to the enjoyment of which his individual power is not, in all cases, sufficiently competent. Of this kind are all those which relate to security and protection." The basis of liberty is contained in the first three articles of the Declaration of Rights of the French National Assembly, the whole of which Paine quotes in full and declares to be "of more value to the world than all the laws and statutes that have yet been promulgated." The first of these articles, if true, destroys every one of the distinctions of class and creed which were dear to eighteenth-century England. "Men are born, and always continue, free and equal in respect of their rights. Civil distinctions, therefore, can be founded only on public utility." It followed from this premise that no one class had any right to impose laws upon the rest of the community without their consent. The nation must be the source of sovereignty, and no individual or body of men could be entitled to any authority which was not expressly derived from it. Monarchy, aristocracy, the Established Church, the territorial system, and primogeniture, everything which gave artificial advantages to one man over his neighbour, must be swept away. Given the first assumption that all men are born equal, the rest follows as a matter of course.

It is as easy to refute the doctrine as to state it. It is not historically true that men are or ever have been born equal. It is not logically true that a man is born with any rights or can ever acquire any except with the consent of his associates. The historical basis must appear absurd to any one who is acquainted with the theory of evolution and the early history of family and tribal organization. The logical basis must appear equally absurd to any one who is acquainted with the nature of a right. It is impossible to conceive of such a thing as an abstract right apart from definite human relationships. A right cannot exist in the air. It cannot even attach to an isolated individual. A right is always a right against some other, and postulates the association of its possessor with at least one other human being. How can we with any propriety speak of the rights of Robinson Crusoe before the arrival of Friday? The powers of Crusoe were at first limited solely by physical considerations. When he took Friday under his protection he acquired certain rights as against Friday, and at the same time Friday acquired certain rights as against him. But this is only to say that the natural power of each to do as he pleased, hitherto limited only by natural forces, was thereafter limited also by certain rules of conduct, recognized by both for observance so long as their mutual relations continued. The extent of those limits could only be defined by their agreement. These are all the rights which any man can ever possess, even in the most complex society. A right is nothing more or less than a defined natural power. It may vary in the degree of its definition. It may be enforced by all the authority of the whole community, and be called a legal right. It may be enforced only by the pressure of the opinion of the community or of a class, and be called a moral right. In neither case is it a thing of spontaneous generation. It arises always out of the relations of human beings with each other, and may always be tempered and qualified by the nature of their relations.

Paine's mistake lay simply in using the word "natural" instead of the word "moral." To assert that a man has a natural right to control his own government is to assert what is demonstrably false. To assert that a man has a moral right to control his own government is to assert simply that in the writer's opinion a man ought to be allowed to control his own government, and the dispute is simply about a particular problem of ethics. Substitute the one word for the other in the passage above quoted, and what is now a false statement of fact becomes a reasonable, if not an unanswerable, argument. The quarrel between Paine and Burke, so far as it was a practical quarrel and not merely a quarrel about terms, was a quarrel about the precise manner in which certain common ethical principles should be enforced. Government is merely the organization of human beings for certain common purposes, and the structure is to be adapted solely to the execution of those purposes. If a particular scheme means the abuse of one section of the community by another, one of the ends of government, the protection of all the human beings concerned, is not achieved, and the scheme, if possible, should be altered. Once we come to the conclusion, upon ethical principles, that every human being ought to have an equal chance with every other of developing himself, it follows, not as a logical deduction, but simply as a matter of practical convenience, that one class ought not to be entrusted with the control of others. A constitution in itself has no merit. Its only value is as a piece of working machinery, and it is to be tested not by the degree of its conformity to abstract principles, but by its practical effects.

Burke himself, in fact, destroyed his whole argument against "natural rights," not as a proposition of logic, but as a basis of political action. He admitted that men had certain "real" rights: "to justice," "to the fruits of their industry and to the means of making their industry fruitful," "to the acquisitions of their parents, to the nourishment and improvement of their offspring, to instruction in life, and to consolation in death." But what is the difference between these "real" rights of Burke and the "natural" rights of Paine? How are these rights created and maintained, but by public opinion and current ideas of morality? And if these, why not others? "It is a thing," said Burke, "to be settled by convention." Tom Paine meant nothing else. But when Burke said, "As to the share of power, authority, and direction which each individual ought to have in the management of the State, that I must deny to be amongst the direct, original rights of man in civil society," Paine might have asked in what respect rights to justice and to the fruits of industry differed from rights to control government. If the rules of justice are defined by Government so that it becomes difficult, tedious, and expensive, how is the poor man to exercise his right to justice? If Government taxes the raw material of his industry, is not his right to the fruits of it being impaired? In his Present Discontents Burke had described clearly enough the consequences of absolute power, the corruption of the governor and the oppression of the governed. If government remains in the hands of a class, it will inevitably be conducted in the interests of that class, and the rules of justice and the regulation of industry will be contrived according to its interests and not according to those of the general community. In other words, the rights of the rest of society, however real, direct, and original, are always liable to be diminished or destroyed by the caprice of their governors. Burke's admissions lead as inevitably to universal suffrage as the false assumptions of Paine.

It must not be assumed that Paine was a mere theorizer. So far as the interests of the mass of the people were concerned, he was the most practical of reformers. Tories and reactionary Whigs appealed to "the glorious Revolution of 1688."[27] Cartwright and the Radicals deduced liberty from abstract hypotheses without considering to what practical uses liberty was to be put. Paine came boldly forward with definite proposals for social reforms, and it was this practical application of his principles which made him to be detested where Cartwright was only despised. It was bad enough to assail aristocracy. Words could hardly express the feelings with which comfortable people listened to his attacks upon property. These would seem moderate to a generation which has grown accustomed to Socialism, as a creed if not as an institution, and his proposals were little more drastic than those of the present Liberal Government. He advocated graduated death duties, old-age pensions, maternity grants, the right to work, and international agreement for the limitation of armaments.[28] It is true that the language of his proposals was anything but reckless. He was far from being an advocate of violent methods. "It is always better to obey a bad law, making use at the same time of every argument to show its errors and procure its repeal, than forcibly to violate it; because the precedent of breaking a bad law might weaken the force, and lead to a discretionary violation of those which are good."[29] "The right of property being secured and inviolable, no one ought to be deprived of it, except in cases of evident public necessity, legally ascertained, and on condition of a previous just indemnity."[30] This is the language of temperance. But the owners of property have little capacity for reflection when their interests are attacked. They are seldom concerned to examine the justice of any infringement of their privileges, and they find it difficult to distinguish between taxation and spoliation, between appeals to natural justice and the negation of law. Paine's adversaries did not believe in natural rights. But they believed in what were far worse. They believed in natural wrongs. It was monstrous to suggest that all men were entitled to equal opportunities. But it was quite reasonable that the vast majority should be kept in a situation where they could not be confident even of a bare subsistence. The good cause, if not the logical reasoning, was Paine's. The right to property is, like all his "natural" rights, or the "real" rights of Burke, a moral right, and its extent is to be determined upon the same principles as every other. Violent disturbances of it are bad, as violent disturbances of every right are bad, not because they are disturbances, but because they are violent. There is nothing more essentially vicious in a criticism of property in land or machinery than in a criticism of property in a negro. As Burke said, "It is a thing to be settled by convention."

Paine's suggestions for social reform were of little immediate importance, and it was a hundred years before the first of them, a graduated death duty, was passed into law. His value in his own day lay, not in his practical proposals, but in his insistence upon the equal value of individuals in the State. What the Whigs had practised partially and obscurely Paine preached universally and with precision. His Rights of Man was the principal textbook of the new school of politicians, who, by basing their politics upon individuality instead of class, eventually transformed the English theory of government. The Reformers found government the profession of a few families of landed proprietors, at the best prevented from active abuse by an imperfect system of representation of classes. They made it a thing of trust and responsibility, for which every man must prove his competence by his readiness to act directly for the benefit of those whom he governed. They found it an incident in the lives of men of leisure. They made it an expression of the life of men of all ranks alike. Omitting the false historical assumption, there is nothing substantially untrue in Paine's contrast of the old spirit with the new. "Government on the old system was an assumption of power, for the aggrandizement of itself; on the new, a delegation of power for the common benefit of society."[31]

These new principles did not appear on the surface of politics until forty years later, and not a single institution was in the interval altered in the direction of Liberalism. The Whig Opposition broke into pieces, and the majority joined the Tories.[32] The Church of England found itself for once allied with the Wesleyans, whose Christianity was as much repelled by Paine's Age of Reason as its own aristocratic temper was repelled by his Rights of Man. The governing class was driven into a paroxysm of fear and rage by Paine's triple assault on aristocracy, property, and orthodox religion, and every Conservative instinct was roused in its defence. Every Reformer, moderate and extreme, was involved together in one denunciation. Their opinions admittedly came from France, and every atrocity which had taken place in France was due to those opinions. Voltaire was an atheist. Rousseau was a profligate. The French aristocracy had been massacred. The French Church had been stripped of its possessions. The French landed proprietors had been spoiled. All this had been done in the name of the rights of man. The English Reformers believed in the rights of man. These had been proved by events in France to be incompatible with law, order, religion, and morality. All who valued these must unite in their defence against the deadly opinions. Belief in the rights of man marked an Englishman like a contagious disease. Atheists, Theists, and Christians, Trinitarians and Unitarians, Churchmen and Dissenters, Reformers, Radicals, and Republicans, landowners, manufacturers, and artisans, people who believed in vested interests and people who did not, all were Jacobins, and all were swept away in one turbid flood of unreasoning invective.

Every proposal for change was opposed by the same arguments. Every institution, good, bad, or indifferent, became a foothold for shuddering Conservatism. Alteration became synonymous with evil; there was no good save in establishment. Even the Slave Trade was strengthened against pious Tory gentlemen like Wilberforce by the same arguments which defended the representative system against the profane Republican artisans of Lancashire. Thus Lord Abingdon claimed to have "incontrovertibly proved that the proposition for the abolition of the Slave Trade is a French proposition, that it is grounded in and founded upon French principles, that it means neither more nor less than liberty and equality, that it has Tom Paine's Rights of Man for its chief and best support ... that it has had in the colonies of France all the direful effects necessarily flowing from such principles, namely, those of insubordination, anarchy, confusion, murder, havock, devastation, and ruin."[33] Nearly thirty years after the publication of Paine's book, Lord Wellesley, denouncing universal suffrage, annual elections, and voting by ballot, said that, if carried into execution, they "would be the destruction of all regular government, the destruction of all religion, and the destruction of all private property."[34] But the most ludicrous expression of this fear of change occurs in one of Windham's speeches against the Bill to suppress bull-baiting. The House of Commons solemnly listened to a solemn assurance that the Bill was promoted by Methodists and Jacobins, and that it was directed to the destruction of the old English character by the abolition of all rural sports. "Out of the whole number of the disaffected, he questioned if a single bull-baiter could be found, or if a single sportsman had distinguished himself in the Corresponding Society ... the antiquity of the thing was deserving of respect, for antiquity was the best preservation of the Church and State."[35]

The controversy was not allowed to remain a mere matter of words. Both sides set themselves to organize machinery for the dissemination of their opinions. The Radicals used the Society for Constitutional Information. The extremists established the Corresponding Society, whose branches, composed chiefly of the middle and working classes, corresponded with similar societies in France, held meetings and published their resolutions in the newspapers, and industriously circulated copies of the Rights of Man. So vigorous were their operations that a Royal Proclamation was issued in May, 1792, denouncing these "wicked and seditious writings" and correspondence with "persons in foreign parts," and exhorting all subjects of the Crown to discourage them.[36] In November the Tories formed an Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers, which declared that "It appears from history and observation, that the inequality of rank and fortune in this happy country is more the result of every man's own exertions than of any controlling institution of the State. Men become great who have greatly distinguished themselves by the application of talents natural or acquired; and men become rich who have persevered with industry in the application to trade and commerce, to manufactures, and other useful employments."[37] Such language was hardy enough in a society where public dignities were monopolized by a few families, whose inherited wealth was augmented as often by jobbery as by industry. The Association seems to have acted as a private detective agency and sent reports and secret information to the Government. But the honours of agitation rested, as usual, with the reforming party. If their success was small, it was due less to the private efforts of their opponents than to the superior resources of the Government itself.

It is difficult to discover how widely the new ideas had spread by the end of the century. The war with France, which lasted almost continuously from 1793 to 1815, probably drew off much of the national enthusiasm. A foreign war is always favourable to the enemies of domestic liberty, and however much their distresses may drive common men to hate their governors, they generally hate them less than the national enemy. Industrious as they were, the agitators were too closely identified with France to be popular, and it was not till the end of the war that the middle and working classes as a whole began to lend them a favourable ear. In the meantime, they were regarded by the Government as infinitely more powerful than they really were, and for thirty years they worked in constant danger of imprisonment or transportation. They had been depressed, in common with Whigs like Fox and Grey, by the ferocity of the French mobs. But the invasion of France by the Duke of Brunswick and the complete victory of the new national Government, restored their confidence at the same time as it reawakened the terrors of the Tories. The most trifling expressions of sympathy with the French people or their principles exposed them to spies and informers and zealous loyalists.[38] On the 8th May James Ridgway and H. D. Symonds were sentenced to four years' imprisonment for publishing Paine's works. On the 27th, for saying in a coffee-house, "I am for equality; I see no reason why one man should be greater than another; I would have no king, and the constitution of this country is a bad one," Mr. Frost was struck oft the roll of attorneys and sentenced to an hour in the pillory and six months in Newgate. On the 1st October Mr. Pigott and Dr. Hudson were tried for drinking "The French Republic" in a coffee-house. At Leicester a man called Vaughan distributed a handbill criticizing the war because it inflicted hardship on the poor. He was sent to prison for three months. Benjamin Bull distributed the Rights of Man at Bath, and was imprisoned for a year.[39] Paine himself was tried for seditious libel in 1792, and in his absence was outlawed. But the most ferocious punishments were inflicted in Scotland. In England, short of high treason, there was no legal offence possible except sedition or seditious libel, for which the punishment was a term of imprisonment. In Scotland the offenders might be transported. In September, 1793, the Rev. Thomas Fysche Palmer, Unitarian minister at Dundee, for publishing an address couched in very temperate language, from which it was proved that he had struck out some more extravagant expressions, was sentenced to seven years' transportation. The Whigs in Parliament protested against this monstrous sentence. But the House, by a large majority, refused even to compel the Home Secretary to detain the convict ship pending its revision.[40] In the same year Thomas Muir, a gentleman of acknowledged respectability, was sentenced to fourteen years' transportation for an offence of as trivial a kind as that of Mr. Palmer.[41] Other Reformers, chiefly members of Corresponding Societies, met at Edinburgh in December, 1792, in what they rashly called a "National Convention." This consisted of delegates from Societies all over the kingdom. It passed resolutions, appointed committees, and acted as a permanent body of political delegates is accustomed to act, in order to further the cause of Parliamentary Reform. There was nothing violent in the objects, the proceedings, or the language of the Convention, which passed a resolution in favour of government by King, Lords, and Commons without a single dissentient voice.[42] But the French Revolution had begun by the meeting of a "Convention," and the delegates, in addition to selecting that unfortunate title, presented an address to the French National Convention, and habitually addressed each other, in imitation of the French, as "citizens." This was enough for the Government. A representative body, with a French title, in communication with the French Government, and using French forms of speech, must meditate that sort of revolution which had been contrived by the French people. It fell upon the delegates with all the ferocity of despotism in a panic. William Skirving, Maurice Margarot, and Joseph Gerald were transported for fourteen years, and Alexander Callender was outlawed. English juries were less frantic than Scottish. The members of the London Corresponding Society had done similar acts in England. But in 1794, when several of them, including Horne Tooke, were tried for high treason, all were acquitted.

The precise details of all these proceedings, and the widespread suffering which they caused, are not important for this book. It is enough to state here that there was much expression of discontent, and that the Government dealt with it in the worst possible way. The wise course was to detach the respectable agitators from the agitators who were not respectable by substantial improvements in the franchise and the distribution of seats. But the Government were incapable of drawing distinctions, and, by confounding all sorts of discontent in their repression, alienated and embittered even those whom they had it in their power to conciliate. Evidence of any general conspiracy to alter the existing order by violent means there is none. Nothing was ever published on behalf of the Government itself which proved anything but constitutional and orderly expressions of dissatisfaction, with occasional outbreaks of reckless language and exceedingly rare instances of such acts as the purchase or manufacture of weapons.[43] There were no collections of arms, no riots, except such as were purely industrial, and no demonstrations of force. Not a single life was ever taken or attempted by the Reformers, and the only dangerous political disturbance of the period was the outbreak of the Tory mob, who looted and burnt the houses of Dissenters and Radicals at Birmingham. But the governing class was afraid, and in its fear it struck out blindly at everything which it disliked.

The Habeas Corpus Act was suspended in 1791, and the executive received power to arrest and detain suspects without trial. At a later date, extraordinary powers were created. A meeting held near London in October, 1795, was followed by an attempt to assassinate the King. The meeting was orderly, and there was not a shadow of proof that there was any connection between the two events. But the Government took advantage of the prevailing indignation to create new crimes, and to increase the punishments for existing crimes. The Treason Act made it an offence, punishable on a second conviction with seven years' transportation, to "incite or stir up the people to hatred or dislike of His Majesty's person or the established Government and constitution of the realm," and extended the definition of high treason. The Sedition Act prohibited the holding of meetings without the presence of a magistrate, made it an offence punishable with death for twelve persons to remain together after a magistrate had called upon them to disperse, and declared that any house, where a substantial number of persons beyond that of the resident family assembled for a common purpose, should be treated as a disorderly house, unless specially licensed. In 1799, after the mutiny in the fleet at the Nore and the great Irish Rebellion, in both of which the Society of United Irishmen had been involved, new statutes made it a criminal offence, punishable by fine and imprisonment, to belong to the Corresponding Society, or the Societies of United Irishmen and United Englishmen, or to take oaths of secrecy. No printer was to be allowed to conduct his business without obtaining a certificate from a clerk of the peace. No attempt was made to discriminate between the Corresponding Societies, whose violence was confined to their language, and the other two societies, which had undoubtedly been concerned in the mutiny and the Rebellion. Individual atrocities were ascribed to French principles. The Reform Societies preached French principles. Therefore they were as guilty as the criminals themselves. In effect, all organized political agitation was suppressed.

All these measures were steadily opposed by the small body of Parliamentary Whigs who had not lost their belief in free government. Fox, Grey, and Whitbread in the Commons, and Bedford, Lansdowne,[44] Moira, and Lauderdale in the Lords, denounced every restriction upon the right of free discussion, and at huge meetings at Copenhagen House and in Palace Yard they protested against the Treason and Sedition Bills. They were not in sympathy with the extremists, who often attacked them as bitterly as the Tories themselves. There is nothing so obnoxious to violent opinions as moderation. It seems to add hypocrisy to wickedness. But to those who can see historical events in proportion the good service of this handful of statesmen is beyond question. They maintained the purely Liberal view that toleration is not to be confined to opinions of which we ourselves approve. "All political libels," said Fox, "he would leave to themselves; discussions on government, so far as they did not interfere with private character, he would permit to pass entirely unrestrained."[45] "The best security of a Government," said Tierney, "is in the free complaints of a people."[46] "The safety of the State," said Grey, "could only be found in the protection of the liberties of the people.... There never was an extensive discontent without great misgovernment. The people ought to be taught to look to Parliament with a confident expectation that their complaints would be heard, and protection afforded to them. When no attention was paid to the calls of the people for relief, when their petitions were rejected, and their sufferings aggravated, was it wonderful that at last public discontents should assume a formidable aspect?"[47] Protests sometimes became threats. Fox declared in 1795 that if the Treason and Sedition Bills were carried into law, the propriety of resistance to government would no longer be a matter of morality but of prudence only, and in this he was supported by Sheridan and Grey.

These Whigs at least contrived to see the popular point of view, and would have suffered opinions which they would do nothing to promote. The Tories saw no point of view but their own. They hated free discussion, because they saw that it meant the end of the institutions which they cherished. Discussion was to them only a stage on the way to rapine and murder. It made, therefore, no difference whether discussion were honest and orderly or not. They were resolute to maintain existing establishments, and the most constitutional of critics was as much a public enemy as the most ferocious of rebels. They drew no distinction between agitation and revolution. They inquired into discontents, but only into their extent and not into their causes. They applied violent remedies, not to the real disease, but to its symptoms. The patient was noisy, and they beat him for being noisy, when they ought to have cured the fever which produced his delirium. The vice of their system lay not so much in their suppression of disorder as in their neglect of reform. Order must be maintained by government, even when the breach of it is the fault of government. But it must be accompanied by redress of grievances. It is the business of a statesman to manage his people, not to compel them, and however necessary it may sometimes be for him to enforce the law, it remains the weakest, and should always be the last of his instruments. It is useless for him to maintain order unless it is accompanied by goodwill. Some men may be constitutionally so disaffected that nothing can appease them. But the majority can always be satisfied by a generous treatment of their grievances. Even after the crisis of the Revolution Pitt might have made the state of England more happy than it was. But what he did not do was not so important as what he had not done. He believed in Parliamentary Reform, in Catholic Emancipation, in the relief of Dissenters, in Free Trade. He was in power from 1783 to the outbreak of the Revolution, and might have conciliated the middle class and the Irish, diminished public corruption, stimulated industry, and reduced the cost of living. This would not have prevented all discontent. But it would have confined it to its essential and irreducible minimum. Whether this inaction was due to his own lethargy or the incurable selfishness and stupidity of his associates and supporters, it was undoubtedly responsible for a large part of his subsequent difficulties. He left heaps of combustible material untouched, and it was his own fault that it caught fire. In this unhappy state, lurching between bitter discontent and savage repression, English liberty struggled through the great war.

The affairs of Ireland furnished another battle-ground for contending principles during this period. The complete subjugation of that country was ended in 1782, when demonstrations of armed force wrested legislative independence from an England surrounded by foreign enemies. The Irish Parliament was left free to make such laws as it pleased for Ireland, and the deliberate destruction of Irish industries in the interest of English ceased for ever. But this independence, though won by the united efforts of all creeds and classes, was the independence of a Protestant oligarchy. The great bulk of the Irish people escaped an external only to submit to an internal tyrant. The Irish Parliament, though patriotic in matters of commerce, was hardly any more indulgent than the English in its religious policy. Catholics were excluded from the Houses at Dublin as vigorously as from those at Westminster, and few important mitigations of their lot were obtained from their own countrymen. In 1792 Catholics were admitted to the Bar, mixed marriages were allowed, and it was made legal for a Catholic to educate his children abroad. In 1793 all public offices were thrown open to them, except seats in Parliament and the highest places in the Army, the Judicature, and the Civil Service. These changes removed the worst disabilities of the upper and middle classes, who had now fewer disabilities than their fellows in England and Scotland, and there was thus exhibited a considerable reduction of Protestant insolence. The supremacy of Pitt in England aroused great hopes that the last stones of the edifice would soon be removed. Catholic emancipation would not have cured all the ills of Ireland, any more than Parliamentary Reform would have cured all the ills of England. An excessive population, crowded into agriculture by the destruction of manufactures, demoralized by landowners who were too often thriftless or absentees, and deprived of education by the laws which prohibited teaching by Catholic priests or laymen, was in a condition which mere political reforms could do little to improve. What Catholic disabilities did was to poison economic discontent by the memories of racial and religious persecution. The conduct of the English Government of the day was dangerously uncertain. The hopes of the Catholics were roused in 1794 by the appointment of Lord Fitzwilliam as Lord-Lieutenant. Fitzwilliam was notoriously in favour of the Catholic claims, even though he was not authorized to make any promises on behalf of the Government. He was too open in his professions of sympathy, and when Protestant bigotry procured his recall, the apparent treachery only aggravated the bitterness of old subjection. Catholic resentment and Protestant arrogance soon brought matters to a crisis. Neither party gained credit from the rising of 1798. The excesses of the magistrates and the troops before, during, and after the fighting were often of mediæval atrocity, and the retaliation of the rebels cannot be justified, though it is amply explained by the character of the provocation. This fearful outbreak in the middle of the French War satisfied the English Government that only by a Union could Ireland be kept in peace. The good effects of the recent concessions had vanished in this whirlwind of savagery, and Protestant and Catholic were once more in the temper of the Middle Ages. Mutual goodwill could only be restored by a common tutelage.

There was nothing bad in itself in the plan for a legislative Union. Had it been carried through with a just regard for Irish opinion, and had it been followed by a strict attention to the grievances of the common people, the Union might have been one of the brilliant successes of the English race. In fact it was itself effected by shameful means, and it was followed by misgovernment as fatally unsympathetic as that which had preceded it. English rule in Ireland was less ferocious in the nineteenth century than in the eighteenth. But it was no less conspicuous a failure. No constitutional machinery can be better than the men who work it, and Englishmen after the Union showed themselves no less unimaginative and egoistic than their predecessors. The objects of the Union were stated by Pitt, with perfect good faith, to be the substitution of government by an impartial authority for government by a faction which was steeped in the memories of old oppression. "An impartial Legislature standing aloof from local party connection, sufficiently removed from the influence of contending factions to be advocate or champion of neither, being so placed as to have no superstitious reverence for the names and prejudices of ancient families, who have so long enjoyed the exclusive monopolies of certain public patronages and property ... this is the thing that is wanted for Ireland."[48] That was what was wanted for Ireland. What it obtained was a Legislature as partial, as inextricably involved in local party connection, and as closely wrapped about with superstitious reverence for ancient families and their patronages and property as could have been contrived. For half a century at least the government of Ireland remained what it has always been in the hands of England, government by armed force, in the interests of the landlords against the tenants, of the Protestants against the Catholics. A system which Pitt devised as a protection against the old abuses was converted into an effective engine for their maintenance. Pitt was himself partly to blame for this disastrous failure. He probably never saw the need for economic reorganization. But he saw clearly enough the need for the ending of religious strife, which poisoned the whole temper of the people and wasted on the jealousies of sects and the hatred of government energy which would otherwise be free to run in healthy and productive channels. His weakness in not pushing on with Lord Fitzwilliam made the rebellion of 1798 inevitable. Similar weakness after the Union made the constitutional change useless. It was undoubtedly part of his original plan to emancipate the Catholics. But the King, the Church, and Protestant Ireland were too strong for him. Pitt resigned. The Whigs came into office, with a Ministry which was united at least on the Catholic question. The King again had his way, and rather than hold office without fulfilling their Catholic pledges, they resigned in their turn.[49] Pitt's course was clear. He should have refused to come back without permission to do what he thought right. But he preferred the convenience of the King, and accepted office on condition that the Catholic question was left open. This was as effective as a definite refusal. Canning persuaded the House of Commons in 1812, but Eldon in the Lords defeated his colleague's Bill, and until Eldon could be expelled there was no hope for Ireland. The friendly Tories would never unite with the Whigs to defeat the hostile Tories. Nothing was done to solve the problem, and Ireland, for a generation after the Union, was governed by coercion.

Throughout this wretched dispute the Whigs maintained the ancient doctrines of their party with regard to religious disabilities. But the problem aroused controversy about a second conception of more recent growth, the conception of nationality. Burke had tried to treat Ireland as an equal nation for commercial purposes. The Whigs of 1801 extended the idea to its extreme limits. Had the Irish Parliament the right to surrender its powers to a Parliament of the United Kingdom without receiving the approval of its own electors? Unquestionably it had the legal right. Had it also the moral right? The Whigs held that it had not. "What right," asked Sheridan, "has the Irish Parliament to resolve that, instead of going back to their constituents, they shall form part of a foreign legislature?"[50] "The Union," said Fox, "is not an alteration, but a destruction and annihilation of the Irish Constitution. Union therefore, like revolution, cannot be justifiable but by the unequivocal consent of the people."[51] Pitt opposed this doctrine on the usual Tory ground. It led, he said, immediately "to the system of universal right of suffrage in the people, to the doctrine that each man should have a share in the government of the country by having a choice for his representative; and then goes back to the whole system of Jacobinism."[52]

The Union was therefore carried through the instrumentality of a legislature bribed to betray its constituents. This transaction was much worse than it appeared. The English Government which neglected the wishes of the Irish people in this matter would neglect them in all others. The Union was a supreme act of despotism, the fitting prelude to the systematic disregard of Irish opinion which followed it. "There must," wrote Fox a few years later, "be a fundamental change in the system of governing Ireland, to give even a chance of future quiet there.... That there should be a part of the United Kingdom to which our laws, nominally at least, extend, and which is nevertheless in such a state as to call for martial law, etc., so repeatedly, is of itself ground for reconsidering, at least, the system by which it is governed."[53] The Tories could not understand, even in the case of England, that it is the business of a governor to manage and not to coerce the governed, and race and religion combined to obscure still further their view of Ireland. The system remained what it had been and was, and the consequences of this fatal negligence are with us to this day.


The foreign policy of the Government gave not a few opportunities for expressions of Liberalism. The rights of nationalities were in issue in the beginning of the French War, in the treatment of Ireland, in the descent upon Copenhagen, and in the negotiations which followed the downfall of Napoleon. In all these cases the Whig Opposition stated the pure Liberal doctrine. In that of the war with France, one section of them carried the doctrine to an absurd extent. In origin, the war was unquestionably a war of interference, an attempt to force upon the French people an obnoxious government, and to compel them to abandon those new and revolutionary principles which they had adopted for themselves. Pitt himself had apparently no such object, and was hurried into the war partly by the French threats of assisting other peoples to revolt, and chiefly by the irresistible pressure of the English governing class. It is impossible to read contemporary literature, the debates in Parliament, the newspapers, the pamphlets of Burke and other acknowledged leaders of opinion, the resolutions of corporations and public meetings, and the private correspondence, without coming to the conclusion that the great bulk of influential political society was inspired by a fanatical hatred of the new opinions. Whatever pretexts may have been urged in public, and may have been in fact held by comparatively sober people like Pitt, the impelling force behind the English armies was dread of French principles. The sword of the invader could not have been feared more than the fatal contagion of his ideas. The Germans and Austrians, who invaded France in 1792 to restore the monarchy, were less concerned to hide their motives than the English Government. But there was little difference in substance between them. The Continental Sovereigns moved of their own motion. The English Ministers were carried on by their supporters.

Against a war of this kind the Whigs spoke forcibly and with justice. Lansdowne described it as "a war, the alleged object of which was to repel unprovoked aggressions, but the real one to prescribe laws to an independent country."[54] It was "a metaphysical war; it was declared against France on account of her internal circumstances."[55] Fox said it was no better than the methods of the Inquisition. We were killing people because they thought differently from ourselves. "How could we blame all those abominable acts of bloodshed and torture, which had been committed from time to time under the specious name of religion, when we ourselves had the presumption to wage a similar war?"[56] It was "the most gross violation of everything sacred which could exist between nation and nation, as striking at the root of the right which each must ever possess of internal legislation."[57] "Whatever our detestation of the guilt of foreign nations may be, we are not called to take upon ourselves the task of avengers; we are bound only to act as guardians of the welfare of those with whose concerns we are immediately entrusted."[58]

This language was wise, and its wisdom was proved by events. The Bourbons were not restored. The temper of the French people was incredibly stimulated. The new system which might have repelled by its violence and rapacity became the centre of the national enthusiasm. It inflicted a crushing defeat upon its foreign invaders and then proceeded to avenge this additional injury by the massacre of those whom the invasion was intended to assist. Whether Napoleon would have appeared in French history or not without this strengthening of the Revolutionary system, it is impossible to say. Certainly the foreign interference with the first Government consolidated the nation, and prepared for Napoleon's use the most formidable weapon that he could have obtained for the braying of Europe. There is a tragic instance of that insight which is not foresight in the correspondence of Castlereagh, and it shows how completely the English Government misunderstood what they had done. "The only thing ... which really dispirits me is, the unprecedented struggle of order against anarchy, and the unfortunate facility with which France recruits her army as fast as the sword exterminates it. A few days transforms their ragamuffins into troops, which are not contemptible even when opposed to the best soldiers in Europe.... It is the first time that all the population and all the wealth of a great kingdom has been concentrated in the field: what may be the result is beyond my perception."[59] What was going on was that anarchy was being reduced into order within the boundaries of France, and no hatred of early extravagance or subsequent tyranny need blind us to the courage, energy, and skill of those French statesmen who, in the face of their enemies, built up the new system upon the ruins of the old. The war made their task comparatively easy, and if it diminished their strength, it made their material more workable. The foreign invasion operated like a powerful electric current, and fused the scattered particles of French nationalism into a solid bulk. The whole fiery mass of France was being beaten and welded and forged into something which Castlereagh could not understand: a nation, every member of which had a personal interest in and a personal devotion to his nationality. Such a thing had not been known before in France. But it was not long before even Castlereagh was made to feel that in the councils of Europe the rights of man might count for as much as government by orders.

The Whigs carried their maintenance of the equal rights of nationalities to its inevitable conclusion that nations, no less than individuals, must be bound by moral rules in their dealings with each other. Fox declared that "the greatest resource a nation can possess, the sweet source of power, is a strict attention to the principles of justice. I firmly believe that the common proverb of honesty being the best policy is as applicable to nations as to individuals ... and that cases which may sometimes be supposed exceptions arise from our taking narrow views of the subject, and being unable at once to comprehend the whole."[60] When he was almost at the point of death he proceeded to suggest an international congress for settling disputes. "He disapproved ... of any government pursuing under the title of indemnities a system of partition of States, making some republics, some monarchies, and annihilating the political existence of others, without regard to moral rectitude or to the common feelings of mankind, which considerations had more influence on the affairs of the world than some politicians were aware. The partition of Poland, the seizure of Holland, the subjugation of Switzerland, and the division of States, by the agreement of some, and by the fraud and rapacity of others, had done more to destroy the confidence of mankind in each other than all the other misconduct of the powers put together. In private society, when men lost their confidence in one another, the compact was dissolved. The same rule applied to States, for they were only aggregates of individuals. He recommended to all the powers of Europe a system of justice and moderation, as the only means of putting an end to the evils under which we labour. He recommended a general congress, and that these principles should be prevalent in its deliberations."[61]

These principles of international morality were applied most forcibly to the destruction of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen in 1805. The Danes were not hostile to us, and in common with all the other small peoples of Europe they had every reason to fear Napoleon. The English Government knew that Napoleon intended, if he could, to use the Danish fleet against them. The English fleet accordingly was sent to Copenhagen to demand the surrender of the Danish ships, and on receiving a very natural refusal, destroyed some and carried off the rest. This proceeding is generally treated in English schools as a matter for national gratification. To Liberals it appears a very dangerous abuse of arbitrary power. Contemporary Europe was of the same opinion, and the direct consequence of the affair was to range all the Northern States on the side of Napoleon. We deprived him of the Danish ships, and we threw into his hands the Danish army, and all the forces of Sweden, Norway, and Russia as well. The chorus of denunciation in Parliament was for once not confined to the Whigs. Even Windham said "he would sooner have seen the Danish fleet in Buonaparte's hands than in ours, under all the circumstances of the case."[62] Erskine lamented that the whole course of civilization had been interrupted by this act. "If anything could give delight in reading the history of civilized nations, it was the progressive improvement that was to be traced in law and civilization amongst the nations of the world. This was the first instance in which the principles of that amelioration had been trampled upon by us."[63] Lord Moira spoke in the same strain. "As long as there was a power in Europe which, from its regard to justice and to the rights of other States, could form a sort of rallying-point to the oppressed, there was some probability that the nations who were groaning under the yoke of a pitiless and inexorable tyrant would have watched for some opportunity, and made some exertion in common to throw it off. Such a power was this country, previous to the late most unjustifiable and unfortunate attack upon Denmark; but by this attack that hope had been completely extinguished."[64] Grey disposed of the argument that reasons of State could justify immorality. "So far from adding to the safety of the country, that point on which its safety most particularly depended, he meant its honour, had not only been greatly weakened, but had in fact received a mortal stab."[65] Prior to this oppression of the Danes, England had had the chance of heading a European movement for emancipation from Napoleon. Every small State might have supported her as a protector, and every large one as an ally against a dangerous rival. After the attack it became for the small States simply a choice between two protectors, either of whom seemed to offer security against the other if not against itself. The exasperation of the moment swung the balance to the side of Napoleon, and England found herself face to face with a hostile Continent.[66]

Fortunately for the country, the Government soon effected a great change in their policy. For the first time they enlisted on their side what the French had had from the beginning, the idea of nationality. The war had entirely changed its character. Beginning as an interference with the internal affairs of the French people, it had merged, since the rise of Napoleon, into a struggle against a power which was as universal in its appetite as it was unscrupulous in its methods. Against this force, which was so astonishing that it appeared to many pious Christians as Anti-Christ himself, schemes and combinations had proved powerless. England had escaped disaster because she was an island. The rest of Europe, with the exception of Russia, had been beaten to the ground. These dynastic contrivances of kings and emperors wanted the national spirit which supported their adversary. To the common people in many parts of Europe Napoleon appeared as a deliverer from their domestic oppressors, and the little states of Germany and Italy, which he had carved out of the bigger, were ready enough to see a champion of freedom in one who tyrannized only over tyrants. The end began when he deposed a Spanish king and put his own brother on the throne of the proudest and most exclusive nation of Europe. The Peninsular War at last found England in her right place, at the head of a league of nationalities. The Whig Opposition, always weak in numbers, was now broken to pieces. Part of it repeated the old arguments, which applied to everything but the present facts, hailed Napoleon as the champion of liberty, and even expressed regret at his downfall at Waterloo. The wiser men saw at once the significance of the Spanish expedition. Canning was now the Tory Foreign Secretary. He found a hearty supporter in Grey among the Whigs, and both felt an idea in what for Castlereagh was still no more than a matter of business. "Of all the infamies ever incurred by a nation," said Grey, "I think the greatest would have been to have appeared to abandon the Spaniards."[67] "The allies have now been placed by France in the situation in which France was originally placed by the allies. The success of both has been occasioned by the spirit of resistance, produced by injury and oppression; and my great hopes of the present confederacy are chiefly derived from this, that it has arisen rather from the feeling of the peoples than the policy of the Governments which it embraces."[68] The new principle succeeded at last. The Spanish people, with English help, crippled Napoleon, the Russian people wore him out, and the German people overwhelmed him. In 1815 the victory of Waterloo completed his destruction, and the European peoples had at last leisure to look to themselves.


Comparing the England of 1815 with the England of 1790, the Liberals of the time would find little cause for satisfaction. The economic problems of the country were more acute, and the attempts to remedy them directly by legislation and indirectly by encouraging combinations of workmen had been defeated. A solitary Act of 1802, which did something to regulate the conditions of parish children who had been apprenticed to private employers, was the only measure of protection which had passed into law. Parliamentary Reform and Religious Emancipation seemed more remote than ever. The principle of nationality had been violated in Ireland, and if the recognition of it in the later stages of the war gave some ground for future confidence, hope was soon to be dispelled.

Unhappily for the common people, the spirit of nationality had been used only as a means and not as an end by the various enemies of Napoleon. No sooner was the common enemy destroyed than the victorious monarchs sat down to cut up and distribute Europe among themselves. They had fought, not the French, but the French Revolution, and when the main conflagration had been extinguished, they had still to stamp out the burning embers which had been blown about its borders. The young Republics which had been created were to be restored to their old rulers, and all the ancient monarchies were to be re-established, and where necessary strengthened by the acquisition of new territory. There is something almost ludicrous to modern eyes in the spectacle of these kings and emperors and their chancellors and envoys assigning and allotting human beings, by millions together, without inquiring into the wishes or interests of those with whom they dealt. England participated in the game, and Toryism and Liberalism were again brought into conflict.

The Tory view, expressed by Castlereagh and Liverpool, was hardly less callous than that of the Tzar Alexander himself. There is hardly a word in any of their speeches or dispatches which shows any tenderness for men and women as such. Human beings to them were only subjects. The old form of Europe was to be restored, subject only to such changes as were necessary to strengthen the principal enemies of Revolutionary France. To the balance of power was to be sacrificed all local or national independence. "Upon the subject of Austria and Prussia," wrote Lord Liverpool, "we must always expect a degree of jealousy on the part of every French Government. It is quite essential, however, to any balance of power that these two monarchies should be made respectable. The principle recognized in the early part of this year, that Austria should have a population in the whole of about 27,000,000 of souls, and Prussia one of about 11,000,000, appears to be quite reasonable, and ought to give no umbrage to France."[69] Lord Liverpool wrote of "souls," but if he had been writing of cattle his language would have been no different. Castlereagh was no better. The Congress of Vienna, at which this vivisection of a continent took place, had in his eyes two objects, to check France and to check Russia. Prussia and Austria must therefore be aggrandized. Italy might be the next free people and become as dangerous as France, and the dream of her unity and independence must be subordinated to the necessity of at once strengthening Austria against Russia and of suppressing those small states upon which Napoleon had conferred independence. Venice, an ancient Republic, was handed over to Austria. Lest France should infect Italy, the Genoese Republic must be annexed to the Kingdom of Piedmont. Lest Russia should dominate Sweden, Norway must be taken from Denmark and given to Sweden. In order that Holland might be strengthened against France in the North, she must be allowed to annex Belgium. Prussia must be strengthened, but not too much, and accordingly the Kingdom of Saxony was cut in half. The Poles had been divided between Russia, Austria, and Prussia in 1792. They now expressed a desire for independence, but in vain.[70] Austria and Prussia must be maintained at all costs. Castlereagh regretted that they should be sacrificed and left them to their fate.

The Whigs protested warmly against this infamous disposition of the affairs of unconsenting peoples. Particular acts, in particular the partition of Poland, it was not in the power of England to prevent. But that was no reason why she should give them her formal sanction. "England," said the young Lord John Russell, "might have appeared as a member of a confederacy to oppose France without sanctioning any of those acts of pillage by which the deliverance of Europe has been disgraced. If she was not able to prevent those acts, she need not have soiled her fair fame by appearing to countenance them."[71] But other matters were entirely within the control of England. She had entered into a treaty with Russia and Sweden, by which she bound herself not only formally to transfer Norway from Denmark to Sweden, but actually to compel the Norwegians by force of arms to submit to their new masters. Even Canning, who, though a member of the Government, held Liberal opinions in foreign affairs, declared that "if the question now was, whether consent should be given to the treaty, he had no hesitation in saying that he would refuse it."[72] Wilberforce "considered the partitioning of States against their will a most despotic sacrifice of public rights."[73] Lord Grenville appealed "to the old-established and true principles of national law in opposition to the new-fangled doctrine of utility, or, in other words, the subversion of all moral principle," and denounced "the horrible injustice by which an unoffending people were to be bent to the dominion of a foreign power."[74] Grey expressed the complete Liberal theory. "The principles are the same in the one case and the other, whether between individuals or between States. No matter to what degree the impunity of power might silence the claims of right, its nature cannot be altered; it is equally sacred, equally important, and is equally to be recognized, in every attempt to protect the weak against the strong.... The rights of the Sovereign over his subjects are not the rights of property. They do not confer the privilege of transferring them from one to another like cattle attached to the soil.... The Sovereign might withdraw himself from their protection. He might absolve them from their allegiance to himself; but he had no right to transfer their allegiance to any other State. It became, then, the right of the people to decide to whom their allegiance should be given."[75] He dealt in fitting terms with the contention that it was after all for the benefit of the Norwegian people. "Can it be argued," he asked, "that any country shall be obliged to accept what a foreign State thinks proper to consider as happiness? No sort of tyranny can, in my judgment, be conceived more complete than that a Government should undertake to force another people to submit to that system which such Government may regard as happy, although that people may think quite the contrary."[76] Neither the reluctance of Canning nor the attacks of the Whigs could prevent the outrage. The British fleet blockaded the Norwegian ports, and the Norwegian people submitted to their new masters.

  1. In her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).
  2. Political Arithmetic (1774), 95.
  3. Thoughts on Scarcity (1795).
  4. Wealth of Nations, Bk. IV., cix.
  5. Reports, 1806, iii. 2.
  6. On Civil Liberty (1776), 72.
  7. Political Justice (1793), ii. 190.
  8. Memoir of Major Cartwright, i. 244.
  9. I use the term "Radicals" for these early extremists because it is the most convenient. But the word was not actually introduced till the end of the French War in 1816.
  10. P. 3.
  11. P. 22.
  12. P. 37.
  13. Memoir, i. 191.
  14. In 1793 the Society published a Report on the State of the Representation, which showed that 309 members were returned by private patronage, 163 of them by Peers (Annual Register, 1793).
  15. Parl. Hist., xxxi. 793.
  16. Speeches, v. 97, 115 (1795).
  17. Hansard, I. xxxviii. 1118. The voting on Burdett's resolution was 106 to 0. Ibid., 1185.
  18. Speeches, 17th May, 1794.
  19. The minority in the Commons ranged between forty and sixty. In the Lords it was sometimes only three or four.
  20. Appeal to the Nation (1812), 78.
  21. A Problem (1824).
  22. Preface to Rights of Man, Part II.
  23. Part I.
  24. Ibid., Conclusion.
  25. Part II., Preface.
  26. Part II., c. i.
  27. See for example the resolutions of the London Wards in the Annual Register, 1792.
  28. Rights of Man, Part II.
  29. Part II., Preface.
  30. Part II.
  31. Rights of Man, Part II., c. 3.
  32. So late as 1840 Cook, a Whig, described the Rights of Man as "a fountain of evil," and denounced its "licentiousness and impiety." See his History of Party, iii. 399.
  33. Parl. Hist. (1799), xxxi. 467. Compare Colonel Cawthorne's speech, xxx. 1440.
  34. Hansard, I. xli. 434 (1819).
  35. Speeches, 24th May, 1802.
  36. Annual Register, 1782. There is an admirable account of these different societies in Mr. G. S. Veitch's Genesis of Parliamentary Reform (1913).
  37. Annual Register, 1792. The Association soon got into difficulties. Its president, Mr. John Reeves, published a pamphlet so violently Tory in tone that the House of Commons ordered him to be prosecuted for sedition involved in contempt of itself. He was acquitted.
  38. Government spies were sometimes involved in their own net. Two of them took part in treasonable proceedings at Edinburgh, and were hanged, drawn, and quartered (Annual Register, 1793, Chronicle, 53, 58).
  39. These cases are taken from the Chronicle in the Annual Register, 1792.
  40. State Trials, xxiii.; Annual Register, 1794, 32.
  41. State Trials, xxiii.
  42. Report of Secret Committee of Commons; Parl. Hist., xxxi. 727.
  43. Reports of Secret Committees of 1795 and 1799 in the Parl. Hist., xxxi. 475, 574, 688; xxxiv. 579, 1000, and the consequent debates. Dr. J. Holland Rose and Mr. G. S. Veitch come to the same conclusion as that reached in the text.
  44. Shelburne became Lord Lansdowne in 1784.
  45. Speeches, vi. 61.
  46. Parl. Hist., xxxiv. 992.
  47. Hansard, I. xli. 7, 8.
  48. Parl. Hist., xxxiv. 248.
  49. During their brief tenure of office in 1807 they stopped the Slave Trade, which Pitt's Government, while always condemning it, had never suppressed. This was the last and the noblest of the public acts of Fox.
  50. Parl. Hist., xxxiv. 213.
  51. Letter to Lord Holland, in the Correspondence of C. J. Fox, 23rd February, 1799.
  52. Parl. Hist., xxxiv. 244. Cf. Granville and Auckland at pp. 668, 717.
  53. To Charles Grey, 8th August, 1803, 6th January, 1804; Correspondence of C. J. Fox.
  54. Parl. Hist., xxxi. 684 (1793).
  55. Ibid., xxx. 422 (1792).
  56. Speeches, v. 496.
  57. Ibid., 84.
  58. Ibid., 174.
  59. Alison's Life of Castlereagh, i. 21, 23.
  60. Parl. Hist., xxxi. 1367 (1795).
  61. Speeches, vi. 620 (1805).
  62. Hansard, I. x. 290.
  63. Hansard, I. 354.
  64. Ibid., I. x. 365.
  65. Ibid., 376.
  66. The descent upon Copenhagen is to-day used as an argument for a powerful German Navy. Our old immoralities pursue us still.
  67. Life and Opinions of Earl Grey, by Colonel Grey, 220.
  68. Ibid., 332.
  69. Yonge's Life of Lord Liverpool, ii. 26.
  70. Alison's Castlereagh, i. 500 et seq.; Castlereagh's speech in Hansard, I. xxx. 292.
  71. Walpole's Life of Russell, i. 110.
  72. Hansard, I. xxvii. 850.
  73. Ibid., 862.
  74. Ibid., 790, 791
  75. Hansard, I. xxvii. 773.
  76. Ibid., I. xxvii. 782.