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CHA P. V.
Bill for the Disfranchisement of the Forty Shilling Freeholders in
Ireland - Mr. O'Connell claims to sit under the new Act~He refuses to take the Oath of Supremacy, and is heard at the Bar--The House resolves, that he must take the Oath of Supremacy, and orders a new Writ for the County of Clare--The Marquis of Blandford moves Resolutions in favour of Parliamentary Reform.
JHE bill, which admitted Ca- interest might be, in the Irish
liament, and to all offices of politic sought, lay in diminishing the ·cal power and trust, had been ac number, and increasing the respectcompanied, throughout its whole ability of the voters.
The fortyprogress, by another bill for dis- shilling freeholders had been manufranchising the whole body of forty- factured by the landlords themshilling freeholders in Ireland, and selves, for no other purpose than to raising the qualification of an create votes which should be at their elector to 101. The object in view absolute disposal. The instrument in this regulation was, to free was a powerful one ; but it had now elections from that absolute con- passed into abler and more enertrol which late experience had getic hands; it was wielded against shewn could always be exercised themselves by a power, to which, over them by the influence of the from its nature, they could oppose Catholic clergy on these miserable no successful resistance.
They Catholic voters. In the alarm, could not regain possession of the which that control had excited, is instrument: it was resolved, thereto be found one main cause of fore, to destroy it. Ministers, howemancipation having been made a ever, believed that it would be ungovernment question. Irish mem- gracious to attempt, and impossible bers began to tremble for their successfully to carry through, so seats; he right of voting seemed important a change, as the deprivto have been transferred to the ing a great portion of the populapriesthood and the Association ; to tion of the highest political right mount the hustings, and refuse to which the constitution bestows, pledge yourself to support the without giving a great political Catholic Question, was to ensure boon in return. They admitted, defeat in your election. Mr. Daw- that to raise the qualification would son, brother-in-law of Mr. Peel, be an efficient remedy, and that was the first who sounded in Irc- Parliament was competent to apply land the note of approaching con that remedy; but they would not cession ; and members themselves ask Parliament to apply it, without could not but see, that unless some providing a substitute, in the form remedy were applied, they would of unlimited emancipation, for the have no power, however strong their political privilege which was to be
abolished. The two measures influence in the elections of the were to support each other. To country. Since then it has been one party it was to be said, eman made matter of complaint, that cipation is the only condition on the influence of the landlord has which we will agree to disfran- been paralyzed, and that that of chise; and to the other, disfran- the priests has stepped in, and dichisement is the only condition on verted and taken from the landlord which we will agree to emancipate. that influence and authority which
Mr. Peel accordingly opened the he exercised over the electors, " I intended measure, as part of the will ask, whether the influence, general plan which government which has superseded that of the had formed for the renovation of landlord, is less objectionable than Ireland, in the same speech with that which was found to be in 1825. which he introduced the Relief It is in vain for any man, who looks bill. A bill, he reminded the to what has taken place in Louth, House, had been agreed to in in Monaghan, and Clare, to deny 1825, which disfranchised all the the fact of that influence being forty-shilling freeholders, although now in the hands of the priestit had failed in consequence of the hood.” Looking at the other cirfailure of another measure with cumstances of the country, the which it was connected ; and since very number of the voters proved that time, most important events that they were not the fruit of any had occurred bearing on the same natural constitutional growth. In question. In 1825, the friends of the year 1820, there were polled at Ireland had been convinced that contested elections in the county of the franchise stood upon grounds, Bedford, 4,000 voters; in Berkshire, and was exercised in a manner, 2,270; Devonshire, 6,298 ; Durwhich were open to the greatest ham, about 3,800;Glamorganshire, objections. It was urged as an 1,284 ; Middlesex, 10,000; Sussex, objection to the then and present 5,500; and Westmoreland, about low state of the qualification, that 4,370. In many of the Irish counties it admitted of too indiscriminate there were polled from 10,000 to an addition to the voters—that it 18,000. Never was such a conincreased the natural disposition of current body of testimony brought Ireland, or rather of Irish land to bear upon one point, as was holders, to divide their land into given before the committees of minute portions—that, in point of both Houses in 1825, respecting fact, the franchise was a mere in- the evils arising from the state of strument with which the landed the franchise in Ireland, by every aristocracy exercised power and man who was examined, Catholic control over the elections—that or Protestant, layman or ecclesithe freeholders were made for that astic. The general opinion of the purpose-that they were totally witnesses so examined had been in different in character from the favour of raising the franchise to freeholders of this country, and 201. ; but so great a rise he would were considered in no other light consider too violent an alteration, than as a means by which land and was inclined to be satisfied lords—and the landlords in Ireland with 101., as affording a reasonable were chiefly Protestants-exercised presumption that the character of
the voters would be raised. It The bill founded on these prin. would be necessary to determine ciples went on pari passu with the upon some specific mode of ascer Relief bill, and encountered far less taining who were 10l. freeholders opposition. From the opponents -some tangible mode of of emancipation it met with none; taining the real character of the for the placing of the elections befreehold. For this purpose it was yond the control of the clergy was proposed, that, after the passing of a measure which they themselves the bill, a day should be fixed in had desired. The whigs, properly every county in Ireland, for the so called (for there was now at once purpose of opening a bona fide a splitting and a coalescing of parregistration of 10l. freeholds. At ties, which almost deprived words present the right to vote did not of their power to discriminate and accrue until twelve months after describe) supported it, hostile as it the date of the registry. This was to popular rights, and deseemed to be an unnecessary re structive of vested political franstriction of the individual right, chises, as an essential part of a and it should in future accrue in whole, the other, and what they six months instead of twelve. On thought, the better part of which the assistant barrister was to devolve they were unwilling to lose. Mr. the duty of registering these free- Brougham said, he consented to it, holds, and of making every in as the price—the almost extraquiry which the nature of the ap- vagant price—of the inestimable plication might appear to him to good which would result from the require. The exercise of this other; and sir James Mackinpower was to be checked in two tosh described it as one of those ways. If the right to vote was tough morsels which he had denied, the party should have the scarcely been able to swallow. It benefit of an appeal to the next did not pass, however, altogether assizes, and of a decision by jury, unresisted-Lord Duncannon, lord upon the right which he sought to Palmerston, Mr. Huskisson and establish. It should be always some others opposed it, as a measure open to the freeholder to produce not called for by any necessity, and fresh evidence. Leases for life, and not fitted to gain that object which the tenant-laws of Ireland, were alone was held out as justifying it. to remain unaltered ; all that was It was said that it was absurd to to be done was, to raise this nominal allege, as a pretext for it, the inforty-shilling freehold to a real 101. iluence and conduct of the Catholic franchise. Neither was this re- priesthood; for all, who knew any striction to be extended to corpo. thing of that influence, knew that rate towns; that would not be it was chiefly felt when it ran with quite fair, while the right of the the current of popular feeling, and corporations to make freemen was that it was ever exercised with a left undiminished. Were the frec. view to maintain submission to the hold franchise within their juris- laws. If the forty-shilling freediction raised to 101., a corporation holders had been corrupt, like those could overpower the public voice of Penryn, their disfranchisement by the exercise of their right to might be defended; but the only make freemen.
offence of the persons, against
whom the bill was directed, had bill were passed, and a 101. yeobeen, that they exercised their manry established, could they be privilege honestly and independ. compared with the substantial yeoently, according to the dictates of manry of England ? It would soon their consciences. The Relief bill be discovered that the 101. yeowas a great good, demanded equally manry were of too low a denominaby justice and expediency; yet it tion, and that it was necessary to was plain enough that, but for the raise the qualification to 201.: and independent exercise of their pri- indeed it would be difficult to know vilege, by the forty-shilling free- at what point to stop. The House holders of Louth, Waterford, and had been told, indeed, in language Clare, that great good would never which could not be misunderstood, have been heard of-expediency and that on the success of this measure justice would have called in vain. depended the success of the Relief Yet they were to be punished for bill; but it was denied that Pareffecting that, which the very men, liament had made any such bargain who proposed the punishment, de- with the government. In the clared to be a great public blessing. speech from the throne, Parliament If landlords in Ireland had been too had been told that the price reprone to subdivide their estates, quired for Catholic emancipation with the view of obtaining poli- was the immediate and summary tical influence (a statement which, suppression of the Catholic Assoit was alleged, was not borne out byciation. That was the only barfacts), that was an evil which might gain which Parliament had made safely be left to cure itself. The with government; and, the price subdivision of property in Ireland demanded having been paid, it was depended mainly on the state of impossible, in the event of the bill society in that country; and any before the House-being defeated, sudden attempt at consolidation in for government to turn round and a country, where there were no refuse to fulfil its part of the barmanufactures to afford employ- gain. It was absurd to suppose ment to the superabundant popu- that government could withhold lation, could be productive only of emancipation. Neither this goextensive misery. In Ireland, the vernment, nor any that might sucpopulation of which was seven mil- ceed it, could do so. What had lions, there were only thirty towns induced the present government to which contained more than five advocate emancipation ? State nethousand inhabitants; whilst in cessity, and that necessity had not Scotland, whose population was but been weakened during the last two millions, there were thirty- three weeks. Such a compromise three towns containing more than was the less justifiable, as the object five thousand inhabitants. It was said to be in view could be equally in vain to endeavour, by arbitrary well secured in another way. That enactments, to anticipate the pro- object was to get bonâ fide voters. gress of society. Neither would the Now what objection could there bill effect its object. They knew be to a bona fide forty-shilling freelittle of Ireland, who thought that hold, or what difficulty in obtaining the mere raising of the registry it?' They could as easily regulate to 101. would do away with fraudu- the forty-shilling franchise, so as lent and fictitious votes. If the to render it a bona fide one, as they
could the 101. freeholds. Turned example,--votes were created by to such a purpose, such an act the purchase of 40s. worth of land. would do a great deal of good. tax, which was not purchased for The machinery of the present bill, the profitable employment of capibrought to bear on the forty-shil. tal, but solely with a view of obling freeholders, would do away taining the elective franchise. with fraudulent voters--and that How could the House resolve to was all that, ostensibly at least, dispossess persons of their prowas sought after. At all events, perty, especially when the abuse, however, the bill ought to have which was to be considered the been only prospective; by disfran- ground of the measure, existed chising the present freeholders, elsewhere? you inflict an injustice, which was Vested rights of another descriponly a degree short of depriving tion were regarded ; there was these men of their freeholds, that scarcely a professional adviser of the is, of their property. Was this Revenue board, who did not consider the mode of proceeding, even where his emoluments as vested rights. acknowledged abuses had occurred? Perjury at elections no doubt, And whence this distinction, so ought to be remedied. But when unfavourable to Ireland ? Was it honourable members talked of pereither the duty or the practice of jury in Ireland, why had they not Parliament to dispossess persons of some feeling for the perjuries comtheir rights and take away the mitted in corporations ? The fortyproperty itself, before endeavouring shilling freeholders of Ireland might to correct the abuse. Was there no be entitled to a lenient considerainstance of such abuses in England? tion. Some of these individuals Hon. members might recollect the might not understand the true election in Middlesex some twenty construction of the law. They years ago, and the scenes which might suppose, that, if they were had then taken place; when a unwilling to part with their freemill at Brentford had been split holds for 40s., they were, therefore, into a hundred votes. Who had worth so much in the eye of the ever thought at that time of law; whereas, in corporations and meddling with the elective fran- borough elections in England, a chise of the people of England ? man would swear that he had not let gentlemen call to mind the received a bribe, whilst he knew elections of Westminster some forty that it was promised, if not reor fifty years ago--the perjuries, ceived, and that it would be reand corruptions, and bribery, and gularly paid when the period of breaches of the peace; yet who danger had expired. The bill, in thought of interfering with the short, might be very advisable--the franchise of the people of Eng- tixing 101. as the lowest point of land ? It had been objected that the franchise might have been the votes in Ireland were not de- very proper-if Ireland were a rived from property in fee; and new country, to which a qualifihow many members were there in cation was to be extended for the that House whose property was
first time; but in its present chanot in fee? Many electors held only racter, abolishing freehold frana life-interest in their property ; chises which had so long existed, it and in many places, -Sussex, for was a partial, unnecessary and un.