Life of Sir Joshua Walmsley – Chapter XVIII

CHAPTER XVIII.  This chapter covers 1847, and rather more fully 1848. 1848 was also the ” year of revolutions “, it was the year the Communist Manifesto was published, a year after the height of the Great Famine in Ireland, and a year since the death of Daniel O’Connell.  Yet again Uncle Hugh’s somewhat loose with facts and dates. He states that ” After sitting for Bolton, Sir Joshua had redeemed his promise to his former electors, and now represented Leicester in Parliament. “, which was true in the sense that he became M.P for both – but he was only elected for Bolton in 1849 serving until 1852, and he was then M.P. for Leicester for a further five years until 1857. So in 1847 and 1848 Josh wasn’t an M.P. at all.

The Daily News was founded in 1846 by Charles Dickens, who also served as the newspaper’s first editor. It was conceived as a radical rival to the right-wing Morning Chronicle. The paper was not at first a commercial success. Dickens edited 17 issues before handing over the editorship to his friend John Forster, who had more experience in journalism.  Dickens rather splendidly became the literary editor instead.

Cobden and Hume, we have met before, and the Charter was the People’s Charter of 1838 which had six aims, and resulted in millions of people petitioning the House of Commons. The People’s Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic:

  1. A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
  2. The secret ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
  3. No property qualification for Members of Parliament in order to allow the constituencies to return the man of their choice.
  4. Payment of Members, enabling tradesmen, working men, or other persons of modest means to leave or interrupt their livelihood to attend to the interests of the nation.
  5. Equal constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing less populous constituencies to have as much or more weight than larger ones.
  6. Annual Parliamentary elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since no purse could buy a constituency under a system of universal manhood suffrage in each twelve-month period.

Now Chapter XVIII:

Richard Cobden

It was owing in some degree to his friend Cobden’s expressed desire to see a new paper started to uphold the doctrine of non-intervention, that Sir Joshua became a part proprietor of the new Liberal organ, The Daily News. The following letter from Mr. Cobden in reference to this subject will be found interesting :

” It has always struck me, what was wanted in a new daily paper was a new direction of politics, to suit a coming want in public opinion, not already catered for by the existing prints. This is not easily hit upon, because if too much in advance of opinion upon any topic, the paper is in danger of not floating until the public mind grows up to it. On the other hand, if the policy be very obvious, it is already taken up by other journals, so that there is no void to fill up. I have a strong opinion that the time is at hand when the old foreign policy of this country may be systematically attacked with success. You may remember that I took up the subject in my pamphlets twelve years ago. “

” All my travels and experience since have confirmed me in my views. I was much in advance of the times when I wrote ‘ England, Ireland, and America,’ and ‘ Russia.’ There was much in the style and details of those pamphlets which, owing to my being a young writer and politician, was defective, but the principles were sound. The foundation of what little influence I have in the North of England was laid by the publication of those pamphlets, and the friendships I formed with the leading minds here arose out of those works. But now the ground is far better prepared for the advocacy of the non- intervention principle [in foreign affairs]. The adoption of Free Trade has simplified the question. “

” There is no longer any vague notion that our diplomatists can bring home a commercial treaty in their pockets, as the result of their intrigues. Nor do we expect or wish to gain any more colonies for the sake of their exclusive trade. The cost of these interventions, Portugal to wit, will be brought home to the comprehension of the people,  I shall take care that my countrymen understand it. “

” I suspect that your rival The Chronicle is an illustration of the decline of the opposite principle of intervention in the affairs of other countries. It has been Palmerston’s organ and I suspect its ruin may be in part attributed to that. We can talk this over when we meet. You know that I am not very tenacious of advising your paper to take my line, because I don’t know whether that would at all times be judicious. But I do believe the time is nearly at hand when a more rational foreign policy will be in the ascendant. “

” Truly yours,

” Richard Cobden.”

Mr. Cobden’s anticipations of increased taxation were realised. In February, Lord John Russell made his financial statement for the year [1848]. Admitting a deficient revenue, he yet advocated an increase of expenditure to reorganise the militia, according to the Duke of Wellington’s suggestion. To effect this and to cover the deficiency, he proposed an addition of fivepence to the income-tax. This created universal dissatisfaction, expressed freely by all sides of the House, and Parliament was still discussing the scheme, when the threatened French invasion collapsed, and Louis Philippe and his family, including the Prince de Joinville, arrived as fugitives in England.

Free Trade Hall, Manchester

Mr. Hume had often sketched out to his political adherents a plan of parliamentary reform. The necessity of this was acknowledged by many, but as yet no nucleus had been formed. After sitting for Bolton, Sir Joshua had redeemed his promise to his former electors, and now represented Leicester in Parliament. “At my suggestion, “ he writes, ” a few political friends were brought together, and it was unanimously resolved to hold a meeting at the Free Trade Hall. Endeavours were made to thwart it, but all adverse efforts failed, and the hall was crowded. “

” Looking back, “ he continues, ” on this meeting, I can trace the various motives which actuated each, so unanimous as a whole. Hume headed, as was his wont, this movement of social progress. He was seeking, by an extension of the franchise, to bring about financial reform, for it was only when the taxed should have a voice in the levying of taxes that the burden would be fairly adjusted. Cobden, absorbed in his aspirations after universal peace, and bent on realising his scheme for unfettered, world-wide commerce, looked upon the movement as a means for protesting against the taxation necessary for war. I simply went on the right the people had to a wider representation. ”

The meeting attracted much attention, and Mr. Hume would have issued an address at this period ; but for the present was dissuaded by his friends, especially by Mr. Cobden, who wrote to Sir Joshua a few days after as follows :

” Manchester, 22nd April, 1848.

“My dear Walmsley,

” The more I reflect, the more I am convinced that we must be cautious in the next step we take. We are not in a position to issue an address. We have no plan to propose, and any address without a plan would be unsatisfactory, and even cause suspicion of our motives. Before we take another step, we must be prepared to co-operate amongst ourselves. Now, I do not see the material for a parliamentary union at present. The country will by-and-by give us that union. But if we attempt to do something and then are shown up in the House as a disunited party, we shall only discourage our friends out of doors. The fact is, more importance has been attached to our meeting than it deserves. The public does not know what heterogeneous material we were composed of, and what a variety of objects and motives actuated us. Let us beware how we get into a false position and run the risk not merely of compromising ourselves, but what is of far more consequence, damaging the cause which we wish to serve. “

“ Faithfully yours,

“Richard Cobden “

And again on the 28th April, 1848, he writes, when the movement has made some progress :

“My dear Walmsley,

” Still I am of opinion that we did right to abstain from putting forth a plan. The country is generally fermenting and debating upon the question, What ought to be done ? and we shall know what ground to take after Easter, better than before. There is besides a great advantage in letting the country initiate the plan, and then it will take more interest in its own offspring. Yesterday we had a private meeting of our earnest old Leaguers. The room in Newall’s Buildings was full, and everyone was asked for an opinion, which resulted in a unanimous resolve that Wilson should send a circular to all the subscribers to the League of five pounds and upwards, asking their opinions upon the four points :

household suffrage,

vote by ballot,

triennial Parliaments,

electoral districts.

The answers to be considered private. In a fortnight we shall know the result. Every man was anxious for a beginning. There was plenty of good stuff present. But at first we should not carry all our rich Leaguers with us. ”

In May, matters were considered ripe for action. The committee of fifty-one members of Parliament resolved that Mr. Hume be requested to give notice to the effect:

” That leave be granted to bring in a Bill to amend the national representation, by extending the elective franchise so that every man of full age, and not subject to any mental or legal disability, who shall have been the resident occupier of a house, or part of a house, as a lodger for twelve months, and shall have been duly rated to the poor of that parish for that time, shall be registered as an elector, and be entitled to vote for a representative in Parliament; also by enacting that votes shall be taken by ballot, that the duration of Parliament shall not exceed three years, and that the proportion of representatives be made consistent with the amount of population and property. ”

Joseph Hume, M.P.

The motion that ought to have come on on the 23rd of May [1848] , owing to the lateness of the hour, was postponed till the 20th of June. A short discussion on the subject of parliamentary reform took place on the first night, when Lord John Russell assured the House that, ” speaking generally, he believed the working classes of the country wish for neither the Charter nor  Mr. Hume’s great plan, which comes somewhat near the Charter. “ As an answer to this assertion, on the 20th of June the table of the House was covered with petitions coming from every part of the country, supporting the demand for reform. Mr. Hume now explained his scheme in an exhaustive speech.

” After sixteen years,” he said, ” the Reform Bill had not effected the object for which he struggled. It had failed to answer all the purposes, which, as an ardent and zealous supporter of reform, he had advocated.”

Five out of every six adults had no voice in the Government ; a country thus governed had no true popular representation. He advocated a return to the triennial Parliaments as a means of quickening the sense of responsibility of members towards their constituents ; the ballot for the protection of the voters. ” Parliament, “ he held, ” was a mere instrument by which a constitutional country was governed.” He showed up the defective state of the electoral districts, allowing one-ninth of the electors of the United Kingdom to send up to Parliament the majority of representatives. The House discussed for three nights Mr. Hume’s scheme.

On the division upon it, a majority of two hundred and sixty-seven declared against it, only eighty-six members having voted in its favour.

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