London Radicalism 1830-1843: A Selection of the Papers of Francis Place. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1970.
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National Political Union. On Pledges to be given by candidates
National Political Union. ON Pledges to be given by candidates (By Francis Place) (fn. 1)
The Council of the National Political Union consider it their duty to state in the shortest and clearest way they can, the opinions they entertain, and the reasons on which they are founded, respecting the pledges which, under present circumstances, should be given by those who may become candidates for seats in the ensuing parliament.
It is well known, that, under the rotten borough system, the people had no real choice of representatives—a majority of the House of Commons was nominated and placed there by the Lords and a few rich Commoners, and indeed, with few exceptions, they who sought to be members were men whom the people, if left to themselves, would not have chosen. Men properly qualified for the office and worthy of public confidence very generally shrunk from election contests: the toil, the expense, the degradation necessary to obtain a seat for any but a pocket borough, was such as an honest man could seldom be found willing to encounter and submit to; and very few such men were therefore at any time to be found in the House of Commons.
The Reform Bill has, to a considerable extent, abridged the power of those who have hitherto had the composition of the House of Commons in their hands, and has given to the people in many places the right of choosing for themselves, and on that choice may depend the well being of the nation. The power to choose representatives will, however, be of little value, unless it be honestly exercised. To be useful, electors must not so much consider what may at the moment seem most likely to promote some particular interest—what may be most gratifying to some particular feeling, moral, religious, or political; but what, under the circumstances in which the country is placed, will be most likely to be beneficial to the whole of the people: they may safely believe that, in promoting the great interests of all, they cannot but promote in the best possible way, and to the greatest possible extent, the interests of individuals. Laying aside, then, such local and particular feelings as may interfere injuriously with the interests of all, they will seek for and accept, as candidates, none but men whose characters are good; whose particular interests are not at variance with those of the public, and on whose integrity they can satisfy themselves reliance may be placed. Much better is it that a man should refuse to vote at all, than that he should vote for any one of whose untrustworthiness he entertains doubt.
It will in many cases happen, that the person who is put forward, or who puts himself forward, as a candidate, will be unknown to the electors. In other cases, he will be known to many, but not to all. In other cases again, he will be known to all, either by his public conduct, or by public report of his conduct. In the last of these cases, a man's merits may, perchance, be known to an extent which may make it unnecessary to require pledges; but such a man will never hesitate to give them. Pledges may then be taken from all. Every elector should recollect that his representative is elected for the unreasonably long period of SEVEN YEARS, and that he may therefore set his constituents at defiance for that period.
It is then indispensably necessary, that the conduct, as well private as public, of every candidate should be scrutinized, and the result made known, and that pledges should be given by him to the electors in the most solemn manner.
The consequences of any compromising, or paltering, must be a betrayal of the public interests, and the return to parliament of political adventurers who speculate on a seat in the House of Commons to promote their own sinister interests, and those of their confederates, to enable them to plunder and debase the people.
The House of Commons has but too generally been composed of three descriptions of persons, viz:—[this section is almost identical to the wording of Place's suggested address for the Parliamentary Candidate Society in 8.]
The whole of the numerous body of persons who compose these three classes may be designated adventurers, no one of whom ought to find a seat in the new parliament. Against every such person electors should resolutely guard themselves, and this can only be done by careful inquiries as to their characters, public and private, and by taking such pledges as no one can violate without shewing himself to be a villain.
The pledges to be given by candidates should be as general as possible; the understanding as to their execution as particular as possible. No man should be expected to attempt any thing at such an unseasonable time as would subject him to the imputation of folly;—no one should bind himself in such a way as would compel him to perform such acts to save his pledges, as would make him a hypocrite: much must be left to the judgment of the representative, who, if he be, honest, will seize every opportunity to promote the good of his country, and convince his constituents that he has not given pledges without intending to perform them. He will, therefore, on all proper occasions originate motions, and will support every measure which can in any way tend to promote the great reforms of which the Reform Bill may be taken as the basis.
I. Parliamentary Reform
The advantages of voting by ballot have been ably and conclusively shown in the 25th number of the Westminster Review. A careful abridgment of the article has been made, and may be had of the secretary, at the Union Rooms, Saville House, Leicester Square, at 7s. a hundred for distribution.
II. Law Reform
This includes a thorough revision of all laws—common, statute, civil, criminal, ecclesiastical, local, parliamentary, and municipal; the abolition of all arbitrary jurisdictions; the abridgment, as much as may be possible, of vexation, delay, and expense; the detection of crimes, and the certainty of speedy punishment; abolition of barbarous and cruel punishments, and the adoption of such punishments only as are commensurate with offences.
III. Financial Reform
This includes reduction of taxes to the greatest possible extent; reduction of all over-paid salaries and pensions, as well as payment of every kind, from the highest office in the state to the lowest; the total abolition of all sinecures, all useless offices, and all unearned pensions.
It is advisable that indirect taxes, and especially those which press heaviest on trade, manufactures, commerce, and the comforts of the people should be repealed in preference to direct taxes. Had there been none but direct taxes, the public never would have submitted to be taxed to one half the amount they are at present taxed.
IV. Trade Reform
This includes the abolition of ALL monopolies, and more especially the Corn Law monopoly; the free admission of all sorts of produce for manufacturers, and indeed of free trade in every respect, that the greater number may no longer be compelled to purchase any thing at an advanced price that the profits of a very small comparative number may be unduly increased.
V. Church Reform
1. Equalization to a great extent of the church establishment. Every dignitary of the church preaches poverty and wallows in wealth. Great wealth being condemned as incompatible with the true religion, none of its ministers should therefore be wealthy.
VI. Abolition of Slavery
This includes the freedom of every person, of every colour, and every shade of colour; holding of persons in slavery is UNJUST, atrocious, and cruel; abolition of slavery without compensation to slave holders is also UNJUST, but it is inevitable, and therefore less unjust than retaining them as slaves. It becomes then the duty of the legislature to emancipate all slaves, with the least injustice, as well to slave holders as to slaves themselves, and in as little time as possible, compatible with the smallest amount of evil.
VII. Taxes on Knowledge
That the members of this union in town and country, be requested to urge on all the necessity of demanding pledges from the candidates who offer themselves to their notice including all the great principles laid down in our, 'Objects and Laws'.
These proceedings shewed nothing but pure imbecility, circumstanced as the working classes were they had no power, no influence, they could neither intimidate their landlords with whom they lodged as had been proposed, nor even set about, much less persuade those who had votes; as had been recommended to vote as they wished, nor to obtain pledges from candidates, yet most of the leaders and perhaps nearly all their auditors entertained a vague notion that they could operate in all these ways. The leaders, like other fanatics imagined they had great power, and also like other fanatics, altho' they never had the most remote chance of carrying any one of their resolutions into effect, they proceeded as if they were continually effecting some of their purposes and progressing in all of them.
This was the character of the Union during the remainder of its existence and hence the history of them and other such bodies might be closed, but as that history which to some extent marks the temper of the active part of the working people, as it afterwards caused some uneasiness in London in consequence of an attempt at a public meeting, as well as of the assistance it gave to Trades Unions and to an immense meeting and procession of working people, which caused the government, to assemble a large body of troops in the Metropolis I have deemed it advisable to continue the narrative.
While the English Reform Bill was before parliament it was not possible for me to persuade any member of Parliament with whom I was acquainted that in consequence of certain clauses in the bill, a very large portion of the electors in the Scot and Lot Boroughs would be disfranchised and that the number in each of the Boroughs would be a much smaller one than could be supposed by the returns made to parliament of the number of persons returned as eligible to vote. This being the case no one would interfere to prevent the mischief, now however when the bill had become law and the agitation, and enthusiasm to have the bill without taking the trouble to understand its operation, had subsided; I was able to explain to several of them what really was the condition in which the bill had placed the Borough voters. After much labour I induced Colonel Evans the member for Rye to move for certain returns which would officially prove that the representations I had made were correct. Colonel Evans therefore made his motion and two returns were obtained.
I also succeeded in convincing Mr Warburton, Mr Hume, Sir John Hobhouse and several other members that the defects in the Bill were of great importance and that the character of the new parliament might be decided against the reformers by the state into which the Boroughs had been put by the Bill. They conversed with other members and thus caused considerable uneasiness among many of them, and put ministers in an awkward situation.
Apprehension of the consequences, of the rate paying clause and the mode of registration directed by the bill, did not cease with the passing of the bill, nor the prorogation of the parliament. These apprehensions, and the necessity of doing whatever might be necessary relative to the forthcoming elections aroused the activity of the Political Unions, which would otherwise have subsided, and they continued in this state for some time.
There was also some disposition among the people in the Boroughs to agitate the matter, but after the long continued efforts the people had made and the energy with which they made it, the loss of time and expense of money it had occasioned, no very considerable effort on the present occasion was possible.
Some leading men in the Parish of St John finding that a small proportion of the householders in their parish were qualified to vote at the expected general election even by the payment of rates, without reference to taxes, drew up a case and sent it to Mr Chitty, who returned a long seesawing opinion, from which nothing could be learned, beyond a leaning to a beleif [sic], that they who had not paid all rates and assessed taxes due on the 5 of April before the 31st of July would be disfranchised.
A very numerous meeting of the householders was held on the 23rd of August, when several parishioners made speeches very much to the purpose, in which it was clearly shewn that it was not possible for the electors to conform to the directions of the act.
Great care and much pains were taken to ascertain the state of the several parishes which compose the City and Liberty of Westminster and a Table made therefrom was printed in the Morning Chronicle on the 22 of August 1832. The table which follows is more accurate than it was possible to make one at the time of publication.
It will be observed that more than half the number of persons who had paid the rate, and were so far qualified, were in the Parish of St Martin. There was a dispute going on in this parish and a temporary rate of very small amount had been laid to raise money for present emergencies, and it was the collection of this rate which caused the number to be so high.
|Electors polled in||
These were all the contested elections from 1807 to 1832
What rule the overseers went by in making the distinction between £10 householders and Scot and Lot voters, could not be learned by me but I conclude those who appear as Scot and Lot voters were favoured persons who were in arrears for rates.
The few and feeble efforts which had been made to procure such amendments in the English reform bill as have been mentioned, (fn. 2) had been met by a wilful misrepresentation and perversion of the law, and a scheme had been put in practice by which a considerable number of unqualified persons in the Boroughs might be fraudulently put upon the register instead of the small number who were legally qualified.
The attention of the people had taken a new direction, in consequence of the numerous addresses of candidates for seats in the house of commons, and the necessity there was in most places for the peoples endeavours to find men whom they thought qualified to represent them.
There was great scarcity of properly qualified candidates, and this caused many applications to every public man to be made to find if they could such persons as would suit the enquirers. It was difficult to procure any, and utterly impossible to find many men properly qualified and having the appropriate aptitude for the office of legislators. Very few such men would consent to become candidates.
The reasons were many. Some were engaged in pursuits or occupied with business which in justice to their families they could not abandon and to whom, under such circumstances a seat was not at all desirable. Others were not rich enough to pay the expenses of Election contests and the people had not virtue enough to put them into parliament free from expense; some very [few] instances alone excepted.
Others again who might have been willing to pay the election expences [sic], were satisfied that they could not do their duty to their country without incurring expenses, either wholly beyond their means, or to an extent which they were not justified in incurring.
Another class of persons, those who were by no means so well qualified for the office of representatives of the people were similarly circumstanced, and thus the difficulties of the people were greatly increased.
An instance occurred in my own case as it did in the case of several, probably many others. A deputation of respectable persons from one of the new Boroughs came to invite me to become a candidate on the assurance that the electors would themselves pay all the election expenses, and all expences I might incur in travelling, and they assured me that if I consented my election would be certain.
I was not at all ambitious of a seat in the house of Commons, but I should hardly have considered myself at liberty to refuse compliance with the request had not other circumstances made my acceptance altogether indiscreet, probably ruinous to me. From my connection with the working classes in various places and the intercourse I occasionally had with manufacturers, a very large portion of the parliamentary business of these classes and probably the whole in relation to the working people would have been put upon me. Others too would have reasonably expected my cooperation and assistance in consequence of the amendments I had proposed in the reform bill (England) and in every kind of reformation in Church and State.
It was therefore clear to me that if I attempted to do my duty as undoubtedly I should have done would have consumed every hour of my time, and occasioned an expense of money which I could not afford. I estimated this expense at £500 a year, and I knew that unless that sum was expended in the rent etc. of a place appropriated for business, in the salary etc. of a secretary and probably an assistant to him, in extra postage, stationary [sic] and various incidental expenses, that I should be an inefficient member which I was not willing to consent to become. These matters I stated, and fully explained to the deputation, and told them that whatever expenses as a member of parliament I was compelled to incur must either be paid by the persons who elected me or I could not consent to become a candidate for a seat in the house of commons. This necessarily put an end to the business.
The Council of the National Political Union, anxious to redeem the pledge given by them, to 'assist in the diffusion of sound moral and political information,' have made arrangements to promote this object at the cheapest possible rate. The expense will be so moderate, as to place the contemplated advantages within the reach of almost every man in the community; and if the support given to the Council in their endeavours to extend the blessings of knowledge should enable them, they intend to reduce the sum now fixed to a still lower rate.
They call on the wealthier classes to co-operate with them in the noble cause of the 'diffusion of knowledge'. By their subscriptions, they may give greater efficiency to a plan which presents means of instruction to those whose circumstances have hitherto necessarily excluded them from most intellectual enjoyments; and by their donations of books, which will be extensively circulated amongst the members of the Union, they may enable hundreds to store their minds with really useful knowledge.
They call on all well-wishers to social improvement, of whatever station, sect, or class, to assist in bettering the intellectual and moral condition of the people. 'There has never been any object in the history of nations which more amply merited, or could be more efficiently served, by the co-operation of all good citizens and honest men.'
The members only of the National Political Union will be admitted to the Lectures and Discussions, on the payment of one shilling per quarter, in addition to the present subscription, and one penny admission to each Lecture or Discussion.
The plan proposed by the committee, adopted and ordered to be carried into effect by the Council, communicated to the members of the Union and intended to be made public in every way likely to be useful, did not suit the views of those whose selfish purposes extended no further than their own accomodation [sic] at the expense of others. These men therefore associated with themselves every ill-conditioned member whom they could persuade to concur with them, and every silly one whom they could delude, and of whom they made a bad use. They quarelleled [sic] with the servants of the Union, turned the quiet reading room into a debating room, in which full swing was given to the worst passions, the most disgraceful language and most reprehensible conduct. Efforts were at first made to appease, and to conciliate, and these failing, to suppress their proceedings, these also failed. They proceeded in their course ill used the servants, and then made formal complaints against them to the Council. They disgusted and drove away every respectable member who came to the reading room,—they injured the Union in every possible way. The consequence of their conduct in addition to the quiet state into which the people had sunk after their long continued and vehement excitement tended rapidly to the destruction of the Union. So small was the number who at once renewed their tickets, and paid their shillings, that it became evident, to the Council they could not maintain the ordinary expenses much less carry out the enlargements of the objects of the Union which they had persuaded themselves would be supported by the members and the public, and that any attempt to do so would speedily bring ruin on the Union and involve it [in] debts for which a portion of the Committee would be ultimately responsible.
The violence of these disorderly people increased daily, and no probable termination of their conduct could be anticipated; the Council were therefore called upon to consider all the circumstances in which they were placed and to take such measures as might enable them to avoid the impending danger.
The conduct of the persons alluded to was exceedingly annoying. On this occasion they and a number of misled members occupied a considerable portion of the seats, and interrupted the Council, which after some time adjourned without having done any business.
Mr Harrison on the part of the Business committee communicated the reason why the Special meeting had been called. He said that the excitement which had caused so large a number of persons to become members of the Union had passed away and a large number had on that account refrained from renewing their tickets. That the conduct of some of the members had driven away a large number also, and the consequence was an almost cesession [sic] of members and subscriptions. It therefore became the duty of the Business Committee to invite the Council to the consideration of the present state and future prospects of the Union.
Mr Harrison then laid before the Council a statement of receipts and expenditure since the last account, and a statement of the future expenses to which the council as a body had made themselves liable.
The Council resolved itself into a committee and after some discussion it was resolved. That a cheap room be taken in a central situation, to enable the Council to make its expenditure correspond with its income.
W. B. Hankin
J. D. Styles
G. G. Ward
D. W. Redman
W. D. Saull
G. S. Berkeley
C. Fox Smith
The Committee report that in consequence of a past resolution of Council the reading room was closed on Saturday the 17th inst. & the publications discontinued—the secretary and assistants have received a months notice to leave—the different rooms occupied by the Union given up to the Landlord last Tuesday, the tables, forms etc. removed to a room for the present hired for the purpose & that the room occupied by the Secretary has been re-engaged at ten shillings per week where the business of the Union will continue to be transacted.
The Committee have specially summoned the Council in consequence of some propositions received from a deputation of Members who being desirous of perpetuating the Union have suggested that a room or rooms should be engaged to be used as a reading room or for conversation, discussions & lectures, the estimated expense including rent, attendance, candles, coals & newspapers would be about £50 per quarter this sum to be raised by the Members without touching the funds of the Union excepting that part subscribed this quarter and which was promised to be returned to those who required it—the members engage to raise the remainder—but before they do so they the deputation consider it necessary to ascertain whether the Council will sanction this plan & also if they will allow the management to remain in the hands of a committee one half Council & one half Subscribers, other minor suggestions were made which will be found in the annexed propositions.
4 That as Sect'n 2 Clause 3 says 'that every species of concealment or mystery is to be carefully avoided' will your committee allow extracts to be made from the address book on a requisition signed by six members.
The Committee have only to add that upon a conference with the deputation the Committee decided that they had no authority to accede to the propositions but agreed to refer them to a Council to be specially called for the purpose.
That the means of defraying the expences [sic] of rooms for reading, discussions & lectures not being sufficient and the probability of their being raised not being evident to this Council they regret that they cannot accede to the first recommendation.