The Epoch of Reform
Justin McCarthy
Chapter 28

The new Parliament met on October 26, 1830. [During the interval between the Revolution in France and the assembling of Parliament there had been many symptoms in England of a widespread popular discontent, and a determination to have some change in the policy of the Government. Incendiary fires alarmed many parts of the country in September and October, great public meetings were held in various cities and towns, and tumultuous demands were made for the dismissal of the Tory Ministers]

The actual work of the session began on November 2. On that day the King came to the House and delivered his speech in person. A debate arose in the House of Lords on the Address, and during this discussion the Duke of Wellington made his declaration with regard to parliamentary reform. Replying to a speech from Lord Grey, the Duke declared distinctly that he had never read or heard of any measure which could in any degree satisfy his mind "that the state of representation could be improved or be rendered more satisfactory to the country at large than at the present moment." "I am fully convinced," he said, "that the country possesses a legislature which answers all the good purposes of legislation, and this to a greater degree than any legislature has answered in any other country whatever." He went further. He declared that not only the legislature but the system of representation possessed deservedly the full and entire confidence of the country. He therefore declared plainly that he was not prepared to bring forward any measure of reform. Not only, he said, was he not prepared to bring forward any such measure, but "I will at once declare that, as far as I am concerned, so long as I hold any station in the Government of the country, I shall always feel it my duty to resist such a measure when proposed by others."

* * *

The wild commotion that spread all over the country alarmed for a while even the stoutest opponents of reform. The Duke of Wellington himself may have felt his heart sink within him. Utter commotion prevailed in the palace. The King sent for Lord Lyndhurst and begged for his advice. Lord Lyndhurst recommended that the Duke of Wellington should be sent for. The King endeavoured to prevail on the Duke to take the leadership of a new administration. The Duke did not see his way, and recommended that Peel should be invited to form a Government. Peel knew well that he could not maintain a Ministry, and he naturally and properly declined. The Duke of Wellington was once more urged, and, out of sheer loyalty and devotion to his Sovereign, he actually made the vain attempt to get together an anti-reform administration. It was only an attempt. It came to nothing. Before the game was fairly started it had to be given up. Nothing was left but for the King to recall Lord Grey to power and consent to the measures necessary for the passing of the Reform Bill. Meantime the perplexed King was openly denounced all over the country. When his carriage was seen in London it was surrounded by hooting and shrieking crowds. The guards had to take the utmost care lest some personal attack should be made on him. Lord Grey and Lord Brougham insisted, as a condition of their returning to office, that the King should give his consent to the creation of a sufficient number of new peers. The King yielded at last and yielded in dissatisfied and angry mood, a mood which was intensified when Lord Brougham requested that the consent should be put into writing. At last William gave way, and handed a piece of paper to Lord Brougham, containing the statement that "the King grants permission to Earl Grey and to his Chancellor, Lord Drougham, to create such a number of peers as will be sufficient to insure the passing of the Reform Bill." When that consent had been given there was an end to the opposition. The Duke of Wellington withdrew, not only from any part in the debates on the Bill, but even from the House of Lords altogether until after the Bill had been passed. The Waverers of course gave way. It would be no further use to oppose the Bill. Lord Wharncliffe spoke bitterly against it because he evidently thought he had been outwitted, if not actually deceived, by the Ministry, but there war no further substantial opposition to the measure. The Bill passed through the Lords on June 4, and the Royal assent was give to the measure a few days later.

From Justin McCarthy, The Epoch of Reform.


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