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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

Especially on the rank and file of the obstructionists


[Sidenote:

1831--The Reform Bill in committee]

It was half-past seven in the morning when the out-wearied House consented to adjourn, and the story was told, at the time, that when Sir Charles Wetherell was leaving Westminster Hall with some of his Tory colleagues he observed that a heavy rain was pouring down, and he declared with a vigorous oath that if he had known of that in time he would have treated the Government to a few more divisions before giving them a chance of getting to their homes. The Bill, however, did get into committee at last, and then the work of obstruction began again and was carried on after the most systematic fashion. In committee the opportunities were ample, for the case of each constituency which it was proposed to disfranchise, or each constituency the number of whose members it was proposed to lessen, had to be discussed separately, and, of course, gave rise to an unlimited number of speeches. A committee was actually formed to prepare, organize, and apply the methods of obstruction, and of this committee no less a person than Sir Robert Peel, then one of England's most rising statesmen, afterwards to be one of her greatest statesmen, was the president. Sir Robert Peel was himself one of the most frequent speakers in the obstructive debates, and among his rivals were Sir Charles Wetherell and Mr. John Wilson Croker, a man who has {164} been consigned to a sort of immortality by a famous essay of Macaulay's and by Disraeli's

satirical picture of him as Mr. Rigby in "Coningsby." The committee of Tory members which has been already mentioned arranged carefully, in advance, the obstruction that was to be carried on in the case of each particular constituency, and planned out in advance how each discussion was to be conducted and who were to take the leading parts in it.

[Sidenote: 1831--Determination to pass the Bill]

Meanwhile popular feeling was rising more and more strongly as each day of debate dragged on. Some of the largest constituencies were most active and energetic in their appeals to the Government to hold out to the very last and not yield an inch to the obstructionists. A fear began to spread abroad that Lord Grey and his colleagues might endeavor to save some of the main provisions of their Bill by surrendering other parts of it to the Opposition. This alarm found expression in the cry which soon began to be heard all over the country, and became in fact the battle-cry of Reformers everywhere--the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill. Great public meetings were held in all parts for the purpose of urging the Government to make no concessions to the political enemy. During the summer a meeting of the most influential supporters of the Government was held in the Foreign Office, and at that meeting Lord Althorp, Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that Lord Grey and his colleagues were perfectly determined not to give way, and he declared that the Government were resolved to keep the House of Commons sitting until December, or, if necessary, until the following December, in order to pass the Bill before the rising of the House for its recess. Naturally this firm declaration had some effect on the obstructionists, especially on the rank and file of the obstructionists. Nothing discourages and disheartens obstruction so much, in the House of Commons, as a resolute announcement on the part of the Ministry that the House is to be kept together until the measure under debate, whatever it may be, is disposed of. It is a hard task, at any time, to keep the House of Commons together after


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