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At the opening of 1841 the country might be said to be free from all excitement on the subject of politics. There was no great question at issue, no struggle between rival parties seemed impending. Many of the principal topics which in former years had agitated the public mind had been settled or laid to rest. The Chartist riots seemed to have abated the desire of the leading Reformers to extend the suffrage to the working classes. Still the Government was lamentably weak, and only existed on sufferance. Nor did the conduct of affairs in the House of Commons tend to strengthen their position. The reintroduction by Lord Stanley of his Bill to regulate the registration of voters in Ireland led to much angry discussion with damaging results to the Government, who had already suffered grievous defeats in attempting to arrest the progress of the measure during the previous Session. Two days later Lord Morpeth brought in a Government Bill for the same object. The main features of the plan were to abolish certificates; to make the register conclusive of the right to vote, except where disqualification afterwards appeared; to establish an annual revision of the registers, and to give a right of appeal equally to the claimant and the objector. The main point of difference between this and Lord Stanley's Bill consisted in the tribunal to which the appeal was to be made. The Government proposed for this purpose the creation of a new court, consisting of three barristers of a certain standing. An additional feature of the Government Bill was a proposal to settle the question of the basis of the franchise by fixing upon the Poor Law valuation as the standard; and the Bill proposed to enact that every occupier of a tenement under a holding of not less than fourteen years, of the annual value of 5, should have the right of voting previously enjoyed by persons who had a beneficial interest of 10. The Conservatives complained of the unfairness of thus introducing by surprise a fundamental alteration in the elective franchise of Ireland, founded upon principles unknown both in England and Scotland. It was represented as a new Reform Bill for Ireland, tacked on as a postscript to a Bill for amending the registration. The 5 franchise, it was argued, would in effect be little short of the introduction of universal suffrage. The House divided on the respective merits of the rival Bills, when the Government measure was carried by a majority of five. The result was hailed with cheers from both sides of the House, the Opposition regarding the victory as little better than a defeat. Lord John Russell at first announced that he would proceed immediately with the measure, but he afterwards moved its postponement till the 23rd of April. During the interval Lord Morpeth announced the conversion of the Ministry to the principle of an 8 rating. When the question was introduced again, on the 26th of April, it gave rise to a party debate. While the House was in committee on Lord Morpeth's Bill, Lord Howick proposed an amendment to the effect that the tenant, in order to entitle him to the franchise, should have a beneficial interest in his holding of 5 a year over and above the rent. Lord Morpeth proposed as a qualification for the franchise a lease of fourteen years, and a low rating of 8. Lord Howick proposed that the yearly tenant should be entitled to vote as well as the leaseholder if he had an annual interest of 5 in it; but Lord Morpeth contended, and showed from statistics, that this principle would disfranchise more than three-fourths of the 10 tenant voters in several of the counties. In short, it would have the effect of almost entirely disfranchising the existing occupying constituency of Ireland. On a division, Lord Howick's amendment was carried by 291 to 270. Finally the Bill was reduced to such a jumble of[477] contradictory amendments that it was impossible to proceed with it. Thus ended the great struggle of the Session. Much time had been wasted in party debates and fruitless discussions, and the proposal to give the Irish people the benefit of the Reform Act by putting its perishing constituencies on a proper basis, simple as it may seem, utterly failed. Lord Stanley also abandoned his measure, and there the matter ended. The whole of the proceedings plainly indicated that the doom of Lord Melbourne's feeble Cabinet was at hand.

The case of the Irish Church was stated by Sir Robert Peel, Lord Stanley, and Sir James Graham, who argued that its revenues were greatly exaggerated, subjected to heavy drawbacks and deductions. The vestry cess had been abolished. A tax exclusively borne by the clergy of three to fifteen per cent. had been laid upon all livings, and the Church Temporalities Act provided that in all parishes in which service had not been performed from 1830 to 1833, when a vacancy occurred, there should be no reappointment, and the revenues of that living, after paying a curate, should be destined to other parishes differently situated, but for purposes strictly Protestant. Here was a provision already made for the[384] progressive diminution or extinction of the Episcopal Church in those districts where it was not called for, and could be of no utility. Whence, then, the anxiety to take away a surplus, which probably would not exceed 100,000 a year, from a Church already subjected to such heavy and exclusive burdens? It was not pretended that the object of this appropriation was to apply the income seized to the payment of the National Debt, or that it was justified by State necessity. They argued that if the appropriation clause, as now shaped, once passed into law, not only would the Protestant faith cease to be the established religion in Ireland, but the measure would be fatal to the Established Church in England also. In fact, the Conservatives contended that this was only the first of a series of measures avowedly intended to annihilate the Protestant Establishment. O'Connell proposed to confiscate the property of the Church, in order to relieve the land from its appropriate burdens, and to exempt it from the support of the poor. They argued, therefore, that on no reasonable ground could it be maintained that this concession to Irish agitation could have any other effect than stimulating the agitators to make fresh demands.

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O'CONNELL RETURNING HOME FROM PRISON. (See p. 532.) [See larger version]