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may be said to influence the public opinion upon each particular occasion, and thereby to influence the debates and decisions of Parliament itself. But if we estimate the influence which the Press exerts directly, when brought to bear immediately upon any given subject, we shall find it to be by no means equal to that of the Parliamentary discussions; while there can be no doubt that these have also much more effect and authority in moulding the general opinions of the community. A great sensation may, upon any question, be excited by pamphlets and newspapers; and public meetings may increase this materially. But it is in vain to deny, that the community looks with far greater interest to the debates upon the same subject in Parliament; and we accordingly find, that the meeting of this body deprives all other disquisitions of the attention which was bestowed upon them during the recess. • We are very far from asserting that the preference thus given is merited by the intrinsic superiority of the Parliamentary debates; we are not even sure that there is any preference bestowed upon them. But they have the important advantage of tenfold publicity. While the reasonings of a pamphlet, however successful, make their way to a few hundreds, or, it may be, by dint of extraordinary merit, and by force of an author's name, a few thousand readers, chiefly in London and the great provincial towns,—while the most extensively circulated periodical works are confined each to a particular class of readers, while the newspapers, in like manner, circulate each in one limited direction,—the arguments that are urged in Parliament 'reach every part of the country, and are read by all who ever read any thing. They are therefore brought to the knowledge of the whole body of readers. But this is far from being all the advantage which they enjoy. Every one of the London newspapers, and, after them, every one of the country papers, may publish a discussion, taken from some valuable work, and solicit the attention of their readers to it;—the request will, as 'far as the majority of them are concerned, assuredly be made in vain ;- they will not read. But the discussion, if propounded to them under the head of a debate in Parliament, and as the speech delivered by Lord Such-a-one or Mr Such-a-one, in their places in either House, will be read and attended to by all who ever read upon such subjects; by many who never read any thing else respecting them; and will be talked of by · many who never read at all upon those or any other subjects. Reports of proceedings at public meetings approach nearest to those of Parliamentary debates; but they are left får behind, even in the extent of their publicity-still further in the in
deserve it which has in indirectly rulinthe public
terest excited by them, and, consequently, in the impression they make. Those of trials in courts of law cannot be compared with either, because the subjects are, except very rarely, not the same; and even political topics, being there handled by lawyers, who are very seldom statesmen, although the discussion may obtain nearly the same publicity, come with far less effect upon the minds of the people. But suppose even that the proceedings at any meeting, or any trial, were of a kind so interesting as to find their way to every reader, and excite the same attention with the most important Parliamentary debate - it is only once, and away. The impression is gone to-morrow; as it may be indeed with the debates in Parliament, that is, with any one debate : But the grand difference is, that the debates go on day after day, the subject is revived over and over again;- the same persons renew their appeals to the same readers for weeks and months, in every variety of discussion-in speech and in reply-in good set phrase and interlocutory remark-in grave formal debate and in passing conversation ;- and the speakers at last become known to the readers almost as if they debated in their presence. Thus, whether they deserve it or not, the Parliamentary debaters, from belonging to the body which has in its hands the honour of making laws, and indeed directly or indirectly ruling the country, have by far the greatest weight in regulating the public opinion upon any given question, and the greatest influence in directing that opinion generally upon subjects connected with public affairs.
It is not easy to estimate the power which Parliament has thus acquired over the country, and the degree in which the systematick publicity of its proceedings has enabled it to tax and to rule. We may, indeed, form some judgment of the force employed, by observing the effect produced. We have seen one Parliament spend, in twelve months, a hundred and thirty-three millions, and another thank the Minister for the Walchern expedition ! There is no saying to what a people may be brought by the art, so well known to cunning rulers, of making their advances slowly upon the purse and the liberties of the people; and we cannot therefore pronounce with certainty, that, under the old system of debating with closed doors, as they did in the Seven-years War, the expenditure might not have been increased gradually from thirteen to a hundred and thirty millions, and the debt from eighty to eight hundred. But nothing surely can be more improbable, than that such burthens should have been submitted to by a people who had become universally thinkers and talkers upon every subject of a political cast, unless they were allowed either to raise the money themselves, VOL. XLIV. NO. 88.
by representatives whom they had actually chosen, or received something in the place of this contract_some share in the management of their own concerns, taken as an equivalent for the right of election. The ruling powers had apparently but one of these two courses open; either to let the people appoint their stewards, or to give what might be taken as a substitute for the power of appointment; and as it was by no means clear that the stewards chosen by them would concur in the expenditure required, it must have been an agreeable surprise to find the people just as well satisfied with being suffered to inspect the accounts, and see how the measures for raising the money were founded, and what were the reasons given for raising it. In a word, we have very little voice in the choice of those who are to spend our money for us; but we are allowed to hear all they have to say in their own behalf while their hands are in our pockets; and this seems to prove quite as satisfactory.
Thus it is with all the measures of Government. Suppose the people knew nothing of Parliament, except that it sat, and made itself felt through the tax-gatherer; it is easy to see how limited would be its power in any way, especially in taxing. But a different course is pursued. The Parliament meets. After due announcement that an important Session may be expected, and a general expectation, accompanied with some conjectural discussion of the measures to be propounded, some exaggerated rumours of heavy imposts are scattered doubtfully among the people; and the meeting becomes the more interesting, and the proceedings are the more anxiously watched. A gracious speech is made from the Throne. The Sovereign possibly delivers it in person, and every anecdote connected with this imposing solemnity is sedulously gathered up, and greedily received by the whole community. Solemnities yet more imposing follow. The necessities of the State are the theme of many an eloquent harangue; and of this no doubt can exist, whatever may be said of the cost, or on whomsoever the fault may rest—the money is wanted, and must be had. All these things are canvassed again and again. Various opinions are delivered, and supported by very different men ; and after the debate, comes the resolution of the majority, that the money must be raised ! How it shall be raised, is the next question. But as the necessity of raising it has been recognised, an answer is at hand to every argument that can be urged against the means proposed, be they ever so bad. Nevertheless, the new impost is, after being propounded and expounded with every variety of detail, comment, calculation and estimate, thoroughly discussed in all its bearings, so that every thing which can be said on the subject by men of the most opposite opinions, the most conflicting interests, and the most different turns of thinking, is said, during the various stages through which the measure passes. All these discussions are anxiously followed by the people, who read, or hear read or related, almost every thing that has passed in the course of them, and thus become acquainted with the measure from its first development to the period of its becoming a law of the land. They are satisfied with this. They find, that, whatever could have occurred to themselves, has been stated by some one or other, in some stage or other of the business; they even perceive that concessions have been made, in consequence of several of the obu. jections urged; a vent has thus been afforded for their discontent; and somewhat too has been gained, or seems to have been gained, for the measure may have been purposely brought forward worse than it was intended to be made. All these considerations reconcile them to it. But, independent of all these, and above them all, is the mere reading of the speeches; and being thus addressed constantly by so many persons for whom, whether deservedly or not, they feel, in point of fact, more or less respect, either on account of their station, or qualifications. Nor can there be any doubt that the mere effect of the debates thus made universally public, would contribute greatly towards reconciling the country to the tax, were it carried through without any modification.
What is true of a new tax, is equally true of every other measure; and when the executive government has, by its conduct, exasperated the people, or by its imbecility cast them into despair, the aid of Parliament effectúally restores tranquillity and confidence, by the same process that makes the most hateful impo'st bearable, if not palatable. A great agitation prevails in men's minds at some wanton act of military violence; or a gloom is spread over them by the gross mismanagement of a warlike operation, to the manifest peril of the State, as well as the grievous waste of lives and treasure. The Press teems with pamphlets, the newspapers are vehement in discussing the interesting topick of the day; meetings are holden, which increase the ferment. To a stranger, every thing seems big with peril and alarm: but the experienced tactician knows well how to meet the storm, and escape in perfect safety, possibly with an accession of strength, from the dangers into which he has plunged his country, but through which he him.. self can walk unhurt. He lets the tempest rage for a while, till it is partly exhausted, and then pours oil upon the troubled, waves, by calling together the Great Council of the nation. The
two regular meeting-houses straightway supersede all other assemblages; the great debating shops are opened, and all other wranglings are suspended; the great talk,' as some countries term it, the · Palaver,' as they call it elsewhere, is begun, and throws the lesser disputes into the shade; the daily volumes of disquisition are issued, and nothing else is read or talked about. Already much is done towards allaying the agitation that pre-, vailed, or inspiring the hope that seemed dead; a breathing time is afforded, at least, while redress is expected; or desponding men are taught to look somewhere, who had felt per-, suaded that no quarter to which the eye might turn could afford any prospect of relief. It is true, this melancholy foreboding is most frequently confirmed by the result. It is true, an al most endless discussion ends at last in a civil, but firm refusal of any redress, and a distinct approval of all the misconduct com. plained of, and an expression of thankfulness for whatever was. most imbecile in the management that led to boundless disaster. But all this is done with so much form and solemnitywith such delay and circumlocution-with so many able speeches from so many known individuals of high station and authority, if not of the most profound wisdom, or the most disinterested natures, that the people are gradually reconciled, perhaps even convinced. At all events, the subject has been thoroughly discussed both in Parliament and out of doors, and they have read and heard every thing that has been said or could be said, upon it, and if they are still discontented, they keep their ill humour to themselves, and think little, and say less, upon a question now disposed of, and fated to be speedily forgotten!
We have entered into these particulars for the purpose of illustrating the prodigious accession of power with which the publication of the Parliamentary Debates has armed the Legislature, and, through the Legislature, the Executive Government. The common remark is, indeed, singularly ill founded which holds out this publicity as all so much gained by the people, and parades it as a sacrifice made by the Parliament. The jealousy which that body betrays of any rival dealers in debates, though perhaps groundless, shows how instinctively it feels the importance of having a monopoly. When English delegates met in 1817, to discuss from day to day the state of the representation, an Act was immediately made, declaring their meetings unlawful. When the Irish Catholics associated for obtaining a redress of grievances, they were prohibited from meeting above a few days at a time. The apprehension, that discussion, carried on regularly upon subjects highly interesting to the country by per-, sons not Parliamentary, and in places other than the purlieus. of Westminster Hall, would engage the attention of the com