In the meantime, the reformers of the country were not idle. Meetings were held in London, and in most of the towns, calling on the Government to take heart of grace, and not to give in to the Tories by a single inch; but to keep Parliament sitting until the Bill should have gone through its every stage. The Government answered pluckily to these appeals. A meeting of influential supporters of the Ministry was held in the Foreign Office; and to that meeting Lord Althorp declared on behalf of his colleagues, that the enemies of Reform would find themselves miserably mistaken. Rather than abandon the Bill, he assured his hearers, Parliament would be kept sitting until the next December or the next December twelvemonths if necessary. That settled the opposition for the moment. Amendments were still proposed and debates still went on, and divisions were taken; but the Tories began to see at last that the Government were thoroughly in earnest, and that the country was behind Lord Grey and Lord John Russell. The Bill was carried through its various stages, and the last division on the motion, that the Bill do now pass, showed three hundred and forty-five votes for the Reform measure, and only two hundred and thirty-nine against it - a majority of one hundred and six in favour of the Bill.
Then the hopes and hearts of all the Anti-reformers turned to the House of Lords. The House of Lords had then, as now, a large Conservative majority, and had, therefore, the power of upsetting the work of the Commons, and rejecting the Reform Bill altogether. There are two checks on the unlimited exercise of such a power by the House of Lords; the one constitutional, and the other political and moral. The constitutional check is found in the fact that the Sovereign has always the right, on the advice of his Ministers, to create as many new Peers as he thinks fit. If, therefore, there should be in the House of Lords a known majority of Peers, say one hundred in number, against Reform, the King would only have to create one hundred and fifty new Peers from the Liberal' ranks in time to carry the Reform measure through all its stages. Of course, this is what might be called a desperate remedy; and could only be tried as a last resource. With a Sovereign like George III. it never could be tried, because the King would never give his consent to a wholesale creation of Peers for such a purpose. In any case, only the most extreme emergency could induce a Liberal Ministry to have recourse to such a con-stitutional device. It was one of the many devices which may be called into existence under the British constitution; and which yet appear to be in themselves fantastically unconstitutional and anomalous. Therefore the Tories felt in good confidence that Lord Grey would not advise the Sovereign to take so unusual and extraordinary a step; and that William IV., no matter how many crowds might have called him the patriot King, would never adopt that way of showing his patriotic sentiment.
The other check on the power of the House of Lords was that created by the strength of popular feeling out of doors. If the majority of the constituencies should prove themselves so determined on Reform that the prolonged resistance of the Peers might risk a revolution, then it was almost certain that the House of Lords would give way and yield to the popular will. Such a result has always come about in recent years. The House of Lords in our times may be relied upon never to resist the demands of the constituencies so Tar as to lead to a crisis which might end in the overthrow of the hereditary chamber itself. We have grown used to that condition of things lately; and curiously enough the fact serves as an argument to those who are in favour of the present constitution of the House of Lords, and to those who are determinedly against it. The advocates of the House of Lords ask the country what serious objection there can be to a chamber which, at the most, can only interpose delay and allow fuller time for calm consideration; and they point to the fact that the House of Lords have never driven their opposition to any dangerous extent, or done aught to provoke revolutionary demands. On the other hand, the opponents of the House of Lords ask what can be the use of an institution which does not any longer even profess to be a saviour of society; which has long since renounced every pretence at a mission to save society from society's self; and is always ready to give way if society only makes clamour enough to be accepted as a danger-signal. In the days of the First Reform Bill, however, the resisting power of the House of Lords to any popular movement had not been thoroughly tested; and the Tories in general were of good hope that the Lords would hold out, that the King would hold out, and that the mob orators and anarchists would have to slink back into the state of obscurity to which it had pleased Providence to call them. The Tory Peers kept up for awhile their show of a resolute purpose. On October 3rd, Lord Grey moved the second reading of the Reform Bill; Lord Wharncliffe moved as an amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, a motion which amounted to the rejection of the measure. The Duke of Wellington spoke, as was to be expected, uncompromisingly against the Bill; Lord Lyndhurst, one of the greatest lawyers of his day, opposed it more dexterously, but not less decidedly; Lord Brougham thundered in its favour. The division was taken on the morning of October 8th; and it was announced that the second reading was defeated by a majority of forty-one. The House of Commons had spent a whole session in vain over the passing of the Reform Bill; the House of Lords undid the work in a few days. Yet the majority against the measure was not after all so great as might have been expected, and some of the Peers who had voted in the majority must have felt themselves wondering as they went home that morning, whether they had not hastened, rather than retarded, the movement of Reform.