He had no taste for the stirring up of a popular revolution; and amongst those to whom he looked for advice he found no trustworthy person who could counsel him to any such purpose. Wellington, Lyndhurst, Peel, could not help him out of his difficulty; he had to go back to Lord Grey, and Lord Grey was inexorable. Nothing was to be done unless William would give his consent to the creation of new Peers. Lord Brougham, who accompanied Lord Grey in one momentous interview with the Sovereign, went so far as to insist that the consent must even be given in writing. The poor King had no other course open to him than to yield to stern necessity. He had argued with the inexorable long enough; and he was thoroughly tired of the futile argument. He gave his consent, and he gave it even in writing. " The King grants permission to Lord Grey and to his Chancellor, Lord Brougham, to create such a number of Peers as will insure the passing of the Reform Bill," were the words of the consent written on the paper which the King, at last submissive, handed to the rigorous and uncourtly Lord Brougham.
Of course, the moment the consent was given the crisis was all over. It is needless to say that the new Peers were never created. It was enough for the Opposition to know that the new Peers would be created if necessary, and there was an end of their resistance at once. They did not want the Reform Bill, and they did not want the new Peers; but, above all things, they did not want the Reform Bill and the new Peers together. The Duke of Wellington and some other Peers withdrew from the House of Lords altogether while the Bill was running its now short and summary course. They would not look upon the consummation of a policy which it was not possible for them any longer to retard. The Waverers gave way and the fight was over. On the 4th of June the Bill passed through the House of Lords; and a few days after the poor patriot King had given it his Royal Assent.
Let us see now what were the two great precedents, the two great principles which were established by the passing of the Reform Bill, and by the manner in which it passed into law. We have already told our readers what the Bill itself did for the country; we have described the general reforms which it created; and we have shown in what measure it was seriously defective; and why it became necessary that many further expansions of its scope should be brought about. But the great principles accomplished by the passing of the Reform Bill are not to be found embodied in the contents of the Bill itself. The most important constitutional principles established for the first time, and we trust for all time, by the triumph of Lord Grey and Lord John Russell are two in number. The first is, that the House of Lords must never carry resistance to any measure coming from the House of Commons, that is, from the chamber which represents the country, beyond the point at which it becomes evident that the House of Commons is in earnest, and that the country is behind it. It is now settled that the House of Lords shall have no greater power of resistance to a popular measure than that which, in a different form, is given to the President of the United States, the power to delay its passing until the House of Commons shall have had full time to reconsider its decision and say, on that reconsideration, whether it is of the same mind as before, or not. Many English Reformers think that even this degree of power is far too much to be given to the House of Lords as at present constituted; but it is not necessary to enter into that question. It is enough to say, that since the passing of the Reform Bill, the House of Lords has never, for any considerable length of time, put itself in direct antagonism to the House of Commons. The second great principle which the passing of the Reform Bill established is, that the Sovereign of England must give way to the advice of his Ministers on any question of vital import to the State, and that the personal authority of the Monarch is no longer to decide the course of the Government. Never, since that time, has the personal will of the Sovereign been exercised as a decisive force to contradict and counteract the resolve of the House of Commons. The country is happy, indeed, which has seen so beneficent a change accomplished, and to all appearance safely accomplished for ever, without the need of recourse to revolution.
It might have been worth a revolution to effect such a change, if it could be accomplished by no other means. For the peaceful results we must thank the people of these countries, we must thank the patriotic Ministers like Lord Grey and Lord John Russell, we must thank the House of Commons, and, let it be added, that some thanks are also due to the King, who had the manhood not to be afraid of submitting his personal feelings and wishes to the better judgment of his Ministers and to the welfare of the country. Looking back composedly, at this distance of time, and after the experience of many succeeding Reform Bills, it seems surprising to most of us that the Conservative Party did not better understand the real strength of the movement which they were striving to resist. It seems hard to comprehend how they could have looked at the condition of things which prevailed just before the Reform Bill was introduced, the parliamentary representation of empty spaces, the right of the landowner and the close corporation to nominate anybody to the House of Commons whom the landlord or the close corporation thought fit to honour with patronage, the close boroughs, the rotten boroughs, the open and unabashed system of bribery and corruption, the seats bought and sold like goods at an auction; it seems hard to comprehend how any intelligent Conservative could have looked at things as they were and not have seen for himself that such things could not possibly last.
There were intelligent Conservatives in those days, as in all days. The Conservative Party had men of intellect, men even of genius, among their leading members. They had Peel, they had Lyndhurst, they had many other men who might have been capable of guiding a party aright at such a crisis; they had before them the example of the United States, where the Colonies achieved their independence after a tremendous struggle, rather than endure a system of government without adequate representation; they had seen the historic monarchy of France overturned, because the people would no longer submit to be governed by the will of the Sovereign; they had only just seen how another monarchy, set up in France by the combined strength of all the great European Powers, had been upset because the people found no proper representation in the political system. They might have known that the people of these countries are not patient to servility, and that the days of personal government - government by the caprice of the Sovereign - were gone for ever. They might even have observed that the Reform Bill, brought in by Lord Grey and Lord John Russell, did not by any means satisfy the desires of the most earnest Reformers outside and inside Parliament. They might have seen that the Reform Bill as it stood was only possible because so many influential Reform leaders were willing to come to terms of compromise with Lord Grey, and to accept half a loaf because it was better than no bread. Under such conditions it may well seem surprising to us now, that the Conservatives should not have seen the palpable fact that Reform of some kind must come, and that Lord Grey's scheme was the most moderate which the country could possibly accept. But the impression of the Conservatives up to the last moment seems to have been, that if only they could defeat Lord Grey and his Reform Bill the whole question would be settled, and that nothing more would be heard of Reform for many generations to come. On the whole, these countries have no reason to regret that the Tories fought out their battle to the end; and that they brought the King face to face with the question, whether to submit his personal will or to risk a revolution. If they had compromised with Lord Grey, the principle of government by the will of the Sovereign might have dragged on for a few years more, and the battle might have been fought under leaders less capable than Lord Grey and Lord John Russell.