The name of Lord John Russell reminds us that in one of the closing debates on the Reform Bill in the House of Commons, Russell made use of a particular phrase which was afterwards brought up against him many times. The more extreme Reformers found fault with the phrase because they thought it showed, on Russell's part, a lack of earnestness in the cause of Reform, indeed, a lack of true understanding as to the meaning of Reform; while the anti-Reformers used it as an argument to prove that the Government had pledged the Liberal Party to be content with the way it had already made, and to seek no further progress. Lord John Russell said, that "so far as Ministers were concerned, the Reform Bill was, in his opinion, a final measure." It was at once assumed by the extreme men on both sides, that Lord John Russell, on the part of the Government, meant to declare that enough had been done in the way of Reform, that the country had had all the Reform it wanted or could get; that no further steps were to be taken in any similar direction, and that the Reform Bill of 1832 was final. Lord John Russell undoubtedly gave a good chance, by his phrase, to those on the one side who thought his Reform Bill inadequate, and to those on the other side who thought that the most limited scheme of Reform would be far too much. We all understand now quite well what Lord John Russell meant; although it certainly would have been better if he had made his meaning more clear at the time. Most assuredly it never entered into a mind like that of Lord John Russell to believe that the Reform Bill which he and his colleagues had carried would satisfy the growing political wants of the people of England for all time.
A man like Lord John Russell must have known very well, Lord John Russell of course did know very well, that the ,£50 franchise in counties and the £10 franchise in boroughs could not satisfy the needs of an ever-growing population. No man of Russell's intellect could have supposed for a moment that the whole working population of England could be content to remain for ever without that political franchise which was already given to the people of France and the people of the American Republic. What Russell meant clearly was that the Government had completed for the present their chapter of Reform. No man knew better than Lord John Russell did, that the people of these countries are not likely to devote all their days to political agitation; and that when they have accomplished one triumph in the way of Reform, they will be found ready to return to their ordinary pursuits, and to wait until some new exigency brings about the necessity of accomplishing another work of the same kind. Russell, in fact, continued during all the rest of his long political career, to be as earnest an advocate of Reform as he had proved himself to be, when for the first time he introduced his Reform Bill - for it may well be called his - to the House of Commons. His name was identified with many another project of Reform, with Reform schemes launched by him in later days, and carried to success by him or by others who acted on his inspiration. But he spoke the words of plain common sense when he said that the Government of Lord Grey believed they had done their work for the time in carrying their Reform Bill and were free, if they thought well, to stand aside and leave future work to future hands.
The close of the great debates on the Reform Bill may be regarded also as, in one sense, the close of a great career. Here Charles, Earl Grey, to quote the words of Carlyle applied to Mirabeau, "drops from the tissue of our history, not without a tragic farewell." Lord Grey had a special work appointed for him to do; and he did it, patiently, perseveringly, and with success. From the distant days when he had presented the petition of "the friends of the people" to the House of Commons, from those days, and indeed from days long before, Lord Grey had been a steady and devoted friend of Reform. He had followed the guidance of Fox, although he had little of Fox's enthusiasm or of that gleam of the poetic and the romantic which inspired so much of Fox's eloquence. Lord Grey was by descent, by position, and by temperament, an aristocrat of the aristocrats; and it would not have been under ordinary circumstances natural for him to concern himself much about securing the franchise for a class of men with whom in most cases he could have little or nothing in common. A political rival of Mirabeau once said that Mirabeau owed much of his success to his "terrible gift of familiarity," his power of entering into the ways and feelings and common talk of men of the humblest class. Grey had none of that terrible gift of familiarity; he could not talk to people in general, he was cold and austere among men even of his own class, he was sometimes almost tongue-tied when he had to deal with unlettered strangers. It stands all the more to his honour that he fought the great Reform battle so chivalrously, that he ordered his brave soul to face the struggle, and that he faced it until success came in the end. Lord Grey was the last English Minister who had served on anything like terms of equality with such men as Pitt, and Fox, and Burke, and Sheridan. Macaulay says well of him that "those who had listened to his stately eloquence in the House of Lords, could all the better understand what that group of men must have been among whom he was not the foremost".