On the 24th of June Lord John Russell introduced a second Reform Bill which might be called just the same in principle and substance as that which he had brought in on the former occasion. The second reading was moved for on the 4th of July; and after a debate of three nights a division was taken, and the second reading was carried by three hundred and sixty-seven votes for, and two hundred and thirty-one against - a majority of one hundred and thirty-six in favour of the principle of the measure. This put an end to all hope on the part of the Tories that anything could be done in the way of direct opposition to the Reform Bill. But now the Tories put into action for the first time, on a great and systematic scale, those tactics of parliamentary obstruction which have become so familiar to the political world in more modern days. The forms of the House of Commons then, and even to a much later time, afforded infinite opportunities for the reckless ingenuity of Tory members to find means of postponing and postponing any chance of coming to a decision upon anything. It will be interesting to give some illustration of the manner in which this system of interruption was kept up without actually violating any of the rules of order which govern the proceedings of the House. For instance, what could be more reasonable than for any member who thought the House had sat and debated long enough on that particular subject, to rise and move that the House do now adjourn ? Every sitting of the House is brought to a close by a motion couched in just such a form, which on all ordinary occasions and at a reasonable hour of the night, is agreed to without discussion or division. But in the instances we are describing a member who moves that the House do now adjourn, had not the slightest desire that the question should be put to an instant division; he wanted all the debate that he could have; he wanted to help in wearing the Government out. Therefore, he gave all the reasons that occurred to him, all that his uttermost ingenuity could devise, to show that the House was bound to adjourn just then, and he gave his reasons at immense length; and went over them again and again as if he had taken all time for his province.
In Sir Philip Sidney's "Arcadia" we are told of a beautiful young shepherd-boy who stands under the trees on some fair summer's evening piping as though he should never grow old. There is something charming in the idea of this young lover of music, piping on and on, as though youth and harmony were to be always his own. The Conservative orator talked in favour of an adjournment as though he should never grow old, as though he had all time before him; but his was not quite so picturesque a figure as that drawn by Sir Philip Sidney. When one Conservative orator had finished his speech, another Conservative orator took up the tale, and yet another, and another; until at last it was thought to be convenient for a division to be taken. The majority, of course, voted for going on with the business and making some progress with the Reform Bill, and the motion for adjournment was therefore defeated. But the Tory tactics endured, and a moment after the division had been declared some Tory member got up and moved that the Speaker do now leave the Chair, which was only another way of getting rid of the Bill for that sitting. Then came another long debate and another division; and the Tories being once more defeated, some Tory member fell back on the old motion that the House do now adjourn. This was in strict accordance with the rules, which did not allow precisely the same motion to be moved twice in succession; and so the alternate motions that the House do now adjourn, and that the Speaker do leave the Chair, were kept up until breakfast time in the morning, and then the members were allowed to go to their homes, having to meet again at three that afternoon. For day after day and night after night this sort of thing went on. Nobody in the House listened to the debates, nobody outside the house paid the slightest attention to what the Tories were saying.
The one question of keen public interest was how long the Government could hold out against this peculiar kind of opposition. It might be taken for granted that after a certain period in the year it would be all but impossible to keep the House of Commons together; even the most earnest Reformers had other duties to discharge besides waiting for the divisions on the motion that the House do now adjourn. Many of Lord Grey's followers began to be seriously afraid that the whole session might be wasted without advancing the Reform scheme in any measurable degree towards success. The Government, however, held firm; and the disfranchisement of what were called the rotten boroughs was abso-lutely accomplished so far as the House of Commons could accomplish it. Then came the struggle over the reduction in the representation of various boroughs from two members to one member. Hereupon the obstruction got up again, alive and fully armed for the work. The methods of obstruction had by this time been organised and arranged as by a regular process of drill. It is well to learn something on this subject from Mr. Molesworth's excellent "History of the Reform Bill." Mr. Molesworth tells us - and the facts are indeed beyond dispute - that there was a regular division of labour in the work of obstruction, arranged and superintended by a Committee of which Sir Robert Peel was Chairman. Now we have had a good deal of obstruction, deliberate and purposed obstruction, in the House of Commons in later days; but it never happened since 1831 that a statesman of the rank of Sir Robert Peel became President of a Committee for the express and the sole purpose of arranging and supplying a mere obstruction by speech-making, to prevent a popular measure from passing on its way through the House of Commons. The same arguments were repeated over and over again without the slightest pretence of a desire to find something new. Sir Robert Peel himself set a good example to his comrade obstructionists. During one stage of the debate he delivered no less than forty-eight speeches. Mr. Wilson Croker, a literary critic whom Macaulay made famous by his scathing essay and who was for a long time, when Secretary to the Admiralty, the target for some of Lord Cochrane's most dashing and bitter attacks - Mr. Wilson Croker spoke fifty-seven times. Sir Charles Wetherell, who has been already mentioned in this history as a type of Tory of the extinct school, went one speech better, for he spoke fifty-eight times.