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Reform of the British parliament: S.T. Coleridge's incident

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The British philosopher and the political thinker S.T. Coleridge subjected to sharp criticism reform of the English parliament in 1832, without having adjoined at the same time one of political parties and being guided by the own theory of the English constitution.

British philosopher and political thinker S.T. Coleridge criticized the Reform Act of 1832. But he did not join any political party, and his criticism was based upon his own original theory of English constitution.

parliamentary reform of 1832, universal suffrage, political struggle, English constitution,

S.T. Coleridge; Great Reform Act of 1832, universal suffrage, political struggle, English constitution, S.T. Coleridge.

In the second half of the XVIII century in Great Britain arose and gradually the political movement for electoral reform gained strength. The electoral system existing at a boundary of the 18-19th centuries began to develop in the 13th century and did not meet at all that situation which developed in Great Britain as a result of industrial revolution. The cities which acquired at the time the right to send the representatives to parliament became deserted, having turned into "rotten places". New industrial centers, including Birmingham and Manchester, did not elect deputies to parliament at all. As a result the House of Commons appeared under control of large landowners, and the English bourgeoisie which was playing a major role in economic life of the country had no in parliament of due representation.

By the beginning of the 19th century the English society broke up into three camps adhering to different views on possible parliamentary reform. "Radicals" (J. Fox, J. Kartright, etc.) were consecutive supporters of reform. They demanded not only abolition of "rotten places", but also introduction of universal suffrage for men and also annual parliamentary elections. Tories were ardent opponents of any reform, seeing in it threat of the monarchy, established church and the House of Lords. Whigs considered necessary reform, however unlike radicals they sought to eliminate only the most scandalous defects of an electoral system, but not in a root to transform it. Broad participation of representatives in it of the lowest social groups uniting in various societies and associations became the most striking trait of the political debate developed in England concerning future reform. The huge role in formation of public opinion was played by the English press.

Peripetias of this fight are described in zarubezhnoy1 and otechestvennoy2 historiographies. However researchers did not come to a consensus about a position which in discussions concerning reform was taken by S.T. Coleridge. In the western historiography the point of view prevails that Coleridge did not adjoin one of political couples -

1 See: Briggs A. The Age of Improvement, 1783-1867. - L., 1979; Evans E. The Great Reform Bill of 1832. - L., 1983; Hole R. Pulpits, politics and public order in England 1760-1832. - Cambr., 1989; Brock M. The Great Reform Act. - L., 1973.
2 See: G.I. Bykov. Essays on the history of social movements in England (1764-1836). - M, 1934; From the history of the European parliamentarism. Great Britain. - M, 1995; S.B. Semyonov. Political views of the English radicals of the 18th century. - Samara, 1995; M.P. Ayzenshtat. The British parliament and society in 30-40 of the 19th century - M., 1997, etc.



Vladimirovich is a graduate student

institute of history and international relations of SGU

tiya also took a position objective nablyudatelya1. However, he sympathized with conservatives more that allows some researchers to put it in one row with such prominent Tories as, for example, R. of Pil-starshiy2, or such conservative thinkers as E. Byork, T. Karlayl and M. of Arnold3.

In this work we will try to characterize the point of view to which Coleridge adhered concerning reform and to compare it with political programs of contradictory camps.

Coleridge's opinion on reform is of special interest because this poet, the philosopher and the talented publicist during the life rather strongly changed the political convictions. In young years he was fond of philosophy of Locke, Hartley and the French educators, enthusiastically met the French revolution and even got the nickname "Jacobean". However on the eve of reform of 1832 it already stood on much more conservative positions.

Coleridge, of course, watched closely a discussion concerning the forthcoming reform. In 1830 he contributed significantly in it the, having published one of the best works on political subject — "On the Constitution of the Church and State" 4. In parallel he continued to be published in the English press.

Assimilating the state to a living organism, Coleridge claimed that its current state is defined by balance of two forces: "constancy" (permanence) and "progress" (progression). If the balance is displaced in any of two parties, then "the political organism" "gets sick" that leads, in addition, to loss by the people of freedom. (Coleridge gives as an example of "the sick state" modern to it Italy in which the balance was displaced towards "constancy".)

The English constitution is better than others allows to keep this balance and provides to British the highest

1 White R.J. Political Thought of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. — L., 1938; Edwards P. Statesman’s Science. — NY, 2004.
2 Link A.S. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Economic and Political Crisis in Great Britain, 1816 — 1820//Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. No. 3. — Philadelphia, 1948.
3 Holmes R. Coleridge. - Oxf., 1982, p. 45.
4 Coleridge S.T. On the Constitution of Church and

State according to the Idea of each. — L., 1830.

democracy level for all history of mankind, keeping at the same time the monarchy.

The main core of the English state is, of course, the parliament. "Constancy" in it is represented by land owners, and "progress" — the bourgeoisie and the intellectuals. And if representatives of "progress" are completely concentrated in the House of Commons and make in it the majority, then representatives of "constancy" are divided into two groups — the aristocracy (major barons) sitting at the House of Lords and small land owners (minor barons) electing deputies to the lower house. Such system does not allow any of the groups of owners presented in parliament to dictate the will to two others.

Coleridge considers reforming of parliament an inevitable and good cause, however unlike radicals does not demand immediate reform. He considers that the existing imbalance is the best of two evils. The worst evil is the universal suffrage offered by radicals.

Sharp rejection of the idea of universal suffrage by Coleridge is explained by two basic principles of his political doctrine.

1. In civilized society of a duty always have to precede the rights.
2. The state is founded on inequality of property, and the power only that who have a property and who performs the related duties have to possess.

The first principle resulted, first of all, from judgment of political practice of Jacobin dictatorship by Coleridge in France. The English philosopher believed the domination of human rights proclaimed the French revolutionaries (including the rights to choose) one of the most serious violations of normal work of "a political organism" as it destroyed for years the created system public otnosheniy5 and led, eventually, to dictatorship of the majority. Besides, Coleridge was sure that the yakobinstvo with its domination of the rights is based on the incorrect idea (which, however, Coleridge divided in youth) about what the form of government is capable to change

5 Holmes R. Coleridge. - Oxf., 1982, p. 68.

internal nature cheloveka1. He believed that domination of the rights over duties is possible only in the company of angels, and those forms of government which developed for centuries are suitable for inhabitants of the earth more and are the investigations human postupkov2.

The second principle also for the first time was formulated after the analysis by Coleridge of the European history. He claimed that modern society is objectively founded on the property right which replaced the right of the birth. Coleridge found possible that in the distant future the property as a basis of society will be replaced with a certain new principle, but was sure that to argue on it absolutely bessmyslenno3.

Most fully Coleridge expressed the attitude towards universal suffrage in the kommentarii4 to the pamphlet by the radical J. Kartright "Make the choice!" (1777). Coleridge proved that in real human society the universal suffrage will inevitably lead to leveling repartition of property or even to elimination of private property per se. Thus, the principle "The power — to owners!" is a necessary condition of security of property, and the poor should not have even a theoretical opportunity to make repartition of property (Coleridge, by the way, not only was not a rich person, but the most part of life of veins on money of the friends). According to Kartright, "the power which cannot be applied never has to exist".

Thus, before entering of "The bill of reform" into parliament Coleridge on the views of reform was closest to Whigs, recognizing shortcomings of the existing electoral system and calling for the careful and carefully thought over reforms. However time showed that its idea of reasonableness and care does not coincide with representations of the new prime minister lord Gray and his supporters.

Coleridge was negative to the bill offered by the government the ENT specialist -

1 Letters of S.T. Coleridge. Vol. I. - L., 1895, p. 239 — 240; Coleridge S.T. Essays on His Own Times. — L., 1850, vol. 2, p. 542 — 552.
2 Ibid., vol. 3, p. 930 — 932.
3 Ibid., vol. 2, p. 330 — 331.
4 The Friend. Sec. I. Essay 4. — L., 1865, p. 127.

da Gray. And not the sympathy of the poet for the Tory became the reason of it at all: if to arrange his statements about reform made in 1831 — 1832 in a chronological order, then it will turn out that each following version of the bill was criticized by it stronger than previous.

On the eve of entering into parliament of the first version of the bill Coleridge only warned the government against radical reforms and blind following to will of the people (democracy — it is good, but it should not be forced down the throat or introduced izvne5; the voice of the people only then "the God's voice" when is not "a voice of a devil" 6). He asked a question: whether the post-reform parliament will still reflect the interests of separate social groups and the nation in general, or will degenerate in gathering of delegates of the people? The second option seems to Coleridge unacceptable as in this case establishment of universal suffrage is represented to it inevitable. But he hopes on luchshee7.

He criticizes the first version of the bill quite sharply, but in essence. Coleridge believes that the bill badly corresponds to the principles of the English constitution. The property qualification in 10 pounds seems to it made up and not reflecting the valid stratification of English obshchestva8.

Parliamentary elections of 1831 became a turning point concerning Coleridge to the bill. Methods which Whigs fought for votes, seem to Coleridge absolutely unacceptable. The constant appeal of candidates to public opinion forces it to decide that reform goes on a false way and that the English parliament nevertheless will turn from really representative body into a meeting of delegates even not from the people, and from the population. Public opinion as it seems to it, can be easily changed in the necessary party by the dexterous speaker. Its also constant sendings irritate supporters of reform to those human rights in which domination recognition

5 The table talk and Omniana of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. — L., 1917, p. 126.
6 Coleridge S.T. On the Constitution of Church and State according to the Idea of each. — L., 1830, p. 46.
7 The table talk and Omniana of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. — L., 1917, p. 135.
8 Ibid., p. 136.

he sees huge danger for gosudarstva1.

Further Coleridge continues to criticize lord Gray's office for his flirting with public opinion and aspiration to press through the bill, relying on the majority, on will mass2. It, undoubtedly, seems to it a bad sign: leaves that the dispossessed national weight tries to impose the will to the House of Lords at which the largest land owners of the kingdom sit. In fact, such situation differs not in much from introduction of universal suffrage.

Coleridge criticizes the third version of the bill of reform which became as a result the law more strictly, than the first, despite all amendments made to the bill for a year of discussions (he even claims that reform destroyed freedom of parliament) 3. It has no anything against expansion of electorate, he even suggests to grant the right to vote zhenshchinam4. But Coleridge is upset with the fact that reform instead of correcting the existing imbalance and to restore balance of "constancy" and "progress", created new, much stronger imbalance, this time already in favor of "progress" 5. However much opas-

1 Ibid., p. 138-139, 162, 164.
2 Ibid., p. 161.
3 Ibid., p. 167-168.
4 Ibid., p. 265.
5 Ibid., p. 168.

it the bill it seems to it a way of carrying out reformy6 which was followed not only the unprecedented pressure upon parliament from public opinion, but also the spikes in violence taking place in some English cities. Now it is not about minor defects any more, and about preservation of the most English state system.

to Samuel Taylor Coleridge was not fated to be seen whether his fears will come true — he died in 1834, in only two years after parliamentary reform. It did not accept this reform, but at all not because by the end of life there was a Tory as some researchers believe. As it was shown above, in 1830, just before reform, he criticized an old electoral system and did not deny a possibility of its reforming. Was not, he, of course, and the Whig. He also really tried to be the objective observer, trying to draw conclusions on the basis of own beliefs and conscience, but not party accessory. His critic of both prereform, and post-reform parliaments it was based on belief that both of them — only imperfect reflections of that parliament that exists only in "the world of the ideas". Without being a supporter of any of parties, Coleridge was a hot advocate of own ideas of the best state system for England.

6 _§a., river 161-162.
Rita James
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