To the independent electors of the Borough of Chippenham
In a recent address Mr Boldero <1> adverts to the part that he took some years ago in the debate in the House of Commons on the Borough of Chippenham. <2> I remember that he made an excellent speech on that occasion, which was not attended with the success it merited, since on a division the question was lost by a considerable majority. Nor were my humbler endeavours wanting, to aid and assist in the same good cause. I had the Chippenham petition reprinted at my own expense, and a copy of it was presented by my directions to each member of the House of Commons as he entered the House on the evening of the debate – a precaution which experience has shown to be advantageous in similar cases. I might add [illegible deletion] that this petition had been drawn up by myself, and had been unanimously agreed to without alteration at a meeting of the inhabitants of Chippenham. Thus you see that all parties and their best endeavours to do you good service at that time. I may be allowed to say so (since the subject has been brought forward) but otherwise I should not have thought of mentioning it.
Since I became your representative I have not ceased to attend to your interests in parliament to the best of my judgment. Being of opinion (for instance) that the railway to London would benefit your trade, I paid the closest attention to the progress of that measure.
On the 27th of May last, when the opponents of the bill made a sudden attempt to get rid of it in Committee, by a well planned and most skilful surprise, which (there being but few members present) appeared to promise them success; and when after an animated discussion their attempt was foiled by a majority of only four, I made one of that slender majority. Yet, as far as my own interests are concerned, I have reason to apprehend annoyance from that railway. For I understand that a branch is projected from Chippenham to Trowbridge, <3> on a line as yet undetermined, but which I am afraid will pass unpleasantly near to my own residence. Therefore whether you approve of my vote on that occasion, or whether you do not, you will not deny me the merit of vigilance, in having been found at my post at the critical moment, when nearly three-fourths of the other members of the Committee were either elsewhere engaged, or could not be found.
With regard to my votes on public measures, I have kept faith with you in all respects – I promised to support Earl Grey’s <4> government, and I have done so. I assisted all their measures of reform, while on the other hand I entirely dissented from and voted against the destructive schemes of the Ultra-Radical Party – such as for instance Mr Gillon’s <5> motion for the abolition of the Irish Church (May 20 1833). I voted against it without the least hesitation, although the temperate reform of that church has undoubtedly my approval.
The numerous votes in which I participated during these two sessions of Parliament were conscientiously given by me to the best of my judgment. I have attended night after night the sittings of the Houses frequently until the hour of two or three in the morning, as long as health permitted me. These late sittings are the severest part of parliamentary labour and I trust the legislature will soon abolish such an absurd and injurious custom. It exists in no other country, and it was not our own practice in former times. Until its abolition however, a representative must endure that fatigue and inconvenience as well as he can.
And of course he can be entitled to claim no credit for it, beyond that of having accomplished the task he undertook to perform. That degree of credit I may fairly claim, and, Gentlemen, if such conduct does not merit your confidence then I frankly own that I do not know what other course a representative can pursue, so as to secure the continuance of his constituents’ esteem.
I have not, on the present occasion, asked any elector for his vote. A canvas implies a previous dissolution of parliament, or at least the certainty that one is imminent. It is unquestionably possible that such an event may happen, but I am nevertheless of the opinion that it will not. It is a point for the King’s <6> present advisors to decide, and it must be a matter of the deepest anxiety to them.
If they take that step they cannot recede from it, and their duty to their King and Country equally obliges them to be cautious how they act in these dangerous times. Their new Parliament might indeed by loyal wise and patriotic, to a degree that would throw their [illegible] into the shade. But is it probable? Is it not on the contrary an unlikely result, considering the discordant politics of the times? Sir Robert Peel <7> then will have much to reflect upon, for he is a cautious man – one who, as the saying is, looks before he leaps – and has the advantage of a long political experience. If the present parliament continues, as I think it will, I will endeavour in the altered state of our national affairs to discharge my duty to your satisfaction – And this I think I shall best do, by supporting moderate temperate and conciliatory measures, such as I hope the best men of both parties may be induced to agree upon for the sake of the peace of the country – I expect there will be frequent collisions of the two Houses, which will be a national scandal and disgrace. In that event, if the House of Lords will show any disposition to conciliate, I for one will be willing to meet them halfway, by abating somewhat of those points which they are most averse to. I believe many Members are of similar sentiments, and whether it be a desirable course or not, in itself, it is the only path of peace that is now left to us.
But enough on this subject. All personal matters and local politics are as dust in the balance at this present moment to whoever considers the state of public affairs. For many years the political horizon has not been seen so menacing with storms – if we escape them all, it must be by the blessing of providence. Those who have seized the helm of the vessel of the State, have with it assumed an awful responsibility. If they mistake their position, they will run her upon the rocks. When we see their first proceedings we shall be better able to judge whether the guidance of our destinies has been for the present committed to wise and cautious – or to rash and unskilful hands.
I have the honor to be,
Your obedient humble servant
1st December 1834
1. Col Henry George Boldero (d. 1873), Conservative politician; sat for Chippenham in 1831 and from 1835 until his resignation in 1859.
2. Chippenham, Wiltshire: largest town near Lacock, 3 miles N.
3. 8 miles SSW of Lacock.
4. Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764–1845), statesman.
5. William Downe Gillon (d. 1846), radical Reformer MP.
6. William IV (1765–1837), King of England (1830–1837).
7. Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850), Prime Minister.