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apprehensions of accurate taxation or military levy. But the returns obtained under the Population Act of 1801, have been amply confirmed by subsequent enumerations; and this is explainable from the well-chosen opportunity of a famine price of provisions, which produced a general impression that the enumeration was made with a view to future precautions in favour of the numerous classes of society. The second aim of the population act would have been hopeless, indeed, has never been attempted, in any foreign nation, from its obvious impracticability; but England, among her records, possessed registers of baptisms, burials, and marriages, in many parishes from the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth, and so generally from the commencement of the last century, that an unquestionable decennary approximation was obtained of the increase of population, which, from the year 1710, never once retrograded, and from 1784 till 1801, increased at the rate of one per cent, per annum ,• since that time periodical returns show an increase of one and a half per cent, per annum.
At the commencement of the Sidmouth administration, Mr. Abbot was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland under Lord Hardwicke, and Keeper of the Privy Seal; and commenced such reforms of the several public offices there as might be expected from the chairman of the finance committee; but his parliamentary activity had now marked him out as the successor of Sir John Mitford in the chair of the House of Commons. Mr. Abbot was elected Speaker, 10th February, 1802, and took possession of the office as that in which he had resolved to equal, and if possible to surpass, his predecessors, and to maintain, with exemplary regularity, the useful restrictions imposed by ancient forms on an assembly, composed indeed of somewhat discordant materials, but which, under his guidance, assumed a dignified consistency worthy of a body which astonished the civilised world by the facility with which it drew out our national resources during a war chequered with adversity, but terminating in exaltation and triumph.
In the year 1805, the Speaker was placed in a painful situation; a parliamentary commission of naval inquiry had been established in pursuance of the objects of the Finance Committee, and had felt it to be their duty to inculpate Lord Melville, a veteran statesman (at that time First Lord of the Admiralty), for his conduct while ^Treasurer of the Navy. The question for proceding to prosecute him was agitated in the House of Commons with no small eagerness, and the parties were equally divided (216 on each side), when the Speaker, on all other occasions a moderator of debates without expression of personal opinion, was called upon for his casting vote. The functions of the House of Commons are said to be inquisitorial; possessing no jurisdiction beyond that which is necessary to maintain their own privileges, they act in alleged criminal cases as a grand jury, which merely sends a man to take his trial. This doctrine assists the Speaker's decision on such occasions, and he usually votes in such manner as to leave the question open to ulterior proceedings. On this principle Mr. Abbot gave his casting vote (as to the disgraceful part of this charge) on the 8th of April, 1805. Lord Melville, as is well known, was afterwards tried by impeachment, and found Not Guilty by his peers, in June, 1806.
On another occasion the opinion of Mr. Abbot was remarkably influential. The Roman Catholic question had been frequently agitated in the House of Commons from the year 1805, and with growing strength on the part of those who wished to remove the remaining disabilities of the Roman Catholics. In the year 1813 they succeeded so far as to carry a bill to this effect through a second reading by a majority of 42; but in the committee on the bill (24th May), the Speaker moved that the important clause, for admitting Roman Catholics into the legislature, should be left out of the bill; and supported his motion by a speech of great ability, which made such an impression on the committee, that a majority of four decided against the clause, and the bill in consequence, was abandoned.
It is sufficiently remarkable, that during Lord Colchester's
I last illness, the long-contested Roman Catholic question was
successful. Thus His Lordship escaped from witnessing personally the majorities by which that bill was carried through the House of Lords, yet lived long enough to breathe his sincere desire, that experience may prove his own apprehensions to have been fallacious.
The forms of the House of Commons having been accommodated to the variegated business of nearly three centuries now on record, cannot but be convenient and plastic for all purposes. In no place does so much regularity spring out of seeming hurry and disorder. Yet the increasing number of private bills (200 or 300 in a session), had given occasion for complaints of injuries sustained from the haste or inattention of members. Thereupon the Speaker, watchful of the protection of private rights in private bills, and of the reputation of the House of Commons, recommended for the sanction of the House, in the year 1811, the plan of an office for entry of notices, called the "Private Bill Office," where the progress of every private bill is open to all inquirers, and the monopoly of practice in soliciting such bills being thus abolished, complaint was no longer heard.
Another inconvenience personal to members had gradually arisen from the same overwhelming quantity of private business. In former times the votes of a day, seldom or never exceeding a printed sheet, were distributed so regularly as to have obtained considerable sale as a newspaper; but the increasing quantity of matter, and the prolonged sitting of the House, had by degrees so delayed the delivery of the votes, that before Mr. Abbot came to the chair they were usually two or three days in arrear, and sometimes a whole week. Mr. Speaker Abbot saw this with dissatisfaction, and, after due consideration of the interests and habits which had grown up in consequence of this dilatory publication, he resolved to attempt a reformation suitable to the change of hours, and the load of public and private business. For this purpose, the marginal notes of the old-fashioned votes were assumed as a basis upon which to add whatever necessity or perspicuity demanded; inserting also matters of information formerly reserved for the Journals, and giving a short narrative of some proceedings which even the Journals (which are now printed weekly instead of annually) do not furnish.
A further convenience resulted from the early distribution of the votes; the business of the current day was thenceforth displayed on every member's breakfast table; and this sort of information has now become so copious and particular, that the sitting of every select committee, public and private, and all the material notices given in the Private Bill Office, appear in the votes, to whatever hour in the preceding night the sitting of the House is protracted.
This reform and improvement of the votes was the last labour of Speaker Abbot. A serious attack of the same disease (erysipelas) which twelve years afterwards proved fatal to him, compelled him to quit his office in 1817; and all members who knew him in the chair feel the value of this legacy to the House; while younger members can scarcely believe that business could proceed with regularity and comfort in the comparative obscurity of earlier years. Upon the retirement of Mr. Abbot, the House of Commons addressed the King to bestow upon him some mark of his Royal favour, and he was created a peer by the title of Baron Colchester; and a pension of 4000/. a year to himself, and 3000/. to his next successor in the title, was voted by Parliament. He shortly afterwards went abroad for recovery of his health; and after a residence of three years, chiefly in France and Italy, he returned to England, and divided his time between a London residence and his seat at Kidbrooke, near East Grinstead, where he solaced such of his hours as were vacant from the duties of an active magistrate, in observing the progress of his plantations of timber trees, in which he greatly delighted. Lord Colchester carried into the House of Lords the same species of improvement which he had effected in the House of Commons, and their Lordships owe to his short appearance among them the daily publication and distribution of their proceedings. They are also indebted to him for the establishment of a library, on the same plan as that at the House of Commons.
In the year 1827, his Lordship made a considerable journey to the Northern Highlands of Scotland, which possessed peculiar claims to his notice. Soon after he became Speaker, Lord Sidmouth's administration, especially Mr. Vansittart (then Secretary of the Treasury, now Lord Bexley), became attentive to the improvement of the Highlands. Roads were surveyed and planned to a great extent, and a canal of unusual magnitude; and lest the course of improvement should depend too much upon the permanence of any administration, the Speaker of the House of Commons was named first in the Parliamentary Commission, with strict propriety, as superintending a large expenditure of money granted from time to time by Parliament for these purposes.
Roads to the extent of 900 miles, besides many large bridges, have thus been completed at the joint expense of the public and of the Highland counties, about 500,000/. having been judiciously and frugally expended in this manner under the care of the late Speaker, whose vigilance never slept when Highland business was brought before him. His visit to the roads, the Caledonian Canal, and the new churches, placed him in pleasing contact with a population sensible of the benefits bestowed upon them, and eager to show him every token of heartfelt respect; nor did he fail, at his return, to exert himself in refreshing the attention of the other Commissioners by statements of the vast improvements, under their fostering care, which he had personally witnessed in the Highlands.
The brilliant victories of our army and navy during the war, were often the theme of the Speaker's official speeches, about thirty of which may be quoted as models of just eulogy, appropriate to the person and the exploit, with a degree of classic terseness and chastity of ornament suitable to the dignity of that House, which had directed the national thanks to be thus communicated. It so happened, that, by a kind of climax, the last of these speeches was addressed to the Duke
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