1. "Great stress is laid upon the general opinion of the people, as being in favour of an extensive Reform [of Parliament], but his Majesty very much doubts whether there be sufficient ground for this conclusion. He cannot consider public meetings as a just criterion of the sentiments of the people."
William IV to his Prime Minister, Earl Grey, 4 Feb. 1831.
2. " the impression of the vulgar, that is the vast mass of mankind of the highest of the lowest station, cannot be disregarded in politics "
Sir Robert Peel to Lord Harrowby, Feb. 5 1832.
3. "In sober sadness I must say that the House is very little solicitous respecting the popular feelings; that the members as a body have no sympathy with the people, and were it not that they believe that the people have a somewhat greater control than formerly over the electors, we should have them following a course exactly similar to that of the borough-mongers of heretofore."
J.A.Roebuck, M.P., "Extracts from the Diary of an M.P.", Tait's Edinburgh Magazine (July 1833), p. 53.
4. "If you think that a man can say a thing in the House of Commons because he thinks it, you are mistaken the House is not the arena where questions of public interest are substantially deliberated on and determined. It is only the laggard register of the edict of the community. It is by agitation among the people only that any public question is finally advanced, though the House will continue to be the necessary secondary instrument."
Thomas Perronet Thompson, M.P., Letters of a Representative, Feb. 15 1837.
5. " the judgement of public opinion - .. the judgement of those calm and reasonable men who read and think, who enquire and judge for themselves "
Thomas Spring Rice, M.P., "The Present State and Conduct of Parties," Edinburgh Review, (April 1840), p. 281.
6. "In these days, the voice of the people, when constitutionally expressed, must be attended to by the government of the day, be it for good or be it for evil. The ministry may be well intentioned, but their good intentions will not avail them, unless they are supported out of doors."
Durham Advertiser, 23 June 1843, p. 2, col. 3.
7. " The Times, barometer of public feeling "
Memorandum by Prince Albert, 7th Dec. 1845.
8. "In an age of freedom, of free thought, free speech, and free writing, there is a power which all legislation must be the anti-type, even where it is not the vassal. Public opinion - not as expounded by the mob-orators of Clerkenwell-green [i.e. the Chartists], nor by organised confederations of a mercenary staff [i.e. the Anti-Corn Law League] - but public opinion as it is formed by the independent, the educated, and the honest members of the community - by that large and influential body of men who are engaged in the trade, the commerce, the professions and the literature of the country - that is which permeate legislative assemblies, giving impulse to their movement, and vitality to their action.
The Times, 31 May 1848, p. 5, col. 2.
9. "One of the rarest, and most difficult, yet at the same time one of the most necessary, qualifications of a statesman in a popular government like that of Great Britain, is the faculty of discerning what the nation really desires and thinks; of distinguishing between the intelligent and the unintelligent public opinion, - between the orators and the organs that have weight, and those that have none - between the voice which is influential, and the voice which is only loud - in a word, between the popular pronunciamento which it would be weakness and wickedness to listen to, and that which it would be unpardonable to disregard, and idle to dream of opposing."
W.R. Greg, "The Expected Reform Bill," Edinburgh Review (Jan. 1852), p. 233.
9. "The Radical party [in Parliament] talks very much nearly the thoughts of the masses; but we know, assuredly, that its legislative results, direct or indirect, are very limited."
E.M.Whitty, St. Stephen's in the Fifties; the Session 1852-53, p. 20.
10. "There is no security for the proper exercise of political functions, unless it be that security which public opinion affords."
Lord Palmerston, speaking on Henry Berkeley's motion to introduce the secret ballot, House of Commons, June 8 1858.
11. "You must not expect the Government to be in advance of the people. You have a right to demand that they shall carry out that policy which public opinion requires, but you will never see an administration in England that is prepared to do more, because if they attempted to do what public opinion will not sanction or support, failure is inevitable, and they very likely damage the measures they intended to promote, more by premature legislation that by waiting until public opinion is duly formed. No measure worth anything can be passed by the Government through the Legislature of this country, unless the people back it.
T.Milner Gibson's speech, seeking re-election at Ashton under Lyme, 25 June 1859.
12. "There is a fashionable phrase now that everything is inevitable, and that every event is the production of a commanding force of Nature which human will cannot resist. The despotism of public opinion is in everybody's mouth. But I should like to know, when we are called upon to bow to this public opinion, who will define public opinion?"
Lord Beaconsfield [Benjamin Disraeli] speech in the House of Lords, 3 August 1880.
For further reading, see (among many others):
|David Brown||"The Power of Public Opinion; Palmerston and the Crisis of 1851," Parliamentary History, xx, part 3 (2001), pp. 338-58.|
|Miles Taylor||"John Bull and the Iconography of Public Opinion in England, c. 1712-1929," Past and Present, no. 134 (Feb. 1992), pp. 93-128.|
and for a slightly earlier period
|Dror Wahrman||"Public Opinion, violence, and the limits of constitutional politics," in James Vernon (ed.) Re-Reading the Constitution [Cambridge, 1996], pp. 83-122.|
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