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[Joseph] Hume

Karl Marx

London, February 24. With Hume, the veteran of the House of Commons has died. His long parliamentary life was an accurate barometer of the radical bourgeois party which reached its highest point in 1831. In the initial period of the reformed House[45] a kind of parliamentary Warwick or Member-maker, eight years later he figured with Daniel O'Connell and Feargus O'Connor as one of the originators of the People's Charter[46], which to this day forms the political programme of the Chartists and basically contains only the demand for a universal franchise together with the conditions which would make it a reality in England.

The break between the workers and the bourgeois agitators which soon followed found Hume on the side of the latter. At the time of the Russell Ministry he drafted the "Little Charter", which was adopted by the so-called "parliamentary and financial reformers"[47] as their programme. Instead of the six points of the People's Charter it contains three points and replaces the "universal" franchise by a more or less "enlarged" franchise[a]. Finally, in 1852, Hume proclaimed a new programme in which he even abandoned his "Little Charter" and demanded only one point: elections by ballot[b]. For the rest, Hume was the classical representative of the so-called "independent" opposition, which Cobbett aptly and exhaustively described as the "safety-valve" of the old system. In his last days the habit of proposing motions and then, just before the closure, at the nod of a minister, withdrawing them again, became a veritable mania with him. His flirting with "economising public funds" had become proverbial. Each Ministry allowed him to fight and reduce minor items so as to get the big ones the more safely through the House.

Written on February 24, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 98, February 28, 1855
Marked with the sign x


[a] Hume's speech in the House of Commons on June 20, 1848. Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, third series, Vol. XCIX, London, 1848.—Ed.

[b] Hume's speech in the House of Commons on March 25, 1852. Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, third series, Vol. CXX, London, 1852.—Ed.

[45] This refers to the Reform Bill, passed by the British House of Commons in 1831 and finally approved by the House of Lords in June 1832. It gave the vote to owners and tenants of houses rated at £ 10 or over. The working class and the petty bourgeoisie—the main force in the struggle for reform—were denied suffrage.

[46] The People's Charter, which contained the demands of the Chartists, was published in the form of a Parliamentary Bill on May 8, 1838. It contained six points: universal suffrage (for men of 21 and over), annual parliaments, vote by ballot, equal electoral districts, abolition of the property qualification of MPs and payment of MPs. Petitions urging the adoption of the People's Charter were turned down by Parliament in 1839, 1842 and 1848.

[47] A reference to a radical political trend among the Free Traders which in 1849 founded the National Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association. Its purpose was to agitate for the "Little Charter", a reform bill repeatedly submitted to Parliament by Joseph Hume between 1849 and 1851. In contrast to the People's Charter, it contained three points: voting rights for every tenant of a house or part of a house (Household Suffrage), triennial parliaments, and vote by ballot. By counterposing this programme to the demands of the Chartists while at the same time adopting, in an extremely curtailed form, some of these demands, the bourgeois radicals hoped to gain control of the working masses at a time when the Chartist movement was declining. However, most of the politically active workers, except for the reformist elements in the Chartist movement, including O'Connor's supporters, refused to support the Little Charter. In 1855 the National Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association disintegrated.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.47-48), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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