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The state of our representation being probably about to be considered in the ensuing Session of Parliament, there will be a natural disposition in many minds to take a survey of some of the other systems of representative government which, equally with our own, have for their object the establishment of a rational freedom.
Such representative governments are indeed but few. The hopes formed during upwards of thirty years of peace were dissipated (it is to be hoped only for a time) by the events of 1848; and the civilised world has been compelled to mourn over the failure of nearly all the attempts then made to add to the number of free governments, or to widen the foundations of liberty in those that did exist.
Into the much-disputed question of the causes of those failures, it is not my present purpose to enter. Suffice it to say, that whoever has made them the subject of impartial study, must have found those latter years of continental history fertile in warnings as to the peril of delay when the season for salutary reform is fully come, and abounding in examples of the greater fault, of ruining all the hopes of temperate and reasonable ameliorations, by presumption, precipitancy, or personal ambition.
The instances on the continent of Europe in which the national liberties have for the first time emerged out of the struggles of the last six years, or have been extended and fortified by them, are but few; and we could scarcely expect to derive from those cases, or from the other constitutional governments of the Continent, instruction upon the particular points which are soon about to occupy us here. The course of those changes on the Continent has indeed been watched attentively in this country, and with much public sympathy; and it has been satisfactory to observe that where success has been greatest in the new career of freedom, as in Sardinia, it has arisen from the fact that her social arrangements have enabled her to adopt political institutions most nearly resembling our own. Belgium and Holland have derived strength and confidence from the danger which at one time threatened them; and their free governments have been found to rest on a secure basis of patriotism and public spirit. Denmark, still occupied in adjusting her constitutional powers, has maintained the integrity of her territory, and has won for herself a high place in the estimation of Europe by her loyal, brave, and constitutional stand against aggression.* Norway, depending on her strong
* The battle of Idsted, in which, in 1851, the small Danish army defeated and destroyed the forces of the Frankfort Parliament, “recruited by many thousands of volunteers from the Prussian Army, and led by many of the most distinguished military men in Prussia, lent by the Prussian Government for the occasion,” is said by military authorities to have been the most scientific battle fought since the peace of 1815. (Laing's Denmark and the Duchies. 1852.)
national feeling for the preservation of institutions which suit her circumstances, has remained unassailed, Sweden has not yet entered upon the long-projected amendments of her cumbrous political system. Prussia, together with the smaller German States, are still in the leading-strings of Bureaucracy, and have yet much to do towards attaining a well-regulated liberty, worthy of the great German people. Spain and Portugal have made no very apparent progress towards infusing the true spirit of freedom into the forms of free government, which have hitherto in their hands been little more than instruments of arbitrary power and bad faith. Over the rest of Europe, from the Pyrenees to the Carpathians, the experience that had been gathered, and the hopes that had been formed of constitutional liberty, have for the time been overwhelmed and scattered, and men have now to wait the growth of maturer councils, or of that solidity and strength of moral character, and that temper and self-restraint in political action, without which the framework of constitutional government serves but the purposes ruption or oppression.
If from none of the above we are likely to derive political lessons of any great value to ourselves at this particular moment, when we are about again to pass in review our own political arrangements with the expectation of amending some few of them, we naturally turn next to the great community on the other side of the Atlantic.
We are led to ask whether the new form of free government, established in the United States in 1789,