صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

. For remedy thereof, it may please your Highness, that it may be enacted, that, from the end of this present session, the

said county-palatine shall have two Knights for the said counv ty-palatine, and likewise two Citizens to be burgesses for the • city of Chester.' .

The statute enabling Durham to send knights and burgesses to Parliament, which has been less frequently quoted, is still more explicit on the purposes of the present argument.

Whereas the inhabitants of the said county-palatine of Dur< ham have not hitherto had the liberty and privilege of electing s and sending any knights and burgesses to the High Court of « Parliament, although the inhabitants of the said county-palas tine are liable to all payments, rates and subsidies granted by * Parliament, equally with the inhabitants of other counties, • cities and boroughs in this kingdom, who have their knights

and burgesses in the Parliament, and are therefore concerned * equally with others the inhabitants of this kingdom to have

knights and burgesses in the said High Court of Parliament, ? of their own election, to represent the condition of their couno ty, as the inhabitants of other counties, cities and boroughs

of this kingdom have.... Wherefore, be it enacted, that the

said county-palatine of Durham may have two knights for the * same county, and the city of Durham two citizens to be bur

gesses for the same city, for ever hereafter, to serve in the • High Court of Parliament.... The elections of the knights " to serve for the said county, from time to time hereafter, to be

made by the greater number of freeholders of the said county. palatine, which from time to time shall be present at such elec

tions, accordingly as is used in other counties in this your M&

jesty's kingdom ; and that the election of the said burgesses . for the city of Durham, to be made from time to time by the • the major part of the mayor, aldermen, and freemen of the " said city of Durham, which from time to time shall be pre• sent at such elections.'

This statute does not, like the Chester Act, allege that any specific evil had arisen from the previous want of representatives : But it recognises, as a general principle of the English constitution, that the interests of every unrepresented district are in danger of being overlooked or sacrificed; and that the inhabitants of such districts are therefore interested to have knights and burgesses in Parliament, of their own election, to represent the condition of their county.'

This principle is, in effect, as applicable to towns as to counties. The town of Newcastle had then as evident an interest in the welfare of the county of Durham, as the county of Warwick kan now have in the prosperity of the town of Birmingham; but the members for Newcastle were not considered, by this statute, as sufficient guardians of the prosperity of the county of Durham. Even the knights who were to serve for the county, were not thought to dispense with the burgesses to serve for the city. As we have before observed, the distinct interests of country and town were always, on such occasions, provided for by our an. cestors; and a principle was thereby established, that every great community, with distinct interests, ought to have separate representatives.

It is also observable, that the right of suffrage is not given to all the inhabitants, nor even to all the taxable inhabitants, but to the freeholders of the county, and freemen of the city,-- who have a common interest and fellow-feeling with the whole. As these electors were likely to partake the sentiments of the rest of the inhabitants, and as every public measure must affect both classes alike, the members chosen by such a part of the people were considered as virtually representing all. The claim to representation is acknowledged as belonging to all districts and communities, to all classes and interests, -but not to all men. Some degree of actual election was held necessary to virtual representation. The guardians of the interest of the county were to be, to use the language of the Preamble, of their own election ;' though it evidently appears from the enactments, that these words imported only an election by a considerable portion of them. It is also to be observed, that there is no trace in this act, of a care to proportion the number of the new representatives to the population of the district, though a very gross deviation on either side would probably have been avoided.

When we speak of principles on this subject, we are not to be understood as ascribing to them the character of rules of law, or of axioms of science. They were maxims of constitutional policy, to which there is a visible, though not a uniform reference in the acts of our forefathers. They were more or less regarded, according to the character of those who directed the public councils. The wisest and most generous men made the nearest approaches to their observance; but in the application of these, as well as of all other political máxims, it was often necessary to yield to circumstances, to watch for opportunities, to consult the temper of the people, the condition of the country, and the dispositions of powerful leaders. It is from want of due regard to considerations like these, that the theory of the English representation has, of late vears, been disfigured by various and opposite kinds of reasoners. Some refuse to acknowledge any principles on this subject, but those most general considerations of expediency and

we are ;

moterm relectieve to whicience. mom the core

abstract justice, which are applicable to all governments, and to every situation of mankind. But these remote principles shed too faint a light to guide us on our path ; and can seldom be directly applied with any advantage to human affairs. Others represent the whole Constitution, as contained in the written laws; and treat every principle as vague or visionary, which is not sanctioned by some legal authority. A third class, considering (rightly) the representation as originating only in usage, and incessantly though insensibly altered in the course of time, erroneously infer, that it is altogether a matter of coarse and confused practice, incapable of being reduced to any theory. The truth is, however, that out of the best parts of that practice have gradually arisen a body of ma. xims, which guide our judgment in each particular case; and which, though beyond the letter of the law, are better defined, and more near the course of business, than general notions of expediency or justice. They are often disregarded, and never rigorously adhered to. They have no support but a general conviction, growing with experience, of their fitness and value. The mere speculator disdains them as beggarly details the mere lawyer asks for the statute or case on which they rest

the mere practical politician scorns them as airy visions. But these intermediate maxims constitute the principles of the British constitution, as distinguished, on the one hand, from abstract notions of government, and, on the other, from the provisions of law, or the course of practice. • Civil knowledge,' says Lord Bacon, "is, of all others, the most immersed in mat- »

ter, and the hardliest reduced to axioms.' Politics, therefore, if it should ever be reduced to a science, will require the greatest number of intermediate laws, to connect its most general principles with the variety and intricacy of the public concerns; but in every branch of knowledge, we are told by the samé great master, * that while generalities are barren, and • the multiplicity of single facts present nothing but confusion, • the middle principles alone are solid, orderly, and fruitful.';

The nature of virtual representation may be illustrated by the original controversy between Great Britain and America. The Americans alleged, perhaps untruly, that being unrepresented, they could not legally be taxed. They added, with truth, that being unrepresented, they ought not constitutionally to be taxed : But they defended this true position, on a ground untenable in argument. They sought for the Constitution in the works of abstract reasoners, instead of searching for it in its own ancient and uniform practice. They were told, that virtual, not

* Novum Organum.

actual representation, was the principle of the constitution; and that they were as much' virtually represented as the majority of the people of England: And in answer to this, they denied that virtual representation was a constitutional principle, instead of denying the fact, that they were virtually represented. Had they chosen the latter ground, their case would have been unanswerable. The unrepresented part of England could not be taxed, without taxing the represented. The laws affected alike the Members who passed them, their constituents, and the rest of the people. On the contrary, separate laws might be, and were made for America; separate taxes might be, and were laid on her. The case of that country, therefore, was the very reverse of virtual representation. Instead of identity, there was a contrariety of apparent interest. The English landholder was to be relieved by an American revenue. The prosperity of the English manufacturer was supposed to depend on a monopoly of the American market. Such a system of governing a great nation, was repugnant to the principles of a constitution which had solemnly pronounced, that the people of the small territories of Chester and Durham, could not be virtually represented without some share of actual representation. I

It may be doubted, whether the common opinion that the Treaty of Union took away the ancient prerogative of granting the elective franchise, can be maintained on grounds of law.

The letter of the Treaty is silent. The Crown could hardly be deprived of such a prerogative by mere implication; and it might as well perhaps be inferred, from its provisions, that it restrained the King from adding to the number of British Peers, as that it disabled him from adding new members to the House of Commons. It may be doubted, whether the power is legally abolished : But the attempt to resume the exercise of so great and dangerous a power, otherwise than by consent of Parliament, would undoubtedly be unconstitutional; and the minister who advised it would deserve to be impeached. Since its disuse, the Constitution has in other modes shown its tendency, on fit occasions, to promote the ascendant of the more important: interests in the House of Commons. When it became neces.sary, at the treaty of Union, to reduce the number of Scotch menibers in the Parliament of Great Britain, the representatives of the boroughs were reduced from sixty-six to fifteen. The principal towns were unfortunately not selected (as afterwards in Ireland); but the whole were divided into districts, according to the example of Cromwell's parliaments. When the like necessity arose in the case of Ireland, a similar regard was shown to the representation, both of property and numbers.

Sixty-four knights of the shire remained as before. The cities of Dublin and Cork continued to elect two citizens for each. Thirty-one towns next in importance, and the University of Dublin, were each reduced from two members to one; and the reinaining one hundred boroughs were entirely deprived of their parliamentary franchise. This measure, combined with the grant of the elective franchise to Catholics in 1793, introduced a Parliamentary Reform into Ireland which wants little to be complete, except the admissibility of Catholics to Parliament, and to the higher offices of the State.

This rare exercise of the power of reformation, was, however, more valuable as a declaration of constitutional principle, than as a substitute for the ancient prerogative. The period of the disuse of that prerogative was in one respect singularly remarkable. The want of it would have been little felt in ancient times : for few changes then occurred which called for its exercise. The progress of the nation in numbers and wealth was then extremely slow; the establishment of industry in new seats was a rare occurrence; the change in the condition and importance of various classes of men was so gradual as scarcely to be remarked by contemporary observers. Had no such prerogative existed, the only consequence, as far as relates to the present view of the subject, would have been, that five or six considerable towns, not of the first class, would have been without representatives. Since the disuse of the prerogative, on the contrary, the progress of population and riches has been more rapid, and the change in the relative importance of different classes of society greater than during any equal period in the history of the world. Villages have since sprung up into immense cities; great manufactures have spread over wastes and mountains; ease, comfort and leisure, have introduced, among the middling classes of society, their natural companions, curiosity, intelligence, boldness, and activity of mind. A much greater proportion of the collective knowledge and wealth of the nation has thus fallen to their lot. But the power of establishing some proportion between political rights and social importance, was no longer exercised. Their constitutional privileges were not increased with their consequence in the community. The Constitution no longer opened her arms to receive rising classes and communities into her bosom, as she might have done in preceding ages. The regulator dropt from the representative system, at the very moment when its action was most necessary to make the frame of the government conform to the changes in society.

The struggles of the Commons of England to possess a share of political power, proportioned to their share of property and

« السابقةمتابعة »