صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

knowledge, was the principal cause of the civil wars between Charles I. and his Parliament. The Court, blind to the changes which had been produced on public opinion, laid claims to higher authority, at the time when the people were eagerly desirous of a better secured liberty. We are told by Lord Clarendon, that “ Lord Keeper Coventry knew the temper, genius, • and disposition of the country most exactly, and saw their

spirits grow every day more sturdy, inquisitive, and impa

tient, and therefore naturally abhorred all innovations' (on the side of the Crown), “ which he foresaw would produce ruinous effects.' Since the Revolution, a far greater diffusion of property and intelligence has produced a new struggle. Class after class, as they rise to consequence, become ambitious of a larger share of that collective power which the body of the Commons gained from the Crown. While the political public was thus augmenting, the Constitution was confined to its former dimensions. It was not, however, till the great impulse given to English industry, in the middle of the eighteenth century, that the disparity between the old system of representation, and the new state of society, became very remarkable. This was very soon followed by the sudden and enormous growth of the manufacturing towns. Then, for the first time, were seen several of the most important places in the kingdom, without any direct share in the national assembly. The new manufacturing interest itself was left without any additional provision for its adequate representation. The original defect of our representative system, which, while it provided for the influence of great property, and secured a regard to the voice of the multitude, did not allot a sufficient share of power to the middle class, became, in this state of things, more apparent and more humiliating It has been the object of this deduction to show, that the

proposed reform is agreeable to the ancient practice of the Consti-'. jution; that the evil has arisen from the rapid progress of society since the interruption of that practice; and that its revival, under wise regulations, would be a sufficient remedy. If these conclusions be just the safety of this reform cannot be denied. No man who adopts it is bound, by just inference, to support other changes not warranted by the practice of the Constitution. He is not to seek that practice in dark or fabulous periods; he is bound to no principle, but that which has been explicitly and frequently declared by the Legislature itself,—that it is expedient to connect all our great communities with the national representation. In paying up the arrears of a representation, unrevised for a century and a half, it is not proposed VOL. XXXIV. NO. 68.

Hh

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

* = Dira TirreTELE="err322bre. J: bar, rebre ese ti ziree 5257 UITS, de acuerdos DO

sus presente : size biec. sch 6,5076er Fetis, cues

"

, F? Onse C Tere cost be a 'te7522.30erainerinaecise TSES,

ba: fa 2754 bercintaane aed ate DOS pane kaznesc prre dangercas ad de

segons to a fer rotetoras. Pittal fembo are rg: determined enemies to a! Re. firm, -!l daar te sicts cibe a'rerad a here proposed, grua te troos that it has fred and ble boundare,

diss u..connected with a prieces of indefinite charge it may, and doubis be reacted bf mans opponers of iration as unnecessary, and by Gans zealous reformers as in'idequate.

It is mail, that the local interests of the unrepresented towns are as fuiy made kno%), and as uniformis protected in the Iluse of Conors, as those of cher places; that due weight has almat, heen allowed to their sentiments on national quesLions; and that the prodigicus increase of the power of public opinion, bas procured, for every portion of the people, that degree of influence on Parliamentary proceedings, which, in forTerapes, they could have obtained only through the channel of direct representation. The petitions of Birmingham and Manchester, it is contended, are as warmly supported, and as fully considered, as those of Liverpool and Bristol: and the political sentiments of Yorkshire have always been more regarded than those of Cornwall.— Although the representation has continued unchanged, the course of circumstances has given a share of influence on the measures of Parliament, to each class and district, proportioned to its relative importance.

In answer to these arguments, it is not necessary to deny that they have a foundation in truth. It must be admitted, that the labitual regard necessarily paid by the Body of the House of Commons to the whole people, has, in practice, corrected many of the defects of inadequate representation.

The influence

which the collected opinion of an enlightened nation must possess over a legislative assembly of sufficient numbers, deliberating in public, and originating in any degree from the people, is no doubt a considerable substitute for popular election. It may be added, that opinion is a flexible instrument, which ascertains the real value of the sentiments of each class, according to the nature of the question, and the circumstances of the time, with an exactness and delicacy not to be attained by any permanent distribution of representatives.

These observations are sufficient to show, that the members of a legislative assembly ought not to consider themselves, as delegates from districts, bound by the instructions of their own constituents

. They show also the convenience of so framing, the election of a certain portion of the members, as to render them less susceptible of local influence, more impartial, more in fact, what all are in law, the representatives of the whole people.

But the useful influence of public opinion, will not be weaker under the amended representation than it is at present. There will still remain many defects for it to supply, and many irregularities to correct. Can a prudent friend of the Establishment really think that it is consistent with wise policy, to exclude men from the appearance of power, because they have gained a great deal of the reality? Democratical ascendency exists in its most dangerous form, when numerous bodies have acquired great strength from circumstances, and derived no political power from the Constitution. The holder of a legal franchise becomes attached to the Government. A man who possesses importance, without a franchise, is apt to imagine that he has grown strong, in spite of adverse laws. Our ancient policy did not trust the preservation of order and liberty to those general pripciples of morality which, in all countries, influence the conduct of good citizens; it bound all classes, by ties of pride and attachment, to a system which bestowed important privileges on all. As every new class arose, it was fastened to the Government by these constitutional links. This policy left no class politically powerful, who did not visibly draw their power from the Constitution.

The elective franchise, when considered with respect to the whole community, is indeed chiefly valuable, as a security for good government. But, in relation to individuals, it may be regarded as an honorary distinction,—the object of their natural and legitimate ambition, which they pursue with eagerness, and exercise with pleasure. Its refusal without nécessity mortifies or irritates. Those feelings are still more natural, to intelligent

it. But the excess of this ministerial influence endangers, instead of securing the Monarchy. The only danger to which that form of government can ever be exposed among us, is its becoming unpopular, and being thought inconsistent with liberty.

The House of Commons itself has also need of being strengthened by popularity. The ascendant which that assembly has acquired since the Revolution, has been attended with one change, which may ultimately prove fatal to its power. In becoming a governing senate, it necessarily lost much of the character of a popular representative. That national support which rendered it irresistible in all the struggles of the last century, was gradually withdrawn, and at length converted into a jealousy; of which, power, wherever it is seated, is the proper object. To be a part of a government, and a check on it, are things which it is very difficult to reconcile. That assembly, as exercising their power, and as a political council

, early and often forgot their old province as a House of Commons. Fifty years ago it was said by Mr Burke, that it could not then, to any

popular purpose, be called a House of Commons. ' * In succeeding times, the deviations from their original character became greater and more frequent; and of late years, whether from their own fault, or from the skill and malice of their enemies, it can no longer be asserted that their power is founded on the confidence and attachment of the people. If this state of things should continue, their apparent strength will not long conceal their real weakness. The decay of their power will soon become visible, and it will perish in the first struggle. It will prove alike incapable of controlling the Crown, or of protecting it against the violence of the multitude. A House of Commons from which the people is long detached, cannot ultimately preserve even its existence. Against these dangers, the House of Commons can have no safety but from a new infusion of that popular spirit which once enabled them to resist and depose kings, and call new royal families to the Throne. In losing popular attachment, they have lost the only solid foundation of their power: They can recover their strength only by renewing their alliance with the nation, and multiplying the ties that connect them with the people at large.

Many of the zealous reformers will doubtless consider this addition to the popular representation as inconsiderable, and inadequate to the correction of the evils which they discover in our government. In point of mere numbers, it is certainly not very considerable; but other circumstances are, in these cases,

* Burke's Works, vol. i. p. 464, quarto Ed.

more important than numbers. Twen:y members, of popular talents and character, representing the most populous districts in England, and depending for their seats on popular favour, would greatly strengthen the democratical principles in the House of Commons. It would be a substantial addition to the power of the people. Whoever considers the talent, zeal and activity, which must belong to these new members, will soon discover that their number would form a most inadequate measure of their strength.

Those who would undervalue this concession, would do well to consider how much more they are likely to gain, without paying too high a price for it. Do they expect that much more will be granted, under the auspices of a constitutional administration,--with the acquiescence of the proprietory classes, -and by the lawful authority of Parliament? Can they hope to obtain more at the present time, consistently with public quiet, the maintenance of the Constitution, the execution of the Laws, and the security of Property and Life?

The Second part of our Plan, would be the adoption of more effectual means for the disfranchisement of delinquent boroughs. This is a part of the subject, on which the principles are very evident;

but the means of carrying them into effect are not so clear. The elective franchise is a political right, conferred on individuals for the public advantage: As such, it may be withdrawn for adequate reasons of general interest.. But it is also a privilege and advantage to the holder; of which, without strong reasons, he is not to be deprived. It holds a middle station between office and property: like the former, it is a trust; but it is one which ought not easily or often to be withdrawn. On the other hand, as the advantage of the holder is only one of its secondary objects, it has not the sacred and inviolable nature of Property. 'Ü'he supreme power which gave it, may withdraw it-not indeed on light grounds, but without either that degree of delinquency, or that sort of evidence, which might be required in the forfeiture of a purely private right. It is not, either in principle or prudence, variable at will; nor is the Legislature bound, in its abrogation, to observe the rules of courts of judicature.

The disfranchisement of those boroughs which have been proved to abuse their franchise, is therefore founded on constitutional principles, as well as warranted by modern practice. Where corruption has prevailed to such an extent, and under such circumstances, as to render it possible that its prevalence would be permanent, Parliament has in recent times adopted measures, which produced practical effects nearly similar to

« السابقةمتابعة »