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majority of its friends are not reformers; and its necessity is demonstrated by arguments which are wholly unconnected with any change in the frame of Parliament. But it is also a consequence from the principles of representation which we have been endeavouring to establish. The English Catholics are a large and respectable body of men, who do not possess the elective franchise. The class is unrepresented, and possesses no political security for its common interest, which is the enjoyment of religious liberty. The Irish Catholics, indeed, possess the elective franchise; but they are inadequately represented, because they cannot chuse members who, being of the same faith with themselves, have a like interest in defending the free exercise of their religious worship. The Catholics probably form a fifth part of the inhabitants of the British islands. That so great a body should be left without representatives, or restricted from chusing those who are best qualified to guard their highest interest, is not a casual or trivial irregularity, but a great practical evil, and a gross departure from all our ancient principles of representation,
The only matter which remains for consideration, is, whether any change should be made in the Duration of Parliaments. It is here placed last, because it seems to be the Reform which ought to be last in the order of time. As long as every other part of the elective system continues, it is doubtful whether more frequent elections would not rather increase, than diminish, both the power of wealth and the influence of the Crown. It is true that, on the eve of a general election, a septennial Parliament has commonly shown more deference for the opinions of their constituents, than on other occasions. But, on the other hand, the more frequent occurrence of a ruinous expense, would deter prudent and respectable men from offering themselves; and might thus throw a greater number of seats into the hands of adventurers, or of the Court. When the expense of elections, however, is reduced, and the basis of representation widened, we are clearly of opinion that it will be also proper to shorten the duration of Parliament.
The principle of short Parliaments was solemnly declared at the Revolution. On the 29th of January 1689, seven days after the Convention was assembled, the following Resolution was adopted by the House of Commons. Resolved, That a Committee be appointed to bring in general heads of such things as are absolutely necessary to be considered, for the better securing our Religion, Laws, and Liberties.' Of this Committee Mr Somers was one. On the 2d of February, Sir George and for pre
Treby, from the Committee thus appointed, reported the general heads on which they had agreed. The 11th article of these general heads was as follows. That the too long continuance of the same Parliament be prevented.' On the 4th of February it was ordered, That it be referred to the Committee to distinguish such general heads as are introductive of new laws, from those that are declaratory of ancient rights.' On the 7th of the same month, the Committee made their Second Report; and, after going through the declaratory part, which constitutes the Bill of Rights as it now stands, proposed the following, among other clauses, relating to the introduction of new laws. And towards the making a more firm and perfect settlement of the said Religion, Laws, and Liberties, and for remedying several defects and inconveniences; It is proposed and advised by *
Commons, that there be provision, by new laws, made in such manner, and with such limitations, as by the wisdom and justice of Parliament shall be considered and ordained in the particulars; and in particular, and to the purposes following, viz. for preventing venting the too long continuance of the same Parliament.' The articles which required new laws being thus distinguished, It was resolved on the following day, on the motion of Mr Somers, " That it be an instruction to the said Committee, to connect, to the vote of the Lords, such part of the heads passed this House yesterday as are declaratory of ancient rights; leaving out such parts as are introductory of new laws.' The declaratory articles were accordingly formed into the Declaration of Rights; and in that state were, by both Houses, presented to the Prince and Princess of Orange, and accepted by them, with the Crown of England. But the articles introductive of new laws, though necessarily omitted in a Declaration of Rights, had been adopted without a division by the House of Commons; who thus, at the very moment of the Revolution, determined, that a firm and perfect settlement of the Religion, Laws, and Liberties,' required provision by a new law, 'for preventing the too long continuance of the same Parliament.'
But though the principle of New Parliaments was thus solemnly recognised at the Revolution, the time of introducing the new law, the means by which its object was to be attained, and the precise term to be fixed for the Duration of Parliament, were reserved for subsequent deliberation. Attempts were made to give effect to the principle in 1692 and 1699, by a Triennial
* This blank is left for the Lords,' in case of the concurrence of that House. VOL. XXXIV. NO. 68.
Bill. In the former year, it passed both Houses, but did not receive the Royal assent. In the latter, it was rejected by the House of Commons. In 1694, after Sir John Somers was raised to the office of Lord Keeper, the Triennial Bill passed into a law. It was not confined, like the bills under the same title, in the reigns of Charles I. and Charles II., (and with which it is too frequently confounded) to provisions for securing the frequent sitting of Parliament. It for the first time limited their duration. Till the passing of this bill
, Parliament, unless dissolved by the King, might legally have continued till the demise of the Crown, its only natural and necessary termination.
The Preamble* is deserving of serious consideration. “Whereas, by the ancient laws and statutes of this kingdom, frequent Parliaments ought to be held; and whereas frequent and new Parliaments tend very much to the happy union and good agreement of the King and People.' The act then proceeds, in the first section, to provide for the frequent holding of Parliainents, according to the former laws; and in the second and third sections, by enactments which were before unknown to our laws, to direct, that there shall be a new Parliament every three years, and that no Parliament shall have continuance longer than three years at the farthest. Here, as at the time of the Declaration of Rights, the holding of Parliaments is carefully distinguished from their election : The two parts of the Preamble refer separately to each of these objects : The frequent holding of Parliaments is declared to be conformable to the ancient -laws; but the frequent election of Parliament is considered only as a measure highly expedient on account of its tendency to preserve Harmony between the Government and the People.
The principle of the Triennial Act, therefore, seems to be of as high constitutional authority as if it had been inserted in the Bill of Rights itself, from which it was separated only that it might be afterwards carried into effect in a more convenient manner. The particular term of three years is an arrangement of expediency, to which it would be folly to ascribe any great importance. This act continued in force only for twenty years. Its opponents have often expatiated on the corruption and disorder in elections, and the instability in the national councils which prevailed during that period. But the country was then so much disturbed by the weakness of a new government, and the agitation of a disputed succession, that it is impossible to ascertain whether more frequent elections had any share in augmenting the disorder. At the accession of George I. the duration Parliament was extended to seven years, by the famous statute called the Septennial Act, * of which the preamble asserts, that the last provision of the Triennial Act · if it should continue, may probably at this juncture, when a restless and Popish faction are designing and endeavouring to renew the rebellion within this kingdom, and an invasion from abroad, be destructive to the peace and security of the government.' This allegation is now ascertained to have been perfectly true. There is the most complete historical evidence that all the Tories of the kingdom were then engaged in a conspiracy to effect a counter revolution; to wrest from the people all the securities which they had obtained for liberty; to brand them as rebels, and to stigmatise their rulers as usurpers; and to reestablish the principles of slavery, by the restoration of a family, whose claim to power was founded on their pretended authority. It is beyond all doubt, that a general election at that period would have endangered all these objects. In these circumstances the Septennial Act was passed, because it was necessary to secure Liberty. But it was undoubtedly one of the highest exertions of the legislative authority. It was a deviation from the course of the Constitution too extensive in its effects, and too dangerous in its example, to be warranted by motives of political expediency. It could be justified only by the necessity of preserving liberty. The Revolution itself, was a breach of the laws; and it was as. great a deviation from the principles of the Monarchy, as the Septennial Act could be from the Constitution of the House of Commons :-and the latter can only be justified by the same ground of necessity, with that glorious Revolution of which it probably contributed to preserve—(would to God we could say to perpetuate) the inestimable blessings.
* W. & M. VI. c. 2.
It has been said by some, that as the danger was temporary, the law ought to have been passed only for a time, and that it should have been delayed till the approach of a general election should ascertain, whether a change in the temper of the people had not rendered it unnecessary.
But it was necessary, at the instant, to confound the hopes of conspirators, who were then supported and animated by the prospect of a general election; and if any period had been fixed for its duration, it might have weakened its effect, as a declaration of the determined resolution of Parliament to stand or fall with the Revolution.
It is now certain, that the conspiracy of the Tories against the House of Hanover, continued till the last years of the reign of George II. The Whigs, who had preserved the fruits of the Revolution, and upheld the tottering Throne of the Hanoverian Family during half a century, were, in this state of things, un
* 1 Geo. I. st. 2. C. 38.
nal flexibility, may, like the works of nature, perpetuate itself by constant change, and always yield some ground to progressive opinion without struggle or conflict, without humiliation or defeat.
Besides these great ends, it might, in process of time, be subservient to other purposes. A Colonial Representation may one day be considered as a probable means of preserving the unity of the empire.- Such a representation, combined with other means, might also open honourable seats for the monied interest, if measures of reform should be found to have too much narrowed their access to Parliament. If some representatives were in time to be allowed to learned societies, it would not be a greater novelty than the grant of that privilege to the two Universities by James I. If occasion were taken to give an additional member to the University of Dublin, one member to that of Edinburgh, and one to the other Scotch Universities, (the votes of each being proportioned to the number of students), the direct share of science in the national representation would not be enormous. It would be easy to show, by other examples, the use to which the ample fund of forfeited franchise might in time be turned; but the above are perhaps more than enough, where the object is to suggest illustrations of a principle, not parts of a plan.
Our Third head will comprehend a few observations on the representation of Scotland; which, being of a nature quite unlike that of England, requires a separate consideration. The reader will observe, that this question is perfectly distinct from that of a Reform of the Scotch Boroughs, which has been prosecuted by Lord Archibald Hamilton with so much ability and perseverance. The object of the latter is only such an improvement in the election of the Magistrates and Town Councils of the boroughs, as may ensure a right administration of their revenue and police, in which scandalous abuses have been proved to be generally prevalent. It would be a strange objection to such an alteration to say, that it may incidentally, and in a small degree, affect the election of the fifteen Commissioners for Scotch Boroughs. That man must indeed be a sturdy zealot on the side of abuse, who should object to the correction of such acknowledged corruptions, merely because it gave a little influence to the people of these towns in the choice of their members.
In Scotland, there is no popular election : All the Boroughs are in the hands of what would in England be called Close Corpovations. The whole number of voters for the thirty-three Counties of Scotland is about 2700; the greatest number in any