« السابقةمتابعة »
precedent, by a very reprehensible dissolution : But in 1807, its full consequences were unfolded. The House of Commons was then openly threatened with dissolution, if a majority should vote against Ministers; and in pursuance of this threat, the Parliament was actually dissolved. From that moment, the new prerogative of penal dissolution was added to all the other means of Ministerial influence: Every man who now votes against Ministers, endangers his seat by his vote. Ministers have acquired a power, in many cases more important than that of bestowing honours or rewards. It now rests with them to determine, whether Members shall sit securely for four or five years longer, or be instantly sent to their constituents, at the moment when the most violent, and perhaps the most unjust prejudice has been excited against them. The security of seats in Parliament is made to depend on the subserviency of majorities.
Of all the silent revolutions which have materially changed the English Government, without any alteration in the letter of the law, there is, perhaps, none more fatal to the Constitution than this power of penal dissolution, thus introduced by Mr Pitt, and strengthened by his followers: And it is the more dangerous, because it is hardly capable of being counteracted by direct laws. The prerogative of dissolution, being a mean of defence on sudden emergencies, is scarcely to be limited by law. There is, however, an indirect, but effectual mode of meeting its abuse. By shortening the ration of Parliaments, the punishment of dissolution will be divested of its terrors. While its . defensive power will be unimpaired, its efficacy, as a means of influence, will be nearly destroyed. The attempt to reduce Parliament to a greater degree of dependence, will thus be defeated; due reparation be made to the Constitution; and future Ministers taught, by a useful example of just retaliation, that hae Crown is not likely to be finally the gainer, in struggles to convert a necessary prerogative into a means of unconstitutional influence.
We endeavoured, on a former occasion, to prove by arguments, of which we have yet seen no refutation, that Universal Suffrage would be an institution hostile to liberty; that lawgivers chosen by all might naturally disregard important interests of society, or oppress great classes of men : while a representative assembly, elected by considerable bodies of all classes, must generally prove a faithful and equal guardian of the rights and interests of all men. We have now endeavoured to show, that the English representation was actually founded on these first principles of political theory: That the tendency of that
* Edinburgh Review, Vol. XXVIII. p. 165.
superior, is the voter. Superiority to which the right of suffrage is annexed, may be entirely separated from any beneficial interest in the land. Votes, in right of land, may thus be possessed by those who are not landholders. Many voters in most counties in Scotland are in this predicament; and there does not seem to be any legal impediment, except in the case of entailed estates, to the universal separation of the right of suffrage from the property of the soil. In proposing a remedy for this case, it would be wise to give no disturbance to established rights, and to allow the present Freeholders to retain their suffrage. It would be perhaps sufficient, in addition to them, to give the right of voting to all proprietors of land of a certain value, whatever their tenure might be. The present qualification of commissioners of supply, (i. e. commissioners of the land tax), which is about fol. Sterling a year, might be adopted, in the case of the new freeholders.
In the boroughs, it might be sufficient, if the right of voting at the election of the town-council were, in towns above a certain population, to be vested in those burgesses who occupy tenements of a yearly rent to be specially fixed. In that case, the right of chusing delegates to elect the members, might continue as at present; and provision might be made to give that permanency to the power of the magistrates, which the duties of that office require. . In those inconsiderable villages, which form the majority of the Scotch boroughs, it may be doubted whether the resident burgesses could be moulded into a good constituent body. In great cities, such for example as Edinburgh, where the more considerable inhabitants are seldom burgesses, some share of privilege might be bestowed on such householders as occupied tenements of double or treble the yearly rent, which should be fixed on as the qualification of burgesses.
In returning to English representation, the means of reducing the expense of elections, form a separate and very important branch of the subject. In all elections, great expense aids the natural power of the highest wealth; and in the same proportion, lessens both the importance of the smaller proprietors, and the efficacy of public opinion. The power of great property is indeed a principle of liberty, as well as of order. It opposes a sort of hereditary tribuneship to the Crown, and it furnishes a body of mild magistrates, whose natural and almost unfelt authority often prevents the necessity of legal restraint, or military interference. But this useful power, which must always be strong, in proportion as liberty is secure, may be car
violence, and attended by a total change in the fundamental laws of a commonwealth, have a natural tendency to throw a power into the hands of their leaders, which, however disguised, must in truth be unlimited and dictatorial. The restraints of law and usage necessarily cease. The factious among the partisans of the revolution, and the animosity of those whom it has degraded or despoiled, can seldom be curbed by a gentler hand than that of absolute power; and there is no situation of human affairs, in which there are stronger temptations to those arbitrary measures of which the habit alike unfits rulers and nations from performing their parts in the system of liberty.
If, on the other hand, a plan of Constitutional Reform were heartily adopted by an Administration, it might reasonably be hoped that the benefits of such an adoption would extend beyond the immediate effects of the Reform itself. It would be a pledge that the Ministers who adopted it, would carry a liberal, popular, and reforming spirit into every branch of their Administration; that they would not only practise economy and retrenchment, and observe moderation in enforcing, as well as lenity in executing the laws, but employ the utmost . zeal in all subordinate, though important improvements; that they would undertake the reform of the Criminal, and, where necessary, of the Civil Code; that they would begin the gradual abolition of restraints on Industry and Commerce; and complete the still unfinished fabric of Religious Liberty. Such a Government, which must derive its chief hopes of strength from popular support, would honestly desire to consult the opinions, and, as far as possible, to satisfy the wishes of the people. A fair trial would then be made, whether the people could be conciliated by confidence, and would support a Government that put its trust in them. On the issue of the experiment, the existence of such an Administration must depend. By its failure, the situation of the country could hardly be made worse than it now is. By its success, the King of England, reinstated in the hearts of his people, at the head of a contented and united nation, would resume his high station in the system of Europe, and, as became a Constitutional Monarch, mediate with decisive effect between the contending powers of Revolution and Despotism; instead of beholding, as at present, the strength of this great nation palsied by internal distractions; his Ministers, despised by his Royal Allies for inability to aid them; and their professions of neutrality scorned by those nations struggling for liberty, who see English Councils still directed by members of the Congress of Vienna.
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 adyenturers, 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 1693, by a Triennial
* This blank is left for the Lords,' in case of the concurrence of that House. VOL. XXXIV. NO. 68.