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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.
At the accession of George I. the duration of 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 stigmatize their rulers as usurpers; and to re-establish 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 politi,cal 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.
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, unwilling to repeal a law, for which the reasons had not entirely ceased. The hostility of the Tories to the Protestant succession was not extinguished, till the appearance of their leaders at the court
of King George the Third, proclaimed to the world their bope, that Jacobite principles might reascend the throne of England, with a monarch of the house of Brunswick.
The effects of the Septennial Act on the constitution, were materially altered in the late reign, by an innovation in the exercise of the prerogative of dissolution. This important prerogative is the buckler of the monarchy—it is intended for great emergencies, when its exercise may be the only means of averting immediate danger from the throne,- it is strictly a defensive right. As no necessity arose under the two first Georges for its defensive exercise, it lay during that period in a state of almost total inactivity. It was exercised without any political object, and, as it seems, merely for the purpose of selecting the most convenient seasons for election. Only one parliament under these two princes was dissolved till its seventh year. The same inoffensive maxims were pursued during the early part of the reign of George the Third. For the first time, in the year 1784, the power of dissolution, hitherto reserved for the defence of the monarchy, was employed to support the power of an administration. The majority of the house of commons had, in 1782, driven one administration from office, and compelled another to retire. The right of the house of commons to interpose, with decisive weight, in the choice of ministers, as well as the adoption of measures, seemed by these vigorous exertions, to be finally established. George the Second had, indeed, often been compelled to receive ministers whom he hated; but his successor, more tenacious of his prerogative, and more inflexible in his resentment, did not so easily brook the subjection to which he thought himself about to be reduced. In 1784, he again saw his ministers threatened with expulsion, by a majority of the house of com
He found a prime minister, who, trusting to his popularity, ventured to make common cause with the king, and to brave that parliamentary disapprobation to which the prudence or principle of boih his predecessors had induced them to yield. Mr. Pitt persisted in holding office, in defiance of the opinions of a majority of the house of commons. He thus established a precedent, which, if followed, would have deprived that body of the advantages it had gained in the two preceding reigns. Not content with this great victory, he proceeded, by a dissolution of parliament, to inflict such an exemplary punishment on the same majority, as might deter all future majorities from following their dangerous example.
The ministers of 1806 gave some countenance to Mr. Pitt's precedent, by a very reprehensible dissolution : But in 1807, its full consequences were unfolded. The house of commods 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
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 duration of parliaments, the punishment of dissolution will be devested 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 the crown is not likely to be finally the gainer, in struggles to convert a necessary prerogative into a means of unconstitutional influence.
Moderate reformers have been asked, by the most formidable of their opponents, at what period of history was the house of commons in the state to which you wish to restore it ?a An answer may now be given to that triumphant question. Had the object of the moderate reformer been total change, he might be called upon to point out some former state of the representation, which he would in all respects prefer to the present. But it is a part of his principle, that the institutions of one age, can never be entirely suitable to the condition of another. It was well said by an English politician of keen and brilliant wit, that neither king nor people would now like just the original constitution, without any varyings.' It is sufficient for the 'Whig, or moderate reformer,' (for Mr. Canning has joined them, and we do not
a Mr. Canning's Speech at Liverpool, p. 45.
wish to put them asunder,) to point out a period when the constitution was in one respect better, inasmuch as it possessed the means of regulating and equalising the representation. Its return to the former state, in that particular only, would be sufficient for the attainment of all his objects.
If no conciliatory measures on this subject be adopted, there is great reason to apprehend that the country will be reduced to the necessity of choosing between different forms of despotism. For it is certain, that the habit of maintaining the forms of the constitution by a long system of coercion and terror, must convert it into an absolute monarchy. It is equally evident, from history and experience, that revolutions, effected by 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.
If, on the other hand, a plan of constitutional reform be adopted, the 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. -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 people, would resume his high station in the system of Europe ; 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.
ART. VII. 1. Whitelaw's History of the City of Dublin. 4to.
Cadell & Davies. 2. Observations on the State of Ireland, principally directed to
its Agricultural and Rural Population ; in a Series of Letters, written on a Tour through that Country. In 2 vols. By J.
C. CURWEN, Esq. M. P. London, 1818. 3. Gamble's Views of Society in Ireland.
These are all the late publications that treat of Irish interests in general,—and none of them are of first-rate importance. Mr. Gamble's Travels in Ireland are of a very ordinary description
low scenes and low humour making up the principal part of the narrative. There are readers, however, whom it will amuse; and the reading market becomes more and more extensive, and embraces a greater variety of persons every day. Mr. Whitelaw's History of Dublin is a book of great accuracy and research, highly creditable to the industry, good sense, and benevolence of its author. Of the Travels of Mr. Christian Curwen, we hardly know what to say. He is bold and honest in his politics-a great enemy to abuses-vapid in his levity and pleasantry, and infinitely too much inclined to declaim upon commonplace topics of morality and benevolence. But with these drawbacks, the book is not ill written; and may be advantageously read by those who are desirous of information upon the present state of Ireland.
So great, and so long has been the misgovernment of that country, that we verily believe the empire would be much stronger, if every thing was open sea between England and the Atlantic, and if skates and codfish swam over the fair land of Ulster. Such jobbing, such profligacy-so much direct tyranny and oppression—such an abuse of God's gifts—such a profanation of God's name for the purposes of bigotry and party spirit, cannot be exceeded in the history of civilized Europe, and will long remain a monument of infamy and shame to England. But it will be more useful to suppress the indignation which the very name of Ireland inspires, and to consider impartially those causes which have marred this fair portion of the creation, and kept it wild and savage in the midst of improving Europe.
The great misfortune of Ireland is, that the mass of the people have been given up for a century to a handful of Protestants, by whom they have been treated as Helots, and subjected to every species of persecution and disgrace. The sufferings of the Catholics have been so loudly chanted, in the very streets, that it is almost needless to remind our readers, that during the reigns of George I. and George II., the Irish Roman Catholics were disabled from holding any civil or military office, from voting at elections, from admission into corporations, from practising law or physic. A younger brother, by turning Protestant, might deprive his elder brother of his birthright: by the same process, he might force his father, under the name of a liberal provision, to yield up to him a part of his landed property; and if an eldest son, he might, in the same way, reduce his father's fee-simple to a life estate. A Papist was disabled from purchasing freehold lands—and even from holding long leases-and any person might take his Catholic neighbour's house by paying five pounds for it. If the child of a Catholic father turned Protestant, he was taken away from his father and put into the hands of a Protestant relation. No