Epplying fpeculative remedies to corred iss principles, and to cure its dutcas.

To the foreigner's farprize, that the forms of our government should be capable of adapring themselves to times, circumitances, and prin. ciples extremely different, and arguing, that surely this is no imall tellimory in the wisdom of the original conuivers ; his companion letusas she following answer

• Not at all. Chance, or (to speak more philosophically) an impegcepudle chain of causes and effe&ts, has produced events which no human wildom could have foreseen, or consequently have provided for. The word conftitution, we are fo fond of, has no definite meaning. If it defcribes only a government by king, lords, and commons, ic means the for, and not the fubitance: it means 'no, more than the -word republic applied to the absolute dominion of the Casars. If is is - to convey the idea of certain powers and influence in aay given dif. tribution among the three branches, it has been varying from the easliett period to this hour. In this senle, how different is the conititu. von of the Plantageners from that of the Tudors or the Stewarts! and theirs from that established among us fince the Revolution! Theories mult bend themselves to circumstances, not circumstances to cheories. Our ancelors were plain men, not philofophers; and acted upon the spur of che accation. They understood liude of refinement: they found the counties divided, and the cities and towns built to their tand ; and tbis was a fufäciept goide to them in the constitution of the lower house. The terms, representative and actual representation, were un. known to them : all ideas of apportionment were out of the question ; the infitution answered every practical purpose, and they tarther. Polirical commentators have, in after times, endeavoured to reconcile the date of things they found to the systems.of abstract Speculacion they had conceived; and, like learned commentators, force and torture the text into a meaning the au:hor never dreamed of. · A leas in parliament, which was formerly so berthensome that the expeace of it was to be defrayed by the conticuents in the days of our poDecal insignificance, 'is now become of that value, in the etteem even of those who make no profie by it, ther it is coveted at aa 'expence which has often funk our molt opulent families for several generations : reduce that seat again to its former value, by degrading the importance of the body, and you will cut up bribery at elections by coe roots. Net touns, of the first confideration for trade and manufacture, have noc yet bad imparted to them the privilege of sending delegates ;. and, what is more, they deprecate that honou wbich would be atended with lerious mischiefs to their looms and manufactures; whilft the prio vilge till reinsins attached, in certain initances, by prescription, io the toil, afier che houses have been, long since, in part or in the whole, removed to turne or her filua:ion. What is the evil aritiog from so glaring a partiality ? that the new towns fiourith, and that she old opes fend members, of all others the least liable to the innuence of the miniiters. system is tuud in fupport of popular elections, as the least liable to influence, and the most confonane to every idea of justice and equality; experience condemns fuch elections, as liable always to the influence of the worit men, as theatres of disorder and corruprion. The total number of our electors, of gil.degominacions, is computed . Rev. Jan. 1783.


to be about 200,000 out of 8,000,coo of inhabitants, ftill a number infoitely greater than was intended, when the right of electing was confined among the comparatively few freeholders of former times, to those who possessed 45s. per annum, a sum which would now be equal to at least 201. And yet the number is so great as to occasion such local inconveniences, where a contest happens in a county or great city, as, in many instances, to make it preferable that an unworthy representative should be continued through his life, rather than obtain bis removal at the hazard of so much public and private mischief. All this, in the eye of the speculative cheoriit, is absurdity itself; yet, under these absurdities the house of commons has grown up to what we now see it, and is practically found to answer every purpose of its intention. Nay, ftrange as it appears, it was precisely through the influence of what is reprobated as the very worst part of our representation, that the country, after the revolution, was preserved in its liberties, against the sense of what has been emphatically called the country party. So little do our established forms, and the practical experience of our bittory, adapt themselves to the abstract reasonings of philosophers, and those systems upon which they affect to found and juttify the civil and natural rights of mankind. Such as it is, this Atrangely conftructed Senate assumes to itself, and exercises, the moft important rights of our government. As representing the body of the people, they hold at their good pleasure the purse of the public; they not only grant the supplies, but superintend the application of all monies levied upon the subject. As the grand inquelt of the nation, they not only ftand forth as the redressers of public and private grievances, but watch over all encroachments of the crown, all abuses in the dispensasion of justice and in the various branches of executive government. As advisers of the crown, they call before them, when they think proper, minifters of every denomination, and state-papers of every description, for their censure or approbation.

If the crown has the right of declaring war, it must be their vote that enables the king to maintain it: if he makes a peace, the minifter who figas it is responsible to them for the expediency of the meafure. If the crown employs wicked ministers to bad purposes, the commons impeach them for their crimes; if weak and insufficient minifters, the with holding the supplies is an effectual means of obtaining their removal in favour of such successors as the public confidence shall approve. I think I need take no farther trouble to convince you, that the whole efficiency of our government resides in the house of cominons, and that the other branches of the legislature are in a state of actual dependence upon it.'

Such being his account of the formation of the house of commons, and of its weight and influence in government; the next object is to examine the author's notions of the influence operacing upon that house,--which he thus describes :

• If, then, influence of fome kind or other will always govern the electors and the elected, it remains only to determine what kind of influence is the safett for the good of the community, and what kind of infuence actually prevails in the house of commons. We were agreed, if I mifake not, when we began this subject, that the pecuJiar excellence of the English government arose from the operation of


the three principles; the regal, the aristocratic, and the popular, being to blended in our constitution as to produce the good of each without the inconveniences of either. Now I have proved to you, that these three principles do not act separately in the three branches as has been supposed ; but that two of those branches being ultimately fubfervient to the third, the power and authority of all the three refide there also. Now I will suppose, for a moment, that, by some change in the mode of our elections, the king could assume to himself, as in an instance which will occur to your mind without my mentioning it, the means of namiog all, or a very great majority of the house of commons, who must hold their seats immediately under the royal influence. What would be the consequence ? Would not the principle of our government, from chat hour, become purely monarchical? Suppose, then, instead of the crown, that the same ascendant could be obtained over the elections by peers only; would it not throw the wbole power of the country as decidedly into the aristocracy? But fuppole the house could by any regulations be effectually secured from all influence of the crown, and of ihe great men of the country ; and that, by opeoing the elections to the people at large, by actual representation, by aonual parliaments, &c. that assembly might be rendered totally, or by a great majority, plebeian; would not che consequence be as certainly the annihilation of every other principle in our government, and the establishing, under whatever form, a perfect democracy among us? Without examining, therefore, the practicability or expediency of either of these innovations, it is obvious, that whichever of them were to take place, would effectually deflroy that balance of the three influences which constitutes a mixed government. If, then, we are agreed, that neither of the extremes is so desirable as the three principles properly blended together; and if I have demonstrated that these three principles cannot operate in diftinct independent bodies, with opposite interests, but to the deitruction of each other ; there re. mains, i think, but one poflible manner in which they can continue to exift together, and operate in harmony to one common benefit; which is, that the influence of cach principle fall find its way, as it has done, into the house of commons, where no conflict can produce interruptions to the functions of goveroment, and where all the powers of government and legislature ultimately refide. So far am I, there. fore, from thinking the influence of the two other branches incompatible with the nature of that assembly, that I cannor conceive the priociples of our mixed monarchy to exist one moment with the exclusion of them.

“The whole nicety confifts in the adjusting and apportioning the quantom of each influence, so as to keep the balance even, without weighing down the others. As long as the patronage of the crown afa fects the house of commons only so far as to induce a general support of public measures, and a bias towards the system that is pursued, not a blind confidence in, or prostituted devotion to, the minister ; as long as the patrician influence extends no farther than to give to landed property and ancient establishments their juf weight, without trampling upon the rights and interests of the people ai large ; and whilst the democratical principle in that assembly is reftrained within such bounds as thall give equal liberty to every subject, impartial justice

G 2


and security to their persons and property, without the incon Glences and extravagances of a popular government, I shall say all is well, and better than any alteration can hope to make it. I do not say this balance is actually adjusted with all the precision pollible. It is essential to the nature of things, which are ever changing, that these three principles will have a tendency to encroach upon each other. The vat increase of patronage in the crown, which augments with the dir. treffes of the country, cannot fail to give a proportionable increase of influence; and that is, in my opinion, the immediate danger which requires the vigilance of every well-wisher to che political equilibre. The counterpoise to that increasing influence is not, if I can judge, the diminishing that importance which is derived from large poffeffions, hereditary privileges, family connections, in one word, every thing that gives confiftency, ftrength, and confideration, to an allembly; in order to substitute, in i:s lead, all the confusion, mutability, and inconfequence, which must arise from uninfluenced, frequent, and popular, elections. . On the contrary, were I the friend to absolute monarchy, these would be the very means I should pursue, and which have never failed, wherever they have been atempted, to introduce arbitrary power. Wise and moderate checks may be thought of, from time to time, without dangerous experiments of innovation; to counteract the increaling influence of the crown; and to fuch I thall be always ready to lend every asistance, as long as that weight appears to me, as it does at present, to predominate in the scale.

Our author produces the late minillerial revolution as an evidence, that the dreaded influence of the crown, does not operate to the prejudice of the poblic.

• The influence of the crown, or power of corruption if you please, great as it is, has not yet overturned the civil liberty of the country. Our lives and liberties are preserved to us, at this hour, in a degree of fccurity known to no other nation. The trial by juries and the habeas corpus, the two great rests of our freedom, remain unhaken. All the forms of our conftitution Atill continue to us; and a very recent example has demonftrated, that not all the powers of corrupting, with all the abjeet difpofition to be corrupted, could maintain in his fitustion a minister, when once the public indignation was roused against him. That such a spirit did not sooner exert itself was in fact owing to many causes. A prepossession in favour of the personal character of the minifter, whose indolence and apathy, however prejudicial to the public, was never actively offensive to individuals ; the opinion that his own hands were clean, whilft bis inactivity left the staie a prey to the rapine of his dependents ; the principle of the American war, which was justly popular to the feelings of every unprejudiced Eng. lith man ; and, above all, the want of popularity in his opposers, io ule the softeit word for it, contributed to confirm him in the station to which his fovereign had called him. In all this the parliament exactly fynpathifed with the people. But, when disgrace and calamity, heaped upon us from year to year, had at length awakened us from the delusions which had been so artfully fpread around us ; when the experience of every day contradicted some of the proteslions and assur. arces of the miniller; in thort, when it was no longer pollible to conceal the misfortunes of the country, or to diffcmble the true causes of

them; them; the sentiments of the people changed, and parliament kept pace with their feelings. The unprotected minifter used all his arts in vain; he struggled, tottered, and fell. Thus, when the people are io earnel, their representatives, however chosen, seize their spirit, and their exertions canno: fail to be effectual. Surely our king can hardly be called despotic, af:er so recent an example of the authorisy of the house of commons; nor can the houle of commons, after such an exertion, be called the property of the crown. On the other hand, we have sufficient proof that, whilst that body continues in its present ftate, there is not enough of the democratic principle to obftruct the ordinary course of the executive power, or to overturn that confideration which belongs to property and personal importance, and gives conlftence and folidity to the lyllem.

There is much good fenfe in this dialogue, which may be safely applied 10 corred the acrimony in some pablications on the opposite fide of so interesting a question. The truth is, the fate machine has gone on hitherto, we do not very well know how; and if we labour to bring the principles of it more within our comprehenfion, and more conform able to our ideas of re&tirude, the serious question is, whether it might go on fo well? The bell principles often fail in practice ; for the induttry of man who is to carry them into execution, is vigorously exerted to warp or circumvent them; and until we can new-model the confitutions of our agents, we all ever deplore the imperfections of government!

We have given unosual room and scope to the foregoing dialogue, not because we join with the author in every principle, but, because we wilh that a subje& of such high importance, as that of parliamentary reformation, should be amply and fairly discussed, and the arguments on bo:h fides be attentively and dispassionately heard. Perhaps the preServation of what is left of the Britih empire depends on it. Art. 18. An Address to the People of England, on the intended

Reformation of Parliament 8vo. Is. Debrect. A loose declamatory persuaGive to the proposed reformation, founded on facts but too well known, and current popular maxims. The author means well, and contributes his mise. Art. 19. The Correllar's Remarks on the First Part of his Majesty's

Speech to Parliament, December 5, 1782. 8vo. Debrett.

Times are greatly mended once the writer of the North Bricon *as punihed for nibbling at a royal oration ; but whether it may ul. timately operate for the public advantage, to treat, or expose the fapreme authority of government to be treated with a wanton asperity of animadversion and contempt, is a point now little attended to in frugeles for power. Amid the fluctuation of parties, chose who happen to be uppermoft, may, perhaps, incline to toleration, on the principle of convenient forecast ;-turn, and turn about ! Art. 20. A short, but serious, Reply to the Author of a [mock]

Defence of the Earl of Shelburne; incended to prevenc Prejudice, and to expose Malignity and Deception. 4to.

Bell. The ironical defence of Lord S. was mentioned in our last month's Catalogue, Art. l. It was to be expected that so notable a pamphlet would, for obvious reasons, produce many answers. Selling pamphlets always do lo, on whatever subject or oscafion; bui whice a man


[ocr errors]


G 3

« VorigeDoorgaan »