Page images
PDF
EPUB

flight of a House of Commons above the exact temperate medium of independence ought to be correctly ascertained, lest we give encouragement to dispositions of a less generous nature, and less safe for the people : we ought to call for very solid and convincing proofs of the existence, and of the magnitude too, of the evils, which are charged to an independent spirit, before we give sanction to any measure, that by checking a spirit so easily damped, and so hard to be excited, may affect the liberty of a part of our constitution, which, if not free, is worse than useless.

The editor does not deny, that by possibility such an abuse may exist : but, prima fronte, there is no reason to presume it. The House of Commons is not, by its com. plexion, peculiarly subject to the distempers of an independent babit. Very little compulsion is necessary on the part of the people, to render it abundantly complaisant to ministers and favourites of all descriptions. It required a great length of time, very considerable industry and perseverance, no vulgar policy, the union of many men and many tempers, and the concurrence of events which do not happen every day, to build up an independent House of Commons. Its demolition was accomplished in a moment; and it was the work of ordinary hands. But to construct, is a matter of skill; to demolish, force and fury are sufficient.

The late House of Commons has been punished for its independence. That example is made. Have we an example on record, of a House of Commons punished for its servility? The rewards of a senate so disposed are manifest to the world. Several gentlemen are very desirous of altering the constitution of the House of Commons : but they must alter the frame and constitution of human nature itself, before they can so fashion it by any mode of election, that its conduct will not be influenced by reward and punishment, by fame, and by disgrace. If these examples take root in the minds of men, what members hereafter will be bold enough not to be corrupt ? Especially as the king's high-way of obsequiousness is so very broad and easy. To make a passive member of parliament, no dignity of mind, no principles of honour, no resolution, no ability, no industry, no learning, no experience, are in the least degree necessary. To defend a post of importance against a powerful enemy, requires an

Elliot; a drunken invalid is qualified to hoist a white flag, or to deliver up the keys of the fortress on his knees.

The gentlemen chosen into this parliament, for the purpose of this surrender, were bred to better things; and are no doubt qualified for other service. But for this strenuous exertion of inactivity, for the vigorous task of submission and passive obedience, all their learning and ability are rather a matter of personal ornament to themselves, than of the least use in the performance of their duty.

The present surrender, therefore, of rights and privileges, without examination, and the resolution to support any minister given by the secret advisers of the crown, determines not only on all the power and authority of the House, but it settles the character and description of the men who are to compose it, and perpetuates that character as long as it may be thought expedient to keep up a phantom of popular representation.

It is for the chance of some amendment before this new settlement takes a permanent form, and while the matter is yet soft and ductile, that the Editor has republished this piece, and added some notes and explanations to it. His intentions, he hopes, will excuse him to the original mover, and to the world. He acts from a strong sense of the incurable ill effects of holding out the conduct of the late House of Commons, as an example to be shunned by future representatives of the people.

MOTION

RELATIVE TO
THE SPEECH FROM THE THRONE."

Luna, 140 Die Junij, 1784.

A MOTION was made, That a representation be presented to his Majesty, most humbly to offer to his royal consideration that the address of this House, upon his Majesty's speech from the throne, was dictated solely by our conviction of his Majesty's own most gracious intentions towards his people, which, as we feel with gratitude, so we are ever ready to acknowledge with cheerfulness and satisfaction.

Impressed with these sentiments, we were willing to separate from our general expressions of duty, respect, and veneration to his Majesty's royal person and his princely virtues, all discussion whatever, with relation to several of the matters suggested, and several of the expressions employed in that speech.

That it was not fit or becoming, that any decided opinion should be formed by his faithful Commons, on that speech, without a degree of deliberation adequate to the importance of the object. Having afforded ourselves due time for that deliberation, we do now most humbly beg leave to represent to his Majesty that, in the speech from the throne, his ministers have thought proper to use a language of a very alarming import, unauthorized by the practice of good times, and irreconcilable to the principles of this government.

Humbly to express to his Majesty, that it is the privilege and duty of this House to guard the constitution from all infringement on the part of ministers; and, whenever the occasion requires it, to warn them against any abuse of the authorities committed to them; but it is very lately,' that in a manner not more unseemly than irregular and preposterous, ministers have thought proper by admonition from the throne, implying distrust and reproach, to convey the expectations of the people to us, their sole representatives ; 2 and have presumed to caution us, the natural guardians of the constitution, against any infringement of it on our parts.

This dangerous innovation we, his faithful Commons, think it our duty to mark; and as these admonitions from the throne, by their frequent repetition, seem intended to lead gradually to the establishment of an usage, we hold ourselves bound thus solemnly to protest against them.

This House will be, as it ever ought to be, anxiously atten. i See King's Speech, Dec. 5, 1782, and May 19, 1784.

2 “I will never submit to the doctrines I have heard this day from the woolsack, that the other House (House of Commons) are the only representatives and guardians of the people's rights; I boldly maintain the contrary-I say this House (House of Lords) is equally the representatives of the people. Lord Shelburne's Speech, April 8, 1778. Vide Parliamen. tary Register, vol. X. page 392.

tive to the inclinations and interests of its constituents: nor do we desire to straiten any of the avenues to the throne, or to either House of Parliament. But the ancient order, in which the rights of the people have been exercised, is not a restriction of these rights. It is a method providentially framed in favour of those privileges, which it preserves and enforces, by keeping in that course which has been found the most effectual for answering their ends. His Majesty may receive the opinions and wishes of individuals under their signatures, and of bodies corporate under their seals, as expressing their own particular sense : and he may grant such redress as the legal powers of the crown enables the crown to afford. This, and the other House of Parliament, may also receive the wishes of such corporations and individuals by petition. The collective sense of his people his Majesty is to receive from his Commons in parliament assembled. It would destroy the whole spirit of the constitution, if his Commons were to receive that sense from the ministers of the crown, or to admit them to be a proper or a regular channel for conveying it.

That the ministers in the said speech declare, “ His Majesty has a just and confident reliance, that we (his faithful Commons) are animated with the same sentiments of loyalty,

he had the happiness to see so fully manifested in every part of his kingdom.”

To represent, that his faithful Commons have never failed in loyalty to his Majesty. It is new to them to be reminded of it. It is unnecessary and invidious to press it upon them by any example. This recommendation of loyalty, after his Majesty has sat for so many years, with the full support of all descriptions of his subjects, on the throne of this kingdom,

the existence or apprehension of war or conspiracy, becomes in itself a source of no small jealousy to his faithful Commons: as many circumstances lead us to apprehend that therein the ministers have reference to some other measures and principles of lovalty, and to some other ideas of the constitution, than the laws require, or the practice of parliament will admit.

No regular communication of the proofs of loyalty and

attachment to the constitution, alluded to in the speech from the throne, have been laid before this House, in order to enable us to judge of the nature, tendency, or occasion of them; or in what particular acts they were displayed; but if we are to suppose the manifestations of loyalty (which are held out to us as an example for imitation) consist in certain addresses delivered to his Majesty, promising support to his Majesty in the exercise of his prerogative, and thanking his Majesty for removing certain of his ministers, on account of the votes they have given upon bills depending in parliament, —if this be the example of loyalty alluded to in the speech from the throne, then we must beg leave to express our serious concern for the impression which has been made on any of our fellow-subjects by misrepresentations, which have seduced them into a seeming approbation of proceedings subversive of their own freedom. We conceive, that the opinions delivered in these papers were not well considered; nor were the parties duly informed of the nature of the matters on which they were called to determine, nor of those proceed. ings of parliament which they were led to censure.

We shall act more advisedly. The loyalty we shall mani. fest will not be the same with theirs; but, we trust, it will be equally sincere, and more enlightened. It is no slight authority which shall persuade us (by receiving as proofs of loyalty the mistaken principles lightly taken up in these ad. dresses) obliquely to criminate, with the heavy and ungrounded charge of disloyalty and disaffection, an uncorrupt, independent, and reforming parliament. Above all, we shall

1 In that parliament the House of Commons by two several resolutions put an end to the American war. Immediately on the change of ministry, which ensued, in order to secure their own independence, and to prevent the accumulation of new burthens on the people by the growth of a civil list debt, they passed the establishment bill. By that bill thirty-six offices tenable by members of parliament were suppressed ; and an order of payment was framed, by which the growth of any fresh debt was rendered impracticable. The debt on the civil list from the beginning of the present reign had amounted to one milion three hundred thousand pounds and upwards. Another act was passed for regulating the office of the paymaster-general and the offices subordinate to it. A million of public money had sometimes been in the hands of the paymasters; this act prevented the possibility of any money whatsoever being accumulated in that office in future. The offices of the exchequer, whose emoluments in time of war were excessive, and grew in exact proportion to the public burthens,

« PreviousContinue »