Page images
PDF
EPUB

'* er even to weaken that constitution, which ought to "be the rule of his government. When such a prince "[or minister] presides with superior parts, Liberty is "in the utmost peril !"i

Indignant emotions have I perceive caused me to digress from the point I had in hand. I was speaking of the abuses and the acts of parliaments by which, in addition to the decay and present debility of boroughs once more robust, the constitutional use and intention of the commons house of parliament is utterly destroyed. That house might indeed remain in Form even though England were become a province of the French empire, or had sunk beneath the despotism of a native prince, as the senate of Home retained its Form under her Neros and Caligulas; but its CONSTITUTIONAL use and intention have been long gone. It was a conviction of this fact that produced the patriotic exertions which commenced in 1776, and extended themselves, as 1 have shewn, ali over the kingdom for a Reform in our representation: but necessary as was that reform to freedom and the public welfare, and certain as are the constitutional principles on which the necessity rests, it is not to be regarded as a matter of surprise, that the first efforts should have failed. It would have been more surprizing had they succeeded, considering how profound an ignorance on the subject, the deplorable effects of lost rights, then pervaded the nation, even to its highest ranks; considering also what packs of literary hounds were kept in perpetual exercise for chasing far away from the borough inclosure "the mountain nymph, sweet Liberty;" and what volunteer packs, in hopes of court feeding, joined the cry; and considering again that the anti-reforming factions bad in their hands the whole patronage of the crown, and the whole revenue of the kingdom, and could at their pleasure make that revenue just what they pleased, for extending influence, for making traitors, for rewarding apostates, and even, if their cause required it, for spreading the flames of war to the four quarters of the globe.

1 Diss, upon Parties, Eil. 1743, 112, the passage altered only by adding'the word minister.

It was from a consideration of the magnitude of the undertaking, the difficulties attending it, the little assistance to be hoped for from the wealthy, and the length of time required to establish the triumph of truth supported by mere reason, over error supported "by power, which induced the author, eight and twenty years ago, to recommend to our Reformers "pa"tience," and to point out the necessity of " perseve"ranee;" and even the probability that half a century of toil might be required, so far from being a reason for relaxation or an excuse for desertion, he ever held it to be a strong motive to unrelaxing exertion; especially as the public, if once in possession of the necessary knowledge, would then be prepared to avail themselves of any favourable opportunity which might meanwhile unlooked for arrive.

He at that time thought, as he still thinks, that between an official and a parliamentary reform there is an essential difference; that the partial mischief of an individual cloud may be gradually, silently and effectually drawn away from an office by the conducting wire of an ordinary statute; but that a great nation's legislature, like an entire atmosphere, when ouce overcharged with abuse and corruption, threatening the life of the state, can only be purified'by an irresistible burst of national indignation, of the nature of the hurricane, which suddenly visits, and overwhelms, but quickly passes over, leaving the air, lately overcharged with pestilence and death, restored to its wonted salubrity.

The gust which lately obtained us the impeachment of a minister, was I trust the precursor of one sufficiently powerful for our purpose.

1 legislative right of the commonalty vindicated, 203. Pub*

lished in irrr.

LETTER XVII.

My Lord,

With regard to a house of commons that should be actually returned as we have supposed, could it, according to constitutional intendment, be any more a reresentative of' the people or' England, than it would e a representative of the people of Indostan or of China ;i And lhat I may not be thought to speak improperly of a house of commons, I beg your Grace will keep in mind that in all popular bodies, whether we advert to their description, to their proceedings, or to their character, these necessarily take from a majority their denomination. If a majority of a corporation be presbyterians, it is called a presbyterian corporation: if the majority of a club vote the election or expulsion of a member, we say it is voted by the club: if the majority of the house of commons carry a censure or an impeachment, be that majority ever so small, it is the censure or the impeachment of the house; as a statute agreed upon by a majority of the two houses with ihe concurrence of the king is an act of parliament: so, therefore, if a bare majority of the house of commons had not been chosen by "those whom it appeared to represent," 2 such house could not in strictness be a commons house of parliament, or the commons in parliament assembled, but in a constitutional argument would require a different denomination. And

1 " Ths house might as well call itself the representation of France, "as of the people of England." Sir G. Savile, 7th. May, i782. "They held out their Boroughs to the best purchaser, and, in fact, "they belonged more to the Nabob of Arcot, or the Rajah of "Tanjore, than they did to the people of Great Britain; and it was "a fact pretty well known, and generally understood, that the "Nabob of Arcot had no less than seven or eight members in that "house." Mr. Pitt, 7tu. May, 1782.

2 See the Journals of,the house the 6th. of May, iT93, for j.pe^ tition praying for a reform in parliament.

how strongly must this reasoning apply, if the supposed majority were as two to one; and stronger and stronger still if if should be nsjive to one, teh fo one, or twenty to one! Such a house, as respecting the people, from a servant, must have become a "master; from a datiful ministring child protecting its national parent, it must have become an oligarchy or a faction, as well as a scourge: as respecting, on the other hand, the crown, from a co-estaje having a constitutional check over its acts, and a complete controul over its expenditure, it must have become a dependent, an obsequious client, meanly truckling for the wages of prostitution; and a levyer from the people by taxation, of just such a revenue as the minister should demand ; nor to his demands would there be a trifling addition for gratifying such a majority, and all their kindred and connections, in their Jamilieh, and their boroughs, and among their agents and dependents. The people, notwithstanding the necessary magnitude of national business, would not have the benefit of knowing when such a house was to meet, or when it was to separate; and were it ever so defective in legislation, or in its guardianship of the public jmrse ; ever so oppressive in taxation, or ever so prompt in suspending the laws of personal security; ever so forward in backing corrupt and despotic ministers in a system of terror for quashing parliamentary reform, or Cver so backward in even censuring crimes- of any of those ministers, when brought to light; ever so void of Virtuous feelings in common with the nation, or so full of sympathy for placemen who had been guilty of that which was infamous; the injured and insulted people would, as the law now stands, have no legal authority to shorten for one hour its septennial existence. Bat when the Crown says to a house of commons,—come, 'it Cometh; go, it goeth ; or die, it dieth. And when dead and buried,how,and bvwhom,would it be re-placed? HOT BY THE PEOPLE"!

I will not, iny Lord, add to this letter, with farther quotations from the admirable petition of the 6th. of May, 1793, to shew upon the authority of facts, which the petitioners prayed they might be allowed to prove at the bar, what is at present our system of repieeentalion and election; but as I can convey a very correct idea of it in fewer words, 1 will do so by putting a case. Suppose a crmpanv of bankers worth half a million of money, were now to take into ihe firm a lawyer or a lord, and in consideration of his having abilities for all work, and diligence equal to his abilities, should under hand and seal make him sole acting manager, and themselves all sleeping partners, without any power of change or removal; then suppose this acting manager were to obtain a law, that once in every seven years eight in ten of the cashiers, accomplants, and clerks of the house should be elected; not by the said bankers, but by a score of what we call the rotten boroughs, in which those bankers were as little known or cared for, as so many Chinese mandarins; and that the election should not be made by taking a poll, but by a secret auction, in which the highest bidder should have the return; and that other clerks again should be appointed by other boroughs, where the said acting manager had absolute command; now let us suppose that Mr. A. T-*-<—r, in particular, having paid down his'purchase money were elected cashier, and at the same time made private agent to the acting manager; that

Mr. M. Sp— 1 was the person who purchased the

place of accomptant and broker; and Mr. G. GJ y,

the man who purchased that of bill receiver and negociator; and also became a general indorser, "the bee ter to conceal from the public eye the temporary necessity which occasioned the issue of" illegal bills.l Then again, let us suppose the acting manager to possess the power of granting to himself, and the rest, nominal and other offices, and as many of them as he pleased, with salaries to themselves for the use of their names, and other salaries to those who did the business; or perfect sinecures, either for life or for generation alter generation; with pensions to their wives, and emoluments to their kindred ; that in all the tradesmens' bills much more was charged than furnished; that whole estates were paid for over again, which had been bought and paid for forty years before; and that all such powers were exercised without either de

i See nth. Import of the commissioners of Naval Inquiry, p. 504.

« PreviousContinue »