Page images
PDF
EPUB

any doubt of the competency of parliament to consider and discuss it. Yet I defy any man to maintain the principle of those plans, without contending, that, as a member of the legislature, he possesses a right to concur in disfranchising those who sent him to parliament, and to select others, by whom he was not elected, in their stead. I am sure that no sufficient distinction, in point of principle, can be successfully maintained for a single moment; nor should I deem it necessary to dwell on this point, were I not convinced that it is connected in part with all those false and dangerous notions on the subject of government which have lately become too prevalent in the world. It may, in fact, be traced to that gross perversion of the principles of all political society, which rests on the supposition that there exists continually in every government a sovereignty in abeyance (as it were) on the part of the people, ready to be called forth on every occasion, or rather on every pretence, when it may suit the purposes of the party or faction who are the advocates of this doctrine to suppose an occasion for its exertion. It is in these false principles that are contained the seeds of all the misery, desolation, and ruin, which in the present day have spread themselves over so large a portion of the habitable globe. - * These principles are, at length, so well known and understood in their practical effects, that they can no longer hope for one enlightened or intelligent adv ~ cate, when they appear in their true colors. Y; with all the horror that we feel, in common wi it. the rest of the world, at the effect of such opinions; with all the confirmed and increasing love and veneration which we feel towards the constitution of our country, founded as it is, both in theory and experience, I 2 . Qil

on principles directly opposite; there are too many among us, who, while they abhor and reject such positions, when presented to them in their naked deformity, suffer them in a disguised shape to be gradually infused into their minds, and insensibly to influence and bias their sentiments and arguments on the greatest and most important discussions. This concealed poison is now more to be dreaded than any open attempt to support such principles by argument or to enforce them by arms. No society, whatever be its particular form, can long subsist, if this principle should be once admitted. In every government, there must reside a supreme, absolute, and unlimited authority. This is equally true of every lawful monarchy, of every aristocracy, of every pure democracy (if indeed such a form of government ever has existed or ever can exist), and of those constitutions formed and compounded from the others, which we are justly inclined to prefer to any of them. In all these governments that power may be abused; but, whether the abuse is such as to justify and call for the interference of the people collectively, or of any portion of the community, must always be an extreme case, and a question of the greatest and most perilous responsibility, not in law only, but in conscience and in duty, to all those who either act upon it themselves, or persuade others to do so. But no provision for such a case ever has been or can be made before-hand; it forms no chapter in any known code of laws; it can find no o in any system of human jurisprudence. If such a principle can make no part of any established constitution, even of those where the government is so framed as to be most liable to the abuse of its powers, it will be preposterous to suppose that it can be admitted in

One

one where those powers are so distributed and balanced as to furnish the best security against the probability of such an abuse. Shall that principle be sanctioned as ā necessary part of the best government, which cannot be admitted to exist as an established check even upon the worst? Pregnant as it is with danger and confusion, shall it be received and authorised in proportion as every reason which can ever make it necessary to recur to it is unlikely to exist? Yet I know not how it is, that, in proportion as we are less likely to have occasion for so desperate a remedy ; in proportion as a government is so framed as to provide within itself the best guard and control on the exercise of every branch of authority, to furnish the means of preventing or correcting every abuse of power, and to secure, by its own natural operation, a due attention to the interest and feelings of every part of the community; in that very proportion persons have been found so perverse as to imagine, that this species of constitution admits and recognises a principle which is inconsistent with the nature of any government, and above all inapplicable to our own. ‘I have said more on this subject than I should have thought necessary, if I had not felt that this false and dangerous mockery of the sovereignty of the people is one of the chief elements of jacobinism, one of the favorite impostures calculated to mislead the understanding, and to flatter and inflamé the passions of the mass of mankind, who have not the opportunity of examining and exposing it; and that as such, on every occasion, and in every shape in which it appears, it ought to be combated and resisted by every friend to civil order, and to the peace and happiness of mankind.” I 3 - To

To those politicians who deprecated the loss of nas tional independence, the following observations were addressed: “Do they mean to assert, that, when the governing powers of two separate countries unite in forming one more extensive empire, the individuals who composed either of the former narrow societies are afterwards less members of an independent state, or, to any valuable and useful purpose, less possessed of political freedom or civil happiness, than they were before ? It must be obvious to every gentleman who will look at the subject, in tracing the history of all the countries, the most proud of their present independence, of all the nations in Europe, that not one would have been in the state in which it now exists, if that principle had been acted upon by our forefathers; and Europe must have remained to this hour in a state of ignorance and barbarism, from the perpetual warfare of independent and petty states. In the instance of our own country, it would be a superfluous waste of time to enumerate the steps by which all its parts were formed into one kingdom; but will any man assert, that, in all the unions which have formed the principal states of Europe, their inhabitants have become less free, that they have had less of which they might be proud, less scope for their own exertions, than they had in their former situation ? If this doctrine is to be generally maintained, what becomes of the situation at this hour of any one county of Engand, or of any one county of Ireland, now united under the independent parliament of each kingdom If it be pushed to its full extent, it is obviously incompa- * tible with all civil society. As the former principle of the sovereignty of the people strikes at the foundation of all governments, so this is equally hostile to

all political confederacy; and by its influence mankind must be driven back to what is called the state of nature. “While I, combat this general and abstract principle, which would operate as an objection to every union between separate, states, on the ground of the sacrifice of independence, do I mean to contend that there is in no case just ground for such a sentiment? Far from it: it may become, on many occasions, the first duty of a free and generous people. If there exists a country which contains within itself the means of military protection and the naval force necessary for its defence; which furnishes objects of industry sufficient for the subsistence of its inhabitants, and pecuniary resources adequate to a dignified maintenance of the rank which it has attained among the nations of the world; if, above all, it enjoys the blessings of internal content and tranquillity, and possesses a distinct constitution of its own, the defects of which, if any, it is within itself capable of correcting; if that constitution is equal, if not superior, to any other in the world; or (which is nearly the same thing) if those who live under it believe it to be so, and fondly cherish that opinion; I can easily conceive that such a country must be jealous of any measure, which, even by its own consent, under the authority of its own lawful government, is to associate it as a part of a larger and more extensive empire. “But if there be a country which, against the greatest of all dangers that threaten its peace and security, has not adequate means of protecting itself without the aid of another nation ; if that other be a neighbouring and kindred nation, speaking the same language, whose laws and customs are the same in principle, but are carried to a greater degree of perfection, with a more extensive commerce, and more abundant means of

! 4 acquiring

« PreviousContinue »