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In Tibet, the Grand Lama carries on his oppressions with great success, by persuading his subjects of certain miraculous virtues in his own excrements. In Europe, the People were a long time enslaved by the dogmas of Divine Right and the infallibility of the Pope ; when these lost their
the nations of the Continent submitted to the yoke of Legitimacy, and in England we are all content to worship the idol of authority under the magical influence of Rotten Boroughs, and obscure apprehensions of Reform and Innovation.
But though the last are undoubtedly a source of considerable delusion, it would be anjust to the enlightened People of this country to suppose that they had not more substantial reasons for their attachment to Government, than the imaginary virtues of Gatton or Sarum. Indeed they have; their reasons are not only manifold but plausible; and such as those who have not leisure to distinguish between proof and assertion, between events which have no manner of connexion further than being co-temporary, may be easily mislead. Among the most prevailing sources of delusion I should reckon the following:
First, mistaken views of the causes of the prosperity of England. Secondly, on the nature of the Revolution of 1688. Thirdly, on the character of successive Administrations since that period. Lastly, on the Dangers of Reform.
On each of these subjects it were easy to write a volume instead of a page; I shall
, however, be very brief, confining my
observations to show that the greatness of the country (such as it is) may be traced to causes widely different from any imagined excellence in our institutions, the virtues of public men, or the “ glorious ” Revolution of 1688. Mistaken views on these topics constitute the strength of Corruption; they are the sophistries by which thousands of wellmeaning individuals are beguiled into hostility to all projects of improvement, and are taught to ascribe the good of the present, the past, and the future, to a system at all times absurd and oppressive.
1.-On the Causes of England's Prosperity.
SEEING, it is said, is believing; and how is it possible to deny when we behold the number of individuals that have
risen to wealth and importance; when we observe whole cities and towns, like Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham), and Glasgow, that have emerged, almost within the memory of the present generation, from insignificant hamlets to opulence and magnificence; how is it possible to deny the wisdom of the government and institutions under which all this power and grandeur have accumulated. This view. is commonly taken of the progress of England, and many oppose any change in the system from an apprehension of endangering the substantial advantages which they imagine have been acquired under it. But if we inquire into the real causes of our prosperity, we shall discover little reason for connecting them either with the principles or practice of government.
There are two ways by which the condition of a country may be ameliorated, and its happiness and greatness augmented : -first, the policy of government may directly contribute to that end, or, secondly, the people, by their own energies, may work, out an improvement in their situation. England has been placed in the latter predicament, her improvements have all originated with the People; it is, to the People that every increase in liberty, intellect, or wealth, may be traced.
This judgment is warranted by history. It is hardly possible to fix on any period, under any minister, when the spirit of improvement was fostered by government, when men of genius were patronized, or when any anxiety was manifested to facilitate the operations of industry, by abstaining from burdening it with imposts. On the contrary, history exhibits only the virtues of the People struggling against the vices of power,-of liberty against oppression,--of industry against the rapacity of taxation,--of truth against established error. Nevertheless, in spite of these obstacles the country has continued to flourish; but its prosperity is not the creation of a day, nor a century; it is not to be dated from the Revolution, nor the reign of George III. nor the Pitt System, nor any other system ; neither is it the work of any faction, Whig or Tory; nor of any dynasty either of the Tudor, thé Stuart, or the Hanoverian race. No ; it is to none of these causes; it is to the People themselves, who, while they had to surmount the disadvantages of their own condition, had to contend against the spirit of institutions hostile to improve
During the last two centuries the career of improvement bas been steady and uniform; each reign closed with an augmentation of wealth and knowledge, but in this increase government had little concern. From the accession of Henry III. to the present time it underwent various internal changes : the character of the sovereign varied, and power oscillated in the hands of the Clergy, the Aristocracy, and the Monarch; but the principles remained the same. The revolutions the constitution underwent, if such they can be called, were more analogous to the changes effected within the atmosphere of a court or a seraglio than a national reformation. At all events, the interests of the commonwealth never became incorporated with the government : power remained in the hands of a minority, who exercised it for their own interests, adverse to popular rights, free inquiry, and the general advantage.
How little government, at any time, has been identified with public prosperity may be instanced in this. The worst period of our history may be reckoned from the Restoration of Charles II. to the expulsion of James II.; it was a period remarkable for the profligacy of the Court, arbitrary principles, bigotry, and parliamentary corruption; yet Mr. Hume observes, that the commerce and riches of England never encreased so fast as during that time.*
In the period which followed the Revolution, the policy of Government was not more favourable to industry. It was a shameless picture of misrule and corruption, of wasteful unnecessary war; the King the slave of faction, the People of fiscal extortion, and the mere profession of patriotism rendered ridiculous by the profligacy of public men. Yet even this vile system did not repress the energies of the people; the country flourished, but it flourished not in consequence of the vices of administration, but in spite of them. There
was nothing in it paradoxical, it demonstrated no natural connexion between bad government and national prosperity; it merely showed that the seeds of improvement may be so powerful, that they will triumph over the most defective institutions.
The causes of public prosperity during the last reign are too obvious to be pointed out. On the accession of George III.
the country was in the full tide of wealth and glory, and his reign was a mere continuation of the impetus it had previously received. The general progress, no doubt, was greatly accelerated by the invention of machinery: the discoveries of Watt and Arkwright, doubling the produetive power of industry, gave to our manufactures an unrivalled superiority, which, in their turn, laid the foundation of agricultural prosperity. In all this, however, government did not participate : indeed, the contrast between the struggling energies of industry and the vices of power was remarkable ; while the People were acquiring within, the Rulers were wasting without. It was a singular contest: genius and industry ministering to the calls of folly and prodigality. The result is 'now before us, and, after all our inventions, toil, and enterprise, we find ourselves worse situated than a century ago. Instead of exhibiting an unexampled picture of real opulence, social enjoyment, and general comfort, we are a woful spectacle of want, misery, embarrassment, and degradation. The first was the portion provided by the Genius of the People, the last is the evil entailed by the Demon of Faction and Misrule.
Had Government ever directed its attention to the intellectual or physical improvement of the People, how different would have been the result. Five things at least might have been expected from an enlightened administration :—First, a general system for the education of the People, founded, not on any system of religious exclusion, or political injustice, but on the basis of Truth. Secondly, a provision for the Clergy, independently of tithe, which is so oppressive on agriculture, and adapted only to a different state of society. Thirdly, a more simple and economical mode of taxation, embracing an abolition of such internal duties as, without adding proportionately to public revenue, interfere with the operations of commercial and manufacturing industry. Fourthly, a revision of the civil and criminal jurisprudence. Lastly, as a necessary preliminary to the rest, an extension of the basis of representation, so as to embrace the intellect, virtue, and properly, of the community.
These ameliorations might have been all quietly effected within the last century. Instead, however, of government being occupied on these truly national objects, it has been a mere arena for aristocratical contention, on which these pseudo
patriots--these “Great Men,” as they are sometimes called, the Godolphins, the Somers, the Harleys, the Bolingbrokes, the Chathams, Foxes, Burkes, and Pitts, have displayed their selfishness and ambition, their want of real patriotism, and enlarged views of public justice and happiness.
II.-The "glorious Revolution of 1688.” I would give this event its due ; it was something, no doubt, to cashier the weak and arbitrary Stuarts, and to declare the basis of public freedom : these were good things so far ; but we ought not to confound a change of dynasty with a popular revolution, nor to imagine that a mere declaration of rights was sufficient security for their enjoyment. The great desideratum consisted in not taking a more effectual guarantee for public liberty than Public Opinion. It had this security before, and the managers of the Revolution did not obtain any other. The prerogatives of the Crown, which were declared illegal by the Bill of Rights, had been protested against in the reign of the First Charles : so far, then, nothing new was established in the Constitution. It was a selfish affair altogether. The Church being in danger from Popery; the Aristocracy from both Popery and the claims of prerogative; the two interests in jeopardy united for their common security, and obtained it. But the condition of the People remained unaltered, with the exception of exchanging regal for aristocratical oppression.
III.-On successive Administrations from the
No sooner was the Country relieved from the danger of arbitrary power under the Stuarts than it fell under the yoke of two factions equally corrupt and inveterately hostile, to each other. Neither of these parties pursued any measures for the general advantage. Abroad, the country was involved in unceasing, unnecessary, and expensive, war, which wasted the fruits of industry; while at home the happiness of the People was a mere pretext—the emoluments of administration being the end of their policy. Government became a mere