Page images

ART. IX. A Guide to the Electors of Great Britain upon the

Accession of a New King, and the immediate Prospect of a New Parliament. Third Edition. Syo. pp. 56. London, Ridge way. 1820.

TT is long, indeed, since so excellent a Pamphlet has appeared + upon any political subject, as the one now before us. The publick having already pronounced a decisive opinion in its favour, by exhausting two editions during the bustle and distractions of a General Election, we may be thought to undertake a needless task in professing to describe its merits; but we owe it as a debt of gratitude to the author, for the light he has thrown upon questions highly important, and hitherto treated with vague and unprofitable declamation on the one side, or mysteriously wrapt up in the obscurity of official details upon the other. The author is, we believe, pretty generally known to be Mr Creevey, a Member of Parliament for many years; during which he so highly and so usefully distinguished himself as the friend of rational reforms, the advocate of sound constitutional principles, and the unsparing enemy of abuse, that his exclusion from the House of Commons must now be regarded as a serious publick loss; more especially at a period when those questions are to be brought under review, with which he, more than any other man, had shown himself intimately acquainted.

The beginning of a New Reign, as the reader probably knows, brings forward one of the most momentous subjects on which the representatives of the people can at any time be called to deliberate the formation of the Civil List,--that is, the arrangement of nearly the whole civil expenses of the country, including the charges of executing the Laws at home, representing it abroad, and providing for the support, the dignity, and the splendour of the Crown. In the ancient times of the Monarchy, the Sovereign, who was rather the first of the feudal Barons than the ruler of a great People, derived his revenues chiefly from land vested in him as a great proprietor, and from certain occasional perquisites given to him for the better support of his office; and, it may be added, that the services which his vassals were bound to perform in war, or to redeem with money, helped him mainly to defray its expenses. On extraordinary occasions, taxes were levied directly upon the subject; but the bulk of the revenue was that which the King derived from his Possessions and his Prerogative, independent of any consent of Parliament for raising it, and of any controul in its expenditure. In return for the funds thus vested in the Crown, it was bound to defray all the expenses of the State in peace and war: and, while the hereditary revenues remained entire, and the feudal services belonged to them, the Sovereigns of this country could well support this burthen. Repeated dilapidations, however, reduced the former in process of time; and as the feudal scheme fell into disuse, the other great branch of the Monarch's resources was lopt off also; so that from time to time he was, happily for the liberties of the nation, compelled to ask supplies. from Parliament; and, by degrees, one after the other, all the great branches of publick expenditure were transferred from the Crown to the Country.

The Sovereign being thus exonerated from his payments, it was natural to expect that he should also relinquish those funds which had been allotted to him to make those payments ; - that having no longer, for example, to pay the Army and Navy, he should no longer retain the perquisites of Admiralty and Prize which had been destined to support those services, but should transfer to the publick, to whose shoulders he had shifted the burthen, those profits which are inseparably connected with it. This part of the process, however, was altogether omitted. Notions of right and prerogative were conveniently enough introduced. The King was said to have those branches of revenue by a high title, and that they were inherent in the Crown by virtue of his Royal prerogative; no account being taken of the material circumstance, that, while so possessed by the Crown, they had been burthened with disbursements now undertaken by the State. However, things were suffered to go on in this unfair and unsatisfactory manner for a long course of years. Several attempts, no doubt, were made to arrange matters equitably and amicably between the parties. As soon as Parliament began to show a due jealousy of the Executive, and a proper vigilance over the public purse, the nature of these hereditary revenues came to occupy their attention; but rather with a view to their vexatious origin, than their large amount. The worst of the whole, wardship, or the King's right of seizing or granting the guardianship and estates of infants,-purveyance, or the power of seizing cattle, carriages, and provisions for the Royal household, and the various feudaļ incidents of tenure by Knights' service, were so extremely oppressive, that the full exercise of them could not be borne; and even a mitigated exercise was wholly destructive of liberty, Early in Janies 1,'s reign, we accordingly find a treaty entered into between Parliament and the Crown, by which a commutation was intended to be stipulated ; and the learned, ingenious, and indefeasible Monarch estimated the valục of his right by' a sufficiently recondite process of calculation. He ob

served, that there were Nine Muses, the patronesses of poets, who were always poor; therefore, he must have more than nine score thousand pounds by the year, which the Commons had tendered him; Also, there were Eleven Apostles, deducting Judas, as unfit to be named among honourable contracting parties. Now, it was plain that ten, the medium between the Muses and Apostles, even if it were not also the number of the Commandments, ought to be the sum chosen :- And to this the Commons, moved by his Majesty's great wit and solid judgment, assented :-So that, had the treaty been concluded, ħe would have had 200,0001. a year, in lieu of the remaining feudal perquisites of the Crown. Upon the Restoration, in 1660, Charles II., de firing to gain the affections of his subjects, renewed the negotiation; and the memorable act was passed, abolishing the Court of Wards, Purveyance, &c.; in return for which, an hereditary Excise was settled on the Sovereign, beside other grants for his life; out of which he was to defray both the charges of his household and family, and those of the Civil government of the country. This is the first instance of anything like an arrangement of the Civil List. In James II.'s reign, a similar provision was continued ; and in the reigns of William and Anne, a more regular plan was pursued, which has ever since been followed, of voting, at the accession of each Sovereign, a certain yearly sum, to continue during the reign, to cover all the expenses of the Royal household and family, and many of the charges connected with the Civil government of the country.

In consideration of these grants for life, each succeeding Sovereign has given up all claim to those branches of the separate property of the Crown which are technically termed its Hereditary Revenue ; that is, the Crown lands, the hereditary Excise, first granted in Charles II.'s time, in lieu of Warding and Purveyance, and the smaller branches arising from fines, &c. But, by some strange accident, very considerable branches of revenue, or perquisites exactly of the same nature, have been kept separate, and retained by the Crown, notwithstanding the provision made by the country both for the household and for all the other branches of the public service, formerly supported out of those hereditary and separate funds. It is hardly nesessary to remark, how wide and dangerous à door is thus opened to abuse, by the sums thus entrusted to the Crown and its ministers, without any Parliamentary grant or controul, and expended without even the form of laying estimates before the House of Commons. Other inroads of abuse are to be found in the Pension List, which the Executive government is permitted to fill up to a large amount, without any

check from Parliamentary investigation; and nothing can be more manifest, than the inconsistency of the whole Čivil List arrangement with the present form of the Constitution, and the shape into which the finances of the country have, for nearly a century and a half, been moulded. A new reign necessarily brings forward this question in all its bearings; and a new Parliament as necessarily is summoned to form the plan for the King's life.

At this particular period, therefore, Mr Creevey takes his stand, and addresses his countrymen upon a subject important in every point of view, whether we regard its financial or its constitutional bearings. It cannot be doubted that his Tract possesses very great merit. The argument is conducted with a degree of plainness, and force, and manliness, seldom to be met in union with so much temper and moderation. The arrangement is lucid and natural; the topics succeed one another in great abundance, and with striking rapidity; there is nothing superfluous, and nothing left unexplained. The style is admirable; clearness, precision, and the excellent taste which consists in avoiding all ornament where the subject requires none, as well as where it admits none-are the characteristics of this pamphlet; which deserves to be placed along with the celebrated political writings of Dean Swift--only that its matter is far more important, and its principles more enlarged. We hasten to present the reader with an abstract of so, striking and useful a composition; premising, that though it was published in the contemplation of a general election, as a guide to electors, it is now addressed, with equal propriety, to the Members elected to serve, and contains the soundest advice upon their publick duties.

Our author begins with stating, that the Commons' House of Parliament is, by the language and the spirit of the Constitution, the guardian of the publick purse; that, formerly, it was so in fact, as well as in name; and that the causes may be easily traced, of the present discrepancy between the theory and the practice of the Constitution-between the character and functions of our representatives who made the glorious stand against the Crown in James the First's time, and the well known habits of the same personages in these our times. How comes it to pass, that the people, the electors of the empire, instead of finding comfort and protection from their representatives against the encroachments of Royal authority, and the imposition of new burthens, as they heretofore were wont to do, now find themselves involved in a constant struggle with those very representatives, who, from their guardians, have become the Crown's allies; and, from checks to the increase of taxes, are converted into ready instruments of taxation ? After noting a remarkable exception to this position, (the defeat of the Property-tax in 1816, which he ascribes to Mr Brougham giving time to the voice of the nation to make itself heard), and drawing from this fact the consolatory inference, that the country can still, when it pleases, prevent abuses of its property or violations of its rights, he goes on to examine the causes of that great and lamentable change in the complexion of Parliamentary proceedings, which bids fair to destroy our ancient Constitution.

In pursuing this important investigation, the author unfolds the whole mystery of undue influence, or, as it has sometimes been termed, indirect influence, in a manner exceedingly striking; and we regard this disclosure as the more valuable, because the public out of doors have never before been instructed respecting the secret springs of corruption, or that machinery in Parliament which is found so effectual a check to all reformation, and so powerful an ally to bad government. He shows clearly, and by evidence the most incontestable, how the machine works ;-how well for those concerned-how fatally for the people at large.

The first head of the account is the enormous Debt of the country. In the year 1760, at the late King's accession, the whole annual experises of the debt, interest, and other charges, amounted to only 3,302,6731., as appears from the statements in the Commons' Journals. At the present time, 4,283,6001. are paid for collecting the Taxes alone; and 3,392,3261. is the expense of collection in Great Britain, as appears from the last Finance Accounts laid before Parliament. Who then (asks our author) disposes of this large yearly sum paid to the collectors ? Who names to those lucrative places ? Nominally the Crown, but really the House of Commons. : :

• Does any man doubt this fact ? If a gentleman represents a town of any commercial importance, and supports the Government by his vote in Parliament, does he not attend regularly at the Treasury, and demand, as a matter of right, the filling of all vacant appoint, nients in the customs, excise, stamp-office, &c. of the town he repre. sents, with his own relations, friends, or political supporters? In the like manner, if he represents a county and supports the minister, is not the valuable appointment of Receiver of the Land-tax, with other such things, considered immediately as his own private property; and don't we invariably see those appointments come into possession of his brother, or his son, or some family or political connexion ? It is only a few years ago that Mr Wilberforce was reproved in the House of Commons by Mr Canning,-- was taxed by him, as it were, for ingratitude in opposing the Government on that

« PreviousContinue »