Page images

offices *. In Rome, indeed, the senators were eligible to, and most frequently filled, some of the highest places; but, in order to ascertain how this operated, we must attend to the constitution of that commonwealth. The senate did not, as in England now, elect the public officers, and neither possessed the legislative power, nor any right even to impose taxes. It was a select committee, into which they were chiefly chosen who had already filled some offices, and performed something memorable in the public service; and its powers were limited to those only of superintending the general current business of the state. All laws were enacted, and public officers elected, by the people in their comitia; and, had the power wisely entrusted to the senate been perverted, it could have been modified by a new law. The senate had thus no power to augment the number of offices; and whenever it was suspected that a war was protracted, in order to afford an advantage to members of their body, new men were brought forward. The consuls were invested with large powers; but they

"In Athens, the senators, and all the great civil and military officers, were annually elected by the people; but the first were chosen by lot out of the respective tribes, from individuals qualified by rank, age, &c. while all the latter were elected by voices in the annual assemblies called for the purpose. From the nature of the senate it does not appear that candidates for other offices could be put in nomination for the lot. Gillies's Aristotle's Politics, p. 80, et teq. The powers of the senate were soon virtually withdrawn by the popular assemblies. In Sparta, the senate was composed only of twenty-eight, and none was eligible till he had completed his sixtieth year. Their age precluded the idea of their acting in a military capacity j and the duties of their office as senators required all their powers. Plut. Life of Lycurgus.

could not so modify an army, as to turn it against the community; for, as their office expired at the end of one year, they had neither time to corrupt the army, nor undue influence over officers, who depended upon the popular vote for their own advancement. As few, too, of the senate could ever expect to enjoy the consular dignity, they could feel little disposition to promote its power at the expense of their own influence in the national council, while the people could ever, by new laws, curb any thing dangerous in the authority of its commanders. As the senate had not the nomination to places, it was never disgraced by factious cabals and broils to obtain them; and hence we do not ever read of the existence of ministerial, or ruling, and opposition, factions in that august body. What we have said relates exclusively to the pure days of the republic. It is not our province to inquire into the causes that, in the progress of centuries, suspended the operation, as they ultimately destroyed the peculiar fabric, of that celebrated government*. But in England, at the period we are treating of, the two houses of parliament were invested with unlimited power, determinable only at their own pleasure; and, in short, were, in their aggregate capacity, clothed with all the authority of absolute monarchs. Invested with the whole legislative power, and entit tied to appoint all public officers, they had a natural tendency to advance their own greatness to the

* See Brodie's History of the Roman Government for an account of that constitution.

prejudice of the people, as well as to multiply jobs and places, that they might enrich and exalt themselves at the public expense. Such a system tended also to inflame the members with the desire of securing the chief influence in this assembly of joint absolute princes, and likewise of procuring the great offices, which all could not equally obtain—till they were rent into factions for supremacy, and each fixed his hope upon the military, as on an engine by which it might render its ascendency complete. Such was the natural tendency of this state of affairs; and it is no answer to the objections, that the English parliament at that time contained a number of patriots, who were prepared to make great personal sacrifices for the public benefit, since an institution must not be appreciated by the integrity of particular men, and, with all their virtue, they had neither escaped the imputation of selfishness, nor the consequences of the system. In proposing the self-denying ordinance, they acted upon the immutable basis of sound policy in the ordinary transactions of life, such as has been recognised by the law of every country; that no trustee shall, in any transaction regarding the subject of the trust, act for his own behoof. The human heart is assuredly not changed by an appointment to a place in the national council. As for the argument, that a member of parliament was best qualified to discharge the duty of a great office, from his knowledge of the councils of his country, it is doubtless strangely erroneous, since no person in such a situation ought to act without the express orders of the assembly he obeys, which can be as well signified to an individual who does not, as to one who does, belong to it; and if he were permitted to take a single step, out of his mere unauthorized conception of the designs of parliament from what he had seen passing there, the inevitable consequence would be, that, under such a pretext, he would promote the views of the particular faction to which he belonged. Again, as to obedience being more easily exacted from a member, than from a servant regularly appointed, from his aptitude to the business, the idea is no less groundless, since a member would naturally act in conjunction with a faction within doors, which would exert all its influence to support his preceedings; and it would be a matter of difficulty to disgrace him, while another could receive his instructions only from his constituents, and might be removed without a breach of delicacy: Nor did it follow that men of sufficient rank could not be found without the precincts of both houses. But it is strange, indeed, first, that Mr. Hume should have relied so confidently upon the argument founded on the inexperience of the commanders, which the two houses were by this new arrangement obliged to appoint, since the result so immediately and decisively belied it; and, secondly, that he should have conceived it so essential that the great military commanders should be elected from members of parliament, when the reasoning was so directly refuted by the experience of his own age; for though there be no law against the appointment of members in either house, the majority of those in greatest command have not held places in the senate. It is singular that Whitelocke himself, in the course of four pages from the transcript of his speech, mentions the absolute necessity that there was for a new arrangement *.

The self-denying ordinance met with a different reception in the upper house. The lords, conceiving that it struck particularly at their privileges, since those only of the commons who were returned to parliament were exempted, while their whole body were thus excluded; and, unwilling to offend Essex, Manchester, and others, as well as anxious to continue them in command, purposely delayed the bill in spite of messages from the commons, and after a conference, finally, on the 15th of January, rejected it. This gave rise to the first New movisible breach between the houses: But, in the armymean time, even the lords were sensible that some new arrangement was absolutely necessary; and as the commons brought in an ordinance for newmodelling the army to 7000 horse and dragoons, and 14,000 foot, in all, and to put it under Sir Thomas Fairfax as general, and Skippon as serjeant-majorgeneral, the upper house, though with some modifications, passed it. Essex and the rest having at length perceived, that though they might retain the name of commanders, they had lost the power, resigned their commissions on the 1st of April; and the commons having passed and transmitted to the

* Whitelocke, p. 183.

« PreviousContinue »