« PreviousContinue »
election at all to go to the lords, because the court applied to electors, and by various means carried them from their true interests; so that the tory ministry had a majority without an application to a single member? Now, as to the conduct of the members, it was then far from pure and independent. Bribery was infinitely more flagrant. A predecessor of your's, Mr. Speaker, put the question of his own expulsion for bribery. Sir William Musgrave was a wise man; a grave man; an independent man; a man of good fortune and good family; however he carried on while in opposition a traffick, a shameful traffick with the ministry. Bishop Burnet knew of 6,000l. which he had received at one payment. I believe the payment of sums in hard money, plain naked bribery, is rare amongst us. It was then far from uncommon. A triennial was near ruining, a septennial parliament saved your constitution; nor perhaps have you ever known a more flourishing period for the union of national prosperity, dignity, and liberty, than the sixty years you have passed under that constitution of parliament. The shortness of time in which they are to reap the profits of iniquity is far from checking the avidity of corrupt men; it renders them infinitely more ravenous. They rush violently and precipitately on their object; they lose all regard to decorum. The moments of profits are precious; never are men so wicked as during a general mortality. It was so in the great plague at Athens; every symptom of which (and this its worst symptom amongst the rest) is so finely related by a great historian of antiquity; it was so in the plague of London, in 1665. It appears in soldiers, sailors, &c. Whoever would contrive to render the life of man much shorter than it is, would, I am satisfied, find the surest receipt for increasing the wickedness of our nature. Thus, in my opinion, the shortness of a triennial sitting would have the following ill effects: it would make the member more shamelessly and shockingly corrupt; it would increase his dependence on those who could best support him at his election; it would wrack and tear to pieces the fortunes of those who stood upon their own fortunes and their private interest; it would make the electors infinitely more venal; and it would make the whole body of the people, who are, whether they have votes or not, concerned in elections, more lawless, more idle, more debauched: it would utterly destroy the sobriety, the industry, the integrity, the simplicity of all the peoo and undermine, I am much afraid, the deepest and best aid foundations of the commonwealth,
Those who have spoken and written upon this subje out doors, do not so much deny the probable existence inconveniences in their measure, as they trust for their tion to remedies of various sorts which they propose. a place bill; but if this will not do, as they fear it will n they say we will have a rotation, and a certain number shall be rendered incapable of being elected for ter Then for the electors, they shall ballot; the members liament also shall decide by ballot: a fifth project is the of the present legal representation of the kingdom. On I shall observe, that it will be very unsuitable to your to . the project of a bill to which there are object, . superable by anything in the bill itself, upon the hope that those objections may be removed by subsequent projects; every one of which is full of difficulties of its own, and which are all of them very essential alterations in the constitution.— This seems very irregular and unusual. If any thing should make this a very doubtful measure, what can make it more so than that, in the opinion of its advocates, it would aggravate all our old inconveniences in such a manner as to require a total alteration in the constitution of the kingdom ? If the remedies are proper in a triennial, they will not be less so in septennial elections; let us try them first; see how the house relishes them; see how they will operate in the nation; and then, having felt your way and prepared against these inconveniences, * # :}; * * #.
The honourable gentleman sees that I respect the principle upon which he goes, as well as his intentions and his abilities. He will believe that I do not differ from him wantonly and on trivial grounds. He is very sure that it was not his embracing one way which determined me to take the other. I have not in newspapers, to derogate from his fair fame with the nation, rinted the first rude sketch of his bill with ungenerous and invidious comments; I have not, in conversations, industriously circulated about the town and talked on the benches of this house, attributed his conduct to motives low and unworthy, and as groundless as they are injurious. I do not affect to be frightened with his proposition, as if some hideous spectre had started from hell, which was to be sent back again by every form of exorcism, and every kind of incantation. I invoke no Acheron to overwhelm him in the whirlpools of its muddy gulph. I do not tell the respectable mover and seconder, by a perversion of their sense and expressions, that their proposition halts between the ridiculous and the dangerous. I am net one of those who start up, three at a time, and fall upon and strike at him with so much eagerness, that our daggers hack one another in his sides. My honourable friend has not brought down a spirited imp of chivalry to win the first achievement and blazon of arms on his milk white shield in a field listed against him; nor brought out the generous offspring of lions, and said to them—not against that side of the forest, beware of that—here is the prey where you are to fasten your paws; and seasoning his unpractised jaws with blood, tell him—this is the milk for which you are to thirst hereafter. We furnish at his expense no holiday, nor suspend hell, that a crafly Ixion may have rest from his wheel; nor give the common adversary, if he be a common adversary, reason to say, I would have put in my word to oppose, but the eagerness of your allies in your social war was such that I could not break in upon you. I hope he sees and feels, and that every member sees and feels along with him, the difference between amicable dissent and civil discord.
On a Motion made in the House of Commons, the 7th of May, 1782, for a Committee to inquire into the state of the Representation of the Commons in Parliament.
WE have now discovered, at the close of the eighteenth century, that the constitution of England, which for a series of ages had been the proud distinction of this country, always the admiration, and sometimes the envy of the wise and learned in every other nation, we have discovered that this boasted constitution, in the most boasted part of it, is a gross imposition upon the understanding of mankind, an insult to their feelings, and acting by contrivances destructive to the best and most valuable interests of the people. Our political architects have taken a survey of the fabric of the British constitution. It is singular that they report nothing against the crown, nothing against the lords; but in the house of commons every thing is unsound; it is ruinous in every part. It is infested by the dry rot, and ready to tumble about our ears without their immediate help. You know by the faults they find, what are their ideas of the alteration. As all government stands upon opinion, they know that the way utterly to destroy it, is to remove that opinion, to take away all reverence, all confidence from it; and then at the first blast of public discontent and popular tumult it tumbles to the ground.
In considering this question, they who oppose it, oppose it on different grounds; one is, in the nature of a previous question; that some alterations may be expedient, but that this is not the time for making them. The other is, that no essential alterations are at all wanting : and that neither mon, nor at tiny time, is it prudent or safe to be meddling with the fundamental principles, and ancient tried usages of our constitution—that our representation is as nearly perfect as the necessary impersection of human affairs and of human creatures will suffer it to be, and that it is a subject of prudent and honest use and thankful enjoyment, and not of captious criticism and rash experiment.
On the other side, there are two parties who proceed on two grounds, in my opinion, as they state them, utterly irreconcileable. The one is juridical, the other political. The one is in the nature of a claim of right, on the supposed rights of man as man; this party desire the decision of a suit. The other ground, as far as I can divine what it directly means, is, that the representation is not so politically framed as to answer the theory of its institution. As to the claim of right, the meanest petitioner, the most gross and ignorant, is as good as the best; in some respects his claim is more favourable on account of his ignorance; his weakness, his poverty and distress, only add to his titles; he sues in forma pauperis; he ought to be a favourite of the court. But when the other ground is taken, when the question is political, when a new constitution is to be made on a sound theory of government, then the presumptuous pride of didactic ignorance is to be excluded from the counsel in this high and arduous matter which often bids defiance to the experience of the wisest. The first claims a personal representation, the latter rejects it with scorn and fervour. The language of the first party is plain and intelligible; they who plead an absolute right cannot be satisfied with any thing short of personal representation, because all natural rights must be the rights of individuals; as by nature there is no such thing as politic or corporate personality; all these ideas are mere fictions of law, they are creatures of voluntary institution; men as men are individuals, and nothing else. They, therefore, who reject the principle of natural and personal representation, are essentially and eternally at variance with those who claim it. As to the first sort of reformers, it is ridiculous to talk to them of the British constitution upon any or upon all of its bases; for they lay it down that every man ought to govern himself, and that where he cannot go himself he must send his representative; that all other government is usurpation, and is so far from having a claim to our obedience, it is not only our right but our duty to resist it. Nine-tenths of the reformers argue thus, that is, on the natural right. It is impossible not to make some reflection on the nature of this claim, or avoid a comparison between the extent of the principle and the present object of the demand. If this claim be founded, it is clear to what it goes. The house of commons in that light undoubtedly is no representative of the people as a collection of individuals. Nobody pretends it, nobody can justify such an assertion. When you come to examine into this claim of right, founded on the right of self-government in each individual, you find the thing demanded insi.