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if he be one of those men that has a price? Because he concludes, that for 1500l. he may always secure his election, and every parliament will put near 20001. in his pocket, besides reimbursing him all his charges. After viewing the present question in this light, is it possiple, sir, not to conclude, that septennial parliaments, as well as the elections for such, must always be much more liable to be influenced by corruption than triennial, or the elections for triennial ?
For my own part, sir, I have been often chosen. I have sat in parliament above these twenty years, and I can say with truth, that neither at my election, nor after my return, no man ever dared to attempt to let me know what is meant by bribery and corruption ; but I am sorry to hear the impossibility of preventing it mentioned, and mentioned too, sir, within these walls. The honourable gentleman who spoke last, told us the evil of corruption was inevitable. If I were so unhappy as to think so, I should look upon my country to be in the most melancholy situation. Perhaps it may be the way of thinking among those he keeps company with; but I thank God I have a better opinion of my countrymen ; and since it appears to be a way of thinking among some gentle. men, it is high time for us to contrive some method of putting it out of their power to corrupt the virtue of the people ; for we may depend upon this as a certain maxim, that those who think they cannot gain the affections of the people, will endeavour to purchase their prostitution; and the best way to prevent the success of their endeavours, is to raise the price so high, as to put it out of the power of any man, or of any set of men to come up to it. If a parliament is to be purchased, if elections are to be purchased, it is manifest the corrupting of triennial must, upon the whole, cost a great deal more than the corrupting of septennial elections or parliaments. Therefore, in order to put it out of the power of any man, or of any administration, to purchase the prostitution of a parliament, or of the people, let us return to triennial parliaments ; and if that will not do, let us
return to annual elections, which, I am very certain, would render the practice of corruption impossible. This, sir, is now the more necessary, because of the many new posts and places of profit which the crown has at its disposal, and the great civil list settled upon his present majesty, and which will probably be continued to his successours. This, I say, urges the necessity for frequent new parliaments, because the crown has it now more in their
than formerly, to seduce the people, in case any future administration should find it necessary, for their own safety, to do so.
That the increase or decrease of corruption at elections, or in parliament, must always depend upon the increase or decrease of virtue among the people
, I shall readily grant; but it is as certain, that the virtue of almost every particular man depends upon
the temptations that are thrown in his way ; and according to the quantity of virtue he has, the quantity of temptation must be raised, so as at last to make it an overbalance for his virtue.
Suppose then, sir, that the generality of the electors in England have virtue enough to withstand a temptation of five guineas each, but not virtue enough to withstand a temptation of ten guineas one with another; is it not then much more probable, that the gentlemen who deal in corruption may be able to raise as much money, once every seven years, as will be sufficient to give ten guineas each, one with another, to the generality of the electors, than that they will be able to raise such a sum once in every three years? And is it not from thence certain, that the virtue of the people in ge. neral, is in greater danger of being destroyed by septennial than by triennial parliaments? To sup. pose, sir, that every man's vote at an election, is like a commodity which must be sold at the market price, is really to suppose, that no man has any virtue at all ; for I will aver, that when once a man resolves to sell his vote at any rate, he has then no virtue left, which I hope is not the case of many of our electors, and therefore the only thing we are to
apprehend is, lest so high a price should be offered as may tempt thousands to sell, who had never before any thoughts of carrying such a commodity to market. This, sir, is the fatal event we are to dread, and it is much more to be dreaded from septennial than from triennial parliaments. If we have therefore any desire to preserve the virtue of our people ; if we have any desire to preserve our constitution ; if we have any desire to preserve our liberties, our properties, and every thing that can be dear to a free people, we ought to restore the trienniel law; and if that be found to be insignificant, we ought to abolish prorogations, and return to annual elections.
The learned gentleman spoke of the prerogative of the crown, and asked us, if it had lately been extended beyond those bounds prescribed to it by law. Sir, I will not say that there has been lately any attempts to extend it beyond the bounds prescribed by law; but I will say, that those bounds have been of late so vastly enlarged, that there seems to be no great occasion for any such attempt. What are the many penal laws made within these forty years, but so many extensions of the prerogative of the crown, and as many diminutions of the liberty of the subject ? And whatever the necessity was that brought us into the enacting of such laws, it was a fatal necessity; it has greatly added to the power of the crown, and particular care ought to be taken not to throw any more weight into that scale. Perhaps the enacting of several of those penal laws might have been avoided. I am persuaded the enacting of the law, relating to trials for treason, not only might, but ought to have been avoided; for though it was but a temporary law, it was a dangerous precedent; and the rebellion was far from being so general in any county, as not to leave a sufficient number of faithful subjects, for trying those who had committed acts of treason with. in the county.
In former times, the crown had a large estate of its own; an estate sufficient for supporting the dignity of the crown; and as we had no 'standing armies, nor
any great fleets to provide for, the crown did not want frequent supplies; so that they were not under any necessity of calling frequent parliaments; and as par. liaments were always troublesome, often dangerous to ministers, therefore they avoided the calling of any such, as much as possible. But though the crown did not then want frequent supplies, the people fre. quently wanted a redress of grievances, which could not be obtained but by parliament. Therefore the only complaint then was, that the crown either did not call any parliament at all, or did not allow them to sit long enough. This was the only complaint, and to remedy this, it was thought sufficient to provide for having frequent parliaments; every one of wh 'twas presumed, was always to be a new parliament; for it is well known, that the method of prorogation was of old very rarely made use of, and was first introduced by those who were attempting to make encroachments upon the rights of the people.
But now, sir, the case is altered. The crown, either by ill management, or by prodigality and profuseness to its favourites, has spent or granted away all that estate; and the publick expense is so much enlarged, that the crown must have annual supplies, and is therefore under a necessity of having the parliament meet every year; but as new elections are always dangerous, as well as troublesome to ministers of state, they are for having them as seldom as possible; so that the complaint is not now for want of frequent meetings or sessions of parliament, but against having the same parliament continued too long. This is the grievance now complained of. This is what the people desire. This is what they have a right to have redressed. The members of parliament may, for one year, be looked on as the real and true representatives of the people: but when a minister has seven years to practise upon them, and to feel their pulse, they may be induced to forget whose representatives they are. They may throw off all dependance upon their electors, and may become dependants upon the crown, or rather upon the minister for the time being, which
the learned gentleman has most ingenuously confessed to us, he thinks less dangerous than a dependance upon his electors.
We have been told, sir, in this house, that no faith is to be given to prophecies, therefore I shall not pretend to prophecy; but I may suppose a case, which, though it has not yet happened, may possibly happen. Let us then suppose, sir, a man abandoned to all notions of virtue or honour, of no great family, and of but a mean fortune, raised to be chief minister of state, by the concurrence of many whimsical events; afraid or unwilling to trust any but creatures of his own making, and most of them equally abandoned to all notions of virtue or honour ; ignorant of the true interest of his country, and consulting nothing but that of enriching and aggrandizing himself and his favourites ; in foreign affairs, trusting none but such whose education makes it impossible for them to have such knowledge or such qualifications, as can either be of service to their country, or give any weight or credit to their negotiations. Let us suppose the true interest of the nation, by such means, neglected or misunderstood; her honour and credit lost; her trade insulted, her merchants plundered; and her sailors murdered ; and all these things overlooked, only for fear his administration should be endangered. Suppose him, next, possessed of great wealth, the plunder of the nation, with a parliament of his own choosing, most of their seats purchased, and their votes bought at the expense of the publick treasure. In such a parliament, let us suppose attempts made to inquire into his conduct, or to relieve the nation from the distress he has brought upon it; and when lights proper for attaining those ends are called for, not perhaps for the information of the particular gentlemen who call for them, but because nothing can be done in a parliamentary way, till these things be in a proper way laid before parliament; suppose these lights refused, these reasonable requests rejected by a corrupt majority of his creatures, whom he retains in daily pay, or engages in his particular interest, by granting them those posts