« PreviousContinue »
and the second, that it was the duty of the two houses of parliament to provide the means of supplying that defect. These were agreed to, in spite of the most animated opposition, by a majority of 268 against 204; and were soon followed by a third resolution, declaring it to be necessary, for the purpose of supplying that defect, and maintaining entire the constitutional authority of the King, that the two houses should determine on the means by which the royal assent might be given to the bill, which they might adopt for constituting a regency. What the minister proposed was that the lord chancellor should be empowered to put the great seal to any act which the two houses of parliament might think
proper to pass. This resolution, which implied a monstrous fiction in itself, was attacked by Mr. Burke with the combined force of argument and ridicule. I consider myself,” said that great orator, “ as fully justified in asserting, that Great Britain is governed by an hereditary monarchy: it is so by the written, and the unwritten law: it is so by the very essence of our excellent constitution : it is our own inheritance: it is our powerful barrier, our strong rampart against the ambition of mankind : it holds out an excellent lesson to the most aspiring: it says, thus far shalt thou go, and no farther. Yet we are taught by the chancellor of the exchequer, that election alone constitutes the right of the Prince of Wales to assume the executive government during the King's incapacity. This is saying, in other words, that any other individual has in the present instance as good a right to the throne as the house of Hanover. Is it possible for such monstrous opinions to be entertained ? But at the present crisis, there is something very ungenerous in persisting in such sentinients. If we fight against the crown, let us fight against it fairly: when the monarch is seated on the throne, then the contest may be fair, and we act manfully; but what is to be done when the crown is in a deliquium ? Are we to take a man with a large brow and a big wig ? Is he a fit person ? Trust none of the royal family, for they will all rob the crown, because they are the relatives of the sovereign; and in order to give a proper and legal sanction to our proceedings, we will give a fictitious assent to our own acts. This is called the royal assent, without any intimation to the royal person of
any such assent, or to the illustrious personage who is to act for him. This is a glaring falsehood, a palpable absurdity! I do not approve of any robbery, house-breaking, highway robbery, or any other felony: yet each of them is less inexcusable than law forgery. The great seal is to be affixed to a commission robbing the executive power of its due functions: a certain composition of wax and copper is to represent the monarch : this is a species of absurd metaphysics and absurd mechanics--a fiction so preposterous, that I do not see how it is possible to treat it otherwise than with contempt and ridicule: but the great effect which this absurdity is to have makes it serious and important. I disclaim all allegiance“I renounce all obedience and loyalty to a king so chosen, and a crown so formed. I have given my allegiance already to the house of Hanover, to possess the power given by the constitution. I worship the gods of our glorious constitution ; but I will not worship Priapus--I bave
the pleasure to coincide with the idea of my right honourable friend [Mr. Fox] concerning the right of the Prince of Wales. If the King be blind, dumb, lethargic, or apoplectic, there must be some person who is perfect, or else to whom do we owe our allegiance ? Gentlemen on the other side seem to value themselves like antiquaries, who have a HOMER without a head, and thus the constitution is made a MUSEUM.'
On another debate on the same topic, Mr. Burke again exposed, with the most pointed ridicule, the absurd contrivance to enable the lord chancellor to put the great seal to the decision of the two branches only of the legislature. “ I never heard,” said he, “of a phantom being raised in a private family but for the purpose of robbing the house. So far from being a representative of the forms of the