Page images

part in opulence. Twelve judges perform the whole of the business, both of the stationary and the itinerant justice of this kingdom; but for Wales there are eight judges. There is in Wales an exchequer, as well as in all the duchies, according to the very best and most authentic absurdity of form. There are in all of them a hundred more difficult trifles and laborious fooleries, which serve no other purpose than to keep alive corrupt hope and servile dependence.

These principalities are so far from contributing to the ease of the king, to his wealth, or his dignity, that they render both his supreme and his subordinate authority perfectly ridiculous. It was but the other day, that that pert, factious fellow, the Duke of Lancaster, presumed to fly in the face of his liege lord, our gracious sovereign, and, associating with a parcel of lawyers as factious as himself, to the destruction of all law and order, and in committees leading directly to rebellion, presumed to go to law with the king. The object is neither your business nor mine. Which of the parties got the better I really forget. I think it was (as it ought to be) the king. The material point is, that the suit cost about fifteen thousand pounds. But as the Duke of Lancaster is but a sort of Duke Humphrey, and not worth a groat, our sovereign was obliged to pay the costs of both. Indeed, this art of converting a great monarch into a little prince, this royal masquerading, is a very dangerous and expensive amusement, and one of the king's menus plaisirs, which ought to be reformed. This duchy, which is not worth four thousand pounds a year at best to revenue, is worth forty or fifty thousand to influence.

The Duchy of Lancaster and the County Palatine

of Lancaster answered, I admit, some purpose in their original creation. They tended to make a subject imitate a prince. When Henry the Fourth from that stair ascended the throne, high-minded as he was, he was not willing to kick away the ladder. To prevent that principality from being extinguished in the crown, he severed it by act of Parliament. He had a motive, such as it was: lie thought his title to the crown unsound, and his possession insecure. Ho therefore managed a retreat in his duchy, which Lord Coke calls (I do not know why) “par multis regnis.He flattered himself that it was practicable to make a projecting point half way down, to break his fall from the precipice of royalty; as if it were possible for one who had lost a kingdom to keep anything else. However, it is evident that he thought so. When Henry the Fifth united, by act of Parliament, the estates of his mother to the duchy, he had the same predilection with his father to the root of his family honors, and the same policy in enlarging the sphere of a possible retreat from the slippery royalty of the two great crowns he held. All this was changed by Edward the Fourth. He had no such family partialities, and his policy was the reverse of that of Henry the Fourth and Henry the Fifth. He accordingly again united the Duchy of Lancaster to the crown. But when Henry the Seventh, who chose to consider himself as of the House of Lancaster, came to the throne, he brought with him the old pretensions and the old politics of that house. A new act of Parliament, a second time, dissevered the Duchy of Lancaster from the crown; and in that line things continued until the subversion of the monarchy, when principalities and powers fell along with

[ocr errors]

the throne. The Duchy of Lancaster must have been extinguished, if Cromwell, who began to form ideas of aggrandizing his house and raising the several branches of it, had not caused the duchy to be again separated from the commonwealth, by an act of the Parliament of those times.

What partiality, what objects of the politics of the House of Lancaster, or of Cromwell, has his present Majesty, or his Majesty's family? What power have they within any of these principalities, which they have not within their kingdom? In what manner is the dignity of the nobility concerned in these principalities? What rights have the subject there, which they have not at least equally in every other part of the nation? These distinctions exist for no good end to the king, to the nobility, or to the people. They ought not to exist at all. If the crown (contrary to its nature, but most conformably to the whole tenor of the advice that has been lately given) should so far forget its dignity as to contend that these jurisdictions and revenues are estates of private property, I am rather for acting as if that groundless claim were of some weight than for giving up that essential part of the reform. I would value the clear income, and give a clear annuity to the crown, taken on the medium produce for twenty years.

If the crown has any favorite name or title, if the subject has any matter of local accommodation within any of these jurisdictions, it is meant to preserve them, - and to improve them, if any improvement can be suggested. As to the crown reversions or titles upon the property of the people there, it is proposed to convert them from a snare to their independence into a relief from their burdens. I propose, there

fore, to unite all the five principalities to the crown,

, and to its ordinary jurisdiction, — to abolish all those offices that produce an useless and chargeable separation from the body of the people, – to compensate those who do not hold their offices (if any such there are) at the pleasure of the crown,- to extinguish vexatious titles by an act of short limitation, to sell those unprofitable estates which support useless jurisdictions, and to turn the tenant-right into a fee, on such moderate terms as will be better for the state than its present right, and which it is impossible for any rational tenant to refuse.

As to the duchies, their judicial economy may be provided for without charge. They have only to fåll of course into the common county administration. A commission more or less, made or omitted, settles the matter fully. As to Wales, it has been proposed to add a judge to the several courts of Westminster Hall; and it has been considered as an improvement in itself. For my part, I cannot pretend to speak upon it with clearness or with decision; but certainly this arrangement would be more than sufficient for Wales. My original thought was, to suppress five of the eight judges; and to leave the chief-justice of Chester, with the two senior judges; and, to facilitate the business, to throw the twelve counties into six districts, holding the sessions alternately in the counties of which each district shall be composed. But on this I shall be more clear, when I come to the particular bill.

Sir, the House will now see, whether, in praying for judgment against the minor principalities, I do not act in conformity to the laws that I had laid to myself: of getting rid of every jurisdiction more subservient to oppression and expense than to any end of justice or honest policy; of abolishing offices more expensive than useful; of combining duties improperly separated ; of changing revenues more vexatious than productive into ready money; of suppressing offices which stand in the way of economy; and of cutting off lurking subordinate treasuries. Dispute the rules, controvert the application, or give your hands to this salutary measure.

Most of the same rules will be found applicable to my second object, - the landed estate of the crown. A landed estate is certainly tho very worst which the crown can possess. All minute and dispersed possessions, possessions that are often of indeterminate value, and which require a continued personal attendance, are of a nature more proper for private management than public administration. They are fitter for the care of a frugal land-steward than of an office in the state. Whatever they may possibly have been in other times or in other countries, they are not of magnitude enough with us to occupy a public department, nor to provide for a public object. They are already given up to Parliament, and the gift is not of great value. Common prudence dictates, even in the management of private affairs, that all dispersed and chargeable estates should be sacrificed to the relief of estates more compact and better circumstanced.

If it be objected, that these lands at present would sell at a low market, this is answered by showing that money is at a high price. The one balances the other. Lands sell at the current rate ; and nothing can sell for more. But be the price what it may, a great object is always answered, whenever any property is transferred from hands that are not fit for that

« PreviousContinue »