Page images
PDF
EPUB

have been not to be taught by experience, by his own long misfortunes, nay, by the still smoaking scaffold of his father, that princes also have duties, and many arduous ones to fulfil, and that there is not a throne whose foundation is not shaken and ruined by idleness and profligacy! Such was indeed the tottering state of the English throne when James II. ascended it. Great prudence and moderation were requisite to consolidate it again ; but James, equally deficient in both, soon completed the overthrow by his rashness and obstinacy. ? algorit

As to the unprecedented measures which were pursued at this critical juncture, and have been sanctioned both by their success and their happy consequences, it is, perhaps, not amiss to observe, that had they been properly shaped into constitu. tional questions, and fairly discussed as such, their legality might have appeared at least doubtful. There was not indeed a single word in the constitution from which any absence of the king out of his kingdomn, might be construed into an abdication of the crown. The king's mal-administration, abuse of power, and his breaking the original contract between king and people, might have been constitutionally considered as non-entities, since the constitution had proclaimed as a fundamental principle that the king can do no wrong, declaring at the same time the ministers responsible for all violations of the laws which should be committed by govern. ment. The case of the king's voluntary absence from the kingdom, was not new in England, and had ever been provided for by a regency. When Richard I. in 1189, engaged in the Holy Land's war, he appointed regents of the kingdom during his absence, Longchamp and the bishop of Durham, in preference to his own brother, prince John. Henry VIII. Lad entrusted to sixteen executors the govern

six mheen providing other

have his Had

ment of the kingdom during the minority of his son Edward VI. and appointed twelve counsellors to assist them with their advice. Therefore the same measure might have been resorted to, had the prince of Orange and the princesses Mary and Anne persevered in their refusal of the regency. But even on putting aside these argunients and fully admitting that James II. had really forfeited all his rights to the crown, those of his infant son and legal successor remained unimpaired; his absence at the age of six months was obviously involuntary and might have been provided for by a regency. In short, there seemed to be no other regular means to deprive him of the crown than to have his birth put again in question and declared spurious. Had such a state trial taken place in the existing circumstances, it might possibly have been attended with the most favourable consequences to the ambitious views of the prince of Orange. He, however, rejected that measure out of regard for his father-inlaw, and though he was the more laudable for this conduct, neither his claim nor that of princess Mary to the crown, became better for it. But these arduous difficulties disappeared all at once by all parties agreeing to appeal to the first and most sacred of all laws, the safety of the people, which did not allow to let government and public affairs remain any longer in that state of unsettledness and disorder, wherein they had been thrown by the king's absence, and the important measures which were adopted in this emergency, though obviously revolutionary, as deviating from the constitution, secured both the liberties of the people and national religion more efficaciously than they had ever been. The famous declaration of rights by a solemn royal assent confirmed at each coronation, and by a constant execution during more than a century, is become not only a necessary appendage, but a strong bulwark to the constitution. It is composed of thirteen articles, the substance of which is as follows:

" It declares that the pretended power of sus“ pending of or dispensing with laws, or the exe" cution of laws by regal authority, without con6 sent of parliament, as it has been assumed and ex66 ercised of late, is illegal; as well as the commis“ sion for erecting the late court for ecclesiastical “ causes and all other commissions and courts of

the like nature. " That the levying of money by pretence of pre

rogative without grant of parliament for lon6 ger time or any other manner than it is or shall .6 be granted, is illegal.

“ That it is the right of the subjects to petition 66 the king, and all commitments and prosecutions “ for such petitioning are illegal.

That the raising or keeping a standing army “ within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be « with consent of parliament, is against law.

" That the protestant subjects may have arms 6 for their defence suitable to their condition as 66 allowed by law.

“ That elections of members of parliament ought “ to be free.

-6 That the freedom of speech and debates or pro6 ceedings in parliament ought not to be impeached 6 or questioned in any court or place out of parliament.

66 That excessive bail ought not to be required, « nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and un6 usual punishments inflicted.

6 That jurors ought to be duly empannelled and « returned, and jurors which pass upon in trial for “ 'high treason, ought to be freeholders.

« That all grants and promises of fines and for“ feitures of particular persons before conviction « are illegal and void.

« And that for redress of all grievances, and for " the amending, strengthening, and preserving of " the laws, parliaments ought to be held frequently; 6 insisting upon all and singular the premises as " their undoubted rights and liberties; and that " no declarations, judgments, doings or proceed

ings to the prejudice of the people in any of the “ said premises ought in any wise to be drawn here: 6 after into consequence or example.”

This declaration, the basis and essential condition of the solemn contract which transferred the crown to the prince of Orange, would undoubtedly have been assented to by James II. but unfortunately his promises could no longer be relied on, as he had been very seldom true to them or even to his oath. Thus the general distrust which prevailed both towards him and the other princes of the house of Stuart, and which it must be confessed they in a great measure deserved, was not one of the lesser causes of the downfall of that dynasty; an awful lesson to all princes, which should teach them that the loss of the esteem, affection and confidence of their subjects leaves them nothing but an empty title.

The English government never was so arbitrary as at the accession of the house of Stuart. The courts of high commission and star-chamber were alone sufficient to lay the whole nation at the mercy of the prince. The high commission had been erected by an act of parliament under the reign of Elizabeth; during the great revolution of religion, to arm the sovereign with full power in order to suppress opposition. The whole life and doctrine of the clergy, lay under its inspection. Every branch of the act of uniformity, every refusal of the cere

VOL. III.

II

monies of the established church were cognizable in this court. All catholics who exercised any act of their religion, or sent their children abroad to be educated in it, were liable to be punished by the high commission. They proceeded not by information, but upon rumours, suspicions, or according to their discretion. In short, this court was allowed to employ the forms and proceedings of the inquisition with all its terrors and iniquities. The star-chamber, whose origin was derived from the most remote antiquity, possessed the same authority in civil matters, and employed the same arbitrary forms in its proceedings. Its authority or method of proceeding were neither circumscribed nor directed by any law. The constant and servile compliance of parliaments during the last period, had so much degraded them, that they were considered rather as an ornament to the fabric of government than as an essential component part of its existence.

The liberty of the press could not exist under such a government, and was therefore totally unknown. A decree of Elizabeth forbade the printing of any book any where else than in London, Oxford, or Cambridge ; another prohibited under severe penalties the publishing of any book or pamphlet against the form or meaning of any statute or law, or of any injunction made by her majesty or her privy council. James extended the same penalties to the importing of such books from abroad, and did not permit any book to be printed without a licence from the archbishops of Canterbury or York, the bishop of London, the vice-chancellor of one of the universities, or of some person appointed by them.

This despotism might have lasted many years longer had it been maintained only by continued practice; but from the moment that Jaines I. under

« PreviousContinue »