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class of the people. However dangerous these generous emotions might be in a republic, they will certainly be attended with the happiest effects under a free monarchy, when, without destroying its existence, or disturbing the public peace, guilty ambition will be continually restrained by the superior power, the sovereign, from which all honour is derived. A desire for advancement, when rationally diffused, gives life and vigour to the community, it sets all the wheels of government in motion, which, under a wise and patriotic sovereign, may be most beneficially directed : and, in consequence, every individual may be made subservient to the good of the public, while he exclusively seeks only to promote his own private views. A body of nobility is also more peculiarly necessary in our mixed and compound constitution, in order to support both the rights of the crown and the people, by forming a barrier to withstand the encroachments of each. It creates and preserves that gradual scale of dignity which proceeds from the peasant to the prince ; rising like a pyramid from the broad foundation of the people, and diminishing to a point as it rises, the sovereign being its apex. The nobility being the pillars raised up from among the people, more immediately to support the throne.
The third estate is the Commons, who sit in a house by themselves, which is frequently called the Lower House, in contradistinction to the House of Lords, or the Upper House. The old constitution of this house is, that the counties are to be represented by knights, elected by the proprietors of lands; and the cities and boroughs to be represented by citizens and burgesses, chosen by the mercantile part, or supposed trading interest of the nation. In the year 1832, a bill was passed, which greatly extended the right of suffrage, and altered in a small degree the number of representatives for each of the three kingdoms. This is commonly called the Reform Bill, and an abstract of it will be found in another part of the volume. The number of representatives in the British House of Commons formerly was 668, of whom 513 were for England and Wales, 45 for Scotland, and 100 for Ireland. Every member says Blackstone, though chosen by one particular district, when elected and returned, serves for the whole realm. For the end of his coming thither is not particular, but general, not barely to advantage his constituents, but the commonwealth, “ to advise his Majesty," (as appears from the writ of summons,)" in the great council of the nation, touching certain difficult and urgent affairs concerning the King, and defence both of the kingdom and church of England.” And, therefore, he is not bound, like a deputy in the United Provinces, or the Congress of North America, to consult with, or take the advice of, his constituents upon any particular point, unless he himself thinks it proper and prudent so to do.
The house of Commons only gradually attained to its present importance; it was not till the reign of James I, that the universities enjoyed
the permanent privilege of being represented there. Indeed, so little were the advantages of the Lower House of Parliament understood, that, in the reign of Edward I., no intelligence could be more disagreeable to any borough than to find that it must elect, or to any individual than that he was elected, to a trust to which no honour was then attached. At that time, it was usual for the members to give sureties for their attendance before the king and parliament, their expenses being respectively borne by their constituents. But the weight and influence of the house of Commons increased from time to time, till it arrived at its present rank and authority in the legislature.
These, says Blackstone, page 160, are the constituent parts of a parliament, the King, who is the caput, principium, et finis, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the Commons-parts, of which each is so necessary, that the consent of all is required to make any new law that shall be binding upon the subject. Whatever is enacted for law by one or by two only of these, is no statute, and no regard is due to it, unless in matters relating to the privileges of either house. And at the restoration of Charles II., when the constitution rose from the ruins into which Cromwell had crushed it, it was particularly enacted, 13th Car. II. c. 1, " That if any person shall maliciously or advisedly affirm, that both or either of the houses of parliament have any legislative authority without the king, such person shall incur all the penalties of a præmunire.”
Our monarchy is said to be a limited one ; and, therefore, for the better understanding of this common expression, a term which is of daily occurrence, it may not be unnecessary to say a few words on the subject of limitation. There are limitations of concession and of coercion ; both are always the act of a superior to inferiors. Thus the Almighty was pleased to limit himself, when he made covenants with, and granted conditions to mankind, and is obliged by his veracity to perform them. Fathers may also limit themselves to their children, and kings may limit themselves to their subjects, by granting them certain laws and privileges, and giving them his solemn oath to observe and keep them. Laws were made by kings, therefore kings must have been in existence before the laws ; no law can be produced that made the first king in England. We have been governed by kings as far back as history can carry us, and all the laws of England were made by kings, by the advice of parliament. Parliament recognises our kings, as particularly specified in the act 1st Eliz. and ist James I. wherein parliament acknowledged the prior right of these sovereigns from proximity of blood, but made no pretence of conferring the crown as at the disposal of parliament, but acknowledged their right and title to be from God," and thereunto we most humbly and faithfully do submit and oblige ourselves, our heirs and posterity for ever, until the last drop of our blood be spent.”
Magna Charta, which begins the statute book, is wholly an act of concession on the part of King John, and granted, as it so expresses, entirely of his free will. There was no house of Commons till after the concession of the great charter, when, as before mentioned, Henry III. first summoned the commons to aid the crown with their advice, when the style of enactments was—" Be it enacted by the king,” or, our sovereign lord the king hath ordained, by the advice of the lords, and the humble petition of the commons.” At that time, it was the privilege of the lords to advise, but the commons petitioned; the prerogative of enacting was wholly in the crown. By subsequent acts of concession, the king has limited his prerogative not to make laws without the advice and consent of the three estates of parliament, yet he has not given up any of his prerogative to them, for he alone can make an act of parliament to be law; not by way of a negative voice, for all the negatives in the world will never make a positive. A negative is only the saying this shall not be law. But the king's saying, this act shall be a law, and putting his name to it, makes it law. It is the king alone who can say, “ Le roy le veut," the king wills this to be a law, and this makes it law. The present style of acts of parliament is, “ Be it enacted by the King, with the advice of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, and by the authority of the same." Here the power of enacting rests wholly in the king, the power of advising is in the three estates ; to advise and consent is one thing, to enact is another ; “ by authority of the same,” is the king's authority, who enacts, and that of the lords and commons, who advise. “ In the multitude of councillors there is wisdom.”
The king of Great Britain, therefore, is the greatest potentate on earth, and under him, and deriving their being and authority from him, the parliament of England is the most august and powerful national assembly in the whole world. The power and jurisdiction of parliament, says Sir Edward Coke, is so transcendent and absolute, that it cannot be confined either for causes or persons within any bounds. It has authority in making, confirming, enlarging, restraining, abrogating, repealing, reviving, and expounding of laws, concerning matters of all possible denominations, ecclesiastical or temporal, civil, military, maritime, or criminal. The king in this place is incontrollable, this being the place where that absolute despotic power, which must, in all governments, reside somewhere, is entrusted by the constitution of these kingdoms. All mischiefs and grievances, operations, and remedies, that transcend the ordinary course of the laws, are within the reach of this extraordinary tribunal. It can regulate and new-model the succession to the crown, as was done in the reign of Henry VIII. and his three children and successors. It can change and create afresh even the constitution of the kingdom, and of parliaments themselves, as was done by the Act of Union, and the several statutes for
triennial and septennial elections, and as has been recently done by the passing the Bills for the reform of parliament. In short, it can do every thing that is not naturally impossible; and, therefore, some have not scrupled to call its power, by a figure certainly too bold—the omnipotence of parliament. This figure of speech applies to the king alone in the exercise of his prerogative, and it is true that what the king and parliament doth, no authority on earth can undo. So that, continues Sir E. Coke, it is a matter most essential to the liberties of this kingdom, that such members be elected for this important trust, as are most eminent for their probity, their fortitude, and their knowledge, for it was a known apothegm of the great lord treasurer Burleigh, “that England could never be ruined but by a parliament ;” and, as Sir Matthew Hale observes, this being the highest and greatest court, over which none other can have ju. risdiction in the kingdom, if by any means a misgovernment should any ways fall upon it, the subjects of this kingdom are left without all manner of remedy.
In order to prevent the mischiefs that might arise by placing such extensive privileges in hands, that are either incapable or improper for its management, it is provided by the custom and law of parliament, that no member shall sit or vote in either house before he is twenty-one years of age. And it is enacted by statute 7th Jac. I. c. 6, that no member be permitted to enter into the house of Commons, till after he has taken the oath of allegiance before the Lord Steward, or his deputy; and by statute the 30th Car. II. and 1st Geo. I., no member shall sit or vote in either house, till he shall have taken, in the presence of the house, the oaths of allegiance, supremacy, and abjuration, and also subscribed and repeated the declaration against transubstantiation, invocation of saints, and the sacrifice of the mass. The declarations against these three articles, which excluded the members of the Latin church from both houses, and also the Test Act, was repealed in the year 1829, as preliminary steps towards a “breaking in upon the Constitution ;” and by act of parliament passed for that purpose, Roman Catholic gentlemen are now eligible to sit in parliament, and to hold offices in the state, with the exception of the offices of Lord Chancellor of England, and Ireland, and the Lord Lieutenant of the latter kingdom, which three offices must always be held by Protestants. Aliens, unless naturalized, were likewise incapable to serve in parliament, but by the statute 12th and 13th William and Mary, it is declared that no alien is capable of being a member of either house of parliament.
The whole of the law and custom of parliament has its origin from this one maxim, “ That whatever matter ariseth concerning either house of parliament ought to be examined, discussed, and adjudged in that house to which it relates, and elsewhere." Hence, for instance, the lords will not suffer the commons to interfere in settling the election of one of the re
presentative peers of Scotland ; neither will the commons allow the lords to judge of the election of a burgess or knight of the shire ; nor will either house permit the subordinate courts of law to examine or discuss the merits of either case.
The privileges of parliament are most extensive, and, in fact, perfectly indefinite. They were principally established, in order to protect its members not only from being molested by their fellow subjects, but also more especially from being oppressed by the power of the crown, and the dignity and independence of both houses are in a great measure preserved by keeping their privileges indefinite, so that they can draw upon this magazine on any emergency. Henry VIII. and Elizabeth were frequently in the habit of swearing at the members of the house of commons, even striking them, imprisoning them during their own pleasure, and suffering no questions to be asked or reason given for such arbitrary proceedings. Elizabeth used to say, " That the commons ought not to deal, to judge, or to meddle with her prerogative, or with affairs of state, but to leave all such matters to those whose business it was, and who could understand them.” In Townshend's collections, page 37, it is related that that redoubtable princess limited the freedom of speech of the commons to the bare voting, yea or nay, commanding them not to meddle with reforming or transforming either church or state ; and the speaker was ordered "to reject such bills, if offered, until they be viewed and considered of by those whom it is fitter should consider of such things, and can better judge of them.” She also so limited the privilèges of the members of the house of commons,
" that no man's ill-doings or non-performance of duties, should cover or protect him.” And in a petition of access to her Majesty, the commons were confined to require such only in “ weighty matters,” and that, too, only " when her Majesty was at leisure." But in the reign of Charles the I., when a fanatical spirit of insubordination was prevalent, it was esteemed breach of privilege, and a sufficient cause for a rebellion, when that injured monarch only desired justice against five members of the commons' house. Some of the more notorious privileges of the members of either house are,—the privilege of speech, person, their domestics, and of their lands and goods. The privilege of speech was declared by the statute 1st W. and M. to be one of the liberties of the people, “ that the freedom of speech, debates, and proceedings in parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament.” This freedom of speech, as likewise the other privileges of servants, lands, and goods, are particularly demanded of the king in person, by the speaker of the house of commons at the bar of the house of lords, at the opening of every new parliament. This privilege formerly included not only protection from illegal violence, but also from legal arrests and seizures by law process; and even still, violently to assault a member of either house, or his menial servant, is a high contempt of parliament, and punishable with