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upon the subject is, to diminish the first impression: t on which account it deserves the more attentive examination, that we may be assured, before we adventure upon a reformation, that the magnitude of the evil justifies the danger of the experiment. In a few remarks that follow, we would be understood, in the first place, to decline all conference with those who wish to alter the form of government of these kingdoms. The refermers with whom we have to do, are they who, whilst they change this part of the system, would retain the rest. If any Englishman expect more happiness to his country under a republic, he may very consistently recommend a new modelling of elections to parliament: because if the King and House of Lords were laid aside, the present disproportionate representation would produce nothing but a confused and ill-digested oligarchy. In like manner we wave a controversy with those writers who insist upon representation as a natural right:* we consider it so far only as a right at all, as it conduces to public utility; that is, as it contributes to the establishment of good laws, or as it secures to the people the just administration of these laws. The effects depend upon the disposition and abilities of the national counsellors. Wherefore, if men, the most likely by their qualifications to know and to promote the public interest, be actually returned to parliament, it signifies little who return them. If the properest persons be elected, what matters it by whom they are elected? At least no prudent statesman would subvert long-established or even settled rules of representation, without a prospect of procuring wiser or better representatives. This then being well observed, let us, before we seek to obtain any thing more, consider duly what we already have. We have a House of Commons composed of five hundred and fifty-eight members, in which number
*If this right be natural, no doubt it must be equal; and the right, we may add, of one sex, as well as of the other. Whereas every plan of representation that we have heard of begins by excluding the votes of women; thus cutting off, at a single stroke, one half of the public from the right which is asserted to be inherent in all; a right too, as some represent it, not only universal but inalienable, and indefeasible, and imprescriptible.
are found the most considerable landholders and merchants of the kingdom; the heads of the army, the navy, and the law; the occupiers of great offi ces in the state: together with many private individuals, eminent by their knowledge, eloquence, or activity. Now if the country be not safe in such hands, in whose may it confide its interests? If such a number of men be liable to the influence of corrupt motives, what assembly of men will be secure from the same danger? Does any new scheme of representation promise to collect together more wisdom, or to produce firmer integrity? In this view of the subject, and attending not to ideas of order and proportion, (of which many minds are much enamoured,) but to effects alone, we may discover just excuses for those parts of the present representation which appear to a hasty observer most exceptionable and absurd. It should be remembered, as a maxim extremely applicable to this subject, that no order or assembly of men whatever can long maintain their place and authority in a mixed government, of which the members do not individually possess a respectable share of personal importance. Now, whatever may be the defects of the present arrangement, it infallibly secures a great weight of property to the House of Commons, by rendering many seats in that house accessible to men of large fortunes, and to such men alone. By which means those characters are engaged in the defence of the separate rights and interests of this branch of the legislature, that are best able to support its claims. The constitution of most of the small boroughs, especially the burgage tenure, contributes, though undesignedly, to the same effect: for the appointment of the representatives we find commonly annexed to certain great inheritances. Elections purely popular are in this respect uncertain in times of tranquillity, the natural ascendarcy of wealth will prevail; but when the minds of men are inflamed by political dissensions, this influence often yields to more impetuous motives. The variety of tenures and qualifications, upon which the right of voting is founded, appears to me a recommendation of the mode which now subsists, as it tends to introduce into parliament a cor
sponding mixture of characters and professions. It has been long observed that conspicuous abilities are most frequently found with the representatives of small boroughs. And this is nothing more than what the laws of human conduct might teach us to expect when such boroughs are set to sale, those men are likely to become purchasers who are enabled by their talents to make the best of their bargain when a seat is not sold, but given by the opulent proprietor of a burgage tenure, the patron finds his own interest consulted, by the reputation and abilities of the member whom he nominates. If certain of the nobility hold the appointment of some part of the House of Commons, it serves to maintain that alliance between the two branches of the legislature which no good citizen would wish to see dissevered: it helps to keep the government of the country in the House of Commons, in which it would not perhaps long continue to reside, if sa powerful and wealthy a part of the nation as the peerage compose, were excluded from all share and interest in its constitution. If there be a few boroughs so circumstanced as to lie at the dispo sal of the crown, whilst the number of such is known and small, they may be tolerated with little danger. For where would be the impropriety or the inconveniency, if the king at once should nominate a limited number of his servants to seats in parliament; or, what is the same thing, if seats in parliament were annexed to the possession of certain of the most efficient and responsible offices in the state? The present representation, after all these deductions, and under the confusion in which it confessedly lies, is still in such a degree popular, or rather the representatives are so connected with the mass of the community by a society of interests and passions, that the will of the people, when it is determined, permanent, and general, almost always at length prevails.
Upon the whole, in the several plans which have been suggested, of an equal or reformed representation, it will be difficult to discover any propo sal that has a tendency to throw more of the busi ness of the nation into the House of Commons, or to collect a set of men mere fit te transact that bu
siness, or in general more interested in the national happiness and prosperity. One consequence, however, may be expected from these projects, namely, "less flexibility to the influence of the crown." And since the diminution of this influence is the declared and perhaps the sole design of the various schemes that have been produced, whether for regulating the elections, contracting the duration, or for purifying the constitution of parliament by the exclusion of placemen and pensioners; it is obvious to remark, that the more apt and natural, as well as the more safe and quiet way of attaining the same end, would be by a direct reduction of the patronage of the crown, which might be effected to a certain extent without hazarding farther consequences. Superfluous and exorbitant emoluments of office may not only be suppressed for the present; but provisions of law be devised, which should for the future restrain within certain limits the number and value of the offices in the donation of the king.
But whilst we dispute concerning different schemes of reformation, all directed to the same end, a previous doubt occurs in the debate, whether the end itself be good, or safe-whether the influence so loudly complained of, can be destroyed, or even much diminished, without danger to the state. Whilst the zeal of some men beholds this influence with a jealousy which nothing but its entire abolition can appease, many wise and virtuous politicians deem a considerable portion of it to be as necessary a part of the British constitution, as any other ingredient in the composition;-to be that, indeed, which gives cohesion and solidity to the whole. Were the measures of government, say they, opposed from nothing but principle, government ought to have nothing but the rectitude of its measures to support them but since opposition springs from other motives, government must possess an influence to counteract these motives; to produce, not a bias of the passions, but a neutrality-it must have some weight to cast into the scale, to set the balance even. It is the nature of power, always to press upon the boundaries which confine it. Licentiousness, faction, envy, impa
tience of control or inferiority; the secret pleasure of mortifying the great, or the hope of dispossessing them; a constant willingness to question and thwart whatever is dictated or even proposed by another; a disposition common to all bodies of men, to extend the claims and authority of their orders; above all, that love of power and of showing it, which resides more or less in every human breast, and which, in popular assemblies, is inflamed, like every other passion, by communication and encouragement: these motives, added to private designs and resentments, cherished also by popular acclamation, and operating upon the great share of power already possessed by the House of Commons, might induce a majority, or at least a large party of men in that assembly, to unite in endeavouring to draw to themselves the whole government of the state: or, at least, so to obstruct the conduct of public affairs, by a wanton and perverse opposition, as to render it impossible for the wisest statesmen to carry forward the business of the nation with success or satisfaction.
Some passages of our national history afford grounds for these apprehensions.-Before the accession of James the First, or, at least, during the reigns of his three immediate predecessors, the government of England was a government by force; that is, the king carried his measures in parliament by intimidation. A sense of personal danger kept the members of the House of Commons in subjection. A conjunction of fortunate causes delivered, at last, the parliament and nation from slavery. That overbearing system which had declined in the hands of James, expired early in the reign of his son. After the Restoration, there succeeded in its place, and, since the Revolution, has been methodically pursued, the more successful expedient of influence. Now we remember what passed between the loss of terror, and the establishment of influence. The transactions of that interval, whatever we may think of their occasion or effect, no friend of regal government would wish to see revived.-But the affairs of this kingdom afford a more recent attestation to the same doctrine. In the British colonies of North America, the late