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ried to an excess. The great expenses of county elections, which deter men of moderate fortune from competition for a seat, are justly complained of. Something might be done to abate this inconvenience, by authorizing the Sheriff, in the greatest counties, to take the poll at different places in succession. The laws against treating, and the payment of expenses, have hitherto been always either inactive or vexatious. They have in general been disregarded; and in the few instances in which they have been enforced, it has been either as an election manœuvre, or for the gratification of personal malice.
After all, however, the power of great wealth in counties, exercised quietly in the form of permanent influence, and blended with feelings of respect and attachment towards the hereditary owners of the soil, is not to be regarded as altogether an unmixed evil. It is in the elections for towns, that the action of wealth is most undisguised and odious: and the most inconvenient instances of it arise, perhaps, from the right of non-resident freemen to vote for great towns. These non-residents, now spread in great numbers over the country, are in general of the lowest condition, unable to defray the charge of going to the place of election, and willing to vote for any candidate who will pay for the pleasures of their journey. They are often numerous enough to decide the election; so that the chance of success may be exactly determined, by knowing how much each candidate can afford to spend. Venality has here no decent disguise. The power of wealth is not purified by association with better feelings. There are not here, as in cases of the permanent influence of property, any long habits of respect for superiority, or any sentiments of gratitude for kindness. The effect of this is an undisguised triumph of money alone over every sort of natural influence. The manufacturer, the trader, the landholder of the neighbouring county, are put to flight by an adventurer, who need not possess even wealth, if he can dispose of a sum large enough to purchase the votes of non-resident voters. The obvious remedy for this grievance would be, to require every freeman to be resident in the borough for which he claims to vote, for six months previous to the day of election,-according to the present law, in those rights of voting which depend on inhabitancy.
Fifthly, It is to be observed, that a repeal of the disabilities which affect the Catholics, may, in one point of view, be considered as a measure of Reform. It is in itself just and wise: the
* St. 26 G. III. c. 100.
majority of its friends are not reformers; and its necessity is demonstrated by arguments which are wholly unconnected with any change in the frame of Parliament. But it is also a consequence from the principles of representation which we have been endeavouring to establish. The English Catholics are a large and respectable body of men, who do not possess the elective franchise. The class is unrepresented, and possesses no political security for its common interest, which is the enjoyment of religious liberty. The Irish Catholics, indeed, possess the elective franchise; but they are inadequately represented, because they cannot chuse members who, being of the same faith with themselves, have a like interest in defending the free exercise of their religious worship. The Catholics probably form a fifth part of the inhabitants of the British islands. That so great a body should be left without representatives, or restricted from chusing those who are best qualified to guard their highest interest, is not a casual or trivial irregularity, but a great practical evil, and a gross departure from all our ancient principles of representation.
The only matter which remains for consideration, is, whether any change should be made in the Duration of Parliaments. It is here placed last, because it seems to be the Reform which ought to be last in the order of time. As long as every other part of the elective system continues, it is doubtful whether more frequent elections would not rather increase, than diminish, both the power of wealth and the influence of the Crown. It is true that, on the eve of a general election, a septennial Parliament has commonly shown more deference for the opinions of their constituents, than on other occasions. But, on the other hand, the more frequent occurrence of a ruinous expense, would deter prudent and respectable men from offering themselves; and might thus throw a greater number of seats into the hands of adventurers, or of the Court. When the expense of elections, however, is reduced, and the basis of representation widened, we are clearly of opinion that it will be also proper to shorten the duration of Parliament.
The principle of short Parliaments was solemnly declared at the Revolution. On the 29th of January 1689, seven days after the Convention was assembled, the following Resolution was adopted by the House of Commons. Resolved, That a Committee be appointed to bring in general heads of such things as are absolutely necessary to be considered, for the better securing our Religion, Laws, and Liberties.' Of this Committee Mr Somers was one. On the 2d of February, Sir George
Treby, from the Committee thus appointed, reported the general heads on which they had agreed. The 11th article of these general heads was as follows. "That the too long continuance of the same Parliament be prevented.' On the 4th of February it was ordered, That it be referred to the Committee to distinguish such general heads as are introductive of new laws, from those that are declaratory of ancient rights. On the 7th of the same month, the Committee made their Second Report; and, after going through the declaratory part, which constitutes the Bill of Rights as it now stands, proposed the following, among other clauses, relating to the introduction of new laws. And towards the making a more firm and perfect settlement of the said Religion, Laws, and Liberties, and for remedying several defects and inconveniences; It is proposed and advised by * Commons, that there be provision, by new laws, made in such manner, and with such limitations, as by the wisdom and justice of Parliament shall be considered and ordained in the particulars; and in particular, and to the purposes following, viz. for preventing and for preventing the too long continuance of the same Parliament.' The articles which required new laws being thus distinguished, It was resolved on the following day, on the motion of Mr Somers, That it be an instruction to the said Committee, to connect, to the vote of the Lords, such part of the heads passed this House yesterday as are declaratory of ancient rights; leaving out such parts as are introductory of new laws.' The declaratory articles were accordingly formed into the Declaration of Rights; and in that state were, by both Houses, presented to the Prince and Princess of Orange, and accepted by them, with the Crown of England. But the articles introductive of new laws, though necessarily omitted in a Declaration of Rights, had been adopted without a division by the House of Commons; who thus, at the very moment of the Revolution, determined, that a firm and perfect settlement of the Religion, Laws, and Liberties,' required provision by a new law, for preventing the too long continuance of the same Parliament.'
But though the principle of New Parliaments was thus solemnly recognised at the Revolution, the time of introducing the new law, the means by which its object was to be attained, and the precise term to be fixed for the Duration of Parliament, were reserved for subsequent deliberation. Attempts were made to give effect to the principle in 1692 and 1693, by a Triennial
*This blank is left for the Lords,' in case of the concurrence of that House.
VOL. XXXIV. NO. 68.
Bill. In the former year, it passed both Houses, but did not receive the Royal assent. In the latter, it was rejected by the House of Commons. In 1694, after Sir John Somers was raised to the office of Lord Keeper, the Triennial Bill passed into a law. It was not confined, like the bills under the same title, in the reigns of Charles I. and Charles II., (and with which it is too frequently confounded) to provisions for securing the frequent sitting of Parliament. It for the first time limited their duration. Till the passing of this bill, Parliament, unless dissolved by the King, might legally have continued till the demise of the Crown, its only natural and necessary termination.
The Preamble* is deserving of serious consideration. 'Whereas, by the ancient laws and statutes of this kingdom, frequent Parliaments ought to be held; and whereas frequent and new Parliaments tend very much to the happy union and good agreement of the King and People.' The act then proceeds, in the first section, to provide for the frequent holding of Parliaments, according to the former laws; and in the second and third sections, by enactments which were before unknown to our laws, to direct, that there shall be a new Parliament every three years, and that no Parliament shall have continuance longer than three years at the farthest. Here, as at the time of the Declaration of Rights, the holding of Parliaments is carefully distinguished from their election: The two parts of the Preamble refer separately to each of these objects: The frequent holding of Parliaments is declared to be conformable to the ancient laws; but the frequent election of Parliament is considered only as a measure highly expedient on account of its tendency to preserve Harmony between the Government and the People.
The principle of the Triennial Act, therefore, seems to be of as high constitutional authority as if it had been inserted in the Bill of Rights itself, from which it was separated only that it might be afterwards carried into effect in a more convenient manner. The particular term of three years is an arrangement of expediency, to which it would be folly to ascribe any great importance. This act continued in force only for twenty years. Its opponents have often expatiated on the corruption and disorder in elections, and the instability in the national councils which prevailed during that period. But the country was then so much disturbed by the weakness of a new government, and the agitation of a disputed succession, that it is impossible to ascertain whether more frequent elections had share in augany menting the disorder. At the accession of George I. the duration of Parliament was extended to seven years, by the famous
* W. & M. VI. c. 2.
of which the preamble as
statute called the Septennial Act, serts, that the last provision of the Triennial Act if it should continue, may probably at this juncture, when a restless and Popish faction are designing and endeavouring to renew the rebellion within this kingdom, and an invasion from abroad, be destructive to the peace and security of the government.' This allegation is now ascertained to have been perfectly true. There is the most complete historical evidence that all the Tories of the kingdom were then engaged in a conspiracy to effect a counter revolution; to wrest from the people all the securities which they had obtained for liberty; to brand them as rebels, and to stigmatise their rulers as usurpers; and to reestablish the principles of slavery, by the restoration of a family, whose claim to power was founded on their pretended authority. It is beyond all doubt, that a general election at that period would have endangered all these objects. In these circumstances the Septennial Act was passed, because it was necessary to secure Liberty. But it was undoubtedly one of the highest exertions of the legislative authority. It was a deviation from the course of the Constitution too extensive in its effects, and too dangerous in its example, to be warranted by motives of political expediency. It could be justified only by the necessity of preserving liberty. The Revolution itself, was a breach of the laws; and it was as. great a deviation from the principles of the Monarchy, as the Septennial Act could be from the Constitution of the House of Commons:-and the latter can only be justified by the same ground of necessity, with that glorious Revolution of which it probably contributed to preserve-(would to God we could say to perpetuate) the inestimable blessings.
It has been said by some, that as the danger was temporary, the law ought to have been passed only for a time, and that it should have been delayed till the approach of a general election should ascertain, whether a change in the temper of the people had not rendered it unnecessary. But it was necessary, at the instant, to confound the hopes of conspirators, who were then supported and animated by the prospect of a general election; and if any period had been fixed for its duration, it might have weakened its effect, as a declaration of the determined resolution of Parliament to stand or fall with the Revolution.
It is now certain, that the conspiracy of the Tories against the House of Hanover, continued till the last years of the reign of George II. The Whigs, who had preserved the fruits of the Revolution, and upheld the tottering Throne of the Hanoverian Family during half a century, were, in this state of things, un
1 Geo. I. st. 2. c. 38.