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(either directly or obliquely tended to the emolument of the exchequer.
IV. This brings us to the fourth period of our legal history, viz. the reformation of religion, under Henry the eighth, and his children; which opens an entirely new scene in ecclesiastical matters; the usurped power of the pope being now for ever routed and destroyed, all his connexions with this island cut off, the Crown restored to its supremacy over spiritual men and causes, and the patronage of bishoprics being once more indisputably vested in the king. And, had the spiritual courts been at this time reunited to the civil, we should have seen the old Saxon constitution, with regard to ecclesiastical polity, completely restored.
With regard also to our civil policy, the statute of wills and the statute of uses, both passed in the reign of this prince, made a great alteration as to property: the former by allowing the devise of real estates by will, which before was in general forbidden : the latter, by endeavouring to destroy the intricate nicety of uses, though the narrowness and pedantry of the courts of common law prevented this statute from having its full beneficial effect. And thence the courts of equity assumed a jurisdiction, dictated by common justice and common sense; which, however arbitrarily exercised or productive of jealousies in its infancy, has at length been matured into a system of rational jurisprudence; the principles of which, notwithstanding they may differ in forms, are now equally adopted by the courts of both law and equity. From the statute of uses, and another statute of the same antiquity, which protected estates for years from being destroyed by the reversioner, a remarkable alteration took place in the mode of conveyancing: the antient assurance by feoffment and livery upon the land being thenceforth very seldom practised, since the more easy and more private invention of transferring property by secret conveyances to uses,-and long [terms of years being now continually created in mortgages and family settlements, which might be moulded to a thousand useful purposes by the ingenuity of an able artist.
The further attacks in this reign upon the immunity of estates tail, which reduced them to little more than the conditional fees at the common law before the passing of the statute De donis ; the establishment of recognizances in the nature of a statute staple, for facilitating the raising of money upon landed security, and the introduction of the bankrupt laws, as well for the punishment of the fraudulent, as the relief of the unfortunate, trader; all these were capital alterations of our legal policy, and highly convenient to that character, which the English began now to reassume, of a great commercial people. The incorporation of Wales with England, and the more uniform administration of justice, by destroying some counties palatine, and abridging the unreasonable privileges of such as remained, added dignity and strength to the monarchy ; and, together with the numerous improvements before observed upon, and the redress of many grievances and oppressions which had been introduced by his father, will ever make the administration of Henry the eighth a very distinguished era in the annals of juridical history.
It must be however remarked, that, particularly in his later years, the royal prerogative was strained to a very tyrannical and oppressive height; and, what was the worst circumstance, its encroachments were established by law, under the sanction of those pusillanimous parliaments, one of which, to its eternal disgrace, passed a statute, whereby it was enacted that the king's proclamations should have the force of acts of parliament; and others concurred in the creation of that amazing heap of wild and newfangled treasons, which were slightly touched upon in a former place. Happily for the nation this arbitrary reign was succeeded by the minority of an [amiable prince, during the short sunshine of which great part of these extravagant laws were repealed. And to do justice to the shorter reign of Queen Mary, many salutary and popular laws, in civil matters, were made under her administration, perhaps the better to reconcile the people to the bloody measures which she was induced to pursue for the re-establishment of religious slavery ; the wellconcerted schemes for effecting which were, through the providence of God, defeated by the seasonable accession of Queen Elizabeth.
The religious liberties of the nation being, by that happy event, established (we trust) on an eternal basis, though obliged in their infancy to be guided, against papists and other nonconformists, by laws of too sanguinary a nature; the forest laws having fallen into disuse; and the administration of civil rights in the courts of justice being carried on in a regular course, according to the institutions of King Edward the first, without any material innovations; all the principal grievances introduced by the Norman conquest seem to have been gradually shaken off, and our Saxon constitution restored, with considerable improvements; except only in the continuation of the military tenures, and a few other points, which still armed the Crown with a very oppressive and dangerous prerogative. It is also to be remarked, that the spirit of enriching the clergy and endowing religious houses had (through the former abuse of it) gone over to such a contrary extreme, and the princes of the house of Tudor and their favourites had fallen with such avidity upon the spoils of the church, that a decent and honourable maintenance was wanting to many of the bishops and clergy. This produced the restraining statutes, to prevent the alienation of lands and tithes belonging to the church and universities. The number of indigent persons being also greatly increased, by withdrawing the alms of the monasteries, a plan was formed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, more humane and beneficial than even [the feeding and clothing of millions; by affording them the means, with proper industry, to feed and to clothe themselves. And, the further any subsequent plans for maintaining the poor have departed from this institution, the more impracticable and even pernicious their visionary attempts have proved.
However, considering the reign of Queen Elizabeth in a great and political view, we have no reason to regret many subsequent alterations in the English constitution. For, though in general she was a wise and excellent princess, and loved her people: though in her time trade flourished, riches increased, the laws were duly administered, the nation was respected abroad, and the people happy at home; yet the increase of the power of the Star Chamber, and the erection of the High Commission Court in matters ecclesiastical, were the work of her reign. She also kept her parliaments at a very awful distance: and in many particulars she, at times, would carry the prerogative as high as her most arbitrary predecessors. It is true, she very seldom exerted this prerogative, so as to oppress individuals; but still she had it to exert: and therefore the felicity of her reign depended more on her want of opportunity and inclination, than want of power, to play the tyrant. This is a high encomium on her merit; but at the same time it is sufficient to show, that these were not those golden days of genuine liberty that we formerly were taught to believe; for surely the true liberty of the subject consists not so much in the gracious behaviour, as in the limited power, of the sovereign.
The great revolutions that had happened, in manners and in property, had paved the way, by imperceptible yet sure degrees, for as great a revolution in government: yet, while that revolution was effecting, the Crown became more arbitrary than ever, by the progress of those very means which afterwards reduced its
power. It is obvious to every observer, that till the close of the [Lancastrian civil wars, the property and the power of the nation were chiefly divided between the king, the nobility, and the clergy. The commons were generally in a state of great ignorance; their personal wealth before the extension of trade, was comparatively small; and the nature of their landed property was such as kept them in continual dependence upon their feudal lord, being usually some powerful baron, some opulent abbey, or sometimes the king himself. Though a notion of general liberty had strongly pervaded and animated the whole constitution, yet the particular liberty, the natural equality, and personal independence of individuals were little regarded or thought of; nay, even to assert them was treated as the height of sedition and rebellion. Our ancestors heard, with detestation and horror, those sentiments rudely delivered, and pushed to most absurd extremes, by the violence of a Cade and a Tyler, which have since been applauded, with a zeal almost rising to idolatry, when softened and recommended by the eloquence, the moderation, and the arguments, of a Sidney, a Locke and a Milton. But when learning, by the invention of printing and the progress of religious reformation, began to be universally disseminated; when trade and navigation were suddenly carried to an amazing extent, by the use of the compass and the consequent discovery of the Indies: the minds of men, thus enlightened by science and enlarged by observation and travel, began to entertain a more just opinion of the dignity and rights of mankind. An inundation of wealth flowed in upon the merchants and middling rank; while the two great estates of the kingdom, which formerly had balanced the prerogative (the nobility and clergy), were greatly impoverished and weakened. The popish clergy, detected in their frauds and abuses, exposed to the resentment of the populace, and stripped of their lands and revenues, stood trembling for their very existence. The nobles, enervated by the refinements of luxury (which