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[knowledge, foreign travel, and the progress of the politer arts, are too apt to introduce with themselves), and fired with disdain at being rivalled in magnificence by the opulent citizens, fell into enormous expenses; to gratify which they were permitted, by the policy of the times, to dissipate their overgrown estates and alienate their antient patrimonies. This gradually reduced their power and their influence within a very moderate bound: while the king, by the spoil of the monasteries and the great increase of the customs, grew rich, independent, and haughty: and the commons were not yet sensible of the strength they had acquired, nor urged to examine its extent by new burthens or oppressive taxations, during the sudden opulence of the exchequer. Intent upon acquiring new riches, and happy in being freed from the insolence and tyranny of the orders more immediately above them, they never dreamed of opposing the prerogative, to which they had been so little accustomed; much less of taking the lead in opposition, to which by their weight and their property they were now entitled. The latter
of Henry the eighth were, therefore, the times of the greatest despotism that have been known in this island since the death of William the Norman: the prerogative, as it then stood by common law, and much more when extended by Act of Parliament, being too large to be endured in a land of liberty.
Queen Elizabeth, and the intermediate princes of the Tudor line, had almost the same legal powers, and sometimes exerted them as roughly, as their father King Henry the eighth. But the critical situation of that princess with regard to her legitimacy, her religion, her enmity with Spain, and her jealousy of the Queen of Scots, occasioned greater caution in her conduct. She, probably, or her able advisers, had penetration enough to discern how the power of the kingdom had gradually shifted its channel, and wisdom enough not to provoke the commons to discover and feel their strength. She [therefore drew a veil over the odious part of the prerogative; which was never wantonly thrown aside, but only to answer some important purpose: and, though the royal treasury no longer overflowed with the wealth of the clergy, which had been all granted out, and had contributed to enrich the people, she asked for supplies with such moderation, and managed them with so much economy, that the commons were happy in obliging her. Such, in short, were her circumstances, her necessities, her wisdom, and her good disposition, that never did a prince so long and so entirely for the space of half a century together, reign in the affections of the people.
On the accession of King James the first, no new degree of royal power was added to, or exercised by, him: but such a sceptre was too weighty to be wielded by such a hand. The unreasonable and imprudent exertion of what was then deemed to be prerogative, upon trivial and unworthy occasions, and the claim of a more absolute power inherent in the kingly office than had ever been carried into practice, soon awakened the sleeping lion. The people heard with astonishment doctrines preached from the throne and the pulpit subversive of liberty and property, and all the natural rights of humanity. They examined into the divinity of this claim, and found it weakly and fallaciously supported : and common reason assured them, that if it were of human origin, no constitution could establish it without power of revocation, no precedent could sanctify, no length of time could confirm it. The leaders felt the pulse of the nation, and found they had ability, as well as inclination, to resist it; and accordingly resisted and opposed it, whenever the pusillanimous temper of the reigning monarch had courage to put it to the trial; and they gained some little victories in the cases of concealments, monopolies, and the dispensing power. In the mean time very little was done for the improvement of private justice except the abolition of sanctuaries, and the extension of the bankrupt laws,
[the limitation of suits and actions, and the regulating of informations upon penal statutes. For we cannot class the laws against witchcraft and conjuration, under the head of improvements; nor did the dispute between Lord Ellesmere and Sir Edward Coke, concerning the powers of the Court of Chancery, tend much to the advancement of justice.
Again, when Charles the first succeeded to the crown of his father, and attempted to revive some enormities which had been dormant in the reign of King James, the loans and benevolences extorted from the subject, the arbitrary imprisonments for refusal, the exertion of martial law in time of peace, and other domestic grievances, clouded the morning of that misguided prince's reign ; which, though the noon of it began a little to brighten, at last went down in blood, and left the whole kingdom in darkness. It must be acknowledged that, by the Petition of Right, enacted to abolish these encroachments, the English constitution received great alteration and improvement. But there still remained the latent
power of the forest laws, which the Crown most unseasonably revived. The legal jurisdiction of the Star Chamber and High Commission Courts was also extremely great; though their usurped authority was still greater. And, if we add to these, the disuse of parliaments, the ill-timed zeal and despotic proceedings of the ecclesiastical governors, in matters of mere indifference, together with the arbitrary levies of tonnage and poundage, ship-money, and other projects, we may see grounds most amply sufficient for seeking redress in a legal constitutional way. This redress, when sought was also constitutionally given; for all these oppressions were actually abolished by the king in parliament, before the rebellion broke out, by the several statutes for triennial parliaments, for abolishing the Star Chamber and High Commission Courts, for ascertaining the extent of forests and forest laws, for renouncing
[ship-money and other exactions, and for giving up the prerogative of knighting the king's tenants in capite in consequence of their feudal tenures: though it must be acknowledged that these concessions were not made with so good a grace as to conciliate the confidence of the people. Unfortunately, either by his own mismanagement, or by the arts of his enemies, the king had lost the reputation of sincerity; which is the greatest unhappiness that can befall a prince. Though he formerly had strained his prerogative not only beyond what the genius of the present times would bear, but also beyond the examples of former ages, he had now consented to reduce it to a lower ebb than was consistent with monarchical government. A conduct so opposite to his temper and principles, joined with some rash actions and unguarded expressions, made the people suspect that his condescension was merely temporary. Flushed, therefore, with the success they had gained, fired with resentment for past oppressions, and dreading the consequences if the king should regain his power, the popular leaders, who in all ages have called themselves the people, began to grow insolent and ungovernable; their insolence soon rendered them desperate; and despair at length forced them to join with a set of military hypocrites and enthusiasts, who overturned the Church and monarchy, and proceeded, with deliberate solemnity, to the trial and murder of their sovereign.
We pass by the crude and abortive schemes for amending the laws, in the times of confusion which followed : the most promising and sensible whereof, such as the establishment of new trials, the abolition of feudal tenures, the Act of navigation, and some others, were adopted in the
V. Fifth period, which is to be next mentioned, viz. after the restoration of King Charles the Second. Immediately upon which, the principal remaining grievances, [the doctrine and consequences of military tenures, was taken away and abolished, except in the instance of corruption of inheritable blood, upon attainder of treason and felony. And though the monarch in whose person the royal government was restored, and with it our antient constitution, deserves no commendation from posterity, yet in his reign, wicked, sanguinary, and turbulent as it was, the concurrence of happy circumstances was such, that from thence we may date not only the re-establishment of our Church and monarchy, but also the complete restitution of English liberty, for the first time since its total abolition at the Conquest. For therein not only these slavish tenures, the badge of foreign dominion, with all their oppressive appendages, were removed from incumbering the estates of the subject: but also an additional security of his person from imprisonment was obtained, by that great bulwark of our constitution, the Habeas Corpus Act. These two statutes, with regard to our property and persons, form a second Magna Charta, as beneficial and effectual as that of Running-Mead. That only pruned the luxuriances of the feudal system: but the statute of Charles the second extirpated all its slaveries,-except perhaps in copyhold tenure; and there also they are now in great measure enervated by gradual custom, and the interposition of our courts of justice, and under modern enactments seem to be approaching a final extinction. Magna Charta only, in general terms, declared, that no man shall be imprisoned contrary to law: the Habeas Corpus Act points him out effectual means, as well to release himself, (though committed even by the king in council,) as to punish all those who shall thus unconstitutionally misuse him.