« EelmineJätka »
venience : the inconvenience is removed, but the mischievous effects still continue : for it not only altered the constitution of Parliament; but it 'extended that same Parliament beyond its natural duration : and therefore carries this unjust implication with it, that you may at any time usurp the most indubitable, the most essential privilege of the people I mean that of choosing their own representatives.-A precedent of such a dangerous consequence, of so fatal a tendency, that I think it would be a reproach to our statute book if that law were any longer to subsist which might record it to posterity. “ This is a season of virtue and public spirit.
Let us take advantage of it, to repeal those laws which infringe our liberties, and introduce such, as may restore the vigor of our ancient constitution.
“ Human nature is so very corrupt, that all obligations lose their force unless they are frequently renewed. Long Parliaments give the minister an opportunity of getting acquaintance with members, of practising his several arts to win them into his schemes-This must be the work of time-Corruption is of so base a nature, that at first sight it is extremely shocking-Hardly any one has submitted to it all at once—His disposition must be previously understood—The particular bait must be found out, with which he is to be allured ; and, after all, it is not without many struggles that he surrenders his virtue. -Indeed there are some, who will at once plunge themselves into any base actions : but the generality of mankind are of a more cautious nature, and will proceed only by leisurable degress. One or two perhaps have deserted their colours the first campaign : some have done it a second-But a great many, who have not that eager disposition to vice, will wait a third-For this reason, short Parliaments have been less corrupt than long ones: they are observed, like streams of water, always to grow more impure, the greater distance they run from the fountain head.
“ I am aware it may be said, that frequent new Parliaments will produce frequent new expenses : but I think quite the contrary : I am really of opinion, that it will be a proper remedy against the evil of bribery at elections ; especially as you have provided so wholesome a law to cooperate upon these occasions. Bribery at elections whence did it arise ? not from country gentlemen, for they are sure of being chosen without it: it was, Sir, the invention of wicked and corrupt ministers, who have from time to time led weak princes into such destructive measures, that they did not dare to rely upon the natural representation of the people. Long Parliaments, Sir, first introduced bribery; because they were worth purchasing at any rate. Country gentlemen, who have only their private fortunes 'to rely upon, and have no mercenary ends to serve, are unable to oppose it, especially if at any time, the public treasure shall be unfaithfully squandered away to corrupt their boroughs. Country gentlemen, indeed, may make some weak efforts : but as they generally prove unsuccessful, and the time of a fresh struggle is at so great a distance, they at last grow faint in the dispute-give up their country for lost, and retire in despair. Despair naturally produces indolence, and that is the proper disposition for slavery. Ministers of State understand this very well, and are therefore unwilling to awaken the nation out of its lethargy by frequent elections. They know that the spirit of liberty, like every other virtue of the mind, is to be kept alive only by constant action : that it is impossible to enslave this nation while it is perpetually upon its guard. Let country gentlemen, then, by having frequent opportunities of exerting themselves, be kept warm and active in their contention for the public good : this will raise that zeal, and spirit, which will at last get the better of those undue influences, by which the officers of the crown, though unknown to several boroughs, have been able to supplant country gentlemen of great characters, and fortune,
who live in their neighbourhood. I do not say this upon idle speculation only. I live in a country where it is too
I well known: and I appeal to many gentlemen in the House, to more out of it, (and who are so for this very reason) for the truth of my assertion.-Sir, it is a sore which has long been eating into the most vital part of our constitution : and I hope the time will come, when you will probe it to the bottom. For if a Minister should ever gain a corrupt familiarity with our boroughs : if he should keep a register of them in his closet, and by sending down his treasury mandates, should procure a spurious representation of the people, the offspring of his corruption, who will be at all times ready to reconcile and justify the most contradictory measures of his administration : and even to vote every crude indigested dream of their patron into a law: if the maintenance of his power should become the sole object of their attention, and they should be guilty of the most violent breach of parliamentary trust, by giving the King a discretionary power of taxing the people without limitation, or control : the last fatal compliment they can pay to the crown : if this should ever be the unhappy condition of this nation : the people indeed may complain : but the doors of that place, where their complaints should be heard will for ever be shut against them. Our disease, I fear, is of a complicated nature : and I think that this motion is wisely intended to remove the first and principal disorder. Give the people their ancient right of frequent new elections: that will restore the decayed authority of Parliaments, and will put our constitution into a natural condition of working out her own cure.
“ Sir, upon the whole, I am of opinion, that I cannot express a greater zeal for his Majesty, for the liberties of the people, or the honor and dignity of this House, than by seconding the motion which the honorable gentleman has made you.”
A long debate ensued in which several of the ablest speakers distinguished themselves, particularly Sir WilLIAM WYNDHAM, who made a very strong, though not a decisive, impression upon the House, by the following burst of descriptive eloquence.
“ I have been told, Sir, that no faith is to be given to prophecies : therefore I shall not pretend to prophesy : but I may suppose a case, which, though it has not yet happened, may possibly happen. Let us then suppose a man of mean fortune, and obscure origin, abandoned to all notions of virtue, and honor, and pursuing no object but his own aggrandizement, raised by the caprice of fortune to the station of first minister : let us suppose him palpably deficient in the knowledge of the interests of his country: and employing in all transactions with foreign powers, men still more ignorant than himself: let us suppose the honor of the nation tarnished : her political consequence lost : her commerce insulted: her merchants plundered : her seamen perishing in the depths of dungeons, and all these circumstances palliated or overlooked lest his administration should be endangered : suppose him possessed of immense wealth, the spoils of an impoverished nation : and suppose this wealth employed to purchase seats in the national senate for his confidential friends and favorites. In such a parliament suppose all attempts to enquire into his conduct constantly over-ruled by a corrupt majority, who are rewarded for their treachery to the public by a profuse distribution of pensions, posts, and places under the Minister: Let us suppose this Minister insolently domineering over all men of sense, figure, and fortune in the nation ; and having no virtuous principle of his own, ridiculing it in others, and endeavouring to destroy, or contaminate it in all : With such a Minister, and such a Parliament, let us suppose a Prince upon the throne, uninformed, and unacquainted with the interests, or inclinations of his people, weak, capricious,
and actuated at once by the passions of ambition, and avarice. Should such a case ever occur, could any greater curse happen to a nation, than such a Prince, advised by such a Minister, and that Minister supported by such a Parliament? The existence of such a Prince, and such a Minister no human laws may indeed be adequate to prevent: but the existence of such a Parliament may and ought to be prevented; and the repeal of the law in question I conceive to be a most obvious, necessary, and indispensable means for the accomplishment of that purpose.”
Much ingenuity was also displayed by Mr. PULTENEY, Mr. PELHAM, and other gentlemen on both sides of the question; after which the debate was closed by Sir ROBERT WALPOLE, the introductory part of whose reply was thus pointed at Sir WILLIAM WYNDHAM's stinging suppositions :
“ I do assure you, I did not intend to have troubled you in this debate ; but such incidents now generally happen towards the end of our debates, nothing at all relating to the subject, and gentlemen make such suppositions, meaning some person, or perhaps as they say no person now existing, and talk so much of wicked ministers, domineering ministers, ministers pluming themselves in defiances, which terms and the like have been so much of late made use of in this House, that if they really mean nobody either in the House, or out of it, yet it must be supposed, they at least mean to call upon some gentleman in this House to make them a reply, and therefore I hope, I may be allowed to draw a picture in my turn-and I may likewise say, that I do not mean to give a description of any person now in being.--When gentlemen talk of ministers abandoned to all sense of virtue, or honor, other gentlemen may, I am sure, with equal justice and, I think, more justly speak of anti-ministers and mock-patriots, who never