« EelmineJätka »
It was, no doubt, true, that in troublesome times, it might be necessary to delegate a larger portion of power to the executive government; but why should innovations in favor of prerogative be watched with less jealousy than innovations in favor of the popular part of the constitution? The business of reform appeared to have slept from 1785 to 1790, when it was again brought forward by Mr. Flood; at that time, the internal convulsion in France had but just begun; and it was then asked, whether we would think of repairing our house in the hurricane season. But he would, no doubt, be told that the danger is now greater than ever this country experienced by many degrees; for the dangers, talked of at other times, are held to be all of no account, when compared with the danger of what are called French principles : if, however, there was ever any danger to this country from the propagation of French principles, or from this encreasing dominion of France, that danger is unquestionably completely at an end ; for it was impossible that any set of men, who had not actually lost their senses, should ever propose the French revolution as a model for imitation: no argument, therefore, drawn from the situation of France, could apply to the kind of reform, which it was the wish of those with whom he acted to introduce.
“It had been said last year by the Right Honorable Gentleman, that this country had just recovered from the calamities of the American war, and that it would be imprudent to risk by innovation the growing prosperity of the country. Now the case was unhappily most woefully reversed ; besides being involved in a most ruinous war, the whole commercial credit of the nation is shaken, and we have sunk from the zenith of our prosperity into the most necessitous and distressed situation ; witness the bill with respect to commercial credit, which that house had just passed; witness the daily numerous bankruptcies. In this calamitous state with respect to credit at home and war abroad, nothing could tend so much in all probability to deliver the country from these dreadful evils, as to have a pure and uncorrupted house of commons emanating freely and fairly from the people. Had a reform in the representation of the people taken place upon the end of the war and conclusion of the peace in 1763, this country had in all likelihood escaped the American war :- If it had taken place last year, it would probably have saved us from our present distresses. He and his friends, he said, had published, last year, their opinions on this subject, and credit would some time or other be done them for it. At that time, this country was at peace: Europe was distracted : had the house of commons been a free and fair representation of the people, these advantages would most probably have been improved and secured. At present it is said that principles have been held, supported by arguments equally dangerous to the constitution and to order: but, how can these be so well met as by amending the errors of the constitution ? With these views, he had given notice of the motion which he now brought forward. However unwilling he was to put this case upon the weight of authority; yet at a time when it has become customary to charge with bad views all those who talk of any species of alteration, he thought it right to state it had the support of very great and high authorities. It had been supported by Mr. Locke; by Mr. Justice BLACKSTONE; by the late Sir GEORGE SAVILLE; by the Earl of CHATHAM; and by the present Master of the Rolls ; the present Lord Chief Baron ; and the present I ord Chief Justice of the King's Bench. It had been supported by the Right Honorable Gentleman (Mr. Pitt) himself; and by the Duke of RICHMOND; and by an authority still greater than these, viz. by a speech of his Majesty from the throne. On looking into the journals of the 24th of May 1784, he found a motion made that the King's speech should be read, wherein his Majesty
says, that he would be always desirous to concur with his Parliament, in supporting and maintaining, in its just balance, the rights of every branch of the legislature.
“ If he did not think it requisite to follow the petition in the detail of facts, it was for no other cause than that they are so fully stated ; and can be distinctly proved. What could be more palpably absurd in point of inequality, for instance, than that the county of Cornwall should send to Parliament almost as many members as the whole of Scotland? And that representatives should be sent from places where hardly a house remains ? And the fact being indisputable, he would now come to consider the effect: if, according to the present system, worthy, able, and independent men were likely to be chosen as representatives of the people, he would not aim at a change ; but if quite the reverse is the case, and if elections are in most cases procured by corruption, then a speedy and effectual remedy would become essentially necessary ; he wished the question to be decided on sound and fair argument. He mentioned this chiefly, because general representation is commonly supposed to be founded on natural right: but he rested his argument not on natural right: but upon what is in itself the best system of government, and most conducive to the happiness of the subjects.
When he spoke of the constitution of this country, he did not speak of it as of a system, which had been established at any one time. No-it had arisen out of various contingencies, and at different periods; and its goodness and excellence originated from the very cause, on account of which some persons have pretended to deny that we have any constitution at all. But if there was one principle more strongly inculcated than another, at the time of the revolution, it was this, that the election of the house of commons should be free. One of the resolations carried at that important æra was, that King JAMES had violated the freedom of election, whence it would follow that the crown ought not in a degree to interfere in the election of those who were to represent the people ; but that the latter should be left to send to Parliament the persons who were the objects of their free choice. Another principle asserted at the revolution was, that a man ought not to be governed by laws in the framing of which he had not a voice, either in person or by his representative ; and that he ought not to be made to pay any tax, to which he should not have consented in the same way. Now, he asked, was it possible more completely to trample upon these two principles, than to make the house of commons consist of persons not chosen by the people ? At the revolution also the necessity of short Parliaments was asserted; and every departure from these principles is in some shape a departure from the spirit and practice of the constitution : yet, when they are compared with the present state of the representation, how does the matter stand? Are the elections free? or are Parliaments free? With respect to shortening the duration of Parliament, it did not appear to him that it would be advantageous, without a total alteration of the present system. But if it be said, that we are now in possession of that constitution derived from our ancestors, and settled at the revolution, he would ask whether there have been no alterations since the revolution?
“ Has not the patronage of Peers encreased ? Is not the patronage of India now vested in the Crown? Are all these innovations to be made in order to encrease the influence of the executive power, and is nothing to be done in favor of the popular part of the constitution to act as a counterpoise? But has there been no alteration, since the revolution, even in the form and constitution of the house of commons itself, which has gone to the encrease of influence? The introduction of forty-five members to represent in the British Parliament the people of Scotland had also strengthened the hands of the crown ; an assettion which no one could dispute, who was at all acquainted with the manner in which the Scotch members were elected. The abuse of burgage tenures, in defiance of an act of King WILLIAM, gave the crown an influence in many boroughs in England. He read a passage from that Act, in which it was declared, that all splitting of tenure tenements, and messuages, and hereditaments, for the purpose of multiplying votes, should be deemed illegal and of no effect; and yet, though this statute, by extending to all kinds of towns, necessarily included burgage tenures, the latter had unaccountably been suffered to creep out of the statute, and were daily multiplied in defiance of it, for the purpose of multiplying votes and encreasing influence at elections. On this subject he quoted an opinion given judicially by lord THURLOW, when sitting as Chancellor in the house of Lords, in an appeal cause from Scotland, respecting the right of voting at elections in that part of the kingdom. That learned Lord, after having said, that the right of election in Scotland had been debased, and put on the level of an English burgage tenure; the house of commons, he said, had an unlimitted jurisdiction in the trial of all questions respecting the election of its members; but if the right of election could by law be decided in a court of law in England, as it was in Scotland, he was convinced an English court of law would not be satisfied with such a mode of election as this, that a Nobleman's steward should go down to a borough with ten or twelve pieces of parchment in his hand, containing each the qualification for a vote, and having assembled round a table as many of the tenants or servants of his lord, should distribute among them the parchments,—then propose a candidate, --and afterwards collect these parchments, and declare his lord's friend duly elected for the borough: And yet, such was the mode of electing those who represented the boroughs where the right of election arose from burgage tenures. Such elections, Lord Thurlow did not hesitate