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Parliaments. In the People's Charter the demand for short Parliaments one of "the famous six points.” Since then, however, further concessions in regard to the franchise, and the establishment of the ballota reform at one time always subordinated to short Parliaments—have apparently almost wiped out the remembrance of the people's old grievance,—the Septennial Act. The constitution provides an almost absolute security against any intermission of Parliamentary sessions. Not only the sinews of war, but the means of carrying on the ordinary functions of government, are obtainable only on condition of an annual meeting of the people's representatives. The remedy of grievances may come slowly, but it surely comes. Besides, long Parliaments have recently been the exception rather than the rule. The sense of inconvenience from the Septennial Act has therefore slumbered. Now and again it occurs to some one that, in days when events move so rapidly, and new situations arise that were not contemplated when the existing Parliament was elected, there is reason for more frequent appeals to the people ; and notices are given such as that by Mr. Holms in the last Parliament, and by Mr. Labouchere in the present, of some Parliamentary action in favour of the repeal of the Septennial Act. To the independent members of the party out, the idea generally commends itself. The “ins" are not enthusiastic on the subject. The ex-officials in opposition wish to take the place of the Government, and are, especially of late years, more concerned with the business of turning Government out than of limiting in advance their own reign when they return to power.

How far this may be prejudicial to the public welfare is an inquiry which will be more conveniently left for the latter pages of this volume. In the mean time, let the reader judge from the past history of the demand for short Parliaments

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whether it was not based on national right, and whether past objections to the concession of this right have been strengthened or dissipated by the lapse of time.




THE right of the people to short Parliaments was asserted and acknowledged in the earliest times to which it is fair to appeal for constitutional precedent. It is not the case that the claim then made is fairly satisfied by the presentday practice of yearly sessions.

The right was asserted and confirmed by statute in the time of Edward III., and no one doubts that for some time before that period the nature of Parliaments had been essentially the same as now.* In the preceding reign,

* “In the time of Edward I. the English Constitution THE ANCIENT LAW AND CLAIM.


when a question of the king's prerogative had arisen, the regulations made by the Lords Ordainers had been repealed, and the constitutional mode of legislation declared in this noteworthy manner : “From thenceforward in no time no manner of ordinances or provisions made by the subjects of our lord the King or his heirs, by any power or commission whatever over or upon the power royal of our lord the King or his heirs or against the state of the crown, shall be of any value or force, but all things that shall be established for the estate of the King and his heirs, and for the state of the realm and people, may be treated, accorded, and established in Parliament by the King with and by the assent definitely put on the same essential form which it has kept ever since. The germs of King, Lords, and Commons we had brought with us from our older home some eight hundred years before. From King Edward's days onwards we had Kings, Lords, and Commons themselves in nearly the same outward shape, with nearly the same strictly legal powers, which they still keep."-Freeman's “Growth of the English Constitution.”

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