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Parliament's continuance for the three full
years after the passing of the new Act would not have brought it to the age of a septennial Parliament. The Royal assent was given to the bill on the 22nd December, 1694. “The Act,” says Burnet, “was received with great joy ; many fancying that all their laws and liberties were now the more secure since this was passed. It was hoped that our constitution, in particular that part of it which related to the House of Commons, would again recover both its strength and reputation, which was now very much sunk, for corruption was so widespread that it was believed everything was carried by that method.”
ON a State emergency, the Whig Parliament of 1716 procured the passing of the Septennial Act, but was aided in passing it by scandals then attending frequent elections. Corrupt practices, therefore, to which was partly owing the original undermining of the bulwark of popular libertyshort Parliaments,- had again their evil influence in curtailing national right. The action of the Parliament, however, in prolonging its own existence, was accomplished only in the face of emphatic protests from Peers and people. The Parliamentary protest bore Tory testimony to the contention that short Parliaments were the constitutional right of the people of Eng
After following so closely the history of the demand for a frequent appeal to the people, and noting the difficulties with which this generally recognized security for the well-being of the State had been secured, it is startling to be reminded that the Triennial Act was repealed so early as 1716. For this the people had apparently no direct responsibility whatever. But an indirect responsibility attaches to them for their failure to maintain the purity of election, and so furnishing their representatives with additional arguments for the course they took. The wise principle of our constitution is that elections should be free as well as frequent. The whole course of history during the period with which this book has yet had to do, proves the danger of neglecting this two-fold security. FREQUENCY AND FREEDOM.
When frequency of election was not insisted upon, the freedom of election was always somehow endangered. The King chose a time for his Parliament when he could influence the election; or the member, tempted by the prospect of a lengthened period of distinction as a representative, found it worth while to corrupt the constituency; or ministers manipulated the rotten boroughs. On the other hand, when freedom of election in the widest sense not maintained, the interests of the people were sooner or later betrayed. Corrupt practices began, as we have seen, in high places, and led to the accumulation of unconstitutional authority in the Crown ; when the power of the Parliament was restored, the people's representatives were tampered with ; finally, when the people obtained their right of frequent elections, unguarded by any security for its impartial exercise, they too were subjected to corrupt and undue influence. One of the pamphlets issued about
the time of the struggle for the Triennial Act of 1694, states that at one election of the burgess for Northampton, the Court had spent the enormous in these days of £14,000. Elections under the Triennial Act were ruinous in their cost, and feeling ran high on the question of the succession. The Ministers were not slow to avail themselves of this plea in support of a bill, the real reason for which was their desire, by maintaining themselves in power, to crush the last hopes of the Pretender's party. If they had persuaded Parliament that the necessity for the settlement of the kingdom alone justified its perpetuation of its own existence, they might have been met with a demand to meet a temporary exigency with a temporary measure. So, in the preamble the reasons for the bill were stated in a way the ingenuity of which earned for its framers the execration of future reformers. The Act of 1694, making Parliaments triennial, was recited,