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Bill. In the former year, it passed both Houses, but did not receive the Royal assent. In the latter, it was rejected by the House of Commons. In 1694, after Sir John Somers was raised to the office of Lord Keeper, the Triennial Bill passed into a law. It was not confined, like the bills under the same title, in the reigns of Charles I. and Charles II., (and with which it is too frequently confounded) to provisions for securing the frequent sitting of Parliament. It for the first time limited their duration. Till the passing of this bill, Parliament, unless dissolved by the King, might legally have continued till the demise of the Crown, its only natural and necessary termination.
The Preamble* is deserving of serious consideration. Whereas, by the ancient laws and statutes of this kingdom, frequent Parliaments ought to be held; and whereas frequent and new Parliaments tend very much to the happy union and good agreement of the King and People. The act then proceeds, in the first section, to provide for the frequent holding of Parliaments, according to the former laws; and in the second and third sections, by enactments which were before unknown to our laws, to direct, that there shall be a new Parliament every three years, and that no Parliament shall have continuance longer than three years at the farthest. Here, as at the time of the Declaration of Rights, the holding of Parliaments is carefully distinguished from their election: The two parts of the Preamble refer separately to each of these objects : The frequent holding of Parliaments is declared to be conformable to the ancient -laws; but the frequent election of Parliament is considered on--ly as a measure highly expedient on account of its tendency to preserve Harmony between the Government and the People.
The principle of the Triennial Act, therefore, seems to be of as high constitutional authority as if it had been inserted in the Bill of Rights itself, from which it was separated only that it might be afterwards carried into effect in a more convenient manner. The particular term of three years is an arrangement of expediency, to which it would be folly to ascribe any great importance. This act continued in force only for twenty years. Its opponents have often expatiated on the corruption and disorder in elections, and the instability in the national councils which prevailed during that period. But the country was then so much disturbed by the weakness of a new government, and the agitation of a disputed succession, that it is impossible to ascertain whether more frequent elections had any share in augmenting the disorder. At the accession of George I. the dura. tion of Parliament was extended to seven years, by the famous
statute called the Septennial Act, * of which the preamble asserts, that the last provision of the Triennial Act if it should continue, may probably at this juncture, when a restless and Popish faction are designing and endeavouring to renew the rebellion within this kingdom, and an invasion from abroad, be destructive to the peace and security of the government.' This allegation is now ascertained to have been perfectly true. There is the most complete historical evidence that all the Tories of the kingdom were then engaged in a conspiracy to effect a counter revolution; to wrest from the people all the securities which they had obtained for liberty ; to brand them as rebels, and to stigmatise their rulers as usurpers; and to reestablish the principles of slavery, by the restoration of a family, whose claim to power was founded on their pretended authority. It is beyond all doubt, that a general election at that period would have endangered all these objects. In these circumstances the Septennial Act was passed, because it was necessary to secure Liberty. But it was undoubtedly one of the highest exertions of the legislative authority. It was a deviation from the course of the Constitution too extensive in its effects, and too dangerous in its example, to be warranted by motives of political expediency. It could be justified only by the necessity of preserving liberty. The Revolution itself, was a breach of the laws; and it was as. great a deviation from the principles of the Monarchy, as the Septennial Act could be from the Constitution of the House of Commons :-and the latter can only be justified by the same ground of necessity, with that glorious Revolution of which it probably contributed to preserve-(would to God we could say to perpetuate) the inestimable blessings.
It has been said by some, that as the danger was temporary, the law ought to have been passed only for a time, and that it should have been delayed till the approach of a general election should ascertain, whether a change in the temper of the people had not rendered it unnecessary. But it was necessary, at the instant, to confound the hopes of conspirators, who were then supported and animated by the prospect of a general election; and if any period had been fixed for its duration, it might have weakened its effect, as a declaration of the determined resolution of Parliament to stand or fall with the Revolution.
It is now certain, that the conspiracy of the Tories against the House of Hanover, continued 'till the last years of the reign of George II. The Whigs, who had preserved the fruits of the Revolution, and upheld the tottering Throne of the Hanoverian Family during half a century, were, in this state of things, un
Geo. I. st. 2. c. 38.
willing to repeal a law, for which the reasons had not entirely ceased. The hostility of the Tories to the Protestant succession was not extinguished, till the appearance of their leaders at the Court of King George the Third, proclaimed to the world their hope, that Jacobite principles might reascend the Throne of England with a Monarch of the House of Brunswick.
The effects of the Septennial Act on the Constitution, were materially altered in the late reign, by an innovation in the exercise of the prerogative of dissolution. This important prerogative is the buckler of the Monarchy—it is intended for great emergencies, when its exercise may be the only means of averting immediate danger from the Throne,- it is strictly a defensive right. As no necessity arose, under the two first Georges, for its defensive exercise, it lay, during that period, in a state of almost total inactivity. It was exercised without any political object, and, as it seems, merely for the purpose of selecting the most convenient seasons for election. Only one Parliament, under these two Princes, was dissolved till its seventh year. The same inoffensive maxims were pursued during the early part of the reign of George the Third. For the first time, in the year 1784, the power of dissolution, hitherto reserved for the defence of the Monarchy, was employed to support the power of an Administration. The majority of the House of Commons had, in 1782, driven one Administration from office, and compelled another to retire. The right of the House of Commons to interpose, with decisive weight, in the choice of Ministers, as well as the adoption of measures, seemed by these vigorous exertions to be finally established. George the Second had, indeed, often been compelled to receive Ministers whom he hated; but his successor, more tenacious of his prerogative, and more inflexible in his resentment, did not so easily brook the subjection to which he thought himself about to be reduced. In 1784, he again saw his Ministers threatened with expulsion by a majority of the House of Commons. He found a Prime Minister who, trusting to his popularity, ventured to make common cause with the King, and to brave that Parliamentary disapprobation to which the prudence or principle of both his predecessors had induced them to yield. Mr Pitt persisted in holding office, in defiance of the opinions of a majority of the House of Commons. He thus established a precedent, which, if followed, would have deprived that body of the advantages it had gained in the two preceding reigns. Not content with this great victory, he proceeded, by a dissolution of Parliament, to inflict such an exemplary punishment on the same majority, as might deter all future majorities from following their dangerous example.
The Ministers of 1806 gave some countenance to Mr Pill's precedent, by a very reprehensible dissolution : But in 1807, its .full consequences were unfolded. The House of Commons was then openly threatened with dissolution, if a majority should vote against Ministers; and in pursuance of this threat, the Parliament was actually dissolved. From that moment, the new prerogative of penal dissolution was added to all the other means of Ministerial influence: Every man who now votes against Ministers, endangers his seat by his vote. Ministers have acquired a power, in many cases more important than that of bestowing honours or rewards. It now rests with them to determine, whether Members shall sit securely for four or five years longer, or be instantly sent to their constituents, at the moment when the most violent, and perhaps the most unjust prejudice has been excited against them. The security of seats in Parliament is made to depend on the subserviency of majorities.
Of all the silent revolutions which have materially changed the English Government, without any alteration in the letter of the law, there is, perhaps, none more fatal to the Constitution than this power of penal dissolution, thus introduced by Mr Pitt, and strengthened by his followers: And it is the more dangerous, because it is hardly capable of being counteracted by direct laws. The prerogative of dissolution, being a mean of defence on sudden emergencies, is scarcely to be limited by law. There is, however, an indirect, but effectual mode of meeting its abuse. By shortening the duration of Parliaments, the punishment of dissolution will be divested of its terrors. While its . defensive power will be unimpaired, its efficacy, as a means of influence, will be nearly destroyed. The attempt to reduce Parliament to a greater degree of dependence, will thus be defeated ; due reparation be made to the Constitution; and future Ministers taught, by a useful example of just retaliation, that hae Crown is not likely to be finally the gainer, in struggles to convert a necessary prerogative into a means of unconstitutional influence.
We endeavoured, on a former occasion, * to prove by arguments, of which we have yet seen no refutation, that Universal Suffrage would be an institution hostile to liberty ; that lawgivers chosen by all might naturally disregard inportant interests of society, or oppress great classes of men : while a repre. sentative assembly, elected by considerable bodies of all classes, must generally prove a faithful and equal guardian of the rights and interests of all men. We have now endeavoured to show, that the English representation was actually founded on these first principles of political theory: That the tendency of that
: * Edinburgh Review, Vol. XXVIII. p. 165.
representation has always been, to make as near approaches towards reducing them to practice, as the irregularity and coarse-, ness of human affairs would allow ;-And that the unrepresented state of great communities in the present age, has sprung from the disuse, and may be remedied by the revival, of our ancient constitutional principles. Having, in the first place, resisted plans of change, which could neither be attempted without civil war, nor accomplished without paving the way for tyranny, we have now presumed to propose a scheme of reformation, which would immediately infuse a new popular spirit into the House of Commons, and provide means for gradually correcting every real inadequacy of representation in future times; which would be carried on, solely by the principles, and within the pale of the Constitution; where the repair would be in the style of the building, and contribute to strengthen, without disfiguring, an edifice still solid and commodious, as well as magnificent and venerable.
Moderate Reformers have been asked, by the most formidable of their opponents, at what period of history was the House of Commons in the state to which you wish to restore it ? * An answer may now be given to that triumphant question, Had the object of the moderate reformer been total change, he might be called upon to point out some former state of the representation, which he would in all respects prefer to the present. But it is a part of his principle, that the institutions of one age can never be entirely suitable to the condition of another. It was well said by an English politician of keen and brilliant wit, that neither king nor people would now like just the original Constitution, without any varyings.'t It is sufficient for the "Whig, or Moderate Reformer' (for Mr Canning has joined them, and we do not wish to put them asunder) to point out a period when the Constitution was in one respect better, inasmuch as it possessed the means of regulating and equalizing the representation. Its return to the former state, in that particular only, would be sufficient for the attainment of all his objects. .. If no conciliatory measures on this subject be adopted, there is great reason to apprehend that the country will be reduced to the necessity of chusing between different forms of Despotism. For it is certain, that the habit of maintaining the forms of the Constitution by a long systen of coercion and terror, must convert it into an absolute monarchy. It is equally evideni, from history and experience, that revolutions effected by
* Mr Canning's Speech at Liverpool, p. 45.