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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 only 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 expedienicy, 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 duration 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.
* W. & M. VI. c. 2.
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
# 1 Geo. I. st. 2. c. 38.
nal flexibility, may, like the works of nature, perpetuate itself by constant change, and always yield some ground to progressive opinion without struggle or conflict, without humiliation or defeat.
Besides these great ends, it might, in process of time, be subservient to other purposes. A Colonial Representation may one day be considered as a probable means of preserving the unity of the empire.- Such a representation, combined with other means, might also open honourable seats for the monied interest, if measures of reform should be found to have too much narrowed their access to Parliament. If some representatives were in time to be allowed to learned societies, it would not be a greater novelty than the grant of that privilege to the two Universities by James I. If occasion were taken to give an additional member to the University of Dublin, one member to that of Edinburgh, and one to the other Scotch Universities, (the votes of each being proportioned to the number of students), the direct share of science in the national representation would not be enormous. It would be easy to show, by other examples, the use to which the ample fund of forfeited franchise might in time be turned; but the above are perhaps more than enough, where the object is to suggest illustrations of a principle, not parts of a plan.
Our Third head will comprehend a few observations on the representation of Scotland; which, being of a nature quite unlike that of England, requires a separate consideration. The reader will observe, that this question is perfectly distinct from that of a Reform of the Scotch Boroughs, which has been prosecuted by Lord Archibald Hamilton with so much ability and perseverance. The object of the latter is only such an improvement in the election of the Magistrates and Town Councils of the boroughs, as may ensure a right administration of their revenue and police, in which scandalous abuses have been proved to be generally prevalent. It would be a strange objection to such an alteration to say, that it may incidentally, and in a small degree, affect the election of the fifteen Commissioners for Scotch Boroughs. That man must indeed be a sturdy zealot on the side of abuse, who should object to the correction of such acknowledged corruptions, merely because it gave a little influence to the people of these towns in the choice of their members.
In Scotland, there is no popular election : All the Boroughs are in the hands of what would in England be called Close Corpovations. The whole number of voters for the thirty-three Counties of Scotland is about 2700; the greatest number in any 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 Parlia.. ment 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 representative 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.
superior, is the voter. Superiority to which the right of suffrage is annexed, may be entirely separated from any beneficial interest in the land. Votes, in right of land, may thus be possessed by those who are not landholders. Many voters in most counties in Scotland are in this predicament; and there does not seem to be any legal impediment, except in the case of entailed estates, to the universal separation of the right of suffrage from the property of the soil. In proposing a remedy for this case, it would be wise to give no disturbance to established rights, and to allow the present Freeholders to retain their suffrage. It would be perhaps sufficient, in addition to them, to give the right of voting to all proprietors of land of a certain value, whatever their tenure might be. The present qualification of commissioners of supply, (i. e. commissioners of the land tax), which is about fol. Sterling a year, might be adopted, in the case of the new freeholders.
In the boroughs, it might be sufficient, if the right of voting at the election of the town-council were, in towns above a certain population, to be vested in those burgesses who occupy tenements of a yearly rent to be specially fixed. In that case, the right of chusing delegates to elect the members, might continue as at present; and provision might be made to give that permanency to the power of the magistrates, which the duties of that office require. . In those inconsiderable villages, which form the majority of the Scotch boroughs, it may be doubted whether the resident burgesses could be moulded into a good constituent body. In great cities, such for example as Edinburgh, where the more considerable inhabitants are seldom burgesses, some share of privilege might be bestowed on such householders as occupied tenements of double or treble the yearly rent, which should be fixed on as the qualification of burgesses.
In returning to English representation, the means of reducing the expense of elections, form a separate and very important branch of the subject. In all elections, great expense aids the natural power of the highest wealth; and in the same proportion, lessens both the importance of the smaller proprietors, and the efficacy of public opinion. The power of great property is indeed a principle of liberty, as well as of order. It opposes a sort of hereditary tribuneship to the Crown, and it furnishes a body of mild magistrates, whose natural and almost unfelt authority often prevents the necessity of legal restraint, or military interference. But this useful power, which must always be strong, in proportion as liberty is secure, may be car