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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 Pili'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 reprem 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 refor. mation, 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 formida, ble 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 ope 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 system of coercion and terror, must convert it into an absolute monarchy. It is equally evideni, from history and experience, that revolutions effecied by * Mr Canning's Speech at Liverpool, p. 45.
l'utical Thoughts, &c. by the Marquis of Halifax, p. 69,
violence, and attended by a total change in the fundamental laws of a commonwealth, have a natural tendency to throw a power into the hands of their leaders, which, however disguised, must in truth be unlimited and dictatorial. The restraints of law and usage necessarily cease. The factious among the partisans of the revolution, and the animosity of those whom it has degraded or despoiled, can seldom be curbed by a gentler hand than that of absolute power; and there is no situation of human affairs, in which there are stronger temptations to those arbitrary measures of which the habit alike unfits rulers and nations from performing their parts in the system of liberty.
If, on the other hand, a plan of Constitutional Reform were heartily adopted by an Administration, it might reasonably be hoped that the benefits of such an adoption would extend beyond the immediate effects of the Reform itself. It would be a pledge that the Ministers who adopted it, would carry a liberal, popular, and reforming spirit into every branch of their Administration; that they would not only practise economy and retrenchment, and observe moderation in enforcing, as well as lenity in executing the laws, but employ the utmost zeal in all subordinate, though important improvements; that they would undertake the reform of the Criminal, and, where necessary, of the Civil Code; that they would begin the gradual abolition of restraints on Industry and Commerce; and complete the still unfinished fabric of Religious Liberty. Such a Government, which must derive its chief hopes of strength from popular support, would honestly desire to consult the opinions, and, as far as possible, to satisfy the wishes of the people. A fair trial would then be made, whether the people could be conciliated by confidence, and would support a Government that put its trust in them. On the issue of the experiment, the existence of such an Administration must depend. By its failure, the situation of the country could hardly be made worse than it now is. By its success, the King of England, reinstated in the hearts of his people, at the head of a contented and united nation, would resume bis high station in the system of Europe, and, as became a Constitutional Monarch, mediate with decisive effect between the contending powers of Revolution and Despotism; instead of beholding, as at present, the strength of this great nation palsied by internal distractions; his Ministers, despised by his Royal Allies for inability to aid them; and their professions of neutrality scorned by those nations struggling for liberty, who see English Councils still directed by members of the Congress of Vienna.
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