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acquittal of the Seven Bishops—an event which may justly be regarded as the first stage of the Revolution.
In its subsequent stages he played a not less weighty part. The Whig leaders, in their bold effort to establish a constitutional system of government, were guided by his sound and sage advice. He was admitted into “the most secret councils of the Prince of Orange ;” and was certainly concerned in drawing up the celebrated “Invitation ” to him to intervene by force of arms for the restoration of English liberty and the protection of the Protestant religion.
James fled from England on the 23rd of December, and a month afterwards a convention of both Houses of
arliament was summoned by the Prince to settle the government of the country. In this convention Somers represented the city of Worcester. In the debates of the Lower House he seems at once to have taken the lead; his “ luminous eloquence” and “ varied stores of knowledge” making a deep impression upon his fellowmembers. He drew up the famous Resolution with which the debate terminated—“That King James II., having endeavoured to subvert the constitution of the kingdom by breaking the original contract between king and people, and by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of this kingdom, has abdicated the government, and that the throne is thereby become vacant.” The House of Lords having adopted certain amendments, Somers was one of the committee which the Commons appointed to confer with them upon the subject. The principal objection made by the peers was to the word "abdicate," for which they proposed to substitute “ deserted," and at the same time to omit the concluding clause. Somers supported the resolution with ingenuity and learning, quoting Grotius and Brissonius, Spilevius and Bartolus, and referring to the precedent of 1399. Eventually the Lords yielded, and having adopted the resolution, immediately afterwards proposed and carried another, that the Prince and Princess of Orange should be declared King and Queen of England.
This resolution was, of course, affirmed by the Commons, and the theme being thus supplied, the convention applied their energies to the great subject of constitutional reform. A committee was appointed, which, under the guidance of Somers, set forth the necessary conditions for “the better securing our religion, liberty, and laws,” and embodied them in the famous “Declaration of Rights," which, with some amendments, was accepted by both Houses. The Declaration recited the misgovernment of James, his abdication, and the firm purpose of the Lords and Commons to maintain the ancient rights and liberties of Englishmen. It condemned as illegal his establishment of an ecclesiastical commission, and his levying an army without the sanction of Parliament. It denied the right of any king to suspend or dispense with laws, as they had been suspended or dispensed with of late, or to exact money save by consent of Parliament. It asserted the right of the subject to petition, to a free choice of representatives in Parliament, and to a pure and merciful administration of justice. It maintained the right of both Houses to liberty of debate. It demanded securities for the free exercise of the Protestant religion, while it bound the new sovereign to maintain together the laws and liberties of the people. All these things it claimed as the undoubted inheritance of Englishmen.
Having thus vindicated the principles of the constitution, the Lords and Commons, in full confidence that his Highness the Prince would perfect the deliverance he had begun, and preserve their rights against all further injury, resolved that William and Mary, Prince and Princess of Orange, should be declared King of England for their joint and separate lives, and that during their joint lives the administration of the government should be in the Prince alone.
The Declaration was presented to William and Mary on the 13th of February by the two Houses, and accepted by William in his own name, and in that of his wife. It was in a large measure through the sagacity, skill, and moderation of Somers, that this settlement of the nation was effected, and the foundation laid deep and strong of the constitutional government of Great Britain.
It was impossible that services such as his should go without reward, and William III. hastened to appoint him Solicitor-General and to confer on him the honour of knighthood (May, 1691). His first official speech was made in defence of the Bill for declaring the Convention a Parliament. To those who disputed its legality, because it was not summoned by royal writ, he replied *
“. If this were not a legal Parliament, they who had taken the oaths which it had prescribed were guilty of high treason; the laws repealed by it were still in force ; all concerned in levying, collecting, or paying taxes under its statutes were highly criminal, and the whole nation must presently return to King James.' He spoke with much zeal, and such an ascendant of authority, that -none was prepared to answer; so the bill
* Bishop Burnet, “ History of Our Own Times,” iii. 57.
the author of “The Dispensary,” echoed in his mediocre
Here, lightning strikes you—there, soft breezes sigh.” As a judge the merits of Somers have been almost unanimously admired, and his contemporaries have recorded in eulogistic language the favourable opinions called forth by his industry, patience, clear-sightedness, and urbanity. His temper was as gentle as his intelligence was keen, and there was about him such a charm of manner that it robbed even an adverse judgment of its sting. The great debt of gratitude we owe to him as an equity judge is said to be due to his having “introduced and established the principles and doctrines of the civil law on the subjects of legacies, trusts, and charities, and all others to which they were properly applicable.” It was Somers, too, who established the practice of a Parliamentary dissolution of marriage on account of the adultery of the wife ; and for students of English literature it is interesting to remember that the first case of this kind was that of the notorious Countess of Macclesfield, the mother of Richard Savage.
In 1695, during William's absence from England,