« AnteriorContinuar »
submitted their necks to the yoke ? We are now come to the Rubicon ; our army is now to be reduced, or it never will ; from his Majesty's own mouth we are sured of a profound tranquiity abroad, we know there is one at home ; if this is not a proper time, if these circumstances do not afford us a safe opportunity for reducing at least a part of our regular forces, we never can expect to see any reduction ; and this nation, already overburdened with debts and taxes, must be loaded with the heavy charge of perpetually supporting a numerouś standing army ; and remain for ever exposed to the danger of baving its liberties and privileges trampled upon by any future King or Ministry, who shall take it in their heads to do so, and shall take a proper care to mo del the army for that purpose.
SIR JOHN ST. AUBIN'S SPEECH FOR REPEALING
THE SEPTENNIAL ACT.
Mr. Speaker, THE subject matter of this debate is of such importance, that I should be ashamed to return to my electors, without endeavouring in the best manner I am able, to declare publicly the reasons which induced me to give my most ready assent to this question.
The people have an unpuestionable right to frequent new Parliaments by ancient usage ; and this usage has been confirmed by several laws, which have been progressively made hy. our ancestors, as often as they found it necessary to insist on this essential privilege.
Parliaments were generally annual, but never continued longer than three years, till the remarkable reign of Henry VIII. He, Sir, was'a prince of unruly appetites, and of an arbitrary will ; he was impatient of every restraint ; the laws of God and man fell equally a sacrifice, as they stood in the way of his avarice, or disappointed his ambition ; he therefore introduced long Parliaments, because he very well knew, they would become the
proper instruments of both ; and what a slavish obedi. ence they paid to all his measures is sufficiently known.
If we come to the reign of King Charles the First, we must acknowledge him to be a prince of contrary temper ; he had certainly an innate love for religion and virtue. But here lay the misfortune he was led from his natural disposition by sycophants and flatterers; they advised him to neglect the calling of frequent new Parliaments, and therefore, by not taking the constant sense of his people in what he did, he was worked up
into so high a sense of prerogative, that the Commons (in order to restrain it) obtained that independent fatal power, which at last unhappily brought him to his most tragical end, and at the same time subverted the whole constitution. And I hope we shall learn this lesson from it, never to compliment the crown with any new or travagant' powers, nor to deny the people those rights which by ancient usage they are entitled to ; but to preserve the just and equal balance, from which they will both derive mutual security, and which, if duly observed, will render our constitution the envy and admiration of all the world,
King Charles the Second naturally took 'a surfeit of Parliaments iv his father's time, and was therfore exo tremely desirous to lay them aside. But this was a scheme impracticable. However, in effect he did so, for he obtained a Parlament, which, by its long duration, like an army of veterans, became so exactly disciplined to his own measures, that they knew no other command but from that person who gave them their pay.
This was a safe and most ingenious way of enslaving a pation. It is very well known, that arbitrary power,
if it was open and avowed, would never prevail here: The people were therefore amused with the specious form of their ancient constitution : it existed, indeed, in their fancy ; but like a mere phantom, had no substance nor reality in it; for the power, the authority, the dignity of Parliaments were wholly lost. This was that remarkable Parliament which so justly obtained the approbious name of the Pension Parliament ; and was the medel from which, I believe, some later Parliaments have been exactly copied.
At the time of the revolution, the people made a fresh claim of their ancient privileges ; and as they had so lately experienced the misfortune of long and servile Parliaments, it was then declared, that they should be held frequently. But, it seems, their full meaning was not understood by this declaration ; and therefore, as in eve. ry new settlement the intention of all parties should be specifically manifested, the Parliament never ceased struggling with the crown, till the triennial law was obtained ; the preamble of it is extremely full and strong ; and in the body of the bill you will find the word declar-ed before enacted, by which I apprehend, that though his law did not immediately take place at the time of the revolution, it was certainly intended as declaratory of their first meaning, and therefore stands a part of that original contract under which the constitution was then settled. His Majesty's title to the crown is primarily derived from that contract; and if, upon a review, there shall appear to be any deviations from it, we ought to treat them as so many injuries done to that title. And I dare say, that this house, which has gone through so long a series of services to his Majety, will at last be willing to revert to those original stated measures of go. vernment, to renew and strengthen that title.
But, Sir, I think the manner in which the septennial law was first introduced, is a very strong reason why it should be repealed. People, in their fears, have very ofteir recourse to desperate expedients, which, if not cancelled in season, will themselves prove fatal to that constitution, which they were meant to secure. Such is the nature of the septennial law; it was intended only as a preservative against a temporary inconvenience : the inconvenience is removed, but the mischievous effects still eontinue ; for it not only altered the constitution of Parliaments, but it extended that same Parliament beyond its natural deration ; and therefore carries this most unijust implication with it, That you may at any time usurp the most indubitable, the most essential privilege of the people I mean that of chusing their own representatives. A precedent of such a dangerous consequence, of so fatal a tendency, that I think it would be a reproach to our statute-book, if that law was any longer to subsist, which might record it to posterity.
This is a season of virtue and public spirit. Let us take advantage of it to repeal those laws which infringe our liberties, and introduce such as may restore the vigour of our ancient constitution.
Human nature is so very corrupt, that all obligations lose their force, unless they are frequently renewed.. Long Parliaments become therefore independent of the people, and when they do so, there always happens a most dangerous dependence elsewhere.
Long Parliaments give the minister an opportunity of getting acquaintance with members, of practising his several arts to win them in his schemes.This must be the work of time.-Corruption is of so base a nature, that at first sight it is extremely shocking -Hardly any one has submitted to it all at once. His disposition raust be previously understood, the particular bait must be found out with which he is to be allured, and after all, it is not without many struggles that he surrenders his virtue.- Indeed, there are some, who will at once plunge themselves into any base action, but the generality of mankind are of a more cautious nature, and will
proceed only by leisurely degrees. One or two per: haps have deserted their colours the first campaign, some have done it a second. But a great many, who have not that eager disposition to vice, will wait till a third.
For this reason, short Parliaments have been less corrupt than long ones ; they are observed, like streams of water, always to grow more impure the greater distance they run from the fountain-head.
I am aware, it may be said, that frequent new Parliaments will produce frequent new expences, but I think. quite the contrary; I'am really of opinion, that it will be a proper remedy against the evil of bribery at elections, especially as you have provided so wholesome a law to. co-operate upon these occasions.
Bribery at elections, whence did it arise ? Not from country gentlemen, for they are sure of being chosen without it; it was, Sir, the invention of wicked and corrupt ministers, who have, from time to time, led weak Princes into such destructive measures, that they did not dare to rely upon the natural representation of the people. Long Parliaments, Sir, first introduced bribery, because they were worth purchasing at any rate : Country gentlemen, who have only their private fortunes to rely upon, and have no mercenary ends to serve, are unable to oppose it; especially if at any time the public treasure shall be unfaithfully squandered away to corrupt their boroughs. Country gentlemen, indeed, may make some weak efforts ; but as they generally prove unsuccessful, and the time of a fresh struggle is at so great a . distance, they at last grow faint in the dispute, give up their country for lost, and retire in despair. Despair naturally produces indolence, and that is the proper disposition for slavery. Ministers of state understand this very well, and are therefore unwilling to awaken the nation out of its lethargy, by frequent elections. They know that the spirit of liberty, like every other våtue of the mind, is to be kept alive only by constant action ;