Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

with a more tender and a nearer interest every thing that concerned the people, than the other remoter and more permanent parts of legislature.

Whatever alterations time and the necessary accommodation of business may have introduced, this character can never be sustained, unless the house of commons shall be made to bear some stamp of the actual disposition of the people at large. It would (among public misfortunes) be an evil more natural and tolerable, that the house of commons should be infected with every epidemical phrensy of the people, as this would indicate some consanguinity, some sympathy of nature with their constituents, than that they should in all cases be wholly untouched by the opinions and feelings of the people out of doors. By this want of sympathy they would cease to be a house of commons. For it is not the derivation of the power of that house from the people, which makes it in a distinct sense their representative. The king is the representative of the people; so are the lords ; so are the judges. They all are trustees for the people, as well as the commons; because no power is given for the sole sake of the holder; and although government certainly is an institution of divine authority, yet its forms, and the persons who administer it, all originate from the people.

A popular origin cannot therefore be the characteristical distinction of a popular representative. This belongs equally to all parts of government, and in all forms. The virtue, spirit, and essence of a house of commons consists in its being the express image of the feelings of the nation. It was not instituted to be a controul upon the people, as of late it has been taught, by a doctrine of the most pernicious tendency. It was designed as a controul for the people. Other institutions have been formed for the purpose of checking popular excesses; and they are, I apprehend, fully adequate to their object. If not, they ought to be made so. The house of commons, as it was never intended for the support of peace and subordination, is miserably appointed for that service; having no stronger weapon than its mace, and no better officer than its serjeant at arms, which it can command of its own proper authority. A vigilant and jealous eye over executory and judicial magistracy; an anxious care of public money, an openness, approaching towards facility, to public complaint: these seem to be the true characteristics of a house of commons.

* * * *

That house is, within itself, a much more subtle and artificial combination of parts and powers, than people are generally aware of. What knits it to the other members of the constitution; what fits it to be at once the great support, and the great controul of government; what makes it of such admirable service to that monarchy which, if it limits, it secures and strengthens, would require a long discourse, belonging to the leisure of a contemplative man, not to one whose duty it is to join in communicating practically to the people the blessings of such a constitution.

His majesty may receive the opinions and wishes of individuals under their signatures, and of bodies corporate under their seals, as expressing their own particular sense : and he may grant such redress as the legal powers of the crown enable the crown to afford, This, and the other house of parliament, may also receive the wishes of such corporations and individuals by petition. The collective sense of his people his majesty is to receive from his commons in parliament assembled. It would destroy the whole spirit of the constitution, if his commons were to receive that sense from the ministers of the crown, or to admit them to be a proper or a regular channel for conveying it.

* * * *

Whenever we shall see it expedient to offer our advice concerning his majesty's servants, who are those of the public, we confidently hope, that the personal favour of any minister, or any setof ministers, will not be more dear to his majesty, than the credit and character of a house of commons. It is an ex• periment full of peril to put the representative wisdom and justice of his majesty's people in the wrong; it is a crooked and desperate design, leading to mischief, the extent of which no human wisdom can foresee, to attempt to form a prerogative party in the nation, to be resorted to as occasion shall require, in derogation from the authority of the commons of Great Britain in parliament assembled: it is a contrivance fullof danger, for ministers to set up there presentative and constituent bodies of the commons of this kingdom as two separate and distinct powers, formed to counterpoise each other, leaving the preference in the hands of secret advisers of the crown. In such a situation of things, these advisers, taking advantage of the differences which may accidentally arise, or may purposely be fomented between them, will have it in their choice to resort to the one or the other, as may best suit the purposes of their sinister ambition. By exciting an emulation and contest between the representative and the constituent bodies, as parties contending for credit and influence at the throne, sacrifices will be made by both; and the whole can end in nothing else than the destruction of the dearest rights and liberties of the nation. If there must be another mode of con

veying the collective sense of the people to the throne than that by the house of commons, it ought to be fixed and defined, and its authority ought to be settled : it ought not to exist in so precarious and dependent a state as that ministers should have it in their power, at their own mere pleasure, to acknowledge it with respect, or to reject it with scorn.

The laws of this country are for the most part constituted, and wisely so, for the general ends of government, rather than for the preservation of our particular liberties. Whatever therefore is done in support of liberty, by persons not in public trust, or not acting merely in that trust, is liable to be more or less out of the ordinary course of the law; and the law itself is sufficient to animadvert upon it with great severity. Nothing indeed can hinder that severe letter from crushing us, except the temperaments it may receive from a trial by jury. But if the habit prevails of going beyond the law, and superseding this judicature, of carrying offences, real or supposed, into the legislative bodies, who shall establish themselves into courts of criminal equity (so the star chamber has been called by Lord Bacon), all the evils of the star chamber are revived. A large and liberal construction in ascertaining offences, and a discretionary power in punishing them, is the idea of criminal equity ; which is in truth a monster in jurisprudence. It signifies nothing whether a court for this purpose be a committee of council, or a house of commons, or a house of lords; the liberty of the subject will be equally subverted by it. The true end and purpose of that house of parliament which entertains such a jurisdiction will be destroyed by it.

* * * *

In legal construction, the sense of the people of Eng. land is to be collected from the house of commons ; and, though I do not deny the possibility of an abuse of this trust as well as any other, yet I think, without the most weighty reasons, and in the most urgent exigencies, it is highly dangerous to suppose that the house speaks any thing contrary to the sense of the people, or that the representative is silent when the sense of the constituent strongly, decidedly, and upon long deliberation, speaks audibly upon any topic of moment. If there is a doubt, whether the house of commons represents perfectly the whole commons of Great Britain, (I think there is none) there can be no question but that the lords and the commons together represent the sense of the whole people to the crown, and to the world. Thus it is, when we speak legally and constitutionally. In a great measure, it is equally true, when we speak prudentially ; but I donot pretend to assert, that there are no other principles to guide discretion than those which are or can be fixed by some law, or some constitution; yet before the legally presumed sense of the people should be superseded by a supposition of one more real (as in all cases, where a legal presumption is to be ascertained) some strong proofs ought to exist of a contrary disposition in the people at large, and some decisive indications of their desire upon this subject.

As long as by every art this (the democratical) party keeps alive a spirit of disaffection against the very constitution of the kingdom, and attributes, as lately it has been in the habit of doing, all the public

« AnteriorContinuar »