Imágenes de páginas

thought the glory of their country. The Revolution Society has discovered that the English nation is not free.' They are convinced that the inequality in our representation is a “defect in our constitution so gross and palpable, as to make it excellent chiefly in form and theory.” That a representation in the legislature of a kingdom is not only the basis of all constitutional liberty in it, but of " all legitimate government; that without it a government is nothing but an usurpatiou;"—that “when the representation is partial, the kingdom possesses liberty only partially; and if extremely partial, it gives only a semblance; and if not only extremely partial, but corruptly chosen, it becomes a nuisance." "Dr. Price considers this inadequacy of representation as our fundamental grievance; and though, as to the corruption of this semblance of representation, he hopes it is not yet arrived to its full perfection of depravity; he fears that “ nothing will be done towards gaining for us this essential blessing, until some great abuse of power again provokes our resentment, or some great calamity again alarms our fears, or perhaps till the acquisition of a pure and equal repre- isentation by other countries, whilst we are mocked with the shadow, kindles our shame." To this he subjoins a note in these words :-“ A representation, chosen chiefly by the treasury, and a few thousands of the dregs of the people, who are generally paid for their votes.”

You will smile here at the consistency of those democratists, who, when they are not on their guard, treat the humbler part of the community with the greatest contempt, whilst, at the same time, they pretend to make them the depositaries of all power. It would require a long discourse to point out to you the many fallacies that lurk in the generality and equivocal nature of the terms “ inadequate representation.” I shall only say here, in justice to that old-fashioned constitution, under which we have long prospered, that our representation has been found perfectly adequate to all the purposes for which representation of the people can be desired or devised. I defy the enemies of our constitution to shew the contrary. To detail the particulars in which it is found so well to pro

* Discourse on the Lone of our Country, 3d edit. p. 39.




mote its ends, would demand a treatise on our practical constitution. I state here the doctrine of the revolutionists, only that you and others may see what an opinion these gentlemen entertain of the constitution of their couptry, and why they seem to think that some great abuse of power, or some great calamity, as giving a chance for the blessing of a constitution according

to their ideas, would be much palliated to their feelings; you see why they are so much enamoured of your fair

and equal representation, which being once obtained, the same effects might follow. You see they consider our house of com: mons as only

a semblance," " a form," "a thevry," shadow," «

a mockery,” perhaps "a nuisance." These gentlemen value themselves on being systematic; and not without reason. They must therefore look on this gross and palpable defect of representation, this fundamental grievance (so they call it) as a thing not only vicious in itself, hut as rendering our wbole government absolutely illegitimate, and not at all better than a down, right usurpation. Another revolution, to get rid of this illegitimate and usurped government, would of course be perfectly justifiable, if not absolutely necessary. Indeed their principle, if you observe it with any attention, goes much further than to an alteration in the election of the house of commons; for, if popular representation, or choice, is necessary to the legitimacy of all government, the house of lords is, at one stroke, bastardized and corrupted in blood. That house is no representative of the people at all, even in “semblance or in form." The case of the crown is altogether as bad. In vain the crown may endeavour to screen itself against these gentlemen by the authority of the establishment made on the revolution. The revolution which is resorted to for a title, ou their system, wants a title itself. The revolution is built, according to their theory, upon a basis not more solid than our present formalities, as it was made by an house of lords not representing any one but themselves; and by an house of commons exactly such as the present, that is, as they term it, by a mere “shadow and mockery'' of representation.

Some of them are so heated with their particular reli

gious theories, that they give more than hints that the fall of the civil powers, with all the dreadful consequences of that fall, provided they might be of service to their theories, would not be unacceptable to them, or very remote from their wishes. A man amongst them of great authority, and certainly of great talents, speaking of a supposed alliance between church and state, says, “ perhaps we must wait for the fall of the civil powers before this most unnatural alliance be broken. Calamitous no doubt will that time be. But what convulsion in the political world ought to be a subject of lamentation, if it be attended with so desirable an effect ?" You see with what a steady eye these gentlemen are prepared to view the greatest calamities which can befal their country!

It is no wonder, therefore, that with these ideas of every thing in their constitution and government at home, either in church or state, as illegitimate and usurped, or, at best, as a vain mockery, they look abroad with an eager and passionate enthusiasm.

Whilst they are possessed by these notions, it is in vain to talk to them of the practice of their ancestors, the fundamental laws of their country, the fixed form of a constitution, whose merits are confirmed by the solid test of long experience, and an increasing public strength and national prosperity. They despise experience as the wisdom of unlettered men; and as for the rest, they have wrought under-ground a miue that will blow up at one grand explosion all examples of antiquity, all precedents, charters, and acts of parliament. They have “ the rights of men.” Against these there can be no prescription; against these no agreement is binding: these admit no temperament, and no compromise: any thing withheld from their full demand is so much of fraud and injustice. Against these their rights of men let no government look for security in the length of its continuance, or in the justice and lenity of its administration. The objections of these speculatists, if its forms do not quadrate with their theories, are as valid against such ati old and beneficent government as against the most violent tyranny, or the greenest usurpation. They are always at issue with governments, not on a question of abuse, but a question of competency, and a question of title. I have pothitig to say to the clumsy subtilty of their political me

taphysics. Let them be their amusement in the schools : Illa se jactet in aulaÆolus, et claụso ventorum carcere regnet." But let them not break prison to burst like a Levanter, to sweep the earth with their hurricane, and to break up the fountains of the great deep to overwhelm us.

Far am I from denying in theory; full as far is my heart from withholding in practice (if I were of power to give or to withhold) the real rights of men. In denying their false claims of right, I do not mean to injure those which are real, and are such as their pretended rights would totally destroy. If civil society be made for the advantage of man, all the advantages for which it is made become his right. It is an institution of beneficence; and law itself is only beneficence acting by a rule. Men have a right to live by that rule; they have a right to justice; as between their fellows, whether their fellows are in politic function or in ordinary occupation. They have a right to the fruits of their industry; and to the means of mal their industry fruitful. They have a right to the acquisitions of their parents; to the nourishment and improvement of their offspring; to instruction in life, and to consolation in death. Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself; and he has a right to a fair portion of all which society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can do in his favour. But as to the share of power, authority, and direction which each individual ought to have in the management of the state, that I must deny to be amongst the direct original rights of man in civil so. ciety; for I have in my contemplation the civil social man, and no other. It is a thing to be settled by convention.

If civil society be the offspring of convention, that convention must be its law. That convention must limit and modify all the descriptions of constitution which are formed under it. Every sort of legislative, judicial, or executory power are its creatures. They can have no being in any other state of things, and how can any man claim, under the conventions of civil society, rights which do not so mạch as suppose its existence? rights which are absolutely repugnant to it? One of the first, motives to civil society, and which becomes one of its fundamental rules, is, that no man shall be judge in his own cause. By this each person has at once divested himself of the first fundamental right of uncovenanted man, that is, to judge for bimself, and to assert his own cause. He abdi. cates all right to be his own governor. He inclusively, in a great measure, abandous the right of self-defence, the first law of nature. Man cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. That he may obtain justice he gives up his right of determining what it is in points the most essential to him. That he may secure some liberty, he makes a surrender in trust of the whole of it.

Goverument is not made in virtue of natural rights, which may and do exist in total independence of it; and exist in much greater clearness, and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection : but their abstract perfection is their practical defect. By having a right to every thing they want every thing. Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom. Among these wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficient restraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body, as well as in the individuals, the inclina tions of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection. This can only be done by a power out of themselves; and not, in the exercise of its function, subject to that will and to those passions which it is its office to bridle and subdue. In this sense the restraints on men, as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights. But as the · Jiberties and the restrictions vary with times and circumstances, and admit of infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle.

The moment you abate any thing from the full rights of men, each to govern himself, and suffer any artificial positive limitation upon those rights, from that moment the whole organization of government becomes a consideration of convenience. This it is which makes the constitution of a state, and the due distribution of its powers, a


« AnteriorContinuar »