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much as possible, a man's being tempted to sell his vote at an election ; and the best method for doing this will be to restore annual Parliaments, because no candidate will then be at the expense of corrupting, especially as he cannot expect to be corrupted by a minister after he is cho
Now, Sir, with regard to the frugality of the people, we know by experience, that what people get by selling their votes at an election, is generally spent in extravagance; and being once led into an extravagant manner of living, few of them ever leave it, as long as they have a penny to support it. By this means they are led into necessities, and having once broken in upon their conscience, by selling their vote at an election, they are the less proof against those temptations they are exposed to by their necessities ; so that I am persuaded, many a poor man in this kingdom has been brought to the gallows by the bribe he received for his vote at an election. Besides, as all the little places under the government have of late been bestowed upon pliable voters at elections, without requiring any other qualification to recommend them, such voters generally dissipate their own substance in hopes of being afterwards provided for by some little place in the government; and by the example of such orders many of their neighbours are led into the same extravagant course of living, which I believe is one great cause of that luxury which now so generally prevails among the lower sort of people.
“ The same causes, Sir, that promote the people's extravagance, prevent their being industrious. Whilst a little freeholder or tradesman is spending in extravagance his infamous earnings at an election, he disdains to think of honest industry, or labor; and being once got out of the road of industry, many of them can never find their way into it again. If such fellows are not provided by the Court candidate, who was chosen by their venality, with some little post in the government, which all expect, but few are so lucky as to meet with, they soon becomc bankrupt, are thrown into prison, and their families become a burden upon the country which they have sold and betrayed. This is the fate of most of them; and as to those who happen to be provided for, their good luck is of the most pernicious consequence in the neighbourhood, because it encourages others to become venal, in hopes of meeting with the same good fortune ; for in this case, it is the same as in a lottery ; people overlook the thousands that are unfortunate, and take notice only of the happy few that get the great prizes: if it were not for this unaccountable humor in mankind, no man would be an adventurer in a lottery: no man, even m this corrupt age, would sell his vote at an election. But whilst this humor remains, which it will do as long as the race of man subsists, there will be adventurers, there will be sellers, there is no preventing it, but by demolishing the market; and this I think will be the effect of the Bill, now proposed to you, if it be passed into a law : it will demolish the market for corruption, both in this House, and every election in the kingdom; for ministers will not then be corrupt, because they can expect no success by their corruption; and though little contests may now and then happen among country gentlemen, yet they will never be so violent as to occasion violent corruption on either side of the question.
“ On the contrary, Sir, I believe very few contests will ever happen among the country gentlemen ; for in every county, city, and borough in the kingdom, the chief families will come to a compromise among themselves, and agree to take the honor in turns of representing it in parliament. No man will grudge his neighbour the honor for one year, when he knows he is to have the same honor the next year, or in a year or two after, especially when that honor is to be attended with no expectation of any post, place, or pension from the Crown, unless he can recommend himself to it by some other qualification. Whereas, when a gentleman is to be chosen into Parliament for seven years, and when his being a member, without so much as the appearance of any other qualification, is known to be sufficient for recommending rather than entitling him to some place of great profit under the Crown, I do not wonder at his often meeting with a violent opposition. The length of the term makes any such compromise as I have mentioned impossible ; which of course creates him antagonists amongst those who are only ambitious of the honor ; and the expectation of advantage creates him antagonists among those who are resolved to make their market. This generally begets a violent opposition, and if the antagonist be one of the latter sort, he generally has recourse to bribery; for as he is resolved to sell, he makes no scruple to purchase, if he thinks he can purchase for less than he may sell.
“ These, Sir, are the causes why we find such violent contests, about elections to septennial Parliaments; and as all these causes would cease the moment we made our Parliaments annual, I think it is next to a demonstration, that in elections for annual Parliaments, there could be no violent opposition, and much less any bribery or corruption. Therefore if we have a mind to restore the practice of those virtues, for which our ancestors were so conspicuous, and by which they handed down to us riches, glory, renown, and liberty, we must restore the custom of having Parliaments not only annually held, but annually chosen. It was a regulation restored and established by one of the greatest and wisest Princes that ever swayed the sceptre of this kingdom ; and no one can say that this regulation is inconsistent with the state of war we are now in, or may be in at the end of the present Parliament; for I am far from pretending to determine that the war will be sooner at an end. On the contrary, I am afraid it will last much longer, unless we be obliged to put an
end to it by an inglorious peace; but this can make no difference, for when the first law for annual Parliaments was passed by EDWARD III., the kingdom was in a most violent ferment, on account of seizing the Qucen Mother and her favorite MORTIMER; and when the second law for the same purpose was passed by that Prince, he could not be said to be in a state of perfect tranquillity; for though the war in France had some time before been brought to a happy period by the treaty of Bretigny, yet the war in Bretagne continued, and even that treaty remained, as to many parts of it, unfulfilled.
Having mentioned two laws passed in the reign of EDWARD III. for establishing annual Parliaments, perhaps some gentlemen may imagine that the first law which was passed in the 4th year of that King's reign, had run into desuetude, and that therefore it became necessary to revive and enforce it by the new law for the same purpose, which was passed in the 36th year of his reign; but this, Sir, was not the reason that made it necessary to pass a new law for that purpose. Our lawyers have always been ingenious in contriving how to evade the most express laws, especially when by such an evasion they could favor the power of the Crown. The words of the first law were that “ A Parliament shall be holden once a year, and oftener if need be. A man of common understanding would conclude from these words that, by this law, the King must hold a Parliament once a year at least, and that he might hold it oftener, if he found it necessary; but the lawyers found out that the words if need be related to the first part of the law, as well as the second, and that therefore the sense of the law was, that a Parliament shall be holden once a year, if need be, or oftener, if need be; by which they left it in the power of the Crown to hold a Parliament as often or as seldom as they pleased, and thereby rendered the law of no manner of effect. Therefore to prevent the Crown's taking advantage of this evasion, a new law was made in the 36th year of that King, who never refused to grant his subjects what laws they thought necessary for securing their liberties, by which it was enacted, That a Parliament shall be holden every year.' This set the invention of our lawyers again to work, and they were not long in finding a new evasion ; for in the very next reign, the method of prorogation was introduced, and by that means our liberties were even then brought into the utmost danger; for a Parliament chosen by illegal methods, and continued by a prorogation, surrendered our liberties into the hands of the Crown; and if the Bill now proposed be not agreed to, some such Parliament may again do the same, or something that is tantamount, with this difference, that the Crown has now a regular well-disciplined army to support its incroachments, and the people have neither arms nor discipline for enabling them to rescue their liberties out of the hands of such a king, and such a Parliament.
“ When we consider, this, Sir, we ought to be more jealous of the independency of our Parliaments; because if our liberties thould be given up by a dependent Parliament, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the people to rescue them by arms, as they did in the reign of RICHARD II. This makes me the more sanguine for the Bill now proposed, and for this reason, among many others, I conclude with seconding the motion."
Sir Wm. Young, the secretary at war, was the only member of administration who attempted to reply ; and the question was negatived by a majority of 145 to 113.
In thirteen years after, another motion was made for shortening the duration of parliaments, but so feebly urged as to be negatived almost without the formality of a debate.