« ПредишнаНапред »
necessity of guarding against its decay. Innovations were at all times dangerous, and should never be attempted but when necessity called for them. Upon this principle he had given up the idea which he suggested to the house last year ; and therefore his object at present was not to innovate, but rather to renew and invigorate the spirit of the constitution, without deviating materially from its present form. When he submitted this subject to the consideration of the House last year, he was told, that the subject ought not to be discussed amidst the din of arms: the objection was not then without its force : but at present it could not be renewed, as we were happily once more in the enjoyment of the blessings of peace. This therefore was a proper time to enter upon the business of a reformation, which every man who gave himself a moment's time to think, must be satisfied was absolutely necessary.
An Englishman, who should compare the flourishing state of his country some twenty years ago with the state of humiliation in which he now beholds her, must be convinced that the ruin which he now deplores, having been brought on by slow degrees, and almost imperceptibly, proceeded from something radically wrong in the constitution. Of the existence of a radical error no one seemed to doubt; nay almost all were so clearly satisfied of it, that various remedies had been devised by those who wished most heartily to remove it. The House itself had discovered, that a secret influence of the crown had been felt within those walls, and had often been found stron enough to stifle the sense of duty, and to over-rule the propositions made to satisfy the wishes and desires of the people : the House of Commons in former Parliaments had been base enough to feed the influence that enslaved its members, and thus was at one time the parent and offspring of corruption. This influence however had risen to such a height, that men were ashamed any longer to deny its existence; and the House bad at length been driven to the necessity of voting, that it ought to be diminished. Various were the expedients that had been thought of, in order to effect so salutary a purpose, as was that of guarding against this influence ; of shutting against it the doors of that House, where if it once got footing after the resolution alluded to, liberty could no longer find an asylum. The House of Commons, which, according to the true spirit of the constitution, should be the guardian of the people's freedom, the constitutional check and control over the executive power, would, through this influence, degenerate into a mere engine of tyranny and oppression to destroy the constitution in effect, though it should in its outward form still remain.
Among the various expedients that had been devised to bar the entrance of such influence into that House, he had heard principally of three. One was to extend the right of voting for members to serve in Parliament, which was now so confined, to all the inhabitants of the kingdom indiscriminately; so that every man without the distinction of freeholder, of freeman of a corporation, should have the franchise of a vote for a person to represent him in Parliament; and this mode, he uuderstood, was thought by those who patronized it to be the only one consistent with true liberty in a free constitution, where every one ought to be governed by those laws only to which all have actually given their consent, either in person, or by their representative. For himself, he utterly rejected and condemned this mode, which it was impossible for him to adopt without libelling those renowned forefathers, who had framed the constitution in the fulness of their wisdom, and had fashioned it for the government of freemen, not of slaves. If this doctrine should obtain, nearly one half of the people must in fact be slaves ; for it was a right of voting, howsoever finely it might appear in theory, could
never be reduced to practice. But, though it were even practicable, still one half of the nation would be slaves ; for all those who vote for the unsuccessful candidates, cannot, in the strictness of this doctrine, be said to be represented in parliament; and therefore they are governed by laws, to which they give not their assent in person or by representatives : consequently according to the ideas of friends to this expedient, all those who vote for unsuccessful candidates, must be slaves ; nay it was oftentimes still harder with those who are members of Parliament, who are made slaves also, and are governed by laws, to which they not only have not given their consent, but against which they have actually voted.
For his part, his idea of representation was this, that the members once chosen and returned to Parliament, were in effect the representatives of the people at large, as well of those who did not vote at all, or who having voted gave their votes against them, as of those by whose suffrage they were actually seated in the house. This being therefore his principle, he could not consent to an innovation founded on doctrines subversive of liberty, which in reality went so far as to say, that this house of commons was not, and that no house of commons ever had been a true, and constitutional representation of the people ; for no house of commons had yet been elected by all the men in the kingdom. The country had long prospered, and had even attained the summit of glory, though this doctrine had never been embraced ; and he hoped that no one would ever attempt to introduce it into the laws of England, or treat it in any other light than as a mere speculative proposition, that may be good in theory, but which it would be absurd and chimerical to endeavour to reduce to practice.
The second expedient he had heard of, was to abolish the franchise which several boroughs now enjoy, of returning members to serve in Parliament. These places
were known by the favourite popular appellation of “ rotten boroughs.” He confessed there was something very plausible in this idea ; but still he was not ready to adopt it: he held those boroughs in the light of deformities, which in some degree disfigured the fabric of the consti-tution, but which he feared could not be removed without endangering the whole pile. It was true that the representation of the people could not be good, unless the interests of the representatives and the represented were the same: the moment they became different, from that moment the liberty of the people was in danger ; because those who ought to be the guardians of it might find their account in circumscribing it within narrower limits than the constitution marked out, or in carrying through measures which might in the end effectually destroy it. It must be admitted from a variety of circumstances, which it
a was unnecessary for him at present to explain, that though the members returned by boroughs might be for the present the brightest patterns of patriotism and liberty, still there was no doubt but that borough members, considered in the abstract, were more liable to the operation of that influence, which every good man wished to see destroyed in that house, than those members who were returned by the counties ; and therefore though he was afraid to cut up the roots of this influence by disfranchising the boroughs, because he was afraid of doing more harm than good, by using a remedy that might be thought worse than the disease, still he thought it his duty to counteract if possible, that influence, the instruments of which he was afraid to remove. The boroughs ought to be considered not only as places of franchise, but also as places where the franchise was in some measure connected with property by burgage tenure ; and therefore, as he was unwilling to dissolve the boroughs, he would endeavour to defeat the effect of undue influence in them, by introducing and establishing a counter balance that should keep it down, and prevent it from ruining the country.
This brought him naturally to the third expedient, that he had often heard mentioned, which was to add a certain number of members to the house, who should be returned by the counties and the metropolis. It was unnecessary for him to say, that the county members in general were almost necessarily taken from that class and description of gentlemen the least liable to the seduction of corrupt influence, the most deeply interested in the liberty and prosperity of the country, and consequently the most likely to pursue such measures as appeared to them the most salutary to their country: in the hands of such men, the liberties of their constituents would be safe, because the interests of such representatives and the represented must necessarily be the same. This expedient appeared to him the most fit to be adopted, because it was the least objectionable : it had the merit of promising an effectual counterbalance to the weight of the boroughs, without being an innovation in the form of the constitution. He would not then say what number of members ought to be added to the counties ; he would leave that to be inserted in a bill, which, if the resolutions he meant to propose should pass, he intended to move for leave to bring in: he however would say, that, in his opinion, the number ought not to be under one hundred. It was true he thought the house would then be more numerous than he could wish ; but still it were better it should be so, than that the liberties of the country should be exposed to destruction from the baneful influence of the crown in the boroughs. He was not however without an expedient, by degrees to reduce the number of members, even after the addition, down to nearly the present number : his expedient was this ; that whenever it should be proved before the tribunal, which happily was now established by law to try the merits of contested elections, that the majority of any borough had