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tion made for introducing it. Therefore, though the subject might be thought stale by the public, as it had been so frequently agitated, it was perfectly new to the house of commons which he had then the honor to address.
That gentlemen should have set themselves against general and unqualified notions of reform he did not much wonder ; and that they should be still more inimical to the vague, impracticable, and inconclusive chimeras which had been thrown out at different times by different reformers, he was not astonished. Reverencing the constitution, and feeling all the pride of an Englishman on the experience of its beauty, even with all its blemishes, it was no wonder that gentlemen should be alarmed at suggestions which were founded on no principle, and which admitted of no limit. But there were certain propositions, in which he had reason to think all men must coincide. If there were any specific means of purifying the state of representation on its first principle, without danger of altering the fabric, and without danger of leaving it either in uncertainty or disorder, such means ought, with becoming caution, to be used. On this clear and indisputable proposition it was that he wished to go. It was because he imagined that a plan might be formed congenial with the first principles of representation, which would reform the present inadequate state, and provide in all future times for as adequate and perfect a state of representation as they could expect to arrive at in the present circumstances of the country. He was aware, when he spoke in this manner, that the idea of general and complete representation, so as to comprehend every individual, and give him his personal share in the legislature of the country, was a thing incompatible with the population, and state of the kingdom. The practicable definition of what the popular branch of our legislature was at this day, he took to be precisely this :-“ An assembly freely elected, between whom and the mass of the people there was the closest union and most perfect sympathy.” Such a house of commons it was the purpose of the constitution originally to erect, and such a house of commons it was the wish of every reformer now to establish. Those who went farther, those who went to ideas of individual representation, deluded themselves with impossibilities, and took the attention of the public from that sober and practicable path in which they might travel safely and with ease, to launch them into an unbounded sea, where they had no pilot to direct, and no star to guide them.
Solicitous as he was of reform, he never could countenance vague and unlimited notions. It was his wish to see the house adopt a sober and practicable scheme, which should have for its basis, the original principle of representation : and should produce the object which every lover of our constitution must have in view a house of commons, between whom and the people there should exist the same interest, and the most perfect sympathy and union. It was his purpose to see, an arrangement made, which, while it corrected the present inadequate state of representation, should keep it adequate when made so; and should give to the constitution purity, consistency, and, if possible, immortality. Such was the sanguine idea which he entertained from his project, and such, he trusted, would be the sentiment of the house upon its exposition. Whatever argument might be adduced against its practicability, and what against its expediency, he trusted that the old argument of innovation would not be alleged. . As he had said, it was not an innovation; and he was sure that gentlemen would agree with him in this sentiment, when they turned their eyes back with him to the earliest periods of our history, and traced the practice of our ancestors in the purest days.
He considered it, on such a review, as one of the most indisputable doctrines of antiquity, that the state of representation was to be changed with the change of circumstances. As far back as the period of the reign of EDWARD I., which was the first time when they could trace distinct descriptions of men in the representation, the doctrine of change was clearly understood. The counties were not uniform : the number of members was frequently varied : and from that period to the reign of CHARLES II. there were few reigns in which representation was not varied, and in which it did not undergo diminutions or fluctuations of some kind or other. Those changes were owing to the discretion which was left in the executive branches of the legislature, to summon, or not to summon whom they pleased to Parliament. The executive branch of the legislature was vested with this discretion on no other principle, than that the places, which for the time being might have such a share in the general scale of the people, as should entitle them, or rather subject them, to the duty of sending members to the representative body, might be appointed to do so. In this
In this very discretionary power the principle of alteration was visible, and it manifested the original notion which our forefathers had of representation to be this: That, whereas it was impossible that every individual of a populous country could make choice of a representative, the task should be committed to such bodies of men as might be collected together in communities in the several districts of the kingdom ; and as such communities must from their nature be fluctuating and moveable, that the crown should have the discretion of pointing out which of them were proper from their size and scale to execute this duty for the rest. Every man must acknowledge, that to have exercised this discretion otherwise than soundly must have been an high grievance ; and he needed not to say, that if it were now vested in the crown, and that ministers might fix on such places as they pleased for the choice of members, there was not a man in England, who would not consider the liberties of his country as extinguished. Such discretion, however, did exist, and he mentioned it to shew, that principles in representation had been departed from, and had their existence no longer. The argument against change was an argument against the experience of every period of our history. There had not been of late any addition to the county share in the representation except indeed of the palatines, of the principality of Wales, and of another addition which had been made since the period at which it was common to say that our constitution was fixed, the revolution, namely, the addition of all that part of the united kingdom called Scotland.
But, in the borough representation, the changes had been infinitely more common.
Gentlemen had undoubtedly read, that, of the boroughs which used formerly to send members to Parliament, seventy-two had been disfranchised, that was to say, that the crown had ceased to summon them at general elections to return burgesses to the house of commons. After the restoration, thirty-six of these boroughs petitioned Parliament to be restored to the exercise of their ancient franchise : their prayer was granted, and to this day they continue to enjoy it But the other thirty-six not having presented any petition on the subject, had not recovered their lost franchise. Upon this he would be bold to say, that considering the restoration of the former, and the continued deprivation of the latter, the spirit of the constitution had been grossly violated, if it was true (but which he denied) that the extension to one set of boroughs of the franchise of returning members to Parliament, and the resumption of it from others, was a violation of the constitution. For if the numbers could not originally have been constitutionally encreased, so they could not constitutionally have been diminished. But having been once diminished, to restore them
might by some be said to make an innovation ; and if the Parliament had any authority to restore the franchise, the principle of restoration ought to have been extended to the seventy-two boroughs, and not confined to one half of them. Here then it appeared manifest, that the whole was governed by a principle which militated directly against the modern doctrine, that to do what had been constantly done for ages, by the wisest of our ancestors, was to innovate upon the constitution. The seventy-two boroughs in question had discontinued to return members, because they had fallen into decay. Thirty-six of them afterwards recovered their franchise, when they recovered their former wealth and population ; but the other thirtysix not having renovated their former vigor and consequence in the state, remain to this day deprived of their franchise which had been taken from them, when they lost the wealth and population on account of which they had originally obtained it.
Why then was there a greater objection to any change in the representation of certain boroughs now, than there had been in former periods? Why were they more sacred now than the thirty-six boroughs which had been disfranchised, and which had no share at present in the representation of the country? The arguments that influenced gentlemen against any change at this time, would have equally operated against the thirty-six boroughs which had from time to time been extinguished, as well as against the same number, which, having been abolished, were from a change of their circumstances reinstated in their privileges. In those earlier periods, such was the notion of representation, that as one borough decayed, and another rose, the one was abolished, and the other invested with the right; and alterations took place from accident or caprice, which, however, so far as they went, stood good and valid. The alterations were not made by VOL. I.