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Mary, among many other privileges which we now enjoy, enacts, that for redress of grievances, amending, strengthening, and preserving laws, parliaments ought to be frequently held; and the sixth of the same reign explains the true meaning of the clause, when it declares, that frequent and new parliaments tend very much to the happy union and good agreement between the King and the people: it confirms the 16 CAR. II. that parliaments shall be held once in three years, at least, and adds that no parliament shall continue more than three years, at farthest. Between that and the first of the late King, several parliaments were held, and none continued longer than three years : some held for one session ; which seems to be the original constitution, and best calculated for the good of the nation. That year, the Septennial Bill passed, the repeal of which I am going to move ; but believe it more agreeable to the rules of the House, that the act itself should be first read." [Here the Clerk read the act.] “ The preamble to the bill, which is the foundation of it, will, I think, admit a very easy answer.
As to the first point, that triennial parliaments have proved more grievous, burdensome, and expensive, than they were ever known before that law passed, I readily agree; but let us consider the cause : the lengthening the term occasioned the expense.
I fear I might add, the multiplicity of places enjoyed by the members of this House may be too justly alleged another cause. But I would willingly confine myself to the particular point, how far the term or duration of parliaments might increase or lessen the expense,-might add or diminish the grievance complained of? And I will consider it only in this light, by submitting it to every gentleman who hears me, whether he would not give more for an annuity of three years than for a grant determinable at the end of one ; and by the same parity of reasoning, whether septennial parliaments must not prove more grievous, burdensome, and expenVOL. I.
sive than triennial, at least in such a degree as an annuity for seven years deserves a better consideration than one for three?
“ But, supposing I should be out in this point, which I can never give up without due conviction, this argument in the preamble is, I hope, entirely at an end. The act against bribery and corruption, which must ever redound to the honor of this parliament, will necessarily remedy this evil : that glorious act will prevent corruption in the electors : nothing but frequent new, parliaments can remedy it in the elected.
“ The other reason upon which that act was founded, namely, a suspicion that designs were carrying on to renew the rebellion, and an invasion from abroad, was, in my humble opinion, the only justifiable pretence for enacting it into a law, and might possibly have induced some gentlemen of very great honor and integrity to give their votes for the bill, at that juncture, whose assistance, I flatter myself, I shall now have in repealing it; for those, who voted for it from that view could never intend it should be made perpetual, or that it should continue longer than that misfortune subsisted.
“ I must beg pardon of you, Sir, and of the House, for the trouble I have given you. The nature of the motion I am going to make has unavoidably drawn me into a length as disagreeable to myself, as it must have been to those that hear me. Numberless arguments will occur to every gentleman in favour of it. I will therefore conclude with this motion, viz.
“ That leave be given to bring in a bill for repealing the Septennial Act, and for the more frequent meeting and calling of parliaments.
« In this, Sir, I hope I shall be justified, as it cannot proceed from any indirect or private views, but from a real conviction that the happiness and safety of this nation depend upon it; in which I am supported by the common voice of the people, and have it particularly recommended to me by a great majority of those I have the honor to represent in parliament, as well as from my neighbours of the city of Coventry, for whose recommendation I shall always have a due regard, though I have not the honor to represent them.”
The motion was thus seconded by Sir John St. AUBYN:
Mr. SPEAKER, “ The honorable gentleman, who made you this motion, has supported the necessity of it by so many strong and forcible arguments, that there is hardly any thing new to be offered. I am very sensible therefore of the disadvantage I must lie under, in attempting to speak after him; and I should content myself with barely seconding him, if the subject matter of this debate was not of such great importance, that I should be ashamed to return to my Electors, without endeavouring, in the best manner I am able, to declare publicly the reasons which induced me to give my most ready assent to the question.
“ 'Tis evident from what has been said, that the people have an unquestionable right to frequent new parliaments by ancient usage ; and that this usage has been confirmed by several laws, which have been progressively made by our ancestors, as often as they found it necessary to insist on this essential privilege.
“ Parliaments were generally annual, but never continued longer than three years, till the remarkable reign of HENRY VIII. He was a prince of unruly appetites, and of an arbitrary will: he was impatient of every restraint: the laws of God and man fell equally a sacrifice, as they stood in the way of his avarice, or disappointed his ambition : he therefore introduced long parliaments, because he very well knew that they would become the proper instruments
of both; and what a slavish obedience they paid to all his
a measures is sufficiently known.
“ If we come to the reign of King Charles I. we must acknowledge him to be a prince of a contrary temper: he had certainly an innate love for religion and virtue. But here lay the misfortune-he was led away from his natural disposition by sycophants and fiatterers : they advised him to neglect the calling of frequent parliaments; and therefore, by not taking the constant sense of his people in what he did, he was worked up into so high a notion of prerogative, that the Commons (in order to restrain it) obtained that independent fatal power, which at last unhappily brought him to his most tragical end, and at the same time subverted the whole constitution. And I hope we shall learn this lesson from it, never to compliment the crown with any new or extravagant powers, nor to deny the people those rights, which by ancient usage they are entitled to; but to preserve that just and equal balance, from which they will both derive mutual security, and which, if duly observed, will render our constitution the envy and admiration of the world.
" King CHARLES II. naturally took a surfeit of parliaments in his father's time, and was therefore extremely desirous to lay them aside, But this was a scheme impracticable. However, in effect he did so; for he obtained a parliament, which, by its long duration, like an army of veterans, became so exactly disciplined to his own measures, that they knew no other command but from that person who gave them their pay.
“ This was a safe and most ingenious way of enslaving a nation. It was very well known that arbitrary power, if it was open and avowed, would never prevail here. The people were therefore amused with the specious forms of their ancient constitution : it existed, indeed, in their fancy ; but, like a mere phantom, had no substance mor reality in it; for the power, the authority, and the dignity of parliaments were wholly lost. This was that remarkable parliament which so justly obtained the opprobrious name of the Pension PARLIAMENT ; and was the model, from which, I believe, some later parliaments have been actually copied.
“ At the Time of the Revolution, the people made a fresh claim of their ancient privileges; and as they had so lately experienced the misfortune of long and servile Parliaments, it was then declared that they should be held frequently. But it seems their full meaning was not understood by this declaration : and therefore, as in every new settlement the intention of all parties should be specifically manifested, the Parliament never ceased struggling with the crown, till the triennial law was obtained : the preamble of it is extremely full and strong; and in the body of the bill you will find the word declared before enacted; by which I apprehend, that though this law did not immediately take place at the time of the Revolution, it was certainly intended as declaratory of their first meaning: and therefore stands a part of that original contract, under which the constitution was then settled. His Majesty's title to the Crown is primarily derived from that contract; and if, upon a review, there shall appear to be any deviations from it, we ought to treat them as so many injuries done to that title.-- And I dare say, that this House, which has gone through so long a series of services to his Majesty, will at last be willing to revert to those original stated measures of government, to renew, and strengthen that title. But, Sir, I think the manner in which the septennial law was first introduced, is a very strong reason why it should be repealed. People in their fears have very often recourse to desperate expedients, which, if not cancelled in season, will themselves prove fatal to that constitution, which they were meant to se
Such is the nature of the septennial law ; it was intended only as a preservative against a temporary incon