« ПредишнаНапред »
The facts themselves thus appealed to—the king's endeavour to subvert the constitution by breaking the original contract, his violation of the fundamental laws, and his withdrawing himself out of the kingdom, were evident and notorious; and the consequences drawn from these facts (namely, that they amounted to an abdication of the government, which abdication did not affect only the person of the king himself, but also all his heirs, and rendered the throne absolutely and completely vacant), it belonged to our ancestors to determine. For whenever a question arises between society at large and any magistrate vested with powers originally delegated by that society, it must be decided by the voice of the society itself: there is not upon earth any other tribunal to resort to. And that these consequences were fairly deduced from these facts, our ancestors have solemnly determined, in a full parliamentary convention representing the whole society.
The reasons upon which they decided may be found at large in the parliamentary proceedings of the times; and may be a matter of instructive amusement for us to contemplate, as a speculative point of history. The "vacancy" of the throne being once established, the rest that was then done followed almost of course. For if the throne be at any time vacant (which may happen by other means besides that of abdication; as, if all the blood royal should fail without any successor appointed by Parliament): if, I say, a vacancy by any means whatsoever should happen, the right of disposing of thi; vacancy seems naturally to result to the Lords and Commons, the trustees and representatives of the nation. For there are no other hands in which it can be so properly intrusted; and there is a necessity of its being entrusted somewhere, else the whole frame of government must be dissolved and perish. The Lords and Commons having therefore determined this main fundamental article, that there was a vacancy of the throne, they proceeded to fill up that vacancy in such manner as they judged the most proper.
And this was done by their declaration of 12th February, 1688, in the following manner: "that William and Mary, Prince and Princess of Orange, be, and be declared, king and queen, to hold the crown and royal dignity during their lives, and the life of the survivor of them; and that ttie sole and full exercise of the regal power be only in, and executed by, the said Prince of Orange, in the names of the said prince and princess, during their joint lives; and after their deceases the said crown and royal dignity to be to the heirs of the said princess; and, for default of such issue, to the Princess Anne of Denmark and her heirs; and, f-r default of such issue, to the heirs of the said Prince of Orange."
Perhaps, upon the principles before established, the convention might (if they pleased) have vested the regal dignity in ,i family entirely new, and strangers to the blood royal; but they were too well acquainted with the benefits of hereditary succession, and the influence which it has by custom over the minds of the people, to depart any farther from the ancient line than temporary necessity and self-preservation required. They therefore settled the crown, first on King William and Queen Mary, King James's eldest daughter, for their joint lives; then on the survivor of them ; and then on the issue of Queen Mary: upon failure of such issue it was limited to the Princess Anne, King James's second daughter, and her issue; and lastly, on failure of that, to the issue of King William, who was the grandson of Charles I. and nephew as well as son-in-law of King James II., being the son of Mary, the eldest sister of James. This settlement included all the Protestant posterity of King Charles I., except such other issue as King James might at any time have, which was totally omitted through fear of a Popish succession. And this order of succession took effect accordingly.
These three princes, therefore—King William, Queen Mary, and Queen Anne—did not take the crown by hereditary right or lescent, but by way of donation. The new settlement did not merely consist in excluding King James and the person called Prince of Wales, and then suffering the crown to descend in the old hereditary channel, for the usual course of descent was in some instances broken through; and yet the convention still kept it in their eye, and paid a great, though not total, regard to it. Let us see how the succession would have stood, if no abdication had happened, and King James had left no other issue than his two daughters, Queen Mary and Queen Anne. It would have stood thus: Queen Maty and her issue, Queen Anne and her issue, King William and his issue; but we may remember, that Queen Mary was only nominally queen, jointly with her husband King William, who alone had the regal power; and King William was personally preferred to Queen Anne, though his issue was postponed to hers. Clearly, therefore, these princes were successively in possession of the crown by a title different from the usual course of descent.
It was towards the end of King William's reign, when all hopes of any surviving issue from any of these princes died with the Duke of Gloucester, that the King and Parliament thought it necessary again to exert their power of appointing the succession, in order to prevent another vacancy of the throne, which must have ensued upon the deaths of these princes, as no farther provision was made at the Revolution than for the issue of Queen Mary, Queen Anne, and King William. The Parliament had previously, by statute, enacted that every person who should become a Eomanist, or marry one, should be for ever incapable of inheriting the crown; and that the crown should descend to such persons, being Protestants, as would have inherited the same in case the person so excluded were naturally dead.
To act, therefore, consistently with themselves, and at tho same time pay as much regard to their old hereditary line as their former resolutions would admit, they turned their eyes on the Princess Sophia, Electress and Duchess Dowager of Hanover; for, upon the impending extinction of the Protestant posterity of Charles I., the old law of regal descent directed them to recur to the descendants of James I.; and the Princess Sophia, the youngest daughter of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, who was the daughter of James I., was the nearest of the ancient blood royal who was not incapacitated by being a Romanist. On her, therefore, and the heirs of her body, being Protestants, the succession to the crown, upon the death of King William and Queen Anne without issue, was settled. And, at the same time, it was enacted, that whosoever should hereafter come to the possession of the crown, should join in the communion of the Church of England, as by law established.
This is the last limitation of the succession to the crown that has been made by Parliament; and these several actual limitations, from the time of Henry IV. to the present, clearly prove the power of the King and Parliament to new-model or alter the succession.
The Princess Sophia dying before Queen Anne, the inheritance thus appointed descended on her son and heir, George; and from him it descended to George H.; and from him to his grandson and heir, George HI.; from him to his son, George IV.; afterwards to his younger son, William IV.; and then to his grand-daughter, Victoria.
Hence it is easy to collect, that the title to the crown is at present hereditary, though not quite so absolutely hereditary as formerly; and the common stock, or ancestor, from whom the descent must be derived, is also different. Formerly the common stock was King Egbert; then William the Conqueror; afterwards, in James I.'s time, the two common stocks united, and so continued till the vacancy of the throne in 1688. Now, it is the Princess Sophia in whom the inheritance was vested by the new King and Parliament. Formerly, the descent was absolute, and the crown went to the next heir without any restriction; but now, upon the new settlement,
the inheritance is conditional, being limited to such heirs only of the Princess Sophia as are Protestant, members of the Church of England, and are married to none but Protestants. And in this due medium consists the true constitutional notion of the right of succession to the imperial crown of this kingdom. The extremes, between which it steers, are each of them equally destructive of those ends for which societies were formed and are kept on foot. Where the magistrate, upon every succession, is elected by the people, and may, by the express provision of the laws, be deposed (if not punished) by his subjects, this may sound like the perfection of liberty, and look well enough when delineated on paper; but in practice will be ever productive of tumult, contention, and anarchy. And, on the other hand, Divine, indefeasible, hereditary right, when coupled with the doctrine of unlimited passive obedience, is surely, of all constitutions, the most thoroughly slavish and dreadful. But when such an hereditary right as our laws have created and vested in the royal stock is closely interwoven with those liberties, which are equally the inheritance of the subject, this union will form a constitution, in theory the most beautiful of any, in practice the most approved, and in duration the most permanent.—Adapted from Blackstone's Commentaries.
There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination, and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property, or that sole dominion which individual men claim and exercise over the external things of the world. And yet few persons give themselves the trouble to consider the origin and foundation of this right. Pleased as we are with the