Against Repealling the Triennial Act
Mr Hutcheson's SPEECH against Repealing the TRIENNIAL ACT. Mr Speaker,
I Cannot content myself in the great Question now before you, to deliver my Opinion barely by voting in it; for I think it of that Importance to the Nation, to deserve and need the most thorough Examination: I heartily wish it might have had a much longer Time of Consideration, than I perceive Gentlemen are disposed to give it; but since we are entered on the Debate of it, I shall endeavour to express my Thoughts about it with great Plainness and Freedom.
My present Opinion, Sir, according to, the best Judgment I am able to form, is, That if we should give our Consent to the Passing of the Bill before us into a Law, we should be guilty of the most notorious Breach of the Trust reposed in us, by those who sent us hither, and should make a very dangerous Step towards the Undermining of that Constitution, which our Ancestors have been so careful to preserve; and thought no Expence, either of Blood or Treasure, too much for that Purpose, and under which we do yet enjoy those Privileges, and Advantages, which no other Nation in the World can at this Day boast of.
This is the Light in which the Bill yet appears to me; and therefore if I did believe whatsome Gentlemen do, That it would be conducive to several good Ends, yet that would not be sufficient to gain my Consent thereto; for I cannot think those Ends, however desirable, equivalent to such a Price, as that of giving up, or even of making a dangerous Advance towards the giving up entirely, the British Constitution. Much less would I give my Consent to such a Law, when I am of Opinion, That it would be so far from contributing to the Ends pretended to be aimed at thereby, that it would have the direct contrary Effect: And if we are not to do Evil that Good may come of it, surely we must not do Evil, only to bring Mischief upon ourselves.
These are my Reasons against the Bill, That our Consent to it would be a Breach of Trust, and a dangerous Breach upon our Constitution; and that, if it were not liable to this Objection, That yet it would serve to Purposes directly contrary to those pretended to be aimed at, by Gentlemen who are for the Bill; I shall endeavour to explain myself in these Points.
Give me Leave therefore to mention, what appears to me to have been the ancient Constitution of Parliament, and also how the same has been, and stands changed at this Time, with Relation to the Matter which is now the Subject of our Debate. I believe it will, nay, it must be agreed, That before the Reign of Henry VIII. there was no single Instance of a Prorogation of Parliament: That Parliaments had only one Session, and those generally very short ones, none of which ever lasted a Year: That to prevent the Mischief of long Intervals of Parliament, it was enacted in the fourth Year of Edward III. That Parliaments should be holden annually, and this was confirmed by subsequent Acts of Parliament: And therefore I may venture to affirm, That by the ancient Constitution, Parliaments were to be holden frequently, and to be of the Continuance only of one Session, and that there was no Right or Power in the Crown to prorogue the same: I say, this I can affirm, on the same Foundation, and with as strong Reason, as I can affirm, That the eldest Son, after the Death of his Father, shall inherit, as Heir at Law, the Lands in Fee-Simple; or that the youngest Son shall inherit, where the Custom of Borough-English prevails; or that all the Sons shall equally inherit the Lands of Gavel-Kind; or, indeed, as I can affirm of any Part of the common Law, or the particular Usages of the Kingdom; for these are supported only by constant Practice and Prescription immemorial; and they neither need nor can have a stronger Support than this; for surely of all Laws, those must be allowed to carry with them the strongest Evidence of Justice, which have been always submitted to, without any Change or Alteration.
The Application is obvious to the Point in Debate, I mean as far as the Reign of Henry VIII. And if at that Time this was the Constitution of Parliament, it will not be easy to shew how the same has been since legally changed; but I shall speak to this more fully, after I have answered an Objection which has been made. It has been said, 'That it is no Proof that the Crown had no Power to prorogue Parliaments, and to continue the same Parliament for several Sessions, although there were no Instances 'thereof until the Reign of Henry VIII.'
If this Objection has any Weight, it will equally hold against any other Part of the common Law, which hath hitherto remained uncontested: For may not the younger Sons, in this Way of Reasoning, say, That although there be no Instance, that any of them have hitherto claimed to inherit, equally with the Eldest, the Lands in Fee-Simple, that yet this is no Proof against their Right of making such a Claim, and having it determined for them. And if such a Case should be brought into Westminster-Hall, it is evident, that there is no Act of Parliament which settles the Point, nor any preceding Resolution, because the Matter was never in question before; and yet surely no Gentleman will affirm, that the Judges would be at Liberty to determine this as a new Case, whatever Equity they might conceive in the Pretensions of the younger Sons, but would be strictly tied to adjudge according to the constant and uninterrupted Usage. And had the Lords and Commons, when the first Attempt of proroguing was made upon them, insisted, That the Crown had no such Power, and the Opinion of the Judges had been required therein, it was impossible that they could have determined otherwise, than according to the constant Usage, or that they would have adjudged such an original Power in the Crown, which had never been exerted, from the earliest Mention which our Records, or History, make of Parliaments, to that very Day; or that they could have conceived it possible, that the Crown could have had such a Power, and yet never have asserted it in one single Instance, in the Course of so many hundred Years.
If the Facts I have mentioned are, as they appear to me to be, undeniably true, the Inference I thence make is next to a Demonstration; and I may venture to add, That there is no Part of our Laws built on a more solid Foundation, and supported with stronger Reasons; Reasons which must eternally have the greatest Weight, and make the deepest Impression, on the Minds of a People, who have any Sense of Liberty: And, Thanks be to God! we are yet a Free Nation. For without the Frequency of Parliaments, the Opportunity of Redressing those Grievances would be lost, which more or less have happened in all Reigns, from the Instuence and Administration of evil Counsellors, and wicked Ministers, who will always prefer their own private Interests and sinister Views, to the Honour of their Prince, and Welfare of their Country: And it is to the Dread which such impious Monsters have always had, and I hope will ever have, of the just Vengeance of a Parliament, that we hitherto owe the Preservation of our Liberties; for, had the Times of being called to an Account in Parliament been at any considerable Distance, the Attempts of bold and daring Men would have had no Curb; and indeed it is but one Step more, and that not difficult, from a long to the entire Difuse of Parliaments, and resolving the Government into an absolute Monarchy; but I will urge this Point no farther, because I believe it will be generally allowed; and that, whatever might be the private Opinion of any particular Person, no Briton will be yet so hardy, as to declare himself against the Necessity of frequent Parliaments.
I wish Gentlemen would as generally concur, that the other Part which I have mentioned, and I think have made appear, to have been our ancient Constitution, were as absolutely necessary to the Preservation of our Liberties; I mean Parliaments of one Session, not only frequent, but frequent New Parliaments. The Thing indeed appears very evident to me; so evident, that in my poor. Opinion, our Liberties would not be more, nay, not so precarious under an absolute Monarch, as with a House of Commons who had Right to sit either for many Years together, or without any Limitation of Time: For 'tis certain, that a Prince, who had stood only on the Bottom of his own absolute Authority, assisted with a few Ministers and some Troops, would still think himself pretty much upon his good Behaviour towards the united Body of his People; and would, probably, be cautious of exerting his Power in such a Manner, as to give a just Provocation to a general Revolt, and setting up another in his Stead; but a Prince, with a Parliament at his Devotion, would be infinitely more terrible, and, with much greater Security, might give a Loose to every Extravagancy of Power; for when the Representatives of the People, who are chosen by them to be the Guardians of their Liberties, can be prevailed on, for little Advantages to themselves, to betray their Trust, and come into all the Measures of a designing Ministry, 'tis then, indeed, that the Liberties of a People are in the most imminent Danger; and surely, there is great Reason to apprehend, that a House of Commons might soon become very obsequious to a Minister, if they were to fit for a long Period, or without Limitation, and that there were no near Day in View of a new Election, when the Conduct of Gentlemen in this Place, would be inquired into, in their respective Countries.
I believe it will not be denied, That 'tis very possible for a Ministry, by Pensions and Imployments to some, and by the Expectations raised in others, and by the Corruption of Electors, and returning Officers, to obtain a very great Majority, entirely and blindly at their Devotion, even at the very first Meeting of a Parliament, and that by a Committee of Elections and other proper Helps, their Party may daily increase; and that such a Parliament may be so far from protecting the Liberties of their Country, or from being a Terror to Evil Ministers, as to become themselves the Tools of Oppression in the Hand of such a Ministry, and by their Authority, to consecrate the worst of Actions, to declare every honest Patriot, who has the Courage to attempt to stem the Tide of Wickedness, and to stand up for the Liberties of his Country, to be its greatest Enemy; and those who are ready to give it up, to be the only true Friends of our Constitution; and if this should ever happen to be our Case, I beg Gentlemen to consider, Whether a greater Curse could fall on any People than to have such a Parliament as This entailed upon them.
I remember very well, what an Outcry was raised against the last Parliament, on Suspicion only, that a Repeal of the Triennial Act was intended, and the Arguments against it without Doors, were then the very same with those which are now urged against it within: What an Inconsistency must it then appear, to see those very Gentlemen, who were then the most zealous Opposers of such an Attempt, become now the most violent Advocates for it? And will it not also in some Measure affect their Integrity, publickly to own, that the Arguments they pretended to be then influenced by, had not the least Weight with them; and that the Thing in itself was very desirable, when there should be a good Ministry and Parliament in Being, and pernicious only in the then Situation of Affairs? It was not certainly from this Consideration, that the late Ministry and Parliament were diverted from the Attempt: They, doubtless, had a very good Opinion of themselves, and were confirmed therein by the Voice of a great Majority of the People, and which, by a most strange and unaccountable Witchcraft, still continues in their Favour; if I may depend upon what several who have argued for the Bill seem to have agreed to.
I must beg Gentlemen to consider, that the Mischief I have mentioned, will be no ways prevented by the present Posture of our Affairs; for tho' we may have now a good Ministry and Parliament, their Continuance, notwithstanding the intended Law, will still depend on the Pleasure of the Prince; for I do not perceive that any Gentleman will move for a Clause, to continue the Ministry for Life; or that the Parliament shall not be dissolved without their own Consents; and if, by ill Advice to his Majesty, a Change should happen, may it not so fall out, that a long Continuance of a new Ministry and Parliament, may be of infinite Prejudice to the Nation: Surely, therefore, it will be Wisdom, in the making of this, or any other Law; not to consider some little present Conveniency, but the general and obvious Tendency of the same. I therefore think that I am yet warranted to say, and shall say it, 'till I am convinced that I have mistaken the Matter, That frequent new Parliaments was the ancient Constitution; that until the Reign of Henry VIII. there was no stronger Evidence for any Part of the common Law, than there was for this Part of our Constitution; and that the same was built, and stands upon as solid a Foundation as any Law ever did, or can do, being absolutely necessary and essential to the Liberties of a free People.
It is true, Henry VIII, in the 21st Year of his Reign, prorogued the Parliament, which was the first Instance of this Kind, and succeeding Princes have, more or less, continued the same Practice; but I can in no wise agree, to what some Gentlemen would thence infer, That the Crown had always a Right to do so; for I think I have made the contrary very evidently appear; and that until the 21st of Henry VIII, no Part of our common Law was better established than this ancient English Constitution of frequent new Parliaments; but it is remarkable, that this having been the first Instance of a Prorogation, it was thought convenient to strengthen the farther Continuance of that Parliament by Adjournment also: If the Crown, before the Time I have mentioned, had not the Power of continuing the same Parliament by Prorogations, it will not be easy to shew, how they have come legally by it since: Sure I am, that there is no Act of Parliament which vests any such Power in the Crown, and Prescription immemorial is not so much as pretended to. The Short of the Matter seems to me then no more than this: A very arbitrary Prince, the better to serve the Ends he had then in View, boldly invades the Liberties of his People, and usurps a new Prerogative, unheard of before; that Parliament tamely submits thereto, either out of Fear, or for baser Reasons; perhaps, they were pleased with a longer Continuance, and the agreeable Prospect of sharing in the Advantages of Laws, which they were afterwards to make, I mean, the Dissolution of Abbies; and although thereby the Foundation of our happy Reformation was laid, yet that is entirely owing to another Cause, and in no wise to the pious Intentions either of that Prince, or of that Parliament. This new Prerogative was at first used with much Caution, and thereby the fatal Tendency thereof was not so soon discovered; and when the Possession of this Power became strengthened in the Crown by a Continuance of Time, and the Acquiescence of the Nation, it was much more difficult to get rid of the Innovation, than it was at first to have prevented the same; and it has been, I presume, thought more prudent to continue our Acquiescence, whilst the Inconveniences were in any Measure supportable, rather than to endeavour to retrieve this most valuable Part of our ancient Constitution by Force of Arms; although this Remedy hath been resorted to frequently, and on much slighter Occasions in my Opinion.
But I cannot see, that from a Power so assumed, and so continued, it will follow, either that the ancient Constitution was so, or that it ought to be so at this Day; and I must say, that whatever Arguments can be brought to support that Doctrine, will equally justify the Exercise of any other Part of Arbitrary Power; for upon the starting up of any new Prerogative, 'tis but saying, that the Crown had always a Right to it, although it was never claimed or exercised before; and there may be Parliaments complaisant enough to acquiesce therein, which perhaps might be ashamed, by a new express Law, barefaced and unmasked, to give up the Liberties of their Country; and I do not see, but that this would be as good a Commencement for any new Prerogative, as the Power of Proroguing at first had. Let Gentlemen consider what the ancient Laws of England were, in the Matter of Imprisonments, and what the Practice was for some Time before the Act of Habeas Corpus. I hope there is no Briton, so abandoned to the Notions of Slavery, as to affirm, that it ever was by the Laws of England, in the Power of the Prince to imprison any of his Subjects during his Will and Pleasure, and without any Reasons assigned: They were to be imprisoned only, when legally charged with Crimes, and were either to be tried for the same, or released from their Imprisonment, in a reasonable Time; and as to this, the Act of Habeas Corpus was not introductive of a new Law, but declarative only of the old; this is so essential to the Being of a free People, that it must be agreed, that our Law was always thus; I am sure, without it, our Condition would differ little from the Slavery of Turky; for the Bow-String itself, a speedy Death, is Mercy, when compared to a lingering Confinement. And yet it is certain, that before the Act of Habeas Corpus, the good Subjects of England were sometimes thus arbitrarily and illegally imprisoned, to gratify the Avarice, Ambition, Malice, or Revenge of evil Counsellors and wicked Ministers; and the Advocates for Prerogative did as strictly insist on the Legality of this Power, as they did on any other, which was claimed by the Crown. I cannot indeed tell how long this Power of arbitrary Imprisoning had been exercised, but I am apt to believe it may vye for Antiquity with the Power of Proroguing Parliaments.
I must also put Gentlemen in mind of the Prerogatives claimed and exercised by King James II. to dispense with the Laws, to command our Bishops and Clergy to read in their Churches his illegal Proclamations, and to suspend and imprison them for disobeying, with many others of the like Kind, which are recited by the Claim of Rights; and it is certain, that had we not been rescued by the Revolution, all these and many more, had been good Prerogatives at this Day, and might have been all of them supported with as good Arguments, as any can be used for the Power of Proroguing in the Reign of Henry VIII. and some of them with as good, nay, with the very same Arguments as are used for the Legality of the Power at this very Time. I hope therefore we shall be very cautious of admitting such Arguments; as tend naturally to support all Extravagancies of Power whatsoever, and to let in upon us an Inundation of Oppressions.
In the late Reigns, and in particular by the long pentionary Parliaments in the Reign of Charles II. the Nation became very sensible of the mischievous Consequences, which had already happened, and the more fatal which might still result, from the dangerous Breach which had been made in our ancient Constitution: It was now evident to the meanest Capacity, That a designing Prince, who, with the Assistance of a wicked Ministry, should be able, after several Trials, at last to procure a Parliament to his Purpose, would have the Liberties of his People entirely in his Power, and might govern them at Pleasure; from which State of Slavery it was evident, that nothing less than a Revolution could rescue them; and if they failed in that Experiment, that then their Chains would be riveted for ever. Under this melancholy Prospect of Affairs the Nation groaned, and Complaints were heard in every Corner of our Streets; and even the very Pensioners in that Parliament were not arrived to such a Pitch of Impiety, as to take Pleasure in the Drudgery they had engaged in, but acted with Reluctancy and Remorse, and as we have been very lately told in this Place, betrayed the Cause they had so wickedly espoused, and frequently gave Notice to the Friends of England, of the Attempts which were to be made on the Liberties of their Country. This pensionary Parliament was at last dissolved, but on what Views, and by what Advice, I will not pretend to say. Certain it is, that that Prince never had it afterwards in his Power, in a parliamentary Way, to destroy the Liberties of the People. The Resumption of Charters was then put in Practice, with many other Expedients, towards the Establishment of an absolute Monarchy, which had been long in View: But by the Death of that Prince, and the unskilful Conduct of his next Successor, an End was put to those Designs for that Time, the People having unanimously applied the only Remedy in such Cases; and this brought about the late happy Revolution.
I Have been often surprized, when I reflected how wanting we were to ourselves upon that Turn, in not retrieving and securing for ever, by the Claim of Rights, our ancient Constitution of frequent new Parliaments, which, in my poor Opinion, was much more valuable than all that we claimed besides; but we obtained this in Part, by the Act passed in the 6th Year of the Reign of King William, and which the Bill before us is intended to repeal; for by that Act, we are to have new Parliaments, at least once in three Years; and even this is such a Security to the British Liberties, that all the Objections against triennial Elections are but very Trifles, when compared with that: Therefore I am not a little surprized, when I hear Gentlemen say, That the Triennial Act is a new Constitution, and that the Repeal intended thereof, will be but restoring the King in Part to his Prerogative, and setting the Constitution a little nearer to what it anciently was; surely there is nothing farther from the Truth of the Fact: The ancient Constitution was, at least, annual new Parliaments, and this was broke in upon, and that Breach afterwards continued in the Manner which I have already set forth; and by this Act we have no new Privilege granted, but only restored in Part to those which we always had a Right to. But were it in Reality a new Grant: Shall we give it up only to enlarge the Prerogatives of the Crown? May we not, in the same Way of reasoning, give up the Habeas Corpus Act, and all the other Privileges and Immunities, which have been obtained to the People from the Crown, from the Date of Magna Charta to this very Day? This surely has not been the good old Way of reasoning in this Place, and I presume, it will meet with due Discouragement at this Time. I hope we shall, on this and all other Occasions, acquit ourselves like Britons, and not give up, in Complaisance to any Ministry, the smallest, much less the greatest and most valuable Privilege of those we represent; and that we shall have the utmost Caution in making any Step, that may have the least Tendency towards that Slavery, from which, at the Risque of a Revolution, and the immense Expense of Blood and Treasure, we have so lately rescued ourselves. I hope yet to live to see the Day, when our present gracious Soveriegn King George I, will have the Glory to compleat the entire restoring of our ancient Constitution, to which his Predecessor King William III, hath made such a considerable Advance; and that instead of triennial, we shall have annual new Parliaments. Then indeed the British Liberties will be founded on a Rock, which the Machinations of the first Ministries will never be able to prevail against; and the Crown will be frequently and faithfully informed of the Sentiments of the People, and be thereby enabled to preserve with them that Confidence and good Correspondence, so absolutely necessary for the Happiness of both: To this I may add, that the Inconveniencies from triennial Elections, will thereby be much more effectually redressed and cured than ever they will be, by passing the Bill before us into a Law. Upon the whole therefore, I shall take Leave to affirm, That we have at present an undisputable Right to triennial new Parliaments, and a very just Claim, for I know of no Law that has deprived us thereof, to annual Elections.
But I have something to urge, as to the Breach of our Trust in the passing of this Law; it is agreed on all Sides, that whatever the ancient Constitution might be, yet we were chosen when the Law for triennial Parliaments was, as it still is, in Force; and that we were, and could be chosen only for the Term of three Years, if his Majesty should think fit to continue us so long; therefore to continue ourselves for a longer Term, would be a manifest deceiving of those who chose us, who expected, and could not but expect, at the End of three Years to have the Opportunity of a new Choice, and to alter where they found themselves mistaken. It would also be a very great Injustice to many thousands of others, who have a Right to offer their Service to their Country, and who, for the Honour of the Nation, I am willing to hope, are in all Respects equally qualified for the Service with us, who have at present the Honour to fill those Seats.
If this Bill were to enlarge only the Continuance of future Parliaments, I should give my Negative to it for the Reasons I have already mentioned, and yet in that Case the Electors would have a fair Warning for what Time they were to chuse, and those elected, would be truly and properly the Representatives of the People; which I conceive cannot be said with Truth of the present Parliament, if they should be continued beyond the three Years: This, to me, is an insuperable Objection against this Part of the Bill; for if we may add four Years to our present Term, may we not add forty, may we not make ourselves perpetual; or even extinguish Parliaments themselves? Nay, what is it which we may not do, or after this Step, what is it which the People of Great Britain may not apprehend that we will do? Can we do any Thing much worse, than to subvert one of the three Estates of the Realm, and to substitute a new one in the Place thereof, and instead of a House of Commons by the Choice of the People, as it always has been, and ever ought to be, to establish a new Kind of House of Commons, and 'till now unheard of, by Act of Parliament?
The great Partiality which all Parties in their Turns have shewn in the Determination of Elections, has been too long the general Complaint, and one of the greatest Blemishes on the Justice and Conduct of the House of Commons; and 'tis certainly a crying Wickedness, and a most dangerous Practice; therefore I am willing to hope that we shall not, by giving our Consent unto the Bill before us, out-do all that ever was done of this Kind by former Parliaments. They have chosen only thirty or forty Members for some particular Places, which is a trifling Peccadillo to what is now attempted, I mean the chusing of five hundred fifty eight at once, for the whole Nation.
It has been said by some who have spoke in the Debate, 'That we are chosen with full Power to consent to such Laws as we shall judge for the Benefit of the Nation; that there are no Restrictions or Limitations in our Powers; and that therefore we may pass such new Laws, or repeal such old ones, and the Triennial Act, as well as any other, as we shall think expedient; and that by a Repeal of the Triennial Act, we shall after the three Years, still continue to be the Representatives of the People by Virtue of their former Choice, without any new Election for that Purpose.' This appears to me to be a plain begging of the Question, and a very fallacious Way of reasoning. I constitute a Person my Attorney, with very large and general Powers for the Term of three Years, and, no doubt, what he shall do pursuant to those Powers, during that Term, shall bind me, but what he shall afterwards do is void; and it cannot be said, that by the general Words of doing all Act and Acts in my Name, that he is enabled to add four Years more to the Continuance of his Power. I know there are great Disparities between such Powers, and those given by the People to their Representatives in Parliament: But yet I think, that to the Purpose that I intend it, the Parallel will hold. I will readily agree, that the Powers given by the People to their Representatives are very large, but I can by no Means go the Length of some Gentlemen, to think them absolutely unlimited, or that such ill Use may not be made of this Power, as to amount to a Forfeiture thereof.
Our Histories are full of Instances, and we have a very late one, that Kings themselves may be guilty of such an Abuse of their Power, as to forfeit the same, and give the People a Right to a new Choice, and it will not, it cannot be said, that the immediate Creatures of the People, who have no Pretence to Power, but by Delegation from them, are more absolutely their Masters, or more independent than the Crown itself: Pray consider, whether we can be guilty of a greater Provocation to those we represent, than to deprive them for any Time of being represented by their own Choice, and to change the ancient third Estate of the Nation, into a new invented one, unknown to former Ages; and whether they will think a little Sophistry, and a few Finesses of Arguments, a sufficient Reparation for an Injury of so high a Nature.
But I have a much stronger Objection against this Part of the Bill, and cannot help being yet of Opinion, That if it should go through all the Forms of an Act of Parliament, pass both Houses, and have the Royal Assent, that it will still remain a dead Letter, and not obtain the Force of a Law; for I am warranted by one of our greatest Lawyers to affirm, 'That an Act of Parliament may be void in itself;' and if there are any Cases out of the Reach of the Legislature, this now before us must be admitted to be one; what can be more against common Sense and Reason, than to be a Felo de se, to destroy that Constitution, or any essential Part thereof, upon which our Existence in our political Capacity depends. I am also supported in this by the Authority of learned Divines; I shall mention but one, and I speak it for his Honour, the present Bishop of Bangor, who has unanswerably made it evident, 'That all People have natural Rights, and that a free People have legal ones, which they may justly maintain, and which no legislative Authority whatsoever can deprive them of.' And can a free People have a more valuable Right, than that of being fairly and frequently represented in Parliament, by Persons of their own choosing? This surely is a Right as valuable as Liberty itself, being absolutely necessary to the Subsistance and Continuance thereof.
For the Sake of those Gentlemen who seem so very fond of the unlimited Power of Parliaments, and by which only they can support the Validity of such a Law, as the Bill before us is intended to introduce, I shall mention some Cases, to which they themselves will agree, that this unlimited Power doth not, cannot extend. As for Instance, Suppose, instead of the Bill before us, we should pass a Law, as was done in the Reign of Richard II. the worst Prince that ever sat upon the English Throne, That the Power of both Houses should be vested in twelve great Lords! or, as was done in the Reign of Henry VIII. the first Proroguer of Parliaments, That the King's Proclamation, with the Consent of the Privy-Council, should have the Force of Law: Or, as in 1641, That the Parliament should not be dissolved or prorogued without their own Consents: Such Laws as these, through Oppression and Violence, have been for some Time submitted to; but surely no Gentleman will say, that they ever were, or should they he now re-enacted, that they would be legally in force; for if so, the Parliament of 1641, is still in being, for I never heard that they gave their Consents to their own Dissolution.
I will suppose one Case more, which has never happened, and God forbid it ever should! That an Act of Parliament should pass to vest the whole legislative Authority in the single Person of the Prince, to cloath him with an absolute dictatorial Power, to extinguish for the future both Houses of Parliament, and all other Rights and Privileges of the People, and to put all Things hereafter intirely into the Power, and to be disposed of at the Will and Pleasure of the Prince. I am sure no true Briton will ever say, that such an Act of Parliament as this would have the least Validity of Force, or be any wise binding on the People: I am sure it would not, but instead thereof would, in due Time expose the Authors of it to the Vengeance of an injured Nation; which I think is a full Proof of what I have affirmed, That the Powers given by the People to their Representatives, are not absolutely unlimited; nor the Power of the Parliament itself so omnipotent, as some are willing to suppose it: I therefore hope no one will endeavour to support this Bill by such Arguments as will equally support the Cases I have mentioned, and lead us into the most dangerous and unwarranted Paths; and on this Occasion I shall take leave to put Gentlemen in Mind, that France, Denmark, and Sweden were formerly free Nations; and what their present Situation is, and how they have been reduced thereto, is too well known to need to be repeated.
I have been often much surprized at the Boldness of the Roman Clergy, in introducing the Doctrine of Transubstantiation; how they could have hoped to prevail with their good Subjects the Laity, to believe so monst'rous an Absurdity, and did not rather dread that it would stagger their Obedience, and occasion a general Revolt. But our Histories inform us, That this was done in an Age of the grossest Ignorance, and of the greatest Corruption of Manners: A proper Season for such an Undertaking! Accordingly the Popish Clergy laid hold thereof, well knowing, that if they succeeded in this, their Empire was secured, and implicit Faith, without Reserve, would be thereby for ever established; it being evident, That if this prodigious Camel was once swallowed down, it was impossible afterwards that any Thing could stick. I cannot suppose, nay, it were monst'rous to suppose, that our present virtuous and uncorrupt Ministry, can, by the passing of this Bill, have any Design in View parallel to that of the Romish Clergy, to plain thereby the Way to some other Laws, which may be thought necessary to the full Establishment of their Power. No certainly; they are too well satisfied of the Uprightness of their Conduct, to stand in need of any indirect Supports, and too penetrating, to think they could obtain them in a Parliament, where the Majority are so entirely independent of them, and who, in the present and former Parliaments, have approved themselves Champions for the Liberties of their Country: Besides, the present is so far from being an Age of the grossest Ignorance, that never was Learning at so high a Pitch, nor Men arrived to so noble a Way of FreeThinking, that our Motto may justly be, Nolumus jurare in verba Magistri: We scorn the musty Sayings of Antiquity, and will in nothing be pinn'd down by the Dictates of the Learned of this or of any other Age; therefore 'tis impossible to suppose any such Design in the Bill before us, and yet I am very sorry it hath been attempted, and hope it will never pass, for the Reasons I have already mentioned; and also, lest it should give too great a Handle to People without Doors, to entertain untoward Jealousies and Surmises, who may be apt to say, That those who can compliment a Ministry with such a Law, can never afterwards refuse them any Thing.
I shall, on this Occasion, put Gentlemen in Mind of the great Debt with which the Nation is incumbered; a Burthen which is almost become insupportable, and ready to crush us into Ruin; and yet, to our great Misfortune, instead of diminishing, it is daily increasing. I have long observed the fatal Methods by which this Mischief was brought upon us: I was indeed in great Hopes, that the putting an eternal Stop to the farther Increase of our Debt, and the settling the most proper Measures for the lessening thereof, in such Proportions as in a reasonable Time might entirely discharge the same, would have been the very first Work of the present Parliament, as it was the most valuable for the Interest of the Nation; but I'm sorry to see it has hitherto given Way to so many other Considerations, which, how important soever they may be thought, I will be bold to say, when compared to this, are but like the tything of Mint and Cummin, to the weightier Things of the Law. Surely something must, and very soon too, be done in this Matter; for I am persuaded no Man can be so wicked, as to entertain a Thought of declaring the Nation Bankrupt, and paying off this Debt with a Spunge, to the utter Ruin of Thousands of Families; and as little can I suppose any Man so stupid as to sleep securely, whilst the Liberties of his Country, and thereby his own, and the Property of every single Person in the Nation, is in the most precarious Situation; for, should we, loaded as we are, be engaged in a new War with any powerful Enemy, must we not either submit to all the unreasonable Impositions of such an Enemy, or find some extraordinary Means to support such an expenfive War? Will it not therefore be our Wisdom to put our Affairs, as soon as possible, on such a Foot, as to make the Second Part of the Dilemma practicable, without referring to so black an Injustice as that I have hinted at, either of spunging out all our past Debts, or at least of borrowing the Funds for the Use of the Publick, during the Continuance of such a War? This surely is a Subject of such Importance, that it will justify the Speaking of it, either seasonably or not; nay, I think it never ought to be out of our Minds, till something very effectual be done therein; but I mention it chiefly at this Time, to divert Gentlemen from passing the Bill before us, and continuing the present Parliament beyond the Term of three Years; lest what shall be afterwards done in so great and so good a Work by this Parliament, if continued, may be liable to Objection, from the Doubts which the Nation may have of the Legality of such a Parliament; and for the same Purpose I shall observe, that we seem pinnioned down for a long Tract of Years, and indeed for ever, in the Methods we proceed in, to a Land-Tax of two Shillings in the Pound, and to the Malt, to support such a Fleet, and such Guards and Garrisons, as in the profoundest Peace, I presume, will be always esteemed necessary. The ancient Revenues of the Crown, applicable to these Purposes, have long since been mortgaged and sold away, and if our present unhappy Divisions, should for some Time require a greater Force, for the Quiet and Security of the Nation, even in Times of Peace, 'tis easy to compute how much higher the aforesaid Taxes will rise.
Let Gentlemen seriously consider, whether it will not greatly increase the Uneasiness of the People, under such heavy Burthens, if they think they are laid upon them by Representatives whom they never chose. For my own Part, I dread the Consequence of such a Law, as that which we are now about, and doubt it cannot be long supported in any other Manner, than those extraordinary Laws were for some Time, which I have already mentioned; and I am persuaded, 'tis far from the Design of any in this House, that this Law, if it pass, should be supported in that Way; and to make a Standing Army necessary only to support a Standing Parliament; for to me they seem to be Sister Twins, which can only live, and must die together.
I have now given my several Reasons against this Bill, which appear to me so strong, as would engage my Negative to it, were it even in some Measure conducive to the Ends which are pretended; but much more when I am thoroughly convinced, that it is so far from promoting those Ends, that if ever it pass into a Law it will have a Tendency directly contrary.
It has been said, 'That three Years is too short a Time to effect any Thing of great Moment for the Service and Benefit of the Nation: That the First Sessions is generally spent and wasted away in the Determination of Elections; in the Second something is done; but that the last Sessions is usually as much lost as the first, Gentlemens Minds running so much on the ensuing Election, as to think of nothing else; and the Fear also of disobliging their Electors, on so near a View of a new Choice, becomes a very great Byass to their Conduct in Parliament, to the Prejudice of the Publick Service; so that in this short Term of Three Years, there is little more than the Work of one Year done.'
I am not a little surprized, that such Assertions as these should be made use of as Arguments against Triennial Parliaments; because it seems to me to be protestatio contra factum, as was said by a very great Man of Dr Sacheverel's Speech. It is evident, that the Business of the Publick was carried on for some Hundreds of Years by annual Parliaments only, and our Histories for that Time do not acquaint us with any Complaints made of the Shortness of their Duration: And is it not most notorious, that there never were such great Things done by any Parliament, as by those which have been holden since the Triennial Act? Was ever a War so long and so successfully carried on before, and in which this Nation bore so great a Proportion of Expence? Were ever Sums so amazingly great, given by any Parliament or Parliaments before, in the like Compass of Time, as has been done by these Triennial Parliaments? I affirm, there has been more given by them for the Supply of a single Year, than was given in the whole Reign of any of the Predecessors of the late King William III. and that the Expence of the Publick Service, since the Revolution, has amounted to more than it did from the first Foundation of the English Monarchy down to that Time; and I will venture to add, that they were such Supplies, as could have been raised only by Parliaments of a short Continuance; for 'tis not supposable, that the Nation would have remained quiet under such heavy Taxes, had the same been imposed by a long Pensionary Parliament, such as that of King Charles II. but, when they were convinced of the absolute Necessity of such Supplies, from the concurring Sentiments of frequent new Parliaments, they were by this, and, by this Method only, could have been disposed to the chearful Payment of the same; when this is seriously consider'd, I am persuaded that no Gentleman will say, That Triennial Parliaments are incapable of doing great Things, when it is true beyond the Possibility of Contradiction, that they have actually done much greater Things than were ever done by Parliaments before: Let us but compute what was done by the long pensionary Parliament of King Charles II. and what has been done in a like Number of Years by Triennial Parliaments, and then the Preserence will be easily determined: And surely Arguments from Matters of Fact and long Experience, ought to be of much greater Weight than those, which depend only on conjectural and ill grounded Surmises, and a fanciful Way of Reasoning.
I will agree that much Time is spent, not only in the first but in the second Year, in the Determination of Elections; but if these were all, without Distinction, lest to the Committee appointed for that, it would not make so great a Part of the Business of the House, as it has of late Years done: And if the Right of Election for the several Cities and Boroughs were unalterably fixed, and not changed from Time to Time, with respect to the Petitioners and sitting Members, the Work, even of the Committee, would be greatly lessened: And I must say, That whenever Gentlemen are in Earnest disposed to curs this Evil, it may be done to the Honour and Reputation of future Parliaments; and to the saving Nine Parts in Ten of that Time, which has of late Years been consumed in the Business of Elections; and therefore, surely this Inconvenience can be no Objection against Triennial Parliaments, which is not owing to that, but to very different Causes; and which cannot possibly be cured by the Repeal of the Triennial Act; but may be done, if not entirely, yet in a great Measure, by proper Provisions for that Purpose.
As to the Inconveniencies suggested to the Third Sessions of Parliament, from the near Approach of a new Choice; it will be much the same against the Second Sessions, in which something of Business is admitted to be done; for I see but little Difference between the Influence which the Prospect of a new Choice will have at the End of one, or at the End of two Years. The Objection theresfore, as to this Purpose, is altogether tristing; but I will agree, that it has its Weight, if it be urged for the long Continuance; and greater still, if it be urged for the Perpetuating the present Parliament; for then indeed Gentlemen would be freed from all Anxiety about a future Election, and would be under no Restraints, nor have any Byass on their Minds from the Sentiments of those who chose them; but surely it ought not to be thus, nor is this a Compliment fit to be made to the Electors of Great Britain, and is far from being a suitable Return for the Honour they have done us; and 'tis monst'rous to suppose, that we should render ourselves disagreeable to the People, by a faithful Discharge of our Duty, and doing that which is best for the Interest of the Nation.
Surely we ourselves, in the first Part of this our First Sessions, notwithstanding all the Time spent in the Determination of Elections, have been able to find Time to give all the necessary Supplies for the Service of the Nation; but perhaps we have made some Discoveries in this Age unknown to former ones; we have a Glimpse of some Light undescribed before, yet it will still be true, that this Light has sprung up but very lately among us. And although this Consideration cannot weaken the real Strength of the Argument, yet it lays it under the Imputation of Novelty, and will be a full Justification of the Integrity, if not of the Sagacity, of those who shall persevere in their Opposition to the Bill.
As to the Failure in the Triennial Act, of answering the Expectations of the Nation, it has been only asserted in general Terms, and I cannot easily guess at what is particularly meant; for it has certainly answered all the Ends which, from the Preamble of the Act, we can apprehend to have been expected by the Makers thereof, or which indeed, in the Nature of the Thing, could have been expected from it; for surely the Grievance which had been felt, of a very long Parliament, is thereby redressed, and the Constitution of frequent new Parliaments, in part, retrieved, and brought nearer to what it anciently and originally was.
As to the Increase of Bribery and Corruption in Elections, since the Triennial Act, it is impossible it can be owing to that Law, or that it would be any wise diminished by a Repeal thereof; and in Fact, the Increase of Bribery and Corruption in Elections may have happened since that Law, and yet be no wise a Consequence thereof; 'tis contrary to common Sense to imagine, that those who would purchase their Seats in Parliament, would give more for a Triennial than for a Septennial One, or for a Continuance during Life; or that such Electors, who will sell their Voices, have not Arithmetick enough to proportion their Prices, to the Times they choose their Representatives for; therefore this Objection against the Triennial Act is certainly very frivolous, unless something much farther be intended, than I believe any Briton has yet the Courage to speak out, I mean, unless it be intended, before the Expiration of the seven Years to add a farther Term by another Act, and so on: Then indeed there is an effectual Stop put to all future Bribery and Corruption in Elections, and the last Election which the People had, was to be the last they ever were to have.
This brings to my Mind a very scandalous Pamphlet, which came out a little before the Election of the present Parliament. I think the Title of it is, English Advice to the Freeholders of England: This Author takes great Pains to divert the People of England from choosing a certain Party of Men, whom he unjustly paints in very black Colours; and, amongst others, there is an Expression to this Effect: Don't give your Vote for one of these People, whatever they may offer you, for depend upon it, if there should be a Majority of them in Parliament, it is the last Vote you will ever have the Opportunity to give.' I am persuaded, 'tis far from the Intentions of any Gentleman here, to contribute to the Credit and Reputation of that Author, bygiving even a Colour of Probability to the Truth of any of his Predictions; and this I hope will also have some Weight to prevent a Repeal of the Triennial Act; since that will have the Air of the first bold Step towards the fulfilling of this wicked Prophecy; and the making use of the Argument I have been endeavouring to explode, will not a little heighten the Suspicion; it being evidently of no Force, in, any other View, but that of carrying the Matter to the Length which this Author has foretold. But surely Gentlemen need not thus hunt about, either for the Cause or the Cure of Bribery and Corruption in Elections.
On the late happy Revolution, by which our Religion and Liberties were preserved, we were unavoidably engaged in a very expensive War; and had it been carried on by Supplies within the Year, as it is evident it might have been, our War and our Taxes would have ended together; and we should have been then able, when justly provoked thereto, to begin the second War, as we were to undertake a first. But, unhappily for England, this Method was not pursued, but instead thereof the Nation was by Piecemeal exposed to Sale; and execrable surely will their Names be to latest Posterity, who at first began or have been since, the chief Supporters of this accursed Practice, by which one third Part at least of the great Sums given, have been lost to the Service of the Nation, which now remains loaded with a Debt of fifty Millions; besides, at least the Sum of seventy Millions, which has been actually raised and paid. From hence it followed, that by the great Burdens on our Trade, a new Spring of Commerce more secure and beneficial having arisen, I mean the publick Funds, almost the whole numerous Body of our wealthy English Merchants, who were formerly the Glory of our own, and the Envy of other Nations, have thrown all their Money into this new Channel, and have left the ancient Trade, from which only the Wealth of the Nation can arise, to be carried on by Men of small Fortunes, who, trading only upon Credit, are little more than Factors for the Manufactures of England, who by this unnatural Transmigration, are now become the Merchants of the Kingdom; and under these Disadvantages a great Part of our Trade, which was formerly carried on with Vigour by our own, is now fallen into the Hands of foreign wealthy Merchants, and I am afraid irreparably lost to us; the inevitable Consequence of which hath been, Ruin to thousands and thousands of British Families. And it is as evident, that by the long Continuance of the Land and Malt-Taxes, and the high Prices of all Things, by the Addition of new Excises, the greater Part of the middling Gentry of the Kingdom are half undone; and even our greatest Commoners, and the Nobility themselves, have very sensibly felt these Pressures upon the Publick; and if the Distress, more or less, has become almost universal, no Wonder if it has plained the Way to Bribery and Corruption, and disposed those who had the Opportunities of doing it, to partake of the general Plunder, and to repair their own at the Expence of the publick Losses.
The Funds, as I am informed, produce above three Millions yearly, towards the Interest, and sinking of some Part of the Principal of our Debt: This great additional Revenue, though the Property of private Persons, is entirely under the Management of the Officers of the Crown, and thereby a Dependence vastly greater, on a Ministry, has been created, than ever was before, or could otherwise have been; and what Influence this had on our Elections throughout the whole Kingdom, the Acts of Parliament which have been made to prevent the same, sufficiently proclaim: We have now an Army of Civil Officers, as dangerous as any Military Force, entirely at the Devotion of a Ministry; and although we may run no Risque from this, in the Hands where his Majesty has now placed the Administration, yet we have formerly been, and may again be in Peril from this adventitious Power, of the total Loss of our Constitution.
The short of the Case seems to me to be, That some Ministers have by their Conduct gone a great Way to beggar the Nation; and others have corrupted those who have been so undone: And in this happy Situation of Men and Things, the publick Money has been employed to corrupt Electors, and Returning Officers, and thereby have filled some Parliaments with the Creatures of a Ministry, and many have likewise expended vast Sums of their own, when they saw it necessary, to get or secure a Place; and by this Means these Parliaments have been filled with great Numbers of mercenary Troops, whose Names were scarce known in the Countries where they were chosen, and without any Family Interests of their own, or the Assistance of those who had; and if there has been any Bribery on the Parts of those who have opposed such Men, as perhaps there may, it has been occasioned by the vile Arts which have been put in Practice against them: I think I may truly Affirm, that Bribery and Corruption, in Elections, have not followed as any Consequence of the Triennial Act, but from Causes widely different; and that the Foundation thereof was at first laid, and has been since improved and carried on by wicked and designing Ministers. As to the Cure of this Evil, I am afraid it cannot be thoroughly effected whilst the Nation labours under the present heavy Load of Debt; and for this, and many other Reasons, it does not a little concern us, to make all the Progress we possibly can in so great and so good a Work, as is the Discharge thereof.
As to the Heats and Animosities, which are likewise charged to the Account of the Triennial Act, and the Burden and Grievance of frequent expensive Elections, I shall readily agree, That the Frequency of Elections, is directly intended and designed by the Triennial Act, to prevent the mischievous Consequence of long continued Parliaments: But surely no one will say, That this, simply and abstractedly, is a Burden or Grievance; and as to the great Expence in Elections, and the violent Heats and Animosities about them, they are not in the least owing to the Triehnial Act, as I have already shewn: And I presume no Gentleman would desire to extinguish the ancient English Hospitality, for which the Nation has been so long samed; nor can any Man imagine it more possible to cure all Heats and Animosities in Elections, than to prevent Contentions about them, which the laudable Ambition of serving the Nation hath formerly kept up, and I hope it will do so again, without the Help of any other Motives; but besides, I am persuaded, that Contentions arising from so worthy a Principle, and the old English Hospitality, will do no Harm. It is strange that any one Gentleman can fancy, that the passing the Bill before us into a Law, would cool our Heats, and settle us all in Tranquility; it seems to me to be calculated for the direct contrary Purposes, to blow up the Flame, and to fill up the Measure of the Nation's Discontents; for it is impossible to conceive, that the Electors of Great Britain, of whatever Party or Denomination they may be, will not be highly incensed by such a Law as this; and if they should universally turn their Resentments against those, who without their Choice have made themselves the Representatives of the People; I leave Gentlemen to judge, whether this would not be an Animosity of a much more dangerous Consequence, than that which we are pretending to extinguish by this Bill.
It is also urged, That these frequent Elections are a great Encouragement to the Idleness and Debauchery of the meanest and lowest of the People; Opportunities only to gratify the Drunkenness and Lewdness of the Mob. I am sorry that there are any Excesses, to give Foundation for this Complaint; but surely the Evil proceeds from the same Cause, and must be cured in the same Way with those others which I have already taken Notice of, to have been objected to the Triennial Act. And I mention this now, only to observe, what pretty Epithets are given to the Electors of Great Britain. It was with Concern that I heard them lately treated in this Manner in another Place, but could never have believed it possible to have heard any Thing like it hinted within these Walls. How low and mean soever they may be, they are still the People of Great Britain, and we are one of the Three Estates of the Realm, by a Power derived and delegated from them. And are we then only the Representatives of a lewd, drunken, debauched Mob? To paint out the Commons of Great Britain, in such contemptible Colours, is surely doing great Dishonour to ourselves, and is equally ungrateful and unjust to them. I think we represent all the Commons of Great Britain, and surely amongst them there are many thousands every Way as well qualified to fill these Seats, as we who have now the Honour to do it: And even as to those of an inferior Rank, it must be owned, that they are a brave and a gallant People; and when we compare them with those of other Countries, we have Reason to be in Raptures with our own happy Constitution, which has made such a Difference between them and other Men: They are bred up from their Cradles with deep Impressions of Liberty, and have their Properties senced in and secured by Law; and by their Representatives in Parliament, they have the Honour to share, even in the legislative Authority; and 'tis this gives our People the Spirit and Resolution of the ancient Romans, by which our Nation has obtained and preserved its great Character in the World.
It is thus we ought to describe the People of Great Britain, and we shall then only do them the Justice they deserve: But if, on the Contrary, we shew an Inclination to depreciate their Value, and seem to be ashamed of those we represent, will it not, especially if we pass the Bill now before us, give the strongest Jealousy, that we intend to represent them no more, but to set up for the future, a Third Estate entirely independent of them. And this Jealousy will be still encreased, by what has been with too great Freedom discoursed of without Doors, That People must be governed by their Fears, and surely so they must, if this Bill pass; for I think it will be scarce possible afterwards to govern them by Love. Unhappy Britain! to have brought forth Children so unnatural, as to treat thee thus: For whatever may have been put in Practice in former Times, the Doctrine of Slavery was never so openly avowed before: What, govern a free People by their Fears! monst'rous Expression! and certainly a formed Design corresponding thereto, is an Act of Treachery, as soul and black as a Briton can be guilty of: An high Crime and Misdemeanor it certainly is; I will not call it high Treason, because I know no Law of the Land which has yet declared it so.
The Argument which I shall next take Notice of, is that which seems to me to be mentioned as the chief Inducement in the Preamble of the Bill, and which has been chiefly insisted upon by the Gentlemen who have spoken for it; 'Because of the Danger from the general Discontents, and great Disaffection of the People, which some Gentlemen are apprehesive, were a Parliament now to be called, would produce a Majority of very different Sentiments from those who now compose it: Others, who think better of the Inclinations of the People, believe, that this wicked Work could not be accomplished without the Help of foreign Money, to bribe and corrupt the Electors of Great Britain; but upon the whole, are of Opinion, that the Thing would be effected, and that instead of the present excellent House of Commons, so devoted to the true Interest of their Country, and to the Support of his Majesty, and the Protestant Succession, we should greatly risque the having such a Parliament as would be ready to call in the Pretender, and to deliver up their Country to Popery and arbitrary Power; and therefore those who are against the Bill, are charged with contributing to this Design, although they are charitably believed no wise to intend the Thing.' And this I think is the full Import of what has been said by Gentlemen on this Head of the Argument.
As to the Danger which some Gentlemen imagine of an ill Parliament, were it now to be chosen, from the Help of French Money, it is, in my Opinion, a Reproach to the present Ministry, to fancy that they would be out-done, or outwitted by France in this, or in any other Way; and I think that the defeating of such an Attempt, in the only Case in which a Ministry might unblameably apply the publick Money, in the Business of Election: I wish it never had been, or may be done on any other Occasion. But why do Gentlemen believe, that the Regent of France will meddle in our Elections? Surely not long since, he had a much better Opportunity to have distressed us, had he been so disposed. On other Occasions we hear, I mean without Doors, of the good Understanding between his Majesty and that Prince; that the Pretender will very soon be obliged to travel beyond the Alps; and this certainly is highly probable, if the Regent have any Expectations of being himself one Day King of France. I shall say no more of this, and believe, those who made the Objection, scarce expected that any one would have taken so much Notice of it.
As to the Danger of an ill Parliament, from the great Disaffection of the People; this, I confess, is a most extraordinary and surprizing Argument, and such as I never thought I should have heard in this Place: For it is an open Declaration and Acknowledgement, that the People of Great Britain are not truly represented at this Time: that the present House of Commons are the Supporters of the Liberties and true Interest of the People, which the People themselves are endeavouring to destroy, and would effectually do so by a new Choice; and therefore they are to be treated like indiscreet Children, and not to have their Frowardness humoured at the Price of their undoing. This indeed is telling the People of Great Britain, in the plainest Terms, That as they are not at present truly represented by those whom they did choose, so for the future, they shall be represented without any Choice at all. If this be the Way to ingratiate with the People, what is it which can give them a Disgust? No, certainly this must make it absolutely necessary to govern them by their Fears, and to take such Measures as are proper for that Purpose; a Design so black, that I cannot suppose it has yet entered into the Heart of any Briton.
It is amazing to hear this very Suggestion, in my Opinion far distant from the Truth, not only on the present, but on other Occasions, so frequently made use of as an Argument; for were it really true, can it be any Service to the Publick to be making daily and hourly Proclamation thereof? For can this be a proper and a likely Means to strengthen the Hands of his Majesty, and his faithful Subjects, or to weaken those of the Pretender, and his foreign and domestick Friends, to publish to all the World, (for what is said in this Place can be a Secret no where) that the Disaffection to his Majesty is very general, and the Party of the Pretender so considerable in the Nation, as to risque another Rebellion in his Favour, if they had the Opportunity of assembling together in Numbers on a new Election, or any other Opportunity equally propitious to their Purpose; and if this did not happen, that still there would be Danger, that the Majority on a new Election, would be in the Interest of the Pretender; and that this would not be less, perhaps might be more fatal, even than a Rebellion. A Bill founded on such Surmises as these, and supported with such Arguments, is highly dangerous, and if it passes into a Law, its Title ought to be, An Act For the most effectual Encouragement of the Pretender and his Allies, to invade this Kingdom; in my Conscience I believe it so, and so it will be found if this Bill should pass into a Law.
I believe it will be admitted, that from the first Establishment of the Succession, until it happily took Place, a vast Majority of People expressed the greatest Zeal for it, and Satisfaction in it; that from the Death of the Queen to the Arrival of his Majesty, the Nation was never known to be in a greater Calm. That the Parliament then in being, unanimously settled the Civil List for the Support of the Dignity of the Crown, and compleated what was wanting for the Supplies of the Year; and whatever Faults they might have been guilty of before, there was nothing now wanting in the expressing of their Duty; and it has been surmised, that some Persons whose Zeal for his Majesty cannot be suspected, were not a little apprehensive, That that Parliament, and the Party of which their Majority was composed, would, to make amends for their past Conduct, go too great Lengths in their Complaisance to the Crown; and that for this very Reason, it was dangerous for the Nation that his Majesty should ever meet them; but whatever the Reasons were, certain it is that his Majesty saw them not. The Joy on his Majesty's Arrival was as great and universal, as was ever known in Britain; and from hence I think I may fairly conclude, that if there be such a Disaffection as is suggested, since it was not before, it must have happened since his Majesty's Arrival; and if this can be imagined possible, it must be then agreed, that such a general Disaffection is an Effect too considerable to be produced without any, or by a very flight Cause; his Majesty surely can be no wise the Cause of so surprizing a Change, as is surmised, in the Inclination of his People; therefore. if there be such a Disaffection, it can be only to the Ministers, and produced from something really ill, or which is apprehended to be so, in their Conduct. I am persuaded, that they themselves have too much Modesty, not to agree, that 'tis much more reasonable to suppose a Disaffection to them, than to the Person of the King; and I doubt not but this House will always distinguish, as they have hitherto done, between the Sovereign and the Ministers of State.
But, in Justice to the present Ministry, we must conclude, that the Disaffection to them is occasioned only by imaginary, and not by any real Evils done by them; and we have great Reason to hope, that by their wise and prudent Management, they will be able in a very little Time, to undeceive a mistaken and deluded People, and thereby regain those Affections, which, for the present, they apprehend to be lost to them. And if they should fail in this, I am persuaded, from their great Zeal for the Quiet of the King, and Welfare of their Country, from their known Disinterestedness, their generous Contempt of Advantages to themselves, and from that ancient heroick Roman Virtue, which so visibly appears in every Part of their Conduct, that they themselves would become suppliant to his Majesty, for Liberty to retire from the Burthen of their Trust, and to repose the same in such Hands, as might put an End to the Disaffections which are now complained of. And I am the more confirmed in this Opinion, because I myself have heard some of the greatest Men now in Power, before they were so, express themselves in such a Manner, as left me no room to doubt of the Sincerity of such a Disposition.
There is yet one Part of the Objection which I have not touched upon, the Danger which is apprehended of an Invasion from Abroad, and the Insurrection at Home, should a new Parliament be called at this Time, and this, I think, is the only Thing which I have heard mentioned, which has the Colour of an Argument for a longer Continuance of the present Parliament; but I believe, when it is a little examined, it will appear to have the Colour only, and to be vox & præterea nibil. I think I have already made it evident, that there is no such Disaffection to his Majesty, or his Royal Family, as is suggested, and if there be not, then the Danger of any Invasion or Insurrection on that Supposition, falls entirely to the Ground. But even admitting the Disaffection to be as it is suggested, 'tis still agreed, that the whole Nation is not disaffected, but only some Part thereof; and that therefore the Meeting together, on the Occasion of Elections, which are not made all on the same Day, would consist of mixt Multitudes of well and of ill-affected Persons, so that the former might balance the latter.
But admitting that not only the Disaffection is, but that the Calling of a new Parliament at this Time, would be, as the same have been represented, yet this will not prove that there's any Necessity at this Time for the passing the Bill, which is the Subject of our present Debate. I do most readily agree, that if this Parliament were to expire in a very short Time, and that the publick Meeting of the People would really be of such a dangerous Consequence in the present Juncture, as has been mentioned; that then absolute Necessity, which always has been, and ever will be, a Justification of extraordinary Steps, would equally justify the Prolongation for a Time of the present Parliament, in the Manner now proposed; and no doubt but that the next succeeding Parliament, convened in the usual legal Manner, would approve and confirm what should be done in this, on so pressing an Occasion. But surely it will no wise follow, because this might be done in a Case of absolute Necessity, that therefore it may or ought to be done, when there is no Necessity at all. And it is evident, that there is no immediate Necessity for the passing of this Law, since, notwithstanding the Length of the first, his Majesty may still have two Sessions more of this very Parliament; and will it not be time enough to pass such a Law in the last Session, if it should then appear as necessary as it is now pretended to be? And therefore admitting every Thing which has been alledged, there is not the Colour of a Necessity for such a Law at present; and this gives me strong Suspicion, that there is a Snake in the Grass, and that we have not yet been acquainted with the true Reason of so unprecedented an Attempt. Certainly no Gentleman can be afraid of what every Gentleman must wish, that before the End of another Year, our Ferment will subside, and the Nation be restored to a perfect Calm, which would entirely take away all Pretences of doing what is now endeavoured: Or, that the unanimous Voice of the Electors of Great Britain, against such a Law, would, before another Session, be found too strong to be resisted by their Representatives, and that Gentlemen, upon a more mature Consideration, might come to think very differently of this Matter from what they at present may; and that therefore this great Master-piece must be struck off at one Heat, and that now or never must be the Word: Or may not others without Doors be apt to suspect, that this Law is really intended to encourage the Pretender to invade, and his secret Friends to shew themselves in publick, by soothing them up in the Hopes and Belief of the Greatness of their Numbers; and by leading them into that Snare, have an Opportunity of discovering and crushing them as thoroughly in England, as we have lately done in Scotland; and thereby secure for ever the Peace and Tranquility of the whole Kingdom? For it is impossible to imagine, that such Encouragement would be given to the Pretender or his Friends, as seems to be done by the Preamble of this Bill, and the Debate of this Day, if those who were for the Bill were not entirely satisfied, that a new Rebellion, if it should happen, would be attended only with the Consequences I have just now mentioned. How right a Design of this Kind may be in Politicks, I will not pretend to determine, but will venture to affirm, that it is entirely inconsistent with the Christian Religion, and the Principles of Humanity, common to all Mankind.
But besides, I think an Experiment of this Kind much too dangerous to be tried; for when the Fire is once kindled, no human Wisdom can tell how much it may consume. And although we have happily suppressed the late unnatural Rebellion, yet I am persuaded, no wise Man can wish, to serve any End whatever, to see the Nation exposed again to the Risque of such another Attempt, although it should be as ill concerted at Home, and as little supported from Abroad, as the last seems to have been. Such Motives as these, therefore, can surely prevail with no Body, and yet I am not able to guess at those which should: And where no visible Reason does appear, for so violent and needless a Precipitation, there must, and will be great Variety of Conjectures at those which are not seen.
Another Argument seems to have great Weight with Gentlemen for the passing of this Bill; 'That it will encourage foreign Princes and States to enter into Alliances with us, when they see a certain fixed Administration, on which they may depend; for that at present they look upon us to be in the Nature of a Triennial Government, a new Parliament being usually attended with a new Ministry, and a new Ministry with new Measures.'
I believe that this is the first, and I hope it will be the last Time that ever an Argument of such a Nature was advanced, or would have been endured in an English or British Parliament. We have hitherto been able to form great Alliances, and to do great Things, on the Foot of our ancient Constitution; and are we now sunk to a Condition so despicable low, as to be obliged to model it to the Genius or Humour of any of our Neighbours? Can a Briton hear this with Patience? Absolute Monarchy, and despotic Power, have no doubt, in some Conjectures, the Advantage of our Form of Government; but shall we for the Sake thereof, give up the most valuable Constitution upon earth, so adapted to the Spirit of our People, and so well suited, in the general Circumstances of Life, for the Welfare and Happiness of a free Nation, and by which we have hitherto shone forth with a distinguishing Lusture, from all other Countries in the World? But as to the Argument itself, why do Gentlemen imagine, that triennial Parliaments necessarily infer a triennial Government? Surely the executive Power is intirely in the Prince, there the Laws of the Land have placed it, and there I hope it will for ever remain: The Power of Peace, War, and Alliances, are the undoubted Prerogatives of the Crown, and no Parliament, I hope, will ever pretend to dispute the same. The Stability therefore of our Government, as it relates to foreign Nations, depends intirely on the Prince; and I believe our ancient Allies never had, nor had Reasons to have, a greater Reliance on any British Monarch, than on his present Majesty, who so worthily fills the Throne; and I hope that Reliance will never be transfered from him to any Ministry, supported by any Parliament whatever; which, I think, would be of the most dangerous Consequence to the Royal Dignity, the Liberties of the People, and to the true Interests of all our sincere foreign Friends. But I am also at a Loss to find out any necessary Connection between a new Parliament and a new Ministry, were there any Weight in that Objection; for, are not the publick Employments in the Disposal of the King, and whilst they are executed to his Satisfaction, will be continued in the same Hands? And when they are not, it is unfit they should. And whatever Changes his Majesty may at any Time happen to make, I am persuaded they will be always such as will be most for his own Service, and the Welfare of the Kingdom. And I must declare the same Opinion as to Employments, as I have done with Relation to Seats in Parliament: That there are great Numbers in Britain, every way as well qualified for them as the present Possessors; and how great soever my Esteem may be for the present Ministry, I cannot carry my Compliment so far as to think, that the Nation would be undone if they were laid aside. But if by the Passing of this Law the present Ministry should be effectually established, which is more than any Man can pretend to prophesy, what Encouragement could this in reality give to the Forming of Foreign Alliances; when by the same Law it is fully infinuated, and plainly admitted in the present Debate, that the Affections of a very great Part of the People are lost to this very Ministry; for my own Part, I think it is doing them the greatest Wrong, and furnishing Foreign Princes and States with the strongest Arguments against their entering into any Alliance with us. For it is not their being supported by a Mojority of this House that will be any substantial Encouragement, if it is believed that a Majority of the Nation are in very different Sentiments.
Five hundred and fifty eight Gentlemen of Britain, abstractedly considered, were they all unanimous, bear but a small Proportion to the Numbers in the Nation; but when they fit within these Walls, cloathed with the Authority of the People, and are thought to speak their Sense, 'tis then indeed that they will have the full Weight of the Commons of Great Britain. It is evident, that the present Ministry and Parliament were in Being when the late Rebellion broke out, and that notwithstanding all other proper Measures, six thousand Dutch Troops were thought necessary towards the suppressing thereof; they had not certainly been otherwise sent for, nor would any Briton have dared to have given such Advice; what Judgment then must that, and other States and Princes from from hence, of the Situation of our Affairs, especially when by this Law we proclaim aloud, that our Heats and Animosities do still continue, and that there are still very dangerous Dispositions towards a new Rebellion; and if this be an Encouragement to enter into, and depend upon our Alliances, I know not what can be a proper Discouragement.
I am therefore in Hopes that this Bill will not pass; instead of such extraordinary and unnatural Projects as these, there are others that deserve our Attention. I think it would be a Design worthy of a British Parliament, to concert and execute the most proper Measures for the healing up of our Breaches, and uniting our Minds for the common Interest and Safety of the Nation. The first Step absolutely necessary towards this great Work, seems to me to be, the forgetting all past Party-Quarrels, and extinguishing for the future those odious Names of Distinction, which have been so long, and so unhappily kept up. And I will venture to say, that this Expedient towards Unanimity, is much more Christian, less dangerous, and, though difficult, yet much more practicable, than the Extirpation or total Suppression of either of the contending Parties, which the unthinking Furioso's of both seem to be too fond of.
I would not have Gentlemen discouraged, in endeavouring what I recommend, from any Difficulties which they may conceive therein; for surely there was a Time, and not long since, when this blessed Work could not have miscarried; I hope it is still practicable, or else the Nation will be soon undone; for, we are sure, that a Kingdom divided against itself will be brought to Desolation. But as to the Possibility of the Thing, let me put Gentlemen in mind of the great Heats and Animosities, which were raised and continued, by the unexampled Violences and Cruelties of a long and bloody Civil War; yet these were all appeased in the very Beginning of the Reign of King Charles II. after his Restoration; the History of that Time being sufficiently known, I need not repeat the Measures which were then taken: Certain it is, the Nation enjoyed a Calm for many Years, our Trade flourished, our Wealth increased, and we were both, in the literal and allegorical Sense, a Land flowing with Milk and Honey; and this I hope will be again our Case. I would also recommend the Payment of our publick Debts, or at least of putting them in a Way of being discharged in some reasonable Time; for 'till this is done, we are, in my Opinion, in a State of the greatest Insecurity; for what Foreign Prince or State, will either court the Friendship, or dread the Enmity of a bankrupt People? For though particular Persons are really rich, the Nation, whilst loaded with a Debt of fifty Millions, is undoubtedly very poor; and is it not a melancholly Consideration, that when the Individuals are very wealthy, that yet the Nation should be very weak; this is indeed a Paradox; but greater still, that Men can be so infatuated, as to sleep secure under a Government, which can scarce be said to be in a Condition of giving them Protection, and that too when it is in their own Power to Redress the Evil.
Before I sit down, I must observe, that this Bill is brought in by no Order of this House, nor has arose on any Motion in it, but is a Present sent us by the House of Peers. I do not say, that their Lordships have not a Right to send us this, or any other Bill they please, a Money Bill excepted; but since it chiefly, if not wholly, relates to our own, and the Rights and Privileges of those we represent, it would more naturally, in my Opinion, have had its Commencement here; and this Consideration inclines me to believe, that it had not been easy to have found one among us, who would have been, willing to have made himself remarkable by being the first Mover of so extraordinary a Law, so likely to disgust a vast Majority of the People. But there are other Reasons assigned, and pretty freely talked of without Doors, for beginning this Bill in the House of Lords, that thereby Time would be got, and proper Arguments applied, to convince Gentlemen of the Necessity of this Law, who, when it was first spoke of, seemed to be very much prejudiced against it; and 'tis said, that there has been great Pains taken for that Purpose, and not without Success. But 'tis said, that the main Reason against beginning it here, was to take off that Byass, which was apprehended might be upon the Minds of Gentlemen, from the Doubtfulness of its Fate in another Place; for though the Lords have, we have not an Inheritance in our Seats, but depend for a Continuance of them in future Parliaments, on the good Opinion of the Electors of Great Britain; and to deprive them of the Right of frequent Elections, which they are now entitled to by Law, cannot be supposed a proper Recommendation to their Favour; and it was therefore convenient to remove this stumbling Block out of the Way, that the Advocates for the Bill might argue and vote with greater Assurance. But I hope the Resolutions of this Day will fully make appear, how false and groundless these and such like Suggestions are, and that we cannot be deterred from a faithful Discharge of the Trust reposed in us, or influenced against it, by any Motives or Considerations whatsoever; and that those Gentlemen particularly, who have sat long in Parliament, and on all Occasions have so worthily distinguished themselves, by being the greatest Advocates for the Rights and Liberties of the People, will at this Time shew the World, that they continue fixed and steady to the Principles they have always professed. I therefore hope, that a Law which even the worst Ministry, in the worst of Parliaments, never had the Wickedness to attempt, will not actually be established under the best Administration, and in the best Parliament with which this Nation was ever blessed.
This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.