Political Tracts (Johnson)/The False Alarm
One of the chief advantages derived by the preſent generation from the improvement and diffuſion of Philoſophy, is deliverance from unneceſſary terrours, and exemption from falſe alarms. The unuſual appearances, whether regular or accidental, which once ſpread conſternation over ages of ignorance, are now the recreations of inquiſitive ſecurity. The fun is no more lamented when it is eclipſed, than when it ſets; and meteors play their coruſcations without prognoſtick or prediction.
The advancement of political knowledge may be expected to produce in time the like effects. Cauſeleſs diſcontent and ſeditious violence will grow leſs frequent, and leſs formidable, as the ſcience of Government is better aſcertained by a diligent ſtudy of the theory of Man.
It is not indeed to be expected, that phyſical and political truth ſhould meet with equal acceptance, or gain ground upon the world with equal facility. The notions of the naturaliſt find mankind in a ſtate of neutrality, or at worſt have nothing to encounter but prejudice and vanity; prejudice without malignity, and vanity without intereſt. But the politician’s improvements are oppoſed by every paſſion that can exclude conviction or ſuppreſs it; by ambition, by avarice, by hope, and by terrour, by public faction, and private animoſity.
It is evident, whatever be the cauſe, that this nation, with all its renown for ſpeculation and for learning, has yet made little proficiency in civil wiſdom. We are ſtill ſo much unacquainted with our own ſtate, and ſo unſkilful in the purſuit of happineſs, that we ſhudder without danger, complain without grievances, and ſuffer our quiet to be diſturbed, and our commerce to be interrupted, by an oppoſition to the government, raiſed only by intereſt, and ſupported only by clamour, which yet has ſo far prevailed upon ignorance and timidity, that many favour it as reaſonable, and many dread it as powerful.
What is urged by thoſe who have been ſo induſtrious to ſpread ſuſpicion, and incite fury from one end of the kingdom to the other, may be known by peruſing the papers which have been at once preſented as petitions to the King, and exhibited in print as remonſtrances to the people. It may therefore not be improper to lay before the Public the reflections of a man who cannot favour the oppoſition, for he thinks it wicked, and cannot fear it, for he thinks it weak.
The grievance which has produced all this tempeſt of outrage, the oppreſſion in which all other oppreſſions are included, the invaſion which has left us no property, the alarm that ſuffers no patriot to deep in quiet, is compriſed in a vote of the Houſe of Commons, by which the freeholders of Middleſex are deprived of a Briton’s birth-right, repreſentation in parliament.
They have indeed received the uſual writ of election, but that writ, alas! was malicious mockery; they were inſulted with the form, but denied the reality, for there was one man excepted from their choice.
Non de vi, neque cæde, nec veneno,
Sed lis eſt mihi de tribus capellis.
The character of the man thus fatally excepted, I have no purpoſe to delineate. Lampoon itſelf would diſdain to ſpeak ill of him of whom no man ſpeaks well. It is ſufficient that he is expelled the Houſe of Commons, and confined in jail as being legally convicted of ſedition and impiety.
That this man cannot be appointed one of the guardians and counſellors of the church and ſtate, is a grievance not to be endured. Every lover of liberty ſtands doubtful of the fate of poſterity, becauſe the chief county in England cannot take its repreſentative from a jail.
Whence Middleſex ſhould obtain the right of being denominated the chief county, cannot eaſily be diſcovered; it is indeed the county where the chief city happens to ſtand, but how that city treated the favourite of Middleſex, is not yet forgotten. The county, as diſtinguiſhed from the city, has no claim to particular conſideration.
That a man was in jail for ſedition and impiety, would, I believe, have been within memory a ſufficient reaſon why he ſhould not come out of jail a legiſlator. This reaſon, notwithſtanding the mutability of faſhion, happens ſtill to operate on the Houſe of Commons. Their notions, however ſtrange, may be juſtified by a common obſervation, that few are mended by impriſonment, and that he whoſe crimes have made confinement neceſſary, ſeldom makes any other uſe of his enlargement, than to do with greater cunning what he did before with leſs.
But the people have been told with great confidence, that the Houſe cannot control the right of conſtituting repreſentatives; that he who can perſuade lawful electors to chuſe him, whatever be his character, is lawfully choſen, and has a claim to a ſeat in Parliament, from which no human authority can depoſe him.
Here, however, the patrons of oppoſition are in ſome perplexity. They are forced to confeſs, that by a train of precedents ſufficient to eſtabliſh a cuſtom of Parliament, the Houſe of Commons has juriſdiction over its own members; that the whole has power over individuals; and that this power has been exerciſed ſometimes in impriſonment, and often in expulſion.
That ſuch power ſhould reſide in the Houſe of Commons in ſome caſes, is inevitably neceſſary, ſince it is required by every polity, that where there is a poſſibility of offence, there ſhould be a poſſibility of puniſhment. A member of the Houſe cannot be cited for his conduct in Parliament before any other court; and therefore, if the Houſe cannot puniſh him, he may attack with impunity the rights of the people, and the title of the King.
This exemption from the authority of other courts was, I think, firſt eſtabliſhed in favour of the five members in the long parliament. It is not to be conſidered as an uſurpation, for it is implied in the principles of government. If legiſlative powers are not co-ordinate, they ceaſe in part to be legiſlative; and if they be coordinate, they are unaccountable; for to whom muſt that power account, which has no ſuperiour?
The Houſe of Commons is indeed diſſoluble by the King, as the nation has of late been very clamorouſly told; but while it ſubſiſts it is co-ordinate with the other powers, and this co-ordination ceaſes only when the Houſe by diſſolution ceaſes to ſubſiſt.
As the particular repreſentatives of the people are in their public character above the control of the courts of law, they muſt be ſubject to the juriſdiction of the Houſe, and as the Houſe, in the exerciſe of its authority, can be neither directed nor reſtrained, its own reſolutions muſt be its laws, at leaſt, if there is no antecedent deciſion of the whole legiſlature.
This privilege, not confirmed by any written law or poſitive compact, but by the reſiſtleſs power of political neceſſity, they have exerciſed, probably from their firſt inſtitution, but certainly, as their records inform us, from the 23d of Elizabeth, when they expelled a member for derogating from their privileges.
It may perhaps be doubted, whether it was originally neceſſary, that this right of control and puniſhment, ſhould extend beyond offences in the exerciſe of parliamentary duty, ſince all other crimes are cognizable by other courts. But they, who are the only judges of their own rights, have exerted the power of expulſion on other occaſions, and when wickedneſs arrived at a certain magnitude, have conſidered an offence againſt ſociety as an offence againſt the Houſe.
They have therefore diveſted notorious delinquents of their legiſlative character, and delivered them up to ſhame or puniſhment, naked and unprotected, that they might not contaminate the dignity of Parliament.
It is allowed that a man attainted of felony cannot ſit in Parliament, and the Commons probably judged, that not being bound to the forms of law, they might treat theſe as felons, whoſe crimes were in their opinion equivalent to felony; and that as a known felon could not be choſen, a man ſo like a felon, that he could not eaſily be diſtinguiſhed, ought to be expelled.
The firſt laws had no law to enforce them, the firſt authority was conſtituted by itſelf. The power exerciſed by the Houſe of Commons is of this kind, a power rooted in the principles of government, and branched out by occaſional practice; a power which neceſſity made juſt, and precedents have made legal.
It will occur that authority thus uncontrolable may, in times of heat and conteſt, be oppreſſively and injuriouſly exerted, and that he who ſuffers injuſtice, is without redreſs, however innocent, however miſerable.
The poſition is true but the argument is uſeleſs. The Commons muſt be controlled, or be exempt from control. If they are exempt they may do injury which cannot be redreſſed, if they are controlled they are no longer legiſlative.
If the poſſibility of abuſe be an argument againſt authority, no authority ever can be eſtabliſhed; if the actual abuſe deſtroys its legality, there is no legal government now in the world.
This power, which the Commons have ſo long exerciſed, they ventured to uſe once more againſt Mr. Wilkes, and on the 3d of February, 1769, expelled him the Houſe, for having printed and publiſhed a ſeditious libel, and three obſcene and impious libels.
If theſe imputations were juſt, the expulſion was ſurely ſeaſonable, and that they were juſt, the Houſe had reaſon to determine, as he had confeſſed himſelf, at the bar, the author of the libel which they term ſeditious, and was convicted in the King’s Bench of both the publications.
But the Freeholders of Middleſex were of another opinion. They either thought him innocent, or were not offended by his guilt. When a writ was iſſued for the election of a knight for Middleſex, in the room of John Wilkes, Eſq.; expelled the Houſe, his friends on the ſixteenth of February choſe him again.
On the 17th, it was reſolved, that John Wilkes, Eſq.; having been in this Seſſion of Parliament expelled the Houſe, was, and is, incapable of being elected a member to ſerve in this preſent Parliament.
As there was no other candidate, it was reſolved, at the fame time, that the election of the ſixteenth was a void election.
The Freeholders ſtill continued to think that no other man was fit to repreſent them, and on the ſixteenth of March elected him once more. Their reſolution was now ſo well known, that no opponent ventured to appear.
The Commons began to find, that power without materials for operation can produce no effect. They might make the election void for ever, but if no other candidate could be found, their determination could only be negative. They, however, made void the laſt election, and ordered a new writ.
On the thirteenth of April was a new election, at which Mr. Lutterel, and others, offered themſelves candidates. Every method of intimidation was uſed, and ſome acts of violence were done to hinder Mr. Lutterel from appearing. He was not deterred, and the poll was taken, which exhibited
for Mr. Wilkes, — — 1143
Mr. Lutterel, — — 296
The ſheriff returned Mr. Wilkes, but the Houſe, on April the fifteenth, determined that Mr. Lutterel was lawfully elected.
From this day begun the clamour, which has continued till now. Thoſe who had undertaken to oppoſe the miniſtry, having no grievance of greater magnitude, endeavoured to ſwell this deciſion into bulk, and diſtort it into deformity, and then held it out to terrify the nation.
Every artifice of ſedition has been ſince practiſed to awaken diſcontent and inflame indignation. The papers of every day have been filled with the exhortations and menaces of faction. The madneſs has ſpread through all ranks and through both ſexes; women and children have clamoured for Mr. Wilkes, honeſt ſimplicity has been cheated into fury, and only the wiſe have eſcaped infection.
The greater part may juſtly be ſuſpected of not believing their own poſition, and with them it is not neceſſary to diſpute. They cannot be convinced, who are convinced already, and it is well known that they will not be aſhamed.
The deciſion, however, by which the ſmaller number of votes was preferred to the greater, has perplexed the minds of ſome, whoſe opinions it were indecent to deſpiſe, and who by their integrity well deſerve to have their doubts appeaſed.
Every diffuſe and complicated queſtion may be examined by different methods, upon different principles; and that truth, which is eaſily found by one inveſtigator, may be miffed by another, equally honeſt and equally diligent.
Thoſe who inquire, whether a ſmaller number of legal votes can elect a repreſentative in oppoſition to a greater, muſt receive from every tongue the ſame anſwer.
The queſtion, therefore, muſt be, whether a ſmaller number of legal votes, ſhall not prevail againſt a greater number of votes not legal.
It muſt be conſidered, that thoſe votes only are legal which are legally given, and that thoſe only are legally given, which are given for a legal candidate.
It remains then to be diſcuſſed, whether a man expelled, can be ſo diſqualified by a vote of the Houſe, as that he ſhall be no longer eligible by lawful electors.
Here we muſt again recur, not to poſitive inſtitutions, but to the unwritten law of ſocial nature, to the great and pregnant principle of political neceſſity. All government ſuppoſes ſubjects, all authority implies obedience. To ſuppoſe in one the right to command what another has the right to refuſe is abſurd and contradictory. A ſtate ſo conſtituted muſt reſt for ever in motionleſs equipoiſe, with equal attractions of contrary tendency, with equal weights of power balancing each other.
Laws which cannot be enforced, can neither prevent nor rectify diſorders. A ſentence which cannot be executed can have no power to warn or to reform. If the Commons have only the power of diſmiſſing for a few days the man whom his conſtituents can immediately ſend back, if they can expel but cannot exclude, they have nothing more than nominal authority, to which perhaps obedience never may be paid.
The repreſentatives of our anceſtors had an opinion very different: they fined and impriſoned their members; on great provocation they diſabled them for ever, and this power of pronouncing perpetual diſability is maintained by Selden himſelf.
Theſe claims ſeem to have been made and allowed, when the conſtitution of our government had not yet been ſufficiently ſtudied. Such powers are not legal, becauſe they are not neceſſary; and of that power which only neceſſity juſtifies, no more is to be admitted than neceſſity obtrudes.
The Commons cannot make laws, they can only paſs reſolutions, which, like all reſolutions, are of force only to thoſe that make them, and to thoſe only while they are willing to obſerve them.
The vote of the Houſe of Commons has therefore only ſo far the force of a law, as that force is neceſſary to preſerve the vote from loſing its efficacy, it muſt begin by operating upon themſelves, and extends its influence to others, only by conferences ariſing from the firſt intention. He that ſtarts game on his own manor, may purſue it into another.
They can properly make laws only for themſelves: a member, while he keeps his ſeat, is ſubject to theſe laws; but when he is expelled, the juriſdiction ceaſes, for he is now no longer within their dominion.
The diſability, which a vote can ſuperinduce to expulſion, is no more than was included in expulſion itſelf; it is only a declaration of the Commons, that they will permit n longer him whom they thus cenſure to ſit with them in Parliament; a declaration made by that right which they neceſſarily poſſeſs, of regulating their own Houſe, and of inflicting puniſhment on their own delinquents.
They have therefore no other way to enforce the ſentence of incapacity, than that of adhering to it. They cannot otherwiſe puniſh the candidate ſo diſqualified for offering himſelf, nor the electors for accepting him. But if he has any competitor, that competitor muſt prevail, and if he has none, his election will be void; for the right of the Houſe to reject, annihilates with regard to the man ſo rejected the right of electing.
It has been urged, that the power of the Houſe terminates with their ſeſſion; ſince a priſoner committed by the Speaker’s warrant cannot be detained during the receſs. That power indeed ceaſes with the ſeſſion, which muſt operate by the agency of others, becauſe, when they do not ſit, they can employ no agent, having no longer any legal exiſtence; but that which is exerciſed on themſelves revives at their meeting, when the ſubject of that power ſtill ſubſiſts. They can in the next ſeſſion refuſe to re-admit him, whom in the former ſeſſion they expelled.
That expulſion inferred excluſion, in the preſent cafe, muſt be, I think, eaſily admitted. The expulſion and the writ iſſued for a new election were in the ſame ſeſſion, and ſince the Houſe is by the rule of Parliament bound for the ſeſſion by a vote once paſſed, the expelled member cannot be admitted. He that cannot be admitted, cannot be elected, and the votes given to a man ineligible being given in vain, the higheſt number for an eligible candidate becomes a majority.
To theſe concluſions, as to moſt moral, and to all political petitions, many objections may be made. The perpetual ſubject of political diſquiſition is not abſolute, but comparative good. Of two ſyſtems of government, or two laws relating to the ſame ſubject, neither will ever be ſuch as theoretical nicety would deſire, and therefore neither can eaſily force its way againſt prejudice and obſtinacy; each will have its excellencies and defects, and every man, with a little help from pride, may think his own the beſt.
It ſeems to be the opinion of many, that expulſion is only a diſmiſſion of the repreſentative to his conſtituents, with ſuch a teſtimony againſt him as his ſentence may compriſe; and that if his conſtituents, notwithſtanding the cenſure of the Houſe, thinking his cafe hard, his fault trifling, or his excellencies ſuch as overbalance it, ſhould again chuſe him as ſtill worthy of their truſt, the Houſe cannot refuſe him, for his puniſhment has purged his fault, and the right of electors muſt not be violated.
This is plauſible but not cogent. It is a ſcheme of repreſentation, which would make a ſpecious appearance in a political romance, but cannot be brought into practice among us, who ſee every day the towering head of ſpeculation bow down unwillingly to groveling experience.
Governments formed by chance, and gradually improved by ſuch expedients, as the ſucceſſive diſcovery of their defects happened to ſuggeſt, are never to be tried by a regular theory. They are fabricks of diſſimilar materials, raiſed by different architects, upon different plans. We muſt be content with them as they are; ſhould we attempt to mend their diſproportions, we might eaſily demoliſh, and difficultly rebuild them.
Laws are now made, and cuſtoms are eſtabliſhed; theſe are our rules, and by them we muſt be guided.
It is uncontrovertibly certain, that the Commons never intended to leave electors the liberty of returning them an expelled member, for they always require one to be choſen in the room of him that is expelled, and I ſee not with what propriety a man can be rechoſen in his own room.
Expulſion, if this were its whole effect, might very often be deſirable. Sedition, or obſcenity, might be no greater crimes in the opinion of other electors, than in that of the freeholders of Middleſex; and many a wretch, whom his colleagues ſhould expel, might come back perſecuted into fame, and provoke with harder front a ſecond expulſion.
Many of the repreſentatives of the people can hardly be ſaid to have been choſen at all. Some by inheriting a borough inherit a ſeat; and ſome ſit by the favour of others, whom perhaps they may gratify by the act which provoked the expulſion. Some are ſafe by their popularity, and ſome by their alliances. None would dread expulſion, if this doctrine were received, but thoſe who bought their elections, and who would be obliged to buy them again at a higher price.
But as uncertainties are to be determined by things certain, and cuſtoms to be explained, where it is poſſible, by written law, the patriots have triumphed with a quotation from an act of the 4th and 5th of Anne, which permits thoſe to be rechoſen, whoſe ſeats are vacated by the acceptance of a place of profit. This they wiſely conſider as an expulſion, and from the permiſſion, in this caſe, of a re-election, infer that every other expulſion leaves the delinquent entitled to the ſame indulgence. This is the paragraph.
“If any perſon, being choſen a member of the Houſe of Commons, ſhall accept of any office from the crown, during ſuch time as he ſhall continue a member, his election ſhall be, and is hereby declared to be void, and a new writ ſhall iſſue for a new election, as if ſuch perſon ſo accepting was naturally dead. Nevertheleſs ſuch perſon ſhall be capable of being again elected, as if his place had not become void as aforeſaid.”
How this favours the doctrine of readmiſſion by a ſecond choice, I am not able to diſcover. The ſtatute of 30 Ch. II. had enacted, That he who ſhould ſit in the Houſe of Commons, without taking the oaths and ſubſcribing the teſt, ſhould be diſabled to ſit in the Houſe during that Parliament, and a writ ſhould iſſue for the election of a new member, in place of the member ſo diſabled, as if ſuch member had naturally died.
This laſt clauſe is apparently copied in the act of Anne, but with the common fate of imitators. In the act of Charles, the political death continued during the Parliament, in that of Anne it was hardly worth the while to kill the man whom the next breath was to revive. It is, however, apparent, that in the opinion of the Parliament, the dead-doing lines would have kept him motionleſs, if he had not been recovered by a kind exception. A ſeat vacated, could not be regained without expreſs permiſſion of the ſame ſtatute.
The right of being choſen again to a ſeat thus vacated, is not enjoyed by any general right, but required a ſpecial clauſe, and ſolicitous proviſion.
But what can imagination conceive between one man vacating his feat, by a mark of favour from the crown, and another driven from it for ſedition and obſcenity. The acceptance of a place contaminates no character; the crown that gives it, intends to give with it always dignity, ſometimes authority. The commons, it is well known, think not worſe of themſelves or others for their offices of profit; yet profit implies temptation, and may expoſe a repreſentative to the ſuſpicion of his conſtituents; though if they ſtill think him worthy of their confidence, they may again elect him.
Such is the conſequence. When a man is diſmiſſed by law to his conſtituents, with new truſt and new dignity, they may, if they think him incorruptible, reſtore him to his ſeat; what can follow, therefore, but that when the Houſe drives out a varlet with public infamy, he goes away with the like permiſſion to return.
If infatuation be, as the proverb tells us, the forerunner of definition, how near muſt be the ruin of a nation that can be incited againſt its governors, by ſophiſtry like this. I may be excuſed if I catch the panick, and join my groans at this alarming criſis, with the general lamentation of weeping patriots.
Another objection is, that the Commons, by pronouncing the ſentence of diſqualification, make a law, and take upon themſelves the power of the whole legiſlature. Many quotations are then produced to prove that the Houſe of Commons can make no laws.
Three acts have been cited, diſabling members for different terms on different occaſions, and it is profoundly remarked, that if the Commons could by their own privilege have made a diſqualification, their jealouſy of their privileges would never have admitted the concurrent ſanction of the other powers.
I muſt for ever remind theſe puny controvertiſts, that thoſe acts are laws of permanent obligation: that two of them are now in force, and that the other expired only when it had fulfilled its end. Such laws the Commons cannot make; they could, perhaps, have determined for themſelves, that they would expel all who ſhould not take the teſt, but they could leave no authority behind them, that ſhould oblige the next Parliament to expel them. They could refuſe the South Sea directors, but they could not entail the refuſal. They can diſqualify by vote, but not by law; they cannot know that the ſentence of diſqualification pronounced to-day may not become void to-morrow, by the diſſolution of their own Houſe. Yet while the ſame Parliament ſits, the diſqualification continues unleſs the vote be reſcinded, and while it ſo continues, makes the votes, which freeholders may give to the interdicted candidate, uſeleſs and dead, ſince there cannot exiſt, with reſpect to the ſame ſubject at the ſame time, an abſolute power to chuſe and an abſolute power to reject.
In 1614, the attorney-general was voted incapable of a ſeat in the Houſe of Commons, and the nation is triumphantly told, that though the vote never was revoked, the attorney-general is now a member. He certainly may now be a member without revocation of the vote. A law is of perpetual obligation, but a vote is nothing when the voters are gone. A law is a compact reciprocally made by the legiſlative powers, and therefore not to be abrogated but by all the parties. A vote is ſimply a reſolution, which binds only him that is willing to be bound.
I have thus punctiliouſly and minutely perſued this diſquiſition, becauſe I ſuſpect that theſe reaſoners, whoſe buſineſs is to deceive others, have ſometimes deceived themſelves, and I am willing to free them from their embarraſſment, though I do not expect much gratitude for my kindneſs.
Other objections are yet remaining, for of political objections there cannot eaſily be an end. It has been obſerved, that vice is no proper cauſe of expulſion, for if the worſt man in the Houſe were always to be expelled, in time none would be left. But no man is expelled for being worſt, he is expelled for being enormouſly bad; his conduct is compared, not with that of others, but with the rule of action.
The puniſhment of expulſion being in its own nature uncertain, may be too great or too little for the fault.
This muſt be the caſe of many puniſhments. Forfeiture of chattels is nothing to him that has no poſſeſſions. Exile itſelf may be accidentally a good; and indeed any puniſhment leſs than death is very different to different men.
But if this precedent be admitted and eſtabliſhed, no man can hereafter be ſure that he ſhall be repreſented by him whom he would chooſe. One half of the Houſe may meet early in the morning, and match an opportunity to expel the other, and the greater part of the nation may by this ſtratagem be without its lawful repreſentatives.
He that ſees all this, ſees very far. But I can tell him of greater evils yet behind. There is one poſſibility of wickedneſs, which, at this alarming criſis, has not yet been mentioned. Every one knows the malice, the ſubtilty, the induſtry, the vigilance, and the greedineſs of the Scots. The Scotch members are about the number ſufficient to make a houſe. I propoſe it to the conſideration of the Supporters of the Bill of Rights, whether there is not reaſon to ſuſpect, that theſe hungry intruders from the North, are now contriving to expel all the Engliſh. We may then curſe the hour in which it was determined, that expulſion and excluſion are the fame. For who can gueſs what may be done when the Scots have the whole Houſe to themſelves?
Thus agreeable to cuſtom and reaſon, notwithſtanding all objections, real or imaginary; thus conſiſtent with the practice of former times, and thus conſequential to the original principles of government, is that deciſion by which ſo much violence of diſcontent has been excited, which has been ſo dolorouſly bewailed, and ſo outrageouſly reſented.
Let us however not be ſeduced to put too much confidence in juſtice or in truth, they have often been found inactive in their own defence, and give more confidence than help to their friends and their advocates. It may perhaps be prudent to make one momentary conceſſion to falſehood, by ſuppoſing the vote in Mr. Lutterel’s favour to be wrong.
All wrong ought to be rectified. If Mr. Wilkes is deprived of a lawful ſeat, both he and his electors have reaſon to complain; but it will not be eaſily found, why, among the innumerable wrongs of which a great part of mankind are hourly complaining, the whole care of the Public ſhould be transferred to Mr. Wilkes and the freeholders of Middleſex, who might all ſink into non-exiſtence, without any other effect, than that there would be room made for a new rabble, and a new retailer of ſedition and obſcenity. The cauſe of our country would ſuffer little; the rabble, whenceſoever they come, will be always patriots, and always Supporters of the Bill of Rights.
The Houſe of Commons decides the diſputes ariſing from elections. Was it ever ſuppoſed, that in all cafes their deciſions were right? Every man whoſe lawful election is defeated, is equally wronged with Mr. Wilkes, and his condiments feel their diſappointment with no leſs anguiſh than the freeholders of Middleſex. Theſe deciſions have often been apparently partial, and ſometimes tyrannically oppreſſive. A majority has been given to a favourite candidate, by expunging votes which had always been allowed, and which therefore had the authority by which all votes are given, that of cuſtom uninterrupted. When the Commons determine who ſhall be conſtituents, they may, with ſome propriety, be ſaid to make law, becauſe thoſe determinations have hitherto, for the ſake of quiet, been adopted by ſucceeding Parliaments. A vote therefore of the Houſe, when it operates as a law, is to individuals a law only temporary, but to communities perpetual.
Yet though all this has been done, and though at every new Parliament much of this is expected to be done again, it has never produced in any former time ſuch an alarming criſis. We have found by experience, that though a ſquire has given ale and veniſon in vain, and a borough has been compelled to ſee its deareſt intereſt in the hands of him whom it did not truſt, yet the general ſtate of the nation has continued the ſame. The ſun has riſen, and the corn has grown, and whatever talk has been of the danger of property, yet he that ploughed the field commonly reaped it, and he that built a houſe was mailer of the door: the vexation excited by injuſtice ſuffered, or ſuppoſed to be ſuffered, by any private man, or ſingle community, was local and temporary, it neither ſpread far, nor laſted long.
The nation looked on with little care, becauſe there did not ſeem to be much danger. The conſequence of ſmall irregularities was not felt, and we had not yet learned to be terrified by very diſtant enemies.
But quiet and ſecurity are now at an end. Our vigilance is quickened, and our comprehenſion is enlarged. We not only ſee events in their cauſes, but before their cauſes; we hear the thunder while the ſky is clear, and ſee the mine ſprung before it is dug. Political wiſdom has, by the force of Engliſh genius, been improved at laſt not only to political intuition, but to political preſcience.
But it cannot, I am afraid, be ſaid, that as we are grown wiſe, we are made happy. It is ſaid of thoſe who have the wonderful power called ſecond ſight, that they ſeldom ſee any thing but evil: political ſecond ſight has the ſame effect; we hear of nothing but of an alarming criſis, of violated rights, and expiring liberties. The morning riſes upon new wrongs, and the dreamer paſſes the night in imaginary ſhackles.
The ſphere of anxiety is now enlarged; he that hitherto cared only for himſelf, now cares for the Public; for he has learned that the happineſs of individuals is compriſed in the proſperity of the whole, and that his country never ſuffers but he ſuffers with it, however it happens that he feel no pain.
Fired with this fever of epidemic patriotiſ ; the taylor ſlips his thimble, the drapier drops his yard, and the blackſmith lays down his hammer; they meet at an honeſt alehouſe, conſider the ſtate of the nation, read or hear the laſt petition, lament the miſeries of the time, are alarmed at the dreadful criſis, and ſubſcribe to the ſupport of the Bill of Rights.
It ſometimes indeed happens, that an intruder of more benevolence than prudence attempts to diſperſe their cloud of dejection, and eaſe their hearts by ſeaſonable conſolation. He tells them, that though the government cannot be too diligently watched, it may be too haſtily accuſed; and that, though private judgment is every man’s right yet we cannot judge of what we do not know; that we feel at preſent no evils which government can alleviate, and that the public buſineſs is committed to men who have as much right to confidence as their adverſaries; that the freeholders of Middleſex, if they could not chooſe Mr. Wilkes, might have choſen any other man, and that he truſts we have within the realm five hundred as good as he: that even if this which has happened to Middleſex had happened to every other county, that one man ſhould be made incapable of being elected, it could produce no great change in the Parliament, nor much contract the power of election; that what has been done is probably right, and that if it be wrong it is of little conſequence, ſince a like caſe cannot eaſily occur; that expulſions are very rare, and if they ſhould, by unbounded inſolence of faction, become more frequent, the electors may eaſily provide a ſecond choice.
All this he may ſay, but not half of this will be heard; his opponents will ſtun him and themſelves with a confuſed ſound of penſion and places, venality and corruption, oppreſſion and invaſion, ſlavery and ruin.
Outcries like theſe, uttered by malignity, and by folly; general accuſations of indeterminate wickedneſs; and obſcure hints of impoſſible deſigns, diſperſed among thoſe that do not know their meaning, by thoſe that know them to be falſe, have diſpoſed part of the nation, though but a ſmall part, to peſter the court with ridiculous petitions.
The progreſs of a petition is well known. An ejected placeman goes down to his county or his borough, tells his friends of his inability to ſerve them, and his conſtituents of the corruption of the government. His friends readily underſtand that he who can get nothing, will have nothing to give. They agree to proclaim a meeting; meat and drink are plentifully provided; a crowd is eaſily brought together, and thoſe who think that they know the reaſon of their meeting, undertake to tell thoſe who know it not. Ale and clamour unite their powers, the crowd condenſed and heated, begins to ferment with the leven of ſedition. All ſee a thouſand evils though they cannot ſhow them, and grow impatient for a remedy, though they know not what.
A ſpeech is then made by the Cicero of the day, he ſays much, and ſuppreſſes more, and credit is equally given to what he tells and what he conceals. The petition is read and univerſally approved. Thoſe who are ſober enough to write, add their names, and the reſt would ſign it if they could.
Every man goes home and tells his neighbour of the glories of the day; how he was conſulted and what he adviſed; how he was invited into the great room, where his lordſhip called him by his name; haw he was careſſed by Sir Francis, Sir Joſeph, or Sir George; how he eat turtle and veniſon, and drank unanimity to the three brothers.
The poor loiterer, whoſe ſhop had confined him, or whoſe wife had locked him up, hears the tale of luxury with envy, and at laſt inquires what was their petition. Of the petition nothing is remembered by the narrator, but that it ſpoke much of fears and apprehenſions, and ſomething very alarming, and that he is ſure it is againſt the government; the other is convinced that it muſt be right, and wiſhes he had been there, for he loves wine and veniſon, and is reſolved as long as he lives to be againſt the government.
The petition is then handed from town to town, and from houſe to houſe, and wherever it comes the inhabitants flock together, that they may ſee that which muſt be ſent to the King. Names are eaſily collected. One man ſigns becauſe he hates the papiſts; another becauſe he has vowed deſtruction to the turnpikes; one becauſe it will vex the parſon; another becauſe he owes his landlord nothing; one becauſe he is rich; another becauſe he is poor; one to ſhew that he is not afraid, and another to ſhew that he can write.
The paſſage, however, is not always ſmooth. Thoſe who collect contributions to ſedition, ſometimes apply to a man of higher rank and more enlightened mind, who inſtead of lending them his name, calmly reproves them for being ſeducers of the people.
You who are here, ſays he, complaining of venality, are yourſelves the agents of thoſe, who having eſtimated themſelves at too high a price, are only angry that they are not bought. You are appealing from the parliament to the rabble, and inviting thoſe, who ſcarcely, in the moſt common affairs, diſtinguiſh right from wrong, to judge of a queſtion complicated with law written and unwritten, with the general principles of government, and the particular cuſtoms of the Houſe of Commons; you are ſhewing them a grievance, ſo diſtant that they cannot ſee it, and ſo light that they cannot feel it; for how, but by unneceſſary intelligence and artificial provocation, ſhould the farmers and mop-keepers of Yorkſhire and Cumberland know or care how Middleſex is repreſented. Inſtead of wandering thus round the county to exaſperate the rage of party, and darken the ſuſpicions of ignorance, it is the duty of men like you, who have leiſure for inquiry, to lead back the people to their honeſt labour; to tell them, that ſubmiſſion is the duty of the ignorant, and content the virtue of the poor; that they have no ſkill in the art of government, nor any intereſt in the diſtenſions of the great; and when you meet with any, as ſome there are, whoſe underſtandings are capable of conviction, it will become you to allay this foaming ebullition, by ſhewing them that they have as much happineſs as the condition of life will eaſily receive, and that a government, of which an erroneous or unjuſt repreſentation of Middleſex is the greateſt crime that intereſt can diſcover, or malice can upbraid, is a government approaching nearer to perfection, than any that experience has known, or hiſtory related.
The drudges of ſedition wiſh to change their ground, they hear him with ſullen ſilence, feel conviction without repentance, and are confounded but not abaſhed; they go forward to another door, and find a kinder reception from a man enraged againſt the government, becauſe he has juſt been paying the tax upon his windows.
That a petition for a diſſolution of the Parliament will at all times have its favourers, may be eaſily imagined. The people indeed do not expect that one Houſe of Commons will be much honeſter or much wiſer than another; they do not ſuppoſe that the taxes will be lightened; or though they have been ſo often taught to hope it, that ſoap and candies will be cheaper; they expect no redreſs of grievances, for of no grievances but taxes do they complain; they wiſh not the extenſion of liberty, for they do not feel any reſtraint; about the ſecurity of privilege or property they are totally careleſs, for they ſee no property invaded, nor know, till they are told, that any privilege has ſuffered violation.
Leaſt of all do they expect, that any future Parliament will leſſen its own powers, or communicate to the people that authority which it has once obtained.
Yet a new Parliament is ſufficiently deſirable. The year of election is a year of jollity; and what is ſtill more delightful, a year of equality. The glutton now eats the delicacies for which he longed when he could not purchaſe them, and the drunkard has the pleaſure of wine without the coſt. The drone lives a-while without work, and the ſhopkeeper, in the flow of money, raiſes his price. The mechanic that trembled at the preſence of Sir Joſeph, now bids him come again for an anſwer; and the poacher whoſe gun has been ſeized, now finds an opportunity to reclaim it. Even the honeſt man is not diſpleaſed to ſee himſelf important, and willingly reſumes in two years that power which he had reſigned for ſeven. Few love their friends ſo well as not to deſire ſuperiority by unexpenſive benefaction.
Yet, notwithſtanding all theſe motives to compliance, the promoters of petitions have not been ſucceſsful. Few could be perſuaded to lament evils which they did not ſuffer, or to ſolicit for redreſs which they do not want. The petition has been, in ſome places, rejected; and perhaps in all but one, ſigned only by the meaneſt and groſſeſt of the people.
Since this expedient now invented or revived to diſtreſs the government, and equally practicable at all times by all who ſhall be excluded from power and from profit, has produced ſo little effect, let us conſider the oppoſition as no longer formidable. The great engine has recoiled upon them. They thought that the terms they ſent were terms of weight, which would have amazed all and ſtumbled many; but the conſternation is now over, and their foes ſtand upright, as before.
With great propriety and dignity the king has, in his ſpeech, neglected or forgotten them. He might eaſily know, that what was preſented as the ſenſe of the people, is the ſenſe only of the profligate and diſſolute; and that whatever Parliament ſhould be convened, the ſame petitioners would be ready, for the ſame reaſon, to requeſt its diſſolution.
As we once had a rebellion of the clowns, we have now an oppoſition of the pedlars. The quiet of the nation has been for years diſturbed by a faction, againſt which all fashions ought to conſpire; for its original principle is the deſire of levelling; it is only animated under the name of zeal, by the natural malignity of the mean againſt the great.
When in the confuſion which the Engliſh invaſions produced in France, the villains, imagining that they had found the golden hour of emancipation, took arms in their hands, the knights of both nations conſidered the cauſe as common, and, ſuſpending the general hoſtility, united to chaſtiſe them.
The whole conduct of this deſpicable faction is diſtinguished by plebeian groſsneſs, and ſavage indecency. To miſrepreſent the actions and the principles of their enemies is common to all parties; but the inſolence of invective, and brutality of reproach, which have lately prevailed, are peculiar to this.
In infallible characteriſtic of meanneſs is cruelty. This is the only faction that has ſhouted at the condemnation of a criminal, and that, when his innocence procured his pardon, has clamoured for his blood.
All other parties, however enraged at each other, have agreed to treat the throne with decency; but theſe low-born railers have attacked not only the authority, but the character of their Sovereign, and have endeavoured, ſurely without effect, to alienate the affections of the people from the only king, who, for almoſt a century, has much appeared to deſire, or much endeavoured to deſerve them. They have inſulted him with rudeneſs and with menaces, which were never excited by the gloomy ſullenneſs of William, even when half the nation denied him their allegiance; nor by the dangerous bigotry of James, unleſs when he was finally driven from his palace; and with which ſcarcely the open hoſtilities of rebellion ventured to vilify the unhappy Charles, even in the remarks on the cabinet of Naſeby.
It is ſurely not unreaſonable to hope, that the nation will conſult its dignity, if not its ſafety, and diſdain to be protected or enſlaved by the declaimers or the plotters of a city-tavern. Had Rome fallen by the Catilinarian conſpiracy, ſhe might have conſoled her fate by the greatneſs of her deſtroyers; but what would have alleviated the diſgrace of England, had her government been changed by Tiler or by Ket?
One part of the nation has never before contended with the other, but for ſome weighty and apparent intereſt. If the means were violent, the end was great. The civil war was fought for what each army called and believed the beſt religion, and the beſt government. The ſtruggle in the reign of Anne, was to exclude or reſtore an exiled king. We are now diſputing, with almoſt equal animoſity, whether Middleſex ſhall be repreſented or not by a criminal from a jail.
The only comfort left in ſuch degeneracy is, that a lower ſtate can be no longer poſſible.
In this contemptuous cenſure, I mean not to include every ſingle man. In all lead, ſays the chemiſt, there is ſilver; and in all copper there is gold. But mingled maſſes are juſtly denominated by the greater quantity, and when the precious particles are not worth extraction, a faction and a pig muſt be melted down together to the forms and offices that chance allots them.
Fiunt urceoli, pelves, ſartago, patellæ.
A few weeks will now ſhew whether the Government can be ſhaken by empty noiſe, and whether the faction which depends upon its influence, has not deceived alike the Public and itſelf. That it ſhould have continued till now, is ſufficiently ſhameful. None can indeed wonder that it has been ſupported by the ſectaries, the natural fomenters of ſedition, and confederates of the rabble, of whoſe religion little now remains but hatred of eſtabliſhments, and who are angry to find ſeparation now only tolerated, which was once rewarded; but every honeſt man muſt lament, that it has been regarded with frigid neutrality by the Tories, who, being long accuſtomed to ſignalize their principles by oppoſition to the court, do not yet confider that they have at laſt a king who knows not the name of party, and who wiſhes to be the common father of all his people.
As a man inebriated only by vapours, ſoon recovers in the open air; a nation diſcontented to madneſs, without any adequate cauſe, will return to its wits and its allegiance when a little pauſe has cooled it to reflection. Nothing, therefore, is neceſſary, at this alarming criſis, but to confider the alarm as falſe. To make conceſſions is to encourage encroachment. Let the court deſpiſe the faction, and the diſappointed people will ſoon deride it.