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quá non of parliamentary qualification—which, ought to be the basis (as it assuredly will be the only support) of every barrier raised in defence of the constitution, I mean a declaration upon oath to shorten the duration of parliaments, is reduced to the fourth rank in the esteem of the society; and, even in that place, far from being insisted on with firmness and vehemence, seems to have been particularly slighted in the expression- You shall endeavour to restore annual parliaments!'—Are these the terms, which men, who are in earnest, make use of, when the salus reipublicæ is at stake?
"I expected other language from Mr. Wilkes.Besides my objection in point of form, I disapprove highly of the meaning of the fourth article as it stands. Whenever. the question shall be seriously agitated, I will endeavour (and if I live will assuredly attempt it) to convince the English nation, by arguments, to my understanding unanswerable, that they ought to insist upon a triennial, and banish the idea of an annual parliament. . . . . . . . I am convinced, that, if shortening the duration of parliaments (which in effect is keeping the representative under the rod of the constituent) be not made the basis of our new parliamentary jurisprudence, other checks or improvements signify nothing.
On the contrary, if this be made the foundation, other measures may come in aid, and, as auxiliaries, be of considerable advantage.
"Lord Chatham's project, for instance, of increasing the number of knights of shires, appears to me admirable. ., As to cutting away the rotten boroughs, I am as much of fended as any man at seeing so many of them under the direct influence of the crown, or at the disposal of private persons. Yet, I own, I have both doubts and apprehensions, in regard to the remedy you propose. I shall be charged, perhaps, with an unusual want of political intrepidity, when I honestly confess to you that I am startled at the idea of so extensive an amputation.-In the first place, I question the power, de jure, of the legislature to disfranchise a number of boroughs, upon the general ground of improving the constitution. There cannot be a doctrine more fatal to the liberty and property we are contending for, than that which confounds the idea of a supreme and an arbitrary legislature. I need not point out to you the fatal purposes to which it has been and may be applied. If we are sincere in the political creed we profess, there are many things which we ought to affirm cannot be done by king, lords, and commons.
"Among these I reckon the disfranchising of
boroughs with a general view of improvement. I consider it as equivalent to robbing the parties concerned of their freehold, of their birthright. I say that, although this birthright may be forfeited, or the exercise of it suspended in particular cases, it cannot be taken away, by a general law for any real or pretended purpose of improving the constitution. Supposing the attempt made, I am persuaded you cannot mean that either king or lords should take an active part in it. A bill, which only touches the representation of the people must originate in the house of commons.
"In the formation and mode of passing it, the exclusive right of the commons must be asserted as scrupulously as in the case of a moneybill. Now, sir, I should be glad to know by what kind of reasoning it can be proved, that there is a power vested in the representative to destroy his immediate constituent. From whence could he possibly derive it? A courtier, I know, will be ready to maintain the affirmative. The doctrine suits him exactly, because it gives an unlimited operation to the influence of the crown. But we, Mr. Wilkes, ought to hold a different language. It is no answer to me to say, that the bill, when it passes the house of commons, is the act of the majority, and not the
representatives of the particular boroughs concerned. If the majority can disfranchise ten boroughs, why not twenty, why not the whole. kingdom? Why should not they make their own seats in parliament for life? When the septennial act passed, the legislature did what, apparently and palpably, they had no power to do; but they did more than people in general were aware of: they in effect disfranchised the whole kingdom for four years.
"For argument's sake, I will now suppose, that the expediency of the measure and the power of parliament are unquestionable. Still you will find an insurmountable difficulty in the execution. When all your instruments of amputation are prepared, when the unhappy patient lies bound at your feet, without the possibility of resistance, by what infallible rule will you direct the operation? When you propose to cut away the rotten parts, can you tell us what parts are perfectly sound? Are there any certain limits, in fact or theory, to inform you at what point you must stop, at what point the mortification ends? To a man so capable of observation and reflection as you are, it is unnecessary to say all that might be said upon the subject.
"Besides, that I approve highly of lord Chat
ham's idea of infusing a portion of new health into the constitution, to enable it to bear its infirmities, (a brilliant expression, and full of intrinsic wisdom,) other reasons concur in persuading me to adopt it. I have no objec
"The man who fairly and completely answers this argument, shall have my thanks and my applause. My heart is already with him. -I am ready to be converted. I admire his morality, and would gladly subscribe to the articles of his faith. Grateful, as I am, to the Good Being, whose bounty has imparted to me this reasoning intellect, whatever it is, I hold myself proportionably indebted to him, from whose enlightened understanding another ray of knowledge communicates to mine.
"But neither should I think the most exalted faculties of the human mind, a gift worthy of divinity; nor any assistance, in the improvement of them, a subject of gratitude to my fellow-creature, if I were not satisfied, that really to inform the understanding, corrects and enlarges the heart.
To this letter, Mr. Horne shortly but forcibly replied, by means of a speech pronounced be