Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

a

the journals of the Lords, or Cobbett's Parliamentary Register, and Clarendon's Diary.

The vote no sooner reached the upper house, than it was immediately separated into its component parts, and debated clause by clause.

From the journals it appears that the house had already taken due pains to collect all their members; some were sick, some out of the kingdom, some absent, probably by design.

But before the vote of the commons was debated, paragraph by paragraph, the first effort of the Tories was to slip aside (if possible) from these disagreeable positions of the original contract and violation of fundamental. laws, and, without expressly saying whether the throne was or was not vacant, to obtain a vote for a regency. On this occasion the Whigs only overpowered their opponents, and maintained the fortunes of the revolution, by a majority of two voices, fifty-one to forty-nine. The names of the members present are in the journals; the whole number in a former page; the names of

; the minority are in Clarendon's Diary : so that every thing respecting these important votes, how each peer voted or conducted himself, may be ascertained. Lord Churchill, afterwards the great Duke of Marlborough, and a few others, chose to be indisposed; Sancroft, the archbishop, in like manner, to be absent. Of the fourteen bishops that attended, two only, Bristol and London, voted with the Whigs.

On the next sitting, the lords debated, in the first place, the great Whig doctrine of the original contract between the king and people, and the affirmative (that there was such an original contract) was carried by a majority of seven; fiftythree to forty-six. The Whigs, therefore, were gaining ground.

But here their triumphs ended; they could not get the word “abdicated” carried; nor, the next day, that the Prince and Princess of Orange should be declared king and queen, which was lost by five, forty-seven to fifty-two; nor, “ that the throne was vacant :” lost by eleven (forty-four to fiftyfive, not forty-one to fifty-five, as it is in Lord Clarendon, probably by a mistake of the figure). The word “ deserted”

“ was substituted for the word abdicated; the clause about the vacancy of the throne omitted ; and in this state the vote returned to the commons.

But the commons could not see the propriety of these alterations; a conference, therefore, took place.

The discussion which took place on this remarkable occasion is represented by some writers, and even by Hume, “ as turning (to use his own words) upon frivolous topics, and as more resembling the verbal disputes of the schools than the solid reasoning of statesmen and legislators.”

They who are at all acquainted with the very metaphysical nature of Mr. Hume's most favourite compositions will be somewhat surprised at this sudden impatience and dislike of those verbal disputes, as he terms them, or rather, as he ought to think them, of those explanations and distinctions of words and phrases, without which no subject of importance ever was or can be thoroughly examined.

This conference between the lords and commons, far from being cast aside as the mere idle discussion of unmeaning subtleties, should (I conceive) be considered with the utmost attention. It is given by Cobbett. Some of the first men the country has produced were engaged in it; the occasion, the most important that has ever occurred; and the debate itself will be found in no respect unworthy of the character and abilities of the speakers.

The value of this conference appears to consist in this, that it is a development of those principles which must always more or less exist in a mixed monarchical government-a development of the principles, and of their consequences when applied to practice; and such a development is and must ever be of importance, not only to ourselves, but to all who are ever to live under any reasonably mixed form of government; because the laws and ordinances of any such form of government can never speak, any more than our own do, of resistance to authority, of dethroning of kings, of trying, of punishing them, of the paramount authority of the public, and other political positions and maxims of the same kind. Such can never be the language of the constitution of a country; but if it be from thence inferred, that no language but the ordinary language of the constitution is ever to be used, that no maxims but the ordinary maxims of the laws

are ever to be proceeded upon, then these memorable debates, and above all this memorable conference, will be of value, to show in what inextricable, what fatal perplexity, a nation and its statesmen must be left, if, when its liberties are invaded, they will not submit to acknowledge, that however sacred the general rules of hereditary monarchy or civil obedience may be, exceptions must be sometimes admitted, and whether admitted or not in theory, must at all events be sometimes proceeded upon in practice.

On the whole, it must be confessed that the Whig leaders conducted themselves through all these transactions with a temper which no political party ever before showed; they neither considered their opponents as necessarily knaves or certainly fools, as combined to destroy their country, or as holding principles inconsistent with society; compliments that were no doubt paid them out of doors very liberally; but no impatient expressions nor accusations of the kind seemed to have escaped them. While, on the contrary, the Tory lords were insulted repeatedly in their passage to the house; the public in London (for the Tories were probably predominant in the country) intimated to them very plainly that they considered themselves as somewhat forgotten in their debates. The Whig leaders, however, contrived, by every possible forbearance and palliation, to render the acquiescence of the Tories, in the new settlement of the government, as little offensive to their particular principles, and therefore to their feelings of honour, as possible; a wisdom this, very rare, and at all times very desirable.

Great bodies of men seldom understand very thoroughly those principles of religion and politics which they profess, or rather never understand the real value of the difference that exists between them and their opponents on these subjects; but they can always comprehend fully that it is dishonourable for them to desert, in time of trial, what they have been accustomed to profess, and therefore, right or wrong, this they will not do.

Here lay the great merit of the Whigs; their temper, their spirit of conciliation, their practical philosophy, their genuine wisdom, so different from the wisdom of those, who, on occasions of political or other weighty discussion, ignorant of the

business of the world, and unfitted for it, bustle about with importance, displaying all the triumphs of their logic, and hurrying their opponents and themselves into difficulties and disgrace from the very offensiveness of their manner, and from their vain and puerile confidence in what they think the cogency of reason and the evidence of truth.

And now comes forward the great merit of William himself.

William had done every thing from the first which he understood to be consistent with the liberties and laws of the country; he then waited the event: but he perceived that the parties were far more nearly balanced than he had probably at first supposed; that if either of these parties insisted on their own opinion in defiance of the other, a civil war might ensue; that the Tories were, in practice at least, indifferent to the service he had rendered them, now that they were safe from Popery; that the Whigs themselves seemed to be thinking more anxiously of the maxims of the constitution of England than of what was due to the great cause of civil and religious liberty, not only in England, but in Europe; and that no one could be found who appeared sufficiently impressed with what was owing both to the states of Holland and to himself, for embarking in an enterprise originally so unpromising, always so perilous, and hitherto so successfully conducted.

That William had a perfect right to be considerably out of humour, cannot be doubted ; and if he had not expressed his own sentiments at a proper juncture, and given the weight of his decision to the arguments and expostulations of the Whigs, it is impossible to say how long and how preposterously the Tories might have persevered in their most impracticable opinions, and again, how long the moderation and caution of the Whigs might have been able to sustain itself, and might have continued to maintain the peace of the community; in other words, whether a civil war might not have been the result, or at least the return of James. What passed on this occasion between William and the Whig leaders is well known. “ They might have a regent,” he told them,

,, “Do doubt, if they thought proper, but he would not be that regent; they might wish him, perhaps, to reign in right, and during the lifetime of his wife, but he would submit to no

no

[ocr errors]

thing of the sort'; and he should certainly, in either case, return to Holland, and leave them to settle their government in any manner they thought best.”

The conclusion from all this was plain, that he and the princess were to be raised to the throne, and that he chose himself to possess the crown, as if it had regularly descended to him, or not at all.

This conduct in William was at the time, and has often since been branded by many reasoners and writers as not a little base and criminal,-criminal from the violation of duty to James, his father-in-law, whom he was accused of having thus dethroned ; base, from the proof thus exhibited, that from the first he had been actuated merely by selfish ambition; that from the first he had but dissembled his real designs on the crown; that from the first every thing he had been doing was in direct contradiction to all he had professed and ayowed in his own declaration.

To consider this subject for a moment-In his first declaration he had said that his expedition was intended for no other design but to have a free and lawful parliament assembled as as possible ; “ that he had nothing before his eyes in this undertaking but the preservation of the Protestant religion, and the securing to the nation the free enjoyment of their laws, rights, and liberties under a just and legal government;” and again, in his additional declaration, “ that no person could have such hard thoughts of him as to imagine he had any other design in this undertaking than to procure a settlement of the religion and of the liberties and properties of the subject, upon so sure a foundation that there may be no danger of the nation relapsing into the like miseries at any time hereafter; that the forces be brought over were disproportioned to the design of conquest, and that of those who countenanced the expedition, many were known to be distinguished for their constant fidelity to the crown.” This last is the strongest expression to be found, the only one where the crown is exactly mentioned.

To representations of this nature it may be briefly answered, that it is mere mockery to speak of William's duty as a son, to one who never was or wished to be his father-in-law in any

soon

« ZurückWeiter »