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REVOLUTION OF 1688.
to the destruction of those very laws which were held most dear by the nation, by endeavouring to abolish a religion for which they had suffered the greatest calamities, in order to establish on its ruins a mode of faith which repeated acts of the legislature had proscribed,—and proscribed, not because it tended to establish in England the doctrines of transubstantiation and purgatory, doctrines in themselves of no political moment, but because the unlimited power of the sovereign had always been made one of its principal tenets.
To endeavour, therefore, to revive such a religion, was not only a violation of the laws, but was, by one enormous violation, to pave the way for others of a still more alarming nature. Hence the English, seeing that their liberty was attacked even in its first principles, had recourse to that remedy which reason and nature point out to the people, when he who ought to be the guardian of their laws becomes their destroyer: they withdrew the allegiance which they had sworn to James, and thought themselves absolved from their oath to a king who himself disregarded the oath he had made to his people.*
But, instead of a revolution like that which dethroned Charles the First, which was effected by a great effusion of blood, and threw the state into a general and terrible convulsion, the dethronement of James proved a matter of short and easy operation. In consequence of the progressive
* The English nation seem to have become mentally drunk when it was announced that Charles II. should be restored. No conditions were made with that profligate monarch; and although the Habeas Corpus act passed during his infamous reign, yet the judicial murder of Sir Harry Vane, and other distinguished persons, who considered themselves indemnified for the past, the arbitrary measures of the venal and disgraceful Cabal, the immorality of his, court, and the consequent corruption of manners, prove the instability both of the patriotism and the morals of the age. When James II. ascended the throne, he was known to be a Roman Catholic and a bigot, but laborious, and by application and experience acquainted with public business. But when he exercised arbitrary power, and dispensed with the laws, and attempted to re-establish Popery, a great but bloodless revolution was effected; and before the Prince of Orange was entrusted with the sovereignty, he entered into a solemn contract with the nation for the maintenance of the laws and institutions of the three kingdoms, and the inviolable integrity of the Protestant religion.- Ed.
information of the people, and the certainty of the principles which now directed the nation, the whole were unanimous. All the ties by which the people were bound to the throne, were broken, as it were, by one single shock ; and James, who, the moment before, was a monarch surrounded by subjects, became at once a simple individual in the midst of the nation.
That which contributes, above all, to distinguish this event as singular in the annals of mankind, is the moderation, I may even say the legality, which accompanied it. As if to dethrone a king, who sought to set himself above the laws, had been a natural consequence of, and provided for by, the principles of government, everything remained in its place : the throne was declared vacant, and a new line of succession was established.
Nor was this all : care was had to repair the breaches that had been made in the constitution, as well as to prevent new ones; and advantage was taken of the rare opportunity of entering into an original and express compact between king and people.
An oath was required of the new king, more precise than had been taken by his predecessors : and it was consecrated as a perpetual formula of such oaths. It was determined, that to impose taxes without the consent of parliament, as well as to keep up a standing army in time of peace, are contrary to law. The power, which the Crown had constantly claimed, of dispensing with the laws, was abolished. It was enacted that the subject, of whatever rank or degree, had a right to present petitions to the king. * Lastly, the key-stone was put to the arch, by the final establishment of the liberty of the press.t
* The Lords and Commons, previous to the coronation of King William and Queen Mary, had framed a bill which contained a declaration of the rights which they claimed in behalf of the people, and was in consequence called the Bill of Rights. This bill contained the articles above, as well as some others; and having received afterwards the royal assent, became an act of parliament, under the title of An Act declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject, and settling the Succession of the Crown.-Ann. 1, William and Mary, Sess. 2, cap. 2.
† The liberty of the press was, properly speaking, established only four years afterwards, in consequence of the refusal which the parliament made at that time to continue any longer the restrictions which had before been set upon it.
OF THE LEGISLATIVE POWER.
The revolution of 1689 is therefore the third grand æra in the history of the constitution of England. The Great Charter had marked out the limits within which the royal authority ought to be confined; some outworks were raised in the reign of Edward the First, but it was at the revolution that the circumvallation was completed.
It was at this æra that the principles of civil society were fully established. By the expulsion of a king who had violated his oath, the doctrine of resistance, that ultimate resource of an oppressed people, was confirmed beyond a doubt. By the exclusion given to a family hereditarily despotic, it was finally determined that nations are not the property of kings. The principles of passive resistance, the divine and indefeasible right of kings,-in a word, the whole scaffolding of false and superstitious notions, by which the royal authority had till then been supported, fell to the ground; and in the room of it were substituted the more solid and durable foundations of the love of order, and a sense of the necessity of civil government among mankind.*
OF THE LEGISLATIVE POWER.
In almost all the states of Europe, the will of the prince holds the place of law; and custom has so confounded the matter of right with the matter of fact, that their lawyers
* Bolingbroke, referring to the succession of the house of Hanover, observed, with his usual shrewdness, after he became disgusted with and abandoned the Pretender, “Let the illustrious royal house that hath been called to the government of these kingdoms govern them till time shall be no more. But let the spirit as well as the letter of the constitution they are entrusted to preserve be, as it ought to be, and as we promise ourselves it will be, the sole rule of their government, and the sole support of their power; and whatever happens in the various course of human contingencies, whatever be the fate of particular persons, of houses, or families, let the liberties of Great Britain be immortal.” – Dedication to Sir Robert Walpole of Dissertation upon Parties.-Ed.
generally represent the legislative authority as essentially attached to the character of king ; and the plenitude of his power seems to them necessarily to flow from the very definition of his title.
The English, placed in more favourable circumstances, have judged differently : they could not believe that the destiny of mankind ought to depend on a play of words, and on scholastic subtleties; they have therefore annexed no other idea to the word king, or roy, a word known also to their laws, than that which the Latins annexed to the word rex, and the northern nations to cyning (Ryning).
In limiting, therefore, the power of their king, they have acted more consistently with the etymology of the word ; they have acted also more consistently with reason, in not leaving the laws to the disposal of the person who is already invested with the public power of the state,—that is, of the person who lies under the greatest and most important temptations to set himself above them.
The basis of the English constitution, the capital principle on which all others depend, is, that the legislative power belongs to parliament alone: that is to say, the power of establishing laws, and of abrogating, changing, or explaining them.
The constituent parts of Parliament are,—the King, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons.
The House of Commons, otherwise the assembly of the representatives of the nation, is composed of the deputies of the different counties, each of which sends two; of the deputies of certain towns, of which London (including Westminster and Southwark) sends eight-other towns, two or one; and of the deputies of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, each of which sends two.
Lastly, since the Act of Union, Scotland sends forty-five deputies; who, added to those just mentioned, make up the whole number five hundred and fifty-eight.* Those deputies,
* Those Scotch members were, until 1832, elected by ministerial influence, and were slavish voters.- Ed.
One means of introducing corruption into the House of Commons was by creating new boroughs; and the sovereigns of England increased those to a most profligate extent in Cornwall and in Wiltshire. Somerset
though separately elected, do not solely represent the town or county that sends them, as is the case with the deputies of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, or of the Swiss Cantons ; but when they are once admitted they represent the whole body of the nation.
The qualifications required for being a member of the House of Commons are, for representing a county, to be born a subject of Great Britain, and to be possessed of a landed estate of six hundred pounds a year; and of three hundred for representing a town or borough,
The qualifications required for being an elector in a and Dudley, in the reign of Edward VI., created Saltash, Camelford, Penryn, Bossiney, Michell, and Newport, into parliamentary boroughs. St. Ives was created a borough by Queen Mary; and Estlove, Tregowney, Fowey, St. Germans, and St. Mawes, by Elizabeth. All the foregoing were in the Crown Duchy of Cornwall. In the year 1684, Cornwall had twenty-one parliamentary boroughs, each returning two members ; returning altogether, with the county, 44 members. Wiltshire at the same time returned 34 members; while the eight Cinque Ports returned 16, and all England 497. All the boroughs except that of Higham Ferrers returned 2 members, and each county returned 2. The Welsh counties and boroughs returned each 1, or in all 24 members ; being in all 521 members for England and Wales. Of these boroughs 58 were abolished by the Reform Bill of 1832 ; and 30, which had previously returned 2 members, were only allowed to return 1. 22 new boroughs were created, returning 2 members each, and 20 new boroughs, returning 1 member each ; while several counties were divided into two divisions. The county of York was allowed to return 6 members instead of 4, the county of Lincoln 4 instead of 2, and Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumberland, Derby, Durham, Westmoreland, Essex, Gloucester, Kent, Lancashire, Hampshire, Leicester, Norfolk, Northumberland, Shropshire, Somersetshire, Suffolk, Sussex, Warwick, Wilts, Worcestershire, to return 4 instead of 2 members; and Bedford, Dorset, Cambridge, Hereford, Hertford, and Oxford to return 3 instead of 2 members ; Caernarvon, Denbigh, and Glamorganshire 2 instead of 1; while the Isle of Wight was separated from Southampton, and allowed to return 1 member.- Ed.
Scotland, which previously had been one great rotten borough in the power of the minister of the Crown, was enfranchised, and allowed to return 53 members, and Ireland, instead of 100, was allowed to return 105 members, being in all 658 members of the House of Commons.- Ed.
Since that period the two boroughs of Sudbury and St. Albans have been disfranchised ; and it is still admitted that so imperfect has been the Reform Bill in its effects, that there are still 67 boroughs notoriously corrupt and rotten. This admission was made by Lord John Russell when introducing his Reform Bill of 1852.- Ed.