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PLANS OF CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM.
However, as what has not happened at one time may happen at another, future revolutions (events which no form of government can totally prevent) may perhaps end in a different manner from that in which past ones have terminated. New combinations may possibly take place among the then ruling powers of the state, of such a nature as to prevent the constitution, when peace shall be restored to the nation, from settling again upon its ancient and genuine foundations : and it would certainly be a very bold assertion to affirm, that both the outward form, and the true spirit of the English government, would again be preserved from destruction, if the same dangers to which they have in former times been exposed should again happen to take place.
Nay, such fatal changes as those we mention may be introduced even in quiet times, or, at least, by means in appearance peaceable and constitutional. Advantages, for instance, may be taken by particular actions, either of the feeble capacity, or of the misconduct of some future king. Temporary prepossessions of the people may be so artfully managed as to make them concur in doing what will prove afterwards the ruin of their own liberty. Plans of apparent improvement in the constitution, forwarded by men who, though with good intentions, shall proceed without a due knowledge of the true principles and foundations of government, may produce effects quite contrary to those which were intended, and in reality pave the way to its ruin.*
tion were not able to prevent. How vain, then-how idle-how presumptuous is the opinion, that laws can do every thing; and how weak and pernicious the maxim founded upon it, that measures, not men, are to be attended to.”-History of James II. p. 21.-Ed.
How logical and practical! Without the proper men, we never can have good measures. The best and most constitutional measures would fail in the hands of an incapable administration. The opinions of Mr. Fox are very instructive at the time we write.- Ed.
* Instead of looking for the principles of politics in their true sources, that is to say, in the nature of the affections of mankind, and of those sacred ties by which they are united in a state of society, men have treated that science in the same manner as they did natural philosophy in the time of Aristotle, continually recurring to occult causes and principles, from which no useful consequence could be drawn. Thus, in order to ground particular assertions, they have much used the word
The crown, on the other hand, may, by the acquisition of foreign dominions,* acquire a fatal independency on the people : and if, without entering into any farther particulars on this subject, I were required to point out the principal events which would, if they were ever to happen, prove immediately the ruin of the English government, I would say,
— The English government will be no more, either when the Crown shall become independent on the nation for its supplies, or when the representatives of the people shall begin to share in the executive authority.t
constitution in a personal sense; the constitution loves, the constitution forbids, and the like. At other times they have had recourse to luxury, in order to explain certain events; and, at others, to a still more occult cause, which they have called corruption; and abundance of comparisons drawn from the human body have been also used for the same purposes : continued instances of such defective arguments and considerations occur in the works of M. de Montesquieu, though a man of so much genius, and from whose writings so much information is nevertheless to be derived. Nor is it only the obscurity of the writings of politicians, and the impossibility of applying their speculative doctrines to practical uses, which prove that some peculiar and uncommon difficulties lie in the way of the investigation of political truths; but the remarkable perplexity which men in general, even the ablest, labour under, when they attempt to descant and argue upon abstract questions in politics, also justifies this observation, and proves that the true first principles of this science, whatever they are, lie deep both in the human feelings and understanding.
* The Crown has acquired nearly all India, and all Australia, since the above paragraph was written. "It is, however, quite true, that the possession of Hanover by the Crown of England occasioned our constant interference in continental wars, and caused probably much more than half of our present national debt.- Ed.
† And if at any time dangerous changes were to take place in the English constitution, the pernicious tendency of which the people were not able at first to discover, restrictions on the liberty of the press, and on the power of juries, will give them the first information.
POWER OF THE CROWN.
A FEW ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS ON THE ATTEMPTS THAT AT PARTICULAR
TIMES MAY BE MADE TO ABRIDGE THE POWER OF THE CROWN, AND SOME OF THE DANGERS BY WHICH SUCH ATTEMPTS MAY BE ATTENDED.
The power of the Crown is supported by deeper and more numerous roots than the generality of people are aware of, as has been observed in a former chapter; and there is no cause to fear that the wresting any capital branch of its prerogative may be effected, in common peaceable times, by the mere theoretical speculations of politicians. However, it is not equally impracticable that some event of the kind we mention may be brought about through a conjunction of several circumstances. Advantage may, in the first place, be taken of the minority, and even of the inexperience or the errors of the persons invested with the kingly authority. Of this a remarkable instance happened in the reign of George the First, while that bill, by which the order of peers was in future to be limited to a certain number, was under consideration in the House of Commons, to whom it had been sent by the Lords. So unacquainted was the king at that time with his own interest, and with the constitution of the English government, that, having been persuaded by the party who wished success to the bill, that the Commons only objected to it from an opinion of its being disagreeable to him, he was prevailed upon to send a message to them, to let them know that such an opinion was ill-grounded, and that, should the bill pass in their house, it would meet with his assent. Considering the prodigious importance of the consequences of such a bill, the fact is certainly very remarkable,
With those personal disadvantages uuder which the sovereign may lie for defending his authority, other causes of difficulty may concur,—such as popular discontents of long continuance in regard to certain particular abuses of influence and authority. The generality of the public, bent, at that time, both upon remedying the abuses complained of, and preventing the like from taking place in future, will perhaps wish to see that branch of the prerogative which gave rise to them taken from the Crown: a general disposition to applaud such a measure, if effected, will be manifested from all quarters; and at the same time men may not be aware, that the only material consequence that may arise from depriving the Crown of that branch of power which has caused the public complaints, will perhaps be the having transferred that branch of power from its former seat to another, and having intrusted it to new hands, which will be still more likely to abuse it than those in which it was formerly lodged.
In general, it may be laid down as a maxim, that power under any form of government must exist, and be intrusted somewhere. If the constitution does not admit of a king, the governing authority is lodged in the hands of magistrates. If the government, at the same time that it is a limited one, bears a monarchical form, those portions of power that are retrenched from the king's prerogative will most probably continue to subsist, and be vested in a senate or assembly of great men, under some other name of the like kind.
Thus, in the kingdom of Sweden, which, having been a limited monarchy, may supply examples very applicable to the government of this country, we find that the power of convoking the general states (or Parliament) of that kingdom had been taken from the Crown; but at the same time we also find that the Swedish senators had invested themselves with that essential branch of power which the Crown had lost: I mean here the government of Sweden as it stood before the last revolution.*
The power of the Swedish king to confer offices and employments had been also very much abridged. But what was wanting to the power of the king, the senate enjoyed : it had the nomination of three persons for every vacant office, out of whom the king was to choose one.
The king had but a limited power in regard to pardoning offenders ; but the senate likewise possessed what was wanting to that branch of his prerogative, and it appointed
KINGS OF ENGLAND AND SWEDEN.
two persons, without the consent of whom the king could not remit the punishment of any offence.
The King of England has an exclusive power in regard to foreign affairs, war, peace, treaties ;—in all that relates to military affairs, he has the disposal of the existing army, of the fleet, &c. The King of Sweden had no such extensive powers ; but they nevertheless existed ; every thing relating to the above-mentioned objects was transacted in the assembly of the senate; the majority decided; the king was obliged to submit to it; and his only privilege consisted in his vote being accounted two.*
If we pursue farther our inquiry on the subject, we shall find that the King of Sweden could not raise whom he please to the office of senator, as the King of England can in regard to the office of member of the privy council; but the Swedish states, in the assembly of whom the nobility enjoyed most capital advantages, possessed a share of the power we mention, in conjunction with the king; and in cases of vacancies in the senate, they elected three persons, out of whom the king was to return one.
The King of England may, at all times, deprive the ministers of their employments. The King of Sweden could remove no man from his office; but the states enjoyed the power that had been denied to the king; and they might deprive of their places both the senators, and those persons in general who had a share in the administration.
* The Swedish senate was fully composed of sixteen members. In regard to affairs of smaller moment they formed themselves into two divisions : in either of these, when they did sit, the presence of seven members was required for the effectual transacting of business. In affairs of importance the assembly was formed of the whole senate; and the presence of ten members was required to give force to the resolutions. When the king could not or would not take his seat, the senate proceeded nevertheless, and the majority continued to be equally decisive.
As the royal seal was necessary for putting in execution the resolutions of the senate, King Adolphus Frederick tried, by refusing to lend the same, to procure that power which he had not by his suffrage, and to stop the proceedings of the senate. Great debates in consequence of that pretension arose, and continued for a while ; but at last, in the year 1756, the king was overruled by the senate, who ordered a seal to be made, that was named the king's seal, which they affixed to their official resolutions when the king i efused to lend his own.