Зображення сторінки

House, and what estate are they then? They have no functions, no interests peculiar to themselves. They raise and pay no troops, lead no armies; and are neither wiser, richer, nor better bred than their neighbours. It is the principle of the Reform Bill, that the enjoyment of the Parliamentary franchise, from the oldest periods of the Constitution, creates do claim to its continuance, unless the requisite qualification is united with it.

Now the qualification of the House of Peers, that is, their being a separate estate of the realm, has for many generations been wearing out, and is now wholly gone. They remain in theory a separate estate, and so is Old Sarum in theory a borough, entitled to send two Members to Parliament. But, in fact, the Peers are distinguished in nothing but their titles from the rest of the community. We take it for granted that nobody denies this; and that no one has a better defence to make for the House of Lords, than that made by Mr. Canning, viz., that the Government is a mixed and limited monarchy, and that the House of Peers is a necessary part of such a monarchy. This, of course, is not reasoning. It merely asserts a historical fact, as to the official character of the House of Lords. But is this defence of the peerage agreeable to the new principle of the British Government? Is it conformable to the sense of the people, that after their representatives have adopted an important measure, three or four hundred gentlemen, (selected by the chance of birth, and for no qualifications, from the mass of the population) shall say, we do not like this measure, and it shall not become a law? This is to suppose the people to


the same time and on the same subject a judgment at war with itself: to wish that their own will should not be carried into effect.'


• The Governments of Europe (except the French) rest, if we may so express it, on a historical basis; they are what time and events have made them, and a great deal of which no reasonable account can now be given, exists and is perpetuated by the force of custom. In countries not despotically governed, this acquiescence in what exists, is the great strength of the constitution. The English institutions rest, for the most part, on this basis. It is the basis of the common law. It is a basis firm enough for common times. But when violent times come, and radical changes are projected by ambitious innovators armed with military strength, or when sweeping reforms are undertaken by speculative statesmen, it is then plain, that the historical basis fails. It is avowedly repudiated. The military usurper tramples it under foot; the speculative reformer professes to disregard it. They are the more successful, because it is of the nature of the historical basis, as it were, of itself to perish, to rot away. The name remains,--and scarcely that,-but the thing is gone. The friends of the existing system tell you, that a nobility is a part of the history, nay, of the antiquity of the British monarchy; that there have been barons, and earls, and dukes, from time immemorial; an integral estate of the realm, of eminent dignity. But when you scrutinize the subject nearly, you find that the name only is ancient, that the substance which it once described has ceased to exist ; and that the peers of England are in no degree different from the rest of the citizens, nor for any reason more competent or better entitled to form a house of legislation, than many hundreds and thousands of their fellow-citizens. So that even on the historical basis, the House of Peers has no solid foundation. It might stand unshaken so

long as the principle of prescription is not called in question, but questioned and rejected as it is in the House of Commous, we see not how it can stand in the House of Lords.

• What does the great English revolution of the seventeenth century teach us on this subject,—what is the lesson of the Commonwealth? We think it entirely safe to ask that question, for we cannot doubt, that the revolution now commenced will go, to say the least, as far, not in popular violence, but in giving a popular character to the Government. The revolution of 1640 was a passionate, tumultuary, perhaps we may say fanatical movement, soon running into a military despotism. Great principles were struck out, but not calmly and systematically developed. Old institutions were rudely torn down, and any thing which the turbulence of the moment permitted was provisionally reared in their place. The various Parliaments assembled during the Commonwealth, were but a bitter and bloody mockery of a representation. The present revolution has begun, and we trust will proceed calmly, and for that reason systematically and far. It will be likely to go farther than the Commonwealth, because it will proceed on rational grounds, reforming, not subverting; and building anew wherever it is necessary to take down the unsafe and antiquated structures of ancient days. There will be no Straffords impeached, nor Lauds accused of treason, but we should not be surprised should the Commons again vote “the Lords to be useless and dangerous, and therefore to be abolished.”'— pp. 19–23.

The author of this very able pamphlet was not aware when he wrote it, of the actual abolition of the hereditary principle in the legislative peerage of France. Had that event reached his ear, he would have argued with more confidence as to the impossibility of retaining a similar principle in the legislative peerage of England a task which, he thinks, would be as difficult, as 'to keep the tide at one level at Dover and another at Calais.' In both countries,' he adds, the natural course of things will lead to an imitation of our senatorial bodies,' though he does not seem to be firmly convinced that two chambers are essential to the existence of a pure commonwealth. It is not probable, however,' he supposes, “ that England will take the risk of a single assembly. It is far more likely, that the kingdom will be divided into senatorial districts, electing, perhaps, a hundred senators for a period somewhat longer than that of the House of Commons, and, like our senate, invested with a portion of the executive functions of the government.'

The question of the continuance of the Crown is next treated by this writer, in terms, the freedom of which we may envy, but dare not, at present, imitate. We may say, however, with the most perfect sincerity, that if royalty was ever popular in England, it has been a hundred fold more so since the accession of his Majesty to the throne. It is to his decision and firmness that the people are indebted, for the unbloody triumphs which they have already achieved over the interests and prejudices of the aristocracy. It is to William the Fourth that we owe the Reform Bill. The throne will therefore be sacred so long as he shall be seated upon it; it will be

sacred even from discussion, much more from any attempts of a hostile character.

But there is another consequence likely to flow from the spirit, if not from the letter of the reform law, to which we feel no delicacy whatever in alluding,-we mean the entire abolition of the existing Church establishment. We have more than once given expression to ideas upon this subject, similar in many respects to those which our American friend advances.

Among the consequences which will flow from adopting " the sense of the people” as the new principle of the British Goveroment, we reckon, in the fourth place, the entire abrogation of the present national Church establishment. This, in fact, would seem to us more likely to happen at an early day, than the suppression of the peerage or the crown. The case of the established Church, we believe to be somewhat as follows. The Church of England is established by law in England and Ireland, with certain great exclusive privileges; and about one half of the English population are attached to that Church. In Scotland, the Presbyterian Church is the Church established by law, and a small minority of the people belongs to the Episcopal or English Church. In Ireland, five-sixths, some authorities say, four-fifths, of the people are of the Catholic Church.

Now, in the House of Peers, (we believe) thirty bishops and archbishops of the Church of England sit, as spiritual lords, possessing the same privileges, as members of that House, with the other peers. No Catholic bishop or priest is permitted a seat in the House of Lords, although, by the late act of emancipation, the lay Catholic nobility are restored to their seats. No dignitary nor teacher of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland is allowed to sit in the House of Lords, although that Church is by law the established Church of that part of the British empire. No dissenting teacher of any rank is allowed a seat in the House of Peers, although the dissenters are one half of the population of England. Will it be in conformity with the sense of the people of Great Britain, that thirty of ihe dignitaries of the minority Church should possess this great privilege? Is it right that they should ? If the cause of religion require, that certain of its functionaries should hold seats in one of the Houses of Parliament, can any reasons be given, why these seats should be monopolized by one communion, and that the minority ?

• Here even the great argument of antiquity fails; the Catholic Church is entitled to the advantage of that argument on this point. The Church of England, as such, dates, at the earliest, from 1532.

• Then, too, the property of the Church. Considerable endowments were made in ancient times, and in the days of the Catholic Church, for the support of religion. A part of these were confiscated by Henry VIII., and by him bestowed on his lay favorites; a part are still applied to the service of religion, and are appropriated by the State exclusively to the established Church. Is it right, that these endowments of the ancient Catholic land-owner should be monopolized by one communion of Protestants, and that the minority? A considerable addition has, we believe, been made to these endowments since the Reformation, by reserving the lithes, or a commutation of them, on the enclosure of common lands. These funds, like the more ancient ones, are also appropriated exclusively to the support of the minority Church.


• The universities may be considered as a part of this Church. A liberal share of the ecclesiastical endowments is in the disposal of these noble establishments. All the dignities, offices, and emoluments of these institutions are monopolized by the minority Church; and what is harder, their advantages, as places of education, are monopolized in the same way. If we are not misiuformed, a subscription to the articles of the Church of England is required at one of the universities on admission, at the other on graduation. So that a young man, who is a conscientious member of the Church established by law in Scotland, cannot be graduated at an English university; nor the son of the Earl Marshal of England, the heir of all the blood of all the Howards, receive his education at the college which, perhaps, one of his ancestors endowed.

Such a state of things cannot stand under a representative system. The universities, as a matter of course, will at least be thrown open to all comers. Equally, as a matter of course, we apprehend, will the ecclesiastical funds be applied to the support of religious teachers, on some principle of equal distribution. We go thus far, on the assumption, that these funds will continue to be raised to the extent to which they are now levied. But whether it will be thought just, by the reformed Parliament, giving effect to the popular sense, to assess on the owner of the land the whole cost of supporting the teachers of religion,—which is the effect of the present system, —we do not pretend to say.

* That something will be done, and that speedily, with the Church, seems to be understood. It appears to be admitted, even on the present system, that its revenues require a new apportionment between the dignitaries and the labouring clergy. A commencement has already been made with the Irish Church. On the 6th of last September, Mr. Hume made a motion in Parliament, that an address should be presented to his Majesty,“ that he will be graciously pleased not to recommend to fill up the vacant sees of Derry and of Dublin, until the revenues of those sees are regulated in a manner consistent with the best interests of the established Church and the peace of Ireland.” On occasion of this motion, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that in making a disposition of these sees, it was the intention of the Government to make it, not as regarded the see of Derry, but generally as regarded all the sees. It was his opinion, that no appropriation should be made of the revenues of the established Church to any other object; but that a different distribution of those revenues could be made with great advantage.

• It is plain, that the principle here advanced applies equally to the English sees, and, probably, to some of them in an equal degree.

• Did the whole population belong to the Church of England, a new distribution of the revenues of the Church, which should give a fair remuneration to the labouring clergy, would be all that justice requires in this respect. It may be, as we have said, a question of public expediency, how far it is right to raise those funds exclusively from the land. But as the present owner of the lands came into possession of them with this incumbrance, he does not appear to be wronged. That the tenant, however, does not, as is alleged, suffer a proportionate share of this burden on the land, we are not prepared to admit. But this is aside from our purpose, and would plunge us into the whole metaphysics of the subject of rent.

But the Church of England being the Church of the minority, it is plain, that “the sense of the people” will go beyond a more equal distribution among the teachers of that Church of the funds consecrated to the purpose of religion. It will require, that by some process or other, these funds should be apportioned among all the communions. Whether this shall be done, by permitting the tithe-payer to make his payment to the religious teacher of his own election, or whether the whole shall be paid into the Exchequer, to be apportioned by the Government among all the Churches of all communions, will be a question for future decision. In France, in consequence of the alienation of Church property in the revolution, the entire religious establishment is supported by the Government. It ought to be borne in mind, to the honour of the French Government, that the Protestant teachers are paid their salaries from the treasury, as well as the priests of the establishment. A similar liberality is extended by the Government of Austria to the dissenting communions in that empire, not excepting the Unitarians of Transylvania.

• But we cannot disguise the conviction, that the sense of the people of Great Britain, equally represented in a free Parliament, will go much farther in the matter of Church reform than we have yet indicated. If we have not mistaken the state of public opinion in that country, it has on this subject been ripening toward a grand and general system of independency and religious freedom. If ever there was a truly Anglo-Saxon idea struck out,-if ever there was a notion suggested in the full spirit of English liberty, it was that of our glorious forefathers, the Puritans or Independents. They developed it, in all its perfection, as far as it concerns the independence of each single religious society; but even they did not carry it out to the liberty of each and every individual conscience. But the civilization of the age has pretty nearly reached the goal on this subject, and the one principle is as widely admitted as the other.

• It is an essential--the most essential-part of religious liberty to be permitted to join those, who agree with us in opinion, in selecting the seligious teacher to whose instructions we choose to listen. If we voluntarily attach ourselves to a communion, whose spiritual heads are authorized to designate the subordinate teachers, there is, of course, no hardship in their designation in this way. But the State, as such, must not interfere. Whether after its interference shall be withdrawn in Great Britain, the spiritual organization of the Episcopal, the Presbyterian, the Methodist, the Catholic, and other Churches will subsist, as it does at present, will depend on themselves. There will, probably, be a great extension of the practice of a choice of the religious teacher, by the society which he is to instruct. What difficulty would there be in adopting, in the Church of England, the constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church of this country, whose clergy are as respectable as their brethren in England, and are elected by the churches to which they minister ? The pecuniary interest possessed in advowsons will, of course, if any change should be made in this system, be a proper subject for equitable indemnification. But this we are bold to say, that before a Parliament representing the sense of the people, the present ecclesiastical system cannot stand a day. There is not an argument in favour of it. Dr. Paley, a high dignitary of the established Church, admits that the provision for the support of religion in some parts of America, as he understood it, was the most perfect which had been devised. The provision to which he referred was one, which obliged the citizen to contribute to the support of a religious teacher, leaving to each

« НазадПродовжити »