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MY LORD, As the reformation of any part of our civil polity requires as much the knowledge of the statesman as of the lawyer, the following sheets are, with the strictest propriety, addressed to a person of the highest eminence in both these capacities.
The subject of this treatise cannot be thought unworthy of such a protection, because it touches only those evils which have arisen in the lower branches of our constitution. This consideration will account for their having hitherto escaped your lordship's notice; and that alone will account for their having so long prevailed; but your lordship will not, for this reason, think it below your regard; since, however ignoble the parts may be in which the disease is first engendered, it will in time be sure to affect the whcle body.
The subject, indeed, is of such importance, that we may truly apply to it those words of Cicero, in his first book of laws : Ad Reipublica formandas et stabiliendas vires, et ad sanandos Populos omnis pergit Oratio. How far I have been able to succeed in the execution, must be submitted to your lordship's candour. I hope I have no immodest opinion of my own abilities ; but, in truth, I have much less confidence in my authority. Indeed, the highest authority is necessary to any. degree of success in an attempt of this kind. Permit me, therefore, my lord, to fly to the protection of the highest which doth now exist, or which perhaps ever did exist, in this kingdom.
This great sanction is, I am convinced, always ready to support what really tends to the public
lity: if I fail, therefore, of obtaining the honour of it, I shall be fully satisfied that I do not deserve it, and shall sit down contented with the merit of a good intent; for surely there is some praise due to the bare design of doing a service to the publick. Nor can my enemies, I think, deny that I am entirely disinterested in my endeavour, unless they should discover the gratification which my ambition finds in the opportunity of this address.
I am, with the most profound respect,
Your Lordship’s most obedient,
Most devoted humble servant,
THERE is nothing so much talked of, and so little understood in this country, as the Constitution. It is a word in the mouth of every man ; and yet when we come to discourse of the matter, there is no subject on which our ideas are more confused and perplexed. Some, when they speak of the constitution, confine their notions to the law; others to the legislature ; others, again, to the governing or executive part ; and many there are, who jumble all these together in one idea. One error, however, is common to them all; for all seem to have the conception of something uniform and permanent, as if the constitution of England partook rather of the nature of the soil than of the climate, and was as fixed and constant as the former, not as changing and variable as the latter.
Now in this word, The Constitution, are included the original and fundamental law of the kingdom, from whence all powers are derived, and by which they are circumscribed'; all legislative and executive authority; all those municipal provisions which are commonly called The Laws; and, lastly, the customs, manners, and habits of the people. These, joined together, do, I apprehend, form the political, as the several members of the body, the animal conomy, with the humours and habit, compose that which is called the natural constitution.
The Greek philosophy will, perhaps, help us to a better idea ; for neither will the several constituent parts, nor the contexture of the whole, give an adequate notion of the word. By the Constitution is, indeed, rather meant something which results from the order and disposition of the whole ; something
resembling that harmony for which the Theban in Plato's Pbado contends ; which he calls cocotón ha tai arwucroy, something invisible and incorporeal. For many
of the Greeks imagined the soul to result from the repoco 15, or composition of the parts of the body, when these were properly tempered together ; as har mony, doth from the proper composition of the several parts in a well-tuned musical instrument: In the same manner, from the disposition of the several parts in a state, arises that which we call the Constitution.
In this disposition the laws have so considerable a share, that, as no man can perfectly understand the whole, without knowing the parts of which it is composed, it follows, that, to have a just notion of our constitution, without a competent knowledge of the laws, is impossible. Without this, the reading over our historians, may afford amusement, but will very little instruct us in the true essentials of our constitution. Nor will this knowledge alone serve qur purpose. The mere lawyer, however skilful in his profession, who is not versed in the genius, manners, and habits of the people, makes but a wretched politician. Hence the historian, who is ignorant of our law, and the lawyer, who is ignorant of our history, have agreed in that common error, remarked above, of considering our constitution as something fixed and permanent; for the exterior form of government (however the people are changed) still, in a great degree, remains what it was; and the same, notwithstanding all its alterations, may be said of the law.
To explain this a little farther: From the original of the lower house of parliament to this day, the supreme power hath been vested in the king and the two houses of parliament. These two houses have, cach at different times, carried very different weights in the balance, and yet the form of government remained still one and the same; so hath it happened
to the law; the same courts of justice, the same form of trials, &c. have preserved the notion of identity, though, in real truth, the present governing powers, and the present legal provisions, bear so little resemblance to those of our ancestors in the reign of king John, or indeed in later times, that could any lawyer or statesman of those days be recalled to life, he would make, I believe, a very indifferent figure in Westminster-hail, or in any of the parts there adjacent.
To perceive the alterations in our constitution, doth, in fact, require a pretty just knowledge both of the people and of the laws; for either of these may be greatly changed, without producing any immediate effect on the other. The alterations in the great wheels of state above-mentioned, which are so visible in our historians, are not noticed in our laws, as very few of the great changes in the law have fallen under the eye of our historians.
Many of both kinds have appeared in our coristia tution ; but I shall at present confine myself to one only, as being that which principally relates to the subject of the following treatise.
If the constitution, as I have above asserted, be the result of the disposition of the several parts before mentioned, it follows, that this disposition can never be altered, without producing a proportional change to the constitution. If the soul,' says Simmias in Plato, • be a harmony resulting from the disposition
of the corporeal parts, it follows, that when this disposition is confounded, and the body is torn by diseases or other evils, the soul immediately (what
ever be her divinity) must perish. This will be apparent, if we cast our eyes a moment towards the animal economy; and it is no less true in the political.
The customs, manners, and habits of the people, do, as I have said, form one part of the political constitution ; if these are altered therefore, this must be changed. likewise ; and here, as in the natural
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