Obrazy na stronie

themselves in the outworks of the constitution, and defend, inch by inch, all its approaches. This servile tribe have thus contrived to borrow the authority of Mr Burke for their bad cause, and to persuade the unthinking mass of mankind, that they act in concert with that great man, in their warfare against the rights of the people, and their mockery of the champions of the Constitution. Because he overlooked lesser points, in preventing what he deemed for the time the preeminent evil, he is to be cited as careless of all attacks upon popular rights. Because he thought anarchy the most pressing danger in his latter days, he is to be invoked as the patron saint of those who love despotism as convenient to their purposes, or congenial to their habits; and the man who was, of all others perhaps that ever spoke or wrote upon political subjects, the most feelingly alive to every thing like a constitutional point-whose life was spent in struggles against encroachments hardly visible to the naked eye-in endeavouring to dissipate political disorders in their first stages, and while their symptoms were not discernible to the vulgar; he whose fault it was to magnify, if it be a fault, the importance of every movement, which, in any quarter, and with how little force soever, touches the fabric of the government, is now held up as covering, with the authority of his great example, those whose doctrine it is, that nothing the government can do is dangerous-short of turning the Parliament out of doors by grenadiers, and levying the taxes by the armed force of the Crown! If Mr Burke were an authority for the revilers of constitutional jealousy, it would only destroy the weight of his name in all other matters, without affording the least support to such a But it is fit to have remarked, how unfairly he is called in by those impostors to their assistance.


There is perhaps no way of arriving more speedily at a view of the intimate connexion between the different parts of the English constitution, and of the imminent danger to which the safety of the whole fabric is exposed, by the injury of any part, than a plain consideration of what it is that forms the real security of our liberties-the principle that keeps the system in order. After all that we have seen of Parliaments, it would be a vain fancy to imagine, that the representation of the people is of itself a sufficient security for their rights. Even if that representation were much more perfect than it is, it would be liable to the influence of the Crown, and might be intimidated by violence. In fact, to what baseness has not the Parliament at one time or another made itself a party? The administration of justice, again, is no doubt singularly pure; and the Judges, from their habits of seclusion, are, generally speaking, little under the

evil influence which a contact with the Court is apt to engender. Nevertheless, their leanings are almost always towards power; and if the Crown could safely tamper with them-if it could fully exercise the discretion vested in it by law, of chusing them from among tools fit for wicked purposes-the distribution of justice might soon become as corrupt as the accomplishment of those purposes required.

Observe then the kind of defence for our liberties, which, by the letter of the law, we have in those great bulwarks of the constitution, Parliament and the Courts of law; see how the lawful authority of the Crown encroaches often upon themhow its indirect influence tends to sap them; and then say if it is by them that we keep our rights, or if they have not as great need of being maintained against attack, as the privileges which they are meant to protect. That the majority of Parliament is steadily with the Crown, supporting all its ordinary measures, is admitted. That when a minister has been thus supported by it in all his measures, and happens to lose his place for pursuing those measures, he speedily loses the support of the very men who, the day before, backed him, is a matter of fact. That no proposition can be named much more absurd, than many which the Parliament has voted by a great plurality of voices, is equally the result of experience. Yet still we trus tto this body with a very firm, and, we think, a reasonable reliance, that were the Crown to propose certain measures of an extremely violent, or an highly impolitick nature, it would reject them; nay that, even if the Crown could obtain its concurrence, the measures would remain unexecuted. Again, every one knows, that the Judges are chosen, generally speaking, from among barristers educated in long habits of connexion with the ruling powers; men accustomed to Crown-employment, and whose opinions are those of the Government. But the Crown might also, by law, chuse the basest of sycophants to fill this important station. They have their places, it is true, for life; but they have still promotion to expect for themselves, and favours to ask for their families,-if gratitude to their patrons were out of the question, and the servile habits or slavish opinions that recommended them to notice were forgotten with their elevation.

In the hands of parliamentary majorities so constituted, and of Judges so appointed, are our whole liberties placed by law. Thus, for the protection of personal security, there is the Habeas Corpus Act: but those Judges must execute it; and if they expose themselves to its penalties, by refusing to give it effect, they themselves, (that is, some of their body), have to interfere for the infliction of the punishment. If they refuse to inflict it, what remedy is there but petition to, or a motion in Parliament? But the majority may reject the petition,

and negative the motion; and thus the constitution is virtually at an end, without any struggle or convulsion, or the least degree of apparent injury. All its outward parts and features remain untouched,-and yet the whole life and virtue has departed out of it. The letter has been preserved entire,-the spirit is gone. Now we are inquiring in what this spirit and this life consists:-Wherefore the sort of events now supposed strike us, when mentioned, as in the highest degree improbable:-What it is, in short, that secures the system against such attacks as we have alluded to, and in like manner against more direct and open invasions of power?-It is unquestionably the influence of Publick Opinion, and the apprehension of Resistance, intimately connected with it. As long as the proceedings of Parliament occupy the attention of the people, an effectual control is exerted over them; and the discussions in the two houses, how little soever they may seem to influence the votes, are engines of the highest power in controlling the executive through the publick. As long as Judges sit in the face of the country, and, above all, in the face of an enlightened and jealous Bar, the most scrutinizing and unsparing of all auditories,-the Crown can neiIther fill the Bench with its tools, nor can better instruments degenerate into that occupation. As long as all the proceedings of Government are publick,-canvassed freely by the press, and made known through that and other channels of information; and as long as there is reason to believe that gross misrule will engender resistance,-a corrupt Judicature and a venal Parliament may in vain combine with a despotic court, in defiance of public opinion. Tyranny will dread going beyond a certain length, and this fear will supersede the necessity of applying the ultimate check.

This sacred principle of Resistance is the very foundation of all our liberties; it is the cause to which we owe them :- Let it only be destroyed, and they are gone. Mr Fox is represented to have said, that it should always be held up to the Government, as possible; to the people, as impossible. We suspect there must be some mistake in this statement of his opinion; or that if he used such an expression, it was only an epigrammatick manner of hinting, what had better have been at once plainly told, that the people should not be reminded of resistance, as long as their rulers kept the possibility of it before their eyes. In no other sense is the proposition at all correct. By rulers, however, in this remark, are to be understood not merely the executive government but all the constituted authorities, through whose means the despotick designs of the Crown may be carried into effect. As long as Parliament and the Courts of Law are retained in the line of their duty by the force of publick

opinion, no necessity ever can arise for bringing the Crown and the People into immediate conflict. This, indeed, is the great use of such institutions; and it is thus only that they may be called bulwarks to our liberties. They enable us to make head against oppression, not merely with advantage, but at a distance from the danger, and without coming to close quarters; they form the grand distinction between regular and despotick forms of government, precisely because they perform this function. By means of them it is, that public opinion operates by its preventive influence, and renders it unnecessary to employ force; by their means, the Crown with us is either deterred from attempting an oppressive measure, or is foiled in the attempt, peaceably and harmlessly; while, in an absolute monarchy, it would probably have persisted in the same course, until a rebellion overthrew the dynasty; or the immediate dread of it, in the courtiers, worked the destruction of the reigning prince.

The great security of the Constitution, then, being the vigilance of publick opinion, and the possibility of Resistance, every encroachment upon the rights of the people, how trifling soever in itself,-every act of power in any the least degree contrary to the Constitution, is to be regarded not merely as injurious in itself, but as undermining the stability of the whole system: For it is manifest, that every such act, if acquiesced in by the community, accustoms the publick mind to submission; destroys that integrity of feeling, which alone can render the people capable of defending their privileges; and lulls that spirit of independence, which, to be effectual for resistance in a time of need, must be jealous and watchful at all times. The success of the attempt, in an equal proportion increases the confidence of the opposite party, and prepares him for new aggressions. Thus, we have to consider, each time that an unconstitutional measure is proposed, the four points of view in which it is dangerous. It is injurious in itself, more or less, to the happiness or wellbeing of the people;-It arms the Government with a certain portion of new power, positively and directly; It encourages it to make further attempts against liberty, by the experience of impunity and success;-And it breaks the independent feeling of the people, habituating them to defeat, and preparing them for new submissions. Let us consider these particular heads a little more closely, in their order.

Nothing can be more false, or more dangerous, than the idea, that any one act of violence, or even of misgovernment, is unimportant in itself. Although no indirect consequences were ever to ensue, each proceeding of this description is most material;-it is a serious evil. Indeed, if it were merely indiffer

ent, that would only be a sufficient argument against it; a conclusive reason for making no change. But can any act of misgovernment be indifferent? Connected as all the parts of every political system are together, who shall say that an injury to one of them may not reach all the rest? The notion, that because an abuse or oppression of any kind is not as great as might be imagined, therefore it is inconsiderable-is founded upon the supposition that the people have no right to complain, unless they are governed extremely ill; whereas they have a right to be governed as well as possible: They are entitled to complain of every deviation from this straight line; and they are only blameable, when they attempt to correct errors, or repress encroachments, by acts of violence which might lead to greater evils than those they wish to redress. Let it only be considered, that the wellbeing of a people is made up of various parts; and that, to make them completely miserable, it is only necessary to injure each part in detail. Let it also be remembered, that the evils arising from any even of the less important abuses, cannot be equally distributed over the community, but will necessarily press most heavily upon some parts, and upon some with a weight wholly destructive-while many may altogether escape. Now, the severe pressure of any evil upon a very small number of persons, is a very great mischief, although the rest of the people may go free; for no principle can be conceived more absurd in itself, and in its consequences more dangerous, than that of balancing the enjoyment of one class against the sufferings of another; and disregarding the amount of a calamity, by attending to the numbers who escape.

Again: It is difficult to imagine any encroachment upon the constitution, which does not arm the government with new powers; and consequently render the next step more easy than the last. An objection, we shall suppose, is made to an increase of the army; the answer is, only a few thousand men are to be added. The reply is easy: This addition makes the Executive more strong; increases its influence sensibly, as well as its force; and renders a new aggression upon our rights, by steps regularly and formally taken, or by open violence, more easy, by means of this new influence and this new force. Has an individual been overwhelmed by oppression? Besides the fear which the example holds out to others, a zealous adversary has at least been removed.

The accession of spirit and audacity which such steps, how small soever, successively give to those who are plotting against liberty, is equally obvious. There is no greater danger than Jetting the enemies of freedom know their own strength. It is

« PoprzedniaDalej »