Imatges de pàgina


indeed, managed by the intrigues and combination of a few, who are situated near the place of election, each voter considering his single suffrage as too minute a portion of the general interest to deserve his care or attendance, much less to be worth any opposition to influence and application ; that whilst we contract the reprefentation within a compass small enough to admit of orderly debate, the interest of the constituent becomes too sinall, of the representative too great. It is difficult also to maintain any connection between them. He who represents two hundred thousands, is necessarily a stranger to the greatest part of those who elect him; and when his interest amongst them ceases to depend upon an acquaintance with their persons and character, or a care or knowledge of their affairs ; when such a representative finds the treasures and honours of a great empire at the disposal of a few, and himself one of the few, there is little reason to hope that he will not prefer to his public duty, those temptations of personal aggrandizement which his situation offers, and which the price of his vote will always purchase. All appeal to the people is precluded by the impossibility of collecting a fufficient proportion of their force and numbers.


The fadions, and the unanimity, of the senate are equally dangerous. Add to these considerations, that in a democratic constitution the mechanism is too complicated, and the motions too Now for the operations of a great empire; whose defence and government require execution and dispatch, in proportion to the magnitude, extent, and variety of its concerns. There is weight, no doubt, in these reasons; but much of the objection seems to be done away by the contrivance of a federal republic, which, distributing the country into distriểs of a commodious extent, and leaving to each district its internal legislation, reserves to a convention of the states, the adjustment of their relative claims; the levying, direcion, and government of the common force of the confederacy; the requisition of subsidies for the support of this force ; the making of peace and war; the entering into treaties; the regulation of foreign commerce ; the equalization of duties upon imports, so as to prevent the defrauding of tlie revenue of one province by sinuggling articles of taxation from the borders of another; and likewise so as to guard against undue partialities in the encouragement of trade. To what limits such a republic might, without inconveniency, enlarge its


dominions, by assuming neighbouring provinces into the confederation; or how far it is capable of uniting the liberty of a small commonwealth, with the safety of a powerful empire; or whether, amongst co-ordinate powers, dissensions and jealousies would not be likely to arise, which, for want of a common superior, might proceed to fatal extremities, are questions, upon which the records of mankind do not authorize us to decide with tolerable certainty. The experiment is about to be tried in America' upon a large scale.




Y the CONSTITUTION of a country is o meant so much of its law, as relates to the designation and form of the legislature; the rights and functions of the several parts of the legillative body; the construcion, office, and jurisdiction of courts of justice. The conftitution is one principal division, fection, or title, of the code of public laws; dislinguished from the rest only by the superior importance of the subject of which it trcats. Therefore the terms conftitutional and unconflitutional mean legal and illegal. The distinction and the ideas, which these terms denote, are founded in the same authority with the law of the land upon any other subject; and to be ascertained by the same inquiries. In England the system of public jurisprudence is made up of acts of parliament, of decisions of courts of law, and of immeinorial usages: confequently, these are the principles of which the English constitution itself consists; the fources from which all our knowledge of its nature and limitations is to be deduced, and the authorities to which all appeal ought to be made, and by which every conftitutional doubt and question can alone be decided. This plain and intelligible definition is the more necessary to be preserved in our thoughts, as some writers upon the subjeabsurdly confound what is conftitutional, with what is expedient; pronouncing forthwith a measure to be unconstitational, which they adjudge in any respect to be detrimental or dangerous : whilst others again aferibe a kind of tranfcendant au hority, or mysterious fanctity,

, to the constitution, as if it were founded in some higher original than that which gives force and obligation to the ordinary laws and statutes of the realm, or were inviolable on any other account than its intrinsic utility. An act of parliament in England can never be unconstitutional, in the strict and proper acceptation of the term; in a lower sense it may, viz. when it militates with the spirit, contradicts the analogy, or defeats the provision of other laws, made to regulate the form of government. Even that flagitious abuse of their trust, by which a parliament of Henry the Eighth conferred upon the king's proclama


« AnteriorContinua »