« AnteriorContinua »
Upon questions of reform the habit of reflection to be encouraged, is a sober comparison of the constitution under which we live, not with models of speculative perfection, but with the actual chance of obtaining a better. This turn of thought will generate a political dispofition, equally removed from that puerile admi. fation of present establishments which sees no fault, and can endure no change, and that distempered sensibility, which is alive only to perceptions of inconveniency, and is too impatient to be delivered from the uneasiness which it feels, to compute either the peril, or expence of the remedy. Political innovations commonly produce many effects beside those that are intended. The direct consequence is often the least important. Incidental, remote, and unthought of evils or advantages frequently exceed the good that is designed, or the mischief that is foreseen. It is from the filent and unobserved operation, from the obscure progress of causes set at work for different purposes, that the greatest revolutions take their rise. When Elizabeth, and her inmediate successor, applied themselves to the encouragement and regulation of trade by many wise laws, they knew not, that, together with wealth and industry, they were diffusing a con
sciousness of strength and independency, which would not long endure, under the forms of a mixed government, the dominion of arbitrary princes. When it was debated whether the mutiny act, the law by which the army is governed and maintained should be temporary or perpetual, little elfe probably, occurred to the advocates of an annual bill, than the expediency of retaining a control over the most dangerous prerogative of the crown-the direction and command of a standing army: whereas, in its effect, this single reservation has altered the whole frame and quality of the British constitution. For since, in consequence of the military system which prevails in neighbouring and rival nations, as well as on account of the internal
exigencies of government, a standing army has 'become essential to the safety and administration of the empire, it enables parliament, by discontinuing this necessary provision, so to enforce its resolutions upon any other subject, as to render the King's difient to a law, which has received the approbation of both houses, too dangerous an experiment any longer to be advised. A contest between the king and parliament, cannot now be persevered in without a disolation of the govern'nent. Lastly, when the constitution con
ferred upon the crown the nomination to all employments in the public service, the authors of this arrangement were led to it, by the obvious propriety of leaving to a master the choice of his servants; and by the manifest inconveniency of engaging the national council, upon every vacancy, in those personal contests which attend elections to places of honour and emolument. Our ancestors did not observe that this disposition added an influence to the regal office, which, as the number and value of public employments increased, would supersede in a great measure the forms, and change the character of the ancient constitution. They knew not, what the experience and reflection of modern ages has discovered, that patronage universally is power; that he who possesses in a sufficient degree the means of gratifying the desires of mankind after wealth and distinction, by whatever checks and forms his authority may be limited or disguised, will direct the management of public affairs. Whatever be the mechanism of the political engine, he will guide the motion. These instances are adduced in order to illustrate the proposition which we laid down, that, in politics, the most im
permanent effects have, for the most part, been incidental, and unforeseen: and this O 3
proposition we inculcate, for the sake of the caution which it teaches, that changes ought not to be adventured upon without a comprehensive discernment of the consequences—without a knowledge, as well of the remote tendency, as of the immediate design. The courage of a statesman should resemble that of a commander, who, however regardless of personal danger, never forgets, that with his own he commits the lives and for tunes of a multitude; and who does not consider it as any proof of zeal or valour, to stake the safety of other men upon the success of a perilous or desperate enterprise.
There is one end of civil government peculiar to a good constitution, namely, the happiness of its subjects; there is another end essential to a good government, but common to it with many bad ones—its own preservation. Obserying that the best form of government would be defective, which did not provide for its own permanency, in our political reasonings we consider all such provisions as expedient; and are content to accept as a sufficient ground for a measure, or law, that it is necessary or conducive to the preservation of the constitution. Yet, in truth, such provisions are absolutely expedient, and such an excuse final, only whilst the constitution is worth
preserving ; that is, until it can be exchanged for a better. I premise this distinction, because many things in the English, as in every constitution, are to be vindicated and accounted for, solely from their tendency to maintain the government in its present state, and the several parts of it in poffeffion of the powers which the conftitution has assigned to them ; and because I would wish it to be remarked that such a confia deration is always subordinate to another-the value and usefulness of the constitution itself.
The Government of England, which has been sometimes called a mixed government, fometimes a limited monarchy, is formed by a combination of the three regular fpecies of government; the monarchy, reliding in the King; the aristocracy, in the House of Lords; and the republic, being represented by the House of Commons. The perfection intended by such a scheme of government is, to unite the advantages of the several simple forms, and to exclude the inconveniencies. To what degree this purpose is attained or attainable in the British constitution ; wherein it is lost sight of or neglected ; and by What means it
any part be promoted with better success, the reader will be enabled to judge, by a separate recollection of these advantages and