Imatges de pàgina

all, as it conduces to public utility ; that is, as it contributes to the establishment of good laws, or as it fecures to the people the just administration of these laws. These effects depend upon the disposition and abilities of the national coun. sellors. Wherefore, if men the most likely by their qualifications to know and to promote the public intereft, be actually returned to parliament, it fignifies little who return them. If the propereft persons be elected, what matters it by whom they are elected ? At least, no prudent fatesman would fubvert long-established or even fettled rules of representation, without a prospect of procuring wiser or better representatives. This then being well observed, let us, before we seek to obtain any thing more, consider duly what we already have. We bave a house of commons composed of five hundred and fortyeight members, in which number are found the inoft.confiderable landholders and merchants of the kingdom; the heads of the army, the navy, and the law; the occupiers of great offices in the state ; together with many private individuals, eminent by their knowledge, eloquence, or activity. Now, if the country be not safe in fuck hands, ia whore may it confide its interes? If such a number of such men be liable to the influence of corrupt motives, what

afsembly assembly of men will be secure from the fame danger ? Does any new scheme of representation promise to collca together more wisdom, or to produce firmer integrity? In this views of the subject, and attending not to ideas of order and proportion (of which many minde are much enamoured), but to effects alone, wg may discover just excufes for those parts of the present representation, which appear to a hafty observer most exceptionable and absurd. le Thould be remembered, as a maxim extremely åpplicable to this subject, that no order or afdembly of men whatever can lọng maintain their place and authority in a mixed government, of which the members do not individually poífefs a respectable share of personal importance. Now whatever may

be the defects of the present arrangement, it infallibly secures a great weight of property to the house of commons, by rendering many seats in that house accessible to men of large fortunes, and to such men alene. By which means those characters are engaged in the defence of the separate rights and interests of this branch of the legislature, that are best able to support its claims. The constitution of most of the small boroughs, especially the burgage tenure, contributes, though undesignedly, to the


same effect; for the appointment of the repres fentatives we find commonly annexed tó certain great inheritances.

inheritances. Elections purely popular are in this respect uncertain : in times of tranquillity, the natural ascendancy of wealth will prevail; but when the minds of men are enflamed by political dissentions, this influence often yields to more impetuous motives.—The variety of tenures and qualifications, upon which the right of voting is founded, appears to me a recommendation of the mode which now fubfifts, as it tends to introduce into parliament a corresponding mixture of characters and profeffions. It has been long observed that conspicuous abilities are most frequently found with the representatives of small boroughs. And this is nothing more than what the laws of human conduct might teach us to expect: when such boroughs are set to fale, those men are likely to become purchasers who are enabled by their talents to make the best of their bargain : when a feat is not sold, but given by the opulent proprietor of a burg ge tenure, the patron finds his own interest consul:ed, by the reputation and abilities of the member whom he nominates. If certain of the nobility hold the appointment of some part of the house of commons, it serves


to maintain that alliance between the two branches of the legislature, which no good citizen would wish to see dissevered : it helps to keep the government of the country in the house of commons, in which it would not perhaps long continue to reside, if so powerful and wealthy a part of the nation as the peerage compose, were excluded from all share and interest in its conftitution. If there be a few boroughs . so circumstanced as to lie at the dispusal of the crown, whilst the number of such is known and small, they may be tolerated with little danger. For where would be the impropriety, or the inconveniency, if the king at once should nominate a limited number of his servants to seats in parliament; or, what is the same thing, if seats in parliament were annexed to the possession of certain of the most efficient and responsible offices in the state? The present representation, after all these deductions, and under the confusion in which it confeffedly lies, is still in such a degree popular, or rather the representatives are so connected with the mass of the community by a society of interests and palsions, that the will of the people, when it is determined, permanent, and general, almost always at length prevails.


Upon the whole, in the several plans which have been suggested, of an equal or a reformed representation, it will be difficult to discover any proposal that has a tendency to throw more of the business of the nation into the house of commons, or to collect a set of men more fit to tranfact that business, or in general more interested in the national happiness and prosperity. One consequence, however, may be expected from these projects, namely, “less flexibility to # the influence of the crown." And since the diminution of this influence is the declared, and perhaps the sole design of the various fchemes that have been produced, whether for regulating the elections, contracting the duration, or for purifying the constitution of parliament by the exclusion of placemen and penfioners; it is obvious to remark, that the more apt and natural, as well as the more safe and quiet way of attaining the same end, would be, by a direct reduction of the patronage of the crown, which might be effected to a certain extent without hazarding farther consequences. Superfluous and exorbitant emoluments of office may not only be fuppressed for the present; but provisions of law be devised, which should for the future restrain within certain limits the



« AnteriorContinua »