Imatges de pàgina


as set


tion the authority of law, was unconftitutional only in this latter sense.

Most of those who treat of the British conftitution, consider it as a scheme of government formally planned and contrived by our ancestors, in some certain æra of our national history, and

up in pursuance of such regular plan and design. Something of this fort is secretly supposed, or referred to, in the expreffions of those who speak of the “principle of the constitu“tion," of bringing back the constitution to its “ first principles,” of reitoring it to its “ori

ginal purity," or primitive model.” Now this appears to me an erroneous conception of the subject. No such plan was ever formed, consequently no such first principles, original model, or standard exist. I mean, there never was a date or point of time in our history, when the go. vernment of England was to be set up anew, and when it was referred to any single person, or assembly, or committee, to frame a charter for the future government of the country; or when a constitution, fo prepared and digested, was by common consent received and established. In the time of the civil wars, or rather between the death of Charles the First and the restoration of his son, many such projects were published,


but noné were carried into execution. The great charter, and the bill of rights, were wise and strenuous efforts to obtain security against certain abuses of regal power, by which the subject had been formerly aggrieved; but these were, either of them, much too partial modifications of the constitution to give it a new original. The constitution of England, like that of most countries in Europe, hath grown out of occasion and emergency; from the fluctuating policy of different ages; from the contentions, successes, interests, and opportunities of different orders and parties of men in the community. It resembles one of those old mansions, which instead of being built all at once, after a regular plan, and according to the rules of architecture at present established, has been reared in different

ages of the art, has been altered from time to time, and has been continually receiving additions and repairs suited to the taste, fortune, or conveniency of its successive proprietors. In such a building we look in vain for the elegance and proportion, for the just order and correspondence of parts, which we expect in a modern edifice; and

a which external symmetry, after all, contributes much more perhaps to the amusement of the bes VOL. II.





holder, than the accommodation of the inhaa bitant.

In the British, and possibly in all other confti. tutions, there exists a wide difference between the actual state of the government and the theory. The one results from the other ; but still they are different. When we contemplate the theory of the British government, we see the King invested with the most absolute personal impunity; with a power of rejecting laws, which have been resolved upon by both houses of parliament ; of conferring by his charter, upon any set or fuccession of men he pleases, the privilege of fending reprefentatives into one house of parliament, as by his immediate appointment he can place whom he will in the other. What is this, a foreigner 'might ask, but a more circuitous defpotifın? Yet, when we turn our attention from the legal extent to the actual exercise of royal authority in England, we see these formidable prerogatives dwindled into mere ceremonies; and, in their stead a fure and commanding influence, of which the constitution, it feems, is totally ignorant, growing out of that enormouš patronage, which the increased territory and opulence of the empire have placed in the disposal of the executive magistrate.



Upon questions of reform the habit of reHection 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 disposition, equally removed from that puerile admi. iation 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 silent 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



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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 elle 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 fyftem 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 teceived the approbation of both houles, too dangerous an experiment any longer to be advised. A contest between the king and parliament, cannot now be persevered in without a dissolution of the governinent. Lastly, when the constitution con



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