Page images
PDF
EPUB

incurable suspicion. From that moment, the most extended ministry that ever cxistcd, into Parliament was compelled to surround itself a feeble opposition, and raised a king who was with defensive arms; from that moment, the talking of retiring to Hanover, to a height of city assumed the appearance of a garrison ; power which none of his predecessors had enfroin that moment, it was that, in the phrase joyed since the Revolution. A crisis of this or Clarendon, the carriage of Hampden became description was evidently approaching in 1642. bercer, that he drew the sword and threw away | Ai such a crisis, a prince of a really honest the scabbard. For, from that moment, it must and generous nature, who had erred, who had have been evident to every impartial obser- seen his error, who had regretted the lost afver, that in the midst of professions, oaths, and fections of his people, who rejoiced in the smiles, the tyrant was constantly looking for- dawning hope of regaining them, would be ward to an absolute sway, and to bloody re- peculiarly careful to take no step which could venge. .

give occasion of offence, even to the unreasonThe advocates of Charles have very dex-able. On the other hand, a tyrant, whose terously contrived to conceal from their read whole life was a lie, who hated the constitution ers the real nature of this transaction. By the more because he had been compelled to making concessions apparently candid and feign respect for it, to whom his honour and ample, they elude the great accusation. They the love of his people were as nothing, would allow that the measure was weak, and even select such a crisis for some appalling violafrantic, an absurd caprice of Lord Digby, ab- tion of law, for some stroke which might resurdly adopted by the king. And thus they move the chiefs of an opposition, and intimi. save their client from the full penalty of his date the herd. This Charles attempted. He transgression, by entering a plea of guilty to missed his blow: but so narrowly, that it the minor offence. To us his conduct appears would have been mere madness in those at at this day, as at the time it appeared to the whom it was aimed to trust him again. Parliament and the city. We think it by no It deserves to be remarked, that the king means so foolish as it pleases his friends to had, a short time before, promised the most represent it, and far more wicked.

respectable royalists in the House of Commons, In the first place, the transaction was illegal | Falkland, Colepepper, and Hyde, that he would from beginning to end. The impeachment take no ineasure in which that House was was illegal. The process was illegal. The concerned, without consulting them. On this service was illegal. If Charles wished to pro- occasion he did not consult them. His consecute the five members for treason, a bill duct astonished them more than any other against them should have been sent to a grand members of the assembly. Clarendon says jury. That a commoner cannot be tried for that they were deeply hurt by this want of high treason by the Lords at the suit of the confidence, and the more hurt, because, ir crown, is part of the very alphabet of our law. they had been consulted, they would have done That no man can be arrested by a message or their utmost to dissuade Charles from so ima verbal summons of the king, with or without proper a proceeding. Did it never occur to a warrant from a responsible magistrate, is Clarendon, will it not at least occur to men less equally clear. This was an established maxim partial, that there was good reason for this? of our jurisprudence in the time of Edward the When the danger to the throne seemed immi. Fourth. "A subject,” said Chief Justice nent, the king was ready to put himself for a Markham to that prince, “may arrest for trea-time into the hands of those who, though they son : the king cannot; for if the arrest be il. had disapproved of his past conduct, ihoughi legal, the party has no remedy against the that the remedies had now become worse than king."

the distempers. But we believe, that in heart The time at which Charles took this step he regarded both the parties in the Parliament also deserves consideration. We have already with feelings of aversion, which differed only said, that the ardour which the parliament had in the degree of their intensity; and that the displayed at the time of its first meeting had | lawful warning which he proposed to give by considerably abated; that the leading oppo- immolating the principal supporters of the nents of the court were desponding, and that remonstrance, was partly intended for the in. their followers were in general inclined to mild-struction of those who had concurred in cener and more temperate measures than those suring the ship-money, and in abolishing the which had hitherto been pursued. In every Star Chamber. country, and in none more than in England, The Commons informed the king that their there is a disposition to take the part of those members should be forthcoming to answer who are unmercisully run down, and who seem any charge legally brought against them. The destitute of all means of defence. Every man Lords refused to assume the unconstitutional who has observed the ebb and flow of public offices with which he attempted to invest them. feeling in our own time, will easily recall ex. And what then was his conduct? He went, amples to illustrate this remark. An English attended by hundreds of armed men, to seize statesman ought to pay assiduous worship to the objects of his hatred in the House itself! Nemesis, to be most apprehensive of ruin when | The party opposed to him more than insinuhe is at the height of power and popularity, ated that his purpose was of the most atrocious and to dread his enemy most, when most com- kind. We will not condemn him merely on their pletely pritrated. The fate of the Coalition suspicions; we will not hold him answerable Ministry, in 1784, is perhaps the strongest in- l for the sanguinary expressions of the Icosa stance in our history of the operation of this brawlers who composed his train. We will Principle. A fow weeks turned the ablest and judge of his conduct by itself alons. hnd we say, without hesitation, that it is impossible to damental laws, and representative assemblies. acquit him of having meditated violence, and In the fifteenth century, the government of violence which might probably end in blood. Castile seems to have been as free as that of He knew that the legality of his proceedings our own country. That of Arragon was beyond was denied; he must have known that some all question far more so. In France, the sove. of the accused members were not men likely reign was more absolute. Yet, even in France. to submit peaceably to an illegal arrest. There the States-general alone could constitutionally was every reason to expect that he would find impose taxes; and at the very time when the them in their places, that they would refuse to authority of those assemblies was beginning obey his summons, and that the House would to languish, the Parliament of Paris received support them in their refusal. What course such an accession of strength, as enabled it, would then have been left to him ? Unless we in some measure, to perform the functions of suppose that he went on this expedition for the a legislative assembly. Sweden and Denmark sole purpose of making himself ridiculous, had constitutions of a similar description. we must believe that he would have had re- Let us overleap two or three hundred years, course to force. There would have been a and contemplate Europe at the commencement scuffle; and it might not, under such circum- of the eighteenth century. Every free consti. stances, have been in his power, even if it tution, save one, bad gone down. That of were in his inclination, to prevent a scuffle England had weathered the danger; and was from ending in a massacre. Fortunately for his riding in full security. In Denmark and fame, unfortunately, perhaps, for what he prized Sweden, the kings had availed themselves of far more, the interests of his hatred and his am- the disputes wbich raged between the nobles bition, the affair ended differently. The birds, and the commons, to unite all the powers of as he said, were flown, and his plan was dis- government in their own hands. In France concerted. Posterity is not extreme to mark the institution of the states was only mainabortive crimes. And thus his advocates have tained by lawyers, as a part of the ancient found it easy to represent a step which, but for theory of their government. It slept a deep a trivial accident, might have filled England sleep-destined to be broken by a tremen. with mourning and dismay, as a mere error dous waking. No person remembered the sitof judgment, wild and foolish, but perfectly tings of the three orders, or expected ever to innocent. Such was not, however, at the time, see them renewed. Louis the Fourteenth had the opinion of any party. The most zealous imposed on his Parliament a patient silence royalists were so much disgusted and ashamed, of sixty years. His grandson, after the war that they suspended their opposition to the po- of the Spanish succession, assimilated the pular party, and, silently, at least, concurred constitution of Arragon to that of Castile, and in measures of precaution so strong as almost extinguished the last feeble remains of liberty to amount to resistance.

in the Peninsula. In England, on the other From that day, whatever of confidence and hand, the Parliament was infinitely more pow loyal attachment had survived the misrule of erful than it had ever been. Not only was its seventeen years, was, in the great body of the legislative authority fully established, but its people, extinguished, and extinguished forever. right to interfere, by advice almost equivalent As soon as the outrage had failed, the hypo- to command, in every department of the excrisy recommenced. Down to the very eve ecutive government, was recognised. The of his flagitious attempt, Charles had been appointment of ministers, the relations with talking of his respect for the privileges of foreign powers, the conduct of a war or a neParliament and the liberties of his people. gotiation, depended less on the pleasure of the He began again in the same style on the mor- prince than on that of the two Houses. TOW; but it was too late. To trust him now What then made us to differ? Why was it would have been, not moderation, but insanity. that, in that epidemic malady of constitutions, What common security would suffice against ours escaped the destroying influence; or ra. a prince who was evidently watching his sea-ther that, at the very crisis of the disease, a son with that cold and patient hatred which, favourable turn took place in England, and in in the long run, tires out every other pas- England alone? It was not surely without a sion?

cause that so many kindred systems of governIt is certainly from no admiration of Charles ment, having flourished together so long, lanthat Mr. Hallam disapproves of the conduct guished and expired at almost the same time. of the House in resorting to arms. But he It is the fashion to say, that the progress thinks, that any attempt on the part of that of civilization is favourable to liberty. The prince to establish a despotism would have maxim, though on the whole true, must be been as strongly opposed by his adherents as limited by many qualifications and exceptions. by his enemies; that the constitution might Wherever a poor and rude nation, in which te considered as out of danger; or, at least, the form of government is a limited monarchy, that it had more to apprehend from war than receives a great accession of wealth and from the king. On this subject Mr. Hallam knowledge, it is in imminent danger of falling dilates at length; and with conspicuous ability. under arbitrary power. We will offer a few considerations, which lead in such a state of society as that which exus to incline to a different opinion.

isted all over Europe during the middle ages, The constitution of England was only one it was not from the king, but from the nobles, of a large family. In all the monarchies of that there was danger. Very slight checks Western Europe, during the middle ages, there sufliced to keep the sovereign in order. His existed restraints on the royal authority, fun- I means of corruption and intimidation vere

very scanty. He had little money, little pa-jealousy, and resent with prompt indignation, the resistance of assemblies, which were no always going backward and forward; but it longer supported by a national force, gradually should be remembered to his honour, that it becoming more and more feeble, and at length was always from the stronger to the weaker altogether ceasing. The friends and the ene- side that he deserted. While Charles was opmies of liberty perceived with equal clearness pressing the people, Falkland was a resolute

tronage, no military establishment. Hisarmies resembled juries. They were draughted out of the mass of the people; they soon returned to it again; and the character which was habitual prevailed over that which was occa

..sional. A campaign of forty days was too

short, the discipline of a national militia too lax, to efface from their minds the feelings of civil life. As they carried to the camp the

- sentiments and interests of the farm and the

shop, so they carried back to the farm and the shop the military accomplishments which they had acquired in the camp. At home they learned how to value their rights—abroad how to defend them. Such a military force as this was a far stronger restraint on the regal power than the legislative assemblies. Resistance to an established government, in modern times so difficult and perilous an enterprise, was, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the simplest and easiest matter in the world. Indeed, it was far too simple and easy. An insurrection was got up then almost as easily as a petition is got up now. In a popular cause, or even in an unpopular cause favoured by a few great nobles, an army was raised in a week. If the king were, like our Edward the Second and Richard the Second, generally odious, he could not procure a single bow or halbert. He fell at once and without an effort. In such times a sovereign like Louis the Fifteenth, or the Emperor Paul, would have been pulled down before his misgovernment had lasted for a month. We find that all the fame and influence of our Edward the Third could not save his Madame de Pompadour from the effects of the public hatred. Hume, and many other writers, have hastily concluded, that in the fifteenth century the English Parliament was altogether servile,

because it recognised, without opposition,

every successful usurper. That it was not servile, its conduct on many occasions of inferior importance is sufficient to prove. But surely it was not strange, that the majority of the nobles, and of the deputies chosen by the commons, should approve of revolutions which the nobles and commons had effected. The Parliament did not blindly follow the event of war; but participated in those changes of public sentiment, on which the event of war depended. The legal check was secondary and auxiliary to that which the nation held in its own hands. There have always been monarchies in Asia, in which the royal authority has been tempered by fundamental laws, though no legislative body exists to watch over them. The guarantee is the opinion of a community, of which every individual is a soldier. Thus the king of Caubul, as Mr. Elphinstone informs us, cannot augment the land revenue, or interfere with the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals. In the European kingdoms of this description, there were representative assemblies. But it was not necessary that those assemblies should meet very frequently, that they should interfere with all the operations of the executive government, that they should watch with

every violation of the laws which the sovereign

might commit. They were so strong, that they might safely be careless. He was so feeble, that he might safely be suffered to encroach. Is he ventured too far, chastisement and ruin were at hand. In fact, the people suffered more from his weakness than from his authority. The tyranny of wealthy and powerful subjects was the characteristic evil of the times. The royal prerogatives were not even sufficient for the defence of property and the maintenance of police. The progress of civilization introduced a great change. War became a science; and, as a necessary consequence, a separate trade. The great body of the people grew every day more reluctant to undergo the inconveniences of military service, and better able to pay others for undergoing them. A new class of men, therefore—dependent on the crown alone; natural enemies of those popular rights, which are to them as the dew to the fleece of Gideon ; slaves among freemen ; freemen among slaves—grew into importance. That physical force, which in the dark ages had belonged to the nobles and the commons, and had, far more than any charter or any assenbly, been the safeguard of their privileges, was transferred entire to the king. Monarchy gained in two ways. The sovereign was strengthened, the subjects weakened. The great mass of the population, destitute of all military discipline and organization, ceased to exercise any influence by force on political transactions. There have, indeed, during the last hundred and fifty years, been many popular insurrections in Europe: but all have failed, except those in which the regular army has been induced to join the disaffected. Those legal checks, which had been adequate. to the purpose for which they were designed while the sovereign remained dependent on his subjects, were now found wanting. The dykes, which had been sufficient while the waters were low, were not high enough to keep out the spring tide. The deluge passed over them; and, according to the exquisite illustration of Butler, the formal boundaries which had excluded it now held it in. The old constitutions fared like the old shields and coats of mail. They were the defences of a rude age; and they did well enough against the weapons of a rude age. But new and more formidable means of destruction were invented. The ancient panoply became useless; and it was thrown aside to rust in lumberrooms, or exhibited only as part of an idle pageant. Thus absolute monarchy was established on the Continent. England escaped; but she escaped very narrowly. Happily, our insular situation and the pacific policy of James rendered standing armies unnecessary here, till they had been for some time kept up in the neighbouring kingdoms. Our public men had therefore an opportunity of watching the effects produced by this momentous change, in forms of government which bore a close analogy to that established in England. Everywhere they saw the power of the monarch increasing,

the causes of this general decay. It is the favourite theme of Strafford. He advises the king to procure from the judges a recognition of his right to raise an army at his pleasure. “This piece, well fortified,” says he, “forever vindicates the monarchy at home from under the conditions and restraints of subjects.” We firmly believe that he was in the right. Nay; we believe that, even if no deliberate scheme of arbitrary government had been formed by the sovereign and his ministers, there was great reason to apprehend a natural extinction of the constitution. If, for example, Charles had played the part of Gustavus Adolphus; if he had carried on a popular war for the defence of the Protestant cause in Germany; if be had gratified the national pride by a series of victories; if he had formed an army of forty or fifty thousand devoted soldiers, we do not see what chance the nation would have had of escaping from despotism. The judges would have given as strong a decision in favour of camp-money as they gave in favour of ship-money. If they had scrupled, it would have made little difference. An individual who resisted would have been treated as Charles treated Eliot, and as Strafford wished to treat Hampden. The Parliament might have been summoned once in twenty years, to congratulate a king on his accession, or to give solemnity to some great measure" of state. Such had been the fate of legislative assemblies as powerful, as much respected, as highspirited, as the English Lords and Commons. The two Houses, surrounded by the ruins of so many free constitutions, overthrown or sapped by the new military system, were required to intrust the command of an army, and the conduct of the Irish war, to a king who had proposed to himself the destruction of liberty as the great end of his policy. We are decidedly of opinion that it would have been fatal to comply. Many of those who took the side of the king on this question would have cursed their own loyalty if they had seen him return from war at the head of twenty thousand troops, accustomed to carnage and free quarters in Ireland. *We think with Mr. Hallam, that many of the royalist nobility and gentry were true friends to the constitution; and that, but for the solemn protestations by which the king bound himself to govern according to the law for the future, they never would have joined his standard. But surely they underrated the public danger. Falkland is commonly selected as the most respectable specimen of this class. . He was indeed a man of great talents, and of great virtues; but, we apprehend, infinitely too fastidicus for public life. He did not perceive that in such times as those on which his lot had fallen, the duty of a statesman is to choose the better cause, and to stand by it, in spite of those excesses by which every cause, however good in itself, will be disgraced. The present evil always seemed to him the worst. He was Vol. I.-11

champion of liberty. He attacked Strafford. He even concurred in strong measures against Episcopacy. But the violence of his party annoyed him, and drove him to the other party, to be equally annoyed there. Dreading the success of the cause which he had espoused, . sickened by the courtiers of Oxford, as he had been sickened by the patriots of Westminster, yet bound by honour not to abandon them, he pined away, neglected his person, went about moaning for peace, and at last rushed desperately on death as the best refuge in such miserable times. If he had lived through the scenes that followed, we have little doubt that he would have condemned himself to share the exile and beggary of the royal family; that he would then have returned to oppose all their measures; that he would have been sent to the Tower by the Commons as a disbeliever in the Popish Plot, and by the king as an accomplice in the Rye-House Plot; and that, if he had escaped being hanged, first by Scroggs, and then by Jeffries, he would, after mansully opposing James the Second through his whole reign, have been seized with a fit of compassion at the very moment of the Revolution, have voted for a regency, and died a nonjuror. We do not dispute that the royal party contained many excellent men and excellent citizens. But this we say—that they did not discern those times. The peculiar glory of the Houses of Parliament is, that, in the great plague and mortality of constitutions, they took their stand between the living and the dead. At the very crisis of our destiny, at the very moment when the fate which had passed on every other nation was about to pass on England, they arrested the danger. Those who conceive that the parliamentary leaders were desirous merely to maintain the old constitution, and those who represent them as conspiring to subvert it, are equally in error. The old constitution, as we have attempted to show, could not be maintained. The progress of time, the increase of wealth, the diffusion of knowledge, the great change in the European system of war, rendered it impossible that any of the monarchies of the middle ages should continue to exist on the old footing. The prerogative of the crown was constantly advancing. If the privileges of the people were to remain absolutely stationary, they would relatively retrograde. The monarchical and democratical parts of the government were placed in a situation not unlike that of the two brothers in the Fairy Queen, one of whom saw the soil of his inheritance daily washed away by the tide, and joined to that of his rival. The portions had at first been fairly meted out; by a natural and constant transfer, the one had been extended; the other had dwindled to nothing. A new partition or a compensation was necessary to restore the original equality. It was now absolutely necessary to violate the formal part of the constitution, in order to | preserve its spirit. This might have been

[graphic][subsumed]
« PreviousContinue »