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This was a safe and most ingenious way of enslaving a nation. It was very well known", that arbitrary power, if it was open and avowed, would never prevail here. The people were therefore amused with the specious form ©f their ancient constitution: it existed, indeed« in their fancy; but, like a mere phantom, had no substance nor reality in it; for the power, the authority, the dignity of Parliaments were wholly lost. This was that remarkable Parliament which so justly obtained the opprobrious name of the Pension Parliament; and Was the model from which, I believe, some later Parliaments have been exactly copied.
At the time of the Revolution, the people made a fresh claim of their ancient privileges; and as they had so lately experienced the misfortune of long and servile Parliaments, it was then declared, that they should be held frequently. But it seems, their full meaning was not understood by this declaration: and therefore, as in every new settlement the intention of all parties should be specifically manifested, the Parliament never ceased struggling with the crown, till thetriennial law was obtained: the preamble of it is extremely full and strong; and in the body of the bill you will find the word declared before enacted, by which I apprehend, that though this law did not take place immediately at the time of the Revolution, it was certainly intended as declaratory of their first meaning, and therefore stands a part of that original contract under which the constitution was then settled. His Majesty's title to the crown is primarily de» rived from that contract; and if, upon a review, there shall appear' f o be any deviations from it, Wc ought to treat them as so many injuries done
to that title. And I dare say, that this house, lyhich has gone through so long a series of services to his Majesty, will at last be willing, to revert to those original stated measures .ofgo.-» vernment, to renew and strengthen that title.
But, Sir, I think the manner in which the septennial law was first introduced, is a very strong reason why it should be repealed. People, in their fears, have very often recourse to desperate expedients , which if. not cancelled in season, will themselves prove fatal to that constitution, which they were meant to secure. Such is the nature of the septennial law; it was intended only as a preservative against a tem-r porary inconvenience: the inconvenience is removed, but the mischievous effects still continue* for it not only altered,the constitution of Parliamenfs, but it extended that same Parliament beyond its natural duration: and therefore carries this most unjust implication with it, that you may at any time usurp the most indubitable, the most essential-privilege of the people—I mean that of chusing their own representatives. A precedent of such a dangerous consequence, of so fatal a tendency, that I think it would be a reproach to our statute-book, if that law was any longer to subsist, which might record it to posterity,.
This is a season of virtue and public spirit. £et us take advantage of it to repeal those laws which infringe our liberties, and introduce such as may restore the vigour of our ancient con-r stitution.
Human nature, is so. very corrupt, that aU obligations lose their force, unless they are frequently renewed. — Long Parliaments become therefore independent of the people, aud. when they do so, there always happens a most dangerous dependence elsewhere.
Hong Parliaments give the minister an opportunity of getting acquaintance with members, of practising his.several arts to win them into, his schemes.—This must be the work of time.. —Corruption is of so base a nature, that at first. sight it is extremely shocking.—Hardly any one has submittedto it all at once—His disposition must be previously understood, the particular bait must be found out with which he is to be allured, and after all, it is not without.many. struggles that he surrenders his virtue—Indeed >, there are some, who will at once plunge them* selves into any base action, but the generality, of mankind are of a more cautious nature, and will proceed only by leisurely degrees.~One or two perhaps have deserted .their, colours the, first campaign, some have done it a second.— But a great many, who have not that eager; disposition to vice, will wait till a third.
For this-reason, short.Parliaments have beea, less corrupt than long ones; they are observed y. like streams of water, always to grow more, impure the greater distance they run from the. fountain-head*
I am aware, it may be said, that frequent new Parliaments will produce frequent new. expences, but I think quite the contrary; I am,really of.opinion, that it will be a proper remedy against the evil of. bribery at ekctions, especially as you have provided so wholesome, a. law to cooperate upon these occasions.
Bribery at elections,, whence did it arise? Not from country gentlemen, for they are sure: of being chosen without it; it was, Sir, the invention of wicked and corrupt ministers, who. have , from time to time, led weak Princes into such destructive measures, that they did not dare to rely upon the natural representation of the people.—Long parliaments, Sir, first intro-* duced bribery, because they were worth purchasing at any rate: —Country gentlemen, who have only their private fortunes to-rely upon , an J hav.i no mercenary ends to serve, are unable to oppose ilj. especially if at any time the puhlic treasure shall be unfaithfully squandered away to corrupt their boroughs.—Country gentlemen,, indeed, may make some weak efforts; but as they generally prove unsuccessful, and the time of a fresh 'struggle is at so great a distance, they at last grow faint in the dispute, give up their country for lost, and retire in despair.— Despair naturally produces indolence, and that is the proper disposition for slavery. Ministers of state understand this very well, and are therefore unwilling to awaken the nation out of its lethargy by frequent elections.—They knowthat the spirit of liberty, like every other virtue, of the mind, is to be kept alive only by constant action; that it is impossible to enslave this nation , while it is perpetually upon its guard.— Let country gentlemen then, by having frequent opportunities of exerting themselves, be kept warmandactive in their contention for the public good ; this will raise that zeal and spirit, which will at last get the better of those undue tnflnences, by which the officers of the crown , though unknown to the several boroughs, havo been able to supplant country gentlemen of great characters and fortune, who live in their neighbourhood.—I do not say this upon idle speculation only.—I live in a country where it is too well known, and I appeal to many gentlemen in the house, to more out of it (and who are so for this very reason,) for the truth of my assertion. Sir, it is a sore which has been long eating into the most vital part of our constitu-« tion, and I hope the time will come when yov» will probe it to the bottom.—For if a minister should ever gain a corrupt familiarity with our boroughs, if he should keep a register of them in his closet, and, by sending down his treasury mandates, should procure a spurious representative of the people, the offspring of his corruption, who will be at all times ready to reconcile and justify the most contradictory measures of his administration, and even to vote every crude indigested dream of their patron into a law; if the maintainance of his power should become the sole object of their attention, and they should be guilty of the most violent breech of Parliamentary trust, by giving the King a discretionary liberty of taxing the people without limitation or controul; the last fatal compliment they can pay to the crown ;—if thi» should ever be the unhappy condition of this nation , the people indeed may complain ; but the doors of that place where their complaints should be heard, will for ever be shut against them.
Our disease, I fear, is of a complicated nature, and I think that this motion is wisely intended to remove the first and principal disorder. — Give the people their ancient right of frequent new elections; that will restore the decayed authority of Parliaments, and will put our constitution into a natural condition of working out her own cure.
Sir, upon the whole, I am of opinion, that I cannot express a greater zeal for his Majesty ,