« FöregåendeFortsätt »
septennial parliaments are competent to remedy this evil? Will they not rather increase it? For those that will give money to obtain a seat in parliament for three years, will give proportionably more for seven. No-not septennial but annual parliaments are the true constitutional remedy for this grievance: this was our ancient constitution; and every departure from it has been attended with inconvenience and injury.
"With respect to the animosities and divisions attending frequent elections, they are chiefly of a private nature, and little affect the public: such as they are, however, this bill is more calculated to inflame than to extinguish them. But our most alarming and pernicious animosities proceed certainly from a very different source-from the resentment and ambition of some, from the folly and prejudice of others.
"That our enemies will take advantage of our divisions, whenever it is in their power, cannot be doubted; but, since the Triennial Act passed, ten successive parliaments have sat, two long and bloody wars have been waged, our factions ran high, and our enemies were vigilant; yet no such inconveniences were felt as are now apprehended or alleged: nor were any attempts made by them, as far as I have heard, to our prejudice, during the temporary ferments of those elections.
"The last argument is deduced from the encouragement this will give to your allies to enter into treaties with you. Sorry should I be to suppose we had any allies who refused to treat with us because we refused to relinquish our constitution. Were such a requisition to be made to them on our part, would it not be rejected on theirs with contempt and indignation? But the measure now proposed is calculated not to strengthen the hands of
the executive power, but to lessen its influence with foreign nations. Is it not to proclaim to the world, that the King dare not call a new parliament ?-that he dare not trust the people in a new choice? And is this not a supposition dishonorable alike to the Monarch and to the Parliament now existing? It presumes that another House of Commons would act differently from the present; which implies that this House does not truly represent the people. Frequent parliaments are coeval with the constitution. In the reign of EDWARD III. it was enacted that parliaments should be holden every year once, and oftener if need be. This must be understood of new parliaments; for prorogations and long adjournments were not then known. Every long interruption of parliaments has been attended with mischief and inconve nience to the public and in the Declaration of Rights at the Revolution it is asserted, as the undoubted right of the subject, that parliaments should be held frequently; and the preamble of the bill, which we are now called upon to repeal, declares, that, by the ancient laws and statutes of the realm, frequent parliaments ought to be held, and that frequent NEW parliaments tend very much to the happy union and the good agreement of the King and his people.' Before this repeal takes place, I hope it will be shewn in what consists the error of those assertions. Would the King establish his throne in the hearts of his people, this is the most sure and effectual way; for such frequent appeals to the people generate confidence; and confidence is a great advance towards agreement and affection. Will not the people say with reason, if this bill should pass, that, when the original term of delegation is elapsed, you are no longer their representations? In my opinion, with great submission I speak it, King, Lords, and Commons can no more con
tinue a parliament beyond its natural duration, than they can make a parliament. The wisest governments, it is well known, have ever been the most cautious in continuing those persons in authority to whom they have intrusted the supreme power. A standing parliament and a standing army are convertible, and fit instruments to support each other's powers.
"For these reasons, and because no state necessity can be alleged or pretended for the passing of such an act, at a time when the present parliament may be convened for two succeeding sessions, I shall give my vote against the commitment of the bill."
The question of commitment, however, was carried in the affirmative by a majority of 284 against 162
The first vigorous attempt to obtain a repeal of the Septennial Act was made in 1734, when the debate on the subject was thus opened by Mr. WILLIAM BROMLEY, then member for Warwick :
"The call of the House being adjourned to a very remote day, upon a general opinion, which I hope is well founded, that no vote of credit will be proposed, I believe we can scarcely expect a fuller House than this day produces. There cannot, therefore, be a better opportunity for making a motion, which I apprehend to be of such a national concernment, that I have long wished it to be undertaken by some person better able to support it than myself: but I have this satisfaction, that what I am going to offer will so far speak for itself, as may supply any defects in my manner of laying it before you; and I cannot doubt the concurrence of this House; when it comes to be maturely considered.
"I believe we are none of us unapprised of the dislike the people in general have always had to long parliaments; a dislike justly founded on reason and experience; long parliaments in former reigns having proved the unhappy cause of great calamities to this nation, and having been, at all times, declared an innovation upon our constitution. I am convinced there is no one that hears me, who does not believe the people thought themselves highly aggrieved by the Septennial Bill; that they even looked upon it as a dangerous infringement of their liberties, notwithstanding the cause alleged in the preamble to the act, which seemed at that time to carry some weight with it.
"That cause being happily removed, they desire to revert, as near as may be, to their ancient constitution; and surely there can never be a more favourable opportunity to effectuate it than at this juncture, when his Majesty, to the great joy of the kingdom, has been graciously pleased to declare his satisfaction, that the people are soon to have an opportunity of chusing a new representative. The present parliament draws near its dissolution. What can it do more for its own honor; how can it crown its many meritorious acts better, than by redressing a grievance, which a succeeding parliament may possibly have its reasons for not entering into?
"Frequent parliaments were early declared a fundamental part of our constitution. In the fourth of EDWARD III. an act passed for holding them once a year, or oftener, if there should be occasion: in the thirty-sixth year of the same reign that statute was confirmed. In that parliament Magna Charta and Charta de Forefta were confirmed, and several new privileges granted to the subject. Then comes the clause relating to parliaments, which sufficiently shews the intention and original institution of them was for the redress of grievances :-for the bill
bill enacts, That for the maintenance of the said articles and statutes, that is, the privileges before mentioned, and for redress of divers mischiefs and grievances which daily happen, a new parliament shall be held once every year, as at another time was ordained. The sixteenth of CHARLES II. recites, that, by the ancient laws and statutes, parliaments used to be held very often, and therefore enacts, that the sitting and holding of parliaments, shall not be intermitted or discontinued for more than three years.
"In the early days, when this prudent care was taken for frequent meetings of parliaments, the Crown was possessed of revenues, which made applications to the people for money (unless upon extraordinary emergencies) unnecessary. It therefore clearly appears, that redress of grievances, making salutary laws for the good of the community, and preserving the liberties of the people, by supporting a due balance between the power of the crown and the rights of the subject, were the main ends of calling parliaments. The power of calling, then, being the undoubted prerogative of the crown, it became necessary, for the safety of the subject, to oblige the crown to call them frequently. I must confess, a caution of this kind is no longer necessary, nor can it ever be, so long as we preserve to ourselves the power of granting money: the crown revenues being sunk, or wantonly granted away, the annual call for a supply must necessarily produce an annual meeting of parliament. But give me leave to observe, the grievance now complained of is of a very different nature. It is not founded on discontinuance of parliaments, but on a too long and dangerous continuance of one and the same parliament: a practice unheard of in former times, when prorogations were not known; for, when a parliament was annually called together for the