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It is the fashion to say, that the progress of civilisation is favourable to liberty. The maxim, though in some sense true, must be limited by many quallfications and exceptions. Wherever a poor and rude nation, in which the form of government is a limited monarchy, receives a great accession of wealth and knowledge, it is in imminent danger of falling under arbitrary power.
In such a state of society as that which existed all over Europe during the middle ages, very slight checks sufficed to keep the sovereign in order. His means of corruption and intimidation were very scanty. He had little money, little patronage, no military establishment. His armies resembled juries. They were drawn out of the mass of the people : they soon returned to it again: and the character which was habitual, prevailed over that which was occasional. 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 the soldier learned how to value his rights, abroad how to defend them.
Such a military force as this was a far stronger restraint on the regal power than any legislative assembly. The army, now the most formidable instru. ment of the executive power, was then the most formidable check on that power. 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, a force of ten thousand armed men 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 same 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 Cabul, 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 jealousy, and resent with prompt indignation, 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. If he ventured too far, chastise. ment and ruin were at hand. In fact, the people generally 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 civilisation introduced a great change. War became a science, and, as a necessary consequence, a 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 assembly, 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, while the sovereign remained dependent on his subjects, had been adequate to the purpose for which they were designed, were now found wanting. The dikes 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 lumber-rooms, 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 on governments which bore a close analogy to that established in England. Everywhere they saw the power of the monarch increasing, the resistance of assemblies which were no longer supported by a national force gradually becoming more and more feeble, and at length altogether ceasing. The friends and the enemies of liberty perceived with equal clearness 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 place well fortified,” says he, " for ever 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 he 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 shipmoney. If they had been scrupulous, 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 high-spirited, 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 fastidious 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 always going backward and forward ; but it should be remembered to his honour that it was always from the stronger to the weaker side that he deserted. While Charles was oppressing the people, Falkland was a resolute 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,'disgusted by the courtiers of Oxford, as he had been disgusted by the patriots of Westminster, yet bound by honour not to abandon the cause for which he was in arms, 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 stifler of 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 Jefferies, he would, after manfully opposing James the Second through years of tyranny, have been seized with a fit of compassion at the very moment of the Revolution, have voted for a regency, and died a non-juror.
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 frere to remain absolutely stationary, they would relatively retrograde. The monarchical and democratical parts of the government were placed in a situation not un. like 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 con; stant 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, therefore, absolutely necessary to violate the formal part of the constitution, in order to preserve its spirit. This might have been done, as it was done at the Revolution, by expelling the reigning family, and calling to the throne princes who, relying solely on an elective title, would find it necessary to respect the privileges and follow the advice of the assemblies to which they owed every thing, to pass every bill which the Legislature strongly pressed upon them, and to fill the offices of state with men in whom the Legis. lature confided. But, as the two Houses did not choose to change the dynasty, it was necessary that they should do directly what at the Revolution was done indirectly. Nothing is more usual than to hear it said that, if the Houses had contented themselves with making such a reform in the government under Charles as was afterwards made under William, they would have had the highest claim to national gratitude ; and that in their violence they overshot the mark. But how was it possible to make such a settlement under Charles ? Charles was not, like William and the princes of the Hanoverian line, bound by community of interests and dangers to the Parliament. It was therefore necessary that he should be bound by treaty and statute.
Mr Hallam reprobates, in language which has a little surprised us, the nineteen propositions into which the Parliament digested its scheme. Is it possible to doubt that, if James the Second had remained in the island, and had been suffered, as he probably would in that case have been suffered, to keep his crown, conditions to the full as hard would have been imposed on him? On the other hand, we fully admit that, if the Long Parliament had pro. nounced the departure of Charles from London an abdication, and had called Essex or Northumberland to the throne, the new prince might have safely been suffered to reign without such restrictions. His situation would have been a sufficient guarantee.
In the nineteen propositions we see very little to blame except the articles against the Catholics. These, however, were in the spirit of that age ; and to some sturdy churchmen in our own, they may seem to palliate even the good which the Long Parliament effected. The regulation with respect to new creations of Peers is the only other article about which we entertain any doubt. One of the propositions is that the Judges shall hold their offices during good behaviour
. To this surely no exception will be taken. The right of directing the education and marriage of the princes was most properly claimed by the Parliament, on the same ground on which, after the Revolution, it was enacted, that no king, on pain of forfeiting his throne, should espouse a Papist. Unless we condemn the statesmen of the Revolution, who conceived that England could not safely be governed by a sovereign married to a Catholic queen, we can scarcely condemn the Long Parliament because, having a sovereign so situated, they thought it necessary to place him under strict restraints. The influence of Henrietta Maria had already been deeply felt in political affairs. In the regulation of her family, in the education and marriage of her children, it was still more likely to be felt
. There might be another Catholic queen ; possibly, a Catholic king. Little as we are disposed to join in the vulgar clamour on this subject, we think that such an event ought to be, if possible, averted ; and this could only be done, if Charles was to be left on the throne, by placing his domestic arrangements under the control of Parliament.
A veto on the appointment of ministers was demanded. But this veto Parliament has virtually possessed ever since the Revolution. It is no doubt very far better that this power of the Legislature should be exercised as it is now exercised, when any great occasion calls for interference, than that at every change the Commons should have to signify their approbation or disapprobation in form. But, unless a new family had been placed on the throne, we do not see how this power could have been exercised as it is now exercised. We again repeat, that no restraints which could be imposed on the princes who reigned after the Revolution could have added to the security which their title afforded. They were compelled to court their parliaments. But from Charles nothing was to be expected which was not set down in the bond.
It was not stipulated that the King should give up his negative on acts of Parliament. But the Commons had certainly shown a strong disposition to exact this security also. “Such a doctrine," says Mr Haliam, “was in this country as repugnant to the whole history of our laws, as it was incompatible with the subsistence of the monarchy in any thing more than a nominal preeminence." Now this article has been as completely carried into effect by the Revolution as if it had been formally inserted in the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement. We are surprised, we confess, that Mr Hallam should attach so much importance to a prerogative which has not been exercised for a hundred and thirty years, which probably will never be exercised again, and which can scarcely, in any conceivable case, be exercised for a salutary purpose.
But the great security, the security without which every other would have been insufficient, was the power of the sword. This both parties thoroughly understood. The Parliament insisted on having the command of the militia and the direction of the Irish war. " By God, not for an hour!” exclaimed the King. “Keep the militia," said the Queen, after the defeat of the royal party; “ Keep the militia ; that will bring back every thing.” That, by the old constitution, no military authority was lodged in the Parliament, Mr Hallam has clearly shown. That it is a species of authority which ought not to be permanently lodged in large and divided assemblies, must, we think, in fairness be conceded. Opposition, publicity, long discussion, frequent compromise; these are the characteristics of the proceedings of such assemblies. Unity, secrecy, decision, are the qualities which military arrangements require. There were, therefore, serious objections to the proposition of the Houses on this subject. But, on the other hand, to trust such a king, at such a crisis, with the very weapon which, in hands less dangerous, had destroyed 50 many free constitutions, would have been the extreme of rashness. The jealousy with which the oligarchy of Venice and the States of Holland regarded their generals and armies inducerl them perpetually to interfere in matters of which they were incompetent to judge. This policy secured them against military usurpation, but placed them under great disadvantages in war. The uncontrolled poirer which the King of France exercised over his troops enabled him to conquer his enemies, but enabled him also to oppress his people. Was there any intermediate course ? None, we confess, altogether free from objection. But, on the whole, we conceive that the best measure would have been that which the Parliament over and over proposed, namely, that for a limited time the power of the sword should be left to the two Houses, and that it should revert to the Crown when the constitution should be firmly established, and when the new securities of freedom should be so far strengthened by prescription that it would be difficult to employ even a standing army for the purpose of subverting them.
Mr Hallam thinks that the dispute might easily have been compromised, by enacting that the King should have no power to keep a standing army on