Page images
PDF
EPUB

There is something in these stanzas, to us inexpressibly pathetic and mournful; they are indeed beautiful exceedingly,' and such as any of our own poets might well be proud of. But we must here conclude. Had our limits permitted, we would willingly have lingered a little on the names of Whittier, Everett, Lucretia Davidson, and many others, which are worthily written in these Chronicles of the poetry of America. A future opportunity may offer of recurring to the subject, and of doing justice to the claims of many, that, on this occasion, we have been compelled to pass over with regret; and should it occur, we shall not fail to embrace it. We have, on the whole, received the highest gratification from the perusal of this delightful volume ; and if on closing it we still are disposed to characterise it as a work of promise rather than of performance, we make that observation, not meaning to deny that America has already done much, but from the assurance we feel that she is destined to do so much more, and that when there are already so many good poets, the advent of a great one, even with all impediments from the engrossing interests of commerce or the turmoil of politics, is hardly likely to be very distant.

Art. III.- Observations on the Motion of Sir Robert Heron,

M. P. in the late Parliament, respecting the Vacating of Seats in Parliament, on the acceptance of office. By the Marquis of NORTHAMPTON. 8vo. London : 1835.

THE
WHERE are from ten to twenty of the principal members of

Government, whose presence in Parliament is indispensably necessary; were it for nothing else than for the usefulness and dignity of Parliament itself. Of these, the House of Commons ought to have its fair proportion. The end being admitted, the only question is concerning the means. How are they to be got there?

Three plans are submitted for our choice. To begin with the newest. Mr Bulwer is captivated by the French practice, and advises us to give to ministers, whether they are members of Parliament or not, the privilege of a speech without a vote, in their specific character of ministers. In declining to discuss this recommendation at any length, we wish only to observe, that amongst ourselves its characteristic disadvantages would be for a time seriously aggravated by parliamentary and popular prejudices of long standing ; while at the same time, all its advan

tages (and more) are capable of being realized by a less startling deviation from former usage.

The advocates of the two remaining propositions have this in common. They assume that the principal members of Government ought to be not merely present in Parliament, but members of Parliament also, according to ancient custom. It is assuredly a desirable object that the choice of the Crown should thus continue to be limited to public men connected, to a certain degree, in station and character with the people. This concession narrows the discussion to a simple question. Ought a member of the House of Commons, on becoming a member of the Government, or on moving from one political office to another, to vacate his seat, in order to submit the case, as it may affect either the administration or himself, to the opinion of his constituents by a fresh election ? Yes——is the answer of the English Constitution, as settled for the last hundred and thirty years. For the present usage is of no greater antiquity. It commenced with the year 1705, and, before the Reform bill altered the character of our elections, was expressly approved of by Mr Hallam in his invaluable History. During the interval, it has served occasionally for a flourish from the hustings before a partial audience; and it also recently met with the sanction of the first reformed House of Commons, to the extent at least of their having refused to alter it on the single debate which has yet occurred. On the other hand, No-is the answer which is becoming more and more general every day. Lord Northampton was providently anxious to have made this alteration a part of the Reform bill itself. However, sufficient for that day was the struggle thereof, without adding this to its other subjects of tempestuous contention. The observations which Lord Northampton has lately published in support of his opinion, are so clear and convincing, that we have no doubt but that Parliament will arrive at the same conclusion, as soon as the question has been long enough before the public, and been sufficiently canvassed to be really understood. It is unfortunate for the public, that so much good sense and pure public spirit as these observations contain, instead of being addressed to it from his place in Parliament, should have to come to it in the obscurer shape of a pamphlet sent over from abroad.

The advantages of the course pursued at present, we quite agree, are only nominal and fallacious; the disadvantages real and serious. Before proceeding to the proof of these two points, it may be proper to repeat, that the difficulties under consideration were unknown to the ancient law; and that, in order to get rid of them, it is only necessary to except the few political offices in question (not more than from between ten to twenty) out of the operation of the above-mentioned statute of 1705. For, it is on this statute that the existing system entirely rests.

The statute—as much of it at least as it is proposed to repeal --has no presumption in its favour, either from the circumstances under which it was introduced, or from the silence of all parties for the length of time during which it has continued to be the law. In the first place, what was the character of the times, and what was the history of the statute? The more we learn of the debasement of the political morality of that age, and of the comparative strength of the Whig and Tory parties, the more marvellous does it appear, that the Revolution of 1688, and the establishment of the Hanover succession, should have been successfully carried through by such a generation. William the Third, in his peculiar and critical position, had nothing for it but to go on with the odions practices of parliamentary corruption; the previous introduction of which had drawn down the scornful indignation of Clarendon, and the principal scandal of which is affixed by Bolingbroke to the name of Clifford. Here, then, was a point of opposition to the Court, on which honest patriots and designing Jacobites naturally combined. The patriots, as sometimes happens in coalitions of this description, appear to have been outwitted, in the first instance, by their more politic allies. In their dread of a banded majority of placemen, they allowed themselves to endanger, by an extravagant condition, the success of their favourite measure, the settlement of the Crown under a parliamentary title. The condition was nothing less than a declaration, that no person holding office or place of profit under the King, should be capable of serving as a member of the House of Commons. This scheme_being neither more nor less than the expulsion of Ministers from the House—was part of the purchase-money of the Act of Settlement. However, it was not to take effect until the contemplated arrangements of the Acts of Settlement were fulfilled, by the accession of George the First. If it had ever taken effect at all, it must either have made the administration of affairs utterly impracticable, or have reduced the House of Commons to the rank of an insignificant debating society.* The

* In Rawles's . History of the Constitution of the United States,' there is a chapter upon incompatible offices. The prohibition as it stood in the act of succession, has been transferred entire to the American Constitution. No person holding any public office, not even the heads of the principal departments in the State, can have a seat in the legislature. A very poor case, whether on the score of influence or of economy, is made discretion of a legislature, capable of so violent a proceeding, is not entitled to much respect. In six years time, as the probable accession of the new dynasty drew near, the succeeding legislature became frightened at the prospect. Both Houses were now equally desirous of correcting this intemperate provision. But, unluckily, for a long time they could not, or would not, agree on the manner of the correction. The Lords refused to adopt the more reasonable proposition by which the Commons suggested that, instead of a total exclusion from the House of Commons of all persons who might hold existing offices, it might be advisable to discriminate between different offices according to the nature of them-excluding some, admitting others. The Lords would hear of no distinction, except of that between offices already in existence, and offices which might be created in time to come. The last, they at length consented, should be made the subject of absolute exclusion; while the former were to induce only a vacating of the seat, with a power of re-election. Thus a mechanical line, settled by no criterion but that of the almanae -in other words, the date of the year 1705—became the philosophy of our legislation in this matter. Supposing that a sound distinction is capable of being taken between offices, the holders of which ought to be excluded from the House of Commons altogether, and offices, the holders of which may be allowed to sit there on the terms of a constituency sanctioning their official character; the distinction cannot be in the talismanic number—the year of our Lord 1705 : exclusion for all offices created since --re-eligibility for all offices then existing. The

out in defence of this regulation, as a part even of the American system. But there, the regulation is intelligible enough, and it is enabled to work consistently with the administration of affairs, by the fact, that the neces. sary communications to Congress from the several departments, are not made on the authority of the ministers of those departments, but proceed direct from the President himself, as being the responsible chief magistrate, liable to impeachment for misconduct in his office. The Constitution of the United States has pointed out the mode in which these communications are to take place. They are now always made in writing. Now, nobody has ever proposed to transfer the responsibility in the constitutional monarchies of Europe from the ministers to the King; nor has imagined that it would facilitate the correct despatch of public business to substitute written messages in the place of all the information which, one way or another, may be got out of ministers, face to face, before a popular assembly. Nevertheless, it is plain that, if we were to take any part of this branch of constitutional law from America, (in order to make it practicable,) we must take the whole.

inventors of so irrational a rule can scarcely expect from us implicit submission to their authority. We feel, notwithstanding, that we are at liberty to enquire unreservedly, whether the principle of resignation and re-eligibility is not one of those refinements which may be fertile in embarrassment and dangers, but very ill calculated to accomplish any solid object of good government. At the same time, it is not necessary for the purpose of the present argument, to go that length, and to contend that the only just distinction ought to be between offices which are compatible, and offices which are incompatible with seats in the legislature. There may be an intermediate class of cases, where greater advantage than disadvantage will arise from leaving the question

- whether a member of Parliament shall hold them-open to the opinion of the elective body. As long as in some modification or another, the influence of the executive on a popular assembly is thought to be a necessary element in a mixed government, (Polybius and Hume, Paley and Bentham, are all of that opinion,) this may not be a bad experiment. Our objection is, that, whomsoever else a class of this kind should include, it ought not to include those immediate officers of Government to whom parliamentary duties necessarily attach. We have been induced to refer to the history of the statute which has thus included them, in order to discredit its authority; and to show that, in the actual state in which it passed, it was much more the result of faction, strife, and compromise than of principle and reason. Nor can any argument be raised in favour of the existing law, from the fact that it has remained so many years in the Statute-book, without any practical inconvenience. The answer is, that, from 1706 to 1832, it was, to all intents and purposes, a dead letter. Close boroughs enabled every successive Government (whatever the Government might be) to pay it the compliment of apparent acquiescence, and quietly elude its effects. This was done so extensively and so constantly, that the impropriety of Ministers representing popular places had grown almost into a maxim. Witness the express ground of Canning's removal from Liverpool to Harwich. While this state of things lasted, the letter of the law could do no manner of harm. On the other hand, it could do as little good. For, what possible good can follow from the keeping up of a delusive form ? And what else were the pomp and circumstance of resigning and resuming a Treasury borough? The moment that the Reform bill turned the form into a reality, the impolicy of the provision was brought to light. We are satisfied that Mr Hallam will admit its impolicy at present. And, once admitting that the restriction by which members of an administration were required to vacate their

« PreviousContinue »