« PreviousContinue »
THE HOUSE OF COMMONS,
RIGHT HON. EDMUND BURKE,
AND SECONDED BY
WILLIAM WINDHAM, ESQ.
On Monday, June 14, 1784, and negatived.
A PREFACE AND NOTES.
The representation now given to the publick relates to some of the most essential privileges of the house of commons. It would appear of little importance, if it were to be judged by its reception in the place where it was proposed. There it was rejected without debate. The subject matter may, perhaps, hereafter appear to merit a more serious consideration. Thinking men will scarcely regard the penal dissolution of a parliament as a very trifling concern. Such a dissolution must operate forcibly as an example; and it much imports the people of this kingdom to consider what lesson that example is to teach.
The late house of commons was not accused of an interested compliance to the will of a court. The charge against them was of a different nature. They were charged with being actuated by an extravagant spirit of independency. This species of offence is so closely connected with merit ; this vice bears so near a resemblance to virtue ; that the flight of a house of commons above the exact temperate medium of independence, ought to be correctly ascertained, lest we give encouragement to dispositions of a less generous nature, and less safe for the people; we ought to call for very solid and convincing proofs of the existence, and of the magnitude too of the evils, which are charged to an independent spirit, before we give sanction to any measure, that by checking a spirit so easily damped, and so hard to be excited, may affect the liberty of a part of our constitution, which, if not free, is worse than useless.
The Editor does not deny, that by possibility such an abuse may exist : but prima fronte, there is no reason to presume it. The house of commons is not, by its complexion, peculiarly subject to the distempers of an independent habit. Very little compulsion is necessary, on, the part of the people, to render it abundantly complaisant to ministers and favourites of all descriptions. It required a great length of time, very considerable industry and persevance, no vulgar policy, the union of many men and many tempers, and the concurrence of events which do not happen every day, to build up an independent house of commons. Its demolition was accomplished in a moment ; and it was the work of ordinary hands. But to construct is a matter of skill; to demolish, force and fury are sufficient.
The late house of commons has been punished for its independence. That example is made. Have we an example on record, of a house of commons punished for its servility ? The rewards of a senate so disposed, are manifest to the world. Several gentlemen are very desirous of altering the constitution of the house of commons : but they must alter the frame and constitution of human nature itself, before they can so fashion it by any mode of election, that its conduct will not be influenced by reward and punishment; by fame, and by disgrace. If these examples take root in the minds of men, what members hereafter will be bold enough not to be corrupt ? Especially as the king's high-way of obsequiousness is so very broad and easy. To make a passive member of parliament, no dignity of mind, no principles of honour, no resolution, no ability, no industry, no learning, no experience are in the least degree necessary. To defend a post of importance against a powerful enemy, requires an Elliot ; a drunken invalid is qualified to hoist a white flag, or to deliver up the keys of the fortress on his knees.
The gentlemen chosen into this parliament, for the purpose of this surrender, were bred to better things, and are no doubt qualified for other service. But for this strenuous exertion of inactivity, for the vigorous task of submission and passive obedience, all their learning and ability are rather a matter of personal ornament to themselves, than of the least use in the performance of their duty.
The present surrender, therefore, of rights and privileges, without examination, and the resolution to support any minister given by the secret advisers of the crown, determines not only on all the power and authority of the house, but it settles the character and description of the men who are to compose it ; and perpetuates that character as long as it may be thought expedient to keep up a phantom of popular representation.
It is for the chance of some amendment before this new settlement takes a permanent form, and while the matter is yet soft and ductile, that the Editor has republished this piece, and added some notes and explanations to it. His intentions, he hopes, will excuse him to the original mover, and to the world. He acts from a strong sense of the incurable ill effects of holding out the conduct of the late house of commons, as an example to be shunned by future representatives of the people.