The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: Volume 6, 1714-1727. Originally published by Chandler, London, 1742.
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The Lords having pass'd a Bill for repealing the Triennial Act. send it to the Commons for their Concurrence.; Debate thereon.
April 19. The Lords having sent Mr Justice Tracy and Mr Justice Dormer to acquaint the Commons, that they had pass'd a Bill intituled, An Act for enlarging the Time of Continuance of Parliaments, appointed by an Act made in the 6th Year of King William and Queen Mary, to which they desir'd their Concurrence: The Lord Guernsey immediately mov'd, to reject the Bill, without reading it: But because that would have been an unprecedented Method of Proceeding, the House would not agree to it, but read the Bill the first Time, and the Question being put, that it be read a second Time, there arose a Debate that lasted about two Hours. The most remarkable Objection that was then urg'd against the Bill, was, 'That it was an Imposition of the Lords, to take upon them to direct the Commons in a Matter which concern'd them only, as Guardians of the Rights and Liberties of the People.' But to this it was answer'd, 'That even the Triennial Act itself was begun in the House of Lords, who, as Part of the Legislature, are no less Guardians of the Liberties of the Subject than the Commons themselves. At length it was carry'd by a Majority of 276 against 156, that the Bill should be read a second Time on the Tuesday following.
April 24. Six Petitions, viz. Of the Boroughs and Towns of Marlborough, Midhurst, Hastings, Cambridge, Abingdon, and Newcastle under Line, against the Bill, being presented to the House and read, they were severally ordered to lie upon the Table. Then the Bill was read the second Time; and a Motion being made, and the Question put, That it be committed, there arose a warm Debate, that lasted from two in the Afternoon 'till near Eleven at Night. The Speakers for the Bill were, Mr Lyddal, Member for Lest withiel; Mr Trevanian, Knight of the Shire for Cornwall; Mr Molineux, (fn. 1) Member for Bossiney; Sir John Brownlow, Bart. (fn. 2) Knight of the Shire for Lincoln; Mr Hampden, (fn. 3) Member for Bucking hamshire; Mr Molesworth, (fn. 4) Member for St Michael; Mr John Smith, (fn. 5) Member for Eastlow; Lord Stanhope, (fn. 6) Member for St Germains; Mr Young, (fn. 7) Member for Honiton; Mr Craiggs, (fn. 8) Member for Tregony; Lord Coningsby, (fn. 9) Member for Leominster; Mr Giles Erle, (fn. 10) Member for Chippenham; Sir Richard Steele, (fn. 11) Member for Borough-Bridge; Mr Nevile, Member for Berwick; Sir Charles Turner, (fn. 12) Member for Lynn; Sir William Thompson, (fn. 13) Member for Ipswich; Sir Joseph Jekyll, (fn. 14) Member for Lymington; Gen. Stanhope, (fn. 15) Member for Cockermouth; Mr Aislabie, (fn. 16) Member for Ripon. The Speakers against the Bill were, Mr Robert Heysham, (fn. 17) Member for London; Mr Snell, Member for Gloucester; Mr Shippen, Member for Newton; Lord Paget, (fn. 18) Member for Staffordshire; Mr Wykes, Member for Northampton; Mr Hutchinson, (fn. 19) Member for Hastings; Mr Jefferies, (fn. 20) Member for Droitwich; Sir Thomas Cross, Bart. Member for Westminster: Sir William Whitlock and Mr William Bromley, Members for the University of Oxford; Mr Archer, Member for Warwickshire; Lord Guernsey, Member for Surrey; Sir Thomas Hanmer, Member for Suffolk; General Ross, Member for the Shire of Ross; Sir Robert Raymond, (fn. 21) Member for Ludlow; Mr Hungerford, (fn. 22) Member for Scarborough; Mr Ward, (fn. 23) Member for Thetford; Mr Walter Chetwynd, (fn. 24) Member for Stafford; Mr Lechmere, (aa) Member for Cockermouth.
Mr Lyddal, who open'd the Debate, spoke as follows:
Mr Lyddal's Speech for the Bill.
'You have now under your Consideration a Matter of as great Weight and Importance, as, I believe, ever came before any Parliament; for where the Rights and Liberties of the Subject appear to be concern'd, then certainly it is fit to proceed with the utmost Caution and Regard. The Triennial Act was, no doubt, originally intended as a Barrier and Defence of those Rights and Liberties, against any oppressive or arbitrary Invasions of the Crown: And tho' we are so happy as to have a good Prince now upon the Throne, who is likely to be succeeded by one equally so, yet such great Blessings were never entail'd upon a People. No Body can be more for supporting the just Prerogative, than I am, because I always take it to be a Power of doing Good: And therefore, if upon the strictest Examination I could find, that what is at present propos'd, would throw the Ballance of Power too much on the Side of the Crown, I should then think it not only hurtful and dangerous to the Publick, but fatal and destructive to the Constitution. In order to enter farther into this Subject, it is proper to look back from whence a Bill of this Kind first took its Rise: In the Year 1640 a Bill for Triennial Parliaments, or that which was very like it, was pass'd; but with a Clause in it, of a hard and compulsory Nature, derogatory to the Crown, and, indeed, unreasonable in itself, with many other disagreeable Circumstances. It is well known what was the Consequence of those unhappy Differences, between the King and his People. After the Restoration, in the 16th of King Charles II. this Act, which immediately preceded a long and bloody Civil War, was repeal'd by another Act, the Preamble of which is very remarkable: And thus Things remain'd 'till some Time after the Revolution, when King William was prevail'd upon to pass this now, I hope, dying Law. I am sure nothing could prevail with me either to enlarge or alter this Act, were I not convinc'd by comparing the Arguments on both Sides, that the not doing of it is liable to more Inconvenience and Danger. If you do it, you effectually strengthen the Hands of the King; settle and maintain the Protestant Succession, by destroying the vain Hopes of all its Enemies, both at Home and Abroad. You encourage your Allies to join with you, nay, and to depend that what shall hereafter be stipulated and agreed upon, will be punctually perform'd. This Experiment may, perhaps, at first disquiet the Minds of the People; especially when they are exasperated by all the Endeavours of Men averse and disaffected to the Government. However, a little Time will shew, that it will entirely break our Parties and Divisions, and by that Means lay a firm and solid Foundation for the future Tranquility and Happiness of this Kingdom. Besides, if this Opportunity be lost, you may possibly never have another, at least so good a one, not only to conquer, but even to eradicate that Spirit of Jacobitism, which has long dwelt among us, and has more than once brought this Nation to the very Brink of Ruin and Destruction. Since therefore, with much Danger and Difficulty, we have at last secur'd our Religion, Laws, and Liberties, when all was at Stake, from the Treachery of the late Ministry, the unaccountable Proceedings of the last Triennial Parliament, why should you run the Risk of having a new one so soon, first chosen by French Money, and then voting by French Directions? Since the King and his Parliament exert their united Power for the Good of the Publick, and to retrieve the Honour of the Nation, why should they not continue longer together, that they may finish what they have so unanimously and so happily begun?
Upon the whole, Sir, the Electors and People of all the Boroughs in England having been, for several Years past, both brib'd and preach'd into the Pretender's Interest, and a Dislike of the Protestant Succession, it becomes rather Necessity than Choice to apply an extraordinary Remedy to an extraordinary Disease: Therefore I shall give you no farther Trouble, but make you a very short Motion, which is, That this Bill be committed.
Mr. Shippen spoke against the Bill as follows:
Mr Shippen's Speech against the Bill.
'I know my Duty to this House, and the Consequence of any unguarded Expressions better than to say, that by any Bills we have already pass'd, we have made so wide a Gap in the Constitution, that the Force of the Law is in a Manner destroy'd; or that, by any Thing we have done, we have pav'd the Way to a despotick and military Government, the greatest Calamity that can besal a freeborn People. Such Reflections may come from Persons without Doors, who, tho' they may with Justice complain when their Liberties are invaded, yet cannot always enter into the Depth and Wisdom of our Counsels, and are too apt to censure what they do not understand. No Member can regularly arraign any Bills the same Session they have obtain'd the Force and Sanction of Laws. But this Bill, tho' it hath already got through the most difficult Part of its Passage, and tho' it will in all Probability be the next Law that shall be made, is yet unpass'd, is yet before us for our Consideration, and we have a Right to treat it with Freedom: Freedom of Speech, I presume, will not only be allow'd, but is expected on this Occasion. I hope therefore, as the Business of this Day hath rais'd an universal Expectation throughout the Kingdom, so Gentlemen who are more able, (none is more willing than my self) will appear with Resolution and Spirit in this important Debate; in this, perhaps, our last Struggle for the Liberties of those we represent.
'I think, then, all the Arguments which have been us'd for this Bill, are grounded on mere Surmises and Imaginations only; are either trifling in themselves, or dangerous in their Consequence.
'One main Reason urg'd, both in the Preamble of the Bill, and in the Debates of the Gentlemen who are for it, is this:
'That the Disaffections of the People are so great, and the Enemies of the Government both at Home and Abroad so watchful, that new Elections will occasion new Riots, rekindle the Rebellion, and be destructive to the Peace and Security of the Government, which will all be prevented by continuing this good Parliament, and making the Time of its Dissolution uncertain.
'If this Argument be apply'd to the Ministry, I can only answer, that it is no Concern of ours, whether they have render'd themselves odious to the People, or not. They are more properly the Object of our Jealousy, than of our Care. They may be destroy'd, and the Government subsist. But if it be apply'd to his Majesty, as it must be to make it any Inducement to pass this Bill, I will venture to say, that none of those, who are call'd Enemies to the Government, and Abettors of the Rebellion, could have offer'd an Argument so injurious to his Majesty's Honour. For with what Face can any good Subject insinuate, that in the Infancy of his Reign he hath depriv'd himself of the Love and Affection of a People, who so lately receiv'd him with the utmost Expressions of Joy? What an unjust Idea must this give of his most mild and gracious Government? But the Affertion is the more injurious, because it is entirely groundless. For when these pretended Disaffections were at the highest, it appear'd how impotent they were, how far from being universal, by the easy and sudden Suppression of the Rebellion; and by Consequence how absolutely his Majesty reign'd in the Hearts of his Subjects. Now the Rebellion is suppress'd, if there should be any Remains of those who are ill dispos'd, the Fate of their Friends, whilst the Terror of it is fresh in their Minds, will restrain them from any future Attempt. Besides, the Hands of the Government are strengthen'd. The HabeasCorpus Act is not only now, but may be again suspended: You have a numerous standing Army distributed thro' the Kingdom, to controul and awe unruly Spirits. But suppose the Disaffections of the People to be as great, suppose the Faction, spoke of in the Preamble, to be as restless and designing, as is affirm'd; is this the Way to extinguish Animosities, to heal Divisions, and to reconcile Parties? No, Sir, it will rather create Discontents, where there are none already: It will rather give Occasion to those that are disaffected, to rail at your Proceedings; to say, that your Actions are such that you dare not venture on new Elections; and who knows what such Suggestions may produce? 'Tis possible when the three Years, for which you are now chosen, shall expire, they may insist, that they are unrepresented in Parliament; and this will be a better Handle, a more plausible Foundation, for the Faction to work upon, than they could have at the Time of a regular Election. Now, if the Continuance of this Parliament be intended only to calm Men's Minds, and that it is hop'd this Storm may by Degrees subside, Gentlemen will be pleas'd to consider, that we are but a little above a Year old, though we have done so many great and glorious Things, and that there will be no Necessity, as the Law stands, of a Dissolution this Year and half; and that no Body can imagine Discontents will last so long under so wise, so unerring, so pacifick an Administration, as we now enjoy.
'Another Reason insisted on, is, That as the Continuance of this Parliament may prevent Commotions at Home, so it may hinder any Invasion from Abroad, by encouraging our ancient Allies to enter into new Treaties with us, which they will not otherwise do.
'This is a Secret which, in my humble Opinion, ought not to have been revealed; this is an Argument highly improper to be urg'd in a British Parliament: For it supposes, that our Allies prescribe to our Counsels, and that they expect we should alter the present Frame of our Constitution, before they will favour us with their Friendships; which is a Thought not to be endured in this Place, where so many Millions have been raised for their Service, and must move the Indignation of every Englishman, especially if it comes from any State that first receiv'd its Being, and afterwards its Protection, from England. I hope never to see this Nation brought so low, that the Crown shall be directed, as was once attempted, when to remove or keep its Ministers, when to dissolve or continue its Parliaments. Sir, his Majesty, as King of Great Britain, is the Arbiter of Europe, and may dictate to other Nations. They will, for their own Sakes, court his Friendship; they have always found their Account in being Allies to the Crown he wears. The British Treasure, and the British Armies, have made them triumph over their Enemies, and establish the Balance they wanted. 'Tis farther said, that by this Bill you will restore the Prerogative to part of its Power, which is cramp'd by the Triennial Act. Now, if this Bill is to be understood to relate to Alliances, it weakens and not strengthens the Prerogative. For it is an Insinuation, that the People have something to do in making Treaties, which must ever be deny'd by the Friends of the Crown, where the sole undisputed Right is lodg'd by the Constitution of this Kingdom. Besides, if that was any Consideration here, this Argument is also a Reflection on the present Ministry, who are to have the Honour to advise his Majesty in any Alliances he shall think fit to make: For it hath an Appearance, as if they durst not look a new Parliament in the Face; or, as if by some Demerit or other, they should not continue in their Posts, without the Help of this Bill, long enough to assist in supporting those Alliances when made. 'Tis true, we have had of late a Sort of Triennial Ministers, as well as Parliaments. But we are to hope, that the present Set of Ministers, who so far surpass all their Predecessors in Wisdom and Virtue, will behave so well, as to deserve the Continuance of his Majesty's Favour, and the Kingdom's Approbation. Their Friends ought therefore rather to reject, than to inforce this Argument, as reflecting on them, and groundless in it self.
'There is another Reason, drawn from the great and continu'd Expences occasion'd by frequent Elections, which is so weak, that it scarce deserves to be taken Notice of. For every Gentleman is a Judge of his own Circumstances, whether he will or can be at the necessary Expences of an Election: Corrupt ones are not to be suppos'd, especially in this House, which, all the World knows, was chosen without the least Corruption, without the least Violence, without the least improper Influence whatsoever.
'As to what is said, That frequent Parliaments are the Cause of obstructing Justice, and hinder Candidates from being impartial in the Distribution of it; 'tis equally trifling with the Reason last mentioned; and, if any, is an Argument only for making Parliaments perpetual. For he who will be a great deal byass'd by his Hopes of securing his Seat in a Triennial Parliament, will, by the same Principle, be a little warp'd by his Expectation of sitting in a Septennial one; and he ought in neither Case to be a Member of this House; For nothing can effectually cure such a Disposition; it will never be able to resist greater Temptations, and CourtPreserments.
'These are the chief Arguments for passing this Bill; and I humbly conceive they now appear to be of no great Weight: But the Reasons for letting the Law stand as it does, are such as, in my Opinion, cannot receive an Answer.
'First, If there were not abundance of other Arguments against this Bill, the Manner of its coming hither, is a sufficient Objection to it. 'Tis sent from the Lords, and as it chiefly relates to our selves, I shall apprehend it inconsistent with our Honour to receive it. We ought to imitate the Spirit which our Predecessors ever shew'd in resisting all Attempts of this Kind, all Appearances of Innovation by the Lords. Our Predecessors were so very jealous of their Privileges, that they never fail'd to exert themselves, even on the smallest and most minute Occasions. Shall we then! shall this glorious House of Commons be so far from doing that, as humbly to take a new Model of our Constitution from them? Surely we shall not fit tame, and acquiesce meanly, when they think fit to strike at the Foundations of this House.
'But if any here could be inclinable to receive the Dictates of the Lords, or, to speak out, the Dictates of the Ministry, I humbly apprehend it is not in our Power to consent to this Bill. For I cannot conceive, by any Rule of Reason or Law, that we, who are only Representatives, can enlarge to our own Advantage the Authority delegated to us; or that, by Virtue of that Authority, we can destroy the Fundamental Rights of our Constituents. I know indeed, that the Notion of the radical Power of the People hath been extended to a Degree of Extravagance and Absurdity, which I would never be suppos'd to contend for. But it is selfevident, that this Power with Relation to the Part we bear in the Legislature, is absolutely, is solely in the Electors. You have no Legislative Capacity, but what you derive from them. You were chosen under the Triennial Act, and could only be chosen for three Years, unless they could convey more to others, than they had in themselves; unless they could give us a longer Term to represent them, than they could claim at the Time of their Choice to be represented. Our Trust therefore is a Triennial Trust; and if we endeavour to continue it beyond its legal Duration, from that Instant we cease to be the Trustees of the People, and are our own Electors; from that Instant we act by an assum'd Power, and erect a new Constitution. If we could dissolve or alter the Form of any one Part of the Legislature, why not of the whole? And that is a Doctrine I presume will not be advanced here; I am sure it will never be allow'd in any other Place. But I know it is a very unacceptable Way of Speaking, to dispute the Power of those to whom one speaks; and it may be thought a Presumption if I should affirm in this present Parliament, which hath given so many Proofs of its Omnipotence, that even the whole Legislature cannot do every Thing. I must however always be of Opinion, that tho' it is a receiv'd Maxim in civil Science, that the supream Legislature cannot be bound; yet an imply'd Exception must be understood, viz. that it is restrain'd from subverting the Foundations on which it stands; and that it ought not, on any Pretence whatsoever, to touch or alter those Laws, which are so far admitted into the Constitution, as to become essential Parts of it. I am also of Opinion, that we cannot pass this Bill, because it would be an Infraction of the Act of Union, which I hear almost every Day in this Place call'd an irrepealable and Fundamental Law. But since the Representatives of North Britain are satisfy'd in that Point, it would be highly impertinent in me to infist upon it.
'But if nothing stood in your Way, if it was never so much in your Power, I think you ought not to repeal the Triennial Act, except in the last Extremity, and in the most imminent Danger of the State. This Law was one of the Fruits of the Revolution: This Law restor'd the Freedom and Frequency of Parliaments, so far as was consistent with the Circumstances of that Reign, which was involv'd in a War, and had Occasion for constant and heavy Taxes: This Law was a Concession made to the People by King William, in the midst of his Difficulties; and I own the Policy of those Ministers, who shall advise his Majesty to give his Royal Assent to the repealing of it, is of too refin'd and delicate a Nature for my Understanding. For since his Majesty has been pleas'd to propose that Prince as a Pattern to himself, and is pursuing his Steps with so much Glory, it will be a Matter of Astonishment to those who are not in the Secret of Affairs, to see, that in the Reign of the one King every Thing should be done to enlarge the Liberties of the People, and to restrain his Successors from being capable of relapsing into the Errors and Abuses of former Princes; and that in the Reign of the other, there should be the least Appearance of doing any Thing which might but seem to stretch the Prerogative, to invade, and shock the Rights and Privileges of the Subject, when both shall be found to rule by the same Principles of Liberty, and by the same Maxims of Government.
'The Triennial Act is grounded on the ancient Usage and Constitution of Parliaments; as it is intended to oblige the Crown to call them frequently. For, that Parliaments were held frequently, half yearly, or annually at least, appears not only from the best Accounts we have of the first Institution of them, and by the two Acts of Edward III, but by the Writs of Summons still extant, and by several authentick Instruments and Records. However satisfactory it might be on any other Occasion, I am sensible that a Deduction of the History of ancient Parliaments, as they were successively call'd, would be very tedious and unentertaining in this Debate; and I will therefore only mention two Records. One is that famous Instrument of Edward I, concerning the Annuus Census, then claim'd by the Popes from the Crown of England; wherein he takes Notice, that some Arrears, incurr'd on that Head, had not been rais'd, as they ought to have been in Parliamento, quod circa Octavas Resurrectionis Dominicæ celebrari in Anglia consuevit: But he promises that he would recommend the Payment of the Money due, in alio Parliamento xostro, quod ad finem Sancti Michaelis proxime futuri intendimus; dante Domino, celebrare. The other Record is a Representation from the Parliament to Richard II, some Passages of which are these — Quod ex antiquo Statuto habent, & Consuetudine laudabili & approbata, cujus contrarietati dici non volebit. That the King is to call Dominos & Proceres Regni atque Communes semel in Anno ad Parliamentum suum, tanquam ad summam Curiam totius Regni. That if the King—a Parliamento suo se alienaverit sua sponte, non aliqua infirmitate aut aliqua alia de causa necessitatis, sed per immoderatam voluntatem proterve se subtraxerit per absentiam temporis Quadraginta Dierum, tanquam de vexatione Populi sui & gravibus expensis eorum non curans, ex tunc licitum omnibus & singulis eorum absque Domigenio Regis redire ad propria, & unicuique eorum in Patriam suam remeare.
'From the former of these Records, 'tis obvious to observe, that Edward the I, who was one of our best Princes, and so great a Preserver of the Laws of his Kingdom, that he is justly call'd by the Historians the English Justinian, chose, rather than to prolong the Sitting of his Parliament beyond their usual Time, to dissolve one, tho' it had not finish'd its necessary Business, and to summon another within the Space of a few Months.
'From the other 'tis very remarkable, that Richard II. who is said to be one of the worst Kings that ever sat on the Throne of England, by absenting himself from the Business of Parliaments, and by that Means continuing their Sessions beyond their proper and accustom'd Time, drew upon himself a sharp Remonstrance from both Houses, and was at last, for such Practices, amongst other Things, depos'd.
'Many Reigns after this, Henry VIII. accomplish'd what Richard II. only attempted, and he continu'd his last Parliament ad libitum without Reproof. But 'tis well known what exorbitant Powers they vested him with; and God forbid we should have any Resemblance of those Times; for that Parliament acted like Slaves, and that King acted like a Tyrant.
'But if the Triennial Law had not been grounded on the Reasons of Antiquity, and the original Usage of Parliaments, it was more than a reasonable Indulgence from the Throne to the People, who had struggled for a Revolution, on Account of the Abuses of Parliaments, and the Endeavours to render them insignificant. 'Tis true, that Prince once deny'd his Royal Assent to it: But afterwards he consider'd, that it could be no Diminution of his Prerogative, no Blemish to his Regal Power, to retrieve the Honour and Dignity of Parliaments, as they were his Support, as they were the essential Part of that Constitution he came to save; and this he found he could only do by the frequent Calling of them.
'Besides, this Law was not only a reasonable Indulgence to the People, as hath been said, in that it gave them frequent Opportunities of changing their Members, when they did not approve their Behaviour, and was of Advantage to the Publick, in making them act with more than ordinary Caution and Circumspection; but it prov'd of great Service to the Crown: For by frequent Parliaments the Crown could only know the immediate Sense of the Nation, which is absolutely necessary for a Prince to know on all Emergencies. However inconvenient this Law may now be thought to the Crown, and however opposite to some Projects and Schemes an active Ministry may have in View, I appeal to experienc'd Members whether they think, or can imagine, that the Crown could have got half the Money it hath been supply'd with since the Revolution, but by new and fresh Elections. Such grievous and perpetual Taxes would never have been endur'd from a stale and continu'd Parliament. There is no Injury or Dishonour therefore to the Crown, to be oblig'd, by a Law, to do what, in Justice to the Subject, and Convenience to itself, it ought to do without a Law.
'But if you had a Power to repeal this Law, and exercise that Power, the People would be in a much worse Condition, than if it had never been granted to them. They would be be bound up for ever in a Legislative Way, the only Way effectually and irrecoverably to lose their Liberties. They would by us, their Representatives, condemn short and frequent Parliaments, and establish long and pension'd ones, which is a new Doctrine, and such as was never before advanc'd by the Commons of Great Britain.
'Surely there must be some secret Cause, some Intent Reason for hurrying on this Bill in so precipitate a Manner. The true Reason, I believe, is not declar'd; and for my Part, I cannot but suspect, that the Ministry have something to do which they apprehend will not be acceptable to a new Parliament, and which will not stand the Test of the Nation. I say, it must be something they have to do; for I am confident they do not self ecndemn themselves, for what they have already done. They have no Remorse of Conscience for apprehending so many hundred Gentlemen, and confining them in Prison so many Months without Examination. For such Confinements were not only necessary to suppress the Rebellion, but we have been told were intended as a Favour and Kindness to the Persons who were so confin'd. It must therefore be some new Work they have upon their Hands; what that Work is, I will not presume to guess. But I will presume to say, what it cannot be. It cannot be a Design to abolish the Limitations of the Act of Settlement, with Relation to Foreigners; because that is no less than an open Violation of our new Magna Charta, and an entire Infraction of our original Contract, as the Government now stands.
'I fear I have quite wearied your Patience, but the Importance of the Subject will in some Measure excuse me, and I have but a very few Words now to add. I hope you will reject and not commit this Bill. For there is nothing more certain, than that it will be to your Dishonour and Disservice to pass it, if we may reason of what will be, by what hath been. Long Parliaments then will naturally grow either formidable or contemptible.
'We have an Instance of the one, in the long Parliament of King Charles First, which to its eternal Infamy overturn'd the best Constitution in the World, the Church and Monarchy of this Nation.
'We have a Proof of the other in the long Parliament of King Charles the Second. I ask Pardon if I am heard by any that were Members of it, but I only repeat what others have said. There was a famous Simile apply'd by (Julian) Johnson to that Parliament, which I the rather mention, because it was much applauded by the Patrons of Liberty, and Lovers of Parliaments; and because I know the Author is esteem'd above his Deserts by some Gentlemen, who are now debating for long Parliaments; 'tis this, 'That a standing Parliament will always stagnate, and be like a CountryPond, which is over-grown with Ducks-Meat.
'I make no Application; no Man will, or can, with any Colour of Truth or Reason, apply it to this Parliament. This Parliament is so far from being a stagnating Pool, that it might rather be compar'd to a rapid Stream, or an irresistible Torrent, which, if continu'd, will bear down all before it.
To this Speech of Mr. Shippen's, Mr. Hampden replied as follows.
Mr Hampden's Speech for the Bill.
'The House is now enter'd on the Exercise of a Power, which, of Right, and agreeable to the Constitution, belongs to them: I mean that Branch of Power which they, as a Part of the Legislature, have, of repealing Laws, or extending and limiting them, in such Manner as shall appear to them most conducing to the Service of their Country. As this Right of altering the Laws does undoubtedly belong to the Legislature, it ought to be us'd with the utmost Regard: since 'tis equally a Crime to enervate Laws that are found to be a Support to our Government, as to omit the abolishing or suspending such as have not answer'd their End when made, or, which is worse, as have prov'd detrimental.
'It is a commendable Zeal, when Gentlemen in their Debates express a Tenderness for the existing Constitution of their Country, and their Apprehensions of the least Innovation in the Frame of the Government; and I am not surpriz'd that it is objected, in so popular a Manner, that the Passing of this Bill for suspending the Law for the Election of Triennial Parliaments, is to sap the Foundation of our English Liberties.
'But if, upon an impartial Enquiry, it shall appear, that this Bill, which was made for the Benefit of the Nation, has, in no Respect, answer'd the Purposes for which it was calculated when made into a Law, I presume it may be allow'd, that the Danger in suspending it is more imaginary than real.
'And since it is as unjustisiable to be tenacious of a Matter that has no Argument to support it, as not to give Way to what Experience has demonstrated, if this Bill should, in its Consequences, be void of Proof of its answering the Ends for which it was made, I hope it will not be so great a Crime to suspend it, as it has, with Industry, been represented without Doors.
'A principal Argument for continuing the Triennial Bill is, that it is agreeable to the ancient Laws of this Nation, that there should be frequent Parliaments. I find by the Laws I have look'd over that Parliaments ought to be frequently held; but I find it no where laid down as a Fundamental Position of the Nature of this Constitution, that there should be frequent Elections. If Gentlemen will look to the Beginning of Parliaments, they will find, in the 4th, 5th, and 36th of Edward III, that, 'For Redress of divers Mischiefs and Grievances which daily happen, a Parliament shall be holden every Year or oftener, if need be.' Let it then be consider'd in what Manner those Parliaments were held: When a King met his Parliament, they us'd to sit ten or twenty Days, and then were prorogu'd or dissolv'd; and there were frequent Intermissions of Parliaments, none being call'd for several Years. By looking over the Journals, we find the Prorogations and Dissolutions of Parliaments.
'To come down to the Time of Henry VIII. few of his Parliaments sat more than twenty Days, though there was not a Parliament met every Year; and from the 7th to the 25th of Henry VIII, there are no Journals, and, consequently, we cannot tell in what Manner Parliaments were held. Afterwards there were several Parliaments, but not every Year, to the End of his Reign.
'A Parliament was call'd the first Year of Edward-VI, and in five Years sat but four Months. In Philip and Mary there were four Parliaments, but the Sessions extremely short. From the 2d to the 5th, and from the 7th to the 13th of Queen Elizabeth, no Parliament met, and from the 14th to the 25th of Queen Elizabeth, the Parliament sat only from the 8th of May to the 30th of June; and four Years after, from the 8th of February to the 8th of March following; and in eight Years after, never sat to do Business but were then dissolv'd. There were six other Parliaments call'd in Queen Elizabeth's Time; but never sat long, unless that in the 39th of her Reign, which sat four Months.
'The Parliament in the first of James I, sat about four Months, and in three Years after, sat about eight Days. That Parliament was not dissolv'd 'till the 9th of James, but sat twice or thrice only. There were three other Parliaments in his Reign, but they met very seldom.
'The Sessions in K. Charles I, were much shorter than of late Days, with very frequent Prorogations; and in the 16th of his Reign an Act was pass'd, For preventing Inconveniences by long Intermission of Parliaments; by which it was provided, that a Parliament should meet every three Years; which Law we find repealed in the 16th of Charles II, by reason that the Provisions in the former Law were look'd upon as a Derogation to his Majesty's just and undoubted Prerogative for calling and assembling Parliaments, and might be an Occasion of manifold Mischiefs, and might endanger the Peace of his People. The said Act is repeal'd, and a Provision made therein, that 'Because, by the ancient Laws of this Realm, in the Reign of Edward III, Parliaments are to be held very often; the Sitting and Holding of Parliaments shall not be intermitted above three Years.' In this King's Reign the long Parliament was held; and whatever Corruptions they were tainted with, they could never be accus'd of favouring the Cause of France, or attempting to enslave their own Country.
'In the Reign of K. James II, that unfortunate Prince, a Parliament was held in May 1685, and sat above two Months, and was, at several Times, prorogu'd to November 1687. Then the happy Revolution took Place; and in the Bill of Rights, 1. Guliel. & Mariæ, it is declar'd and enacted, That all the Rights and Liberties asserted and claim'd in the said Declaration, are the true, ancient, and undubitable Rights and Liberties of the People of this Kingdom, and ought to be firmly and strictly holden and observ'd.' And in the same Bill, among that long Catalogue of Grievances which precedes the said Declaration, there is not the least Mention made of Want of frequent Elections, but only that Parliaments ought to be free. In the sixth of King William, this now favour'd Bill for Triennial Parliaments was pass'd; and upon this Occasion I cannot help observing, that it is some Satisfaction, that the People abroad, who look upon the Reign of that Prince as a Usurpation, should be fond of any one Act that pass'd in that Time; and I hope from hence, they may in Time be more reconcil'd to the Protestant Succession, which is in Consequence of that Revolution.
'If Gentlemen will look over the Writs of Summons, and the Returns of those Writs, they will find no Mention how long any Parliament is to last; but the Return makes Mention of the Persons who are to serve in the Parliament that is to meet, and be held at such a Time at Westminster. It must be allow'd, that the Parliament is subject to the Triennial Act while it subsists; and therefore the Advantages or Inconveniences of that Law ought chiefly to be consider'd in the Matter now before us: And in Case an Act be found prejudicial, if such a Veneration is to be paid to a Law, as not to alter it, from any Conviction of its being insufficient, or attended with ill Consequences, I think the Legislature will become, in a Manner, useless. I take the principal Matter to be, to examine what Benefit has accru'd to the Nation by virtue of this Bill, and if the Inconveniences do not outweigh all the Advantages?
'It is pretended, that by the Triennial Elections, the People have an Opportunity of laying aside those Persons with whose Behaviour in Parliament they are dissatisfy'd, or such whom they apprehend to be under Court-Influences: I desire it may be consider'd, how very few Examples there are, of Persons, who having accepted Places, have not been re-elected. The Reason is very obvious: Because the People, who love Expences, judge that a Man who has a Place of Profit, is much more capable of making an Expence, than he that has none. But supposing any Gentleman so wickedly dispos'd, as to sacrifice his Opinion to the Lucre of a Place, does not such a Person, who has spent five or six hundred Pounds at his Election, and his Circumstances not very able to bear it, come more prepar'd for Court-Temptation, than if he had enjoy'd his Seat in Parliament, and been free from the Trouble and Expence of frequent Elections? I appeal to Gentlemen, if Expences are not increas'd? And if any Instance can be produc'd where they are abated, many more may be where they are increas'd; so that the End of the Bill, in this Respect, is no ways answer'd.
'It is said, that Expences being voluntary, it is the Fault only of those who make them; but when we observe the Contagion of Expences to be universally spread in the Kingdom at the Time of Elections, and a Dissolution of Manners occasion'd by such Expences, it is Time for the Legislature to interpose, and prevent the dangerous Consequences of such an Evil. Do Gentlemen consider the Distractions occasion'd by Election, and the Impossibility, considering the small Interval of Elections, to heal up those Wounds which the Animosities of Parties have occasion'd; so that 'tis little better than living in a continual State of Warfare. This is a no less fatal than undeniable Consequence of this Bill, which was calculated for the Ease of the Subject.
'Its said, the Reason of this Expedient, as it is call'd, is because the Majority of this Parliament are Whigs: And tho' 'tis allow'd that this Parliament has acted for the Service of his Majesty and the Nation, the Proceedings of the last Parliament are said to be as meritorious of the King's good Opinion, and the Nation's as what this Parliament has done.
'It is much insisted on, that the Tories gave the Civil List: That is true; But had they not given it, I believe the King would not long have been depriv'd of it. 'Tis said the King was receiv'd here with the universal Joy of his People: Why did that Satisfaction cease so soon? Has the King done any Thing to lose the Affection of so many of his People? or have his Ministers? If his Ministers, why has the Spirit of Patriotism been so much wanting in Gentlemen, as not to represent to the King, or in this House, the Crimes of those he employs in his Service? But if no real Handle for these Discontents has been given by King or Ministers, then those who pretended such a Zeal for the King and his Service, at his Arrival here, acted a hypocritical Part, and meant nothing less than what they now make Professions of. Let us consider the present Situation of the Minds of the People, how exasperated one Set of them are at the necessary Prosecutions of those, who so fatally concerted the Ruin of their Country; and to what Degree that restless Spirit influenc'd the People in the late Rebellion; and how industriously a false and mistaken Cause of the Church has been of late propagated in this Nation.
'From these and many other Circumstances of Affairs, and other Symptoms of the ill Temper of the Nation, I think the Disposition of the Peoples Minds far from being suitable to the Business of an Election, but rather for a Restoration of that Person, who the deluded People have been taught has alone a Right to the Crown, and is to come to free you from the Oppressions you now lie under.
'So much has been said concerning the Preparations which the Regent is making, by extorting vast Sums from the Subjects of France; and so much has been spoken concerning our Alliances, and the Necessity of applying our selves to find out effectual Methods for discharging the publick Debts, that after so long a Debate, I shall not trouble you with my Thoughts upon those Subjects.
'It must be allow'd, that the Nation has Obligation to those Patriots who fram'd this Law, with a View and Expectation it would prove a secure Provision for the Liberty and Ease of the Subject: But could those great and honest Men have foreseen into what a degenerate State this Nation would fall, they would have been convinc'd how insufficient and Cobweb a Remedy such a Bill must prove; and they would scarce have been content with leaving to Posterity a Legacy, which Experience has shewn to be destructive, instead of any real Advantage to them.
'I humbly apprehend, that when Laws do not answer their End, or prove prejudicial in their Consequences, 'tis the Duty of the Legislature to interpose; and that the Suspension of this Bill is so far from being a Violation of our Constitution, that it is the healing a Breach made in the Constitution by those who obtain'd this Law.
'The Reasons why I am now for the Bill are,
'To dispose the People to follow their Callings and to be industrious, by taking from them, for a Time, the Opportunity of distracting one another by Elections: To prevent such who have the Will, from the Power of giving any new Disturbance to the Government: To prevent another Rebellion, there being just as much Reason to expect one this Year, as there was the last: To check that evil Spirit in those who have sworn to the King, and rose in Arms against him, or abetted such who have: To discountenance that Spirit which lately did so far prevail in this Nation, as to approve of a most ignominious Conclusion of a successful War, by a ruinous Peace: To render fruitless any concerted Project of the Regent, or any other foreign Princes, to disturb this Nation at a Time when Elections, or the Approach of them, have rais'd a Ferment in the Minds of the People; and to procure to the Clergy an Interval from being Politicians, that they may be the better able to take Care of their Flocks, in the Manner the Scripture has prescrib'd.
'For these and many other Reasons, too long to enumerate at this Time, I am for the Commitment of this Bill.
Sir Richard Steele spoke next for the Bill as follows,
Sir Richard Steele's Speech for the Bill
'It is evident that new chosen annual Parliaments were never the Custom or Right of this Kingdom: It remains therefore only to consider, now that there is a Law, which makes Parliaments meet, as of Course, at such a stated Time, whether the Period of three Years answer'd the Purposes intended by it? The Preamble to the Triennial Act expresses, that it was introduc'd into the Constitution for the better 'Union and Agreement of the King and his People;' but it has had a quite contrary Effect; and Experience has verify'd what a great Man [meaning the late Earl of Sunderland] said of it, when it was enacted, 'That it had made a Triennial King, a Triennial Ministry, a Triennial Alliance.' We feel this in all Occurrences of State; and they who look upon us from abroad, behold the Struggle in which we are necessarily engag'd from Time to Time under this Law. Ever since it has been enacted the Nation has been in a Series of Contention: The first Year of a Triennial Parliament has been spent in vindictive Decisions and Animosities about the late Elections; the second Session has enter'd into Business, but rather with a Spirit of Contradiction to what the prevailing Set of Men in former Parliaments had brought to pass, than of a disinterested Zeal for the common Good: The third Session languish'd in the Pursuit of what little was intended to be done in the second; and the Approach of an ensuing Election terrify'd the Members into a servile Management, according as their respective Principals were dispos'd towards the Question before them in the House. Thus the State of England has been like that of a Vessel in Distress at Sea: 'The Pilot and Mariners have been wholly employ'd in keeping the Ship from sinking; the Art of Navigation was useless, and they never pretended to make Sail. It is objected, 'That the Alteration propos'd is a Breach of Trust:' The Trust, Sir, repos'd in us, is that of the publick Good; the King, Lords, and Commons, are the Parties who exercise this Trust; and when the King, Lords, and Commons exercise this Trust by the Measure of the common Good, they discharge themselves, as well in the altering and repealing as in the making or confirming Laws. The Period of Time, in this Case, is a subordinate Consideration; and those Gentlemen who are against the Alteration, speak in too pompous a Style, when they tell us, 'We are breaking into the Constitution.' It has been farther objected, 'that all this is only giving great Power to the Ministers, who may make an arbitrary Use of it:' The Ministers are indeed like other Men, from the Infirmity of human Nature liable to be made worse by Power and Authority; but this Act gives no Addition to that Authority it self; though it may possibly prolong the Exercise of it in them. They are nevertheless responsible for their Actions to a Parliament; and the Mode of enjoying their Offices is exactly the same. Now, when the Thing is thus, and that the Period of three Years is found, from infallible Experience it self, a Period that can afford us no Good, where shall we rest? The Ills that are to be done against single Persons or Communities are done by Surprize, and on a sudden; but good Things are slow in their Progress, and must wait Occasion. Destruction is done with a Blow; but Reformation is brought about by leisurely Advances. All the Mischiefs which can be wrought under the Septennial Act, can be perpetrated under the Triennial; but all the Good which may be compass'd under the Septential, cannot be hop'd for under the Triennial. We may fear that the Ministers may do us Harm, but that is no Reason why we should continue them under a Disability of doing us Good. For these Considerations, I am unreservedly for the Bill.'
Then Mr Snell spoke against the Bill.
Mr Snell's Speech against the Bill.
'We are told there is an absolute Necessity for the Bill which is now before you, and that those who oppose it, are no better than Friends to a Popish Pretender. But as I wish as well to his present Majesty's Person and Government, as the most zealous for his Service, I shall never resign my Opinion to Words only, and betray my Trust to serve the Purposes of a Ministry.
'I cannot but think this Bill, if it pass into a Law, will highly infringe the Liberties of the People; and as I can by no means assent to the Reasons that are offer'd to prove it necessary, so I shall heartily give my Negative to it.
'I don't wonder to hear a Necessity urg'd for altering the Constitution of our Parliaments, by those who have given up their own.
This last Expression, which was suppos'd to be owing to Mr Haldane's, a Scots Member, having declar'd for the Bill, was resented by Mr (fn. 25) Thomas Smith, Member for Glasgow, &c. who said, 'That Mr Snell would not be so bold as to speak those Words any where else.' He was seconded by Lord Coningsby; and the Dispute being like to grow warm, Mr Speaker interposed, and said, 'That all the Members having the Privilege of explaining themselves, Mr Snell ought to have the Liberty of so doing.' Hereupon Mr Snell said, 'That he meant no personal Reflection on that worthy Member, for that he spoke only of the Scots Nation in general.' To which Sir David Dalrymple replied, 'That Mr Snell's Explanation increased the Offence, instead of lessening it, and that he demanded Satisfaction.' — Some other Members also calling out, 'To the Bar, To the Bar,' Mr Snell excused himself, by begging Pardon for any unguarded Expressions that might have escap'd him: Upon which the Affair drop'd, and he went on as follows:
'The chief Arguments made Use of for the Bill, as it repeals the Triennial Act, and continues the present Parliament, are,
'To appease the groundless Annimosities of the People:
'To avoid Expences, which frequent Elections occasion, to the impoverishing of many Gentlemen's Families:
'To obviate tumultuous Riots and Assemblies, which might give a Handle to a second Rebellion: And, lastly,
'To further our Alliances abroad.
'How we can possibly expect to quiet the groundless Animosities of the People by this Bill, I must own, I am at a Loss to imagine, unless stripping them of their most valuable Privileges, which they and their Ancestors have for many Ages past exercis'd and enjoy'd, may be thought a proper Expedient to reconcile their Affections, and endear the present Administration to them.
'The Expences at Elections are merely voluntary, and if any one suffers by them he has none to blame but himself; and I scarce believe Gentlemen to be serious in this Particular; for let us look but a little backward, and trace this mischievous Evil, this growing Corruption, that needs such an extraordinary Remedy, to its Original, and we shall find it has its Rise from the same Place whence the Remedy propos'd had its Beginning; and that former ill Ministries, the better to forward their sinister Views, have, by sending their Agents through the Kingdom at an approaching Election, debauch'd the People with the publick Money; to that Pitch of Corruption we are now arriv'd. 'Tis otherwise impossible to give an Account how so many Gentlemen are chosen to serve in Parliament, in Counties and Places where they have no visible Estates or Interest; nay, some perhaps whose Names were never heard of in the County a Month before the Election.
'The Rebellion is happily now at an End, and the Government so much better secur'd against Riots and tumultuous Assemblies, by the wholsome Laws provided by the Wisdom of this Parliament, that little or no Danger can be reasonably apprehended from thence; especially, if we consider the Number of Forces prudently quarter'd throughout the Kingdom, sufficient to suppress the most daring Commotions that shall be attempted.
'The last Reason made Use of to prove the Necessity of this Bill, is, that it will enable the Government the better to treat and negotiate Foreign Alliances.
'But surely those who make Use of this as an Argument, are Strangers to the Constitution of England; for by the known and standing Law of the Land, the Right of making Peace and War, Treaties and Alliances, are undeniably the King's Prerogative; and the King may exercise that Right, as to him seems best, and most for the Good and Benefit of his People, without Application to Parliament, either to approve or confirm. But admitting that of late Years Parliaments have thought themselves intitled to interpose their Advice in Treaties and Alliances, though I deny it to be their Right, this is an Argument singly sufficient with me to support the Triennial Bill. For supposing a Ministry shall at any Time negotiate an Alliance prejudicial to the Interest of England, and by their Artifice impose upon a Parliament to approve and confirm it; is it not a peculiar Happiness, that such a Parliament will quickly have an End; and that the People have it in their own Power, by another, which must soon be call'd, to correct the Misdeeds of such a Ministry, and prevent the farther ill Consequences of such a Treaty to the Nation.
'But allowing the Arguments that are made Use of sufficient to prove the Necessity of repealing the Triennial Bill at present, I would beg Leave to consider, whether it be in our Power or no, to continue the present Parliament beyond the Time for which the People chose us?
'And as for my own Part, I freely declare it as my Opinion, though I shall always acquiesce in the Judgment of the Majority, that the Purport of this Bill, so far as it relates to the Continuance of this present Parliament, is not within the Compass of the Trust reposed in us by the People. And to satisfy Gentlemen that I am not singular in this Opinion, I would beg their Patience to read to them a Passage or two from Mr Lock's Treatise of Government.
'The Power of the Legislative, says be, being deriv'd from the People by a positive voluntary Grant and Institution, can be no other than what that positive Grant convey'd; which being only to make Laws, and not Legislators, the Legislative can have no Power of transferring their Authority of making Laws, and placing it in other Hands.
Again, he lays it down as a Rule, 'That when the Society has plac'd the Legislative in any Assembly of Men, to continue in them and their Successors, the Legislative can never revert to the People whilst that Government lasts; because, having provided a Legislature with Power to continue for ever, they have given up their Political Power to the Legislative and cannot resume it: But if they have set Limits to the Duration of their Legislative, and make this Supreme Power in any Person or Assembly only temporary; at the Determination of the Time set, it reverts to the Society, and the People have a Right to place it in new Hands.
'I beg Pardon for the Length of the Quotation; but as the Author, in his Life-time, was always esteem'd a Man of great Learning and Candour, and no ways suspected as disaffected to the Succession in the House of Hanover, I could not omit taking Notice of the Sentiments of so great a Man, so conducive to a right Understanding of the Point now in Question.
'And if these Positions are true, the Inferences are very obvious: The People of England have a Fundamental indisputable Right to appoint their Representatives in Parliament; and by a Law still in Being, for three Years and no longer, subject to the King's Power of Dissolution, have chosen us their Representatives, in Pursuance of that Law; and therefore, whenever that Triennial Term shall expire, have a Right to chuse new ones.
'It may be objected, That when the People have once constituted the Legislative, that the Legislature is thereby vested with the whole Power of their Electors: And it cannot be deny'd, but, generally speaking, it will hold true. And the People of England, having chosen us to represent them, we are thereby impower'd, not only to make Laws, but to alter or repeal any Law in Being, as we shall think fit, for their Benefit and Security; and they will undoubtedly be bound thereby. But then this is to be understood, where the Subject-Matter of the Laws we make is within Compass of the Trust which the People have or may at least be suppos'd to delegate to us; and it is an ill Way of Reasoning to assert, that we have a Power to do what we cannot do without Prejudice to those we represent.
'The Right of electing Representatives in Parliament, is inseparably inherent in the People of Great Britain, and can never be thought to be delegated to the Representatives, unless you'll make the Elected to be the Elector; and, at the same Time, suppose it the Will of the People, that their Representatives should have it in their Power to destroy those that made them, whenever a Ministry shall think it necessary to screen themselves from their just Resentments: This would be to destroy the Fence to all their Freedom; for if we have a Right to continue our selves one Year, one Month, or Day, beyond our Triennial Term, 'twill unavoidably follow, we have it in our Power to make our selves perpetual; and whatever Necessity we may be reduc'd to hereafter, Matters are not yet in that apparent bad Condition, to convince the People that there is a present Occasion for this dangerous Innovation in their Constitution.
'To say that the passing this Bill is not to grasp to our selves the Right of Election, but only to enlarge the Time for calling new Parliaments, is a manifest Fallacy; for whenever our three Years are expir'd, we can no longer be said to subsist by the Choice of the People, but by our own Appointment; and 'tis a Jest to tell me, I have a Right to that which another has a Right to take from me.
'Whoever will consider well the Frame and Nature of our Constitution, will find it calculated for every Circumstance needful for the Security of a free People. We are guarded, by our Representatives in Parliament, against any arbitrary Encroachments of the supreme executive Power; and by frequent and new Parliaments, against the Weakness, Folly, and Corruption of our Representatives: And tho' many Instances may be given of long Intermissions of Parliaments, yet that does by no means prove frequent and new Parliaments not to be Part of our Constitution; and 'tis obvious to every impartial Person, that without them our Constitution is defective. For these Reasons I cannot approve of this Bill: I think it an open Violation of the People's Liberties, or, to speak most mildly of it, a Breach of our Trust in that Part which will most sensibly affect them; and of that ill Tendency in its Consequence, that as nothing but the Security of the Ministry can make it at this Time needful, so nothing but a standing Force can make it lasting.
Mr Bromley spoke next against the Bill.
Mr Bromley's Speech against the Bill.
'I may venture to affirm, that the Bill now before you is of higher Concern to the Commons of Great Britain, than any that ever yet was before you: It takes away the People's Right of appointing their Representatives; it deprives them of their Share in the Legislature, and, in my Opinion, wounds the Constitution of Parliaments very deep.
'No Gentleman is ignorant, that the Frame of our Government is made up of the King, the Lords, and the Commons. These, with Respect to each other, have ever been esteem'd separate, altho', when put together, they make but one entire Government. The Duration of this Form of Government in England, longer than in our neighbouring Countries, is manifestly owing to the Care taken by those that went before us, in keeping these three Constituent Parts of the Political Body up to the Rules of their first Institution, by restraining Each to its proper Bounds, and in not suffering One to be over-born or swallow'd up by the other two: However these Three great Parts may in other Respects be consider'd, yet with Regard to the Legislative they must act in Conjunction. The Assent of Each to the Making of Laws is essentially necessary; but the Manner of giving this Assent is different in the People, from what it is in the King, and in the Lords. The People, by Reason of their Number, cannot be personally present at the passing of Laws; their Assent can no otherwise be signify'd, than by their Representatives. The Disadvantage the Commons are, in this Respect, under, is in some sort made up to them by the Care taken in the Framing of our Government, That they should be truly and fairly represented.
'That Elections shall be free, is often declared in our written Laws. 'Tis in Effect saying, That neither the Power of the Crown, nor the Power of the Lords, should interpose in them.
'The Resolution of this House, renew'd every Session, viz. 'That for a Lord to concern himself in the Election of Members to serve for the Commons in Parliament, is a high Infringement of the Liberties and Privileges of the Commons of Great Britain,' sufficiently shews the Jealousy the Commons ever had of the Lords intermeddling in the Elections of their Representatives.
'The Attempts made on the King's Part, towards influencing Elections, have been principally by Officers under the Nomination of the Crown. As this Mischief from Time to Time appear'd, Laws were introduc'd providing against it. The Statute 7 Hen. IV. c. 15. recites that Law to be made 'At the grievous Complaint of the Commons of the undue Elections for Parliament,' and directs, among other Things, 'That Sheriffs should proceed to Elections freely and indifferently, notwithstanding any Command to the contrary.' Many subsequent Laws were made for preserving to the People this Privilege, on which all other depend, of being faithfully represented in Parliament. No less than seven Acts were made in King William's Time for that Purpose: So greatly did the Endeavours of Officers to influence Elections at that Time abound. The Statute of 3. Will. and Mar. c. 1, takes Notice, 'That the Officers of the Excise, by Reason of the Greatness of the Duty, and the extraordinary Powers given to them, had frequently, by Threats or Promises, so far prevail'd on Electors, that they had been absolutely debarr'd of the Freedom of giving their Votes; which, according to the known Constitution of this Kingdom, every Person ought to have and enjoy.' It then enacts, 'That any such Officer who perswades or disswades any Elector from giving his Vote, shall forseit one hundred Pounds, and be incapable of executing any Office relating to the Excise.' Another Law of the like Nature was lately made in Relation to the Officers concern'd in collecting the Post-Office Duty. These Laws are now all to be laid asleep. Provisions made for protecting the People's Right of Election must become insignificant, if Elections themselves are no longer to be allow'd.
'The Care taken by the Founders of our Government to preserve this Right, did not stop here; it was not sufficient to that Purpose, that Elections should be free; it was likewise necessary that they should be frequent.
'The People's Right to frequent Elections was founded on substantial Reasons; for since they, who could act no otherwise than by Representatives, were capable of being mistaken in their Choice, and the Person chosen liable to be tempted over to a Dependence on the Crown, or on the Lords, and thereby receive an undue Influence, it became necessary that frequent Opportunities should be given to the Commons to correct their Choice, and thereby prevent the Danger which the Unfaithfulness of their Representatives might otherwise bring upon them.
'That the People had a Right to frequent Elections, is made unquestionable by the best of Evidence, Perpetual Usage.
'From the first Footsteps of Parliaments, down to the Time of K. Henry VIII, not only from Records, but from the printed Statutes, the Frequency of Elections does appear. The most repeated Instances, within that Period of Time, are of Parliaments determining within the Compass of a Year; no Instance where they continu'd longer than three.
'King Charles I, that unfortunate Prince, was put upon governing without Parliaments; but the Necessity of Affairs forcing him to change his Purpose, a Parliament was call'd in the 16th Year of his Reign, in which a Law of an extraordinary Nature was pass'd, viz. 'That in case the King did not call a Parliament within three Years after the Determination of the preceding Parliament, then the Lord Chancellor, &c. should issue Writs for that Purpose;' with many other extraordinary Provisions. That Parliament soon after perpetuated themselves, so far as it was capable of being done; and by an Act made the same Year, 'they were not to be dissolv'd but by Act of Parliament.' To the long Continuance of which Parliament were all the Calamities of the Civil War to be imputed.
'This Statute of the 16th of Charles I was repeal'd by the Statute of the 16th of Charles II. c. 1. But notwithstanding the fond Humour the Nation was then in, even by the same Act it was declar'd, 'That by the Laws of this Realm, Parliaments are to be held very often, and to the End there might be a frequent Calling, Assembling, and Holding Parliaments once in three Years at least, it was declar'd and enacted, 'That Parliaments should not be intermitted above three Years at the most.
'In King Charles II. Time another Turn of Policy was taken, which was to bring the House of Commons to the Bent of the Ministry, by the secret Application of Pensions to the Members. Such was the Modesty even of that Age, as not openly and avowedly to byass with Offices, those who ought at least to be the faithful Representatives of the People.
'For the effecting of this pernicious Purpose of corrupting the Commons, it was necessary that the Parliament should be prolong'd; which it was for eighteen Years: Assurance of which being privately given to many of the Members, and there being Time sufficient to gain upon others, not so far intrusted with the Secret, the Design was effected. And such was the Behaviour of that Parliament, that it acquir'd the infamous Name of the Pensioner-Parliament.
'The Attack thus made on the Constitution of Parliaments, by depriving the People of their Right of frequent Elections, gave Birth to the Jealousy the Nation entertain'd, of the Intention that Prince had of assuming to himself a despotick Power. How uneasy the later Part of his Reign became on that Account, is well known; and this Nation has felt the Effects of the Ferment and Divisions which then arose; and by the Artifice of ill-designing Ministers, have been ever since continu'd.
'The People being warn'd by the narrow Escape their Liberties met with from that Parliament, did, after much Struggle, obtain this Law of Triennial Parliaments, the only Remedy left for preserving their ancient Constitution.
'And now, after above an hundred Millions given by the People, in order to preserve their old Form of Government, here is a Bill sent us by the Lords, which, if it passes, must expose us again to the greatest of Dangers, which is that of a long Parliament.
'In the Time of that Pensioner-Parliament, which began in 1662, the Means of Temptation in the Ministers Hands, were not so great as they now are: The Civil List is well nigh double to what it then was: The Dependence on the Crown is greatly enlarg'd, by Reason of the Increase of Officers for managing the publick Revenue and Funds. What Influence these may have upon an exhausted Nation, under the Terror which forty thousand regular Troops carry with them, is easily foreseen.
'No Wonder the Lords, who are ever fond of Power, have sent us a Bill which admits of their having a Share in the Nomination of the House of Commons: But I can't guess what should induce them to expect our Concurrence. Surely they cannot think so meanly of us, that for the Sake of continuing our Seats here, we should give into what so greatly affects the Rights of those that sent us. Can we be thought so ungrateful, as to join in the Destruction of the Power that rais'd us? Can they think us so unfaithful, as to betray our Trust in this gross Manner, by renouncing our Relation to the People, and accepting from the Crown, and from themselves, a Renewal of our Right to sit here? Should they imagine us no longer to be influenc'd by the Rules of Justice and Morality; yet methinks they should allow us to have some Sense of Shame remaining, which must give us Pain when we return into our Countries, and look those in the Face whom we have so greatly injur'd.
'I would take Notice of a Matter that was mention'd in the Debate, viz. 'That supposing this Bill should undergo the Forms us'd in the passing of Bills, whether it would carry with it the Obligation of a Law? Of this I own my self much in Doubt.
'The Powers we are intrusted with, as Representatives of the People, appear in the Form of the Writ for summoning the Parliament. And in the Indentures annex'd to the Return, the Writ recites, 'Whereas we have thought fit to call a Parliament, touching divers urgent Affairs, concerning Us, the State, and Defence of our Kingdom of Great Britain,' It then requires, 'That the Sheriff do cause two to be elected Knights, &c. to act in, and consent to what shall be ordain'd by the Common Council of Great Britain, super negotiis antedictis.'
'The Indenture annex'd to the Return, answers the Writ, viz. 'That they have elected such and such to attend according to the Tenor of the Writ, and given them full Power to act in, and consent to, all Things in the said Parliament, which shall be by Common Council and Consent ordain'd, touching the State and Defence of his Majesty's Kingdom of Great Britain.' The Question then is, Whether the Authority thus given us to act, touching the Defence of the Government, does enable us to lay aside one of the three great Estates, the People, by denying them their Right of acting by their Representatives in Parliament, and consequently their Share in the Legislature? Does the Power put into our Hands by the People, justify our turning the Dagger into the Bowels of the Constitution? This Doubt is inereas'd by the Notion that prevail'd touching the Invalidity of the Statute of the 16th Car. I. c. 7. whereby that Parliament was not to be dissolv'd but by an Act of Parliament. No Act of Parliament was ever made for that Purpose; which would certainly have been done, had the subsequent Parliament thought that a Law made in Diminution of the People's Interest in the Legislature had been valid, [It is to be observ'd, that by an Act of the Convention that met in April 1660, the Long Parliament that met in 1640 was declar'd to be dissolv'd: But that Act was not confirm'd by Parliament, as most of the other Acts of that Convention were by the Statute of the 13th Car. II. c. 7.]
'I should be very willing to hear answer'd what a worthy Member who just now spoke for committing the Bill, and own'd his Sentiments alter'd touching the Triennial Act, has told the World in an excellent Treatise of his, [Meaning Mr Molesworth, in his Preface to his Account of Denmark] 'That no People can give away the Freedom of themselves and their Posterity: That such a Donation ought to be esteem'd of no greater Validity than the Gift of a Child, or of a Mad-man: That People can no more part with their legal Liberties, than Kings can alienate their Crowns.
'Every Body is sensible that the publick Occasions will require large Supplies; and should so much as a Doubt arise in Men's Minds touching the Legality of the Taxes, it will tend to increase the general Dissatisfaction, so often mention'd in this Debate, and subject us to Hazard there is no Occasion to run, did we content our selves with proceeding in the common Methods, which the Usage of many Ages does justify. For these Reasons I am against committing the Bill.
After Mr Bromley, Sir Robert Raymond spoke likewise against the Bill as follows.
Sir Robert Raymond's Speech against the Bill.
'I am very sensible under what Disadvantage I must speak after so long a Debate: I will therefore endeavour to contract what occurs to me on this Subject, and to avoid repeating what has been said before by other Gentlemen. And in what I have to offer, I shall observe this Method; I will first consider the Arguments that have been us'd for this Bill, and then give my Reasons why I am against it.
'The Arguments for the Bill are, I think, chiefly these:
'The Expences in Elections.
'The Animosities and Divisions made and continu'd by Triennial Elections.
'The Advantages our Enemies may take of these Animosities and Divisions: And
'The Encouragement, I think no Gentleman has spoke plainer, that this Bill will give to our Allies to treat with us, and to enter into proper Alliances, for our mutual Benefit and Advantage.
'As to the Expences in Elections, it must be acknowledg'd that they are grown very scandalous, as well as grievous and burthensome to the Gentlemen of England. They have increas'd upon them, not from the Contests of neighbouring Gentlemen with one another, but from Strangers, by what Influence or Direction I cannot tell, coming to their Boroughs, who have no natural Interest to recommend them, nothing but Bribery and Corruption, which has put Gentlemen under the Necessity of great Expences to preserve their Interests, and serve their Country. And you must give me leave to add, that another Cause has been, the Impunity that Bribery and Corruption have met with in this House, when they have been very notorious, and very fully detected. But, I fear, this Bill can be no Cure to that Evil, it will rather increase it; for as the Term of the Continuance of a Parliament is prolong'd, so the Expences will increase with it. An Annuity for seven Years deserves a better Consideration, than for three; and those that will give Money to get into Parliament, will give more for seven than for three Years. Nothing will so effectually prevent Expences, as Annual Parliaments: That was our ancient Constitution, and every Departing from it, is usually attended with great Inconveniences.
'As for our Animosities and Divisions, I am sorry there are any, but cannot believe this Bill will be a Remedy for them. The Animosities and Divisions rais'd by Elections are of a private Nature, and little affect the Publick; those that do, are otherwise to be accounted for, which might have been extinguish'd; but the Opportunities have been neglected, and I wish some Persons have not study'd rather to continue and increase them, than to extinguish them. I will speak plainly on this Occasion. I think the greatest Animosities and Divisions, the greatest Discontents and Uneasinesses now among us, have been owing to the unreasonable Resentments, Avarice, and Ambition of some, and to the unaccountable Folly and Madness of others.
'That our Enemies will take Advantage of our Divisions, is not to be doubted, if it is in their Power; but I must observe, that since the Triennial Act pass'd, there have been ten several Parliaments call'd, most of them when you were actually in War, your Animosities and Divisions great, and your Enemies vigilant; yet no Inconveniences follow'd, nor were any, as I have heard of, so much as attempted at the Times of those Elections.
'The last of the Arguments I have recited, is the Encouragement this will give to your Allies to enter into Treaties with you. No one says they want this Encouragement; no one says they ask it; so that I may conclude this is only a Pretence. I should be sorry we had such Allies as would not treat with his Majesty without our giving up our Constitution. Should the like be ask'd of them, they would certainly entertain such a Proposition with the Contempt and Indignation it deserv'd. But what you are now going to do, instead of strengthening the King's Hands, will, I am perswaded, lessen him in the Opinion of his Allies; for this is proclaiming to the World, that he dares not call a new Parliament; that he dares not trust the People in a new Choice. Besides, not daring to call a new Parliament, carries along with it a Supposition to the Dishonour of this House; for it supposes that another House of Commons would act differently from the present; which is to confess that this House does not truly represent the People; that they and their Representatives are of different Minds; and that if they were to chuse again, they would chuse Men of other Principles, of other Sentiments.
'I will not trouble you farther with Answers to the Arguments for this Bill; those against it, that weigh most with me, are these: That frequent new Parliaments are our Constitution; that a long Parliament is plainly destructive of the Subject's just Right, and many Ways inconsistent with the Good of the Nation. Is it reasonable any particular Men should for a long Time engross so great a Trust, exclusive of others; Can it be of Advantage to the Publick, that the Counties, Cities, and Boroughs, should be long confin'd to those they have once chosen, their Interests admitting of great Variation in Length of Time?
'Frequent new Parliaments are our Constitution, and the Calling and Holding of them was for many Ages the Practice. Before the Conquest, Parliaments were held three Times every Year, at Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide. In Edward the III, Time it was enacted, 'That Parliaments should be holden every Year once, or oftner if need be.' This must be understood of new Parliaments, for Prorogations and long Adjournments were not then known; they were never heard of 'till later Years. They began in Henry the VIII, Time, that Prince and his Ministers knowing long Parliaments were best fitted to make great Changes. They were therefore Inventions when extraordinary Things were to be done, when what was then the Church was to be alter'd, and the Church-Lands to be taken away. There is nothing of this Sort now, I hope, intended. From that Time our Histories tell us, that when ever the same Parliaments were long continued, or the Meetings of Parliaments long discontinued, they gave great Uneasiness. In the unfortunate Reign of King Charles I, there had been an Intermission of Parliaments twelve Years, which produc'd an Act in the sixteenth Year of that King, For the preventing the Inconveniences happening by long Intermission of Parliaments. That Act, in the Preamble, recites the Law made in the Reign of Edward the III, 'That Parliaments ought to be held every Year once; but that the Appointment of Time and Place belong'd to his Majesty and his Royal Progenitors: And that it had been found by Experience, great Inconveniences and Mischiefs had happen'd to the King, and to the Commonwealth, by not holding Parliaments accordingly.' And for the Prevention of the like for the future, it enacts, 'That the said Laws shall be strictly observ'd; and that in case there be an Intermission of the sitting of Parliament for three Years together, if there is a Parliament in being, that Parliament shall be dissolv'd,' and very extravagant Powers were given for the Calling and Assembling of another; 'And every such Parliament was not to be dissolv'd of fifty Days, without their own Consent.' This extraordinary Step was soon follow'd, by an Act intituled That the Parliament should not be dissolv'd, prorogu'd, or adjourn'd, but by Act of Parliament; nor the Houses of Parliament adjourn'd but by themselves respectively. I need not be particular in recounting the Consequences of this Act of Parliament; for every one knows, that Set of Men, when they had thus continued themselves, never stopp'd 'till they had murder'd the best of Princes, and entirely subverted our Constitution both in Church and State.
'Soon after the Restoration of King Charles II, the Act for the preventing the Inconveniences happening by the long Intermission of Parliaments was repeal'd, because derogatory to the Prerogative, and because it might be an Occasion of many Mischiefs and Inconveniences, and endanger the publick Peace and Safety; but at the same Time it is declar'd and enacted, 'That because, by the ancient Laws and Statutes, Parliaments are to be held very often, the sitting and holding of Parliaments shall not be intermitted above three Years at the most.' This Law not having been so well observ'd, as it ought to have been at the Revolution in the Convention-Parliament, when it was thought necessary to declare the Rights and Liberties of the Subject, after many Breaches had been made upon them, it was, among other Things, declar'd, 'That Parliaments ought to be held frequently.' And what follows in that Act is very strong, for it declares and enacts, 'That all and singular the Rights and Liberties asserted and claim'd in the said Declaration, are the indubitable Rights and Liberties of the People of this Kingdom, and so shall be esteem'd, allow'd, adjudg'd, and taken to be; and all the Particulars thereof shall be firmly and strictly holden and observ'd, as they are express'd in the said Declaration.' The Right claim'd and asserted, is, 'That Parliaments ought to be held frequently; And soon after a new Parliament was call'd, which sate annually: But this was not look'd upon to be a complying with the Right claim'd, and therefore, after that Parliament had sat three Times, in the fourth Session it was thought necessary to come to a farther Explication, and a Bill pass'd both Houses, but was rejected by the Throne, For the frequent Meeting and Calling of Parliaments. Others were attempted in the next Session, and it is well known how they came to miscarry in this House; but in the succeeding Session, a Bill pass'd both Houses, and had the Royal Assent. That is the Act this Bill is to alter: But before it is alter'd, I hope it will be shewn, that what is asserted in the Preamble, is mistaken, and has prov'd otherwise. In the Preamble two Things are asserted, 'That by the ancient Laws and Statutes of the Kingdom, frequent Parliaments ought to be held; and that frequent new Parliaments tend very much to the happy Union and good Agreement of the King and his People. The first Proposition is incontestable; and the latter, I think, will not be deny'd; for frequent and new Parliaments create a Confidence between the King and his People, a very necessary Step towards an Union and good Agreement. If the King would be acquainted with his People, and have more the Hearts of them, this is the surest Way; and I am perswaded this House will never consent to any Thing that may prevent the one, and intercept the other.
'I cannot entertain so unworthy a Thought of this House, that any Gentleman in it would at this Time, in direct Terms, be for perpetuating themselves; yet if they consent to this Bill, I shall reckon they are doing it; for tho' it only prolongs this Parliament for seven Years, I cannot doubt but hereafter there will be another for continuing it longer; because, before the End of this Term, the Reasons will probably be stronger for it, than they are now. Neither can I imagine that Gentlemen are afraid to trust the Peoples Choice again: Do they think that the great and memorable Things this Parliament has done for the Service and Benefit of their Country, will make them less acceptable to the People? No one will say so; and then I see no Reason why they should be for making this Alteration in our Laws and Constitution, which will certainly have a very ill Effect upon the Minds of the People: For they will be ready to say, and with Reason, that after the Expiration of the three Years, you are no longer their Representatives, because they chose you to serve them no longer. With great Submission I speak it, in my poor Opinion, King, Lords, and Commons, can no more continue a Parliament beyond its natural Duration, than they can make a Parliament. I know at extraordinary Junctures, Conventions have been turn'd into Parliaments; but it has been thought adviseable soon to determine them, and to pass Acts in the subsequent legal Parliaments, to confirm what they have done. And I make no doubt, but if this Bill passes into a Law, and this Parliament is continued more than three Years, there will be an Act in the succeeding Parliament to confirm whatever shall be done after the three Years. There is an Instance in your Statute-Book, where all the Acts of a Parliament were declar'd void, and repeal'd, because the Parliament was unlawfully summon'd, and the Members not duly chosen.
'I need not urge farther, that the wisest Governments that have preserved a Face of Liberty, have never continu'd those long, with whom they have intrusted the supreme Power.
'That by this Bill, you have all the Mischief of a long Parliament, without any of the Good of a short one.
'That a standing Parliament and a standing Army are convertible, and only necessary to support one another.
'And that there can be no Occasion for this Bill at this Time, because this Parliament may have two more Sessions, if the King pleases.
'But as I have already taken up so much of your Time, I shall only add, that for the Reasons I have given, I am against committing this Bill.
These were the chief Arguments that were urg'd on either Side, for and against the Bill; and upon the whole Matter it was resolv'd, by a Majority of 284 against 162, that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.
Petitions presented against repealing the Triennial Act.; Debate concerning a Clause for preventing Pensioners from sitting in Parliament.
April 25. Two Petitions against the said Bill, one of the Borough of Horsham, the other of Westbury, were presented to the House and read: The last of them was order'd to lie on the Table; but the House taking Offence at an Expression in that from Horsham, viz. 'That they look'd upon it as an Overturning of the Constitution, and as an Infringement of their Liberties,' rejected their Petition. After this Mr Lechmere moved, and the Question was proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee of the whole House, to whom the said Bill was committed, that they have Leave to receive a Clause, to disable Persons from being chose Members of either Houses of Parliament, who have Pensions during Pleasure, or any Number of Years: But General Stanhope having represented, that such a Clause would but clog the Bill, and endanger its Miscarriage, Part of it being derogatory to the Privileges of the House of Lords; and that if any Jealousy were entertain'd of the Members of the House of Commons having Pensions from the Crown, a Bill might be brought in to exclude them; the previous Question being put, that the Question be now put, it passed in the Negative. Then the House, in a Grand Committee, of which Mr Hampden was Chairman, went thro' the Bill, and directed it to be reported without any Amendment; which being done, the House order'd it to be read the third Time the next Day. After this General Stanhope moved, and it was order'd accordingly, That Leave be given to bring in a Bill to disable any Person from being chose a Member of, or sitting and voting in, the House of Commons who has any Pension during Pleasure, or for any Number of Years, from the Crown; and that General Stanhope, Mr Craggs, and Mr Boscawen, do prepare and bring in the same.
More Petitions against repealling the Triennial Act.; Debate on the third Reading of the Septennial Bill.
April 26. Two Petitions against the said Bill, one of the Borough of Caerdiffe, the other of Petersfield, being presented to the House, and read, were order'd to lie upon the Table. After which, the Bill was read a third Time, and upon. Mr Hampden's Motion, the Question was put, That the Bill do pass, which occasion'd a Debate that lasted about two Hours. Those who spoke against the Bill, were Mr Freeman, Mr Hungerford, Mr Wykes, and Lord Finch, who were severally answer'd by Sir Richard Steele, Mr Boscawen, Sir William Thompson, Mr Erle, Mr Tufnell, and Sir John Brownlow.
Mr Freeman and Mr Hungerford having, among other Things, insisted, That no satisfactory Answer had yet been made, either as to the Trust repos'd in the Commons by their Principals, or as to the repealing the Triennial Act Now, Mr Tufnell, Member for Malden, made thereupon the following Speech.
Mr Tufnell's Speech for the Bill.
'I think the only Question before us is, Whether the Triennial Act, as it now stands, or as it is propos'd to be alter'd by this Bill, is likely to conduce most to the Benefit of the Publick? However, since in this Debate there has been a good deal said of the Constitution of Parliaments, I must beg Leave to mention a Word or two on that Subject.
'That Parliaments were anciently to be held annually, appears by two Acts made, the one in the 4th, the other in the 36th of Edward III, But tho' they were to be held annually, or oftner if Occasion should be, in order to remedy the Grievances of the People, yet I can't find that there ever was any Time limited for Elections: But as the Crown had always the Power of dissolving, so likewise of calling a Parliament whenever they thought fit. There was indeed a Triennial Act made in the 16th of Charles I, To prevent the Inconveniences which may arise by the long Intermission of Parliaments; and therefore it provided, 'That 'there should be a Session once in three Years;' but by no Means limited any Time for the Duration of Parliaments. This Act was repeal'd in the 16th of Charles II, because there were some Provisions made in it, which were look'd upon as a Derogation to the Rights of the Crown. I believe I may venture to say, the first Restriction which ever the Crown lay under, as to the Continuance of Parliaments, was in the 6th of William and Mary. Then sprang up the Triennial Law, which is the Subject of our present Debate; and which, however well design'd, was certainly an Innovation, 'till then unheard of. So that what is now offer'd in this Bill, is only, in some Measure, to reinstate the Crown in that Power which it had always enjoy'd. And I can't but be surpriz'd, that those Gentlemen who have hitherto boasted themselves to be the zealous Assertors of the Prerogative of the Crown, should of a sudden be so fond of a Law which undoubtedly is a very great Diminution of it. I hope I shall not be misunderstood, as if this were the only Reason which induces me to approve of the present Bill; No, though I shall always have a due Regard to the Prerogative, yet if I could imagine that this Bill would prove the least Detriment to the Publick, the least Infringement of the Liberties of my Fellow-Subjects, my Vote should never flatter any Crown, so far, as to revive such a Prerogative.
'The Design of this Bill is only to enlarge the Time for the Continuance of Parliaments, by making them Septennial instead of Triennial. Of the Law, as it now stands, we have already had the Experience about two and twenty Years; and what Advantage have we gain'd? Has it ever answer'd one single End for which it was intended ? On the contrary, has it not produc'd the most mischievous Effects ? What endless Divisions has it created among Neighbours, Friends, nay, the nearest Relations? How has it ruin'd Gentlemen's Estates, Made them not only Beggars, but Slaves to the very meanest of the People ? What a Scene of Corruption has it every where introduced ? How has it debauch'd the Morals of the Nation ? Even the Administration of Provincial Justice, which has always been esteem'd the Glory of our Constitution, has been infected: And I wish the Infection may have reach'd no farther. These are some of the fatal Consequences we have already experienced by this Triennial Law; and those alone, in my humble Opinion, would be sufficient Reasons for the Alteration of it. However, let us consider the present Circumstances of our Affairs. In order to it, let us a little look back to the Original of our Misfortunes: And are they not owing to that unreasonable Cry of the Danger of the Church, under the specious Pretence of supporting the Church of England, though manifestly in Favour of that of Rome? That unhappy Delusion, which has been so industriously, so maliciously spread, and so fatally indulg'd ! Let us consider that unnatural, unprovok'd Rebellion, which has so lately rag'd among us; and that sullen groundless Spirit of Discontent which still lies murmuring in so many traiterous Breasts. And notwithstanding that Indifference, nay Contempt, with which I hear the Argument of our Alliances treated by some Gentlemen, I must own I cannot but think there ought to be a good deal of Stress laid upon it: For how can we imagine, that any Foreign Powers will readily enter into any Treaties with us, for our Advantage, without some Security that they shall be made effectual, as long as our Government is subject to such a Fluctuation, and as it were Triennial ? Especially if it be consider'd in how shameful and how infamous a Manner the Grand Alliance was broken; the Faith of Treaties violated; the Credit of this Nation sunk; its Interests betray'd; our ancient and best Allies abandon'd, and ill treated; new ones sought for, and caress'd, with no other Design, but to make us a more easy Prey to the Pretender ? Nay, have we not too just Ground to suspect that this Cause has all along been underhand supported by these very Allies, the old inveterate Enemies of our Constitution, who are always envious of our Prosperity, and only wait a fair Opportunity to give us fresh Disturbances ? And could their Vigilance, their artful Management, and their Treasure, join'd with the unwearied Endeavours of a restless Faction at Home, procure an Election in their Favour, what would be the Consequence, but to unloose the Doors of your Prisons, to set Traitors once more at the Head of your Affairs, to give them an Opportunity of re-acting their former unfinish'd Scenes of Treachery, to make you a tributary Province to France, and for ever compleat the Ruin of these Kingdoms ? To see the British Honour thus prostituted, the once Arbitress of Europe thus insulted; these Things, I say, ought to raise in every British Breast a just Resentment of the Injuries of his Country, After all, I am sensible there have been several Objections made against this Bill, which carry an Air of Popularity with them; yet which, upon Examination, must appear to be of no real Weight. I shall take Notice of but one or two of the most considerable, left I should trespass too far on your Indulgence. It is said, our Electors chose us their Representatives but for three Years, and that we can't prolong the Term without betraying that Trust which they have repos'd in us. In Answer to which I must desire Gentlemen to consider the Nature of the Writs of Summons, and the Returns to them: Is it not to consult de Rebus arduis Regni? and that they should have plenam & sufficientem Potestatem pro se et Communitate Comitatus prædicti, & prædictorum Civium & Burgorum, divisim ab ipsis, ad faciendum quod de communi Consilio ordinari contigerit in Præmissis: Ita quod pro defectu bujusmodi Potestatis Negotia prædicta infecta non remaneant? Nay, may not the same Objection be made against the repealing or altering any Law in Force at the Time of an Election, and consequently defeat the very End for which a Parliament is chosen ? And I should be glad to know what particular Authority they were inverted with, who made the Triennial Law, which was certainly a great Alteration of the Constitution ? There is another Thing which I find is very much insisted on, and that is, Supposing this Bill were reasonable, yet why now ? Because 'tis now there's the most Occasion for it. Are we not every Day threaten'd with new Insurrections, new Invasions ? And is it not the Prospect of Success at the next Election, however ill-grounded, which still keeps alive the Spirit of Jacobitism ?
'No Wonder then there are such Clamours rais'd without Doors against this Bill, by the Enemies to our Government, as well knowing that this must prove its best Security; that it must effectually defeat their Measures; that it must strike at the very Foundation of all their traiterous Designs; and for ever blast the Pretender's Hopes of rekindling the Flames of Rebellion. In short, I am so entirely convinced, not only of the Reasonableness, but of the absolute Necessity of this Bill, in order to put an End to our unhappy Divisions, to stop that raging Deluge of Corruption which is so universally spread throughout the whole Nation, to make the Crown sit easy on his Majesty's Head, and perpetuate the Protestant Succession in his Royal Family; and at the same Time, that it is no ways prejudicial to the Rights and Liberties of the Subjects of Great Britain; that how ill soever a Recommendation it may be to any future Election, if I can have but the Pleasure to see my Country secur'd, to see these Blessings fix'd upon a solid and lasting Foundation, and if I can have but the Honour to contribute the least Share towards so glorious a Work, my Ambition will be sufficiently rewarded, tho' I should, by this Day's Vote, for ever after be excluded a Place in this House.'
The Lord Guernsey having, in the Course of this Debate, asserted, 'That if a Man did not fall into all the Measures of the Ministry, and lap with them like the Men of Gideon, he was immediately Brow-beaten.' Mr Boscawen answer'd, 'That that honourable Member was of another Opinion not many Weeks before; so that what he now said must proceed either from Resentment or Disappointment.' Sir John Brownlow said, 'That for his own Part, he neither expected nor looked for a Place: That he would not have been for this Bill during the last Ministry, because he was sure they would have made an ill Use of it, but that he was for it Now, because he was satisfied the present Ministers would not abuse it.'
The Bill for repealing the Triennial Act passes the House.
Upon the whole Matter the Question being put, That the Bill do pass, it was carry'd in the Affirmative by 264 Votes against 121; and Mr Hampden was ordered to carry the Bill back to the Lords.
Bill sent from the Lords, relating to High Treason, thrown out by the Commons.
May 2. The Lords having sent down to the Commons a Bill, intitled, An Act for allowing of Counsel to all Persons who shall be proceeded against in Parliament for any Crimes of Treason, or Misprision of Treason; to which they desir'd the Concurrence of the Commons, the said Bill was read the first Time; and after some Debate, the Question being put, That it be read a second Time, it pass'd in the Negative.
By this Bill Counsel for Prisoners, in Cases of High Treason, were to be permitted to speak to Matters of Fact as well as Points of Law.
The Act, for restraining the King from going out of the Kingdom, repeal'd.
Nothing farther material happen'd in the House, during this Session; but perhaps it may not be improper to take Notice, that the King having resolv'd to visit his German Dominions; and by the Act of Settlement his Majesty being restrain'd from going out of the Kingdom, without Consent of Parliament, a Motion was made by Sir John Cope, and seconded by Mr Hampden, for bringing in a Bill to repeal that Clause of the said Act; which Bill was accordingly brought in Nem. Con. and past into a Law.
June 26. The King went to the House of Peers, and the Commons attending, his Majesty gave the Royal Assent to several publick and private Bills; after which the Lord Chancellor read the following Speech deliver'd into his Hands by his Majesty from the Throne.
My Lords and Gentlemen,
King's Speech at concluding the Session.
"I Cannot put an End to this Session, without expressing to you my Satisfaction in the Proceedings of this Parliament. The wholesome and necessary Laws which have been pass'd with so much Steadiness, Resolution, and Unanimity, will, I trust in God, answer those good Ends which, it is evident, you have had in View, by defeating the Designs and reducing the Spirit of our Enemies, by encouraging our Friends, and raising the Credit and Reputation of the Nation Abroad to such a Degree, as that I may reasonably expect the Fruits of a settled Government; especially being supported by a Parliament zealous for the Prosperity of their Country, and the Protestant Interest of Europe.
"I am confident my Conduct hitherto, in suppressing the Rebellion, and punishing those concern'd in it, has been such, as demonstrates that I desire rather to lessen their Numbers by reclaiming them, than by making Examples; but I am sorry to find that the numerous Instances of Mercy which I have shewn, have had no other Effect, than to encourage the Faction of the Pretender, to renew their Insults upon my Authority, and the Laws of the Kingdom, and even to affect, with the greatest Insolence, to distinguish themselves from my good and faithful Subjects, acting with such Folly and Madness, as if they intended to convince the World, that they are not to be reduc'd to Quiet and Submission to my Government, by such gentle Methods as are most agreeable to my own Inclinations.
Gentlemen of the House of Commons,
"I return you, in particular, my Thanks for the Supplies you have given; which, although they fall short of the Sums you found necessary, and have voted, for the Service of the whole Year; yet, by the Encouragement you have given to make them effectual, may, I hope, be so manag'd as to carry on the current Service 'till another Session of Parliament.
My Lords and Gentlemen,
"I am very sensible there are Matters of great Consequence still depending before you; but as they have hitherto been postpon'd, out of absolute Necessity, by intervening Affairs of a more pressing Nature and of the most immediate Concern to the Peace and Safety of the Nation, I thought the Season of the Year requir'd I should defer your farther Proceedings 'till the next Session, rather than you should be detain'd out of your respective Countries longer than could be consistent with your private Concerns.
"I cannot doubt but that, during this Recess, you will all use your best Endeavours to preserve the Peace of the Kingdom, and to discourage and suppress all Manner of Disorders, since, as the first Scene of the late Rebellion was open'd and usher'd in by Tumults and Riots, so you may be assur'd, upon what Pretence soever they are rais'd, they can have no other Tendency, but to support the Spirit of a Faction, restless and unweary'd in their Endeavours to renew the Rebellion, and to subvert the Religion, Laws, and Liberties of their Country.
"I design to make Use of the approaching Recess, to visit my Dominions in Germany, and to provide for the Peace and Security of the Kingdom, during my Absence, by constituting my beloved Son, the Prince of Wales, Guardian of the Realm, and my Lieutenant within the same.
The Parliament prorogued.
Then the Lord Chancellor, by his Majesty's Command, prorogued the Parliament to the 7th Day of August; after which they were farther prorogued to the 20th of February, 1716-17.