The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons: Volume 8, 1733-1734. Originally published by Chandler, London, 1742.
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March 13. Upon a Motion made by Mr. Gibbon, it was ordered, that the Serjeant at Arms attending the House should go with the Mace into the Court of Requests, and Places adjacent, and summon the Members there to attend the Service of the House, and he being returned, Mr. William Bromley, Member for Warwick, stood up, and spoke as follows:
Mr Bromley's Motion for repealing the Septennial Act.
'The Call of the House being adjourn'd to a very remote Day, upon a general Opinion, which I hope is well founded, that no Vote of Credit will be proposed, I believe we can scarce expect to see a fuller House than this Day produces. There cannot therefore be a better Opportunity of making a Motion which I apprehend to be of such a National Concernment, that I have long wish'd it undertaken by some Person better able to support it than myself: But I have this Satisfaction, that what I am going to offer will so far speak for itself, as may supply any Defects in my Manner of laying it before you; and I cannot doubt the Concurrence of this House, when it comes to be maturely considered.
'I believe we are none of us unappris'd of the Dislike the People in general have always had to long Parliaments; a Dislike justly founded on Reason and Experience; long Parliaments in former Reigns having proved the unhappy Cause of great Calamities to this Nation, and having been at all Times declared an Innovation upon our Constitution I am convinced there is no one that hears me, who does not believe the People thought themselves highly aggrieved by the Septennial Bill: That they even looked upon it as a dangerous Infringement of their Liberties, notwithstanding the Cause alledged in the Preamble to the Act, which seemed at that Time to carry some Weight with it.
'That Cause being happily removed, they desire to revert, as near as may be, to their ancient Constitution; and surely there can never be a more favourable Opportunity to effectuate it than at this Juncture, when his Majesty, to the great Joy of the Kingdom, has been graciously pleased to declare his Satisfaction, That the People are soon to have an Opportunity of chusing a new Representative. The present Parliament draws near its Dissolution: What can it do more for its own Honour? How can it crown its many meritorious Acts better, than by redressing a Grievance, which a succeeding Parliament may possibly have its Reasons for not entering into?
'Frequent Parliaments were early declared a fundamental Part of our Constitution. In the fourth of Edward III. an Act passed for holding them once a Year, or oftner if there should be Occasion. In the 36th Year of the same Reign that Statute was confirmed. In that Parliament Magna Charta and Charta de Foresta were confirm'd, and several new Privileges granted to the Subject. Then comes the Clause relating to Parliaments, which sufficiently shews, the Intention and original Institution of them was for the Redress of Grievances: For the Bill enacts, That for the Maintenance of the said Articles and Statutes, that is, the Privileges before-mentioned, and for Redress of divers Mischiefs and Grievances, which daily happen, a new Parliament shall be held once every Year, as at another Time was ordained. The 16th of Car. II. recites, That by the ancient Laws and Statutes, Parliaments are to be held very often, and therefore enacts, That the sitting and holding of Parliaments shall not be intermitted, or discontinued, for more than three Years.
'In the early Days when this prudent Care was taken for frequent Meeting of Parliaments, the Crown was possessed of Revenues, which made Applications to the People for Money, unless upon extraordinary Emergencies, unnecessary. It therefore plainly appears, That Redress of Grievances, making salutary Laws for the Good of the Community, and preserving the Liberties of the People, by supporting a due Balance between the Power of the Crown and the Rights of the Subject, were the main Ends of calling Parliaments. The Power of calling then being the undoubted Prerogative of the Crown, it became necessary, for the Safety of the Subject, to oblige the Crown to call them frequently. I must consess, a Caution of this Kind is no longer necessary, nor can it ever be, so long as we preserve to ourselves the Power of granting Money; the Crown Revenues being sunk, or wantonly granted away, the annual Call for a Supply must necessarily produce an annual Meeting of Parliament. But give me Leave to observe, the Grievance now complained of is of a very different Nature: It is not founded on Discontinuance of Parliaments; but on a too long and dangerous Continuance of one and the same Parliament: A Practice unheard of in former Times, when Prorogations were not known: For when a Parliament was annually called for the Redress of Grievances, as soon as the Business of the Session was over, it was dissolved, and a new one called the next Year for the same Purpose; by which Means the Country had a proper Check upon their Representatives, and those who had appear'd to be too much under the Influence of the Crown; those who were too much attached to the Minister, had less Opportunity of injuring their Country; the People had it more frequently in their Power to shew a proper Resentment, and remedy the Evil, by sending others the next Year in their Places.
'This Matter seems fully explained by 16 Car. II. which does not only prevent Discontinuance of Parliaments, but wisely provides against the too long Continuance of one and the same Parliament, by enacting it into a Law, that a new Parliament shall be called once in Three Years, or oftner if there be Occasion. The Bill of Rights in the second Session of William and Mary, among many other Privileges which we now enjoy, enacts, That for Redress of Grievances, amending, strengthening and preserving Laws, Parliaments ought to be frequently held; and the sixth of the same Reign, explains the true Meaning of the Clause, when it declares, That frequent and new Parliaments tend very much to the happy Union and good Agreement between the King and the People; it confirms the 16 Car. II. that Parliaments shall be held once in three Years at least, and adds, That no Parliament shall continue more than three Years at farthest. Between that and the first of the late King, several Parliaments were held, and none continued longer than three Years; some held for one Session; which seems to be the original Constitution, and best calculated for the good of the Nation. That Year the Septennial Bill past, the Repeal of which I am going to move, but believe it more agreeable to the Rules of the House, that the Act itself should be first read. [Here the Clerk read the Act] The Preamble to the Bill, which is the Foundation of it, will, I think, admit a very easy Answer; As to the first Point, That Triennial Parliaments have proved more grievous, burthensome, and expensive, than they were ever known before that Law past, I readily agree: But let us consider the Cause; the Lengthening the Term occasioned the Expence. I fear I might add, the Multiplicity of Places enjoy'd by the Members of this House, may be too justly alledged another Cause. But I would willingly confine myself to the particular Point, how far the Term or Duration of Parliaments might encrease or lessen the Expence? Might add to or diminish the Grievance complained of? And I will consider it only in this Light, by submitting it to every Gentleman that hears me, Whether he would not give more for an Annuity of three Years than for a Grant determinable at the end of one? And by the same Parity of Reasoning, Whether Septennial Parliaments must not prove more grievous, burthensome and expensive than Triennial, at least in such a Degree as an Annuity for seven Years deserves a better Consideration than one for three.
'But supposing I should be out in this Point, which I can never give up without due Conviction; this Argument in the Preamble is, I hope, entirely at an End. The Act against Bribery and Corruption, which must ever redound to the Honour of this Parliament, will necessarily remedy this Evil: That glorious Act will prevent Corruption in the Electors. Nothing but frequent new Parliaments can remedy it in the Elected.
'The other Reason upon which that Act was founded, namely, a Suspicion that Designs were carrying on to renew the Rebellion, and an Invasion from abroad, was in my humble Opinion, the only justifiable Pretence for enacting it into a Law; and might possibly have induced some Gentlemen of very great Honour and Integrity, to give their Votes for the Bill at that Juncture, whose Affistance, I flatter myself, I shall now have in repealing it: For those who voted for it from that View, could never intend it should be made perpetual, or that it should continue longer than that Misfortune subsisted.
'I must beg Pardon of you Sir, and of the House, for the Trouble I have given you. The Nature of the Motion, I am going to make you, has unavoidably drawn me into a Length as disagreeable to myself, as it must have been to those that hear me. Numberless Arguments will occur to every Gentleman in favour of it; I will therefore conclude with this Motion, viz.
'In this, Sir, I hope I shall be justified, as it cannot proceed from any indirect or private Views; but from a real Conviction, that the Happiness and Safety of this Nation depends upon it; in which I am supported by the common Voice of the People, and have it particularly recommended to me by a great Majority of those I have the Honour to represent in Parliament, as well as from my Neighbours of the City of Coventry, for whose Recommendation I shall always have a due Regard, tho' I have not the Honour to represent them.'
Sir J. St. Aubyn.
'The honourable Gentleman, who made you this Motion, has repported the Necessity of it by so many strong and forcible Arguments, that there is hardly any Thing new to be offered. I am very sensible therefore of the Disadvantages I must lie under, in attempting to speak after him; and I should content myself with barely seconding him, if the Subject Matter of this Debate was not of so great Importance, that I should be asham'd to return to my Electors, without endeavouring, in the best Manner I am able, to declare publickly the Reasons, which induced me to give my most ready Assent to this Question.
'Tis evident from what has been said, that the People have an unquestionable Right to frequent new Parliaments by ancient Usage; and that this Usage has been confirmed by several Laws, which have been progressively made by our Ancestors, as often as they found it necessary to insist on this Essential Privilege.
'Parliaments were generally annual, but never continued longer than three Years, 'till the remarkable Reign of Henry VIII. He was a Prince of unruly Appetites, and of an Arbitrary Will: He was impatient of every Restraint; the Laws of God and Man fell equally a Sacrifice as they stood in the Way of his Avarice, or disappointed his Ambition: He therefore introduced Long Parliaments, because he very well knew that they would become the proper Instruments of both; and what a slavish Obedience they paid to all his Measures is sufficiently known.
'If we come to the Reign of King Charles I. we must acknowledge him to be a Prince of a contrary Temper; he had certainly an innate Love for Religion and Virtue, and of Consequence for the Liberty of his Country.— But here lay the Misfortune, — He was led from his natural Disposition by Sycophants and Flatterers; they advised him to neglect the calling of frequent Parliaments; and therefore, by not taking the constant Sense of his People in what he did, he was work'd up into so high a Notion of Prerogative, that the Commons, in order to restrain it, obtain'd that independent fatal Power, which at last unhappily brought him to his most tragical End, and at the same Time subverted the whole Constitution. And I hope we shall learn this Lesson from it, never to compliment the Crown with any new or extravagant Powers, nor to deny the People those Rights which by ancient Usage they are intitled to; but to preserve that just and equal Ballance, from which they will derive mutual Security; and which, if duly observed, will render our Constitution the Envy and Admiration of the World.
'King Charles II. naturally took a Surfeit of Parliaments in his Father's Time, and was therefore extremely desirous to lay them aside: But this was a Scheme impracticable. However, in Effect he did so: For he obtained a Parliament, which by its long Duration, like an Army of Veterans, became so exactly disciplin'd to his own Measures, that they knew no other Command but from that Person who gave them their Pay.
'This was a safe and most ingenious Way of enslaving a Nation. It was very well known, that arbitrary Power, if it was open and avow'd, would never prevail here. The People were therefore amused with the specious Form of their Antient Constitution: It existed, indeed, in their Fancy; but, like a mere Phantom, had no Substance or Reality in it; for the Power, the Authority, the Dignity of Parliaments were wholly lost. This was that remarkable Parliament, which so justly obtained the opprobious Name of The Pensioner Parliament, and was the Model from which, I believe, some later Parliaments have been exactly copied.
'At the Time of the Revolution, the People made a fresh claim of their ancient Privileges; and as they had so lately experienced the Misfortune of long and servile Parliaments, it was then Declared, that they should be held frequently. But it seems their full Meaning was not understood by this Declaration; and therefore, as in every new Settlement, the Intention of all Parties should be specifically manifested, the Parliament never ceased struggling with the Crown 'till the Triennial Law was obtained: The Preamble of it, which the honourable Gentleman has recited, is extremely full and strong; and in the Body of the Bill you will find the Word Declared before Enacted, by which I apprehend, that tho' this Law did not immediately take Place at the Time of the Revolution, it was certainly intended as declaratory of the first Meaning; and therefore stands as Part of that original Contract, under which the Constitution was then settled. His Majesty's Title to the Crown is primarily derived from that Contract; and if, upon a Review, there shall appear to be any Deviations from it, we ought to treat them as so many Injuries done to that Title. And I dare say, that this House, which has gone thro' so long a Series of Services to his Majesty, will at last be willing to revert to those original stated Measures of Government, to renew and strengthen that Title.
'But I think the Manner in which the Septennial Law was first introduced, is a very strong Reason why it should be repealed. Pepole in their Fears have very often Recourse to desperate Expedients, which, if not cancelled in Season, will themselves prove fatal to that Constitution which they were meant to secure. Such is the Nature of the Septennial Law; it was intended only as a Preservative against a Temporary Inconveniency: The Inconveniency is removed, but the mischievous Effects still continue; for it not only altered the Constitution of Parliaments, but it extended that same Parliament beyond its Natural Duration; and therefore carries this most unjust Implication with it, That you may at any Time usurp the most indubitable, the most essential Privilege of the People, I mean that of chusing their own Representative. A Precedent of such a dangerous Consequence, of so fatal a Tendency, that I think it would be a Reproach to our Statute-book if that Law was any longer to subsist, which might record it to Posterity.
'This is a Season of Virtue and publick Spirit. Let us take Advantage of it, to repeal those Laws which infringe on our Liberties, and introduce such as may restore the Vigour of our Ancient Constitution.
'Human Nature is so very corrupt, that all Obligations lose their Force, unless they are frequently renewed. Long Parliaments become therefore independent of the People; and when they do so, there always happens a most dangerous Dependence elsewhere.
'It has of late been deny'd, that the People have a Right of remonstrating to us. It has been called an unjustifiable Controul upon the Freedom of our Proceedings. But then, let them have more frequent Opportunities of varying the Choice of their Representatives, that they may dismiss such who have unfaithfully withdrawn their Attention from them.
'The influencing Powers of the Crown are daily increasing, and it is highly requisite that Parliaments should be frequently responsible to their Constituents; that they should be kept under the constant Awe of acting contrary to their Interests. Modern History, I believe, will inform us, that some very dangerous Attempts upon our Liberties have been disappointed. Not so much from the Virtue of many in this House, as from the Apprehensions they may have had of an approaching Election.
'It is true, there is a Provision against such whose Places vacate their Seats here; but this is no Guard against Secret Pensioners and Placeholders. Give me Leave to say, that the Laws, with respect to them are very insufficient; and as we were not allowed to make them effectual, the People have no other Remedy but a new Election.
'I think that long Parliaments are a great Hardship upon those, who may be excluded out of this House, and ought reasonably to take their Turn: But seven Years is the Purchase of a Man's Life. It is equally hard upon such, whose private Fortunes will not admit them to engage in so long and painful a Service. It must be so to those who mean no View nor Adventage by it.
'I think too, that nothing can be of greater Use to his Majesty than frequent new Parliaments; that he may often take the fresh Sense of the Nation, and not be partially advised: For his Measures will always have a greater Weight both at Home and Abroad, the more generally he refers himself to the Opinion of his People.
'A farther Mischief of long Parliaments is, that a Minister has Time and Opportunities of getting Acquaintance with Members, of practising his several Arts to win them into his Schemes. But this must be the Work of Time. Corruption is of so base a Nature, that at first Sight it is extremely shocking. Hardly any one has submitted to it all at once. His Disposition must be previously understood, the particular Bait must be found out, with which he is to be allured, and after all, it is not without many Struggles that he surrenders his Virtue. Indeed, there are some who will at once plunge themselves over Head and Ears into any base Action, but the generality of Mankind are of a more cautious Nature, and will proceed only by leisure Degrees. One or two perhaps have deserted their Colours the first Campaign, some have done it a second. But a great many, who have not that eager Disposition to Vice, will wait 'till a third.
'I am aware it may be said, that frequent new Parliaments will produce frequent new Expences, but I think quite contrary; I am really of Opinion, that it will be a proper Remedy against the Evil of Bribery at Elections, especially as you have provided so wholesome a Law to co-operate upon these Occasions.
'As to Bribery at Elections, whence did it arise? Not from Country-Gentlemen, for they are sure of being chose without it; it was the Invention of wicked and corrupt Ministers, who have from Time to Time led weak Princes into such destructive Measures, that they did not dare to rely upon the natural Representation of the People. Long Parliaments first introduced Bribery, because they were worth purchasing at any Rate; Country-Gentlemen, who have only their private Fortunes to rely upon, and have no mercenary Ends to serve, are unable to oppose it, especially if at any Time the publick Treasure shall be unfaithfully squandered away to corrupt their Boroughs. Country Gentlemen, indeed, may make some weak Efforts, but as they generally prove unsuccessful, and the Time of a fresh Struggle is at so great a Distance, they at last grow faint in the Dispute, give up their Country for lost, and retire in Despair. Despair naturally produces Indolence, and That is the proper Disposition for Slavery. Ministers of State understand this very well, and are therefore unwilling to awaken the Nation out of its Lethargy by frequent Elections. They know that the Spirit of Liberty, like every other Virtue of the Mind, is to be kept alive only by constant Action, that it is impossible to enslave this Nation, whilst it is perpetually upon its Guard. Let Country Gentlemen then, by having frequent Opportunities of exerting themselves, be kept warm and active in their Contention for the Publick Good: This will raise that Zeal and Indignation which will at last get the better of those undue Influences, by which the Officers of the Crown, though unknown to the several Boroughs, have been able to supplant Country Gentlemen of great Characters and Fortune, who live in their Neighbourhood. I don't say this upon idle Speculation only. I live in a Country where it is too well known, and I'll appeal to many Gentlemen in the House, to more out of it (and who are so for this very Reason) for the Truth of my Assertion. It is a Sore which has been long eating into the most vital Part of our Constitution, and I hope the Time will come when you will probe it to the Bottom. For if a Minister should ever gain a corrupt Familiarity with our Boroughs, if he should keep a Register of them in his Closet, and, by sending down his Treasury-mandates, should procure a spurious Representative of the People, the Offspring of his Corruption, who will be at all Times ready to reconcile and justify the most contradictory Measures of his Administration, and even to vote every crude indigested Dream of their Patron into a Law; if the Maintenance of his Power should become the sole Object of their Attention, and they should be guilty of the most violent Breach of Parliamentary Trust, by giving the King a discretionary Liberty of taxing the People without Limitation or Controul; the last fatal Compliment they can pay to the Crown: If this should ever be the unhappy Circumstance of this Nation, the People indeed may complain; but the Doors of that Place where their Complaints should be heard, will for ever be shut against them.
'The Power of the Crown is very justly apprehended to be growing to a monstrous, I should have said, too great a Sized and several Methods have been unsuccessfully proposed for restraining it within its proper Bounds.
'But our Disease, I fear, is of a complicated Nature, and I think that this Motion is wisely intended to remove the first and principal Disorder. Give the People their antient Right of frequent new Elections; that will restore the decayed Authority of Parliaments, and will put our Constitution into a natural Condition of working out her own Cure.
'Upon the whole, I am of Opinion, that I can't express a greater Zeal for his Majesty, for the Liberties of the People, or the Honour and Dignity of this House, than by seconding the Motion which the honourable Gentleman has made you.'
'As I happen to differ in Opinion from the two honourable Gentlemen who have spoke in favour of this Motion, I shall endeavour to follow them in every Thing they have said, and give my Reasons for not thinking the Arguments they have made Use of any way conclusive. They have talked a great deal of our antient Constitution, and seem, I think, mighty desirous of reverting to it; but if Gentlemen will consider the Disadvantages as well as the Advantages which attended every Part of our old Constitution, I believe they will not be so very fond of returning to it. I shall agree that there were such old Statutes as have been mentioned, relating to the frequent holding of Parliaments; but that Gentlemen may recollect a little the Nature of those Parliaments, and the Rights and Prerogatives which the Crown at that Time enjoyed, or at least pretended to, I shall beg Leave to read some Extracts which I have taken from one of our most judicious Writers about Parliamentary Affairs; I mean the famous Mr. Prynne, [here he read some Extracts from his Writings, shewing the many Powers and Prerogatives which our Kings of old pretended to] Thus we may see that the Kings of England had antiently such Prerogatives as would be very inconsistent with those Privileges which the People of this Nation now enjoy. This was our old Constitution, and I should be glad to know, if it be to this Form of Government that Gentleman would not have us to return.
' The honourable Gentleman mentioned next the heavy Complaints that were made against King Charles the First. and his Son King James the Second, and the great Misfortunes which both these Princes sell into by not giving Ear to those Complaints: But I must take Notice, that there never was a Complaint against either of them for continuing the same Parliament too long; all the Complaints against both were, for not calling or holding any Parliament for several Years together; and this it was that brought all their Misfortunes upon them. And as to the long Parliament in King Charles the Second's Reign, it is certain that there was a great deal more of Reason to complain against their Conduct during the first Years of their sitting, than there was towards the latter End; so that no Part of the History of either of these three Reigns can afford so much as a plausible Argument in favour of the Motion now made to us.
'It has been alledged, that the Crown must always necessarily have a much greater Influence upon Septennial Parliaments, than it can ever have upon those which are chosen and continued only for three Years: But it is my Opinion, if ever the Crown should attempt, if ever any Ministry should be wicked enough to endeavour to gain a corrupt Influence over the Parliament, it will be as easy to gain it over the one Sort of Parliament as over the other. For if ever the Members chosen and returned, or the Majority of them, should be such as will stoop to Corruption, the Infection may be eafily spread, the alluring Baits may be thrown out in seven Days as well as in seven Years; nor do I think it such a Difficulty or tedious Affair to find out who may be the Persons proper to be wrought on; that is a Knowledge that may be easily acquired after the Elections are over, and before it may be necessary for the Parliament to meet. Nay, if ever such a Thing should happen (which I hope never will) I am convinced it would be much more easy for such a Ministry to manage a Triennial Parliament, than it will ever be to manage a Septennial: for it is well known how strongly Men may be wrought on by Hopes and Promises; and it is certain, that by such Hopes and Promises, some might be kept firmly attach'd to a Court and Ministry for two or three Years, who could not be kept so for four or five. Therefore I must conclude, as Hopes and Promises are more easily given than Pensions or Bribes, it would be more easy for the Ministers to keep a Triennial Parliament depending upon them, than to keep a Septennial in any Sort of Dependence. And as to past Times, we by Experience find, that the Court has never gain'd much by long Parliaments; on the contrary, we have always found that the Party against the Court has gradually increas'd in Number by the long Continuance of the Parliament; insomuch that from a small Minority in the Beginning, they have often come up to very near an Equality, sometimes to a Majority before the End; so that if we reason either from the Nature of Mankind or from Experience, we must conclude, that the Liberties of the People are better secured by Septennial, than they can ever be by Triennial Parliaments.
'The present Power of the Crown has been set in the most hideous Light, and the Number of Places now at the Disposal of the Crown, has been represented as of the most dangerous Consequence, to the Independency of Parliament. But in this I must think that Gentlemen are likewise very much mistaken: I must even think, that the Disposal of those Posts and Places which are necessary for the Support of our Government, rather weakens the Influence and Interest of the Crown, both in the Parliament and in the Country; because it is certain, that there is never any Post or Place to be disposed of, for which there are not three or four Candidates at least; the Crown can give it but to one and by giving it to any one of the four, the other three are disappointed and disobliged, by which the Crown very probably raises up three Enemies, for the Sake of securing one Friend, upon whom no very great Dependance can perhaps be had: For if it be a Place for Life, the Person who got it becomes then independent upon the Crown, and may soon come to be disobliged, by being refused some second Favour. This every Man who hears me, must by his own Experience be convinced of; and therefore though it be absolutely necessary for the executive Part of our Government which is lodged in the Crown, to have the Disposal of those Posts and Places, yet it cannot from thence be inferred, that the Power of the Crown is thereby greatly increased.
'The honourable Gentlemen seemed to insinuate, that the principal Motive for passing the Septennial Bill now no longer subsisted; but in this also I must beg Leave to differance from them. 'Tis true, one of the Motives for passing that Bill was, the great Ferment which the Nation was then in; but this was not the principal Motive, and if it had been so, that Motive is very far from ceasing to subsist: Does not every Gentleman know what a Spirit of Discontent, nay I may say of Disaffection, was artfully raised over the whole Nation but last Year? And can any Gentleman say that that Spirit is totally subsided? Or can any Gentlemen believe that there was not a great deal of the Spirit of Jacobitism at the Bottom of those Discontents, which were then without any Ground, endeavoured to be raised? I am persuaded, that the Ferment the Nation is now in, and the Ferment it was in when the Septenni Bill was passed into a Law, proceed bib originally from the same Cause, therefore I must take the Motive for continuing it, to be now much the same with that which was then for enacting it; and as the Motive is now the same, I hope it will prevail with this House not to repeal a Law from which the Nation has received so great Benefit.'
Sir Thomas Robinson.
'I cannot content my self with barely giving a Negative to this Proposition, but must beg your Indulgence in offering a few Reasons which will induce me to be against it, and to make two or three Observations upon what has fallen from the honourable Gentlemen who have introduced and spoke in favour of it. In my opinion we should fix the Duration of Parliament to a shorter or a longer Period, according as it will promore the Welfare of the Nation, and support and strengthen our present Constitution; and when that is once fixed, the Consideration whether the Thing be popular, or unpopular, or whether it may be consonant to the Practice of our Ancestors, ought not to influence any Gentleman in giving his Vote. It has been said by the honourable Gentleman who spoke first, that the renewing of the Triennial Bill will lessen the Expences at Elections. I think nothing is more demonstrable, than that frequent Elections will always occasion frequent Expences, and other Irregularities, too notorious not to lie within the Compass of every Man's Observation; and that Men's Minds, which never fail to be inflamed in a Contest between two Parties, will always preserve those Heats in view of a quick Return of electing: That these and many other Inconveniences can be fairly charged on. Triennial Elections, is indisputably true; and if Septennial Parliaments do not entirely remove these Evils, at least they mitigate their Influence. Gentlemen have urged, that Expences at Elections are voluntary; this is indeed in some measure true, but by this Alteration of the Law, the Temptation will never be at a great Distance; the Opportunity for Corruption, Idleness and Debauchery, will happen once in three Years, instead of once in seven; for I am afraid the Law we have lately made, which the honourable Gentleman who made the Motion has taken Notice of, cannot yet have produced the good Effect we expected from it: Reformations of any kind cannot be brought about on a sudden, especially in Things of this Nature, where the lower Class of the People are Parties concerned. Sir, the Law for Triennial Parliaments continued in Force for 22 Years: In that Time many Inconveniences were found from it; it was likewise found that in many respects it did trot answer the End for which it Was made. I think it lies upon those Gentlemen who are Advocates for this Proposition, and which ought to be the Foundation of their Arguments in Support of it, to shew us what the Evils are which are attendant upon Septennial Parliaments, and how they would be removed by the Alteration proposed. If they had done this, if any such Thing could be done, the Argument would have some Weight; but to me this appears so far from being the Case, that on the contrary, how many good Laws have passed in favour of the Subject, how little Reason have the People of England to be displeased with the Actions of their Representatives since the Septennial Act took Place, which is eighteen Years ago? What has been done within every Man's Memory, cannot be liable to any Misrepresentation. Histories of former Parliaments, or of past Times, may be partially related, but our own Experience cannot deceive us: And I appeal to those who now hear me, whether we have yet had any Reason to complain of the Conduct of Septennial Parliaments. And besides, there is no Mischief can be done the Subject in a Septennial Parliament, which may not be done in a Triennial; but on the contrary, the short Duration of a Triennial will not allow sufficient Time to the compleating many good Undertakings, which may be accomplished by a Septennial; Mischief being of its own Nature of quick Growth, and soon brought to Maturity; whereas Schemes for a general Good ripen by slow degrees, and require a Length of Time in rearing up to Perfection. Gentlemen have brought Arguments in Support of this Proposition from the Practice and Laws of our Forefathers, and deduce the Expediency of the Triennial Bill, from the original Formation of our Constitution. For my Part, I do not comprehend what is meant by our old Constitution, and therefore when Gentlemen make use of the Expression, our old Constitution, I must look upon it as an indefinite Term, which can admit of no direct Answer: But would they fix it to any Reign or Number of Years, I could undertake to shew, that in no Period of Time they shall fix on, since the Conquest, we ever had such a one as we should be now willing to submit to, and rest satisfied with: I know of no settled Constitution till the Revolution; 'tis from that happy Period I date our having any at all. It may indeed be agreeable to the antient Laws of the Realm, that there should be frequent Parliaments, that is, that Parliaments should be frequently holden; but from whence will Gentlemen prove, that it has been established as a fundamental Maxim in what is called our old Constitution, that there should be frequent Elections; sure at least I am, if the Nature of our Constitution required that there should be such, the Practice of our Ancestors has not always corresponded with it. It would be a tedious Task to shew in what manner Parliaments have been called and holden, and to trace out all the Variations of our Laws, or rather Practice, in this Respect, since the Conquest, 200 Years after which, I believe, there was no such Thing in being as a House of Commons; at least, if there was any such Assembly, they met but very seldom. But Gentlemen's Thoughts will prevent me in what I could offer upon this Head, and therefore I shall not enter into a Detail of Particulars with which many others may be much better acquainted; only in general, I will venture to say, that from the earliest Records of Time to the Revolution, the Crown made use of their Prerogative so far with Regard to Parliaments, that the People never knew when there would be a new Election, or how long the Power they gave their Representatives when elected, might be continued to them. If we look back into our History, we shall find in some Reigns, Parliaments chosen by the People, and dissolved by the Crown before they were suffered to meetat all; in other Reigns a very long Intermission of Parliaments, and in others again a Parliament perhaps in being, but for many Years successively, not once suffer'd to sit. These, Sir, were real Grievances: And in this reforming Age, we seem to be as uneasy, and as fond of taking Precautions against imaginary Dangers, as ever our Ancestors were about providing against those that were real. My worthy Friend and Contemporary at the University, who seconded the Motion, has shewn the Practice of several of our former Kings in this Particular, and indeed has spoken in favour of the Motion, with so much Decency and Weight, that it requires one much better skilled than I am in our English History and Parliamentary Proceedings, to do the same Justice to the other Side of the Question: but he has quoted two Reigns, which will, in my Opinion, both turn against the Motion he has so handsomely supported. These, Sir, are the Reigns of King Charles I, and King Charles II; but before I take Notice of them, give me Leave to mention another Reign, I mean that of Queen Elizabeth, which both the worthy Gentlemen have very prudently avoided mentioning upon this Occasion, tho' it be a Reign that is seldom forgot to be brought upon the Carpet, when a Comparison is to be made, in order to depreciate the Actions and Measures of the present Times: In the long Reign of that Queen, a Reign which lasted 44 Years, there were in all but ten Parliaments chosen; in these ten Parliaments there were but 13 Sessions, and except the last, never any one of these Sessions continued many Weeks together. Besides, Sir, however glorious the Reign of that Princess may be in other Respects; yet it is certain, that in many Instances she used her Parliaments in such a Manner, as I hope we shall never see Parliaments treated for the future. As for the Reign of King Charles the First, I little expected, Sir, that Reign would have been introduced in this Debate, especially by those who are Advocates for this Question: for surely that Reign ought to be buried in Oblivion, by those who would plead for the Liberty of the Subject, and are for lessening the Prerogative of the Crown; because in no preceding Reign was the last ever carried higher, or the other in greater Danger of being utterly subverted and destroyed. Were it necessary for the Point I am contending for, I would undertake to prove, that as long as he had any Power, he was daily attempting, by his Prerogative, to have made Parliaments useless; and therefore I shall easily agree with the honourable Gentleman, that he neglected calling frequent new Parliaments. But give me Leave farther to observe, that during that King's Reign, no Parliament was called, there was not so much as one in Being; no ! not for 12 Years together; during which Time, History does not give the most favourable Account of him, with respect to his leveral Attempts upon the Liberties of his Subjects, which the honourable Gentleman has put a very handsome Gloss upon, by saying, that these Attempts were made by Advice of Sycophants: Whoever the Authors were, Sir, the Facts are true; and the Consequences, had they not been prevented, must have proved fatal to the Rights of the People. When I have said this, I would not have it understood, as if I approved of the Steps afterwards taken, by which that Prince was brought to his tragical and untimely End; but as his Fate ought to be a Warning to all future Princes, not to make any Incroachments upon the Liberties or Privileges of the Subject, so it ought to be a Warning to all those who are true Lovers of our Constitution to be extremely cautious of introducing any new Regulations or unnecessary Amendments. And this, Sir, I take to be a Lesson much more proper for the present Question, than that which my honourable Friend has been pleased to recommend to us from the Fate of that Prince; since the Question is not now about complimenting the Crown with any new or extravagant Powers, nor about denying the People those Rights, which they are entitled to by Law. I was surprised, Sir, to hear the long Parliament of K. Charles II, which continued 17 Years, so much as mentioned by those who are for shortening the Duration of Parliaments; for, in my Opinion, the Conduct of that Parliament, if it proves any thing, shews, that the long Duration of a Parliament does not necessarily make it entirely subservient to the Will of the Prince. Tho' that Parliament has since been treated with great Indignity, tho' I will not now take upon me to determine whether it deserved the Usage it has met with from some People; yet I think I may say, that a Majority of the Members thereof, especially towards the End of it, were steady in the Support of the Liberties of the People; and had not they made a noble Stand against the Attempts of the Crown in those Days, we should not now have been debating this Point. Thus, Sir, the Instance of this Parliament, if it proves any thing, I say, proves that the Parliament, which sate the longest ever any did in England, could not be influenced by the Crown to come into Measures inconsistent with the Liberties of the People: And if Gentlemen will but recollect the Annals of that Parliament they will find, that it was more subservient to the Court, the first, second and third Years, than it was the sixth or seventh; and it was less so the eleventh or twelfth, than it was the ninth or tenth: And I agree with the honourable Gentleman, that the further it removed from its Original, the better Title the Members acquired to the Denomination of veteran Troops, which he has been pleased to compare them to; but this Title they merited for a Reason very different from what he has assigned: It was not because they knew no other Command but from the Person who gave them their Pay, but it was because they became every Day more and more observant of their Duty, more watchful over the Liberties of their Fellow-Subjects, and less tractable to the Measures of the Court; insomuch that at last, by their persevering in an honest Opposition to those Measures, they forced their own Dissolution. And this always has been, and always must be the Case, as to all Bodies of the same Men, when long kept together, and attempted to be seduced by Bribery and Corruption; for few Men are so entirely abandoned to Shame, but that sooner or later they will be actuated by the love of Virtue and publick Good, which will at last make them stubbornly resist the profligate Court against the Liberties of their Country: And this was certainly the Case as to that Parliament, otherwise King Charles would not have so easily parted with a Parliament he had been so long and with so much Expence endeavouring to form to his own arbitrary Views. Therefore, Sir, if any Argument is to be drawn from this long Parliament, it may certainly be made use of as the strongest Reason, why a Septennial Parliament should be preferred to a Triennial.
'As a farther Proof, Sir, that the Ballance of Power in the State is demonstrably more in favour of the People in a Parliament that hath its Duration for seven Years, than in one chosen every third Year; and that the Crown will always have less Influence in a Septennial than a Triennial Parliament: Let us but recollect what has happened ever since the Septennial Law took place. As the honourable Gentleman who spoke last has already observed, does not Experience shew us that every Session will increase an opposing Party? Has it not been hitherto always found, that the Party against the Court has in every fifth or sixth Session been more in Number than it was the second or third? And as no Step has been made to increase either the Prerogative or Power of the Crown ever since Septennial Parliaments have had a Being, why should we go about to make an Alteration in that Part of our Constitution from which we have never yet selt the least Inconvenience Might not therefore a Desire to revert back to the Practice of our Ancestors in this Particular, be compared to a Man in his full Growth and Strength desiring to return back to his Childhood! It has indeed been insinuated by both the honourable Gentlemen, who have spoke on the other side of the Question, that undue Influence has been attempted in Elections; that Money has been sent down from the Treasury to gain Returns from Boroughs in the Country; by which the Elections have been rendered so expensive to the Country Gentlemen, that it is with great Difficulty they can, from their private Fortunes, support such Expence, or withstand such Influence: and this is indeed the principal Argument I have heard made use of in support of this Question. Tho' I am no ways privy to, nor do I believe that any such Practices have been lately attempted; yet upon this Occasion, Sir, I will for Argument's sake suppose it to be true; I will suppose that the Court does intermeddle in Elections, and that Sums of Money have been sent into the Country for that purpose; but how this comes to he owing to Septennial Parliaments, I cannot comprehend; would it not be as much in the Power of the Court to meddle in the Elections for a Triennial, as in those for a Septennial Parliament? And if a Country Gentleman can scarce bear up against these Practices when he has six Years respite to recover the Expences and Trouble he may have been put to by such Attempts on his Borough; for God's sake! how will it stand with him when the Battle is to be fought every three Years? Surely he will be then much less able to bear such Expences, or to withstand such Influence; and, therefore, if the Court ever has endeavoured, or if it ever should endeavour, to influence Elections by the Force of Money, that Influence would be much more dangerous in Triennial than in Septennial Elections. From whence I must be of Opinion, if this Question should succeed, it might in time more effectually establish the absolute Power of the Crown, and destroy the Liberties of the People, than any other Method that could be thought of The worthy Gentleman who made the Motion has told us, that an Annuity for seven Years, is more valuable than an Annuity for three, and from thence he seemed to infer, that a Septennial Parliament must be more expensive than a Triennial, in the same proportion as an Annuity for seven Years deserves a better Consideration than an Annuity for three : But he does not consider that a Parliament for seven Years is above twice the Duration of one for three; so that if Triennial Parliaments were to come in the place of Septennial, a Man must be thrice chosen before he can continue so long in this House, as he would do were he to be chosen for seven Years at once; and it is certain that the Expences or the Purchase (if with him we propose such Purchases) of three or even of two Elections for Triennial Parliaments, will always amount to more than the Expences or the Purchase of one Election for a Septennial.
'If then the Expensiveness of Elections be one of the Evils attendant upon Septennial Parliaments, it is certain, the changing of them into Triennial, will be so far from removing that Evil, that it will necessarily increase it. And I believe some Gentlemen will, in another Particular, find their Expectations as little answered by the present Motion: I mean, that they will not find it so popular a Motion among the generality of Electors, as some of them may imagine. It may indeed please those of the Populace who have no Votes, who are fond of Noise and Bustle, and who would be glad of any Change by which they might have a more frequent Chance to get drunk and be idle. It may also be agreeable to the lower and meaner sort of our Electors, who have heretofore perhaps too often made their Market upon such Occasions; but to the honest Shopkeeper, and the quiet and fair Trader, who have no other Views but to gain a comfortable Subsistence, by carrying on their respective Trades, and to the better kind of our Freeholders, and to the Gentry in general; to all those sorts of Men, in short, whose Inclinations we ought to have the chief Regard to, the proposing of this Bill will be found, I believe, not to be a very proper Way of paying court. The worthy Gentlemen, Sir, who have spoke on the other Side of the Question, make a very partial Use of our antient Constitution, when they plead for a shorter Duration of Parliaments; because in former Times, Instances may be found of frequent Elections; but forget at the same time to remind us of the different Situation of our Affairs, both at Home and Abroad. Must not proper Allowances be made for the several Changes which have since happened in our Constitution, and the different Relations we now bear to foreign Nations! For without a Parity of Circumstances, Gentlemen cannot reasonably expect an Equality of Consequences. Formerly Parliaments sate but ten, fifteen, or twenty Days, and dispatched all the Business they had before them in that Time; we now fit four or five Months, and find sufficient Employment: The Reason of this Difference is obvious; our Government has since gone through so many Changes, and the Riches and Commerce of this Nation have so much increased, that this House is now engaged in a much larger Circle of Business; and at the same time hath asserted a Right to several Powers in the State, which, till within these 100 Years, the Crown has often contested. May not Gentlemen as well infer, because some Parliaments in former Times have sate but 20 Days, that we ought now to follow their Practice in this Particular, as to plead for a shorter Duration of Parliaments, because there may be found Instances of annual Elections in remote Ages? Would Gentlemen, Sir, who speak so favourably of antient Times, have our Parliaments brought again to be entirely upon the same Foot they were formerly? Surely, No! As the Law now stands, the Crown cannot possibly prolong a Parliament beyond seven Years; and as the Affairs of the Publick are now disposed, it must necessarily meet every Year. Formerly the Crown could keep a Parliament in Being without any Limitation of Time for their Dissolution, and, as I have said before, did sometimes prevent them, though elected, from ever meeting; nay, at other Times, there has been for many Years together a total Intermission of Parliaments. I therefore really think, no one can make the least Comparison on this Head; at least I suppose the worthy Gentlemen would not be willing to return to the Practice of preceding Times in these Particulars. In short, Sir, I think the Septennial Act as well adapted to our present Constitution, as well calculated to answer the Purposes and secure the Freedom of Parliaments, as any Regulation that can be made; and I do not know any one particular Instance in which our Liberty and Constitution have been more strengthened and improved since the Revolution, than by those Laws which have been made relative to the Chusing, Sitting, and Duration of Parliaments. Before I leave this Subject, I must take this Opportunity to return my Thanks to the Honourable Gentleman who called for the reading of the Septennial Act, because the Preamble puts me in mind of our being indebted to that Law for the Prevention of a second Rebellion: I am convinced, that it was to that seasonable Alteration we then owed the Preservation of our Tranquillity, and perhaps every Thing that is dear to us; for the Minds of the People were at that Time so exasperated and inflamed, the Spirit of Jacobitism was got to such a Height in the Nation, that had an Election come on, after the first Parliament of the late King ought to have expired by the Triennial Act, 'tis not hard to say what fatal Consequences might have ensued. But I neither mention this as thinking it entirely our present Situation, or to draw an Argument from thence, in support of what I am contending for; however I must say, that the recollecting how much we owe to the Septennial Act, makes me the more unwilling to part with it. 'Tis like Friendship in private Life, where we have once established a thorough good Opinion of a Man, and have received great Favours from him, it is with Difficulty, it is with great Concern, we are prevailed on to give Credit to any Thing that may tend to his Disadvantage. Many Instances might be brought, Sir, to shew the Inconveniences that would attend the Success of the Bill now proposed to us; but as I have already taken up much more of your Time than I at first intended, I shall only mention one, which is, The great Hindrance it might be in the Dispatch of our Foreign Negotiations. As we have been within Doors often told of Reports without Doors, I must take the Liberty to mention one which we have heard both within and without. Have we not often heard without Doors, have not we been told in a former Debate in this House, that several Letters have been lately sent to foreign Courts, in order to discourage them from treating with us at this critical Juncture, by assuring them that the next ensuing Parliament will be of a Complexion very different from this. I cannot in the least suppose that such Letters were either written or concerted by any one within these Walls; but I must presume the Authors are by this Time convinced of their Error, since I find so much Pains has lately been taken, and so much Rhetorick employed, both in Weekly and other Papers, to persuade us of the Inconvenience of the Septennial Act, and the Necessity for repealing it; from whence I conclude, that those Gentlemen who were the Authors of such Letters, begin now to see that they will be disappointed in their Expectations; and in order to make Amends for this Disappointment, they are for repealing the Septennial Act, that they may have a fresh Opportunity of taking another Trial four Years hence. But be this as it will, it is certain, that what I have just mentioned may be practised, and will always be an Inconvenience and a Hindrance in the carrying on of our foreign Affairs, towards the End of a Septennial Parliament: And shall we by a new Law give an Opportunity and a Temptation to the Enemies of the Government, to repeat those and such like Practices and Suggestions, 'to the great Prejudice of the Nation, at the end of every three Years. Before I conclude, Sir, I cannot help observing, that during the seven Years I have sat in Parliament I have heard many Questions introduced into this House which have very much surprized me. Among others I have heard a Proposition made, which, as it appeared to me, would have made the Army useless upon any Emergency, when we might have had the greatest Occasion for their Service. I have heard another Motion for making a perpetual Law to regulate an annual Constitution, which would indeed have had a quite different Effect from the former; for in Process of Time this last Question, had it succeeded, might have made the Army our Sovereign; and King, Lords and Commons, insignificant: And the Proposition now before us, would, in my Opinion, tend to weaken our greatest Security; I mean the Landed Interest of the Kingdom, by giving them frequent and unnecessary Temptations to extraordinary Expences, and might farther introduce new Calamities and Confusions into this Nation. What other Question can follow to keep Rank with those. I cannot divine; but the Spirit of Reformation seems to be now so very much the Fashion, I do not doubt but fertile Imaginations will always find, and will never be at a loss for, popular Topicks to introduce. — No State, Sir, was ever so exactly framed in all its Parts, as not to make new Laws sometimes necessary to remedy the Evils which Time and Corruption may bring upon it; and for this Reason every State is invested with a Power of altering or repealing old Laws, and substituting new in their stead, where those existing are found to be deficient: In this I shall agree with the Honourable Gentlemen; but give me Leave farther to observe, that this Power may be made use of to the Overthrow as well as the Support of the Constitution: And therefore when we proceed to the Exercise of this Part of the Legislative Power, especially in Things which relate to the very Fundamentals of our Constitution, the worthy Gentlemen will, I hope, agree with me, that we ought to use it with the greatest Prudence and Caution. — At present, Sir, I think our Constitution is so well regulated in all its Parts, the Scales are so justly poised, as not to want any new modelling, nor any additional Weight to be thrown into the other Scale: We must be all so sensible of the Happiness we enjoy under our Constitution, as now established, that our chief Concern and Study ought to be how to preserve it in the happy Situation it is now in; and if we can transmit it to our Posterity in the same Lustre and Perfection we now clearly perceive it to be in, our Successors will have no just Reason to accuse the present Generation of having made an ill Use of that great Trust which is reposed in every Man who has a Voice in this Place. All Changes, tho' never so well intended, are hazardous; but as the Change now proposed appears to me, I think it would certainly have a quite different Effect from what those worthy Gentlemen expect who are the Advocates for it: I am persuaded, that instead of amending or improving, it would weaken the Constitution; and therefore, I think it a Duty I owe my Country to give my Dissent to it, in this publick manner.'
Lord Noel Somerset.
'Though the honourable Gentleman who made this Motion, and the honourable Gentleman who seconded it, have supported it in so strong and handsome a Manner, that an Attempt to add any Thing to what they have said, may be looked on as Presumption; yet I cannot help declaring my Approbation of the Motion in the best and most publick Manner I am able.
'The honourable Gentleman who read you a long Extract out of Master Prynne, seemed rather, in my Opinion, to divert than instruct the House; and though I could not join with Gentlemen in their Mirth upon so serious a Debate, yet I must own I cannot conceive to what purpose that long Extract was read to us upon the present Occasion: Nor can I see what the Question now before us has to do with the Prerogative of the Crown, either as now enjoyed, or as claimed in any Time past. Because Gentlemen have mentioned our old Constitution, and have taken notice of a particular Regulation with respect to the holding of Parliaments, which was then in force, and which they defire to be re-establisned; is it from thence to be inferred, that they desire to restore, in all its Parts, our ancient Constitution, as it stood at any Period of Time? No, when we talk of our old Constitution, with Regard to any Amendment or Alteration now proposed, we are to pick out those Customs, which appear to be good, and which ought to be restored; and we are to reject those which appear to have been bad.
'The Question now before us, is not whether our Constitution be now in the general better regulated than it ever was at any former Period: The Question now before us is particular; it is, Whether our Constitution, with respect to the holding of Parliaments, was ever under a better Regulation than it is at present? And that it was so, seems to me to be demonstrable from the very Nature and Design of Parliaments; for this House is properly the grand Inquest of the Nation, they are to represent the Grievances of the People to their Sovereign; and the People are always to choose proper Representatives for that Purpose: that Choice ought therefore to be annual, because the Person that may be a proper Representative one Year, may before the next, or at least very soon after; be concerned in making the People suffer those very Grievances which they want to complain of; and surely such Person would not be then a proper Representative of the People.
'This was our old Constitution, with respect to the holding of Parliaments: They were, or at least ought to have been, not only annually held, but annually chosen. It is well known that Prorogations are but of a late Date; they were first introduced to favour the Arbitrary Views of some of our ambitious Kings; and as they owed their Origin to such a corrupt Fountain, I am persuaded we never can expect any Good from them. However, the Question now before us does not go far, nor are we obliged to have recourse to remote Ages for a Precedent for what is now proposed. When we now talk of our old Constitution, we are to consider it as it was settled and reformed at the Revolution, and at that Time, as has been before observed, the Patrons of Liberty did not think their Work was compleat, without having the Point fully and clearly settled; and therefore they were never at Rest, till they had obtained that very Law which is now desired to be restored: For this Reason I cannot but think that Gentlemen have given themselves a very unnecessary Trouble in explaining to us so particularly the History of former Reigns, or the Complaints against former Kings; for the not holding any Parliament at all, or the continuing the same Parliament for a great Number of Years is in Effect the same: in the last Case, as well as the first, the People have no Opportunity of having their Grievances either represented or redressed, because after a Number of Years the Members may either become unacquainted with, and regardless of the Grievances of the People, or they may themselves have so great a Hand in those Grievances, that for their own selfish Ends they will prevent their being redressed.
It has been said, that the restoring of this Law would create great Heats, and raise dangerous Contentions in the Nation. If it were a new Law, a Law which we had never any Experience of, this Argument might have some Weight; but the direct contrary of this is known to be true from the Experience we had of it. while it was allowed to continue in Force. Besides, this is one of those Arguments that prove too much; for it is as good an Argument for us to continue ourselves for seven Years longer, or indeed for a perpetual Parliament, as it is for a Septennial: And it is an Argument that has in all Countries been made use of for subverting the Liberties of the People. In all free Countries there must now and then happen some little Feuds and Divisions among the People, which ambitious wicked Men have used all their Cunning and all their Eloquence to set in the most terrible Light, and under the Pretence of preventing those Feuds and Divisions, have in most Countries prevailed upon the People to give up, or at least to allow themselves to be robbed of those Privileges which were their only Defence against Tyranny and Arbitrary Power.
'Another Objection against this Motion is, that a Septennial Parliament is necessary for establishing and confirming our Credit abroad. If this be yet to do, if our Credit abroad remains yet to be either established or confirmed, I will say that we have lately spent many Millions, and have made many Treaties to very little purpose. Is not this likewise an Argument for settling the Duration of our Parliaments at a much longer Term? For if our Credit abroad were any Way strengthen'd by a Parliament to continue for seven Years, would it not be much more so by a Parliament to continue for Seven Times Seven? But this is not the Case; our foreign Neighbours judge better of the Condition and Circumstances of this Nation, than some of ourselves seem to do; our Credit among them depends on their believing that there is an Union and mutual Confidence between the King and his People; and is there any Thing can tend more towards lessening their Belief in this Respect, than their hearing that the King does not incline to trust his People with a frequent Choice of their own Representatives? Will not every Man from thence conclude, that either the People are disaffected, or that the Government is pursuing such Measures as they think may not be agreeable to the generality of the People? And I believe it will be allow'd that such a Notion would not contribute much towards establishing or confirming our Credit abroad.
'While no Measures are pursued but such as are for the Honour and Interest of the Nation, it is certain that a Parliament sent here by the free Choice of the People for three Years, or even but for one, would be as ready to confirm those Measures as a Parliament sent here for seven Years. But if ever it should hereafter happen, that Measures, even destructive to the Nation, should be pursued, only to save and support a falling Minister, or by Way of temporary Expedient only, to put off the evil Day during his Time; he might indeed have a better Chance to get such Measures confirmed and approved of by the Members of a Septennial Parliament, who had such a long Term to reap the Fruits of their servile Compliance, than he could have to get such Measures confirmed or approved of by the Members of an Annual or Triennial Parliament, who must soon return to the People for their Approbation or Disapprobation of what they haddone: And a Parliamentary Acquittal would be of much more Consequence in the first Case than in the last; for if an Annual or Triennial Parliament should be servile enough to approve of Measures contrary to the general Sense of the Nation, the People would soon have an Opportunity of doing themselves Justice in a new Parliament; but if the People were to have no such Opportunity for seven Years, it might then be out of their Power.
'It has been said, that frequent new Parliaments would produce frequent Changes in our Administration, so that we never could steadily pursue any Measure Foreign or Domestick. As to Changes in our Administration, if Triennial or Annual Parliaments should produce Triennial or Annual Ministers, it would give me no great Concern, and I dare say, the Nation very little Uneasiness. But how this should make us unsteady or unsettled in the pursuit of our publick Measures, foreign or domestick, I cannot, indeed, conceive; for if the Measures were apparently for the Good of the Publick, the New Ministers would, doubtless, for their own Honour and Safety, pursue them as steadily as the Old could have done; and if the Old had enter'd on Measures inconsistent with the Good of the Nation, here the Change of the Ministry would be lucky for us: So that, if nothing else could be said in favour of the Motion, this very Argument would be sufficient with me to give my Vote for it.'
Mr. J. Cornwallis.
'I have indeed heard some Mention made without Doors of the Proposition now under our Consideration; but I never expected to have heard it moved in this House, especially at a Time when the Circumstances of Europe ought to prevent our attempting any thing that may in the least tend towards weakening our Constitution, or unsettling the Measures of his Majesty's Government. As for my own part, Sir, the Question can no ways affect me: Let it be agreed to, or let it be rejected, as to my particular Circumstances they will remain the same; but as we are not to regard our private or particular Interest, but that of the whole Community, in every Question that arises in this House; I therefore think I am obliged not only to give my Vote against this Question, but to give my Reason, at least the principal Reason which induces me to be against it: and it is this, That, in my Opinion, the Motion seems calculated for no other End but to continue that Ferment and that Spirit of Division and Disaffection which was so artfully raised in the Nation, upon a late memorable Occasion, and which has already almost subsided, and must entirely subside, as soon as the People shall have come to their Senses, so as to be able to judge coolly and impartially about that Affair. But this they could never come to do, if the present Motion should succeed; the Nation would be kept always in a Ferment, the Divisions about one Election would no sooner be over, than those about another would begin, and the Passions of the People would be every Year screwed up by some new Art, in order to support or render successful the ambitious Views of some private Men. This would of course very much weaken his Majesty's Government, and diminish his Influence in all foreign Negotiations; for which Reason I shall most heartily give my Vote against the Motion now made to us.'
'I cannot give my Assent to the Question now in your Hand. The Repeal of the Septennial Law is a Motion I cannot in my Conscience agree to; for tho' one of the Motives for enacting that Law does not at present exist in such an apparent manner, as it did at the Time it was enacted, yet it cannot be said, that even that Motive has now entirely ceased; I wish with all my Heart it could be justly said, that there is not now a Jacobite or disaffected Person in the Nation; but I am afraid no such thing can be justly said for many Years to come, and therefore even that Motive, which the honourable Gentlemen, who have spoke upon the other side of the Question, have said to be the only Motive for enacting this Law, has not yet entirely ceased: But, Sir, this was not the sole and only Motive for enacting that Law; if Gentlemen had given Attention to the Preamble of that Law, they would have found many other Reasons mentioned for enacting it, which are now as strong for continuing it as they were then for enacting it.
'It has been said, Sir, that this Law has been attended with several Inconveniences, which I cannot say I was ever sensible of; and I think they have not yet been made sufficiently appear by any of the Gentlemen who have spoke in this Debate; but, granting that there were any such, is this a Time to repeal a Law which has been productive of so much Good, and which so much strengthens his Majesty's Government, only because it has been found to be attended with a few tristing Inconveniencies? I cannot think that the Gentlemen who talk at this rate are so ignorant of human Affairs, as they now pretend to be; they must certainly know, that all human Institutions are attended with Inconveniences, and all that the wisest of Men can do, is to chuse those Regulations which are attended with the sewest and the least dangerous Inconveniences, and which tend most to the Security and the Happiness of their native Country: When Gentlemen consider in this Light the Septennial Law which now exists, and the Triennial Law which was for good Reasons repealed, they will, I believe, at all Times, but especially at the present, give the Preference to the former.
'Let us, Sir, but consider the present Situation of the Affairs of Europe: Italy swallowed up by France and her Allies; numerous Armies on the Rhine threatning to penetrate into the very Bowels of the Empire; our old Allies, the Dutch, reduced to the low Ebb of begging a Neutrality from France, for their Barrier in Flanders. In such a State of foreign Affairs, is it to be imagined, that Great Britain can remain quiet, or indulge herself in a State of Ease and Security! No, surely, Sir, we must concert proper Measures to prevent the Balance of Power in Europe from being quite overturned: We must look in Time to the Preservation of that Balance which has already cost this Nation so much Blood and Treasure; and, at such a Conjuncture ought we to repeal that Law which strengthens his Majesty's Hands, which gives Steadiness to his Councils, and adds Weight to his Negotiations with foreign Powers? Or shall we substitute in its Place a Law which would throw the Nation every two or three Years into such Distractions and Confusions as Elections are always attended with?
'Would not this, Sir, be giving the Enemies of his Majesty's Government at home, in Conjunction with his Enemies abroad, so many Opportunities of distressing his Majesty's Government, of throwing all Things into Confusion, and perhaps of destroying that Establishment, and that Family to which we owe the Preservation of all that is dear to us? God forbid, Sir, that this House should be so much wanting in that Duty they owe to his Majesty, in that Duty they owe to their Country, as to do any thing that might tend to the distressing of his Government, or to the disturbing the Peace and Quiet of their Country. I hope the House will excuse me for taking up so much of their Time: I could say a great deal more against the Motion now before us, but the Subject has been so much exhausted, and every Argument in favour of it so fully answered by my worthy Friend under the Gallery, who spoke early in this Debate, that I think I need not now add any thing farther, but shall most heartily give my Vote against it.'
Mr. Watkin Williams Wynne.
'I am surprised to hear it insinuated by the honourable Gentleman who spoke last, as if the Motion now before us was made with a View to distress his Majesty's Government, or to disturb the Peace of the Nation. Such an Insinuation is really not treating the Gentlemen, who have spoke in favour of this Motion, with that Candour which one Gentleman has reason to expect from another in this House; nor, indeed, can I look upon it as any Compliment made to his Majesty or his Government: It is not to be doubted but that his Majesty, in all the Measures he pursues, looks a little further than this House. It is not to be questioned but that his Majesty looks for the Approbation of the Generality of his People, as well as the Majority of his Parliament; and while his Measures are approved of by the Generality of his People, frequent Elections cannot surely bring any Distress upon his Government, but will greatly strengthen it, by shewing frequently to his Majesty, and to the whole World, the true Sense of the Generality of the People. As to the Peace of the Nation, we know, by Experience, that it was as well preserved by Triennial Parliaments, as ever it was by Septennial, so that the agreeing to this Motion cannot disturb the Peace, but the rejecting it may very probably have such an Effect; for the Generality of the People so earnestly desire to have Triennial Parliaments restored to them; that the refusing to comply with their Desire cannot but increase the Number of the Disaffected, which may at last throw all Things into Confusion, and may perhaps destroy that Establishment, to which we owe every thing that is dear to us.
'I shall readily grant, Sir, that ever since we have had Septennial Parliaments, our Elections have been generally attended with Distractions and Confusions; but I cannot allow that this would be the Case if our Elections were Annual, or even Triennial; they would then be carried on with much less Heat and Animosity; for every Man knows that the Disturbances about Elections have been much greater since the Septennial Bill took place, than ever they were before: and I would gladly ask Gentlemen, if before that Time it was ever known that the Sollicitations and Contentions about Elections began two Years before the chusing of a new Parliament, which is known to be the Case at present over the whole Kingdom, and which always must necessarily be the Case; it being natural for Men to contend with more Vigour and with more Heat for a Post either of Honour or Profit, that is to be enjoyed for seven Years, than for one that is to be enjoyed but for one, or for three.
'Then, Sir, as to Bribery and Corruption at Elections, I am sure it has very much increased since the Septennial Law took place. It is a natural Consequence of lengthening the Time of a Parliament's Continuance; a Consequence so natural, that I am surprised to find it so much mistaken as it seems to be, by some Gentlemen who have spoken upon the other side of the Question. It is certain, Sir, that Bribery will never be made use of at any Election, but by a Man who has not a sufficient natural Interest in the Place where he declares himself a Candidate; and by such we may expect it will always be made use of, as far as it can be done with Safety, if the Candidate has but the least Hopes of succeeding by such dishonourable Means. Where there happens a Competition, every Elector has a natural Byass to vote for one Man rather than another, and every Elector will vote according to his natural Byass, if he is not bought off: whoever endeavours to buy him off, must certainly come up to his Price, and this Price will be higher or lower, according to the Elector's Honour and Circumstances, and the natural Byass he has for the other Candidate. A great many Men may be perhaps bought off with 100 or 1000 Guineas, who, if half that Sum were offered, would spurn it away with an honest Disdain. I hope, Sir, there are a great many Electors in this Kingdom, whose Honour, upon such Occasions, is above the Power of any such corrupt Temptations, but that there are likewise a great many who may be bought, is a Fact which, I believe, no Gentleman in this House will dispute: and in this View let us examine the Difference between Triennial and Septennial Parliaments.
'Give me Leave then to suppose two Gentlemen set up in Opposition to each other, for representing one of our little Boroughs in Parliament; one of them a Country Gentleman, of a great natural Interest in the Place, the other a Citizen of London, or a Place-man, not near equal to him in Interest, but depending entirely upon the Money he is able to lay out: Suppose the Citizen, or Place-man, comes to a Calculation, and finds that it will cost him at least 3000 l. to buy the Country Gentleman out of his Interest in that Borough; if the Parliament were to continue but for three Years, he would, very probably, resolve not to be at such an Expence, and so would refrain from being guilty of the Crime of corrupting his Countrymen; but when the Parliament is to continue for seven Years, he may as probably resolve to be at that Charge. Thus, by Corruption he may get a Seat in this House, and it is to be feared, that he who comes in here by Corruption, will not walk out with clean Hands.
'Gentlemen are very much mistaken if they imagine, that the Price of an Elector depends upon the Duration of a Parliament, or that a Man who sells his Vote for 100 Guineas at an Election of a Septennial Parliament, would sell his Vote for the half of that Sum, if the Parliament to be chosen were to continue only for three Years. No, Sir, there are very few of this sort of Electors, who think of Futurity; the present Offer is the Temptation, and the only Temptation which can be of any weight with them: Besides, they cannot depend upon having the like Offer made them at the next Election; and 50 Guineas ready Money, with an uncertain Hope of having 50 more three Years hence, is not surely so great a Price as 100 Guineas ready down: The natural Interest of the Country Gentlemen, and the Honour of the Electors, are what the Dealers in Corruption have to contend with, and against these a small Price cannot be so prevalent as one a little higher. Some may, perhaps, be corrupted by a small Price, but certainly the higher it is, the greater will the Numbers be that are tempted to yield to it; and as a Man may give a higher Price at the Election for a Septennial Parliament, than he can do at one for an Annual or Triennial, therefore the greater the Numbers will be of those who yield to his Temptation, the more he may depend upon Corruption; and the more it is to be depended on, the more general and the more frequent will it certainly be. From hence it appears evident, that the Increase of Bribery and Corruption is as natural a Consequence of Septennial Parliaments, as any one Thing can be conceived to be the Consequence of another.
'There is no way, Sir, of effectually preventing Corruption, but by putting it out of the Power of any Man to corrupt: There is no corrupting any Man but by coming up to his Price; therefore the only way of putting it out of the Power of any Man to corrupt, is to put it out of the Power of any Man to come up to the Price of any Number of Electors; and this can only be done by making our Elections frequent: The more frequent the better. It is certain, a Gentleman who enjoys a good Pension for seven Years, is more able to give a high Price, than if he had enjoyed that Pension but for one Year, or even for three; and he will more willingly give a high Price, when he is thereby to purchase the Continuance of that Pension for seven Years, than when he is to purchase it only for one or for three Years. This, Sir, is so evident, that I am astonished to hear it controverted within these Walls.
'If our Parliaments were annual, it would be impossible for Place-men or Pensioners to save as much yearly as would be sufficient to bribe Country Gentlemen out of their Interest, and the Electors out of their Honesty; which I am afraid is a Practice now too frequent in many Parts of this Kingdom: How can it otherwise be imagined that the People would chuse Persons they never saw, Persons they perhaps never heard of, in Opposition to Gentlemen who live in the Neighbourhood; Gentlemen who give them daily Employment, by buying in their Shops and Markets all the Manufactures and Provisions they have use for in their Families, and Gentlemen whose Ancestors have, perhaps, often represented that very Place in Parliament with great Honour and universal Approbation? I remember, Sir, I was told by a Gentleman who is now dead, and therefore I may name him, I mean Mr. Spencer Cowper, afterwards one of the Judges of the Common-Pleas, he told me himself that he had never been in the Borough he represented in Parliament, nor had ever seen or spoke with any of his Electors; and I believe I could, without much Difficulty, name some who are now in the same Situation. Can such, Sir, be called the Representatives of the People, or can it be supposed that they are chosen by Means of that natural Interest by which every Man ought to hold his Seat in this House?
'The Parliament, Sir, is the great Council of the Nation, and the Business of this House in particular is to represent to his Majesty the Grievances of the People, to inform his Majesty if any of his Ministers or Officers makes an ill use of the Power he delegates to them, and to impeach and prosecute such evil Ministers. Now I would be glad to know who are the most proper Representatives for these Purposes, Gentlemen who have large Properties in the Country, who are independent of the Ministers and Officers of the Crown, and who by living in the Country are perfectly acquainted with the Circumstances of the People; or Gentlemen who for their chief Support depend upon the Ministers and Officers of the Crown, who know nothing of those they represent, and are not only ignorant of their true Interests, but are really indifferent about their Welfare. I hope it will not be controverted, but that the first sort of Gentlemen are the most proper Representatives of the People; and if so, Annual or Triennial Parliaments are better than Septennial, because there is a greater Probability of their being chiefly composed of such Gentlemen.
'As Bribery and Corruption, therefore, is a natural Consequence of long Parliaments, as it must always increase in Proportion as the Term for the Parliament's Continuance is prolonged, I am persuaded that all those who are against Bribery and Corruption, will join with me in voting for the Restitution of Triennial Parliaments. It is not the Expence of an Election that Country Gentlemen are to be afraid of; the most extravagant Entertainments that a Stranger in the Country could give, would have but little weight, if to these he did not add downright Bribery; and even those Bribes must be so high, as to overballance the natural Interest of the Country Gentleman, as well as the Honesty of the greatest Part of the Electors: As these Bribes cannot be made so high for a Triennial Parliament, as they may be for a Septennial, they cannot be so prevalent among the Electors; and therefore a Gentleman, who depends upon nothing but his natural Interest, will always have a better Lay for representing his Country in a Triennial Parliament, than he can have for representing it in one which is to continue for seven Years; for which Reason I cannot but think that every Gentleman, who has a mind that his Posterity shall depend for their Seats in Parliament, upon the natural Interest they may have in their respective Countries, and not upon the Frowns or the Favours of the Minister for the Time being, must necessarily be for our returning to our former Constitution in this respect. This, Sir, is, in my Opinion, absolutely necessary, and it must be soon done, otherwise Country Gentlemen, tired out with contending against those who purchase their Elections, perhaps with the very Money which the Country Gentlemen are obliged to pay out of their Estates in publick Duties and Taxes, will at last have nothing to do but to sit down and bemoan the Fate of their Country: but their Complaints will then be to very little purpose, for the Doors of that Place, where the Groans of the People ought to be heard, will then be shut against them. We may depend on it that those, who obtain their Seats in this House by Ministerial Influence, will, while here, be directed in all their Proceedings by the same sort of Influence, and by none other.
'To conclude, Sir, I am very certain that there is nothing would be more agreeable to the People in general, than the Repeal of the Septennial Law; and therefore I, as one of the Representatives of the People chosen without Bribery or Corruption, and as one who has nothing to consider but the Interest of those I represent, shall readily vote for the Motion.'
Then Mr. Willes (fn. 1) spoke against the Motion.
'I have given all possible Attention to what has been said by Gentlemen, on both sides of this Question; and I must confess, I cannot yet see any manner of Reason for agreeing to the Motion. Gentlemen have been pleased to put us in mind of our ancient Constitution; but it has been so often varied and altered, that it will be found very difficult to fix upon a Time when it was such as we ought or would desire to return to: And if any Time is to be fixed on, we are not surely to take the Time when our Constitution was weak and in its Infancy, we are certainly to chuse that Time when it was come to its full Strength and Vigour, which, in my Opinion, is the present. But as Gentlemen have mentioned the Claim of Rights, let us examine how it stood at that Time, for I am persuaded it will be agreed to by every Gentleman in this House, that after that Claim was settled and confirmed, our Constitution was more vigorous than it ever was before that Time; and yet even in our Claim of Rights there is no Mention made of frequent new Parliaments: It is indeed said, that for Redress of Grievances, and for amending, strengthening and preserving the Laws, Parliaments ought to be held frequently; but it is not so much as insinuated, that every one of these Parliaments ought to be a new Parliament; and as to the Frequency of Parliaments, I am sure there never was less Reason for Complaint than since the Septennial Bill passed; for ever since that Time the Sessions have been regularly held, and all of them have been allowed to sit as long as it was necessary or proper they should.
'But, Sir, even by the Claim of Rights our Constitution was not so well regulated or established as it is at present: It was still left in the Power of the King to continue a Parliament as long as he pleased, and this certainly might have become a Grievance upon the People. This Oversight the whole Nation were sensible of, and this they were willing to obviate; but in all such Cases, People generally run from one Extreme to another; the Passions of Men are something like a Pendulum, if they are raised too high on one Side, they always rise too high on the other; it requires Time before they come to settle in the Equilibrium of Reason. This was the very Case with respect to the Triennial Bill, which was passed in the Reign of King William: The Passions of the People were raised high against the unlimited Prerogative of the Crown, in continuing a Parliament as long as the King had a mind; this the Enemies of the Government took hold of, in order to introduce a Law by which the Prerogative was in this respect limited too much: for it is well known that the Triennal Act was neither introduced nor promoted by the Patrons of Liberty, or the real Friends to that King's Government; it was by those who meant to distress the Measures of that good Prince, to whom their native Country, nay even they themselves, stood so much indebted. They at last prevailed, they got that Law passed, which after a long Experience was found to be of dangerous Consequence to the Peace of the Nation, and to the Quiet of the Subject; and therefore the Septennial Bill was agreed to, which is a most reasonable Mean between the one Extreme of leaving the Prerogative of the Crown in this respect unlimited, and the other Extreme of limiting this Prerogative too much, by laying the Crown under a Necessity of calling a new Parliament once in three Years, whether it be consistent with the Peace and Security of the Nation or not. From whence, Sir, I think I have good Reason to be of Opinion, that our Constitution is now in its utmost Perfection. I was indeed glad to hear Encomiums bestowed by an Honourable Gentleman upon the late King William, because such seldom come from the Corner of the House where he sits; but if that glorious King had been limited to Septennial Parliaments only, and not to Triennial, the future Happiness of this Nation would have been better secured, and more firmly establish'd by him; he would not have been obliged to have put an End to the War so soon as he did, or to have agreed to those Treaties, which were afterwards so loudly complained of; the Continuance of the War but for a very few Years, might have reduced the Power of France so low, as to have rendered them utterly unable to have made a Conquest of Spain; and thereby the heavy War which ensued, and which cost this Nation so much Blood and Treasure, would have been effectually prevented.
'Gentlemen have been pleased, Sir, to mention frequently to us the Prerogative of the Crown, and to talk of its being grown up to a great Height; but can any Gentleman say, that his present Majesty, or the late King his Father, ever made the least Attempt to the Prejudice of the People's Rights, or ever endeavour'd to extend any Branch of the Prerogative beyond those Bounds which are prescribed to it by Law? And I hope no Gentleman will say, that the Prerogative, as now limited and established, can be dangerous: for while our happy Constitution is preserved, it is certain the monarchial Part of it must be endowed with some Powers and Prerogatives; it must have at least those which are necessary to support itself against Faction, and to preserve that Influence which it ought by Law to have in the Government of this Kingdom. And as for the Influence which, as has been supposed, the Crown may acquire over long Parliaments, it has already had a very proper Answer from both the Gentlemen who spoke first against this Motion; for it is very certain, that the long Parliament in King Charles the Second's Reign, which has been called the Pensionary Parliament, became towards the End so very little subject to the Influence of the Crown, that they did all they could to secure the Liberties of the People against the Schemes which were then forming by the Court, and became so strenuous in their Endeavours this Way, that the King was at last obliged to dissolve them. This shews, that the Length of a Parliament rather diminishes than increases the Influence of the Crown; and the History of every Parliament since that Time confirms this Observation.
'We have been told, that we always ought to have a Dependance on those we represent, and that in long Parliaments this Dependance may probably be thrown off; which could never be the Case if Parliaments were Annual. That we have all a Dependance upon the People for our Election, is what, Sir, I shall readily grant; but after we are chosen, and have taken our Seats in this House, we have no longer any Dependance upon our Electors, at least in so far as regards our Behaviour here: Their whole Power is then devolved upon us, and we are in every Question that comes before this House, to regard only the publick Good in general, and to determine according to our own Judgments: If we do not, if we are to depend upon our Representatives, and to follow blindly the Instructions they send us, we cannot be said to act freely, nor can such Parliaments he called free Parliaments: Such a Dependance would be a most dangerous Dependance: It would, in my Opinion, be more dangerous and of worse Consequence than a Dependance upon the Crown; for in a Dependance on the Crown, can see no Danger as long as the Interest of the Crown is made the same with that of the People, which every Man must allow to be the Case at present; whereas the People of any County, City, or Borough are very liable to be miss-led, and may often be induced to give Instructions directly contrary to the Interest of their Country.
'Bribery and Corruption, Sir, are two hideous Words, and are often set in the most terrible Light; I have, 'tis true, as terrible an Idea of such Practices as any Gentleman in this House; but I cannot think we are in any present Danger from such: Our Constitution is so happily formed, that it is almost impossible to overthrow it by such Practices; for before such a Thing can be done, the Generality of the People must be corrupted; nay, they must be so far corrupted as to be ready to sell themselves for a small Price; for if they insist upon a high one, there cannot be a Purchaser. This is a Case which I hope never will happen, but if ever it should, I cannot see how our Constitution could be more safe with a Triennial than with a Septennial Parliament; for I am persuaded that if a Man will sell his Vote either in Parliament, or at Elections, for 1000 or 100 Guineas, he will sell it for half that Sum, when he finds he can get no more. Whatever is once brought to Market, is generally sold for the Market-Price; and we find that the more frequently a Thing is sold, the lower it falls in its Price, the more contemptible it becomes. People usually suppose that Corruption is only of one sort; but this, Sir, is a Mistake, it appears in many Shapes; a Man may be bribed without giving him Money; and even Members of this House may be bribed without getting any Place or Preferment from the Government. If any Gentleman, to please his Borough, and to secure his next Election, should act contrary to his own Judgment, it is as downright Bribery as if he had got a Pension, a Place or Preferment from the Court; and I look upon this as one of the very worst sorts of Corruption.
'Gentlemen have told us, that Septennial Parliaments are attended with many Inconveniences, but they have not been so good as to shew us any of them, at least in so far as I have yet heard; we have had the Experience of such Parliaments for above these eighteen Years, and yet I do not find that they have pretended to shew any one Inconvenience which has arisen from them in all that Time; from whence I must presume, that it is not in their Power; and I believe it cannot be shewn that so many good Laws have passed in any such Number of Years, as have been passed since Septennial Parliaments took place: I am sure it cannot be shewn, that any one Law has been passed by any of our Septennial Parliaments, that incroached upon the Rights of the People, or that was attended with an Inconvenience; or was looked on by the Generality of the People as a Grievance. If ever there were any such, I must desire that the Gentlemen of the other Side of the Question would point them out to us.
'But, Sir, I could show many Inconveniences that would certainly ensue from Triennial or Annual Parliaments: The whole Nation would be kept in a continual Ferment: The Feuds and Divisions which by every Election are raised among Neighbours in the Country, would be continually kept up: The Country Gentlemen would be entirely ruined by the Expence of frequent Elections, and an annual Attendance upon this House with Multitudes of Witnesses, about those that might be contested; and a vast Encouragement would be given to Drunkenness and Idleness among all Ranks of Men. We know, when working People have been habituated but for a few Days to Drunkenness and Idleness, how hard it is to bring them back to their Labour and Industry; from whence we must conclude, that such frequent Elections would be a great Prejudice to our Husbandry, to our Manufactures, and to all sorts of Improvements; for the Drinking and Feasting about one Election would hardly be over, when that for the next would begin. All these, and many worse, would be the certain Consequences of Triennial, or Annual Elections; whereas when Elections return but once in seven Years, the Feuds and Divisions among Neighbours, and the Ferment the Nation is put into, have time to subside; the labouring People have time to cool and return to their Labour, and the Country Gentlemen may easily bear the Expence of Elections, because they have six Years to recruit, and to lay in a Stock for that Purpose.
'An Honourable Gentleman spoke of Septennial Parliaments as necessary to support falling Ministers: How a Septennial can be more proper for this Purpose than a Triennial, I cannot really comprehend; but whatever may be in this, I am sure it is not the Case at present: for I have been of late in as many Counties and Corporations as any Gentleman, I believe, in this House; and notwithstanding all the Arts that have been practised, and all the Industry that has been used to give the People a bad Impression of the present Administration, I found the People in every Place I passed through, generally well inclined towards it; and the present Parliament, tho' a Septennial one, stands so firmly in the Esteem and Affections of the People, that I dare say we shall see the greatest Part of the Gentlemen now in this House re-chosen.
'Upon the whole, Sir, as no Gentleman can, I think, shew me any Inconvenience attending Septennial Parliaments but what is imaginary, as a great many dangerous Inconveniences always have attended, and always must attend Triennial Parliaments; and as I am convinced that the Nation in general is very far from desiring a Repeal of the Septennial Law, I am entirely against the Question.'
Mr. Walter Plumer.
'I am not a little astonished at the Doctrine laid down by the Honourable and Learned Gentleman who spoke last: That after we are chosen, we are to give no Attention to our Constituents, that we are then to throw aside all Dependance upon them, is a Doctrine I never before heard in this House; and I am the more surprised to hear it come from that learned Gentleman, because some of our principal Law-Books tell us, that in ancient Times this House has often refused to agree to Propositions made by the Court; for this Reason only, that they could not agree to any such new Propositions, till they went home and consulted with their Constituents. For my own Part, Sir, I shall always give the greatest Attention to the Sentiments of those I represent; I shall always have a great Regard for their Interests, and shall never think there is any Danger in having a Dependance upon them.
'The learned Gentleman asked us, If the Prerogative of the Crown had been extended beyond its due Bounds by his late or his present Majesty? Sir, I do not say it has: It is a Question cannot properly be answered, nor have I heard any such Thing so much as insinuated in this Debate. But I wish we would take an Example from the Crown in one Thing: We may observe, that the Crown never gives a Place or Employment for Life, or for a long Term of Years, except such as cannot be otherwise disposed of; and the Reason is plain: Were these Places given for Life, the Grantee would then be out of the Power of the Crown, and consequently would not have such a Dependance on the Crown, as those Persons must have who enjoy their Places during Pleasure only. In this the Crown acts wisely; and I wish we would follow the Example: When I say We, I speak of the Gentlemen present not as Members of this House, but as a Part of the People of Great-Britain: It would certainly be the Height of Wisdom in the People to keep those they trust and employ in their Service as much in their Power as possible. If those the People chose to represent them in this House, were to continue in that Station only during the Pleasure of the People, the Representatives would, I believe, have a proper Regard for the Interests of the People, and would never think of throwing off all Dependance upon them. As this would, in my Opinion, be a wise Step in the People, therefore I must be for agreeing to every Thing that may tend this Way; for this Reason I cannot but be for the present Motion; nay; if Annual Parliaments had been moved for, I should have been for the Question.
'Another Gentleman over the Way mentioned to us the present Situation of Europe; and asked us, If we were to sit still, and take no Part? This, Sir, is a Question that might be answered, if they would let us into the Secret so far, as to know what is the present Situation of Europe with respect to ourselves; but this they do not seem inclined to do. However, without such an Insight, I think I may say, that we ought to mind our own Business, and take proper Care of the Interests of Great-Britain; but that we are not to enter headlong into every German Quarrel that happens beyond Seas. This may be a very proper Question, and probably will come to be a Question in the first Session of the next Parliament: In which Case I hope those who have it in their Power, will lay every Thing before this House, that may be necessary for giving a proper Answer to such an important Question. But how the Members of next Parliament, by being chosen for seven Years, should have in the very first Session more Knowledge, more Wisdom, or more Integrity in the determining of this Question, than if they had been chosen only for three, is what, I must confess, I cannot comprehend.
'The learned Gentleman was so good as to tell us, that we had all, or most of us, by our Behaviour in this Parliament, established our Characters so firmly among the People, that most of us will be chosen again: if so, it is to be hoped we will behave as well in the next, and then as many of us as are alive may expect to be chosen a third Time. And if we behave ill, I hope no Gentleman will say we ought to continue even for one Year, much less for seven, in the Station we are in, whether our Representatives will or no. This, Sir, is as proper an Answer as can be made to the principal Argument urged against frequent Elections; which was, that they would distress his Majesty's Government, and render the Measures of his Administration unsteady; for, if the same Members be upon a new Election generally returned as long as they behave well, surely even an Annual Election could never distress his Majesty's Government, nor render his Ministers unsteady in the Measures they pursue, at least as long as the Members behave well in Parliament. And I hope no King will, I am sure his Majesty never will, and I hope no Minister ever can depend upon the ill Behaviour of the Members of Parliament for the Support of his Government, or for the Support of the Measures he pursues: I say, I hope this Case never will happen; but lest it should, the best way to guard against it is to have frequent Elections; and therefore I am for the Question.'
Sir William Lowther.
'There is one Reason, which chiefly prevails with me to be against your Question: It has been said, that the principal Motive for introducing Septennial Parliaments now no longer exists; but this I can by no means agree with, because I am sure the Number of Papists has greatly increased even since the Septennial Law took place: And as a true Regard for our own Religion has in the same Time very much decreased, I am afraid the Popish Interest will daily gain more and more upon us; and the Transition from Popery to Jacobitism we know to be short and certain.
'Besides, Sir, there has lately been published in our Weekly Papers, An Essay upon Parties: who is the Author of it I do not know, but I have read it; and I think it the most Jesuitical Performance I ever saw: It could, in my Opinion, be wrote with no other View but to raise Discontents and Jealousies, and to increase the Disaffection to his Majesty's Government; and therefore I cannot be for repealing a Law which greatly strengthens that Government against all such Attempts.'
'I do not stand up, to enter into your Debate; but only to take Notice of what was said by the Gentleman who spoke last. I do not know whether the Number of Papists be increased since the Time he mentions or not; but I would gladly know from him, which Side in the Elections the Papists favour most in that Part of the Country where he lives? For I can affirm, that in all the Parts of England which I know, they generally make use of all their Interest in favour of those Candidates who are recommended by the Ministers: What may be their Reason for such an odd sort of Conduct, I cannot pretend to determine; for surely they do not imagine that the only Game they have to play against his Majesty's Government is to support his Ministers.'
Mr. George Heathcote.
'I was very much inclined, to give my Vote for the Question when it was first moved; but I am now more firmly of that Opinion, after what I have heard from the two Honourable Gentlemen who spoke last: for if Popery has gained so great Ground in this Nation, since the passing of the Septennial Law; and if the Papists be in general such Friends to our Ministers, I do not know but that in next Parliament many Papists may have Seats in this House. And as some of our Ministers have been of late very changeable in their Potiticks, I do not know but they may take it in their Heads to change their Religion too: therefore, for fear of our having a Popish Parliament, and some Popish Ministers, I am for repealing the Septennial Law, in order to prevent their having Time to do a great deal of Mischief.'
Sir John Hynde Cotton.
'As to all the Parts of England I know, I can affirm the Truth of what my worthy Friend by me has said. The Papists are in general making use of all their Interest in favour of those Candidates who are recommended by the Ministers; and an Honourable Gentleman on the Floor, who I believe has no small Share in the present Administration, knows that one of that Religion, who is a Gentleman of one of the best and most ancient Families in the County of Norfolk, and a Gentleman of one of the best Estates in it, is now riding about the Country, solliciting Votes for his Friends who are Candidates for the County, or for any City or Borough within the County: so that if there has been of late an Increase of Popery, it cannot be said that the Interest of the Ministers is thereby weakened; but as to his Majesty's Government, I dare say that it cannot be much strengthened by the Addition of such Friends.
'An honourable and learned Gentleman over the Way was pleased to ask us, Sir, if his late or present Majesty had ever made any Attempt to the Prejudice of the Rights of the People, or had endeavoured to extend any Branch of the Prerogative beyond its legal Bounds? To this Question, Sir, I shall not answer one Word, because I know the Gentleman's Office; but I shall answer another Question asked by the same Gentleman: He asked us, if I remember right, Whether any Law was ever passed by a Septennial Parliament that incroached upon the Liberties of the People, or that was attended with an Inconvenience, or was looked on by the Generality of the People as a Grievance? As to the first Part of this Question, I must really, Sir, look upon the Septennial Law itself as some sort of Incroachment upon the Rights of the People; and that Law, I think, was passed by a Parliament which made itself Septennial. But farther, Sir, were not the Laws of Treason, as to Trials, altered by a Septennial Parliament, or at least one which made itself so? That Law which had remained unaltered in all the Contests, and the long Wars that happened between the Houses of York and Lancaster, was altered upon a trifling Insurrection in some of the Northern Parts of this Kingdom: Formerly every Man was to be tried by a Jury of his honest Neighbours, within the County where the Crimes alledged against him were said to have been committed; but a Septennial Parliament ordered him to be carried away, and tried in any County, where the Crown, or rather the Minister, could find a Jury proper for their Purpose; and where the Prisoner might not perhaps be able to bring any Witnesses in his own Justification, it might at least have been impossible for him to bring any without a great Expence. And yet farther, Sir, was not the Riot Act passed by a Septennial Parliament; and is this no Incroachment upon the Rights of the People? Is it no Grievance that a little dirty Justice of the Peace, the meanest and vilest Tool a Minister can make use of, a Tool who, perhaps, subsists by his being in the Commission, and who may be turned out of that Subsistence whenever the Minister pleases; Is this, I say, no Grievance that such a Tool should have it in his Power, by reading a Proclamation, to put perhaps 20 or 30 of the best Subjects in England to immediate Death, without any Trial or Form of Law? This Law, Sir, and several others I could name, have been passed by Septennial Parliaments; to which, because they stand yet unrepealed, I shall not give the Names I think they deserve.
'But, Sir, to ask whether any Laws have been passed by Septennial Parliaments, which have been attended with Inconveniences, or have been complained of as a Grievance, is a Question I am surprised to hear come from a Gentleman learned in the Laws. Was not the fatal Southsea Scheme, in the Year 1720, established by an Act of a Septennial Parliament, and can any Man ask, whether that Law was attended with any Inconvenience? It was, Sir, the most scandalous Act that ever was passed by any Parliament: if Triennial Parliaments had then been in Being, I am persuaded it would never have passed; or if it had, I am sure, the chief Promoters of it would have suffered a very different Fate from what they did. And, did not the same Parliament pass some Clauses in an Act for hindering the spreading of the Plague, that were look'd upon by the Generality of the People as so great a Grievance, and were so loudly complained of by all Ranks of People in the Nation, that it was thought proper to repeal them in the very next Session of Parliament?
'To the glorious Catalogue I have mentioned of Laws passed by Septennial Parliaments, we might have added the late Excise Bill, if it had passed into a Law; but thank God, the Septennial Parliament was near expiring before that famous Bill was introduced. To this glorious Catalogue I could add, Sir, not a few others; but I will stop here, till I have heard the Laws I have mentioned justified by those who seem to be so much in love with Septennial Parliaments; and if they can justify all that has been done by such Parliaments, I now promise most solemnly to be of their Opinion; but till then I hope they will excuse me, in being for the Repeal of a Law, which, in my Opinion, has never done any good, which has produced a great deal of Mischief; and which, I am much afraid, will quite overturn our Constitution, if it continues for any Time unrepealed.'
Sir John Barnard.
'I am a good deal surprised to find that none of those Gentlemen who usually have a great share in our Debates, seem inclined to take any share in this. I hope they will allow it to be a Question of some Consequence to their Country; and if it should be carried in the Affirmative, some of them may perhaps find it a Question of some Consequence to themselves. I will venture to say, that I have not heard a Question better supported on one side, and less said against it on the other, by the Gentlemen who have already spoken since I sat in Parliament; and I now stand up, not that I think any thing needful to be added to what has been said in support of it, but that I cannot think of letting a Question go, in the Success of which I think the Happiness of my Country so deeply concerned, without my joining with other Gentlemen in shewing all the Regard for it that lies in my Power.
'An honourable and learned Gentleman has indeed advanced a Doctrine which I think altogether new: That we are to have no further Dependance on our Electors after we have taken our Seats in this House; nay, that a Dependance upon them would be more dangerous than a Dependance on the Crown. This, Sir, is really, in my Opinion, something very new; tho' that Gentleman may perhaps like the one better than the other, yet I shall always look upon a Dependance on the People of England, or even upon those I represent, to be less dangerous and more honourable, than a Dependance on the Crown; and I value my self more on the Honour I have had of sitting here for two Parliaments, as one of the Representatives of the People of England, and by the free and uncorrupted Choice of those I represent, than I should do on the greatest Honours the Crown can bestow. Indeed, if I had obtained my Seat here by Bribery, or by the illegal and corrupt Influence of any great Minister, I should look upon it in a very different light; I should look upon it as one of the most disgraceful Stations I could be in.
'It has been affirmed by several Gentlemen, who have spoken on the other side of the Question, that the longer Parliaments continued, the less Influence the Crown had upon them; and for a Proof of this, they have instanced the long Parliament in King Charles the Second's Reign. The same Gentlemen have likewise asserted, that Triennial Parliaments would distress his Majesty's Government: How these two Assertions are compatible, I leave to the Gentlemen themselves to explain; for to me it appears impossible that both can be true: because if the Crown has always the less Influence in a Parliament the longer it continues, surely the shortening the Time of its Duration cannot distress any King's Government. But as to the long Parliament in King Charles's Time, tho' they did not towards the End shew the same servile Compliance that they had done for many Years before; yet it is plain, that the Crown thought that Parliament fitter for the Purposes of the Court at that Time, than they could expect any new Parliament chosen by the People to be; otherwise, as the King had it in his Power, he would certainly have dissolved them much sooner: And if that long Parliament really deserved the Name usually given to it, we must conclude, that their Non-compliance at last was not owing to their Virtue, or a Want of Inclination to receive, but to a Want of Power in the Crown to give. The People were not then accustomed to bear such heavy Burdens, as they do at present; the Revenues of the Crown were not so large, nor the Posts and Places at the Disposal of the Crown so numerous; there was not such a numerous standing Army to support the Parliament, in case they had gone on in the same servile Method: And as the Complaints of the People grew loud and clamorous, as there was little to be got, and a great deal to be apprehended, by the Continuance of a servile Compliance, it is very probable that these were the true Reasons of that Parliament's becoming at last so restive: And if the Nation was now in the same State it was at that Time, I should not be half so much afraid of Septennial Parliaments as I think I have now good Reason to be.
'The Animosities, Disputes, and Divisions about Elections, have been set in the most dreadful Light, and have been represented as so great an Inconvenience, that we ought to run the Risk of having our Constitution overturned, rather than submit to it. But, Sir, can it be imagined that there would be the same Contention for a Seat in Parliament, which was to continue but for one Year, or even for three, that there is for one which is to continue for seven: The Example of the City of London plainly shews us the contrary. As the Common-Councilmen, and a great many other Officers in the City are chosen annually, I have had Occasion to be often present at these annual Elections, and never could find that they were attended with any great Heats and Animosities, or with any Inconvenience; for after the Election is over, the contending Parties go home, and live in the same Friendship they did before: And I am convinced the Case would be the very same, if annual Elections for Members of this House were restored. The same Man might perhaps be continued and re-chosen every Year for many Years together, probably without any Dispute or Opposition; but his being liable every Year to be turned out, would be a continual Check upon his Behaviour, and would make him study the Interests of the People, instead of pursuing only some private and selfish Views of his own.
'Even as Elections stand at present, there would be no such Contentions, nor any such Heats and Animosities as we hear of, if they were entirely left to Gentlemen who have a natural Interest in the Place: in such Case, if a Candidate found himself defeated by fair Means only, and merely by the superior Interest of his Antagonist, it would not raise his Indignation, it would occasion no Heats or Animosities, he would wait with Patience for a new Opportunity, and in the mean time would endeavour to recommend himself to his Country by Acts of Hospitality and Benevolence. It is Ministers of State intermeddling in Elections; it is Election-Brokers, and such Dealers in Corruption, that occasion all the Heats and Animosities we have: for when a Gentleman, of a great natural Interest, sees his Electors obliged by Power, or bribed by Money, to vote against him, perhaps in favour of an utter Stranger, it cannot but raise his Indignation: it may indeed justly raise his utmost Fury and Revenge.
'It is certain, Sir, that if the People were entirely left to themselves, they would, without much Contention, always chuse those Gentlemen, who, by having large Properties of their own, might be reasonably supposed to be such as would take the best Care of the Properties of their Fellow-Subjects. But if the People should ever begin to see their Representatives making their Seats in Parliament Places of Profit, and bartering their Votes and their Behaviour in Parliament for Posts, Places and Pensions, the People will soon follow the Example of their Representatives, and will insist upon sharing with them in the Profits. Thus, by degrees, the Minds of the People will be debauched; they will be brought to think, that the selling their Votes at Elections is no Crime, the Representatives who buy their Seats must sell their Votes; and at last, all Regard for the publick Good will be generally laid aside by all sorts of Men. The only effectual Method, Sir, of preventing this fatal Effect, is to restore annual Elections; for then it would be impossible, even for the Treasury itself (if ever the publick Money should come to be so misapplied) to issue yearly, Sums of Money sufficient to get the better of the natural Interest, which Country Gentlemen always have in the Places where they and their Families have perhaps for many Generations resided. The Consequence of which will be, that none but Country Gentlemen, and those who have a natural Interest in the Place, will ever appear as Candidates; and thus neither the Morals of the People will be debauched, nor their Properties plundered, nor their Liberties destroyed by those Election-Brokers and Ministerial Agents, or their Candidates, who never can be employed or set up but for such base Purposes.
'As for our Credit abroad, which, it is pretended, Septennial Parliaments very much contribute to, I think it is evident, that it has been sinking ever since the Septennial Law took place; which confirms what was justly observed by an honourable Gentleman, that the Credit of the Nation among Foreigners does not depend upon the Length or Shortness of our Parliaments, but upon that Correspondence and Confidence which ought always to be kept up between the King and his People. I will not say that this Decay of our Credit abroad has been altogether owing to the Septennial Law; but I dare say, if our Parliaments had not been Septennial, they would probably, before now, have enquired into the Conduct of those who have been the Causes of this Decay; and whatever Reasons the Decay of our Credit among Foreigners may have been owing to, it is now come to so low an Ebb, that we really seem to have almost none to lose. This, I am sorry to say it, seems to be our Case at present; and as I think nothing can so effectually restore our Credit abroad, as the restoring our Constitution at home, I shall therefore give my Vote for the Question.'
Sir William Yonge.
'I assure you, I did not sit still because I thought much had been said in this Debate upon one Side of the Question, and nothing upon the other; but because after what had been offered by my worthy Friend under the Gallery, who spoke early in the Debate, and the honourable and learned Gentleman who spoke some time ago against the Question, I thought it might be looked on as a Vanity in me to pretend to add any Thing to what had been said: Indeed I am still of the same Opinion, and should have continued in my Resolution of not giving you any Trouble this Day, had not the Honourable Gentleman over the Way thrown out what I take to be a very uncandid Reflection upon my Honourable and Learned Friend.
'My learned Friend happened to make an Observation, which I still think a very just one; he said, that after we are returned and have taken our Seats in this House, we ought not any longer to have a Dependance upon those we represent. This the Honourable Gentleman laid hold of, he not only called it a new and a very extraordinary Doctrine; but he dropt an Expression such as I think ought not to be made use of in this House: As to the Observation made by my learned Friend, he certainly meant, and I believe almost every Gentleman understood him, that after we have taken our Seats in this House we ought, every one of us, to look upon ourselves as one of the Representatives of the whole Body of the Commons of England, and ought not to have any particular Byass for the County, City or Borough we represent. This, Sir, is so far from being a Doctrine very extraordinary, or altogether new, that I wish every Gentleman in this House would make it a standing Rule for his Conduct; for I cannot help observing, that there are some Gentlemen in the House who on many Occasions confine their Thoughts too much to the particular County, City or Borough they represent; but surely they must be sensible, that many Things may happen in Parliament which may be for the Interest of the Nation in general, tho' they may not perhaps quadrate so exactly with the particular Interest of London, Bristol, Liverpool, or other like City; and in such a Case the Gentlemen must surely grant, that as Members of this House, they ought to drop not only their Dependance upon, but even their Concern for the particular City they represent, in order to concur with the rest of the Members of this House, in what they judge to be for the general Interest of the Nation.
'This, Sir, I thought myself obliged to say in Vindication of my learned Friend; but as to the Question itself, I shall give you but very little Trouble: for tho' I must do the Gentlemen who introduced this Motion the Justice to own, that they did it with as much Candour, and in as pretty a Manner, as I ever heard any Question introduced in this House, yet all the Arguments they made use of were so fully answered, and the Objections against their Motion stated in so clear a Light, by the two worthey Gentlemen who spoke first against their Motion, that I cannot agree to it: and indeed, as I believe we owe the Happiness of having the present Royal Family upon the Throne, and the Liberty of debating any Question in this House, chiefly to the Septennial Law, I shall never agree to the Repeal of that Law, without seeing much stronger Reasons for it than any I have hitherto heard offered.
'One of the great Inconveniences said to attend Septennial Parliaments is, that they heighten and increase those Heats and Animosities which are usually raised among the People about the Time of Elections; but this I cannot agree to, because it is well known that those Heats and Animosities rose to as great a Height, nay to a much greater Height, during the Continuance of Triennial Parliaments, than they ever did since that Time; from whence we may observe, that the Violence of those Heats and Animosities does not depend upon the quick or the slow Return of Elections, but upon the Temper of the People at the Time. In every Nation there arises sometimes a general Ferment among the People, sometimes without any visible Cause, and often from Causes that are in themselves unjust: In this Nation, if an Election for a new Parliament should come on when the Nation is in any such Ferment, the Heats and Animosities at that Time would certainly become extremely violent, nay so violent, as to endanger the Peace of the Kingdom; and if we had Annual or even Triennial Parliaments, no such Ferment could ever happen but what would probably be attended with an Election, by which the Nation might be involved in such frequent Disorders and Confusions, as might at last make us a Prey for some foreign Enemy; which, in my Opinion, is a Danger much more to be apprehended, than any Danger our Constitution can be in from having our Parliaments Septennial.
'Another Inconvenience is, that Septennial Parliaments increase and give Encouragements to Bribery and Corruption. That there is Bribery and Corruption, that there always has been Bribery and Corruption, is a Fact. I shall not dispute: But, Sir, that the Increase or Decrease of that Vice depends upon the frequent or the rare Return of Elections, is what I cannot agree to; for I am convinced it will always depend upon the Virtue of the People in general, and the Humour they happen to be in at the Time. I wish Bribery and Corruption of all Kinds could be prevented; but the Evil I am afraid is inevitable; for notwithstanding the many express Laws against it, notwithstanding the severe Law made but a little while ago for preventing it, yet we find that Methods have been contrived for evading all those Laws, either by giving great Entertainments and great plenty of Victuals, or by some more secret and corrupt Practices, so that the only Way to prevent the Growth of this Evil, is to preserve the Virtue of the People; and I believe the best Way to preserve the Virtue of the People, is to give them as few Opportunities as possible for being vicious: from whence I must conclude, that for obviating this Inconvenience, Septennial Parliaments are better than Triennial.
'If so many and so great Inconveniences have been felt all over the Nation from Septennial Parliaments, if so great Complaints have been made, it is very strange, Sir, that no Attempt has been made, ever since the passing of that Law, for the Repeal of it; but the Time now chosen for making that Attempt, shews plainly with what View it is made: It is now the last Session of a Parliament, a new Election must soon come on, and as this Motion has an Appearance of Popularity among the meaner sort of Electors, it may be of Service to some Gentlemen at the next Elections: And as to the Contentions about these Elections beginning so early, I do not know by whom they were begun, but I believe they have been set on foot on purpose to furnish Gentlemen with Arguments in this Day's Debate; and an Honourable Gentleman has accordingly taken hold of it, and has made use of those Contentions so early begun, as an Argument against Septennial Parliaments.
'Another Honourable Gentleman has given us a glorious Catalogue, as he was pleased to call it, of Laws passed by Septennial Parliaments; but I think he ought in a particular Manner to have guarded against putting the Riot Act into that Catalogue, for he knows it was founded on the same Motive with the Septennial. It was absolutely necessary for the Safety of the Government, and had it not been for some Executions in Fleet-street, in consequence of that Act, I am persuaded it would not have been possible to have preserved the Peace of the Kingdom at that Time: and I must say, that it is somewhat very strange to hear Gentlemen arguing against Contentions and Riots at Elections, and at the same Time complaining of that Law which was made for the preventing of Riots upon any Occasion. As to the Law for regulating Trials in Cases of Treason, there was never a more reasonable Law passed in Parliament: Is it not at all Times absolutely inconsistent with the Safety of the Government; nay, is it not in itself ridiculous, that Rebels and Traitors should be tried by a Jury of their own Friends and Relations, embarked in the same wicked Designs, and as much disaffected to the Government as the Prisoners at the Bar? Can it be expected that such a Jury will ever find the Prisoners guilty? And therefore when whole Counties had rebelled, what could have been more reasonable than the sending the Rebels of those Counties to be tried in other Counties, where an honest and a disinterested Jury might be found; and as that Law was confined to the Rebels then in Custody, or such as should be taken within a short Time after, I am surprised to hear it found fault with.
'We have been told, Sir, that the Nation in general desires the Repeal of the Septennial Law, and that Instructions have been sent up to several Members for that purpose. As to the Desires of the Nation in general, it is a Fact not easy to be determined; I do not know but the Mob, I mean such as have no Business with Elections, may generally desire the Repeal of this Law, because they would then have an Opportunity of getting drunk, committing Riots, and living idly, much oftner than they have at present; but as to all those who have any Right to vote at Elections, I am convinced the Generality of them desire no such Thing. And as for those Instructions that may have been sent up to Members, no Man is ignorant how they are usually obtained: I saw a Copy of one of them lately in one of our Evening News-papers, and by the Stile of it I may leave any Gentleman to judge, what sort of Persons they were who sent it, or rather obtained its being sent. As the Memory of King William will always, they know, be reverenced in England, by all those who are attached to the true Interest of their Country, these Instructions take particular Notice, that the Triennial Law was passed in the Reign of our great Deliverer, King William, of glorious and immortal Memory: But does not every Man, who has read the History of his Reign, know, that that Law was promoted by those who were perhaps Friends to the Revolution, but Enemies to the then Administration, co-operating with those who were Enemies to both?
'In short, Sir, the Septennial Law, as well as the Riot Act, was passed for the Safety and Establishment of the present Government; and, as I think in my Conscience, the Repeal of either of them would endanger the Government, I am therefore heartily against your Question.'
Sir William Wyndham.
'The Honourable Gentleman who spoke last, in vindicating, as he called it, his learned Friend, threw out a very unfair Reflection upon the Conduct of a worthy Gentleman under the Gallery, whose Behaviour in Parliament I have been a Witness of, and I can say without Flattery, it has been as even and as honourable as the Behaviour of any Gentleman in this House; and if the Honourable Gentleman thinks otherwise, I dare say he is single in his Opinion: He is, I believe, the only Man, either in the House or out of it, who thinks so; I wish the Behaviour of every other Gentleman, I will not say in this, but in former Parliaments, had been as unexceptionable; for if it had, I am very sure we should have had no Occasion for this Day's Debate.
'The Observation made by the Learned Gentleman, which the Honourable Gentleman took up so much Time to explain, was without Exception; it was just, it was plain, and therefore wanted neither an Explanation nor a Vindication: but, Sir, what the worthy Gentleman under the Gallery, and others as well as he, took Notice of, was an Expression that fell from the learned Gentleman, I dare say, without Design: He said that we were to have no Dependance upon our Constituents; he went further, he said it was a dangerous Dependance; nay, he went further still, and said it was more dangerous than a Dependance on the Crown: This my worthy Friend took notice of, and with his usual Modesty, called it a new Doctrine. It is, Sir, not only a new Doctrine, but it is the most monstrous, the most slavish Doctrine was ever heard, and such a Doctrine as I hope no Man will ever dare to support within these Walls. I am persuaded, Sir, the learned Gentleman did not mean what the Words he happened to make use of may seem to import; for tho' the People of a County, City or Borough may be misled, and may be induced to give Instructions which are contrary to the true Interest of their Country, yet I hope he will allow, that in Times past the Crown has been oftner misled; and consequently we must conclude, that it is more apt to be misled in Time to come, than we can suppose the People to be.
'As to the Contests about the next Election, Sir, that they were begun a long while ago, is a certain Fact; but who the Beginners were, may not be so certain, or at least not so generally known: and the Honourable Gentleman who spoke last seemed to be ignorant, or indeed rather to mistake who were the Beginners of them; but if he pleases to look about him, he may see one not far distant from him, who, by his Agents, was the first and the principal Beginner of them in most Parts of the Kingdom. To see them begin so soon, is no new Thing, Sir; it is a stale ministerial Artifice; it has been practised ever since Septennial Parliaments took place, and will be practised as long as they continue: Ministers of State know well how unequal the Contention is between a Country Gentleman, who has nothing but his own Estate (greatly exhausted by the many Taxes he pays) to depend on, and Ministerial Electionmongers, supplied by Gentlemen in Office, who have for seven Years been heaping up Money for that purpose, or perhaps supplied even by the publick Treasure of the Nation; and the sooner this Contention begins, the greater Disadvantage the Country Gentlemen labour under, the more Time those Tools of Corruption have to practise upon the Electors, and to discover where that Money may be placed to the best Advantage, which is issued for corrupting the People, and overturning the Constitution: From hence it is obvious who have been, and who will always be the first Beginners of such Contentions.
'The learned Gentleman, as well as some others, particularly an Honourable Gentleman under the Gallery, who spoke early in the Debate; and who indeed said as much, and in as handsome a Manner as can, in my Opinion, be said against the Question, has told us, that our Constitution has been often varied; and that there was no Time when it was such as we ought, or would desire, to return to. Sir, it is not to be doubted but our Constitution has often varied, and perhaps there is no Time when it was without a Fault; but I will affirm, that there is no Time in which we may not find some good Things in our Constitution: There are now, there have been in every Century some good Laws existing: Let us preserve those that are good; if any of them have been abolished, let them be restored, and if any of the Laws now in Being are found to be attended with Inconveniences, let them be repealed. This is what is now desired, this is what the People have reason to expect from Parliament; there is nothing now desired but what the People have a Right to; they have now, they always had a Right to frequent new Parliaments; and this Right was established and confirmed even by the Claim of Rights, notwithstanding what the learned Gentleman has said to the contrary. At the Time of the Revolution, nay at the present Time, at all Times, the word Parliament, in the common Way of Speaking, comprehends all the Sessions held from one Election to another: That this is the common Meaning of the Word, I appeal to every Gentleman in this House; and for this Reason those Patriots, who drew up our Claim of Rights, could not imagine that it was necessary to put in the word New: They could not so much as dream that the two Words, Frequent Parliaments, would afterwards be interpreted to mean, Frequent Sessions of Parliament; but the Lawyers, who are accustomed to confound the Sense of the plainest Words, immediately found out, that a Session of Parliament was a Parliament, and that therefore the words Frequent Parliaments, meant only Frequent Sessions. This Quirk the Lawyers found out immediately after the Revolution; this Quirk the Courtiers at that Time caught hold of; and this set the People anew upon the Vindication of their Rights, which they obtained by the Triennial Bill: By that Bill the Right of the People to frequent new Parliaments, was established in such clear Terms as not to be misunderstood; and God forgive them who consented to the giving it up.
'I am extremely surprised, Sir, to hear it said, that the Triennial Bill was introduced by the Enemies to the Revolution. I will not say, that it was introduced by the Courtiers at that Time; we seldom see such Bills introduced by such Gentlemen: but, does not every know, that it was my Lord Somers who was the chief Promoter of that Bill, and that most of those who supported him in it, were Gentlemen who had been deeply concerned in bringing about the Revolution? 'Tis true, the Courtiers opposed it, and even King William himself, by the Advice of some wicked Ministers, refused to pass it the first Time it was offered; but when it came back again to him; he was better advised; and if he had not passed it, he had not done what he ought to do, he had not done all he came to do; nor that which when he came he promised to do, which was to restore the People to the full Enjoyment of all their Rights and Privileges.
'To pretend, Sir, that the Triennial Bill was introduced with a View of distressing King William's Government, is really casting a Reflection upon his Government: For to tell us, that the People's claiming those Rights, which he came to establish, was a distressing of his Government, is to tell us, that his Government was contrary to the Rights of the People, which is, in my Opinion, a very high Reflection, and such a one as the Gentlemen, who tell us so, would not patiently hear cast upon that Reign by others. The other Pretence, that Triennial Parliaments were the Cause of his putting an End to the War, or of that Treaty which was so much complained of, is, I am sure, as groundless; for the second War was begun and carried on with great Success, under the Influence of Triennial Parliaments, till the Ballance of Power was fully restored, and so firmly established, that France has never since endeavoured to make the least Incroachment upon any of her Neighbours: What some late Measures may encourage her to do hereafter, I shall not pretend to determine; but this Nation has ever since that Time enjoyed what I think I may call a profound Tranquillity, which, if the Triennial Law had remained in force, we would, I believe, have made a much better use of, than we now seem to have done.
'The learned Gentleman has told us, That the Septennial Law is a proper Medium between the unlimited Power of the Crown, and the limiting that Power too much; but, Sir, before he had fixed upon this as a Medium, he should first have discovered to us the two Extremes. I will readily allow, that an unlimited Power in the Crown, with respect to the continuing of Parliaments, is one Extreme; but the other I cannot really find out: for I am very far from thinking, that the Power of the Crown was too much limited by the Triennial Law, or that the Happiness of the Nation was any way injured by it, or can ever be injured by frequent Elections. As to the Power of the Crown, it is very certain, that as long as the Administration of publick Affairs is agreeable to the Generality of the People, were they to chuse a new Parliament every Year, they would chuse such Representatives as would most heartily concur in every thing with such an Administration; so that even an Annual Parliament could not be any Limitation of the just Power of the Crown; and as to the Happiness of the Nation, it is certain, that Gentlemen will always contend with more Heat and Animosity about being Members of a long Parliament, than about being Members of a short one: and therefore the Elections for a Septennial Parliament must always disturb the Peace, and injure the Happiness of the Nation, more than the Elections for an Annual or Triennial Parliament. Of this the Elections in the City of London, mentioned by my worthy Friend, are an evident Demonstration.
'As to the Elections coming on when the Nation is in a Ferment, it is so far from being an Objection to frequent Elections, that it is, in my Opinion, Sir, a strong Argument in favour of them; because it is one of the chief Supports of the Freedom of the Nation. It is plain, that the People seldom or ever were in a Ferment, but when Incroachments were made upon their Rights and Privileges; and when any such are made, it is very proper, nay it is even necessary, that the People should be allowed to proceed to a new Election, in order that they may chuse such Representatives as will do them Justice, by punishing those who have been making Incroachments upon them; otherwise one of these two Effects may very probably ensue: Either the Ferment will break out into an open Insurrection, or the Incroachment that has been made, may happen to be forgot before a new Election comes on; and then the Invaders of the People's Rights will have a much better Lay for getting such a new Parliament chosen, as will not only free them from all Punishment, but will confirm the Incroachments that have been made, and encourage the making of new. Thus the Rights of the People may be nibbled and curtailed by Piece-meal, and ambitious Criminals may at last get themselves so firmly seated, that it will be out of the Power of the People to stop their Career, or to avoid the Chains which they are preparing.
'Now, Sir, to return to the Power of the Crown, which the learned Gentleman has told us was too much limited by the Triennial Law; I think I have made it plain, that the just Power of the Crown cannot possibly be limited by frequent Elections, and consequently could not be too much limited by the Triennial Law; but by long Parliaments the Crown may be enabled to assume, and to make use of an unjust Power. By our Constitution the only legal Method we have of vindicating our Rights and Privileges against the Incroachments of ambitious Ministers is by Parliament; the only Way we have of rectifying a weak or wicked Administration, is by Parliament; the only effectual Way we have of bringing high and powerful Criminals to condign Punishment, is by Parliament. But if ever it should come to be in the Power of the Administration to have a Majority of this House depending upon the Crown, or to get a Majority of such Men returned, as the Representatives of the People, the Parliament will then stand us in no stead: It can answer none of these great Purposes; the whole Nation may be convinced of the Weakness or the Wickedness of those in the Administration; and yet it may be out of the Nation's Power, in a legal Way, to get the Fools turned out, or the Knaves hanged.
'This Misfortune, Sir, can be brought upon us by nothing but by Bribery and Corruption; and therefore there is nothing we ought to guard more watchfully against. And an honourable Gentleman, who spoke some time ago, upon the same side with me, has so clearly demonstrated, that the Elections for a Septennial Parliament are more liable to be influenced by Corruption, than those for a Triennial, that I am surprised his Argument should be mistaken, or not comprenended; but it seems the most certain Maxims, the plainest Truths, are now to be controverted or denied. It has been laid down as a Maxim, and I think it is a most infallible Maxim, that a Man will contend with more Heat and Vigour for a Post, either of Honour or Profit, which he is to hold for a long Term, than he will do for one he is to hold for a short Term: this has been controverted. It has been laid down as a Maxim, and I think equally infallible, that a hundred Guineas is a more powerful Bribe than fifty; this has been denied: Yet nevertheless, I must beg Leave to push this Argument a little further.
'Let us suppose, Sir, a Gentleman at the Head of the Administration, whose only Safety depends upon corrupting the Members of this House. This may now be only a Supposition, but it is certainly such a one as may happen; and if ever it should, let us see whether such a Minister might not promise himself more Suecess in a Septennial, than he could in a Triennial Parliament. It is an old Maxim, that every Man has his Price, if you can but come up to it. This, I hope, does not hold true of every Man; but I am afraid it too generally holds true; and that of a great many it may hold true, is what, I believe, was never doubted of; tho' I don't know but it may now likewise be denied: However, let us suppose this distressed Minister applying to one of those Men who has a Price, and is a Member of this House; in order to engage this Member to vote as he shall direct him, he offers him a Pension of 1000 l. a Year: if it be but a Triennial Parliament, will not the Member immediately consider within himself, If I accept of this Pension, and vote according to Direction, I shall lose my Character in the Country, I shall lose my Seat in Parliament the next Election, and my Pension will then of course be at an end; so that by turning Rogue I shall get but 3000 l. this is not worth my while? And so the Minister must either offer him, perhaps, the double of that Sum, or otherwise he will probably determine against being corrupted; but if the Parliament were Septennial, the same Man might perhaps say within himself, I am now in for seven Years; by accepting of this Pension, I shall have at least 7000 l. this will set me above Contempt; and if I am turned out at next Election, I do not value it, I'll take the Money in the mean time. Is it not very natural to suppose all this, Sir; and, does not this evidently shew, that a wicked Minister cannot corrupt a Triennial Parliament with the same Money with which he may corrupt a Septennial?
'Again, Suppose this Minister applies to a Gentleman who has purchased, and thereby made himself Member for a Borough, at the Rate of, perhaps, 1500 l. besides travelling Charges, and other little Expences: Suppose the Minister offers him a Pension of 500 l. a Year to engage his Vote, will not he naturally consider, if it be a Triennial Parliament, that if he cannot get a higher Pension he will lose Money by being a Member; and surely, if he be a right Burgess, he will resolve not to sell at all, rather than sell his Commodity for less than it cost him; and if he finds he cannot sell at all, he will probably give over standing a Candidate again upon such a footing; by which not only he, but many others, will be induced to give over dealing in corrupting the Electors at the next Election. But in case it be a Septennial Parliament, will he not then probably accept of the 500 l. Pension, if he be one of those Men that has a Price? because he concludes, that for 1500 l. he may always secure his Election; and every Parliament will put near 2000 l. in his Pocket, besides reimbursing him all his Charges. After viewing the present Question in this light, is it possible, Sir, not to conclude, that Septennial Parliaments, as well as the Elections for such, must always be much more liable to be influenced by Corruption, than Triennial, or the Elections for Triennial?
'For my own part, Sir, I have been often chosen; I have sat in Parliament above these twenty Years; and I can say with Truth, that neither at my Election, nor after my Return, no Man ever dared to attempt to let me know what is meant by Bribery and Corruption; but I am sorry to hear the Impossibility of preventing it mentioned, and mentioned too, Sir, within these Walls. The honourable Gentleman who spoke last, told us the Evil of Corruption was inevitable. If I were so unhappy as to think so, I should look upon my Country to be in the most melancholy Situation. Perhaps it may be the way of thinking among those he keeps company with; but I thank God I have a better Opinion of my Countrymen; and since it appears to be a way of thinking among some Gentlemen, it is high Time for us to contrive some Method of putting it out of their power to corrupt the Virtue of the People: for we may depend upon this as a certain Maxim, that those who think they cannot gain the Affections of the People, will endeavour to purchase their Prostitution; and the best way to prevent the Success of their Endeavours, is to raise the Price so high as to put it out of the Power of any Man, or of any Set of Men to come up to it. If a Parliament is to be purchased, if Elections are to be purchased, it is manifest the corrupting of Triennial must, upon the whole, cost a great deal more than the corrupting of Septennial Elections or Parliaments: Therefore, in order to put it out of the Power of any Man, or of any Administration, to purchase the Prostitution of a Parliament, or of the People, let us return to Triennial Parliaments; and if that will not do, let us return to Annual Elections, which, I am very certain, would render the Practice of Corruption impossible. This, Sir, is now the more necessary, because of the many new Posts and Places of Profit which the Crown has at its Disposal, and the great Civil List settled upon his present Majesty, and which will probably be continued to his Successors. This, I say, urges the Necessity for frequent new Parliaments; because the Crown has it now more in their Power than formerly, to seduce the People, or the Representatives of the People, in case any future Administration should find it necessary for their own Safety to do so.
'That the Increase or Decrease of Corruption at Elections, or in Parliament, must always depend upon the Increase or Decrease of Virtue among the People, I shall readily grant; but it is as certain, that the Virtue of almost every particular Man depends upon the Temptations that are thrown in his Way; and according to the Quantity of Virtue he has, the Quantity of the Temptation must be raised, so as at last to make it an Over-ballance for his Virtue. Suppose then, Sir, that the Generality of the Electors in England have Virtue enough to withstand a Temptation of five Guineas each, but not Virtue enough to withstand a Temptation of ten Guineas, one with another: Is it not then much more probable, that the Gentlemen who deal in Corruption, may be able to raise as much Money, once every seven Years, as will be sufficient to give ten Guineas each, one with another, to the Generality of the Electors, than that they will be able to raise such a Sum once in every three Years? And is it not from thence certain, that the Virtue of the People in general is in greater Danger of being destroyed by Septennial than by Triennial Parliaments? To suppose, Sir, that every Man's Vote at an Election is like a Commodity which must be sold at the Market Price, is really to suppose that no Man has any Virtue at all: for I will aver, that when once a Man resolves to sell his Vote at any rate, he has then no Virtue left, which, I hope, is not the Case of many of our Electors; and therefore, the only Thing we are to apprehend is, lest so high a Price should be offered as may tempt thousands to sell, who had never before any Thoughts of carrying such a Commodity to Market. This, Sir, is the fatal Event we are to dread, and it is much more to be dreaded from Septennial than from Triennial Parliaments. If we have therefore any Desire to preserve the Virtue of our People; if we have any Desire to preserve our Constitution; if we have any Desire to preserve our Liberties, our Properties, and every thing that can be dear to a free People, we ought to restore the Triennial Law; and if that be found to be insignificant, we ought to abolish Prorogations, and return to Annual Elections.
'The learned Gentleman spoke of the Prerogative of the Crown, and asked us, If it had lately been extended beyond those Bounds prescribed to it by Law. Sir, I will not say that there has been lately any Attempts to extend it beyond the Bounds prescribed by Law; but I will say, that those Bounds have been of late so vailly enlarged, that there seems to be no great Occasion for any such Attempt. What are the many Penal Laws made within these forty Years, but so many Extensions of the Prerogative of the Crown, and as many Diminutions of the Liberty of the Subject? And whatever the Necessity was that brought us into the enacting of such Laws, it was a fatal Necessity; it has greatly added to the Power of the Crown, and particular Care ought to be taken not to throw any more Weight into that Scale. Perhaps the enacting of several of those penal Laws might have been avoided; I am persuaded the enacting of the Law relating to Trials for Treason, not only might, but ought to have been avoided; for tho' it was but a temporary Law, it was a dangerous Precedent; and the Rebellion was far from being so general in any County as not to leave a sufficient Number of faithful Subjects for trying those who had committed Acts of Treason within the County.
'In former Times the Crown had a large Estate of its own; an Estate sufficient for supporting the Dignity of the Crown; and as we had no Standing Armies, nor any great Fleets to provide for, the Crown did not want frequent Supplies; so that they were not under any Necessity of calling frequent Parliaments; and as Parliaments were always troublesome, often dangerous to Ministers, therefore they avoided the calling of any such as much as possible: But tho' the Crown did not then want frequent Supplies, the People frequently wanted a Redress of Grievances, which could not be obtained but by Parliament; therefore the only Complaint then was, that the Crown either did not call any Parliament at all, or did not allow them to sit long enough: This was the only Complaint, and to remedy this, it was thought sufficient to provide for having frequent Parliaments, every one of which, 'twas presumed, was always to be a new Parliament; for 'tis well known, that the Method of Prorogation was of old very rarely made use of, and was first introduced by those who were attempting to make Incroachments upon the Rights of the People.
'But now, Sir, the Case is altered; the Crown, either by ill Management, or by Prodigality and Profuseness to its Favourites, has spent or granted away all that Estate; and the publick Expence is so much enlarged, that the Crown must have annual Supplies, and is therefore under a Necessity of having the Parliament meet every Year; but as new Elections are always dangerous as well as troublesome to Ministers of State, they are for having them as seldom as possible; so that the Complaint is not now for want of frequent Meetings or Sessions of Parliament, but against having the same Parliament continued too long. This is the Grievance now complained of; this is what the People desire; this is what they have a Right to have redressed. The Members of Parliament may for one Year be look'd on as the real and true Representatives of the People; but when a Minister has seven Years to practise upon them, and to feel their Pulses, they may be induced to forget whose Representatives they are; they may throw off all Dependance upon their Electors, and may become Dependants upon the Crown, or rather upon the Minister for the Time being, which the learned Gentleman has most ingenuously confessed to us, he thinks less dangerous than a Dependance upon his Electors.
'We have been told, Sir, in this House, that no Faith is to be given to Prophecies, therefore I shall not pretend to prophesy; but I may suppose a Case, which, tho' it has not yet happened, may possibly happen. Let us then suppose, Sir, a Man abandoned to all Notions of Virtue or Honour, of no great Family, and of but a mean Fortune, raised to be chief Minister of State, by the Concurrence of many whimsical Events; afraid or unwilling to trust any but Creatures of his own making, and most of them equally abandoned to all Notions of Virtue or Honour; ignorant of the true Interest of his Country, and consulting nothing but that of enriching and aggrandizing himself and his Favourites; in foreign Affairs trusting none but such whose Education makes it impossible for them to have such Knowledge or such Qualifications as can either be of Service to their Country, or give any Weight or Credit to their Negociations: Let us suppose the true Interest of the Nation by such Means neglected or misunderstood, her Honour and Credit lost, her Trade insulted, her Merchants plundered and her Sailors murdered; and all these Things overlooked, only for fear his Administration should be endangered: Suppose him next possessed of great Wealth, the Plunder of the Nation, with a Parliament of his own chusing, most of their Seats purchased, and their Votes bought at the Expence of the publick Treasure: In such a Parliament, let us suppose Attempts made to enquire into his Conduct, or to relieve the Nation from the Distress he has brought upon it; and when Lights proper for attaining those Ends are called for, not perhaps for the Information of the particular Gentlemen who call for them, but because nothing can be done in a Parliamentary Way, till these Things be in a proper Way laid before Parliament; suppose these Lights refused, these reasonable Requests rejected by a corrupt Majority of his Creatures, whom he retains in daily Pay, or engages in his particular Interest, by granting them those Posts and Places which ought never to be given to any but for the Good of the Publick: Upon this Scandalous Victory, let us suppose this chief Minister pluming himself in Defiances, because he finds he has got a Parliament, like a packed Jury, ready to acquit him at all adventures: Let us farther suppose him arrived to that Degree of Insolence and Arrogance, as to domineer over all the Men of ancient Families, all the Men of Sense, Figure or Fortune in the Nation; and as he has no Virtue of his own, ridiculing it in others, and endeavouring to destroy or corrupt it in all.
'I am still not prophesying, Sir, I am only supposing; and the Case I am going to suppose I hope never will happen: but with such a Minister and such a Parliament, let us suppose a Prince upon the Throne, either for want of true Information, or for some other Reason, ignorant and unacquainted with the Inclinations and the Interest of his People, weak, and hurried away by unbounded Ambition and insatiable Avarice: This Case, Sir, has never yet happened in this Nation; I hope, I say, 'twill never exist; but as it is possible it may, could there any greater Curse happen to a Nation, than such a Prince on the Throne, advised and solely advised by such a Minister, and that Minister supported by such a Parliament. The Nature of Mankind cannot be altered by human Laws, the Existence of such a Prince, or such a Minister we cannot prevent by Act of Parliament, But the Existence of such a Parliament I think we may; and as such a Parliament is much more likely to exist, and may do more Mischief while the Septennial Law emains in, Force, than if it were repealed, therefore I am lost heartily for the Repeal of it.'
Mr. Henry Pelham.
'The Honourable Gentleman who spoke last, as he always guards what he says, and speaks with so much Decency, that no Notice can be taken of it in a Parliamentary Way, so in the last Suppositions he was pleased to make, he observed so much Caution, that no Observations can be made on any Thing he said, as being contrary to the Orders of this House; yet whatever Suppositions he may please to make with respect to Ministers, I think he ought not to proceed any higher, and therefore I wish he had spared the last: However, Sir, as these Suppositions, and indeed every other Supposition I have heard, are all imaginary, I shall take no farther Notice of them: They were certainly foreign to the Question in Debate, and had, I think, been better let alone.
'As to the Contentions about Elections, I shall not pretend, Sir, to determine by whom they were begun, but I think I can easily account for their having been begun at the Time they were, and that in a Method very different from that laid down by the Honourable Gentleman who spoke last: It is well-known what a Spirit, if not of Disaffection, I am sure I may say of Distraction, was artfully raised during last Session of Parliament, in most Parts of this Nation, by the Misrepresentation of an Affair, before it was well understood, and which when it came to be explained could no way bear the Meaning they put upon it: This was thought a proper Opportunity, by those who raised that Spirit, to work upon the Passions of the People, in order to gain their Favour, and to engage their Votes, neither of which they knew they had any Chance for in any other Way; and this, Sir, I really believe, was the Reason why the Contentions about Elections began so early in most Parts of the Kingdom; so that if the Gentleman meant my Honourable Friend by me, he was very much mistaken; but if he look another Way, and that within his View, he may find out the first chief Beginner of all these Disturbances.
'As to the Question itself, Sir, as I did not intend to have troubled you in this Debate, and as the Question has been already so fully, and so handsomely opposed by the Honourable Gentleman under the Gallery, and by several others, I shall only say in general, that as I am not sensible of any Inconvenience that attends Septennial Parliaments, but what would in a much greater Degree attend Triennial, and as we know from Experience, that too frequent Elections keep the Nation in a continual Ferment, and always must expose us to the many Evils that ensue from Faction and Sedition, therefore I shall give my Vote against the Question.'
Mr. William Pulteney.
'I intended from the Beginning, to have spoke in this Debate; but as I now speak so late in it, I can have but little new to offer, the Gentlemen who have spoken before me, have almost entirely exhausted the Argument; and I am sure, if those who have heard the Debate are to be determined, as I hope they will, by what has been offered for and against the Question, it will hardly bear a Division. However, as I voted for this Bill on a former Occasion, and as the principal, and indeed the only Motive, which made me do so, now no longer subsists, I think myself obliged thus publickly to declare, that I am now as zealous to have it repealed, as I then was to have it enacted. When a Country, or the Government of a Country, is in any imminent Danger, it often happens, that People think Regulations necessary, which when the Danger is over, appear to be attended with as pernicious Consequences, as that very Danger which they were made to prevent; and in such a Case, surely every honest Man must be as fond of having them abolished, as ever he was of having them established.
'The Honourable Gentleman who spoke last, tho' he let drop some Expressions with relation to that Contention already begun about our ensuing Elections, which I might take some Notice of, yet as he generally speaks with very great Candour, I think it would be too severe not to pardon any Slip he may have made in that Respect. But as to the Spirit raised in the Nation last Session of Parliament, which he says was raised by Misrepresentation, and was pleased to call a Spirit, if not of Disaffection, at least of Distraction, I do not know, but it may have been represented as such in another Place; and whether that was a Misrepresentation, I shall leave to the World to judge. But of all Misrepresentations, I will say, the most criminal is that of misrepresenting to the King the true Sentiments and real Inclinations of his People; for, however much some Gentlemen may find their Interest in it, I am sure it is not their Duty to do so: but I hope his present Majesty will always be able to distinguish, and it is the Duty of Parliament to inform him how to distinguish between Disaffection to his Government, and Disaffection to his Minister. If the Honourable Gentleman thinks, that the Affair which occasioned the Rise of that Spirit, was at first misrepresented, or that it gained any Advantage by being fully explained, he is, in the Opinion of, I believe, much the greatest Part of the Nation, vastly mistaken; for, the more seriously that Affair has been considered, the more fully it has been explained, the more horrible it has appeared: So that the Spirit, which was raised in Opposition to it, was so far from being unjustly, or groundlesly raised, that I believe it would have been for the Advantage of the Nation, that a new Election had come on, when that Spirit was in its greatest Vigour; and I hope it will not altogether subside, till the People have fully secured their Liberties against all such Attempts for the future.
'To imagine, Sir, that frequent Elections should ever become the Cause of Faction and Sedition, is, in my Opinion, something very extraordinary; for it is certain, that Seditions have always proceeded from a general Discontent among the People, and a long Disappointment of meeting in a legal Way, with that Redress which they had reason to expect; and till this Discontent becomes violent as well as general, no Faction will ever break out into Sedition: Then indeed Faction begins to change its Name, and those Men, who at first perhaps with Justice were charged with being factious, become then the Patrons and the Protectors of the Rights of the People, and of the Liberties of their Country; for nothing can be called Faction, but when a Set of Men combine and unite together against a wise and a just Government, which no Government can be, that disobliges and irritates the generality of the People. The certain and the only Way therefore of preventing Sedition, and disappointing Faction, is to give the People frequent Opportunities of representing their Grievances, and obtaining Redress in that legal Way which is prescribed by the Constitution of their Country. Such a Way ought certainly to be established, and is established in every wise Constitution; otherwise the People will seek that by Sedition, which they find they cannot obtain by Law; and the Method which is established by our Constitution, is by a Parliament chosen by the free and uncorrupted Voice of the People; therefore in order to avoid Sedition, every Thing ought to be carefully avoided, which may tend to the interrupting the free Choice of the People; and the oftener this Choice is made, the better our Country is guarded against Sedition; because in a long Parliament the People may in the Beginning of it be disobliged; they may despair of obtaining Redress from that Parliament, and before the End their Discontents may become so violent, as to break out in Seditions and Insurrections.
'Faction and Sedition, Sir, are two Words that have always been made use of by the Advocates for Arbitrary Power, in order to induce the People to give up those Privileges upon which their Liberties depended, or to divert them from reassuming, or vindicating those which had been before foolishly given up, or unjustly usurped and taken from them; but it is to be hoped, those two hideous Words will never in this Country have the desired Effect. It has been already fully shewn, that the Elections for a long Parliament must always be attended with more violent Heats and Animosities than the Election for a short, consequently the Country must always be more exposed to Factions and Seditions by the former, than by the latter: I do not know, but the Election for a Parliament may come at last to be like the Election of a King of Poland; it may be always attended with a civil War, perhaps with an unwelcome Visit from some of our Neighbours. Therefore if the Fears of Faction and Sedition be any Argument against frequent Elections, as good an Argument may from thence be drawn against electing any new Parliament at all; so that I do not know but I may see a Proposition made for continuing our Seats in this House for Life; and after that, it may be thought proper to make a Law for transmitting them to our Heirs, nay even to our Executors or Administrators.
'An Honourable Gentleman seemed much surprised that the Riot-Act should have been mentioned upon this Occasion, or that any Gentleman should have the least Thought of having it repealed. Sir, I declare, upon my Honour, that of all the Actions I ever did in my Life, there is not one I more heartily and sincerely repent of, than my voting for the passing of that Law. I believe I am as little suspected of Disaffection to his Majesty or his Family as any Man in the Kingdom; it was my too great Zeal for his illustrious Family transported me to give that Vote, for which I am now heartily grieved: But even then I never imagined it was to remain a Law for ever; no, Sir! This Government is founded upon Resistance; it was the Principle of Resistance that brought about the Revolution, which cannot be justified upon any other Principle. Is then Passive Obedience and Non-Resistance to be established by a perpetual Law, by a Law the most severe and the most arbitrary of any in England, and that under a Government which owes its very Being to Resistance? The Honourable Gentleman who first mentioned it said very right, It is a Scandal it should remain in our Statute Books; and I will say, they are no Friends to his Majesty or to his Government who desire it should; for it destroys that Principle upon which is founded one of his best Titles to the Crown: While this remains a Law, we cannot well be called a free People; a little Justice of the Peace, assisted perhaps by a Serjeant and a Parcel of Hirelings, may almost at any time have the Lives of twenty Gentlemen of the best Families in England in his Power.
'As to Bribery and Corruption, Sir, it has been so fully and so clearly demonstrated that Septennial Parliaments are more liable than Triennial to be influenced by such base Methods, that I shall conclude with observing what every Gentleman I believe is sensible of: It is come to a most intolerable Height; in many, nay in most Parts of our Constitution, we are sunk to the lowest and vilest Dregs of Corruption; and if some extraordinary Event do not prevent it, our Constitution will soon be irrecoverably lost.'
Sir Robert Walpole.
'I do assure you, I did not intend to have troubled you in this Debate, but such Incidents now generally happen towards the End of our Debates, nothing at all relating to the Subject, and Gentlemen make such Suppositions, meaning some Person, or perhaps, as they say, no Person now in Being, and talk so much of wicked Ministers, domineering Ministers, Ministers pluming themselves in Defiances, which Terms, and such like, have been of late so much made use of in this House, that if they really mean no body either in the House or out of it, yet it must be supposed they at least mean to call upon some Gentleman in this House to make them a Reply: and therefore I hope I may be allowed to draw a Picture in my Turn; and I may likewise say, that I do not mean to give a Description of any particular Person now in Being. When Gentlemen talk of Ministers abandoned to all Sense of Virtue or Honour, other Gentlemen may, I am sure, with equal Justice, and, I think, more justly, speak of Anti-ministers and Mock-patriots, who never had either Virtue or Honour, but in the whole Course of their Opposition are actuated only by Motives of Envy, and of Resentment against those who may have disappointed them in their Views, or may not perhaps have complied with all their Desires.
'But now, Sir, let me too suppose, and the House being cleared, I am sure no Person that hears me can come within the Description of the Person I am to suppose: Let us suppose in this, or in some other unfortunate Country, an Anti-minister, who thinks himself a Person of so great and extensive Parts, and of so many eminent Qualifications, that he looks upon himself as the only Person in the Kingdom capable to conduct the publick Affairs of the Nation, and therefore christening every other Gentleman, who has the Honour to be employed in the Administration, by the Name of Blunderer: Suppose this fine Gentleman lucky enough to have gained over to this Party some Persons really of fine Parts, of ancient Families, and of great Fortunes, and others of desperate Views, arising from disappointed and malicious Hearts; all these Gentlemen, with respect to their political Behaviour, moved by him, and by him solely; all they say, either in private or publick, being only a Repetition of the Words he has put into their Mouths, and a spitting out of that Venom which he has infused into them; and yet we may suppose this Leader not really liked by any, even of those who so blindly follow him, and hated by all the rest of Mankind: We'll suppose this Anti-minister to be in a Country where he really ought not to be, and where he could not have been but by an Effect of too much Goodness and Mercy, yet endeavouring with all his Might, and with all his Art, to destroy the Fountain from whence that Mercy flowed: In that Country, suppose him continually contracting Friendships and Familiarities with the Ambassadors of those Princes, who at the Time happen to be most at Enmity with his own. And if at any Time it should happen to be for the Interest of any of those foreign Ministers to have a Secret divulged to them, which might be highly prejudicial to his native Country, as well as to all its Friends: suppose this foreign Minister applying to him, and he answering, I'll get it you, tell me but what you want, I'll endeavour to procure it for you. Upon this, he puts a Speech or two in the Mouths of some of his Creatures, or some of his new Converts: what he wants, is moved for in Parliament; and when so very reasonable a Request as this is refused, suppose him and his Creatures and Tools, by his Advice, spreading the Alarm over the whole Nation, and crying out, Gentlemen, our Country is at present involved in many dangerous Difficulties, all which we would have extricated you from, but a wicked Minister, and a corrupt Majority, refused us the proper Materials; and upon this scandalous Victory, this Minister became so insolent as to plume himself in Defiances. Let us farther suppose this Anti-minister to have travelled, and at every Court where he was, thinking himself the greatest Minister; and making it his Trade to betray the Secrets of every Court where he had before been; void of all Faith or Honour, and betraying every Master he ever served. Sir, I could carry my Suppositions a great deal farther; and, I may say, I mean no Person now in Being: but if we can suppose such a one, can there be imagined a greater Disgrace to Human Nature than such a Wretch as this?
'Now, Sir, to be serious, and to talk really to the Subject in hand: Tho' the Question has been already so fully and so handsomely opposed by my worthy Friend under the Gallery, by the learned Gentleman near me, and by several others, that there is no great Occasion to say any Thing farther against it; yet as some new Matter has been started by some of the Gentlemen who have since that Time spoke upon the other Side of the Question, I hope the House will indulge me the Liberty of giving some of those Reasons which induce me to be against the Motion. In general, I must take Notice, that the Nature of cur Constitution seems to be very much mistaken by the Gentlemen who have spoken in favour of this Motion. It is certain, that ours is a mixt Government, and the Perfection of our Constitution consists in this, that the Monarchical, Aristocratical and Democratical Forms of Government are mixt and interwoven in ours, so as to give us all the Advantages of each, without subjecting us to the Dangers and Inconveniencies of either. The Democratical Form of Government, which is the only one I have now Occasion to take Notice of, is liable to these Inconveniences, That they are generally too tedious in their coming to any Resolution, and seldom brisk and expeditious enough in carrying their Resolutions into Execution: That they are always wavering in their Resolutions, and never steady in any of the Measures they resolve to pursue; and that they are often involved in Factions, Seditions and Insurrections, which exposes them to be made the Tools, if not the Prey of their Neighbours: Therefore in all the Regulations we make, with respect to our Constitution, we are to guard against running too much into that Form of Government which is properly called Democratical: This was, in my Opinion, the Effect of the Triennial Law, and will again be the Effect, if ever it should be restored.
'That Triennial Elections would make our Government too tedious in all their Resolves, is evident, because in such Case, no prudent Administration would ever resolve upon any Measure of Consequence, till they had felt not only the Pulse of the Parliament, but the Pulse of the People; and the Ministers of State would always labour under this Disadvantage, that as Secrets of State must not be immediately divulged, their Enemies (and Enemies they will always have) would have a Handle for exposing their Measures, and rendering them disagreeable to the People, and thereby carrying perhaps a new Election against them, before they could have an Opportunity of justifying their Measures, by divulging those Facts and Circumstances from whence the Justice and the Wisdom of their Measures would clearly appear.
'Then, Sir, it is by Experience well known, that what is called the Populace of every Country, are apt to be too much elated with Success, and too much dejected with every Misfortune; this makes them wavering in their Opinions about Affairs of State, and never long of the same Mind: and as this House is chosen by the free and unbyassed Voice of the People in general, if this Choice were so often renewed, we might expect, that this House would be as wavering, and as unsteady as the People usually are; and it being impossible to carry on the publick Affairs of the Nation without the Concurrence of this House, the Ministers would always be obliged to comply, and consequently would be obliged to change their Measures as often as the People changed their Minds.
'With Septennial Parliaments, Sir, we are not exposed to either of these Misfortunes, because, if the Ministers, after having felt the Pulse of the Parliament, which they can always soon do, resolve upon any Measures, they have generally Time enough before the new Election comes on, to give the People a proper Information, in order to shew them the Justice and the Wisdom of the Measures they have pursued; and if the People should at any Time be too much elated, or too much dejected, or should without a Cause change their Minds, those at the Helm of Affairs have Time to set them Right, before a new Election comes on.
'As to Faction and Sedition, Sir, I will grant that in Monarchical and Aristocratical Governments, it generally arises from Violence and Oppression; but in Democratical Governments, it always arises from the People's having too great a Share in the Government: for in all Countries, and in all Governments, there always will be many factious and unquiet Spirits, who can never be at Rest either in Power or out of Power: When in Power, they are never easy, unless every Man submits entirely to their Direction; and when out of Power, they are always working and intriguing against those that are in, without any Regard to Justice, or to the Interest of their Country. In popular Governments such Men have too much Game, they have too many Opportunities for working upon and corrupting the Minds of the People, in order to give them a bad Impression of, and to raise Discontents against those that have the Management of the publick Affairs for the Time; and these Discontents often break out into Seditions and Insurrections. This, Sir, would in my Opinion be our Misfortune, if our Parliaments were either Annual or Triennial: By such frequent Elections, there would be so much Power thrown into the Hands of the People, as would destroy that equal Mixture, which is the Beauty of our Constitution: In short, our Government would really become a Democratical Government, and might from thence very probably diverge into a tyrannieal. Therefore, in order to preserve our Constitution, in order to prevent our falling under Tyranny and Arbitrary Power, we ought to preserve that Law, which I really think has brought our Constitution to a more equal Mixture, and consequently greater Perfection than it was ever in before that Law took place.
'As to Bribery and Corruption, Sir, if it were possible to influence, by such base Means, the Majority of the Electors of Great Britain, to chuse such Men as would probably give up their Liberties; if it were possible to influence, by such Means, a Majority of the Members of this House to consent to the Establishment of Arbitary Power, I should readily allow, that the Calculations made by the Gentlemen of the other Side were just, and their Inference true; but I am persuaded, that neither of these is possible. As the Members of this House generally are, and must always be, Gentlemen of Fortune and Figure in their Country; is it possible to suppose, that any of them could by a Pension or a Post be influenced to consent to the Overthrow of our Constitution, by which the Enjoyment, not only of what he got, but of what he before had, would be rendered altogether precarious? I will allow, Sir, that with respect to Bribery, the Price must be higher or lower, generally in proportion to the Virtue of the Man who is to be bribed; but it must likewise be granted, that the Humour he happens to be in at the Time, the Spirit he happens to be endowed with, adds a great deal to his Virtue: When no Incroachments are made upon the Rights of the People, when the People do not think themselves in any danger, there may be many of the Electors, who, by a Bribe of ten Guineas, might be induced to vote for one Candidate rather than another; but if the Court were making any Incroachments upon the Rights of the People, a proper Spirit would, without doubt, arise in the Nation, and in such a Case I am persuaded, that none, or very few, even of such Electors, could be induced to vote for a Court-Candidate, no not for ten times the Sum.
'There may, Sir, be some Bribery and Corruption in the Nation, I am afraid there will always be some but it is no Proof of it, that Strangers are sometimes chosen: for a Gentleman may have so much natural Influence over a Borough in his Neighbourhood, as to be able to prevail with them to chuse any Person he pleases to recommend; and if upon such Recommendation they chuse one or two of his Friends, who are perhaps Strangers to them, it is not from thence to be inferred, that the two Strangers were chosen their Representatives by the Means of Bribery and Corruption.
'To insinuate, Sir, that Money may be issued from the publick Treasury for bribing Elections, is really something very extraordinary; especially in those Gentlemen who know how many Checks are upon every Shilling that can be issued from thence; and how regularly the Money granted in one Year for the publick Service of the Nation, must always be accounted for the very next Session in this House, and likewise in the other, if they have a mind to call for any such Account. And as to the Gentlemen in Offices, if they have any Advantage over Country Gentlemen, in having something else to depend on besides their own private Fortunes, they have likewise many Disadvantages: They are obliged to live here at London with their Families, by which they are put to a much greater Expence, than Gentlemen of equal Fortunes who live in the Country: This lays them under a very great Disadvantage, with respect to the supporting their Interest in the Country. The Country Gentleman, by living among the Electors, and purchasing the Necessaries for his Family from them, keeps up an Acquaintance and Correspondence with them, without putting himself to any extraordinary Charge; whereas a Gentleman who lives in London, has no other Way of keeping up an Acquaintance or Correspondence among his Friends in the Country, but by going down once or twice a Year at a very extraordinary Charge, and often without any other Business: so that we may conclude, a Gentleman in Office cannot, even in seven Years, save much for distributing in ready Money, at the Time of an Election; and I really believe, if the Fact were narrowly enquir'd into, it would appear, that the Gentlemen in Office are as little guilty of bribing their Electors with ready Money, as any other Set of Gentlemen in the Kingdom.
'That there are Ferments often raised among the People without any just Cause, is what I am surprised to hear controverted, since very late Experience may convince us of the contrary: Do not we know what a Ferment was raised in the Nation towards the latter End of the late Queen's Reign? and it is well known what a fatal Change in the Affairs of this Nation was introduced, or at least confirmed by an Election's coming on while the Nation was in that Ferment. Do not we know what a Ferment was raised in the Nation soon after his late Majesty's Accession? And if an Election had then been allowed to come on while the Nation was in that Ferment, it might perhaps have had as fatal Effects as the former; but, thank God, this was wisely provided against by the very Law which is now wanted to be repealed.
'It has indeed, Sir, been said, That the chief Motive for enacting that Law now no longer exists: I cannot admit that the Motive they mean was the chief Motive; but even that Motive is very far from having entirely ceased. Can Gentlemen imagine, that in the Spirit raised in the Nation but about a Twelvemonth since, Jacobitism and Disaffection to the present Government had no Share? Perhaps some who might wish well to the present Establishment did co-operate, nay, I do not know but they were the first Movers of that Spirit; but it cannot be supposed that the Spirit then raised should have grown up to such a Ferment, meerly from a Proposition which was honestly and fairly laid before a Parliament, and left entirely to their Determination. No, Sir, the Spirit was perhaps begun by those who are truly Friends to the illustrious Family we have now upon the Throne; but it was raised to a much greater Height than, I believe, even they designed by Jacobites, and such as are Enemies to our present Establishment, who thought they never had a fairer Opportunity of bringing about what they have so long and so unsuccessfully wished for, than that which had been furnished them by those who first raised that Spirit. I hope the People have now in a great measure come to themselves, and therefore I doubt not but the next Elections will shew, that when they are left to judge coolly they can distinguish between the real and the pretended Friends to the Government: But I must say, if the Ferment then raised in the Nation had not already greatly subsided, I should have thought a new Election a very dangerous Experiment; and as such Ferments may hereafter often happen, I must think that frequent Elections will always be dangerous; for which Reason, in so far as I can see at present, I shall, I believe, at all Times think it a very dangerous Experiment to repeal the Septennial Bill.'