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tion, and who, by not discerning how much of a change in political dogmas was involved in the evolutions of that catastrophe, accelerated its devastations, would be to contemn the instruction of history, and to betray a total ignorance of the character and spirit of the age.
It was a wise, and it was a brave policy, during the deluge of French principles, to maintain that the ancient institutions of Europe were sacred things; that to them we owed whatever was estimable and delightful in society, and that if they were allowed to perish, it was impossible to foresee or to provide against the anarchy that might ensue. The wisdom of that policy derived an awful confirmation from the excesses of Parisian guilt, and the extravagance of Parisian theory; but now when the flood has subsided, when the guilt has been punished and the extravagance cut off, it may be safely re-adopted as a maxim of government and legislation, that the institutions so much venerated were not the causes, but the effects of the virtues ascribed to them, and that to enable them to preserve the affection so eloquently and so effectually claimed for them during the reign of Consternation, they must be modified and adapted to suit the wants, and to satisfy the judgment of the people. That modification, and that adaptation, is not, however, more now, than in the Revolutionary period, to be effected by general and entire changes. There is in fact never any such exigency in human affairs, nor in the very natureof things can there be such, as to require a sudden alteration in the institutions of any country, while it must be admitted, that in a progressive state of society, some sort of corresponding improvement ought to take place in them, and will necessarily take, place in despite of all opposition.
All governments have their origin in the usurpations of some accidental union'of moral and physical strength; hence there ever exists of necessity a natural controversy between what may be called the spirit of government, and the spirit of the people; the latter constantly endeavouring to procure concessions from the former in the shape of laws and institutions, that will enable individuals to manage their particular interests less and less subject to the interference of public func
tionaries, either with respect to conduct, industry, or pleasure. The natural tendency of a progressive state of political institutions, is not to induce, as Owen, and Godwin, and the other defective reasoners and visionaries allege—an agreement among mankind to constitute a community of goods, but the very reverse; or, in other words, to induce institutions which, while they bind society closer together, will leave individuals freer to pursue the bent of their respective characters. This, however, is a topic too important to be so slightly alluded to. On some other occasion I will address you on it exclusively.
The only free constitution which can exist practically applicable to human wants and properties, is that which is governed in its deliberations and measures by a temperate and regulated deference to public opinion. Of this kind I regard the British, according to the state of society in this country, and the genius of the people to be curiously admirable. There is so much of ancient partialities mixed up with modern expedients among us,— so much of ascertained fuct with theoretical opinion and undetermined experiment, that we require, as we possess, a constitution that will work in such a manner as to give each and all of them occasionally their due predominance. In so far, therefore, as the practice of the legislature is concerned, the British constitution "works well," and we see that the executive government, though it is so swayed by public opinion, as to render it a very nice question to determine whether the circumstances of the kingdom have become so changed as to call for any alteration in the constitution, such as we hear commonly spoken of by the name of Parliamentary Reform —I say it is a very nice question, merely because the proposition has advocates and opponents among the shrewdest, the most enlightened, and the most patriotic gentlemen in tlie country. But in the discussions to which the question has given rise, both within and without the House, it has never been sufficiently considered, that during the last century, the constitution both in the Peers and Commons has been twice essentially and radically altered—I would say reformed.
Let us, sir, consider this dispassionately.
First then, in the reign of Queen Anne, the whole government of Great Britain, which had previously undergone a revision in theoretic dogmas, by the re-assertion of popular rights at the Revolution, was virtually changed by the union of Scotland and England. The Two distinct ancient governments of both kingdoms were virtually abrogated, and One was substituted, in which, though the constitution of England preponderated, yet it was essentially modified, by an addition of peers and commoners into the legislature, chosen by electors, constituted on principles which had nothing previously similar, either in the constitution of Scotland or of England. Sixteen elected peers were added to the Lords, which peers, unlike their compeers in the house, were not the organs, strictly speaking, of their own sentiments, but the representatives of the sentiments of others. Thus, there was admitted into the permanent and unchangeable department of the legislature, a new constituary principle, that cannot but have had some considerable influence on its proceedings and deliberations. The introduction of the forty-five new members into the House of Commons was of itself a great accession of the means of conveying the influence of public opinion into the measures of government. But it has not been enough considered in what manner these members are chosen.
Admitting for a moment the utmost degree of corruption, of which the Scottish boroughs are accused, still it should be recollected, that as they return by districts, each borough of each district respectively operates as a check on the other. The English radicals, when they hear of a member for an obscure and mangy Fife town, think he has been returned much in , the same sort of way as the worthy burgesses from Cornwall. They are not aware that he represents five different towns; that although each of those towns may be what is called a close borough, still it is governed by a numerous corporation, and that each corporation is, in the case of a contested election, liable to be divided in choosing, not the member, luit the delegate, who is to vote for the member, by which, in point of fact, the members for the Scottish boroughs undergo a much severer ordeal in the process of election than is at all un
derstood on the south side of the Tweed. Then, again, the Scottish county members are not generally chosen by the proprietors of the land, but by persons who may be said to possess transferable charters for exercising the elective franchise.
The constitution of Scotland, in so far, therefore, as respects the county members, is at once curious and enlightened. It comprehends a principle of deputation from the landholders who grant the elective charters, by which the landlord, without parting with his property in the soil, denudes himself of the political privilege attached to it, and transfers it to another person, who has wealth without land. Thus, as the country, since the Union, has prodigiously increased in capital, it cannot be questioned by any one, who looks over the lists of freeholders, and also sees how many landless persons possess county votes, that a very material popular influence is exercised in the choice of the Scottish county members, which, practically speaking, must have produced a material effect on the House of Commons; and which, when taken into consideration with the state of the Scottish borough represen-. tation, fully justifies me in saying that an important radical change and reformation was effected in the House of Commons by the Union with Scotland.
You will readily anticipate that the other change to which I have alluded is the Union with Ireland, and therefore I shall say but little respecting it.
Now, will it be denied that the people of the United Kingdom Have not acquired an accession of power and influence in the House of Commons by the two Unions, which two Unions have added no less than one hundred and fortyfive members to a popular branch of the constitution, besides materially improving the principle in many cases upon which the returns are made? It may, however, be said, that the addition to the English House «f Commons, and the erection of an Imperial Parliament, is not equivalent to the loss which the people of Ireland and of Scotland have sustained by the dissolution of their Parliaments. To this, however, I would say, and leave the proof till the postulatum is denied, that a great general council for legislative purposes is infinitely preferable to a number of small ones. But not to dwell on what is so obvious, I would simply ask of those who deny the advantages of a reform in the House of Commons, and of those who demand it, if it is not the fact, that two great and important practical changes have been made during the last century? and then I would say to the former, have they not been attended with great and manifest advantages to the country and the empire at large? The fair, the true, and the undeniable answer to these questions, reduces the question of Parliamentary Reform into a very narrow compass—indeed, to so little as this: has there any such change taken place in the state of the country, since the Union with Ireland, as to require the introduction of any more members, or any new principle? I shall perhaps be answered, no—we admit that, so far as respects the number of members; but it is not to the number, it is to the manner in which the members are returned, that we require a reform. So that the whole question of Parliamentary Reform is reduced to the manner of election.
Let us suppose, then, that the mode of election were altered, is it probable, practically speaking, I would ask, that the returns would be very essentially different to what they are at present? Would the orators, whose speeches we read in all important debates, not probably be returned? and if the sense of the House is in any measure governed by their opinions, would we see much alteration produced in the phase of the house, if I may use the expression, from what it appears to be at present?
But to bring this clause of my subject to a conclusion, although it cannot be denied that there does exist a strong desire among the operative classes for some change in the legislative department of the State, it may well be asserted, that the change is not required by anything in the constitution of the Lords or Commons. It is, however, required, and it must, sooner or later, in some shape or form, be conceded to the extended concerns and interests of the empire at large.
It is clear and indisputable, that Parliament interferes and regulates many things which in the existing state of the empire, would be better managed by another council. There exists no reason whatever, why the deliberations of parliament should not be restricted to the concerns of the United Kingdom, while a thousand may be given, to shew that general questions, af
fecting the colonies and foreign dependencies, should be deliberated upon by an assembly, in which, in common with the United Kingdom, they should have representatives. How such an assembly should be constituted, whether by an addition to the House of Commons, or whether by the creation of a Supreme Parliament in which the elective principle, already admitted into the House of Peers, should be adopted for the general formation of an upper house, and a district representation, the principle of which was first introduced at the Union with Scotland—for the formation of a lower house, is a question too multiform to be discussed here. All I intend by alluding to it, is to shew, that in the spirit and circumstances of the times, something is gravitating towards such an issue. Already have we lost thirteen provinces, and in them constituted our most formidable rival, by the want of some such supreme legislature; already have the inhabitants of Jamaica loudly protested against the interference of the Parliament of the United Kingdom with their insular affairs, and already in other colonies, to which it is unnecessary to allude, have there not been threatenings of the same spirit? 11 appears, indeed, from the very nature of all political organizations, that, unless some common tie is formed between a parent country and her colonies, the colonies will, as soon as they can, maintain themselves; or, as soon as they find their interests sacrificed to those of the parent, separate themselves, or seek some other alliance.
Now, it so happens, from the extent and ramifications of our commercial and manufacturing interests, that out of our dealings with the colonies, and other foreign dependencies, the colonies and dependencies have always strong pecuniary motives to induce them to cancel their connection with this country. They send us but raw materials, and receive from us the enriched products of our looms and of our skill; and, in consequence, they are always indebted to us a considerable something between the value of the raw material which we receive from them, and that of the manufactured article which we send them back. There is ever, therefore, a burden of debt due to us from the colonies, and which, without at all disparaging their honesty, they must naturally wish to throw off. Theonly thing that can make them hesitate between separation and connection, is the protection which they receive from us, and which, in addition to that debt, we pay for. Whenever they are in a condition to protect themselves, or to claim with effect the protection of another state, on better terms than they have ours, we must prepare ourselves to expect that they will throw us off. But as they cannot do this, nor even indicate any disposition towards it, without threatening many of our merchants and manufacturers with ruin, there, is among us a strong party watching those proceedings of the legislature, by which colonial interests are likely to be affected; and this party, by the attraction of their own concerns, are ever inclined, when they see colonial interests considered but as secondary, to join with those who cry out for a change in the manner of returning members of Parliament.
Thus it is, that if, in the spirit of the times, which is everywhere active and eager for representation, there is a disposition resolved into a principle, which requires a change in the constitution of the British House of Commons, I would say, it will be found not to be produced so much by what is supposed to be amiss in legislating for the united kingdom, as in the effect of legislative enactments Caused by, and which affect the colonies. It seems, for example, out of all reason to tax and drain the industry of the people of this country for the expense of protecting the colonies. But how is it possible to raise a fund from the colonies themselves, to assist in defraying that expense, when it is denied to the British Parliament to tax them? Nor is it less unreasonable that the British Parliament should legislate for interests, of which, constitutionally speaking, it can know nothing. In a word, therefore, though it is very well to say, that the House of Commons does not require any reform, it must be held to mean,only in so faras certain home interests are concerned; for, that it does require reform, the state of our colonies, their complaints, and the various expedients from time to time adopted to obviate these complaints, together with the enormous expense for their protection, which falls exclusively on the United Kingdom, all prove that some reform, or some new institution, is requisite. Far and •wisely as we have carried the Vol. XV.
sentative system into our constitution and government, there is yet in it a wide hiatus to be filled up; there is yet wanting some legislative union, not only among the colonies themselves, but between them and the mother country, that will hold and bind them together, and render them all co-operative in their resources, to the maintenance of one and the same power.
It may, however, be said, that in this I admit much of what the whig and radical reformers assert, that if the House of Commons were returned on more popular principles, the vast sums squandered on the colonies, and for their protection, would not be drawn from the industry of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom. It may be so and I am willing to admit all that; but then if it is advantageous to our commercial and manufacturing interests, and by them to our agricultural, to possess those colonial sources of raw materials and necessaries, and to enjoy the exclusive privilege of their markets for our products, would we possess that advantage, without granting that care and protection to which I have adverted? I hold it to be indisputable, that the possession of our colonies is a vast and incalculable advantage; and I fear that there is something in our existing state of things not calculated to retain it, or at least of such a nature as to blight many of the benefits which we might derive from a more enlarged colonial and legislative policy.
The demand in the spirit of the times for representation in government and legislation, is operating, in a manner singularly advantageous, calmly and silently towards that effect. Several of the colonies and dependencies have regular agents, some of whom are in the House of Commons, in what I may be allowed to call a surreptitious manner, for the purpose of guarding the special interests of their colonial constituents, insomuch, that it may be said there is a palpable converging of the elements of a more extensive legislative representation, gradually pressing on the attention of government, and claiming for the dependencies of the united kingdom, a general constitution, connected with the mother country, quite as strongly and as justly as the Prussians are crying out for the constitution which was promised to them by their king. With us, however, the claim will be satisfied diffuG
rently. What we want is withheld partly from prejudice, partly from doubt as to how it may operate, and chiefly from the official inconveniences to which it may give rise. With the Prussians it is denied by a tremendous array of soldiery. The same moral paralysis, however, which, at the beginning of the French revolution, rendered the German armies so ineffective, will seize the ranks of the Prussians, and a volcano will break out under the throne it self, ami overwhelm it with ruin and with crimes; whereas our government will, from the influence of public opinion, either give the subject a full and comprehensive consideration, or endeavour to repair and adapt the old and existing system to meet something like what is required, and which, practically speaking, may "work well' enough.
The next object that presents itself, after contemplating whit bears on the State, is the situation of the Church. It is not to be disputed, that the prodigious rush whichinridelity made during the last ten-years of the last century, has not only been checked, but that there has been a remarkable reedification of all the strong-holds of Christianity—so much, that piety, it may be averred, has become so fashionable, as to be almost a folly; that is to sayr the same sort of minds which, five-and-twenty years ago, would have been addicted to philosophy, are inflamed with a churchgoing zeal. Churches, and theological instruction of all kinds, are rising and flourishing everywhere. It has not, however, been much observed, that, although there is an astonishing increase of ecclesiastical edifices, there is no augmentation in the number of church dignitaries, a circumstance which would seem to imply that something of a presbyterian spirit is creeping in to episcopacy ; or, in other words, the Church of England, seeing that the people were attaching themselves to plain and simple modes of worship, is yielding half-way to that very spirit by which the dissenters have so prospered.
This policy in that church, if it can be called policy which ia the expedient result of the force of circumstances, is the first example that has ever appeared in the world of so great, so wealthy, and so powerful a body, and a priesthood too, adapting itself voluntarily to the spirit of the timea.
It lays open to our view, and to our admiration, the liberality of the ecclesiastical establishment of England, in a light that language cannot sufficiently applaud; and when we consider the strict intermarriage in that country between the Church andtheState,itmust be allowed that the wisdom of this policy of the English church is a glorious demonstration of the enlightened views and temperate principles in the government of the state.
But the strain and tendency of our literature is the best comment on the progressive state of opinion, and, consequently, of national advancement. Except in a few remarkable instances, criticism is the prevalent taste of the times—a criticism not confined, as of old, to the execution, or-to the manner in which subjects are conceived, but which comprehends, together with style and conception, not only the power employed, but the moral and philosophical tendency of the matter. It is impossible that so much general acumen can be long employed without inducing improvement in all things which are either the subjects or the objects of literary illustration, anil these are in fact all things. No greater proof of the advance which has already taken place in the moral taste of the country, making every allowance for cant, need be assigned, than what is involved in the simple questionWould such novels as those of Fielding and Smollett be now readily published by any respectable bookseller? We hare seen what an outcry was raised about Don Juan; but is that satirical work, in any degree, so faulty in what is its great proclaimed fault, as either Tom Jones, Roderick Random, or Peregrine Pickle f
I have, however, so long trespassed at this time, that I must for the present conclude. I shall, however, as early as possible resume the subject, and I expect to make it plain to you, that, although the world is overspread with wrecks and ashes, and there is but an apparent restoration of old customs and habitudes, there lies yet before our beloved country a path to greatness and glory, which nothing but some dreadful natural calamity ought, I would almost say—can prevent her from pursuing, to heights that will far exceed all Greek and Roman fame.
Bandana. Glasgow, 24rf» December, 1823