« AnteriorContinuar »
and this maxim has been confirmed and enforced by most of the great Kings that ever reigned in this kingdom. Under our glorious King Edward the First was that statute made, which is called, The First of Westminster; and, by the-fifth chapter of that statute, it is expressly ordained, "That no great man, or any other person, shall, by force, by malice, or by threats, any way dispute the freedom of election, under the pain of grievous forfeiture;" which is a law still in force, and a law that relates to all elections made, or to be made, within this kingdom; and so careful were our ancestors of preserving this freedom of election, that even requests and -earnest solicitations were, in such cases, deemed unlawful, as may appear from that statute which was made in the seventh of Henry the Fourth, and from the fourteenth chapter of the statute called articuli cleri, which was made in the reign of Edward the Second; for it was by them most reasonably concluded, that if any great or powerful man was allowed but to request or solicit a man for his vote at any election, that request or solicitation would have the same efFect as if he had actually threatened that man, or made promises to him for giving his vote as directed; because every man would naturally presume, that if he complied with the great man's request he might expect his favour, and if he denied his request he must expect his malice.
From hence it is plain, my Lords, that by the very nature of the thing, as well as by the statute and common law of the dingdom, it is highly criminal in any great man to request or solicit votes at any election; but it must be still more criminal in any man actually to give or to promise any money, or other reward, upon such an occasion, especially in any thing that relates to a right of sitting in the House. And what appears to be the undoubted law of this kingdom, is so far from being derogated from by the union between the two nations, that it is in the particular cafe, now before us, expressly confirmed by that act which was made by the Parliament of Scotland, for settling the manner of electing the sixteen Peers; and which act is, by the Parliament of both nations, declared to b« as valid as if the fame had been part of the articles of union.
Since then it appears, that the resolution now proposed, namely, "That it is the opinion of this House, that any person or persons taking upon him or them to engage any Peers of Scotland, by thrects, promise of place or pension, or any reward or gratuity whatsoever from the Crown, to vote for any Peer, or list of Peers, to represent the Peerage of Scotland in Parliament, is an high insult on the justice of the Crown, an incroachment on the freedom of elections, and highly injurious to the honour of the Peerage," is nothing but a declaration of what is now the law of Great Britain, I can fee no reason for our not complying with the motion which the noble Duke has been pleased to make us; but, on the contrary, I fee many and strong reasons for our agreeing to it, for it certainly will inforce the laws now in being ; it will put people in mind that there are such laws, and will contribute greatly towards terrifying those who may hereafter have evil intention^ from being guilty of those practices which they know to have been so totally condemned by this House; and such a resolution is at present the more necessary, because of the great complaints now so generally made over the whole nation against such practices. Bribery and corruption, in elections of all kinds, is now so universally complained of, that it is become highly necessary for "this House to come to some vigorous resolutions against it, in order to convince the world, that it has not as yet got within these walls. It has already, I am afraid, got too firm a footing in some other parts of our Constitution; what is now proposed will not, I am afraid, be a sufficient barrier, but I am very sure, if something is not very speedily done, if some effectual measures are not soon taken against that deadly foe to our Constitution; I fay, I am very sure, that in a short time corruption will become so general, that no man will be afraid to corrupt, no man will be ashamed os being corrupted.
Though Though it cannot be affirmed, my Lords, that any undue
influence has as yet been made use of in the election of the sixteen Peers of, Scotland, though it cannot be suspected, that any such influence will ever be allowed of, much less approved of by His present Majesty, yet no man can tell how soon such a thing may be attempted; and the circumstances of many of the Peers of that nation give us great reason to be jealous of such attempts. It must be allowed, that there are many of them wno have the misfortune of having but small estates; it is well known, that many of them have commissions in the army, or places in the Government, depending upon the pleasure of the Crown; and it must be granted, that some of them cannot well" support the dignity of their titles, and the ancient grandeur of their families, without such commission in the army, or post in the Government. If, then, any future ambitious Prince should think of securing, by illegal means, a majority in this House, in order to destroy the liberties of his people; or if any wicked Minister, who had got the leading of a weak Prince, mould think of getting a corrupt majoritv in this House, in order to secure him against an impeachment from the other, are not we naturally to conclude, that the first attempt of such a King, or such a Minister, would be to secure the sixteen Peers from Scotland.
In such a case, a Court list, or rather a Ministerial list, would certainly be sent down, and every Peer of Scotland that did not vote plump for that list, would be under-hand threatened with being turned out of his commission in the army or navy, or out of his employment undei the Government; and others would be induced to vote for it by secret promises of preferment, or of being provided for. The noble families of Scotland are, my Lords, as ancient, and have always behaved with as much honour, as the nobility of any nation under the fun; but, in such cases, how hard might be the fate of some of the representatives of the noble families of that kingdom? They must ungratefully vote against those who, perhaps, procured
them their commissions, or the posts they enjoy; they must vote for those they know to be men of no worth or honour; men whom they know to be mere tools of power; or otherwise they must expect to be stript of all their preferments under the Government, and thereby rendered incapable of supporting themselves in their native country as noblemen, perhaps even as gentlemen. This is a misfortune which certainly may happen: this, my LorJs, is a misfortune which, in regard to our country, in regard to the honour and dignity of this House, in regard to our own families, we ought to provide against, and we cannot provide against it too soon.
I say,my Lords, that it is a misfortune which, in regard even to our own families, we ought to provide against; for it is well known, that there is but seldom any difference between the Royal and the Ministerial power. There can never be any difference between the two, but when there is a just, a wife, and an active Prince upon the throne; for when there is an ambitious, and an unjust Prince upon the throne, his Ministers will readily submit; he will make every thing submit to his power if he can; and when a weak or an indolent Prince happens to be upon the throne, the whole Royal power will always be lodged with the Ministers, and generally in one prime Minister; and as such Ministers always endeavour to act in an arbitrary way, they never will employ any but those who will meanly submit to be their tools; all others they will endeavour to oppose or destroy. It is certain, that men of great families and fortunes, who have any fense or penetration, will never so easily submit to the arbitrary views of an ambitious Prince, nor will they so easily submit to be the tools of an over-bearing Minister, as fools or mean upstarts; and, therefore, no such Prince or prime Minister never will employ any of them, if the,y can do without. While the ancient dignity and weight of this House is preserved, the ancient and great families of the kingdom will be able to confine the reins of an ambitious Prince, and to force him to delegate a just proportion of his power to'
them; them; and they will always be in a condition to force themselves in upon a prime Minister, not as his tools, but as his partners in power. But if it should once come to be in the power of a prince, or Minister, to secure, by dishonourable means, a majority in this House, the greatest part of our posterity will for ever be excluded from all share in the Government of their country; none but mean tools of power, and knavish upstarts, will be employed in the Administration; and, perhaps, even our next successors may fee a wicked and overbearing prime Minister of State at the head of a parcel of fools and knaves, carrying things in the House by a majority, contrary to the opinion of the generality of mankind out of doors, and contrary to the opinion of every honest man of fense within.
To me, my Lords, it is as clear as demonstration, that an utter exclusion of all the nobility in Great Britain, who had either honour or good fense, from any share in the Administration, will be the certain consequence of the Court's getting it in their power, to secure, by corruption, a majority in this House. But, I am much afraid, the misfortune would not stop here; 1 am afraid, that such a Court would soon begin to think of getting rid os- every family in the nation which could be any way troublesome, to them; and of such a resolution, my Lords, supported by such a majority, how fatal might be the consequences to every one of your Lordships' families, which happened unfortunately, at that time, to have a representative beloved in his country, and esteemed for his great honour, and his good fense. Of such consequences I have the most terrible apprehensions; I hope no such case will ever happen; but I must desire your Lordships to consider how great an influence a number of sixteen such votes might have upon all the resolutions of this House. Look into your journals, look into the histories of this nation, and you will fee how many questions, questions in which the very being of our Constitution was deeply concerned, have been carried against