« AnteriorContinuar »
the then enemies of our Constitution, by a majority of a much smaller number, perhaps by a majority of not above two or three. Can we, then, be too jealous of the method of electing the sixteen Peers of Scotland? Can we refuse, or neglect to use, all those means that lie in our power for preventing their being ever chosen by ministerial influence? Can we suppose that all those who are chosen by such an influence will not vote in this House under that influence by which they are chosen?
Custom, my Lords, is of a mighty prevalent nature; even virtue itself owes its respect, in a great measure, to custom; and vice, by being openly and avowedly practised, soon comes to disguise itself, and assumes the habit of virtue. If ministerial influence, if private and selfish views, should once come to be sole directors in voting at the election of the sixteen Peers of Scotland, the practice would very soon get even into this House itself; and, as inferiors are always apt to imitate their superiors, it would from thence descend to every election, and to every assembly in Great Britain. Corruption would then come to be openly and generally avowed; it would assume the habit of virtue; the sacraficing of our country, the sacrificing of all the ties of honour, friendship, and blood, to any personal advantage or preferment, would be called prudence and good sense, and every contrary behaviour would be called madness and folly. Then, indeed, if there were a man of virtue left in the nation, he might have reason to cry out with the celebrated Roman patriot, " Oh virtue ! I have followed thee as a real good, but now I find thou art nothing but an empty name." It was, my Lords, the general corruption he found in his country that led that great man into such an expression: he died in the defence of liberty and virtue, and with him expired the last remains of the liberty and virtue of his country; for virtue and liberty always go hand in hand; wherever one is, there likewise is the other; and, from every country, they take their flight together*
Vol. II. ." K I have
I have said, my Lords, that it cannot be affirmed, that any undue influence has yet been made use of in the -election of the Peers for Scotland; but yet it must be granted, that towards the latter end of the late Queen's reign, there seems to be a strong suspicion, that some extraordinary influence was then made use of; for the sixteen that were first chosen after the union, were all such as were known to have a true zeal and affection for the Revolution, and for the present establishment. Soon aster there was a change in the Ministry here, and, upon that, a new Parliament: it cannot be said, that there was any change among the electors of the sixteen Peers of Scotland, they necessarily continued to be the same; and yet there was such a thorough change among the sixteen representatives then chosen, that hardly one of the former was sent up; the whole sixteen were such as were agreeable to the new Ministry, and such as went into all the new measures then set on foot. Even some noble Lords, now in this House, whose consummate prudence and great qualifications were then well known, were left out in that Queen's time, though the Peers of Scotland have been ever since so just to themselves as always to chuse them for their representatives. How this mould happen, without some undue influence being then made use of, I cannot well comprehend. And if what is prophesied mould happen; if upon the next election it should be sound, that some noble Lords are left" out, whose families, as well as themselves, have been eminent and remarkable for their zeal in the present happy establishment, as well as for the Revolution, upon which it is founded; if such, I say, should be left out, for no other reason that can possibly be guested at, but that they happen not to be altogether agreeable to the Ministers for the time being, I shall think it still more unaccountable; because, that in the latter end of the late Queen's time, there seemed to be a contest between those that were friends and those that were enemies to the Protestant succession, and, in such a contest, there is some ground to presume, that the Peers of Scotland
would .Would naturally divide into two parties, and that the most numerous party would chuse that sixteen who were supposed to be of the party they espoused. But now, my Lords, where there is no principle, either in religion or politics, to direct them, is it not to be supposed that they will naturally divide into two parties, or that the majority of them will readily resolve not to vote for any of those who now happen to be disagreeable to the Minister, notwithstanding their having, for a continued course of so many years, thought some of them worthy of the honour of being their representatives in this House?
If this, my Lords, should really happen; if some of those Lords how in this House, whose zeal and affection for his Majesty's person and government are well known, whose qualifications and natural endowments are universally acknowledged, and who have performed many eminent services to their country; if such, I say, should ba left out, arid others, who may not be known in the world, chosen, or, at least, pretended to be chosen in their room, I shall be apt to suspect, I believe the whole nation will conclude, that some of the Scots Peers have not been directed in their choice by that which ought to be their only direction upon such an occasion; and if such a thing shoiakl happen, it will be incumbent upon this House to inquire how it was brought about; for we ought not to admit of any unworthy person's being brought among us, nor ought we to allow of any person's being brought unworthily or unjustly into this House. This we have a right to inquire into, as may appear by what happened so lately as in the reign of the late Queen; and our records, our own histories, may Ihew us, that the bringing, or endeavouring to bring, unworthy persons into this House was inquired into, and had like to have proved fatal to King Henry III.
"In such cases, my Lords, we are not tied down to the strict rules of law, we are not to expect every criminal fact to be proved by two or three witnesses; this is what neither House ef Parliament ever thought themselves tied down to do; it is from circumstances, as well as proofs, that we are to determine; and if such circumstances should concur, as must convince every man of common fense in the kingdom, lam sure I need not tell your Lordships what you are to do; but as the preventing of crimes is much more prudent, and less troublesome, than the punishing of them, let us, therefore, now endeavour to prevent the committing of any such crimes, by agreeing to the resolution proposed.
The other House of Parliament has passed many laws for preventing the influence of bribery and corruption in the election of any of their members. They have lately got pasted a . severe law against that abominable practice; and another bill for preventing any undue influence upon their members after they are chosen, has since been several times brought in, and as often passed in that House, but your Lordships have not, it seems, thought fit to give it your concurrence. While there are such complaints against the growth of corruption, whilethe other House are using such precautions against it, shall we sit still and do nothing? There are but a few of the members of this House, there are none but the sixteen for Scotland, who owe their seats here to an election. Let us, then, my Lords, take all possible care, that they shall always be chosen by an honourable, a fair, and a free election. If they should ever come to depend upon a Minister for their seats in this House, consider, my Lords, what an influence it might have even upon their voting while they are here. How terrible must it be for any Lord of this House to be exposed to the danger of being told by an insolent Minister, " You shall vote so or so, otherwise you shall be no longer a Lord of Parliament." This is what, I hope, your Lordships will endeavour to prevent, by agreeing to this resolution, or any other more effectual method that may hereafter be found to be necessary.
Earl of Chesterfield, Feb. 13, 1738.
The motion which I shall have the honour of submitting to the House, affects, in my opinion, the very vitals of this Constitution, the great primary sources of the power of the People, whom we represent, and by whose authority only, delegated to us for a time, we are a part of the legislative body of this kingdom. The proceedings of the last Parliament, in the business of the Middlesex election, gave a just alarm to almost every elector in the nation. The fatal precedent then attempted to be established, was considered as a direct attack on the ^inalienable rights of the People. The most respectable bodies in jhe kingdom expressed their abhorrence of the measure. They proceeded so far as to petition the Crown for the dissolution of that Parliament, as having been guilty of a flagrant abuse of their trust. Above 60,000 of our fellow subjects carried their complaints to the foot of the throne, a number, surely, deserving the highest regard from a Minister, if his whole attention had not been engrossed by the small number of the 6000 who return the majority of members to this House. The People, Sir, were in a ferment, which has not yet subsided. They made my cause their own, for they saw the powers of Government exerted against the Constitution, which was wounded through my sides, and the envenomed shafts of a wicked Administration pointed at our laws and liberties no less than at a hated individual. The plan was carried on for some years, with a spirit of rancour and malevolence which would have disgraced the very worst, but with a perseverance which would have done honour to the best cause. I do not mean, Sir, to go through the variety of the persecutions and injuries which that person suftered, I hope, with a becoming fortitude, I have forgiven them. All the great powers of the State, at one time, appeared combined to pour their vengeance on me. Even imperial Jove pointed his thunderbolts, red with uncommon wrath, at my devoted head. I was scorched, but not consumed. The broad shield of the law protected me. A generous public, and my noble friends, the freeholders of Middlesex,
K 3 the