Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

would, no doubt, operate again, and likewise concur in its support. A general combination would then be formed, both of those members of parliament who have remained true to the public cause, and of persons of every order among the people. Public meetings, in such circumstances, would be appointed ; general subscriptions would be entered into, to support the expenses, whatever they might be, of such a necessary opposition ; and all private and unworthy purposes being suppressed by the sense of the national danger, the choice of the electors would then be wholly determined by the consideration of the public spirit of the candidates, and the tokens given by them of such spirit.

Thus were those parliaments formed, which suppressed arbitrary taxes and imprisonments. Thus was it, that, under Charles the Second, the people, when recovered from that enthusiasm of affection with which they received a king so long persecuted, at last returned to him no parliaments but such as were composed of a majority of men attached to public liberty. Thus it was, that, persevering in a conduct which the circumstances of the times rendered necessary, the people baffled the arts of the government; and Charles dissolved three succes

+

!

sive parliaments, without any other effect than that of having those same men re-chosen, and set again in opposition to him, of whom he hoped he had rid himself for ever.

Nor was James the Second happier in his attempts than Charles had been. This prince soon experienced that his parliament was actuated by the same spirit as those which had opposed the designs of his late brother; and having suffered himself to be led into measures of violence, instead of being better taught by the discovery he made of the real sentiments of the people, his reign was terminated by that catastrophe with which every one is acquainted.

Indeed, if we combine the right enjoyed by the people of England, of electing their representatives, with the whole of the English government, we shall become continually more and more sensible of the excellent effects that may result from that right. All men in the state are, as has been before observed, really interested in the support of public liberty. Nothing but temporary motives, and such as are quite peculiar to themselves, can induce the members of any house of commons to connive at measures destructive of this liberty. The people, therefore, under such circum

stances, need only change these members, in order effectually to reform the conduct of that house ; and it may fairly be pronounced before hand, that a house of commons composed of a new set of persons, will, from this bare circumstance, be in the interests of the people.

Hence, though the complaints of the people do not always meet with a speedy and immediate redress (a celerity which would be the symptom of a fatal unsteadiness in the constitution, and would sooner or later bring on its ruin); yet when we attentively consider the nature and the resources of this constitution, we shall not think it too bold an assertion to say, that it is impossible but that complaints in which the people persevere (that, is, (well grounded complaints) will sooner or later be redressed.

CHAPTER XIV.

Right of Resistance. But all those privileges of the people, considered in themselves, are but feeble defences against the real strength of those who govern. All those provisions, all those reciprocal rights, necessarily suppose that things remain in their

legal and settled course : what would then be the resource of the people, if ever the prince, suddenly freeing himself from all restraint, and throwing himself as it were out of the constitution, should no longer respect either the person or the property of the subject, and either should make no account of his conventions with the parliament, or attempt to force it implicitly to submit to his will ?-It would be resistance.

Without entering here into the discussion of a doctrine which would lead us to inquire into the first principles of civil government, consequently engage us in a long disquisition, and with regard to which, besides, persons free from prejudices agree pretty much in their opinions, I shall only observe here (and it will be sufficient for my purpose) that the question has been decided in favour of this doctrine by the laws of England, and that resistance is looked upon by them as the ultimate and lawful resource against the violences of

power. It was resistance that gave birth to the Great Charter, that lasting foundation of English liberty, and the excesses of a power

established by force were also restrained by force. * It

* Lord Lyttelton says, extremely well, in his Persian Letters, “ If the privileges of the people of England be

has been by the same means that, at different times, the people have procured the confirmation of the same charter. Lastly, it has also been the resistance to a king who made no account of his own engagements, that bas, in the issue, placed on the throne the family which is now in possession of it.

This is not all; this resource, which till then had only been an act of force opposed to other acts of force, was, at that æra, expressly recognised by the law itself. The lords and commons solemnly assembled, declared, that “king “ James the Second, having endeavoured to “ subvert the constitution of the kingdom, by

breaking the original contract between king “and people, and having violated the fundamental laws, and withdrawn himself, had

abdicated the government; and that the “ throne was thereby vacant.”*

" concessions from the crown, is not the power of the "crown itself a concession from the people?" It might be said with equal truth, and somewhat more in point to the subject of this chapter,- If the privileges of the people be an encroachment on the power of kings, the power itself of kings was at first an encroachment (no matter whether effected by surprise) on the natural liberty of the people.

* The Bill of Rights has since given a new sanction to all these principles.

« AnteriorContinuar »