Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

parts of the country, which were prescribed to them without allowing them time to consider, much less to meet, and hold any consultation.

But the person who is invested with the kingly office in England, has need of no other weapon, no other artillery, than the civil insignia of his dignity to effect a dissolution of the parliament. He steps into the midst of them, telling them that they are dissolved ; and they are dissolved :-lie tells them that they are no longer a parliament; and they are no longer so. Like the wand of Popilius, a dissolution instantly puts a stop to their warmest debates and most violent proceedings. The peremptory words by which it is expressed have no sooner met their ears, than all their legislative faculties are benumbed: though they may still be sitting on the same benches, they look no longer on themselves as forming an assembly; they no longer consider each other in the light of associates or of colleagues. As if some strange kind of weapon, or a sudden magical effort, had been exerted in the midst of them, all the bonds of their union are cut off ; and they hasten away, without having so much as the thought of continuing for a single minute the duration of their assembly.

1

To all these observations concerning the peculiar solidity of the authority of the crown in England, I shall add another that is supplied by the whole series of the English history; which is, that though bloody broils and disturbances have often taken place in England, and war been often made against the king, yet it has scarcely ever been done, but by persons who positively and expressly laid claim to the crown. Even while Cromwell contended with an armed force against Charles the First, it was in the king's own name that he waged war against him.

The same objection might be expressed in a more general manner, and with strict truth, by saying that no war has been waged, in England, against the governing authority, except upon national grounds; that is to say, either when the title to the crown has been doubtful, or when general complaints, either of a political or religious kind, have arisen from every part of the nation. As instances of such complaints, may be mentioned those

rise to the war against king John, which ended in the passing of the Great Charter ; the civil wars in the reign of Charles the First; and the Revolution of the year 1689. From the facts just mentioned, it may

that gave

also be observed as a conclusion, that the crown cannot depend on the great security we have been describing any longer than it continues to fulfil its engagements to the nation, and to respect those laws which form the compact between it and the people. And the imminent dangers, or at least the alarms and perplexities, in which the kings of England have constantly involved themselves, whenever they have attempted to struggle against the general sense of the nation, manifestly show that all that has been above observed, concerning the security and remarkable stability somehow annexed to their office, is to be understood, not of the capricious power of the man, but of the lawful authority of the head of the state.

Second Part of the Chapter. THERE is certainly a very great degree of singularity in all the circumstances we have been describing here: those persons who are acquainted with the history of other countries cannot but remark with surprise that stability of the power of the English crown,that mysterious solidity, that inward binding strength with which it is able to carry on with

Το

certainty its legal operations, amidst the clamorous struggle and uproar with which it is commonly surrounded, and without the medium of any armed threatening force. give a demonstration of the manner in which all these things are brought to bear and operate, it is not, as I said before, my design to attempt here; the principles from which such demonstration is to be derived, suppose an inquiry into the nature of man, and of human affairs, which rather belongs to philosophy (though to a branch hitherto unexplored) than to politics ; at least such an inquiry certainly lies out of the sphere of the common science of politics. However, I had a very material reason for introducing all the above-mentioned facts concerning the peculiar stability of the governing authority of England, inasmuch as they lead to an observation of a most important political nature ; which is, that this stability allows several essential branches of English liberty to take place, which, without it, could not exist. For there is a very essential consideration to be made in every science, though speculators are sometimes apt to lose sight of it, which is this—in order that things may have existence, they must be possible ; in order that political regulations of any kind

may obtain their effect, they must imply no direct contradiction, either open or hidden, to the nature of things, or to the other circumstances of the government. In reasoning from this principle, we shall find that the stability of the governing executive authority in England, and the weight it gives to the whole machine of the state, have actually enabled the English nation, considered as a free nation, to enjoy several advantages which would really have been totally unattainable in the other states we have mentioned in former chapters, whatever degree of public virtue we might even suppose to have belonged to the men who acted in those states as the advisers of the people, or, in general, who were intrusted with the business of framing the laws.

One of these advantages resulting from the solidity of the government is, the extraordinary personal freedom which all ranks of individuals in England enjoy at the expense of the governing authority. In the Roman commonwealth, for instance, we behold the senate invested with a number of powers totally destructive of the liberty of the citizens : and the continuance of these powers was, no doubt, in a great measure, owing to the treacherous remissness of those men to whom the people

« AnteriorContinuar »