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THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION.

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CHAPTER L

COMMON LAW OF ENGLAND.

There are few subjects of investigation bearing on the temporal welfare of man more practically important than those laws whereby the benefits of a social state, and the security of persons and their rights, are established and maintained.

That species of knowledge would be valuable even under a despotism. We should be desirous of knowing the principles upon which we are governed, even if we lived under the uncontrollable power of a despotic sovereign; as we are impelled by a laudable ambition to inquire into the laws by which nature is regulated, though we feel our inability to influence their action even in the slightest degree.

But, under the form of government established in this country, there are further reasons which render it highly blameable in any Englishman to neglect obtaining a knowledge of the constitution of his country. We all enjoy, or, at least, we all either actually hold, or are qualified by the law to obtain, certain privileges and franchises, which, in fact, invest the possessor with a portion of the power whereby the British empire may be ruled either for the advantage or to the detriment of that great body politic. B

The moral and religious responsibility of the man who votes on the hustings, or even asks his neighbour to vote, or exercises the smallest public function, is, indeed, no less real and stringent than that of the highest ministers of the crown. The welfare of every free state depends, in a very great measure, upon the honest and prudent exercise of the franchises entrusted by the law to the mass of private citizens. It must frequently happen that the greatest questions, involving most important interests, and even the welfare of the whole empire, are practically decided by votes given at elections. On those votes always depends the question, by what men the empire shall be governed. How, indeed, can honest men be placed in the high offices of the state, unless the mass of the community possessing political power exercise it in favour of principles on which such men can consistently govern ? How can those who govern do so in a manner consistent with the honour and safety of the kingdom, if they have not the support of the mass of her majesty's subjects, who are entrusted with the parliamentary and municipal franchise and other public privileges? How can the wisest of men govern wisely, if the great body of the community, or any large portion of it, choose, through ignorance, perverseness, or factiousness, to interfere with the deliberations of those in whom the constitution has vested the power to decide on matters of state,_thus confounding the right of petitioning with that of legislating; or to urge the adoption of extreme or dangerous measures, placing men deficient in prudence or information in the House of Commons, and in offices of municipal trust and influence 2 These very slight and superficial considerations are sufficient to convince any man of good sense, that it is necessary for the welfare of the commonwealth that all classes of the community should act with the utmost cau

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