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Of this dispute I have little knowledge but from the Biographia Britannica. The Old Whig is not inserted in Addison's works, nor is it mentioned by Tickell in his Life. Why it was omitted the biographers doubtless give the true reason : the fact was too recent, and those who had been heated in the contention were not yet cool.
In the text and notes the edition of 1789 by Nichols, which contains the original advertisements, has been followed, as giving the most faithful idea of the appearance of the original work, which has never before been included in the editions of Addison's writings.-G.
BY A MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
No. 1. SATURDAY, MARCH 14, 1718–19.
CONSIDERATIOXS UPOX THE REPORTS RELATING TO THE PEERAGE.
*_Hoc miseræ Plebi-commune Sepulchrum.”
HOR. I. Sat. viii. 10.
All men in high stations have their enemies, who are ready to suggest on every occasion whatever may tend to lessen their credit, and make them odious to the public. The persons at present in great authority have been pursued by this Evil Spirit; but it would be unjust to give too easy belief to the insinuations of malicious people. At the beginning of this session it was reported with much assurance, that a wonderful discovery was made, that all the charters of England were forfeited into the hands of the Crown; and this happy incident, as they called it, was to afford an opportunity of introducing a law much for the public service. But this was so far from being true, that the bill which came down from the house of Peers was a confirmation of the charters, without so much as a declaration of any forfeiture. Perhaps it might have been true, that some little lawyer had found out some mean chicane in law, worthy enough of the pursuit of such a person, in a private corporation-squabble; but such a project in order to a universal forfeiture, could never have weight with any judicious man whatever. Nobody could be so very a novice in business, or so extravagant in politics, as to put his Majesty upon an undertaking, which contributed more towards the ruin of king James, than any one thing, or perhaps than every thing else besides. When this report was blown over, the next thing insinuated to the public was a design of making a jest of what justice has been accidently done to the nation, by repealing the attainder of one of the greatest offenders of the late reign. It is very certain no such attempt will be now made. There has been a just indignation shewn already at the bare mention of it, and it is unfair to charge any particular person with having had any such intention ; much less should a scandalous discourse gain credit, that any great officer belonging to his Majesty would correspond abroad with an attainted fugitive, intercede for him at home, and even prostitute the character of an ambassador so low, as to become the messenger of a traitor. These two unjust accusations were laid at the door of some great people at the beginning, and towards the middle of this session ; and now at the end of it, the public is alarmed at the report of another design of a more dangerous nature than either of those already mentioned. But as those former reports have not proved true, so I doubt not but this will likewise vanish in the same manner. However, as I was ready to have appeared in public on either of the former occasions, if there had been a necessity for it; so, if I am a little more forward in the present affair, I hope the importance of it will justify me: and if I should lose my labour, I shall however shew that good intention for the service of my Sovereign and my fellow-subjects with which I have always exposed myself at a dangerous crisis.
It is affirmed by some people, that a bill will be offered to the House of Commons, in which the present 16 Peers of Scotland are to be made hereditary, to the exclusion of their electors, and 9 more added upon the same foot; and 6 more are to be added to the number of English peers; and then the Crown is to be restrained from making any new Lords but upon the extinction of families
At first sight, this proposal must appear very shocking; it carries with it so great an alteration of the constitution; it implies so direct a breach of the Union, and of natural justice; and encroaches so much upon the prerogative of the Crown.
As to what relates to the Scottish Peerage, I must confess I am at a loss to say any thing to it. If the most solemn contract betwixt two Nations is to be violated; if persons are to be deprived of their right without being heard, and without any pretence of forfeiture ; if those, who have a power intrusted to them by their principals only for a few years, can seize it to themselves and their posterity for ever; what use will be made of power so acquired, l-leave every one to judge.
The shutting up the door of the House of Lords, in the manner talked of, cannot but prove a great discouragement to virtuous actions, to learning and industry, and very detrimental to the House of Peers itself, by preventing such frequent supplies from going into it as the nature of such a body requires ; for want of which, it may in time become corrupt ond offensive, like a stagnated pool, which hitherto has been preserved whole. some and pure by the fresh streams that pass continually into it.
I am not unaware that it will be said, That the frequent extinctions of families will salve this inconvenience, and make room for the rewarding of Jerit. But this expedient, I fear, is not much to be depended on; for the uncertainty of the time when the Crown will have any such power, will make it much the same as if it was never to have it at all. Besides it is to be considered, that the patrons of this proposal argue vehemently for it, on account, that this will be a means to ease the Crown from the great importunity of Pretenders to Peerage. If so, it is certain in what manner they will proceed in all vacancies, which will be by filling them up instantly; or else the inconvenience would be increased as to importunity, and not diminished. This being the case, it is very evident by what sort of people those vacancies will be supplied ; undoubtedly by the creatures and relations of those Peers who have at that time the greatest influence in the House, and whose requests to the Throne will very much resemble de mands; and this honour, in all probability, will only be thought proper for their own families. An instance of this we have in the distinction of the Garter. At the first institution of that order, and till of late years, several Commoners had the honour (as the reward of merit) to be of that noble body; but at present it would be looked upon as a high presumption in any Commoner to pretend to it, let his services be never so great.
But another consequence, of a much higher nature, attending the limitation of the number of Peers, is the danger there will be of changing the Constitution by this means into an Aristocracy; and this may at any time in such case be eifected by the confederacy of two or three great families, which would form such a body amongst the Lords as the Crown would not be able to controul. That this kind of government is one of the worst sorts of slavery, is too well known to be disputed. In a Democracy a great many different persons may come to have a share of power by several incidents; but in the other state it is birth only that entitles to superiority; and the milk such Nobles are nursed up with, is hatred and contempt for every human creature but those of their own imaginary dignity.
These being some of the inconveniences and hazards which naturally occur upon this proposal, let us see what are the advantages which on the other hand, it is said, will flow from it.
First, “That this will be a bar upon the Crown, and prevent the King upon the throne from flinging in a great number of Lords on a sudden, only to answer a present purpose, as the late Queen once did.”
Secondly, “That it will be a means to keep property or great estates in the House of Commons, from wbence they are generally drawn out into the House of Peers."
These are said to be such plain whig-points, as no whig can oppose.
Whiggism, if I understand it aright, is a desire of liberty, and a spirit of opposition to all exorbitant power in any part of the constitution. Formerly the danger on this account was from the crown; but since the Habeas Corpus Act, and the many restraints laid upon the crown in King William's time, and the great and numerous limitations of the Succession Acts, the prerogative of the crown is reduced so low, that it is not at all dangerous to the Commons. Besides, the Crown has frequent occasions for the assistance of the Commons; but the Lords never. The Lords are judges of the property of the Commons in the last resort; and even in cases where they themselves are concerned, they have their actions de Scandalis Magnatum, and exercise a power of imprisoning, not confined within any very certain boundaries. And therefore the chief circumspection of the Commons ought to be employed at present, that those who have so much power already do not get more than the Commons will be able to withstand in any manner. I confess the making a great number of Lords on a sudden has one inconvenience: it may prevent some good to the public, but cannot do any great hurt, and is more grievous in its consequences to the Crown than to the People. The increasing the number of Peers is always to be wished for by the Commons, because the greater their number, the less considerable they become, and the less within the influence of Court favours; by which means alone ministers are kept in awe, and remain in a situation of being called to account for their actions. Were it otherwise, they would be out of the reach of any accusation. They would know exactly by whom they were to be tried, and their Judges might be their accomplices. And should this once come to be the case, what might they not attempt with impunity?
On the other hand, if their Lordships complain of the great number of Peers as a grievance to themselves, why are they desirous any more should be made? If twelve at once was so bad a precedent, what is fifteen, taking it in one light? what is thirty-one, if you take it in another!
If, at the Union, sixteen Scottish Noblemen were found to be a just proportion to represent their whole Nobility, what has happened since, to give reason to increase their number to twenty-five? Why may they not as well a few years hence, especially if the head of a clan is to be taken in, who may not like the set of Nobles at that time, demand to be made fifty, to give his followers the majority; and so from time to time continue to play the game into each other's hands, as long as there is ono Nobleman left in Scotland, or any Civil List in England? If the Commoners of England are to be excluded from the House of Lords, why are they not excluded forth with? It cannot be supposed that titles in petto are kept on purpose to bribe persons of consequence in the house of Commons, to drive such a bill through that part of the Legislature.