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Upon the foot the Constitution has subsisted many years, the Crown, in all great emergencies relating immediately to itself
, has been able to fence against the Lords by adding to their number, and against the Commons by dissolutions; and in like manner in cases of difference betwixt the two Houses. But if such a law as is mentioned above should be made, and any difference happen hereafter betwixt the Crown and the House of Peers, or betwixt the Two Houses of Parliament, the Crown may not have it in its power to influence the Lords in relation to the Commons. And therefore it must be the inevitable consequence of such a misfortune, that both the Crown and the Commons must submit to the Lords. In former times, the greatest art and care of the Crown and Ministers used to be the preventing of jealousies and differences betwixt the two Houses. This proposal, I fear, would be raising an implacable animosity and hatred, scarce ever to be reconciled.
The great advantage that the number of their body cannot be increased, is at present the most valuable privilege of the Commons, and the only thing that makes them considerable. The Lords are possessed of many great privileges that they will not permit the Commons to share with them; and therefore the Commons would be highly wanting to themselves, if they should add this advantage likewise to the Lords, which is the only one that they enjoy distinct from them.
It has been used as an argument, by some people, for the increasing the number of the Lords, “That the Crown formerly increased the num. ber of the Commons, in particular in Queen Elizabeth's reign.” But I desire it may be understood, that the sending members to Parliament at that time was not desired as a favour, but imposed as a burden. Queen Elizabeth erected several new corporations; but then the reason for it was, she relieved several ancient and decayed ones from sending any Members at all. And how.little this resembles the present case is easily perceived.
The other advantage, which it is said will accrue from this proposal, is, "That it will be a means to keep property amongst the Commons."
I cannot see that there is occasion for so extraordinary a step as this, and accompanied with so many evils, to procure us this assurance. Property or wealth in every age flows faster back to the Commons by the extinction of families, but much more by the want of economy in the Peers, than it is drawn from them by the promotions of the Crown. Besides, we see estates are often extinct before families; and property is very rarely increased in the House of Peers. Indeed, if a restraining bill should pass, I do not doubt but it would soon be followed with a bill to prevent Lords from a ienating their estates, for which many plausible reasons are to be produced; and then, without all dispute, the balance of property would be soon turned on the side of their Lordships.
These are all the arguments I have heard for this supposed bill; which
is neither a Whig nor a Tory point, but would be a scheme that might hereafter set up some Nobles above the Crown and the Commons both. For as to what is commonly said, That the Lords would get nothing, no new power would be added to them by this means; I beg leave to state this matter in a proper light. Suppose the balance to be now even betwixt the Lords and the Crown, as it certaiply is, or else the Constitution would not subsist in quiet; is it not plain to the most common capacity, that when two scales are upon an equal poise, if you take any weight out of one of them, you give the advantage to the other, without putting any thing into it?
How dangerous it may prove to vary the balance of power in a limited Monarchy, we may learn from the ruin of one of the best-founded Governments among the Antients. The original power, the Ephori, in the Lacedæmonian state, were invested with, besides that of being part of the Legislature, was chiefly the determining law matters relating to private contracts, and such like business. In the absence of their Kings they composed the Regency: “Regum absentum vicarii erant,” is the expression made use of by Crags, de Rep. Lac. p. 76. But afterwards, upon the diminution of the Regal authority (which indeed was voluntarily complied with by their King, as I shall shew by and by), their power grew immense, “Eorum potestas in immensum aucta est.” Crags, ibid.
They administered every thing of consequence : they disposed of the public treasure: they influenced the assembly of the people, and made them vote for peace or war, as they thought fit; “Concionem populi regebant; bellum pacemque concionis suffragiis sciscebant.' Ubbo Emius, de Rebus Græcis, p. 293. They made or broke treaties; they raised or disbanded the army. In fine, they had or usurped the right of rewarding or punishing whom and when they pleased. At last they took upon them to dethrone, or imprison, or execute their Kings themselves. Theopompus, King of Sparta, was advised against giving way to the diminution of the royal dignity, by which the power of those Magistrates grew so great: but he declared he did it, to settle the government by that means upon a more lasting foundation ; “ ut diuturniorem potestatem relinqueret." Crags, p. 74.
This unwary step proved fatal both to the Crown and the People, and ended in the ruin of the Constitution. Theopompus was one of the most virtuous, most moderate, and most gracious Princes amongst all the Spartan Kings. It appeared evidently by this very instance of his willingness to part with the power of the Crown for the good of his People: but for that very reason the People should not have suffered the authority of the Crown to have been weakened; but should rather have added to it, since power could not be lodged any where else so much for their safety and advantage. When the Prince had no longer force enough to restrain the many-headed Sovereignty, it bore down all that stood in its way, as we have heard; and in the end grew so insupportable, that the People, to be delivered from so vile a slavery, submitted to the usurpation of a private person, who, to the satisfaction of revenging them upon
oppressors, added this single act of grace: he wiped off all the public debts at once; “ut plebem demulseret, æs alienum universum delevit.” Emmius, p. 349. " Et respublica in Tyrannidem conversa est.” Crags, p. 72.
Those who are desirous to consult the Author himself, whom I have chiefly quoted on this occasion, must have recourse to his book of the Lacedemonian government, printed 1593, apud Petrum Santandreanum. It appears by the dedication of this treatise, that he was a follower of the first minister of the Court of Denmark, upon whom he solely depended to make his fortune, “tuo patrocinio salus mea constituta,” Ep. Ded. The character Ubbo Emmius (a great Lawyer of that age, who was a sort of rival to my Author) gives of Crags, is, That he was a person of great boldoess and industry, "ausu & industria,” Pref. to De Reb. Græc. but not so happy in his judgment. But, begging pardon for this digression, which is only intended for the curious, and to return to my subject. There are other and more modern instances, and living Historians of our own, who can satisfy us, that too great a power in the hands of the Nobility has brought on the ruin of many free nations. This was the case of Sweden a few years ago, as appears plainly from the very ingenious labours of a venerable Prelate * of the present house of Peers. This was the case of Denmark, of which a very accurate account has been given by a noble Lord of a neighbouring kingdom, a member of the House of Commons. Nothing can be better writ, or more instructive to any one that values liberty, than the narrative of that tragedy in that excellent treatise. I wish gentlemen would see there, how Commoners were treated by the Nobility when they had the power over them. This noble Lord will inform them, that “they laid heavy impositions on the Commons at pleasure;
* Dt. John Robinson, at that time Bishop of London, had in his younger days been a considerable time Envoy at the Conrt of Sweden; and published "The History of Livonia" in 1706. See further particulars of bim in “ Bishop ATTERBURY's Epistolary Correspondence, 1789," vol. L p. 436.
+ Robert Lord Viscount Molesworth was sent Envoy extraordinary to Denmark by King William in 1692. After a residence of three years, some particulars in his conduct disoblig. ing his Danish Majesty, he was forbid the Court. Pretending business in Flanders, he retired thither without any audience of leave, and came from thence home: where he was no sooner arrived, than he drew up an Account of Denmark;" in which he represented the government of that country to be arbitrary and tyrannical. This piece was greatly resented by Prince George of Denmark, consort to the Princess, afterwards Queen Anno; and Scheel, the Danish Enroy, first presented a memorial to King William, complaining of it, and then furnished materials for an answer, which was executed by Dr. William King of the ComInons. From King's account it appears, that Molesworth's offence in Denmark was, his boldly pretending to some privileges, which, by the custom of the country, are denied to every body but the King; as travelling the King's road, and hunting thó King's game: which being done, as is represented, in defiance of opposition, occasioned ihe rupture between the Envoy and that Court. In the mean time his book was well received by the publick, and translated into several languages.
which weight they themselves would not touch with one of their fingers." And when the Commons presumed to complain, though they were just come “from saving, from a foreign yoke, not only the capital city of their country, but the whole kingdom, the Royal Family, nay those very Nobles that dealt so hardly by them:" I say, when the Commons ventured to complain, let any Englishman but hear the answer that was given them: “A principal Senator,” says his Lordship, “stood up, and in great anger told the President of the city, that the Commons neither understood nor considered the privileges of the Nobility, nor the true condition of them. selves, who were no other than slaves.” The Commons, fired with indig. nation at this treatment, and resolving, if they were to be slaves, to be slaves to their Prince, rather than slaves to their fellow-subjects, instantly surrendered all their liberties to their King; and the Lords were forced to follow their example with so much haste, that “in four days time that kingdom was changed,” says my noble and honest Author, “ to as absolute a Monarchy as any in the whole world.”
In short, it has been for our ancient Constitution that we have struggled with so much vigour for many years together: it is for that we have poured out a river of English blood, and a treasure unheard-of in any former age. This Constitution may have its imperfections; but, faulty as it is, our ancestors have conveyed down Liberty to us through that channel: and we ought to continue it on, as well as we can, to our posterity, and not give way to the new-modelling schemes of every extraordinary genius. It would certainly be new-modelling the Constitution in a great measure, to take a considerable part of what power is left to the Crown from the Crown, and by that means add very much to the power of the Lords.
Besides, it is to be remembered, that the evil, which may be brought upon the Commons by this means, will be irretrievable. Those persons deceive themselves, who think, that if such a law should prove destructive, it may be annulled, nothing being more usual than for one Parliament to repeal the acts of another. This is true in common cases, because almost all laws relate to every part of the Legislature, and any inconvenience is felt in some measure by each of them: but this will be a law which will relate chiefly, nay solely, to the Lords; and, whatever injury the Crown or the Commons may receive by it, their Lordships will be very sensible of the advantage of it to themselves: and nothing can be more vain, than to imagine that the Commons will be ever able to shake off any exorbitant power that the Lords shall be once possessed of, unless it be by an universal destruction, like those just mentioned, which will swallow Lords and Commons and all Estates together. For which reasons, this project, if it should ever be offered to the Commons, is not only to be opposed with all the zeal imaginable, but every step, every attempt towards it, is to be detested. He that gives the power of blood, is a murderer; and he that gives the power of tyranny, is a tyrant. I shall add but one word more: The greatest traytor to civil society that ever yet appeared, will be the man, if such a one can be found, who shall contend for such a bill, should it be proposed amongst the Commons, with the assurance in his pocket of being a Peer as soon as the bill passes: and should he succeed (which God forbid !) that honour, which is to be the reward of so base a treachery, will be a lasting mark of infamy to the family that bears it, whilst any notion of honesty remains amongst mankind.