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FALSE ALAR M.
NE of the chief advantages derived by the prefent generation from the improvement and diffufion of philofophy, is deliverance from unneceffary terrours, and exemption from falfe alarms. The unusual appearances, whether regular or accidental, which once fpread confternation over ages of ignorance, are now the recreations of inquifitive fecurity. The fun is no more lamented when it is eclipfed, than when it fets; and meteors play their corufcations without prognoftick or prediction.
The advancement of political knowledge may be expected to produce in time the like effects. Causeless discontent and feditious violence will grow lefs frequent, and lefs formidable, as the fcience of government is better afcertained by a diligent study of the theory of man.
It is not indeed to be expected, that phyfical and political truth fhould meet with equal acceptance, or gain ground upon the world with equal facility. The notions of the naturalift find mankind in a state of neutrality, or at worst have nothing to encounter but prejudice and vanity; prejudice without malignity, and vanity without inB 2 tereft.
tereft. But the politician's improvements are opposed by every paffion that can exclude conviction or fupprefs it; by ambition, by avarice, by hope, and by terrour, by publick faction, and private animofity.
It is evident, whatever be the cause, that this nation, with all its renown for fpeculation and for learning, has yet made little proficiency in civil wisdom. We are ftill fo much unacquainted with our own state, and so unskilful in the pursuit of happiness, that we fhudder without danger, complain without grievances, and fuffer our quiet to be disturbed, and our commerce to be interrupted, by an oppofition to the government, raifed only by intereft, and fupported only by clamour, which yet has fo far prevailed upon ignorance and timidity, that many favour it as reasonable, and many dread it as powerful.
What is urged by those who have been fo induftrious to fpread fufpicion, and incite fury from one end of the kingdom to the other, may be known by perufing the papers which have been at once prefented as petitions to the king, and exhibited in print as remonftrances to the people. It may therefore not be improper to lay before the Publick the reflections of a man who cannot favour the oppofition, for he thinks it wicked, and cannot fear it, for he thinks it weak.
The grievance which has produced all this tempeft of outrage, the oppreflion in which all other oppreffions are included, the invafion which has left us no property, the alarm that fuffers no patriot to fleep in quiet, is comprised in a vote of the House
House of Commons, by which the freeholders of Middlefex are deprived of a Briton's birth-right, representation in parliament.
They have indeed received the ufual writ of election, but that writ, alas! was malicious mockery; they were infulted with the form, but denied the reality, for there was one man excepted from their choice.
Non de vi, neque cæde, nec veneno,
The character of the man thus fatally excepted, I have no purpofe to delineate. Lampoon itself would difdain to speak ill of him of whom no man fpeaks well. It is fufficient that he is expelled the House of Commons, and confined in jail as being legally convicted of fedition and impiety.
That this man cannot be appointed one of the guardians and counsellors of the church and state, is a grievance not to be endured. Every lover of liberty ftands doubtful of the fate of pofterity, because the chief county in England cannot take its representative from a jail.
Whence Middlefex fhould obtain the right of being denominated the chief county, cannot easily be discovered; it is indeed the county where the chief city happens to ftand, but how that city treated the favourite of Middlefex, is not yet forgotten. The county, as diftinguished from the city, has no claim to particular confideration.
That a man was in jail for fedition and impiety, would, I believe, have been within memory a fufficient reason why he should not come out of jail a B 3
legislator. This reason, notwithstanding the mutability of fashion, happens ftill to operate on the House of Commons. Their notions, however ftrange, may be juftified by a common obfervation, that few are mended by imprisonment, and that he whofe crimes have made confinement neceffary, feldom makes any other ufe of his enlargement, than to do with greater cunning what he did before with lefs.
But the people have been told with great confidence, that the Houfe cannot control the right of conftituting reprefentatives; that he who can perfuade lawful electors to chufe him, whatever be his character, is lawfully chofen, and has a claim to a feat in parliament, from which no human authority can depose him.
Here, however, the patrons of oppofition are in fome perplexity. They are forced to confefs, that by a train of precedents fufficient to establish a custom of parliament, the Houfe of Commons has jurifdiction over its own members; that the whole has power over individuals; and that this power has been exercised fometimes in imprisonment, and often in expulfion.
That fuch power fhould refide in the House of Commons in fome cafes, is inevitably neceffary, fince it is required by every polity, that where there is a poffibility of offence, there fhould be a poffibility of punishment. A member of the Houfe cannot be cited for his conduct in parliament before any other court; and therefore, if the Houfe cannot punish him, he may attack with impunity the rights of the people, and the title of the king.
This exemption from the authority of other courts was, I think, first established in favour of the five members in the long parliament. It is not to be confidered as an ufurpation, for it is implied in the principles of government. If legiflative powers are not co-ordinate, they cease in part to be legislative; and if they be co-ordinate, they are unaccountable; for to whom must that power account, which has no fuperiour?
The Houfe of Commons is indeed diffoluble by the king, as the nation has of late been very clamoroufly told; but while it fubfifts it is co-ordinate with the other powers, and this co-ordination ceases only when the Houfe by diffolution ceafes to fubfist.
As the particular reprefentatives of the people are in their publick character above the control of the courts of law, they must be fubject to the jurifdiction of the Houfe; and as the Houfe, in the exercise of its authority, can be neither directed nor reftrained, its own refolutions must be its laws, at leaft, if there is no antecedent decifion of the whole legiflature.
This privilege, not confirmed by any written law or pofitive compact, but by the refiftless power of political neceffity, they have exercised, probably from their first inftitution, but certainly, as their records inform us, from the 23d of Elizabeth, when they expelled a member for derogating from their privileges.
It may perhaps be doubted, whether it was originally neceffary, that this right of control and punishment, fhould extend beyond offences in the exercise of parliamentary duty, fince all other crimes