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the character of legislators or of advisers of the legislature, not that of law judges or of appellants to courts of law. Sundry statutes concerning the rights of electors, we will suppose,-still exist; so likewise do sundry statutes on other subjects, witchcraft for instance*—which change of circumstances have rendered obsolete, or increased information shown to be absurd. It is evident, therefore, that the expediency of the regulations prescribed by them, and their suitableness to the existing circumstances of the kingdom, must first be proved; and on this proof must be rested all rational claims for the enforcement of the statutes that have not, no less than for the re-enacting of those that have, been repealed. If the authority of the men who first enacted the laws in question, is to weigh with us, it must be on the presumption that they were wise men. But the wisdom of legislation consists in the adaptation of laws to circumstances. If then it can be proved, that the circumstances, under which those laws were enacted, no longer exist; and that other circumstances altogether different, and in some instances opposite, have taken their place; we have the best grounds for supposing, that if the men were now alive, they would not pass the same statutes. In other words, the spirit of the statute interpreted by the intention of the legislator would annul the letter of it. It is not indeed impossible, that by rare felicity of accident the same law may apply to two sets of circumstances. But surely the presumption is, that regulations well adapted for the manners, the social distinctions, and the state of property, of opinion, and of external relations of England in the reign of Alfred, or even in that of Edward I., will not be well suited to Great Britain at the close of the reign of George III. For instance : at the time when the greater part of the cottagers and inferior farmers were in a state of villenage, when Sussex alone contained seven thousand, and the Isle of Wight twelve hundred, families of bondsmen, it was the law of the land that every freeman should vote in the assembly of the nation personally or by his representative. An act of Parliament in the year 1660 confirmed what a concurrence of causes had previously effected :every Englishman is now born free, the laws of the land are the birthright of every native, and with the exception of a few honorary privileges all classes obey the same laws.* Now, argues one of our political writers, it being made the constitution of the land by our Saxon ancestors, that every freeman should have a vote, and all Englishmen being now born free, therefore, by the constitution of the land, every Englishman has now a right to a vote. How shall we reply to this without breach of that respect, to which the reasoner at least, if not the reasoning, is entitled ? If it be the definition of a pun, that it is the confusion of two different meanings under the same or some similar sound, we might almost characterize this argument as being grounded on a grave pun. Our ancestors established the right of voting in a particular class of men, forming at that time the middle rank of society, and known to be all of them, or almost all, legal proprietors—and these were then called the freemen of England : therefore they established it in the lowest classes of society, in those who possess no property, because these two are now called by the same - name! Under a similar pretext, grounded on the same precious logic, a Mameluke Bey extorted a large contribution from the Egyptian Jews : These books, the Pentateuch, are authentic ?”
* Repealed now; but many other equally obsolete acts remain on the statute book, as illustrations of the principle in the text.--Ed.
Well, the debt then is acknowledged :—and now the receipt, or the money, or your heads! The Jews borrowed a large treasure from the Egyptians; but you are the Jews, and on you, therefore, I call for the re-payment.”. Besides, if a law is to be interpreted by the known intention of its makers, the Parliament in 1660, which declared all natives of England freemen, but neither altered nor meant thereby to alter the limitations of the right of election, did to all intents and purposes except that right from the common privileges of Englishmen, as Englishmen.
A moment's reflection may convince us, that every single statute is made under the knowledge of all the other laws, with which it is meant to co-exist, and by which its action is to be
* The reference is to the abolition of the military tenures at the Restoration. “For at length the military tenures, with all their heavy appendages (having during the usurpation been discontinued) were destroyed at one blow by the statute 12 Car. II. c. 24, which enacts that all sorts of tenures, held by the king or others, be turned into free and common socage; save only tenures in frank-almoign, &c. A statute, which was a greater acquisition to the civil property of this kingdom than even magna charta itself.” Blackst. Comm. II. c. 5.---Ed.
modified and determined. In the legislative as in the religious code the text must not be taken without the context. Now, I think, we may safely leave it to the reformers themselves to make choice between the civil and political privileges of Englishmen at present, considered as one sum total, and those of our ancestors in any former period of our history, considered as another, on the old principle, 'take one and leave the other ; but whichever you take, take it all or none. Laws seldom become obsolete as long as they are both useful and practicable ; but should there be an exception in any given law, there is no other
of reviving its validity but by convincing the existing legislature of its undiminished practicability and expedience; which in all essential points is the same as the recommending of a new law. And this leads me to the third class of the advocates of reform, those, namely, who leaving ancient statutes to lawyers and historians, and universal principles with the demonstrable deductions from them to the schools of logic, mathematics, theology, and ethics, rest all their measures, which they wish to see adopted, wholly on their expediency. Consequently, they must hold themselves prepared to give such proof, as the nature of comparative expediency admits, and to bring forward such evidence, as experience and the logic of probability can supply, that the plans which they recommend for adoption, are ;—first, practicable ; secondly, suited to the existing circumstances; and lastly, necessary or at least requisite, and such as will enable the government to accomplish more perfectly the ends for which it was instituted. These are the three indispensable conditions of all prudent change, the credentials, with which wisdom never fails to furnish her public envoys. Whoever brings forward a measure that combines this threefold excellence, whether in the cabinet, the senate, or by means of the press, merits emphatically the title of a patriotic statesman. Neither are they without a fair claim to respectful attention as state-counsellors, who fully aware of these.conditions, and with a due sense of the difficulty of fulfilling them, employ their time and talents in making the attempt. An imperfect plan is not necessarily a useless plan : and in a complex enigma the greatest ingenuity is not always shown by him who first gives the complete solution. The dwarf sees farther than the giant, when he has the giant's shoulders to mount on.
Thus, as perspicuously as I could, I have exposed the erro
neous principles of political philosophy, and pointed out the one only ground on which the constitution of governments can be either condemned or justified by wise men.
If I interpret aright the signs of the times, that branch of politics which relates to the necessity and practicability of infusing new life into our legislature, as the best means of securing talent and wisdom in the cabinet, will shortly occupy the public attention with a paramount interest. I would gladly, therefore, suggest the proper state of feeling, and the right preparatory notions with which this disquisition should be entered upon : and I do not know how I can effect this more naturally, than by relating the facts and circumstances which influenced my own mind. I can scarcely be accused of egotism, as in the communications and conversations which I am about to mention as having occurred to me during my residence abroad, I am no otherwise the hero of the tale, than as being the passive receiver or auditor.
To examine any thing wisely, two conditions are requisite first, a dístinct notion of the desirable ends, in the complete accomplishment of which would consist the perfection of such a thing, or its ideal excellence; and, secondly, a calm and kindly mode of feeling, without which we shall hardly fail either to overlook, or not to make due allowances for, the circumstances which prevent these ends from being all perfectly realized in the particular thing which we are to examine. For instance, we must have a general notion what a man can be and ought to be, before we can fitly proceed to determine on the merits or demerits of any one individual. For the examination of our own government, I prepared my mind, therefore, by a short catechism, which I shall communicate in the next essay, and on which the letter and anecdotes that follow, will, I flatter myself, be found an amusing, if not an instructive, commentary.
Hoc potissimum pacto felicem ac magnum regem se fore judicans ; non si quam plurimis sed si quam optimis imperet. Proinde parum esse putat justis præsidiis regnum suum muniisse, nisi idem viris eruditione juxta ac vitæ integritate præcellentibus ditet atque honestet. Nimirum intelligit hæc demum esse vera regni decora, has veras opes : hanc veram et nullis unquam sæculis cessuram gloriam.-Erasmi Poncherio, Episc. Parisien. Epistola.
Judging that he will have employed the most effectual means of being a happy and powerful king, not by governing the most numerous but the most moral people. Hè deems it of small sufficiency to have protected the country by fleets and garrison, unless he shall at the same time enrich and illustrate it with men of eminent learning and sanctity. For these verily he conceives to be the true ornaments and wealth of his kingdom,—these its only genuine and imperishable glories.
In what do all states agree? A number of men-exertpowers—in union. Wherein do they differ? First, in the quality and quantity of the powers. One state possesses chernists, mechanists, mechanics of all kinds, men of science; the arts of war and peace; and its citizens naturally strong and of habitual courage. Another state may possess none or a few only of these, or the same more imperfectly. Or of two states possessing the same in equal perfection the one is more populous than the other, as in the instance of France and Switzerland. Secondly, in the more or less perfect union of these powers. Compare Mr. Leckie's valuable and authentic documents respecting the state of Sicily with the preceding essay on taxation. Thirdly, in the greater or less activity of exertion. Think of the papal state and its silent metropolis, and then of the county of Lancaster and the towns of Manchester and Liverpool. What is the condition indispensable to the exertion of powers in union by a number of men ? A government. What are the ends of government? They are of two kinds, negative and positive. The negative ends of government are the protection of life, of personal freedom, of property, of reputation, and of religion, from foreign and from domestic attacks. The positive ends are ;