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BOOK OF THE CONSTITUTION.
THE British Constitution is worthy of being an object of inquiry to every man who lives under it, and even to foreigners who have no immediate connexion with it: remarkably distinguished as it undoubtedly is from all the free governments of powerful nations which history has recorded, by its exhibiting after the lapse of centuries no symptoms of irretrievable decay, but on the contrary the most expansive energy. In the ensuing work we will trace the gradual formation of this system of government, and exhibit the whole machinery of the constitution.
There are but three kinds of governments. When the sovereign power is vested in one person, it is called a monarchy: if in all the nobles, it is called an aristocracy, or an oligarchy if confined to a few of these: if an assembly of the people have the chief authority, it is called a democracy or a republic. Of all the different species of governments the monarchical is the most ancient and natural, originating at first in parental authority, hence kings are called the fathers of their people. The Assyrian and Egyptian monarchies are the most ancient that we read of, but there are several kings mentioned in the scriptures in the early history of the patriarch Abraham. The Jews were governed by God himself till Saul's time, from whence it has been called a Theocracy; after his elevation to the throne of Israel by God's appointment, the government continued monarchical till the destruction of the temple. Some monarchies are despotic, where the subjects are slaves at the arbitrary power and will of their sovereign; such as the Turks, and other Asiatic nations: others political or paternal, where the subjects, like children under a father, are governed by equal and just laws, consented to and sworn by all Christian princes at their coronations. Some monarchies are hereditary, where the crown descends either to male heirs only, as in France, or to the next of blood, as in Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, &c.; others elective, where upon the death of the reigning prince, without respect to their heirs or next of blood, another by solemn election is appointed to succeed them. This used to be the system in Poland before its partition, and formerly also in Denmark, Hungary, and Bohemia, and is still practised in the United States of America; for although their chief governor is called a president, still he is their sovereign, and is elective.
Some hereditary paternal monarchies are dependent and held of earthly potentates, consequently are obliged to do homage for their crowns. The little island of Man was called a kingdom, and held in capite of the crown of Great Britain; the kingdom of Naples holds of the pope, and pays him an annual tribute. Others are independent, acknowledging no earthly superior, but hold from God only, hence the words Dei gratia, by the grace of God, on their coins.
The kingdom of Great Britain is an hereditary paternal monarchy, governed by one supreme independent Head agreeable to the known laws and customs of the kingdom. It is a free monarchy, challenging above all other European kingdoms a perfect freedom from any subjection to the laws of the empire of Germany: for the Roman Emperors obtained anciently the dominion of this land by force of arms, but afterwards abandoning the same, by the law of nations the right returned to their former ownThe British crown is entirely free from the least shadow of subjection to the bishop of Rome, and is thereby relieved from many burdens and imposts under which other kingdoms groan; such as Appeals to Rome in ecclesiastical suits, Provisions, Dispensations, Confirmations, Bulls, &c. besides several tributes and taxes paid to the Pope. There is no interregnum, which saves us from the evils attending elective monarchies. By the necessary concurrence of the Lords and Commons in making and repealing all Statutes or Acts of Parliament, our monarchy has the double advantage of an aristocracy and also of a democracy, without the disadvantages of either: contributing by this happy blending of the three powers to the industry, liberty and happiness of the people. Both England and Scotland have been governed by kings as far back as history or tradition can carry us, without any attempt at a change so that we seem to be naturally inclined to this sort of government.
THE Feudal System was so universally received throughout Europe upwards of twelve centuries ago, that Sir Henry Spelman does not scruple to call it the law of nations, in the western parts of the Old World. The essential principle of a fief was a mutual contract of support and fidelity. Whatever obligations of service to his lord it laid upon the vassal, corresponding duties of protection, were imposed by it on the lord towards his vassal. If these were trangressed on either side, the one forfeited his land, the other his seigniory or rights over it. Nor were motives of interest left alone to operate in securing the feudal connexion. The associations founded
upon ancient custom and friendly attachment, the impulses of gratitude and honour, the dread of infamy, the sanctions of religion, were all employed to strengthen these ties, and to render them equally powerful with the relations of nature, and far more so than those of political society. It is a question agitated among the feudal lawyers whether a vassal is bound to follow his lord's standard against his own kindred, but a much more important one, whether he must do so against the king. In the works of those who wrote when the feudal system was declining, this is commonly decided in the negative, and to be equally rebellion in the vassal as in the lord.
But the feudal polity, which was by degrees established over all the continent of Europe, was not received in England till after the conquest, when William the Norman introduced it. But the Conqueror does not appear to have effected the introduction of feudal tenures immediately, and when he did accomplish it, it was not by an act of his own arbitrary will, but was gradually established by the Norman barons, and others in such forfeited lands as they had received from the gift of the Conqueror, and afterwards universally consented to by the great council of the nation, long after his title was secured, and himself firmly seated on that throne which is still filled by his descendents.
And although the era of this great revolution in landed property cannot be exactly ascertained, yet there are some circumstances that may lead to a probable conjecture towards it. For we learn from the Saxon chronicle, that in the nineteenth year of King William's reign, an invasion was apprehended from Denmark; and the Saxon military constitution being then laid aside, and none other being introduced in its place, the kingdom was wholly defenceless, which obliged William to bring over a large army of Normans, who were quartered upon every landholder, and greatly oppressed the people. This apparent weakness, together with the grievances occasioned by a foreign force, might co-operate with the king's remonstrances, and more readily incline the barons to listen to his proposals for putting them in a posture of defence. For as soon as the danger was over, the king held a great council to inire into the state of the nation; the immediate consequence of which as the compilation of the great survey called Doomsday-Book, which was finished in the following year; and in the latter end of that very year, the king was attended by all his nobility at Sarum, which does not appear to have been at that time a rotten borough, but of sufficient importance for a parliament to meet at it; where all the principal landholders submitted their lands to the yoke of military tenure, became the king's vassals, and did homage and fealty to his person. This new polity, therefore, seems not to have been altogether imposed by the Conqueror, but nationally and freely adopted by the general assembly of the whole realm, in the same manner as the other nations of