صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

PART I.

THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION.

It is proper to begin with a somewhat particular notice of this form of government, for several reasons :1. It has many excellencies. It is the work of ages, and the result of vast experience and observation. And it certainly has in it the elements of strength and durability. This is proved by the vast extent of the British empire, and the great antiquity of its government. 2. It is the government out from under which our fathers passed when they became independent. And with this government they were satisfied, and to it they were ardently attached. The utmost they wanted was to enjoy the rights of British subjects. They had no thought of establishing a better government than they were already under, but merely of securing to themselves the enjoyment of the rights which the British government was, by its own nature, bound to defend. 3. It was the great model which the framers of our Constitution had continually before them. Many members of the Convention felt and ex

What is the first reason for beginning with the British Constitution? How are its strength and durability proved? What is the second reaWhat was the utmost that our fathers wanted? What is the third reason?

son?

pressed an enthusiastic admiration of it. And all looked upon it with great respect. They wished indeed to form a very different government; and to do this their aim was to embody the excellencies, while they avoided the defects, of the British Constitution. In order to judge how far they succeeded, and of the excellencies and defects of the Constitution which they framed, for that it had defects they were not disposed to deny, the following abstract may be a source of some safe instruction.

I. Legislative Department.

1. The Legislative power is exercised by the Parliament, consisting of the King, Lords, and Commons. 2. The kings of England were never absolute. Ancient records show that in the earliest times they were assisted and advised by councils, known by various names, as "the great council," "the great meeting," and "the meeting of the wise men." Indeed, the British Parliament, in some name or form, is of immemorial usage, and its origin cannot be traced. But it will be sufficient to view the Parliament as it has been constituted for the last six hundred years, during which time, if not before, the Lords and Commons have composed separate bodies in Parliament.

3. The Parliament can ordinarily be assembled only by the royal authority. The king issues his writ, by advice of the privy council, for the convention of a Parliament already in being, or for the election of a new one, i. e. of that part which is elective and not hereditary. This writ must be issued at least forty

What did many members of the Convention feel and express? What did they wish?

By what is the legislative power exercised?

Were the kings of England ever absolute? About how long has Parliament been constituted much as at present?

By what authority alone can Parliament be ordinarily assembled ?

days before meeting. And the king must in this way convene the Parliament at least once a year, and oftener if he pleases.

4. The king can also at pleasure prorogue or dissolve a Parliament. A Parliament is said to be prorogued when it is merely adjourned, or its present session terminated. In that case, the commissions of the Commons continue in force, and the next meeting of Parliament will be an assembling again of the same members that separated on the prorogation. Thus there may be repeated sessions of Parliament without any new election.

5. A Parliament is dissolved when the commissions of the Commons are annulled or terminated; which makes a new election necessary in order to the next session.

6. The Commons consist of Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses. Knights are chosen by counties. A man, in order to be a legal voter for a knight, must be in possession of lands or tenements within the county to the value of forty shillings a year. Such estate may be the voter's property in fee simple, or it may be held by a lease for life. Knights therefore are the representatives of the landed interest of the kingdom. A knight, also, is required to be in possession of real estate to the value of 600 pounds per annum.

7. Citizens and Burgesses are chosen by cities and other incorporated towns and villages of more or less note, generally designated either as cities or boroughs. They must possess an estate to the value of 300 pounds per annum. The number of representatives sent by

How long before meeting must the king's writ be issued? How often must he convene the Parliament ?

What can the king also do at his pleasure? What is the difference between a prorogation and dissolution of a Parliament ?

Of what do the Commons consist? How are knights chosen? What estate must a knight have?

How are citizens and burgesses chosen? What must they possess?

such places depends solely on the royal patent granting them the right to be represented in Parliament, and by no means on the number of their inhabitants. Hence the change in population and wealth, that is perpetually taking place, has no effect on representation. A borough or village may become so deserted that it shall not contain a single voter; and yet the holder, or holders, of the land, wherever he or they may reside, may send to Parliament all the representatives named in the original patent. And this may be as great, or even a greater number, than is sent by another place which has grown up in the same time to half a million of inhabitants. To which it may be added that a village may arrive at any degree of importance without the right of being represented at all, not having as yet received the royal charter, or letters patent, for that purpose.

8. The qualifications of electors of Citizens and Burgesses are also as various as the places which are represented. In general, Citizens and Burgesses are supposed to represent the trading interests of the kingdom, and some property qualification is required to make a man a legal voter. This depends on many circumstances, which are generally referable to immemorial usage, the conditions of the corporation, or the king's patent conferring the right of representation.

9. In addition to the representation of the counties, cities, and boroughs, the three universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin, send each two members to the House of Commons. This privilege is granted in consideration that many eminent and useful men, not connected with the landed or mercantile interests, are connected with those institutions; and that it is but rea

On what depends the number of representatives of cities and boroughs? What inequalities arise from this rule?

What is said of the qualifications of electors of citizens and burgesses? What of those of legal voters?

What universities are represented? and why?

sonable that some one or more should be in Parliament, charged with the interests of the republic of letters.

10. The inequality of representation, together with the property qualification required of voters, operates so that a majority of the Commons are chosen by an amazingly disproportionate minority of the people. This incongruity is heightened by the liberty of electors to give votes wherever their property may lie, without regard to their own place of residence. Thus a man may vote, either personally or by proxy, in every county, city, or borough, where he happens to possess the required property qualification. And thus an election is often in reality nothing more than a nomination by the proprietor of a great estate. It should be noted, however, that the reform-bill, passed in 1832, greatly extended the right of suffrage, in the election of the Commons, to the middle classes of the people. Also that the representative of any city or borough may reside any where in the kingdom.

11. British writers acknowledge these improprieties; but they attempt to excuse or lessen them, by saying that if a property qualification were not required, multitudes of indigent persons, not to say also ignorant and vicious, who are so dependent as to have no will of their own, would be at the will of unprincipled and grasping demagogues, who would corrupt the purity and pervert the purposes of elections, by purchasing the votes of all such persons. And on the inequality of representation, they say that representatives, wherever and by whomsoever chosen, are chosen for the whole kingdom, rather than for the particular district by which they are chosen; and that they are in no particular sense amenable, or accountable, to their constituents. And finally, as the House of Com

What remarks on the inequality of representation? What of the reform bill?

How do British writers excuse these irregularities?

« السابقةمتابعة »