« PreviousContinue »
litical theories on which governments have hitherto been formed; and thus conducting mankind, by slow but secure advancen toward the summit of political wisdom. The British History, in particular, is eminently useful to our politicians ; for this obvious reason, that the present political state of Great Britain owes its existence to events which British history records : but in order to render this ftudy advantageous in its full extent, it is necessary that political facts should be accurately ftated; and it is desirable that they should be directed with their full force toward the point of political instruction, by being detached from other subjects.
In both these respects, the important publication, which is now to pass under our notice, has peculiar merit.
Dr. Somerville, by making it his firit object to exhibit the political principles and spirit of the period concerning which he writes, and only introducing coincident events for the purpose of explaining and illustrating political a fairs, has written what may strictly be called a Political Hiftory;--and he appears to have very industriously compared the various sources of authentic information, in order to remove the ambiguities, and to obviate the difficulties, with which the struggles of contending parties have hitherto encumbered this portion of the English History
One material part of this writer's design is, to examine the evidence that arises from the original papers which some late historians have collected and published. Though he acknowleges that these papers, in many instances, give authority to opinions formerly controverted, and correct and enlarge the information of the impartial and industrious inquirer, yet he thinks great caution necessary in admitting conclusions, drawn by these writers from the facts which they themselves have disa covered, on account of the strong temptation which necessarily induces them to over-rate their discoveries. He is particularly desirous of rescuing from undeserved obloquy some of those great names which were so highly revered by our ancestors as sufferers in the cause of liberty, or as inftruments of delivering the nation from slavery; and he therefore combats the opinions of Mr. Macpherson, with respect to many important transactions and characters which occur in this history.
The work opens with a concise view of the leading facts, which mark the political spirit and character of the times at the restoration of Charles II. Zeal for loyalty, our author obferves, was the principle which then predominated ; and the prince, the miniftry, and the parliament, were united in the
fame views of policy :--but during this serene state of politics, Ithe seeds of opposition were secretly lown; till at length, on
the fall of Clarendon, an epoch commenced which was crowded with bustle and intrigue, and which exhibited faction in its most diversified forms. The causes of the mutual dissatisface tion which now arose between Charles and his parliament, and of the sudden transition from war to peace and even friendly alliance with Holland ;- the manner in which the king endeavoured to execute his crooked system of policy, by means of the secret council called the cabal ;-and the wife and temperate opposition, which was made, by the commons, to the arbitrary measures of administration ;-are clearly stated. The introduction of the test-act, which remains to the present time an infuperable wall of separation between fellow citizens, who are equally bound to perform the duties, and entitled to share the honours, of citizenship, is thus related, with reflections on the conduct of the Disfenters of that period, which well deserve attention:
• Both houses now turned their attention to Atrengthen the bar. riers of the constitution in that quarter into which the king had repeatedly attempted to push the usurpations of prerogative. A joint address was presented by both houses of parliament, representing the dangers arising from popish recusants, and praying the king to command priests and jeluiis to depart from the kingdom, and to disband all officers and soldiers who refused to take the oaths This address also met with a favourable answer from the king.
A more impregnable and lasting fence for the protection of the church of England the zeal of this parliament raised, by obtaining the royal affent to the test act, which excluded from any office or place of trust or profit, all who did not renounce the doctrine of tranfubftantiation, and receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, according to the form of the church of England. It is a curious and memorable circumitance, that an act, which shut the door of preferment against the protestant diffenters, and doomed them to the fame political incapacity with Roman catholics, not only passed without any opposition from the former ; but, that it was promoted by the molt respectable leaders of their party.
• This conceflion of the protestant diflenters has been often applauded by their friends, as a singular example of prudence and generosity ; because they sacrificed their rights and resentments, to the dread of impending popery, and the security of the reformed religion. Their conduct upon this occasion, whether examined by the roles of probity, or the dictates of enlightened charity, will be found deserv. ing of explicit and marked expressions of condemnation. Profesting to guard against popery, did not the diffen ters act under the influence of its worst principles? Did ihey not abandon their rights, as mea and as christians? rights, the renunciation of which, for a single day, po fear of cauger, nor prospect of future peace, can justify, at the tribunal of conscience.
• The event of providence has instructed us, by this, and every f. milar experiment, to reprobate the imprudence, as well as the immo. sality of that maxim, That it is lawful to do evil, when good may be obtained by it. A bill brought in for the relief of the protestant dirsenters, as the reard of their consent to the test act, was defeated by the disagreement of the two houses, and the adjournment of parliament. And thus, the temporizing spirit of the dissenters has trans. mitted bondage to their posterity, which the liberality of the age in which we live, never could have imposed ; but from which even that liberality is not adequate to emancipate them, while it is counteracted by religious bigotry, and the timid policy of those who dirpense the favours of government.'
Other transactions of this reign are concisely related with a continual attention to the historian's leading design; from which we shall select, as particularly applicable to the present times, the author's account of the attempt which was made, in 1679, to correct abuses in public expenditure, to retrench the influence of the court on the parliament, and to extend the liberty of the subject :
• While the commons were vehemently engaged in forwarding the bill of exclusion, they contrived with dexterous policy, to introduce such inquiries as furnished new arguments for that measure ; and which at the same time obliquely reflected upon the character of the duke of York. They appointed a committee to inquire into the miscarriages of the navy, the management of which nad principally devolved upon him, and in which he had hitherto been lupposed to possess distinguished merit. A ttrict examination into the expenditure and the abuses of the revenue was carried on, with a view of exposing the corrupt practices of the king and his ministers during the late parliament; and to render infamous those members who had yielded to their influence. Charles Bertrey, who had received a commission for diftributing the sum of two hundred and fifty thousand four hundred and fixty-seven pounds, for the secret service of government, was, by the order of the house, committed to the custody of the ferjeant at arms, because he refused to state to them the particular articles in which that sum had been expended. Sir Stephen Fox, who had been employed by the court in the same office, was ordered to produce every account of money paid to members, or to other persons, for the purpose of keeping public tables, and performing any secret service for the court. From Sir Stephen Fox's evidence it appeared, that the sum of three thousand four hundred pounds had been paid, annually, in pensions to members of parliament; a sum which fell sort of the expectation of the authors of this investigation. There is reason howeyer to suspect, that this sum was but an inconsiderable proportion of the money diftributed for the purpose of corrupting members.
For it is remarkable, that some names were added, upon the knowledge of private members, to the list of penfioners delivered by Sir Stephen Fox, who spoke merely from memory, and the books of account never were produced, nor could afterwards be found. It must also be observed, that this inquiry was confined to the abuse of the revenue; and it may be conjectured, that a great part of the money
which the king received from France, was applied to the same profligate purpose of domestic corruption.
To retrench the parliamentary in Auence of the court, a bill was twice read in the commons, to prevent any member of the house from accepting of any post or penfion, during that seflion of parliament. They extended their views beyond a temporary reformation, and turned their thoughts towards the moit effe&tual means for securing the independence, and preserving the integrity, of fucceeding parliaments. In orcer to prevent the court from conferring the privilege of voting on the very eve of an election, upon persons devoted to its intereit, and often brought from a diftance, to counteract the natural and the pure influence of conftituents, the period of one year's residence in ihe county or burgh in which they voted, and ewo hundred pounus clear of all incombrances, were propoled to conititute a qualification for a vote. Heavy penalties, were enacted against corruption, and the magistrates and officers who should connive at it. The bill concluded with declaring, that no futáre parliament should, either by prorogation, adjournment, or any other method, be continued above the space of 1wo years. That the commons might totally exclude the crown from every hope of supply by any expedient, without their content and authosity, a bill was brought in and committed, to secure the subject from the illegal exaction of money. Theie laudable efforts for improving the constitution were frustrated by a misunderstanding which happened between the two houles, in various points relative to the trial of lord Danby. A bill for securing the liberty of the subject, known by the name of the habeas corpus, met wich better success, and will for ever distinguish this parliament, by the grateful reinenbrance of pofterity.'
Of Dr. Somerville's talents for political disquisition, this work affords many favourable specimens. Among these, is an entire chapter on the causes of the change in the temper of the nation during the reign of Charles II. from loyalty to disaffection. The caufes on which he dittinaly and ably insists, are, the oppreffive government which prevailed in Scotland ; an unbounded licentiousness both in conversation and writing, which propagated suspicions, and fomented jealoufies; the extreme dependence of the crown; its narrow influence, ftill farther diminished by the instability of the king and the disunion of his ministers; the support which opposition derived from the patronage of many persons of the first rank and influence, particularly the Earl of Shatterbury, the Duke of Monmouth, and Lord Rustel; and lastly, the intrigues of France, by which Charles fuffered himself to be so shamefully reduced, as to excite a general indignation among the people in England, Thele several topics are ably illustrated and supported. We must fatisfy ourselves with quoting the concluding reflections on this period of history, which more particularly respect the conduct of opposition, and to this pašlage is added a curious note, con
taining taining an interesting vindication of those great and immortal names, Sydney and Russel. The passage is as follows:--the note we are obliged to omit:
Several measures were pursued by opposition in the three last parliaments of Charles, the motives of which appear doubtful, and some of them carry the plainest symptoms of a factious and curbulent spirit.
• The fanguinary violence with which succeeding parliaments prosecuted the discovery of the plot, their partiality to the evidence of the most infamous witnesses, the artifices by which they propagated suspicions against the innocent, and exaggerated the fears of a credulous multitude, have unfortunately enabled the enemies of the protestant religion to charge it with acts of cruelty bue little inferior to those atrocious deeds which stain the history of the papal inquifition.
The association bill, by which the members of both houses became bound to avenge the king's death, if that event should happen, upon the adherents to the Roman catholic religion, was a pal. pable act of injustice, inalınuch as it assumed for certain an event which was contingent, and laid the foundation of arbitrary and of ille founded crimination. Under the mask of loyalty, it provoked danger from a new quarter; it proclaimed imponity to the protestant affaslin, and suggested to the bloody enthusiast a safe method, for the satiating of his vengeance against that feet, which he hated and wished to extirpate.
• If the commons had omitted to declare the right of the subject to petition the throne, after that right had been discouraged by the frowns and prohibited by the proclamation of the king, they might have been accused of a breach of trust with respect to the most important interests of their conftituents. If not satisfied with ascertaining this right, they had confined their inquiries and their censures merely to their own members who had voted against the petitions, they might have appeared to unprejudiced spectators to have kept within the tract of a legal and temperate jurisdiction. But when they denounced vengeance against persons who had not been guilty of any breach of privilege, when they sent their messengers into remote parts of the country to apprehend persons of a private station, who, by fair argument, and by an open and avowed declaration of their principles, had opposed the late petitions, they trespasied upon the laws of moderation and of decency, and afforded their enemies too solid ground for retorting the reproach of that arbitrary spirit which they ascribed to the court.
· The resolutions of the commons, formed in opposition to the judgment given by the lords, with regard to the right of bishops to vote in cases of life and death, has been censured as an intrusion upon the jurisdiction of another court. lf, however, any great national object had been at stake, the importance of the end, and the pority of the motive, might have palliated the error of a new and an overstrained exertion of power ; but when trace this measure 10 she alsociated resentment of France, and of the country party,