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It is the practice with professed admirers of the English constitution, to close their eulogiums with a prayer for its perpetuity; "Esto perpetua!" But our affections, like every thing else, are subject to laws: and for myself, though my submission and deference are cheerfully yielded to what is established, my devotion can only be paid according to my own ideas of what is good; and no true Englishman can wish continuity to any thing, but what comports with the true dignity of the English character.
This devout ejaculation, "Esto perpetua!" seems to have in view a passage in a fragment of Cicero, in which that great man says, that a state should be so constituted, that it might be eternal.' St. Austin refers to this fragment: and Toland has sanctified the idea, by applying it to the commonwealth of Moses, which, though it was never perfectly acted upon even in Judea, he thinks the most perfect that was ever formed and hence he infers, either that the author of it was God, or that Moses must be ranked among the greatest politicians.3 Harrington too carries the idea into his Oceana.
Whether this absolute perfection can ever be realised in any human institution, may be reasonably doubted: but we all know that a theory of government loses its name, if it does not govern. We all know what has been thought of perpetual motion in mechanics, and what Montesquieu thought of this theory of the English constitution" It will perish! It will perish, when the legislative is more corrupt than the executive."
As to a theory of government that does not govern, it is in fact nothing; or to say the most, if it loses its principles and character, it ceases to be what it was, though it should even retain its form. Perhaps, however, after all, it is even dangerous to nourish too fond ideas of inherent perfection. It is certainly often found to be so in the experience of individuals. Self-love is apt to engender self-confidence, that rock on which virtue has often suffered shipwreck and hence that humbling maxim, "A haughty spirit goeth
1 Debet enim constituta sic esse civitas, ut æterna sit. Itaque nullus interitus est reipublicæ naturalis, ut hominis, in quo mors non modo necessaria est, verum etiam optanda persæpe. Civitas autem cum tollitur, deletur, extinguitur, simile est quodammodo, ut magnis parva conferamus, ac si omnis hic mundus intereat, ac concidat. Ciceronis Fragmenta Philosophica, Patricio digesta.
2 De Civit. Dei lib. 22. cap. 6.
3 Two Problems on this subject, the Commonwealth of Moses, at the end of his Nazarenus.
4 This was a severe reproach brought by Cicero against the Romans of his time: Nostra vero ætas, cum rempublicam, sicut picturam, accepisset egregiam, sed jam evanescentem vetustate, non modo eam coloribus iisdem, quibus fuerat, renovare neglexit, sed ne id quidem curavit, ut formam saltem ejus, et extrema tanquam lineamenta, servarit.-Fragmenta Philosophica.
before a fall." Besides, as there is no individual, that may not derive benefit from other individuals, so it would be unfortunate in a nation to consider itself so isolated by its own excellence, too often imaginary, from others, as to be incapable of receiving any improvement from their experience. Even absolute governments may have in them much that is good; and the freest governments in the world may incline to what is bad.
When the Emperor of Russia was in this country, he expressed great approbation of those views of the English constitution that were held by Mr. Fox, at the same time adding, that the world was not enlightened enough to receive them. Yet Alexander is improving Russia very fast, and four or five of his provinces he has actually delivered from their wretched slavery. The government, it is true, is absolute. The emperor, and eighteen counsellors, chosen by him, give laws to the whole empire. Yet even here, of those eighteen counsellors, some are of the Greek Church, some are Catholics, some Protestants; some are Russians, some GerIt is, at least, not a government by exclusive privileges. Here Russia, then, might reflect light on England: and in its conduct towards the Jewish Christians, which has been lately announced, there is much that may instruct us.
Again; we have not shown a backwardness to receive instruction from our enemies. It is well known, that the military tactics now followed in the English army were derived from the French. Would it be weakness to go a step further, and take a hint from their Concordat, and even their present civil code? Perhaps they were taught toleration from us. But they now go beyond us, in not authorising exclusive privileges, and in admitting men as citizens to participate in the several offices of the state.
So-America, which is indebted to England for its principle of representation, can repay the obligation now, by teaching England how to preserve its purity, both with respect to the electors and elected.
In speaking of the Parliament, I have only mentioned what properly constitutes it so: though formerly, the barons of the exchequer, the king's privy councillors, and learned council, had writs, though not tenure aut dignitatis ratione: but they had no voice, and consequently no proxies. The judges continued to have writs in Edw. I. II. and III.'s reigns.'
Some writers, learned in the law, have pointed out the defects and excesses of our statutes, under distinct heads; and the late intelligent Lord Stanhope, it is well known, formed the design of
Elsynge on Parl. § i. iii.
Judge Barrington on the Statutes; and an Abstract of the Penal Laws, by Capel Lofft, Esq.
reducing the immense mass of them into something of an abridged, and regular order. When Englishmen shall enter into such enlightened views, they will have rules of discrimination, and an opportunity of surveying, by a clear and easy view, what now covers an immense space, a body of constitutional law.
What relates to the laws of England, certainly should relate to its constitution: but in the present case it became necessary to preserve limits; not even to attempt much; and only to refer to the common law, as it concerns civil and religious liberty; to the common law in its highest, most precise, and defined sense, as it is a law of PRINCIPLE, in opposition to arbitrary decrees, unconstitutional statutes, to cases that may be vague, and precedents that may become dangerous. Such is the English common law: though I have been only able to glance at it, even under this view. But I feel a pride in reflecting, (such is its excellence in this point of view) that those very states, (I mean the American) who are not over-fond of some forms and principles in our constitution, do, in their courts, follow both the forms and the principles of our conmon law; these being, it should seem, the most excellent of any they could devise.
And now, after this attempt to ascertain and define the principles of the English constitution, accompanied with such feelings, as they naturally inspired, should it be asked, cui bono? What end is it to answer? I confess I am not prepared with a reply, beyond what is given in the preface. It is pleasing to follow good principles in their progress to perfection: but should we, as some think, in the natural order of human affairs, or as a punishment for our crimes, be doomed to see what is deemed most valuable in those principles to crumble away, it would become a most affecting consideration: theories would then only perplex and confound us; and what might be matter of triumph, become only matter of humiliation.
I have thought too much on the institutions of my country, to believe every thing in them right; and I love my country too well to pray for the perpetuity of what is wrong. I wish it public virtue, because I wish it public happiness: and I wish, that for the following sarcastic prayer there may be no predisposing cause, and the import and effect of it may never rest among the admirers of the English constitution:
Virtutem videant, intabescantque relictâ !-Persius, Sat. 3. 38.
THE GENERAL ESTABLISHMENT
THE REGISTRY OF DEEDS AND WILLS,
THE COLLECTION OF THE AD VALOREM DUTIES
CONVEYANCES AND MORTGAGES;
WITH A VIEW TO
THE SECURITY OF TITLES
THE PROTECTION OF PURCHASERS
THE GENERAL ESTABLISHMENT
AMONGST the numerous cases which require the legislator, to provide for the prevention, rather than punishment, of crime, and to remove or destroy the temptation to commit it, in preference to devising the means of rendering its accomplishment difficult, or its detection easy; none seem to possess such important claims for the consideration, as those offences which derive their guilt, or become penal, from the modifications of social life, or the institutions of civil government.
The necessity of an increased severity in the punishment of forgery upon individuals, and frauds upon the public revenue, serves but to press the argument more forcibly, and to make the duty more imperious.
The case of Mr. Blackburn, a solicitor at Leeds, who was tried and executed at the last York assises, on a conviction for forging a stamp on a mortgage for 1807. (on which a duty of 21. is imposed) affords a striking occasion for reverting to these truths. The circumstances are briefly as follow: It appeared that the whole of the stamp, except the words and numerals denoting the value, was genuine; having been taken from an old deed. On his premises were found brass dies, impressed with the word "pounds," and others with those of "two,' ""five," "ten," &c. on to "fifty."
It should be observed, that although the dies "two" and "pounds" exactly fitted the impressions on the false part of the stamp produced, yet it was proved that those found were not in his possession until a month after