Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

the hereditary duties, to 700,000l. per annum¤; and the same was continued to queen Anne and king George Iy. That of king George II, we have seen, was nominally augmented to2 800,0007. and in fact was considerably more: and that of his present majesty is avowedly increased to the limited sum of 900,000l. And upon the whole it is doubtless much better for the crown, and also for the people, to have the revenue settled upon the modern footing rather than the ancient. For the crown; because it is more certain, and collected with greater ease: for the people; because they are now delivered from the feodal hardships, and other odious branches of the prerogative. And though complaints have sometimes been made of the increase of the civil list, yet if we consider the sums that have been formerly granted, the limited extent under which it is now established, the revenues and prerogatives given up in lieu of it by the crown, the numerous branches of the present royal family and (above all) the diminution of the value of money compared with what it was worth in the last century, we must acknowledge these complaints to be void of any rational foundation; and that it is impossible to support that dignity, which a king of Great Britain should maintain, with an income in any degree less than what is now established by parliament.

THIS finishes our inquiries into the fiscal preroga- [334] tives of the king; or his revenue, both ordinary and extraordinary. We have therefore now chalked out all the principal outlines of this vast title of the law, the supreme executive magistrate, or the king's majesty, considered in his several capacities and points of view. But, before we entirely dismiss this subject, it may not be improper to take a short comparative review of the power of the executive magistrate, or prerogative of the crown, as it stood in former days, and as it stands at present. And we cannot but observe, that most of the laws for ascertaining, limiting, and restraining this prerogative have been made within the compass of little

x Com. Journ. 14 Mar, 1701. y Ibid. 17 Mar. 1701. 11 Aug. 1714.

[ocr errors]

z. Stat. 1 Geo. II. c. 1.

more than a century past; from the petition of right in 3 Car. I. to the present time. So that the powers of the crown are now to all appearance greatly curtailed and diminished since the reign of king James the first: particularly, by the abolition of the star chamber and high commission courts in the reign of Charles the first, and by the disclaiming of martial law, and the power of levying taxes on the subject, by the same prince by the disuse of forest laws for a century past: and by the many excellent provisions enacted under Charles the second; especially the abolition of military tenures, purveyance, and pre-emption; the habeas corpus act; and the act to prevent the discontinuance of parliaments for above three years: and, since the revolution, by the strong and emphatical words in which our liberties are asserted in the bill of rights, and act of settlement; by the act for triennial, since turned into septennial, elections; by the exclusion of certain officers from the house of commons; by rendering the seats of the judges permanent, and their salaries liberal and independent; and by restraining the king's pardon from obstructing parlia mentary impeachments. Besides all this, if we consider how the crown is impoverished and stripped of all its ancient revenues, so that it must greatly rely on the liberality of parliament for its necessary support and maintenance, we may perhaps be led to think, that the balance is inclined pretty strongly to the popular scale, and that the executive magistrate has neither independence nor power enough left to form that check upon the lords and commons, which the founders of our constitution intended.

[335]

BUT, on the other hand, it is to be considered, that every prince, in the first parliament after his accession, has by long usage a truly royal addition to his hereditary revenue settled upon him for his life; and has never any occasion to apply to parliament for supplies, but upon some public necessity of the whole realm. This restores to him that constitutional independence, which at his first accession seems, it must be owned, to be wanting. And then, with regard to power,

we may find perhaps that the hands of government are at least sufficiently strengthened; and that an English monarch is now in no danger of being overborne by either the nobility or the people. The instruments of power are not perhaps so open and avowed as they formerly were, and therefore are the less liable to jealous and invidious reflections; but they are not the weaker upon that account. In short, our national debt and taxes (besides the inconveniences before mentioned) have also in their natural consequences thrown such a weight of power into the executive scale of government, as we cannot think was intended by our patriot ancestors; who gloriously struggled for the abolition of the then formidable parts of the prerogative, and by an unaccountable want of foresight established this system in their stead. The entire collection and management of so vast a revenue, being placed in the hands of the crown, have given rise to such a multitude of new officers created by and removable at the royal pleasure, that they have extended the influence of government to every corner of the nation. Witness the commissioners and the multitude of dependants on the customs, in every port of the kingdom; the commissioners of excise, and their numerous subalterns, in every inland district; the postmasters, and their servants, planted in every town, and upon every public road; the commissioners of the stamps, and their distributors, which are full as scattered and full as numerous; the officers of the salt duty, which though a species of excise, and conducted in the same manner, are yet made a distinct corps from the ordinary managers of that revenue; the surveyors of houses and windows; the receivers of the land tax; the managers of lotteries; and the commissioners of hackney coaches; all which are either mediately or immediately appointed by the crown, and [336] removable at pleasure without any reason assigned: these, it requires but little penetration to see, must give that power, on which they depend for subsistence, an influence most amazingly extensive. To this may be added the frequent opportunities of conferring particular obligations, by preference

VOL. 1.

57

in loans, subscriptions, tickets, remittances, and other moneytransactions, which will greatly increase this influence; and that over those persons whose attachment, on account of their wealth, is frequently the most desirable. All this is the natural, though perhaps the unforeseen consequence of erecting our funds of credit, and to support them establishing our present perpetual taxes: the whole of which is entirely new since the restoration in 1660; and by far the greatest part since the revolution in 1688. And the same may be said with regard to the officers in our numerous army, and the places which the army has created. All which put together give the executive power so persuasive an energy with respect to the persons themselves, and so prevailing an interest with their friends and families, as will amply make amends for the loss of external prerogative.

BUT, though this profusion of offices should have no effect on individuals, there is still another newly acquired branch of power; and that is, not the influence only, but the force of a disciplined army: paid indeed ultimately by the people, but immediately by the crown: raised by the crown, officered by the crown, commanded by the crown. They are kept on foot it is true only from year to year, and that by the power of parliament: but during that year they must, by the nature of our constitution, if raised at all, be at the absolute disposal of the crown. And there need but few words to demonstrate how great a trust is thereby reposed in the prince by his people. A trust, that is more than equivalent to a thousand little troublesome prerogatives.

ADD to all this, that besides the civil list, the immense revenue of almost seven millions sterling, which is annually paid to the creditors of the public, or carried to the sinking fund, [337] is first deposited in the royal exchequer, and thence issued out to the respective offices of payment. This revenue the people can never refuse to 'raise, because it is made perpetual by act of parliament: which also, when well considered, will appear to be a trust of great delicacy and high impor

tance.

UPON the whole therefore I think it is clear, that, whatever may have become of the nominal, the real power of the crown has not been too far weakened by any transactions in the last century. Much is indeed given up; but much is also acquired. The stern commands of prerogative have yielded to the milder voice of influence: the slavish and exploded doctrine of non-resistance has given way to a military establishment by law; and to the disuse of parliaments has succeeded a parliamentary trust of an immense perpetual revenue. When, indeed, by the free operation of the sinking fund, our national debts shall be lessened; when the posture of foreign affairs, and the universal introduction of a wellplanned and national militia, will suffer our formidable army to be thinned and regulated; and when (in consequence of all) our taxes shall be gradually reduced; this adventitious power of the crown will slowly and imperceptibly diminish, as it slowly and imperceptibly rose. But, till that shall happen, it will be our especial duty, as good subjects and good Englishmen, to reverence the crown, and yet guard against corrupt and servile influence from those who are intrusted with its authority; to be loyal, yet free; obedient, and yet independent; and, above every thing, to hope that we may long, very long, continue to be governed by a sovereign, who, in all those public acts that have personally proceeded from himself, hath manifested the highest veneration for the free constitution of Britain; hath already in more than one instance remarkably strengthened its outworks; and will therefore never harbor a thought, or adopt a persuasion, in any the remotest degree detrimental to public liberty.

1

« ElőzőTovább »