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SIR JOHN ST. AUBIN,
(Member for Cornwall,)
Was one of that phalanx of ability and energy, that regularly with
stood the insiduous encroachments, and undermining influence of Walpole's administration. Their motives for this were no doubt various; but the knowledge, the soundness of understanding, the firmness and perseverance they displayed in pursuit of their object, connot be too much admired, and have never been surpass: ed. The great questions which had occupied men's minds from the time of the revolution, and which still continued to agitate them as much as ever, the interest in them being kept alive by the doubtful issue of the contest, had given them a manly tone, a solidity and fervour which could hardly be produced in any other circumstances. I may say that men's minds were never so truly English as they were at this period, Even the leaven of Jacobitism, which was mingled up with the sentiments of many of the party, must have contributed to add a zest, a poignancy, a bitterness of indignation to their opposition to that overbearing infuence, and despotic sway, for the undue exercise of which they had seen a family, to which they were strongly attached, driven from the throne, The principles of liberty assented to by both parties, also gave a freedom and animation to the debates of this period, and an advantage in attacking any unconstitutional or unpopular measure, which nothing but the great abilities of the minister, aided by the general confidence in the government, could have resisted so long as they did. The following speech of sir J. St. Aubin, has been often referred to, and it is one of the most elegant and able compositions to be found in the records of the bouse of commons,
Sir John St. Aubin's Speech on the Triennial Bill,
The honourable gentleman who made you this mo, tion has supported the necessity of it by so many strong and forcible arguments, that there is hardly any thing
new to be offered. I am very sensible, therefore, of the disadvantages I must lie under in attein pting to speak afier him, and I should content myself with barely se. conding him, if the subject matter of this debate was not of so great importance, that I should be ashamed to return to my electors, without endeavouring, in the best manner I am able, to declare publicly the reasons which induce me to give my most ready assent to this ques. tion.
'Tis evident from what has been said, that the people have an unquestionable right to frequent new parliaments by ancient usage, and that this usage has been confirmed by several laws, which have been progressively made by our ancestors, as often as they found it necessary to insist on this essential privilege.
Parliaments were generally annual, but never conti. nued longer than three years, till the remarkable reign of Henry VIII. He was a prince of unruly appetites, and of an arbitrary will; he was impatient of every re. straint; the laws of God and man fell equally a sacrifice, as they stood in the way of his avarice; or disappointed his ambition. He therefore introduced I ng parliaments, because he very well knew that they would be. come the proper instruments of both; and what a slavish obedience they paid to all his measures is sufficiently known.
If we come to the reign of king Charles I. we must acknowledge him to be a prince of a contrary temper; he had certainly an innate love for religion and virtue ; and of consequence, for the liberty of his country.-But here lay the misfortune. He was led from his natural disposition by the insinuations of sycophants and fatterers; they advised him to neglect the calling of fre. quent parliaments, and therefore, by not taking the constant sense of his people in what he did, he was worked up into so high a notion of prerogative, that the commons, in order to restrain it, obtained that independent fatal power, which at last most unhappily brought him
to his most tragical end, and at the same time subverted the whole constitution. And I hope we shall learn this lesson from it-never to compliment the crown with any new or extravagant powers, nor to deny the people those rights which by ancient usage they are entitled to; but to preserve that just and equal balance from which they will derive mutual security, and which, if duly observed, will render our constitution the envy and admiration of the world.
King Charles II. naturally took a surfeit of parliaments in his father's time, and was therefore extremely desirous to lay them aside. But this was a scheme impracticable. However, in effect he did so, for he ob. tained a parliament, which by its long duration, like an army of veterans, became so exactly disciplined to his own measures, that they knew no other command, but from that person who gave them their pay.
This was a safe and most ingenius way of enslaving a nation ; it was very well known that arbitrary power, if it was open and avowed, would never prevail here. The people were therefore amused with the specious form of their ancient constitution : it existed indeed in their fancy, but, like a mere phantom, had no substance or reality in it: for the power, the authority, the dig. nity of parliaments were wholly lost. This was that re. markable parliament, which so justly obtained the opprobrious name of the Pension Parliament, and was the model, from which, I believe, some later parliaments have been exactly copied.
At the time of the revolution, the people made a fresh claim of their ancient privileges; and as they had lately experienced the misfortune of long and servile parliaments, it was then declared, that they should be held frequently. But it seems, their full meaning was not understood by this declaration; and therefore, as in every new settlement, the intention of all parties should be specifically manifested; the parliament never ceased struggling with the crown 'till the triennial law was obtained; the preamble of it, which the honourable gentleman has recited, is extremely full and strong; and in the body of the bill you will find the word declared before enacted, by which I apprehend, that though this law did not immediately take place at the time of the revolution, it was certainly intended as declaratory of the first meaning; and therefore stands as part of that original contract under which the constitution was then settled. His majesty's title to the crown is primarily de. rived from that contract; and if, upon a review, there shall appear to be any deviations from it, we ought to treat them as so many injuries done to that title. And I dare say, that this house, which has gone through so long a series of services to his majesty, will at last be willing to revert to those original sta ed measures of government, to renew and strengthen that title.
But I think the manner in which the septennial law was first introduced, is a very strong reason why it should be repealed. People in their fears have very often recourse to desperate expedients, which, if not cancelled in season, will themselves prove fatal to that constitution, which they were meant to secure.
Such is the nature of the septennial law; it was intended only as a preservative against a temporary inconvenience. The inconvenience is removed, but the mischievous effects still continue ; for it not only altered the constitution of parliaments, but it extended that same parliament be. yond its natural duration, and therefore carries this most unjust implication with it, that you may at any time usurp the most indubitable, the most essential privilege of the people, I mean that of choosing their own representatives; a precedent of such a dangerous conse. quence, of so fatal a tendency, that I think it would be a reproach to our statute book if that law was any longer to subsist, which might record it to posterity.
This is a season of virtue and public spirit. Let us take advantage of it, to repeal those laws which infringe on our liberties, and introduce such as may restore the vigour of our ancient constitution.
Human nature is very corrupt, that all obligations. lose their force, unless they are frequently renew ed. Long parliaments become, therefore, independent of the people ; and when they do so, there always happens a most dangerous dependence elsewhere.
It has of late been denied that the people have a right of remonstrating to us. It has been called an unjustifiable control upon the freedom of our proceedings. But then let them have more frequent opportunities of varying the choice of their representatives, that they may dismiss such as have unfaithfully withdrawn their attention from them.
The influence of the crown is daily increasing : and it is highly requisite that parliaments should be frequently responsible to their constituents ; that they should be kept under the constant awe of acting contrary to their interests. Modern history, I believe, will inform us, that some very dangerous attempts upon our liber. ties have been disappointed, not so much from the virtuo of many in this house, as from the apprehensions they may have had of an approaching election.
It is true, there is a provision against such whose places vacate their seats here; but this is no guard against secret pensioners and placeholders. Give me leave to say, that the laws with respect to them are very insufficient; and as we were not allowed to make them effectual, the people have no other remedy but a new election. I think that long parliaments are a great hard. ship upon those, who may be excluded out of this house, and ought reasonably to take their turn; but seven years is the purchase of a man's life : it is equally hard upon such, whose private fortunes will not admit them to engage in so long and painful a service: it must be so to those, who mean no private view nor advantage
I think, too, nothing can be of greater use to his ma. jesty than frequent new parliaments ; that he may often take the fresh sense of the nation, and not be partially