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SIR JOHN ST. AUBIN'S SPEECH FOR REPEALING THE SEPTENNIAL ACT.
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MR. SPEAKER, The subject matter of this debate is of such importance, that I should be ashamed to return to my electors, without endeavouring, in the best manner. I am able, to declare pub=) licly the reasons, wbich induced me to give my most ready assent to this question.
The people have an unquestionable right to frequent new! parliaments by ancient usage ; and this usage has been cons' firined 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 continued longer than three years, till the remarkable reign of Henry the Eighth. He, Sir, was a prince of unruly appetites, and of an arbitrary will; he was impatient of every restraint; 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 long Parliamients, because he very well knew, that they would become the proper instruments of both; and what a slavish obedience thev paid to all his measures is sufficiently known.
If we come to the reign of King Charles the First, we niust acknowledge him to be a prince of a contrary temper; he had certainly an innate love for religion and virtue. But lrere lay the misfortune-he was led from his natural disposition by sycophants and flatterers; they advised him to neglect the calling of frequent new Parliaments; and therefore, by not taking the constant sense of his people in wliat he did, he was worked up into so bigh a notion of prerogative, that thin Commons (in order to restrain it) obtained that independent fatal power, which at last unhappily brought him to his most tragical end, and at the same time subverted the whoie constitution. And I hope we shall learn this lesson from il, never to compliment the crown with any new or extravagant
powers, nor to deny the people those rights, which by iancient usage they are entitled to; but to preserve the just and equal balance, from which they will both derive mutual security, and which, if duly observed, will render our constitution the envy and admiration of all the world.
King Charles the Second 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 obtained a Parlianient, which by it's 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 ingenious way of enslaving à nation. It is 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 dignity, of Parliaments were wholly lost. This was that remarkable 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 so 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 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 their first meaning, and therefore stands a part of that original contract, under which the constitution was then setuled. His Majesty's tille to the crown is primarily derived from that contract; and if, upon a review, there sball
appear to be any deviations from it, we ought to treat them jas so many injuries done to that tặtle 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 stated measures of government, to renew and strengthen that title.
But, Sir, 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 beyond it's natural duration : and therefore carries this most unjust implication with it, that you may at any time usurp the most undubitable, the most essential privilege of the people I mean that of choosing their own representatives. “A precedent of such a dangerous consequence, of so fatal a tendency, that I think it would be a reproach to our statute book, if that law were 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 our liberties, and introduce such as may restore the vigour of our ancient constitution.
Hunan nature is so very corrupt, that all obligations lose their force, unless they are frequently renewed Long Parbiaments become therefore independent of the people; and when they do so, there always happens a most dangerous dependence elsewhere. - Long Parliaments give the minister an opportunity of getting acquaintance with members, of practising his several arts to win them into his schemes. This must be the work of time.-Corruption is of so base a nature, that at first sight it is extremely shocking.---Hardly any one has submitted to it all at once. His disposition must be previously understood;
the particular bait must be found out, with which he is to be allured; and after all it is not without many
struggles, that he surrenders his virtue.--Indeed, tliere are some, who will at once plunge themselves into any base action;
but the generality of mankind are of a more cautious nature, and will proceed only by leisurely degrees.-One or two perhaps have deserted their colours the first campaign, some have done it a second.-But a great many, who have not that eager disposition to vice, will wait till a third.
For this reason, short Parliaments have been less corrupt than long ones; they are observed, like streams of water, always to grow more impure, the greater distance they run from the fountain-head. I am aware it may
be said, that frequent new Parliaments will produce frequent new expenses, but I think quite the contrary; I am really of an opinion, that it will be a proper remedy against the evil of bribery at elections, especially as you have provided so wholesome a law to cooperate upon these occasions.
Bribery at elections, whence did it arise? Not from country gentlemen, for they are sure of being chosen without it; it was, Sir, the invention of wicked and corrupt ministers, who have, from time to time, led weak princes into such destructive measures, that they did not dare to rely upon the natural representation of the people.--Long Parliaments, Sir, first introduced bribery, because they were worth purchasing at any rate. Country gentlemen, who have only their private fortunes to rely upon, and bave no mercenary ends to serve, are unable to oppose it, especially if at any time the public treasure shall be unfaithfully squandered away to corrupt their boroughs. Country gentlemen, indeed, may make some weak efforts; but as they generally prove unsuccessful, and the time of a fresh struggle iş at se great a distance, they at last grow faint in the dispute, give up their country for lost, and retire in despair. --Despair naturally produces indolence, and that is the proper dis
. position for slavery. Ministers of state understand this very well, and are therefore unwilling to awaken the nation out of it's letbargy by frequent elections. They know, that the spirit of liberty, like every other virtue of the mind, is to be kept alive only by constant action; that it is impossible to enslave this nation, while it is perpetually upon it's guard. --Let country gentlemen then, by having frequent oppor. ORATIONS AND HARANGUES ) 145 thifities of exerting themselves, be kept warm and active ir their contention for the public good ; this will raise that zeal and'spirit, which will at last get the better of those undue influences, by whitch the officers of the crown," thought unknown to the several boroughs, have been able to supplant country gentlemen of great characters and fortune, who live in their neiglibourhood. I do not say this upon idle specun lation only. I live in a country where it is too well known ; and I appeal to many gentlemen in the House, to more out of it (and who are so for this very reason), for the truth of my assertion. Sir, it is a sore which has been long eating into the most vital part of our constitution; and I hope the tine will cone, wlien you will probe it to the bottom.For if a minister should ever gain a corrupt familiarity with our boroughs ; if he should keep a register of them in his closet, and, by sending down his treasury mandates, should procure a spurious representative of the people, the offspring of his corruption, who will be at all times ready to reconcile and justify the most contradictory measures of his administration, and even to vote every crude indigested dream of their patrou’into à law; if the maintenance of his power should become the sole object of their attention, and they should be
gailty of the most violent breach of Parliamentary trust, by giving the king a discretionary liberty of taxing the people without limitation or control; the last fatal compliment they can pay to the crown ;-if this should ever be the unhappy Condition of this nation, the people indeed may complain; but the doors of that place, where their complaints should be heard, will for ever be shut against them. *Our disease, I fear, is of a complicated nature, and I think that this motion is wisely intended, to remove the first aud principal disorder. Give the people their ancient right of frequent new elections; that will restore the decayed anthority of Parliaments, and will put our constitution ito a natural condition of working out her own cure. *"Sir, upon the whole I am of opinion, that I cannot express a greater zeal for his Majesty, for the liberties of the people, or the honour and dignity of this House, than by seconding the motion which the honourable gentleman bas inade vou.