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CHA P. XIII..

OF THE HOUSE OF PEER S.

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F the two branches of the legislature

I shall first consider the house of lords, of which Mr. Acherly, in his theoretic plan or directions for the Britannic constitution, speaks thus : *“ That the house of lords, General end

and spirit of besides their part in the legisature, should the

the house of be invested with, and should have, as inter- peers. woven in their constitution, these special powers and privileges, viz. that their right of peerage should be deemed a special trust for the whole government; that they should have the dernier resort only in all matters of judicature, and the fole judicature of impeachments commenced and prosecuted by the commons; and that it should be deemed an essential part of that judicature to take cognizances of those impeachments, and to hear and determine the matters therein charged; and the reason he gave for investing them with the dernier resort was, lest illegal judgments in inferior judicatures should creep in, and by little and little undermine and change

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the fundamental form and principles of this constitution, of which there might be some danger, in regard the judges would be necessarily of the king's sole nomination and appointment.

“ But in questions of property, where the claims on either side shall not be mixed with equity, this ultimate judicature should (without additions to supply defects) give the same judgments, as are prescribed by the strict and positive laws in being; because these laws should be every man's birthright, and should have no controuler, nor be controuled by any judicature (except only by that power, which is to be legiNative, in which every man's confent is to be involved ;) for if a law and rule of property be made, and a man's case shall not be deterinined by it, the law and the authority of the makers would be vain and nu

gatory.” All law at allm

In the earliest traces of any legiNative acts

the ca with the advice passed in this country, we constantly find ex

press and unambiguous mention made of the advice and assistance of the great men (magnates) barons, prelates, archbishops, bishops, vavasours, earls, (comites,) &c. under which names, appellations, and descriptions fome monarchical and aristocratical writers have indeed pretended to doubt, whether com

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times made

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VII Wivu

cellary for a common. wealih.

moners were included; but not even the strongest republican writers have ever questioned or denied, that the first orders and ranks of men, or the nobility and dignified clergy were regularly summoned to parliament. Notwithstanding the present rage against the aristocratic part of our constitucion, it is curious to consult the opinion of a very determined and staunch republican * upon the subject. “ An army,” says he, Aristocracy ne“ may as well consist of soldiers without of ficers, or of officers without soldiers, as a commonwealth (especially such a one as is capable of greatness) consist of a people without gentry, or of a gentry without a people. There is something first in the making of a commonwealth ; then in the governing of it; and last of all in the leading of its armies, which (though there be great divines, great lawyers, great men in all professions) seems to be peculiar only to the genius of a gentleman.”

In explaining and accounting for the aristocratical part of our constitution, it may be expected, that I should trace not only the source and origin of this branch of the legislature, but also that I should delineate

* James Harrington, the celebrated author of Oceana. Vid. Tollard's Anglia libera, p. 59.

the

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cal part of our w conftitution.

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the different degrees, dignities, and deno

minations, by which it was formerly known Of the origin of and distinguished. To do this satisfactorily

will require a longer digression than the intent and purport of this publication will admit of. Such of my readers, as may wish to acquire a more particular knowledge of this subject, will receive the most fatisfactory information from the first volume of the learned Mr. Gurdon's history of the high court of parliament. Suffice it for me to observe, that our present aristocracy is much altered from what it formerly was, both in its relative and absolute rights, privileges,

powers, and duties. The ancient

In our earliest history the great council of the nation under the Saxons, who concurred with the king in passing laws, was called Wittenagemotte : *“ a word compounded of Saxon and British, the former part of the word being Saxon, and the latter British. Witta is in Saxon, a wise man (i. e.) a nobleman; Gemot, in the British language, is a council or fynod, so Wittenagemotte is a council of wise men or noblemen.” ACcording to the rude practices and habits of the warlike Saxons, they naturally allowed

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* Gurdon, vol. i. p. 21.

an

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rotive in the

advantages of their e

an exclusive superiority of knowledge or wifdom to such, as had acquired the then rare advantages of education, which were only enjoyed by the clergy, and some of the most opulent and powerful individuals of the community. They annexed not this attribute of

wiltas called wisdom to these national counsellors, as a na- wire, from the tive and hereditary prerogative in the sense, in which some modern illuminators {peak in derision of hereditary wise men and counfellors; but they presumed very justly, that in the general average of men's intellectual faculties or talents, a superiority or preeminence of wisdom must necessarily attend the advantages of cultivation and improvement. The general diffusion of knowledge through all ranks of people in the present age, has happily rendered this ancient distinction imperceptible to the present generation.

There are obvious reasons, why formerly Props the representatives or delegates of the na

of represencation were not, as they now are, divided into tion. two separate bodies ; for it is very evident, that the original spirit or principle of representation in this community was grounded upon the porsession of property, not upon the numbers of individuals. *“ The Britons called their

ty not numbers the

round

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na.

. Gurdon on Parliament, page 15.

councils

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