« PreviousContinue »
wars, either against Scotland or on the continent, seeing moreover his demesnes considerably diminished, was frequently reduced to the most pressing necessities. But though, in consequence of the spirit of the times, he frequently indulged himself in particular acts of injustice, yet he perceived, that it was impossible to extend a general oppression over a body of nobles and a people, who so well knew how to unite in a common cause. In order to raise subsidies therefore, he was obliged to employ a new method, and to endeavour to obtain, through the consent of the people, what his predeceffors had hitherto expected from their own power. The sheriffs were ordered to invite the towns and boroughs of the different counties to send deputies to parliament; and it is from this æra, that we are to date the origin of the house of commons *.
• It must be confessed however, that these The commons deputies of the people were not at first por- moned only to
. seffed of any considerable authority. They were far from enjoying those extensive pri- king. vileges, which, in these days, constitute the house of commons a collateral part of the government; they were in those times called
up only to provide for the wants of the king,
approve of the resolutions taken by him The advantage and the assembly of the lords. But it was of legally influencing the mo- nevertheless a great point gained to have tions of govern
obtained the right of uttering their complaints, assembled in a body, and in a legal way to have acquired, instead of the dangerous resource of infurrections, a lawful and regular mean of influencing the motions of the government, and thenceforth to have become a part of it. Whatever disadvantage might attend the station at first allotted to the representatives of the people, it was soon to be compensated by the preponderance the people necessarily acquire, when they are enabled to act and move with method, and especially with concert.
And indeed this privilege of naming remagna charta presentatives insignificant as it might then in Edward's reign, owing to appear, presently manifested itself by the the influence of most considerable effects. In spite of his rethe commons.
luctance, and after many evasions unworthy of so great a king, Edward was obliged to confirm the great charter ; he even confirmed it eleven times in the course of his reign. It was moreover enacted, that whatever should be done contrary to it should be null and
void ; that it should be read twice a year in | all cathedrals; and that the penalty of excom
Lleven confir mations of
munication should be denounced against any one, who should presume to violate it.
“ A¢ length he converted into an established law a privilege, of which the English had hitherto had only a precarious enjoyment; and in the statute de tallagio non con- Statute je tolize cedendo he decreed, that no tax should be gio non conce!
dendo, with laid, nor impoft levied, without the joint magna charta, consent of the lords and commons; a moft Englith constiimportant statute this, which, in conjunction with Magna Charta, forms the basis of the English constitution. If from the latter the English are to date the origin of their liberty, from the former they are to date the establishment of it; and as the great charter was the bulwark, that protected the freedom of individuals, so was the statute in question the engine, which protected the charter itself, and by the help of which the people were thenceforth to make legal conquests over the authority of the crown.”
* “ The representatives of the nation, and of the whole nation, were now admitted into parliament; the great point therefore was gained, that was one day to procure them the great influence, which they at present poffefs ; and the subsequent reigns afford continual instances of its successive growth. • De Lolme, c. ïïi. p. 41, & seq.
Under Edward II. the commons annex petitions to the
they granted subsidies.
fused to grant
“ Under Edward the Second, the commons
began to annex petitions to the bills, by bills, by which which they granted subsidies; this was the
dawn of their legislative authority. Under Under Edward Edward the Third, they declared they would a right of consenting to
not in future acknowledge any law, to which law',
they had not expressly assented. Soon after and of impeaching ministers of this, they exerted a privilege, in which constate,
sists at this time one of the great balances of the constitution; they impeached, and procured to be condemned some of the first
ministers of state. Under Henry the Fourth, IV. they re
they refused to grant fubsidies before an ansubsidies till an
swer had been given to their petitions. In given to their petitions.
a word, every event of any consequence was attended with an increase of the
of the The progress of their influence
commons; increases indeed but now and gralegal and sure.
dual, but which were peaceably and legally effeéted, and were the more fit to engage the attention of the people, and coalesce with the
ancient principles of the constitution. Under From Hen. V. Henry the Fifth, the nation was entirely nation pre
up with its wars against France; and vented any further progress of in the reign of Henry the Sixth began the
fatal contests between the houses of York and Lancaster. The noise of arms alone was now to be heard ; during the silence of the laws already in being, no thought was had of enacting new ones; and for thirty years toge
the wars of the
the infinence of the commons.
ther, England presents a wide scene of Naughter and defolation.
“At length, under Henry the Seventh, who, by his intermarriage with the house of York, united the pretensions of the two families, a general peace was re-established, and the prospect of happier days seemed to open on the nation. But the long and violent agitation, under which it had laboured, was to be followed by a long and painful recovery. Henry mounting the throne with sword in hand, and in great measure as a conqueror, had promises to fulfil, as well as injuries to avenge. In the mean time the people wearied out by the calamities they had undergone, and longing only for repose abhorred even the idea of resistance ; so that the remains of an almost exterminated nobility beheld themselves left defenceless, and abandoned to the mercy of the sovereign. “ The commons on the other hand accuf. Commons and
lords submillive tomed to act only a second part in public to the fruit affairs, and finding themselves berest of those, house of Tudor. who had hitherto been their leaders, were more than ever afraid to form of themselves an opposition. Placed immediately as well as the lords under the eye of the king, they beheld themselves exposed to the same dangers ; like them therefore they purchased their