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THE LEADING PRINCIPLES

OF THE

ENGLISH CONSTITUTION.

THERE are some leading principles which the student of the English Constitution must ever keep in view, and therefore it may be well shortly to enumerate them here.

They are as follow:

The Kingdom must be governed by an hereditary Sovereign.

The Sovereign of the Realm cannot make laws or impose taxes without the consent of his Parliament.

The Sovereign is bound to rule and administrate according to the laws of the land : if he infringe them, his advisers and agents are responsible.

The Parliament must be composed of persons entitled to sit in it of other right or by some other title than the royal summons, which may be withheld at pleasure.

The Members of at least one branch of the Parliament must be chosen by the voice of the community at large, or be taken from the body of the community.

B

Justice must be purely, promptly, and freely administered by an independent Judicature.

No man must be arbitrarily fined or imprisoned, no man's property or liberty must be impaired, and no man must be in any way punished except after a lawful trial.

“These grand constitutional principles,” says Professor Creasy, “can all be proved either by express terms or by necessary implication from Magna Charta, and its supplement, the Confirmatio Chartarum. Their vigorous development was aided and attested in many subsequent statutes, especially in the Petition of Right and the Bill of Rights, in each of which the English nation, at a solemn crisis, solemnly declared its rights and solemnly acknowledged its obligations--two enactments which deserve to be cited not as ordinary laws, but as constitutional compacts, and to be classed as such with the great charter of which they are confirmers and exponents."

The same may with justice be said of the Habeas Corpus Act and the Settlement Act of 1701.

PRELIMINARY QUESTIONS.

“ Tis Liberty alone that gives the flower

Of fleeting life its lustre and perfume,
And we are weeds without it.

Thee I account still happy and the chief
Among the nations, seeing thou art free,
My native nook of earth!”—COWPER.

Q. What is meant by the Government and Constitution of a country?

A. So much of its Law as relates to the form of the Legislature, the rights and duties of the several members of the legislative body, and the construction, views, and jurisdiction of the Courts of Justice.

" By the Constitution,” says Professor Creasy, is meant certain great leading principles which have existed from the earliest periods of our nationality down to the present time; expanding and adapting themselves to the progress of society and civilization, advancing and varying in development, but still resembling the same in substance and in spirit.”

Q. Of what nature is the English Constitution ?

A. It is a Limited Monarchy, the country being ruled by a Monarch who is only invested with a limited power.

Q. Who serve to limit the power of the Monarch?

A. The Aristocracy or nobility, and the Democracy or people.

“A Monarchy limited like ours," writes Lord Bolingbroke, may be placed just in the middle point, from whence a deviation leads on one hand to tyranny and on the other to anarchy."

Q. What principles are said to constitute the superior excellence of the English Constitution?

A. Its liberty, the equality of its laws, and the right of trial by jury.

Q. What are “the rights of individuals ” ?

A. Such rights as would belong to their persons if they were merely in a state of nature, and which every one is entitled to enjoy, whether out of the society of others or in it.

Q. What are the acknowledged rights of the people of England ?

A. The right of Personal Security, consisting in a person's uninterrupted enjoyment of his life, limbs, body, health, and reputation; the right of Property, consisting in the free use, enjoyment, and disposal of all one's acquisitions without any control or diininution, save only by the laws of the land, and the right of Liberty.

This right of Liberty does not refer to the right of National Liberty, which makes man free from any superior on earth, and which is therefore never recognised in civilized nations, but to what Locke calls the liberty of man in society, which is to be under no legislative power but that established by consent in the commonwealth.

Q. Into what three branches may the right of Liberty be divided ?

A. Civil Liberty, Personal Liberty, and Political Liberty.

This is Lord John Russell's division. Q. What is Civil Liberty?

A. The power of doing that—and that only—which is not forbidden by the Law of the land.

Q. What is Personal Liberty ?

A. The power of doing that which is in itself harmless, as speaking or writing, and of which the abuse only is criminal.

Q. What is Political Liberty ?

A. The acknowledged and legal right of the people of England to control their Government or to take a share in it.

“ Political Liberty is a tranquillity of mind arising from the opinion each person has of his safety.”—Montesquieu.

Q. Into what two classes is the Law of England divided ?

A. The unwritten or Common Law, and the written or Statute Law.

Q. On what does the unwritten or Common Law depend ?

A. On ancient customs or tradition.

Q. What leading distinction is there in the customs which form the Common Law ?

A. Some are General customs and affect the whole realm, while others are Special and only affect particular districts.

Q. What is necessary in order to establish the validity of a custom ?

A. To prove that it has been in existence and acted upon

" time out of mind.”

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