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indirectly suffer by this liberty, you have my free consent; go directly, and by the straight way, and not by a circuit, in which in
road you may destroy your friends, point your arms against these men, who do the mischief you fear promoting ; point your arms against men, who, not contented with endeavouring to turn your eyes from the blaze and effulgence of light, by which life and immortality is so gloriously demonstrated by the gospel, would even extinguish that faint glimmering of nature, that only comfort supplied to ignorant man before this great illumination-them, who by attacking even the possibility of all revelation, arraign all the dispensations of providence to man. These are the wicked dissenters you ought to fear, these are the people against whom you ought to aim the shaft of the law; these are the men, to whom, arrayed in all the terrors of government, I would say, you shall not degrade us into brutes; these men, these factious men, as the honourable gentleman properly called them, are the just objects of vengeance, not the conscientious dissenter; these men, who would take away whatever ennobles the rank or consoles the misfortunes of human nature, by breaking off that connection of observances, of affections, of hopes and fears, which bind us to the Divinity, and constitute the glorious and distinguishing prerogative of humanity, that of being a religious creature; against these I would have the laws rise in all their majesty of terrors, to fulminate such vain and impious wretches, and to awe them into impotence by the only dread they can fear or believe, to learn that eternal lesson Discite justitiam moniti, et non temnere Divos.
At the same time that I would cut up the very root of atheism, I would respect all conscience, that is really such, and which perhaps its very tenderness proves to be sincere. I wish to sco the established Church of England great and powerful; I wish to see her foundations laid low and deep, that she may crush the giant powers of rebellious darkness, I would have her head raised up to that Heaven, to which she conducts us.
I would have her open wide her hospitable gates by a noble and liberal comprehension, but I would have no breaches in her wall, I would have her cherish all those who are within, and pity all those who are without, I would have her a common blessing to the world, an example, if not an instructor, to those, who have not the happiness to belong to her; I would have her give a lesson of peace to mankind, that a vexed and wandering generation might be taught to seek for repose and toleration in the maternal bosom of Christian charity, and not in the harlot lap of infidelity and indifference. Nothing has driven people more into that house of seduction than the mutual hatred of
Christian congregations. Long may we enjoy our church under a learned and edifying episcopacy. But episcopacy may fail and religion exist. The most horrid and cruel blow, that can be offered to civil society, is through atheism. Do not promote diversity, but when you have it, bear it ; have as many sorts of religion as you find in your country, there is a reasonable worship in them all.
The others, the infidels, are outlaws of the constitution, not of this country, but of the human race. They are never, never to be supported, never to be tolerated. Under the systematic attacks of these people, I see some of the props of good government already begin to fail; I see propagated principles, which will not leave to religion even a toleration. I see myself sinking every day under the attacks of these wretched people—How shall I arm myself against them? By uniting all those in affection, who are united in the belief of the great principles of the Godhead, that made and sustains the world. They, who hold revelation, give double assurance to their country. Even the man, who does not hold revelation, yet who wishes that it were proved to him, who observes a pious silence with regard to it, such a man, though not a Christian, is governed by religious principles. Let him be tolerated in this country. Let it be but a serious religion, natural or revealed, take what you can get ; cherish, blow
the slightest spark. One day it may be a pure and holy flame. By this proceeding you form an alliance, offensive and defensive, against those great ministers of darkness in the world, who are endeavouring to shake all the works of God established in order and beauty-Perhaps I am carried too far, but it is in the road into which the honorable gentleman has led me. The honorable gentleman would have us fight this confederacy of the powers of darkness with the single arm of the Church of England, would have us not only fight against infidelity, but fight at the same time with every faith in the world except our own. In the moment we make a front against the common enemy, we have to combat with all those, who are the natural friends of our cause. Strong as we are, we are not equal to this. The cause of the church of England is included in that of religion, not that of religion in the Church of England. I will stand up at all times for the rights of conscience, as it is such, not for its particular modes against its general principles. One may be right, another mistaken, but if I have more strength than my brother, it shall be employed to support, not oppress his weakness ; if I have more light, it shall be used to guide, not to dazzle him.
SPEECH ON A BILL FOR SHORTENING THE DURATION
It is always to be lamented when men are driven to search into the foundations of the commonwealth. It is certainly necessary to resort to the theory of your government whenever you propose any alteration in the frame of it, whether that alteration means the revival of some former antiquated and forsaken constitution of state, or the introduction of some new improvement in the commonwealth.
The object of our deliberation is, to promote the good purposes for which elections have been instituted, and to prevent their inconveniences. If we thought frequent elections attended with no inconvenience, or with but a trifling inconvenience, the strong overruling principle of the constitution would sweep us like a torrent towards them. But your remedy is to be suited to your disease your present disease, and to your whole disease. That man thinks much too highly, and therefore he thinks weakly and delusively, of any contrivance of human wisdom, who believes that it can make any sort of approach to perfection. There is not, there never was, a principle of government under heaven, that does not, in the very pursuit of the good it proposes, naturally and inevitably lead into some inconvenience, which makes it absolutely necessary to counterwork and weaken the application of that first principle itself; and to abandon something of the extent of the advantage you proposed by it, in order to prevent also the inconveniences which have arisen from the instrument of all the good you had in view.
To govern according to the sense and agreeably to the interests of the people is a great and glorious object of government. This object cannot be obtained but through the medium of popular election, and popular election is a mighty evil. It is such, and so great an evil, that though there are few nations whose monarchs were not originally elective, very few are now elected. They are the distempers of elections, that have destroyed all free states. To cure these distempers is difficult, if not impossible, the only thing therefore left to save the commonwealth is to prevent their return too frequently. The objects in view are, to have parliaments as frequent as they can be without distracting them in the prosecution of public business; on
NOTE.—This speech was delivered upon one of those motions, which for many successive years were made by Mr. Sawbridge for shortening the duration of Parliaments; but the precise date cannot be ascertained.
one hand, to secure their dependence upon the people, on the other to give them that quiet in their minds, and that ease in their fortunes, as to enable them to perform the most arduous and most painful duty in the world with spirit, with efficiency, with independency, and with experience, as real public counsellors, not as the canvassers at a perpetual election. It is wise to compass as many good ends as possibly you can, and seeing there are inconveniences on both sides, with benefits on both, to give up a part of the benefit to soften the inconvenience. The perfect cure is impracticable, because the disorder is dear to those from whom alone the cure can possibly be derived. The utmost to be done is to palliate, to mitigate, to respite, to put off the evil day of the constitution to its latest possible hour, and may it be a very late one!
This bill, ! fear, would precipitate one of two consequences, I know not which most likely, or which most dangerous ; either that the crown by its constant stated power, influence, and revenue, would wear out all opposition in elections, or that a violent and furious popular spirit would arise. I must see, to satisfy me, the remedies ; I must see, from their operation in the care of the old evil, and in the cure of those new evils, which are inseparable from all remedies, how they balance each other, and what is the total result. The excellence of mathematics and metaphysics is to have but one thing before you, but he forms the best judgment in all moral disquisitions, who has the greatest number and variety of considerations in one view before him, and can take them in with the best possible consideration of the middle results of all.
We of the opposition, who are not friends to the bill, give this pledge at least of our integrity and sincerity to the people, that in our situation of systematic opposition to the present ministers, in which all our hope of rendering it effectual depends upon popular interest and favour, we will not flatter them by a surrender of our uninfluenced judgment and opinion; we give a security, that if ever we should be in another situation, no flattery to any other sort of power and influence would induce us to act against the true interests of the people.
All are agreed that parliaments should not be perpetual; the only question is, what is the most convenient time for their duration ? On which there are three opinions. We are agreed, too, that the term ought not to be chosen most likely in its operation to spread corruption, and to augment the already overgrown influence of the
On these principles I mean to debate the question. It is easy to pretend a zoal for liberty. Those who think themselves not
likely to be incumbered with the performance of their promises, either from their known inability, or total indifference about the performance, never fail to entertain the most lofty ideas. They are certainly the most specious, and they cost them neither reflection to frame, nor pains to modify, nor management to support. The task is of another nature to those, wbo mean to promise nothing, that it is not in their intentions, or may possibly be in their power to per. form; to those who are bound and principled no more to delude the understandings than to violate the liberty of their fellow-subjects. Faithful watchmen we ought to be over the rights and privileges of the people. But our duty, if we are qualified for it as we ought, is to give them information, and not to receive it from them ; we are not to go to school to them to learn, the principles of law and government. In doing so we should not dutifully serve, but we should basely and scandalously betray, the people, who are not capable of this service by nature, nor in any instance called to it by the constitation. I reverentially look up to the opinion of the people, and with an awe, that is almost superstitious. I should be ashamed to show my face before them, if I changed my ground, as they cried ap or cried down men, or things, or opinions; if I wavered and shifted about with every change, and joined in it, or opposed, as best answered any low interest or passion ; if I held them up bopes, which I knew I never intended, or promised what I well knew I could not perform. Of all these things they are perfect sovereign, judges without appeal ; but as to the detail of particular measures
, or to any general schemes of policy, they have neither enough of speculation in the closet, nor of experience in business, to decide upon it. They can well see whether we are tools of a court, or their honest servants. Of that they can well judge; and I wish that they always exercised their judgment; but of the particular merits of a measure I have other standards. That the frequency of elections proposed by this bill has a tendency to increase the power and consideration of the electors, not lessen corruptibility, I do most readily allow ; so far as it is desirable, this is what it has ; I will tell you now what it has not : 1st. It has no sort of tendency to increase their integrity and public spirit, unless an increase of power has an operation upon voters in elections, that it has in no other situation in the world, and upon no other part of mankind. 2ndly. This bill has no tendency to limit the quantity of influence in the crown, to render its operation more difficult, or to counteract that operation, which it cannot prevent, in any way whatsoever. It has its full weight, its full range, and its uncontrolled operation on the electors