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sovereign should have lent too willing an ear to counsels unsavourable to the constitution or the welfare of his people, he may be thus warned of his mistake in time, by the opinions of the representatives which the people have returned to him, and be warned in a manner the most respectful, the most gentle, the most consistent with the high reverence that is due to his exalted station; and if, on the contrary, the people themselves mistake or betray their own interests, and send an improper representative, they must suffer, and they deserve to suffer (as men must always do in every concern and situation of human life), the natural consequences of their own servility, inattention, or ignorance.
When the sovereigns of this country have neglected the known sentiments of the people, or have disregarded the answers that have been made by the nation, through the medium of their new representatives, in consequence of appeals of this kind, in each case, deplorable have been to them the events that followed. Of the Stuarts, one lost his life, and one bis crown, and even Charles II. precipitated himself and the nation to the very brink of confusion ; yet the people of England appear to have been always, notwithstanding their natural attachment to the House of Commons and their concern for their own liberties, very indulgent critics to their sovereigns. Even Charles II., the most worthless of men, obtained an answer from them on an appeal of this kind, at last, quite favourable to his wishes.
There is considerable difficulty, no doubt, on these occasions, and as the physical strength is with the nation, and only opinion and the reverence of authority with the sovereign, the balance of the scale is not on light grounds to be made to turn against him.
I will now propose a case to you for your own application of these general reasonings. I will take a particular point of time in the reign before us.
Of the various periods in our history, when a sort of crisis of this kind, to a greater or less degree, was understood to exist, I know of none in which a decision would have been made with more difficulty than during these very times which we are now considering.
I propose it therefore to your reflections—the epoch of 1710; you will find the case to be shortly this:-The queen had long disliked the Whigs and their administration, but they were triumphant in the houses of parliament, and carried on the business of the nation with great ability and success; for the first time in the annals of the world, England had rendered herself, by her continental interference, the leading power in Europe ; the queen was therefore obliged to submit; she could neither consult the wishes of her secret advisers Harley and Mrs. Masham, and get clear of her ministers, nor her own views and opinions, and get rid of the war.
The Whigs had, however, while they were vindicating the great cause of the nation at the trial of Dr. Sacheverell, unfortunately for themselves excited in that nation so violent a ferment, and discovered to the queen so plainly the secret of her own strength, that she no longer thought it necessary to keep any terms with them; she dismissed them from their offices; ordered a proclamation to be issued for dissolving the parliament; and, when the Chancellor Cowper on this occasion rose to speak, declared that she would admit of no debate, " that such was her pleasure.” Here, then, was an appeal to the public.
Now, the question is, what ought to have been the answer returned by the nation. If a Tory House of Commons was returned, a peace would probably be the result, and one of the greatest calamities that can afflict mankind at an end. If, on the contrary, a majority of the Whigs was to be returned, the war would be continued under the auspices of the greatest of commanders, and France, probably reduced so low as never again to be in a condition to disturb the tranquillity of Europe. In the one case, a sanction would be given to the arbitrary principles that had been avowed by Dr. Sacheverell and his adherents, and even the queen herself would be encouraged and assisted to patronise and establish them ; her attachment to her brother, and to her own house of Stuart, was well known. What might not be the consequence ?
But if, on the contrary, the Whigs were protected, the principles of the Revolution were protected; the Protestant succession was protected, and the great cause of civil and religious liberty that had been decided, with a good fortune so signal and unexpected, a few years before, in favour of the
nation, would be rescued from its new and most pressing danger, and probably placed on a secure footing to the most distant era.
In the first case the queen was to be gratified; a queen neither tyrannical nor austere in her nature; exemplary in · her conduct; and though not of an understanding the most
commanding, on that account the more to be trust. 1 with the enjoyment of a political triumph. In the other case the Whigs would be told, and all public men hereafter, that they might safely endeavour to promote the glory and interests of the nation, even at the risk of thwarting the wishes of their sovereign; that the public might be depended upon; that their favour, if merited, would be a support as effectual as that of the crown; that a minister's self-interest and political virtue were not necessarily at variance with each other.
Such are some of the considerations on which any lover of his country would have had to decide at the time, and on which we may also endeavour to decide, now that all the means of forming a judgment are in our possession; considering the uncertainty of events, the aspect of things at that particular juncture, and the great stake at issue (the success of the Revolution), I think the question extremely difficult. But the nature of the queen's character, her want of political courage, her evident inaptitude to bold and hazardous counsels, might perhaps, with those who also duly considered the desirableness of a peace, have turned the decision in her favour. The decision was so turned, but it is extremely doubtful if the queen had lived (as Bolingbroke would have been her minister), what might have been at length the consequences.
These allusions will give you some general notion of the political questions that occurred during this period of our annals.
But among the different transactions of a domestic nature that took place in the reign of Anne, I would particularly recommend to your study, the proceedings in the case of Dr. Sacheverell. I recommend them, not on account of any
interest that can now belong either to the doctor or his sermon, neither of which are in themselves deserving of the slightest regard ; but on
account of the lively picture that is here exhibited of the times, and above all, of the manner in which the great Revolution of 1688 was explained and defended by the first statesmen of the country about twenty years after the event.
And it is in this spirit, and for this purpose, that I would wish the student to read them, not as a juror who was to decide whether the doctor was or was not guilty of the charge preferred against him, but as an inquirer into the history of our constitution, as one who is to observe the political principles exhibited on this occasion by the managers of the House of Commons, by Sacheverell's defenders, by the lords, and by the nation.
The trial is ever memorable, because at this trial the Revolution was avowed to be a case of resistance-resistance justified, indeed, by the necessity of the case, but still resist ance.
At the time of the Revolution it may be remembered that the houses of parliament, or rather the House of Commons, in their celebrated vote, had rested their justification on somewhat various, and indeed on very inconsistent grounds, " that King James having endeavoured to subvert the constitution, by breaking the original contract, having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of the kingdom, had abdicated the government, and that the throne was thereby become vacant.”
That is, in other words, the Whigs, for the sake of the Tories, stated the Revolution to be a case of abdication, and for the sake of themselves, a breach of the original contract, i. e. a case of resistance.
But on the present occasion the preamble to the articles exhibited against Dr. Sacheverell begins in this remarkable manner:
“ Whereas, his late majesty, King William III., then Prince of Orange, did, with an armed force, undertake a glorious enterprise for delivering this kingdom from Popery and arbitrary power, and divers subjects of this realm, well affected to their country, joined with and assisted his late majesty in this late enterprise, and it having pleased Almighty God to crown the same with success, the late happy Revolution did take effect, and was established ; and, whereas the said glorious enterprise is approved by several acts of parliament,” &c. &c.
And the first article of the impeachment was, that Dr. Sacheverell had maintained, that to impute resistance to the said Revolution, was to cast black and odious colours upon his late majesty and the said Revolution.
Now the difference in the tone and language of the Whigs forms the remarkable part of these proceedings, and nothing can be more curious than to observe, how the different parties comported themselves,—the Whigs, the Tories, the church, and the queen,-on this great occasion, in the presence of the nation, and, in reality, of subsequent ages.
The doctrines of resistance are not doctrines which can find their way into the courts of law of any country, or be the language of the public ordinances of any regular government. These doctrines, therefore, could not be stated by the Whig managers of the impeachment, in the presence of all the constituted dignity and authority of the realm, without the strongest qualifications, without distinguishing the case of the Revolution from every other ordinary case, without considering it as a case of the most overpowering necessity—by necessity, and by that alone, to be either explained or justified.
In our own times, therefore, on the breaking out of the French Revolution, when Mr. Burke had to vindicate his own account of this Revolution of 1668, his own representation“ of the spirit by which it was conducted, and the true nature and tenure of the government formed in consequence of it,” he immediately appealed to the speeches of the Whig managers on this very occasion; and it was easy for him to show, that the Revolution was then justified, only on the necessity of the case, as the only means left “ for the recovery of that ancient constitution formed by the original contract of the British state, as well as for the future preservation of the same government."
Now, though I think allowance must be made for the peculiar situation in which the managers in Dr. Sacheverell's trial stood and the necessity they were under to qualify to the utmost their doctrines of resistance, still it is sufficient for Mr. Burke, that their doctrines, unless so qualified, could not be produced and defended before the lawyers and statesmen of the country,