« PrécédentContinuer »
To give full security to the people, the right of elective suffrage should be conferred on great numbers, and should be easily attainable. Thus in Great Britain the electors amount to some hundred thousands; and besides the multitudes who may acquire the right of voting in boroughs by various methods, every man may purchase a vote for a county, who can pay for a piece of land worth forty thillings a year.
It is a thing by no means unreasonable in itself, or repugnant to the liberal spirit of political wisdom, that the Constitution should require a large portion of those who choose to live under its protection, to be fatisfied without possessing a voice in the appointment of their immediate legislators. The grand object to be had in view in imparting the elective franchise is to secure, as far as may be possible, the choice of proper representatives. By this consideration alone the number and defeription of electors ought to be regulated. That the description of electors in Great Britain might in some respects be altered with great advantage to the public, so as to produce, often perhaps a better choice of a representative, and still more frequently a
very important diminution of corruption, proAigacy, and vice, cannot, I think, be reasonably
I doubted. But if the consideration already stated undeniably requires, on the one hand, that the whole number of electors in the kingdom should bear an adequate proportion to the amount of the inhabitants; it seems equally to require, on the other, that the right of voting should be confined to men competent, and likely to discharge the trust committed to them in a manner conducive to the public good. If we reflect on the uninformed condition of multitudes in the lower ranks of society; on the blind deference which they commonly pay to the will of their immediate superiors ; on the temptations they are under of being corrupted by bribes; on the facility with which they may be deluded by artful misrepresentations and inflammatory harangues; on the difficulty of preventing confusion and riots in popular assemblies spreading over the face of a whole kingdom; on the rapidity with which tumults excited by design or accident in one assembly would be communicated by contagion to another, until the country would be agitated with general convulsions : if we reflect on the dangers to be
dreaded from these and other circumstances which would attend the plan of universal suffrage, we shall probably see great reason to rejoice that the elective right is limited under the British Conftitution. And we are not to forget that, if any inconveniences and hardships are to be apprehended in consequence of limiting it, they are necessarily much diminished, if not altogether removed, by the very
small share of property requisite to procure the privilege of voting for county members.
3. The Legislature of every well regulated State ought to be so constructed that the mennbers of it may have a common interest with the
a rest of the community; it should be composed of men belonging to various classes and professions; and should be open in all its parts, and on all occasions, to the petitions and representations of the people.
It is obvious how necessary the observance of these rules is to the welfare of the whole community, and to the interest of each particular class of citizens. And it is no less obvi. ous with what marked attention they are regarded in the British Constitution.
4. Legislative assemblies should be considerably, but not immoderately, numerous; they should enjoy perfect freedom of debate; and should be regulated in their proceedings by such forms as may ensure a full and deliberate investigation of each subject which comes before them, and at the same time admit of accelerated decisions in critical emergences.
it is apt
If a legislative assembly consists of few members, it wants the wisdom which results from the collected counsels of
many to become arbitrary in its proceedings; and is more within the reach of ordinary corruption. If it is extremely numerous, it becomes tumultuous and disorderly in its discussions, intemperate and capricious in its resolves; and each member is liable to act less under the restraints both of conscience and of shame, trusting that the misconduct of an individual will not be discerned in the crowd, or will be obliterated by the multitude of similar examples. The remainder of the rule requires no explanation.
With respect to each of the particulars specified in this rule, the British Constitution evidently merits the highest praise.
5. Legislative bodies ought to be so far renewed from time to time as to prevent them from degenerating into tyrannical oligarchies ; and in such a manner that the change, or course of succession, in any part of them, should take place without confusion, tumult, stoppage of public business, or interruption of the established form of government.
The policy of this rule is fufficiently manifest. The requisite change and renewal in the British Legislature is attained by the limited duration of parliament. And as it is made in that branch of the Legislature which is appointed by the people; those dangers are prevented, which otherwise might have been dreaded from the hereditary power lodged in the other branches. Strict laws are in force to prevent disorders at elections; and the Constitution has provided that not even the death of the supreme magistrate shall afford room for fedition and anarchy, or create any material impediment to the progress of public business, In the eye of the law the throne is never vacant; but from the moment (h) of the death of
(1) Blackstone, vol. i. p. 249.