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The History Of England - A Study In Political Evolution
The Struggle For Self-Government
by Pollard, A. F.


1603-1815

National independence and popular self-government, although they were intimately associated as the two cardinal dogmas of nineteenth-century liberalism, are very different things; and the achievement of complete national independence under the Tudors did not in the least involve any solution of the question of popular self-government. Still, that achievement had been largely the work of the nation itself, and a nation which had braved the spiritual thunders of the papacy and the temporal arms of Philip II would not be naturally submissive under domestic tyranny. Perhaps the fact that James I was an alien hastened the admonition, which parliament addressed to him in the first session of the reign, to the effect that it was not prepared to tolerate in him many things which, on account of her age and sex, it had overlooked in Elizabeth.

Parliament began the constitutional conflict thus foreshadowed with no clear constitutional theory; and its views only crystallized under pressure of James I's pretensions. James possessed an aptitude for political speculation, which was rendered all the more dangerous by the facilities he enjoyed for putting his theories into practice. He tried to reduce monarchy to a logical system, and to enforce that system as practical politics. He had succeeded to the English throne in spite of Henry VIII's will, which had been given the force of a parliamentary statute, and in spite of the common law which disabled an alien from inheriting English land. His only claim was by heredity, which had never been legally recognized to the exclusion of other principles of succession. James was not content to ascribe his accession to such mundane circumstances as the personal unfitness of his rivals and the obvious advantages of a union of the English and Scottish crowns; and he was led to attribute a supernatural virtue to the hereditary principle which had overcome obstacles so tremendous. Hence his theory of divine hereditary right. It must be distinguished from the divine right which the Tudors claimed; that was a right which was not necessarily hereditary, but might be varied by the God of battles, as at Bosworth. It must also be distinguished from the Catholic theory, which gave the church a voice in the election and deposition of kings. According to James's view, Providence had not merely ordained the king de facto, but had pre-ordained the kings that were to be, by selecting heredity as the principle by which the succession was to be determined for ever and ever. This ordinance, being divine, was beyond the power of man to alter. The fitness of the king to rule, the justice or efficiency of his government, were irrelevant details. Parliament could no more alter the succession, depose a sovereign, or limit his authority than it could amend the constitution of the universe. From this premiss James deduced a number of conclusions. Royal power was absolute; the king could do no wrong for which his subjects could call him to account; he was responsible to God but not to man--a doctrine which the Reformation had encouraged by proclaiming the Royal Supremacy over the church. He might, if he chose, make concessions to his people, and a wise sovereign like himself would respect the concessions of his predecessors. But parliamentary and popular privileges existed by royal grace; they could not be claimed as rights.

This dogmatic assurance, to which the Tudors had never resorted, embittered parliamentary opposition and obscured the historical justification for many of James's claims. Historically, there was much more to be said for the contention that parliament existed by grace of the monarchy than for the counterclaim that the monarchy existed by grace of parliament; and for the plea that parliament only possessed such powers as the crown had granted, than for the counter-assertion that the crown only enjoyed such rights as parliament had conceded. Few of James's arbitrary acts could not be justified by precedent, and not a little of his unpopularity was due to his efforts to exact from local gentry the performance of duties which had been imposed upon them by earlier parliaments. The main cause of dissatisfaction was the growing popular conviction that constitutional weapons, used by the Tudors for national purposes, were now being used by the Stuarts in the interests of the monarchy against those of the nation; and as the breach widened, the more the Stuarts were led to rely on these weapons and on their theory of the divine right of kings, and the more parliament was driven to insist upon its privileges and upon an alternative theory to that of James I.

This alternative theory was difficult to elaborate. There was no idea of democracy. Complete popular self-government is, indeed, impossible; for the mass of men cannot rule, and the actual administration must always be in the hands of a comparatively few experts. The problem was and is how to control them and where to limit their authority; and this is a question of degree. In 1603 no one claimed that ministers were responsible to any one but the king; administration was his exclusive function. It was, however, claimed that parliamentary sanction must be obtained for the general principles upon which the people were to be governed--that is to say, for legislation. The crown might appoint what bishops it pleased, but it could not repeal the Act of Uniformity; it might make war or peace, but could not impose direct and general taxation; it selected judges, but they could only condemn men to death or imprisonment for offences recognized by the law. The subject was not at the mercy of the king except when he placed himself outside the law.

The disadvantage, however, of an unwritten constitution is that there are always a number of cases for which the law does not provide; and there were many more in the seventeenth century than there are to-day. These cases constituted the debatable land between the crown and parliament. Parliament assumed that the crown could neither diminish parliamentary privilege nor develop its own prerogative without parliamentary sanction; and it read this assumption back into history. Nothing was legal unless it had been sanctioned by parliament; unless the crown could vouch a parliamentary statute for its claims they were denounced as void. This theory would have disposed of much of the constitution, including the crown itself; even parliament had grown by precedent rather than by statute. There were, as always, precedents on both sides. The question was, which were the precedents of growth and which were those of decay? That could only be decided by the force of circumstances, and the control of parliament over the national purse was the decisive factor in the situation.

The Stuarts, indeed, were held in a cleft stick. Their revenue was steadily decreasing because the direct taxes, instead of growing with the nation's income, had remained fixed amounts since the fourteenth century, and the real value of those amounts declined rapidly with the influx of precious metals from the New World. Yet the expense of government automatically and inevitably increased, and disputes over foreign policy, over the treatment of Roman Catholics, over episcopal jurisdiction, over parliamentary privileges, and a host of minor matters made the Commons more and more reluctant to fill the empty Treasury. The blunt truth is that people will not pay for what they do not consider their concern; and Stuart government grew less and less a popular affair. The more the Stuarts demanded, the greater the obstacles they encountered in securing compliance.

James I levied additional customs which were called impositions, and the judges in 1606 properly decided that these were legal. But they increased James's unpopularity; and, as a precaution, parliament would only grant Charles I tonnage and poundage (the normal customs duties) for one year after his accession instead of for life. Charles contended that parliament had, owing to non-user, lost the right of refusing these supplies to the crown; he proceeded to levy them by his own authority, and further demanded a general forced loan and benevolence. For refusing to pay, five knights were sent to prison by order of the privy council "without cause shewn," whereby the crown avoided a judicial decision on the legality of the loan. This provoked the Petition of Right in 1628; but in 1629 Charles finally quarrelled with parliament over the question whether in assenting to the petition he had abandoned his right to levy tonnage and poundage. For eleven years he ruled without parliament, raising supplies by various obsolete expedients culminating in ship money, on behalf of which many patriotic arguments about the necessities of naval defence were used.

He was brought up sharply when he began to kick against the Presbyterian pricks of Scotland; and the expenses of the Bishops' War put an end to the hand-to-mouth existence of his unparliamentary government in England. The Long parliament went to the root of the matter by demanding triennial sessions and the choice of ministers who had the confidence of parliament. It emphasized its insistence upon ministerial responsibility to parliament by executing Strafford and afterwards Laud. Charles, who laboured under the impression common to reactionaries that they are defending the rights of the people, contended that, in claiming an unfettered right to choose his own advisers, he was championing one of the most obvious liberties of the subject. Parliament, however, had realized that in politics principles consist of details as a pound consists of pence; and that if it wanted sound legislative principles, it must take care of the details of administration. Charles had ruled eleven years without parliament; but so had Wolsey, and Elizabeth had apologized when she called it together oftener than about once in five years. If the state had had more financial ballast, and the church had been less high and top-heavy, Charles might seemingly have weathered the storm and let parliament subside into impotence, as the Bourbons let the States-General of France, without any overt breach of the constitution. After all, the original design of the crown had been to get money out of parliament, and the main object of parliament had once been to make the king live of his own. A king content with parsimony might lawfully dispense with parliament; and the eleven years had shown the precarious basis of parliamentary institutions, given a thrifty king and an unambitious country. Events were demonstrating the truth of Hobbes's maxim that sovereignty is indivisible; peace could not be kept between a sovereign legislature and a sovereign executive; parliament must control the crown, or some day the eleven years would recur and become perpetual. In France, unparliamentary government was prolonged by the victory of the crown for a century and three-quarters. In England, Charles's was the last experiment, because parliament defeated the claim of the crown to rule by means of irresponsible ministers.

In such a contest for the control of the executive there could be no final arbitrament save that of force; but Charles was only able to fight at all because parliament destroyed its own unanimity by attacking the church, and thus provided him with a party and an army. More than a temporary importance, however, attaches to the fact that the abeyance of monarchical power at once gave rise to permanent English parties; and it was natural that those parties should begin by fighting a civil war, for party is in the main an organ for the expression of combative instincts, and the metaphors of party warfare are still of a military character. Englishmen's combative instincts were formerly curbed by the crown; but since the decline of monarchy they have either been vented against other nations, or expressed in party conflicts. The instinct does not commonly require two forms of expression at once, and party strife subsides during a national war. Its methods of expression, too, have been slowly and partially civilized; and even a general election is more humane than a civil war. But the first attack of an epidemic is usually the most virulent, and party strife has not a second time attained the dimensions of civil war.

One reason for this mitigation is that the questions at issue have been gradually narrowed down until, although they bulk large to heated imaginations, they really cover a very small area of political life, and the main lines continue the same whichever party triumphs. Another reason is that experience has proved the necessity of the submission of the minority to the majority. This is one of the greatest achievements of politics. In the thirteenth century Peter des Roches claimed exemption from the payment of a scutage on the ground that he had voted against it, and his claim was held to be valid. Such a contention means anarchy, and considerable progress had been made before the seventeenth century towards the constitutional doctrine that the vote of the majority binds the whole community. But the process was incomplete, and the causes of strife between Roundhead and Royalist were fundamental. A victory of the Royalists would have been carried to extremes, as the victory of the Roundheads was; and the result would almost certainly have been despotic government until a still more violent outbreak precipitated the country into a series of revolutions.

Liberty, like religious toleration, has been won through the internecine warfare between various forms of despotism; and the strength of the Royalists lay in the fact that parliament, in espousing Presbyterianism, weighted its cause with an ecclesiastical system as narrow and tyrannical as Laud's. New presbyter was but old priest writ large, and the balance between the two gave the decision into the hands of the Independents, whose numerical inferiority was redeemed by Cromwell's military genius. When Presbyterians and Independents had ground the Royalists to powder at Marston Moor and Naseby, Charles sought to recover his authority through their quarrels. He fell between two stools. His double dealings with both parties led to the second civil war, to his own execution, and to the abolition of monarchy and of the House of Lords in 1649. Having crushed Catholic Ireland and Presbyterian Scotland, to which Charles and his son had in turn appealed, Cromwell was faced with the problem of governing England.

The victorious party was in a hopeless minority, and some of the fervour with which the Independents appealed to divine election may have been due to a consciousness that they would not have passed the test of a popular vote. In their view, God had determined the fundamentals of the constitution by giving the victory to His elect; these fundamentals were to be enshrined in a written rigid constitution, and placed beyond the reach of parliament or the people. Under the sovereignty of this inspired constitution (1653), which provided, among other things, for the union of England, Ireland, and Scotland, a drastic reform of the franchise and redistribution of seats, the government was to be in the hands of a "single person," the Protector, and a single chamber, the House of Commons. The single person soon found the single chamber "horridly arbitrary," and preferred the freedom of military despotism. But his major-generals were even more arbitrary than the single chamber, and in 1657 a fresh constitution was elaborated with a Second Chamber to make it popular. The Restoration had, in fact, begun almost as soon as the war was over; the single chamber republic of 1649-1653 had given place to a single- chamber monarchy, called the Protectorate, and a further step was taken when in 1657 the "other" House was added; Cromwell was within an ace of making himself a king and his dynasty hereditary. Only his personal genius, the strength of his army, and the success of his foreign policy enabled him thus to restore the forms of the old constitution without the support of the social forces on which it had been based. His death in 1658 was necessarily followed by anarchy, and anarchy by the recall of Charles II.

The Restoration was not so much a restoration of monarchy, which had really been achieved in 1653, as a restoration of the church, of parliament, and of the landed gentry; and each took its toll of profit from the situation. The church secured the most sectarian of its various settlements, and the narrowness of its re-establishment kept nearly half the nation outside its pale. The landed gentry obtained the predominant voice in parliament for a century and three-quarters, and, as a consequence, the abolition of its feudal services to the crown, the financial deficit being made up by an excise on beer instead of by a land-tax. Parliament emancipated itself from the dictation of the army, taking care never to run that risk again, and from the restrictions of a written, rigid constitution. It also recovered its rotten boroughs and antiquated franchise, but lost its union with the parliaments of Ireland and Scotland. At first it seemed more royalist than the king; but it soon appeared that its enthusiasm for the monarchy was more evanescent than its attachment to the church and landed interest. Even in the first flush it refrained from restoring the Star Chamber and the other prerogative courts and councils which had enabled the crown to dispense with parliamentary and common law control; and Charles II was never able to repeat his father's experiment of ruling for eleven years without a parliament.

The ablest, least scrupulous, and most popular of the Stuarts, he began his reign with two objects: the emancipation of the crown from control as far as possible, and the emancipation of the Roman Catholics from their position of political inferiority; but the pursuit of both objects was strictly conditioned by a determination not to embark on his travels again. The two objects were really incompatible. Charles could only make himself autocratic with the support of the Anglican church, and the church was determined to tolerate no relaxation of the penal code against other Catholics. At first Charles had to submit to Clarendon and the church; but in 1667 he gladly replaced Clarendon by the Cabal administration, among the members of which the only bond of unity was that it did not contain a sound Anglican churchman. With its assistance he published his Declarations of Indulgence for Roman Catholics and Dissenters (1672), and sought to secure himself against parliamentary recalcitrance by a secret treaty with Louis XIV (1670). This policy failed against the stubborn opposition of the church. The Cabal fell; Danby, a replica of Clarendon, came into office; and the Test Act of 1673 made the position of the Roman Catholics worse than it was before the Declaration.

This failure convinced Charles that one of his two designs must go by the board. He threw over the less popular cause of his co-religionists; and henceforth devoted himself to the task of emancipating the crown from parliamentary interference. But popular suspicion had been aroused by Charles's secret dealings and James's open professions; and Titus Oates, who knew something about real plans for the reconversion of England, inflated his knowledge into a monstrous tale of a popish plot. The Whigs, as the opposition party came to be called, used it for more than it was worth to damage the Tories under Danby. The panic produced one useful measure, the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, many judicial murders, and a foolish attempt to exclude James from the succession, As it subsided, Charles deftly turned the reaction to the ruin of the Whigs (1681). Of their leaders, Shaftesbury fled to Holland, and Sidney and Russell were brought to the block; their parliamentary strongholds in the cities and towns were packed with Tories; and for the last four years of his reign Charles ruled without a parliament, but with the goodwill of the Tories and the church.

This half of the nation would probably have acquiesced in the growth of despotism under James II, had not the new king ostentatiously ignored the wisdom of Charles II. He began (1685) with everything in his favour: a Tory parliament, a discredited opposition, which further weakened its case by Argyll's and Monmouth's rebellions, and a great reputation for honesty. Within a couple of years he had thrown away all these advantages by his revival of Charles II's abandoned Roman Catholic policy, and had alienated the Anglican church, by whose support alone he could hope to rule as an English despot. He suspended and dispensed with laws, introduced Roman Catholics into the army, the universities, the privy council, raised a standing force of thirty thousand men, and finally prosecuted seven bishops for seditious libel. William III, the husband of James's daughter Mary, was invited by representatives of all parties to come over as England's deliverer, and James fled on his approach. He could not fight, like his father, because no English party supported his cause.

The Revolution of 1688 was singularly negative so far as its results were expressed in the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement. These celebrated constitutional documents made little provision for national self-government. One king, it is true, had been evicted from the throne, and Roman Catholics were to be always excluded; and these measures disposed of divine hereditary right. But that had been a Stuart invention, and kings had been deposed before James II. Why should self-government follow on the events of 1688 any more than on those of 1399, 1461, or 1485? Future sovereigns were, indeed, to refrain from doing much that James had done. They were not to keep a standing army in time of peace, not to pardon ministers impeached by the House of Commons, not to dismiss judges except on an address from both Houses of Parliament, not to suspend laws at all nor to dispense with them in the way James had done, not to keep a parliament nor do without one longer than three years, and not to require excessive bail. Religious toleration, too, was secured in some measure, and freedom of the press to a limited extent. But all these enactments were safeguards against the abuse of royal power and infringement of civil liberty rather than provisions for self-government. No law was passed requiring the king to be guided by ministers enjoying the confidence of parliament; he was still the real and irresponsible executive, and parliament was limited to legislation. The favourite Whig toast of "civil and religious liberty" implied an Englishman's right to freedom from molestation, but not a right to a voice in the government of the country. Responsible self-government was not guaranteed by the laws, but it was ensured by the facts, of the Revolution.

The truth is, that the methods of English constitutional progress have been, down to this day, offensive strategy and defensive tactics. Positions have been taken up which necessitate the retirement of the forces of reaction, unless they are prepared to make attacks predestined to defeat; and so, nearly every Liberal advance has been made to appear the result of Tory aggression. The central position has always been control of the purse by parliament. At first it only embraced certain forms of direct taxation; gradually it was extended and developed by careful spade-work until it covered every source of revenue. Entrenched behind these formidable earthworks, parliament proceeded to dictate to the early Stuarts the terms of national policy. Charles I, provoked by its assumptions, made his attack on the central position, was foiled, and in his retreat left large portions of the crown's equipment in the hands of parliament. Rasher attacks by James II resulted in a still more precipitate retreat and in the abandonment of more of the royal prerogatives. The growth of the empire and of the expenses of government riveted more firmly than ever the hold of parliament over the crown; the greater the demands which it alone could meet, the higher the conditions it could impose upon their grant, until parliament determined absolutely the terms upon which the office of monarchy should be held. In a similar way the Commons used their control of the national purse to restrict the powers of the House of Lords; provocation has led to attacks on the central position, and the failure of these attacks has been followed by surrender. Prudent leaders have preferred to retire without courting the preliminary of defeat.

William III and his successors adopted this course when confronted with the impregnable position of parliament after the Revolution; and hence later constitutional gains, while no apparent part of the parliamentary position, were its inevitable consequences. William, absorbed in a life-and-death struggle with Louis XIV, required a constant stream of supplies from parliament; and to secure its regularity he had to rely on the good offices and advice of those who commanded most votes in the House of Commons. In the Lords, who then numbered less than two hundred, he could secure the balance of power through the appointment of bishops. In the Commons his situation was more difficult. The partial demise of personal monarchy in 1688 led to a scramble for its effects, and the scramble to the organization of the two principal competitors, the Whig and Tory parties. The Whigs formed a "junto," or caucus, and the Tories followed their example. William preferred the Whigs, because they sympathized with his wars; but the country sometimes preferred the Tories, because it hated William's Dutchmen and taxation. On William's death in 1702 the danger from Louis XIV was considered so acute that a ministry was formed from all parties in order to secure the united support of parliament; but gradually, in Anne's reign, the Tories who wanted to make peace left the ministry, until in 1708 it became purely Whig. In 1710 it fell, and the Tories took its place. They wanted a Stuart restoration, even at the price of undoing the Revolution, if only the Pretender would abandon his popery; while the Whigs were determined to maintain the Revolution even at the price of a Hanoverian dynasty. They returned to power in 1714 with the accession of George I, and monopolized office for more than half a century. As time went on, many Whigs became hardly distinguishable from Tories who had relinquished Jacobitism; and from Lord North's accession to office in 1770 down to 1830 the Tories enjoyed in their turn a half- century of nearly unbroken power.

During this period the party system and cabinet government were elaborated. Party supplanted the crown as the determining factor in British government, and the cabinet became the executive committee of the party possessing a majority in the House of Commons. Queen Anne had not the intellect nor vigour to assert her independence of ministers, and George I, who understood no English, ceased to attend cabinet meetings. The royal veto disappeared, and even the king's choice of ministers was severely limited, not by law but by practical necessities. Ministers, instead of giving individual advice which the sovereign might reject, met together without the king and tendered collective advice, the rejection of which by the sovereign meant their resignation, and if parliament agreed with them, its dissolution or surrender on the part of the crown. For the purpose of tendering this advice and maintaining order in the cabinet, a chief was needed; Walpole, by eliminating all competitors during his long administration (1721-1742), developed the office of prime minister, which, without any law to establish it, became one of the most important of British institutions. Similarly the cabinet itself grew and was not created by any Act; indeed, while the cabinet and the prime minister were growing, it would have been impossible to induce any parliament to create them, for parliament was still jealous of royal influence, and even wanted to exclude from its ranks all servants of the crown. But, fortunately, the absence of a written constitution enabled the British constitution to grow and adapt itself to circumstances without legal enactment.

The circumstance that the cabinet was the executive committee of the majority in the House of Commons gave it the command of the Lower House, and by means of the Commons' financial powers, of the crown. This party system was deplored by many; Bolingbroke, a Tory leader out of office, called for a national party, and urged the crown to emancipate itself from Whig domination by choosing ministers from all sections. Chatham thought that in the interests of national efficiency, the ablest ministers should be selected, whatever their political predilections. George III adapted these ideas to the purpose of making himself a king in deed. But his success in breaking down the party and cabinet system was partial and temporary; he only succeeded in humbling the Whig houses by giving himself a master in the person of the younger Pitt (1784), who was supported by the majority of the nation.

With the House of Lords the cabinet has had more prolonged and complicated troubles. Ostensibly and constitutionally the disputes have been between the two Houses of Parliament; and this was really the case before the development of the close connexion between the cabinet and the Commons. Both Houses had profited by the overthrow of the crown in the seventeenth century, and the extremes to which they sometimes pushed their claims suggest that they were as anxious as the crown had been to place themselves above the law. The House of Lords did succeed in making its judicial decisions law in spite of the crown and Commons, although the Commons were part of the "High Court of Parliament," and no law had granted the Lords supreme appellate jurisdiction; hence the constitutional position of the House of Lords was made by its own decisions and not by Act of Parliament or of the crown. This claim to appellate jurisdiction, which was much disputed by the Commons during the reign of Charles II, was only conceded in return for a similar concession to the Commons in financial matters. Here the Commons practically made their resolutions law, though the Lords insisted that the privilege should not be abused by "tacking" extraneous provisions on to financial measures.

There were some further disputes in the reigns of William III and Anne, but the only occasion upon which peers were actually made in order to carry a measure, was when the Tories created a dozen to pass the Peace of Utrecht in 1712. It is, indeed, a singular fact that no serious conflict between the two Houses occurred during the whole of the Georgian period from 1714 to 1830. The explanation seems to be that both Houses were simply the political agents of the same organized aristocracy. The humble townsfolk who figured in the parliaments of Edward I (see p. 65) disappeared when a seat in the House of Commons became a position of power and privilege; and to the first parliament (1547) for which journals of the Commons proved worth preserving, the eldest son of a peer thought it worth while seeking election. Many successors followed; towns were bribed or constrained to choose the nominees of peers and country magnates; burgage tenements were bought up by noble families to secure votes; and the Restoration parliament had material reasons for treating Cromwell's reforms as void, and restoring rotten boroughs and fancy franchises. By the time that parliament had emancipated itself from the control of the crown, it had also emancipated itself to a considerable extent from the control of the constituencies.

This political system would not have developed nor lasted so long as it did, had it not had some virtue and some relevance to its environment. In every country's development there is a stage in which aristocracy is the best form of government. England had outgrown monarchical despotism, but it was not yet fit for democracy. Political power depends upon education, and it would have been unreasonable to expect intelligent votes from men who could not read or write, had small knowledge of politics, little practical training in local administration, and none of the will to exercise control. Politics were still the affair of the few, because only the few could comprehend them, or were conscious of the uses and limitations of political power. The corrupt and misguided use of their votes by those who possessed them was some reason for not extending the franchise to still more ignorant masses; and it was not entirely irrational to leave the control of national affairs in the hands of that section of the nation which had received some sort of political education.

The defects, however, of a political system, which restricts power to a limited class or classes, are that each class tends to exercise it in its own interests and resents its extension to others, even when they are qualified for its use. If all other historical records had disappeared, land laws, game laws, inclosure acts, and corn laws--after the Revolution a bounty was actually placed on the export of corn, whereby the community was taxed in order to deprive itself of food or make it dearer--alone would prove that political power in the Georgian period was vested in a landed aristocracy, though England's commercial policy, especially towards Ireland, would show that mercantile interests had also to be consulted. Similarly, the journals of the House of Commons would prove it to have been a close corporation less anxious for the reign of law than for its own supremacy over the law. It claimed authority to decide by its own resolutions who had the right to vote for its members and who had the right to a seat. It expelled members duly elected, and declared candidates elected who had been duly rejected. It repudiated responsibility to public opinion as derogatory to its liberties and independence; it excluded strangers, and punished the publication of debates and division-lists as high misdemeanours. It was a law unto itself, and its notions of liberty sometimes sank to the level of those of a feudal baron.

Hence the comparative ease and success with which George III filled its sacred precincts with his paid battalions of "king's friends." He would have been powerless against a really representative House; but he could buy boroughs and votes as effectively as Whig or Tory dukes, and it was his intervention that raised a doubt in the mind of the House whether it might not need some measure of reform. The influence of the crown, it resolved in 1780, had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished. But it could only be diminished by destroying that basis of corruption which supported the power of the oligarchs no less than that of the crown. Reform would be a self-denying ordinance, if not an act of political suicide, as well as a blow at George III. Privileged bodies do not reform themselves; proposals by Burke and by Pitt and by others were rejected one after another; and then the French Revolution came to stiffen the wavering ranks of reaction. Not till the Industrial Revolution had changed the face of England did the old political forces acknowledge their defeat and surrender their claim to govern the nation against its will.

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