« EdellinenJatka »
The sovereigns on the throne—men of little capacity, imperfectly acquainted with English, unable, from that cause, even to preside at the meetings of their own cabinet, and strongly opposed by an ardent and generous, because disinterested, party in the country—became mere puppets in their hands, and rendered the crown nearly destitute of all real or independent weight in the kingdom.
The natural check in a free country upon this corrupt system, into which every constitutional monarchy has so strong a tendency to run, is found in the vigorous opposition and incessant watchfulness of the people. It is this which has been so powerful a restraint upon the abuses of government during the last half century; and which has now become so strong, that the common complaint is, that, in all important appointments at least, the Tory Ministry are forgetful of their friends, and select the persons to be appointed from the ranks of their enemies. But this salutary check upon bad government did not exist during the first half of the eighteenth century; or rather, it existed only to fan and augment the inclination, already sufficiently strong, to corrupt administration on the part of the Whig oligarchy, who had got possession of the helm. The popular party were now in power; their leaders had the disposal of everything, and therefore not a whisper escaped their lips, as to the degrading system which was so fast spreading in the country. The Tories, who were in opposition, were a discredited and defeated party. They had got into ugly company—they had the axe impending over them. The unsuccessful result of the rebellions of 1715 and 1745 had, as is always the case, not only greatly augmented the strength of the ruling government, but it had rendered the Tories, who were in great part, and probably justly, suspected of a leaning to the rebels, to the last degree obnoxious to a large majority of the English people. Religious feeling combined with political antipathy and personal terror to produce this emotion. The Tories were associated, in the popular mind, with Jacobites and rebels ; with Popish mummery and national antipathy; with the fires of Smithfield and the defeat of Prestonpans; with Scotch ascendency and revenge for the blood shed at Carlisle ; with breechless Highlanders and Protestant confiscation. Thus the Tories, as a popular party, capable of exercising any effective control on the vices and corruptions of administration, were practically extinct. Meanwhile the popular party in England, steeped in corruption, and gorged with the spoils of the state, which the expensive system of government, introduced with the Revolution, had done so much to augment, was effectually gagged, and was enjoying its lucrative abuses in silence. This is the true explanation and real cause of the prodigious corruptions which pervaded every department of the state, and—what was worse-every class in the country, during the seventy years which followed the Revolution, and which all but proved fatal to anything like patriotic spirit or public virtue in England. The two powers, that of the government and the people, usually opposing each other, had come to draw in the same direction, and they raised between them a spring-tide of corruption, which wellnigh submerged the state.
There can be no question that, if this degrading system of government—the necessary and never-failing result of successful revolution—had continued for a generation longer, it would have proved altogether fatal to Great Britain. But, fortunately for the country, George III. and his advisers, from the very first moment of his accession to the throne, set his face against the party which had introduced and matured this system of government; and their efforts, though after a severe struggle, were successful. This was the turning-point of English history ; upon the success of that attempt the future character of the government and of the people mainly depended. It, for the first time since the Revolution, restored the government to its proper position -it rested it, in its ultimate effects, on Property, and put Numbers in opposition. This is the only proper basis of good government-for, without property ruling, there can be no stability in administration, and without numbers watching, there is no security against the multiplication of abuses. The corrupt system of Sir R. Walpole, and the preceding Administrations, had arisen from the popular party—that is, numbers—having become the ruling power, and, of course, appropriated to themselves the whole spoils of the state. Instantly their watching became equal to nothing, and every abuse was perpetrated without either exposure or complaint. There were no Wilkeses nor Juniuses to lash the vices of Administration from 1688 to 1761, when the Whigs were in power ; though that was, beyond all question, the most corrupt period of English history. But they appeared fast enough, and did infinite good, as soon as the Tories got possession of the public treasury. This is the true secret of the unbounded corruption of the government of the Convention and Directory in France, of the rapid return to a corrupt system during the ten years of Whig power which succeeded the downfall of the Tories in 1830, and of the establishment of Louis Philippe's dynasty, now, on the basis of one hundred and thirty-eight thousand offices, which Tocqueville tells us are at the disposal of the ruling power at the Tuileries. It is not that the popular leaders are worse men, or by nature more inclined to evil, than their Conservative opponents, but that, when they are elevated into power by the result of a revolution or social convulsion, the controlling has become the ruling power ; its leaders and followers alike profit by corruption and mal-administration; and therefore there is no longer any possible restraint on abuse. It is not that the Conservative leaders are by nature better men, or more inclined to eschew evil and do good than their popular opponents; but that, as the basis of their government is property, which necessarily is vested in comparatively few hands, they are, of course, opposed and narrowly watched by numbers, and thus they are deterred from doing evil
, from the dread of its consequences recoiling upon themselves. The selfish passions, in these circumstances, come to counteract each other, because they both actuate opposite parties. And this observation explains the cause of the remark by Montesquieu, which the experience of all ages has proved to be well founded, “ that the most degrading despotisms recorded in history have been those which have immediately followed a successful revolution.”
The clearest proof of how strongly, and all but indelibly, corruption and abuses had become engrained, as it were, on the practice of the English constitution, is to be found in their long continuance and pernicious effects after the popular party had been thrown back to their proper duty of watching and checking the abuses of government, and despite the prodigious efforts which were made, and the vast talent which was exerted, to expose and decry it. Walpole tells us enough of the corrupt means by which Lord Bute's authority was maintained, and of the discreditable intrigues by which succeeding Administrations were raised up and cast down. Wilkes and Junius exposed, in cutting libels, and with caustic severity, their real or supposed continuance in a subsequent part of the reign of George III. ; Burke and Fox declaimed in a voice of thunder against the vices of Lord North's administration ; and the disasters of that untoward period demonstrate but too clearly, that the radical vice of parliamentary influence had almost banished talent and ability from the public service. Every one knows that commissions in the army and navy were bestowed on children, as the mere price of support to Government; and that, when the little hirelings of corruption were sent forth into the public service, they were utterly ignorant, for the most part, of even the most elementary parts of their duty. The same system continued during the early years of the Revolutionary war; and we all know with what disastrous effects it was then attended. But the Whig orators and patriots, with all their acuteness and zeal, forgot to tell us one thing, which, however, it most behoved them to have told—and that is, that it was themselves who had formed and habituated the nation to this degrading system. They have forgot to tell us that they had the framing of the constitution in church and state, after the Revolution of 1688; that their power was, for nearly a century, entirely paramount ; and that, if the system of government had come, during that time, to rest on corrupt influences, it was they, and they alone, who are responsible for the practical moulding of the constitution into such a form.
No man who knows the human heart, or has had any experience, either of public characters in his own, or historic shades in any former age, will suppose that the Conservative party are more inclined in their hearts to pure and virtuous administration than their popular opponents ; but, nevertheless, there can be no question that their government, generally speaking, is much more pure, and its effects far more beneficial. Decisive proof of this exists in English history during the nineteenth century. It took nearly forty years of incessant effort on the part of the Tories to eradicate the harvest of corruption which sprang up since 1761, from the seeds so profusely sown by their predecessors during the seventy years before that period ; and, unless they had been aided by the disasters of the American, and the perilous chances of the Revolutionary contest, it is probable all their efforts would have been unsuccessful. But when, by the firmness of George III., and the talent of Mr Pitt, the contest for political supremacy was at an end, and government was rested on its true basis—that of property being the ruling, and numbers the controlling power—when the Tory party, freed from the influence of their old Jacobite recollections, had rallied with sincere loyalty round the throne, and the Whigs, having lost the glittering prospect of a return to power and corruption, had been driven to seek for support in the passions of the people, what a marvellous display of public virtue and strength did the empire afford ! Search the annals of the world, you will find nothing superior, few things equal, to the patriotism, public spirit, and generous devotion of the latter period of the Revolutionary war. Its unequalled triumphs prove this ; the biographies of its great men, which are daily issuing from the press, show from what a noble and elevated spirit these triumphs had sprung. They conquered because they were worthy to conquer
. The burning patriotism of Nelson ; the prophetic courage of Pitt; the spotless heart of Collingwood; the stern resolve of St Vincent; the steady judgment of Eldon ; the moral firmness of Castlereagh; the unconquerable resolution of Wellington, shine forth as the most conspicuous ornaments of this brilliant period. But these men, great as they were, did not stand alone. They were in prominent situations, and have thence acquired immortal fame ; but they were followed and supported by hundreds and thousands, animated with the same spirit, and possessing, if called forth, the same abilities. England, at that period, seemed to have reached that epoch in national life,“ brief and speedily to perish,” as Tacitus says, when the firmness of aristocracy had given invincible resolution, and the energy of democracy inexhaustible vigour to the state ; when we had the tenacity of nobles without their pride, and the vehemence of the people without their licentiousness.