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her people; though in her time trade flourished, riches in- .
creased, the laws were duly administered, the nation was re-
spected abroad, and the people happy at home, yet the increase
of the power of the Star Chamber, and the erection of the High
Commission Court in matters ecclesiastical, were the work of
her reign. She also kept her Parliaments at a very awful dis-
tance; and in many particulars she, at times, would carry the
prerogative as high as her most arbitrary predecessors. It is
true, she very seldom exerted this prerogative so as to oppress
individuals; but still she had it to exert, and therefore the fe-
licity of her reign depended more on her want of opportunity
and inclination than want of power to play the tyrant. This
is a high encomium on her merit; but, at the same time, it is
sufficient to show that these were not those golden days of
genuine liberty that we formerly were taught to believe; for,
surely, the true liberty of the subject consists not so much in
the gracious behavior as in the limited power of the sovereign.

The great revolutions that had happened in manners and in property had paved the way, by imperceptible yet sure degrees, for as great a revolution in government; yet, while that revolution was effecting, the crown became more arbitrary than ever, by the progress of those very means which afterward reduced its power. It is obvious to every observer that, till the close of the Lancastrian civil wars, the property and the power of the nation were chiefly divided between the king, the nobility, and the clergy. The commons were generally in a state of great ignorance; their personal wealth, before the extension of trade, was comparatively small; and the nature of their landed property was such as kept them in continual dependence upon their feodal lord, being usually some powerful baron, some opulent abbey, or sometimes the king himself. Though a notion of general liberty had strongly per- [434] vaded and animated the whole constitution, yet the particular liberty, the natural equality, and personal independence of individuals were little regarded or thought of; nay, even to assert them was treated as the height of sedition and rebellion. Our ancestors heard with detestation and horror those sentiments rudely delivered, and pushed to most absurd extremes by the violence of a Cade and a Tyler, which have since been applauded with a zeal almost rising to idolatry, when softened and recommended by the eloquence, the moderation, and the arguments of a Sidney, a Locke, and a Milton.

But when learning, by the invention of printing and the progress of religious reformation, began to be universally disseminated; when trade and navigation were suddenly carried to an amazing extent by the use of the compass and the consequent discovery of the Indies, the minds of men, thus enlightened by science and enlarged by observation and travel, began to entertain a more just opinion of the dignity and rights

of mankind. An inundation of wealth flowed in upon the merchants and middling rank; while the two great estates of the kingdom, which formerly had balanced the prerogative, the nobility and clergy, were greatly impoverished and weakened. The popish clergy, detected in their frauds and abuses, exposed to the resentment of the populace, and stripped of their lands and revenues, stood trembling for their very existence. The nobles, enervated by the refinements of luxury (which knowledge, foreign travel, and the progress of the politer arts are too apt to introduce with themselves), and fired with disdain at being rivaled in magnificence by the opulent citizens, fell into enormous expenses; to gratify which, they were permitted, by the policy of the times, to dissipate their overgrown estates, and alienate their ancient patrimonies. This gradually reduced their power and their influence within a very moderate bound; while the king, by the spoil of the monasteries and the great increase of the customs, grew rich, [435] independent, and haughty; and the commons were not yet sensible of the strength they had acquired, nor urged to examine its extent by new burdens or oppressive taxations, during the sudden opulence of the Exchequer. Intent upon acquiring new riches, and happy in being freed from the insolence and tyranny of the orders more immediately above them, they never dreamed of opposing the prerogative to which they had been so little accustomed, much less of taking the lead in opposition, to which, by their weight and their property, they were now entitled. The latter years of Henry the Eighth were, therefore, the times of the greatest despotism that have been known in this island since the death of William the Norman, the prerogative as it then stood by common law (and much more when extended by act of Parliament) being too large to be endured in a land of liberty.

Queen Elizabeth, and the intermediate princes of the Tudor line, had almost the same legal powers, and sometimes exerted them as roughly, as their father, King Henry the Eighth. But the critical situation of that princess with regard to her legitimacy, her religion, her enmity with Spain, and her jealousy of the Queen of Scots, occasioned greater caution in her conduct. She, probably, or her able advisers, had penetration enough to discern how the power of the kingdom had gradually shifted its channel, and wisdom enough not to provoke the commons to discover and feel their strength. She, therefore, threw a veil over the odious part of prerogative, which was never wantonly thrown aside but only to answer some important purpose; and though the royal treasury no longer overflowed with the wealth of the clergy, which had been all granted out, and had contributed to enrich the people, she asked for supplies with such moderation, and managed them with so much economy, that the commons were happy in obliging her.

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Such, in short, were her circumstances, her necessities, her wisdom, and her good disposition, that never did a prince so long and so entirely, for the space of half a century together, reign in the affections of the people.

On the accession of King James I., no new degree of royal [436] power was added to or exercised by him; but such a scepter was too weighty to be wielded by such a hand. The unreasonable and imprudent exertion of what was then deemed to be prerogative, upon trivial and unworthy occasions, and the claim of a more absolute power inherent in the kingly office than had ever been carried into practice, soon awakened the sleeping lion. The people heard with astonishment doctrines preached from the throne and the pulpit subversive of liberty and property, and all the natural rights of humanity. They examined into the divinity of this claim, and found it weakly and fallaciously supported; and common reason assured them that, if it were of human origin, no constitution could establish it without power of revocation, no precedent could sanctify, no length of time could confirm it. The leaders felt the pulse of the nation, and found they had ability as well as inclination to resist it; and, accordingly, resisted and opposed it whenever the pusillanimous temper of the reigning monarch had courage to put it to the trial; and they gained some little victories in the cases of concealments, monopolies, and the dispensing power. In the mean time, very little was done for the improvement of private justice, except the abolition of sanctuaries and the extension of the bankrupt laws, the limitation of suits and actions, and the regulating of informations upon penal statutes. For I can not class the laws against witchcraft and conjuration under the head of improvements; nor did the dispute between Lord Ellesmere and Sir Edward Coke, concerning the powers of the Court of Chancery, tend much to the advancement of justice.

Indeed, when Charles the First succeeded to the crown of his father, and attempted to revive some enormities which had been dormant in the reign of King James, the loans and benevolences extorted from the subject, the arbitrary imprisonments [437] for refusal, the exertion of martial law in time of peace, and other domestic grievances, clouded the morning of that misguided prince's reign, which, though the noon of it began a little to brighten, at last went down in blood, and left the whole kingdom in darkness. It must be acknowledged that, by the Petition of Right, enacted to abolish these encroachments, the English Constitution received great alteration and improvement. But there still remained the latent power of the forest laws, which the crown most unseasonably revived. The legal jurisdiction of the Star Chamber and High Commission Courts was also extremely great, though their usurped authority was still greater. And if we add to these the disuse of Parliaments,

the ill-timed zeal and despotic proceedings of the ecclesiastical governors in matters of mere indifference, together with the arbitrary levies of tonnage and poundage, ship-money, and other projects, we may see grounds most amply sufficient for seeking redress in a legal constitutional way. This redress, when sought, was also constitutionally given; for all these oppressions were actually abolished by the king in Parliament, before the rebellion broke out, by the several statutes for triennial Parliaments, for abolishing the Star Chamber and High Commission Courts, for ascertaining the extent of forests and forest laws, for renouncing ship-money and other exactions, and for giving up the prerogative of knighting the king's .enants in capite in consequence of their feodal tenures; though it must be acknowledged that these concessions were not made with so good a grace as to conciliate the confidence of the people. Unfortunately, either by his own mismanagement, or by the arts of his enemies, the king had lost the reputation of sincerity, which is the greatest unhappiness that can befall a prince. Though he formerly had strained his prerogative, not only beyond what the genius of the present times would bear, but also beyond the examples of former ages, he had now consented to reduce it to a lower ebb than was consistent with monarchical government. A conduct so opposite to his temper and principles, joined with some rash actions and unguarded expressions, made the people suspect that this condescension was merely temporary. Flushed, therefore, with the success they had [438] gained, fired with resentment for past oppressions, and dreading the consequences if the king should regain his power, the popular leaders (who in all ages have called themselves the people) began to grow insolent and ungovernable; their insolence soon rendered them desperate; and despair at length forced them to join with a set of military hypocrites and enthusiasts, who overturned the Church and monarchy, and proceeded with deliberate solemnity to the trial and murder of their sovereign.

I pass by the crude and abortive schemes for amending the laws in the times of confusion which followed, the most promising and sensible whereof (such as the establishment of new trials, the abolition of feodal tenures, the act of navigation, and some others) were adopted in the

V. Fifth period, which I am next to mention, viz., after the restoration of King Charles II.; immediately upon which, the principal remaining grievance, the doctrine and consequences of military tenures, were taken away and abolished, except in the instance of corruption of inheritable blood, upon attainder of treason and felony. And though the monarch, in whose person the royal government was restored, and with it our ancient Constitution, deserves no commendation from posterity, yet in

his reign (wicked, sanguinary, and turbulent as it was) the concurrence of happy circumstances was such, that from thence we may date not only the re-establishment of our Church and monarchy, but also the complete restitution of English liberty, for the first time since its total abolition at the Conquest. For therein not only these slavish tenures, the badge of foreign dominion, with all their oppressive appendages, were removed from encumbering the estates of the subject; but, also, an additional security of his person from imprisonment was obtained by that great bulwark of our Constitution, the Habeas Corpus Act. These two statutes, with regard to our property and persons, form a second Magna Charta, as beneficial and effectual as that of Runing-Mead. That only pruned the luxuriances of the feodal system; but the statute of Charles the Second extirpated [439] all its slaveries, except, perhaps, in copyhold tenure; and there, also, they are now in great measure enervated by gradual custom, and the interposition of our courts of justice. Magna Charta only, in general terms, declared that no man shall be imprisoned contrary to law; the Habeas Corpus Act points him out effectual means, as well to release himself, though committed even by the king in council, as to punish all those who shall thus unconstitutionally misuse him.

To these I may add the abolition of the prerogatives of purveyance and pre-emption; the statute for holding triennial Parliaments; the Test and Corporation Acts, which secure both our civil and religious liberties; the abolition of the writ de hæretico comburendo; the statute of Frauds and Perjuries, a great and necessary security to private property; the statute for distribution of intestates' estates, and that of amendments and jeofails, which cut off those superfluous niceties which so long had disgraced our courts; together with many other wholesome acts that were passed in this reign for the benefit of navigation and the improvement of foreign commerce; and the whole, when we likewise consider the freedom from taxes and armies which the subject then enjoyed, will be sufficient to demonstrate this truth, "that the Constitution of England had arrived to its full vigor, and the true balance between liberty and prerogative was happily established by law in the reign of King Charles the Second."

It is far from my intention to palliate or defend many very inquitous proceedings, contrary to all law, in that reign, through the artifice of wicked politicians, both in and out of employment. What seems incontestable is this, that by the law,m as it then stood (notwithstanding some invidious, nay, dangerous branches of the prerogative have since been lopped off, and the rest more

The point of time at which I would choose to fix this theoretical perfection of our public law is in the year 1679, after the Habeas Corpus Act was passed,

and that for licensing the press had ex-
pired; though the years which immedi
ately followed it were times of great
practical oppression.

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