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Whatever doubts might be suggested,—and doubtless some might be suggested, -as to the details of this estimate, its main conclusion may be considered to be certain. A large and preponderant majority of the members of the House of Commons were, in one way or in another, nominated by noblemen and gentlemen; and only a minority were elected by the popular constituencies. The majority of the House of Commons represented the views and feelings of a particular and peculiar class; the minority only were elected by constituencies which could be supposed to choose representatives for all the other classes.

Such was in bare outline the old electoral system of Eng. land : and we may describe it by a startling phrase; it was a representation, so to say, of select constituencies. This is not the light in which we have been used to regard it. We speak by tradition of borough-mongers with dislike, and of rotten boroughs with contempt. From circumstances which we shall soon see, neither have left a good name in history. Most of us are the children of those who destroyed them; the leaders of our great parties are still those who were foremost in doing 80. We naturally do not think well of them. But what were they? They were proprietary constituencies; they were, in truth, higher class constituencies; they gave a representation to persons of greater wealth, of greater education, and presumably therefore, of greater political capacity, than the mass of the nation. We have apparently at least the best means of judging of their effects. Being, as we have seen, the preponderant element in the electoral system, the members chosen by them were the preponderant element in the House of Commons.

They were the ruling power in the state. How, then, did this system, so singularly and irregularly composed, in fact work? We have the general results in history. The only difficulty,

. and it is not a slight one, is to understand them rightly and explain them briefly.

In the first great quality of a representative government, we may say boldly that, up to a late period of its existence, and with an exception or two which we shall specify, this one worked very well. The first requisite of a representative system is, that the representative body should represent the real public opinion of the nation. Nor is this so easy a matter as some imagine. There are nations which have no public opinion. The having it requires what a pedantic writer might call the coördination of judgments. Some people must be recognised to be wiser than others are. In every district there must be people generally admitted by the judgment of their neighbours to have more sense, more instructed minds, more cultured judgments, than others have. Such persons will not naturally or inevitably, or in matter of fact, agree in opinion; on the contrary, they will habitually differ : great national questions will divide the nation; great parties will be formed. But the characteristic of a nation capable of public opinion is, that those parties will be organised; in each there will be a leader, in each there will be some looked up to, and many who look up to them: the opinion of the party will be formed and suggested by the few, it will be criticised and accepted by the many. It has always been the peculiarity of the history of England, that it has been capable of a true public opinion in this its exact and proper sense. There has ever been a structure in English political society: every man has not walked by the light of his own eyes; the less instructed have not deemed themselves the equals of the more instructed; the many have subordinated their judgment to that of the few. They have not done so blindly, for there has always been a spirit of discussion in our very air: still they have done so,-opinions have always settled down from the higher classes to the lower; and in that manner, whenever the nation has been called on to decide, a decision that is really national has been formed,

On the whole, the English constitution of the last century, in the best of its time, and before the occurrence of changes which we shall soon describe, gave an excellent expression to the public opinion of England. It gave a ruling discretion to those whom the nation at large most trusted; it provided a simple machinery for ascertaining with accuracy the decisions at which the few had arrived, and in which the mass concurred.

This constitution was submitted to no ordinary test. We have so long outlived the contests of the last century, that we have forgotten their intensity. We look on it as a very quiet time; and we contrast it with the apprehensive, and changeful, and anxious period in which it seems to us that we are living. Of the middle of the eighteenth century this is a true idea, at least of part of it; but the English Government during the early part of the century was tried by what is probably the severest trial to the foundations of an hereditary and constitutional

government—by a struggle between two claimants to the throne, each of whom represented a principle. We know well the arguments of the side which has gained; but we do not always remember the moral strength of the side which lost. The Jacobites had much in their creed which appealed to the predominating principles of the English nature:-an hereditary family, which claimed the Crown, not on arguable considerations of policy, but on ascertainable claims of descent; which embo. died, not a speculation, but a fact; which had prescription in its favour, and was in harmony with a country almost all whose


other institutions were prescriptive; which had on its side the associations with the maintenance of order and the security of property, as claimants by prescription must have; which appealed to the Conservative instinct, which is always so strong in a people over whom the visible world rules so much; which appealed to the loyal instincts, which have a great influence over a people in whom a strong but suppressed imagination profoundly works,—such a family must have had a singular hold on the popular attachments of England. History proves that they had it; and that they only lost England by an incapacity for action, and an inherent perversity of judgment, that seem to have been hereditary in the race. In the last act of the drama, during the first few years of the House of Hanover, the Stuart dynasty had still great influence in the country. They were not, indeed, in possession; and as the strength of their adherents was among the most Conservative classes, they could not regain possession: but if we could fancy them, by any freak of fortune, to have been reinstated, there would have been incredible difficulty in expelling them once more. Possibly it could not have been done, certainly it would not have been done, if the fanatical hatred of the majority of Englishmen to Popery had not coöperated with the attachment to freedom,-if a sentiment which actuated the masses had not been on the same side with the convictions which influenced the few. If the hereditary heir to the Crown had been once seated on the throne, and had consented to be converted, or to seem to be converted, to Protestantism, the chances of the Hanoverian family would have been small and feeble.

Just before the demise of Queen Anne, the prospects of the Jacobite party had much to captivate sanguine and shortsighted men. The female favourite of the queen-the reigning favourite we may call her—was indisputably on their side: the queen, who had the strongest motives to be decidedly opposed to them, was not so; her suppressed inclinations—perhaps her latent conscience-were in their favour: the first ministers of the Crown, if they had no “settled intention,” to use Bolingbroke's distinotion, had floating notions and vague “ views” in favour of the Stuarts. In the nation at large, the inferior gentry-those of whom the Tory foxhunter of Addison is an admirable memorial —were half Jacobite: the rural clergy (the Whig historian calls them “a curse rather than a blessing to those over whom they were set”*) were more than half Jacobite : the lower class of the people—the No-Popery antipathy apart—would perhaps have inclined more to the house of Stuart than to the house of Hanover. Legitimacy is a popular title, loyalty touches the heart; the rule of a single monarch is an intelligible thing, the least educated can and do understand it: but the rule of Parliament, and the idea of a constitution, are difficult to comprehend; the lower orders of people hardly ever understand them or comprehend them. The only classes over whom the attachment to the Act of Settlement and to the constitution, such as it then existed, was really strong, were two: the higher gentry, including the nobility in that word; and the mercantile and trading classes—the “fundholders," as the Tory squires of that age called them, and fancied that they were.

* Hallam.

It is evident that a very peculiar parliamentary constitution was required to give an expression to the real will of the nation, when the classes composing it were so divided, and when the very principle and nature of the government of the country was in dispute. What, indeed, it may be said, was the will of the country? The classes which have been specified did not agree in opinion, nor would one of them have avowedly and explicitly agreed to yield to the opinion of the class opposed to it. The squire would never have admitted that the fundholder was wiser than himself, nor would the fundholder have paid the least deference to the notions of the squire. The fact of the one having an opinion, would rather have tended to prevent the other from adopting it. How, then, was a national decision a truly national decision? It was possible in this way. The dissentient classes, as we may call those over whom Jacobitism and the extreme Toryism had the greatest influence,--the rural gentry and the rural clergy,—both yielded deference and homage, and to a certain extent confidence, to the higher gentry and the nobility, under whom, it may be said, they lived, near whose estates they were born, and who were the unquestioned heads of all the society to which they belonged. On political topics this was especially the case. Rugged prejudice of course existed, and “my lord” was not always liked; still it could not but be felt that he knew more of the world, had access to better information, had enjoyed more of what were then the rare opportunities of travelling and education, than the lower gentry had. He possessed all the means of judging which they had, and others too. A certain deference was paid then to rank which is not paid to it now, because the inherent difference between the highest orders and others in manners and in mind was much greater than any that exist at present. A national decision was then possible, and was then attained, because the classes who were the most likely to dissent, and who in reality did dissent, from what the rest of the nation wished, were precisely the classes most under the control of, and most likely to submit to, the moral influence of those who were above them.

Such being the state of the nation in the earlier part of the last century, there was an evident difficulty in giving a just expression to it. Scarcely any of the ordinary modes of government which theorists have suggested, or which continental nations have tried, would have succeeded in giving it. The most intelligent classes, those who were disposed to support the House of Hanover and the principles of liberty, were, as we have explained, the trading classes and the higher gentry. The class most confided in by the nation was the higher gentry and the nobility. Fortunately the most trusted class was a portion of the most intelligent class: the chosen leaders of the country were a part at least of those whom it was best for it to choose for its leaders; the actual guides were some of the best guides who could be found. But what constitutional arrangements would be adapted to give them by law that guidance; in what manner could the indefinite and vague deference of the people be shaped and fashioned into a polity?

Any system of democratic suffrage, we may at once say, would have been unfitted for that end. The classes into whose hands it would have thrown the power were the lower classes, who could be expected to have no intelligent appreciation of the principles of freedom, and in fact had none. Any thing like universal suffrage would have been an enormous addition to the influence of the rural clergy and the smaller squires. These tivo classes, being resident in the country, being known to the lowest classes, distributing all the casual advantages which they had any chance of, adjudging all the petty penalties of the local law which they had any risk of incurring, must have had preponderating influence over the rural population. They would have brought down from scattered villages and petty hamlets regiments of voters for the Stuart dynasty, who knew nothing of the real merits of the controversy to be decided, who were utterly ignorant of the very meaning of constitutional government, who could have given no account of the very nature and structure of Parliament, but who knew that the only educated persons they ever knew, the only influential persons they ever saw,--the parson of their own village, and the squire of it, -had told them to do that which they were doing. We should have then seen in England that which we now see in France. The uneducated majority would have pronounced their decision; the country would have been forced to recognise it; the law would have been compelled to enforce it. Instead of living under the constitution which we now have, we might, and probably should, have been living under a Jacobite despotism, sanctioned by the preponderant, we might say almost by the unanimous, vote of the rural population.

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