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THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION.
was no less brilliant. In science and the mechanical arts there were Watt, Arkwright, Brindley, Black, Priestley, Cavendish. Playfair, Davy, Herschel, Wollaston, and, in more recent times, Dalton, Buckland, Faraday, Babbage, Leslie, Young, Airey, Sir David Brewster, Telford, Brunel, Lyell, Owen, and Murchison, have added lustre to their country. In political economy, Malthus, Ricardo, Torrens, Mill, M'Culloch, Thompson, and Chalmers, distinguished also as a theologian, are distinguished. As essayists in the leading Quarterly Reviews must be remembered Jeffrey, Brougham, Sydney Smith, Francis Horner, Gifford and Croker, Bentham and Bowring; while in history, poetry, and miscellaneous writing, no names ever stood higher than Lingard, Mackintosh, Walter Scott, Thomas Moore, Byron, Wordsworth, Crabbe, Southey, Coleridge, Campbell, Hazlitt, and Lockhart. Nor must we omit those who more immediately mark this our own day, Hallam, Landor, Macaulay, Disraeli, Thackeray, Dickens, Carlyle, Bulwer, Tennyson, the Brownings, and a host of names in all departments of science and art, so numerous as almost to defy strict enumeration.
Cotemporary Events have found a place in the chapter itself, and do not require repetition here; and Questions on our own time are superfluous, as the leading points of a period in which the reader is so immediately interested, readily fix themselves in the memory.
THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION.
KING, LORDS, AND COMMONS.1
THE British Constitution is what is called a limited monarchy, being the government of a hereditary king or queen in conjunction with a parliament. If there were no parliament, and the regal
1 For a fuller account of the British Constitution, see Lessons on the Constitution (PARKER).
power were unlimited, it would be an absolute monarchy; and if there were only a parliament, it would be a republic. In consequence of both being found in co-existence, our government is said to be mixed.
"The functions of government, that is, all that a government does for the people, are usually distributed under three heads, the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial.
"The legislative branch of government consists in enacting and repealing laws; the executive, or administrative, consists in expending the public money, maintaining public peace and good order, issuing directions to fleets or armies; and, in short, executing all that is required to be done from day to day for the public service. The judicial branch of government consists in the deciding of causes between man and man, and in the trying of persons accused of crime."
The legislative power rests with Parliament, that is, the Houses of Lords and Commons. The House of Lords, or Upper House, is composed of the Spiritual and Temporal Peers. The House of Commons consists of 658 members, chosen by the people as their representatives. Of these England and Wales is represented by The members are Every law
500; Ireland by 105; and Scotland by 53. returned separately by counties, cities, and boroughs. must originate in one of the two Houses of Parliament, and any member of either House may bring in a bill, that is, propose a law. The only exception to this is, that all money bills, that is, bills for taxing the people, can originate in the House of Commons alone, and this power of regulating the expenditure necessarily gives them power over every department of the state. Every bill must be read three times in both Houses, and when it has gone through these stages, it receives the royal assent, and becomes the law of the land.
THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION.
The greater portion of the executive work of government is performed by the Sovereign through Ministers of State possessing the confidence of Parliament.
The members of a ministry or administration, in addition to the Premier or First Lord of the Treasury, are—
The Lord High Chancellor, who is the law adviser of the ministry.
The Lord President of the Council.
The Lord Privy Seal, who affixes the Great Seal to documents. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department.
The Secretary of State for the War Department.
The Secretary of State for India.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has to provide for the public expenditure, and account for it to Parliament.
The First Lord of the Admiralty, who presides over the affairs of the royal navy.
The President of the Board of Trade, who attends to matters relating to trade and commerce.
The Law Officers of the Crown, under the Lord Chancellor, namely, the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General, and the Queen's Advocate.
The Sovereign might ask any member of Parliament to form a ministry, but it would be impossible for him to conduct the government unless by a majority in Parliament, by whom, consequently, the ministry are virtually appointed.
Law-the Judicial Functions of Government.
The judicial functions of the Sovereign are performed through judges appointed by him. Except in the Courts of Chancery (where a particular class of causes are decided) the judge does not decide by himself, but instructs and guides a certain number of men, called the
jury, who are appointed to decide on the evidence. In this way are tried causes belonging to two very different classes, and which it is important to distinguish clearly from each other, namely, the Civil and the Criminal. Civil causes are those between man and man; as where there is a dispute about some property or right. Criminal causes are those in which a person is accused of some crime against the community, for which the laws award a punishment. There are many countries in the present day in which any man is liable to be thrust into a dungeon, and condemned, without trial, to the severest punishments, and even to death. With us, on the contrary, any man who thinks himself unjustly imprisoned may at once obtain, from any judge, an order (called a " Writ of Habeas Corpus") by which his jailer is compelled to bring him into open court, and explain why he is kept in custody.
"Several changes have been made at various times in several of our laws, and among others in those relating to the mode of conducting trials. No laws or systems of any kind, devised by man, can be expected to be quite perfect. And even laws which may be the very best at the time they are made, cannot be expected to continue equally suitable for ever, under all changes of circumstances. It is the duty of a good citizen to obey the laws that do exist, but to seek, in a regular manner, to have such improvements and corrections made as he is convinced, on very careful inquiry and reflection, are needful."
This, however, is a matter of much more difficulty, and requiring more care, knowledge, and ability, than some persons suppose. It may appear very easy to remedy one evil, but not so easy to avoid producing a different one, and perhaps one more serious, by the very remedy we propose. Just as an unskilful physician may cure a disease by medicines which create another worse than that which has been cured.