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life of the king, can be prosecuted after three years from the offence. The opinions of the judges in summing up the evidence have no weight but such as the jury choose to give to them, and their verdict ought to proceed entirely on their own belief and conviction. Lord chiefjustice Hale has, in his History of the Common Law of England, summed up, in a very few words, the duty and powers of a jury. "The jury, in their recess, are to consider their evidence; to weigh the credibility of the witnesses, and force and efficacy of their testimonies; they are not bound to the rules of civil law, to have two witnesses to prove every fact, unless it be in cases of treason; nor to reject one witness because he is single, or always to believe two witnesses,

probability of the fact does upon other circumstances reasonably encounter them. It may fall out that a jury, upon their own knowledge, may know a thing to be false which a witness has sworn to be true; or may know a witness to be incompetent or incredible though nothing be objected against him, and may give their verdict accordingly."

The effect of the verdict of a jury is final and positive. If the prisoner is acquitted, he is instantly set at liberty, and cannot on any pretence be tried again for the same crime. If found guilty, the judge must pronounce sentence according to the law. But this law must contain a positive enactment with regard to the special crime which was brought before the jury; for, in crimes, no constructive extension of laws can be admitted. The spirit of our laws considers the impunity of an offender as a very small matter in comparison

with the dangers that would result from such extension.

The last particular I shall take notice of, and what is in fact the guardian of the British constitution, is the liberty of the press.

To supply the unavoidable deficiency of all legislative provisions; to prevent the silent deviations of magistrates from their duty (transgressions the more dangerous that no punishment can reach them); and to be a constant check upon the minutest departments of the constitution, as a pendulum regulates the equable motion of all the wheels of a clock,-there is one power in the British government whose exertions are constant and unremitting, a just regulator of the whole parts of that nice and complicated machine. This is the power which every individual has of expressing his opinion of the whole conduct of government, without reserve, by word or writing -a power which is so regulated, however, as to insure all the benefit of the ancient censorship without its mischiefs. The censorial tribunal at Rome was entirely arbitrary, which repressed all freedom of judgment in the public; or, at least, rendered it of no consequence, since the regulation of government was supremely lodged in the breasts of a few men, with whom that judgment. could have no effect. But a British subject has the right of free judgment on all public measures, of remonstrating to his governors, of carrying his complaint and his appeal to the public by means of the press, of submitting to the general opinion the views and principles of these governors expressed in parliament; and thus, by openly examining and scrutinising their

whole conduct, to furnish the most powerful restraint against every species of malversation. It is peculiar to the British Government, that there is no person so high in administration as not to feel the weight of public opinion. The loss of popular favour to a statesman will furnish such opposition to his measures as to gall and embitter every hour of his life. Even the taunts, the curses, or the hissings of the vulgar, there is no man whatever that can long support with any degree of tranquillity; and when he considers, that not only his present fame is at stake, but, by means of the press, his memory, to the latest posterity, he will soon find that he is irresistibly and most powerfully restrained within the bounds of his duty.

The notoriety of the whole proceedings of government by means of the press, and the perfect knowledge which is diffused through the nation of all that is said and done in parliament, is attended, moreover, with the beneficial effect of purifying, from time to time, the legislative assembly. As the votes and political sentiments of the members are always known, and every county or borough has its eye on the conduct of its representatives, the House of Commons may undergo a gradual purgation from successive vacancies, or be purified at once at the commencement of every new parliament.

Yet this inestimable privilege of British subjects, without certain limitations, would, instead of good, be productive of the greatest mischiefs. Were any man at liberty to wound the vitals of the government under which he lives, by an open

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attack upon the fundamental doctrines of civil subordination, and the respect due to the established laws of the land; were he at liberty to loosen the bonds of civil society, by combating the first principles of all religion; or were he suffered with impunity to injure the reputation, life, or property of his neighbour, by false and malicious accusations, there would be no government; and liberty itself would perish, because it would have no safeguard or protection. The liberty of the press in Britain consists, then, in this, that there is no examination or censure of writings before they are published; the press is open to every thing; but after publication, such writings as offend in the particulars I have mentioned, are subject to the penalties of the law, awarded on the verdict of a jury. The impartial public are thus ultimately the judges of the tendency of all writings addressed to themselves; and it is equally wise and consistent with the spirit of that liberty that all authors should stand or fall by their determination.

Such is the British constitution; a system of government blending in the most beautiful manner the three forms of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy-a system, of which the wisest of the ancients seem only to have had indistinct dreams; which Tacitus * considered as a fine chimera, too perfect to be reduced into practice; and which, independent of any theoretical plans-the result of the speculations of philosophical politicians, has insensibly arisen from the chain of events,

Ann. lib. iv.

and the concurrence of circumstances, to a very high degree of perfection. Absolute perfection is not to be predicated of any human institution. It is sufficient to say, that under its influence the condition of society, whatever fluctuations it must from the constitution of our nature be liable to, has been such as to answer all the wishes of the good, the virtuous, and the industrious part of the community; and that its restraints have proved grievous alone to those on whom restraint is


The constitution of Great Britain is in its nature improvable in various parts of its structure; but with what caution these improvements ought to be undertaken, the past history of our own country, and the more recent experience of a neighbouring kingdom, affords the most instructive warning. It is liable to dangerous invasion, both from the sovereign and from the people. The former may for a while impair its excellence and cloud its lustre; but the latter is alone competent to destroy its existence.

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