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The Danger of Mercenary Parliaments.*
Chusing of Persons in Offices to be Parliament Men considered-Nature of a true Parliament.-Of an ill-chosen one.-Corrupting of Parliaments but of late date.-Instance in King Ch. 2.-French Measures followed. Instance in King James 2.-Nation's Expectation not answered by the Revolution.Miscarriages in the Admiralty.-Deserters of their Principles censured.―The unjustifiableness of such Actions.-No Security against Corruption of Members. The dangerous Grievances.-The Advantages of Disinterestedness.
1. SEVERAL treatises have been formerly written, and more (I doubt not) will be in this juncture published, with directions and informations to the people of England for chusing fit and proper representatives for the ensuing parliament, wherein sufficient notice will be taken of the failures and defects of several who have already been entrusted in that service, and the due Qualifications of such who are now to be elected. I shall therefore confine my present thoughts only to one particular head, which yet, in my opinion, seems to involve in it the inevitable fate of England, which wholly depends upon the choice of members in the next session of parliament: I mean the choosing or refusing of such persons who are now possest of any places and preferments, depending upon the gift and pleasure of the court. If herein my endeavours prove unsuccessful, I shall have nothing left but the satisfaction of my own conscience to support me under the deplorable consequents and effects which must necessarily attend the choice of a house of commons, filled with officers and court-pensioners. This is the last struggle and effort the people of England have left them for their properties; and should we now miscarry in this, we may sit down and idly shew our affections for our country, and fruitlessly bewail the loss of our liberties, but shall never meet with another opportunity of exerting ourselves in its service. That I may therefore set the minds of people right in this particular ere it be too late, I think it will be only necessary to shew the danger of chusing members that are in places from two considerations: first, from the nature of such a parliament considered in itself: and, secondly, from what has already been done by parlia ments so qualified. In both which I shall be very brief, and content myself with much fewer arguments than might be urged upon this subject: for I should almost despair of being
Printed anno 1690 in quarto. See Harleian Miscellany, vol. i. p. 582,and State Tracts in the Reign of William 3. vol 2. p. 638.
survived by the liberties of England, if I could imagine there was a necessity of saying much in a case not only of such irresistible evidence and demonstration, but also of the utmost concern and importance to us.
2. First then, We shall best be able to understand the nature of such an ill-chosen parliament, by comparing it with a true one, and with the original design of parliaments in their institution. I hope it need not be told that they were at first intended for a support to the king's just prerogative, and a protection to the subjects in their as just rights and privileges; for maintaining all due honour to the executive power, and all suitable respect and encouragement to those who are intrusted with the administration of the laws; for a poise and balance between the two extreme contending powers of absolute monarchy and anarchy; for a check and curb to insolent and licentious ministers, and a terror to ambitious and overgrown statesmen; for giving their advice to his majesty in all matters of importance; for making necessary laws to preserve or improve our constitution, and abrogating such as were found burdensome and obsolete; for giving the king money for defraying the charges and expences of the government, or maintaining a necessary war against foreign and domestic enemies; for examining and inspecting the public accounts, to know if their money be applied to its true use and purposes: In short, for the best security imaginable to his majesty's honour and royal dignities, and the subjects liberties, estates and lives.
3. This being the nature and true design of a parliament, let us now see whether a house of commons, full of officers and court-pensioners, will answer those noble and laudable
ends of their constitution. And here indeed I begin already to be ashamed of my undertaking; the proof of the negative is so ridiculous, that it looks too much like a jest to ask any one in his wits, whether a parliament filled with delinquents will ever call themselves to an account, Whether an assembly of public robbers will or what account would be given if they should? make restitution? Whether it is possible our sentence one another to be punished, or to
by persons from whom there is no higher grievances can be redrest, that are committed power to appeal? Whether there is any hope of justice where the malefactors are the judges? Whether his majesty can be rightly informed in affairs relating to himself or the public, when they are represented to him only by such persons who design to abuse him? Whether the public accounts will be faithfully inspected by those who embezzle our money to their own use? Whether the king's prerogative can be
lawfully maintained by such who only pervert it to their own sinister ends and purposes? Whether a parliament can be a true balance, where all the weight lies only in one scale? Or, lastly, Whether a house of commons can vote freely, who are either prepossest with the hopes and promises of enjoying places, or the slavish fears of losing them! Methinks it is offering too much violence to human nature to ask such questions as these; I shall therefore leave this invidious point.
4. Yet lest still any should remain unsatisfied, or lulled into a fond opinion, that these mischiefs will not ensue upon the elections they shall make, I shall farther endeavour to convince those who are most moved by the force of examples, by coming to my second particular, and shewing how parliaments so qualified have all along behaved themselves. And here I must confess there are not many instances to be given, the project of corrupting parliaments being but of a late date, a practice first set on foot within the compass of our own memories, as the last and most dangerous stratagem that ever was invented by an encroaching king, to possess himself of the rights of a freeborn people; I mean king Charles 2. who, well remembring with how little success both he and his father had made use of open arms and downright violence to storm and batter down the bulwarks of our excellent constitution, had recourse at last to those mean arts, and underhand practices, of bribing and corrupting with money those who were intrusted with the conservation of our laws, and the guardianship of our liberties. And herein he so well succeeded, that the mischiefs and calamities occasioned by that mercenary parliament, did not terminate with his life and reign; but the effects of them are handed and continued down, and very sensibly felt by the nation to this very hour. For it is to that house of commons the formidable greatness of France was owing, and to their account therefore ought we to set down the prodigious expences of the late war: it was by those infamous members that money was given to make a feigned and collusive war with France, which at the same time was employed either in subduing the subjects at home, or oppressing our protestant neighbours abroad: it was this venal parliament in effect that furnished the king of France with timber and skilful workmen for building ships, as well as expert mariners, and a prodigious quantity of brass and iron cannon, mortar-pieces, and bullets from the Tower; by the help of which our own treacherous king was able to boast publicly, and thank God, that he had at last made his brother of France a seaman: by this means the honour of England was prostituted, and our natural and naval strength betrayed, with which like Sampson, we should easily have broken all the cords that Europe, or the whole world could have made to bind and enslave us, had not this parl. made a sacrifice of all to the charms of a French Dalilah. To this profligate and vil
lainous reign we are to ascribe the loss of all the considerable charters of England, the deaths of our best patriots, the encouragement and almost establishment of popery, the decay of trade, the growth of arbitrary power, the ill effects of dishonourable leagues, the shutting up of the exchequer, the progress of all sorts of debauchery, the servile compliances at court of a rampant hierarchy in the kingdom, the insolent deportment of the inferior clergy both in the universities and elsewhere, their slavish doctrine of passive-obedience and non-resistance; in short, a general depravation of manners, and almost utter extirpation of virtue and moral honesty. These and all the other mischiefs of that reign are justly chargeable to the account of that pensioned parliament, who either were the immediate authors, or the undoubted causers of them: who, though they sat long and often, and could not be ignorant of our deplorable condition, yet having their eyes blinded with the dust of gold, and their tongues locked up with silver keys, they durst not cry out for the rescue of their country, thus inhumanly ravished in their very presence. It will not consist with my designed brevity, nor is it here necessary to give the reasons that induced the court to dissolve that parliament; nor shall I take any further notice of their great and fortunate oversight in doing it, nor of their unfeigned repentance afterwards for it I shall only observe, that if the nation had been so senselessly stupid to have chosen the same members a second time, who were pensioners in the foregoing parliament, we bad long ago suffered the dismal consequences of our folly and madness in such a choice; nor should we now have had this liberty to warn one another against splitting upon the like rocks, and falling down the same precipices. But they were wiser in those times, and the consideration of the dreadful shipwreck they had so lately escaped, made them chuse pilots of a quite contrary disposition, who, as far as in them lay, and as long as they were permitted to sit at the helm, repaired the shattered vessel of the commonwealth, restored its honour, revived its drooping genius, gave force to its laws, countenance to its religion, and, in a great measure, reduced our banished li berties, and exposed the persons who sold them to the universal hatred and reproach of their fellow-subjects; a punishment indeed infinitely less than they deserved for the highest crime a member of parliament is capable of committing.
5. As for king James's reign, though it was notoriously guilty of the breach and violation of most of our fundamental laws, which sufficiently justifies our carriage towards him, yet cannot we say that his mismanagement is to be ascribed to the corruption of any parliament sitting in his time. It is true indeed, he reaped too much advantage from the conduct of the bribed parliament in his brother's reign, and used all possible endeavours to procure such another for himself, well knowing it to be the
most effectual means for carrying on his ruinous and destructive projects; yet either from the unshaken constancy of the people, or want of dexterity in his ministers, he was altogether defeated in his expectation.
house would agree to what he was going t propose: it is this that could make men 0 peaceable dispositions and considerable estates vote for a standing army: it is this, that could bring admirals to confess that our fleet under their command was no security to us: it is this could make wise men act against their own apparent interest. In short; it is this that has infatuated our prudence, staggered our constancy, sullied our reputation, and introduced a total defection froin all true English principles. Bribery is indeed so sure and unavoidable a way to destroy any nation, that we may all sit down and wonder that so much as the very name of a free government is yet continued to us. And if by our wary choice of members we should happen to recover our ancient constitution, we shall with horror and amazement look back, and reflect on the dreadful precipice we so narrowly escaped.
6. This miserable disappointment of king James's hopes made way for our late glorious revolution, which was brought about by the hearty endeavours, and accompanied with the most unfeigned vows and wishes of all true lovers of their country, who from hence expected a full deliverance from their present miseries, and a sure remedy for their future fears: for what happiness might not the people well hope for under the govern ment of the best of kings, supported by the best of titles, viz. The general consent and election of his people? We were filled with golden dreams not only of a bare security for our estates and lives, but an inexhausted affluence of all manner of blessings a nation is capable of enjoying. But though we have dreamt the dreams, yet have we not seen the visions. And though the nation is by this time sadly sensible how wretchedly they have fallen short of their expected happiness, yet are they not at all acquainted with the true spring and fountain from whence all their misfortunes flow, which is indeed no other than that bare-faced and openly avowed corruption, which, like a universal leprosy, has so notoriously infected and overspread both our court and parliament. It is from hence are plainly derived all the calamities and distractions under which the whole nation at present groans it is this that has changed the very natures of Englishmen, and of valiant made then cowards, of eloquent dumb, and of honest men villains: it is this can make a whole house of commons eat their own words, and countervote what they had just before resolved on: it is this could summon the mercenary members from all quarters of the town in an instant to vote their fellow criminals innocent: it is this that can make the parliament throw away the peoples money with the utmost profusion, without enquiring into the management of it: it is this that put a stop to the examination of that scandalous escape of the Thoulon fleet into Brest it is this that has encouraged the mismanagements of the admiralty, in relation to the loss of so vast a number of men of war and merchant-ships, as well as other miscarriages, which were by all men judged to proceed not from their want of understanding in sea-affairs: it is this that has hindered the passing a bill so often brought into the house for incapacitating members to bear offices: it is this that could not only indemnify, but honour a leading member for his audacious procuring and accepting a grant of lands, which by the parliament had been set apart for the public service; a vote that shall stand recorded in their own Journals to the never-dying infamy of that mercenary assembly: it is this could make the same person most confidently affirm, that he was sure the majority of the
7. Fatal experience has now more than enough convinced us, that courts have beeu the same in all ages, and that few persons have been found of such approved constancy and resolution as to withstand the powerful allurements and temptations which from thence have been continually dispensed for the corrupting of mens minds, and debauching their honest principles. Such instances of the frailty of human nature may be given within these few years past, as might make a man ever ashamed of his own species, and which (were they not so open and notorious) ought out of pity to mankind to be buried in perpetual silence. Who can enough lament the wretched degeneracy of the age we live in? To see persons who were formerly noted for the most vigorous asscrters of their country's liberty, who from their infancy had imbibed no other notions than what conduced to the public safety, whose principles were further improved and confirmed by the advantages of a suitable conversation, and who were so far possest with this spirit of liberty, that it sometimes transported them beyond the bounds of moderation, even to unwarrantable excesses: to see these men, I say, so infamously fall in with the arbitrary measures of the court, and appear the most active instruments for enslaving their country, and that without any formal steps or degrees, but all in an instant, is so violent and surprising a transition from one extreme to another without passing the mean, as would have confounded the imaginations of Euclid or Pyrrho. All the stated maxims, in relation to the nature of mankind, which have been long ago settled and established by philosophers and observing men, are now baffled and exploded; and we have nothing left us to contemplate, but the wild extravagances of romantic fables, the sudden conveyances of nimble-fingered jugglers, the inimitable dispatches of transubstantiating priests, or the now more credible metamorphorses of men into beasts.
has taught our managers so much dexterity | them be punished: some of which they did
indeed take into their own hands, which raised
9. If it should be pretended, that the nation