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THE

FALSE ALARM.

[1770.]

WO

O NE of the chief advantages derived by the pre

sent generation from the improvement and diffusion of philosophy, is deliverance from unnecessary terrours, and exemption from false alarms. The unusual appearances, whether regular or acci. dental, which once spread consternation over ages of ignorance, are now the recreations of inquisitive security. The sun is no more lamented when it is eclipsed, than when it sets ; and meteors play their coruscations without prognostick or prediction.

The advancement of political knowledge may be expected to produce in time the like effects. Causeless discontent and seditious violence will grow less frequent, and less formidable, as the science of government is better ascertained, by a diligent study of the theory of man.

It is not indeed to be expected, that physical and political truth should meet with equal acceptance, or gain ground upon the world with equal facility. The notions of the naturalist find mankind in a state of neutrality, or at worst have nothing to encounter but prejudice and vanity; prejudice without malignity, and vanity without interest. But the politician's improvements are opposed by every passion that can exclude conviction or suppress it; by am

Vol. VIII.

bition, bition, by avarice, by hope, and by terrour, by puba lick faction, and private animosity.

It is evident, whatever be the cause, that this nation, with all its renown for speculation and for learning, has yet made little proficiency in civil wisdom. We are still so much unacquainted with our own state, and so unskilful in the pursuit of happiness, that we shudder without danger, complain without grievances, and suffer our quiet to be disturbed, and our commerce to be interrupted, by an opposition to the Government, raised only by interest, and supported only by clamour, which yet has so far preyailed upon ignorance and timidity, that many favour it as reasonable, and many dread it as powerful.

What is urged by those who have been so industrious to spread suspicion, and incite fury from one end of the kingrlom to the other, may be known by perusing the papers which have been at once presented as petitions to the king, and exhibited in print as remonstrances to the people. It may therefore not be improper to lay before the Publick the reflections of a man who cannot favour the opposis tion, for he thinks it wicked, and cannot fear it, for: he thinks it weak.

The grievance which has produced all this tempest of outrage, the oppression in which all other oppressions are included, the invasion which has left us no property, the alarm that suffers no patriot to sleep in quiet, is comprised in a vote of the House of Commons, by which the freeholders of Middlesex are deprived of a Briton's birthright, representation in parliament.

They

They have indeed received the usual writ of election, but that writ, alas ! was malicious mockery; they were insulted with the form, but denied the reality, for there was one man excepted from their choice.

Non de vi, neque cæde, nec veneno,
Sed lis est mihi de tribus capellis.

The character of the man thus fatally excepted, I have no purpose to delineate. Lampoon itself would disdain to speak ill of him of whom no man speaks well*. It is sufficient that he is expelled the House of Commons, and confined in jail as being legally convicted of sedition and impiety.

That this man cannot be appointed one of the guardians and counsellors of the church and state, is a grievance not to be endured. Every lover of liberty stands doubtful of the fate of posterity, because the chief county in England cannot take its representative from a jail.

Whence Middlesex should obtain the right of being denominated the chief county, cannot easily be discovered; it is indeed the county where the chief city happens to stand, bui how that city treated the favourite of Middleser, is not yet forgotten. The county, as distinguished from the city, has no claim to particular consideration.

That a man was in jail for sedition and impiety, would, I believe, have been within memory a suffi

* The “ Life of Wilkes,” published a few months ago (1805) by Almon, amply confirms this severe allusion to private character, which was thought unjustifiable when this pamphlet was written.

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cient reason why he should not come out of jail a legislator. This reason, notwithstanding the mutability of fashion, happens still to operate on the House of Commons. Their notions, however strange, may be justified by a common observation, that few are mended by imprisonment, and that he whose crimes have made confinement necessary, seldom makes any other use of his enlargement, than to do with greater cunning what he did before with less.

But the people have been told with great confi. dence, that the House cannot control the right of constituting representatives ; that he who can persuade lawful electors to choose him, whatever be his character, is lawfully chosen, and has a claim to a seat in parliament, from which no human authority can depose him.

Here, however, the patrons of opposition are in some perplexity. They are forced to confess, that by a train of precedents sufficient to establish a custom of parliament, the House of Commons has jurisdiction over its own members; that the whole has power over individuals; and that this power has been exercised sometimes in imprisonment, and often in expulsion.

That such power should reside in the House of Commons in some cases, is inevitably necessary, since it is required by every polity, that where there is a possibility of offence, there should be a possibility of punishment. A member of the House cannot be cited for his conduct in parliament before any other court; and therefore if the House cannot punish him, he may attack with impunity the rights of the people, and the title of the king.

This exemption from the authority of other courts was, I think, first established in favour of the five members in the long parliament. It is not to be considered as an usurpation, for it is implied in the principles of government. If legislative powers are not coordinate, they cease in part to be legislative; and if they be coordinate, they are unaccountable; for to whom must that power account, which has no superiour?

The House of Commons is indeed dissoluble by the king, as the nation has of late been very clamorously told; but while it subsists it is coordinate with the other powers, and this coordination ceases only when the House by dissolution ceases to subsist.

As the particular representatives of the people are in their publick character above the control of the courts of law, they must be subject to the jurisdiction of the House; and as the House, in the exercise of its authority, can be neither directed nor, restrained, its own resolutions must be its laws, at least, if there is no antecedent decision of the whole legislature.

This privilege, not confirmed by any written law or positive compact, but by the resistless power of political necessity, they have exercised, probably from their first institution, but certainly, as their records inform us, from the 23d of Elizabeth, when they expelled a member for derogating from their privileges.

It may perhaps be doubted, whether it was originally necessary, that this right of control and punishment, should extend beyond offences in the exercise of parliamentary duty, since all other crimes F 3

are

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