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of their country: in popular governments such men have too much game; they have too many opportunities for working upon and corrupting the minds of the people, in order to give them a bad impression of, and to raise discontents against those, that have the management of the public affairs for the time; and these discontents often break out into seditions and insurrections. This, Sir, would in my opinion be our misfortune, if our Parliaments were either annual or triennial by such frequent elections there would be so much power thrown into the hands of the people, as would destroy that equal mixture, which is the beauty of our constitution in short, our government would really become a democratical government, and might thence very probably diverge into a tyrannical. Therefore, in order to preserve our constitution, in order to prevent our falling under tyranny and arbitrary power, we ought to preserve that law, which I really think has brought our constitution to a more equal mixture, and consequently to greater perfection than it was ever in, before that law took place.
As to bribery and corruption, Sir, if it were possible to influence, by such base means, the majority of the electors of Great Britain, to choose such men as would probably give up their liberties; if it were possible to influence, by such means, a majority of the members of this House, to consent to the establishment of arbitrary power; I would readily allow that the calculations made by the gentlemen of the other side were just, and their inference true: but I am persuaded, that neither of these is possible. As the members of this House generally are, and must always be, gentlemen of fortune and figure in their country, is it possible to suppose, that any of them could, by a pension or a post, be influenced to consent to the overthrow of our constitution; by which the enjoyment, not only of what he got, but of what he before had, would be rendered altogether precarious? I will allow, Sir, that, with respect to bribery, the price must be higher or lower, generally in proportion to the virtue of the man who is to be bribed; but it must likewise be granted, that the humour he happens to be in at the time, the spirit he happens to be endowed with, adds a great deal to his virtue. When no encroachments are made upon the rights of the people, when the people do not think themselves in any danger, there may be many of the electors, who by
a bribe of ten guineas might be induced to vote for one candidate rather than another; but if the court were making any encroachments upon the rights of the people, a proper spirit would, without doubt, arise in the nation; and in such a case, I am persuaded, that none, or very few, even of such electors, could be induced to vote for a court candidate; no, not for ten times the sum.
There may, Sir, be some bribery and corruption in the nation; I am afraid there will always be some: but it is no proof of it, that strangers are sometimes chosen; for a gentleman may have so much natural influence over a borough in his neighbourhood, as to be able to prevail with them to choose any person he pleases to recommend; and if upon such recommendation they choose one or two of his friends, who are perhaps strangers to them, it is not thence to be inferred that the two strangers were chosen their representatives by the means of bribery and corruption.
To insinuate, Sir, that money may be issued from the public treasury for bribing elections, is really something very extraordinary, especially in those gentlemen who know how many checks are upon every shilling that can be issued from thence; and how regularly the money granted in one year for the public service of the nation must always be accounted for the very next session, in this House, and likewise in the other, if they have a mind to call for any such account. And as to the gentlemen in offices, if they have any advantage over country gentlemen, in having something else to depend on beside their own private fortunes, they have likewise many disadvantages; they are obliged to live at London with their families, by which they are put to a much greater expense, than gentlemen of equal fortunes, who live in the country: this lays them under a very great disadvantage with respect to the supporting their interests in the country. The country gentleman, by living among the electors, and purchasing the necessaries for his family from them, keeps up an acquaintance and correspondence with them, without putting himself to any extraordinary charge; whereas a gentleman who lives in London has no other way of keeping up an acquaintance or correspondence among his friends in the country, but by going down once or twice a year at a very extraordinary charge, and often without any other business; so that we may conclude, a gentleman in
office cannot, even in seven years, save much for distributing in ready money at the time of an election; and I really believe, if the fact were narrowly inquired into, it would appear that the gentlemen in office are as little guilty of bribing their electors with ready money, as any other set of gentlemen in the kingdom.
That there are ferments often raising among the people without any just cause is what I am surprised to hear controverted, since very late experience may convince us of the contrary. Do not we know what a ferment was raised in the nation toward the latter end of the late Queen's reign? And it is well known, what a fatal change in the affairs of this nation was introduced, or at least confirmed, by an election's coming on while the nation was in that ferment. Do not we know what a ferment was raised in the nation soon after his late Majesty's accession? And if an election had then been allowed to come on, while the action was in that ferment, it might perhaps have had as fatal effects as the former; but, thank God, this was wisely provided against by the very law, which is now wanted to be repealed.
As such ferments may hereafter often happen, I must think, that frequent elections will always be dangerous; for which reason, as far as I can see at present, I shall, I believe, at all times think it a very dangerous experiment to repeal the septennial bill.
LORD LYTTLETON'S SPEECH ON THE REPEAL OF THE ACT CALLED THE JEW BILL, IN THE YEAR 1753.
I SEE no occasion to enter at present into the merits of the bill we passed the last session for the naturalization of Jews; because I am convinced, that, in the present temper of the nation, not a single foreign Jew will think it expedient to take any benefit of that act; and therefore, the repealing of it is giving up nothing. I assented to it last year in hopes it might induce some wealthy Jews to come and settle among
us: in that light I saw enough of utility in it, to make me incline rather to approve than dislike it; but, that any man alive could be zealous either for or against it, I confess I had no idea. What affects our religion is indeed of the highest and most serious importance. God forbid we should be ever indifferent about that! but I thought this had no more to do with religion, than any turnpike act we passed in that session; and, after all the divinity that has been preached on the subject, I think so still.
Resolution and steadiness are excellent qualities; but it is the application of them upon which their value depends. A wise government, Mr. Speaker, will know where to yield, as well as where to resist; and there is no surer mark of littleness of mind in an administration, than obstinacy in trifles. Public wisdom on some occasions must condescend to give way to popular folly, especially in a free country, where the humour of the people must be considered as attentively as the humour of a king in an absolute monarchy. Under both forms of government, a prudent and honest ministry will indulge a small folly, and will resist a great one. Not to vouchsafe now and then a kind indulgence to the former would discover an ignorance of human nature; not to resist the latter at all times would be meanness and servility.
Sir, I look on the bill we are at present debating, not as a sacrifice made to popularity (for it sacrifices nothing), but asa prudent regard to some consequences arising from the nature of the clamour raised against the late act for naturalizing Jews, which seem to require a particular consideration.
It has been hitherto the rare and envied felicity of his Majesty's reign, that his subjects have enjoyed such a settled tranquillity, such a freedom from angry, religious disputes, as is not to be paralleled in any former times. The true Christian spirit of moderation, of charity, of universal benevolence, has prevailed in the people, has prevailed in the clergy of all ranks and degrees, instead of those narrow principles, those bigoted prejudices, that furious, that implacable, that ignorant zeal, which had often done so much hurt both to the church and the state. But from the ill-understood, insignificant act of parliament you are now moved to repeal, occasion has been taken to deprive us of this inestimable advantage. It is a pretence to disturb the peace of the church, to infuse idle fears into the minds of the people,
and make religion itself an engine of sedition. It behoves the piety, as well as the wisdom of parliament, to disappoint these endeavours. Sir, the very worst mischief that can be done to religion, is to pervert it to the purposes of faction. Heaven and Hell are not more distant, than the benevolent spirit of the Gospel and the malignant spirit of party. The most impious wars ever made were those called Holy Wars. He who hates another man for not being a Christian is himself not a Christian. Christianity, Sir, breathes love, and peace, and good will to man. A temper conformable to the dictates of that holy religion has lately distinguished this nation; and a glorious distinction it was! But there is latent, at all times, in the mind of the vulgar, a spark of enthusiasm; which, if blown by the breath of a party, may, even when it seems quite extinguished, be suddenly revived and raised to a flame. The act of last session for naturalizing Jews has very unexpectedly administered fuel to feed that flame. To what a height it may rise, if it should continue much longer, one cannot easily tell; but take away the fuel, and it will die of itself.
It is the misfortune of all the Roman Catholic countries, that there the church and the state, the civil power and the hierarchy, have separate interests, and are continually at variance one with the other. It is our happiness, that here they form but one system. While this harmony lasts, whatever hurts the church, hurts the state; whatever weakens the credit of the governors of the church, takes away from the civil power a part of its strength, and shakes the whole constitution.
Sir, I trust and believe, that, by speedily passing this bill, we shall silence that obloquy, which has so unjustly been cast upon our reverend prelates (some of the most respectable that ever adorned our church) for the part they took in the act which this repeals. And it greatly concerns the whole community, that they should not lose that respect, which is so justly due to them, by popular clamour, kept up in opposition to a matter of no importance in itself. But if the departing from that measure should not remove the prejudice so maliciously raised, I am certain, that no farther step you can take will be able to remove it; and therefore I hope you will stop here. This appears to be a reasonable and safe condescension, by which nobody will be hurt; but all