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The Progress of the Nation page 2


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Is it possible to conceive a people more thoroughly enslaved - tied up hand, foot, tongue, and pen, for the press at the same time was under the strictest censorship? Is it possible to depict or imagine a monarch more absolutely master of all the laws and liberties of a nation than this same Charles, whom Mr. Hallam declares to have been so tender of the national freedom, so moderate in the exercise of the prerogative? But what is more astonishing is to find "Knight's Pictorial History" - a history generally so impartial and judicious - echoing and extending this most palpable fallacy.

Subscribing to Mr. Hallam's statement, the writer of Knight's History says: - "We must admit that, however dark might be the designs of Charles, there were no such general infringements of the public liberty in his reign as. had occurred before the Long Parliament. And when," he says, "we add to this the effective abolition of illegal or arbitrary imprisonment by the habeas corpus act, and the extinction of the practice of torture, noticed in the last book, it will be perceived that the paring the talons of the prerogative had undergone in the period now under review was far from inconsiderable. The scandalous practice of coercing or intimidating judges by fines or imprisonment, which had been of occasional occurrence in former times, may be said to have been, put down in the reign of Charles II."

Perhaps a more unfortunate string of assertions than this never was made. We have shown how entire was the suppression of the liberty of the subject in the enumeration of the seven celebrated acts of this reign. True, in 1679, the 31st of Charles H., the habeas corpus yet was passed; but this, so far from proving that the writ of habeas corpus was treated with respect, clearly of itself indicates that the refusal and defiance of it was become so outrageous, that even the servile parliament of Charles was roused to endeavour to enforce that great safeguard of the popular liberty. Writs of habeas corpus were of very ancient date, and, says Hallam, "It is a very common mistake, and that not only amongst foreigners, but many from whom some knowledge of our constitutional laws might be expected, to suppose that the statute of Charles n. enlarged in a great degree our liberties, and forms an epoch in their history." He goes on very truly to show that this act "conferred no right upon the subject," but was only intended to enforce the due issue of the writs of habeas corpus according to ancient practice, "and cut off the abuses by which the government's lust of power, and the servile subtlety of crown lawyers, had impaired so fundamental a privilege."

Here, indeed, Hallam unconsciously concedes all that we have been asserting against him. It was this lust of power in Charles's government, and the servile subtlety of crown lawyers, which had so firmly extinguished the security of the subject in this reign, and rendered an effort necessary to check these evils. But, as we have shown, Charles rendered the habeas corpus act a dead letter in his time by his system of corrupt judges who then depended entirely on him, by corrupt sheriffs, extinction of corporation charters, and packed juries. The difference betwixt his reign and that of his father was simply this - that in his father's time the nation was resolute for its liberties, and contended with him step by step for them; in his own time the reaction of royalty had for a long period quelled the public spirit, and given him a grand advantage over both parliament and people. The despotism was not less, but the resistance was less.

With respect to not browbeating juries or coercing them, as asserted by Knight to have been rare, scarcely anything can be read with more astonishment, when we recollect that this was in the days of Seroggs and Jeffreys. Perhaps in no reign, referring to Knight's own pages, was there a more frightful disregard to the independence of juries or of witnesses. Knight does admit that Penn and Mead's jury were coerced and fined, but treats that as a rare case. It were easy to furnish, from Besse's "History of the Sufferings of the Friends," scores - we might almost say hundreds - of such cases, to say nothing of the trials of other dissenters and state prisoners. So far from Jeffreys desisting from the practice of coercing juries and browbeating witnesses, after judge Vaughan had reversed the decision of the court of Old Bailey in Penn's case in 1670, we find him, in 1685, in the succeeding reign, indulging in the utmost licence of that kind. Take, for example, the trial of Alice Lisle, for harbouring a refugee from the battle of Sedgemoor, one of Monmouth's officers, where, as Macaulay shows, he coerced and abused the jury till they gave a verdict contrary to their own convictions; and his treatment of one of the witnesses was such - threatening him with hell-fire and the like - that the man became dumb with terror.

But most unfortunate of all is the assertion of Knight that there was an "extinction of torture in Charles's reign." Why this is the reign of the battles of Rullion Green, Both- well Bridge, and of Drumclog! This was the reign under which the covenanters were driven to desperation, and roused to rebellion by the indiscriminate disregard to every principle of civil or religious right in their cases, and this the period of the horrors perpetrated on them by Tweeddale, Lauderdale, James duke of York, Claverhouse, Turner, and other officers. This was the time when the thumbscrews and iron boot were in infernal operation, and James sate and gloated on the agonies of the sufferers which drove from the scene the most hardened of the other persecutors. Torture extinguished in the reign of Charles II.! never was it in more general or more diabolical operation - torture, physical and mental, torture applied to the person, the conscience, and the estate. Such falsifications of history demand the fullest exposure; and for that we need only refer the reader to the very pages of those who would thus represent the fact.

Under James, when he came to the throne, tyranny assumed a new shape. His design was to establish popery, and therefore he withdrew the persecutions of the dissenters, and even attempted to repeal the test act. But his intentions were too transparent; all parties took the alarm at the idea of the restored dominance of the catholics, and therefore all parties in the state, except a few of the dissenters who had groaned the most bitterly under the tortures of persecution, were united against him. It was a question of life or death to the Anglican church; and a church persecuting and the same persecuted were found to be two different things. The church and all its aristocratic supporters, presbyterians, independents, were all now united for one object - to drive out the popish king, and they did it. It was fortunate for liberty that James, within the short space of three years, crowded more uncompromising acts of arbitrary defiance of the constitution, and more of ferocious cruelty than had been exhibited in England since the reign of Henry VIII. The spirit of the nation and of parliament; which was beginning to show itself again even before the death of Charles, was now effectually roused to be rid of the Stuart dynasty altogether. It was then found, rather than in Charles's reign, that the spirit of Hampden, Cromwell, Selden, Pym, and the rest of the great men of the commonwealth, had rather slumbered than was dead, and that their acts were still destined to be the salvation of the nation.

Besides the passing of the habeas corpus act, as already referred to, during this period, parliament made some progress in defining the peculiar business and privileges of each house. On the lords resuming their legislative powers at the restoration, they resumed the right of appeal to them from the courts of common law and of the court of chancery, which they had long exercised as the supreme court of judicature as well as of legislation. But after the restoration the lords proceeded to receive appeals from the courts of equity, against which extension of privilege the commons remonstrated, and soon came into actual collision, from the circumstance that some of the parties appealed against were members of the commons' house. This the commons resented as a breach of their privileges, which exempted their members from legal process during the session of the house. In 1667 the lords went further than appeals, and entertained an original application to them from Thomas Skinner, a merchant of London, against the East India Company. This the commons resented as not only a breach of privilege - inasmuch as the lords had fined Sir Samuel Barnardiston, the governor of the East India Company, and imprisoned him, the said Sir Samuel being a member of their house - but they denied the right of the lords to entertain original suits at all. The collision was violent and prolonged, and was only got rid of by the king advising them to erase all proceedings on the subject from their respective journals. This settled the question of the lords entertaining original suits, but not the right of appeal from courts of equity; and in 1675 the lords again entertained an appeal of Dr. Thomas Shirley against Sir John Fagg, who being also a member of the house of commons, was resisted by the commons on the score of privilege. The contest was only got rid of by parliament being prorogued for upwards of a year, namely, from November, 1675, to February, 1677, after which this particular appeal was never revived, but the lords continued to exercise their claim to decide appeals from the courts of equity.

Another point which the commons at this period asserted and carried out was the right of originating all money bills, and everything which went to lay a charge on the people. Anciently grants of supply were made separately by each house, and the clergy granted for themselves in convocation; but about the middle of the fourteenth century the two houses fell into the practice of granting supplies jointly. In the reigns of Elizabeth and James the form changed to that of the commons granting with consent of the lords. It began to be felt by the commons that, as they were the immediate representatives of the people, it was their particular duty to discharge this function. As the commons during the commonwealth became the sole legislative power they were not likely afterwards to resign this right; and, accordingly, after the restoration they exercised that right as exclusively their own, only introducing the name of the lords as consenting parties, as in all other statutes. So jealously did they protect this right, that they would not permit the lords to originate or to alter during the passage of a money bill through their house, any grant or amount of grant. In 1661 they threw out a bill which the lords sent down to them for the paving of Westminster, and in 1671 they protested against the lords altering the rate of a tax upon sugar. The lords made considerable resistance to this, but were compelled to give way, and the right of originating all taxation continues to reside in the commons, though ministers there propose these taxes to them.

The exercise of the function of taxation became more complete in the commons by the fact of the clergy, who had hitherto granted their own supplies in convocation, in the fourth year of Charles II. voluntarily giving up this right, and leaving the commons to tax them as part of the general community, being allowed in return to vote as well as the laity for knights of the shire - a privilege which they still retain.

The mode of appropriating the supplies to specific purposes became also general in Charles II.'s time. The more frequent practice previous to the Long Parliament had been to vote the money, and leave the monarch to expend it at his discretion; but the Long Parliament specified the objects for which they granted their money; and though Cromwell would not submit to any such restraints from his parliament, during Charles II.'s reign the practice became very common. James, who was as arbitrary as his father regarding taxation, rejected any appropriation clause in grants to him, but they were afterwards adopted under William III., and from that period it became the custom to appropriate every amount granted yearly to its specific object.

During the reign of Charles II. - that is, in 1672 and 1673 - the parliamentary franchise was extended to the county and city of Durham, and to the borough of Newark, by royal charter. These were the last alterations of the representation which took place till the union with Scotland.

A circumstance which has had a great effect on the maintenance of our liberties and the preservation of authentic records of public transactions, was the general resolution passed by the commons in 1680, for the printing of its votes and proceedings. This practice was introduced by the Long Parliament, but became regular and continuous from this period. But the great event of this period, as it regards taxation, is that which we have already spoken of in considerable detail - the transfer of the burden of the land to the people, by giving the king the excise upon beer, ale, and other liquors sold within the kingdom for ever, in lieu of the old feudal services attached to the lands of the aristocracy. Hence this tax now became styled the hereditary excise. At the time of its being thus granted it produced only about 300,000 a year, but has now grown to more than 16,000,000. Contemporaneously with the easing of the landed aristocracy of their natural burdens, and transferring the burden to the people at large, commenced the national debt; the sum of 1,200,000 which Charles I. defrauded the London merchants of by the abrupt closing of the exchequer, standing as the first item.

Besides the excise, Charles received the grant of tonnage and poundage for life - that is, the customs' duties - which then only brought in about 400,000 a year; a tax on hearths, amounting to 170,000; on stamps, imposed for the first time in 1671; and he derived from crown lands about 100,000; from the forest of Dean, 5,000; from the duchy of Cornwall, 12,000; and from other sources, 55,000. He received large sums from the king of France, sold Dunkirk to France for 400,000, and, from one source or another, is calculated to have had about 1,800,000 per ' annum, which, however, did not suffice for his mistresses and other extravagances.

This is the period when the debtor and credit account of our revenue really commences, and the history of the revenue, therefore, properly dates from. At the time of the expulsion of James, the sources of revenue from the national taxation had wonderfully increased, showing a rapid advance in national prosperity. The customs now produced 600,000 per annum; the excise, 666,000; the hearth-money, 245,000; the post-offices, 65,000; wine licences, 10,000; new duties on wine and vinegar, 173,000; duties on sugar and tobacco, 149,000 - and on French silks and foreign linens nearly 94,000 altogether, James's income is calculated at more than two million sterling. No monarch need have been more happiness and powerful had he had the wisdom to see it, and remain patented with constitutional authority.

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