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LIFE AND REIGN
WILLIAM THE FOURTH.
The greatest pride of a Briton, is his political Constitution, for by it he becomes invested with rights and privileges, which impart to him a character never to be discovered in the subjects of other countries, and place him in the highest scale of civilized life. An hereditary Monarchy, is one of the first principles of that Constitution ; and the general consent of the people, evidenced by long and immemorial usage, has vested the executive power of the English Government, in the person of the King, or Queen; for, it is indifferent to which sex the Crown descends.
The consent of the people, however, is not to be so understood, as though there were really a time and a place, when and where the population of the Island met together to choose their King; there being no trace of any such event in history. And although this choice of the people, is a favourite article in the creed of some speculative politicians, it is probable that the fact never existed in any country, since the world began. Nothing, at least is . farther from the truth, than that the Crown is so held by the King of England.
It is beyond all controversy, that the English Government has been monarchical from the most remote period of its exist
That the royal office has always been hereditary, and not elective, has never been denied, but by the Republicans, who beheaded Charles I. They, indeed, asserted the inalienable right of the people, to elect their Supreme Governor; and soon afterwards, with great consistency, the Crown was offered to Cromwell, by a House of Commons, convened by the sole authority of the Usurper. But the title of Cromwell himself to the supreme power, rested merely upon the instrument of Government, which was drawn up by a council, consisting only of his general officers. What share the people had in proposing to make him a King, may be seen in the histories of those times.
The hereditary right to the Crown, acknowledged by the laws of England, originated with the wise founders of our Constitution, who preferred making it an hereditary, rather than an elective Monarchy. Their policy has obtained the general consent, and an established usage, and consequently, the King has the same title to the Crown, that a private man has to his hereditary estate.
[f, indeed, there were no corruption in the human heart, to endanger the exercise of just principles, an elective Monarchy would be most favourable to the liberties of the subject, because the most suitable person would, probably, under such circumstances, be chosen to the supreme authority. But the experience of all ages, has convinced every considerate man, that popular elections are unavoidably attended with great inconvenience, and that undue influence, ambition, power, and artifice, will almost always prevail over virtue and integrity.
Considering the peculiar situation in which this country stands, in regard to the succession to the throne, and threatened as it is, with a most severe calamity, in case of the demise of the present Queen without issue ; it may not be inappropriate, to give a short historical detail of the law of succession, as it effects the Kings of England, and we ought to be most grateful to our ancestors, that they have provided a remedy for the evil, to which we have just now alluded.
The Crown descends lineally to the issue of the reigning Monarch, as it did from King John, to Richard II., through a regular succession of six generations. The right of primogeniture amongst the males, and of the males in preference to the females, is also a constitutional rule in the descent of the Crown. Thus Edward took the Crown in preference to Richard, his younger brother, and to Elizabeth his elder sister. Upon failure of the male line, the Crown descends to the eldest of the female issue, and the heirs of her body, lawfully begotten, and not jointly to the female issue of the same degree, as in common inheritances.
The descent of the Crown to the female line, in failure of the male issue, is an ancient British custom. For our forefathers were often led to battle by women, and they paid no regard to sex with respect to the individual, who administered the executive Government.
The doctrine of representation, likewise, prevails in the descent of the Crown, as in other inheritances. Thus Richard II., succeeded his grandfather ; Edward III., in right of his father, the Black Prince; and George III., took the crown on the demise of his grandfather, George II., in right of his father Frederick, Prince of Wales, and each to the exclusion of all their uncles.
In the event of lineal descendants, the Crown devolves to the next collateral relations of the late King, provided they are lineally descended from the royal stock, which originally acquired the Crown. Thus Henry I., succeeded to William II. ; John, to Richard I.; and James I., to Elizabeth ; being all derived from William the Conqueror. And if there be no kinsman of the whole blood, a relation of the half blood, will undoubtedly succeed to the throne; as was the case with Mary I., who succeeded Edward VI.; and of Elizabeth, who ascended the throne on the death of Mary; all being the children of Henry VIII., and each by differert mothers.
The doctrine, however, of hereditary right, by no means implies an indefeasible right to the crown, and fortunate it is for the country that it is so. The Duke of Cumberland is at present, the heir presumptive to the Crown, but the Parliament, (thanks to the wisdom, and foresight of our ancestors) consisting of King, Lords, and Commons, has the power to defeat this hereditary right, and exclude the next heir, by enacting the inheritance, to descend to any one else, whenever it thinks fit. The Constitution has lodged this power in the supreme Legislature, in order to avoid the inconvenience and distress, that the whole nation must experience, were an idiot or a lunatic, or a like the Duke of Cumberland, necessarily to inherit the throne, and on the other hand, to avert the miseries that must accrue to the reigning monarch at all times, were any such authority, expressly confided to the people, who are so liable to be influenced by caprice, and hurried on by the most ungovernable passions. Hence it is plain, that the English Constitution, disclaims all such political theories, as a right inherent in the people, either to choose, or to set aside their king. This is clear from the Bill, , called the “ Declaration of Rights," in which the Lords and Commons consider it, “as a marvellous Providence, and merciful goodness of God, to this nation to preserve" King William, and Queen Mary, “most happily to reign over us on the throne of their ancestors, for which from the bottom of their hearts, they return their humblest thanks and praises.” King James II. had broken the legal conditions of the compact of Sovereignty, and by abdicating, had vacated the throne. But the two Houses, in the Bill of Rights, did not thank God, that they had found a fair opportunity, to assert a right to choose their own Governors, much less to make an election, the only lawful title to the Crown, but on the contrary, in order to exclude for ever, the doctrine of a right, to choose our own Governors, a subsequent clause of that immortal law just mentioned, declares, that the Lords, spiritual, and temporal, and Commons, do in the name of all the people aforesaid, most humbly and faithfully submit themselves, their heirs, and posterity for ever and do faithfully promise, that they will
maintain, and defend their said Majesties, and also, the limitation of the Crown, herein specified and contained to the utmost of their powers.” Is it not then very surprising, that any sensible man, can infer the doctrine of a right to choose our own Governors, from the Revolution of 1688, since, if we had possessed it before, it is clear that the English nation, did at that time, most solemnly renounce, and abdicate it, for themselves, and for all their posterity for ever.
Our ancestors, wisely considered, that however, speciously the abstract principle of such a right, might appear in theory, it could never in the nature of things, be reduced to practice.
The true spirit of our Constitution, not only in its settled course, but in all its Revolutions, is, hereditary succession to the reigning Monarch, whether he obtained the Crown, by law or by force. Hence in our laws, the King in his political capacity, is said, never to die, because he lives in his successor, although like other men, he is naturally mortal.
The regular inheritance of the British throne, has indeed, been often changed, and usurped by fraud and violence, as will be seen by a short historical view of our Kings. But the beautiful feature of hereditary succession, marked the infancy of our Government, bloomed in its manhood, and is indelibly graven in the wrinkles of increasing age.
We will now take, historically, a constitutional view of the royal title, to the Crown of England. Egbert, who was the first King of England, and last of the Saxon Heptarchy, was King of the West Saxons, by a long and uninterrupted descent from his ancestors, of above 800 years, and united the Heptarchy in one Monarchy under him, in the year 828. How his ancestors obtained their titles, it is in vain for us to inquire, since there are no documents that will satisfy such political curiosity. So it was, that Egbert became sole Monarch of England, partly by the consent of the other six kingdoms of the Heptarchy, and partly by conquest over them.
From Egbert, the Crown descended regularly, for two hundred years, through a succession of fifteen Princes, to the death of Edmund Ironside, without any deviation or inter