Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

in age, in decrepitude. If you take away what the law gives him, you change the name and authority of the King, by the sanction and authority of which name you can alone rightly act. The King's political capacity, he would again repeat, continues the same in infancy, in sickness, in age, and in decrepitude. No subject can be considered in the same light, God forbid that the two Houses should declare the King incompetent. Much might be said on a question of this nature, but it never was to be allowed that such a power rested in the Privy Council.

By this memorable exposition of the powers of the Sovereign, the Privy Council, at whose head the King is supposed to sit in person, and from whose decisions issue some of the most important enactments by which the jurisprudence of the country is supported; this same august body, second to none in the empire, were told that they had no power to declare the incompetency of the individual who presided at their head; and that they could act with the same legality and authority, in the event of such incompetency, as if no such calamity had befallen the individual, and that no suspension whatever existed to the exercise of the royal functions. It was a startling doctrine, and made that lively sensation (as our neighbours the French would call it) at Carlton House, which, in the end, threw many obstacles in the adjustment of those points which the extraordinary case required.

The question of a regency, in an hereditary monarchial government, is at all times a dangerous subject for the statesman to handle. It carries with it the pre-supposition, that a King, in the abstract sense, can be represented as well by the log as by the stork which Jupiter sent to the frogs; or that it is only setting up one person in the place of another, and calling him a King—and a King he is. Some strong insinuations of this kind were broached in the House of Commons in the various debates on the regency question, particularly by Mr. Whitbread, who, being in opposition to the measures of ministers, unequivocally declared, that the acts of ministers went to show, that the affairs of the country could be equally well managed, although the monarch was in a state of positive incompetency

Before, however, we enter upon the immediate question of the regency, as connected with the proceedings in Parliament, it may not be improper, nor without its use, for the better recollection and understanding of the subject in all its parts and relations, to state shortly the principles on which those who brought forward and carried the restrictions on the Regent, and those who opposed them, severally founded and supported their doctrines and opinions.

The minister and his adherents set out with this short and simple maxim, that a regent is not a king; that in every respect and point of view, whether considered relatively to common sense, to justice, or to the fundamental and essential doctrines of the British constitution, each condition is, and ought to be, radically distinct; that whereas the powers of the King were full, complete, and his own, so far as by the exercise of them he sought after, and secured the good of the people over whom he reigned-a Regent was merely a person appointed to act for another, to whom ought to be granted all those authorities, powers, and prerogatives, which were necessary to enable him to supply the place and perform the duty of his principal; but from whom ought carefully and sacredly to be kept every kind of authority, power, or prerogative, which could possibly be exercised in such a manner by the Regent as might endanger the easy and full resumption by his principal of his legitimate rights, or tend in the smallest degree to embarrass or weaken the exercise of them when actually resumed. Besides this grand and leading principle, on the strength and justice of which they contended, that the royal prerogative of creating peers more especially should be cut off from the powers vested in the Regent,-ministers and their adherents maintained, that not a little was due to the personal feelings and comfort of the King; that, however, abstract reasoning might underrate to hold in contempt such an idea, yet it was neither possible, nor if possible, would it have been consonant to common justice or humanity, to throw entirely aside in the consideration of the question, and in the arrangement of the particular authorities to be vested in the Regent, all regard to what the King might be supposed to have wished, could he have expressed his wishes, and what it was highly probable he would feel when restored to the exercise of his reason, Upon this subordinate principle, which certainly carried along with it every feeling man and loyal subject, and which was well calculated to create a favourable impression on the public mind towards those who promulgated and supported it; while on the contrary, it was dangerous - to oppose it, lest the imputation of a want of feeling or loyalty should make a prejudice against the constitutional doctrines on which it might have been successfully combated upon this principle ministers contended, that the household of his Majesty should be left untouched by the powers of the Regent. The appointment of the person, to whom the care of the King was to be committed, arose from a mixture of both the principles which we have just stated. On the first and grand principle it was contended, with certainly very great cogency and strength of argument, that it would be highly improper to commit the custody and care of the King's person to the Regent—to one whose interest so evidently and strongly lay in the continued illness of the King; while on the subordinate principle, it was maintained that the King's recovery would most probably be retarded, if in his lucid intervals he was informed that the Regent had the care of his person ; and that, on his perfect recovery, his satisfaction and comfort would be much more complete, if he found that his consort, and not the heir-apparent, had watched over his malady.

Such may be regarded as a rapid and brief outline of the principles on which ministers and their adherents grounded their resolutions that certain restrictions should be imposed on the Regent, and on which they proceeded in their selection and defence of the restrictions which they proposed and carried. Some objections may certainly be made to the principles themselves : and others of greater weight, or, at

[ocr errors]

least, of greater plausibility, to the application of them to the particular restrictions imposed on the Regent. But those objections will assume a less formidable appearance when the difficulties attending an opposite line of conduct are considered. It was in fact, a choice of difficulties, a most embarrassing and critical situation, in which the country was placed; and unfortunately, out of this labyrinth, precedent afforded no clue which could conduct parliament with certainty and safety

The principles on which the Opposition grounded their doctrines and arguments bore very much the appearance, and possessed, indeed, in a great degree, the reality, of genuine British principles. They contended, in the first place (and upon this point they laid very great stress, and insisted loudly and repeatedly), that the good of the nation, and not the comfort or feelings of the King, was alone to be regarded. and ought alone to be suffered to enter into the consideration of the question : that the prerogatives and powers of which it was proposed to deprive the Regent were either beneficial to the community, or they were not. Powers vested in a sovereign, they insisted, could not be without some effect: if they were not beneficial to the people over whom he reigned, they could not be harmless; but in either case, whether these prerogatives and powers which ministers proposed to cut off frop the authority of the Regent were beneficial or hurtful, their principles and arguments must fall to the ground. If they were calculated, and could only be exercised to produce the good of the nation, then parliament had no right, under any plea, to strip the person exercising the supreme authority, for ever so short a time, of them; or even to curtail or weaken them in the slightest manner. If they were prejudicial, then they ought not to be granted nor continued, either to the Sorereign or the Regent. This dilemma certainly was very embarrassing; nor did ministers meet it directly or fairly, Indeed, this important question can hardly be said to have been argued in a complete and full manner, either by ministers or by the opposition. When the former dwelt with great force of argument, and with much appearance of triumph, on the necessity of guarding the easy and full resumption of the royal authority; the opposition, instead of meeting this branch of the argument directly face to face, turned aside and declaimed eloquently, and, in their turn, with great triumph, on the necessity, for the good of the nation, of vesting in the Regent all the royal prerogatives, as the British constitution could suppose none given, but what were absolutely necessary for the grand object of all legitimate government, the liberty and well-being of the people. Ministers, perceiving that this was not only a popular way of treating the subject, but that it rested on specious, if not on solid arguments, turned aside from it, and again brought into play the necessity of guarding the powers and prerogatives of the Sovereign, the permanent and real magistrate, against the encroachinents of a temporary and delegated regent.

In one respect, the opposition pushed their arguments against the ministerial party with considerable vigour, acuteness, and success ; and this point, thus successfully brought forward, had considerable weight with the mass of the people, They contended that the very principle on which ministers rested their leading doctrine, that the power of a regent ought to be restricted, namely, that otherwise he might and would have the means of rendering the resumption of the royal authority difficult, and the subsequent exercise of it cramped, -ought to lead ministers to take away from the Regent all control over the army, and the prerogative of dissolving parliament, since it was easy to conceive how these, in the hands of a person disposed to abuse his delegated and temporary authority, might be turned more dangerously and successfully against the Sovereign, than the prerogative of creating peers, or removing any or all of the royal household. The opposition put this argument in all possible shapes, and dwelt upon it at great length, and with much triumph, and it must be confessed, that by thus pushing the fundamental principle of the ministry to its complete and legitimate consequences, they

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »