123. PROCEEDINGS IN PARLIAMENT (1695-1745)

(A) Commons' Resolutions on the Licensing Bill (1695)[1]

The commons cannot agree to the clause marked A: (1) Because it revives and re-enacts a law which in no wise answered the end for which it was made, the title and preamble of that act being to prevent printing seditious and treasonable books, pamphlets, and papers; but there is no penalty appointed for offenders therein, they being left to be punished at common law, as they may be without that act; whereas there are great and grievous penalties imposed by that act for matters wherein neither church nor state is any ways concerned.

(2) Because that act gives a property in books to such persons as such books are, or shall be, granted to by letters patents, whether the crown had or shall have any right to grant the same, or not, at the time of such grant.

(3) Because that act prohibits printing anything before entry thereof in the register of the Company of Stationers, except proclamations, acts of parliament, and such books as shall be appointed under the sign-manual, or under the hand of a principal secretary of state; whereby both houses of parliament are disabled to order anything to be printed, and the said company are empowered to hinder the printing all innocent and useful books and have an opportunity to enter a title to themselves and their friends for what belongs to and is the labour and right of others.

(4) Because that act prohibits any books to be imported without special licence into any port in England, except London; by which means the whole foreign trade of books is restrained to London, unless the lord archbishop of Canterbury, or the lord bishop of London shall, in interruption of their more important affairs in governing the church, bestow their time gratis in looking over catalogues of books and granting licences; whereas the commons think the other ports of the kingdom have as good right as London to trade in books, as well as other merchandises.

(5) Because that act leaves it in the power either of the Company of Stationers, or of the archbishop of Canterbury and bishop of London, to hinder any books from being imported, even into the port of London; for if one or more of the Company of Stationers will not come to the custom-house, or that those reverend bishops shall not appoint any learned man to go thither and be present at the opening and viewing books imported, the custom-house officer is obliged to detain them.

(6) Because that act appoints no time wherein the archbishop or bishop of London shall appoint a learned man, or that one or more of the Company of Stationers shall go to the custom-house to view imported books; so that they or either of them may delay it till the importer may be undone by having so great a part of his stock lie dead, or the books, if wet, may rot and perish.

(7) Because that act prohibits any custom-house officer, under the penalty of losing his office, to open any packet wherein are books until some or one of the Company of Stationers, and such learned man as shall be so appointed, are present; which is impracticable, since he cannot know there are books until he has opened the packet.

(8) Because that act confirms all patents of books granted and to be granted — whereby the sole printing of all or most of the classic authors are and have been for many years past, together with a great number of the best books and of most general use, monopolized by the Company of Stationers — and prohibits the importing any such books from beyond sea; whereby the scholars in this kingdom are forced, not only to buy them at the extravagant price they demand, but must be content with their ill and incorrect editions and cannot have the more correct copies which are published abroad, nor the useful notes of foreigners or other learned men upon them.

(9) Because that act prohibits anything to be printed till licensed, and yet does not direct what shall be taken by the licenser for such licence; by colour whereof great oppression may be and has been practised.

(10) Because that act restrains men bred up in the trade of printing and founding of letters from exercising their trade, even in an innocent and inoffensive way, though they are freemen of the Company of Stationers, either as masters or journeymen — the number of workmen in each of those trades being limited by that act.

(11) Because that act compels master-printers to take journeymen into their service, though they have no work or employment for them.

(12) Because that act restrains all men who are not licensed by the bishop from selling innocent and inoffensive books, though never so useful, in any part of England, except freemen of the Company of Stationers, who may sell without such licence; so that neither church nor state is taken care of thereby, but the people compelled to buy their freedom of trade in all parts of England from the Company of Stationers in London.

(13) Because that act prohibits any one, not only to print books whereof another has entered a claim of property in the register of the Company of Stationers, but to bind, stitch, or put them to sale — and that under a great pecuniary penalty, though it is impossible for a bookbinder, stitcher, or seller to know whether the book brought to him were printed by the proprietor or another.

(14) Because that act prohibits smiths to make any ironwork for any printing-press without giving notice to ... [the] Company of Stationers, under the penalty of 5; whereas he may not know to what use the iron bespoke of him, and forged by him, may be put.

(15) Because that act prohibits printing and importing, not only heretical, seditious, and schismatical books, but all offensive books, and doth not determine what shall be adjudged offensive books; so that, without doubt, if the late King James had continued in the throne till this time, books against popery would not have been deemed offensive books.

(16) Because that act subjects all men's houses — as well peers' as commoners' — to be searched at any time, either by day or night, by a warrant under the sign-manual, or under the hand of one of the secretaries of state, directed to any messenger, if such messenger shall, upon probable reason, suspect that there are any unlicensed books there; and the houses of all persons free of the Company of Stationers are subject to the like search on a warrant from the master and wardens of the said company or any one of them.

(17) Because the penalties for offences against that act are excessive — it being in the power of the judges or justices of the peace to inflict what punishment they please, not extending to life or member.

Journals of the Commons, XI, 305 f.

(B) Resolutions on the Case of Ashby v. White (1704)[2 ]

Resolved that it is the opinion of this committee that, according to the known laws and usage of parliament, it is the sole right of the commons of England in parliament assembled, except in cases otherwise provided for by act of parliament, to examine and determine all matters relating to the right of election of their own members.

Resolved that it is the opinion of this committee that, according to the known laws and usage of parliament, neither the qualification of any elector or the right of any person elected is cognizable or determinable elsewhere than before the commons of England in parliament assembled, except in such cases as are specially provided for by act of parliament.

Resolved that it is the opinion of this committee that the examining and determining the qualification or right of any elector, or any person elected to serve in parliament, in any court of law or elsewhere than before the commons of England in parliament assembled — except in such cases as are specially provided for by act of parliament — will expose all mayors, bailiffs, and other officers, who are obliged to take the poll and make a return thereupon, to multiplicity of actions, vexatious suits, and insupportable expenses, and will subject them to different and independent jurisdictions and inconsistent determinations in the same case, without relief.

Resolved that it is the opinion of this committee that Matthew Ashby, having in contempt of the jurisdiction of this house commenced and prosecuted an action at common law against William White and others, the constables of Aylesbury, for not receiving his vote at an election of burgesses to serve in parliament for the said borough of Aylesbury, is guilty of a breach of the privilege of this house.

Resolved that it is the opinion of this committee that whosoever shall presume to commence or prosecute any action, indictment, or information at common law, which shall bring the right of the electors, or persons elected to serve in parliament, to the determination of any other jurisdiction than that of the house of commons, except in cases specially provided for by act of parliament, such person and persons, and all attorneys, solicitors, counsellors, and serjeants-at-law, soliciting, prosecuting, or pleading in any such case, are guilty of a high breach of the privilege of this house.

The first, second, third, and fourth resolutions, being severally read a second time, were, upon the question severally put thereupon, agreed unto by the house. The fifth resolution being read a second time, an amendment was proposed to be made thereunto, by leaving out "at common law." And the same was, upon the question put thereupon, agreed unto by the house: resolved that the house doth agree with the committee in the said resolution, so amended....

Ordered, that the said resolutions be fixed upon Westminster Hall gate, signed by the clerk.

Ibid., XIV, 308.

This state of the case being read and approved of, the house [of lords] came to the following resolutions, viz.: —

It is resolved by the lords spiritual and temporal in parliament assembled that, by the known laws of this kingdom, every freeholder or other person having a right to give his vote at the election of members to serve in parliament, and being wilfully denied or hindered so to do by the officer who ought to receive the same, may maintain an action in the queen's courts against such officer, to assert his right and recover damages for the injury.

It is resolved ... that the asserting that a person, having right to give his vote at an election and being hindered so to do by the officer who ought to take the same is without remedy for such wrong by the ordinary course of law, is destructive of the property of the subject, [is] against the freedom of elections, and manifestly tends to encourage corruption and partiality in officers who are to make returns to parliament, and to subject the freeholder and other electors to their arbitrary will and pleasure.

It is resolved ... that the declaring Matthew Ashby guilty of a breach of privilege of the house of commons for prosecuting an action against the constables of Aylesbury for not receiving his vote at an election, after he had in the known and proper methods of law obtained a judgment in parliament for recovery of his damages, is an unprecedented attempt upon the judicature of parliament, and is in effect to subject the law of England to the votes of the house of commons.

It is resolved ... that the deterring electors from prosecuting actions in the ordinary course of law, where they are deprived of their right of voting, and terrifying attorneys, solicitors, counsellors, and serjeants-at-law, from soliciting, prosecuting, and pleading in such cases, by voting their so doing to be a breach of privilege of the house of commons, is manifest assuming a power to control the law, to hinder the course of justice, and subject the property of Englishmen to the arbitrary votes of the house of commons.

Journals of the Lords, XVII, 534 f.

(C) Minority Protest in the Lords Against the Septennial Act (1716)[3]

... Then the question was put whether the said bill shall be committed. It was resolved in the affirmative. Dissentient: —

1. Because we conceive that frequent and new parliaments are required by the fundamental constitution of the kingdom, and the practice thereof for many ages ... is a sufficient evidence and proof of this constitution.

2. Because it is agreed that the house of commons must be chosen by the people and, when so chosen, they are truly the representatives of the people; which they cannot be so properly said to be when continued for a longer time than that for which they were chosen. For, after that time, they are chosen by the parliament and not the people; who are thereby deprived of the only remedy which they have against those who either do not understand or, through corruption, do wilfully betray the trust reposed in them — which remedy is to choose better men in their places.

3. Because the reasons given for this bill, we conceive, were not sufficient to induce us to pass it in subversion of so essential a part of our constitution.... We conceive this bill is so far from preventing expenses and corruptions that it will rather increase them. For the longer a parliament is to last, the more valuable to be purchased is a station in it, and the greater also is the danger of corrupting the members of it. For, if ever there should be a ministry who shall want a parliament to screen them from the just resentment of the people or from a discovery of their ill practices to the king, who can't otherwise or so truly be informed of them as by a free parliament, it is so much the interest of such a ministry to influence the elections, which by their authority and the disposal of public money they of all others have the best means of doing, that 'tis to be feared they will be tempted and not fail to make use of them. And even when the members are chosen, they have greater opportunity of inducing very many to comply with them than they could have if, not only the sessions of parliament, but the parliament itself were reduced to the ancient and primitive constitution and practice of frequent and new parliaments. For, as a good ministry will neither practise nor need corruption, so it cannot be any lord's intention to provide for the security of a bad one.

4. We conceive that whatever reasons may induce the lords to pass this bill to continue this parliament for seven years will be at least as strong and may, by the conduct of the ministry, be made much stronger, before the end of seven years, for continuing it still longer and even to perpetuate it; which would be an express and absolute subversion of the third estate of the realm.

Ibid., XX, 331 f.

(D) Commons' Debate on the Printing of Speeches (1738)

The speaker informed the house that it was with some concern he saw a practice prevailing which a little reflected upon the dignity of that house; what he meant was the inserting an account of their proceedings in the printed newspapers, by which means the proceedings of the house were liable to very great misrepresentations; that he had in his hands a printed newspaper which contained his majesty's answer to their late address before the same had been reported from the chair, the only way of communicating it to the public; that he thought it his duty to inform the house of these practices, the rather because he had observed them of late to have run into very great abuses; and therefore he hoped that gentlemen would propose some method of stopping it.

Sir William Yonge: ... There is, indeed, a resolution on our journals against printing or publishing any of the proceedings of this house, but by authority of the chair; but people had generally run away with the notion that this prohibition is in force only during the time we are sitting, and that, as soon as the session ends, they are at liberty to print and publish what they please....

Sir William Windham: ... I say, sir, we ought to be very cautious in what manner we form a resolution; for it is a question so nearly connected with the liberty of the press that it will require a great deal of tenderness to form a resolution which may preserve gentlemen from having their sense misrepresented to the public, and at the same time guard against all encroachments upon the liberty of the press. On the other hand, sir, I am sensible that there is a necessity of putting a stop to this practice of printing what are called the speeches of this house, because I know that gentlemen's words in this house have been mistaken and misrepresented. I do not know, sir, but I have some reason of complaint myself upon that head. I have, indeed, seen many speeches of gentlemen in this house that were fairly and accurately taken; and no gentleman, when that is the case, ought to be ashamed that the world should know every word he speaks in this house. For my own part, I never shall; for I hope never to act or speak in this house anything that I shall be ashamed to own to all the world. But of late, sir, I have seen such monstrous mistakes in some gentlemen's speeches, as they have been printed in our newspapers, that it is no wonder if gentlemen think it high time to have a stop put to such a practice. Yet, still, sir, there are two considerations which, I own, weigh very much with me upon this occasion. That this house has a right to prohibit the publication of any of its proceedings during the time we are sitting is past all doubt, and there is no question but that, by the resolutions that now stand upon our votes and are renewed every session, the printers of the papers you have in your hand are liable to the censure of this house. But I am not at all so clear as to the right we may have of preventing any of our proceedings from being printed during our recess. At least, sir, I am pretty sure that people without doors are strongly possessed with that notion, and therefore I should be against our inflicting any censure at present for what is past of that kind. If gentlemen are of opinion, which I do own I am not, that we have a power to prevent any account of our proceedings and debates from being communicated to the public, even during our recess, then, as this affair has been mentioned, they will no doubt think it very proper to come to a resolution against that practice, and to punish it with a very severe penalty. But if we have no such power, sir, I own I do not see how you can form any resolution upon this head that will not be liable to very great censure.

The other consideration that weighs very much, sir, with me upon this occasion is the prejudice which the public will think they sustain, by being deprived of all knowledge of what passes in this house otherwise than by the printed votes, which are very lame and imperfect for satisfying their curiosity of knowing in what manner their representatives act within doors. They have been long used to be indulged in this and they may possibly think it a hardship to be deprived of it now. Nay, sir, I must go farther: I do not know but they may have a right to know somewhat more of the proceedings of this house than what appears upon your votes; and if I were sure that the sentiments of gentlemen were not misrepresented, I should be against our coming to any resolution that could deprive them of a knowledge that is so necessary for their being able to judge of the merits of their representatives within doors. If gentlemen, however, are of opinion that they can frame a resolution which will put a stop to all impositions, and yet leave the public some room for having just information of what passes within these walls, I shall be extremely glad to give it my concurrence. But I am absolutely against our stretching our power farther than it will go consistently with the just rights of parliament. Such stretches rather weaken than give any strength to the constitution; and I am sure no gentleman will care to do what may not only look like our claiming powers unknown to our constitution, but what, in its consequences, may greatly affect the liberty of the press. If we shall extend this resolution to the recess of parliament, all political writing, if the authors shall touch upon anything that passed in the preceding session, may be affected by it; for I do not know that anybody would venture to publish anything that might bring upon them the censure of this house. In the meantime, sir, I am as willing as any gentleman in this house that a stop be put to the practice you have taken notice of from the chair. It has grown to such a pitch that I remember some time ago there was a public dispute in the newspapers betwixt two printers or booksellers of two pamphlets, which of them contained the true copy of a certain honourable gentleman's speech in this house. It is therefore high time for gentlemen to think of somewhat to be done for that purpose, and I make no doubt but that any resolution this house shall think fit to come to, will put an effectual stop to it.

Mr. Thomas Winnington: ... If we do not put a speedy stop to this practice, it will be looked upon without doors that we have no power to do it; for the public will very justly think that, if we had such a power, we would exercise it. And then, sir, what will be the consequence? Why, sir, you will have every word that is spoken here by gentlemen misrepresented by fellows who thrust themselves into our gallery. You will have the speeches of this house every day printed, even during your session. And we shall be looked upon as the most contemptible assembly on the face of the earth....

Then the speaker having drawn up the question, it was unanimously resolved that it is an high indignity to and a notorious breach of the privilege of this house for any news-writer, in letters or other papers (as minutes, or under any other denomination), or for any printer or publisher of any printed newspaper of any denomination, to presume to insert in the said letters or papers or to give therein any account of the debates or other proceedings of this house or any committee thereof, as well during the recess as the sitting of parliament; and that this house will proceed with the utmost severity against such offenders.

Cobbett, Parliamentary History, X, 800-12.

(E) Discussion of Cabinet Councils (1738-40)[4]

Mr. Pulteney [3 March 1738]: ... I wonder to hear him oppose calling for any papers, or any one paper that can be supposed to have the least relation to the subject of complaint now under our consideration. If I were to advise him — and I speak it with the utmost sincerity — I would advise him, for his own sake as well as for the sake of the nation, to advise laying the affair fully before the parliament, in order to have the advice of parliament upon such an important occasion. We have in this kingdom several councils; we have a privy council, a cabinet council, and, for what I know, a more secret and less numerous council still, by which the other two are directed. But the parliament is his majesty's great and chief council; it is the council which all ministers ought, both for their own sakes and their master's, to advise his majesty to consult with upon every affair of great weight and importance. For from all our histories we shall find that those kings have been the most happy and glorious who have often consulted with their parliaments; and that those ministers have always gone through their administration with the greatest ease and applause and have divested themselves of their power with the greatest safety to themselves, which seldom happens to any but those who have advised their masters to depend chiefly upon the advice of their parliaments.

In our privy council, sir, in our cabinet council, and in any more secret council, if there be any such, the honourable gentleman may be supposed to have a sway — nay, it may be even suspected that he has, under his majesty, the chief direction of each — and therefore he may, some time hereafter, be made to answer for their determinations. But it cannot be suspected that he has the direction of either house of parliament; nor are we to presume that he has any other sway in this house but that which proceeds either from the solidity and strength of his arguments, or from his superior art of persuasion. For which reason he can never be made to answer for any resolution of parliament, or for anything that is done pursuant to the advice of parliament....

The duke of Argyle [1 March 1739]: ... I remember, my lords, a very good saying of a noble lord, who once sat in this house — it was the late Lord Peterborough. When he was asked by a friend, one day, his opinion of a certain measure, says my lord in some surprise, "This is the first time I ever heard of it." "Impossible," says the other; "why, you are a privy councillor." "So am I," replies his lordship, "and there is a cabinet councillor coming up to us just now. If you ask the same question of him, he will perhaps hold his peace; and then you will think he is in the secret. But if he opens once his mouth about it, you will find he knows as little of it as I do." My lords, it is not being in privy council, or in cabinet council; one must be in the minister's council to know the true motives of our late proceedings. For my own part, my lords, I can only guess at them, but I have disapproved of them these eighteen years; I have disapproved of them in public, in private, and in all companies. Therefore, my lords, what I speak upon this occasion, I speak it as a citizen of the world, and not as a privy councillor....

The duke of Argyle [1 December 1740]: ... I hope your lordships will indulge me in making a short reply to what has been said by the learned and noble lord who spoke last. Through the whole of what he said upon this new question, he seemed to look upon it as admitted that nothing that required the least secrecy could be safely communicated to this house. From hence your lordships may see how cautious you ought to be of doing anything that may tend toward establishing this as a maxim of our government; for if this should ever come to pass, you will have less confidence from your sovereign, you will be treated in a more contemptible manner by his minister than the writer of the London Gazette. An affair of state may be communicated by way of hint to a gazetter; it may be known to all our news-writers; but the august house of peers will be thought unworthy of being trusted with the secret. If you should ever allow yourselves to be treated in so contemptible a manner by any minister, can you from thenceforth look for any respect from the people? Can you be of any service to your king by advising? Can you be of any service to your country by inquiring?

My lords, the making use of this argument upon any occasion is, in my opinion, the highest indignity that can be offered to this assembly; and therefore I must say I am sorry to see it received with patience. I cannot pretend to any great learning in your journals; but, I am persuaded, many examples may be found where papers of the most secret nature, and of the highest importance, have been communicated to this house when called for. Nay, I have good reason to believe that such motions were always agreed to by the house till the year 1721; because I find among the protests of that year a protest entered against the negative then put upon a motion for laying before this house the instructions given to a noble lord I have in my eye, as his majesty's minister or plenipotentiary to the crown of Sweden or any other of the northern crowns. And that negative is there said to be the first instance to be found in our journals where lords have moved for a sight of instructions of any kind, and have not been supported by the house in that motion.

The year 1721[5] I must therefore, my lords, look on as the fatal era of this modern maxim; which, I confess, has been as inviolably, as imprudently, admitted by the conduct of the house ever since that time. In the same year a negative was put upon a motion for laying the new treaty with Spain before this assembly, and in the same year a negative was put upon the motion for Sir George Byng's instructions, as has been already mentioned. For this last negative the noble lord who moved you this question has, in my opinion, given you what was very probably the true reason. I shall grant that there were several lords at that time in the service of:he crown who had been in that service, and some of them perhaps n the administration, in the year 1718. But we are not to suppose:hat every lord that is in the service of the crown is likewise in the administration of the government; for a lord may be in a very high office under the crown and yet know nothing of what is doing in his majesty's councils. These very instructions to Mr. Vernon, which are now said to contain secrets of such high importance, were made mown, I believe, to very few of his majesty's great officers of state. At least I can answer for myself that I never saw them; and yet I was at that time commander-in-chief of his majesty's forces and me of his cabinet council. But your lordships must observe that we have now two cabinet councils in this kingdom: his majesty has one and the minister has another. And I am afraid it often happens that his majesty's cabinet council knows little or nothing of what is doing or intended to be done.

Ibid., X, 591 f., 1136 f.; XI, 763 f.

(F) Debate on the Removal of Walpole from Office (1741 )[6 ]

Lord Carteret: ... As members of this house, we are in duty bound to have a watchful eye over the public measures his majesty is advised" to pursue, and over the chief ministers he is pleased to employ in the administration of public affairs. And when we are of opinion that the measures he is advised to pursue are wrong, or that the ministers he is pleased to employ are weak or wicked, it is our duty and our business, while we sit here, to warn our sovereign of his danger and to remove weak or wicked counsellors from about his throne. As to the parliamentary methods of removing a minister, I need not acquaint your lordships that they are of several kinds, and that all but one tend to punish as well as remove. When we proceed by impeachment, by bill of attainder, or by bill of pains and penalties, the design is to punish as well as remove; but there is another way of proceeding in parliament which tends only to remove the minister from the king's counsels without inflicting any real punishment upon him, and that is by an humble address to our sovereign that he would be graciously pleased to remove such a one from his counsels.

I believe, my lords, it will not be questioned that either house of parliament may offer such advice to the crown by way of humble address. I believe it will not be said that it is unusual or unprecedented, and therefore I shall not trouble your lordships with calling to your remembrance any of the precedents that may be found in the journals of parliament. I shall only take notice of the difference between the methods of proceeding by impeachment, by bill of attainder, or bill of pains and penalties, and this method of proceeding by way of humble address to the crown. When we proceed by impeachment, by bill of attainder, or by bill of pains and penalties, some particular criminal facts must be alleged, and there must be some sort of proof of those facts. But when we proceed by way of address to the king, that he would be graciously pleased to remove such a minister from his counsels, a general view of that minister's conduct, a general view of public affairs, may afford just cause for such an address, and common fame is a sufficient proof; for, when no particular fact is insisted on, it is impossible to bring any particular proof. This, my lords, is the difference; and the reason of this difference is very plain. When a man is to be punished, either in his person, his freedom, or estate, some crime or criminal neglect ought to be not only alleged but proved by a legal proof, or by strong presumptions. But as his not being employed in the king's counsels neither affects his person, his freedom, nor his estate, therefore weakness alone, or a general bad character, may be a good cause for removing him. A weak man is certainly in any country very unfit for being in the king's counsels; and in a popular government a man who has incurred the general odium of the people ought not to be continued in the king's counsels, because the unpopularity of the minister may at last affect the throne itself and render the people disaffected to their sovereign.

I must therefore desire your lordships to take particular care to distinguish between the method of proceeding against a minister by impeachment, by bill of attainder, or bill of pains and penalties, and the method of proceeding against a minister by address only; because, if you do not take care to fix this distinction in your minds, you may expect from me what I do not intend to give, and what the nature of the motion I am to make renders it not only unnecessary but unfit for me to give. I am to move only for an humble address to his majesty that he would be graciously pleased to remove a minister — I may say, the minister — from his counsels....

Duke of Argyle: ... An address ... , my lords, to remove a minister from the king's counsels and presence may be sufficiently founded upon general rumours or general disgusts, and may be agreed to — nay, in many cases ought to be agreed to — without any particular accusation and, consequently, without any proof. A minister's character neither is nor can be affected by such an address; for a man's character depends entirely upon his own conduct and can never be lost by any sort of judicial proceeding.... For this reason, my lords, I hope we shall have in this motion the concurrence of all those who have a true regard for the character of the minister and, at the same time, a thorough conviction of his innocence. I believe every lord in this house is sensible that he has already lost his character with a great majority of the people of this nation, and that he is generally and violently suspected, not only of great failings, but of heinous crimes. Is not he suspected of having solely engrossed the ear of his sovereign and excluded from his master's presence, as well as confidence, every man that disdains being a slave to him? Is he not suspected of having engrossed the sole disposal of all the favours of the crown, and the sole direction of all the officers of the kingdom? Is he not suspected of having endeavoured to destroy the independency of parliament and the freedom of elections, by making an abject submission to his will and direction the sole title to the obtaining of any favour from the crown or the holding of any post which the crown can take away? Is he not suspected of having applied the public money towards gaining an undue and corrupt influence both in parliament and at elections? Is he not, in general, suspected of having a design, by the continuance and increase of useless offices and the multiplicity of penal laws, to establish in the crown an absolute and uncontrollable power? ...

Does not every one know that the levee of this minister is haunted by lords who, I hope, neither have nor expect any pensions; by land and sea officers who ought not to be allowed to expect any preferment by his favour or recommendation; by lawyers who ought not to be allowed to expect being appointed judges by his means; and by many of the reverend bench and multitudes of other clergymen who, I hope, expect translations or preferments from their piety and learning, and not by neglecting their devotion and trifling away their precious time in attending his levees? My lords, it is needless to deny or disguise this charge. The candidates for preferment have in all countries most excellent noses. They will smell out the proper road to preferment; and when the world sees candidates of all sorts in one road, the world will judge, and most reasonably judge, that to be the sole road to preferment. From hence the general suspicion against this minister has arisen. If the suspicion be well grounded, he is in some degree guilty of high treason by the known laws and constitution of this kingdom, and ought to be impeached as well as removed. But the very suspicion is a sufficient cause for addressing the king to remove him, because the people can never be easy whilst a man is in power who, in their opinion, is a traitor against the laws and constitution of his country; for a man who is in danger of suffering by the law will certainly endeavour to overturn the law. Therefore, to dissipate the fears and jealousies of the people, and to make them easy under the government of their sovereign, such a minister ought to be removed. And after he is removed, the parliament may, without running the risk of being thought corrupted, acquit him, if upon a fair trial he appear to be innocent; and every member may then, without fear, give his vote against him, if he should appear to be guilty.

The next general suspicion I took notice of is his having endeavoured to destroy the independency of parliament and freedom of elections, by disposing of the favours of the crown to such only as vote in parliament or at elections according to his direction, and turning every man out of the employment he holds at the pleasure of the crown, if in either case he disobeys his orders. My lords, the maxim which is the chief corner-stone of our happy constitution is that the king has nothing to do with a man's behaviour in parliament or at elections. King William was so sensible of this that, when his ministers advised him to dismiss an officer of the army for having voted upon some occasion against them in parliament, he answered as every just king ought, and as every wise one will: "The gentleman has always behaved well as an officer of the army, and I have nothing to do with his behaviour as a member of parliament." This, my lords, ought to be the maxim of every king of this country; for if the contrary maxim should ever prevail — if the king should lay it down as a maxim not to bestow a favour upon any one, or continue in commission any officer, but such as vote according to the directions of his ministers — the disposal of the posts and offices necessary for the support of our government must either be taken from the crown, or the crown will take from the parliament its independency, and consequently from our constitution its happiness and freedom. Therefore, I must be of opinion that it is a high degree of treason in any minister to advise the king to lay down such a maxim, or to have any regard to a man's voting in parliament, or at elections, in the distribution of those favours which the crown has to bestow....

The lord chancellor [Hardwicke]: ... To imagine or suppose that any one minister solely engrosses the ear of his sovereign and usurps the sole disposal of all the favours of the crown is, I am sure, no compliment to the king upon the throne, and it is a supposition that can be made by no man who has the honour of knowing anything of his present majesty's character. His ears, my lords, it is well known, are open not only to all his ministers, but to all his subjects. He is as ready to hear their complaints as he is willing to redress their grievances, and never does bestow any favour without examining, as far as his high station will give him leave, into the character of the person recommended. The minister whose conduct and character is now under our consideration has certainly a great share of his majesty's confidence; but this does not proceed from any blind attachment to him, but from the experience his majesty has had of his fidelity and wisdom. And to those who have the honour to be near his majesty's person, or in his counsels, it is very well known that this minister's recommendation does not always succeed; nor does his opinion always prevail in council.... As to the posts, offices, and other favours in the disposal of the crown, it is very well known that he never attempts to recommend any person directly to his majesty, but such as are soliciting for something belonging particularly to his own department. Indeed, as there is and ought and always will be, under a wise king, a very good correspondence between his majesty's ministers, they often recommend to one another; and when a gentleman of the army, navy, or any other sort of business thinks he has a title to the favour of this minister, he may, perhaps, apply to him for his recommendation — not to the crown, but to the minister or great officer whose business and duty it is to recommend to his majesty the most fit and proper person for the office or employment then to be disposed of. Thus, my lords, we may see that this minister's levee may be crowded with suitors of all sorts of characters, without his usurping the disposal of any of the favours of the crown, except such as particularly belong to his own province....

Mr. Sandys: ... According to our constitution, we can have no sole and prime minister; we ought always to have several prime ministers or officers of state. Every such officer has his own proper department, and no officer ought to meddle in the affairs belonging to the department of another. But it is publicly known that this minister, having obtained a sole influence over all our public counsels, has not only assumed the sole direction of all public affairs, but has got every officer of state removed that would not follow his direction, even in the affairs belonging to his own proper department. By this means he hath monopolized all the favours of the crown and engrossed the sole disposal of all places, pensions, titles, and ribbons, as well as of all preferments, civil, military, or ecclesiastical. This, sir, is of itself a most heinous offence against our constitution. But he has greatly aggravated the heinousness of his crime; for, having thus monopolized all the favours of the crown, he has made a blind submission to his direction at elections and in parliament the only ground to hope for any honours or preferments, and the only tenure by which any gentleman could preserve what he had....

Sir Robert Walpole: ... It is superfluous to dwell long upon my own vindication; for I have, not only the assistance of my friends, but the concurrence of the parliament to alleviate my task, since all the public transactions have been approved by the legislature which are now charged upon me as instances of ignorance, negligence, or treachery. Upon the modesty or justice of such accusations it is not my business to remark. The vindication of their own honour is properly the business of the parliament....

The gentlemen by whom the motion has been supported have indeed failed in the most essential part of their accusation. They have not yet attempted to prove that I am the author of those measures which they have so clamorously condemned. But surely they cannot be ignorant that, till they have proved the criminal, their declamations upon the crime are empty sounds; that they are arrows shot without a mark, which lose their force in the air or fall down upon those who discharged them. It has indeed, sir, been prudent not to attempt what they are not able to accomplish; for I defy them to show that in any of these transactions I was engaged otherwise than as one among many — as a member of the council in which they were determined on, or of the parliament by which they were approved.

Of the exorbitant power with which I am invested, of the influence which I extend to all parts of the nation, of the tyranny with which I oppress those that oppose, and the liberality with which my followers are rewarded, no instance has been produced — as, indeed, no effects have been felt. But, having first conferred upon me a kind of mock dignity and styled me the prime minister, they carry on the fiction which has once heated their imaginations and impute to me an unpardonable abuse of that chimerical authority which only they have thought it necessary to bestow....

The debate began at eleven in the morning and continued until four the next morning, when, the question being put upon Mr. Sandys' motion, it was resolved in the negative by 290 against 106.

Ibid., XI, 1049-1388.

(G) Sir William Yonge on Annual Parliaments (1745)

... I have always opposed the restoration of triennial parliaments, and consequently must be against annual. Triennial parliaments would, in my opinion, be the cause of great disturbances, but annual would be the cause of absolute confusion. Whether we ever had such a thing as parliaments annually elected is a question too learned for me to determine. It is a question which I shall never dive into for two reasons: first, because I hate poring over musty and obscure records; and, secondly, because I think the question is now of no importance — for, supposing we had such a thing in former ages as annual elections, the thing is now become absolutely impracticable by the great change that has happened in our circumstances. In former ages a seat in parliament was so far from being thought advantageous that it was thought very burdensome upon the person chosen. It was so far from being contended for that it was by many industriously avoided, and was therefore reckoned one of those public offices which a man was obliged to serve, if he happened to be chosen. Frequent elections could therefore in those days occasion no disturbances in the country; but in these our days every one knows the violent contests that are raised in our counties, and many of our populous cities and boroughs, by a general election, especially when party spirit happens to run high and the opposite candidates are pretty nearly equal. These contests are even at this time so violent that the peace of the country is often in danger of being disturbed. How great, how certain, then would the danger be if the heats and animosities raised upon such occasions had no time to subside? It was this danger chiefly that was the occasion of substituting septennial parliaments in the place of triennial. Many of us may remember the mobs and riots that were occasioned by the last two general elections in the queen's reign, and the first after his late majesty's accession. They were such as must make every man tremble that has any regard for the tranquillity of his country; and, as I am old enough to have a very lively and a very terrible impression of them in my mind, I am sure I shall never be for repealing or altering any of those wise regulations by which a happy and a seasonable period was put to them.

Supposing then, sir, that there were no prorogations in the reign of Edward III, that a parliament was then annually held, and that that parliament was annually chosen — and suppose that king to have been, as I believe he really was, one of the greatest and wisest princes that ever swayed the sceptre of this kingdom — yet this is no argument for our doing what he did with respect to parliaments. It might then have been the height of wisdom, and yet now it may be — in my opinion it would be — the height of madness; because it would certainly be attended with great danger, and is neither necessary nor proper for answering the ends proposed. I say, sir, it is not necessary, because in a septennial parliament we may answer all the ends of our institution as well as in a triennial or annual. We are, it is true, the great and general inquisitors of the nation, and consequently are to take notice of, and to lay in a proper manner before our sovereign, all public grievances, as well as those which affect particularly the places we represent. But cannot we do this in septennial parliaments, which meet annually, as well as in parliaments that are annually chosen? Supposing it true that some members never see their constituents from the time they are chosen till they return to solicit their votes at a new election — which I believe is very rarely the case — is there not, or may there not be, a constant intercourse by letters? Are not all letters from or to members of parliament made free of postage for this very purpose? And may not a member of parliament be by letters as fully informed of the sentiments and grievances of his constituents as if he were present among them? As to those grievances which affect the country in general, he can know them no other way but by letters; for he cannot be present in every part of the kingdom. And a member whose constant residence is in London has a better opportunity of being informed and judging of such grievances than one who resides mostly at his seat in any remote part of the kingdom....

And as to our duty with respect to our sovereign, surely, sir, we may perform that duty; we may give our sovereign the fullest information as to the sentiments of our constituents without going down to live among them; because, as regular posts are now established to every part of the kingdom, we may keep a constant correspondence with our constituents, and may know their sentiments of all public measures by their letters with more certainty, I think, than we could do by their conversation. Therefore, if the members of a septennial parliament neglect to inform their sovereign of the murmurings among the people, or if they misrepresent to him the sentiments of the people, it cannot proceed from their ignorance; but from some other cause, which would have the same effect in an annual as it has in a septennial parliament.

Upon this occasion, sir, as upon many others, the word attorney has been artfully brought into the debate, as if the members of this house were nothing more than the attorneys of the particular county, city, or borough they respectively represent. But every one knows that by our constitution, after a gentleman is chosen, he is the representative or, if you please, the attorney of the people of England and as such is at full freedom to act as he thinks best for the people of England in general. He may receive, he may ask, he may even follow the advice of his particular constituents; but he is not obliged, nor ought he to follow their advice, if he thinks it inconsistent with the general interest of his country. He is in some respects, therefore, the attorney or servant of the people in the same manner as an elective king or chief magistrate is the servant of the people; and there is no greater absurdity or impropriety in choosing a representative for a long term of years than in choosing a king or chief magistrate for a long term of years. In both cases, I shall grant, it is an inconvenience, and that the people have often cause to repent of the choice they have made, before the expiration of the term. But this inconvenience must be submitted to for the sake of avoiding a much greater — I mean the continual disturbances that would be occasioned by frequent elections, and the fluctuation in all public measures that must necessarily ensue from a frequent change of public magistrates or representatives....

Now, sir, with regard to the electors — if there must be an increase of corruption in our parliament, or confusion in our government, I think it does not signify much whether the electors be corrupted or no; but if corruption in parliament be increased, can we suppose that corruption at elections would be diminished by the introduction of annual parliaments? The bribes would not, I shall grant, be so high; but they would be much more frequent, and would consequently become more familiar to the people. Therefore, if it be possible to make the people more corrupt than they are, the establishing of annual elections would be the most effectual method we could take for doing it. The gentlemen who argue for such elections seem to be under a very great mistake; they seem to think that it is the highness of the price that corrupts, whereas I think and am certain that corruption proceeds from the nature of the man, and not from the largeness of the price that is offered. A man of a corrupt heart is like a merchant that must sell his goods and has no market but one to sell them at. If he cannot get the price he demands, he must accept of that which is offered. A corrupt man must and will sell his vote; he has no other market for it but the election for the county or corporation of which he is a member. He therefore must and will sell it there at a low price, if he finds he cannot get a high one. If, indeed, he has another interest in view, the case will be different. For example, if he has employment from one candidate and is offered a bribe by another, he will naturally consider which is of the highest value, and will of course refuse the bribe if he thinks it of less value than his employment. But he is never a bit the honester man; nor can such a man's vote be ever of any service to his country, because it never will be directed by the public interest....

Ibid., XIII, 1076 f.


[1] Passed by the house on report of a committee to consider the revival of the earlier statute (114M). Clause A was a portion of the bill sent down from the house of lords. As a result of this action by the commons, the Licensing Act lapsed.

[2] See no. 124C. The first extract below is from the proceedings of the commons (24 January); the second, from those of the lords (27 March).

[3] Signed by thirty-one peers. Cf. no. 122B.

[4] The first of the following speeches was delivered in the house of commons; the others in the house of lords. They criticized Walpole's conduct of foreign affairs and in particular condemned his refusal to lay diplomatic correspondence before parliament.

[5] It was in this year that Walpole gained virtual control of the government.

[6] The first three speeches were delivered in the house of lords; the last in the commons. Walpole was forced to resign just a year after this debate (February, 1742).


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