NEW WHIG READING OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS.
WE have already discussed one constitutional point, upon the old idea of the constitution. What the new Whig notions of the constitution are, may be gleaned from an article in the Examiner a:of last-Sunday. The writer is arguing upon an apprehension that Sir ROBERT PEEL might oppose the Sugar-duties- " To oppose the renewal of the Sugar-duties would be nothing less than refusing the supplies, an extreme step which the whole of the Tory party are surely not reckless enough to be prepared for, and which would certainly re- array on the side of Ministers the Whig Members who have deserted it on the question of the reduction of the Foreign Sugar-duties. The consequence would be, the restoration of the Ministerial majority. But let us for a moment suppose the contrary event—that the supplies are refused; the Government inspired with a courage equal to the rectitude of its course, should not be daunted or deterred by this blow of the monopolists ; it should, in default of a Sugar-duties Bill, support the national credit by an Order in Council levying the duties, and then confidently appeal to the country against the faction which both refuses relief to the suffering people and the necessary supplies to the state. This would doubtless be a strong step, but it would be called for by an extreme necessity—it would be the extreme resource of a just Govern- ment against the extreme violence of an interested faction. The idea of a coup d'etat is startling, we know ; but fir what do the prerogatires of the Erown exist if not for exercise upon such an occasion as that imagined ?"
We had always " imagined " that to stop the supplies was a legitimate form of Parliamentary proceeding. We had also "imagined," from our copy of the Bill of Rights, that no such "prerogatives of the Crown" existed, as those "imagined" for this "occasion." For example, that document tells us-
" 1. That the pretended power of suspending laws, by regal authority, without consent of Parliament, is illegal.
"2. That the pretended power of dispensing with laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, as it bath been assumed and exercised of late is illegal.
"4. That levying money for or to the use of the Crown, we PRETENCE or PREROGATIVE, without grant of Parliament, for longer time, or in all other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal."—Bmi. or RIGHTS. Here was the source of our false imagining. The right Whig reading evidently is, "that levying money, by pretence of preroga- tive, without grant of Parliament, is not illegal." But to speak seriously : though the effect of the "startling coup d'etat' has been marred by the cautious courtesy of Sir RO- BERT PEEL in seconding the Sugar-duties, it may be worth while to trace out the working of the new " prerogatives " imagined by these men of affairs. Suppose the Sugar-duties refused, and an order in Council issued to levy them, or a proclamation,—for Kings of the STUART line, and their "friends," have before now maintained that a proclamation had equal validity with an act of Parliament. It is not improbable that people might act upon the once Whig doctrine of refusing taxes, especially where taxes were not taxes : and the contest would not lie between brokers and some poor Radical with his truckle-bed; the owners and crews of argosies might oppose themselves to the Customhouse-officers. Imagine resistance and bloodshed ensuing,—which, looking at the political exasperation, the clear illegality of the transaction, and the profit to be made, is a possible case. Would the law hold it murder, if death followed resistance to a violent and illegal seizure of property ; or would juries be found to acquit "prero- gative" officers who killed men endavouring to preserve their own? But suppose the Customs-officers, from misgiving or warning, re- quired a naval or military force to back them in their exploits: might not the Magistrates, or the officers in command, have some scruple in acting upon these "high prerogative" notions ? Put the case of violence aside : imagine the coup d'etat failing, as it would be exceedingly likely to fail of securing a majority, when its object was to levy taxes by " pretence of prerogative" : would not the majority in the new Parliament be exceedingly chary of passing a bill of indemnity to protect from civil actions the unlucky devils in the Customs who had been seizing people's goods or extorting their money without any authority ? What then ? Why, another coup d'etat, in a "pretended power of suspending laws, or the exe- cution of laws, or of dispensing with laws, or the execution of Jaws, by regal authority." There is yet another step : it is pos- sible that such a daring exercise of arbitrary power, coupled with the fury of contending parties, might, as Lord MELBOURNE said of Corn-law agitation, so "convulse • the country, so "stir society to its foundations," so "excite man against man," as to demand the impeachment of its authors. And what then ? Oh I another
"startling coup d'etat," to override the clause in the Act of Settle- ment which enacts " that no pardon under the great seal of Eng- land be pleadable to an impeachment by the Commons in Parlia- ment." And thus we reach the point where the "Queen's friends" have landed the constitution.
We are not compurgators of the STUARTS, least of all of Jamas the Second ; but this may be said upon that misguided tyrant, that when "by the assistance of divers evil counsellors, &c. em- ployed by him," he endeavoured " to subvert the laws and liber- ties of this kingdom," those laws were existent as cintoms or in- terpretations, not in distinct and positive enactment. The new Whig doctrine of "high prerogative" is broached with the ex- ample of this unhappy Sovereign, and the positive enactments to which his deposition led, staring men in the face. If it be the fashion to instil these" high prerogative" opinions- into Queen VICTORIA, King JAMES the Second fell upon an age too soon ; if these are true constitutional doctrines, the house of STUART has been an ill-used family.