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slexfen, Sir George Treby, Serjeant Pemberton, Serjeant Leyinz, and Mr. Somers. It is said that on finding the name of the latter in the list of their legal advisers, the bishops objected to him as a person whose youth and want of practice rendered him unfit for so arduous a contest ; but on Pollexfen representing to them the great learning of Mr. Somers, and his accurate knowledge of the records, and intimating his own resolution not to appear himself, unless Mr. Somers should also be employed, he was at once associated in the defence. Of the services rendered by Mr. Somers on this occasion to his clients it is difficult to form a judgment; but that much of the deep constitutional learning displayed by the other counsel had been furnished by his researches is extremely probable. His own address was, agreeably to the modesty and discretion of his mind, distinguished by its brevity, its compression, and its close application to the case. It was, in fact, an admirable summary of all the arguments which could be adduced on behalf of his clients. The event of this great trial was most favourable to the liberties of the country, and the acquittal of the bishops contributed more than any other event to hasten the impending revolution.
Of the part acted by Mr. Somers, in forwarding that great political event, but little is known. It is probable, however, that he was consulted by those distinguished persons who were most active in soliciting the presence of the Prince of Orange, and it has indeed been said by one historian * that he was admitted into the most secret councils of the prince, and was one of those who concerted the measure of bringing him over to England. Upon the flight of James II., and the presentation of the address from the lords and the assembly of commons to the Prince of Orange, requesting him to summon a convention, letters were issued for that purpose in the prince's name, and Mr. Somers, who had never hitherto appeared in parliament, was returned by the city of Worcester to represent his fellow-citizens in the ap
proaching convention. A more zealous and able deputy could not have been selected; and in the long debates which took place with regard to the settlement of the nation, he acted a very conspicuous part. * The commons having voted that James had abdicated, and that the throne was thereby vacant, and the house of lords having proposed certain amendments in that resolution, a committee was appointed, of which Mr. Somers was one, to conduct a conference with the lords on the subject. The chief objection of the peers was to the word abdicate, in place of which they proposed to substitute the term deserted, and to omit altogether the clause respecting the vacancy of the throne. In justification of the resolution as originally worded, Mr. Somers spoke at considerable length and with much learning, and the lords ultimately consented to withdraw their amendments. It has been said, and frequently repeated, that these verbal contests little befitted the dignity of the assembly in which they took place; but it must be remembered that, where a whole nation is interested in a dispute, there may be numbers who are captivated by words as well as by reason. · Another vote having passed, " that the Prince and Princess of Orange should be declared king and queen,” the convention applied themselves to the consideration of the grievances under which the nation had suffered. A committee was accordingly appointed, of which Mr. Somers was a member, to bring in general heads of such things as were absolutely necessary to be considered, for the better securing our religion, liberty, and laws. The report of the committee included a variety of matters, the principal part of which were afterwards incorporated in the Declaration of Rights. The amendments were referred to a new committee, of which Mr. Somers was chairman, and being at length completed, the Declaration of Rights, by an order of both houses, was directed to
+ Hardwicke State Papers, vol. ii. p. 401. Appendix to Mr. Maddock's Liie.
† Com. Journ. vol. 10. p. 15.
be engrossed and to remain amongst the records, and also to be enrolled in chancery.
In surveying this portion of the life of Mr. Somers, it is impossible to regard it without the most lively sentiments of admiration and respect. From an obscure origin, he had risen, by the exertion of his own talents and diligence, not merely to a high rank in his own profession, but to a conspicuous station in public life. From a very early age the strenuous advocate of popular rights, he enjoyed the happiness of seeing the principles he so deeply loved and cherished, practically applied, on a scale magnificently extensive, to the settlement of the nation. It must indeed have been a most grateful reflection to him, that when the liberties of the country were almost overwhelmed, he had not hesitated to exert himself in their defence, and that the better spirit, which manifested itself at the revolution, might have been owing, in some degree, to his own exertions. To a mind truly ambitious, what reward can be proposed equal to reflections like these ? To instruct and inform the intellect of a nation, to lead them to a knowledge of their rights, and to teach them how those rights may be claimed and exercised with temper, discretion, and success, is indeed a worthy and noble ambition.
Soon after the accession of William and Mary, Mr. Somers, having been appointed solicitor-general, received the honour of knighthood; and in the debates on the bill for recognising the new sovereigns and ratifying the act of convention, he distinguished himself greatly by the able manner in which he defended the principles of the revolution. The legality of the convention having been questioned by a member of the opposition, because it had not been summoned by writ, the solicitor-general answered the objection with much spirit. He said that if it was not a legal parliament, they who were then met, and had taken the oaths enacted by that parliament, were guilty of high treason ; that the laws repealed by it being still in force, they must presently return to King James; that all the money levied, collected, and paid by virtue of the acts of that parliament, made every one that was concerned in it highly criminal. “This,” adds Burnet, “ he spoke with such zeal, and such an ascendent of authority, that none were prepared to answer it, so that the bill passed without more opposition. This was a great service done in a very critical time, and contributed not a little to raise Somers's character.” *
In the month of April, 1692, Sir John Somers was raised to the post of attorney-general; and such was the reputation he acquired both in the discharge of his official duties and in the house of commons, that he was, in the month of March, 1692-3, appointed lord keeper of the great seal. An unfortunate misunderstanding occurred, immediately after his receiving the seals, between the king and himself, relative to the filling up of the office of attorney-general, and some other legal appointments. The lord keeper had promised the place of attorney to Sir Thomas Trevor, but William had directed that it should be bestowed upon Mr. Ward. Sir John Somers, therefore, addressed a very respectful letter to the king, urging the ancient practice with regard to these appointments, and stating that he conceived it was for his majesty's service that they should be dependent on the great seal. Notwithstanding this remonstrance, Mr. Ward received the appointment, but shortly afterwards was succeeded by Sir Thomas Trevor.+ On accepting the great seal, Sir John Somers was not created a peer; and it was not until the year 1697 that he was raised to the peerage by the style and title of Baron Somers, of Eversham. It appears that he expressed considerable reluctance to receive this honour. “I had directions,” says the Duke of Shrewsbury in a letter dated May, 1695, and enclosing a warrant for a peerage, «to have said every thing I could imagine to persuade you to accept of a title, and the king is really convinced that it is for his service that you should. I beg the answer I may have, may be a bill for the king's signing. As for arguments, I have used all I have already, and by your objections you may give me leave to tell you, you are as partial and unreasonable with too much modesty, as some are with too much ambition.”*
* Own Times, vol. ii. p. 42. folio ed. + Hardwicke State Papers, vol. ii. p. 427.
In the year 1695, during the king's absence from England, Lord Keeper Somers was constituted one of the lords justices, a post which he again filled in the years 1697 and 1698, and in 1697 he was appointed lord high chancellor. At this time the king was pleased to grant to him the manors of Reygate and Howleigh in Surrey, together with an annuity of € 2100 out of the fee-farm rents. These grants formed an article in the impeachment, which a few years afterwards was preferred against him by the commons.
The situation of Lord Somers in the ministry was difficult and critical. Although he enjoyed the confidence of the king, yet he had rendered himself particularly obnoxious to the Tories, who had attained such influence, that William was perpetually wavering between that party and the Whigs. In a letter, which appears to have been written towards the close of the year 1698, Lord Somers expresses, in strong terms, his doubts as to the stability of the administration. “There is nothing to support the Whigs, but the difficulty of his the king's) piecing with the other party, and the almost impossibility of finding a set of Tories who will unite. So that in the end I conclude it will be a pieced business, which will fall asunder immediately.”+ At length the Tories resolved to make a strenuous effort to remove the lord chancellor, whose great credit with the king had been the principal means of preserving the Whig administration : by his discretion and moderation the heat and violence, which some of the leading Whigs displayed, had been softened down and rendered less displeasing to the king, and unless he could be removed, it was in vain that the Tories struggled for power. The leaders, therefore, of that party endeavoured to
• Hardwicke State Papers, vol. ii. p. 429. Id. p. 436.