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life, may that question be fairly accommodated; What dost thou here, Elijah ?
There may arise, however, a coincidence of circumstances, so uncommon in themselves, as to admit of some short deviation from this general rule. Among these, I deem myself authorized to number that occasion, on which I have the honour of addressing you at present. We are assembled, for a purpose intimately connected with matters of national consideration : namely, to humble ourselves at the footstool of uncreated majesty; to deplore our own sins, and the sins of our people; and to supplicate the blessing of heaven on our king and country, the two prime objects of our earthly love.
Things standing thus, I find myself constrained, for once, briefly to start from my usual sphere. With a view to make my political moderation known to as many as condescend to hear me this day, and in order to rectify a few mistakes, which have been industriously and unjustly circulated; I request leave to premise some necessary particulars, declarative of my civil creed. For notwithstanding my religious and political honesty have, on more worldly occasions than one, apparently stood in my way; yet, through the good hand of God upon me, it is my invariable rule, to be strictly and inviolably transparent, even though it were to my own hindrance. We live at a time, when virtue of every kind is (for the most part) literally and solely its own reward. And an exceeding great reward is most certainly and inseparably connected with it. For who can describe the sweetness of that moral joy, which results from the testimony of conscience, that, in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have our conversation in the world ? with this simplicity, I observe,
1. That as I am, in the literal sense of the word, an Englishman; so I wish to be such, in the best
sense of it. Next to the gospel of Christ, I love and revere the constitution of my country. Consequently,
2. I am not a republican. On the contrary, I am a royalist, on principle. I have a most cordial and profound veneration, both for the office and for the person of the king; and hold myself obliged, if necessity required, to lay down my life in their just defence. Every pulse I have, sincerely and strongly beats for the present moderate episcopacy in the church; and for constitutional monarchy in the state.
Here, if I might be allowed a few moments digression, I would observe, that the notion of a pure republic is a mere idea, and no more. A commonwealth, truly and strictly so called, never yet subsisted, and never can subsist, except in the brains of a few speculative men, and in such writings as those of Plato, and sir Thomas More. The many were always statedly governed by the few: and always must be, while men are men; i. e. while providence distributes wisdom, wealth, and power, with unequal hand. A whole nation can no more be civil go. vernors, than a whole church can be clergymen, or all clergymen bishops. I once asked the most respectable republican in this kingdom, whether a single instance can be produced, of a genuine republic, in the whole compass of ancient or modern history? I knew the answer must be in the negative; and so it was. There were, I confess, a few short periods, when the Athenian administration approached the nearest, perhaps, of any other, to an entire democracy: bút, even then, it fell extremely short of the name. In our own country, when the House of Commons, after the execution of Charles I. assumed the sovereign power; was England, even during the short continuance of that self-created authority, a real republic? Nay, verily.
The three nations were three kingdoms still. They were governed by a multitude of kings, instead of
Though without the name and the splendors, the long parliament (until Cromwell tripped up their heels) possessed and exercised all the pow. ers of the most absolute royalty: and he that has the substance, need care but little for the shadow. Look at those nominal republics, which are now subsisting in several parts of Europe. Ask an inhabitant of Holland, of Genoa, of Venice, Geneva, or of the Switz cantons, whether the government there is completely popular? No such thing. They are not Republics, but Oligarchies. And Oligarchy is usually a species of the most grievous and insufferable tyranny.
3. In my opinion, every true Englishman is a constitutionalist: or, one who considers that happy mixture of the regal, the aristocratic, and the popular rights, established in this kingdom, to be one of the best and noblest efforts of human wisdom and justice, that ever did honour to the human understanding and to the human heart. Yet, let it be observed, that the persons who compose that most august threefold body, are not as some have inaccurately affirmed) the constitution itself, but the natural and sworn guardians of it.
4. Though the constitution does not consist of the three estates, but the three estates derive their very being and importance from the constitution; still, the health and safety of the constitution depend on the preservation of that just balance and mutual counterpoise of power, which this wise distribution of authority was calculated to effectuate and maintain. If, in some remote age, the regal influence should absorb either the aristocratic, or the representative branch of the legislature, or both;
on the other hand, should the higher or the lower house of parliament be, in some future period, sufficiently powerful and wicked (as the commons in the last century were) to annihilate the just prerogatives of the crown, or the just privileges of the other parliamentary estate ;
the constitutional balance will be broken : the several weights, by being thrown into one scale, will preponderate too much one way; and the sacred ark, of generous and equal liberty, will kick the beam. In the former case, posterity would be subject to the will of an individual tyrant: in the latter, to the still more terrible yoke of many.
5. I believe, that the spirit and privileges of the English constitution are analogous to the vital fluids in an animal body; which ought, by a liberal and impartial circulation, to warm and invigorate, not only the head and heart, but the meanest and remotest limb. Yea, every single hair is entitled, in its measure, to partake of the common supply.
A motley empire, made up of slaves and freemen, could not, from the very nature of so heterogeneous a conbination, continue long in that condition. Like the mongrel image in Nebuchadnezzar's vision, it would soon fall, and be broken. Despotism has ever proved an insatiable gulf. Throw ever so much into it, it would still yawn for more.
Were liberty to perish, irretrievably, from any part of the English world, the whole would soon be deluged, by the black sea of arbitrary power. Moreover, tua res agitur, paries quum proximus ardet : “ When your next neighbour's house is on fire, your own is in danger.”—Some years ago, a gentleman, in Nottinghamshire, who had injured one of his feet, by paring a nail to the quick, laughed, on being told, that there was danger of a mortification. . 6. Be it so,” said he: “ the foot is a long way from the heart.” But, as distant as it was, the ascending mortification put a period to his life, not many weeks afterward. It holds as true, in the body civil, as in the body natural, that, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it.
6. The English constitution is a system of qualified liberty. What is liberty? 1. Not an inflammatory turbulance of conduct; nor an unlimited freedom, or indecency of speech; nor a blind, redhot attachment to party. Party, as one well defines it, is “ The madness of many, for the gain of a
Whereas true liberty consists in the legal safety, and good order of each, for the advantage of the whole. 2. Liberty is not licentiousness, or a power of committing evil with impunity; but the privilege of doing all the good we can; and of enjoying without molestation, and without fear, as much personal happiness as is consistent with the written law of God, the unwritten law of conscience, and the welfare of society at large.
Now, I would no more reprobate the true, mo. dest, constitutional liberty, merely because some mistaken zealots may occasionally abuse it to licentiousness; than I would reject the scripture doctrine of grace, because a few men of corrupt minds, may possibly pervert it to Antinomianism.
If you wish to know clearly, what is comprised in the idea of English liberty, two or three hours reading will, at any time, thoroughly inform you. Peruse Magna Charta, publicly signed by king John; and afterwards confirmed, with still greater circumstances of solemnity, by Henry III.; though execrably violated by both. To this, add a perusal of the Petition of Right; very solemnly, but not very sincerely ratified and recognized by Charles I.Then run over the Bill of Rights, which received either the hearty, or the dissembled concurrence of William III. And, lastly, make yourself acquainted with the coronation oath, taken by our succeeding monarchs. Whatever reaches fully to this fourfold standard, is constitutional freedom. All below this united mark, is not liberty ; and all beyond it, is in legal construction, licentiousness.