« AnteriorContinuar »
voice of the community must be heard—its sense consulted; and statesmen must mingle with their party discussions a perpetual appeal to the undeniable interests and strong feelings of a well informed and inquiring nation. The events of the last two or three months, but especially the evidence of sound popular sentiments cvinced during the late General Election, may be stated as another and a most decisive reason for pausing at the present moment, to observe and to note the situation of the country, with reference to the parties that divide its inhabitants. But as no subject has been productive of more erroneous and ignorant assertion than the use and object of party connexions, we shall first endeavour to clear the way, by stating the true principle of such unions.
When a number of men associate themselves from a general agreement in political opinion, and pursue in one boily a certain course of measures, it is extremely common to hear them accused of various crimes. If they attack the government of the day, they are by its friends stigmatized as disloyal, by aid of the established sophism which confounds the sovereign with his councillors,—the constitution with the ministry of the day. By the people, they are apt to be regarded as prosecuting their own interests; and only desirous of changing the present servants of the Crown, to take their places. Even the more thinking classes of the community, unconnected with government, are apt to see something factious in a systematic opposition; it seems as if men, and not measures, were the criterion of praise or blamc; as if the same persons would approve the same propositions, which they now most loudly condemn, were they but made by their own chiefs. The common question is, Are the ministers always in the wrong? And an inference is thus drawn by those who say they retain the unbiassed exercise of their own judgment, that there is almost as great a sacrifice of conscience in always agreeing with an opposition, as in constantly supporting a minister. It is the interest, and the never-failing practice of the government, to encourage such notions;—the minister has no better friends than those who rail at all party as an interested and factious league of place-hunters or zealots-nor any more useful resources than in the number of well-meaning and not very clearsighted persons, who, from tender consciences, or perhaps from the vanity of always thinking for themselves, keep aloof from party connexion as unprincipled and degrading.
Another charge against party, arises out of the coalitions which, from time to time, are framed between men of different political connexions, who have once been opposed to each other. No more fruitful source can be assigned of the prejudices which have been conceived against various parties, and of the general disposition, which for a long while has existed, to question the purity of publick men generally. As superficial observers cannot comprehend the principle which unites individuals together in political cooperation, or conceive how a man may, to promote a just cause, overlook slighter differences of opinion, and act with those of whom he does not in every particular approves the same reasoners find it still more difficult to understand on what grounds persons, long inveterately hostile, can unite when circumstances are changed: And as party union is termed a combination for power or place, and party hostility a factious scramble--so a coalition of parties is deemed a profligate abandonment of publick principle for private advantage. The two most celebrated measures of this kind, in more modern times, have given rise to an infinity of such feelings in the public mind.
The last cause we shall here state, of the odium that has lately fallen upon party, is the conduct almost inevitably pursued by every opposition, upon its accession to power, and the disappointment arising from thence, both to the publick and to individuals. How sparing soever an opposition may be of their promises to the country, far more will always be expected of them than any man can perform. Whatever has been done amiss by the former ministry, they are called upon to rectify, and instantly-for delay is held equal to non-performance. At all events, they are not suffered to continue for one moment in the steps which they had blamed their predecessors for pursuing ; although it may be perfectly consistent in those who inveighed against a measure, to persevere in it, when once adopted, as the lesser evil; or, if resolved upon abandoning it, to do this cautiously and slowly. The heedless multitude however cry out, that the new men are just as bad as the old, and would always have acted like them, had they been in their place. And hence a new topic for those whose clamour is, that all publick men are alike. In the mean time, the impossibility of satisfying the private claims of those who follow the party for the sake of its patronage, fills the ranks of the discontented ; and the loss of power having disarmed the popular indignation against the fallen ministry, publick censure is almost exclusively reserved for their successors. These, too, are for a long time regarded rather as an opposition, inexpertly converted into ministers, than as regular placemen; and the dislikes excited by whatever they do, or leave undone, tinge the publick opinion respecting opposition parties in general. These appear to us the principal sources of the unpopularity into which regular party has fallen,
We are very far indeed from denying, that there have been, in all times, abuses of the principle which justifies party union -or that most parties, in their turn, have had errors and crimes to answer for, which afford some colour to the charges indiscriminately made against them all. We may even admit, that, unless strictly watched, and controlled by the great check of publick opinion, party association is apt to degenerate and pro, duce serious evils, by its perversion to purposes of a private na
Nevertheless, we conceive, that the plan of acting in parties, has its foundation in the necessity of the case, and that it affords the only safe and practical means of carrying on the business of a free country--not, as ignorant men imagine, by a collusion between different juntos of men, but by a mode at once peaceful and effectual, of giving their full influence to different principles. Let us then attend to the ground upon which alone such associations are to be defended.
As long as men are ambitious, corrupt and servile, every sovereign will attempt to extend his power; he will easily find instruments wherewithal to carry on this bad'work; if unresisted, his encroachments upon public liberty will go on with an accelerated swiftness, each step affording new facilities for making another stride, and furnishing additional confidence to attempt it. It requires no argument, then, to show the absolute necessity of strictly watching every administration at all times. But if any given set of ministers has adopted a system of government grossly erroneous, or corrupt, or unconstitutional, a necessity arises for taking every lawful means to displace them, and prevent further mischief. The question is, how can they be most effectually watched in the one case, and opposed in the other? Now, we must consider the means of supporting themselves, which all ministers have, and the power which is thus afforded them of eluding the vigilance and overcoming the resistance of insulated individuals. Every ministry is necessarily a league--a party—a party, too, regularly marshalled, and kept together in one solid body,--as much more compact than the best organized opposition, as a standing army is better disciplined than a corps of volunteers. The ministers have all the force and all the influence of the Government at their disposal. The fears of some, the hopes of others, range around them a vast host of persons whom they can dispose of at pleasure, without ever consulting their wishes. It is enough for those multitudes that the Government wills any thing; and straightway they feel themselves bound strenuously to promote it. Add to this, the strength derived from the good will, and often the cooperation, of a great and even respectable class, who give themselves little trouble to inquire into the merits of measures, but are re
solved to believe, that whatever the minister for the time being says or does, is right. When persons of little reflection or no candour cry out against an opposition as factious; inveigh against party spirit; and ask how any honest man can give up the guidance of his conscience, and follow implicitly the steps of his political leaders,-how comes it that they forget the far more implicit obedience rendered to the minister of the day, by the whole host of Government dependants? They are indeed knit together by an inseparable bond-their common interest; theirs is an unscrupulous, an uninquiring, an unthinking compliance with all that their chief prescribes. If the charges of unconscientious agreement in opinion, or blind submission to other men, applies to any class, it clearly is to those whom the power of the Government commands, or its patronage influences. If the opposers of the Government must be accused of violence and rancour, its supporters are equally open to the charge of tyranny and persecution. Nor will it avail the enemies of all party, to say that they blame both sides, and would have no regular discipline in either. . By the nature of the case, there must be a party, regularly disciplined and paid, for the minister of the day. As long as self-interest has any influence over men's minds at least, this party must, of necessity, exist at all times. The question therefore is not, whether we shall do without any such unions; but whether we shall suffer them · all to be on one side, and shall not have recourse to something of the same system and combination for watching and for opposing the ministerial party, which that party always uses for retaining its power, and almost always for augmenting the power of the Crown, and increasing the burthens of the people.
Now, it seems very manifest, that, without some systematic cooperation, no ministry can be either watched or opposed effectually. The argument applies, in different degrees, both to the vigilance which all administrations require, and the opposition which should be given to councils radically vicious; and as it is of course strongest in the latter case, we shall principally direct our attention to that. Compare, then, the chance of success which a ministry and an opposition, composed of insulated individuals, would have. All the adherents of the minister act in concert, and each sacrifices his own opinions and views, where they clash with the common object of defending their leader's place. If he proposes a measure which many of them disapprove, still they support him; because the loss of it would endanger his official existence. But if his opponents only attack him when they are all agreed upon the measure, they must, for the same reason, make the attack in the manner which
all approve; that is to say, only those who agree in disapproving of the measure can join the attack; and of those, only such as concur in the way of expressing their dissent. It is not merely that one man may be influenced by one reason, and another by another, to join in the same vote :—this would lead to no material defalcation of strength. But there will be found very few votes in which all are precisely agreed; and if each man must follow his own judgment for conscience sake, even a small difference of sentiment must prevent a concurrence in the vote. Thus it will happen, that the whole body who disapprove of the measures of government as a system, and conscientiously dleem a change necessary, are prevented from ever expressing that opinion at all. There might even be a clear majority against the government, and yet no change could be effected.
Let the nature of the cooperation which party requires be only considered fairly, and it will appear in no respect to involve sacrifices beyond what the most scrupulous ought to make. A number of individuals agree in holding many strong opinions upon the most important subjects. Unless there exists this gerieral communion of sentiments, the party ought not to be formed. They all agree in holding a change of system necessary for the salvation of the country: -for if they only unite to bring about a change of men, we admit the conflict to be a mere scramble for power. Agreeing generally, and on important points, each man has differences of opinion as to the details; but the corner stone of the whole fabric being the unanimous concurrence in thinking that a change of system is necessary, and the adoption of some one line of opposition being essentially to accomplish this end, it is no sacrifice of individual opinions, but only acting in conformity with the most important opinion to sacrifice the less important; and, to act otherwise, would in reality be a much greater sacrifice of individual opinion. In truth, this is the way in which every man carries on his private affairs; and it is precisely the principle on which all communities depend for their existence. The power of the majority to bind the whole Tests upon no other foundation. Does any man deem it unconscientious to submit to a bad law after it is passed, though he resisted its introduction ? Unless, in extreme cases, when all government is at an end, it is the duty of every man to yield obedience, and to cooperate in carrying into effect measures which, while under discussion, he had opposed, because a still greater evil would ensue from his continued opposition, namely, the dissolution of society. So, in a party, it is a man's duty to cooperate with the whole body after his peculiar views have been overruled, because otherwise a still greater evil would re