« AnteriorContinuar »
by aristocratical influence being enlisted in the ranks of party. The power of great families is indeed a most necessary part of the array to which the people must look for their security against misgovernment. It is in vain to stigmatize this cooperation as the influence of a domineering aristocracy; to assert that the whole is a contention of grandees; and to pretend that the power of one is better than that of an oligarchy. Such are the clamours cunningly raised by the minions of arbitrary power; scarcely with less wickedness echoed by the wild fury of demagogues; and senselessly listened to by the unthinking rabble. But this description of persons is daily lessening in number, as the education of the poor advances: The delusion is therefore losing its influence, and the undue power of the Crown must soon be deprived of its best allies, the mob and their leaders. Every man of sense has long been convinced, that no two things can be more widely different, than the wholesome and natural influence of the asistocracy in a political party, and the vicious form of national government, which is known by the same name. That influence can only be exerted by the freewill of the party, and the people whose leaders and advocates those great families are.
As soon as the common operations of the party have raised them to power, they are subject to all the checks and controls which the frame of our constitution has provided, and which renders all danger from aristocratic influence wholly chimerical. But, in connexion with the party whose principles they share, and whose confidence they enjoy, those families exercise a large and a salutary influence. They afiord a counterpoise from their wealth, rank and station, to the resources of force and corruption at the Crown's disposal: they are a rallying point to the scattered strength of the inferior partisans, and a more permanent mass in which the common principles may be embodied and preserved among the vicissitudes of fortune; and, in the lapse of time, so apt to have a fatal effect among the more fickle and more numerous orders of society, they are eminently useful in tempering the zeal, as well as in fixing the unsteadiness of popular opinion,-and thus give regulation and direction, as well as efficacy, to the voice and the strength of the people.
We are very far from wishing to deny, that the principle of party association has ever been abused ; and the perversion of it lias most frequently been, in the combinations of great families, united by no distinguishing opinions, and opposing the government upon no very intelligible grounds. The object, in these cases, seems rather to have been, the distribution of patronage; and the point of difference with the ministry was sometimes
nothing more important to the community, than the particular channels in which Royal favour should flow. In such times as those, Swift might well be allowed to rail and to laugh at party, and to term it the madness of many for the gain of a few. But in the present times, such a perversion of the principle is quite impossible. The powerful families are aware, that they can only retain their influence in the country, by acting upon high public grounds. The charge, indeed, to which they have been most exposed, is that of standing on too lofty ground, and refusing office when it was within their reach, because they could not obtain it with a recognition of their own opinions upon certain important questions of state. Certain it is, that a hankering after place never was so little the failing of an opposition as in our times.
As aristocratical influence has sometimes been abused, so it is impossible to deny that coalitions of parties have been formed repugnant to the universal feelings of the country; and, however justifiable upon principle, yet reprehensible in point of prudence--for this reason, that the general sense of the people could not be reconciled to them. The union of Mr Fox and Lord North, at the close of the American war, was a measure of this description; and its effects in alienating the public mind from these political leaders, were very unfortunate. Yet, that coalitions may be formed most honestly, and that the public good may frequently require them, is abundantly manifest. They are recommended by the same views which prescribe the formation of any one party, namely, the necessity of uniting together all who agree on certain highly important questions, and of sacrificing minor differences in order to secure some grand point for the country. If two parties have been long opposed, and the grounds of their difference were removed by the course of events, there can be no reason whatever for their not forming a junction in order to oppose effectually some third party, the success of which is deemed by them both to be pernicious to the common weal. The coalition, in such a case, is only a sacrifice of private animosities to the public good. No doubt, unions of this description may very probably lead to a great embarrassment, when their primary object is gained; for it is possible that the two parties may agree in little more than in the necessity of a change; so that when they come to act together in office, the views of each may hamper the other, and a feeble government of concessicns and compromises and half measures may be established. But this is only a reason for carefully examining the grounds of the coalition, and coming, in the first
TOL. XXX. NO, 59.
instance, to a full understanding upon all other views of policy: it is no argument against coalitions generally; and most certainly it affords no ground of invective against party in the abstract.
There is just as little reason for such invectives, furnished by the inevitable consequences of a successful opposition, namely, the accession to power of those engaged in it
. This event was the avowed object of their operations; not for the sake of the emoluments and patronage connected with office, but for the sake of the principles which they professed, and which could only be carried into effect by the change of ministry. To rescue the country from the hands of men who were misgoverning and ruining it, and to place its affairs in the hands of men whose integrity was greater, and whose views of policy were sounderthis was the avowed object of the party. In pursuing this object, much good service may indeed have been rendered to the State incidentally-many useful measures forced upon the ministers many pernicious attempts defeated-many bad schemes prevented from being even tried : All these successes would have been of great and lasting benefit to the country, even if the main object had failed, and the change of government had never been effected; and all these advantages to the State would have been the legitimate fruits of party in the strictest sense of the word. But a more extensive and permanent corrective to misrule was wanting; the country was to be saved from men whose principles were hurtful to its best interests, in order to be ruled by those who could safely be trusted with them. Can any clamour, then, be more vulgar or senseless than theirs who abuse, as place-hunters, the men who have been raised to power by the triumph of their own principles? Can any thing be more absurd than to oppose a ministry, and seek its downfal, for the mere sake of destroying it, without putting any other in its place? The formation of a ministry on purer principles, composed of more trustworthy men, is the only legitimate object of all constitutional opposition. Whoever takes office on this ground, acts a truly patriotic part. He only can be charged with hunting after place, who assumes, for factious purposes, principles that do not belong to him; or abandons those which he had professed, when the avenues to office are within his view. Here, again, we must avail ourselves of the just and dignified expressions of Burke.
Party,' he observes, is a body of men united, for promoting by their joint endeavours, the national interest, upon some particula principle in which they are all agreed. For my part, I find it in possible to conceive, that any one believes in his own politics, a thinks them to be of any weight, who refuses to adopt the means of having them reduced into practice. It is the business of the speculative philosopher to mark the proper ends of government. It is the business of the politician, who is the philosopher in action, to find out proper means towards those ends, and to employ them with effect. Therefore every honourable connexion will avow it is their first purpose, to pursue every just method to put the men who hold their opinions into such a condition as may enable them to carry their common plans into execution, with all the power and authority of the state. As this power is attached to certain situations, it is their duty to contend for these situations. Without a proscription of others, they are bound to give to their own party the preference in all things; and by no means, for private considerations, to accept any offers of power in which the whole body is not included ; nor to suffer themselves to be led, or to be controlled, or to be over-balanced, in office or in council, by those who contradict the very fundamental principles on which their party is formed, and even those upon which every fair connexion must stand. Such a generous contention for power, on such manly and honourable maxims, will easily be distinguished from the mean and interested struggle for place and emolument. The very style of such persons will serve to discriminate them from those numberless impostors, who have deluded the ignorant with pro. fessions incompatible with human practice, and have afterwards incensed them by practices below the level of vulgar rectitude.'
Of the imputations cast upon party men for deserting their followers or their principles when they take office, it is the less necessary to speak at large; because, as soon as they have the government in their hands, they ought to be closely watched, and are pretty sure to be so, by those whom they have displaced. Nor would there fail, in these times, to arise a third party for the interests of the people, if their present defenders were to forget themselves when in office, and to league with the advocates of unconstitutional measures. The risk would be considerable of the new opposition rather encouraging than checking such a dereliction of duty: They followed this course during the year 1806, when the country had not the benefit of a constitutional opposition. But the immediate formation of a third party, out of doors, would, in this case, be irresistible, and it would speedily find itself represented in Parliament, or would push its representatives into that assembly. The more imminent hazard is of an opposite description. Too much, and in too short a time, is expected to be performed by the new and popular ministers. Sufficient time is not allowed them to redeem their pledges. If they do not at once attempt all they promised, they are apt to be deserted by many well-meaning, but weak adherents; and they are thus disarmed of the power to do much of the good service they might render the public, by its impatience for objects unattainable, or only to be achieved in the course of time. Nothing is so true as Adam Smith's remark, that one of the worst consequences of the Mercantile System in political economy is, its creating an unnatural state of things, which makes it impossible to correct the errors committed, without, for a while, occasioning greater evil than that which you seek to remedy. The same observation is equally applicable to every other species of maladministration; and it points out the unreasonableness of those who will give no time to a new government to retrace the false steps of their predecessors; but, mistaking a prudent and necessary caution for reluctance, launch at them the charge of deserting their principles, and accuse them of intending to do nothing, because they cannot perform miracles, and wish not to work mischief.
The short administration of 1806, was most unjustly treated in this respect. They were about a year in office, with the King, and the whole Court strongly against them; sometimes openly opposing their measures; always secretly undermining them in the very unequal warfare of stratagem and intrigue. From the motley composition of that cabinet, several errors were committed, and some opportunities of doing good may have been thrown away. But where is the ministry that ever did so much for the country in so short a space of time? They introduced, upon sound and enlightened principles, a new military system; they raised the revenue to meet the extravagant demands occasioned by the improvident schemes of their predecessors, until they could retrace their steps, and relieve the people by economy and by peace; they began those inquiries into public expenditure, which have since, in spite of their successors, produced a material saving to the country, and which, had they continued in power, would, ere now, have effectually relieved its burthens; they laid the foundations of peace with America, and of tranquillity in Ireland; finally, they abolished the Slave Trade, which had grown up to a horrible maturity under the force of all Mr Pitt's eloquent invectives, and which he, in the plenitude of his authority, had never ventured even 'to abridge. Can any thing be more unjust than to account all this as nothing, when we reflect that it was crowded into the short space of one year, and that the first year of a change, when the blunders of the former ministry were still producing their most noxious effects in new wars abroad, and failures at home, and when the men recently