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course of all this, in subsidizing more than half Europe ;-contracted a debt of upwards of 800 millions! while taxes to an enormous amount were levied on the labouring and commercial classes of the community.
These results of the two periods present a contrast so startling, that a strong desire must naturally arise in the mind of every reflecting Englishman to endeavour to learn the causes of that contrast; in other words, to attempt a solution of the great political and historical problem which such a phenomenon presents.
The solution of this question, as it appears to me, is to be sought for in some great organic change that must have taken place in the English constitution in the course of the seventeenth century. If we look into any of the historians who have treated of the events of that period, we shall find nothing to lead us to suppose that anything was then done which could lead to such momentous consequences.
Nevertheless, an Act of legislation was then passed, which worked a change so important in the fundamental laws of England, as almost to amount to a fresh conquest of the country.
Although it may be laid down as an indisputable truth that every man who puts himself forward to represent a body of his countrymen in Parliament, ought to possess a competent knowledge at least of that portion of the laws of his country which forms what is called its constitution, it is no less true that to acquire such a measure of knowledge demands an amount of time and study which a very small proportion of members of the legislature have ever been found to have devoted to that purpose. During the first thirty years of the seventeenth century, however, the House of Commons had the advantage of possessing among its members some of the greatest constitutional lawyers that England has ever produced. In answer to those who sneer 'at lawyers, however great, it is to be observed that these men—Coke, Selden, and others—are not held up as the perfection of human wisdom themselves, but as the faithful and exact depositaries of that knowledge embodied in the common law of England; which is the result of the experience, through innumerable ages, of the most practically sagacious race of men that the world has
Much of that invaluable knowledge is found throughout the debates on the Petition of Right and other great constitutional questions; and a summary of it is embodied in the Petition of Right itself, drawn by the hand of Sir Edward Coke.
The king, however, who, after many evasions, . at last passed the Petition of Right, determined to elude his own act; and the laws embodied in it, though the undoubted ancient constitutional birthright of Englishmen, had to be long and obstinately fought for, not in Parliament, but on fields of battle. But though the close of the conflict left those who
fought for the Petition of Right victorious, it by no means left the great constitutional question in precisely the state in which the great constitutional lawyers referred to would have considered it as justly settled.
All through the reign of James I., a question which occupied very much of the time and attention of the Parliament was the question of getting rid of the feudal tenures. The same hand which drew the Petition of Right drew up an account of a motion made at the Parliament, in the eighteenth year of the reign of James I., for commuting the feudal tenures and payments into a “competent yearly rent, to be assured to his Majesty, his heirs and successors. This motion Coke stamps with his approbation,
hoping that so good a motion will some time or other, by authority of Parliament, one way or other, take effect and be established."* The amount of the rentcharge which was to be substituted for the feudal payments, was equal to nearly one-half of the whole revenue of the kingdom at that time; † and as the value of the land would increase with the increase of the wealth and revenue of the kingdom, the proportion would remain the same at present. The lawyers, however, who succeeded Coke and Selden, both in the Long Parliament and the Convention Parliament, such as Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper and Sir Heneage Finch, took a very different view of the matter.
* 4 Inst., 202, 203. † Sinclair Hist. Reven. vol. i. pp. 233, 244.
The importance of this change, from a parliament guided by such lawyers as Coke and Selden, to parliaments guided by such lawyers as Ashley Cooper and Heneage Finch, is proved by the difference between the proceedings of the parliaments of the eighteenth century, and those of the parliaments of former times. What was the cause of this difference? The cause was simply this. Under the old English constitution, the legislating classes had a direct personal interest in keeping down the expenses of the government: that is, those who voted for wars and subsidies carried on the wars and paid the subsidies with their own blood and their own money ; whereas, under the constitution substituted in the room of it, about the middle of the seventeenth century, those who voted for wars and subsidies carried on the wars and paid the subsidies with other people's blood and other people's money. Those, therefore, who profess to be the advocates of good and economical government, will never attain their object till they obtain the restoration of that part at least of the principle of the old constitution, which gave to those who had the power a strong and direct interest in keeping down the expenses of the government.
A rentcharge proportioned in amount to the incidents or branches of tenure by knight-service in time of peace, and to the main trunk, or a certain number of days' actual military service, in addition to those incidents, in time of war, would effectually accomplish its object, and save the nation from the ruin in which the system of the last two hundred years, if persisted in, will overwhelm it long before another period of two hundred years has elapsed.
So blind to all this were the statesmen and legislators of the Long Parliament, that they had the foolish profligacy to abolish the Court of Wards and Liveries,* and all tenures by knight-service, without any compensation or equivalent whatever to the State. The vote or ordinance to this effect, which passed on the 24th of February, 1646, was an act of robbery of the State on the largest scale. It was, however, not acted upon at the time; not from any feelings of compunction on the part of the perpetrators of it, but from the necessities of the time. The dues of wardship, and all the other dues which were the fundamental conditions on which the lands of England had been granted as private property, continued to be rigorously exacted till 1656; when Cromwell, having become a large landholder as well as Protector-in other words, an unconstitutional tyrant in the seat of the ancient constitutional kings of England—the last vestige of the English constitution was destroyed : an assembly of his crea
* The Court of Wards and Liveries was established to superintend and regulate the necessary inquiries as to the payments due in each case in respect of the feudal tenures.