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crease in the size and number of our modern Acts of Parliament, assigns as one of the principal causes of the evil so animadverted on, “ the negligence and unskilfulness with which they are drawn up."
« On entering," he says, upon this part of the subject, it might be thought reasonable that a few instances of the most frequent and glaring faults which occur in the language or concoction of Acts of Parliament should be selected, in order to substantiate the justice of the charge which has been now made. But after having opened the Statute Book at many different places, it seems superfluous to undertake the task. Take up whichever volume of it you will, at whatever page it opens, and however plain the subject may be to which the enactment relates, you are overwhelmed with a degree of verbosity and tautology, of which it is not easy to speak in terms of becoming moderation, and which, with all deference to the authority for such • damnable iteration,' is believed to be quite unparalleled in any other book. If it were not utterly impossible to entertain the supposition, one would be tempted to think that, instead of expressing its meaning with clearness, the legislature had some end to serve by involving it in the greatest possible obscurity and prolixity. Indeed it would be unaccountable, how men of such rank and education as those which compose the two houses of parliament, should have so long suffered such shapeless productions to be ushered into the world under the authority of their names, unless it had been long demonstrated by experience, that the most enlightened bodies frequently feel no shame in sanctioning that in their collective capacity, for which there is not one among them would endure to be responsible in his private character." Miller's Enquiry into the present State of the Statute and Criminal Law of England. p. 47.
For our own parts, we are not particularly attached to the office of finding fault, where we do not find that we can suggest a remedy; and we are much afraid that these defects of carelessness and exuberance, with which the legislature of the present day is so justly chargeable, are the almost necessary appendages to the blessings of quiet times, and a settled, lawful, and generally popular government. In such a state of things there is a regular drowsy routine, in which matters of formal business are suffered to proceed, that admits of no improvement, and consequently incurs the great probability (at least) of progressive deterioration. Public men are too much at their ease to find time for attending to non-essentials.
It is enough that the wheels are set going, so as to serve for all necessary purposes—they little care for the neatness of the machinery; and, whether it be an Act of Parliament or a Bill in Chancery, so long as the end is secured, the means are not worth the pains of considering.
It is to periods of doubtful right or flagrant usurpation
that we should look for wise laws ably and pithily suggested. Some of the best in our statute book are those passed during the short reign of the tyrant Richard; and the voluminous mass of orders and ordinances,” made by the authority of the self-existent sovereign parliament, during the suspension, and after the overthrow of the kingly power, though all abrogated by one sweeping clause of a single Act at the Restoration, deserve to be yet referred to and consulted more generally than is the custom, both as the best running index to the history of the times, and also as models of style in enactment, if not of legislative wisdom and equity.
Under this impression, we shall solicit the patience of our readers, under what many may be disposed to consider as the infliction of a very dull discourse, while (assuming, for our purpose, a degree of prevailing ignorance on the subject, which we in truth believe to be wide to the extent almost of universality) we proceed to furnish them, from a book of not very ordinary reference, with a few specimens of the legislative spirit which prevailed in the usurping parliament; and, whatever may be thought of the justice or fitness of the proceedings, we think they will be found to furnish good cause for exultation, in the manly and vigorous tone which they breathe, and by which they still seem to characterize our plain, brave, thoughtful, and stiff-necked ancestors.
Let us take for our first example the first Act in the volume—that of 16 Car. I. cap. 1.–For triennial parliaments.
“ A Bill,” says Clarendon," which took up a long debate; there being many clauses, in case the crown should onit the sending out of writs, derogatory to majesty, and letting the reins too loose to the people: yet, since it was evident that great inconveniencies had befallen the kingdom by the long intermission of these conventions; and that that intermission could not have happened, if there had not been some neglect of what had been settled by former laws; therefore there was some colour of reason for those clauses, by which the crown could in no case suffer, but by its own default.”
We shall transcribe only the preamble.
“Whereas, by the laws and statutes of this realm, the parliament ought to be holden at least once every year, for the redress of grievances, but the appointment of the time and place for the holding thereof bath alwaies belonged, as it ought, to his majesty and his royal progenitors. And whereas, it is by experience found, that the not holding of parliaments accordingly, hath produced sundry and great mischiefs and inconveniences to the king's majesty, the church and commonwealth, for the prevention of the like mischiefs and inconveniences in the time to come, Be it enacted,” &c.
This indeed is a bold assumption, right manfully put forth -nor less so was the provision which followed it-that, in case the king neglected to call a parliament for three years, the peers might assemble and issue writs for choosing one; and in case of neglect of the peers, the constituents might meet and elect one themselves.* Yet Clarendon remarks upon it, that “it found an easy passage through both houses; and by his Majesty (who was satisfied with such a frequency of meeting with his people as once in three years might be more convenient than prejudicial to his service, and believed that by his consenting to this Act, the proceedings in the parliament would be more moderate) it had a favourable reception, and was enacted by him the next day after it had passed both houses.". (Clar. Book III. p. 282.) The mild tone in which the Act is here spoken of, is very different from what we should expect in a crown lawyer, did it not seem to demonstrate the very unsettled state of opinion as to the constitution and prerogatives of parliament which at that time prevailed. Whitelocke, however, states, that the King was not without some difficulty (as it was reported) persuaded to give the royal assent to it;" and be also intimates, that the committee for the Bill had taken a great deal of pains in the framing of it.” (p. 40.)
We submit the following to the humane and philanthropie members of the African Society, and advocates for the abolition of the slave trade, and negro emancipation.
17 Car. 1. c. 31. “ For the relief of captives.”
“ Whereas, many thousands of your Majesty's good and loving subjects, with their ships and goods, have of late been surprised and taken at sea, (as they were in their lawful trading), by Turkish, Moorish and other pirates; and some of them, to free themselves of the cruel and barbarous usage of those pirates, have renounced the Christian religion, and turned Turks; and others, yet kept in bondage, are used with so extreme cruelty, as they are in great danger thereby to lose their lives, unless they shall forsake the Christian religion : and divers of your poor subjects kept in homage, (being expert and skilful mariners), are usually employed at sea against others your good subjects, and prove very prejudicial to them, and hurtful to the trade and merchandize of your Majesty's dominions; And whereas, as well your Majesty's subjects as strangers, exporting or importing their goods and merchandize into this kingdom, have, ever sithence your Majesty's access unto this crown, been charged with the payment of great sums of money, under the name of custom, and that without the consent of parliament, which, had they been legally taken, ought to have been chiefly employed to the safeguard of the seas, and preservation of your
See Blackstone's Comm. vol. i. p. 151.
good subjects in their trade of merchandize, from the spoil of pirates and other sea robbers, but have been exhausted by evil ministers, and pot applied to their proper uses, so that your Highness's good subjects have been exposed to the merciless cruelty of those pirates and barbarous infidels.
“ And the Commons taking into further consideration your Majesty's pressing wants, and great occasions of monies, in these times of distemper, as well in the kingdom of Ireland as other kingdoms of foreign princes, so that there will be required some further aid, to enable your Highness to effect so great a work, besides the present tonnage and poundage now granted to your Majesty, have therefore, for this present pressing occasion, and for a time hereafter limited, taken into their resolutions a further way of raising a supply of money, for the providing and setting forth to the seas a navy, as well for the enlargement and deliverance of those poor captives in Argier, and other places, if Almighty God shall so please to give that blessing unto their enterprises, as also for the preventing of the like future dangers unto your good people, their persons, ships and merchandizes; do there
And so it proceeds to impose a duty of one per cent. upon all customable goods, to be levied for the space of three years ensuing, and received by the lord mayor and chamberlain of London, or their deputies, to be by them laid out in setting forth a feet of ships for the aforesaid purposes. One fourth of all seizures, &c. to the mariners, another fourth to the owners of the ships, and the other two fourths to such uses as should be appointed by two several committees of the two houses, who are made accountable for the monies to be raised, and the application thereof. Lastly, it (very wisely) provides, that “ this present Act shall not be drawn into example, but that your Majesty would in time to come be pleased to intrust such ministers, as may faithfully employ the monies raised by tonnage and poundage into the right and proper uses, for the guarding of the seas, and safety of merchants, which will advance the honour of your sacred Majesty abroad, and procure the safety, peace, and happiness of your Highness's loyal and faithful subjects at home.”
Of so much more vital interest were the concerns which occupied the nation at this ominous crisis, that this very curious Act of Parliament has escaped (as we believe) the notice of every historian of the time. It is certainly not mentioned by Clarendon or Whitelocke, nor by May, in his History of the Parliament; and we are not at present aware of the circumstances under which it was introduced, or of the consequences which followed its enactment. Perhaps we have only ourselves to blame, and that a little more research would have rendered us better informed on the subject.
We say nothing of those well known Acts for abolishing the Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission, for taking away Bishops' Votes, against Ship Money, and others, which struck deepest into the roots of the kingly power and prerogative, before the period of the final rupture between the sovereign and his parliament. On the 22d of August, 1642, the royal standard was raised at Nottingham, and from that time the two houses took upon themselves to “ ordain,” without even the shadow of the king's authority. The state of Ireland was one of the earliest cares of parliament, as appears by the following preamble to an ordinance, “ For new loans and contributions, as well from the United Provinces, as from England and Wales, for the speedy relief of the miserable and distressed estate of the Protestants of the kingdom of Ireland.”
“ Whereas, the gasping condition of the Protestants in Ireland is too much manifest, their estates devoured, their lives daily sacrificed, not only to the malice of their and our bloody enemies, the Popish rebels, but likewise to the more unavoidable executions, starving, cold and hunger; their sorrows hardly to be equalled, nor their utter destruction possibly to be prevented, but by the great and undeserved mercy of God, upon some speedy supply of their grievous necessities. In a deep sense and confession of their sad estate, and not so much doubting the charity of all good Protestants here, (which hath been so fully manifested before), as to use many arguments to invite them to a more liberal contribution and loan, for the present relief of those of our own blood and profession, and to hinder the rebels from being sharers in the execution of those devilish plots, which they and their adherents in England have devised, and too far effected amongst us, (who can expect no safety here, if that kingdom be not preserved unto us, that hath so near a relation and dependence upon this); and for the more speedy raising, collecting and disposing of such supply as God shall incline the hearts of his people to afford their brethren in Ireland; which can be no otherwise procured at this time, by reason of the unhappy distemper here. The lords and commons in parliament do hereby order and declare,” &c.
This is almost equally moving and pathetic with the famous lamentation of Old Gildas, (the British Jeremiah), over the state of his countrymen when abandoned by their Roman protectors, and left a defenceless prey to those worse than papists, the Picts. We hear nothing like it in our Statute Book, during the whole period of our late struggle with the Gallic despot; even while we most piously bemoaned ourselves every Sunday after the Litany, as expecting “to be swallowed up quick, so wrathfully was he displeased with us ;” and it really seems an extraordinary oversight in those who sanctioned that most judicious and apposite form of prayer, when they neglected to frame their acts for raising the war-laxes on the same lachryma