Lapas attēli

some startling diplomatic blunder, past remedy, has been revealed to the "assembled wisdom” of the nation, a faint, hesitating word of remonstrance has been uttered by some independent member on one of the back benches, accompanied by a modest suggestion that in cases involving such important results, it might, perhaps, be better and more reasonable to consult the representatives of the nation before, instead of after, the mischief was done. True, even, that warned by such reminiscences of the past, some legislator, more daring than his fellows, has been known, in reference to some weighty matter reported to be in course of negociation, to ask the Secretary of State to lay some information as to the terms of the proposed arrangement before the House, previous to its definitive adoption. But with what result, all this? There is but one reply from the Government bench to all such grumblers and inquirers, namely, that the ancient and undoubted prerogative of the crown must not be interfered with. Let us, however, undismayed by the fear of such rebuke, now when a great and anxious difficulty is before us—a difficulty clearly growing out of” our high-prerogative diplomacytake the liberty of inquiring by the lights which history affords, into the pretensions of the crown in this respect.


It must be obvious from the very derivation and meaning of the word "prerogative,” (from pre, before-hand, and rogo, to demand), that antiquity

or continuous enjoyment extending over a period beyond which the memory of man runneth not to the contrary-is essential to its existence. A prerogative cannot be created by Act of Parliament, nor grow up out of encroachments favoured by circumstances of neglect in the lapse of time. It must be pre-existent to, and independent of any compacts or arrangements entered into between the co-ordinate branches of the State for its constitutional government.

It has been too much the fashion to talk of modern times as the era of the birth and growth of liberty; the dark and middle ages being supposed to have been a long, dreary period, when the tyranny of absolute sovereignty prevailed throughout the nations of the world. A little research amongst authorities outside the beaten track of historical copyists, however, will establish that this is not the fact, and that the truth is to a directly contrary effect. The old Gothic institutions, which in the dark and middle ages were the foundation of future civilization, were imbued with the principle of freedom and popular control, carrying checks upon the royal authority to an extent hardly conceivable by those who contemplate the more recent condition of the continental states of Europe. In Germany the Emperor's authority was always extremely restricted in matters of peace, and war, and alliances, wherein he was strictly under the control of the Diet. To give one instance out of many: when Maximilian I. wanted to undertake an expedition into Italy, to oppose the invading forces of Charles VIII. of France, the Diet declared its resolution not to grant any supply of men or money for the purpose, “till the internal peace of Germany was secured,” and he was obliged to abandon the project. The Treaty of Westphalia formally secured the rights and liberties of the States of the Empire, in all matters of internal and external government; and notably “in resolving upon a war in the name of the whole Empire, imposing taxes, ordering the levying and lodgment of troops, constructing new fortresses, or putting garrisons into old ones, as also the care of making peace or treaties of alliance, and other similar matters. “Nothing of this kind," it was stipulated, “shall be done, unless with the free consent of the States of the Empire assembled in Diet.” And this law was not intended to become a dead letter. It was complained of at the Congress that the Emperors Ferdinand II. and Ferdinand III. had seldom convoked Diets,-not one, for instance, in the long interval from 1623 to 1640; but eventually the sitting of the Diet became permanent at Rattisbon, from 1665 till the dissolution of the German Empire in 1806.

Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland, in their early times, had also the full enjoyment of independence, and authority in affairs of state. By the capitulation of Matthias with the Hungarian States in the year 1615, it was stipulated that there should be no peace or war without the consent of the Diet, and this was ratified by Ferdinand and his successors. In Denmark and Sweden the case was the same.

In France the prerogative of the kings was, from

[ocr errors]

the earliest times, under very stringent restraints from the States of the Kingdom. These, under the Merovingian kings, assembled annually in the month of March, afterwards changed to the month of May. In these assemblies, where the king with his great officers and the nobility assisted, peace and war, and all the affairs of government were discussed, and resolutions taken by a majority of votes. In earlier times the States consisted only of the nobility and clergy, but Philip IV., about the end of the thirteenth century, first commenced summoning the cities to the Diet (under the name of Tiers Etats), his object being "to secure the approbation of the whole people in the warm contests between him and Pope Boniface VIII.” As the kingly power grew, in course of time, progressively with the subjection of the hereditary vassals of the crown, the popular liberties were gradually suppressed, and under Charles VIII. and Louis XI. arbitrary rule may be said to have been inaugurated.

But some idea may be formed of the public spirit prevailing, even in these times, from a passage

in the memoirs of Philip de Comines, in which, after denouncing the levying of taxes without the full concession of the people, as an act of tyranny and violence, he went on to say : “It may be objected that in some cases there may not be time to assemble them, and that war will bear no delay; but I say that such haste ought not to be made, and there will be time enough ; and I tell you that princes are more powerful and more dreaded by their enemies when they undertake anything with the consent of their subjects.

for our

Even so late as the commencement of the sixteenth century, it was found convenient by Francis I. to have recourse to the authority of the States of Burgundy, to justify his repudiation of the Treaty of Madrid, whereby he had pretended to cede that province to his conqueror and rival, Charles V. The States declared that he could not do so, and refused to submit.

In Spain we find the original rights of the people as strongly asserted as in other parts of Europe. The Crowns of Castile, Leon, and Aragon, were in early times strictly elective; the election in the lastnamed country being pronounced in these terms :“We, who are as good as you,


you King and Lord, provided that you observe our laws and privileges, but not otherwise.” * In Castile it was not until the eleventh century that the hereditary succession was clearly admitted; and the form of recognizing the heir apparent's title in the assembly of the Cortes has been continued until our own time.

As regards state affairs, a law of Alphonso XI., in 1328, provides that “in the arduous affairs of our kingdom, the counsel of our natural subjects is necessary, especially of the deputies from

* Mr. Hallam, following a suggestion of Robertson, in his Charles V. (first edition), says that he does not much believe the authenticity of this form of words ; but both of those writers admit that it is “sufficiently agreeable to the spirit of the old government.” Robertson, moreover, in his second edition, says that the words of the author are given by Antonio Perez ; "a most respectable authority.” Brųlamaqui quotes it from Puffendorff, and argues upon it, as if he found no reason to question its genuineness.


« iepriekšējāTurpināt »