페이지 이미지

sympathy with, the people. Frequent elections, are urquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured, But what particular degree of frequency may be absolutely necessary for the purpose, does not appear to be susceptible of any precise calculation and must depend on a variety of circumstances, with which it may be connected. Let us consult experience, the guide that ought always to be followed, whenever it can be found.

The scheme of representation, as a substitute for a meeting, of the citizens in person, being but imperfectly known to ancient polity; it is in moro modern times only that we are to expect instructive examples. And even here, in order to avoid a research too vague and diffusive, it will be proper to confine ourselves to the fow examples which are best known, and which bear the greatest analogy to our particular case. The first to which this character ought to be applied, is the house of commons in Great Britain. The history of this branch of the English constitution, anterior to the date of Magna Charta, is too obscure to yield instruction. The very existence of it, has been made a question among political antiquaries. The earliest records of subsequent date prove, that parliaments were to sit only, every year; not that they were to be elected every year. And even these annual sessions, were left so much at the discretion of the monarch, that under various pretexts, very long and dangerous intermissions were often contrived by royal ambition. To romody this griovanco, it was providod by a statute in tho reign of Charles IId, that the intermissions should not be protracted beyond a period of three years. On the accession of William IIId, when a revolution took place in the government, the subject was still more seriously resumed, and it was declared to be among the fundamental rights of the people, that parliaments ought to be held frequently. By another statute which passed a few years later in the same reign, the term "frequently,” which had alluded to the triennial period settled in the time of Charles IId, is reduced to a precise meaning, it being expressly enacted, that a new parliament shall be called within

three years after the determination of the former. The last change, from three to seven years, is well known to have been introduced pretty early in the present century, under an alarm for the Hanoverian succession. From these facts it appears, that the greatest frequency of elections which has been deemed necessary in that kingdom, for binding the representatives to their constituents, does not exceed a triennial return of them. And if we may argue from the degree of liberty retained even under septennial elections, and all the other vicious ingredients in the parliamentary constitution, we cannot doubt that a reduction of the period from seven to three years,

with some other necessary reforms, would so far extend the influence of the people over their representatives as to satisfy us, that biennial elections under the federal system, cannot possibly be dangerous to the requisite dependence of the house of representatives on their constituents.

Elections in Ireland, till of late, were regulated entirely by the discretion of the crown, and were seldom repeated, except on the accession of a new prince, or some other contingent event. The parliament which commenced with Georgo IId, was continued throughout bis whole reign, a period of about thirty-five years. The only dependence of the representative on the people, consisted in the right of the latter to supply occasional vacancies, by the election of new members, and in the chance of some event which might produce a general new election. The ability also of the Irish parliament to maintain the rights of their constituents, so far as the disposition might exist, was extremely shackled by the control of the crown, over the subjects of their deliberation. Of late, these shackles, if 1 mistake not, have been broken; and octennial parliaments have besides been established. What effect may be produced by this partial reform, must be left to further experience. The example of Ireland, from this view of it, can throw but little light on the subject. As far as we can draw any conclusion from it, it must be, that if the people of that country have been able, under all these disadvantages, to retain any liberty what

ever, the advantage of biennial elections would secure to them overy degree of liberty, which might depond on a due connexion, between their representatives and themselves.

Let us bring our inquiries nearer home. The example of these states, when British colonies, claims particular attention; at the same time that it is so well known, as to require little to be said on it. The principle of representation, in ono branch of the legislature at least, was established in all of them. But the periods of election were different. They varied, from one to seven years. Have we any reason to infor, from the spirit and conduct of the representatives of the people, prior to the revolution, that biennial elections would have been dangerous to the public liberties? The spirit, which every whore displayed itself, at the commencement of the struggle, and which vanquished the obstacles to independence, is the best of proof, that a sufficient portion of liberty had been every whero enjoyed, to inspire both a sense of its worth, and a zeal for its proper enlargement. This remark holds good, as well with regard to the then colonies, whose elections were least frequent, as to those whose elections were most frequent. Virginia was the colony which stood first in resisting the parliamentary usurpations of Great Britain; it was the first also in espousing, by public act, the resolution of independence. In Virginia, nevertheless, if I have not been misinformed, elections under the former government were septennial. This particular example is brought into viow, not as a proof of any peculiar merit, for the priority in those instances was probably accidental; and still less of any advantage in septennial elections, for when compared with a greater frequency, they are inadmissible; but merely as a proof, and I conceive it to be a very substantial proof, that the liberties of the people can be in no danger from biennial elections.

The conclusion resulting from these examplos, will be not a little strengthened, by recollecting three circumstances. The first is, that the federal legislature will possess a part only, of that supreme legislative authority which is vested completely

in thu British parliament; and which, with a few exceptions, was exercised by the colonial assemblies, and the Irish legislature. It is a received and well founded maxim, that, where no other circumstances affect the case, the greater the power is, the shorter ought to be its duration; and, conversely, the smaller the power, the more safely may its duration be protracted. In the second place, it has, on another occasion, been shown, that the federal legislature will not only be restrained by its dependence on the people, as other legislative bodies are; but that it will be moreover watched and controled by the soveral collateral logislaturos, which other logislativo bodies are not. And in the third place, no comparison can be made between the means that will be possessed by the more permanent branches of the federal government, for seducing, if they should bo disposed to seduce, the house of representatives from their duty to the people; and the means of influence over the popular branch, possessed by the other branches of governments above cited. With less power, therefore, to abuse, the federal representatives can be less tempted on one side, and will be doubly watched on the other.


[ocr errors]







I SHALL here, perhaps, be reminded of a current observation, « that where annual elections ond, tyranny begins.” If it be true, as has often been remarked, that sayings which become proverbial, are generally founded in reason, it is not less true, that, when once established, they are often applied to cases to which the reason of them does not extend. I need not look for a proof beyond the instance before us. What is the reason on which this proverbial observation is founded? No man will subject himself to the ridicule of pretending, that any natural connexion subsists between the sun or the seasons, and the period within which human virtue can bear the temptations of power. Happily for mankind, liberty is not, in this respect, confined to any single point of time; but lios, within extremes, which afford sufficient latitude for all the variations that may bo required by the various situations and circumstances of civil society.

The election of magistrates might be, if it were found expedient, as in some instances it actually has been, daily, weekly, or monthly, as well as annual; and if circumstances may require a deviation from the rule on one side, why not also on

« 이전계속 »