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rights from the encroachments of the royal prerogative, the bulk of the people were strangers to liberty ; but, as the population emancipated itself, it came within the pale of laws originally enacted for the benefit of a particular class.
The feudal system was gradually subverted by the rise of towns, where the inhabitants, enjoying security in their persons and property, and subject to regulations of their own enacting, successfully cultivated the arts, and accumulated capital. Fortunately for future ages, the Barons were disposed “to barter their power for trinkets and baubles*," and, according to the progress of refinement, dismissed part of their retainers that, with the produce which these had been accustomed to consume, they might gratify their growing taste for manufactures and foreign commodities. Towns, where a part of the former retainers of the aristocracy procured employment, flourishing in arts and all the literature of the age, attracted the great landed proprietors themselves, who, brought into competition in a new sphere, contended for superiority, by a display of the elegancies and luxuries of life. This new emulation obliged them to diminish the number of their adherents, that they might have the means of expenditure, while it enriched the mercantile and manufacturing classes--who, likewise aiming at distinction by the only course within their reach, again stimulated the aristocracy to farther expence for the purpose of preserving their distance from
Smith's Wealth of Nations, vol. ii. p. 192, 195.
ranks whom their habits taught them to despise Thus the revolution in manners daily acquired accelerated motion.
The aristocracy were naturally both hated and dreaded by the monarch, as frustrating his ambition and controlling the regal authority ; but baronial power being likewise injurious and dangerous to the peace and safety of the other independent ranks, it was their interest to assist the Crown in reducing their common enemies under subjection to laws devised for the general good. Hence sprung the attachment of the people to the throne, and as it proceeded from a motive that must invariably actuate mankind,—the desire of security for their persons and property-it is strange, indeed, that certain writers should have inferred from it that the people had imbibed the principles of passive obedience. Attached as they were to monarchy, they never compromised the principles of constitutional freedom, and the monarch himself appears to have been fully aware of the ground on which he was entitled to their support. Thus Henry III. in order to gain the affections of the commons, when he was driven to extremities by the Barons, published a proclamation, in which he assured the people of his readiness to protect them against the great Lords * ; and Bacon, with a view to promote the popularity of Elizabeth's reign, makes it the boast of the English Government, that
Cotton's Short View of the long reign of Henry III. clamation is partly quoted. P. 27.
the aristocracy were brought under subjection to the laws, and no longer, as in ancient times, in a condition to tyrannize over the rest of the community *.
It is impossible, owing to the scantiness of materials, to determine precisely at what period the commons were first permitted to have a voice in the government; but they appear to have been summoned to Parliament even in the reign of King John, and early in that of his successor ; the writs for their election, in the 49th of Henry III. are extant t, and, from the reign of Edward I. they formed a distinct branch of the Legislature. Writers who have espoused the cause of prerogative-as if they deemed it a sufficient reason for consigning the people to slavery, that they can plead the precedents of former times have laboured to establish, that, in an early age, the Lower House was held in little estimation, and that it slavishly adopted the views of the Crown; but we discover no traces of this, either in the journals of Parliament, and other authentic sources, or in the laws which the Lower House passed, or the taxes it imposed. It was indeed the interest of the Commons to assist the Crown in controlling the greater aristocracy, since it was only by such a union of strength that they could hope to counterpoise the pernicious power of that body, and their councils acted under the direction of this policy-policy so obvious, that the monarch used his influence to have the representatives of the people. constituted into a branch of the Legislature; but it is to their honour that, even in the worst times, they maintained the grand principles of constitutional freedom. Irregularities were, no doubt, sometimes committed by the prince—which are, in a great measure, to be ascribed to the state of society-but the leading principles of the government were never forgotten by the people, who frequently compelled the monarch to recognise them, and to swear never to violate them more. They were consulted in all affairs of peace and war-regarding the marriages of the princes--the domestic government, &c. and they even occasionally pursued measures which,
* Birch's Edition of Bacon's Works, Vol. II. p. 39 and 41. The paper from which this is extracted, is entitled, “ Observations on a Libel published this present year, 1592.”
+ Cottoni Posthum. p. 15. Prynne, who thinks that the writs to the commons first began in 49th Henry III. says, “ The writs of Rot. Claus. 15 Joh. pars 2. M. 7. dorso. Patents 8. H. 3. pars 3. M. 4. Dors. et Claus. 38 H. 3. dors. 13—which seem somewhat like a summons of knights to Parliament—being conceived by some, upon good grounds, not to be a direct summons of any commoners or knights of shires to Parliament, as members, but in another kind; whenas, we find writs of summons to Parliament directed to Bishops, the temporal Lords, and Barons, before 49 H. III. without any such writs for knights and burgesses.” Preface to Cotton's Abridgment of the Records. That the knights of shires were not directly summoned as members before that time, is likely enough: for nothing springs up to perfection all at once; and I conceive it most probable that the first attempts were not of a decisive nature. Still these were approaches to the measure. The reason assigned for summoning burgesses is -" Ut quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus approbetur." Brad. on Burghs, p. 33. The burgesses are said to have been summoned for the first time, the year after the knights were called.
in modern times, would be held as an invasion of the prerogative: Thus, in the 15th of Edward III. they insisted upon the nomination of the Chancellor, and other great public officers, being committed to Parliament. Their grants of money were, for ages, generally conditional, and they often concurred with the Lords in the appointment of treasurers, for the expenditure of the money upon the business for which it was voted; while they, not rarely, inserted a clause into their money bills, that the grant should not be drawn into a precedent, and that it proceeded from the free and voluntary gift of the Lords and Commons t. By
* Cotton's Abridgment of the Records, p. 32.
+ Cotton's Abridgment. The same author, in his work entitled, “ A Discourse of Foreign War, with an Account of the Taxations upon the Kingdom to the end of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth," tells us, “ That as well in this reign,” (Richard the Second's,) “ as some of his predecessors and successors, the Parliament was so tender in granting subsidies and other taxes, that they added into their act quod non trahatur in consequentiam-that it should be no example for the future, appointing peculiar treasurers of their own to give account upon oath to the next Parliament. And such grants, which they professed to proceed ex liberâ et spontaneâ voluntate dominorum et comitatuum--from the free and voluntary grant of the Lords and respective counties, to be void if conditions on the King's part were not performed.” P. 19. See generally in proof of the text, both this treatise and Cottoni Posthum.
The limited extent of the prerogative in regard to the Barons in early times—for instance, the time of Henry III.-appears from all authentic history. See Mat. Paris, Daniel, &c. remonstrance to the King, an. 1242, the Barons use these words: “ Tali, scilicet, conditione quod illa exactio, vel aliæ precedentes amplius non traherentur in consequentiam.” Mat. Par. p. 516. The Short View of the Long Reign of Henry III. by Sir Robert Cotton, is not altogether correct, as the author ascribes some acts