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The Letters of Junius

Letter XLVI: To the Printer of the Public Advertiser; 22 May 1771

[192] SIR

Very early in the debate upon the decision of the Middlesex election, it was well observed by Junius, that the house of commons had not only exceeded their boasted precedent of the expulsion, and subsequent incapacitation, of Mr Walpole, but that they had not even adhered to it strictly, as far as it went. After convicting Mr Dyson of giving a false quotation from the Journals, and having explained the purpose which that contemptible fraud was intended to answer, he proceeds to state the vote itself by which Mr. Walpole's supposed incapacity was declared, viz:- "Resolved, That Robert Walpole, Esq. having been this session of parliament committed a prisoner to the Tower, and expelled this house, for a high breach of trust in the execution of his office, and notorious corruption when secretary at war, was and is incapable of being elected member to serve in this present parliament." — And then observes, that, from the terms of the vote, we have no right to annex .the incapacitation to the expulsion only; for that, as the proposition stands, it must arise equally from the expulsion and the commitment to the Tower. I believe, Sir, no man, who knows any thing of dialectics, or who understands English, will dispute the truth and fairness of this construction. But Junius has a [193] great authority to support him, which, to speak with, the Duke of GraftonDuke of Grafton, I accidentally met with this morning in the course of my reading. It contains an admonition, which cannot be repeated too often. Lord Sommers, in his excellent tract upon the Rights of the People, after reciting the votes of the convention of the 28th of January, 1689, viz. 'That King James the Second, having endeavoured to subvert the constitution of this kingdom, by breaking the original contract between King and People, and by the advice of Jesuits, and other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of this kingdom, hath abdicated the government,' &c. makes this observation upon it; 'The word abdicated relates to all the clauses foregoing, as well as to his deserting the kingdom, or else they would have been wholly in vain.' And that there might be no pretence for confining the abdication merely to the withdrawing. Lord Sommers farther observes, 'That King James, by refusing to govern its according to that law by which he held the Crown, did implicitly renounce his title to it.'

If Junius's construction of the vote against Mr. Walpole be now admitted (and, indeed, I cannot comprehend how it can honestly be disputed) the advocates of the House of Commons must either give up their precedent entirely, or be reduced to the necessity of maintaining one of the grossest absurdities imaginable, viz. 'That a commitment to the Tower is a constituent part of, and contributes half at least to, the incapacitation of the person who suffers it.'

I need not make you any excuse for endeavouring to keep alive the attention of the public to the decision of the Middlesex election. The more I consider it, the more I am convinced, that, as a fact, it is indeed highly injurious to the rights of the people; but that, as a precedent, it is one of the most dangerous that ever was established against those who are to come after us. Yet, I am so far a moderate man, that I verily believe the Majority of the House of Commons, when they passed this dangerous vote, neither understood the question, or knew the consequence of what they were doing. Their motives were rather despicable than criminal, in the extreme. One effect they certainly did not foresee. They are now reduced to such a situation, that if a member of the present [194] House of Commons were to conduct himself ever so improperly, and, in reality, deserve to be sent back to his constituents with a mark of disgrace, they would not dare to expel him: because they know that the people, in order to try again the great question of right, or to thwart an odious House of Commons, would probably overlook his immediate unworthiness, and return the same person to parliament. But, in time, the precedent will gain strength; a future House of Commons will have no such apprehensions; consequently, will not scruple to follow a precedent which they did not establish. The miser himself seldom lives to enjoy the fruit of his extortion, but his heir succeeds to him of course, and takes possession without censure. No man expects him to make restitution; and, no matter for his title, he lives quietly upon the estate

Philo Junius.

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