The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter XLVII: To the Printer of the Public Advertiser; 25 May 1771

[194] SIR

I confess my partiality to Junius, and feel a considerable pleasure in being able to communicate any thing to the public in support of his opinions. The doctrine laid down in his last letter, concerning the power of the house of commons to commit for contempt, is not so new as it appeared to many people; who dazzled with the name of privilege, had never suffered themselves to examine the question fairly. In the course of my reading this morning, I met with the following passage in the Journals of the House of Commons, (Vol. i. p. 603.) — Upon occasion of a jurisdiction unlawfully assumed by the house in the year 1621, Mr. Attorney-general Noye gave his opinion as follows: "No doubt but in some cases, this house may give judgment, in matters of returns, and concerning members of our house, or falling out in our view in parliament; but, for foreign matters, knoweth not how we can judge it; knoweth not that we have been used to give judgment in any case, but those before mentioned."

[195] Sir Edward Coke, upon the same subject, says, page 604, "No question but this is a house of record, and that it hath power of judicature in some cases ; have power to judge of returns and members of our house. One, no member, offending out of the parliament, when he came hither, and justified it, was censured for it."

Now, sir, if you will compare the opinion of these great sages of the law with Junius's doctrine, you will find they tally exactly. He allows the power of the house to commit their own members, which, however, they may grossly abuse; he allows their power in cases where they are acting as a court of judicature, viz. elections, returns, &c. and he allows it in such contempts as immediately interrupt their proceedings; or, as Mr. Noye expresses it, falling out tn their view in parliament.

They who would carry the privileges of parliament farther than Junius, either do not mean well to the public, or know not what they are doing. The government of England is a government of law. We betray ourselves, we contradict the spirit of our laws, and we shake the whole system of English jurisprudence, whenever we entrust a discretionary power over the life, liberty, or fortune of the subject, to any man, or set of men, whatsoever, upon a presumption that it will not be abused.

Philo Junius
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