Front Page Titles (by Subject) XIV - Selected Discourses and Speeches
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XIV - Andrew Fletcher, Selected Discourses and Speeches 
Selected Discourses and Speeches: A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias (Edinburgh, 1698); Two Discourses concerning the Affairs of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1698); Speeches by a Member of the Parlaiment (Edinburgh, 1703); A Conversation concerning a Right Regulation of Government (Edinburgh, 1704).
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My Lord Chancellor
His grace the high Commissioner having acquainted this house that he has instructions from her Majesty to give the royal assent to all acts passed in this session, except that for the security of the kingdom, it will be highly necessary to provide some new laws for securing our liberty upon the expiration of the present entail of the crown. And therefore I shall speak to the first article of the limitations contained in the short act I offered the other day; not only because it is the first in order, but because I persuade myself you all know that parliaments were formerly chosen annually; that they had the power of appointing the times of their meeting and adjournments, together with the nomination of committees to superintend the administration of the government during the intervals of parliament: all which, if it were necessary, might be proved by a great number of public acts. So that if I demonstrate the use and necessity of the first article, there will remain no great difficulty concerning the rest.
My Lord Chancellor
The condition of a people, however unhappy, if they not only know the cause of their misery, but have also the remedy in their power, and yet should refuse to apply it, one would think, were not to be pitied. And though the condition of good men, who are concluded and oppressed by a majority of the bad, is much to be lamented; yet Christianity teaches us to show a greater measure of compassion to those who are knowingly and voluntarily obstinate to ruin both themselves and others. But the regret of every wise and good man must needs be extraordinary, when the sees the liberty and happiness of this country not only obstructed, but utterly extinguished by the private and transitory interest of self-designing men, who indeed very often meet their own ruin, but most certainly bring destruction upon their posterity by such courses. Sure if a man who is entrusted by others, should for his own private advantage betray that trust, to the perpetual and irrecoverable ruin of those who trusted him, the liveliest sense and deepest remorse for so great guilt, will undoubtedly seize and terrify the conscience of such a man, as often as the treacherous part he has acted shall recur to his thoughts; which will most frequently happen in the times of his distress, and the nearer he approaches to a life in which those remorses are perpetual. But I hope every man in this house has so well considered these things, as to preserve him from falling into such terrible circumstances: and (as all men are subject to great failings) if any person placed in this most eminent trust is conscious to himself of having ever been wanting in duty to his country, I doubt not he will this day, in this weighty matter, atone for all, and not blindly follow the opinion of other men, because he alone must account for his own actions to his great Lord and Master.
The limitation, to which I am about to speak, requires, that all places, offices, and pensions, which have been formerly given by our kings, shall, after her Majesty and heirs of her body, be conferred by parliament so long as we are under the same prince with England. Without this limitation, our poverty and subjection to the court of England will every day increase; and the question we have now before us is, whether we will be freemen or slaves for ever? whether we will continue to depend, or break the yoke of our dependence? and whether we will choose to live poor and miserable, or rich, free, and happy? Let no man think to object that this limitation takes away the whole power of the prince. For the same condition of government is found in one of the most absolute monarchies of the world. I have very good authority for what I say, from all the best authors that have treated of the government of China; but shall only cite the words of an able minister of state, who had very well considered whatever had been written on that subject; I mean Sir William Temple, who says, ‘That for the government, it is absolute monarchy, there being no other laws in China, but the King’s orders and commands; and it is likewise hereditary, still descending to the next of blood. But all orders and commands of the King proceed through his councils; and are made upon the recommendation or petition of the council proper and appointed for that affair: so that all matters are debated, determined, and concluded by the several councils; and then upon their advices and requests made to the King, they are ratified and signed by him, and so pass into laws. All great offices of state are likewise conferred by the King, upon the same recommendations or petitions of his several councils; so that none are preferred by the humour of the prince himself, nor by favour of any minister, by flattery or corruption, but by the force or appearance of merit, of learning, and of virtue; which observed by the several councils, gain their recommendations or petitions to the King.’ These are the express words of that minister. And if under the greatest absolute monarchy of the world, in a country where the prince actually resides; if among heathens this be accounted a necessary part of government for the encouragement of virtue, shall it be denied to Christians living under a prince who resides in another nation? Shall it be denied to a people, who have a right to liberty, and yet are not capable of any in their present circumstances, without this limitation? But we have formed to ourselves such extravagant notions of government, that even in a limited monarchy nothing will please, which in the least deviates from the model of France, and everything else must stand branded with the name of commonwealth. Yet a great and wise people found this very condition of government necessary to support even an absolute monarchy. If any man say that the empire of China contains divers kingdoms; and that the care of the Emperor, and his knowledge of particular men cannot extend to all: I answer, the case is the same with us; and it seems as if that wise people designed this constitution for a remedy to the like inconveniences with those we labour under at this time.
This limitation will undoubtedly enrich the nation, by stopping that perpetual issue of money to England, which has reduced this country to extreme poverty. This limitation does not flatter us with the hopes of riches by an uncertain project; does not require so much as the condition of our own industry; but by saving great sums to the country, will every year furnish a stock sufficient to carry on a considerable trade, or to establish some useful manufacture at home, with the highest probability of success: because our ministers by this rule of government would be freed from the influence of English councils; and our trade be entirely in our own hands, and not under the power of the court, as it was in the affair of Darien. If we do not obtain this limitation, our attendance at London will continue to drain this nation of all those sums, which should be a stock for trade. Besides, by frequenting that court, we not only spend our money, but learn the expensive modes and ways of living, of a rich and luxurious nation: we lay out yearly great sums in furniture and equipage, to the unspeakable prejudice of the trade and manufactures of our own country. Not that I think it amiss to travel into England, in order to see and learn their industry in trade and husbandry. But at court what can we learn, except a horrid corruption of manners, and an expensive way of living, that we may for ever after be both poor and profligate?
This limitation will secure to us our freedom and independence. It has been often said in this house that our princes are captives in England; and indeed one would not wonder if, when our interest happens to be different from that of England, our kings, who must be supported by the riches and power of that nation in all their undertakings, should prefer and English interest before that of this country. It is yet less strange, that English ministers should advise and procure the advancement of such persons to the ministry of Scotland, as will comply with their measures and the King’s orders; and to surmount the difficulties they may meet with from a true Scots interest, that places and pensions should be bestowed upon parliament-men and others: I say, these things are so far from wonder, that they are inevitable in the present state of our affairs. But I hope they likewise show us that we ought not to continue any longer in this condition. Now this limitation is advantageous to all. The prince will no more be put upon the hardship of deciding between an English and a Scots interest; or the difficulty of reconciling what he owes to each nation, in consequence of his coronation oath. Even English ministers will no longer lie under the temptation of meddling in Scots affairs: nor the ministers of this kingdom, together with all those who have places and pensions, be any more subject to the worst of all slavery. But if the influences I mentioned before shall still continue, what will any other limitation avail us? What shall we be the better for our act concerning the power of war and peace, since by the force of an English interest and influence, we cannot fail of being engaged in every way, and neglected in every peace?
By this limitation, our parliament will become the most uncorrupted senate of all Europe. No man will be tempted to vote against the interest of his country, when his country shall have all the bribes in her own hands: offices, places, pensions. It will be no longer necessary to lose one half of the public customs, that parliament-men may be made collectors. We will not desire to exclude the officers of state from sitting in this house, when the country shall have the nomination of them; and our parliaments free from corruption cannot fail to redress all our grievances. We shall then have no cause to fear a refusal of the royal assent to our acts; for we shall have no evil counsellor, nor enemy of his country to advise it. When this condition of government shall take place, the royal assent will be the ornament of the prince, and never be refused to the desires of the people. A general unanimity will be found in this house; in every part of the government, and among all ranks and conditions of men. The distinctions of court and country-party shall no more be heard in this nation; nor shall the prince and people any longer have a different interest . Rewards and punishments will be in the hands of those who live among us, and consequently best know the merit of men; by which means virtue will be recompensed and vice discouraged, and the reign and government of the prince will flourish in peace and justice.
I should never make an end, if I would prosecute all the great advantages of this limitation; which, like a divine influence, turns all to good, as the want of it has hitherto poisoned everything, and brought all to ruin. I shall therefore only add one particular more, in which it will be of the highest advantage to this nation. We all know, that the only way of enslaving a people is by keeping up a standing army; that by standing forces all limited monarchies have been destroyed, without them none; that so long as any standing forces are allowed in a nation, pretexts will never be wanting to increase them; that princes have never suffered militias to be put upon any good foot, lest standing forces should appear unnecessary. We also know that a good and well-regulated militia is of so great importance to a nation, as to be the principal part of the constitution of any free government. Now by this limitation, the nation will have a sufficient power to render their militia good and effectual, by the nomination of officers: and if we would send a certain proportion of our militia abroad yearly, and relieve them from time to time, we may make them as good as those of Switzerland are; and much more able to defend the country, than any unactive standing forces can be. We may save every year great sums of money, which are now expended to maintain a standing army; and which is yet more, run no hazard of losing our liberty by them. We may employ a greater number of officers in those detachments, than we do at present in all our forces both at home and abroad; and make better conditions for them in those countries that need their assistance. For being freed from the influences of English councils, we shall certainly look better than we have hitherto done to the terms on which we may send them into the armies either of England or Holland; and not permit them to be abused so many different ways, as to the great reproach of the nation they have been, in their rank, pay, clothing, arrears, levy-money, quarters, transport ships, and gratuities.
Having thus shown some of the great advantages this limitation will bring to the nation (to which everyone of you will be able to add many more) that it is not only consistent with monarchy, but even with an absolute monarchy; having demonstrated the necessity of such a condition in all empires, which contain several kingdoms; and that without it we must for ever continue in a dependence upon the court of England; in the name of God, what hinders us from embracing so great a blessing? Is it because her Majesty will refuse the royal assent to this act? If she do, sure I am, such a refusal must proceed from the advice of English counsellors; and will not that be a demonstration to us, that after her Majesty and heirs of her body, we must not, cannot any longer continue under the same prince with England? Shall we be wanting to ourselves? Can her Majesty give her assent to this limitation upon a successor before you offer it to her? Is she at liberty to give us satisfaction in this point, till we have declared to England by a vote of this house, that unless we obtain this condition, we will not name the same successor with them? And then will not her Majesty, even by English advice, be persuaded to give her assent; unless her counsellors shall think fit to incur the heavy imputation, and run the dangerous risk of dividing these nations for ever? If therefore either reason, honour, or conscience have any influence upon us; if we have any regard either to ourselves or posterity; if there be any such thing as virtue, happiness, or reputation in this world, or felicity in a future state, let me adjure you by all these, not to draw upon your heads everlasting infamy, attended with the eternal reproaches and anguish of an evil conscience, by making yourselves and your posterity miserable.