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limited the narrative to such events and circumstances as seemed sufficient to elucidate our constitutional progress. But in describing the reigns of the Tudor and Stuart sovereigns, when the endeavours of the Parliament to advance the principles of Freedom, gave rise to contests with the Crown, which should always be remembered in connection with the liberties they established, I have expanded the history, in order to give some idea of the nature of the struggle, and the motives and conduct of the contending powers. The progress of civil government and legislation, and the degree in which freedom was enjoyed by the people, very much depended, especially after the Reformation, on the prevailing ecclesiastical policy of the sovereign or the Parliament; I have therefore treated the Constitution as both civil and ecclesiastical, so far as the latter is exhibited in laws having reference to the civil or religious liberty of the people. The arrangement of my book has enabled me to comprise within it more ample details of the history, of the existing working state of the Constitution, and of its laws, civil and ecclesiastical, than I have found combined in any treatise on the Constitution that has come under my observation. The great works of Mr. Hallam on constitutional history terminate with the reign of George II., and although they abound with illustrative observations which refer to the modern Constitution, they do not profess to give a systematic account of it. Those learned and critical works stand out prominently in constitutional literature; and I shall esteem it no inconsiderable merit if my book be found useful as an introduction to the study of them.


Every one who has lately noticed the current of public thought must have observed increasing attention to the principles and working of the Constitution. Our close intercourse with Continental nations has brought our constitutional system into strong contrast with the energy, unrestrained action, and secrecy of despotic government; whilst at home the principles of the Constitution are appealed to, to support or to controvert proposed changes of an important character. This day, whilst I write, “The Times’ has, in forcible language, represented the general demand that exists for an accurate history of the country, of reasonable length, for the use of the numerous persons who present themselves for the various examinations now required. It is worth consideration, whether the history of the country, now so extended as well in subject-matter as in period, would not be best presented to students in treatises exclusively devoted to separate branches of the general history. Of these the foundation would be, as the most essential and practical, the Constitution and constitutional laws; a knowledge of which it is the object of this Manual to supply.

Sydenham, Kent,
4th November, 1859.

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'separafood combined action; and what are the laws which give and secure to the people the personal and political liberty they enjoy.

The supreme powers of government are two, the legislative and the executive; the latter (at least in the English constitution), as the source from which all inferior magistrates derive their authority, includes the judicial power, as well as the execution of the laws, and the administration of the affairs of the State, at home and abroad. It is the committing of these two powers (or of the legislative power alone, as supreme, when the executive is separate, and has no share in the legislation) to one, to a few, or to many, that determines the form of the government. Thus there are three simple forms, monarchy, where the sovereign power is committed to one, as a king or emperor; aristocracy, where it is vested in the chief persons of the State, or the nobles; and democracy, where the people hold the supreme power themselves, and employ it in making the laws, and in executing them by officers of their own appointment." Under all these forms of government, when righteously administered, freedom and happiness may be attainable; but experience has proved that each contains peculiar inherent defects,which render it unfavourable to the governed, in the hands of tyrannical, ambitious, ignorant, or unconscientious men. Thus mankind have found that monarchy, although founded on the purest principle of paternity, will, when uncontrolled, aspire to despotism; that aristocracy, instead of continuing, in hereditary descent, to be the government of the wisest and best men, will pass into oligarchy, or the tyranny of a few; whilst democracy is exposed to two opposite dangers;–that of degenerating to be the government of the lowest and most ignorant of the people (termed by jurists an ochlocracy); or of yielding to the ambition of demagogues, who delude or coerce the people, obtain the honours of the republic, and end in securing for themselves despotic power.

* Locke on Government, passim.

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