The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800: The Challenge

By R. R. Palmer | Go to book overview

VI
THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT BETWEEN KING AND PEOPLE

OF ALL those constituted bodies of Europe, largely aristocratic in composition, which in some countries came into conflict with kings in the decade before 1775, and which at Geneva had trouble with the citizens whom they governed, the most famous and the most powerful was the Parliament of Great Britain, whose misfortune it was to be challenged from both sides at once. Or, at least, the most ardent devotees of the Houses of Parliament found Parliamentary independence being undermined by the King, in the person of George III, while at the same time a growing number of dissatisfied persons, in America, in Ireland, and in England itself, expressed increasing doubts on the independence of Parliament, invoking a higher authority which they called the People. The champions of Parliament relished neither rival. "It is our business to act constitutionally, and to maintain the independency of Parliament," said the young Charles Fox in the Commons in 1771; "whether it is attacked by the people or by the crown is a matter of little consequence."1


The British Constitution

There is a curious irony in the situation. The dozen years preceding the American Revolution, the years when America was profoundly alienated, and which saw the beginning of the British movement for parliamentary reform, were also the years when awestruck wonder at the glories of the British constitution reached an almost ecstatic height. The very Stamp Act Congress announced its satisfaction at living under "the most perfect form of government." "The constitution of England," declared a British book reviewer in 1775, "is without doubt the most perfect form of government that ever was devised by human

____________________
1
Parliamentary History, XVII, 149.

-143-

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