Commentaries on the Laws of England - Book the First
by William Blackstone
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[Footnote g: 1 Inst. 110.]

[Footnote h: 3 Inst. 125.]

4. BUT the principal council belonging to the king is his privy council, which is generally called, by way of eminence, the council. And this, according to sir Edward Coke's description of it[i], is a noble, honorable, and reverend assembly, of the king and such as he wills to be of his privy council, in the king's court or palace. The king's will is the sole constituent of a privy counsellor; and this also regulates their number, which of antient time was twelve or thereabouts. Afterwards it increased to so large a number, that it was found inconvenient for secresy and dispatch; and therefore king Charles the second in 1679 limited it to thirty: whereof fifteen were to be the principal officers of state, and those to be counsellors, virtute officii; and the other fifteen were composed of ten lords and five commoners of the king's choosing[k]. But since that time the number has been much augmented, and now continues indefinite. At the same time also, the antient office of lord president of the council was revived in the person of Anthony earl of Shaftsbury; an officer, that by the statute of 31 Hen. VIII. c. 10. has precedence next after the lord chancellor and lord treasurer.

[Footnote i: 4 Inst. 53.]

[Footnote k: Temple's Mem. part 3.]

PRIVY counsellors are made by the king's nomination, without either patent or grant; and, on taking the necessary oaths, they become immediately privy counsellors during the life of the king that chooses them, but subject to removal at his discretion.

THE duty of a privy counsellor appears from the oath of office[l], which consists of seven articles: 1. To advise the king according to the best of his cunning and discretion. 2. To advise for the king's honour and good of the public, without partiality through affection, love, meed, doubt, or dread. 3. To keep the king's counsel secret. 4. To avoid corruption. 5. To help and strengthen the execution of what shall be there resolved. 6. To withstand all persons who would attempt the contrary. And, lastly, in general, 7. To observe, keep, and do all that a good and true counsellor ought to do to his sovereign lord.

[Footnote l: 4 Inst. 54.]

THE power of the privy council is to enquire into all offences against the government, and to commit the offenders into custody, in order to take their trial in some of the courts of law. But their jurisdiction is only to enquire, and not to punish: and the persons committed by them are entitled to their habeas corpus by statute 16 Car. I. c. 10. as much as if committed by an ordinary justice of the peace. And, by the same statute, the court of starchamber, and the court of requests, both of which consisted of privy counsellors, were dissolved; and it was declared illegal for them to take cognizance of any matter of property, belonging to the subjects of this kingdom. But, in plantation or admiralty causes, which arise out of the jurisdiction of this kingdom, and in matters of lunacy and ideocy (being a special flower of the prerogative) with regard to these, although they may eventually involve questions of extensive property, the privy council continues to have cognizance, being the court of appeal in such causes: or, rather, the appeal lies to the king's majesty himself, assisted by his privy council.

AS to the qualifications of members to sit this board: any natural born subject of England is capable of being a member of the privy council; taking the proper oaths for security of the government, and the test for security of the church. But, in order to prevent any persons under foreign attachments from insinuating themselves into this important trust, as happened in the reign of king William in many instances, it is enacted by the act of settlement[m], that no person born out of the dominions of the crown of England, unless born of English parents, even though naturalized by parliament, shall be capable of being of the privy council.

[Footnote m: Stat. 12. & 13 W. III. c. 2.]

THE privileges of privy counsellors, as such, consist principally in the security which the law has given them against attempts and conspiracies to destroy their lives. For, by statute 3 Hen. VII. c. 14. if any of the king's servants of his houshold, conspire or imagine to take away the life of a privy counsellor, it is felony, though nothing be done upon it. And the reason of making this statute, sir Edward Coke[n] tells us, was because such servants have greater and readier means, either by night or by day, to destroy such as be of great authority, and near about the king: and such a conspiracy was, just before this parliament, made by some of king Henry the seventh's houshold servants, and great mischief was like to have ensued thereupon. This extends only to the king's menial servants. But the statute 9 Ann. c. 16. goes farther, and enacts, that any persons that shall unlawfully attempt to kill, or shall unlawfully assault, and strike, or wound, any privy counsellor in the execution of his office, shall be felons, and suffer death as such. This statute was made upon the daring attempt of the sieur Guiscard, who stabbed Mr Harley, afterwards earl of Oxford, with a penknife, when under examination for high crimes in a committee of the privy council.

[Footnote n: 3 Inst. 38.]

THE dissolution of the privy council depends upon the king's pleasure; and he may, whenever he thinks proper, discharge any particular member, or the whole of it, and appoint another. By the common law also it was dissolved ipso facto by the king's demise; as deriving all it's authority from him. But now, to prevent the inconveniences of having no council in being at the accession of a new prince, it is enacted by statute 6 Ann. c. 7. that the privy council shall continue for six months after the demise of the crown, unless sooner determined by the successor.



I PROCEED next to the duties, incumbent on the king by our constitution; in consideration of which duties his dignity and prerogative are established by the laws of the land: it being a maxim in the law, that protection and subjection are reciprocal[a]. And these reciprocal duties are what, I apprehend, were meant by the convention in 1688, when they declared that king James had broken the original contract between king and people. But however, as the terms of that original contract were in some measure disputed, being alleged to exist principally in theory, and to be only deducible by reason and the rules of natural law; in which deduction different understandings might very considerably differ; it was, after the revolution, judged proper to declare these duties expressly; and to reduce that contract to a plain certainty. So that, whatever doubts might be formerly raised by weak and scrupulous minds about the existence of such an original contract, they must now entirely cease; especially with regard to every prince, who has reigned since the year 1688.

[Footnote a: 7 Rep. 5.]

THE principal duty of the king is, to govern his people according to law. Nec regibus infinita aut libera potestas, was the constitution of our German ancestors on the continent[b]. And this is not only consonant to the principles of nature, of liberty, of reason, and of society, but has always been esteemed an express part of the common law of England, even when prerogative was at the highest. "The king," saith Bracton[c], who wrote under Henry III, "ought not to be subject to man, but to God, and to the law; for the law maketh the king. Let the king therefore render to the law, what the law has invested in him with regard to others; dominion, and power: for he is not truly king, where will and pleasure rules, and not the law." And again[d]; "the king also hath a superior, namely God, and also the law, by which he was made a king." Thus Bracton: and Fortescue also[e], having first well distinguished between a monarchy absolutely and despotically regal, which is introduced by conquest and violence, and a political or civil monarchy, which arises from mutual consent; (of which last species he asserts the government of England to be) immediately lays it down as a principle, that "the king of England must rule his people according to the decrees of the laws thereof: insomuch that he is bound by an oath at his coronation to the observance and keeping of his own laws." But, to obviate all doubts and difficulties concerning this matter, it is expressly declared by statute 12 & 13 W. III. c. 2. that "the laws of England are the birthright of the people thereof; and all the kings and queens who shall ascend the throne of this realm ought to administer the government of the same according to the said laws; and all their officers and ministers ought to serve them respectively according to the same: and therefore all the laws and statutes of this realm, for securing the established religion, and the rights and liberties of the people thereof, and all other laws and statutes of the same now in force, are by his majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal and commons, and by authority of the same, ratified and confirmed accordingly."

[Footnote b: Tac. de M.G. c. 7.]

[Footnote c: l. 1. c. 8.]

[Footnote d: l. 2. c. 16. Sec. 3.]

[Footnote e: c. 9. & 34.]

AND, as to the terms of the original contract between king and people, these I apprehend to be now couched in the coronation oath, which by the statute 1 W. & M. st. 1. c. 6. is to be administred to every king and queen, who shall succeed to the imperial crown of these realms, by one of the archbishops or bishops of the realm, in the presence of all the people; who on their parts do reciprocally take the oath of allegiance to the crown. This coronation oath is conceived in the following terms:

"The archbishop or bishop shall say, Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the people of this kingdom of England, and the dominions thereto belonging, according to the statutes in parliament agreed on, and the laws and customs of the same?—The king or queen shall say, I solemnly promise so to do.

"Archbishop or bishop. Will you to your power cause law and justice, in mercy, to be executed in all your judgments?—King or queen. I will.

"Archbishop or bishop. Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the laws of God, the true profession of the gospel, and the protestant reformed religion established by the law? And will you preserve unto the bishops and clergy of this realm, and to the churches committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain unto them, or any of them?—King or queen. All this I promise to do.

"After this the king or queen, laying his or her hand upon the holy gospels, shall say, The things which I have here before promised I will perform and keep: so help me God. And then shall kiss the book."

THIS is the form of the coronation oath, as it is now prescribed by our laws: the principal articles of which appear to be at least as antient as the mirror of justices[f], and even as the time of Bracton[g]: but the wording of it was changed at the revolution, because (as the statute alleges) the oath itself had been framed in doubtful words and expressions, with relation to antient laws and constitutions at this time unknown[h]. However, in what form soever it be conceived, this is most indisputably a fundamental and original express contract; though doubtless the duty of protection is impliedly as much incumbent on the sovereign before coronation as after: in the same manner as allegiance to the king becomes the duty of the subject immediately on the descent of the crown, before he has taken the oath of allegiance, or whether he ever takes it at all. This reciprocal duty of the subject will be considered in it's proper place. At present we are only to observe, that in the king's part of this original contract are expressed all the duties that a monarch can owe to his people; viz. to govern according to law: to execute judgment in mercy: and to maintain the established religion.

[Footnote f: cap. 1. Sec. 2.]

[Footnote g: l. 3. tr. 1. c. 9.]

[Footnote h: In the old folio abridgment of the statutes, printed by Lettou and Machlinia in the reign of Edward IV, (penes me) there is preserved a copy of the old coronation oath; which, as the book is extremely scarce, I will here transcribe. Ceo est le serement que le roy jurre a soun coronement: que il gardera et meintenera lez droitez et lez franchisez de seynt esglise grauntez auncienment dez droitez roys christiens dEngletere, et quil gardera toutez sez terrez honoures et dignitees droiturelx et franks del coron du roialme dEngletere en tout maner dentierte sanz null maner damenusement, et lez droitez dispergez dilapidez ou perduz de la corone a soun poiair reappeller en launcien estate, et quil gardera le peas de seynt esglise et al clergie et al people de bon accorde, et quil face faire en toutez sez jugementez owel et droit justice oue discrecion et misericorde, et quil grauntera a tenure lez leyes et custumez du roialme, et a soun poiair lez face garder et affermer que lez gentez du people avont faitez et esliez, et les malveys leyz et custumes de tout oustera, et ferme peas et establie al people de soun roialme en ceo garde esgardera a soun poiair: come Dieu luy aide. Tit. sacramentum regis. fol. m. ij.]



IT was observed in a former chapter[a], that one of the principal bulwarks of civil liberty, or (in other words) of the British constitution, was the limitation of the king's prerogative by bounds so certain and notorious, that it is impossible he should ever exceed them, without the consent of the people, on the one hand; or without, on the other, a violation of that original contract, which in all states impliedly, and in ours most expressly, subsists between the prince and the subject. It will now be our business to consider this prerogative minutely; to demonstrate it's necessity in general; and to mark out in the most important instances it's particular extent and restrictions: from which considerations this conclusion will evidently follow, that the powers which are vested in the crown by the laws of England, are necessary for the support of society; and do not intrench any farther on our natural liberties, than is expedient for the maintenance of our civil.

[Footnote a: chap. 1. page 137.]

THERE cannot be a stronger proof of that genuine freedom, which is the boast of this age and country, than the power of discussing and examining, with decency and respect, the limits of the king's prerogative. A topic, that in some former ages was thought too delicate and sacred to be profaned by the pen of a subject. It was ranked among the arcana imperii; and, like the mysteries of the bona dea, was not suffered to be pried into by any but such as were initiated in it's service: because perhaps the exertion of the one, like the solemnities of the other, would not bear the inspexion of a rational and sober enquiry. The glorious queen Elizabeth herself made no scruple to direct her parliaments to abstain from discoursing of matters of state[b]; and it was the constant language of this favorite princess and her ministers, that even that august assembly "ought not to deal, to judge, or to meddle, with her majesty's prerogative royal[c]." And her successor, king James the first, who had imbibed high notions of the divinity of regal sway, more than once laid it down in his speeches, that "as it is atheism and blasphemy in a creature to dispute what the deity may do, so it is presumption and sedition in a subject to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power: good christians, he adds, will be content with God's will, revealed in his word; and good subjects will rest in the king's will, revealed in his law[d]."

[Footnote b: Dewes. 479.]

[Footnote c: Ibid. 645.]

[Footnote d: King James's works. 557, 531.]

BUT, whatever might be the sentiments of some of our princes, this was never the language of our antient constitution and laws. The limitation of the regal authority was a first and essential principle in all the Gothic systems of government established in Europe; though gradually driven out and overborne, by violence and chicane, in most of the kingdoms on the continent. We have seen, in the preceding chapter, the sentiments of Bracton and Fortescue, at the distance of two centuries from each other. And sir Henry Finch, under Charles the first, after the lapse of two centuries more, though he lays down the law of prerogative in very strong and emphatical terms, yet qualifies it with a general restriction, in regard to the liberties of the people. "The king hath a prerogative in all things, that are not injurious to the subject; for in them all it must be remembered, that the king's prerogative stretcheth not to the doing of any wrong[e]." Nihil enim aliud potest rex, nisi id solum quod de jure potest[f]. And here it may be some satisfaction to remark, how widely the civil law differs from our own, with regard to the authority of the laws over the prince, or (as a civilian would rather have expressed it) the authority of the prince over the laws. It is a maxim of the English law, as we have seen from Bracton, that "rex debet esse sub lege, quia lex facit regem:" the imperial law will tell us, that "in omnibus, imperatoris excipitur fortuna; cui ipsas leges Deus subjecit[g]." We shall not long hesitate to which of them to give the preference, as most conducive to those ends for which societies were framed, and are kept together; especially as the Roman lawyers themselves seem to be sensible of the unreasonableness of their own constitution. "Decet tamen principem," says Paulus, "servare leges, quibus ipse solutus est[h]." This is at once laying down the principle of despotic power, and at the same time acknowleging it's absurdity.

[Footnote e: Finch. L. 84, 85.]

[Footnote f: Bract. l. 3. tr. 1. c. 9.]

[Footnote g: Nov. 105. Sec. 2.]

[Footnote h: Ff. 32. 1. 23.]

BY the word prerogative we usually understand that special pre-eminence, which the king hath, over and above all other persons, and out of the ordinary course of the common law, in right of his regal dignity. It signifies, in it's etymology, (from prae and rogo) something that is required or demanded before, or in preference to, all others. And hence it follows, that it must be in it's nature singular and eccentrical; that it can only be applied to those rights and capacities which the king enjoys alone, in contradistinction to others, and not to those which he enjoys in common with any of his subjects: for if once any one prerogative of the crown could be held in common with the subject, it would cease to be prerogative any longer. And therefore Finch[i] lays it down as a maxim, that the prerogative is that law in case of the king, which is law in no case of the subject.

[Footnote i: Finch. L. 85.]

PREROGATIVES are either direct or incidental. The direct are such positive substantial parts of the royal character and authority, as are rooted in and spring from the king's political person, considered merely by itself, without reference to any other extrinsic circumstance; as, the right of sending embassadors, of creating peers, and of making war or peace. But such prerogatives as are incidental bear always a relation to something else, distinct from the king's person; and are indeed only exceptions, in favour of the crown, to those general rules that are established for the rest of the community: such as, that no costs shall be recovered against the king; that the king can never be a joint-tenant; and that his debt shall be preferred before a debt to any of his subjects. These, and an infinite number of other instances, will better be understood, when we come regularly to consider the rules themselves, to which these incidental prerogatives are exceptions. And therefore we will at present only dwell upon the king's substantive or direct prerogatives.

THESE substantive or direct prerogatives may again be divided into three kinds: being such as regard, first, the king's royal character; secondly, his royal authority; and, lastly, his royal income. These are necessary, to secure reverence to his person, obedience to his commands, and an affluent supply for the ordinary expenses of government; without all of which it is impossible to maintain the executive power in due independence and vigour. Yet, in every branch of this large and extensive dominion, our free constitution has interposed such seasonable checks and restrictions, as may curb it from trampling on those liberties, which it was meant to secure and establish. The enormous weight of prerogative (if left to itself, as in arbitrary government it is) spreads havoc and destruction among all the inferior movements: but, when balanced and bridled (as with us) by it's proper counterpoise, timely and judiciously applied, it's operations are then equable and regular, it invigorates the whole machine, and enables every part to answer the end of it's construction.

IN the present chapter we shall only consider the two first of these divisions, which relate to the king's political character and authority; or, in other words, his dignity and regal power; to which last the name of prerogative is frequently narrowed and confined. The other division, which forms the royal revenue, will require a distinct examination; according to the known distribution of the feodal writers, who distinguish the royal prerogatives into the majora and minora regalia, in the latter of which classes the rights of the revenue are ranked. For, to use their own words, "majora regalia imperii praeeminentiam spectant; minora vero ad commodum pecuniarium immediate attinent; et haec proprie fiscalia sunt, et ad jus fisci pertinent[k]."

[Footnote k: Peregrin. de jure fisc. l. 1. c. i. num. 9.]

FIRST, then, of the royal dignity. Under every monarchical establishment, it is necessary to distinguish the prince from his subjects, not only by the outward pomp and decorations of majesty, but also by ascribing to him certain qualities, as inherent in his royal capacity, distinct from and superior to those of any other individual in the nation. For, though a philosophical mind will consider the royal person merely as one man appointed by mutual consent to preside over many others, and will pay him that reverence and duty which the principles of society demand, yet the mass of mankind will be apt to grow insolent and refractory, if taught to consider their prince as a man of no greater perfection than themselves. The law therefore ascribes to the king, in his high political character, not only large powers and emoluments which form his prerogative and revenue, but likewise certain attributes of a great and transcendent nature; by which the people are led to consider him in the light of a superior being, and to pay him that awful respect, which may enable him with greater ease to carry on the business of government. This is what I understand by the royal dignity, the several branches of which we will now proceed to examine.

I. AND, first, the law ascribes to the king the attribute of sovereignty, or pre-eminence. "Rex est vicarius," says Bracton[l], "et minister Dei in terra: omnis quidem sub eo est, et ipse sub nullo, nisi tantum sub Deo." He is said to have imperial dignity, and in charters before the conquest is frequently stiled basileus and imperator, the titles respectively assumed by the emperors of the east and west[m]. His realm is declared to be an empire, and his crown imperial, by many acts of parliament, particularly the statutes 24 Hen. VIII. c. 12. and 25 Hen. VIII. c. 28; which at the same time declare the king to be the supreme head of the realm in matters both civil and ecclesiastical, and of consequence inferior to no man upon earth, dependent on no man, accountable to no man. Formerly there prevailed a ridiculous notion, propagated by the German and Italian civilians, that an emperor could do many things which a king could not, (as the creation of notaries and the like) and that all kings were in some degree subordinate and subject to the emperor of Germany or Rome. The meaning therefore of the legislature, when it uses these terms of empire and imperial, and applies them to the realm of England, is only to assert that our king is equally sovereign and independent within these his dominions, as any emperor is in his empire; and owes no kind of subjection to any other potentate upon earth. Hence it is, that no suit or action can be brought against the king, even in civil matters, because no court can have jurisdiction over him. For all jurisdiction implies superiority of power: authority to try would be vain and idle, without an authority to redress; and the sentence of a court would be contemptible, unless that court had power to command the execution of it: but who, says Finch[n], shall command the king? Hence it is likewise, that by law the person of the king is sacred, even though the measures pursued in his reign be completely tyrannical and arbitrary: for no jurisdiction upon earth has power to try him in a criminal way; much less to condemn him to punishment. If any foreign jurisdiction had this power, as was formerly claimed by the pope, the independence of the kingdom would be no more: and, if such a power were vested in any domestic tribunal, there would soon be an end of the constitution, by destroying the free agency of one of the constituent parts of the sovereign legislative power.

[Footnote l: l. 1. c. 8.]

[Footnote m: Seld. tit. of hon. 1. 2.]

[Footnote n: Finch. L. 83.]

ARE then, it may be asked, the subjects of England totally destitute of remedy, in case the crown should invade their rights, either by private injuries, or public oppressions? To this we may answer, that the law has provided a remedy in both cases.

AND, first, as to private injuries; if any person has, in point of property, a just demand upon the king, he must petition him in his court of chancery, where his chancellor will administer right as a matter of grace, though not upon compulsion[o]. And this is entirely consonant to what is laid down by the writers on natural law. "A subject, says Puffendorf[p], so long as he continues a subject, hath no way to oblige his prince to give him his due, when he refuses it; though no wise prince will ever refuse to stand to a lawful contract. And, if the prince gives the subject leave to enter an action against him, upon such contract, in his own courts, the action itself proceeds rather upon natural equity, than upon the municipal laws." For the end of such action is not to compel the prince to observe the contract, but to persuade him. And, as to personal wrongs; it is well observed by Mr Locke[q], "the harm which the sovereign can do in his own person not being likely to happen often, nor to extend itself far; nor being able by his single strength to subvert the laws, nor oppress the body of the people, (should any prince have so much weakness and ill nature as to endeavour to do it)—the inconveniency therefore of some particular mischiefs, that may happen sometimes, when a heady prince comes to the throne, are well recompensed by the peace of the public and security of the government, in the person of the chief magistrate being thus set out of the reach of danger."

[Footnote o: Finch. L. 255.]

[Footnote p: Law of N. and N. l. 8. c. 10.]

[Footnote q: on Gov. p. 2. Sec. 205.]

NEXT, as to cases of ordinary public oppression, where the vitals of the constitution are not attacked, the law hath also assigned a remedy. For, as a king cannot misuse his power, without the advice of evil counsellors, and the assistance of wicked ministers, these men may be examined and punished. The constitution has therefore provided, by means of indictments, and parliamentary impeachments, that no man shall dare to assist the crown in contradiction to the laws of the land. But it is at the same time a maxim in those laws, that the king himself can do no wrong; since it would be a great weakness and absurdity in any system of positive law, to define any possible wrong, without any possible redress.

FOR, as to such public oppressions as tend to dissolve the constitution, and subvert the fundamentals of government, they are cases which the law will not, out of decency, suppose; being incapable of distrusting those, whom it has invested with any part of the supreme power; since such distrust would render the exercise of that power precarious and impracticable. For, whereever [Transcriber's Note: wherever] the law expresses it's distrust of abuse of power, it always vests a superior coercive authority in some other hand to correct it; the very notion of which destroys the idea of sovereignty. If therefore (for example) the two houses of parliament, or either of them, had avowedly a right to animadvert on the king, or each other, or if the king had a right to animadvert on either of the houses, that branch of the legislature, so subject to animadversion, would instantly cease to be part of the supreme power; the ballance of the constitution would be overturned; and that branch or branches, in which this jurisdiction resided, would be completely sovereign. The supposition of law therefore is, that neither the king nor either house of parliament (collectively taken) is capable of doing any wrong; since in such cases the law feels itself incapable of furnishing any adequate remedy. For which reason all oppressions, which may happen to spring from any branch of the sovereign power, must necessarily be out of the reach of any stated rule, or express legal provision: but, if ever they unfortunately happen, the prudence of the times must provide new remedies upon new emergencies.

INDEED, it is found by experience, that whenever the unconstitutional oppressions, even of the sovereign power, advance with gigantic strides and threaten desolation to a state, mankind will not be reasoned out of the feelings of humanity; nor will sacrifice their liberty by a scrupulous adherence to those political maxims, which were originally established to preserve it. And therefore, though the positive laws are silent, experience will furnish us with a very remarkable case, wherein nature and reason prevailed. When king James the second invaded the fundamental constitution of the realm, the convention declared an abdication, whereby the throne was rendered vacant, which induced a new settlement of the crown. And so far as this precedent leads, and no farther, we may now be allowed to lay down the law of redress against public oppression. If therefore any future prince should endeavour to subvert the constitution by breaking the original contract between king and people, should violate the fundamental laws, and should withdraw himself out of the kingdom; we are now authorized to declare that this conjunction of circumstances would amount to an abdication, and the throne would be thereby vacant. But it is not for us to say, that any one, or two, of these ingredients would amount to such a situation; for there our precedent would fail us. In these therefore, or other circumstances, which a fertile imagination may furnish, since both law and history are silent, it becomes us to be silent too; leaving to future generations, whenever necessity and the safety of the whole shall require it, the exertion of those inherent (though latent) powers of society, which no climate, no time, no constitution, no contract, can ever destroy or diminish.

II. BESIDES the attribute of sovereignty, the law also ascribes to the king, in his political capacity, absolute perfection. The king can do no wrong. Which antient and fundamental maxim is not to be understood, as if every thing transacted by the government was of course just and lawful, but means only two things. First, that whatever is exceptionable in the conduct of public affairs is not to be imputed to the king, nor is he answerable for it personally to his people: for this doctrine would totally destroy that constitutional independence of the crown, which is necessary for the balance of power, in our free and active, and therefore compounded, constitution. And, secondly, it means that the prerogative of the crown extends not to do any injury: it is created for the benefit of the people, and therefore cannot be exerted to their prejudice[r].

[Footnote r: Plowd. 487.]

THE king, moreover, is not only incapable of doing wrong, but even of thinking wrong: he can never mean to do an improper thing: in him is no folly or weakness. And therefore, if the crown should be induced to grant any franchise or privilege to a subject contrary to reason, or in any wise prejudicial to the commonwealth, or a private person, the law will not suppose the king to have meant either an unwise or an injurious action, but declares that the king was deceived in his grant; and thereupon such grant is rendered void, merely upon the foundation of fraud and deception, either by or upon those agents, whom the crown has thought proper to employ. For the law will not cast an imputation on that magistrate whom it entrusts with the executive power, as if he was capable of intentionally disregarding his trust: but attributes to mere imposition (to which the most perfect of sublunary beings must still continue liable) those little inadvertencies, which, if charged on the will of the prince, might lessen him in the eyes of his subjects.

YET still, notwithstanding this personal perfection, which the law attributes to the sovereign, the constitution has allowed a latitude of supposing the contrary, in respect to both houses of parliament; each of which, in it's turn, hath exerted the right of remonstrating and complaining to the king even of those acts of royalty, which are most properly and personally his own; such as messages signed by himself, and speeches delivered from the throne. And yet, such is the reverence which is paid to the royal person, that though the two houses have an undoubted right to consider these acts of state in any light whatever, and accordingly treat them in their addresses as personally proceeding from the prince, yet, among themselves, (to preserve the more perfect decency, and for the greater freedom of debate) they usually suppose them to flow from the advice of the administration. But the privilege of canvassing thus freely the personal acts of the sovereign (either directly, or even through the medium of his reputed advisers) belongs to no individual, but is confined to those august assemblies: and there too the objections must be proposed with the utmost respect and deference. One member was sent to the tower[s], for suggesting that his majesty's answer to the address of the commons contained "high words, to fright the members out of their duty;" and another[t], for saying that a part of the king's speech "seemed rather to be calculated for the meridian of Germany than Great Britain."

[Footnote s: Com. Journ. 18 Nov. 1685.]

[Footnote t: Com. Journ. 4 Dec. 1717.]

IN farther pursuance of this principle, the law also determines that in the king can be no negligence, or laches, and therefore no delay will bar his right. Nullum tempus occurrit regi is the standing maxim upon all occasions: for the law intends that the king is always busied for the public good, and therefore has not leisure to assert his right within the times limited to subjects[u]. In the king also can be no stain or corruption of blood: for if the heir to the crown were attainted of treason or felony, and afterwards the crown should descend to him, this would purge the attainder ipso facto[w]. And therefore when Henry VII, who as earl of Richmond stood attainted, came to the crown, it was not thought necessary to pass an act of parliament to reverse this attainder; because, as lord Bacon in his history of that prince informs us, it was agreed that the assumption of the crown had at once purged all attainders. Neither can the king in judgment of law, as king, ever be a minor or under age; and therefore his royal grants and assents to acts of parliament are good, though he has not in his natural capacity attained the legal age of twenty one[x]. By a statute indeed, 28 Hen. VIII. c. 17. power was given to future kings to rescind and revoke all acts of parliament that should be made while they were under the age of twenty four: but this was repealed by the statute 1 Edw. VI. c. 11. so far as related to that prince; and both statutes are declared to be determined by 24 Geo. II. c. 24. It hath also been usually thought prudent, when the heir apparent has been very young, to appoint a protector, guardian, or regent, for a limited time: but the very necessity of such extraordinary provision is sufficient to demonstrate the truth of that maxim of the common law, that in the king is no minority; and therefore he hath no legal guardian[y].

[Footnote u: Finch. L. 82. Co. Litt. 90 b.]

[Footnote w: Finch. L. 82.]

[Footnote x: Co. Litt. 43.]

[Footnote y: The methods of appointing this guardian or regent have been so various, and the duration of his power so uncertain, that from thence alone it may be collected that his office is unknown to the common law; and therefore (as sir Edward Coke says, 4 Inst. 58.) the surest way is to have him made by authority of the great council in parliament. The earl of Pembroke by his own authority assumed, in very troublesome times, the regency of Henry III, who was then only nine years old; but was declared of full age by the pope at seventeen, confirmed the great charter at eighteen, and took upon him the administration of the government at twenty. A guardian and council of regency were named for Edward III, by the parliament which deposed his father; the young king being then fifteen, and not assuming the government till three years after. When Richard II succeeded at the age of eleven, the duke of Lancaster took upon him the management of the kingdom, till the parliament met, which appointed a nominal council to assist him. Henry V on his death-bed named a regent and a guardian for his infant son Henry VI, then nine months old: but the parliament altered his disposition, and appointed a protector and council, with a special limited authority. Both these princes remained in a state of pupillage till the age of twenty three. Edward V, at the age of thirteen, was recommended by his father to the care of the duke of Glocester; who was declared protector by the privy council. The statutes 25 Hen. VIII. c. 12. and 28 Hen. VIII. c. 7. provided, that the successor, if a male and under eighteen, or if a female and under sixteen, should be till such age in the governance of his or her natural mother, (if approved by the king) and such other counsellors as his majesty should by will or otherwise appoint: and he accordingly appointed his sixteen executors to have the government of his son, Edward VI, and the kingdom; which executors elected the earl of Hertford protector. The statute 24 Geo. II. c. 24. in case the crown should descend to any of the children of Frederick late prince of Wales under the age of eighteen, appoints the princess dowager;—and that of 5 Geo. III. c. 27. in case of a like descent to any of his present majesty's children, empowers the king to name either the queen, the princess dowager, or any descendant of king George II residing in this kingdom;—to be guardian and regent, till the successor attains such age, assisted by a council of regency: the powers of them all being expressly defined and set down in the several acts.]

III. A THIRD attribute of the king's majesty is his perpetuity. The law ascribes to him, in his political capacity, an absolute immortality. The king never dies. Henry, Edward, or George may die; but the king survives them all. For immediately upon the decease of the reigning prince in his natural capacity, his kingship or imperial dignity, by act of law, without any interregnum or interval, is vested at once in his heir; who is, eo instanti, king to all intents and purposes. And so tender is the law of supposing even a possibility of his death, that his natural dissolution is generally called his demise; dimissio regis, vel coronae: an expression which signifies merely a transfer of property; for, as is observed in Plowden[z], when we say the demise of the crown, we mean only that in consequence of the disunion of the king's body natural from his body politic, the kingdom is transferred or demised to his successor; and so the royal dignity remains perpetual. Thus too, when Edward the fourth, in the tenth year of his reign, was driven from his throne for a few months by the house of Lancaster, this temporary transfer of his dignity was denominated his demise; and all process was held to be discontinued, as upon a natural death of the king[a].

[Footnote z: Plowd. 177. 234.]

[Footnote a: M. 49 Hen. VI. pl. 1-8.]

WE are next to consider those branches of the royal prerogative, which invest this our sovereign lord, thus all-perfect and immortal in his kingly capacity, with a number of authorities and powers; in the exertion whereof consists the executive part of government. This is wisely placed in a single hand by the British constitution, for the sake of unanimity, strength and dispatch. Were it placed in many hands, it would be subject to many wills: many wills, if disunited and drawing different ways, create weakness in a government: and to unite those several wills, and reduce them to one, is a work of more time and delay than the exigencies of state will afford. The king of England is therefore not only the chief, but properly the sole, magistrate of the nation; all others acting by commission from, and in due subordination to him: in like manner as, upon the great revolution in the Roman state, all the powers of the antient magistracy of the commonwealth were concentred in the new emperor; so that, as Gravina[b] expresses it, "in ejus unius persona veteris reipublicae vis atque majestas per cumulatas magistratuum potestates exprimebatur."

[Footnote b: Orig. 1. Sec. 105.]

AFTER what has been premised in this chapter, I shall not (I trust) be considered as an advocate for arbitrary power, when I lay it down as a principle, that in the exertion of lawful prerogative, the king is and ought to be absolute; that is, so far absolute, that there is no legal authority that can either delay or resist him. He may reject what bills, may make what treaties, may coin what money, may create what peers, may pardon what offences he pleases: unless where the constitution hath expressly, or by evident consequence, laid down some exception or boundary; declaring, that thus far the prerogative shall go and no farther. For otherwise the power of the crown would indeed be but a name and a shadow, insufficient for the ends of government, if, where it's jurisdiction is clearly established and allowed, any man or body of men were permitted to disobey it, in the ordinary course of law: I say, in the ordinary course of law; for I do not now speak of those extraordinary recourses to first principles, which are necessary when the contracts of society are in danger of dissolution, and the law proves too weak a defence against the violence of fraud or oppression. And yet the want of attending to this obvious distinction has occasioned these doctrines, of absolute power in the prince and of national resistance by the people, to be much misunderstood and perverted by the advocates for slavery on the one hand, and the demagogues of faction on the other. The former, observing the absolute sovereignty and transcendent dominion of the crown laid down (as it certainly is) most strongly and emphatically in our lawbooks, as well as our homilies, have denied that any case can be excepted from so general and positive a rule; forgetting how impossible it is, in any practical system of laws, to point out beforehand those eccentrical remedies, which the sudden emergence of national distress may dictate, and which that alone can justify. On the other hand, over-zealous republicans, feeling the absurdity of unlimited passive obedience, have fancifully (or sometimes factiously) gone over to the other extreme: and, because resistance is justifiable to the person of the prince when the being of the state is endangered, and the public voice proclaims such resistance necessary, they have therefore allowed to every individual the right of determining this expedience, and of employing private force to resist even private oppression. A doctrine productive of anarchy, and (in consequence) equally fatal to civil liberty as tyranny itself. For civil liberty, rightly understood, consists in protecting the rights of individuals by the united force of society: society cannot be maintained, and of course can exert no protection, without obedience to some sovereign power: and obedience is an empty name, if every individual has a right to decide how far he himself shall obey.

IN the exertion therefore of those prerogatives, which the law has given him, the king is irresistible and absolute, according to the forms of the constitution. And yet, if the consequence of that exertion be manifestly to the grievance or dishonour of the kingdom, the parliament will call his advisers to a just and severe account. For prerogative consisting (as Mr Locke[c] has well defined it) in the discretionary power of acting for the public good, where the positive laws are silent, if that discretionary power be abused to the public detriment, such prerogative is exerted in an unconstitutional manner. Thus the king may make a treaty with a foreign state, which shall irrevocably bind the nation; and yet, when such treaties have been judged pernicious, impeachments have pursued those ministers, by whose agency or advice they were concluded.

[Footnote c: on Gov. 2. Sec. 166.]

THE prerogatives of the crown (in the sense under which we are now considering them) respect either this nation's intercourse with foreign nations, or it's own domestic government and civil polity.

WITH regard to foreign concerns, the king is the delegate or representative of his people. It is impossible that the individuals of a state, in their collective capacity, can transact the affairs of that state with another community equally numerous as themselves. Unanimity must be wanting to their measures, and strength to the execution of their counsels. In the king therefore, as in a center, all the rays of his people are united, and form by that union a consistency, splendor, and power, that make him feared and respected by foreign potentates; who would scruple to enter into any engagements, that must afterwards be revised and ratified by a popular assembly. What is done by the royal authority, with regard to foreign powers, is the act of the whole nation: what is done without the king's concurrence is the act only of private men. And so far is this point carried by our law, that it hath been held[d], that should all the subjects of England make war with a king in league with the king of England, without the royal assent, such war is no breach of the league. And, by the statute 2 Hen. V. c. 6. any subject committing acts of hostility upon any nation in league with the king, was declared to be guilty of high treason: and, though that act was repealed by the statute 20 Hen. VI. c. 11. so far as relates to the making this offence high treason, yet still it remains a very great offence against the law of nations, and punishable by our laws, either capitally or otherwise, according to the circumstances of the case.

[Footnote d: 4 Inst. 152.]

I. THE king therefore, considered as the representative of his people, has the sole power of sending embassadors to foreign states, and receiving embassadors at home. This may lead us into a short enquiry, how far the municipal laws of England intermeddle with or protect the rights of these messengers from one potentate to another, whom we call embassadors.

THE rights, the powers, the duties, and the privileges of embassadors are determined by the law of nature and nations, and not by any municipal constitutions. For, as they represent the persons of their respective masters, who owe no subjection to any laws but those of their own country, their actions are not subject to the control of the private law of that state, wherein they are appointed to reside. He that is subject to the coercion of laws is necessarily dependent on that power by whom those laws were made: but an embassador ought to be independent of every power, except that by which he is sent; and of consequence ought not to be subject to the mere municipal laws of that nation, wherein he is to exercise his functions. If he grossly offends, or makes an ill use of his character, he may be sent home and accused before his master[e]; who is bound either to do justice upon him, or avow himself the accomplice of his crimes[f]. But there is great dispute among the writers on the laws of nations, whether this exemption of embassadors extends to all crimes, as well natural as positive; or whether it only extends to such as are mala prohibita, as coining, and not to those that are mala in se, as murder[g]. Our law seems to have formerly taken in the restriction, as well as the general exemption. For it has been held, both by our common lawyers and civilians[h], that an embassador is privileged by the law of nature and nations; and yet, if he commits any offence against the law of reason and nature, he shall lose his privilege[i]: and that therefore, if an embassador conspires the death of the king in whose land he is, he may be condemned and executed for treason; but if he commits any other species of treason, it is otherwise, and he must be sent to his own kingdom[k]. And these positions seem to be built upon good appearance of reason. For since, as we have formerly shewn, all municipal laws act in subordination to the primary law of nature, and, where they annex a punishment to natural crimes, are only declaratory of and auxiliary to that law; therefore to this natural, universal rule of justice embassadors, as well as other men, are subject in all countries; and of consequence it is reasonable that wherever they transgress it, there they shall be liable to make atonement[l]. But, however these principles might formerly obtain, the general practice of Europe seems now to have adopted the sentiments of the learned Grotius, that the security of embassadors is of more importance than the punishment of a particular crime[m]. And therefore few, if any, examples have happened within a century past, where an embassador has been punished for any offence, however atrocious in it's nature.

[Footnote e: As was done with count Gyllenberg the Swedish minister to Great Britain, A.D. 1716.]

[Footnote f: Sp. L. 26. 21.]

[Footnote g: Van Leeuwen in Ff. 50. 7. 17. Barbeyrac's Puff. l. 8. c. 9. Sec. 9. & 17. Van Bynkershoek de foro legator. c. 17, 18, 19.]

[Footnote h: 1 Roll. Rep. 175. 3 Bulstr. 27.]

[Footnote i: 4 Inst. 153.]

[Footnote k: 1 Roll. Rep. 185.]

[Footnote l: Foster's reports. 188.]

[Footnote m: Securitas legatorum utilitati quae ex poena est praeponderat. de jur. b. & p. 2. 18. 4. 4.]

IN respect to civil suits, all the foreign jurists agree, that neither an embassador, nor any of his train or comites, can be prosecuted for any debt or contract in the courts of that kingdom wherein he is sent to reside. Yet sir Edward Coke maintains, that, if an embassador make a contract which is good jure gentium, he shall answer for it here[n]. And the truth is, we find no traces in our lawbooks of allowing any privilege to embassadors or their domestics, even in civil suits, previous to the reign of queen Anne; when an embassador from Peter the great, czar of Muscovy, was actually arrested and taken out of his coach in London, in 1708, for debts which he had there contracted. This the czar resented very highly, and demanded (we are told) that the officers who made the arrest should be punished with death. But the queen (to the amazement of that despotic court) directed her minister to inform him, "that the law of England had not yet protected embassadors from the payment of their lawful debts; that therefore the arrest was no offence by the laws; and that she could inflict no punishment upon any, the meanest, of her subjects, unless warranted by the law of the land[o]." To satisfy however the clamours of the foreign ministers (who made it a common cause) as well as to appease the wrath of Peter[p], a new statute was enacted by parliament[q], reciting the arrest which had been made, "in contempt of the protection granted by her majesty, contrary to the law of nations, and in prejudice of the rights and privileges, which embassadors and other public ministers have at all times been thereby possessed of, and ought to be kept sacred and inviolable:" wherefore it enacts, that for the future all process whereby the person of any embassador, or of his domestic or domestic servant, may be arrested, or his goods distreined or seised, shall be utterly null and void; and the persons prosecuting, soliciting, or executing such process shall be deemed violaters of the law of nations, and disturbers of the public repose; and shall suffer such penalties and corporal punishment as the lord chancellor and the two chief justices, or any two of them, shall think fit. But it is expressly provided, that no trader, within the description of the bankrupt laws, who shall be in the service of any embassador, shall be privileged or protected by this act; nor shall any one be punished for arresting an embassador's servant, unless his name be registred with the secretary of state, and by him transmitted to the sheriffs of London and Middlesex. Exceptions, that are strictly conformable to the rights of embassadors[r], as observed in the most civilized countries. And, in consequence of this statute, thus enforcing the law of nations, these privileges are now usually allowed in the courts of common law[s].

[Footnote n: 4 Inst. 153.]

[Footnote o: Mod. Un. Hist. xxxv. 454.]

[Footnote p: A copy of the act made upon this occasion, very elegantly engrossed and illuminated, was sent him to Moscow as a present.]

[Footnote q: 7 Ann. c. 12.]

[Footnote r: Saepe quaesitum est an comitum numero et jure habendi sunt, qui legatum comitantur, non ut instructior fiat legatio, sed unice ut lucro suo consulant, institores forte et mercatores. Et, quamvis hos saepe defenderint et comitum loco habere voluerint legati, apparet tamen satis eo non pertinere, qui in legati legationisve officio non sunt. Quum autem ea res nonnunquam turbas dederit, optimo exemplo in quibusdam aulis olim receptum fuit, ut legatus teneretur exhibere nomenclaturam comitum suorum. Van Bynkersh. c. 15. prope finem.]

[Footnote s: Fitzg. 200. Stra. 797.]

II. IT is also the king's prerogative to make treaties, leagues, and alliances with foreign states and princes. For it is by the law of nations essential to the goodness of a league, that it be made by the sovereign power[t]; and then it is binding upon the whole community: and in England the sovereign power, quoad hoc, is vested in the person of the king. Whatever contracts therefore he engages in, no other power in the kingdom can legally delay, resist, or annul. And yet, lest this plenitude of authority should be abused to the detriment of the public, the constitution (as was hinted before) hath here interposed a check, by the means of parliamentary impeachment, for the punishment of such ministers as advise or conclude any treaty, which shall afterwards be judged to derogate from the honour and interest of the nation.

[Footnote t: Puff. L. of N. b. 8. c. 9. Sec. 6.]

III. UPON the same principle the king has also the sole prerogative of making war and peace. For it is held by all the writers on the law of nature and nations, that the right of making war, which by nature subsisted in every individual, is given up by all private persons that enter into society, and is vested in the sovereign power[u]: and this right is given up not only by individuals, but even by the intire body of people, that are under the dominion of a sovereign. It would indeed be extremely improper, that any number of subjects should have the power of binding the supreme magistrate, and putting him against his will in a state of war. Whatever hostilities therefore may be committed by private citizens, the state ought not to be affected thereby; unless that should justify their proceedings, and thereby become partner in the guilt. Such unauthorized voluntiers in violence are not ranked among open enemies, but are treated like pirates and robbers: according to that rule of the civil law[w]; hostes hi sunt qui nobis, aut quibus nos, publice bellum decrevimus: caeteri latrones aut praedones sunt. And the reason which is given by Grotius[x], why according to the law of nations a denunciation of war ought always to precede the actual commencement of hostilities, is not so much that the enemy may be put upon his guard, (which is matter rather of magnanimity than right) but that it may be certainly clear that the war is not undertaken by private persons, but by the will of the whole community; whose right of willing is in this case transferred to the supreme magistrate by the fundamental laws of society. So that, in order to make a war completely effectual, it is necessary with us in England that it be publicly declared and duly proclaimed by the king's authority; and, then, all parts of both the contending nations, from the highest to the lowest, are bound by it. And, wherever the right resides of beginning a national war, there also must reside the right of ending it, or the power of making peace. And the same check of parliamentary impeachment, for improper or inglorious conduct, in beginning, conducting, or concluding a national war, is in general sufficient to restrain the ministers of the crown from a wanton or injurious exertion of this great prerogative.

[Footnote u: Puff. l. 8. c. 6. Sec. 8. and Barbeyr. in loc.]

[Footnote w: Ff. 50. 16. 118.]

[Footnote x: de jur. b. & p. l. 3. c. 3. Sec. 11.]

IV. BUT, as the delay of making war may sometimes be detrimental to individuals who have suffered by depredations from foreign potentates, our laws have in some respect armed the subject with powers to impel the prerogative; by directing the ministers of the crown to issue letters of marque and reprisal upon due demand: the prerogative of granting which is nearly related to, and plainly derived from, that other of making war; this being indeed only an incomplete state of hostilities, and generally ending in a formal denunciation of war. These letters are grantable by the law of nations[y], whenever the subjects of one state are oppressed and injured by those of another; and justice is denied by that state to which the oppressor belongs. In this case letters of marque and reprisal (words in themselves synonimous and signifying a taking in return) may be obtained, in order to seise the bodies or goods of the subjects of the offending state, until satisfaction be made, wherever they happen to be found. Indeed this custom of reprisals seems dictated by nature herself; and accordingly we find in the most antient times very notable instances of it[z]. But here the necessity is obvious of calling in the sovereign power, to determine when reprisals may be made; else every private sufferer would be a judge in his own cause. And, in pursuance of this principle, it is with us declared by the statute 4 Hen. V. c. 7. that, if any subjects of the realm are oppressed in time of truce by any foreigners, the king will grant marque in due form, to all that feel themselves grieved. Which form is thus directed to be observed: the sufferer must first apply to the lord privy-seal, and he shall make out letters of request under the privy seal; and, if, after such request of satisfaction made, the party required do not within convenient time make due satisfaction or restitution to the party grieved, the lord chancellor shall make him out letters of marque under the great seal; and by virtue of these he may attack and seise the property of the aggressor nation, without hazard of being condemned as a robber or pirate.

[Footnote y: Grot. de jur. b. & p. l. 3. c. 2. Sec. 4 & 5.]

[Footnote z: See the account given by Nestor, in the eleventh book of the Iliad, of the reprisals made by himself on the Epeian nation; from whom he took a multitude of cattle, as a satisfaction for a prize won at the Elian games by his father Neleus, and for debts due to many private subjects of the Pylian kingdom: out of which booty the king took three hundred head of cattle for his own demand, and the rest were equitably divided among the other creditors.]

V. UPON exactly the same reason stands the prerogative of granting safe-conducts, without which by the law of nations no member of one society has a right to intrude into another. And therefore Puffendorf very justly resolves[a], that it is left in the power of all states, to take such measures about the admission of strangers, as they think convenient; those being ever excepted who are driven on the coasts by necessity, or by any cause that deserves pity or compassion. Great tenderness is shewn by our laws, not only to foreigners in distress (as will appear when we come to speak of shipwrecks) but with regard also to the admission of strangers who come spontaneously. For so long as their nation continues at peace with ours, and they themselves behave peaceably, they are under the king's protection; though liable to be sent home whenever the king sees occasion. But no subject of a nation at war with us can, by the law of nations, come into the realm, nor can travel himself upon the high seas, or send his goods and merchandize from one place to another, without danger of being seized by our subjects, unless he has letters of safe-conduct; which by divers antient statutes[b] must be granted under the king's great seal and inrolled in chancery, or else are of no effect: the king being supposed the best judge of such emergencies, as may deserve exception from the general law of arms.

[Footnote a: Law of N. and N. b. 3. c. 3. Sec. 9.]

[Footnote b: 15 Hen. VI. c. 3. 18 Hen. VI. c. 8. 20 Hen. VI. c. 1.]

INDEED the law of England, as a commercial country, pays a very particular regard to foreign merchants in innumerable instances. One I cannot omit to mention: that by magna carta[c] it is provided, that all merchants (unless publickly prohibited beforehand) shall have safe conduct to depart from, to come into, to tarry in, and to go through England, for the exercise of merchandize, without any unreasonable imposts, except in time of war: and, if a war breaks out between us and their country, they shall be attached (if in England) without harm of body or goods, till the king or his chief justiciary be informed how our merchants are treated in the land with which we are at war; and, if ours be secure in that land, they shall be secure in ours. This seems to have been a common rule of equity among all the northern nations; for we learn from Stiernhook[d], that it was a maxim among the Goths and Swedes, "quam legem exteri nobis posuere, eandem illis ponemus." But it is somewhat extraordinary, that it should have found a place in magna carta, a mere interior treaty between the king and his natural-born subjects; which occasions the learned Montesquieu to remark with a degree of admiration, "that the English have made the protection of foreign merchants one of the articles of their national liberty[e]." But indeed it well justifies another observation which he has made[f], "that the English know better than any other people upon earth, how to value at the same time these three great advantages, religion, liberty, and commerce." Very different from the genius of the Roman people; who in their manners, their constitution, and even in their laws, treated commerce as a dishonorable employment, and prohibited the exercise thereof to persons of birth, or rank, or fortune[g]: and equally different from the bigotry of the canonists, who looked on trade as inconsistent with christianity[h], and determined at the council of Melfi, under pope Urban II, A.D. 1090, that it was impossible with a safe conscience to exercise any traffic, or follow the profession of the law[i].

[Footnote c: c. 30.]

[Footnote d: de jure Sueon. l. 3. c. 4.]

[Footnote e: Sp. L. 20. 13.]

[Footnote f: Sp. L. 20. 6.]

[Footnote g: Nobiliores natalibus, et honorum luce conspicuos, et patrimonio ditiores, perniciosum urbibus mercimonium exercere prohibemus. C. 4 63. 3.]

[Footnote h: Homo mercator vix aut nunquam potest Deo placere: et ideo nullus Christianus debet esse mercator; aut si voluerit esse, projiciatur de ecclesia Dei. Decret. 1. 88. 11.]

[Footnote i: Falsa fit poenitentia [laici] cum penitus ab officio curiali vel negotiali non recedit, quae sine peccatis agi ulla ratione non praevalet. Act. Concil. apud Baron. c. 16.]

THESE are the principal prerogatives of the king, respecting this nation's intercourse with foreign nations; in all of which he is considered as the delegate or representative of his people. But in domestic affairs he is considered in a great variety of characters, and from thence there arises an abundant number of other prerogatives.

I. FIRST, he is a constituent part of the supreme legislative power; and, as such, has the prerogative of rejecting such provisions in parliament, as he judges improper to be passed. The expediency of which constitution has before been evinced at large[k]. I shall only farther remark, that the king is not bound by any act of parliament, unless he be named therein by special and particular words. The most general words that can be devised ("any person or persons, bodies politic, or corporate, &c.") affect not him in the least, if they may tend to restrain or diminish any of his rights or interests[l]. For it would be of most mischievous consequence to the public, if the strength of the executive power were liable to be curtailed without it's own express consent, by constructions and implications of the subject. Yet where an act of parliament is expressly made for the preservation of public rights and the suppression of public wrongs, and does not interfere with the established rights of the crown, it is said to be binding as well upon the king as upon the subject[m]: and, likewise, the king may take the benefit of any particular act, though he be not especially named[n].

[Footnote k: ch. 2. pag. 149.]

[Footnote l: 11 Rep. 74 b.]

[Footnote m: 11 Rep. 71.]

[Footnote n: 7 Rep. 32.]

II. THE king is considered, in the next place, as the generalissimo, or the first in military command, within the kingdom. The great end of society is to protect the weakness of individuals by the united strength of the community: and the principal use of government is to direct that united strength in the best and most effectual manner, to answer the end proposed. Monarchical government is allowed to be the fittest of any for this purpose: it follows therefore, from the very end of it's institution, that in a monarchy the military power must be trusted in the hands of the prince.

IN this capacity therefore, of general of the kingdom, the king has the sole power of raising and regulating fleets and armies. Of the manner in which they are raised and regulated I shall speak more, when I come to consider the military state. We are now only to consider the prerogative of enlisting and of governing them: which indeed was disputed and claimed, contrary to all reason and precedent, by the long parliament of king Charles I; but, upon the restoration of his son, was solemnly declared by the statute 13 Car. II. c. 6. to be in the king alone: for that the sole supreme government and command of the militia within all his majesty's realms and dominions, and of all forces by sea and land, and of all forts and places of strength, ever was and is the undoubted right of his majesty, and his royal predecessors, kings and queens of England; and that both or either house of parliament cannot, nor ought to, pretend to the same.

THIS statute, it is obvious to observe, extends not only to fleets and armies, but also to forts, and other places of strength, within the realm; the sole prerogative as well of erecting, as manning and governing of which, belongs to the king in his capacity of general of the kingdom[o]: and all lands were formerly subject to a tax, for building of castles wherever the king thought proper. This was one of the three things, from contributing to the performance of which no lands were exempted; and therefore called by our Saxon ancestors the trinoda necessitas: sc. pontis reparatio, arcis constructio, et expeditio contra hostem[p]. And this they were called upon to do so often, that, as sir Edward Coke from M. Paris assures us[q], there were in the time of Henry II 1115 castles subsisting in England. The inconvenience of which, when granted out to private subjects, the lordly barons of those times, was severely felt by the whole kingdom; for, as William of Newbury remarks in the reign of king Stephen, "erant in Anglia quodammodo tot reges vel potius tyranni, quot domini castellorum:" but it was felt by none more sensibly than by two succeeding princes, king John and king Henry III. And therefore, the greatest part of them being demolished in the barons' wars, the kings of after times have been very cautious of suffering them to be rebuilt in a fortified manner: and sir Edward Coke lays it down[r], that no subject can build a castle, or house of strength imbatteled, or other fortress defensible, without the licence of the king; for the danger which might ensue, if every man at his pleasure might do it.

[Footnote o: 2 Inst. 30.]

[Footnote p: Cowel's interpr. tit. castellorum operatio. Seld. Jan. Angl. 1. 42.]

[Footnote q: 2 Inst. 31.]

[Footnote r: 1 Inst. 5.]

TO this branch of the prerogative may be referred the power vested in his majesty, by statutes 12 Car. II. c. 4. and 29 Geo. II. c. 16. of prohibiting the exportation of arms or ammunition out of this kingdom, under severe penalties: and likewise the right which the king has, whenever he sees proper, of confining his subjects to stay within the realm, or of recalling them when beyond the seas. By the common law[s], every man may go out of the realm for whatever cause he pleaseth, without obtaining the king's leave; provided he is under no injunction of staying at home: (which liberty was expressly declared in king John's great charter, though left out in that of Henry III) but, because that every man ought of right to defend the king and his realm, therefore the king at his pleasure may command him by his writ that he go not beyond the seas, or out of the realm without licence; and if he do the contrary, he shall be punished for disobeying the king's command. Some persons there antiently were, that, by reason of their stations, were under a perpetual prohibition of going abroad without licence obtained; among which were reckoned all peers, on account of their being counsellors of the crown; all knights, who were bound to defend the kingdom from invasions; all ecclesiastics, who were expressly confined by cap. 4. of the constitutions of Clarendon, on account of their attachment in the times of popery to the see of Rome; all archers and other artificers, lest they should instruct foreigners to rival us in their several trades and manufactures. This was law in the times of Britton[t], who wrote in the reign of Edward I: and sir Edward Coke[u] gives us many instances to this effect in the time of Edward III. In the succeeding reign the affair of travelling wore a very different aspect: an act of parliament being made[w], forbidding all persons whatever to go abroad without licence; except only the lords and other great men of the realm; and true and notable merchants; and the king's soldiers. But this act was repealed by the statute 4 Jac. I. c. 1. And at present every body has, or at least assumes, the liberty of going abroad when he pleases. Yet undoubtedly if the king, by writ of ne exeat regnum, under his great seal or privy seal, thinks proper to prohibit him from so doing; or if the king sends a writ to any man, when abroad, commanding his return; and in either case the subject disobeys; it is a high contempt of the king's prerogative, for which the offender's lands shall be seised till he return; and then he is liable to fine and imprisonment[x].

[Footnote s: F.N.B. 85.]

[Footnote t: c. 123.]

[Footnote u: 3 Inst. 175.]

[Footnote w: 5 Ric. II. c. 2.]

[Footnote x: 1 Hawk. P.C. 22.]

III. ANOTHER capacity, in which the king is considered in domestic affairs, is as the fountain of justice and general conservator of the peace of the kingdom. By the fountain of justice the law does not mean the author or original, but only the distributor. Justice is not derived from the king, as from his free gift; but he is the steward of the public, to dispense it to whom it is due[y]. He is not the spring, but the reservoir; from whence right and equity are conducted, by a thousand chanels, to every individual. The original power of judicature, by the fundamental principles of society, is lodged in the society at large: but as it would be impracticable to render complete justice to every individual, by the people in their collective capacity, therefore every nation has committed that power to certain select magistrates, who with more ease and expedition can hear and determine complaints; and in England this authority has immemorially been exercised by the king or his substitutes. He therefore has alone the right of erecting courts of judicature: for, though the constitution of the kingdom hath entrusted him with the whole executive power of the laws, it is impossible, as well as improper, that he should personally carry into execution this great and extensive trust: it is consequently necessary, that courts should be erected, to assist him in executing this power; and equally necessary, that, if erected, they should be erected by his authority. And hence it is, that all jurisdictions of courts are either mediately or immediately derived from the crown, their proceedings run generally in the king's name, they pass under his seal, and are executed by his officers.

[Footnote y: Ad hoc autem creatus est et electus, ut justitiam faciat universis. Bract. l. 3. tr. 1. c. 9.]

IT is probable, and almost certain, that in very early times, before our constitution arrived at it's full perfection, our kings in person often heard and determined causes between party and party. But at present, by the long and uniform usage of many ages, our kings have delegated their whole judicial power to the judges of their several courts; which are the grand depositary of the fundamental laws of the kingdom, and have gained a known and stated jurisdiction, regulated by certain and established rules, which the crown itself cannot now alter but by act of parliament[z]. And, in order to maintain both the dignity and independence of the judges in the superior courts, it is enacted by the statute 13 W. III. c. 2. that their commissions shall be made (not, as formerly, durante bene placito, but) quamdiu bene se gesserint, and their salaries ascertained and established; but that it may be lawful to remove them on the address of both houses of parliament. And now, by the noble improvements of that law in the statute of 1 Geo. III. c. 23. enacted at the earnest recommendation of the king himself from the throne, the judges are continued in their offices during their good behaviour, notwithstanding any demise of the crown (which was formerly held[a] immediately to vacate their seats) and their full salaries are absolutely secured to them during the continuance of their commissions: his majesty having been pleased to declare, that "he looked upon the independence and uprightness of the judges, as essential to the impartial administration of justice; as one of the best securities of the rights and liberties of his subjects; and as most conducive to the honour of the crown[b]."

[Footnote z: 2 Hawk. P.C. 2.]

[Footnote a: Ld Raym. 747.]

[Footnote b: Com. Journ. 3 Mar. 1761.]

IN criminal proceedings, or prosecutions for offences, it would still be a higher absurdity, if the king personally sate in judgment; because in regard to these he appears in another capacity, that of prosecutor. All offences are either against the king's peace, or his crown and dignity; and are so laid in every indictment. For, though in their consequences they generally seem (except in the case of treason and a very few others) to be rather offences against the kingdom than the king; yet, as the public, which is an invisible body, has delegated all it's power and rights, with regard to the execution of the laws, to one visible magistrate, all affronts to that power, and breaches of those rights, are immediately offences against him, to whom they are so delegated by the public. He is therefore the proper person to prosecute for all public offences and breaches of the peace, being the person injured in the eye of the law. And this notion was carried so far in the old Gothic constitution, (wherein the king was bound by his coronation oath to conserve the peace) that in case of any forcible injury offered to the person of a fellow subject, the offender was accused of a kind of perjury, in having violated the king's coronation oath; dicebatur fregisse juramentum regis juratum[c]. And hence also arises another branch of the prerogative, that of pardoning offences; for it is reasonable that he only who is injured should have the power of forgiving. And therefore, in parliamentary impeachments, the king has no prerogative of pardoning: because there the commons of Great Britain are in their own names the prosecutors, and not the crown; the offence being for the most part avowedly taken to be done against the public. Of prosecutions and pardons I shall treat more at large hereafter; and only mention them here, in this cursory manner, to shew the constitutional grounds of this power of the crown, and how regularly connected all the links are in this vast chain of prerogative.

[Footnote c: Stiernh. de jure Goth. l. 3. c. 3. A notion somewhat similar to this may be found in the mirrour. c. 1. Sec. 5.]

IN this distinct and separate existence of the judicial power, in a peculiar body of men, nominated indeed, but not removeable at pleasure, by the crown, consists one main preservative of the public liberty; which cannot subsist long in any state, unless the administration of common justice be in some degree separated both from the legislative and also from the executive power. Were it joined with the legislative, the life, liberty, and property, of the subject would be in the hands of arbitrary judges, whose decisions would be then regulated only by their own opinions, and not by any fundamental principles of law; which, though legislators may depart from, yet judges are bound to observe. Were it joined with the executive, this union might soon be an over-ballance for the legislative. For which reason, by the statute of 16 Car. I. c. 10. which abolished the court of star chamber, effectual care is taken to remove all judicial power out of the hands of the king's privy council; who, as then was evident from recent instances, might soon be inclined to pronounce that for law, which was most agreeable to the prince or his officers. Nothing therefore is more to be avoided, in a free constitution, than uniting the provinces of a judge and a minister of state. And indeed, that the absolute power, claimed and exercised in a neighbouring nation, is more tolerable than that of the eastern empires, is in great measure owing to their having vested the judicial power in their parliaments, a body separate and distinct from both the legislative and executive: and, if ever that nation recovers it's former liberty, it will owe it to the efforts of those assemblies. In Turkey, where every thing is centered in the sultan or his ministers, despotic power is in it's meridian, and wears a more dreadful aspect.

A CONSEQUENCE of this prerogative is the legal ubiquity of the king. His majesty, in the eye of the law, is always present in all his courts, though he cannot personally distribute justice[d]. His judges are the mirror by which the king's image is reflected. It is the regal office, and not the royal person, that is always present in court, always ready to undertake prosecutions, or pronounce judgment, for the benefit and protection of the subject. And from this ubiquity it follows, that the king can never be nonsuit[e]; for a nonsuit is the desertion of the suit or action by the non-appearance of the plaintiff in court. For the same reason also, in the forms of legal proceedings, the king is not said to appear by his attorney, as other men do; for he always appears in contemplation of law in his own proper person[f].

[Footnote d: Fortesc. c. 8. 2 Inst. 186.]

[Footnote e: Co. Litt. 139.]

[Footnote f: Finch. L. 81.]

FROM the same original, of the king's being the fountain of justice, we may also deduce the prerogative of issuing proclamations, which is vested in the king alone. These proclamations have then a binding force, when (as Sir Edward Coke observes[g]) they are grounded upon and enforce the laws of the realm. For, though the making of laws is entirely the work of a distinct part, the legislative branch, of the sovereign power, yet the manner, time, and circumstances of putting those laws in execution must frequently be left to the discretion of the executive magistrate. And therefore his constitutions or edicts, concerning these points, which we call proclamations, are binding upon the subject, where they do not either contradict the old laws, or tend to establish new ones; but only enforce the execution of such laws as are already in being, in such manner as the king shall judge necessary. Thus the established law is, that the king may prohibit any of his subjects from leaving the realm: a proclamation therefore forbidding this in general for three weeks, by laying an embargo upon all shipping in time of war[h], will be equally binding as an act of parliament, because founded upon a prior law. A proclamation for disarming papists is also binding, being only in execution of what the legislature has first ordained: but a proclamation for allowing arms to papists, or for disarming any protestant subjects, will not bind; because the first would be to assume a dispensing power, the latter a legislative one; to the vesting of either of which in any single person the laws of England are absolutely strangers. Indeed by the statute 31 Hen. VIII. c. 8. it was enacted, that the king's proclamations should have the force of acts of parliament: a statute, which was calculated to introduce the most despotic tyranny; and which must have proved fatal to the liberties of this kingdom, had it not been luckily repealed in the minority of his successor, about five years after[i].

[Footnote g: 3 Inst. 162.]

[Footnote h: 4 Mod. 177, 179.]

[Footnote i: Stat. 1 Edw. VI. c. 12.]

IV. THE king is likewise the fountain of honour, of office, and of privilege: and this in a different sense from that wherein he is stiled the fountain of justice; for here he is really the parent of them. It is impossible that government can be maintained without a due subordination of rank; that the people may know and distinguish such as are set over them, in order to yield them their due respect and obedience; and also that the officers themselves, being encouraged by emulation and the hopes of superiority, may the better discharge their functions: and the law supposes, that no one can be so good a judge of their several merits and services, as the king himself who employs them. It has therefore intrusted with him the sole power of conferring dignities and honours, in confidence that he will bestow them upon none, but such as deserve them. And therefore all degrees of nobility, of knighthood, and other titles, are received by immediate grant from the crown: either expressed in writing, by writs or letters patent, as in the creations of peers and baronets; or by corporeal investiture, as in the creation of a simple knight.

FROM the same principle also arises the prerogative of erecting and disposing of offices: for honours and offices are in their nature convertible and synonymous. All offices under the crown carry in the eye of the law an honour along with them; because they imply a superiority of parts and abilities, being supposed to be always filled with those that are most able to execute them. And, on the other hand, all honours in their original had duties or offices annexed to them: an earl, comes, was the conservator or governor of a county; and a knight, miles, was bound to attend the king in his wars. For the same reason therefore that honours are in the disposal of the king, offices ought to be so likewise; and as the king may create new titles, so may he create new offices: but with this restriction, that he cannot create new offices with new fees annexed to them, nor annex new fees to old offices; for this would be a tax upon the subject, which cannot be imposed but by act of parliament[k]. Wherefore, in 13 Hen. IV, a new office being created by the king's letters patent for measuring cloths, with a new fee for the same, the letters patent were, on account of the new fee, revoked and declared void in parliament.

[Footnote k: 2 Inst. 533.]

UPON the same, or a like reason, the king has also the prerogative of conferring privileges upon private persons. Such as granting place or precedence to any of his subjects, as shall seem good to his royal wisdom[l]: or such as converting aliens, or persons born out of the king's dominions, into denizens; whereby some very considerable privileges of natural-born subjects are conferred upon them. Such also is the prerogative of erecting corporations; whereby a number of private persons are united and knit together, and enjoy many liberties, powers, and immunities in their politic capacity, which they were utterly incapable of in their natural. Of aliens, denizens, natural-born, and naturalized subjects, I shall speak more largely in a subsequent chapter; as also of corporations at the close of this book of our commentaries. I now only mention them incidentally, in order to remark the king's prerogative of making them; which is grounded upon this foundation, that the king, having the sole administration of the government in his hands, is the best and the only judge, in what capacities, with what privileges, and under what distinctions, his people are the best qualified to serve, and to act under him. A principle, which was carried so far by the imperial law, that it was determined to be the crime of sacrilege, even to doubt whether the prince had appointed proper officers in the state[m].

[Footnote l: 4 Inst. 361.]

[Footnote m: Disputare de principali judicio non oportet: sacrilegii enim instar est, dubitare an is dignus sit; quem elegerit imperator. C. 9. 29. 3.]

V. ANOTHER light in which the laws of England consider the king with regard to domestic concerns, is as the arbiter of commerce. By commerce, I at present mean domestic commerce only. It would lead me into too large a field, if I were to attempt, to enter upon the nature of foreign trade, it's privileges, regulations, and restrictions; and would be also quite beside the purpose of these commentaries, which are confined to the laws of England. Whereas no municipal laws can be sufficient to order and determine the very extensive and complicated affairs of traffic and merchandize; neither can they have a proper authority for this purpose. For as these are transactions carried on between the subjects of independent states, the municipal laws of one will not be regarded by the other. For which reason the affairs of commerce are regulated by a law of their own, called the law merchant or lex mercatoria, which all nations agree in and take notice of. And in particular the law of England does in many cases refer itself to it, and leaves the causes of merchants to be tried by their own peculiar customs; and that often even in matters relating to inland trade, as for instance with regard to the drawing, the acceptance, and the transfer, of bills of exchange[n].

[Footnote n: Co. Litt. 172. Ld Raym. 181. 1542.]

WITH us in England, the king's prerogative, so far as it relates to mere domestic commerce, will fall principally under the following articles:

FIRST, the establishment of public marts, or places of buying and selling, such as markets and fairs, with the tolls thereunto belonging. These can only be set up by virtue of the king's grant, or by long and immemorial usage and prescription, which presupposes such a grant[o]. The limitation of these public resorts, to such time and such place as may be most convenient for the neighbourhood, forms a part of oeconomics, or domestic polity; which, considering the kingdom as a large family, and the king as the master of it, he clearly has a right to dispose and order as he pleases.

[Footnote o: 2 Inst. 220.]

SECONDLY, the regulation of weights and measures. These, for the advantage of the public, ought to be universally the same throughout the kingdom; being the general criterions which reduce all things to the same or an equivalent value. But, as weight and measure are things in their nature arbitrary and uncertain, it is therefore expedient that they be reduced to some fixed rule or standard: which standard it is impossible to fix by any written law or oral proclamation; for no man can, by words only, give another an adequate idea of a foot-rule, or a pound-weight. It is therefore necessary to have recourse to some visible, palpable, material standard; by forming a comparison with which, all weights and measures may be reduced to one uniform size: and the prerogative of fixing this standard, our antient law vested in the crown; as in Normandy it belonged to the duke[p]. This standard was originally kept at Winchester: and we find in the laws of king Edgar[q], near a century before the conquest, an injunction that the one measure, which was kept at Winchester, should be observed throughout the realm. Most nations have regulated the standard of measures of length by comparison with the parts of the human body; as the palm, the hand, the span, the foot, the cubit, the ell, (ulna, or arm) the pace, and the fathom. But, as these are of different dimensions in men of different proportions, our antient historians[r] inform us, that a new standard of longitudinal measure was ascertained by king Henry the first; who commanded that the ulna or antient ell, which answers to the modern yard, should be made of the exact length of his own arm. And, one standard of measures of length being gained, all others are easily derived from thence; those of greater length by multiplying, those of less by subdividing, that original standard. Thus, by the statute called compositio ulnarum et perticarum, five yards and an half make a perch; and the yard is subdivided into three feet, and each foot into twelve inches; which inches will be each of the length of three grains of barley. Superficial measures are derived by squaring those of length; and measures of capacity by cubing them. The standard of weights was originally taken from corns of wheat, whence the lowest denomination of weights we have is still called a grain; thirty two of which are directed, by the statute called compositio mensurarum, to compose a penny weight, whereof twenty make an ounce, twelve ounces a pound, and so upwards. And upon these principles the first standards were made; which, being originally so fixed by the crown, their subsequent regulations have been generally made by the king in parliament. Thus, under king Richard I, in his parliament holden at Westminster, A.D. 1197, it was ordained that there shall be only one weight and one measure throughout the kingdom, and that the custody of the assise or standard of weights and measures shall be committed to certain persons in every city and borough[s]; from whence the antient office of the king's aulnager seems to have been derived, whose duty it was, for a certain fee, to measure all cloths made for sale, till the office was abolished by the statute 11 & 12 W. III. c. 20. In king John's time this ordinance of king Richard was frequently dispensed with for money[t]; which occasioned a provision to be made for inforcing it, in the great charters of king John and his son[u]. These original standards were called pondus regis[w], and mensura domini regis[x]; and are directed by a variety of subsequent statutes to be kept in the exchequer, and all weights and measures to be made conformable thereto[y]. But, as sir Edward Coke observes[z], though this hath so often by authority of parliament been enacted, yet it could never be effected; so forcible is custom with the multitude, when it hath gotten an head.

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