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THЕ.

BOOK OF SCOTLAND.

GOVERNMENT BEFORE THE UNION-TAE ALTERATION

WHICH THEREUPON TOOK PLACE.

« The scepter'd heralds call
To council in the city gate: anon
Grey-headed men and grave, with warriors mix'd,
Assemble, and harangues are heard.”

MILTON

In entering upon a series of sketches, delineatory of a few of the peculiar moral characteristics and institutions incidental to the northern portion of the empire, we are naturally led by the importance of the subject, to bring first under the observation of the stranger, an outline of the local political management of the country, which in many respects bears little resemblance to the administration of England. In attempting, however, tò shadow forth the various ramifications of the state management in Scotland, there arise many difficulties, in respect of the singular intangibility of the subject, which at a first view could scarcely be taken into account.

In order to arrive at any thing like a satisfactory notice of the present mutilated, but still well conduct

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ANCIENT GOVERNMENT.

ed official details of the local administration of the country,--some of which are very curious,-it will be absolutely necessary that we set out with a sketch of the ancient and independent government, previous to the Union ; for upon a thorough understanding of this, rests a comprehension of the present state officers, and many

of the Scottish municipal institutions. The ancient government of Scotland, was nominally a restricted monarchy, and was composed of a king, a privy council, and a parliament or convention of representatives of all the different ranks in society. But notwithstanding of this apparently free system of mixed interests, the people did not possess that which is now understood by a constitution; and the subjects, though in the enjoyment of some good and temperate laws, were for the most part at the mercy of either the king or the nobility. The latter, indeed, are known to have almost at all times exercised a great sway over the nation, and even frequently to have unscrupulously incarcerated and intimidated the person of majesty. Acting from the strongest feelings of feudalism, the king of Scotland was nevertheless ever considered as the first chieftain in the country, and the lineal descendant of him who first conquered the soil, and first led his adherents to victory. Being thus estimated as the father of his people, and the dispenser of offices, lands, and honours, to his inferiors and children, he was in a great measure an object of veneration and attachment.

It was seldom, however, that the sovereign had any real will of his own. He was closely hemmed in by a select body of favourite noblemen, and state functionaries, who overruled his inclinations, and swayed him to their purposes. This body of influential statesmen, who more frequently consulted their own aggrandizement than the honour of their master, or the benefit of the community, were collectively designated the Privy Council, or Secret Council, for by both of these terms are they called in history. They formed the Scottish cabinet, and in number averaged about

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fifty members, of which there were about twelve, who, in virtue of their individual offices in the state, enjoyed a seat in this assembly. The others, who stood in the light of supernumeraries, and were only called upon to deliberate on particular emergencies, were elected at the pleasure of the king, although subject to the dispute of parliament, which was often at variance with the council.

So long as Scotland retained a king in the country, the authority of the privy council was restricted within moderate bounds, as he had always the negative power of dispossessing obnoxious members, and of paying a kind of personal attention to the sentiments of the people ; but no sooner did he remove to a richer inheritance, than, becoming engrossed in entirely new occupations, which almost shut out his view from the kingdom he had left, he necessarily permitted this council of the state to exercise a very extensive controul. In these times, there being no regularly diffused system of juridical institutions, and no distinct charter of liberty, the privy council assumed to itself the power of a criminal court, as well as of a deliberative assembly, and in doing so, often caused state policy to take the place of true justice. It seized, incarcerated, liberated, and condemned at pleasure; and as, by a process which remains to be mentioned, it had in general the power of quashing popular discussion in parliament, besides enjoying the unqualified command of the king's ear, Scotland at this period was kept in a state of real thraldom.

As the component parts of the privy council of Scotland are now a matter of interesting enquiry, and as a definition of the powers of the individual acting members, will be illustrative of this dark period of Scotland's history, as well as explanatory of the duties of some of the present remaining state officers, we here introduce them to the reader.

At the head of the whole council, and hearing somewhat the character of our prime minister, stood the LORD CHANCELLOR. It does not appear that this officer

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possessed the responsibility which is now attached to the first minister of the crown, this being a fiction not then sufficiently comprehended, and consequently the king himself was ever alternately the object of esteem or execration, as it pleased the subjects to view the conduct of his officers. This person, however, was the king's most intimate adviser, in regard to new enactments, or the abolition of injudicious laws; and to execute this office more effectually, he sat as Speaker in Parliament. He was understood to be principally influential in administering places connected with the higher branches of the state, and to be chiefly instrumental in dispensing honours and heritages. He was Keeper of the Great Seal of the kingdom, which, without his sanction, could not be appended to any document; by which means he always had it in his power to cancel, or to expede important deeds, or other national papers referring to treaties with foreign powers, and other important transactions. We learn that the total amount of the salary of this functionary, did not exceed - 1600 Sterling.

Next to the above influential minister, was the LORD PRIVY SEAL, whose duties, though in some respects they were of an equally public nature, were of lesser importance. Besides assisting in the deliberations of the council, it was his duty, on being warranted by the king, to attach his seal to papers which were intended to be passed under the Great Seal of the Chancellor. This preliminary step was not, however, on all occasions indispensible. This lesser seal was likewise a sufficient guarantee to papers of an inferior order, such as those regarding gifts of office, pensions, escheat, ward, benefices, military commissions, and others of a like nature : In all of which characteristics, it resembled the present Privy Seal of England.

After the Lord Privy Seal there stood, in respect of honorary rank, the LORD TREASURER. He was ap-. pointed to preside over the Scottish Exchequer, to devise modes of levying public taxes, to regulate disbursements, and to examine the district accounts of

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sheriffs, and other subsidiary officers of government. He had a supervisionary power over the royal manors, which he preserved from abuse; watched the king's interest with respect to intestate persons ; and in a general sense, he seems to have been the minister of ways and means.

The SECRETARY OF STATE occupied the next station in the council. It was the peculiar duty of this officer, to be at all times near the person of the king, in order that he might be the recipient of memorials, papers, petitions, or other documents referring to public business, to which he had to frame answers.

The proclamations of the crown were always subscribed by this person, and his signature in this respect, was of equal value with that of the king himself. His office remained until the year 1746, when it was abolished, and the power of the British Secretary extended over this country,

Next to be mentioned, is the LORD CLERK REGISTER, whose public duty consisted in the preserving with the utmost care, all the public archives, which, from the various local authorities, came pouring into his office. He was likewise the principal clerk of Parliament, where he was always in attendance, in order to ingross minutes, and read out the verdicts. It was his duty to issue warrants for the calling of new members, and it appears that, on the opening of the house every morning, he had appointed to him the duty of calling over the roll. He was also considered the head clerk of the Privy Council, and of the various supreme courts, and acting in this capacity, he had the appointment and controul of all the clerks of Session.

The LORD JUSTICE GENERAL.- The duties of this person were of an extremely ancient character, and resembling in some measure those of the Lord Chief Justice of England. As his name implies, he was at the head of all matters connected with either law or justice, and in his administration, he was assisted by a court and Lord Justice Clerk. At the institution of

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