From the Commentaries, Volume 1 pp. 160-162.
Blackstone here sets out his expansive view of the powers of Parliament in disagreement with Locke.
III. We are next to examine the laws and customs relating to parliament, thus united together, and considered as one aggregate body.
The power and jurisdiction of parliament, says Sir Edward Coke, is so transcendent and absolute, that it cannot be confined, either for causes or persons, within any bounds. And of this high court, he adds, it may be truly said, “si antiquitatem spectes, est vetustissima; si dignitatem, est honoratissima; si jurisdictionem, est capacissima.”
It hath sovereign and uncontrollable authority in the making, confirming, enlarging, restraining, abrogating, repealing, reviving, and expounding of laws, concerning matters of all possible denominations, ecclesiastical or temporal, civil, military, maritime, or criminal: this being the place where that absolute despotic power, which must in all governments reside somewhere, is intrusted by the constitution of these kingdoms.
All mischiefs and grievances, operations and remedies, that transcend the ordinary course of the laws, are within the reach of this extraordinary tribunal. It can regulate or new-model the succession to the crown; as was done in the reign of Henry VIII. and William III. It can alter the established religion of the land; as was done in a variety of instances, in the reign of king Henry VIII. and his three children.
It can change and create afresh even the constitution of the kingdom and of parliaments themselves; as was done by the act of union, and the several statutes for triennial and septennial elections. It can, in short, do every thing that is not naturally impossible; and therefore some have not scrupled to call its power, by a figure rather too bold, the omnipotence of parliament.
True it is, that what the parliament doth, no authority upon earth can undo: so that it is a matter most essential to the liberties of this kingdom that such members be delegated to this important trust as are most eminent for their probity, their fortitude, and their knowledge; for it was a known apophthegm of the great lord treasurer Burleigh, “that England could never be ruined but by a parliament;” and, as Sir Matthew Hale observes, “this being the highest and greatest court, over which none other can have jurisdiction in the kingdom, if by any means a misgovernment should any way fall upon it, the subjects of this kingdom are left without all manner of remedy.”
To the same purpose the president Montesquieu, though I trust too hastily, presages that, as Rome, Sparta, and Carthage, have lost their liberty, and perished, so the constitution of England will in time lose its liberty, will perish: it will perish, whenever the legislative power shall become more corrupt than the executive.
It must be owned that Mr. Locke, and other theoretical writers, have held, that “there remains still inherent in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative, when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them; for, when such trust is absued, it is thereby forfeited, and devolves to those who gave it.” But however just this conclusion may be in theory, we cannot practically adopt it, nor take any legal steps for carrying it into execution, under any dispensation of government at present actually existing. For this devolution of power, to the people at large, includes in it a dissolution of the whole form of government established by that people; reduces all the members to their original state of equality; and, by annihilating the sovereign power, repeals all positive laws whatsoever before enacted. No human laws will therefore suppose a case, which at once must destroy all law, and compel men to build afresh upon a new foundation; nor will they make provision for so desperate an event, as must render all legal provisions ineffectual.(m) So long therefore as the English constitution lasts, we may venture to affirm, that the power of parliament is absolute and without control.
[Formatted for ease of reading].