« PreviousContinue »
lords spiritual, whose dignities are not hereditary, can have no temptation nor inducement to oppress, vilify, or injure that estate, of which their own family is and must for ever remain a part. The temporal lords, who in the ordinary course of nature have generally spent the most active, spirited, and ambitious part of their lives as commoners, and most frequently as members of the house of commons, and who at most times have more than one of their family in the house of commons, whilst they enjoy their hereditary seats in the house of peers, are for these, as well as the more generous and elevated motives of patriotism, fo congenial with their noble breasts, emphatically withholden from attempting any encroachments or oppressions, or even feeling a sense of contempt, and much less of oppressive insolence, towards the third and most numerous estate of the community.
CH A P. XIV.
OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
HE third estate, of which we shall Knights, citi
zens, and burherein principally treat, is on all geflies the re
presentatives of hands confessed to consist of the knights, citi- the people. zens, and burgesses, with the barons of the cinque-ports; all which being at this day elected by the free votes of the freemen of Great-Britain, are properly esteemed the representative body of the people, and constitute that
part of the parliament, usually called the house of commons. (N.B.) The ancient modus tenendi parl. reckons up six degrees or orders of parliament, but that division cannot be denominated fix estates.” “ The numbers of the commons I find to Their numbers
formerly varied have been formerly variant, according as the according to the sheriffs of counties (from what motive is therifts. uncertain) were pleased to direct their precepts to the several cities or boroughs within their respective counties, or as the same sheriffs made their returns thereupon; but indeed another cause of this variation was, that it was usual for the prince, on his accession to
discretion of the
• Lex Parliamentaria, p. 4, 5, 6, 7.
at their accer.
charters to towns to send
Kings formerly the throne, to grant charters to ancient defion granted mesne vills, and other popular towns, there
by erecting them into free boroughs, and this representatives to parliament. consequently gave them a right to be repre
sented in parliament; and by this artifice, among others, the crown advanced its interests in the house of commons.
“For it must be confeffed, that by the ancient constitution, there were no representatives of the commons, as commons in parliament, besides the knights for the shires, the barons for the cinque-ports *, the citizens for
the cities, and the burgesses for the ancient By whom the boroughs only; and that the elections for all formerly made. those were to be made by such persons only,
as were possessed of lands or tenements, held by them as freeholds or free burgage tenures, which consequently excluded all villeins and copyholders t, as also tenants in ancient demesne (which were but the king's villeins) and the tenants and dependants of other lords, from being either the electors, or ele£ted of the house of commons I. Indeed, the practice of encreasing the number of the representatives
* Crompt of Courts, f. 2, 3, &c. Stat. 23 H. VI.
+ Stat. 12 R. II. c. 12. Crom. 2, 3, 4, 5. Bro. Ant.
| Parl. 96. Reg. 261. Nat. Bre. 14.
of the commons; began very early, viz. temp.
King John Johan. (if not before) for I find it a practice granted char
ters for money. of that prince * to grant, usually in consideration of money, &c. charters to ancient demesne towns (as generally all fea port towns were) thereby erecting them into free boroughs t, and hence it was, as I conceive, that Bridport, Dorchester, Harwich, Helstone, Kingston upon Hull, and divers other ancient demesne towns came to be erected into free boroughs, which originally had no right of being represented in parliament.
But whatever methods were then taken to increase the number of the house of commons, I find their number to be I much the fame from the end of Henry the Sixth's reign I, to the beginning of that of Henry the Eighth, viz. about three hundred. 1 " That H. VIII. added to their
The former and
present num. number
bers of repre
sentatives. King Ed. VI.
44 Queen Mary,
25 Queen Elizabeth,
62 King James I.
See Bohun's Col. per. tot.
t Fortescue, p. 40.
« And king Charles I. about ten or twelve; so that at the time of the restoration of king Charles II. I find their numbers to have been about five hundred. But the commons
about that time restrained this mischievous King Charles's practice for the future, so that they declared
the elections made by virtue of that prince's charters void; and as Chester had been enabled to send two members for the county, and two for the city, by virtue of a * stat. 34, 35 H. VIII. fo an act paffed in the 25 Car. II. enabling Durbam to send four members in like manner, and thus the number of the house of commons stood at five hundred and thirteen, till the union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland, when by virtue of
the union act † forty-five Scottish members Present number were added, which made the whole number. five hundred and fifty-eight.
of that house to be five hundred and fiftyeight, as it now stands.”
Mr. De Lolme has collected a very just Origin and progress of the and impartial historical account of the origin, power of the
gradual increase, and establishment of the des Edward I.
influence and power of the house of commons I. “Edward I. continually engaged in
* St. 34, 35. H. VIII. c. xiii. St. 25. c. ii. c. ix.