Page images
PDF
EPUB

had an interest in or influence over the electors.

In process of time, this certainty of returning their own man came to be looked upon as a species of property, and as that idea gained ground, so did the legisature become tender of invading it, upon the true conftitutional principle of holding and preserving all private property sacred and inviolable. There could not in reality be a grosser violation of the freedom of election, than to prevent the electors from chusing those, whom benevolence, affection, and gratitude should suggest or point out as the most agreeable persons to represent them in parliament. Upon the pre- Persons improfumptive force of fuch motives are indivi- perly said to duals very frequently, though very impro- votes of a boperly, said to command the votes of a borough; , for no physical normoral, much lefs any legal or conftitutional restraint or obligation of voting for a particular person, can by possibility exist; and our acts of parliament have gone almost to the utmost extent of human jurisdiction, in order to obviate and prevent the effects of any undue influence, bribery, and corruption upon the electors.

It is truly wonderful to consider the delicate, and at the same tiine effe&tual remedy, which our admirable constitution applies to

command the

.

this real or apparent evil. As the nation grew more populous, more opulent, and confequently as individuals grew more intriguing and ambitious, the effects of popular elections became more hurtful to the sobriety, peace, and industry of the community; the multiplication of such elections was an evident extension of the evil already felt and complained of; now if it be considered, that the number of representatives in parliament has been more than doubled since Sir John Fortescue rested our security for none but good laws being enacted upon the number of the members of parliament, who consented

to them on behalf of the community, and that The conftitu. the population of the kingdom is certainly not tional remedy against the in- proportionably 'increased since that time, it will adequacy of re

be reasonable to infer, that as, including presentation.

peers, there are about eight hundred members of parliament quorum asenfu the statutes are now formed, there can be no deviation from the ancient constitutional intention and fpirit of parliaments, unless the increase of the numerical proportion of the representatives to the represented shall be thought a violation or abuse of the constitution. In order therefore to do away every idea of unequal representation between two boroughs very unequal in population and opu

lence,

returnedo

lence, from the moment of the return of their respective members one becomes as much as the other a representative for the whole people or community of Great Britain. * “ Every member, though chosen by one particular district, when elected and returned serves for the whole realm; for the end of his coming thither is not particular, but general ; not barely to advantage his constituents, but the commonwealth ; to advise his majesty (as The duties of appears from the writ of summons) de com- tives when ance muni confilio fuper negotiis quibufdam arduis et urgentibus, regem, statum, et defenfionem regni Angliæ et ecclefia Anglicana concernentibus ; and therefore he is not bound, like a deputy in the United Provinces, to consult with or take the advice of his constituents upon any particular point, unless he himself thinks it proper or prudent so to do.” Upon this principle therefore it must be allowed, that eight millions of individuals (supposing this to be the population of England) are more fully represented by eight hundred † than

• Blak. Com. b. i. c. 2.

+ Some people doubt whether the actual population of the kingdom be at all increased since that time; it certainly is not increased in the proportion of eight to three.

by

effects of bri

by three hundred representatives, or persons consenting to the acts of the legislature.

It is certain, that the practice of every human institution must in some degree fall short of the perfection of its theory, bribery and corruption are old hacknied themes of popular declamation, and it will ever increase and be louder in proportion to the disap

pointment, envy, and malice of the difThe fource and contented party, Lefs vociferous and less bery. frequent would be the complaints against

bribery, if the complainants did but recollect, that the root of the evil lay less in the offer, than in the acceptance of the bribe. It argues more corruption and depravity in a district, to find a hundred men ready to sacrifice their freedom and integrity for a trifling bribe, than to find one man impelled by his ambition to offer it. No punishment can be too severe upon those, who hold out the bait to the multitude ; but until the corrupt disposition of electors be rectified, they will take care to render ineffectual the most vigilant and rigorous laws against the bribing offers of the eleEted. Ill therefore does it become those to complain of encroachments upon the constitutional freedom of elections, whose voluntary and reflexed corruption completes the

guilt of the act, by which the constitution is so severely wounded. I wish not to extenuate the guilt of bribery, nor shall I endeavour to justify any design or attempt to deprive a voter of the freedom of his choice; but as the evil is absolutely effected by the elector, who under every circumstance of influence, fear, hope, or temptation, actually retains the freedom of his action, and therefore of his election, I must necessarily conclude, that the only effectual prevention of the evil will be the correction of the corrupt disposition of the electors; without this, every attempt or exertion of the magistrate will be futile and ineffectual.

It is not my intention to enter into the Qualifications minute and particular qualifications of each of electors. elector for a representative in parliament; suffice it to say, that the constitution supposes him to be so independent in life, as not to be under the bias, controul, or influence of any one; therefore every elector for the knight of the shire must have bona fide freehold lands in the shire at least of the annual value of 40 s. which at the time of Hen. VI. when this

qualification was first required, was equivalent to 201. in the present reduced value of money. By not accommodating this qualification to the present value of money, the constitution very much enlarges the rights of electors beyond

« PreviousContinue »