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liamentary reform is now posted, it is impossible for government to retreat from it. Their declarations the fourth day of the session—the words of the lord lieutenant's secretary—the liberal grants of the house, have established the necessity of acceding to a reform in parliament, and have sealed the doom of every rotten borough in the kingdom; hence I collect two things; that parliament should be reformed—that the reform must take place this session. Here let us appeal to gentlemen conversant with the disposition of the people; do not they think so? Are they not convinced of it—do not they know—have they not declared, that their constituents do now expect a reform of parliament, and that it is a measure not more necessary for their freedom than their felicity? Having mentioned the state of the question, I will advert to the state of your representation—it is short. Of three hundred members, above two hundred are returned by individuals; from forty to fifty are returned by ten persons; severa^of your boroughs have no resident elector at all, some of them have but one; and, on the whole, two-thirds of the representatives in the house of commons arc returned by less than one hundred persons! This is not that ancient, that venerable constitution of king, lords and commons. It is not even an aristocracy. It is an oligarchy. It is not an oligarchy of property, but of accident; not of prescription, but of innovation. Here again I appeal to the conscious conviction of every man who hears me; and I assert two propositions, which can ueitber be denied nor defended: first, that the majority of the representatives are chosen by individuals; second, that a great proportion of them are afterwards endowed by the crown. And it follows, that, in our present state of representation, the house of commons cannot be supposed to be the organ of the people.
In defence of such a state, three arguments are advanced: first, its antiquity—antiquity! an establishment you would imagine that took place in Saxon times, in the age of the Confessor, or after the English intercourse with Ireland, at the time of the charter of John, or the reign of Edward—No! James the First was the king who made above forty of those private boroughs. la the year 1613, the members returned to parliament were two hundred and thirty-two; since which time sixty-eight members have been added, all by the house of Stuart; one by Anne, four by James the Second; most of the remainder by Charles the First, with a view to religious distinctions, and by Charles the Second with a view to personal favour. If you look to antiquity, therefore, the boroughs stand on bad ground. The form of your constitution was twelve counties, established in the reign of king John. Henry the Eighth added one; Mary two; and Elizabeth seventeen. Since which time your counties received no addition whatsoever, though between the year 1613 and the present, the borough interest has received an addition of sixty-eight members; which is more than double the whole of the county representation.
The great division on this subject is cities and boroughs, where the grant was to burgesses and freemen indefinite, or to a limited number of burgesses, seldom exceeding twelve, in whom the right of election was confined. The former are boroughs intended to be free, and the latter intended to be otherwise. The number ^-*the former, I apprehend, to be above forty;'"-and where they have become what we understand to be intended by the word " close-boroughs," they have departed from the intention of the grant, and ought, pursuant to the meaning of that grant, to be opened. The other class, which I apprehend to be above forty, are, in their origin, vicious; it is a monopoly like any of the other monopolies of James I., a grant in its nature criminal. Most of the forty boroughs created by James I. were so. It appears, from the grants themselves, that they were intended to be private property; they were granted as a personal reward for doing some specific transaction. Such a grant could stand, I apprehend, on no principle whatsoever. These, with those made by Charles I., became a subject of complaint; they were most of them made on the eve of calling a parliament, and some of them not sealed till after the writ of summons had issued, and were so loudly complained of, that Charles I. had promised to submit a plan to the consideration of parliament. Thus are these two descriptions of boroughs, the one intended to be free by the grant, and rendered close by the proprietor; the other intended to be close by the grant, and rendered vicious by the principles of the law. The first set of boroughs are liable to be questioned for departing from their original purpose, and the last for adhering to it.
Let us compare the state of these boroughs with the principles of the constitution. The principles of the constitution are sacred, its organization accidental. Are these defensible on the ground of population or property, or population and property mixed? Population is out of the case; and, as to property, we will suppose two hundred members returned by one hundred individuals, what property do the former represent? Suppose the property of these individuals is £4,000 per annum, they represent ,£400,000, and vote near ^2,000,000 taxes on the people. They are two-thirds of the house voting near £2,000,000, and not representing half a million. But if you add what is received back again in place or pension, you will find it comes nearly to this, that the majority tax others, and not their constituents. Take it in a stronger light; it is well known that near forty persons are returned by above ten individuals, somewhat more than the sixth of the house of-commons, representing that quantity of property and population. By the old constitutions, the constituents paid their representatives; try the present state of representation by that test.
Could the one hundred individuals pay the two hundred members? Could the ten individuals pay the forty members? So far from any right on the principle of property to send so many members to parliament to pay the state, they could not pay the members. The argument, therefore, can stand no examination; neither the test of property, nor population, nor antiquity. These boroughs have been established by accident, by humour, by ignorance, and by favour, without any regard to property, population, or any one principle of the constitution. The second argument in their favour is, that they have worked well; that the constitution has flourished under rotten boroughs. I beg leave to consider the operations of the constitution on the public welfare and on private property.
As to public welfare, I acknowledge many beneficial acts, wholesome regulations, and one great revolution; but may I be suffered to think, that the redemption of this country had been more speedily established, the good of this country more uniformly pursued, and with less intervals of inconsistency, if parliament had been constituted more according to the principles of the constitution. As it is constituted, to me its ordinary operation appears defective, its raptures successful, and its relapses disgraceful.
You have certain committees, committees of courts of justice; have they acted? Committees of trade; have they acted? What was the case of the East India trade? Committees of grievances; have they acted? It appears to me, that the functions of the house of commons would be discharged with more benefit to the public, and more honour to itself, under a constitution by representation, than a constitution by boroughs.