Page images
PDF
EPUB

parliament , ad tractandum et confilium impendendum, though not ad confentiendum; but, whenever of late years they have buen members of the house of commons ", their attendance here hath fallen into disuse. · ANOTHER privilege is, that every peer, by licence obtained from the king, may make another lord of parliament his proxy, to vote for him in his absencei. A privilege, which a member of the other house can by no means have, as he is himself but a proxy for a multitude of other people k.

Each pecr has also a right, by leave of the house, when a vote pales contrary to his sentiments, to enter his diffent on the journals of the house, with the reasons for such dissent; which is usually stiled his protest.

All bilis likewise, that may in their consequences any way affect the rights of the peerage, are by the custom of parliament to have their first rise and beginning in the house of peers, and to suffer no changes or amendments in the house of commons.

THERE is also one statute peculiarly relative to the house of lords; 6 Ann. c. 23. which regulates the election of the fixteen reprcientative peers of North Britain, in consequence of the twenty-second and twenty-third articles of the union : and for that purpose prescribes the oaths, &c. to be taken by the electors; directs the mode of balloting; prohibits the peers cleeting from being attended in an unusual manner; and expressly provides, that no other matter shall be treated of in that affembly, fave only the clecticn, on pain of incurring a prsenunin. ..V. The peculiar laws and customs of the house of commos relate principally to the raising of taxes, and the elections of members to serve in parlianient.

FIRST, with regard to taxes: it is the antient indisputable privilege and right of the house of commons, that all grants of subfidies or parliamentary aids do begin in their house, and are first bestowed by them'; although their grants are not effectual to all intents and purposes, until they have the assent of the other two branches of the legislature. The general reason, given for this exclusive privilege of the house of commons, is, that the supplies are raised upon the body of the people, and therefore it is proper that they alone should have the right of taxing themselves. This reason would be unanswerable, if the commons taxed none but themfelves : but it is notorious, that a very large share of property is in the possession of the house of lords; that this property is equally taxable, and taxed, as the property of the commons; and therefore the commons not being the sole persons taxed, this cannot be the reason of their having the sole right of raising and modelling the supply. The true reason, arising from the spirit of our constitution, seems to be this. The lords being a permanent hereditary body, created at pleasure by the king, are supposed more liable to be influenced by the crown, and when once influenced to continue so, than the commons, who are a temporary elective body, freely nominated by the people. It would therefore be extremely dangerous, to give the lords any power of framing new faxes for the subject; it is sufficient that they have a power of rejecting, if they think the commons too lavish or improvident in their grants. But fo reasonably jealous are the commons of this valuable privilege, that herein they will not suffer the other house to cxcrt any power but that of rejecting; they will not permit the least alteration or amendment to be made by the lords to the mode of taxing the people by a money bill; under which appellation are included all bills, by which money is directed to be raised upon the subject, for any purpose or in any shape whatsoever; either for the exigencies of government, and collected from the kingdom in general, as the land tax; or for private benefit, and collected in any particular diftrict, as by turnpikes, parish rates, and the like. Yet fir Matthew Hale m mentious one case, founded on the practice of parliament in the reign of Henry VI", wherein he thinks the lords may alter a money bill: and that is, if the commons grant a tax, as that of tonnage and poundage, for four years; and the lords alter it to a less time, as for two years ; here, he says, the bill need not be sent back to the commons for their concurrence, but may receive the royal assent without farther ceremony; for the alteration of the lords is consistent with the grant of the commons. But such an experiment will hardly be repeated by the lords, under the present improved idea of the privilege of the house of commons, and, in any case where a money bill is remanded to the commons, all amendments in the mode of taxation are sure to be rejected.

& Stata 31 Hien. VIII. c. 1o. Smith's 8 Feb. 1620. 10 Feb. 1625.4 Inft. 48. commnaw. b. 2.6.3. floor. 551.4 Iait. i Seld. baronage. p. 1. c. I. 4. Hale of l'ar). 190.

k 4 Init. 12. Sce Con. Journ. 11 Apr. 1614. 14 Init. 29.

effectual

I on parliaments. 65, 66.
A Year book, 33 Hen. VI. 17. But fie

the answer to this case by fir Honcage
Finch. Com Journ. 22 Apr. 1671.

tonnage

Next, with regard to the elections of knights, citizens, and burgesses; we may observe, that herein consists the exercise of the democratical part of our constitution : for in a democracy there can be no exercise of sovereignty but by suffrage, which is the declaration of the people's will. In all democracies therefore it is of the utmost importance to regulate by whom, and in what manner, the fuffrages are to be given. And the Athenians were fo justly jealous of this prerogative, that a stranger, who interfered in the assemblies of the people, was punished by their laws with death: because such a man was esteemed guilty of high treason, by usurping those rights of sovereignty, to which he had no title. In England, where the people do not debate in a collective body but by representation, the exercise of this sovereignty consists in the choice of representatives. The laws have therefore very strictly guarded against usurpation or abuse of this power, by many falutary provisions; which may be reduced to these three points, 1. The qualifications of the electors. 2. The qualifications of the elected. 3. The proceedings at elections.

1. As to the qualifications of the electors. · The true rea, son of requiring any qualification, with regard to property, in voters, is to exclude such persons as are in so mean a fituation that they are esteemed to have no will of their own. If these persons had votes, they would be tempted to dispose of them under some undue influence or other. This would give a great, an artful, or a wealthy man, a larger share in elections than is consistent with general liberty. If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely and with

out

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

Ch. 2. of PERSON S.

171 out influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote in electing those delegates, to whose charge is committed the disposal of his property, his liberty, and his life. But, fince that can hardly be expected in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications; whereby some, who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting, in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other.

And this constitution of suffrages is framed upon a wiser principle, with us, than either of the methods of voting, by centuries or by tribes, among the Romans. In the method by centuries, instituted by Servius Tullius, it was principally property, and not numbers, that turned the scale : in the method by tribes, gradually introduced by the tribunes of the people, numbers only were regarded, and property entirely overlooked. Hence the laws passed by the former method had usually too great a tendency to aggrandize the patricians or rich nobles; and those by the latter had too much of a levelling principle. Our constitution steers between the two extremes. Only such are entirely excluded, as can have no will of their own: there is hardly a free agent to be found, who is not entitled to a vote in some place or other in the kingdom. Nor is comparative wealth, or property, entirely disregarded in elections; for though the richest man has only one vote at one place, yet, if his property be at all diffused, he has probably a right to vote at more places than one, and therefore has many representatives. This is the spirit of our constitution : not that I assert it is in fact quite so perfect " as I have here endeavoured to describe it; for, if any alteration

The candid and intelligent reader time and a loose state of national morals will apply this observation to many other have too great a tendency to produce. parts of the work before him, wherein The incurvations of practice are then the conftitution of our laws and govern- the most notorious when compared with ment are represented as nearly approach. the rectitude of the rule; and to eluci. ing to perfection; without descending to date the clearness of the spring, conveys the invidious task of pointing out such the strongest satire on those who have deviations and corruptions, as length of polluted or disturbed it.

might

might be wished or suggested in the present frame of parliaments, it should be in favour of a more complete representa ation of the people.

BUT to return to our qualifications; and first those of electors for knights of the shire. 1. By statute 8 Hen. VI. ¢. 7. and 10 Hen. VI. c. 2. (amended by 14 Geo. III. c. 58.) the knights of the fire shall be chosen of people, whereof every man shall have freehold to the value of forty shillings by the year within the county; which (by subsequent statutes) is to be clear of all charges and deductions, except parliamentary and parochial taxes. The knights of fhires are the representatives of the landholders, or landed interest of the kingdom ; their ciectors must therefore have estates in lands or tenements, within the county represented; these estates must be freehold, that is, for term of life at least; because beneficial leases for long terms of years were not in use at the maka ing of these statutes, and copyholders were then little better than villeins, absolutely dependent upon their lords: this freehold must be of forty shillings annual value ; because that sum would then, with proper industry furnish all the necessaries of life, and render the freeholder, if he pleased, an independent man. For bishop Fleetwood, in his chronicon preciosum, written at the beginning of the present century, has fully proved forty shillings in the reign of Henry VI to have been equal to twelve pounds per annum in the reign of queen Anne; and, as the value of money is very considerably lowered since the bishop wrote, I think we may fairly conclude, from this and other circumstances, that what was equivalent to twelve pounds in his days is equivalent to twenty at present. The other less important qualifications of the electors for counties in England and Wales may be collected from the statutes cited in the margino; which direct, 2. That no person under twentyone years of age shall be capable of voting for any member. This extends to all sorts of members, as well for boroughs as counties ; as does also the next, viz. 3, That no person convicted of perjury, or subornation of perjury, shall be capable

07 & 8 W. III. c. 25. 10 Ann.c. 23. 31 Gco. II. c. 14. 3 Geo. III. c. 24. - Geo. Il. c. 21. 18 Geo. II. c. 18.

« PreviousContinue »