« PreviousContinue »
his first advances into the world in the quality of a burgess for parliament, chosen upon no other account but because it was his fortune by his father's early death to become the landlord of a neighbouring borough, or is perhaps it's best customer, deriving thence the necessaries of a numerous family. Forty years, whereof twenty five are generally spent in childhood and vanity, seem to be few enough to entitle any one to the grandeur and gravity of an English senator; and why so many, who seem by their greenness to be as yet but a novelty to the world, should be admitted a place in this Great Council, whilst those of greater age, wisdom, and experience must be excluded, I do not understand.
By the 1 Hen. V. c. 1. it is enacted, that every knight of the shire should be chosen out of such who are resident in the county, and every citizen and burgess from among the citizens and burgesses of the cities and boroughs electing How far this act ought to be observed, will be worth consideration; for a confinement in this case seems to be an abridgement of a free choice, and it often happens that men of the greatest knowledge and experience in the affairs of the kingdom have their abode principally in the metropolis, especially such of the long robe, who by their profession are obliged to it. But the nonobservance of this act on the other side has been often the occasion that courtiers have bolted into countryboroughs, and by the strength of their purse and liberał baits have so seduced these poor rural animals as to obtain an election from them, though to the ruin and overthrow of their own laws and liberties.
The choosing of such men to serve in parliament might probably be obviated by an act, prohibiting the
expense of any money by treats or otherwise in order to be elected; it being only to these indirect methods, that such persons usually owe their success.
But when all is done, it will be found difficult (though with the greatest art) to bring an old irregular structure into a convenient uniformity, otherwise than by razing it to the ground, and erecting a new pile by some better-contrived design. For although all the defects and irregularities in the election of members for parliament before-mentioned should be removed and altered, yet there still remains something in the very constitution of this part of our government, which is not so agreeable to a curious thought. A trúe and perfect model to build by is what I dare not pretend to give, yet that which follows may afford some hints and assistance to a better fancy and judgement. In respect then, that every individual person in the nation has a natural right to vote in this Great Council; but this being impracticable, they are forced to do it by proxy, i. e. by devolving this right upon certain common representatives indifferently chosen from certain select numbers and communities of men, in which the whole body of the people is or ought to be comprehended; and whereas every paterfamilias, or house-keeper, is a natural prince, and is invested with an absolute power over his family, and has by necessary consequence the votes of all his family, man, woman, and child included in his : let then the Sheriff's precepts be directed to every parish within his county, which the next Sunday following the receipt thereof may be publicly read after the forenoon sermon in church; thereby giving notice to all the housekeepers in the parish to meet at a convenient place and certain hour the day following, in
order to choose an elector for the county. Let also the churchwardens of each parish prepare a list of eight or ten of the most eminent persons for wealth, gravity, and wisdom in their parish. This list to be brought the next day to the place of election to this purpose, that every housekeeper do, by a dot with a pen adjoined to the person's name whom he inclines to elect, declare his choice, and that by the plurality of dots the elector be returned by the churchwardens to the Sheriff. This done in each parish, let the Sheriff prepare a list, in the same manner, of the names of all the gentry in the county who are each worth in lands and moveables at least 10,0001., all debts paid, and not under forty years of age; which being in readiness, let all the representatives of parishes, chosen as aforesaid, repair to the countytown the very next day after the parish-election is over, and there proceed to elect out of the Sheriff's list seven, nine, or eleven members to serve in parliament, or so many as upon a just dividend shall be thought expedient to complete the number of members which are to act in this Great Council. Before the electors proceed to choose for the county, it might probably be convenient to administer an oath to this purpose, that their vote is no way pre-engaged, and that they will choose without favour or affection such members, as in their conscience they do believe most fit to serve in parliament. And that to the members elected, upon their admission to the House, this oath together with the others in use be administered, viz. That they are worth 10,0001. all their debts paid, and that directly or indirectly they did not expend any money or gratuity whatsoever in order to their election, and that they neither have nor will receive any gratuity whatsoever upon the ac
count of their vote in parliament, but that they will in all matters that shall come before them act uprightly according to their conscience and understanding, without any private design, favour, or affection to any. That, to prevent the inconveniences of fear and favour in electing, the method be such, that none may know on whom the electors' votes were conferred; and it may be thus performed : Suppose a room with two opposite doors, and a table in the middle, on which the list shall be spread. All the electors being at one door, let them go in one by one, each writing down his dots, and going out of the room at the other door before another comes in; or, if this may prove tedious, it is only placing more tables in the room with every one a list on it, and so many may then be admitted at once as there are lists, which will make greater despatch, and yet no discovery, in that every list is upon a separate table. To prevent also all fraud and indirect practice, it will be convenient that the officers concerned in the elections, both in parishes and in the county, be upon their oaths. It is, also, fit that a limited allowance be made for the expense of the day, which is to be in parishes, at the parish-charge; and, in the county: town, at the charge of the county.
• If any controversy arise about elections, either in the parishes or counties (which, in this method, can scarcely be supposed) it may be decided by the votes of the remaining persons upon the list, who pretend to no election. If several persons happen to have an equal number of votes, it shall be determined by lot. If any person from any part of England shall send his name to any particular county, to be inserted in their list as a person qualified to serve in parliament, it may
be done; but none to stand candidate in more
than one list at a time, lest he should be chosen in both counties, and occasion the trouble of a new election. That the same list of candidates shall continue till the dissolution of the parliament, if it sits not above three years; and, upon the intermedial death or removal of any of the members for the county, then he who had the next majority of votes upon the list to succeed in his place, without farther trouble or charge of election.
* By this method the parliament will be a perfect representative of the whole body of the people, and also of every numerical person in the kingdom. Here can be no partial (and, consequently, prejudicial) acts made by separate interests and factions; none will sit in this Great Council but men of gravity, wisdom, integrity, and substance; no pensionary members, no unfair elections, no foul returns, no petitioners kept in attendance till a dissolution, no Quo Warrantos to destroy the natural fundamental rights of the people; no room for corruption, bribery, and debauchery either in the electors or the members elected; no patrimonies wasted in the extravagances of an election, no bankrupts shrowding themselves under the shelter of a parliamentary privilege; no unruly rabbles, tumults, factions, and disorders in election among the commonalty ; no heats and animosities among the gentry, often caused by their violent competitions : but all will be managed with that evenness, justice, and temper, that nothing can more effectually conduce to the securing of our liberties and properties, the grandeur of our government, and the honour of our nation than such an establishment."