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THE HISTORY OF THE UNREFORMED PARLIAMENT, AND ITS LESSONS. 1 (1860.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 3 (Historical & Literary Essays) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 3.
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THE HISTORY OF THE UNREFORMED PARLIAMENT, AND ITS LESSONS.1
Perhaps no subject of historical research should be so interesting just now as the practical working of our system of Parliamentary representation before 1832. The principles of representative government are again about to be brought under discussion; a new proposal for Parliamentary Reform must be announced before many weeks are past. The more that subject is discussed, the more do all thoughtful persons wish to consult the lessons of experience with respect to it. We feel more than we used to do the difficulty of the question; we distrust more the tenets of pure democracy; we know more of the complexity of a cultivated community; we know the necessity of giving to each class the weight which it ought to have, and no greater weight: in consequence, we feel more than formerly the intellectual prudence of recurring to the facts of experience. But unfortunately there are very few such facts. Of all important political expedients, representation is by far the newest; and our experience with respect to it is therefore scanty and limited. The continental nations who have made trial of representative government, have done so almost always under exceptional circumstances, and in each case the national character of the particular nation which made the trial has very greatly affected the result of it. The experience of America is, from many causes, difficult to apply to the times in which we live. The difference of circumstances, both economical and social, is a perpetually modifying force, which tends to make a sweeping deduction almost necessarily unsound. The contrast between a new country and an old; between a State in which there is an endowed Church and a landed aristocracy, and one in which there is neither; between a society in which slavery exists and one in which it does not;—is too great to be unimportant, and too pervading to be eliminated. Nor is it easy to derive effectual instruction from the working of the system which is in operation now. At least, it is difficult to derive instruction which others will think satisfactory. We may, and do, make out points sufficiently clearly to ourselves; but in the heat of controversy, and in the confusion of contemporary events, others, in fact, derive from the same data the contrary deductions. We are therefore thrown back on our own history for such instruction as it may give us; and the break made by the Reform Act of 1832 is, at least in this respect, useful. We can draw lessons from the times preceding it with the calmness of history, and nevertheless those times may yield us instruction. They are far enough from our own age to be dispassionately considered; they resemble it enough to suggest analogies for our guidance. Nor is this history in itself uninteresting. The unreformed system of representative government is that which lasted the longest; which was contemporary with the greatest events; which has developed the greatest orators, and which has trained the most remarkable statesmen. No apology, therefore, seems to be needed for writing upon the subject at present, even if we should write at some length.
To give an exact account of the old English system of representation is, however, no easy task. At present the statistical information which we possess respecting the electoral system which exists is exceedingly abundant. We can tell the number of voters in every borough and every county; we know by what right of suffrage they are entitled to vote, and how many of them have chosen in any case to exercise their right at each successive election. Compendious works specify what lord or commoner has influence in such or such a town: they say whether it is preponderant and all-powerful, or only moderate and sometimes resisted; they tell us in which town money has overwhelming influence, and enumerate the occasions upon which the use of that influence has been proved before the proper tribunal. We can hardly hope to obtain better information as to the actual working of a system than that which we have as to the system under which we are living. A hundred years ago our ancestors were nearly destitute of all such information. They had no means of telling the number of voters in any borough or county; no register existed from which it could be discovered; the right of voting in different places was exceedingly different, and the decisions of the House of Commons respecting them had been very confused From political motives, indeed, these decisions were often contradictory; they were made to suit the requirements of the moment and the commands of the Minister of the day, and a judicial spirit was, while the decision lay with a committee of the whole House of Commons, scarcely even affected. Sir Robert Walpole used to say that in election committees there ought to be “no quarter;” and the final fate of his long administration was determined by a division on an election petition from Chippenham. As the deciding power respecting electoral rights was so inconsistent, it would perhaps hardly have been worth while to collect its decisions; and no one did so. A hundred years ago, the constant reference to precise numerical data which distinguishes our present discussions was by no means in use; and even if the number of the electoral body had been more easy of ascertainment, no one probably would have ascertained it. The Government had not yet established a census of its subjects, and would not perhaps have liked to have the voters who chose it counted. At any rate, no one did count them; and a very general notion respecting the practical working of our representative system was all which could be formed at the time, or that can be formed now.
The representation of England and Wales was formerly, as now, in the hands of counties and boroughs. The number of counties was the same as it now is; but they were as yet undivided for the purposes of representation. The number of boroughs was very considerable, and this of itself led to difficulty.
It is evident that in early times, when population was small and trade scanty, it would be difficult to find very many boroughs that would be fit to elect proper members of Parliament. We know by trial that a town constituency, to be pure and to be independent, must be of fair size, and must contain a considerable number of better-class inhabitants: unless it be so, it will assuredly succumb to one of two dangers; it will fall under the yoke of some proprietor who will purchase the place as a whole, or it will be purchased, vote by vote, at each election. Nothing, both experience and theory explain to us, is so futile as to expect continued purity and continued independence from a small number of persons who have something valuable to sell, and who would gain what is an object to them by selling it. But of considerable towns the number was once exceedingly few. Internal commerce and foreign trade have made such enormous strides in England recently, that we hardly realise the poverty of former times, or the small number of people who lived where we live now. Statistics, though they may give us a statement of the fact, do not, and cannot, fill our imaginations with it. We may get a better notion of what England was in numbers and wealth from travelling in the purely agricultural, the less advanced and poorer parts, of the Continent, than we can from figures and books. We shall in that way gain a vivid impression that it would be impossible in a rude age and country to find a very great number of towns large enough to elect representatives independently, and rich enough to elect them uncorruptly.
In the system which prevailed a hundred and fifty years ago our ancestors had much aggravated this difficulty. They had not selected the most considerable towns to be Parliamentary constituencies; they had not taken all the largest, and they had taken several of the smallest. We need not now explain why this happened. We have no room to discuss the antiquities of the old boroughs; we cannot tell in many cases why some were chosen which were chosen. But two facts are incontestable: of which one is, that there was probably much original caprice in the selection of town constituencies. The sheriff had at first a certain discretionary power, and we do not know very precisely how he exercised it. The boroughs themselves were anxious, not to obtain the right, but to evade the obligation, of sending members to Parliament. Provided a respectable number of borough members appeared in their places to assent to the requisite taxes, and to indicate by their demeanour, if not by their votes, the popular feeling on the topics of the day, the early rulers of England, those rulers who laid the foundations of our representative system, were satisfied. They felt no nice scruples as to the exact magnitude of the towns which did not send members, or of those which did so. In the times of the Tudors, and a little later, the Crown exercised its prerogative of creating new boroughs; and as the popular spirit had then begun to be a subject of dread, and the voice of the House of Commons was already of some importance, we need not hesitate to imagine that the statesmen of the time regarded the “loyalty” or subservience of the boroughs they created, rather than their precise size. English statesmen look to the wants of the day, and especially to the wants of their own administration, much more than to complex figures; they do so even at the present day, when statistical tables will be paraded against them: how much more did they not improbably do so in the reigns of the Tudors, when there was no check upon them in any matter requiring much research or information; when, if they chose to disregard numerical data, no one else could know, far less prove, that they had done so! Nor was original caprice the only cause that had given representatives to many boroughs which in the eighteenth century seemed scarcely fit to choose them, and which denied them to others which appeared to be much more fit. In the contest between the Stuarts and the people, the Crown lost its old prerogative of creating boroughs; the moment there was a contest between the House of Commons and the sovereign, it became clear that the sovereign must be victorious if he could add members to the former at his pleasure. Accordingly the House of Commons impugned the validity of the so-called prerogative; their resistance was successful, and it was exercised no longer. In consequence the old boroughs remained, and no new ones were added; and as, in a changing country like this, many places which were formerly large gradually became small, and many small ones on the other hand became large, the distribution of wealth and numbers came in process of time, and by a process which no one watched, to be altogether different from the distribution of Parliamentary influence.
Nor was this the only way in which the inherent difficulty of finding good town constituencies in poor and rude times was artificially aggravated in our old system of representation. Not only were the best boroughs not chosen to be constituencies, but the best persons in those boroughs were not chosen to be electors. The old and complex rights of suffrage in different boroughs are antiquarian matters, on which we have not a single line of space to bestow; but they differed very much. Originally, perhaps, the right or duty had belonged or attached to all rate-paying householders; but this simple definition, if it ever existed, had long passed away, and the rights of suffrage had become most various. No short description, much less any single definition, would include them. We give those which existed in the boroughs of two counties, Somersetshire and Lancashire, to show how great the diversity was, and how many “permutations and combinations” it embraced.
Generally speaking, we may perhaps say that the original scot-and-lot (or rate-paying) qualification had been submitted to two opposite forces of alteration. By one it had been restricted to certain inhabitants of the town who, by virtue of some corporate right or municipal office, assumed to themselves to be its most important and chief inhabitants. These principal persons were usually few, and they prudently contrived that their number should not be augmented. They formed themselves into self-renewing corporations: at every vacancy the remaining members filled up the place as they deemed best, and they took care no one should have votes for the borough but themselves. On the other hand, by a second process, the borough suffrage had been widened so as to include all freemen, or all inhabitant householders not receiving alms; everybody, in short, who could be included in it. The process of extension, as was natural, was of the two the older process. While the right of electing members was attended by the duty of paying them, it was an onerous burden, and the chief people in the place tried to extend it as far as they well could; in later times, when members were no longer paid, and political advantages were to be obtained by the skilful use of a vote, the influential people of a borough tried as much as possible to keep the Parliamentary suffrage to themselves. In the last attempt they generally succeeded. The boroughs in which the people at large elected the members were, in the eighteenth century, far fewer than those in which a few persons of one sort or another elected them. The tendency of the House of Commons itself, from various causes, was rather to confine than to extend the right of suffrage. But in whichever direction the progress of time had altered what we may suppose to have been the original right of franchise, whether it had restricted it or had extended it, the effect upon the constituency was almost equally bad. If it was much narrowed, it fell into the hands of a very small number of persons, who used for their own benefit what had become a very marketable privilege; and if the franchise had been very much extended—especially if it became, as in several places it did, nearly equivalent to universal suffrage—we may readily conceive in what manner it was used, when we remember that many of the boroughs were small, that in that age corruption was thought far less disgraceful than at present, and that the poorer classes were much poorer and much more ignorant than they now are.
We need not further explain the general causes which impaired the independence and purity of the ancient boroughs. As it would have been somewhat difficult to find in old times enough boroughs that were proper to choose representatives; as the best had not been chosen—perhaps had not been searched for; as in the actual boroughs the best people to be voters had not been selected as such; as in most of them the electing constituency was very small;—it is no wonder that most of these boroughs fell more or less under the control of rich men who considered the franchise of the borough a part of their own property.
With the counties the case was somewhat different; as yet there was no Chandos clause, the forty-shilling freehold was as yet the only title to a vote. Yeomen with such freeholds were as yet numerous, in many counties very numerous, and were still sturdy and independent. The inferior gentry were not always much disposed to submit to the dictation of lord or duke. In the last century, the county franchise was always considered as the free and independent element; those who wished to purify the legislature, always proposed to augment that element, and saw no other means of obtaining what they wished for.
But even the counties were in former times far less independent than, from the nature of the legal franchise—from the paper description of it—we should suppose. Our county society has always been an aristocratic society; and in the last century aristocracy was a power of which it is difficult in these days of free manners and careless speech to realise the force. Society had then, far more than now, a simple, regular, recognised structure; each class had its place: it looked up to the classes above it; it would have thought it wrong to vie with them, or even to imitate them. Each class was to a certain extent independent; each went its own way on its own affairs, attended to the transactions of its own calling and the details of its own life: but each had a tendency, such as we can hardly now imagine, to be guided, impelled, and governed by those who were above them on all questions and in all matters which concerned or seemed to concern all classes equally. The real distinction between classes, too, was then an infinitely greater one than it now is. The aristocratic class was the most educated class, had access to the best society; was, as a whole, by far the most polished and cultivated class in the nation. For good and for evil, noblemen had a power then to which there is nothing comparable, scarcely any thing analogous, now. Amusing illustrations of this occur in the documents of the time. Thus Burke, in a memorandum on East Indian affairs, addressed to the noblemen and gentlemen who composed the Rockingham party, proposes the following scheme: “With regard to the Bank [of England], which is the grand instrument of the Court on this occasion, might it not be proper (if possible) that some of you of the greatest property should resolve to have nothing to do with their paper? There are five or six of you that would frighten them.” If the territorial influence of the aristocracy was supposed to be so powerful in Threadneedle Street, we may easily suppose what it must have been in their own counties, at their own doors. The county contests of the last century had a continued tendency to become family conflicts between one noble house and another. The political questions of the day were merged in the intensity of the aristocratic, and perhaps hereditary feud.
Such was the representation of England; and it seems restricted enough; but that of Scotland was even more restricted still, and more subject to illegitimate influence. Even the stoutest defenders of the old system of representation before 1832 used to own that the Scotch system could only be defended as “part of a whole,” and that taken by itself it was absurd. There were in theory in Scotland thirty county members and fifteen borough members; but the franchise had in both of them been narrowed to an almost inconceivable extent. In 1812 the whole county constituency only amounted to 1235, and the whole borough constituency to 1253. The franchise in the counties was restricted to the tenants-in-chief of the Crown; all proprietors (the feudal law in theory still prevailed) who held from a subject were disfranchised, though a very large portion of the county was owned by them. The result was much about the same as if in England the county member had been chosen, not by the 40s. freeholders, but the lords of the manor. The franchise was practically as confined in Scotland as that restriction would have made it here. The borough franchise, too, was possessed by the members of the town councils of the various boroughs exclusively; no other persons had a share in it. The burghs were, as now, divided into districts; in each district the town council of each burgh contained in it named a delegate, and by the majority of these delegates the member for the district was chosen. Edinburgh alone had the honour of a separate representation; and its constituency amounted in number to thirty-three.
What degree of independence such small constituencies may have possessed in England or in Scotland, we cannot now accurately know. Even to those who knew the places best, it must have been sometimes difficult to determine it with accuracy. Influence is in its very nature somewhat secret; we cannot tell whence it precisely comes, by what exact channels it acts, or in what direction it is tending. Any estimate which can be formed of the degree in which the constituencies of the last century, such as we have described them, were either dependent or independent, must be very vague. The public at large knew very little on the subject; and no one took the trouble to note down in detail and with precision, that which they did know. A general notion of the practical results may, however, be easily formed. In the year 1773, Dean Tucker observed in a letter to Lord Shelburne:—
“Your lordship has the command of two boroughs already; and the public shrewdly suspect that you would have no qualms of conscience against commanding two more, or even twenty-two. Mr. Fox and Lord Holland’s family command one; the late Marquis of Rockingham had at least two, which he might, and did, call his own; and were I to proceed after the same manner throughout the peerage and the great landed interest, also the commercial and the manufacturing interest of the realm, perhaps I might enumerate not less than two hundred, namely boroughs and cities, and even counties, whose voters choose representatives and return members to Parliament more according to the good-will and pleasure of those who have the ascendency over them than according to their own private judgments or personal determinations.”
As there were at that time no Irish members, the number of members of Parliament was 558; and as almost all constituencies had then two members each, this estimate would give about 400 to the class of nominated and dependent members, and about 158 to that of the independent. This calculation, rough as it evidently is, and imperfect as the data for making it evidently were, corresponds sufficiently well with a very elaborate calculation made forty years later:—
Whatever doubts might be suggested—and doubtless some might be suggested—as to the details of this estimate, its main conclusion may be considered to be certain. A large preponderant majority of the members of the House of Commons were, in one way or in another, nominated by noblemen and gentlemen; and only a minority were elected by the popular constituencies. The majority of the House of Commons represented the views and feelings of a particular and peculiar class; the minority only were elected by constituencies which could be supposed to choose representatives for all the other classes.
Such was in bare outline the old electoral system of England; and we may describe it by a startling phrase: it was a representation, so to say, of select constituencies. This is not the light in which we have been used to regard it. We speak by tradition of borough-mongers with dislike, and of rotten boroughs with contempt. From circumstances which we shall soon see, neither have left a good name in history. Most of us are the children of those who destroyed them; the leaders of our great parties are still those who were foremost in doing so. We naturally do not think well of them. But what were they? They were proprietary constituencies; they were, in truth, higher class constituencies; they gave a representation to persons of greater wealth, of greater education, and presumably, therefore, of greater political capacity, than the mass of the nation. We have, apparently at least, the best means of judging of their effects. Being, as we have seen, the preponderant element in the electoral system, the members chosen by them were the preponderant element in the House of Commons. They were the ruling power in the State. How, then, did this system, so singularly and irregularly composed, in fact work? We have the general results in history. The only difficulty, and it is not a slight one, is to understand them rightly and explain them briefly.
In the first great quality of a representative government, we may say boldly that, up to a late period of its existence, and with an exception or two which we shall specify, this system worked very well. The first requisite of a representative system is, that the representative body should represent the real public opinion of the nation. Nor is this so easy a matter as some imagine. There are nations which have no public opinion. The having it requires what a pedantic writer might call the co-ordination of judgments. Some people must be recognised to be wiser than others are. In every district there must be people generally admitted by the judgment of their neighbours to have more sense, more instructed minds, more cultured judgments, than others have. Such persons will not naturally or inevitably, or in matter of fact, agree in opinion; on the contrary, they will habitually differ: great national questions will divide the nation; great parties will be formed. But the characteristic of a nation capable of public opinion is, that those parties will be organised; in each there will be a leader, in each there will be some looked up to, and many who look up to them: the opinion of the party will be formed and suggested by the few, it will be criticised and accepted by the many. It has always been the peculiarity of the history of England, that it has been capable of a true public opinion in this its exact and proper sense. There has ever been a structure in English political society: every man has not walked by the light of his own eyes; the less instructed have not deemed themselves the equals of the more instructed; the many have subordinated their judgment to that of the few. They have not done so blindly, for there has always been a spirit of discussion in our very air: still they have done so—opinions have always settled down from the higher classes to the lower; and in that manner, whenever the nation has been called on to decide, a decision that is really national has been formed.
On the whole, the English constitution of the last century, in its best time, and before the occurrence of changes which we shall soon describe, gave an excellent expression to the public opinion of England. It gave a ruling discretion to those whom the nation at large most trusted; it provided a simple machinery for ascertaining with accuracy the decisions at which the few had arrived, and in which the mass concurred.
This constitution was submitted to no ordinary test. We have so long outlived the contests of the last century, that we have forgotten their intensity. We look on it as a very quiet time; and we contrast it with the apprehensive, and changeful, and anxious period in which it seems to us that we are living. Of the middle of the eighteenth century this is a true idea, at least of part of it; but the English Government during the early part of the century was tried by what is probably the severest of all trials to the foundations of an hereditary and constitutional government—by a struggle between two claimants to the throne, each of whom represented a principle. We know well the arguments of the side which has gained; but we do not always remember the moral strength of the side which lost. The Jacobites had much in their creed which appealed to the predominating principles of the English nature—an hereditary family, which claimed the Crown, not on arguable considerations of policy, but on ascertainable claims of descent which embodied, not a speculation, but a fact; which had prescription in its favour, and was in harmony with a country almost all whose other institutions were prescriptive; which had on its side the associations with the maintenance of order and the security of property, as claimants by prescription must have; which appealed to the Conservative instinct, which is always so strong in a people over whom the visible world rules so much; which appealed to the loyal instincts, which have a great influence over a people in whom a strong but impressed imagination profoundly works;—such a family must have had a singular hold on the popular attachments of England. History proves that they had that hold; and that they only lost England by an incapacity for action, and an inherent perversity of judgment, that seem to have been hereditary in the race. In the last act of the drama, during the first few years of the House of Hanover, the Stuart dynasty had still great influence in the country. They were not, indeed, in possession; and as the strength of their adherents was among the most Conservative classes, they could not regain possession; but if we could fancy them, by any freak of fortune, to have been reinstated, there would have been incredible difficulty in expelling them once more. Possibly it could not have been done, certainly it could not have been done if the fanatical hatred of the majority of Englishmen to Popery had not co-operated with the attachment to freedom—if a sentiment which actuated the masses had not been on the same side with the convictions which influenced the few. If the hereditary heir to the Crown had been once seated on the throne, and had consented to be converted, or to seem to be converted to Protestantism, the chances of the Hanoverian family would have been small and feeble.
Just before the demise of Queen Anne, the prospects of the Jacobite party had much to captivate sanguine and short-sighted men. The female favourite of the Queen—the reigning favourite we may call her—was indisputably on their side: the Queen, who had the strongest motives to be decidedly opposed to them, was not so; her suppressed inclination—perhaps her latent conscience—was in their favour: the first ministers of the Crown, if they had no “settled intention,” to use Bolingbroke’s distinction, had floating notions and vague “views” on the same side. In the nation at large, the inferior gentry—those of whom the Tory foxhunter of Addison is an admirable memorial—were half Jacobite; the real clergy (the Whig historian calls them “a curse rather than a blessing to those over whom they were set”1 ) were more than half Jacobite, the lower class of the people—the No-Popery antipathy apart—would perhaps have inclined more to the house of Stuart than to the house of Hanover. Legitimacy is a popular title, loyalty touches the heart; the rule of a single monarch is an intelligible thing; the least educated can and do understand it; but the rule of Parliament, and the idea of a constitution, are difficult to imagine; the lower orders of people hardly ever understand them or comprehend them. The only classes over whom the attachment to the Act of Settlement and to the constitution, such as it then existed, was really strong, were two: the higher gentry, including the nobility in that word; and the mercantile and trading classes—the “fundholders,” as the Tory squires of that age called them, and fancied that they were.
It is evident that a very peculiar Parliamentary constitution was required to give an expression to the real will of the nation, when the classes composing it were so divided, and when the very principle and nature of the government of the country was in dispute. What, indeed, it may be said, was the will of the country? The classes which have been specified did not agree in opinion, nor would one of them avowedly and explicitly agree to yield to the opinion of the class opposed to it. The squire would never have admitted that the fundholder was wiser than himself, nor would the fundholder have paid the least deference to the notions of the squire. The fact of the one having an opinion, would rather have tended to prevent the other from adopting it. How, then, was a national decision—a truly national decision—possible? It was possible in this way. The dissentient classes, as we may call those over whom Jacobitism and the extreme Toryism had the greatest influence—the rural gentry and the rural clergy—both yielded deference and homage, and to a certain extent confidence, to the higher gentry and the nobility, under whom, it may be said, they lived, near whose estates they were born, and who were the unquestioned heads of all the society to which they belonged. On political topics this was especially the case. Rugged prejudice of course existed, and “my lord” was not always liked; still it could not but be felt that he knew more of the world, had access to better information, had enjoyed more of what were then the rare opportunities of travelling and education, than the lower gentry had. He possessed all the means of judging which they had, and others too. A certain deference was paid then to rank which is not paid to it now, because the inherent difference between the highest orders and others in manners and in mind was much greater than any that exist at present. A national decision was then possible, and was then attained, because the classes who were the most likely to dissent, and who in reality did dissent, from what the rest of the nation wished, were precisely the classes most under the control of, and most likely to submit to, the moral influence of those who were above them.
Such being the state of the nation in the earlier part of the last century, there was an evident difficulty in giving a just expression to it. Scarcely any of the ordinary modes of government which theorists have suggested, or which continental nations have tried, would have succeeded in giving it. The most intelligent classes, those who were disposed to support the House of Hanover and the principles of liberty, were, as we have explained, the trading classes and the higher gentry. The class most confided in by the nation was the higher gentry and the nobility. Fortunately, the most trusted class was a portion of the most intelligent class: the chosen leaders of the country were a part at least of those whom it was best for it to choose for its leaders; the actual guides were some of the best guides who could be found. But what constitutional arrangements would be adapted to give them by law that guidance? In what manner could the indefinite and vague deference of the people be shaped and fashioned into a polity?
Any system of democratic suffrage, we may at once say, would have been unfitted for that end. The classes into whose hands it would have thrown the power were the lower classes, who could not be expected to have any intelligent appreciation of freedom, and in fact had none. Anything like universal suffrage would have been an enormous addition to the influence of the rural clergy and the smaller squires. These two classes, being resident in the country, being known to the lowest classes, distributing all the casual advantages which they had any chance of receiving, adjudging all the petty penalties of the local law which they had any risk of incurring, must have had preponderating influence over the rural population. They would have brought down from scattered villages and petty hamlets regiments of voters for the Stuart dynasty, who knew nothing of the real merits of the controversy to be decided, who were utterly ignorant of the very meaning of constitutional government, who could have given no account of the very nature and structure of Parliament, but who knew that the only educated persons they ever met, the only influential persons they ever saw—the parson of their own village, and the squire of it—had told them to do that which they were doing. We should have then seen in England that which we now see in France. The uneducated majority would have pronounced their decision; the country would have been forced to recognise it; the law would have been compelled to enforce it. Instead of living under the constitution which we now have, we might, and probably should, have been living under a Jacobite despotism, sanctioned by the preponderant, we might say almost by the unanimous, vote of the rural population.
It may be objected, however, that the deference which we have admitted that the rural clergy and the lesser squires bore to the higher gentry would have prevented this result. It may be said that, although they would have by law possessed the power of influencing in the last resort the national destiny and deciding on the national constitution, they would not in practice have done so; that they would have given up their own judgments, and would have been guided by the opinions of the classes whom they knew, and whom they admitted, to be their superiors. But experience shows that this is an error, and that those who entertain it have a mistaken view of a very important part of human nature. If you give people uncontrolled power, real, bonâ fide, tangible, felt power, they will exercise it according to their own notions. Of course this is only true of classes which have notions. An ignorant peasantry, for example, have none; if you give them nominal political power, you do not give them anything they can understand, or appreciate, or use. It is not real power to them; it has none of the effectiveness of power in their hands: it is an instrument they cannot employ to obtain any preconceived result; they are bewildered about its nature; they do not know what they are doing when they are exerting it; it is not anything they can prize, and use, and enjoy. But a class of gentry or clergy—a moderately educated class of any sort—is not in this position. It has views, opinions, wishes of its own: those views may be narrow, those opinions erroneous, those wishes foolish; but they have them. They are attached to them. If power is put into their hands, they will try to carry them out in action. Under a constitution which did not give them predominant power, the Tory squire and the Tory clergy were ready to give up their vague opinions and their floating predilections; but if they had been invested with a constitutional authority and a legislative omnipotence, they would never have given those opinions and predilections up, or imagined that they could give them up; they would have stiffened them into a compact creed, and tried to realise them under the despotism of the Stuarts.
It is therefore certain that no system of universal suffrage, or of very diffused and popular suffrage, would have secured the maintenance of the House of Hanover and the security of English liberty. The lower classes would themselves probably have been on the other side; and whether that be so or not, the persons who had the greatest, the surest, and the most diffused influence over them were indisputably on the other side for the most part.
It is certain, too, that no system of uniform but not universal suffrage which would have been endured by the country would have given at that time a real expression to the will of the country. As we have explained, the real opinion of the country was in accordance with the opinion of the wealthier trading and mercantile classes. They were zealous for the House of Hanover; the nation, though not zealous for it, was favourable to it. By establishing a high and uniform qualification for votes in large boroughs, and by giving a very considerable number of members to those large boroughs, it would have been possible, though it would have been difficult, to secure a Parliament with an opinion substantially in accordance with the decision of the nation. It would have been difficult, for the great towns were then few and scattered; the north of England, which now teems with them, was then a poor district, not only in comparison with what it now is, but also with many parts of the south as it was at that time. Still, by such a system as we have suggested, it would have been possible to throw the leading authority of the nation into the hands of the large towns, and into the hands of the richer persons in those towns. In practice, however, no such constitution would have been endured. The Tory gentleman would not have endured to be put under the yoke of the “fundholder” or the manufacturer. The clergy would never have endured a subjection to the class among whom Dissent had the greatest hold, and possibly a preponderating influence. To have attempted to have placed the country under the rule of the commercial classes in towns and cities, would have been a greater revolution than the change of the dynasty itself, it would have shocked the prejudices of the nation at large; it never suggested itself even to those very classes themselves.
Thus all ordinary systems of suffrage bring out one or other of two results. They would either have thrown preponderating and conclusive power into the hands of the lesser gentry and the clergy, or they would have thrown an equal and similar power into the hands of the manufacturers and merchants. The first result would have been easy: England was then a predominantly agricultural country, and it would have been very easy to frame a system of suffrage which would give the ordinary squire and the ordinary clergyman—the ruling classes in agricultural society then as now—a large predominance. Any system which gave what would seem in theory its due weight to the counties would have had that effect. A system might have been suggested which would have given enormous power to the large towns. But both these systems would have been inadequate to the end desired. That which gave preponderance to the ordinary landholder would have represented rather the tradition of Toryism than the present decision of the living nation; that which gave a preponderance to manufacturers and traders would have been offensive to almost all the country; it would have been unendurable by many classes of it; it would not have been, in fact, a government, for it could not have governed a country in which it had no root, and to whose keenest prejudices it was adverse.
The system which was in fact adopted obviated these defects. Its peculiar nature threw preponderant power into the hands of the higher gentry and the nobility. The smaller boroughs had fallen by a kind of necessity of nature into their hands; their influence in the counties was preponderant, if not overwhelming. As we have explained, this class was the one most trusted by the nation, which was universally believed to have the greatest political intelligence, whose opinions in matter of fact were coincident with those of all the most intelligent classes. Under any other system of representation, it would not have been possible to give to this class preponderant power. It is not in the nature of any extended system of suffrage to give to a small upper class any very considerable amount of power. Their numbers are few, and their votes are immeasurably outnumbered by the votes of their inferiors. It is not possible to establish in any country a system of uniform suffrage so narrow and so high as to give to this small upper class a preponderant authority in the country. It seems ridiculous in a popular government to give votes to a very few persons only; and as soon as any uniform system of suffrage is extended beyond those few, it gives decisive predominance to the many, and on that very account withdraws it from the less numerous but more educated orders.
In this way, therefore, we think it certain that in the earlier part of the last century the old system of representation, by throwing into the hands of a peculiar and influential class the predominant authority in the State, was more beneficial to the nation than a more diffused and popular system would have been. The materials for the creation of constituencies both numerous and intelligent, both well educated and influential, did not exist. The practical choice was between an uninstructed number and a select few: our constitution gave the preponderance to the latter; and in the great struggle between the House of Stuart and the House of Hanover—between the principle of legitimacy and the principle of freedom—the consequences were beneficial and were decisive. It not only secured the authority of a free Government, but the ease with which it did so has disguised from us the difficulties with which it contended. The victory was so complete, that the recollection of the conflict is confused.
With that struggle, however, the singular usefulness of the old system of representation certainly ended. We do not think that, in the remaining part of the history of the eighteenth century, it gave at all a better expression to the national opinion than any other system would have done. Various writers have made charges against the English Government on account of the wars which marked the period; but we think unjustly. On the whole, no nation of equal strength, of equal courage and of equal pride, has ever in the history of the world pursued a course so tranquil. We were entangled in a Spanish war; we were induced by our Hanoverian connections to intermeddle unnecessarily in Germany; we were at war occasionally, as in every century we have from time to time been, with France: but none of these wars were wars of ambition. We wished when at war for national glory: we were not sorry to go to war because we thought we might gain glory in it; but we never went to war with a distinct desire for territorial aggrandisement. We have never had in our national character any principle of aggression. We have no such settled inciting motive. On the contrary, we wish that every one shall have his own—shall retain whatever he has already by right or by prescription; though we are jealous—jealous even to slaying—of any one who by hint, allusion, or suggestion, throws a doubt upon our own title to anything which we already have. We are by nature unwilling to relinquish, though we are not desirous to acquire.
The actual Government of the last century carried out these principles fairly and well; but it is probable that any other Government which the English people would have borne would have done so equally. A more democratic Government would perhaps have been more warlike; but an English democracy will probably never be very warlike; it will never engage in a continued series of intentional aggressions; least of all would it have done so in the last century, when there was no struggle in Europe which could arouse the popular passions, and no cause which could interest profoundly the popular imagination. The wars of Protestantism had passed away, and the wars of Jacobinism had not yet begun. It is possible that a more democratic Government would, with its inherent aggressive instincts, have interfered somewhat more in the petty wars of circumstance and occasion which complicate the history of the last century, and make it so tedious to us now. But we did interfere a good deal in them as it was. For an aristocracy, ours has never been a pacific aristocracy. It is in many ways their boast, their pride, and their merit, that they have less of the distinctive peculiarities of an aristocracy than any other which has ever existed; they claim justly to have a more popular interest, and a more vigorous sympathy. The blame that attaches to them is similar: they have shown the same qualities in the defects of their Government; they have had but little of the refining, calculating, diplomatic habit which usually characterises the policy of an hereditary class that has much to lose in war, and much to enjoy in peace. The English aristocracy is the most warlike of great aristocracies, and the English nation is the least warlike of free nations. Few of the many threads of union which so richly pervade our social system have been more influential than this one. We have had much of martial manliness where we should have expected but little; we have had much of apathetic indifference where we might have looked for an aggressive passion. The warmth above has been greater, and that below less, than a theorist would have expected; and therefore our social fabric has been more equable in temperature than we should have ventured to predict.
In the quiet times, therefore, of the middle part of the eighteenth century there is no particular reason for believing that our old system gave a much better or a much worse representation to the national voice than any other system might have been expected to give. In the more troubled times of the American war and the French war, there is even less reason to think that any other system would have varied much the course of our policy. We should have tried to conquer America under any Government; and we should have tried to resist the aggressive proselytism of France under any Government. We may form our own opinions now of the expediency, the justice, or the possibility of these attempts; we may think that the American war showed national narrow-mindedness, and the French war showed national irritability; but the indubitable fact remains, that both the one and the other were popular in their day, and that both were thoroughly acceptable to the community at large as well as to the aristocracy.
There is, however, great and conclusive reason to believe that, during the later period of its existence, the old system of representation had an inherent defect peculiar to itself, which, if it did not disqualify it altogether for giving a correct embodiment to national opinion, made it much less likely than most other systems of representation to do so perfectly. The social condition of England had undergone a series of very extensive changes between the time of the accession of the House of Hanover and the year 1832. A new world—a world of industry and manufacture—had been created; new interests had arisen; new modes of thought had been awakened; new habits of mind had been engendered. The mercantile and manufacturing classes, which had risen to influence, were naturally unrecognised by the ancient constitution; they lived under its protection, but they were unknown to its letter; they had thoughts which it did not take account of, and ideas with which it was inconsistent. The structure of English society was still half feudal, and its new elements were utterly unfeudal. It was impossible to subject Lancashire, such as it became, to the dominion of any aristocracy, however ancient and long-descended it might be. Such rulers were not fitted for such subjects, nor were such subjects fitted for such rulers. Between the two classes there was a contrast which made the higher unintelligible to the lower, and the lower disagreeable to the higher. Education, moreover, was diffusing itself. The political intelligence of the aristocratic classes was no longer so superior to that of other classes as it had formerly been. The necessary means of information were more widely accessible than they had been, and were very extensively used. The contrast between the constitution of England and England itself in consequence became day by day greater and greater, and at last became unendurable. We have not space to go into detail on this part of the subject, and it is not necessary to go into detail about it. If it had not been for the terror excited throughout Europe by the French revolution, the old system of Parlia, mentary representation could hardly by possibility have lasted as long as it did. In the end it passed away; and the recollection of the evils of its latter time has obscured the remembrance of its former usefulness. As we have shown, it long gave us a Parliament coincident in judgment with the nation; it maintained upon the throne the dynasty under which we live, and secured the foundations of English liberty. It long worked well, and if at last it worked ill, the excuses for its doing so were many. It had survived all that was akin to it, and was in contact with everything which was most discordant to it. A constitution which was adapted to the England of 1700 must necessarily have been adapted to the England of 1832. Changes so momentous as there had been between those years in our society required and enforced an equivalent alteration in our polity.
Such is the general result of this long examination of our old system of representation in the main quality of a representative system—that by which above all others it must stand or fall—its coincidence with the real national opinion. We see that this is a mixed and a complicated, but not on the whole an unsatisfactory one. We will now shortly examine our old system in three other respects. Did it give a means of expression to the views of all classes? Did it secure to us really strong administrations? Did it train for us efficient statesmen? If we can in any way answer these questions, it will, we think, be admitted that we have discussed the most important part of the subject, and examined our former system of representation by the tests that are most stringent and satisfactory.
In the second requisite of the representative system, that which existed in England in the last century must be considered to have been successful. It gave a means of expression to all classes whose minds required an expression. The mercantile and trading class had not, as we have just explained, their due weight in the system of government; they did not regulate all that they should have regulated, or control all that they should have controlled; but they had always the means of expressing their sentiments. They had not, especially in the later times, a representation proportioned to their intelligence and their influence; but they always had some representation. The gentry were not only represented, but over-represented. Especially during the closing years of the eighteenth century and the first few years of the nineteenth, their influence was unreasonably great, and their despotism absolute. They ruled the country without check and without resistance; they were subject only to a weak and modified remonstrance; they had but to listen in the House of Commons to the speeches of those whom they could immeasurably outvote; they had but to quell out of doors the unrecognised murmurs of an unorganised multitude, which had long obeyed them, which was still ready to obey them, which did not know its own power.
With respect to the lowest class of all, the working of our own system of representation is peculiarly instructive. That system, by its letter, attempted to throw a good deal of power into their hands. In a great number of boroughs the suffrage, as we have seen, was practically all but universal; all inhabitant householders not receiving alms very frequently had votes. What is now so much desired, the representation of the working-classes, then really existed. In Stafford, in Coventry, and in other places, the lowest classes were preponderant. Those classes had then the means of making their voice heard, and their sentiments known in Parliament. They had some influence in the State, though they did not rule the State. In theory our constitution was at that time in this point perfect. As we read the description of it, we believe that nothing could be better. In practice it was a failure. The trial of the experiment demonstrated that it is useless to provide means for expressing the political thoughts of classes who have no such thoughts. The freemen of Stafford and Coventry did not send to Parliament members who really and truly expressed the opinions and sentiments of the working-classes, because the working-classes had no opinion on matters of legislation and administration, and had only vague ideas of what was passing in their time. For the most part, they used the power which was given to them, not as an opportunity of influence, but as a source of income. They did not think of it as something by which they could control the rich, but as something which they could sell to the rich. Sheridan has left an amusing document as to the constituency of Stafford. They probably did not expect that so unbusinesslike a person should have preserved so businesslike a document; but it is as follows:—
Corruption of this kind, and perhaps sometimes greater in degree, prevailed in almost every town in which the suffrage was very extended. As the wealth of the country grew, the price of votes became greater. If the old system of representation had endured till now, we can scarcely estimate how great it would by this time have become. Experience proved what our theories suggest, that the enfranchisement of the corruptible is in truth the establishment of corruption.
In one respect, however, the representation of the working-classes which we formerly had in this country may be considered to have been successful. The towns in which the suffrage was practically universal at times sent to the House of Commons, not spokesmen of their own grievances, but spokesmen of grievances in general. Sir Francis Burdett is but the type, and the best-known instance, of a whole class of members who, in former times, were always ready to state any one’s complaints, without much inquiry whether they were true; to bring forward a case, without much asking whether it were very well founded; to make a general declamation about the sufferings of the country which was a kind of caveat against abuses in general, and might be construed as a protest against any particular one which chanced to occur. Such undiscriminating and vague invectives had their use. They prevented gross instances of administrative harshness—at least they tended to prevent them. They prevented the air of politics from becoming stagnant; they broke the monotony of class domination. But it may be questioned whether, on the whole, their influence was beneficial. These reckless orators had but little moral weight; they were too ready with their statements to get them trusted, they were too undiscriminating in their objections for those objections to have influence. A weak Opposition is commonly said to be more advantageous to a Government than no Opposition at all; it gives an impression to the public that all which can be said against the plans of the Cabinet has been said; it gives an impression that what is unchecked is checked, that what is uncontrolled is controlled. It diminishes the practical responsibility of an administration, by diminishing the popular conception of its power. In the same way, the vague demagogues who occasionally appeared in the old House of Commons did not weaken the substantial power of the classes that ruled there. They were “his Majesty’s” objectors. It was their province to say that whatever was done was done wrong. It was not therefore of much consequence what the administration did. They were sure of its being opposed, they were sure of its being carried; and they had therefore the advantage of complete power without the odium of enforcing silence. A despotism disguised in this manner is perhaps more uncontrolled than any other despotism:—such, however, was the mode in which the attempt of our old system of representation to give special members to the lowest classes really operated. It failed in what may be considered its characteristic function. The ideas of the lowest classes on politics were still unheard in the legislature, because those classes had no ideas. A confused popular feeling sometimes sent popular orators to Parliament. But the kind of indiscriminate objection and monotonous invective which those orators made use of without ceasing, seem to have been rather an assistance than an obstruction to the governing classes. The lesson of the whole history indubitably is, that it is in vain to lower the level of political representation beneath the level of political capacity; that below that level you may easily give nominal power, but cannot possibly give real power; that at best you give a vague voice to an unreasoning instinct, that in general you only give the corruptible an opportunity to become corrupt.
It is often said, and commonly believed, that the old system of representation secured, under almost all circumstances, the existence and the continuance of what is called a strong Government: it is believed that under that system the administration of the day had almost always the power to carry any legislative measure which it deemed beneficial, and to do any executive act which it might think fit. History, however, when it is accurately reviewed, affords little or no confirmation of this idea. Many parts of the history of England during the existence of our old constitution bear, on the very face of them, the most conspicuous evidence that there was then no security for the existence of a strong executive Government. Many administrations during the last century, so far from being pre-eminently powerful, were not moderately coherent. The earlier part of George the Third’s reign is simply the history of a series of feeble Governments, which had little power to act as they intended, or to legislate as they desired. The traditional notion of the strength of Governments in former times is founded upon the enormous strength of the administrations which successively directed the long struggle with France and Napoleon. The French revolution frightened the English nation; it haunted the people of that generation so much, that they could not look anywhere but they imagined they saw the traces of it. Priestley interpreted the prophecies by means of it; Mitford wrote Grecian history by the aid of it. If its effect was so striking in the out-of-the-way parts of literature, in politics its effect might well be expected to be extreme. It was extreme. The English people were terrified into unity. They ceased to be divided into Parliamentary sections, as their fathers were divided, or as their grandchildren are now divided. The process by which the unanimity of the nation created a corresponding unanimity in the House of Commons was simple and was effectual. The noblemen and gentlemen who had the greatest influence in the counties, and a certain number of whom were proprietors of boroughs—the class which, as we have seen, had a despotic control over the House of Commons as it then was—felt the antipathy to French principles as much as any other class; perhaps they did not feel it more, though some persons have thought they did, than the rest of the nation; but they undoubtedly did not feel it less. The Parliament was as united in its dislike to Jacobinism, and in its resistance to Napoleon, as the nation was; and it could not be more so. The large majorities, therefore, of the administrations of Mr. Pitt and Lord Liverpool, are not attributable to any peculiar excellence in the Parliamentary constitution of that period; any tolerable system of Parliamentary representation would equally have produced them; the country was too united for even an approximate representation of it not to be so.
It is undoubtedly, however, believed by very many persons that the old system of representation contained a peculiar machinery for securing the strength of the executive. This theory, it has been well observed, constituted the “esoteric doctrine of the Tory party. The celebrated question asked by the Duke of Wellington, ‘How is the king’s Government to be carried on if the bill passes?’ which has since received a practical answer, indicates without concealment the real view of English government entertained by him and his party. They held that if the majority of the House of Commons consisted of persons not nominated by great borough proprietors, but freely chosen by genuine popular election, the Government could not be carried on. They believed it to be necessary that a Government should repose upon an immovable phalanx of members for close boroughs; and that the members returned for open seats should be a minority, who would confine themselves to criticising the Government in their speeches, without being able to shake its stability by their votes.”1 In this conception there was, indeed, an obvious difficulty: it provided that a large majority in Parliament should be always maintained by the close union of the members for the smaller boroughs. But who was to keep those members themselves united? They represented only the proprietors of their respective seats, and who was to keep either them or those proprietors always of one mind? If the nation at large was divided, why should not these persons partake of the division? The advocates of this theory had a ready answer; they said that the proprietors of the boroughs, and the members for them, were to be kept on the side of the Government by means of the patronage of the Government; they thought that places should be offered to the borough owners and to the borough members for their friends and for themselves; and that in this way they might be kept united, and be always induced to support the administration. This theory was not a theory merely; it was reduced to practice by several Prime Ministers—by the Duke of Newcastle, by Sir Robert Walpole, and by others. Those who tried it had undoubtedly a great advantage; they had the materials that were needful, they had the patronage. We have no space to inquire how the establishments of the last century came to be so cumbrous; but most cumbrous they were. We are amazed nowadays at the names of the old sinecures, at the number of half-useless places, at what seems the childish lavishness of the public offices; but this profusion, though not perhaps created for a purpose, was used for a purpose. Old feudal offices, which had once served to mark the favour or the gratitude of the Crown, were employed as a kind of purchase-money to buy the adhesion of Parliamentary proprietors: peerages, too, were used to the same end; all the available resources of the age, were, in truth, concentrated upon it. In part this consistent exertion of very great means of influence was effectual; sometimes it really did make a Government strong; and some writers, who have not duly weighed the facts of history, have believed that it always must do so: but there are in its very nature three fundamental defects, which must always hinder its working for a long period with constant efficiency.
In the first place, the theory of this machinery is that the patronage of the Crown is to be used to purchase votes. But who is to use the patronage? The theory assumes that it is to be used by the Minister of the day. According to it, the head of the party which is predominant in Parliament is to employ the patronage of the Crown for the purpose of confirming that predominance. But suppose that the Crown chooses to object to this; suppose that the king for the time being should say, “This patronage is mine; the places in question are places in my service; the pensions in question are pensions from me: I will myself have at least some share in the influence that is acquired by the conferring of those pensions, and the distribution of those places”. George III. actually did say this. He was a king in one respect among a thousand: he was willing to do the work of a Secretary of the Treasury; his letters for very many years are filled with the petty details of patronage; he directed who should have what, and stipulated who should not have anything. This interference of the king must evidently in theory, and did certainly in fact, destroy the efficiency of the alleged expedient. Very much of the patronage of the Crown went, not to the adherents of the Prime Minister, because they were his adherents, but to the king’s friends, because they were his friends. Many writers have been very severe on George III. for taking the course which he did take, and have frequently repeated the well-known maxims which show that what he did was a deviation from the constitution. Very likely it was; but what is the use of a constitution which takes no account of the ordinary motives of human nature? It was inevitable that an ambitious king, who had industry enough to act as he did, would so act. Let us consider his position. He was invested with authority which was apparently great. He was surrounded by noblemen and gentlemen who passed their life in paying him homage, and in professing perhaps excessive doctrines of loyal obedience to him. When the Duke of Devonshire, or the Duke of Bedford, or the Duke of Newcastle approached the royal closet, they implied by words and manners that the king had immeasurably more power than they had. In fact, it was expected that he should have immeasurably less. It was expected that, though these noblemen daily acknowledged that he was their superior, he should constantly act as if he were their inferior. The Prime Minister was, in reality, appointed by them, and it was expected that the king should do what the Prime Minister told him; that he should assent to measures on which he was not consulted; that he should make peace when Mr. Grenville said peace was right; that he should make war whenever Mr. Grenville said war was right; that he should allow the offices of his household and the dignitaries of his court to be used as a means for the support of Cabinets whose members he disliked, and whose policy he disapproved of. It is evident that no man who was not imbecile would be content with such a position. It is not difficult to bear to be without power, it is not very difficult to bear to have only the mockery of power; but it is unbearable to have real power, and to be told that you must content yourself with the mockery of it; it is unendurable to have in your hands an effectual instrument of substantial influence, and also to act day by day as a pageant, without any influence whatever. Human nature has never endured this, and we may be quite sure that it never will endure it. It is a fundamental error in the “esoteric theory” of the Tory party, that it assumed the king and the Prime Minister to be always of the same mind, while they often were of different minds.
A still more remarkable defect in the so-called strength procured under the old system of representation by the use of patronage, was the instability of that strength. It especially failed at the moment at which it was especially wanted. A majority in Parliament which is united by a sincere opinion, and is combined to carry out that opinion, is in some sense secure. As long as that opinion is unchanged, it will remain; it can only be destroyed by weakening the conviction which binds it together. A majority which is obtained by the employment of patronage is very different; it is combined mainly by an expectation. Sir Robert Walpole, the great master in the art of dispensing patronage, defined gratitude as an anticipation of future favour; he meant that the majority which maintained his administration was collected, not by recollection, but by hope; they thought not so much of favours which were past as of favours which were to come. At a critical moment this bond of union was ordinarily weak. If the Minister of the day should fail, he would confer favours no longer; the patronage that was coveted would pass into the gift of the Minister who succeeded him. The expectation upon which a Minister’s strength under the old system of representation was based, varied, therefore, with the probability that he would succeed. It was most potent when it was certain that the Minister would be victorious; it was weak and hesitating when it was dubious whether he might not be beaten and retire. In other words, that source of strength was prolific when it was not wanted; when it was wanted, it was scarcely perceptible. In a time of doubt and difficulty every member of such a majority inevitably distrusted his neighbour. If others deserted the Government, his support would be useless to the Minister, and pernicious to himself. A man who wanted places would wish to support, not the administration which was about to go out, but the administration which was just coming in. A curious example of this tendency is preserved in the memoirs of Lord Rockingham. “I will go through,” said the Duke of Newcastle, the Minister who was just going out—“I will go through the elections as well as I can, and endeavour to see what they (the Court) really intend. I think it is too late for them to do any mischief. They may be disagreeable, and defeat some of our friends, and act directly contrary to what they promised; but they can’t now alter the tone and complexion of the new Parliament: that is all settled, and so far my staying in to this time has been of use.” On the above letter the second Lord Hardwicke has made the following remark: “Notwithstanding the choice of the Parliament, which the Duke of Newcastle piques himself upon, they forsook him for Lord Bute when his standard was set up”. Lord Bute was of course the Minister who was about to come in, and who, after a very brief interval, did come in. In like manner, much of the strength of Sir Robert Walpole passed to Mr. Pelham, and Mr. Addington succeeded to much of Mr. Pitt’s. In these cases, as soon as it became pretty clear that the Minister of the day would soon cease to be such, almost all the Parliamentary following, which was procured by the expectation of receiving from him places and pensions, very rapidly melted away.
It was, of course, still more certain that when the Minister of the day had really ceased to be Minister, and was not likely to return, no one thought much about him. The power that was gained by the use of patronage was not only unstable in the popular sense of being weak and easily overthrown, but it was unstable also in the peculiar sense in which the mathematicians use that word, for when overthrown, it was very difficult to set it up again. It had not any intrinsic tendency to return of itself to the state of equilibrium. The best example of this is to be found in one of the features of the old system of representation which is most frequently regarded as strengthening the Government. There were certain boroughs called Treasury boroughs, in which there were dockyards or other Government establishments, and in which the administration for the time being had, as such, a predominant influence. These boroughs ensured the Minister who was in power at each Parliamentary election some sixteen votes. But the singular insecurity of such a source of strength is very clear. The existence of it was a premium upon dissolutions. A new administration could certainly count in a new Parliament on diminishing their adversaries’ strength by a considerable number of votes, and on augmenting their own strength by the same number of votes, also. When parties were equally divided, such a foundation of power could not but be weak. A Minister might possess it to-day; but if his adversary should come in and dissolve, it would cease to aid him, and begin to aid that adversary.1
This characteristic instability of a majority procured by patronage inevitably weakened the confidence of a Prime Minister in a struggle with the Crown. Theoretical writers have often blamed the successive Prime Ministers of George III. for permitting him to interfere with the distribution of what was, by the ordinary theory of the constitution, their patronage. But they could not help it. The king had at critical moments the power of saying who should be Minister. He could at least, in times when the divisions were close and the Government was weak, at any moment transfer the purchasing power from the head of the administration to the leader of the Opposition. It was in consequence impossible for any Minister on dubious occasions to refuse the king a share in the patronage. If he did not concede some of it, he would in all likelihood lose the whole of it.
A third inherent defect in the administrative strength obtained by the use of patronage is its certain unpopularity. Mankind call it corruption. Refined reasoners may prove, or fancy they prove, that it is desirable; they may demonstrate that it is possibly in some degree inevitable; but they will never induce ordinary men to like it. Of all Governments, it is the least impressive to the popular imagination. It seems not only to have vice for its adjunct, but vice for its principle. All Governments are feeble which cannot appeal with confidence to the moral instincts of their subjects; but it appears almost impudent in this one to attempt to do so. It exists because it has successfully applied bad motives to men susceptible of bad motives. As the secret of its power appears to be base, it loses its hold over the loyalty of mankind. We have seen this exemplified in a conspicuous instance in France. The monarchy of Louis Philippe was weak because it was believed to be maintained by bribery and to be supported from immoral motives. The same cause long weakened, and was at last the chief agent in destroying, the long, prosperous, and able Ministry of Sir Robert Walpole. It was to no purpose that he governed well; it was to no purpose that he administered general affairs consummately, or that he regulated the finances wisely; it was to no purpose that he showed that those who opposed him were impelled to do so by very mean motives: no defensive considerations availed him. It was believed that his Government was maintained by corruption, and a kind of disgust gradually grew up towards it, long impaired, and at length annihilated it. Every Government under the old system of representation that continued long in office was sure to contract this stain; that of Lord Liverpool did not escape it. There were sure to be some instances of misapplied patronage, which inevitably incurred the censure and irritated the feelings of thinking men. This unpopularity is a source of more continued weakness to a Government than would be at first sight imagined. It might be thought that an administration with plenty of votes would have plenty of courage; but it is not so. A certain timidity belongs to all oligarchies, and to an unpopular oligarchy—to an oligarchy that is believed to rest upon corruption—above all. It is timid at every outcry, and it yields whenever it can. In the plenitude of power Sir Robert Walpole did not press his excise scheme, though it was a wise one, and though he was sure that it was so; he felt that at a crisis he was weak, that the popular odium was not compensated by Parliamentary support. Make what refined devices we may, in every free Government any strong opinion that possesses the multitude will be powerful; it will not be least powerful where the Government is conscious that it rests upon a basis which is odious to common men, and which therefore shuns a popular scrutiny.
For these reasons, therefore, we think, when the subject is accurately examined, the supposed strength which the administrations of the last century are commonly said to have derived from the employment of patronage was a strength rather seeming than substantial. It added to the strength of administrations otherwise strong, and that did not need it; but it was not in its nature to strengthen those which were weak, or to aid, as it is sometimes believed to have aided, tottering administrations in a fatal division.
But even for this strength, such as it was, the people of the last century paid a very heavy price. They purchased it by the almost total sacrifice of efficiency in administration. We can hardly at the present day conceive how utterly feeble that administration formerly was; nor have we space to go into the details of the subject. But one test on the subject may be easily used; we mean the test of success. Our administrative system was subjected in the last century to three of the most searching tests of efficiency. It was tried by a prolonged riot in the capital, by a rebellion within the island, by the resistance of our greatest colonies. If any events can bring out the latent vigour of an administration, these would probably bring it out. They did not, however, do so. We all know the utter feebleness and miserable inefficiency with which the mobs of 1780 were resisted, if resistance it can be called. We know that London was then almost as much at the mercy of its worst inhabitants as Paris has ever been. But it is not so generally known that similar events nearly as bad, though not quite as bad, had happened before; but they did happen. In Hume’s Correspondence there is a curious description of the riots of 1765: “Another very extraordinary event is the riot which the silk-weavers have made for some days past. They got a bill passed in the House of Commons to prevent more effectually the importation of foreign silks, which the Duke of Bedford threw out in the House of Lords. The next day, above ten thousand of these people came down to the House, desiring redress, with drums beating and colours flying. They attacked the Duke of Bedford in his chariot, and threw so large a stone at him, that if he had not put out his hand, and saved his head by having his thumb cut to the bone, he must have been killed. He behaved with great resolution, and got free of them; since which time he has remained blockaded in his own house, and defended by the troops. Yesterday the same number of weavers assembled again at the House of Lords, where the horse and foot guards were to secure the entry for the peers. The mob were ranged before the soldiers, and their colours were playing in the faces of his Majesty’s troops. The degree of security with which these people commit felony seems to me the most formidable circumstance in the whole: they carry in their whole deportment so much tranquillity and ease, that they do not seem apprised of the illegality of their proceedings. It is really serious to see the legislature of this country intimidated by such a rabble; and to see the House of Lords send for Justice Fielding, to hear him prove for how many reasons he ought not to do his duty. The Duke of Bedford is still in danger of his life if he goes out of his house; and we expect to see the same number of people assembled every day, till something more vigorous is done than any one has yet chosen to propose. The spirit of robbing has gone forth in this nation to a degree that we have not experienced this century past, and it will not be found so easy a matter to quell it” (pp. 55, 56).
No description can be more graphic of the weakness of a feeble administration, unmoved by evident danger. We need not dwell on the other instances of inefficiency to which we have alluded. In 1745, the administration of the day—a divided and discordant administration, it is true—permitted a small body of half-disciplined Highlanders to advance into the centre of England. So imperfect were their arrangements, that some good judges of evidence have thought that if Charles Edward had pushed on towards London, he might have succeeded in taking it. The war with our North-American Colonies was conducted with as little wisdom and energy; it could not be with less. The whole strength of the empire was never put forth; and historians have often wondered at the series of petty expeditions and inconclusive conflicts with which so great a country as England endeavoured to reduce so great a country as America. Lord North’s Government was perhaps somewhat feebler than many of the Governments of the last century; but even if so, it is only because it exhibits the characteristic defects belonging to them all in a conspicuous and aggravated form. It was not exceptionally inefficient, but characteristically inefficient.
The explanation of this inefficiency is simple. It was caused by the abuse of patronage; or rather, to speak the language of the old Tory theory, by the use of it to bribe members of Parliament and proprietors of boroughs. George II. is reported to have said to Sir Robert Walpole, “I won’t have my army jobbed away for your members: it shan’t be”. It had been, however; and the state of the English army at the commencement of the long war with France is a conclusive proof of it. Burke, in his speech on economical reform, has explained this point with more humour than is usual with him:—
“There was another disaster far more doleful than this. I shall state it, as the cause of that misfortune lies at the bottom of almost all our prodigality. Lord Talbot attempted to reform the kitchen; but such, as he well observed, is the consequence of having duty done by one person, whilst another enjoys the emoluments, that he found himself frustrated in all his designs. On that rock his whole adventure split—his whole scheme of economy was dashed to pieces; his department became more expensive than ever; the Civil List debt accumulated—why? It was truly from a cause which, though perfectly adequate to the effect, one would not have instantly guessed—it was because the turnspit in the king’s kitchen was a member of Parliament.1 The king’s domestic servants were all undone; his tradesmen remained unpaid and became bankrupt—because the turnspit in the king’s kitchen was a member of Parliament. His Majesty’s slumbers were interrupted, his pillow was stuffed with thorns, and his peace of mind entirely broken—because the king’s turnspit was a member of Parliament. The judges were unpaid; the justice of the kingdom bent and gave way; the foreign Ministers remained inactive and unprovided; the system of Europe was dissolved; the chain of our alliances was broken; all the wheels of Government at home and abroad were stopped—because the king’s turnspit was a member of Parliament.” The efficiency of the public offices was sacrificed, in order that the best posts in them might be better used as Parliamentary purchase-money. It would have been a heavy price to pay, even for a Government that was really strong.
It is curious, that though under our old constitution so heavy a price was paid for Parliamentary support, and so little support was at critical moments obtained for that price, the Governments of that day did very little with the strength which they so bought, after they had bought it. We nowadays consider that the first use which a Prime Minister will make of a large majority, is to legislate with it. In the last century men did not think so. Lord John Russell justly said in the House of Commons, that there was no statute, no act of legislation, which we can connect with or can trace to Lord Chatham, who was the most celebrated Minister of England during the last century. There have been a greater number of important Acts of Parliament passed in the last twenty years than in the previous hundred and twenty. The people of England, a hundred years ago, and their Parliament also, were habitually satisfied with their existing institutions: they did not care to abolish any of these, or to introduce any new ones. Accordingly, when the Minister at that time had bought his majority, he had nothing to do with it except to keep himself Minister.
On the whole, therefore, we do not think that our old system of representation is entitled to the credit which it has often received for causing and maintaining strong administrations. The ingenious devices which it contained seem to us to have failed whenever they were really wanted; and we conclude, from the entire history of the last century, that Governments were then only strong when public opinion was definite and decided, and when that is so they will be strong now.
The only one of our questions as to our old system of representation that is still unanswered is, What was the degree of its suitability for training and developing statesmen? Lord Macaulay has in more than one part of his writings expressed a doubt whether all representative systems are not in this respect defective. They require, he says, that an influential statesman should be an orator, and especially a ready and debating orator; and this, he considers, is inexpedient. He appears to believe, both that the practice of debating injures the intellect, and that the conviction of its necessity makes a statesman prize and practise qualities which are not essential to his true calling in preference to those which really are so. He believes that the statesman is induced to think more of the House of Commons, and of the effect which his measures would produce there, than is desirable; and also, that the habit of defending those measures by very questionable arguments disorganises the intellect of a statesman and renders it much less fit than it would otherwise be for the investigation of important truths. There is doubtless some truth in these ideas; the practical working of a representative Government often tends to produce these hurtful effects upon the minds of the statesmen who are eminent under it. And not only so. All free Governments are to some extent unfavourable to much originality of mind in their influential statesmen. They necessitate an appeal to the people; and the mind of the people is almost by definition ordinary and commonplace. The opinions of the majority of mankind necessarily partake of these qualities; and those who have to please that majority must in all ages, to some extent, cultivate them. And these are serious disadvantages. But, on the other hand, it may be fairly believed that no system which has yet been devised secures for the most eminent statesmen in a nation so large a number of great qualities as are necessary for the Prime Minister under a well-developed system of Parliamentary government. It is true, that a man who is eminent in that position may not be in the least eminent in abstract or original reflection; it is possible that he may be beneath the average capacity of men in that respect. But, on the other hand, this defect is not peculiar to a Parliamentary system of government. No device has yet been suggested for securing the supremacy in the State to persons capable of original thought. A Prime Minister under a Parliamentary constitution must have a very great number of other great qualities. He must be a man of business long trained in great affairs; he must be, if not a great orator, a great explainer; he must be able to expound with perspicuity to a mixed assembly complicated measures and involved transactions; he must be a great party leader, and have the knowledge of men, the easy use of men, and the miscellaneous sagacity, which such eminence necessarily implies; he must be a ready man, a managing man, and an intelligible man: and under no other system of government with which we are acquainted is there any security that all these, or an equal number of other, important qualities will constantly be found in the ruler of a nation. All these qualities the system of representation which existed in England during the last century secured to the utmost. We might easily run over the names of the eminent statesmen whom it produced, but it is needless; we know that they were eminent, and we know that they were many.
A claim has often been made on behalf of the old close boroughs, that the number and the greatness of these statesmen is due to them. A very long list of the names of the statesmen who were brought into Parliament during the last century by those boroughs is set forth, and it is alleged that the excellence of these great statesmen was a conspicuous advantage which resulted from the machinery that introduced them to public life. But to this argument there will be found, when the subject is narrowly examined, to be several important qualifications.
In the first place, a great number of remarkable men undoubtedly came into Parliament under the old system of representation by means of the close boroughs, simply and solely because that was at that time the readiest and simplest mode of coming in. If any other mode had been the readiest, they would have availed themselves of that instead. Take the case of Sir Robert Walpole. Had any man that ever lived more of the qualities, the good and the bad qualities, of a great popular candidate? He was genial, sagacious, and unsensitive. He would have managed the mob, and managed the attorney, and managed the electors, better almost than any other of our remarkable statesmen; yet he came in for a close borough. Circumstances threw that mode of entering public life into his path, and he took advantage of it immediately; but if the system of representation then prevailing in England had been a different one, he would have taken advantage of that also. We must not give the close boroughs a peculiar credit for all the eminent statesmen who entered into the House of Commons by means of them, but only for such of the great statesmen as from the nature of their mind and the peculiarity of their circumstances, would most likely not have entered Parliament in any other way; and these are not many.
This is one great qualification. A still more important one remains. A great number of able men came into Parliament formerly who do not appear there now, because there was a motive to enter it at that time which does not now exist. Public life was in the last century not only a career, but a livelihood. It was possible to make a subsistence, and even a fortune, by it. Take the case of the first Lord Liverpool: he was a man of no extraordinary genius or unequalled abilities; he was simply a man of plain, strong, ordinary understanding; he had good sense, and good habits of business: he had no qualities which a very great number of young men in every generation may not be sure that they have. Nevertheless he began life with scarcely any money, he passed a long life in the service of the State, he lived in affluence, and he provided amply for his family. The possibility of such a career could not but render public life in the highest degree attractive. Fortune as well as fame were, it was evident, to be obtained in it by sound abilities and good management. In consequence, a very great number of young men were glad to enter Parliament; and if the same incentives had been continued to the present day, when education is so much more general, and social advantages so much more diffused, it is difficult to say how much that number might not have been by this time augmented. If the places and pensions, the patent offices and the sinecures, from which the profitableness of public life was derived, were still in existence, very many of the ablest, the most cultivated, and the most interesting young men in every generation would be desirous to enter Parliament. They would throng any avenue which was open for their purpose; they would address, and perhaps not unsuccessfully, the electors of boroughs, whether small or large; they would attempt to gain a share of our county representation, exclusive as that still in some degree is. We perhaps are not likely to see again in England a time when public life will afford the means of subsistence, as well as the opportunities of ambition. We do not, on the whole, regret the change that has taken place. We do not say that it should be lamented; but it has its disadvantages. The public cannot expect to be so well served by its statesmen now that it is served gratuitously, as it was when it paid highly for their services. Instead of the number of remarkable statesmen who were introduced into the House of Commons by means of the close boroughs being so great as to excite our wonder, we may rather be surprised that it was not greater. The incentives to a public career were then so strong, that we may wonder that more remarkable persons did not enter upon it. The close boroughs must have been almost as much an impediment as an aid, or the number of statesmen attracted in the last century to the service of the nation must have been much larger than in fact it was.
Such was in part the case. The close boroughs did not, in truth, introduce conscientious and scrupulous men to an attractive position in public life. The position of a member nominated to the representation of a close borough by its proprietor was a position of dependence. He was an employé. He had to vote as often as, and just as, the owner of the borough told him. If he did not do so, he might at the next election be excluded entirely from public life, or be obliged to search through the list of borough owners for a new patron. Even when the member for a close borough was permitted to exercise his own judgment, the public would scarcely believe that he was so. They attributed all which he did to the influence of the proprietor of his seat; and if there chanced to be an apparent difference of opinion, they were more disposed to attribute some sinister design to the owner of the borough than any substantial independence to the member for it. The votes of a nominated member were not regarded as his own, even when in fact they were so. As we might expect, persons of high character and sensitive nature shrank from this dependence. They could not endure that it should be said that they had no control over the course which they adopted in politics; the possibility of the supposition that they must vote according to the edict of some one else was nearly as odious as the having so to vote. A curious example of this inevitable tendency in men of high and susceptible natures may be found in the life of Sir Samuel Romilly. He avowedly preferred the purchase of a seat to a position in which he might be imagined to be dependent. He preferred to be the member for a borough which was publicly known to be commonly venal, to being the member for a borough of which a nobleman or gentleman who took a genuine interest in politics was the proprietor. He preferred its being known that he had bought his seat, to the possibility of a suspicion that he held it upon a tenure of base service. In very many cases, which cannot now be known by us, an analogous feeling must have prevented shrinking and delicate men from occupying the seats for rotten boroughs, or from associating with the great noblemen who owned them. Aristocratic patronage is never very pleasant to men of this character; and it is unendurable to them that such patronage should be the basis of their career, and an essential pre-requisite to habitual life Exceptional instances apart, the close boroughs were rather an obstruction than an opening to persons of original minds and delicate dispositions.
Nor was it natural that the owners of boroughs should commonly desire to introduce such men. If these proprietors had views of their own, they selected men who would give effect to those views; and these would ordinarily be men of pliant characters and unsuggestive intellects. If such proprietors had no opinion, they ordinarily put the seat up to auction in the market, and got as much money as they could get for it. Nor, in the few cases in which noblemen introduced men of the highest order of minds into Parliament, and in which they treated them with tenderness and delicacy, were they by any means disposed to admit them to an equality with themselves, or with the near connections of great families. They reserved high office as much as possible for themselves, and for those who mingled by right of birth in their own society; and believed that they had done much in giving the opportunity of a public career and the profit of a minor place to able men of humbler station whom they had brought into the House of Commons. The Rockingham party, the best party that ever was composed of the associated proprietors of close boroughs, thus treated Mr. Burke, who was the greatest man who ever sat for a close borough. We cannot but be indignant at such conduct; we cannot help saying that it showed high-bred exclusiveness, and aristocratic narrowness of mind: but we also cannot help perceiving that it was natural. The same thing would be sure to happen again in any similar circumstances. The owners of seats inevitably believed that they were theirs; that they, and that men of their family and their station, had an evident right to enjoy whatever was most desirable in the consequences of them. They believed that they had a right to their own, and to all it produced. Historians may lament that Lord John Cavendish was preferred to Mr. Burke; but if the old system of representation were once more re-established, a similar phenomenon would happen again: the near connections of the large proprietors of Parliamentary property would again be preferred by those proprietors to all others. The universal tendencies of human nature ensure that it should be so.
On the other hand, although the close boroughs did not aid men of able minds and sensitive natures in the entrance to public life, they did aid men of able minds and coarse natures. The latter were willing to be dependents, and were able to be serviceable dependents; they were inclined to be slaves, and were able to be useful slaves. The pecuniary profits derivable from a public career, the places and pensions open to and readily obtainable by an able public man, brought a large number of such men into Parliament. We need not cite many instances, for the fact is evident. The entire history of the last century is full of such men—as Mr. Rigby, as the first Lord Holland, as Budd Doddington. The suspicion of dependence, and the reality of aristocratic patronage, were easily endured by men of covetous dispositions and vulgar characters: they only desired to have as much as possible of whatever profits were obtainable, and whatsoever the path to great profits might be, that was the road for them. And independently of these extreme cases, the close boroughs tended to fill the House of Commons with men of commonplace opinions and yielding characters, who accepted the creed of their patrons very easily, and without, in all ordinary cases, any conscious suppression of their own. Their preferences were so languid, that they were not conscious of relinquishing them. The facile flexibility of decorous mediocrity is one of the most obvious facts of human nature; and it is one of the most valuable facts, for without it the requisite union of great political parties would scarcely be attainable.
Such and so great seem to us the deductions which are to be made from the common belief that the close boroughs tended to open the House of Commons to men of original minds and refined dispositions. They are so great, as to make it dubious whether that observation has even a nucleus of truth; they indisputably show that in its ordinary form it is an extreme exaggeration; and they suggest a doubt whether as much or more may not be said for the very opposite of it.
We have now, therefore, completed our long investigation. We have inquired whether our old system of Parliamentary representation did or did not give us a Parliament substantially accordant with the true public opinion of the English nation; whether it gave, to all classes who had political ideas to express, the means of expressing them; whether it had any peculiar tendency to produce great and original statesmen. What, then, are the results which we have learned from this investigation? What are the lessons which this remarkable history, when it is examined, tends to teach us?
First, we should learn from it to distrust complicated expedients for making strong administrations, and refined expedients for producing wise and able statesmen. The sole security upon which we can depend for a strong Government is a consistent union in the nation. If we have that, we shall have a strong Government under any tolerable Parliamentary system; and if we have not that, we shall not have under any a really strong Government on ordinary occasions. The true security for having a sufficient supply of good statesmen is to maintain a sufficient supply of good constituencies. We need not regret the rotten boroughs, if we have instead of them an adequate number of tolerably educated and not too numerous constituencies, in which the great majority of the voters are reasonably independent and tolerably incorrupt. There is nothing in either of these two respects very valuable in our old system of representation. It did not secure to us an unusual number of coherent and powerful administrations; it did not of itself give us an exceptionally great number of able and honest statesmen.
Secondly, we should learn from the history of the last century that it is perfectly idle to attempt to give political power to persons who have no political capacity, who are not intellectual enough to form opinions, or who are not high-minded enough to act on those opinions. This proposition is admitted in words; everybody says it is a truism. But is it admitted in reality? Do not all the ordinary plans for a uniform extension of the suffrage practically deny it? Will not their inevitable effect be, in the smaller and poorer boroughs at least, to throw, or to attempt to throw, much power into the hands of the voters who are sure to be ignorant, and who are almost sure to be corrupt?
Lastly, the events of the earlier part of the last century show us—demonstrate, we may say, to us—the necessity of retaining a very great share of power in the hands of the wealthier and more instructed classes—of the real rulers of public opinion. We have seen that we owe the security of our present constitutional freedom to the possession by these classes of that power: we have learned that under a more democratic system the House of Stuart might have been still upon the throne; that the will of the numerical majority in the nation would probably have placed it there, and would probably have kept it there; that the close boroughs of former times gave, in an indirect form and in an objectionable manner, the requisite influence to the instructed classes; and we must infer, therefore, that we should be very cautious how we now proceed to found a new system, without any equivalent provision, and with no counterbalancing weight, to the scanty intelligence of very ordinary persons and to the unbridled passions of the multitude.
If we duly estimate the significance of these conclusions, we shall perhaps think that to have been once more reminded of them, at a critical instant, is a result of sufficient significance to justify this protracted investigation, and an adequate apology for the detail which has been necessary to render it intelligible.
[1 ]The Rise and Progress of the English Constitution. By E. S. Creasy, M.A. Fourth edition, revised and with additions. London: Richard Bentley, 1858.
The Representative History of Great Britain and Ireland: being a History of the House of Commons, and of the Counties, Cities, and Boroughs of the United Kingdom, from the earliest Period. By T. H. B. Oldfield. In six volumes. London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1816.
[1 ] Hallam.
[1 ]Edinburgh Review, Jan. 1859.
[1 ] The following is the list given of the Government boroughs:—
The whole representation of Scotland was in much the same position.
[1 ]Vide “Lord Talbot’s speech, in Almond’s Parliamentary Register, vol. vii., p. 79, of the proceedings of the Lords”.