Front Page Titles (by Subject) Subsection III.: Influence of the same Principle in the Municipal Corporations. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
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Subsection III.: Influence of the same Principle in the Municipal Corporations. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 1.
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Influence of the same Principle in the Municipal Corporations.
Having examined the vicious principles of the Irish aristocracy on the powers of the state and the administration of the county, we are about to consider the influence of the same principles on the government of cities and towns, called municipal corporations.
Neither in Ireland nor England are all the towns incorporated, and also there are municipal corporations to which we could scarcely give the name of towns; for instance, the borough of Naas. A town is not a corporation because it contains a certain number of inhabitants, but because it possesses a charter: it is incorporated, not by right, but by privilege, the only universal and invariable privilege which existed in all societies of feudal origin.
The differences between the English and Irish corporations are not less striking than those between the English and Irish counties. In Ireland, the unchartered towns are the best governed. How, then, does it come to pass that in Ireland, where we have seen all public powers so open to abuse, municipal corporations should enjoy a bad pre-eminence for extravagance, jobbing, and tyranny? How happens it that we scarcely find in them a single one of the original principles on which their institution is based?
Thus the first and fundamental principle is, that the corporation should be composed of all persons contained within the precincts of the city, and that all should concur in the choice of the body by which the city is represented. Nevertheless, in most Irish municipalities, the great majority of the population is excluded from the right of citizenship.1 Who would believe that Belfast, that large and magnificent town, does not legally contain more than fifteen or twenty citizens?2 It is another fundamental condition of municipal institutions, that the body representing the city should be composed of those who are most identified with its interests, and most capable of comprehending them. Nevertheless, in most of the Irish cities, the representative body is in a great degree formed of persons destitute of fortune and education, and sometimes of non-residents.3 There are mendicants in the corporation of Dublin, while the most wealthy merchants are refused admission into that body. It is also an essential principle of corporations, that the body representing the city, the freemen, should be themselves represented by the officers who act in their name; nevertheless, corporate officers are not so elected in Ireland; by an incredible abuse, these officers have acquired the right of nominating each other.4 When an alderman’s place is vacant, the other aldermen choose his successor; and these aldermen, whom the citizens have not elected, nominate the mayor, the sheriffs, and all the officers of the city. Thus not only is the city non-represented by the corporation, but, in addition, the corporation is not represented by its own officers. In these corporations several offices are grasped by the same functionary; the governing body multiplies sinecures for the profit of its members; the grossest acts of selfishness are perpetrated without shame; the corporations of Trim and Kells alienated their lands, that two or three of their members might purchase them at a nominal price; the corporation of Naas granted to a noble lord one of its members’ lands, worth five hundred pounds, for twelve pounds; and at Drogheda, the corporation ruled that the charitable funds belonging to the city should be exclusively expended for the profit of members of the corporation and their families.5
And why all these contradictions?—why this violation of all principle?—why this assemblage of abuses? A principal cause supplies the explanation. It was necessary in the beginning to exclude the Irish from the cities in order to preserve the monopoly of commerce and wealth to the English settlers, and consequently laws and regulations were made, which excluded the natives, as Irish, from the corporate body. It was similarly necessary to exclude the Catholics from the right of citizenship, in order to maintain the Protestant ascendency in Irish towns.6 Consequently the laws required that before a person should be admitted as a freeman, he should take the oaths of supremacy and abjuration. For cities where there were no Protestants worthy of representing the city, either from want of fortune or personal merit, it was necessary to invite to this representation either strangers devoted to the aristocracy, or poor persons sold to it. Finally, it was necessary to restrain as much as possible the number of freemen and corporate officers, in order that the aristocracy should have less trouble in their corruption, and less expense in their purchase.
Vainly have most of the laws which consecrated these exclusions been abolished: their spirit has survived their text. The emancipating law of 1793 opened the corporations to Irish Catholics, and rendered them eligible to the body of freemen; but this law is a dead letter. Catholics are admissible; but the admission depending on the body of freemen, these, being Protestants, refuse to receive Catholics. Thus in Dublin, where more than one half of the population is Catholic, there is not a single Catholic in the corporation.
The emancipation act of 1829 declared that, for the future, Catholics might not only be admitted as freemen into the municipalities, but moreover that they should be eligible to all the civil and judicial offices at the disposal of the corporation. But how can Protestant bodies, refusing to recognise Catholics as their fellow-citizens, elect one of them a magistrate?
There are certain radical vices in institutions against which the laws are powerless, when they are protected by usage and custom.
Formerly, in England, the municipal corporations presented in their government a portion of the vices and abuses which we have pointed out in those of Ireland. These vices and abuses were less pernicious in England than in Ireland, because, in the former country, they were subservient to an aristocracy which, after all, is not unpopular; whilst, in the latter, they only exist for the profit of an aristocracy odious to the nation. A recent law has thoroughly reformed the English corporations, and re-established them on a new and popular base. In Ireland, on the contrary, the old feudal and Anglican system of corporations has been left standing as the inviolable sanctuary of aristocratic privilege and Protestant monopoly.7
[1.]First Report of the Municipal Corporations Inquiry.
[2.]First Report of the Municipal Corporations Inquiry.
[3.]First Report of the Municipal Corporations Inquiry.
[4.]First Report of the Municipal Corporations Inquiry.
[5.]First Report of the Municipal Corporations Inquiry.
[6.]Protestants, however, are excluded as well as Catholics.
[7.]This abuse cannot continue another year.