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Mr. Grey observed, that the order, if
To the Honourable the Commons of Great at all to be regarded, related only to pri.
Britain, in Parliament assembled. vate petitions, and that, although the signatures in this case were subjoined to
The humble Petition, &c. sheweth;---That, a printed petition, yet it did not appear tution, the king is vested with the sole execu.
by the form and spirit of the British constithat the petition had been circulated.
Mr. Fox said, that he ould not go the That the House of Lords consists of lords length of saying that the House were not spiritual and temporal, deriving their titles bound by any orders made during the and consequence either from the Crown, or usurpation; but in this case there was no from hereditary privileges standing order. The reason and sense of That these two powers, if they acted withthe thing did not so much apply to a pe-out control, would form either a despotic motition coming to the House in print, as to narchy, or a dangerous oligarchy. the fact, whether it had been previously trived that these authorities may be rendered
That the wisdom of our ancestors hath conprinted and circulated. It was notorious, not only harmless, but beneficial
, and be exhowever, that almost in every private bill ercised for the security and happiness of the the petitions were printed and often ad-people. vertised in the newspapers, before they That this security and happiness are to be came to be presented to the House. In looked for in the introduction of a tņird estate, his opinion negative precedents were of distinct from, and a check upon, the other two Tittle consequence, and he would there- branches of the legislature; created by, refore give his vote for bringing up the pe- presenting, and responsible to, the people
. tition. Mr. Burke explained, that, in his opi- vation of this third estate, in such its consti
That so much depending upon the presernion, the petition coming printed before tutional purity and strength, your petitioners the House made a material difference, be. are reasonably jealous of whatever may apcause many things might be done abroad, pear to vitiate the one or to impair the other. out of that House, which they could not That at the present day the House of Combe acquainted with.
mons does not fully and fairly represent the Mr. Pitt thought the House could not people of England, which consistently with suffer the petition to be brought up with.
what your petitioners conceive to be the prinout departing from usage. It had been ciples of the constitution, they consider as a
gricvance, and therefore, with all becoming said, that many of the petitions had come respect, lay their complaints before your hofrom the same shop; and had this mode nourable House. been conceived to be regular and proper, That though the terms in which your peti. it would, no doubt, have been adopted tioners state their grievance may be looked with regard to other petitions, and they upon as strong, yet your honourable House would probably have come from the same
is entreated to believe that no expression is press. With regard to publishing pe.
made use of for the purpose of offence. titions in the newspapers, the House per- nourable House is not an adequate represen.
Your petitioners in affirming that your hohaps might be ignorant of its having been tation of the people of England, do but state done, and it might have been done with
a fact, which, if the word “representation" be out the knowledge of the parties. Upon accepted in its fair and ol vious sense, they the whole, he must oppose the bringing are ready to prove, and which they think deup the petition.
trimental to their interests, and contrary to Mr. Sheridan was of opinion that the the spirit of the constitution. petition ought to be received; but at the
How far this inadequate representation is same time, as it seemed a little doubtful, prejudicial to their interests, your petitioners and in order that the important business themselves; but how far it is contrary to the
apprehend they may be allowed to decide for which was to come on, might not be de- spirit of the constitution, they refer to the layed, he was induced to wish that the consideration of your honourable House. motion for bringing up the petition should If your honourable House shall be pleased be withdrawn.
to determine that the people of England This was accordingly done.
ought not to be fully represented, your peti
tioners pray that such your determination Debate on Mr. Grey's Motion for a Re- may be made known, to the end that the peoform in Parliament.] Mr. Grey then pre- but if your honourable House shall conceive
be apprized of their real situation; sented the following Petition, signed by that the people are already fully represented, the members of the society of The Friends then your petitioners beg leave to call your of the People, associated for the purpose attention to the following facts: of obtaining a Parliamentary Reform:
Your petitioners complain, that the num- They affirm, that in addition to the hunber of representatives assigned to the different dred and sixty so elected, thirty-seven more counties is grossly disproportioned to their of your honourable members are elected by comparative extent, population, and trade. nineteen places, in none of which the num
Your petitioners complain, that the elective ber of voters exceeds one hundred And franchise is so partially and unequally distri: this your petitioners are ready to prove. buted, and is in so many instances committed They affirm, that in addition to the hun. to bodies of men of such very limited num- dred and ninety-seven honourable members bers, that the majority of your honourable so chosen, fifty-two more are returned to House, is elected by less than fifteen thou- serve in Parliament by twenty-six places, in sand electors, which, even if the male adults none of which the number of voters exceed in the kingdom be estimated at so low a two hundred. And this your petitioners are number as three millions, is not more than ready to prove. the two hundredth part of the people to be They affirm, that in addition to the two represented.
hundred and forty-nine so elected, twenty Your petitioners complain, that the right more are returned to serve in parliament for of voting is regulated by no uniform or ra- counties in Scotland, by less than one huntional principle.
dred electors each, and ten for counties in Your petitioners complain, that the exer- Scotland by less than two hundred and fifty cise of the elective franchise is only renewed each. And this your petitioners are ready to once in seven years.
prove, even admitting the validity of fictitious Your petitioners thus distinctly state the votes. subject matter of their complaints, that your They affirm, that in addition to the two honourable House may be convinced that hundred and seventy-nine so elected, thirteen they are acting from no spirit of general dis- districts of burghs of Scotland, not containing content, and that you may with the more one hundred voters each, and two districts of ease be enabled to inquire into the facts, and burghs, pot containing one hundred and to apply the remedy.
twenty-five each, return fifteen more hoFor the evidence in support of the first nourable members. And this your peticomplaint, your petitioners refer to the re- tioners are ready to prove. turn book of your honourable House. Is it And in this manner, according to the prefitting, that Rutland and Yorkshire should sent state of the representation, two hundred bear an equal rank in the scale of county re- and pinety-four of your honourable members presentation; or can it be right, that Corn- are chosen, and, being a majority of the enwall alone should, by its extravagant propor- tire House of Commons, are enabled to detion of borough members, outnumber not cide all questions in the name of the whole only the representatives of Yorkshire and people of England and Scotland. Rutland together, but of Middlesex added to The third complaint of your petitioners is them? Or, if a distinction be taken between founded on the present complicated rights of the landed and the trading interests, must it voting. From the caprice with which they have not appear monstrous that Cornwall and been varied, and lhe obscurity in which they Wiltshire should send more borough mem- have become involved by time and contrabers to parliament, than Yorkshire, Lanca- dictory decisions, they are become a source of shire, Warwickshire, Middlesex, Worcester-infinite confusion, litigation, and expense. shire, and Somersetshire united ? and that Your petitioners need not tender any evithe total representation of all Scotland should dence of the inconveniences which arise from but exceed by one meniber, the number re- this defect in the representation, because the turned for a single county in England? proof is to be found in your Journals, and the
The second complaint of your petitioners, minutes of the different committees who have is founded on the unequal proportions in been appointed under the 10th and 11th of which the elective franchise is distributed, the king. Your honourable House is but and in support of it,
too well acquainted with the tedious, intriThey atlirm, that seventy of your honoura- cate, and expensive scenes of litigation which ble members are returned by thirty-five places, have been brought before you, in attempting where the right of voting is vested in burgage to settle the legal import of those numerous and other tenures of a similar description, and distinctions which perplex and confound the in which it would be to trifle with the pati: present rights of voting. How many months ence of your honourable House, to mention of your valuable time have been wasted in any number of voters whatever, the elections listening to the wrangling of lawyers upon at the places alluded to being notoriously a the various species of burgagehold, leasehold, mere matter of form. And this your petic and freehold! How many committees have tioners are ready to prove.
been occupied in investigating the nature of They affirm, that in addition to the seventy scot and lot, potwallers, commonalty, popuhonourable members so chosen, ninety more lacy, resiant inhabitants, and inhabitants at of your honourable members are elected by large! What labour and research have been forty six places, in none of which the number employed in endeavouring to ascertain the of voters exceeds fifty. And this your peti- legal claims of borough-men, alderınen, porttioners are ready to prove.
men, select-men, burgesses, and council-men! | 939,370 householders who have no voice in And what confusion has arisen from the com- the representation, unless they have obtained phcated operation of clashing charters, from it by accident or by purchase. Neither their freemen resident and non-resident, and from contributions to the public burthens, their the different modes of obtaining the freedom peaceable demeanor as good subjects, nor of corporations by birth, by servitude, by their general respectability and merits as marriage, by redemption, by election, and by useful citizens, afford them, as the law now purchase! On all these points it is, however, stands, the smallest pretensions to participate needless for your petitioners to enlarge, when in the choice of those who, under the name of your honourable House recollects the follow their representatives, may dispose of their ing facts: namely, that since the twenty- fortunes and liberties. second of December, 1790, no less than In Scotland, the grievance arising from the twenty-one committees have been employed nature of the rights of voting, has a different in deciding upon litigated rights of voting. and still more intolerable operation. In that Of these, eight were occupied with the dis- great and populous division of the kingdom, putes of three boroughs, and there are pe- not only the great mass of the householders, titions from four places yet remaining before but of the land holders also, are excluded from your honourable House, waiting for a final all participation in the choice of representadecision to inform the electors what their tives. By the remains of the feudal system rights really are.
in the counties, the vote is severed from the But the complaint of your petitioners on land, and attached to what is called the supethe subject of the want of an uniform and riority. In other words, it is taken from the equitable principle in regulating the right of substance, and transferred to the shadow, voting, extends as well to the arbitrary man- because, though each of these superiorities ner in which some are excluded, as to the in- must, with very few exceptions, arise from tricate qualifications by which others are ad- lands of the present annual value of four hunmitted to the exercise of that privilege. dred pounds sterling, yet it is not necessary
Religious opinions create an incapacity to that the lands should do more than give a vote. "All Papists are excluded generally, name to the superiority, the possessor of and, by the operation of the test laws, Pro- which may retain the right of voting notwithtestant Dissenters are deprived of a voice in standing he be divested of the property. And the election of representatives in about thirty on the other hand, great landholders have the boroughs, where the right of voting is con- means afforded them by the same system, of fined to corporate officers alone; a depriva- adding to their influence, without expense to tion the more unjustifiable, because, though themselves, by communicating to their conconsidered as unworthy to vote, they are fidential friends the privilege of electing deemed capable of being elected, and may members to serve in parliament. The process be the representatives of the very places for by which this operation is performed is simple. which they are disqualified from being the He who wishes to increase the number of his electors.
dependent votes, surrenders his charter to A man possessed of one thousand pounds the Crown, and, parcelling out his estate into per annum, or any other sum, arising from as many lots of four hundred pounds per copyhold, leasehold for ninety-nine years, annum, as may be convenient, conveys them trade, property in the public funds, or even to such as he can confide in. To these, new frechold in the city of London, and many charters are, upon application, granted by the other cities and towns having peculiar juris. Crown, so as to erect each of them into a dictions, is not thereby entitled to vote. Here superiority, which privilege once obtained, again a strange distinction is taken be- the land itself is reconveyed to the original tween electing and representing, as a copy- grantor; and thus the representatives of the hold is a sufficient qualification to sit in your landed interest in Scotland may be chosen by honourable House.
those who have no real or beneficial interest A man paying taxes to any amount, how in the land. great soever, for his domnestic establishment, Such is the situation in which the counties does not thereby obtain a right to vote, unless of Scotland are placed. With respect to the his residence be in some borough where that burghs, every thing that bears even the semright is vested in the inhabitants. This ex-blance of popular choice, has long been done ception operates in sixty places, of which away. The election of members to serve in twenty-eight do not contain three hundred parliament is vested in the magistrates and volers each, and the number of householders town councils, who, having by various innoin England and Wales (exclusive of Scotland), vations, constituted themselves into selfwho pay all taxes, is 714,911, and of house elected bodies, instead of officers freely chosen holders who pay all taxes, but the House and by the inhabitants at large, have deprived the window taxes, is 294,439, as appears by a people of all participation in that privilege, return made to your honourable House in the free exercise of which affords the only 1785; so that, even supposing the sixty places security they can possess for the protection above mentioned to contain, one with another, of their liberties and property: one thousand yoters in each, there will remain The fourth and last complaint of your petitioners is the length of the duration of parlia- , But it is unnecessary. The fact is too noto ments. Your honourable House knows, that rious to require proof, that scarce an instance by the ancient laws and statutes of this king can be produced where a member has obtained ( dom frequent parliaments ought to be held; a disputed seat in parliament at a less cost and that the sixth of William and Mary, c. 2. than from two to five thousand pounds; par(since repealed) speaking while the spirit of ticular cases are not wanting where ten tiines the revolution was yet warm, declared, that these sums have been paid; but it is sufficient “ frequent and new parliaments tend very for your petitioners to attirm, and to be able much to the happy union and good agree to prove it if denied, that such is the expense ment between king and people;" and enacted, of a contested return, that he who should that no parliament should last longer than become a candidate with even greater funds three years. Your petitioners, without pre- than the law requires him to swear to as his suming to add to such an authority by any qualification to sit in your honourable House, observations of their own, humbly pray that must either relinquish his pretensions on the parliaments may not be continued for seven appearance of an opposition, or so reduce his years.
fortune in the contest, that he could not take Your petitioners have thus laid before you his seat without perjury: the specific grounds of complaint, from which The revision of the original polls before the they conceive every evil in the representation committees of your honourable House, upon to spring, and on which they think every appeals from the decisions of the returning abuse and inconvenience is founded.
officers, affords a fresh source of vexation and What those abuses are, and how great that expense to all parties. Your honourable inconvenience is, it becomes your petitioners House knows, that the complicated rights of to state, as the best means of justifying their voting, and the shameful practices which dispresent application to your honourable House. grace election proceedings, have so loaded
Your petitioners then affirm, that from the your table with petitions for judgment and combined operation of the defects they have redress, that one half of the usual duration of pointed out, arise those scenes of confusion, a parliament has scarcely been sufficient to litigation, and expense which so disgrace the settle who is entitled to sit for the other half; name, and that extensive system of private and it was not till within the last two months patronage which is so repugnant to the spirit that your honourable House had an opportuof free representation.
nity of discovering, that the two gentlemen Your petitioners intreat of your honourable who sat and voted near three years as the reHouse to consider the manner in which elec- presentatives of the borough of Stockbridge, tions are conducted, and to reflect upon the had procured themselves to be elected by the extreme inconvenience to which electors are most scandalous bribery, and that the lwo exposed, and the intolerable expense to which gentlemen, who sat and voted during as long a candidates are subjected.
period for the borough of Great Grimsby, had Your honourable House knows that tumults, not been elected at all. disorders, outrages, and perjury, are too often In truth, all the mischiefs of the present the dreadful attendants on contested elections system of representation are ascertained by as at this time carried on.
the difficulties which even the zeal and wisYour honourable House knows that polls dom of your honourable House experiences in are only taken in one fixed place for each attending to the variety of complaints brought county, city, and borough, whether the num- before you. Though your committees sit five ber of voters be ten or ten thousand, and hours every day from the time of their apwhether they be resident or dispersed over pointment, they generally are unable to come England.
to a decision in less than a fortnight, and very Your honourable House knows that polls, frequently are detained from thirty to forty however few the electors, may by law be cone days. The Westminster case in 1789, will tinued for fifteen days, and even then be sub- even furnish your honourable House with an jected to a scrutiny.
instance, where, after deliberating forty-five Your honourable House knows that the days, a committee gravely resolved, that, management and conduct of polls is com- “ from an attentive consideration of the cirmitted to returning officers, who, from the cumstances relating to the cause, a final decivery nature of the proceedings, must be sion of the business before them could not invested with extensive and discretionary take place in the course of the session, and powers, and who, it appears by every volume that not improbably the whole of the parliaof your Journals, have but too often exercised ment” (having at that time near two years those powers with the most gross partiality longer to sit) « might be consumed in a tediand the most scandalous corruption.
ous and expensive litigation;" and they Of elections arranged with such little regard recommended it to the petitioners to withdraw to the accommodation of the parties, acknow- their petition, which, after a fruitless perseverledged to require such a length of time to ance of above three months, they were actucomplete, and trusted to the superintendance ally obliged to submit to. of such suspicious agents, your petitioners Your petitioners will only upon this subject might easily draw out a detail of the expense. further add, that the expense to each of the
parties, who have been either plaintiff or de- tioners will name them, and be governed by fendant in petitions tried before your honour the testimony which they themselves shall able House in the present session, has upon publicly give. But if neither of these proofs an average, amounted to above one hundred | be thought consistent with the proceedings of pounds per day; and that the attornies bills / your honourable House, then your petitioners in one cause, the trial of which in point of form can only assert their belief of the fact, which only lasted two days, and in point of fact only they hereby do in the most solemn manner, six hours, amounted to very near twelve hun- and on the most deliberate conviction. dred pounds. And this your petitioners are Your petitioners intreat your honourable ready to prove.
House to believe, that in complaining of this Your petitioners must now beg leave to call species of influence, it is not their intention or the attention of your honourable House to the desire to decry or to condemn that just and greatest evil produced by these defects in the natural attachment which they, who are enrepresentation of which they complain, name-abled by their fortune, and inclined by their ly, the extent of private parliamentary patron- disposition, to apply great means to honourage; an abuse which obviously tends to able and benevolent ends, will always insure exclude the great mass of the people from any to themselves. What your petitioners comsubstantial influence in the election of the plain of is, that property, whether well or ill House of Commons, and which, in its pro- employed, has equal power ; that the present gress, threatens to usurp, the sovereignty of system of representation gives to it a degree the country, to the equal danger of the King, of weight which renders it independent of of the Lords, and of the Commons.
character ; enables it to excite fear as well as The patronage of which your petitioners procure respect, and confines the choice of complain, is of two kinds: That which arises electors within the ranks of opulence ; befrom the unequal distribution of the elective feause, though it cannot make riches the sole franchise, and the peculiar rights of voting by object of their affection and contidence, it can which certain places return members to serve and does throw obstacles, almost insurmountin parliaments; and that which arises from able, in the way of every man who is not rich, the expense attending contested elections, and thereby secures to a select few the capaand the consequent degree of power acquired bility of becoming candidates themselves, or by wealth.
supporting the pretensions of others. Of this By these two means, a weight of parliamen- your petitioners complain loudly, because they tary influence has been obtained by certain conceive it to be highly unjust, that, while individuals, forbidden by the spirit of the the language of the law requires from a canlaws, and in its consequences most dangerous didate no greater estate, as a qualification, to the liberties of the people of Great Britain. than a few hundred pounds per annum, the
The operation of the first species of patron- operation of the law should disquality every age is direct, and subject to positive proof. man whose rental is not extended to thouEighty-four individuals do, by their own im-sands; and that, at the same time that the mediate authority, send one hundred and fifty- legislature appears to give the electors a choice seven of your honourable members to parlia- from amongst those who possess a moderate ment. And this your petitioners are ready, and independent competence, it should virif the fact be disputed, to prove, and to name tually compel them to choose from amongst the members and the patrons.
those who themselves abound in wealth, or The second species of patronage cannot be are supported by the wealth of others. shown with equal accuracy, thongh it is felt Your petitioners are the more alarmed at with equal force.
the progress of private patronage, because it Your petitioners are convinced that, in ad-is rapidly leading to consequences which medition to the one hundred and fifty-seven nace the very existence of the constitution. honourable members above mentioned, one At the commencement of every session of hundred and fifty more, making in the whole parliament, your honourable House acting up three hundred and seven, are returned to your to the laudable jealousy of your predecessors, , honourable House, not by the collected voice and speaking the pure, constitutional lanof those whom they appear to represent, but guage of a British House of Commons, reby the recommendation of seventy powerful solve, as appears by your journals, " that no individuals, added to the eighty-four before peer of this realm hath any right to give his mentioned, and making the total number of vote in the election of any member to serve in patrons altogether only one hundred and fifty- parliament;” and also, that it is a high infour, who return a decided majority of your fringement upon the liberties and privileges honourable House.
of the Commons of Great Britain, for any lord If your honourable House will accept as of parliament or any lord lieutenant of any evidence the common report and general be- county, to concern themselves in the elections hief of the counties, cities, and boroughs, of members to serve for the Commons in parwhich return the members alluded to, your liament.” petitioners are ready to name them, and to Your petitioners inform your honourable prove the fact; or if the members in question House, and are ready to prove it at your bar, can be made parties to the inquiry, your peti- that they have the most reasonable grounds