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tion of Parliament, for although several laws dealing directly with the evil were enacted in obedience to the clamour out-of-doors, they were allowed to a very large extent to remain inoperative. It was useless to arraign offenders before a tribunal of accomplices, and as long as the Executive and the majority in Parliament conspired to practise and to shelter corruption, laws against it were a dead letter. Bribery at elections had been condemned by a law of William III.,' and another measure of great stringency was carried against it in 1729. By this law any elector might be compelled on demand to take an oath swearing that he had received no bribe to influence his vote, and any person who was convicted of either giving or receiving a bribe at elections was deprived for ever of the franchise and fined 500l. unless he purchased indemnity by discovering another offender of the same kind. Some measures had also been taken to limit the number of placemen and pensioners in Parliament. In 1692 a Bill for expelling all who accepted places after a certain date from the House of Commons passed that House, but was rejected in the Lords. In 1693, after undergoing material alterations it was carried through both Houses, but vetoed by the Crown. In 1694 a new Place Bill was introduced, but this time it was defeated in the Commons. A clause of the Act of Settlement, however, carried out the principle in the most rigid form, providing that after the accession of the House of Hanover no person who held any office, place of profit, or pension from the King should have a seat in the House of Commons, but this clause, which would have banished the ministers from the popular branch of the Legislature, never came into operation. It was repealed in 1706, while Anne was still on the throne, and replaced by a law providing that every Member of the House of Commons who accepted office under the Crown should be compelled to vacate his seat and could only sit after re-election. Occasionally, when a new class of offices was created, its members were incapacitated by law from sitting in the House of

17 William III. c. 4.

2 2 George II. c. 24. See Parl. Hist.

xii. 648. Ralph's Use and Abuse of Parliaments, ii. 382–384.

Commons. Thus in 1694, when certain duties on salt, beer, and other liquors were granted for the purpose of carrying on the war with France, it was enacted that no Member of the House of Commons might be concerned in farming, collecting, or managing any of the sums granted to his Majesty by this Act 'except the Commissioners of the Treasury, Customs, and Excise, not exceeding the present number in each office, and the Commissioners of the land tax.' In 1700 all Commissioners and other officers of the Customs were disqualified from sitting in the House, and the Act of 1706 extended the disability to all offices created after that date, limited the number of Commissioners appointed to execute any office, and excluded all who held pensions from the Crown during pleasure. Under George I. this exclusion was extended to those who held pensions during a term of years. Had these laws been enforced, they would have done very much to purify Parliament, but the pension bills at least, were treated with complete contempt. The pensions were secret. The Government refused all information concerning them. A Bill was three times brought forward compelling every Member to swear that he was not in receipt of such a pension, and that if he accepted one he would within fourteen days disclose it to the House, but by the influence of Walpole it was three times defeated. A similar fate during the Walpole administration befell Bills for restricting the number of placemen in the House, but in the great outburst of popular indignation that followed his downfall one measure of this kind was carried. The Place Bill of 1743 excluded a certain number of inferior placeholders from Parliament, and in some degree mitigated the evil. It was, however, the only step that was taken. Pelham would, probably, never have corrupted Parliament had he found it pure,' but he inherited a system of

1 See Hallam's Const. Hist. ch. xv. and xvi. Fischel on the English Constitution, p. 433.

2 Horace Walpole, who hated Pelham, and always put the worst colouring on his acts, admitted this.

He says: 'I believe Mr. Pelham would never have wet his finger in corruption if Sir R. Walpole had not dipped up to the elbow; but as he did dip, and as Mr. Pelham was persuaded that it was as necessary for

corruption, and he bequeathed it almost intact to his succes


The efforts that were made to shorten the duration of Parliament were still less successful. We have already seen the chief reasons that induced the Whig party to pass the Septennial Act, and some of the results which it produced. Its beneficial effect in repressing disorder and immorality, in giving a new stability to English policy, a new strength to the dynasty, and a new authority to the House of Commons, can never be forgotten. It was accompanied, however, by no measure of parliamentary reform, and it had the inevitable effect of greatly increasing corruption both at elections and in the House. The price of seats at once rose when their tenure was prolonged, and the change in the class of candidates which had been in progress since the Revolution was greatly accelerated. In most rural constituencies it was impossible, when elections were very frequent, for any stranger to compete with the steady influence of the resident landlord. When, however, elections became comparatively rare, money became in many districts more powerful than influence. The value of the prize being enhanced, men were prepared to give more to obtain it; and rich merchants, coming down to constituencies where they were perfect strangers, were able, by the expenditure of large sums at long intervals, to wrest the representation from the resident gentry. At the same time, the means of corruption at the disposal of the Government were enormously increased. It was a common thing for a minister to endeavour to buy the vote of a new Member by the offer of a pension. Under the old system the Member knew that in three years he would be called to account by his constituents, and might lose both his pension and his seat. By the Septennial Act the value of the bribe was more than doubled, for its enjoyment was virtually secured for seven years.

To these arguments it was added that the Septennial Act
Horace Walpole's Memoirs of George
II. i. 235.

him to be minister as it was for Sir
R. Walpole, he plunged as deep.'-

Then as

had a social influence which was far from beneficial. now Parliament contributed largely to set the tone of manners. Under the former system a landlord who aspired to a political position found an almost constant residence on his estate indispensable. When Parliaments became less frequent the necessity grew less stringent, and it was noticed as a consequence of the Septennial Act that country gentlemen were accustomed to spend much more of their time and fortune than formerly in the metropolis.

There can, however, I think, be little doubt that the Government were right in maintaining the Septennial Act, and that a return to the system which had rendered English politics so. anarchical in the closing years of the seventeenth and the opening years of the eighteenth century would have produced more evils than it could have cured. It is a remarkable illustration of the changes that may pass over party warfare, that the Republican Milton at one time advocated the appointment of Members for life; that the Tory party under Walpole and Pelham advocated triennial and even annual Parliaments, which afterwards became the watchwords of the most extreme radicals; that the Whigs, taking their stand upon the Septennial Act, contended against the Tories for the greater duration of Parliament, and that a reform which was demanded as of capital importance by the Tories under George I. and George II., and by the Radicals in the succeeding reigns, has at present scarcely a champion in England. It must, however, be added that recent reforms have considerably diminished the average duration of Parliaments, and that since the Septennial Act there had been only one instance of a premature dissolution before 1784. In the early part of the eighteenth century the proposed reduction of the duration of Parliaments was very popular throughout the country. It was supported with great power by Sir W. Windham in 1734, and in 1745 a motion for annual Parliaments was only defeated by 145 to 113

See his Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Commonwealth.

3 In 1747.

It is not easy to understand how a Parliament so thoroughly vicious in its constitution, so narrow, corrupt, and often despotic in its tendencies as that which I have described, should have proved itself, in any degree, a faithful guardian of English liberty, or should have produced so large an amount of wise, temperate, and tolerant legislation as it unquestionably did. Reasoning from its constitution and from some of its acts, we might have supposed that it would be wholly inaccessible to public opinion, and would have established a system of the most absolute and most ignoble tyranny; yet no one who candidly considers the general tenour of English administration during the long period of Whig ascendency in the eighteenth century can question that Voltaire and Montesquieu were correct in describing it as greatly superior to the chief governments of the Continent. In truth the merits of a government depend much more upon the character of men than upon the framework of institutions. There have been legislative bodies, constructed on the largest, freest, and most symmetrical plan, which have been the passive instruments of despotism; and there have been others which, though saturated with corruption and disfigured by every description of anomaly, have never wholly lost their popular character. The parliamentary system at the time we are considering was a government by the upper classes of the nation; those classes possessed in an eminent degree political capacity, and although public spirit had sunk very low among them, it was by no means extinguished. Men who on ordinary occasions voted through party or personal motives rose on great emergencies to real patriotism. The enthusiasm and the genius of the country aspired in a great degree to political life; and large boroughowners, who disposed of some seats for money and of others for the aggrandisement of their families, were accustomed also, through mingled motives of patriotism and vanity, to bring forward young men of character and promise. Even if they restricted their patronage to their sons they at least provided that many young men should be in the House, and they thus secured the materials of efficient legislators.

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