"Where honour ought to have the fairest play, you'll find
"Corruption, envy, discontent, and faction,
"Almost in every band."
This offence is a main link in the chain of corruption which has long been a grievance to the people, and loudly calls for reform. When Mr. Pitt, early in his political career, was out of place, he was a strenuous advocate for such reform; but from the moment of his appointment to the chancellorship of the exchequer, he lost sight of every abuse. Thus, we find it, as Sir Robert Walpole used to say, "Every man has his price." Since those times corruption has made rapid strides, and bribery at elections a common practice.
The present state of the representation of the British Empire, may be seen from the following sketch of a recent meeting in London, on the subject, taken from the newspapers of the day.
"On the first of May, a numerous meeting, convened by advertisement in the London newspapers, was held at the Crown and Anchor, in the Strand, for the avowed purpose of entering into resolutions, in order to effect a reform in parliament. It was attended by the two members for Westminster, and many other independent representatives of the people in the present parliament.
"Sir Francis Burdett was called to the chair, from which, in a speech most elaborate and elegant, he opened the business upon which they were convened. The resolutions were presented by Major Cartwright. The most prominent of them were,
- "That in a petition presented to the House of Commons, on the 6th of May, 1793, it was offered to be proved at the bar, that 154 individuals did, by their own authority, appoint or procure the return of 307 members of that House, exclusive of those from Scotland, who were thus enabled to decide all questions in the name of the whole people of Great Britain.
- "That in 1782, it was declared by Mr. Pitt in the House of Commons, that seven or eight members of that House were sent there by the nabob of Arcot, and that a foreign state, in enmity to this country, might procure a party to act for it under the mask and character of members of that House.
"Mr. Maddox, member for Boston, made the following statement of the representation of the people in the House of Commons: -
26 Burgage tenures, private property, returning members: 52
51 Boroughs at about 50 Voters each 100
23 Boroughs at about 100 voters each 45
28 Boroughs at about 200 voters each 56
2 Boroughs at about 30 voters each 4
Making 1175 voters, who return a majority to the House of Commons of 257
"In 1793, Seventy-five peers returned 167 members to the House of Commons. Since 1793, Eighteen new peers have been created, who had influence of 39 commoners, and six baronets, who had influence over eleven. Thus, in all, there are 206 members in the House of Commons, under the influence of peers, created during the present reign. In Ireland they had the disposal of upwards of 200 borough votes in the House of Commons, besides the influence they had in counties, of which he could name at least thirty, represented by the sons and brothers of peers. The treasury returned 167, and the borough faction 91. Of all these the number was 306, to which adding 21 returned by 17 boroughs, of 150 voters in each, made 327 English members under this influence, which deducting from the total number of 513, left only 186 uninfluenced members of the House of Commons. The result is, a majority of 141 in favour of this borough faction. "Can you conceive," continued Mr. Maddocks, "that any good effects could be derived from a parliament so constituted, even leaving out of your view all the influence of the crown, from places, pensions, and the 178,000l. a year paid for sinecures,"—to people for doing nothing at all.
Messrs. Rumbold and Sykes had obtained seats for the borough of Hendon, and it appearing to the commons that they had been guilty of bribery, the attorney-general was directed to prosecute them.
On the 14th of March, 1776, their trial came on in the court of King's Bench, and after a very long hearing, they were both found guilty. On the 8th of June following, Messrs. Rumbold and Sykes were brought before the court of King's Bench, in order to receive sentence on their conviction of bribery, at the late general election; when Sir Richard Aston, one of the judges, observed, that the crime of which they had been guilty, was aggravated by the tendency it had to lead the ignorant and unwary, to the commission of that horrid and foul sin, PERJURY, the only barrier between God and man. From these and other reasons, equally forcible, he inferred the necessity of an exemplary punishment; and therefore he ordered each of them to pay a fine of 1000 marks (666l. 13s. 4d.) to the king, and to suffer six months imprisonment; and at the expiration thereof, should enter into a recognizance of 1000l. each, and two sureties, in 500l. each, for their good behaviour for three years, One of the electors thus bribed, was pilloried for perjury, two days after the late members had been sentenced, and again, the next week, at Hindon; where he was brought for that purpose, from the King's Bench prison.
During the confinement of Sir Francis Burdett, for what was conceived a contempt of this supposed virtuous House of Commons, the Electors of Westminster met to celebrate the anniversary of their free election of their present patriotic Representatives. Lord Cockrane and Sir Francis Burdett. On this occasion Mr. Jones Burdett, the brother of the imprisoned Baronet, in contrasting the impunity allowed to such men as Lord Castlereagh and Percival, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, bartering a seat in Parliament for a Cadetship, with the severity shown to poor offenders, who were often punished, with death for stealing a few shillings—with Hunt, Williars, Jones, and others, public defaulters, to the amount of hundred of thousands of pounds, quotes the following lines from Shakespeare's tragedy of King Lear:-
"Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear,
"Robes and furr'd gowns hide all, plate sin with gold,
"And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;
"Arm it with rags, a pigmy straw doth pierce it."
About this time a Member of the same House, a creature of Government, named Hunt, representative of an insignificant borough, controlled by the Minister of the day, called Queenborough, in Kent, ran off to America, with 93,817l. 14s. 5d. of the nation's money, wrung from the industry of the patient yeomen; while dire distress-nay, the calls of hunger, which, by holy writ we are taught, "Will break through stone walls," have impelled the wretched to use force in order to compel the rich and the monopolisers to lower the price of provisions, are adjudged guilty of rioting. Hence a prison dirge, with too much truth, thus concludes:
"And yet in vogue
"Lives the great rogue;
"While small rogues are by dozens hang'd."