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Ancient British History. 633
chiefs, when that assembly is proved to have existed for so many centuries be
fore the feudal system was known.
Caesar acknowledges that the Commune Concilium of Britain chose Cassibelanus for their leader; and Owen Pugh, the celebrated Welch antiquarian, has proved from the Tryads, or ancient records of the Britons, that the Kufry-then of the ancient British, was the Commune Concilium mentioned by Caesar, afterwards called the Wittena-Gemote of the Saxons, and which assumed the name of Parliament in the reign of Edward the Confessor, who had received his education in France. That this was a representative assembly, elected by the people, is proved by the Saxon view of Frankpledge, so ably demonstrated by that learned and venerable patriot, the late Granville Sharp, esq.; and that not only the Legislative Body, but every executive officer from the Tythingman to the Ealderman, or chief magistrate of a county, was elected by the respective hundreds annually assembled in the County Court. The learned Seldon also proves from Hovedon, that the Conqueror assembled a parliament in the year 1070, the fourth year of his reign, which was composed of twelve representatives returned out of every county : who confirmed the laws of Edward the Confessor, which the King bound himself to keep, but never adhered to his solemn engagement. The assembling of a parliament composed of four representatives from each county, in the 49th Henry III. was what Carew calls “throwing off the yoke of the Conqueror, and the redemption of the people from slavery.” It was the re-establishment of the ancient form of government which existed from the earliest times, but had been wrecked in the same tempest that had overturned the Saxon throne, and it is as absurd to suppose that we had no representative parliament antecedent to the forty-ninth of Henry III., as to assert that we had no king prior to the same period. The great authorities we have had recourse to, are supported by records, charters, and legal doouments which desy
contradiction, and establish the constitu
tion of parliaments on a basis not to be shaken. That the representation was equal, and the right of suffrage general, in the housekeepers paying taxes, or, as it is now termed, scot and lot, is proved from the statutes at large, and from the earliest history of every county, city, and borough, in the kingdom. The number of members in the Parliament summoned by the conqueror were twelve for each county, and four in that of the forty-ninth of Henry III. and the electors till the eighth year of Henry VI. were all those bearing scot and lot. Even freeholders of forty shillings per annum were never known as possessing exclusive rights of election, till the enactment of the famous disfranchising statute of that year. -The same right of election continues to this day in all those cities and boroughs, where it has not been altered by the acceptance of charters, establishing exclusive privileges, as it is retained in Westminster, Lewes, and many other places, or where they have not been deprived of it by resolutions of committees of the House of Commons, who have in general differed with each other in their determinations wherever this right has been disputed, and they have once departed from the ancient letter of the constitution, which says that laws, to bind all, must be assented to by all. ANCIENT BRITISH HISTORY. Although the history of the origin of most nations is in general enveloped with a mist of mythology, yet that of the ancient Britons has so much strong collateral evidence to adduce, as places certainty in the room of doubt, since the aera of Hu the Mighty, who led the first Cymri from Defrobani, called also Summerland, situate near the present site of Constantinople, “over the misty sea,” probably the German ocean, into Britain; this appears to have been from about eight hundred to a thousand years prior to the Christian aera, taking into consideration the progressive population of Europe. From their original proximity to Greece, many Greek words were adopted into the old British language ; many Grecian customs and public diversions Mox. MAG, No. 286.
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were in usage among the Britons, which were continued by the trade carried on from Cyprus to Cornwall, for tin. It appears, from Homer, that one of the chief glories of the Greeks was their genealogy. In this they were equalled by the ancient Britons, as the political rights of the people depended upon the authenticity of the family tree, and for the purity of which they are still rivalled by the modern Welch. The ancient Britons rivalled the Grecians in their hospitality to strangers. A great similarity reigned at the funcral games of both nations. There was no great difference between the wandering poets in Greece and the itinerant bards of Wales. Both people were equally lovers of dancing, running, wrestling, boxing, and pitching the discus. They entertained their reapers with music, which they used both at funerals and at weddings. Some of the most authentic lists of the descents of the supreme elders of Britain prove Caswallawn, or the Cassibelanus of Caesar, to be the seventh in line from Dyvnwal Moclimud. Those who have laid down canons of chronology, average thirty years for every descent, a generation. Thus fixing the time when he flourished at three hundred, and that of Pridain, his father, at three hundred and thirty years A. C. BRITISH PARLY AMENTS. No nation appears to have entertained a stronger sense of natural rights, even in the earliest times, than the Britons; for the Tryads state, as the three bases of society, privilege, (right,) property, and law. The three guards and protections of society are of life, (person,) possession, and dwelling, and the protection of natural right. When a Briton had attained to all his privileges, he was called Goresgynydd, or super-ascendant, that is, one having original possession or seissin, for he obtains possession of his land, or maintenance of five free acres, and his presentation and privilege of Pencemedyl, or head of a tribe as well as every other light belonging to a congenial Cymro. There were three privileged high seats, in the original British language, Gorsedds. The first was that of the bards; the second of a king or lord of a commonwealth, with his verdict-men, (jury,) and
of the nation: for ordering and strengthening right, protection, and defence of the country, and its particular interests, with respect to the loyal men of the commonwealth. For, without this convention, the other two Gorsedds could not have possessed either privilege or stability. This conventional voice of the nation originated from the sense, power, and general will to make, improve, and strengthen mutual law and judicature, in insuring rights and privileges, and the separate interests of all, whether foreign or Cymri, and was composed of princes, and heads of tribes, and the wise men of a country and border country. SAXON PARLIAMENTs.
Vortigern having invited Saxon auxiliaries to defend the kingdom against the depredations of the Scots and Picts, where they came to assist, they remained as conquerors. During a struggle of fifty years, the sword supplied the place of law. Conquest being completed, and becoming possessors of the lands, they thought of legislation to preserve to themselves their newly acquired property. Then was the word kilfr-y-then changed for the Saxon-British word wittena-gemote, formed, as some assert, of both languages, from the German wita—a wise man, and the British gemote, or comot, a council. Hence its compound implied a council of wise men, and the assembly of the people at large was called the mickle gemote. But it is with great reason to be presumed, that its origin is of much earlier date than that of the Saxons, as we find it exists still among the Persians and Tartars: as wuttum in their language implies patria, or native country Jemoyut, the assembly of, and moa-culjemoyut, the great assembly. And it is probable the Saxons found these words among the ancient British, and that they were in use in the country of Defrobani, prior to the arrival of Hu the Mighty with the first settlers.
Saron Parliaments—Universal Suffrage. 635
During the heptarchy, every kingdom ład its wittona-gemote, where laws were made for the use of each ; and when such were remarkably wise and good, the rest of the kingdoms received them as general laws. Such were those of Ethelbert, King of Kent, Ina of the west Saxons, and Offa of the Mercians; as this mode shortened much the work of legislature ; and, when Atholwerd became “Anglorum rew potentissimus,” the other kings of the Heptarchy sent some of their wittas to his wittena-gemote, when new laws were to be made. Alfred, with the consent of his witas in wittena-gemote, made his code of laws that was common to the whole nation, and enacted that a wittena-gemote should be held twice a year, and “ostener if need were.” Hence it is a matter of fact, that among the Anglo-Saxons collectively under one government, or in their separate kingdoms, there was a national council, called wittena-gemote, whose consent was requisite for enacting laws, levying taxes, and for ratifying the chief acts of public administration. The preambles to all the laws of Ethelbert, Ina, Alfred, Edward the elder, Athelstan, Edmund, Edgar, Ethelred, and Edward the Confessor; even those of Canute, though a kind of conqueror, put the matter beyond controversy, and carry proofs every where of a limited and legal government. Wilkins thus translates the preface to the laws of Fina :-Ego Ina occiduorum Saxonum rex, cum consilio et cum doctrina Cenredae patris mei, et Heddae episcopi mei, et Erkenwolda episcopi mei, et cum omnibus meis senatoribus et senioribus sapientibus populi mei et multa etiam societate ministrorum Dei, consultabam de salute anima nostrae, et de fundamento regni nostri et justae leges et justa statuta, per ditionem nostram stabilita et constituta essent, &c.”—“I, Ina, king of the west Saxons, with the advice of Cenrede my father, Hedds my bishop, and Erkenwold my bishop, with all my senators and oldest and wisest of my people, and many of the society of the ministers ofGod, did consult for the hea)th of our soul, and for the government of our kingdom, and just laws and statutes, were by our folk, established and appointed, &c.”—Hence
by “senioribus, sapientibus populi,” must be understood the deputies or representatives of the people. The Saxon constitution, therefore, required not only the presence, but the approbation of the people to enact laws. -
And it appears by the preamble to several Saxon laws, “I Alfred the king, gathered together, and commanded to be written, many laws of our forefathers, which pleased me ; and many of them, which pleased me not, I rejected, with my wittend-genote.” Hence it is apparent, and past all contradiction, that the people, in those ages, were an essential part of the legislative power, in making, altering, and ordaining laws, by which they and their posterity were to be governed, and that the law was then the rule which measured out and limited the prerogative of the prince, and the liberty of the subject.
It is demonstrated by no less an authority than Sir Edward Coke, that the term burgage-holder applied to every housekeeper in the kingdom who, as such, was entitled to vote for his representative in parliament : how this right has become confined to the proprietors of certain tenements, or small patches of land in rotten boroughs, as at present with Old Sarum, and other boroughs of the like description, is only for corruption itself to determine. For their ancient indisputable right of sending burgesses to parliament, proves their freedom as members of the community. Hence, in the borough of Southwark, and several others to this day, the renters of tenements and housekeepers in general are the electors; and in Westminster and other ancient cities, the same right, by burgage tenure, of voting for representatives, still prevails, because all cities were originally deemed boroughs, as being the habitation of free borges, or free pledges ; the associated housekeepers, who are mutually pledged to maintain the public peace, and defend and support the due execution of the laws. If this original right of voting were fully restored, and vested in all householders, or heads of families, who principally defray the exigeneies of the
state; even if the franchise descanded no
farther, it would be amply sufficient to destroy the present detestable corruption in the representation, or more properly, mock representation of the commons, and restore the ancient lustre of parliament. For then the numbers of deciners or householders in each county would be regularly known, and the advantage of the regularity of numbers would greatly facilitate the much to be desired and more equal representation of the people, if all deciners in each county were allowed to vote, as they should by constitutional right: for the junction of ten equal hundreds, composed of their deciners, associated, would form a proportionate division of a county, regular in numerical arrangement both of officers and other deciners, and would consequently facilitate the routine of public business. Two such divisions would be sufficient to send one deputy to the national council. Hence the present number of representatives would be lessened, and an equal representation of all the families in the kingdom obtained. So would order be preserved, and no person be allowed to vote but those who did actually reside in the place or county where the election is made, according to an ancient rule of the constitution, that election shall take place in every county by men dwelling and residing in the same county (in eodem comilatu commercentes et residentes ;) and also by an Act of Parliament still in force, of 1 Hen. V. c. 1. It is, therefore, an act of gross corruption, and repugnant to the principle of our ancient constitution, to bear the travelling expences of voters who dwell in distant places; such ought not to be suffered to vote at all, except on the spot where they reside ; by which not only much expence would be saved to the "candidates, but breaches of the public peace prevented.
- T'LAN OF REFORM.
The number of houses in Great Britain being, according to the house-tax, twelve hundred thousand, let these be divided into their ancient assemblies often, to be denominated after their original term of tythings; each electing annually their
conservator of the peace, or tythingman.
Let ten of these tithings form the hundred gourt, agreeable to ancient usage, and elect annually their constable of the
hundred. Ten of these hundreds, again, should form the court of the thousand, and elect annually their elderman ot magistrate, and two thousand should form the elective number to choose a representative for the parliament. This mode would insure a system of representation perfectly fair and equal, founded off the ancient practical constitution of the country, and might be effected in the following regular progression:— 1,200,000 housekeepers would eleet 120,000 tithing men 12,000 constables 1,200 magistrates 600 representatives. Should the plan for universal suffrage be adopted, the same system would be equally practicable, though on a more extended basis. The objection made by the opponents of reform, and those interested in the abuses existing under the present form of representation, on the ground of impracticability, are fully refuted by the actual existence of this system for so many centuries, till it was overturned by Norman violence. To correct the abuses of our constitution, and restore its ancient purity and splendor, we need only advert to its original principles; especially as certain towns return their members to parliament from this ancient and prescriptible right, which the corruption of succeeding times has neither been able to obliterate or alienate. LEW-ES. The borough of Lewes, in Sussex, is a monument of Saxon right, not mutilated by resolutions of election-committees or royal charters. It has sent members to parliament, by right of preseription, from the earliest period to the present time, without intermission, having never accepted a charter, or grant of enfranchisement, from any king whatever. The right of voting is in the housekeepers, and the returning officers are the constables, agreeable to the Saxon eonstitution ; this prescriptive right the borough claims from the reign of King Athelstan; and in the time of Edward the Confessor, it had one hundred and twenty-seveh burgesses. This also further proves, as this town never had a corporation, that the term “burgess,” must ever have been understood to denominate a householder, as no other description of burgesses was ever created or obtained existence in this free borough. cRomwell's PARLIAMENT. He deprived all the small boroughs of the right of election, places the most exposed to influence and corruption. Of four hundred members, which represented England, two hundred and seventy were chosen by the counties. The remainder were elected by London, and other considerable corporations. The lower populace, were excluded from the elections, and an estate of two hundred pounds value was necessary to entitle any one to vote. The elections of the parliament of September, 1654, were conducted with perfect freedom, and, excepting the exclusions of those who with their sons had carried arms against the parliament, a more fair representation of the people could not be desired or expected. Thirty members were returned for ireland: as many from Scotland. The SEPTENNIAL ACT. The ministry, probably resenting the general discontent and disaffection of the people to a government which hid from its own eyes the desire of vengeance, by which it was actuated, under the veil of patriotism and loyalty, now found, or imagined, the necessity of adopting a measure for the preservation of public safety, which has ever been considered as the highest and most unconstitutional exertion of parliamentary authority attempted since the aera of the revolution. And if we except the Act of Henry the Eighth, declaring the proclamations of the crown equal in validity to acts of parliament, and the Perpetuity Act of Charles the First, it may not be too much to affirm, since the first existence of parliaments. This was no other than the introduction of the Septennial Bill in this session, by which parliament not only assumed a power of prolonging the duration of suture parliaments, but even its own ; and being elected by the nation for three years, they continued themselves for four years longer. The right of electing representatives in parliament is inviolately inherent in the people, and can never be thought to be delegated to the repre'sentatives, unless the elected becomes the elector, and at the same time sup
Cromwell's Parliament.—The Septennial Act. 637
posing it to be the will of the people that their representatives should have it in their power to destroy those who made them, whenever a ministry shall think it necessary to screen themselves from their just resentment. This, as a member of those days contended, would be to destroy the fence of all their freedom; for, if we have a right to continue ourselves one year, month, or day, beyond out triennial term, it will unavoidably follow, we have it in our gower to make ourselves perpetual : to say that the passing this bill is not to grasp to ourselves the right of election, but only to enlarge the time of calling new parliaments, is a manifest fallacy; for, whenever our three years are expired, we can no longer be said to exist by the choice of the people, but by our own appointments. The bill, which originated in the house of peers, and was brought in by the Duke of Devonshire, was opposed with great energy by several noblemen. A long parliament, it was affirmed, would encourage every species of corruption in every class of the community; that the value of a seat would bear a determinate proportion to the legal duration of parliaments, and the purchase would, rise accordingly ; that a long parliament would both enhance the temptations, and multiply the opportunities, of a vicious ministry, to undermine the integrity and independency of parliaments, far beyond what could occur if they were short and frequent ; that the reasous urged for prolonging the duration of the parliament to seven years would be probably as strong, and, by perseverance in the same impolitic conduct, might be made stronger before that term, for continuing, and even perpetuating, their legislative power. The bill, when transmitted to the Commons, had still to encounter greater opposition. It was justly observed by Mr. Shippen, that the manner in which the bill was introduced, was, in itself, a sufficient reason for its rejection. It was sent from the lords, and as it related merely to themselves, he apprehended it to be inconsistent with their honour to receive it. Their predecessors had shewn a determination to resist all attempts to innovate on their privileges, and shall this glorious House of Commons submit to model themselves at the pleasure of