OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Chapter XXVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 4

Pages: 1 2 3 <4> 5

The mayor is elected from the councillors, and if any one so elected does not choose to serve, he must pay a fine of 100. His qualification is the same as that of a councillor, and if he acts without being duly qualified he is liable to a fine of 50. He presides at the meetings in council, and has precedence in all places within the borough. He revises with his assessors the lists of the constituency, which he must sign in open court. He also presides at the election of councillors. During his year of office he is magistrate for the borough, and also during the succeeding year, and is the returning officer at the election of members of parliament. The aldermen constitute one- third of the number of councillors. They are ineligible for the offices of coroner or recorder, and are exempted from serving on juries. They hold office six years, one-half going out every three years. The town-clerk acts in obedience to the directions of the council. His duties are, besides preserving minutes of the transactions, to make out the freemen's roll, the burgess list, and the ward lists. He is responsible for the safe keeping of all charter deeds and records, and is subject to various fines in case of neglect of duty. The treasurer is appointed by the council, of which he must not be a member, and he must give security for the proper discharge of his duties. He is bound to keep accounts of all receipts and disbursements, which are to be open to the inspection of the members of the council. He is to pay no money except by order in writing, and is to submit his accounts, with vouchers, half-yearly. This is the list of officers necessarily existing under the Municipal Act, 4 and 5 Wm. IV., c. 76. All advowsons, rights of presentation, or nomination to any benefice or ecclesiastical preferment in the gift of the corporate body, were required to be sold under the direction of the ecclesiastical commissioners, the proceeds to be vested in government securities, and the annual interest carried to the account of the borough fund. The management of charitable trust funds was also taken from the corporations, and placed in the hands of trustees appointed by the lord chancellor.

The need of corporate reform in Ireland was even greater than in England. Corporations were early planted in that country by the English government, as subsidiary institutions connected with the English constitution, which was established at first within the pale, and gradually extended to the whole country, as it became subject to the English power. But whatever independence the Irish corporations may have had originally, it was destroyed by James I., in consequence of the refractory spirit manifested by the municipal bodies in connection with the Reformation, or rather, the supremacy of the crown in matters of religion. He sent his agents through the provinces for the purpose of enforcing the statutes upon this subject, and requiring the regular use of the Book of Common Prayer. Wherever the mayors and other municipal officers did not submit to the king's authority, they were summoned before the royal commissioners, and not only deposed from their offices, but subjected to imprisonment and to heavy fines, for the payment of which their goods were sold by auction in the streets. Pliant tools of the king were substituted in their places. These persons signed away the old constitutional liberties of the towns, delivered up the old charters, and took out new ones. These new charters nominated the mayor, sheriff, recorder, and in many instances, the members of the council, which in no case fairly represented the inhabitants. In this way, by a stroke of arbitrary power, the Irish towns were deprived of their constitutional rights and liberties which they had enjoyed for four hundred years, and this spoliation was inflicted upon them in the name of the protestant religion. This was one of the causes of the little progress that religion made in the country for ages. It appeared to the people in unnatural association with lawless tyranny, high-handed oppression, insolent exclusiveness, and iniquitous monopoly. It was next to impossible that the Reformation could gain any ground, or that the established religion could exert any salutary moral influence, while associated with a system which involved such a flagrant violation of civil rights.

The system, however, was somewhat mitigated by what were called the "new rules" issued by the lord lieutenant in council in the year 1672, with the design of encouraging the trade of the towns, which provided that all resident' foreigners, strangers, and aliens, being merchants, or skilled in any mystery, craft, or trade, were entitled to their freedom; but they could not, except by special dispensation, fill the higher municipal offices. After the revolution of 1688, these relaxations were wholly disregarded, and a system of rigid exclusiveness towards Roman catholics everywhere prevailed. In some of the corporate towns no Roman catholics would be suffered to reside within the walls, nor would they be permitted to exercise any handicraft or trade for which a regular apprenticeship was served. The making of an inferior class of shoes, or " brogues," was the highest attainment in industrial art permitted to this helot race during those times of unmitigated protestant ascendancy.

The Irish corporations were included in the inquiry, which commenced in 1833. The Irish commissioners took for their local investigations the one hundred and seventeen places which had sent representatives to the Irish parliament. They found everywhere the grossest abuses. By an act of George II., residence had been dispensed with as a qualification for corporate offices. The effect of this was to deprive a large number of them of a resident governing body. In some cases a few, very rarely a majority, of the municipal council were inhabitants of the town. In others, the whole chartered body of burgesses were non-resident, and they attended as a mere matter of form, to go through the farce of electing members of parliament, or for the purpose of disposing of the corporate property. In some boroughs the charter gave the nomination of a member of parliament to the lord of the manor or Come local proprietor. In others the power of returning the parliamentary representative was vested in a small self- elected body of freemen; almost invariably the power of nomination was actually possessed by the gentleman known as the " patron " or "proprietor," who could dispose of the seat as he thought proper, and if not reserved for himself or some member of his family, it was sold for the highest price it would bring in the market - treated in every respect as absolute property, which was transmitted, like the family estate, from father to son. This property was fully recognised at the Union, and it was by buying it up at an exceedingly liberal price that lord Castlereagh was enabled to carry that measure. By the act of union, a large number of those rotten corporations, some of which had not even a hamlet to represent, were swept away. But a considerable number remained, and of these the commissioners of inquiry remarked: - "This system deserves peculiar notice in reference to your majesty's Roman catholic subjects. In the close boroughs they are almost universally excluded from all corporate privileges. In the more considerable towns, they have rarely been admitted even as freemen, and, with few exceptions, they are altogether excluded from the governing bodies. In some - and among these is the most important corporation in Ireland, that of Dublin - their admission is still resisted on avowed principles of sectarian distinction. The exclusive spirit operates far more widely and more mischievously than by the mere denial of equal privileges to persons possessing perfect equality of civil worth; for in places where the great mass of the population is Roman catholic - and persons of that persuasion are for all efficient purposes excluded from corporate privileges - the necessary result is that the municipal magistracy belongs entirely to > the other religious persuasions; and the dispensation of local justice, and the selection of juries being committed to the members of one class exclusively, it is not surprising that such administration of the law should be regarded with distrust and suspicion by the other and more numerous body." The commissioners affirmed that the corporations provided no means by which the property, interests, and wishes of the local community might be fairly represented. The corporations had interests, not only distinct from those of the people, but directly adverse. In by far the greater number of the close corporations the persons composing them were merely the nominees of the patron. Those bodies were, therefore, of no service to the community, and even where the abuses were least, they were insufficient and inadequate for the purposes and ends of such institutions. The public distrust in them attached to all their officers and nominees, and the result was a failure of respect and confidence regarding the ministers of justice and the police.

In pursuance of this report, Mr. O'Loughlin, the Irish attorney-general, introduced a bill, early in the session of 1836, for the better regulation of Irish corporations. There still remained, he said, 71 corporations, which included within their territories a population of 900,000, while the number of corporators was only 13,000. Of these, no less than 8,000 were to be found in four of the larger boroughs, leaving only 5,000 corporators for the remaining 67 corporations, containing above 500,000 inhabitants. So exclusive had they been, that, though, since 1792, Roman catholics were eligible as members, not more than 200 had ever been admitted. In Dublin the principle of exclusion was extended to the great majority of protestants of wealth, respectability, and intelligence. In a word, the attorney-general said that the management of corporations, and the administration of justice in their hands, was nothing but a tissue of injustice, partisanship, and corruption. He concluded by laying down a plan of reform which would assimilate the Irish corporations to those of England. " There is only one way," he said, "in which it is possible to pacify Ireland, and that is to promote a real union, through an amelioration of her institutions - by treating her fairly - by giving her equal privileges and equal rights with England. Deny her that, and the union is at an end." On the part of the conservatives, it was admitted that the greater part of the corporations in Ireland were created by James I., avowedly as guardians of the protestant interests, and to favour the spread of the protestant religion; and that ancient and venerable system this bill would annihilate - a revolution against which they solemnly protested, even though it covered many abuses which had crept into it during the lapse of time. They were quite appalled at the prospect of the evils that this bill would produce. Borough magistrates were to be elected by popular suffrage.

What a source of discord and animosity! First, there would be the registration of the voters, then the election of the town councillors, and then the election of the mayor, aldermen, and town clerks. What a scene would such a state of things present! How truly was it said that the boroughs would be the normal schools of agitation! Then what was to become of the corporate property, which yielded an income of 61,000, while the expenditure was only 57,000, and the debt charged on it only 133,000? Was all this property to be placed under the control of the priests, whose influence would determine the elections?

The second reading of the bill was not opposed, but lord Francis Egerton, with Sir R. Peel's concurrence, moved that the committee should be empowered to make provision for the abolition of corporations in Ireland, and for securing the efficient and impartial administration of justice, and the peace and good government of the cities and towns in that country. The tories thought it better that there should be no corporations at all, than that their privileges should be enjoyed by the Roman catholics. The motion was lost by a majority of 307 to 64, and the bill ultimately passed the lower house by a majority of 61. In the upper house a motion similar to that of lord Francis Egerton was moved by lord Fitzgerald, and carried in a full house by a majority of 84. Other amendments were carried, and it was sent back to the commons so changed that it was difficult to trace its identity. Lord John Russell said that it contained little or nothing of what was sent up: out of 140 clauses, 106 had been omitted or altered, and 18 new ones introduced. He moved that the amendments of the lords be rejected, and that the bill be sent back to the upper house. The motion was carried by a majority of 66, the numbers being 324 to 258. But the lords refused by a majority of 99 to undo their work; and upon the bill being returned to the lower house in the same state, lord John Russell got rid of the difficulty by moving that the bill should be considered that day three months. There was some powerful speaking in the house of commons during these debates. Lord Stanley, Mr. O'Connell, and Mr. Sheil especially distinguished themselves by their oratory. Sir Robert Peel paid a generous tribute to the talents of the latter gentleman, saying, "His talents and his eloquence invest all he utters with the charm of a powerful character, and Ireland should be justly proud of his genius." Lord Lyndhurst's speech in the upper house was also a great effort, the noble lord having been roused to put forth all his powers by attacks made upon him by lord John Russell. Mr. O'Connell, and Mr. Sheil, whom he assailed with great bitterness. The venerable lord Grey came out from his retirement, and made his appearance in the house in the hope of dissuading the lords from their purpose of defeating the Irish Corporation Reform Bill, but in vain, though not even in 1831 was there a more angry collision between the two houses. Never before, indeed, did the peers show such determination. The desire to exclude the Irish from the benefit of municipal institutions excited a strong feeling against the house of lords, not only in that country, but throughout England and Scotland. Although their object was to lessen the power of O'Connell, their conduct had the effect of making him extremely popular in England. From all quarters he was receiving testimonials of sympathy, and he got many invitations to public dinners. In Nottingham, in particular, he met with an enthusiastic welcome, although the tories had put out a placard to the effect that he had traduced the women of England. He denounced this assertion as a lie, " the worst sort of a lie, a tory lie." The ladies of Nottingham presented Mrs. O'Connell on this occasion with a lace veil of the most superb character the manufacturers of that town could produce, as a testimony of their estimation of her husband's services in the cause of Ireland, and of admiration of the domestic support and zealous encouragement which she had always given him in his political career, especially in periods of the greatest trial.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 <4> 5

Pictures for Chapter XXVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 4

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About