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Chapter XXVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 5


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There were many public meetings held in England to sustain the claim of the Irish to equal rights as to municipal government. In Ireland, too, the subject caused a general revival of agitation.

But, notwithstanding the hopes which might have been fairly entertained that the measure of reform would have been rendered complete throughout the kingdom, a considerable time elapsed before its benefits were extended to the sister country; and a large amount of persevering exertion was required before a measure for the purpose was carried through parliament, although its necessity was unquestionable. This arose from certain difficulties which it was not found easy to overcome, so as to meet the views, or, at least, to secure the acquiescence, of the various parties in the house. And hence it happened that it was not until 1840 that an act was passed for the regulation of municipal corporations in Ireland, after repeated struggles which had to be renewed from year to year, and the question was at length only settled by a sort of compromise. On the 7th of February, 1837, Lord John Russell moved for leave to bring in the Irish municipal bill, which was passed by a majority of 55; but the consideration of it was adjourned in the peers till it was seen what course ministers were to adopt with regard to the Irish Tithe Bill. Early in 1838 the bill was again introduced, when Sir Robert Peel, admitting the principle by not opposing the second reading, moved that the qualification should be 10. The motion was lost, but a similar one was made in the upper house, and carried by a majority of 60. Other alterations were made, which induced lord John Russell to relinquish his efforts for another year. In 1839 he resumed his task, and the second reading was carried by a majority of 26. Once more, Sir Robert Peel proposed the 10 qualification for the franchise, which was rejected in the commons, but adopted in the lords by nearly the same majorities as before. Thus baffled again, the noble lord gave up the measure for the session. In February, 1840, the bill was introduced by lord Morpeth with a qualification of 8. Sir Robert Peel now admitted that a settlement of the question was indispensable. With his support the bill passed the commons by a majority of 148. It also passed the lords, and on the 18th of August received the royal assent.

The existing corporations were placed in schedules. Schedule A contained the following ten places - Dublin, Belfast, Clonmel, Cork, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Limerick, Londonderry, Sligo, and Waterford - which were all continued as corporations under the title of mayor, aldermen, and burgesses. In Dublin, the title of lord mayor was retained. Schedule B contained 37 places, which were classed in two divisions, according to the amount of property they possessed. These were all dissolved, but the act provided that any of them which had a population of 3,000 might obtain a charter of incorporation, similar to the charters possessed by the ten boroughs in Schedule A. In some of the others, town commissioners had been established under George IY.; and in other towns, large enough to require such a body, similar arrangements were made for lighting, cleaning, and other such purposes. In 1853 commissioners were appointed under this act in 55 towns; but another statute, the Towns Improvement Act, was passed in 1854, which supersedes the operation of the act of George IV. in each town, after the first election of commissioners under the new act. The number of parliamentary boroughs is 33, which contain about 30,000 electors.

Fortunately, municipal reform in Scotland did not give much trouble. It was accomplished almost without any discussion or party contention. It was based upon the provisions of the Scotch reform bill, which settled the whole matter by the simple rule that the parliamentary, electors of every burgh should be the municipal electors; also that the larger burghs should be divided into wards, each of which should send two representatives to the town council, chosen by the qualified electors within their respective bounds; and that the provost and bailies, corresponding to the English mayor and aldermen, should be chosen by the councillors, and invested with the powers of magistrates in the burgh. The functionaries were to be elected for three years, and then to make way for others elected in the same manner to succeed them. They were invested with the control and administration of all corporate property and patronage of every description. " The experience of the working of this change," writes Sir Archibald Alison, " has yet been too short to admit of any safe conclusion being drawn as to its ultimate effects; but hitherto at least it has not promised much in the shape of real amendment. The old close system has been effectually abolished, and the political influence of the town councils, which was always considerable, often great, has been entirely thrown into the liberal scale; but beyond this, no material change for the better has taken place in the administration of the burgh affairs. The debates at the council boards of the great towns have been too often scenes of unseemly contention; the ambition of newly acquired power has evinced all the restlessness and grasping disposition which so often accompany it; many old abuses have stopped, but many new ones have been introduced. It was soon discovered that the vesting power in several thousand electors did not terminate the sway of cliques, but only caused them to be composed of different persons; and such were the sums often wasted in unprofitable litigation and legislation, that men came to regret the good old times, when a small part of the amount was squandered on the comparatively innocuous system of eating and drinking."

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Pictures for Chapter XXVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 5

Riot at Hawick.
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Lord Mulgrave
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