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collecting the king's taxes due from the borough. As might have been anticipated, this was often made the cause or pretence of great oppression, and, in order to get rid of it, many towns offered to pay a larger sum than had previously been exacted from them, on condition that they might elect their own chief magistrate and assess themselves. These offers were too tempting to be resisted by sovereigns who were often sorely in want of money, and the towns were thus allowed to re-purchase the right which they had possessed in Saxon times. The elected officer was sometimes called by the old name of port-reeve; but he was more generally known as the mayor. At this time the merchant guilds who afterwards assumed so large a share in the government of many, perhaps of most municipal corporations, had no connection with the constitution of the boroughs. Down to the reign of Henry VI., the right of burgessship, and, after the boroughs were represented in Parliament, the right of voting for Parliamentary representatives continued to be vested in the whole body of resident inhabitant householders, being freemen, paying scot and bearing lot, and doing suit and service in the court-leet of the town or city.
Notwithstanding the slight interference of the Conqueror and his immediate successors with the local institutions of the subjugated country, the introduction of the feudal systems of the continent gradually but surely obliterated the free peasantry, and transferred their independent jurisdictions to the Lords of the Manors. The principal towns were reserved to the Crown, and were known as “Royal boroughs' “boroughs of ancient demesne"; the inhabitants held their town at fee-farm, undisturbed by the king's officers, and continued, with few exceptions, in possession of their ancient freedoms. The earliest charters were, invariably, simple confirmations of old customs and liberties; special immunities were sometimes conferred, but they were chiefly such as regarded the burgesses in their external relations. What the inhabitants mainly secured in their contracts with the king, in addition to their primary privileges was--freedom from servile duties; free trade and exemption from toll in every part of the king's dominions; that all the land within their limits should be the property of the community- such as was not already occupied by tenements to form common land, of which portions might be saved for building, &c., to the profit of the community and the improvement of the town; that the burgesses should answer to the king for his ferm by their own appointed chief officer; that the profits arising from fines, &c., in the borough courts,
should be applied to the conmon benefit of the townsmen; and that they should be untrammelled in their choice of a mayor, bailiff, or port-reeve. These were the examples of municipal enfranchisement usually cited by the barons in their charters to the smaller towns which they held in fief from the king or those which sprang up under the walls of their castles. The extinction of feudalism eventually brought these baronial boroughs under the direct authority of the Crown.
In the reign of Henry VI., a process was commenced which gradually transferred the power from the hands of the burgesses generally to various exclusive bodies within the boroughs, and ultimately produced the gravest and most intolerable abuses, which were not swept away until the year 1835. In the year 1439 the first charter of incorporation to a municipal body was granted to Kingston-upon-Hull. Incorporations did not, however, immediately become general, for this charter is followed by others upon the roll which are not of that kind. It is not, indeed, surprising that there was some disinclination on the part of the towns to receive charters of incorporation, because proof is extant that, even at this time, the corporate bodies which then existed had began to abuse the powers given to them, and to make usurpations upon the rights of the people. To take a single instance of the spirit which was at work: In 1467 it was found that the companies and liveries of London had been making encroachments upon the privileges of the householders in the wardmotes to such an extent that it was necessary for Farliament to interfere for the protection of the people. And upon the Parliament roll for the same year there is a petition praying for the dissolution of the tailors' guild at Exeter, on the ground that they set the authority of the mayor at defiance, and threatened to reduce the town to a state of anarchy. But although the boroughs showed but slight desire for incorporation, the courts of law were determined to thrust it upon them. In 1466 the Court of Common Pleas laid the foundation of a doctrine from which important results subsequently flowed—that of the creation of corporations by inference or implication-by holding that, “ If the king gave land in fee-farm to the good men of the town of Dale, the corporation was good. And so likewise when it was given to the burgesses, citizens, and commonalty, &c.” The principle of this decision was afterwards extended, and the charters of our early kings, which merely conferred the right of local self-government upon boroughs, were then construed as charters of incorporation, with very mischievous consequences, as was thereafter seen.
The increasing importance of the House of Commons under the Tudor sovereigns made these princes exceedingly anxious to establish an ascendancy in that assembly. The first mode adopted was to issue writs for the return of members of Parliament to small or decayed towns in which the king or some of his courtiers could exercise a commanding influence. This course was taken to some extent by Henry VIII., and to a much greater extent by Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth ; but the House of Commons at last intervened, and succeeded in putting a stop to these arbitrary and fraudulent enfranchisements of dependent boroughs. The Crown then resorted to another device. As there was no doubt that the right of election belonged to the burgesses, it was clear that if the general body of inhabitant householders could be deprived of their privileges, and if these could be handed over to some select knot who would be under the dictation of the Crown or of some great men in the neighbourhood, the end in view would be obtained as effectually as by the creation of new nomination boroughs. Accordingly, new charters were granted to a number of boroughs. In these the doctrine of the existence of corporations by implication was expanded into that of corporations by prescription. It was falsely recited that they had been incorporated from time immemorial, and under this pretext, and under that of confirming ancient usage, the right of burgessship was either limited to a select and self-electing body, or was extended-and this was quite as mischievous—to non-residents, who were admitted by the governing bodies of the boroughs to the freedom of the town. At the same time—in the reign of Queen Elizabeth—the judges by their decision in the celebrated Corporations case with respect to the validity of electors and as to the binding effect of bye-laws made by select bodies in the corporations, laid the foundation for further and, as the result proved, almost indefinite encroachment upon the rights of the burgesses. Stating the matter broadly, it may be said that the effect of these innovations was to deprive the municipalities of their character of local institutions, and to subject them in their character of corporations—the creatures of the law—to the manipulation of judges who were, at this period and during the reigns of the Stuarts bitterly hostile to popular rights and equally bent upon extending in every way the influence of the Crown. It is true that in the reign of James I. an effort was made to check a process by which the right of burgessship, and consequently the right to the franchise, was being gradually involved in inextricable confusion. The famous election committee, presided over by Serjeant Glanville, decided “ that of common right the burgesses were the inhabitant householders, resident, paying scot and lot;" but this decision was lost sight of, or, at any rate, it was never acted upon in the revolutionary times which followed; and, after the Restoration, during the reigns of Charles II. and James II., the process of remodelling the corporations was resumed and prosecuted with augmented vigour. In the words of the learned writers already quoted (and who are entitled to the merit of being the first to place the history of English municipal incorporations on a sound basis)
“The interference in the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. by charters of the Crown -the decisions of the courts, and the acquiescence of the people--had merged all the borough privileges and jurisdictions in the general notion of corporations ; and as by these means all their rights were brought under the influence and control of the Crown, the subsequent attack upon them was made comparatively easy. On the Restoration the statute passed for the correction of the corporations afforded ready means for that attack, and a pretext for every species of usurpation. Extensive use was made of the opportunity; the old members and officers of the corporations were displaced ; ministers of the Crown, officers of state, and non-residents were substituted; and from the proceedings upon the statute it is obvious that no corporation had any chance of continuing its existence but by a submissive compliance with the wishes of the king. After the success of the London quo warranto, the king sent his officers into all parts of the kingdom to terrify the corporations by the threats of similar legal proceedings to give up their charters. The greater portion of them voluntarily surrendered them through the agency of the select bodies, on the promise of having new grants from the Crown; against those who were refractory proceedings were instituted. So that at this time the borough rights, which by general misconception and practice had been assumed to be identified with the corporations, were by the acts of the corporations and the surrender or seizure of the corporations submitted entirely to the mercy of the Crown.”
There is no doubt that his dealings with the corporations contributed in no slight degree to the downfall of James II. But, although William III. did not imitate his predecessors, he did nothing to correct the abuses which had grown up under them. Indeed, during his reign and those of his successors, much was done to perpetuate and to extend those abuses —not, indeed, by the king, whose interference with corporate rights and privileges ceased with the Revolution of 1688, but by the House of Commons and the courte of law. Again quoting the before-mentioned authority, we find
“The first (Parliament) in the reign of William III. passed the Act compelling the sheriff's to make the return from the elections according to the rights which had last been determined by the House of Commons, by which means the varying and anomalous usages of the different boroughs and the contradictory decisions of committees were sanctioned and confirmed. The House of Commons also—by its resolution-supported the former decisions, however irreconcilable with the charters or the principles of our institutions; and in some instances under the general name of “burgesses" introduced new varieties, according to the agreement of parties or the absurd usages of places that were brought before them. The courts of law relied upon the few early cases to which we have referred, and the extra-judicial opinions in the reigns of Elizabeth and James; and they fell into the same course which the House of Commons and the Legislature had taken, adopting the same rules, by which they avoided a discrepancy which might have existed injurious to the character of both, as well as detrimental to the people. The courts, therefore, upheld the same principles, supported usage, maintained the select bodies, sanctioned the non-residents, confirmed numerous bye-laws not in accordance with the charters or with each other, but giving a different constitution to every different borough, and as the greatest and worst innovation of all, gave the stamp of judicial authority to the doctrine of the arbitrary admission of burgesses by the corporations, a principle which had not before been expressly sanctioned by legal decisions. During the reigns of Queen Anne, George I., II., III., and IV., the abuses to which we have referred were fully maintained. Select bodies, common councils, their byelaws, and non-residents were supported. Freemen were substituted for burgesses,' and the latter name was applied to burgage-tenants, freeholders, pot-wallers, and inhabitants without any other qualification. The court-leet was neglected, its proceedings disregarded or misapplied. Instead of them, courts baron were brought into a prominent situation in the municipal government of boroughs, for which they were never intended. Trade, and the companies and liveries connected with it, particularly in London, were more interwoven with the rights of burgessship than the original constitution of boroughs would justify; and the unrestrained admission of freemen as burgesses, which was declared to be lawful, laid all the municipal privileges and jurisdiction at the feet of those of whatever party who happen to possess the influence necessary to secure the admission of their friends. Hence in some places a sufficient number of non-resident honorary freemen were admitted to overawe or neutralise the votes of the real burgesses; making in this manner the important functions of the separate exclusive jurisdictions of boroughs not the means of local government, as they were intended to be, but the tools of party violence and private intrigue."
The general result of these innovations—for so they may be justly described – was that the municipal corporations were, for the most part, in the hands of narrow and self-elected cliques, who administered local affairs for their own advantage, rather than for that of the borough; that the inhabitants were practically deprived of all power of local self-government, and were ruled by those whom they had not chosen, and in whom they had no confidence ; that the corporate funds were wasted ; that the interests and the improvements of towns were not cared for; that the local courts were too often corrupted by party influence, and failed to render impartial justice; and that municipal institutions, instead of strengthening and supporting the political framework of the country, were a source of weakness and a fertile cause of discontent.
Such was the condition of the English municipalities until the year 1835, when Parliament in passing the Act 5 & 6 William IV., c. 76, restored to the inhabitants of the boroughs those rights which their remote ancestors had enjoyed, but of which they had been deprived by a long series of usurpations.
Between the 9th of September, 1835 (the date of the passing of