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Speeches of Henry Lord Brougham, Upon Questions Relating to Public Rights, Duties, and Interests, Vol. 2 of 2

Speeches of Henry Lord Brougham, Upon Questions Relating to Public Rights, Duties, and Interests, Vol. 2 of 2

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Excerpt from Speeches of Henry Lord Brougham, Upon Questions Relating to Public Rights, Duties, and Interests, Vol. 2 of 2: With Historical Introductions

By the lapse of time great changes had been effected in the original structure. Of the representation, and changes far greater in the structure of the communlty represented. That which had originally been regarded as a burden from which all were anxious to escape, had become a benefit and an honour which every one was solicitous to obtain. The classes who had first monopolized the representation of the property and population of the country, no longer alone retained this distinction, other classes, formerly scarcely existing, having grown up to in?uence and power. The kind of property which alone, in the early period of our history, had any exis tence, the land, and which alone could in those days be represented, either by conferring the right to vote, or by giving the title to sit, was now rivalled in impor tance by masses of other kinds of wealth formerly unknown, and justly claiming equal regard. The coporate cities and towns, which anciently were governed by the voices of their citizens at large, had become new-modelled by usurpation, which the courts of law sanctioned under the apprehension that popular election must be attended with danger to the public peace; and the whole administration of their municipal affairs being now entrusted to small bodies, generally self-elected, these too engrossed the right of returning to parliament their representatives, who had originally been chosen by the people at large. But the greatest changes of all were in the electoral bodies. Towns formerly of importance had, in the course of time, decayed into insignificance; nay, some populous and wealthy places had become desolate and uninhabited, while all alike retained the privilege of being represented in parliament. So that instead of the people of those places being represented, the remains of ruined houses alone sent members to the legislature to consult circa ardua At the same time, mere hamlets had grown into towns of vast importance; and on land once desert, or the site of a few straggling huts, cities had grown up of prodigious extent, numbering thousands and tens of thousands of inhabitants, and containing within their bounds half the opulence and industry of the country. Yet all these continued unrepresented in Parliament, as if they were still desolate regions, while the right to vote was continued to those other places which had become the scenes of solitude and decay. Finally, there had taken place a general improvement in the knowledge and capacity of the people, by the progress of refinement; and all classes of the community had become both capable of exercising political rights and desirous of enjoying them, instead of being for the most part, so little solicitous upon the subject of public affairs, that they were as well pleased to have their representatives named for them by those who better understood such matters, as to interfere in the choice themselves.

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