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WHEN representatives are being elected,
every Briton, who is an elector, becomes actually
a member of the government. The voice
of the people is our supreme law, but the
people (except, in these latter days, through
the press), speaks with authority only when
it determines to give power to the opinions it
holds, by giving legislative power to the men
who also hold them. Against the power of
the people there has always foughtin the
beginning very vigorously, now rather faintly
the power of great lords and men of state;
and there has fought also, until the accession
of our present Queen, with more or less of
activity, the power of the throne. The
development of journalism haswithin the
last thirty or forty yearsbeen of a kind to
make of it, in good truth, an opening for ever
of the dumb lips of the people. The limitation
of the time for polling, and the other
good provisions made by the Reform Bill,
have undoubtedly taken away the bitterness
that raged of old in an election contest. A
more powerful cause for the change that has
come over our election times is, however, to
be found in the enlarged sphere of action
and the improved tone taken by the public
press. Through the press, the nation makes
its voice heard daily; through the press it
compels attention daily to its wants and
claims. It is no longer at election time alone
that strength is tried between the Many and
the Few. An election contest does not mean
what it meant fifty years ago, and that is
the chief reason why elections in these days
are not the virulent struggles that they used
to be.

Three hundred years ago the despotic
principle so far preponderated in the state, that
the court managed elections very nearly as
it pleased. A hundred years agoand, indeed,
more recentlythe despotic tendencies in
our government were waging equal battle
with the powers of the people, and a
contested election, more especially in Westminster
where court, government, and people were all
personally brought into collisionwas, when
it ended in a popular triumph, a great
historical event.

Of the election of Sir Francis Burdett,
Lord Brougham wrote, when apologising
for his absence from the ninth anniversary
dinner held in commemoration of it, that it
was "a triumph which I really consider as
the most important to the interests of the
constitution of any that has ever been gained
under the present law of elections." In our day,
however, the popular element in the constitution
is distinctly uppermost. In a few boroughs,
where government influence is strong, that
influence is improperly exerted, but it is
exerted no longer with any thought of
combating the power of the people, and for what
quarrel may be still raised on that issue
the ground has, by the growth and emancipation
of the press, been so much widened
that we are almost betrayed into the mistake
of underrating the importance of the act of
appointing representatives.

Henry the Eighth managed with but little
difficulty, to assert through his ministers, his
own power against that of the people in
election time. Thus we find, in his day, Sir
Robert Sadler, candidate for the representation
of Oxford, writing that the Duke of
Norfolk had spoken to the King, who was
content that he should be burgess for Oxford,
and said that he should order himself according
to such instructions as the said Duke of
Norfolk should give him from the King.
The ministers of Queen Elizabeth could
overrule with equal ease the franchise of the
people. She filled the house of representatives
with placemen, civilians, and common
lawyers seeking preferment. For example,
in the case of an election for Surrey, Lord
Burleigh is found directing the sheriff to
make no return without instructions from
himself, and ordering him afterwards to
expunge the name of Francis Bacon, returned
for another place, and substitute the name of
Edward Brown.

Constituencies were created subject to the
crown. At the accession of Edward the
Sixth, five towns in Cornwall made returns.
At the death of Elizabeth the number of
Cornish places, most of them wretched hamlets,
which sent members to Parliament, was
raised to twenty-one; Cornwall having been
thus favoured because the county was
entirely in the power of the crown, by reason
of the indefinite and oppressive jurisdiction
of the Stannary court.

The history of the great constitutional