Page:Ruffhead - The Statutes at Large, 1763.djvu/13

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ix
PREFACE.

bore no inconſiderable Share in the Administration of Government ; as many have, with good Reaſon, contended[1]

We may nevertheleſs venture to conclude, that the Authority of the Commons, however conſtitutionally extenſive in Point of Right [2] ſoon became very inconſiderable in Effect:. We may indeed judge of the Weakneſs of their Influence, by attending to the unequal Balance of Property among the Saxons ; which is , perhaps, one of the ſureft Rules to determine the refpeftive Powers of the different Orders of

the Conſtitution[3] And indeed it appears to have been ſo ſmall, that it is no won-

  1. theſe yearly Meetings likewiſe, they conſulted for the common Safety about Peace and War, and to promote the Public Good. Beſides theſe annual Meetings, if any ſudden Contingency happened, it was the Duty of the Aldermen of Cities and Boroughs to ring the Bell called in Engliſh Motbel, in order to bring the People together to the Burgmote, that, by their Common Council, they might provide for the Security of the Crown, and take Meaſures to ſuppreſs the Inſolence of Malefactors. See the 35th Law of Edward the Confeſſor. — It is probable that the Reſolutions taken at theſe annual Meetings were diſcuſſed and finally concluded at the Courts de More, which, according to the Inſitution of Alfred, met at the three great Feſtivals of Eaſter, Whitſuntide and Chriſtmas. Theſe Courts de More were ſometimes called the Ealra Wiitanagemot, or Meeting of all the Wiſemen. As to the Wittanagemot, though it was compoſed of the fame Orders in reſpect of Rank as the Ealra Wittanagemot, yet it appears to have been only an occaſional Aſſembly of ſome choſen Members, ſummoned when any Emergency happened in the Intervals of the three great Feſtivals. — Sir Hen. Spclman, Voce Gemote, faith, " that the Wittanagemote differed little from the Folcmote, except that the latter was annual, and for the moſt Part ſummoned on certain Occaſions ; whereas the former was called at the Will of the Prince, upon arduous Contingencies, and for the Sake of making Laws." But a great Part of this Diſtinction vaniſhes, ſince we find from the Law above-mentioned, that the Folcmote alſo was ſummoned on arduous Contingencies. Indeed Sir Henry does not ſeem to have treated this Subject with his uſual Accuracy and Perſpicuity : For after having obſerved, that at the annual Folcmotes, the People confulted about the public Safety, about Peace and War, &c. he adds — " Adbibetur præaeterea Folcmotum in repentino omni Diſcrimine: Exigente etiam neceſſitate ſub Aldermanno (hoc eſt, Comite) cujuſibet Comitatus." Here we find that he erroneouſly makes the Folcmote on extraordinary Occafions, to be. 'ſub Aldsrmanno Commitatus; whereas it appears from the Law above cited, that it was ſub Aldermannis in Civitatibus Burgis. But to enter into theſe Minutiae of the Saxon Conſtitution, would require a Volume by itſelf.

  2. Elſyng, Petyt, Hachwell, Sadler, Harrington, Dugdale, Lombard, Lord Coke, and others. Lambara, Lord Coke, and many others, rely on the Authority of the old MSS. Modus tenendi Parliamentum, which is rejected as ſpurious by Selden and Prynne. There are ſeveral Copies of this MSS. Modus, among the Cottonian Manuſcripts in the Britiſh Muſeum, which materially differ from each other : And though there is good Ground to ſuppoſe that it is not ſo antient as its Title imports, yet ſuppoſing it to have been made even ſo late as the Time of Edw. 3, as Selden conjectures, yet it may ſerve to expreſs the Senſe of thoſe Times with reſect: to the Rights of the Commons, to which they were willing to add the Sanction of Antiquity.
  3. Dugdale and Lambard conclude very ſtrongly, that the Commons were repreſented among the Saxons; and the latter produceth a very cogent Reaſon in ſupport of this Opinion. For, ſaith he, many antient and long ſince decayed Burroughs do ſend Burgeſſes to Parliament, though it cannot be ſhewn that thoſe Burroughs have been of any Reputation ſince the Conqueſt, much leſs that they have obtained the Privilege by the Grant of any ſuccecding King ; So, on the contrary, they of antient Demeſne do preſcribe in not ſending Burgeſſes to the Parliament; which Preſcription proves that there were ſome Burroughs before the Conqueſt, which did ſend Burgeſſes. See Dugd. Orig. Jurid. and Lombard's Archæon. or Diſcourſe on the High Courts of Juſtice. The Reader will find the ſame Arguments in Lord Coke 's Preface to his 9th Report. — Upon the whole, there ſeems to be the ſtrongeft Reaſon for concluding that the People had a Share in the Adminiſtration of the Saxon Government, though it is not eaſy to aſcertain the Forms in which they exerciſed their Rights. It is not improbable that their Folcmote anſwered, in ſome Reſpects, to our Houſe of Commons : That their Ealra Wittanagemot bore Reſemblance to the Houſe of Lords : And that their Wittanagemot was ſomewhat in the Nature of our Privy Council. But after all perhaps, it is more diſcreet to confeſs our Ignorance in theſe Points, than to form uncertain Concluſions, or hazard vain Conjectures.
  4. Under the Saxon Monarchy, the Poſſeſſions of the great Thanes were ſo immenſe, that they were not only called Reguli, or petty Kings, but in Effect they exerciſed a Kind of regal Authority within their
Vol. I.
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