Page:The Chartist Movement.djvu/53

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5
THE CHARTER AND ITS ORIGIN

debates at Putney. With the downfall of the Commonwealth such conceptions of abstract political justice were snowed under by the Whig-Tory reaction. Henceforth both parties stoutly upheld the "stake in the kingdom" idea of representation. The height of this reaction came in the High Tory days of Queen Anne, when the legal foundations of the aristocratic regime were laid. The imposition of a property qualification upon would-be members of Parliament dates from 1710, when it was enacted that the candidate for a county must possess £600 a year and for a borough £300 a year, in both cases derived from landed property.[1] This act was passed in the face of some Whig opposition, as the Whigs would have made exceptions in favour of the wealthy merchants of their party. Two years later followed the first of the enactments throwing election expenses upon the candidate.[2] A further diminution of popular control resulted from the Septennial Act, though this was a Whig measure.

The Radical tradition, however, was not dead but sleeping. It lived on amongst the dissenting and nonconformist sections, whose ancestors had fought and debated in the days of Cromwell and had been evicted in 1662. The revival of Nonconformity under the stimulus of Methodism, the growth of political and historical criticism during the eighteenth century, and the growing estrangement between the House of Commons and the people at large, brought about a resurrection of Radicalism. In the second half of the century the Radical Programme appeared in full vigour.

The first plank of the Radical platform to be brought into public view was the shortening of the duration of Parliaments. In 1744 leave to bring in a Bill establishing Annual Parliaments was refused only by a small majority. In 1758 another Bin was refused leave by a much more decisive vote. In 1771 Alderman Sawbridge failed to obtain leave to introduce a similar measure, although he had the moral support of no less important persons than Chatham and Junius.[3] In the same year a Wilkite society recommended that Parliamentary candidates should pledge themselves to support a Bill to "shorten the duration of Parliaments and to reduce the number of Placemen and Pensioners in the House of Commons, and also to obtain a more fair and equal representation of the people."[4]

  1. Porritt, i. 166.
  2. Ibid. i. 185-195.
  3. Veitch, The Genesis of Parliamentary Reform, p. 34.
  4. Ibid. p. 32.