Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Reform - British Parliamentary and Electoral Politics, 1688-1832 (HI254)

From John Cartwright, Take Your Choice (1776)


Representation Imposition

and and

Respect: Contempt.

Annual Parliaments Long Parliaments

and and

Liberty: Slavery.


Having proposed to urge upon you, my country men ! a reformation, both as to the length, and as to the constituting of your parliaments; it seems but proper, previously to state some of the inconveniences and evils, which I apprehend to be the necessary consequences of, and inseparable from, our present rotten parliamentary system.

All men will grant, that the lower house of parliament is elected by only a handful of the commons, instead of the whole; and this, chiefly by bribery and undue influence. Men who will employ such means are villains; and those who dupe their constituents by Iying promises, are far from honest men. An assembley of such men is founded on iniquity: consequently, the fountain of legislation is poisoned. Every stream, how much soever mixed, as it flows with justice and patriotism, will still have poison in its composition.

Nor will it be denied me, that, in consequence of the long duration of a parliament, the members, as soon as seated, feel themselves too independent on the opinion and good will of their constituents, even where their suffrages have not been extorted nor bought; and that, of course, they despise them.

From the first of these data, it will follow, that we are subject to have the House of Commons filled by men of every bad description that can be thought of, and that strict integrity, which ought to be the strongest of all recommendations, amounts to a positive exclusion; except it happen indeed to be united with a capital fortune and great county connections.

From the first and second jointly; our representatives, who are in fact our deputed servants, are taught to assume the carriage and haughtiness of despotic masters; to think themselves unaccountable for their conduct; and to neglect their duty.

Whether, indeed, the house of commons be in a great measure filled with idle school-boys, insignificant coxcombs, led-captains and toad-eaters, profligates, gamblers, bankrupts, beggars, contractors, commissaries, public plunderers, ministerial dependants, hirelings, and wretches, that would sell their country, or deny their God for a guinea, let every one judge for himself. And whether the kind of business very often brought before the house, and the usual manner of conducting it, do not bespeak this to be the case; I likewise leave every man to form his own opinion: particularly that independent and noble-minded few, who experience the constant mortification of voting and speaking without even a hope of being able thereby to serve their country.

But without insisting on these things as fact, and only admitting the possibility of them from the combined causes already assigned, of long parliaments, undue influence and bribery, it is natural to expect, as indeed all experience shews it must happen, that a country, whose affairs are subject to fall into such hands must be ruined, sooner or later, by those very men who shall be in the office of its guardians and preservers; except it shall make an alteration in this particular...

So ruinous a system needs must, in its progress, grow worse. The chariot of corruption, (if I may be allowed a new metaphor) under the guidance of rotten whigs would soon enough have arrived, without the whip, at the goal of despotism: but now, that furious tories have seized the reins, 'tis lashed onward with impetuous haste nor do t hey seem sensible to their danger, though its axles are already on fire with its rapidity The ministers of the present reign have daringly struck at your most sacred rights, have aimed through the sides of America a deadly blow at the life of your constitution, and have shewn themselves hostile, not only to the being, but to the very name of liberty. The word itself has been proscribed the court: and for any one who dared to utter it, the gentlest appellations have been Wilkite, republican and disturber of the peace. Facts recent in every one's memory I have no need to repeat. I will only therefore just mention the atrocious violation of the first principle of the constitution in the never-to-be-forgotten business of the Middlesex election. An enumeration of all their crimes would shew them to be deserving of the highest punishments. And yet, the sum of all the evils they have brought upon us, added to all those which former ministers had intailed upon the nation, are light and trivial in comparison of the ONE GREAT EVIL OF A LONG PARLIAMENT. Feast the fowls of the air with such ministers, but leave your legislature unreformed; and you will only add a few inglorious days to the period of your expiring liberties. Succeeding ministers might be more circumspect; but with the aid of a prostitute parliament, they would at last succeed.... It is downright quixotism to imagine, that so long as your parliament remains corrupt, you can ever have a patriot minister: and, except parliament be reformed, 'tis a matter of very great indifference who are in and who are out. I will not utterly deny the possibility of your having a patriot minister prior to a parliamentary reformation; but I do not myself conceive how such a man is to arrive at such a station. One of that stamp could not go through thick and thin, and wade through all the miry paths that lead to it: nor have I any great expectation of a miraculous conversion of anyone, who hath once passed through those ways to the seat of power. Neither do I see the prudence of waiting for so rare a phenomenon as a patriot minister, to do that for you which you can do for yourselves; and thereby put things in such a state, that a patriot minister will no longer be a phenomenon, but a natural and common appearance.

The revolution which expelled the tyrant James from the throne, glorious as it was to the character, and essential to the safety of this nation, was yet a very defective proceeding. It was effected in too anxious a moment, and in too precipitate a manner, to lay a lasting foundation for the security of public freedom and property. William the deliverer was but half the friend to liberty which he pretended to be. Had he been a truly patriot prince, his share in the expulsion of a tyrant would have been his smallest merit; and he would have embraced the opportunity afforded him by his own success and the tide of reformation being set in, to have guarded the constitution against every conceivable danger towards which it had any tendency to be exposed in process of time. When the immortal and blessed Alfred had overthrown the oppressors of his country, he thought the work of a king only begun; and devoted the rest of his reign to the correcting abuses, the establishing of justice, and laying the broad foundations of liberty and happiness. But history shews William to have been a cold-hearted Dutchman, ungrateful to a people who had given him a crown, and more fond of power than of squaring his government with the principles of the constitution. And this was one of the best of our kings. Then put not your trust in princes: neither have confidence in ministers ! Whether they covet inordinate power for its own sake, or for the sake of lucre, they will have it if possible. And when one lusts for gold, the other for dominion, they will be reciprocally the pimps to each others passion. The prince will invade the people's property, in order to enrich his minister; the minister will violate their liberties, in order to render his master absolute. For one Alfred, there are a thousand Charles's; for one Falkland, a thousand Walpoles. Trust not, I say, in princes nor in ministers; but trust in YOURSELVES, and in representatives chosen by YOURSELVES alone !