§ Lord John Russell
rose, pursuant to notice, to present a petition from the inhabitant householders of Rye, for the Extension of the Elective Franchise to that borough. His lordship commenced by observing, that the town of Rye was a place of considerable importance, in which, while trade and commerce progressively improved, the elective franchise was shamefully restricted. The petition stated, that "the annual assessment for the town amounted to the sum of 3,156l. of which one tenth part only was paid by the freemen;" and it further stated, that "there were 32 vessels trading to and from the port of Rye, of which 28 belonged to several of the petitioners, and four only to the freemen;" and that "it never could be intended that the privileges and immunities granted and confirmed by the charters should be confined to so small a body of persons as the present corporation. Still less could it ever be intended that the administration of the law in its ordinary course, as pointed out by the charters, should have been superseded by a jurisdiction, to be administered by so small a body, and so subject to political influence, by which the administration of justice was subjected to ridicule and contempt." The petition also stated, that "the whole body of mayors, jurats, and freemen, at present consisted of only 26 persons, five of whom were the relations and connexions of Dr. Lamb," The House should know that Dr. Lamb was a minister, residing near the port of Rye, and that the representation in parliament of this borough was in his patronage, and under his influence and control. The petitioners stated further, that in consequence of the manner in which the elective franchise was disposed of in this town, that ill-blood and animosities were engendered between the inhabitants and those freemen in whom the power of voting was vested; that it was extremely irksome for them (the petitioners) to live in a place where such corrupt practices prevailed; and they wished to know whether those 26 persons were by law entitled to the right which they claim- 637 ed and exercised. The petitioners denied the existence of any such right, and they contended, that it was usurped 70 years ago by the family of Dr. Lamb, "for their own private views, and to secure to themselves exclusively the return of members for the town to parliament." The petitioners continued to state, that, according to ancient records in the town, it appeared that every inhabitant thereof was entitled to vote on the payment of a fine; and, in the reign of queen Elizabeth, all persons could vote, who paid 2s. to the Crown upon every pound value which he should possess; and every person residing in the town had the privilege of voting on those conditions. The petitioners further stated, that several persons, freemen, who did not reside in the town, were in the habit of voting, contrary to the constitution of the town, which expressly stated that any freemen should reside therein. If this statement were true, the petitioners would have a right to go before an election committee of the House; and he sincerely hoped that, after the ensuing election, the petitioners would try the question before a competent tribunal. It was a question which affected the representative system generally, and one which ought to be taken into the serious consideration of the House. The noble lord then recited the conclusion of the petition, which prayed that "the House would take the case into its most serious consideration, for the purpose of having a committee appointed to investigate the facts which it contained."
The Petition was then brought up. It purported to be the petition of the Inhabitant Householders of the ancient town of Rye, in the county of Sussex, setting forth,
"That, in the last session of parliament, the petitioners caused a petition to be presented to the House, setting forth, that the town of Rye was one of the ancient towns of the Cinque ports of this realm, and subject to the same laws, customs, and usages, and entitled to the same privileges as the other Cinque ports; that various charters had, from time to time, been granted to the Cinque ports, and to the town of Rye in particular, which confirmed to the inhabitants the privileges enjoyed by them and their ancestors, but that of late years certain individuals, for the purpose of maintaining an undue influence over the affairs of the town, had assumed to themselves the 638 right of admission to the freedom of the town, and thus deprive the petitioners and the other inhabitants of those rights and privileges which the charters and immemorial usage had conferred upon them, and praying that the House would be pleased to appoint a committee to investigate the facts contained in the petition, for the purpose of enacting such declaratory or new laws respecting the same as to the House shall seem most fit and proper; that since such petition was presented to the House, the petitioners have caused the records of the town to be searched, by which it clearly appears, that all the inhabitants bearing the burthens of the town, and paying scot and lot, were entitled to their freedom upon payment of a certain fine, which is in strict accordance with the several charters, and with reason, justice, and equity; for the petitioners humbly, though confidently submit, that without the general aid of the inhabitants, the ships and other services due from the Cinque ports and their members to the Crown could not have been supplied; that in consideration thereof it appears by the records of the town, that an assembly on the 26th of March, in the twenty-third year of the reign of queen Elizabeth, it was decreed, that, in consideration of the great charge the town was at with the Burgesses to the parliament, the which the revenues of the town were no way able to bear, a cesse should be made, taxed, and gathered upon every person inhabiting within the town of Rye or liberties of the same, and that every one having lands or tenements should pay two shillings upon every pound, and every one having only goods should pay twelve pence upon every pound; that at another assembly on the 10th day of March, in the thirty-eighth year of the same queen's reign, it was agreed that another general cesse towards the setting forth the ships appointed by order of the Privy council, should be made upon the lands, goods, and catals of the inhabitants of the town and liberties; that at a general brotherhood or guestling of the Cinque ports, the ancient towns and their members, at New Romney, on the 21st of July 1691, it was stated that the ports' accompts in the Exchequer for several years before Michaelmas 1689 had not been passed, nor the quietus est sued out, so that process might perhaps issue against the ports for omission thereof, it was therefore ordered, 639 that the estates of the inhabitants of the ports should be defended and discharged of such process at the public and common charge of the ports; it was also stated, that inhabitants of the ports were oftentimes compelled to appear and answer at the suit of a common person in the court of Exchequer, contrary to their charter and privileges, for matters that ought to be determined in the chancery of the Cinque ports; and that, whereas the ships and vessels belonging to the inhabitants of the ports were by the ancient charters freed from the payment of buoyage and light money, as it was awarded in the reign of the late king Charles the 2nd, yet disputes did often thereabouts arise, because the words of the exemption were not quite so plain as could be wished; also, that of late years the inhabitants of the ports had been made collectors of foreign taxes out of the liberties of the Cinque ports, contrary to their ancient charters and exemptions; upon these grievances the ports council recommended application to be made to the lord Warden for redress, and that every town send to their barons in parliament; that by the early entries in the records of the town of Rye, it clearly appears that all persons resident within the towns, and contributing to the burthens thereof, were constantly in the habit of applying to the courts held there for their freedom, which was invariably granted to them, although the fines varied according to the change of the times, and there is no bye-law which in any manner abridges this right, nor any usage against it, but an usurpation which has sprung up of late years, and is continued for the purpose of supporting a parliamentary influence in the town, that by a decree made by the mayor, jurats, and commonalty of Rye, at an assembly in the fourth year of the reign of queen Elizabeth, it was ordered, that all men born within the town should be made free, paying therefore twenty-shillings; and, on the 1st day of April, in the twelfth year of the same reign, a further decree was made by the mayor, jurats, and commonalty, 'that from thenceforth no person or persons not born in the town should be made free under the pain of twenty-shillings, and that every person born in the town being not a freeman's son at the time of his and their birth, should be made free paying the sum of ten shillings;' that both these de- 640 crees were acted upon in numerous instances for several years after they were made by the admission in pursuance of them, of persons born in the town, and they have never since been repealed or abrogated; that members to parliament have been regularly returned for that town from the forty-sixth year of the reign of king Edward 3rd to the present time, and that in the elections of members which took place on the 13th of December in the fifth year of the reign of queen Elizabeth, and also on the 13th of April, in the fourteenth year of the same reign, the persons who had been admitted to their freedom in pursuance of the decrees before set forth exercised their elective franchise; that by the constitution of Rye, as appears from the ancient records of the town, and the ancient usages there, the mayor, jurats, and freemen, all ought to be resident within the town, and that any of them residing out of the town for a year and a day, lost their freedom till they returned to reside again within the town, and dwelt for a year and a day, which, the petitioners humbly submit, is in strict accordance with the ancient common law of the land; that for a considerable number of years past the management of the affairs of the town, and the regulation and government of it, as well as the administration of the once useful and extensive jurisdiction of the place, have been under the immediate influence of one particular family who have nominated all the officers of the corporation, and arbitrarily regulated the admission of freemen, and who, for their own private views, and to secure to themselves exclusively the return of members for the town to parliament have, by usurpation, restricted the rights of admission to the freedom of the town within the narrowest possible limits; that for this purpose they contend that the right of admission to the freedom of the town is to be acquired only in three ways, viz. by being the eldest son of a freeman, born after his father was made free, by being nominated by the mayor, and by being elected with the consent of the majority of the freemen, although neither of these modes is justified by the ancient constitution of the town, and the particular periods at which the usurpations establishing them commenced can be distinctly traced; that the present mayor, jurats, and freemen, are entirely under the influence and control of the reverend 641 George Augustus Lamb, a doctor of divinity, and incumbent of three parishes near Rye, who assumes, contrary to the constitution of the town, to act as a jurat of the town, although he is not and has not for several years past resided therein; that the whole body of mayor, jurats, and freemen, at present consists only of twenty-six persons, five of whom are the relations and connexions of doctor Lamb; that at the assemblies held for the town in the reign of queen Elizabeth there were frequently present forty commoners; and by a decree made on the 5th of September, in the seventeenth year of that reign it was ordered, that a common council of twenty-four freemen should be appointed, and assist in the affairs and management of the town; and by subsequent entries it appears that they were appointed, and that such body continued to act for several years; that, for the last fifty years, with very few exceptions, two persons, each of them a member of the family of doctor Lamb, have alternately filled the office of mayor of the town, and the same office has always, during the same period, been filled by a member or near connection of his family; that, for the purpose of supporting the same undue influence, which has so long been exercised over the town, the reverend William Dodson, who is a clergyman of the church of England, and a brother-in-law of Dr. Lamb, was this year elected mayor, contrary to the constitution of the town, Mr. Dodson not residing within the town, but nearly two hundred miles from it, at Claxby, in Lincolnshire, in the neighbourhood of which place he has three livings, with cure of souls, and also acts as a magistrate there; that Mr. Dodson being consequently wholly unable to perform the duties appertaining to the office of mayor at Rye, has pretended to appoint William Phillips Lamb, a brother of Dr. Lamb, to be the deputy mayor, although he was the last preceding mayor; and, therefore, incapable by law to be the mayor for this year; but, nevertheless, Mr. William Phillips Lamb, in violation of the law, presumes to act as mayor in the absence of Mr. Dodson, who, it was well-known at the time of his election, could not execute the duties of that office by reason of his legal obligation to reside at his livings in Lincolnshire; that Mr. Dodson has no residence in or near Rye, but occasionally comes to the neighbourhood 642 for the purpose of giving a colour to his election, on which occasions he visits at the house of Dr. Lamb's mother; that at an assembly which was lately holden for the town, Mr. Dodson attempted forcibly to exclude one of the freemen, who was known to be favourable to the claims, of the petitioners, upon the ground of his not having resided within the town for a year and a day, although Mr. Dodson himself had never resided in or near the town; that several of the petitioners sent a statement of the proceedings of Mr. Dodson to the bishop of the diocese in which his livings are situate, in the confident hope that his lordship would compel him to resume his clerical functions, and prevent the continuation of so flagrant an abuse of the pastoral character, but the petitioners have met with no redress; that Mr. William Watson, who was appointed by Mr. Dodson, and who acts as one of the jurats of the town, is Collector of the Customs for the town and port, the duties of which are wholly incompatible with his magisterial functions; and the petitioners humbly submit, that the exercise of the latter must at all times create the greatest distrust and dissatisfaction in the minds of any of his majesty's subjects with whom questions may arise relative to the administration of the laws of the Customs; for, in many of such cases, Mr. Watson may himself be the prosecutor, and will necessarily be supposed to exercise an improper influence over the minds of his brother magistrates, several of whom are related to him, while, on the other hand, his majesty's revenues may be seriously prejudiced by a conscientious feeling on the part of Mr. Watson, that such connection and influence will operate unjustly towards any person who may render himself amenable to the penalties inflicted for an infringement of those laws; that Mr. Nathaniel Procter, who was also appointed a jurat of the town by Mr. Dodson, was formerly the Collector of the Customs at Rye, but has since retired upon a superannuated allowance from his majesty; that Mr. William Procter, who acts as one of the freemen, is Comptroller of the Customs of that town, and does not reside within the same, and that three others of those who act as freemen hold situations under his majesty's government; that Peter Brown, esquire, who was also appointed a jurat by Mr. Dodson, was, at the time of his 643 nomination, and still continues, at Copenhagen, in Denmark, he being attached to the suite of sir Benjamin Bloomfield at that city, and never having resided at Rye; that Robert Knight, esquire, who was also appointed a jurat of the town by Mr. Dodson, resides for the most part in London, and at his seat in Warwickshire, and has never resided at Rye; that Dr. Dodson, the brother of Mr. Dodson, who was also appointed a jurat of the town by him, has never resided at Rye, he being a Doctor of Civil Law, and being, consequently, occupied in the ecclesiastical courts at London; that several of the petitioners, who are inhabitant householders within the town, paying scot and lot, and who were all born within the same, having made repeated applications to the mayor, jurats, and freemen, to be admitted to their freedom, without effect, applied to the court of King's-bench, on the 2nd of February last, for a rule for a mandamus against the mayor, jurats, and freemen, to compel them to admit the last-mentioned petitioners to the freedom of the town; whereby, if a rule had been granted, the petitioners were in hopes that their rights would have been put into a course of constitutional inquiry, before a jury of their countrymen; but the court refused to grant the rule in the first instance, and thus prevented the petitioners from availing themselves of the prerogative writ of mandamus, and the constitutional inquiry by a jury, upon the grounds of the last-mentioned petitioners not showing an inchoate right for their claim, and that the particular mode of making freemen, which had been exercised by Dr. Lamb and his family for the last sixty or seventy years, ought to prevail, and that the decrees for the admission of persons born within the town were anomalous, although the petitioners most confidently assert, that they were in direct conformity with the ancient law and practice of the land and settlements by birth, and in conformity with the ancient law still recognized by the poor-laws; that the affidavits upon which the motion was founded, set forth the charters which were granted to the Cinque Ports, and to the town of Rye in particular, the decrees made in the reign of queen Elizabeth, and the usage in pursuance of them, as well by the admission of freemen as by the return of members to parliament, the dates at which the usurpations upon the rights 644 and privileges of the town had commenced, and the several abuses before enumerated; that none of the charters granted to the Cinque Ports, or the town of Rye, prescribe the mode of making freemen, nor can those who now act as mayor, jurats, and freemen, show any foundation for the course pursued by them in the nomination of freemen; that the petitioners have ever held, and still hold, in the highest veneration, the legal institutions of their country, and they therefore bow with submission to the decision which has been pronounced against them; but, while respect for the authority of the learned judges who preside over his majesty's court of King's-bench constrain them to admit this decision to be law, reason and reflection force them to the conclusion, that it cannot be justice; because, the petitioners humbly submit, that, if an usage of sixty or seventy years, which can be clearly shown to be an usurpation, be allowed to prevail against the exercise of all former rights, no remedy can be afforded in the courts of law for any inroad which time, or the arts of interested and designing men (which are too successful against their poorer, unresisting townsmen, who have neither power nor inclination to oppose them) may have made in the constitution of the country, or of any privileged place; for the recovery of ancient rights is attended with so great an expense, and circumstances so frequently occur to prevent their value from being appreciated, that few instances can be adduced in which an usurpation similar to that exercised by the mayor, jurats, and freemen of Rye, could not be supported by the usage of sixty or seventy years; that the annual assessment for the town amounts to the sum of 3,156l. 13s. 6d., of which one-tenth part only is paid by the freemen; that there are thirty-two vessels trading to and from the port of Rye, of which twenty-eight belong to several of the petitioners, and four only to the freemen; and the petitioners humbly submit, it never could have been intended that the privileges and immunities granted and confirmed by the charters, should be confined to so small a body of persons as the present corporation, nor could they have maintained the vessels formerly required for the service of the state, still less could it ever have been intended that the administration of the law in its ordinary course, as pointed out by the charters, should have been superseded by a juris- 645 diction to be administered by so small a body, and so subject to political influence, by which the administration of justice is subjected to ridicule and contempt; that land and other property have at various times been given to the town for charitable purposes, but they have been so grossly mismanaged, that all benefit from them is nearly lost to the town; that courts ought regularly to be held by the mayor and jurats for pleas of debt arising within the town, which might be rendered of the greatest advantage to the inhabitants in the recovery of small debts, but all proceedings in them have been so wholly discouraged, and there exists so great a distrust in the minds of the inhabitants of the persons who would preside over them, that, although a Court of Record is nominally held every alternate Wednesday, no debt has been sued for in that court in the town for the several years past; that the town for the several years past; that the town and port of Rye are well situated for the carrying on an extensive commerce, and would rapidly increase in wealth and prosperity, were the energies of the petitioners and the other inhabitants allowed their full scope, but public spirit is broken, and the exertions of the inhabitants are constantly crippled by the monopolizing and corrupt influence of Dr. Lamb and his adherents; that the situation of the town and port of Rye is also well adapted for affording defence to the adjacent, coast in the time of war, which, from its contiguity to the coast of France, is much exposed to the attacks of an enemy, and it is therefore highly important to the country at large, that the power and influence of that town should be secured upon the firmest basis; that the petitioners have ever borne, without repining, the burthens which have been imposed upon them for the service of the state, they have at all times embarked with pride and satisfaction in any cause which had for its object the security of the Throne or the welfare of the nation, and therefore they feel the more acutely the unjust deprivation of their rights under which they labour; they feel it to be an insult offered to the religion of the country, and to every constituted authority in the kingdom, when two clergymen of the church of England, the one a doctor of divinity, and the other a rector of three livings, with cure of souls, in perfect derogation of their ecclesiastical character, 646 desert the flocks committed to their charge, and presume to interfere in the temporal government of the people of a town in which they are not resident, and in the privileges of which, by the constitution of the place, they have no right to participate; that such flagrant and unjustifiable conduct cannot fail to lessen the minister of the Gospel in the eyes of all honest and reflecting men, and seriously, to injure the Protestant establishment of the country; that these parties, like all others who are conscious of the errors they have committed, and yet are unwilling to make reparation, seek only to cover one species of oppression by the exercise of another, every day giving rise to some fresh act of spleen or arbitrary power; and so sensible are the petitioners of the degraded and hopeless condition to which they are reduced, that unless some speedy relief be afforded for their grievances, they have determined to embrace the first opportunity of disposing of their property in the town, and removing their persons and fortunes to a soil more congenial with the character and independence of Englishmen, and better calculated to yield them prosperity in their commercial pursuits; that the petitioners are well aware, that, by the theory of the law and the constitution, the petitioners could remove from their present situations many of the mayor, jurats, and freemen, as having been illegally selected, and now usurping their offices, whereby the numbers of the mayor and jurats would be so reduced, that they would be unable legally to continue their existence, and they could apply to his majesty's court of King's-bench for a Quo warranto against Mr. Dodson, for illegally exercising the office of Mayor; but the proceedings in that court would be attended with so great an expense to the individuals who should seek the accomplishment of these objects, that no person can be found to undertake them, and the costs which the petitioners have already incurred in seeking to establish their rights are so very considerable, that they are unable to bear the further charges which would be necessary for these purposes; that the petitioners would also assert their right to vote at elections of members of parliament, but the proceedings before committees of the House to try the merits of election petitions, as well as the proof necessary to support the same, are so expensive, that the petitioners are unable to bear the burthen of 647 them; that the petitioners have no doubt that if a proper inquiry be instituted by a committee of the House into the facts of this petition, that the same may be throughout supported by proof, and that the House will see the expediency of making some general regulations, or enacting declaratory laws to obviate the evils of which the petitioners so justly complain; the petitioners therefore most humbly pray, That the House will be pleased to take these matters into their serious consideration, and to appoint a committee to investigate the facts relative to the borough of Rye, and other boroughs, for the purpose of enacting such declaratory or new laws respecting the same, as to the House shall seem most fit and proper."
§ Ordered to lie on the table.