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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

This right of freemanship soon became hereditary


1835--Foundation of municipal bodies]

There was one great pressing and obvious reform which remained to be accomplished and ought naturally to follow on the reorganization of the Parliamentary system. That was the reorganization of the municipal system. The municipal work of the country, the management of all the various and complicated relations which concerned the local affairs of the whole community, had become a mere chaos of anomalies, anachronisms, and, in too many instances, of reckless mismanagement and downright corruption. If the sort of so-called representation which prevailed in the Parliamentary constituencies was, up to 1832, an absurdity and a fraud, it was not perhaps on the whole quite so absurd or altogether so fraudulent as that which set itself up for a representative system in the arrangements of the municipal corporations. As in the case of the {255} Parliamentary system, so in the case of the municipal system, the organization had begun with an intelligible principle to guide it; but, during the lapse of years and even of centuries, the original purpose had been swamped by the gradual and always increasing growth of confusion and corruption. The municipal arrangements of England had begun as a practical protest against the feudal system. While the feudal laws or customs still prevailed, the greater proportion of the working-classes were really little better than serfs at the absolute control of their feudal lords

and masters. The comparatively small proportion of men who formed the trading class of the community found themselves compelled to devise some kind of arrangement for the security of themselves, their traffic, and their property against the dominion of the ruling class. It was practically impossible that a mere serf could devote his energies to a craft or trade with any hope of independence for himself or any chance of contributing to the prosperity of his working and trading neighbors. The trading, manufacturing, and commercial classes in each locality began to form themselves into groups, or what might be called guilds, of their own, with the object of common protection, in order to secure an opening for their traffic and their industry, and for the preservation of the earnings and the profits which came of their skill and energy. These trading groups asserted for themselves their right to free action in all that regarded the regulation of their work and the secure disposal of their profits, and thus they became what might be called governing bodies in each separate locality. One common principle of these governing bodies was that no one should be allowed to become a craftsman or trader in any district if he were a serf, and they claimed, and gradually came to maintain, the right to invest others with the title and privileges of freemen. This right of freemanship soon became hereditary, and the male children of a freeman were to be freemen themselves. In many communities the man who married a freeman's daughter acquired, if he had not been free before, the right of freemanship. No qualification of residence was necessary to {256} enable a man thus to become free. The self-organized community, whatever it might be, had the right of creating any stranger a freeman according as it thought fit.

[Sidenote: 1835--Reform of municipal corporations]

We find this ancient system still in harmless and graceful illustration

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