were scions of the great families.
Sons of peers, even
the oldest son, while his father lived, could sit in the House of Commons; and there might be, and usually were, many members of one name.
Nor was the condition of the elective franchise uniform.
It was a privilege; and the various rights of election depended on capricious charters or immemorial custom rather than on reason.
Of the five hundred and fifty-eight members, whom the House of Commons then consisted, the counties of England
, and Scotland
elected one hundred and thirty-one as knights of the shires.
These owed their election to the good will of the owners of great estates in the respective counties; for it was a usage that the tenant should vote as his landlord directed, and his compliance was certain, for the ballot was unknown, and the vote was given by word of mouth or a show of hands.
The representatives of the counties were, therefore, as a class, country gentlemen, independent of the court.
They were, comparatively free from corruption, and some of them fervidly devoted to English liberty.
The remaining four hundred and twenty-seven members, ‘citizens and burgesses,’ were arbitrarily distributed among cities, towns, and boroughs, with little regard to the wealth or to the actual numbers of the inhabitants.
The bare name of Old Sarum, where there was not so much as the ruins of a town, and scarce so much housing as a sheep-cot, or more inhabitants than a shepherd, sent as many representatives to the grand assembly of law-makers as the whole county of Yorkshire, so numerous in people and powerful in riches.1
The lord of the borough