VIII. THE HOUSE OF HANOVER.
The first sovereign of the House of Hanover ascended the throne not by right of descent but by election; the legitimate heir was set aside, and a distant branch of the family was chosen, and the succession fixed by act of Parliament; but it is held by jurists that every Parliament is sovereign and has the power of repealing any act of any former Parliament. The beneficial rule of some of the latter monarchs of this family has endeared them to the people, but the doctrine of reigning by divine right, the favorite idea of the Stuarts, is nullified, when the monarch ascends the throne by statute law and not by succession or descent.
The age of chivalry passed away when the Puritans defeated the Cavaliers. The establishment of standing armies and the creation of a national debt, went to show that money, not knighthood or knight's service, gave force to law. The possession of wealth and of rent gave back to their possessors even larger powers than those wrested from them by the first Tudor king. The maxim that "what was attached to the freehold belonged to the freehold," gave the landlords even greater powers than those held by the sword, and of which they were despoiled. Though nominally forbidden to take part in the election of the representatives of the Commons, yet they virtually had the power, the creation of freehold, the substance and material of electoral right; and consequently both Houses of Parliament were essentially landlord, and the laws, for the century which succeeded the ascension of George I., are marked with the assertion of landlord right which is tenant wrong.
Among the exhibitions of this influence is an act passed in the reign of George II., which extended the power of distraint for rent, and the right to sell the goods seized - to all tenancies. Previous legislation confined this privilege solely to cases in which there were leases, wherein the tenant, by written contract, gave the landlord power to seize in case of non-payment of rent, but there was no legal authority to sell until it was given by an act passed in the reign of William III. The act of George II. presumed that there was such a contract in all cases of parole letting or tenancy-at-will, and extended the landlord's powers to such tenancies. It is an anomaly to find that in the freest country in the world such an arbitrary power is confided to individuals, or that the landlord-creditor has the precedence over all other creditors, and can, by his own act, and without either trial or evidence, issue a warrant that has all the force of the solemn judgment of a court of law; and it certainly appears unjust to seize a crop, the seed for which is due to one man, and the manure to another, and apply it to pay the rent. But landlordism, intrusted with legislative power, took effectual means to preserve its own prerogative, and the form of law was used by parliaments, in which landlord influence was paramount, to pass enactments which were enforced by the whole power of the state, and sustained individual or class rights.
The effect of this measure was most unfortunate; it encouraged the letting of lands to tenants-at-will or tenants from year to year, who could not, under existing laws, obtain the franchise or power to vote - they were not FREEMEN, they were little better than serfs. They were tillers of the soil, rent-payers who could be removed at the will of another. They were not even freeholders, and had no political power - no voice in the affairs of the nation. The landlords in Parliament gave themselves, individually by law, all the powers which a tenant gave them by contract, while they had no corresponding liability, and, therefore, it was their interest to refrain from giving leases, and to make their tenantry as dependent on them as if they were mere serfs. This law was especially unfortunate, and had a positive and very great effect upon the condition of the farming class and upon the nation, and people came to think that landlords could do as they liked with their land, and that the tenants must be creeping, humble, and servile.
An effort to remedy this evil was made in 1832, when the occupiers, if rented or rated at the small amount named, became voters. This gave the power to the holding, not to the man, and the landlord could by simple eviction deprive the man of his vote; hence the tenants-at-will were driven to the hustings like sheep - they could not, and dare not, refuse to vote as the landlord ordered.
The lords of the manor, with a landlord Parliament, asserted their claims to the commonages, and these lands belonging to the people, were gradually inclosed, and became the possession of individuals. The inclosing of commonages commenced in the reign of Queen Anne, and was continued in the reigns of all the sovereigns of the House of Hanover. The first inclosure act was passed in 1709; in the following thirty years the average number of inclosure bills was about three each year; in the following fifty years there were nearly forty each year; and in the forty years of the nineteenth century it was nearly fifty per annum.
The inclosures in each reign were as follows:
Queen Anne, 2 1,439
George I., 16 17,660
George II., 226 318,784
George III., 3446 3,500,000
George IV., 192 250,000
William IV., 72 120,000
- - - - - - -
Total, 3954 4,207,883
These lands belonged to the people, and might have been applied to relieve the poor. Had they been allotted in small farms, they might have been made the means of support of from 500,000 to 1,000,000 families, and they would have afforded employment and sustenance to all the poor, and thus rendered compulsory taxation under the poor- law system unnecessary; but the landlords seized on them and made the tenantry pay the poor-rate.