Letters "The Right Of Election Is The Very Essence Of The Constitution"

Kenneth Tynan

"The Right Of Election Is The Very Essence Of The Constitution"

Context: Junius was a mystery in his own time and so remains. No one knows who he really was. He wrote what we would consider "letters to the editor," though they were open letters addressed to various public figures active in British government; they appeared in the Public Advertiser from 1767 to 1772. In them Junius skillfully chastised the administration for its abuses, castigating various individuals as he did so. The purpose these philippics served was an admirable one. They gave the public an awareness of its constitutional rights; they were well written and carried the ring of authority; their arguments were sound and logical; and they held strictly to basic constitutional principles. The immediate popularity they achieved was greater than that of any such series of letters before or since. Junius, cloaked by his pseudonym, was able to see the great influence of his work and to enjoy the efforts, some of them frantic, to uncover him. "He beheld," says one scholar, "the people extolling him, the court execrating him, and ministers and more than ministers trembling beneath the lash of his invisible hand." Parliament smarted under his biting attacks, and even the king was not safe from him. Whoever Junius was, he led from a sound footing: he held some position within the government that made him privy to what transpired there. A Whig, he detested the Duke of Grafton, an unscrupulous politician; to Junius, he was a man utterly without principle. In the letter quoted here Junius takes Grafton to task for rigging an election in Middlesex by running a man of his own choosing against Wilkes, the people's choice; Grafton has expelled Wilkes from the House of Commons repeatedly; now he has declared Wilkes ineligible because of the expulsions and declared his own man representative instead. Junius has already noted that Grafton balances nonexecution of laws with breaches of the constitution; now he turns to the matter of the election:

. . . With this precedent before you, with the principles on which it was established, and with a future House of Commons, perhaps less virtuous than the present, every county in England, under the auspices of the Treasury, may be represented as completely as the county of Middlesex. Posterity will be indebted to your Grace for not contenting yourself with a temporary expedient, but entailing upon them the immediate blessings of your administration. Boroughs were already too much at the mercy of government. Counties could neither be purchased nor intimidated. But their solemn determined election may be rejected, and the man they detest may be appointed, by another choice, to represent them in Parliament. . . . With every good-natured allowance for your Grace's youth and inexperience, there are some things which you cannot but know. You cannot but know that the right of the freeholders to adhere to their choice (even supposing it improperly exerted) was as clear and indisputable as that of the House of Commons to exclude one of their own members:–nor is it possible for you not to see the wide distance there is between the negative power of rejecting one man, and the positive power of appointing another. The right of expulsion, in the most favourable sense, is no more than the custom of parliament. The right of election is the very essence of the constitution. To violate that right, and much more to transfer it to any other set of men, is a step leading immediately to the dissolution of all government. . . .