Cobbett on Cartwright

Extract from a detailed account of ‘The Reform of Parliament which I wish to take place, addressed to the Journeymen and Labourers of the County of Norfolk by W. Cobbett, Esquire, from the Political Register’, dated 23 November 1816. (HO 40/9/2)

The declaration mentioned here is made by Major Cartwright and Cobbett is commenting on it. Both men support the idea of universal suffrage. Cobbett was a former loyalist and Cartwright a veteran of the American war of the independence period.


I recommend the confining the right of voting to the payers of direct taxes, until there should be time for a reformed parliament to change the mode of taxing. Since, however, I have come to London, I have had no opportunity of consulting Major Cartwright on the subject; and, the result is, my thorough conviction, that nothing short of universal suffrage would be JUST, and that such a system is perfectly practicable. Upon my putting the question to Major Cartwright, he referred me to his former writings on the subject, and especially to a paper published by him in 1789. He put into my hands the paper just mentioned, as containing his unalterable sentiments upon the subject. That paper I shall place here, insert, and then make some further remarks:—



  1. The Right of making Laws for this Realm is, by the Constitution, lodged in the hands of King, Lords of Parliament, and the Representatives of the Commons.
  2. Every Englishman (infants, insane Persons and Criminals only excepted) is, of common Right, and by the Laws of God, a FREE MAN, entitled to the full Enjoyment of political liberty.
  3. It is essential to an Englishman’s political Liberty that he have an actual share, either in Legislation itself, or in the electing of those who are to frame the Laws, which, although they ought to protect him in the full enjoyment of those absolute rights, they are vested in him by the immutable Laws of Nature, may be fabricated to the Destruction of his Person, his property, his religious Freedom, Family and Fame.
  4. It is a natural Right of the Commons of England, and required by the Principles of the Constitution, that they elect a NEW House of Parliament Once at least in every Year: Because, whenever a Parliament continues in being for a longer Term than one Session, then Thousands who, since it was chosen have attained to Man’s estate, and are therefore entitled to enter into immediate Possession of that elective Power which is their best and most sacred Inheritance, are in that Case unjustly denied their Right, and excluded FROM the enjoyment of political Liberty.

Note 1st. The Rich and the Poor being of the same Species, are under the same Laws of Nature, and being alike capable of Benefit or Injury from their Legislators, they necessarily have, in the Election of those Legislators, the SAME RIGHTS. But the Rich, in Defence of their Liberty and Property, have every Advantage which Wealth, Knowledge, and the purchased Services of others can afford them, while the Poor, destitute of all these, have no Security but in THE PURITY OF LEGISLATION, nor any means of Self-defence but in retaining their Share of the elective Power.

The Poor then have an equal Right, but MORE NEED, to elect Representatives than the Rich. He that is free, possesses that which is more valued than Riches, but, robbed of Liberty he is poor indeed!

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