Democracy In America, Alexis de Tocqueville, 1831
To be a voter in the county (those who represent landed property) before the Reform Bill passed in 1832, it was necessary to have unencumbered, in one’s own ownership or on lease for life land bringing in at least 40 shillings’ income. This law was enacted about 1450 under Henry VI. It has been reckoned that 40 shillings in the time of Henry VI might be the equivalent of #30 sterling of our time. The English, however, have allowed this qualification, adopted in the fifteenth century, to persist up to 1832, which proves how democratic the English Constitution became with the passage of time even while it appeared static. (See Delolme, Bk. I, ch. 4; see also Blackstone, Bk. I, ch. 4.)
English juries are chosen by the sheriff of the county ( Delolme, Bk. I, ch. 12). The sheriff is generally an important man in the county; he discharges judicial and administrative duties; he represents the king and is named by him every year (Blackstone, Bk. I, ch. 9). His position places him above the suspicion of corruption on the part of any litigants; besides, if his impartiality is questioned, they can dismiss the entire jury which he has chosen, and then another officer is entrusted with the task of choosing new jurymen (see Blackstone, Bk. III, ch. 23).
In order to have the right to be a juryman, you have to be the owner of a piece of land yielding a minimum of 10 shillings’ income ( Blackstone, Bk. III, ch. 23 ) . It will be noted that the qualification was required under the reign of William and Mary, that is to say about 1700, a period when the value of money was infinitely . greater than it is today. It is obvious that the English have based their jury system not on ability but on landed property, as is the case with all their other political institutions.
They have finally admitted farmers to serve on juries, but they have required that their leases be very long and that they have a net income of 20 shillings, independent of rents (Blackstone, idem.).
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