MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS. A municipal corporation, as at present understood, may be defined to be a body politic formed for the purpose of local government. Other bodies politic or corporate exist for the.advancement of religion,learning, or commerce. The municipal cor poration is concerned with the regulation of the social and financial affairs of a town, or limited body of citizens. The origin of such bodies in this country may be traced to the times of the Roman occupation, that people having planted municipia or town-communities in this island, as in other parts of their dominions.
The Anglo-Saxons appear to have adopted these institutions, finding them entirely congenial to their previous customs, and, in fact, their municipal organisation was not confined to tho towns or fortified cities alone, but pervaded the whole territory, which was divided into districts in the management of the affairs of which every freeman. had a vote.
The Norman kings endeavoured to effect a centralisation of political power by substituting bailiffs of their own in the place of the elective borough- or port-reves, who during the Saxon times presided over the various town communities. To rid themselves of the oppression of these officers, the towns offered to pay a larger revenue to the king's exchequer, than was extracted from them by the bailiffs, provided they were allowed to collect it themselves. Thus the right of self government was gradually repurchased from the crown, the obnoxious title of bailiff being in most cases done away with, and that of mayor adopted to designate the chief officer of a town.
For several centuries after the Conquest, a select body or corporation in the more modern sense of the term, within and distinct from the township itself, was unknown. The chief object of the Norman sove reigns in granting to the burgesses or townsmen the right of electing a chief magistrate of their own, was to obtain punctual payment of a stipulated rent, and to insure at the same time in each locality as much internal peace and order as was requisite to enable the community to perform this stipulation with exactness. The municipal body consisted of the resident and trading inhabitants, paying scot and.,bearing lot, that is, sharing in the payment of local taxes and the performance of local duties. Strangers residing temporarily in the town for purposes
of trade had no voice in its affairs, as they incurred no liability to its burdens. Birth, apprenticeship, or marriage within the township, were titles to citizenship, as evidences of the essential requirement of estab lished residence. Titles by purchase were obtainable by individuals not previously connected with the community, or who were per manently resident elsewhere. In many of the greater towns, the sub division of the general community into guilds of particular trades, called, in many instances since the Norman era, companies, opened up avenues for admission to the general franchise of the municipality. In their greatest prosperity these fraternities, more especially in the metropolis, were important bodies, in which the whole community was enrolled ; each had its distinct common-hall, made by-laws for the regulation of its particular trade, and had its common property ; while the individuals composing them, as members of the great general community, remained the same.
In course of time, and after the practice had arisen of the towns sending representatives to take counsel with the king in parliament, it became the policy of the crown to give a more distinct entity to the governing powers in the various boroughs, and to form close bodies, irresponsible to the general community. In most eases, by an arbitrary stretch of power, the various guilds were dissolved, and their pro pertsiconfiscated and transferred to the newly-constituted corporation. Such bodies were found to be infinitely more manageable than the freemen, and by their means a great influence was obtained by the sovereign in the appointment of representatives. This policy was pursued by the princes of the Tudor line, and was continued and im proved upon by the Stuarts. The right was first assumed of remoulding by governing-charters the municipal constitution of certain boroughs, which had either ceased to send representatives to parliament or had never exercised that privilege, but upon which this right was now con ferred, Most of these charters vested the local government,'and some times the immediate election of the parliamentary representatives, in small councils, originally nominated by the crown, to be ever after self-eletted.