Lectures on the Relation between Law & Public Opinion in England: During the Nineteenth Century

By A. V. Dicey | Go to book overview

LECTURE III
DEMOCRACY AND LEGISLATION

DOES not the advance of democracy afford the clue to the development of English law since 1800?

This inquiry is suggested by some indisputable facts. In England, as in other European countries, society has, during the last century, advanced in a democratic direction. The most ordinary knowledge of the commonest events shows us that in 1800 the government of England was essentially aristocratic, 1 and that the class which, though never despotic, was decidedly dominant, was the class of landowners and of large merchants; and that the social condition, the feelings and convictions of Englishmen in 1800, were even more aristocratic than were English political institutions. No one, again, can doubt that by 1900, and, indeed, considerably before 1900, the English constitution had been transformed into something like a democracy. The supremacy of the landowners had passed away; the destruction by the great Reform Act of rotten boroughs had been the cause and the sign of a thorough change in the system of government. The electorate, which had in the main represented the

____________________
1
See this stated forcibly, though with great exaggeration, Ostrogorski, Democracy and Organization of Political Parties, chap. i.

-48-

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