Till the reign of James I., all persons who held any portion of ground, however small, by military service of the Crown, had seats in the Scottish parliament. The small barons were afterwards excused from attendance, and represented by “two or more wise men, according to the extent of their county.” Parliament appointed the time of its own meetings and adjournments; nominated committees to wield its powers during recesses; possessed not only a legislative but an executive character; exercised a commanding power in all matters of government; appropriated the public money, and appointed the treasurers of the exchequer; levied armies, and nominated commanders; sent ambassadors to foreign states, and appointed the judges and courts of judicature; and even assumed power to alienate the regal demesne, to restrain grants from the Crown, and to issue pardons to criminals. The king, even so late as in the person of James IV., was only the first servant of his people, and had his duty prescribed by parliament; he had no veto in the parliament’s proceedings; nor could he declare war, make peace, or conduct any important business of either diplomacy or government, without that assembly’s concurrence. The constitution of the country partook much more the character of an aristocracy than that of a limited monarchy. The nobility – who were dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, and barons – were hereditary members of parliament; but they formed one house with the knights and burgesses, and occupied common ground with them in all deliberations and decisive votes. The nobles and other members of parliament were checked in their turn by the common barons, just as they checked the king; and even the common barons, or the landholders, were, to a large, extent, checked in turn by their vassals. A jury of barons, who were not members of parliament, might sit on a lord’s case, of even the gravest character, and might decide it without being unanimous in their verdict; and the vassals of a baron so completely involved or concentrated all his available power in their own fidelity and attachment, as to oblige him, in many respects, to act more in the character of the father of his clan than in that of a military despot. The king, too, – while denied nearly all strictly royal prerogatives by the constitution of the country, – was indemnified for most by the accidents of its feudal institutions. He acquired considerable interest among the burgesses and lower ranks in consequence of the abuse of power by the lords and great landowners; and, when he had sufficient address to retain the affections of the people, he was generally able to humble the most powerful and dominant confederacy of the aristocrats; though, when he did not acquire popularity, he might dare to disregard the parliament only at the hazard of his crown or his life. The kings, – aided by the clergy, whose revenues were vast, and who were strongly jealous of the power of the nobility, – eventually succeeded in greatly diminishing, and, at times, entirely neutralizing, the aristocratical power of parliament. A select body of members was established, from among the clergy, the nobility, the knights, and the burgesses, and called “the Lords of the Articles;” it was produced by the bishops choosing 8 peers, and the peers 8 bishops, by the 16 who were elected choosing 8 barons or knights of the shires, and 8 commissioners of royal burghs, and by 8 great officers of state being added to the whole, with the Lord-chancellor as president; its business was to prepare all questions, bills, and other matters, to be brought before parliament; and the clerical part of it being in strict alliance with the king, while the civilian part was not a little influenced by his great powers of patronage, it effectually prevented the introduction to parliament of any affair which was unsuited to his views, and gave him very stringently all the powers of a real veto. This institution seems to have been introduced by stealth, and never brought to a regular plan; and as to its date and early history, it baffles the research, or at least defies the unanimity, of the best informed law writers. Yet “the Lords of the Articles” were far from being wholly subservient to the Crown; for they not only resisted the efforts of Charles I. to make them mere tools of his despotism, but went freely down the current which swept that infatuated monarch to his melancholy fate; and, at the Revolution, they waived all ceremony about getting from the fanatical idiot, James VII., a formal deed of abdication, and promptly united in a summary declaration that he had forfeited his crown. Before the Union there were four great officers of state, the Lord High-chancellor, the High-treasurer, the Privy-seal, and the Secretary, – and four lesser officers, the Lord Clerk-register, the Lord-advocate, the Treasurer-depute, and the Justice-clerk, – all of whom sat, ex-officio, in parliament. The officers of state and the law courts which now exist, will be found noticed in our article on EDINBURGH. The privy council of Scotland, previous to the Revolution, assumed inquisitorial powers, even that of torture; but it is now swamped in the privy council of Great Britain. The Scottish nobility return from among their own number 16 peers to represent them in the tipper house of the imperial parliament. Between the Union and the date of the Reform bill, the freeholders of the counties, who amounted even at the last to only 3,211 in number, returned to the House of Commons 30 members; the city of Edinburgh returned 1; and the other royal burghs, 65 in number, and classified into districts. The Parliamentary Reform act in 1832, added, at the first impulse, 29,904 to the aggregate constituency of the counties; but it allowed them only the same number of representatives as before, – erecting Kinross, Clackmannan, and some adjoining portions of Perth and Stirling, into one electoral district; conjoining Cromarty with Ross and Nairn with Elgin, and assigning one member to each of the other counties. The same act enfranchised various towns, or erected them into parliamentary burghs, increased the burgh constituency from a pitiful number to upwards of 31,000, and raised the aggregate number of representatives from 14 to 23. The total constituencies of the counties and the burghs in each year, from the passing of the Reform act till 1839, are stated in the following table.
The constituency of each county and burgh is stated in the article upon it in the alphabetical arrangement. Of the burghs, Edinburgh and Glasgow each return two members; and Aberdeen, Dundee, Paisley, Greenock, and Perth, each return one; while the remainder are distributed, in the following order, into 14 districts, each of which returns one, – Ayr, Campbeltown, Inverary, Irvine, and Oban, – Dumfries, Annan, Kirkcudbright, Lochmaben, and Sanquhar, – Elgin, Banff, Cullen, Inverury, Kintore, and Peterhead, – Falkirk, Hamilton, Airdrie, Lanark, and Linlithgow, – Haddington, North Berwick, Dunbar, Jedburgh, and Lauder, – Inverness, Forres, Fortrose, and Nairn, – Kilmarnock, Port-Glasgow, Dumbarton, Renfrew, and Rutherglen, – Kirkcaldy, Burntisland, Dysart, and Kinghorn, – Leith, Musselburgh, and Portobello, – St. Andrews, East-Anstruther, West-Anstruther, Crail, Cupar, Kilrenny, and Pittenweem, – Montrose, Arbroath, Brechin, Forfar, and Bervie, – Stirling, Culross, Dunfermline, Inverkeithing, and Queensferry, – Wick, Cromarty, Dingwall, Dornoch, Tain, and Kirkwall, – and Wigton, New Galloway, Stranraer, and Whithorn. Some of the principal towns, or towns more populous than many which rank as burghs, share in the franchise only in common with the landward districts, and the villages of the counties in which they lie. The chief are Dalkeith, Maybole, Hawick, Girvan, Alloa, Kelso, Crieff, Dunse, Selkirk, Peebles, Bathgate, Tranent, Dunblane, Bothsay, Cupar-Angus, Saltcoats, Dairy, and Comrie.