205 | To the Board of Trade

    Boston. Ap 30. 1763

    My Lords

    I have received your Lordships letter of Feb 8th requiring a full information concerning the constitution of the House of Representatives of this Province.764 This I shall state to your Lordships with all the precision I am able to do.

    By the Charter Evry Town is impowered to elect two Persons to serve for & represent them in the general Assembly. But by an Act of the 4th of Will & Mary ca 19765 No Town is allowed to send 2 members but what has 120 freeholders: Evry Town that has 40 freeholders is obliged to send one representative; A Town tha[t] has above 30 & under 40 freeholders may send a representative or not as they please; A Town under 30 freeholders may send a representative or join with the next in the choice of a Representative; Boston alone is allowed to send 4. By an Act of the 5th of Will & Mary ca 11 The Qualification of a Voter is declared to be his giving Oath that he is worth 40 pounds sterling or a freehold estate of 40 shillings per an.766

    If according to this regulation Evry Town should avail itself of its utmost power to send representatives, The Number would be very large indeed. But as the sending a Member is a burthen upon a Town instead of being exerted, it is avoided as much as possible: so that it scarce ever happens that a Town, which has a right to be excused, sends a representative: and of those which are obliged by law to send one, a great many make default; that it is frequent for the House of Representatives to fine Towns for not sending Members. (see Votes pa 12). Your Lordships will see at the beginning of the Votes of each year a list of the Towns supposed to send Members distinguishing who have made returns & who not: These are not correct, but near so enough to form a calculation.767 In the list in 1762, being the last return, there appear to be 168 Towns (reckoning joint Towns as one) which are supposed to be obliged to Send Members, of which 64 have made default & 104 have returned: of these last only 4 have sent more than one member, so that there appears to be 110 (including the supernumeraries of the 4 towns) Representatives returned. I will suppose that much the greater part of these Towns have a right, if they please, to send two representatives & that there are many other Towns not named in this list which have a right to send one representative: so that the House is capable of a great encrease even tho’ there was no New Settled Country to contribute to it.

    I wrote to your Lordships upon this Subject in a letter dated Aug 3 1761,768 which I desire may be read, as if inserted here; for which purpose I shall inclose with this a triplicate of it. Upon account of my representations in that letter your Lordships sent me his Majesty’s Relaxation of the instruction. Altho’ this left me at liberty to consent to incorporating Townships without any restriction, yet I hav[e] observed ^the instruction^ in all instances of carving new Townsh[ips] out of old ones, in which Case, I have made it a rule that the New Town should join with the old one, from whence it was taken, in a representative. An instance of this the Town of Great Barrington lately constituted by Act769 will afford.

    Since I have received the relaxation of the instruction, The Bills for constituting Townships in the new settled Counties have been silent in regard to their being represented; of course they are left to the laws, which I have before stated. When one of these Towns has a sufficient Number of freeholders It is intitled to a precept as a matter of right. But it is generally expected that they will decline that priviledge as long as they can, to avoid the Expence of it. In short, My Lords, It were to be wished that some proper method could be devised to limit the general Number of Representatives: But It seems to me that it should be done rather by contracting those of the old Counties than by preventing a New County from being competently represented.

    I dont apprehend that the difficulty of this reform will be so great in the planning the Work as in the reconciling the People to an alteration which tends to the contracting their representation. It might be done effectually by enlarging the Number of freeholders that shall give a Town a right to send one Member & as for Towns that have not such a Number, to join them together in chusing a Representative, as many allready are. The ascertaining this Number will depend upon the Whole Number of freeholders in the Province, which I shall endeavour to learn, this Summer; & from thence may be calculated what Number of freeholders should go to the constituting a Representative to keep the House within a proper Number of Representatives.

    I am, My Lords, with great respect, Your most obedient & most humble Servt

    Fra. Bernard

    To The Right Honble the Lords Commrss for Trade & Plantations

    ALS, RC CO 5/891, ff 174-176.

    Variant text in BP, 2: 74-78 (L, LbC). The “triplicate” letter which FB mentions he enclosed was No. 59. This letter was read by the Board of Trade on 4 Aug. 1763. JBT, 11: 377.