Mr. Francis to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Lisbon, March 13, 1883. (Received March 27.)
Sir: Señor Fontes, president of the council of ministers, recently presented to the Cortes a communication discussing the general question of such political reforms in Portugal as are, in the opinion of the Government, desirable, and in many cases necessary. This document is of great length, and concludes as follows:
It is our belief that, having in view the intentions declared and exhibited herein, the following principles should be adopted:
That the heredity of the peers shall be abolished;
That the number of members to compose House of Peers be limited;
That the elective principle and that of royal nomination be combined in reasonable proportions in the organization of this chamber, at all times respecting the rights possessed by the present peers;
That the regular duration of each legislature shall be reduced to three years;
That it shall be declared that the peers and deputies are the representatives of the country, and not of the King who named them, or of the districts which elected them;
That the imperative mandate shall be prohibited (meaning that no deputy shall be hampered by the instructions of constituencies or others, but must be left absolutely free to act and vote in accordance with his own judgment);[Page 737]
That it shall be expressly declared that to each chamber belongs the power of the verification of the rights of its members;
That the inviolability of peers and deputies shall be limited, and that they may be arrested in flagrante delicto of all crimes except such as are subject to correction and punishment;
That in all questions concerning taxes and recruitment on which differences of opinion may arise between the two houses, and of balloting in the mixed commission (“committee of conference the vote of the elective chamber shall prevail;
That the dissolution of a newly-elected Cortes cannot take place until three months of the session shall have passed;
That an interval of three months be fixed before the meeting of the new chamber;
That the Cortes-general be dissolved whenever a reform of the constitution shall be recognized as necessary, in order that the deputies newly elected for the first legislative session shall present themselves provided with the necessary powers to reform the charter in a legal manner;
That the power to pardon, commute, and diminish punishments shall be restrained in regard to those incurred by ministers of state, the power to pardon in their case not to be exercised except in conformity with a previous petition of the Chamber of Deputies;
That it shall be declared that the direct confirmation of the executive is necessary before the decree can be carried out;
That the responsibility of ministers shall be restored for their exercise of the pardoning and commuting power;
That the King shall be authorized to absent himself from the Kingdom for a certain time without first obtaining the permission of the Cortes to that effect; and
That, finally, the right of meeting in public shall be recognized as one of the political and personal rights of Portuguese citizens.
This document is followed by a draft of a proposed law recognizing the necessity of these proposed changes, consisting of three articles, the second being in the following words:
The Chamber of Deputies which shall be immediately elected after the present egislature shall be elected with the necessary powers to effect the reforms indicated In article 1.
In conformity with previous notification and the royal declaration made on the opening of the Cortes at its present session, Señor Fontes has introduced in the House of Deputies, with recommendation that it be enacted into a law, a proposed act for electoral reform, embracing the following provisions: The “Scrutin de liste “is established over the whole Kingdom, which is divided into forty electoral districts, said districts to elect altogether one hundred and forty-two deputies, being an average of one deputy to thirty-two hundred inhabitants.
The maximum of deputies to be elected in these districts is five, except in the administrative districts which possess the population entitling them to six deputies, and these shall each form one district.
In such of these districts as are situated the chief towns (“county” towns) the elections will be conducted on the system of “incomplete list” introduced into England in 1867. The term “scrutin de liste” applies to the system which requires the elector to vote for all the deputies who represent the whole of his electoral district, instead of voting, as by the old system, for the one deputy who represents the administrative district in which he lives; the same, for instance, as in a county with us, where three members of assembly are chosen, the elector must vote a general ticket for such members, instead of voting for a single representative of his particular district. In other words, the representatives are chosen for the whole district instead of separate divisions thereof. As, however, the universal application of this rule would not permit of minority representation, the law provides that in three districts of the Kingdom named in the act, wherein, upon the basis of apportionment, such districts are entitled to six representatives each, an elector can only vote for five, and the six persons voted for receiving the highest number of votes shall be declared elected, but each one so [Page 738] elected must have a number of votes equal to one-eighth of the whole number of registered voters. The act also provides for the election of six deputies by accumulation vote; that is to say, the six persons receiving the highest number of votes in the districts of the Kingdom and the islands, not a sufficient number to elect them in any one district, but, aggregated together, their votes being the highest of any receiving the “scattering vote,” shall be declared elected. So it appears that no more than nine deputies can, under the proposed law, be chosen by the minority vote of the country.
The law provides as qualification for voters the ability to read and write, and allows the privilege to heads of families upon the possession of an income of $100 annually.
The constitutional reforms proposed must go over for action by a new Cortes, in accordance with the charter of the Kingdom; the legislation recommended, including the proposed electoral law, may be enacted at the present session of the Cortes. The reforms suggested are important as indicating the progress of liberal ideas in the Government of Portugal.
I have, &c.,