Bribery, at common law, the offering or acceptance of any undue reward to or by any person whose office or ordinary employment relates to the administration of public justice, in order to influence his conduct in such office or employment, and incline him to act otherwise than as a strict and conscientious discharge of duty would require. It extends to the giving or receiving a reward to influence the action of a voter at parliamentary elections, or of a member of parliament, or a cabinet minister or member of the privy council, of a justice of the peace, or officer summoning jurors, or the jurors themselves; and the attempt, though not successful, is a misdemeanor. Formerly very loose notions prevailed in England regarding the acceptance of gifts by judges from the suitors before them; and Lord Chancellor Bacon could make no better apology for the receipt of a great number of such gifts by himself than that the practice was common. The severe punishment inflicted upon him put an end to the practice for a long time; but in the reigns of Charles II. and James II. there was a shameful venality of judges, which, however, terminated at the revolution of 1688, since which the integrity of the English bench has generally been above reproach.
The conspicuous exception was. that of Lord Chancellor Macclesfield, who was impeached and removed from office in 1725 for making sale of offices in his patronage, and conniving at an illegal use of moneys on deposit in his court. In 1865, also, Lord. Chancellor Westbury found it necessary to resign because not able to defend his conduct in the bestowment of patronage. Bribery is also punishable in England under various statutes. By statute 11 Henry IV., all judges and officers of the king convicted of bribery are subject to forfeiture of treble the amount of the bribe, are punishable at the king's will, and to be discharged from his service for ever. The provisions against bribery at parliamentary and other elections are very minute and specific, but no law has yet been able to remedy what is now and has for a long time been a crying evil. It perhaps reached its climax in the time of Sir Robert Walpole, but the enormous sums of money now expended in the parliamentary contests are not consistent with purity in elections. By common parliamentary law bribery of or by a member is sufficient cause for expulsion. - The statutes of the United States prescribe punishments for the bribery of members of congress and other officers of government, and of jurors, and bribery in contracts.
Bribery of a member of a legislative body, or an attempt to bribe a member, or a judge or juror, is also a contempt of the body or the court, and has sometimes been punished as such. In 1870 a member of congress was expelled for a corrupt distribution of his patronage, and another resigned on similar charges being made against him. The charge of corruption has seldom been made against judges of the highest courts in this country, and their integrity has generally been above suspicion. In the state of New York, however, charges of a very gross nature were made against two judges of the supreme court, which resulted in 1871-2 in the resignation of one and the impeachment and condemnation of the other; a judge of the superior court in the city of New York was also tried by the senate and dismissed from office. The several states have statutes for the punishment of different classes of bribery, and the punishments range from a fine to imprisonment in the penitentiary. - For an account of parliamentary corruption in England, see May's " Constitutional History," chapter vi., and the numerous authorities there referred to.