Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XII.: SECRESY OF SUFFRAGE—ITS IMPORTANCE FURTHER DEVELOPED. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 3
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SECTION XII.: SECRESY OF SUFFRAGE—ITS IMPORTANCE FURTHER DEVELOPED. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 3 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 3.
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SECRESY OF SUFFRAGE—ITS IMPORTANCE FURTHER DEVELOPED.
In the situation of Election voters,—in the character of a security for freedom of suffrage, and against spuriousness of suffrage, not only the utility but to a great extent the necessity of secresy,—in the character of a security against all seductive influence operating from without, whether in the shape of terrorism or in the shape of bribery (that is, in every shape whatever, gratitude of the purely social kind excepted,) its necessity—in a preceding section (Section V.) and in the Plan itself, all these tutelary properties have been brought to view.
Turn back to Section X.—behold once more the troop of dependents driven to the poll-booth, with stewards in front and rear, to prevent desertion. By the protecting veil of secresy, suppose now the direction given to the voter completely hidden—hidden from all tyrant eyes—say, would any such trouble ever be given to stewards? By terror may a man be driven to the place of election,—true:—but, under the shield of secresy, it is not by terror that, when he is there, the direction given to his vote can be determined.
But, in this same case, secresy, as it excludes terrorism, so does it exclude bribery: for, though by gratitude and sympathy alone what may happen is—that a bribe shall in this case be productive of the desired effect,—yet such is the feebleness of the chance, as to exclude (it should seem) all probability—all practical probability, and thence all adequate expectation—of effecting by this means the desired purpose. Where the engagement is of such a nature, that the act of contracting it is a transgression against the laws of morality and political probity, who is there that can fail to acknowledge that the fulfilling of that same engagement is—not an atonement for that first sin, but a repetition of it? If this doctrine be just and true,—nay, whether it be so or not,—in a case such as that in question, endeavours to instil this antidote into the mind to which, in the way in question, the matter of corruption has been applied, seem little in danger of being either deficient or ineffectual.
Now, suppose universal suffrage established, or suffrage to such an extent as not to exclude paupers. Let but the direction given to the vote be completely unknown to all but him who gives it,—a pauper—having no prospect of gain in the event of his giving it in favour of the less fit candidate—nor of loss in the event of his giving it in favour of the more fit candidate,—would, if the delivery of his vote seemed to him worth the trouble—would naturally, if in his own conception unable to form a judgment of his own—would, of course, among such persons as he beheld within his reach—look out for those whose reputation, in respect of the joint qualities of appropriate probity and appropriate intellectual aptitude, stood highest,—from them endeavour to learn which of all the proposed candidates was, in their opinion, the fittest—and give his vote accordingly. Such would be the case under the system of secresy. How would it be under the system of publicity? His subsistence—his very existence—depends upon the pleasure of the local magistracy: his vote would be as absolutely at their command, as the voting ticket at the command of the hand by which it is dropped into the box. Think of the proportion borne by those who already are in a state of pauperism, to those who are not yet fallen into that disastrous state. This vast part of the democracy would be completely in the hands of the removable nominees of the crown. Yes:—in the hands of titled country terrorists, and corruption-eating and corruption-hunting court divines, ready to join hand in hand with hubble-bubble city corruptionists, for the protection of a commissioned associate, in the habit of exercising to his own use, on condition of exercising other arts to the use of court and treasury, the “useful” art of “poisoning,” so long as it were upon such and such alone of his Majesty’s subjects as it should please them to consign to contempt and torment by the appellation of “ale-drinkers.”
And thus, by the new instrumentality of universality of suffrage, if unprotected by the necessary shield of secresy—thus, without commotion or drop of blood shed, the constitution would be changed; changed from its present state, of an impure but not yet to a certainty altogether unpurifiable mixture, into a pure and ever unamendable despotism.
In correspondent obedience to one of those solemn ordinances, which have been so often passed for show,—with the exception of the metropolis, at which it is kept collected in greatest quantity,—all military force is, at all parliamentary election times, ordered at a distance from the place: as if for a troop of dragoons, by whose sabres the mask would be so effectually cut off, and by any the smallest movement of which, in this line of parliamentary service, the whole country, if by anything it could be, would be thrown into a flame,—as if for any such instruments of terror there could be any the slightest demand, when, without the stirring so much as of a finger or a tongue, the object can be and is so effectually accomplished by the invisible and motionless spectre of terrorism. Thus are gnats strained at, that camels may be swallowed.
Such being the state of things, by what strange accident—by what strange delusion—can it be, that, in the situation in which so vast a proportion of the whole body of the people are held down by the indissoluble bonds of civilized society,—the necessity of secresy in the character of a shield to freedom, in the character of a security against spuriousness of suffrage—at any rate under the joint yoke of monarchy and aristocracy,—can have been made to conceal itself from any eye? In such a case, how is it that a man can avoid seeing, that by publicity terror is armed, by secresy disarmed?
A man ought—every man ought—to sacrifice in every case—to sacrifice in this case in particular—his own personal interest to the universal interest. Good:—there we have an antecedent. Ergo, so he will: there we have the consequent. Well: if in the consequent there be any truth, here are we already in Utopia: no need of penal laws; no, nor so much as of sermons.
Call a man names—hard to any degree of hardness—slave, coward, or if there be anything harder,—by any such insult will he in any degree be disposed to practise the self-denying lesson, thus preached to him by a censor, who himself is all the while sitting upon velvet?
On this occasion, as on any other,—if, in any imaginable way, without determinate and preponderant mischief, means can be found for reconciling private with public interest, and thus saving both from sacrifice,—can any valid reason be given why such means should not be employed?
Suppose that, by any such expression of scorn, ninety-nine men out of a hundred, or though it were but one out of the hundred, could thus be engaged to devote themselves to ruin,—to ruin, or though it were but any the slightest inconvenience,—how is it that, while the useful and desired effect might as completely and surely be produced without inconvenience in any shape,—how is it that by any such discipline the sum of happiness would be increased?
This shield, without which all pretence to freedom is imposture,—in what sort of situation could any objection to the use of it have found either origin or acceptance? Only in one or other of these two: the one is—that of a man who—his whole dependence being in terrorism, in bribery, or in a mixture of both—beheld in the freedom secured by secresy a bar to his designs; the other, that of a man to whom—that same situation exempting him from all such sensation as that of fear on any such score—no idea of any such sensation had ever presented itself as likely to have place, among the multitude whom he saw at his feet; or, if it had, had never otherwise presented itself than as a matter of indifference.
In conversation even, and that a confidential one, with a man now no more, ballot being mentioned by me as a causa sine qua non of freedom, he made wry faces, muttered out the word nasty, and turned off the discourse. He was a patron of seats; his votes wavering: he was a great landholder; and not the most popular among landholders.
“Cowardly dogs!” said an expert swimmer, who having crossed a deep river at his ease, looked back and beheld his companions, some of whom could swim, lingering on the other side—“cowardly dogs! are not ye ashamed of yourselves?”
As to any supposed difficulty with regard to the accomplishment of the purpose, altogether groundless would be any objection on that score. With notorious and undisputed constancy is the effect accomplished, for example, at the India House.* In the sort of situation here in question, should any inconvenience be found to attend the mode there employed, others might and would be devised in plenty, every one of them exempt from inconvenience.
No: not in the invention of a mode by which the purpose shall be accomplished,—but in the devising of a mode by which—to remotely situated as well as to conniving eyes—the purpose shall be made to appear to be intended and accomplished, while in effect as well as design the opposite purpose is accomplished,—in this lay the only difficulty. Turn now to Honourable House, and in that seat of self-proclaimed honour, behold this difficulty, after having, during a course of ages, been constantly surmounted, at last by miracle rendered for ever unsurmountable. Turn to Morning Chronicle debates, and therein you may see, that on the 6th of February 1817,—the time of Honourable House having already for a whole hour been occupied in the organization of a ballot for a committee of secresy,—up, from the opposite side of the house, starts Mr. Brougham, and with the exception of one out of one-and-twenty, reads the names of the members, the choice of whom was to be the result of all this secresy.
Comes the next day (7th February 1817,) and, in speaking of the ballot, the noble lord at whose motion this time-consuming process has been carrying on, admits it to be open to the insinuations “that had been conveyed;” “still, however,” says the report, “he did not think that the House would join . . . . . in reprobating a practice established by the usage of ages.” Of no imposture which, for the delusion of the public, Honourable House had been in use to practise—of no such imposture would even the most public detection afford to Honourable House any inducement strong enough to engage honourable gentlemen to cease practising it. In and to Honourable House itself, such is the portraiture given of the said Honourable House by a noble lord, who, at that same moment, is seen occupied in the giving direction to it, and the intimacy of whose acquaintance with its true character could not without injustice and folly be contested.
Not the less pertinaciously maintaining by argument the excellence of this “usage of ages,”—even the principle of universal suffrage (“it had been contended,” he observed, “by many”) would not be productive of a fair representation of the people without it. True: but between the many and the one there was one difference: the ballot thus advocated by the many was a real one: the ballot advocated by the one was a sham one. “High,” in the tone of scorn and sarcasm, was the epithet thereupon given to the “authority,” by which the use of the instrument of freedom is thereupon stated as recommended: “high,” as who should say contemptible. Now if contempt there must be, where will be the fittest object for it to be found?—in the titled would-be impostor, who knowing a practice to be a sham, attempts to pass it off as genuine,—or the untitled good man and true, who holds up to view as sham that which he sees to be sham, and as genuine that which he sees to be genuine?
For illustration,—the effect of ballot, as applied to other situations, presents some claim to notice. Whatsoever be the situation, and the ultimate effect,—the effect which secresy has for its proximate result is—the enabling the voter to give effect to his own will, to the exclusion of every other. This being true in every case,—in the situation of a public trustee, consider it in the character of a security for appropriate probity:—a security for the faithful execution of his trust. In this situation, whatsoever be the nature of this public trust, and of the public interest, for the support of which the trust has been instituted,—in so far as, in his own view of it, his own individual interest coincides with such public interest, secresy is the mode and the only mode, that affords an adequate assurance of the fulfilment of the intended purpose. On the other hand, when (the situation in which he is acting being here likewise that of the holder of a public trust) the danger is—that, in his own view of it, the tendency of his individual interest is, on the point in question, opposite to the public interest—to that public interest for which he is in trust,—insomuch that he thereby stands exposed to the temptation of sacrificing such public to his own private interest,—in any such situation, the greater the publicity is that is given to his proceedings, the stronger is the check, such as it is, the tendency of which is to restrain him from joining in such sacrifice: consequently, on the other hand, the more entire and assured the secresy,—the stronger the temptation, and the greater the facility afforded to such sacrifice.*
Now transfer in idea the ballot to Honourable House—adjourned (suppose) to Utopia, for the purpose of so ordering matters that on this one occasion the practice of Honourable House shall not be tainted with imposture. Suppose at the same time a member, in whose instance dependence and independence preserve (both of them) the customary relations: independent as towards the swine who dare to style themselves his constituents, he is dependent constitutionally dependent—as towards the Emanuel of Judge Blackstone. First, let the case be one, in which,—whether in his individual capacity merely, or in his capacity of partner in the universal interest, or in both capacities together,—he would, in his own view of the matter, be a sufferer by the proposed measure if carried; say a bad or needless tax:—at the same time, were he to oppose it, he would, from the resentment of the said Emanuel, in his own view of the matter be in danger of becoming a sufferer to a greater amount: in this case, secresy will in his instance operate—and that with indisputable effect—as a shield to appropriate probity. Now, let the case be one in which, in the same capacities, and in the same eyes as before, he would be a gainer: say that of any one of the swarm of bills for the extirpation of English liberties—any bill, in a word, for the fastening, in a manner still more excruciating if possible, the joint yoke of monarchy and aristocracy upon the neck of the swinish multitude: in this case, instead of being a shield to appropriate probity, secresy would be a shield to the opposite improbity.
[* ]Yet, by Charles Fox, as hath been seen, could the supposed impracticability of uniting freedom with universality of suffrage be urged in the character of an objection—and that, though the only one, a conclusive one—against the giving any such extent to the right of suffrage!
[* ]In this case, what may perhaps be observed is—that, under the check thus applied, the will to which he gives effect is not his own will, any more than under the check applied by individual terrorism. True: but here, though it is not his own will, it is the only proper will; which is still better. To give effect to that will, the effectuation of which is in the highest degree subservient to the public interest in question—this is the only ultimate end: in relation to this ultimate end, the giving effect to his own private and individual will, as governed by his own private and individual interest, or supposed interest, is but a means. Be the means what it may, that which the public service, in respect of the public interest in question, requires, is, that when the means in question, i. e. that which is proposed in the character of a means, is really subservient to the end, then it should be employed—when it is not thus subservient, then it should not be employed.