Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XV.: REPRESENTATIVES—IMPERMANENCE OF THEIR SITUATION—ITS IMPORTANCE:—OBJECTIONS—THEIR GROUNDLESSNESS. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 3
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SECTION XV.: REPRESENTATIVES—IMPERMANENCE OF THEIR SITUATION—ITS IMPORTANCE:—OBJECTIONS—THEIR GROUNDLESSNESS. - 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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REPRESENTATIVES—IMPERMANENCE OF THEIR SITUATION—ITS IMPORTANCE:—OBJECTIONS—THEIR GROUNDLESSNESS.
On this part of the field, into a comparatively small compass must be compressed whatever can here be said: by the joint pressure of time and space, no inconsiderable quantity of matter, that had been collected for the purpose of this section, has, for the present at least, of necessity been extruded.
Utility and usage: to one or other of these heads may be referred whatsoever matter can here find room for the reception of it. Utility, as deducible from the unquestionable principles of human nature, as manifested by universal experience: usage, a source of argument, the demand for which will be seen to arise—partly out of the connexion it has with utility through the medium of experience; partly out of the means of defence it will be seen to afford against adverse prejudices and fallacies.*
I. First, as to utility.
In the Plan itself, from impermanence in general,—and, in the way of example, from annuality in particular,—four advantages—beneficial consequences—uses, in a word—are stated as resulting: whereof three having more particular respect to appropriate probity; the fourth to appropriate intellectual aptitude, and appropriate active talent.
I. Consider, in the first place, the case of each member, taken individually.
1. In the first place, the shorter the term he has in his seat,—the nearer, in cases of imputed misconduct, the term at which any mischief produced by such misconduct may be made to cease;—and, in the way of example to others, the more impressive the sort of punishment involved in a removal produced by such a cause.†
2. In the next place, by lessening, by the amount of the difference in the length of the term in the two opposite cases, the inducement which a candidate could have to launch out into expenses too great for his circumstances,—lessening thereby the danger of his coming into the House in a venal state.
2. Next, consider the case of the whole House, taken in the aggregate.
3. The smaller the length given to that service, the smaller the length of sinister service which a corruptly-disposed member will have to sell; the smaller, consequently, the length which it will be in the power of C—r-General and Co. to purchase.
4. The greater the number of the parcels into which the present length of service is broken down, the greater the number of those lengths of service which, for the continuance of a given length of corrupt service at the hands of a majority of the members, C—r-General and Co. will have to purchase; and thence the greater the chance that the aggregate number of the masses of the matter of corruption at his disposal will prove insufficient for that pernicious purpose.
5. Of the utility of the proposed transitoriness, in the character of a security for appropriate intellectual aptitude and appropriate active talent,—the proof, it is imagined, will not be much in danger, either of experiencing denial, or so much as escaping spontaneous notice. By discourses indicative of ignorance or intellectual weakness—by constant silence and inactivity—by absentation or slackness of attendance—by any one or more of these features of unfitness,—in the instance of every member in which they respectively have place, may his inaptitude, absolute or comparative, be betrayed, and indication given of it to his constituents. In this way, partly by original exclusion, produced by self-conscious inaptitude without trial,—partly by subsequent exclusion produced after and by trial,—produced, in a word, by the light of experience—may the House be cleared:—cleared, not as now, of those natural, and unpaid, and necessary—yet alas! how insufficient!—guardians to its aptitude in all shapes, and more especially to its probity—those constituents, in whose faces it so frequently, and always so needlessly, shuts its door under the name of strangers—and whom, as such, it clears itself of, as the phrase is, in the character of incumbrances and nuisances;—but of the multitudes of those real incumbrances and nuisances with which, in the situation of members, it is, under the existing system, to so great a degree infested; viz. empty-headed idlers, who, in default of all other means of consuming time, drop in now and then,—and, to save themselves from the trouble of thinking, throw themselves into the ever-extended arms of C—r-General and Co.—thus giving their support to misrule—saying, and perhaps fancying, they are supporting government: thus, and even without need of being purchased, contributing to the formation of the waste-and-corruption-and-oppression-producing majority; and, at the same time, by the amount of what might have been their share of the spoil, leaving undiminished, and by so much the larger, in the hands of the arch-corruptionist, the mass of the matter of corruption,—in readiness to be employed in the purchase of such other of the members, in whose instance, on the one hand, the demand for the matter of corruption is more importunate; on the other hand, the return they are capable of making for it, in the shape of pernicious service, more valuable.
Under the existing system, not only has C—r-General no interest—no positive interest—in the largeness of the number of members endowed with a more than ordinary share in these accomplishments; but, on the contrary, he has a positive interest in the smallness of that number. In addition to those measures which for keeping the machine from falling to pieces, must be carried into effect, the object he has to accomplish is—the carrying into effect—in number, extent, and value, to the greatest extent practicable—such others, as shall in the highest degree be conducive to the advancement of his separate interest. Now, for this purpose, true it is—that, in a limited number, men provided in the highest degree with these endowments,—as well as at the same time prepared at all times to make the requisite sacrifice in the article of probity,—are, on the occasion of the use made of them,—necessary. At the same time, for speech, motion, and occasional penmanship, suppose this number, whatever it be, completed:—this done, every individual above this number is a nuisance: the greater the value of his talents, the higher are his pretensions raised: the higher his pretensions raised,—and the greater the danger lest, by inadequacy of the quantity of the matter of corruption at command, he should be disappointed, and by discouragement driven to the other side: and moreover, the greater the number of these men of pretension, the greater the danger lest, by the quantity of time respectively employed by them in the display of their respective pretensions, a greater quantity on the whole might be consumed, than any demand he might have for delay, on the score explained in the section on non-attendance, could require: in which case they would be proportionable sufferers—sufferers, and to no use—in respect of the interest of the pillow.
Annuality of election, forsooth, a wild—a visionary arrangement? wild and visionary, when, within the view of those by whom it is thus denominated, stands the vast metropolis—its population little less than the tenth part of all England—the great seat and example of representative democracy—in which, for so many centuries past, the vision has been realized? realized, and all the time with such illustrious good effect, and without the shadow of inconvenience?
But here, perhaps, lest argument should be altogether wanting, comes a sudden turn to the opposite side: and now, with an air of triumph, at the bottom of this potential impermanence is shown eventual permanence: permanence—which, should it ever be actual, will be excessive.
Cases may be shown (it has been said)—cases in which, under annuality of election, the same person has been seated for life: here, then (it has been added,) where mutation has been the object thus aimed at, not mutation but perpetuity has been the result.
Be it so: but by this result, what is it that is proved? that the potential impermanence is a bad arrangement? By no means: but rather that it is a good one. Why? Because, under this instrument of good discippline, so good has been the behaviour of the functionary, that no fault has been to be found in him: no hope of supplanting him conceived by anybody else.
And, after all, in the particular instance here in question—in the Common Council, chosen by the liverymen of the city of London—of this potential impermanence is it so clear that any actual permanence, in such sort and degree as to have become productive of mischief in any assignable shape, has frequently, if ever, been the result?
In what character is it that impermanence is meant to be established?—in that of an end? an independent end? No surely: but in the mere character of a means—a means leading to an ulterior result in the character of an end: leading in a word to good behaviour, the result of appropriate aptitude in all shapes on the part of the functionary. Well then suppose the end fulfilled, what signifies it how matters stand with regard to the means?
What! from the circumstance of a man’s being, by the free suffrage of the undisputedly proper judges of his conduct, repeatedly and uninterruptedly—each time by the light of an additional body of experience—pronounced fit for his trust,—from this circumstance, standing as it does alone, will you infer him to be unfit? Grant that, in some situations, so it may be, that by nothing better than mere negative merit on the one part, and on the other part by the force of habit—by the property which habit has of superseding reflection—so it might happen, that a man of inferior merit might, by his continuance in the situation, put an exclusion upon a man of positive and superior merit,—still, in a situation such as this—a situation covered with a lustre, of which, in its present sordid state, it is not in the nature of the representation to afford an example,—small surely is the danger, but that by a swarm of competitors,—no expense having place by the terror of which any man can be excluded,—the attention of the electors will be sufficiently called and pointed to the probable degree of comparative aptitude, on the part of the provisionally accepted object of their choice.
But, should the case prove otherwise—or even for fear the case should prove otherwise—how easy would it be, by a slight amendment, to provide, that after having without intermission sitten for such or such a number of years, a member should, for the space of one year—or, if so it must be, some greater number of years,—cease to be eligible?—and so toties quoties?
The argument, which from potential impermanence infers probably excessive permanence,—in what circumstance shall we find the source of it? In great measure, not improbably, in the sort of paradoxicality that belongs to it, and the ingenuity and depth of thought that present themselves as evidenced by it. Here, as elsewhere, dig a little way, you get a paradox: dig a little further, you get the solution and exposure of it.
Give to the observation the utmost credit that can be due to it,—in the way of practice nothing more would result from it than a suspension—such as that proposed. But a sort of misconception, than which nothing is more common, is—the taking up an observation, the result of which, supposing it ever so well grounded, is but the need of a corresponding amendment to the proposed plan,—and then, without further thought, swelling it out into the shape of a peremptory objection, calling for the exclusion of the plan altogether.
II. Next, as to the question of usage.
Supposing, that from sufficient argument, the question of utility has received its answer—and that decision in favour of the proposed impermanence,—this being supposed, not improperly may it surely be observed, that to any such question as that about usage, any endeavour to find an answer is but a work of supererogation. That for centuries past, no such impermanence has had place, is altogether notorious: to what use, then, it may be asked, bring forward—even supposing it to have had place—an ancient usage, which has had for its opposite a more recent usage?—a usage bearing date in times more remote from, and thence more dissimilar to, our own—having for its opposite a usage less remote, and less dissimilar?
To this question may be returned two answers:—1. One is—that howsoever, in the eye of superior reason, the argument grounded in utility may be more substantially probative,—yet, constituted as human nature is—at any rate, at the stage beyond which the public mind is not yet advanced in this country,—the argument from usage—and in particular from ancient usage—affords a promise of being more efficiently persuasive.
2. Another answer is—that, on the present occasion, the argument from usage may, when considered in a certain point of view, be seen to come under, and in that way to coincide with, and operate in confirmation of, the argument from utility. Against the proposed impermanence, objections have been made on the ground of supposed confusion and instability: and, from words such as these, proportioned to the vagueness—to the confusedness—of the ideas attached to them in the minds of those by whom they have been employed, hath, as usual, been the portentousness of the eventual public calamities, brought to view by heated passions and excited imaginations, in the character of consequences,—and the intensity of the confidence with which the eventual arrival of these same calamities has been predicted.
Well then:—as to these points, such (it will be seen) as follows, is the state of facts. Age after age,—a degree of impermanence superior even to that which is here proposed, had place. And, during all that time, of this same impermanence what was the effect?—confusion?—instability?—anything, to the designation of which any such words could be employed? No:—but, on the contrary, the very result which, in the here proposed plan, is proposed as the proper end in view, or object to be aimed at; viz. on the part of the representatives of the people, dependence where due—dependence on the people: thence independence where due—independence as towards the monarch:—on the part of the monarch, dependence where due, dependence on the people—in a word, democratic ascendency.
Thus did matters continue, until—by the civil wars produced by contested title as between the Houses of York and Lancaster—by the successive conquests, and states of subjection—abject and universal subjection—to which those wars gave birth—by the final triumph of Henry VII., his almost unexampled rapacity, coupled with a degree of frugality altogether unexampled—by the vast and altogether unexampled mass of treasure precipitated from that source into the coffers of his son and successor—by the still more enormous mass of treasure absorbed from the patrimony of the church—from a mass of landed property, which, so long before as the year 1362, had been computed to amount to one-third part of the whole kingdom* —absorbed, in a word, principally from the dissolved monasteries, and at the same time, with a correspondent profusion, scattered abroad by that furious and sanguinary tyrant—so it was, that by the united force of terrific and alluring influence, every such sentiment, as that of independence as towards the monarch, wanted but little of being eradicated from every English breast.
In regard to the duration, coupled with the frequency of parliaments—the following are, in general terms, the results already obtained, from a not as yet quite completed search,—now making by a friend (on whose accuracy and judgment, as well as candour, I have a well-grounded confidence,) into the several authentic sources of information already published, with the addition of others, as yet unpublished, and some of them as yet unnoticed. When the search has been completed, I hope and believe it will be laid before the public in all its amplitude:—
I. As to frequency.
1. That, from the year 1258 (42 H. III.) down to the year 1640 (16 C. I. c. 1,) the monarch, in so far as he could be bound by an act of parliament, stood bound to hold a parliament once a-year at the least. Thus far as to the law.
2. That as to the usage that had place in pursuance of the law, from the year 1265 (49 H. III.) down to the year 1484 (1 R. III.) beyond which date the search in question has not yet extended—being a period of upwards of two hundred years—small is the number of years, in which a parliament does not from the documents appear to have been summoned; and in those instances, supposing no such summons to have had place, the omission may, with few or no exceptions, be accounted for, either by the absence of the Monarch in a foreign country (France or Scotland,) or by the existence of a civil war in the heart of the kingdom.
Thus much as to frequency.
II. Now as to duration.
3. That in all that time there is but one instance, in which the same parliament appears to have continued for and during a portion of time so long as a year: and that, in that one instance the duration was not so long as thirteen months.
4. That in that time, it appears that in a number of instances, within the compass of one and the same year, two, three, and even as many as four different parliaments, were held: so that the clause and oftener if need be, was not a mere random anticipation, having no ground in experience.
5. That, of what is now understood by a prorogation, the earliest instance that has been found is one which took place anno 1407—(8 H. IV.;) that, in some few instances anterior to that time, it appears as if, during the Christmas or the Easter holidays, something of an adjournment took place: But that in some even of these instances, the parliament that met was a fresh parliament; fresh writs of summons having in these instances been issued.
6. That however, in regard to the question of impermanence—impermanence in any such degree as that indicated by the word annuality—none of these cases of prorogation are material: inasmuch as whatsoever may have been the number of these prorogations, in no instance does it appear that the same parliament continued in existence so long as a whole year; that one excepted, in which the extra duration was not more than a few days.*
Speaking of the parliament that was held anno 1407 (8 H. IV.)—“This,” observe the authors of the Parliamentary History, vol. i. p. 306, “is the longest parliament we have yet met with:—it was continued nearly a year, which was an innovation on the ancient constitution, taken notice of by several historians as a great blot on this reign.”—There—honourable gentlemen—behold in those grave and universally respected authors of the Parliamentary History—the history so much lauded by the late Judge Barrington, brother of the above-mentioned existing bishop—behold in them another set of jacobins, to be added by you to Dean Swift,—and to those predecessors of your’s, who, so lately as in the last reign, were so near making a majority in favour of annuality.—Where, in their view, was the innovation?
Of the body of proof thus promised, and already in part afforded, so small is the quantity that would suffice to repel—not to say to transfer—the imputation of ignorance and wildness—the charge which with such unfortunate and unfortunately groundless confidence, has, from so many quarters, been thrown out.
Now then: when thus it will have been seen, that no otherwise than by a course of unquestionable tyranny and misrule was that so much more felicitous, though earlier state of government subverted,—what is the consequence? Even that, as for the benefit of a race of monarchs, a reign of manifest usurpation is regarded as if blotted out of the line of usage—so, and with no less propriety, for the benefit of a nation, may a like usurpation, though committed by monarchs, yet if committed to the manifest violation of the rights of the nation, acknowledged as such by unrepealed laws, in the formation of which monarchs have concurred,—be considered as blotted out:—a felicitous—and, in that only rational sense, a legitimate—course or line of government,—obscured only, but not blotted out, by an infelicitous and thence an illegitimate one. In this way, if imagination be to be called in (and why it may not with as much propriety be called in and employed in support of, instead of in opposition to, reason and utility, let any one say who thinks himself able,)—if imagination be to be called in—imagination, with its favourite instrument, the word right, used in a figurative and moral sense, that insensibly it may be taken and employed in a legal sense—why should not usage—usage so long continued, so extensive, and so steady—be regarded as creative of right? and that right suspended only in its exercise—suspended and not destroyed—by the intervening interval of wrong?
If so, and supposing the facts to be what they are here stated to be,—then so it is, that for the claim made to the benefit of short parliaments, to the ground of practical and manifest utility,—as bottomed upon the relations between interest and interest,—may be added the ground of constitutional right. Usage,—is it consigned to disregard? Utility remains sole arbiter, and annuality triumphant. Usage,—is it regarded and consulted? Right, is it considered as created by usage? Here, then, to the ground of utility, is superadded the ground of right.
Two or three centuries of right, followed by two or three centuries of palpable wrong;—is it not time—high time—that right should be restored—that subversion should be subverted? Legitimacy—monarch’s legitimacy—does it stand upon ground so substantial in any case—as right—people’s right—in this case?
In regard to usage, considered in the character of a circumstance by which, on the field of government, it is proposed that conduct should be directed, or at any rate influenced,—in what character, for the purpose of any such application, does it require to be considered?—in that of a guide, by whose course our course, as by one sheep that of other sheep, ought blindly to be determined? determined—and that with a degree of deference more and more implicit, the earlier the times—and thence the less experienced in themselves, as well as the more dissimilar to our own—the times in which this usage had place?
No assuredly: but in the character of a source of instruction—of instruction, to be derived from an attentive scrutiny into the relations, of what nature soever, observable as between the circumstances of the past time in question, and the circumstances of the present time: as a storehouse, in which reason may find matter to work upon; not as a pillow, on which, without prejudice to security, indolence and imbecility may sleep on and take their rest.
A point which, supposing it true, is to be proved, is—that, in the primeval times in question, not only was the degree of impermanence in question in a state of habitual existence,—but that it had for its cause, for its accompaniment, and for its consequence, that very state of things—that very democratic ascendency, for the re-establishment of which it is here proposed in these latter times.
Assuredly, in the development of this proof, no great difficulty will be found. For what purpose was it that a parliament—including the assembly composed of representatives deputed by the people—in a word, a Commons House—was wont to be called together by the monarch? Answer: To get money. Well: and if, without the trouble of calling together and treating with these deputies, he could, in his view of the matter, have got the money he wanted, would he at the same time have subjected himself to all that labour, and to the risk of finding it to be—what it sometimes actually proved to be—labour in vain? Not he indeed. That he should have done so, is not in human nature. Well then: so often, and so long, as he was at all this pains to prevail upon the people to supply him with money,—so often and so long did he feel himself as towards the people—as towards the great body of the people—in a state of dependency; and, for centuries together, this state of dependency was one uninterrupted state:—a state of dependency—not as now, as towards a comparatively small confederacy of men,—the majority of them pretending, and falsely pretending, to be representatives freely chosen by the great body of the people, and themselves acting in a state of corrupt dependency under himself. Well:—this, then, and nothing more, is what has been meant as above by democratic ascendency: the sort and degree of democratic ascendency, for the establishment of which it is that the system of arrangement here proposed, under the name of radical parliamentary reform, is contended for: the establishment,—for which the word re-establishment will, it is hoped, be seen to be the no less apposite appellative.
With relation to these our times, to both those other portions of time the appellation of old times belongs without dispute. The appellation of good old times—if to either, to which, then, shall it be given? Shall it be to those later times, when,—sometimes for the gratification of the everlastingly conjunct, and mutually inflaming and inflamed appetites—thirst for money and thirst for power,—oppression was constant, universal, and unchecked—waste always unchecked, and, except in those reigns in which frugality was stained by oppression, raging* —and corruption, if less abundant than at present, rendered so no otherwise than by its being, in respect of the demand for it, in so great a degree superseded by the more surely efficient, and, to a tyrant hand, the so much more pleasant instrument—viz. terrorism? Shall it not rather be to those old times, in which due dependence was so firmly established in both its indispensable branches—dependence of the monarch on the people’s representatives—dependence of the people’s representatives on the people their constituents: due dependence everywhere; corruption nowhere;—unchecked waste, unchecked oppression, nowhere?
[* ]Shield-note: a gag for scorners. On three several subjects, viz. for standing armies and demand for revolution, as well as annual parliaments, behold the opinions of Dr. Swift—opinions not thrown out on the sudden, for a party purpose or in the heat of debate, but in a state of retirement, after a long course of experience in the very arcana of politics, and a long course of subsequent reflections on the subject of that experience,—poured forth into the bosom of a most confidential friend. From Balfour’s edition of Pope’s Works, Edinburgh, 1762, vol. vi. p. 133:—From Dr. Swift to Mr. Pope, Letter V. Dublin, January 10, 1720-1.—“You will perhaps be inclined to think, that a person so ill-treated as I have been, must, at some time or other, have discovered very dangerous opinions in government:—in answer to which, I will tell you what my political principles were in the time of her late glorious Majesty, which I never contradicted by any action, writing, or discourse. . .
[† ]For the difference, in this and all other particulars, as between trienniality and annuality, see section 16, Moderate Reform, &c.
[* ]See Barrington’s Observations on the Ancient Statutes.
[* ]Of parliamentary acts ordaining the annual, or oftener than annual, holding of parliaments,—by the researches above mentioned three other instances have been found, over and above those which are to be seen in the current editions of the statute book: these are—1. One in Henry the Third’s reign, anno 1258 (42 H. III.) seven years anterior to that (1265, 49 H. III.) in which, for the first time, deputies from boroughs were summoned, viz. by Simon de Montfort. Reference for this is to Rymer’s Fædera and Annales Monasterii Burtonensis.—2. One in Edward the Second’s reign, anno 1311 (5 Ed. II.) [Lately published Statutes of the Realm, i. 165, cap. 29, 34.] These two anterior to those printed in the common statute books, viz. among the statutes of Edward the Third.—3. One posterior to ditto, viz. in Richard the Second’s reign; anno 1377 (1. R. II.:) for which see Brady, and the Monkish historian Walsingham.
[* ]Prosperous as it was in all transactions with foreign powers, the long reign of Elizabeth (see Neale’s History of the Puritans, by Toulmin) was a reign of grievous oppression to all those who would not sacrifice to her thirst for power the religious part of their consciences. Those who, with such undisturbed complacency, view the majority so long since established, little think by how grievous a course of oppression it was obtained. The state of Scotland shows what, had it not been for that oppression, would in that respect have been the state of England.