Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XVII.: TRIENNIALITY INADEQUATE;—ANNUALITY NECESSARY. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 3
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SECTION XVII.: TRIENNIALITY INADEQUATE;—ANNUALITY NECESSARY. - 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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TRIENNIALITY INADEQUATE;—ANNUALITY NECESSARY.
Comes now what remains to be said on the subject of impermanence.
The conflict is between annuality of election and trienniality.
I. Compare, then, the two degrees of impermanence—in the first place with a view to appropriate probity.
1. In the event of misconduct, the remedy is by a better choice. In the case of annuality, behold here promptitude maximized; in the case of trienniality, degree of promptitude no more than one-third of what it is in the other case.
2. So, in respect of discontinuance of choice, or, in one word, removal, considered in the character of punishment, operating in the way of example to others.
3. In respect of expense, whence, in case of excess and consequent pressure, temptation to venality. In the case of annuality, behold here the temptation to expense minimized: in the case of trienniality, the temptation thrice as great.
N. B. By the secresy of suffrage, here proposed as an arrangement essential to the utility of radical reform, the temptation to expense being altogether, it is believed, taken away,—if this be admitted, the advantage attached to annuality on this score will, as to a considerable portion of it, be to be left out of the account.
Under annuality, for the purpose of corruption-hunting, scarcely would it be worth the while, of a man deficient in probity, to offer himself a second time to choice, thereby exposing his character to scrutiny: at any rate, small, as above, is the price which C—r-General would be at the same time able and willing to give to him;—prompt the time at which his power of doing mischief might be put to an end.
Under trienniality, three years is the term for which every man may sell himself to anybody:—three years, the term for which his service may be bought by C—r-General:—three years, the time given to him to remain in a complete state of independence as towards constituents; thence in a state of complete dependence and mischievous obsequiousness, as at present, as towards his purchaser. Trampling on his duty—doing the work of political uncleanness with greediness, during the whole of the two first years, with a part more or less considerable of the last,—just at the close of the term—(adequate active talent being supposed to be in his possession)—by some dashing and momentary display in the exercise of the art of popularity-hunting, the corruption-hunter may have promised himself—and perhaps not altogether without success—the satisfaction of thus atoning for his past misconduct, in the eyes of a never-with-sufficient-universality-or-constancy-attentive, and thence for ever too indulgent, people.
Even under a system of radical reform—of reform in all other particulars such as here proposed—in all other particulars (suppose) perfect—such, in here and there an instance, may, in this particular, be the result of an unfortunate choice once made. But, in other particulars,—for want of this or that other of the features essential to completely efficient reform—whether it be virtual universality of suffrage, practical equality in respect of the effect of the right of suffrage, or secresy, and thence freedom of suffrage,—suppose the system so constructed, as that it shall be in the power of any individual to secure to himself the perpetual command of a seat;—on this supposition,—if by indolence, by unpopularity, or by any other cause, it should happen to him to have become disinclined to occupy the seat in his own person any longer,—there remains the seat, which he may find himself in a condition to give or sell to this or that other Honourable, by whom the like pernicious use may be made of it: and so—parliament after parliament—so long as the seat continues in his hands.
Exactly in this case would the representation continue to be,—supposing that mode of moderate reform adopted, of which the reduction of septenniality to trienniality is the principal, if not the only feature.
II. Next as to appropriate intellectual aptitude and active talent.
In the case of annuality,—in the event of deficiency—absolute or comparative—in respect of these endowments—both or either of them,—in the case of annuality, behold here, as above, promptitude of the remedy maximized: in the case of trienniality, promptitude no more than one-third.
Here, then, is a three years’ term,—during which a man, whose appropriate talents are, all of them, with or without his probity, either in his acres or his purse, may fill a seat with useless matter as at present:—matter at best useless, and naturally prone to become worse than useless: for, generally speaking—(though, alas! in one way, exceptions are not altogether wanting)—the more destitute a man is of natural dignity of character—of natural title to estimation and respect—the stronger his inducement to sell himself to C—r-General;—purchasing in exchange factitious dignity, in the shape of baronetcy or ribbon,—for self, or for relative, friend, or dependent, in any one of those, or of some other more substantial shapes. And howsoever, for no more than a single vote, with whatsoever constancy and punctuality repeated, the least valuable of these implements may be deemed too great a price,—yet, if by one such article bestowed upon one individual, seats more than one should be to be commanded, the bargain may here and there be, by both parties, found a convenient one.
Referable to this head, comes now an objection ascribed to Mr. Brand. Under annuality, the term not long enough for gaining the requisite stock of experience: under trienniality, the term long enough.*
Answer. 1. In this respect, during the whole of the first year, annuality and trienniality are exactly upon a par. Under annuality,—in the election of the second year, every representative, who has served the first year, will, in respect of presumable aptitude, have, in this respect, the advantage of every candidate, or proposed candidate, who has not as yet served. And by this consideration, in default of determinate considerations pleading on the other side, it seems natural that the choice of the electors should be determined.
But by the bye, in either case, of what avail is opportunity of acquiring aptitude, any further than as the opportunity is improved? And, under the existing system, unless it be on the part of a dozen or two, where is the motive? See above, in various places. And what, accordingly, the disposition and the habit? See the section on Attendance.
2. The idea of detaching speech and motion on the one hand, from vote on the other, and by that means securing, even on the part of the ministerial side, a supply, so much more to be depended upon than at present, of appropriate aptitude in the shape of active talent—this idea not having entered into the design, nor perhaps into the conception, of the honourable gentleman,—on this supposition, the comparative smallness of the quantum of intellectual aptitude possessed by such of the members as have votes, will not have presented itself to his view. On the supposition of radical reform, the men for whose decision the arguments on both sides are presented, will be a set of men who have no interest in a wrong decision: and, in default of self-formed judgment, the opinion from which derivative judgment will, in their instance, be derived, will, in that state of things, wherever, in the balance of reason and argument, the scales hang tolerably even, be most naturally the opinion delivered by the members of administration:—by those members, to whom not only speech, but motion, is proposed to be so extensively and uniformly secured.*
In the imputation meant to be conveyed by the words wild and visionary, and so forth—(for by honourable gentlemen the charge of finding sense for their eloquence has, along with so many other burthens, been left to us of the swinish multitude)—in the number of these conjecturable imputations, on this occasion likewise, are we to place the charge of tendency to produce disorder? But if to parliamentary elections of any sort a charge of this sort attaches, it must assuredly be to elections of that sort, which would have place under the system of virtually universal suffrage. Under that head (see § 8) the proof, it is hoped, will be found tolerably sufficient, that, in no instance, under that system, of mischief,—in any of the shapes in which the term disorder is ever employed for giving expression to it,—would there be any reasonable ground for apprehension. But if not even on the supposition that the widest possible extent were given to the right of suffrage, still less on the supposition of any less narrow extent: and if not in any one year, then not in three successive elections for three successive years, any more than in one such election having place in the first of these same three years.
If, in either case—viz. in case of annuality, or in case of trienniality,—under radical reform—or even, to go no farther, under virtually universal suffrage,—tendency to disorder were worth a thought,—rather on the case of trienniality than on the case of annuality should the thought be bestowed. Why? For this plain reason—Because, the longer the term in the seat, the greater the value of the seat; the greater the value of the seat, the stronger the incitement in both situations,—that of candidate and that of elector; the stronger the excitement, the greater the temptation to disorder in every shape.
On this occasion likewise, if it be worth while, look once more to experience. During the ancient period above mentioned, while parliaments were changed, not merely every year but oftener,—from impermanence, even when carried to that degree,—in any such shape as those which are included under the head of disorder,—in what instances does inconvenience appear to have ever had place?
“Nay, but,” it may be said, “no wonder. During all that period, parliamentary service was a service of burthen,—not, as now, of profit: the object was not to get into it, but to keep out of it.”
Answer. Yes: accidentally, but not uniformly: especially considering that in those days the servants were paid for the service, and that by the proper hands—their masters: and as to disinelination, it was, unless by accident, disinclination—not on the part of servants as toward the service—burthen and pay together—but on the part of the masters as towards the expense of paying for it. As to the statute of Henry the Sixth, though by it great concourse is proved—great concourse the state of things, competition the probable cause of it—disorder, instead of being proved, is disproved.
Well, if this ancient experience will not suffice—and small indeed to the present purpose must be confessed to be its value—look to ancient and modern experience combined in one—linked together in a long and uninterrupted chain, having for its last link present time. Look to the metropolis:—look to the city of London:—look to the common council:—electors the whole body of the liverymen, in number several thousands:—elections annual:—districts in which the votes are taken, sub-districts. In what shape was disorder ever seen here?
“Nay, but,” says the adversary, “this sample of yours is not a fair one. Your universal-suffrage men—or even your householders—speak of them in the same breath with the London liverymen? men who are not only householders, but such substantial householders?”
I answer: Not in the poorest classes, any more than in the richest, will disorder in any shape have place, where no cause of disorder in any shape has place: and, by the means so often brought to view, every imaginable cause of disorder has been shown to be removed. Even in the present disastrous times—under the pressure of such unexampled cause of irritation—in the vain hope of obtaining mercy and relief at the hands of their oppressors—what multitudes have we not seen collected together—multitudes in ten times the number that would ever be present at any such elections as those here in question;—and yet,—to the sad disappointment of those tyrants by whom disorder below is so eagerly looked for, as a pretence for, and thence an instrument of, tyranny above,—not a spark of disorder visible.
Will not that suffice? Look then to Westminster:—number of inhabitants, 162,085; number of electors, at least 17,000; voters not distributed among sub-districts, but driven all together—all into one and the same pollbooth: compared with the case of annuality, existing interests rendered the more stimulating by the superior value of the object of competition, and by the rareness of its recurrence. Freer from disorder in every shape is it possible for election to be, than (see p. 472) in this great city—its population part and parcel of the contiguous population of more than a million—it has been for these ten years past?
Well: to secure, and for ever, the same undisturbed tranquility all over the three kingdoms,—nothing on the part of Honourable House but the will—so it be but sincere—is necessary.
On the ground of general principles, were the advantages on the side of annuality ever so slight—or even altogether wanting—especially when it is considered that, under the original system, not only was it actually established, but the good effects of it were even at that time so manifest and undeniable—on this ground, ere with any colour of reason, or pretence, or any hope of the reputation of sincerity, trienniality can continue to be set up in preference to it, can it be otherwise than that some grounds—some specific and determinate grounds—must, in support of such alleged preference, be produced?
Towards the close of the reign of Charles the First, (16 C. I. c. 1,) at the opening of the Long Parliament—the so often repeated and so long observed engagement, for the annual holding of fresh parliaments, having been so long and so continually violated as to have become in men’s conceptions obsolete,—trienniality was, for the first time, established by law instead of it. Trienniality and not annuality? Why? Because, at the commencement of the struggle, parliament did not feel itself strong enough to exact anything more: to exact the restoration of the original and so thoroughly approved, but unhappily so long despaired of, state of things.
In Charles the Second’s time, (16 C. II. c. 1,) the legitimacy and despotism which led to the Revolution, having for four years been reseated on the throne,—the provisions extorted from the piety of the father being found too efficient, were repealed: these repealed, others, the merit of which consisted in their inefficiency, substituted.
In William’s time, (6 W. and M. c. 2,) the inefficiency of the provisions dictated by Charles the Second having been so fully and so superfluously proved by experience, others less inefficient were substituted. Here, too, however, instead of being annual, the duration was made triennial. Triennial? Why? Because by this time the value of a seat to the occupant was pretty fully understood: and, for the giving to it the utmost duration, and thence the utmost value which at that time had ever presented itself as endurable, the two above-mentioned precedents furnished honourable gentlemen—the honourable gentlemen of those days—with a pretence.
Comes the new dynasty of the Gwelfs, and now one of the first acts of the first of them (1 G. I. c. 8) was to poison the constitution of the country: of that country, the voice of which had called him to the throne. Most probably the scheme was in the greater degree, if not exclusively, the scheme of the honourables among his advisers: the benefit to them being as manifest, as to the ill-advised monarch it was problematical. Their constituents had seated them for three years: they seated themselves for four years more. An analogous retaliation would have been another Gunpowder Plot—not contrived only, but executed. How long shall principals continue bound by chains of iron—trustees by nothing but cobwebs? According to these men, to such a degree was the nation adverse to the new king,—all the official establishment, added to all the army and the majority of the peerage, would not, without the continued service of these honourables, have sufficed for his support. Well then: if it was so—(not that it was so)—what was he better than an usurper, fenced about by this guard of petty tyrants? The monarch was no usurper: he was fairly seated. Not so honourable gentlemen. What shall we say of their successors?—successors seated by the original sin of their forefathers—seated by the same breach of trust?
Remains one short observation, by which much sad matter is brought to view. In the situation in question, only in proportion as it contributes to strengthen the ties of their dependence, is impermanence, and thence annuality in comparison of trienniality, of any use: only, therefore, in the case, and to the extent, of that portion of the whole population of Honourable House, who are in any degree dependent for their seats on the good opinion of the persons styled their constituents: and how small that minority is, which is composed of the persons whose presence is not a nuisance and an insult to the whole people of the United Empire, let them say, to whose industry the melancholy secret has been revealed. Before the Irish Union, anno 1793, according to the Friends-of-the-people Society, of the 558 seats,—by patrons, 154, seats filled, 307; not known to be so filled, 251; known majority of sham representatives, 56. Since the Union, anno 1812, according to Mr. Brand,—of the 658 seats, by patrons (i. e. single patrons, acting as such in severalty) 182, seats filled 326; add ditto, filled by compromise between forty pair of Terrorists, seats filled, 80:* total 406 and more: representatives not known to be sham, 252, and no more: known majority of sham representatives, 154 and more.
[* ]Cobbett’s Debates, xvii. 131.—May 21, 1810.—“Annual parliaments would be found exceptionable, from the shortness of the period, by leaving the representative too little accustomed to business to be competent to his duties in that House.”
[* ]Cobbett’s Debates, xvii. 130.—May 21, 1810.—Hon. T. Brand.—“Other gentlemen might consider other objections to the existing state of the representation of the people of more importance, and particularly that respecting the duration of parliaments. Upon this question he had bestowed much and earnest attention, and he found it one of enormous difficulty, but of extreme interest and equal importance. Septennial parliaments had a tendency, from the length of their term, to weaken the relation between the elector and the representative, and to shake the dependence of the one upon the other;—while annual parliaments would be found not less exceptionable, from the shortness of the period, by leaving the representative too little accustomed to business to be competent to his duties in that House, and from the too frequent recurrence to the troubles and contests of parliamentary elections. The one term was too long to please the people; and the other too short to satisfy the members. He, for his own part, would be inclined to take a middle course between the extremes of annual and septennial parliaments, and to recommend triennial parliaments; which, without the evils of either, would possess all the advantages of both.”
[* ]The passage, as reported, not being altogether clear of ambiguity, here follow the words:—“Above forty persons returned on either” (each?) “side, by that which was denoted a compromise.”—Cobbett’s Debates, xxiii. 102—May 6, 1812.