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PRELIMINARY EXPLANATIONS. - 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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Universal Suffrage, Annual Parliaments, and Election by Ballot:—at public meetings, these are the words commonly (it is believed) employed, for expressing the essential features of Radical Reform.
Another expression, however, there is, which in some respects seems to afford a promise of being more apposite. This is—secret, universal, equal, and annual suffrage; or say—secresy, universality, equality, and annuality of suffrage. Suffrage is the common subject, to which all these qualities are referable: it presents a bond of union, by which all these elements may, in our conception, be knit together into one whole.
I. Secresy is of the very first importance: because where there is no secresy, there can be no assurance of genuineness. The vote may be bribed or forced; and, whether bribed or forced, the vote is the expression of the wish—not of the voter, but of him by whom he is either bribed or forced. So far as this state of things has place, the wishes, by which the choice is determined, will be—not the wishes of the many, governed by the interests of the many, but the wishes of the few, governed, by the interests of the few—by that comparatively narrow body of interest which is in a state of continual opposition to the universal interest, and to which, in so far as the opposition has place, or by the ruling few is thought to have place, the universal happiness will be made a constant sacrifice. So at all times it has been; and, till the many have at all times the choice of those by whom their affairs are managed, so at all times, from the very nature of man, it will be sure to be.
In this Bill, in its largest shape, when published with the accompanying reasons on which it has been grounded, the following will, in a more particular manner, be shown to be the distinguishable evils, to the avoidance of which, secresy of suffrage is indispensable:—
1. Mis-election, Non-election, or Null-election.—Positive mis-election has place in so far as the representative returned is positively unfit. Comparative mis-election has place, in so far as, if the representative actually returned had not been returned, another more fit would have been returned.
2. Oppression. This has place, in so far as, by fear of evil at the hands of an individual, a person, entitled to vote, is induced to vote contrarily to what would otherwise have been his wishes, or prevented from voting according to what would otherwise have been his wishes.
3. Corruption. This has place, in so far as, by hope, or in consideration of some good at the hands of an individual, a person is induced to vote contrarily to what would otherwise have been his wishes, or is prevented from voting according to what would otherwise have been his wishes.
4. Insincerity. This has place, in so far as, whether by oppression or by corruption, a man is induced to give his vote contrarily to what would otherwise have been his wishes.—To give, as the expression of a man’s unbiassed wishes, a vote which is not so, is imposture.
5. Vexation and expense, by journeys to and from the place of election, or demurrage at that place, under the yoke of the oppression.
6. Needless discord, and eventual ill-will, between man and man: the consequence of forced declaration of sentiments, or pretended sentiments.
7. Injuries to person and property, by means of tumults: from forced or bribed declarations of pretended sentiments.
8. Injuries to reputation, by election calumnies.
9. Vexation and expense by litigation.
10. Needless expense from other causes.
By secresy of suffrage, even without the aid of any other remedy, almost all these evils are either completely done away, or at least lessened. The only exceptions are—Non-election, and Null-election. This will be shown at length in the work at large.
Without secresy, all those other elements of reform put together would be worse than useless. Not to speak of tradesmen dependent on the opulent for custom—labourers, and household servants, and journeymen manufacturers—all dependent on masters for employment—and paupers dependent on magistrates for existence (the last class but too little distinguishable from the others):—all these would have to give their votes according to the declared or presumed wishes of those on whom they are dependent, in despite of their own wishes, and their own consciences. But of these is composed the great majority of the people. Thus would the supposed remedy be but an aggravation of the disease.
The votes of the majority of the electors, and thence of the whole number of the representatives, would thus be at the command of magistrates:—of magistrates, such as the Manchester magistrates! and, through them, of ministers such as Lord Sidmouth, and monarchs such as his Prince Regent.
But magistrates, such as are not already like the Manchester magistrates, may all of them, but for Radicalism, be so at any time; for they are, all of them, placed by the Monarch—all of them removable at his pleasure.
In the State of New York, the members of the House of Representatives are, all of them, elected by secret suffrage. It was, declaredly, as a measure of experiment, that in 1777 secresy was in this case appointed in the first instance: by the experience of forty-two years it stands confirmed.* Yet in that country the demand for secresy, as a security against intimidation and corruption, is as nothing compared to what it is in this.
Secresy at the hustings, it has been said, is of no avail: for a man, who has given his vote in secret, may always, it is said, be made to tell how he has given it. To tell how he has given it! The deception lies in the word tell. What matters it what a man has told, when by nothing that a man has told, or ever can tell, can he cause any other man to know? When by no man but the voter himself the vote given by him has been perceived, not only may he avoid letting any person know what the vote has been, but for him to communicate to any other person any such knowledge is absolutely impossible. I say to Colonel Lowther or Mr. Lamb—Sir, I have given you my vote. In so saying (suppose) I have said true. Good: but how can the honourable gentleman know that, in so saying, I have said true? He can no more know that what I have said is true, than he could have known it to be true if it had been false.
Before the day has closed, Mr. Such a one (suppose) has said a score of times the thing which is not: the same Mr. Such a one goes to bed in the persuasion, that for a fact to be said to be so, and really to be so, is exactly the same thing.—Oh ye of little thought!
II. Universality we say for shortness, instead of Virtual Universality. No man means that children that can but just speak, should vote: no man appears to mean that females should vote.
To some it has appeared necessary to exclude from voting persons insane, and criminals: to exclude them by special exception. No wonder:—yet nothing can be more needless. Such as are lawfully under confinement, would no more be let out to vote than for any other purpose. As to those who are not under confinement,—criminality, if it means anything to the purpose, means mischievousness. But the most mischievous among criminals, adjudged and denominated such after legal conviction, could not set his foot in either House, without finding himself in company with men in numbers—not to say in a vast majority—more mischievous than himself: men, whose principal differences from himself, consists in impunity derived from situation and confederacy—in impunity added to greater mischievousness: men, whose mischievousness was acting on the largest scale, while his was acting on a petty scale. Exclude criminals? How will you exclude criminals? Exclude criminals convict? Yes, that you may: but, even in this class, in which mischievousness is not secured from the imputation of criminality by high-handed impunity,—of those convicted, how small is the proportion to those not convicted!
Look to the effect! look to the effect!—To look out for grounds for exclusion, is mere lost labour, where, if all that are proposed to be excluded are admitted without exception, no practical bad effect can be produced but by a lasting majority of the House. Members might be sent from the hulks by scores, and yet no lasting mischief done. All the persons put together, whom, for any other cause than want of property, it has ever been proposed to exclude, would nowhere, under universality and equality of suffrage, suffice to return so much as a single member to the House. All itineration of voters from polling-place to polling-place, is by this Bill (Section 2) excluded. This considered, take to this purpose foreigners in amity—even foreigners at enmity—outlaws, bankrupts, insolvents—yes, and peers into the bargain—(not by voting do peers do the mischief that they do—not by voting, but by bribing, and above all by forcing votes)—the truth of the position will not be disproved.
By annoyance to the members, and thus by disturbance, in an unlimited degree, to the business of the assembly, mischief without bounds might indeed be done: done, by any single member, whether from the hulks or from the drawing-room. But, against all such mischief, provision is made in this bill, more effectual than has ever yet been in the House. See Section 13.
It is for want of considering the subject on a sufficiently large scale, that objections deduced from the unfitness of individuals, without considering whether the number of them could ever swell so as to produce any mischievous effect, have in a case of this sort been considered as applicable.
Exclusion, in so far as unnecessary, is by no means innoxious. Out of it grow contestation, litigation, mis-election, null-election. These are the reasons, and are they not sufficient ones?—for excluding it? Yes, exclusion is, in all such cases, fit for nothing but to be excluded.
Look once more to America: to United America. In some of the States, the pecuniary qualification exacted is real; in others, it is no more than nominal; and, where qualification is but nominal, suffrage is virtually universal. Payment of a tax, which every man is admitted to pay, and which the poorest can afford to pay, is a qualification purely nominal. If, in the admission of universal-suffrage-men, there were any mischief—any so much as the least danger—it could not, in that country, fail to be seen:—seen by the difference in point of social order and prosperity between those States in which the pecuniary qualification is highest, and those in which it amounts to nothing. In Pennsylvania it amounts to nothing. Number of free inhabitants, of all conditions, ages, and sexes, 800,000: number of voters at a late election, 108,000. These numbers were lately given me, by an authority above dispute. Pennsylvania is of all the State among the most flourishing and the most orderly, if in this respect there be any difference.
Under radicalism, all property, it is said, would be destroyed. So says Mr. Deputy Jacks:* all property destroyed, the monarchy and the aristocracy notwithstanding. Mr. Deputy Jacks—has he ever heard of such a place as Pennsylvania? In Pennsylvania, for these forty years, radicalism has been supreme: radicalism without monarchy or aristocracy: radicalism without controul, and not any the slightest shock has property there ever received.
Property, it is continually said, is the only bond and pledge of attachment to country.—Not it indeed. Want of property is a much stronger one. He who has property, can change the shape of it, and carry it with him to another country, whenever he pleases: he who has no property, can do no such thing. In the eyes of those who live by the labour of others, the existence of those by whose labour they live, is indeed of no value: not so in the eyes of the labourers themselves. Life is not worth more to yawners than to labourers: and their own country is the only country in which they can so much as hope to live. Among a hundred of them, not ten exceptions to this will you find.
Now as to the qualification by reading.—At first blush, it seems to involve exclusion:—it does no such thing in effect. From two to three months social pastime, at the hours of repose from work, would give it to all adults in whose eyes the privilege were worth that price: and he, in whose eyes it were not worth that price, could not, with much justice, complain at the not having it. Qualification by householdership does involve exclusion: for it is not in every man’s power to pay rent and taxes for a house. Householdership is evidence of property; it is for this cause that it is required by those who stipulate for it. Qualification by payment of taxes—that too involves exclusion: if by payment of taxes be meant that which is anything to the purpose. Qualification by payment to indirect taxes, if those be the taxes meant, is universality of suffrage: for where is the human being that pays not to taxes on consumption? to the taxes called indirect taxes? Payment to direct taxes—to assessed taxes for example—is householdership under another name. Qualification by reading involves no exclusion: for every man who chose could give it to himself. He could do so, before a bill such as this could go through the forms, even supposing Honourable House ever so well disposed to it.
An elector is a trustee: a trustee ought not to be unfit for his trust.
It is to reading that the people owe all their strength: that strength at which, even thus early, tyrants tremble.
III. By equality of suffrage, is meant equality of effect and value, as between the suffrage of one man and the suffrage of another. The greater the number of the votes to each seat, the smaller is the effect of each vote.
1. Of practicable equality, as between district and district, the principal use is to secure, even in the least populous district, a number of votes sufficient to render bribery, and corruption in other shapes, impracticable: and, upon this plan, such will be the number, if the utmost inequality, as between the number of votes to one seat and that to another, is confined within the limits here proposed. See Section 1.
What should never be out of mind is—that without the reduction universally made in the marketable value of votes by this equality as between suffrage and suffrage,—without the reduction made in the value of a seat by annuality of suffrage,—without the defalcation made, from the effective force of corruption, by the greatest practicable reduction made by the exclusion of placemen, in the quantity of money and money’s worth applicable to the purpose of corruption,—without these aids, secresy of suffrage would not suffice to insure exclusion of effective corruption: for, to an extent more or less considerable—without discoverable and punishable bribery,—money, money’s worth, or benefits in various other shapes, might be made receivable by a voter, in the event of the success of this or that candidate, and not otherwise: and thus, without hazard of prosecution, the ends of bribery might be obtained. Still, so long as the majority of the members are not kept in a constant state of sinister obsequiousness by the monarch or the minister, corruption among the voters to this or that seat—nay, even corruption on the seats themselves—is but an evil in tendency, not a sensible one.
2. In the case of the county seats—from inequality of suffrage, that is to say, from inequality of distance from the polling place, as between some residences and others—comes inordinate distance in the case of the largest polling districts: thence, either undue exclusion, or unduly oppressive burthen by expense and loss of time, in journeys to and fro, and demurrage.
3. Supposing inequality between district and district so great as to afford a ground for the supposition of partiality on the part of the carvers, here would be a sense of injustice. Evil in this shape, the provision made in Section 1 will, it is hoped, be found effectually to exclude. Suppose, for instance, that by local circumstances, reason should be afforded for allotting to this or that election district not more than half the average number of votes; to this or that other not fewer than double the average number. By inequality to no greater amount than this, supposing good local grounds assigned, no considerable cause for suspicion would, it is believed, be produced.
IV. Of annuality of suffrage, the main uses seem to be as follows:—
1. The faculty of divesting of their power all unfit representatives, before they have had time to produce any lasting mischief.
2. The keeping them out of the way of temptation, by rendering their breach of trust not worth purchasing by the corruptor-general, at any price for which it would be worth the while of a man in his situation to sacrifice his good name.
To this frequency of recurrence, objections have been made. One is composed of the proportionably frequent repetition of the election evils. But those evils arise solely out of the existing system, and they will be seen to be completely excluded by the system here proposed. At present they are carefully preserved, or even increased:—increased to the utmost, by the rich and worthless, in order to keep off all competitors that would be fitter men than themselves.
3. Another objection is—that under annuality of suffrage the changes of hands would not in fact be so frequent as they now are under septenniality. Re-election (it is said) would grow into a habit, and there would be no particular time for breaking it. The answer is—change, oftener than once in seven years, would not then be, as it is now, impossible: impossible, how strong soever the reason for it may be: unless indeed it should happen to be regarded as called for by the particular interest of the monarch and the minister, and then it may be made with every imaginable degree of frequency. Under annuality, with the degree of frequency thus expressed, the change will actually take place as often as, in the judgment of the only persons who have before them the means of judging right, there is a sufficient reason for it. Rendering a thing impossible, is but an awkward contrivance for rendering it more frequent. Means more refined could scarcely be found: means more effectual could, without much difficulty.
4. Another objection is—that under annuality there would not be time enough for going through a business of any considerable length by the same hands. The short answer is—that if fit for the business, the same hands will be continued: if not fit, the sooner they give place to such as are fit, the better.
Under the existing system, interruption of all business that, by being beneficial to the universal interest, would be prejudicial to the separate and sinister interest of the ruling few, does, and to an enormous degree, constantly take place; and so long as the existing system continues, the evil thus produced by it will continue: interruption, and not only that, but what is so much worse, prevention. [See Parl. Reform Cat. Introd. § 14.] Under the proposed system it would not take place. [See this Bill, § 12.] On the other hand, no business that is brought on in pursuance of the sinister interest of the rulers, ever can suffer interruption: for theirs is the choice of times. Time there always is for depredation and oppression: time there never is for remedy against either. Just so as at Manchester: time there was enough for killing or hacking men, women, and children: no time for receiving proof of it. Methods there are, and most effectual ones, for keeping off whatever it is that right honourable gentlemen choose to keep off, and this without so much as the trouble of a debate.
For hundreds of years, in times of the greatest prosperity—of as great prosperity as the ferocity, the ignorance, and the superstitions of the times admitted of—suffrages were given, and representatives renewed, not only annually, but oftener: the result, much good, no preponderant evil assigned or assignable. If Lord Holland will indemnify the bookseller, the proof shall be printed at large, from the records. A careful and honest hand I know of, has made large progress in the collection of it. How happy would his lordship be to find that, as to this matter, he has been under mistake! how prompt to declare it!
The States in the North American Union are by this time twenty-two: and in every one of them suffrage is annual; one excepted, in which it is or was half-yearly. In the Congress alone it is biennial: in this case, manifestly by reason of the length of journeys between the place of meeting and some of the States. From the frequency in question, no inconvenience was ever so much as alleged. But, to eyes determinately shut, nothing is ever visible. Annuality is incompatible, it is said, with any government: so say Whigs and Tories: yet, in United America, government is in a better state than in England: even Whigs may be seen declaring this.
In republican America there are no dungeoning acts, no gagging acts, no riot acts: accordingly there are no riots. In republican America, there is no punishment for free inquiry, on pretence of punishing seditious meetings and blasphemy: there is, therefore, no sedition there; and there is more religion than in England.
The English constitution has its good points, and it has its bad points. The good points are—those which have been preserved in America with improvement and increase. The bad points are—those which it has in common with Turkey, with Russia, with Spain, with Austria, with Prussia; with that country from which the Guelphs came, and to which they may perhaps return. The bad points cannot very easily be defended one by one: they may with perfect ease be defended all together: and this is what is always done, although not always meant, as often as a man joins in the parrot cry of Constitution! Glorious Constitution! Matchless Constitution! Those whose sinister interest attaches them to the bad points, call, of course, for our attachment to the whole. And thus it is that, in the name of loyalty, our attachment is called for to whatever is most mischievous and vile.
A work is in the press, from which a judgment may in some measure be formed, whether, among so many seats of misrule as there are in Germany, there is any other state in which it is carried so near to perfection as in Hanover: whether the scraps of liberty which had been left by the Bonapartes, have not already been destroyed there under the Guelphs. In what is there effected, read what is here intended. The principles of Charles the First were read in the sermons of Doctors Sibthorpe and Manwaring, and in the judgments and opinions of the judges of that time: the principles of George the Fourth may be read in the sermons of the Courier, and in the charges of Lord Chief-Justice Anybody.
Secresy, universality, equality, and annuality—behold in them the four cardinal points of the constitutional compass: secresy is the polar star.
Without secresy of suffrage, universality, equality, and annuality, altogether, would be worse than nothing. Even without universality, without equality, without annuality, secresy would of itself do much: nor against it, even by those who suffered most by it, could so much as a shadow of objection be raised. Secresy would be a strong pledge for complete reform, and of itself no inconsiderable step to it. It would of itself be a great part of the reform, and might engage men to wait with thankfulness and patience for the rest. In what multitudes would the galling chains of terrorism be broken by it!—what a downfal to the white slave-trade!—what a body of private prudence rescued from oppression!—what a body of genuine patriotism rescued from self-sacrifice! Mr. Brougham would second the motion, or a laugh would run through Westmoreland, as often as his eloquence ventured to indulge itself in a complaint of Lowther influence.
All cry of danger—danger to property—would here be without pretext. If in radicalism there were any real danger, it might be excluded by graduality. Yes, by graduality. But by what graduality? Not assuredly by that which Lord Erskine, and his clients, have so plainly shown they mean—a gradual progress in doing nothing. No: but a gradual introduction of members really chosen by those by whom they pretend to be chosen:—really chosen by those whose interest is the universal interest. The proportion—say a fourth at a time; say a fifth; say a sixth. France, which under its newly simplified and improved mode of election lets in a fifth at a time, has in that particular shown us an example. I mention this—not as necessary—not as eligible—but as that which a Whig, if there were any sincerity in him, could not object to.
Against radicalism, where anything better than bellowing or barking has been brought forward, it has been in the shape of a prediction of the destruction of property, as a result to be apprehended. Whether for this apprehension there be any substantial ground, may be seen in a paper, with which this will ere long be followed, under the title of Radicalism not Dangerous.*
[* ]See New York Constitution, Art. VI. Constitution of United States: Winchester, 1811, p. 112.—On a careful survey: States in which, for the most numerous branch of the legislature, election is by ballot, 7; open 2; not said which, 8. Add to ballot Connecticut, as per new constitution, so late as September 15, 1817.—For Congress, members for the most numerous branch are, in each State, “chosen . . . . . . by the people of the several States.” Electors’ qualifications the same. Art. I. sect. 2, ib. p. 18. Mode of election not mentioned. It will in course have been the same.
[* ]Morning Chronicle, 10th September 1819.
[* ]See below, p. 599.