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RADICALISM NOT DANGEROUS. EXTRACTED FROM THE MSS. OF JEREMY BENTHAM. * - 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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RADICALISM NOT DANGEROUS.
RADICAL REFORM BILL RECAPITULATED.
On the 6th of December last (1819,) was submitted to the consideration of the public, a tract entitled “Bentham’s Radical Reform Bill, with extracts from the reasons.” The tenor of this proposed Bill was preceded and introduced by “Preliminary Explanations,” in which the several features of Radical Reform were brought to view, with the uses and advantages which presented themselves as attached to each. Secrecy of suffrage—virtual universality of suffrage—practical equality of effect and value as between right and right of suffrage—with annuality of suffrage, are there given as the four elements of which the aggregate called Radical Reform is in my view of it composed.
Secrecy, as being the only security for genuineness of suffrage, is there stated as being of more importance than all the other elements put together.
Virtual universality was there proposed as being the only degree of extent which seemed either defensible on principle, or capable of affording any assured promise of giving universal satisfaction, or any near approach to it. In regard to extent, I for my part, if it depended on me, would gladly compound for householder suffrage; but I do not see how those who on this plan would be excluded from the right of suffrage, and also would perhaps constitute a majority of male adults, should be satisfied with such exclusion; and being myself unable to find what appears to me a reason in favour of it, I must leave the task to those who consider themselves able to accomplish it.
Absolute equality being physically impossible, if equality be at all regarded, practical equality must of necessity be substituted. Local convenience cannot but prescribe—and that through the whole country—a degree of departure more or less considerable. But to say that in any instance such departure should be prescribed by it as shall render the votes in the most populous district more than four times more numerous than the votes in the most thinly peopled district, seems altogether beyond the bounds of probability.
As compared with trienniality of suffrage, annuality did not present itself to me as being of that importance that should prevent me, on the supposition of its depending upon myself, from surrendering it, on condition of obtaining trienniality—with secrecy of suffrage, equality of suffrage, and householder suffrage; but if asked for a reason, I am no more able to give what appears to me a reason in favour of it in preference to annuality, than I am to give what appears to me a reason in favour of householder suffrage in preference to virtually universal suffrage.
On the ground of precedent and experience:—In favour of annuality, I see the ancient parliamentary practice in England, the existing practice in the governing body of the metropolis of the empire, and the practice in every one of the American United States: in every instance without alleged inconvenience in any shape. In support of trienniality, I see nothing but the epithet “moderate,” which those who adhere to it insist on bestowing on it. When proposed, it seems commonly to be proposed without the addition of either secrecy of suffrage, virtual universality of suffrage, or so much as practical equality of sufrage; and on these terms I see not any effect good or bad that can be produced by it, except the giving additional frequency to a contest of which the evils are undeniable—and which,—abstraction made of a faint chance of ulterior change,—produces not any the smallest change on the state of the representation, leaving uncorrected and unpalliated all the abuses and evils, the hope of eradicating which, presents the only possible use and demand for the system which it professes to give.
Against Radical Reform as above explained, unless the above-mentioned word moderate be regarded as a reason, I had for a long time been unable to discover any nearer approach to a reason, than a sort of language which in writing is to written reason, what bellowing or barking, or an inarticulate yell, is to reason in the form of spoken language.
On the Tory side of Honourable and Right Honourable House, and other honourable places, “subversion of all order,” and “subversion of the Constitution:” on the Whig side, “absurd, visionary, and senseless; wild and impracticable,” and so forth: and in the principal Whig newspapers, such is every now and then the agreement with the Tories, as to produce passages such as these:—“Senseless schemes of reform, which if realized, would plunge us into anarchy and confusion.”*
When from such pens as Earl Grey’s and Lord John Russell’s not in addition to argument, but in lieu of all argument—of all attempt at argument—nothing is to be found but a set of words in which, in addition to the assumption of the thing in dispute, nothing but an expression of passion is to be found, what inference more natural, not to say conclusive, than this, namely, that it was by the experienced inability of finding anything in the way of argument to adduce on that side, that that uneasiness had been produced which gave itself vent, and sought relief in words such as these? The pen, I say, and this not only in speaking of Lord John Russell, but of Earl Grey: the reasons which I have in view are those of his Lordship’s speech in 1810,† and his Fox-Dinner Newcastle speech, [19th September] 1817. For nothing can be more evident than that, before or after the lips, it was from the pen of the noble Earl that the discourses which in these instances bear his name proceeded.
If it were required of me to give a model of inanity, I know not where a more finished model of that sort of composition, among so many as the public is daily favoured with, could be referred to. If intellectual could like physical gas be compressed within a given space, it should have had a place at length: but as this cannot be done, all that can be done here is to give reference to the place where it may be seen at full length, coupled with the intimation of the observations which the reader should have in view in reading it.
Thus much as to the footing on which the question of the usefulness of radical reform appears to have stood till lately. But of late the aversion to the proposed change in question has given itself vent in objections of a more determinate shape. In radical reform is viewed as an effect, of which with greater or less certainty it is viewed as pregnant,—a general destruction of property,—whether from a proposed scheme of equal division, supposed to be in the contemplation of reformists, or from, it is not exactly said what, other cause.
In this instance, it is true, as in every other, what is asserted is taken for granted,—assumed as certain without so much as an attempt to give a reason why it should be regarded in that light. Here, however, though without proof or attempt at proof, we have something determinate in the shape of an assertion. Here, for the first time, is a something presenting itself in what is called a tangible shape. Here is a something which in its nature is capable of being taken hold of, and taken hold of it shall accordingly be, that by its being sifted to the bottom the impartial reader, if peradventure any such person is to be found, may see what it is worth.
But (says somebody) a question that will naturally be presenting itself to the mind of a reader is, for whose use is it that this disquisition of yours is intended? To this question I will give a plain answer. The aggregate mass of hostile readers I divide for the purpose into the sincere and the insincere. By the sincere I mean all such persons as either by such reflection as they themselves have bestowed on the subject,—i. e. by a self-formed judgment, or by the assertion made by others, sincere or insincere,—i. e. by a derivative judgment derived from the authority of the opinion or supposed opinion of those others,—have been led to adopt the alarming apprehension. If there were not persons in no small number, to whom in my own opinion this description is truly applicable, these pages would not—could not—have had existence. The labour being on that supposition without hope, would on that same supposition have been without a motive—an effect without a cause.
As to the insincere, these are the opponents from adverse interest. These, the more perfectly they are in their own minds convinced that no answer capable of lessening the effect of it on the minds of the sincere can be given to it, the more thoroughly they will be confirmed in the determination to maintain the most perfect silence in relation to it—the most perfect silence—and when it is forced by accident upon their notice, to put it under, by some general expression of scorn and contempt, such as they are so perfectly in the habit of employing, and accordingly seeing accepted at the hands of those who by the same interest stand engaged to bestow on it the same reception.
PERSUASION OF THE DANGEROUSNESS OF RADICALISM—CAUSE OF IT, AND OF THE VITUPERATIVE EXPRESSION GIVEN TO IT.
That in a point of such vital importance,—a point in comparison with which all that are to be found in the whole field of politics are, separately taken, as nothing—because collectively they are all comprehended in it—the question in dispute should on one side, without any exception, be taken for granted—that in this case a proceeding which in every other case would be universally acknowledged to be contrary to reason, should have been so universally prosecuted, has at times struck me as perhaps the most extraordinary phenomenon that has ever yet presented itself to the intellectual world.
Be it more or less extraordinary, the solution of it may, I think, be found in the following considerations:—
Whatsoever be the subject to which it has ever happened to them to apply themselves, the weakest and the strongest are upon a par. If they take upon themselves to decide, their decisions are equally liable to be erroneous—erroneous to any degree of absurdity. Interest, with or without internal consciousness on the part of the individual, is in every case capable of producing this state of vacuity. When, the instant he veers to put his mind in such a direction as to view the object in question in a point of view in which it would produce in his mind an unpleasant sensation,—in such case, unless he finds himself under the pressure of an irresistible obligation, he turns from it of course.
Thus it is with thousands upon thousands in the present case. Looking at radical reform, a man sees nothing for himself or his friends to gain by it. On the contrary, he sees more or less that it seems to him he and they would lose by it. Why then should he give himself the trouble of fixing his eyes on that side? A mode much less unpleasant, and as it appears to him a sufficiently safe one, is to hear what his friends say on the subject, and to take his opinion on it from them. It is sufficiently safe; for among them he beholds those whose capacity of forming a right judgment on a question of this sort occupies the highest place in his eyes. It is not only a pleasant course, but it is the only one which he would not find intolerably irksome. By adopting the other course, he would not only have the pain of receiving disagreeable truths—truths, to himself—abstraction made of all other persons—personally disagreeable, but by doing so he would render himself disagreeable to his friends; he would perhaps lose the only society he has immediate access to—the society in which he beholds whatsoever he most values—the principal, if not the only object of his affection and respect.
As to inconvenience, either in entertaining or in deducing the opinion in question—of no such inconvenience does he expose himself to the smallest risk. No concern need he give himself on the subject: the opinion is ready found to his hands—the opinion and the sort of language—the only sort of language, that need be employed in the support of it. Wild and visionary—absurd, visionary, senseless, mischievous, destructive; by the leading hound in the pack the cry is commenced: the others have nothing to do but join in it. The principal singer has sung the solo part: the others in chorus have but to repeat it.
The course of a man’s conduct having been determined by his private interest, or at least by his opinion of his private interest, the language he employs is that which presents itself to him as best suited to the support of that private interest. If he can find nothing more promising, in speaking of any measure by which he regards his interest as being opposed, he deals with it like Earl Grey, and says it is absurd, visionary, and senseless—or like Lord John, and says it is wild and visionary. This done, other men on the same side, thinking that a man who speaks so well as Earl Grey does, would not, in a matter of such vital importance, speak so decidedly without due consideration, join with him and cry, “absurd, visionary, and senseless;” whereas, all the consideration ever bestowed upon the matter by the noble leader, was, how to excuse himself from adopting a measure, which, while it agreed so well with the public interest, agreed so ill with his private interest, and what form of words afforded the fairest promise of answering that purpose: and these were the words that happened to present themselves.
Not that, even if it were fit to be employed in other respects, I could, consistently with perfect truth, think myself warranted in retorting upon Earl Grey his word senseless, or deny that by Lord John the object of his vituperation was really regarded as impracticable.
Visionary indeed the plan would be, if in it were regarded the assumption that by a man situated as Earl Grey is, a plan so nearly in unison with the sentiments formerly professed by him could find support—could find anything better than the most strenuous opposition. Visionary indeed would be any expectation that could be entertained of its finding favour in his sight. Impracticable there need be no doubt of its being regarded by Lord John, since it was not natural that he should regard it as capable of being carried against that opposition, in his concurrence with which he was so fully determined.
TERMS OF THE ACCUSATION,—SPEECHES FROM THE THRONE, 16th JULY AND 21st NOVEMBER 1819.
Thus stands the accusation, as far as could be collected from those vague generalities which have been so abundant, and in which alone the adversaries of radical reform have ever ventured to express themselves.
Looking with persevering anxiety for something in a tangible shape from some persons of the one party or the other who had a name, it was with no small satisfaction in this respect, with how much dismay soever on other accounts, that I found at last what I wanted, and in the place to which I should from the first have looked for it.
The charge, such as it is, will be found collected from two speeches from the throne: the one that of 13th July 1819; the other, that of 23d November 1819.
“Those whose projects, if successful,” says the July speech, “could only aggravate the evils which it is professed to remedy: and who, under pretence of reform, have really no other object than the subversion of our happy constitution.” To these persons “machinations” are imputed, and these machinations Lords and Gentlemen are immediately called upon, “in co-operation with the magistracy, to use their utmost endeavours, on return to their several counties, to defeat.”
On this occasion, by Lords and Gentlemen in their aggregate character, nothing is as yet called upon to be done—so far, so good. For, how great soever the evil, by the mere aim at producing it, unaccompanied with any probability of its being produced, no sufficient warrant for any coercive or otherwise burthensome measure could assuredly be afforded. Unhappily, this reserve did not long continue.
Here, as yet, on reform itself, neither in the radical shape, nor in any other, is any determinate imputation directly cast. It is only “on pretence of reform” that the “machinations” are alleged to have been carried on.
Is it then that by radical reform, supposing the “machinations” in question “successful,” the “subversion” in question would be produced? This is not directly said. But this is what is at any rate insinuated: and it is in the view of causing everybody to believe it, that this language is employed.
The object declared to be aimed at is—“the subversion of our happy constitution.” Of the evil in question, the alleged cause cannot therefore but be a design by which the constitution would be affected: and that by parliamentary reform in any shape, the constitution would in a certain way be affected, cannot be denied: and this was the only design on foot by which any such effect could be produced. By depredation and violent destruction of property, let evil to ever so vast an amount have been produced, the constitution would remain untouched.
Now as to the November speech:—and there, though never otherwise than in the way of allusion and insinuation, reform, radical reform, may be seen but too sufficiently designated. A ground is premised for the “measures” about to be proposed: “measures requisite for the counteraction and suppression of the system” alluded to. This ground is stated as constituted by “a spirit utterly hostile to the constitution of this kingdom, and aiming,* not only at the change† of those political institutions which have hitherto constituted the pride and security of this country, but at the subversion of the rights of property,‡ and of all order in society.”
Taking the two speeches together:—here then are two evil designs charged—charged on the same class of persons, namely all reformists—meaning, or at the least including, all radical reformists.
In the July speech, the design is the subversion of the constitution,—that design, and no other. In the November speech, it is “the subversion of the rights of property.” Of the design first charged, the description given has no determinate meaning. Accordingly, no mention would have been made of it, but for the intimate connexion between the speech by which this accusation is conveyed, and the other speech by which the other accusation is conveyed.
In defending the design of the radicals against the imputation that has been cast upon it, it seemed not sufficient to defend it against the imputation of a tendency to produce evil in the particular shape designated by the words, “the subversion of the rights of property.” For supposing that, although it were clear of that imputation, it were not clear of the imputation of preponderant evil in some other shape or shapes—on this supposition it would still remain indefensible.
To the denial of its tendency to produce evil in that particular shape, it therefore seemed necessary to prefix a denial of its tendency to produce preponderant evil in any shape. It has become necessary to add to the more particular counter-averment a more general one. But a counter-averment implies a correspondent original averment, to which it stands opposed. The original averment, then—where in this case shall we find it?—Answer: If anywhere, it must be in the abovequoted words—“aiming at the subversion of the constitution.”
Now this subversion, either it means nothing at all, or what it means amounts to this, namely, a preponderant mass of evil—a mass of evil presenting a net amount over and above whatsoever good in any shape will have been produced by the same cause. Yes, preponderant evil; for as to the being simply productive of evil, that cannot be matter of charge against any political measure whatsoever. Taken by itself, coercion in any shape, by whatsoever hand applied—whether any private hand, or the hand of Government itself—is evil. Government the most perfect that imagination itself could frame, would still be but a choice of evils.
If, then, the effect of the imputed design, supposing it carried into effect, were anything less than the production of preponderant evil, it would not constitute the matter of a charge. But this supposed preponderant evil, in what determinate shape are we to look for it? To this question, the charge has not furnished an answer. Yet in this charge, and in the other (that about property,) to which, it being less indeterminate, a determinate answer will be given—will be seen the sole ground of those disastrous laws, by which disaffection has been more abundantly propagated than by any of the writings which they are employed to repress.
Thus it is, that to do anything they please—to destroy any man, or any number of men they please, and in any manner they please—it costs those under whom we yet live, no more than a phrase with half-a-dozen words in it: and that this phrase should have anything belonging to it that can be called a meaning, is not necessary. In the present instance, so empty of meaning is the phrase, that with all the hapless labour, the bitter fruits of which have been seen, I have been reduced to find one for it—to make one for it in the way of inference.
Note—that for the general counter-averment there will be found more use than what might readily have been imagined. In the course of this defence, one argument will be seen by which the state of things aimed at by radical reform is cleared of the more particular charge of a tendency to produce preponderant evil, in the shape of the subversion of the rights of property; it will be seen cleared of the charge of a tendency to produce preponderant evil in any shape; and not only so, but it will be shown by experience to have been productive of effects, which the most determined opponents of radical reform will not deny to have been replete with preponderant good. This refers to the case of Ireland, of which mention will presently be made.
THE ACCUSATION IN GENERAL TERMS—COUNTER-AVERMENT.
In regard to the present liberticide measures,* and their bearings upon radical parliamentary reform, the case stands thus: In justification of them, and as proof of the necessity, what is alleged is—that by or by means of the supporters of radical reform, whether with or without direct correspondent intention, some great evil, unless prevented by these measures, will be produced: and it is for the prevention of this evil, that not only these reformists, but all the other members of this whole community, are deprived of so large a part of their securities against misrule, which the state of its laws, establishments, customs, and modes of thinking, has till now afforded.
In particular, as and for the shape, or one of the shapes, in which the evil in question has been said to be apprehended, is that which has been designated by the phrase, “subversion of the rights of property.”
Was ever allegation of apprehended evil more perfectly destitute of support?
In a country said to be the seat of political liberty, were measures pregnant with more serious and undeniable evil ever adopted and employed?
On the second of these topics I propose not to touch at present: it is with the first alone that what remains of these pages will be occupied.
By this measure I feel myself injured and oppressed in my general capacity of a member of this great community.*
By the imputation on which they have been grounded, I feel an additional injury cast upon me, in the character of a radical reformist. Had they been peculiar to myself, my own injuries would not have been worth mentioning; nor accordingly would they have been mentioned: but I have millions to share with me even in that injury which is the least extensive.
On these topics my own persuasions are as follows:—
1. That radical reform, if carried into effect, would not be productive of any preponderant evil, but, on the contrary, of preponderant good.
2. That in particular, the “subversion of the rights of property” would not be among the effects of it.
3. That no design of any active measures, tending to any subversion of the rights of property, has ever been entertained by any number of reformists: at any rate, not by any number competent to prosecute any such design with mischievous effect.
PLAN OF THIS DEFENCE.
On the present occasion, all endeavours to find so much as an attempt at proof having been fruitless, whoever he be to whom the affirmation presents itself as erroneous or untenable, either he must remain silent, suffering to go abroad, as if it were true and unanswerable, an opinion which to him appears in the highest degree pernicious, as well as erroneous and untenable, or he must engage in a task so pregnant with difficulty and embarrassment, as the proving of the negative. This course, there being no other, must here be mine.†
Under the pressure of this untoward necessity, the course I shall take is this:—
i. To show in the first place, from the consideration of the general nature of the case, that neither the accomplishment of any subversive partition, nor therefore the formation of any such correspondent design, is, or was, or ever will be, possible. This will be the business of Part II. of this short work.
ii. In the second place I shall show, that in the information afforded in relation to this subject may be seen a sufficient security against preponderant evil, not only in this shape, but in every other shape.
If from the power which radical reform would place in the hands of men of the class of universal-suffrage men, or at any rate in those of all householders, preponderant evil in any other shape were justly and reasonably to be apprehended, the improbability of its taking place would be no sufficient defence. But as a ground for any such supposition, neither argument deduced from the general nature of the case, nor experience in any particular instances, have ever been adduced. In proof of the opposite assurance, I shall adduce, in the first place, the case of the United States. Under that head I shall call to mind, that so far from anarchy, government better in every respect than in England is in that country the result, not merely of democratic ascendency in a monarchy, but of actual democracy, and that those under whose influence in the character of electors, the business of that really matchless government is carried on, are persons whose condition is not substantially different from that of universal-suffrage men here. This will form the business of Part III.
iii. In farther proof of this same assurance I shall adduce, in the last place, the case of Ireland, in the years from 1778 to 1783 inclusive. Under that head I shall in this instance likewise call to mind and show that instead of anarchy, under democratic ascendency maintained by a class of men not substantially distinguishable from universal suffrage men, the business of government was carried on in a manner confessedly superior in every respect to any in which in that same country it ever had been carried on before, or ever has been since. This topic will furnish the matter of Part IV.
In the Part next ensuing, it may afford some assistance to conception, if the reader is put personally in possession of the course taken to show, from the very nature of the case, the impossibility of the evil apprehended by some, pretended to be apprehended by others,—and thereby of every such design as that of giving birth to it. This course will be shown by the following topics, which will be seen forming the heads of so many sections:—
DEFERENCE FROM THE GENERAL NATURE OF THE CASE.
CONDITIONS NECESSARY TO A MAN’S EMBARKING IN SUCH A DESIGN.
The task here undertaken is—to show that the sort of design imputed is in its nature an impossible one. No such design could have been formed: therefore no such design has ever been formed—such in this part is the argument. The accomplishment of a design is one thing: the formation of it is another. Of the impossibility of a design being accomplished, the impossibility of its being formed by a number capable of making any advance towards the accomplishment of it, is not a necessary consequence in every case; but it will be seen to be so in this. On the other hand, be the design what it may, that if it cannot be formed, it cannot be accomplished, will surely not be disputed.
For the formation of a design of the sort in question, certain points must in the nature of the case have been agreed upon. Upon these several points no agreement can have had place: therefore no such agreement has ever taken place. He who admits the antecedent, will admit the consequent.
Among these points are the following: namely—
1. Subject-matters of the partition, what? (1.) Immoveable subjects of the rights of property; (2.) Moveable subjects of the rights of property (both these are real); (3.) Fictitious subjects of the rights of property: for example, annuities and offices, in regard to which a further explanation will be given. These different subject-matters of the rights of property,—shall they be all of them taken for the subjects of the partition, or only two of them, and what two? or only one of them, and what one?
2. Sharers, who? the radicalists alone, or the existing proprietors with them?—among the radicalists, males alone, or males and females together? and in both cases, adults alone, or adults and non-adults together? The difficulties which would in practice attach upon any choice that could be made in answer to these questions, will be more particularly brought to view.
3. Proportion as between the sharers of the several shares: equal or unequal?
4. Mode of operation, i. e. partition; and operating hands to be employed in it.
Among these must be the constituted and established authorities of the country for the time being, whatsoever they may be. If it were nothing more than the moveable plunder of a camp or town, no: no such permanent power might be regarded as necessary. But according to the spirit as well as the LETTER of the charge, those rights of property, the subject-matter of which exists in the immoveable shape, constitute the principal part, if not the whole of the mass of rights, the subversion of which is alleged to be aimed at.
The consequence is—that of the design as charged, one part is, either the continuance of the existing constituted authorities, under their present names, and charged with their present functions, or the establishment of a new set of constituted authorities, with correspondent names and functions. Here then will have been another choice to be made.
Sect. II. In equal shares, partition of Immoveables impossible.
Sect. III. In equal shares, partition of Moveables impossible.
Sect. IV. Partition of Property in other shapes impossible.
Sect. V. Determination of the Sharers impossible.
Sect. VI. In shares other than equal, partition impossible.
[As the matter which constitutes the above five sections is to be found with little variation in the Tract on the Levelling System (in Vol. I. p. 358,) it has been considered unnecessary to repeat it here.—Ed.]
CONCURRENCE IN ANY OTHER EXTENSIVE PLAN OF SPOLIATION IMPOSSIBLE.
Nay but (says somebody) no such regular and generally-agreed plan of partition and plunder will perhaps be fixed upon. But, under the guidance of these leaders, the multitude may proceed in the work of insurrection, depredation, and destruction, without any plan at all: trusting to their leaders for their having already framed an apposite plan, or at any rate for their framing one before the time for action comes. All this while, the leaders may have been acting on a secret plan of their own—a plan having for its object the acquisition of opulence, in some shape or other, for each, the condition of the multitude being left to chance.
Answer. For the purpose of the argument, let a secret plan have been formed by the leaders, and that secret plan as dishonest and mischievous as any one pleases. But still, in front of this secret plan, must have stood an avowed plan—an openly avowed plan—a plan which, to the great majority of the supposed insurrectionists and would-be depredators, must afford a promise more or less plausible—plausible, howsoever hollow, of probable good to each of them.
As to any such blind confidence of this or of anything else, the existence may be asserted and even supposed. But of any such thing not any the smallest symptom or probability in any shape can be indicated. On the contrary, not the abundance of confidence, but the absence of it, is the state of things which the multitude of evidences that have at different times met the public eye have rendered remarkable and notorious.
Let us see, then, whether to the multitude, judging each for himself, it be possible that any other imaginable plan should afford any better promise than those which have been brought to view and disposed of: this being at the same time understood, that there remains not any other, the effect of which would not be the narrowing the number of the sharers. In the case where all individuals without exception are proposed to be sharers—sharers to an amount, more determinate conceivable and clearly expressible than any other—we have seen what the bars are that oppose themselves. But to any plan, from the benefit of which individuals of any description should stand excluded, the exclusion would be opposing an additional obstacle. In any view which could be taken of the case, by any the most sanguine imagination, the obstacles that could not but be opposed to the plan by all constituted authorities with their adherents, could not but present themselves as sufficiently formidable. But on this supposition, of a scheme narrowed by exclusion, every individual excluded would add to the strength of the obstacles that oppose themselves as above to the scheme of all-comprehensive benefit. Here, then, comes a dilemma. Let the excluded be few, the saving by the exclusion will be so much the less: let the excluded be many, the force of resistance, added to that of the constituted authorities, will be so much the greater.
Every conceivable plan, by the accomplishment of which the alleged mischief in question, or the subversion of the rights of property, would be effected, being thus disposed of, and the accomplishment of it being over and over again shown to be impossible, it is not too soon, it is hoped, to declare it so to be. I accordingly challenge all anti-radicalists to bring to view any other plan which, having that subversion for its object, shall now, upon the face of it, be seen by everybody to be impossible; and if, being unable to bring to view any such plan, a man will notwithstanding persevere in the assertion that there may be, and eventually will be proposed such a plan, and that men will act upon it, I must leave any one to say whether it be in the nature of the case that he who says this should believe his own assertion to be true.
At every step the discussion has taken, anti-radicalist readers, if any such it should have, will of course have been turning aside from it with disgust, and exclaiming—“We did not mean this, we did not mean that, we did not mean anything of all this—can it ever have been your belief that anything so palpably absurd would have been meant by anybody?”
Well then, if you did not mean this, what did you mean? Do you know what it is you mean? You, by whom, in every the most offensive shape you could find, opprobrium has for so many years been poured forth—poured forth, not only upon such multitudes, which to you is nothing—not only upon such moral worth, which to you is again as nothing,—but upon much pecuniary worth and even high rank, which to you is everything.
Say then at length, what it is you mean! Speak out, or, by that sort of evidence which even from men whose declaration is worth nothing, is more conclusive than it is in the power of any declaration from any man ever to be—prove in a word, by silence or evasion, that in thus dealing by us, you have all along been talking without meaning, and acting as accuser without ground.
CONCURRENCE OF ANY CONSTITUTED AUTHORITIES IMPOSSIBLE.
Be the plan of partition what it may, if the effect and benefit of it is to be more than momentary, the necessity of a concurrence, and that a persevering one, of the constituted authorities for the time being, has been already brought to view—(Section I.) Here, if the pile of impossibilities is not yet high enough, here then is another stage to add to it. The constituted authorities, by which the scheme will be carried into effect, will either be the existing set as they stand at present, or a new set. As to the existing set, the least objectionable plan being what it has been shown to be, a concurrence on their part would scarcely be expected. Sooner than concur in any such work of certain self-destruction, they would of course all of them fly the country, or die with arms in their hands, in their endeavours to resist it. But, how certainly soever, in the eyes of the now existing constituted authorities, supposing any advance made in such a scheme, their own destruction would be among the results of it, it could not be more so in their eyes than it would be in the eyes of any person whatsoever, into whose hands the immediately operative power of government could come to be transferred.
A design of this sort agreed upon, and nobody to put the question—by what hands the business would be to be done? A design of this sort thus blindly agreed upon—agreed upon by numbers competent to make serious advances toward the execution of it? If any such supposition can be made, it must be by some orator, by whom a correspondent conception has been formed of the state of the understanding on the part of the swinish multitude: my powers are unequal to it.
ACCOMPLISHMENT IMPOSSIBLE—DESIGN IMPOSSIBLE.
If that which a man would be glad to do, is in his eyes impossible to be done—so long as it is so, he will neither attempt to do it, nor design to attempt it. A position to this effect may, it is hoped, without much fear of contradiction, be advanced.
One position remains, which for the completion of the proof of not guilty it will be necessary to advance, but to which the assent may not be quite so sure. This is—that supposing any such desires to have had place, a persuasion of the impossibility of success has, on the part of those whose concurrence would be necessary, all along accompanied it.
To this position no probable cause of dissent, on the part of any person whose situation in respect of private interest and interest-begotten prejudice admits of the giving reception to truth, presents itself.
Not so on the part of those by whom the speeches in question were penned and put into the Royal mouth. By them the persons accused, having to the amount of so many millions been pronounced guilty—guilty of the design of accomplishing that, the impossibility of which has so repeatedly been shown and proved—the accused pronounced guilty, and execution taken out, not against them alone, but against all the other members of the community along with them, they stand engaged not merely to deny the impossibility of such a design, but to maintain—to maintain for ever, and without flinching, its existence.
In so far as sincerity, if supposable, has had place, imagination—imagination alone—having been the hand by which the plan ascribed to the supposed levellers has been drawn, such according to this plan has been their desperation, such their rage, that how perfectly well soever assured of their own ultimate destruction—still, under the assurance, or though it were but the hope, of seeing it preceded by the destruction of their adversaries, even the prospect of self-destruction has been an inviting one to them.
But not even by this supposition, extravagant as it is, could any tolerably substantial ground be made for the imputation. For supposing destruction to come, they and not their adversaries, would be the first to be involved in it; and this priority is too manifest to have ever been unobserved by themselves.
Yes, if they were all agriculturists, on that supposition, with a spade in hand, ground to turn up with it, and potatoe cuttings to put into it, if a man could live for a time without fuel or fresh clothing, he might keep himself alive, provided always that he could wait till the potatoe germs had grown into potatoes.
Such is the condition in which, on the receipt of the supposed benefit, the labourers in husbandry would find themselves placed: such the prospect which it would hold out to them. The labourers in manufactures, and other labourers other than those in husbandry,—what is the prospect it would hold out to them? In comparison with their lot, the lot of the man bred up in husbandry labour—ruinous as we have seen it—would be an enviable one. The period arrived, the husbandman would have nothing to learn; the non-husbandman would have everything to learn—digging, manuring, sowing, weeding, reaping, everything: all this he would have to learn, and in the meantime he would have to starve.
Meantime the supposed objects of this desperate rage—the owners of property—how would it be with them? They would be the last to suffer: all of them together the last; and among them, the richer a man were, and thence by the supposition the more obnoxious, the longer it would be before his time of suffering came. With more or less disadvantage, he who had property would, by exporting it along with himself, retain a part of it, or get something for it in the way of exchange. But the supposed intended plunderers, no property could they export, any more than their own persons, the land they could not export, and that, with or without buildings on it, is all—so it has been shown over and over again—that would be left in their hands. Yes: it is upon their heads that the calamity would fall in the first instance. Never, anywhere, but in the wages of labour can they have beholden the source of their subsistence. As to the manufacturers in particular, in no small proportion have they had for their sole purchasers the opulent class, as rising one above another throughout the whole scale of opulence.
Long before the time when the power of commencing the partition had got into any of the hands charged with being disposed to use it, the proprietors, instead of continuing to employ any of their money, as usual, in the purchase of the manufactures they had been accustomed to consume, would cease from all such purchases altogether. With everything they had or could get, that is exportable, they would take their flight from the country, as above.
Before this topic is closed, one other circumstance must be brought to view, and that is, the smallness of the lot by which, in the character of a motive, the determination to embark in an enterprise so full of personal hazard as well as difficulty, must have been produced.
Note, that by this one circumstance stand excluded from the number of the possible associates, all those who, in possession or expectancy, beheld within their grasp any mass of property not much below the value of the equal lot. Instead of supporters, all such persons the scheme would have for its inflexible opponents. But at the command of their opponents are all the possible means of support to the scheme on one hand, of opposition to it on the other. At the command of the supposed associates, what are the means? The hands they were born with—these and nothing else. Such are the hands, of which the Monarch of this country, with his Lords and Commons, have been stricken with that fear, the expression of which is contained in the two late speeches which have above so often been brought to view: in these speeches—in the consequent addition of the 10,000 men and upwards to the standing army of 100,000 and upwards, and in that real subversion by which, in virtue of the new laws, the constitution has been secured against the imaginary one.
THE TALKED-OF SPUNGE NO PROOF OF THE DESIGN.
But by Radicalists (says somebody) a wish to see a national bankruptcy effected—or, as the phrase is, a spunge applied to the debt, has at radical reform meetings been openly and uncontradictedly spoken of in the character of a desirable result: and here would unquestionably be subversion of “rights of property.”
To this come the following short answers:
1. Spoken of in such meetings—yes. But how? Rather as an expected cause of reform than as an intended effect. No otherwise than in so far as it has been declared to be an intended effect, does it apply to the present purpose.
2. Even supposing it intended to be produced, and produced accordingly, it would not amount to the design insinuated in the speech. True it is, that to the amount of this debt, so much of the rights of property in that shape would be subverted: but property in all other shapes would, for anything that this would do, remain untouched. Note well, that subversion—not of “rights of property,” i. e. some rights of property—but of “the rights of property,” i. e. all the rights of property, is the object charged to be aimed at. Every time a handkerchief is picked out of a pocket, subversion of rights of property takes place. Note likewise, that from the aggregate mass of property in the country, though no addition would be made to it, no defalcation would be made. I do not say that no preponderant evil would be produced. But that is another consideration, which will meet us presently.
3. The very design, whether in itself it be useful or pernicious, proves even a respect for property in all other shapes. For what would be the effect, or supposed use of it? Only to take off so much burden—so much of deduction—from property in all other shapes: deduction, namely that made by taxes. Suppose property, in all other shapes, dealt by according to that design, the existence of which was in the speech declared to be believed, it has been seen what would have become of it, and whether, by the very partition, the impossibility of paying the debt, and thereby the virtual abolition of it, would not have been effected. But that no such design of universal partition can possibly have been entertained, has, it is believed, been sufficiently shown.
4. To no one of the supposed plotters in question would or could any immediate benefit be produced by this spunge. Ceasing to pay dividends to the present annuitants would not put money into the pocket of any reformist, or any one else. Suppose the dividend divided amongst the reformists instead of the present annuitants,—is that what is meant? But on this supposition the debt would not be abolished; it would be kept up.
5. It is not by all radicalists, nor by more than a very small part of the whole number of radicalists, that so much as a wish to see this state of things take effect has been expressed: take effect in any character—either as a fruit and consequence, or as a cause.
Thus much as to ineligible reform in that particular shape. But amongst the plans of reform, or expected fruits of reform held up to view, suppose in any number, schemes ever so extravagant. By any such extravagance could any just cause of objection be formed against any that were free from the extravagance? If yes, nothing could be more easy than for men in power to manufacture in this way a bar to all reform, and that an insuperable one. To employ a number of men to propose and advocate each of them “an absurd, visionary, and senseless” plan of reform (to use Earl Gray’s phrase,) or “a wild and visionary plan” (to use Lord John Russell’s phrase,) would be quite as easy as, and somewhat less odious and nefarious than, to give birth to crimes by employing instigators for the purpose of their becoming informers.
That, without any exception, all who call for radical reform should be uniformly well informed and wise, is an expectation which it will be time enough to regard as a reasonable one, when wisdom in that same degree has manifested itself on the part of their rulers.
The supposition on which acts of government and speeches made in houses, seem uniformly to be grounded, is that of consummate excellence on the part of those who have any share in the powers of government, coupled with consummate depravity on the part of those who have none: the supremely ruling one, sharing with the Almighty in his attributes, as Blackstone, who enumerates them expressly, assures us he does; those in authority under him a little lower than the angels; the subject-many devoid of reason, and in shape alone differing from beasts: hence it is that they are unfit to be, and incapable of being, reasoned with—fit only to be crushed and slaughtered.
That by the persons in question any such design should ever have been harboured as that of endeavouring at the subversion of the rights of property in other shapes, has, it is hoped, been sufficiently proved to be impossible. That by those same persons, in a number more or less considerable, the design may have been harboured of endeavouring at “the subversion of the rights of property” in this particular shape, seems neither impossible nor improbable. But, against a mere design, supposing it to have no chance of producing either the effect aimed at, or any bad effect in any other shape, not only would “subversion of the constitution,” but even reason and argument, be so much words and paper thrown away. He in whose eyes the catastrophe is not regarded as capable of being produced otherwise than by the political ascendency of those whom he regards as labouring to produce it, will see no cause for apprehending evil in that shape, unless in so far as the existence of such ascendency should in his eyes be more or less probable. Still, however, as from that endeavour preponderant evil could not fail to take place, might not such a demonstration be in their eyes at least productive of good effect? Evil in that particular shape has not any probability, yet from those same endeavours, evil in this or that other shape, may in those same eyes or in other eyes be more or less apprehended. On this supposition, if to their own satisfaction it were demonstrated, that by any endeavours made or declared to be made by them towards “the subversion or extinction of the rights of property” in this shape, no good—preponderant good to themselves—could take place, but that on the contrary much preponderant evil could not fail to take place, might not such a demonstration be, in their eyes, at least productive of good effect?
From any declared or known anti-radicalist, any such statement would have to encounter the force of adverse prepossession. From a known radicalist it many stand a better chance of being regarded with whatever attention may be due to it.
These things considered, it has been thought that the following suggestions in proof of the ineligibity of this supposed remedy, in respect of the interests of any persons who in the character of radicalist may have been occupied in the endeavour to apply it, might not be without their use.
If it should appear, that while the extinction of the debt without equivalent would be productive of preponderant evil to a very great amount, the abolition of it by means of an equivalent would still be productive of preponderant evil, though to a less amount, the result will be a practical conclusion, such as under existing circumstances may not be without its use.
Reasons against a national spunge,—i. e. complete insolvency on the part of government:—
1. Upon the face of it, it presents not any national advantage in any shape. Yes: if the creditors were all of them or the greater proportion of them foreigners; for here would be pecuniary advantage for a motive: counter-motive none, but the dishonesty, and the attendant consequences of it. Setting foreigners out of the question, on setting money against money, all that were in the character of debtors would gain: all that were in the character of creditors would lose. Taking into the account the whole of the community together, here, then, in money there would be no gain. But money is of no value, otherwise than as a means of happiness. Now in happiness there would be great loss: for, quantity and quality being equal, and all other circumstances the same, suffering from loss is always greater than enjoyment from gain; otherwise there would be no preponderant evil produced by depredation in any shape, nor reasonable cause for punishing it.
2. Among those who would suffer soonest and most, would be all those by whom a change of this sort has been considered or spoken of as desirable. Among them, in an indefinitely large proportion perhaps, the greatest portion are those by whose labour such goods are manufactured as have for their consumers and purchasers, persons whose property is in this shape. From this defalcation, though all labourers would suffer, labourers in manufactures would suffer in the greatest degree: for among their productions are those which can best be spared. Among the productions of husbandry alone are those which consistently with life cannot be spared.
3. It has never yet been shown, nor, it is believed, can it be shown, in what particular shape any preponderant good from any such forcible and unlooked-for transfer of property should come—should come at any time how widely soever distant. That in the first instance, and for an indefinite length of time, distress, to an incalculable but at the least a prodigiously vast amount, would be produced, cannot be matter of doubt to anybody. If at the end of the account, preponderant good in any shape were to be enjoyed, it would only be by such persons as, in respect of fixed property, or means of subsistence in other shapes, should have been enabled to weather the storm. And among these scarcely would any person of the class now in question be to be found.
In a word, the distress produced would be certain and immediate: the looked-for equivalent—the alleviation, would be uncertain and remote.
When the advantages from extinction in any way are brought to view, first comes the taking off of the taxes, then the lowering of prices to the pitch from which they were raised by the taxes. Unfortunately, the first result is not by a great deal so speedy as imagination is wont to paint it. When taxes are taken off, there remain the tax-gatherer and the clerks to be provided for; and thus it is that it is only as a tontine annuity increases, that that part of the burthen of taxation which is composed of the expense of collection can be diminished. The tax-gatherers and clerks may indeed be turned out to starve; and for a warrant for so dealing with them, some bad name or other may be attached to them. But by this bad name, neither will the sensibility of the individuals to suffering be diminished, nor the part which their happiness constitutes of the universal happiness, nor their right to have as much regard shown to their happiness as to that of an equal number of other persons.
Look the whole community over, scarcely will you find that description of persons for whom some bad name or other has not been found: none whatever, for which a name of that sort might not be found. But to make any such pretence for evil doing requires no more ingenuity than, nor so much time as, the tying a canister to the tail of a dog for the purpose of tormenting him.
Such is the sad effect of profusion—that evil, of which with so many others the essence of monarchy is composed. This expenditure with its burthen is the work of an instant: suppose relief to come, half a century may have elapsed, and still the exoneration is not complete.
Just so or worse it is with armies. Raise them you may in a few months: disband them you may in the compass of a day. But as to exoneration from the expense—Oh no: half a century may have elapsed, and still the relief remain incomplete. Here too comes in another feature: tax-gatherer and office-clerk should not be turned out to starve;—soldiers will not be.
4. The burthen in this shape being already in existence, and not to be got rid of but by preponderant burthen in other shapes, the continuance of it in this shape seems productive of a distinct and peculiar advantage;—namely, the opposing a proportionable difficulty to war. The power which has most effectually at command a greater body of the necessary and effectual means of war than any other has—not to say than all others put together have—such a power is surely in less danger than any other can be, of being forced by aggression into a war of mere defence: and as to offensive wars—wars for conquest, or for the pleasure of being insolent, whatsoever may be the real propensity, scarcely of any such propensity will the existence in their own instance be avowed, at least in direct terms, by any men in the situation of rulers.
Now, under a constitution or form of government such as ours, the profit, real or apparent, to the ruling few, and thence the propensity to engage in needless and useless and unjust wars, is so strong, and all other counteracting causes so completely wanting, that the difficulty opposed by the burthen in question to such wars seem to me a blessing beyond all price.
4 continued, or 5. If this country were more likely to be engaged in a war of necessity, and mere defence—in a necessary and defensive war, than in an unnecessary and offensive war,—on that supposition, the effect of the extinction or diminution of the debt might upon the whole be advantageous. But to advance any such position shall be left to those, if any such there be, who either believe the truth of it themselves, or can make sure of persuading others so to do.*
Now by war, whenever there is one, men of the class of the radicalists—in a word, of the unopulent many—will be greater sufferers than any that stand above them in the scale of opulence. For, in the case of war, let it come when it will, money must be found. It must be taken from all classes; and the less a man has of it, the less he can spare for this or any other purpose.
But (says somebody,) by the reformists, supposing them to have the ascendency, war, except in the case of its being necessary war, will not be engaged in. Easy enough this to say—not quite so easy to be assured of. Under democratic ascendency there would still remain—besides the people’s Commons—the monarch with his Lords, all of them with their inbred appetite hungering and thirsting after war, instead of righteousness. Power, money, plunder, honour and glory, additional distant dependencies—more and more offices and honours—depredation in all its shapes—in all of them applicable to the purposes of corruption: honour, and glory—pleasure of insulting and oppressing foreign nations. Upon the functionaries in office, high and low, all these incentives will be operating with unabated force; and for producing a correspondent inflammation in the breasts of the people in their character of electors, no power would be spared.
Not that, merely for this purpose, any one could seriously maintain that the accumulation of a national debt—especially a national debt heavy enough to prevent war, would be an eligible measure. All that is meant is—that when the community has been subjected to a public burthen in this shape, this is the shape in which for that purpose it were desirable that it should exist, so long and in so far as it exists in any shape; that in particular no such thing as a sinking fund should ever be established: and that accordingly, should any permanent surplus be found to have existence in the produce of the existing taxes, the result should be the abolition of a correspondent quantity of the produce of those, of which the continuance was found, in all respects taken together, the most pernicious.
DEFENCE FROM EXPERIENCE IN THE CASE OF THE UNITED STATES.
So much for the general nature of the case.
In experience, is there anything to give countenance to a supposition thus shown to be in theory so extravagant as well as completely groundless?
In experience? On the contrary, from experience all the evidence that the case furnishes is directly in the teeth of the supposition, and puts the most decided negative upon it.
Look first to the North-American United States. In that vast region—a region peopled with men of English race, bred up in English habits—with minds fraught with ideas, associated with all English ideas by English language,—in that vast region, what is the state of things? If not indeed exactly what in the British Isles it would be rendered by democratic ascendency as established by radical reform, it is at any rate a state of things which to the present purpose is not materially different from it: and in particular a state of things, which, if it had been in human nature to give birth to any such design as that of a general subversion of the rights of property, would have been full as likely to give birth to such a design as the condition of the radicalists in the British Isles can now be.
Well, then, in those United States such is the state of things in respect of the influence of the people at large in the business of government. What, then, is the consequence? Any such subversion of property as the form proposed is accused of being to a certainty productive of? No—nor any the least approach to it. Any inferiority in respect of general tranquillity and felicity in other shapes, as compared with the British Isles? On the contrary, a great and perfectly uncontrovertible superiority.
First, then, as to the parallelism—the virtual identity of the features or elements of radicalism, secrecy, universality, equality, annuality of suffrages. All this, literally or virtually, you have in Pennsylvania and in New York, and, deducting slaves, these are the two most populous of the twenty-two United States. Anno 1810, population of the two, little less than a third of the whole. Secrecy, annuality, you have literally: and of the four elements these are the only two of which, in the literal sense, the existence is possible.
Universality a trifle short of it you have virtually: qualification in New York, renting 40s. a-year: renting sufficient—possession in property not required.* In Pennsylvania, not so much as renting 40s. or renting anything, required: payment “to any state or county tax” sufficient—payment though it were but once made:† and any man that pleases may offer himself to make it.
As to equality of suffrage,—i. e. equality in effect and value as between right and right in suffrage,—the effectual point is not arithmetical equality, but absence of any such degree of inequality as would be the result and proof of partiality and injustice. All charge of injustice on this score being in these instances unknown, details of the partition would not pay for the trouble of the research.
Here, then, is not merely radicalism—not merely democratic ascendency—not merely representative democracy in conjunction with monarchy and aristocracy,—but pure democracy, without any such supposed security for property—for good order, as the phrase is, as independent power lodged in the hands of the one, combined with independent power lodged in the hands of the few, are supposed to give. Well; and what has been the result? subversion of the rights of property? No—nor at any time any the least tendency towards any such thing. From the foundation of the several colonies down to the present time, property existing in all degrees of inequality from 0 up to half-a-million or more, and in all those proportions alike secure.
Sedition, insurrection against the constituted authorities—popular discontent—any thing of that sort? Near forty years have already elapsed since the triple yoke of monarchy, aristocracy, and sham democracy, were cast off: and nowhere in the Union have any of those symptoms of misrule at any times shown themselves.
Is it that distress has been there unknown? Not it indeed. Distress there has been, but too much of it. But the distress itself has not there been better known, than has the cause, the only cause of it. This being known, as little have men thought of making it matter of charge against their government or their constitution, as if, instead of want of market for productions, it had had drought or inundation for its cause.
In our Islands, the distress has had two causes: the deficiency of demand as in the United States for produce, and that excess of taxation which has been produced by vicious constitution and misrule. The misrulers place it of course, the whole of it, to the commercial account; no part to the financial and constitutional: but the people, who not only feel but see what the taxes are, as well as in what state the constitution is, are not to be thus blinded. No indeed. By shutting their eyes against facts, it is not in man’s power to cause those facts not to have had existence; and thence it is, that notwithstanding all speeches and all invectives, and all penal laws and all prosecutions, and all hangings and all sabrings, it remains an undeniable truth, that if nothing will satisfy a man but the seeing the people quiet and content with their government while they are labouring in penury and distress, it is to pure democracy, or at least to democratic ascendency, that he must look for it.
Oh but (says somebody,) New York and Pennsylvania—these states are but two out of that number, which at first was thirteen, and now amounts to two-and-twenty. True: and for this very reason the experience is but so much the more instructive—the evidence afforded by it but so much the more conclusive. In several States of the Union, the qualification is not only real as well as nominal, but inordinately high: yet nowhere from the remoteness from universality has any advantageous effect, from the nearness to it any disadvantageous effect, been either experienced or surmised.*
DEFENCE FROM PARTICULAR EXPERIENCE IN THE CASE OF IRELAND: Years 1777 or 1778, to 1783.
ANALOGY BETWEEN THIS AND THE PREVIOUS CASE.
We come now to the case of Ireland. In the case of the United States, what we have been seeing is—as the cause of the effects in question, representative democracy—pure democracy. This is not exactly the same state of things as that which we have been stating as the natural, the necessary, the desirable effect of radical reform—namely, democratic ascendency. But though not exactly and exclusively that, it is that and more: and if so it were, that radical reform, with its inseparable fruit democratic ascendency, were in any degree mischievous or dangerous, pure democracy would to a much higher degree, be mischievous or dangerous.
In the United States, for the cause of the effects in question, we have seen pure democracy: for its effects of the negative kind, instead of the alleged subversion of the rights of property, no such subversion; effects of the positive kind, condition in respect of the rights of property better, much better, than under Matchless Constitution, with the benefit of English institutions the whole mass of them: condition in respect of general felicity as dependent on the possession of its several elements and external instruments, generally superior likewise.
In the case of Ireland, we shall see a case still more exactly in point. For a length of time quite sufficient for experiment—quite sufficient for the support of every inference,—we shall see democratic ascendency established and maintaining itself: maintaining itself, not indeed under the name of parliamentary reform—radical parliamentary reform—but what is more, with the essential characters of it. So much for the cause of the effects inquired after: as to the effects themselves, they will be found still in their nature the same as in the United States. Subversion of the rights of property, none—subversion of the constitution, none. Thus much for the merely negative effects: look now to the positive effects. Here, on the side of Ireland, we shall find a brilliant superiority:—the average mass of felicity exalted to a pitch unknown before or since—public and private felicity; and, as at once a cause and consequence of it, public and private virtue.
DEMOCRATIC ASCENDENCY, HOW PRODUCED.
In the case of Ireland, the state of things here designated by the appellation of democratic ascendency had for its cause the system which has been distinguished by the various appellations of “Irish Volunteer Association,” “Irish Association,” “The Volunteer Association,” “The Volunteer System;” meaning in every case the system carried into effect by a body of men in Ireland distinguished by the appellation of “Volunteers,” “The Armed Volunteers,” or “The Associated Volunteers.”
In the formation of their character, the following circumstances may be seen united:—
1. The members, for what they did, had no authority from Government.
2. They were self-formed into regular bodies.
3. They were self-trained to the use of arms, individually and collectively.
4. They were provided with arms of all sorts—in some places even with cannon.
5. The aggregate body was constituted by, and composed of, a number of smaller bodies self-formed, all over the kingdom. The aggregate or national body, of provincial bodies: each provincial body of local bodies, occasionally assembled in various towns or neighbourhoods.
6. In each such place, the members of the several bodies met together by voluntary agreement, in such sort that each one of them had for his electors all the others. This, it may be seen, so far as it went, was universal suffrage. So far as it went; and in the case of parliamentary election by universal suffrage, it is not that on every occasion every one who had the right would on every occasion exercise that right, but that every one, without exception, would be free to exercise it.
7. By the body associated in each town or place, delegates were at one time or other chosen and sent to a provincial assembly composed of the delegates from all the towns of places in which associate bodies were formed, in that one of the four provinces into which the kingdom of Ireland then was, and that part of the United Kingdom is now divided; as also to a National Assembly that met at Dublin, the metropolis.
8. The persons under whose command, in the character of military officers, the rest acted in the character of armed volunteers, were chosen by the suffrages of the rest in the character of privates—by the suffrages of those who placed themselves under their command, And among these officers were some among the highest in rank and opulence; and in particular, the Duke of Leinster, the first man in the peerage, and then, as at present, the only Duke not belonging to the Royal family.
The conjuncture was an unexampled one. The time was that of the American war—a war in the course of which, in addition to so many of its distant dependencies, the British monarchy had those of France and Spain to contend with. At sea, the superiority of Britain, which for some time was precarious, became at length converted into a decided inferiority. An invasion was every day expected, and Ireland being the point manifestly the most vulnerable, was the point upon which it was mostly, if not exclusively, expected.
A time at length arrived, at which, to defend the country, or rather of those in power in it and over it, the British rulers could not muster any more than 5000 men—5000 instead of the 20,000 which had been demanded as necessary. Abandoned by the Government to their fate, the people in various parts of the country stood up and prepared for their own defence.
In this state of things, the English rulers had the choice of two evils—to suffer the enemy to make a conquest of the country, or to suffer the inhabitants to take up arms, under an utter uncertainty as to the use that would be made of the power thus acquired. Of the two evils, they chose that which, even in regard to their own particular interest, was manifestly the best: they suffered the people to take their course.
That in so doing they were insensible to the magnitude of the danger they were exposing themselves to, was not in the nature of the case. In their situation, every danger is magnified and over-valued, rather than undervalued. But to avoid exposing themselves to it without immediate ruin, was manifestly impossible. They submitted to it with as good grace as they could: they not only joined in applauses and thanks to the objects of their jealousy, but put arms into their hands—16,000 stand of arms is the number mentioned.
While the danger from without was still growing every day more and more urgent, an attempt was made to provide against the interior and more lasting one. But by this attempt to avert it, the internal danger was but increased. For the purpose of bringing the volunteers regularly under the command of the constituted authorities, commissions from the Crown were offered to men of note in the country—to members of the local aristocracy, and hands were not wanting for the acceptance of them. But the purpose was too obvious: of such commanders there was no want, but volunteers could not be found, and men were wanting to such commanders. Freely men would serve—but under those in whom they had confidence. Monarchists and aristocrats there were not wanting, to subject the people to martial law, with the irresistible and remediless servitude that belongs to it; but hands were not so ready to receive as to make offer of such chains. None would serve under officers appointed by the monarch: every day more and more were ready to serve: and did serve, under commanders chosen by themselves—in concurrence with men pursuing the same objects, and partaking in the same affections. Shame and weakness was the result on the part of the constituted authorities: exultation and increase of strength on the part of the people.
In this state of things, the physical force of the country was manifestly in the hands of the people—of all such of the people as chose to take a part in the exercise of it. In a word, democratic ascendency was fully established: democratic ascendency—not democracy; for neither by the armed citizens themselves, nor by any man of their choice, was any act of authority ever exercised. Corrupt as it was—an object of universally declared aversion, and contempt—nothing was done but what was done by the Parliament, that is by the Ministry, with both Houses prepared and hired to do whatever should be required. Commercial emancipation and parliamentary emancipation united the wishes of almost everybody. These points were accomplished: and nothing could be more evident than that, but for the armed association, they never could have been accomplished. In what they were able to do, the English rulers, and those who in Ireland were sold to them, saw what more, in case of necessity, they were capable of doing: and this seen, whatever was done, it was by the constituted authorities that it was done.
FRUIT OF DEMOCRATIC ASCENDENCY A GOLDEN AGE.
Such being for five years together the effect of the volunteer system—of the will of the people manifesting itself on the principle of universal suffrage—in a word, of democratic ascendency substituted to a mixture of monarchical and aristocratical ascendency under a foreign monarch, and calling itself Protestant Ascendency because it was by Protestant hands that the tyranny was exercised—such being the nature of the powerful influence exercised by the body of the people on the conduct of the government—what were the results?
Subversion of the rights of property? No such thing. Subversion of the constitution? No such thing. In the constitution of the kingdom of Ireland, a change was indeed effected. But even on the occasion on which it was effected, numerous as were the authorities without the concurrence of which the change neither was nor could have been effected, ample in every case was the applause bestowed upon it. Scarcely in any one was an objection made to it—nor has so much as the shadow of an objection been raised against it since. That one flagrantly bad point removed, all the other points, good and bad together, continued as before.
Such being the institution—democratic ascendency—behold its fruits: tranquillity, harmony, morality, felicity, unexampled. Such as they were—behold another miracle—by the evidence of all parties in one voice, their existence was acknowledged. People’s men triumphed in their golden age, and recorded it. Aristocratic Whigs, even after they had succeeded in destroying it—in substituting to it the iron age—trumpeted it, calling it their own work. So conspicuous was it—so incontestable, that not even could the most zealous monarchialists and Tories forbear confessing its existence.
Abolition of English institutions? No such thing. Good and bad together, English institutions remained as they were.
These indeed are but negative results—the mere absence, of certain results that have been seen presented to view in the character of pure evils (and the first of them—namely subversion of the rights of property—unquestionably such) and all of them as being the certain result of any state of things, under which the great body of the people were left free to give expression to their wishes.
It is with this experience full in view—all of them being at that very time not only in existence, but moreover in a situation which not only enabled them, but engaged them to apply their minds to the observation of everything that passed—that the men to whom we are indebted for the speech from the Throne, scrupled not to represent as eventually certain in Great Britain and Ireland, all those results the complete absence of which was in that instance so conspicuous in Ireland.
Will it be said that this was not democratic ascendency, for that these armed bodies were composed of men serving in the character of privates under the command of officers; and that these officers were many of them, if not most of them, members of the aristocracy—several of them among the highest in the conjunct scale of power, riches, and property, as above observed and acknowledged?
True: of this description were the officers of this army in a certain proportion. But let that proportion have been ever so large;—suppose them all Members, either of the House of Peers, or of the House of Commons: with any the less propriety would the result have been termed democratic ascendency? Not it indeed: and for this simple reason. Over any one of the privates in this army, no one officer had, at any one time, any power other than that which the privates chose all of them to give to him. No king’s commissions—no military law. Nor was it that the officers chose the privates: it was by the privates that they themselves were chosen officers.
All this time it was the people at large—it was the privates, that governed, so far as they chose to govern. As to the members of the aristocracy, including the creatures and instruments of the monarchy, each in the character of member of the democratic association had a voice indeed, but no one had any more.
To prevent evil in any shape, nothing was there in the breast of any one, but the awe he stood in of the rest. Yet, such is the effrontery of some—such the blindness of so many—mere anarchy is still the name that so long has been, and so long will continue to be given, to the only sort of government that is anything better than an established nuisance.
Place and time considered, even had the evil results, the absence of which has been brought to view, actually on this occasion had place, it would not by any means have followed, that in England or Scotland at this time, by the same power as effectually in the hands of all who chose to partake in it as it was then, those evils or any of them would have been produced. Who is there that can be insensible to the magnitude of the body of political experience that has presented itself to view since that time? Who is there that in respect of the extent to which the diffusion of political instruction has had place, can be insensible to the difference between Ireland on the one hand, and England and Scotland on the other?
COINCIDENCE OF ITS CHARACTERS WITH THOSE OF RADICALISM.
The position to be proved—and proved from the example here in question is—Radicalism not Dangerous. What has been shown already is, that democratic ascendency has nothing dangerous in it. The thing now to be shown is, the virtual coincidence between democratic ascendency as in that case established, in respect of government, and the state of things that would be established, if a free and genuine representation of the people in the Commons House were established upon the principles of Radical Reform.
Impossibilities must not here be looked for. Between a state of things once actually in existence, and a state of things only in imagination and proposal—between a state of things established without authority—by other than the constituted authorities,—and a state of things as proposed to be established by legal regulations—the work of the constituted authorities,—a coincidence in terms cannot rationally be expected. All that can be reasonably looked for is, that between the substance of the elementary arrangement, or leading features on the one part, and those on the other, the coincidence shall be found to have place.
First comes secrecy of suffrage. Here, instead of the cause—the cause which if not followed by the effect, would not be of any use or value—we must look for the effect. We must look for freedom, or, in a word, for genuineness: we shall find it in the particular state of things in question, secured by other causes—secured to a considerable degree, but still too far short of that degree of perfection, in which it would be secured by secrecy of suffrage.
It is not in itself that secrecy of suffrage is of any use. The only use it is of, lies in the effects of which it is productive to the community at large. Freedom, and thence genuineness of the votes, and thereby assurance that in each instance the vote given is conformable to what in the conception of the voter is the universal interest: to the individual, security against that coercion and oppression which might otherwise be exercised on him, on account of the service he has or would have rendered to the universal interest,—namely, by preventing him from rendering it, or punishing him for having rendered it, as the case may be.
In the case in question, freedom had place then, from the very nature of the case; for no one could have been a member of the association, and as such given his vote in the choice of the delegate sent by it, who had not been rendered a member of it by his own real inclination. That among those who appeared in that character there were many who on ordinary occasions would have felt themselves dependent on the pleasure of this or that individual or number of individuals, in the character of patron or patrons, cannot be matter of doubt; but in the circumstances of the time they found several shields against oppression from that cause. In the impossibility of resisting the tide of public opinion and popular sentiment, the dependent would find an excuse which could not but operate with more or less effect to soften the rigour of an oppressing patron: and in that same force he might, and in many instances would, find a protection by the contemplation of which the patron would be deterred from exercising the oppression, with whatever power the desire to exercise it might all the while be operating at the bottom of his heart.
Next comes universality of suffrage. To the existence of this universality of suffrage, what is necessary on the occasion in question is, not that all persons should actually vote, but that all persons should, as against any legal impediment, find themselves at liberty to vote: that upon no person, by the exaction of qualification or otherwise, any exclusion should be put on the ground of want of property, or for any other cause. That in the case in question, such was the state of things has been rendered manifest. The Protestants being that part of the population in which the institution appears to have originated, if upon any description of persons an exclusion had been put, not want of property but want of orthodoxy would have been the cause. That at the outset, in this or that part of the country, exclusion for that cause had place to a certain extent, seems to be sufficiently declared. But if Lord Sheffield, a declared and contemptuous adversary to Radical Reform, is to be believed, as the institution spread, exclusion on this ground vanished, and it was in proportion as Radical Reform forced itself into mens’ eyes and hearts, that exclusion vanished; and in a ratio greater than that of its population to the Protestant part, Catholicism soon found place in the body of the associated volunteers.
Will it be said, that though on the ground of want of property, no direct and manifest exclusion was put on any one, yet an indirect and not less effectual exclusion was produced by the need of money for the purchase of arms, and for subsistence during the time occupied in training? As for arms, to the extent that has been seen (16,000,) they were furnished by Government; and as to the remainder of the total number of the associates, property in the arms not being necessary to their use of them, the cost of the requisite supply to all those who could not with convenience to themselves make the purchase, would be a mere nothing among the men of first-rate opulence, who by participation in the common interest were engaged, heart as well as hand, in the design, till Parliamentary reform came upon the carpet, and gave, as we shall see, an opposite direction to the current of aristocratic interests and desires.
Thirdly, as to equality of suffrage. Rather for the purpose of showing that no one of the elements of radicalism has been passed by, is any particular mention made of this one. The circumstance upon which equality of effect and value, as between one man’s and another man’s right of suffrage depends, is equality of population as between each elective district and every other. By no other instrument than the hand of law could any approach to equality in this particular, it is sufficiently evident, have on that or any other occasion been effected. By no other instrument, nor even by that, without a constant, particular, and all-comprehensive body of arrangements, such as that which has lately been submitted to the public view,* nor by even that instrument, before the end of a considerable length of time. Of the districts in which the several component bodies of the all-comprehensive association were formed, the dimensions would necessarily be those which, having originally been marked out by the legal arrangements, had been perpetuated by the universally-employed denominations.
Fourthly and lastly, as to annuality of suffrage. This feature of the plan is subordinate in the scale of importance to universality, as both together are to freedom and genuineness, and thence to secrecy. If in its composition the representative body be such as determines it at all times to sacrifice to the interest of the corporation—of the ruling few of which it makes a part—the interest of the subject-many, any frequency of removal has little other and better effect than a correspondent repetition of all-comprehensive vexation and expense.
Be this as it may, of democratic ascendency, as manifested during the prevalence of the Irish volunteer system, not simply annuality of election, but ultra-annuality, had place. Under democratic ascendency, as it would be regularly organized and permanently established in the case of the Commons House,—under and by virtue of a system of Radical Reform, certain terms would of course be appointed, on which the electors should be called upon to renew the signification of their wishes, and thus correct any imperfection which in this or that instance may have been produced by a less auspicious choice. In the case of the self-formed body in question, its composition and operations not having been the result of any pre-established arrangement, no such simultaneous and periodical faculty of change, leaving each individual in secure possession of his situation during the whole interval between change and change, would naturally present itself. The result was a still greater degree of impermanence than under the arrangement of annuality of suffrage: a still greater degree of impermanence, and thence a still closer dependence on the the part of representatives, on the good opinion and will, and self-supposed interest, of constituents.
EXTINCTION OF DEMOCRATIC ASCENDENCY AND REFORM—RESTORATION OF MONARCHICO-ARISTOCRATICAL ASCENDENCY, AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
Having continued so long—Democratical ascendency—how came it to end? Having proceeded so far,—Reform—how came it to stop?—Answer: Democratical ascendency was brought to its end by the leaders whom the people, in their character of associated volunteers, had chosen; and in particular by those of them who were in Parliament. Democratical ascendency being stopped, monarchico-aristocratical ascendency was restored, and reform was stopped of course. These leaders—how came it that they deserted and betrayed the cause of those by whom they had been chosen?—Answer: Because they had gained everything that in their eyes was for the advantage of their aggregate interest,—namely, the aristocratical interest; and if they had proceeded with the people any farther, the next step they took would have been for the advantage of no other interest of theirs than that which they had in common with the people. Now, this broad interest was in their eyes of less value than their own peculiar one. As for the interest of the rest of the community, in so far as distinct from their own, it was not, it never had been, it never could have been, of any value in their eyes. In the eyes of here and there an extraordinarily constituted individual, perhaps yes; but taking them as a body, it is inconsistent with the nature of men that it ever should have been so.
By the emancipation of Irish trade from English oppression, they had given increase to the wealth of the people and to their own along with it: by the emancipation of the Irish Parliament from the English Parliament, they had given increase to their own power, without giving proportionate increase, if any, to the power of the people. By Parliamentary reform, in so far as it was efficient, they would have given increase to the power of the people at the expense of their own:—of course it was not to be endured.
Being all of them public men, and in particular of that class of men—the Whigs—to whose interest it is not safe openly to cast off, as do the Tories, all pretence of regard for the interest of the people,—for deserting the cause of the people it was necessary to find a pretence. It was necessary to them all: to Lord Charlemont in his acting; to Mr. Hardy, his eulogist, in his writings; to Mr. Grattan in his speeches. Then, as now, the substance of their pretences was included in the two words, mischievous and impracticable.
So long as they had confined, as far as appeared, their designs to commercial and parliamentary emancipation, the people had had the most influential members of the aristocracy of the country, not only for their leaders, but for their sincere and active friends and co-operators. No sooner had Parliamentary reform come in view, than their leaders, continuing still in the exercise of their functions, became in secret the most determined and irreclaimable opponents. Still, however, they were not the less, but rather the more determinately their leaders; for it was for the more sure frustration of the most important and salutary of their designs and measures, that their original friends secretly became their adversaries, continued to be their leaders, and to employ all their art and energy in giving obstruction to these same measures.
For this policy, such as it was, the Irish nation, and along with it the British, are chiefly indebted to the Earl of Charlemont: for the disclosure of it, to his Lordship’s biographer, which of course is as much as to say his panegyrist. With Mr. Hardy’s most interesting as well as instructive performance, the public was not gratified till the year 1810.* Of Mr. Plowden’s more general history, the date being 1803, the secret for which the friends of radical reform are so highly indebted for the candour and simplicity of the biographer, was, as was natural, still a secret to the historian. The treacherous lord is accordingly mentioned by him, not merely as the actual, but as the well-meriting object of the public confidence.
The 29th of November 1783 was the important day on which the fate of Parliamentary reform, and with it that of Ireland, and thereby also that of Great Britain, was—no one can say for what length of time—decided. Up to that day, continual had been the advance on the part of the associated volunteers, the only true representatives of the people—the retreat on the part of the British monarchy, with its dependents and adherents in the two Houses. On that day, within trumpet’s sound of the then sitting Parliament, the Convention was sitting, with the Earl of Charlemont for its president. To the House of Commons from the Convention came, with a Parliamentary Reform Bill in his hand, Mr. Grattan’s great and worthy rival Mr. Flood. The House of Commons made a stand. At the end of an almost furious debate, the motion was rejected by a large majority, the mover having been dealt with in the character of the chief of an invading enemy.
Masters of the field, the two Houses resumed their independence. They gave exercise to it by the appropriate resolutions and addresses. Volunteer bodies,—provincial assemblies,—conventions—were now put upon their good behavour. From universally acknowledged benefactors and saviours of their country, a few words would have sufficed for converting them into, and declaring and constituting them, traitors.
No sooner had Parliament marked the Association, and in particular the meetings of delegates, with the character of delinquency, than the men of rank and opulence among its leaders either quitted it altogether; or if they continued their attendance on it, did so for no other purpose than that of putting a stop to its operations, and nullifying its influence.
The last meeting of any assembly under the name of a convention or assembly of delegates, was held as an illegal one, and those by whom it was convened were, though members of the official establishment, prosecuted and punished.
Though the only means by which any constitutional reform could have been effected, had thus been stigmatized and proscribed, reform itself had not been formally included in the proscription, nor were meetings for that purpose either simply and indiscriminately prohibited, or endeavoured to be rendered ineffectual by restrictive regulations. Petitions and bills, having a reform in the representation for their professed object, were therefore, on more occasions than one, presented to the Commons House. But with the exception of the bill which, so long as eleven years after the critical censure passed on the Convention in 1783, was moved in 1794 by Mr Brabazon Ponsonby, whatever was proposed was so far short of radical reform, as to be void of all real efficiency; and even these changes, insufficient as they were, were rejected with scorn as absurd, and with horror as dangerous.
In this state of things, finding democratic ascendency, and efficient reform under the constitution hopeless, the friends of the people—the only men who were really so, little by little began to turn their eyes to democracy, as being the people’s only remaining hope.
Between the termination of the American war in 1783, and the commencement of the French revolution in 1793, disturbances in various parts of the country, on the part of various sets of insurgents from various causes, took place. On the part of the Protestants, the great all-comprehensive grievance was the system of universal corruption and misrule: on the part of the Catholics, the great and all-eclipsing grievance was Catholic slavery—the remedy exclusively or chiefly looked for, Catholic emancipation. Thus differing in their objects, the two sects, in the course of their opposition to Government, frequently clashed and persecuted each other. All this while, Government availed itself of this dissension, and stands charged with having fomented it, and by connivance, and even instigation, given encouragement and increase to the outrages which were so savage and so abundant.
On this occasion, in Ireland, as on every occasion everywhere else, the great object of those who shared in the power and sweets of Government was to maintain, and with as much increase as possible, their power. The extraction of the money of the subject-many for the benefit of the ruling few, being, in so far as it was distinct from the prior object, that which in the scale of estimated importance stood next to it, occupied the middle place between that and the comfort and tranquillity of the people.
Among the effects of everything that is commonly presented to view by any such words as discord or disturbance, are the lessening, or tendency to lessen, the quantity of money capable of being extracted as above, and the calling upon members of Government for an extra proportion of attention and mental labour. By the first-mentioned of these effects, the interest of the purse was disagreeably affected—by the other, the interest of the pillow. Even while employed in giving support to them, it became an object with the Government to apply some check and limitation to the discontents—some relief to the sufferings it was producing. Though it had force enough at command to set insurrection at defiance, a different and less atrocious policy presented itself as eligible, and was adopted.
Division, as it was the most obvious expedient, so from the very outset it was employed: but in the course of things—as by this means discord with its mischiefs to the rulers as above was kept up—the less pleasant operation of giving to one of the naturally opposed parties a partial relief was superadded; vengeance sacrificing its gratification at the irresistible call of self-regarding prudence. To which of the two parties the relief should be administered, was not exposed to doubt. The Protestants, whose object was a Parliamentary reform, and that a radical one, could not be expected to be satisfied with anything less. But Parliamentary reform would to the powers that be—confederacies of monarchy and aristocracy—Parliamentary reform would, by the whole amount of it, be the surrender of so much power—a partial abdication which King George was no more disposed to than King James was to that total one which he knew not of his having effected till he was informed of it by the two Houses. By Parliamentary reform, everybody who had power in his hands would have lost more or less of it. By any relief that was proposed to be given to the Catholics, he did but exercise it. The Monarch lost none—the aristocracy lost none. The Protestants were the party by whom the expense of it would be paid. By no concession to the reformists, either in the shape of gratitude, or in any other, could much popularity be expected: by no benefit, except under the notion of its being the fruit of voluntary kindness, can any such sentiment as gratitude be produced; and little must he know of the nature of man, and especially of men in that situation, to whom any such free good-will could present itself as possible.
Among the advantages possesed by despotism, one is—that so long as the blindness produced by it continues, the praise of mercy may, in proportion as the despotism is pure and complete, be reaped in conjunction with the profit of tyranny. Under it, vice is at all times covered with the mantle of virtue. Rightly understood, all mercy supposes tyranny—every claim to the praise of mercy is a confession of tyranny: take away tyranny, that which is called mercy is, if beneficially exercised, nothing more than justice. The more mischief a man has it in his power to produce, the greater the quantity which he has it in his power to abstain from producing: and for every lot of evil which the monarch abstains from producing, he obtains at the hands of the prostrate multitude the praise of mercy. Monarchy is almost the only soil in which that species of vice which calls itself mercy can make its appearance. Under aristocracy, the praise being as it were lost on such a multitude—lost for want of an individual to fix upon, is seldom claimed. In a democracy, there being no person in whom any such power as that of doing evil with impunity is to be found, there is no place for mercy.
Under every monarchy—under every aristocracy—under every form of government which is compounded of these two, the great body of the people are, in the eyes of their rulers, objects of a mixed sentiment, composed of hatred and contempt: the most crafty are those in whom the dissocial affection is covered by a cloak of sympathy; but among the vulgar herd indolence prevails, and the expense of the covering is saved. Only where every such covering is most completely and disdainfully cast off, could any such law be ordained as that which, assuming as a fact its being itself, on the part of the people, the object of hostile affection, attaches pains and penalties to the expression of it. By every act which it does under the motive of stifling the expression of the sentiment, the intensity of it is increased. Few are the boys who, by a certain number of lashes applied by a tyrant schoolmaster, might not be made to cry out, “I love you, Sir,” in any language which he professes to teach; but to expect to find the boy in whose breast the affection so designated should by any number of lashes be produced, is a sort of expectation not compatible with any degree of blindness short of that of which the late liberticide measures have afforded so conspicuous an example.
Under such a government there is a continual conflict—or, as Swift would say in the Tale of a Tub—a continual game of leapfrog between love of money and love of vengeance. By love of vengeance, if it stood alone, the whole species would be devoted to extirpation. In ordinary times, love of money steps in, and says, Nay, but if no payers of taxes were left alive, no taxes would be paid. Some circumstances there are, which admit of a compromise between the contending passions. When population has got the start of subsistence, and the indigent become troublesome, the irascible appetite may be permitted to indulge itself without prejudice to the concupiscible, by a prudent and discriminating use of muskets or sabres. The irascible, while it is affording a feast to itself, may even be rendering a service to the concupiscible. In proportion as the number of paupers is decreased, so is the burden of the poor-rates.
While, to the Catholics, Government with one hand held out relief, and in driblets even administered it, it set the Protestants against them on the other. By this policy, the attention of both sects was diverted from the dreaded enterprise, and both parties were enfeebled. Instead of menace, the great body of the Catholics betook themselves to prostration. Catholic suffrage was given to them—Catholic emancipation was offered to their hope. Those who wanted the faith necessary to such hope, became insurgents—were unsuccessful—were subdued, and thus instead of the electors and representatives which victory would have rendered them, they became rebels and traitors. Being thus brought under management, the great body was prepared for offering their necks, along with those of their Protestant fellow-countrymen, to that measure from which the people of both nations received the common yoke.
A charge then has been made—a charge than which a more perfectly groundless, a more absurd one, never was or could be made. Myriads are its direct objects, and with them millions have been the victims of it. All this I have proved: and now that I have proved it, what am I or any one to be the better? Too probably, but so much the worse. The stronger the proof, the more intolerable the provocation—the provocation afforded to those against whom there is no security—whose will is their only law, and who, the more highly they are provoked, will be but the more likely to set upon me their legal black mastiffs, and drag me into a prison, there to finish what remains of life.
Subversion of the Constitution—enmity to English institutions—almost treason; what needs there more than a few such phrases—phrases completely void of all meaning other than that by which the disposition and designs of those by whom they are employed is manifested. Almost treason to-day, it may be quite treason to-morrow: Judges ready to decide this: Crown lawyers ready to call for this—all this is secured, and abundantly secured by the Constitution as it stands.
If to do this by the forms of the law would be too much trouble, what should hinder men in power, with or without the pretence of searching for treasonable or seditious matter, from sending a soldier or an armed yeoman to put me to death? The deed done, a pardon or a noli prosequi follows. This too is secured by the Constitution as it stands.
Not to speak of Constitution, for there is no such thing—if I love a government under which such things not only can be done, but are done, how can I do so without hating, or at least regarding with indifference, sixteen or seventeen millions of human beings whose misfortune it is to live under it? Can I do this? No; but I can say I do so: and after this declaration, if this will satisfy them, I am ready to do so at this time, and at all times.
The advocate of reason has drawn forth all his reasons—rendered demonstration complete, and disproof impossible. What is the consequence? Is conduct in anywise amended by it? Is any of the desired effect produced by it? No: either it is turned aside from, with a mixture of fear and scorn, or if noticed, noticed no otherwise than as a butt for ridicule. Look—did you ever see such a fool as this man! as if when we said he meant to strip us of our property, we, or any man of common sense, could believe it. No—let him go to Rome with his reasoning, and make the Pope turn Protestant: or to Constantinople, and make the Sublime Porte turn Christian. This is the radicalist who thought he should bring us over to radicalism, by showing that the principles of it had been professed to be acted upon in King’s speeches. You remember how Brougham quizzed him, and how good a laugh it made for us. A parliamentary ground? Yes: that every parliamentary measure must have of course,—not that the ground must have any truth in it: where has the man lived all this while?
Now, let any man who has ever thought it worth while to consider what Parliament is—let him say whether, if instead of the words about subversion of the rights of property, an equal number of words taken by lot out of Johnson’s Dictionary would not in that place have had the same effect; and whether if in addition to what has been done, the Bill of Rights had been repealed in form, and the mutiny act made perpetual, the majorities would have been less, or Whigs more numerous and constant in their attendance, or more active for the people’s interest in their counties?
Let not the substance of the charge brought against us by the destroyers of our liberties—by the subverters of our rights—be out of mind. The object we are charged with aiming at is, to their purpose at least, precise enough: it is, the subversion of the rights of property—the subversion, not the destruction:—the subversion by means of a new partition; for, without aiming at destruction, which as above is impossible, no other mode of subversion is there that can be aimed at. But we have seen how impossible it is that any plan for mere partition of property should be formed and acted upon. What they put into his speech—the men who put it there,—did they themselves believe it to be true, or did they not? If they did, think of their wisdom: if they did not, think of their honesty;—think of the task which that man has to perform, whose endeavour it is to expose the falsehood of those pretences on the ground of which, for the more effectual preservation it is said of “English Institutions,”* English liberties have been destroyed. An absurd design is professed to be imputed—so palpably absurd, that the fact of its being really supposed to be entertained is impossible. Of this impossibility a manifestation has been made. What is the consequence—that the charge is retracted? Oh no: but some other design of equally palpable absurdity is then imputed. Confute the second imputation, then comes a third: and so on, out of the tyrant’s brain come chimeras after chimeras in any number. Now, if it were possible, suppose the last chimera destroyed, what would the accused—and if not all accused, the whole people of the country have been punished—what would the accused be the better for it? Not a whit. This power is still in hand: a power by which every oppression in every shape in which it is wished to be exercised, can be exercised at pleasure. The power is still in hand,—it can equally be exerted with a pretence as without a pretence. The pretences under which the subversion has been effected are all dissipated: but the subversion remains the same. The wolf and the lamb,—how often has that fable been—how often will it continue to be—converted into fact? The devourer’s pretences are all refuted, but the victim is not the less devoured.
The men in question—the accused—protest and declare in the face of day—thousands and ten thousands—that they have no such design—no design whatever by which the right of property could be touched. The state of the representation rendered what it is pretended to be—that is their aim: that, and nothing more. These protestations, what regard do they receive? Not any. Though the individuals are unknown, yet that they are radicalists is known, and this is sufficient to deprive them of all title to be believed. Men drenched in insincerity—men to whom no one who has ever been at the pains of making observations on them believe anything they assert the more for their asserting it,—these men—though even not these men individually and responsibly,—throw out an insinuation to this or that effect—an insinuation which means anything or nothing, just as they see convenient. This insinuation is acted upon,—the declarations of the thousands of witnesses are set down in the account as equal to 0; such in this case is the law of evidence.
How unequal is the contest between honesty and reason on the one part, and sinister interest in or out of office on the other!—how hard the lot of the advocate on the honest side! On the part of sinister interest, a short phrase composed of falsehood and nonsense is thrown out, and this is to be accepted as a reason—as a reason, and that of itself a conclusive one, on which the whole difference between good government and bad government in this country, and thence perhaps in every other—at this time, and thence perhaps at all times—is to depend.
The advocate of reason sets himself to work: he displays the nothingness, he detects and exposes the fallacies. What is he the better? The exposure is turned aside from: the compound of falsehood and nonsense continues to be delivered, with the same effrontery and the same intolerant arrogance as ever. Even were that abandoned, some other phrase of the like material would be employed instead of it: the same work would be to do over again, and with equal fruit.
Subversion of the Constitution: your aim is to subvert the Constitution. Behold in this phrase one of those compounds of falsehood and nonsense, equally useful to, and equally employed by Tories and Whigs. The Constitution—in which is implied the constitution of the state as in existence: herein lies the falsehood. This Constitution you are aiming to subvert: here is the nonsense. So applied, subversion means nothing: that which has no existence cannot be subverted.
Now, as to the existence of a constitution. For these forty years and more we have known what a constitution is, and so long every man who has chosen to know has known that we have no such thing. Look to United America. Behold there twenty-two states, each having a constitution of its own—a real constitution; and the Congressorial government, which has a constitution in which all these others are included. These constitutions were established each of them by a convention chosen by the great body of the population—by that body out of whose obedience all power is composed, and by the interests of which all power ought in its exercise, in so far as it is not tyranny, to direct itself. There we see so many real constitutions. In this country, what have we, to which we give that name? A mere fictitious entity—a creature of the imagination—a sham—an imposture. When the existence of a constitution is asserted or assumed, what is done? Out of his own head, to suit his own private or party purposes, in the form of words that presents itself as best adapted to these sinister purposes—some one says, “the Constitution is so and so”—“the constitution says so and so;” while the truth is, that the Constitution not being anything, is not so and so;—not being anything, it says nothing—neither so and so, nor anything else. Common sense being none—truth being none—reason being none—argument being none—on either side, these dissensions,—how are they to be made up? Within doors by effrontery, by arrogance, by violence, by intolerance:—without doors by sabres, by bayonets, by field-pieces.
Is it really among your wishes that we should possess the blessing? Give us then a Constitution, or let us give one to ourselves. This done, then, and for the first time, we shall have one. Let us first have a Constitution, and then the offence of aiming at the subversion of it will be a possible one.
The Constitution you figure to yourselves.—tyrants, what is it? A collection of the pretences under which, and the written formularies in and by which, you have been in the habit of carrying on the incessant war for the sacrifice of the universal to your own particular interest—the carrying on in the most regular and commodious manner the work of oppression and depredation on the largest scale. This is what in your eyes is the Constitution. This is everything you wish, and does for you everything that you wish of it.
[* ]This tract is now published for the first time. The dates on the MSS. from which it is extracted, cover the period from November 1819 to the middle of April 1820.
[* ]Morning Chronicle, 22d November 1819.
[† ]See Cobbett’s Parl. Debates, XVII. 559 et seq.
[* ]Aiming.] In this word may be seen the temper and disposition of the men by whom the means were proposed and concurred in. Except in so far as success is more or less probable, what need is there, and thence what ground is there, for new coercive laws, or so much as for punishment under the old? But vengeance was at heart, and discernment was blinded by it.
[† ]Change.] The political institutions, good and bad together, being like the laws of the Medes and Persians declared immutable, for the purpose of perpetuating the bad, and the imperfection of the good—hence the mere act of aiming at a change, be it ever so good, is denounced as a crime—as the crime of some, for which, lest vengeance should remain unsatiated, all are to be punished.
[‡ ]Aiming at the subversion of all order in society, being a phrase utterly void of meaning—a phrase designative of nothing but the state of the understanding and the passions, on the part of those by whom it is employed, is, in its nature, incapable of an answer, other than what is given by the mention thus made of it.
[* ]The Statutes of 60 Geo. III., commonly known by the designation of “The Six Acts.”—Ed.
[* ]I would describe myself by my country. How can I? The Irish Union Act has left me no means. As an Englishman, shall I say? But if there be any injury, Englishmen have not any greater part in it than Scotchmen. As a Briton, shall I say? Britons have not any greater part in it than Irishmen. As a Briton and Irishman, shall I say? Language will not suffer it. Yet I am just as truly an Irishman as I am a Briton, in so far as Briton includes Scotchman.
[† ]The affirmative, not the negative, is the side in which proof should in the first place be adduced. Such is the acknowledged rule, not only in the field of local law, but in the field of universal law—in a word, over the whole field of reason. If to this canon there be any exceptions, small indeed is their extent, nor will the present case be found to be in the number of them.
[* ]In this country, under the existing state of the government, excitements to unjust and pernicious wars have place to a deplorable degree—to a degree greater than under any other form of government, either despotic or democratic.
[* ]Constitution, p. 113, Art. VII.
[† ]Constitution, p. 134, Art. III.
[* ]The above is followed by extracts from contemporary works, illustrative of the prosperity and felicity of the United States. The matter contained in them being now to a certain extent antiquated, it is considered that the space they would occupy in this collection may be more aptly reserved for the original speculations of the author.—Ed.
[* ]See above, Radical Reform Bill, p. 579.
[* ]Memoirs of the political and private life of James Caulfield, Earl of Charlemont, by Francis Hardy, Esq. London, 1810, 4to. (See p. 269, et seq.)
[* ]English Institutions. In this phrase, let Scotchmen see the sort of regard testified for Scottish “institutions;” Irishmen for Irish.