Front Page Titles (by Subject) I. England - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4
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I. England - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 4.
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*∗* The occasion on which this opinion was declared, is that of a motion made by Sir Francis Burdett, Member for Westminster, for the purpose of introducing a series of resolutions, framed, and known to have been framed, by Mr. Bentham, at Sir Francis’s desire, to serve as a basis for a reformed representation of the people, on the ground of universality, secresy, equality, and annuality of suffrage.
The publication, from which the matter is extracted, is intituled, “Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates.” Mr. Hansard is son to the printer to the House of Commons.
The ground, on which it is stated, in this general way, as the opinion of the House of Commons, is this:—In the House, as in the nation, there were, then as now, three parties: the Tories, the Whigs, and the Radicals: these last so called as being the partisans of a radical reform in the Commons’ House. Of the Tories, the leanings are on the side of monarchy; of the Whigs, on the side of aristocracy; of the Radicals, on the side of democracy. On this occasion, Sir Francis Burdett spoke on the side of the Radicals; Mr. Canning, on the Tories’ side: Mr. Brougham took the lead on the Whig side. On the Radical side, there was but one speech—that of Sir Francis Burdett: on the Tory side, but that one speech—that of Mr. Canning: on the Whig side, there were four speeches—Mr. Brougham’s, Mr. Lamb’s, Mr. Parnell’s, and Mr. William Smith’s. In no speech, other than Sir Francis Burdett’s and Mr. Brougham’s, is any mention made of Mr. Bentham: whatever was said in approbation of him by those two gentlemen, stands therefore uncontroverted. Generosity and discretion are competitors for the honour of this silence. Sir Samuel Romilly, known as the old and intimate friend and disciple of Mr. Bentham, was then on his seat in the House: by his silence, the particular appeal, made to him by Mr. Brougham, stands confirmed. He was, heart and head, a Radical: but could not, consistently with any chance of doing what little good he was permitted to do in matters of detail, declare himself as such. Mr. Brougham, on this occasion, is seen taking, off the shoulders of the Tories, the burthen of the defence of the existing system against the attack of the Radicals. As to interests, in the existing system of waste and corruption, the Whigs and the Tories have one common interest: the only difference is—as to the class of hands, by which the profit shall be reaped.
At the end of the report of Sir Francis Burdett’s speech, “The above,” says the reporter in Hansard’s debates, “is an imperfect account of a speech, which was listened to by both sides of the House with the deepest attention.”—Ed. of original Edition.
Extracts from Sir Francis Burdett’s Speech.
“Since that period, the question of reform had been greatly agitated: the ablest men of the age had fully discussed it, and sifted it to the bottom. Above all, Mr. Bentham had, with unrivalled ability, proved how easy and safe it was to carry the principles of reform into practical effect.”
“Annual Parliaments and the most extensive mode of suffrage had been advocated by the late Duke of Richmond, in his famous letter to Colonel Sharman, with a strength of argument quite unanswerable. The same principles had been investigated and maintained with additional force and acuteness and philosophical accuracy, accompanied with complete demonstration of the safety with which they might be reduced to practice, by Bentham. If any anti-reformer could answer Mr. Bentham’s arguments, he would do more efficacious service to reformers and anti-reformers, than could ever be effected by dealing out false imputations and unsubstantiated slander, these being, with a due portion of misrepresentation and exaggeration, the only intellectual weapons hitherto employed by the enemies, against the friends, of reform.”
“If it could be shown that the most comprehensive suffrage would produce no inconvenience in practice, it ought not in justice to be withheld. Mr. Bentham had, by incontrovertible arguments, demonstrated that no danger whatever would arise from the most extensive suffrage that could be established.”
Extract from Mr. Brougham’s Speech.
“From this charge of inconsistency there was one great authority who was exempt—he meant Mr. Bentham. He had the greatest respect for that gentleman. There existed not a more honest or ingenuous mind than he possessed. He knew no man who had passed a more honourable and useful life. Removed from the turmoil of active life, voluntarily abandoning both emoluments and the power which it held out to dazzle ambitious and worldly minds, he had passed his days in the investigation of the most important truths, and had reached a truly venerable, although, he hoped, not an extreme old age. To him he meant not to impute either inadequate information, or insufficient industry, or defective sagacity. But he hoped he should not be deemed disrespectful towards Mr. Bentham, if he said that his plan of parliamentary reform showed that he had dealt more with books than with men. He agreed with his honourable friend, the Member for Arundel (Sir S. Romilly,)* who looked up to Mr. Bentham with the almost filial reverence of a pupil for his tutor, in wishing that he had never written that work. But Mr. Bentham was a real advocate for universal suffrage. He was a far more sturdy, and infinitely more consistent reformer than the honourable baronet, as he gave votes not only to all men, but to all women also. He drew no line at all; he weighed not with practical nicety the claims of different classes; he recollected that his principle was universal; he tossed away the rule and the scale altogether, and without restriction let in all: young or old, men or women, sane or insane, all must vote—all must have a voice in electing their representatives. He did not even sanction the exceptions which the honourable baronet seemed inclined to admit with respect to persons of an unsound mind.
“The veteran reformer (Major Cartwright) had lately favoured the world with a plan of suffrage, illustrated by plates, where balloting-boxes, ball-trays, &c. &c. in most accurate array, met the eager gaze of the much-edified inquirer. Now Mr. Bentham was the patron of the ballot, and his doctrine was, that all who can ballot, may enjoy the elective franchise. The moment a person of either sex was able to put a pellet into a box, no matter whether he were insane, and had one of the keepers of a mad-house to guide him, still Mr. Bentham said, that though he did not support the utility of allowing idiots or mad persons to vote for their own sakes, yet rather than make any distinction, he would allow them, as they could not do any harm, and the unbending consistency might do some good. Mr. Bentham had such an invincible objection to lines of every description, that he could not admit of one being drawn, even at the gates of Bedlam. It was not necessary for him to controvert doctrines of this nature, but they were certainly consistent with each other; and he did not think himself uncharitable in saying, that some of the principles promulgated in that House were nearly as chimerical and visionary without being at all consistent.”
In page 1151, stands the following note to the word Brougham, at the commencement of Mr. Brougham’s speech:—
“As the speech of Mr. Brougham on this occasion was deemed of peculiar importance in a party view, and with respect to the line taken by the Whigs on the question of parliamentary reform, it was hoped he might have been able to print a corrected account of it. But we understand that it was made unexpectedly, without any previous intention of speaking having been entertained by him: so that he could not comply with the wish generally expressed.
Extract from Sir Francis Burdett’s Reply.
“The learned gentleman (Mr. Brougham,) whilst he professed himself friendly to reform, had at the same time attempted to render ridiculous the ablest advocate which reform had ever found—the illustrious and unrivalled Bentham. It was in vain, however, for the learned gentleman to attempt, by stale jokes and misapplied sarcasm, to undervalue the efforts, of a mind the most comprehensive, informed, accurate, acute, and philosophical, that had perhaps in any time or in any country been applied to the subject of legislation, and which, fortunately for mankind, had been brought to bear upon reform, the most important of all political subjects. The abilities of Bentham, the learned gentleman could not dispute—his disinterestedness he could not deny—his benevolence he could not but admire—and his unremitted labours he would do well to respect, and not to attempt to disparage. The conviction of such a mind after mature investigation, overcoming preconceived prejudice, could not be represented as the result of wild and visionary speculation; and the zealous and honest adherents of the cause of reform might be well contented to rest the question on the foundations, broad and deep, upon which Bentham had placed it. The learned gentleman, therefore, unless he found himself competent at least to attempt to answer the reasons of Bentham, ought, for his own sake, to be more cautious how he endeavoured to misrepresent those reasons, or to effect by mis-statement, what he was unable to accomplish by argument.”
The motion was got rid of, by a motion for the order of the day. On the division, there were:—For the order of the day, ayes 106; noes 0, except Sir Francis Burdett and Lord Cochrane, members for Westminster, the two tellers. The Whigs joining with the Tories. The resolutions moved were by this means prevented from being entered upon the journals of the house. At the instance of Sir Francis Burdett, these resolutions had been drawn by Mr. Bentham. They were employed as drawn, with the exception of two resolutions which had been inserted for the purpose of completing the view given of the constitution in all its parts, but without expectation of their being employed: the one bearing so hard on the monarchical, the other on the aristocratical branch. In addition to the above important changes, a few of minor importance might perhaps be found. They were made, all of them, without concert with Mr. Bentham, he having given up the matter without reserve to his friend, on whom alone all responsibility rested.
Observations from without doors on the above Speech of Mr. Brougham.
As to minors under the age of 21, that which is insinuated in this speech, viz. that Mr. Bentham’s plan gave admission to their votes, is not true. It provided for their exclusion.
As to persons insane, it forbore excluding them, because it would be almost an even chance whether their votes would be on the right side, or the wrong side; because the greater part would be kept from the place of voting by the judicial procedure that authorized their confinement; because if all that voted were on the wrong side, their number would not suffice to produce any practical ill effect; and because the admission given to them excluded those disputes and litigations to which, in this or that individual case, the question sanity or insanity might give birth.
On the admission of females Mr. Bentham’s plan forbore to lay much stress: because it found no grounds for any very determinate assurance, that in that case the result would be materially different; and because no minds could be expected to be at present prepared for it. But it declared that it could find no reasons for exclusion, and that those who in support of it gave a sneer or a laugh for a reason, because they could not find a better, had no objection to the vesting of absolute power in that sex and in a single hand: so that it was not without palpable inconsistency and self condemnation, that the exclusion they put upon this class could be brought forward.
Criminals are another class, to which, in Mr. Bentham’s plan, the door is left unclosed, and upon the same or similar reasons. In this case, considered as a ground of exclusion, criminality means mischievousness, or it is nothing to the purpose. But if mischievousness—that is to say, such a presumption of future as is afforded by past mischievousness, were a sufficient ground for exclusion,—a much stronger ground for it would be afforded by a seat in either house, than by a situation in a penal prison or a hulk: the mischief produced, to which in both houses a vast majority of the members are constantly contributing, is produced upon the largest scale: the mischief produced by the inhabitants of the penal prison and the hulks is produced upon the smallest scale.
The supposed errors in Mr. Bentham’s plan of parliamentary reform are, by Mr. Brougham, imputed to his having “dealt more with books than with men.” But, in this very instance, it was by his knowledge of men that he was guided, and in the teeth of those notions that are so uniformly inculcated in books: and more particularly in all law books. In these, a fundamental and continually employed principle is—that the quantity of virtue is in the ratio of the quantity of power directly: in his conceptions, inversely. Witness the twelve Cæsars: witness all eastern monarchs, not to speak of others: witness the allied despots.
Mr. Bentham (says Mr. Brougham) “drew no line at all.” This is not correct. He drew a line between the greatest multitude of the apt and the unapt for the exercise of this power: the same line that, without his knowledge, was at that same time drawing by the framers of the Spanish constitution; viz. that between those who are able, and those who are unable to read, that is, to receive the evidence—which the judgment, the electors give by their votes, has for its grounds. By this line, the benefits sought for in admission, and the benefits sought for in exclusion, are conjoined. It excludes all those who have not made this only proof, that can be made, of appropriate aptitude: and yet it excludes no man: for, this proof, it puts it in the power of every man to give.
Nothing has been more annoying to the corruptionists, Tory and Whig together, than this test, which the Spanish and the English radical reformists were, each without knowledge of the other, thus occupied in framing at the same time. Coming to the reading qualification, “This we protest against,” says the Edinburgh Review, in its critique on Mr. Bentham’s parliamentary reform plan—“we protest against it.” So far the pen went. At that point it stuck: stuck like a tongue stopt by a locked-jaw. Reason not being to be found, the whole authority of the work was thus brought out in form to supply her place. The interest—it need scarcely be observed—the same interest which produced the speech in the House of Commons, produced, much about the same time, the article in the Edinburgh Review. Where the shadow of an answer presented itself, the shadow was employed: where not so much as a shadow could be found, the argument was left unnoticed. A sufficient refutation of speech and article together, might, it is believed, be afforded by a bare list of the arguments which in both are passed unnoticed.
As to Mr. Bentham,—on the field of legislation, no man ever copied so little from books: no man ever drew so much from observations made on man. He has not had much acquaintance with drawing-rooms: none with levees. But he has had some acquaintance with cottages, and much with offices. He has been in the secrets of ministers: and, from 1783 to the present, there has not been a ministry with which he has not been in relation, nor from which he has not received marks of confidence.
But Mr. Brougham and Mr. Bentham were, and are, and always have been, friends: and assuredly, not the less so for that speech: and, consistently with that opposition which situations necessitate, nothing (it is seen) could be more friendly, than the opposition given by the friend in the senate to the friend in the closet.—Ed. of original Edition.
[* ]This was said in presence of Sir S. Romilly, and by his deportment and silence stood confirmed.