TWO PAPERS ON PARLIAMENTARY REFORM
NOTE ON TWO PAPERS ON PARLIAMENTARY REFORM
These two papers were published posthumously by McCulloch in the Scotsman newspaper.
The Observations on Parliamentary Reform appeared in the issue of 24 April 1824, together with an editorial article which opened: ‘We shall be excused, we trust, for taking some pride, in being able to state, that our leading article of to-day is from the pen of the late Mr Ricardo; and when we have made this announcement, it is almost unnecessary to add, that, from what is due to the memory of the author, as well as to the public, the Essay has been printed verbatim, and without the alteration of a word or syllable, from the manuscript.’
McCulloch reprinted it, under the same title, in his edition of Ricardo’s Works, 1846, with the following note: ‘The manuscript of the following Essay on Parliamentary Reform was given by Mr Ricardo, a short time before his death, to Mr McCulloch. The latter, not thinking it right that so important a paper should be withheld from the public, printed it in the Scotsman of the 24th of April 1824.’
The Defence of the Plan of Voting by Ballot appeared in the Scotsman of 17 July 1824, which introduced it with the following paragraph: ‘The following Report of one of Mr Ricardo’s speeches in Parliament—most probably the one he delivered on the 24th April, 1823, in the debate on Lord John Russell’s motion—written in his own hand, was found among his manuscripts subsequently to his death. His friends have kindly communicated it to us, and we now publish it verbatim from the manuscript, without alteration of any kind whatever. Mr Ricardo was always a decided supporter of the system of election by ballot; and he has here stated, with that brevity, clearness, and comprehensiveness of view peculiar to himself, the grounds on which he approved of that system. We will not presume to say that Mr Ricardo has entirely obviated all the objections that have been urged against the ballot; but every one will readily allow that his defence of it is most able and ingenious, and that he has said almost all that can possibly be said in its behalf.’
McCulloch reprinted this paper, with the note, in his edition of Ricardo’s Works, under the title ‘Speech on the Plan of Voting by Ballot’.
Since the above has been in proof, the original MS of the two papers has been found with the Mill-Ricardo papers. It consists of a quire written over 38 pages in Ricardo’s hand, containing four items:
1. ‘Extract of a letter from Hutches Trower to D. Ricardo dated 18 Octr. 1818.’
2. ‘The answer to the above (dated 2d. Novr. 1818).’
3. Defence of the Plan of Voting by Ballot.
4. Observations on Parliamentary Reform (3 and 4 have no titles in the MS).
This combination confirms the conjecture that the papers were written in 1818.
Besides, from Ricardo’s letter to Mill of 8 November 1818, we learn that of the ‘two discourses’ mentioned by Mill on 18 November one was a copy of the letter to Trower of 2 November and the other ‘a subsequent paper which I have just written’. The latter we may suppose, from the sequence in the MS, to be the Defence. The Observations would then be the third discourse of which Ricardo thought so ill that, after announcing in his letter to Mill of 23 November 1818 that he was sending another of his ‘wise discourses’, he added in the postscript: ‘On looking over the papers which I was going to send you, I am so discontented with it that I cannot send it.’ In the end, however, he sent it: ‘yesterday I dispatched to you the paper on reform ... of which I was ashamed at the moment that I was about to enclose it.’ (Letter to Mill, 28 December 1818.)
The text printed in the Scotsman contains occasional changes in wording which, though slight, are not likely to have been introduced by the printer: this suggests that the two papers were printed from copies corrected by Ricardo or possibly by Mill or McCulloch. Therefore the text below adheres to that of the Scotsman, except for the correction of a few misprints.
OBSERVATIONS ON PARLIAMENTARY REFORM
By the lateMr. Ricardo
A monarch, or any other ruler, wishes to have no other check on his actions but his own will, and would, if he could, reign despotically, uncontrolled by any other power. In every country of the world some check, more or less strong, exists on the will of the Sovereign, even in those Governments which are supposed to be the most despotic. In Turkey, and at Algiers, the people or the army rise up in insurrection, and frequently depose and strangle one tyrant, and elevate another in his place, who is checked in his career by a dread of the same species of violence.
The only difference, in this point, between the Governments of countries which are called free and those which are called arbitrary, is in the organization of this check, and in the facility and efficacy with which it is brought to bear upon the will of the Sovereign. In England the Monarch’s authority is checked by the fear of resistance, and the power of organizing and calling forth this resistance is said to be in the aristocracy and the people, through the medium of the two Houses of Parliament.
It is undoubtedly true that the Monarch would not long venture to oppose the opinion decidedly expressed by the House of Commons, and therefore he may be said to be checked and controlled by those who appoint the House of Commons. All great questions are decided in the House of Commons; the House of Lords seldom gives any opposition to important measures to which the other House has given its sanction. Nor, when the constitution of that House is considered, is such opposition necessary, for the House of Commons is not appointed by the people, but by the Peers and the wealthy aristocracy of the country. The really efficient power of Government is, then, in the hands of the wealthy aristocracy, subject, indeed, to an irregular influence which I shall presently explain. What is the consequence of this?— A compromise between the aristocracy and the monarchy; and all the power and influence which Government gives are divided between them. The Monarch has the appointment to all places of trust and profit—to the Ministry—to the army and navy—to the courts of law; he has also the power of appointing to many other lucrative situations, such as ambassadors, heads and subordinates of public offices, &c. &c. Notwithstanding this great power, his measures can be controlled by the House of Commons, and, therefore, it is of importance to Government to get a majority in that House.
This is easily obtained by giving a portion of these lucrative places to those who have the choice of the majority of the House of Commons; accordingly, it is well known that no means are so effectual for obtaining situations of trust and profit from the Crown as the possession of Parliamentary influence; and, as the appetite for lucrative places is insatiable, both in Ministers and their followers, and the oligarchy and their’s, places are often created for the men, and others are frequently continued after they have become unnecessary, for the advantage solely of these favoured individuals. If, then, there were no other check on both these bodies, England would not have to boast of a better Government than what exists in those countries in which it is called despotic. But, happily, there is another check, and that a tolerably efficient one, which is with the people, and would not, without a violent struggle, be wrested from them. The check on this Government, which operates on behalf of the people, is the good sense and information of the people themselves, operating through the means of a free press, which controls not only the Sovereign and his Ministers, but the Aristocracy, and the House of Commons, which is under its influence. This is the great safeguard of our liberties. Every transaction of the great functionaries of the state is, by means of the press, conveyed in two days to the extremities of the kingdom, and the alarm is sounded if any measure is adopted, or even proposed, which might in its tendency be hurtful to the community. This check, then, like others that we have been speaking of, resolves itself into the fear which government and the aristocracy have of an insurrection of the people, by which their power might be overturned, and which alone keeps them within the bounds which now appear to arrest them. The press, amongst an enlightened and well-informed people, is a powerful instrument to prevent misrule, because it can quickly organise a formidable opposition to any encroachment on the people’s rights, and, in the present state of information, perhaps there would not be found a minister who would be sufficiently daring to attempt to deprive us of it. This power, however, is irregular in its operation. It is not always easy to rouse the people to an active opposition to minor measures, which may be shewn to be detrimental to their interests—neither is it powerful, on ordinary occasions, in getting a repeal of those laws, which, however detrimental, have been long in force, and therefore it is in a certain degree braved. In spite of the thunders of the press men continue to be placed in parliament whose interests are often at direct variance with the interest of the people. The offices of state, and the lucrative situations under government, are not bestowed according to merit; bad laws continue to disgrace our statute-book; and good ones are rejected, because they would interfere with particular interests—wars are entered into for the sake of private advantage, and the nation is borne down with great and unnecessary expenses. Experience proves that the liberty of the press is insufficient to correct or prevent these abuses, and that nothing can be effectual to that purpose but placing the check in a more regular manner in the people, by making the House of Commons really and truly the representatives of the people. Of all the classes in the community the people only are interested in being well-governed; on this point there can be no dispute or mistake. Good government may be contrary to the interests of the aristocracy, or to those of the monarch, as it may prevent them from having the same emoluments, advantage, or power, which they would have if government was not busied about the happiness of the many, but chiefly concerned itself about the happiness of the few, but it can never be prejudicial to the general happiness.
If, then, we could get a House of Commons chosen by the people, excluding all those, whether high or low, who had interests separate and distinct from the general interest, we should have a controlling body whose sole business and duty it would be to obtain good government. It is not denied that, in innumerable instances, the interest of the aristocracy and that of the people will be the same, and therefore many good laws and regulations would be made if the aristocracy were to govern without control. The same may be said of the Monarch, but in many important instances they will also be opposed, and then it is that we shall look in vain for good laws and for good government. A reform in the House of Commons then, the extension of the elective franchise to all those against whom no plausible reason can be urged that they have, or suppose they have, interest contrary to the general interest, is the only measure which will secure liberty and good government on a solid and permanent foundation. This is so self-evident that one is surprised that an argument can be offered against it; but, to do the opponents of this measure justice, they do not advance any direct argument against it; their whole endeavour is to evade it.
A House of Commons such as you contend for, they say, would be a good, but how are you to obtain it? Has not the country flourished in spite of the imperfections you mention, and why would you wish to improve what is already demonstrated to be so good? The House of Commons is not chosen by the people generally, but it is chosen by men who have received a good and liberal education—whose characters are unimpeachable, and who are much better judges of what will conduce to the happiness of the people than they themselves are. By extending the franchise you open the door to anarchy, for the bulk of the people are interested, or think they are so, in the equal division of property, and they would choose only such demagogues as held out the hope to them that such division should take place. To which it may be answered, that although it be true that the country has flourished with a House of Commons constituted as ours has been, it must be shewn that such a constitution of it is favourable to the prosperity of the country, before such an argument can be admitted for its continuance. It is not sufficient to say that we have been successful, and therefore we should go on in the same course. The question to be asked is, notwithstanding our success has there been nothing in our institutions to retard our progress? A merchant may flourish although he is imposed upon by his clerk, but it would be a worthless argument to persuade him to keep this clerk because he had flourished while he was in his employ. Whilst any evil can be removed, or any improvement adopted, we should listen to no suggestions so inconclusive as that we have been doing well. Such an argument is a bar to all progress in human affairs.
Why have we adopted the use of steam engines? It might have been demonstrated that our manufactures had flourished without them, and why not let well enough alone? Nothing is well enough whilst any thing better is within our reach; this is a fallacy which can only be advanced by the ignorant or designing, and can no longer impose on us.
What signifies, too, the unimpeachable characters and the good education of those who choose the members of the House of Commons? Let me know what the state of their interests is, and I will tell you what measures they will recommend.
If this argument were good for any thing, we might get rid of all the checks and restraints of law, as far at least as they regarded a part of the community. Why ask from Ministers an account of the public income and expenditure annually? Are they not men of good character and education?
What need of a House of Commons or of a House of Lords? Are they to restrain the Sovereign? Why should you not place the fullest reliance in his virtue and integrity?
Why fetter the Judges by rules, and burden them with Juries? Is it possible that such enlightened and good men could decide unjustly or corruptly? To keep men good you must as much as possible withdraw from them all temptation to be otherwise. The sanctions of religion, of public opinion, and of law, all proceed on this principle, and that state is most perfect in which all these sanctions concur to make it the interest of all men to be virtuous, which is the same thing as to say, to use their best endeavour to promote the general happiness.
The last point for consideration is the supposed disposition of the people to interfere with the rights of property. So essential does it appear to me, to the cause of good government, that the rights of property should be held sacred, that I would agree to deprive those of the elective franchise against whom it could justly be alleged that they considered it their interest to invade them. But in fact it can be only amongst the most needy in the community that such an opinion can be entertained. The man of a small income must be aware how little his share would be if all the large fortunes in the kingdom were equally divided among the people. He must know that the little he would obtain by such a division could be no adequate compensation for the overturning of a principle which renders the produce of his industry secure. Whatever might be his gains after such a principle had been admitted would be held by a very insecure tenure, and the chance of his making any future gains would be greatly diminished; for the quantity of employment in the country must depend, not only on the quantity of capital, but upon its advantageous distribution, and, above all, on the conviction of each capitalist that he will be allowed to enjoy unmolested the fruits of his capital, his skill, and his enterprise. To take from him this conviction is at once to annihilate half the productive industry of the country, and would be more fatal to the poor labourer than to the rich capitalist himself. This is so self-evident, that men very little advanced beyond the very lowest stations in the country cannot be ignorant of it, and it may be doubted whether any large number even of the lowest would, if they could, promote a division of property. It is the bugbear by which the corrupt always endeavour to rally those who have property to lose around them, and it is from this fear, or pretended fear, that so much jealousy is expressed of entrusting the least share of power to the people. But the objection, when urged against reform, is not an honest one, for, if it be allowed that those who have a sacred regard to the rights of property should have a voice in the choice of representatives, the principle is granted for which reformers contend. They profess to want only good government, and, as a means to such an end, they insist that the power of choosing members of Parliament should be given to those who cannot have an interest contrary to good government. If the objection made against reform were an honest one, the objectors would say how low in the scale of society they thought the rights of property were held sacred, and there they would make their stand. That class, and all above it, they would say, may fairly and advantageously be entrusted with the power which is wished to be given them, but the presumption of mistaken views of interest in all below that class would render it hazardous to entrust a similar power with them—it could not at least be safely done until we had more reason to be satisfied that, in their opinion, the interest of the community and that of themselves were identified on this important subject.
This concession would satisfy the reasonable part of the public. It is not Universal Suffrage as an end, but as a means, of good government that the partisans of that measure ask it for. Give them the good government, or let them be convinced that you are really in earnest in procuring it for them, and they will be satisfied, although you should not advance with the rapid steps that they think would be most advantageously taken. My own opinion is in favour of caution, and therefore I lament that so much is said on the subject of Universal Suffrage. I am convinced that an extension of the suffrage, far short of making it universal, will substantially secure to the people the good government they wish for, and therefore I deprecate the demand for the universality of the elective franchise—at the same time, I feel confident that the effects of the measure which would satisfy me would have so beneficial an effect on the public mind, would be the means of so rapidly increasing the knowledge and intelligence of the public, that, in a limited space of time after this first measure of reform were granted, we might, with the utmost safety, extend the right of voting for members of Parliament to every class of the people.
But it is intolerable, because the House of Commons is not disposed to go the full length of what is perhaps indiscreetly asked of them, that therefore they should refuse to grant any reformation of abuses whatever; that against the plainest conviction they should assert that a House of Commons, constituted as this is, is best calculated to give to the people the advantages of good government; and that they should continue to maintain that the best interests of the people are attended to, when it is demonstrated that they not only are not, but cannot be, whenever they are opposed to the interests of those who are in full possession of power, namely, the King, and the Oligarchy, who are bribed to support his government.
DEFENCE OF THE PLAN OF VOTING BY BALLOT
By the lateMr. Ricardo
Sir—The general question of a reform in the representation of this House, has been so fully discussed, and so ably supported by many honourable gentlemen that have preceded me in the debate, that I shall not detain the House by offering any observations on it, but shall confine myself to the consideration of that part of the subject, which has been little noticed, but which, in my opinion, is of so much importance, that, without it, no substantial reform can be obtained:— I mean, Sir, the changing the present mode of open election for members of Parliament, and substituting in its room the secret mode, or ballot.
In order to appreciate the advantages which will result from the proposed change, it may not be improper to state, as briefly as possible, to the House, the inconveniences attending the present mode of election; that, having the nature of the evil before them, they may be the better able to judge of the efficacy of the proposed remedy. By some, indeed, it may be thought a vain and useless occupation of the time of the House to recapitulate the evils of our present system, for it may with justice be asked, who amongst us is not acquainted with the bribery, the riots, the intoxication, and the immoralities of every description, which take place on the occasion of every general election? These disgusting facts are unfortunately too notorious, yet it may not be unuseful to submit them to the attention of the House.
The scenes which occur at such times, would disgrace a barbarous people. The reign of the law appears to cease, and impunity to be proclaimed for every species of violence. A rude and brutal populace, the offscourings of our population, surround the hustings, and heap every sort of insult and indignity on the candidate who happens not to enjoy their favour. Dirt, filth, and often stones, are thrown at him—the most unmanly attacks are made upon his person, and it is frequently a task of difficulty to his friends to protect him from the effects of their savage and brutal animosity.
Nor is it the candidate only that is thus exposed to their rage, but every elector is applauded, or hissed, caressed, or furiously attacked, as he may favour or oppose by his vote, the favourite of the mob. Idleness and the neglect of work always follow in the train of an election—they are succeeded by debauchery and intoxication, and for a period the country suffers under all the evils of anarchy. I know that these violences are in almost all cases committed by the lowest of the mob, that they are not to be imputed to the electors themselves, but to the assemblage of the idle and disorderly which every great town affords, but the evil is not less serious on that account, and does not less imperiously call on us for a remedy.
These, however, constitute but one portion, and indeed a very inferior portion, of the evil which attends the present mode of election. Bad as it is, if even at this price we obtained a parliament freely chosen by the people, we should have some consolation, although it would be our duty to endeavour to retain the good, and get rid of what was bad in the system. But this consolation is not afforded us, and in addition to the evil which I have already mentioned, we have the far greater one to guard against, which arises from the influence exercised over the voters at elections. Of what use is it to mark with precision how low in the scale of rank the right of voting for members of parliament shall commence, if you take no steps to secure to the electors the right which you propose to accord to them? It is the most cruel mockery to tell a man he may vote for A or B, when you know that he is so much under the influence of A, or the friends of A, that his voting for B would be attended with destruction to him. He cannot justly be said to have a vote, unless he have the free exercise of it, without prejudice to his fortunes. Is this the case at present? Is it not a delusion to say that every freeholder of 40s. a year has a vote for a member of parliament, when in most cases he cannot vote as he pleases, without ruin to himself? It is not he who has the vote, really and substantially, but his landlord; for it is for his benefit and interest, that it is exercised on the present system. Of what advantage would be the reform that is proposed, of extending the elective franchise to all householders, or as others recommend, to all males of twenty-one years of age, if this increased number of electors were to be, as they now are, completely under the influence of the same men, or of men having precisely the same views and interests, as those who play so grand a part in returning members to parliament? The more extended the suffrage, the more influence would be possessed by Peers, and the wealthy aristocracy of the country, and therefore the more certainly should we have a parliament which would be their representatives, and the advocates of their particular interests, and not of the interests of the great mass of the people. In many populous cities, householders are now said to have votes for the representatives of their city; but are not the cases numerous in which they dare not openly exercise the right? Is it to be expected that they will expose themselves to a resentment which will overwhelm them, whether it be from their best customers, the rich consumers, if they are shopkeepers,—the magistrates, if they are publicans,—their employers, if they are clerks, and in subordinate situations,— or any other class, who may be supposed to have an influence over their property? By extending the suffrage, an additional security is afforded against bribery, because the greater the number of electors the more difficult will it be to provide funds for the purpose of directly influencing votes by means of bribes. But it must not be forgotten that bribery is only one of the modes, and by no means the most efficacious mode, by which voters are influenced. Mr. Bentham’s sagacity did not fail to discover that terror was the great instrument of influence and corruption. Votes are more effectually secured by the fear of loss than by the hope of gain. Those whose characters afford security against the offering of bribes, and who would think themselves disgraced by a practice which is universally condemned, do not disdain to make use of the persuasive instrument of fear. In its operation it is silent— it is not necessary to proclaim to the voter the danger which he runs of disobliging his landlord, or patron; it is understood without explanation, and no one who hears me, can doubt of its powerful effects on every occasion. Although, then, by extending the suffrage you weaken the corruptive effect of bribery, you increase that which is produced by alarm and fear, for in proportion as the fortunes of the voter are more humble, the more surely will he be under the influence of those who have the power to sway those fortunes. Happily a security can be found against this influence, but if it could not, I should deem that an improvement which should raise the qualification, and limit the number of voters; for the chance of finding an independent spirit in electors would be increased, if the qualification was raised to £100 per annum, rather than if it continued as it is, or were lowered below 40 shillings. These, then, are the evils against which we have to provide, and the House will readily perceive that those which arise from riots, intoxication, and idleness, are of a different description from those which are the consequence of undue influence exercised over the minds, directly or indirectly, of the electors; and accordingly the bill before you offers two distinct remedies. To obviate the first evil, it is proposed to take the votes throughout the country on the same day, and, instead of the elections being for the whole of a county, and held in one single place, that votes be received in several districts at the same time. To obviate the second, it is proposed that the ballot, or the secret mode of election, be substituted for the open mode.
These two propositions are very distinct, and they should not be, as they often are, confounded; for one might be rejected, and the other adopted. Those, for example, who are of opinion that the public and noisy assemblage of the rabble about the hustings is attended with benefits outweighing the evils which have been stated, might reject that clause which proposes to take the votes by districts, but might nevertheless adopt the other which requires that the election should be by ballot. The people might assemble about the hustings as they now do; they might listen, or not listen, to the speeches of the candidates as their humour might dictate; they might shew all the usual marks of their sympathy or disapprobation, and yet the voting might be secret; and, on the contrary, those who are in favour of open voting, might approve of votes being given in districts, although they rejected the ballot.
According to the best judgment which I can form on this important subject, we ought to adopt both these clauses. That respecting time and place of voting will give us sufficient security against the disgusting exhibitions and riotous proceedings which have hitherto attended elections. Through the medium of the press, the candidate may make known his pretensions; through the same channel, objections may be made to his principles, or to his former conduct—the press is open to all, and the candidates would no longer be subjected to an ordeal which is not a test of merit but of endurance. Because a man has the honest ambition of representing a populous city in Parliament, must he make up his mind to endure all the insults which can be heaped upon him by the lowest of the rabble? It is said, that it is fit his claims should be examined into,—that without preparation he should be called upon immediately to explain what has been ambiguous in his former conduct;—what are his principles on the grand questions which are likely to be submitted to him; and, that he should be called upon to speak on any other matters which may be proposed to him. This might be useful if he presented himself before an impartial tribunal, but those who make this objection, are bound to shew that candidates on both sides are fairly listened to, and that even the semblance of justice is extended to them. One of the arguments now offered in favour of the borough system, and it is one of considerable weight, is, that without such boroughs, many men of merit would never be in Parliament—and why? because they are troubled with modesty; and with the feelings of gentlemen, which makes it intolerable to them to submit to the injustice, the insolence, and the insults of the lowest of the rabble. That we may be sure of the services of these men, then, I demand that this clause be adopted. These public meetings, it has been said, are useful in giving a tone to public feeling, and raising the lowest of the community in his own estimation, by making him feel that he has a share in the government of his country. Can he be said to have this share if he is without a vote? Does he show his importance by spitting at the candidate, by throwing dirt and filth in his face? This is not calculated to raise him in his own estimation; and if it be right that he should have a voice in the government of his country, give him that voice, and allow him to exercise it legally on the same terms with the first elector in the land, but do not delude us or him, by giving him the shadow, and calling it the substance of power!
The other clause, namely, that which establishes the ballot, appears to me to offer complete security against those evils which flow from the influence of power. If voting took place by ballot, all the influence now practised on voters would, in a great measure, cease; for, to what purpose would you threaten a man for the vote he should give, or how could you punish him for it when given, if by the regulation you were absolutely precluded from knowing for which candidate he voted? Establish the ballot, and every elector is from that moment in possession of a real and not of an imaginary privilege. Of what use would it be to threaten a publican with the loss of his licence, a farmer with the deprivation of his lease, a tradesman with the loss of your custom, when you can never know how he voted, unless he chose to communicate it to you? The elective franchise, if it should be thought expedient, might be extended. The very extension would secure you from direct bribery, for no fortune would be equal to bribe a nation of electors, and terror would cease to operate, for it would be in vain to endeavour to mark the victims. An honourable gentleman has said, that if the ballot were established it would not prevent candidates and the friends of candidates from endeavouring to get the promise of votes, and then he observes, that if the electors keep their promises, there will be no advantage from the ballot, as they will vote then precisely as they do now; but if they do not keep their promises, they will be guilty of an immoral act, which may justly be charged on this law. It is the latter proposition only which I am called upon to answer, for if the voters give and keep their promises, no objection can be made to the ballot on that account; it may be said to be useless, but cannot be proved to be pernicious. And with respect to the immorality of not keeping promises, the guilt would lie with those who exacted such unlawful promises. To make a promise of a vote which could not be conscientiously given, would be a crime, but it would be a still greater crime to keep it. The promise is unnecessary upon any other supposition than that of its not being right to perform it. What occasion to exact a promise of any man to do that which his own interest will lead him to do? and in giving his vote he is called upon by duty to act in conformity with his own interest. It may be expedient to instruct such a man, to enlighten him on the subject of his real interest, but here our efforts should cease, and we become criminal if we induce him to act contrary to the dictates of his own conscience, and, instead of condemning him for breaking a promise so criminally exacted and given, the most enlightened morality would teach and require that such promises should be violated. The law does not recommend or encourage any species of crime or immorality,—it is enacted with a view to correct an evil which is an insurmountable bar to good government; it requires that every man shall vote according to his conscience, without any deceit or subterfuge; and shall such a law be given up, because the enemies of good government may take advantage of the respect with which men ought to regard their promises, in order to subvert it. If the end we have in view be good, we must not be diverted from our purpose by any partial evil which may attend the means by which we are to attain it. All punishment is an evil, but is justified by the good end which it is to accomplish. It might much more rationally be objected to the excise laws, that they should not have been enacted because they offer temptations to crimes which would not have been committed but for those laws. And what shall we say of the laws against usury, and against the exportation of the coin? The end of these laws is bad—they are binding only on the conscientious, and have opened a wide door to the commission of the crimes of fraud and perjury. With these laws on our statute-book, are we to be discouraged from making one, which has the happiness of the people for its object, because it would be immoral (as it is alleged) to break a promise unlawfully and immorally exacted. But supposing that the breaking of such promises were immoral, would the practice be of long continuance? Would any man persevere in exacting promises, when he found by experience that the promisers did not consider them binding? He would not be tempted to continue an offence with great trouble to himself, as soon as he found that it was unattended with advantage. The immorality, then, to whomsoever it might attach, would soon be at an end; and the law would be efficacious without even this alloy.
One Hon. Gentleman has observed, that he is prepossessed in favour of open voting, without being able to give any reason why he prefers it. To that Hon. Gentleman I might answer, that I have a different prepossession from him, and the instinct of my mind would be just as good, as an argument, as the instinct of his. In fact one mode of voting can be preferred to another only as means to an end, in themselves they are alike indifferent.
To conclude, Sir, the establishment of the ballot would make this House what it ought to be, the real representatives of the electors, and not the representatives of those whose situation gives them a commanding influence over the will of the electors. I am not now considering whether it would be desirable that the elective franchise should be extended, kept on its present footing, or contracted within narrower limits, for on any of these suppositions, the ballot appears to me to be equally expedient. Whoever may be the electors, the representatives should represent them, and their interests, and not those whose interests may, on many occasions, be in direct opposition to theirs.