ricardo to trower
[Reply to 276.—Answered by 287]
Gatcomb Park 2d. Novr. 1818
My dear Trower
I am not so guilty as you, in the affair of the Partridges, and pheasants.—I eat them it is true, but their death, or that of some other animal, is necessary for my subsistence, and I may legitimately pursue them for that purpose. I employ a skilful man who brings them down with the least sum of pain, that can be inflicted in such a warfare. Are you no more guilty than this? If our judges were the birds themselves, I should be condemned to the guilotine simply—you would have to sustain the death of Damiens.
I think it is possible by what you say that you may be mistaking the gentleman who reviewed my book: it was not Dr. MCulloch of London, but Mr. MCulloch, of Edinburgh, the editor of the Scotsman. I am very much pleased at the approbation you express yourself, and which has been expressed by others, in your presence, of my humble efforts to improve the science of Polit. Economy. The reward which I have received for my labours has far exceeded my expectations.
I wish, with you, that we could more nearly agree in our political opinions, this agreement we shall not probably be able to effect, but we may continue to esteem each other, and give each other credit for sincerity, whether we do or not. You speak with energy of the superior advantages of a mixed government, over that of a republic, as of a question not admitting of a doubt, and seem shocked that any hesitation should be expressed in agreeing to so clear a proposition, and you place it so far on the proper footing, that you prefer a mixed government, only, because, in your opinion, it is best calculated to promote the happiness, and prosperity, of the people. This you appear to agree is the only legitimate end of all government. Democracy, Aristocracy, Monarchy— or the three mixed, wherever they prevail ought only to be considered as means to that end. Yours is either a solid well founded opinion, or it is not. If it is not, then, as you observe, there is an end of that argument against a reform of parliament, that it will make the popular branch of our constitution too strong, and so destroy the other branches; for if a republic be the best form of government, and will best promote the happiness of the people, we must not quarrel with reform for its tendency to give us a republican government. But let us suppose, or take for granted, which I do, that the contrary opinion is well founded, and that a mixed government such as ours, consisting of King, Lords, and Commons, is the best form of government, and let us examine the question of a reform in parliament on that supposition. You and I, and all reasonable persons, impressed with this opinion, having representatives to chuse, would select those only who acknowledged this demonstrable principle, and who would engage to maintain the monarchical and aristocratical branches. Having no private interest to serve, it would be folly or madness in us, if thinking that one form of government would be productive of advantage and happiness, another of disadvantage and misery, we should obstinately and deliberately reject the former, and prefer the latter. This is evidently improbable, if not impossible. If then the representatives of the people were fairly, and unbiassedly chosen, by the reasonable part of the country, you cannot shew that any motive could exist for chusing any but such as would uphold those branches of the constitution which are demonstrably essential to good government. If you say that the superiority of a mixed government, over a republic, cannot be demonstrated, but can only be inferred as a probable truth, I ask to whom would you refer the question for decision? not to the King, nor to the House of Peers, but to the reasonable part of mankind in the country, and who have no sinister interest to influence their decision. This then brings us again to the conclusion which I wish to establish, that there is no such security for good government as that of leaving the choice of representatives to the reasonable part of the community for they have every motive to wish to be well governed, none to be ill-governed. This being demonstrated, we must extend the elective franchise to all reasonable men who have no particular interest in opposition to the general interest, and the most you can require of the friends of reform is the right to challenge such electors as are without the necessary qualifications. Now this right I freely yield to you; shew the sinister interest, or the probability of a bad choice, and I will consent to deprive the individual to whom they attach of the right of electing members. But I will not allow you to challenge peremptorily, and without shewing cause. Does not your argument run thus? The advantages of a mixed government are so evident that I am surprised any reasonable man can have a doubt on the subject—let me but fairly state the case, and all who are not biassed by prejudice, or interest, will admit my conclusion. Yet, though they admit it, I dare not trust them with the choice between a mixed government, and a republic—these reasonable people are so besotted that they will give up a greater good, for a smaller, and if once I allow the democratic part of our constitution to preponderate, there will be immediately an end of the Monarchical and Aristocratical branches, although it is proved that they are essential to good government. It is not sufficient for your argument to prove, as you appear to think, that the popular part of the constitution would become irresistible if we had a reform, you are bound also to show that this irresistible power would be mischievously employed, and to do that you must shew an adequate motive for such an abuse. Men have the power, which is almost uncontroulable, of destroying themselves, but we confine them in straight waistcoats only when we discover that they think they have adequate motives for employing this power to their own destruction.
In answer to my question whether it would not be better that the operation of public opinion should be within the House of Commons, instead of without, you say that it would not be instead, but that the two powers acting constantly within, and without, would set at nought the other branches of the constitution, and presently precipitate us into a democracy. To the last of these propositions I have already replied, and you must shew me where my argument is defective. To the first, I say that it is a fallacy to speak of two powers, one acting within the house, the other without. I know only of one power that we were speaking of, the power of public opinion. If it operated within the house, it would be inert without, as indeed it always is there, until the people actually resist. It is only by its operation on the fears of those within the house that public opinion produces any effect in our government. If the opinions of the representatives of the people within the House of Commons after a reform coincided with those [of] their constituents without, one power, namely, public opinion, would controul the government, as it ought to do in all governments whose end, and object, is the happiness of the people. If they did not coincide, those within would have the power of opposing public opinion no longer than till the following election, when if the constituents were not convinced that they had been in error, representatives would be chosen more obedient to their views. It surely cannot be correct to say that because you take measures to ascertain the real opinion of the people in their own house of Parliament, that you double the effect of public opinion, and give it a strength which would be mischievously employed. According to your view of this question the right of electing the House of Commons might be safely left with the house of Lords, or we might get rid of the House of Commons, and preserve the house of Lords only. The check from without, whilst we have a free press, would continue to exist, and would operate on the fears of the Lords, as it now operates on the house of Commons, and all the objects of good government would be obtained, for it would still be a mixed government of Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy. The democratic part of it indeed would shew itself somewhat irregularly, as it now does, without, but that is the way in which you think its operation is salutary. If this is not your opinion shew me what the advantages are of the present House of Commons for it seems to be agreed upon between us that it does not fairly represent the people, and that you seem to consider one of its great merits. All the advantage that I can find out in it is that it is a more enlarged representation of the aristocracy than the House of Peers would be—that it admits the great landholders and wealthy merchants, and manufacturers to a share of power, and distinction:—that a few popular representatives are somehow or another admitted there whose votes go for nothing but whose opinions are expressed there through the press more effectually than they would be in any other manner, and thus that salutary fear which we both like but which I would have more regularly and legitimately excited, is kept alive—these I think are all the advantages which flow from the present constitution of the House to the great body of the people. After all that I have said about the Honble House it is highly probable that I shall take my seat in it,—the business is not yet quite settled. No one is more sensible of the capabilities and resources of the Country than I am, but I wish to have security for their continuance, and above all I wish that door to be opened by which those reforms which you acknowledge to be necessary might enter,—at present it is doubly and trebly barred.—
Will you have patience to get to this line? I have severely put it to the test, but you must forgive me. My brother is getting better. Mrs. Ricardo unites with me in kind regards to Mrs. Trower. Believe me ever
My dear Trower Very truly Yrs.
Torrens I understand is to attack my doctrine of value in the next number of the Edinburgh Magazine, and in the number following MCulloch is to defend it. It is a friendly contest. These gentlemen have lately met at Edinburgh.