trower to ricardo
[Reply to 295.—Answered by 307]
Unsted Wood—Godalming. Jan: 17—1819.
My Dear Ricardo,
Many thanks for your last kind letter, by which I am glad to find, that a second edition of your Book is in the press. When will it come out? If there were time I would look over some notes I made when I read it, to see if there is any to which it is worth while to call your attention. Not, that I mean confidently to rely upon any observations I have made, but, as a paragraph or an argument will some times strike a reader differently from which it does the writer I would point out any such to you.—By the by I have been engaged in a controversy in support of your doctrine that Rent is not a component part of Price. You have made it so clear, that I am astonished there should now be any difference of opinion upon the subject, nor have the arguments of my opponent had any other effect than that of making me see more clearly the truth of the opinions I entertain. I should be glad to find, that you approved the view I have taken of the question.—
I can however afford no more room for other matters, as I am anxious to reply to the arguments contained in your letter. You will recollect, my good friend, that in the origin of this discussion I observed, that there was a previous question to be considered before we could enter upon that of reform, and that was what form of Government was most conducive to the interests of the people? and it was agreed between us, “that a mixed Government such as ours, consisting of King, Lords and Commons, is the best form of Government,” these are your words, and you add, “let us examine the question of reform in Parliament on that supposition.” How then can you say, as you do, in your last letter, “that in an enquiry into measures, which are likely to produce good Government, we must not confine ourselves to the question whether parliamentary reform would or would not, endanger the establishment of Kings, Lords and Commons.” How can you say, that “this establishment must be considered only as means to an end.” The moment that we agreed, that it was the best form of Government, that moment we made it the end, for which we were contending. Whether it is the best means of securing the objects in view, may be a fair question for discussion; but it is a distinct question, and cannot be entertained by those, who have already agreed, that it is the best form of Government. I apprehend, that it necessarily follows from this state of the question, that, in entertaining the subject of reform, we are bound constantly to bear in mind the effects, which the proposed reform are calculated to produce upon the established Government; and that if it be found to endanger the security of that form of Government, which has been declared the best, we are also bound, consistently with our opinions, to renounce even on that account only the reform, which might have been in contemplation. These opinions appear to me, I confess, self evident; and if so, I do not see how I can be “guilty of a species of intollerance” in refusing to admit any reform which, in my conscience, I believe would subvert the Constitution. Any reform consistent with the preservation of the constitution, and of the principles upon which it is established, I would readily entertain; but any reform, which, under the notion of improving the condition of the people, should endanger this constitution, I cannot, consistently admit, as long as I continue of opinion, that that constitution is the best. I contend, then, if I can shew, that the proposed reform in Parliament would have the effect of endangering the constitution, (by destroying that balance of its powers, which is essential to its existence), I am bound, (and those, who agree with me, that that constitution is the best, are bound) to oppose it.—
How then can you say, that “I appear to have changed the subject of discussion”—“It is no longer (you say) an enquiry into the best means of making the people happy, but into the best means of preserving the monarchical and aristocratical branches.” The only question before us is the effect, that a reform in Parliament would produce upon the Constitution.
It appears to me, that the preservation of that Constitution depends upon the powers of the different branches of which it is composed being properly balanced. These branches are the King, the Lords, and the Commons. The influence of each of these powers, respectively, must depend upon the general circumstances of the Country. It is obvious, that these must have a constant tendency to change—and that the popular part of the Constitution, especially, must encrease in force with the growth of wealth and the diffusion of knowledge. What ever additional influence this power may have received by the progress of society, must necessarily diminish the relative force of the other two branches—It follows therefore, that that distribution of the power, which was originally allotted to each branch, and which was what was required to preserve the due balance, under the then existing circumstances, may, under a different state of circumstances, be inadequate to produce the desired effect, and may render a different distribution necessary.—That such circumstances have occurred, and have given to the popular part of our constitution, an additional weight, which was not in contemplation when it was originally formed, I cannot entertain any doubt. And, that that additional weight requires to be met by a counteracting force in order to preserve the relative strength of the different powers, I am strongly persuaded. If it were not so met; if the whole of the seats in the House of Commons were thrown open to the people their influence would necessarily be predominant, and the voice of the other branches would be virtually annihilated.
Such an alteration might be deemed by many persons very desireable, but surely it cannot be contended for by those, who are desirous of preserving our mixed Government. The Government would then be essentially republican, and the House of Lords, and the Crown, would become mere nullities.—As I believe I remarked in my last letter, the influence of which you complain, is necessary to preserve that balance and secure to the Crown and to the Lords, that share in the Constitution, which is essential to its security, and which could not be obtained so advantageously to the public, in the manner pointed out by the theory of the Constitution. Unless the popular part of the Constitution is to be all in all, the other branches must have the right of exercising their judgment and their power on the various questions that may arise. If they do so exercise them, they must frequently differ from the judgments formed by the Commons. If in consequence, they openly oppose the measures of that House, and throw out their Bills, it is obvious, that a state of circumstances must soon arise, which no friend to the Constitution could desire. To remedy this evil, to supply this defect in the theory of the Constitution, practice which is the true test of the correctness of theory, has suggested a means by which the influence of these branches of the Constitution may be exercised without the evils I have enumerated. No doubt there must always be a question as to the extent to which this influence may be wholesomely exercised; which must be determined by the circumstances of the case. But it is nothing more than the question, which must always arise in a mixed Government like ours; how far the balance of the different branches is properly preserved; how far any one predominates. And it is a question, which must arise with respect to the extent of the force of the popular part, as well as of the other branches of the Constitution. And, I confess I think, that attentive observation of the progress of events must satisfy one, that it is to the popular branch, that we must continue to look for the time to come for any undue preponderance of power. Undue in reference to the preservation of our mixed Government.
You say that “if you cannot obtain a good choise of representatives without limiting the election franchise to the very narrowest bounds, you would so limit it.” Is it in human nature to expect it? Do not let us deceive ourselves with respect to the real state of mankind. Wisdom and virtue are not instinctive, they are the growth of education—and you might as well expect to gather good crops from an uncultivated field, as to meet with the qualifications requisite to secure good representatives in an uneducated and dependent people.—If mankind were what they ought to be, (what they might have been before the fall!) you might look with safety for the necessary requisites. But, that they do not exist in fact; that they are not to be found even where the freeest constitution would call them forth, look to the state of America, and to the very interesting account given of its political institutions and its feelings, in the recent work of Mr. Fearon. But I must conclude, and must appologise for the unusual and I fear unwarrantable length of this letter. I shall direct this Letter to London, where I think you probably are, and where I shall hope to have the pleasure of seeing you ere long, as we shall be in Nottingham place for a short time in the beginning of March.
Mrs. Trower joins with me in kind remembrances to Mrs. R and family and I remain Dear Ricardo
Ys very truly