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THE CLOSE OF THE SESSION 1834 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume VI - Essays on England, Ireland, and the Empire 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume VI - Essays on England, Ireland, and the Empire, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Joseph Hamburger (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982).
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THE CLOSE OF THE SESSION
Monthly Repository, n.s. VIII (Sept., 1834), 605-9. Heading and running titles as title. Unsigned; not republished. Identified in Mill’s bibliography as “An article headed ‘The Close of the Session’ in the Monthly Repository for Sept. 1834” (MacMinn, 42). There are no corrections or emendations in the copy (tear-sheets) in Somerville College. For comment on the essay, see lix above.
The Close of the Session
at the termination of the first session of the Reformed Parliament, a radical reformer, hearing some one make the complaint, so often made at that period, that the session had accomplished nothing, made answer, “Do you call it nothing to have completely discredited the Reform Ministry? Could this, in the course of nature, have been accomplished in a shorter time than one session?”
Subsequent events have proved that this reformer did not err in his estimate of the great step which was achieved in the session of 1833. Another session has now concluded; and the cry is even stronger than before, that in this session also, nothing has been accomplished. We hold that in every session something is accomplished; and in this one in particular, more than in any other since the Revolution, save only that which witnessed the birth of the Reform Bill.
In measures of actual legislation the present year has not been fruitful. If reforms were not to be weighed but counted,[*] the first session of the Reformed Parliament was a prodigy of activity compared with the second; for during it the Parliament did a greater number of things ill, than have been done well by all the Parliaments of the present century. The present session has realized no more than one measure of any note, the Poor Law Bill: that, however, is of far greater practical importance than all the Slave Bills and East India Bills of the preceding session,[†] and was, moreover, distinguished from them all in this, that what was intended to be done, was done; there was no bungling, no botching; the subject was not trifled with: the whole of what was needful to be done, and not a part only, was aimed at, and the means chosen were really adapted to the end. Even if the value of a session consisted solely in its positive enactments, the session which has produced only this great measure has not been ill spent. We had no such expectation from the Reform Bill, even in our most sanguine moments, as that in two years from its passing into a law, one of the greatest social reforms which this country needed, or for which any country could be indebted to its government,—one, too, which was not clamorously demanded by public opinion—would be, so far as depends on legislative enactments, completed.*
But in these days of Movement, the place which any session, or any single event, will occupy in history, depends not upon the intrinsic importance of the event, or value of the Acts of Parliament which have passed during the session; but upon the far greater consideration, how much it has helped forward the Movement, or contributed to hold it back. The question is not what village, castle, or city is our halting-place for the night, but how much lower down the stream, our day’s journey has landed us. Look back, then; measure the interval between the point we started from and that which we have reached, and see if we have not made as much way in a given time, as might satisfy any rational person’s most impatient desires.
By the passing of the Reform Bill, the instrument seemed to be obtained, by which all the evils of our political condition could be remedied, and all who had grievances could, or thought they could, get them redressed. But an instrument is nothing without somebody to work it. The new instrument of government could be worked either by Ministers or by the people. Those who made the machine, seemed the likeliest persons to be able to work it; at least, it seemed fair that they should have a trial. They had their trial; and after handling their tools as never workmen did before, and turning out such pieces of work as would disgrace a boy in the second year of his apprenticeship, they threw up the task, and said to the nation, You must work the machinery yourselves, we are only fit to oil the wheels. The nation have taken them at their word. During the first year of the Reformed Parliament the people were passive; they stood by, that Ministers might act: this year the people have acted. Last year was spent in showing what Ministers could do; and the result seems to have satisfied both themselves and the public that they could do little or nothing. This year has shown what the people could do.
In the Notes on the Newspapers, for last March, we said,
The session now commencing, will probably decide, in the minds of the many, who wield the physical force, the question whether anything is to be hoped from the higher classes, and whether the people shall, or shall not, take their affairs into their own hands.—The public had expected much, but did not know exactly what. They felt sure that the Reform Bill must somehow be a great good to them, and they trusted that those who had been sufficiently their friends to give them the Bill, would find the means of making it have its natural effects. The first session taught them that they were not to expect this: the Reform Ministry and the Reformed Parliament would do no good spontaneously. The second will show whether they are capable of doing any when they are forced. If this trial should also fail, we live in times when mankind hurry on rapidly to ultimate consequences; the next question will be, what is the easiest and most expeditious way of getting rid of them.[*]
As we expected, so has it proved. The people have taken their affairs into their own hands. Ministers and Parliament, who, in being expected to think for themselves, had been put upon a task they were nowise equal to, have had a new trial upon an easier tenure, and have got through it much better. The second session has, as we anticipated, decided the question whether they are capable of doing good when compelled by the public voice. They can do good when they are forced. They have even proved, that when not opposed by the interests or prejudices of any powerful class, they can, as in the case of the Poor Law Bill, do good spontaneously. For this we give them due honour: we thank them for it as for a great service past and done. But there are no services of like importance remaining to be rendered, at no cost to the peers, or the clergy, or the landlords, or the lawyers, or the manufacturers, or the shipowners, or any other kind of persons who are accustomed to be kept at the public expense, and who are able to fight hard for the privilege. We have, therefore, little expectation of further unforced service from Ministers and their adherents. But we now know that they will yield to gentle violence. What wishes they have, are now on the people’s side. When the Movement left off waiting for them to lead the van, its onward pressure bore down all those among them who would not move, or who would only move at their own pace. None remain but those who always go with the stream, and those whose preference is for the cause of improvement, although they were wanting in courage to head the contest for it. Not only are these the men now in place, but until a better and nobler race of public men shall arise, none but such as these, it is now evident, can be in place.
With these the people will carry by peaceable means, whatever they are bent upon carrying. The pike and the bayonet will not be wanted in this country. What the ten days of May, 1832, rendered probable, the session of 1834 has made certain; that the English revolution will be a revolution of law, and not of violence. The resistance will give way before the moral force of opinion. The experiment was fairly tried on Lord Grey’s resignation. That two years ago the Tories were not allowed to step in between the people and the great constitutional change which they so ardently desired, cannot so much be wondered at: but after the Reform was safe, and no measure which the people cared about was in any immediate jeopardy, the Ministry broke down by its own imbecility; the Conservatives had such a chance as they can never again have; yet even then, Tories and Conservative Whigs were alike rejected; and even out of the ruins of the same shattered Cabinet, a still feebler one was patched up, because the only Ministry which could exist, was a Movement Ministry, and because, just at that time, no better Movement Ministry could be formed. And until the phrase shall cease to have a meaning, and Reformer and Conservative shall be a distinction in history alone, a Movement Ministry and no other will govern England; or rather, will be governed by her.
If we be asked, then, what has been gained? our answer is, Circumspice. Is not the general aspect of politics quite altered since the opening of the session? Is not the very air we breathe of another quality? The contest, whether the Reform Bill was to have its consequences, or another and a more drastic Reform Bill was necessary to our deriving any benefits from the first—this contest had not commenced when the session opened: the battle has now been fought, and the good cause has triumphed. Then, there was a dead calm; now, the wind has risen. We breathe an atmosphere of movement; and it is speeding us forward on our course.
It is no abatement from what has been gained, that the seal has not yet been put upon any part of it by an Act of Parliament. When the ministerial manifesto, last year,[*] boasted of the great things which the Ministry had done, the Examiner said—What care we for what you have done? It is the spirit of what you have done, that we care for. All you can do, until the public mind is more matured, would amount, if you were the wisest statesmen in the world, to a very trifle.[†] What we want to know is, what a Minister says.—And the Ministers had said nothing. They had put forth nothing which either committed themselves, or prepared the public mind: they had not announced a single principle. This year the case is reversed. They have done for the popular cause, on their own showing, nothing: but their sayings have been most valuable doings. They have made themselves the heralds of the victory which the national voice has now finally achieved over the combined strength of the supporters of bad institutions. They have proclaimed, and with impressive solemnity, that the power, be it what it may, which sets itself against the spirit of the age, must fall. And they have identified themselves with that spirit, on the great question which, first of the many which are impending, will be brought to a practical issue. They have declared the indefeasible right of the State, if the Church property exceeds what can usefully be applied to ecclesiastical purposes, to apply the residue to other purposes; and on this principle they have announced that it is their resolution to act.
This satisfies us. They who will do thus much, will do more when the time comes. One question at a time is as much as the public mind can be occupied with; and the enemy’s country can be equally conquered whether we invade it on one point or on several. We now know that he cannot keep the field against us, and it matters little which of his fortresses we first besiege. But there is none which more invites an assailant than the Church Establishment; for it is the most vulnerable point in the whole line of defence, and yet, as the whole force of the enemy will be collected in it, and as it will hold out to the death, its fall will throw the whole country into our hands.
The curtailment of the Irish Church will be the Reform Bill of the next session: to be fought for by a union of the Ministry, the House of Commons, and the people, against the House of Lords. More slowly, but as certainly, the Church Establishment of England will share the fate which awaits all bodies who pretend to be what they are not, and to accomplish what they do not even attempt. And the fall of the Church will be the downfal of the English aristocracy, as depositaries of political power. When all the privileged orders insist upon embarking in the same vessel, all must naturally expect to perish in the same wreck.
[[*] ]Cf. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Second Lay Sermon (1817), 2nd ed., in On the Constitution of Church and State, and Lay Sermons (London: Pickering, 1839), p. 409.
[[†] ]3 & 4 William IV, cc. 73, 85 (1833).
[* ]We say this not without considerable misgivings as to the Bastardy Clauses. [4 & 5 William IV, c. 76, §§ 69-76.] The more we reflect on this part of the subject, the more we regret that the experiment was not first tried of merely postponing the inquiry into paternity until after birth, and limiting the demand upon the putative father, to the actual maintenance of the child.
[[*] ]John Stuart Mill, “Notes on the Newspapers,” Monthly Repository, n.s. VIII (Mar., 1834), 161; p. 151 above.
[[*] ]Denis Le Marchant, ed., The Reform Ministry, and the Reformed Parliament (London: Ridgway, 1833).
[[†] ]John Stuart Mill, “The Ministerial Manifesto,” Examiner, 22 Sept., 1833, p. 593.