Front Page Titles (by Subject) REORGANIZATION OF THE REFORM PARTY 1839 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume VI - Essays on England, Ireland, and the Empire
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REORGANIZATION OF THE REFORM PARTY 1839 - 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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REORGANIZATION OF THE REFORM PARTY
London and Westminster Review, XXXII (Apr., 1839), 475-508. Headed: “Art. VIII.—[“Marvell Redivivus.”] A Letter to the Earl of Durham on Reform in Parliament, by Paying the Elected. London: [Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper,] 1839.” Running titles: left-hand, as title; right-hand (page and line equivalents in this edition), “Conservatives and Radicals” (468.20-469.13), “The Landholders” (470.8-471.5), “Small Proprietors” (471.41-472.36), “The Great Capitalists” (473.29-474.23), “The Middle Classes” (475.17-476.12), “Dissenters and Church Reformers” (477.6-40), “The Durham Policy” (478.33-479.25), “Divisions of Reformers” (480.19-481.12), “Universal Suffrage” (482.6-41), “Grievances of the Working Classes” (483.34-484.29 and 487.17-488.14), “Opinions of the Working Classes” (485.23-486.22), “Catholics and Voluntaries” (489.9-490.6), “Church Reformers” (490.41-491.34), “The Voluntaries” (492.31-493.27), and “Church Reform” (494.22-495.18). Signed “A.” Not republished. Identified in Mill’s bibliography as “An article headed ‘Reorganization of the Radical [sic] Party’ in the London and Westminister Review for April 1839 (No 63)” (MacMinn, 51). In the Somerville College copy (tear-sheets) there are four emendations (which are adopted in this edition): “modern” changed to “moderate” (467.10); “trio” changed to “threefold” (493.22); “principles” altered to “principle” (493.40); and “compound” corrected to “confound” (494.11). For comment on the essay, see xlvi and lx above.
Reorganization of the Reform Party
the radicals have hitherto exhibited the spectacle of a great body of men without policy, leader, organization, concert, or simultaneous efforts. They must be mere material to make tools of, if they continue in this position one moment after they can get out of it. Their whole strength in the country has never been called forth, because no immediate purpose has ever been presented to them in which they all felt an equal interest—for which they were all equally impelled to exert themselves.
When we call the party which we desire to see formed, a Radical party, we mean not to circumscribe it by any partial or sectional limitation. We call it Radical because the moderate Radicals are in possession of a part of the ground on which it is necessary that the combination should be built; because the measures with which they, and we may add, with which any leader they may select, must be identified—the Ballot and Household Suffrage, or something equivalent to it, are a portion of those which must be comprehended in the practical policy of such a party. But we well know that the Reform party of the empire ought not to be, cannot be, Radical in any narrow or sectarian sense. There may be many coteries in a country, but there can be only two parties. What we must have to oppose to the great Conservative party is the whole Liberal party, not some mere section of it,—a combination which shall exclude no shade of opinion in which one sober or practicable man can be found,—one man capable of adapting rational means to honest ends; a phalanx, stretching from the Whig-Radicals at one extremity (if we may so term those among the persons calling themselves Whigs who are real Liberals) to the Ultra-Radicals and the Working Classes on the other.
Such a phalanx has existed; and by its support the Grey Ministry was enabled to carry the Reform Bill. We wish to see this great party reconstructed. We are persuaded that it can be, and that to accomplish this it only requires a popular leader. People are ready to cry out that it is impossible, because it is indeed no longer possible by the same means; but is not this what every rational view of politics would prepare us for? Was it ever known in history that the same thing took place twice in exactly the same manner? To find the means of accomplishing what borné politicians pronounce impracticable, is the test of statesmanship: we do not even think that the difficulties to be overcome in this instance are a very severe trial of it. It is a case for moral qualities, fully as much as for intellectual. A Lafayette will find his way to the object sooner than a Talleyrand. Straightforwardness and singleness of purpose, and the energy of a strong will, aided by sufficient knowledge of the state of opinions in Great Britain and Ireland, and of the peculiarities of the different classes of society, are the main requisites. And a very moderate degree of that knowledge is sufficient to point out, that it is not time to declare the object impracticable, since the means which are alone proper for attaining it have not yet been tried. What those means are, it is the purpose of the present article to investigate.
Our aim in this inquiry is altogether practical. We intend no doctrinal discussion. That a reform in many of the institutions of this country is needful, that the pursuit of such reform is a laudable undertaking, that there will never more be peace or content in this country without it, are propositions which we shall allow to rest upon their own evidence: we are not now addressing ourselves to any persons by whom they are denied, nor is this the time for stating how far, in our own opinion, the changes in the existing order of things ought to go. The question is not now about particular reforms, but how to carry on the Reform movement; not whose are the best ideas of reform, but how to plant the firmest footing for reform in general. Radicalism has done enough in speculation; its business now is to make itself practical. Most reformers are tolerably well aware of their ends; let them turn to what they have hitherto far less attended to—how to attain them. No reformer can hope to realize any reforms of importance but by means of a strong and united Reform party. To form this, must be an object paramount in the mind of each to the pursuit of his particular aims, because it is a condition precedent to them all; and we are either much mistaken, or this object will exact from every class of Reformers far less sacrifice or even postponement of their particular aims than is commonly thought, and that what is required from each is a better knowledge and juster appreciation of the opinions and feelings of his allies, rather than any compromise of his own.
Let us examine, then, what is the available strength of the Reform party; what proportion it collectively bears to that of our adversaries; and of what component parts that strength is made up; that we may have a clear view of the elements to be combined, and of the nature of the hindrances to their combining; and may know what are the obstacles to be overcome, in order to the organization of the party for powerful and systematic action on a combined plan.
Who, then, are the natural Radicals of the country, and who are the natural opponents of Radicalism? We use the words “natural Radicals,” and “natural opponents of Radicalism,” as an index to our whole mode of looking at this subject. One is constantly hearing of “reaction,” or of “the progress of opinion;” of the growth, or spread, one day of Radicalism, another day of Conservatism; and newspapers are perpetually comparing notes about registrations, and municipal elections, to ascertain which of the two principles is gaining upon the other. How inconclusive such evidences are, has been very often pointed out. For our part we have hardly any belief in reactions, and but little in any growth of political opinion, whether Radical or Conservative, but the growth in numbers, intelligence, and wealth, of the classes who are already, and from the circumstances of their position, Radicals or Conservatives. Men change sides on particular questions, as their views change as to the point at which they can, or should, make their stand for their party; as the Duke of Wellington changed his opinion on the Catholic claims. But we know of no instances in our time, and have read of few in history (except in seasons of panic, which in this as in other respects produce strange phenomena) where a great and sudden movement took place in the feelings of a people, either towards Radicalism or Conservatism. We have known, it is true, many instances, and in these times can seldom be long without them, when circumstances have suddenly called out masses of Conservative or Radical feeling which already existed, from a passive state into an active. The real amount of either feeling which exists in our own country, at least, we believe to be at all periods much the same; saving the gradual changes, which the natural laws of the progress of society bring about.
In order to estimate the strength of the two parties, we must consider the permanent causes which are operating upon each of the separate divisions that compose the nation, and determining it towards the one party or the other: and these permanent causes (speaking as we are of bodies of men, and not of remarkable individuals) are for the most part to be looked for in their personal interests, or in their class feelings. We are the last persons to undervalue the power of moral convictions. But the convictions of the mass of mankind run hand in hand with their interests or with their class feelings. We have a strong faith, stronger than either politicians or philosophers generally have, in the influence of reason and virtue over men’s minds; but it is in that of the reason and virtue on their own side of the question; in the ascendancy which may be exercised over them for their good, by the best and wisest persons of their own creed. We expect few conversions by the mere force of reason, from one creed to the other. Men’s intellects and hearts have a large share in determining what sort of Conservatives or Liberals they will be; but it is their position (saving individual exceptions) which makes them Conservatives or Liberals.
If we would find, then, the line of distinction between the two parties, we must look out for another line of demarcation; we must find out who are the Privileged Classes, and who are the Disqualified. The former are the natural Conservatives of the country; the latter are the natural Radicals.
The Privileged Classes are all those who are contented with their position; who think that the institutions of the country work well for them; who feel that they have all the influence, or more than the influence, in the present order of things, which they could expect under any other; who enjoy a degree of consideration in society which satisfies their ambition, and find the legislature prompt to lend an ear to their complaints, and if they feel anything as an inconvenience to endeavour to devise a remedy for it. All, in short, who feel secure that their interests will not be postponed to those of other people, and still more all who feel secure that the interests of other people will be postponed to theirs, compose the Conservative body. Those who feel and think the reverse of all this are the Disqualified Classes. All who feel oppressed, or unjustly dealt with, by any of the institutions of the country; who are taxed more heavily than other people, or for other people’s benefit; who have, or consider themselves to have, the field of employment for their pecuniary means or their bodily or mental faculties unjustly narrowed; who are denied the importance in society, or the influence in public affairs, which they consider due to them as a class, or who feel debarred as individuals from a fair chance of rising in the world; especially if others, in whom they do not recognize any superiority of merit, are artificially exalted above their heads: these compose the natural Radicals; to whom must be added a large proportion of those who, from whatever cause, are habitually ill at ease in their pecuniary circumstances; the sufferers from low wages, low profits, or want of employment: for even if they do not impute their situation to the government, they almost always think that the government could, if it chose, do something to relieve them; and, at all events, finding themselves ill off as they are, think they should not fare worse and would stand a chance of faring better under a change.
Let us proceed to make an inventory of these several classes, and begin with the Conservatives.
At the head of the Privileged, or in other words, the Satisfied Classes, must be placed the landed interest. They have the strongest reason possible for being satisfied with the government; they are the government. It was said without exaggeration before the Reform Bill, it may be repeated with very little exaggeration even yet, that the English Government is an oligarchy of landholders. They compose the House of Lords exclusively. In the House of Commons they possess the representation of the counties, and of most of the small towns. On all questions which interest them as landholders, and on which the Whig and Tory portion of them are united, their majority in the House of Commons is irresistible. That this power does not lie idle in their hands, the Corn Laws are an instance, intelligible to every capacity. And never was the fact more signally illustrated than in the last session of Parliament, on the occasion which Mr. Charles Villiers termed, in a spirited speech, the East Retford of the Corn Laws.[*] On the eve of the most decided scarcity of the last twenty years, a majority refused, not the admission of foreign corn to the home market, but the paltry permission to grind it here for re-exportation: a trifle, which did not even, to the extent of a trifle, infringe upon their monopoly, which did not encroach one hair’s-breadth upon the right they arrogate to make their countrymen eat dear bread for their benefit: but against which the objection urged was, that in some case which was just conceivable, some remote or possible danger might chance to accrue, of an encroachment in some other way upon that insulting claim. Their fancies go before all other people’s most substantial interests. If we desire other examples, the embarrassment is solely in the choice. The whole course of legislation has ever, and does now, run wholly in their favour. Not content with selling dear, they must borrow cheap; and in that hope—a fallacious one after all—the usury laws, abolished for the trading classes, are still kept up for the benefit of the landholders. Their land descends without probate or legacy duty, and is very incompletely liable to the claims of their creditors. When it comes to their turn to be creditors, they have secured to themselves the preference over all others (except the tax-gatherer) by the power of distraining for rent: all other people must first go to law—they may come at once on the premises and take. As the owners of advowsons, the endowments of the church of England are in reality theirs; they it is who, by converting the cure of souls into a family property, have made the Christian ministry the provision for the fool or profligate of a family,—for those who, being too stupid, or too idle, or too vicious to work, are fit only for an “easy life.” The abuses of the church are the patrimony of the younger children of the landowners. Again, the government of the rural districts is altogether in their hands; as justices in quarter sessions they vote the taxes, control all the expenditure, decide without appeal a majority of all the causes, civil and criminal, which are tried in this country. As magistrates sitting singly or in petty sessions, not a police officer can move but by their warrant, not an act of administration can be done of which they have not the direct control. Accordingly they enjoy all the importance which appertains everywhere to the class that wields the powers of government. What the noble is in Austria, and the placeman in France, the landed proprietor is in England. A landowner and a man of consequence are synonymous. To become a landowner is what every one is looking to who desires to rise—is the test of having risen. It is the boast of America to be “a fine country for poor people;” if England cannot say as much, she may pride herself, however, on being the paradise of country gentlemen: they, with a luxury and comfort enjoyed by their class in no other country, combine a personal importance comparable only to that of the high nobility elsewhere, and the richest of them are from time to time aggregated to the nobility of their own country.
That the body for whose interest the present order of things is all contrived, should be Conservative of that order of things, can surprise nobody. The landholders, as a class, are generally unqualified Tories; those who are not so, mostly belong to the Conservative Whigs, differing from Tories in little but in hereditary personal connexions and in name. Neither among the landholders, nor among those whom the landholders can influence, could the party which we desire to see constituted, hope to find any great portion of its strength. These classes constitute, on the contrary, and will continue to constitute, the main body of the force which that party has to contend against.
Yet even on this, their weakest point, the Reformers are not altogether unsupported; nor need they, even on the present system of open voting, give up all the county elections for lost. First, it is only the great landed proprietors that are hostile. The small proprietors are on our side. On the Corn Laws indeed, but on the Corn Laws only, they have a common interest with the great landholders. In every other respect they belong to the natural Radicals. They are not rich, and derive no benefit from the privileges of riches; while they are more independent than any other persons can possibly be who are not rich, in a country where all power goes along with wealth. Wherever any considerable number remain of what were once the pride of England,—her yeomanry; wherever the multiplication of large fortunes, and the eagerness of men of fortune to buy land, has not yet extinguished the class of small proprietors, there the county elections return Liberals. It was this class which gave Sir James Graham so disagreeable a lesson in Cumberland. It is a similar class, in the part of Yorkshire nearest to Cumberland, that gives Mr. Cayley his majority; and in West Kent, that, in spite of the strongest influences, succeeds in returning Mr. Hodges. He is a shallow politician who imagines that the mere possession of land makes men Conservative. In France the Liberal deputies are mostly sent by the small proprietors of the agricultural departments, while the great manufacturers and merchants form the Conservative party. In every country in which landed property is much divided, the land will be on the side of democracy; as they well know who fight for primogeniture and entail as the bulwarks of Toryism, the main stay of an aristocratic constitution.
In addition to the small proprietors, the Reformers may claim another class connected with the land, who bear a strong affinity to small proprietors, the class of prosperous farmers with long leases. This class, rare in the south of England, where most of the farmers are tenants-at-will, is more frequent in the north, and in Scotland almost universal. Nearly every farmer in Scotland holds his land on lease, and feels himself almost as independent of his landlord as his landlord is of him. Accordingly, even under the unexciting circumstances of the last general election, full half the Members returned for the Scotch counties were Liberals. Such facts show the real value of the assertion one often hears, that the agricultural constituencies are at heart Tories, and would, even under the protection of the Ballot, send Tories to Parliament. Wherever the electors are in a position to declare their real sentiments we find them Liberals. The yeomanry are Liberals; and so are the farmers, in the country of long leases; and it is well known that everywhere in Scotland, except at Edinburgh, a Liberal and a Radical are synonymous. The tenants-at-will are not made of different stuff from the tenants for a term, or the small proprietors. The Ballot might not at first produce upon them its full effect, for habitual servitude leaves its traces on the mind as fetters do on the limbs; but a few years would make them feel their freedom as those feel it who have always enjoyed it. The slavish deference for their landlord, the notion that their vote goes with their rent, and is to be exercised at the landlord’s pleasure, has sustained far too many shocks of late years, to have much strength left; and the English farmer will not, when no longer in the alternative of servility or ruin, be long found on a different side from the Scotch farmer and the English yeoman.
We have mentioned two classes connected with the land, whose co-operation a real Liberal party might even now count upon for giving it a majority in a general election. There is a third class, which, in a muster of our strength, is by no means to be neglected—the owners and occupiers of land connected with towns, or in the manufacturing or mining districts equivalent to towns. The number of persons thus situated who are county electors, though much reduced by the Reform Bill, is still considerable, and the rapid growth of the towns and of manufacturers makes the class an increasing one. The numerous small manufacturing towns not enfranchised by the Reform Bill furnish many of them; the potteries, and the mining districts, many more; and the class includes those who raise garden produce and other articles for the markets of the towns, and whose interest is not identical with that of the agriculturists generally, but with that of the town population. The body thus composed has even now a preponderant influence in not a few county elections. It returns both members for the West Riding of Yorkshire; and it still gives to the Liberals three of the four members for Cornwall, three of the four members for Durham. It will give us the members for Middlesex and Surrey, for South Lancashire, Glamorganshire, Warwickshire, Somersetshire, whenever the electors are appealed to at a critical moment, in a cause worthy of their efforts.
Besides these various classes, there are among the landowners many individuals of fortune and consequence, who though belonging by their interests to the Conservative side, are attached by their sentiments to Liberalism. In all privileged classes there are individuals whom some circumstance of a personal nature has alienated from their class, while there are others sufficiently generous and enlightened to see the interest of their class in the promotion of the general interest, and to desire it by no other means. Such were the glorious minority of the French noblesse in the States General of 1789; forty-five names, almost every one of which has made itself remembered for some personal merit. There are men of a similar description in this country, some of them possessing sufficient influence of wealth, and weight of character, to decide many a wavering vote in the House of Commons, and turn the balance of many an election. Lord Durham is such a man. Lord Fitzwilliam, Lord Radnor, are such men. Among the most valued adherents of the present Ministry some such are to be found, in whose sentiments, so far as known to the public, there is nothing to preclude them from bearing a part in the formation of a Liberal party such as we hope to see. Lord Spencer, for instance, Lord Normanby,—may we not add, Lord Howick?—are far too precious to such a party not to be cordially welcomed to it, and if it be such as we wish it to be, it will be one to which they may honestly belong.
On the whole, although a large majority of the county members will remain Conservatives, at least during the continuance of open voting, we cannot, even after allowing for the presumable defection of the Conservative Whigs, reckon the minority that might be obtained in the English and Welsh counties by the Liberal party, at a general election held under circumstances of excitement, at fewer than forty-five or fifty, which is about the number that after an election held without any excitement at all, support the present Ministry.
To return to the Conservatives. The landowners, as we have already said, form their main strength. To the landowners, however, must be added (saving, as before, individual exceptions) nearly the whole class of very rich men. It is true, no other class of rich men find the legislature ever at their back, ready to make all its powers instrumental to the promotion of their class interests: no other class has the same actual participation in the direct business of government: nor has the man of great monied or mercantile wealth quite so much political influence or consideration in society as the great landowner has. But every rich man may be a landowner if he please; he expects, and intends, if not a landholder himself, to be the founder of a family of landholders; he looks upon himself as already belonging to the class, and cherishes its privileges, as he does those of the Peerage—as of personal interest to him, since they may one day be his own. A similar observation applies to the professions which partake of aristocracy,—the army, the navy, the bar. The heads of all the three professions rank with the aristocracy; the two former consist originally of the sons and brothers of the landowners. All these professions have moreover a direct interest adverse to the spirit of Reform. The army and navy fear retrenchment and injury to their prospects; and dislike generally the new ideas of the times; for this reason, among others, that the tendency of the new ideas is hostile to war. The lawyers fear law reform, which would render much of their hardly-acquired learning valueless, and though it would greatly add to the general amount of business of the profession, would, at least they think so, diminish the value of the great prizes. The army and navy therefore, with nearly all the leaders and a numerical majority of the bar, are generally Conservatives. To these it is scarcely necessary to add, the beneficed clergy of the Church of England, both in possession and in expectancy. They have been told, as everybody else is told, that the Church is part and parcel of the Constitution; and it is so much the most peccant part, that reform, they needs must feel, cannot creep into any other part and pass by this. Accordingly no other of the privileged classes is so intensely Tory, upon the whole, as the beneficed clergy. There are indeed in the Church, and even in the highest ranks of it, men to whom the labour is more precious than the reward, and who would care little for any risk which the temporalities of the Church might run in the attempt to make it spiritually what it professes to be. But of these hereafter: of these a large proportion may be claimed for the Reformers.
We are not aware of having omitted any important element of the Conservative strength; unless, indeed, it be the protected trades, those who share with the landowner the privilege of taxing the community to keep up their own prices; the shipping interest, the timber interest, the West India interest. These three in particular have long been the main pillars of Toryism among the commercial classes; for, like the Church of England clergy, they have been so long attacked, and with so much effect, as to feel that if the time ever comes for a general yielding up of exclusive privileges, theirs must be among the first to go.
Against these various denominations of Privileged Classes, of people who thrive under existing institutions better than they would hope to thrive under any probable change, and who are, therefore, the natural Conservatives of the country, we are now to set in array the classes who are dissatisfied with their position, and who compose the natural Radicals.
To begin with the middle classes. In almost every division of them the majority are on the side of change. The same cause which makes the landlords Conservatives, makes the bulk of the manufacturing and mercantile classes Reformers. The chief exceptions are the protected trades, and, as already mentioned, the very rich manufacturers and merchants of all denominations; though even these have sources of dissatisfaction in common with the rest. The class, as a class, feel that they have not justice done them by existing institutions. Their most essential interests are made to give way to the idlest fears, the most silly prejudices of the landowners. To keep up rents, and under a mistaken notion too of their being in reality much kept up, the profits of capital are brought down by the Corn Laws to the lowest scale; foreign nations whose produce we will not take, are unable to take our manufactures, and those who can, are provoked to enact retaliatory laws against us, and to establish manufactures which are treading upon the heels of ours. We are driven, or in yearly apprehension of being driven, out of one market after another. Our small capitalists are emigrating in numbers, because they can no longer live upon their profits. The difficulty of subsisting on the proceeds of a moderate capital, whether in business or at interest, continually increases. The field of employment becomes more and more crowded; contracted artificially by the Corn Laws. And this is not a casual evil, the result of a passing error, which can be remedied by the mere progress of discussion. Discussion has done its work; the obstacle lies deeper than it can reach. The landlords are masters of the legislature. They know their power; they have the manufacturers down, and they mean to keep them down. The heads of the agricultural party boast of the working of the Corn Laws. They triumph in having secured to themselves by these laws the full profit of a season of scarcity. They have their hands upon the loaf on every man’s table, and will not let it go; and their organs load with abuse the “grasping capitalists,” because they had rather not be ruined to fatten the landowners. The Corn Laws may be got rid of; but it can only be through a further Parliamentary Reform. The last reform left almost unabated the master-evil, the preponderance of the Corn Law interest. And the manufacturers and merchants will have to learn what the working classes have already learnt—that they must combine to agitate, not against the Corn Laws, but against the source of the Corn Laws, as well as of every other grievance—the vicious constitution of the legislature.
The bulk of the middle classes of the towns, the ten-pound electors, are still more universally Reformers. They are the greatest sufferers of all by low profits, and an overcrowded field of employment. They belong almost universally to the “uneasy classes.” They are nearly all of them struggling either against the difficulty of subsisting, or against that of providing for their sons and daughters. They have no common interest or fellow feeling with the aristocracy; under no circumstances can they hope to be participators of aristocratic privileges; and they are accustomed to conjunct action, to meet in Corporations, form associations and hold public meetings, without waiting for a lord or the owner of ten thousand acres to put himself at their head. The new municipal bodies have been already of admirable use towards the political education of this class. Those assemblies are normal schools of real public business; and are forming, in all the considerable towns, able and experienced local leaders for the Reform party. Reform has another and a still stronger hold upon many of the class; upon many of those among them who are most prosperous in their circumstances, and least under the influence of the causes of dissatisfaction which act upon the trading classes through their pecuniary means. A great part of the most thriving and influential of the town electors are Dissenters; and as such, are in open opposition to one of the great aristocratic institutions, one with which all the rest are inseparably interwoven. No part of the Reform body, for constancy in their political conduct, are more entirely to be depended upon than these. Between them and the aristocracy, there is a deeper gulph fixed than can be said of any other portion of the middle class; and when men’s consciences, and their interests, draw in the same direction, no wonder that they are irresistible.
Almost all the skilled employments, those which require talent and education but confer no rank,—what may be called the non-aristocratic professions—are to a great degree in the hands of Dissenters, and those professions may, in any case, be numbered among the natural Radicals. If the great landowners are mostly Tories, it would surprise some persons to know how many of the men who manage their affairs, how many of the stewards, and attornies of men of fortune, are Dissenters and Liberals; and where the landlord does not take a very active part in politics, the influence of his agent in an election often goes as far as his. The men of active and aspiring talent, indeed, in all classes except the highest, are Radicals everywhere; for what is Radicalism, but the claim of pre-eminence for personal qualities above conventional or accidental advantages? And what more certain than that a man of talent, compelled to serve men of no talent, and taught by daily experience that, even if fortune favours him he can scarcely by the labours of a life raise his head to a level with their feet, will be, by a natural tendency, something of a leveller?
There is another body besides the Dissenters, whom their religious sentiments place among the natural Radicals, among those who either are Radicals already, or are ripe for being so as soon as they awaken to their position; we mean the Church Reformers, a growing body among the laity and even among the clergy of the Church of England. They are, more than can be said perhaps of any other class, determined to the Reform side by a sense of duty only, without the additional stimulus of a personal injury. They are not, like the Dissenters, taxed for the support of a worship which is not theirs; but they see the religion which is theirs, corrupted in the way in which every religion has been corrupted, by the secular interests of its ministers; and this because those ministers spring from the aristocracy, and are part and parcel of the aristocracy; because the class that predominate in the legislature present to livings, and by being the makers of ministries, are the dispensers of ecclesiastical dignities; because the proprietors of the land are the proprietors of the Church too, and their interest is that its much pay be burthened with little work. The Church Reformers will never attain their object while the House of Commons is under the influence of those for whose benefit Church abuses exist. They must be Radicals if they would be successful Church Reformers. Every doctrine and practice, which either in present times, or in times past, has tended to corrupt the Church, every claim which has been advanced to spiritual despotism, or countenance given to worldly sycophancy, has emanated from the Tory part of the body, and has been dictated by the desire to make the Church a political engine. For any aid in chasing such doctrines and practices out of the sanctuary, the Church Reformers can look to the Liberals alone.
In addition to all these classes must be included among the natural Radicals nearly all Scotland and all Ireland. Since the Church of John Knox followed the example of its richer sister, and from the People’s Church made itself the Laird’s Church, one half of the people of Scotland have become Voluntaries; most of the remainder are Church Reformers, enemies to the great abuse of both Churches’ individual patronage. Half the members for the Scotch counties, and all the members for the boroughs, except one, are even now Liberals, most of them Radicals; and nearly all the places which now return Whigs will return Radicals when the present equivocal position of parties is ended, and the question is distinctly put between Radicalism and Conservatism. Of the Irish little need here be said. It would be strange, indeed, if a people who have never known any thing but oppression from their government, oppression slowly and reluctantly relaxed under the compulsion of their growing force; a people who have been for centuries, and are still, the most wronged and the most suffering in Europe—were not numbered among the Disqualified Classes; if they were not eager to ally themselves with anybody who will be, or who will but seem, the enemy of their enemies. And they well know, that where there is such a mass of mischief to be cleared away, where it is necessary to cut so deep, they will find no real fellow feeling but in the Radicals; that from them alone have they any chance of complete redress; and that their only policy is an alliance with the other Disqualified Classes, to give the ascendancy to the Radical interest in the empire.
Last, but not the least formidable part of the Radical body, comes the whole effective political strength of the working classes: classes deeply and increasingly discontented, and whose discontent now speaks out in a voice which will not be unheard; all whose movements are now made with an organization and concert of which those classes were never, at any former period, capable, and with a comprehension of political tactics, and of the necessity of postponing all subordinate ends to the main end, not yet reached by any other class of Reformers. As to this point, indeed, the whole Reform party has much to learn from their example. There are as many conflicting opinions, as much diversity of ultimate objects, among the Chartists themselves, as between the Chartists and the Moderate Radicals. But they have agreed for the present to let all disputed questions alone, and to pursue exclusively those changes in the representation, about the expediency of which they all are agreed, and through which alone they hope to obtain a legislature from whom they can look for a just adjudication of their points of difference. Much less mutual concession than this would make the Radicals complete masters of the next House of Commons.
These, then, are the Disqualified Classes; those who in addition to their share of the general interest, have a particular interest in opposition to things as they are; who either have special grievances, or upon whom the general grievances bear with peculiar weight. In calling upon all these sections to knit themselves together into one compact body, we are not seeking to build a party on a mere combination of classes for the promotion of separate interests, however legitimate. We are appealing in behalf of the general interest of all, to those whose particular interests have opened their eyes. It is not for themselves, it is for a principle, that we would summon them into the field. Instead of calling upon all sorts of men to seek redress for their particular wrongs by an alteration in the distribution of political power, we should beseech them to bear those private grievances patiently, and trust for relief to the progress of opinion among the ruling classes themselves, did we see in those classes any of the qualifications which entitle a government to the respect and attachment of the governed. We would bear many injuries rather than stir up discontent against institutions and rulers that we deemed, on the whole, beneficent. But before we accord any such forbearance, we demand that they make out their title to it. We do not acknowledge that any such right is conferred by the mere possession of power. As whatever is noble or disinterested in Toryism is founded upon a recognition of the moral duty of submission to rightful authority, so the moral basis of Radicalism is the refusal to pay that submission to an authority which is usurped, or to which the accidents of birth or fortune are the only title. The Tory acknowledges, along with the right to obedience, a correlative obligation to govern for the good of the ruled: the Radical requires the performance of that obligation as the condition of his obedience. He acknowledges no call upon him to pause in the pursuit of his just claims, rather than endanger institutions which he believes never were intended for his good. Believing the government of this country to be in the main a selfish oligarchy, carried on for the personal benefit of the ruling classes, he is not Utopian enough to address himself to the reason of his rulers, he endeavours to attain his object by taking away their power. One Radical differs from another as to the amount of change which he deems necessary for setting what is wrong right: but as to the kind of change there is no disagreement: it must be by diminishing the power of those who are unjustly favoured, and giving more to those who are unjustly depressed: it must be by adding weight in the scale to the two elements of Numbers and Intelligence, and taking it from that of Privilege. To do this, is the object of all Radicals: to do it cautiously and tentatively, but to go on doing it till it is done effectually, is the policy of Moderate Radicalism; it is the Durham policy, and under its banner we hope to see gathered together the whole Movement party of the empire.
It is not to be dissembled, however, that to form a united Movement party is not so easy as to form a compact Conservative one. Conservatives may differ on policy, but their end is the same, to keep the great institutions of the country as they are. Reformers differ not only about the means of effecting changes, but about the changes themselves. We have among us men who are terrified at Universal Suffrage, and men who hold that any thing short of Universal Suffrage would be a mischief and a delusion: we have men who cherish the principles of a Church Establishment, and men to whom the compulsory support of a State religion appears not only a tyranny but a sin. There are religious differences in our ranks, which of all differences of opinion set men most at variance with one another; and there is an opposition of interest, which gives birth, it would seem, to the most deep-rooted distrusts and aversions which exist in society—the opposition between capitalists and labourers. On these differences our adversaries rely. They know that they have nothing to fear if the physical strength of the Reform party can be set in array against the education and property of it, or if the latter can be divided against itself. They flatter themselves that the middle and the working classes, that the Catholics, the liberal Churchmen, and the Dissenters, can never act cordially together. And they hope that large bodies of the natural Radicals may be frightened into the arms of the Conservatives, by dread of Mr. O’Connell and of the Voluntaries, or of Mr. Stephens and Mr. Feargus O’Connor.
There is much plausibility in these hopes; nevertheless, the enemy may be reminded, that they counted upon exactly the same thing on the eve of the Reform Bill. Then too they thought that the Reformers could never agree, could never join in asking for the same measure. The topic came round with the regularity of clock-work in every juvenile Tory’s maiden speech against Reform. A month before Lord Grey came into office—the very day after the Duke of Wellington’s famous declaration[*] —Sir Robert Peel said, “that although the Reformers might have a majority on the whole, there would be more voices for keeping the representation as it was, than there would be for any one mode of changing it.” The event proved, however, that the Tory leader had made a false calculation. He had omitted to consider, that persons who were not agreed about their ultimate destination might be agreed about the next step; might have sufficient common sense to perceive, that they could not expect to accomplish more than one step at a time; and that they might as well make use of one another’s assistance in taking that step, each being at liberty to go forward afterwards in his own peculiar track. What has been done once, may be done again, provided it can be well understood among us what is to be the next step, and that it be one which by those who wish to go farther shall still be deemed a good in itself, and not calculated to impede subsequent steps, unless indeed it should work so well as to satisfy those, by whom ulterior progress is desired. It is enough if we can agree about the things which it is possible to do just now. If Reform is to be deferred until Mr. Lovett and Mr. Cleave contend for it by the same arguments as Mr. Ward and Sir Lytton Bulwer, or until Dr. Wardlaw and Dr. Pye Smith talk exactly the same language in Church matters as Mr. Baptist Noel, we concede that it is not likely to be obtained in our time. But it is quite another thing, to believe that every one of these personages retaining his own sentiments and opinions, Dr. Wardlaw and Mr. Baptist Noel might consider one another as allies, not adversaries, a mutual help instead of a hindrance; and even that Mr. Lovett might be led to see in a policy which Mr. Ward would approve, advantage, and not injury, to the cause which he himself defends.
A great part of the difficulty arises from the mistaken, and, in reality, unpractical idea, that in order to help one another it is necessary that Reformers should be silent on their points of difference. So far from this, one Reformer often gives a more effectual support to another by demanding more than he, than by demanding only as much. We would have them aid one another not by leaving their opinions and feelings unspoken, but by speaking them. We would have every man loudly cry out for what he deems most important, for whatever he is most in earnest in desiring to see carried. Men are sure to be more stirring and active for all that they want, than for a part only of what they want: while, the more deeply-seated the dissatisfaction is seen to be, and the more it seems to require to satisfy it, the greater is the intimidation of the enemy. It is not those who ask for all, but those who reject less than all, that render union impossible. Men may combine in supporting a good thing which is to be had now, and continue to do all they can by speech and writing for something they think better, which the time is not yet come for putting into a practical shape and carrying through Parliament. Each may drive at his separate and remote object in addition to, and not to the exclusion of, the immediate and practicable one. Voluntaries and Church Reformers, may mutually support one another at elections, without its being an understood condition that either, when elected, shall restrain the expression of any of his opinions on the Church question; and a man may join in agitating for Universal Suffrage with those who agree with him, and yet co-operate on other occasions with men who go no further than Household Suffrage.
A still greater obstacle has been the want of a directing head, the only possible bond of union of a body consisting of many scattered parts. In this respect, as in so many others, that becomes possible, as soon as we have a recognized leader, which was impracticable before. All ranks and shades of Reformers would not have rallied round “the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill,” if it had been only the speculative project of an individual Member of Parliament: they took it because it was the thing offered to them by men who had a prospect of carrying a measure when they made it their own; and was distinguished from all other schemes of Reform by this, that it was actually to be had. It is as true now as then, that the different denominations of Reformers will not find out by themselves what it is that they can agree in supporting, what it is that would content all of them, at least as a step. There is no probability of their arranging among themselves how they may all join in agitating for the same thing. Some one in a sufficiently commanding position must give the word; some minister, or some one who may be made a minister, must declare the thing that is wanting; must announce it as the object of any administration which he will consent to form. The leader must not wait to receive his measures from his supporters. It is his business to know, better than they know themselves, not only what is in itself right, but what they are prepared to support. The leader of the Reform party, must be a leader who will lead. He must do like Lord Durham in Canada, “take the initiative.” And it is because Lord Durham is almost the only man in the first rank of public life, and on the popular side, who has shown in practice that he both can do this and dares do it, that we believe him to be the man most fitted to be the popular leader, but we are far from thinking him the only man who would be able to make himself followed as such.
And let there be no misunderstanding. It is no single measure; it is a whole system of policy that the leader, whoever he is, will have to proclaim. It is not for the Ballot, nor even for the Ballot accompanied by Household Suffrage, that the whole force of the Movement party will ever again take the field. The Ballot is a necessary part of what must be contended for, and so is an extension of the Suffrage, corresponding to what is meant by Household Suffrage. But the present body of electors, even with any reinforcement that might be made to them from a class similar to their own, would still, in the estimation of the active Radicals among the working classes, be a mere oligarchy. It is the opinion of the Operatives, that unless the Suffrage comes down to their own level, anything which enables it to be exercised more independently does them harm. The men of thews and sinews will never give their confidence to a party recommended only by willingness to take from the aristocracy and give to the shopocracy. On the other hand, to propose Universal Suffrage would be to bid adieu to all support from the middle class. Most of the Reformers who belong to that class at present, deem Universal Suffrage objectionable in principle: to no sober man among them does the time appear to be come for it; and if they were obliged to choose between the principles of the Whigs or even the moderate Tories, and those of the Chartists, very few of them would prefer the latter. A practical statesman must look farther and use other means, to induce the middle and the working classes to act in harmony.
No practical and judicious statesman could, even on the very unlikely supposition of his being so inclined, take his stand anywhere but on the middle class. He must necessarily rest, not on those who have no votes, but on those who have, and who can give him a majority in Parliament. It does not follow, that he is obliged to take their policy; it follows only, that he must be able to make them take his: that he must carry them with him in all he does, and need not attempt anything which there is no chance whatever of prevailing on them to support. He cannot therefore, attempt Universal Suffrage. To extend the franchise to the whole middle class, to equalize its distribution among that class, to enable that class to exercise it freely, all this he can and ought to aim at. He might even possibly propose some means of tempering the government of the middle classes with a partial admixture of representatives elected chiefly by the working men: for in such an amount of concession it would not be hopeless that the middle classes might be made to see both justice, and an increase of their own security. But it would be idle to expect that they could be induced to swamp themselves, and hand over to unskilled manual labour the entire powers of the government. Do we regret this? No: let Universal Suffrage be ever so desirable, let it even be ever so practicable when the minds of the other classes have been for some time gradually prepared for it by intermediate measures, it cannot be either good or practicable now. One great experiment in government is as much as a nation can safely make at a time. From the government of the higher to that of the middle classes is already a mighty change, and it is rather soon to begin making a second before we have more than half accomplished that. Let us have full experience of what that does for us before we try another. The French Revolution is an example of how little is ultimately gained by attempting greater changes than the general state of opinion is prepared for. After going the round for a whole generation of every form of government, from democracy to military despotism, what did the French at last sit down contented with? Exactly the same thing, neither more nor less, which they were ripe for when the revolution began.
What, then, has a liberal statesman to offer to the working classes? The greatest thing of all; and a thing which must precede Universal Suffrage—if Universal Suffrage is ever to come without a civil war. He must redress the practical grievances of the working classes. They are now the Parias of society; not a voice is ever raised in the legislature for their good, except it be for some restraint upon their liberty, or curtailment of their pleasures: an end must be put to this. The motto of a Radical politician should be, Government by means of the middle for the working classes. One of the most original and powerful of recent political writers,* has expressed the principle with admirable aptness and force:—Until Universal Suffrage be possible,—to govern the country as it would be necessary to govern it, if there were Universal Suffrage and the people were well educated and intelligent.
Is it conceivable, for instance, that in a country where there was Universal Suffrage, and where the people were intelligent, the labouring classes would suffer themselves to be taxed on the bread they eat, to the verge of starvation, avowedly to keep up the rents of the landlords? That the importation of almost all other kinds of provisions would be absolutely prohibited? That two-thirds of the whole revenue of the country would consist of taxes on the articles of their consumption? That even of those articles, the inferior qualities, which alone they consume, would be taxed three or four times higher in proportion to their value, than the finer qualities which are used by the richer classes? Is this a system of revenue and commerce which could ever co-exist with Universal Suffrage and an intelligent people?
Is it credible, again, that with such a Suffrage and such a people the exhibitions would be afforded us, which we now see every time that a man with a good coat and a man with a shabby coat come into collision before any of the petty courts of justice? Should we find police magistrates, when a nobleman’s son has beaten somebody to death’s door, or another has fired air-guns from a coach window, or a wretch of “respectable appearance” has grossly insulted a woman in the streets, almost apologizing to the culprits for fining them five pounds and dismissing them,—while a poor man on some trifling accusation has every presumption strained against him, the magistrates descant in set terms on the imperious demands of public justice and the enormity of his offence, and his family are left to starve or come upon the parish, while he is lying in prison for want of bail? Would it be the common practice of the legislature to fix as the minimum of penalty sums which amount to several weeks’ wages of a working man, and as the maximum in exactly the same case, what to a man of fortune falls short of the average expenditure of half-a-day? Would there be vagrant laws which make poverty punishable—laws by which any magistrate may put any poor person into gaol? Would there be more persons in prison for offences against the game laws than for all other offences together, and would gamekeepers be sent out in bands of a dozen at a time to wage mortal combat against men on account of the life of a pheasant?
Again, if the class that supplies the men who fight the battles of their country and man her ships, had any voice in making the laws of that country, is it likely that they would reserve the stripes for themselves, and leave the commissions and the honours for those who can pay for them? Would they suffer themselves to be impressed into the navy by force, because we will not make their portion in it such as any one will accept by choice; because we will neither give them the wages which they can earn in open market, nor leave an opening for them to rise so much as to the rank of a midshipman, in all the long years between the press-gang and Greenwich Hospital?
Again, if the people who walk in footpaths made the law, could a single magistrate, with the assistance of any other justice of peace who is dining at his house, shut up a path, aye, or a road, which existed before his park was made—by which for centuries the labourer had shortened his way to his work, and tasted the breath of free air—a path not even passing near his windows or intruding upon his privacy, but crossing some bye-corner of his domain, and exposing to some constructive jeopardy his hares and patridges? Would there be whole counties of England where the gentlemen have abolished every field path, where the foot passenger has nothing but a dusty road to travel on? Would the bit of grass by the side even of that road be enclosed to give an additional rood of ground to the Squirearchy of the adjoining fields? Would the commons on which the whole inhabitants of a village once enjoyed pure air and sunshine, and athletic amusements, be seized and ploughed up in one district after another; and would it have been laid down by the Court of King’s Bench that compensation in any such case is due only to the neighbouring landholders, who alone had right of common, while those who have erected cottages and subsisted by the bit of ground they took in, and the cow or pig they turned out, may be ejected from their holding without equivalent? Could these things be if the working classes had a voice in the state?
And, more even than this, if the working classes had power to make their well-being a matter of concern to those who rule, if they had even power enough to make the ruling classes uneasy as to the consequences of their ignorance, could this government absolutely neglect one of its highest duties, one which not only republican American but nearly all the despotic governments of the Continent studiously and conscientiously execute—the duty of seeing the people taught? Could it continue neither to provide the teaching, nor to hold out any inducements to the people to find it for themselves? While it leaves all secular instruction, not only to the voluntary principle, but to the voluntary principle unaided by any of those facilities and encouragements which are quite compatible with the principle, would it maintain the most costly of all Church Establishments on pretence of religious instruction, while the real religious teaching of the poorer classes, such teaching as they receive, they owe after all to the voluntary principle? If the working classes had votes, would not everybody be anxious for their instruction, for their intellectual improvement? Would not every one be eager to establish, not bad, but good schools for them; to write books for them on the most important subjects, to make the best ideas of the best minds accessible to them, to present the grounds of every public measure, the justification of every institution of the state, in such a form as should convince them? And would not this necessity, even of itself, tend to make our institutions and measures much more generally such as can be so defended?
But we have not yet touched the core of the question. Such grievances as those we have mentioned have ceased to hold more than a secondary place in the estimation of the working classes themselves. Even the Corn Laws are now no longer capable of interesting them strongly. Their minds are engrossed with one subject—the relation between labourers and employers. It is for the sake of benefitting themselves in that relation, that they desire Universal Suffrage. They believe that they have not a just share of the fruits of their industry. They impute this to the large portion which is taken by the capitalist. They are persuaded that were there a reduction of taxation, or even a repeal of the Corn Laws, and all other things remained the same, not they but their masters would reap the benefit; and they care little for any changes in government, or even in society, that would not enable them to make their contract for wages on more advantageous terms. No political party will carry the working classes along with it unless it have something to propose which will be deemed by the more reasonable part of the working classes an evidence of good intentions on this point. But there is a much larger portion of them who are reasonable, and they would be much more easily satisfied than is supposed by those who are unacquainted with the state of their minds.
There is an enormous amount of misunderstanding among the other ranks of society as to the opinions of the working classes, and a degree of distrust and terror of their supposed projects, greatly beyond the cause for it. The quarrels between trades unions and capitalists, the cry for the “rights of labour”[*] against the “claims of capital,”[†] do not mean spoliation; nor is the Chartist agitation, as an able man among the Moderate Radicals has called it, “the anti-Poor-Law movement in disguise.”[‡] The Oastlers and Stephenses represent only the worst portion of the Operative Radicals, almost confined, moreover, to a narrow district in the North. If we would know the sentiments of the intelligent leaders of the working classes, we must look to the Working Men’s Association in London; who framed the People’s Charter; who originated the agitation for it; who have some of their members present at every meeting which is held for it in any part of the country; and who represent the best and most enlightened aspect of working-class Radicalism.
There is much error afloat even about the character, as men, of thepolitically active part of the Operative body. There is a notion abroad that they are the ill-conditioned and ill-conducted portion—the desperadoes of the class. The very contrary is the fact. Hardly any drunken or profligate working man is a politician. Such men do not read newspapers, or interest themselves in public measures; they take part in strikes, but not in Political Unions. The politicians of the class are almost universally its most respectable and well-conducted men. They are the heroes of their class; men respected and looked up to by the rest. We have been credibly informed that even the Glasgow convicts were sober domestic men, of unexceptionable habits in all relations between individual and individual, where their class feelings did not interfere;[*] and it is but in a small part that the class feelings take so terrible a shape. In London the political leaders of the working classes are not only some of their best men, but are also, to a great extent, instructed and cultivated men; they are, moreover, growing every day in instruction and intelligence; they have shaken off, within the last few years, many crude notions, and have made quite progress enough not to see any benefit to their class in a general conflagration, nor look to agrarian laws, or taxes on machinery, or a compulsory minimum of wages, as the means of improving its condition.
We do not dissemble that many even of the very best of these men entertain notions in political economy with which we by no means coincide. There is in fact no essential difference between their ideas as to the general circumstances which determine the condition of the labourer, and those common among their class. They believe that they are ground down by the capitalist. They believe that his superiority of means, and power of holding out longer than they can, enables him virtually to fix their wages. They ascribe the lowness of those wages, not, as is the truth, to the over-competition produced by their own excessive numbers, but to competition itself; and deem that state of things inevitable so long as the two classes exist separate—so long as the distinction is kept up between Capitalist and Labourer. These notions are in fact Owenism; and Owenism, as those are aware who habitually watch the progress of opinion, is at present in one form or other the actual creed of a great proportion of the working classes. But Owenism does not necessarily, it does not in the mind of its benevolent founder, imply any war against property. What is hoped for is, not violently to subvert, but quietly to supersede the present arrangements for the employment of capital and labour. The labourers wish to become their own capitalists; they have founds for the purpose, since they have funds for strikes, and Trade Societies, and Benefit Clubs. These funds they desire to employ as capitals of their own, administering them on their common account, and dividing the whole produce among the labourers. And what, it may be asked, prevents them from setting about this whenever they please? The defects of the law; which, on the subject of partnership, and especially of numerous partnerships, is one of the most imperfect in Europe: under which it is almost impossible for a numerous body to invest their joint savings in a productive employment, and to maintain any effectual control over the managers to whom the immediate direction must be entrusted.[*]
We believe few people have any idea of the amount of good will which might be gained from the working classes, and of the genuinely healing effect which would be produced upon their minds, by so apparently small a thing as the removal of this one grievance. A small thing to do, but a great thing to leave undone; a thing which would make the Operatives feel that they have fair play given them; that they have an opportunity of trying to improve their condition in the way by which they think it is to be improved—of trying, at their own risk, an experiment which nobody has the smallest right to prevent them from trying, and which, whether it succeed or fail, can do harm to nobody. On the contrary, either its success or failure would do good to everybody. If it succeeded—if the Co-operatives could contrive to carry on the great operations of industry independently of individual capitalists, independently of inequality of wealth and the irritating sense of contrariety of interest—where is the good man, of whatever political opinion, who would not hail their success? If they failed, would not this be an instruction to them in political economy, worth a thousand treatises? Would it not be the very lesson they need to learn, the very experience they require? Would it not teach them that the present arrangements respecting property and production, though they may not be the best conceivable, are the best practicable, and that the only real means of raising their condition are the correction of the abuses of government, the improvement of their own habits, and a due proportioning of their numbers to the field of employment, either by taking off the superfluous hands through systematic colonization, or by forbearing to call them into existence?
Such, then, are some of the duties of the government of the Middle Classes towards the working class: duties which those classes cannot leave unperformed, without drawing upon themselves the retribution which sooner or later awaits all classes or bodies of men who seize the powers of government, and emancipate themselves from its obligations. Suppose now that a leader could be found, that a party could be formed in public life, which stood upon the recognition of these duties as the ground of its existence, and while it upheld the government of the Middle Classes, used whatever influence it could acquire over those classes for the purpose of getting those duties performed,—would it be no advantage to the working classes that the middle classes should acknowledge such men as its leaders, and engage itself in the support of their policy? Would it not be worth while for the working classes to lend a helping hand towards bringing about such a result—towards placing a party entertaining these sentiments in that commanding position? Without suspending the agitation for Universal Suffrage—for we desire to stifle no man’s sincere opinion, least of all that of the most numerous and ill-used class—would they not find their account in showing that they seek it only as a means to a just and reasonable end, and that men who will the same end may have their support in endeavouring to work towards it by the existing means? As Mr. O’Connell agitates for Repeal or Justice to Ireland, why should not they, too, admit the alternative of Universal Suffrage or Equal Justice to the Working Classes? The degree of support which this would give to the attempt to obtain for them that equal justice, would lend a strength to their friends among the middle classes which would in time suffice to carry almost every thing which is desirable. Will they attain Universal Suffrage sooner by appearing to seek not merely justice but predominance? Will they arrive at it sooner by confirming the middle classes in the idea that not redress of wrong, but nothing less than the power of inflicting it, will satisfy them? If ever democratic institutions are to be obtained quietly, a great change in the sentiments of the two great classes towards one another must precede the concession; at present there is hardly a person possessed of the smallest property (and they are strong enough in this country, even in numbers, to make a desperate defence) who would not prefer almost any evils to those which they would expect from the political ascendancy of the working classes.
More than this; are the great and intelligent portion of the Operative classes of whom the London Working Men’s Association is the representative, are even they themselves free from apprehension of the mass of brutish ignorance which is behind them? of the barbarians whom Universal Suffrage would let in, although at present caring nothing about it, and unable to do anything towards gaining it until the affair becomes one of brute force? Do they never think of the state of the agricultural labourers? of the depraved habits of a large proportion of the well-paid artisans? Do they forget Sir William Courtenay?[*] do they forget Swing? do they forget that in a great city like Glasgow it has been recently ascertained that every tenth house is a spirit shop? have they forgotten the secret murders, the throwing of sulphuric acid? Can they wonder that the middle classes, who know all these things, and who do not know them, should tremble at the idea of entrusting political power to such hands? Cannot the intelligent working classes be persuaded, that even for themselves it is better that Universal Suffrage should come gradually? that it should be approached by steps bearing some relation to the progressive extension of intelligence and morality, from the higher to the lower regions of their own manifold domain? Lord Durham’s advice to them in one of his Newcastle speeches was the true one: to seek political power by one road, the only safe, the only practicable one, by showing more and more that they are worthy of it.[*] The strongest prejudices exist, not inexcusably, in the minds of the best men among the middle classes, against them and their claims; let it be their effort to overcome those prejudices; let the Associations continue, as we are happy to say they do already, to inculcate temperance, economy, kindness, every household virtue, and every rational and intellectual pursuit, among their members. Let them systematically discountenance all appeals to violence, and let those who really disapprove of the destructive schemes propounded by some of the talkers, take fit opportunities of making known their disapprobation. Discussion is rapidly doing its work in cultivating the intelligence of the working classes; the appreciation of that intelligence will necessarily follow. Every year we expect to see an advancement both in their real good sense and good conduct, and in the recognition of it by other people.
We think it desirable even now that the suffrage should be such as to let in some members returned chiefly by the working classes. We think it of importance that Mr. Lovett and Mr. Vincent should make themselves heard in St. Stephen’s as well as in Palace yard, and that the legislature should not have to learn the sentiments of the working classes at second-hand. We believe these and some others we could name, to be men who, to say the least, would do no discredit to the House of Commons. We desire, too, that a sufficient number of the respectable working men should have votes, for their influence to be felt in many elections in which they have not the preponderance. We would give them power, but not all power. We wish them to be strong enough to keep the middle classes in that salutary awe, without which, no doubt, those classes would be just like any other oligarchy; sufficiently strong for making it necessary to listen to their complaints, and for giving weight to the counsels of those who press their just claims upon the attention of the legislature. What precise extension of the suffrage would best do this, we cannot now undertake to decide: but there is evidently no particular difficulty in discovering it.
Next to the division between the middle and the working classes, the only other great discordance among Reformers relates to Church affairs. There, indeed, the dissonance by no means amounts to a rupture. The Dissenters, the Roman Catholics, and the liberal Churchmen, are far from being on the terms on which the Chartists and the middle classes are. All the efforts of the Tories to make a quarrel between them have not hitherto prevented them from being allies; but they are not, by any means, such close allies as they might be; nor is the full force of any of the three bodies, the Irish Catholics excepted, drawn forth to take part in the contest. Many a sincere reformer of the Church of England stands aloof, or leans to the Conservatives, from fear of the Voluntaries or of the Catholics, who at present may be regarded as Voluntaries; and many a Dissenter, even many a Voluntary, abstains from mixing actively in politics, because he does not like the Papists and Socinians with whom he is told that he would have to identify himself. A still greater number in all these classes confine their exertions in the cause to Ecclesiastical matters, and take little part in the general movement of political affairs; because they do not yet see, in any set of men who are competitors for office, any guarantee for the Ecclesiastical changes which they are desirous of; and being made Reformers chiefly by their religious sentiments, if they entered into political combinations it could only be for the sake of bringing men into power by whose elevation they would expect to forward their religious views: which views being different, cannot, it would at first sight appear, be all promoted by supporting the same men.
The latter difficulty, however, is more in appearance than in reality. The religious questions are no exceptions to the general rule, that all sections of Reformers are each other’s best friends, and have, for immediate purposes, one common interest. The Voluntaries and the Church Reformers have different ultimate aims, it is true. But each of these parties ought not the less to see in the other its best ally. The Voluntary is not the foe of the Liberal Churchman, but his auxiliary; the thunderer without the gate, who is ever the main strength of the Reformer within. The Liberal Churchman is not the antagonist of the Voluntary, but his next of kin; they have the same enemies, and partially at least the same objects; they both recognize and deplore in the Church as it is, the predominance of the worldly character over the spiritual; the one holds this vice to be inherent in the very nature of a Church Establishment, the other hopes that the Church of England may be purged of it; but the former does not the less acknowledge that a reformed Church is a more spiritual thing than an unreformed one; and would not the less welcome the growing strength in the Church itself of those who wish to spiritualize it. Both are driving at the same end, by different means; but every step made by the one is so much gained for the other.
There are in the Established Church men who value, and even profess to value the Church, we will not say more than the Bible, but equally with it, and hold the one as much an essential part of Christianity as the other. And there are men who prize the Bible infinitely above the Church, and would regard with horror any imputation of putting the two on a level. To the former, the High Church party, we need not address ourselves. We wish to do them all justice. They have much to say for themselves. Many of them are sincerely religious men; and much of the best spirit of religion dwells even in those who have carried the High Church principle to the greatest pitch of exaggeration—the new school of Oxford Theology. It is not impossible that such men may even desire to see the Church more spiritualized, to see it purged of its abuses. But, believing as they do, that mankind in general are to take their religion not from private judgment but from an appointed authority, and that the Church of England, as by law established,[*] is that authority, to maintain that Church as a recognized national institution is naturally the first object, and anything else can only be secondary. It is to the Low Church party that we are now addressing ourselves, to those members of the Church with whom its spirituality passes before its political privileges; who are already in the habit of combining, for missionary objects, with persons beyond its pale; who desire to see it established, but would rather it were not established than not reformed. We speak to those who believe that the Church, as a national institution, has neglected its duties, has sacrificed the welfare of the flock to the luxury and ease of the shepherd; and who, if they were compelled to choose, would prefer the risks of the Voluntary system to the certain evils of a professedly Christian ministry sunk in indolence, and thinking more of its enjoyments than of its responsibility.
To such men we say, fear not the Voluntaries. It is true they would divest the Church of all existence as a political body; but what do you yourselves seek to do? To induce the Church to reform itself: but did any political body, whether hierarchy or aristocracy ever reform itself, until it trembled for its existence? Did it ever listen to the warning voice of the friend within the walls, save from terror of the enemy without? Take any of the great historical examples, the Reformation for instance. What has been the great purifier of the Roman Catholic Church? Is it not, confessedly Protestantism? Do not all enlightened Roman Catholics agree that the abuses with which they acknowledge that their church swarmed before the Reformation, were far too dear to the potentates of that church ever to have been yielded up to the mere remonstrances of good men within her pale, but for the imminent necessity of strengthening her against the assaults of the great Reformers? Turn, again, to the improvement, a real improvement as far as it goes, which the greatest adversaries of the Church of England admit to have taken place within the last fifty years in the character and conduct of her clergy: is not the beginning of this improvement, by universal admission, coeval with the rise of Methodism? The best reformers of the Church of England are those whom the authors and protectors of her abuses stand most in fear of, those who make her feel that “if she do not work, neither shall she eat.”[†] The real Church Reformer ought to cherish the Voluntaries. They are not yet half strong enough for his purpose. The enemy are not yet by any means sufficiently alarmed.
The Voluntaries ought no less to cherish the Church Reformers. Are they not, if not as politicians, yet as religious men, aiming at the same end? Are not the Church Reformers endeavouring to make the Church what the Voluntaries say it can only be made by separating it from the State? If so, are they not the very persons from among whom a sincere Voluntary ought to look for converts to Voluntaryism? For men convinced as the Voluntaries are that a religious body cannot be both an established church and an apostolical one, but who find others (vainly, as they think) flattering themselves that it is possible to unite the two, what can be a more natural wish than this, “Let them try?” These are no idle speculations. There is already a numerous body of some of the most religious men in the Church (Mr. Charles Lushington in a recent pamphlet has spoken their sentiments)[*] who are hovering on the very verge of separation from her, in consequence of the abuses in her discipline, and the unprotestant and unchristian doctrines (as they deem them) which are extensively professed and highly patronized within her communion. Do not the Voluntaries, again, believe that not only what upholds the abuses of the Church, but what keeps the Church connected with the State, is secular interest? Let them, then, lay it well to heart, that every point which the Church Reformers carry, diminishes by so much the interested motives for supporting the Establishment: every sinecure abolished cuts off one possessor and fifty expectants from the supporters of things as they are; every step gained towards reducing the emoluments of dignitaries or equalizing those of incumbents, every iota of progress made in attaching duties to remuneration, and making it necessary for the clergy to lead laborious lives, diminishes the value of the Church to the self-interest of the aristocracy. Nay more, reform in the Church cannot be complete (and it is to the honour of Mr. Baptist Noel that he has proclaimed the fact) without cutting down to the ground the great principle of all abuse, the nomination of parochial ministers by irresponsible individuals. But when the system of advowsons is gone, all is gone that gives the gentry at large a personal interest in the Establishment. The Church would thenceforth stand as an institution, upon her spiritual merits alone; and the stanchest Voluntary need not fear to submit the question between the two principles, the voluntary and the compulsory, to that test. If the Church could be spiritualized, remaining an Established Church, it is his belief that she would at once, and of herself, renounce her endowments.
We cannot doubt, then, that the Dissenters and the Church Reformers will recognize that they have reason to link themselves together in strict alliance, and rejoice in the progress and strength of each other, almost as if it were their own. But there is also another feeling from which it is equally necessary for them to free themselves. As religious men, many of them feel a disinclination to associate for a common object with any but religious men. This reluctance stands greatly in the way of their attaining those of their religious objects to which the road lies through political ones; for no politician can afford to reject assistance because it is tendered to him by men whose religion is different from his, or who may appear to him not to be sufficiently under the influence of any religion. Having chosen his objects according to his own view of right, he must avail himself of any aid which circumstances render accessible to him, and must consider those who are best qualified for aiding him effectually as his most desirable allies. What, indeed, is this, but the very principle which religious men themselves follow, in associating for religious objects? Men of many different religious denominations co-operate in Bible Societies, Missionary Societies, Societies for the Propagation of the Gospel; they do not inquire if those with whom they associate agree with them in all respects, but only if they have the one religious requisite of a desire to promote the religious purpose for which they are joined together. Why should they not carry the same principle into politics, and be ready to ally themselves there also, as far as the immediate purpose requires, with those persons, whatever be their creed or sentiments, who possess the one political requisite of practical efficiency in the promotion of those political ends, in which their convictions as religious men, as well as their rights as citizens, are so directly interested?
But the appeals of the Tories to religious antipathies are intended to take effect, not so much upon the Dissenters or the real Church Reformers, as upon a numerous body of Churchmen who do not reflect much upon Ecclesiastical matters, nor have any very decided opinion on the debateable points, but who have a habitual dislike of Dissent and attachment to the Church, and are capable of being acted upon by vague fears for its safety. To these the Tories preach of an alliance of Papists, Dissenters, and Infidels, to destroy the Church: taking care to add, that this threefold conspiracy against the Church is at the bottom of all Radicalism; that the Constitution is attacked chiefly to get at the Church, and that those who wish to pull down the Church, as many of them as are not Papists or Dissenters, are enemies of all religion: from whence it is left to be inferred that the chosen seat and main stronghold of Christianity is the English aristocracy.
With regard to the assertion, that the infidels of the present day hate the Church as the great bulwark of Christianity, and the aristocracy as the bulwark of the Church, we could produce on the subject of it such an array of facts and considerations bearing on the character of modern infidelity, as would greatly disconcert those by whom the parrot cry is mechanically repeated, and prove how utterly ignorant those who give any credit to it must be of the march of European opinion, and the differences between the present age and that of Voltaire and Diderot. But to confine ourselves to the remark which lies nearest the surface, we do not believe that the generality of English infidels are hostile to the Church; we believe, on the contrary, that both infidels and indifferents very generally prefer the Church of England to the other forms of English Protestantism, as being more comprehensive, and allowing far greater divergence of opinion without exclusion from its communion. Both infidels and indifferents, too, are mostly, if we are not mistaken, rather favourable than otherwise to the principle of a Church Establishment. The famous argument of Hume, that an Established Church is the best security against fanaticism, expresses their real sentiments.[*] In a clergy voluntarily supported, they dread what they would probably call excess of zeal and lack of discretion. We believe that almost all persons, who are not much in earnest about religion, would prefer, for the sake of their own ease and quiet, an endowed to an unendowed clergy, although doubtless such of them as are Radicals desire for political and not religious reasons, that the Church should put off the character of an engine of state; an object which the religious reformers have in common with them, and which the difference of their religious sentiments constitutes no reason why they should not jointly pursue.
With respect to Papists, the accusation of hostile designs against the Church of England is a pure fiction, a paltry attempt to confound with the English Church Establishment the monstrous anomaly known as the Church of Ireland; a disgrace to the name of Church; a thing for which the very attempt to set up a defence is itself an insult, and against which, indeed, there is a perpetual alliance among all persons deserving the name of Reformers. The thing is open, undisguised tyranny, and admits of no compromise; nothing but unconditional surrender. Such a thing as a Church imposed by conquest, and upheld by means of foreign force, against the will of thirteen-fourteenths of the inhabitants, never would be submitted to by any people except at the point of the bayonet; and no Radical Ministry can make itself any party to the longer continuance of the enormity. We do not say that a bill ought to be brought in for its total extinction the moment a Ministry of Moderate Radicals comes into power; a government must consider times and circumstances, and not march too far in advance of the general sentiment. It ought to begin at once preparing the public mind for this act of justice. It should not hesitate to declare openly from the first to what point it hopes to come: and it should begin immediately to cut down the endowments to a modest provision for the religious instruction of a small minority.
The Church of England is a totally different thing from the Church of Ireland: against the one, war to the knife; in the other, the programme of the Moderate Radicals should be a thorough and comprehensive Reform. Not a Reform stopping at the dignitaries, and leaving untouched the parochial clergy; it is of more consequence to a nation to have good parish priests than good prelates: the Rector of Stanhope must be no more spared than the Bishop of Durham. Abuse for abuse, a better case may be made out for the salaries of the bishops than for the gross inequalities of livings; and nothing can better show how the subject of Church Reform has been trifled with, than that in none of the plans hitherto patronized by politicians has any provision been made for this branch of it. Difficulties would arise with respect to the owners of advowsons, to whose claims, although a property in the cure of souls is itself an abuse and the parent of all other abuses, an equitable consideration is nevertheless due. An approach, however, to equilization in the emoluments and duties of the working clergy is indispensable. By throwing adjacent small parishes into one (the county of Norfolk contains, we believe, as many parishes as all Scotland), by subdividing large and populous town-parishes, and by compelling every clergyman hereafter presented to a rich living, to maintain a clergyman for some other place where he is wanted, the desirable end might be attained with little disturbance.
A party, whether in office or not, which announced the principles of such a plan; which, if in office, did as much as circumstances would admit towards immediately realizing it, lost no opportunity of approaching even a step nearer to it, and brought forward into the places of dignity and power in the Church the numerous worthy and able men who are favourable to these principles—would have the support of every liberal man among the lay members of the Church, that of the poorer clergy generally, and nearly the whole body of the curates! They would have the support of all the Dissenters, of all Scotland, as well as of all the Catholics of Ireland. Whenever, indeed, a Radical party shall form itself, the leaders of the Irish Catholics must take their place in it; Mr. O’Connell knows this perfectly well, whatever sparring may occasionally pass between him and some of the body; and with that quick feeling of the immediate interest of his country, which has never yet been at fault, he would be one of the foremost to give in his adhesion to any leader who would pledge himself to such a course of policy as we have been advocating.
To the formation of such a party we now look forward with considerable hope. All things are ripe for it. The ground is unoccupied; the man, in a suitable station, who “goes a-head” with a policy adapted for uniting the Reformers, will find all things prepared for him, and is sure of everything, to the Premiership inclusive, which their support can give. The policy we have outlined is the only policy by which the Reformers would be enabled to face the constituencies. If the trial of strength at the next general election were between Sir Robert Peel and Lord Melbourne, we do not believe the Whigs themselves think they would have any chance; but if it were between Sir Robert Peel and the leader of the party we have sketched; between the representatives of the two great principles,—not between two men whose politics differ from one another only by the shadow of a shade,—we should look with confident hopes to a very different result.
[[*] ]Charles Pelham Villiers, Speech on Bonded Corn (9 May, 1838), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 42, col. 1042.
[[*] ]Arthur Wellesley, Speech on the Address in Answer to the King’s Speech (2 Nov., 1830), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 1, cols. 52-3.
[* ]Mr. [Edward Gibbon] Wakefield, in his England and America [2 vols. (London: Bentley, 1833), Vol. I, p. 200].
[[*] ]See, e.g., Leading Article on labour and capital, Poor Man’s Guardian, II (3 Aug., 1833), 245.
[[†] ]See Thomas Hodgskin, Labour Defended against the Claims of Capital (London: Knight and Lacey, 1825).
[[‡] ]Edward Bulwer, “The People’s Charter,” Monthly Chronicle, II (Oct., 1838), 297.
[[*] ]Mill may have been informed about the Glasgow convicts (James Gibb, Peter Hacket, Thomas Hunter, William McLean, and Richard McNeil) by Francis Place; see his “Historical Narrative 1838,” Place Papers, BL Add. MS 27,820, ff. 151-3.
[[*] ]See 7 George IV, c. 46 (1826), 1 Victoria, c. 10 (1838), and 1 & 2 Victoria, c. 96 (1838).
[[*] ]Alias of John Nichols Tom (or Thom).
[[*] ]Lambton, Speech on the Suffrage (19 Oct., 1834), in Speeches of the Earl of Durham Delivered at Public Meetings in Scotland and Newcastle (London: Ridgway, 1835), pp. 96-7.
[[*] ]See, e.g., 5 & 6 Anne, c. 5, An Act for Securing the Church of England as by Law Established (1706).
[[†] ]Cf. II Thessalonians, 3:10.
[[*] ]Charles Lushington, Dilemmas of a Churchman (London: Ridgway, 1838).
[[*] ]Hume, History of England, Vol. IV, p. 31.