Front Page Titles (by Subject) 13.: ERRORS OF THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT MORNING CHRONICLE, 12 AUG., 1823, PP. 2-3 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
13.: ERRORS OF THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT MORNING CHRONICLE, 12 AUG., 1823, PP. 2-3 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
ERRORS OF THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT
This letter was occasioned by the results of the invasion of Spain by France in April 1823, in support of Ferdinand VII (1784-1833). Having been briefly on the throne in 1808, he ruled again from 1814 until he was captured and held prisoner by the revolutionaries of 1820. Attempts at constitutional government from 1820 to 1823 produced meagre results, all of which, as Mill predicts, were erased when Ferdinand was released by the Cortes in October, and took vengeance on the constitutionalists. Headed as title, subheaded “To the Editor of the Morning Chronicle,” the item is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A letter on the errors of the Spanish Government in the Chronicle of 12th August 1823, signed M”
(MacMinn, p. 2).
The conduct by which the Spanish Government have brought their affairs to so dangerous a crisis, will afford a salutary lesson both to themselves, if they should ultimately succeed in weathering the storm, and to all who may hereafter throw off the shackles of despotism, and establish a Constitutional Government. It will prove to them the danger of trusting to historical evidence, that is, to the narrow and precipitate theories of unenlightened historians, in preference to those general principles of human nature, of which any one may convince himself by his personal experience, unless he looks at human actions and motives through the coloured medium of prejudice.
They whose interest compels them to oppose improvement, and they who, in the emphatic language of Sir J. Mackintosh, “entangled by the habits of detail in which they have been reared, possess not that erect and intrepid spirit, those enlarged and original views, which adapt themselves to new combinations of circumstances, and sway in the great convulsions of human affairs:”* these two classes of individuals are constantly holding up practice in opposition to theory, and descanting on the necessity of following the dictates of experience.—They know not what they say. They think they are combatting theories by experience, while in fact they are combatting good theories by bad ones.
Experience, the most certain and the most extensive which we have, proves to us, that unless securities are provided, men will neglect the public interest, whenever it interferes with their own. The same experience enables us to determine what motives will be sufficient to counteract this propensity. On this experience we build a theory of government. Such a theory is least of all entitled to the epithet so liberally applied to it of Utopianism. A Utopian theory is one which is founded not upon our experience of mankind, but upon something inconsistent with experience—upon the supposition that by some wondrous scheme of education which is to be established, men may be induced to act with a view to the public interest, even when it is inconsistent with their own. The real Utopians are they who recommend to vest all power in the hands of Kings and Aristocracies—to annihilate all securities for their acting conformably to the public good,1 in order to have the satisfaction of seeing them, through patriotism and pure benevolence, sacrifice their dearest interests to the promotion of human welfare.
Against theories founded upon universal experience, the enemies of improvement hold out—what? Theories founded upon history; that is, upon partial and incomplete experience. Has a measure, in any age or nation, appeared to be followed by good effects? they think no farther justification required for adopting it. Has another measure (however conformable to sound and enlarged experience) had the misfortune to be adopted by a nation, the affairs of which, afterwards, took a bad turn? they make no allowance for altered circumstances, but precipitately and peremptorily reject it.
These observations are intended to illustrate the conduct of the Spanish Government since the revolution of 1820, particularly of the Ministry of Count Toreno, and that of Martinez de la Rosa.2 Terrified at the result of the French Revolution, they trembled at every measure which could be made a handle by their opponents for accusing them of violence; as if they could believe, that either the wishes or the designs of those whom they had deprived of their mischievous power, could for a moment be affected by the extension of mercy to a few malefactors, or the silencing of a few Republican Orators in the Fontana d’Oro at Madrid!3
Yet these pusillanimous statesmen, as if they did not already stand committed in the eyes of their former masters, by accepting power under a Revolutionary Government, still appear to have cherished the hope of securing their own persons and property, if despotism should ever be restored. They had heard that the Jacobin Clubs occasioned the excesses of the French Revolution—and in a spirit of compromise, unworthy of the Ministers of a regenerated country, they stopped that freedom of public discussion, which, in a country where the circulation of books is so limited, was the only available means of enlisting a body of public opinion in their behalf.4 Their eyes were opened too late by the conspiracy of the 7th of July;5 and a few months before the moment when they were to feel the want of that popular opinion which timely vigour would have roused, the Ministry of San Miguel re-established the Patriotic Societies.6
It was in the same compromising spirit, and from the same irrational dread of imitating the French, that the ruffian Elio was for three years suffered to disgrace by his existence that country which had streamed with the blood of his fellow-citizens slaughtered by his command.7 This wretch, as much superior in guilt to an assassin as the murder of hundreds is more atrocious than that of one individual—at length, in September, 1822, received the just reward of his crimes. But who can blame a delay of punishment, when the perpetrators of the massacre at Cadiz8 still glory in their atrocious deeds? Had these been visited by the hand of justice, the Spanish Patriots might not now have seen in arms against them so many adventurers, whom experience has taught, that the greatest atrocities may be committed without dread of punishment.
In fact, the idea of a bloodless Revolution is, when rightly considered, visionary and absurd. All great Reforms must injure many private interests, and cannot, therefore, fail to raise many enemies. Nor can those enemies be safely permitted to mature their machinations in security. We do not mean that the people should be excited to massacre. We are not the apologists of the 2d of September, 1792; but, whenever treason against the Constitution can be clearly brought home to any individual, to spare that individual is not mercy but weakness. It cannot alter the hostility of the despots, while it increases their power by evincing an ill-timed indecision. The Spanish Government must now bitterly regret that dread of the accusation of shedding blood, which prevented them from bringing the Duke del Infantado to condign punishment for his notorious complicity in the treason of the 7th of July.9 Enough has been done to exasperate, but nothing to weaken; and if San Miguel and his colleagues should eventually fall into the hands of the traitor whom they so injudiciously spared, they will scarce have the folly to expect, that he will forget from whose hands he received his degradation and banishment, and remember only that those hands left him life, after taking all, which, to a mind habituated like his, to mischievous power, could render that life an object of desire.
[* ]Vindiciae Gallicae [: Defence of the French Revolution and Its English Admirers against the Accusations of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke (1791), 2nd ed. (London: Robinson, 1791)], p. 30 [by James Mackintosh (1765-1832), Whig writer, whose initial enthusiasm for the French Revolution faded, but who favoured the Spanish constitutionalists].
[1 ]“Securities” used in this sense is a hallmark of the Philosophic Radicals: see, for example, James Mill, “Government” (1820), in Essays (London: Innes, 1825), and Jeremy Bentham, Constitutional Code (1827, 1841), in Works, Vol. IX, p. 9. Further uses of the term in these volumes (see, e.g., the title of No. 20) are not noted, but are listed in App. G s.v. these titles.
[2 ]José María Queipo de Llano Ruiz de Saravia, conde de Toreno (1786-1843), politician and historian, one of Bentham’s correspondents, who had been exiled 1814-20, returned in the Revolution of 1820 and joined the Cortes; Francisco de Paula Martínez de la Rosa (1789-1862), statesman and dramatist, also exiled 1814-20, was Prime Minister from February to August 1822, when he followed a course unpopular with both conservatives and liberals.
[3 ]La Fontana de Oro (also known as La Sociedad de los Amigos del Orden), one of the Patriotic Societies established in March 1820, in imitation of the French Jacobin clubs, was ordered closed on 18 Sept., 1821.
[4 ]Freedom had been granted by Decreto LV (22 Oct., 1820), Reglamento acerca de la libertad de imprenta (Colección de los decretos y órdenes generales espedidos por las Cortes, 10 vols. [Madrid, 1820-23]), Vol. VI, pp. 234-46; on 12 Feb., 1822, the Cortes passed Decretos LXVII, LXVIII, and LXIX, limiting freedom of the press and of petitioning (ibid., Vol. VIII, pp. 262, 263, 265).
[5 ]The Royal Guard, probably at the instigation of Ferdinand VII, attempted an uprising on 7 July, 1822.
[6 ]Evaristo de San Miguel (1785-1862), Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary (August 1822-February 1823), brought forward Decreto VII (1 Nov., 1822), Lay que prescribe las formalidades con que las personas pueden reunirse en público para discutir materias politicas (Colección, Vol. X, pp. 19-20).
[7 ]Francisco Javier Elio (1767-1822), Royalist general responsible for many atrocities, was executed on 7 Sept., 1822.
[8 ]After a successful revolt at Cadiz, a crowd gathered in the Plaza de San Antonio to celebrate the Constitution of 1812; troops suddenly opened fire on them, and over 400 citizens were killed. Those responsible were Manuel Freire (1765-1834), Captain General of Andalusia, and Cayetano Valdés y Flórez (1767-1835), ad interim Governor of Cadiz.
[9 ]Don Pedro Alcántara de Toledo, duque del Infantado (1773-1841), was reported to have incited peasants in support of absolutism and religion during the abortive rebellion (The Times, 16 July, 1822, p. 3).