Front Page Titles (by Subject) 44.: PROSPECTS OF FRANCE, I EXAMINER, 19 SEPT., 1830, PP. 594-5 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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44.: PROSPECTS OF FRANCE, I EXAMINER, 19 SEPT., 1830, PP. 594-5 - 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).
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PROSPECTS OF FRANCE, I
Between the preceding item (No. 43) and this, the July Revolution had taken place. On 26 July, urged by Peyronnet and with the agreement of Polignac and other ministers, Charles X had issued four ordinances curtailing drastically the liberty of the press, dissolving the newly elected Chamber of Deputies, restricting the number of electors and the number of Deputies, and calling for new elections (Bull. 367, Nos. 15135-8 [25 July, 1830]). He referred to the powers granted by Art. 14 of the Charter of 1814, thus confirming fears that he would use those powers to establish personal government. Three days of riots followed; Charles X revoked the ordinances on 30 July, but it was too late; on 31 July, Louis Philippe, duc d’Orléans, accepted the offer to become Lieutenant-General of the realm; on 2 Aug. Charles X abdicated in favour of his grandson; on 7 Aug. the Chamber of Deputies voted in favour of proposals for a revised Charter, and offered the crown to Louis Philippe on his acceptance of the new version of the Charter (Charte constitutionnelle, Bull. 5, No. 59 [14 Aug., 1830]); and on 9 Aug., in a simple ceremony in the presence of the Deputies and Peers, Louis Philippe, duc d’Orléans, became Louis Philippe, King of the French.
Mill had gone with John Arthur Roebuck (1801-79), a close friend, and others to Paris in the week of 8 Aug., where he “laid the groundwork of the intercourse” he was to keep up “with several of the active chiefs of the extreme popular party” (Autobiography, CW, Vol. I, p. 179); he returned to London in the first week of September. For his exuberant letters from Paris extolling the Revolution and the exemplary behaviour of the working class, which he wrote to his father (in large part published in the Examiner) giving his impressions of the state of France immediately after the Revolution and the first proceedings of Louis Philippe’s government, see EL, CW, Vol. XII, pp. 54-63.
This article, headed “Prospects of France. / No. I,” is the first of a series of seven under that title in the “Political Examiner” (see Nos. 45, 48, 50, 51, 57, and 61; No. 98 is also related). The articles are described in Mill’s bibliography as “A series of essays entitled the Prospects of France and signed S— in the Examiner of 19th Sept., 26th Sept., 3d Oct., 10th Oct., 17th Oct., 14th Nov., and 28th November, 1830, in all seven numbers”
(MacMinn, p. 11).
how will the revolution terminate? This is the question, which every person in England who reads a newspaper has asked, and still continues to ask himself every day. But all do not ask this question in the same spirit, nor with the same hopes and fears.
Those who feel interested in an event which changes the face of the world, chiefly as the security of their own commercial speculations may happen to be affected by it; and those, an equally large class, whose sympathies with their species are of such a character, that in every step which it takes towards the achievement of its destiny, they are more keenly alive to the dangers which beset it, than to the glory and the happiness towards which it is irresistibly advancing; these classes anxiously enquire, whether there will be tranquillity?
Those who feel that tranquillity, though of great importance, is not all in all; that a nation may suffer worse evils than excessive political excitement; that if the French people had not valued something else more highly than tranquillity, they would now have been the abject slaves of a priest-ridden despot; and that when tranquillity has once been disturbed, the best way to prevent a second disturbance is to prevent a second disturbance from being necessary; with these persons the subject of principal anxiety is this, Will the French establish a good government? And grievous will be their disappointment if, when every thing has been put to hazard, little or nothing shall prove to have been gained.
We will endeavour to contribute such materials as are afforded by a tolerably familiar acquaintance with the history of France for the last forty years,1 and by recent personal observation on the spot, towards the solution of both these questions.
We believe, then, that there will be tranquillity; that there will not be another insurrection; and that there will be no outrages on property, or resistance to the operations of Government in detail, but such as will with the utmost facility be put down, and that, too, by the people themselves, if necessary. But we are also convinced that France is threatened at present even with a greater evil than a second insurrection; and that if the people were to follow the advice of some of our contemporaries, by abstaining from all political agitation, and leaving their destinies to the quiet disposal of their present Ministers and Chambers, they would speedily find that all they had gained by the revolution was, to exchange a feeble despotism for a strong and durable oligarchy.
We believe, however, that the people are becoming aware of this; that they are beginning to understand what are the really important securities for good government; that before long they will make their demands heard in so loud a voice as will compel attention to them; and that they will obtain, gradually perhaps, but certainly, the best form of government which could continue to exist, in the present state of society in France, and with the feelings and ideas at present diffused among the French people.
Concurring as we do most heartily in all the demands of the popular party in France; holding those demands, and the tone in which they are preferred, to be not only unexceptionable but signally and laudably moderate; we of course see no ground for the tone of alarm which a highly influential journal suddenly assumed at the beginning of the present week.2 The writer in the Times cannot possibly be unaware that he is most imperfectly acquainted with the past and present state of France, and the fact is that he hardly ever touches on the subject without betraying gross ignorance of it. He should not therefore be in so great a hurry to decide magisterially, that people of whom he seems to know nothing except that they desire the dissolution of the present Chamber, are a criminal faction. It is a besetting sin of the journal to which we allude, that whether its opinion be founded on knowledge or not, it fancies every man a rogue or a fool who ventures to entertain a different one.
We can assure the writer in the Times, without hesitation, that the dissolution of the Chamber is not desired (as he surmises) for the purpose of abolishing the peerage and still further curtailing the functions of the executive. There probably is not a man, certainly there is not a party, in France, whose desire it is that the power of the executive should be further curtailed. On the contrary, it is to the King, Louis-Philippe, that the popular party look, with a confidence not assumed for show, but felt in their hearts, to rid them in proper season of a body which has shewn readiness enough to take power from the Crown, but the greatest reluctance to give to the people any additional securities which it can possibly withhold from them. It is not desired that the Chamber should be immediately dissolved. What is sought is that they should first pass a new election law; that they should then dissolve, and give place to successors chosen under a system of election more favourable to good government than the present.
The whole number of persons having a right to vote at the election of Deputies, does not exceed 88,000. We have seen it asserted that the number of paid places in the gift of the Crown, and to which an elector is admissible, amounts to nearly 50,000. This may be an exaggeration; but when every proper abatement is made, the fact is indisputable that the Government disposes of a sufficient amount of public money to secure, without much difficulty, a majority of the electors; or, what comes to the same thing, the electors, who, in time to come, will have in their own hands the making or unmaking of ministries, have it in their power to distribute the public money, in considerable shares, among themselves and their connexions.
If it be said that, by the retrenchments about to be effected, the means of corruption will be diminished, we answer, that by those very retrenchments, and the accompanying remissions of taxes (the electoral qualification being founded on the amount of taxes paid) the number of voters will be reduced even below what it is at present. The remissions of taxes which have taken place since 1815,3 have already diminished the number of electors to about four-fifths of what it was when Louis XVIII granted the Charter.
It is obvious, primâ facie, that 88,000 electors, in a population of 32 millions, constitute far too narrow a basis for a national representation. But the strenuous and energetic resistance which this body of electors offered to the usurpations of the late Government, appears to have induced many persons, both in this country and in France, to repose almost unlimited confidence in their disinterestedness and public spirit, notwithstanding the contrary presumption founded on their limited number.
To correct this mistake, it is only necessary to repeat an observation, in which the English Globe, to its great honour, preceded not only the other English, but even the French journalists. Under the late Government the electors were not yet the governing body. The powers of Government were substantially in the hands of the King; or at least it was yet a question whether the King or the Chambers should be the real sovereign. The King had not yet, like our own King, submitted himself to the necessity of governing in concert with the body who nominate the Chamber, and of dividing with them the produce of the taxes. Nevertheless a king cannot reign alone. Others besides himself must participate in his power, and in the benefits which result from it. But the Bourbons had never had the cunning to ally themselves with the monied class; the only portion of the nation possessing, by the Constitution, any political rights, by the exercise of which they could endanger the power of the sovereign. That stupid race, who, as Bonaparte said of them, had learned nothing and forgotten nothing,4 were incapable of conceiving one single idea save that of returning to the old regime. Instead of uniting with the new Aristocracy, they had the inconceivable folly to rely for support upon an Aristocracy which had fallen into decay—which had lost all that ever gave it either physical force or moral influence—the titled noblesse and the Catholic hierarchy. These classes, reinforced by all whom they could personally influence, formed but an insignificant minority of the 88,000 electors, and the whole weight of the royal power being thrown into the scale, did not suffice to give it the preponderance. The electors would not tolerate a Government in which they had no share, and the King, persisting in his frantic scheme, appealed to the sword, and was defeated.
The case is now altered. The monied class has stepped into the place both of the King and of his allies, the emigrants and clergy. When itself excluded from the Government, this class made common cause with the people. Now, however, it composes the Government: and being a narrow Oligarchy, it has the same interests with any other Oligarchy. The people, when they made the Revolution, certainly did not intend that it should be a mere change of masters; but those whom they have permitted to assume the Government, have already evinced, in a variety of ways, their desire and intention that it should be little more.
Both in France and in England, the late French revolution has been frequently compared to the English revolution in 1688;5 and there has in fact been up to the present time a striking similitude between the two events. We earnestly hope that they will not resemble each other in their final result.
The English House of Commons, under the Stuarts, was not a much more perfect representation of the people than it is at present. Yet it resisted the Stuarts with the utmost vigour and determination; the most genuine representative assembly could not have evinced more. And why? Because the House of Commons at that time had no separate interest from the people; because it had not yet possessed itself of the powers of government. It fought its own battle against a rival power, the people fought theirs against a tyrannical one. The House and the people marched together in uninterrupted harmony until the common enemy was overthrown. Thus far the conduct of the House of Commons resembled that of the Chamber of Deputies; yet if it had been inferred from their intrepid conduct in opposition to tyranny, that they were incapable of abusing the power of Government when placed in their own hands, we have long since been taught by lamentable experience how little foundation there would have been for such an inference.
The revolution of 1688 occurred. The changes which it produced, the new laws which were made to limit the royal power,6 and the opinions which, for a long time, it was the interest of the new Government to disseminate, have practically had the effect, now acknowledged by every body, of vesting the governing power of this country substantially in the House of Commons. So, in France, it now substantially resides in the Chamber of Deputies: that assembly having, in the first fortnight after the revolution, most expeditiously abolished all those articles of the Charter which imposed any restrictions on their power in favour of the King;7 while they left to be decided hereafter the great questions which relate to the securities in favour of the people against the misconduct of the Chamber itself.
If the composition of the Chamber be retained nearly as it is, without any material modification in the law of election, the French constitution bids fair to be an exact copy of the English, in all except the fraudulent pretexts and the private immorality by means of which the latter habitually works. It will accomplish its ends without the instrumentality of a Gatton or an East Retford,8 but the practical results will be much the same, saving the difference in the play of the machinery.
Where 32 millions are governed by the 88 thousand richest, the Government is of necessity a monied oligarchy; and our own Government is substantially of the same character. We have indeed great families who, by the boroughs which they influence, can secure to themselves a greater share of power and of the profits of misrule, than in proportion to their comparative wealth. Of this blessing the French are destitute. But even among ourselves every wealthy man is virtually a sharer in the Government. Every man who can afford to buy land, may obtain more or less influence in a county election; and every man who desires to have a seat in Parliament, can always obtain one by paying the price. The power which every rich man has thus within his reach, is equivalent to power in possession. Though the vices of our Government are as we see them, there is very little actual difference between the situation of a rich man who has a vote, or the means of influencing votes, and of a rich man who has neither one nor the other.
The French have therefore a genuine example in our Government of the spirit of an aristocracy of wealth, and the fruits which it bears. Let them beware how they suffer such a Government to become consolidated among themselves. It is because we, at our revolution, committed this grand mistake, that we are still, after 150 years, fruitlessly demanding parliamentary reform. The French will not be guilty of a similar error. They will effect their parliamentary reform in two years, perhaps sooner,—not with muskets, but with newspapers and petitions: after which there will be “tranquillity,” if that name can be given to the intense activity of a people which, freed from its shackles, will speedily outstrip all the rest of the world in the career of civilization.
The organs of the English Oligarchy, the Post and the John Bull,9 never fell into so grand a mistake as when they commenced flinging dirt against the new Government of France. For the interest of their employers, they should have upheld that Government by every means in their power. They are committing the same blunder as if they were to declaim in favour of the Jacobites, and against the present Constitution of England and the present settlement of the Crown. The two exiled families, and their respective supporters, are exact models of one another, and the men now in power in France are as exact a copy as could exist in the present day of our own politicians of 1688.
We have unavoidably contented ourselves with generalities in the present article. In the next we shall enter into greater detail.
[1 ]Mill had already written three lengthy articles on French history: “French Revolution,” Westminster Review, V (Apr. 1826), 385-98; “Modern French Historical Works—Age of Chivalry,” ibid., VI (July 1826), 62-103; “Scott’s Life of Napoleon,” ibid., IX (Apr. 1828), 251-313. (See CW, Vol. XX, pp. 1-14, 15-52, 53-110.)
[2 ]See The Times, 13 Sept., 1830, p. 2.
[3 ]See the budgets for 1819, 1821, 1822 (two), 1823, 1825, and 1826 in Bulletin, 7th ser., XI, 41-60; XIII, 41-72; XIV, 417-38; XV, 201-22; XVI, 377-92; and 8th ser., II, 405-22; V, 1-18.
[4 ]See the proclamation to the Imperial Guard and the army sent from Juan Bay, 1 Mar., Moniteur, 1815, p. 323.
[5 ]The “Glorious Revolution,” in which a coalition of Whigs, Tories, and the Church of England, without violence, replaced James II (1633-1701), the last Stuart King, with his daughter Mary (1662-94) and her husband William of Orange (1650-1702).
[6 ]Including the Bill of Rights, 1 William and Mary, Sess. 2, c. 2 (1688); and the Act of Settlement, 12 & 13 William III, c. 2 (1700).
[7 ]Generally, Arts. 13-23, under the rubric “Formes du gouvernement du roi.”
[8 ]East Retford, like Gatton, was a notoriously “rotten” borough. A Parliamentary enquiry in 1828 had investigated Gatton but it had escaped disfranchisement; East Retford was disfranchised for corruption by the House of Commons but was reprieved by a political fracas and had escaped a second onslaught in 1829.
[9 ]The Morning Post (1772-1937), edited at this time by Nicholas Bryne, while generally supportive of the “Oligarchy,” was more a society than a political paper; John Bull (1820-92), a Tory weekly of high circulation, edited at this time by Theodore Edward Hook (1788-1841), was so reckless as to be frequently charged with libel.