Front Page Titles (by Subject) 48.: PROSPECTS OF FRANCE, III EXAMINER, 3 OCT., 1830, PP. 626-7 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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48.: PROSPECTS OF FRANCE, III EXAMINER, 3 OCT., 1830, PP. 626-7 - 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, III
For the background, heading, and bibliographical entry, see No. 44. This article is the first in Mill’s Somerville College set in which he has inked in corrections in the margin. At 145.39-40 “authority in power” is changed to “persons in authority”; in the next number of the Examiner, 10 Oct., p. 644, this correction appears in an Erratum note.
a contest is commencing—and if it be a prolonged, it will doubtless be an acrimonious one—between the majority of the Chamber of Deputies and the majority of the French nation.
By the majority of the nation we do not here mean the absolute majority, but the most numerous portion of those who as yet take any part or concern in the struggle. A numerical majority of the entire population are undoubtedly quiescent. The agitation has not yet penetrated so deep. Among the working, (we may call them also the fighting) classes, there is, or was very lately, but one feeling; satisfaction at having achieved the overthrow of a bad government, and confidence, that without their intervention, and by persons more instructed, and having better means of judging than themselves, the constitution will be resettled—in a manner the precise nature of which they do not attempt to predict, but which they feel no doubt will be duly considered, and against which if they should see any reasonable objections, they will be at liberty to propound them. We do not believe that the anticipations or reflections of the great mass of the people of Paris go farther. Any deliberate disregard of their interests, to a degree which would call upon them for further armed resistance, we do not imagine to have once entered into their conceptions. For years past they have been accustomed to hear their sentiments proclaimed, and expression given to their political wants, by the almost unanimous voice of the instructed class. They have not lost their feeling of reliance upon that class: to it the present Ministry, and the adversaries of the present Ministry, alike belong; and in its hands they are willing to leave the decision of the dispute, believing, with a conviction in which we participate, that no government which is, or can be, established in France, will have power to resist the deliberate opinion of the educated part of the public, strongly expressed.
The struggle which is commencing is between the majority of the Chambers and the majority of the educated class; the majority in numbers, in talents, in activity, we believe even in property; and including almost all among the class in easy circumstances, who, in the three memorable days, made any exertions or exposed themselves to any danger in the common cause.
Such being the disputants, it remains to be shewn what is the point at issue. Let no one dream that it is a mere question of who shall be in or out. In our late remarks on the composition of the Chamber of 1830,1 we sufficiently settled the question of the unfitness of the present men, but unfitness of men is an evil only in proportion to the unfitness of their probable acts. There is a fundamental difference, pregnant with important consequences, between the practical principles of the persons now in power, and those of their opponents.
The doctrine of the present Chamber and of the Ministry of its choice is, that, the Revolution having been a defensive act, provoked by an attempt to destroy the established Constitution; the existing Charter having been its rallying word, and the maintenance of that Charter its direct object, the people have now obtained this, and ought to be satisfied. Those modifications in the Charter (they add) which the meditations of enlightened men had prepared, and which public opinion had sanctioned, were made by the Chamber, in the first week of its existence, and were assented to by Louis Philippe as the condition of his elevation to the throne. This doctrine respecting the late alterations in the Charter has been several times proclaimed (on one memorable occasion in words of which ours are almost a translation) by Deputies belonging to the majority, and in particular by the two Ministers who take the lead in the Cabinet, and who have the most completely identified themselves with the party predominant in the Chamber.2
The first part of their case, as presented by themselves, they have saved their opponents the trouble of refuting, by making an assertion which is inconsistent with it. For if there were alterations in the Charter, respecting the propriety of which the public mind was so maturely made up as to admit of their being carried into effect after a deliberation of two days, without even the forms which are never departed from in the enactment of an ordinary law, it is a proof that, although the Charter was the war cry, and its violation the immediate incentive to resistance, it was not to the Charter, as such, that the people were attached, nor was its maintenance all that they desired. What the people wanted was, securities for good government. If those which the Charter affords, as at present modified, are sufficient, they are in the wrong in wishing for others; but let not this question be got rid of by a side-wind. The whole matter turns upon this. Any argument which does not go to this single point is foreign to the dispute.
But before we state what are the securities for good government which the people would prefer to those afforded by the modified Charter, it is hardly possible to avoid taking some notice of an argument, which, although it would be just as available in behalf of one set of institutions as of another, is yet well adapted to make an impression on certain minds, as it consists of a phrase. The current phrase in the mouths of the partisans of the Chamber is, that it is desirable the revolution should stop. This maxim finds favour in the eyes both of those to whom the word revolution is synonymous with insecurity, and of those who, without considering the radical distinction between the two periods, remember that in the days of their fathers the first revolution was succeeded by a second, and the second by a third, until, wearied and without hope, the French people surrendered themselves willing slaves to a military despotism.
In answer to the profession of a desire to terminate the revolution, the majority of the nation reply, that if by the revolution be meant the fighting in the streets, it is already terminated, and no circumstances but such as are greatly to be deprecated ought, or are likely, to lead to its renewal. Such means, it is to be hoped, will never again be necessary, either for the attainment or for the maintenance of good government: and unless indispensable for that end, nothing that could possibly occur would warrant so hazardous an expedient. But to join heartily in the wish that the revolution may stop, is not quite the same thing as to admit that the political institutions which existed before the revolution are to remain without any material improvement, or that those, whose sole object is that the defects still remaining in the Constitution may be corrected in the mode prescribed by the Constitution itself, are to be deemed sufficiently answered by having it thrown in their teeth that they wish to continue the revolution, when it is time the revolution should terminate.
It is speciously urged that the present moment is a moment of excitement, and that such times are improper for discussing and maturing great constitutional changes. The popular party do not deny this. They allow that a state of violent excitement is one which no rational and well-intentioned person would voluntarily choose for a work requiring slow and calm deliberation. It is for this very reason that they implore the Government not to delay the deliberation until the excitement is such as to be incompatible with slowness and clamness. That it has yet become so, they deny, and deny truly. That it will become so in a few months, if the demands of the reasonable part of the public be not complied with, one must be blind not to see. When justice and the public interest demand the concession of a foot, it is wretched policy to refuse the people an inch lest they should take an ell. Give the entire foot with a good grace: if you withhold what you yourselves think reasonable till it is torn from you by main force, where are you to find moral strength for resisting pretensions of questionable expediency? The people may have confidence in those who obviously intend their good. But they must be idiots if they placed reliance in men who refuse them justice, for fear lest injustice should come of it.
To return, however, to the doctrine that times of political excitement are unfit times for constitutional reforms; we ask, is it possible to cite one single example of constitutional reforms effected in times which are not times of excitement? Reforms in the Government are not what the Government itself is apt spontaneously to originate. When the public are quiet and satisfied, it is not, we may be sure, the persons in possession of power, who will voluntarily come forward to point out faults in the political arrangements which have placed the power in their hands. Popular excitement is the natural indication to persons in authority, that a general wish exists for something which is conceived to be an improvement. It is their duty to defer to that wish by a solemn deliberation, which shall testify that the cause of the people was not prejudged in advance, and shall give hopes that what is now withheld will, if reasonable, be granted, when experience and discussion shall have overcome the scruples of its opponents. It is the duty of the Government to do this, before excitement has grown into passion, wishes into demands, and friendly remonstrance into clamorous hostility.
Those who accuse the popular party of wishing for another revolution, are accused in their turn by that party of not understanding the meaning nor entering into the spirit of the revolution which has already taken place. It is insisted on by the popular newspapers, and re-echoed by thousands in conversation, that the Chamber mistakes the grande semaine for a mere change of ministry, and fancies it does enough if it gives to France in 1830, all that France called for in 1829;3 forgetting that a revolution carries society farther on its course, and makes greater changes in the popular mind, than half a century of untroubled tranquillity. Why were the demands of the people in 1829 so much more moderate than at present? Because what is now past was then to come, and might have been avoided. They asked for as much as they thought could be obtained without a revolution; and with this, rather than draw the sword, they would have been satisfied. What, however, they were content rather to forego, than to purchase at so terrible a price, it does not follow that they are not disposed to claim now when the price has been paid. The bonds of law and government have been broken, and all the perils incurred, to avert which mankind are content to sacrifice their most cherished wishes. France is entitled to require, that one such convulsion, one such dissolution and reconstruction of the machine of society, shall suffice. Proportioned to the fearful dangers of a violent revolution, would be the moral responsibility of those, by whose fault they who have braved those dangers should have braved them in vain. It is of the utmost importance that what is done now should be done once for all. The field is now open; wait but a little while, and it will again be hedged in by the barrier of an established constitution. The questions, on the solution of which by the French people their future good government will depend, must be now agitated, must be now decided. Let it be attempted so to decide them that it shall not be necessary again to unsettle them in a year to come. To have turned out one bad government would be a poor equivalent for all the blood which has been shed, if the same operation, in one, or two, or fifty years, should have to be performed again upon another. For the sake even of tranquillity itself, the present is the time so to settle the constitution, that the bad government now happily got rid of shall be the last.
How little there is to inspire terror or mistrust, in the means by which the popular party proposes to accomplish this end, will be seen in the ensuing paper.4
[1 ]In No. 45.
[2 ]See Guizot’s and the duc de Broglie’s Speeches on the State of France (13 Sept.), Moniteur, 1830, pp. 1085-6. As is indicated in the Moniteur of 15 Sept., p. 1093, the text of both speeches was the same.
[3 ]See, e.g., Le National, 24 Sept., 1830, pp. 1-2.
[4 ]See No. 50.