Front Page Titles (by Subject) 51.: PROSPECTS OF FRANCE, V EXAMINER, 17 OCT., 1830, PP. 660-1 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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51.: PROSPECTS OF FRANCE, V EXAMINER, 17 OCT., 1830, PP. 660-1 - 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, V
For the context and entry in Mill’s bibliography, see No. 44.
we shall now pass to the demands of the popular party on the three remaining points—the elective franchise, municipal institutions, and the peerage.
We suppose it is scarcely necessary to prove that the destinies of thirty-two millions ought not to be under the absolute control of eighty-eight thousand, or rather of about thirty thousand; for as the poorest and least populous departments are those which return, in proportion to the number of their electors, the greatest number of deputies, a majority of the deputies is returned by a minority of the electors.
We suppose it will be conceded, that it is not very difficult to convert such a representative system as this into a jobbing oligarchy.
Homer required ten voices and ten tongues to enumerate the vessels of the Grecian fleet.1 We should stand in need of a far greater multiplication of our vocal organs, if we had to enumerate the places which have been filled up, or are to be filled up, by the French ministry. The disposable revenue of France, not mortgaged to the national creditor, is probably the largest in Europe, compared with the average of individual incomes, and maintains, be it said without offence to other governments, the largest and most thriving bureaucratie which the world has ever yet seen. Conceive all this turned out of office at one stroke! and the places to be scrambled for: you will have some notion of what the antichamber of a French minister resembles, at eight in the morning, for his levee, a levee in the original sense of the word, is held at that primitive hour. Place, in France, is at all times in great request, because it is the only kind of unearned distinction which is procurable. In England a man becomes important by wealth, or birth, or fashion, or twenty other adventitious advantages, none of which confer one-tenth of the influence in France, that they do here. But place is a possession of that solid substantial kind, which will ensure consideration to the person who has it, in all states whatever of society; and the fewer his rivals, the greater is his consequence. In England the influence of a placeman is comparatively little, because no mere placeman is so great a man as the Duke of Devonshire, or Mr. Baring, or even Brummell, while his reign lasted;2 but in France the placeman has no rivals in importance, except those who are so by personal qualities, by integrity, intellect, and acquirements. For consideration of this latter kind, there is no where any great multitude of competitors. The other, a shorter and more commodious road to the same end, is far more trodden by the herd. The French accordingly, although, God knows, not a more worldly-minded people than ourselves, but the reverse, are eminently a place-hunting people. Their own admirable Paul-Louis Courier has made this national characteristic the object of some of his most poignant sarcasms.3 “Tant qu’il y aura deux hommes vivans,” says the clever and spirituel Fiévée, “il y en aura un qui sollicitera l’autre pour avoir une place.”4
On the late occasion, moreover, tax-eating was a pleasure which came recommended to the French electors by all the freshness of novelty. Under the late Government the places were given either to the Faubourg St. Germain, or to those who were affiliated to the Congregation.5 Now there are some things which men will not do, even to get what they most desire; and one of these things in France is, to go to mass. When these were the terms on which place was offered, he must have been a bold man who would have accepted them; though it must be admitted that M. Dupin, who is not a very bold man, paid the price without even being so fortunate as to receive any thing in return.6 Others, however, though they might be more courageous men in other respects, were not quite so courageous as M. Dupin in defying contempt, and were fain, whatever might be their secret longings, to remain out of place, until the people of Paris were so good as to take up arms in order to turn out another set of placemen and bring these in.
Imagine, now, if you can, the feelings of an elector, who, never having taken a bribe in his life, or known, otherwise than by rumour and conjecture, the pleasure of living upon the earnings of others, beholds for the first time the treasury doors thrown wide open to receive him, and the public purse exhibited to his enraptured gaze, with the strings hanging temptingly loose, and full liberty to thrust in both his hands. Is it likely that this man will send deputies to the Chamber, to vote for retrenchment? In the enthusiasm which succeeds a revolution, perhaps he might. But give him time to acquire the feelings of a placeholder, and make the experiment then. It is not always safe to judge what will be a man’s conduct in his own case, by the virtue he shews in the case of other people. Things may be exceedingly improper when done by a bad government, which are very fit to be done by a good one; and what government can be so good, as that which puts ourselves into place?
The virtue of the electors will be put to a hard trial even at the next general election. Having five-and-twenty millions sterling a year, or thereabouts, to dispose of in the lump, the ministers had for once their hands loaded with more gifts than they knew what to do with. After providing handsomely for their brothers and cousins, and the frequenters of their drawing-rooms, and making, it is but fair to add, a considerable number of excellent appointments, they were still able to place a large surplus at the disposal of the deputies. The deputies also had brothers and cousins, and many of them had drawing-rooms, though none, it is probable, had so numerous a côterie as Monsieur and Madame Guizot.7 But after the wants of all expectants down to the fortieth cousin had been amply supplied, a considerable amount of patronage remained on hand, which, unless report has greatly belied the deputies, they have unsparingly employed in making friends in their departments, with a view to their own re-election.
The necessity therefore is evident, of increasing the number of electors, by lowering the electoral qualification. In what degree, is the only question upon which there can be a doubt: and as the solution of this question depends in some degree upon facts which we cannot authenticate, we shall content ourselves with relating what, so far as we could collect, appeared to be the prevalent opinion.
The same kind of persons who, when they hear the sovereignty of the people spoken of, make themselves uneasy on the subject of republicanism, are also apt, when there is any mention made of extending the elective franchise, to be disturbed in their minds by the idea of universal suffrage. We shall not here enter into the question, whether it be desirable or not that the suffrage should be universal, which is not quite so simple a question as they imagine; although we should not risk much in undertaking to defend universal suffrage against any arguments likely to be brought against it by persons whom it frightens into fits. With respect to France, however, they may calm their apprehensions. Most thinking persons in France believe indeed that one day the suffrage will be universal; for in France most thinking persons, strange as it may appear, have faith in human improvement. But they reflect that at present no more than a third of the French people can read and write, and they are of opinion that vigorous exertions, continued during a long period, for the improvement and diffusion of education, must precede the extension to the mass of the people of the right of choosing their representatives. If the suffrage were to be universal, they would prefer admitting two stages of election; since it requires less knowledge and discernment to fix on the person who is fittest to elect, than on the one who is fittest to be elected. They affirm, however, that though the people of Paris and a few other large towns may be qualified for such an extension of their political rights, the working classes throughout France are by no means sufficiently advanced even for this step, and they urge the government to take measures for educating the people, with the express view of fitting them for receiving and properly exercising so important a privilege.
With respect to the degree of extension to be given to the suffrage immediately,8 public opinion does not seem to be completely made up. Much will probably depend on the result of the 130 elections on the point of taking place, to supply the vacancies created by resignations, annullation of elections, refusals to take the constitutional oath, and acceptance of paid offices under the Crown. If the present electors, now called upon for the first time since the revolution to exercise their privilege, exercise it in favour of popular candidates, the public will probably be tolerably well satisfied with the electoral qualification as it is, and will not insist upon any great amount of alteration. If, on the contrary, the electors, either influenced by the alarm which has been industriously spread with respect to the progress of the revolutionary spirit, or by an incipient feeling of a separate interest from the people, should return members who will reinforce the centre, or ministerial party, the doom of the present election law is sealed, and public opinion will require a much greater reduction of the qualification, and multiplication of the number of electors, than would content a large majority at the present moment.
From such information as we possess, we are inclined to expect that the popular party will be greatly strengthened by the approaching elections. If so, the hopes of that party will be so great from a dissolution of the Chamber, that we expect to see their efforts directed mainly to that end, and the majority permitted to limit the enlargement of the suffrage almost as much as they please, if on that condition they will compromise the dispute, and consent to a new general election.
It is certain that but a short time ago, a large proportion of the popular party thought that the present electoral qualification, with the suppression of the conditions of eligibility and of the double vote, would form a very tolerable government. We think that they were in the wrong; and we have reason to believe that most of them have since changed their opinion. What misled them was the spirited resistance of the present electors to the Polignac ministry. But this at least shows, how little there is of either faction or fanaticism in their wishes for change. We are firmly persuaded, that the great error which the bulk of the popular party are likely to commit, and the error which they are almost sure to commit, unless their minds become heated by the conflict, is that of resting satisfied with too little concession, with too little security to the people against the abuse of the powers of the government.
The prevailing opinion at present seems to be in favour of extending the suffrage to all who pay 200 francs a year of direct taxes. The qualification is at present 300 francs.9 M. Mauguin advocated this proposal on the ground that the same incomes which paid 300 francs in 1814, pay only 200 at present, owing not only to the diminution of taxation on the whole, but the substitution, to a considerable extent, of indirect for direct taxes, a policy always favoured by the late government for the purpose of narrowing the electoral class.10 It does not, however, appear to be known with any approach to accuracy, what number of additional electors would be created by this reduction of the qualification. Of course this point can be ascertained, and means will be taken to ascertain it before any measure is introduced into the Chamber. It is known that the number of cotes, or separate accounts with the tax-gatherer, from one hundred francs per annum up to 300, amounts to about six or seven times the number of the present electors. As the same individual, however, often pays taxes in several departments, the multiplication of the electors themselves would be in a smaller proportion.
Many persons object, with considerable appearance of reason, to adopting taxation in any shape as the basis of representation. They object to making the constitution of a country dependent upon its financial system, and consequently upon the fluctuating policy or interested views of an existing government. They see no reason that every time the budget is diminished, the rights of the people should be curtailed. They would adopt some other and more direct means of establishing a property qualification.
But whatever may be the pecuniary conditions which should confer the elective franchise, there is one change which all parties are agreed in demanding, and which we do not believe would be withheld even by the present Chamber. This is the extension of the right of suffrage to the members of the intellectual professions, free from all pecuniary conditions whatever.11 A qualification by profession, concurrent with a qualification by property, is not new in French law. It already exists in another important case, that of a juryman.12 A list is annually made out in each department, of the inhabitants of the department qualified to serve on juries. The first part of this list comprises the electors of the department; the second, all judges, advocates, attorneys, surgeons, physicians, professors, and various other classes whose means of livelihood are deemed a sufficient guarantee of their education. The reformers wish that the second part of the list should be included in the first, and perhaps several other professions added to it. You require, say they, in your electors, a certain measure of property, because it is a presumption of a certain measure of education. We cannot suppose you so absurd, as to admit a mere presumption and reject the certainty. You know, that all who practise certain professions must by law have gone through a certain course of education. If the standard of mental cultivation which is sufficient for a judge, an advocate, a physician, or a public teacher, is not sufficient to render a man fit for electing a member of parliament, whom, in the name of common sense, do you expect to find fit for it?
These arguments are so obviously unanswerable, that we do not believe it will even be attempted to attenuate their force. We are convinced that whatever in other respects may be the character of the new election law, one of its provisions will be the admission of all who are qualified to serve on juries, to the elective franchise.
[1 ]The Iliad (Greek and English), trans. A.T. Murray, 2 vols. (London: Heinemann, 1924), Vol. II, p. 86 (II, 488-90).
[2 ]William George Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858), very wealthy Whig who became a Privy Councillor in 1827, and was Lord Chamberlain of the Household, 1827-28 and 1830-34. Alexander Baring (1774-1848), head of the family financial house from 1810, conservative M.P., 1806-35. George Bryan (“Beau”) Brummell (1778-1840), companion of the Prince Regent and arbiter of fashion until gambling debts forced him into exile in France in 1816.
[3 ]Paul Louis Courier de Méré (1772-1825), prolific pamphleteer; see, e.g., Lettre II of “Lettres au rédacteur du Censeur,” in Oeuvres complètes, 4 vols. (Brussels: Librairie parisienne, française et étrangère, 1828), Vol. I, pp. 356-9.
[4 ]Correspondance politique et administrative, 3 vols., 15 pts. (Paris: Le Normant, 1815-19), Vol. I, Pt. 3, p. 22, by Joseph Fiévée (1767-1839), Royalist writer and politician.
[5 ]The Faubourg St. Germain, the aristocratic quarter of Paris, was a centre for the nobles associated with the Bourbon cause both before and after 1815. The Congregation of the Virgin was an aristocratic lay order of piety, many of whose members had strong royalist sympathies.
[6 ]André Marie Jean Jacques Dupin (1783-1865), well known for his defence of the Gallican Church, had been bitterly attacked in the newspapers for visiting the Jesuits at Saint-Acheul in July 1826 and taking part in a religious celebration.
[7 ]Elise Dillon (1804-33) had become Guizot’s second wife in 1828.
[8 ]Under Art. 34 of the Charter of 1830.
[9 ]By Art. 40 of the Charter of 1814; not revised in the Charter of 1830.
[10 ]François Mauguin (1785-1854), lawyer, Deputy from 1827, member of the municipal commission during the July Revolution, was a rival of Odilon Barrot for leadership of the left during the July Monarchy. His speech of 30 Aug. as reported in the Moniteur (1830, pp. 999-1000, 1001) does not include a specific reference to the reduction of the qualification to 200 francs, but he was speaking in the debate on an amendment to that effect.
[11 ]For an example of the demand, see the petition to the Chamber of Deputies from the Société Aide-toi le ciel t’aidera, Le Globe, 1 Sept., 1830, p. 4.
[12 ]Bull. 157, No. 5679 (2 May, 1827).