Front Page Titles (by Subject) 60.: USE AND ABUSE OF THE BALLOT EXAMINER, 28 NOV., 1830, PP. 754-5 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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60.: USE AND ABUSE OF THE BALLOT EXAMINER, 28 NOV., 1830, PP. 754-5 - 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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USE AND ABUSE OF THE BALLOT
This article is a reminder that while Mill was writing about the progress of the July Revolution, England was experiencing her own crisis over the Reform Bill; the secret ballot was an issue for radicals in both countries. He later became an opponent of the ballot, but continued to use the passage he here quotes from his father’s History of British India (see CW, Vol. XIX, pp. 331-2). This is a leading article in the “Political Examiner,” headed as title and described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article in the Examiner of 28 Nov. 1830, headed, Use and Abuse of the Ballot” (MacMinn, p. 13). Two corrections are indicated by Mill in the Somerville College set, “partial to” is corrected to “protected” (194.34) and “Legislature’s” to “Legislator’s” (194.36); the first of these is also mentioned as an erratum in a note to the Examiner, 5 Dec., p. 770.
the feelings and purposes of the present Chamber of Deputies in France display themselves more and more plainly every day. We invite attention to one of the most recent of its “faits et gestes.”
By the existing laws, no one can follow the business of a printer without a licence from the Government,1 who hitherto have habitually kept the number so far below the demand, that a licence bears a considerable pecuniary price. A bill was brought in by M. Benjamin Constant, for opening the trade to all who chose to engage in it. The several clauses of this bill were successively voted in the Chamber, by open suffrage: but when the question was finally put, “that the bill do pass,” on which, by the regulations of the Assembly, the votes were taken by ballot; the same Chamber, which had voted each of the separate clauses, rejected, by a large majority, the entire bill.2
One good effect at least will result, it is to be hoped, from this exhibition. We trust that we shall hear no further abuse of the French people for the feelings which they justly entertain towards this despicable body.
When the people first began, after the revolution, to show symptoms of dissatisfaction with the Chamber, most persons in England, taking it for granted, as usual, that if there were any difference of opinion, the people must be in the wrong, were astonished to find the French so capricious, so distrustful, so unreasonably suspicious of their public men. We too are astonished, but from rather a different cause. We marvel at the easy good nature, the unsuspecting credulity with which the severest critics of the Chamber, in August last, allowed themselves to believe that its only fault would be a little slowness, timidity, and irresolution in the accomplishment of reforms. We conversed with several leading men of the popular party shortly after the revolution, and no one of them entertained a suspicion that the motion which the Chamber has now rejected would meet with the slightest resistance.
We must add a few words respecting the ballot. We do hope and trust that the French will now see that the voting in a representative assembly is not one of those cases in which secret suffrage is desirable.
Every person who reflects, for a single instant, on the effect of the ballot, must see that it is simply this: to withdraw the voter from the influence of hopes and fears held out by other persons, and leave him free to act according to those interests and inclinations which are independent of the will of other people. Is it not then obvious, without the necessity of discussion, that the ballot may be good or bad, according to circumstances? It is good where the voter’s own interest is to vote right, but when he may be bribed or intimidated by persons whose interest it is that he should vote wrong. It is bad where his own interest is to vote wrong, and where the only means of giving him a sufficient motive to vote right, is responsibility, either to the law or to public opinion.
In the election of members of Parliament, under a really popular system of election, the ballot is indispensable. For if the electoral body is sufficiently large, it is the elector’s own interest to make a good choice. Responsibility, in that case, is not requisite: the use of responsibility is, to control those who have an interest in doing wrong. If the vote is secret, therefore, it will be honest; but if it be known to his landlord, or to any other person on whom he is dependent, and whose interest it may be that he would make a dishonest choice, dishonest it will probably be.
The very reverse of all this is true, when the votes to be protected are those of members of Parliament themselves. There the danger is not from the interest of those on whom the Legislator may be dependent, but from the Legislator’s own interest. Though he be independent of every body else, that is no security for public virtue, when he has the power of making laws in his own favour, and voting the public money into his own pocket. The only check upon a legislator is liability to be turned out for misconduct; and his constituents cannot employ that check unless they know what his conduct is.
The distinction is so obvious, that it might be expected to occur even to the most obtuse: yet in France, as in ancient Rome, the ballot is applied in cases in which it is clearly mischievous; while in England it is not employed in a case in which its employment is indispensable to good government: and we find the Standard and the Times urging against secret voting at elections,3 the argument which holds against secret voting in the House, namely, the inestimable value of public opinion as a check, not adverting to the fact that public opinion, though a necessary restraint upon the representatives and trustees of the public, can be no check upon the public itself.
We subjoin a passage from Mr. Mill’s History of British India, in which the theory of the ballot is clearly and forcibly expounded. We earnestly request the Standard to consider this passage with attention, having it deeply at heart that so able a writer should come to a due sense of the value of the only one among the essentials of a real Parliamentary reform, from which he is as yet a dissentient. As for the Times, we know the condition, and the only condition, on which we can obtain its concurrence. We shall have its support as soon as we can succeed in persuading it that the majority of buyers are on our side.
There are occasions on which the use of the ballot is advantageous; there are occasions on which it is hurtful. If we look steadily to the end to which all institutions profess to be directed, we shall not find it very difficult to draw the line of demarcation. A voter may be considered as subject to the operation of two sets of interests: the one, interests arising out of the good or evil for which he is dependant upon the will of other men; the other, interests in respect to which he cannot be considered as dependant upon any determinate man or men. There are cases in which the interests for which he is not dependant upon other men, might impel him in the right direction. If not acted upon by other interests, he will in such cases vote in that direction. If however he is acted upon by interests dependant upon other men, which latter interests are more powerful than the former, and act in the opposite direction, he will vote in the opposite direction. What is necessary, therefore, is, to save him from the operation of those interests. This is accomplished by enabling him to vote in secret; for in that case the man, who could otherwise compel his vote, is ignorant in what direction it has been given. In all cases therefore in which the independent interests of the voter, those which in propriety of language may be called his own interests, would dictate the good and useful vote; but in which cases, at the same time, he is liable to be acted upon in the way either of good or evil, by men whose interests would dictate a base and mischievous vote, the ballot is a great and invaluable security. In this set of cases is included the important instance of the votes of the people for representatives in the legislative assembly of a nation. It is therefore of the highest importance that they should be protected from that influence. There is however another set of cases in which those interests of the voter, which have their origin primarily in himself, and not in other men, draw in the hurtful direction; and in which he is not liable to be operated upon by any other interests of other men, than those which he possesses in common with the rest of the community. If allowed in this set of cases to vote in secret, he will be sure to vote as the sinister interest impels. If forced to vote in public, he will be subject to all the restraint, which the eye of the community, fixed upon his virtue or knavery, is calculated to produce; and in such cases the ballot is only an encouragement to evil.*
[1 ]Bull. 47, No. 395 (21 Oct., 1814), Titre II, Art. 11.
[2 ]Constant’s Proposition tendant à rendre libre les professions de libraire et d’imprimeur was read in the Chamber of Deputies on 11 Sept., and after discussion and reference to a committee, was rejected on 19 Nov. (Moniteur, 1830, p. 1072 [introduced], and pp. 1511-12 [rejected]).
[3 ]See, e.g.,articles of 1830 bearing on the ballot in the Standard, 21 Oct., p. 3, and 25 Oct., p. 3; and in The Times, 8 Mar., p. 4, 12 July, p. 4, 30 Aug., p. 7, and 23 Oct., p. 2.
[* ][James] Mill’s [The History of] British India , Book IV, Chap. ix [2nd ed., 6 vols. (London: Baldwin, et al., 1820), Vol. III, pp. 451-2].